Politics Gets in the Way

10009830_10206373929203035_7507572490564070816_nThis blog post is in memory of the nine people who died in Emanuel AME Church in Charleston last week. While we fume and fuss about flags and statues, and while we debate about statues and plaques, the families of these innocent people are in the throes of mourning.

Allow me to honor the dead by listing their names. They were our fellow citizens, fellow human beings, Christians gathered in their own house of worship to study scripture. They were praying. They were the kind of people we need more of in this country, and their killer snuffed out their lights in an instant. They were the Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Susie Jackson, Daniel Simmons, Ethel Lance, Myra Thompson, Tywanza Sanders, Cynthia Hurd, and Sharonda Coleman-Singleton.

I wish we could grieve for them without all the debate and argumentation. I wish there were some self-imposed moratorium on the political wrangling so that the extinguishing of their lives could fully be recognized as the evil that it is. These, our fellow citizens, were worth more than any flag on any poll, and the immediate turn from their deaths to debate about the past and the symbols of the past seems disrespectful to me. It’s disrespectful to them and to their memories. As they lie among the dead, I feel unclean and lousy using this time to engage in political debate.

Yet this is where we find ourselves. I regret it because I believe it detracts from the honor we should give to the dead. This debate over symbols will divide us just when we should be united in grief and in a commitment to teach our children why racism and violence are wrong. What political pressures are being exerted? What social agendas are at work? What parts of history are being overlooked? Who is being demonized and painted as an outcast? Who will die next?

Go back to the list. Look at their names. Read them aloud and remember that each was a person with plans, dreams, and hopes. Read those names again. Honor the dead. Debate the politics of the day if you must, but remember what is most important.

“What does the Lord require? To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).

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Every Bubble Bursts

John_Law_Paper_Money

Paper money (“fiat money”) endorsed by John Law. Photograph is in the public domain.

I grew up in south Mississippi as a twelve-year student of the Ocean Springs School District. I’m grateful for the excellent education given to me there. As early as third grade I was required to study a foreign language (I chose Spanish); at some point I was also introduced to the formal study of Mississippi history, which fascinated me. There I learned one of my earliest lessons in economics–in addition to those being taught to me at home by my father who was a banker. I remember to this day the lessons learned in history class while studying an event known as “the Mississippi Bubble.”

With the arrival in “Biloxey” (now spelled “Biloxi“) of the explorer Pierre LeMoyne d’Iberville in 1699, the French laid claim to a massive amount of land in what would one day be called the United States of America. It stretched from Louisiana to Newfoundland and included territory on both sides of the Mississippi River. You don’t need much creativity to imagine the financial steam that this discovery brought to France. Powerful people with connections to the French monarchy were quick to line up for a piece of the economic pie. You see, some things in history are fairly constant. One of those constants is the sycophancy of influential people who make a better-than-average living from their relations with powerful people in government.

It’s an incredible tale that includes many of the same elements being debated today: fiat paper money, greed, monopolies, Keynesian economics, powerful government, and little benefit to most citizens. If you want to read all the interesting details for yourself (and I certainly recommend that you do so), read the 2012 article by Forbes economist Jesse Colombo, located HERE.

To keep the story to essentials, let me give you a quick review. It seems that a powerful Frenchman of the early 18th century was in dire need of cash. To remedy the situation he turned to a Scottish financier then visiting France, a man named John Law, who introduced the French to a new concept. Rather than trading with precious metals like gold and silver, he suggested to them that a bank should be established by royal decree and that this bank should issue money made of paper. The paper, of course, was of no value except for the promise it carried to its bearer. We now know such money by the name of “fiat” currency, from the Latin word fiat, meaning “let it be done” (the “it” in this case is the assignment of monetary value to something that has no such value except by way of promise and expectation).

A tremendous rush of money began as people sought to capitalize on land in the New World. Law became amazingly wealthy, in cash and in power. He had the power to mint coinage and collect taxes. He had the trust of some of Europe’s most powerful people. He purchased an ailing institution known as the Mississippi Company, gave it a new name and sold shares that expanded in price at an unsustainable rate. The French crown pumped money into his scheme and so many people profited that the French term millionnaire came into vogue.

Eventually, cooler minds began to wonder about the wisdom of investments that skyrocket at such impressive levels while fueled by government-approved fiat money. Confidence faded. Investors demanded gold rather than paper and the entire scheme began to collapse. Company shares were drastically reduced and the millions earned became millions lost. The so-called “bubble” (Colombo says it’s better described as a series of “failed monetary policies“) was a product of excessive monetary growth. In other words, there was an explosion of money but not necessarily of value. In the end, the value of the money declined and inflation set it.

I’ll leave it to my dear readers to discover parallels to today’s world. In the last few months there has been an increase of voices reminding us that all bubbles eventually burst. And economic bubbles always rise higher and faster when inflated with easy government money. Time will tell.

The Liberty Professor Endorses Chris McDaniel for US Senate

McDanielPerhaps there is nothing more wonderful, more perplexing, or more troublesome than the challenge of discovering where we belong in life. As a Christian and theologian, I believe that life is God’s greatest gift to each of us. It is a gift that must be unwrapped daily, little by little. It can forever surprise and delight us.

The poet e. e. cummings was a unique person. To be oneself, he argued, is the toughest challenge of all. “To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.”

Yet discovering yourself is the first challenge.

I have come to realize that I am simply not called to the political arena. God has opened new possibilities for the fulfillment of my life’s genuine vocation. We academic types are used to argumentation. In some ways we even thrive on it. Others are not used to it and find it not only baffling, but confrontational as well. I do not wish my political commitments to be a barrier to those to whom I may be called to minister.

My political commitments have certainly not changed. But I will no longer be a public spokesman for those commitments. This will be the final post for The Liberty Professor.

These are unsettling times for constitutionalists. We are under fire from both sides of the political aisle. We are labelled with the cruelest of names and accused of the most vile of attitudes–for no other reason than the fact that we have asked important questions. Has government become too unwieldy? Is it too powerful? Are both major parties responsible for growing the size and scope of government for the sake of their respective agendas?

I believe the proper response to each of these questions is assuredly “yes.”

As we approach the 2014 midterm elections, Mississippi has an opportunity to make history. In my opinion, Sen. Thad Cochran has not done enough to support the Constitution. He is a big-government Republican whose time in DC should come to an end. With this post I thank him publicly for his service and I humbly ask him to return home as a private citizen.

In addition, I happily and vigorously endorse Chris McDaniel, whom I believe will bring a new voice to Washington politics on behalf of the good people of Mississippi. I have met Chris. I have heard him speak. I believe he is a genuine constitutionalist.

It goes without saying that I don’t always agree with Chris McDaniel. No one with a brain should agree with any politician all the time. There are things I would say differently than McDaniel. There are ways I would emphasize the message differently. But one thing is absolutely certain to me: Chris McDaniel is a person of profound integrity and soul-searching honesty.

I believe Chris McDaniel will join political forces with other elected officials in DC who are “fighting the good fight” to bring back to the national debate a full appreciation of the power of limited government as laid out in our Constitution. For that reason I support him without reservation.

Humbly, I ask you to give Chris your consideration. Think of the future and the burden being placed upon your children and your grandchildren. Think of the unbridled power and expense being accumulated in the halls of the federal government. Then take note of the growing clamor of false accusations and mud being slung toward McDaniel and his campaign. It speaks louder than words. It tells you that some powerful people are very afraid of the McDaniel campaign message.

Ideas are dangerous. McDaniel has a good idea: let’s be faithful to the Constitution.

Please mark your calendar. The Republican primary is set for June 3rd. I urge you to cast your vote for Chris McDaniel, and to vote for him a second time in the general election on November 4th. I have already contacted my neighbors and asked them to consider Chris. I hope you will do likewise.

It is a great honor to offer this endorsement, and it serves as a fitting way to bring this blog to a close.  May God bless America, and may God preserve the Constitution.

The Disturbing Favoritism of Ocean Springs Government

pottedflowersImagine if your child came home from school one day and announced that she had received an “F” on her test because the teacher refused to answer her questions during a study session in class. You would certainly be puzzled as to why that was so. But then imagine how angry you would be if you learned that the teacher had randomly chosen a few students to assist, while ignoring the rest. Perhaps the teacher chose only the students he likes. Perhaps he chose them based upon where they sit in the classroom, or whether they smile often. It would not matter why the teacher made such an arbitrary choice … it would be wrong.

What if your elementary child’s principal decided that the school needed new equipment for the baseball team? There might be lots of positive ways to raise the funds for such a need, but let’s imagine that the principal in question makes a poor choice. Rather than arranging a fundraiser or seeking donations, let’s imagine that the principal goes through an alphabetical list of all students, choosing the name of every third student. To the parents of each of these students she then sends a bill for $100 while asking nothing of the rest. Would that be just?

We Americans normally recoil in shock when we encounter such examples of unfairness and immorality. For some reason, however, our moral outrage too often fades when it comes to government. As long as it’s being spent in a way that meets our approval we seem quietly unconcerned about the source for public funds. But let’s be honest. As Margaret Thatcher once said, “there is no such thing as public money, there is only taxpayers’ money.” 

The fictional examples I cite above are adequate metaphors for exactly what’s happening in the City of Ocean Springs in that award-winning area of downtown known as “Main Street.” To be sure, Ocean Springs has no street that I’m aware of with that name. “Main Street” is a special program that brings particular privileges to a tiny portion of the city. From what I’m able to determine from the perks provided under the program (some of which are shown here in photographs), it seems to include Washington Avenue from Highway 90 to Porter Street as well as Government Street between Washington and the Mary C. O’Keefe Cultural Center.

benchOSIf you happen to own a business in this privileged area, you are fortunate indeed. The smile of city governance falls upon you with great regularity, as do the dollars of your fellow taxpayers. The Main Street Program is the result of a “strong partnership” between the city government and the Ocean Springs Chamber of Commerce (or, as I prefer to call it, the Chamber For Some But Not For Others).

To grasp the full extent of the difference between “Main Street” and the other streets of the city, just wander a few dozen yards off the exalted path to view those businesses on side streets. You will notice that the sidewalks get less attention (if they exist at all) and there are usually no stylish street signs or lamp posts. Neither will you find the sturdy, extra-large benches or the metal garbage receptacles that line Washington and Government Streets. Most noticeable of all is the absence of lovely decorative flower pots and floral gardens tended by city employees. Outside the “Main Street” project, the beauty you encounter–and there is much beauty in Ocean Springs–is paid for by property owners themselves. They receive no support from city coffers, no appreciation from city leaders, and very little attention from those leaders (unless they happen to get behind in their taxes or forget to renew their business license).

In the interest of integrity I happily point out to you, dear reader, that my wife and I own a small business in downtown Ocean Springs known as Lagniappe Restaurant & Catering. We dropped our membership in the Chamber of Commerce when we realized the lack of equity in the way it showers attention on one part of town above all others.

Because we serve prepared food, our city leaders have seen to it that our customers pay 2% more in sales tax than other types of businesses in Ocean Springs. Nonetheless, because we are not on “Main Street,” we purchase and plant our own flowers. We pay someone from our own pockets to cut the grass. Any outdoor furniture or trash receptacles we have on our property are purchased and maintained at our own expense. We don’t expect our neighbors or fellow business owners to pay for the perks that make our location attractive.

Fortunately for the municipal budget, there is no sidewalk in front of our business. The city doesn’t have to find the money to keep it in good repair since it doesn’t exist. We get lots of foot traffic in our neighborhood but for some reason the city doesn’t think the pedestrians on our street deserve sidewalks. Sometimes we get elderly people walking past or driving their handicap scooters as they go between the Villa Maria Retirement Community and Hartz Fried Chicken. They do their best to stumble or scoot by, dodging traffic and the uneven edges of street pavement.

Sign.FlowersPerhaps at our business we should install a sign on the lawn that reads, “No Municipal Funds Used in the Upkeep of This Property.” To do so, I’m sure we’d have to apply and pay for a sign permit. But here’s the good news about that sign fee. I’m sure the City of Ocean Springs and the Chamber of Commerce would be delighted to have a few more dollars to spend on “Main Street.”

I realize taxes are a necessity for every community. But a sense of fairness would be appreciated if it showed itself among our city leaders. Taxing one particular type of business seems unfair when the revenue is going to benefits for everyone. On the other hand, taxing everyone in order to spend those tax dollars on a certain privileged part of town also seems unjust.

Of course, if you have a business on “Main Street,” you may just hope that the owners of the back-street businesses don’t wise up to what’s going on. And if you enjoy the flowers on “Main Street” you may not realize that we who own businesses on the back streets are helping to pay for that lovely vegetation and its upkeep. In either case, I hope you enjoy the beauty provided to you by my taxes. In the meantime I’ll keep trying to save enough to pay for the upkeep of my own business while the burden of taxes gets higher each year.

Every dollar taken from us for taxes is another dollar we can’t spend on improvements to our business. But it’s another dollar that the city can spend on someone else’s business.

I hold no grudges about the success of others. In fact, I celebrate and relish the success of any business owner–especially in the current economic environment. But no business owner or particular section of town should receive more attention from city government than any other.

Dying to Go Green

imagesCA9FYLJTI’ve never been one for fads. As kids, my brother and I were challenged by our parents to think about our choices and to reflect on our relationships. I suppose that’s why “everybody’s doing it” was never an argument that meant much to me.

So I’m a bit of a skeptic when political leaders say that we have a looming crisis. It usually sounds too convenient. Another crisis mostly means we have to act now, that we don’t have time to wait, and somebody’s liberties are about to be curtailed in a significant way. Or more of their earnings are about to be seized by the government, supported by force of arms. (Some of my readers don’t like it when I put it like that, but it’s quite true; if you doubt me, stop paying federal income taxes and see what happens.)

Skepticism isn’t a bad thing. The word skeptikoi was originally applied to followers of the ancient Greek philosopher Pyrrho, meaning that they didn’t adhere to the latest thinking but tended toward reflective inquiry instead. Sounds like good advice for everything coming out of government these days, but it’s almost impossible to stay on top of it all. From medium-sized towns like my own Ocean Springs, Mississippi, to state governments and all the way to the nation’s capital, the motto of government is “get things done.” Erected on the backs of taxpayers, powerful political empires have been built in which the vision of those at the top is always more important than the freedom and income of those at the bottom.

Let’s take the environmental fads that bombard us every day. The Weather Channel preaches them. The White House preaches them. Our children come home from school and preach them as well after hearing them from their teachers. Well, here’s some news for you. Some of those fads are turning quite deadly.

All around the world cities are banning the use of plastic grocery bags. In the US, San Francisco is reported to have been the first. In a study recently released, two professors say that the ban is actually killing people. Their research was a joint project of the law schools at Pennsylvania University and George Mason University. Here is a brief statement of their findings, taken directly from their published abstract:  “reusable grocery bags, a common substitute for plastic bags, contain potentially harmful bacteria.” In areas that have such bans they say that visits to hospital emergency rooms and deaths have spiked by 25%. The culprits are coliform and E.coli, deposited into reusable bags from the foods carried in them, and then transferred to other foods when reused again.

Remember the congressional ban on incandescent light bulbs (those inexpensive bulbs we’ve been using for generations)? In their place we see millions of energy-efficient new bulbs, also known as compact flourescent lamps (CFLs). They’re better on all counts except one: they contain deadly mercury.

While writing this post I went to my utility room and opened the drawer containing our household lightbulbs. The new energy-efficient bulbs contain a warning about what to do if we break one. It sounds rather ominous: “Manage in accordance with Spills, Disposal and Site Cleanup Requirements.”  The warning then directs me to an EPA site-cleanup website.

When I entered the website address in my URL line, I was redirected to a different page on the EPA website. It seems that the cleanup page for mercury light bulbs has been moved. Perhaps there were too many terrified citizens voicing their outrage. To see the site for yourself, click HERE. In case you don’t believe me, click directly on the link provided by the lightbulb package from my utility drawer:  www.epa.gov/cflcleanup. Either way, you’ll get the same results.

With a little effort, I eventually found the appropriate EPA instruction page. Click HERE, but prepare yourself to be startled. Then allow yourself some righteous anger when you realize that in place of a simple and safe incandescent bulb, your federal officials have now dictated to you that you’ll soon be using only the most dangerous of chemicals around your loved ones and inside your home when you just so you can see in the dark.

How dangerous are these bulbs? Read the EPA webpage on CFL cleanup for yourself. If you shatter a bulb, you’re advised to turn off your A/C system and remove children and pets from the area … not for fear of broken glass, but because toxic mercury may be floating around your kitchen or living room. Near the bottom of the webpage we’re assured that the amount of mercury is small (“less than 1/100th of the amount in a mercury thermometer“). Still, millions of these bulbs are going to end up in landfills. We can soon expect groundwater–and our own drinking water–to be contaminated with mercury, thanks to our federal government.

As an interesting aside, an entirely separate EPA page gives further warnings of what to do with a mercury spill. Clothing and shoes that have come in contact with this dangerous neurotoxin should be permanently disposed of. Sadly, this statement does not appear on the page on CFL breakage warnings. God help the poor homeless person who digs in your garbage and thinks himself fortunate to find a new shirt or new tennis shoes.

Here is even more startling information. The Federal Environment Agency of Germany (that country’s version of the EPA) warns that airborne mercury levels are frighteningly higher than suggested or allowed for up to five hours after the bulb is shattered. If you’re still not convinced of the danger, check out the warning given by Mercury Instruments, a Colorado firm specializing in the cleanup of this powerful substance:  after a bulb shatters, “there is absolutely no way to know that you have removed the mercury unless you screen the area with a mercury vapor monitor.”

Sponsored by Bowling Green University, the Ohio EPA and others, a startling video of how mercury vapor quickly spreads is also available on the company’s website. To see it, click HERE. Take note that in the second example shown on the video, the amount of mercury is only about half of what the EPA says is found in most CFLs. It’s also important to be aware that mercury vapor spreads naturally through exposure to the air. It doesn’t take much to cause its rapid dissemination.

Children are familiar with the Hatter, a character in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. He and the March Hare are both pronounced “mad” by the Cheshire Cat. What those children probably don’t know is that the term “mad hatter” came from the practice of using mercury to soften fur hats. With the proliferation of CFLs in the name of environmental stewardship we may be producing an entirely new generation of mad characters.

Perhaps the issue of environmental management doesn’t belong in the hands of crisis-oriented political elites. Maybe skepticism is a moral virtue. We hear constantly from “nanny-state” politicians that our liberties are being infringed upon for the sake of our own safety and welfare. Is that just a convenient slogan?

Once again, the old proverb seems to prove itself. Exchanging liberty for supposed security still sounds like a rotten deal to me.

Of Inaugurations and Irregularities

2013-01-20T170622Z_268443140_TB3E91K1BIGO2_RTRMADP_3_USA-INAUGURATIONToday many will turn their eyes to the United States for the inauguration of the second presidential term of Barack Hussein Obama.  Well, the world will be watching … but Mr. Obama has already been inaugurated for a second time.  The event took place yesterday just before noon, local time, during a brief ceremony in the White House.

This was done in faithfulness to the twentieth amendment to the US Constitution which requires presidents to be sworn in on the 20th day of January following their election.  It’s quite ironic.  The president who seems intent on dismantling the Constitution piecemeal has obediently fulfilled its instruction regarding inauguration. There are only four years left and still so much of America must be remade. No use giving those ridiculous constitutionalists one more issue to whine about.

Much will be made about the fact that an American president of African origins has begun his second term, ostensibly on the day that memorializes Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his struggle for civil rights.  Anyone who is aware of our torturous national history regarding slavery and the lynching of the innocent for nothing more than the color of their skin must realize the significance.  For me it merely confirms something I already knew: Americans are quite capable of rising above the problems of their past.

Yet the inauguration of any elected official finds its legitimacy based only upon the guarantee of free and honest elections in which the will of the people is gauged accurately and instituted effectively.  Given what I experienced on election day, it raises my concern to the level of alarm. Sadly, many Americans are becoming far too comfortable with excessive government meddling in their lives. With so much at stake and an electorate so divided as ours, the need for honest election results may be greater than ever.

Let us be mindful that the official tally of presidential votes gave the victory to Obama by a margin just under 5 million votes, or 4.9%.  Less than 60% of eligible voters turned out. Still, in our political system, the state-by-state numbers are more important.  Under our Constitution the president is elected by the people as they are arranged in their sovereign states, not by popular vote.  This affects election strategies–and for those intent on winning at all costs (even fraud), it also affects their planning.

The best way to prevent voter fraud is to prevent those occurrences known as “voter irregularities” (actions, situations, or policies that prevent standard voting procedures).  In signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965, President Lyndon Johnson reminded us that “the vote is the most powerful instrument devised … for breaking down injustice.”  The law was intended to halt irregularities that discouraged voting by citizens of African descent or preventing their votes from being counted.  To be genuinely effective, everyone who may legally vote must be allowed to do so once, without coercion, and every vote cast must be properly tallied.

Voter irregularities can cast grave doubt upon any election’s outcome.  Given the existence of our electoral college and the importance of swing states that so greatly influence presidential elections, irregularities have far-reaching consequences for the validity of any such election. This remains true even when the mainstream press offers little or no coverage of the matter because of its own bias. As the electoral map demonstrates, it only takes successful campaigns of voter fraud in a couple of the big swing states to turn a presidential election.

It’s not just the actual vote fraud that robs us. Even credible hints of fraud are liable to erode away voter participation. This is why every aspect of an election must be handled with accountability, soberness, and in strict accordance with regulations.  Poll workers (the officials running the precinct) must be diligent for the rights of all and poll watchers for the political parties and candidates must be able to confirm stringent adherence to election law. Anything less may throw a shadow upon results. Confirming the identity of voters is crucial. States need to enact voter ID laws.

What I experienced on election day was nothing less than shocking. More than two months later I’m still disturbed by it. In fact, I’m haunted by it. I’ve been voting since 1978; never have I seen such chaos as on election day 2012. In that chaos there were disturbing irregularities.

On November 6, 2012 I served as a poll watcher (unofficial observer) for the Republican party.  At approximately 2:30 in the afternoon I arrived at my appointed polling location, the Mac McGinty Civic Center located at the Jackson County Fairgrounds in Pascagoula, Mississippi. As I entered the building I was overwhelmed by the noise and lack of order. People were everywhere. They crowded the tables of precinct officials in a scene that resembled a post-holiday sale at Wal-Mart.  Since the poll opened at 7:00 am, I can only presume that this had been taking place for much of the day. For whatever reason, the Republican poll watchers already on duty did not seem as concerned as I. Perhaps they were overwhelmed.

It did not take long for my concern to turn into action.

The purpose of allowing poll watchers is to guarantee proper elections. They are especially important when a precinct votes overwhelmingly in favor of one political party. No matter how a vote turns out, if representatives of both parties agree that the election was fairly run and properly managed, political conflict and legal challenges can be minimized. Poll watchers in Mississippi have no legal authority but they can point out irregularities to those who do have authority. The first place to begin is with the precinct manager, known by law as an election bailiff.

Watching the activity from the seats designated for party poll watchers, I noticed a man going from one voter to another as they stood in front of voting machines. As he approached each voter, he made sure to stand in such a way that I could not clearly see what he was doing. By studying his movement I finally determined that he was speaking to voters as they cast their votes. Mississippi law allows poll workers to assist a voter who asks for help without being prompted to do so, but this clearly was not the case in what I was seeing. I confronted the bailiff and was told that the man was a representative of the Democrat party! As soon as I pointed out that this was improper, the bailiff gently asked the man to depart from the voting area.

I soon noted another disturbing irregularity. In order to cast votes, a voter must secure a key card from an authorized poll worker. It has an appearance similar to a credit card and it unlocks the voting machine to allow voting to take place. It also prevents the voter from voting more than once. After each use it is returned to the proper poll worker and it must be reset for each voter. This is done by the poll worker who uses a small machine into which the key card is placed. This action reprograms the card for use by the next voter.

The security of these key cards is vitally important–as is their correct use. They are not to be reprogrammed unless a voter has be confirmed on the voter roll and after the voter has placed a signature on the sign-in book.

On this day at this precinct the process was not being followed. The bailiff was constantly holding a handful of programmed cards, sometimes even a pocketful of them. At one point he gave several to another poll worker who was moving about near the voting machines. Key cards were being handled and exchanged in multiple ways and I was unable to ascertain exactly what was happening.

Once again–with all the politeness I possess–I spoke with the bailiff. He stammered a bit, almost as if he were surprised to be questioned on this matter. He informed me that it was very busy and he was doing his best to help voters. He also said that sometimes the key cards don’t work when inserted into voting machines. Cards must then be reprogrammed or a new card given.

From my vantage point these explanations seemed inadequate. It is true that if a key card fails to allow a voter to vote, that voter should receive a working card. But a poll worker should confirm the problem before distributing a new card. Otherwise there is no guarantee that a voter only votes once. When he realized that I was watching him closely, the bailiff began checking machines when told of card errors.  Prior to this he did not always do so.

At some point after my arrival I was delighted to see members of the Jackson County Election Commission as they looked closely at the situation. They seemed concerned but they left quickly. It soon became clear that they had contacted the chairman of the commission. Upon his arrival he demanded that more order be brought to the polling environment. His quick action improved the situation but by then the voting hours were more than half over.

I spoke to the  chairman and expressed concern about the irregularities I had seen. He informed me that his power was limited by law. As it turns out, there are five voting districts in Jackson County. Each district has an elected commissioner whose authority is limited to his or her own district. The Fairgrounds precinct is located in District Two where, I was told, the commissioner was a firm Democrat who hired only her fellow Democrats as poll workers. In a perverse and disturbing way, the irregularities I had seen that afternoon suddenly began to make sense.

At that point the commissioner of District Two was pointed out to me. I wondered if it would do any good to speak to her. I realized that it would not, since she was huddled with another lady whom I learned to be chairwoman of the Democrat party for Jackson County. As the District Two commissioner looked on, the Democrat leader inserted herself into the business of the poll workers as if she were a poll worker herself. She even “assisted” voters at voting machines (so she explained to me when she saw me watching closely).

Clearly, a line had been crossed. Primaries are run by parties as they choose candidates but this should not be the case with general elections. Although I count myself among the realists of the world who understand its moral failures, I confess that a sense of hopelessness began to fall upon me at that moment. If several members of the election commission (including the chairman) couldn’t stop these irregularities, how could I?

Did I witness any voter fraud that day? I cannot say that I did. I have no accusations to make with that regard. What I did see, however, was a list of voter irregularities that took place without any hesitancy–almost as if they were understood to be part of the way things are in parts of my county. In some cases my complaints appeared to end the irregularities. In other cases they did not.

Democrat? Republican? Libertarian? Any other party? Your vote should count if you are properly registered and legally eligible. Every such citizen has the right to cast that vote in an environment that is orderly and transparent. Whether they end up in fraudulent votes or not, voting irregularities destroy the trust of citizens for the process.  This erosion is the unfortunate, untold story behind the inauguration of a president or any other elected official.

Political Theatrics is Destroying Us

There are some common-sense lessons we learn as children that we really should hold dearly.  Here’s one that I recall.  It was acted out time and time again as I progressed through school.  Class would be going as usual, and in the corner of my eye there would be some unexpected movement from another part of the room.  Inevitably, the teacher’s back would be toward the class.  Out of two dozen or so students, two or three people would be acting up.  They would eventually come to the attention of the teacher and would be scolded.  But their antics would only end temporarily.

Once the teacher returned to writing on the chalkboard, the antics would begin anew.  Again the teacher would address the students and perhaps she would even mete out some punishment.  Sometimes the problematic students were removed from the room to face consequences from the school’s administration.  More often than not, the problem continued and the eventual outcome was that the entire class was punished with the loss of some privilege.

This same model is very popular in government.  You see, rather than confronting a problem directly and with bold action, it’s easier to make a general rule or prohibition that affects everyone.

In the classroom, the best action would be to deal with the offenders in no-nonsense terms, engage the support of administrators, and demand action from the parents of the offending children.  That, however, is a difficult path requiring self-confidence, determination, clear vision, and bravery.  Well do I know this from my 21 years of teaching!  Parents don’t like to be called when their children are out of control.  But the truth of the matter is that when they are forced to be involved, the problem is much more likely to be resolved.  I know this from experience.

Now let’s turn to examples regarding government.  I’ll apply this lesson to reality.  In each case there is a small minority of trouble makers, or there is a small group of citizens with genuine needs that must be addressed.  In the examples I provide the government response (or proposed response) is often not to fix the problem or curtail the offenders directly but to limit the rights and opportunities of everyone.

GUNS

 The US Census Bureau provides a real-time “clock” that monitors the population of the USA and the world.  As of this posting, the US population is just a bit over 314 million.  In 2009 and 2010, according to statistics gathered by The Guardian (a UK newspaper), there were approximately 9,000 homicides in the US by firearms.  I realize that I’m not being very exact, but these statistics are close enough to give us a very interesting picture.  If we adjust the US population back to levels of 2009 and 2010 and average it at 305 million, we can do an interesting math equation.  The results?  Gun deaths in the US in 2009 and 2010 represent approximately 0.0000286% of the population (way less than 1%).  That means that for every 100,000 Americans there were 2.8 murders for those years.

Is that a tragedy?  Yes, assuredly so.  Even a single innocent death is a tragedy.  But let’s learn from some perspective.

In the fall of 1995, the Northwestern School of Law published an insightful article in their peer-reviewed journal entitled “Armed Resistance to Crime: the Prevalance and Nature of Self-Defense With a Gun.”  The article documents a study completed in the previous year in which a convincing argument was made.  It was so convincing that even one of their opponents was amazed.  The survey found that about 2.5 million times in that year an American used a weapon for self-defense.  Of those, it was reported by self-defenders that in 392,500 cases someone would “almost certainly” have died if a gun had not been used for defense.  In 2,087,500 instances (83.5%), the perpetrator either used violence or threatened to do so.  In addition, 73.4% of the time the attacker was a stranger and 79.7% of the time the attacker used a concealed handgun.  The most amazing statistic is still to come:  in 91.7% of these cases of self-defense, the attacker was neither killed nor wounded.

Shortly after these findings were published, two gun-control advocates (Cook and Ludwig) attempted to disprove the statistics with their own survery.  They could not do so.  Their findings indicated that the number of successful gun self-defense incidents was probably higher than originally reported.

Honestly, I wish we could do away with every weapon on earth.  But we can’t do so until evil no longer exists.  That issue, I’m afraid, is above my pay grade, even as a theologian.  But until there are no violent people in the world, every person should have the right to adequate self-defense.  That includes the ownership of a weapon if they choose that option.  The old adage about guns is trite, but true:  when guns are outlawed, only the outlaws will have the guns.

DRUGS

In the US, we’ve spent billions on the so-called “war on drugs.”  For all the success we’ve had, perhaps we should just as soon be fighting a war on human nature.  Our species has been finding and cultivating mind-altering substances almost from its inception.  The first humans to become intoxicated probably thought themselves under control of a deity or other spiritual force.  We’ve been imbibing ever since then, and not always harmlessly.  The “bath salts” craze is just the latest.  Government authorities can’t wait to ban another substance that is being abused, but at soon as one is banned, another synthetic drug is invented and circulated.

In my home state of Mississippi, as in others, we have a problem with illegal use of methamphetamine.  Law-enforcement officials report that it’s being dangerously manufacturered in home “meth labs” all around the state.  Because these “labs” can explode and kill unsuspecting neighbors, I support the vigorous search to find and dismantle them.  But in 2010 the Mississippi legislature went one step further:  it banned the use of a simple over-the-counter antihistamine (pseudophedrine) without a prescription.

Used by thousands daily, the drug is safe, inexpensive, and extremely effective.  I know because I used it for years, since I suffer from sinus headaches.  It’s found in many name brands, including my favorites like Advil Cold & Sinus.  Now its use requires a visit to my doctor and a prescription that must regularly be renewed.  Why?  Because pseudophedrine is used by those who illegally produce meth in their home laboratories.  Once again, the law-abiding citizen pays a price–in liberty and in health–for the criminal.  According to the DEA, the problem continues, as always:  through falsification of prescription forms, by lying to doctors, and through illegal shipments from out of the country.  Go figure.

HEALTHCARE

We’ve heard it so many times that it’s obnoxious:  thirty million people in the US have no healthcare, we were told, so the responsible thing to do was to pass the Affordable Care Act (ACA), “Obamacare.”

The problem with that statistic is that there are lots of facts that aren’t being mentioned.  First, it includes illegal aliens–millions of them.  No nation is obliged to give permanent, long-term healthcare to those who are within its borders illegally.  We are obliged to give emergency medical care, of course, and this we are already doing.  Law-enforcement officials are obligated to do so when sick or wounded persons are apprehended, and US hospitals are required by law to stablize everyone who comes to an emergency room no matter what their financial situation.

Second, that figure includes millions of young Americans who simply don’t want or don’t believe they need healthcare coverage.  Never mind that they can purchase catastrophic health insurance for a low premium because of their youth–that’s a discussion for another day.

When we finally get down to the barest of healthcare facts, there are only 5-7 million Americans who want healthcare coverage but who are unable to get it.  If the US Census Bureau is correct and there really are 314 million Americans, that means that the real healthcare problem in America only affects about 2.2% of us.  Back in 2009 The Washington Times reported that 89% of us were happy with our healthcare.

Huh.  Imagine that.  We have a small problem that we can fix.  Most of us are happy.  So the federal government rushes through a Utopia-inspired healthcare law that butts into the private affairs of citizens, increasingly limits their options, is going to cost tremendously more than it was ever intended, and still doesn’t cover millions of Americans?

Does that sound responsible to you?

THE MEN AND WOMEN “BEHIND THE GOVERNMENT CURTAIN”

We Americans are sending elected representatives to Congress, supposedly, to fix real problems.  Ideally, any fix they offer should fall within the scope granted to their powers by the Constitution.  That gives them plenty to do without overreaching and making things up.

For their service we pay them exceedingly well.  We pay 100 senators (two from each state) and 435 representatives (distributed by national census numbers) a base salary of $174,000 per year.  Let’s put that into perspective.  That’s $14,500 per month.  That’s $3,346.15 per week–nearly $500 a day!  Leaders in the House and Senate get even more:  Harry Reid (D-NV) makes $193,400 while John Boehner (R-OH) gets $223,500.  Let’s not even start talking about all the perks enjoyed by the political elite.

In addition, we have fifty states with legislatures, legislators, salaries, and perks.  Far too often, like Congress, they react like teachers who don’t know how to confront a problem directly.  So they limit the rights and opportunities of us all.  Is that the best they can do?

For the money we’re spending on the federal and state levels, one might imagine that government could find those direct answers to the few problems that truly belong in the arena of governmental responsibility.  Instead, we get grand-standing and theatrics.  That’s much easier than finding genuine solutions.  It’s popular and it makes our elected officials look as if they are actually accomplishing something useful.  It looks decisive.  It provides terrific soundbites to the journalists who refuse to do the hard work of digging and asking questions.

Remember the classic movie, The Wizard of Oz?  The old man behind the curtain wasn’t a bad guy after all.  Neither are the men and women in our state capitals and in Washington, DC.  But, like the old fellow in Oz, he couldn’t help Dorothy and her pals until he came out from behind that curtain, and put aside the pretended pomp and allusions of grandeur.

In the end, the old guy behind the curtain is us.  He helped others to find the answers they truly needed only when he met them directly, confronted their issues honestly and bravely, and became one of them.  As an elitist he was useless to them.  Face to face, respecting the limits upon them all, he began to move them toward resolution of their problems.

The elite in Washington and in our state capitals could learn a great lesson from the man behind the curtain.  I hope they learn it while we citizens still have a few liberties left to us.