Saturday, May 10, 2003

Edifier du Jour-Malachi 4:4-6(NASB)
4 "Remember the law of Moses My servant, even the statutes and ordinances which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel. 5 "Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD. 6 "He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse."
Those were the last words of the Old Testament1, and He spent them talking about family. In a culture that seems to dis the role of parents, we need to pay heed to that warning. Children are stashed in day care and stashed in front of the boob tube, while parents are then stashed in senior centers and nursing homes as they grow old. Too often, our culture leaves the raising of children on auto-pilot; we can't count on kids getting all their spiritual education in Sunday School. I'm probably preaching to the choir here, but dads, you need to spend less time in front of the TV (or the computer-ouch!) and more time with your children. Verse 6 was the cornerstone of a Dennis Rainey Promise Keepers' sermon we saw last night at a men's meeting at church last night. Rainey dwelled on three points for godly dads-seeking a right relationship with their Father in heaven, with their earthly father and with their kids. I'm out of the third part, not being a father yet (at least I'm married now, so that only 40% of PK rhetoric isn't for me rather than 80%), but I can work at having a better relationship with my parents. Remember that one of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:12) goes as follows-"Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you." We're in parent-honoring season, with Mother's Day tomorrow and Father's Day next month. Just like everyone's in a giving and spiritual mood at Thanksgiving and Christmas, then retreats to their emotional and spiritual miserliness the other 10.5 months of the year, we get all gooey about our folks in late spring and ignore them the other 10.5 months of the year. However, if we want a spiritually fruitful life, we need to be 12-month honorers rather than 1.5 month honorers. 1-for the non-Apocrypha part, before my Catholic and Anglican friends jump all over me.

Friday, May 09, 2003

Mainline Conservative-This latest John Derbyshire piece, pointing out the lack of creationists or pro-sodomy-law staff at the National Review, has quite a few evangelical bloggers upset; David Heddle’s thrown in the towel on NRO, while Ben Domenech, Bobby Allison-Galimore and Josh Claybourn all have expressed their discontent. I don’t think Derb’s construction of “Metropolitan Conservative” is quite accurate. The NRO folks are conservative, but I would classify them as Mainline Conservatives. While none of the NRO staff are Methodist, Presbyterian or Lutheran that I know of, the Catholic/Jewish staff doesn’t quite share the ardor about moral issues of evangelicals. I’ll use Mainline here as my synonym for non-evangelical, using the denotation for the center-left Protestant denominations to cover other religious blocks. There are a few Catholics that would not be in that camp (Alan Keyes comes to mind), but none are writing for NRO at the moment. I’d throw out the metropolitan part of Derb’s construction, for you can find people of his ilk in all towns. My in-laws from Houston would fit the description, as would most of the people I grew up with in Midland, Michigan. Even in the Bible Belt, you’ll have upscale Baptists that are more Bill Moyers than Jerry Falwell. As libertarians like to point out, conservatives aren’t against government, but have a different set of notions of what government should intervene in than liberals do. Liberals tend to want to intervene in the areas of the wealth redistribution, the environment and safety while being permissive on sexual and drug issues, while conservatives want to intervene to protect against sexual immorality and drug abuse and are less interested in “progressive” economic and environmental issues. Economic and moral freedoms aren’t mutually exclusive; libertarians will back both types of freedom, while others might welcome a Christian socialism. There are also gradients of thought on economic freedom and personal freedom; Derb and the others at the National Review are to the left of the evangelical community on some sexual issues. That makes them right-of-center on the issue, but not liberal. However, part of that reticence on passing sodomy laws is a hesitance to use government power; a basic tenant of classic conservatism is to use government action as a last resort where there is an exceedingly clear benefit to such laws. William Buckley and other conservatives have argued for repeal of many drug laws on the grounds that the collateral damage of the drug war is greater than the benefits of reduced drug use. A conservative viewpoint would look to limit the number of laws on the books, even if the laws were prohibiting bad things, for many laws would cause more problems than they solve. In the case of sodomy, it is a hard crime to catch; barring a doctor’s evidence of someone else’s semen in a person’s rectum, it would be hard to find independent evidence of oral or anal sex. If the sex wasn’t consensual, rape laws would apply; if it were, one lover would have to testify against the other. Thus, the problems of bringing a sodomy case make it hard to justify the political capital needed to put it on the books. That brings us to another issue between the mainline conservative and evangelical; evangelicals tend to feel more strongly about moral values and have church life make up a larger percentage of their lives than the average mainliner. Both might be equally skeptical about government, but the evangelical, with more reinforcement of their beliefs, might feel that intervention on moral issues is warranted. The mainline conservative who thinks such things are wrong aren’t as led to pass laws against them. A relative lack of devoutness might make the mainline conservative look moderate, for he might lack the drive to get past the skepticism and want to pass a law. They’re being too conservative in their conservatism, for they prefer the status quo unless proven otherwise. The evangelical is more radical in their conservatism, willing to make change if it would lead to a more godly society. Mainline conservatives aren’t overly fond of evangelicals, for they have a different worldview. Not a fully opposing worldview, but a different one, where Wednesday night classes aren’t scheduled because a lot of people are at church on Wednesday night. The differences on creationism mask an emphasis on personal salvation versus collective salvation; evangelicals tend to take their faith more personally than others do and might well be taken aback by Derb’s “feebly religious” persona. The two camps need to co-exist politically, for neither can form a plurality without the other. Socially, the two camps will continue to be separated, as the evangelical is getting more Bible and less (but far from zero) popular culture than the mainliner. The mainliner is part of the broader culture, while the evangelical is becoming almost an ethnic group, with its own media stores radio and TV stations, magazines and heroes. There is a lot of evangelical culture that the mainliner misses; the only intersection is when you have politically-active evangelical media stars like Farwell, Dobson and Robertson. Yes, the National Review is a conservative magazine, and the staff is conservative. They aren’t theocons, neocons or paleocons, just conservatives. If you’d like to adopt the Mainline Conservative label to describe then, fine. However, they’re still conservatives, and an intra-right food fight isn’t called for.

Cheap Web Hosting Advice-I was using a free hosting service to stash my archive page and some pictures, but that has gone the way of the dodo as of May 1st. That leads me to look at a low-cost server to host the site. I'm also tempted to migrate over to Moveable Type once I get that new server. I have some free web space on my cable modem account, but it doesn't support the CGI scripts needed to do MT. Any suggestions as to where I can stash markbyron.com or bapticostal.org?

Edifier du Jour-Matthew 5:1-12(NASB). I had done a quick run through the Beatitudes back in October, but this Tony Campolo piece cited by Randy McRoberts made me want to take an in-depth look at them again. Campolo is a politically-liberal Baptist who's calling is to fight poverty. After hearing him at the Urbana '87 missions conference, I briefly pondered going to grad school at his Eastern College (now Eastern U.); my neoliberal streak was a bit stronger back then. The Beatitudes are Jesus' message of confort to the suffering and have-nots of the world. However, if you put this verse into the hands of a Social Gospel guy, however, it becomes a tool to both comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Here's the first two 'graphs of the exerpt.
While teaching at the University of Pennsylvania, I became good friends with a young Jewish student who eventually made a commitment to Christ. As I tried to mentor him and give him a direction as to how to live the Christian life, I advised him to go to a particular church that was well known for its biblically based preaching, to help him get a better handle on what the Bible is all about. When I met my friend several weeks later, he said to me, "You know, if you put together a committee and asked them to take the Beatitudes and create a religon that contradicted every one of them, you could come pretty close to what I'm hearing down there at that church. Whereas Jesus said, "Blessed are the poor." down there they make it clear it is the rich who are blessed.
In quite a few churches, an old Calvinist-offshoot ethic is at home, where the elect are wealthy and the poor are likely not to be the elect. Give a Pentacostal twist to that old Calvinist thought gives us the Prosperity Gospel. The rich are materially blessed, but the poor are spiritually blessed. For the rest of this post, I'll put Campolo's stuff in italics after the pertenent verses; it takes it a bit out of order, but not out of context.
1 When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. 2 He opened His mouth and began to teach them, saying, 3 "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Does that mean that the full in spirit are cursed? I don't think so; that would indicate that we're to stay down and beaten. No, this verse means that the poor in spirit are welcome into the kingdom; the Holy Spirit will pick us up-to borrow from Bob Carlisle, the saints are just the sinners who fall down and get back up.
4 "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Jesus said, 'Blessed are they that mourn,' but the people at that church has a religion that promises happiness with no crucifixions.
Tony's friend might have found his way to a Prosperity Gospel joint, where the positives of the Christian walk are overstated, or at least where the negatives are understated. If we follow the Gospel, we're going to tick people off. Some of us will stay poor. Again, this verse doesn't mean that you are cursed if you are happy, but that the people who are mourning will be comforted and brought through their greif
5 "Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth. Whereas Jesus talked about the meek being blessed, they talk as if they took assertiveness-training courses.
There are multiple ways to present the Gospel and to contest for the kingdom of God. Being gentle and humble doesn't mean being a doormat. When injustice happens, we're supposed to aggressively fix it. Of all people, Campolo should get that; he's no shrinking violet as a preacher. Eileen's gentler than I am and is less adept at sticking to her guns. People like her will tend to be less wealthy than others, but will have a great reward for their nuturing spirit in Heaven.
6 "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
If we seek after godliness, we'll be rewarded.
7 "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
It's our natural tendency to be vindictive when wronged. A merciful person will get walked on and undercompensated, preferring to let it go rather than make a court case out of every slight and mistake. They will get an extra dose of mercy from God.
8 "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Someone who is pure in heart has the heart of God; they will be walking with Him.
9 "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Jesus may have talked about the merciful and peacemakers, but those people are the most enthusiastic supporters of American militarism and capital punishment I have ever met.
Campolo was in the anti-Iraq-war camp. I would classify him and other pacifist-leaning liberals as peacewishers, taking about peace but not making peace. A true peacemaker might have to resort to violence in order to get back to a peaceful situation. I agree with him on capital punishment, but you can make a solid Biblical case for allowing it.
10 "Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Jesus may have lifted up those who endured persecution because they dared to embrace a radical gospel, but that church declares a gospel that espouses middle-class success and affirms a lifestyle marked by social prestige.
First of all, people who are persecuted for being active believers have a special place in the kingdom, but I don't think Jesus was preaching a gospel of poverty and failure. The Prosperity Gospel isn’t godly, either; a middle ground between materialism and asceticism is called for What is "middle-class success." Having a good job, a nice house with the proper furniture and appliances, a nice car, decent clothes, a safe neighborhood and a good family. What would the alternative be? An apartment in the project with Salvation Army store furniture, a bicycle to ride to work, and thrift store clothes (if you can find them for a guy 6’5”, two-hundred and *&^*& pounds)? I don’t think all believers are called to give up all nice things. We’re called to be generous and give to those in need, but I’m also called to look after my family. When I looked at an apartment for Eileen and I, I looked for places that would be in a safe neighborhood. That tends to be “middle-class” neighborhoods. I could have save a bit on rent by living in the low-rent part of Lake Wales, but I wanted a place where Eileen could get out of the car in the evening without having to be fearful of being mugged or raped. We need to avoid materialism, but asceticism isn’t godly either, for it tries to deny the physical blessings God gives us. Most people need to move towards frugality, but we need not become materially anorexic in the process.
11 "Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. 12 "Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
This is one that will fly in the face of the name-it-and-claim-it crowd. We will get into trouble because we are Christians, but will be blessed though it.

Thursday, May 08, 2003

Tax Dividend Bait-and-Switch. The Senate is supposed to have agreed on a tax package that will make the first $500 of dividend income tax exempt and exempt 10% of all dividends above $500. The problem with the tax cut is that it doesn't significantly encourage larger investors to buy dividend-paying stocks; a 10% exemption will add a very small amount to the marginal return on stocks. On page 17 of this report on 2000 tax returns, the average person who reports dividends gets about $4,300 based on 34 million people getting dividends and $147 billion in reported dividend income. Note that this is the mean and not the median; I'd like to see the stats that Charles Grassley is citing here that that covers 86 percent of taxpayers with dividend income. This will only marginally affect the marginal after-tax return of investors with large dividends, adding about 0.12% to after-tax returns on dividend-paying stocks, assuming a 4% yield and a 30% marginal rate. That's not going to make a big dent in people choosing stocks income over bond income. The first winner here would seem to be credit unions; their basic savings accounts are shares in the credit union and payouts are officially called dividends. That would make them tax exempt. The second winner here would be stock income mutual funds. Small investors could have about $10,000 worth of funds in stocks earning tax-free dividend income. The third winner would be discount brokers. One trick that has been used in the past is called dividend-capture, where you buy a stock just before it's due to pay out the dividend, then once the stock goes ex-dividend, you sell the stock. You've have a dividend and a capital loss roughly equal to the dividend. If you have $50,000 you could play with for a few days, you could buy 1000 shares Jefferson Jointroints stock at $50/share just before it was about to pay a $0.50/share dividend. On the ex-dividend date, you then sell the stock for $49.50, since the stock's value has lost weight after giving birth to a dividend. You now have a $500 dividend and a $500 capital loss (plus any brokerage fees). If you're in the 28% bracket, you've just got a nearly risk-free $140 tax break for your trouble. However, you can only do this once a year for the full effect. For those people in the big-money class, they'd only get a $50 net tax loss, barely worth the effort; they're limited to $3,000 of excess capital losses each year, so that trick wouldn't work too well.

Edifier du Jour-Romans 10:16-17(NASB)
16: However, they did not all heed the good news; for Isaiah says, "LORD, WHO HAS BELIEVED OUR REPORT?" 17: So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.
Hearing the Gospel is a neccesary, but not sufficient, condition for a saving faith. We need people to deliver the message; even in nominally Christian countries, people often don't know that Jesus Christ is a person, not an explative. Each of us needs to help remedy that.

Wednesday, May 07, 2003

"If Halle Barry married a congressman from Indiana, she'd be Halle Burton"-This is one that doesn't quite want to go away; Josh wondered if there was anything to the story about accounting irregularities at Halliburton, the oil equipment company that Dick Cheney headed up in the 90s. Not really, but there are enough bad bounces to make it easy fodder for the left. First of all, they had the bad luck to have Arthur Andersen as their auditor. Not that AA did an Enron-sized screw-up here, but Enron's accounting firm will draw winks and sneers from the non-accounting crowd; two years ago, the average American would of thought Arthur Andersen was a defenceman for the Maple Leafs. Second, they happen to be in the oil industry; the left loves to pick on the oil industry, even if an ex-oilman isn't in the White House. Thirdly, they happen to have their former CEO get elected Vice President. Fourth, the rebuilding of Iraq will earn Halliburton a pretty penny. That's because Halliburton's specialty is oil facility construction, not because their former CEO is VP. They're the big dog in oil construction; they'd be conspicious by their absence if they weren't in the Iraq mix. Fifth, they are placed in an era where accounting stories are given greater attention. The issue at hand was how to account for the money due from cost overruns. In the past, they only recognized such revenue when they got the money. However, financial accounting typically goes by what is called accrual accounting; you count income when it's earned rather than when you get the money and count costs when they are incurred rather then when they are paid. For example, if you bought duct tape at Sears just before last Christmas and put it on your store card, Sears would count that as 2002 revenue, even though you won't pay them until 2003; they earned the income in 2002. If this was for your business, you could deduct cost of the duct tape as a 2002 expense, even though you didn't pay for it until 2003; you incurred the expense in 2002. What Halliburton was trying to do is count the expected revenue coming from cost overruns when they did the work rather than when they got the money. If they were making up mythical revenue, you'd have a case. Here's a Fox piece from a year ago and a more head-hunting PBS piece from last fall. The accountants interviewed in the piece, after some digs from the usual suspects, seemed to defend the practice. What seems to be questionable is that they waited a year to note that they had made the change in accounting rules; had people known that part of the jump in profits was due to an accounting change, the profits wouldn't look quite as good. The legal question is whether Halliburton investors were significantly defrauded by the lack of disclosure. Even had it been disclosed, it would have been burried in a footnote that only statement analysis geeks would have caught. The $89 million in extra revenue from 1998 doubled the $170 million dollar profit that year. Given that the income was real, the only thing that they were lacking was the information of the accounting change. Those cost overruns were revenue that Halliburton could expect to get. By the transparency standard, counting those did give the investing public a better picture of the company's financial status. I don't think the stock price would have been significantly lowered had their been a proper note in the annual report. Given that Halliburton buyers in 1998 weren't shortchanged, the likelihood of a sucessful lawsuit is minimal. In the case of Enron, fraudulent accounting was used to understate the debt of the firm, defrauding investors. In this case, the chage was designed to properly state the value of Halliburton. The political question is how much of this should be dumped on Dick Cheney's lap. Being a political scientist rather than an accountant by trade, the construction of the footnotes of an annual report aren't going to be something he'd likely be micromanaging. If he had such knowledge, I'd wonder why he'd become such an accounting geek. Given the Enron debacle and the fact that they shared an auditing firm, the foes of the administration will use this even if the transgression was fairly minor. Even if there wasn't any culpable activity by Mr. Cheney, critics can talk about "questionable accounting practices" at Halliburton. Such a charge need not be proved in a court of all or even be proved in a hit piece, they merely need to question it.

Exam-Grading-Break Musings-Now for a quick trip around the web; "passive investment" seems to be what some of my students are doing with their tuition money. Nice Tacitus piece on the free trade deal with Singapore. Singapore is an authoritarian country that supported the war with Iraq; Chile is a functioning democracy that didn't. Who goes to the back of the line? Can you say "He's an SOB, but he's our SOB," boys and girls? Dick Cheney's reupping for a second term as VP. Go easy over at the cash bar, Condi fans; she might have a shot at either unseating Boxer or running in a special election to replace Davis, and get to be VP or even President in 2008. She's making the right noises about Cold War II; if she's not in elected office in 2005, I wouldn't be surprised to see her slide over to State and replace Powell, whose good cop routine has just about worn out its welcome. Kos, whom I've been underviewing for a while, has a good rundown of the Democratic hopeless hopefuls. One nit; Sharpton's your Gary Bauer, not Dennis the Menace (Orrin Hatch for Kucinich, maybe?). Via Christianity Today's blog, this Palm Beach post piece got me on edge with someone calling evangelizing Muslims "un-Christian." It might not be polite, but it is definately Christian; maybe not the liberal version that Mr. Gushee (I'm not making this up) likes, but Christian nonetheless. There's a bigger post here, but it'll have to wait for later. Another CT find has James Dobson in another anti-GOP snit for not being sufficiently pro-Santorum in the latest flap. For me, a mild defense of a less-than-stellar statement might be like the Supreme Court not reviewing a case; they might agree with the outcome, but it's not the case they want to go on the record for. The problem is that religious conservatives don't have any palatable place to go; the Buchananesque Constitution Party's not an improvement and the problems with the president don't warrant a protest vote.

Midday Musings-I'm not good at managing flextime; I managed to "waste" three hours this morning writing the tax piece and playing a game of NHL 98 (it's old but still good, and the Red Wings are now 11-0), only getting out to get my ears lowered and come onto campus a bit before noon. I may have to commit myself to something resembling a 9-5 (or 9-4) schedule in order to keep that slow-out-of-the-gate thing from becoming a habit. After getting here, I'm now grading the 5-point short answer portion of my Personal Finance class. This one got me chuckling; names were not mention to protect the clueless
Q-What details should you be aware of when choosing a bank account A-"Fees, minimum balances, that kind of thing" 3.5, that kinda grade
I'm in a charitable mood; that was a very lame C answer. Mr. Ruffini finds another case of trial lawyers getting their apolitical employees to max out for John Edwards. It's not the first time people have done this in political history, but getting busted twice in about a month (the earlier case was in Little Rock, the new one in LA) is starting to be a trend. I'm a bit slow to mention this one, but we had a SARS case in a Lakeland Highlands Middle School student. It was a bit spooky, since we drive past the middle school in question on our way to and (usually) from church most Sundays. It was even spookier for Dr. Shmidt, who has a son at Lakeland Highlands; he kept him home for two days when the story broke. The Pistons aren't in the mood to spot Philly a 3-1 lead. Good. The one downside is Chancey Gardner Billups, who sprained his ankle last night. He doesn't like to watch, but may have to do so for Game Two.

In Fred We Trust-Steven Den Beste has a good post on not being able to disprove the existence of God. Note that this doesn't prove God exists, but it's always very hard to prove something doesn't exist.
The basic idea goes like this: God, whom I tend to refer to as Fred in the discussion of this theory, used His powers to cause the Big Bang. Since then, he's been watching the universe as it has developed because He wanted to see what would happen (because He didn't know). But Fred does not interfere in the universe, and Fred did not design the outcome. For instance, Fred did not try to manipulate the initial conditions so as to cause humans as a species to appear; it's just one of the many things He has observed while the experiment continues. Too, humans have no souls and when they die they're dead; they're just part of the universe which resulted from Fred's one action in setting the whole thing off. Fred does not listen to prayer; Fred does not interfere. Fred just watches, and He's just as surprised by what's happening as we are. He is not part of the universe and is not subject to its laws, and is capable of watching it in a way which does not affect it, quantum mechanics notwithstanding. If it pleases you to do so, think of Fred as running the universe as a gigantic computer simulation, where He can see what's going on by getting printouts every once in a while or by watching some sort of massive graphics display. Or perhaps He's feeling the lumps underneath the curves of space induced by all mass, Braille-style.
Den Beste points out that Fred's essentially the god of Deism that was popular in the late 1700s; I was thinking that before I scrolled down to the point where he said it. If we can't tell a Fred universe from a godless one, how can we tell whether Fred's merely a passive actor or not? Does Fred just let his copy of SimUniverse run unaltered, or does he change the parameters from time to time? If Fred were to make some stochastic quantum activity change, would the resulting change in the mechanistic universe look like a "miracle" or just serendipity? If all the worlds a simulation, and we are merely subroutines, how do we know if the Great Programmer isn't changing the code or hitting the Recalculate button from time to time if he doesn't like the answer. Taken to the original Fred extreme, the participants have no outside input from Fred and are "free agents." How could we detect an intervention from a supernatural realm outside the mechanistic universe? If the changes were subtle, it would pass itself off as either dumb luck or common psychological changes. Faith could merely be a psychological factor that has largely positive side effects. "Miracles" can be chalked up as mere happenstance. We've only started to see some scientific study of an indirect evidence of God, or at lest in the power of prayer. This study is older than I thought, but showed a significant improvement in cardiac patients who had been prayed for off-site as opposed to a control group who hadn't been singled out for prayer. The off-site part is important, so as to control for any placebo effect of prayer. Other studies didn't show such an effect. If further study points to a positive power of prayer, then there is either something mechanistic but currently unknown going on or we have indirect evidence of the supernatural at work. I can't come up with a great study to prove God's existence, for God doesn't behave like a good guinea pig. However, Den Beste is correct in pointing out that you can't disprove him.

Doing Away With the Income Tax?-Ben might of taken his lead from a post of mine last month for yesterday's post on doing away with the personal income tax, but I don't share his optimism. Based on page 20 of this White House report, here is the 2002 revenue summary.
2002 Inflows
Personal Income Tax 858.3
Corporate Income Tax 148
FICA and Medicare 700.8
Excise Tax 67
Estate Tax 28.5
Customs Duties 18.6
Other 33.9
Total 1855.2
Between the personal and corporate income taxes, there is a bit over half of the total revenue. However, what Ben fails to point out is that almost all of the remainder is Social Security and Medicare receipts. Outside of that, you've got about $150 billion left to finance the non-geriatric part of the federal government. Under the Domenech Plan, he proposed to trim off the following departments-Energy, Labor, and HHS. To be fair to Ben, he was focusing on discretionary spending that could be cut elsewhere, but here are the grand totals for the three departments
Department Billion $
HHS 465.8
Labor 64.7
Energy 17.5
Total 548
That's a little over halfway there. Even at that, we'd have taken out Medicare, Medicaid and unemployment insurance, stuff that state governments would likely pick up; thanks for sending me the tab for all the sunbirds' medical care, Ben. To do it fully, lets try to figure out if we can do without some more departments.
Department Billion $
HUD 31.9
HHS 465.8
Education 46.3
Agriculture 68.7
Commerce 5.3
Energy 17.5
Labor 64.7
Transportation 56.1
Interior 9.7
Office of Personnel Management (reduction) 40
IRS 33
International Assistance Programs 13.3
NASA 14.4
Corps of Engineers 4.8
National Science Foundation 4.2
Small Business Administration 0.5
Other Independent Agencies 16
Total 892.2
We're still coming up a bit short, especially considering that since we're no longer doing Medicare, we're no longer bringing in about $130 billion in Medicare payroll tax money. The states are now stuck with all the cost of managing the poor, all their road and airport expenses and won't get any "help" on education. That is doable, but not all of that tax cut will stay in our pockets, for states will wind up spending money on the poor, transportation, parks and other stuff that the feds used to do, and we'll pay higher state taxes as a result. Also, there isn't a lot of room for additional general revenues to rise; income taxes make up 87% of the non-payroll-tax part of the budget, and we wouldn't be able to count on the explosive growth in excise taxes and tariffs to fund the government. We'd have to raise taxes in order to meet even a bare-bones government, unless you're planning to gut the military in the process. Ain't gonna happen, Ben. Not without a political WWIII and some alternative tax sources, such as a sales or consumption tax.

Edifier du Jour-John 16:12-14
12 "I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 "But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. 14 "He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you.
This is an interesting passage that might play into the Solo Scriptura debate. Jesus didn't tell us everything, but the Spirit will guide us into all the truth. Such things would be consistent with scripture if scripture is accurate, but there doesn't seem to be any clear statement here that would preclude current revelation from the Holy Spirit. This attitude can lead people into problems, for "Christ-centered interpretation" can quickly turn into having the Bible say that 2+2=5 if you think that Jesus would want it that way. That being said, it would seem that the Holy Spirit's job is the guide us, and some of the things won't be clearly laid out in scripture. If we start with the Bible as the constitution, the Holy Spirit can help us pass amendments that expound upon, but not contradict, scripture. We get in trouble when we start to ignore some archaic, insignificant amendment, like the second and fifth, for our own expedience. However, we can get into even more trouble if we ignore the Holy Spirit altogether and try reading the Bible cold. It's not meant to be read that way. It's speaking in a spiritual language and we need an interpreter.

Tuesday, May 06, 2003

Breaking Down The Bitter Left-Part I-Iraq and Hurricane Chad-I'm not sure if James Taranto has what you might call the "bitter left" quite down in yesterday's column-(thanks to Josh for the link)
Dean made a lot more sense on Saturday than he had in the past--but this is actually a drawback for his campaign. Dean's appeal is to the demented wing of the Democratic Party--the folks whose entire worldview centers on the delusion that President Bush "stole" the election. These people sympathized with Dean's pro-Saddam stance not because they care one way or the other about Iraq, but because in their minds the freedom of the Iraqi people and the security of the world were worth sacrificing in order to deny Bush a political victory. By bowing to reality, Dean can't help but alienate his base, and it's unlikely he picked up many sentient Democrats' votes either. He may be destined to join Kucinich, Moseley Braun and Sharpton in the novelty category.
The grumbling about the "stolen" election is a symptom masking a generation of frustration on the left. Conservatives may think that they've been fighting a rear-guard action against creeping socialism for the last seven decades, but modern liberals haven't been able to make progress as of late. The candidates that have been able to get elected post-60s have been from the moderate wing of the party and they've not been able to make any big changes since the Great Society days. Their best hope for some big help to the little guy, Clinton's health care plan, got nibbled to death by the ducks of legislative politics and mismanagement. If the missed opportunity of 1993-94 and the following Gingrich revolution that rolled back the modest liberal progress of the Bush and early Clinton years were frustrating to liberals, 2000 frustrated them even more. With a generally peaceful world and a decent economy, Gore managed only a statistical dead heat with Bush. If I might use the metaphor of the 1972 Olympic basketball championship, where the USSR needed a pair of bad calls at the end of the game to win, the bad calls might have made the difference, but the US shouldn't have been only up by one with three seconds to go. The bitterness about 2000 was both at having lost a squeaker (if it had gone the other way, conservatives would have screamed, too) and having blown a key opportunity. I remember during inaugural week of 1993, Ron Silver, a thoughtful liberal, looked up at the military jets flying overhead. His comment-"They're our planes now." For the previous dozen years, the military had been in the hands of Reagan and Bush 41, the symbol of money that could have been spent on various social projects and of conservative patriarchy. Now, they aren't the left's planes any more. Silber may have supported the Iraq war, but most of his progressive buddies didn't. Often, they are too used to looking at the shortcomings of America to be able to see that even a capitalist patriarchy is an improvement over more authoritarian regimes. They're also more collectivist in their thinking and wanted a UN blessing instead of forming an independent posse. But there is also the feeling that, even if the weights are stacked in the favor of invasion, they still didn't want to pull the trigger. I remember twenty years ago when the Grenada invasion went down, my Reagan-hating friend Dave disapproved of the invasion; it wasn't that mounting what amounted to a SWAT team going into kick out some Cuban-friendly thugs who had taken over a few weeks before was a bad idea, but that it made Reagan look good. I remember saying something to the effect of "Dave, you've got to have a better reason than that!"A lot of people on the left feel the same way with Dubya; they don't want to give him the pleasure of being right. In short, there are a lot of other reasons for the left to dislike Bush than Hurricane Chad. It might be the first thing to come off of the lips, but that just the phlegm that is the symptom of a bigger infection of frustration. This group may not be the most logical, but they are a good hunk of the Democratic primary electorate. He also seems to sell Dean short; he has more gravitas than Dennis the Menace, Moseley Braun or Sharpton combined. Kucinich and Sharpton both seem to have anti-gravitas and Moseley Braun has so little gravitas that you can put it in a flea's navel and still have room for a piece of lint and two caraway seeds. Two of the three are likely not to get to Iowa and the third (likely Sharpton) will be a low-single-digit non-factor. In a crowded field, 20% could be a plurality and the hard-core activist that Dean attracts will be more likely to show up on a cold Iowa evening or New Hampshire afternoon to vote. Kerry and Edwards will have more money, but President Gramm can tell you how crucial a big war-chest of ready money is. If Dean can win one of those first two contests, he might have a shot at pulling off other 20-30% pluralities .

Graham Musings-Bob Graham is slated to officially become a presidential candidate today, finishing the four announcement sequence of the second-tier candidate (announce you're announcing a exploratory committee, announce your exploratory committee, announce you're announcing your candidacy and announce your candidacy). I don't think Bob Graham will get far; he's essentially running the Al Gore 1988 campaign, except as an elder statesmen rather than a young Turk. Like Gore in 1988, he's more liberal than he wants you to think and isn't the greatest speaker. However, the GOP seems to be nervous, wanting to counterspin the announcement with a bucket of negative quotes. Could Graham be the guy they don't want to run against? He'll have some extra help within the elite media, since he's the brother-in-law of the late Washington Post chief Katherine Graham. He'll be a bit less easy to paint as an out-of-touch liberal and Graham's day-on-the-job shtick will make it easier to point to Dubya's Yale preppy side. As a Republican, you'd rather run against Kerry, with his Massachusetts liberalism and lengthy love life, or Gephardt, with his quarter-century of labor-liberal House votes, or Edwards, the "lightweight" (but moving up to at least middleweight these days) trial lawyer. Howard Dean would be an attack ad gold-mine. Graham would be harder to spin, thus possibly prompting the GOP mud machine.

General Versus Specific Morality-I might be slicing words a bit thinly here, but this Andrew Sullivan post on l'affair Bennett is interesting. Spinning off this Ramesh Ponnuru Corner post
If you're a "social conservative" on one issue, do you have to be one on all the others? (In which case, Andrew Sullivan, who opposes embryonic stem-cell research, is socially conservative and National Review, which opposes the drug war, isn't.)
Sully replies with this head-scratcher
...Ramesh makes a good point: there's something slippery about this idea of a general moralizer. It blurs all sorts of distinctions. Is it possible, for example, to be a social conservative in one respect and not another? Could you coherently, say, smoke pot and yet also think divorce is not something that should be too easy to get? Or believe that honesty is critical in public life and yet be a big-time gambler? I'd say yes.
If you have a set of rules that you think have been handed down from God, you're stuck following those rules. People who take their scriptures at face value will largely be "general moralizers," where any difference in moral stance would stem from the difference in their revelation when compared to standard Biblical views. For instance, a devout Rastafarian might be a moral conservative but like his ganja, fitting the first of the dichotomies that Sullivan presents. As for the second, the Bible is largely silent on gambling. The vision of the Roman soldiers casting lots for Jesus' clothes at Golgota might be the biggest indictment, but other verses seem to condemn casting lots as a form of gambling as opposed to "flipping a coin" type of decision making. That makes Bennett's sin one of squandering resources rather than gambling per se. As to the bigger question Sullivan asks, the a-la-carte moralism will mostly stem from an a-la-carte morality. For American conservatives, that will largely be those who take the Bible on an a-la-carte basis, ignoring the parts that are inconvenient. To avoid being a hypocrite in one's own eyes, one needs to discard part of the Bible that doesn't mesh with one's world-view. Others, without a particularly strong faith, see morality as a generally good idea. People with a negligible attachment to a religion can still see that monogamy is better than promiscuity, that honesty is better than lying and heterosexual behavior is generally healthier than homosexuality. A good hunk of morality can be understood outside of the Bible; if I recall correctly, Catholic doctrine talks about such a Natural Law that people intuitively understand even without any religious teaching. Such more-secular social conservatives might get a few of the issues "wrong" but have a basic understanding of morality. However, those of us who have a moral code laid down to us have no good choice but to stick up for what God has shown us. To not do so will get God ticked off at us and hurt our witness by not abiding by what God has laid out. People who don't have a fixed moral code can edit their morals as needed, but I, and others, don't have that option.

Edifier du Jour-John 15:18-23 (NASB)
18 "If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. 19 "If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. 20 "Remember the word that I said to you, 'A slave is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also. 21 "But all these things they will do to you for My name's sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me. 22 "If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 "He who hates Me hates My Father also.
Eileen and I were reading in John 15 in our evening devotional; this passage shows why we have more football tragics than Jesus tragics. For those who are not ready to look towards God, we are a reminder that they're not right with Him. We point a flashlight on things that they'd rather not be seen and think about things that they'd rather not think about. They'd rather talk about the weather or how the Bucs did or even politics before they'd want to talk about drawing closer to God. As someone who suffered badly from rejection as a youth, I've yet to fully internalize the idea that people are rejecting God, not yourself, when you evangelize. The message is binary-do an 180 and come to Jesus or go to the one place that will always lack a non-smoking section. People would prefer a third or forth option; why can't the really goodie-goodies get the first class seats in Heaven while us pretty-good schmucks can settle for coach. Sorry, still no non-smoking section in Hell and Heaven's all first class. People don't want to hear that and they'll take it out on the messenger.

Monday, May 05, 2003

Cinco De Mayo- Given that the Mexicans are celebrating beating the French today, could we start a tradition that everyone's Mexican on May 5th like everyone's Irish on March 17th? Mexican food tastes a lot better than corned beef and cabbage, and the mixed drinks are better than green beer, although Irish coffee's a keeper.

Is Frugality Missing From The Book of Virtues?-Practically everyone's put in their $0.02 on Bill Bennett's gambling and the less-than-honest use of that information. Spudlets, among many, has a good take. Josh Claybourn, as usual, has a good roundup as well. Of the pros, Jonah seems to have the most level headed take. Bennett should be held to account not for the gambling per se, but for the lack of frugality of his gambling habit. On the list of vices, gambling ranks fairly low in my book. I haven't put money on anything since being taken to a local race track for the first and only time about 18 years ago (and came out ahead for the evening on a lot of low-risk show bets; I got $2/race as part of a birthday present). I use to do some sports prognosticating (the skill is still there, as the defending blog NFL prognostication title shows) and put the occasional quarter or dollar on a game as a teenager, but got nervous when anything resembling real money was on the line. For me, sports betting was about guessing about the spread and being able to say "I told you so." The fact that a small amount of money was on the line was secondary to the battle of wits. Thus, I can't launch both barrels at all the people who got into the office Super Bowl or March Madness pool. However, I think Bennett had had bad judgement in blowing hundreds of thousands of dollars on gambling. Yes, he had that kind of money to blow; the czardines won't be out their college money. He could have done a lot better with that money someplace other than casinos. Yes, I'll look to cast the first stone upon myself; there are quite a few things in my budget that aren't the best choices. Someone who is casting himself as Mr. Virtues should do a better job on the frugality front. His gambling habit seemed to be no worse than Michael Jordan's, but His Airness doesn't cast himself as a defender of traditional values. Bennett hasn't been hitting on all eights for a while. Backing Lamar Alexander, who was the most socially liberal of the electable candidates, didn't help. His K-12 project seemed a bit too commercial and not the best use for his talents. Given the gambling habit, did Bennett move towards teaming up with the Edison Project, rather than some other less-profitable but more useful project, in order to pay for his gambling habit? Bennett's foes would like to have this give moral conservatives a black eye. This doesn't lessen the work Bennett has done in the last two decades, but makes him a weaker voice in the short term. He's been shamed sufficiently to quit gambling and could bounce back if he keeps away from the one-armed bandits. However, the aim of the pieces in question aren't to get Bennett to change his ways, but to make him politically impotent. Give him about a year of staying away from casinos, he might be back to his old self. There's a book in this, as well as a rubber-chicken circuit run to talk about the evils of gambling and what it did to his (and others) pocketbooks. Played correctly, he can easily be rehabilitated, for most people have a soft spot for the recovering substance abuser, and gambling can be just as addictive as drugs. Bennett has been relatively out of the limelight the last few years. Rather than ruin Bennett, this episode might bring him back to the summit by talking about gambling as a vice that he had fallen prey to. Conservatives have tried to fight the meme of gambling as a cheap revenue fix; we might just be getting a spokesman with one heck of a testimony.

Midday Musings-After bashing fandom, I'll admit to being happy that Detroit got past Orlando yesterday, being one of the few teams to come back from a 3-1 deficit in an playoff series; only the new best-of-seven format saved them from being only the third #1 seed to be shown the door by an #8. The one thing that irked me is that none of the games were on broadcast TV; that was one of the few time's I regret giving up cable. I don't think the national media likes Detroit much; you don't have a marketable star and they're not in the BostWash media corridor. Another downside of not having cable is not having C-SPAN, thus I didn't get to see the first big Democratic debate. Both Patrick Ruffini and Ben Domenech have breakdowns. Kerry seems to be out-of-sorts, John Edwards might be more than a pretty-boy with lawyer money, and Lieberman seems to have more fire in the belly than expected. Will that hawkish stand play in Iowa? Enough to get close to a plurality in a crowded field, for 25% might win and Iowa assigns delegates on a district-by-district basis, IIRC. However, all of those guys will have an uphill fight to beat Dubya-71% approval ratings, a 53-40 win over a generic Democrat and ~60-35 wins over Lieberman, Kerry and Gephardt. The DLC needs to hunt down that generic Democrat. I'm suprised it took a year, but another round of heat's boiling around Australian Governor-General Peter Hollingworth; the Bostonesque sex abuse scandal that became public a year ago (Hollingsworth was seen to be less-than-diligent, sort of a low-grade Cardinal Law) is flairing up again and PM Howard may ask the Queen to remove him.

Jesus Tragics?-This was an interesting piece on Australian PM John Howard getting the VIP treatment at a Yankee’s game, including a standing O from the crowd. Howard’s a noted cricket junkie, or “cricket tragic” in Aussie idiom. The term’s wide-spread enough to see a Cricket-Tragic blog. While the sports may differ, sports fandom seems to be nearly universal. It’s interesting how society has certain quirks that are socially acceptable and some that aren’t; being devoted to a sport is accepted, while devotion to God is not. One of Nixon’s better-tolerated quirks was a love for the Washington Redskins; Nixon was noted for sending coach George Allen Sr. trick plays to run. Likewise the cricket tragic PM is not disparaged for his love of the game. For those of us who are sports fans, our love of sports is often greater than our love of God, especially if our team’s going good. Sports are a respite from the real world; I recall Earl Warren’s line that he headed to the sports page first, for the sport page had man’s accomplishments and the front page had man’s failures. It’s an easy addiction to get into, especially if you’ve got problems in the real world. Just spend your evenings and weekends watching sports on TV or going to the games in person if you have the geographic and financial advantages to do so. Like the old quip about alcohol, sports aren’t the answer, but it does help you forget the questions. Such fandom is tragic in the sense that they are spending a lot of time on things that only provide a temporary escape for their problems. One of the reasons I make a point of putting my Edifier post first every day is to give God my first blogging fruits (I hope that doesn’t sound too pretentious) and not dive into last nights game or yesterday’s news first. For the faithful in the crowd who are also sports fans, count the time you spend on sports and count the time you spend on Christian activities (“But aren’t they one and the same?”) during the week. If the first starts to get much bigger than the second, rethink your priorities. If we can get the title “Jesus Tragic”, then we’re starting to head in the right direction; it sounds better than “Jesus Freak”. However, give someone an equivalent love of God, and that devotion becomes dangerous. People don’t get their eternity questioned when they talk about the Pistons-Magic series, nor do they get their sin nature question when they talk about whether Carson Palmer will pan out with the Bengals. Taking about your passion isn’t going to be easy; one of the reasons that people become sports tragics is that knowledge in sports is rewarded in conversation. That’s why evangelism is hard work; you’re going to get less flack saying “How about those [fill in local team here]!”

Edifier du Jour-Romans 1:14-16(NASB)
14: I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. 15: So, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. 16: For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
What would be the foolish barbarian of today? If we're to follow Paul's lead, we're to take the Gospel wherever God wants it to go. I'm not the great evangalist going into the darker parts of Winter Haven or Lake Wales, so this is the pot calling the kettle black, but we need to look at where God wants us to focus our Christian endevours. It may well be that my "mission field" is to shephard business students, but it might be something different as well. As we look at the multiple cultures around us (even Warner has a Rastafarian or two), remember verse 16; the Gospel is universal. This isn't just a white-guy's religion (Jesus was likely rather dark-skinned) or a Western one or an old-fashioned one. That should give us some confidence to spread the Gospel in our daily travails

Sunday, May 04, 2003

Edifier du Jour-Proverbs 29:20-22(NASB)
20 A faithful man will abound with blessings, But he who makes haste to be rich will not go unpunished. 21 To show partiality is not good, Because for a piece of bread a man will transgress. 22 A man with an evil eye hastens after wealth And does not know that want will come upon him.
The biblical finance study we're doing at church focused on verses 20 and 22 as anti-gambling passages, yet these look more like general advice against all get-rich-quick schemes rather than just gambling. Rather than use this to bash Bill Bennett (I'll get back to him in the next day or two), this passage is more useful as a warning to invest slowly and surely. Usually, most get-rich-quick schemes are pyramid or Ponzi schemes where the suckers who get in late get the shaft, or multi-level-marketing plans, where the early founders get all the money and the grunts brought on later get very small commissions. It's not fun to get rich slowly, but it's the more time-tested way. The Bible is full of agricultural metaphors and planting a crop is one that is often used. It takes months or years of growth, and often a lot of work watering and fending off weeds and vermin, to produce a crop. We don't have metaphors for InstaWealth. Slow and steady wins this race.

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