Sunday, August 30, 2009

Of Government and Men: Term Limits

It is with an odd sense of fate that I begin this post. I scheduled weeks ago to write today regarding the need for term limits in both the U.S House of Representatives and the U. S. Senate. I had no way of knowing the Senator Kennedy would pass away this week and give me a perfect example of why term limits are needed.

The point of this post isn't to discuss Sen. Kennedy's politics. I instead want to focus on the length of his career. Ted Kennedy first entered the Senate in 1962 as the winner of a special election to replace his older brother John F Kennedy. When John Kennedy became President, he resigned his seat. A place holder was selected to replace President Kennedy and serve his term until 1) a special election could be held and 2) Ted Kennedy would be old enough to serve in office. That election occurred in November of 1962, and Ted Kennedy would hold that office until his death this past week. At the time of his death, Kennedy was the third longest serving Senator in the history of the U.S. Senate, serving a continuous 46, almost 47 years. For those trivia fans out there, Robert Byrd (D-WV) is the longest serving Senator in the History of the United States at over 50 years and counting. These careers can be measured in decades and that is a problem.

The U.S. Constitution does not include any limit on the number of terms a Senator or Representative can serve. Originally, there was no term limits for the President either. However, after FDR won four terms, the 22nd Amendment was ratified, limiting the President to two terms, or ten years. There is no cap to how long a Representative or Senator can serve, as shown with Senators Kennedy and Byrd.

There are a number of groups and individuals out there looking to change this. Allowing Senators and Representatives to serve what can be life long careers in Congress can carry a number of disadvantages. First, the primary reason there are earmarks in congress is to provide incumbents with campaign items. A Senator can campaign in his home state saying, "Look at the money I brought back to this district from Washington." Second, one of the most heinous practices is gerrymandering voting districts. The only reason this is done is to guarantee that incumbents get reelected. Both parties practice this, and it could be done away with if representatives could only spend a certain number of terms in office. Many of the career representatives have begun to look at their position in Congress as "their seat" and not the property of the voters. Senator Kennedy's attempt to dictate who would replace him is a good example of this mentality.

Writing about the need for term limits, the Heritage Foundation noted a number of years ago:

"Term limits are needed at all levels of government. However, because of the large electoral advantages wielded by incumbents, the historically low rate of turnover, the greater threat from special interests, and the unique power that federal legislators hold, it is especially important to apply term limits to Congress."

While elected representatives will avoid passing term limits on their own, they have shown their hand before. Congress has instituted term limits on both the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. Why would they institute term limits on this committee? Our elected officials are worried that spending too long on these committees might cause the members to become more loyal to the committee and the intelligence bureaucracy and might lose their ability to exercise independent judgment on the committee. Couldn't we apply the same logic to Congress in general? If a Senator is in office for 40 years, does he still put the voters needs first?

Finally, in today's world, incumbents have some advantages that are very hard for a challenger to overcome that have nothing to do with policy and issues. Elected Senators and Representatives can campaign while continuing to draw their salary. Most challengers have to quit their job and campaign full time. Any speech or press release an incumbent issue gets covered in the media. A challenger has to spend money buying media time, which Congress has made more difficult for challengers through Campaign Finance Reform like McCain-Feingold. McCain-Feingold is much more about protecting incumbents than getting "the money out of politics". Like gerrymandering, this is an example of elected officials protecting their jobs, and not doing what is best for the voters.

I want to end this discussion with one final question. I mentioned earlier that the 22nd Amendment was passed after FDR won his fourth term as President. He didn't serve out all four terms and was only actually in office for a little over twelve years. If Congress thinks it's a bad idea for one individual to serve 12 years as President, why is it a good idea for one individual to serve as Senator for 46 to 50 years?

Friday, August 28, 2009

Pray? Go Directly to Jail!

Would you believe that in the United States you can be sentenced to six months jail time and a $5,000 fine for praying? You can if the ACLU has anything to say about it. Here is the situation, as reported by the Washington Times. In January, a school in Florida had a lunch for school employees and booster club members who, "…had helped with a school field-house project." The lunch was held on school grounds, but not during school hours. There seems to be some dispute as to whether or not students were present at the lunch. The principal of the school, who is also a local Deacon, asked the Athletic Director to offer prayers for the meal. The ACLU found out about this and rushed to court.

The ACLU had previously taken this same school to court and the school settled out of court. The ACLU claimed the school was violating the religious freedom of the students because the school allowed students to pray at school events, had separate, religious themed graduation, and was attempting to convert students. As part of the settlement, the school agreed to, "…several things, including provision to bar all school employees from promoting or sponsoring prayers during school sponsored events; holding school events at church venues when a secular alternative was available; or promoting their religious beliefs or attempting to convert students in class or during school-sponsored events." The ACLU also asked that the Senior Class President be forbidden from speaking at the graduation ceremonies because she was,"…a known Christian, [and] might say something religious."{emphasis mine}. According to lawyers for the school, this was the first time in 33 years the student body president was not allowed to speak at graduation.

This story really worries me. We have reached a point in society where a court can order individuals to not pray, or face a fine and jail time. How does the ACLU defend this as religious freedom? According to the website, the word persecute is means "1) to pursue with harassing or oppressive treatment, esp. because of religion, race, or beliefs; harass persistently." One could accurately say that the ACLU and the court system in Florida are persecuting Christians for praying.

I don't believe school officials should attempt to convert students to any particular religion during school hours and class time. However, I think we have taken that notion to a very dangerous place when we threaten to jail people for praying at a meal. Is this really what our founders intended when they said, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…"? We protect abortion, and demand people recycle and protect the environment. We will stop our economy dead in its tracks to protect the smallest of muscles, but if we wish to express thanks for our next meal, we could face jail time. Is this really where we want our society to be?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Health Care Benefits for Congress

Patrick requested a few weeks ago that I dig into the benefits of our elected officials in Congress and the Senate. I do my best to honor requests from readers for different topics. Here is what I have found:

The first thing to remember is that Representatives and Senators are technically federal employees. As such, they get all the benefits of a typical federal employee, plus a few for being in the Legislature. Federal employees receive their salary and benefits from tax payer dollars. The starting salary for a member of Congress or the Senate is $174,000.00 per year, with the leaders of these bodies making more. In 2008, tax payers paid $15 Million to provide benefits for 8.5 Million federal employees. Obviously, this includes employees who aren't elected as well as those who are elected. Representatives are also covered from day one. There is no exemption for a preexisting condition, and there is no waiting period for enrollment.

Our elected officials also get a number of plans to choose from. The federal benefits site is a little tricky to navigate. It appears that members can decide between 10 to 12 plans, or any insurance plan available in their home state. The benefits site has a map that members can click on to see a list of the plans available. As with any insurance, there are monthly premiums. However, again remember since their salary is paid by tax dollars, so are these premiums.

One of the benefits Representatives and Senators have that other federal employees don't have is access to their own doctors and pharmacy. From a February 2008 issue of the St. Petersburg Times:

Members of Congress have their own pharmacy, right in the Capitol. They also have a team of doctors, technicians and nurses standing by in case something busts in a filibuster. They can get a physical exam, and X-ray or an electrocardiogram, without leaving work...These are optional perks that cost about $300 a month for House members and about $600 a month for Senators. Taxpayers kick in another $2-million.

And once again, the $300 to $600 a month is a payroll deduction, meaning its paid for with taxpayer dollars. As a final perk, the Stimulus package from President Obama adds an additional perk in for federal employees. I am not sure how this stimulates the economy, but quoting from the federal benefits site:

The American Reovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009, enacted February 17, 2009, provides a new health insurance opportunity for former employees who were or are involuntarily terminated between Septemeber 1, 2008, and December 31, 2009. Under this new law, former Federal employees may request premium assistance for thier temporary continuation of coverage (TCC) under the Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) Program. Premium assistance means your former agency will make a Government contribution of 65 percent of the TCC premiums for your FEHB plan enrollment.

One Representative in Congress has refused health care coverage. In the recent bills that have been introduced, there have been a few mentions of forcing members of Congress and the Senate to switch to any public option they include in a final bill. So far, that has failed in House versions, and squeaked by in a Senate version. I would imagine it would be stripped if these bills made it to conference. Congressman John Fleming (Republican, Louisiana) has started a petition to get members of Congress enrolled in any health care insurance plan passed and signed into law. You can view his site and sign the petition here. Our Founders believed that members of the Legislature would be bound by any laws they passed, thereby giving them a stake in the effects of those laws. This was a good idea at the time, and an excellent one today. I will be convinced that our elected officials think the public option they include in a bill is a good thing when they are willing to force themselves into the bill.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Of Government and Men: The Tenth Amendment

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

-- Tenth Amendment to the U. S. Constitution

In plain English this means: If it doesn't say it in here, the government can't do it. The Tenth Amendment was one of the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution. It, along with the first nine amendments, are labeled the Bill of Rights. I bring this up to illustrate how important our founders thought this amendment was. If you look through any discussion on the debates surrounding the Constitution, there were those who thought this should have been more strongly worded, and those who thought it should carry less weight. However, we in today's world have to operate within the boundaries of what was written and ratified.

Justice Joseph Story (who I mentioned in my last post in this series), in his A familiar Exposition of The Constitution of the United States, states that, "The Government of the United States is one of limited powers; and no authority exists beyond the prescribed limits, marked out in the instrument itself. Whatever powers are not granted, necessarily belong to the respective States, or to the people of the respective States, if they have not been confided by them to the States Governments."{emphasis in the original}. This is perhaps the best summary of the tenth amendment I have come across.

According to Wikipedia, there are 37 states that have introduced sovereignty resolutions in the state legislatures reaffirming their sovereignty under the tenth amendment. The Tenth Amendment Center has a map with each resolution shown on it along with the current status.

It is important to note that there are specific powers that the U.S. Constitution grants the Federal government. For example, the Constitution gives the United States government the power to collect taxes (as much as we may not like that). However, the Constitution is silent on exactly how the Congress is to do that. Likewise, while the Constitution sets up a Supreme Court, it does not specify how many people are to be Justices on that court. These "secondary powers" for lack of a better word, are not reserved for the states because the government must use these powers to comply with the spelled out powers. The government is given specific tasks within the Constitution and must execute those.

There are other areas the government steps out of bounds of the Constitution (written or implied). When you have some free time, Google the "Interstate Commerce Clause". There are a number of powers the government has found out of this small phrase that could (and perhaps should) be challenged. In many cases, the States have given up their powers in order to receive Federal tax money. There is a way to fix this, but it will be a little painful. States must stop looking to the Federal Government to solve their problems. However, this requires the States to own the problem and the solution; something most politicians are afraid to do.

Make no mistake, there are specific duties and powers the Federal government has and should have. However, the federal government has meddled with things the Founders never thought about. The States have the power to reign in this power and to tell the government to buzz off. This requires an elected official to look past how to win reelction. Perhaps one day, we will see more Statesmen in power and less politicians.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Political Friends Family Grows

I warned everyone that my blogging may hit a bump for a few days. Here is the bump:

Jesse was born to us yesterday afternoon. Both baby and Mommy are doing fine. I will keep an eye on comments, but it will probably be a day or two before I post another full length blog. This Sunday's issue in the government series will be posted either Monday or Tuesday.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Book Review: Glenn Beck's Common Sense

If you believe it's time to put principles above parties, character above campaign promises, and Common Sense above all - then I ask you to read this book..."

-- from the back cover of Glenn Beck's Common Sense

This is probably the smallest book I have reviewed for this site. That doesn't mean there isn't a lot of information in this book, or a lot of good ideas. Glenn Beck's Common Sense: The Case Against an Out-of-Control Government, Inspired by Thomas Paine is Mr. Beck's updated version of Thomas Paine's 1776 pamphlet. Mr. Beck applies his own common sense to today's problems. Much of the book is spent setting up the ideas and beliefs that our country was founded on and then asks the reader if those ideas are still being served by our government today.

Glenn Beck argues against a number of current liberal positions, but this is not a Republican vs. Democrat book. If you are looking for something that reinforces today's Republican Party, this is definitely not the book for you. Today's Republican and Democratic Parties are not that different from each other. Both seek power, both want to blame the other party for all of our troubles, and neither sets about solving those problems when they have the votes to do it. You could use the Republican majority under Bush as one example and I suspect you will be able to use the Democratic majority under Obama as another. Mr. Beck argues that we as voters should ignore the letter that comes after a candidates name on the ballot, and vote for the candidate that we think will represent our values and will be honest and accountable to the voters.

There was one part of this book that really struck home with me. I don't vote for third party candidates because I feel it is a wasted vote. Mr. Beck uses Arlen Spector as a way to destroy that logic. He points out that during Spector's last re-election bid, there were two more conservative candidates running (one in the Constitution Party, one in the Libertarian Party). Conservative voters didn't vote for these two for fear that they would end up throwing their vote away. Yet five years later, Spector switched parties simply to do better in a primary bid and in hopes of holding on to the power he has accumulated. Glenn Beck asks, "...who wasted thier vote, the four percent of people who went with the candidates from the Constitution and Libertarian parties, or the 53 percent who voted for a man who later stabbed them in the back by switching parties simply to have the best shot at winning his next election?" As some one who was thought of voting for third party candidate before, but was afraid of "throwing my vote away", I really have to reconsider my opinion on this.

Glenn Beck's Common Sense includes a complete reprint of Common Sense by Thomas Paine, and an "additional reading" section. I am a big fan of "additional reading" sections to explore theories in more detail. The book is less than 200 pages (and is pretty cheap at most book stores). Glenn Beck has asked his listeners to buy a copy and when they are done reading it, pass it along to someone else. I will be passing mine along this weekend. I have included an amazon link where you can buy it:

If you pick up a copy from Amazon or any where else, leave a comment here and let me know. I am also curious to see if anyone gives their copy away. It is a very good book and is packed with good arguments in a small small space.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Quick Notes: Babies and Books

I hope this edition of Quick Notes is exciting even though I don't plan on covering very many political items. Enjoy!

Baby. To those of you who know me in the real world, this won't be a breaking news item. The rest of you may be a little surprised. My family is about to increase by one! My wife is very pregnant right now, and we could be having a baby any day now. Last night we had a false alarm that had us at the hospital until 10 PM. I wanted to share this with you in case you sign on here one night, looking for the latest and greatest political debate only to find no new posts. I plan to keep posting, but have to take care of my family first. If you sign on and it has been a day or two since my last post, fear not! I will return!

Books. In case you haven't noticed, I like to write book reviews on this site. I try to keep them related to our discussions on here. However, all of them are from a point of view that interests me. I thought I would ask if anyone is interested in either 1) writing a book review of a book they have read recently that is relevant to this site, but might have been missed by me, or 2) suggesting a book for a discussion on here. Either suggestion needs to be a book that is relevant some how to this site. It does not have to be one from my conservative point of view. If you know of one that is from a different point of view, but would like to write a review of it, or would like to suggest it to the group for a discussion, let me know. I would love to feature it on here.

Finally... I am looking for someone to write a post on here from a point of view that is different from mine. I am exploring a few other blogs that I frequent, but if a reader would like to take a turn and post here, I would love to have you author a post. The rules are simple, write enough to explain your viewpoint, keep it clean, and no insulting the other readers. Let me know if you are interested!

For either the book or the guest viewpoint, comment in here, or email me.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Of Government and Men: The Nature of the U. S. Constitution

The Constitution of the United States of America is the supreme law of the United States. It is the foundation and source of legal authority underlying the existence of the United States of America and the Federal Government of the United States.

Wikipedia entry for "United States Constitution"

The U.S. Constitution lays out the rules for what our federal government can and can't do. It sets up boundaries for the three equal branches of government: the Executive, the Legislative, and the Judiciary. It also sets up a number of checks and balances to keep these branches equal, and to keep any one branch from overwhelming the other branches, or the citizens. In The 5000 Year Leap, W. Cleon Skousen describes our government as a three headed eagle, with one head being the judiciary, one the executive, and the center head representing the legislative branch, with the Senate and the House each being represented by an eye in the head of the eagle. If the three heads of the government operate as equals, the eagle can fly higher. If they try to overwhelm the others, the eagle won't survive. For a more complete discussion of the details of the Constitution, go to the National Archives website devoted to the Constitution, found here.

One of the most amazing aspects of the Constitution is that the framers knew there would be situations and developments they couldn't foresee. There are those both in and out of our government who claim the Constitution is a "living" document. Under this theory, the Constitution means whatever any generation reads into the words of the Constitution. This method ignores the thinking of the Framers, or the plain meaning of the words in the Constitution. Using this theory, any generation can read into the words a right or power of government that the framers never debated or considered. This is not a process the framers intended.

Joseph Story was Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1811 to 1845. Justice Story served on the Marshall court, was a professor of law at Harvard, and was a son of a participant of the Boston Tea Party. Justice Story said the, "…framers were not bold or rash enough to believe, or to pronounce, [the Constitution] to be perfect…[t]hey desired, that it might be open to improvement; and, under the guidance of the sober judgment and enlightened skill of the country, to be perpetually approaching nearer and near to perfection." This is why they set up the Amendment process.

The framers included a provision in the constitution to amend it. This procedure makes it difficult to amend the Constitution, but not impossible. It requires two thirds of both houses of Congress to start an Amendment or two thirds of the states to call a constitutional convention to purpose an amendment. Any amendment proposed (regardless of where it originated from) requires three fourths of the States approval to ratify. Interestingly, the President has no role or authority in the amendment process. This is a very difficult method for modifying the Constitution, but not an impossible one. Justice Story, writing in his lifetime, stated, "That the power of amendment is not, in its present form, impracticable, is proved by the fact, that twelve amendments have been already proposed and ratified." To date, there are 27 Amendments that have been ratified.

The point to this is that the Founders knew the Constitution would need changes over time. They intended for it to be changed, but not through the courts. They intended the people and the elected representatives of the people to change it. Judicial decisions such as Roe v. Wade may or may not be the law the people want. However, the way it became law is not the way the founders intended. They did not intend a "living document" that each generation could read new meaning too, or derive new meaning from plain words. If the people believe we have a fundamental right to an abortion, this should be purposed as a new amendment and not created out of a judicial decision. Roe v Wade is not the only bad law that has come about this way. Judges should rule on what is currently law, and not what they think society needs or wants. Edwin Meese III writing for the Heritage Foundation says it this way:

"Taking the politics out of the judiciary is a key tenet behind the concept of constitutional originalism. That's the idea that judges should issue rulings based on the original understanding of the authors and ratifiers of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights – rather than on outcomes that reflect the judge's personal biases or policy preferences."

In recent years, we have ignored the nature of the Constitution as the framers wrote it. The amendment process is the only constitutionally acceptable method to modify our Constitution. This worked for a long time. In the last 42 years, only two amendments have been added to the Constitution: the 26th Amendment setting the voting age at 18, and the 27th Amendment restricting time frames for Congressional pay raises. We should hold our elected officials accountable and force them to abide by the Constitution. If we ignore the Constitution in this, what is the next part of the Constitution our government may try to ignore?

This is the fourth post in my "Of Government and Men" series. This series is designed to cover some of the my fundamental beliefs regarding government in today's world. I have a list on the right where you can page through this series, or look here, here, and here. If you have any thoughts or comments, share them here. I will probably update this series down the road to include some of the discussions from the comments in this post.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Citizen Ronald Reagan Speaks Against Socialized Medicine

Thanks to Aaron for posting this on Face Book. The clip is ten minutes of Ronald Reagan speaking against Socialized Medicine. I love the closing quote: "...will come other federal programs that will invade every area of freedom as we have known it in this country, until, one day as Norman Thomas has said, we will awake to find that we have socialism. And if you don't do this, and I don't do it, one of these days, you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it once was like in America when men were free."

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Profile of a Supreme Court Justice

Back in 2007 I read, My Grandfather's Son, by Justice Clarence Thomas. It was the first time I had any exposure to the life of Clarence Thomas, and I found his autobiography to be really informative. I have been thinking of Justice Thomas over the last few weeks with the fawning media attention of now Justice Sotomayor. To read the papers, or to watch TV, one would think that all of our previous Justices were the children of wealth and privilege, never once having to overcome any obstacles. Justice Thomas life story quickly shows that simply isn't true.

Clarence Thomas was born in 1948 in a small community just outside of Savannah, Georgia. His father abandoned his family very early on. Clarence Thomas states in his autobiography that he wouldn't meet his biological dad until he was nine years old, and would only see him twice in his youth. His mother did the best she could to raise him, but by the time he was seven, she realized she couldn't do it on her own. There were two boys and one girl counting Mr. Thomas. Mr. Thomas's sister would move in with other family while Clarence and his brother would move in with their grandparents. When they moved in, each boy had a grocery sack that contained all of their possessions. Both of the boys would come to view their grandparents as their parents, hence the title My Grandfather's Son. Clarence would even call his grandfather "Daddy".

His Daddy was hard on him and his brother. The boys weren't allowed to participate in after school activities. "Daddy" felt the boys needed to learn, and was worried that the two boys would get in trouble in after school activities. When school was out during the summer, the kids weren't allowed to lay around and play. The family moved to a farm every summer and worked from sun up to sun down. Clarence Thomas' grandfather / Daddy tried to instill in the boys a strong work ethic that would serve the future Justice for the rest of his life.

As Clarence got older, he began to pursue a future in the Church. He attended school at two seminaries and the College of Holy Cross. Later he attended Yale Law School. All of his educational opportunities were helped because of the life lessons he learned from his Daddy. During his college years, he rebelled against his Daddy, and his Daddy's beliefs. However, when his life finally hit its lowest point, he decided to dedicate the rest of his life to the only parents he really knew: his grandparents.

Before reading, My Grandfathers Son, I was unaware just how much race and racism factored into Clarence Thomas' life. Prospective employers assumed that he only got into Yale, and only graduated, because of race quotas. Because of that, no one wanted to hire him. Justice Thomas recounts taking a 15 cent price tag off a box of cigars and putting it on his diploma to remind him exactly how much the diploma was worth to him. Justice Thomas would remember this lesson later in life when he worked as Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights in the Department of Education and as Chairman of the Equal Opportunity Commission. In spite of the racism he grew up with and saw in college, many of his faults he blames only one person for: himself. The tough parts of his relationship with his Daddy, his drinking, radical times in college and even his failed marriage, he blames only on Clarence Thomas. This is probably another lesson his Daddy gave him: take responsibility for your own actions.

One event in his life that Clarence Thomas shouldn't take the blame for is his confirmation hearings. Democrats may accuse Republicans of racism during the Sotomayor hearings, but Clearance Thomas's opponents took personal attacks to an all new level. The vast majority of people who know Justice Thomas look back at the 1991 hearings and admit that Anita Hill was less than honest in her testimony. Justice Sotomayor may have been asked to defend her public statements. Justice Thomas and his family were put through the ringer.

Justice Sotomayor has a very interesting life story. However, the way the media has portrayed it has inadvertently hinted that the other Justices don't have interesting life stories. Hopefully, this helps put Ms Sotomayor in perspective.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Screwtape Writes Obama

In 1942, C. S. Lewis published the book The Screwtape Letters. In it, the demon Screwtape gives advice to his nephew (a lesser demon of some sort) on how best to tempt a human into sin and away from God. If you haven't read it, I recommend it. I have often wondered what a letter to a mortal from Screwtape might look like. The following is my own humble, much lesser, and vastly inferior attempt to provide an example of a letter to a human from Screwtape. Any failures are my own, and should not reflect on C. S. Lewis, Screwtape, or Wormwood:

Dear Mr. Obama,

First, congratulations on your recent election to the position of President of the United States of America. We have quite a number of field professionals in your country and pay close attention to the politics there. I don't typically write humans, especially politicians. In most cases, I consider them firmly on our side, and see little to be gained by taking my time to address them. However, after the events of the first eight months of your administration, I could no longer withhold my admiration.

Being a demon, you can understand my professional expertise in the subject of lying and "playing loose with the facts". I consider myself an expert in the field, something many of my colleagues would attest too. I thought you deserved the professional courtesy of hearing of my admiration for your handling of opponents and the American public. During your campaign, many of us here at the Lowerarchy kept an eye on some of the tricks and deceptions you were able to convince a large number of people of. Some of these deceptions were so strong they caused your audience to swoon. If you have the time to respond, I would really appreciate knowing if there was a particular spell you used for that effect. I personally most admired the fact that you hid your motives in plain sight: all any voter had to do to understand you was to look at your voting record. You were able to disguise that with a few mentions of "Hope and Change", two autobiographies (at the ripe old age of 47), and the occasional public sacrifice of a friend (as with Jeremiah Wright). All of this was only your opening act.

In your short term in office you have been able to: sell a "stimulus package" that is simply a state and local government bribe package; you have pushed energy and climate legislation in the middle of a recession and in spite of continued evidence that man made global warming is a hoax; you have claimed to have a more accountable government while naming tax evaders and the kind of talent we look for here to some of the highest posts in your administration. Perhaps your greatest deception to date is the recent "town hall" meeting you had to discuss health care with the "mob". While your office stacked the attendees, you were able to hint to the press that there may very well be rabble rousers in the group. Kudos!

I haven't decided which part I liked best. It was either your claim (twice I might add) that AARP endorsed your parties health care bill, when they had not, or the "skeptical" woman who got confused and told the crowd you winked at her while she asked her question. Of course both of these are second to your ability to shift the blame for not passing health care reform to the American people and to Republicans, when your party has all the votes it needs to pass this reform. Bravo!

In closing, it is far too early to know if you might one day be a colleague of mine. However, rest assured that if you should end up in my office, you are guaranteed a position of honor with us.

Your Supernatural Fan,


Sunday, August 09, 2009

Of Government and Men: The Role of God in the Public Square.

"Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."

-John Adams

Religion and Politics combine to form the largest taboo one should avoid discussing in polite company. These words of wisdom probably stem from how passionate individuals get whenever discussing these issues. Are there any two subjects that have a greater impact on your life than your religious beliefs and the political system you live in?

In our society today, we have taken 16 words from the U.S. Constitution and used them to censor, and in some cases punish, those who openly express a faith. The Constitution states in Amendment I, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,". In today's society, we have taken this to mean that there can be virtually no mention of God in the public square. However, this isn't the way it always was, and it isn't the way the Founders of our government intended it to be. We, as a nation, are worse for this public ban on God.

Newt Gingrich, has said that to study the history of the United States is to, "…encounter God again, and again." As an amateur historian I can fully agree with Mr. Gingrich. The more I read of our nation's founding and the men and women who created it, the more I come across their belief in God. I am amazed how frequently I encounter religious references in the founding of our nation. Perhaps the most important man in our founding, George Washington, left many, many references to God in his writings and public statements. In his first inaugural address, Washington stated, "…it would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official act my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the universe,…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…". In Washington's Thanksgiving Proclamation, he called on Americans to set aside a day to thank God for the many blessings He had provided for them.

Washington was not alone in his belief in a Divine Being. I encourage everyone to take time to look into the beliefs of John Adams, James Madison, or Abraham Lincoln. Many of Lincolns writings and speech's contained very beautiful references to God. Many of us have read the Gettysburg Address and Lincoln's reference to the United States as a "…nation, under God…", but have you ever read his second inaugural address delivered in March of 1865, shortly before his death? Lincoln says:

"Yet, if God wills that [the Civil War] continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether."

Lincoln was saying that if God demanded the United States pay for the blood of slaves with blood, then that is how it would be. I would not suggest that each of these men I have quoted here, or the other founders of this nation, were all Christian faithful. Lincoln struggled with his faith all of his life, and it's very doubtful that he held to the tenets of any particular sect of Christianity. His faith was probably unique to Lincoln. However, I doubt any of our founders would support the almost total ban of religion in government.

The First Amendment was intended to keep the government from establishing a national American Church. It was not intended to keep high school students from discussing religion in club activities, or to prohibit the teaching of morals in school. Thomas Jefferson called for a teaching of moral values in schools in Virginia.

It is very difficult to study the founding of our nation and not come across the work of Alexis de Tocqueville. He was a French historian and political writer. His best known work was Democracy in America. In it, de Tocqueville states:

"I do not know whether all Americans have a sincere faith in their religion – for who can search the human heart? – but I am certain that they hold it to be indispensable to the maintenance of republican institutions. This opinion is not peculiar to a class of citizens or to a party, but it belongs to the whole nation and to every rank of society." Alexis de Tocqueville felt the nations belief in God was key to our Democracy.

I would not support a government that mandated the tenets of any particular faith. I believe individuals should more or less be allowed to worship as they please. However, I think the constant lawsuits about our Pledge of Allegiance, public displays of the Ten Commandments, and school prayer are all misplaced. I believe a healthy respect for God, and an acknowledgment of the blessings He has given our nation are important. Our nations motto is "In God We Trust". Hiding this, and whitewashing our founders faith and their beliefs harms our students and hides from them the nature of the founding of this great nation. Should we have a government established religion? No. Should prayer groups and religious services be allowed on public property? Sure, as long as all faiths are allowed access to the facilities if they wish it.

This is the third post in the "Of Government and Men" series. The introduction and first installment are available in previous issues, or in the list on the sidebar. What are your thoughts on the role of religion in our government? Have we forgotten our heritage? Are there too many lawsuits today challenging our freedom of religion? Or, have we not gone far enough in isolating politics and government from faith?

Friday, August 07, 2009

GIS: Freedom or Invasion of Privacy?

GIS stands for Global Information Systems. These web gis systems can be anything from a UPS tracking software that allows you to see where your order is to a chip in your cell phone that allows anyone with the know how to track your current location. Many of these systems you have to decide to use, such as tracking software. Others are engaged whether you want them to be or not. In those cases, like the cell phones, are they an invasion of your privacy?

There are good points and bad points to these GIS programs. If you are in a car wreck and can't remember where you are, you may very well want someone to locate you via your cell phone. But are you comfortable knowing that "big brother" can find you as long as your cell phone is on? Google maps has spark a number of concerns because of the "candid" pictures of people that have shown up on their program. One friend of mine's father-in-law got caught on the street view version of google maps while checking his mail. If you enter his address into Google maps, you will find him standing next to his mail box.

On the other hand, Google argues their photos were done in public in broad daylight. Anything captured on their program would have been visible to someone driving down the street. Does it then constitute an invasion of privacy? I have a 5 year old daughter and another kid on the way. I would love to be able to pull up a website when she is 16 and know where she is. But do I want other people to be able to do the same?

Most issues I talk about on here I try to argue one point or another. This is one issue that I am really not sure about, and would like to hear other opinions on. What do you think? Are programs such as Google Maps an invasion of privacy? Or are GIS systems simply a new reality that we have to adapt too?

This is a sponsored post.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Am I an “Anti-Reform Mobster”?

By now you have either read or heard the Democratic Parties attack on constituents appearing at town hall meetings to criticize their Representatives. Criticism is one thing Representatives don't like. On the official blog of the Democratic Party (titled "Kicking Ass") the DNC accused people who are critical of the government of the following:

  1. They are being funded and organized by out-of-district special interest groups and insurance companies.
  2. People are scared because they are being fed frightening lies

  3. Their actions are getting more extreme

  4. Their goal is to disrupt and shut down legitimate conversation

  5. Republican leadership is irresponsibly cheering on thuggish crowds.

My local representative is a Democrat and is holding a town hall meeting at the end of the month I want to attend. Am I an anti-reform mobster? Or am I a concerned citizen trying to voice my opinion and get my elected officials to listen to me? Let's look at each of the DNC points above.

They are being funded and organized by out-of-district special interest groups and insurance companies. This isn't true in the case of myself, anyone else I personally know attending these town hall meetings, or of Political Friends. However, at Political Friends, we are capitalists. Therefore, if any readers of this post have any connections to some sort of group that would be willing to fund this site let me know. You must be out of town (or an insurance company) and it must be enough money for me to do this full time. Otherwise, I am not sure it meets point 1 shown above. Oil companies may also apply as I write about Global Warming from time to time.

People are scared because they are being fed frightening lies. If people are afraid because of what they read in HR 3200, I don't consider that a lie; I consider it wisdom. Page 16 of HR 3200 would make it illegal for you as an individual to buy insurance from a private company after the first year HR 3200 goes into effect. You can go through the government as a middle man, but no more buying straight from the insurance company. I am not sure how this improves health care or health insurance, or makes it cheaper. But it is there in black and white. Here is the official bill, read it for yourself.

Their actions are getting more extreme. There is a chance that I am guilty of this. The first tea party I attended, I simply brought tea bags. The second one, I brought a camera. When I go to this town hall meeting, I think I am going to bring a voice recorder. If that is extreme, they have me. I haven't been anywhere near as extreme as some of the Democratic groups such as Code Pink.

Their goal is to disrupt and shut down legitimate conversation. On the contrary. I have posted about this debate a number of times such as here, here, or here, just to point out three posts. Republicans have introduced their own health care reform. It 's listed as HR 2520, the Patients Choice Act, and weighs in at 248 pages as opposed to the 1100 pages on the DNC side. The Heritage Foundation has also listed a number of reforms it has been working towards. Far from shutting down legitimate debate, we are actively promoting it. I suspect the DNC is upset that this debate is occurring and that people are actually reading the bill it introduced.

Republican leadership is irresponsibly cheering on thuggish crowds. This maybe. Truthfully, the Republicans have been guilty of not listening to their constituents as well. It's time they started paying more attention. Also, consider the fact that the Republican Party doesn't have the ability to arrange these type of protests. They should be taking notes.

There are a number of health care and health insurance reforms I would support. One I won't support is a single payer health care system provided by the government. That is why I am going to my Representatives town hall meeting. The DNC may think I am an Anti-Reform Mobster. I like to think of myself as holding my elected officals accountable. At the end of the day, maybe that is what the Democrats (and Republicans) are really afraid of.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Book Review: Atlas Shrugged

I really enjoyed Atlas Shruggedby Ayn Rand. Atlas Shrugged was written in 1957 and has been growing in popularity over the last few years. I decided to read it because I was hearing constant references too it in the news. I think one of the reasons it resonates with today's audience is that a number of the books events and characters have parallels in today's world.

Atlas Shrugged is set in a "future USA". The economy is beginning to collapse as the book opens, and the government becomes more desperate and more aggressive looking for ways to solve the crisis. The copy of Atlas I read was 1,069 pages long. Early in the book (around page 200), the government starts really interfering with business. Laws are passed restricting who can own what business, and where business can operate. The laws are always passed in the name of "protecting the country", and "are only because of the current crisis". Many of the worst laws and actions of the government in Atlas Shrugged have parallels in today's bailouts, health care and energy bills, and government takeovers. In the world of Atlas Shrugged, most nations of the world have become "Peoples Republics".

As the government continues to pass law after law, the economy continues to worsen. Many of the laws and policies of the "future USA" revolve around need. A guy asks for a job because he "needs" it. Laws are passed forbidding large companies from moving or opening at new locations because the smaller companies "need" a chance. These decisions are made regardless of whether the people asking for jobs can do the jobs. The government passes laws "protecting" small, unsuccessful businesses because the public "needs" them.

This book was the masterpiece of Ayn Rand, and really served as an introduction for her personal philosophy of Objectivism. It is very well written, and it is easy to see how it became a classic. However, it is a very long book, and requires a little bit (my wife sees it as an extreme amount) of devotion to see it all the way through to the end. There is one "three hour speech" towards the end that will probably take most readers a little longer than three hours to make it through.

I really enjoyed this book, and recommend it to anyone who enjoys political thrillers, or classics. However, if you don't think you can handle a 1000 + page book that is pretty thick with politics and philosophy at times, stay far, far away. And I have to leave this review with a message for those of you who have read Atlas Shrugged:

"Who is John Galt?"

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Of Government and Men: The Nature of Freedom

Children should be educated and instructed in the principles of freedom.

--John Adams

I would go one step further than the second President of the United States and say that all people should be educated on the principles of freedom. The Webster dictionary that sits on my desk has 13 definitions of "freedom". The first three define freedom as (1) being free or at liberty rather than in confinement or under physical restraint, (2) exemption from external control, and (3) the power to determine action without restraint. I define freedom as the ability to live your life, and to determine your own life, free of the restraints of others.

In the United States, we have the greatest collection of freedoms found anywhere. Here we are allowed to worship, speak, and basically proceed with our life as we see fit. So long as you don't harm others, you are free to decide what to make of your own life. We are blessed with many political and economic freedoms. Some nations have some freedom in politics or some freedom in economics, but I am not aware of any nation has the same degree of political and economic freedom as the United States.

Where do these freedoms come from? The Declaration of Independence says, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. – That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." There are two very important points here, and they answer our question. Rights are given to us by our Creator, not by man, and not by government. Anything the government or a man can give you, he can also take away. However, there are certain rights that are unalienable. These rights cannot be denied to anyone, except by their own actions. Secondly, in order to have a government, individuals allow that government to restrain their rights to some degree. That authority is given to the government by the permission of those who decide to live under that government.

All rights have limits. You can't run into a crowded theater and yell, "Fire!" without there actually being a fire. You can't walk into your neighbor's house and take whatever your neighbor has as your own. These limits exist because your rights and freedoms begin to infringe on the rights or freedoms of others. You also don't have the freedom not to be offended. In today's society, there are some who believe they should never be offended. That isn't a right.

Nor do you have a right to equal results from your efforts. Equality, as Mark Levin defines it in Liberty and Tyranny, "…is the natural right of every individual to live freely under self-government, to acquire and retain the property he creates through his own labor, and to be treated impartially before a just law." This does not guarantee equal results. Alexander Hamilton is quoted as saying that inequality will exist as long as liberty exists and that inequality will result from the very freedom we live in. You and your friend are both free to create your own businesses. However, both of you will not succeed or fail to the same degree. One of you will make more money. In America, you are your own limit. If you have a goal, so long as you are willing to work hard, you can reach it. If you're not willing to work hard, someone willing to work harder than you will reach that goal. That is the nature of freedom in America.

One of the lessons of the Spider-Man comics is: With great power comes great responsibility. The freedoms we enjoy in our government are no exception. I think those who lived before us have many lessons to teach us. Ronald Reagan once said:

"Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it was once like in the United States where men were free."

Freedom must be protected by soldiers, and it sometimes requires blood to pay for it. But it also requires an educated citizen voter. I don't mean educated in the since of a high school or college degree. I do mean that you as a voter have a duty to understand your government, understand your freedoms and rights, and to understand who the people you are voting for (or against) are. This does require some work and effort on your part. But as President Regan pointed out, it is the requirement of a free people to protect that freedom.

Are there other limits or responsibilities you feel are important that I missed? Share them in the comments below. As I update this post in the future, I may include your comments. This is the first of a series on our government. The introduction is posted here, and the next chapter in the series will be available next Sunday.