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Religious and Free Print E-mail
by Wes Riddle    Tue, Jun 19, 2012, 02:27 PM

Faith and freedom coexist in Western Civilization, not as adversaries as some would have it but in a symbiosis. Faith begets freedom and freedom, faith. When Thomas Jefferson declared the self-evident truth that all men are created equal, he presumed to speak to a people steeped in a certain kind of learning. Self-evidence requires thinking after all.

People aren’t all the same height, weight, color, strength, skill, wealth, IQ or anything. The proposition he makes is accepted as truth only in terms of moral equality. The moral worth of every single individual under heaven is such that rights inhere in them—from a street sweeper to the bank president, from unemployed to self-employed or retired, from blue collar to white collar, from penniless to rich. The proposition is only accepted as truth by Western societies and cultures that emerged through hundreds of years of historic experience with Christianity. Ultimately individuals have rights—rights bound to be respected, because they are children of God and made in his image and likeness.

It may come as surprise to some people today to learn that the most basic and common standards of conduct are all directly linked to systematic codes of behavior based on the morality stemming from religion. ‘Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free’ in one sense alludes to an enlarged physical realm for action, opportunity and a realized potential when (and only when) a majority of people aren’t stealing your stuff; ripping off your limbs; accosting wives, husbands, sons and daughters; tearing down fences; and burning down your house and barn.

If Western societies continue to secularize without regard for religion, then they do so benefiting from a residual good will and habits instilled by millions of people over centuries, who lived their religion and fought to live it; and fought again to keep the freedoms won, in order to follow their faith according to conscience so long as they did no harm to others. It is interesting that so many years removed from the factual dependence of freedom and legitimacy of civil authority on religion, that we have come to view religion and its expression as being dependent somehow on secular authority for legitimacy. Many see freedom as somehow threatened by religious exercise, whether in the public square or on private compounds, instead of seeing religious life as an outgrowth of freedom and the most concrete emanation of freedom possible. Metaphysically, one has to ask whether life has a purpose external to materiality. If so then it is first and foremost the province of religion and spirituality. If not, then life is all a matter of the state belonging to the state.

Fortunately a few states like Texas have court jurisprudence friendly towards parental rights and religious liberties, and the Texas Supreme Court has upheld again and again that religious institutions possess autonomy free from significant oversight by state agencies and courts. The recognition is vital to promoting liberty as understood by Thomas Jefferson and the other Founders. Its presumption is deference by the state to God’s own purpose for every human being and the individual’s prerogative-imperative to seek and find, and to pursue life’s spiritual journey. Any other ordering in terms of respect or priority vis-à-vis the secular state and religion descends into fascism, communism or an autocracy where freedom dies.

Fortunately faith is substantial and hardly powerless, and the greatest achievements in American secular freedom were accomplished on the heels as it were, after a season of revival. The Great Awakening fueled support for ideas animating the American Revolution. The Second Great Awakening served as ideational basis for changes leading to women’s suffrage and an end to slavery. Revivalism led to labor reform and the amelioration of urban problems after the period of rapid industrialization. Now is time for hope and fervent prayer for yet another great Revival to reclaim the legacy of freedom and to meet the unprecedented challenges facing us in the twenty-first century: May future generations be free enough to be religious; and may enough of them also be religious, so that all may keep their freedom.

___________________

Wesley Allen Riddle is a retired military officer with degrees and honors from West Point and Oxford. Widely published in the academic and opinion press, he serves as State Director of Republican Freedom Coalition (RFC) and is in the Republican Primary Run-Off Election for U. S. Congress TX-District 25 on July 31st. He is author of two books: Horse Sense for the New Millennium (2011); and The Nexus of Faith and Freedom (2012). See http://www.wesriddle,net/. Email: This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it .

 

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Lessons I Have Learned Print E-mail
by John Browning    Tue, Jun 19, 2012, 02:22 PM

Around this time of year, graduating students at all levels are treated to pearls of wisdom dispensed by commencement speakers.  Theoretically, the bigger the name of the commencement speaker, the more valuable is the advice given to the graduates—who are probably too busy worrying about the dim prospects for jobs and the looming specter of student loan debt to listen to what the dignitary at the podium has to say.  Nationwide, politicians, celebrities, captains of industry, and towering figures in dozens of fields are exchanging enough pithy words about grit, determination, and unlocking your inner potential to fill the average infomercial or self-help book, all in the cause of collecting a fat honorarium check, an honorary degree, or both.  I feel especially sorry for the graduating law students out there, who are entering a summer that, for most, is characterized by uncertain employment prospects, crushing school debt, and of course the dreaded bar exam.  I wish somebody would pass along some nuggets of practical advice to these young people.  And since I’m not a big enough name to rate a real invitation to give such a commencement address, my only chance to impart some of the lessons I’ve learned comes courtesy of this column.  So here goes nothing.

 

1)            People will never pass up the chance to poke fun at the legal profession, so develop a really good sense of humor (if you don’t have one already).  Case in point: northern Virginia attorney Hana Brilliant, who doubles as the president of the Fair Oaks (Virginia) Volunteer Fire & Rescue Company.  Tired of the ambulance-chasing jokes she heard around the firehouse, Brilliant started the Fair Oaks Ambulance Chase 5k and Kid’s Fun Run, in which runners actually do chase an ambulance and the proceeds benefit the volunteer fire department.  This year’s Ambulance Chase raised over $7,000.

 

2)            Just because you’re becoming a lawyer doesn’t mean you can’t indulge other passions.  Whether it’s writing or roller derby, building legos or banging drums, find time to pursue other interests that keep you balanced and help you find that inner bliss.  Remember that bit about all work and no play?  One great example of having it all is the Honorable Nicole Laurin-Walker, whose day job consists of presiding over misdemeanor criminal offenses as a municipal court judge in Gilbert, Arizona.  But since 2006, the judge rocks by night as lead singer of the Love Me Nots.  Her band’s “modern take on garage rock” has led to four albums, a European tour, and even a writeup in the French edition of Rolling Stone magazine.  A bout with breast cancer convinced Judge Laurin-Walker that “This whole thing can end at any time, so do what you can while you can do it.”  Presiding over shoplifting charges, DUIs, and domestic violence cases may be what she does in the way of a career, but she finds the time to pursue her musical passions as well.  Find your happiness wherever you can.

 

3)            Never stop learning, and be open to learning from unexpected sources.  Armed with your J.D. diploma and a passing score on the bar exam, you may think you know everything.  You do not.  Listen and learn from anyone and everyone, from the grizzled old trial lawyers telling you war stories to the legal secretaries and paralegals urging you to be nice to the courthouse staff.  To this day, I delight in learning—whether it’s from the continuing legal education courses or professional journals that keep me current on the areas of law in which I practice, or even from pop culture.  Rappers like Kanye West have waxed philosophical on the finer points of family law, as in the song “Gold Digger:” “If you ain’t no punk, holla ‘We want pre-nup!  We want pre-nup!/Yeah, it’s something that you need to have, ‘cause when she leaves . . .she gon’ leave with half.”  Similarly, Jay-Z helps break down 4th Amendment search-and-seizure law and the finer points of criminal procedure in his song “99 Problems” when he says “Well my glove compartment is locked, so is the trunk in the back/and I know my rights so you gon’ need a warrant for that.”

 

4)            Be respectful of the judiciary, no matter how they behave.  Judges can be pretty sarcastic when they want to be.  In response to an out-of-state lawyer’s motion to change the venue of a case away from Galveston in the Southern District of Texas, the federal judge noted “Defendant will be pleased to discover that the highway is paved and lighted all the way to Galveston, and thanks to the efforts of this Court’s predecessor . . . the trip should be free of rustlers, hooligans, or vicious varmints of unsavory kind.  Moreover, the speed limit was recently increased to seventy miles per hour on most of the road leading to Galveston, so Defendant should be able to hurtle to justice at lightning speed.”  Smith v. Colonial Penn Ins. Co., 943 F. Supp. 782, 752 (S.D. Tex. 1996).

 

5)            Give back.  Remember why you decided to become a lawyer in the first place.  Maybe it was a lawyer who came to speak at a career day when you were in high school, or some attorney who made an impression on you in your youth, or a relative’s brush with the legal system.  No matter how busy you may be, make some time to give back—to your community, to the legal profession, or to people who can’t afford to pay for legal services.  I was fortunate enough to go through both my undergraduate education and my law school years with the aid of academic scholarships, and I am happy to write checks that will help support future students in getting their degrees.  Similarly, while I’ve won plenty of cases for companies that barely acknowledged the victories beyond paying my bill, nothing compares to hearing the heartfelt thanks of a pro bono client.  A judge I know refers to it as “billable hours for the soul,” and I can’t describe it better than that.

 

They don’t teach you this stuff in law school, but they probably should.

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The Flag and the Republic for Which It Stands Print E-mail
by Wes Riddle    Sun, Jun 17, 2012, 03:26 PM

The Flag was defined by the Second Continental Congress 14 June 1777 meeting in Philadelphia.  The Flag of the United States would have thirteen stripes alternating red and white, and the “union” in the upper left would contain thirteen white stars in a blue field representing the new constellation.  Congress subsequently determined that upon the admission of a new State, its own star would be added to the union on the next Fourth of July succeeding admission.  Thirteen stripes continue to signify the thirteen original colonies, which became the first states of an independent federal Republic.  As you can imagine, the 100th birthday of the Flag in 1877 was quite an occasion considering the nation united had barely survived War Between the States.  Indeed, the year 1877 would mark the end of military occupation and “Reconstruction” in the South.  To commemorate the Flag’s centennial, the U.S. Government requested that it be flown from all public buildings and from that time, unofficial Flag Day celebrations continued each year.  In the 1890s it was popular in Philadelphia for schoolchildren to gather at Independence Square or near the Betsy Ross House to celebrate the Flag’s birthday.  To this day, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is the only state where Flag Day is a public holiday, although the day is observed to honor the Flag in all 50 states. 

October 12, 1892 was the 400th Anniversary of the discovery of America, so that particular Columbus Day celebration was very much anticipated and planned for.  In September that year, a Boston-based youth magazine called The Youth’s Companion published the first rendition of what would become the Pledge of Allegiance.  When Columbus Day rolled around the following month, some 12 million school children across the nation recited the words.  Originally the pledge was to “my Flag,” but so many immigrants had come and were coming to the country by the late nineteenth/early twentieth century there was justifiable concern that some might mistake the meaning!  In 1923 “my Flag” became “the Flag of the United States,” and the following year it became “the Flag of the United States of America.”  Also in 1923 citizens who gathered for the first National Flag Conference in Washington, D.C. not only amended language of the Pledge, but also codified guidelines for “unofficial” proper display and respect for the Flag.  Their National Flag Code served as basis for what became public law, adopted by Congress in 1942 and contained in Title 36 of the United States Code.  The Pledge was included in that code and so gained official sanction.  A year later the Supreme Court ruled that school children could not actually be forced to recite the Pledge, although virtually every schoolchild did. 

The last change in the Pledge of Allegiance occurred on Flag Day 1954, when the words “under God” were added.  President Dwight D. Eisenhower remarked, “In this way we are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America’s heritage and future; in this way we shall constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country’s most powerful resource in peace and war.”  The resultant thirty-one words comprise an individual profession of loyalty and devotion, not only to the Flag but to an American ideal and way of life: I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands: one Nation under God, indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.

The insertion of the words “under God” was particularly key and fundamental—and a proper change, although most advocates argued the words were implied from the beginning and generally understood in much the same way as “my Flag” had always meant “the Flag of the United States of America.”  Notice, however, that while many people will recite the Pledge with a pause after Nation, there is in fact no comma there.  The words “under God” modify Nation and qualify the word indivisible.  To Boston educators who wrote the word “indivisible” into the first draft appearing in The Youth’s Companion, it may have meant something more than the words “under God,” either implicitly or explicitly.  To Southerners, however, the words “under God” mean and have always meant the most.  Indeed, it is only if and as the Nation remains a moral compact—sanctioned, blessed, protected, in accordance with Him as it were—that any manmade Union or governmental construct can or should be considered indivisible.

 

___________________

Wesley Allen Riddle is a retired military officer with degrees and honors from West Point and Oxford.  Widely published in the academic and opinion press, he serves as State Director of Republican Freedom Coalition (RFC) and is in the Republican Primary Run-Off Election for U. S. Congress TX-District 25 on July 31st. He is author of two books: Horse Sense for the New Millennium (2011); and The Nexus of Faith and Freedom (2012).  See www.WesRiddle.com, e-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

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Who is a journalist in the new media age? Print E-mail
by Will Lutz    Sat, Jun 16, 2012, 05:22 PM

What is required to be a journalist?

Two things, replied Sarah Palin: integrity and work ethic.

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Fast Food Theories Threaten Economic Health Print E-mail
by Martin Hutchinson    Thu, Jun 7, 2012, 08:50 AM

Bloomberg Businessweek of May 29 had a fascinating article propounding a “Big Mac” labor value theory, and using it to suggest that all restrictions to international migration were economically damaging. I have disagreed strongly with that conclusion from time to time in this column beginning in 2004, but yet found the basic data evidence compelling. I thus thought it worth deconstructing the article’s logic to see where its reasoning was in error and what economically sound conclusions could be drawn from the data presented.

The earnings evidence is clear. In the United States, a McDonald’s employee earns an average of $7.22 per hour, compared to a Big Mac cost of $3.04; thus the employee earns 2.38 Big Macs per hour. In India, the average employee earns 46 cents per hour while the Big Mac costs $1.29, so the employee earns 0.36 Big Macs per hour. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, both employees do the same work; thus the U.S. employee earns 6.6 times as much as the Indian employee, simply for living in the United States.

The article then goes on to recount the fate of employees of one of the big Indian software companies, who earn far more when transferred to the United States than they do in India, and are then back on Indian pay scales when they return to India. The article draws from these examples the highly questionable conclusion that world welfare would be maximized if all immigration barriers were removed, so that Indian McDonalds employees and software engineers could flood to the United States and earn the juicy remunerations available in the Land of Opportunity.

It requires a little deconstruction to determine why this conclusion is rubbish. Is the differential between Indian and U.S. McDonalds employees purely a matter of location, and would Indians be able to pick up the higher U.S. living standards by mass migration to the U.S.?

One factor glaringly left out of the Bloomberg Businessweek calculation is that of productivity. Its glib assumption that the job of McDonalds employees in India and the United States is identical is almost certainly wrong. For one thing, a Big Mac occupies a different market position in the relatively impoverished India to that in the United States.

Even when I lived in Zagreb, Croatia, a country considerably richer than India, McDonalds had a very different social position from that in the U.S. Being American, McDonalds was where the relatively affluent young Zagrebacki hung out on a Friday evening. For families, being taken to McDonalds was more of a treat than in the U.S., and children’s birthday parties were held at McDonalds even by the affluent and sophisticated. The “product,” defined to include the ancillary services and overall experience, was different too. You were much more likely in Zagreb to have the food brought to your table when it was ready, and the outlet was spotlessly clean, far more so than most McDonalds in the United States. 

For the less affluent in Zagreb, there was an alternative to McDonalds in the cevapi houses, which served the local delicacy of meat on a skewer, accompanied by a little salad in a pita bread half. Those outlets were “faster” than McDonalds – more crowded, with rushed service and tables that weren’t spotless. While the cevapi were delicious, they doubtless involved less McDonalds-style quality control.

Given that the product and its market position were different in Zagreb from the United States, I’m quite sure staffing levels and the jobs involved were also different, as they would be in Mumbai. For one thing, far more man-hours must have been devoted to keeping the place clean and providing modest service to its upscale clientele. It makes sense; if labor costs only 0.36 product units per hour instead of 2.38, then the optimal production and service mix will use considerably more of it. Thus productivity, in terms of the number of Big Macs served per employee, will be lower in a poor country even if the employees themselves work equally hard. I would also guess that the training involved for a McDonalds employee in Mumbai is more substantial than for one in New York, since the disciplines of hygiene and regimentation needed to succeed are less ingrained in the local society as a whole.

The Indian software example is more difficult, until you consider what function the software engineer fulfils within the Indian company. For the company, it is much costlier to have software written in the United States than in India, unless the productivity of the U.S. workforce is much greater than that of its Indian staff. However, the company employs software engineers in the United States because it needs them to be in the same timezone as its customers, and if necessary able to visit them, in order to provide marketing, customer service and support activities. The two jobs are not identical, even if the engineers are the same people, and the company would lose huge amounts of money if it transferred all its Indian workforce to the U.S. since its employees’ wages would be raised by competition from local employment opportunities.

In a theoretical economic model, welfare might be optimized by eliminating immigration restrictions. But that could not happen by moving the Indian, Chinese and African population to the United States and raising their wages to U.S. levels, because they would not be sufficiently more efficient in a U.S. setting to support the higher wages. Instead, while the overall global average wage might be somewhat higher, most of the differential would be eliminated by U.S. wages falling to emerging market levels. U.S. politicians, responsible for the welfare only of the U.S. electorate, would be betraying their voters if they contemplated any such move.

In reality, any such mass migration would incur such huge assimilation costs that the theoretical benefits of leveling the playing field would be largely wiped out. However, that is not a counsel of despair. Free trade is not the same thing as free migration; the case for it is very much stronger. In particular, the “globalization” caused by the Internet and modern telecommunications has hugely increased economic welfare for the citizens of poorer countries, provided those countries are even moderately competently run. (The recent economic histories of India and China, both badly run countries by any Western standards outside Greece, are good examples of this.)

It is now clear however that globalization has also depressed living standards for the less able citizens of rich countries, raising their unemployment rate as wages are to a certain extent “sticky” on the downside. That does not mean that globalization should be rejected by Western politicians; having been an artifact of technology rather than policy, it would almost certainly have been impossible to stop, and any attempt to do so would have left the country attempting it both poorer and more isolated than when it began. In any case, there is every sign that the initial effect of the Internet revolution is approaching completion; the rapid increase in Chinese wage rates and disappearance of the Chinese balance of payments surplus certainly suggests that a new equilibrium is being reached.

To improve the living standards of Western countries’ citizens in this new equilibrium, and reduce their debilitatingly high unemployment, new policies are necessary. Increasing mass immigration increases the pressure on domestic living standards, especially at the bottom; it should thus be avoided.  Education, so often touted as the panacea for facing the increase in international competition, is clearly no such thing, because it is of mediocre quality and excessive cost. In any case at all but the most exclusive levels it can easily be copied overseas (as the recent Indian successes in the software business have demonstrated). Instead, interest rates must be raised to levels that rebuild the capital base in rich countries, rather than decimating it as has been the case with the Greenspan/Bernanke polices. By increasing the incentives to saving, and the returns from it, policymakers can increase the rich countries’ natural advantage in capital availability, and reduce their pension and medical expenses by providing citizens with higher investment returns.

The other need is for policymakers to reduce the level of waste in the public sector, most of which produces “output” that is laughably overvalued in GDP statistics. Especially in Europe, living standards, already under threat, have been reduced further by the exactions of oversized and unproductive public sectors. Cutting this waste will leave more money in citizens’ pockets, and improve their living standards thereby.

Wage differentials between rich and poor countries are natural, caused by differentials in those countries’ capital endowments, infrastructure and institutional effectiveness. Their natural level has been reduced by the Internet, and will doubtless be reduced further by future technological advances. But as far as possible, responsible Western policymakers should work to ensure that this reduction in differentials produces only improvements in emerging markets’ living standards, without allowing it to immiserate their own people.

(Originally appeared in The Bear's Lair.)

Martin Hutchinson is the author of "Great Conservatives" (Academica Press, 2005)—details can be found on the Web site www.greatconservatives.com—and co-author with Professor Kevin Dowd of “Alchemists of Loss” (Wiley – 2010). Both now available on Amazon.com, “Great Conservatives” only in a Kindle edition, “Alchemists of Loss” in both Kindle and print editions.

 

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