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Thursday, July 26, 2012

About Those "Chicago Values"

In declaring family-friendly restaurant chain Chick-fil-A unfit for his city, Chicago mayor, former Obama Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, declared, “Chick-fil-A's values are not Chicago values.” Pardon me, but, No Duh!! This is exactly why so many American cities are pits of hell!

Just two weeks ago a Chicago police sergeant, who also happens to be a decorated veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, compared the violence in his city to what he saw in combat. It's “tribal warfare,” he declared. Much of the violence is a result of gang warfare. And what are gangs the result of? Exactly--the breakdown of the traditional (biblical) family.

On July 9, in a CBS interview, Emanuel said that Chicago's violence problem was about “values.” The CBS interviewer Scott Pelley, asked: “When seven-year-old Heaven Sutton was killed last month, caught in the crossfire, you said ‘It's not about crime, it's about values.’ What did you mean?”

Emanuel answered:  “We've got two gangbangers, one standing next to a kid. Get away from that kid. Take your stuff away to the alley. Don't touch the children of the city of Chicago. Don't get near them. And it is about values.”

In other words, take your gunfights to the alley and slaughter each other there, but leave the rest of us out of it. It sounds like Chicago, along with most every other U.S. city, could use some of those Chick-fil-A values!

What’s more, Emanuel has now enlisted Nation of Islam leader and anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan to help quell the violence in Chicago’s streets. Emanuel said, “People of faith have a role to play and community leaders have a role to play in helping to protect our neighborhoods and our citizens.”

“People of faith have a role to play,” as long as that faith doesn’t involve a biblical view of marriage, right Mr. Mayor? “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil!”

Copyright 2012, Trevor Grant Thomas
At the Intersection of Politics, Science, Faith, and Reason.
Trevor and his wife Michelle are the authors of: Debt Free Living in a Debt Filled World

Corporate Fallout in the Marriage War

Two long-standing and well-known American corporations have reaped very different rewards for their very different positions in the marriage debate.

Chick-fil-A, with over 1,600 restaurants across the U.S., is a privately held and family-owned company that has never been shy about the conservative Christian views held by its owners. According to the official bio of President and Chief Operating Officer Dan Cathy (son of founder Truett Cathy), the “Corporate Purpose” of Chik-fil-A is: “To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us. To have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A.”

Chick-fil-A has long drawn the ire of pro-homosexual groups for its financial support, to the tune of millions of dollars, to pro-family organizations such as the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, the Family Research Council, the Marriage and Family Foundation, and so on. Most of such donations come from the company’s nonprofit WinShape Foundation, which has existed since 1984.

In spite of its opposition, the company has thrived. For 44 consecutive years, Chick-fil-A has experienced positive sales growth. Last year, annual sales were over $4.1 billion. Part of this is almost certainly due to the fact that many, especially Christians, who believe in traditional (biblical) marriage, go out of their way to support the restaurant.

Recently, Mr. Cathy (Dan) reinforced the company’s position on marriage. In an article published in the Baptist Press he stated, “We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit.” Cathy added that, “We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that.”

On the other hand is JC Penney. With over 1,100 stores in all 50 states, like Chick-fil-A, Penney’s (as it is frequently known) is an American icon. The department store chain was founded in 1913 by James Cash Penney (1875-1971).

In his early twenties, Penney began work in the Golden Rule stores. The owners were so impressed with his work ethic that they offered him a share in a new store that Penney himself would open. He later opened two more stores, and by 1907 purchased full interest in all three stores. This was the beginning of the JC Penney brand.

By 1920, there were 120 stores nationwide. By the time of the 1929 stock market crash, there were 1,400 stores. Penney lost all of his personal wealth in the crash, and this took a great toll on his health. While receiving treatment, according to the Southern Baptist Convention, Penney became a born-again Christian after hearing the hymn “God Will Take Care of You” being sung in the hospital chapel. Passing away at the age of 95, Penney lived a long life of significant philanthropy.

Given the recent actions of his company, one has to wonder if Penney is not “rolling over in his grave.” Prior to Father’s Day of this year Penney’s released a print ad that featured a same-sex male couple hugging their two children. The ad reads: “What makes Dad so cool? He's the swim coach, tent maker, best friend, bike fixer and hug giver—all rolled into one. Or two.”

The company also featured a lesbian couple in its May catalog for Mother’s Day. This is in addition to hiring outspoken homosexual activist Ellen DeGeneres as spokesperson in early 2012. Early this year, American Family Association and other pro-family organizations began a campaign urging their supporters to contact JC Penney and request that Penney’s at least “remain neutral” in the culture wars.  

There is significant evidence that this campaign is working. In the middle of June of this year, after only 8 months on the job, Penney’s president Michael Francis left the company. Francis was responsible for the hiring of DeGeneres and the pro-same-sex marriage ads.

Also, since February of this year, Penney’s stock has tumbled. It has lost over 50% of its value, falling from a price of $41.32 to a low of $20.02. What’s more, according to American Family Association, “Standard & Poor's Ratings Services lowered its credit rating on J.C. Penney Co. further into ‘junk’ status.”

Some will dismiss these occurrences as anecdotal, but I believe that there is more to it than that. Both of these companies are large and have high profiles. Their positions in the marriage debate have been widely reported and have elicited passionate responses.

This, combined with the fact that EVERY time (32 for 32) same-sex marriage has been before a state electorate in the United States, it has been SOUNDLY defeated (by an average of 67% to 33%), reveals that Americans are willing to stand up for traditional (biblical) marriage, not only with their wallets, but also at the ballot box.

Of course, as we approach the November elections and the campaigns are white-hot, there is a message here for all politicians: supporting traditional (biblical) marriage is a winning proposition. We’ll see who is paying attention.

(See this column on American Thinker.)

Copyright 2012, Trevor Grant Thomas
At the Intersection of Politics, Science, Faith, and Reason.
Trevor and his wife Michelle are the authors of: Debt Free Living in a Debt Filled World

Bursting the College Bubble

With nearly twenty years of teaching experience, I have a unique educational perspective. Unlike most, I have spent a lengthy amount of time in each of the k-12 education arenas:  public, private, and homeschool. This also includes operating from a strictly secular approach, a strictly Christian approach, and somewhat of a mix of the two.

In the last few months I have linked to several columns on my website which have heralded the next debt bubble ripe to burst in the U.S.—higher education. Americans now owe more on their student loans than on their credit cards—over $1trillion.

In 2011, the average college student graduated with over $23,000 in student loan debt, with 10% of graduates owing more than $54,000. Worse still is that nearly one-third of those who borrow never graduate.

While student loan debt is often considered “good debt,” in that it leads to significantly more income over a lifetime, most recent college graduates are finding that not to be the case. According to a 2011 survey, 53.6% of bachelor’s degree-holders under the age of 25 were unemployed or underemployed—working lower-skilled jobs such as waiter, retail clerk, bartender, and the like, making little or no use of their college education. What’s more, last year Time magazine reported on a study that revealed that 85% of new college graduates are moving back in with their parents.

Of course, student loan debt is greatly due to the astronomical rise of the cost of a college education. The cost of tuition and fees has increased faster than healthcare costs. According to the Department of Education, if these trends continue, by 2016 the cost of a public college will have more than doubled in just 15 years. University of Tennessee law professor, Glenn Harlan Reynolds, in his book The Higher Education Bubble, reports that, with the easy availability of federal funds, tuition and fees have gone up over 440% in the last 30 years.

Yet, even with such dramatic cost increases, enrollment at colleges and universities continues to grow. For decades now in the U.S., a premium has been placed on a college education. In 2009 President Obama vowed that by 2020, America will “have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.” However, some are beginning to rethink such ambitions.

The belief that almost every high school graduate should go to college is another significant factor in the looming college debt bubble. This has led to what George Will recently called “subprime college educations.” This, in turn, has led to, among other things, bloated college faculties and administrations, where, in some ridiculous cases, administrators actually outnumber faculty.

Robert Samuelson notes that in 1940, fewer than 5% of Americans had a college degree. “No more,” he notes, adding that, “At last count roughly 40 percent of Americans had some sort of college degree.”

Samuelson also notes that the increased emphasis on a college education has resulted in “dumbed down college.” Along with lower entrance requirements, sociologists and authors Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa reveal that “45 percent of college students hadn't significantly improved their critical thinking and writing skills after two years; after four years, the proportion was still 36 percent.” Thus, in addition to “subprime college educations,” we are getting “subpar” ones as well.

The emphasis on a college education in America is in spite of Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates which show that only 20% of U.S. jobs require a bachelor’s degree or more. So, given all of this mess, what is to be done?

One part of the solution is something that I have said for years, and Samuelson agrees: there need to be closer ties between high schools and the job market. Yet, as Samuelson points out, by and large in the U.S. “vocational education is de-emphasized and disparaged,” and “apprenticeship programs combining classroom and on-the-job training…are sparse.” Who earns more than a lawyer, a resident physician, or most company directors, Marvin Olasky asks. The answer: a plumber.

Another part of the solution, and this should certainly be the case within Christian education, is that all students need to understand clearly that their worth as a human being is not measured by their academic success. No matter how challenging and dynamic a school’s curriculum, engaging its faculty, or impressive its facilities, some people simply were not made to be in a traditional classroom—especially one that is college driven.

Lastly, one factor that cannot be ignored when it comes to educating children is the influence of family. In fact, it is the most important factor. As a popular columnist noted in 2010, “research suggests that about 90 percent of the differences among the proficiency of schools can be explained by five factors: days absent from school, hours spent watching television, pages read for homework, the quantity and quality of reading matter in the home -- and the presence of two parents in the home.”

In other words, “the best predictor of a school’s performance is family performance.” Until our culture addresses the sad and destructive decline of the traditional (biblical) family, school and student performance will merely reflect this decline.

Copyright 2012, Trevor Grant Thomas
At the Intersection of Politics, Science, Faith, and Reason.
Trevor and his wife Michelle are the authors of: Debt Free Living in a Debt Filled World

Vote No on the T-SPLOST

In early June of this year, Governor Deal signed an executive order freezing Georgia’s gas tax at current levels, preventing an increase that would have kicked in on July 1. The tax had been set to rise .8 cents per gallon. According to the Tax Foundation (and my math), this would have amounted to an increase of about 2.7% above the current Georgia gas tax of 29.4 cents per gallon. CBS Atlanta reported Governor Deal declaring that “taxpayers in the state should not have to take on the ‘burden’ of a gas tax right now.”
Yet Governor Deal has been very supportive of the T-SPLOST initiative across the state of Georgia, which for most areas, would amount to a tax increase of at least 14% over current sales tax rates. Of course, this new tax would apply to almost every retail purchase throughout the state (except gasoline), including prescriptions and food. It would be the largest tax increase in Georgia history.

Given that the average middle-class family spends tens-of-thousands of dollars in retail purchases every year, the T-SPLOST would add an annual burden of several hundred dollars onto these families. Such an increase is much greater than the increase the additional gas tax that Governor Deal rejected would have added.  

Of all of the arguments against this tax increase (and there are plenty), one that I rarely hear is, why is the largest tax increase in Georgia history suddenly so necessary for our transportation wellbeing? I mean, how did we ever fund, build, and maintain road projects prior to T-SPLOST?! As recently as 2010, the Georgia DOT itself pointed out that Georgia has some of the best roads in the country (which PolitiFact rated as “True”).

Last year, mainstreet.com rated the best roads in the U.S. by state. To analyze a state’s road system, mainstreet used four metrics: poor-condition mileage (percentage of roads in “poor condition”), bridges, fatalities, and congestion. Georgia ranked 10th overall, receiving the top rating in poor-condition mileage. This was in spite of reports in 2009 by a state auditor and inspector general that prompted former governor Sonny Perdue to accuse the DOT of “Enron-like accounting.”

Now, speaking of the other arguments against the T-SPLOST, one of my favorites is that, though the T-SPLOST is required by law to expire after 10 years, we will, as Kyle Wingfield of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution notes, “be paying for it, or another tax, for decades.”

As I noted in 2009, often these SPLOSTs result in projects that require spending beyond the funding that SPLOSTs provide. (In the case of the T-SPLOST, this is more accurate for some regions than for others.) Of course, this requires more tax revenue, which means more and larger taxes. When it comes to the T-SPLOST, Wingfield declares, “It’s extremely unlikely that we would spend $2.4 billion on new infrastructure and then shut it down after 10 years. In that respect, the T-SPLOST is very different from a special sales tax for education, after which voters could decide they’ve built enough new schools.”

Another sad consequence of this tax is that it pits taxpayers of one county against those in another. For example, two out of 13 counties in Region 2—Forsyth and Hall—have 58% of the voters. As a sell to Hall County voters, many have deemed Hall a “recipient county,” receiving more money than it would pay in. It is EXACTLY this kind of thinking that has led to out-of-control taxes all across America.

For decades, liberals across the U.S., at the local, state, and federal level, have been notorious for pitting one voting constituency against another. As a method of buying votes and clinging to power, generous government handouts are promised to a particular group at the expense of the ever-shrinking constituency known as taxpayers. No self-respecting conservative should stoop to such tactics.

Also, as a recent Gainesville Times letter writer has noted, and as even liberal columnist Jay Bookman of the Atlanta-Journal Constitution points out, the T-SPLOST ballot language is very misleading. The ballot reads that the proposal “provides for local transportation projects to create jobs and reduce traffic congestion with citizen oversight.”

Bookman notes that in a 1974 case, Sears v. State, Georgia’s Supreme Court warned the Legislature against such actions that would “interject its own value judgments concerning the amendments into the ballot language and thus to propagandize the voters in the very voting booth, in denigration of the integrity of the ballot.”

The Court refused to declare such language illegal or unconstitutional. However, even T-SPLOST supporters should agree that such wording is nothing more than marketing language and has no place on an American ballot.

Georgians all across the state have a weak record rejecting any SPLOST. It is time to say enough. Vote NO on the T-SPLOST!

Copyright 2012, Trevor Grant Thomas
At the Intersection of Politics, Science, Faith, and Reason.
Trevor and his wife Michelle are the authors of: Debt Free Living in a Debt Filled World

John Roberts Bad Call

There was a very interesting occurrence in Major League Baseball recently that had the sports world abuzz. In New York, on Tuesday, June 26, the Yankees were playing the Cleveland Indians.

It was the top of the 7th inning, and with the Yankees leading 4 to 0, Cleveland third baseman Jack Hannahan hit a high foul ball just inside the bleachers down the left field line. Yankee left-fielder Dewayne Wise dove into the stands to catch the ball. Third-base umpire Mike DiMuro ran down the line, threw his hand into the air to signal Hannahan out. It was the last out of the inning and Wise hustled to the dugout.

The only problem was, the ball was never in Wise’s glove. Replay clearly showed that Wise missed the ball. Hannahan saw the replay in between innings and vigorously argued the call with DiMuro. DiMuro tossed him from the game. The umpire’s greatest mistake here is not that he failed to look at the replay but that he failed simply to ask Wise to show him the ball at the end of the play. This is all that was necessary for the correct call to be made.

It seems that John Roberts is suffering from the same affliction as DiMuro. Siding with the liberals on the U.S. Supreme Court, Chief Justice Roberts declared Obamacare constitutional. Through some nifty legal wrangling, Roberts ruled that the individual mandate was unconstitutional under the Commerce Clause but constitutional as an exercise of Congress' authority to “lay and collect taxes.” In other words, in order to allow the law to stand, Roberts rewrote it.

In rejecting the Commerce Clause rationale, the Chief Justice noted that, “Construing the Commerce Clause to permit Congress to regulate individuals precisely because they are doing nothing would open a new and potentially vast domain to congressional authority.” However, as Reason’s Nick Gillespie notes, while Roberts may have closed this window, he opened a door: judicial tax writing.

The four dissenting justices make specific mention of this in their devastating rebuke, declaring such action “particularly troubling.” The four declare that “[W]e cannot rewrite the statute to be what it is not…We never have classified as a tax an exaction imposed for violation of the law, and so too, we never have classified as a tax an exaction described in the legislation itself as a penalty…we have never—never—treated as a tax an exaction which faces up to the critical difference between a tax and a penalty, and explicitly denominates the exaction a ‘penalty.’ Eighteen times in §5000A itself and elsewhere throughout the Act, Congress called the exaction in §5000A(b) a ‘penalty.’”

It’s as clear as instant replay: within Obamacare, the individual mandate is not presented as a tax. As the dissenters note, “The issue is not whether Congress had the power to frame the minimum-coverage provision as a tax, but whether it did so.” It was not sold to the American people as a tax, and liberals continue to argue that it is not a tax. In other words, when it comes to a tax, Obamacare is as empty as Dewayne Wise’s glove. And like Umpire DiMuro, Chief Justice Roberts made a horribly bad call.

The Wall Street Journal points out just how bad. “The decision is an absurd and extraordinarily dangerous interpretation of the taxing power. If Congress wants to mandate people to eat right, exercise, say their prayers at night, would it be constitutional if Congress taxes people for not complying?”

By not upholding the mandate under the Commerce Clause, George Will claims that conservatives “won a substantial victory.” Will concludes, “If the mandate had been upheld under the Commerce Clause, the Supreme Court would have decisively construed this clause so permissively as to give Congress an essentially unlimited police power — the power to mandate, proscribe and regulate behavior for whatever Congress deems a public benefit.”

However, as the Journal alluded to, does not Roberts’ reasoning essentially give Congress “unlimited taxing power?” This is why Alito, Kennedy, Scalia, and Thomas were so “troubled.” The Constitution requires that tax bills originate in the House of Representatives, where, as the dissenters point out, “the legislative body most accountable to the people…must weigh the need for the tax against the terrible price they might pay at their next election, which is never more than two years off.”

The biggest solace for conservatives in this is that the ruling is most likely Obama's death knell. Running against the Supreme Court was his last best hope. Now that he no longer has that option, his chances are as slim as they have ever been.

Remember the 2010 election results? The GOP swept the country (state and federal races). Independents went for the GOP by 15 points (55-40). This was a 23-point swing from 2008. The vast majority of the momentum behind the GOP surge was a direct result of the unpopularity of Obamacare. It remains very unpopular. As Joseph Curl of The Washington Times implied, Roberts just handed Romney the election.

I sure hope so.

Copyright 2012, Trevor Grant Thomas
At the Intersection of Politics, Science, Faith, and Reason.
Trevor and his wife Michelle are the authors of: Debt Free Living in a Debt Filled World

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Conservatives Are Happier Than Liberals

It looks like that, along with being more generous than liberals (see my 2008 column here), conservatives are happier than liberals, with those right wing extremists the happiest of all!!!

From Arthur C. Brooks in the New York Times, "Scholars on both the left and right have studied this question extensively, and have reached a consensus that it is conservatives who possess the happiness edge. Many data sets show this. For example, the Pew Research Center in 2006 reported that conservative Republicans were 68 percent more likely than liberal Democrats to say they were “very happy” about their lives. This pattern has persisted for decades. The question isn’t whether this is true, but why.
"Many conservatives favor an explanation focusing on lifestyle differences, such as marriage and faith. They note that most conservatives are married; most liberals are not. (The percentages are 53 percent to 33 percent, according to my calculations using data from the 2004 General Social Survey, and almost none of the gap is due to the fact that liberals tend to be younger than conservatives.) Marriage and happiness go together. If two people are demographically the same but one is married and the other is not, the married person will be 18 percentage points more likely to say he or she is very happy than the unmarried person. 
"The story on religion is much the same..."

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Barack's Candy Mountains

Much to my wife’s dismay, I very much enjoy the 2000 comedy/adventure O Brother, Where Art Thou? Directed by the Coen brothers, the film chronicles the adventures and misadventures of three escaped convicts masterfully played by George Clooney, John Turturro, and Tim Blake Nelson.

One of the most endearing characteristics of the film is that it is filled with wonderful old-timey American folk music. The opening scene is set to the 1928 song, Big Rock Candy Mountain, sung by Harry McClintock. With lyrics like: “In the Big Rock Candy Mountains there's a land that's fair and bright; Where the handouts grow on bushes and you sleep out every night… I'm a goin to stay where you sleep all day; Where they hung the jerk that invented work in the Big Rock Candy Mountains,” the song is described as a hobo’s idea of paradise.

Of course, the modern interpretation would be that the song is a liberal’s idea of paradise. Never has the U.S. been so close to realizing this “paradise.” Americans’ level of dependency on the federal government is at the highest point in our nation’s history.

According to the Heritage Foundation’s 2012 Index of Dependence on Government, “Today, more people than ever before—67.3 million Americans, from college students to retirees to welfare beneficiaries—depend on the federal government for housing, food, income, student aid, or other assistance once considered to be the responsibility of individuals, families, neighborhoods, churches, and other civil society institutions.”

In 1962, the level of dependence was 19; in 1980 (the base year) it was 100; in 2000 it was 179; in 2010 it was 294. John Merline of Investor’s Business Daily reports that the Index surged 23% under just two years of Obama’s Presidency. This was the largest two-year increase since the Presidency of Jimmy Carter.

Also, as I noted in April, the CBO estimates that 1 in 7 Americans received food stamps last year, while also estimating this rate will rise until 2014. In case you weren’t aware, they are no longer called food stamps. In 2008, the Food Stamp Program became the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). As of the late 1990s, the paper stamps were replaced with an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card that works like a debit card.

You also may not be aware that, along with the food benefits, EBT cards are also used to provide cash benefits. Cash benefits can be used to pay for almost any item, and can be used to make cash withdrawals from participating ATMs, which, of course can be used to pay for anything.

As anyone with an IQ above that of Homer Simpson knows, this leads to RAMPANT abuse. The Boston Herald has reported on several cases of EBT abuse in Massachusetts. Early this year a Massachusetts commission revealed that 85% of EBT cash benefit transactions during the month of January were ATM cash withdrawals. The Herald reporting revealed that, “Unscrupulous merchants and welfare abusers have pilfered millions in tax dollars.” The Bay State abuse involves not only cash transactions, but also fraudulent SNAP sales.

This is happening across the country. A recent Minnesota investigation discovered widespread welfare abuse. According to 5 Eyewitness News, “cigarettes, alcohol, lottery tickets - even tattoos - can be bought with your money. We found welfare cash can be used for all sorts of things never intended, from the Twin Cities to the U.S. Virgin Islands. And it's all legal.”

Eyewitness News also revealed how welfare cash was withdrawn at ATMs inside casinos and bingo halls and then gambled away, and how millions of dollars are being spent on childcare that doesn't exist. As I noted earlier this year, Michigan has million dollar lottery winners so addicted to their welfare, that even after coming into fortunes, they still refuse to wean themselves from the government’s teats.

Then there’s the nation’s “Welfare Queen,” California. National Review reports that, “The main reason that California is so dependent on welfare is its uniquely lax enforcement of the provisions of the 1996 welfare reforms.” California is one of only three states that, after adults have exhausted their welfare benefits, allow the minors in the family to continue to receive them. Thus, 75% of California’s welfare recipients are 18 years-old and younger.

Instead of wanting to curb such dependence, the Obama administration gave us a wonderful visual demonstration of how they plan to create even more welfare queens in the U.S. when they unveiled the poster child of our entitlement society, Julia.

And then there is Obamacare. With the Supreme Court’s ruling—declaring the individual mandate a tax—Americans are now staring at massive tax increase and well over a trillion dollars in spending over the next decade on yet another entitlement program.

Given all of this, in the spirit of Big Rock Candy Mountain, I’ve come up with the theme song for the Obama administration’s reelection campaign: Barack’s Candy Mountains. With lyrics such as,

“In Barack’s Candy Mountains there's a land that's fair and bright; Where the food stamps grow on bushes and you step out every night; Where the TEA Parties are all empty and the sun shines every day; On the birds and the bees and the marijuana trees; Where the lemonade springs where Common sings; In Barack’s Candy Mountains…”

I think I’ve nailed it. Perhaps I could get Julia to sing it.

Copyright 2012, Trevor Grant Thomas
At the Intersection of Politics, Science, Faith, and Reason.
Trevor and his wife Michelle are the authors of: Debt Free Living in a Debt Filled World