Thursday, May 29, 2014

Examples of the Believers*

I was reminded the other day of a book of research put out several years ago: Amazing Grace: How Religion Unites and Divides Us. It’s about religion in America. The reminder fit in with what I see with the Spherical Model: religion civilizes.
Some of what I came across relates to my own religion, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Here are some of the findings:
·         In measuring “religiosity,” Mormons registered at a high level. In other words, among those with my beliefs, my devoutness is kind of normal.
·         Mormons are more likely than most to keep their childhood religion into adulthood.
·         Religious people in America account for much of our country’s “civic virtue, altruism, and good neighborliness.” Or, in other words, our level of civilization. Among these good neighbors, Mormons are unusually charitable, giving “their means and time, both in religious and nonreligious causes” (p. 452).
·         Mormons receive a surprising amount of disapproval from other faiths (which showed up during Mitt Romney’s presidential campaigns), but Mormons tend to be friendly and accepting of other faiths. They even believe that people who live their own other faith have a good chance of getting to heaven.
That’s a lot of pro-civilization there, according to the data. I’m pleased to see that. It coincides with my own world experience. One of the book’s general religious findings is this:
·         Religious Americans are better neighbors than secular Americans—more generous with their time and treasure, even for secular causes.
I’m especially pleased with the evidence that religious people increase civilization—which is what we expect from our very definition of civilization. But we live in mixed times. This past Sunday in Sunday School we talked about the cycle that shows up in the Bible. The people are in captivity. They humble themselves and turn to God. They get delivered. They prosper in freedom. They become prideful. They weaken and return to captivity.
We can see every stage of the cycle, if we look around just a little. But as a trend point, I’d say we are beyond the prospering in freedom, into weakening because of pride, and suffering increased captivity. [I read a story today showing the captivity evidence. A woman was fined because of a misunderstood Facebook post.]
I don’t want us to be stuck at this point.
As far as I have control, I can personally live in humility before God, asking for relief from captivity and for prosperity in freedom—and I can stay there by remaining humbly obedient to God’s principles. In my personal life, I never have to follow the cycle. But there are limits to what I can make of the larger world around me. I can say, simply and directly, that choosing to live the principles that lead to civilization make for a happier life. With enough of us doing that, we expand the extent of our civilization.
I came upon related article in my latest alumni magazine. As you’d expect, the two most ethical business schools show up in religious universities. Businessweek rates Notre Dame as number one, and BYU’s Marriott School of Business as number two. BYU Magazine has a long piece on ethical dilemmas. Professors Bradley Agle and Bill O'Rourke have gathered and categorized dilemmas into 13 categories. Among those discussed in the piece are:
·         Conflict of Interest
·         Unethical Request from an Authority Figure
·         Sacrifice of Personal Values
·         You Made a Promise, and the World Changes
·         Intervention—or Turning a Blind Eye
They take real-life examples, discuss the appropriate questions to ask, and suggest what each of the authors would do. This is some deep thinking, and not easy. But the purpose is not to find just an acceptable response—because any response can be justified somehow. It’s about finding the best response. As Agle puts it, the answer to a conflict of interest, for example, isn’t whether you can come up with an ethical justification for what you are doing. “Because in most cases, you can.” So the question should be, is your behavior above potential reproach?
An example in the “unethical request” category was about a cancer-causing carcinogen found near an Alcoa plant. The carcinogen couldn’t be traced to the plant. The legal response could easily be to do nothing. But O’Rourke asked the question, “What would the best company in the world do?” Alcoa took that and made the decision to deliver bottled water to everyone in the community, and to install filters.
O’Rourke asks the question, “Is there honor in business? I think so.” In fact, there are questions of honor in every aspect of life, and business is just a big part of that.
Agle sees his career, as an ethicist, as living his religious values, and helping others live them: “If we are truly living our values, we should be more of a light on the hill than we are in the business world.” He adds, “I get paid to figure out, what does it mean to follow Christ? In my particular area, I focus on how you do that in a career….If you come right down to it, that’s what this life is about: it’s ethics.”
Growing and expanding civilization, helping people thrive is a simple matter of a critical mass of people choosing to live righteously according to God’s rules. In reality, what is simple is not always easy.
I love the basic principle that more of us living religious lives is good for civilization; that is true. But I also love how these ethicists are about even more. They're about how those of us already in that camp can refine our efforts, can be better at figuring out what is right to do in situations where the difference between right and wrong, and even between good, better, and best options are not as obvious. The more each of us lives better, the better off all of us are.
* Title comes from St. Paul's words in 1 Timothy 4:12, " thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity."

Monday, May 26, 2014

Always Remember

This is possibly the only Memorial Day we will have our soldier, son Economic Sphere, deployed in a semi-dangerous part of the world, 15 time zones away. So I’m thinking of this one particular live soldier, especially, while we honor the many heroes who gave the ultimate sacrifice for this country and the civilization we love.
There may be other years where he is still far from home. But, God willing, those places will be more like Hawaii—a destination spot, where we’d love to drop in for a visit. And while he is gone, we can video chat, which is something way beyond what soldiers and their families enjoyed even a decade ago. Trying not to complain.
In the meantime, we are having a cookout, despite rain, with relatives. We’re doing what many people do with this holiday—marking the beginning of summer. But the reason we can celebrate in peace, with family, with plenty of food and relaxing good times—is because of the sacrifice of so many. We thank them.
I’ve collected a few images for Memorial Day. This first one I found a year ago, although it's from 2012.
Dave Granlund, Memorial Day 2012
Marcus Luttrell, Navy Seal
author of Lone Survivor
at WWII Memorial
photo found on Facebook, source uncertain, original here

Marine Corps War Memorial
Photo from Shawn Rogers Facebook page
original here

Friday, May 23, 2014

These Allegations Will Not Be Tolerated

The latest scandal is, in short, that dozens of veterans died from lack of care, when their needs were postponed, and the long wait times were hidden, possibly so that the books looked better and the division could “earn” efficiency bonuses. It’s been in the news the past couple of weeks. It wasn’t going away. People feel kind of strongly against letting our war heroes die of bureaucracy.
Matt Groening cartoon, found here
Finally Wednesday the president did the brave thing and gave a speech about it. This was no collection of off-the-cuff remarks. He made use of the entire week-plus to write down his thoughts, and calculate their effect to do the most good. And he carefully read them from the teleprompter so as not to cause any undue confusion about his meaning.
Before we begin, may I suggest, it would be appropriate to re-read the transcript with a combination of voices: Ted Baxter, from the newsroom on the Mary Tyler Moore Show; Captain Renault, the character in Casablanca, who is “Shocked! Shocked! To find that gambling is going on here” moments before accepting his winnings; and a lengthy list of politicians (including this president) who choose the passive voice construction, “mistakes were made.”
The president expressed his strong displeasure—with the allegations being tossed around. His precise words:
So when I hear allegations of misconduct—any misconduct—whether it’s allegations of VA staff covering up long wait times or cooking the books, I will not stand for it. Not as Commander-in-Chief, but also not as an American. None of us should.  So if these allegations prove to be true, it is dishonorable, it is disgraceful, and I will not tolerate it -- period. [emphasis mine]
What won’t he stand for? Hearing allegations of any misconduct. “It” is dishonorable; “it” is disgraceful, meaning allegations, apparently (or possibly only true ones he'd rather were not made) which he will not tolerate—“period.” And that “period” word, we know from experience with this president—“If you like your plan, you can keep your plan, period”—means something other than “and that’s final,” which it could so easily be mistaken for by the rest of us.
Remember, these are the carefully crafted words he chose to read after many days of wordsmithing. So we should assume he means to say them. He simply will not tolerate allegations.
In his carefully crafted speech, he made first, second, and third points, followed by “number four” and a “final point.” They are, in summary:
1)      Anyone found guilty of falsifying records will be held accountable, in such ways as being put on administrative leave (possibly paid?) To find out if anyone is guilty is the purpose of beginning an investigation, with no known facts yet.
2)      The president himself (“I”) wants to know “the full scope of this problem,” meaning the allegations previously referred to? Or possibly actual wrongdoing if any is eventually uncovered. Toward that end, he has ordered VA Secretary Eric Shinseki (hereafter referred to intimately as “Ric,” even though the president hadn’t met with him for more than two years) to investigate the organization he leads and has an incentive to make look better than it is.
3)       The president has assigned Rob Nabors, Deputy Director of the Office of Management & Budget (hereafter referred to intimately as “Rob”) “to conduct a broader review of the Veterans Health Administration—the part of the VA that delivers health care to our veterans.  And Rob is going to Phoenix today,” where the specific allegations occurred. (Nonsequitur intended?)
a.       And as a sub-point, the president reminds us that getting care to veterans has been a problem for decades.
                                                              i.      And as a sub-sub-point, the president reminds us that he campaigned on this important issue, and during his 5 ½ years in office, he and his people “have been working really hard” to fix these problems. (In case you want to know what government health care will look like after 5 ½ years of these expert bureaucrats working really hard on it, consider this a preview.)
4)      The president welcomes Congress, in their oversight role; however, he warns us all that this shouldn’t be a “political football” because so many veterans are getting care.
5)      We must remain focused (as he supposedly has been all along) on the overall mission of getting care to veterans.
a.       We’ve made progress.
                                                              i.      Historic investments (despite significant cutbacks in military spending?)
                                                            ii.      Boosted funding, that is consistent and reliable.
                                                          iii.      2 million new veterans got veterans services in the last 5 years. (I don’t know what this means exactly, but I was able to learn that 5.4 million of current veterans are those who served between the 1991 Gulf War and 2012. And 1.8 total veterans are age 35 or younger. So claiming a sudden influx since 2008 is probably an exaggeration.)
                                                          iv.      Have given disability to those exposed to Agent Orange during Vietnam. (VA has offered health services for those exposed during Vietnam, up through about 1971, but has long tried to deny treatment for later exposure when the contaminated aircraft continued to be used. An independent study released in February contradicted the VA’s claims.)
                                                            v.      The president claims there have been improvements (undefined) in ease of getting treatment for PTSD and other mental disorders, and care for women.
                                                          vi.      “In the past year alone the backlog has been slashed by half” (unless the allegations of falsifying records to make backlogs seem less are actually true).
                                                        vii.      The VA has been reducing homelessness, helping with education through the GI bill (ongoing since WWII), and Michelle and Jill are somehow personally helping veterans find jobs.
                                                      viii.      To restate the final point, “caring for our veterans is not an issue that popped up in recent weeks”; we could easily just say this is Bush’s fault.
Then he took questions briefly. He said responsibility lies with him, and there will be accountability (undefined). Ric will keep his position unless-and-until he feels unable to do the job, because he’s been doing such good work thus far. (Watch for this assessment to change in coming days; remember Reverend Wright.) He did not respond to the question about whether the allegations were a surprise to him, but according to an earlier press briefing, Jay Carney said the president learned about it when he read it in the paper, as is so common with this administration, and he’s “Shocked! Shocked!” that there could be such allegations.
So, in summary, there will be an internal investigation of the suspects done by the suspects, and some begrudged oversight from Congress will be allowed. The president defends the hard work and caring he’s accomplished with his laser-like focus on veteran care thus far; he sees no problem here, just unfounded allegations. People under investigation are already on (paid?) administrative leave. And that’s just about as tough as it needs to get. You can take his word for it. He won’t stand for it—i.e., these allegations—period.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014


I’ve been traveling, for a niece’s wedding, so I appreciate my son Political Sphere filling in for me last week. (I’d like him to write more here, but it’s not that easy to fit writing time into a busy law-student life, so we appreciate what we can get.)
It’s been a week since I finished reading the latest book club book, but it’s still on my mind. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is a novel by Lisa See, about the life of women in pre-modern China. Her writing is well done, and her research is thorough. Still, it takes something of a strong stomach to read this. I kept having two competing thoughts: I thought ancient China was always held up as one of the world’s great civilizations. But this is not civilization.
The Spherical Model description of civilization is different from the usual. You’ll probably see large cities, great art and architecture, and books and learning. But there’s more. Here’s a review of what civilization looks like:
In the northern circle that is the goal—Civilization—families typically remain intact, and children are raised in loving homes, with caring parents who guide their education and training, dedicating somewhere between 18 and 25 years for that child to reach adulthood, and who then remain interested in their children’s success for the rest of their lives.
Civilized people live peaceably among their neighbors, helping rather than taking advantage of one another, abiding by laws enacted to protect property and safety—with honesty and honor. Civilized people live in peace with other civilized people; countries and cultures coexist in appreciation, without fear.
There is a thriving free-enterprise economy. Poverty is meaningless; even though there will always be a lowest earning 10% defined as poor, in a civilized society these lowest earners have comfortable shelter and adequate food and clothing—and there’s the possibility of rising, or at least for future generations to rise.
Creativity abounds; enlightening arts and literature exceed expectations. Architecture and infrastructure improve; innovation and invention are the rule.
People feel free to choose their work, their home, their family practices, their friendships and associations. And they generally self-restrain before they infringe on the rights and freedoms of others. Where there are questions about those limits, laws are in place to help clarify boundaries of civilized behavior. When someone willingly infringes on the rights or safety of another, the law functions to protect that victim as well as society from further uncivilized behavior from the offender.
What we see in the world Lisa See shows us has a lot of poverty, even among the more well off. There is some possibility of rising from a lower class to one a little higher, but it takes a lot of luck and favoritism. Most disturbing, among many cruelties, is the disdain for women. Everyone accepts this, including the women. They all know that only boy babies have value. A woman’s only value is accrued by birthing boy babies. And her only hope is to get the opportunity to marry up and provide sons—and then there is some respect for her in her old age, which is likely to end around age 40 (but in this novel, the storyteller lives to an unusually ancient 80-something).
How does a woman gain the interest of a husband who might be a step up? (Rather, she gains the interest of the families and matchmakers who arrange the whole thing; the husband won't know her before the marriage.) She must be trained to serve and meet his every need—while moving around on tiny feet. Very tiny. The size of a thumb. Which is, of course, not physiologically possible. So the way they get to this goal is to take young girls, starting around age 6, and binding their feet, breaking the bones and distorting them to fold under themselves into a grotesque and unusable stubbiness. A woman can, if lucky, sway “gracefully” to get slowly from spot to spot. But walking distances is made undoable. So, even though poverty-stricken, she cannot travel without bearers carrying her on a palanquin, or with some man being willing to give her a piggyback ride. She spends her days either in the kitchen, doing her drudgery while handicapped, or in an upstairs room, doing hand-sewing and looking out on the world she hasn’t been able to experience since early childhood.
The author gives a fair amount of detail about that binding process—the pain inflicted by the elder women, with a distorted combination of passing on the pain they experienced and fear that if they don’t do it, they condemn the daughter to a life of enslavement. Infection and death are relatively common, but considered worth the risk. The pain would probably be less if feet were simply amputated.
One insight from the book is that, despite their efforts to the contrary, parents do have caring feelings for their daughters; they can’t help themselves. Even in these often unhealthy family situations, love for family is practically unconquerable.
The distortion, however, got me thinking. There were, of course, some signs of civilization in China. Those could only appear where the laws of civilization are followed. But the decay tends to accompany and tear down. The foot-binding had to be such a decay, a distortion of what is beauty.
Do we have distortions in our world? I think we do.
Stratification is always a problem: the belief that one level of people is more innately valuable than others, by virtue of birth circumstances, rather than character. Blind justice, and the American Dream of being able to work hard and move up—those are civilized ideas most of the world, now and historically, has failed to experience.
Then there’s the decay-inducing problem of objectifying people. Whether it is women who are objectified, or people of a race or other group, it’s wrong. And yet we have signs of it increasing around us. The idea that a woman is only lovable/valuable if she looks like a sex object (a standard even Victoria's Secret models don’t meet without photo editing) is a distortion. Real women don’t typically look like that. Real women have all kinds of varieties of shapes and sizes that can all be beautiful. The belief that only those who fit the model deserve love—and the accompanying wealth and happiness that are supposed to come from marrying up—leads to bodily distortions: anorexia and other eating disorders, obsession with exercise to earn worth rather than to improve health, botox, breast implants and other body-and-face-reshaping plastic surgery…. There may be healthy reasons for some of those things (recovery from scars of accident or cancer surgery, for example), but earning worthiness to be loved is not one of them.
Another distortion of womanhood is the idea that being less like a woman and more like a man leads to greater value. Running the business, being ruthlessly dedicated to the job, instead of tied down to family—as if that makes a woman more valuable than making the choice to be a mother who raises children. If a woman has to choose against her nature, in order to “earn” her worth, is that any less distorting than foot-binding?
If I spent more time on this reflection, I’m sure I’d find more distress signals of decay in our civilization. But this is enough for one post.
It continues to be true that civilization—growth into thriving civilization, and keeping it—requires living the laws of civilization. The formula always includes honoring and obeying God, who provides us with our inalienable rights—and worth; and protecting and preserving family as the basic unit of society, in order to teach the love for one another (and ourselves) that God wants us to enjoy. Whatever “foot-binding” we come upon, let’s stop it, and love each other instead, as innately valuable children of God.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Freedom of Speech: The Interplay of the Political and Social Spheres

This is Political Sphere filling in today. I recently saw an interesting blog post at the Volokh Conspiracy on a case out of Texas (KBMT Operating Co. v. Toledo). A pediatrician sued a tv station for defamation based on a news story about her. The television broadcast explained:

A Port Arthur pediatrician has been punished by the Texas Medical Board after the Board found she engaged in sexual contact with a patient and became financially involved with a patient in an inappropriate manner. Dr. Minda Lao Toledo will have to complete sixteen hours of continuing medical education, including eight hours of ethics and eight hours of risk management, and pay an administrative penalty of three thousand dollars. Toledo is a native of the Philippines and has been practicing medicine in Texas for five years.

The television station used the truth defense, noting that all of the facts presented were obtained from public records. However, the television station lost the defamation claim, because although they had indeed only stated portions of the public record, the television station failed to include one important fact. The patient the pediatrician was involved with was not her typical child patient, but was instead a 60 year-old man she was involved with before taking him on as a patient. I think the court correctly decided this case, but in light of the CEO of Mozilla being forced to resign and the owner of the Clippers likely being forced to sell his NBA franchise, this case got me thinking about the freedom of speech both legally and as it relates to the spherical model.

First, legally a person in the United States theoretically has the right to speak freely without worrying about punishment from the government. However, the protection offered by the first amendment goes no further than the government. The right to free speech does not protect a person from losing a job or ostracism. Thus, legally, assuming nothing else contractually protected him, Mozilla was within their rights to dismiss their CEO for a mere $1,000 donated to a cause supported by half of voters in that state eight years before taking the helm of Mozilla. Likewise, again excepting contract provisions, the NBA has the right to force a sale of an NBA franchise for comments made in a private conversation.

However, to remain in the freedom zone on the spherical model, more is required. The spherical model recognizes that the Constitution of the United States only works so long as the people remain true to the values espoused by the Constitution. Therefore, having no protection of freedom of speech (or religion, or bearing arms, or unreasonable searches and seizures, etc.) unless that protection is also honored by society. In essence that means that you have no freedom of speech unless society honors your ability to express your ideas, even when they may be unpopular, you have no freedom of religion unless people continue to support you even if you worship differently, you have no freedom to bear arms if doing so ostracizes you from the community, you have no protection against unreasonable searches and seizures unless people respect your property rights.

This shows the overlap of the social sphere with the political sphere. While we can fight to get into and remain in the freedom zone on the political sphere, all that effort will be for nothing if we have not also changed society to a freedom loving society. I think we should remain open to hearing other’s points of view and explaining the rationale behind our ideology. However, I also feel that we must ostracize those who ostracize others, not because of their viewpoints, but because we cannot have a free society which ostracizes people based on their ideas alone. This is the path to the freedom zone.

Monday, May 12, 2014

The Administrative Branch

We don't elect an administrative branch. According to the Constitution, we don't even have one. Unfortunately, it's very real.
I recently listened to lecture 9 of Hillsdale College’s current Constitution 101 class, “The Administrative State Today.” [You can register for all of Hillsdale’s online classes for free and go through them at your leisure.] Sometimes what you get from studying is discouragement. The lecture is a description of the changes in the way government is run, spread over the 20th Century, resulting in something today that has very little resemblance to what our founders set up.
Kevin Portteus, associate professor of politics, Hillsdale College
screen shot from Lecture 9
First, in the “progressive” era, under Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, there was a move toward “expert” control. The legislative branch would make vague, outcome-based legislation—for example, we want clean water. Without defining that or creating rules governing water use, there was no way to ensure the outcome. So agencies were created to see to it; experts were hired, who would determine, supposedly through the best scientific knowledge of the day, to measure, make rules, and enforce them.
Already, there were some real differences between what the founders intended and how laws were being enacted. If law was to be detailed and specific to localized businesses or even segments of the population, it wasn’t supposed to come under the purview of the federal government in the first place. Laws were intended for the specific purpose of protecting life, liberty, and property of all the people. Suddenly you have some entity coming in and saying, “We don’t like how you’re doing your work or using your property, so we’re going to delineate exactly what you can do and how.”
These agencies took on a great deal of authority. The agency decided what the law was. The agency decided who was worth examining for violations of the law. The agency then investigated, prosecuted, and punished violators. They were suddenly doing the jobs of the legislative, judicial, and executive branches—and those branches seemed to cede the authority to them without much argument. Courts and legislators alike would say things like, “They’re the experts, so we won’t question their judgment in the matter.”
This was all very much in keeping with the “progressive” way of governing—with the assumption that the modern world required an evolved approach, because life was suddenly so much more complicated.
But this wasn’t enough for FDR. He saw that the regulatory agencies were headed by “experts” who had been appointed from previous administrations, and they might not have in mind the same political outcomes that he wanted. So he pushed for reforms that empowered his executive office. By executive order, he could appoint leadership of the agencies who aligned with his political intentions.
In addition, he pressed for more ways to control the agencies and their direction. One way was to go directly to the people, to recruit them to his goals, which he did using media—the first president to so use it.
And after FDR, more methods developed in a game of power between a strong executive individual and strong regulatory agencies. In this balancing act came the granting of standing to more groups. It used to be that a litigant had to show that it had been personally harmed; the change allowed groups to claim that they represented the people as a whole. It the abstract I don’t find a problem with that. But in practice, it granted groups, for example, environmental activists, to claim that they represented all Americans when claiming that we are all harmed by some practice.
Lecturer Kevin Portteus, gives the example of Massachusetts v. EPA:
the case that declared that carbon dioxide—carbon—was a pollutant that could be regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency, and that the Environmental Protection Agency had better get busy regulating it.  The lawsuit against the EPA was filed by a number of environmental organizations and by several attorneys general in the various states: ergo Massachusetts v. EPA. Under the traditional definition of standing, it is hard to see how any of them would have been able to bring suit.  They would have lacked standing. The State of Massachusetts would not have been able, in all likelihood, to demonstrate the direct harm necessary to be able to bring a case before a court in the United States.
If you’re like me, you might have noticed how suddenly talk about regulating poisons such as carbon monoxide suddenly changed to the dangers of carbon dioxide, which is what we exhale, and plants “breathe in,” and that is pretty much part of all life on earth. And suddenly experts are telling us how much is allowed in our environment.
One purpose of the lawsuits from these groups, against the agencies, was to pressure the agencies to comply with political, typically liberal, ends. In other words, it was no longer about what experts in the science decided to lay down as the law; it was what a particular president’s experts said, using their science, to control entire industries the way he wanted.
Over time, there began to be quite a lot of collusion between politicians, regulatory agencies, unions, and corporations, to meet in back rooms and hammer out deals that were in their best interests—regardless of what the best interests of the public as a whole might be. This was termed “liberal corporatism” by Chicago sociologist Robert Flax in 1964. A ruling power elite had come to control policy, with very little input from us self-governing American citizens.
There’s always danger to freedom when the American citizens have their Constitutional powers usurped. Portteus quotes Charles Reisch, from his 1970 book The Greening of America:
The tendency of administration, while it may appear to be benign and peaceful, as opposed to the turbulence of conflict, is actually violent. For the very idea of imposed order is violent. It demands compliance. Nothing less than compliance. And it must obtain compliance, by persuasion or management if possible, by repression if necessary. It is convinced that it has the best way, and that all other ways are wrong. It cannot understand those who do not accept the rightness of its view. Administration wants the best for everybody, and all that it asks is that individuals conform their lives to the framework established by the state."
We can see that today with something as basic as making decisions about where our children go to school. Incidentally, Glenn Beck’s latest book, just out, is called Conform, and relates to the imposition of Common Core in our schools.
We’re not going the right direction. Portteus says,
The Obama administration has more faith in expertise than probably any administration since Lyndon Johnson. And Obama’s old Office of Management and Budget director Peter Orszag said, “You know what the problem with our system today is, is that we don’t put enough power in the hands of the experts: we leave too much up to the people.”
At this point in our nation’s history, says Portteus,
Policymaking has very little to do with what you learned in high school civics. The old framework of, well, the legislature makes the laws and the executive enforces them and the judiciary rule on cases, that’s really been scrambled. We get very hung up today on the expansion of government power and of course that is a real problem from the founders’ perspective. But the way in which the functions of government have been reshuffled among the various institutions is also a major problem. Things are being done by institutions that were never meant to do them.
We know the direction we need to go, if our goal is freedom, prosperity, and civilization. We know that adhering to the actual Constitution will solve a myriad of problems. But getting the power back from those who have been controlling policy—and controlling us—for so many decades is a tougher question. The lecture ended before we got an answer. I don’t know yet if there is an answer.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Mother Joy

I’m at the stage of life that I no longer require the annual (or more frequent) reminder that motherhood is worth doing. And maybe even better, I’m past the guilt of wondering whether I’m a good enough mother. So today’s blog, ahead of Mother’s Day, is meant to help younger mothers get greater joy out of their mothering, which is what I think God intends for them.
Being Grandma is the dessert of motherhood.
Point one: Just being a mother, in an age that has skewed what it values, is honorable. You’re doing it; your kids are alive. Yay! Here are some words of wisdom in support of the wonderful thing you’re doing for civilization: 

“The righteous woman's strength and influence today can be tenfold what it might be in more tranquil times... Other institutions in society may falter and even fail but the righteous woman can help to save the home, which may be the last and only sanctuary some mortals know in the midst of storm and strife.”—Spencer W. Kimball 

“The homemaker has the ultimate career. All other careers exist for one
purpose only—and that is to support the ultimate career.”—C. S. Lewis 

“Women who make a house a home make a far greater contribution to society than those who command large armies or stand at the head of impressive corporations.”—Gordon B. Hinckley 

“For this child I prayed; and the Lord hath given
me my petition which I asked of him.”
—Hannah, mother of Samuel, 1 Samuel 1:27 (KJV)

Point two: You’re not in this alone. Not only is there a daddy working alongside you (I hope), these children in your care belonged to God first. He is especially fond of them. He wants them back home with Him, after this growing, earth life adventure. You don’t have to be perfect at the job. God entrusted you; trust His judgment. You don’t have to meet some unreasonable level of super-mom-hood before you qualify to ask for help. “Ask, and it shall be given you” (Matthew 7:7, KJV).  It may be true that parenting is harder today than when we were children. It might seem perilous. This is no reason for despair; it is reason to “pray always, and be believing, and all things shall work together for your good” (from a Mormon scripture, Doctrine & Covenants 90:24). 

“Imperfect people are all God has ever had to work with. That must be terribly
frustrating to Him, but He deals with it.”—Jeffrey R. Holland 

“Parents today wonder if there is a safe place to raise children. There is. It’s called a gospel centered home.”—Boyd K. Packer

Earnestly Striving + Christ’s Atonement = Enough
—Linda Nuttall 

That last one is mine. I’m sure others have had the same  idea, but it came to me as something I needed to remind myself. So I wrote it on the little message board on my refrigerator, and made a post for it on Pinterest.

Point three: Live with joy. There was a time this was particularly difficult. My children were small, and I was just discovering some chronic illnesses that were making things more challenging than I had expected. Like having constant infections, and never getting back up to better. Meanwhile, kids had their illnesses, including ear infections. But I knew in my heart it shouldn’t feel like a miserable burden to take care of my own children that I loved.
So in my prayers I literally asked for the ability to take delight in my children.
The physical challenges didn’t really go away—still working on that. But when I look back on the child-raising years, I know I truly did delight in my children. What wonderful, bright, funny, delightful children I got to raise!
Let me add just a note about the homeschooling decade we spent. You know how in the early years, you get so excited when your child learns a new thing? First step, saying “Mama.” We think it sort of goes away after those first few years—but it doesn’t. When you’re the homeschool teacher, you get to be there for those other discoveries: how to do the quadratic equation, the ability to read music, loving a book you always wanted to share with them. A child gets something new—and you’re there to see it!
If that’s not what you feel called to do, fine, don’t stress over it. But just know that, even though it’s exhausting, it’s a joyful way to live. Note: there were bad hours many days, and sometimes just bad days. But there was also a huge accumulation of really worthwhile living I am so grateful I had. 

"I think you will find, my young friend, that in life most of the work in the world is done by people who aren't feeling very well."—Russell LeBaron Briggs, Dean of Harvard Law School, 1995 

“Wherefore, be not weary in well-doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a great work. And out of small things proceedeth that which is great.”—Doctrine & Covenants 64:33 

Point four: Endure well. Endure is one of those words heavily weighted with suffering. But it doesn’t have to be. It can be just staying on the path, correcting slight straying, and just doing what it takes to make the journey. So advice on this point is, again, not meant for guilt, but for increasing joy.
Love yourself. Love your husband. Love your children. Accept yourself the way you are, encouraging yourself to be the best you who is still you. Accept your husband the way he is, encouraging the good, and never shaming whatever might not be perfect/more-like-you or less-like-you. Accept your children the way they are, encouraging growth, encouraging their natural goodness, and never shaming whatever might not be perfect/more-like-you or less-like-you.
If any of these things seem overwhelmingly hard, ask for help. Ask God first. If you need more help, He will lead you to it. He plans for you to succeed, and He’s very good at accomplishing His plans. You’re his daughter, and you’re a mother—know that He loves you. 

“The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.”—Peggy O’Mara 

“If you have a bad thought about yourself, tell it to go to hell because that
is exactly where it came from.”—Brigham Young 

“Ordinary people who faithfully, diligently, and consistently do simple things that are right before God will bring forth extraordinary results.”—David A. Bednar 

“As you create a home, don't get distracted with a lot of things that have no meaning for you or your family. Don't dwell on your failures, but think of your successes. Have joy in your home. Have joy in your children. Have joy in your husband. Be grateful for the journey.”―Marjorie Pay Hinckley, wife of Gordon B. Hinckley

Monday, May 5, 2014

Flat Lining

We haven’t done an economic post in a while. Numbers came out last week, at the end of the month, and we can use those. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you might be familiar with The Trampoline Effect. We’re seeing that play out yet again, or still.
Growth was an essentially negligible .1 percent for the first quarter of 2014. By comparison, the average growth during recovery-from-recession quarters since that started getting measured in the 1960s is 4.1%. Average quarterly growth during the Obama presidency, which counts technically as an ongoing “recovery,” is 2.2%. In other words, the growth indicator is half what you’d expect if the economy is in recovery.
Employment is another indicator of recovery. The quarterly report looks positive; down by .4% to 6.3%. There are some provisos, however. The report is that 288,000 people were hired in April. However, simultaneously, estimates show 800,000 people dropped out of the work force—so they’re not counted in the unemployment figures anymore.
These are estimates. There’s a margin of error of around 300,000. So we get a better idea of the real picture averaging out several months. March showed an increase of 500,000 joining the labor force. If you take the two months together, you get an average of 150,000 leaving the labor force for each of those months, which is probably closer to the truth. But if it makes you feel a lot better than only 150,000 a month are so discouraged they are no longer even looking for work, you’re probably a little warped (or probably an Obama acolyte).
Full employment is traditionally considered 5% or better. There’s always some, because there are always individuals changing, or graduating from college and starting out, or deciding to start or stop an entrepreneurial enterprise, etc. So 5% means, if you’re a job seeker, you’ll probably be able to find a job, given a reasonable list of skills and good work ethic. The rate was 4.7% around the time of the 9/11 attack in 2001. That caused a fair amount of economic and social upheaval. Still, the highest annual unemployment was 6% in 2003, garnering a great deal of complaints from the democrats. It dropped down below full employment levels within a year.
You’ll recall that the current recession hit in late 2008, while Bush was still president (but two years into having Congress controlled by the democrats). Unemployment suddenly spiked to 5.8%. Then Obama and company took over—and it "recovered" to 9.3% in 2009, and “recovered” further in the wrong direction to 9.6% in 2010. It has slowly been dropping since—still lingering well above the post-9/11 economic recession that was so unacceptable at the time, six years into this mythical “recovery.”
The reason we need to combine this unemployment report with the number leaving the labor market is that the unemployment percentage is becoming less and less accurate. That number only counts those currently qualifying for unemployment compensation, plus a certain number added in based on phonecall polling. If someone no longer gets unemployment, they are not counted. We know the percentage of the population gainfully employed is going down—now 62.8%, the lowest it has been since the 1970s malaise. Maybe you remember that time, when President Carter gave a speech telling us to expect this to be the new normal.
Fortunately, Carter was wrong; that was not the new normal. That was the normal result of government interference policies. After a couple of years of Reagan removing impediments, growth and prosperity ensued, as expected.
Recessions are parabolic; when economic indicators fall, they naturally rise back up. However, there’s a trampoline effect; if government “helps,” it takes the energy out of the recover, so it doesn’t bounce back up, but dribbles along at pretty nearly a flat line, sometimes referred to as an L-shaped recovery.
This employment-population ratio illustrates
the L-shaped "recovery," from here
What is the solution—every time? Get government to stop interfering. Allow the hard-working, enterprising, creative population that is our greatest resource to do its thing, unhindered.

We know those in the current administration are not interested in an actual recovery; those power mongers benefit from a larger populace that feels helpless and turns to government for “help.” They will lie about and spin the numbers just enough to persuade those not paying attention to believe they are doing what they can under difficult circumstances—so they can keep getting elected. They hide the fact that this is the worst "recovery" since the Great Depression--which also lingered because of government interference.
We need to break through that haze and let people know—it doesn’t have to be this way. We can have freedom, prosperity, and civilization. We know how. We need to get those who are thwarting us out of power, and find followers of our founders to replace them.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Lying Liars That Lie

Some additional information came out this week about Benghazi. What we thought we knew, there is now evidence to show, with some more who and why questions still unanswered.
The new piece of information was a memo, received through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by Judicial Watch. The memo shows talking points given to Ambassador Susan Rice for five days after the Benghazi attack. And we now know the White House was the source for the suggestion that she emphasize that the attack was in response to a specific anti-Muslim video.
This is from the memo (emphasis mine):
To convey that the United States is doing everything that we can to protect our people and facilities abroad.
To underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not in a broader policy failure.
To show that we will be resolute in bringing people who harm Americans to justice and standing steadfast through these protests.
To reinforce the Presidents and Administration’s strength and steadfastness in dealing with difficult challenges.
We’ve talked about that piece of information, about the video, since right after the event—how puzzling it was, because everyone knew it wasn’t true. It was clearly known in real time, during the attack, that it was a terrorist attack, probably from Al-Qaeda-related sources. Military and Intelligence sources knew it was a terrorist attack, and said so. Nothing in any of their correspondence brought up the possibility of this obscure video being involved at all.
There was no spontaneous uprising to begin with. That had to be made up. And somebody who thought it was necessary to make that up also saw the need for an impetus for such a fictional spontaneous uprising—which was the service this video served.
We know the White House mentioned the video the first time the day before the September 11 attack, when there was a demonstration in Egypt, which had been announced ahead of time, declared as an attempt to get the release of the Blind Sheik. Up to that point, this video had been viewed only 17 times; actors in the video hadn’t all bothered to see it. That video would still be obscure without the White House’s advertisement. Had anyone at that Egyptian protest seen the video? With so few views online up to that point, certainly not enough to cause an uprising.
An additional detail in the timeline to come out this week is that, sometime after a 10:00 PM phonecall between Secretary of State Clinton and the president, Clinton began mentioning the video as a cause—even though the State Department had, again, real time information to the contrary. We don’t know where Hillary was the rest of that night. And we don’t know where the president was the rest of that night—although we do now know for certain he was not in the situation room carefully following events as they unfolded.
The president mentioned the video in his first speech after the attack, the Rose Garden speech. Susan Rice mentioned it the following Sunday, September 16, in no less than five talk shows. Hillary Clinton referred to the video as the reason for the Benghazi protest uprising on September 13 and 14, 2012. Jay Carney made the claim in a press briefing September 14. Some two weeks later, at a memorial service for the Marines who were killed in Benghazi, separately the president, Hillary Clinton, and Susan Rice “consoled” the parents by saying they were sorry about that video that caused all the trouble, and they were seeing to it that the perpetrator was put to justice.
One might think that, during the 24 hours surrounding the attack, there might be some wild speculation about other possible causes. But by 48 hours after, it stretches credulity to believe anyone involved had any reason to believe the attack was other than the terrorist attack that it was. To repeat the video lie can only be purposeful. But to what purpose?
We know placement of the idea of the video as cause was a lie invented by someone. We now know, as a result of the memo, the source of that someone was a White House source. We don’t know yet the individual—but we do know that one of the White House employees involved in the constructing of the talking points for Susan Rice was Ben Rhodes, White House deputy national security adviser. He also happens to be the brother of David Rhodes, President of CBS News, which news source has been notably silent on this rather large piece of news. Coincidence?
Anyway, we don’t know whether Ben Rhodes was the original source of the video lie, but we do know that he knew it was purposely emphasized in the talking points to Susan Rice, and that emphasis came from nowhere but the White House.
Additional questions continue to swirl around the reasons for 1) failure to respond ahead to requests for additional security, 2) failure during the attack to provide rescue, and 3) failure afterward to state clearly what was known—that it was a terrorist attack by Al Qaeda-related sources.
Jay Carney is an interesting piece of work. It’s hard to wrap my head around someone wishing to take on the job of being the official liar for the White House. Carney simply lies in the face of all evidence to the contrary—and he does it with condescension, just like the president would if he were doing it himself. There was an eight-minute exchange the other day, with Carney trying to claim that the reason the memo wasn’t released a year ago, with 140 other pages, was that it didn’t seem relevant, since it was about—not Benghazi—but about general unrest in the Middle East.
White House Press Spokesperson Jay Carney
image from here
Guy Benson of Townhall takes relish in dissecting the slimy lies Carney was forced to tell in his briefing, under questioning by ABC News correspondent Jonathan Karl. The memo, which came out of a FOIA request specifically for Benghazi related talking points, wasn’t handed over last year, according to Carney, because the memo wasn’t related to Benghazi. It was talking points for Susan Rice to use in response to questions she would be asked five days after the Benghazi attacks, and a portion of the memo was subheaded Benghazi, in bold type. Carney clearly has his job because lying is his preferred form of communication.
We still don’t know who, specifically, invented the video lie. As for the reasons for that lie and others, and the failures to respond, the best source this week was from The Blaze TV news program For the Record, 4-30-2014. It requires subscription, but you can use your free two-week trial to see it. I hope more details come out in the future, but there is evidence (as was speculated that first month in 2012) that it was about arming Al-Qaeda-related rebels, and Ambassador Stevens was used in those negotiations. There’s a name, now, for the operation: “Zero Footprint.”
One more question: what would our country, and the world, look like today if truth had been known prior to the November 2012 election?