Form a Committee!

Oilman T. Boone Pickens has jumped into the political fray once again.  Like many of us, he’s fed up with the current political climate and dearth of “qualified” candidates for president.  So he’s got a revolutionary new idea.  We (he?) should put together a “bipartisan screening committee that vets presidential candidates like we do anyone else applying for a job.”  Capital idea, T.  (Or do you prefer to be called Boone?)  As you point out, the current system of picking a leader is more akin to Reality TV than the hallowed system our forefathers envisioned.  (Or is it?  I’d have to double check but it seems it’s been quite some time since we had politicians literally shooting each other or beating each other with their canes on the floor of Congress.)


But I do have to ask, who gets to serve on this brilliant committee of yours? Who elects the electors, so to speak?  And I will assume that, by “recommend” you actually mean “recommend” and that the decisions of this committee are in no way binding on the electorate as a whole so I’ll leave that dystopian thought alone.

And therein lays the rub.  Like I said, capital idea.  The only thing is, you’re about 227 years too late to the game.  Sure, your ideal committee may be considerably smaller than the committee known as the registered voters of the United States, but the fact remains, we have a vetting process.  And our vetting process, unlike many other nations, is more thorough than most.  We all like to bemoan the seemingly endless campaign season but would a two-week campaign like they have in France, or even a three-month campaign like they recently had in Canada (it’s usually shorter than that) really be more preferable?  Maybe folks would pay more attention, but I doubt it.  If the press and the people can’t properly vet a candidate in two years, I don’t see how they’re going to do it in two months.  Politicians are masters at obfuscation and the less time they have to obfuscate the better for them and the worse for us.

And as to your smaller committee, provided its decision is not legally binding, we already have those too.  Sure, most of them are not bi-partisan like you call for, but what the heck does bi-partisan even mean anymore?  People tend to coalesce around single issues; tax policy, foreign policy, guns, “family values”, the environment, etc.  I’d like to think most of us are intelligent enough not to be single-issue voters but most of us also tend to hold one issue above all others regardless of party.  So we join forces and form committees like the League of Women Voters or the Conservative Political Action Committee or the Americans for Tax Reform.  Then most of us tend to coalesce around the two biggest committees; the Republican National Committee and the Democratic National Committee.

So maybe I shouldn’t call it such a capital idea after all, Boone.  Or perhaps it is best to quote Winston Churchill’s famous line about democracy being “the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

Pickens ends his idea with a challenge for readers to come up with something better.  What have I got?  Well, like Reagan said in his landmark speech of 1964, “there is a simple answer – not an easy answer – but simple.”  And that answer is education, both in reason and in morality.  Benjamin Franklin is quoted as saying the founders gave us “a republic, if you can keep it.”  John Adams stated that “our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.  It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

The apparent decay of our nation rests at no one’s feet but our own.  We cannot blame our politicians.  We cannot blame the faceless bureaucracy as comforting and convenient as those scapegoats may be.  We turn out the first Tuesday of November every year to elect leaders from among us.  Any of us can run and because of this “experiment” started more than two centuries ago we alone are responsible not only for the triumphs we face, but also for the failures.

So I agree.  Form a committee, but not one to recommend a president.  Instead, form a committee to raise our children up with knowledge, wisdom, and morality.  Form a committee to help the struggling family buy groceries, then invite them over to your home for Christmas Dinner and share something so much more important than food; your table and your love.  Form a committee to help the kid struggling with his civics homework and tutor him after school every Tuesday.  Form a committee to plant a tree or clean up a park.  Form a committee with your neighbors and promise to watch over each other’s homes when you are away.  Form a committee to be that shining city on a hill that Christ spoke of in his Sermon on the Mount.  Be an example; for change happens not from pontificating and the passage of laws, but from example.  We will never legislate our way to peace and prosperity.  The only way to reach these hallowed ends is through personal action.  We do this, we form not just committees but communities that serve as moral and reasonable examples for the rest, it won’t matter much who our president or other political leaders are for we will be the leaders of our own destinies.  And we need not even wait until next November for our election is today.

Cross posted at

Data Mining: Liberty vs. Security

There’s been much talk on the interwebs today about the NSA data-mining Verizon’s and other companies’ phone records. While I’m not one to call double-standard on “my own team” nor defend Obama very often, I have to jump in here. And realize, I am in good conservative company here. This morning conservative talk-show host Dennis Prager covered the topic in a positive manner and Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich), who has an 88 rating from the American Conservative Union and sits on the House Intelligence Committee, both agree with me.

Many people are throwing around the Franklin quote, “those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” I bolded the words I did because many folks are also conveniently (although I suspect unintentionally in many cases) leaving those words out and they really make all the difference. Without them, the quote could be interpreted to mean any form of government is bad since any form of government necessarily puts certain restraints on complete liberty. As Madison said, “if men were angels no government would be necessary.” Of course, he added the converse that, “if angels were to govern men then no controls on government would be necessary.” But both parts of that quote are equally necessary. Like so many things in life and government, security policy requires a balance. If men were angels then we’d have no need to fingerprint. If men were angels we’d have no need for passports or any other form of ID. If men were angels we wouldn’t need surveillance at the ATM, guards at the airport, a military or even our cherished Second Amendment rights. If men were angels we’d live in Utopia, the definition of which is a place which doesn’t exist, at least not on earth.

But men aren’t angels so we do need government and the laws that it passes and enforces. We have the liberty to practice the religion we want but not to engage in child sacrifice. We have the liberty to speak freely but not to cry “fire” in a crowded theater or to threaten the life of the president. We have the liberty to keep and bear arms but try to acquire a Patriot missile and see what happens. And I’m guessing, regardless of how we interpret the Second Amendment (I, myself, believe, technically, there is nothing in the U.S. Constitution restricting us from having a Patriot missile), we wouldn’t have a problem with our friendly neighborhood FBI task force looking into a neighbor that was keeping one in his back yard.

So what about data-mining? I’m not too concerned (which doesn’t mean I’m not concerned at all). First, as Rep. Rogers states, this program has already stopped at least one significant terrorist attack in the U.S. Second, the program is authorized by Congress and supervised by a court.

“But we see how well government oversight is working!” you say. Yes, there are certainly more than enough examples within just the past few months to prove that the Obama Administration is as corrupt as few we’ve seen, so I understand the hesitancy of some to support data-mining. But if we take this approach then nothing the government does (at least as long as Obama is in power) can be trusted. And if that’s the case then what’s the point? It’s not a far leap from there to a whole list of quite possible conspiracy theories (shape-shifting aliens not being one of them in this case).

Our government is powerful enough (and always has been in relation to the power of the people) that it could, theoretically, frame a private citizen for some heinous act as a way to silence its opposition.

So we should be vigilant. We shouldn’t just skip along as if data-mining is as happy as a Saturday morning cartoon specials but we also shouldn’t just dismiss it off-hand as some sinister plot to take away our freedoms. Mostly because the so-called freedoms taken away by data-mining pale in comparison to the ones we gave up long ago and haven’t complained about in decades (if we ever did).

First, data-mining isn’t the government listening in on every phone call you make and copying down the contents of the shopping list you’re reading off to your wife. In fact, data-mining has nothing to do with the content of your call. It is simply a computer algorithm searching through millions of gigabytes of meta-data seeing if there are any patterns that might point to terrorist plots or some other criminal act. Maybe you made a call a few seconds before a bomb went off and that call bounced off a tower near the site of the explosion. Seems to me that data might be pretty useful. Of course, maybe you have absolutely nothing to do with the explosion, but if it meant finding the terrorist who did so or preventing another explosion from taking place, would you really have a problem with answering a few questions? Completely innocent people are rounded up all the time when something bad happens.

When Bobby Kennedy was shot, hundreds of people were held for questioning for hours at the Ambassador Hotel; the vast majority or which, I’m sure, authorities knew, without a doubt, weren’t responsible. But better to restrict the liberty of a few hundred for a few hours in an effort to catch an assassin than let everyone go, including Sirhan Sirhan.

Stupid people threaten the life of the president all the time. Most of the time they have no intention of causing any real harm. They’re just stupid. But aren’t we all glad that the Secret Service is vigilant about investigating all those folks?

We’ve given up a lot more information than the metadata of our phone calls. The government knows how much we make and who pays us. It knows about our real estate and vehicle ownership. It knows when and where we travel when we leave the country. Any time we make a transaction of more than $10,000 or transport that sum across international boundaries the government knows that too. To me, all that seems way more invasive than the fact I made a few calls yesterday.

And that’s assuming the government actually cares. Excuse me, but most of us just aren’t that special. And if our specific phone behavior is being that closely monitored then we probably either have ties to a terrorist group or are a major contributor to the Romney Campaign (the latter of which, of course, is completely unconstitutional, an abuse of power and is, thankfully, in a similar instance, being investigated by Congress). The government does care, however, how much money we make and if we withdrew $15,000 from our bank account last week. If you want to get in a tizzy over government overreach, get in a tizzy over that.

Yes, the government is wildly inefficient, at times abusive and vindictive, but if we’ve really reached the point where, to quote Obama in a speech earlier today, “people can’t trust government, we’re going to have some problems here.”

Does that mean we should give government all of our trust? Never! I don’t care who’s in the White House. I wouldn’t trust myself. That’s why I’m a fan of limited government. But it also doesn’t mean that we should look at everything the government does (even the honesty-challenged current administration) through the lens of some sinister plot to take away all of our rights and throw those of us who “cling to our God and guns” in prison camps. As bad as things are here right now, we’re not anywhere close to being North Korea.

Personally, I’m thankful that Obama has broken his promise to close Gitmo. I’m glad he took out Anwar al-Awlaki with a drone. To not trust government to at least some extent means to not trust the military or the police, for, in the wrong hands, they can inflict a lot more harm on the average citizen than any amount of data-mining ever can. And to not trust government to some extent means the only option left is armed revolt because, really, if you can’t trust a computer algorithm running a search on phone records at the NSA, can you even trust that we have free and fair elections?

So just ask yourself, is it the data-mining you have a problem with or is it the current data-miner-in-chief? If it’s the latter then don’t throw the baby (tools used to successfully prevent terror attacks in the U.S.) out with the bath water (President Obama; and no, Martin Bashir, that comparison has nothing to do with the color of his skin). The TSA’s policy of not allowing knives and guns on airplanes fails all the time. One friend mentioned that her husband unknowingly brought a pocket knife onboard a plane four times before a TSA agent found it. Does that mean we should just throw that whole policy out? And if so, why not just allow guns or even underwear bombs?

And if it is the former, just why are you so concerned about some federal government algorithm combing over millions of phone records (which, unless you’re one of the special cases named above, won’t even be connected to you) yet you don’t seem to have a problem with Verizon, AT&T, Facebook, or Google doing the same?

In conclusion, stay always vigilant. It is good and right that this story about data-mining is in the media and being discussed at such length. But just be wary of where you go with your arguments. Focus on the facts and the specific policy. Those of us on the right didn’t appreciate it when some on the left exhibited Bush Derangement Syndrome and flipped out no matter what he did (things that Obama is currently doing today, including data-mining). Don’t develop Obama Derangement Syndrome and flip out over data-mining just because Obama is currently in charge. Nor should you flip out over it because there’s the possibility it could be used for malevolent purposes. While the IRS is actually using data it is collecting for malevolent purposes, as much as I’d love to see it go, no one is seriously entertaining its end over this.


States’ Rights and the Gay Marriage Debate

English: United States Supreme Court building ...
English: United States Supreme Court building in Washington D.C., USA. Front facade. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


I’ll start by saying that I think the whole gay marriage debate is stupid. It’s a distraction perpetuated by zealots on both sides to distract us from the more important issues like the ever increasing debt and the anemic economy. (For my simple senator solution to the problem read my post A Victory for Love?)


But there is one important issue that the recent cases before SCOTUS raise, namely states’ rights.


The point was raised in a recent discussion with a friend that gay marriage isn’t a states’ rights issue but a human rights issue. It could be that. Legitimate arguments could be made either way (I’m not going to take the time to make them because, again, I think there are more important things to discuss). But it is most certainly a states’ rights issue. Just as, in fact, slavery (which is most certainly also a human rights issue) was. Why? The 10th Amendment.


It states that “[t]he powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Since marriage and slavery were not covered by the Constitution at its inception this means that those issues had to be addressed by the states individually. It could be said that slavery was covered by certain clauses of the Constitution prior to the passage of the 14th Amendment (something I agree with) but, as we all know, a very bloody war had to be fought to resolve that argument and, unfortunately, sometimes right only comes about by might. Marriage, of course, is still not addressed by the Constitution or any of its amendments.


Now, why is it important that these are issues that should be addressed by the states and not the federal government? Because if we argue that they should be addressed by the federal government then the 10th Amendment ceases to have any significance (something that began happening shortly after it was written and continues at an ever increasing speed today with things like federal welfare, education and health care, as noble as those things might be on some [read: individual] level). If we argue this then we might as well argue that, since it is such an important human rights issue then the UN should address it. I’m sure there are many who might agree with that last point but here is why that opinion (and the UN itself, one could argue) is so dangerous.


Practically, the overwhelming majority (all but 15 either in part or in whole) of member nations in the UN do not recognize gay marriage. And there are quite a few nations (54) that oppose not only marriage but other homosexual “rights” (several of these even put homosexuals to death). So there’s not much chance that it would happen today. And even if it did, what’s to say that tomorrow an opposite minded majority reigned supreme. And so the same goes at the federal level.


I can use abortion as another example. This too should be a states’ rights issue even though many folks would argue that the life of an unborn child is one of the greatest human rights issues we face today. The problem is, although many folks feel this way, there are many that feel the exact opposite (abortion is currently opposed by about half of Americans). So instead of passing so sweeping law that covers all 50 states, why not just sit the issue out and let each individual state come up with its own laws. You’re never going to force someone to agree with your opinion and if such a great number of people disagree (whether its gay marriage or abortion) it does no good to shove it down their throats. Better to appeal to them rationally unless you’re willing to fight a very bloody war over the issue.


Yes, although I ardently agree that fighting the Civil War was a good decision by the Lincoln and the Union, it was still a states’ rights issue and a legitimate argument could be made that, technically, the Northern states had no right as delineated by the Constitution to wage war on the South. Of course, the Union had a moral right and that’s much more important but at the end of the day, if the North had lost then it would have had to continue to recognize slavery as legal in those Southern states and hope that things would change another way.


And that last point is what makes the argument of some on the left so fascinatingly hypocritical. Many of the same folks arguing for gay marriage are the same folks who argue against foreign intervention in those nations which not only don’t recognize gay marriage but put homosexuals to death. You can’t have it both ways. If you’re not prepared to recognize this as a states’ rights issue then it means you feel it is okay to impose your opinions on others who do not agree with you (one of the main characteristics of a statist so it’s no surprise). And that’s fine as long as you’re willing to back it up with military might (and no, I’m not saying that we should fight an actual war over gay marriage although there are plenty of stupid cases of physical violence happening over this issue). That’s fine as long as you’re willing to impose that same view of gay marriage not only on people in other U.S. states but also people in places like Saudi Arabia and the Chicksaw and Iowa Indian Nations.


And, yes, I know some may argue that the U.S. never fought a war to end slavery in another nation. I’m not arguing that it should have or shouldn’t have, just that, if it had, those who supported the initial war would have to support the ensuing war on moral grounds to be consistent.



Spokane Falls CC Decides that 1st Amendment’s actually a good thing

Spokane Falls Community College has decided to change its policies on student groups distributing fliers and having speakers after it settled with student pro-life activist Beth Sheeran who’d been forbidden from holding a small, not intrusive pro-life event at the college last spring and threatened with expulsion if she did.

I’m glad to see one of our institutes of higher learning has decided that freedom of speech is okay.