Mike Kueber's Blog

September 27, 2011

A third party in American politics

Filed under: Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 2:28 am
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Matt Miller, a columnist with the Washington Post (and a former Clinton aide), wrote a column today in favor of a third party in American politics.    According to Miller, the current political parties are (a) too focused on winning elections and not on solving problems that are eminently solvable, (b) unduly dependent on their special interests, and (c) afraid that voters will abandon anyone who talks straight with them.  Who can argue with that?

My favorite line from Miller’s column – “As always in a democracy, better leadership starts with better followership.”  I think there is a tendency to blame our politicians for America’s perilous condition, whereas I think the voters need to accept responsibility and accountability.  And Miller acknowledges that new groups such as Americans Elect and No Labels are doing good work in  developing, “a new politics of problem-solving. But we’ll never mobilize the ‘far center’ without an agenda around which people can rally.”

Miller takes a crack at creating an agenda for this new third-party:

  1. Fix the economy before fixing the debt/deficit.  Stimulate the economy by eliminating the corporate income tax and the payroll tax, and eventually replace them with a consumption tax.  Also impose an import tax on Chinese goods to counter their unfair currency manipulation.  And finally, spend to create jobs on shovel-ready infrastructure.
  2. Fix education.  More money for teachers, but nothing about union-based impediments to evaluating teachers and getting rid of those who are ineffective and are unable to be effective.
  3. Fix health care.  Tweak ObamaCare so that it relies more on private insurance, while retaining universal coverage, albeit less gold-plated and more catastrophic.
  4. Rein in Wall Street.  Increase capital requirements.
  5. Fix our broken political system.  Increase voter turnout by entering all people who vote into a multi-million-dollar lottery, give each registered voter $50 “patriot dollars” to give to the candidate of their choice, and lower the voting age to fifteen.
  6. Require national service.  Two years.
  7. Get our fiscal house in order.  Balance the budget by 2018 by cutting national defense and entitlements (Social Security and Medicare) and increasing taxes by implementing a dirty-energy tax and a new tax rate of 50% on those making more than $5 million, plus letting the Bush tax rates expire on everyone, not just the rich.

Although Miller’s agenda is unmistakably liberal (what would you expect from a former Clinton aide?), it is worth discussing.  Unfortunately, in our current environment, both sides would declare it dead-on-arrival.  Republicans would refuse to consider any tax increases or any stimulus spending, while Democrats would refuse to consider any cuts to entitlements or any tax increases to the middle class or any education reforms.

I’m not convinced that a third party is more likely to be effective than trying to elect moderates within the two parties, but I will be following this issue with great interest.

September 26, 2011

Herman Cain and his 999 plan

Filed under: People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 4:54 am
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Herman Cain and his 999 plan seem to be catching on like a wildfire.  Several pundits have declared him the unofficial winner of the FOX/Google debate in Florida and he officially won the subsequent straw poll.  Rick Perry even joked during the debate that his ideal running mate would be a combination of Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich.  Methinks this buzz about Cain requires that we take a closer look.

Cain’s 999 plan is a proposal to eliminate all taxes except for:

  • Reducing the federal personal income tax from five rates (10/15/25/33/35) to a single 9% rate.
  • Reducing the federal corporate income tax rate from 35% to 9%.
  • Instituting a national sales tax of 9%.

According to Cain, his 999 plan is revenue-neutral – i.e., it will generate the same revenue as the current system, but in a simpler, fairer way that will stimulate the economy.

If you go to Cain’s website, however, you will learn that the 999 plan is merely Phase Two of Cain’s three-phrase program.  Phase One is called the Immediate Boost phase, and it consists of establishing a flat tax of 25% on personal and corporate income, while eliminating the Social Security and Capital Gains taxes.  Phase Three is titled the Fair Tax, and it consists of a 23% national sales that that would replace all other federal taxation on persons and corporations.

Mitt Romney in his No Apologies book suggested that the Fair Tax is an interesting concept, but he thinks it might be too risky because we don’t know how much it would disrupt the consumption behavior of Americans.  But Cain’s well-conceived three-phase proposal would enable us to minimize that risk by moving gradually toward a Fair Tax.

Other than his 999 plan, Cain’s most noteworthy policy provision is his embracement of the so-called Chilean model for Social Security.  The Chilean model is basically the same thing as George W. Bush’s proposal for individual, private Social Security accounts that was rejected during his administration.  Chile adopted such a system more than 30 years ago, and it has received mixed, albeit generally positive reviews.

In addition to his 999 plan and his embracement of Chilean Social Security, the most unique thing about Cain is his non-political background.  He is famously known as the former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, but that was only ten years of his life, from 1986 to 1996.  That reminds me of President Obama, who is forever known as a community organizer, even though he only did that for three years between college and law school.

Cain graduated from Morehouse College with a B.S. in Mathematics in 1967 and then went to work as a civilian mathematician for the U.S. Navy, during which he earned a Master’s Degree in Computer Science from Purdue University in 1971.  After getting his Masters, he went to work as a business analyst for Coca Cola and then Pillsbury.  He left an executive suite with Pillsbury to assume regional management of 450 Burger Kings, which was a Pillsbury subsidiary.  His success with those Burger Kings resulted in a transfer to manage all of Godfather’s Pizza, a struggling Pillsbury subsidiary.  After a few successful years with Godfather’s, he and some other private investors bought the company from Pillsbury.

Cain resigned from Godfather’s in 1996 to become CEO of the National Restaurant Association, (the NRA is a trade and lobby group), with which he worked extensively as the CEO of Godfather’s, including vigorous opposition to Clinton’s proposed universal health coverage – HillaryCare.  I can’t find any explanation for Cain’s move from Godfathers to the NRA, but the move might suggest that he had become more interested in public policy than in business.

After a short stay with the NRA, Cain started a full-time career in radio broadcasting, speaking, and writing.  He also ran for President in 2000 and for the U.S. Senate from Georgia in 2004, losing in the primary.

Cain is married, with kids and grandkids, and serves as an Associate Pastor in a Baptist Church.  If all of this seems like a Horatio Alger story, that would be accurate.  As a matter of fact, Cain has received a Horatio Alger award.

But, ironically, Cain’s story darkens a bit when you introduce the subject of religion.  According to Wikipedia, he has had some trouble relating to Muslims:

  • A number of comments made by Cain regarding his attitudes towards Muslim people have caused controversy. He has stated that he was “uncomfortable” when he found that the surgeon operating on his liver and colon cancer was Muslim, later explaining “based upon the little knowledge that I have of the Muslim religion, you know, they have an objective to convert all infidels or kill them.”  Following a number of such comments, he was  asked in March 2011 if he would feel comfortable appointing a Muslim to his administration or as a Judge.  Cain said “No, I will not … There’s this creeping attempt, there’s this attempt, to gradually ease Sharia Law, and the Muslim faith into our government. It does not belong in our government.” and he went on to cite court cases in Oklahoma and New Jersey as evidence.  He was criticized for this remark by conservatives at Grover Norquist’s weekly Wednesday Gatherings, one of whom called the remark “frightening.”  Cain’s statement was also criticized as “bigotry” and “muslim bashing” from CAIR, whose spokesperson stated, “It would be laughable if it weren’t having such a negative impact on the lives of Muslim Americans.”  Cain opposed the building of an Islamic Center for a Muslim community at a site in Tennessee, claiming that it was “an infringement and an abuse of our freedom of religion” and “just another way to try to gradually sneak Sharia law into our laws.”  Defending himself against the suggestion that this would be bigotry or discrimination during an interview with Chris Wallace, he defended his position, saying, “I’m willing to take a harder look at people who might be terrorists, that’s what I’m saying.”
  • Cain has faced criticism regarding his lack of foreign policy experience and stumbled early in the campaign when answering a question regarding the Palestinian right of return as he appeared unfamiliar with the issue and staff were forced to later clarify his position.
  • In an interview with Bloomberg view, Cain argued that he is a “black American” rather than an “African American” on account of being able to trace his ancestors within the US, describing Barack Obama as “more of an international…look, he was raised in Kenya, his mother was white from Kansas and her family had an influence on him, it’s true, but his dad was Kenyan.”  Interviewer Jeffrey Goldberg pointed out that Obama had spent 4 years of his childhood abroad, and that it was in Indonesia – not Kenya, at which point Cain revised his claim.

With this mindset, I wonder how Cain will respond when Katie Couric asks him which magazines and newspapers he reads to inform his world view?  He sounds like the kind of person who would thrive on talk radio, but, like Rick Perry, I don’t think he is acceptable to the independents who will determine who our next president is.

September 25, 2011

Redshirting my kindergarten-aged kid?

Filed under: Culture,Education,Sports — Mike Kueber @ 7:26 pm
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Yesterday, there was a column in the NY Times arguing that it was not a good idea delay your kid’s entrance into kindergarten.  This delaying practice is sometimes called redshirting because it is analogous to a practice in college football that allows college kids to mature an addition year before beginning four years of competitive college football.

Although I hadn’t heard of this practice when my four boys entered kindergarten, my youngest son Jimmy tells me that one of his best friends started a year behind Jimmy even though Jimmy was younger.  And according to Jimmy, the delayed start was intended by his friend’s dad, who had been a professional baseball player, to improve his friend’s athletic prospects.  (It worked; his son has received a Division I scholarship.)

You may think this sort of parental behavior is irrational, but that would be wrong.  One of my first blog postings was a review of a classic book titled Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.  In Outliers Gladwell described compelling evidence that kids who are grouped with kids a few months younger than themselves are unbelievably more successful in sports.  If a few months make a big difference, imagine how much difference there is when a kid is delayed more than 12 months?

The NY Times column was authored by scientists, but it was obvious that the authors were social advocates, not disinterested scientists.  Also the column focused on the academic advantage to starting kindergarten as soon as possible.  It didn’t study the athletic advantage of starting early, but seemed to concede it.

You may wonder when kids can start kindergarten.  The law varies in every state.  According to one internet website, kindergarten is for 5-year olds, and the cut-off date for turning 5 is usually August 31 or September 1.  The earliest is August 1 (Missouri) and the latest is December 31 (several states).

The cut-off in my home state of Texas is September 1, and my former home state of North Dakota is December 2.  If I had grown up in Texas, I would have started school one year later because my birthday is September 24.

But this information establishes the earliest date to begin kindergarten.  What are the parents’ rights to delay kindergarten?  Again, the laws in each state are different.  In Texas, the mandatory school-attendance law applies to any kid who is six-years old by September 1.  Only seven states require school attendance at age 5, which means that redshirting would be an option in the others.  Twenty-three require it at age 6, while 17 states, including North Dakota, require it at age 7.

So what’s a parent to do?  As my brother Kelly said, most parents have no idea whether their kid is going to be blessed with great athletic ability.  Unless you have huge athletic aspirations for your child, redshirting will receive a “delay of game” penalty.

Updated odds for the Republican presidential candidates

Filed under: People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 2:06 am
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The groundswell for Mitt Romney is growing.  Intrade.com currently lists him as the 45% favorite to earn the Republican nomination, while Rick Perry has dropped to 23%. Almost as dramatic a change, Chris Christie has supplanted Sarah Palin for third place. He is listed at 9% and she is at 8%. Huntsman is at 4%, Paul at 3%, and Bachmann at 2%. Surprisingly, Herman Cain remains at 1% despite a winning debate on Thursday and a victorious straw poll on Saturday, both in Florida. Newt Gingrich is also at 1%, and everyone else has less than a 1% chance of winning the nomination.

Perhaps the media will stop callling Perry the frontrunner.

September 24, 2011

Good government

Filed under: Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 2:19 pm
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In Texas there is an old saying that there is nothing in the middle of the road but a yellow stripe and dead armadillos.  In addition to coining that saying, former Ag Commissioner Jim Hightower also said, “The opposite for courage is not cowardice, it is conformity.  Even a dead fish can go with the flow.”  Hightower was our state’s colorful Ag Commissioner until some nondescript, obscure state rep defeated him in 1990 – Rick Perry.

Unfortunately, Hightower’s comments reflect the state of politics in America today, where government has become dysfunctional because of excessive partisanship and a refusal to look to look for common ground.  Instead of trying to achieve progress, too many politicians are focused on their side winning or the other side losing.  “Good government,” which traditionally has meant one that is functional and fair, has become a quaint notion.

A few weeks ago I blogged about a movement called No Labels that is trying to provide a counter-balance to the excessive partisanship  that currently afflicts America, but based on recent news reports, they face a difficult fight.

Earlier this week, Harold Meyerson’s column in Washington Post described a Republican effort in Pennsylvania to rig the Electoral College in favor of Republicans.  They would accomplish this by awarding electoral votes to the winner of each congressional district instead of awarding all of the state’s electoral votes to the winner of the state.  Although this may be a good idea from the perspective of good government, it is being analyzed, and will succeed or fail, on the basis of crass partisanship.

As Meyerson’s column mentions, these machinations with the Electoral College will amplify the significance of gerrymandered redistricting, which is already a travesty of good government.  As reported in the San Antonio Express-News today, the redistricting of congressional districts 23 and 27 is being litigated because it allegedly violates the Voting Rights Act.  Another recent article in the E-N described how Ron Paul’s  congressional district was carved up to punish him and provide a good opportunity for an ambitious state rep to challenge him.  Instead of fighting, Paul decided to retire.

And finally, a recent article in USA Today described how state legislators were employing a variety of techniques to feather their retirement nest.  Unfortunately, Texas was one of the worst violators.  Although its legislators make only $7,200 a year, they passed a law in 1981 that entitles them to a state pension based on the constructive fiction that their salary was actually equal to the salary of a state district judge, which is currently $125,000 a year.  By employing this sleight-of-hand, they have converted a part-time volunteer job into a lucrative career.

Although these examples have significant differences, they all fit in a discussion of “good government.”  Good government has a proud tradition going back to Thomas Jefferson, and then it enjoyed a revival due to NYC’s Tammany Hall.  But it will not magically reappear unless the voters insist on it.

September 23, 2011

Gotcha questions

Filed under: Issues,Media,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 7:35 pm
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The Urban Dictionary defines gotcha questions as “simple, straight-forward questions that cannot be answered by inept politicians.”  There’s a lot of truth to that tongue-in-cheek definition, and an example would be Sarah Palin’s assertion of “gotcha journalism” when Katie Couric asked her what newspapers and magazines she read to stay informed on world affairs.

A more conventional definition of gotcha journalism can be found in Wikipedia:

  • A term used to describe methods of interviewing which are designed to entrap interviewees into making statements which are damaging or discreditable to their cause, character, integrity, or reputation.  The aim is to make film or sound recordings of the interview which can be selectively edited, compiled, and broadcast or published to show the subject in an unfavorable light.”

The key to this definition is that it involves a journalist trying to make the subject look bad by using unfair questions or editing.  Palin never argued that Couric’s question was unfair, but she did claim that Couric edited out several substantive foreign-policy responses that Palin did well on, and retained the one where she stumbled.

I disagree with Palin on this – it would have been journalistic malpractice to edit out the failure of a stature-challenged vice-presidential to identify any magazine or newspaper that she read to keep up on world affairs.

A different form of gotcha question is one that comes out of “left field,” – i.e., one that you have never thought about.  During my congressional campaign, I fielded one of these questions during the taping of a public-TV interview in which I was given 90 seconds to respond to each question.  “What new programs would you support that enhance the ability of people who are currently living paycheck to paycheck to save for their retirement?”

I was dumbfounded.  The first part of the question focused on living paycheck to paycheck and the second part concerned saving for their retirement.  The question was further complicated because I was running as a fiscal conservative who wanted to reduce government spending, not create expensive new programs.  As you might expect, I stumbled badly, not wanting to be heartless, and mumbled something about improving the availability and effectiveness of the 401(k).

Last night Rick Perry fielded a question that came from even deeper right field.  He was asked what he would do if he was suddenly told about a rebellion in Pakistan that resulted in its nuclear weapons getting into the hands of terrorists.  Several pundits have acknowledged that this was a tough question (oh, really?), yet criticized Perry for stumbling with his response and mumbling something about the need to establish relations with all the key parties, including India.

Like the question to me, this question is probably something that Perry had never expected and hadn’t pre-formulated a response.  Worse, it was not conducive to an ad-libbed response.  If Perry were given a minute or two to think, or if he were afforded a lifeline (like on Who Wants to be a Millionaire), I’m sure he could have come up with something.

As I was on my bike ride today, twelve hours after the debate, the perfect answer came to me – I would immediately get on the phone
with Jack Bauer.

The FOX/Google debate in Florida

Filed under: Media,People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 4:44 am
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Earlier tonight, nine Republican presidential candidates had a two-hour debate on FOX News.  Based on the feedback from a Frank Luntz focus group, the debate was the beginning of the end of Rick Perry’s candidacy.

The focus group noted that Perry responses were overly defensive and rambling, especially with his defense of in-state tuition for illegal immigrants.  It was probably not a good idea to call people who disagree with him as heartless, especially since most of the people in the focus group disagreed with him.  Mitt Romney also put him on the defensive by quoting from Perry’s book Fed Up, in which Perry said that Social Security has been a failure, is unconstitutional, and should be returned to the states.  And finally, Michele Bachmann put him on the
defensive for issuing an executive order that mandated an anti-cancer vaccination of all Texas school girls.  The crowd actually booed Perry’s immigration and vaccination answers, so the focus-group response was not surprising.

Everyone wanted to pile on Perry.  Even Rick Santorum, who made a key point about Perry’s in-state tuition law – i.e., it provided to illegal immigrants a subsidy that was being denied to American citizens from other states.  Santorum asked Perry to justify this subsidy, and when Perry responded without answering, Santorum complained to moderator Chris Wallace that Perry had not answered the question.  Wallace gave a great ad lib – “You asked the question and he gave an answer.  We sometimes get frustrated with the answer, too.”

Aside from Perry, none of the other candidates were successfully put on the defensive regarding any of their positions.  As columnist Charles Krauthammer noted following the debate, Perry tried to attack Romney on three positions, but stumbled around in making his arguments.
Krauthammer also suggested that Perry’s vaccination defense started strong by describing his motivation as a personal meeting with a cancer victim, but then he stumbled again in finishing his answer.  Even worse, Michele Bachmann claimed after the debate that there were news reports that Perry actually met the cancer victim after he had issued his executive order.  Based on Bachmann’s faulty post-debate comments last week, you wonder if either Bachmann or Perry are ready for primetime.

Assorted tidbits from the debate:

  • Former NM governor was included in this debate, and he made the funniest comment – my neighbor’s two dogs have created more shovel-ready jobs than Obama has.
  • Herman Kane gave the most direct answers and received the most audience approval.  They liked his 9-9-9 tax plan (business tax, personal tax, sales tax) and were moved by his description of his successful battle with cancer, especially when he persuasively claimed that he probably would have died under ObamaCare.
  • Romney was asked to define what income level he would characterize as rich, and he refused to answer, but he did say that people making $200k were in the middle class.  During a break in the questioning, moderator Brett Bauer said that the majority of internet responses put the level at either $500k or $1 million, not Obama’s $200k.
  • Gingrich said it was accurate to call Obama a socialist, but Romney refused to.  He said Obama was a big-spending liberal.
  • Romney quipped that he has been in private business all of his life except for just four years as governor.  Then he looked at Perry and said, “I didn’t inhale.”  Funny.
  • Romney twice used a cute response to counter charges from Perry.  “Nice try,” he said, and then went on to explain his actual position.  The response reminds me of Reagan’s winning response to Mondale’s misleading charges, “There you go again.”
  • Huntsman and Santorum argued over whether the troops should come home from Iraq, with Huntsman essentially taking Obama’s position that America has become a bad-guy in world opinion, and Santorum countering that the American economy may be sick, but our values are still great.  Santorum clearly got the better of this one with primary voters.
  • Bachmann referred to Thomas Jefferson for justifying religion in the public square.  That is ironic because many religious conservatives detest Jefferson for originating the phrase, “separation of church and state.”

The last question of the night was excellent – if you had to pick your vice-president from the people on the stage, who would it be?  Not surprisingly, some candidates refused to play along, but a few did:

  • Gary Johnson said he would pick fellow liberation Ron Paul.
  • Rick Santorum said he would pick Newt Gingrich.
  • Rick Perry half-joked that he would pick a combination of Newt Gingrich and Herman Kane.
  • Herman Kane said he would pick Mitt Romney if Romney would adopt the 9-9-9; otherwise he would go with Newt.

You might be wondering if the betting odds have changed on the candidates since the debate ended almost two hours ago.  So was I.   According to Intrade.com, Romney remains the favorite at 40%, but Perry has dropped to 30%.  Two non-candidates are next, with Palin at 9% and Christie at 5%.  Huntsman is at 4% and Bachmann at 2%.  With Bachmann fading, the betting crowd seems to think that Palin or Christie might be drawn in.

Stay tuned.

September 22, 2011

Christianity, Deism, and the Founding Fathers

While doing some research on a famous old saying (“God helps them who help themselves.”), a website informed me that the originator was, ironically, Benjamin Franklin.  That is ironic because Ben Franklin was a Deist, which is a person who  believes that in the beginning God created the world, but since then has not been actively involved the affairs of the world:

  • “The term often implies that this supreme being does not intervene in human affairs or suspend the natural laws  of the universe.  Deists typically reject supernatural events such as prophecy and miracles, tending to assert that a god (or “the Supreme Architect”) does not alter the universe by (regularly or ever) intervening in the affairs of human life. This idea is also known as the Clockwork Universe theory, in which a god designs and builds the universe, but steps aside to let it run on its own. Deists believe in the existence of a god without any reliance on revealed religion, religious
    authority or holy books.”

Since that is basically my world view, I decided to read a little more about Deism.  The first website I went to is called Modern Deism, and it asserted something shocking – “many of the American Founding Fathers were Deists, or incorporated  Deistic thought, including Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, James Madison, Thomas Paine and George Washington.”   This assertion shocked me because I have always been told that the Founding Fathers were Christians.  Well, I can’t imagine a stronger list of Founding Fathers than our first four presidents, plus Franklin and Paine.

But were these people deists or did the Modern Deism people draft them into its fold?  I decided to check with my Bible – a/k/a Wikipedia – and learned the following:

  • George Washington: According to historian Paul F. Boller Jr., “Washington was in fact a typical 18th-century deist.”  Boller finds that “Washington seems to have had the characteristic unconcern of the eighteenth-century Deist for the forms and creeds of institutional religion. He had, moreover, the strong aversion of the upper-class Deist for sectarian quarrels that threatened to upset the ‘peace of Society.'” Washington never made attempts to personalize his own religious views or express any appeal to the aesthetic side of biblical passages. Boller states that Washington’s “allusions to religion are almost totally lacking in depths of feeling.”  In philosophical terms, he admired and adopted the Stoic philosophy of the ancient Romans, which emphasized virtue and humanitarianism and was highly compatible with Deism.  Historian Patrick Allitt characterized Washington’s religious views as “lukewarm”, and said “he went through the motions but he clearly wasn’t a man of particular piety or devotion.
  • John Adams: Adams was raised a Congregationalist, becoming a Unitarian at a time when most of the Congregational churches around Boston were turning to Unitarianism. Adams was educated at Harvard when the influence of deism was growing there, and used deistic terms in his speeches and writing.  He believed in the essential goodness of the creation, but, being a Unitarian, his beliefs excluded the divinity of Christ.  He also believed that regular church service was beneficial to man’s moral sense. Everett (1966) concludes that “Adams strove for a religion based on a common sense sort of reasonableness” and maintained that religion must change and evolve toward perfection.  Fielding (1940) shows that Adams’s beliefs synthesized Puritan, deist, and humanist concepts. Adams thought Christianity had originally been revelatory, but was being misinterpreted and misused in the service of superstition, fraud, and unscrupulous power.  Goff (1993) acknowledges Fielding’s “persuasive argument that Adams never was a deist because he allowed the suspension of the laws of nature and believed that evil was internal, not the result of external institutions.”  Frazer (2004) notes that, while Adams shared many perspectives with deists, “Adams clearly was not a deist. Deism rejected any and all supernatural activity and intervention by God; consequently, deists did not believe in miracles or God’s providence….Adams, however, did believe in miracles, providence, and, to a certain extent, the Bible as revelation.”   Fraser concludes that Adams’s “theistic rationalism, like that of the other  Founders, was a sort of middle ground between Protestantism and deism.”  By contrast, David L. Holmes has argued that John Adams, beginning as a Congregationalist, ended his days as a Christian Unitarian, accepting central tenets of the Unitarian creed but also accepting Jesus as the redeemer of humanity and the biblical account of his miracles as true.
  • Thomas Jefferson:  Jefferson rejected the orthodox Christianity of his day and was especially hostile to the Catholic Church as he saw it operate in France.  Throughout his life Jefferson was intensely interested in theology, biblical study, and morality. As a landowner he played a role in governing his local Episcopal Church; in terms of belief he was inclined toward the religious philosophy of Christianity: In private letters, Jefferson refers to himself as “Christian” (1803): “To the corruptions of Christianity I am, indeed, opposed; but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself. I am a Christian, in the only sense in which he wished any one to be; sincerely attached to his doctrines, in preference to all others; ascribing to himself every human excellence….  Jefferson believed in the moral teachings of Christ and edited a compilation of Christ’s teachings leaving out the miracles.  Jefferson was firmly anticlerical saying that in “every country and every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot…they have perverted the purest religion ever preached to man into mystery and jargon, unintelligible to all mankind, and therefore the safer for their purposes.
  • James Madison:  Wikipedia says nothing about Madison’s religion, but another website said – “In the case of James Madison, his personal faith could be best described as Deist or Unitarian. It was the belief in Nature’s God, the divine Creator that is referenced in the Declaration of Independence. Unlike others among the Founders, Madison was much more reticent when speaking about his personal faith, and relatively few credible quotes exist.
  • Thomas Paine:  About religion, The Age of Reason says:  “I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church.  All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.”  Though there is no evidence he was himself a Freemason, Paine also wrote “An Essay on the Origin of Free-Masonry” (1803–1805), about the Bible being allegorical myth describing astrology: “The Christian religion is a parody on the worship of the sun, in which they put a man called Christ in the place of the sun, and pay him the adoration originally payed to the sun.”  He described himself as deist, saying: “How different is [Christianity] to the pure and simple profession of Deism! The true Deist has but one Deity, and his religion consists in contemplating the power, wisdom, and benignity of the Deity in his works, and in endeavoring to imitate him in everything moral, scientifical, and mechanical.”  And again, in The Age of Reason: “I believe in one God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life. I believe in the equality of man; and I believe that religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our fellow-creatures happy.”
  • Benjamin Franklin: Although Franklin’s parents had intended for him to have a career in the Church, Franklin as a young man adopted the Enlightenment religious belief in deism, that God’s truths can be found entirely through nature and reason.  “I soon became a thorough Deist.”  As a young man he rejected Christian dogma in a 1725 pamphlet A Dissertation on Liberty and Necessity, Pleasure and Pain, which he later saw as an embarrassment, while simultaneously asserting that God is “all wise, all good, all powerful.”  He defended his rejection of religious dogma with these words: “I think opinions should be judged by their influences and effects; and if a man holds none that tend to make him less virtuous or more vicious, it may be  concluded that he holds none that are dangerous, which I hope is the case with me.” After the disillusioning experience of seeing the decay in his own moral standards, and those of two friends in London whom he had converted to Deism, Franklin turned back to a belief in the importance of organized religion, on the pragmatic grounds that without God and organized churches, man will not be good.  Moreover, because of his proposal that prayers be said in the Constitutional Convention of 1787, many have contended that in his later life, Franklin became a pious Christian.

Based on this information, I think the Modern Deism people have accurately asserted that many of the leading American Founding Fathers were Deists, or incorporated Deistic thought.  Some historians have added the fifth president to the list – James Monroe:

  • “When it comes to Monroe’s thoughts on religion,” Bliss Isely notes, “less is known than that of any other President.” No letters survive in which he discussed his religious beliefs. Nor did his friends, family or associates comment on his beliefs.  Letters that do survive, such as ones written after the death of his son, contain no discussion of religion….  As  an adult frequently attended Episcopalian churches, though there is no record he ever took communion. He has been classified by some historians as a Deist because he used deistic language to refer to an impersonal God.”

So perhaps our politicians should rely less on their specific religious credentials and more on the universal merit of their values.


According to Modern Deism, the following are the nine unofficial tenets of Deism:

1. Belief in God based on Reason, Experience and Nature (nature of the universe) rather than on the basis of holy texts and divine revelation. Essentially, through the use of Reason, God’s existence is revealed by the observation of the order and complexity found within nature and our personal experiences.

2. Belief that the nature of God is abstract and generally incomprehensible which puts it beyond definition for humanity at this time.  Furthermore, human language is limited and inadequate to define God; however, man can use Reason to theorize  and speculate on what this possible nature is.

3. Belief that man’s relationship with God is transpersonal.  However, this does not create a feeling of a distant and cold deity, but of one in which God has a profound and unfathomable relationship with all of creation (nature) rather than just one aspect of it.

4. Belief that humanity has the ability to use Reason to develop ethical/moral principles and through the application of Reason these principles can be used to implement moral behavior, which in turn creates a Utilitarian-Humanist morality. Essentially, humans can be guided by their conscience in matters of morality.

5. Belief that humans have the individual capability of experiencing God, which is defined as spirituality.  These spiritual experiences are multi-faceted and can include awe, epiphany, fellowship and even the transcendental.  Essentially, each human is capable of having a profound experience of God and nature.

6. Belief that God should be honored in a way that the individual believes is best and most appropriate for them.  Individuals must determine for themselves how best to honor God and only they can develop how to accomplish this. For many, it is a multi-faceted and an individualized process.

7. Belief in the principle of Natural Law that states that all men and women are created equal to each other with inherent freedom and liberty so that no human has more worth than another. Essentially,  each human is equal in terms of the freedoms that they have and in the eyes of  the law.

8. Belief that mankind’s purpose is to use our  God-given reason to understand what it means to be alive in every sense of the  word (to live life to the fullest) and to act in such a way as to secure human happiness and contentment for all involved.

9. Belief that Reason and Respect are God-given  traits to mankind and that we are to utilize them in all aspects of our daily  lives thus creating a pragmatic approach to life. This includes respecting other alternative views and opinions of God (other religions) as long as they do not produce harm and/or infringe upon others.

ObamaCare for young-adult dependents

Filed under: Economics,Issues,Medical,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 1:56 am

According to an article in the NY Times, the Obama administration is claiming credit for the fact that the percentage of young
adults (18-24) without health insurance dropped by more than 2% in 2010.  (All other age cohorts went up.  In fact, for the first time, the percentage of uninsured adults in their late 20s exceeded those in their early 20s.)  Although experts agree that ObamaCare (the Affordable Care Act) is responsible for the drop, the question should be whether this is a good thing.

Most key provisions in ObamaCare don’t go into effect until 2014, but as a stopgap measure the law required family insurance policies as of September 23, 2009 to cover dependents up to their 26th birthday.  Prior to this requirement, dependent coverage usually stopped when a child turned 18 or, if they were in college, at age 23.

Obviously, this sort of requirement is going to increase coverage for young adults, but at what cost.  This is a classic example of an unfunded mandate, something that government is supposed to quit doing because it leads to excessive regulation unconstrained by any sort of cost-benefit consideration.

Contrast these two statements in the Times article:

  • “Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, accentuated the silver lining in an otherwise grim Census poverty report by declaring: ‘The Affordable Care Act is working.’”
  • “There have been no studies of the provision’s impact on cost.”

I understand why Sebelius doesn’t care about the cost of this mandated coverage.  The goal of the Obama administration is universal coverage, so any stratagem that gets more people covered is acceptable even if it ultimately reduces the viability of private insurance.  But many of us think private insurance remains the better health-insurance product for America, and we need to resist Obama’s efforts to load-down private insurance with requirements that will render it unaffordable.


September 21, 2011

Income inequality in America

Filed under: Economics,Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 4:16 pm
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My two big concerns about America are its burgeoning debt and its mushrooming income inequality.  One threatens to destroy our economy and the other threatens to erode our national cohesiveness.  The solution to our debt problem seems relatively straight-forward – quit spending more than we take in – although that solution is complicated by our inability to pull out of the 2008-2009 recession.  Solving the problem of income inequality is more problematic.

Some conservatives have suggested that income inequality can be ameliorated by improving economic and social mobility.  If people have the opportunity to improve themselves, they will.  Liberals are more inclined to reduce inequality by governmental redistribution of wealth.  President Obama’s comment to Joe the Plumber (“spread the wealth around”) reflects this sentiment.

The New York Times recently did a Room-for-Debate article on whether taxes can be used effectively to narrow income inequality.    Although that is an excellent question, the seven commentators failed miserably to provide any insights.  It was almost as if the commentators were in a political debate and felt free to ignore the question and put forth any information or opinion they had without regard to answering the question.

Only Commentator #6 provided something that I considered useful.  Chrystia Freeland, an editor-at-large for Thomson Reuters suggested two causes for the growing income inequality:

  1. The left blames the pro-rich tax policy and the decline of unions.
  2. The right blames globalization (hurts those on the low end) and the technological revolution (helps those on the top end).  The result is an hourglass economy with a squeezed middle class.

Freeland concludes by saying the following:

  • Justice is a central issue in American politics and in American society. That’s why it seems so important to figure out whether the rich are paying their fair share. It is a crucial question — and the truth is that the rich are getting a better deal than they used to. But the even more central issue — and it is one that both left and right are reluctant to acknowledge — is that the fundamental forces shaping U.S. capitalism today are hostile to the middle-class majority, which defines U.S. democracy.  The rancor and the paralysis that characterize American politics at the moment are the result of this conflict.  Someone needs to admit that modern capitalism isn’t working for the middle class, and find a way to make it work better, before it is too late.”

Talk about begging the question.  I will have to keep looking for a reform to modern capitalism that works for the middle class.




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