Thursday, October 29, 2015

View from Inside

Eventually, here, I’m going to talk about last night’s GOP debate. But to get where I’m going, I need a little context.

In our church we often get told we should be the ones defining who we are—because if we don’t, others will. That’s why there’s so much on the website, the many related sites and pages. I think that’s the right decision.

I made the mistake, some years ago, of starting my Sherlock Holmes reading with A Study in Scarlet, which may be an interesting story, but it was offensive to people of my faith, in the extreme, and was at its basic level wildly inaccurate about what we believe. Including what we believed during the time the story was about (late 1800s). The story couldn’t have happened. It isn’t conceivable to someone who knows the truth. Basic assumptions were so far off, I lost all respect for the great detective. I’ve still read several, plus the occasional movie or series. But I know he’s not infallible.

A similar experience happened when I read a Brad Thor book, The Lions of Lucerne, that had a section located in Park City, Utah. An elderly couple gets murdered by terrorists who want to use the couple’s home as a staging area for kidnapping the president. But the couple was Mormon, and several of the circumstances related to that. And because I am an insider, I knew that the things in the story couldn’t have happened. There was a pretty sizable list of errors in the relatively short segment of the book.

Both of the authors had clearly done research. Quite a lot. But they were critically wrong nevertheless.

A couple of weeks ago, Ben Carson’s religion came under scrutiny in the news. He’s a Seventh-Day Adventist. I liked Glenn Beck’s approach to understanding (Glenn Beck Radio, October 22, “A Look into Ben Carson’s Faith.” He went to the source, found a Seventh-Day Adventist spokesperson, had him on his show, so someone on the inside could define their beliefs for those of us wondering, from the outside. It was respectful and fruitful.

It’s hard for someone on the outside to understand how people on the inside think. That’s true for religion. Sometimes it’s true for ethnicity, but that has more to do with culture: how a person is raised, what is their common experience. It’s also true for major ideological belief systems: conservatives, and liberals/progressives/socialists/democrats. There’s not a useful term for that side. That’s why the Spherical Model perspective of southern hemisphere is useful. I’ll go ahead and use that term for them in the rest of this piece.

We watched in last night’s debate a cadre of southern-hemisphere partisan media reveal their disdain—because of their lack of understanding—of the Republican candidates. Their purpose was not to reveal who the candidates were, and what their stands on issues were, or their plans for our country. Their purpose wasn’t even to pit one candidate against another in an ill-advised attempt at increasing their ratings, as we’ve seen in the previous debates (including the disappointing Fox News debate).

Their purpose was to attack each candidate with Democrat party talking points, twisted untruths, sneering innuendos, and outright lies—and then expect the candidate to answer the implied question, “Because we know how awful you are, why don’t you leave the race in shame?”

These moderators are supposedly professional “unbiased” journalists. (Note: in today’s media, the term journalist almost always implies southern-hemisphere bias.) They were supposed to be specialists on the economy. Yet they favor big government, government control, and crony capitalism. They seem unaware that free-market economics works, every time it’s tried, because the data, common sense, and common experience support our side. They’re too ingrained in their own culture to even recognize that a legitimate point of view exists that doesn’t agree with them.

We have had moderator interference before. In fact, as Republicans, we assume that the moderator will be a hard Democrat (i.e., always or nearly always votes straight Democrat in elections). We’re used to that. But it used to be that they tried to hide it. I think Candy Crowley, who stepped in to “correct” Mitt Romney and support Obama in a question, still thinks she was being fair—even though all of us with a transcript or video of what Romney was referring to could prove Romney was right and Obama was obfuscating.

That was about Benghazi, shortly after it happened, in 2012, and shortly before the election. Would the election have gone differently if Romney had been allowed to hold the president accountable? We won’t know.

What I think we’re seeing now, however, is that what should have happened (but Romney was too nice to do) was a rebuttal: “I have memorized the transcript, Ms. Crowley. I am not wrong. And I will thank you to stop interfering in an attempt to favor your candidate.”

Last night we had a candidate who shifted the power from that tyranny-loving media. He organized an opportunity for substantive debate—despite the questions.

Ted Cruz saved the night. And he may have saved future debates from ever repeating that mess. It might get us the opportunity to refuse moderators who do not, and cannot, understand the conservative way of thinking.

I’d like to show the full context of Ted Cruz’s historical moment. So first, we’ll see the question and his full answer. Then we’ll see, side-by-side, what he’s referring to.

Carl Quintanilla: Senator Cruz, Congressional Republicans, Democrats, and the White House are about to strike a compromise that would raise the debt limit, prevent a government shutdown, and calm financial markets that fear another Washington created crisis is on the way. Does your opposition to it show that you’re not the kind of problem solver American voters want?
Ted Cruz: Let me say something at the outset: The questions that have been asked so far in this debate illustrate why the American people don’t trust the media. This is not a cage match. And, you look at the questions: “Donald Trump, are you a comic book villain?” “Ben Carson, can you do math?” “John Kasich, will you insult two people over here?” “Marco Rubio, why don’t you resign?” “Jeb Bush, why have your numbers fallen?”
How about talking about the substantive issues people care about? And Carl, I’m not finished yet. The contrast with the Democratic debate, where every fawning question from the media was, “Which of you is more handsome and wise?” And let me be clear...
CQ: You have 30 seconds left to answer, should you choose to do so.
Ted Cruz: Let me be clear. The men and women on this stage have more ideas, more experience, more common sense, than every participant in the Democratic debate. That debate reflected a debate between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks.
And nobody watching at home believes that any of the moderators has any intention of voting in a Republican Primary. The questions that are being asked shouldn’t be trying to get people to tear into each other. It should be “What are your substantive issues that people want to hear?
CQ: For the record, I asked you about the debt limit, and I got no answer.
Ted Cruz: You want me to answer that question? I’m happy to answer that question.
(The moderators talked over him.)
Ted Cruz: You don’t actually want to hear the answer, John? You don’t want to hear the answer, you just want to give insults?
John Harwood: You used your time. Senator Paul…

Take note that the question asked wasn’t, “What is your approach to the debt limit?” as Villanova claimed. It was “Does your opposition show you’re not the problem solver the American people want?” That is a yes-or-no question, with an assumption of superiority behind it, arranged to be a no-win for the candidate. Ted Cruz recognized it for what it was, recognized the pattern of the evening (this was a half hour into the debate), and recalled multiple examples. Accurately and in order.

The media seems unaware of how extremely bright Ted Cruz is. He has an audiographic memory. He remembers what he hears, word-for-word.

JH to Trump: Is this a comic book version of a presidential campaign?
Cruz: “Donald Trump, are you a comic book villain?”
Becky Quick to Carson: I’ve had a really tough time making the math work on this. You’d have to cut government by about 40% to make it work with a $1 Trillion dollar cut.
Cruz: “Ben Carson, can you do math?”
CQ to Kasich: You said yesterday that you were hearing proposals that were just crazy from your colleagues. Who were you talking about?
Cruz: “John Kasich, will you insult two people over here?”
CQ to Rubio: You’ve been a young man in a hurry ever since you won your first election in your 20s. Why not slow down, get a few more things done first, or at least finish what you start?
Cruz: “Marco Rubio, why don’t you resign?”
JH: Governor Bush, the fact that you’re at the fifth lectern tonight shows how far your stock has fallen in this race, despite the big investment your donors have made.
Cruz: “Jeb Bush, why have your numbers fallen?”
After the first question—“Tell us your greatest weakness,” disallowing “I work too hard” or “I’m a perfectionist,” which is pretty much no-win for the candidates as well, Cruz identified every stabbing question that had been asked up to that point. Without notes.

What happened from there was different. Not that the moderators had improved, but the candidates were now united in a cause—to get out their message. Not just their personal message, although there was that, but the message of conservatism. Fresh ideas, better approaches. Things other than, “Things are still bad, so let’s give more money to government.”

Anyone who claims Cruz is a divider ought to witness what he just accomplished. That is what the real Ted Cruz naturally does.

The candidates had better opportunities to express their ideas in this debate than in any previous. Time per candidate was more even (although Rand Paul yet again got short shrift). Trump didn’t dominate—either time-wise or using his overbearing presence to take over. He was milder, for him. Carly Fiorina got the most time, and she used it well, but she had no breakout moment. There were good moments for every candidate. Marco Rubio and Chris Christie had opportunities to let us see who they really are.

I also watched the pre-debate, including the four lower-tier candidates. As last time, Bobby Jindal was excellent. He could use the exposure the main debate stage shows. He certainly deserves it more than some of the main ten.

Here’s more evidence that the southern-hemisphere media can’t see what the rest of us see. The commentators that came on between the two debates opined that it was Lindsey Graham’s night—that he had more energy than they had ever seen. Even Larry Kudlow, the supposed “conservative” in that group, believed it was a Lindsey Graham win. In our house, we thought Graham had a couple of campaign ending moments, served up with whininess. One of the commentators believed that a couple of Graham soundbites would end up being the news stories of the following day.

They were, of course, wrong. Cruz’s call to talk about the substantive issues was the story of the day.
In the after shows, Cruz suggested to Sean Hannity of Fox that a good panel of debate moderators would be Hannity, Mark Levin, and Rush Limbaugh. I read a headline today that such a panel is being considered (I don’t know how seriously to take that). It would certainly be an improvement. They, at the very least, know what questions would lead to a clear view of what conservatives care about.

Word to Republican Chair Reince Priebus: Stop letting the opponent media define the Republican Party or conservatives. Control the moderator choice first, then offer up the debates to various outlets. If no “mainstream” source picks up something that could rival viewership of major sports events, let C-SPAN do it. Or The Blaze. Or stream live from a GOP website.

Let people a chance to get the information they want, and people will come. People who believe we are heartless, stupid, and bigoted have no business controlling the chance us to show who we really are. 

Monday, October 26, 2015

Truth Search: Benghazi

I spent some hours over the weekend listening to Thursday’s Benghazi hearing testimony of Hillary Clinton. I’m just a curious American. I’ve been waiting for three years so far to find out what happened in Benghazi, why it happened, and why we got told things that weren’t true about what happened.

I’m not a prosecutor, but I have some confidence in Rep. Trey Gowdy’s abilities to get at the truth. At last. Yes, there have been multiple hearings. As the Democrats on the committee told us multiple times. In fact, in these hearings, the Democrat committee members refrained from asking questions to Hillary Clinton and instead directed attacks at the committee head, Trey Gowdy—reminding us how many previous investigations there have been, and that this one has spent millions of dollars, and so far has found nothing, they claim. Rep. Elijah Cummings, pointed out in his opening comments, before questions had been asked of Ms. Clinton, that the committee hadn’t learned anything. Not helpful.
Rep. Trey Gowdy during committee
hearing Oct. 22, 2015
image from C-SPAN

During the entire questioning, no Democrat asked Hillary Clinton a useful question, with the possible exception of one that allowed her to go through the timeline of what happened in Benghazi that fateful night. Not that the committee needed her testimony for that; she wasn’t there, and the timeline of what happened on the ground was fairly well established—there’s a movie on the subject about to come out. But at least it showed that she was aware of enough details at this point, three years after the fact, to relate them.

There are a few points I noticed, and I’m wondering about. Sometimes I wonder why the media took no notice. Sometimes I wonder what Trey Gowdy knows.

One thing Rep. Gowdy said in an interview afterward, which I didn’t realize, was that he hadn’t subpoenaed Hillary Clinton to testify. She had been asked, and was willing. But that may mean that Trey Gowdy didn’t need her testimony at all, but was willing to use the opportunity as backup to what he knows from other sources. And there's always the chance he can add a perjury charge or two.

He also said that he had given her the option to do the testimony in private or public. Since her testimony wasn’t essential, he could go either way. But he prefers private for several reasons. One is that the testimony can cover classified information safely—in fact, if such questions come up in a public hearing, they must be held and asked later in private. Another is that the person testifying is often more likely to be candid in private, so the committee gets better information. 

In addition, in private hearings, the Democrats do none of the pontificating they do in public; they ask questions. It may be that their questions are designed to allow the testifiers to show themselves in the best light, but at least they’re questioned. They don’t, at all, direct criticism at the committee chair. When they do that in public, therefore, it is merely Democrat theater, and in no way relates to an attempt to find the truth, which is pretty obvious if you’re watching for reasons like mine.

So, if you want to go through this (links below), or any future, public hearing more quickly, simply fast forward through any Democrat questioner; you will miss nothing germane.

I was surprised to see that Hillary Clinton still claims the anti-Muslim video, which was never relevant to Benghazi, a fact known the day of the attack, was a possible cause they were concerned about with good reason. She emailed her daughter, and she told the President of Libya and the Prime Minister of Egypt, indicating clearly within 24 hours that she knew the video had nothing to do with the attack. They knew the attack was planned ahead, by an al-Qaeda-like organization, with names (Ansar al-Sharia) that proved to be involved.

She carefully parsed her words, and made sure the committee understood how carefully she had parsed them, when she said, “Some say…” that the video was the cause. She didn’t say she said so, just that some straw man said so. She and the administration did lead Susan Rice to declare on five TV interviews that the video was the cause, and spokesman Jay Carney to say the video was the cause. And the President said it multiple times, and Clinton herself said it several times—including when she met with families of the deceased and assured them that the makers of the video would be prosecuted, but did not promise that the actual known attackers would be prosecuted. So, using the phrase “some say…” doesn’t exactly explain why this known falsehood kept getting repeated.
After three years, we still don't know
what happened at the Benghazi consulate compound
Map found here

She kept trying to make it sound like that possibility was worth pursuing.[i] The video was claimed to be the cause of a spontaneous demonstration in Egypt—that’s what we were told that day—by the administration in response to that event, prior to the Benghazi attack hours later. In fact, Clinton claimed in her testimony Thursday that the video had been shown on Egyptian television, and that is why they feared it had farther reach and might spread.

But, if I remember correctly, that obscure video wasn’t the cause of the riot in Egypt; that was a preplanned event, weeks ahead, and announced the day before in the Egyptian press, in an attempt to release the Blind Sheikh. That the administration went video shopping was revealed in emails obtained in 2014 through a FOIA request persisted by Judicial Watch.

So the planned riot in Egypt had nothing to do with a video. And therefore it was an absolute known fact that the video had nothing to do with the Benghazi attack. Hillary Clinton knew this without question, and she just lied about it under oath.

One of the questions is why the ambassador was in Benghazi, known to be unsafe, when he had repeatedly requested greater security, since his installation as Libyan ambassador in May 2012. If it wasn’t safe in Tripoli, and was much less safe in Benghazi, what was he doing there? Hillary Clinton claims it was his call, but he was looking into whether a consulate should be opened in Benghazi.

Since within a month after the attack I’ve heard speculation that the administration was involved in gun running, and that was the purpose for the ambassador and the CIA to be in Benghazi, to see to a deal. This was verified in testimony in June, with the speculation Clinton could be subject to treason charges. 

I was surprised when this came up in the hearing. It was a blip. Clinton claimed that of course the administration wanted to see that weapons got into the right hands; all administrations would do so. So, in essence, she admitted that what had until recently been called a bizarre “conspiracy theory” is true, but she said it with an “of course” that led the media to let it go, as if we all knew and accepted this detail all along.

I don’t know what to make of this. I don’t know what Trey Gowdy makes of it either. But gun running is not a normal duty of an ambassador, and is particularly unwise in a country without an established secure government.

Speaking of lack of secure government, she admitted that the security personnel at the consulate were unarmed. She claimed this was normal. It is practice for consulates to trust security of the perimeter to the host country. But why would this would be the practice in a country in which even the citizens wouldn’t trust a weak or non-recognized government to protect them?

She kept saying that it was never recommended that the Libyan embassy be closed. She was sure if Ambassador Stevens had thought it necessary, he would have said so. But she fails to take responsibility for the ignored requests for increased security. 

In an uncomfortable moment, she laughed at the enterprising spirit of the ambassador for “fire sale” shopping—collecting barricades and other safety equipment from nearby closing embassies, since he wasn’t getting anything in response to his requests. (I think there were around 800 requests.) Despite her opening statement that she took responsibility, she said handling security requests was below her pay grade; underlings were tasked with handling security, and they never saw it necessary to bother her about the ambassador’s requests. We do not yet know why these people over security failed to answer the calls. Clinton tried blaming Congress for failing to provide funding, but that seems pretty empty. I'm assuming the committee is following up with the security division she referred to. There's may be among the subpoenaed materials the State Department has yet to provide.

She claims that Ambassador Stevens was a personal friend of hers. But there were zero emails between him and Clinton. She answered that by saying that she didn’t provide him an email address. And she didn’t do much business by email; she didn’t even have a computer in her office. The line of questioning about emails to her from Sidney Blumenthal (which were her emails, only recently revealed, and all related to Benghazi and Libya) showed that he had full and complete access to the Secretary of State, even though he had been refused any official status by the White House. But her “friend,” Chris Stevens, got no access.

She said she used phonecalls and other communications. So she was asked whether she had talked with Chris Stevens by phone after he was made ambassador to Libya. She answered that she was sure she had. On what occasion? When? She couldn’t recall. She was reminded that her phone logs show no calls between her and the ambassador. She shrugged that off as meaningless. He had a direct line to the State Department and could have called at any time. Again, ignoring the 800 or so requests for increased security.

It might be that acquiescing to increased security in Libya would have shown Obama's claim that al-Qaeda was weakened and nearly dissolved to be a lie. That’s an alternative to believing in the gun running scheme. I suppose both could be true simultaneously.

The reason she used a private email server is that private communications (i.e., unrelated to State Department work) are not subject to FOIA requests. She does not choose transparency, even when required by law. But what has been obtained is evidence that she did official work on that server, including classified work.

So she is known to have broken the law concerning making her State Department actions public. And she is known to have allowed multiple examples of classified information outside of a secure government location—a serious law every person with a security clearance understands. She is subject to jail time. 

She didn’t have to testify for this to be known. If there were an explanation that would have exonerated her, she would have provided it. That she did nothing but pretend it was all legitimate may play well in the press, but it will not convince a thorough prosecutor.

We know that many of the emails and resources subpoenaed have yet to be provided. The failure to provide requested information is the main reason the investigation continues. It may also continue because, if she were indicted and convicted in the near future, the president would pardon her, and there would hardly be an inconvenience in her campaign for president. She must be indicted, with rock solid evidence to convict. And it must come before she has any chance of becoming president but close enough to the end of the Obama reign to prevent him from pardoning. Otherwise she gets away scot-free. And the blood of those who lost their lives continues to cry out for justice.

If you want to experience the testimony yourself, C-Span has provided the entire day in four parts:

[i] Note Hillary Clinton’s testimony at 27:50 minutes in Part 3 of C-Span’s recording. 

Friday, October 23, 2015

Sampling the Ballot, Part II

This is a simple, mostly non-partisan, off-year election. And yet we couldn’t get through the ballot in a single post. Sorry about that. Anyway, yesterday we covered Texas state propositions and Harris County propositions. What’s left on my local ballot are school board trustee elections.

School Board

There are four positions on the ballot for Cy-Fair Independent School District. Sometimes they’re called trustees, sometimes board members. CFISD had a “board candidate forum,” which is about two hours with the candidates, if you’d like to see for yourself. But on the ballot they are “trustee candidates.” It’s a “board of trustees,” so that includes it all, I guess.

To begin, I’m not a fan of our school board. I’m not a fan of public education, so add that in. But here we are, in one of the most conservative counties, in one of the most conservative states, in a section of the county that is among the most conservative sections. But our school board is notoriously tied to liberal policies, educational associations (not a good thing), and cronyism. Most of the board has been supported by a PAC, with rather large money, considering that school board positions are unpaid.

The other side will point out that they get awards—they are the most efficient; they are best liked by administrators. They are efficient because CFISD gets a lower per student allotment from the state than other school districts nearby and across the state, and they are required by law to balance the budget. So they are forced to be efficient. But let’s give props for that. If administrators like them, it might be just that they’re giving them everything they want, but that may not reflect at all on the classroom outcome.

In the forum, these six candidates appeared: Thomas Jackson, Christine Hartley, Darcy Mingoia (all current board members), Natalie Blasingame, Debbie Blackshear, and Pam Redd. There are four positions. Incumbents Thomas Jackson and Christin Hartley run unopposed for positions 1 and 2 respectively. Darcy Mingoia is running again for position 3 and is challenged by Dr. Natalie Blasingame. And the position 4 trustee is not running again, so the new candidates are Debbie Blackshear and Pam Redd. Positions 5, 6, and 7—John Ogletree, Don Ryan, and Bob Covey—are not up for re-election this year.

The easy way is to go in order. But I won’t; I’m starting with position 3. In addition to the forum, which I watched online after the fact, I saw them both in person at the most recent Tea Party meeting. I wrote about Darcy Mingoia last time she ran, in 2012. She was not my choice. She seems to be a decent person, more interested in the business end than the details of the classroom.
Darcy Mingoia, CFISD candidate, position 4
photo from Cypress Tea Party Facebook page

Last time around I was bothered that she (and nearly every candidate) got the order of priorities wrong. I think you’re accountable to the taxpayers and parents. The job is to get the best education possible for the money budgeted. You will want a good environment and good teachers in order to accomplish that. But doing the bidding of a teachers’ organization is the wrong approach. This time that question didn’t seem very relevant. She said, “Obviously we’re accountable to the taxpayers. But…” She’s certain they’re doing a very good job, and this is one of the best school districts around.

You lose me there. We looked at the school district info when we moved here and decided where to live. It was highly rated. But two years in, we found it so intolerable we pulled our kids out to homeschool for the duration (ten years). I haven’t been that tuned in to schools since, but we have a granddaughter in the local elementary school right now. It’s a new school, but it was built like all the others with open classrooms—even though that has been discredited everywhere for decades and has been proven painfully troublesome here in this district. It’s cheaper to build large rooms without walls. No matter that children have to remain quiet at all times, to avoid disturbing the other classes within earshot. Having a teacher or guest read a book aloud is iffy (I know from experience). 

Also, the elementary school still tells teachers whether a student is performing at grade level or below grade level. But if your child came in performing two grades above grade level, you don’t get any kind of grade to let you know they’re still progressing. I found the program for gifted students sub-par for high school, middle school, and elementary school. It appears that is still the case. (I want to add here that we're quite pleased with our granddaughter's main teacher; I haven't met her other teacher, but the parents have, and teachers are not a problem for us this year.)

Natalie Blasingame, CFISD candidate, position 4
photo from Cypress Tea Party Facebook page
Natalie Blasingame at least addressed the gifted challenge. She is in favor of adding options. Her big thing is dual-language schools—not to be confused with bilingual education, which is a way of teaching non-English students until they learn enough English to be more mainstreamed. Dual-language is an immersion program for teaching additional languages to English-speaking students. Her daughter attends a dual-language program, but it was not available in our district, so she goes elsewhere. (We’re watching a friend try this out in another state.)

She answered my question about gifted students by saying, the way it happens is by dealing with each student individually. Now, that is something that the schools truly need. I don’t know how they get there. But Dr. Blasingame has been an educator—a teacher, assistant principal, principal, and assistant superintendent. She at least knows the challenges from the trenches, and has looked at options. I think she would be the only board member with an education background, and I believe they said the first board member ever to have been an educator in the district.

So, in the Position 3 race, I’m voting for Natalie Blasingame.

Now, for the others. The short answer is, I’m not voting for anyone else.

Of course unopposed positions will get in without my vote. But they will do it without my feeling forced to say, “What a great job you’re doing!”

You may want to disagree. When Thomas Jackson first ran, it was with PAC money, and in connection with Mr. Ogletree, whom I see as the enemy of parents and taxpayers on the board. So I did not favor him. However, he presented himself well at the forum that year—and again in this year’s forum. He’s data oriented and very reasonable. I was leaning toward giving him my vote, but I was reminded that he was instrumental in pushing for the $1.2 Billion bond last year. That’s an incredibly sized bond, and was going to building more open classroom schools, and for a great many things that aren’t capital expenditures. I voted against it. It passed nevertheless (they almost always do).

Christine Hartley also ran with PAC money, and attached herself to other PAC candidates. I wasn’t convinced then that she was what our schools needed, and I’m sticking with that impression. I think she must make an incredible PTO president or Band Mom. She’s a pleasant person with a lot of energy. But she resents anything that challenges the god that is public schools: school choice, charter schools, private schools, homeschools. So, she may not be aware she declared me an enemy, but I recognized the categorization. So, again, she’s not getting my vote.

The Position 4 race has two newcomers. These are non-partisan positions. But I have been told that Pam Redd is considered a weak Democrat (has voted in at least one Democrat primary, but not a long steady record of doing so). Debbie Blackshear votes Republican. She spoke at a Tea Party meeting last month (which I missed). Pam Redd didn’t show; she later told our Tea Party president that she’d had a previous commitment. But that’s not what she’d said when she was scheduled to speak, and she didn’t get back to him to let him know she wouldn't make it. Since the main ways of reaching the public in person are at the forum and at our Tea Party, she blew off an important opportunity.

So Debbie Blackshear ought to be an obvious choice. But I found her unimpressive at the forum. And a friend suggested that some other business connections make her suspicious. I don’t know enough to be certain. It may turn out, if she wins, I will know her better upon re-election. But for now I’m not willing to give her a vote.

Here’s a little additional impression from the forum. School choice is important to pretty much any parent who has a slightly non-standard child: smart, shy, slow, active, reading challenged, etc. A parent can’t wait through a bad year in hopes the next year will be better. A parent has to get the child out of something that isn’t working and into something that might be a better fit.

There is one small “choice” option in this huge district: Windfern High School of Choice. They talked about it a lot. Two of the candidates (Christine Hartley and Pam Redd, I believe) have had a child go there.

There are three Windfern schools. Two of them are alternative schools—where students get sent as an option other than dropping out. Fighting, or other major infractions, or failure to do the work—students get sent to Windfern. It’s not their choice. But that is not the same Windfern—which is 1500 feet away from the other two.

This “choice” school is for 11th and 12th grade students who are struggling to keep up and graduate, and might do better in smaller classes with more personal attention; or it’s for accelerated graduates, those who want to graduate early. The emphasis is on getting graduated. The set-up is more like a community college (according to the website). A student has to be recommended to the school by a faculty member from their assigned school. It is unlikely that any child that isn’t trying to graduate early would know about it or ask for it; they get directed there.

There are 250-400 students in this school of choice. There are 113,689 students in the district this year. So, that’s .2-.3.5% of the students. There’s a “choice” for 2 or 3 students out of a thousand. So, almost no one has any “choice.” And what there is doesn’t compare to my homeschool, for example.

If that is this board’s idea of plenty of choice, we need people who think differently.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Sampling the Ballot, Part I

There’s an election coming up, first Tuesday of November. In our area, early voting is already underway. So I’m getting down to the nitty-gritty of deciding how to vote.
page 1 of the
Harris County Sample Ballot

We’re outside of Houston, by about a mile, so I’m not going to make any decision about the mayoral race or other city positions. But I can point out a couple of things. 

The mayor, as well as city council races are non-partisan. That is, the candidates don’t run from a party, with a primary putting up a chosen candidate. The candidates themselves, however, generally have a strong party affiliation. And Houston hasn’t had a Republican mayor since 1938.

When we moved here, it was Mayor Lee Brown. He was what you would expect from a liberal mayor. Not good. Then came Mayor Bill White. He ran as a businessman, a man who would come in and improve budgeting, and get things done more efficiently. But he was pretty much just disappointing, as the city announced itself to be a sanctuary city to illegal aliens, and made pretty much no progress against debt. 

Then we got Mayor Anise Parker, who ran as a businesswoman. She sounded sensible. You’re supposed to vote for the best person. I don’t vote in Houston city elections, but she seemed reasonable, and I wasn’t against her. As soon as she was elected, the news announced how remarkable it was that a lesbian had been elected. 

During her campaign her sexual orientation had not been an issue. Suddenly it was. And she conducted her administration as an activist for homosexuality. HERO (the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance), Prop 1 on the city ballot, is an example—which you must vote AGAINST if you're in Houston; it adds no equal rights protections to anyone, but does take away the right to believe women and children are put at risk if men are allowed in their bathrooms. If you followed that issue, you know Mayor Parker threw out tens of thousands of signatures intended to put it on the ballot, rather than just going along with her. And she subpoenaed pastors for their sermons and communications to see if they said anything about LGBT issues. She was legally slapped down for that.

So now, maybe it’s time to forget about who appears to be the best person, cross off everyone that is a Democrat, a liberal, or a progressive (or any other code word). And from whomever is left, find the best conservative and vote for that person. I don’t know who you should decide on in the city; I didn’t examine them all. But I am aware Bill King got endorsements from State Senator Paul Bettencourt (the tax man), and current City Council (District G) Member Oliver Pennington. Bettencourt has also endorsed Sandie Mullins Moger for that District G position. 

Any more research is up to you. You might note that, if the Houston Chronicle gives an endorsement, it’s likely that is a liberal/progressive decision, unless they didn’t have a liberal alternative.

So, now to my local ballot—in three parts: state propositions, county propositions, and local school board.

State Propositions

A couple of these I followed through the legislative session, and I’m in favor of those. That is Prop 1, which increases the homestead exemption for property taxes, from $15 to $25. The wording on the ballot is long. It also allows for the full exemption for elderly or disabled. It might be better if it were a percentage, rather than a set amount. But we’ll take what we get. There's a detail about property taxation rates being held at a set rate upon disability or retirement. This will make it so they get the full exemption, even though that's a change to their set agreement. So, I’m voting YES on Prop 1.

Prop 2 extends the homestead exemption in Prop 1 to the surviving spouse of a disabled veteran who died before this homestead exemption law went into place—so that such a spouse isn’t the only category of homeowner left out.  So I’m voting YES on Prop 2 as well.

I also followed Prop 6, which recognizes the right to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife according to conservation laws. That ought to be a given, but here it is, now, in our state constitution. So, I’m voting YES on Prop 6.

From here on I know less, so these are my thoughts. If you know more, please share with the rest of us.

Prop 3 is intended to allow statewide elected officials to live somewhere other than in the capital, which is Austin. I don’t know much background about this. I don’t see it as a problem. If a person lives in, say San Antonio, an hour from the capital, and is willing to commute each day they are needed in Austin, I don’t see that as a problem. Lots of people commute for an hour a day. Austin is a high cost living area. Choosing maybe Round Rock, nearby but more suburban, seems reasonable. Maybe there’s something more to this than I’m thinking of. But it seems to me, being in the office, and available as needed, is what is relevant, not where one pays for one’s housing. So, I’m voting YES on Prop 3.

Prop 4 allows the legislature to allow the charitable foundations of professional sports teams to hold raffles. I’m not convinced this is an essential role for our legislature. Maybe there are arguments in favor, but they haven’t reached me. So, I’m voting NO on Prop 4.

Prop 5 authorizes small counties—population less than 7,500—to perform private road construction and maintenance. The key detail here seems to be “private.” Many roads in a rural county are likely to be private—to and from farms or ranches, or began that way. It may be that it is in the county’s interest to make sure such roads are maintained. In a large county, maintaining private roads could seem suspicious for a government to take on. But in these small places, I think it is probably not going to be a sign of corruption. So, feel free to disagree, but I’m voting YES on Prop 5.

Prop 7 dedicates taxes and revenues from automobile sales, use, and rental to the state highway fund, for non-toll roads, and to reduce transportation-related debt. I usually start with any tax as a no. But this is not a new tax, but a dedication of taxes already received for this specific purpose. It seems reasonable, since the revenue sources are related to the use. So, feel free to disagree, but I’m voting YES on Prop 7.

Other than the occasional flyer in the mail for some particular proposition, I haven’t found many opinion sources on these. But the Conservative Coalition of Harris County, a group of citizens that study the issues and candidates and give their recommendations, shows the percentage of their group and the way they are learning:

State Proposition
Prop 1
Prop 2
Prop 3
Prop 4
Prop 5
Prop 6
Prop 7

Harris County Propositions

Word of warning for the voter: The ballot will have two Prop 1s, Prop 2s, Prop 3s, and Prop 4s. (The City of Houston has and additional Prop 1, 2, and 3.) So read carefully and make sure you know where you are on the ballot. All of the Harris County propositions are for issuing bonds. The CCHC group are 100% against all four. However, I talked with one of them afterward—after he had gotten a response from the county commissioner’s office, and he may change.

County Proposition One will issue $700 Million in bonds for road improvement. According to word passed on to me, the county hasn’t raised taxes for roads in 17 years. With the growth in the county, it might be sensible to go along with these road improvement bonds. It’s hard to plan without funds to draw from, so it might be more efficient to fund through a bond.

Still, you might be interested to know that Harris County’s per capita debt of $543 is moderately high compared to other large Texas counties. Bexar, Travis, and Denton Counties are higher. Dallas, Tarrant, Collin, and El Paso Counties are lower. The highest was Denton County at $816; the lowest was Dallas County at $44 (data from Texas Transparency site). 

So, while my default position is No until convinced otherwise, and I’m am a bit torn, I will probably vote YES on County Prop One.

County Prop Two is $60 Million in bonds for parks. I don’t think this is maintenance of current parks; I think it is for new parks, but I may be wrong. It’s hard to imagine how the land could be found for several new parks. Not the little parks that are provided in new subdivisions, but big public parks, like Cullen Park or Bear Creek Park. Personally, I’m satisfied with the existing parks. So, feel free to disagree, but I think I’ll vote NO on County Prop Two.

County Prop Three is $24 Million in bonds for a much larger veterinary health and adoption center—a dog pound. The story is that the current one is too small, and this leads to quicker euthanization than a larger facility would have. The current clinic might be tight in capacity. However, their website currently claims that, while they don’t guarantee, they generally adopt out 100% of healthy dogs. So I’m not sure what would change with an additional $24 Million. I love dogs (cats are OK too). But I’m not convinced, so I’m voting NO on County Prop Three.

County Prop Four is $64 Million in bonds for flood control. I don’t know what flood control, not already in place, is needed to be planned ahead for, using bonds, rather than as needed funds. I’m in favor of flood control. I’m pleased with how quickly and efficiently floods get taken care of here. But I’m not convinced this additional funding is needed at this time. So, I’m voting NO on County Prop Four.

We have yet to get to the Cy-Fair ISD School Board. But this is enough for a day. So we'll do a Part II tomorrow.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Source of Morality

Last week, following the Democrat presidential debate, Glenn Beck called in to his radio show (he was out that day) to comment. He opined that what Bernie Sanders is proclaiming is what is moral. It isn’t what is really moral, but what people with a totally skewed worldview might think is moral.

That got me thinking. I’ve noticed, among friends who are non-religious but still decent people, they seek morality. They try being vegan—to avoid eating what was alive as an animal. They might volunteer with Habitat for Humanity. While rejecting God’s word as a way to a moral life, they nevertheless seek to be moral, finding their own definitions—and sometimes proselytizing their “discovered morality” to others who don’t yet agree with them.

I propose that it is normal for people to want to be good, to think of themselves as good. They can define that according to what God has revealed as good. But if they reject that, they leave a vacuum they must fill with something. Sometimes what they fill it with will align with what God tells us is good, sometimes neutral. Sometimes they’re just plain wrong.

Another thing necessary for figuring out what is moral is a standard, or authority. If God is not the authority, then the vacuum left is filled by something else: the person’s own gut feelings, the popular culture—or the government.

What we saw at the Democrat debate was morality as defined by those who think the authority is government. And it’s circular; government must do what the people think is moral, and the people must agree with government’s definitions of moral.

I thought it might be useful to draw a comparison between God’s definition of morality and the counterfeit Government-is-god version of morality. If we can trust that those who disagree with us want to be good and right, and we can use language that recognizes the search for morality, we might persuade away from the big-government ideas that lead inevitably to tyranny, poverty, and savagery—which moral people do not want.

This thought exercise in the chart isn’t yet how to word things to the lost morality thinkers, but it is on the way. If we can see the real next to the counterfeit, then maybe we can think of ways to lead others to the real.

God’s Revealed Morality
Government-as-god Morality
God is the authority of what is moral and good. He lets us know what that is, in written word that has been used and handed down for millennia, and agreed upon by civilizations.
Government is the authority of what is moral and good. What government says is good is different now than it was a decade ago, and will likely be quite different a decade from now.

God grants human beings inalienable rights.
Government grants human beings what it chooses, and removes those “rights” and privileges as it sees fit.

God grants us life, and determines timing of birth and death. God prohibits us from taking innocent life.
Government decides whose life is or is not worth protecting. Government places greater value on criminal life and possibly animal life than it does innocent unborn human life or innocent elderly or infirm.

God is no respecter of persons; i.e., He invites all races and nations of people to come unto Him and follow His law in order to live their best life.

Government chooses whom to favor, and may favor one ethnicity or gender or class over another as it chooses.
The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof; God gives mankind the resources and responsibilities to live well on the earth, allowing His children to prosper from their work and effort.
Government insists that man is a danger to the earth, and should curtail any activities or enterprises that the government deems to be dangerous to the environment, even if those restrictions unduly harm the poor, or prevent inventions that could solve cleanliness issues.

God plans for each child to be raised by a loving mother and father, to teach the child God’s morality and bring him/her up to be productive and contributing to society, so parents have the sacred right and responsibility to see to the care and upbringing of their children.

Government claims to know what is best for children; it will insist on government institutions for inculcating government ideas, and will override parental rights as it chooses.
God is concerned about economic inequality if some of his children are starving and in need while others fail to care and offer help, because voluntary helping, individual to individual, can help both the giver and the receiver.
Government is concerned about economic inequality regardless of cause, and takes by force from some to give to others, as it sees fit, regardless of how this might harm both the giver and the receiver.

God allows, and considers it a responsibility, to defend self, family, and home. So good citizens have a right to arm themselves.
Government claims that citizens should not be allowed to own weapons, because some people might use them improperly.

God requires allegiance to Him first, followed by family, community, and government.
Government requires allegiance to government first, followed by community as higher government allows, then family as government dictates, and to religion as far as government is willing to tolerate.

God joined our first parents in marriage and commanded them to multiply and replenish the earth—to care for their offspring and bring them up to adulthood in love and security.
Government decides that marriage is a current agreement between any two people in a sexual relationship, without any connection to permanence, exclusivity, or parenting; and government may decide on a different definition at any time in the future, regardless of the effect on families and children.

God expects His children to respect property ownership, to care for what is theirs, but never to take what is not theirs.
Government decides who owns what, and whether to allow ownership to continue, or to confiscate from a current owner to claim for government or to bestow on a new owner.

When God asks for charity, it is one person freely giving something he has, or his time, attention, or work to benefit another of God’s children.

When government asks for charity, it is coerced by taxation, confiscation, or regulation and requirement.

God’s laws are short and simple: there are ten clearly worded basic requirements respecting God, family, life, honesty, and property ownership, plus some advisory details about how to implement them. He has made them relatively easy to understand and obey. He will judge fairly and mercifully.

Government’s laws are lengthy, complex, unintelligible, and often obscure, so as to make them almost impossible to obey, which gives government the power to prosecute at will almost anyone it might target. Government may judge arbitrarily and inconsistently.