Monday, February 28, 2005

Taking Charge of Your Health: New MS Drug Pulled

I have lived with Multiple Sclerosis for about 16 years. Back in 1989 they had no drugs that specifically targeted MS. After several weeks of outpatient treatment with Prednisone followed by a 10-day stint in the hospital being pumped full of Cortisone, I vowed that I would never willingly succumb to such treatment again.

I have been greatly blessed during the ensuing years to avoid drug treatments for my condition. My main method of intervention has been physical fitness. I strive to maintain a healthy lifestyle focusing on disciplined nutritious eating and daily exercise. So far, I am doing remarkably well and have avoided disabling symptoms. I regularly participate in activities most people with MS don’t even dream about doing.

I have repeatedly been stunned when confronting negative attitudes regarding the use of diet and physical exercise to treat MS. Despite an emphasis on the importance of exercise for those with MS (see National Multiple Sclerosis Society brochure), many simply refuse to consider it to be a worthwhile pursuit. Others can’t visualize themselves doing it (or their patients doing it in the case of health care providers). Some people I know would rather deal with a lower quality of life than exercise healthy self discipline.

The saddest cases I know of are people that are languishing away while waiting for modern science to develop some miracle cure. My educated guess is that they will be waiting a long time. Many people have invested a lot of hope in the MS drugs that have been developed in the last 15 years. Each drug has been touted as a miracle, but the realities are less exciting. Each new drug has been able to only somewhat improve the quality of life for a percentage of MS patients. All of the drugs have undesirable side effects.

The most recent wonder drug to hit the market was Tysarbi, which was released to the public less than four months ago. Unfortunately, this drug was pulled from the market today following the death of one patient and the development of a potentially fatal neurological disease by another patient (see AP story). (Note: MS is a neurological disease, but it is seldom fatal. People with MS usually die of other factors.) Drug makers suggest that they hope to release Tysarbi again in a few months with new guidelines.

My suggestion to others with MS is to quit waiting for the next wonder drug to come along. Take responsibility for your health. Do the best you can to eat right. Develop an exercise program along the lines suggested by the NMSS. Then stick to your program. Don’t merely take your doctor’s word on a prescribed MS drug. Do some research on the drug yourself and decide whether you think it’s worth trying. If you decide to try it and it doesn’t work well for you or doesn’t provide the desired benefit, quit taking it.

I’m not anti-doctor or against appropriate drug therapy. What I am against is relinquishing responsibility for individual health to our health care system. The system does certain things very well, but to get the most out of the system we need to approach it as consumers rather than as dependents. Dependents merely go along with what they’re told is best for them. Consumers educate themselves and make informed decisions about what products are most beneficial to them. Nobody has greater interest in your health than you.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Would You Trust a Traitor?

Over two decades ago I was wowed by a motivational speaker that was a Christian minister and an author. His speeches were captivating for me. He exposed me to different insights on several Old Testament stories. He talked about visiting the White House in one of his speeches. He made me feel like I could conquer the world.

I eventually moved out of the circles where I had regular opportunities to hear this man, but some of the things he said have stuck with me for years. Occasionally over the years I have wondered what became of Doug Wead. Last week I found out.

Mr. Wead (website) has continued his career in motivational speaking and has churned out numerous books, mostly on religious and/or political topics with genres ranging from opinion to fiction to history. Many are still in print (see Amazon). More importantly, he has worked as an advisor to the White House and has been a close family friend of the Bush family. He advised President Bush 41 on conservative and religious issues. During part of that time reported directly to George W. He has written celebrated books on presidential history.

It is Mr. Wead’s devotion to history that has gotten him into trouble and has cost him more dearly than he even now can know.

In 1998 Mr. Wead thought that George W. had a good chance of becoming the next president of the United States, even though, W had not yet decided on whether to run for the office. Here was an unprecedented opportunity to collect historical insights about the thinking of someone that would become the leader of the free world.

But how to accurately collect these insights? Jotting down notes and relying on personal memory simply isn’t as good as having actual footage of an event. But people tend to be less candid when they know they are being recorded. So Mr. Wead secretly taped hours of private discussions with GWB, taking great care to do so only in states where such activity is legal.

Earlier this month as Mr. Wead promoted his new book The Raising of a President, he made arrangements through his publisher to air select portions of his secret tapes for a New York Times reporter. The Times, of course, published an article last week about the tapes suggesting that they contain a few things that might be embarrassing to the President.

Mr. Wead, while seeming to enjoy the resulting attention, also seemed to be surprised to find himself under attack by many Republicans (see Linda Chavez’s article for a sample). Wead staunchly defended himself as merely preserving important American history and rankled at the suggestion that he was involved in shameless self promotion.

However, Wead now says that he regrets “recent events.” He has cancelled talk show appearances where he was to discuss the tapes. On his website he says, “I have come to realize that personal relationships are more important than history.” He says that the President owns the tapes, that the tapes will be returned to him, and that proceeds from his new book will be directed to a charity. We can only speculate on how much of a role the White House played in this rapid reversal.

As a boy I learned that the first two points of the Boy Scout Law are to be trustworthy and loyal. For an ordained minister, Mr. Wead seems strangely devoid of understanding of these two principles. He abused a position of trust as a close advisor and friend in a calculated seven-year plan to … what? Serve some altruistic god of history? Save the free world? Receive the honors of men? Certainly there are times when loyalty to a friend should be abrogated to achieve a greater good, such as when doing so might prevent the friend from harming someone, but this is hardly the case here. What other close friends has Mr. Wead secretly recorded?

Americans have a history of being quick to forgive and ready to offer a second chance. However, like people worldwide, we tend to always distrust any traitor and to regard them with wariness. I agree with Linda Chavez’s assessment of the situation when she says that Mr. Wead has sold his soul for a mess of pottage, and that he is likely to never be trusted again by anyone.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Finally, a Coherent View on Social Security Reform

Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal included an article by Nobel laureate and University of Chicago economics professor Gary Becker about the reasons for reforming Social Security (link requires registration). It is the first comprehensive and cogent piece of literature I have read on the subject from any source.

Discrediting arguments from both sides of the debate, Dr. Becker says that there are two reasons for Social Security reform, and that both are political rather than economic. He says, “The really strong arguments for privatization are that they reduce the role of government in determining retirement ages and incomes, and improve government accounting of revenues and spending obligations. All the other issues are really diversions.”

Dr. Becker’s first reason helps me understand why the AARP and the liberal establishment hate the idea of privatization. If the government discontinues having much of a role in determining retirement age and retirement incomes, people will determine these things on their own based on personal ability, interests, and economics, as well as market factors. As the need for a nanny government diminishes the need for an organization like the AARP to lobby politicians on retiree issues might also evaporate.

Becker’s second reason for reform is difficult to deduce from the quote above, but he is basically saying that politicians are incapable of keeping their hands off any available funds (like that’s news to anybody). Removing retirement funds from access by politicians would force some fiscal discipline, which both of our major political parties are sadly lacking today.

In addition to providing real reasons for reform, Becker supplies several meat-and-potatoes suggestions for achieving the transition to the new system while keeping the system fair and economically feasible for everyone. He provides real-world examples to back up his proposals. In his article Dr. Becker effectively steals the thunder from the fear mongering left as well as the over-promising right while clearly explaining why and how we must undertake Social Security reform now.

Open Public Debate Online

Representative Steve Urquhart (R-St. George) is running a website called the Daily Debate. New topics actually only appear once or twice a week. Representatives of two sides of an issue are invited to debate online. They each write three or four exchanges and then readers are allowed to post comments and debate the issues.

Debate tactics, writing styles and quality, as well as comment quality vary greatly. Some debates are more helpful than others. Some invite more comments from readers than others.

I enjoyed the spirited Banks vs. Credit Unions and Patient Access Reform debates, but some of the debate devolved to childish name-calling that didn’t help advance my understanding of the issues at all. I noticed that many of the comments on Banks vs. Credit Unions were written by employees of these types of institutions and offered two very myopic views. Some comments are analytical and others are emotional.

I think Rep. Urquhart is performing a great public service by bringing public debate to significant public issues. You sometimes have to wade through some muck to perceive the crux of the views represented, but I have found it to be a worthwhile endeavor.

Immigration Reform Conservative Style

Tamar Jacoby of the conservative Manhattan Institute think tank has a provocative article in the Weekly Standard arguing in favor of President Bush’s plan for immigration reform. He takes on serious concerns about the program that are widespread among conservatives and suggests that the Bush plan is the only feasible way to resolve these concerns.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Ready for a scary story?

Conservatives turned out in record numbers in November to re-elect President Bush and to expand Republican majorities in both houses of Congress. But conservatives are not blind. Many see President Bush and Congressional GOP leaders as liberals—liberals that are the best viable option to slow or prevent further erosion of conservative values.

At least conservatives can admire Bush for adhering to a set of principles, even if the same can’t be said of many Congressional GOP leaders. Some liberals have openly fawned about the ability of Bill Clinton and John Kerry to appreciate the complexity of issues, while conservatives nearly wretch watching the torturous waffling of these men. While they had some idea of where Bill Clinton stood (everything was for his personal aggrandizement and self satisfaction), John Kerry still has no idea what he wants to be when he grows up.

Blue Spew
On the other side of the aisle, it seems from the rhetoric hurled about that many “blue” voters consider Bush and GOP leaders ultra conservatives, which comes as a shock to many conservatives. Conservatives don’t massively increase government spending, merely give lukewarm lip service to moral issues, or co-opt and champion liberal issues. They don’t support ineffective and corrupt foreign governments by letting their most enterprising citizens immigrate to the U.S. in record numbers, thereby sapping chances for internally driven change.

Being out of power, the liberal establishment has devolved to tantrums, name calling, and spinning bizarre conspiracy theories stranger than those that used to be the domain of the extreme right. When lacking real ideas to contribute, why not try fear mongering to maintain power? I heard one of these spooky yarns yesterday from an acquaintance that lives in a red rural Utah backwater, but who has a blue streak a mile wide.

It goes something like this: The reason Bush and the Republicans have nationalized education spending, drastically increased the size of Medicare, expanded other social programs, and are pushing for Social Security reform is to drive up the cost of these programs to the point that the nation can’t afford them. At that point it will be politically tenable for them to kill off every social program one by one until all that government funds are things that benefit greedy big businesses. It will go on like that until children are starving to death and grandmas are being thrown out of nursing homes into the street. Then another great leader like FDR will come along and we’ll have to do the whole Great Society thing all over again.

At first I laughed right out loud when I heard this spew, but then I noticed others sitting around nodding their heads knowingly. They had the same look on their faces that I’ve seen on many Scouts while telling ghost stories around campfires. Some of these people are convinced that Bush and the GOP are devoted to evil and that they seriously desire to harm people and the environment solely to promote big business avarice.

Shining the Light
When Scouts are scared in the dark they often turn on their flashlights to detect the real source of a spooky sound or shadow. Let’s shine the light of rationality on these arguments.

National education funding: This has long been at the top of the liberal agenda. If anything, they think Bush hasn’t gone far enough. Their major gripe is that it requires some accountability. That was a chit to make it palatable enough for some conservatives to support it, but much of the program is pure liberal.

Major Medicare expansion: This is a liberal dream come true. Of course, it contains a nasty little provision that prevents direct government price controls, but liberals (including John McCain) are actively working now to overcome that inconvenience.

Social program expansion: No one can call this a conservative move.

Social Security reform: Finally, something that has an air of conservatism. Allowing future generations to own their retirement rather than merely being beholden to a nanny government’s IOU. Achieving solvency is also a nice touch. However, this is only an idea and it’s anybody’s guess as to whether it will happen at all, let alone have a conservative outcome.

OK, so the score is liberals 3, conservatives 0. So what are liberals whining about? Their guy didn’t win the election, but they have gotten more of their agenda passed than ever happened under Bill Clinton. Now they’re whining that it’s going to cost too much! I've never heard them worry about that before. But I digress. Let’s continue shining our flashlight.

Republicans will expand social programs until the country can no longer afford them with the ultimate goal of dumping them: Let’s call this the Ronald Reagan cold war approach. Reagan outspent the Soviet Union until, in its determination to keep up with the U.S., it collapsed under its own weight. Liberals now claim that Bush intends to ratchet up social spending until the programs collapse under their own weight.

First off, I don’t think social programs need Republican help to achieve their logical failure points. They will naturally do that on their own unless curtailed, even if Democrats refuse to acknowledge the point. This is Economics 101 stuff. If you fund it, they will come—like they did with welfare. When we reformed welfare and required people to work, they did so as the dole dried up. Reform hasn’t been without problems, but it has been very successful.

However, the argument that Republicans are increasing the rate at which we are approaching failure point on other social programs has some merit. None of these program expansions were achieved without significant Republican support. The question is whether they are doing this with long-term ulterior motives.

To me this is the craziest claim of all. Most of our politicians in Washington can’t see past the next election cycle. The exceptions are the few that are trying to build some kind of legacy (not that this is always a good thing). The rest are usually made sacrificial lambs by their parties and fail to survive to the next term. While we have no shortage of politicians that make Faustian bargains, they are almost always done for short-term gain and not to further some secret 100-year plan by a brotherhood of shadowy high rollers intent on the destruction of America.

I know that some are going to think that I’m denying the scriptures about Gadianton Robbers with that last statement. Secret combinations exist among our politicians, all right, but not as suggested by my blue friend. I think we see a lot more of that kind of thing among our judiciary, just as it was among the Nephites’ judges and lawyers.

Let’s be realistic. Do you think President Bush and GOP leaders are so evil that they really desire the destruction of the American people and the nation’s environment? I don’t. Nor do I think that Democratic leaders want to see our nation destroyed. Some of them just want us to become less individualistic and more homogenous with other countries like France (an idea that turns conservatives' stomachs).

Republicans want to starve children and make grandma homeless: Rational people cannot seriously consider this statement. Even if our leaders were that evil, our Founding Fathers created our republic to move slowly and clumsily. Any move that would even have a hint of endangering grandma or the kids would result in political suicide for promoters.

It will take another FDR to restore our social programs: Let’s hope not. Libertarians would be happy if all of the social programs went away tomorrow, but it’s not going to happen. Libertarians feel that if we were weaned from these programs the need for them would dry up. While we might have some successes like welfare, I don’t think our social programs will ever diminish to the point that they will need to be restored by some political savior. Too many of the electorate have become too dependent on them and will refuse to give up their regular fix rather than suffer withdrawal.

So is there truth in this liberal yarn? Yes. Conservatives should have no problem admitting (and combatting) the liberalisms of Republican leaders. But the gist and intent of the story is simply outrageous. The best lies are laced with much truth. This particular lie is just a sample of the tales that are floating around in the blue strasosphere. I anticipate we will hear more similar stuff over the next four years. It ought to be placed in the same class as scary campfire stories.

Monday, February 14, 2005

National Geographic is a fine magazine, but it can't be trusted

I subscribe to a magazine that is nearly unparalleled in its quality of writing and photography. You probably subscribe to it as well. National Geographic is one of the most widely circulated periodicals in the world. It didn’t get that way through shoddiness. It is immensely informative and enjoyable to read. That does not mean that it always honestly seeks to promote the truth.

Anyone that has read the Geographic long enough is aware that it prides itself on being a high quality scientific journal. They are also aware that it has actively advocated Darwin’s theory for over a century. Some have become aware of a decided note of environmental activism that has crept in over the past couple of decades. Several of my acquaintances have discontinued their subscriptions due to this increasingly obvious slant.

Could a magazine that produced the likes of Patagonia (Jan. 2004), Polar Bears (Feb. 2004), Maya Royal Grave (May 2004), The Battle for America’s Front Yard (June 2004), Lost Gold (Sep 2004), Who Were the Phoenicians? (October 2004), and Search for Other Earths (Dec. 2004) be all that bad? Indeed, articles like these are what keep my subscription alive.

However, it is important to be informed as to the intent of the publications you read. While the National Geographic paints itself as being painstakingly objective, it is anything but objective when it comes to matters of faith. What do I mean by matters of faith? I specifically refer to the gospels of left-wing environmentalism and secular evolutionism, both of which are shadowy substitutes for gospel truth.

While the Geographic’s promotion of Darwinism is nothing new, it has recently taken this to a new height with Was Darwin Wrong? (Nov. 2004). The article exceeds the bounds of verity by over emphasizing “facts” that seem to support the theory while ignoring, minimizing and denigrating contradictory facts to the point of bullying and name calling. Dr. Rodney Stark documents this strategy as standard practice among dogmatic secularists (see Darwin I and Darwin II).

Is this objectivity? Obviously not. While it is normal for individuals and organizations to filter all information through belief systems (subjectivity), the Geographic does so while claiming to maintain scientific objectivity. Scientific fact is non-ideological. Science dictates that theories are only scientifically plausible if they are mathematically possible (if not probable). If zealous support of Darwin’s mathematically impossible theory is not a matter of faith, then what is?

By the way, if you wonder on a religious level what is wrong with Darwinism, consider Hugh Nibley’s statement that, “Darwin gave the blessing of science to men who had been hoping and praying for holy sanction to an otherwise immoral way of life.” Never mind contradictory evidence in the fossil record.

While National Geographic has its roots in natural conservation, it is hard to miss the scent of leftist environmental activism recently apparent in its pages. While many of you have noticed this, have you read Editor Bill Allen’s statements on the matter? In the September 2004 issue Mr. Allen boldly stated that the time for merely investigating environmental issues such as global warming is past, and that the magazine will henceforth be an activist tool. Not that this is anything new, admits Allen, as it has been working in this direction for the past 10 years.

Environmental activists hailed Allen’s announcement as courageous. In effect Mr. Allen is saying, “We have taken an article of faith. We are absolutely certain that we cannot be wrong. We will ignore, minimize, or impugn any contradictory evidence or viewpoint.” This is hardly a scientific approach. This is hubris.

As if to emphasize Allen’s point, the September 2004 issue includes Signs from Earth, a blatantly evangelical global warming screed that preaches about the evils of our modern lifestyles. Like its predecessor articles, the End of Cheap Oil (June 2004) and the Case of the Missing Carbon (Feb. 2004), it has been discredited in multiple journals and it employs the ignore-minimize-malign-bully-insult tactic with great aplomb. (See National Geographic Melting Down for a layman’s discussion of the article. Alan Caruba’s critique of the Geographic’s claims is also interesting. The Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine has multiple objective scientific papers about global warming that contradict NG’s claims.)

Why does the Geographic insist on continually citing as fact computer models that cannot even backward forecast climate change trends over the past 30 years? Choose:
(a) They’re the best we currently have.
(b) They are well funded with government money.
(c) Editors believe them to be true anyway.
(d) Sensationalism sells.
(e) All of the above.

It is obvious that National Geographic now cares more about an agenda than science. While many have long suspected this, at least it is now out in the open.

So go ahead, read the National Geographic. It’s not all bad. I anticipate that it will continue to produce well written articles and breathtaking photos and images in a high quality layout. I will always love articles about some of the expeditions funded by the National Geographic Society. Just don’t put too much stock in any of its “scientific” claims.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

HB197 Is Wrong-Headed

It is instructive that some supporters of HB197 (requires registration) view children as no better than animals, rather than seeing them as the future of our state and economy. Supporters of this bill claim that all they want is for families with more children to pay their “fair share” for education.

Of course, our society, like all well-run societies, is not based on paying a fair share. Instead we all shoulder the burdens together, sometimes paying more and sometimes receiving more than our fair share. We do this with the understanding that a greater overall benefit is achieved for everyone.

If we all paid our fair share for public education it would become a private education system.

Applying the logic of HB197 to other government programs would have us increasing taxes on people that receive more than some arbitrarily set amount of benefit from any program.

Representative Steve Urquhart (R-St. George) published a well-written letter from one of his constituents on his website (see Jones-Mascaro II) that does a better job than I have done at addressing this issue. I think it succinctly makes the point that HB197 is a wrong-headed approach to education funding.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Facing Evil

“There is no limit to man’s inhumanity to man,” my dad used to tell me. As a teenager I had only a general understanding of what he was talking about. I saw examples of crime and inhumanity all the time on Starsky & Hutch. But my dad wasn’t talking about cop shows on TV. He was talking about an evil more depraved than anything I could imagine at the time.

Last night my eighth-grader son went to bed afraid and disturbed for the first time since he was little. The reason: his innocent world was shattered by the realization that monsters actually exist, but that they’re people and governments.

My son was assigned to write a report for German class on a topic of his selection, as long as it was about Germany. I suggested that he write about Auschwitz concentration camp since the 60th anniversary of its liberation was recently celebrated. We did a quick search on the Internet and got him started doing research.

My father grew up in wartime Germany. In the late 1930s German citizens (including my grandparents) were required to submit four generations of family history research to the government. While this later became useful to my family, the German government used it (unbeknownst to the populace) to determine who had Jewish ancestry.

Dad explained that at first they only heard rumors through underground news sources about certain families disappearing. It wasn’t until after Germany was conquered that the complete horrific truth became generally known. Dad wanted his children to know the terrible truth of the holocaust.

Dad also explained that we’re not immune in the U.S. He was shocked when he came here to find among certain people some of the same attitudes that had existed commonly among Nazis – people that would do anything “for the good of the fatherland.”

Last night as my son was finishing his report he came to my wife and said that he was feeling like he needed to vomit. Later, when he was ready to go to bed he needed my wife to tuck him in and soothe his disturbed soul. When I realized what had happened I felt sorry for suggesting the topic of Auschwitz. I realized that there had been a loss of a certain amount of innocence.

On the other hand, I am grateful that my son is horrified by the evil that was perpetrated at Auschwitz. If enough people are similarly horrified by evil of this nature, perhaps it can be avoided in the future. I just hope our upcoming generation doesn’t become too desensitized by the media to which they are exposed (games, movies, etc.) to feel the horror.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Yep, We're Cowboys All Right

Last summer I read a masterful article about the personality of the U.S.A. entitled Go Ahead, Call Us Cowboys (registration required) written by Andrew and Judith Kleinfeld. After reading the article I was surprised to discover that they were respectively a federal judge and a university administrator. These professions don’t seem to attract many conservatives, but I strongly identified with their ideas.

The Kleinfelds used a comparison between two small towns that are just two miles apart to illustrate the differences between America and the rest of the world. Their description of Stewart, British Columbia (Canada) and Hyder, Alakska leads to an almost comical sense of juxtaposition. Stewart mainly exists today as a border checkpoint. Its main employer is the Canadian government. Hyder isn’t even an actual township, but is a privately incorporated community that is owned by its residents. Stewart is orderly and bland. Hyder lacks paved roads, but is an entrepreneurial hive of activity.

The Kleinfelds hit the nail on the head when they wrote, “The Americans saw themselves as independent and self-reliant people …. The Canadians, on the other hand, generally see themselves as dependents of government, as sometimes grateful but sometimes resentful receivers of government alms.”

The authors made checklists of desirable traits, but decided that the checklists simply failed to account for something even more important. One day their son, a Yale philosophy major, accompanied them and put it in perspective using a Greek term. He said that “America is thumos.”

What is thumos? “Thumos, an ancient Greek psychological concept, cannot be translated directly into English because it combines the qualities and emotions of passion, spirit, energy and courage. Thumos has a negative side–the anger of Achilles …. But it is also a creative force of great and positive life powers. Cowboys, venture capitalists, brilliant scientists, businesspeople like Bill Gates or Carly Fiorina, warriors like George S. Patton–have thumos.”

The Kleinfelds argue that while we pay a lot of attention to America’s economic freedoms, we sometimes fail to appreciate the emotional and spiritual values of individual freedom. Many other nations do not have a long history of this kind of freedom, so it is not a strong current in their ideologies. They don’t understand our obsession with it.

While the rest of the world derides us as cowboys, Americans accept and appreciate this term. The cowboy (or at least the cowboy stereotype that is in our national psyche) is our symbolic hero. He is spirited, courageous, and independent. This image is reflected in the ideals our nation holds dear and in the way we approach matters.

To much of the rest of the world, the cowboy character seems far too reckless. Of course, many of those that don’t understand us have lived cautiously for centuries under successive tyrants and big brother governments. While we don’t lack for government control, we’re much more likely to take a “high noon” approach when control is pushed just a little too far.

Hurrah for Americans – courageous and maybe even a little too reckless – but free!

Friday, February 04, 2005

You Can Fight Pornography

To recap my last article on pornography: 1) It’s as addictive as cocaine. 2) It is destructive to human relationships. 3) We need to protect our families and influence public policy to protect our society.

Protect your family:
  • First, don’t assume that you or your family members are immune.
    Use Internet filters and V-chips.

  • Technology is insufficient to protect your home, so establish firm rules. Make sure everyone knows the rules. Make sure everyone follows the rules, even you. Some rules might include:

    • No computers or TVs behind closed doors. We moved our family computer into the living room. It was inconvenient at first, but it has paid off.

    • Review all movies and other media before partaking. Screen-It is a fantastic resource. Don’t go to movies or participate in other entertainment that violates you family values.

    • Any time a family member accidentally is assaulted by porn (or invitations to porn) first turn it off and then tell a responsible adult. This goes for adult members of the family as well.

    • No one clears Internet history. (Some firewall programs keep track in a password accessed log even if the browser history is cleared out.) Review history frequently.
  • Nothing will protect better than a strong relationship with family members. Rules might protect your home to a certain degree, but none of us spend 24x7 at home. Children spend time at the homes of others whose values may differ from yours even if you share the same faith. They need to be strong enough to uphold values even when you’re not around. Strong relationships start by spending face time together as a whole family and in smaller groups. Also, spend time with your children while they access the Internet and while they watch TV.

  • If the places you shop have not yet covered over risqué magazine covers, write letters to ask them to do so. If they don’t comply, use your shopping dollars elsewhere. Businesses understand that language.
Influence public policy:
  • Local laws regulating pornography come down to “community standards,” which is an ethereal term. It takes people standing up in favor of policies and making noise when entities violate standards to firmly establish community standards that will stand up in court.

  • Speak out against judges that rule in favor of pornographers. This requires being informed and using avenues available to voice concern. Newspaper opinion letters are useful avenues as are your representatives and senators.

  • Support a political process that will appoint judges that support moral values. This means supporting politicians that can make a positive difference in this process and standing against politicians that stand in the way. Some regular people like you found that standing up for good judges allowed the defeat of Senator Tom Daschle (formerly D-SD) whose obstructionist politics prevented many worthy people from becoming judges.
Pornography is a problem that isn’t going away. Of course drug abuse is also a problem that isn’t going away. We don’t improve the situation by dabbling with it, allowing its legalization, or being apathetic. Take steps to protect your family and community from pornography just as you would take steps to protect them from illegal drug abuse. It’s that serious.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Social Security is Officially On the Table

Last night President Bush used his State of the Union Address to officially start his campaign to reform Social Security. He’s going to have a tough sell, but he’s apparently willing to make it a high priority issue.

It has long been obvious that Social Security must be reformed – eventually. This is not a new issue. I remember seeing a cover story report in one of the national news magazines about the system’s impending doom back in the late 70s. The trouble is that politicians have shied away from doing anything serious about it, reasoning that some future generation will take care of it when the problem becomes more immediate.

The chief reason for the lack of political backbone to reform Social Security is the politicians’ perceived lack of reward and the very real possibility of punishment. As demonstrated the last election, the majority of actual voters are much closer to the Social Security collection end of the scale than to the high school graduation end.

The AARP voting block can actually vote people out of office, while the younger people that would benefit most from private retirement accounts vote at rates too low to strongly influence elections. That’s why even some Republicans in Congress agree with Representative Rob Simmons (R-Connecticut) when he says, “When does that program go belly up? 2042. I will be dead by then.”

After hearing the President’s speech and the Democratic responses last night, an associate of mine in his mid-50s was sure that the new plan would hang his generation out to dry and only take care of the young and the already retired. Of course, no plan that does that could ever pass. I was surprised that he bought into the head-in-the-sand anti-reform mantras offered by our Democratic leaders, who misrepresented the President’s position and said in effect, “There’s nothing wrong here.”

Shortsighted self interest is not new to politics, of course, and that is why only Band-Aid solutions to the Social Security issue have been applied in the past. But today we have a rare opportunity to actually do something. We have a significant leader that is willing to stand up and spend political capital on starting to truly fix the system.

To pass Social Security reform President Bush is going to have to exercise continuously strong leadership on the issue. His administration has a track record of making strong statements and then going fuzzy when it comes time to do the heavy lifting required to achieve the goal. Perhaps his new management team will function better than his first term team.

Although the President could theoretically get this legislation passed without Democratic support, it is unlikely and it would be unwise. Democratic leadership has made it clear that they intend to obstruct on this issue. However, as demonstrated by Ronald Reagan, if the President does a good enough job on leadership a number of Democrats will eventually read the writing on the wall and will join in.

The question is whether Bush can lead on this issue like Reagan naturally did on many issues. If he pulls it off our children and grandchildren will have some hope of funding a good part of their retirement from Social Security. If he fails we will likely not see anyone seriously grapple with the issue for another generation, and then it may be too late.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

What Harm Does Pornography Do?

When I arrived in Norway in 1980 I was shocked by the publicly omnipresent salacious and pornographic images. They were everywhere: billboards, magazines, posters, newspapers, storefronts, and TV. Even government sponsored media included such images. Public nudity was quite common. Many Norwegians chuckled at us “prudish Americans,” but others quietly agreed that public acceptance of pornography was out of control.

Mark Kasselman made headlines a couple of years ago with his book the Drug of the New Millennium, ISBN 1-930980-63-9, 2001 (no longer in print). He documented the huge increase in pornography addiction and demonstrated how this addiction causes chemical changes in the brain even more profound than cocaine abuse. He showed how addiction to porn destroys an individual’s ability to enjoy normal (especially intimate) human relationships.

Some took Kasselman’s book to be too alarmist and felt that his prognostications of societal devastation were overblown. I mean, if Western Europe hasn’t gone into the tank yet after they have had blatant public porn for decades, why should we think that the U.S. will go down the tube?

Are we so sure that Europe hasn’t gone down the tube or isn’t rapidly on its way there? Before making such blanket statements maybe we should see what is actually going on.

Researcher Stanley Kurtz of the Hoover Institution has painstakingly documented the decline of the family in Western Europe, with specific emphasis on the Netherlands and Scandinavia. His masterful 2004 paper entitled the End of Marriage in Scandinavia documented the skyrocketing trends in unmarried cohabitation, homosexual relationships, and family dissolution. Within a generation the majority of children in Scandinavia will not live with both of their biological parents.

Moreover, European birthrates have declined to the point that the only way to maintain infrastructure is to import guest workers, mostly from Islamic populations. The result has been communities harboring terrorist cells and a dramatic increase in hate crimes against non-Islamists, especially Jews. At current rates Western Europe will be more than 50% Islamic within two generations. The positive and negative aspects of this shift remain to be seen.

The more porn has become accepted in Europe the more intimate relationships have dissolved. Has widespread public acceptance of porn played a role in the destruction of the family in Europe, or are liberal porn attitudes a symptom of a broader problem? That’s a difficult chicken-before-the-egg question. Regardless, it is clear that these perverted attitudes and polices have not been good.

What about the U.S.? Tawdry stuff that would only have been available inside a brown paper wrapper when I was young is now readily viewable by any child on TV just about any time of day. The more raw stuff, the junk that used to be available only from back alley adult shops, is now available 24x7 via the Internet without leaving the comfort of home.

An increasing number of women are becoming pornographers, with the result that more content is being tailored to attract females. Female addiction rates are increasing faster than male addiction rates. Purveyors of this mental sewage stand in feigned nobility behind the free speech provision of the First Amendment, and our judges side with them while working to ban the mention of God from pubic discourse.

We need to attack pornography on two levels. First we need to attack it in our homes. Second we need to attack it through public policy. I’ll offer some suggestions in a future article.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Iraqis Appreciate Our Sacrifice: Quotes

Thanks again for your care and may God bless you all and give you a hundred times what you have gave Iraq. I know it seems impossible when it comes to those who lost their beloved ones but I hope they know that their sacrifices were not in vain and that they gave humanity the most precious thing a man has, his life.
– Ali Fadhil

We have freedom now, we have human rights, we have democracy. We will invite the insurgents to take part in our system. If they do, we will welcome them. If they don't, we will kill them.
– 80-year-old Rashid Majid

Banks and Big Credit Unions: Still Very Different

I like fresh peaches with the skin still intact. Others dislike the fuzzy exterior and prefer the smooth skinned nectarine. Nectarines are a cross between a peach and a plum. Their color, meat, and pit are similar to that of a peach, while their skin texture is similar to that of a plum. However similar the nectarine is to both the peach and the plum, anyone that eats one can tell you that it is neither.

I respect Utah Policy’s LeVarr Webb, but his continual (paid) arguments in favor of taxing large credit unions and treating them like banks are rather myopic. In the Jan. 31 edition of the Utah Policy Newsletter Mr. Webb effectively argues that large credit unions have departed from the original spirit of the credit union philosophy. How so? 1) Large credit unions have large membership bases that do not share an intimate common bond. 2) Large credit unions increasingly offer services that directly compete with banks.

Many people belong to small credit unions. The employees at my workplace run one of these institutions. It is only for employees and is nothing like our state’s larger credit unions. I belong to one of these larger credit unions. In many ways it looks and acts like some of the larger banks in the area. For Mr. Webb, these two facts are enough to require that large credit unions be treated like banks.

However, Mr. Webb’s arguments totally ignore the ways in which large credit unions and small credit unions are the same. The members, i.e. the customers, own the credit unions. The average bank customer does not own the bank any more than the average supermarket customer owns the supermarket.

How is this implemented? Banks handsomely pay directors that primarily represent the interests of the shareholders. The interests of bank customers are only represented by considering how customer behavior affects the bank’s shareholders. Credit unions, on the other hand, are non-profit organizations with directors that are unpaid volunteers. These volunteers, who are themselves members, represent the interests of the members, i.e. the customers. That is why credit unions consistently offer better customer service than banks. The customers are the owners. Their interests come first.

To be sure, banks and credit unions have their similarities. They both offer many similar services. They both pay their executives and employees competitively. Is there anything wrong with that? They are both required to retain a certain amount of their earnings to protect deposits, maintain infrastructure, and fund future needs.

However, banks pay taxes on retained earnings while credit unions currently do not. The reason for this is not the types of service these intitutions offer, the markets in which they operate, or even the size of their membership bases. The reason for this is that credit unions are non-profit cooperative organizations whose only customers are their owners. Banks, on the other hand, are for-profit organizations where the interests of owners do not necessarily align with the interests of their many non-owner customers.

Perhaps large credit unions are now sufficiently different from small credit unions that they should be treated somewhat differently. Does that mean that we should tax them like banks? Is a nectarine a peach? I think not.