Friday, July 31, 2015

Morally Straight

Norman Rockwell painting I got when
son Economic Sphere earned his Eagle
The Boy Scouts of America national leadership held a vote this past Monday, deciding to change its policy on leadership, to allow local units to decide on whether to allow openly homosexual adults as scout leaders.

I’ve written several times on the Boy Scouts. Here are a few:

For a little over a century Boy Scouts of America has been a great organization for building boys into men. The values are timeless, and maybe even more in need of being taught today than in 1910, at the founding. They are necessary ingredients for building civilization. In fact, the Scout Oath and Scout Law combine to make a pretty good recipe for a civilized human being:

official BSA logo
The Scout Oath
On my honor I will do my best
 To do my duty to God and my country
 and to obey the Scout Law;
 To help other people at all times;
 To keep myself physically strong,
 mentally awake, and morally straight.[emphasis mine]

A Scout is:
  • Trustworthy,
  • Loyal,
  • Helpful,
  • Friendly,
  • Courteous,
  • Kind,
  • Obedient,
  • Cheerful,
  • Thrifty,
  • Brave,
  • Clean,
  • and Reverent.

It’s not all about camping. Although outdoor activities can be used, among other things, as a setting for teaching these principles. It’s because of the convergence of principles between BSA and various churches that have led the churches to sponsor troops. Here are some of the numbers:

There are over 100,000 chartered BSA units. A chartering organization provides meeting facilities, leadership, fundraising, and representation at district and higher levels. In other words, they make it possible for a BSA unit to exist. A chartering sponsor can be a civic group (like a Kiwanis, Chamber of Commerce, or other such organization), a church, or a school.

Of the total, 71.5% are churches, 21.3% are civic organizations, and 7.2% are educational. The preponderance of churches shows that any assumption that BSA is a secular camping club is clearly false.

Of the churches, the biggest sponsor is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which sponsors (as of December 31, 2013) 37,933 units, including 437,160 youth. If I understand correctly, an LDS unit is likely to include Cub Scout dens, Webelos, 11-year-old Scouts, a Boy Scout troop, and Varsity teams. There will be the full gamut of possibilities for boys 8 years through 18 in every LDS congregation in the US. Where congregations are small, it might be that nearby congregations combine, so that opportunities are available for every boy.

Leadership comes from within the congregation. Active members of the church—often fathers of the boys, but sometimes younger or older men as well—are sought as leaders. (And of course women help with Cub Scouting and other unit responsibilities.) Sometimes a less active or non-member father will participate in troop leadership, but will not run the organization, because the purpose of scouting is to assist families in teaching the principles taught in the religion. Scouting is not the only tool used for that purpose, but as long as it is useful, it is adapted for that overriding purpose.

All boys have always been welcome to LDS troops. Many, possibly most, troops include non-LDS boys. Boys have never been excluded because of sexual orientation or confusion, not even prior to the 2013 vote that allowed openly homosexual scouts. There is, however, an assumption that a Boy Scout is clean and morally straight—as he takes an oath to be. Morally straight is a term meaning something akin to “on the straight and narrow path,” exactly in keeping with the moral code, which is no sex outside of marriage; this was part of the Scout Oath long before the term straight became slang for heterosexual.

In other words, no scouts, including homosexual scouts, can be sexually active. If a scout messes up, the organization still works with him—as a ministry must. But it does not allow, facilitate, or condone sexual behavior from any scout. And it is also true that no scout leader associated with an LDS troop would be allowed to continue leadership if he/she has sex outside of marriage. This is not a sexual-orientation discrimination; it is the standard for any adult.

The LDS Church came out with a statement following Monday’s vote. It surprised some people, because the outcome of the vote was predicted. And so far the vote made it clear that sponsoring organizations still get to decide on their leadership. So the Church’s disapproval and statement that it would look seriously at continued association with the Boy Scouts appears ominous.

I do not know what the Church will decide. I personally am hoping we will have some years yet with Boy Scouts. I love many things about Scouting. Besides the oath and law, I love the uniforms, the badges, the variety of activities, the Courts of Honor, where young boys watch others being honored and see that as something to strive for. I also know that the President of the Church, Thomas S. Monson, loves Scouting. He is a long-time proponent and supporter. It may be that his love of Scouting has kept the association going as long as it has.

But the Church is a worldwide church. Over half of the membership is outside the US, in many countries that do not have Scouting as an auxiliary program. So the Church has long had a parallel program, called Duty to God, which young men have worked on simultaneously with Scouting where both were available.

In short, Scouting needs the LDS Church much more than the LDS Church needs Scouting. And some other religions also have alternative organizations they can turn to.

The LDS Church sponsors nearly four out of every ten BSA units. In our local Sam Houston Area Council, only about 20% are LDS sponsored, but about 40% of funding comes from LDS units. So even where the numbers aren’t as large, the influence and usefulness is greater than expected. In Utah, 90% of BSA units are LDS sponsored, and it is likely the funding approaches nearly all. If the Church were to leave BSA in Utah, properties couldn’t be maintained, funding sources would dry up, and boys would be hard pressed to find a troop to belong to.

The Church makes up only about 2% of the US population, yet has a huge impact on the Boy Scouts—the largest and best organization for positively affecting the lives of young men. The salt of the earth. The leaven in the loaf.

Why wouldn’t the Church stay with Scouts, if there’s no force insisting they allow homosexual scout leaders? It will be the trajectory. In 2000 the Supreme Court ruled that Boy Scouts and other organizations got to decide who qualifies for membership, which quieted the assault from the pro-homosexual lobby. But by then there were businesses and organizations that refused to deal with the Boy Scouts, or allow them to use facilities—claiming they were discriminatory. Despite the ruling, a decade later the organization voted to change membership requirements (allowing openly gay scouts—which, outside LDS troops, could mean sexually active).

Only two years later Monday’s vote allows homosexuals active in the lifestyle to be troop leaders, at the discretion of local units. For anyone who followed the tragic sexual assault trials of the 80s and 90s, and has been through the safety training since, you might recognize what a sad day this is. [In Defending the Boy Scouts, Part II, I document numbers.] And yet, rather than recognizing the risk to the boys, the pressure is for the Boy Scouts to change their morals. There is huge pressure in the world to normalize homosexual behavior, to condone it and call it wholesome. The pressure continues to include ostracism, refusal to work with and to allow use of facilities, and refusal to support financially.

What happens when units that allow homosexual leaders start insisting that those who don’t are bigoted and should be shunned? What if they refuse to allow them to join in at jamborees and other events? What if the vote in a couple more years requires acceptance of homosexual leaders? It’s still speculation, but not unwarranted.

What is certain is that the pro-homosexual lobby has been successful in wording the situation as a discrimination issue, rather than a moral issue. The world is declaring that tolerance for sexual immorality is a moral imperative, but that standing up for Biblical principles of sexual purity is immoral. Calling evil good and good evil (Isaiah 5:20).

It is still true that not all really good men can be a good scoutmaster, but a scoutmaster has to be a really good man. It is not possible to be an otherwise good man while being sexually immoral. And it is a fallacy that a person can be sexually immoral while being perfectly good in every other way.

The truth is that people who hate civilization, and hate the Boy Scouts for the values they promote, have never wanted to open up the organization, to make it more inclusive—to make it better. They have always had as an ultimate goal to destroy the organization. They won’t be sad when there is no Boy Scout organization for them to belong to; they will rejoice when there is no Boy Scout organization for any boy to belong to.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Outlawing Entry Level Jobs

Socialists love minimum wage laws. It will lift millions of Americans out of poverty, off welfare, and into the buying public, they say.
protests for $15 minimum in Seattle

But they are starting with several false assumptions:

·         Employers are greedy, and that is the only reason they don’t pay workers more out of their evil profits.

·         People earning minimum wage can expect to remain on minimum wage indefinitely.

·         People earning minimum wage are heads of households, finding it impossible to pay for their family’s rent, food, and everything from that wage.

·         Raising the minimum wage can lift people out of poverty.

Except, all of the assumptions are wrong.

Employers set wages based on the market value of the work—how much the worker brings in to the company, and how easy it is for the employer to find workers willing to do the work. When work is worth more, the employer either pays more, or finds it difficult to get and keep decent employees.

Minimum wage workers can almost always expect a raise within six month, or at most a year, based on their being a good employee and gaining experience. It’s hard to imagine anyone expecting to work hard, either part or full time, for minimum wage year after year, expecting never to get a raise. You’d leave, with the experience under your belt, and go get a better job.

People earning minimum wage are generally getting their first job, or their first job in a long time (such as mothers re-entering the work force after being a stay-at-home mom). They likely prefer part-time work. They are likely to be teenagers getting their first job, at a time when they have little experience to offer an employer, and still live with their parents, or possibly with roommates. They likely don’t have a high school diploma, although they may be a high school or college student.

A full 81% of minimum wage workers are not heads of households. If someone is earning minimum wage and trying to support a family, they have bigger problems than any minimum wage job can solve. And they probably already get aid for housing and food. Forcing employers to pay them—and all other unqualified workers—more than they are worth doesn’t solve their lack of earning capacity.

There’s an easy logic problem you can go through with pro-minimum wage people—if you could get them to participate in logic. When they were asking for $8 (which wasn’t that long ago, and still the case in most parts of the country), you would say, “Why not $10?” And they’d probably say, “Great idea.” And then you say, “Why not $15?” which is what they’re saying now, so presumably they’d say that was only fair. So then you say, “Why not $20?” Good chance they’ll say, “Even better.” And then you raise the stakes “Why not $50, or $100?” Then they get irritated and condescending, because everybody knows that’s too high. So you ask why it’s too high, and you probably get, “Because those jobs aren’t worth it,” compared to more skilled workers that don’t even make that much. Or, “No one’s going to pay that much for a burger server,” or floor sweeper, or busboy, or dishwasher—whatever the low-skilled job may be.

There’s a point at which pretty much anyone knows, intuitively, that the low-skilled work isn’t worth the high wage. The problem is that they don’t recognize any current entry-level wage as fair and adequate—because they don’t like to think about the value of the work being offered.

What is the best way to earn above minimum wage? Get experience and skills that make you worth more to your employer than minimum wage. How do you get experience and skills? Training and education, for a start, but also work experience. Even with training, an employer is likely to want an experienced worker if he has to pay a higher wage.

Without government interference, wages could be a matter of the free market. We think “full employment” now is 4-5%, but that is because the minimum wage prevents hiring workers at lower rates, so those worth less than minimum remain unemployed. If lowering unemployment were the goal, it could be lowered under 2%—and consist pretty much of those temporarily between jobs—if the market were actually free.

But wouldn’t it be wrong to pay someone even less than minimum? Wouldn’t that be practically indentured servitude? That’s the argument. But, say you’re a 15-year-old trying to get a little spending money, to maybe save up for college, or an eventual car or other purchases? Is it better to get paid $5 an hour while gaining experience, which might lead to higher wages later—or to make nothing and gain no experience?

Minimum wages—ruled unconstitutional until the late 1930s under FDR—are literally outlawing any jobs worth less to an employer than the government-set minimum.

It is a maxim here at the Spherical Model, that any time government tries to do something beyond the limited powers granted in the Constitution, there will be negative unintended consequences, and they will usually be exactly opposite of the intended purpose of the government interference.
So how is this playing out?

Seattle, which is in process of implementing a $15/hour minimum wage, is finding there are unintended consequences (which of course they were warned about by free-market economists).

Head-of-household minimum wage workers didn’t find that $15 was enough to actually pull them out of poverty. While they were making less, they received government subsidized housing and food aid. Higher wages put them at risk of no longer qualifying for help. So they started asking their bosses for fewer hours, to avoid a drop in living standard.

So it hasn’t been good for those actually receiving the increased wage. And it hasn’t been an improvement for employers or customers either. Restaurants have closed at higher than normal rates. Some employers have claimed that wages made up more than 50% of operating costs; the higher required minimum meant no profit, no reason to stay in business.

Some restaurants have increased prices by 15%, trying to pass along the minimum wage increase to customers. But there’s a natural effect to higher prices: fewer customers. They’ve also found that customers pass along the higher costs by paying lower tips. It has turned out that dishwashers have come out better than table servers.
Self-serve kiosk at Jack-in-the-Box

There are more restaurants using automated ordering, so they can get by with fewer employees. That might be a reasonable response—but it means fewer jobs. Government can’t just impose a price find that the law of supply and demand won’t be in play.

One thing is certain: if you don’t get your first job, and the experience that comes with it, you don’t get your second job. If you haven’t magically built up your skill and experience to be worth $15 the first time you get hired, the government is saying it is against the law for you to work.

Employment is an agreement between two people: employer and worker. If the arrangement is agreeable to both, what business does government have inserting itself between them? While we watch Seattle, and LA, and other places, experiment with the higher minimum wage, how about we have another area where minimum wages are eliminated? Let’s see, over a decade or two, which place is better at lifting millions out of poverty.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Appeasement Doesn't Appease

I’ve watched the negotiations between the Obama administration and Iran, as others, with horror. And puzzlement. 

The negotiations were pointless from the outset. There was stasis before. Sanctions prevented Iran from having the money to pursue its nuclear goals. The Iranian people recognized it was their leadership’s unwillingness to play nice on the world playground that was keeping them down, so they rightly blamed them instead of us. Iran was still pursuing nuclear weapons, but was hindered by worldwide disapproval and pressure.

What did the US have to gain from entering into negotiations? What was so valuable that it was worth guaranteeing Iran would develop nuclear technology—along with weapon delivery technology? At least when a similar ridiculously bad negation led to North Korea getting nukes, it didn’t say, “And, by the way, you’ll want these accessories in order to hit distant targets.”

The “executive agreement” signed last week may go down in history as the worst negotiations between nations in the history of the world. I am not using hyperbole. (Nor am I the only one to think so: read here and here.) We went from being in the positive position that was keeping this rogue nation from getting nuclear technology to guaranteeing that they get it in a decade or sooner, along with capabilities to attack not just nearby nations but the United States, with our apparent approval.

And in exchange we got—and asked for—nothing. Not release of Americans being held captive. Not human rights improvements. Not meaningful inspections of nuclear technology development. In fact, rather than US inspectors getting their own samples of uranium, they will blithely accept samples offered to them by Iranian officials. Trust, but don’t verify.


Because this president wanted to have as a legacy a nuclear deal with Iran. Not a deal to prevent Iranian nukes, just any random agreement that includes discussion of Iranian nukes. And for no reason, really; it’s just part of his bucket list. And all of us are supposed to be willing to risk our not-too-distant-future world for the sake of his whimsical wish.

He wanted it so obsessively, he and Kerry were obviously desperate to sign, no matter what. Iran sat back, refusing everything that was supposed to be on the table. Death to Israel is still their policy toward our ally; that was OK with the Obama team. Continued nuclear program. Everything. Even the ICBMs that were thrown in at the last minute. They knew Obama and Kerry were desperate enough to accept any terms, under any conditions. And they took advantage. We’re lucky they didn’t think to add in, “Oh, by the way, Alaska now belongs to Russia.”

Here’s one description, by Matthew Continetti:

If the deal favors Iran which it unequivocally does—without so much as closing a nuclear facility, this rogue regime gets cash, legitimacy, and an end to U.N. bans on sales of conventional weapons and ballistic missile technology it is because Obama wanted desperately to pursue the diplomatic option and prove its validity.

When you write a column, as did I two weeks ago, headlined “The worst agreement in U.S. diplomatic history,” you don’t expect to revisit the issue. We had hit bottom. Or so I thought. Then on Tuesday the final terms of the Iranian nuclear deal were published. I was wrong.
Who would have imagined we would be giving up the conventional-arms and ballistic-missile embargoes on Iran? In nuclear negotiations?
Victor Davis Hanson, historian and classicist, draws the comparison to the Neville Chamberlain appeasement to Hitler. I think that is a too-kind way of looking at this. But he points out several things we know about appeasement, and how they are likely to play out:

·         First, appeasement always brings short-term jubilation at the expense of long-term security…. A few years from now—after Iran has used its negotiated breathing space to rearm, ratchet up its terrorist operations, and eventually gain a bomb to blackmail its neighbors—the current deal will be deeply regretted.
·         Second, the appeasement of autocrats always pulls the rug out from under domestic reformers and idealists…. Until last week, Iranian dissidents and reformers had blamed the theocracy for earning Iran pariah status abroad and economic ruin at home. Not now.
·         Third, appeasers always wrongly insist that the only alternative to their foolish concessions is war. Just the opposite is true. Time was not on Iran’s side. Teheran was growing desperate for financial and commercial relief from global sanctions and embargoes. In contrast, the world had no such urgency and could have easily waited for a cash-strapped and ostracized Iran to give up on a bomb…. Expect that in five years Iran will be better armed, richer, more confident, more aggressive—and nearly impossible to deter without the use of force.
·         Fourth, beneficiaries grow to hate their appeasers…. Under the rules of appeasement, an aggressor privately has only disdain for compromises that benefit him, and yet feels a weird sort of respect for those who deter him. Expect an emboldened Iran to double down on its anti-Americanism, as it brags about how a weak and decadent Great Satan meekly caved to its demands, which will only grow greater.
·         Fifth, allies are always the big losers in appeasement…. Our apprehensive friends and allies in the Middle East—the Gulf states and Egypt especially—will naturally, for their own protection, expect the same sort of nuclear deal that we accorded our enemy, Iran.  America is for a while longer out of Iranian missile range. Not so the Arab world, Israel, and perhaps southern and eastern Europe.
·         Finally, outside observers of appeasement always make the necessary geostrategic adjustments…. China and Russia will never again see any advantage in joining the West in embargoing and sanctioning a would-be nuclear state—not when such a hard-won common front can become utterly nullified at any moment by a fickle United States. Both powers will grow closer to Iran.

There is a very long list of things this president has done that are detrimental to America. This is beyond Obamacare. This is beyond using the IRS to target his political foes. This is beyond forcing nuns to pay for employees’ abortion-inducing drugs. Although it is hard to believe we live in a world where any of these things could happen in America, this is far worse. This is existential.

Obama calls this an “executive agreement,” rather than a treaty, so that he can bypass Congress. Still, he had promised Congress sixty days to go over the agreement (and disapprove with legislation which he would veto). But he broke his word (no surprise) after just a few days and sent it on to the UN Security Council, which approved it soundly—a clue that it’s a bad idea.

The deal is so clearly bad for America, so clearly the worst negotiation terms ever agreed to by people with free will, but what we do not know for certain is motivation.

It is possible that Obama and cohort Kerry actually believe America is a bad and evil actor on the world stage, and that the only way to be fair, if we can’t deprive ourselves of nuclear weapons, is to let all the other countries have them as well, including the "Death to America" radical enemies. It’s possible that they believe “the right side of history” is to recognize America is in decline and the decline is to be “managed,”—which we might have expected would mean “make the best of the bad situation” rather than “make it so.” They might think they’re the best people to run the ship when it needs to be run into the iceberg. They have expressed things that lead to these conclusions.

Or it’s possible that Obama HATES the very basis for this country—God-given human rights to life, liberty, property and ways of pursuing happiness. He hates the limits written plainly in the Constitution. He hates freedom, prosperity, and civilization. He hates anything that opposes him in whatever he wants to do for whatever reason. He wants America to fall into the dustbin of history. And he loves the evils of force, dictatorship, tyranny in every form—as long as he’s in power to tyrannize others.

Either he is the stupidest negotiator ever to lead a major nation, or he is much more evil than we could have imagined. Or a combination. Either way, he has set in motion arming radical Islamists and has facilitated their worldwide attacks. J’accuse.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Path Forward for Us Dissidents

1.     1.
a person who opposes official policy, especially that of an authoritarian state.
"a dissident who had been jailed by a military regime"
dissenter, objector, protester

Ryan T. Anderson
photo from Amazon page
I enjoy people who can see a positive direction, even from a dark place. Ryan Anderson is such a person. He is the William E. Simon senior research fellow in American Principles and Public Policy at The Heritage Foundation. He specializes in issues of marriage and family. In short, he is the best public voice on marriage in the public arena today. I read almost everything he writes, and see as many videos of his speeches and interviews as I can.

His book came out last week: Truth Overruled: The Future of Marriage and Religious Freedom. I haven’t read it yet. I’m still debating with myself between Kindle and hardcopy. The paperback isn’t available until the end of August, so that may decide it for me. (Plus, it has text-to-speech enabled, which fewer Kindle books have lately, and I appreciate that.)

We, who know the truth about marriage, and how valuable—essential—it is to civilization, have been feeling low this month, following the SCOTUS ruling on Obergefell v. Hodges. It wasn’t decided according to the Constitution. It wasn’t decided according to the beliefs of a large majorities is most of the states—wherever the people have been allowed to voice their views. It wasn’t anything but a capitulation to an intense and relatively short (decade) campaign to alter public opinion on what marriage is. And it has the ugly impact of curtailing the religious freedoms of anyone who knows the truth about marriage.

It has made dissidents out of people like me who hold to the truth known for millennia when the authoritarian state says we’re supposed to believe something else.

So there has been reason to mourn.

But Ryan Anderson is ahead of the game, ready to take the necessary positive steps.

In an article, as well as in an interview, this past week, Anderson makes a comparison with the pro-life movement following a similarly bad SCOTUS ruling in Roe v. Wade. At that time, people who knew the truth about the human life and value of unborn children were told, “You lost the argument; get over it.” And they were told the next generation would be on the “right side of history,” would be pro-abortion. But, in fact, this upcoming generation is more pro-life than their parents' generation. Partial birth abortion is outlawed already nationwide. Many states have outlawed abortions after 20 weeks—the time at which the fetus can be shown to suffer pain (which other nations already use as a standard). How could this progress be made, when the debate was supposedly shut down by the Supreme Court?

The pro-life movement did some things very right. They made it clear that the ruling was judicial activism—because it was. Even Justice Ginsburg has been heard to say that it was a bad ruling. It had precious little connection to the actual Constitution. 

Then the pro-lifers used science, which tends to bear out the truth, if it’s real science. So they have been able to show that the unborn child has a heartbeat, has its own DNA, responds to stimuli, looks human, and is not simply a blob of tissue.

Their progress was evident this past week, when information came out about Planned Parenthood  “selling” fetal body parts—when both the late-term abortions that allow for such harvesting are illegal, as is the selling of fetal body parts. The claim that they were “donating” with reimbursement plus a bit doesn’t stop the public from recognizing the horror of what they’re doing, and being disgusted with the cavalier attitude with which they do it.

Strong majorities are against late-term abortion. Overwhelming majorities are against partial-birth abortion. More people are recognizing that when pregnant women see a ultrasound of their growing baby, they are less likely to go through with the abortion. The other side is left blustering that pregnant women shouldn’t be forced to learn the truth about their babies. Or they go overboard and claim the right to kill a baby even after birth, revealing their savagery.

We’re nowhere near outlawing abortion on demand, but we’ve made progress.

So, looking at that pattern, here are the steps Ryan Anderson suggests we take—over the next generation and beyond—to repair real marriage.

1.      We must refer to the ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges as judicial activism, and be able to state clearly why. The dissenting opinions by Scalia, Alito, Thomas, and Roberts provide clear arguments. There will be other resources as well—including Anderson’s new book.

2.      We must protect our freedom to speak and live according to the truth. We need to keep speaking the truth, with calm clarity and reason. Accusations of bigotry won’t fit when good people keep getting called bad by unreasonable, intolerant “winners.” We must press for legislation that protects religious liberty—in personal lives and businesses, as well as in churches. This would be similar to mainly successful pro-life efforts to make sure no one would be forced to perform or pay for an abortion when doing so would go against their personal beliefs. 

3.      We must redouble our efforts to make the case in the public square. Bring in the new and growing social science that shows the importance of having a mother and a father in a child’s life. Don’t let the false “science” claim of no difference stand. As Anderson points out, “Pro-lifers did much more than preach, launching a multitude of initiatives to help mothers in crisis pregnancies make the right choice.” I don’t know yet, beyond continuing to write, what that will look like in the marriage debate. It may include what Utah did, combining legislation that protected homosexuals in housing and employment (where discrimination was already illegal) with agreements to protect religious liberties. It might be in supporting children who have been raised with two mothers but no fathers to know that their sense of missing something is valid—every bit as valid as such feelings in children raised by singe parents.

There’s much to do. It’s an uphill battle. But if we have any interest in civilization, and the freedom and prosperity that go with civilization, then we must gear up for what we need to do.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Savagery Here and Now

Back when I was a school kid, we had a unit on the Aztecs. Their background story was interesting, about a group of people who look for an omen of an eagle on a branch, carrying a snake, or something—and that was supposed to mark where they would build a city. They found the omen, in the middle of a lake, but you can’t fight fate, so they built there. Draining. Adding ground with reeds and other materials. And that eventually became today’s Mexico City.
Aztec human sacrifice
illustration from codices

But there was a harrowing part of their story, about the wars, and the sacrifices. Human sacrifice, as many as 80,400 in a single 4-day ceremony—which would have required some 14 sacrifices per minute. They used their war captives mainly, including women and children. Wikipedia provides this description:

The sacrifice would then be laid on a stone slab by four priests, and his/her abdomen would be sliced open by a fifth priest with a ceremonial knife made of flint. The cut was made in the abdomen and went through the diaphragm. The priest would grab the heart and tear it out, still beating. It would be placed in a bowl held by a statue of the honored god, and the body thrown down the temple's stairs.[36] The body would land on a terrace at the base of the pyramid called an apetlatl /aˈpet͡ɬat͡ɬ/[i]
I was just an innocent school kid; that kind of story was disturbing. Nauseating. How could a people turn from building a civilization to that level of savagery. Admittedly, some boys in the class probably just found it fascinating. Our boys liked a fun series called Horrible Histories. We have one on The Vicious Vikings, but the series includes one called The Angry Aztecs. Gore is tolerable, I guess, if you look at things caricatured long ago and far away. It’s sort of like a horror movie: safely scary.

More recently I read the Eric Metaxas biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. There’s a parallel story there. A people who have been civilized turn to savagery, murdering literally millions of people—I don’t mean the people they were at war with, but people among them, their own citizens. The ones they didn’t like. And in addition to the gas chambers and starvation and other cruelties, there was experimentation. The book offers this example:

One Austrian inmate described one experiment:
I have personally seen through the observation window of the decompression chamber when a prisoner inside would stand a vacuum until his lungs ruptures…. They would go mad and pull out their hair in an effort to relieve the pressure. They would tear their heads and face with their fingers and nails in an attempt to maim themselves in their madness. They would beat the walls with their hands and head and scream in an effort to relieve pressure on their eardrums. These cases usually ended in the death of the subject.
About two hundred inmates were subjected to these horrors before the “experiments” were concluded. About half died; those who survived were soon murdered, ostensibly to prevent their testifying about what they experienced. Rascher was praised for the information he ferreted out, and he soon had another idea. What of the extremely low temperatures to which aviators were subjected?
I hope that anyone who reads this recognizes these atrocities as savage. How could humans treat other human life so cavalierly?

Then we get a story this week, much closer to home, here in our own country, of those who harvest fetal organs for sale. As a bi-product of the grisly abortion business. The Human Capital Project of the Center for Medical Progress, videotaped a long luncheon interview with Dr. Deborah Nucatola, Planned Parenthood Federation of America’s senior director of medical services, discussing which parts of the baby during the birth process she would avoid crushing, if she knows ahead which body parts are in demand. I don’t believe this is out of context; they’ve released a 9-minute clip but they have also made available the entire two hours and 42 minutes unedited.[ii] Nucatola says the following while enjoying her lunch:

It makes a huge difference. I’d say a lot of people want liver. And for that reason, most providers will do this case under ultrasound guidance, so they’ll know where they’re putting their forceps…. The kind of rate-limiting step of the procedure is calvarium. Calvarium—the head—is basically the biggest part. Most of the other stuff can come out intact….
We’ve been very good at getting heart, lung, liver, because we know that, so I’m not gonna crush that part, I’m gonna basically crush below, I’m gonna crush above, and I’m gonna see if I can get it all intact.”
Just to be clear, partial-birth abortion is illegal in the US. And a fetus extracted alive is a born-alive infant; anything that interferes with the care and safety of that live infant is murder. Not just my opinion—that’s homicide according to 1US Code 8.

In the day following the release of this video, Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana launched an investigation into Planned Parenthood in his state, connecting with the FBI; good for him. By the end of Thursday, Governor Greg Abbott of Texas announced a similar investigation. Also the US Congress is considering a more general investigation—and ought to, at the very least, remove any funding of this house of horrors. And also prosecute broken laws.

Mass homicide ought to be something we all stand strongly against. No one in civilized society can look at this as significantly different in level of savagery from the Aztec sacrificial mass murders or the German WWII mass murders. Or the beheadings of Westerners and Christians and not-radical-enough Muslims by ISIS. (Or the shooting of four marines in Chattanooga, Tennessee, today, in what appears to be a radical Islamic-inspired terrorist attack.)

Most of the press was silent on the suddenly viral video—similar to their silence about the Gosnell case. But some of the press tried to protect Planned Parenthood, quoting PP’s talking points: it wasn’t really “selling” body parts, just “donating” "tissue," with a fee for shipping and handling. OK, except that PP official Nucatola said on the video,

I think for affiliates, at the end of the day, they’re a non-profit, they just don’t want to—they want to break even. And if they can do a little better than break even, and do so in a way that seems reasonable, they’re happy to do that.
A non-profit can do things that bring in more than breaking even; that’s not illegal. But huffing with “righteous” indignation, as the president of PP Cecile Richards does, that they aren’t in any way profiting seems false on its face when we just heard otherwise.

Ditto the claim that everything PP does is legal and ethical, when we just heard it admitted that they have back-room conversations on how to get around those pesky “confusing” partial-birth abortion laws.

Richards doesn’t apologize for the murder of viable and near-viable human babies, ripping out their organs according to the “market” for them. No, she apologizes for the “tone” of Nucatola on the video, while claiming the video was “highly edited” and unbelievable because the makers of the video can’t be trusted. And we’re supposed to believe someone who kills human babies for a living instead? By the way, Richards is reported to earn some $590K a year for her non-profit “service.”

Pro-abortionists—and let’s be clear; these people aren’t in favor of “choice,” but are in favor of frequent unhindered baby killing for profit and pleasure—are savage.

The Bonhoeffer book includes a letter from Himmler, concerning experimenting on live humans, that is informative today:

In these “Christian medical circles” the standpoint is being taken that it goes without saying that a young German aviator should be allowed to risk his life but that the life of a criminal—who is not drafted into military service—is too sacred for this purpose and one should not stain oneself with this guilt….
We two should not get angry about these difficulties. It will take at least another ten years until we can get such narrow-mindedness out of our people.[iii]
Fortunately, the good guys won that war, and the evil Nazis didn’t get that extra decade to get rid of Christian sensibilities.

Translate that into either Nucatola or Richards speaking about their great “service” to society, and their irritation with those Christian (and other) pro-lifers who just get in their way. And wouldn’t they like just another ten years of propagandizing to “get such narrow-mindedness out of our people”?

They are indeed as savage as every other human sacrificing cult in history. As Matt Walsh said in his blog on the subject,

You are left, then, with only one other option. Either advocate for the mass execution of the disabled, or accept that humans are humans, and humans are people, regardless of their physical development. It’s really one or the other. You side with the slave owners, eugenicists, and Nazis of history, or with the people who defeated those tyrants. We are all human, or not. Pro-aborts say not, and it’s time they confront exactly what that means.
You are not defending the killing of clumps and blobs, but of humans. And in so doing, you are using logic identical to the sort that has been used to justify nearly every human atrocity in the history of mankind.
Back to Bonhoeffer for a couple more statements. He said this about abortion, which was already an issue in his day, in Germany:

Destruction of the embryo in the mother’s womb is a violation of the right to live which God has bestowed upon this nascent life. To raise the question whether we are here concerned already with a human being or not is merely to confuse the issue. The simple fact is that God certainly intended to create a human being and that this nascent human being has been deliberately deprived of his life. And that is nothing but murder.[iv]
And then these important words: “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer
image found here
You can tell from the “martyr” in the title of Bonhoeffer’s biography that, indeed, he did die for having beliefs the savage Nazis disagreed with, and for standing up to them. But we might assume that God will hold him guiltless.

We’re supposed to respect differences of opinion, and speak respectfully toward one another. Fine. That’s a necessary thing in a civilized society. But let me point out that these people at Planned Parenthood and other pro-abortionists are not civilized; they are savage. Their opinions on baby killing are not respectable, and their actions are despicable.

I am not calling for hating them; I am calling for standing up to them. Niceness, including avoiding the issue and pretending theirs is just another idea decent people might consider, is to allow the atrocities to continue. I hope investigations into PP will lead to prosecutions and prison terms—and then to further restrictions. Pro-abortionists should be pariahs in an actual civilization.

The only path to civilization from the savagery a pro-abortionist is mired in—is repentance. I pray those who are simply confused and deceived will see the truth clearly and change their hearts. It is the only hope for them.

[i] Wikipedia uses this reference: Nahuatl dictionary.(1997). Wired humanities project. Retrieved September 2, 2012, from link.
[ii] The short, 8-minute, video clip is here: . Full footage is here: . Beware that these contain graphic detail.
[iii] Metaxas, Eric; Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, pp. 509-512.
[iv] Ibid., p. 472.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Lower Taxes Lead to Greater Revenue

I’ve been leisurely going through Hillsdale College’s free online American Heritage course. The other day I was listening to lecture 4, “The American Founding,” when I made a connection I hadn’t before.

The lecture is a detailed tracing of the movement from being loyal British citizens, asserting their traditional rights, to being independent peoples with natural rights. But there’s a story along the way, about taxes and duties.

For about four decades, the Whigs had been in power in the British Parliament, and they had lived by the philosophy of, “let sleeping dogs lie,” don’t upset what’s basically working. And that meant they had left the colonies mostly to rule themselves. There were governors, but the governors only got paid when the colonial assemblies voted to pay them. And Britain was three months away. So the colonists were pretty used to being left alone. 

But then a new prime minister comes in and starts to be concerned about those colonists getting too independent, and devises ways to crack down on them. I’ll let Dr. Paul Rahe tell this part (starting at 19:00 minutes into the video):

One of the things he does in April 1764, George Grenville, is to supplant the Molasses Act, which was designed to sort of ban molasses from America, with the Sugar Act. And it reduces the duties—the old duties had been set so high that no one could buy anything—so they cut the duties. In cutting the duties they were aiming at a revenue. And so the discontent in America begins with a tax cut, objections to a tax cut.
Well, the original tax was never paid, because it was so high it couldn’t be paid. The cut means that the British are going to seek revenue from the Americans in their own land. And the Americans respond to this with “no taxation without representation,” and they’re not represented in Parliament.
They tighten up the activities of the vice admiralty courts. The Americans were very efficient smugglers. One of the reasons they didn’t object to the Molasses Act is they smuggled molasses in and just skipped past the act. They’re going to tighten the vice admiralty courts so they can hammer these people. Then the Stamp Acts follow in 1965. The colonists are caught flat-footed. For forty-one years they’ve been left to their own devices, and suddenly there’s interference, and suddenly taxes are being imposed upon them, and there have never been taxes on them before
So here is something that governments knew back in the 1700s: higher taxes don’t mean more revenue; you get more revenue when you lower the taxes.

That’s the Laffer Curve, described by economist Art Laffer just forty years ago.
The Laffer Curve
from "The Laffer Curve: Past, Present, and Future," 2004

In short, there’s a point at which you can maximize revenue (if that is your goal—and it is often the goal of governments), and if you raise taxes above that point, the revenue will decrease. Because people avoid paying the tax if it is perceived as confiscatory.

Apparently the early colonists had no qualms about ignoring ridiculously high taxes, or duties (there are differences, but we’ll deal with them as similar enough for our purposes) by smuggling instead of obeying the British-imposed laws. In our day there might be other methods—moving a business out of the country, giving money to children in a trust where it can’t be touched, investing in times and ways that avoid tax, maybe even avoiding earning income over a certain level.

When taxes fall back into the range that people feel is tolerable, they start putting their money to use again, risking the need to pay the tax, because it’s worth paying in order to accomplish various personal goals.

That’s what happened when Reagan lowered to upper tax rate from 70% to 28%, which led us out of the Carter malaise and into a couple of decades of growth.

So, you’d think that if government officials really had the goal of raising revenue, they would find that sweet spot and use it. But they don’t. So they must have some other goal in mind—like appearing to care about the poor by confiscating from the wealthy,so they can get votes to retain their power.

Confiscatory taxes aren't good for a country. (Note: God asks for a flat 10%, given willingly, and maybe some extra offerings for the poor. Does government deserve more than God?) People take it personally when someone forcibly takes the fruits of their labors to use it for some other purpose. As John Locke put it, back in the day, “For what property have I in that which another may by right take when it pleases himself?”

If we want prosperity and growth in the economy, the way to do that is to set people free in the market, to earn what they can, and keep what they earn. You won’t get equal outcomes, but you’ll get better outcomes for everybody who participates.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Unfair Egalitarianism

Suppose you have a race, a straight 500 meters, let’s say. No curve on the track. No differences from one lane to another. Everything equal. Until some says, “On your marks, get set, go!” Some short time later someone finishes—before all the others. Someone else finishes second, another finishes third, and so on until you get to the slowest runner. Is that fair?

Would we even run races if the outcome was skewed so that all runners crossed the finish line at the same moment? What would be the point?

Some runners are innately faster. Some are faster on certain days, but maybe not every day. Some will get faster with more practice and training. It’s that possibility that inspires us to try again, try harder, prepare harder. Because winning a race feels good. Doing better than you did before feels good, even if you don’t win.

There was a short time early in parenting when I bought the line about avoiding competition. Our tee-ball league did not count runs. It had everyone on the team bat, and then the inning was over. But our little Economic Sphere knew better how to make it meaningful.

First of all, if you’re batting last, you might as well run all the bases, because they were going to take you off the field anyway—and the likelihood of anyone that age doing what it takes to get you out was small. And then, you could count outs made when you’re in the field, and you could count runs when your team is up to bat. It became a complicated mathematical process for a six-year-old, but it worked. He also learned that you probably couldn’t count on your teammates to catch a throw, so you might want to run and make the out yourself.

One historic day he caught a fly, ran to a base to tag a runner, and then ran to another base to catch another runner—triple play, single-handed. Not all the parents were amused (“He’s not a team player”). But our little economist knew that not all players were alike, and he wasn’t going to pretend that they were. Why even play if the outcome is determined and it’s unrelated to performance? Instead, just make up your own game, and play to win.

I was thinking about disparity again, as I listened to the most recent Uncommon Knowledge interview. Host Peter Robinson interviewed Richard Epstein, who is a constitutional law professor, and a libertarian thinker, with a recent book out, called The Classical Liberal Constitution. The discussion covered a number of topics, but the first six minutes of so answers questions about disparity of income. While there are things I can’t agree with libertarians on, usually on economics we’re in agreement. They want a free-market, which is how you get prosperity in the Spherical Model.
Richard A. Epstein
on Uncommon Knowledge
July 1, 2015

So I’ve included below the transcript of some of their discussion:

Peter Robinson: I want to turn to the Supreme Court in a moment. But first, the meta-issue of the day: inequality. Wage stagnation for the middle class for some decades, but an increase in household income for the wealthiest 1% of American households over the last 35 years—I looked this up—of 275%. And I found this quotation from my friend Richard Epstein: “Inequality can be a wonderful force for innovation.” Explain yourself.
Richard Epstein: Well, I have to explain two things. First, the disparities, and then the second point. There are two ways in which you can solve the inequality question. One of them is you can take from the rich and hope to give to the poor. The first half of the program always work. The second half always goes astray.
The other thing that you could do is, you could try to eliminate the various barriers which prevent the middle class and lower income people from moving up. And those are not macro policies having to do with financial situations in the Federal Reserve. It essentially means unlocking the employment relationship, by getting rid of all things that the proponents of equality have put into place.
PR: Such as?
RE: Minimum wage laws make it harder for unskilled workers to get their first job, which makes it impossible for them to get their second job. Anti-discrimination laws make it harder to hire minority people, because it’s more difficult to fire them. Strong unionization gives various kinds of wage increases to a select group of individuals, but it shuts out large numbers of other workers.
What you have to do in these things is completely deregulate the labor markets. What will happen is, in a competitive market, as productivity increases, wages will start to increase, and that will be sustainable, because the persons paying the money are getting something that’s worth it.
Are there going to be excessive returns to capital? The answer is no, because of the competitive process. What’s happened here is all the last six years we’ve been running the progressive program, and that program has essentially resulted in real decline in income at the median level of about 4% or 5%, depending on how you count these sorts of things. It is a direct consequence of the way in which we have been doing this.
Now that’s the practical answer. Now, the theoretical question is really very different. It’s, do we mind about inequality as an abstract matter? And the answer is, suppose the two of us started at 10, and I find a way to go to 20 and you only go to 11. We’ve increased the inequality, and we’ve increased the wealth of both people. Technically amongst the economists, that’s a social improvement. But according to the egalitarians, and there’s (it’s) really a terrible situation, because the gap has gone from zero to 9. You don’t want to get yourself into that frame of mind.
Now why is it that it turns out that the gaps in a market system run that way? This has to do with the problem of incentives. What happens is if somebody comes along and creates something that gives enormous value to everybody else, they may move up one or two units, and that person may move up a billion dollars. But you think we’re going to be better off in a world without a Steve Jobs or an early Bill Gates, on the grounds that their money is going to go to waste now that they have it? Whereas everybody else is going to be denied the many apparatuses that they’ve been able to produce?
PR: Let me be sure I understand the Richard Epstein position. Two points, both of which are pretty arresting in … Let’s put it this way, they’d be arresting if you saw them in the New York Times.
RE: Yes. Astonishing.
PR: Position number 1 is, you don’t care about inequality per se. You don’t care how big this gap is, as long as the person down here is moving up. The gap could… You really don’t care about the pattern of distribution as long as those least privileged are making progress.
RE: And they are only going to make progress in an open market.
If we were to get back on the right track, to have a free market, change for the better can happen quickly. But the political and social impediments that keep us going ever southward toward national poverty need to change to make that possible.

As we look for new leadership, make sure whoever gets your vote stays out of the frame of mind that worries about disparity rather than the freedom to allow innovation and growth to happen.