Thursday, March 31, 2016

Review of the Proper Role of Government

This is a public service message for several presidential candidates, their supporters, and anyone else who may have forgotten (or never learned) the answer to this question: What is the proper role of government?

Choose the best answer. The proper role of government is: 

A: to redistribute wealth, provide jobs, and control wages.
B: to protect the environment, end racism, and enforce agreement with prevailing opinions.
D: to protect life, liberty, and property.
Clue: the answer is in the Declaration of Independence.

WE hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness—That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed.
What does “Pursuit of Happiness” mean? because that’s the single difference from answer D. It means “property,” but more; it includes choosing how to pursue wealth—what job or profession you will choose—and it includes other pursuits that may or may not lead to gaining property, but are ways you choose to spend your life. Property is, after all, the things you accumulate by living your life in a way that exceeds subsistence. So “property” is shorthand for “how you live your life and pursue happiness,” but since “pursuit of happiness” is less concrete, for our purposes we can refer to property and be close enough.

If we turn to the Preamble of the Constitution, we can see how life, liberty, and property are applied:

 We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
Protecting life, liberty, and property, then, require some security things, like common defense from external forces, peace among the states (domestic Tranquility), and a justice system for lawbreakers and settling disputes, plus “general Welfare” good practices like standardized weights and measures, and maintaining the value of money, and arguably interstate roads and bridges.

All of these things are designed to “secure the Blessings of Liberty.”

There are some more specifics within the body of the Constitution—enumerated powers. That doesn’t mean just numbered (although they are), but named, or specified. Nothing is enumerated there that isn’t designed to protect life, liberty, and property. And then comes the Bill of Rights, which spell out things that government absolutely can’t do, just in case someone comes along in a generation beyond the founders that doesn’t understand the “self-evident” truths.

There’s another truth about the role of government: 

Whenever government goes beyond its proper role, there will be unintended negative consequences—and they are likely to be exactly opposite of the stated purpose of the government action. 

·        Government interference intended to alleviate poverty increases poverty, and keeps individuals in poverty who would otherwise have worked their way out of it.
·        Government interference intended to provide jobs limits job creation, and likely increases unemployment, underemployment, and/or people giving up and leaving the workforce.
·        Government interference intended to provide minimum “living wages” limits job opportunities for the lowest qualified workers, leaving them with no wage, rather than a living wage, and leaving them without experience-building work to increase their wage-earning abilities for later.
·        Government interference intended to protect the environment damages the environment while also damaging free market solutions that would have otherwise improved the environment.
·        Government interference intended to end racism increases looking at race rather than looking at character among citizens.
·        Government interference intended to provide education ensures an inferior education than can be achieved through free market innovations, private schools, and homeschools.
·        Government interference intended to lower the cost of high education has raised the costs of higher education and student loans, making it more difficult for more worthy students to get the education they need and want and are willing to work for.
·        Government interference intended to lower healthcare costs and healthcare insurance rates raises the cost of healthcare and insurance, making paying for basic health services less affordable for more people, and prevents free market innovations and philanthropy that could solve the problems.
It’s a pattern. You can count on it. Civilized free people in a free market are unstoppable when it comes to innovation, wealth creation, and strength. And they keep thriving as long as the people live civilized lives, and as long as the citizens are diligent in limiting government.

This can be true not only in the United States, but anywhere in the world where the rules are followed:

Freedom comes from government limited to only protecting life, liberty, and property. Prosperity comes from free market, which rewards hard work and innovation. Civilization comes from living lives that value God, life, family, and truth.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Being the Arbiter

ar∙bi∙ter  noun  1. A person selected to judge a dispute; umpire; 2. a person fully authorized or qualified to judge or decide
There are two sides to every disagreement. Not necessarily equivalent sides. Sometimes one side is in the right and the other is in the wrong.

If we are in the position of being the arbiter, we do harm if we dismiss the differences. All of us at some point are the arbiter—the authority needed to make a just ruling among disputing parties. So today’s post is about learning to be a good one.

Example 1: You are the parent of two children who are quarreling—at least at the point you arrive on the scene. Both kids are giving you their side.
found here

Sister: “He took my cookie.”
Brother: “No, I didn’t.”
Sister: “He did. Look. He’s still eating it.”
Brother: “It was my cookie, not hers.”
Sister: “He took his already. I was going to eat it right after I finished my lunch.”
Brother: “It was just sitting there; everyone was done. One cookie left—I took it.”
Sister: “He knew it was mine.”
At some point you get tired of hearing the complaints. You stop listening to the details, and just want it to stop.

Parent: “No more cookies for either of you the rest of the day. You don’t deserve any if you’re going to fight over them.”

Parent sees the argument has been silenced and breathes a sigh of relief. Brother smirks at sister; he’s finishing his second cookie, and she gets none. Sister gets no cookie, because hers was stolen. And she has learned that she cannot trust the arbiter to deal with the injustice to make things right for her.

Example 2: Big guy walks down the school hallway, bumps into little guy, knocks him aside, gives a little extra nudge and causes him to drop his books. This is the third time in a week this exact thing has happened.

Little guy: “Hey! Cut it out, you jerk!
Big guy (stops): “You talking to me.”
Little guy (stands up after picking up mess—says nothing, just glares).
Big guy: “You need help with those things?” (knocks books again, blocks a punch from Little guy, then tries to punch him.)
Fight ensues. Other students surround them in a growing circle. A teacher steps out of a classroom. Tries to step between them to break up the fight.
Teacher: “Hey. Stop! No fighting allowed.”
Big guy: “He started it.”
Little guy: “He started it. He knocked my books to the floor—twice.”
Big guy: “He punched me.”
Little guy: “After he’s been shoving me around.”
Teacher: “I don’t want to hear it. No fighting allowed at school. Both of you—straight to the principal’s office.” (Walks them there.)
The teacher stopped the fight; he’s satisfied. Big guy and Little guy will both get reprimanded equally by the principal, because of the “no fighting” rule. So the Big guy has done additional damage to Little Guy without much effort or risk. The Little guy gets punished because he stood up to a bully after being victimized several times.
What would a just arbiter do in these circumstances?

·         Pay attention.
·         Hear both sides.
·         Weigh the evidence.
·         Make a wise judgment.
·         Base consequences on what actually happened.

That may be more challenging than it looks, since judging whether a person is lying is a somewhat rare skill. But these are kids. You ought to be able to ascertain some truth, if you’re attentive and caring.

Some years ago I read about a family (too long ago for me to know how to cite the story) that held court. If a contention came up during the day, Mom could ask if this was something they wanted to take before the court of Dad. When Dad got home on these days—maybe after dinner—he would hold court around his desk. Each child in turn would present his side, including evidence, and possibly testimony from witnesses. Sometimes the true wrongdoer just gave up. But just about without fail, the Dad court could tell, after hearing both sides and paying attention to the evidence presented, what really happened. And then he could mete out consequences.

He did those five steps. And the result was that whoever was in the wrong (like the cookie stealer) would be held accountable. The one who got her cookie stolen would feel vindicated and supported. Right and wrong are put safely in their places. Both kids are better off for it.

At school it’s a little more challenging—yet another reason to homeschool. Still, a lot depends on what the teacher does, and follow that with what the principal does. If the principal assumes both are equally guilty, because of the no fighting rule, then she has been unfair to the victim of the bully, and she hasn’t done anything to reform the bully.

Wouldn’t it be better if the principal heard both sides—possibly separately—and heard from witnesses when possible? Maybe look at the record (chances are a bully, in a school with a just arbiter, would have a record). Then the bully might even learn what kind of behavior is unacceptable among civilized people—which ought to be an important part of education.

So, what about bigger, grown-up challenges?

Example 3: Israel exists in a country about the size of New Jersey, surrounded by enemies, subject to frequent, continual attacks. The “Palestinians” have been refugees since 1948, when they joined with the enemies of Israel to annihilate Israel—but they lost. They think they should be let back in to the country they tried to do away with. Generations pass with them failing to assimilate anywhere and continuing to blame Israel.

So you have one side that attacks innocent civilians, then sets up circumstances to make it nearly impossible to fight back without harming innocents, by using schools and hospitals and population centers as their military attack points. And the other side is totally defensive, and goes beyond what anyone should expect to avoid harming civilians.

Anyone who says the two sides are equivalent and ought to just learn to get along hasn’t taken the steps to be a just arbiter.

Who is the arbiter? In this case, it is individuals, like us, as well as the nation we belong to. The current leader of our country is not a just arbiter. That does damage to the small country in the Middle East that has heretofore been our ally. Without paying attention, hearing both sides, and weighing the evidence, there’s not much chance of making a wise judgment, let alone leading to a just consequence.

Example 4: A political candidate (Trump) makes personal, untrue attacks on all of his opponents in turn, as each one seems to become a threat. Another candidate (Cruz) consistently stays on the message of issues, comparing plans, persuading based on law and principle. Trump sees the comparison, using his own words along with video of himself saying things, as an attack. And he attacks back—without truth, without shame, without limits (admittedly, so far no murder that we’re aware of).

This past week there was an exchange that included the candidates’ wives. Trump’s current wife worked as a model. Back before they were married she did a nude photo shoot for GQ Magazine—the essential bikini parts are covered, but it’s obvious she’s unclothed, and it’s meant to be provocative. She made a living that way back then. It’s available out there on the internet, but I’m not linking to it. (I heard that the shoot took place on Trump’s jet, with his approval. Don’t know how to verify that.)

If it’s in print, it still exists. That’s what published means. Besides back issues available online, libraries out there keep back issues of practically everything. So it’s not surprising that the photo surfaced. It was used in an anti-Trump ad—a single-frame internet picture with words over it, saying something like, “Is this who you want as First Lady?” If Trump is so proud of his sexual exploits, and his wife’s body, then he should be expected to just say, “Yeah,” and shrug his shoulders. But he didn’t. He used it as a political media opportunity.

He accused Ted Cruz of running the ad. He didn’t—it was an anti-Trump PAC (political action committee). Then Trump said they did it because Cruz told them to. Cruz couldn’t—besides it not being a Cruz committee, law prevents any interaction between a candidate and a PAC.

Before blaming Cruz, Trump immediately retaliated with a threat of bad news he was ready to spill about Heidi Cruz. Shortly after that turned out to be a photo of Heidi, taken mid-sentence and mid-blink, side-by-side with a professional head shot of Melania. Trump not only implied that Heidi was ugly by comparison, he stated it bluntly. 

And then, a day or two later, suddenly there are accusations that Ted Cruz has had, count ‘em, five affairs with women. In my opinion, the accusation is laughably false. No woman will verify. The story comes through the National Enquirer, purveyor of lies for profit, which happens to be owned by a Trump friend.
Cruz's response to the attack; it looked at the time
Trump was involved, which may prove true. But little
has been said by Cruz about it since. Found here.

Trump immediately says it wasn’t him, but that “Lyin’ Ted Cruz” will have to deal with it himself. Stories are starting to build the case against Trump on this, but it may be that someone who supports him or simply hates Cruz put out the accusation without Trump’s direct involvement—in which case Trump would see himself as innocent, even though he insists Cruz was responsible for the actions of an unrelated Super Pac. Hmmm. 

And on radio Monday in Wisconsin,  Trump reiterated his reason for the escalation of personal attacks to include family: “He started it.”

So it has been frustrating to hear multiple media sources, typically supposed conservatives, complain about all the bickering—and that it’s both sides’ fault. They should just get together and get along.

That, to me, sounds like an unjust arbiter. They have not paid attention. They have not noticed the overwhelming evidence that one side is a lying, manipulative narcissist whose campaign is based on, “Vote for me; I’ll make America great again, but don’t ask for details, just believe me that I will do it,” while belittling women, talk show hosts, all of his opponents, and anyone who disagrees with him. And the other is an expert on the issues related to our constitutionally protected freedoms and how returning to the Constitution will bring us a return to the freedom and prosperity we expect in America—a promise given while being scrupulously against personal attacks on his opponents—up until the attack on his wife.

If you’re a Republican voter, you’re an arbiter in this case. You need to pay attention, hear both sides, weigh the evidence, and make a wise judgment. If you do that, you will definitely know better than to send a crude, vulgar, self-obsessed bully to the White House. You might instead consider sending a very smart, very accomplished and principled man there.

If you’re in a position to judge—and you are, in many circumstances in your life—then be a just arbiter.

Thursday, March 24, 2016


It’s Easter week, when we celebrate the most important event ever to happen on earth—the resurrection of Christ.

Why celebrate just a day, when we can celebrate all week?

·         Palm Sunday—The Triumphal Entry
·         Monday—Cleansing of the Temple
·         Tuesday—Teaching in Jerusalem
·         Wednesday—events unknown, but He told us, “Come, follow me.”
·         Thursday—Gethsemane—where those in my religion believe He suffered the sins of the world, overcoming the spiritual separation from God the Father, which would be followed by overcoming physical death soon after.
·         Friday—Crucifixion and Burial
·         Saturday—The Tomb
·         Sunday—The Resurrection—it is not life that is empty, but the Garden Tomb.
It’s worth looking at what we have because He lives—and offering a Hallelujah for those blessings.
I’m sharing this video for that purpose:

You can find this video, and a daily celebration of blessings from the resurrection at

The video uses many words from Handel’s Messiah. I’m singing “He Was Despised” this Sunday, as part of our Easter worship program. I love the piece, which isn’t done as often as many others; it is mournful, so it needs to be followed up with some Hallelujah songs, which we are doing.

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir recently did a project inviting the world to join them in singing the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah. People were invited to send in a video of themselves singing along, and then a master chorus was produced using those thousands of videos. It’s kind of glorious.

If you loved that, you might want to try singing along for the entire Messiah, with the Tabernacle Choir, and soloists from the Metropolitan Opera, this Friday, Good Friday. It’s being broadcast at my church building at 8:00, and many other places. But it’s also available online for streaming through April 4th. You can even download a public domain score if you don’t already have one.

Music is one of my favorite ways of shouting Hallelujah, or feeling anything really important. When times are troubled and dark, it’s good to take time to sing Hallelujah, while spring celebrates with us, and everything seems to, and light and hopeful.


Monday, March 21, 2016


This past Saturday, at our senatorial district convention, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick dropped in to say a few words. He used to be our state senator, so he’s at home here. He’s been on the road, helping with the Ted Cruz campaign, seeing people around the country. He told us, “There are lots of people who love the country like we do, and they want it to be restored.”
My blurry phone photo of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick
from the Senatorial District 7 Convention, March 19, 2016

I’ve been thinking about that lately. Last week I watched an Uncommon Knowledge interview with Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse, a Constitution lover frequently coming to my attention lately. This was the longest interview I’ve heard with him. He had more time to give context and background. I recommend watching the whole thing, but I thought I’d quote a few things here today. 

The overarching question here is, how bad are things, and how can we get back to the constitution? Peter Robinson is the interviewer:

PR: How recently did Congress work?
Sasse: Well, let’s define what work meant. In the mid-1960s there was a radical revision of what the federal government’s role was in the 1964, 1963…
PR: Great Society.
Sasse: Right. So we should celebrate the Civil Rights Movement at the same time. But in the Great Society program, there was a radical expansion of the federal government’s role in life. And it begged all sorts of questions about why we have limited government. We have limited government for a whole bunch of reasons that I hope we talk about some today. But after the 1960s, promises that were obviously bogus when they were made were never really revisited. The Medicare expenditure, the Congressional Budget Office equivalent from the mid-1960s, that projected what will Medicare cost from 1965 to 1975, was off by 1100%. What Medicare as of 1975 was costing—the original projections had been that it would be 9% of what it was actually costing. Where are the adults that have tackled that problem? It was a mess, obviously. But the mid-1970s—all sorts of things have been on autopilot since those mid-60s, and big problems are not being addressed.
So the deviation from the Constitution has been going on for a while, and seriously awry for half a century. Some of it has to do with a loss of understanding about what philosophy is behind out Constitution:

Sasse: If you sort of tried to think about, let’s teach the American Revolution to the present day, and create the sort of arc of what it means to have this really breathtaking experiment in self-governance, this idea—this big, anthropological claim that humans are created with dignity, and government doesn’t give us rights, but government is a shared project to secure those rights—that idea has really been under assault in certain ways since the middle of industrialization. It’s true that there was lots of complexity as the economy shifted from mostly agrarian to mostly urban and industrial.
I didn’t know, until this interview, much of Senator Sasse’s background. He graduated from Harvard, got a doctorate from Yale, worked at the Boston Consulting Group. He held a job at the Department of Justice, a job that was once held by Antonin Scalia. Then he taught at the University of Texas, and if I understood right, he was President of UT. 

Then he moved back home to Nebraska, a small-town suburb of Omaha, to raise his children. And run for the Senate. He’s still young. Very energetic. Very down-to-earth for someone that academically qualified. He has the valuable skill of being able to talk about important, deep, philosophical ideas in simple words that any thinking person ought to be able to understand.

I am beginning to think that simplifying skill, because it is too rare, is extremely valuable. Especially in our day, when clarity, and getting the message through in a few short words, is needed to match how information gets exchanged. 

He even uses Twitter to good effect. He was asked about a recent Twitter exchange with Donald Trump. Among other things, he connected Trump’s infidelity—and in fact his bragging about having sex with married women (who brags about that?)—with a failure to understand and keep his oaths.
There was also a challenge to Trump’s penchant for executive unilateralism. Here’s the Tweet, followed by Sasse’s explanation:
@realDonaldTrump  The President’s job is NOT 2 “run America.” This is precisely Obama’s error….   
Sasse: Yeah. We believe that all three branches are separate but equal, but the Article 2 branch, the executive—I mean, in some of the founders’ deliberations, president wasn’t even the term they used some of the time; they talked about the administrator. And president really just means presiding officer of the executive branch, and it’s supposed to be somebody who takes an oath to faithfully execute the laws that were passed by the Legislature.
PR: Donald Trump displays no evidence that he has any constitutional understanding?
Sasse: It is really hard to find him ever saying anything about limits and restraint, and executive restraint, which…  I’m not going to have accused him of any of these particular, you know, ugly analogues, but, man, of the things that he says about winning and power.…
The Senator tries to understand those who approve of Trump. Some of that comes because of the feckless president we’ve had on foreign policy—unfortunately combined with unilateral executive overreach. Sasse is kinder than I would be about Trump, but he says,

He’d be great to have a beer with, and he’s funny, and he’s got charisma. I get all that. Where does he ever articulate a constitutional sense of the limits of the executive branch?
Looking at solutions, he offers this:

Sasse: So, first of all, let’s just recognize that America is much much much bigger than the federal government. And so let’s not start by identifying the two. Washington that thinks it can solve every problem caused far more unintended consequences errors, mistakes, new troubles, than anything they’ll possibly solve. So first of all, we should have an American vision that can transcend what we think the federal government can get done.
Then, inside the federal government, we should want all three of these branches to all be vigorous defenders of a constitutional system of limited government.
But then, underneath that, policy initiative should ideally be coming—in the domestic policy space—should ideally be coming from the Article 1 legislative branch….
We should yearn for more deliberation that can bring us together as a people. And the supermajoritarian requirements of the Senate, to go back to your opening questions about the differences between House and Senate, we should desire solutions that can bring along a lot of the America people. That happens in dialogue. That happens among people over dinner tables. And a hundred people who should get to know each other in the Senate trying to not always put the worst construction on your policy opponent’s position. You should actually try to understand it before you reject it.
This is from his consultant background. He spent his first year going around to meet and talk with each of the other senators, to get a full view of the system, including its culture and problems.

He’s asked to explain this quote from his maiden speech in the Senate, this past November:

“While I am in favor of more civility, my actual call here is for more substance. This is not a call for less fighting [in the Senate]—but for more meaningful fighting.”
It’s the meaning—the understanding of the Constitution, and the very idea of limited government—that needs to be explained, taught, and defended. As Reagan said, in his farewell speech, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.”

Restoration and preservation are about culture. At the 33-minute mark, Sasse makes this brilliantly simple point:

Sasse: It’ll sound too romantic, but I believe we’re incredibly blessed. We live in the most exceptional nation in the history of the world, and it’s based on an anthropological claim about the dignity of people. I really believe that people are created with dignity—the world is fallen; we need government to restrain certain kinds of evil, and to create and maintain a framework for ordered liberty.
But life is lived in neighborhoods, in our cities, and in small towns across cattle country. The center of the world is the Rotary Club in my town; the center of the world is your listeners, churches, and synagogues, in the small businesses that they’re founding, and the little league, and the PTA, and the fire department.
That is where life is lived, that textured, meaningful life.… and I want your and my grandkids to grow up in a nation that believes in limited government, because we believe in the nearly limitless potential of humans who have dignity.
He answers questions about Justice Scalia—because the interview was recorded the week after his death—and that he wasn’t “conservative”; he was about the written law.

Sasse: I read my Constitution; I see no party affiliation in the Supreme Court justices. And even progressive and conservative is wrong, because there are progressives and there are people who believe in doing their job, which is to hide anything about their own policy preferences.
The job of a Supreme Court justice is not to be a super-legislator. That would be an anti-democratic attack on a constitutional system where we the people are supposed to be in charge and be able to fire the legislators. And so if the court is going to be super legislators, they surely shouldn’t have lifetime appointments.
And so to call Scalia conservative, as the papers have done all this week, misses the fundamental point. His job was to protect the rights of the people against bad laws that overreached. He was an originalist. He was a constitutionalist.
One last section I want to share. Peter Robinson asks the senator about a quote from conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt:

“We may be seeing the eclipse of the Republic. I’m not an alarmist. It’s not the end of the world. But even as the ancient republic of Rome became a more imperial structure, our government has grown so large, its responsibilities so immense, under the burdens of the modern world, that it will be impossible to take it back.”
And then Sasse is asked, is it too late?

Sasse: We need a constitutional recovery. And we need to bring along the republic, which is three hundred and twenty million souls.
This is where he offers the Reagan quote, and reminds us that Reagan also used to say this while running for governor of California, teaching these truths to labor movement people along the railroad tracks. Then Sasse says:

It only goes on if you teach it. And I do think there is an obsession of the 535 [US legislators] to think their job is small-ball legislating. A huge part of our job is to be advocates and defenders and teachers and lovers of the constitutional system.
And we have to teach that system to the next generation. So I’m with Hugh, in that you can’t talk about the decline of self-governance as the only thing that possibly matters in a world where the reason we believe in the American system of government is because of all these other aspects of what make full lives well lived, what define human flourishing outside of government.
But I think we would be really naïve to not be having the kind of conversation that he wants to have about the risk of slipping from Republic to Empire.
PR: It’s not too late?
Sasse: It’s not too late. But, we need to recognize this president has repeatedly talked like an emperor. We have a president who says it isn’t that big of a deal “if the Congress doesn’t pass the laws I want them to pass—I have a pen, and I have a phone, and I can just make it up as I go along.”
That sounds like something that you might have heard at a certain moment in Rome’s decline. And we now have a front-runner in the Republican Party who says maybe president Obama has paved a new way, as far as its executive unilateralism goes.
If you talked constantly about power and strength—and, let’s be clear, our foreign policy needs to be defined more by power and strength, and when you make political promises you should keep your word with power and strength—and yet George Washington and Thomas Jefferson and James Madison didn’t believe when they became president that their aspirations should look like King George III.
They believed they had a servant leadership responsibility underneath the Constitution…. If you go back and read Washington’s farewell address at the end of his eight years as president, he worried that the constitutional system was in peril.
So we’re in uniquely troubled times, but not totally unique, because, in our system, you always need to teach it to the next generation. And we’ve not been doing that.
On Sunday I listened to a rebroadcast address on BYUTV, Lawrence C. Walters spoke on “Citizenship,” April 1, 2014, telling us how to incorporate being good citizens into the various aspects of our lives. Also worth hearing in full. But we're over our limit for today, so, he says there are five things we can make part of our lives as citizens, rather than as consumers or subjects.

Five Essential Attributes of Active Citizens:
1. Accept responsibility.
2. Do their homework.
3. Engage with others.
4. Take action.
5. Learn from their experiences.
I experienced these things in action the past week, culminating (so far) in Saturday’s district convention—even more than in past years, because I was on the resolutions (platform) committee. So, after all the work last week, we took additional resolutions and testimony, finalized our recommendations, and presented them before the body (about 375 attendees). I got to see first-hand how someone’s idea at a grassroots precinct meeting makes its way into the platform, which will be considered by legislators this coming session.

What we do really matters. I have hope that there are enough of us who love our Constitution to do this.

Monday, March 14, 2016

A Platform to Stand On

One of the things we did at our precinct conventions on March 1st (primary voting day here in Texas) was to put forth resolutions for our state party platform. That’s where the grassroots get to speak.

I’m getting a first-hand view right now of the platform writing process. I got an invitation last Thursday to be part of the temporary platform committee for my state senatorial district—which meets in convention next Saturday.

I very much appreciate this opportunity. This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. About 25 years ago I was at a county convention, in another state, and offered to help on the next platform—because I’m a writer and editor and thought I might be useful. What I didn’t know was that it is considered an influential position to be able to help write the platform—because you have control of the ideas. So, needless to say, my offer wasn’t accepted.

So here we are in Texas, and I started attending conventions as a delegate in 2004. I have always been both interested and frustrated at the platform process. At district and state conventions, discussions with the entire body can be tedious and painful—and time-consuming when everyone is tired after the other business. Usually we get through only a few details, and then everyone is just willing to pass the remainder as written so they can go home.

So the input actually happens before the meeting.

Eventually I learned that, to be a committee member (on just about any party committee), you need to be a precinct chair. So that was one of my reasons for running to be precinct chair two years ago. I don’t recall mentioning my interest in writing the platform to anyone; I may have, probably did. But this is the first opportunity (first primary season) since my election. And the invitation came out of the blue. Our district committeewoman knows me, and knows I am a writer, and recommended me to our district committeeman, who is chairing the temporary platform committee.

The committee is temporary prior to the convention. Temporary prior to permanent is a standard procedure. For example, as a precinct chair I made myself the temporary chair of the precinct convention, to get the meeting started. Then I was voted on by the attendees to be the permanent chair to run the remainder of the precinct convention (about an hour, plus duties afterward). It isn’t automatic, if others want to run the meeting. But it’s rare that the temporary chair isn’t made the permanent chair.

Typically, the temporary platform committee gets voted in as permanent members for our duties during the day-long district convention. Two years ago at the district convention there were changes made from temporary to permanent platform committee, but that is rare. I haven’t noticed any serious disagreements on the committee so far. So I’m guessing we'll all be on the committee all day Saturday.

At that meeting, delegates are able to propose additional resolutions, and we will hear testimony on those, and incorporate them as needed, and then present our proposed platform.

In the meantime, we volunteer temporary platform committee members are doing the preparation work.

On Friday I got access to the platform resolutions submitted by all the various precincts in the county. Not every precinct held a convention (lack of interest?), and not every convention came up with resolutions. But there are several hundred precincts that submitted resolutions, from one to forty-four. Three to ten was pretty normal.

We are reading every single one. I started going through them Friday evening. Then Saturday afternoon we met for about 2 ½ hours to work together on understanding them, seeing whether they are significantly different from the existing platform from 2014, which is a starting point, and judging whether the concept is coming up enough that it might be considered to represent the feelings of the party.

We divided up the list. My group started working from the top (fortunately, that’s the part I had read), and the other group started working from the bottom. We got maybe a quarter of the way through.

One thing we found was that there are many repetitions. There are citizen groups that write resolutions and send them out to followers, asking them to propose them at their precinct conventions. There were a couple of very common lists, one of about 11 resolutions, and the other around 18. So once we’ve read those, we recognize them when they come up again. One of our volunteers has been setting up a spreadsheet of resolutions, so in our next meeting (tonight) we’ll be able to quickly make decisions on those repeated resolutions.

I’m nearly through with my reading—the homework preparation. The discussion goes a lot more smoothly if we’ve read through the resolutions ahead of time. I also learned that it’s helpful to identify which part of the 2014 platform a resolution relates to, so I’m trying to do that now. Sometimes we find it simple to address a new idea just by adding a phrase or bullet point to the existing platform.

Texas has arguably the most conservative platform in the nation. My senatorial district is one of the largest and most conservative districts in the state. So the input from our district platform will have some influence on the next state party.

Any changes we make will be in the direction of specifying details that have come up in the past couple of years, things that already fit into our conservative world view.

There are attempts at various things that aren’t going to get through, but there are a number of things that seem to be useful additions.

I personally like the idea of a shorter platform. We have a very succinct and valuable statement of principles on the first page. I’d like to call that The Platform—that is something the party in general can stand on. Then I’d like to see additional pages—maybe 10, much fewer than the current 40 or so—that are issues of concern to Republicans. These function to indicate policies we want to see go through state and federal legislatures.

I don’t know whether this drastic change can happen. Nor do I have enough clout to make it happen. But I would like to see a manageable size, so that the platform can be more useful to candidates and grassroots supporters. When I look at the current 2014 platform, I like a lot of it—most of it. But I think there may be too much explanation (a full page of long paragraphs on immigration, followed by several singular related issues, for example). It’s not that the wording is bad; it’s that the length of it makes it less useful.

I’m finding that, as we address things now, we almost always add a phrase, rather than remove something. That can’t go on forever. At some point, it’s just too long to be useful. So, shortening the platform is my dream, for some point.

I’m told that the state legislators actually do read our platform, and use it as a basis for what they work on in the upcoming legislative session. As long as elected officials are making use of the entire platform, I’m willing to live with the length.

I’m appreciating this opportunity to contribute. But I also want the grassroots to know—we are indeed reading every idea and considering it, and considering how well it fits into the conservative ideas that represent the Republican Party of Texas. What you do actually makes a difference.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Economic Freedom in Good Measure

Yesterday I came across The Heritage Foundation’s 2016 Index of Economic Freedom. If you like charts, maps, and visual representations of related data, this is a great playground.

There’s an explanatory video under “About the Index,” that explains how economic freedom relates to other factors of civilization. Freedom, prosperity, and civilization are interrelated, as we assert here at The Spherical Model.

Here are a couple of excerpts from the video:

In addition to enjoying higher levels of financial prosperity, people in these free societies live longer, have better health, are more educated, and, surprisingly, are better protectors of the environment....
So, why does all this matter? It turns out that while there’s no single solution to the world’s major challenges, economic freedom can have a powerful effect on improving society. Our data shows that the five freest economies in each region are significantly more prosperous than the five least free. Every year’s index confirms this point, showing that countries that score higher on the index also perform higher in three key areas: income per capita, social progress, and democratic governance.

For each year, the data includes an overall score, which is made up of data on ten economic freedoms divided into four categories (followed with this year’s US scores, with 80.0 and above qualifying as “mostly free”):

·         Rule of Law
o   Property Rights  80.0
o   Freedom from Corruption  74.0
·         Government Size
o   Fiscal Freedom  65.6
o   Government Spending  54.7
·         Regulatory Efficiency
o   Business Freedom  84.7
o   Labor Freedom  91.4
o   Monetary Freedom  77.0
·         Open Markets
o   Trade Freedom  87.0
o   Investment Freedom  70.0

o   Financial Freedom  70.0
You can get an explanation of their methodology on page 467 of their book, or look around at .

The US ranks only 11th most economically free country this year. A quick snapshot of the US scores reveal the following:

Economic Freedom Snapshot
·         2016 Economic Freedom Score: 75.4 (down 0.8 points)
·         Economic Freedom Status: Mostly Free
·         Global Ranking: 11th
·         Regional Ranking: 2nd in North America
·         Notable Successes: Open Markets
·         Concerns: Management of Public Finance and Rule of Law
·         Overall Score Change Since 2012: –0.9
That last one, because it’s an average, doesn’t show that last year there was a downturn of 0.8 points, after a year of improvement.

I’m interested in, not just change over the past year, but longer trends. So I charted these ten freedoms from 1995-2016, based on the Heritage data. I wondered whether we would see trends toward or away from freedom based on who elected leaders were, and what was going on in the country at the time. (I’m assuming that other years were like 2016, with the information coming out in the first quarter, which means that we’re looking at what happened in the previous year.) Here’s what I see:

·         Property Rights start out consistently high, fully free, until 2010, and then deteriorated further in 2014, so that we now hang at the bottom of the freedom zone, at 80.
·         Freedom from Corruption also started high, but suffered a serious drop in 1997, and declined further, with some ups and downs, to a further drop in 2008, dropping significantly again in 2013, with a slight rise since, leaving us only "moderately free," at 74.0.
·         Fiscal Freedom starts low, at 64.8, and doesn’t show much of a rise until 2004. A slow rise and maintenance continues until a sharp drop in 2014, and another drop in 2016, ending at 65.6.
·         Government Spending (a rise here means the problem is less, because there’s less spending) starts terribly low, at  a "mostly unfree" 57.8, rising sharply in 2000, dropping following the 9/11 attack, but remaining steady until drops changed from slow to sharp in 2010, with a low of  a "repressive" 46.7 in 2012, with slight increases since, ending at 54.7. Changing this factor might do the most in improving US economic freedom.
·         Business Freedom stayed steady at 85.0 until improvement in 2006, maintaining or remaining steady until 2015, with a sharp drop this year, ending at 84.7, still considered free, but lower than ever on record.
·         Labor Freedom wasn’t recorded until 2005. It held around 95.0, with a couple of years higher, until a sudden drop this year, ending at 91.4, still quite free, but trending the wrong direction.
·         Monetary Freedom stayed steady around 84.0 until 2009, with drops continuing through 2014, with slight improvement the final two years, ending at 77.0.
·         Trade Freedom started increasing in 2001, up into the freedom zone, with considerable improvement in 2004, then dropping back out of freedom into moderate freedom in 2009, continuing to drop through 2012, with slight improvement since, ending at 77.0.
·         Investment Freedom stayed steadily at 70.0 until three good years 2006-2008, then dropping back down and remaining at 70.0 since 2011.
·         Financial Freedom stayed steadily at 70.0 until a sharp improvement to 90.0, well into freedom, 2001-2006, dropping to 80.00 for three years, then back down to 70.0 from 2009 to present.
The overall score has a number of ups and downs, but the general trend is up from 2001-2008, then decreasing since, with a slight uptick in 2015 followed by a final drop to a the low 75.4. We were only considered economically free from 2005-2008. It would be interesting to go back further, to see what the measures looked like as we left the Carter administration malaise and entered better economic times under Reagan, even with nothing but Democrat legislators during those years.

For what was set up to be the grand experiment in freedom, with government limited to protecting our rights to life liberty and property, we’re nowhere near as economically free as we ought to be. Because government oversteps.

We know what works, in all of these measures: a lot less government interference; laws that are reasonable, predictable, and fair; in a country that protects itself from attacks. Good people, anywhere in the world, can take it from there.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Choosing to Solve Poverty

Some things are simple but not easy. Solving the problem of poverty is one of those things. But here at The Spherical Model, we have the solution:

Free-enterprise economy combined with charitable giving and service.

We don’t solve poverty by taking from those who have been able to acquire more than they currently need through hard work and good fortune and giving their money to those who have less, for whatever reasons.

How do we know? Prime evidence is the “War on Poverty,” now ongoing for over half a century. I wrote about it two years ago, when it turned 50 ("The Fifty Year War" part I and part II). It is the largest, costliest war ever. Yet poverty rates remain about the same. And government goes on taking money to transfer even though their approach is provably faulty.

Graphic I used in 2014, found here

Maybe there’s something more than numbers involved.

Prosperity requires a free people engaged in a free market—all of which requires a law-abiding, righteous people. Things are interrelated. There’s something that comes up in all three spheres—political, economic, and social—and that is choice.

We need the freedom to choose how we will live, what we will do in life, what we will believe, what we will pursue. So political freedom will set the foundation for greater prosperity than any tyranny can do.

We need a free economy, in which we choose how we work, and more particularly how we spend what we have earned. This encourages the incentive to work harder and innovate, so that we can enjoy the fruits of labor.

But one reason “the poor are always with us” is that some are unable, for reasons that are no fault of their own, to take care of themselves, either temporarily or permanently. Some might lack physical or mental capacity to earn enough to care for themselves. Some might be in the position of taking care of a loved one, which prevents them from earning income.

In a civilized society, we recognize these people in need, we have softened feelings for them, and we want to help. We choose to help.

Those who think there is some other way have always failed, and will always fail. You can’t force good will, or charity, or caring.

But how do we get people to do the necessary giving? Because, what if people just don’t do it? Are we just going to let people die on the streets?

No, no one wants people dying on the streets. But if giving power to government to do charity for us would work, we’d have evidence of that by now. Instead we have proved that coercive “charity” doesn’t work.

Remarkably, though, even though government has tried to usurp this charity role from the people, we have nevertheless been charitable. In the January issue of Imprimis, Karl Zinsmeister writes of “Charitable Giving and the Fabric of America.” He offers some surprising evidence of our choice to give. He says,

Private philanthropy is crucial in making America the unusual country that it is. Let’s start with some numbers. Our nonprofit sector now comprises eleven percent of the total United States workforce. It will contribute around six percent of gross domestic product this year. To put this in perspective, the charitable sector passed the national defense sector is size in 1993, and it continues to grow. And these numbers don’t take volunteering into account: charitable volunteers make up the equivalent—depending on how you count—of between four and ten million full-time employees. So philanthropy is clearly a huge force in our society.
He gives examples of a few of America’s larger philanthropists: Ned McIlhenny, Alfred Loomis, John D. Rockefeller, George Eastman, Milton Hershey. These are all businessmen who then used their considerable wealth to do good in ways they were passionate about.

Then he told the stories of some lesser known, smaller philanthropists, because only 14 percent of charitable giving comes from wealthy people giving to big foundations. And only 5 percent comes from corporate giving. “The rest comes from individuals, and the bulk of it comes from small givers at an average rate of about $2,500 per household per year.”

One such person was Anne Scheiber, a reserved auditor. She retired with $5,000 in the bank in 1944, lived frugally, invested wisely, and amassed $22 million by her death in 1995 at age 101. She left her legacy to Yeshiva University so “bright but needy girls could attend college and medical school.”

Then there was Elinor Sauerwein, who frugally mowed her own lawn, painted her own house, and grew her own garden. She was motivated by a goal to give all she could to the Salvation Army—which was $1.7 million in 2011.

A shoe-shine named Albert Lexie donated his tops to the Free Care Fun of the Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh. From 1981 to present, he donated over $200,000, which was a third of his income.
There are others. You may know some. People who give to benefit society through education, or hospitals, or on-the-ground charities helping the poor and homeless. There are private societies preserving our history, maintaining libraries, and funding scientific developments.
America is great because America is good. So far. Partly because America is free to choose to be good.

Zinsmeister mentioned a comparison done by historian Daniel Boorstin: “In 1880, the state of Ohio had only three million inhabitants but 37 colleges. That same year, England had 23 million inhabitants but only four colleges. The difference was small-scale philanthropy directed towards education.”

Those who worry that charitable giving can’t possibly do enough look at private philanthropy with variations of three criticisms:

1.       It’s a drop in the bucket.
2.       It’s amateurish, chaotic, and lacks expert coordination.
3.       Private donors act from impure motives.

Zinsmeister then tackles each of these in turn. As for the first, he points out, “The Gates Foundation alone distributes more overseas assistance than the entire Italian government.”  And that single foundation is only “a tiny sliver of American philanthropy directed overseas. Members of American churches and synagogues send four-and-a-half times as much to foreigners in need each year as Gates does,” and far exceeds the foreign aid budget of the US government. Recent annual totals are $31-$39 billion.

About lack of coordination, he offers evidence that local people, observing a problem and acting to meet a need, are more likely to succeed than distant planners. He contrasts a woman named Lizzie Kander, who funded a settlement house for Russian Jewish immigrants around the turn of the last century—she made and sold a cookbook to fund the thing—with his experience working in the White House West Wing.

He asserts, “The healthiest forms of societal improvement result from lots of little experiments. Some will fail, but others will succeed and be copied. This is the method by which private philanthropy proceeds.”

As for the third concern, impure motives, he says, so what? Most donors have altruistic motives beyond a tax break or getting their name on a building. Still, if good things get done, why worry about mixed motives?

What if the government got out of the “charity” business tomorrow? Could we figure things out? I believe we would. I believe good people follow natural impulses to help one another. And the more we are personally connected locally, the more that is true.

My belief is that the natural freedom of the internet makes connecting givers to organizations and individuals working to make a difference easier. There’s also the possibility of fraud there, but I think we’ll get better with time at recognizing and weeding those out.

Some people have money to give. Some have time, talents, or expertise. There are so many ways to give and serve the community.
community service illustration from

My church has organized a website (I think it’s national and international) for connecting givers and servers with organizations in need of the help: In Houston we’ve had a version of that for a while:

For larger disasters and ongoing humanitarian projects, my favorite is LDS Philanthropies and Humanitarian Aid, where 100% goes to aid, because overhead is handled through other, separate donations. 

A couple of my most read posts relate to community service: “Community Service Is Better Than Community Organizing,” and “Peanut Butter News.”

Zinsmeister concludes: “Early on, Americans discovered that voluntary action to lift others up is not only possible, it is superior to the kind of state paternalism that diminishes freedom. Private charitable giving and the spirit of volunteerism have been essential bulwarks of the American character, and they remain indispensable to our national success.”

So, can we eliminate poverty? There will always be poorer people, but in a civilized society they are clothed and fed and sheltered. And paths are made available so that most can find a way out of being at the bottom of earners. That happy outcome happens not from government “being giving,” but by individuals in a free society choosing to give to one another.