Tuesday, October 31, 2006

New Conservative News Source In Utah

A new conservative news source for Utah has started up. The Ledger aims to be a monthly publication with weekly updates. Current posts include this article by its editor, Phoenix Roberts.

Roberts clearly believes that passion for doing what one does is OK, but that it is antithetical to objectivity. “What we do not believe is that there’s any such thing as journalistic objectivity,” he writes. “Honesty and fairness, yes, but not objectivity.”

Instead of feigning objectivity, The Ledger promises to be different. Roberts provides this recipe, “We will be honest with you. First, we acknowledge our passion and our perspective. Second, we believe that right and wrong are not fluid concepts and we are not afraid to call’em as we see’em. Finally, we’ll never write a story unless we are as sure of our facts as we can be.”

While the news portion will cover mostly political issues reflecting “the opinions of the majority of Utah’s people,” the publication will also cover a variety of Utah issues, including history, arts, people, activities, etc. Lest you think this to be too lopsided, Roberts promises to praise public officials when they do right and “shout it from the rooftops” when they mess up, regardless of political persuasion.

I suppose the proof will be in the pudding. I will be watching closely to see how well The Ledger lives up to its promo.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Why Do We Sometimes Accept Tyranny?

Café Hayek (an economist blog) has an interesting post and discussion regarding Social Security. The original post and the following commentary are worth reading.

The post centers around the assertion by a retired journalist that the government should increase Social Security taxes to improve payouts from the system. His main reasoning behind this is that he was too irresponsible to save for retirement on his own, and that most Americans must be as irresponsible as he is. To him the obvious answer is that the government should have more, not less control of our retirement savings and options.

This journalist is quite free with the property of others; property that must be confiscated to cover his retirement. John Adams said (here), “The moment the idea is admitted into society that property is not as sacred as the laws of God, and there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence.”

“Oh, come on,” friends have said to me, “Social Security is completely ingrained in our society. It addresses serious social problems. It’s not perfect, but our society needs it. We couldn’t live without it.” William Pitt answered similar arguments by saying (here), “Necessity is the excuse for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of the tyrant and the creed of the slave.”

Speaking of slavery, did you know that this is where the term pork barrel arose? Slaveholders in the South used to occasionally take a barrel of pork out to the fields or shanties of their slaves as a gift from the master. The idea was to placate the slaves into thinking that, although they were in slavery, it really wasn’t so bad because the master was taking care of them. Most slaves never ran away. Most did not rebel. Most accepted their fate, having been robbed of the flame of liberty that should burn in the breast of every human.

Do we realize what we give up for our socialized society where we have made government the main responsible party for the needs of the aged? We pay a cost for this. Do we ever stop to think about what we are paying?

When President Bush promoted Social Security reforms that would have transferred a minute amount of responsibility for management of retirement savings back to the individuals, politicians went absolutely nuts. The plan was demagogued into a bizarre caricature of the actual proposal. ‘Liberty-loving’ Democrats stonewalled it, and ‘freedom-loving’ Republicans were unable to muster sufficient political will to stand behind it.

Both parties opted to keep the slaves on the plantation. Neither was able to stand the thought that they might allow just a tiny amount of the sunlight of freedom to flow into the dank, sealed box that is Social Security. I wish I could say that we have the chance to change this on November 7, but we don’t. Regardless of which party controls the chambers of Congress, there will be little sentiment toward increasing personal liberty, even in a minor way. (Unless you’re a terrorist, that is. Then you’ve got all kinds of civil libertarians ready to increase your freedom.)

This could all change if enough of us slaves revolted, but apparently most of us are willing to sit back and accept our fate, eagerly feeding from the pork barrel whenever the master drops it off in our vicinity. We are seemingly oblivious to what we are giving up in exchange for our acquiescence.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Homework Nazis

When my 10th grader and 8th grader were young, I enjoyed reading to them. It was something we did almost every evening. It started out with Dr. Seuss and Disney Baby books, but eventually advanced to the Chronicles of Narnia and Madeline L’Engle’s first generation books. I’m not sure if our nightly reading had any effect on my boys’ personal reading habits, grammar skills, or academic abilities. But it was definitely a bonding time, a shared ritual that we deeply cherished.

Then I went back to school. While continuing my full-time job I spent four arduous years doing night school to finally complete a master degree. During those four years, two additional children were born. But during those years, my ability to spend time reading to my children evaporated as well. Before long, my older sons were doing recreational reading on their own. They didn’t need me to read to them. I was busy every night, so I never spent time reading to my little boys like I had read to their older brothers.

Moreover, by the time I finished school, a couple of new elements had entered our lives to reduce available time. My older boys were involved in sports and music lessons. But they had homework every night as well. Usually my wife or I had to help them with their homework when they were in the first half of elementary school. But it wasn’t anything like reading to them had been. It was not a cherished experience and there was nothing cozy about it. Instead, it was often like a battle.

That pattern continues, but now I have a 4th grader and a 1st grader that also have homework. In a couple of years, their little sister will join them in the drudgery of homework. I have often wondered as I have struggled to help a child with a homework assignment precisely how useful that particular assignment is in reality. But year after year, day after day we struggle on because it’s in the child’s best interest, right?

Well, no. Award winning author Orson Scott Card, says in these two articles (part 1, part 2) that homework advocates are all wet on this. And he has research to back him up, something he specifically notes that homework advocates do not have for their position. Card has some pretty harsh words about homework, especially for elementary school children.

Card tries to help us understand homework from a child’s perspective, likening school to a job, where you commute each way, spend seven hours doing exactly what you are told to do, being where you are told to be, and eating, drinking, and using the restroom only under very strict parameters. Then you go home and spend another hour or three doing the same work under the control of a live-in supervisor. If you are ever ill, you have to make up the work you missed. And the law prohibits you from quitting this lousy job. To top it off, most of the after-hours work is nearly or completely meaningless.

“Now, hold on just a moment,” I can hear the homework champions saying. “Homework is useful in lots of ways.” Sure it is. If you hold to that theory, go read Card’s articles. He takes every single argument that favors homework and pounds it with a sledgehammer.

Two of Card’s points especially hit home with me. He notes that effective learning and effective working requires downtime. We require downtime for many high-intensity jobs, and most of us know that we need time away from our jobs to refresh ourselves and do those jobs better, but we prevent kids from having downtime away from the grind of school. “[W]e require them to focus intensely on six or seven different subjects during the school day... and then cycle through half of them again for hours each night! And we keep the pressure up on weekends, holidays, vacations.”

In addition to this point, I might add that assigning homework by definition means that it is more important than any other activity in which the child could be involved. That is a pretty arrogant position to take. Academic skills are not the only type of education our children need. What about the education one can get from a part-time job? What about the education one can get from pick-up sports events with the neighborhood kids, or looking at bugs on the sidewalk, or any number of other things a kid might do besides schoolwork at home?

Card asks what right schools have to in effect assign parents to do homework with their children. If parents are needed to help with their kids’ homework, he argues, the teachers aren’t doing their jobs. If the parents aren’t needed, then the argument that homework helps parents be involved in their kids’ educations is moot. Card argues that the parents that help their kids with their homework would be involved in their kids’ education anyway. The other parents won’t get involved either way.

Card refers to research that shows that homework is completely useless for elementary school kids, and only begins to gain utility as kids get older. But even for high school seniors, homework only makes a 4% difference in standardized tests and college entrance exams. “But I had to do it as a kid,” you say. So what? Is this just the wicked traditions of the fathers being passed down? What’s the point of doing something useless?

Card also brings up the specter of childhood obesity. Homework certainly doesn’t help that situation. He also says that homework does not teach responsibility, as some claim, but teaches compliance and obedience.

Card argues that homework should be rare. And in those rare instances where it is assigned, it must be meaningful and in truth useful to learning the subject matter at hand. It has to be worthwhile. Part of the reason kids do homework half-heartedly is because they know many assignments are meaningless. Card also thinks that homework should only be something that cannot be done at school. Otherwise it should be done at school.

I wouldn’t say that my kids’ homework has been totally useless. My involvement has occasionally made me realize, “So this is the crap they are teaching my kid at school.” It has given me the opportunity to correct misinformation. But homework has also stolen many precious hours that could have been employed in more worthwhile pursuits.

Card provides a list of homework rules that I’m sure would quickly be rejected by the homework Nazis. But some of them make good sense. And I daresay that some teachers would welcome this set of rules as well, a point Card makes as well. For the homework Nazis, Card states a guiding principle that they must be made to understand.

“You don't try to force them to do things your way at school. They shouldn't try to force you to do things their way at home. Each of you should be master of your own domain. They only get to assign homework — work done by your children in your home — with your consent.

“Few teachers and fewer school districts ever really think of it that way. That's all we need to do — remind them that their legal and moral authority over our children ends with the final bell and the children's safe departure from school premises.

“After that, we're responsible.

“We're not employees of the school district. They're not our bosses. We don't have to do their bidding.

“And no matter how much they love our kids, we love them more. They were our kids before they went to school, and they'll be our kids when they get out again. They're still our kids during all the years and days and hours in between.”

Foreign Oil = Problems, but That's Not the Whole Story

It is difficult to escape the conclusion that many of our country’s security and foreign policy problems are tied to our dependence on foreign oil. Our close relationship with Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s greatest sources of Islamofacism, is brought to you courtesy of foreign oil dependence.

I wrote here about the debacle of Iran’s mullah-puppet-president Ahmadinejad and Venezuela’s Thug-In-Chief Chavez doing their anti-American floor show at the UN last month. I’m not the first one to conclude that this was only possible due to foreign oil addiction. Neither Iran nor Venezuela would have any clout on the world stage whatsoever were it not for oil.

But it’s not just our foreign oil addiction that is the problem. Iraq was a problem for years before we went to war there in 2003. How much Iraqi oil did we buy in the 12 years prior to 2003? How much Iranian oil have we bought in the last 27 years? If we weren’t buying it, then why have these countries been able to cause us problems? The obvious answer is that other countries are addicted to foreign oil as well.

Yes, we support Islamofacism by buying Saudi oil, and we support Venezuela’s Communist strong man by buying Venezuelan oil. Republicans say that the answer is for us to exploit more of our own petroleum resources to cut our dependency on foreign oil. Democrats discredit this approach as environmentally disastrous, and claim that only environmentally friendly alternative fuels are the answer.

Actually, neither of these solutions, nor both of them together will remove the problems caused by oil addiction. I explored the viability of various alternative fuels in this May 2006 post. The sad fact is that there isn’t currently any viable alternative fuel that will meet our energy needs. Unless and until some major discovery, we don’t have anything that could feasibly, environmentally responsibly, and cost effectively replace oil, even with $3/gallon gasoline. However, we should keep working on it.

Even if we exploit all of our domestic oil resources, including ANWR, offshore drilling, and tar sands, we still won’t come close to overcoming our usage of foreign oil. And while some claim that we have enough oil shale to fuel our nation for the next three centuries, it’s still way too expensive to pursue it. Some say that with $70/barrel oil, we’re approaching the point where it might be economically feasible. Actually, it might become economically feasible when we approach $700/barrel oil. And even then it might not be technologically feasible, since the best process we know of uses almost as much energy as it produces.

But, for argument’s sake, let’s say that the magic fairy granted our wish and suddenly we had no dependence on foreign oil. We would be free of all of our foreign problems, right? We could turn a blind eye to the Middle East and let all of the jihadists there fight it out among themselves, right? We could tell Hugo Chavez to take a hike and not give a care about what is going on in South America, right? Wrong!

When it comes to energy resources, countries will seek out the least expensive and most reliable sources. If the US was removed from the picture, China, India, and other large markets would still demand foreign oil. Money, and therefore power, would continue to flow to the likes of Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela. But, wouldn’t these countries be less of a threat to us than they are today? Wouldn’t they become something like the Sudan where we don’t do anything about the atrocities because we don’t get our oil from them? No.

The oil-rich countries that cause us problems now would still cause us problems if we bought no oil from them. As I noted above, we haven’t bought any oil from Iran for almost three decades, and yet Iran has been a constant thorn in our side during that time. Now they threaten to join North Korea in going nuclear, even though we don’t rely on their oil. Even if we bought no oil from Venezuela or Saudi Arabia, there would be plenty of other countries willing to buy from them. Not buying from these countries would not render them harmless to us.

Does that mean that we shouldn’t try to reduce our dependency on foreign oil? Of course not. But we need to go about it in an enlightened fashion. Our buyer relationship with oil-producing countries actually gives us a certain amount of clout with them that we otherwise would not have.

We have little influence over North Korea because they do not rely on us economically. Instead, they rely on China, a country that does not have much of a history of acting in our best interests. But as China’s markets open up and become more dependent on the consumerism of the US, even China is behaving more positively toward us than any time in the past. Indeed, some argue that the quickest way to improve China’s human rights record is to strengthen our trading ties with them, thereby, strengthening our influence with them.

This principle shows why sanctions usually fail to achieve their desired goals. 12 years of sanctions in Iraq caused poverty and hurt the people, but did not do much to harm Saddam and his despotic government. 45 years of sanctions against Cuba have caused poverty and strengthened the country’s ties with other despotic regimes. How different might it have been had we instead willingly traded with Cuba for the past four and a half decades? Would Fidel and his brother even be in power today? If so, would they be able to rule in the same hard-line fashion as they do now? Saudi Arabia is problematic, but would it be less so if we were out of the picture and China and India became their biggest trading partners?

Of course, there is the matter of moral principle. The theory here is that trade with despotic nations supports evil regimes and in a way expresses approval of their tactics. We can stand on our moral high ground and feel good about ourselves. It allows us to sleep peacefully at night. Never mind the fact that doing so perpetuates the despots, strengthens their ties with other bad guys, and condemns millions of their pawns to lives of poverty under the iron fists of their dictators.

Yet another principle is that our trade with other countries changes us, just as it changes them. While we have increasing influence in China, China also has increasing influence with us. Since they now own a fair portion of our national debt, their monetary decisions affect the value of the Dollar, thereby, affecting our ability to purchase foreign products. So, as we trade with other countries, we need to do it with both eyes open, as it is a double-edge sword.

We should strive to free ourselves from foreign oil, but as we do so we must keep in mind that we still have to live with the countries from which we are weaning ourselves. As a matter of self interest, we need to be concerned about their welfare and trade habits. We cannot afford a to-heck-with-them attitude. I’m not saying there is never a situation where a country should be excluded as a trading partner, but we need to approach such matters with a sense of enlightened self interest.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Putting the Supreme Court In Its Place

This morning I opened the news rag that my two oldest enterprising sons get up at 5:00 AM each day to deliver. I turned to the opinion page to see a nasty political cartoon depicting the demise of the Geneva Convention and habeas corpus thanks to the evil George W. Bush. UC Berkeley Legal professor John Yoo seeks to set the record straight in this article.

Yoo notes that in the face of the newly signed Military Commissions Act, the only ones to whom the Geneva Convention does not apply are those to whom it has never applied and was never meant to apply. Likewise, under this legislation, the only ones that cannot benefit from a writ of habeas corpus are those that have never been able to benefit from such. In both cases, that would be terrorists that we have managed to snag.

The act, which was passed by both chambers of Congress and signed into law by the President, was a direct response to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld. Yoo says, “Hamdan was an unprecedented attempt by the court to rewrite the law of war and intrude into war policy.”

And why shouldn’t SCOTUS think it could get away with it? “After all,” Yoo notes, “it has gotten away with many broad assertions of judicial authority before.” But Yoo also places part of the blame for this on the legislative branch, “because Congress is unwilling to take a clear position on controversial issues (like abortion, religion or race) and instead passes ambiguous laws which breed litigation and leave the power to decide to the federal courts.”

But this time SCOTUS simply went too far. Yoo cites the absurdity of applying the Geneva Conventions to non-signatories that fight in ways that exclude them from the provisions of the conventions by definition. Recounting historical precedence, Yoo also says, “Until the Supreme Court began trying to make war policy, the writ of habeas corpus had never been understood to benefit enemy prisoners in war.”

So what the Military Commissions Act actually accomplished was not a curtailment of the civil liberties of Americans, but simply a return of matters to the way they were before SCOTUS went overboard in Hamdan. Yoo says that the act was nothing short of a stinging rebuke to the court. “Congress and the president … told the courts, in effect, to get out of the war on terror, stripped them of habeas jurisdiction over alien enemy combatants, and said there was nothing wrong with the military commissions.” The act also refuses to the courts the ability to take up cases that concern the Geneva Conventions.

What we have here is a return of military power to the executive branch after the judicial branch tried to horn in where it did not belong. The judicial branch’s power grab was so offensive that the legislative branch quickly went along with rebuking the judicial. The scrap between the administration and three GOP senators over one facet of the act was little more than a sideshow to main event of rebalancing power.

This is how our government is supposed to work. The three branches constantly pull against each other to maintain a proper balance, while hopefully most of the players in those three branches maintain a desire to promote the welfare of the nation above their desire for power. When imbalances occur, the system works to eventually rectify them. And that is what has occurred in this case.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Local Legislative Race Problems Stem From Years of Federal Meddling

I live near, but not in Utah Senate district 18. I know who the two major candidates are and what their backgrounds are, but I don’t know either man. Since I don’t live in the district, I haven’t studied the issues involved in the race, but it’s not the issues that are making news. At this late date, one of the candidates may be disqualified, not due to anything he has done, but due to the amount of money his employer receives from the federal government. And it all began back in the 1930s.

During the depression, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) provided many jobs and greatly expanded infrastructure throughout the country. A number of WPA projects have directly impacted my life. Unlike sit-at-home welfare, the WPA only paid those that actually worked. But the downside of this was that the influence of the federal government increased dramatically, since it made up a much larger portion of the economy than ever before. By the end of the depression, the WPA “was the largest employer in the country--indeed, the largest employer in most states.”

Since the WPA was chiefly a Democratic program, Republicans griped about influence peddling and corruption within the WPA that benefited Democrats, even at state and local levels. While these concerns were initially downplayed by WPA proponents, it eventually became public knowledge that “WPA officials were in fact using their positions to win votes for the Democratic Party” (see here).

In light of these revelations, Senator Carl Hatch (D-NM) became concerned about the integrity of his own party. (Where can we find politicians like that today?) He proposed a bill that was intended to eliminate the ability of federal employees to influence partisan elections. The Hatch Act was passed in 1939. The act strictly prohibited federal employees from involvement in partisan political campaigns. In 1940 the law was amended to include “state and local employees whose salaries included any federal funds.”

This helped bring an end to one episode of government corruption. When it became necessary to refocus the nation’s resources toward military needs in the middle of WWII, Congress shut down the WPA. But the new Hatch Act prevented those employed by the military from repeating the WPA abuses. In 1993 the law was again amended to allow federal employees to participate in federal campaigns. State and local restrictions were retained.

Today the Hatch Act is affecting the state senate race in district 18. In the Republican primary, Ogden Police Chief Jon Greiner beat incumbent Senator Dave Thomas. Greiner is up against Democrat Stuart Reid. Reid has had a long career in city level government. Eight years ago he ran against Rocky Anderson for SLC Mayor. Until relatively recently he was Ogden’s director of economic development.

Greiner has been decried by some in his own party as a RINO (Republican in name only), so it is a question as to how far apart these two candidates are on the issues that really matter to voters. But, as I am unstudied on the issues, I am in no position to say one way or the other.

Greiner says that he sought legal advice on the Hatch Act issue before beginning his campaign. He thought that as the head of a city police department (which is hardly a federal position) he was in the clear. But then someone in the Democratic Party (Reid has kept himself strictly aloof from all of this) requested a formal investigation on the matter.

Greiner’s team subsequently sent thousands of pages of information to federal investigators about federal grants to the city’s police department. The Standard Examiner reported in this article that it has been leaked that the investigation has determined that the Hatch Act does apply to Greiner, although, Greiner says he has received no notification of such.

If the leaker is correct, Greiner can either quit the campaign, resign from the police department, or pay a fine of two years salary. I suppose there is also some mechanism for him to appeal the finding, but I couldn’t find any information about that. If Greiner quits the campaign, it is too late for Republicans to replace him on the ballot, making a Reid victory very likely. So this race may be decided on a technicality.

Part of Greiner’s problem stems from our homeland security reaction following 9/11. The President and Congress rushed to send funds to all kinds of state and local agencies (i.e. police and fire departments) for homeland defense. But they weren’t the first to send federal monies to city agencies. President Clinton did that with his program to put more cops on the street.

For six and a half decades, the Hatch Act has worked to prevent federally based corruption such as occurred in the WPA in the 1930s. But as we move away from federalism, state and municipal governments lose their autonomy. As they eagerly accept federal funds (and even pay lobbyists to secure these funds for them), they relinquish their ability to make decisions locally about what is best for their communities. It also appears that they unwittingly constrain their employees’ political activities. Are these tradeoffs worth it?

With the expansion of the federal government into our local public education system via NCLB, I wonder what this means for the tens of thousands of public education employees in our state. At times the number of Utah legislators employed by the school systems has made some quip that the legislature seems to be a wholly owned subsidiary of the UEA. Will it be determined that the Hatch Act applies to them as well?

The Hatch Act was only necessitated by the expansion of federal power into arenas where it arguably does not belong, according to the powers enumerated to the federal government in the Constitution. As the federal government continues to expand into every facet of life, increasing numbers of citizens will find their political freedoms curtailed by the Hatch Act. If you work for a state or local government agency, you could be next.

The real solution to this problem is not some new law, but simply a return to the federalism defined in the Constitution—pushing each government function to the most appropriate governmental level, or out of the government altogether. When the federal government has less influence in the lives of its individual citizens, there will be no motivation for the kinds of corruption that the Hatch Act seeks to address, and the kind of problems we currently have with influence peddling will diminish to almost nothing.

Do I think that this kind of return to federalism is likely? The pragmatist in me says no. But stranger things have happened when the need has been great. Nobody imagined when the Stamp Act was passed in 1765 that a new nation would be formed 11 years later, and that a scant few years after beating the world’s greatest superpower, this new nation would create a document that has become the defining instrument for ensuring enlightened democracy. Who knows what will happen in the next decade? Perhaps events will lead to a re-enshrining of the original spirit of the Constitution. Even if that’s doubtful, I’d like to think so.

Update 10/22/06: Greiner has been officially notified by the feds that his candidacy violates the Hatch Act, and that he has until 10/31/06 to quit his job or quit his campaign (see here).

When Will We Watch TV Over the Internet?

The amount of change in the computing and technology worlds during my lifetime has been nothing short of dramatic. Computers used to be huge, expensive, ponderous devices that performed only a few functions and could only be afforded by major institutions. I once used an early digital desktop calculator that cost in excess of $1000. My first computing courses were done using punch cards.

I remember the marvel when my brother and I were able to borrow a dumb terminal (that had been excessed from a hospital that closed) that we used to access the college’s mainframe from our home. We dialed in on a rotary phone. When we heard a certain tone, we put the phone receiver into a cradle hooked to the terminal and a login prompt appeared on screen. I could compile 100 lines of Basic code in the comfort of my own home in less than 10 minutes (a task that is instantaneous today).

Today computers are ubiquitous. They are built into every kind of electronic device on the market. Home computers and in-home Internet connections are more common than in-home telephones were six decades ago. I started using the Internet before most people had ever heard the word. Back then it took over 10 minutes to pull down a small JPEG image.

Internet use has expanded exponentially since then, and it has been employed for many new uses. It used to be just email and bulletin boards. Then commercial businesses started to get involved. Soon news and research resources started becoming available. It just went hog-wild after that, so that the Internet has been used for all manner of information transfers.

In the expanding phase of the dot-com bubble, infrastructure companies invested like crazy in building out their systems in order to take advantage of the usage increases forecast by their models. But then the dot-com bubble burst, leaving them with excess capacity. In some ways this was good for consumers. But it was bad for investors, which meant that companies dramatically slowed expansion and improvements. So while other countries have been expanding into gigabroadband, we are stuck with megabroadband.

Megabroadband was pretty wonderful a few years ago, but it won’t get us to the vision of the future, where office productivity applications (word processors, spreadsheets) are served over the Internet at a rate as fast as if they were on your hard drive, and where all of your media (including television) comes through your Internet connection. We need gigabroadband for that, but infrastructure companies still hurting from the dot-com bubble burst have been so cautious that little of that kind of investment has been occurring.

That may be changing, thanks to YouTube and other similar sites. Demand for video streaming over the Internet has grown substantially recently. Nortel’s CIO John Roese said about this (here), "The only reason YouTube didn't destroy the Internet is because there was a bit of a bubble in terms of excess capacity out there." But that excess capacity is rapidly being consumed. So infrastructure companies are starting to feel like they can now safely pursue system improvements. But they don’t want to be burned again, so they will probably move forward with a certain amount of caution.

This follows a basic law of economics. The market will supply what is demanded. People have talked about DVD-quality video streaming over the Internet for years. But the market won’t supply it until sufficient demand exists. Since that is now starting to happen, we can expect to see some of the web-based application and media services that have long been talked about become reality within the next five years. Renting movies on the fly and watching them on your TV without ever having a disc will be reality in the not-too-distant future.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Blowing It In the Foruth Quarter

I recently had a couple of posts (here and here) about GOP governance at the federal level. In one of these posts I noted that some conservatives are willing to toss Dennis Hastert (R-IL) as Speaker of the House, not because of the Foley scandal, but because of his demonstrably inept leadership during his tenure as speaker. I noted in the other post (as I have stated many times elsewhere) that some conservatives have had it with the GOP’s runaway spending. Two recent articles prove my points.

Conservative commentator Larry Kudlow waxes positively evangelical in this article where he calls for the speaker to step down and cites Hastert for failing to do so a week ago. He bluntly shows that it’s not the Foley scandal that bothers him (although it is a convenient tool), but all of the GOP’s real failures (i.e. influence peddling, fiscal irresponsibility, failure to deal with Social Security, expanding Medicare, anti-immigration policies, etc.) Kudlow seems to be blind to the cost of changing captains at this point in the campaign, or perhaps he’s simply willing to accept that cost.

Economist Irwin Stelzer sounds downright angry in this article where he cites the GOP’s domestic spending habits for painting us into a corner on foreign policy. While lauding the Bush tax cuts for improving both the economy and government revenue, Stelzer fumes that the GOP’s “unwillingness to rein in spending so that the boom in tax receipts can be used to provide support for American diplomacy … has made it impossible for America to have an effective foreign policy.” He argues that the President’s (and the Congress’) fiscal policy led directly to North Korea going nuclear, our ineffectiveness in Iraq and Afghanistan, our fecklessness with Iran, and our inability to properly fight the war on terror in general.

Both of these writers make some valid points. Both also come across as something akin to angry sports fans whose team is blowing it in the run up to the finals. Ever loyal to the team, but also wanting to be on the winning side, one wants the team captain’s head, while the other is beside himself about what he sees as shortfalls in the coach’s strategy earlier in the season. The difference is that both of these guys know that it’s a lot more than just a game. But another similarity to angry sports fans is that neither offers anything that is particularly useful at this point in the season.

Kicking Hastert out of the speaker position now, as suggested by Kudlow isn’t going to help the GOP win the election. In fact, it might make things worse for the GOP. It would set someone else up as speaker if the GOP manages to hold onto the House. But wouldn’t it be better to deal with this issue with the advantage of breathing space after the election rather than in the heat of battle before it? Perhaps Kudlow is afraid that Hastert will somehow be able to keep his position should the GOP eek out a win. I’m just some nobody in northern Utah, but I think that come January Hastert is finished as speaker whether the GOP keeps the House or not. The GOP would be better to worry about replacing Hastert after November 7 when they know whether the position is theirs or not.

Stelzer and other economists have been unhappy about GOP spending habits ever since Bush’s first budget proposal in 2001, but few forecast in any significant way what Stelzer is grousing about now. In fact, some climbed on board the Medicare expansion bandwagon, and even Stelzer has written fawningly about some of the programs he now criticizes. It’s just that he now has the advantage of hindsight and the prospect of his team losing. Stelzer’s comments can be useful for future application (providing the GOP learns anything from the mess they’re now in), but his gnashing of teeth does little at this point to help his team.

It will be interesting to see what today’s angry conservatives write in the aftermath of the election. If their team loses, there will be lots of stormy articles. If their team holds on, some will gloat, but many will still rip on their home team. I think it’s clear that many conservatives expect some positive changes in the GOP regardless of how the election goes. The question is whether the politicos inside the beltway get the message.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

When Religious Politicians Mess Up

Humans have shortcomings. Even those who profess to follow traditions that espouse the highest ethical standards have problems. Even those that do more than profess, but really try to follow ethical principles occasionally fall short. It’s part of the imperfect sphere in which we live. But when someone that is religious falls short, we take notice, because we are sharply on guard for hypocrisy.

This is what happened this past summer when it was noted in the news that Health and Human Services Secretary (former Utah governor) Mike Leavitt had some business dealings that looked to be less than ethical (see Washington Post article). It seems that Leavitt reduced taxes by claiming $1.2 million in charitable donations to his family’s charitable foundation when the foundation actually used only about $101,000 for charitable causes.

Part of the reason some people paid more attention to the Leavitt story is the fact that Leavitt is a practicing member of the LDS Church, which teaches its members to be “honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and [to do] good to all men” (here). The church’s culture tends to encourage members to put themselves up on a pedestal in this regard.

Now another high profile politician who is active in the LDS Church is taking a few lumps for shady ethical deals. Senator Harry Reid (D-NV), who is the Senate Minority Leader (and could become the majority leader in January depending on the outcome of the election in three weeks), is admitting that he failed to properly report some land deals (see Boston Herald article). One such deal “allowed him to collect $1.1 million in 2004 for property he hadn’t personally owned in three years.”

It does not appear to be an issue of failing to properly pay taxes, but rather an issue of failing to properly report the land transactions in congressional ethics reports, as required by law. These reports are required to help foster transparency in whom has influence with whom in Congress. In addition to this, it was discovered that Reid paid about $3300 out of his campaign fund for Christmas bonuses to employees of “the support staff at the Ritz-Carlton where he lives in an upscale condominium.” Reid is reimbursing his campaign for those expenditures.

The Reid story appears to have shorter legs than the Leavitt story. Part of the reason for that is the nature of the offenses. Leavitt’s deductions of donations to his family charity that is really not very charitable seem fishy from the outset. Frankly, only political junkies are going to care about Reid’s $3300 in Christmas bonuses improperly paid by his campaign. On the land deals, Reid’s chief offenses amount to a failure to file the proper paperwork, and he’s amending the paperwork. It’s not clear whether there was actual intent to cover anything up.

Of course, Reid may have had good reason to cover something up. The series of financial transactions that allowed the senator to make over $1 million on land he didn’t own leaves a bad taste in your mouth, even if nothing illegal occurred. However, it does seem that many would be overjoyed to fall into a similar deal that violated no laws. But, as Leavitt’s problem shows, failing to violate laws does not mean that it was ethical.

Politicians live in a glass house where perception is usually as important as—and sometimes more important than—reality. While people sort of expect failings in their politicians, Mormon politicians are held to a higher standard than the average politician because they profess to follow a higher standard. And when they stumble, it can seem more poignant because they fall from what is purported to be a higher level.

What the Leavitt and Reid episodes demonstrate is that Mormon politicians also have human failings. And what this means is that when it comes to politicians, even ones that espouse a higher standard, we need to keep our eyes wide open.

Friday, October 13, 2006

North Korea's Baby Nuke Is Bad News

What the heck is North Korea up to? This bizarre totalitarian state, where the only thing more omnipresent than its Dear Leader personality cult is its people’s poverty, openly boasted of a successful nuclear test this week. This boast, written in what WSJ editor James Taranto calls Red English, “that pompous, stilted dialect peculiar to communist regimes” (here), assures the international community that it now has nuclear weapon capability.

Following the announcement, the international community woke up and said, “Wha…? Our data didn’t show any test.” But upon further inspection, the data did show a test, albeit, a tiny test by nuclear standards. While Russia said it believed NK, France openly scoffed. Soon the U.S. joined in the scoffing. There is much speculation that this was either a faked test using conventional explosives or was a failed nuclear test.

Michael Goldfarb says in this Weekly Standard article that we should not be too hasty in our judgment. He notes that in 1998 Pakistan completed a second nuclear test that was tiny compared to its first one earlier that year. He cites intelligence showing that secrecy surrounded this second test that did not surround the first test, and that the test was attended by many North Korean officials, who left Pakistan following the test. He argues that “the North Koreans could be on the cusp of producing a weapon with an explosive force that would be measured in megatons rather than kilotons.”

It’s difficult to know whether to take NK seriously. AP reported (here) that initial air tests reveal no radioactivity “that would be expected from a successful nuclear detonation.” However, the report also says, “The test results do not necessarily mean the North Korean blast was not a nuclear explosion.” Enhancing confusion, however, AP later reported (here) that another air test indicated radioactivity akin to a nuclear fizzle. While this casts further doubt on whether the test was indeed a successful nuclear event, there are good reasons to take NK’s claims seriously anyway.

NK’s boast has caused a flurry of activity at the UN. Responding in its typical feckless and less-than-worthless manner, sanctions have been proposed. Of course, the proposed sanctions have been watered down throughout the week as our friends Russia and China have unsurprisingly opposed the proposal.

WSJ Editor James Taranto lampoons the UN’s silliness (here – scroll down to Life Imitates 'Team America') with the following quote from the movie, Team America: World Police.
Hans Blix: "I'm sorry, but the U.N. must be firm with you. Let me see your whole palace, or else." Kim Jong Il: "Or else what?" Blix: "Or else we will be very, very angry with you, and we will write you a letter, telling you how angry we are."
If NK’s test was indeed a successful test of a nuclear weapon, it appears that NK could have gotten away with it simply by keeping its big mouth shut. Since it broadcast the test (whether real or not) to the world, NK must hope to gain something by this action. What could that be?

While the answer to this seems elusive to many rational minds, it should be quite obvious to those that have studied how communist dictatorships and almost all single leader based states function. This entire episode is simply a ploy to strengthen the regime of NK’s nutcake leader, Kim Jong il.

At home, this will play great to the nationalistic spirit that continually attempts to delude the North Korean people into believing that they are part of the greatest country in the world. On the outside, the Dear Leader and his cronies know that it would be difficult to get any worse treatment from the international community.

This guy ranks right up there with Hitler and Stalin on domestic atrocities. But extra-national actions have been confined to a few missile launches over international waters, espionage, and regular but minor aggressive actions by air and watercraft. There has been no serious attempt to overrun South Korea since the end of the Korean War and NK has remained largely contained. So other nations have been happy to do little more than impose economic sanctions, which have strengthened NK’s ties with undemocratic states while reducing the influence of more democratic states.

Those strengthened ties have led two of the UN’s five permanent veto powers, Russia and China, to prevent any kind of action that could really help the poor people of NK. In truth, China holds NK’s leash. But China is willing to support NK’s craziness as a cheap magician’s trick to keep the international community’s eyes off of its own militaristic buildup and aspirations.

For his part, the Dear Leader is playing a game of high stakes poker. But he knows that even if he has a losing hand in this round, he still comes out ahead. He may be bluffing, but his play has called our bluff. Ever since President Bush labeled NK part of the Axis of Evil, we have resolutely promised to prevent NK and Iraq from going nuclear by whatever means are necessary. If Iran’s Ahmadinejad hasn’t made it perfectly clear over the past year that we are in fact unwilling to back this threat up, Kim Jong il has now proved it for real.

NK’s news release even declared that any effort by the U.S. to prevent NK’s nuclear program, including sanctions, would be considered a declaration of war. Since we have pursued worthless sanctions in the UN, this means that NK has effectively declared war on the U.S. And what are we doing about it? If you answered, “Nothing,” you win the prize.

Whether Kim Jong il has a nuke or not, he must be quite happy with the prize he has already won in this game. For him, it can only get better. Unfortunately, for the reasonable nations of the world, it can only get worse both in the short run and in the long run. It could get better in the long run if we were willing to pursue the problem seriously, but it is abundantly clear that, at least for now, we aren’t.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

A Hopeful History

I have just purchased Bill Bennett’s new history book America: The Last Best Hope (Volume I). This 573-page tome covers America’s history from 1492 to the run up to WWI. Presumably, at least a second volume is planned. I am not a rapid reader. I tend to read books over weeks and months rather than over days. I plan to post my insights on Bennett’s book after I complete it, so it may be a long time in coming.

Bennett introduces his book by outlining six reasons for writing it.

  • “The need for hope…. An abiding sense of American greatness, of American purpose, of American exceptionalism has long characterized many of our leaders and tens of millions of the rest of us as well…. I believe America is still that hope….”

  • “[T]o give Americans an opportunity to enjoy the story of their country, to take pleasure and pride in what we have done and become.”

  • “[T]o give thanks and to remind my fellow citizens of their obligation of gratitude to those who made it possible for us to lead free and happy lives.”

  • “[T]o tell the truth, get the facts out, correct the record, and put forward a reasoned, balanced presentation of the American story.”

  • “[T]o encourage a new patriotism—a new reflective, reasoned form of patriotism.”

  • “[T]o kindle romance, to encourage Americans to fall in love with this country, again or for the first time. Not unreflectively, not blindly, but with eyes wide open.”
Bennett suggests that some of our current civic apathy stems from deplorable, “dull,” “dumbed-down” history texts. He writes, “Many books about America not only fail to counter cynicism and hopelessness, they don’t encourage anything positive in their place.” He also suggests that history texts should not only convey correct facts, but should be pleasurable to read as well.

Rather than putting forth some kind of Pollyanna, cleansed history, Bennett purports to paint America “warts and all. But,” he writes, “I will not follow the fashion of some today who see America as nothing but warts.” That should certainly be refreshing. Bennett suggests that we become great partially by learning from our mistakes, but he takes umbrage with the thought that our country is chiefly one big bundle of mistakes.

Several notables are quoted in the book’s introduction, including (of course) Ronald Reagan, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and Bernard DeVoto (a Utah native). Bennett seems to particularly like DeVoto’s quote where speaking of America he says, “Ours is a story mad with the impossible, it is by chaos out of dream, it began as a dream and it has continued as a dream down to the last headlines you read in a newspaper….”

Bennett concludes the introduction by writing, “America was, is, and—we pray—will continue to be the place where more than anyplace else, dreams actually do come true.” This is the America I have always believed myself to be a part of.

I hope the book lives up to the billing Bennett has given it. I will report what I find—eventually.

Friday, October 06, 2006

The Games Politicians Play

I make my living off the evening news
Just give me something-something I can use
People love it when you lose,
They love dirty laundry
(Don Henley – Dirty Laundry)

I don’t watch sports unless one of my kids is playing. But I do watch politics, partially for the same reason that some folks are sports spectators. But if that were the only reason I watched politics, I would probably not care enough to pay much attention. Unlike a sports event that will have little real impact on my life, politics can impact my life and the lives of many people for years to come. It’s more than just a game, so I watch it.

I have been approached several times about running for office, but I don’t do it. Just because I watch and analyze something does not mean I would be good at or would enjoy actually doing that thing. As much as people hate the idea, it requires resources (volunteers + money) to get your message out to the voters. Since most candidates don’t have enough cash to self finance, they have to be confident enough in themselves and in their message to be willing to ask people to give them money (and/or time) for their campaign.

I do not begrudge the fact that those that are willing to do the hard work of fundraising are the ones whose names end up on the ballot, much the way that most sports fans don’t have a problem with the athletes playing while they pay to watch them.

Being an interested spectator, I watch the current circus going on in Washington, D.C. as the fallout from the Foley scandal with a kind of morbid curiosity. I really can’t blame the MSM for eating this up. They are what they are. They love dirty laundry, as noted in Henley’s lyrics. The rest of the world cannot comprehend how the balance of power in the world’s only superpower could teeter on such mundanities as who sent what dirty instant message to whom at what time. But that is precisely what Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-IL) is in hot water over.

Mr. Hastert stands accused of knowing that Foley was a predator of minor male pages, but did nothing to stop it. In another political climate, this brouhaha would cause a minor tempest. It probably would not even be investigated by the ethics committee. But this is not another political climate. It is just a few weeks prior to midterm elections where the determination of who gets to set the nation’s political agenda for the next two years could easily go to either party, depending on the outcomes of a very few congressional races.

Although Hastert’s wound appears minor, enough blood is flowing for the Pelosi-led Democratic sharks to strike repeatedly in hopes of tearing the gash wide enough to make the injury worse. Hiding behind faux concern for minor House pages and hoping that Hastert’s problem will rub off on his party in general, they seek to keep this story alive and on fire long enough to further demoralize already glum GOP voters and to shift enough independents their way to gain victory next month.

But if that’s all there was to it, we’d already be seeing the issue die down, since the facts in the case bear no resemblance to the resultant furor. People would quickly discern that it was a purely political ploy, and Democrats would have to drop it or risk backlash. But Mr. Hastert is being (quietly by some and more enthusiastically by others) thrown to the sharks by members of his own party.

Let’s face it; Mr. Hastert’s tenure has produced little to enthuse Republicans and much to chagrin them (see my post on the 109th Congress). Hastert rose to power after Newt Gringrich went down in flames after trying to take down Bill Clinton over Clinton’s sex scandal, much as the angry Left would love to take down President Bush over—well, just about anything. Conservative Congressman Bob Livingston then was set to jump into the speakership when his own sex scandal became news. The low-key, but somewhat conservative and certifiably monogamous Hastert became the unlikely person to fill the role.

Since that time, Hastert has repeatedly been unable to get the GOP to unite behind some of the president’s and the GOP’s most important pieces of legislation. Under his watch, non-war-related domestic spending has risen dramatically, and wasteful earmarking has gone through the roof. The Abramoff scandal took place on his watch. Hastert’s leadership has frequently been seen as ineffective, while underlings have appeared to be running the show behind the scenes.

In short, some of Hastert’s GOP colleagues (as well as some conservative pundits) sense an opportunity to be rid of Hastert as speaker. So they are either refusing to come to his aid, or are willingly pushing him toward the sharks under the guise of appearing to do the right thing. Since all of his colleagues in the House (except those retiring) have to stand for election in a few weeks, some are simply trying to keep clear of the situation in hopes of remaining unsullied by it.

Republicans that want to throw Hastert to the sharks had better think deeply about what they really want, because they may get their wish. They are playing a dangerous political game, but the outcome of their actions may be far more than what they are bargaining for. Former Secretary of State James Baker said (here), “If they throw Denny Hastert off the sled to slow down the wolves, it won't be long before you'll be crying, 'Hey, you've got to throw somebody else over because they knew about it too. '” (I know that adding Baker’s quote results in a mixing of metaphors, but I’m no English major). I’m not defending Hastert. I’m simply making political observations.

It’s a race to November 7, and a lot can happen between now and then. But if the GOP loses control of one or both chambers of Congress, it will be because they have worked to earn that outcome.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

It's a Competency Issue, Not a Spending Issue

Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam, the pair that I criticized here for calling on the GOP to embrace big-government ‘conservatism,’ have another pro-spending article (here) where they seek to explain why President Bush is in the doghouse with conservatives. I immediately took their article with a grain of salt, as I had called their proposals “breathtakingly socialistic.” But while these champions of big government get their pro-spending digs in, they do make some very good points.

They retrace the history of how we ended up with a big spending Republican in the White House. They note that by the 1998 elections, the exuberance of the 1994 GOP takeover of Congress had given way to disillusionment, after having failed on many points of the Contract With America. As GOP actions in the House of Representatives came to look like a hard-nosed grudge match Newt Gingrich had with the White House, the GOP lost steam and lost seats.

Douthat and Salam say, “As the 2000 election approached, the GOP turned to George W. Bush, who seemed to embody all the qualities the national party so sorely needed.” They then detail some of Bush’s pro spending positions during the 2000 campaign that earned him harsh criticism from small government conservatives. I myself was not very pleased that W came out of the primaries on top because he seemed far too moderate for my tastes.

While small government activists generally oppose any spending increase, Douthat and Salam suggest that this is not so important to the GOP rank and file. What they want, the authors suggest, is spending done right. They want spending that helps Americans become self reliant, “strong, independent, and useful to themselves.” Three such successes they cite are “the Homestead Act, the G.I. Bill, and the 1996 welfare reforms.”

It is spending of that nature that George Bush promised, much of it embodied in the phrase “ownership society.” But that is exactly what the president has failed to deliver. So, claim the authors, conservatives are unhappy with the president “not because he duped small-government conservatives into voting for big government, but because he hasn't delivered on the kind of big-government reforms he promised during the 2000 and 2004 campaigns.”

Along with obvious bungling in Iraq (note that bungling commonly occurs in all wars), Douthat and Salam say that the president’s demonstrated incompetence in getting the most important features of his ownership society passed have soured his popularity among conservatives. They say this began with Social Security reform failure, which “has been the signal domestic policy failure of the Bush administration.”

While the authors admit that the blame for this squandered opportunity “lies largely with President Bush,” they say that “it also lies with a conservative movement that seems unwilling to tailor its thinking to the scope of the challenges ahead.” In other words, they are saying that small government types are unrealistic. Being a fan of small government, this claim doesn’t settle well with me.

It seems to me that Douthat and Salam are arguing that conservatives are ticked off because they have failed to make President Bush into a fiscal conservative; something he never was and never will be. I think they make a valid point. While I never harbored any delusions about Bush’s lack of fiscal conservatism, I was absolutely stunned that so many ‘conservatives’ climbed on board the president’s train to expand Medicare and federal involvement in education. I wonder how many of these people have looked in the mirror or checked their own conservative credentials lately.

What is happening with soured conservatives? People often like to be associated with a winning team. During any major sport season, you will have the diehard supporters turn out to every game. But when a team goes on a loosing streak, you see increasing numbers of empty seats in the stands. Oh, fans put up with a fair number of losses, but they don’t like to be associated with incompetence.

The GOP and President Bush are on one of those losing streaks right now. This has been obvious as they have stumbled all over themselves to appear incredibly feeble in the wake of the Foley scandal over the past few days. They still have a number of diehard supporters in the stands, but the more incompetent they look (see my post on the lack of accomplishments by this Congress), the more empty seats they will see in the stands. That will hurt them in next month’s elections — and it should. They will have to regain the people’s trust if they want to win elections.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Protect Our Youth

This guy needs to be kept away from children. No, I’m not talking about ex-Congressman Mark Foley, although, he should definitely be kept away from children as well—permanently. This 51-year-old guy, who is now an ex-member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, took still and video pictures of boys skinny dipping at a hot springs in Spanish Fork Canyon while himself in the buff. Apparently he styled himself as an artistic director as well, because he directed the boys into positions while filming them.

Having been involved with youth groups for most of my life, I have come to understand that there are some unhealthy folks out there that would gladly exploit children, given the chance. People in charge of youth groups and people in charge of youth group leaders need to be especially aware of this problem, because creeps often come on as having a natural interest in youth and having time to devote to the cause. They can often come across as quite charming and dedicated.

I know of a number of cases where men who were in youth group leadership positions have exploited children. I am quite familiar with three men who served in such positions and later served jail or prison terms for sexual abuse of (usually male) children. There were warning signs with all of these men. These signs were more apparent to the youth than to the adults, but they were not absent.

Fortunately, many youth groups have instituted a policy of having two adults present with youth at all times. This protects the youth and it also protects the adults from fabricated allegations (which have also occurred). Beyond abuse issues, it provides two adults that can deal with any emergencies and behavior problems that might arise.

In my 3½ decades of involvement with the Boy Scouts as well as my lifelong involvement with youth in church settings, I have noted that adults caught exploiting children have usually had a long-time pattern of exploitation, most of which has been kept hush-hush until after they are caught. It is possible that the 51-year-old ex-choir member simply did something stupid this one time. But it is far more likely that he has been doing stuff of this nature for many years, perhaps even since he was an adolescent.

I have noted several warning signs that can spell trouble:
  • Taking exceptional efforts to spend time with youth away from other adults.

  • Being friends with the youth on their level, that is, relating to them more as a peer rather than as an adult leader.

  • Giving special gifts and/or privileges to certain youth.

  • Invitations to youth for activities apart from the group sponsored activities, such as inviting youth to the adult’s home.

  • Encouraging youth to expose themselves. Skinny dipping was once thought to be innocuous, but nowadays when it is encouraged by an adult, it more often than not spells trouble. Many Scout camps now have individual shower stalls rather than communal showers for a good reason.

  • Hostile reactions if anyone notes that they have broken any of the group’s youth protection policies.
This is not an exhaustive list. And none of these things by itself is necessarily sinister. However, leaders would do well to pay attention if they see any of these things. I’m not encouraging witch hunts; just awareness.

Studies have found that the recidivism rates for child molesters can be as high as 40%. But for exhibitionists, recidivism rates can be as high as 71%. (See here). So people with these problems are not easily cured.

In today’s world, it is not wise to allow someone that has had past problems with indiscretions with youth to spend much time with a youth group. Of course, if the person is the parent (that has legal rights) of one of the group’s youth, you cannot legally exclude him/her from group functions. But if you are aware of such a situation, you should ensure that another responsible adult essentially baby-sits that parent whenever he/she is present at group activities.

If you are a parent of youth, you have a responsibility to ensure that any youth group activity your child attends is appropriately supervised. Know who the adult leaders are and get some idea about why they are involved. Watch for any warning signs. Particularly be aware if your child is invited to spend one-on-one time with an adult leader apart from the normal group activities or if an adult seems to be paying extra special attention to your child.

There are also unofficial youth gatherings, even family gatherings to be aware of. Make sure that the adults present at these gatherings can be trusted. Sleepovers can be a source of problems, so make sure you can trust all of the adults in the home you child is visiting. Remember that there are often warning signs. If you don’t feel right about it, don’t let you child go.

If you are a youth group leader or have responsibility for youth group leaders, be aware that in our litigious society, you could be held liable for a child’s exploitation. So it is really in your best interest to get some training, to follow your organization’s youth protection policies, and to watch for any warning signs.

If you are a child exploiter, STAY AWAY FROM KIDS. And for heaven’s sake, get some professional help. Just because you may have gotten away with something in the past doesn’t mean you will be able to get away with it again. Note the problems the ex-choir member and ex-Congressman cited above are now enduring. Get help before it happens to you.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

When Congress Goes Bad

Many conservatives are quite disappointed with our GOP-led Congress. I have written numerous times about Congress’ lack of fiscal restraint. But that isn’t the whole story. This Wall Street Journal Editorial does a fairly good job of expressing the way many conservatives feel about the 109th Congress.

WSJ editors note that congressional Republicans are not running on their accomplishments or even very much on their strengths this fall. Instead, they are coming from a telling position of chiefly campaigning on their opponents’ weaknesses. The reason for this is that the GOP’s accomplishments have been paltry, while their failures have been much more noticeable. WSJ editors cite the failure to “maintain the unity or discipline to achieve nearly any of what they promised in 2004.”

What has the 109th delivered for conservatives? Per the WSJ editors:
  • Two new distinguished Supreme Court justices. They even forced a president to change from a questionable nominee to an outstanding nominee.

  • Funding the war on terror.

  • Extending capital gains rate reductions (temporarily).

  • Terrorist interrogation compromise.

  • Bankruptcy and class action tort reform.

  • A few free trade agreements.
But, on the minus side:
  • Failure to make tax cuts permanent.

  • Blowing it on estate tax reform.

  • No true immigration reform.

  • Wimpiness on Social Security reform.

  • Doing nothing on health care. Even blowing it on modest insurance reforms.

  • Numerous ethics problems. While these exist on both sides of the aisle, GOP ethical issues gall conservatives.

  • Failure to reform Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

  • No line item veto.

  • Etc.
Chief Justice Roberts and Associate Justice Alito are likely to pay significant conservative dividends far beyond the tenure of most members of Congress. WSJ editors call the war on terror “the most important issue of our time.” While the war is not particularly popular, a plurality of Americans understand that successfully prosecuting the war is essential to our long-term national security. And that may be the GOP’s only saving grace in the November elections. Thus, the effort to campaign strongly on this single issue.

While the WSJ editors note multiple reasons for the failures, they suggest that the real problem “is that too many Republicans now believe their purpose in Washington is keeping power for its own sake.” Many negative sayings have been coined about the love of power. These sayings often resonate because there is at least some modicum of truth in them. Those that have fallen into this power trap (including members of Utah’s delegation) should not be returned to Washington this fall, regardless of which party to which they belong.

For many conservative voters this fall, “Vote for me because I’m GOP” may not be enough. And Republicans in Congress have few to blame but themselves.