Monday, February 27, 2012

Good Job, EPA. Now Go Away.

I remember the bad old days.

Landing in a city enveloped in nasty, soupy smog swallowing up everything except some tall buildings and radio towers.

Crossing a bridge wondering what color the dye from a paper plant would make the river. Would it be red today? Green? Blue?

Seeing all the dead fish on a Lake Michigan beach.

The stench of the air of a couple of steel mill towns I lived in along the way.

I remember the bad old days.

But people had enough of it, attitudes changed, there was a growing consciousness about the environment. And over about a decade – the 70s basically – the air was cleaned, water pollution was reversed, a lot of the smog went away.

The Environmental Protection Agency did its job.

They won the war on pollution.

But has anybody notified them?

Like a crazed robot, they are doing their work to the extreme: construction companies are required to clean water runoff enough to make it drinkable, farmers apparently are violating EPA rules regarding storage of hay, dust is considered to be a pollutant, the few traces of lead paint dust released in old houses being remodeled must be dealt with to avoid harming children (even if there are no kids around), and there’s a movement to reduce the nation’s power generation capacity by 8 percent.

Yeah, right.

It’s hard to take seriously people who believe that carbon dioxide is a pollutant.

What is driving them?

I see at least four possibilities.

One is that there are people who have really bought the propaganda that we are destroying the earth. They tend to be younger and have no recollection of how far we have come since the bad old days.

Another is that because the war on pollution has been won, we now have nearly 18,000 EPA employees looking for something to do.

And it may get worse.

I just read one figure indicating that the EPA may grow to 30,000 people. Another said they may in the next few years have 230,000 employees.

Imagine that. Nearly a quarter million federal busybodies descending like locusts to strip bare the land of its jobs, prosperity, property rights, and entire way of life.

Another possibility is that the contemporary environmental movement is based upon quasi-religious beliefs about the earth. The earth is a living entity, some believe, and any alteration of it by man represents violation of a religious principle.

A fourth explanation is that some have said that with the fall of the Soviet Union, the environmental movement was the only place besides college campuses where Marxists could thrive (that was before the Obama administration). What better way to destroy evil capitalism than to strangle it with impossibly contradictory rules and regulations? It’s the watermelon concept: Big Environmentalists are green on the outside, red on the inside.

The fact is that the EPA needs to go away. There’s no more use for it -- it won the battle on pollution.

States can enforce pollution laws and when there are interstate environmental issues, they can be settled in federal court.

Otherwise, the EPA will eventually leave us with no more technology than the Amish.

Ah, but the EPA would say the Amish are eco-criminals, too.

Their horses have gas.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The GOP Primary: Whose on First?

I recently received an assignment from the Washington County Observer to comment on the Republican primary. Here's what I wrote:

Whose on first?

Romney? Bachmann? Perry? Cain? Gingrich? Santorum?

What’s been happening?

Just a Republican primary doing what it’s supposed to do: vetting the candidates, finding the one most desired to go up against the incumbent President.

True, it’s been a convoluted one. But that’s due to four forces using the Republican primary race to duke it out.

The first major force is the GOP establishment. Romney’s their guy: a former governor, successful in business, good family, telegenic. Had The West Wing been a conservative show, Mitt Romney would have been cast as President Josiah Bartlet. And while Establishment Republicans like to throw out a lot of conservative language, on their laptops they spell the names of guys like Romney as m-o-d-e-r-a-t-e. Pleasant, respectable, unlikely to scare the horses.

Sort of like Bob Dole with an MBA.

Establishment Republicans tend to fear the second major force: the news media, also known as the Democratic Ministry of Propaganda (DEM-OP). DEM-OP’s role in this fight has been to puff the sainted Democrats and destroy or manipulate Republican contenders or potential contenders. They nuked Sarah Palin, decimated Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, and Newt Gingrich (although Gingrich hasn’t always needed their help), and pushed the Herman Cain implosion. Hard to know what happened with Cain – some say where there’s smoke there’s fire but in his case when the media saw smoke, they brought gasoline.

The third major force is the Tea Party. Not always official Tea Party members, but the conservative grassroots fed up with out-of-touch big government nonsense. While many of their hearts belong to Sarah, they initially split among Bachmann, Perry, and Cain, going to each before DEM-OP derailed those candidates. As the race seemed to narrow to just Romney and Gingrich, I believe many Tea Partiers rallied behind Gingrich because 1) they loved hearing debates with a brilliant Republican talking trash to statism and 2) the deeply-held conviction of ABR (Anybody But Romney).

When the giddiness wore off, Tea Partiers looked behind the rhetoric and realized Gingrich tends to be a statist (but only on days ending with “y”) and one never knew if he as president would be Good Newt or Bad Newt.

Thus the move of Tea Partiers and other grassroots conservatives to Rick Santorum, despite his big government tendencies and his media title of He Who Is Unelectable. At this writing, he leads the polls, more money is coming in, and he is now riding the ABR wave.

Ron Paul represents the fourth force in the primary campaign, and he has attracted some Tea Partiers. I believe Paul himself knows he won’t be nominated, but provides an alternate voice for disaffected conservatives and libertarians. Along with good organizing skills, a remarkable attribute of the Paul campaign has been its ability to attract thousands of young people into politics and to harness their energy. Is this part of the future of right-leaning American politics?

What about me? Whom do I favor?

I’m not saying. Except for this: ABO.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Creek of Consciousness

Wow! I lost 105 pounds overnight! Actually, our new digital scale somehow switched its readout from pounds to kilograms, thus my apparent weight drop. It’s some consolation, I guess, since when we switched from the old mechanical clunker scale to the new digital scale, my weight immediately went up 10 pounds. I think I liked that old lyin’ clunker better.

Ever notice that most calculators do not go up to a billion? How then can they be used for government work?

A thousand people surveyed at the British Travel Show showed fliers preferred pilots with accents reflecting the home counties (what we consider the posh British accent) or Scotland, says the UK’s Daily Telegraph. Irish brogues were nice, but not Cockney accents. Among pilot accents people would most like to fly with are Hugh Grant, Sean Connery and Captain Picard himself, Patrick Stewart.

Planned Parenthood wants schools to start teaching children about the pleasures of sex and that religions stand in the way. No, God’s wisdom stands in the way. After all, it was His idea that sexual development be delayed through childhood.

Which brings about the great theological/biological question: did Adam and Eve have navels? And did the term navel gazing come from such questions? And, no, I do not have too much time on my hands.

Watched a bit of the PBS documentary on Bill Clinton. I had forgotten about Clinton’s amazing skills as a retail politician. Liked columnist John Brummett’s recollection of flying in a small campaign plane that Clinton insisted be landed in fog in Harrison, Arkansas. “This is it,” Brummett said. “I’m gonna die.” And, he lamented, he would be in the last paragraph of Clinton’s obituary.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

"Congress Shall Make No Law..."

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion...

So says the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution.

"Congress shall make no law..."

It says nothing about the state legislature. The city council. The school board.

Congress shall make no law establishing religion.

What does this mean?

When I was a kid one of the geniuses in my neighborhood proudly proclaimed that the longest word was "antidisestablishmentarianism." While the rest of us bright ones thought it was a cool word to say ("Antidisestablishmentarianism!" "Antidisestablishmentarianism!"), we had no idea what it meant.

But now I know. And some would say I am an antidisestablishmentarian.

I am not.

Establishmentarianism is the concept that there should be a national church. The national government "establishes" that church, recognizes it as the country's official religion, and supports it with taxes. Think Germany and the Lutheran Church; the United Kingdom and the Church of England.

Disestablishmentarians are those wanting to do away with a national church. They developed opponents called "antidisestablishmentarians," who advocated continuation of favored status for the church. And came up with a fun word to say.

These are the issues addressed in the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Not state funding for the Growing God's Kingdom Pre-School of West Fork, Arkansas, not threatening of high schools students with jail if they say the word "Jesus" at graduation, not the need to cover the statues when the President speaks in a church.

The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment says Congress should be antiestablishmentarian, meaning: the United States of America will not have a national church. Nothing more. And the antiestablishment idea is limited only to the United States Congress. At the 1787 adoption of the Constitution about half the states had established churches, including the Congregational Church in Connecticut and the Episcopal Church in Georgia. Despite adoption and ratification of the Constitution, the states remained free to have their established churches. Wisely, over time the states disestablished them, although Massachusetts did not cut loose of the Congregational Church until as late as 1833.

But what about the famous Thomas Jefferson phrase "separation of church and state?" Firstly, it is not in the Constitution; secondly it is contained in a letter Jefferson wrote to a group of Connecticut Baptists. Jefferson in the letter is praising the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, meaning Jefferson was underscoring his position as an antiestablishmentarian, a position strongly shared by Baptists. And yet, antiestablishmentarian Jefferson had no qualms about attending worship services regularly held at the then-unfinished United States Capitol building. Because the use of federal facilities had nothing to do with establishmentarianism.

Why all this treatise on establishmentarianism, disestablishmentarianism, antidisestablishmentarianism? Because these big old words are important. And lack of knowledge of the concepts behind them results in things like a quote in today's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette regarding the First Amendment. The quote is from the Arkansas Department of Human Services which claims the First Amendment "prohibits any state or federal law respecting an establishment of religion..."

Wrong. The First Amendment says nothing -- nothing -- about state establishment of religion.

The problem is that about sixty years ago courts began applying that concept to states. And it was more than the concept of disestablishmentarianism. It grew to the concept of separation of church and state to the point of making government activities antiseptically divorced from the slightest whiff of religion.

Pretty hard to do in the most religious of the developed countries.

Thus our current convolutions over church and state.

That's what happens when courts ignore the clear language of the Constitution. And this is only one area of judicial mischief. But that's for another day.

One more thing. To the kids in the old neighborhood where I grew up:


Some words are just cool.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Glass Half Empty? The Glass Half Full?

Here is a column I currently have in the Washington County Observer:

One can view the health of America as the glass half empty or the glass half full.

The glass half empty is that America’s role on the world stage is over.

Consider the venality of our leaders in politics, media, and business; the unbridled hedonism of consumers; the ignorance of the bread-and-circuses masses; a Republican President saying we needed to destroy capitalism to save it; the mistaking of the last presidential election for an episode of American Idol.

The can-do American spirit is declining, we think. The America that provided moral, economic, and military leadership for decades is collapsing in its own obese self-centered success.

Many in the world are becoming afraid, thinking “If America declines, what happens to us? Who protects us from the growing strength of China? Or the stifling repression of jihad?”

Mindless bureaucracies running our schools are assaulting our children for the most minor infractions in the name of “zero tolerance.” The same absurdities are strangling businesses, meeting us as we board airplanes, dictating to us what to eat or what kind of light bulbs to buy, prohibiting our home Bible studies.

To which fattened politicians only respond: “Give us more money. We need more money! Give us more, you selfish ingrates, you! It’s for the children (and our pay, pensions, lives above the law, perks, plush buildings, limousines, etc., etc.)”

The glass half empty.

But I’d rather examine the glass half full. Because we’ve been down much of this road before. And it was turned around.

In the late 1970s, the economy was bad, gas prices had tripled in six years, interest rates were usurious, Iran held our embassy workers hostage, economists scratched their heads over the contradictions of stagflation, and our president, Jimmy Carter, basically told us to expect less, dampen our hopes, and accept decline.

But the people refused. In 1980 they elected a president whose policies jump-started nearly a quarter century of sustained prosperity and general optimism.

More than his conservative ideology, his strength, his intuitive feel for leadership or his self-deprecating humor, Ronald Reagan knew how to harness a powerful force: the people of America. Away with pessimism, Reagan said, speaking of a city shining on a hill, calling forth the real nature – the optimistic nature -- of the American people.

Reagan is dead. But America – with its ideal – is not.

I call it the American DNA and I see it everywhere.

It’s in the great young people I teach on my college campus. It’s in the sterling courage and sense of duty among those I meet in our military (where did we find such people?).

It’s in the rookie political activists I come in contact with – people who recently have altered their lifestyles by running for office, working in campaigns, organizing grassroots activities, speaking in public, giving up their privacy.

It’s in the industrious, creative people who get up every morning and make things happen in spite of their leaders.

The DNA of America.

It’s the glass half full.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Onto Whom Much Is Given, Much Is Required

In his recent speech to the National Prayer Breakfast, President Obama quoted the words of Jesus in Luke 12:48 that unto whom much is given, much is required.

The President emphasized the responsibility of those who are materially blessed to take care of those in need. And Mr. Obama is correct: the New Testament clearly commands those who are rich to share what they have.

Indeed, in his telling of Christians at Ephesus to not steal but to work, the Apostle Paul says the proceeds of that work will allow the individual to give to those in need. And Paul writes to his disciple, Timothy, about wealth distribution. Timothy, Paul says, is to charge the wealthy to “do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate” [in the context of money].

So the President has it right -- the Bible teaches that the rich are to give of their goods to the poor.

Except for one thing.

Mr. Obama made his statement in reference to increasing taxes. And there is no virtue in government forcefully taking wealth to help the poor.

No virtue. None.

An overriding principle of biblical giving is that it should be voluntary. Always. Voluntary giving is virtuous -- Paul wrote to the Corinthians of the incredible personal benefit it was to them because they were providing for those in need, doing it willingly, not out of a sense of obligation. Even in his calls for “equality” of goods among believers (“your abundance may be a supply for their want, that their abundance also may be a supply for your want”), an overriding thrust was that of giving freely and willingly.

Some might say the concept of willful giving is negated by the New Testament account of Ananias and Sapphira whom God struck dead because they did not pool all their possessions with others in the church. Careful reading of the story indicates they were judged not because they held money back, but because they lied about it.

Taxes may be a form of “giving,” but they are not about willingness. They are founded on force.
In the Old Testament, God outlined to the prophet Samuel the incredible burdens of taxation and obligation that a centralized monarchial system would bring to Israel. God’s view on taxation did not reflect a concept of virtue (although Jesus did say there was an obligation to pay taxes).

Using taxation for aiding the poor corrodes our individual and national character in several ways: 1) it represents a forced burden, thus a resentment, that can sometimes spill over into our attitudes regarding the poor; 2) it places a governmental layer between us and our personal obligation to people (“Why should I help that guy – there’s a government program to take care of him!”); 3) it lessens the resources we have to give to people, 4) it institutionalizes social programs in far-off state and federal capitals, putting them out of sight and out of mind 5) it creates self-serving government bureaucracies concerned more about their own perpetuation than their mission, 6) it creates too-large programs unable to address specific situations of people in need, and 7) it corrupts politicians and others seeking votes and patronage through government largess.

The argument can be made that without government programs, people would be sick, hungry, and homeless. I say just the opposite: despite decades of extensive government effort, people are still sick, hungry, and homeless. Big government poverty programs don’t work. And for the corrosive reasons I mentioned above, individuals, churches, and civic organizations are not always meeting their full potential to intervene.

There’s more to say on it, but not today.

Meanwhile, like so many attempts to present biblical precepts that eventually result in problems, President Obama at the prayer breakfast got it only partially right.

The problem is in the taxes.