Democracy Doubted

Demonstrations and voting show the best in US democracy, while riots show the worst. Other nations are watching…and making decisions about what kind of governments they want. Democracy is declining worldwide, and America’s example looms large. Our future will be poorer, sicker, dirtier, and bloodier as a result.

The United States is sailing through troubled waters in 2020, and the forecast predicts more stormy weather. COVID-19 has killed many Americans, frightened many more, and challenged every one. The tragedy surrounding George Floyd’s death appears to be a crime, and the investigation continues. The peaceful demonstrations spurred by his death encourage an important conversation on police practices and institutional racial discrimination. Meanwhile, many Americans voted in primary elections to choose our political leaders in 2020. Voting, peaceful demonstrations, and dialogue reveal democracy at its best.

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National Suicide – Comments on Lyceum

In our ongoing study of Lincoln’s words to the Young Men’s Lyceum in Springfield, IL on 27 January 1838, we have briefly examined some of the amazing blessings of America. These include her geography, her resources, her development, and her political institutions. Most people throughout history have been crushed by the boot of tyranny, from Argentina to Japan to Zimbabwe. Even today in China, Russia, Turkey, and many other nations, the light of liberty is flickering, or has gone out. The American people, working through brilliantly conceived and enduring political institutions, have lived in freedom, limited primarily by their own industry and imagination.

We have also discussed the men and women who made the United States the amazing country that it is. As heirs to their wisdom and to their labors, we must be grateful. As heirs to their folly and mistakes, we must be humble, because it is not clear that we are any wiser, or any more industrious, than they were. Looking at the United States today, one wonders if we are not greater fools and greater sluggards. Those who cast aside the Greek democracy and the Roman Republic thought they were building better societies.

Today we must explore Lincoln’s next passage, asking where the danger to America would come.

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Grateful to our Fathers – Comments on Lyceum

Showing gratitude to our fathers for American government is a good idea for us today

“We, when mounting the stage of existence, found ourselves the legal inheritors of these fundamental blessings. We toiled not in the acquirement or establishment of them–they are a legacy bequeathed us, by a once hardy, brave, and patriotic, but now lamented and departed race of ancestors. Their’s was the task (and nobly they performed it) to possess themselves, and through themselves, us, of this goodly land; and to uprear upon its hills and its valleys, a political edifice of liberty and equal rights; ’tis ours only, to transmit these, the former, unprofaned by the foot of an invader; the latter, undecayed by the lapse of time and untorn by usurpation, to the latest generation that fate shall permit the world to know. This task of gratitude to our fathers, justice to ourselves, duty to posterity, and love for our species in general, all imperatively require us faithfully to perform.”

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Government Officials and Flights – Abuse of Money and Power?

The dangers of making decisions too quickly, with too little information, or with too much emotion.

The Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, Dr. Tom Price, was forced to resign after revelations that he took charted civilian and military aircraft on trips that were of debatable value to the US taxpayer. The price tag was over $400,000 for the civilian flights and about $500,000 for the military airlift. Since his tenure in office was about eight months (10 February to 29 September 2017), Price spent over $100,000 per month for these flights alone; seemingly an impressive rate of burning taxpayer money. This appears to be prima facie evidence of corruption, or at least rank insensitivity to the needs and resources of the American people.

Price is not the only one. According to the New York Times[1], Secretary Ryan Zinke (Interior), Administrator Scott Pruitt (EPA), Secretary David Shulkin (VA), Secretary Steven Mnuchin (Treasury), and others also garnered criticism for flights from Las Vegas to Europe. These accusations are serious, as public service is a public trust and leaders must act with discretion. Several of these Cabinet members protested that they followed proper procedures, and they may have, but the damage remains. In this time of enormous Federal deficits, and national debts, leaders must not only be squeaky clean; they must appear squeaky clean.

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How ordinary people can contribute to extraordinary change

Ordinary people often feel powerless to improve our society, or even our lives. We can, and we do, but we can do it better. 

Last night after dinner my family and I were discussing some of the Middle East events of the day, and the picture was not pretty. Fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria were capturing more territory, killing more people, and destroying mosques and other religious sites. Hamas and Hezbollah were launching rocket attacks on Israel, who was retaliating with air strikes, killing many. Syria remained embroiled in its civil war, and the “Arab Spring” of 2011, with all of its hopes of democracy, has turned sour. My daughter, visibly troubled, asked what our government was going to do about all of this mayhem. I answered that no matter how powerful, governments have limited ability to intervene. The American President Barack Obama, who some consider to be the most powerful man in the world, has four main elements of American national power that he can use to accomplish US goals in the world, which in this case is to restore peace and stability and promote democracy.

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Are Congressional Investigations a Waste of Time?

People love to complain about Congress – especially about Congressional investigations. But should we?

The other day I was answering email in my office with the door open. A secretary just outside was discussing current events with her boss, a colleague of mine. The news had been full of scandals involving the executive branch of the US federal government; represented in media parlance as “The White House”. The Internal Revenue Service (Treasury Department) had been caught targeting conservative groups who were applying for tax exempt status, the Justice Department had been discovered illegally obtaining records from the Associated Press, and the State Department may have bungled the US response to the attack on Benghazi and then lied to cover it up. Adding insult to injury, the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services has been accused of seeking donations from organizations that she regulates; a brazen conflict of interest and abuse of power if true.

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Government Service Civilian Personnel Discipline

Sometimes positive actions do not suffice to prevent or remedy unacceptable behavior. In these cases, disciplinary action is indicated. The following table contains useful suggestions for the manager in a government setting who needs to punish an employee.

Government Service Civilian Personnel Discipline

The Financial Crisis and the Concentration of Financial Power

Power of all types must be diffused throughout society, because no person or entity can be trusted with too much of it. 

One of the most troubling realizations during the financial meltdown of 2008 was that some companies were “too big to fail”. Chrysler and General Motors were “too big to fail” because of their strategic importance to American industry and because of the thousands of jobs that would be lost if they collapsed. So they received billions in taxpayer money. Remarkably, Ford Motor Company, just as big, in the same industry, the same environment and also threatening thousands of jobs, did not need government assistance.

Big financial companies, including Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch, Bear Sterns, Wachovia, American International Group, and others were also considered too big to fail. The fear was that if they failed, so much confidence would be lost in the financial system that markets would implode. As a result the Bush and later Obama administrations did some legal ledgermain to merge companies and sank hundreds of billions of dollars into these entities. Individual taxpayers, home owners and account holders got a shakedown. While the blame for the crisis belongs throughout our society, from greedy lenders to irresponsible borrowers, the pain hit us all, including many who never deserved it.

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“Haves and have nots” or “Do and do nots?”

Our acrimonious political debates often center on class struggle, those who “have” against those who “have not.” Perhaps the conflict is really between those who “do”, who contribute to wider society, and those who “do not,” who take without giving. 

The 2012 Presidential Election campaign is in its final weeks, and while one candidate seems to relish contrasting the “haves and have nots”, the other candidate recently implied that the real division is between the “do and do nots.” One group seems to boil with resentment against those who they perceive have more than they do. Another group seems to boil with resentment against those who they perceive do less than they do. Is either narrative accurate? Are both narratives accurate but incomplete? The debate is not limited to candidates or even parties; large swaths of the American population seem to feel the same way. The structure of the human body can shed light on these questions.

The human body is made of billions of cells, the building blocks of life. The cells are fundamentally the same, including parts such as the nucleus, the cytoplasm, the mitochondria, and the cell membrane. There is also diversity amidst the unity, with cells of hundreds of types and functions, including muscle cells, bone cells, hormone secreting cells, nerve cells, skin cells, fat cells, and many others. They are arrayed in a system of incredible complexity, and work together with precision to accomplish the purposes of the body. The human body is a truly magnificent creation.

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Christians and Politics

Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world, but Christians are salt and light in their society, protecting it from the rot of sin. Followers of the Lord must be active in politics, at least voting, but never forget that our salvation is in Christ alone and our home is in heaven.

This morning in church one of the members of my class asked me about my opinion on Christians being involved in politics. There has been a great deal of press, largely negative, on the issue of evangelicals opposing the legalization of same sex marriage, and this brother was unsure about what the Bible teaches about the issue. While I do not pretend to speak Ex Cathedra, this issue is important enough to examine what Scripture teaches, especially in light of our current circumstances in the United States.

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