Friday, December 7, 2012

Closing Up Shop

Back in March of 2009 I started this blog to talk about politics. While that is something I already blogged about regularly I wanted to distinguish political talk from my “main” blog as I became concerned about the blurring of the lines between the secular and the sacred. After 3 ½ years of sporadic blogging I think it is time to shut this outlet down for a number of reasons.

First, this blog has never really caught on. I have had very few comments and very few page views. That tells me that people really aren’t interested in what I am writing here or at least they aren’t finding it. There is a lot of political blogging out there and for whatever reason this venue has not attracted much in the way of readers other than the random Google search for an obscure string of terms. Partly it might have something to do with my rather unorthodox views of pet "conservative" issues, primarily military spending but for whatever reason not many people seem interested in what I am writing.

Second, I don’t think it is doing much good even if people are reading. It is clear to me that we have abandoned even the pretense of what we thought America meant. A majority of the American electorate has devolved into a “what’s in it for me and who can we make pay for it?” mentality and to be blunt we are rapidly running out of tax payers to fund the tax takers. Virtually anywhere you look America is collapsing in on itself. Feminism has replaced one alleged patriarchal system of husbands and fathers with a new patriarchal system with Uncle Sam stepping in to provide security which combined with the ironic and false promise of sexual liberation has created an enormous and growing class of single mothers who depend on the government instead of a husband or at least a committed partner. We are poised to reward some 11 million people who have broken and flaunted the laws of this nation with amnesty and likely citizenship, providing a huge built in constituency for Democrats who have to be laughing themselves silly. There is no end to public appetite for spending and borrowing and taxation as long as the taxation is levied on “someone else”. With the crushing burden of $16 trillion in debt that is obviously going nowhere but up with the reelection of President Obama and no solution other than piddly tax increases how is this ever going to get paid back? Republicans demanding zero cuts to defense and Democrats demanding zero cuts to everything else means that no one is serious about even having a discussion. When the world markets get tired of buying our debt and we can’t borrow money to operate the government or service the existing debt what do you suppose will happen? The most recent election was not the point of no return, we passed that point a long time ago. Now it is just a matter of waiting for the rioting to start.

Finally I am just less interested in it. Both of the major parties are mostly interested in giving away goodies to buy votes and with our winner takes all, “first past the pole” system we are unlikely to have a third party that can field a full slate of candidates or run a credible Presidential campaign given that the most recent one tipped the scales at over a billion spent.The outcome of elections and tax rates and social engineering are really not all that pertinent to what I have been called to do so why spend so much time worrying about it?

This doesn’t mean that I am not going to write about political issues or church-state stuff. I am actually working on what promises to be a lengthy post about the so-called “Two Kingdom” theory and why it doesn’t work. So you won’t escape my loud opinions on political matters. I just will not be writing much that is strictly politically partisan. I also have some other non-faith related topics that have caught my attention, specifically agriculture and food, so I will be blogging about those topics over at The Voice Of One Crying Out In Suburbia. To the one or two people who stopped by, thanks for reading!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Energion Political Roundtable: Election Postmortem

The people have spoken and President Obama has been re-elected. The House stays in Republican control. The Senate stays in Democrat hands but they are well short of the 60 votes needed to invoke cloture so filibusters are quite likely on any major legislation.

So what happened?

First the purely partisan political observation. It is easy to make the case, and many will, that this election is proof that what Mitt Romney indelicately said in a private meeting of donors might be more true than many will admit. There is a large and growing class of people in this country that are dependent on the government and who carry a strong sense of entitlement, from the government being responsible for "creating jobs" to free Obama-phones. As I have said before conservatives in this country have been winning battles but losing the war for decades. The GOP wins an election here or there but the growth of government and the parallel growth of the dependency class churns forward unabated. I try to never underestimate the extent to which people think that others owe them something. The more people the Left can hand out goodies to, the more built in voters they can count on. Asking hard questions like who is going to pay for all of this, how do we deal with the debt and avoid become Greece writ large are left unasked and unanswered.

Really Republicans have themselves to blame and you can be sure that the circular firing squad blood letting is about to begin in full force. Barack Obama should have been one of the easiest incumbents to defeat since Carter. His policies have been a disaster, the economy is in the toilet, debt is skyrocketing. A decent candidate would have demolished him. However the GOP didn't put up a decent candidate. Instead we had yet another example of the GOP putting up a weak, lowest common denominator candidate

Barack Obama is an ideologue and makes no attempt to hide it. Heck he flaunts it with talk of "revenge"! The same was true of Reagan, a man with convictions who was unafraid to speak passionately and clearly. While I don't like Obama and disagree with him on every conceivable issue I respect that he at least seems to have some convictions, misguided and dangerous though they might be.

To face an ideologue Republicans sent in an empty suit, a man chameleon-like enough to win both the GOP Presidential nomination and the governorship of leftist Massachusetts, a guy who was "pro-choice" and advocated for government health care when governor then had a change of heart when the political winds blew, a man who won primary after primary for no other reason than he was the "most electable". How did that work out? Granted the other choices were not great either. Rick Perry who seemed lost behind a microphone. Serial adulterer Newt Gingrich, a man run out of town in shame the last time he held a leadership position. Rick Santorum who was pretty much a culture warrior and nothing else. Hermann Cain (nuff said).. Tim Pawlenty and Michelle Bachmann who both quit way too early. My choice, Ron Paul, who never stood a chance because he was insufficiently interventionist. Not exactly a who's who of solid candidates which explains why we are about to have four more years of Barack Obama.

What happens next?

I expect to start seeing the initial jockeying for 2016 to start....right about now. Just for fun I "liked" the Rand Paul 2016 page on Facebook this morning but you can be sure that the wheels are already turning: Paul Ryan. Chris Christie (who may have killed his chances with his 24 hour Obama bromance). Marco Rubio. Mitch Daniels. Bobbie Jindal. The list is pretty lengthy and most of them on my initial list off the top of my head are fairly conservative. There are others like Sarah Palin that for some reason people seem to think is qualified to be the leader of the free world that will test the waters. With a country that is heavily divided and both parties getting a fresh shot at the Presidency with no incumbent it is going to get ugly early and often.

I also expect to see a whole lotta nothing happening in the next four years as a result. Nothing on immigration reform. Nothing of debt and deficit reduction. Nothing on common sense reduction in military spending. Not even a whisper about entitlement reform. Campaign 2016 is starting very soon and there are a lot of people on both sides looking to be the nominee for their party. In spite of Obama's contention that he will have more flexibility in his second term, the reality is that he has nowhere near a mandate and faces a hostile majority in the House and an unbreakable filibuster in the Senate, both chambers featuring people who want to run for President in 2016 and will be eager to make their mark. Nothing is going to get done and I would be OK with that if we weren't already $16 trillion in debt. Given how dire the situation is, a lame duck President and a gridlocked Congress doesn't bode well for our future.

What about me?

I am not sure what I am doing politically. The more I think about it the more I see politics as an idol for the American church and that is not getting better any time soon. Like a heroin addict we cannot help but get entangled in politics and we worship our politics like a golden calf. If only we can elect *this guy*, even if that guy is an empty suit and a blasphemer, then we will protect marriage/end abortion/support Israel/etc. The reality that this never actually happens doesn't impede our fantasy just as the girl in the pornographic image is never going to be interested in you. The illusion is the thing and politics is pornography for many Christians but one we can feel noble and self-righteous about.

I am thinking about shutting this page down. The Energion Political Roundtable has been fun and helped me think through some issues but I don't see my political musings being very helpful or edifying for others or myself. Still not sure, perhaps I will just write about issues of the church and politics on my main blog. We'll see.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Energion Political Roundtable Closing Statement: Gary Johnson for President

As I mentioned in my previous post I am going to the polls tomorrow and casting my first vote for a non-Republican in my lifetime as a voter. My vote tomorrow will go to Libertarian Gary Johnson for President and Judge Jim Gray for Vice-President. As our closing post before election day, Henry at Energion has asked us to make our case for who we are voting for and why targeted at the mythical undecided voter that is open to be swayed so here it goes!

My choice to vote for Gary Johnson, a Libertarian who has no chance of winning, is bewildering to most of my circle of friends. I doubt many of them will be persuaded by any my arguments as some of his positions are outside of the scope of “conservatism” and most Republicans have bought into the “any vote other than one for Romney is a vote for Obama” malarkey. The "wasted vote" line that keeps being trotted out is best countered by something Gary Johnson has often said: a vote for liberty is never a wasted vote.

Certainly Gary Johnson is far more “liberal” on social issues than I am or the conservative electorate in general. On a few issues especially his positions are kind of jarring, from decriminalizing marijuana to “gay marriage”. When you look at them from a broader perspective they make a lot more sense and especially when you look at them in the framework of a true Constitutional limited Federal government.

I have given up on the culture wars that have consumed the Republican party and the "church" in America for the last few decades. While useful for getting evangelical voters to the polls and electing Republicans it has done little to stem the tide and done far less to advance and indeed done great harm to the mission of the church. Unbelievers by and large see the church as a political beast that is always hungry for money and obsessed with telling other people how to live. Sad as it may be to say, they are right. Rather than being a beacon to the vast majority of Americans by living in a different way from the world, we try to force unregenerate people to live in a way that we ourselves by and large fail to do.

“Gay marriage” is a prime example of an issue that I used to get incensed about but now see as an issue that we need to move beyond. A homosexual couple that wants to throw a “wedding” and declare themselves married is about as legitimate as a homeless man declaring that he is Napoleon but the issue for conservatives shouldn’t be which types of relationships get the government goodies in the massive generational redistribution schemes known as Social Security and Medicare but rather the very existence of these programs at all. I don’t want to preserve Social Security as the sole benefit of married heterosexual couples, I want to eliminate the current unconstitutional system completely!

As far as the other issues like decriminalization of marijuana, whatever your personal opinion of it there is no defensible reason for it to be a Federal issue. If a state chooses to make marijuana illegal that is acceptable but the Federal drug war has done little to stem the use of drugs, enriched drug dealers, filled our prison with petty criminals and overstepped the bounds of the Constitutional mandate of the Federal government.

The issue of abortion is the one issue that troubles me the most about Johnson. If I honestly thought that Romney was sincere about his sudden conversion to a pro-life (at least so far as unborn children in America go) position I would be more likely to vote for him but at best he is a wishy washy man of weak convictions and at worst and more likely he is a political opportunist who parrots the words we want to hear to get our votes. I am actually far more trusting of Johnson to nominate strict Constitutionalist judges than Romney even though Gary Johnson is clearly not going to have that opportunity in the next four years. The naïveté of many conservatives who think that Mitt Romney of all people, a human weather-vane, is going to champion the end of abortion in America would be hilarious if the issue were not so serious. Perhaps we will stop subsidizing Planned Parenthood, a worthy goal. Perhaps we will cut off funds to international groups that support abortion, another worth goal. None of that will do a thing to end abortion. After four years of a Romney presidency abortions will still be performed in America and many church going people will still do nothing to minister where it matters, preferring instead of put a political yard sign out front.

When it comes to fiscal issues, Johnson is the only major candidate that talks honestly about the financial and fiscal crisis we are in. Obama promises to double down on job killing regulations and taxes. Romney talks about being responsible but at the same time promises massive increases in our already ridiculous military budget. We are way beyond the point where Republican incrementalism or Democratic expansionism will work. Neither of the two major parties will have a serious conversation about the debt and the size of the government because they both depend on government to keep them in power. Big government spending by a Republican is not much of an improvement over big government spending by a Democrat.

Perhaps Johnson’s greatest sin in the eyes of “conservatives” is his advocacy for a smaller military and a less interventionist foreign policy. It is this issue that kept Ron Paul from ever gaining widespread traction among Republicans. It is an article of faith among Republicans that we need to “support the troops” by spending hundreds of billions of dollars a year to base them where they are not needed, deploy them where they are not wanted and equip them in ways that make little sense. Any suggestion of shrinking the size of our military is met with shrieks of hysteria about “gutting the military”, a military that nearly outspends the rest of the world combined. Similarly suggesting that we ought not interfere in every foreign conflict is met with cries of “isolationism” and dire references to World War II (a war ironically brought on in large measure by our intervention in World War I). Rather than negatives I see Johnson’s stance as an incredible positive. It is disingenuous to rail against the Federal government when it appears as a Federal bureaucrat but cheer that same government when it wears a military uniform. We spend too much on the military, we interfere too much in the affairs of other nations where we are not wanted and we bury too many of our young men and women. It must stop and it must stop right now.

In short this is not a vote as much for 2012 as it is for the future, a future where the statist two party stranglehold is broken. My hope is that a strong showing by Johnson will wake up the Republican party and force the GOP to take seriously issues of liberty, of militarism and of the folly of incrementalism. If Mitt Romney loses tomorrow in part because of votes for Gary Johnson so be it. I don't say that lightly because the last four years have been a disasters but if that happens I anticipate four more years of gridlock in D.C, better than letting Obama run amok but not what we need. If Romney wins tomorrow I expect four more years of similar gridlock and a few minor changes while the status quo remains in control and the country continues to careen over a cliff, perhaps more slowly but just as surely. Also not what we need. In some ways I think a Romney loss coupled with a Republican majority in the House and an increased Republican presence in the Senate, if not an outright takeover, would be better for the long term and set the stage for an actual conservative to run in 2016.

Those who vote tomorrow based on fear for either Romney or Obama will get what they asked for, more statist control, more government, more debt, more of the same. The only way to make a lasting change is to start changing direction radically right now and for me and many others that starts with a vote for Gary Johnson tomorrow.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Why I No Longer Trust The Republican Party

I am a long time, dyed in the wool, GOP guy. Since I was a small child I have been conservative even before I knew what that meant and for most of my life I associated conservatism with the Republican party. If you were conservative, if you believed in smaller government and more freedom, you naturally voted Republican. For the 20+ years that I have been eligible to vote I have never missed an election and always voted for Republicans exclusively. Heck I even have a son named after The Gipper!

This year for the first time in my life I will cast a vote for a candidate that is not Republican. Although I am probably going to vote for the Republican candidates in our Senate, House and Governor races I will not be voting for Mitt Romey for a lot of reasons.

At 40 years of age, and with what I hope is a recent and fresh perspective, I look at the GOP and don’t see a party of smaller government and more freedom. I see a different face to the same political problem of an essentially statist organization, a political party that is at the core concerned with power and influence. That is understandable but it hardly inspires me.

President Obama has been an unmitigated disaster and is wrong on virtually every issue and even when he is right (i.e. withdrawing troops from Afghanistan) he sees those savings as an opportunity to spend more on pet projects, managing to be wrong even when he is sort of right. On the other hand the big “selling point” for Romney is that he is less wrong on some issues than Obama. That used to be good enough for me. Not anymore. We cannot afford incremental changes, replacing social welfare spending with military spending and a general acceptance of virtually every unconstitutional government program. In spite of frequent victories by the GOP the government has gotten bigger and bigger. We are continually presented with cruddy candidates that we are expected to line up and support no matter how mediocre they are.

Let’s look at the GOP candidates for President in my life time, starting in 1972 (I was born in 1971).

In 1972 the GOP nominee was one Richard M. Nixon. We know how that one turned out.

In 1976 we had Nixon’s vice president who assumed the Presidency upon Nixon’s resignation. Gerald Ford seemed like a decent guy but he was doomed by association.

In 1980 we entered the hallowed ground of Ronald Reagan who crushed Carter in 1980 ( 489-49 in the electoral college) and then managed to top that by embarrassing Walter Mondale in 1984 by a total of 525-13, Mondale only winning by a narrow margin his own home state of Minnesota and the District of Columbia.

Reagan is the gold standard for conservatism and while he accomplished some great stuff he is not a saint and he certainly made errors. To suggest that today is blasphemy among Republicans and we are presented with contemporary candidates who all try to claim the “Most Like Reagan” mantle. Here is a heads up. We don’t need another Reagan. He is dead and gone and the world is very different. We need a leader up to a new challenge and I don't see many Republicans who fit that description.

In 1988 we got George H.W. “Read my lips, no new taxes” Bush, a weak and ineffectual President that lost to a hillbilly womanizer in his reelection bid. Yes he was nice and a war hero but that is about it.

In 1996 we were presented with Bob Dole mainly because it was his turn. Dole again is a nice guy and a war hero but he was a horrible candidate and not terribly conservative. He had about as much chance of beating Clinton, who should have been very beatable, as I did.

In 2000 and 2004 we got George W. Bush and his brand of “compassionate conservatism”. Bush would have been a one term President if it were not for 9/11. Bush wasn’t much of a President other than his forceful response to September 11th and he managed to get us into a war in Iraq based on poor intelligence and fears of a Middle Eastern nation getting a nuclear weapon. Huh. That sounds kind of familiar.

In 2008 we were presented with another “moderate” Republican war hero. Seeing a pattern here? McCain was another terrible candidate with an equally horrible and divisive running mate.

2012 and we have another moderate Republican, a weak candidate selected by the lowest common denominator and because he was “able to win”. This election should be a slam dunk given how terrible the last four years have been. Instead we have a nail biter and even if Romney wins I have zero confidence that he will do what needs to be done because he will start day one with an eye to the November 2016 election.

So for my entire lifetime we have been presented with one mediocre “Republican” after another and the country has been sliding in the toilet. Each year we are warned of dire consequences if we don’t fall in line and vote for the GOP. This year is no different. Obama is going to “gut the military!” or “Obama will be even more radical in a second term!” (ignoring the fact that he will face a Republican house and a diminished Democratic majority or even a Democratic minority in the Senate). We must vote for Romney because a vote for a third party candidate is a vote for Obama! It kills me how many allegedly conservative Christian voters keep barking about our sacred duty to vote for a pagan unbeliever that is a Johnny come lately to conservatism, a man who seems content to switch his position on everything from health care to abortion at any change in the political winds. Sure Romney would be a less terrible President than Obama but just how long are we going to content ourselves with a lesser evil? Just a quick note for all of the pragmatic “Vote for Romney!” people…

There is nothing noble or mature about trading deeply held convictions for political pragmatism.

As we have gotten closer to the election I have been heading in this direction. I voted for Ron Paul in the GOP primary even though that was futile and I will be voting for Gary Johnson next Tuesday since it sounds like write in candidates don’t really get counted. I have some qualms about Johnson but compared to Rombama he is a dream candidate.

With $16 trillion in debt, civil liberties eroded by both parties (remember who was President when the TSA was created and the Patriot Act was passed?), a bloated military that spends almost as much as the rest of the world combined and government agencies that interfere in every aspect of our lives, we find ourselves in a nation that would be unrecognizable to the Founders (of course women and blacks being allowed to vote would also be stunning to them). We are less than a generation from being past the point of no return and Romney is not the man to lead the sort of change of direction we need. I am under no illusion that Gary Johnson will win or even break 5% of the vote but if we don’t start making a stand now it will never happen and 20 years from now with riots in the streets that will make Greece look like a preschool birthday party the GOP will put yet another cruddy candidate up that we "have to" vote for. No thanks.

Next Tuesday I urge you to vote based on your conscience, not on which mediocre politician would less bad.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Energion Political Roundtable Question #11: Foreign Policy

Our penultimate topic is the purposefully broad topic of foreign policy and how we ought to think about that issue in light of what should be our ultimate and I would argue exclusive loyalty to the Kingdom of God. As mentioned this topic is awfully broad and more than can be properly dealt with in one blog post. I will link some of my prior posts on my main blog dealing specifically with Christians and the sword further down in this post.
One of the myriad topics that was brought up was the disaster and apparent cover-up in the handling of the Benghazi consulate attack and subsequent murder of four Americans. I think it is safe to say that the more we find out the worse it sounds, not quite to the level of Mogadishu and "Blackhawk Down" but in the same vein. It ought to go without saying that a foreign policy that puts citizens in harms way ought to be prepared to come to the aid of those citizens when necessary regardless of one's positon on warfare. This should also serve as yet another lesson in the decades long failed experiment of U.S. interventionism in the Middle East with one set of unintended consequences after another. Someday perhaps we will come to our senses and stop trying to force an American political culture onto an ancient people who are not interested in emulating our way of life. In a nutshell the Obama administration badly dropped the ball and four American died but the whole situation is part of the broader mess that is the result of American tinkering with the Middle East since the end of World War II.

The bigger question has to do with foreign policy and warfare from a Kingdom perspective, specifically how we should view American foreign policy and our involvement in war as Christians who live in America. Of all of the places where I diverge from the traditional party line among conservatives, theological and political alike, none is more stark or leads to a more visceral reaction than my theologically non-resistant and geo-politically non-interventionist (or as I call it "Constitutional") position. You would think that suggesting that Christians, even those in America, should be peacemakers who live peaceably with all men, was tantamount to heresy!

This is also a topic where we need to divide up the question because we are not talking about one issue but two. First, is war ever justified? Certainly from a secular standpoint there are cases where it is in the national interest to go to war. The declaration of war on Japan after the attack on Pearl Harbor comes to mind. Given that Germany then declared war on the U.S. it naturally follows that the U.S. would get involved in the war in Europe. As I have written elsewhere, World War II is merely the continuation of World War I following a lengthy intermission (yet another example of the unintended consequences of the interventionist U.S. foreign policy) but it comes the closest to a completely justifiable war even if all of our methods are not (i.e Dresden, Hiroshima, Nagasaki). God has clearly put the sword in the hand of Caesar and Caesar is all too happy to wield it. I can easily make a "just war" argument provided I don't bring theology into the equation.

That is fine and dandy. Caesar always has and always will go to war until all the powers and kings of the world bow before the King of Kings. That is not all that relevant to this conversation which takes place between the five of us in an intentionally Christian context. Whenever I have this conversation online regarding Christians and war and the unhealthy and unbiblical love affair with American military might that is on display daily in the church, those conversation invariably veer off into two directions. One is the "exception that overturns the rule" tactic that often revolves around a few passages like Luke 22:36 where Jesus tells His disciples to buy a sword and the examples of centurion and other soldiers who are not told explicitly during the brief recorded conversations in the New Testament to stop serving as soldiers in the armies of Rome. The other is the playing of situational ethics where the argument is centered around "Yeah, but..." where there is a tacit acceptance of what the Bible teaches followers of Christ about peacemaking and enemy love but then a situation it trotted out to put one in a position of either embracing warfare or suggesting that World War II was a bad idea, normally accompanied by "Should we have just stood by while Hitler gassed the Jews!". For my response to some of these questions, see Questioning the World War II Trump Card , The Situation Trumps The Scripture? , There Are No Right Circumstances For A Christian To Go To War and my lengthy series on Christians and the sword.

When you carve away all the rhetoric about national security and patriotism and American exceptionalism you are left with the simple and obvious fact that participating in war often means directly or indirectly taking the life of another. That is what war means in spite of efforts to paint it as noble or necessary. Those Christians who take the life of another in war fall into two categories. Either you have a Christian who is killing another Christian or you have a Christian ending the life of someone who will in turn languish for an eternity in hell. At the most basic level that is what participating in war means for the follower of Christ.

On the first category, it is without question that there are innumerable examples of Christians killing other Christians to satisfy the demands of the state. When I think about this it makes my heart ache. Jesus told His followers that people would know we were His disciples by our love for one another (John 13:35). What does the world think when it watches Christians killing one another? That we surely love each other enough to kill one another when the national interest of one nation collides with the national interest of another?

On the second category it is undeniable that Christians who serve in war are often killing the very people Jesus is sending us to evangelize. The idea that the last thing an unbeliever would see is a Christian pointing a gun at him is so disturbing that it ought to give every single Christian pause. That so many Christians don't see this as an issue (so long as the one pulling the trigger is on "the right side" of course) speaks volumes to how far we have gotten away from the teachings of Christ and how deeply the leaven of the world has gotten into the church.

Faced with those two choices I would rather face persecution in prison like Mennonites in World War I faced in America in unspeakable conditions at the hands of the U.S. government or even death before I would take up arms to kill a fellow believer or an unbeliever who is heading for an eternal hell. I can say without hesitation that actively serving in the military is incompatible with and in fact the very antithesis of the Gospel which at the core is a living example of loving our enemies.

When Jesus said we cannot serve two masters, that doesn't apply just to money. Money is just a symptom of the pull of the world on those who have been bought with a price and called to walk as He walked. When we divide up our loyalties and violate the commands of the one to satisfy the desires of another we are guilty of a grievous transgression. When we encourage others to do the same on our behalf we are just as guilty. Even when not actively participating in war, supporting war has the same basic impact without getting blood directly on our hands. It is a tragic irony that of all the religious groups in America none is more consistently and enthusiastically supportive and even encouraging when it comes to warfare than American evangelicals.
What makes this conversation so difficult are two culturally dominant assumptions that strongly influence our worldview when it comes to American foreign policy.

1. As Americans we always assume that the rest of the world is as enamoured of our foreign policy as we are and if they aren't it is because they are ignorant or evil.

2. As Christians in America we always assume that American foreign policy is in keeping with God's will even when that foreign policy results in the death of innocents. Sure Romans 13 commands us to be subject to the governing authorities but surely He didn't mean for us to apply that to countries that aren't democracies with capitalist economies!

These two assumptions, both false, are the foundations of American foreign policy and evangelical support for the same. Without setting these assumptions aside it is impossible to have a genuine and honest conversation about how the church should think and behave, first and foremost, as citizens of the Kingdom that happen to live in America. Given this reality I am starting to really question whether Christians in America can objectively and faithfully be engaged in the civic and political process at all or if we would not instead be better served by just serving and loving our neighbors. There certainly is plenty to be done for the Kingdom without getting entangled in politics and like addicts or alcoholics our only recourse might be complete abstinence.

An important additional issue to deal with is the relationship between America and Israel, a relationship that is further muddied by a confused eschatology that leads to many American Christians believing that they have a sacred obligation to seek to use American military might to "support Israel". Henry at Energion mentioned this in his question and it is perhaps the single most important factor in American foreign policy especially when looking at the relationship between the church in America and the American state. I don't have the space here to dedicate to this conversation but it is an important one.

As voters we are faced with the unenviable choice between two men with very similar foreign policies, one who has shown no hesitation in using drones to assassinate people, including an American citizen, and often beats his chest in triumph because "he got bin Laden" versus another man who promises to spend even more on American military might and seems eager to start yet another preemptive war in the Middle East. Given this choice I will be voting for a third party candidate that rejects military adventurism as foreign policy, either Gary Johnson or if possible writing in Ron Paul which is my first choice. It is a sign of the odd world of evangelical political conservatism that a man who is an actual evangelical believer, married to his first and only wife, an OB/GYN who is staunchly pro-life and as conservative as they come was rejected by Republicans because he was insufficiently pro-war.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Energion Political Rondtable: Education

Our next question has to do with education and as is pointed out in the question this is an issue that gets virtually no play at in the Presidential debates and endless advertisements. The question is a big one: How can we go about improving the quality of education in this country?

As I said, "education", defined as spending money at the Federal level on various programs that have nothing to do with actual education, has gotten almost no attention in this election cycle. Little surprise there as both major candidates seem fine with a system that takes money out of local school districts, filters it through the Federal bureaucracy and then passes it back out (after taking a deep cut) to those same school districts and expecting the people that had this money seized from them to be duly appreciative at getting their own money back with Federal strings attached.With jobs and the economy dominating the discussion, "education" is a non-issue but this is short sighted, as is the mindset that see more Federal intervention and spending as synonymous with improving education.

I fall into the camp that believes that there is no Constitutional role for the Federal government in compulsory public education. If there ever was an issue that falls under the 10th amendment, it is education. I can hardly think of a worse system than to have bureaucrats in Washington D.C. sucking funding out of states that they have never been to and then telling the parents of those states that they know best how to educate their children.

The face of the Federal "education" racket is the U.S. Department of Indoctrination Education (hereafter DoED). Small by Federal government standards, it is one of the most untouchable of departments. Raised to a Cabinet level position by President Jimmy Carter in 1979, the Department of Education is the capstone to a disastrous Presidency. In a Presidency marked by an energy crisis, an economy in disarray, the shameful Iran hostage crisis and botched rescue attempt and an ignominious defeat to Reagan, you would be hard pressed to find a malignancy that lingers from that era quite like the DoED.

The reach of the DoEd is massive, outsized for the size of the department and ridiculous in scope. As the Cato Institute notes:

The department will spend about $98 billion in 2012, or $830 for every U.S. household. It employs 4,300 workers and operates 153 different subsidy programs.

That quite a lot when you consider that most of that money is as noted above going back to the same communities it was taken from and all of that spending has minimal impact when it comes to improving performance. It is the perfect bureaucratic monster, a bureaucracy that demands more and more money for education while not actually doing a thing to help educate Americans. As the chart to the left shows, also from CATO, Federal spending in constant dollars has gone up steadily for decades for K-12: "from $12.5 billion in 1965 to $72.8 billion in 2008". I am not great at math (I went to a public school after all) but that sounds to me like over five times as much spending. Would anyone care to argue that the quality of education has gone up? Now imagine a business that spent more and more money each year for stagnant results. A business like that would die away. The DoED demands more money every year and typically gets it. No politician wants to be labelled as not caring about education so both parties keep writing checks.

In the Presidential race, there are pretty dramatic differences regarding the DoED, especially when you look at the libertarian candidates. Ron Paul spent zero time beating around the bush and is an advocate for complete elimination of the DoED. Gary Johnson also calls for the elimination of the DoED. Mitt Romney doesn't even mention it but he does talk about more choice and more local control. Barack Obama? Like everything else, he calls for doubling down on yet another failed, inefficient and unconstitutional Federal government program.

The politics of education is a different beast the more locally you look at it. At the state level here in Indiana we have a pretty drastic difference between the two major candidates. Republican Mike Pence speaks a lot about education, emphasizing flexibility and choice, two important issues in my state which has some of the most homeschool friendly laws in the country and also one of the best voucher systems around. Pence believes in rewarding high performing schools. On other hand the Democratic candidate (and I had to search for his name because I have honestly never seen a single sign or bumper sticker for him and can never remember his name) John Gregg barely mentions education on his webpage, throwing out some random ideas about spending more on early childhood education, full day kindergarten and a tax credit for working families to help pay for daycare (not sure what in the world that has to do with education but whatever). In a fun pop culture twist, Rupert Boneham of Survivor fame is running for governor as a Libertarian. His platform is pretty similar on education to Mike Pence.

As a general rule education should be as local an issue as possible. School choice, vouchers, alternative schooling and competition are the ways we need to be moving even if those common sense solutions are opposed by the biggest road block to educational reform in existence, the teachers unions. The best thing the Federal government can do for education is to get out of that business entirely.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Energion Political Roundtable: Voter Resources

Our latest question has to do with being an informed voter. Question #9 is...

An informed electorate is important in sustaining a democracy. We’ve just completed a presidential and vice-presidential debate, and will see two more presidential debates. I’ve just read some factchecking from the vice-presidential debate which suggested that accuracy was a bit scarce. What specific recommendations would you make to individual voters as to how they can become informed voters? Feel free to list and/or link to resources.

How does a voter cut through the baloney and get to the facts? In some ways this is easier than ever. No longer are we restricted to the three major stations (ABC, NBC and CBS), our local paper and the radio that all approached the news with a left leaning worldview. Now we have a dizzying array of news sources. Starting with conservative talk radio and then exploding with the internet a voter can get a myriad of opinions. Candidates tweet, Facebook, blog, Youtube as fast as they can. Any comment by a candidate is immediately rebutted by their opponent. The "news" comes fast and furious, often without being confirmed or vetted. This gives us the opposite problem where we now have so much information that it can be nearly impossible to sort through it. So what to do?

First I think we need to admit that we all have biases and second that we all are being marketed to, even by our favorite candidates. Elections now more than ever are about marketing, a candidate selling him or her self to the voters. The old saying "How do you know when a politician is lying to you? His lips are moving" has never been more true.

I personally stay away from sources like Jon Stewart, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, etc. Those individuals are entertainers and have no issue with exaggeration, hyperbole and demagoguery. Beck especially is someone that I think is completely untrustworthy and more than a little mentally unstable. I try to read thoughtful sources on both sides.

My main "liberal" sources are the Huffington Post, the New York Times and most media reports that come out of the AP and CNN. I also listen daily for about 40 minutes to Morning Edition and All Things Considered on NPR. While NPR is unquestionably liberal in every sense, it is also thoughtful and

My conservative sources are National Review and the Wall Street Journal opinion page. Unlike the stereotype that people often try to paint me with I do not watch Fox News and in fact do not even have cable or satellite TV. I also read a fair number of blogs and follow people on Twitter that often link to good news stories. Finally, I also read the papers from several think tanks, primarily the Libertarian CATO Institute and the more traditional conservative Heritage Foundation.

The most important piece of advice? Be informed and be open minded. Don't wall yourself off. Know what other people are saying even if you disagree.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Energion Political Roundtable: Judicial Nominations

This week our question is less policy and more legacy. Question 8 is...

One of the ways in which a president shapes the future of the country is through appointments to the judiciary, and especially the Supreme Court. How do you see each candidate shaping the future of the court, and why is this important? (If you are supporting a particular candidate, focus on that one.)

Bills can be overturned, executive orders rescinded but a judicial nomination, especially to the Supreme Court, has lasting impact on our nation that is hard to measure. While it gets almost no play in our here and now, "what is in it for me" society, the way a potential President views the court should be a critical issue for voters.

Who Will Join This Group?
One of the most powerful functions of the President, an overlooked power that has far a longer impact on shaping American history than pardoning a turkey on Thanksgiving, is the Constitutional role of appointing members of the Federal judiciary and especially choosing replacements for the Supreme Court.The next President will quite possibly need to replace a Supreme Court justice. Four of the current justices were born in the 1930's and are obviously near retirement or death. Replacing even one of them could could an enormous shift and since two of those Justices (Breyer and Ginsburg) are solidly liberal along with swing vote Kennedy, chances are good that the majority on the court could move from a split between conservatives and liberals to a solid conservative majority. Conversely a liberal President could replace these aging justices with far younger justices who will serve for many decades to come. The importance of judicial nominations should not be underestimated.

Exhibit A for the importance of the Supreme Court is the legal monstrosity known as Roe v Wade (and yes I have read the entire decision). In this perversion of the Constitution, the Supreme Court not only overturned a Texas law but created whole cloth a "right" for women to abort their children. This decision has led to challenge after challenge, it has contributed to the poisonous circus of confirmation hearings and worst and unforgivably led directly to the murder of tens of millions of innocent children.

Unfortunately, thanks to that paragon of honesty and virtue, the late Senator Ted Kennedy, and his shameful attacks on Robert Bork, we now have a system where people put forth as the most qualified legal minds who will occupy a lifetime seat on the highest court of the land somehow have no opinion and indeed have never considered any actual legal cases based on their answers to the circus known as the Senate Judiciary Committee. Like so much of our political world, nothing substantive is debated and we get  lowest common denominator discussions instead of dealing with the real, "big issues" of the nation because everyone is terrified of saying something frank and honest and then being skewered for it for the next news cycle. Because of this unfortunate reality I don't see any real hope of future nominees that will speak honestly about the issues.

So this is a pretty straightforward one. The next President should nominate judges that will operate strictly within the framework they have been given. Not creating laws or "rights". Not interfering in issues that the Supreme Court has no business in. If an individual wants to write laws, let them run for a legislative position. A Supreme Court Justice, really any Federal judicial nominee, should be painfully aware of the limits in their role.

That sounds great. What does that mean? Well we need to go to the Constitution to answer that question because that is where the framework for establishing the Federal judiciary is found. In Article III, Section 2 of the Constitution we see the powers granted to the judicial branch.

Section. 2. The judicial Power shall extend to all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution, the Laws of the United States, and Treaties made, or which shall be made, under their Authority; — to all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls; — to all Cases of admiralty and maritime Jurisdiction; — to Controversies to which the United States shall be a Party; — to Controversies between two or more States; — between a State and Citizens of another State ; — between Citizens of different States; — between Citizens of the same State claiming Lands under Grants of different States, and between a State, or the Citizens thereof, and foreign States, Citizens or Subjects. 

In all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, and those in which a State shall be Party, the supreme Court shall have original Jurisdiction. In all the other Cases before mentioned, the supreme Court shall have appellate Jurisdiction, both as to Law and Fact, with such Exceptions, and under such Regulations as the Congress shall make. 

The Trial of all Crimes, except in Cases of Impeachment, shall be by Jury; and such Trial shall be held in the State where the said Crimes shall have been committed; but when not committed within any State, the Trial shall be at such Place or Places as the Congress may by Law have directed. 

What is most interesting in this listing of powers is that what we commonly think of as the primary function of the Supreme Court, i.e. judicial review, isn't explicitly stated and certainly not really implied. Like most powers of the Federal government the Federal judiciary was designed as a home for issues that could not be decided at the state level: treaties, case involving ambassadors, disputes between states or citizens of different states where a neutral court was required. One other area was placed in this jurisdiction, the crime of treason. When you compare that listing to the myriad ways that the United States Supreme Court gets involved in our lives, it should be apparent that we have a major problem. Every law that is passed in this country at some point is subject to review by the Supreme Court and likewise subject to being upheld, reversed or modified for any or no reason at all.

All that to say that, although cliched and overused, nominees should be strict Constitutionalists. That means that they understand and respect the Constitution and the means by which is it applied and how it is supposed to be altered (i.e. via amendment, not judicial fiat). Unfortunately we don't have much to work with. Of the major and semi-major candidates, only Mitt Romney has a specific section dealing with the courts (see here). We have a pretty good idea of what President Obama thinks of the Supreme Court and it is definitely the wrong direction. Gary Johnson doesn't speak directly to the issue but given his stance on limited government you can certainly infer what he would do. The court issue really comes down to two visions, a vision of limited scope for the Supreme Court and another of an activist court that sees the Constitution as silly putty to be molded and modified as the intellectual elite sees fit. Presuming for a moment that Romney would do as he says, a big presumption, a Romney court nominee should go a long way toward pulling back on the size and scope of the government.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Energion Political Roundtable: JOBS!

The latest question, number seven if you are keeping count, has to do with...

Jobs! Jobs! Jobs!

This is a crucial issue, not because it really should be but because that is all we have been hearing from the candidates. Romney claims he will put in place policies that will "create" x number of jobs. Obama claims that his trillions in deficit spending "saved" millions of jobs that otherwise would have been lost. Both expect us to believe that a President someone has a magical ability with just the right policies to "create" jobs. In reality the only thing the government can really do, modern day neo-Keynesian theory aside, is impede job growth.

The question we have been tasked with answering is as follows:

What are the key policies that should be implemented in order to [create / facilitate the creation of / not impede the creation of] jobs? As always, feel free to compare your ideas to those of the candidates.

That is a big one.

First the major candidates. Romney's "jobs plan" is mostly targeted around getting government out of the way and reducing the barriers to free enterprise, competition and economic activity: lowering taxes, reducing regulation, etc. Pretty standard Republican fare that typically is forgotten about five minutes after they are sworn in. The Obama plan, like most of his other "plans" mostly says Mitt Romney is evil and that we need more and more government tinkering in the economy. President Obama seems to think that jobs are best created with government "investment" (i.e. Solyndra) versus Mitt Romney who claims to favor government getting out of the way. Gary Johnson as a Libertarian takes the Romney approach and goes much further, proposing an elimination of the IRS and replacing the income tax and business taxes with a tax on expenditures, eliminating Federal government subsidies (i.e farm subsidis and other targeted tinkering) and drastically reducing the amount of spending at the Federal level. To summarize, the Johnson approach is a drastic rollback of government interference in the economy, the Romney approach a far more moderate rollback and the Obama approach is to double down and increase the role of the Federal government in the economic activity of the United States.

No surprise I would be most in favor of the Johnson approach with the recognition that the Romney plan is probably more realistic. The Obama plan, a plan that thus far has given us four years of 8% unemployment and $5 trillion in new debt, has managed the feat of being both a short term and a long term disaster but one that has appeal because many people perceive that they are getting something for nothing (i.e. the Obama phone). We can't afford what he has already done and we certainly can't afford four more years of it.

The great myth that is sold to us like economic snake oil is that government spending helps "the poor" at the expense of "the rich". That notion only works if each action taken by the public sector happens in a vacuum. In reality, when you get away from the hallowed halls of ivory tower academia, common sense would tell us some basic economic facts. Money that is spent by the government is either a) taken from the private sector so it can't be used to invest in actual jobs or b) borrowed against future revenue that further sinks this country into debt. We don't create jobs by taking money from Oklahoma, filtering through some government bureaucracies in D.C. and then sending it back to Oklahoma in the form of public sector jobs. That is just shuffling money around. Instead jobs are created when people invest and take risk, meeting a need for capital in return for the potential for profit. Profit is a dirty word but it is the engine that drives investment and investment is what creates jobs.

A perfect example of this was the Keystone pipeline debacle. The plan was to build a pipeline from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast, carrying oil from the oil sands in Alberta to the southern U.S.for refining. This would have had several positive results. First, jobs would have been created to build the rest of the pipeline and these are not McDonald's jobs but rather in industries like welding, construction, trucking, engineering, surveying, etc. All high paying, good jobs. Second it would have created additional permnent high paying jobs when completed at the refineries. Third it would have helped in our goal of energy independence, not a completely realistic goal but still every bit helps. Alas it fell victim to the environmental lobby and has been pushed off again until after the election. President Obama would obviously rather borrow more money to fund unionized public sector jobs, jobs for people in a natural and loyal constituency of Democrat voters, than not spend money we don't have and permit the private sector to engage in profitable economic activity that would create jobs and add to the tax base. This is what happens when you have an ideologue with no private sector experience deciding to micromanage the economy.

The private sector has an incentive to come up with innovative products and services at competitive prices. If an employer in the private sector is inefficient or has a bad product, they either adapt or go out of business. In the public sector, notions like efficiency, profit and competition are completely foreign. Little wonder that virtually everything the government does it does inefficiently. Even the vaunted "bailout" of the automakers is a farce because to make that happen bond holders got shafted and the UAW got rewarded.

So the last thing the private sector needs is advice from a bunch of public sector bureaucrats that have never had a real job being lead incidentally by a President who has never had a real job and has as his most significant achievement prior to his inexplicable election as President an incredible string of "present" votes as a legislator. The role of the government in the economy should be, like the Hippocratic oath, to first do no harm and preferably stay out of the way. The less the government gets involved in the economy, the better off we would all be.

At a more fundamental level, the issue is far more stark. It is not and should not be the role of the Federal government to tinker with the economy, to "create jobs" or any of the other nonsense that we have been spoon fed over the years. The real purpose and role of the Federal government is by design very limited, limited to the point that the founders saw fit to specifically state that any powers and authorities not specifically granted to the Federal government belong to the states or the people. In reality what we have is a Federal government that controls every aspect of our life and has created a permanent underclass of dependents who rely on that same government for food, for housing, for education, for transportation, for money, for cell phones, etc. When jobs are scarce people line up and ask Uncle Sam plaintively "Where are the jobs? Save me!" The jobs debate is just one more example of how the Federal government has perversely exceeded its original and proper role and mandate and morphed into a monster.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Energion Political Roundtable: Medicare

Question number six is up and it is another pretty broad one!

Here in Florida we’re getting a lot of political ads. One of the key topics in both the Senate race between Connie Mack and Bill Nelson and in the presidential race is Medicare. How would you evaluate the plans that each presidential candidate has for Medicare? Should senior citizens be concerned?

So here is my retort:

What plans?

Neither candidate really has any sort of feasible plan to maintain the Medicare system for the long term because neither one is looking past the next election cycle. What needs to be said, i.e. that Medicare is unsustainable in the current form, is political suicide and few elected officials are willing to say what needs to be said. By any measurement the Medicare system is headed for bankruptcy because there simply are too many people drawing on the system and too few paying in, an inverted pyramid that shows no signs of abating and in fact is rapidly getting worse.

President Obama's "Medicare plan" is basically "my plan is not Mitt Romney's plan" and claims to maintain the status quo, promising to keep the system "solvent" until 2024 (or 2026), or a whole 14 years from now. That means that for me, as a 40 year old, the system becomes insolvent a full decade before I get any benefit from it. Unfortunately I have to keep funding a system that, like Social Security, is a giant sinkhole for me and I have zero say in the matter. It is just one more line item on my paycheck seized by compulsion from me that I receive nothing for in return. Because Democrats rely on the senior vote and essentially buy that vote with the tax dollars of workers they are completely unwilling to even admit there is much of a problem and instead are doubling down on the doomed Medicare system by instituting Obamacare.

At least Mitt Romney's plan has some details whereas President Obama relies on the same warm and fuzzy "hope and change" empty rhetoric that got him elected in the first place and seems likely to sway an ignorant electorate to get him reelected. Romney's plan has some key elements that get short shrift in the media and from the soporific electorate that seems interested only in what they can get for "free" from the government. These include a provision to retain the current system for already in the system and those nearing eligibility and a gradual transformation of the system to a "premium support system" which means "existing spending is repackaged as a fixed-amount benefit to each senior that he or she can use to purchase an insurance plan". In layman's terms that means that rather than a government sponsored insurance plan, the government instead subsidizes seniors and allows them to pick their own plan, with more support for poor seniors and less for more affluent seniors.

Rather than the current system, Romney offers choice and competition, two words that are anathema to the average Federal bureaucrat. That is a far cry from the scare tactics of doom and gloom peddled by the Left but what is left unsolved is the issue of insolvency as more and more seniors rely on a system paid for by a shrinking pool of tax paying workers, workers making less than before (if they even have a job) thanks to four years of catastrophic mismanagement by President Obama. Any system that doesn't tackle the issue of long term solvency is doomed to fail.

Libertarian Gary Johnson has a somewhat different approach focused on block grants to the states that allow them to manage Medicare (and Medicaid) as they seem fit. Unlike a lot of his other positions, this one is pretty short on details but in a nutshell it gets the Federal government out of the health insurance business and sends the discretion for that service to the states. If the government is going to be involved in health insurance, and I don't think that it has any business doing so, it is far better and more important eminently more Constitutional for that to be done at the state level.

As for the second part of the question: Should senior citizens be concerned?

I don't think senior citizens should be concerned at all. As the most powerful voting block they will continue to exert undue influence over the seizing and distribution of wealth in this country and show no signs of letting go or being willing to compromise. The senior population in America has been inundated with messages designed to strike fear in their hearts, fear about health insurance, fear about income replacement, fear about anything and everything and the answer is always the same: let the government take care of you and protect you and in return base yoru votes on who promises to keep the gravy train running no matter what that might mean to future generations. Any perceived threat to this security is met with a swift response from the AARP and other groups, making substantive conversations about desperately needed changes completely off-limits (for an example of this, see the unseemly booing of Paul Ryan at an AARP meeting last Friday for having the nerve to suggest substantive changes).

No, the people who should be concerned are the younger workers, Americans in their 20's, 30's and even their 40's. These are the people who will pay into a broken system for the rest of their working lives only to inherit a bankrupt, dysfunctional system that will be unable to provide the services that they have paid for their entire career. Because they lack a unified lobbying presence in D.C. they are regularly on the receiving end of higher taxes with lower returns. No one seems to care about making younger workers angry, after all they are already jaded and resigned to getting shafted, so it is far easier to keep making promises to seniors that no one seriously believes but reliably brings in the votes.

What ought to concern us all is that we are entering the last days of an election season and we really have to choose between two men who are at heart politicians seeking to maintain the status quo for the benefits it provides them. If it is true that we get the candidates we deserve, then we certainly find ourselves deserving two empty suits. The mediocre quality of these two men should give us pause.

Medicare is the ultimate well-meaning but inherently and fatally flawed endeavour, an attempt by the most fundamentally inefficient organization in America to manage a system rife with fraud, abuse and waste. If that isn't a recipe for disaster I don't know what is! There is certainly no case to be made for Medicare as a legitimate function of the Federal government but that has never stopped politicians from bringing more and more of the economy of the United States out of the private sector where cost, choice and competition exist and into the public sector where programs invariably become bloated and cost exponentially more than was originally promised. The best thing we could do with Medicare is, right now, to start weaning us away from a government run system and toward a market based system. I am under no illusion that will happen but that is what should happen.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Energion Political Roundtable: More on Economic Priorities

As the conversations unfold regarding our budget priorities in the Energion Political Roundtable, the lines are pretty predictable. Bob Cornwall and Joel Watts line up on the left, Elgin Hushbeck and I on the right. There is one major exception here and that is on the topic of the military. I expected some blowback on this one and I wasn't disappointed!

The military is the one area where I get the most disagreement from more traditional conservatives and it is an area where I would have disagreed with my current position just a few years ago! As I have struggled with our militarism as a nation I have found that our passion for foreign entanglements, our flag waving and our prideful posturing is, despite all of the patriotic ribbons we hang upon it, not only not terribly conservative but a;so largely harmful to our national interests. Elgin Hushbeck, my conservative counterpart in this roundtable, took umbrage at my stance and took the time to write a thoughtful response.

I want to take the time to respond at length to Elgin. Joel Watts' channeling of Hugo Chavez in his proposed "solution" of seizing private property for redistribution, nationalizing many industries with absolutely no Constitutional justification and curtailing business across state lines via arbitrary limits on the size of a corporation is so removed from reality that it defies a brief response. I will respond separately to Bob Cornwall because he makes some coherent points even though I vehemently disagree with almost all of them. Because Elgin and I are in agreement on most issues but not this one, I am going to spend a little time laying out the differences as this is going to be an increasingly crucial issue in conservatism in the years to come. Right at the outset, Elgin lays out his point:

Herein is a huge difference between the military and other branches of Government. Not only is it a prime responsibility of the federal government, but experience has shown that with all the talk of cutting waste, cuts in the military normally end up being born by troops who at the end of the day, still need to get the job done, as they operate equipment that is often older than their fathers, and now days, at times their grandfathers.  As a result, peace dividends are often paid for with the lives of our troops. 

I certainly acknowledged in my post that the armed forces are a core function of the Federal government, one of the few in fact. Having said that, the military is not above reproach and military spending is an enormous line item in the budget that needs serious reduction. The issue we need to have a serious conversation about concerns the role and function of the armed forces. Are the Armed Forces of the United States designed to be a force to project American will around the world or as a primarily defensive force that is intended to counter direct threats to our sovereignty? I would argue the latter and further argue that since World War II the United States has created a permanent state of mobilization which in turn led to a general state of mobilization around the world, enormous standing armies squared off against one another knowing full well that outright war between the U.S. and the Soviets would be devastating. In spite of no credible military threats to the United States we have yet to stand down from World War II and in place of actual threats to the U.S. we have engaged again and again in wars, hot and cold, around the world that has no bearing on national security. In fact we have never really known peace in my lifetime. As a child we were terrified of the commie Russians. When the Berlin Wall fell and Russia stopped being a threat we conveniently had all sorts of mini-wars to fight under Clinton, from the Iraq War to Somalia. The decade of the 90's ended and then September 11th happened. From that point forward we have been "at war" against an amorphous enemy. Forty years old and we have been in a state of perpetual war or preparation for war my entire life.

As far as the comment that "peace dividends" are paid for by the lives of our troops, that sounds great but what actually costs the lives of our troops are the constant interventions in affairs that are none of our business. When we look around the globe for threats, the list is pretty short.

Europe? In the pre-World War II years the world was a very different place. Europe had been engaged in war after war for centuries. An uneasy peace was in place after the meat-grinder of World War I. All of the major powers in Europe were sizing each other up, trying to see a weakness. Today? Former belligerent Germany is bailing out the rest of Europe. The entire continent is deeply engaged economically with one another to the point of a common currency. None of the European powers possess a significant military other than Great Britain and why should they when the U.S. spends as much as the rest of the world combined. When the Europeans need some muscle they call in the U.S. Marines and we never say "no". Europe is not a threat to America.

Asia? While China is ramping up military spending we can hardly blame them for that. We tend to classify foreign  nations as "others" and assume that our motivations are pure (at least with a Republican president) and theirs are evil but looking at Asia from the eyes of China might give us a different perspective. The United States has had a major military presence within striking distance of China for decades in Korea and Japan. Our military operates close to their borders on a regular basis. I am not sure how we would respond to the Chinese sailing just outside of our territorial waters and stationing tens of thousands of troops in Canada and Mexico. Is China a repressive regime? Of course. Is China a sovereign nation with all of the same rights as the United States? Yes. We arrogantly assert our right to outspend the rest of the world on "defense" spending and maintain an enormous nuclear arsenal but demand that the rest of the world disarm. China is a growing military presence but also a major economic partner. It is high time for the Japanese, with the third largest economy in the world and a sizable defense force of their own that ranks sixth on military spending, to take the lead in Asia. Looking at the spending charts shows that the U.S. outspends the Chinese by an almost 5-1 ratio, ironically spending that is largely financed by borrowing money from...China. Without a single functional carrier and economically dependent as they are on trade with the U.S. China is not a threat the United States.

What about Africa? Well Africa is a mess by and large but we also have no national interest in Africa although that hasn't stopped us from getting entangled again and again in Somalia, Libya, Egypt, etc. America faces no threat from Africa, not if every nation on the continent banded together.

Likewise the Middle East, a region of non-stop violence and strife that has been worse since the end of WW II and the establishment of a Jewish state. Israel has one of the very finest militaries in the world, the very best equipment and of course nuclear weapons. To be perfectly honest Israel is more than capable of defending herself. That is easy to say but not so easy to put into practice as any suggestion that Israel should be treated like any other friendly nation is met with outrage ranging from "abandoning our most important ally" to charges of anti-Semitism. Support for Israel is a sacred cow for conservatives of the highest rank, an issue made all the more muddled by the intermixing of pop culture eschatology on the part of many evangelical Christians with geo-politics which leads to a "sacred duty" for a "Christian nation" to support Israel. This isn't the proper venue for debunking dispensational geo-politics but you can be sure that there is a calculating effort to encourage this sort of thinking by supporters of Israel.

The Middle East has not only Israel but also the issue of oil and whether you admit it or not much of what drives our foreign policy in that region is tied to the ready flow of oil. If we would encourage oil exploration and drilling domestically instead of spending money on military engagement a world away we could dramatically reduce spending and create jobs which in turn generates taxes. Of course the fanatical regimes and terrorist groups would still hate Israel but Israel can take care of herself. None of the Middle East regimes is going to invade or directly attack America unless one assumes that the Iranian Navy of speedboats and antiquated "warships" could somehow manage to make the voyage from the Persian Gulf to Florida without sinking. Certainly Iran is working toward nuclear weapons, the same nuclear weapons that we have had for decades and have used on civilian populations in the past. We already have an unbelievably large nuclear deterrent. Unless we are willing to invade yet another country without provocation based on a potential future threat, there is not much we can or should do about Iran.

The greatest threat we face is from terrorism, as in 9/11, and conventional military spending has very little impact on that. While we have successfully avoided another terror attack in America, we have also shed an unacceptable amount of blood in our military adventures around the world with little to show for it beyond reduced personal liberty, flag draped coffins and young men missing limbs. Oh, and don't forget a ton of new debt.

So why again do we have this huge standing army? What foe do we plan on engaging in a conventional war requiring multiple carriers groups and a huge ground force supported by overwhelming air power, artillery and tanks? For decades we have planned and spent to fight "the next war" and when war doesn't materialize we find one (Iraq anyone?) but the enemy we are built to fight no longer exists. We need a more nimble and a much smaller military, one that serves the purpose of deterring aggression but not one that is prepared to fight non-existent foes. What is the exact number for this? I am not sure but it is substantially less than our current spending. The Cato Institute proposes some very common sense ideas to reduce spending by an average of $120 billion a year over the next decade, a proposal that does nothing to reduce our military effectiveness. I found that proposal to be a bit timid if the truth be known but it is a good place to start.

Elgin concludes with this

Finally, as Sido writes, “Even more troubling is the enthusiastic embrace of unlimited military spending by people who claim the name of Christ.”  Perhaps he would include me in this category, but I find it little more than a straw man.   No one I know wants “unlimited military spending.”  Granted I and others may err on the side of over-spending, but I would rather waste dollars than waste lives.   I would rather be so strong that no one would dare attack us, than just weak enough that we end up in a war.  I would rather our troops go into battle over-equipped than under-equipped and struggling to make do.  In short, I do not believe the threat comes from us being too strong, but rather too weak.

Elgin's argument here is a difficult one. On the one hand he rejects my charge of unlimited military spending but then he talks about overwhelming force that would deter anyone from attacking us.When you examine the rhetoric that surrounds even the faintest suggestion of reducing military spending and indeed suggestions that we increase military spending, the "enthusiastic embrace of unlimited military spending" seems to be appropriate. For example, see Mitt Romney's position on "defense" spending:

As Commander-in-Chief, Mitt Romney will keep faith with the men and women who defend us just as he will ensure that our military capabilities are matched to the interests we need to protect. He will put our Navy on the path to increase its shipbuilding rate from nine per year to approximately fifteen per year. He will also modernize and replace the aging inventories of the Air Force, Army, and Marines, and selectively strengthen our force structure. And he will fully commit to a robust, multi-layered national ballistic-missile defense system to deter and defend against nuclear attacks on our homeland and our allies. 

This will not be a cost-free process. We cannot rebuild our military strength without paying for it. Mitt will begin by reversing Obama-era defense cuts and return to the budget baseline established by Secretary Robert Gates in 2010, with the goal of setting core defense spending — meaning funds devoted to the fundamental military components of personnel, operations and maintenance, procurement, and research and development — at a floor of 4 percent of GDP.

So under Romney we would build almost double the number of ships each year, ships that need to be maintained and manned by sailors, along with other increases in military spending and a "floor" of 4% of GDP. What is notable there is that with a floor of 4% spending on the military would go up as the economy recovers regardless of whether it makes sense or not. If we know anything about bureaucracies it is that they will spend everything they receive. It is hard to make a serious case for deficit and debt reduction when you wall off one of the major line items to not only be free of cuts but actually be penciled in for increases!

This is an area where both our Kingdom sensibilities (when I am weak then I am strong, 2 Cor 12:10) and a belief in limited government should work together toward the same outcome. An enormous standing military designed for offense rather than defense is not only not fiscally viable and contrary to the mission of the armed forces of the United States under our Constitution, it is contrary to the values we should espouse as Christians. We cannot wall off our Christianity, applying it to gay marriage and abortion but not to offensive wars of aggression. If you are a believer in Christ a terrorist is no danger to you but supporting Caesar in wars of aggression certainly is. The enthusiastic support for wars of aggression and the flag waving that is so common in the evangelical church is damaging to our witness and we have centuries of evidence that the church being entangled in the bickering of the world is harmful.

Our armed forces are rarely used to "defend" America and haven't been used for that purpose since World War II, an era that many conservatives seem stuck in. Korea. Vietnam. The first Gulf War. The second Gulf war. All of the myriad engagements in between from Somalia to Grenda to Bosnia and Kosovo to our recent aid to the Arab Spring rebels in Libya that just murdered our ambassador. The pattern over and over is America sending in our young men and women to try to police the world, the same world that often condemns us (except when they need us) and spends combined about the same that we do alone on the military. The need for America to be the biggest and baddest "sole remaining superpower" certainly appeals to our nation hubris but "peace through superior firepower" and "he brings a knife, you bring a gun" is not what America was founded on and not what Christ would have us do. We cannot afford it as a nation and we cannot support it as the church.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Energion Roundtable: Libya and the Midde East

Our next question is out for The Great Energion Political Roundtable and has to do with the recent attacks around the world on U.S. embassies and diplomatic personnel, including the barbaric murder of a U.S. ambassador and three other diplomatic personnel. Here is the question.

Do you approve or disapprove of President Obama's and Governor Romney's responses to the violence in Egypt and Libya and now in other countries in the middle east?

My first reaction is "What response?"! On the one hand we have empty platitudes and assurances of "justice" from the White House. On the other we have political point scoring and posturing from the Romney campaign. While Romney was correct in his substance about the initial response from the State Department, the entire thing smacked of political opportunism. I think that Secretary of State Clinton's eulogy was heartfelt and the only decent thing said by anyone in a position of authority during this whole debacle.

The recent events involving U.S. embassies around the world are shocking. Attacking an embassy is something that is just not done. Ambassadors and diplomatic personnel traditionally are off-limits even during times of declared war. It is hard to not be outraged when our civilians are murdered, when civilians trying to help the people of Libya are killed by fanatics. It is hard to not swell up with anger when people burn American flags.

These events are also symptomatic of the problem of diplomacy in a region where the normal rules of civilization don't apply. Likewise we need to recall that not that many years ago Protestants and Catholics were killing one another in Northern Ireland and that much of European history is littered with "Christians" torturing and burning, beheading and drowning Jews and Anabaptists and others and multiple wars in the name of Jesus. Religion has often been used as cover by tyrants and fanatics alike to whip people into a frenzy and this situation is no different. A amateurish, cartoonish video may be the publicly stated reason for these attack but I see the hand of a calculating mind behind them.

So I find both Romney and Obama to be completely off-base here. I would largely echo the words of Libertarian Presidential Candidate Gary Johnson regarding what he would do about this issue in his essay: Libya,Afghanistan and the Middle East -- Why Obama and Romney are Both Wrong

Foreign policy is supposed to make us safer, not get Americans killed and bankrupt us. Yet, even as we mourn the loss of four Americans in Libya and watch the Middle East ignite with anti-American fervor, our leaders don't get it.
I have a better idea: Stop trying to manipulate and manage history on the other side of the globe and then being shocked when things don't turn out the way we wanted. As far as what we do right now in response to the tragic events of this week, it's actually pretty simple. Get our folks out of places they don't need to be -- and out of harm's way -- and cut off every dime of U.S. tax dollars we are sending to clearly ungrateful regimes.

and most importantly....

Somebody needs to ask, and I will be that somebody: As despicable as he was, would our ambassador and three other dedicated public servants have been killed in a Gaddafi-controlled Libya? Are we safer today after launching all those missiles and killing Gaddafi? Clearly not.

It might just be that not only are large swaths of the world not ready for American style democracy, they also don't want it and resent our efforts to impose it upon them. Our record of meddling in the Middle East is one of stumbling and error that costs lives. We put the Shah in power in Iran and were surprised when that blew up in our face in the 70's. We arm Saddam Hussein in his war against Iran to get back at them and then end up fighting him a few years later. We invade and "liberate" Iraq and then spend the better part of a decade fighting a guerrilla war that has devastated the people of Iraq. We depose the Taliban in Afghanistan and a decade later are quietly negotiating with them to return them to power. We drop bombs on Libya to support the rebels as well as the rest of the "Arab Spring" (except in the politically inconvenient Syria) and then realize that we replaced a dictatorship with mob rule, a mob that doesn't seem to realize it should be grateful for our assistance. How many dead Americans must be dragged by mobs through the streets of Benghazi and Mogadishu?

So what should we do? How should we respond?

So here is my solution.

Get out and cut them off

I am done with bribing those who hate us. I am done with spilling American blood and the blood of innocents trying to manipulate events in the Middle East, Asia and north Africa. Instead of throwing good money after bad in this part of the world because they happen to sit on oil, start to open up more of America for drilling and exploration. Instead of spending money, allow commerce to happen which will create real jobs, good jobs that will lead to spending and consumption and tax revenue. Instead of oil being a net drain on our economy, let it be something that helps. We might never become energy independent but we can certainly reduce the impact of the fanatics that destabilize world oil supplies. With a land as vast as ours and a coast line as long as ours we have ample natural resources. We should not allow ourselves to be held hostage to one commodity. End foreign aid to all nations, and yes that includes Israel. End foreign occupations and endless foreign engagements. Above all quit using this region as a source for political fodder that leads to dead and maimed Americans.