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Thursday, February 28, 2013

How America's Freedom differs

Republicans say Obama really wants a European Socialist Democracy.  Democrats deny it.

            Whatever you believe about economic systems, there really is a distinct difference of how Americans look at freedom and how Europeans do.  Our 5 foreign exchange kids and my son who went to Germany for a year noted this divergence.  To a European, freedom is the ability to wear a tee shirt with a hand making an obscene gesture.  That is, freedom is the result of tolerance of bad behavior.  Someone--Ruler, Courts or  People--define how far freedom goes. And with a long history of wars between nations, the Europeans are in strong consensus about the need for tolerance, lest there be more devastation. 

But when Americans think of freedom, they think in terms of specific rights and they are very defensive about the general principal-- set in stone, so to speak.  If they see someone’s freedom violated merely on TV, they rush to the defense.  And in USA you are free to become the person you want to be.  As Dinesh D’Souza notes, all the world recognizes this uniquely American difference and people everywhere dream of their own version of it.  Their world is arranged marriages, social classes, and doing what your father did as an occupation.  But in America, you can become the person you want to be.  So how did America come up with this freedom that the whole world longs for?

            I trace it to the simple proposition: If you have a relationship with God or a mission in life, who am I to stand in your way? Wouldn’t that possibly put me at odds with God? But where did that come from? There began, in 1740, a huge religious event, the Great Awakening, when George Whitefield went on the road preaching from the Carolinas to New Jersey.  He preached Basic Christianity, a message of drawing near to God much like evangelist Billy Graham. Crowds were huge, and newspapers reported his tour widely.

            And then a funny thing happened.  Each colony had a state church.  (Only CT and PA had freedom of religion.)  Like Europe in miniature, and each colony distrusted the others who held to a different denomination.  Whitefield inadvertantly broke that down.  Lutherans in Delaware noticed Catholics in Maryland reacted the same way to his sermons.  People dedicated themselves to God and lives were changed. The town drunk stopped drinking.  The couple who fought so loudly that all the neighbors could hear, began to come to church and became a loving couple.  The sly gambler lent money to the guy he had beaten in a card game.  Towns were small, all were under 10,000 people except Charleston, Boston, NY and Philly.  Stunning changes in people don’t go unnoticed or unreported in small towns. And when that same thing happened in the rival colony across the border, people began to think, “We’re all alike! The same dynamic works there as here!”  For the first time people began to write, not about the 13 colonies of America, but The “United States” of America.

            Church attendance tripled in 2 years. An overwhelming agreement was that each person should be free to listen to the message of faith and make of it as they would.  Freedom of religion was born, not as tolerance, but as an excited sharing of Purpose in Life that each man felt individually.

            All the Founding Fathers and most of the adults during the War of Independence had lived through the Great Awakening and so we see it echoed in the stirring words of the Declaration as “the causes that impel the separation” were laid down.  That all men were created equal was utterly Christian—Paul: “neither male nor female, Jew nor Greek, slave nor free.” “Endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights” is a very telling phrase.  It indicates the Creator was the giver and the Creator was active and involved with humans to work a way in making their rights inalienable.  Americans didn’t just tolerate someone else who had a mission in life that was strange to them.  They reasoned that to try to stop that person puts you in jeopardy of standing against God Himself, Who is working through your own life.  With such personal freedom of your deepest held beliefs on the line, you would stand up and defend your brother’s right to his own Walk even if you disagreed with Him.  Add to this the obvious, that the enormous land was full of opportunities and boundless hope for people who had been unlanded peasants in Europe.  Freedom was interlaced with Hope, Dreams and Faith in God.

            In faith, Americans became free, and in faith, they rebelled against the crown.  One of the most egregious edicts of the British homeland was in not letting the settlers form Bible societies to print Bibles or in Mission Societies to share the gospel message with the Indians.  Not only were Indians respected in many cases, but it was clearly noted that when they became Christians, they suddenly went from threats to friends.  Spreading the gospel was both the Great Commission and invaluable service in defense of the community.  But the Crown looked upon the instigators of Bible and Mission societies as dangerous cults—Quakers, Presbyterians, Baptists.  They asserted their authority with the usual 18th century despotism. Among the freedom-loving colonials, this was tantamount to an evil empire taking away all they possessed.  The Declaration has 22 petitions of grievance and the first 11 are all what we would call abuses of power—not recognizing elections, quartering armies and ruining people, taking property, dissolving legislatures, trials without juries, etc. Only #14 speaks about no taxation without representation (modern secular history texts wrongfully teach only taxation as the cause of rebellion), and the culminating petition makes note of the refusal to allow Missions to the Indians, which grated on the teeth of the colonists.    

            What the mother country had stolen was Life (literally!), Liberty, and Pursuit of happiness (allowing one to become the person they wanted to be, depriving the Dream).  Liberty is a old, musty word to our ears, but in the Bible, God claimed a people to set them free to serve Him.  Liberty means freedom to use all earthly resources—family, money, property ownership—to serve a Higher Power in our own walk of faith.  Consider how important “Liberty” resonated.  As the elders and leaders sat in the Virginia House of Commons debating the risk of demanding certain autonomies from Britain, a young guy way up in the gallery yelled out, “Is security so sweet or peace so dear that we must be bought at the price of chains?  I know not what others may do but as for me, give me Liberty or give me Death!”  No, they didn’t haul Patrick Henry out of that hall as a kook, a troublemaker, a disrupter of the legislature.  One by one the old guys stood up and applauded him for saying what they wanted deep in their hearts despite their caution and distress over actions by their mother country. 

            Yet 4 years after the Independence, it became clear that you can only govern by specific laws, not a concept.  A constitution was written that allowed only certain enumerated powers of the federal government.  In 1790, a similar Bill of Rights was written that was specific about what rights composed liberty (more could be added by amendment).  Freedom of faith was foremost, then association and the right to petition the government.  To bear arms, to not quarter the army, to not have to endure unreasonable search and seizure were next.  Warrants, indictment and conviction by jury, due process, no excessive punishments, were addressed. And all other unenumerated rights were to remain with the people to decide.

            So while Europeans talk of rights as a euphemism, “Oh, everyone has a right to their health and their groceries,” that is all it amounts to—nebulous persuading talk.  But an American, when someone decries one of their rights, rolls up his sleeve and balls his fist.  Rights are given by the Creator and guaranteed by our government.  Rights are non-negotiable and related to the relationship of you and your Creator. Hence America is an ideal as much as it is a territory and a people.

            Not so amazingly, where the rest of the world is less free, they notice American Freedom the most.  The Jews looked at the American Bill of Rights and vowed to emigrate.  Persecuted forever, here was a surprising country where your rights couldn’t be taken away! D’Souza says the same attitude of admiration for America is held by people worldwide despite the elites and influence makers debasing the USA, motivated by their envy of American power. 

            Comes now the tough question.  Is Obama just a leftist Democrat who wants more socialism in our diet?  Or is he an anti-American who believes that USA was born of evil premise, got to its present lofty lifestyle by illicit means, and has no right to claim good fortune?  If Obama is the former, he can be dealt with.  But if he is the later, as his books suggest, as his relatives suggest, he is a tyrant who wants to bring down the very essence of American freedom.  Which?

            I pray that America will be alert enough, in love with our liberty enough, to tell the difference.        

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Obamacare's cost,pre-K schools, worldwide debt

And it is interesting what you can learn on a winter day. 

            Did you know that Senator Sessions used legislative privilege to find out how the GAO (General Accounting Office—that’s Obama’s office which monitors spending of the executive branch) scores Obamacare.  It turned out GAO says that it will add $6.2 trillion to federal budget deficits (in the next ten years, as everyone is projecting now).  Roughly $600 billion a year; that is just the Federal spending part.  And then since 250 million people have health insurance and of those on the private insurance system, premiums have risen $3045 per person in the last 3 years, and they claim it will rise that much again.  That works out to another $650 billion/yr.  Since health care is 18% of a 15 trillion GDP, that makes all health care expenditures $2.7 trillion at present.  So Obamacare will add about $1.25 T or roughly 50% increase to our present health care system. (Source: Heritage Foundation)

            Here’s another interesting one.  In December HHS quietly issued a report on Head Start, the pre-K for poor kids that Uncle Sugar runs.  They say that Head Start costs $23,000 per student, roughly 3 times the expense per student of grades one through 12 here in the Midwest, or roughly twice what the big spender states like NY and CA spend on elementary and secondary students.  I guess it is so high because the people who can’t deliver mail on Saturday, the people who gave guns to the Latin Drug Cartels, are running  it.  The report shows no gains or advantage among the students.  By 4th grade former Head Start students and others are equal in progress.  Moreover, experts say that this agrees substantially with all other credible studies. The Brits, in an article in The Economist point out that OK and GA are the only two states with pre-K on statewide basis and GA headstarters are equal to average non-pre-K kids by 4th grade while OK is subpar. 

            That’s significant because this is what Obama wanted in his State of the Union.  And Economist points out that kids age 3-4 are learning 1. Motor skills by adventurous play, 2.sounds and language, 3. Cooperative play and imaginative play, and 4. Family values from parents.  None of these would hold any great advantage for a government school.

            What does correlate with outstanding performance by 4th grade?  Dual parentage and stay-at-home mothers.

            And then there is news from around the world.  Planet Detroit is probably a month away from financial exigency.  That’s what you call it when a government has no hope to pay its bills and essentially goes bankrupt.  The state of Michigan then appoints an emergency manager, a dictator who sets policy, pension payouts, and salaries at will. It would become the largest “municipal bankruptcy” in history. Cause: too much spending and too many promises and no revenue to pay.  Hugo Chavez went home to Venezuela a week ago.  But he can’t govern.  He is in dire health due to complications from his cancer operation.  He can’t speak because he wears a tracheotomy tube, he passes in and out of consciousness.  He was re-elected but he hasn’t been sworn in. So then his Veep, Maduro, would be in charge or would succeed him if he were to resign. Not a plum of a job. Venezuela is a wealthy oil-rich country.  But wild spending the last few years (last year was 8.5% of GDP, almost as bad as USA at 9.0%!) At any rate inflation is now about 20%.

            Jamaica suffers from low growth and declining productivity due to a heavy debt burden (140% compared to 110% for USA).  Hmm.  English speaking people, fabulous beaches, near-perfect climate for farming, huge bauxite deposits and a port that is just a short hop from Florida.  What could possibly be wrong? Turns out they keep raising taxes in a desperate attempt to bring down the deficit, and all the job creators are leaving for Canada. 

India’s government borrowing keeps generating inflation and their deficit crowds out much-needed investment.  It’s in the 8-10% of GDP range (depends on which state).

            And then there is Italy.  There was a big third party movement ( our news media adores 3rd parties!) Hmm.  The parliament is split hopelessly with no possible coalition government.  And with runaway deficits at 9% of GDP and debt slightly over 110% of GDP (why that’s identical to America!) the European Union is threatened once again and Europe’s economies have caught cold (recession). Oh, and 8% inflation too.
            And the Democrats don’t think  this adds up to anything?

Monday, February 25, 2013

Reality TV Rant

A great deal of television programming is following the style of reality shows.  I think it offends my Dutch heritage.  I was watching a program on house flipping on A&E and the guys doing the flip were complete scoundrels I’d never do business with.  They yell, they scream, they threaten workers. Either this is made-for-TV dramatics, or they will soon have no subcontractors left.  And this show is not alone.  It seems like every do-it-yourselfer throws tantrums on the tube.  Emotions and dramatics is the common denominator.  In real life, this would kill your business. 

            Occasionally we watch HGTV’s Love it or List it.  The designer and realtor have to put up with some of the most embarrassing crab-assing and fits of rage by homeowners over common happenstances in construction I have ever seen.  It takes place in Toronto, and without knowing, I would guess Canadians are the most ill-tempered people on earth.  If I were in the Canadian Tourism Department, I would be protesting this show for dissuading others from coming to Canada.  Nor in reality, do you get your way by this kind of histrionics.  It merely violates the win-win contract between client and professional.  Many pros would simply “fire the client” in those situations. 

            For some strange reason, everything in reality TV must be posed as an athletic contest.   But if you are in business, the first rule is to get your business plan together and stop watching how much money everyone else is making.  That’s your last worry. True there are competitors, but your concern is the customer.  The product must be good, your marketing must reach out, your service must work.  Yet I watch shows about guys bidding on a repo house or a storage bin who cuss around at each other and play one-upsmanship to the hilt.  Are they making money or just film?

            When I consider how explorers made it the poles or crossed an unknown ocean, or how stuntmen arrange a stunt, it’s all in the meticulous planning.  You don’t get to the South Pole or discover gold during a two-month arctic window by dancing around like a ninny and picking fights with your team mates all the time. General Cussed-her just builds motorcycles on reality TV.   

            Househunters is another Unreality program where feckless shoppers decide to part with half a million or more and the definitive reason for purchase is often looney.  They need a place with a fifth bedroom despite being childless.  Or near a park where they walk the darned dog. How many times have I watched buyers demand a house so close to the ocean they can dangle their feet over the edge of the deck and get them wet?  And the realtor doesn’t warn them that in Hawaii, at the focal point of the Pacific Rim of Fire, they get numerous tsunamis? Or in Virgin Islands there are a couple hurricanes every year?  Nor do you see anything representing careful financing or prudent investment.  I guess these things bore the producers.  But those things make or break a property deal in real life.

            The point of Unreality TV should be that there really are reasons why Boy Scouts works and Jackass doesn’t.  Having friendliness, loyalty, trustworthiness, etc. has much bearing upon ones ultimate success. I remember watching the first episode of Survivor and just shrugging at the idiocy.  It is little more than corporate backstabbing in a wilderness setting.  Sure enough, they voted someone off the island just like a corporate downsizing—where the salary-sucking survivor employees vote to rearrange deck chairs on the Titanic.  In reality, a group of people stranded in the cruelty of nature by some disaster will survive when they are like Swiss Family Robinson, not the Donner Party.  The most primitive peoples survive by extreme cooperation, not corporate politics.  If disaster hits, I have beans and raw meat.  But you might have some peach cobbler and a barbecue grill.

            Sorry, I’m on a rant.  Next week I will try a new topic like “why are the participants on 'Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader' so stunningly and frightenly dumb?” Maybe this is why the voters elect a President who swore his administration would be about reducing the deficit and the opposite happened—and many voters are perfectly satisfied!      

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Obama and the Poor

I finished a mortgage on a property and suddenly found my bank account being raided.  The bank had required I have a small checking account with them in order to also have the mortgage, so I put $100 into an account I never used.  For all the time that loan was being paid, the account lay dormant, but as soon as the mortgage was done, they began charging monthly service charges of over $10 a month.  I just closed the account.  But then I began to wonder what was going on.

            What’s happening is that banks are having a hard time making money on small bank accounts often held by poor people.  For years they simply had hefty fees for things the poor folks do—overdrafts, low balances, etc.  But then came Frankendodd law and now banks are capped in fees.  The Durbin amendment to Dodd-Frank capped interchange fees on debit cards and just about ruined that business.  The result is that the economics of banking the poor is now a loser.  Thus my bank, once I had finished my loan, saw me as a small account and started zapping me for a large monthly charge, about the only recourse they had left to make money on a small account. 

            It used to be that banks made money on all their accounts.  Big accounts had a lot of money just sitting there and the bank could use that as an investment—making money on the “spread”.  Small accounts often ran into sundry fees.  But take the fees away and a lot of small accounts lose money for the bankers.  As a result of Frankendodd and other banking regulations, banks lose money on small accounts.  Thus the poor can’t bank.  USA now has one out of 8 people with no bank account anywhere.  That’s the 3rd highest in the developed world behind Italy and Portugal who have a lot of Muslim guest workers. We have noticed this trend in our renters.  Very few even offer to pay with a check.  Only two use money orders which of course require a hefty charge.  So do paycheck cashing services, pawn shops, and payday loan joints which service the unbanked.

            So all that dreamy talk you hear about how we all will go to online banking is a dream for the well-fixed.  It leaves out that 12% who don’t use banks or the 20+% who are underbanked—have a bank account but mostly deal in cash and use the pawnshops and payday loans.  Dodd-Frank, like practically every other government program, entraps the poor and keeps them from upward mobility and makes them more dependent on the government—a cruel foster parent.

            I continually hear seniors lament that Obama is robbing our grandchildren.  True, but don’t think because you are senior you can escape the inflation to come.  Argentina had an economic crash in 2001 followed by wild and crazy spending by government officials who vowed to save everyone by Big Stimulus.  Sound familiar?  Big Inflation came. Result was that seniors who got government pensions (ANSES, their version of Social Security) were paid with deflated currency, fifty-cent dollars, so to speak.  Result: an old guy sued ANSES in Argentine Supreme Court and won his case that he must be paid in indexed currency.  But the government is doing that slick bureaucratic trick, delaying payment. It takes about 5 years of paperwork to get an indexed pension adjustment.  Maybe the old duffer will die in that time, eh? This is similar to the Obama IRS who delays payments of tax refunds.  With all our modern wizardry of online filing, with all the Golden Hordes of newly hired tax agents, the IRS has gone from 4 weeks for a refund to 3 months. So if inflation ever comes--gasoline prices rise, food prices rise, medical costs rise, etc.—the purchasing power of social security will sink like a stone and ditto the value of your savings.  What? You say those things are actually happening?

            Never fear, Obama wants to raise minimum wage, which will really help all those poor people get jobs, I am sure.  And he demanded that Congress pass cap-and-trade in his State of the Onion address.  Think higher fuel prices, higher utilities, higher transportation charges on everything sold. What a friend of the poor we have!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Rush's Obama Theory is Right

Last year’s presidential campaign surprised me like so many people.  It wasn’t a big Obama win—50.3% to 49.0%-- but I had to rethink where the mentality of the country was.  Here’s the ironclad rule of campaign management.  When times are bad, people want to see a strong contrast in the political parties.  ‘What’s your solution?’ they seem to ask every pol.  But when times are good, people are apathetic and vote more on personality.  I was expecting a contrast election.  What we got was a personality election.  Obama seemed to turn the distress of 2010 into a personality campaign.  I wondered how.  Evidently he appealed to and turned out people who were apathetic but supportive of him—the low-information voters.  Rush Limbaugh makes the point that many people see the direction of the country as bad and most are against all the Obama policies. (NY Times poll)  But they keep electing him.  What gives?? 

            Obama’s strategy is to refuse to govern (no responsibility) but to campaign constantly.  By not governing or he is not associated with the wrong directions and policies.  He just scolds Congress and constantly and rails against some nebulous bad entity, whether it be “the rich” or Republicans in general.  Low information voters lap this up because they don’t think in much depth and the media is a supporting chorus.  Youth identify—accept no responsibility but bitch about the adult world.  Leftists lap this up because like O they think the country was founded upon evil and is inherently vile.   (‘We must apologize for America. Oblamer is just trying to fix this long term badness and 4 years is not nearly long enough to get it changed.’)  If anything bad happens, Obama just disclaims that he had anything to do with it. Bush’s Fault.  And there will never be compromise or bipartisanship because to make an agreement would make him responsible for the results.   The Great Divider.

            But there’s a weakness in this strategy.  What if something happens which sticks to the Teflon Democrat?  The same mob which was excited by the outsider, the protest organizer today will turn on him tomorrow. Look at Robespierre in the French Revolution.  Another Benghazi incident or a bad downturn in the economy will do it. 

            Ever study the story of how Sweden turned Protestant?  It involves how 2 leaders overstepped and overreached.  The Swedes in 1520, were quite happy to be Catholic, and in fact their current version of Lutheranism is considered the most formal and Catholic of the Lutherans. The Church held almost half the land of the country as fiefs.  The people were poor, agrarian, and illiterate in their far-northern climate.  In the 1300’s Queen Margaret unified Norway, Sweden, and Denmark into one country by the Treaty of Calmar.  She is considered by historians to have been perhaps the most capable female monarch of Europe, surpassing even Elizabeth of England.  By the 1500’s some Swedish nobility, however felt they needed their own country again and they elected Sten Shure the Younger as regent.  But Shure was opposed by the Archbishop Gustav Trolle of Uppsala (then the capital of Sweden). Shure tried to depose Trolle.  The Pope got mad and demanded Christian II of Denmark, the ruler of the joint kingdom, put down this rebellion.  Christian did, first taking good will hostages in a truce and then winning in a second campaign.  He was re-crowned king of Sweden by a triumphant Trolle on Nov. 4, 1520.  Three days later, the nobles who were Shure supporters were summoned to a peace conference in Stockholm.  Christian and Trolle had them beheaded—70 noblemen plus others.

            This attempt by Christian II to make his rule secure and Trolle to assert the Church backfired.  It became known as the Stockholm Bath of Blood.  An young man, Gustavus Eriksson, nicknamed Vasa (for the “bundle” of sticks in his family coat of arms), who had been one of the good will hostages of the truce Christian had signed earlier, escaped and traveled back to his native hometown.  Like a George Washington, Vasa was reknowned for being exceedingly honest and principled, and also somewhat intellectual.  En route, he got word of the Bath of Blood and was energized to lead a revolt.  But with winter coming on and news traveling slowly in Sweden, he could find no one to join the cause. They either hadn’t heard of the atrocity in Stockholm or weren’t interested, or wouldn’t be caught dead opposing the Church.  Finally, without a friend, he decided to quietly seek asylum in Norway.  But just as he was near the border, horsemen rode up and begged him come back.  They had now heard of the Stockholm executions of one hundred Swedish patriots and everyone was asking what in the devil was the Archbishop who is supposed to lead us in prayer doing to us?  But Vasa, with all the nobles and brains of the nationalism movement killed off, had a hard time organizing.  He eventually managed a peasant army, trained them, led them brilliantly and won, June 7, 1523.  By luck, Christian II of Denmark was internally deposed about the same time and the new Danish king renounced claims to Sweden. 

            Newly crowned King Gustavus I, Vasa had huge war debts and unpaid soldiers.  He had no way to pay for things and taxation was difficult in Sweden because all the people who could pay would fight it. So he deflated the currency to pay people off but it didn’t work. People were saavy to this strategy and demanded real value.  So he begged the Church bishops to help.  When those tightwads begrudged the effort, he began to think maybe he should be like the Lutheran princes of Germany and just kick out the bishops and take over their vast lands.  This was nothing but a government conundrum at the time. 

            But there was a certain Olaus Petri, a priest who had gone to study in Germany at a small college called Wittenberg in 1519.  He came back to Sweden circulating the writings of Luther.  When one bishop crab-assed about giving Vasa a loan, he replaced the guy with Petri, then made Petri’s brother professor of theology.  Together they published a Swedish translation of the Bible. Then Petri challenged another theologian to debate the Protestant reforms.  The intellectual Vasa showed up and said he would judge the debate.  He found himself siding in faith with the Reformation.  Sweden had a Diet (nationwide assembly) made up of bishops, nobles, merchants and town dwellers, miners and peasants—the most diverse in Europe.  Vasa asked the Diet of 1527 if the country should become Lutheran.  They decided not.  Vasa nodded and said that he would then leave the country and resign his crown.  The Diet debated another 3 days and decided they wanted Vasa more than the Pope. Sweden thus became Lutheran. 

            Vasa instituted reforms that still left the church with lands but donated much to be sold to the benefit of the crown.  It was far less bloodless than what happened in Germany.  Vasa used the wealth to stimulate the iron industry, signed free commerce agreements with England and others, and lowered fees (like taxes) on all the citizenry—sort of an early day Reaganomics.  Sweden flourished and Gustavus Vasa I went down in history as the father of Modern Sweden.

            But the real lesson of this is that Christian and Trolle overstepped Swedish sensibility and found themselves going from beloved guys to bad guys in a hurry.  Instead of annihilating the nationalists, they opened the door for a revolution.  Christian was adulated only so long as life was normal and people were apathetic.  Trolle was adulated as a leader of faith, but when he became Torquemada, Swedes were appalled.  What the nationalists needed was a leader willing to put his life, his fortune and his sacred honor on the line for what he believed.  They found it in Vasa.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Fixing Congress

A lot of people express ire at Congress these days.  I share some of that, but not all.  Mostly, I think Obama and the media have successfully planted blame on Congress for everything.  “Congress doesn’t run things right!” But it’s a legislature, meant to deliberate laws, not a CEO and has no direct control over operations.  Obama does and does nothing, but he has made an art of running a perpetual campaign of being a perpetual critic.  He doesn’t govern.  He just scolds Congress when they don’t fulfill his fantasy government.

            Nonetheless, there is a lot of unaccountability and remoteness of Congressmen and Senators.  They run TV and radio ads every 2 or 6 years and most people don’t know them.   Ha! Most people can’t even name them! Money is the way they get elected, buying sound bites and carefully organized messages, in contrast to state reps and senators who shake hands and speak in person a lot.  You can walk up to your state legislator and ask a lot of questions.  Worse, some in Washington use the power of the office to line their pockets as we see from time to time.  We made a mistake by the 17th Amendment for the direct election of Senators.  They no longer are representatives of the state’s business (except at election time), but seem to be a collection of prima donnas yearning to run for President.  Hillary Clinton from Arkansas barely represented NY.  She was using it as a stepping stone to run for Prez. 

            I should say that I like our two Oklahoma Senators and my Congressman.  I have met and spoken to all of them and they do a very good job, even when I don’t agree over some detail.  But this isn’t true for most people who don’t attend political events.

            So what should we fix?  First, the US House is represented by 435 members.  Nothing in the Constitution establishes that number and it has varied (mostly grown) over the years. In today’s world of telecommunications, it could just as well be 3435 members.  Hmm.  Come to think of it, we could do this.  It would require a large arena to hold the sessions, but voting could be handled by computerized techniques, even remotely, allowing Congressmen to be home for part of the session.  Having one member for about every 90,000 people (35,000 active voters)makes a district similar in population to the original districts in 1788, where a House member could personally know just about everyone in his district—and almost identical to an OK Senate district.  It would create a mélange of personalities—artists from New Orleans, farmers from the panhandle, coal miners from West Virginia.  Real people who look like those they represent.  And the House could still have leadership to be present on the floor.  There would likely be designated speakers.  How to handle all the bills from so many members?  It would be similar to today, but maybe there would have to be geographic region committees to screen legislation.  Most of all this kind of system would take the big money and influence buying out of the equation.  Good Representatives would be found speaking in small civic meetings of 15-25 people and townhalls of a hundred. Also, gerrymandering would not be the issue it is today, just as gerrymandering is not such a huge issue in state legislatures.  Bottom line: people would know their Rep and their Rep would know them.  And if we still have to pay over $100,000 annually for a guy to travel to Washington and have a staff, that seems a lot less to me than our trillion dollar deficits. Now that I think about it, having a local friend in the House we could call probably wouldn’t begat trillion dollar deficits.  We’d hold them accountable.  They couldn’t go to Walmart without hearing about it.  And it takes no Constitutional Amendment to make this change in the House.

            The Senate is a tougher fix.  Repealing the 17th would be difficult.  I suggest that we keep the six year statewide system of election, but allow a legislature and governor to recall a senator after two years with a special election.  Hence Oklahoma wouldn’t have to wait around for six years to recall Fred Harris while he grandstands for President and does nothing to represent the state.  The legislature would be cautious to use their power lest they transgress the will of the people who genuinely like their Senator.  But mostly it would force a Senator to act more in concert with their state. No more mavericking just because it will be years before they face an election.  Can you imagine the hell our state governments would give the present Senate which refuses to adopt a budget?  And I don’t think a Constitutional Amendment would be required to make this change in the Senate.  But if it does, that’s a lot easier to argue than just allowing the free reins we now have.

            Thirdly, I would make the following change.  Allow the House, Senate, and Executive branches to select and petition the Supreme Court on 3 or 4 issues apiece each year to ask if something is constitutional.  Rarely does a bill get challenged in the Court like Obamacare.  Rarely does a practice like drone killings of US citizens.  SCOTUS seems to take the attitude that these kinds of things take too much time and are better left to elections.  So then who will protect us from a tyrant determined to seize power?  History is full of dictators who got elected and then seized power before the befuddled citizens could unelect the joker.  This kind of 9-issues-a-year decisions about our governance would require the Supremes be more forthright and to not contort their logic on individual cases.  (Think about how they go back and forth about abortion questions, trying to twist and circumvent with logic)  And this too would only require an internal rules change to how they do their agenda.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Schools and history

Obama’s State of the Union, Black History month, school board elections.  What we need is not so much a black history month but good history that includes those of African ancestry. 

            It was not so much that I resented my public school history teachers, but that they seemed incapable of reasoned curiosity.  One day our American History teacher told us that the cause of the Revolutionary War was taxes on paper (Stamp Act) and a tax on tea.  “Wait a minute,” I stopped him.  “The Stamp Act was a one-half of one percent sales tax on paper products.  It lasted only a year, was repealed in 1765, fully ten years before the Revolution.  The tea tax was similarly miniscule.  Do you mean to tell me that those guys like Paul Revere risked lives and families and property because they disagreed with a tiny tax?”  That was correct, the teacher avowed.  And then he gave me that paternal look, “Well, what do you think the cause was?”  I didn’t know, but his much bandied-about explanation surely wasn’t correct.  Or if Shakespeare would have been in our class, “Methinks the colonists doth protest too much.” Would you risk it all for half a percent?

            So I studied the thing and found out what they don’t tell you in public schools.  Their pro-union perspective is that all history boils down to money.  So the Roman empire fell because of economic problems; communism fell because there weren’t enough consumer goods.  Well, yeah, those things contributed, but Truth is far more interesting.  If you look at the Declaration of Independence, you notice there are 22 reasons that “impel the separation.”  No taxation without representation was #14 and it stands alone as an economic reason.  The first 11 are all abuse of power reasons.  That should tell us something!  Of course, there were monetary reasons.  The Brits needed to pay for the French and Indian War (War of Empire).  General taxes were unusual in the 18th century and only imposed during times of National distress and upon consultation of the Parliament. That’s what “no taxation without representation” was all about and why the Stamp Act (the first internal taxation of colonies) was controversial.  There was also a Plantation Act that restricted trade and a Currency Act that outlawed Yankee paper notes.

            But there was other stuff going on.  First, in 1763, the British government decided to solve the Indian relations themselves and drew a line down the Appalachians limiting westward expansion.  This angered the colonists as an affront to their sovereignty, a threat to their future expansion, but most of all, they didn’t want government solving any Indian problem.  They had their own system.  It was called Christianity.  Colonists had noted that hostilities with tribes practically disappeared when they became Christian.  To this end they formed many Bible societies to print scriptures and Mission Societies to spread the gospel to the Indians.  But the crown was especially wary of non-Anglican colonies evangelizing. They were especially chagrinned by the Presbyterians in New Jersey and Long Island, and the Quakers in Pennsylvania who organized a multi-state inter-denominational effort and they forbid it in 1775.  This was the last straw for the colonists who saw the mother country meddling in their faith.  This is why the Brits landed at New York City as a first strike to put down the revolt. This is why the last reason for separation of the Declaration is, “He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages…”

            The crown set up a system of custom houses, staffed by British soldiers who imposed a martial law court in order to collect the tea-glass-lead-paint (Townsend Duties) tax that was imposed ‘externally’ on items coming into port.  The colonists noted however that the martial law court denied the longstanding right to jury of one’s local peers (oops! Magna Carta). Their argument was that as British citizens, they had all rights of the British Bill of Rights of 1689.  Now since the right to vote was restricted to only those who had land and property, 90% of the British public didn’t vote, but in the colonies 90% of the people owned land and voted.  So it was hard for colonists to accept the British language of themselves as parents and Americans as children. As unequals the colonists feared loss of control of their own affairs.  For instance, ‘general warrants’ allowed unlimited search and seizure in America but were illegal in Britain. This was the issue of the famous Boston Massacre when some harassed British regulars opened fire on a hostile crowd.  The New York Assembly refused to accept all British demands for quartering troops.  This practice often left farmers in destitution and near starvation. Parliament threatened to suspend the Assembly.  Intervening in colonies’ constitutional and charter arrangements was considered a high crime by the Americans.  And those interventions comprise most of the reasons of abuse of power at the beginning of that list in the Declaration.

            The Tea Act of 1773 gave the East India Company monopoly rights to sell tea to the colonials.  Bad move.  The Americans saw this as usurpation of the free market and boycotted the Tea. Parliament, under the Quebec Act made Roman Catholicism the official faith of French Canada and joined Canada to the Mississippi and Ohio Valleys.  This was considered both an illegal appropriation of lands and an attempt to thwart non-Anglican Protestants in the colonies.  Probably true.  The Brits saw Quakers and Baptists as sure insurgents.  Americans who had lived through the Great Awakening saw them as trustworthy friends and neighbors.

            And so collective action was called for.  A Continental Congress was established to transmit grievances to London in 1774.  The mood was cautious optimism for restored harmony.  The King rebuffed the petitions.  A second Continental Congress of  May 1775 was called, but the abolishment of Massachusetts government and the April 19 clash at Lexington and Concord derailed reconciliation for many delegates.  This incident was about disarming the militias. Taking guns from citizens, who had no police, no defense from bandits and Indians, and formed militias to keep law and order was considered an unbelievable usurption of rights.  In August, the King declared a state of rebellion meaning all rights were suspended.  January 1776 brought Thomas Paine’s Common Sense.  The die was cast.

            My history teacher chided me that at the beginning of the Revolution, hardly a third of the colonists wanted independence.  “All the more amazing that you think this was just over taxes!” I replied.  “One third were angry enough to want independence from the most powerful empire in the world.  Folly.  And not just 1/3 but think who they were.  Men of distinction, leaders, not unemployed troublemakers.  Don’t tell me this was just in reaction to a silly tax!”
            And you wonder, if someone teaches this way, would they decide that a gathering of concerned citizens over loss of our society, loss of our rights, our faiths calling themselves a modern day Tea Party, would think, “Why this is just a bunch of people obsessed with taxes and money.  What crazy radicals they must be! We need to send the King’s army to straighten ‘em out.”