Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Primary Matters, Part III

This is part III covering the Harris County Primary ballot. Early voting ends Friday. Primary voting day at your precinct polling location is Tuesday, March 6th.

Just the judicial races. There's a bigger pile of everything else.

In part I, I covered the statewide races (except judiciary, which we’ll cover today). In part II, I covered Congressional District 2, the race to replace retiring Congressman Ted Poe. Today we handle all the rest, which is mostly judiciary.

As in the other two parts, I’ll be covering only contested races. I don’t know of any candidates unopposed in the primary who ought to be opposed.

I use a number of sources for my decisions, including endorsements and input from a friend inside the judiciary, my SREC chair, the Conservative Coalition of Harris County (CCHC), candidate websites when available, personal meetings at my Tea Party and other places, and more. I suggest you add my opinions as part of your research in your decision-making process.

I’ve added a graphic at the end to summarize all three blog posts into a single, easy-to-read list of my choices.


The Texas Supreme Court is divided into two parts, with different purposes: The Supreme Court and The Court of Criminal Appeals. There are two positions on the ballot for Supreme Court Justice, unopposed in the Primary. And there are three positions on the ballot for The Court of Criminal Appeals, two of which have challengers.

Presiding Judge, Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 4

Sharon Keller is the incumbent, serving more than 15 years so far. There is a sense that Keller has been imperfect, but has been a solid conservative judge—which means judging according to the law, not legislating from the bench. Her opponent, David Bridges, has impressive appellate experience himself and could be good. But, without a compelling reason to oust the incumbent, I’m going with Sharon Keller. My inside-the-judiciary friend and the Conservative Coalition (CCHC) are with me here.

Justice, Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 8

I have less surety on this position. Both the CCHC and my SREC chair go with Michelle Slaughter. But my judiciary friend says, “Jay Brandon has extensive experience that is better suited to the position he is seeking than either of his opponents. He has served for many years as a prosecutor, defense attorney, and appellate specialist.” I’m giving weight to the judiciary experience and going with Jay Brandon.

Justice, 1st Court of Appeals District, Place 7

Terry Yates has 27+ years relevant experience. Katy Boatman has been licensed less than 10 years. I haven’t met either. But my judiciary friend and CCHC go with greater experience, and so I go with Terry Yates as well.

Judiciary—Harris County

District courts all cover the entire county. They are assigned specific purposes. When a new court is created, it gets the next number. So the “district” and its number have nothing to do with location within the county. Many courts have been displaced since flooding from Harvey, so I offer my appreciation for the way the courts have worked long and creative hours to keep their courts functioning.

In all but a couple of cases, the contested judicial races are for seats held by Democrats, or open benches with a retiring judge. Two years ago, in a presidential election year, the Democrats, who vote straight ticket (until the law against that goes into effect in 2020) swept Harris County, winning every countywide race, which meant displacing a number of good Republican justices with inexperienced judges, some of whom willingly legislate from the bench. So it is important to vote this election to recover some of those lost seats.

District Judge, 189th Judicial District

This decision is evenly divided. Stacey Bond has judicial experience for this criminal court, and has worked as a prosecutor and defense attorney. She leans toward the defense. Maritza Antu has good experience as a prosecutor, but no judiciary experience. She has the badge of honor of not being retained when Soros-funded District Attorney Ogg got elected, and the defense bar doesn’t like her. It makes more sense to go with experience, although I’m tempted to go with the emotional appeal of Antu. Still may change my mind, but I’ll probably vote for Stacey Bond.

District Judge, 189th Judicial District

Erin Elizabeth Lunceford has been a Governor Abbott appointee, has judicial experience, and scores high in the local bar poll. I’ve met her opponent, Sharon Hemphill, at Tea Party meetings, and she seems experienced as well. But I’m going to go with the unanimous recommendation of my sources and vote for Erin Elizabeth Lunceford.

District Judge, 263rd Judicial District

Justin Keiter gets unanimous support among my sources, with relevant experience for this court, over his opponent Charles Johnson. I’ll be voting for Justin Keiter.

District Judge 295th Judicial District

There are three candidates for this civil court: MichelleFraga, Fred Shuchart, and Richard Risinger. My sources unanimously support Shuchart, and I heard him in person and was impressed by him. So Fred Shuchart gets my vote.

Family District Judge, 257th Judicial District

I like both Alyssa Lemkuil and Melanie Flowers, and have heard them both several times at Tea Party meetings. Flowers always seems to be in a race with a stronger candidate. Eventually I hope she can become a judge. But Alyssa Lemkuil is a former Abbott appointee, and was highly rated by the attorneys who practice in her court. She’s the experience judge, so I’m voting for Alyssa Lemkuil.

Family District Judge, 280th Judicial District

There are three candidates for this court, which handles restraining orders related to domestic violence: Geric Tipsword, Angelina Gooden, and George Clevenger. I’ve heard all three in person. Angelina Gooden was recently appointed by Governor Abbott, so she’s an incumbent of only a few months. While the others would probably be adequate, I going with the Governor and my other source and vote for Angelina Gooden.

Judge, County Criminal Court No. 8

The two candidates are Dan Simons and Jay Karahan. Karahan is the incumbent and has done a good job, according to my judiciary friend. Dan Simons gets support from other sources, but he doesn’t have judicial experience. I’ve met Karahan in person a number of times. I can’t see any reason to oust a good incumbent, so I’m going to vote for Jay Karahan.

Judge, County Criminal Court No. 11

The two candidates are Lori Botello and Aaron Burdette. I met them both at the February 3rd Tea Party meeting. Aaron Burdette was particularly impressive. He’s has the better experience, and he gets the unanimous endorsement of my sources. I’m voting for Aaron Burdette.

Judge, County Civil Court at Law No. 2

This race has puzzled me. I wondered if I was missing some hidden information. Theresa Chang is the incumbent, with oodles of experience and high approval by the local bar. Her challenger, Erin Swanson, is just four years out of law school, and, while she claims extensive experience, that can’t be so. She’s barely eligible to run for a judge position. Why challenge an effective incumbent? I would not have taken her at all seriously, except that she is the daughter of Rep. Valoree Swanson, which is probably why she got a high percentage endorsement from CCHC. But I looked into this race long enough ago to tell Judge Theresa Chang to list me as endorsing her.

Judge, County Civil Court at Law No. 4

I have met Sophia Mafrige. I have not met David Tang. All my sources, and my personal impression leans toward Sophia Mafrige, so she gets my vote.

Justice of the Peace, Precinct 5, Place 2

There are three candidates: Jeff Williams, J. R. Harris, and Mike Wolfe. Williams is the incumbent, since 2010, and I’m told he’s doing a good job. Again, I’m puzzled by challengers to an effective Republican incumbent. Harris got the nod from a spare majority of CCHC, but I’m voting for Jeff Williams.

Other County Races

Among non-judicial countywide races on my ballot, only one is a challenger.

Harris County Republican Chair

Paul Simpson was voted in as HCRP Chair at the same time I became a precinct chair, four years ago. This is an unpaid position, although it takes pretty much full-time work. I’ve seen training and outreach improve considerably. Funding is sound. Technology gets ever better.  Communications have been excellent.

We did lose the county in 2016. The county has always been 50/50, so it’s a matter of voter turnout, and the other party has some effective (albeit unethical) ways of making that happen when there’s an emotional election going on. I’m hoping we make some returns during this off-year election. Chris Carmona and his supporters think a change in leadership is the solution. I don’t. I’m in favor of keeping Paul Simpson.


Propositions on this ballot do not become law; they become suggested party platform planks, with more emphasis than other grassroots suggestions, because they have already made their way through grassroots support to the county party level.

I’m not 100% in favor of every idea, although I do strongly support most of them. But I’m willing to have the debate on all of them. My SREC chair and the CCHC both support a yes vote on all 11 propositions. I’m inclined to vote yes on all as well.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Primary Matters, Part II

In the last post, part I, I covered the statewide races. I don’t think I mentioned, although it’s probably obvious, I’m only dealing with the Republican Primary, covering races on my ballot here in Harris County (in and around Houston). In this part II I’ll cover the Congressional District 2 race, where nine candidates are running to replace retiring Congressman Ted Poe. I’ll do a part III tomorrow to cover the judicial races and anything else on the ballot.

I’m doing this the long way, covering my thought process, and trying to give some respectful observations about the many candidates. I’m saving my endorsement for last, so if that’s all you’re interested in, you can just scroll down to the bottom. Note that, with so many running, we will probably have a runoff election.

Congressional District 2

It was something of a surprise to me that Congressman Ted Poe was retiring. He’s old enough to retire, and he has had to fight off leukemia the past couple of years. But I had pictured him doing fine and staying forever.

The good news is that we have a deep bench. There are nine GOP candidates running to be his replacement. That means there will be a runoff election, so the Primary will really select the top two in this list; it won’t be over when votes are counted March 6th. In the end, I will support whoever is the final Primary winner. But I have some definite preferences.

CD2 Candidate Forum February 9, 2018, at HCRP Headquarters
left to right: Jonny Havens, Dr. John Spiers, Rick Walker, Malcolm Whittaker (not pictured),
Kathaleen Wall, Dan Crenshaw, Justin Lurie, David Balaat

Kevin Roberts

The first in the race, within 24 hours of Ted Poe’s announcement, was Kevin Roberts. He is a first-term representative of an area just a bit north of where I live. During legislative sessions I take a group of people from our local Tea Party to visit local legislative offices to let them know or opinions on the bills we’re following. We couldn’t visit his office, because he hadn’t yet set one up. That’s not that unusual, since the first order of business is the legislative session in Austin, where he has an office. Valoree Swanson didn’t have an office either. But she had local staff who met with us at a convenient location. Roberts had no staff, and we had no contact with him. He was probably adequate as a freshman representative, but not a standout.

I don’t feel confident that he’s the right replacement for Poe. But he jumped in early enough to get a lot of the traditional support and money.

Kathaleen Wall

Another front runner is Kathaleen Wall. Her ads are amusing and probably effective. Except, she had a new ad come out on the Second Amendment, in which she aims and shoots her rifle, within 24 hours of the Parkland, Florida, shooting. The liberal media especially made hay of that. It wasn’t a bad ad for Texas, but the timing was tone deaf.

I looked forward to hearing from her at a candidate forum February 9th. She gave a decent, but memorized, brief introduction. And then she excused herself for a prior engagement, and missed anything extemporaneous.

Keven Roberts also missed that forum; he provided a video. In his case, it was made clear the forum wasn’t planned until after he had made this commitment. But it means, since he ran for state representative, I have not seen him in person.

Wall missed probably the best opportunity to let people know who she is and what she stands for. She had an additional opportunity this past Saturday at our Tea Party; she bowed out the night before in favor of working at the polls. That means she thought she’d do better going to one of several dozen voting locations to meet people on their way in to vote—typically people who have already made their decisions—rather than a roomful of active conservatives doing their due diligence to be informed voters.

I have been sent a number of video clips of her at other forums, where she does answer extemporaneously, and she stumbles. She apparently needs to be scripted. It may be that she means the scripted things she says, but she’s a weak speaker in a strong field.

She does have money, though. I think I’ve received more mail from her, and heard/seen more ads, than all other candidates. We got so many pieces of mail from her one day that my husband said, “Nobody who misspends money like that deserves my vote.” So, she’s a no.

Rick Walker 
Rick Walker

The other big spender in the race is Rick Walker. He’s a businessman with a company in 50 countries, and has run worldwide charities. He’s OK in person, but not stellar. He fumbled on immigration issues when he met with our Tea Party, maybe just explaining himself wrong. Next to Wall, I’ve seen the most campaigning from him. If he should win, like I said, I’d support him. But I think it is only his money that is getting him as much attention as he’s had.

He did say one thing in the forum I especially liked. He called it the Ted rule: “If Ted Poe did something, assume it’s right until proven otherwise.” That does sum up how we in the district feel about our current congressman.

I like all of the other six better than these three. I want to give them all their due, so I’ll share my choice last.

Most of the candidates are youngish. But two of them are closer to my age: Dr. Jon Spiers and Malcolm Whittaker. Both were at the forum at Harris County Republican Party headquarters and also the Tea Party meeting last Saturday.

Dr. Jon Spiers
Dr. Jon Spiers

Dr. Jon Spiers (pronounced Spires) is a former heart surgeon. He served in Desert Storm in the medical corps. An accident followed by surgery left him unable to perform surgery again, so he went to law school and became a healthcare attorney, because he had figured out that lawyers and Congress make the rules about how to practice medicine.

While he seems conservative on other issues, healthcare reform is his main interest and expertise. He favors completely repealing Obamacare and replacing it with transparency and reconnecting the doctor and patient concerning payment.

He thinks we should look at opioid addiction—there were 65,000 drug overdose deaths last year. There was a question at the candidate forum about downgrading marijuana to a schedule 2 drug, which I don’t in general approve of. He answered carefully, saying it would be useful to reschedule the medicinal extracts, such cannabidiol. I’ve wondered why the push for legalizing “medical marijuana” when extracts like marinol have been useful for decades. So I appreciated this answer, rather than the libertarian push to take this first step to legalize a harmful brain-affecting drug.

He was strong on border security. On illegal immigration, he told a moving story about a friend who had called him the day before, a father of a 21-year-old son. An illegal immigrant deported four times pulled up beside him and shot him in the face. As he said, “No parent should ever have to go through that.” Consequences of a weak border are real. And he made the point that DACA is not a “dream”; it’s a nightmare. He separated DACA from the larger issue of everyone brought here illegally as a child along with their parents and extended family.

Healthcare, immigration, and budget are all related, he says. He’s careful and knowledgeable, good qualities for a congressman. He isn’t particularly dynamic, which is probably why he’s not getting traction.

Malcolm Whittaker is a patent attorney. He’s a numbers guy, and his main issue is government debt. He has some creative ideas on bringing down government spending. “If we don’t do something about the debt, we’ll turn into Greece or Venezuela.” One idea relates to the rule, set back in the Bush administration, preventing the government from ever negotiating costs for Medicare prescriptions. He believes we’re overpaying by $40 billion a year; for 15 years so far, that’s $600 billion, which would be a win/win.

He said that he’s interested in being on the appropriations committee and judiciary committee. He’d like to reform the way we do budgets. The problem is, instead of saving any money left over in a budget, departments make sure they spend it all—even if wastefully—so that they don’t get less money the following year. There should be incentives to save money, not incentives to spend wastefully.

He has a contest going on at his website, People can send in ideas for reducing government spending, and the best idea wins a gun (pending background check).
I disagreed with him on legalizing marijuana, and his total non-involvement foreign policy. I’m guessing he’s libertarian along the lines of Rand Paul, who is often right, but not totally, which is why I’m not quite a libertarian.

His looks and manners remind me a bit of late actor Edward Herrmann, who played the grandfather on Gilmore Girls. He’s solid and personable, but not exciting, which may explain why he’s not getting campaign attention.

The rest of the list are all younger (as Rick Walker is as well), which means they could have a longer political future.

Justin Lurie is a businessman, pro-growth and pro-business. He is anti-regulations and points out that Washington does not create prosperity. But it can create an environment where businesses can be prosperous. He’s the founding and lead partner in an investment bank, dealing mainly with oil and gas, which he says is key to Texas and Houston.

He pointed out that Alexander Hamilton designed a federal reserve bank with individual districts. In 1933 FDR centralized it, putting way too much power in the single federal reserve chair.

On healthcare, he says the problem is lack of competition and lack of transparency. There are doctors who post full costs, but 99% don’t.

Concerning DACA and “dreamers,” he said, “I have dreams. My kids have dreams.” We need to prioritize citizens and legal immigrants over illegals. He suggests eliminating the 60-vote rule and going back to majority rule in the Senate. Then we don’t have to have a DACA “dreamer” provision.
He was in Manhattan on September 11, 2001. He favored the Patriot Act at that time. But technology changes, and government has gone too far. We need to balance safety and privacy. We need better oversight of the AUMF (authorization to use military force), which has been used 37 times since 9/11. Obama grabbed a lot of power.

Justin Lurie appears slick. People used to say that about Ted Cruz, and I couldn’t see it. I think Lurie is also actually sincere, but he does have that slick vibe. He’s still quite young, so I expect he’ll have a future in politics, or continue being a positive force in business.

Jonny Havens
Jonny Havens

Jonny Havens said in his introduction that he wants to make character count again in Congress. He grew up in Houston, went to Texas A&M. He was an Army Ranger, with two deployments in Iraq. He currently works at Baker-Botts.

On healthcare, he said government needs to get out of the way. With competition, costs would come down. You shouldn’t be dependent on either government or your employer for insurance government interference set up that situation. You should be able to go out and compare prices, and choose a plan you prefer. He also wants to increase and reform health savings accounts. One cost saving suggestion was that a physicians’ assistant can do the majority of care at lower costs. Doctors, at higher costs, could then do their specialties better. With transparent costs, patients could make lower cost decisions most of the time.

On immigration he does not support DACA. He said we need three things: a border wall, end immigration lottery, and end chain migration. He likes President Trump’s jobs agenda, to get regulations out of the way.

David Balat
David Balat

David Balat is a Houstonian whose parents are from Israel. He is a healthcare executive. He helps hospital CEOs in financially failing institutions do a turnaround. Doing that, he has saved hundreds of jobs.

Healthcare is his primary issue. He’s against regulations. Government must get out of the business. Repealing Obamacare is essential. It wasn’t until the HMO Act of 1973, and a similar change in 1965, that corporations came into play. Smaller entities can’t compete. So costs go up. He has a plan he calls FreedomCare outlined on his website: Transparency is one step. The cash price of a CAT scan could be $250 and still be profitable. But it costs $10,000, and it’s illegal to set the price lower than medicare. Government interference is the main cause of rising healthcare costs, and the government offers to solve that with the Obamacare disaster.

He has some perspective on immigration, because his parents immigrated and became citizens. He and his mother learned English together with Sesame Street. He says DACA was an illegal executive order. And it’s unconstitutional to support amnesty. A country needs a unique rule of naturalization; exceptions mean there is not a uniform rule. He believes in the rule of law. He also pointed out that we send money to countries that hate us and desecrate our flag; that shouldn’t be. Our debt is exceeding our national economy.

I like David Balat overall. As with some of the others, in a smaller field, he’d be better able to stand out. I hope he keeps working for conservative principles.

Dan Crenshaw says he’s running because we need leaders who’ve been tested. He spent 10 years as a Navy Seal, with 5 deployments. He was hit with an IED in Afghanistan; it killed his interpreter. He lost one eye, and was blind in the remaining eye until after some miraculous surgeries. Afterward, he was deployed two more times. He has spent time in Korea recently, and of course Afghanistan and Iraq. He still has his top security clearance.

We have good military experience among some other candidates as well, but Dan Crenshaw still stands out. He says he learned never to give up from his mother. She died of cancer when he was 10, having never given up on caring for him and his brother right until the end.

After being released from the military—pretty much against his life plans—for health disabilities, he attended Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.  Referring to congressional powers in the Constitution, he said that freedom comes from good governance. The greatest threat of the left is undercutting values. We have to provide a better vision, and give a better message—and take that message to those who will respond when they hear the truth presented to them clearly, but have just not had that. He speaks Spanish, and is the only bilingual candidate.

As for immigration, we need those three things that everyone else says we need. Then and only then can we talk about illegal immigrants. There should be no cutting in line.

Dan Crenshaw at Cypress Tea Party
Opponents (maybe a PAC, not sure who) has accused him of being unemployed and living with his parents. If you look at his timeline, he’s been busy. Even since finishing at Harvard, he has done multiple trainings for special forces, and he turned down a job at the department of Defense in order to run. During the campaign he has been working to get attention to people still displaced by Harvey. The work is not done. He’s been helping out particularly in the Bear Creek area near us.

Another attack has been about the eye patch—accusing him of wearing it as a campaign gimmick. Not true. He has a glass right eye, which he showed us under the eye patch. He can go without the patch, and there are photos of him over the years both ways. But he believes it’s less distracting to wear the patch, and gives him the option of removing the glass eye when it gets irritated. My personal view is that, after a couple of minutes, you get used to the eye patch; the glass eye, which doesn’t follow or look very natural, would take more getting used to. Either way, once he starts talking, Dan Crenshaw the person is who you see.

There was something he said at the candidate forum that got my attention. He said he took an oath to defend the country, and that never ends. And he would never quit on Texas. He also said that, while every one of the candidates say the right things about what they’d do in office—all conservatives, all good ideas—you need someone who can inspire and lead.

I was leaning toward him after the forum, but I waited until the additional visit to the Cypress Texas Tea Party last Saturday to make my decision. There’s a lot to like in the other candidates. But I really do want someone who not only knows the details of policies, but can speak in a way that inspires others to follow the conservative way. So I got a yard sign. And I’m voting for Dan Crenshaw.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Primary Matters, Part I

Here in Texas, early voting is already underway for the Primary election. As I’ve said before, if you want to really have an effect, choose the candidates by voting in the Primary.
The Harris County sample ballot
available here

It’s not a big presidential election year, but there’s still quite a lot going on. Among them, for me, is the congressional race for retiring Congressman Ted Poe’s seat. There are nine GOP candidates, so I’ve spent a fair amount of energy trying to decide on that.

I need to go through the whole ballot to prepare myself to vote. And friends have begun asking me for my recommendations. So that is my goal for today and tomorrow.

There are quick ways and longer ways. I’m doing it mostly the long way, with explanations for my decisions. This looks like it is going to take three posts. I’ll try to do them on consecutive days (or even two in a day, if I get done). And I’ll also do the short way: I intend to provide a chart of all my choices in the end. Along the way, I highlight the names of candidates I’m endorsing.

·         Part I will cover the contested statewide races (except judicial).
·         Part II will cover the Congressional District 2 race.
·         Part III will cover the judicial races, any other county races, and the propositions.

US Senator from Texas

Ted Cruz is running for his second term as the junior Senator from Texas. I don’t know a single Republican not supporting him. There are primary challengers, but I have received zero contact from them—not a mailer, not an email. Nothing. I don’t know their purpose in running, but it doesn’t seem even quixotic; it seems insincere and pointless.

Ted Cruz has been doing what we here in Texas have asked him to do. I’d give him a 99+% approval rating—and I can’t think of anything in that imperfect 1%.


I endorsed Governor Greg Abbott and volunteered to help with his campaign way last July. He has two primary challengers, but I have heard nothing from either. One of them has changed his first name to (all capital letters) SECEDE. This cannot be a serious challenge to our very effective governor.

Lieutenant Governor

Dan Patrick was our state senator prior to his run for Lieutenant Governor. We miss having ready access to him, but he’s been doing a good job. He helped the legislative session go much better than it might have, considering the stonewalling caused by the House Speaker. So, again, I endorse Dan Patrick.

Commissioner of the General Land Office

There has been a tough campaign against incumbent George P. Bush. Much of it revolves around the Alamo. Here’s what I know. I hesitated last time around to vote for yet another Bush (George P. is the son of Jeb Bush, a nephew of George W. and grandson of George H. W.), because I don’t like the idea of ruling families. But George P. Bush was trained and qualified for this specific job, so I voted for him. As far as I’ve seen, he doesn’t have other political aspirations. Since his election, I have followed both the Land Office and the Alamo projects, mainly through a Facebook friend, Bryan Preston—former employee of Laura Ingraham, and was associated with local force Not On This Watch—who went to work for the Land Office.

When Jerry Patterson and others started complaining about “Reimagine the Alamo,” and claiming that they would ruin our history, and take away the importance of the Battle of the Alamo, I looked at the Land Office for original sources to verify. I could not find a single complaint that was valid. And I looked through at least two candidates’ plans for what they would do differently—which, to my view, were essentially point-by-point what the Land Office is doing and has planned to do all along.

I ran all of this past my son, Political Sphere, who has a background to understand some Land Office duties, and he found the same thing I did. So did people he has talked with about the issue. There is no threat to the Alamo. What will happen—and which everyone seems to agree should happen—is an annexation of the property directly in front of the Alamo, including businesses across the street, enlarging the footprint of the landmark, so that they can prevent both traffic and protests from getting in the way of tourists who want to enjoy the iconic front view of the Alamo. 

Here is candidate Rick Range’s “Save the Alamo” campaign site:

“Save the Alamo” [] is alternatively the Facebook page  of the General Land Office about the preservation projects of the Alamo. 

Here is a piece by George P. Bush from November about the Alamo projects:  . He summarizes the master plan with these three purposes: “preserve the Alamo, close the street to restore reverence, and build the world’s largest museum dedicated to the Battle of the Alamo and the Texas Revolution.” This is all designed to preserve and protect our Alamo, and to make a better experience for visitors. 

Here’s a one-minute video from last October:

None of the challengers has the expertise in Land Office work that George P. Bush has. It may be that they are just trying to oust a person where they think their might be an opening for their own careers. I watched a forum where all three opponents spoke, and they seemed to agree that Texas was in for disaster if they couldn’t somehow oust Bush. I kept waiting for facts; there were none forthcoming.

Patterson ran against Dan Patrick last time, for Lieutenant Governor. The main race was between Patrick and Dewhurst, but Patterson attacked from the sides, with innuendo and implication rather than facts. It was unseemly, and while I liked many things he said that were conservative, he lost my respect in that race. So this time, again finding so many accusations that just aren’t true, I doubt I will ever be able to support Patterson for dogcatcher.

Commissioner of Agriculture

There are two challengers to Sid Miller as Ag Commissioner. I know less about this position, but I don’t know of any particular complaints about the job Sid Miller is doing. I looked to advice from friends last time and voted for Miller. Friends who do a fair amount of work to figure these things out are recommending him again. So I’ll vote for him again.

Railroad Commissioner

This job isn’t really about railroads; it’s about energy, including especially oil & gas. There are three commissioners, whose terms come up at alternate times. I supported Christi Craddick last time around. I’ve seen a couple of slates that measure her as less conservative than some. But the issues she’s less conservative on are unrelated to her energy-related job. So I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt and vote for her again.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Transforming Lives

“Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.”—Billy Graham (1918–2018)

Billy Graham
photo from here

In my faith, we say that, after faith, repentance, and baptism, then you still need to endure to the end[i]. I think it’s safe to say Billy Graham did that. He passed away this week at age 99.

In honoring him, Andrew Klavan yesterday was talking about the ability to change lives. And he compared that to, say, the atheist, science view.

There’s a dearth of hope, even when conditions here and worldwide are pretty good. He says,

And that’s seems to be true in this country and throughout the West. In Europe they’re not even having children anymore. In Japan they’re not having children anymore. They’re dying out….
You know, I said this to somebody the other day.... He was from another country; I won’t say which, because it was a private conversation, but he said, “We have to bring in immigrants, because we’re not having children.” And I said, “Well, why don’t you get people to have more children?” And he said, “We’re already, we’ve got all kinds of benefits for people to have children.” And I said, “Well, maybe that’s not—giving people benefits is not what gets them to have children. Maybe it’s hope, and a sense of themselves, and a sense of a mission in life, and a sense of purpose.”

Klavan spends a bit of time reviewing the life of Louis Zamperini, whose story is told in the book Unbroken, and the recent movie by that name. I recommend both the book and the movie, even though both are very painful before you get to the final relief. Klavan tells us:

He was an Olympic distance runner. He ran in the Jesse Owens Olympics in ’36. He shook Hitler’s hand afterward and all this, and he became an American soldier, and he was captured by the Japanese. And he was tort
ured. I mean the scenes of torture in this book, [author Laura Hillenbrand] writes the book so well that it’s not unbearable, but it’s horrible. It is horrible.
He was tortured beyond ability of a normal human being to imagine. And he came back, and he was, of course—he was of course broken. The fact that he lived, the things he lived through, the time he was on the raft before he was rescued by the Japanese, and then the torture he went through afterwards—that anybody could live through this is a testimony to his internal fortitude.
But after that he was broken. He became a drunk. He loved his wife, and one day he woke up with his hands around her throat, because he… had a dream that he was strangling the guy who tortured him. He was filled with rage. He was unreachable. His wife—even though he loved his wife, he was going to lose her, because he was unreachable.
from the Billy Graham Quotes Facebook page
After all he had gone through, I remember feeling very upset in this part of the book. 

Fortunately, things got better again. And Billy Graham was part of that. Zamperini walked into one of Graham’s early tent revivals, and heard one of his sermons. And he was saved. Not instantaneously—and Graham wouldn’t approve of instantaneous “saving,” because that’s a lifelong process. But, looking at the totality of Zamperini’s life, we can say he was saved. 

Klavan continues:

And when I say he was saved, never mind what happens to him after death; let’s put that aside for a minute. He was saved in this life too, because God came into his life, and the last half of his life was just as beautiful as the first half had been—more so, because he was suddenly helping other people. That anger fell away from him. He forgave the man who tortured him, which is an amazing thing to have done; I don’t think I could have done that. But it transformed him.
Of Billy Graham transforming lives, Klavan says,

You only have to do that once. You only have to do that once, as far as I’m concerned, to get the toaster [the bonus gift] when you get to heaven. Billy Graham did this tens and tens of thousands of times. I don’t know how many times. Probably millions of times.
Millions of lives transformed into happier, healthier lives—here and now in this world, ahead of what happens in the afterlife.

We have a scripture that says,

And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father!
And now, if your joy will be great with one soul that you have brought unto me into the kingdom of my Father, how great will be your joy if you should bring many souls unto me!—Doctrine & Covenants 18:15-16
That’s why we do missionary work—to spread the joy. Which isn’t all put off until after death; we find the most likely way to live happily while still in this fallen world. I think Billy Graham must have lived a very happy life, and brought many others along for the ride.

Next, Andrew Klavan considers the atheist alternative. He plays audio of Steven Pinker on “why he doesn’t believe in God, and why it’s not a scientific idea”:

Pinker: I think that using the word god, or the attitude of faith toward that which you don’t know is a copout. It’s a way of slapping a label onto something, rather than trying to understand it. Or, since we may not understand everything, just say, “There’s some things we don’t understand.” To invent stories that sound as if they were true or could be true, to pretend that they’re true just so that we can have a story, I think is unsatisfying, and it could even be immoral, because it could lead you to mistaken policies, to getting in the way of your best understanding of how the world works. Um, to doing things that lead to more harm than good.
More harm than good? By what measure? Klavan comments on that:

And this is a narrative that a lot of these guys—Sam Harris too; Christopher Hitchens, a guy whose prose I just love—sell. And the way it works is, they compare the best of science with the worst of religion. So they compare, you know, a cure for diseases from science, and then they compare a Christian bigot who goes out and hurts somebody in the name of his religion. If instead they compared the atom bomb to Christian charity, then they would have a harder argument to make. No science—there is no science for taking the rage out of Louis Zamperini’s heart.
Klavan talks about how he knew, almost from the moment he met her, that his wife was the woman of his dreams, and he still feels that way 40 years later. The point he makes is:

The evidence of what God does in people’s life is evidence. It lasts over time. Just like my love for my wife; it lasts over time. And it can be experienced.
So, what do you get out of listening to the atheists?

These guys, without meaning to, without being bad guys, are contributing to this crisis in America. When you tell people that they’re just a bunch of chemicals, and they can solve their problems by opiates, they’re going to die of opiate overdoses. When you tell them that there’s no purpose to their life, that nobody made them, that nobody loves them, their sense of right and wrong comes—it’s just a kind of random, relative idea—you take away from them every single thing they have of value. Everything they have of value. Their house is not valuable. Their love is not valuable. Nothing is valuable if they themselves are not there; if you tell them they have no free will, they have no soul, they have no spirit.
These guys, with all the best wishes in the world, thinking that they’re saving us, are really starting a crisis.
What these scientific types fail to realize is that a transformed life is actual evidence that God’s word is real, that His way is the way to a better life. There's a lot of religious truth that we don't know yet, and there's a lot of scientific truth that we don't know yet. This life is better lived humbly than as a cocky know-it-all who dismisses all kinds of evidence because you don't want to see it.

Klavan ends the segment noting that we won’t be able to hear Billy Graham again, but…

Billy Graham is silenced. God is still speaking. If America stops listening, that will be the real crisis.
I know in my life, the evidence of God is so present, so full, that I am often puzzled by those who say religious people are just delusional. Is there something about them that doesn’t allow them to perceive what I do? Then there are others I know whose perception is far more developed than mine. Now that I think about it, the more developed that perception of God, the more abundant the life. Life still isn't painless, but it's rich and full.

One good voice is gone. But he gave us 99 good years, so we shouldn’t complain. Maybe the best way to honor such a voice is to continue to share evidence of God's transforming power by living a good life, and maybe even being happy about it, despite the fallen world we're in.

[i] Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 31: 19-21

Monday, February 19, 2018

Scary Guns

A free people ought not only be armed and disciplined, but they should have sufficient arms and ammunition to maintain a status of independence from any who might attempt to abuse them, which would include their own government.—George Washington
Since it’s President’s Day, it seems appropriate to start this discussion with George Washington’s words on the subject of the day

The hue and cry for gun control, in the wake of last week’s school shooting in Florida, is deafening but unconvincing. Emotions of course run high after such a senseless massacre. But sometimes things that seem like the “obvious” solution when you’re high on emotion look a lot less sensible when you calm down and look at facts.

I’m not a gun expert. What I do is look at the factors that lead to freedom, prosperity, and civilization. Those are the northern hemisphere of the Spherical Model. The southern hemisphere is made up of all stripes of tyranny, poverty, and savagery.

The school shooting was savage. Any response that is southern hemisphere by nature—such as coercion—will not lead away from savagery up to civilization.

Since that is a principle I know—or, rather, is a theory I believe plays out in society—I am looking for facts to either prove or disprove the theory. Facts are less emotional, and therefore more logical. Feelings have their place, but I won’t allow them to take society southward into tyranny and all bad things if I can help it.

So I’ve been gathering some facts. There is a short piece at by contributor Henry Racette, with some statistics that give perspective to start with:

At the current rate, an American high school student faces a risk of being murdered in a school shooting in a year of about 0.0014%.
That’s about one in 71,000.
Based on last year’s crime statistics, the overall probability of a person in the US being murdered in a year is about 0.005%.
That’s about one in 20,000.
Also based on last year’s crime statistics, a citizen of St. Louis, Baltimore, New Orleans, or Detroit—including children in those cities—has a risk of being murdered in a year of about 0.049%.
That’s about one in 2,000.
If the current rate continues, there will be about two dozen school shooters this year—based on a reasonable definition of what constitutes a school shooting. Their total victims will constitute about one half of one percent of all United States homicides.
Overall, in the United States, about 16,000 murders will be committed this year. Most of them—about two-thirds—will be committed by males between the ages of 17 and 35.
The 30 most violent cities in America represent about six percent of the US population but account for about a quarter of all murders.
There is nothing trivial about school shootings, but there is also nothing typical about them. If we wish to reduce their frequency, we have to find ways to reach the last 0.0003% of the male high school population. Put differently, 99.9997% of the young men in our high schools are not in danger of becoming school shooters.
Let’s look at the two dozen who are and try to understand their pathology. But let’s not mistake them for normal. Most of the other 99.5% of murders in the United States this year will be more typical, more predictable, and more preventable.
What we’re looking at in school shootings are outliers. Oddities. Atypical events.

They’re horrible. If we can find a way to prevent them, we should do so. Maybe it’s time to consider metal detectors and armed guards in every school, and possibly teachers who voluntarily qualify to carry concealed weapons. These and other measures that don’t infringe on the rights of law-abiding citizens might actually work.

As Brandon Minoff, a young man from the high school, said about football coach and security guard Aaron Feis, who was killed, “If coach Feis would have had a gun or any of the other security guards would have had a gun it definitely would have been less fatal," he said. "[The shooter] and coach Feis were face-to-face and he just shielded kids instead of having the ability to kill the shooter."

In the immediate aftermath, we were told the killer had not had a criminal record. That wasn’t exactly true. He had a long record of incidents, 39, many violent, in his home over many years. But as a juvenile. Yet the moment he turned 18, that record was hidden from people who may have needed to see it, such as the gun seller doing a background check. Police and other authorities knew of his record. The FBI had received what now appear to be credible tips about the killer’s plans to carry out a school shooting.

Do we need to get better at identifying these threats and finding ways to prevent? Absolutely. If there is a law that needs adjusting, it may be that violent youth crime shouldn’t be hidden just because a person reaches a particular birthday, since a birthday is no guarantee of change in behavior. It may need to be case-by-case. I don’t know. Those kinds of things could be debated in legislatures.

But the debate tends to be, instead, on “common sense gun laws,” often meaning getting rid of those “assault rifles.” The term lacks definition. There is no legally defined such thing. But the term is used to imply scary, military style weapons, with great capacity to do mass murder. Many of the people making these arguments just lack facts. So let’s start with more information about these guns.
This 5-minute Glenn Beck video clip is from 2013. The whole thing (below) is useful visually. I’ll describe a few parts of it:

Glenn picks up a scary looking metal gun, which he terms an “assault rifle,” and also a rifle with a wooden stock, which he says is a 22.

Paul Michael, owner and instructor at Strictly Defense, says. “They’re both the same caliber. They both can do the same damage. One just looks different from the other.”

The 22 holds 17 bullets. The other holds a high-capacity magazine of 20 bullets. Not much difference.
Of the collection of guns displayed on the table, Glenn suggests, if he took all the wood-stock guns off the table and left the metal ones, you might look at that collection and say the owner was a madman. But if you take away “the spooky black shotgun” and replace it with “this nice shotgun,” then people would assume the owner was a hunter.

What’s the difference between the two shotguns? Michael says, “Cosmetics. They’re both the identical shotgun. They’re both Remington 1100s.” The only differences are a synthetic (black) stock, an extended barrel, and extended magazine tube. Why the black? Glare. Some hunters believe the game can get a glint off the shiny metal parts, so they prefer a matte black finish.

There’s further discussion about a hunter-looking rifle and a slightly smaller black gun. The rifle is more accurate. The black one is less accurate, but lighter weight, easier for a woman or a less experienced gunman to use in a pressure situation. In other words, it’s good for self-defense. It has the added self-defense benefit of the pump sound, which can scare off an intruder who suddenly realizes someone has a gun ready for him.

Using handguns, they discuss the difference between a revolver and a semiautomatic. With the revolver, it’s mechanical. You need to pull back the handle to load the bullet to be ready to fire by pulling the trigger. The semiautomatic uses gas pressure from the cartridge to load the next bullet to be ready to fire, so it does one step for you. Depending on your skill, the revolver can be as fast, or nearly as fast, as the semiautomatic handgun.

Neither of those is automatic—which means, like a machine gun, firing multiple bullets with a single trigger pull. Production and sale of automatic weapons to the public have been illegal for several decades. They are not technically outlawed, in that you can buy existing ones, for very high prices (around $20,000 and up compared to around $500 for a semiautomatic but otherwise similar gun), and with lots of paperwork about how it will be stored, who can touch it, how it can be transported, and how and where and under what circumstances it can be shot.

The Tommy guns of the 1920s might be what you picture. But since this law went into effect, no mass shooting in the US to date has used an automatic weapon.

We could add that,  those “scary guns,” aren’t the weapon of choice for gun crimes; handguns are used in 80% of gun-related crimes. Nicholas Johnson gives the full story is in this PragerU video:

Earlier in January 2013, Glenn Beck had another discussion with David Barton, of Wallbuilders, on natural law and self-defense.

Natural law is where we disagree with anti-gun people. And its irreconcilable. We are not granted the right to defend our own lives, loved ones, and property by government—not even by the Second Amendment. We are granted that right by God. And God-given rights are inalienable—they cannot be infringed legally, only by tyranny.

Rescinding the Second Amendment, as has been suggested again this week, would not take away the natural law—nor the natural reaction to fight off an attacker—that you know inside you is your right. Think about it. If someone is attacking your child, do you have the right to fight them off? You do.
If that person is using a gun against you or your child, don't you have the right to use a gun or other lethal force to fight back? If you’re saying, “Yes, but not a scary black gun,” then it’s on you to explain that distinction.

We’re not saying, “Tough luck! We just have to tolerate the mayhem.” Again, we should be talking about what can and ought to be done to prevent attacks. But you might be comforted to know that the anti-gun lobby (including the media) has been lying to you when they say, “More guns mean more gun deaths.”

Steven Crowder responds to an anti-AR-15 piece, and includes video from March 2016, in which he debunks a Vox video that tries to pass off propaganda as a dispassionate demonstration of facts—just not true ones. It’s longish, but it will help you understand why it’s easy to be manipulated if you don’t think things through. For example:

Ah, see, now this chart is comparing countries. But this chart is not about homicide; it’s not about firearm deaths. It’s only about gun ownership. All of this is designed to lead you into believing that gun ownership—legal gun ownership—results in increased violent gun crime. Important to note: If gun ownership as seen in this chart is so much higher, but the United States still ranks 28th in gun-related deaths, why is that the case? It also ironically unravels her own point. If gun ownership is so drastically higher in the United States, but we’re only 28th ranked in overall gun homicide rate, that means proportionally legal gun owners in the United States are committing fewer crimes.

Also doing some debunking is Ben Shapiro, in his show from Friday, February 16. He’s responding to a Bret Stephens piece in the New YorkTimes, which Shapiro says is the best argument around for getting rid of the Second Amendment, but it’s not a good one.

There’s this, for example:

Stephens cites a study in the American Journal of Public Health from 2013 to show the “states with high rates of gun ownership have disproportionately large numbers of death from firearm-related homicides.” But there’s only one problem with the study. This examines the statistics on a state level, which doesn’t make any sense, given that virtually all murder in the United States takes place not in the rural areas of states, but in the big cities. In those big cities there are very harsh gun laws. In the big cities, that’s where nearly all murder in the United States takes place, in big cities. So there is very little link, actually, between state law and state homicide rate, as Eugene Volokh of the Washington Post pointed out.
Shapiro uses John Lott’s website, the Crime Prevention Research Center, which goes through the annual death rate from mass public shootings, comparing the European countries to the US and Canada on a per capita basis, instead of sheer numbers. As Shapiro says,

One of the things that happens is that the United States is compared to Britain, for example. He says there are a lot more shootings here than in Britain. Right, but we’re a much larger country than Britain. When you actually look at the death rate per million people from mass public shootings from 2009 to 2015, according the Crime Prevention Research Center, the number one country was Norway, because they had that horrible Anders Breivik shooting. And then it’s Serbia, France, Macedonia, Albania, Slovakia, Switzerland, Finland, Belgium Czech Republic, and then the United States.
How about frequency? Forget about the number of dead. How about frequency of mass public shootings? So, if you look at the frequency of mass public shootings from January 2009 to December 2015, per million people, in order it’s Macedonia, Albania, Serbia, Switzerland, Norway, Slovakia, Finland, Belgium, Austria, Czech Republic, France, and then the United States.
The average incident rate per 28 EU countries is 0.0602 with 95% confidence interval of 0.0257 to .09477. The US rate is .078 higher than the EU rate. But the US and an average for EU countries are not statistically different. In other words, we’re having about the same number of mass shootings as are happening in other countries, and we have significantly more guns. So this idea that everything lines up is just not statistically correct.
“Common sense gun laws,” and “No one needs an assault weapon” are code for “We want to ban all gun ownership for self-defense or any other purpose.” But despite what media and various celebrities would portray, the American public is very much against full-scale gun confiscation and outlawing firearm ownership. That's why, when Democrats had both houses and the presidency, they didn't even bring up gun legislation; they know the people won't stand for it. 

The more the anti-freedom people lie about what they really intend, the more likely they will lose the debate in a nation that knew better from its founding than to cede natural rights to a tyrannical government.