Thursday, May 24, 2012

Column for May 24, 2012

For the past couple of weeks, I have been slammed with work and family. When I have been home and do get to catch some news, it is in small fragments and my television viewing has been rather limited to whatever I can squeeze in between video-on-demand reruns of “Barney” and “Caillou”. Both of those shows are my 33-month-old’s favorites and anyone with fairly young children knows exactly to what I refer. When I do get to watch television shows I like these days, I am holding a baby bottle to my six-week-old’s mouth and hoping that I don’t encounter projective spit up afterwards. Yes, life has been extremely hectic, frustrating, often stretches my patience to the limits, I am grateful for it all.

I guess that this is all part of “cocooning”, as I call it. I ran across this to some extent when we had our last child. The affairs of life and family keep parents of young children busy. I don’t know if I am glad that I had to wait until I was over 40 until my firstborn child came into the world or not. I certainly have a different perspective on life and what is important in my 40’s than I did in my 20’s. In some areas I find myself infinitely more patient but in others still lacking. If there is one thing that I have learned is that having children, especially a toddler that is a Ritalin candidate, is that I am certainly only human.

I shared with the pastor of a Garner church recently only a fraction of what I had on my mind. I was literally in tears at his father’s funeral, not because I knew his dad well, but because he did. I lamented for his loss but also that I could never have a conversation with my own father while growing up and even into my adult life. He suffered a stroke while still younger than I am now, and I was only a toddler. His fine motor skills and some memory were affected, but his speech and temperament suffered most of all. See, my pastor friend is the son of a pastor, and had the good fortune of being able to get counsel from his dad on pastoring and on life in general. If I ever wanted anything in my youth, it was to be able to look to my own dad as a source of wisdom. I would have traded anything to have been able to have had a normal father-son conversation just once in my life.

For years, I vowed never to be like my dad was in how he treated other people. When I find myself getting angry and frustrated, I often reflect on how I was hollered and cussed at incessantly and don’t want to be that way to my boys or bride. With three boys in the house now, like I said, I am reminded that I am only human. I don’t condone child abuse, but I understand it. My dad was physically, emotionally, and spiritually sick. I don’t condone the way he acted, but I understand it.

For years, I have collected books on theology and history, hoping to share them and knowledge with my progeny. I have also intended to sit and read many of the books I have obtained. I used to be a voracious reader but have had little free time in which to enjoy that simple thing in recent years. I consider myself somewhat reasonably autodidactic, but I could always stand to do more. Fortunately, I now have a somewhat decent reference library for when I do need it. Hopefully some of the investment I am trying to make into the next generation will be of some avail.

I was never raised with any real political or religious opinions in the home, but I hope to change the course of instruction on those topics in my own home. See, political and religious views were considered excessively private. The name Jesus Christ was never used in a positive manner in our house, and God had a last name that began with D. Other than that, I was told nothing about politics but was angrily told that all Catholic priests were homosexuals and that all television preachers were just money grubbing scumbags. Now that I have been a born again Christian for over twenty years, I tend to think the latter to be more accurate than the former.

I chuckle at the comment about priests for two reasons. First, I heard just within the past few days that the homosexual brother of the man who told me that passed away at the age of 80. I wish I could have been able to see Uncle Raymond again before he died.

I have known a bunch of Catholic priests over the years, and though I personally have doctrinal issues with Catholicism, I have met some good priests and some bad ones. Though there have been recent scandals in the Catholic Church over the issue of child molestation, it reminds me that they, too, are human. I certainly am not condoning their sin, but I understand dealing with sin in one’s own life. That is the whole reason I still need Jesus. I am, after all, only human.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Column for May 17, 2012

The primary election finally came and went here in North Carolina.  Many of the races turned out as expected and some as hoped.  I pretty much figured that Amendment One would pass.  Thankfully, North Carolina is now the thirtieth state to pass a “defense of marriage” style state constitutional amendment.  There were amazing media blitzes that only intensified days before the election.

I have stated numerous times that I am more libertarian than most conservatives or even Christians on dealing with civil affairs.  If someone wants to live a homosexual lifestyle, I am not going to stand in their way.  I disagree with endorsing that lifestyle by forcing a vast minority view and morality on the vast majority via law, however.

I was astounded by the outright lies and false accusations about the ramifications of Amendment One.  For those who don’t recall, Amendment One was the constitutional amendment ballot initiative that would reads in part, “Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State”.  Most of them surrounded the loss of benefits to children of homosexual or single parents, the inability to obtain protective restraining orders for victims of domestic abuse, and discrimination claims.  Some of these were so outlandish, law enforcement and district attorneys even had to go on television to refute the falsehoods.  This did not stop the ads full of hate, lies, and deceit, though.  Nor did it stop allegedly tolerant people from vandalizing or stealing the political campaign signs opposed to their views.

People I know who I consider to be fairly intelligent and educated totally bought into some of the lies and even were trying to get others to oppose the initiative based upon these false claims.  I couldn’t believe what I was both reading and hearing from these people.  Every position I heard or read against the amendment was a blatantly specious argument coming from total emotion rather than truthfulness and reason.

How is it that people who label conservatives and religious folks as being intolerant are so tolerant of anyone with a form of deviant behavior but not of anyone who has an opinion that differs from theirs?  I was literally told that my parents did not raise me properly if I simply supported the idea that marriage is defined as the union of one man and one woman.  That does not make me a homophobe or a bigot.  It makes me a traditionalist who believes that marriage has been defined as man and woman with differing views on the numbers involved for all six thousand years of recorded human history.

When people railed against the amendment using secular reasons, I discussed the issue using secular logic.  When people discussed the amendment using religious reasons, I did the same.  To be honest, I cannot fathom how anyone can come up with accurate theological reasons defending the redefinition of marriage.  I saw ministers of religion come out on both sides of the issue, each side claiming to have the mind of God on the subject.  I wonder what religious documents both sides have been reading sometimes.

One argument against Amendment One was that it was pushing one particular religious view on everyone in the state.  Well, the truth is that if a redefinition of what constitutes marriage were to pass in any state, it would be no different.  Whether the values are permissive and liberal or traditional, someone’s religious values would end up coming out on top.  Even if the views are atheistic, atheism is a religious belief.  One ridiculous assertion was that in passing Amendment One, North Carolina just instituted Sharia (Islamic) Law.  Such a harsh and ridiculous statement deserved a harsh reply, which I gave.

Another argument against Amendment One was that it took away civil rights.  Well, you can’t take away rights that don’t exist.  North Carolina law already stated what the constitutional amendment states.  Another assertion was that we should oppose the amendment on the basis of equality.  If we can equate the marriage of one man and one woman with that of two men or two women, we essentially have said that there is no difference between men and women and their natural roles in marriage and family.  If that is the case, we should immediately abolish Mothers’ Day and Fathers’ Day.

Our glorious leader, President Barack Obama, has formally come out in favor of homosexual marriage and now a major news magazine is featuring his picture on the cover, dubbing him as the “First Gay President”.  I guess he had to be a “first something” President since Bill Clinton was already dubbed the “First Black President” before Obama was ever on the scene.  The fact is that this is not a federal issue, it is a state issue.  Ergo, this endorsement following the North Carolina election is moot, in my opinion.  If someone in North Carolina thinks that that this state is too backwards and full of bigotry now that we have a marriage protection amendment in our constitution, there are 20 other states that don’t have one.  After all, if someone can make the choice to be a homosexual and have a monogamous, committed relationship, they can also choose to live in a state that will be friendlier to their own choices.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Column for May 10, 2012

I read in last week’s “The Selma News” right on the front page that former Mayor Charles Hester has publicly said that the town should not cut its electric rates and instead should take those funds and construct a building on speculation in its new industrial park.  The idea was to attract industry to come to Selma by showing that we are serious about new tenants and have a move-in ready facility.  Mr. Hester has long championed the idea of increasing the town’s tax base.  On that, he and I are in total agreement.  We just differ vastly on how to accomplish that end.

It all comes down to the idea of the proper role of government.  I am much more of a free market person, believing that if there is a place in the market for something, then business will make it happen because of the motivation of profit.  That has been the driving force behind the capitalist system for centuries and has made America the most powerful nation on earth.

I am fully in support of the current Selma Town Council and mayor lowering the electricity rates that Selma charges.  Ever since I moved to Selma ten years ago, I have lamented the high utility rates.  Towns that participate in Electricities or are “public power communities” do their communities a disservice with higher than necessary electric rates for the sole purpose of extracting more revenue from their citizens.  I wrote some time ago (June 9th of last year) about how my electricity bill that month was almost exactly $100 higher than the rate I would have been charged had I bought my electricity straight from Progress Energy.  That $100 should by all rights be considered taxation.  Since the only method of receiving revenue by a government is by extracting it from its population, then a cut in the profits from the retail sale of electricity in Selma must equate to a tax cut.  A 3.5% rate cut for individuals or a 2% cut for businesses is not a big cut, but it is a start.

The former mayor is a real estate developer, so he is going to view town progress and purpose through that lens.  I could do the same with a background in both media and safety and take a great interest in seeing those aspects of the economy take the foremost position in my thoughts.   However, it is best to take the general welfare of the town into consideration.  That means protecting citizens and businesses from undue taxation and excessive costs of doing business.

I have spoken to a good many residents and some business owners in town.  One thing that is a common thread with them all is the high utility cost burden on their budgets.  Personally, I had one of the highest utility bills ever just a month or two ago, and it was a difficult with which to cope.  I have seen businesses have to shut down parts of their buildings and totally turn off their air conditioning systems just to be able to afford the confiscatory utility bills the town charges.  I don’t care if other public power towns charge slightly more than we do.  That does not negate the fact that our rates are still far above the fair market value.  If a private utility company charges $x, then that is fair market value.  If our town charges $x + $y, then y = taxation that is above the fair market value.

I have read the town charter and even the state statutes governing towns.  I do not see anywhere the purpose of government being to engage in speculative real estate development at the expense of the town’s captive utility customers or even property tax payers.  It is the purpose of government, however, to attempt to create an environment in which a capitalist economy can thrive.  Low utility costs, low taxes, good infrastructure, and less government regulation will do more to bring in business and residents than any edifice built for real estate speculation.   When the town brought Sysco to town, Selma was not sufficiently attractive enough to bring its vice president or employees to town as promised.  Why would anyone think that having a building that may or may not be sufficient for a potential industrial tenant would do any better?

To keep high utility taxation high or even borrowing to dabble in real estate speculation will not be the key to our future.  This was understood by James Madison when he wrote to Thomas Jefferson on February 4, 1790.  "All that seems indispensible in stating the account between the dead and the living, is to see that the debts against the latter do not exceed the advances made by the former."  Madison understood the purpose of government.  Keeping excessive burdens of taxation via utility costs for us now or in the future is not it.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Column for May 3, 2012

It is not all that unusual for me to be stuck in a hotel room instead of being with my family at night.  I occasionally have to travel for my job, and thankfully it is not an every week thing.  Though I would much rather be at home with my toddler saying “Hold me, Daddy!” because he is a bit jealous of the new baby and enjoying a home cooked meal with my family, this is a small sacrifice that I have to occasionally make in order to keep and properly execute my position of employment.  How is all of this relevant?  Well, it relates to the frustration my wife and I experienced this past weekend.

We were shopping for some household essentials, and we were not sure how we were going to pay for all that we put into our shopping cart.  I understand being on a tight budget.  I have gone through periods of lean times.  I have gone through periods of abundance, as well.  My wife has not been working for three years now, and we are minus an entire paycheck each and every pay period.  However, we decided that we would suffer through anything we had to in order to allow her to stay at home and raise our children rather than her work to have just enough to pay some day care center employees do it for us.  Add to that the high utility bills in Selma, a mortgage, car payments, and now a monthly payment for an expensive new air conditioning system, and we have a tighter than desired monthly budget.

Ahead of us in line at the checkout was a couple with at least one infant (that is all I saw at the time) paying for their groceries with three separate transactions.  The first was a WIC voucher, the second was paid for with a food stamp card and a little bit of cash, and the third was yet another WIC voucher.  My wife and I just looked at each other in wonder.  We had three children with us and a full grocery cart.  We had to come up with a method of paying for our own groceries and there we were helping pay for the groceries that were purchased in front of us as well.

Add to that the frustration that the couple were definitely “English as a Second Language” class candidates of most likely questionable legal status, and we were all the more frustrated.  According to the Center for Immigration Studies (as long ago as 2004), the costs of food stamp, WIC and free school lunch programs to "illegal alien households" costs approximately $1.9 billion per year.  I almost wanted to follow Julio and Maria home and let them serve us supper.  After all, we helped pay for it.  As we were leaving the checkout lane, what did we see behind us?  Another couple with a food stamp card in hand to tender payment for the cart load of groceries.  I am reminded of a quote I read recently from one of our Founding Fathers.

"The government of the United States is a definite government, confined to specified objects.  It is not like the state governments, whose powers are more general.  Charity is no part of the legislative duty of the government."

~ James Madison, Speech, House of Representatives, during the debate "On the Memorial of the Relief Committee of Baltimore, for the Relief of St. Domingo Refugees" (January 10, 1794)

My wife and I attend a church congregation in Garner.  It is a bit far to go for worship services, but we chose that group of believers out of relationship and preference.  We have been overwhelmed with the graciousness of our church family yet again, who love to bless people in that congregation with meals whenever someone is sick or has a newborn baby.  Others have been blessed as well, going through the loss of a family member.  That is what the Body of Christ is supposed to do to minister to one another.  Locally, there is a church right down the street from my house that gives away groceries every Thursday to people in need.  I just wish I didn’t see some of the same cars and people there week after week, still in need.

As James Madison realized, it is the job of the Church to provide such charity, not necessarily that of the government.  As I am away from my family as a result of being willing to work some long hours and make some small sacrifices in order to feed my family, I am also reminded of the Bible verse in 2 Thessalonians3:10 “... if any would not work, neither should he eat.”  Nonetheless, I am still frustrated in seeing others eat at the expense of others every time I go to the grocery store.