Archive for the 'Government' Category

Bush 41: Pragmatic, civil and stately

The year was 1988. The setting was Mrs. Walton’s sixth grade Social Studies class. The conflict was a debate between a long-forgotten Dukakis / Bentsen supporter and me, the class’ Bush / Quayle surrogate.

As an eleven-year-old, I followed the 1988 presidential campaign like a hawk, clipping newspaper stories and creating my own election scrapbook.

My grandfather drove me in his roller skate of a Mazda 323 to the local Republican headquarters. There, I stocked up on Bush / Quayle yard signs, buttons and bumper stickers.

I was ready for the big debate.

My suburban middle Tennessee county was sufficiently conservative, so I would really need to flop not to win.

In addition to my policy points, I had my jokes lined up. This was sixth grade, after all. Not everyone followed politics as closely as I, much to my surprise.

“What does an old car sound like when it can’t get going?” I asked. “Dukakis, Dukakis, Dukakis.”

George Herbert Walker Bush rode to victory that year on the back of his predecessor’s legacy, his wife’s wit and his vice president’s good looks.

During his time in office, he served the nation with strength, resisting both an Iraqi dictator and a ballooning government. Bush was rightly concerned about federal overspending, especially with an overseas war pending.

In a 1990 budget deal with a Democrat-controlled Congress, Bush agreed to raise certain tax rates which contradicted his “read my lips, no new taxes” pledge from 1988.

Ironically, the deal reduced government spending significantly and instituted a pay-as-you-go (“PAYGO”) rule requiring new spending or tax cuts be offset by spending cuts or tax increases.

It created the framework for a balanced budget in 1997 and several budget surpluses in the years that followed.

Robert Reischauer, director of the Congressional Budget Office at the time, called the 1990 budget “the foundation upon which the surpluses of the 1998 to 2001 period were built.”

Bush’s willingness to compromise in order to make some progress arguably cost him his job in 1992 when a silver-tongued southern governor made him pay for breaking his tax pledge.

A remarkable quality of our 41st president was that he did not hold a grudge. He supported his successor and even partnered with him on charitable missions in their years out of office.

While Bush took his surprise 1992 election defeat quite personally, he quickly rose above the fray, leaving a handwritten letter in the Oval Office for the newly inaugurated President Bill Clinton.

“You will be our President when you read this note,” he said, “I wish you well. I wish your family well. Your success now is our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you.”

That, friends, is class and grace and perspective like we’ve never needed more.

Bush moved on with his life… to Astros games and skydiving and watching his children and grandchildren reach the highest levels not of power, but of service.

Scripture says you will know a man by his fruit. Regardless of your political agreement with 41 and his offspring, you cannot argue their high moral character.

Our nation lost an honorable man Friday. We should follow in his civil and stately footsteps.

 

Kevin Thompson writes regularly for The Boerne Star. He can be reached at kevin@kwt.info.

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What Reagan might say about the caravan

Outgoing leaders often save their best for last. In quiet reflection on their years of service, they concretize what matters most in their final addresses to those they led.

The superfluous, the peripheral and the minor take a backseat. What the leaders really believe comes forth.

President George Washington’s farewell address in 1796, with its warnings against political parties, is one example. President Ronald Reagan’s final address in 1989 is another.

Reagan knew when to stand up to bullies and when to let down his guard. Reagan challenged heavy taxes, big government, and communism. He also disarmed his political opponents with wit and respect.

At the conclusion of his farewell address to America, Reagan spent several minutes clarifying a concept to which he had long referred: pilgrim John Winthrop’s description of the Massachusetts Bay Colony as “a city upon a hill.”

“I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it,” Reagan said.

“In my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity.

“And if there had to be city walls,” Reagan continued, “the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it, and see it still.”

Reagan concluded that America is “still a beacon, still a magnet for all who must have freedom, for all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home.”

Today, a caravan of central Americans waits at our southern border. Having travelled thousands of miles, many on foot, these sojourners clearly had “the will and the heart to get here,” as Reagan said.

Many of the caravaners started in Honduras, a country marked by poverty and crime. My sense is a vast majority of these people have good intentions. They are not criminals looking for easy prey. Evil doesn’t flee from evil.

They’re coming for opportunity, for freedom, for the best America has to offer. If they could have come with proper papers through an efficient, legal and understandable pathway, they would have.

Three years before his final address, Reagan had signed an immigration reform law that legalized more than 3 million undocumented immigrants who were living in the United States. He was likely thinking of these people as he put flesh on his vision of America in his farewell message.

He may have also been thinking about economics. He knew vibrant economies need expanding workforces. They need substantial labor to expand infrastructure, make manufacturing competitive and keep services affordable.

If the Gipper were alive today, I think he would say, “Welcome the pilgrims. America can effectively incorporate them into its democracy and into its economy. It has many times over for more than two centuries.”

And if Reagan were to give us a one liner about immigration, I think it would be this:

“Don’t just talk about the walls. Talk about the doors.”

The secret to Lincoln’s greatness

Last month marked the 150th anniversary of the death of President Abraham Lincoln. As John Wilkes Booth pulled the trigger that fateful night, Lincoln’s bodyguard drank whiskey in a saloon across the street. It happened on a Friday, Good Friday.

Only six days had passed since the South surrendered, ending the four-year-long Civil War. The City of Washington and half the nation celebrated. The whole nation mourned its losses. All the while Booth changed his plans from kidnapping to killing.

Lincoln always knew his end might come this way. After his election in 1860, Lincoln traveled a somewhat circuitous route to his first inauguration. From Illinois, he journeyed across the Midwest, up through New York and down the Atlantic coast.

On a stop at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, he made a brief speech about his commitment to the ideas that came to life there four score and five years prior.

The Declaration of Independence, he said, “gave liberty, not alone to the people of this country, but, I hope, to the world for all future time… But if this country cannot be saved without giving up that principle, I was about to say I would rather be assassinated on this spot than surrender it.”

Abraham Lincoln was prepared to live or die on Liberty Hill.

“I have said nothing but what I am willing to live by and, if it be the pleasure of the Almighty God, die by.”

Lincoln believed the principles that sprang forth from Philadelphia in 1776 had the power to change a country, a continent and the world. He was willing to defend them to the death. While the South considered the Civil War an act of northern aggression, Lincoln held a different perspective.

“There will be no bloodshed unless it is forced upon the (U.S.) government, and then it will be compelled to act in self-defense.”

As we know, there was in fact bloodshed and no shortage of it. Seven hundred and fifty thousand men fought and died for their concept of liberty. At each death count,Lincoln was surely tempted to call off the carnage, bring home the troops and resign himself to the coexistence of two nations. He never did.

Lincoln’s greatness stood on this: He knew when to set loose and he knew when to bind up. He set free the slaves and then bound up a torn nation. For the emancipation to live, he knew the division must die.

Through the force of his resolve and the sacrifices of his men, he saw, for six short days, a nation reunited.

After his death, Lincoln’s body backtracked by train to Illinois following roughly the same route by which he came to the presidency. The exhumed remains of WillieLincoln, Abraham’s son who died of typhoid fever three years earlier, joined him on the journey. Like those he had led through the valley of death, Lincoln was no stranger to loss.

By day, open casket viewings of Lincoln’s body drew hundreds of thousands. By night, millions of mourners lined the tracks to pay their respects amidst a bonfire’s glow.

Abraham Lincoln died on Good Friday. In his wake arose a nation more free and more resolved that, in his own words, “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Follow Kevin Thompson at http://www.kwt.info.

Pro-life proliferation in Texas

In January 1984, President Reagan declared the 3rd Sunday in January as “Sanctity of Human Life Day.” The 3rd Sunday falls closest to the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, January 22, 1973. 

Since Reagan’s first declaration, every pro-life president has made similar annual declarations. Each pro-choice president has not. In years without a presidential decree (e.g., 2015), pro-life groups still commemorate the occasion. Henceforth, January 18th was Pro-Life Sunday.

It’s a good time to review the landscape of a controversial topic. Some call abortion the great issue of our time, not unlike William Wilberforce’s quest to end the slave trade in England in the early 1800s or Abraham Lincoln’s acts to abolish slavery in America half a century later.

Others, of course, say the issue is an ultimate test of civil liberty: what one can or cannot do with his or her body.

Let’s start with a recap of the numbers. Planned Parenthood is the nation’s leading provider of abortions. It receives $550 million per year from the United States government.

Guttmacher Institute, a government-funded “reproductive health” research group formerly associated with Planned Parenthood, reports that more than one million abortions occur in the United States each year.

If abortion were listed among the leading causes of death in the U.S., it would rank at the top above heart disease (595,000 deaths per year) and cancer (550,000 deaths per year).

According to Guttmacher and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control:

> Roughly 1 in 3 women will have an abortion by age 45.

> About half (49%) of abortions happen in women and teens under the age of 25.

> Eighty-four per cent of women who have abortions are unmarried.

> African-American women make up 13% of the female population but 35% of the abortions.

The National Down Syndrome Society estimates 92% of babies prenatally diagnosed with Down Syndrome are aborted. I thought the world was missing some joy.

Pollsters are showing the country more or less divided on the issue. Technology is clearly driving increased opposition. Higher definition and three dimensional sonograms are showing parents just how lifelike fetuses can be despite their in utero status.

Policy decisions are also supporting pro-life efforts. Conservative legislatures like Texas’ have required parental permission, waiting periods, counseling sessions and sonogram viewing, all aimed at reducing the procedure’s prevalence.

In 2013, Texas passed a law requiring abortion clinics to be overseen by a doctor who can quickly get a patient admitted to a nearby hospital should something go wrong. Roughly half of the state’s forty abortion clinics lacked such an overseer and were forced to close.

The 2013 Texas law also required clinics to be outfitted like surgical centers. This part of the law is presently under further review by the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans as it would likely cause another 12 Texas clinics to close.

Pro-life proponents advocate for reform in light of the cruelty of Dr. Kermit Gosnell, the Philadelphia abortion doctor convicted in 2013 of multiple counts of first degree murder. The travesty is recounted in vivid detail in the documentary “3801 Lancaster: American Tragedy” (www.3801Lancaster.com).

The Gosnell clinic was surely a worst case scenario. However, its gruesomeness makes me want not to even get close to the possibility again. The more safeguards we can put around the lives impacted by abortion, the better.

 

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. He can be reached at kevin@kwt.info.

The oil slump and its effect on Texas

Texas Railroad Commissioner David Porter recently quoted the president:

“We cannot drill our way to lower gas prices.” – Barack Obama, March 2010

Well, Mr. President, it appears we did – at least in part. Here’s a synopsis of how a barrel of oil sells for $100 in June and $50 six months later.

  1. American Ingenuity. Through rock fracturing and horizontal drilling,  U.S. oil companies figured out how to extract oil from previously unproductive lands. With barrel prices north of $75, it made economic sense to drill relatively expensive unconventional wells in rural U.S. locations and then transport the runs to market.
  1. Arab Stubbornness. Since oil flows like water in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), they don’t need costly setups to increase production. They can turn it up or down at will. Historically, they have throttled back to keep oil prices relatively stable. Whether the Saudis are irritated that the United States failed to topple Syria’s rogue regime or simply perturbed that U.S. producers haven’t restrained their production, they have decided not to turn off the spigot this time. They seem content with $40, even $20, oil in exchange for a return to their historical market share.
  1. Laws of Economics. Supply is up due to the aforementioned reasons and the resumption of production in Algeria, Libya and Iraq. Meanwhile, global demand has moderated for several reasons. First, China overstated its growth and overstocked. Second, Europe’s economy remains sluggish. Third, stiffer machine efficiency requirements are reducing fuel needs.

 High supply and low demand has caused the price of oil to fall to a new equilibrium.

 A big question among U.S. producers and oil & gas states like Texas is: For what price does oil need to sell in order to maintain profitability? Most seem to think between $60 and $80.

A bigger question is: Was price stability sufficiently considered in recent years or was the focus more on whether wells would produce?

My hunch is companies considered capacity more than price. It was more “Will the ground produce?” and less “Will the market pay?”

Oil firms have begun laying off workers (e.g., Schlumberger recently announced it will cut 10% of its workforce). With Texas’ unemployment rate lower than the national average (5.1% vs. 5.8%), we have some room to absorb.

And Texas’ economy is more diverse today than thirty years ago, though only in terms of employment base. JP Morgan Chase economist Michael Feroli has noted that the industry’s share of state economic output is roughly the same as it was in 1985.

This is cause for alarm, as is the high level of leverage that oil companies used to put wells and pipelines in the ground. Banks now own billions in oil industry loans and trillions in derivative contracts (i.e., oil price hedges).

If prices don’t bounce back in the next 6 – 12 months, banks will sustain hefty losses in the form of loan defaults and underwater contracts. That will limit access to capital in other industries.

Finally, the oil field services companies that sprang up in the last decade will be collateral damage if prices don’t rebound soon. Hopefully, all these players have set aside bounty from the boom to buffer a bust.

Retired Southwest Airlines co-founder Herb Kelleher knows that’s not likely the case. He recently recalled a bumper sticker from the late 1980s: “Dear Lord, give me another boom and I promise I won’t screw it up.”

Follow Kevin Thompson at http://www.kwt.info.

Better political mapping will mediate the extremes

Only slightly more than a third of registered voters will vote in today’s mid-term elections. Even in a presidential year, almost half of legal voters forego their constitutional right.

Recently, a political direct mail piece sat on my kitchen table. My son asked me if I was going to vote for the man on the card. I said yes, but that I really didn’t like him that much.

My son struggled to understand. “Why don’t you just vote for someone else?” The short answer is because I don’t care for the principles of his opponent. The long answer is because our system is broken.

As voters, we are less engaged because we are less consequential than ever before. It’s a fact of life: Where you are less needed, you are less present. Star players show up for every game. Benchwarmers come when they can.

Roughly 80% of Congressmen have nothing to fear on Election Day. Their districts are so convincingly one-sided that the chance of an upset is miniscule. They are, for lack of a better term, shoe-ins. No wonder some stink.

What’s more, seventy some-odd Congressmen are unopposed this fall. Assuming they can scrape themselves off the mattress and find their name on the list, they will win. Their constituents are literally unnecessary. So their constituents are disengaged.

Hope can be defined as having options. When people have few or no promising candidate options, they have no hope in the political system.

We live in a time of political extremes. On one hand, most elections are non-competitive exercises in equivocation. On the other hand, Washington, DC, is hyper-competitive and polarizing. Stalemate and stagnation, gridlock and grandstanding are ubiquitous.

Officeholders from “safe” districts cause the impasses. Think about it: If your home district rewards you for purity and not progress, you have little motivation to solve problems. In fact, it behooves you to leave them wanting for job security’s sake. After all, where will you find another job that pays $174,000 a year to maintain the status quo?

Non-competitive districts are the fruit of two things: one, the tendency of like-minded people to settle near one another; and two, political gerrymandering. No human can stop the former. I have an idea for the latter: block political mapping.

It’s pretty basic and quite achievable in the age geographic information systems. No matter how unique a state’s outline may be, you start on the state line in the most northeastern point of the state. You then start drawing a line to the southwest.

At whatever point the line becomes the diagonal of a rectangle that encapsulates the number of citizens a particular political district is required to have, you stop. That is District 1.

Repeat the process until the state (or county, city, etc.) is divided into equally populated, right-angled rectangles. Only the districts along an irregular border such as a river will not be exact rectangles. But they will still be drawn by a non-partisan computer.

Block mapping will bring more competitive races, and rarely does competition fail to increase quality of life. More competitive elections will force parties and philosophies to put their best, least smelly feet forward. “Good enough” candidates will no longer be good enough to win.

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. He can be reached at kevin@kwt.info.

When ambition becomes ambiguous

Doris Goodwin’s “Team of Rivals” profiles the political brilliance of Abraham Lincoln. In the book she references a French aristocrat who visited a burgeoning America in 1831.

Alexis de Tocqueville was sent on a royal mission to examine America’s prisons. But after touring the United States for two years, he published a broader work in 1835 entitled “Democracy in America.” Its insights are timeless and its warnings are timely.

As Goodwin notes, Tocqueville captures the spirit of the age in which Lincoln and his contemporaries rose to leadership. As children of the American experiment, these men recognized the experiment’s distinction from European aristocracy and its value for social mobility.

Tocqueville writes:

“When both the privileges and the disqualifications of class have been abolished and men have shattered the bonds which once held them immobile, the idea of progress comes naturally into each man’s mind.

“Ambition becomes a universal feeling… Every American is eaten up with a longing to rise.”

Lurching forward 175 years: Is ambition a universal feeling in America today? Does every American have a longing to rise?

A handful of factors makes me think not.

First, the post-modern culture ridicules ambition. Take the latest McDonald’s commercial in which a high school freshman scans extra-curricular options: debate team, math team, chess team and then this innovation: “The Chill Out with a McCafe Iced Coffee Team.”

Two less-than-eager team members lure recruits by leaning coolly back in their chairs and sipping on sugary, caffeinated bevs.

Second, the consumer culture levies high finance costs. Consumer lusts leverage future income and limit financial flexibility. Committing tomorrow’s money today makes the present look brighter than the future. It’s tough to see the way up when one is paying the minimum $86 payment on a $8,000 credit card balance.

Third, government benefits neutralize ambition. When taxing authorities provide more and more goods and services, people get complacent. When basics are met apart from a person’s hard work and determination, it zaps his/her drive to ascend. Poor decisions then beget poor decisions.

Fourth, government regulation postpones or eliminates the rewards of ambition. When a business owner has to spend more time complying with laws and regs, the payoff of risk-taking makes less sense. Heavy government intrusion squelches the drivers of growth and mobility, namely, entrepreneurship and innovation.

Fifth, relational inadequacies are growing. In Lincoln’s day, young people served as apprentices and proteges. They built the trust of older generations. They needed these connections in order to survive and they wanted them in order to advance.

Today, TV, movies, video games and Internet browsing often interrupt relationship-building. They can diminish ambition. Very little of modern media is productive or creative. Most is consumptive and reactive.

Not everyone is made to be an entrepreneur. However, everyone is made to create in some way. Media consumption crowds out creativity, and, without creativity, there is no ambition.

Elsewhere in “Democracy in America,” Tocqueville warns against a democracy of unambitious citizens.

In their ignorance and materialism, they are susceptible to a despotic government that “does not break wills, but it softens them, bends them, and directs them; it rarely forces one to act, but it constantly opposes itself to one’s acting; it does not destroy, it prevents things from being born.”

 

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star. Follow him online at www.kwt.info.


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