Governing Through Principles

“I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves.”

Joseph Smith.

This statement was given by Joseph Smith as an answer to a question about how he governed the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I think it is very applicable to a secular “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” I have reflected on this statement as I have become very concerned about what is happening in our country during this time of crisis.

Founding Principles

The principles which should guide all actions by our government are outlined in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States. Correct principles also include principles such as those in the 10 Commandments. People should treat others with respect and kindness, as they would want to be treated. Life is sacred and should be protected. Self-direction and self-reliance are sound and valued principles.
At times of crisis like this we see situations where some needs become urgent and some principles take precedence over others. The challenge of meeting urgent needs while maintaining rights according to those principles is a role of government.

Principles in the constitution affirm individual rights of liberty, exhibited in the opportunity to travel, to engage in business, to participate in activities of our choice. The Bill of Rights specifically spell out rights to assemble and to practice religion. People need to be able to work and provide for themselves and their families. They have need of goods and services to preserve life. Generally, government should not interfere with these rights. This is a basic principle of the Constitution.

Yet, government has responsibility to keep its citizens safe, to provide defense against that which would cause harm and endanger life. There may be times when the suspension of individual rights may be necessary in order to protect us, but those situations should be very rare and action taken with great caution. The reason for caution is human nature and the tendency among those with power to exercise “unrighteous dominion.” When people in power seek more power, they put themselves and their wisdom above others and use power to order actions and suspend individual rights. If successful in a crisis, there is not much to stop this from occurring without a crisis, with orders being self-serving, rather than for public good.

Maintaining Balance Through Mutual Trust

Maintaining a balance between preserving inherent and constitutional rights and providing protection can be complicated. Mutual trust is vital, yet sadly lacking today.

Allowing citizens to “govern themselves” requires that government trusts them to do the right things. It includes an assumption that the majority of citizens are morally upright, good people, who want to do good. When good, intelligent people are given accurate and sound information they generally will make choices to benefit all, even when those choices might limit their own freedom to do what they want.

If government trusts their citizens, they need only provide clear, accurate information and make recommendations for action. Then citizens can freely, with their own agency intact, act to make things better or at least not worse.Sure, there will always be those who are not trustworthy, who will selfishly do stupid things that endanger others. They are the ones laws are written for anyway. But to impose orders and threaten penalties upon law abiding citizens shows a dangerous lack of trust.

Trust of the government by the people is also necessary. Governments are mandated to educate their citizens, and that education should include the teaching of correct principles–not only the principles underlying our government, but correct principles about science, history, and human nature.

Teach Correct Principles

Besides being well educated, citizens need to be well informed about current situations in order to be able to use their agency to make wise decisions. This is where a thorough and impartial media is critical. We should be able to trust the media to give us accurate and unbiased information. I see a lack of trust today in both directions.

Public education has been influenced by those who would promote certain agendas over teaching truth. Education about the history of this country is no longer a priority, so we are lacking in understanding about those founding principles and the sacrifices made by those in the past to secure the freedoms we enjoy. Moral education, which early in this country was a significant part of education, has been dismissed as unfairly promoting religion. The ability to regurgitate facts through tests is now preferred to teaching students how to think and reason. What we have now are many citizens blindly following the teachings and direction of whatever factions they trust and suspicious of all other sources.

Back to Trust

Which leads back to trust in the other direction. By creating an educational system which lacks moral training, we have citizens lacking in moral judgment, and a government which does not trust them to make wise choices in a crisis. Add to that people in government more concerned about power than the welfare of citizens issuing orders that restrict individual freedom, which increases distrust of government.

I hope we come out of this crisis with our freedom intact and a greater appreciation of that liberty.

Self-Determination

Self-Determination Starts Early

During the past few months of living with my now 18 month old granddaughter, I have been reminded of the innate human drive toward self-determination. Even at a very young age, little humans show individual will and a desire to do what they want. As soon as they have some mobility they will move toward an object that they desire. As small motor skills develop they grasp and manipulate objects to explore them. They want to go where they want and do what they want.

One large drawback for this is the lack of ability to communicate what one wants. One of the first, and probably most used word for children is “no”. Though they might not be able to articulate what exactly they want, they are able to let you know exactly what they do not want.

“No” is also used frequently toward children as they seek after what they want. Parents have a challenging role to provide an environment for children to learn and develop while keeping them safe from danger. Some are better than others at balancing this. There are parents who provide more than needed direction and restriction in the name of protection.

Maintaining Balance through Trust

Key to maintaining a good relationship through this balancing act is trust. If children feel loved and secure they learn to trust that their parents want what is best for them. Parents and others can try to teach children about dangers and how to avoid them, but sometimes the best teacher is experience. Unfortunately, over-protection often deprives children of such experiences. There are always some children more inclined to be obedient who might become overly dependent. And others more independent might resist restrictions and become rebellious.

Self-Determination Applied to Government

The founders of the United States of America recognized the human need for self-determination. They saw monarchy and the systems of the old world as working against that. In forming a government “of the people, by the people and for the people” they realized the value of individuals and the importance of individual rights. Many resisted ratifying the new Constitution because of the lack of a Bill of Rights. Why was this so important? They wanted to make sure that governmental powers were limited and preserved the rights of individual citizens toward self-determination.

Government also has a stated role to provide protection to citizens from threats and defense from attacks. This requires a balance not unlike the parental balance between encouraging development while protecting. There may be times when safety would require limiting individual freedom to do certain things. This is the argument given at the present time regarding this pandemic. Yet, there are others pointing out the dangers of increased government control.

Trust in Government

If the underlying condition with parenting is trust, then it would seem that trust of government would be essential for citizens to accept restrictions in the name of safety. But government is really people. We have elected officials who are supposed to act in the public interest, but too often act according to the own self-interest. We have officials who seem to thrive on excessive use of power. Just because someone has been elected to an office, does not mean that they have superior intelligence or knowledge and know best what to do. Yes, they often rely on “experts” for information, but do these experts also have other motives?

Our constitution allows for the people to vote to remove from office those who they feel are not representing them and their interests. Unfortunately a huge bureaucracy consisting of officials, not elected by or accountable to the people, in is the position of making and enforcing regulations.

Once power is used to limit individual freedoms, even in the face of a real threat, it can become easier for those in power to see other “threats” warranting further limits of freedom. Over-controlling government, just like over-protective parents, can restrict growth and foster dependence, especially among those inclined to be trusting and obedient. But it also can provoke those inclined toward independence and lacking trust in government to the point of rebellion.

Maintaining Balance

The federal government is furthest removed from the people and much less in tune with the diverse situations in various parts of the country. It would make sense that elected officials on the most local levels would know best their own constituents and their situation and needs. They would seem more receptive to input from their neighbors about what is needed. It is easier for constituents to communicate directly with them and be more involved. This is one reason the founders created a Republic and left certain rights with States.

Though we are experiencing something dangerous today, I think it important to keep in mind the possibly greater danger to our freedoms by extreme restrictions imposed by government. The survival of individual citizens is of course important, but so too is the survival of our freedoms and form of government.

Principles & Personalities

“Principles before Personalities” is one of the often heard phrases in 12-Step Programs. The idea is closely related to “Content is more important than presentation” and “The message is more important than the messenger”.

Yet, we live in a world immersed in entertainment. We tend to worship celebrities, hanging on their every word, as if they know anything about what they are talking about. We want to be entertained, emotionally moved and excited. We are drawn to charismatic people who say things that make us feel good.

Celebrities and politicians are expert in using “flattering words”. It is easy to get caught up in the emotion of a speech and a crowd, until we find ourselves thinking, “wait a minute, what am I cheering?” Unfortunately, many never do pause and think. They just get carried along, repeating slogans and sound bites without thought of what they really mean or what principles they promote.

Founding Personalities

The founders of the United States knew well the range of personalities among themselves, with their unique strengths and weaknesses. These strong personalities provided challenges, especially during the writing of our Constitution. But they also provided differing, yet valuable, perspectives.

The founders probably anticipated that throughout the history of this new Nation, there would be a variety of personalities, abilities and even character among it’s leaders. They designed the government to be able to withstand occasional bad leaders. The Constitution was built upon sound principles, with a system of checks and balances.

Possible Combinations of Principles & Personalities:

Good Principles & Personalities. The ideal situation, of course, would be a having a leader with not simply a strong personality, but more importantly a strong and good character, combined with government based on good sound principles.

Good Principles & not so good Personalities. If we happen to elect a weak leader, or one of questionable character, we still may be on safe ground if all those in government adhere to good principles. A weak leader may try to promote unsound principles, but his weakness might make him ineffective, especially with other good leaders around to keep things under control and the checks and balances within our government.

Bad Principles & Personalities. The worst case would be a strong and charismatic but morally corrupt leader promoting principles that are not sound or good. This would be a potential tyrant.

The Greater Danger

There is so much focus on words in our world today. More important than what a politician says is what he actually does. All politicians make campaign promises, many very unrealistic. While this can give one an idea of what principles they promote, the better barometer is to look at what they actually do. Are their actions consistent with principles we as Americans hold dear? Do their actions predict that they will uphold the Constitution or attempt to alter it?

Our Constitution was constructed to withstand a term with an unlikeable, unpopular or ineffective President. Every four years we have the opportunity to choose someone else – someone we may actually dislike just as much for other reasons.

What our nation may not withstand is a President who abuses his power to undermine and alter the principles within the Constitution. That is a much greater danger than being led by someone we dislike.

The current promotion of unsound principles which are contrary to those principles underlying our constitution and government, seriously threatens freedom. This is especially so with those efforts which are aimed at revoking some of the bill of rights and promoting socialism.

Some Suggestions

Don’t vote for someone just because you “like them” more than others, or because you “hate” someone else. Elections are not popularity contests. We are not choosing someone to socialize with. We are choosing someone to lead. Listen to their messages and the principles they are promoting. Look at what they have done.

Study the Constitution and the principles upon which it is founded. Use those principles as your standard against which to judge the slogans and promises and proposals of politicians.

Study the history of our great Nation. Become familiar with the principles for which our founders and many since have sacrificed their lives and honor. Don’t make their sacrifices in vain by rejecting those principles and undoing their work to preserve our freedoms.

Good leadership is important. Preserving our freedoms through adhering to the principles upon which this nation was founded may be ultimately more important.

Public Panic as a Political Tool

Youthful Hysteria

Today, we have young people taking to the streets protesting in panic that they might not have the chance to grow up unless drastic measures are taken now. I remember. I was there, back in the 1970’s. I sacrificed to ward off the crisis. But now I am old. I grew up. The world is still turning. The hysteria has returned.

Panic is used to shift political power. It can make ordinary, reasonable citizens willing to give up their rights in exchange for protection and security. Politicians don’t usually panic themselves. They stir up panic among the people, then when people demand action, they are ready to step in to do what they wanted to do anyway– things that increase their power.

Panic fuels mob mentality. By pointing fingers at the perceived source of the crisis, we divide into us and them. Hitler was master of this. He used words to create fear about Jews taking from the rightful citizens of Germany. His words made them the enemy and justified their dehumanization.

Crisis?

Of course, there are genuine crises. But not all result in panic and panic usually does not do much to resolve them. The worst thing that can happen in a real emergency is panic. When people panic they don’t think clearly. They do stupid things which make things worse. Emergency training always involves learning to stay calm and prevent panic.

Some crises do require swift, decisive action. Pearl Harbor was such a situation to spur the entrance of the United States into World War II. But the public panic that ensued encouraged and justified the denial of basic rights to Japanese Americans.

Most crises do not happen in a moment. The drug crisis has been ongoing for decades, yet it has not engendered panic. I saw the opiate crisis coming over 20 years ago. Why did others not see then? Why was nothing done to prevent its spread? Who benefited from it continuing? Who influenced the lawmakers who define crisis? These are questions which could be asked of any “crisis”.

The breakdown of the family is a genuine crisis that has been ongoing and worsening for some time. It is a contributing factor to other crises, which have resulted in panic. But the panic is often directed to promote political causes, not to address core issues.

What to Do– or Not Do

Sure, it is wise to see potential dangers and take action to prepare for what might be devastating. Preparation is best done with thoughtful planning way before the crisis is upon us. “If ye are prepared, ye shall not fear.” (D & C 38:30) Such preparation involves thinking through possible scenarios and planning ahead for those contingencies, making it possible to react to a real crisis cautiously and purposefully rather than in panic.

Sometimes the goal of inciting panic is continuing a crisis, because that justifies the need for whatever action is politically advantageous. Being able to keep pointing fingers of blame to the other side is more important than resolving the problem.

True crises require action. But they are complicated and seldom have one single solution. They are best dealt with through thoughtful discussion and consideration of all factors and interests of parties involved. This process takes time and effort. This is what a healthy two-party legislative process is supposed to do. But what we have instead is each side rushing to create panic that will serve their purposes. Both sides do this, but one side seems to be more practiced and possibly more skilled at it. In fact, they were able to turn around the attempted panic about our southern border being invaded– actually mocking it as false panic– into panic of a different sort. Neither resolves the real issues.

Though politicians usually encourage public panic, they often don’t panic themselves. I doubt they are having nightmares about human extinction over global warming. However, one party has been in a continual state of panic for over three years now. I expect that there are nightmares about a repeat of 2016. These politicians have encouraged public panic repeatedly for so long that they seem to assume that everyone in this country shares this panic. The media has worked hard to feed the panic. Yet, strangely life has gone on pretty routinely for the past three years for most of us. For those in panic mode, however, thinking is getting clouded.

Monument to Panic

There are water pumps out in the desert to serve as a monument to panic. A whole generation has grown up and another began without their need and without much awareness that they are there. Those old enough might remember the Utah floods of 1983. At great expense these pumps were built to pump flood waters into the desert. But more floods have not come– yet. The Great Salt Lake has shrunk. The panic subsided and areas previously flooded have now been developed.

Will younger generations look back with regret at what was done or what they gave up because of their panic today? Or will they forget in the face of new panic created for a new crisis and intended to shift power. The true crisis may be the loss of freedom and quality of life which the panic produced.

Celebrate The United States of America!

Flag of the United States of America

A Cause for Celebration

A big anniversary is coming– Our great United States of America is approaching its 250th! It is a privilege for me to become involved in very early preparations for this momentous event for one patriotic organization. I remember well the Bi-Centennial Celebration of our Nation’s founding in 1976. I felt pride and patriotism as I was able to visit sites of historical significance in Boston that year. Now as the 250th approaches, I reflect on some of the rapid and troubling changes in our country over the past decade. I begin to wonder if there may not be so much to celebrate come 2026. What will our Nation and our government look like then? I see things that threaten our Constitution and run counter to the principles upon which it was founded. Some have suggested that the deep divisiveness occurring now is a precursor of civil war.

I feel that there are some things that we as a Nation, and as individual citizens need to do, starting now or sooner, to ensure that when 2026 and its planned celebrations arrive, we will feel that our great Nation is something to be celebrated and to be proud of. Will we be committed to help preserve it for another 250 years? We owe that to our patriot founders and all who have sacrificed to preserve our freedom and government.

Remember

It is imperative that we remember our history. That, for many of our young people, means first learning about the history of our County. For others it requires diligent and honest study and reflection. The shift to include voices which had not been previously heard in the telling of history is noble and worthwhile. Yet, somehow this has become a re-writing of history with judgment and condemnation of our predecessors based on shifting social standards of today. The result is citizens, especially young ones, who are ashamed of our history – and ashamed to be Americans.

We need to remember the patriots who founded our country and those who have served her. They, like all of us, were flawed humans and products of their particular time and environment. We need to understand that context. Those patriots, in spite of or perhaps at times because of those flaws and conditions, showed great courage and made tremendous sacrifices to preserve and defend our freedoms. There is much we can learn from them. We will always be indebted to them and should be grateful for their contributions.

We need to remember the history of the world and other countries. An understanding of the government and history of other countries, will make obvious the contrast with ours. There is a reason that those early Colonists desired a different form of government than a monarchy. There is a reason that people from other countries have flocked to ours, escaping oppression. They recognize America’s greatness and see the freedom and opportunities that we too often take for granted.

We humans naturally have celebrations to help us remember significant events. Yet, somehow the significance of celebrations becomes faded or intentionally changed, and we are left with just another day off. We humans erect monuments to help us remember. Yet, we now have movements to remove monuments to erase memories that some feel are unpleasant. What will we have left to help us remember?

Remember, Remember– I hear the echos of these words from the mouths of prophets. Why? Because when we forget, history repeats itself– not the good parts of history– the destructive parts of history. We must remember to hold on to all that is good and to be grateful for it.

Return to Principles and Values

As we remember, we need to recognize and reaffirm the principles and values upon which our country was founded. These principles and values are the “why” of our government– the reason for its existence. Citizens of other countries may feel united over a homeland, predominant ethnicity, shared language or cultural identity. Since early colonization, America has been a melting pot of cultures, languages and ethnic groups. What unites Americans are those principles which we have treasured and fought for.

The principles are eternal and detailed in our founding documents, yet too many are losing sight of them. Do we still value life and liberty? Do we value individual self-determination, self-expression and self-reliance? Do we see government’s role in preserving individual rights, with all being treated equally, rather than controlling people and behavior?

Those core principles and values are being replaced by shifting standards, changing values, popular opinion, relative truth, political expediency. Without the foundation of shared principles we are vulnerable to those who would seek to destroy us.

Respect

We need to return to a respect of our country, its flag and other symbols, its elected offices, and each other. There is no good reason for any citizen of this country to disrespect duly elected officials or the process by which they were elected. Throughout our history we have had many great leaders, and many who were not. They are all human and flawed. The process embedded in the Constitution allows us to have a voice in our representation. It is our privilege, right and duty to hold elected leaders accountable through our votes.

We need to return to talking to each other with respect. There is way too much attacking and taking offense. This fuels divisiveness and hate. Have we forgotten how to talk to each other civilly? We need to listen– really listen with the intent to understandthose with whom we disagree, not just hear enough to come up with a stinging comeback to post on Social Media.

Breaking the Silence

Earlier this year, I wrote a number of blog posts about disturbing things happening in our country today. I shared articles and posts on Social Media and joined in discussions. As expected, there were some unpleasant reactions. Though I think I have a tough skin, I do have feelings. Mostly, I found it all very exhausting and unproductive. I felt I had better things to occupy my time. Other worthwhile things did keep me away from blogging for a good part of the year. At one point, a blog post kind of wrote itself, yet I did not follow through and post it.

I became one more of the many silent Americans. We all have a valuable perspective. We do have something worthwhile to say. Yet, too often, we don’t speak out of fear of being attacked, “educated”, or shamed because we don’t have the “correct” view.

So, I now feel that it is important that I speak up, regardless of the reaction. I have heard the call for some time, but I guess I needed to hear it at 4:00 a.m. on the night we were supposed to get an extra hour of sleep. I will now commit to myself to blog more about topics that I feel are important and in my small way, help to prepare Americans for our 250th in 2026. Who knows how many will hear my messages, or how they will react, but I can speak up. It is my right– even my duty– as a citizen of the United States of America.

Democratic Socialism

What’s in a Name?

I am alarmed by the promotion of socialism in America today. Proponents throw out definitions and make distinctions between socialism, communism and what they are calling Democratic Socialism and even Social Democracy. Does giving it a better sounding name makes it a better thing? Or do they think they have found a way to create a good version of an inherently bad thing? It is as if what makes socialism a bad thing is purely in the details of implementation. And they know a way to create the utopia without the oppression, starvation, and disasters that have historically followed previous attempts.

In reality, what makes any brand of socialism bad is the principles upon which it is based – principles which are directly in opposition to the principles upon which the United States was founded. To think that such conflicting principles can be merged into a successful system is unrealistic.

A Little History –
Foundations of American Government

I studied Karl Marx, and admit that some of his ideas sound rather good – in theory. This is especially so when understood in light of the system of aristocratic oppression of peasants from which he came. But this kind of oppression is a far cry from anything experienced in America today.

American colonists rejected this same aristocratic system in creating the United States of America. A fundamental principle of our government is the right to own private property and subsequent associated rights. It is true that this opportunity initially was not available to everyone, but it was available to many more than the “1 percent”-ish, wealthy land-owning class in the Europe they left.

Our government is based upon principles of personal choice and self-direction. It encourages initiative, innovation, free enterprise, personal development and prosperity. In such a system, some obviously prosper more than others, but otherwise there is little or no incentive for excellence or improvement. Consequences, positive or negative, are always connected to choice.

The Fallacy of “Rule by the People”

Our government was designed to keep a balance of power between branches of government and with representation of the people. Socialism presents itself as “rule by the people” because it sprung out of an effort to eliminate a elite ruling class, but the reality is that it creates an opportunity for a different, but very powerful ruling government entity.

Government is actually controlled by people – either “we the people” as a whole with each having some say in a representative manner, or a government controlled by a single dictator or a powerful group or “party”. The idea of “democratic socialism” is basically using democratic principles of choice/vote to get citizens to voluntarily give up control to a government, which most likely will become powerful and oppressive. There are always those waiting to take control and exercise power that citizens relinquish.

Democratic Socialism?

It is naive to think that you could take from socialism some good things and merge them with democracy and have something better. How could one guarantee economic benefits without decreasing liberty? How could one prevent the negative aspects of socialism becoming part of the system?

The costs of socialism would involve more than money, but also a loss of freedom. The distinction that “democratic socialism” is better than communism or plain socialism because it takes into account the choice of the people, is a misleading assumption. The majority might vote into effect socialistic laws, but then those laws become binding on everyone. There is no ability to “opt out” of compliance, but rather there are serious penalties for those who did not personally choose. Such socialism gives tremendous power to the state. In effect, the choice to vote for socialism is actually a choice to give away freedom.

If government becomes the giver of all good things to everyone, someone has to pay for all this. It is unrealistic to think that it will all be free. If the government is the giver of everything, it also becomes the taker. Taxes have to increase for everyone, not just the rich. The rich, being taxed more greatly, would be enticed to leave the country taking with them their earning potential, goods and services, and leaving employees without jobs and the government without their taxes.

Human Nature

The underlying issues and the reason socialism has and will continue to fail, is basically human nature. True economic equality can not be accomplished by compulsion or legislation when you recognize the core issues of selfishness and greed. You can’t cure the greed of the wealthy by taking away from them and giving to the greedy poor who want what they have not earned. Greedy politicians will always ensure that they get more than everyone else.

History has shown that even by physically eliminating (killing off) the wealthy, educated and prosperous, another group – government – steps in to assume the position of power and control, leaving the masses no better off and likely much worse off. The few, now government officials, will glut on the labor of the people. And history has shown that tyranny follows.

There will never be true equality in a society unless and until all of the people, especially those in leadership positions, are equally good, righteous and selfless. All must be willing to put the welfare of others and the good of society above their own self interests. I don’t see this happening in the USA of today. There will always be those individuals who thirst for and then abuse power. A socialist system gives them a great opportunity, which can easily be seen in a study of history.

Why this Generation?

The real irony to me is the support of socialism by a “me-generation” – one that has grown up being told how special they are, getting and expecting attention for everything they do, and feeling entitled to anything that anyone else has. How could socialism possibly work with such people? Do they really think that by all getting free stuff that they want, that it can still be “all about me”?

Communism/socialism treats the masses as “comrades” – all the same, nothing special about any, all insignificant workers, easily replaced by any other warm body. Is this really what they want – to be just a nameless number in a system? Or are they just short-sighted, thinking only of getting something without any personal effort? Did they really buy into the idea that they were individually that special when they all got the same participation trophy? Or did they just come to expect any reward that anyone else got because it would not be fair for some to get something that others did not?

Do they think that things like a guaranteed job with a living wage would mean that they – these young people who feel that menial physical labor is beneath them – get the kind of job they choose? Historically those government guaranteed jobs have been things like working in rice paddies, mines and factories.

Do they think that a house for everyone means they get the house they want in the neighborhood where they want to live? Historically government guaranteed housing has been government assigned sub-standard housing built by workers who have no incentive to do good work.

Maybe the appeal of socialism seems natural for those who have come to feel entitled, but that is a deceptive seduction. In buying into it, they may get what they feel entitled to, but it is an empty prize – meaningless because in accepting it, they lose any uniqueness, individuality or personal sense of accomplishment.

Agency and Liberty

The purpose of government should be to facilitate the free exercise of agency, to protect and promote liberty. Government guarantees however, tend to come with increased government control and less freedom to choose. This inconsistency of this with the value we Americans place on the rights of personal choice should be obvious.

American Dream vs Socialist Fantasy

We are hearing much about Socialism these days. A study of history should show that this does not turn out well. However those promoting Socialism in America propose that their version would bring all of the benefits without any of the problems.

Before we get all excited about getting free stuff, I think we need to understand some fundamental principles upon which our government and American society was founded. The principles underlying Socialism are in direct opposition to the principles underlying democracy and our way of life – the American Dream.

In the Beginning

The founders of our country wanted a government that didn’t interfere or impede personal pursuit of happiness. In the world they came from peoples’ lives were limited by the circumstances of their birth. They sought to eliminate those constraints and place everyone on the same ground. That does not mean there are not limits, but rather than limits imposed by culture or government, all are limited by their own personal desire, initiative and effort.

There were no guarantees of prosperity given to these new Americans by their newly established government. Just opportunity and guarantees that the government would not restrict their rights. The prosperity of the Nation was dependent upon the prosperity of its citizens. They prospered through their initiative and hard work. Their efforts benefited not only themselves and their families, but they also contributed to society. When everyone contributes, society prospers.

A Living Wage

One expectation of this new socialism is that everyone is entitled to an income sufficient for them not just to live – but to live comfortably, or in a manner in which they would like. They use the term “a living wage”. The reality is that people all over the world are “living” on very little income, especially compared to what most people in this country make. Even those living near poverty in this country live better than many in the world.

Wages are based, not on needs of the worker, but on what the work is worth – the value of it to an employer or someone seeking a service. Therefore, some jobs are “worth” more than others. Usually there has been a significant investment in time and effort and experience to meet requirements for certain jobs, therefore the pay for those is higher – they are worth more.

Adjusting the Wage Gap

There are two ways to approach insufficient income – decrease expenses or increase income. Many would simply suggest pay everyone more. But it is more complicated than that.

At times I have said, somewhat tongue in cheek, that the reason my husband and I enjoy relative financial security is that we “live like poor people”. Basically, we learned to live and be comfortable living “beneath our means”. We could have, like many other people, gone into great debt to have a bigger house, nicer cars, lots of toys and expensive vacations. We adjusted our “wants” to invest in our future, so that now retired, we are comfortable and have a sense of security.

This seems to be a hard concept for many, especially young people who have come to see as necessities many things that I easily lived without for years. When things get hard, there is a great distinction to be seen between “life sustaining” and “lifestyle maintaining”. So “living wage” based on the idea of “life sustaining” would include only basics. Heat and electricity and food are life sustaining. With limited income, adjustments can and should be made on expenses.

Of course, the other way to fix the disparity is to increase income. In other words, find a job that pays better. This of course, is easier said than done. Knowing that wages are based on the value of the work done, the way to do that is to increase personal work value. It likely will require gaining more education or training to qualify for a higher paying job. This is where initiative and effort come in. It also may require delayed gratification and sacrifice to increase one’s value to employers.

The idea of the same pay for menial labor that can be done by someone with no education or training and professional work by someone with a Degree and specialized training removes the value and worth of the education and training. It removes any incentive for people to better themselves to improve their financial situation. It would dumb down the work force.

Simply “giving” jobs to everyone without even the effort of applying – the effort to sell an employer on the “worth” of your labor – results in workers with no ambition. This is even greater when the jobs given are those the person has no interest, desire or ability to do. The quality of goods and services will go down. No one really benefits.

Free College Education

Education is an investment. It takes time and effort. It requires delayed gratification and sacrifice. Many in my generation and generations before really did “live like poor people” while pursuing an education. It may take years to finish the education process, then more years of experience to get the full benefit of that investment.

The idea of financial aid for education, in the way of scholarships, grants and even student loans, should also be seen as an investment. It is not a handout, a given, an entitlement. It is not simply based on need. Those receiving such aid must take some initiative and put forth effort to apply. They must give those providing the money some assurance that this money will be well spent. They are investing in someone who will eventually give back to society in some way.

To take away any requirements, any process involving effort to apply, also takes away any accountability for how that money is used. Where is the incentive to study and do well if the money keeps coming anyway? The idea that everyone is entitled to 4 years of extended adolescent partying, while taking some classes, does nothing to benefit society. Sure they may learn some things along the way and get a Degree, but without learning responsibility and accountability, what kind of citizens will they make?

Free Housing

The promise of housing for every American sounds too good to be true – because it is. The dream of the colonists and early Americans was to own property and be able to do with it as one chooses. In the Europe they came from, there were a few very wealthy people owning most of the property.

Early Americans of course, didn’t arrive on the frontier to find a nice house and well kept yard waiting for them. They obtained some land and then “improved” it. They sweated to remove trees, cultivate land, dig ditches, build houses and other buildings. It took a great deal of work. Because of that effort, they took pride in the results. They worked more to maintain, expand and continue to improve their property.

Homes, like jobs become better with effort. They are an investment. Having them given to you without effort, removes the responsibility and accountability. If “free housing” is given, it comes with the expectation of “free maintenance”. It is the owner’s responsibility, right? We often see this with rental property. What incentive is there for tenants to improve what does not belong to them? What incentive is there for landlords to improve what they do not have to live in?

There are many homeless people in our country, and varying causes for that homelessness. Some are homeless because the costs of housing are too high. So what is the solution for them? Have the government pay for them to live in a nice house? Or provide incentives for builders to build housing that they could afford? This may not be as big or nice a house as someone else’s, but probably much nicer than a cardboard box on the street (or the makeshift shanties many in other countries live in).

Some people are homeless because they choose to be. We value freedom of choice in this country. “Free housing” would eliminate choice of where, and often how one lives.

The Choice

So even though the idea of free stuff for everyone sounds wonderful, it is a fantasy. History has shown us that Socialism cannot provide benefits without cost. The costs may not be so much monetary as they are losses of freedom. We loose our right to choose – a right that ironically seems so vitally important to the same people who advocate Socialism.

This country and our government were built upon principles of individual liberty, self-determination, personal responsibility and accountability. The role of government essentially should be to insure those inalienable rights of life and liberty and allow us “the pursuit of happiness” as we see fit. It is indeed a dream. Maybe a dream not realized the same for everyone, but the dream is available to all.

The alternative is truly a fantasy. A fantasy that in practice likely will turn into a nightmare.

Why You Need to Read History

Facts or Fiction?

History books have a bad reputation for being very dry and boring. Some actually are. Most of those writing history have done extensive research and base their writing on factual accounts. It is a joy for me to find a serious history book written by an author who has not only done research, but has the ability to express historical facts in ways that make it come alive through exceptional writing.

Fiction writers who have done their homework, can give us a pretty good sense of what historical events were like or how it might have felt to live through them. I very much enjoy historical fiction written by skilled writers who have done research and put forth the effort to make it historically accurate as well as compelling. Though main characters and story details may be imagined, they allow us to experience history through their eyes.

Why Reading History Matters

I am amazed and appalled at the lack of historical knowledge, especially among young people today. I realize that many of my generation slept through history classes, but at least we took history classes. So many seem to lack knowledge of basic historical events – when and where they occurred and primary people involved – let alone any understanding of the complex issues behind them. We seem set up to repeat serious mistakes of the past. Actually history has repeated itself in horrible ways. When will we learn from history? First we must learn history.

As someone who not only lived through the Cold War, but has read about communism and socialism, I find it unbelievable that so many young people actually want socialism. Why do they not get it? Maybe because they only read or listen to what we would have termed “propaganda” – the promises of utopia, equality and prosperity. History has shown us that these are illusions. Socialism and communism (one leads to the other) have always turned out badly.

I am also concerned about the lack of knowledge of the founding principles and documents of this country. After all that the early patriots sacrificed to establish this government and to defend it, some seem ready to throw it all away. Problems in America today do not exist because of our form of government, but they have become worse because we are straying from the principles upon which it was formed. We need to return to those principles, but first must learn them.

My History List

These are some of my favorite histories and historical fiction. These are books that made an impact on me. Your reactions may be different and that is okay. Some of these are classics recommended by many. Some I just happened upon and you may not have heard of, but they impressed me. Many of these have been made into movies that you probably have seen. I always recommend reading the book. Books give more detail, often the prose is beautifully written, and frankly, too often movie makers alter books to fit their own agendas.

This is by no means a comprehensive list. Some good ones may have slipped my mind for the moment and I hope to add more in time. They are kind of grouped, but in no particular order. Please feel free to mention your favorites in “Comments.”

Early American History

  • Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War by Nathaniel Philbrick
    I read this after I joined the General Society of Mayflower Descendants and was interested to learn more. Not only did it cover the migration to America and the early years here, but the interactions with Natives and the wars with them were very enlightening.
  • Young Washington by Peter Stark
    This book gives a good portrait of George Washington and how events during the French and Indian War influenced his life and future. It provides good background to understanding the roots of the Revolution.
  • Strange and Obscure Stories of the Revolutionary War by Tim Rowland
    This is an easy and often humorous read about a number of incidents during the Revolutionary War. If you think history is boring, read this.
  • Miracle in Philadelphia: The Story of the Constitutional Convention May to September 1787 Catherine Drinker Bowen
    This is an excellent book about the laborious process of writing the Constitution of the United States. It truly was a miracle that this group of strong willed and opinionated men were able to discuss and come to a workable compromise that has endured. (A process today’s lawmakers could learn from) It makes clear what the constitution was intended to do and what it intentionally did not address. The book includes the full text of the constitution and amendments for study.

Books about Slavery and the Civil War

  • Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe This book is a classic which should be required reading for everyone.
  • Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Ann Jacobs
  • Harriet Tubman: Portrait of an American Hero Bound for the Promised Land by Kate Clifford Larson
  • Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin
    This is an excellent book about Abraham Lincoln and the political process of the time. We could use leaders like him now.
  • Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
    Many are familiar with the Movie, but the book is well worth the read.

Native American History

  • Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West by Dee Brow
  • Lost Kingdom: Hawaii’s Last Queen, The Sugar Kings, and America’s First Imperial Adventure by Julie Flynn Silver

Into the 20th Century

  • The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
    I love Steinbeck’s writing and this classic picture of human dignity in horrible circumstances. It has also been made into a movie, but I recommend the book.
  • The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl by Timothy Egan
    This is a non-fiction work about the Dust Bowl and those who stayed and lived through it. The other side of the story presented in The Grapes of Wrath but featuring real people.

Books about World War II

  • The Hiding Place by Corrie Tenboom
  • Schindler’s List by Thomas Keneally The movie was popular, but the book allows you to spend time pondering and processing.
  • The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer
    This book is an enjoyable read, but it highlights serious issues of living in occupied territory and resisting a war.
  • Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand This is the moving true story of an American prisoner of war in Japan.
  • The Greatest Generation by Tom Brokaw
    This shares examples of character and values of those who lived through trying times.
  • Anne Frank Diary of a Young Girl The classic we all read in school, but maybe not so much anymore.

Books Dealing with Other 20th Century Issues in the World

  • The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjallan
    I just happened to find and read this book as we marked the Centennial of the events portrayed. I was amazed that not only do very few people today know anything about the Armenian genocide, but at the time it occurred, news of it was essentially buried because of the larger World War I. It makes me wonder if more people were aware, would such horrors have been repeated?
  • Shanghai Girls & Dreams of Joy by Lisa See
    I discovered Lisa See with her book On Gold Mountain which is basically her family history – a very interesting family history beginning with a Chinese immigrant who married an American.
    Shanghai Girls is fiction set in China and California about two sisters who become brides to paper sons of a Chinese immigrant in California. Dreams of Joy is the next generation sequel about the 19 year old daughter. Upon encountering radicals at an American University preaching the glories of socialism, she goes to China in 1957 to become part of Mao’s “Great Leap Forward” into the “New Society”. Her mother heroically saves her from being one of the millions of Chinese who starved to death during this period of “prosperity.”
  • The Headmaster’s Wager by Vincent Lam
    I just happened upon this book, but found it compelling. It’s central character is a Chinese man running an English school in Saigon just prior to and during the Vietnam War. It overlaps the time period of See’s Dreams of Joy, which picture was still in my head when I read about this Headmaster sending his son to China. It gives a sense of the way Communism creeps in and takes over.
  • A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
    Set in India, this book reveals the injustice and cruelty of the caste system.
  • A Thousand Splendid Suns & The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
    These books provide some insight into the history and culture of Afghanistan which is helpful in understanding more recent events there.
  • Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi This book not only gives a glimpse of life in Tehran during trying times but also reinforces the value of books.


Pick A Winner or Vote Your Conscience?

My earliest memories of anything political were in 1960 when John F. Kennedy was elected President. After the election, I remember asking my parents who they had voted for. I was shocked to learn that they had voted for the loser. To my 5-year-old mind, what seemed important was being on the winning side – to pick the winner, not the loser.

After many years and many elections, I must admit I have voted for many losers. This is not always something I have felt bad about.

Popular Contests

In recent years, I have had much exposure to Reality TV contests. Many of these involve viewers in the process of picking a winner. I admit I am not one who actually calls in votes. But I do take some pride in being able to “predict” who will win, or who I think “should” win.

We all have constant exposure to sports contests. Some loyal fans cheer for their team no matter what, but others take pride in predicting the winner of any particular contest. We all want our team to win. No one wants to be a loser, or be mocked for supporting a loser.

Vote button

Winning and Losing in Politics

Is our political process becoming much the same as these Reality TV contests? We have become so partisan. Are we so concerned about our party winning that we are not looking at individual candidates, their character, record, and stand on issues? How many approach elections like like my 5-year-old self where being on the winning side is more important than making an informed decision and acting according to conscience?

We have people taking polls, people analyzing and predicting who will win political contests, and news commentators constantly telling us these predictions. Before any actual votes are cast, we are told who will win. As the process proceeds, we are reminded daily of who the “front-runner” is – the likely winner. Is this a self-fulfilling prophesy?

Real Consequences

When someone wins on a show there is a celebration and maybe brief talk show appearances – the 15 minutes of fame. Then the winner goes home with the prize. The next season starts over with new contestants.

With elections we are stuck with the winner, who actually has to do some work for a whole term in office.  And they have to work with others elected from the opposing party. Real consequences result from elections. The sad reality is that we can all end up losers.

Reflections on America the Beautiful

I recently heard a very moving solo rendition of America the Beautiful. I will share some my reflections on America the Beautiful – the song and my Country.

Verse 1

Oh, beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain,

For purple mountain majesties above the fruited plain!

America! America! God shed his grace on thee,

And crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea.

I have a vivid memory of a night spent in the wilderness of Wyoming. Above me was a full dome of bright stars. There were no buildings or mountains or even many trees to block the view. There were no city lights to dim the brightness of the stars. I stood in awe of the vastness of the sky and the earth.

I recall driving along a highway past fields of ripening grain as far as I could see. I have see the sun shine on oceans on both sides of our vast land. I am personally privileged to live surrounded by majestic mountains, some purple in the distance, and others so close I can enjoy them any time I go outside my house.

I am amazed by the grandeur and beauty of the landscapes throughout this vast country. I appreciate the variety of land and climate which allow for bounteous harvests of food to sustain and prosper her people.

Continue reading