Thursday, November 10, 2011

Penn State

I want to believe the Penn State trustees acted from righteous indignation, but the cynic in me wonders if they weren't merely attempting to get ahead of the lawsuits, the NCAA, and the media. That doubt about their motives stems from the fact that everyone associated with the situation failed, and they failed because of the potential consequences that doing the right thing might have had on their own careers.

The graduate assistant - told his father and Paterno, and left it at that. Paterno - told a school official the next day, and left it at that. School officials - took away Sandusky's locker room privileges, and left it at that. Yet NO ONE CALLED THE POLICE - and meanwhile, a kid is getting his anus ripped out.

Paterno, being Paterno, could have called the police that night and they would have responded immediately. He could have had the grad assistant drive him over to the locker room, then to Sandusky's house. They could have made a huge deal out of it right then because a child was involved and the threat was immediate.

But they didn't. And I think they didn't because they knew that if Sandusky wiggled away from the charge, they would all see their careers evaporate. This is "winning is everything" taken to the extreme and it's an attitude and culture that permeates the entire school - you can see it in the reaction of the students - and it permeates all of college football. No one cares about anything except winning.

If there was ever "lack of institutional control" this is it. And I, for once, hope the NCAA gets into this case and closes the program and goes on a rampage through the ranks of college football and cleans house and rids the entire system of its obsession with winning and money. But they won't. And they won't for the same reasons no one acted to stop Sandusky - they're afraid of what will happen to their own status and position.

Friday, July 08, 2011


Even though the next presidential election is still more than a year away, political pundits are busy trying to figure out who the current Republican frontrunner might be and which of the contenders might have a realistic hope of obtaining the Party’s nomination and a realistic possibility of unseating President Obama. Having observed elections both up close and from the ease of my sofa, I have found that voting for candidates occurs in lengthy selection process that includes at least five stages. The outcome of each round in that process narrows the field of candidates and provides clues to the identity of the potential winner.
The first votes in an election are cast by political operatives. Working in the backrooms and back roads of America, they scour the country for candidates who will stand for election to offices at every level – city, county, state, national. Some of these operatives are party loyalists who see it as their duty to ferret out candidates who agree with their positions. Far more are paid employees of large corporations or influential political action committees. These operatives make their living locating candidates who agree with their employers’ political positions and facilitating their rise to office. Once they locate the right candidate, they offer inducements to entice the candidate to seek elected office. Those inducements include campaign contributions, technical assistance, and election expertise. The selection process by which these operatives find their candidates comprises the first round of voting. Candidates who are selected in this manner have a far better chance of success than those who choose to run for office simply on their own decision.
After professional political operatives vote, the potential candidates vote. They vote in the affirmative for themselves by agreeing to seek office. They signify that decision by filing the necessary documents to form a campaign committee and qualify with their party. That is the second round of voting.
At the third stage, major donors cast their votes. This is the point at which wealthy individuals, corporations, political action committees and the like make their choices from the field of candidates already winnowed by the previous stages of the process. In almost all elections, candidates who raise the most money – and raise it early – win the election. They get that money from a select group of major donors. You can see some of the major donors for President Obama and John McCain from the 2008 election by clicking on the links.
Then, in the fourth stage, those citizens who are registered voters enter the process. In elections for state and national offices they make their initial selections from among a slate of candidates in a party primary election.  That first round of voting narrows the field of candidates further, reducing the field to just one candidate per party for each office.
Finally, after these four rounds of selections are made, the electors go to the polls in the general election and cast a concluding vote. In many ways, Election Day isn’t a choice among candidates, pure and simple, but a ratification of decisions made by others long before the first campaign speech was delivered.

So, if you want to know which candidates have the best chance of success, just follow the professional political operatives and the money.

Friday, June 24, 2011


With candidates lining up for a chance to unseat President Obama, Republican rhetoric has begun to take shape. One of the key elements in that rhetoric is a distinct dislike for “government programs.” Mitt Romney, among others, has shown a fondness for stressing the supposed error of those who think government can do things better than private business. This is part of the standard Republican campaign message echoing a strong belief in capitalism as the solution to every problem and a belief that business, left to its own designs, will eventually rectify every ill. This message is then wrapped in the cloth of the Founding Fathers and presented as the great American gospel. It is a message echoed by conservative Christian organizations such as Eagle Forum and the Christian Coalition.

It is true that those who crafted the Declaration of Independence held government in disdain and were skeptical of government’s ability to do much besides wage war. But the men who drafted the Constitution were equally skeptical, not of the ills of government but of the ills of mankind. They knew that individuals and private business COULD solve any ill, but they were skeptical that they WOULD unless compelled. The government created in our Constitution emanates from their point of view. Men may consider lofty ideals for the common good, but they are prone to act from selfish motives.

Those who oppose government programs and regulations need only look to the reasons behind those programs to understand why they were created and why they must exist. Social Security was enacted because the nation’s elderly, most of who were from the working class, were forced to live an impoverished, miserable life after their bodies were spent from physical labor. Employers, who reaped great profits from the labor of their employees, had done nothing to address the situation. Medicare was enacted for much the same reason. Elderly, who faced greater medical challenges, found they were unable to acquire health insurance and unable to afford medical attention. Private insurers could have offered insurance to them, physicians could have solved the problem on their own, but they didn’t (or wouldn’t) because there was not enough profit in the age group. The EPA was created because industries and developers chose profit over the environment. Automobiles were regulated because manufacturers chose profit over safety. And the list goes on.

This same scenario was repeated in the area of civil rights. Southern states, left to their own devices, refused to offer equal protection to persons of color. Had they done so on their own, there would have been no Civil Rights era. But they did not. And so, the federal government stepped in. Desegregation, school busing, affirmative action and the like were all instituted because people left to themselves chose to do the wrong thing.

In more recent years, we saw an unregulated mortgage industry loan its way to the bottom of the housing market. Securities firms then purchased those mortgages, packaged them as investment securities and sold them to investment banks and mutual funds. Banks and funds then securitized the risk of default in the underlying mortgages and sold that risk to each other as credit default swaps. All of that happened outside the veil of government regulation and proved once again that offered a choice between profit and common sense, private business will choose profit every time.

The problems we face aren’t the work of a left-wing conspiracy out to regulate us into submission. The problem we face is the ancient problem humanity has always faced. Mankind has a profound propensity for choosing self-interest over common interest. Conservative Christians – that part of Christendom that actually believes in the authority of Scripture – ought to know this better than any. Classic Reformed theology is grounded on the notion that human nature is totally and absolutely corrupt. Yet, in the current political cycle, conservative Christians lead the parade chanting the Republican-Tea Party privatization-deregulation mantra. They, who ought to be wary of trusting their lives to any mere mortal, want to hand themselves over to the care and whim of Wall Street executives, captains of industry, and titans of retail sales – the very people who have proven time and time again to be incapable of acting responsibly and sorely in need of a watchful eye.

Friday, May 13, 2011


The Tea Party push for a smaller federal government and less onerous tax structure rests on the issue of state sovereignty. This issue is not new in American politics and has been the subject of rigorous debate since before our Republic was formed. Unfortunately for Tea Party supporters, the state sovereignty side of the argument has lost every time, and for good reason.

After the Revolution, the American central government operated under the Articles of Confederation which held state sovereignty supreme and created a very weak national government. That approach proved ineffectual in dealing with national defense and interstate commerce, two areas vital to the new nation’s survival. As a consequence, Congress threw out the Articles of Confederation and started over.

The Constitution that Congress drafted gave a nod to state sovereignty but created a strong federal government with final authority in the areas of national defense, foreign policy, and interstate commerce. It forced states to recognize the lawful acts of their fellow states and gave the federal government authority to levy its own taxes without state approval. The central government worked much better, but the tension between federal authority and state sovereignty continued to simmer. The issue came to a boil in the middle of the 19th century and erupted in the Civil War – a war fought over the fundamental question of how to interpret and apply the federal constitution.

At the time it was ratified in 1789, the federal constitution was seen as a wall around the central government defining the limits of that government’s authority. Hemming it in, as it were, and restraining it from subsuming the authority of the states. But by the mid-1800s, life in the United States was quite different from the previous century. Industrialization was well on its way to transforming the economies of most western nations. The issues of commerce, foreign policy, and national defense had acquired a subtle complexity.

States in the southern half of the country were situated in a region where soil and climate conditions favored agricultural production. Cotton and tobacco grew well there. Southerners found a lucrative market for both commodities in Europe. Exports grew and the economies of the Southern states flourished.

By contrast, states in the northern half of the country were located in a region where conditions were less favorable to agriculture but more conducive to emerging industrialization. However, cost and quality issues hampered the North’s access to European markets. If industrialization was to continue in the United States, northern industry would have to find a profitable place to sell its goods. The southern states were a natural market for those goods, but as the South’s export trade to Europe increased their import trade did as well – partly as a matter of convenience but also because the southern plantation culture saw itself as a reflection of European aristocracy which it reinforced through the purchase of European wares. To remedy the situation, President Lincoln proposed a tariff that would have effectively ended Southern trade with Europe.

Whether Lincoln could have rallied enough support to win a war over the issues of trade and taxation is questionable. After all, these were the identical issues that lay at the heart of the Revolutionary War. Arguments advanced in support of colonial independence were easily transferable to the economic issues that the South faced in the 18th century. But there was a twist to the complexity of these issues. The economic advantage held by southern agriculture was obtained on the backs of slaves.

In order to gain approval of the current Constitution, delegates and drafters had to sidestep the great moral issue of slavery. To do that, they relegated it to the control of the individual states. Those who were bent on securing approval of the new constitution viewed the move as a way of securing ratification. Those who valued state sovereignty saw it as a victory for their cause. In reality, the treatment of slavery in the Constitution put the issue of state sovereignty to its most crucial test – the morality test. Few, if any, state sovereignty proponents realized that the future of their argument for interpreting the Constitution hung in the balance.

All government, regardless of its structure, rests on the moral authority of its leaders – their ability to do what is right, even when it means opposing the interests of those whom they were elected to serve. Even monarchs and dictators derive their political power from their moral authority. That has not always been readily obvious but the steady erosion of monarchical forms of government attests to it, as does the collapse of communist governments in all but a few nations. They failed not because the form of government was inept but because their leaders failed the moral test. The Southern Confederacy met with the same fate.

Had leaders of the southern states exercised their moral authority properly and disbanded the practice of slavery, the map of North America might look quite different. Instead, they put the force and effect of their central government squarely behind the ownership of slaves and perpetuation of the plantation lifestyle slavery afforded. With it they staked the future of state sovereignty. When Lincoln finally made the abolishment of slavery the focus of the war, both the Confederacy and the notion of state sovereignty as the controlling doctrine for constitutional interpretation were doomed.

A century later, the state sovereignty argument resurfaced as a defense to state-enforced racial segregation. What little remained of the argument was sacrificed on the altar of prejudice and bigotry. Attempts by southern states to defend institutional segregation offered convincing proof that state leaders could not be trusted to appropriately exercise their moral authority.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Book Listed Among Most Influential in Affecting Congressional Policy

Not all of you would agree with this, but the 2008 biography I wrote about Sarah Palin was recently listed as one of the top five Christian books affecting Congressional policy.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Locked In The Garage

One afternoon last week my son, Jack, and I went out to the garage for our usual afternoon exercise routine. We walked out from the kitchen into the garage and pulled the door closed behind us. About an hour later we were finished and ready for a drink of water. That’s when we realized the door into the house was locked. We had the remote to raise the garage door but it was cold outside and getting dark. I already knew the other doors and windows were locked, so there we were, stuck in the garage with no keys, no cell phone, and no one else at home.

The garage got reorganized last year when we started going out there regularly to exercise, which meant we knew where everything was located. Rather than mope about it, I dug out a basket of art supplies, converted a cardboard box into a table, and set up Jack with a sketch pad and pencils. I found the extra Coca Colas and divided one between us (using a cup from some extra dishes stored on a shelf - wiped out with the tail of my shirt), then used the empty Coke can for an art lesson in perspective, etc. While Jack drew 2 versions of the can, we talked – about everything.

After an hour of that we were getting cold, so we went back to the treadmill and sit-up bench for a second round of exercise. Then we got out the tennis balls and made up a game. Finally, after almost four hours in the garage, our liberators arrived with supper.

Just the night before I had been talking to Jack about how we work hard to make memories, but the best memories turn out to be the ones we make on the way to making memories.