Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Real Fiscal Cliff

Today, the term "fiscal cliff" refers almost exclusively to two things that are scheduled to happen simultaneously at the end of this year.

The first is the expiration of the Bush tax cuts, which were originally scheduled to expire at the end of 2010 but were extended in bipartisan fashion for two more years due to the recession. Currently, Republicans wish to extend all the Bush tax cuts and Democrats, flush from their election victory, want to extend all of them except the cut on high earners, the one-percenters loathed by Occupy Wall Street and their ilk. If nothing is done by the end of the year, all our income tax rates will go up to what they were in the nineties during the Clinton administration. Oh noes!

The second thing scheduled to happen is usually called "sequestration", though I suppose that term will in the future be used to apply to other things, just as the term "fiscal cliff" has changed definition. (In fact, it has been used in the past to refer to other, less public things as well.) Sequestration is somewhat more complicated. In 2011, a law was passed creating a "super committee" of twelve representatives with equal representation by both parties tasked with hashing out a deal to cut U.S. government spending. The rise of the Tea Party had given the Republicans strong gains in the 2010 elections, including taking over the House of Representatives, and so the deal took place against a backdrop of Republican strength. Republicans had been refusing to raise the debt ceiling, basically the congressional limit on how much the U.S. government can borrow, if Democrats did not agree to spending cuts, and so the law stated that if the "super committee" was unable to come to an agreement on so-called spending "cuts" (usually "cuts" means slowing the rate of spending growth, not actual cuts in spending), then there would be automatic spending cuts of $1.2 trillion, half defense spending and half other spending, both spread out over ten years as most spending issues usually are, to balance the $1.2 trillion raise in the debt ceiling. These automatic spending cuts are together called "sequestration".

The sequestration deal was designed to be so severe as to compel the super committee to come to an agreement. However at the time I predicted the super committee would fail to come to an agreement, and was proven correct. Why? Supposedly half of the spending cuts were to affect Republican concerns, i.e. the military, and the other half Democratic concerns, i.e. everything else. But of course, military spending is only twenty percent of the U.S. government's budget, and on top of that, certain spending programs like Social Security are exempt from sequestration anyway. The sequestration was designed to look both severe and fair to both sides, but in fact it was neither.

Spread out over ten years, the sequestration cuts only about $120 billion a year, which has somehow been reduced to $110 billion for 2013, of which $55 billion in cuts goes to military and $55 billion to other non-exempt programs. This amounts to about ten percent of the current federal government budget deficit, meaning it is only ten percent of the amount the government must borrow every year, on top of tax revenue, to keep spending at its current rate.

To put this in perspective, let's say that Alice and Bob are a married couple whose joint income totals $100,000 a year. Let's say that Alice and Bob spend about $135,000 a year and every year must borrow $35,000 just to keep up this level of irresponsibility. Now a serious spending cut would be something more than $35,000 a year because Alice and Bob not only have to stop borrowing, they also have to start paying back what they borrowed. So Alice and Bob decide to cut $3,500 from their yearly spending which, at less than three hundred a month, will prevent them from buying one of the three new cars they purchase every year. Obviously this is not going to solve their problem. They would have to cut ten times as much in order to really start making a dent. $3500 is only about 2.6% of what they are spending every year.

Compared to our real spending problem, the sequestration cuts are nothing. On top of that, the Democrats were easily able to swallow the non-military spending cuts because most of their high priorities are already protected from sequestration, and besides the programs they defend are a much larger portion of the budget. In other words, both sides lose something in the automatic cuts, but the Democrats calculated the Republicans lose more. So the automatic cuts amounted to a win for them. The sequestration designed to force an agreement actually favored the Democrats, and so they had no motive to compromise. This was borne out in the negotiations, during which Democrats sought a better deal for their interests than the automatic cuts, and Republicans wrongly assumed they would be forced to make a deal. Republican leadership is not pushing hard enough, and I am not the only one who thinks so.

So those are the two things everybody nowadays is calling the "fiscal cliff." It's nothing more than a natural consequence of the compromises our government has been making for decades. Republicans get tax cuts and Democrats get spending. The so-called "fiscal cliff" is a reverse of this dynamic: taxes will rise and spending will be cut. And so the politicians conspire to convince us they are paying attention and finally being responsible, but in the mean time they have taken a term which used to mean something far worse and applied it to a minor detail. The end result will be we might go over this so-called "fiscal cliff", not much will happen, and everyone will say, "Hey that wasn't so bad." And one of the few buzzwords in politics today that favor conservatives will be diluted.

When the term "fiscal cliff" started getting thrown around several years ago, it did not refer to the expiration of the Bush tax cuts. When the Bush tax cuts were due to expire at the end of 2010, nobody called that the "fiscal cliff". The sequestration deal didn't even happen until 2011. So what did the term fiscal cliff refer to? In fact, it used to refer to the disparity between projected government liability due to entitlements and projected revenue. The current so-called "fiscal cliff" ignores entitlements almost completely. Here are two articles from 2008 and 2009 referencing the real fiscal cliff as it used to be understood. I had to search NRO because I couldn't make Google do an actual search of older articles. Most every article I could find had old dates associated with them but were actually written within the last couple of years. Here is Paul Ryan discussing the real fiscal cliff, which has nothing to do with what's being thrown around the news cycle today:

"More people are retiring. Baby boomers are retiring. We're going from 40 million retirees to about 77 million retirees. And because all these three programs [Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security] are what we call pay-as-you-go programs, current workers paying current taxes to finance the benefits for current retirees, what that means is, when you have a 100 percent increase in retirees but only a 17 percent increases in workers filing into the system, because birth rates are lower than they were in the baby boom times, you have a huge problem.  Combine that with health inflation. Health inflation meaning the cost increases in Medicare and Medicaid go up about 6 to 7 percent a year. So you combine demographics with health inflation, and these programs grow at a unsustainable levels to, literally, by the time my kids are my age just those three programs, Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare consume all federal revenue."

In other words, when all the journalists and pundits talk about "going over the fiscal cliff" at the end of the year, it is mostly hype. The little problem they are talking about is meaningless next to the trillions of dollars of unfunded liabilities which the government has promised to its citizens in the form of guaranteed benefits. By most calculations, we would need over $100 trillion in cash right now and be able to invest it at six percent interest in order to cover these future liabilities. Obviously that is not going to happen. This is the real fiscal cliff. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. So what will happen?

Well, either people will stop getting their government paychecks, or worse, the government will continue printing money to cover its liabilities, causing inflation and the loss of value not just of government paychecks but every paycheck. We don't know precisely when it will happen, but there is no question that it will happen within my lifetime (I am thirty) unless we deal with the problem responsibly. There are essentially two options for going forward. We can blindfold ourselves and just let the inevitable happen, or we can deal with reality and try to fix the problem.

The blindfold option is politically popular. Our government is becoming a near complete democracy, and unfortunately nobody wants to reduce their own cash flow for the greater good. Most, including supposed conservatives, are engaged in an extended run on the government bank. Everyone is trying to get as much out of it as possible before the whole thing blows up in our faces. That is, at least, those who see it coming. Most don't. But what's the harm?

Well, what happens when 300 million people suddenly don't get what their government promised them?  What happens when our money becomes worthless? That sort of situation is called "political instability" to put it mildly, not to mention the fact that most other western nations are facing the exact same situation. Historically, this has meant revolution, war and all sorts of unpleasantness far worse than taking a pay cut right now. We like to blame our politicians for this, but how many of us ask our politicians to reduce the money the government is paying us? Clearly, not enough are, and for obvious reasons. Everybody wants theirs, and until we stop and consider the long term the real fiscal cliff is coming, and it will make the fake one look like falling off a StairMaster.

Now that's whack.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A Fishy Ceasefire

Anyone familiar with the decades old conflict between the Palestinians and Israelis is also familiar with the concept of a ceasefire. A ceasefire is a cessation of hostilities that guarantees more hostilities in the future. War is the last resort of conflict resolution. It is used when all other avenues of conflict resolution fail. Beyond war, there are no other options. Consequently, if the war fails to resolve the conflict and ends in a ceasefire, rest assured the conflict which caused the war was not resolved and there will be war again.

When I was a grade schooler, people used the catch phrase "peace in the Middle East" if they were put in a position between two people in an argument. It was catchy because it rhymed, but it also signified something else. It was funny, because it assumed that the peace would be temporary, and the person saying it just wanted the argument to stop so they weren't required to listen to it anymore. In other words, when someone came into the middle of someone else's argument and said, "Peace in the Middle East", it was primarily something that everyone except the two combatants wanted. It meant, "People are getting annoyed that they have to watch you do this." It meant, "Take it somewhere else where we don't have to watch." It meant the majority of people around were imposing their will on two opposing interests because they wanted peace and quiet, not because any resolution of the conflict occurred. Of course, it was also meant ironically. Even fifteen years ago everyone old enough to attend school without crying for their mommy knew that peace in the Middle East was a pipe dream.

The recent ceasefire between the Palestinians and Israelis belongs to a long line of such ceasefires and uneasy truces. However, to this practiced observer of the conflict, this particular ceasefire smells funny. The only reason I can think of as to why it smells funny is that it happened much too quickly. In past conflicts, the Palestinians have had no reason to cease fighting. They really do not care too much about dying. In Islam, death in war against the infidel is honorable and desirable. On the other side, the entire world hurls its "peace in the Middle East" diatribe at Israel uselessly, because in most cases Israel did not start anything, and the conflict continues until the Palestinians run out of rockets and human shields. This time however, Hamas in the Gaza strip stopped willingly. To me this represents the introduction of an outside force influencing Hamas in the same way the United States influences Israel. They have an ally now, and this trusted ally asked them to stop for a reason.

The new ally is Egypt, which is now controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas' parent organization. Mubarak, a dictator who kept the peace Egypt had formed with Israel in the 70s and considered a puppet of the United States, is no longer in charge. As long as the Muslim Brotherhood is in charge of Egypt, and trust me when I say they will never relinquish power without a civil war, they must be considered a staunch ally of the Palestinians. The new Muslim Brotherhood President Mohammed Morsi negotiated the ceasefire between the two combatants.

So great right? Now that the Palestinians have an ally they can trust who will tell them to stop fighting we can have peace in the Middle East? Well, there's just one problem: the original conflict has not been resolved.

The Israelis want to live in peace. They have no patience with a world that has been killing and oppressing them for thousands of years since the Diaspora and before. They will do whatever they feel is necessary to enhance their security.

The Palestinians want all the Jews dead and/or gone and of secondary concern is possession of their land and statehood.

These two aims are fundamentally incompatible, and there will be violence until one or the other is satisfied. Period.

Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood need time to consolidate their power in Egypt and turn it into an Islamic theocracy. The only way they could have convinced Hamas to cease hostilities, and to convince themselves, is to reassure Hamas that once Egypt is firmly in their grasp they will be in a far better position with respect to Israel and also the United States. Probably the most important thing to understand about Egyptian politics is the country's dependence on foreign aid, including $1.3 billion a year from the U.S. Obama threatened to remove this aid to convince Mubarak to step down. Whenever the United States wants something from Egypt, they dangle that aid and threaten to snatch it away. $1.3 billion is a lot of money in Egypt, enough to keep a group of people in power who have little or no popular support. However, if a group with majority popular support was in clear command of Egypt, they could act with impunity. And if this group was anti-U.S., removal of U.S. aid could actually help them politically. They could then blame even more of their problems on the United States, just as they have been blaming their multiple crushing losses to Israel on the United States. A few years of clear control and a few billion U.S. dollars could be all they need to start another war or round of wars with Israel. At the very least Morsi could pretend to negotiate with Hamas, claim he failed, and secretly give them the go ahead to do all the damage they can with the full backing of the newly Islamist Egyptian state and military.

So there are two ways to see the ceasefire:

1) Peace in the Middle East.

2) The calm before the storm.

If history and the logic of war is any indication, the second is far more likely.

Now that's whack.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Paddywhack Platform

I wrote this quite awhile ago and have edited and updated it. It's meant both as public policy prescription and sometimes just to offer suggestions to private entities. I hope it's not too difficult to tell the difference. I'll post this on the forum (link on the sidebar inviting comments) shortly so stop by and tell me what you think! I am of course open to suggestions and revisions.

  1. Budget
    1. The highest priority of any government will be to balance the budget. The government may save up surpluses for emergency spending issues. If any priority is higher than balancing the budget, spending must necessarily get out of control and this is unacceptable.
    2. Government spending and revenue will be limited to 20% of GDP.  No exceptions, including military spending. If an emergency requires more spending, this money is to be raised through issuance of bonds (debited from future budgets automatically as they come due), donations or raising money in other ways, not increased taxes, borrowing from foreign countries or printing money.
  2. Healthcare and entitlements
    1. Obamacare will be repealed.
    2. Ask Paul Ryan.
  3. Immigration
    1. The borders must be secured and we must work with the Mexican government to reduce violence on their side. U.S. military ground, naval, air, space and cyberspace forces are authorized as necessary to secure the border. In the same way as the Coast Guard, a branch of the military, guards our coastal borders, the rest of the military will guard our land borders. This is a right and proper use of the U.S. military if there ever was one. No other immigration provision will be enacted until this provision is completed. If laws cannot be enforced, it is meaningless to change them.
    2. All illegal immigrants living in the United States at the time of implementation will be allowed to apply for citizenship in the same manner as any foreigner living outside the U.S. would be. 
    3. The federal minimum wage will be eliminated and other regulations will be modified so state government may allow immigrant and other workers to continue to work for market controlled wages and benefits as they have been while illegally residing in the United States.
    4. The yearly immigration limit into the United States will be increased to at least five million legal immigrants per year, including those applying for citizenship under b. In a time when the birthrates of modern industrial powers is declining, the United State should count itself lucky to have so many immigrants wishing to live here. Economic success has historically depended on population growth and the modern world is no different. In many cases the best option for the world’s poor and downtrodden is to immigrate to the United States, and therefore this provision satisfies humanitarian concerns as well. This provision may require increased funding to the INS and other government agencies.
  4. Foreign aid
    1. Foreign aid will only be allowed for countries with 75% or more of their population living on subsistence farming or less. All other foreign aid, including military aid, will be stopped immediately. No exceptions except under b.  
    2. In the case of aid, either humanitarian or military, to volatile or unstable countries or regions, aid will be reduced 10% in two years, 20% in four years, 30% in six years and 40% in eight years for a total of 100% reduction in no less than eight years, unless of course said country or region falls under point a.  
    3. Funding for all organizations engaged in foreign aid will be phased out as soon as tax cuts can be approved in equal amounts. Private, non-profit organizations are far better at helping the world’s poor than government, tax-funded organizations because in nearly every case they have lower overhead costs. If executed properly, this provision will likely increase the amount of aid the people of the United States provide for the world’s poor. This draw-down of government funding for humanitarian concerns must coincide with a draw-down of tax revenue so the American people themselves through their own proven spirit of generosity can use the extra money to help the world’s poor without the limitations of government bureaucracies.  
  5. Foreign policy and military policy
    1. War is the last resort for conflict resolution. War will be pursued only when all other prior conflict resolution methods have failed. The purpose of war is permanent conflict resolution. It is unsuited to all other purposes. The military is an instrument of war, and like war, it is unsuited to all other purposes. If a war cannot or will not provide a permanent resolution to the conflict, it should not be pursued. This determination requires a clear statement of the reasons for the war, the goal of the war, and the strategy being employed to reach that goal.  If the determination can be made that conflict resolution is possible through war, and war is the only possibility, then it must be pursued to the end. When the United States makes the decision to go to war for any reason, the goal of the war must be a decisive victory aimed at permanently resolving the conflict over which the war was fought. When the goal is reached, and not before, the war will be declared over, and U.S. military forces will be withdrawn immediately and be moved quickly into full compliance with the other points of this policy.
    2. The U.S. will commit to protecting the territorial integrity of NATO members, Israel, South Korea, Japan and other nations considered as U.S. allies. Military aid in any form will be restricted to instances in which these allies are invaded by a foreign hostile force. The U.S. will not maintain military aid or presence for allies during peace time. The U.S. will not intervene in civil wars or other wars which do not involve these allies for any reason, including humanitarian.
    3. The U.S. will remove all military forces from around the globe which are there for no reason or whose only purpose is to project U.S. military power across the globe for undefined future conflicts.  The primary examples are U.S. bases in Germany, Saudi Arabia and Persian Gulf countries, Japan and South Korea.  If a threat to NATO occurs the U.S. will deal with it when it occurs and will require permission and assistance from any host countries near to the hostilities.  The new NATO is a line in the sand which once crossed will be enforced with all the power the U.S. and its allies can muster. But until it is crossed the United States military will not be used as a global police force and will not be held in a constant state of mobilization and/or deployment.  
    4. The U.S. will no longer engage in “nation building” regardless of the reason. The imposition of a stable government in any particular country will be viewed as the responsibility of the citizens of that country, not the responsibility of the United States or the “international community”. The current missions in Iraq and Afghanistan will not be affected by this provision on the understanding that those missions will be ended in a reasonable amount of time.   
    5. The U.S. policy towards terrorism will be treated as an international law enforcement problem requiring no organization other than the cooperation between the national governments of countries affected. No wars will be justified by the excuse of fighting terrorism in a host country, however offensive and temporary special operations missions will still be allowed with or without host country authorization.
    6. Peace-time defense spending will be reduced to reflect the reduced peace-time mission of the United States military.  This provision will be enacted immediately with exceptions for Iraq and Afghanistan spending.  These exceptions will expire once the current missions in Iraq and Afghanistan are completed.  
    7. The U.S. will cease primary military and monetary support for the U.N.  The U.S. will contribute military and monetary support for the U.N. equal to the amount of the highest non-U.S. contributor in each category unless and until the United States economy falls below second in the world, in which case the United States contribution will be lower. Any U.N. resolutions which would require a higher contribution from the United States are to be rejected out of hand for more manageable goals.
    8. Nuclear policy – Nuclear policy will depend on Mutual Assured Destruction and not the prevention of nuclear proliferation.  Efforts to prevent nuclear proliferation will not of course be ended or even reduced.  However in accordance with the new war policy no wars will be declared in order to enforce non-proliferation policies.  Again, offensive and temporary special operations may be approved similar to e.
    9. A sixth branch of the military will be created called Space and Cyberspace Command, or SPACERS Command.  This command will be in charge of all U.S. military and national security concerns in space and the internet.  Clear guidelines on internet freedoms accorded to U.S. citizens will be established.  SPACERS is primarily concerned with national security on the internet, and this is intimately related with satellite communications networks.  This includes any cyberspace intrusion into U.S. government networks as well as any foreign espionage or terrorism which occurs in cyberspace. SPACERS will assimilate various assets of NASA as well as existing space and cyberspace government and military resources according to this mission statement and the U.S. constitution.
      1. All SPACERS operations will be offensive in nature, with the obvious exception of protecting its own assets. Defensive operations must be the mandate of private companies and individuals as before. This provision will both allow current cyberspace security organizations to remain in business as they are as well as to protect against government intrusion upon the traditional freedom under which the internet has operated. This provision is also a simple recognition of the nature of cyberwarfare. Offensive operations by SPACERS will focus on those forces, be it states, organizations or individuals, that have attacked the United States and her interests in cyberspace.
      2. Cyberwarfare will be conducted under separate Rules of Engagement, much like the difference between nuclear, conventional and special ops warfare.  A cyberwar should not necessarily precipitate a conventional or nuclear war, but should either occur of course cyberwarfare may also occur. If the United States is attacked in cyberspace, SPACERS Command will respond in kind with offensive operations. Cyberwar once declared shall have no limitations except that it take place in cyberspace only and directed against a specified target for specific reasons and towards specific goals as under a.  
    10. The National Guard will be returned to the control of state governments and will no longer exist as an arm of the federal government but will instead be once again a system of state government operated and controlled militias. No exceptions. All federal funding will immediately cease and states must each on their own decide whether to pick up the tab or not.
  6. NASA
    1. NASA will be dissolved and its assets either eliminated, such as the areas associated with climate research and extraterrestrial biology, or divided and distributed to various organizations as is appropriate.
    2. All of NASA’s funding will be immediately eliminated and reevaluated.
    3. Assets useful for national security will go to the newly created SPACERS Command. Assets which go to SPACERS Command will be funded in a similar manner as they were before and added to the budget of the Department of Defense. SPACERS Command will receive priority on all NASA assets relating in any way to their new mission statement.
    4. Remaining assets useful for scientific research and not useful to SPACERS will be distributed to academic organizations capable of running those research programs as normal academic programs receiving funding in the normal academic manner. Again this will occur on a case by case basis and only if academic institutions step forward who are interested in taking over these types of programs.  
    5. Any fiscal advantages obtained from the elimination of NASA will be used to pay down the national debt.  
  7. Education
    1. The Department of Education will be phased out. Education of citizens will become the responsibility of state governments or private enterprise and no national educational standards will be enforced. Education in the United States will change from an attitude of compliance to an attitude of excellence.  
    2. State governments are highly encouraged to develop sustainable educational models given budgetary constraints, with the goal being fully self-sustaining educational models which can then be disconnected from the government entirely. Throwing more public money at education does not work. It is time for new ideas, and the legal restrictions governing all public funding of education are a hindrance to innovation in education, just as they are in other sectors of society. This disconnection is also attractive due to concerns over religious liberty.
  8. Marriage
    1. All legal references to the term “marriage” will be replaced with the term “civil union” and refer to an agreement between any two individuals. All laws concerning marriage will remain the same.
    2. Churches will be the sole determiner in what constitutes a Biblical marriage and what does not, since the term “marriage” has been divested from its legal implications. Religions other than Christianity may of course use their own definitions. Marriage is a Christian and a Biblical concept, and if the government cannot for legal reasons uphold the right definition than Christians should boycott government marriage. It is hoped that by changing the legal name of government marriages to civil unions this controversy can be avoided.
    3. Christian marriage counseling will always include advising couples to read the Bible and pray together daily. This criteria has been shown to change marriage from a coin flip (50% divorce rate even among Christians) back into a covenant until death (nearly 100% success rate). This provision is of course a suggestion only and will not be enforced by any government.
  9. Abortion
    1. A human life will be legally defined by scientific and philosophical means. A human life begins when a new set of DNA existing within the context of a cell has the potential to develop into a member of the species Homo sapiens. Any life which fits this definition will have all the legal and other protections legally understood as being extended to human beings.
    2. According to a., rape and incest are not exceptions allowing abortion. Rape and incest are crimes. Rape is a crime of one person against another and incest is a crime committed by more than one person, but in neither case has any unborn child committed a crime for which they can be legally punished, much less given the death penalty.
    3. In the case of the health of the mother, in no other point of law is it suddenly legal to kill someone against their will to protect the health of another person. Therefore this is not an exception to legalize abortion.
    4. In the case of the life of the mother, it seems obvious that when the lives of both the mother and child are at stake then both ought to be considered equal under the law. If it is necessary to kill the mother to save the child or vice versa, then that decision must be made by the mother or next of kin or doctors in the same way as any other dual life-threatening medical decision such as operations to separate conjoined twins. In most cases, the choice is not so stark and stringent medical guidelines will be established governing under what circumstances abortion or similar medical operations are legal under this provision.
    5. All government funding for embryonic stem cell research will be immediately revoked and become funding for adult stem cell research, which is not only morally unobjectionable but also has provided far more actual advances in healthcare then anything accomplished by embryonic stem cell research.
    6. Cryogenic storage of human embryos will be illegal because it constitutes a death penalty and cruel and unusual punishment of a human being.
    7. In vitro fertilization will be made illegal due to the loss of human life required for a successful procedure. There are plenty of children in the world in need of adoption for couples unable to conceive naturally or using other fertility methods.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Response to John Nugent: Part 7 - American Conservatism

I promise this will be my last post on this topic. Nugent has indicated he intends to post more on Daniel, which I'm also somewhat interested in of late so I may keep up with his blog and refer to it in the future. But this will be my final response to his series on Elections and Idolatry. Mostly, this is the happy, happy, joy, joy, I'm okay, you're okay, I love you, you love me, Kumbaya post. But before we get too warm and fuzzy let me briefly summarize my main objections to what Nugent has said before I get to areas of agreement.

1. I do not like it when people twist the Bible to support a point of view. I am sometimes guilty of this myself, but when I go to the Bible I constantly remind myself that I am asking a question of an authority and looking for an answer. I constantly keep in mind that the Bible is not necessarily there to answer all the questions that I could possibly ask, so the answer may not be there. The Bible doesn't exist to answer all my questions about life, the universe and everything. I grew up an evangelical, and I know very well the tendency we have to make the Bible support all sorts of things that the text was never intended to address. This is probably the source of my negative tone towards Nugent. I feel very strongly that this method of playing fast and loose with Scripture is dangerous and irresponsible. The Bible is primarily a historical document providing us with an accurate history of What Happened. It is a record and in most cases an eye-witness testimony of God's interaction with Man. It is dangerous to run all around the Bible taking all sorts of moral object lessons from texts that were not intended as such. It is dangerous to introduce outside information into the text that isn't there. I feel that Nugent did that all over the place especially in the third post and I reacted strongly against it. In a few cases he wrote exactly the opposite of some pretty unambiguous passages. I feel that anger is a perfectly appropriate response for a Christian to something like that.

2. I do not like Nugent's negative tone towards American Christians and conservatives. As I explained in my previous post, this is exactly the sort of narrative I have heard my entire life from secular sources trying to paint America, Christians, white people and men as the bad guys for their own political purposes. With many people, simply belonging to any of these categories elicits an automatic indictment. It is prejudice, pure and simple, and it is prejudice that dominates the public debate and academia. It disappoints me that this sort of knee-jerk emotional response has infected Christian academics as well, but it just goes to show us that Christians cannot abstain from cultural battles and expect the outcome not to matter. These battles matter, and it matters when Christians lose them. We cannot hide in our churches and other institutions and expect to be safe from the ideas and happenings of this world. Nugent's confusion about conservatism and American government and history is a case in point. Christian morals is all well and good, but the question of Truth is always prior to moral questions. Progressives know this, and they have been attacking the Truth for a long time. It saddens me to see many Christians unable to defend themselves against such attacks, even to the point of accepting a secular narrative designed specifically to undermine Christian resistance to their political program. Nugent even throws out general accusations of idolatry against Christians involved in politics when he should know full well that Christians are the least likely people to be idolizing government, especially conservative Christians. Do you think an atheist is concerned about idolizing government? Com' on. How is it that the people who are most in danger of idolizing government are left out of Nugent's analysis? I think it goes back to an ingrained prejudice, a trained response against Christians. It certainly doesn't make a whole lot of rational sense.

The discussion of idolatry is a good segue-way into conservative political ideology. As I argued previously, idolatry is the act of assigning authority to entities that don't have it, including to entities that may have some authority but not the particular authority that is being assigned to them. Despite some of the pitfalls I mentioned above, conservative evangelical Christians rightly place a large degree of importance in the Bible. If one goes to the Bible asking questions about what type of government is best, they are likely to come away with the same sense of legitimate but limited government authority that Nugent endorses. Nugent compared Christians to the Levitical priesthood in part because he recognized that ancient Israel didn't have near the amount of institutional structure that modern states do. He is right to believe that the only earthly government ever directly presided over by God tended towards less authoritarian institutions and offices. I believe he is wrong to tell us that Christians are to be compared with the Levitical priesthood, primarily because the book of Hebrews explicitly rejects that comparison. However I believe the comparison to government is legitimate. Christians are not limited when it comes to participation in government, but governments are limited in authority. This is American conservatism in a nutshell, and Nugent really only has a problem with the first part, not the second.

The idea of limited government is where all of American conservatism can heartily agree with Nugent. I heartily agree that exceeding the limits that God has placed on government often inspires idolatry, but Nugent is trying to paint American conservatives as the idolaters. In fact we are the ones trying to restrict an out of control government back within the limits placed on it not only by the original U.S. constitution but also by God. Nugent is uncomfortable with American conservatives precisely because we recognize that in the Bible the only area where God has made government authority legitimate is the use of force to punish the wrongdoer. Nugent doesn't like that, and he doesn't want Christians to participate in it, even as he is forced to recognize that God has made this a legitimate but limited area of authority for earthly governments. That is what doesn't make sense to me. But let's focus on areas of agreement. We can probably agree that the United States government has exceeded certain limits on its legitimate authority. We can also agree that when this or any government exceeds those limits, people tend to believe that government, having exceeded its God-given limits, has some power and authority outside God's chain of command. That borders on idolatry. American conservatives want to gain more power within the U.S. government precisely for the purpose of bringing government power back within its proper limits. We can hope that if we succeed in this project, the American people will be less likely to idolize the U.S. government and more likely to participate in other institutions like churches that, we agree, should have a larger role in American life.

Nugent is skeptical of this project, and I don't blame him. We live in a country where the government has been slowly and inexorably accumulating power almost since its inception. The trajectory really began with the switch from the Articles of Confederation of 1781 to the Constitution of 1789. The Articles were instituted informally during the American Revolutionary War as a sort of ad-hoc association of the state governments already in existence. Under the Articles, the central government couldn't even pay the army fighting for the country's independence. This problem was so bad that after the Revolutionary War was over and the United States had gained independence, the fledgling state nearly succumbed to a military coup. The soldiers who had won the war were not being paid the wages they had been promised, and they threatened to revolt. This same exact situation has played itself out in a great many countries around the world. A revolution occurs, after which the only real power is the army that won it. This army then takes power, often times in an attempt to transition to civilian government, but most of the time the army never releases that power and the country turns into a military dictatorship. Thankfully, this did not happen in the United States, mostly because of one man: George Washington.

I have sometimes seen polls of favorite presidents on conservative sites, and George Washington almost always wins. Washington was the epitome of what conservatives want from a leader. When the army threatened to revolt after the war, they looked to Washington for leadership. At this moment Washington could have crossed the Rubicon and become Caesar for life. He was the commanding general of the army who had won the war. His men were angry at the government and wanted to overthrow it. The power was his, and he despised it. He convinced the army to go home and let the civilian government work things out. His men had such respect for him that they obeyed without being paid and went home, and the United States was saved from military dictatorship. Washington was constantly being given power that he didn't want. In fact Washington nearly refused to be the first president. All he wanted was to go back to his farm and live out his life restfully. He felt he had served his country enough. But he became president anyway because he realized what everyone else did. He was the only one everyone trusted with the sort of power that a president under the constitution had. He refused to run for a third term, starting a tradition of voluntarily not running for third terms that held all the way until the progressive president FDR ran for and won four terms. After FDR, Washington's tradition of the two-term presidency was made law. Understand though that twenty-nine American presidents in a row covering a nearly one hundred and fifty year period never held more than two terms because of the precedent Washington set. Washington set many other important precedents for the executive branch that also held until the progressive movement destroyed them in the early 20th century. What conservatives in America are looking for today are leaders like Washington who disdain power and hold it lightly. It is a rare thing, but the precedent Washington set is powerful. We need to regain that vision, and not just for Presidents but all politicians and leaders. We need leaders who are willing and able to gain power within our system in order to use that power to ensure that no one can ever get it again. If Nugent disagrees with this, I can't for the life of me imagine why.

The Constitution of 1789 under which Washington became the first president replaced the Articles of Confederation that the army wanted to overthrow because the Articles weren't working. The Constitution gave the central, or federal, government just enough power to perform the duties that were required of it but also limited its power in important ways. Americans had just fought a war of independence from a government that they felt had abused its power. They were in no mood to create a new government that even had power able to be abused in the same way. This is a key point to be made about American exceptionalism. When most countries go through revolutions or civil wars, it's usually because one group, or nation, is being treated unfairly by another group. Regardless of who wins, the normal trajectory is to simply use the power thus won to continue the cycle of recriminations against the group that lost. This is basically what is happening in Egypt right now, as President Morsi has simply seized powers because the forces of the previous group in power dissolved parliament and prevented them from writing a constitution. Morsi seized power in order to fight them, and so it goes. There is probably no longer any hope that Egypt will turn out the way the United States did. Something different happened in America. The theme of the forming of the United States government under the Constitution was not a matter of factions jockeying for power against one another. The theme was one of a largely unified country hashing out the philosophical basis of government and how best to organize its structure to prevent abuses of authority like the ones which led to the revolution. The Federalist Papers are an excellent accounting of this process. In America the people and their leaders saw that the way to prevent abuses of power was to limit the power of the government entirely. If the government did not have the power to oppress the people, than it could not be used as a vehicle of oppression by anyone. In fact, the only error they made was in forming a government in the Articles that didn't have enough power. Again, I can't imagine Nugent disagreeing with strict limits on government power. This is what the conservative political movement stands for and is trying to accomplish.

The limiting of government power was accomplished in the Constitution by various mechanisms such as checks and balances, the three branches of government having various different defined powers over each other. It was limited by the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments that were passed as a group a few years after the Constitution was passed. It was also accomplished through democratic accountability, but problems have crept in through the democratic process during the last century. Nugent expresses difficulties with democracy, an interesting position that not many people have the cojones to take. Today "democracy" is a vacuous term synonymous with "the will of the people" meaning all that is right and good in America. By criticizing democracy, Nugent has stuck his neck out there and fingered something important. (I also criticize the overpowered democracy in American politics in my book.) Nugent writes: "We must ditch the simple choice between (a) making the world a better place by leveraging democratic power in which a 51% majority get to tell the 49% minority how to live, and (b) doing nothing at all to help the world." Excellent! The framers of the constitution also ditched that simple choice, but the progressive vision of the 20th century has returned to it. Nugent is right to see this as a false dichotomy, but he is wrong if he thinks this is the way conservatives think. This is the way progressives think, and if Nugent doesn't like that then he's of one mind with conservatives. Conservatives do want Christians to be involved in government and civic duties, but we do not want the 51% telling the other 49% how to live. The proper role of our democratic institutions is to keep our leaders accountable by providing yet another check against their power, not to grant them power that they do not have and should not try to take. We do not want a society where all our freedoms are subject to the winds of popular opinion or the whims of judges. Nugent is describing one of the kinds of abuses of power the Constitution was designed to prevent: tyranny of the majority.

The abuse of power which the colonists objected to and fought a war over was a tyranny of the minority, that is, the tyranny of a king. Most of the Declaration of Independence, not the famous part, is a long list of grievances against a king that reads very much like 1 Samuel 8. There was always a danger that, in our anti-monarchical enthusiasm, we would trade the tyranny of the minority for a tyranny of the majority. But the leaders of the founding generation wisely moderated this impulse and created a system designed to protect against both the tyranny of the minority and the tyranny of the majority by placing strict limits on government power. Thus we have rights that are not based on government but are proclaimed to be our God-given rights that no one, even a majority vote, can infringe upon. To try is to fail, and to prevent the government from failing they prevented the government from infringing upon our God-given rights. Thus neither type of tyranny could succeed because they declared tyranny itself to be an offense against God's created order and designed their government to respect that.

The first God-given right was freedom of opinion, covered in the First Amendment. It is a fact of human nature that we have freedom of opinion. You can torture a person, you can argue with them, you can threaten their family and everything they love, you can operate on their brain, but you cannot change what they believe for them. So the founding generations wisely decided to keep government out of the business of trying to keep people from believing what they want. Enforcing ideological conformity was not a legitimate function of the central government. In fact freedom of opinion was a God-given right. Unfortunately we moved away from that position because the progressive movement denies this right. They believe that human belief can and is manipulated directly by outside forces. Progressivism in America was supported originally by both atheists and Calvinists because neither group believed in human free will. Thus the government not only should not be limited from molding the opinions of the public, but they ought to be doing this in order to form a more perfect union. This has now gone so far that modern progressives have even suggested weakening the First Amendment. I don't care who you are or how you want to use the government: if you do not respect the first right you are not a conservative. Period. The second God-given right is the right of self-defense. Again, we know that human beings who wish to defend themselves are able to do so, and therefore the government should not try to prevent this. Progressives have been fighting the Second Amendment like their lives depended upon it. And on and on we go.

The framing of the U.S. Constitution is a story of radical limitation of government power the likes of which the world had never seen. You cannot fail to see this if you've studied the era and the arguments and history that went into it. In some ways, the Constitution limited government power even more severely than the Articles did, because the fear of government overreach was greater under the Constitution. As a result of these severe limits based on Judeo-Christian philosophy, the United States government has been one of the most successful models in human history. Our nation decided to limit the authority of government to its proper realm of authority under God and enthusiastically prevented it from going any further. What happened?

The first really transformative progressive president was Woodrow Wilson. Here is Wilson's opinion on the U.S. Constitution:

"All that progressives ask or desire is permission – in an era when 'development,' 'evolution' is the scientific word – to interpret the Constitution according to the Darwinian principle."

Here's Wilson on the role of the president:

"The President is at liberty, both in law and in conscience, to be as big a man as he can. His capacity will set the limit; and if Congress is overborne by him, it will be no fault of the makers of the Constitution … but only because the President has the nation behind him and Congress has not."

And Wilson on the character and nature of humanity in regards to freedom of opinion discussed earlier:

"Men are as clay in the hand of the consummate leader."

Wilson and the progressives believed the Constitution was a hindrance to progress precisely because it limited government power. Barack Obama expressed it this way:

"As radical as I think people try to characterize the Warren Court, it wasn't that radical. It didn't break free from the essential constraints that were placed by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution, at least as it's been interpreted, and more important, interpreted in the same way that generally the Constitution is a charter of negative liberties. Says what the states can't do to you, says what the federal government can't do to you, but it doesn't say what the federal government or state government must do on your behalf."

Interpreting the Constitution according to the "Darwinian principle"? The President should be as "big a man as he can" and it would be no particular problem "if Congress is overborne by him" because "the President has the nation behind him and the Congress has not"? And so we see how progressives at once championed the democratic principle and tyranny at the same time. The President is today the only official elected by the entire nation, and thus have progressives begun to claim that all of the nation's representative authority is vested in one man. This runs completely contrary to the view of the founders and of the precedent set by Washington that the locally elected representatives are the sole expression of the people's will within the government and the executive is merely representative of the government's will. Progressives sensed that the American people were not quite as guarded against the tyranny of the majority as they were against the tyranny of the minority, and began to use the tyranny of the majority to change the structure of the United States government. Their goal has always been to remove the restrictions the Constitution placed on government power, and they have won a great many battles in this direction by championing democracy and the "will of the people". Here I will simply quote from my book:

"The executive was originally elected by the Electoral College. The Constitution specified that the states could choose how their electors were chosen, and the early trend was toward more democratic means for choosing electors until all states today tie their electoral votes directly to the popular vote. As a result, the executive branch has bowed more and more to the public opinion..."

"[The judicial branch has become more democratic] not only by virtue of being chosen by executives more and more beholden to popular opinion, but also by the rise of activist judges and the loosening of judicial philosophy to include such irrational tenets as “empathy.” Instead of interpreting what laws mean, many justices have taken an active role in determining what they think laws should actually be. This is often called “legislating from the bench.” Thus the judicial branch has more and more taken on a role it was not designed to fill."

"The Senate originally was elected by state legislatures and only one third was up for election every two years, meaning it was the more stable body and less influenced by passion than the House. Changing the way Senators were elected required a constitutional amendment: the seventeenth. The movement to elect Senators via the popular vote was a product of the progressive movement and made the Senate far more beholden to public opinion..."

The Seventeenth Amendment required direct democratic election of senators and was ratified in 1913 during Wilson's administration. While progressives are discussing weakening our First Amendment protections, conservative are discussing repeal of the Seventeenth and fighting against attempts to remove the Electoral College. Into this room comes Mr. Nugent, and upon seeing the mice attempting to declaw the cat, chastises the mice, for the cat is his familiar and comfortable pet with whom he has made his peace, and the mice are intruders in his house. Thus Mr. Nugent's charges against conservative Christians are ignorant and insulting.

I rarely watch Sean Hannity, but either last night or the night before I happened to see mega-church pastor Rick Warren on his show. Warren is the pastor of Saddleback Church in California and wrote the blockbuster bestseller The Purpose Driven Life. In 2008, Warren moderated a debate between Barack Obama and John McCain designed to address Christian topics. In the short portion of the interview that I saw, Warren was saying that laws don't change people's behavior, and thus Christians shouldn't try to effect change in society by passing laws. He was expressing a position pretty close to what Mr. Nugent has expressed. /facepalm.


You are telling me that nobody changes how they drive their cars when the speed limit goes from 55 mph to 65 mph? You are telling me that people applied for Medicare before Medicare was made into law? You think that changes in tax law don't change how people use and invest their money?

I understand what Warren was trying to say, and I'll say it for him: You can't legislate morality. This is true, but to say that laws don't change behavior is obviously false. Laws are the rules which govern society and they are enforced by the God-given authority of the sword given to governments. They are not given authority over morality, but they are given limited authority over the behavior of their people. There is a difference. Governments cannot make people moral, but they can punish people for immoral behavior.

I have the feeling that Warren and Nugent are primarily interested in two issues: abortion and homosexuality. Their ad-hoc political philosophy, such as it is, only considers those two issues. But it is dishonest to paint social conservatives as primarily wanting to make laws even in these two cases. Yes, we try to pass various legislation, but the intent of these laws is not to make new law but to clarify the interpretation of existing law which no one, not even progressives, views as illegitimate. Thus the Defense of Marriage Act is primarily meant to define marriage as it was defined when laws governing marriage entered our legal code and as it always will be defined in the eyes of God. Thus the pro-life movement recognizes that if humans have God-given rights then it becomes necessary to define a human so that no one who fits the definition is denied those rights. We are not trying to change marriage law, nor are we trying to change the laws regarding human rights. We are trying to preserve them. I think we will probably lose the former and win the latter, and anyway the latter is far more important, so I personally advocate a political compromise on marriage and a new push forward on abortion. I have written my complete position on these two issues in my book, but right now I am moving on.

I got my driver's licence the day I turned sixteen. This was before the age of ubiquitous cell phones, and I remember what is was like to drive back then. When people saw other people pulled over on the side of the road, they stopped to help them. Now when I see someone pulled over on the side of the road, I often see them talking on a cell phone and know that even if I pulled over there is probably nothing I could do to help them. They likely will be staying there until the the tow truck arrives because they immediately called for help on their cell phone. However if I saw someone on the side of the road waving their arms I would certainly pull over. There is a difference between passing on the road someone who doesn't look as if they need help and someone who does.

Government cannot make people more moral, but it can make people less moral. Nugent and Warren argue that churches should be more involved in helping their communities. I happen to agree, but they also argue in effect that the actions and role of government in our society have no implications for this relationship. They are fooling themselves. We live in a society which has shoved off the responsibility of caring for the poor and needy to the government, and as a consequence we don't help our neighbors because they all have Obama phones now. They have the government on speed dial, and have become a nation of takers instead of nation of givers. And those of us with more feel that the government is taking our stuff and giving it away, so why should we be charitable? I personally don't feel this way of course, but I think it's obvious that the entitlement state has undermined the Christian impulse towards charity that has always been a hallmark of the American people. There are fewer good Samaritans around because the government has taken over that role. As Christians, do we believe that the government is in a better position to show Christ's love to the poor and destitute in our local communities than ourselves?

God never granted government authority over Christian charity the way he did grant them the authority of punishment and taxes. This is not an optional structure we can change whenever we want. To try to change it is idolatry, and we are paying the price. Governments will always have the authority to tax and to punish the wrongdoer. They will never have the authority to administer charity. Anyone who thinks otherwise is in for an unpleasant wake-up call. We have time to correct this mistake, to take upon ourselves as individuals and local communities the Christian responsibilities we have been given towards our neighbors, but it will be extremely difficult if we refuse to fight a government trying to take that responsibility for itself. Our government is out of order. It has disrespected God's created order of legitimate authority and responsibility. There will be consequences if we do not fix it, and those consequences will be visited upon the poor and needy most of all. In times of want, the weakest of these are always hurt the most.

God has his reasons, and we can already see what some of those reasons might be. A government which has both authority of the sword and charity will run roughshod over the God-given rights our system was designed to protect, all in the name of charity, even as they attack real charities. The first salvo has been fired. Under the authority vested in her by Obamacare, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius has issued a mandate that all but the most narrowly defined religious organizations must provide insurance to their employees that covers contraception, in violation of Catholic religious freedom. The battle is ongoing, but conservatives have closed ranks with the Catholic Church over the issue. In my book I predicted Obamacare would be used to attack religious liberty months before the contraception mandate came down the pipe, a mandate not part of the original law and not voted into law by our elected representatives. It is a law based entirely on the massive expansion of executive power granted under Obamacare. I compared Obamacare to what has happened in our public schools, where prayer and other religious freedoms have been limited. This is only the beginning folks. So if Nugent and Warren think that conservatives can retreat to our churches and focus only on Christian charity they have another thing coming. A Christian's role in society is not limited to a single virtue. The government is moving to force charitable religious organizations into a dilemma of conscience. The battle over the contraception mandate is just a shot across the bow. It will not be the last time our God-given freedoms of conscience, opinion and religion are attacked. It is time for Christians to stand up for a Biblical view of society where government plays its limited but legitimate role and the people in local communities are allowed to play theirs. To do that we must fight progressives who are trying to usurp the authority of government to move American society away from that Biblical vision.

I hope this has promoted some understanding. As I said and will always maintain, Nugent and others are free to follow their conscience on this matter. But it is unfair, ignorant and insulting for him to characterize Christian conservatives involved in politics as acting outside of God's will and vision for a just society. He wants Christians out of politics, and part of his argument is that our government does not conform to that vision. How in the world does he expect that to change if Christians abandon it? I see no reason why Christ's example of kingship and the power of the Holy Spirit cannot be exercised within the governing structures of a republic such as ours, and I call all Christians to support such efforts, even if that only means voting. Follow the Holy Spirit and your conscience, and God's will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Response to John Nugent: Part 6 - Brainwashing

I was eleven years old and it was December 1993. In just over a year the now legendary Nebraska Cornhusker coach Tom Osborne would win his first of three national championships. In just about exactly a year I would be baptized. Standing there in the foyer of our parent church, I could see no higher purpose for my life than to serve the living God, Creator of heaven and earth. I knew I could not know the future, but even at that young age I realized it would be no cakewalk, and that making a lifetime commitment was a serious thing since lives last so long. In that time I sought out challenges and knowing the challenges of being a Christian was more an attraction to me than a repellent. In about eight months I would go to a new school for sixth grade, a private Christian school instead of going on to the public middle school. I would learn for the first time that being really smart wasn't actually very cool and was not the best way to make friends. I learned how to be funny and a goofball in order to hide how smart I was and that I am not a normal person. To this day it is still necessary, but in the end people always find out, and I know now what to do when that happens. I move on before they start to hate me. I can't handle any more bad endings.

In about six months I would go with my family on a short term medical mission trip to Russia. I had been on another one of these before, to Haiti when I was three. I still have a scar on my left shoulder from failing to navigate a barbed wire fence in an attempt to feed the ducks on the other side. I remember watching through our screen door as my dad tried to kill a tarantula with bleach and a board. I remember being the only white people in a church full of dancing, singing Haitians, standing there like a flag pole cemented to the ground and feeling out of place for the first time in my short life. I remember a field of sugar cane and two puppies in an empty fountain. But I remember little else from Haiti. Russia was another matter. It was only three years after the fall of the Soviet Union. I remember everything from Russia, but what I remember most is standing on the balcony of our flat the last night we were there, crying and praying over these people. I desperately wanted to help them but I didn't know how. What I remember most is the crushing weight of despair and hopelessness hanging over the entire population like the clouds on an overcast day. I remember the way people were at restaurants and other public places, walking around with their heads down and shuffling their feet. I saw the burnt out kiosk at the open market by the metro station. My parents explained that the mafia had destroyed it because the owner didn't pay an extortion fee. No one was friendly in public like in the United States. Nobody smiled, and the people behind the counter helped you when they felt like it and not before. The best restaurant in all of Moscow was McDonald's, and the prices there reflected that. So did the cleanliness of the bathrooms. The tales of disgusting, horrible Russian public bathrooms would horrify even my college friends that I went to Mexico with. The toilets were holes in the ground which you could usually reach if you didn't mind stepping in all of the urine-soaked shit that missed it. Compared to that the bathrooms at McDonald's were like heaven. We even took a tour of the factory that made their cheese like it was some kind of tourist attraction. In just the six weeks we were there, the ruble inflated three hundred percent against the dollar. Kopecks were still around, but by that time they were worth less than the dirt under your feet, and that's where I usually found them. When we needed rubles we traded dollars for them in the morning and spent them as soon as possible. When the Russian people could get American dollars, they hid them away in a safe place like they were precious gems. It was about the only way to keep your money from becoming worthless in short order.

Sometimes I wonder if I would have stayed a conservative through college without this formative experience. I have seen the stark contrast between a society like America and another one that lived by a different philosophy for three generations. I have seen a great and proud nation brought low by simple economics, and it is not a pretty sight. It is terrible. It hurts. It makes people despair of life and love and happiness. Every last one of them knew their lives would never be any better than they were. Not only that, but they had seen things get much worse. Even in China there was at least some hope depending on whether or not you could succeed in the highly competitive school system, but their best restaurant was still McDonald's. In Russia there was no hope whatsoever. Everything was breaking down, both the physical buildings, all from the 60s, and institutions like schools and hospitals. And that was just Moscow and St. Petersburg, cities in which the communists had spent vast sums they couldn't afford to hide the even more severe effects of communism on the rest of the country. I saw a poor family kill the fattened calf for us and fill a room with smiles because the Americans were their guests. I had borscht for the first time and liked it. I hated the kvas, but all of us did. We never quite believed them when they said it was non-alcoholic. I now know that Russians drink beer to sober up. For them, kvas is as non-alcoholic as water. I heard one of the permanent missionaries tell us to eat some street vendor hot dogs before we went in case the food was inedible. It was actually pretty great, at least this time. They had to put their best foot forward for the Americans. The Russians are a prideful people. I saw the same thing playing out in that summer of 1994 as they spent large amounts of money to restore medieval castles with real gold and expensive amber artwork even as they hovered just above starvation. I understand why a people might accept a tyrant like Putin, who at least was able to preside over some measure of an economic rebound. This is what happens when a nation loses its pride. This is what happens when a country falls apart. I would do anything within my power to prevent that from happening to any people, but to see it in the future of my own nearly twenty years later is unbearable, especially when we of all people in the whole world ought to know better. I have been there. I know that road, and I know exactly where it ends. It doesn't help healthcare. It doesn't help education. It doesn't create jobs or help the economy. It doesn't help the poor and needy, the hungry or the homeless. It doesn't make people righteous or happy. It makes everything worse. For everybody. And no one can tell me otherwise with mere words. I have seen it with my own eyes. It sucks.

But in that December of 1993 I had seen none of this. I was concerned primarily with the minute hand of the clock reaching six. The hour hand was already at three, and the last day of school before Christmas vacation was nearly over. My fifth grade teacher announced that she would be handing out Christmas presents. Pencils! In fifth grade we all collected pencils. I had my own collection. We all had the pencils for our favorite football teams. We had pencils for the designs we liked. We traded them, we bought them and we never, ever sharpened them. Our teacher knew this, so she had bought us some cheap Christmas themed ones. All we had to do was line up in front of her desk, approach one by one and say, "I believe in Santa Claus," and we were out the door for Christmas vacation with the pencil. One by one every one of my classmates approached her desk and said, "I believe in Santa Claus," got their pencil and left. When my turn came I apologized to my teacher and told her I couldn't say it. Surprised, she asked me why. I didn't quite understand the question. "Because I don't believe in Santa Claus," I said, matter-of-factly. I don't remember exactly how she responded, but I was dismissed without a pencil. I didn't care. I had no school for weeks ahead of me, and a pencil was a small price to pay for the Truth. As far as I know, I was the only one in my class who didn't get one.

Weeks or months later, I don't really remember how long, I casually told this story to my mom. I thought it was funny. She didn't. To replace the pencil I had eschewed, she went out and bought me a fancy looking pen which I kept safe in my miniature locker on my desk at home mostly because I felt it was expected of me. I liked the pen, don't get me wrong, and I appreciated the object lesson, but I have never needed object lessons when it came to pursuing the Truth. It's what I do. Anything else does not compute. I know this woman was completely incapable of having asked us to say we believed in Jesus Christ and not just for professional reasons either. It's a strange world we live in when falsities are the only allowable topics for discussion. This world of lies is only fit for young children, apparently, and in this country we like to keep them young for as long as possible. There is something holy about youth, we are told. I only wonder what sort of thing is holy next to the Truth, especially in a world where the Truth seems so completely set apart from our normal experience. Kids are the absolute last people in the world we should be lying to, since kids are far more likely to believe it. And yet we say things like, "Oh they are only kids." It's like we don't believe that lies are dangerous. That what kids believe doesn't matter. I fear we will reap what we have sown.

I was taught other lies in public elementary school which were not so easily vanquished. One of my favorites is the story of Christopher Columbus. In 1492 he sailed the ocean blue. Columbus was a brave explorer, the story goes, and he believed the earth was round. Did you know children that everyone else in that time believed the earth was flat? They were so silly! But Columbus knew the earth was round, and so when everyone else sailed east and kept close to land, he sailed west away from land. Everyone thought he was crazy! His sailors advised him to turn back before they fell off the edge of the earth. But hark! Columbus was right after all! Instead of sailing off into space Columbus discovered America!

Everyone knows this story because we were taught it, if not in school then in television or the press or college, those three being equally helpful when it comes to American history. In fact this little fable is the set-up for the supposed real "truth" that only college professors are allowed to tell you: that people believed the earth was flat because the Bible told them so. Gasp! The scandal! I wasn't told the truth as a child because people were afraid I would stop believing the Bible, and we need the Bible to teach us how to socialize with our classmates and not talk back to the teacher! But the Bible really isn't about the Truth at all is it? It's really a book whose only purpose is to teach us how to behave like the good little boys and girls we are. We should look for Truth elsewhere. So the story goes.

No one seems to ask the prior question of whether the above fable is actually true. In case you were wondering, it isn't. In case you were wondering, we know that western civilization has known the earth and the other heavenly spheres were round since about two thousand years before 1492. In other words, western civilization has known since the beginning of western civilization. In case you were wondering, the excuse for teaching us that the Bible says the earth is flat is vague references in Revelation to the "four corners of the earth," a clear poetic reference to the four cardinal directions which were in use even back then. And this is the same Bible that the vast majority of the Christians in Europe up to the time of Columbus were never allowed to read in their own language anyway. The only ones who could read the Latin Vulgate were also well aware the earth was a sphere. In case you were wondering, Christopher Columbus wasn't right about the earth and he wasn't in it just for the thrill of exploration. In contrast to most of the educated people of his time, he believed the earth was much smaller than it was. He also knew that if he could find a quicker route to India than the eastern trading routes currently available he could literally make boatloads of money. He even thought that when he landed at the island he named Hispaniola that he had found an island off the coast of India. Columbus continued to believe he had found India long after most knew better. That's why he called the natives of Hispaniola "Indians", a name that stuck. He was in it for profit from international trade and Christian proselytization, neither of which we can have our schoolchildren believing are good things if we want them to grow up into socialists. No, exploration was the real reason. The joy of discovery. That's it. We wouldn't want our children believing that the profit motive or Christianity leads to anything good. And even if they see through the fable, we'll simply tell them that it wasn't actually a good thing that Columbus found America. Now how could we accomplish that?

Another great elementary school fable is the tale of Thanksgiving. This one has the added irritation of guaranteed retelling every year in sync with the national holiday, and like the flat earth myth it has an element that is withheld until college (or television, movies, the press, etc.) so as to achieve maximum pathos. (Come to think of it, I seem to remember Columbus day celebrated every year in my public elementary school. Coincidence?) In this happy tale the Pilgrims of the Mayflower journey to the mysterious New World. Why? Well the same reason as Columbus did of course. When they got there life was hard and they had trouble growing enough food. But the Indians visited them and gave them food when they were hungry, even teaching them how to grow corn! So one day the Indians brought a bunch of food and sat down together with the Pilgrims and had a big happy feast together, which we now celebrate as Thanksgiving. Who were we giving thanks to? That part is left out. I wonder how many schoolchildren grow up thinking the thanks being given was to the Indians. The part of this fable we don't learn until we are older is that those nasty witch-hunting Pilgrims turned on their friends the Indians and killed them all to steal their land. The happy story has a tragic ending, and the noble Indians were killed for being nice and generous to strangers they should never have trusted. Children, we are the descendants of those very Pilgrims! Alas, the sins of the fathers pass on to the children! America is a tale of woe and we are the bad guys. Thus have entire generations of children been taught to hate themselves and their country. They are taught that adults know the real truth that we are the bad guys, and anyone who disagrees simply hasn't grown up yet or is simply embracing his inner evil American. They are taught the primary goal of all things American must be to pay penance for all her numerous sins. But why is this story told in picture books lining the shelves of our government elementary schools? What is the object of this Technicolor fable?

The childhood fable we learn about the Indians neglects to inform us of the rest of the Indian's part in this little morality play. In fact, even the adult version of the fable depends upon a system of apologetics defending their behavior. We will see what how this apologetic works in a minute. But first we need to remind ourselves of how ideological battles play out in the real world. In the Hollywood version there is a good guy and a bad guy. You can tell who the bad guy is because he's ugly and mean. Everything he does is automatically wrong because, well, he's the bad guy, just like the white Americans. We all know why he is there. He is there because if he wasn't there it wouldn't be much of a story. The good guy needs to exert moral superiority over somebody. This is the Hollywood version of morality, and most progressive propaganda is tailor-made to fit right into that framework.

In the real world ideological battles play out through the construction of opposing narratives. We tell stories to each other. There is no clear identification between which stories are good and which are bad, in fact all of these stories have their good guys and bad guys. But how do we differentiate between opposing stories? The word "ideology" has a bad connotation because these stories are often faulty. Notice I do not say they are often false. Why is that? Well, because a lie is easy to detect, and once detected the person who tells it ends up like Dan Rather, who got caught by a no-name blogger. Once a lie is detected, not only does the story lose its value for ideological purposes, but the one who told it loses credibility. So these types of stories do not usually contain clear falsehoods like the flat earth myth. The preferred method of ideological storytelling is to leave out important parts of the story. Thus the liberal media does not lie. Instead they choose not to report stories or even parts of stories that don't fit their narrative. They choose to leave out important parts of the Truth. And when a story does fit their narrative, they cover it like it's the only news in the world that matters. The enthusiasm of their coverage of a story directly correlates to that story's value to the liberal narrative. Thus people believed that Rodney King was an innocent victim of police brutality because no one, except for the jury that acquitted the officers, saw certain parts of the video. It was conveniently edited before it hit the airwaves, to say nothing of everything that happened before the bystander began taping. Thus no one knows that there were two other occupants in Rodney King's car, both black, who walked away from the incident completely unharmed because they weren't drunk and behaving violently and irrationally like King was. Etc., etc., etc., ad infinitum for one hundred years until we come to today, where the 90% of children who grow up spending eight hours a day in government owned and operated schools where the curriculum is literally controlled by politicians believe that the Indians never did anything wrong. And Nugent speaks to us of brainwashing. Ha!

Not too long ago I was trying and failing to continue my education by taking classes where they teach you how to teach. Actually those classes were required by the government before I would be allowed to teach in government funded schools. If it were up to me I would never have gone, since they were mostly worthless, just as all my friends in college who got teaching degrees had told me. It amazes me that we can't figure out what the problem is with American education. Even teachers cannot be allowed to teach before they are forced to imbibe pedagogical propaganda. Anyway, one time we had a discussion on this very topic. I related facts that I had learned on my own from various books I have read (none of them assigned to me in school of course), such as the fact that the vast majority, roughly eighty percent, of American Indians died from European diseases that they had not developed any immunity to. Obviously that was a tragic but unintentional side effect of European colonization. But why, when eighty percent of the population of an entire continent was wiped out by diseases, is the dominant narrative today driven by stories like the massacre at Wounded Knee where a few hundred Indians were killed? But I continued to assert to my future teacher friends that of the remaining twenty percent or so, the vast majority of those were not forced onto reservations and or killed by the colonials. There was a Trail of Tears and the massacre at Wounded Knee did happen. But what happened to the rest of the Indians who were not among the few thousands killed in battle or reprisals or moved to reservations? They assimilated into the dominant culture, often by intermarriage. They joined the dominant culture of their own free will and left their original culture behind by choice. At this point one of the women got extremely offended and exclaimed to me that she was descended from American Indians and that because of this fact I was wrong to taint the mythology of her people's unjust suffering at the hands of their white oppressors with inconvenient facts. In other words, the proof against my assertions that most American Indians assimilated into a different dominant culture through intermarriage was that she, a fully assimilated member of that culture, was descended from Indians who assimilated into that culture through intermarriage. I was so dumbfounded by this that I simply gave up. From what I understand, this woman is now being paid by the government to read picture books to kindergartners who are forced to be there under threat of punishment by our legal system. This is the sort of person we are creating in our system, people who are unable to respond rationally when their deeply ingrained progressive mythology is challenged and whose deepest calling in life becomes proselytizing that myth to the next generation.

But, you'll notice, I still haven't answered my own question. Why this particular myth? Why lionize the Indians at the expense of American Christian culture? Have patience.

I mentioned before that progressives believe and teach that American Indians didn't do anything wrong. Well, did they? Of course they did, at least according to Judeo-Christian morality. American Indians often raided Christian European towns and farms, raping, pillaging and killing for seemingly no reason. In fact even Wounded Knee was a reprisal for such a raid. But, says the Wounded Knee narrative, they were justified in doing this because the Christian European settlers were stealing their land. Ah yes. The "white people took their land" motif. It is part of progressive anti-colonial myths everywhere around the world. But as it concerns American Indians it is particularly ridiculous. Anyone who has actually studied the various American Indian worldviews cannot help but being hit smack in the face with an undeniable theme: Most American Indians had no concept of land ownership.

Suppose an alien race came to earth from outer space and start asking us for our air. Supposing they offered us warp engines, replicators and phasers for small portions of our air. Supposing each individual country made a few deals with this alien race, trading a few cubic kilometers of air for a warp engine. Not knowing how to make these things ourselves, we let the aliens stick around. What good fortune! We can now travel at ludicrous speed in exchange for nothing but air! We can make food from energy! We can vanquish the Russians with our awesome new phasers, and all for nothing but a small portion of our atmosphere, which no one really owns anyway! SuhWEET! What a great deal! Only after a long period of time of trading the air away or allowing it to be taken without complaint, air which the earthlings considered to be intangible, would anyone start to care that the earth's atmosphere was dwindling to levels which could no longer sustain life on earth. Eventually the earthlings would realize that air can in fact be owned, and only after it was taken away would they understand that. By that time of course it would be far too late, at which point they have several options. Some might unite to fight the aliens and be inevitably defeated. Others might make deals with the aliens to create bio-domes where small amounts of air remain in enough of a quantity to sustain anyone who would actually want to live there. But by far the best option is to simply join the aliens, travel to the alien's planet and live there, where the air from earth was being used to make life better than it could ever have possibly been on earth. But the one thing that would be certain: life on earth as we knew it would be irretrievably lost, and the reason cannot be reduced to a Hollywood morality play of good guys and bad guys. The reality of the situation is that an inferior culture lost out to a superior one, and now like it or not everyone is better off for it, especially those from the inferior culture who assimilated into the superior one, which is why so many of them did it. It's only an analogy, but it's a far better one than Avatar, a perfect progressive fantasy of how it should have ended.

For the Indians, land was an intangible quality. It was an assumed part of life, and it would always be there. It was not viewed quantitatively. The idea that someone could own it was preposterous to them. So when modern progressives accuse the Christian European colonials of "stealing" the American Indians' land, they are falsely assuming that the Indians had claimed ownership of it in the first place. They hadn't. The concept of "stealing land" only existed in reference to the Christian European worldview. To the Indians, land was an unlimited resource that was to be shared with anyone who happened to be around. But even more important than that, Indian culture did not have a strong sense of private property in general. They certainly had some concept of private property, but it paled in comparison to other values, especially honor.

When a young American Indian brave wanted to gain honor for himself, he would gather other like-minded braves and go on a raiding party. It did not matter who they raided, as long as it was not their own tribe. The reason for the raid was the need to gain honor in battle. It had nothing to do with guilt being assigned to the victims of the raid. The stronger the target, the more honor to be gained from attacking it. The greatest honor was reserved for "counting coup", a practice where during a battle a warrior would approach a dangerous enemy close enough to take something from them without harming them and get away without being killed in return. Why did this grant the greatest honor? Because it was the most challenging thing to do in battle. Anyone could kill someone and take their stuff, but it was hard to take someone's stuff without killing them first. Thus the concept of honor far outweighed the concept of private property.

Enter the colonists and their Judeo-Christian moral code containing within it the concept of sacrosanct private property. Enter a concept of land ownership and a strict system of drawing boundaries, completely invisible, imaginary and utterly incomprehensible to the Indians, within which the owner of the land was the absolute master of it. And so the young Indian brave with his tomahawk approaches the Christian European farmer with his matchlock. He has heard that these white-skinned folk possess the power of the gods and are the most formidable enemies of all. He is happy. Live or die the coming battle will bring the greatest honor of all to him and his family. The farmer sees the Indian approach. He is scared. He has heard the tales of these savages raiding farms just like his, killing the men and carrying off the women. He raises his matchlock. The farmer says, "Get off my land or I'll shoot!" The brave doesn't understand, even if he could have understood the words. All he sees is a challenge being issued, and the battle commences. It doesn't matter who wins. Perhaps the farmer shoots the brave, and he dies an honorable death. Perhaps the Indian kills the farmer and carries away his wife to be his own wife, honorably won in battle, the mother of his future children. Perhaps some of the farmer's people attack the Indian village, seeking justice against the one who murdered an innocent man and kidnapped and raped his wife. Regardless of what happened, there was never any chance of some sort of compromise or middle ground being reached. The two world views were one hundred percent incompatible. Honor for the one meant injustice to the other. The engine of prosperity and the basis of individual rights, freedom and justice to the one meant the destruction of the other's way of life. There was no possibility for coexistence or a multicultural society. Either one or the other had to go.

I for one am glad the American Indians lost that particular culture war. Because they lost, I do not have to worry about my stuff constantly being stolen just because some person I've never met needs to increase his personal feelings of worth. I can travel across an entire continent and still be at home among people who will not attack me without provocation. I do not have to worry about the women in my family being in constant danger of kidnap and rape. I do not have to become a warrior and risk my life in battle for my life to have purpose and meaning. There are obvious advantages to Judeo-Christian morality. It is a superior system. Not only that, but I take pride in the way American Christians conducted themselves during this inevitable process. There were incidents, killings and injustices committed by both sides. But the overall narrative of history is that these people were mostly convinced peacefully that their ways were inferior. Person by person, bit by bit, they left those ways behind of their own free will. Against the backdrop of all human history, that is a victory for peaceful conflict resolution.

So why would this narrative be overcome with a different one a century or so later, one that ignores the broad trend and focuses on a few specific incidents? Why would a bunch of secular humanists, socialists, communists and progressives prefer the Indians over and against the colonists? Well, I have virtually already answered my own question. Like the Indians, communists do not believe in private property. To a communist and many socialists, private property is the source of all violence. Eliminating private property, so they say, would end all violence. It would also end inequality and make everyone equal. So the American Indians were right and the European Christians were wrong! Even if no one decides to reject private property, this fable is still worth it as long as everyone understands that Americans are the bad guys. They'll work on the private property thing later. On top of that, socialists and secular humanists believe that morality is measured by wealth and suffering, respectively. Who has the most wealth and material possessions? They must be the bad guys. Who has endured the most pain and suffering? Who was beaten in the end? Who was the underdog? They must be the good guys. What really happened isn't a high priority in comparison to these questions. The Indians must have been the good guys and the colonists must have been the bad guys, for how else could a Hollywood mind understand it? Since they must make this argument to a largely Christian society, they used Christian morals to do it, but they could not use a complete Judeo-Christian moral system. Rather they used only the bits and pieces of it that favored their point of view, and many Christians have swallowed it hook, line and sinker. The secular progressives have a foot in the door of the Christian heart, and their final aim is to destroy Judeo-Christian morality completely and replace it with secular humanism. But they cannot touch the Christian mind.

That is why men like John Nugent go to the Bible to find support for their confused point of view and end up mangling the Biblical narrative beyond all recognition. They are trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. They have unconsciously accepted the progressive arguments tailored precisely to appeal to a Christian and are engaged in trying to smash together two points of view that are ultimately incompatible. But of course the secular progressive is not troubled by this. As soon as the Christians are on board with his political program, or at least not resisting it, his job is done. He leaves the Christians to their futile moral gymnastics and laughs all the way to the ballot box, which he uses to ensure that their children will hear the secular progressive point of view exclusively throughout their childhood and formative years when they are the most vulnerable. He aims to win the same sort of peaceful culture war in which the American Indians succumbed. Eventually, so he believes, Christians will come over to his side of their own accord. Only this time the story has a different ending. Why? Well what determined the ending before? Only the superiority of one point of view. So which is superior: secular progressivism or Christianity? Of course Christianity is superior. It will never be defeated. God cannot be mocked. The only question is whether or not Americans will continue to believe it or be stupid enough to abandon it for secular progressivism when they finally realize the two are incompatible. I believe the former. Christianity practically invented the game of peaceful persuasion. In the end, there can be no coherent universal system of morality but that which is imposed upon us by a higher authority. Morality cannot be measured by empirical means or gained by the human mind without God's revelation and assistance. It does not correspond to various levels of material wealth or human suffering. Christians alone have access to the one true God who has determined the moral standard for all mankind, one that makes sense and works. Secular progressives make moral arguments, but they have no moral system of their own that works, just bastardized, twisted and perverted facsimiles of some of the more earthly Judeo-Christian values. It cannot withstand sustained scrutiny. Like all evil, it is derivative of good. Like all falsehood, it has no substance of its own. It is nothing more than a denial of Truth, and the Truth is always out there for those who seek Him.