Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Bi-Partisan measure? Are they kidding?

Representative Michelle Bachmann (R-MN dist. 6) has started a worthwhile blog detailing the activities of the Democrat Majority.

This particular post debunks the notion that the stimulus package being rammed down are throats is far from the bipartisan measure it's being touted as by Speaker Pelosi. Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee presented 18 ammendments to the bill, 1 was agreed to and the other 17 were rejected outright.

As Rep. Bachmann points out, the Democrats are well within their rights to ignore GOP input (they are the majority after all), but doing so while claiming to reach across the aisle is outright dishonest.

Update: Here's an excellent video detailing why the "bailout" is bad.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Founders Friday

What is government itself but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed: and in the next place oblige it to control itself.
-James Madison

Friday, January 16, 2009

Cedarville University: A Controversy over Truth and Certainty?

For some time now, Cedarville University has been involved in a controversy over truth and certainty: the belief that we can know that the Bible, the truth, is 100% certain versus the belief of the emergent church that the truth is unknowable, i.e., we can be relatively certain, but ultimately, no one can know the truth for sure.

Initially, I wondered at the relevance of this information to Case4theRight, but came to the conclusion that many of us may be looking for Christian colleges to which to send our children in light of the severe leftist leanings of many, if not most, of the secular colleges and universities in our nation today.

The controversy seemingly came to light after the university fired two conservative professors in the summer of 2007, only a few months after they had a signed contract. One had even achieved tenure at the university. My initial exposure to this affair was in the form of an email communication from the alumni office with a statement from the president of the university announcing the university’s unwavering stance toward the truth of the scripture and a warning of unfounded accusations made by several media outlets. I did some internet research on the situation at that time because I was saddened to hear of these developments and I wanted to be as informed as possible about this emergent church movement and about what was going on at Cedarville. There are always two sides to every story and I was concerned that I was only hearing the situation from a public relations standpoint. I was able to find quite a bit of information detailing the situation from the viewpoint of the fired professors.

I was seriously concerned about these accusations because my daughter, who is a relatively new Christian, is a student at Cedarville. I was concerned about what she was being taught in the classroom regarding the certainty of scripture. She did not seem to be familiar with too many of the facts surrounding the situation, however, I did get an opportunity to explain why we can be certain regarding the truth of the scripture and admonished her to keep an ear out in her classes for any teaching that might undermine the truth of the Bible. As that is all I could do at that point, I left it at that, and kept Cedarville in my prayers that they would not succumb to the lies of false teaching.

Earlier this week I received another communication from Cedarville citing a report that was about to be released by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), detailing an investigation performed by the AAUP into the firings of the two university professors. Cedarville stated that the report is “misleading and inaccurate”. Several other conservative faculty and staff (those identifying with the certainty of scripture) have either left or been asked to leave. I began to believe that where there is smoke, there is fire, and again I looked at all the sources of information I was able to find. A couple of points raised serious doubts in my mind as to the sincerity of the school’s position:

1) Why have no emergent professors left the institution or been asked to leave? Why is it that only those with conservative viewpoints are no longer affiliated with the university? And I suppose, first and foremost, why are there even professors with emergent leanings even employed by the university? If their position is the complete inerrancy and certainty of scripture, why are they employing individuals who do not share these views?

2) Why does Dr. Brown, the university president, include known emergent books on his reading list for the students to see without any type of disclaimer?

3) Why does the university invite known emergents to speak in chapel under the guise of exposing the students to other viewpoints? Chapel is for spiritual growth and teaching, not a learning experience for apostasy. I understand the need to teach these things, but these teachings should be done in the classroom, not in the chapel forum.

I am still at a loss of who or what to believe. I would like to believe that Cedarville is firm in their unwavering stand for the truth, especially since I am an alumnus of the university, not to mention that I am sending tens of thousands of dollars a year to the school for my daughter’s education. The only thing I am sure of at this point is that I will be watching this situation very closely from all angles and that I will be praying for them that they truly do stand for what is right and will continue to do so. There is a spiritual warfare going on in Christian circles and we need to “be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (NKJV, 1 Peter 5:8).

Some interesting links:

A Book Recommendation:
The Truth War: Fighting for Certainty in an Age of Deception by John MacArthur

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The point of Gitmo

Scott at Powerline has some good insight on an excellent post by National Review's Jay Nordlinger - Mr. Nordlinger specifically addressing the left's success at altering reality (at least the way reality is presented). Scott continues this by analyzing camparisons of Guantanamo to Nuremburg.

One Obama quote stood out to me in a way that Scott did not really address:

"It is my firm belief that we can track terrorists, we can crack down on threats against the United States. But we can do so within the constraints of our Constitution. Let's take the example of Guantanamo. What we know is that in previous terrorist attacks, for example, the first attack against the World Trade Center, we were able to arrest those responsible, put them on trial. They are currently in U.S. prisons, incapacitated."

Scott goes on to show what Obama's contention was untrue, but even if it were, it misses the whole purpose of Guantanamo. Here's the money line: "the first attack against the World Trade Center, we were able to arrest those responsible, put them on trial."

Obama is contending that it is sufficient to prosecute terrorists after they have completed their mission - a mission to take hundreds, thousands or millions of American lives. The purpose of our soon to be ex-President's anti-terror policy is to apprehend, interrogate and neutralize terrorists before they succeed in mass murder.

UPDATE: It also misses the point that the detainees are not US citizens - hence they have no rights under our constitution. Nor do they belong to any parties to the Geneva Convention.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

What is a human life worth?

In the Twilight Zone episode "Button, Button", a couple answers a knock at the door to find a stranger holding a small wooden box with a button on top. The stranger informs them that if they press the button, they will receive a large sum of money but someone they do not know will die. After agonizing for days over the box, the wife presses the button (over her husbands objection).

The next day, the stranger returns and gives them a briefcase full of cash, and informs them that the button will be reprogrammed and given to somebody they don't know. (queue ominous music)

While the story above is wholly implausible, it does beg the question of the value placed on human lives. From society's perspective, is there a dollar amount that makes the loss of some unspecified individuals life acceptable? This is a tough philosophical issue to resolve - especially for someone who believes that human life is special - that our creation in God's image places human life above the life of His other creatures. However, logically, there must be some dollar amount at which the loss of a random life is tolerable.

I bring this up in light of a recent push to ban all forms of cell phone communication while driving. As it turns out, hands free communication is no safer than holding the phone to one's ear. The National Safety Council attributes "636,000 crashes, 12,000 serious injuries and 2,600 deaths each year" to cell phone use (hands free or not).

The problem is that in today's society, instant communication has become a necessity for doing business. Taking phones out of the hands of drivers would result in a large hit to our nations productivity - a negative at any time, but especially in the midst of recession. The common response is that we cannot place a value on human life.

This is certainly an understandable and completely human response - and it is good that we feel that way. However, if we actually believed that no expense was to high if it "saves lives", we would be required to:

1) Impose 10 MPH speed limits on our highways - or ban cars altogether - and planes too
2) Ban swimming pools, boating and 5 gallon buckets since between 3-4000 people drown yearly
3) Ban all forms of electricity (maybe the Amish are on to something)
4) Limit all buildings to single story

In short, we aren't able to list all the policies required if no expense was to great to "save lives" (sort of ties in with Joe's post last week). The rules would be endless and productivity would grind to a halt - but the lack of productivity would also cost human lives. Modern society has produced all sorts of things to save and extend life. State, National and World economies are complex things - no individual or group of individuals would be able to sort out all the causes and effects of a given policy. It would be impossible to calculate all the consequences of a given policy - or even track them once it has been passed since nobody can see every ripple - and those affected by those ripples don't see what started them.

One thing we do know from history - free society's tend to enjoy longer (and healthier) lives than unfree.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Open Topic Tuesday

You down wit' OTT?

Time's yours.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Why is labor different?

The resource that every single individual on the planet has at their disposal is Time. Every single one of us are allotted 24 hours every single day. In a free society, we each get to choose how we allocate this resource. We can use it for resting, recreation, or we can sell our time to another individual (or group of individuals) in exchange for another resource - usually (but not always) currency.

As discussed in Friday's post, labor (or the use of one's time) is economically no different than any other commodity. When the cost of labor increases, the demand for it decreases. When cost of labor goes down (if that were ever permitted to happen), demand increases. But for some reason (probably multiple reasons) we view our time differently than other things.

Most of us would never consider our time to be LESS valuable than what we are currently getting paid - and would take offense to even the suggestion of cuts in pay, benefits or anything else. On top of that, when salary disputes are out in the open, public opinion most often sides with the employees - with the possible exception of sports or entertainment industries.

Taking a look at our national (or local) economy, one would be hard pressed to find a single commodity that they would consider under priced. I rarely hear anyone (outside dairy producers) bemoaning the fact that milk is so cheap. But when it comes to labor, we expect (and often legislate) employers to spare no expense when it comes to their employees.

Unfortunately, regardless the cause - our belief that labor is different than other commodities does not change economic reality - and for an individual - and a nation - can often extend hardship in times of rising unemployment.

Here's a partial list of reasons for this mindset (I'd love to hear your additions):

1) The belief that things we own are inherently more valuable: As indicated above, dairy farmers are the only people that believe the price of milk is low. When it comes to our own labor, we are the sellers in the transaction and so we feel we are being shorted - and can sympathize with others in the same business (of selling their labor). Proverbs 20:14 sums it up nicely "'It is good for nothing', cries the buyer; But when he has gone his way, then he boasts" - This also shows when individuals are the purchasers of labor - people rarely believe that contractors are charging them to little for services.

2) The belief that our salary reflects our intrinsic value as human beings: If my employer were to approach me about a pay cut (or worse - a layoff), in my gut, it would feel as though they were attacking my personal worth. Even though this is not the case at all any more than switching landscapers makes the guy that used to mow your lawn any less valuable as a person - it still feels that way.

3) The belief that businesses exist to employ people: Employment is a side effect of business - one of many transactions that occur in the course of producing and selling goods and services. However, many - consciously or not - believe that employment is a right. Employers OWE them a job - after all, what else is a company good for.

Until we get out of this mindset and accept labor and compensation as simply a business transaction, it will be tough navigating through the coming times. In the face of layoffs, we need to do what people do when they have difficulty moving a product: consider ways to improve it while at the same time, determining the proper price point - even if that price point is below what we're used to.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Saving the Children of Tomorrow: the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act

It is amazing that anyone can make it out of childhood these days with hidden dangers lurking around every corner. The newest level of protection for America's children is in the form of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act. Under this law, starting February 10, 2009, all products intended for children 12 and under must be tested for lead. While this sounds like a good idea, and something that is important for the safety of children, law makers failed to consider one major ramification of such a law: clothing for children under the age of 12.

Retailers of such items across the nation will now be required to test them for lead and phthalates. This is an expensive process that most small children's clothing businesses will not be able to afford. Additionally, thrift stores and second hand stores will not be able to afford to test all the donated clothing and therefore will be forced to shut down.

These added government regulations designed to protect Americans are having the potential side affect of putting a large financial burden on those with lower income levels, or on those seeking to save money by purchasing used clothing. They will no longer be able to buy used clothing on ebay, goodwill, salvation army, and various other thrift stores.

These types of laws are a product of a government who thinks that the American people are too stupid to be able to function on a daily basis without their intervention. A possible reason for this perceived stupidity is most likely a product of the endless litigation instigated by individuals who failed to exercise common sense and suffered the consequences. Because many Americans do not accept blame for anything and are always looking for someone else to be at fault, they put themselves in a situation where they make themselves out to be an idiot. There are warnings on hair dryers to inform users that it is dangerous to use them while bathing. There are warnings on coffee to tell us that it is hot. There are attempted law suits against the fast food industry because people don't know that excessive consumption of fast food fare can result in accumulated fat deposits all over the body. What happened to common sense? Doesn't common sense tell us that using a hairdryer (or any electrical appliance) while bathing could result in electrocution? Doesn't common sense tell us that coffee is hot and that it will burn if spilled? Doesn't common sense tell us that obsessive quantities of eating will cause weight gain? It is no wonder that those in office (many of whom are former lawyers or have law degrees) think that the American public is too stupid to walk and chew gum at the same time.

As of the posting of this article, it appears as if there will be a reprieve for used clothing and toys, thus saving the second hand sales industry. However, this reprieve does nothing for the small businesses who will now have to spend their profits on having this testing performed on the clothing they sell. This will translate into higher prices for their products, and fewer people that are able to spend the extra money to pay for the inflated price of the clothing. Additionally, the increased prices and less demand may force these small businesses to close their doors. This will have an inpact on our entire economy, because there will be fewer small businesses paying taxes, which will result in a lower income for the government. Then the employees of the small businesses will be forced to file for unemployment therefore increasing the demand for government handouts.

Do our elected officials even read the bills that pass across their desks? Do they even consider the ramifications of passing such laws? It would seem that they do not.

**A special thanks to Melodie for bringing this new law to my attention!**

Doing Nothing

On the news page, I questioned why "doing something" is always considered better than nothing. That is most certainly not the case. There are plenty of policies (as in the case of the Great Depression) that would make the situation worse than doing nothing. In order to determine which actions would be appropriate, a proper assessment of the situation is required.

The main focus at this time is the rise in unemployment - currently at 7.2%. What this boils down to is that as a nation, we have a surplus of time on our hands. Time is a commodity like anything else - and when we have more of it, its inherent value is less - meaning that people (and groups of people) are willing to give up less in exchange for your time.

At the same time, we are (at least for now) experiencing deflation - meaning that the prices of goods and services are dropping.

In a nutshell while things aren't good (high unemployment isn't good by anyone's book), it's not awful, we have a situation where people are either short of cash (or afraid of being short in the near future - and thus unwilling to part with it), but at the same time, the cash they DO have will purchase more goods than it used to. If the government were to do nothing - and publicly announce that we were just going to grit our teeth and ride things out - things would over some period of time return to normal. Simply knowing what the playing field is going to look like under the next administration would allow individuals and businesses to start playing again.

Unfortunately, with trillion dollar stimuli rolling out every few months, along with continued calls to action, people are hesitant to produce and consume since the the rules could change several times a year. Eventually, we will come to the point where the federal government will no longer be able to meet is debt obligations. After all, raising taxes won't help if nobody has any income to tax. At this point, the only solution would be to crank up the printing presses.

By printing out more money, the treasury will have the cash to pay back their debts - but the price for the nation will be drastic inflation. With money in greater supply, the cash that you and I hold will be worth far less than it is today. So not only will many be without jobs, they will be without jobs, and be able to buy far less with the cash they still have.

What's worse than high unemployment? High unemployment coupled with inflation. Clearly doing nothing is better than this proposal. I'm often of the mindset echoed by Ronald Reagan in that the nine most terrifying words I can here are "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help'

All that said, there are a few policies that would address our current woes:

1) Minimum wage: As stated before, unemployment is a surplus of labor. If I am having trouble selling other goods like gasoline, produce, appliances, cars, etc, I lower my asking price until people are willing to purchase them. Why is do we never consider lowering the price of labor until people are willing to purchase it?

2) Labor laws: If the gas station owners in an area were to organize, set a minimum price at which they were permitted to sell their gas and kick out any who did not agree with my terms, they would be guilty of collusion and in violation of the law. However, why is the UAW permitted to be the only organization to sell labor to Detroit? This is nothing other than collusion backed by law.

3) Tax cuts in stead of credits: One of the announcements in Obama's proposed stimulus is $300 billion in tax "cuts". However, they are actually tax credits. It may seem like semantics, but there is a difference. A tax cut reduces the amount you are required to pay. Tax credits give federal money to the taxpayer whether or not they paid any taxes to begin with. By crediting individuals who haven't paid any taxes, the government is already spending money it does not have.

Founders Friday.... finally

I guess I'll break into the new year by posting my normal weekly blurb about the founding fathers. It's been quite a while since I've posted on this blog so maybe I'll make a new years resolution to start writing more. I promised my wife that I wouldn't blog from home, and I'm usually too busy chasing my nine month old son around anyway. Parenting is fun.

Enough about me, today I'd like to give a "shout out" to a little known founding father named Roger Sherman. Sherman was referred to by John Adams as "That old Puritan, honest as an angel". Besides having an unwavering testimony for Christ, Sherman is best known for his orchestration of the Connecticut Compromise. by July, 1787, the constitutional convention had deadlocked over the issue of representation. The big states, led by James Madison, had proposed that both houses of the legislature be represented by population (giving the bigger states power over both houses of the legislature). The smaller states had countered with the New Jersey plan, which was basically a throwback to the equal representation of the articles of confederation.

The delegates debated endlessly until Mr. Sherman stepped forward and suggested that one house be represented equally and the other house be represented by the population size of the state. Of course not all of the states were excited about this compromise, but it saved the constitutional convention by allowing the delegates to move on, and it balanced the representative power between the big states and the small states. Balancing power is one of the principles that made American government different from most other governments throughout history. Thank you Roger Sherman.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Root causes

The notion of "root causes" has always intrigued me - specifically when and where we are supposed to look for root causes.

Starting even before 9/11, we've been lectured that the existence of terrorism is a symptom and that we must seek out the root cause of their hatred for the West. Of course we are not permitted to even entertain the notion that the root cause could lie in the heart of terrorists and terrorist organizations themselves.

The only possible place that such a root cause could exist (so we were told) is in our own policies. Whatever policy changes were trotted out (most notably our support for Israel, the gist was the same - if they hate us, the problem MUST lie in ourselves.

Contrast that with the lack of any sort of intellectual curiosity regarding root causes when it comes to our nations current economic woes. While the lions share of the blame for the financial woes of individuals, lenders, and auto manufacturers lies within themselves, there is little if any discussion in the mainstream about what sort of policies brought us to this point.

The fact that Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac have been continualy pressured by their government sponsor for decades to back riskier mortgages with the intention of providing homes for low income families or that the auto industry has been forced since the 70's to sell large quantities of vehicles at a loss to meet mandated fuel efficiency standards barely gets any play.

Instead, we hear our president speak of the need to "save capitalism" and the NYT declaring that capitalism has failed without even so much as a glance in the direction of domestic policy.

One of the reasons for this disparity is the control issue: Our government has no authority or control over Islamic terrorists - human beings can't stand not being in control. This causes many to fantasize that this somehow must be about us and if we only make the right changes, they would grow to love us. Placing the root cause within the US permits the government to save the day by enacting the correct policies.

On the flip side, our own economic issues are well within the purview of our government. This allows pro-government exercise their control via more policies.

Another (an probably the biggest player in this question) is that looking for root causes in domestic policies would cast an unfavorable light on policies that had noble goals. Getting low income families into homes and reducing pollution are laudable causes, and it would highlighting the side effects of noble policies would cause people to look more critically at the noble policies of today - and there are plenty.

Foreign policy has for some time been fairly absent of nobility (as viewed by the elite), so there is little danger in prodding that ground when it comes to foreign policies proposed by the intelligentsia.

In the end, those questing for root causes have it all backwards. When it comes to foreign policy, regardless of any potential "root causes" we cannot afford to let terrorists dictate what our policies should be. Seeking to satisfy an enemy that not only has no qualms with the destruction of innocents, but actually takes delight in it would have the same effect as paying kidnappers or pirates. If peace is sought, we must reward peaceful behavior.

When it comes to domestic policy, studying "root causes" is essential for formulating future policy (or disbanding failed policy). Otherwise, we are continuously running around chasing lumps in the carpet.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Liberty vs. Security?

Here's a little amateur political theory for you. This is just some general food for thought, only the frame for a debate. You're welcome to draw your own particular conclusions in your comments, if you like.

Perhaps you've heard of the old idea that, in political systems, liberty and security are inversely proportionate. In other words: as a people's liberty increases, their security must decrease, and as a people's security increases, their liberty must decrease. To put it another way, the citizens of a country may have to accept a more powerful government (= less individual liberty) to secure their collective safety. This is the concept I'd like to discuss. (If this idea is old hat to you, I apologize for this over-simplified rehash).

Probably the first thing that jumps to your mind to illustrate this equation is the Patriot Act. The government gains increased ability to spy on us in order to keep us safe. According to the equation, if we limit the government's power to tap our phone lines or search our emails, we become freer, but less secure. Right now, we're not allowed to take lotion onto an airplane. Lost liberty, right? But more security. These are some simplistic examples of how the idea works.

Have you ever heard anyone say that totalitarian states are more efficiently run and are more capable of securing the safety of individual citizens than are free countries? This idea comes from the liberty vs. security proportion. My dad knew a woman who was a former citizen of Nazi Germany. Once, after hearing Hitler criticized, she protested: "at least in Hitler's Germany you could leave your bike out in the street and no one would take it!" A similar statement is that "Mussolini made the trains run on time." And the laws that Napoleon instituted, for example, have been among the longest-lasting and most stable in France's history. So, citizens of totalitarian states are more secure, but less free, right?

I could continue piling up thoughts and examples that seem to support the liberty vs. security idea, and on a certain level, the proportion is true. We do relinquish "liberties" to secure our safety. But is there another way of thinking about the relationship?

A few observations to complicate the debate:
(1) "Liberty" is a complex idea, perhaps too complex to always fit neatly into an equation. The very concept of liberty already implies law, restraint, and security. Liberty is not the same as anarchy or total licentiousness. For everyone to have liberty, each person's sphere of liberties has to stop where another person's begins. When we understand liberty this way, liberty is not opposed to security at all. I can't have liberty without the law that protects my liberty. The best liberty has just the right mixture of law and order already guaranteed within it.
(2) People need to have a certain level of liberty in the first place in order to safeguard their own security. In the totalitarian states from the examples, there may have been more stability than under a revolution, but no one, not even the toadiest rule-keeper, could be guaranteed security from the arbitrary whims of the dictator and his bureaucracy. In America, we are free under the law even to protect ourselves against factions in our own government: we have the liberty to participate in the legislative process, and even to take the government to court. Private property and the right to bear arms may fit under this second provision as well.

I guess the main thoughts I'd leave you with are these: on some level, we do have to decide what is the right balance between our "rights" and our safety. At the same time, liberty is all-important and all-consuming. Properly understood, liberty for all already contains security for all. You can't have true, dependable security without liberty. (We do have to draw a line, to decide what laws best ensure essential liberty, but I would call it "defining liberty", not "liberty vs. security". From this perspective, we give up the right to carry lotion on planes because we want to ensure liberty and security. It's more than semantics: the idea that liberty and security are somehow opposed is misleading.)

What are the practical implications of all this gobbledy-gook? Not sure. Is it possible to wage a modern-day war without infringing on our citizens' essential liberties, for instance? It should be. Are there any "rights" that we currently prize that shouldn't be protected as essential liberties because they encroach on other people's spheres of liberty and security too much? Your thoughts?

Open Topic Tuesday

The floor is now open.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Waking from the Christmas slumber

I hope everyone had a good break, I know I enjoyed some time with my family.

Regardless, it feels a bit lame for my first post of the new year to be a link, but I had spent quite a bit of time on my post, only to see that Tom over at Radio Free NJ discussed much of what I had planned (plus a whole lot more). Please head on over and read - I couldn't have put it together nearly as well as he does.