‘fair share’

As you know, the Intramuralist attempts to be a voice of wisdom.  We are not a partisan site nor share any intentional partisan perspective.  One of the challenges each of us face, however — and dare I suggest, it’s also a challenge we are tempted to ignore — is when we agree with a politician on one issue of primary, passionate importance, we tend to accept all other articulated advocacy as equally wise and true…


… like the passionate pro-lifer who never even flinches at the casualty of war…

… like the the passionate union protestor who cares not if promised pensions burden a municipal budget…


In other words, we are willing to forgo wise perspective in one area, if a politician advocates for the issue or policy we are most passionate about.


Like taxes.  Taxes?!


Taxes schmaxxes!!  Ok.  Not my favorite subject.  Too heady.  Too much.  I’d prefer to fall prey to another aforementioned challenge we’re tempted to ignore.  I believe, however, that a basic understanding is significant.  Humbly bear with me…


As some of you will concur, when initially attracted to the inspiring message of then candidate Obama, I was shocked at his explanation on tax policy, especially in regard to capital gains taxes.  As referred to frequently amidst these posts, Obama advocated for higher capital gains taxes, admittedly netting less revenue, on the basis of “fairness.”  At the time, I thought he misspoke; multiple supporters also seemed to think he misspoke.  Interestingly, no less, “tax fairness” has evolved into a re-election promise.


So dismissing all partisan hats — ‘love him or hate him,’ so-to-speak (although I would never advocate “hate”) — let’s examine the wisdom of this so-called “fairness.”


Pres. Obama has announced his desire to increase taxes on those earning more than $250,000.  In addition to the rhetorically included “millionaires, billionaires, and wealthy 1 or 2%,” this includes entrepreneurs and small businessmen, whose financial capital often surpasses that nominal amount.  So what’s “fair”?  What’s the “fair share” for each of us to pay the federal government?


According to the IRS, current “shares” equate to the following:


  • Top 1% of earners net approx. 17% of total national income but pay 37% of total federal income taxes.
  • Top 5% of earners net 32% of total national income but pay 59% of total federal income taxes.
  • Top 10% of earners net 43% of total national income but pay 71% of total federal income taxes.
  • Bottom 50% of earners pay approx. 3% of federal income taxes.
  • Also, approx. $100 billion is “refunded” to earners who pay nothing due to tax credits which do not consider amount paid.


So we find ourselves with 3 logical, non-partisan questions…


(1) How much is one’s “fair share”?


(2) Is there any amount which is too much to pay?


And (3) If a person pays nothing, what causes that person to care what the federal government spends someone else’s dollars on?  In other words, if 50% of the public contributes zero to federal income taxes, will they care if the government spends responsibly and wisely?  Ah, great question.


While the Intramuralist will always advocate for caring for the least of these, I am also concerned about creating a national state of dependence.  I’m reminded of another question; which is wiser:  giving a man a fish or teaching him to fish?  … feeding him for a day or equipping him to eat for a lifetime?  Which one fosters dependence?  And which one affirms the man, prompts him to grow, and propels him to far greater achievement, by which both he and those around him will one day benefit?


What is fairness?  That everyone should pay more?  That everyone should pay some?    Is it simply a clever election year promise hoping those 50% will turn out and vote?  I don’t know the right answer.  I do know, however, that many suggest “the rich can afford it.  They can afford to give 40% of their income away.”  But affording it is not the right question; the question isn’t even if it’s fair.  The question is if it’s wise.





With rumors rampant regarding Romney’s vice presidential selection, the Intramuralist has keenly decided that perhaps we should have our say.  The latest candidate to emerge among not so silent whispers is Condoleezza Rice, an indisputably brilliant woman, whose foreign policy credentials cause most past and current leaders to pale in comparison.  Hence, while Ms. Rice would be an admirable choice, with my tongue somewhere near my cheek, I thought some other candidates deserved, well, at least, minimal consideration…


And the Veep nominee is…


Steven Tyler or Jennifer Lopez.  Now that both are exiting “American Idol,” with their influential experience as judges, they are competent at cutting persons who don’t perform up to par.  They’ve had to concisely, publicly share truth — utilizing compassion yet never sacrificing accuracy or honesty in the process.


Katie Holmes.  After the dissolution of her marriage to renown Scientologist Tom Cruise, Holmes seems better equipped than most to discern the wisdom in matters of faith.  She now has actual experience in separating church and state.


Any of the Kardashians.  They’re comfortable being in front of the camera, a daily routine for all vice presidents.  Granted, not all of their public soundbites have seemed especially sensible or coherent — but unwise outbursts have not been a disqualifier.


Hillary Clinton.  The current Secretary of State has seen her negative reputation drop in recent years.  In fact, this observer has long wondered if a primary motive for placing Clinton in the cabinet was something in the “keep-your-friends-close-but-enemies-closer” category.  Many have clamored for the former First Lady to be on the actual ticket; this just puts her on a slightly different side.


(And speaking of a Clinton…)  Chelsea Clinton, Barbara Bush, Jenna (Bush) Hager, or Jeb or George P.  If another Clinton or Bush was actually on the ticket, it would give their opponent a little more to run on.  It may or may not be a logical basis to run on, but logic is often less important.


Bill Gates or Donald Trump.  While their oral and haircare approaches differ significantly, both are less tempted to spend someone else’s money.  The Intramuralist, for one, appreciates that greatly.


Kayne West, Brad Pitt’s mom, or Gov. Chris Christie.  While each may vary in political passion or persuasion, none of the above are challenged to say what they mean and mean what they say.  I, for one, would find that trait incredibly refreshing.


LeBron James, Nicki Minaj, or Joe Flacco.  The NBA star, singer/songwriter, and Ravens QB have each claimed either to be “king” or “the best” at their profession in the past year.  Sometimes in politics, it seems, we don’t get “the best.”  Then again, often those who serve portray an image in which they think they’re the best.  Hence, each of the above would bring increased interest to any ticket.


Roger Goodell.  The current NFL commissioner works among very talented persons who at times possess egos that potentially soar.  While being efficient, fair, and responsible, Goodell recognizes that the owners elected him, and thus, he is always held accountable — never forgetting the need to submit to those who actually placed him in office.


Back to the actual ticket…


Only 3 years ago, Roger Goodell invited Condoleezza Rice to address NFL owners at their annual meeting.  Included in her comments, she said, “I am prepared to answer any questions on Russia, the Middle East, advice for the draft, the zone blitz, and why no one should ever run a prevent defense.”


Goodell thanked her, playfully adding that he was pleased “when you were busy three years ago when they selected a commissioner.”  To which Rice responded, “It’s true, when I was talking with the Russians and … the Iranians and Venezuelans, your job seemed like a pretty good one to me.”


Hence, this current events observer is rooting for Roger or Rice.




‘is it a cult?’

With divorce proceedings pending for celebrity couple, Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, the Intramuralist has noticed one thing the media is not very skilled at.  (If you immediately mumbled “objectivity,” you would be correct — although such shall be saved for another day.)  The media — in all of its immediacy and intrusiveness — is not good at reporting on religion.  “How do we say this?  How do we slant this?  What exactly should we say?  Do we even know what it is?”


As many star watchers are aware, Cruise (although he once desired to become a Catholic priest) has been involved with the Church of Scientology for over 20 years.  Holmes, raised Catholic, converted to Scientology shortly after the couple began dating.  One roundtable reporters’ discussion I observed recently was rather amusing, opining on how their church may impact their divorce…


“Scientology?  What is it?  Is it a cult?”


There was a slight pause, until the discussion leader awkwardly suggested it’s definitively not a cult because the federal government has declared it appropriate by allowing tax-exempt status.  Sorry, I’m tempted to jump on a drippingly sarcastic tangent, noting how the government makes a plethora of declarations; I was also unaware that the government trumps God as the discerner of pure religion.


Avoiding the tangent, no less, the media stumbles when reporting on religion.  Do they not wish to offend anyone?  In addition to the colloquial “TomKat,” known scientologists include John Travolta, Kirstie Alley, and Greta Van Susteren.  Will Smith has often advocated their cause.  And both Sonny Bono and Al Jarreau experimented with an alliance.  These are seemingly ethical people.


The question, however, is not whether or not Scientology is ethical; the question is if it’s true.  Allow me to share a brief factual explanation in regard to what the Church of Scientology teaches…


Created by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard in the mid 20th century, scientology is a self-seeking religion, teaching that each of us are “immortal beings” who have forgotten our “true nature.”  Scientology is “knowing yourself, life, family, the universe, friends, the spirit, the world, and God.”  Sounds fairly wise.  Let’s continue with more facts…


Hubbard called himself a “celestial mediator,” claiming to have been an enlightened person who had acquired knowledge that no other person has ever possessed.  He then used the acronym MEST to represent the material, energy, space, and time of our universe.  He argued that MEST is the product or projection of a vast number of spirit creatures called “thetans” who became bored with a non-material existence and decided to emanate a universe to play in.  Over a long period of time, these “thetans” forgot that this reality, this universe, is a product of their own design, and they began to perceive it as being real.  According to Hubbard, this “agreed upon” reality is not the product of a self-existing creator God who exists outside of the cosmos as the Judeo-Christian worldview teaches, but is instead an illusion and a barrier to overcome in order to advance as an individual.


And one more fact…


People who have left Scientology (reportedly now Katie Holmes) claim that it teaches a “back-story” to the current human condition, but only those who have attained the highest levels within the organization are given access to the information.


Hubbard’s story goes something like this… 75 million years ago an evil leader called Xenu decided to eliminate the excess population from a galactic confederacy consisting of 26 stars and 76 planets (p.s. where’s Han Solo?).  With the help of psychiatrists, he tricked billions of people into submission and exported them to the planet Teegeeack or Earth.  The paralyzed victims were stacked around active volcanoes in which hydrogen bombs were placed.  According to the story, the bombs were detonated and the disembodied souls or “thetans” were captured and brainwashed into believing in the existence of a God and the devil.  Hubbard blamed the evil Xenu for planting the ideas of Catholicism and the image of crucifixion into the minds of the hapless “thetans.”  This process also deprived the “thetans” of their own sense of identity, resulting in their clinging to the few physical bodies that remained after the explosions.


Hence, back to the media’s questions:  “How do we say this?  How do we slant this?  What exactly should we say?  Do we even know what it is?”






[Note:  Information from Wikipedia, Probe, and the Church of Scientology International was combined and quoted in this posting.]

a changed world view

Save for our summer guest writer series (coming in August – fire up!), rarely do I allow this space to be solely consumed by someone else’s words.  The following perspective was too significant to ignore.  With brief editorial commentary, here are the words of Eric Allen Bell, a filmmaker recently banned from blogging at the “Daily Kos” because of contradicting their desired perspective.  Bell was originally an outspoken supporter of the proposed construction of a 53,000 sq. ft. mosque in Murfreesboro, TN.  He was covering it for a documentary to be entitled “Not Welcome.”  Here are his initial remarks…


On the outer edge of town, off a small country road, there was a large parcel of land, right next door to a Baptist church, with a big sign that read, “Future Home of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro.”  Over the past 6 months that sign had been defaced twice.  Once it was broken in half and another time the words “Not Welcome” were spray painted over it…  Having not been much of a fan of Islam or Christianity or religion in general (and that’s putting it mildly) I saw this as something of a David vs. Goliath story – with fanatical Evangelicals bullying a peaceful Muslim population, which had been in the community for over 30 years without there ever being any trouble. 


Bell was a meticulous observer, watching the innocent advocates, the obnoxious opposers, even the media who promoted the issue…


CNN breezed through town and produced a quick hit piece painting all of the mosque opponents as uneducated rednecks and the Islamic community as everyday people who were being wrongly persecuted… [it] was called “Unwelcome: The Muslims Next Door.”


Bell was convinced the Muslims were wrongfully targeted… until…


I could not believe the cartoonish way in which those who opposed the mosque were making their case.  I felt like I was on the right side of this thing – absolutely certain.  But in fact, I was wrong…


I went home to Los Angeles, showed my 25 minute short version of the documentary to some distributors and backers… And sure enough someone said they would back the completion of the movie.  It was decided that the focus would be on “the enemy at home” that being what we were calling “Apocalyptic Christianity” …  The Murfreesboro issue was to be used as something of a jumping off point to take a look at the expanding influence of the End Times Evangelical lobby in the United States and how they use their influence to manufacture consent for the bombing of oil rich Islamic countries and to influence policy on social issues.  The theme would focus on the problems we have in America, with our own religious lunatic fringe, rather than on a peaceful group of non-Christians who just wanted to build a place of worship…


But something kept nagging at me on a gut level.  Something about all of this didn’t quite feel right.  The Arab Spring, which I supported, started to degenerate into the Islamist Winter, and I grew more and more concerned.  I flew back to Nashville to shoot a conference on whether or not Islam was conducive with Democratic Values and on the way to my hotel room I learned that my cab driver was from Egypt.  I asked him how he felt about the fall of Mubarak, a dictator worth over $70 billion dollars while so much of his country was living in poverty and he told me he was concerned.  Concerned?  Wasn’t this good news?  The cab driver was a Coptic Christian and he told me that he feared for his family back home.  “If the Muslims take control, and they will, it will be very dangerous for my parents and my sisters.  I’m scared for them right now.”  After that conversation, I started to pay more attention to the news coming from the Islamic world in the Middle East.


Over the coming months I watched as the Muslim Brotherhood gained political power in Egypt.  I saw that cab driver’s worst fears come true as Coptic Christians were attacked by Islamic mobs.  I saw Tunisia institute Sharia, the brutal Islamic Law.  After Libya fell, the Transitional Council also instituted Islamic Law.  The nuclear armed Islamic government of Pakistan arrested and punished those who cooperated with the United States in killing Osama Bin Laden.  A woman under the Islamic government of Afghanistan faced execution for the crime of being raped.  Similar news stories emerged from Iran.  A man who typed “there is no god” as his Facebook status in Indonesia, the largest Islamic country in the world, was arrested for blasphemy.

Several Muslim men in England were arrested for handing out leaflets to Londoners demanding that homosexuals be executed by hanging for violating Islamic Law with their lifestyle.


And it struck me.  Even though these angry townspeople in Mufreesboro, TN had not articulated their concerns very well, they were only half wrong.  I remember meeting Frank Gaffney and interviewing him in front of the courthouse and asking him if he really thought that the peaceful Muslims here actually presented a real threat to America and he said no.  That caught me off guard so I asked if he really thought it was a credible threat that a community that makes up about one percent of the United States population was just going to suddenly rise up one day and try to take over the country and force Sharia Law onto all of us.  Again he said no.  Then he told me I was asking the wrong questions.  He suggested that I was only looking for answers that would support the conclusions I had already arrived at…  


It was at this time that I went to my backers and told them that we were not making an honest documentary… It was critical that we also show the very real threats that exist within Islam.  We needed to show that what is happening to these small communities of peaceful Muslims in America are the exception to the rule.  I wanted to show what happens to countries when they gain a Muslim majority, how women are treated, that homosexuals were executed, that free speech did not exist, that the forced Islamic Law was not consistent with Democratic Values… the response I received was, “Eric you are starting to sound like an Islamophobe.  We don’t want to make a movie that promotes fear.  Let’s just stick with the existing plan, okay?”


With objective research, Bell says the series of events “changed my world view.”  He attempted to educate his employers, having worked for the Daily Kos and Michael Moore among others, but they refused to even consider his fair-minded attempts.  They only wanted to support the conclusions they had previously arrived at.


Has Bell thus become a conservative?  “Not really,” he says.  He’s still opposed to the invasion of Iraq; he doesn’t care for Bush 43; and he supports gay marriage.  But he’s also pro-life.  Bell even still supports the right to build the mosque in Murfreesboro.  But he no longer believes that Islam is a peaceful religion; and he will no longer be part of a biased media that refuses to report otherwise.





(Intramuralist note:  Bell’s account was edited here due to space considerations; for a more complete perspective, see his article entitled, “The High Price of Telling the Truth About Islam.”)


On Friday Pres. Obama altered U.S. immigration law via executive order.  In one of those mind-boggling moments that quietly reveals the hypocrisy on both the established right and left (and makes the Intramuralist sarcastically snicker), the use of executive order has come under increased scrutiny.  Let’s objectively dissect the issue here.


An executive order is a decree issued by any executive branch of government (could be local, state, or federal, for example) in which law is either established or changed.  While the decree bypasses the legislative branch of government, it is not free from judicial review.


American presidents have issued executive orders since George #1 was in the White House, yet contrary to popular belief, there exists no explicit constitutional statute that authorizes such action.  Presidents have been following the precedent of their predecessors, based on the Constitution’s vague granting of “executive power,” combined with their sworn charge to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.”


The purpose of executive orders varies greatly.  Via such directives, FDR prohibited the “hoarding” of gold coins, gold bullion, and gold certificates in 1933; in 1964, Lyndon Johnson created the Warren Commission to investigate the assassination of JFK; and in 1969, it was Richard Nixon who prohibited employment discrimination based on race, religion, ethnicity, etc. in the federal civilian workforce.


As the practice has evolved — again, based on presidential precedent as opposed to clear constitutional authority — the frequency of usage has remained high (FDR issued over 3700 orders; Truman utilized the process almost 900 times, compared to Bill Clinton’s 364, George W. Bush’s 291, and Barack Obama’s thus far 127).  However, the controversy of the practice — due especially to the questioned motive for bypassing congressional approval — has increased significantly.


For example…


In 2007, Pres. Bush issued an order to expand the use of approved stem cell lines in the way he deemed was ethical.  Some wanted no limits, as the research is considered extremely helpful in curing future disease; some wanted a complete ban, concerned about the intentional destruction of human life in the process.  Bush decided via executive order what was ethical.


As Governor of Texas, Rick Perry issued an order requiring all Texas girls to receive the HPV vaccination.  Supporters of the order cite the possibility of obtaining cervical cancer; opposers don’t believe it is government’s role to dictate vaccine, especially when the purported dangers are sexually transmitted.


And on Friday, Pres. Obama eased American deportation policy, halting the deportation of illegal immigrants’ offspring.  Supporters believe it’s humane, as the fact that children (up to age 30) are in this country illegally is no fault of their own; opposers worry about the impact on unemployment and long term cost.  The issue is complex and has multiple aspects to discern, especially, currently, in regard to how much committed crime is allowed by the illegal immigrant allowed to stay.


The hypocrisy?


Some claim Obama had no authority to alter immigration law on his own, yet they were quite comfortable when Bush 43 issued his directives.  Others enthusiastically cheered Obama’s Friday move, forgetting the outrage they once articulated under Bush.  In other words, support or outrage of the use of executive order depends most on the executive and on the order — as opposed to its actual use.


Back to the Intramuralist’s snicker… directed again toward both the established right and left…


Last September, when asked why he simply doesn’t alter immigration law via executive order, Pres. Obama said, “I cannot do this on my own because there are laws on the books.”  Those laws were still in existence Friday.  Hence, since previously Obama felt he didn’t have the authority to do what he just did, I must conclude that the fall, potentially close election is a factor.


Also snickering…  previously many on the right have also believed that immigration laws should be altered, finding an effective and compassionate way to handle the influx of illegal immigrants.  But they, too, seem well aware that there exists this fall election.


My bottom line, friends, is that politics is motivating policy.  Politics is also motivating the method used to enact the policy, and politics motivates both our opposition and support.


Sometimes, I just can’t stand politics.


In search of wisdom… respectfully,


missing in our mission

I’ve decided I’m not too keen on this concept of being “religious.”  So many of us seem too religious.  We are religious about our work schedules, our workouts, eating, drinking, reading, looking good, our morning crosswords, shopping, iTunes accounts, iPods, iPads, iSomethings, word choices, kids’ sports, etc.  Being religious has little to do with faith, friends.  “Religious” simply means devoted to a cause or activity.  I’ve known many who are wholeheartedly devoted; and yet many omit any acknowledgement of the divine.


Repeatedly in current societal mantras — also, often, with no acknowledgement of God — I am hearing the calls for justice… for social justice, for a just social standing.  The reason so many advocate for the widows and orphans and poor and disabled is because such persons have no social standing; there is no prestige attached to their position.  And so, some loudly articulate the need for social “justice.”


How can we provide social “justice”?  What can — and should — we do for the least of these? … for the most vulnerable?


… feed.


… give a cold drink.


… invite in.


… clothe.


… care for when sick.


… visit when imprisoned.


Each of the above compassionately and effectively ministers to the least among us.  We should thus be generous in the above provisions.  Many, in fact, are “religious” in their attempts to both advocate and provide.


Fascinating to me still, is that many religiously attempt to both advocate and provide but offer no acknowledgement of God.  And yet, each of the above socially “just” provisions is deeply rooted in biblical exhortation.  It thus then blurs the supposedly nonporous boundary between what is church and what is state — especially when one advocates for social justice as a role of federal government.  We are then asking government to do what God has commanded — albeit, what God has commanded the individual… what God has commanded for you and me.


For many “religious” persons — most likely myself, too, at times — we ignore that individual command.  We oft abdicate our role in providing for the least among us.  We can sit back, shout the name of Jesus, but do we actually engage in the feeding and giving, inviting and clothing, caring and visiting?  Some will be called to work in the field; others will be called to contribute monetarily.  But it is equally, arguably hypocritical to stand back, acknowledge God’s exhortation to the individual, but then, do nothing to provide for those who have lesser.


Once again, friends, we find a societal issue where far too many are firmly entrenched on a supposed right or left.  The solution is not compromise.  The solution is to dissipate man-created, partisan opinion and do what we are individually called to do.


What are we called to do?


Feed.  Give.  Invite.  Clothe.  Care for.  And visit.


What else?


Acknowledge God.


If we do one without the other — even though the call for individual social provision is actually historically, biblically beseeched — then something is missing in our mission…


… most likely something that is prudent and wise.





Who will lead us now?


Friends, I’ll be honest.  Actually, I think that’s a fairly funny saying.  If we say, “I’ll be honest,” does that imply we were always previously dishonest?  The Intramuralist will always be honest.


I am concerned at the levels of polarization in this country.  I am worried about the increasing intensity.  When we spoke Tuesday of the Wisconsin election, we called it “the national hotbed of polarized politics.”  That’s not necessarily a good thing.  To be polarized means to be divided.  And to be divided completely contradicts a united state of America.


So my call is for wisdom.  Specifically, my call is for wise leadership.


Who will lead us wisely?


To lead us wisely means to put aside personal pursuits.

To lead us wisely means to forgo ingrained ideology.

To lead us wisely means to cease rhetorical division.


Who will lead us wisely?


To lead us wisely does not necessarily mean compromise.

To lead us wisely does not mean absent of strong opinion.

To lead us wisely does not mean free from all emotion.


Who will lead us wisely?


To lead us wisely means to have a proven economic, social, and moral plan.

To lead us wisely means to communicate that plan respectfully.

To lead us wisely means tirelessly and compassionately working to unify all people through that plan.


The plan of any good leader does not have to be agreed upon by all people.  It should always be communicated, however, with respect for all people, and the ways in which the effectiveness of the plan will be measured must be tangible and clear.


Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) kept his job Tuesday night.  Democrats attempted to recall him because of his desire to limit collective bargaining due his perception that unlimited public contracts negatively affect the state budget.  Let’s watch and see what happens to the state budget now that his plan is in effect.  At the same time, let’s be sympathetic to those union workers who now have to pay a little more.  Let’s work to understand their frustration.  Yet again, let’s see if his plan works.  Will Gov. Walker lead Wisconsin wisely?


From a national perspective, will Pres. Obama lead us wisely?


I would like to say “yes.”  I can’t at this point.  Pres. Obama, as much as I respect him, often uses words that feel intentionally divisive to me.  Maybe I’m wrong.  But I’m uncomfortable with blaming seemingly all failure on the previous administration while attributing all success to self.  Economically, especially, that seems illogical to me.  And thus, it doesn’t seem like wise nor courageous leadership.


Who will lead us wisely?


The persons who will lead us wisely will be morally-grounded.  How they feel will not evolve with the prominence of polling data.  They will say what they mean and mean what they say.  They won’t say one thing to one audience and something else to another.


Who will lead us wisely?


The one who will lead us wisely will do so with cords of human kindness… with submission and respect… and with a clear recognition that leadership is a humble calling…


There is zero arrogance.  There is no use of the pronoun “I.”  There exists only the sobering reality recognizing that wisdom evades most who attempt to actually lead.




on Wisconsin

Today’s the day Wisconsinites gather for more than a Packer game.  (Granted, Lambeau Field seems far more unifying.)  Today is the recall election for the state’s chief executive.  For more factual details on what has progressed to this point, please read our week old post entitled “Discerning What Is Wise.”  Today’s respectful opining focuses instead on what’s actually at stake.


In order to genuinely discern what’s at stake, step one is to whittle away the rhetoric.  If you read hyperbolic editorials or listen to the latest rhetorical robo-call, you may hear the following, actual claims:


“The Final Battle In The War Against Unions Is Underway”

“Wisconsin Can’t Wait”

“Governors Declare War on Nurses and Teachers”

“Governor of the Year:  Scott Walker”

“We Hate Walker!”


Scott Walker has been Wisconsin’s CEO for only 18 months, and yet, in that brief period of time, “America’s Dairyland” has been transformed into the national hotbed of polarized politics.  What’s synonymous with polarized, political hotbeds?  Rhetorical abundance.  Factual manipulation.  Limitless passion.  Record distortion.  And a total disrespect of dissenting opinion.


(Note:  more people in Wisconsin need to read the Intramuralist.)


Clearing away the rhetorical chaff, there exists no Wisconsin “war.”  Last I observed, while American armed forces fight bravely in Afghanistan, there is no war on women, no war on teachers, no war on Christmas, contraception, etc.  Let’s not disrespect our troops by claiming military conflict where it doesn’t exist.  Hence, there is no “war” in Wisconsin.  The origin of this conflict rests in the question of whether or not collective bargaining should be limited.  That is not war; that is a question… a question on which reasonable people disagree.


What is the long term impact of union contracts on state government?


And a secondary question that all reasonable people must also wrestle with:  do labor unions funnel money to their candidates who, if elected, then return the favor by approving overly generous contracts?


Stop.  Take a deep breath.  Refrain from emotional argument.


Our opinions on the appropriateness of collective bargaining limitations say nothing about how we feel about teachers.  That is an emotional argument simply serving to ratchet up the rhetorical volume.  I had some great teachers; in fact, thanks to clever Mr. Cunningham, I’m now consistently utilizing my genuine interest in current events!  And allow me to not speak solely of my own experience, as I’m also incredibly thankful for my sons’ educators, especially those who unselfishly empower my youngest, having special needs.


Yet how we feel about our teachers does not correlate to the relevant question.  What is the long term impact of union contracts on state government?  How have public employee pensions and insurance affected state budgets?  Those questions must be asked and answered without all the rhetorical and emotional interference.


Notice California — a beautiful state currently strangled by massive debt.  Public pensions have been a significant contributor to this noose. (FYI:  Be careful when researching this issue; many partisan writers will claim an inaccurate percentage, omitting the key accounting issue of underfunding pensions, with some state funds scheduled to run out as early as 2017.)   According to Gov. Jerry Brown (D-CA), “Three times as many people are retiring as are entering the workforce. That arithmetic doesn’t add up. In addition, benefits, contributions and the age of retirement all have to balance. I don’t believe they do today. So we have to take action.”


Agree or disagree with the approach, the origin of the Badger political hotbed is a result of one state taking action.


Gov. Walker asked public employees (exempting law enforcement and firefighters) to pay 5.8% of their salary toward pensions and a minimum of 12.6% toward health insurance premiums.  Previously in Wisconsin, employees paid little to nothing for pensions and an average of 6% toward healthcare.  While the jury’s still out on long term implications, in these short 18 months, a clear majority of objective sources conclude that Wisconsin’s economic climate has improved.


Thus, the question:  what is the longterm impact?


If rhetoric stays out of the way, today Wisconsinites might be closer to answering that question.  The rest of the country will most likely also answer it soon.





This week Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed a ban on super-sized soft drinks in New York City.  While his stated goal was portion control in an effort to reduce obesity, it was ironically amusing, as the announcement came 24 hours before National Donut Day, an observation the mayor’s office previously, publicly, and enthusiastically proclaimed.


Controlling soft drink size, however, is not the bottom line over which we should gulp.  After all, this is merely one law aspiring to control our behavior…


In West Virginia, only babies can ride in a baby carriage.

In Pennsylvania, it’s illegal to sleep in your refrigerator.

And in Flint, Michigan, we could each be arrested for donning those lovely, “saggy pants.”


The question is this:  how far should the government go to control individual behavior?  Does the government have that responsibility?  Is the government even capable of legislating that behavior?


Some legislation possesses greater credibility for legality consideration due to the targeted behavior having a proven, clear, and negative affect on another living being.  That’s the legitimacy in the legislation to curb indoor smoking; secondhand smoke causes health risks for those adjacent to the smoker.


That’s the legitimacy in the effort to ban abortion.  Aborting a fetus stops someone else’s heart.  The point is that individual acts such as smoking and/or abortion have a proven, clear, and negative impact on someone else.


The challenge then for any democracy is the extent to which behavior should be controlled when the negative impact on someone else is not proven and clear…


… such as soft drink gulping…


… such as homo or heterosexual activity…


… such as you-name-it.


Friends, I am not suggesting that all individual behavior is good and noble and right.  My question is more in regard to whether or not the government should legislate our isolated behavior.  When government attempts to control individual actions, government struggles to adhere to fluctuating standards of morality; government often overreaches; and government also inches toward policy more associated with Marxist and Communist thinking.


Allow me a rather relevant example…


One criminal activity has been especially glamorized with the evolution of society…


… in the name of love… in finding one’s soulmate… often veiled by celebrity…


Paul Newman, Julia Roberts, and Jerry Seinfeld — each of their marriages began via adultery.  Society has become numb to that behavior.  I speak not judgmentally, friends.  Many of us have been hurt or even engaged in such activity; we’re each capable of error.  My concern, however, is that society no longer sees adultery as not good, not noble, and not right.


The relative thinking here is that adultery has long been attempted to be legislated.  From early Roman law to the onset of American, adultery has been defined as criminal activity.  In many states still — from New York to North Dakota — adultery is illegal.  Government has attempted to curb this unhealthy, individual behavior.


(Dare the Intramuralist go out on a limb here, but…)  The legislation has been ineffective.


My point is this:  there are some behaviors that while currently viewed by as unhealthy or wrong, government is still incapable of stopping.  Government cannot supersede the spirit within the man.  Conviction comes via truth — not via government.  Also, we are motivated to find that truth when we are allowed to experience the consequences of our behavior.  When government removes the ability to experience the motivating consequences and repercussions of our individual actions and choices, we have moved further away from democracy and further still from wisdom.


Enough for now.  Pass the Diet Coke.




the chosen

Over the holiday weekend I witnessed it once again.  It’s been around seemingly forever, and yet it still can make me uncomfortable.  Obviously, it makes many uncomfortable; otherwise, society wouldn’t struggle dreaming up creative ways to avoid it.  We instead label the struggle and scheming as something else… something that sounds better… but something it’s not…


One by one, the kids lined up.  The boys to the left, the girls to the right.  The oldest maybe 13, the youngest near 5.  Time to choose.


“I pick you!” said the first captain, after quickly yet carefully assessing the potential prowess of the 20 plus peers before him.  “I pick Jackson!” said the next.  And so the process continued until all were chosen.


The frail little 5 year old was last.  The look on her face revealed little from a faraway glance.  I wondered how she felt being chosen last.


Chosen last.  Even worse?  Not chosen.


Therein lies the problem.  That’s what’s hard and often uncomfortable.  When people are selected for various activities or honors, someone is always chosen last or not even chosen.  I don’t like it on “Survivor.”  I didn’t like it in Saturday’s whiffle ball game.  Witnessing the one chosen last makes me uncomfortable.


My sense is that such discomfort is shared by more than me.  No ethical one appreciates another inherently deemed as “the worst of these.”  So the question is:  what are we to do?  What are we to do with the one with the perceived less ability?  Less prowess?  Hardest circumstances?


Those questions have historically been challenging for society to wrestle with.  We either ignore the discomfort — or in a currently increasing mantra, we work to keep that selection process from ever happening.  Allow me to illustrate…


When prom was hosted by Kaynor Tech High School in Waterbury, Connecticut this month, the principal of the school altered the selection process for king and queen.  Proclaiming that everyone deserves “the same opportunity,” Principal Lisa Hylwa — rather than allowing students to vote for the winner — had prom participants instead put their names in a box; the teenage royals were then drawn at random.  Yes, a random king and queen.


According to Hylwa, a chosen king and queen could potentially “spark jealousy, mean behavior, or bullying.”  The random drawing was, in her opinion, wiser.  In other words, the principal desired to keep the selection process from ever happening.


Now as admitted at the onset of this posting, it’s uncomfortable to witness the one chosen last or the ones never chosen.  Yet it seems equally painful (and reeking of a very stiff, political correctness) to suggest that the election process must cease to exist.  The reality is that not all persons are qualified for prom king, not all politicians can win an election, and not every basketball player will be selected in the NBA draft.


It seems to me that there is an increasingly developing mindset that each of us should be so qualified — that we should have this “fair shot” or opportunity at all.  The challenge is that the full manifestation of that logic is absent of the truth that we are each created with different gifts; we aren’t all equal.  We each have different skills, different gifts, varied intensities of ambition, work ethics, and God-given abilities.  To ignore them — and eliminate any process of election — seems equally uncomfortable.  Man can’t control something God created.


Friends, I don’t have all the answers; don’t conclude I feel that I do.  My strong sense is simply that this idea that all must have equal opportunity is creating an entitlement sense that lacks the wisdom to recognize individual gifting.  To eliminate the selection process — and thus any voting of kings and queens — is unwise.


FYI:  My youngest son was a part of Saturday’s whiffle ball game.  Of the 20 plus kids, he was one of the last chosen.  Did I mention he has Down syndrome?  Yet did he grimace and fret as it neared the end of the selection process?  Was he upset about being picked close to last?


That adorable 10 year old jumped up and down, eager to play, thankful to be a part of a team.  He has many gifts — most not exhibited on a base path.  He knows that.  Hence, if we could all be a little more like him…


(P.S.  He does have a great arm.)