Thursday, November 15, 2018

Finding the Right Words

One thing we learn from the midterm election is that we aren’t communicating well with one another. Some of us feel marginalized because we hear only opposing views in mainstream communications: entertainment, broadcast news, most cable news, academia. It’s an uphill battle when the controllers of the means of communication refuse to let you share the platform. They even denigrate you—calling you vile negatives like, racist, sexist, homophone, transphobe, bigot, hater, white supremacist—creating a climate in which your voice is not only invisible, but avoided as contemptible.

There are other means, alternative sources, for messaging. I use those all the time to try to get at the truth. But having a totally separate, parallel communication system doesn’t get through to the ones who would be our friends and agree with us on many things, if only they could hear us and come to know who we really are.

I don’t know the solution yet. I keep looking. Finding the right words, and then finding the means to get those words heard are still likely paths. I haven’t given up on them.

I’m ready to celebrate when, occasionally, the right message does get out. I wrote about an example last time, with the appearance of my new Congressman Dan Crenshaw on Saturday Night Live, participating in an uncharacteristic apology from SNL.
Dan Crenshaw
at a house meeting in October

What worked so well for Dan was his total unwillingness to be offended. Maybe that toughness comes with being a Navy Seal. But since I first learned about him, during the primary election, what caught my interest was his ability to say things that were more than just the basic principles of freedom, prosperity, and civilization that I’m always looking for; it was his ability to inspire other people to come join the believers in those things.

I had a couple of friends on Facebook who posted his SNL appearance by the time I had. They liked him, and they liked what he said—even though they don’t like pretty much anything most conservatives think. This may not be a representative sample, because these are people on the opposite political spectrum who already accept me as a friend; we just don’t talk politics.

Anyway, as a follow up, Dan was able to write an opinion piece for The Washington Post, that furthers the message about how to get along:

I woke up on the Sunday morning after the show to hundreds of texts about what Davidson had said. A lot of America wasn’t happy. People thought some lines still shouldn’t be crossed.

I agreed. But I also could not help but note that this was another chapter in a phenomenon that has taken complete control of the national discourse: outrage culture. It seems like every not-so-carefully-worded public misstep must be punished to the fullest extent, replete with soapbox lectures and demands for apologies. Anyone who doesn’t show the expected level of outrage will be labeled a coward or an apologist for bad behavior. I get the feeling that regular, hard-working, generally unoffended Americans sigh with exhaustion—daily.

Was I really outraged by SNL? Really offended? Or did I just think the comment about losing my eye was offensive? There is a difference, after all. I have been literally shot at before, and I wasn’t outraged. Why start now?

So I didn’t demand an apology and I didn’t call for anyone to be fired. That doesn’t mean the “war…or whatever” line was acceptable, but I didn’t have to fan the flames of outrage, either.
Meanwhile, a couple of other conversations I came across today showed what we're up against. Rabbi Daniel Lapin, on Glenn Beck Radio, was discussing how to understand the opposition. Glenn showed a clip of protesters at a Ben Shapiro speech on a college campus. There wasn’t a protester who could identify an idea or a statement of Shapiro’s that was offensive; they just knew that everything about him was so offensive that he shouldn’t be allowed to speak.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin on Glenn Beck Radio Nov. 15, 2018
(subscription required for viewing)

Rabbi Lapin talked about that as an ideological, worldview difference. And he said it wasn’t much different from historical incompatible religious/political disagreements, such as when Muslims (the Moors) overtook the Iberian Peninsula, or when Galileo was silenced for disagreeing with the ruling church’s worldview on the solar system:

Look, this is about competing faith systems. Literally, competing religions…. It’s not different from any time there’ve been clashes between competing and incompatible faiths. Ben Shapiro stands for—as do you, for Heaven’s sake, for so many years, Glenn—for a worldview based on a Judeo-Christian biblical model. And the mobs on the campus stand for a vision that is based on the Tower of Babel, essentially. I mean, nine verses at the beginning of chapter 11 in Genesis provide a complete matrix of understanding of the tension that is taking place there. Of course they don’t want to hear what he says. Why would they?
He's saying that the protesters see Ben Shapiro as a heretic. And for them to maintain their power, they must silence him. At least in our century, in our country, it’s done without beheadings, so far.

Then I read about a Seattle man who was running for city council, until yesterday. Christopher Rufo wrote an open letter explaining his withdrawal from the campaign. It was for the safety of his family. Here’s some of the abuse he describes:
Christopher Rufo and family
image from here

I had hoped that this would be a campaign of ideas, but I quickly discovered that the activists in this city have no interest in ideas. Since the campaign launch, they have harassed and threatened my family nonstop. I was prepared to take the heat, but unfortunately, they have focused their hatred on my wife and children. They've made vile racist attacks against my wife, attempted to get her fired from Microsoft, and threatened sexual violence. They have even posted hateful messages to my 8-year-old son's school Facebook page. I know that as the race progresses, the activists will ratchet up their hate-machine and these attacks will intensify significantly.
This is what is done by people who call this man—and any of us who disagree with their “social justice” religion—racist, bigoted, an any other evil epithet they think might have an effect. But these people are tyrants. They’re extremely concerned about race, but are against Martin Luther King’s advice to see the content of character rather than color of skin—so by any rational definition they’re racist. And their methods are the very definition of fascist: coercing agreement.

Mr. Rufo’s case isn’t an isolated incident. This is what is happening, with greater frequency, wherever those who love tyranny, poverty, and savagery rather than freedom, prosperity, and civilization gather and foment the angry mob.

Dan Crenshaw gained respect from the opposition because he didn’t take offense. Ben Shapiro doesn’t take offense when he’s attacked; he just insists on security so he can get the message to those who haven’t heard it—and who are now, because of the protesters, even more curious about what he’s saying that someone doesn’t want them to hear.

Unfortunately, sometimes the mob is too dangerous. And the infrastructure—the law enforcement and justice—in the city of Seattle were deteriorated beyond what could make it possible for an alternative voice to be heard even in a campaign.

We can’t have much of a dialogue with the actual tyrannical fascists in the mob. But outside the mob, where people are less angry, and where we get along with them in business and community, and they acknowledge that we’re human and good (although they may think we’re singular exceptions), we may be able to have discussions. Or maybe get conversions.

Further in the Rabbi Lapin interview, he said, “When people’s hearts change, so do their politics.” Conversion is a goal well beyond peaceful coexistence. I’d like that too. But first things first.
What do we do when there are two polar opposite sides on a political issue? Dan Crenshaw’s got an answer to that too:

There are many ideas that we will never agree on. The left and the right have different ways of approaching governance, based on contrasting philosophies. But many of the ultimate goals—economic prosperity, better health care and education, etc.—are the same. We just don’t share the same vision of how to achieve them.
How, then, do we live together in this world of differing ideas? For starters, let’s agree that the ideas are fair game. If you think my idea is awful, you should say as much. But there is a difference between attacking an idea and attacking the person behind that idea. Labeling someone as an “-ist” who believes in an “-ism” because of the person’s policy preference is just a shortcut to playground-style name-calling, cloaked in political terminology. It’s also generally a good indication that the attacker doesn’t have a solid argument and needs a way to end debate before it has even begun.
Similarly, people too often attack not just an idea but also the supposed intent behind an idea. That raises the emotional level of the debate and might seem like it strengthens the attacker’s side, but it’s a terrible way to make a point. Assuming the worst about your opponents’ intentions has the effect of demonizing their ideas, removing the need for sound counter-reasoning and fact-based argument. That’s not a good environment for the exchange of ideas.
I’m glad Congressman-elect Crenshaw has had the opportunity to get this message out. I hope these opportunities keep coming to him. So far he’s had the right words to say at the right times, in a way that people who wouldn’t normally listen end up tuning in—and finding where we can agree. I pray he’ll always have the right words. And I’ll keep listening, because I think the right words plant the seeds for a great, positive effect.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Never Forget

Yesterday was Veterans Day, and a special one, because it is 100 years since the cease fire, or armistice, ending conflict in World War I. This happened at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, in 1918. That’s why we always celebrate on the day, whatever day of the week it is. It became a national holiday in 1938, and was changed to honor all American veterans, living and dead, serving in all wars and peacetime, in 1954.

image from

The poppy is a symbol of the fallen. It relates to a poem, “In Flanders Field,” by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, channeling the voices of the fallen soldiers, buried under the hardy bright flowers. The poem was written in 1915, and spread widely prior to McCrae’s death in early 1918. A woman named Moina Michael read the poem in a magazine just two days before the armistice, and was inspired by it. She wrote a poem, “We Shall Keep Faith,” in response, and vowed to always wear a red poppy. She came up with the idea of making and selling red fabric poppies to raise money in support of returning veterans.

Although the poppy was originally associated with the armistice, in America we don’t typically wear poppies on Veterans Day; we honor the fallen on Memorial Day, in May.

There aren’t any WWI veterans still alive, now, after a century. And there are only about a thousand WWII veterans still alive, with an average age of 95.

This past Saturday’s Glenn Beck Podcast featured a young man, Rishi Sharma, age 21, who has made it his life’s mission to document the stories of the remaining WWII combat veterans. He tries to interview at least one a day. He started in high school, mostly going to local rest homes. And then expanded, eventually starting a GoFundMe page to make it possible. He mostly lives in his car, driving from place to place, making friends with veterans. If you want to help contribute (monetarily, or by doing interviews), you can go to Heroes of the Second World War.   

Rishi Sharma on Glenn Beck podcast, screenshot
Sharma says that often he’s the first person these veterans have told their full story to. Many of them just came home and got involved in work and family life, and didn't talk about their experiences. He says,

We shouldn’t have to wait for an obituary to find out about the most amazing and heroic people that live in our community. You know, we should be able to talk to them. We should be able to learn about it while they’re still alive, so that we can talk to them, and look them in the eyes, and thank them. And, you know, interact with them.
There are just so many interesting obituaries that you find, you know, that I find as I’m trying to find the veterans. But there’s no interviews of them. And I’m wondering to myself, here is this veteran that’s been able to live into his 90s and 100s, and no one took the time just to document his story? You know, all those sacrifices and moments of his life have not just been put into three paragraphs? They don’t deserve that.
I mean, they deserve a voice in our world, and our future world, because I think the best thing that we can do for 410,000 boys who were killed in the war—and everyone who was killed in the war across the world—is give their death some meaning. Because if we just pretend that that was a long time ago and it doesn’t matter, and continue to act the way we’re acting now, we’re literally spitting on the graves of those men.
Because, it’s bad enough that they had to die at 18, 19, 20—you know, the fact that they were born, had the middle of their life and the end of their life both before they could even drink alcohol—you know, that’s a really sobering thought. But, it’s bad enough that they had to be killed, but it would be even worse if they were killed for no reason. And I really hope that the veterans who I interview, who say that their friends have died in vain—I really hope that they end up being wrong, and that their friends died for a purpose.
Because, I mean, it was just 75 years ago, which is such a short time in the span of humanity. And, I mean, it should still be relevant and raw. I mean, I just don’t understand why people don’t talk more about it.
If we’re going to be a civilized people, it is required of us to honor those who have made our freedom possible. That is something we all ought to be able to agree on.

At a time when it’s so easy to be disagreeable, there was a response this weekend that I thought was helpful. If you’ll remember, a week earlier, on Saturday Night Live, a comic had mocked congressional candidate—now my new Congressman—Dan Crenshaw, who lost an eye to an IED in Afghanistan, on his third deployment (he deployed twice more after recovering the sight in one of his eyes). The response, on SNL this week, is worth seeing, below. It’s fun. After the humor, Dan is able to say what veterans really want to hear. He suggests that, while saying, “Thank you for your service” is good, he’d like us to say—well, I’ll just use his words:

There’s a lot of lessons to be learned here. Not just that the left and the right can still agree on some things, but also this: Americans can forgive one another. We can remember what brings us together as a country and still see the good in each other.
This is Veterans Day weekend, which means that it’s a good time for every American to connect with a veteran. Maybe say, “Thanks for your service.” But I would actually encourage you to say something else. Tell a veteran, “Never forget.” When you say, “Never forget” to a veteran, you are implying that, as an American, you are in it with them, not separated by some imaginary barrier between civilians and veterans, but connected together as grateful fellow Americans. We’ll never forget the sacrifices made by veterans past and present, and never forget those we lost on 9/11, heroes like Pete [Davidson]’s father. So I’ll just say, Pete, never forget.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Working to Change Young Minds

Tuesday’s voting day was a good news/bad news story. The good news is that nationally we gained seats in the Senate and several key governor races. Here in Texas we won the top races for me: Ted Cruz for Senate, Greg Abbott for Governor, and a race I’d been volunteering for, Dan Crenshaw for Congress, replacing our retiring Representative Ted Poe. My state representative, Dwayne Bohac, and my state senator Paul Bettencourt also won, which it turns out was not a given.
Dan Crenshaw is congratulated by Ted Poe
photo from Ted Poe's Facebook page

Here in Harris County, there was record turnout, much of it Democrat, much of it probably generated by the Beto O-Rourke senatorial campaign, which had, according to one account I saw, 805 full-time paid staff, compared to Cruz’s 18. And Beto had about $70 million to work with, a hefty percentage of it from out of state. I can’t say I’m sorry they wasted that money here instead of somewhere else. But, unfortunately, they did do some significant damage.

Two years ago we lost all county-wide races. Those that weren’t up that time were up this time, and we lost the rest of them. Even county judge—and administrative position in the 3rd largest county in the country, and I think the second largest administrative jurisdiction in the country. We got someone whose name I am not yet familiar with, who has no administrative experience, whose way of working with major budgets related to infrastructure managing huge growth and before the next hurricane is to be about climate change and stuff.

All of our judges—with the exception of a couple of Justices of the Peace who ran unopposed—will be inexperienced Democrats. Some will learn their functions well enough, eventually. And some of them might rule according to the law, rather than legislate from the bench, if they’re not typical. But we’re in bad shape for a while.

In my precinct, in a conservative area of Northwest Harris County, where my candidates won, my precinct did not support the Republicans. I worked harder this election than I ever have. Some of that is learning better what to do. Some is tying in with the Abbott and Crenshaw campaigns. But I contacted more voters, and contacted them more often. And I believe Republicans also had a good turnout. (I need to drill down on the numbers later.) But it was not enough.

My precinct does not have a Democrat precinct chair. So all the votes that were gotten out happened through some other type of electioneering that apparently money can buy.

I spent Voting Day at home with a virus, so I didn’t see what the polls looked like. (Luckily I had voted early.) But Mr. Spherical Model was our presiding judge. He reported that we had a higher than usual need for Spanish—which was evident, because I was supposed to be the Spanish bilingual clerk. And we had a great many required SOR forms (statement of residence—when a piece of mail gets returned to the county, then the resident needs to verify that they still live there), which may be related to Hurricane Harvey issues; some people are just now getting back into their homes. We don’t have apartments in this precinct, which leads to transience related to more SOR forms usually. There were a lot of first time voters—people who had never used an e-Slate machine (the electronic device we’ve been using since 2002), which is NOT a touch screen. And among these were many young voters, much more than we had observed in past elections.

So, whatever the Beto campaign did, they got out people who knew very little about voting, but they knew enough to show up and vote Democrat. That means that for the next four years, Democrats will be running the polling place for our precinct—which is awkward, since they don’t have a precinct chair and had to bring in someone from a nearby precinct, two days before the election, just to have an alternate judge. But that’s a problem for the new, inexperienced Democrat County Clerk. (We will of course be running Republican primary elections.)

Besides all the county positions, other losses included two of my favorite nearby state reps: Gary Elkins (who used to be my rep, before the last redistricting) and Mike Schofield, one of the most knowledgeable people on the state legislature. US Congressman John Culberson (who was mine before redistricting) also lost.

I’m lamenting the losses. But mostly I’m trying to figure out what more to do. We need to reach people better. Since I met him last February, I’ve been amazed at how well Dan Crenshaw does it. He has a way of saying things that gets through to Millennials (he one of them, just a year or so older than my son Political Sphere), and Hispanics. He went to high school in South America and is fluent in Spanish, which helps. So, as I go forward, trying to find more and better ways to get through to people who would be with us if they were only getting the message, I’ll be looking to Dan.

screenshot from here
You’ve probably heard of Dan Crenshaw by now, if you hadn’t before. He’s the Navy Seal who lost an eye to an IED in Afghanistan—that Saturday Night Live mocked last weekend, and was appropriately shamed for. Dan was totally unruffled by it, of course.

Tuesday night he gave an acceptance speech that I think is worth sharing. The first half is mainly thanking those who believed in him and helped make this miracle happen. The second half is about American ideas. I’ve heard others say (and I’ve said) many of the same things. But Dan does connect with people and inspire them. So here are his words (as well as I could transcribe among the cheering) as he begins the new life of a US Congressman:

We all vote. We all come together in our constitutional republic every election to cast our ballots. We are deciding what kind of country we want to be. We are making a statement about who we are, what we stand for, how we are to approach governance.
So, what do we want to be? Let’s start with what all Americans, I think, can agree on. We want a stronger economy, and better wages. We want American businesses to thrive. We want an environment where a single entrepreneur can change the world with a good idea—without government getting in the way.
We want a country where success is praised, not punished; a country made up of citizens with strength and character and courage. We’re not a people who shatter at the first sign of offense or hardship. [something about SNL followed by laughter]
We want more affordable healthcare. We want our doctors in charge, not government bureaucrats in Washington. We want to know, the next time a hurricane comes, our infrastructure can handle it.
We want smart, decisive, knowledgeable leaders in Washington, with the right experience to take on threats from China, Russia, Iran, and terrorists across the world. We want representatives who understand America’s special role in this world, who know that America is a force for good. Not congressmen who rush to be first in line to blame America for the sins of others.
at the acceptance speech
photo from Dan Crenshaw's Facebook page

We want towns and cities where the rule of law is respected, where we value our police and our first responders. We want schools that both educate and protect our children, and instill in them the basic values that make our country great: hard work, personal responsibility, and love of country.
We want life. We want liberty, equal rights. And we want government to be there to protect those inalienable rights bestowed upon us by God: freedom of speech, of religion, of a fair trial, and the right to own property, and to defend ourselves on that property.
The question, then, becomes, in every election, how do we get there? Our guiding lights, our ...(?) for the difficult decisions that we must make, are America’s foundational principles. It’s personal responsibility. It’s individual freedom. It’s limited government. And it’s “In God We Trust” that’s written from the halls of Congress to that coin in your pocket. Because, we figured out a long time ago, back in 1776, when our founders wrote in the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal, that in order for a diverse people to live together in a complex society, we must empower the individual. Not divide people into tribal groups separated by race or gender or class.
The wonder, the miracle, of American exceptionalism is the ability of a diverse people to live peacefully together and prosper more than any other nation in the history of mankind. It was this country—it was America that ushered in a century of prosperity and defeated the murderous socialist ideologies of communism and Nazism. It is America that has stood up for free market and the idea that you own your own labor, your property, and you are free to enter into an agreement with any stranger, should you both benefit from that transaction. It is this simple idea that has caused poverty to plummet and tribal warfare and suffering to decrease to the lowest levels in human history. It’s this idea that gives us the miracle of a supercomputer in your pocket, a store full of food to buy cheaply and conveniently, or a home that can be heated or cooled with the flip of a switch.
Over a billion people have been lifted out of poverty over the last twenty-five years alone. And the ideas that seek to protect liberty and human rights and prosperity have been underwritten by one country, and one country alone: The United States of America.
America is a compilation of the best ideas from throughout human history. It is the ultimate conservative experiment in the sense that conservatives show a natural gratitude and appreciation of the past trials and tribulations. Jerusalem taught us about a purposeful moral existence under God. Athens brought us the gift of reason. Rome taught us the importance of laws and respect for founding virtues. London taught us that all men are subject to law, even kings. And that balance of power, even checks and balances, are paramount to liberty. The lessons of Jerusalem and Rome and Athens and London during the enlightenment were encapsulated in Philadelphia, where mankind finally understood that inalienable rights were given by God, and that the government’s purpose was simply to respect those rights, not change them.
from Dan Crenshaw's Facebook page
We’re patriots. We believe that the ideals that our country was founded on are the right ones. That doesn’t make us perfect. We don’t always live up to those ideals. We have work to do. But when we struggle, and when we feel loss, and we feel that our country is on the brink, the last thing we should do is throw out the very foundations that have made our country great.
In Texas we still believe in those foundations. I think that most Americans do. Sometimes we need a little reminder—a reminder of the things that bring us together, a reminder of all that is good in this world, and a reminder of the incredible things that we have accomplished, more than any other people in the history of humankind.
That’s what we voted on today. And as a team that was the message we spread. It became the dream that we shared. You all became part of that dream, and it caught fire. And people were reminded of the good things—the great things—that make up the American spirit.
I have great faith that, when we leave here tonight, we will not rest. We will not be satisfied with this victory. We’re going to keep going. We’re going to keep sharing that dream. We’re going to keep fighting for the values that made our country great and keep us free.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Words to Inspire Wise Voting

Here it is the day before Voting Day in America. There’s a great deal of interest for a midterm election. Other than 2010, when there was a backlash against the underhanded, unilateral imposition of Obamacare on us, I don’t remember interest being so high for such an election. It could be that I’m just paying more attention, but I think a lot of us recognize there’s a lot at stake.

There has been record amounts of early voting in many states, including my own. We don’t actually know the results of those early votes, but when those particular voters have voted in a primary, we have their party affiliation as an indicator. Right now, that data tells us there’s more Republican interest than Democrat, and more rural and suburban interest in most places—with my state as an exception, where urban voting has surged. I don’t know how they measure that, because Houston is definitely urban, but it’s also huge and made up more of suburban areas than urban. So we'll see.

chart from NBC News

There’s a lot at stake. After a very long near decade of economic malaise and social decay, we’ve been getting our hopes up that improving freedom and prosperity are more than just temporary. But that’s at risk.

A lot of our future depends on how we and the people around us vote.

So, maybe this is a day for inspiring words, pulled from my ever growing Spherical Model quote file, about this experiment in self-rule called the United States of America. Remind yourself how vital it is to vote wisely. Then go forth and do your duty tomorrow.

Samuel Adams
painting by J. S. Copley
Here therefore is the truest friend to the liberty of his country who tries most to promote its virtue, who, so far as his power and influence extend, will not suffer a man to be chosen into any office of power and trust who is not a wise and virtuous man.—Samuel Adams (The Life of Samuel Adams, 1:22)

What country can preserve its liberty if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? —Thomas Jefferson, November 13, 1787

I go on this great republican principle, that the people will have virtue and intelligence to select men of virtue and wisdom.—James Madison, Federalist Paper 11:163, June 20, 1788

The power under the Constitution will always be in the people. It is entrusted for certain defined purposes, and for a certain limited period, to representatives of their own choosing; and whenever it is executed contrary to their interest, or not agreeable to their wishes, their servants can, and undoubtedly will, be recalled.—George Washington

Let it be told to the future world, that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive, that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet and to repulse it.—Thomas Paine, “The American Crisis”

Benjamin Franklin
painting by Joseph Duplessis, 1778
In the beginning of the contest with Great Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayers in this room for divine protection. Our prayers, sir, were heard; and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in this struggle must have observed frequent instances of a superintending Providence in our favor. To that kind Providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful Friend? Or do we imagine that we no longer need His assistance? I have lived, sir, a long time; and the longer I live the more convincing proofs I see of this truth—that God governs in the affairs of men; and if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid? We have been assured, sir, in sacred writings, that except the Lord build the house they labor in vain that build it I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel.—Benjamin Franklin, Debates in the Congress of the Confederation, from February 19, 1787, to April 25, 1787, p. 984

[T]he framers of the Constitution probably assumed that religious freedom would establish religion as a watchdog over government, and believed that free churches would inevitably stand and speak against immoral and corrupt legislation. All churches not only have the right to speak out on public moral issues, but they have the solemn obligation to do so.—M. Russell Ballard, Ensign, October 1992

Men can exercise freedom only if they possess the following:
(1) life, (2) liberty (the absence of restraint), (3) property, and (4) knowledge.
When men become wicked, they act to destroy these necessary elements rather than preserve them, and freedom becomes impossible to maintain no matter what the form of government. There is an inexorable law of nature in operation which decrees that no man can act with the purpose of destroying another’s freedom without losing his own. The operation of this divine law of retribution is easily observed in a society of self-governing people.
Selfish, needful man is restrained from forcibly taking the life, liberty or property of his neighbor by these considerations:
(1) conscience, (2) fear of retaliation (3) fear of condemnation of others.
When men act through government, they do so without fear of retaliation or condemnation, and conscience alone remains to curb the propensity to abuse power.
Therefore, when a nation of people who have had the power of government placed in their hands become evil and without conscience, they will use that power to plunder and enslave one another until freedom is destroyed. It is a truism taught by the sages and prophets and proved repeatedly in the history of nations that wickedness and liberty cannot exist side by side.
Equally fatal to freedom is the ignorance or indifference of the voting majority. Unless they perceive with clarity that line which divides right from wrong in government action, and resist with firmness any attempt to cross it, the natural tendency of men to abuse power will cause those in office to enlarge their functions until liberty is crushed under the weight of bureaucratic despotism.
Therefore a nation must not only remain moral to remain free, but it must also be alert and informed. Furthermore the people must have a standard by which to distinguish with precision those functions which preserve freedom from those which destroy it. The standard which is used must be widely known, universally acceptable to moral people, and easily applied.—H. Verlan Andersen, Many Are Called, But Few Are Chosen, Ezra Taft Benson Society, special re-printing: 2017, ch. 1

Take Social Justice. Justice means getting what you deserve without favor. Social justice means getting what you don’t deserve because you are favored.
—Michael Knowles, “Control the Words, Control the Culture,” PragerU

We need to become more tolerant of the imperfections that come with freedom, and we need to give up the illusion that somehow putting government in charge of anything is going to improve its workings, much less bring on utopia.—Ron Paul

No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than those of the United States. Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency.—George Washington, First Inaugural Address

The hand of Heaven appears to have led us on to be, perhaps, humble instruments and means in the great Providential dispensation which is completing. We have fled from the political Sodom; let us not look back, lest we perish and become a monument of infamy and derision to the world!—Samuel Adams, speech at Philadelphia state house, August 1, 1776

Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one.
—Thomas Paine

The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined…[and] will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce.
—James Madison, Federalist Paper 45

Albert Einstein
image from here

I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live by the light that I have. I must stand with anybody that stands right, and stand with him while he is right, and part with him when he goes wrong.
—Abraham Lincoln

The strength of the Constitution lies entirely in the determination of each citizen to defend it.—Albert Einstein

Thursday, November 1, 2018

What Does the 14th Amendment Really Say?

Sometimes grammar is the solution to understanding. So I’m in my element. That’s the case today for our discussion about the 14th Amendment. Here’s the first, and most pertinent paragraph:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

This amendment was ratified July 9, 1868. To understand it, it helps to know it followed what was called the Civil Rights Act of 1866, the purpose of which was to give citizenship to freed slaves. This legislation was pushed through Congress by a bloc of—of course—Republicans. Radical Republicans, they called themselves. That legislation said:

all persons born in the United States and not subject to any foreign power, excluding Indians not taxed, are hereby declared to be citizens of the United States; and such citizens, of every race and color, without regard to any previous condition of slavery or involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall have the same right, in every State and Territory in the United States, to make and enforce contracts, to sue, be parties, and give evidence, to inherit, purchase, lease, sell, hold, and convey real and personal property, and to full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of person and property, as is enjoyed by white citizens….
Putting the two together, we can see that “subject to the jurisdiction” means “subject to any foreign power.” It’s about allegiance. Aren’t visitors subject to our laws? Yes, and they also benefit from them—as people, but not as citizens. Citizens get additional privileges: the right to vote, and to receive government benefits, such as military protection from invasion, plus maybe education, welfare, or Social Security. There’s a distinct difference between being an American and simply being in America.

Let’s assume, then, the meaning of “subject to any foreign power” is not at issue. That means you must be born in the US and not subject to any foreign power, or be naturalized in the US and no longer subject to any foreign power. You don’t have to take my word for it. One of the drafters of the amendment, Senator Lyman Trumbull of Illinois defined “subject to the jurisdiction” as “not owing allegiance to anybody else.”

Why the amendment when there was already a law? There had been a prior decision by the Supreme Court, the Dred Scott case, in which SCOTUS ruled that a slave who was living in a state that prohibited slavery was nevertheless a slave and Americans were required to return him to his owner; furthermore, the case ruled that people who were racially black could never be US citizens.

In other words, it was already clear that you couldn’t trust the courts to rule correctly. Nevertheless, SCOTUS can rule a law unconstitutional, but it can’t rule an amendment to the Constitution unconstitutional; it is part of the constitution. So that is the reason the Civil Rights Act of 1866 was followed up with the 14th Amendment. They’re actually even closer than they appear. The amendment was drafted just two months after the legislation became law; the additional two years was the time for the states to ratify the amendment.

The debate about the 14th Amendment was never about granting citizenship to babies born here who were children of foreigners, visitors, or anyone whose allegiance was to some other nation (jurisdiction). That issue didn’t come up, because nobody thought, “Hey, you know what we ought to do? We ought to magically make any child of someone in the country, on vacation, say—or even illegally—a citizen. Then we can give that child of foreigners all the rights and benefits of citizenship, even if the child never assimilates or feels allegiance to our country with its principles of freedom.” Because that would have been stupid, for one thing. And for another, it had nothing to do with the purpose of the legislation and follow-up constitutional amendment.

So how did the idea of birthright citizenship come out of that pretty clear granting of citizenship to freed slaves and other black? It took a while, and some purposeful misconstruing.

Wong Kim Ark
image from Wikipedia
The first—and only—relevant Supreme Court case came up about thirty years later (1898), concerning a man born to Chinese immigrants—not naturalized as citizens, both because the Chinese Emperor did not allow renunciation of his rule, and because of the US laws at the time did not allow for Chinese naturalization, based on a belief that they were too foreign to assimilate. Wong Kim Ark took a trip to China (not his first), and when he returned to port in San Francisco, he wasn’t allowed re-entry, because of a hold on allowing entry of Chinese at the time. But he said, “I’m not Chinese. My parents are. But I’m American. I was born here.” While he was held aboard the ship for five months, the case made its way through the courts to the Supreme Court, which eventually ruled that he was a citizen, based on his being born here and his parents being permanent legal residents.

But that is a very different thing from the current interpretation that anyone who happens to be born here, whether to illegal immigrants, temporary residents, visitors, tourists, travelers, etc., would magically be granted citizenship status, with promises of welfare benefits and education. In fact, it’s hard to construe a way to be both an illegal alien and holding allegiance to the United States. The illegal status implies failure of allegiance.

There’s a rather arcane argument, where grammar really comes in, based on the precursor to the Congressional record, during the debate about the 14th Amendment. Michigan Republican Jacob Howard, who had introduced the 14th Amendment, is recorded as saying this:

This amendment which I have offered is simply declaratory of what I regard as the law of the land already, that every person born within the limits of the United States, and subject to their jurisdiction, is by virtue of natural law and national law a citizen of the United States. This will not, of course, include persons born in the United States who are foreigners, aliens, who belong to the families of ambassadors or foreign ministers accredited to the Government of the United States, but will include every other class of persons.
The person who wrote the words, then, insists that the 14th Amendment means essentially the same this that the Civil Rights legislation of 1866 meant. But today people purposely misread, not only the 14th Amendment, but Howard’s statement about it.

Take a look at the highlighted sentence again. The list of those not to be included are children born to foreigners or aliens, or children of ambassadors or foreign ministers. That seems pretty clear to me. But where misreading can occur, it does. The misreaders claim that it isn’t a list, but a restatement of the same thing, meaning that “foreigners and aliens” are just another way of saying “families of ambassadors or foreign ministers,” so everyone not of an ambassadorial or foreign ministerial family is included in “every other class of persons.”

The Congressional Globe, in which this is recorded, is neither an exact quote of the words spoken, nor is it intended to be the final say on punctuation. So, if you go by the full context of what Howard said, among others in the debate, you’ll see that “every other class of persons” cannot include Native Americans living on reservations and subject to tribal sovereignty (they were granted citizenship by legislation in 1924). So we know that the misreaders have it wrong.

So we could clarify (and people do[i]) by adding the word “or” in its appropriate place:

…who are foreigners, aliens, [or] who belong to the families of ambassadors or foreign ministers…
Grammar saves the day for truth once again!

What this means is, the 14th Amendment does not, and has not ever, granted birthright citizenship to children of parents subject to a foreign sovereignty.

Maybe we need a clearer definition of immigrant. Legal immigrants who have entered the country legally and have expressed their intention to be permanent residents—their children born here have always been considered citizens—even if they’re born before the parents become naturalized citizens. This would be different from someone working here on, say, a five-year work assignment but who still considers themselves a citizen of some other nation; their children would have the same citizenship as the parents.

If we as a people believe birthright citizenship is a good thing, we could hold the debate and amend the Constitution to say so. But we’ve never had that opportunity. We have had administrations who, for their own purposes (and those purposes are related to the same purposes that encourage illegal immigration, amnesty, non-citizen voting, and other impediments to sovereignty) granted such citizenship by fiat, but not by law.

So, can Donald Trump end the practice by executive order? Yes.

What would happen? Cases will make their way to the Supreme Court—which now leans originalist. Other than the one case, which doesn’t clearly define the issue, there isn’t reliable or clear court precedence. So they would likely look to the text and intent at the time of the writing of the 14th Amendment. I don’t know for certain how that would go, but it is likely to end the practice of “maternity hotels” and pregnant illegals purposely trying to get on American soil to birth a baby, who will then be a citizen, so they can claim, “But it would be cruel to separate families” as they plead not to be deported—even though this country has of course never forced deportees to leave their children behind simply because of a citizenship technicality; the country they would be returned to would undoubtedly accept their child as a citizen along with the returning parent.

Is this simply some bigoted conservative argument? Not unless you assume former Democrat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is a bigoted conservative. He said this:

If making it easy to be an illegal alien isn’t enough, how about offering a reward for being an illegal immigrant? No sane country would do that, right? Guess again. If you break our laws by entering this country without permission and give birth to a child, we reward that child with U.S. citizenship and guarantee a full access to all public and social services this society provides.
Does the United States have the right to decide its own citizenship rules? If it is a sovereign nation, then of course. If we go back to the original meaning of our 14th Amendment and end “birthright citizenship” for illegals or visitors, then we would be in line with the practice of 83% of the world’s nations, and about 6.642 billion of the world’s 7 billion people.

We don’t have to quibble about those currently granted citizenship. We can simply state what we as a nation will do going forward. As Hillsdale College lecturer and research fellow Michael Anton puts it,

Correct the issue going forward. Make clear to the world that the United States will no longer grant birthright citizenship to the children of non-citizen illegal immigrants, birth tourists, or people here on temporary work or student visas. The citizenship of those already born would forever be honored—even enshrined into law if necessary.[ii]
This would put an end to what might be called, in the insurance world, an attractive nuisance. We can stop attracting illegal immigrants, and get much better organized at allowing immigration of those who will value our laws, our freedoms, and the responsibilities of citizens who self-rule, and weed out the applicants who want to take advantage of us without becoming truly American.

[i] Michael Anton used this insertion for clarity in“Citizenship Shouldn’t Be a Birthright,” July 18, 2018, in The Washington Post. Others have used the same insertions, such as in "What Did the 14th Amendment Congress Think about 'Birthright Citizenship'?" by Mark Pulliam, August 21,2015, for Law and Liberty.

[ii] Michael Anton wrote two piece in July 2018 about birthright citizenship. The first is “Citizenship Shouldn’t Be a Birthright,” in The Washington Post. A few days later, in answer to critics, he wrote a much longer piece, “Birthright Citizenship: A Response to My Critics,” in the Claremont Review of Books. I this one he handles the grammar issues in more detail than I have, and also the historical issues. The estimates from the paragraph above about the world’s nations that do not have birthright citizenship come from his longer piece.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Government by Consent or Expertise

I’ve been going through a Hillsdale online course (their newest, I think) called Congress: How It Worked and Why It Doesn’t. In his introduction, Hillsdale President Larry Arnn points out that the title refers to both past tense—“when it worked”—and present tense—“it doesn’t.” There isn’t anything in the title that says, “And how we get it to work again.” I’m halfway through, but I’m hoping there will be something hopeful like that.

Anyway, in our ongoing primer on the Constitution here, it’s appropriate to talk about what has been going awry with Congress over the past century.

According to Article I of the Constitution, legislation happens in the legislature, composed of two houses: the House of Representatives, which is based on population, and the Senate, which provides equal representation for the states. The two houses have to come into agreement on any legislation that they pass along to the president for his signature, before it becomes law.

But the self-proclaimed progressives, such as President Woodrow Wilson, and others of his time—Herbert Croly, John Dewey, both Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt—thought they knew better than the founders about how things should be run.

They set out, rather matter-of-factly, to overturn the US Constitution, and replace it as they saw fit. And they and their followers, over the course of a century, have been far too successful.

The idea, they claimed, was that life in the industrialized world was too complex to be handled by anyone but experts. They liked the idea of using the legislature to express the general will of the people—a desired outcome, like clean water or safer working conditions, for example—and then turning over all the details to some expert administrative body.

They claimed that this would better do the will of the people, and do it more efficiently—and separately from politics.

Dr. Kevin Portteus
screen shot from lecture 5 of
Congress: How It Worked and Why It Doesn't

Dr. Kevin Portteus, the teacher of this Hillsdale course, in Lecture 3: “Politics and Administration,” offers this definition:

Politics is politics in what we might think of as the ordinary sense, the martialing of votes, the changing of public opinion, and the enactment of a political program. Whereas, on the contrary, administration constitutes the implementation of the broad policies laid out in the political process.
It didn’t matter to the progressives that the legislature would be giving up their lawmaking power. Their “progressive” vision was all that mattered.

So Congress would pass vague “laws” requiring a general desired outcome. And they’d turn over the authority to accomplish that to administrative bodies of bureaucrats, with practically unlimited authority to set the rules, enforce them, and adjudicate disputes—all branches of power in one.

So now, besides voters and elected officials, the process has a third party. Dr. Portteus describes these extra-constitutional lawmakers, and three basic characteristics required in order to be one. Pay attention to the second one; there’s a lot there. And then, if you understand the second, how do you square that with the third?

That’s the bureaucrat, the administrator, the official. What does he look like? Well, Croly says, “The experts charged with the administration of these laws would become the official custodians of a certain part of the accepted social program. In other words, they must implement some portion of the progressive social platform. So if you’re put in charge of EPA, your job is to implement clean air and clean water policy. That’s your corner of a just society that’s your responsibility.
But, in order to do that, we need people who have three basic characteristics.
The first one is that they’re experts. They have to be trained experts in their particular fields. And we’ve seen this.
The second attribute of a progressive bureaucrat is that he be independent of the partisan political process. And this was the driving force throughout the Twentieth Century behind the creation of entities like independent regulatory commissions. Get the policymakers out of the electoral process, and get them out from under the control of elected officials, so that the people—public opinion—and the people’s elected representatives don’t get in the way of the application of expertise to solve these social problems.
It’s kind of interesting, when you think about it, because, in the progressive mindset, we’re going to have bureaucrats who are pretty far removed from the political process. And if you follow the logic of this argument, the end result of restricting the people’s ability to control government officials—the end result of that is going to be greater implementation of democracy. That is to say, the goals stated in the people’s legislation are going to be less likely to be subverted, because the people who are implementing them are going to have no interest except serving the public interests.
It sounds kind of naïve to us, but they really believed this. They really believed that you were going to have these people who were not gripped by self-interest in the way that the rest of us were, that somehow they would be outside of the ordinary limitations or foibles of human nature. And they would be responsive only to the public good.
And they really believed this. This was not cynical on their part. They were serious.
But, there was one other characteristic that you could not get around. And that is that these people must be committed progressives. They cannot be anti-progressives. Because, if they’re not committed progressives, then they will not zealously enforce the mission of the agency of the program over which they were put in charge.
Because, the danger in that circumstance is that, if such a person is put in charge of a program or of an agency, he would use that position as a vehicle for circumventing the will of the people as stated in legislation.
To give an example, a while ago, about ’99 or 2000, Bill Clinton had to fill a spot on the Federal Elections Commission, and he chose to fill that spot with a man named Bradley Smith. Now, Brad Smith is the expert in federal campaign finance law. And, so, there’s no doubt that he knows his stuff. And by putting him on the commission, he would be independent of the partisan political process. Now, Smith recounts in his book on free speech that his chief opponent, when he was nominated, was Clinton’s own vice-president, Al Gore. And, as Smith recounts in his book, he says, “The reason that Gore opposed me was not because I didn’t know my stuff, and it’s not because I was going to be a captive tool of special interests, because I had my position on the committee. What he objected to was the fact that I questioned the wisdom and the constitutionality of current and proposed campaign finance restrictions. In other words, that I was not committed to zealous enforcement of federal campaign finance programs and the implementation of new and ever more restrictive programs.”
So, you can’t have someone who doesn’t believe, for instance, in greater restrictions on pollution at the head of the EPA. That person is, by definition, because of ideology, ineligible for the position. He must accept—the progressive administrator must accept the basic progressive impulse of society and of the program he is supposed to run. And, as Croly says, “He qualifies for his work as an administrator quite as much by his general good faith as by his specific competence.” So, in other words, as important as his technical ability is his commitment to progressivism.
So, non-progressives, if you want to call them conservatives, are by definition ineligible to hold any of these administrative positions.
You saw similar dismay over various Trump appointees, but in particular Betsy DeVos over Education. The Department of Education still exists at the federal level after almost two years—which is disappointing to some of us. But the fear from the other party is that she might “gasp!” find something to cut. And the very nature of a federal agency is that it must keep growing. Reagan found similar pushback on his policies as well, even failing to end the then-new Department of Education.

In this and other agencies, some of the difficulty come from within the agency. Perhaps not every employee in an agency is a fully committed progressive (which means Democrat or socialist, but only very rarely a non-conservative Republican). But most are, by definition.

Thomas Sowell
image from here
There’s a story, a pivot point Thomas Sowell talks about his time at the Labor Department, after finishing his PhD in Economics as a Marxist. In short, he was studying the sugar industry of Puerto Rico, and whether the Labor Department’s setting of minimum wages was leading to unemployment. There was a way to test whether this was true, or whether a competing theory about hurricanes harming the crops was the cause. Thomas Sowell figured out they could get data about crops standing in the fields before hurricanes to tell them. That data wasn’t in the Labor Department; it was in the Department of Agriculture. There was huge pressure not to even ask for it, but he filed a request:

That was 1960. I have yet to receive an official reply to my request.
This was more than an isolated incident. It forced me to realize that government agencies have their own self-interest to look after, regardless of the interests of those for whom a program has been set up. Administration of the minimum wage law was a major part of the Labor Department’s budget and employed a significant fraction of all the people who worked there. Whether or not minimum wages benefited workers may have been my overriding question, but it was clearly not theirs. They had reasons to want to believe that it did, but no real incentive to probe too deeply to find out.[i]
Learning that the administrative state had nothing to do with helping people, but only in preserving their own jobs, or putting forward their own ideology—that’s when Thomas Sowell went from Marxist to free-market economist.

In Lecture 5, “Legislation and Regulation,” Dr. Portteus says that government by consent, which we have in the Constitution, and government by expertise, as in the administrative state, are mutually exclusive.

What’s more, any intention of insulating the administrative lawmaker from politics is an abject failure. As Dr. Portteus concludes: 

It does not insulate rule makers from legislative politics. Regulatory agencies are buffeted by all of the political forces that affect legislators and sometimes more so.

It does not base rules on expertise, or even reason. And the CAFE[i] standards example is a wonderful case in point in this regard. And at the end of the day, it doesn’t serve the public interest. That is to say, this process gives undue weight to organized special interests, who influence the regulators and key politicians.
This is why, for instance, it has become so critically important, if you own a business of even modest size, that you have a lobbying operation….
So the regulatory process is something very different from the legislative process…. Over the course of the 20th Century, the regulatory process developed and established in the Administrative Procedure Act is a very different way of making policy from the process established in the Constitution for making laws. The modern one attempts to substitute for, and posit itself as, the parallel legislative process. But it really leads to a transformation of the regime, because it yields a transformation in the way legislation is made.
Another day we can talk about what Congress is doing with its time, if it isn’t making laws. But for now, let’s just remind ourselves of this Spherical Model axiom:

Whenever government attempts something beyond the proper role of government (protection of life, liberty, and property), it causes unintended consequences—usually exactly opposite to the stated goals of the interference.

[i] Thomas Sowell, A Person Odyssey, © 2000, pp. 130-131.
[ii] CAFE is Corporate Average Fuel Economy