Thursday, December 28, 2017

Bring on 2018

It has been quite a year, this 2017!

Here in Houston we had a hurricane with an epic flood of 50+ inches of rain. That was the end of August, just days after a total eclipse across the continent (we only got a partial eclipse here, though). We’re still working on recovery from the flooding here, four months later. But in the meantime a couple more hurricanes made landfall, harming Florida, and then serious damage to Puerto Rico. And fires started burning in the West, everywhere from California to Montana.

Less disastrous for Houston was having the Astros win the World Series, and we had an actual snowstorm a couple of weeks ago. In Houston, that brings on a sort of spontaneous celebration.

In the larger nation, there has also been good news this year. We got a Supreme Court justice, Neil Gorsuch, who actually reads and understands the Constitution. We got a healthy number of other judges appointed that we think will adjudicate according to the law. (One third of all sitting circuit judges were Obama appointees, so there's a ways to go.) We have an ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, who is standing up to that corrupt body of miscreants. ISIS has lost nearly all of its territory. Illegal immigration is down, even without a wall, which is at least an improvement. Unemployment is down, and incomes are beginning to rise.

I don’t know that we can credit President Trump with all of this, but having him in office makes all of those pieces of good news possible, whereas having a Democrat—any Democrat—in office this past year would have meant we would have none of that good news, and probably a lot more bad news that we don’t want to imagine.

A piece from American Thinker,Trump’s Momentous First Year,” lists Trump’s first year accomplishments, if you’d like something more complete. I’m sure there will be other similar lists as we approach the new year, or the anniversary of inauguration in a few weeks.

But the big good news lately has been about Congress finally passing a tax reform bill, officially called the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. 

Speaker Paul Ryan, after the passing of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act
photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI/Newscom, found here

News surrounding that—because news comes mostly through distorted sources—has been fear-mongering, at best. Nancy Pelosi called it Armageddon. Apparently, Democrats think people will be dying in the streets if they have a little more of their money in their own hands, instead of in government’s clutches. And it’s on the backs of the middle class, they claim. But almost everybody will be getting a tax cut. Those few that aren’t are all above the middle class.

Business Insider offers this estimate, showing what happens in 2018 (and it gets better in 2025): 
·         Bottom quintile (Incomes less than $25,000 a year): On average, this group would receive a tax break of $60, increasing after tax incomes by 0.4%. This would account for 1% of the federal tax change. 1.2% of tax units would see an increase in their tax burden, while 53.9% would receive a cut.
·         Middle quintile (Incomes from $49,000 to $86,000): On average, this group would receive a tax break of $930, increasing after-tax incomes by 2.9%. This would account for 11.2% of the federal tax change. 7.3% of tax units would see an increase in their tax burden, while 91.3% would receive a cut.
·         Top quintile (Income of $149,400 and above): On average, this group would receive a tax break of $7,640, increasing after-tax incomes by 1.6%. This would account for 65.3% of the federal tax change. 6.2% of tax units would see an increase in their tax burden, while 93.7% would receive a cut.
·         95th to 99th percentiles (Incomes from $308,000 to $733,000): On average, this group would receive a tax break of $13,480, increasing after-tax incomes by 4.1%. This would account for 22.1% of the federal tax change. 9.3% of tax units would see an increase in their tax burden, while 90.7% would receive a cut.
It’s hard to give tax cuts to people who aren’t paying taxes, so, naturally, people who are paying higher taxes are going to benefit more from a tax cut. Unless you’re really into coveting, that’s understandable and fine with everybody.

So, for the sake of those opposing tax cuts, and the media, and anyone else worried about lessening government’s stranglehold over people’s lives, maybe we need to do a little mini lesson on the related economics of tax cuts.

Taxes are money that the government confiscates by force from its citizens—preferably with the approval of the citizens, to be used for essential government services. Taxes, are, then, the people’s money that has been entrusted to government.

Government only spends money; it does not create wealth. Any “revenue” government generates is actually collecting taxes and tariffs—taking money from the people. So, when we’re talking about a budget, we want it large enough to cover the proper role of government—protecting life, liberty, and property—but not so large that our money is wasted. Early on it was assumed about $20 a year ought to do. Really.

I’ve written a number of times about government overspending [here and here]. We do not have a problem with not bringing in enough tax dollars; we have an overspending problem.

The Laffer Curve
from "The Laffer Curve: Past, Present, and Future," 2004
This tax bill doesn’t address that underlying problem. But cutting taxes is likely to raise government revenue. That’s because of a thing we call the Laffer Curve. [I wrote about it here and here.] According to Laffer’s theory, there’s a sweet spot for getting maximum revenue. Too high or too low and you don’t get that maximum amount. If revenue goes up after a tax cut, then you know taxes were too high.

In complete ignorance of the Laffer Curve, there’s this weird rule requiring any tax cuts to be offset, or “paid for.” The purpose is to keep from increasing the deficit, but it doesn’t really do that. And it’s a futile exercise, since we know from experience what happens when taxes are lowered. Here’s how Philip Bump at the WashingtonPost put it: 

[Speaker Paul] Ryan on Wednesday morning offered his nebulous assessment: “Nobody knows” if the cuts will pay for themselves. That’s true, given the uncertainty that surrounds the models. But that’s a bit like saying “nobody knows” if it’s going to rain when the forecasters say there’s a 90 percent chance: You still will probably grab an umbrella.
So even big government spenders ought to be in favor of lower taxes in order to increase revenue. It’s odd that they don’t; it makes it look like they would rather control larger portions of each individual’s money than have more money to work with.

It has been a rough week for Democrats, who stood against tax cuts for the American people. Afterward, what can they say? “We tried to save you from having more of your own money to spend as you see fit”? Well, they’ve been saying the tax cuts aren’t enough (even though they were against any at all). And they’re complaining that they’re not permanent (they sunset in 10 years, as the Bush tax cuts did, but only if Democrats are in power when the sunset comes).

Bernie Sanders, for example, admitted on CNN that tax cuts for nearly all middle-class American taxpayers “is a very good thing.” But then he added, “That’s why we should have made the tax cuts for the middle class permanent.” Of course, it was the refusal of Democrats to discuss any tax cuts at all that led to the ten-year sunset compromise. So Ted Cruz reached out to Bernie by Twitter, saying, 

I agree, @BernieSanders -- let's make the middle-class tax cuts permanent. Join me, we'll co-sponsor legislation (I've already got it drafted) that does exactly that, and we'll get it passed in January!
One happy detail in the tax cut bill is the elimination of the Obamacare mandate, which, we can hope, will lead to the demise of that monstrosity, hopefully before the demise of the health care sector of our economy.

The best news is that business taxes, which have been the highest in the developed world, were lowered from around 35% to 20%. That’s still quite a lot higher than Ireland (11%) or Russia (12%), where lower business taxes have spurred growth, and would have been a good example to follow, but it’s a good improvement.

There has been some concern that businesses won’t invest the money—that they’re already flush with cash that they’re not putting to use. That isn’t likely true. The Great Recession has gone on too long to keep holding onto money. But there is a hesitation to invest in business when there’s uncertainty—such as regulations being added on that they couldn’t have planned for. But regulatory reform is going pretty well under this administration, so there’s less uncertainty.

Ed Fuelner, at the Heritage Foundation, spread this good news: 

AT&T said it plans to give a $1000 bonus to more than 200,000 employees, and to invest $1 billion in the economy. Boeing announced a $300 million investment. FedEx said it’ll hire more workers, as did CVS—3,000, to be specific. Comcast reacted to the tax bill and to the repeal of net neutrality by saying that 100,000 of its employees will get a $1,000 bonus.
There were others—and more to come, you can be sure. “This is just the first wave of many such stories,” tax expert Adam Michel told The Daily Signal. “These announcements show that businesses across America will put their tax cut to good use.”
We’ll have to wait and see, to know for sure. But, instead of dread going into 2018, we might as well enjoy some hopeful anticipation for a change.

Friday, December 22, 2017

The Holy Day

This year's Christmas card photo,
featuring two of my grandchildren

Merry Christmas!

We’re celebrating a holy day, to honor our Savior Jesus Christ. We’re asked to become more like Him.

So, what does that mean? What does a life look like, when following His example? We can get some of these qualities from scriptures, among them the Beatitudes in Matthew 5, and in I Corinthians 13, which defines His love:

·         Loving
·         Kind
·         Meek
·         Humble
·         Seeking righteousness
·         Merciful
·         Pure in heart (honest, integrity, without guile)
·         Peacemaker
·         Longsuffering
·         Without envy
·         Not easily provoked
·         Seeks truth
·         Avoids iniquity
·         Gentle
·         Self-sacrificing
And we could add a few extras that don’t come up as often:

·        He sees a person’s heart, always knowing what a person really means or intends, and works with that person, as a friend would, to encourage living better.
·        He always knows God’s will and makes that His own will.
·        He combines truth and kindness, but He doesn’t modify the truth to avoid offending.
·        He doesn’t mollify. He doesn’t accept evil, even when He deeply loves the person doing the evil.

Imagine if all the people on earth lived the way Jesus did—or at least were earnestly striving to. On the Spherical Model, Jesus Christ leads to way to Civilization. He moves us ever northward, toward Him.

One of my favorite speakers, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, says, 

Considering the incomprehensible cost of the Crucifixion and Atonement, I promise you He is not going to turn His back on us now. When He says to the poor in spirit, “Come unto me,” He means He knows the way out and He knows the way up. He knows it because He has walked it. He knows the way because He is the way.[i]
Above all other lives, His birth, life, death, and resurrection, are most worth celebrating.

His birth story shows us beauty in humble circumstances. Many of my favorite Christmas carols tell the story. I’ll share just a few verses.

This is the final verse of the Alfred Burt carol, “We’ll Dress the House with Holly Bright”:

And ye who would the Christ Child greet,
    Your heart also adorn,
That it may be a dwelling meet
   For Him who now is born.
Let all unlovely things give place
To souls bedecked with heavenly grace,
That ye may view His holy face,
   With joy on Christmas morn.

Here’s another Alfred Burt carol, the ending of “Some Children See Him”:

O lay aside each earthly thing,
And with thy heart as offering,
Come worship now the infant King,
‘Tis love that’s born tonight!

I’m noticing endings of a lot of songs. This is the final verse of the Christina Rosetti poem, “In the Bleak Midwinter”:

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am? —
If I were a Shepherd
I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man
I would do my part, —
Yet what I can I give Him, —
Give my heart.

As a family, we’ve been retelling the nativity story as part of our Christmas Eve tradition for thirty years. We have a script. We dress up in costumes, and we all take part. Every time there’s a new baby, we use a real baby instead of a doll to be the baby Jesus.

My Christmas card is always a depiction of some part of the nativity story. This year we had my new granddaughter and her big brother play the parts of the baby Jesus and a shepherd (above).

Many of my Christmas decorations are depictions of the nativity. I like the goodies and presents and fun as much as the next person, but the real celebration is what is at the core of this holy day, and that is Christ.

If you want a beautiful visual retelling of the Christmas story, spend eight minutes on this video, produced by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:

[i] Jeffry R. Holland, “Broken Things to Mend,” Ensign, May 2006, p. 71.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017


There was a Politico story earlier this week, investigative reporting by Josh Meyer. It hasn’t gotten a lot of attention in regular media, as you might expect from such a big story, probably because it doesn’t portray Obama and his administration in a positive light. I heard of it, instead, from conservative commentators Hugh Hewitt and Ben Shapiro

The piece, titled “The secret backstory of how Obama let Hezbollah off the hook,” is very long—about 14,500 words, which looks like more than 40 pages, even with a lot of the illustrations removed. I recommend reading it in full, but I’m going to quote just a few bits, enough so I can make a couple of comments about it.

Here’s the intro:

In its determination to secure a nuclear deal with Iran, the Obama administration derailed an ambitious law enforcement campaign targeting drug trafficking by the Iranian-backed terrorist group Hezbollah, even as it was funneling cocaine into the United States.
Project Cassandra, as it was called, was launched in 2008, under Pres. Bush:

Over the next eight years, agents working out of a top-secret DEA facility in Chantilly, Virginia, used wiretaps, undercover operations and informants to map Hezbollah’s illicit networks, with the help of 30 U.S. and foreign security agencies.
They followed cocaine shipments, some from Latin America to West Africa and on to Europe and the Middle East, and others through Venezuela and Mexico to the United States. They tracked the river of dirty cash as it was laundered by, among other tactics, buying American used cars and shipping them to Africa. And with the help of some key cooperating witnesses, the agents traced the conspiracy, they believed, to the innermost circle of Hezbollah and its state sponsors in Iran.
But as Project Cassandra reached higher into the hierarchy of the conspiracy, Obama administration officials threw an increasingly insurmountable series of roadblocks in its way,
Here’s an example of things looking really bad:

Lebanese arms dealer Ali Fayad, a suspected top Hezbollah operative whom agents believed reported to Russian President Vladimir Putin as a key supplier of weapons to Syria and Iraq, was arrested in Prague in the spring of 2014. But for the nearly two years Fayad was in custody, top Obama administration officials declined to apply serious pressure on the Czech government to extradite him to the United States, even as Putin was lobbying aggressively against it.
Fayad, who had been indicted in U.S. courts on charges of planning the murders of U.S. government employees, attempting to provide material support to a terrorist organization and attempting to acquire, transfer and use anti-aircraft missiles, was ultimately sent to Beirut. He is now believed by U.S. officials to be back in business, and helping to arm militants in Syria and elsewhere with Russian heavy weapons.
If you can’t see the irony of this situation, Ben Shapiro spells it out this way:

We’re all supposed to believe that President Trump, as a candidate, colluded with the Russian government to “steal” the 2016 election. There’s no serious evidence to that effect, despite a massive FBI investigation, a Congressional investigation, and a special counsel investigation initiated by the Department of Justice.
But there is clear evidence that the Obama administration colluded with the Russian government to free an Islamic terrorist responsible for the deaths of Americans—all in order to appease Iran to pave the way for the Obama administration’s surrender to the burgeoning Iranian nuclear program and Iran’s escalating regional ambitions.
Obama’s team must have their side of the story, right?

[Kevin] Lewis, speaking for the Obama administration, provided a list of eight arrests and prosecutions as proof [that the administration had taken actions against Hezbollah]. He made special note of a February 2016 operation in which European authorities arrested an undisclosed number of alleged members of a special Hezbollah business affairs unit that the DEA says oversees its drug trafficking and other criminal money-making enterprises.

Project Cassandra officials, however, noted that the European arrests occurred after the negotiations with Iran were over, and said the task force initiated the multinational partnerships on its own, after years of seeing their cases shot down by the Justice and State departments and other U.S. agencies.
The Justice Department, they pointed out, never filed corresponding U.S. criminal charges against the suspects arrested in Europe.
Here’s a bit of the history:

Project Cassandra had its origins in a series of investigations launched in the years after the 9/11 attacks which all led, via their own twisted paths, to Hezbollah as a suspected global criminal enterprise.
Hezbollah, according to John Brennan, Obama’s counterterrorism adviser, isn’t just a group of bad guys anymore; they’re an actual party. So we should respect them. But, in reality, that’s a pretty naive assessment:

“Hezbollah operates like the Gambino crime family on steroids, and [Safieddine] is its John Gotti,” said [Jack] Kelly [DEA agent overseeing Hezbollah cases], referring to the infamous “Teflon Don” crime boss who for decades eluded justice. “Whatever Iran needs, Safieddine is in charge of getting it for them.”
The connection you need to understand is this one:

Because Hezbollah’s drug trafficking was bankrolling its Islamic Jihad military wing and joint ventures with Iran, as [David] Asher [expert on illicit finance, sent from the Pentagon to work on Project Cassandra] would later testify before Congress, it represented “the largest material support scheme for terrorism operations” the world had ever seen.

Money Laundering paths, map from here
Red = Used cars bought in US, shipped to West Africa, proceeds to Lebanon
Yellow = Drugs from Colombia and Venezuela are shipped to the US through Mexico, and to Europe via West Africa
Green = Freshly laundered money returned to US to buy used cars

When Kelly couldn’t get the White House to take action on any of the mounds of evidence they’d compiled, he started asking questions:

Kelly said, he ran into one of the unit’s top prosecutors and asked if there was “something going on with the White House that explains why we can’t get a criminal filing.”
“You don’t know the half of it,” the prosecutor replied, according to Kelly. “Right now, we have 50 FBI agents not doing anything because they know their Iran cases aren’t going anywhere,” including investigations around the U.S. into allegedly complicit used-car dealers.
For example:

By the end of 2012, senior officials at the Justice Department’s National Security and Criminal divisions, and at the State Department and National Security Council, had shut down, derailed or delayed numerous other Hezbollah-related cases with little or no explanation, according to Asher, Kelly, Maltz and other current and former participating officials.
Agents discovered “an entire Quds force network” in the U.S., laundering money, moving drugs and illegally smuggling Bell helicopters, night-vision goggles and other items for Iran, Asher said.
“We crashed to indict” the elite Iranian unit, and while some operatives were eventually prosecuted, other critically important indictments “were rejected despite the fact that we had excellent evidence and testifying witnesses,” said Asher, who helped lead the investigation.
So, to summarize, Obama was so intent on making the Iran nuclear deal, that he was willing to sacrifice pretty much anything to get it. And what did the US get in the deal? We got a guarantee that Iran would be facilitated in developing nuclear weapons (in about a decade), we would give them $150 billion for allowing us to lift the sanctions—the lifting of which they have not earned—and, as Senator Ted Cruz said, ahead of the disapproving vote from Congress that Obama ignored,

[I]t will facilitate and accelerate the nation of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons. There is no greater threat to the safety and security of America. There is no greater threat to the safety and security of Israel, than a nuclear Iran. I agree with Prime Minister Netanyahu that a nuclear Iran poses an existential threat to the nation of Israel. And let me be clear, when he says existential, he doesn’t mean a bunch of Frenchmen in black berets chain smoking. He means literally going to the very existence of Israel.
There’s a PragerU video on the Iran deal you might want to watch as a refresher:

I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that Obama has done more to harm the United States of America than any president—and arguably more harm than any other American traitor. It is hard to imagine doing worse.

Is it just because he is short-sighted, ignorant, and unwilling to see reality? Or is it intentional? I don’t know. In the end, God knows, and Obama will, in eternity, be held accountable. In the meantime, we live in a perilous world in which all known paths of corruption and collusion feed efforts to annihilate civilization.

There’s a term for this type of collusion used in the Book of Mormon: secret combinations. It means colluding with others, murdering to get power and money. It’s a grave evil. I was reading a section about it just this week, where we see the rise and fall of a civilization in a relatively short book. This is Ether 8, prophesying of our day:

24 Wherefore, the Lord commandeth you, when ye shall see these things come among you that ye shall awake to a sense of your awful situation, because of this secret combination which shall be among you; or wo be unto it, because of the blood of them who have been slain; for they cry from the dust for vengeance upon it, and also upon those who built it up.
25 For it cometh to pass that whoso buildeth it up seeketh to overthrow the freedom of all lands, nations, and countries; and it bringeth to pass the destruction of all people, for it is built up by the devil, who is the father of all lies; even that same liar who beguiled our first parents, yea, even that same liar who hath caused man to commit murder from the beginning; who hath hardened the hearts of men that they have murdered the prophets, and stoned them, and cast them out from the beginning.

The hope is that, if we awake to see our danger, we will turn to God and live. I don’t have a better, or more exact, response to this piece.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Words on Liberty

I was looking through the quote file, to see what I’d been adding lately. There were quite a number of quotes about freedom, the Constitution, and how those are both gifts from God. I get quotes from all over, but these I'm going to share, with a few exceptions, are from leaders of my religion, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It’s a worldwide church, with more members living outside the US than in it. But the words apply to all people anywhere in the world who wish to live free and happy lives. Religion has to speak up, because it takes a good people to choose to live freely. And the evidence is that God wants us all to move away from tyranny, poverty, and savagery, so we can enjoy freedom, prosperity,and civilization.

[Satan] plans to destroy liberty and freedom—economic, political, and religious, and to set up in place thereof the greatest, most widespread, and most complete tyranny that has ever oppressed men. He is working under such perfect disguise that many do not recognize either him or his methods.—Heber J. Grant, General Conference, October 1942

There has been a tendency among some Latter-day Saints, even when the Constitution is mentioned, to say, “There he goes talking politics.” I am not talking politics. I am quoting the words of the Lord. Certainly, it is not meet that we should bring politics into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but just as certainly, it is meet that every member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints take the doctrine of Christ into his politics, and that he evaluate every candidate and every platform under any and every political banner in the terms of the gospel of Jesus Christ. —Joseph F. Smith, Conference Report, April 1946

If we are content to let others do the work of replenishing and defending liberty while we consume the benefits, we will someday run out of other people’s willingness to sacrifice—or even out of courageous people willing to make the sacrifice.—Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas

The building of public sentiment begins with a few earnest voices. I am not one to advocate shouting defiantly or shaking fists and issuing threats in the faces of legislators. But I am one who believes that we should earnestly and sincerely and positively express our convictions to those given the heavy responsibility of making and enforcing our laws. The sad fact is that the minority who call for greater liberalization, who peddle and devour pornography, who encourage and feed on licentious display make their voices heard until those in our legislatures may come to believe that what they say represents the will of the majority. We are not likely to get that which we do not speak up for.—Gordon B. Hinckley, “In Opposition to Evil,” Ensign, September 2004

What goes unappreciated is just why America's leftists' movement attacks the Founders. If they can delegitimize the Founders themselves, it goes a long way toward their agenda of delegitimizing the founding principles of our nation. If the leftists can convince the nation that men such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison were good-for-nothing slave-owning racists, then their ideas can be more easily trashed.—Walter Williams, 10-28-2017, “Undermining America”

The Constitution of the United States of America is just as much from my Heavenly Father as the Ten Commandments.—George Albert Smith, General Conference, April 1948.

Unless we members of the Church do all we can to preserve the freedoms we have, within the bounds of the laws of God, we will be held accountable.—Joseph Smith, Principles of the Gospel, pp. 135-136, pp. 146-147, published 1991

Unless we as citizens of this nation forsake our sins, political and otherwise, and return to the fundamental principles of Christianity and of constitutional government, we will lose our political liberties, our free institutions, and will stand in jeopardy before God of losing our exaltation.—Ezra Taft Benson, General Conference, April 1976

The laws that forbid the carrying of arms are laws of such a nature. They disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes.... Such laws make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailants; they serve rather to encourage than to prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed man.—Thomas Jefferson, Commonplace Book (quoting 18th century criminologist Cesare Beccaria), 1774-1776

It's really a wonder that I haven't dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.—Anne Frank, Anne Frank, Diary of a Young Girl

Liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith.—Alexis de Tocqueville

If we are content to let others do the work of replenishing and defending liberty while we consume the benefits, we will someday run out of other people’s willingness to sacrifice—or even out of courageous people willing to make the sacrifice.—Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas

Relying on God has to begin all over again every day as if nothing had yet been done.—C. S. Lewis

Monday, December 11, 2017

Pivot Point

We’re at a pivot point in the culture. I don’t know how hopeful to be, but I am hopeful that this can move us northward, using Spherical Model language, on the social sphere—up toward civilization, away from savagery.
The Social Sphere of the Spherical Model

I’m referring to the sudden awareness of sexual harassment and molestation.

These are not new things. The phrase “casting couch” has been around my whole life. People know what it means. It didn’t come out of nowhere. So it shouldn’t suddenly be surprising now.

At least now people are being called out for hostile, demeaning, and sometimes terrifying behavior that no civilized person should find acceptable. The wonder is that it stayed acceptable—albeit swept under a rug—for so long.

Those of us who were adults during the Clinton years remember the scenario. Bill Clinton denies: “I did not have sex with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky.” Hillary Clinton arranges for character assassination of accusers. And there were multiple accusers, credible, with corroborating witnesses at the time. From exposure to Paula Jones, to rape allegations of Juanita Broaddrick. Media insisted all along it was all a political attack. Mrs. Clinton called it a "vast right-wing conspiracy."

And then six months later, when positive proof from Monica Lewinsky made it undeniable, and Clinton lost his law license for lying under oath about Paula Jones, his supporters and the media (redundant) started saying, “It’s just his private life.”

But his private life, as a married president of the United States, should not include using his power to obtain sexual favors from a 21-year-old intern, in the oval office, reckless behavior that could set a person up for blackmail.

While Clinton’s behavior was disgusting, he followed rumors about JFK and Senator Ted Kennedy and many unnamed politicians who did stuff like that. It's hard not to be cynical when things like that are dismissed with a shoulder shrug and nothing more.

Those who are outraged now, about so many recent allegations, what were they saying then? Because some of us were outraged then, and we were shut down and silenced—ironically while being told we were waging a war on women.

Even as recent as a year ago, people were outraged at now-Vice-President Mike Pence for refusing to dine alone with women other than his wife. How dare he discriminate? they shouted. But today he looks wise. It wasn’t just about not putting himself in a possible temptation situation; it was about protecting himself from accusations. It’s why we don’t have women suddenly showing up and making accusations about him. such allegations wouldn’t fly, because everybody knows he doesn’t allow the situations to arise.

That’s why you didn’t get those accusations against Mitt Romney either. Consistent, scrupulous moral behavior pays off at times like this. And anytime.

I don’t know how to judge our current president. He made claims, on audio, that were locker room talk. They were skanky enough that, in addition to his foul treatment of Ted Cruz and other candidates (remember the claim that Ted Cruz’s dad was involved in JFK’s murder?) I couldn’t bring myself to vote for him. (Didn't vote for sexual-predator-enabler Hillary either.) But I don’t know whether he actually did sexual assault, or just talked that way.

If he did those things, then later political success still doesn’t excuse him. I will say that some of what he’s accomplishing as President I can approve of—treatment of Israel, lower taxes. Maybe we’ll get rid of Obamacare yet. And his wife, Melania, has behaved as an exemplary first lady. Nor are there women coming out of the woodwork to accuse him of sexual exploitation. Maybe talking is the worst thing he does.

As for Roy Moore, I’m not in Alabama, so I haven’t felt compelled to determine what is true. If he is guilty of sexual assault against a 14-year-old, he shouldn’t be a senator. But if he’s guilty of nothing more than dating women younger than himself, followed by marrying and living faithfully with one wife for 40 years, then, while it may make us squeamish, it’s hardly disqualifying. And at this point we don’t even know whether that’s true. I’ve said before, I hope the truth comes out. The timing stinks, and if the women are lying, they are doing a serious disservice to women everywhere.

What I fear is that the sudden coming to morals is more political than real. Al Franken should never have been in the Senate; what were Minnesota voters thinking? (Well, there were some sketchy things about voter fraud, so maybe they said they didn’t want him but weren’t heard. Not sure.) I’m glad to see him leave. But if he’s being sacrificed just so the Democrats can claim the moral high ground, that would be unfortunate. Any other senators or congressmen being called out after years of getting away with sexual assault ought to get out of town too.

The situations in the news these days are power related. I heard an interview with Enid Greene the other morning on BYU Radio online; she was in politics in Utah for some time. She was talking about the issue in relation to power, and power is real. She said, when she had power, if someone crossed her, she had access to media and could have made that person’s life miserable, or ruined a career. It takes character not to misuse power.

People in politics, news, and entertainment media who use their power for selfish indulgence do not deserve the power.

For so long, people were afraid to speak up—because their chances to meet their personal goals would be thwarted, and nothing was likely to change just by their coming forth. So it’s a pivotal moment now, when suddenly people are willing to speak up, and people are listening, and perpetrators are actually losing their power. Which is as it should have been all along.

Let’s hope this is a real cultural shift—away from power makes it right to only the right character deserves power.

There are rules for civilization, which we list at the Spherical Model. As I’ve said,

The way to develop character in a population is to have a vast majority of children raised by their married mother and father, and taught to honor God as well as family, life, freedom, property, and truth.
And, because family, as the basic unit of society, is the way to perpetrate those values, we need strong families.

A rule that savage societies bristle against is that sex outside of marriage is always wrong. But it remains true, over the millennia. If people believe that, and live it, then you don’t have anyone getting away with “casting couches” in entertainment or anywhere else. 

We might not be all the way into the civilization zone, where we need to be, with the recent pivotal change. But it points us in the right direction, away from savagery, and toward civilization, where a lot less misery happens, because we don’t let it.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Not Enough Babies

I’m immersed in enjoying a new grandbaby right now. And this past week a niece and nephew both had their first babies, so there’s a sudden rise in little second cousins.

New granddaughter, Little Social Sphere II

In contrast, someone shared an article with me about the rather sudden drop in fertility rates here in the US. I’ve written about this issue before, but it has been a while. Principles are still true, but there’s updated data since I wrote these:

·         Demographic Winter,[i] June 16, 2011
·         Why Civilizations Die, parts I, II, III, beginning February 3, 2012
·         Death of Marriage, in three parts, but particularly part II, July 1, 2011   
If you’re new to the idea that declining birthrates are a bad thing, let me repeat this scenario on Greece that I refer to in “Demographic Winter.” This is from a 2010 United Families International article, using Greece’s 2008 population of 11,237.074.

If you consider that a generation is about 27 years, and you have a fertility rate of 1.4 (Greece’s is actually 1.37), then you’ll lose a third of the population every generation: 

Generation 1                 11,237,094 – 3,745,698 = 7.491,396

Generation 2                   7,491,396 – 2,497,132 = 4,994,264

Generation 3                   4,994,264 – 1,664,755 – 3, 329,509 

As I explained in “Demographic Winter,”

In a little over half a century the population is likely to decline to under 30% of its current population. Without disease or war. Voluntarily. 

The cutoff seems to be a fertility rate of 1.4. In the history of the world, no population has ever recovered once hitting that level. Right now the following are at, near, or below that level: 

United Kingdom             1.66
Portugal                        1.49
Austria                          1.42
Russia                          1.34
Spain                            1.31
Japan                           1.27
Czech Rep.                   1.24
South Korea                  1.21
Hong Kong                   0.97 
OK, so we’ve established that decline is looking bad mathematically. For the social and economic impact, read that whole piece.

In the piece I read this week, “The Great Baby Bust of 2017,” blogger on demographics Lyman Stone talks about a sudden drop in US fertility rates. For many years, while other countries declined, we held steady at replacement levels. However, a closer look showed that immigrants had been bumping up our fertility data. US-born citizens have been a little over 1.7, which isn’t as bad as much of Europe, but it’s sure not good. But now even the immigrant rates can’t pull us up to replacement.

Screen shot of chart in Stone's article

Stone uses the latest data, along with some extrapolation:

If you google “USA Total Fertility Rate,” you will see a graph from the World Bank, with the most recent data showing 2015 TFR of 1.84. As such, many people wrongly believe that U.S. TFR is 1.84.
I’m here to tell you that U.S. TFR is actually 1.77, and falling with alarming speed.
We have provisional-but-complete fertility data for 2016 showing a total fertility rate of about 1.82, so slightly below the 2015 level. However, since then, fertility has fallen still further. We have monthly birth data through June of 2017 which allows us to estimate total fertility over the previous 12 months. Remember, total fertility is demographically-controlled, so it is not impacted by the age composition of the population, simply showing age-controlled birth rates….
Fertility has fallen sharply over the last 6 months or so, even as the economy has picked up steam. The most plausible forecast for 2017 calendar-year total fertility is 1.77; which, by the way, I’m not the only person who thinks that; professional demographic consultancy firms independently arrive at the same conclusions.
To be clear, in 2008 and 2009, the U.S. had replacement-rate fertility. Since then, we’ve fallen to about 0.3 kids below replacement.
Stone uses a helpful illustration of what this means.

Here’s an example of what their fertility might look like in 2008 vs. 2017:
Screen shot of chart in Stone's article
In 2008, your friends Emma-thru-Emily all would have had about 2 kids if their lifetime fertility followed 2008 age-specific birth rates. Harper and her husband, however, decided to go for a 3rd, because they wanted to have the best of three children and name him Lyman, named for the demographer who inspired them to do society a favor and have a third child.
But in 2017, things have changed. Emma ended up breaking up with the guy she thought she might marry because he turned out to be kind of a deadbeat, so she didn’t have that kid she hoped to have in her 20s. Olivia got a great job… which has really long hours, and she really loves the job and she loves how comfortable it has made her and her husband’s life, but there’s no way she and Bob can care for a kid right now: life is just too busy. And Harper? Well, Harper and her husband were enticed to take a few extra vacations by generous credit card rewards programs and super-low mistake fares online, so they used up their vacation time and their disposable income, and so a third kid just isn’t in the cards anymore.
The important thing to understand here is these are big changes in your friends’ lives, and they happened really fast. This is not some gradual easing into lower fertility, but a pretty speedy change.
Something else caught my attention in Lyman’s piece. He uses a graphic showing rates in all 50 states:

Screen shot of chart in Stone's article

This chart is messy, I know, and there are no labels, but the point is to see that there are lots of “down” trends in 2016 and 2017. And by the way, that highest line that declined a lot… that’s Utah.
It’s even happening to the Mormons.
That’s my people. We love families. We love children. We value children. But something cultural is happening. I’m hypothesizing that it has to do with a combination of reasons: less value of marriage in society, less value of children in society, less confidence in being able to afford children, and maybe less willingness to sacrifice comfort and financial stability for more children when a couple already has one or two.

The decisions of Stone’s Emma-to-Harper example is pretty realistic. The economy is a big factor when it has been so uncertain for so long. Add in the societal pressure defining children as a burden instead of the character-building joy that they are, and people weigh having another child against having a better home or car or travel experiences for them and the child or two that they do have.

I’m wondering whether a consistent improvement in the economy will bring back the confidence to have more children. But I think we need more cultural shift than economic.

In “Why Civilizations Die” I refer to David P. Goldman’s book How Civilizations Die (And Why Islam Is Dying Too). Goldman proposes that loss of faith is the underlying cause of fertility decline:

“The truth is that humankind cannot survive without faith, specifically faith that our lives have meaning beyond the mere span of our years. Civilizations that lose their faith also lose their desire to continue and fail to reproduce themselves” (p. 16).
Goldman saw the US and Israel as exceptional, because they are countries of faith. And faith is tied in with seeing ourselves as covenant people—with inalienable rights granted by God. Cultures that see government or the collective as the giver of rights, in general, see themselves as being owed, rather than purposely connecting themselves to a future. As I summarize in “Why Civilizations Die,”

Our children pay a rising portion of their wages to the government, which doles out elderly care as it sees fit. So there is a disconnect between the number of children an individual has and the amount of care he receives in old age.
The disconnect means there is no incentive to personally have more children. We look at the quarter million dollars it costs to raise a child, and think about whether we would prefer to spend that income on ourselves instead. The only social reason to have children who contribute to collective elderly care is altruism; there is incentive to freeload.
Those who have a “faith” reason for having children, however, still have them. On the individual and national/cultural level, people who believe only in themselves fail to find something worth caring enough about to reach into the future.

We need more babies. 

More important, we need more faith so we will grasp the life-affirming choice and civilizational need to have more babies.

[1] The title “Demographic Winter” refers to a documentary by that name, which I link in the blog post about it.