Thursday, December 19, 2013

Church and Society

The argument over whether we as Christians have a “right” to free speech is a trap. We should speak when the Holy Spirit prompts us, remain silent when prompted to silence, let the world react however it chooses, and we should not complain about the consequences.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Obama Administration - An Opportunity Squandered

Recent events surrounding the civil war in Syria have followed a strange path, but one that was readily predictable from President Obama's disappointing tenure in office.

Since taking office, President Obama has consistently picked big fights only to back down at the last moment and avoid confrontation through compromise cast as significant victory. He pushed hard for healthcare reform, then caved to the demands of insurance and pharmaceutical companies. He took hardline stances on budget and debt issues, then compromised at the last minute surrendering large budget cuts to important programs. The most recent of those compromises gave us the so-called budget sequester.

In typical fashion, this latest trouble with Syria was occasioned by his "red line" stance on chemical weapons. He announced that any use of those weapons by the Syrian government would be a game changer, then for three days he watched as the Syrian army prepared to gas it's fellow countrymen a second time. When he finally did respond - ten days after the latest incident - he announced military action, then sought an international coalition, then Congressional approval, meeting with defeat on all fronts. Every other president since World War II would have acted first, then commented later. We should have known when he started talking about a military response that none would be forthcoming.

President Obama loves debate. He relishes the exchange of ideas and he likes to talk. But while he was talking and posturing, the moment for action evaporated and any tactical advantage that could have been gained by a military strike slipped through his fingers. Perhaps that's what he wanted - to talk, to posture, to pontificate but take no real action. After all, talking but doing nothing of substance has been the hallmark of his administration. This time, however, he talked himself into a corner.

That the Russians and Syrians had to come to his rescue with a compromise is telling of how poorly the current situation was handled and yet one more indication of how much he has squandered the opportunity of his two-term presidency.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Looming Federal Budget Crisis - Again

The federal budget process is a complicated affair but usually begins with a proposal sent to Congress by the president. Lately, however, that process has been anything but usual. As September approaches we once again face the twin issues of authorizing federal spending and raising the debt limit to pay for it.

Contrary to popular opinion, President Obama has proposed a budget, albeit sometimes late, for each year he has been in office. All of those proposals, however, have been rejected by Congress. Having refused his suggestions, the House, for most years, has then drafted its own version of the budget. Those House-originated budgets have been rejected in the Senate.

To keep the federal government functioning, Congress, with House approval, has regularly passed legislation known as a Continuing Resolution which says, in effect, “we approve budget authorization for this year at last year’s levels.” However, a continuing resolution grants only budget approval. It's not a funding mechanism. Because those resolutions approve budget amounts at current levels, which exceed current federal revenue, they also continue the budget deficit, requiring an issuance of federal debt to cover the shortfall.

Lately, this process has produced a strange result, particularly in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. Conservative House members regularly approve continuing budget resolutions – supposedly to keep the government open – but balk at raising the debt to cover the resulting deficit created by those resolutions. This practice of saying yes on the one hand and no on the other makes for a confusing situation, one that adds a measure of uncertainty to our economy and regularly roils world credit markets. It's a dangerous situation, and one created solely by Congressional action, but I think I’ve figured out why this happens.

Members of the House of Representatives stand for re-election every two years. Most Republican seats in the House are safe from Democratic challenge. However, any budget plan that would stand a chance of gaining Senate approval would increase the debt. Voting in favor of a budget that increases the public debt would make a Republican Congressman, even from a safe district, vulnerable to attack from the right. Supporting a continuing resolution, though also increasing the debt, is a stop-gap, short-term measure that puts House members in a much more defensible position - that is, saving the government and fighting the good fight. Defunding or re-purposing programs – the real budget solution - poses a much greater risk. (Ask someone over the age of 50 about means-testing Social Security retirement benefits and you’ll see what happens when you touch a constituent's favorite program).

So, when a conservative member of Congress votes in favor of a continuing resolution, he's not thinking about sound public policy. He’s thinking instead about the next election and about protecting himself from voter backlash over cutting a constituent's favorite government program.

When he votes against an increase in the federal debt limit - an increase occasioned by the continuing resolution he just approved - he’s not taking a stance for smaller government. He's actually only protecting himself from the accusation of a challenger (a fellow conservative) who could say “you aren't conservative enough." That is, his stance on either topic - budget authorization or debt limit increase - isn’t really a substantive position. It’s actually a campaign event.

Statesmanship – taking a course of action with the good of the people in mind – is no longer a motivating factor for House members (if it ever was). Getting elected and staying in office is the sole goal. That they gamble with their personal reputations for self-aggrandizement is one thing. But risking the national credit rating for the sake of gaining re-election shows just how small-minded politics has become.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013


Politics in the US is no longer guided by politicians seeking an honest dialogue of ideas as a means of enlightening us all to the truth - if it ever was - rather, it has become a profession, in and of itself, dominated by political practitioners who use half-truths and lies to incite in us fear and hatred as a means of imposing their opinion on us - in other words, we are now at the mercy of politicians who rule by violence under the guise of defending doctrinal purity.

Saturday, July 27, 2013


Baseball is an interesting sport. A player who hits the ball at the rate of 3 out of every 10 times at bat will earn a multi-million dollar salary and, upon retirement, be voted into the hall of fame on the first ballot. A manager whose team wins at the rate of 3 out of 10 games will get fired.

Monday, June 03, 2013

Regarding The Arab-Israeli Conflict

I'm reading about the Arab-Israeli War of 1948 - the war for Israel's independence - and it leaves me with a question that gets to the present conflict.

In 1948 the UN voted to partition Palestine into an Arab state and an Israeli state, with Jerusalem as an international city. The Arabs were not satisfied and chose to fight rather than accept the deal. The Arabs lost the war and in the course of that they lost control of much of the land they'd been granted by the UN partition. So here's the question - if the fighting had gone the other way - with an Arab victory - would the Arabs have given back enough land for an Israeli state?

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Fried Bacon - Maybe It's Not So Bad After All

Not too long ago I read an article about longevity that indicated some of the longest lived people reside in Asia, particularly in Japan and China. In studying them, researchers found several noticeable traits in their lifestyle that differ from the typical Western lifestyle. One of those was the practice of preparing meat by boiling it, which was thought to remove much of the fat. 
Here in Texas, we love fried bacon, especially on Sunday morning. Usually, the task of preparing it falls to me. Bacon, being pork, contains more fat than you’d like to know about. As a result, a pound of bacon fried in a skillet on the stove produces a large quantity of grease. While frying a pound this morning I thought of the long-lived people in Asia and about how they reduce the fat from their diet by boiling it. And it occurred to me that frying meat in its own grease accomplishes the same thing. So doesn’t it follow that by frying bacon, and thereby extracting the fat, I have turned greasy pork bacon into a healthy component of a low-fat diet?

Friday, January 18, 2013

Minutemen, Cowboys, and American Gun Policy

The current debate about “gun control” in America isn’t really about controlling guns. On the surface, we use the language of control, sure, but the discussion is finally moving beyond merely limiting the sale of certain rounds of ammunition or certain types of weapons and moving on to wrestle with a definition for gun ownership in 21st Century – post revolutionary – America. Like every other challenge we face, finding that definition requires us to let go of the past and face the future – a future that looks very uncertain and very scary. And that’s the problem. America is afraid.
In the 1700s, the United States had no standing army. Armies were raised on an “as needed” basis, mostly from volunteers who were expected to supply their own weapons. True citizen soldiers, men who responded for military service fought until the issues were settled, then returned home to plow or feed the chickens or tend their store. They served our forebears well.
Before the American Civil War, an American farmer with a good hunting rifle was as well-equipped as any regular troop from any army in the world. Together they formed that “well-armed militia” referenced in the Second Amendment and they were the nation’s only source of security against unrest from within and armed attack from without. That’s why the Second Amendment was added to the Constitution, to protect the right of citizens to “keep and bear arms” – because the nation depended on well-armed individual citizens for its defense. They were the army.
Today, that is no longer the case. Now we have a standing, well-trained, full-time army. Defense of the nation no longer rests on a “well-armed” citizen militia. But the myth of the American Minuteman lives on and the notion of unlimited individual gun ownership has morphed into a principle seen by many as the “bedrock of all liberties,” the foundation upon which all freedom stands – suggesting that so long as we own our own weapons we will one day have the means of leading an armed defense against terrorists from abroad, or an armed revolt against the tyranny of politicians in Washington, DC. One look inside a Stryker vehicle or an M1 tank would quickly disabuse you of that notion. The citizen soldier is no longer our primary means of defense. It’s time for our national firearms policy to leave the past and catch up with the age in which we live – a highly mobile, exceedingly urban, media-influenced, violence-prone age.
Think about this for perspective – there was a day when those who worked on cattle ranches needed to perfect the skill of breaking and training horses. Horses were their means of transportation and a vital tool for the cowboy trade. Over time, certain cowboys developed a knack for riding rank unbroken stallions. Today, ranching has changed and horses aren’t used much. Traditional cowboys are all but gone from the West. Horsemanship has become a hobby. But the art of riding unbroken stallions lives on in rodeos held all across the country. What once was a vital work skill has now become sport.
The same thing happened with hunting. Killing wild game was once essential for survival. In centuries past, it was the settler’s primary, and many times only, source of animal protein. Now, except in remote areas like Alaska and northern Canada, hunting is no long essential for survival. Yet the practice lives on as a sport. And so it is with the citizen soldier – long since eliminated as a factor in national defense policy, but lingering now in the American gun owner.
This argument we’re having about gun ownership isn’t about the need for a “well-armed militia,” or the notion that our freedom rests on access to the means of armed rebellion. And it’s not about taking away all firearms – no one wants to take away hunting rifles and shotguns, and not many want to limit the use of handguns. The argument is about something far scarier than that. It’s about coping with life in a rapidly changing world and grappling with a future – a very uncertain future – that’s rushing toward us at an incredible speed. We no longer live in the Minuteman age. We live in the age of Now and it’s time we addressed the real problems we face rather than struggling to hold on to the past.