Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanks Gibbing

We’ve been living in a far away place for the past few years, only recently to have returned – moved back. Over these past few years, Thanksgiving has become our holiday. Yes, we’ve taken Thanksgiving and owned it. It was ours. Interestingly, this was not something that just happened overnight. Seriously, Thanksgiving was certainly not our best holiday until after we moved to Illinois.

After we were married, on our very first Thanksgiving together, we had our very first fight. Yep, Thanksgiving will forever be burdened with the memory of our first fight. It was also the beginning of the traveling holiday. We’re blessed to have our families living close enough to make traveling between my parents, her parents and her grandmother’s very possible. On that day, like many Thanksgivings since, we started the day at her parents – our first meal. After eating a full Thanksgiving meal at her parents, we moved onto the second home – her Grandmother’s. Although this was not a full meal stop, we ate some of the snacks that were offered. And finally, we ventured onto my parents where another full Thanksgiving meal awaited. We progressed from home to home on schedule. It was a schedule we all understood; however, no matter how fair the time is divided, someone will feel like we spent too much time at one place while another will feel like we didn’t spend enough. That was the foundation of our first fight. Although we haven’t had such a fight since, the feelings that were part of that fight have truly been a cloud overshadowing some of the many holidays in the ensuing 20 years.

Yep, for the next nine years, we traveled every Thanksgiving. Not to enchanting new destinations far, far away but from our house, to her parents’ house, to her grandmother’s house, to my parents house. It was not ideal but it worked for us and everyone was mostly happy with the arrangement.

In 1998, we moved our family to Illinois. Yes, and similar to our marriage, the first holiday after this life-changing event was Thanksgiving. It was only weeks after our exodus. No one was quite used to this strange land in which we found ourselves. It was certainly very strange to this group of hitherto Californians. We had only just begun to experience the wonder that is autumn. Most of the leaves had fallen off the trees and the days were getting very short. To the uninitiated, it was quite cold. Though it had a population of 45,000 and it sat right next to a city of 60,000, our little town seemed to be nothing but a small island in the middle of nowhere.

Interestingly, we had never actually prepared a complete Thanksgiving holiday feast. We were both pretty excited about doing the whole kit-n-caboodle but that excitement was not enough to over come the dread we felt at being alone – five people alone together 2000 miles away from the rest of our families. To look at the pictures of the Thanksgiving spread, you can see how difficult the day was for us. The smiles are forced and the windows in the background are very dark – the normal mealtime had passed hours before. We just didn’t get into the holiday mood that Thanksgiving day.

The next eight Thanksgivings though were wonderful celebrations. Sometimes we’d invite new families – others who had recently moved into the area. Our hope was to help other families avoid the disappointing first holiday away from family. The day was a very relaxing day of family togetherness. Our mealtime turned out to be the normal mid-afternoon event, followed by a long evening of games, movies or other family togetherness. Thanksgiving became our favorite holiday. It was MY holiday. My family day. My Day of thanksgiving and My time to enjoy the people that meant the most to me. I fell in love with the holiday.

We’re back in California this year, after moving back to the west coast in February. It isn’t going to be the same as it has been the last nine years. My holiday has to change. My Thanksgiving is no longer MINE. I have to share My Thanksgiving with the Parents again.

Sadly, Grandma Palmer has passed away. She will not be part of Thanksgiving this year. I will miss that stop on our Traveling holiday. In fact, I think I will drive down Imperial Highway just so we maintain the same course we always took before. We’ll drive near her house, though, without stopping. I think it important enough to express some gratitude for what she brought to our lives. She was a very kind woman and I can see much of this in my Dearest.

This year is our 20th Thanksgiving together. 20 years and I’ve a lot for which I most assuredly feel thankful. I think this year will not be anything like those past years. I have matured; many things have increased import while others have lessened. Dearest has been a wonderful part of my life. I can hardly recognize how the time has been spent so quickly. I’m amazed. Our oldest is 17, a senior in high school and eyeing college with great anticipation. It almost seems like yesterday we hadn’t any children at all. The journey has been wonderful but quick. I’m grateful for the intensity with which we’ve lived the past many years. I hope the next 20 will be just as intense and full of life.

My Dearest has never been one to wait for life to happen, grabbing the proverbial bull by the horns and steering the course she wishes to take. I like that! My Dearest has always stood behind me in all my endeavors – even when she was opposed to them – giving me the strength I needed. She’s even helped me get back on my feet when my failures were those she had foreseen. I’ve much comfort knowing how much I can depend on her. My Dearest always expresses her concern for me, never leaving me room for speculation or doubt. I love my Dearest with all my heart even though I seldom show it perfectly. I am grateful for everything she has brought into my life and every feeling she with which she has endowed me.

As we embark on a new chapter in the Traveling Holiday, I know that one thing hasn’t changed. Thanksgiving just would not be a Holiday without Dearest. I fully intend to maintain Thanksgiving as MINE. Sure, I’ll not spend Thanksgiving morning and much of the afternoon sitting in my own family room watching college football. It will still be MINE. Sure, I’ll spend a few hours on the road traveling from our house to her parents’ house to my parents’ house and back again. It will still be My Holiday. Sure, there may be someone who is unhappy with something. That someone will not be one of us. Thanksgiving will still be OURS.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Citi Field Bailout!

20 million dollars a year is hardly enough to irritate your eyes when you consider the price tag of Citigroups bailout came to 326 billion. Citigroup - too big to fail, not poor enough to lose the $400 million dollar naming rights on the Met's Baseball stadium.

The money trail: Citigroup gains their 326 billion dollar bailout and is thus able to afford the 20 million dollar annual payments to the Mets. Here's for an additional taxpayer subsidy to the Mets, who've already been receiving government subsidies for building the stadium which sports Citigroup's name. Excellent, not!

Stop It!

I’m seldom the smartest guy in the room but I’ve seen more than once the multitude of prescriptions many seniors take regularly. Hands full in the morning and again at lunch and again at dinner. Sometimes the ritual is repeated just before bed as well. As much as some of these people take, their health continues to deteriorate. That is it continues to deteriorate until someone comes along and empties out their medicine cabinet. Then starting over from a clean slate without so many prescriptions, a balance is restored and health returns.

I’m not a doctor. I don’t even play one on TV. I don’t claim to know medicine. However, periodically, it seems most doctors rely too heavily on prescriptions. Oh, you’ve got high blood pressure; here’s a prescription. Oh, you’ve got head aches; here’s a prescription. You’re suffering from intestinal infortitude; here’s another pill. Complications from various prescriptions acting on the others are not too rare. We hear about it all the time. Writing another script to combat a symptom might simply be adding another link to an ongoing chain – the symptom itself might be derived from this chain.

I worry that what we’re seeing in Washington is like this illness-Doctor-script cycle. We’ve a big problem, one we’ve watched Washington worry about for a couple months now. It’s big enough to have at least two lame-duck sessions of congress. Hearings, big-three-pleadings and more hearings. Not one of these dim wits has held their eyes open long enough to actually see the cause of the cancer.

The root of all this financial evil can be traced to the most corrupt city in the world – Washington D.C. There resides that gang of marauders known as the Congress and President. They prescribe more and more bureaucrats, taxes and other sham-ridden hoopla to fix any problem they encounter. Seriously, this is the pattern we’ve seen for well over 150 years.

Even though Slavery was disappearing rapidly and it had been illegal for 55 years to import more slaves, the biggest move toward big government in the history of our country happened in the name of “Saving the Union” and the Emancipation Proclamation. I’m not exactly sure what the better solutions would have been but there was a very large body count to go along with this big government decision. I’m not certain if this was necessary.

FDR ushered in a complex string of prescriptions for the ills of his day. Poor education required the development of the Department of Education, which gobbles up a ton of money, educates no one, and hampers what education is left. Private education was simply not enough to meet the grade. Increase taxes on everyone and make public schools where, today, few get educated. Public schools have been around so long they are taken for granted. Even the most liberal minded have to admit the public school system is failing our children immensely. The department of transportation transports no one and gobbles up a ton of money as well. We needed better roads. So, we built an interstate highway system at taxpayer expense, charge no tolls, and kill tens of thousands of businesses, kill railroads, escalate the price of fuel to pay for them forever, and change the cities, air, and oil consumption of America. Housing is bad? We’ve got HUD, which houses people who shouldn’t be housed, at the taxpayer and neighborhood’s expenses, and which has become one of the most expensive and corrupt outfits today. The biggest fraud perpetrated on the American people might have been the creation of the Federal Reserve, which is not federal and hasn’t any reserves. Our money is printed – nearly created out of thin air.

The US automobile industry – more appropriately the big 3 – has known for years there was a big change brewing on the horizon. Rather than prepare for the change, they continued to make oversized, gas-guzzling monstrosities. The American public who purchased these atrocities and the Big three should have to sleep in the beds they made. Seriously, why should others bail them out of this mess? Why should the American Tax payer give money to those who failed when they had a chance to do the right thing? If the government is giving money away, why don’t they give it to those who made the right decisions? There are companies who have solutions right now, who have the technology right now. Let the big-three file bankruptcy; let them fail. The big three might fail big, leaving a void in the American Business landscape. This void would most certainly be filled by those organizations that have already made the necessary changes to meet the business environment of today. Let those companies that have spent the money in research and development move into the big factories and assembly lines with their new technology. If we must spend government resources, let us spend them wisely. Support those who have had the necessary forethought to make the technological breakthroughs that could help our auto industry stay at the forefront of technology.

Bureaucratic prescriptions of the past are only just the beginning. Sadly, we’ll see more long before we pull through this crisis. I don’t wish to be a pessimist but I think we’re heading into something far worse than a recession. I think it is probably something more akin to a depression. I don’t think Congress or the President has the right answers for this monstrous problem we’re facing. I don’t think our new President will have better answers. I worry about the day the bill comes due.

Am I completely off base? Is the answer to our problems a bigger, more expensive government? Am I wrong to think we’re going down a dangerous path? Is it OK to spend trillions of dollars we don’t have in an attempt to avoid a depression that might be inevitable? Is it in our best interest to bet the farm on Congress getting it right? Was this what our fore-fathers envisioned for us? Did they get it wrong?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Righteous Traditions of Family

As a parent, I often worry about my daughters' eternal welfare. Although they seem to be happy with the gospel, there hardly seems to be a fool-proof plan for successfully raising children to embrace the gospel. My girls are living their lives in accordance to those things they are taught but what is to say they will continue on this path?

Some of my closest friends from my adolescence and during young adulthood have chosen to live outside the safety of the gospel. Of these dear friends, some seemed to have stronger faith, stronger testimonies and a firmer grounding in the gospel than did I. In fact, I remember getting a letter exhorting me to hold onto the gospel at a time when I was struggling mightily with gaining my own testimony. The author of this letter left the church only a few years later. Although we've spoken many times since, I still struggle with what has happened and why there could be such a change of heart.

Many of those who have turned from the gospel came from households seemingly similar to my parents' home. Family Home Evening, Family Prayer, Family Scripture Reading . . . These are all part of building strong testimonies among our youth. These were part of the lives my friends were leading. Something, however, changed and they decided other things were more important.

So, my thoughts have been more to instilling a foundation of faith, of personal revelation, and of following the guidance of the prophet and other church leaders. We've read about the "traditions of the fathers" in the scriptures.

Tradition can be a force for good or the foolhardy. Seriously, how many traditions have led to harm rather than good? We watch with awe every year as the running of the bulls takes a few more of the trailing runners down. The pain we endure to participate in some of these traditions is frightening. Even as dangerous as some traditions are to our physical welfare, other traditions can lead us away from our Heavenly Father. While many people will embrace certain beliefs because it was the way of their people, these beliefs aren't necessarily going to enlighten them or lead their posterity toward a better tomorrow. Conversely, tradition can also be a means for helping our children recognize how important the gospel is to our lives.
“I would invite all of us to take a moment to reflect on the traditions in our lives and how they might be affecting our families. Our traditions of Sabbath day observance, family prayer, family scripture study, service and activity in the Church, as well as patterns of respect and loyalty in the home, will have a great effect on our children and on their future. If our parenting is based on the teachings of the scriptures and of the latter-day prophets, we cannot go wrong. If every time there is a challenge our hearts turn first and always to our Father in Heaven for direction, we will be in a safe place. If our children know where we stand and we always stand on the Lord’s side, we know we are where we need to be.

“Now, the important thing is that we consistently work to do these things. We will not be perfect at it, and our families will not always respond positively, but we will be building a strong foundation of righteous traditions that our children can depend on. They can hold to that foundation when things get difficult, and they can return to that foundation if they should stray for a period of time.”
Ok, do these traditions guarantee success? No. These righteous traditions will only provide opportunities for our children to learn about Faith. They learn about the Gospel and see how important it is to their parents. What traditions are the most important ones; which will help the most in our efforts to bring a testimony of our Savior's love, the redeeming value of His sacrifice for us, and the importance of listening to His prophets?

I remember well the time we spent during my childhood and adolescence. I remember the efforts my parents made. My father is a meticulous man. Time is managed in everything he sets out to accomplish. Our Sundays were not an exception. Every Sunday had a schedule which focused the efforts and attention of the whole family on uplifting activities. The family always had family prayer before anyone of us had to leave. This meant even those who did not have early morning seminary got up early. After family prayer, those who didn't leave for seminary read the scriptures together. Dinner together every evening, or nearly so. I think all these traditions provided a foundation for successfully teaching my brothers and I the importance my parents placed on the gospel.

How dangerously close I came to rejecting everything! I do not wish my children to come to the brink of disaster before they turn to the Lord. It has been my greatest desire that each of my daughters find their own testimony through their own personal revelations. I can only speak to their minds. It is the spirit that brings the truth of all things to bear on their lives. Not the strength of flesh but the power of the spirit, through the power of divine revelation.

I've embarked on a journey, one that is not new or unusual. I've set out to bring my children to the knowledge of our Savior's love. I want them to know personally of His love for us. I want them to rely on their personal revelations. My testimony can only provide them with an example on which they can rely but it can do precious little in the face of the life they must live on their own merits. It is only through these Righteous Traditions that I can bestow on them an understanding of how important these things really are.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Fuming Mad! Stupid bail-out. Misled Congress.

I started my day at a different office, which meant I’ve spent a lot more time in the car than on a usual commute to work. I listened to the radio about 2 hours longer this morning than I usually would have. I basically flip between two AM stations to get twice the traffic coverage. One broadcasts Los Angeles traffic on the “ones” while the other broadcasts on the “fives”. Generally, there is not a lot different between the two broadcasts but I’m tend to interrupt the pattern with work phone calls, which means I’m not actually getting two traffic updates every 10 minutes.

Anyway, between phone calls and traffic reports, KFWB has an interview with Senator Barbara Boxer. The main point of the interview is predominantly focused on what she intends to do with legislation about the environment now that we’ll be having stronger congressional and Whitehouse support for policies which conform to her point of view. Close to the end of the interview the topic moves toward the “bail-out” the big three are currently seeking. Although I am not fully on board with the environmental legislation she was touting, this was actually where my blood began to boil. I am furious.

When did the federal government become chief loan officer and financier of big business? Yeah, I know. It didn’t start in the last couple months, though that was the biggest foray into the financial world the government has ever made.

For the sake of our country’s long-term interests, I just wish our lawmakers would look at the constitution just a little. Seriously. I have looked and there is not a “Bailout Clause” in the constitution. There is, however a “Bankruptcy Clause” in the U.S. Constitution (Article I, Section 8, Clause 4).

Here’s the deal, the framers of the U.S. Constitution specifically anticipated the nation would have serious economic troubles occasionally. Since this was anticipated, they included the power to enact bankruptcy laws as part of the Congressional Powers. They did not include the power to enact “bailout” laws. Throughout U.S. history, we’ve encountered various economic “panics”. Every couple of decades something in our economy gets off kilter. These hardships always lead to some kind of evolution in state and federal bankruptcy laws. Bankruptcy allows individuals and corporations to hit a kind of reset button. It works.

At some different points the bankruptcy laws have favored the creditor class. The other times, the bankruptcy laws favored the debtors. Here’s the deal. In most cases the economic hardships were eventually manifested in bankruptcy proceedings.

Just as all rivers flow to the sea, bad debt must find its way to discharge. Bankruptcy court is where judges and attorneys and other financial exerts – actuaries, accountants, etc – deal with each case on the merits. Through this process, some sort of solution is arranged. Some people come out OK, while others lose it all. Capital flows from the weak hands to the strong ones and the economy plugs along.

So, why are we doing everything we can to avoid a process that has worked many times over during our 200+ year history? We’ve “bailed-out” financial institutions, which has propped up poor business practices. The natural strengthening of the overall system that is a result of bankruptcy will never happen with a bail-out. The burden of the poor choices rests squarely on everyone’s shoulders.

This leads us to what got me steamed this morning. The U.S. automobile industry is seeking their share of the TARP money. Dire are the consequences if they don’t get a bail-out of their own! That is what they want everyone to believe. Well, what will happen? They’ll have to file for Chapter 11. So?

When the automakers file for bankruptcy, the automobile factories will still be there. The patents and designs aren’t going to disappear. The workers and design teams will still be ready and willing to work. Everyone still has their part in this.

General Motors, Ford and Chrysler – without the legacy costs of pensions and health care and contracts for non-working union members – would be a decent investment for a Debtor-in-Possession form of financing. You know, the kind of financing available to firms who’ve filed chapter 11. Just about any DIP-lender would certainly jump at the chance to go into the management suites to take names, fight the good fight and eliminate any and all deadwood. Over the long term, if U.S. automakers actually paid more for steel than they have to pay for retiree health care, then we would probably see a revival of that industry.

So, what comes of a bail-out? Imagine all that money that we’ve already given to Mr. Paulson. Out of the 700 billion dollars of TARP funds, most has been given away. Not a penny has been given out with strings attached. We have AIG’s executives running off to a conference on my money (Taxpayers). This is seriously not the right plan.

We need to let these organizations follow the path that will provide for the best future, not the easiest path that doesn’t require change. We need to remind congress. We need to send them a message - Bankruptcy is a good solution that will put us on the right road to overcoming these problems. A bail-out does nothing but cost us money and reinforce bad business.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Obama: The Feel Good Brand

It’s been a couple weeks since the election and I’ve had some time to think about it. I am not worried that the American voters made a big mistake. It’s great that a black man can be elected President in America. It does not, however, come close to making up for the great national sin of slavery, does it? Martin Luther King exclaimed that he dreamed of an America where a man could be judged for the content of his character and not the color of his skin. But it looks like most black people voted for Obama because he’s black, not because of what he believes. No, this does not bother me a whole lot by its own merit. It may be a good thing that 12% of the American population woke up and for the first time felt like they belonged to an America where anything really is possible. That is great.

It is pretty sad that a significant segment of the American population has struggled to identifying with their country for so many generations. I wonder, though, if people are any more proud of America than they were before. If people are proud of America for seeing past race, America could justifiably be proud for surprising the world again. But as far as I can tell, people are more proud of Obama than they are for America.

This actually reduces what this election was all about to something less than it otherwise could have been. This election was not about the deficit, global warming, or the neo-cons. It was about a vote people could make to feel better about themselves. Obama offered people that chance. The Republicans got exactly what they deserved for betraying small-government, fiscally-conservative, sound-money and non-interventionist foreign policy principles. They also underestimated how badly people want to believe in something. This election was about feelings not reasoning - Pathos not Logos.

The campaign season started out all right. In fact, there were a few times when I thought it would begin to take off and really become something. It never did. It was not a campaign at all. In most cases, we were subjected to nothing more Barack Obama’s personal history, two years of reality television very well produced and edited. In fact, once Barack Obama convinced America that his story was their story, there was only one way for the election to end. America loves a winner.

Many in the media and even political pundits have compared the Obamas to the Kennedys. I sincerely struggle to even understand what that is supposed to mean. Race still matters in America just like religion still matters. I was beside myself when people would claim Barack Obama was a Muslim as if that were a bad thing. The Obama campaign made it even worse by denying he was a Muslim, as if being a Muslim were a bad thing. Being very touchy on the subject of race, segments of the public turned to religion – a religion that has been rather unpopular in America since the terrorist attacks in September 2001. Anyway, the things that make us different actually tend to make us a stronger society.

People who claim the Obama Whitehouse is the next Kennedy Whitehouse seem to be grasping at romance and nostalgia. These are people who have always wanted to believe that a dynamic leader could take us toward better, more enlightened government. These people are crazy hungry for something that seems to be missing from their lives. They seem to be living their fantasies vicariously through Obama’s life. It is human nature to want to be part of something greater than oneself. The fervor felt by many, however, tends to drive people to do stupid things like burning books or drinking kool-aid.

This election was not about something transcendent like civil-rights, it was a synthetic election. The power of America’s mass media and the entertainment image-making machine harnessed itself to a candidate for national office. Barack became the feel-good brand. He would magically repair America’s damaged worldwide reputation and fix our economy. Seriously, the Obama brand has the depth and staying power of a catchy pop tune. Very much like Dr Pepper, all sugar and caffeine rush but zero nutritional value. You’ll feel better for drinking it but you’re not getting any healthier.

I don’t think Barack Obama was any worse in this aspect than John McCain. Neither campaign had enough substance to support a feather, let alone the lead weight of the economic crisis or world-wide terrorism.

Modern politics is about the manipulation of the people’s emotions. We were barraged by fear, hope, anger and envy. Each campaign founded themselves on these emotions. They used words, images and really compelling but very likely false promises. The Obama Campaign was a masterpiece in manipulation. His was a triumph of style over content. John McCain’s campaign just could not find a big enough line onto which they could latch strong. Certainly, Barack Obama represents the triumph of the cult of personality over substance in American politics. Seriously, anytime people have faith in a man that exceeds their faith in ideas, it’s dangerous. We’re a nation of laws. Ideas should command loyalty. Equality before the law, freedom of speech, a right to own property. These are ideas on which we can hang our hopes. These are the ideas to which we should be loyal.

I might be sounding a bit sore – like a child who has a problem dealing with rejection. Much to the contrary, I am very used to losing. I lose all the time. I’m pretty used to it. It seems, though, that the high voter turnout was a disaster for people who love liberty. Some have argued that high voter turnout ensures better results or better government. Generally, high voter turnout is only a triumph for State power. It means that people who believe the government should have a great role in your life have succeeded in politicizing ever greater aspects of private life. Every problem becomes political. Every solution requires a new law. This election made one thing clear: Americans tend to believe in big government power, they just disagree about whom it should be directed against.

Why do people have so much secular faith in politics and in ‘transcendent’ men like Obama? It seems this trend has coincided with a loss of faith in the institutions which used to give life meaning and purpose. Things like family, community, the local school or the local church have been marginalized. We’ve become less about the local and more about the federal. Big government has become the mediator in a world that has become ever smaller, pushing out the local relationships. People have used the government to enforce their moral outlook on the world, the entire world. Once life used to be about the community. How many of us even know our neighbors anymore?

People are actively seeking a way to bring meaning to their lives. Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor, says men can find meaning in their lives in three ways. First, through work that matters. Second, through relationships with other people. Third, through the attitude which we choose to have when we encounter the suffering life inevitably throws our way. Today’s America is largely made up of people who are alienated from their work, they see it as merely a vehicle to pay off their mortgage. The trend has been for us to recognize our work as less than the work we want to do with our lives. Most of us do not find meaning in our work. We labor, sweat, but gain no fruit.

The family has also been marginalized, reduced importance due to too much time looking at the television, e-mailing and texting constantly. We’re completely free to pursue our individual goals and desires and selfish pursuits. We have more ways than ever to communicate but we find ourselves alone more than ever.

Church and community have suffered in much the same way as the family but on a much grander scale. We moved from the mid-west to the west coast. The biggest shock to the family was the lack of community even among members of our congregation.

Most Americans don’t suffer anymore. We were born into a world of plenty. Plenty of energy, plenty of credit, plenty of food, plenty of surplus. Suffering in the modern world has no redeeming value – no value at all. When we do suffer it is a self-imposed torture of sorts. We voluntarily go to the gym, we commute through harsh traffic, we suffer through work. Superficial suffering. These aren’t in the service of any worthwhile purpose. They do nothing to give our lives meaning.

Barack Obama gave people something to which they could tie their wagon, gave them something to make them feel like their lives had meaning by voting for him. I don’t really understand how he pulled it off. I did see this, though, on the news when the media would show his rallies. People used to find meaning in the day-to-day relationship. Family, friends, neighbors. The cult of individual materialism and the Nanny State paternalism has made the relationship between a man and his government more important than any of these. This is rather depressing.

I fear people are going to ultimately be disappointed. Some may even be devastated. Political rhetoric can make you feel good for a while, something like that feeling we get when our sports team wins the championship. The sun always rises the next day and life remains the same as it did before – all the challenges, fears, hopes and opportunities are still the same. Mr. President-elect cannot live life for us. He cannot pay our mortgage, fuel our cars, make our jobs gain meaning they didn’t already have. He cannot fix our love-lives or our other relationships. Life is still the same as it was before the election. Seriously, wherever we go, there we’ll be.

So, the President-elect has a big job ahead of him. The task ahead of him may be greater than the man. In fact, I think it is probably greater than any man. John McCain and his team would be in the same boat but would not be burdened with the extreme expectations that accompany Barack Obama. My good wishes are with our President-elect. God’s speed.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Baptism by Fire

Baptism for many members of the church takes place shortly after the eighth birthday. Mine was 34 years ago. Many children were baptized that day. I don't remember just how many there were, just that it seemed to be a lot. This feeling is confirmed by how full the chapel was, where the services before and after the ordinance were held. I remember feeling the spirit and that my father was the man who performed my baptism. I am told my grandfather Gibson attended, which was rather unusual since his relationship with the church was strained for a good part of my life. I did not do well recording the events of that day. I think the earliest entries into my first journal are a few years after this experience. It would be nice to look back on this very meaningful event with greater clarity.

Eleven years later and a few months after I arrived in Japan, I was blessed with the opportunity to participate at a baptismal service. The sister who entered the waters of baptism that day described her feelings and the blessings she felt as she came out of the water "clean" from her past life. I considered her words and the testimony she bore that day. It was certainly a blessing to her that she was going to remember those feelings for the rest of her life. I've worked diligently to bring back to my mind the events surrounding my baptism. I longed to remember my experience in light of what she expressed was hers.
Joseph Smith said: “You might as well baptize a bag of sand as a man, if not
done in view of the remission of sins and getting of the Holy Ghost. Baptism by
water is but half a baptism, and is good for nothing without the other half—that
is, the baptism of the Holy Ghost” (History of the Church, 5:499).
Although the day we become members of the church and the day we gain a remission of our sins through immersion in the waters of baptism is very important, more important is our confirmation and blessing associated with receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost. There are two examples of the visible manifestation of the Holy Ghost in the scriptures - the New Testament. The first was at our Savior's baptism:
“And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo,
the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a
dove, and lighting upon him” (Matthew 3:16)
The other example is the day of Pentecost. The Apostles had no doubt been ordained, but the Lord had now left them. They wondered what to do. They remembered He told them to stay in Jerusalem, and so they obeyed. And then it happened.

They were in a house, and there was “a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty
wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.
“And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.
“And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:2–4).

I sat in church today thinking about this Baptism by Fire, the event in which we are cleansed fully and we receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost. I sat thinking about the single event in our lives that is Baptism by water. Most people who are baptised into the Church experience that only once. An event of such significance an event that prepares us for the greater gift. My thoughts wondered to the Baptism by Fire. This event, though great is also very personal. Many people witnessed my baptism by water. Most were not in attendance for me. Many were baptized that day. At the very least, members of the church are baptised before two witnesses. Baptism by Fire, however, is a very personal experience seldom shared with others.

Baptism by Fire. Filled by the Holy Ghost. Our sins and the past life consumed by the fire of the spirit. We confirm our commitment to the Lord and our faith through baptism. We make promises and begin our new lives as disciples of the Savior. Through our Lord's great atonement this cleansing is made possible. And through that atonement and the companionship of the Holy Ghost, we continue to gain access to the cleansing power.

Is Baptism by Fire a one-time event? That is the question I pondered today as I partook of the sacrament. Are we left to wander in the sins of this world? The wonder that is the gospel, the joy that is the redeeming power of the Atonement and the cleansing power of baptism by fire do not and should not be a single, once in a life experience. This is the blessing that is the gift of the Holy Ghost. This is the blessing that is the Lord's Sacrament. This is the blessing that presents us with an opportunity of a new beginning every week.

I felt joy today for the first time in quite a while. It is an exuberance I have not felt for months. With this joy came the realization I am not alone. I am not left to my own devices. Oh, how great the plan of our Redeemer! The grand scale of my Heavenly Father's love and the love I feel radiating from our Savior, Jesus Christ. Through His grandest of all sacrifices, we gain access to the sweetness that is forgiveness and the cleansing power of Bapitsm by Fire.

No, it is not a one-time, fix it and leave it plan. Our human frailties leave us in the grips of the bitter fruit. We are not lost if we but pull ourselves back to the love of our Savior. The grand scope of the Atoning sacrifice is enough. All the Lord requires of us is a broken heart and a contrite spirit. We can regain that which we may lose. The darkness is fleeting in the great warm glow of the Savior's atoning sacrifice.

If you find yourself wandering without direction, feeling down-trodden and the weight of the world on your shoulders, you can find peace and comfort. If you are vexed by your weaknesses, turn to the Savior and He will help you overcome. We do not have to go through this life alone. Come unto the Savior.

Come unto Jesus, ye heavy laden,
Careworn and fainting, by sin oppressed.
He’ll safely guide you unto that haven
Where all who trust him may rest.

Come unto Jesus; He’ll ever heed you,
Though in the darkness you’ve gone astray.
His love will find you and gently lead you
From darkest night into day.

Come unto Jesus; He’ll surely hear you,
If you in meekness plead for his love.
Oh, know you not that angels are near you
From brightest mansions above?

Come unto Jesus from ev’ry nation,
From ev’ry land and isle of the sea.
Unto the high and lowly in station,
Ever he calls, “Come to me.”

Text and music: Orson Pratt Huish, 1851–1932

Back Fires, Traffic and More

It's pretty late after a long day. Everyone should be asleep, certainly. I can see the flames from the back fires the fire departments are setting to try and take control of this wildfire. I am, however, ahead of myself, actually.

Shortly after the last post, we headed out. It was better the family went someplace that was not right at the scene. We decided to go to my in-laws home. We could at least try to get a little distance physically if we could not mentally. Besides, my mother-in-law cooked up some posoli. Who in their right mind would pass up the opportunity for some good home cooked posoli?

Before we could head west, we needed to get some fuel. No one had eaten lunch either. So, while I filled the tank, Jennifer and the kids ran into the convenience store and picked out some snacks. Snacks and 44 ounce fountain drinks. About two hours and 15 miles later, I wished I had held off on the drinks. Whew, that's some tough stuff! The traffic was not going anywhere. We weren't either. We were on a street near a park. I decided I could wait no longer and had Jennifer come around to the driver's seat while I walked into the park to use the facilities. When I was done, they had only moved about 50 feet. Seriously, the traffic was going no where fast.

We finally got to the in-laws and the posoli after nearly 4 hours. Four hours to go 30 miles. I don't think I have ever had such problems getting someplace ever before. I drive in traffic to work every day. In most cases, I'll spend about 2 hours to go the forty-five miles to work. I've thought about this and I think we've got a lot of planning to do. Emergencies and our highway systems aren't very compatible. We've got major problems in Southern California and the freeways are among some of the more serious.

Before we left to return home, I learned about the back fires. We needed to realize that though we might see the flames of the fire, it was a strategic fire, set to gain control of the wildfire. I've sat here tonight, after helping get everyone into bed - making sure they were comfortable with the situation - watching these fires as the worked their way up from the south to the north along the hills west of our home (out the front window). The fires build up to pretty significant intensity. some flames seem to be shooting greater than 100 feet into the air. Although these are controlled fires, A single ember could ignite yet another fire.

My daughter who spent the day with the band to compete in a field show competition, called me on their way back. I guess the fires were burning pretty close to the Freeway south of our home. I tried helping her to feel better. She was a nervous wreck. I tried to comfort her with talk about the efforts the Firemen were making on our behalf.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Home again, home again, jiggitty jig!

The past few weeks, and yet for another few weeks, I've been spending quite a bit of time traveling for work. I just got home from San Francisco after being away for most of the week. This has been making it difficult to get anything worth posting put together on this blog. I actually have some ideas I'd like to share, some of them I've written down but haven't had the wherewithall to get it posted. I actually [found some power for my laptop] while at the airport yesterday and typed up some thoughts but there was no way to get connected to the internet from the airport since I didn't have a wireless card on the laptop. Now I'm home but have been too busy to set up the laptop and get it connected to my home network.

Anyway. It is good to be home. I've a little over a week before I head off again. I've got two more trips to S.F. before we're done up there for a while. It will be nice to have this project completed.

Southern California is burning. I've two fires blocking two of the routes I would take to go west from my house, which leaves me with one. I hope people are alright and their homes are protected. I worry about firemen getting hurt. I'm glad someone is trying to protect us, though. We're not so close to the fires that we're in danger - I'm glad. Looking out my front window, though, I can see the hills that are burning. It is pretty close, close enough we're taking the dogs with us while we go run some errands. I hope the Santa Ana winds will die down soon.
The one fire is burning close enough that I could see it from my front door. Lucky for us, the wind is blowing away from our home not towards us. It has the whole family concerned, though. As you can see, the fire is just over the hill. We can see the aircraft dropping the water and fire retardant on the fires, though I was unable to get this in the picture.
Brea/Carbon Canyon Fire
It isn't too far away.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Churches and Politics

Section 501(c)(3) of US Code Title 26, which governs tax-exempt organizations, reads:
(3) Corporations, and any community chest, fund, or foundation, organized and operated exclusively for religious, charitable, scientific, testing for public safety, literary, or educational purposes, or to foster national or international amateur sports competition (but only if no part of its activities involve the provision of athletic facilities or equipment), or for the prevention of cruelty to children or animals, no part of the net earnings of which inures to the benefit of any private shareholder or individual, no substantial part of the activities of which is carrying on propaganda, or otherwise attempting to influence legislation (except as otherwise provided in subsection(h)), and which does not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.
According to many, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has stepped beyond the bounds established for a tax-exempt organization. These people are calling for revoking the church's tax-exempt standing with the IRS because through inciting its members to donate time and means to support Proposition 8, the church has now made a substantial part of its activities attempting to influence legislation. According to antagonists, the church was able to secure millions of dollars in cash and in-kind campaign contributions to a group that supported Proposition 8.

The church claims it was well within its rights to act as it did in support of this and other like measures across the country. Evidently, there is confusion as to exactly how involved the church was in this campaign. The Family, a Proclamation to the World, is explicit in defining the relationship of the man and woman in marriage as being paramount. Recent discussions about this have not been any more forceful than at any other time. It was this document that provided me with the guidance I needed when making my personal decisions about the role of the government in regards to the nature of marriage. After describing marriage specifically as that relationship between a man and a woman, we are called to promote these measures.
We call upon responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society.
I was inclined to believe 
otherwise. I was inclined to support an environment in which people could make the decisions to live their life, accepting the consequences of those decisions. Of course, many would suggest there are certain aspects of life that aren't decisions at all. Having to live with the consequences of non-decisions is patently unfair.

Consequences of non-decisions. I live with consequences of actions, decisions I make and decisions others make for me. Consequences are always a part of life whether we like them or not. We cannot always control consequences. Controlling consequences is a bit like controlling the weather. However limited our control, anything we do to subvert or change them will generally result simply in a postponement of the ultimate outcome. 

So, churches get involved in politics all the time. It is only a very rare circumstance when the LDS church also gets involved. When it does, it is not embraced well even by the membership of the church. We discussed this in our home as well. You see, we're all pretty well versed in what the standard position of the church is as it comes to politics. This is a position that was established early. In fact, it is recorded in Section 134 of the Doctrine and Covenants:
We do not believe it just to mingle religious influence with civil government, whereby one religious society is fostered and another proscribed in its spiritual privileges, and the individual rights of its members, as citizens, denied.
The standard statement from the church during every political season seems to follow a common course:
The Church does not:

• Endorse, promote or oppose the political parties, candidates or platforms.
• Allow its church buildings, membership lists or other resources to be used for partisan political purposes.
• Attempt to direct its members as to which candidate or party they should give their votes to. This policy applies whether or not a candidate for office is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
• Attempt to direct or dictate to a government leader.

The Church does:

• Reserve the right as an institution to address, in a nonpartisan way, issues that it believes have significant community or moral consequences or that directly affect the interests of the Church.
So, the churches statement of political neutrality coincides with scripture. But does the actions taken in the months leading up to this political season conform to this policy? Some have argued it has not; however, if we return to section 134 we recognize even in 1834 Joseph Smith understood there may be a reason for the church to take some action:
We believe that religion is instituted of God; and that men are amenable to him, and to him only, for the exercise of it, unless their religious opinions prompt them to infringe upo0n the rights and liberties of others; but we do not believe that human law has a right to interfere in prescribing rules of worship to bind the consciences of men, nor to dictate forms for public or private devotion; that the civil magistrate should restrain crime, but never control conscience; should punish guild, but never suppress the freedom of the soul.

We believe that rulers, states, and governments have a right, and are bound to enact laws for the protection of all citizens in the free exercise of their religious belief; but we do not believe that they have a right in justice to deprive citizens of this privilege, or proscribe them in their opinions, so long as a regard and reverence are shown to the laws and such religious opinions do not justify sedition nor conspiracy.
Arguments for both support of Proposition 8 and support of standing down from such involvement could be made from just reading this passage.

The church will generally refrain from any sort of political support or denouncement. In the case of Proposition 8, the main trajectory or focus has been to restate those doctrines as described in The Family, a Proclamation to the World. Some calls for members to align themselves with other organizations who were supporting the passage of Proposition 8 have provided grounds for antagonists to suggest the church has been more directly involved in politics than it should.

I was not one of those who jumped into this with both feet. In fact, our family did not provide money or time to the campaign. There was not any point at which I felt compelled to do more. Mobilization of the members in this campaign stemmed primarily from the consciences of the individual members and not from church leadership.

At what point is it appropriate for the church to make strides into the Political arena? If the fundamental doctrines of Family are not strong enough motivators, is there ever a time when the Church should be involved?

Monday, November 10, 2008

What's in a dream?

A response to Th's inquiry here.

Most mornings I wake with little or no memory of any dreams I might have had during the night. In fact, when memories of a dream persist beyond regaining consciousness, I rarely hold onto them longer than it takes to pour myself a bowl of Capt'n Crunch. By my own experience, I would probably seem to be more skeptical of most people gaining anything of significant value from their dreams.

Contrary to what it might seem, I do believe we could all gain a lot if we could harness and fully comprehend those things we observe in our dreams. The dreams I can recall are seldom presented in cinematic detail. Instead, I am presented with disjointed pictures (some motion, some static) and sound. While some of the dreams I recall were silent black and white pictures, others have been 360° panoramic monstrosities complete with surround sound.

Deciphering meaning from these dreams is seldom easy. I remember waking from a dream while I was living in Japan. This dream was one of the more vivid. The dream depicted a moment in time just before a tsunami was to make landfall. It was not a normal tsunami. The spectacle of the event was drawing crowds of monumental size. I found myself running from person to person trying to warn them to leave the beach, decrying the foolishness of giving into their human yet morbid nature of curiosity.

I succeeded in convincing just a few would be spectators to seek higher ground. Leaving the terrible yet awe striking sight for safety, I turned my back on those that would not heed my call.

I woke from the dream in confusion. This dream was too vivid. In fact, 25 years later, I still remember the dream as if I had just had it. I could not parse its meaning or even if it had one. However, the pattern of forgetfulness did not repeat itself with this dream. Not only did it persist through my morning bath, I remembered it long enough to record it the next day. Yes, I took the time to actually record this dream in my journal.

I could not tell if the dream held any special properties beyond my ability to recall it. Years later after returning home, the dream seemed to hold some value beyond the vividness with which it was presented.

I dreamed the dream in the first months of my mission. I was blessed on my mission. The average missionary would return home after two years, only witnessing two baptisms. An article in the Los Angeles Times reported Japan as being the "Mount Everest of Missionary work". I felt the joy of meeting many times the average converts for a two year mission. Still, I felt as though I was struggling against severe odds. I felt an urgency that I had problems relating to those with whom I would speak.

I returned home feeling that my efforts were nearly in vain. A young mother and her children met me at the train station on my way to Tokyo. She expressed deep appreciation for my choosing to serve a mission. Although I've always contended that had I not been there someone else would have, she would not believe me. She knew it was only because I brought them the spirit that she learned of the truth. I could not convince her otherwise.

Years later, I was reading through my journal when I came upon the entry which contained the dream. It was only then that I realized this dream was a metaphor. My mission was very much like my experience on that beach. Millions of people had to be warned; only a few heeded that warning.

Do all dreams have such vivid interpretations? I do not think they do. Do all dreams have something to tell us? Maybe. Maybe not. We're told dreams are just visions of the work our brains are doing at night while we are sleeping - a logical description of a dream.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Compelled to Serve

Friday, I was blessed with the opportunity to teach early morning Seminary. My daughter was among the students. The class size was quite impressive, actually. I left the experience with something less than optimism in my abilities. You see, I have not recollection of ever having such a difficult time teaching gospel topics. Although the kids were a source of some trouble, other challenges were present as well.

I do not consider myself a teacher. I don’t lecture or preach. My style conforms more closely to that of a conversation instigator. I prefer to ask questions, provoking response and discussion. I did not succeed with this effort Friday. I could not cajole hardly an indecipherable grunt out of the class. What should have been a conversation of Luke 14 which would exceed the 45 minute class period, ended in less than 35 minutes.

Anyway, as just suggested, we covered Luke 14. The main thread that seems to weave through the entire chapter seems to be acting in humility to act immediately on the Lord’s bidding. We should not have to be compelled to come unto Him. Our motivation should not be out of obligation or simply a sense of duty. It should be motivated by humility and love for our Savior.

“A certain man made a great supper, and bade many: And sent his servant at supper time to say to them that were bidden, Come; for all things are now ready. And they all with one consent began to make excuse. The first said unto him, I have bought a piece of ground, and I must needs go and see it: I pray thee have me excused. And another said, I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to prove them: I pray thee have me excused. And another said, I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come. So that servant came, and shewed his lord these things. Then the master of the house being angry said to his servant, Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind. And the servant said, Lord, it is done as thou hast commanded, and yet there is room. And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled. For I say unto you, that none of those men which were bidden shall taste of my supper.”
Our lives are ever increasingly busy with every minute filled with “important business”. I regularly sit on my hands in Elders Quorum, passing on many opportunities to serve. I’ve got all the great excuses. Oh, I work too far away, I pray you’ll excuse me. I have so little time with my wife and kids, I couldn’t possibly squeeze in the time to do that, I pray you’ll excuse me. I’m too tired in the evenings, I pray you’ll excuse me. I’m certain I could list 10s or 100s of excuses to put off service.

When we choose to pursue life’s other options instead of the blessings associated with living the gospel, our place at the mighty banquet will not go unfilled. How do we place a greater emphasis on the things of God and lesser importance on the worldly treasures?

Friday, November 07, 2008

A letter from Senator McCain

Cindy and I would like to take a moment to thank you for your loyal and steadfast support during the course of this campaign. Governor Palin, her husband Todd, our families, friends and campaign staff extend our deep appreciation for your tireless dedication, support and friendship.

It is the end of a long journey and your support through the ups and downs has meant more to us than you may ever know.

Although we were disappointed with the results, we must move beyond this campaign and work together to get our country moving again.

It is our sincere hope that you will join us in putting our country first and continue to work to keep our nation safe, free and prosperous.

We urge you to join us in not just congratulating Senator Obama, but offering our next president our good will and earnest effort to find ways to come together as a nation. Whatever our differences may be, we are all fellow Americans.

We are truly blessed to live in this great country and call ourselves Americans, and we will forever be her loyal servants.

Today, let there be no reason now for any American to fail to cherish their citizenship in this, the greatest nation on Earth.

With warm gratitude,

Cindy and John McCain

The Greatest Men? (Part 2)

With almost a mind of its own, yesterday's post veered from the intended course. Although I haven't any empirical evidence to support my theory, I'd suggest that the greatness to which we esteem Mr. Abraham Lincoln was not the public's original opinion of the man who was killed shortly after spending all but a few short weeks of his administration fighting to hold the republic together. Over 600,000 americans died to make his cause. The south and much of the north was left in ruin. The economy was torn asunder. Complete honesty suggests few of his contemporaries considered Abraham Lincoln more than a great speech writer. History, perspective eased by years to ponder and a clearer understanding have brought most to believe Abraham Lincoln was a great president.

Before sidetracking to the vitriol that has been the tone of this blog for the past few weeks or months, the goal was to suggest George W. Bush might be credited with far more greatness than today's historians and media are willing to acquiesce.

It is probably very difficult to suggest a ranking of these 43 men that is not going to be biased by certain political leanings. The criteria by which such a task should be benchmarked has to be established in as close to an objective manner as possible. Simply going by my first thought that a President should be considered great by how well he upholds his oath of office to "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States," leaves us lacking any real empirical evidence by which to judge. Still far too much room for opinion and subjectivity.

I read a suggestion that a very objective manner in which to rank the presidents would be to look at the electoral college vote. Of course, this might not give us a complete view of what actions the man may have taken while in office or how those actions affected the nation in the long term. Conversely, using this method shows a pretty clear picture and it does not completely disagree with historians.

The top ten round out with George Washington - 96.14%, James Monroe - 90.55%, Franklin Roosevelt - 88.32%, Dwight Eisenhower - 84.65%, Ulysses S. Grant - 75.40%, Bill Clinton - 69.65%, Woodrow Wilson - 67.04%, Thomas Jefferson - 64.71%, Richard Nixon - 64.46%, and Abraham Lincoln - 64.18% (75% if ignoring the southern states which had already seceded before the 1864 elections).

Since Ronald Reagan won one electoral vote in 1976 from a faithless Ford elector, his total was reduced from 94.23% (a number two ranking) to 63.44% (still ranked at a very respectable #12). The '80 and '84 elections are treated like FDR's second and third terms.

These are the voting public's view of the top ten presidents of the United States based on the electoral college. Wartime and the aftermath seems to be one of the more significant common threads. Of course, there are some exceptions.

Is this a fair way to reason out who might be the greatest of the POTUS alumni?

Thursday, November 06, 2008

The Greatest Men?

A 2008 History News Network "unscientific and informal" poll among professional historians found that 98 percent believed that the George W. Bush presidency was a failure, and that 61 percent believed it to be the worst in history. Although there is little evidence now to suggest history will be much kinder than this, it may be a little early to make such a judgment. So, just how will history paint the George W. Bush administration?
“As far as history goes and all of these quotes about people trying to guess what the history of the Bush administration is going to be, you know, I take great comfort in knowing that they don’t know what they are talking about, because history takes a long time for us to reach.”— George W. Bush, Fox News Sunday, Feb 10, 2008
Considering there have been 43 United States presidents who’ve come from a broad spectrum of backgrounds from peanut farmers to scholars to military heroes, these men served their country with pride and dignity. Most of them have succeeded in the dignity part anyway. Accomplishments of this relatively small number of men are significant. They are the men who made this country into the leader of the free world and have kept it in that position for many years. Presidents like Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Ulysses S. Grant and John F. Kennedy are a few of the many great presidents that helped bring the United States to its political and economical position.

Ranking the presidents in an order of importance or greatness is one that leads to much subjective reasoning. Individual political slants will taint any objective efforts. In fact, looking at many of the polls taken and the participants of these polls, an obvious liberal slant is exposed. One such example is the poll Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. presented in the New York Times Magazine for December 15, 1996. The participants of this poll were thirty historians plus politicos Mario M. Cuomo and Paul Simon. It helps to know that the historians (and two politicians) doing the ranking are nearly all left-liberals.

The results of this poll matched up pretty well with a number of earlier polls particularly considering the ranking of presidents regarded as Great or Near Great. The three great ones were Washington, Lincoln and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Jefferson, Jackson, Polk, Theodore Roosevelt, Wilson, and Truman ranked as among the Near Great. The failures listed Pierce, Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, Grant, Harding, Hoover, and Nixon. Nixon rested smack at the bottom of the list.

One of the respondents asked, “How can one evaluate such an idiosyncratic President [as Nixon], so brilliant and so morally lacking?” James MacGregor Burns certainly wore his liberal tinted glasses that day.

By what standard are we then to rank a president against his peers? Certainly, we look at a person’s job description when we consider how well they’ve performed their jobs. So, it would be best to consider the Constitution as the best place to look for the criteria of a great president. In four short paragraphs, Article II, sections 2-4 enumerate the powers of the president. It comprises but four paragraphs, most of which deal with appointments and minor duties.
Section 2. The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States; he may require the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any Subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices, and he shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment. He shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law: but the Congress may by Law vest the Appointment of such inferior Officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the Courts of Law, or in the Heads of Departments. The President shall have Power to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, by granting Commissions which shall expire at the End of their next Session.

Section 3. He shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient; he may, on extraordinary Occasions, convene both Houses, or either of them, and in Case of Disagreement between them, with Respect to the Time of Adjournment, he may adjourn them to such Time as he shall think proper; he shall receive Ambassadors and other public Ministers; he shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed, and shall Commission all the Officers of the United States.

Section 4. The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.
A brief and straightforward description of the President’s duties, it seems the framers and those who ratified the Constitution never intended the presidency to be a powerful office. The president’s duties are to act as commander in chief of the army and navy, but Congress alone can commit the nation to war. The president is to faithfully execute the laws that only congress can enact within the scope of its limited powers.

Looking at the polls again, it seems many have ranked past presidents based on a near sacrosanct view of political power and an idolization of those who wield it most lavishly in the service of left-leaning causes. Just look at how presidents Lincoln, Wilson and FD Roosevelt are ranked. Truman left office in near disgrace because of the Korean conflict is now admired for his use of nuclear weapons and his efforts to preserve the New Deal.

Alas, I am also content to admit my political slant when judging a president’s greatness. I seek little in the man who leads this country. I seek a man who will uphold the constitution and enforce federal laws.

I suggest the historians will ultimately put a decidedly liberal slant on George W. Bush’s administration. I suggest they will look at what Mr. President has done and in time rank him higher than they do Richard M. Nixon who remains at the bottom of the list. George W. Bush has taken more power to himself than any of his peers. He has definitely compromised the constitution and many of our liberties in the name of security. It all started after the attacks in 2001 and continued through to the administration's reaction to the financial markets just a few weeks ago. I cannot accept anything that man says without considering what he and his administration has done, blatantly disregarding many aspects of the constitution. Our government is on track to fundamental change – less than perfect change. This is not good. All these changes have been made with the promise of more security. Secure the markets by spending $700,000,000,000 of my children's children's money to buy up companies, taking private companies, using my tax money to buy stock. The government holds a controlling share of AIG. The government now owns Freddy and Fannie. Many other organizations both banks and insurance companies are now partially owned by the government. In truth, these policies smell more like liberal principles than they do conservative ideals.

Who would I rank high on my list of great presidents? It is a difficult task. George Washington was a great man. He stepped down after two terms, which established a precedent that lasted until FDR. George Washington’s sensible foreign policy served the country for well over a century.

President Coolidge sponsored sharp tax cuts and made significant strides at reducing the national debt. Of Calvin Coolidge, H.L. Mencken suggested, “there were no thrills while he reigned, but neither were there any headaches. He had no ideas, and he was not a nuisance.” Besides how can you begrudge the only president to have been born on the Fourth of July?

I’m looking for a return to a limited, constitutional government, one that does not rely on a great president.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

A Day of Hope and Despair

I am conservative. I prefer to consider myself a conservative leaning independent but have been registered with a certain conservative party since I was old enough to vote. I find it very important to participate in the whole process from the primaries to the local and national elections.

I see the events that unfolded yesterday with an air of optimism and hope. I am looking at a future that holds great promise. Change is in the air. Positive change is coming our way. No, I've not taken a sip of the cool-aid. I’m not embracing the change of which the Democratic Party is preaching. I do see, however, an opportunity for a change that will provide for the long-term benefit of this country.

Why did John McCain lose? Why did the Republicans lose more than just the presidential election? This was the result of the Republicans forgetting to be Republicans. In the course of the last eight years, Republicans have been acting like a wing of the Democratic Party. This is a wake-up call. I think the Republicans need to realize they win votes by acting like Republicans and they lose votes by acting like Democrats. The Republican brand is about personal liberties over collective security. The Republican brand is about small federal government. Maybe this loss will remind the conservatives that most of our elected officials have forgotten what it means to be conservative. Maybe this loss will help to remind them who they really are. The Republicans were prideful, arrogant and the most irresponsible group of politicians our country has seen in a very long time.

It is quite interesting some have suggested McCain would have destroyed the Republican Party. Although he has made statements that seemed to be more than unconscionable such as the bailout of individual mortgages, John McCain spent most of the last eight years acting more like a fundamental Republican than most. He made enemies because he called the party out on their spendthrift ways. John McCain was one of the only Republicans to hold onto the "Small Government" pillar of the Republican brand.

This is a time for reset, a time for the Republicans to recognize what led to this downfall. The Republicans' - but more appropriately President Bush's - mantra that forces the my-way-or-the-highway style of politics has provided heaps of fowl smelling dung to fertilize this path to destruction. "Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall. Better it is to be of an humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud." (Proverbs 16:18-19)

No, America did not FAIL. The Republicans failed. They failed us. They failed themselves. They failed America. Unless the Republicans take heed, there will be no return from these ashes - there will be no phoenix for the Republicans. This is an opportunity to make the necessary adjustments, returning to the conservative policies that made the strong foundation of the party. This is a time to wake up and do something more than worry about the politician’s welfare and big government handouts. This is a time for change all right. A time for the conservatives to return to those values that made them strong. A time to brush off the smut, dirt and wreaking waste that has been a hallmark of the past few years, we’ve an opportunity to become strong again. It is time for a reset, a return to the true values that is conservatism. Push the reset button, now.

Conservatives must embrace this opportunity. Conservatives must reject the “mandate” Liberals feel they received yesterday. The only mandate that resulted on November 4, 2008, was a rejection of a party who lost their way. There was no reward for a group of disingenuous politicians who spent most of the past decade in a wicked state of debauchery. There was no prize for those who lost their bearings and wandered off after the glitzy but negligent policies that spend tomorrow’s fortunes and today’s liberty for short-term profit and a sense of security.

Today is the first day on the road to recovery. There is hope and today is a new day. There is plenty of room for optimism.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Elect to make your choice known

We've prepared for this day for over two years. Well, some have been preparing for this day for over eight years. Some have actually only been paying attention to what has been going on for a couple weeks. I wish that was the case for me. I have been following the politicking and campaigning since the beginning. Let me just say, I'm very happy it is the first Tuesday in November.

It has been a brutal campaign, very brutal. Both sides have spent more time talking about things and suggesting solutions that are more popular than they are effective. Promises of "95% will get a tax break" and worrying about who has been associated with who have dominated stump speeches. I'm tired of this talk about things that won't fix the problems we are facing in the economy or the security of our nation. I'm tired of flagrant abuses of government power, trampling the Constitution into the ground. I'm tired of hearing about Joe the Plumber or even Joe the Biden. I'm tired of lame politics that put blame on another party when both are responsible for the problems. I'm tired. It is good we've finally come to election day.

It is time "my friends" to make your choice known. It is time for "change we can believe in". It is time to move forward with solutions that may be hard but are for the best of the country. It is time to reach out to your representatives and senators to let them know we're watching every move they make and every vote they cast. It is time to do the right thing not the popular thing. It is time to take back our rights guaranteed under the constitution. It is time. Time.

Both campaigns have left me wondering if we were to connect a generator to the candidates' mouths, how much energy could be captured. Both campaigns have left me wondering if once the president-elect is inaugurated, will we actually do something to solve the problems with the economy? Will we take the drastic steps to put the economy and our freedoms back on the right step? Will we work toward energy independence or was this just more lip service like that we've heard every election cycle since the early 70s? Seriously, can we believe this is going to end up better than any other election we've had in the past 40 years?

Last night while I was talking with my family, I suggested I might write-in my vote. My daughter thought I said I was going to write-in Nixon. I had to laugh, of course.

Well, it is time to do the right thing. Vote your conscience. Go to that polling place and give them your all. Make your vote and do it for the right reason. Vote for those things in which you believe. First, believe in what you're doing. Believe that you're making a difference. Believe in the greatness of this system. Believe that the majority of America will make the right choice. Believe that we're still one nation under God. Believe that God will bless America. Believe that things will improve. Believe!

I am hopeful. I hope we can do the right thing. I hope congress and the new President will work out the problems in the most efficient way. I hope the "right thing" is not a harness of severe debt for generations yet unborn. I hope for the best we can be. I hope. I hope. I hope.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Who shall be our guide?

I remember some of the most memorable experiences from my childhood were those times my father led us boys on an adventure. We went off to some undeveloped place, a wilderness of sorts, and headed out to see what there was to see. Dad seemed to find places that felt to a young boy as if they were unexplored. The tails we followed looked to be forged by wild game or were dry river beds. Although the hikes weren't much more than a day trip, they were really fun.

I think about our little treks into the wilderness and realize how little they truly were when compared to the epic adventures on which the pioneers and ancient Israelites embarked. In a fashion, like my brothers and I following my father on these grand adventures into the unknown, the Israelites followed Moses into lands they had never been.

Imagine that you're about to head out on such an adventure into a wilderness where you have never been and that has not been mapped. What would you do to prepare for this journey? I think that among provisions and gear one of the more important things would be to have a good guide. You know someone who had been there before and knew of the pitfalls the journey would present. This guide would also have to be someone who would put the best interest of the company ahead of everything. His chief concern should be the welfare of those whom he guides.

When Moses and the children of Israel entered into the wilderness, their guide was our Lord. No better guide could be had and no guide would consider the welfare of their caravan any higher. The experiences the Israelites had while they took their journey through the wilderness can teach us important lessons as we journey through mortality. One of these lessons is that we can trust God to guide and care for us as He did the Israelites.

Our lives are full of choices, places where the path of life seems to split. It is times like these that we realize how much we need the help of someone who knows the better way. How can we be sure to remember Him and learn to lean on His arm?