Keystone Conundrum

“As a serious strategy for dealing with climate, blocking Keystone is a waste of time. But as a strategy for arousing passion, it is dynamite.”  — David Victor, global warming policy expert at the University of California, San Diego.

Anti-Keystone protest outside White House

Anti-Keystone protest outside White House

Back in November, I suggested that the Lame Duck session of the 113th Congress could and should work with President Obama to approve the Keystone XL pipeline before the end of the year. Well,… it didn’t happen. (Surprised?) But, with the issue being debated again last week and this week for an upcoming bill, I wanted to look at it a little closer myself.

The proposed “XL” is not a totally new project but an extension of the already existing Keystone pipeline. It would consist of 1179 miles of new pipeline being constructed — 840 miles of it in the U.S. — and provide an alternate, shorter route between Hardisty, Alberta, and Steele City, Nebraska, than the one already in place. It would carry an estimated 800,000 barrels of crude oil per day, including from the Albertan tar sands and from the Bakken region of Montana and North Dakota. The existing pipeline extends in two directions from Steele City — east to Patoka, Illinois, and south to Cushing, Oklahoma. A second project — the Gulf Coast Pipeline Project, completed in Jan. 2014 — extended the pipeline another 485 miles from Cushing down to refineries in Nederland, Texas, for export from Port Arthur. The 48-mile Houston Lateral Pipeline Project, expected to be completed this year, will allow for oil near the end of the pipeline to be diverted to refineries in Houston.

Once upon a time, President Obama assured Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper that he was only delaying approval until the proper environmental studies could be done to assure the XL pipeline would not harm the environment. He said he would only deny approval for the project if it was shown to have negative ecological effect. In fact, multiple environmental studies have been done, each confirming that the pipeline poses minimal environmental risk to soil, water, wildlife, etc., and negligible climate impact. Yet, still the President put off his decision about issuing a Presidential Permit, while seemingly “evolving” towards a more negative position. This has greatly harmed America’s relationship with Canada, our “closest ally and biggest trading partner.”

The green lobby, of course, has continued to write about all sorts of imagined dangers and has put a huge amount of pressure on the administration to kill the project. As the Weekly Standard‘s Fred Barnes has noted,

“It’s a power play. If it works, the political clout of the movement will grow. And environmentalists are already a forceful special interest in Washington.”

Enviro-activists are using the recent rupture in the Poplar pipeline in Montana to paint all pipelines as bad, dangerous. Some Keystone protesters are staging “die-ins” and chaining themselves to the White House fence (see pic). The most alarmist claims by certain environmentalists, however, are being decried by some of their fellows.

“The extreme statements — that this is ‘game over’ for the planet — are clearly not intellectually true…”  — David Keith, Canadian climate scientist now at Harvard University

Some legislators on the left are trying to make it more difficult for the Keystone XL bill to be approved by tacking on amendments that require more regulations, restrictions, and other headaches. For example, Sen. Al Franken proposed a protectionist “buy American” provision, which may sound patriotic but is bad for many reasons.

Obama has stated mistakenly that the U.S. would not receive any oil or benefit from reduced gas prices from the Keystone XL expansion. But, a WSJ editorial pointed out that “Oil markets are global, and adding to the global supply might well reduce U.S. gas prices.” The president also doesn’t think many U.S. jobs would be created from the project. But, his own State Dept. projects 42,000 new jobs and a $3.5 billion boost to the economy. (I don’t know for sure, but this likely includes new and expanded businesses built up around the new pipeline workers and their families.)

According to an article last month by the Tribune News Service, some — including the Manhattan Institute, a free market-oriented think tank — are questioning if the Keystone XL is still financially feasible. According to Sandy Fielden, director of energy analytics at Texas-based RBN Energy, “The economics of this project are becoming increasingly borderline.” The issue is whether or not the additional effort and costs associated with extracting oil from tar sands are still justified by the market’s now-declining prices. (Some analysts are predicting further drops in the near future.) When asked about this, the pipeline’s owner, TransCanada Corp., pointed to their decades-long investment in the pipeline as evidence of their commitment.

“We sign binding, long-term commercial agreements with our customers so they can reserve space to deliver the crude oil they need to their customers. [Oil-shipping investors] have a good understanding of what the market needs over time. They do not make decisions based on short-term views or changes in commodity prices.”  — Mark Cooper, TransCanada spokesman

Pro-Keystone meeting

Pro-Keystone meeting

Their strategy is obviously much more long-term, their thinking is more big-picture. The Keystone pipeline and the resources that flow through it are very important to the Canadian economy. One way or another, that tar sand oil will find its way into the global market. If the XL proposal is not approved by the U.S., the crude will be shipped either to Canada’s west coast or to New Brunswick in the east, where it will be refined and exported. So, rejection by the U.S. won’t be helping to reduce any greenhouse emissions. (I can still admire the integrity of those who reject it on principle, despite pragmatic benefits, but I think those principles are misguided and/or misinformed.) As long as the companies investing in the pipeline continue to see long-term benefit in building & using it, it should be approved.

Of course, there are additional reasons, such as the broad support for the project. A December poll conducted by USA Today found 60% of Americans want it built, while only 25% are against it. Most Republicans and conservatives are for it. As for Democrats, most of the working class are for it, as are the unions (whom Obama says he is beholden to). Those against it are those who lean green, including the upper-class “elitists”. Fortunately, there are a few in Congress (mostly from states who would benefit from it) who are willing to vote in favor. The votes last November had only 15 Dem senators and 31 Dem representatives approving. Some of them are gone now, but there are also more on the right side of the aisle.

Oh, yes. There is also the benefit of reducing American dependence on oil from Venezuela and the Middle East by up to 40%.

The decision to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline Project is not really much of a “conundrum”, if ya ask me….

The new Congress is expected to pass and send Obama a bipartisan bill in favor of Keystone XL, and the President has indicated he will still veto it. The only possible reason I can see is that he puts his misguided, disproven, far-left ideological agenda over the welfare of the American people. Sadly, it wouldn’t be the first time, nor the last.

I guess the next question will be whether or not enough Democrats in Congress — yes, I’m pretty sure it comes down to the Dems — have the guts to vote in favor and ensure an override of the President’s veto.


Defining Islam

Nabeel Qureshi

Nabeel Qureshi

Last week’s post included an excerpt from Nabeel Qureshi’s book Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity (2014), and I would like to include another one here. It is particularly relevant today, with the jihadists being called “radical” and other Muslims being called “moderate” and all of them saying their interpretation and practice of Islam is true to the Quran and the teachings/example of Muhammad. To help put Qureshi’s remarks in context, I should probably explain that his family — both maternal and paternal — are from Pakistan. They are devout followers of the lesser-known (and oft-maligned by other Muslims) Ahmadiyya sect of Islam, with Ahmadi missionaries on both sides. The author’s father served in the U.S. Army and was stationed (with his family) in Scotland for many years, but they moved back to their adopted home of America when Nabeel and his sister were still children.

The excerpt below follows directly after the tragic events of 9/11, just days after Qureshi began his freshman year at college….

“As the days progressed, it became clear that the hijackers were indeed Muslim and that this attack on our nation had been carried out in the name of Islam. But what Islam was this? It was clearly not the Islam I knew. True, I used to hear of Muslims in distant lands committing atrocities in the name of Allah, but those accounts were too remote to create any cognitive dissonance. This hit much closer to home. This hit us in our hearts.

Over the following weeks, news stations mercilessly looped footage of the crumbling towers. Again and again and again, I witnessed thousands of innocents massacred in the name of my God. It finally became too much. I had to learn the truth about my faith once and for all. I had to figure out how to reconcile my Islam, a religion of peace, with the Islam on television, a religion of terror.

In the twelve years since that day, I have learned that the question is far more complex than it first appears. The most important consideration is the definition of Islam. If by Islam we mean the beliefs of Muslims, then Islam can be a religion of peace or a religion of terror, depending on how it is taught.

In the West, Muslims are generally taught a very pacific version of Islam. Just like [my sister] Baji and I, Western Muslims are taught that Muhammad fought only defensive battles and that violent verses in the Quran refer to specific, defensive contexts. Jihad is here defined as primarily a peaceful endeavor, an internal struggle against one’s baser desires. When asked about their religion, Western Muslims honestly report what they believe: Islam is a religion of peace.

In the East, though, Muslims often have a less docile view of Islam. They are taught that Islam is superior to all other religions and ways of life and that Allah wishes to see it established throughout the world. They often define jihad as a primarily physical endeavor, a struggle against the enemies of Islam. When asked about their religion, these Muslims will honestly report what they believe: Islam will dominate the world.

So if we define Islam by the beliefs of its adherents, it may or may not be a religion of peace. But if we define Islam more traditionally, as the system of beliefs and practices taught by Muhammad, then the answer is less ambiguous.”

Perhaps I should interject here to point out that Qureshi is, of course, writing from his experiences growing up. But, as is becoming more apparent every day, not all Western-raised Muslims are taught the peaceful version of Islam. We know that more & more are being radicalized — or, at the very least, taught to hold a rather negative view of the West — in the U.S. and in Europe, even as they reap the many benefits of living here/there.

Qureshi continues here by mentioning something he didn’t realize until he really delved into the actual history of Muhammad and the beginnings of Islam, since most Muslims are taught a rather sanitized version….

“The earliest historical records show that Muhammad launched offensive military campaigns and used violence at times to accomplish his purposes. He used the term jihad in both spiritual and physical contexts, but the physical jihad is the one Muhammad strongly emphasizes. The peaceful practice of Islam hinges on later, often Western, interpretations of Muhammad’s teachings, whereas the more violent variations of Islam are deeply rooted in orthodoxy and history.

Of course, like all people, Muslims in the East and West generally just believe what they are taught. Rarely is there much critical investigation into historical events, and the few that invest the effort usually do the same thing I had done in my TOK class: attempt to defend what is already believed, potentially ignoring or underestimating evidence that points to the contrary. This is only natural, since it is extremely difficult to change beliefs that are dear to the heart.

Such was the case with me. In my heart of hearts, I wanted to know the truth about Islam, but it would be nearly impossible to challenge my childhood beliefs just by investigating them. I would keep finding ways to ignore difficult truths. What I needed was something that would not let me get away with my biases. I needed something that would mercilessly loop my bad arguments before my eyes, again and again and again, until I could avoid them no longer.”

Bible and Quran

Bible and Quran

Intrigued? I certainly would be, if I hadn’t already read the book. Qureshi’s descriptions of his home life, his indoctrination into the Quran (Muslim holy book), the hadith (collection of traditions containing sayings of Muhammad), and the Muslim rituals and way of life are very interesting. He explains how close the family unit is, the ways in which the Muslim beliefs and practices are interwoven throughout their lives from the moment they are born, and the important role of community. The reader is given a slightly better understanding (even appreciation?) of those things that often seem so alien to the non-Muslim. It also helps one to understand the great sacrifices of family and community that a person raised in that culture makes when converting from Islam to any other belief system. It is an extremely difficult choice, despite the positive aspects that may be had.

But, as the author states in the epilogue, “All suffering is worth it to follow Jesus. He is that amazing.” Amen! You can read all about what — or, rather, who — that “something” was that God used to encourage and challenge Qureshi’s investigation into the truth about both Islam and Christianity, as well as the amazing events that helped him finally surrender his troubled heart and spirit into the care of the one, true and Living God. Read the book!


Insight into Eastern vs. Western Thinking

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus - cover imageLately, I’ve been reading a book called Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity (2014) by Nabeel Qureshi. As you might guess from the title, it’s an autobiographical story about a devout young Muslim man who investigated the claims of both Islam and Christianity and eventually converted to the latter. It is an engaging read. There is a section almost half-way through in which Qureshi explains some foundational differences between the way people of the East — and, in particular, Muslims — think and how their Western counterparts think….

“When my parents taught me to examine my beliefs, I was essentially expected to build a defense for what they had taught me. In [my high school "Theory of Knowledge" class], we were ostensibly doing the same thing — examining our beliefs — but in practice, it was the exact opposite. We were critically probing our beliefs, challenging them, testing them for weak points, pliability, and boundaries. Some students were even replacing them.

This difference between Eastern and Western education can be traced to the disparity that divides Muslim immigrants from their children: Islamic cultures tend to establish people of high status as authorities, whereas the authority in Western culture is reason itself. These alternative seats of authority permeate the mind, determining the moral outlook of whole societies.

When authority is derived by position rather than reason, the act of questioning leadership is dangerous because it has the potential to upset the system. Dissension is reprimanded, and obedience is rewarded. Correct and incorrect courses of action are assessed socially, not individually. A person’s virtue is thus determined by how well he meets social expectations, not by an individual determination of right and wrong.

Thus, positional authority yields a society that determines right and wrong based on honor and shame.

On the other hand, when authority is derived from reason, questions are welcome because critical examination sharpens the very basis of authority. Each person is expected to critically examine his own course of action. Correct and incorrect courses of action are assessed individually. A person’s virtue is determined by whether he does what he knows to be right or wrong.

Rational authority creates a society that determines right and wrong based on innocence and guilt.

Much of the West’s inability to understand the East stems from the paradigmatic schism between honor-shame cultures and innocence-guilt cultures. Of course, the matter is quite complex, and elements of both paradigms are present in the East and the West, but the honor-shame spectrum is the operative paradigm that drives the East, and it is hard for Westerners to understand.

This reliance on positional authority explains some characteristics in parts of the Muslim world that confound many Westerners, such as the continued practices of honor killings, child brides of six or younger, and blood feuds. For one reason or another, the prevailing sources of social authority in the regions deem these customs acceptable, perhaps even preferable. No amount of sheer reason is going to change these practices, nor will externally imposed prohibitions. The change will have to be social, internal, and organic.

But honor killings and blood feuds are generally not struggles for children raised as second-generation Western Muslims. We wrestle with the honor-shame principle that tells us, ‘It’s okay as long as you don’t get caught.’ If there is no dishonor, it is not wrong.”

At this point, Qureshi gives two fairly innocuous examples. In the first, he relates a story from his youth, when he and some Muslim friends were hanging out at a Taco Bell. It was their practice at fast-food restaurants to order water but fill up with soda at the refill dispenser. They didn’t see anything wrong with it. But, this time one of them was observed doing it by an employee, who tactlessly and publicly confronted him about it. He was caught with the evidence! Suddenly, what had been considered not a big deal was now shameful, because the boy had “suffered dishonor in front of many.” In an attempt to save face, he denied it, proceeded to fill the rest of his (transparent) cup with water, and walked away — as if water is normally a deep, bubbly pink.

baboo-oIn the second account, the author’s cousin was shopping for car insurance and discovered that he could get a better rate if he was married. So, of course, the single man claimed he was married. In fact, he even concocted an elaborate back-story for his “wife” (who, unfortunately, still lived in Pakistan), how they met, etc. Over a year later, he got in a fender-bender and called to file a claim. While explaining what happened, he was asked by the insurance agent if his wife was with him. His mind preoccupied with the accident, he said he wasn’t married. When the agent asked if he had ever been married, he again said ‘No.’ Needless to say, he was soon notified that his rate had been adjusted appropriately, and it was now more than twice his earlier rate. When the cousin told this story to his extended family, he was only chided by two people — Nabeel and one other American-born. “The elders laughed and told us to lighten up, asserting that the insurance companies had enough money as it was. My cousin boisterously agreed.” By the end of the tale, they were roaring with laughter. What started out as light ridicule for the dishonor of being caught committing minor insurance fraud was transformed into honor for being an entertaining storyteller. No shame, no guilt.

Qureshi continues…

“These are relatively harmless examples of how an honor-shame culture might see things differently from a Western culture of guilt and innocence. Of course, there is a highly developed notion of morality in Islam, so we must take care not to oversimplify the matter and assume that Muslims do whatever they wish if they believe they will not be caught. All the same, it is safe to say that guilt is less of a determining factor in the East than is shame.

Coming back to second-generation Muslim Westerners, it might now be easier to see just how difficult it can be to straddle these two cultures. When engaged in something less than socially acceptable, the young Muslim will be tempted to hide it and will begin to struggle with internal guilt. The natural Eastern tendency to hide shameful truths exacerbates the Western tendency to feel guilty.”

More broadly, the honor-shame paradigm is seen and felt in other ways, too, of course. For example, when Qureshi first started to seriously consider leaving Islam behind and becoming a Christian, he knew it would be devastating to his familial relationships. It would be viewed by family and the local Muslim community as betrayal of them and of Allah, bringing shame and dishonor upon them, not just him. However,

“[T]hese costs are not considered consciously. They form part of the knee-jerk reaction against the gospel. I never said, ‘I choose to remain Muslim because it would cost my family if I were to follow Jesus.’ Far from it, I subconsciously found ways and means to go on rejecting the gospel so I would not be faced with what I would have to pay….”

I hope you found these insights as fascinating and helpful in understanding the Eastern mindset as I did.


Could You Pass the AP Exam on U.S. Government and Politics?

5 Steps to a 5 - cover imageHave you ever taken an Advanced Placement (AP) exam for anything? I haven’t. But, a few weeks ago I came across a book in the library titled 5 Steps to a 5: 500 AP U.S. Government and Politics Questions to Know by Test Day by William Madden (pub. by McGraw-Hill). Given the topics of many of my posts here, I was intrigued and checked it out. When I started flipping through the questions, I realized this was no walk in the park!

The questions are organized into the following parts & chapters, with anywhere from 8 to 100 questions (with multiple-choice answers) per chapter:



Ch. 1:  Influences on the Formulation and Adoption of the Constitution
Ch. 2:  The Separation of Powers and Checks and Balances
Ch. 3:  Federalism
Ch. 4:  Theories of Democratic Government


Ch. 5:  Beliefs that Citizens Hold about Their Government and Its Leaders
Ch. 6:  Processes by Which Citizens Learn about Politics
Ch. 7:  The Nature, Sources, and Consequences of Public Opinion
Ch. 8:  Voting Tendencies and Political Participation
Ch. 9:  Factors Affecting Differences in Political Beliefs and Behaviors


Ch. 10:  Political Parties and Elections
Ch. 11:  Interest Groups, Including Political Action Committees (PACs)
Ch. 12:  The Mass Media


Ch. 13:  Formal and Informal Arrangements of Power
Ch. 14:  The Relationship Among the Four Institutions and Varying Balances of Power
Ch. 15:  Linkages between Institutions and the Following: Public Opinion and Voters, Interest Groups, Political Parties, the Media, and State and Local Governments


Ch. 16:  Policymaking and the Federal System
Ch. 17:  The Formation of Political Agendas
Ch. 18:  The Role of Institutions in Enacting Policy
Ch. 19:  The Role of Bureaucracy and Courts in Policy Implementation and Interpretation
Ch. 20:  Linkages between Policy Processes and the Following: Political Institutions and Federalism, Political Parties, Interest Groups, Public Opinion, Elections, and Policy Networks


Ch. 21:  The Development of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties by Judicial Interpretation
Ch. 22:  Knowledge of Substantive Rights and Liberties
Ch. 23:  The Impact of the Fourteenth Amendment on the Constitutional Development of Rights and Liberties

To get a sense of the material, I semi-randomly chose one question from each chapter as a quiz for you to test yourself with. (The book’s answers follow, of course, including some helpful explanations.) Good luck!


#7: According to Alexander Hamilton, a strong central government was required for the United States to compete with the rest of the world on a(n) _____________ level.

(A) economic
(B) political
(C) military
(D) cultural
(E) All of the above

#14: Historically, the most frequent method for amending the Constitution has been for

(A) two-thirds of the states to request a constitutional convention to ratify a new amendment
(B) a two-thirds vote in Congress to be followed by ratification in three-fourths of the state legislatures
(C) three-fourths of special state constitutional conventions to ratify a new amendment
(D) a three-fourths vote in Congress to be followed by ratification in two-thirds of the state legislatures
(E) None of the above

#27: Which of the following is a key component of federalism?

(A) Each level of government is independent from other levels.
(B) The national government supersedes other, lower levels.
(C) Lower levels of government do not exert political leverage on higher levels.
(D) Separate responsibilities are given to people and territories.
(E) Federalism allows for self-governance at the local level.

#49: Coinciding with David Hume’s ideas of competition between contending interests and John Lock and Montesquieu’s belief in limited government, Adam Smith contributed the idea of a separation between

(A) business and government
(B) church and state
(C) state and national government
(D) individuals and government
(E) business and religion

#51: Public opinion on foreign policy is usually particularly responsive to opinion leadership because

(A) few people pay sustained attention to foreign affairs
(B) except in times of direct threat, citizens leave foreign affairs to government experts
(C) there are well-established foreign policy think tanks
(D) the news media cover government action sufficiently
(E) foreign policy is highly consistent

#70: The coherence of aggregate public opinion is based on:

(A) citizens’ general knowledge about politics
(B) the clearly defined positions of politicians
(C) opinion leaders who combine information from various sources
(D) the research individuals do on an issue or issues
(E) the effectiveness of campaign advertising

#78: Political attitudes introduce bias to the interpretation of political information because

(A) public opinion is never neutral
(B) people give more attention to information that confirms their beliefs
(C) one side of an issue has to be “right,” while the other is “wrong”
(D) such information is usually complex, and attitudes reduce it to one of two sides
(E) political parties tend to dictate attitudes

#86: Campaign money is regulated because of all of the following EXCEPT

(A) Taxpayers partially finance presidential campaigns.
(B) Candidates need to keep track of what their opponents are spending.
(C) Money can undermine political equality.
(D) Private financing leads to suspicion of politicians serving their donors.
(E) Pursuit of money can discredit electoral victory.

#95: The major reason for the decline in voter turnout in the past 40 years has been

(A) a decline in eligible voters
(B) apathy regarding once-important issues
(C) a disconnect between politicians and voters
(D) an increase in the diversity of the population
(E) a decline in mobilization efforts by parties and organized groups

#108: The long-standing two-party structure in American government is due to Duverger’s law, which states that

(A) people act in their own interests
(B) people vote for less objectionable major-party candidates if their first choice cannot win
(C) people will vote with the party with which they identify regardless of candidate qualifications
(D) people are uninformed and rely on polls to make voting determinations
(E) people are more likely to be independent only if they live in a region dominated by one party

#134: An interest group’s primary responsibility is to

(A) educate the public on an issue
(B) engage in partisan politics to further its cause
(C) court administrators for special privileges
(D) create talking points for politicians to use
(E) gain as many members as possible to make its issue more politically important

#148: The growth of the news media industry has created a barrier to covering political issues because

(A) print journalism resents broadcast journalism
(B) the Washington press corps is still a small select group
(C) all politicians have press secretaries to deal with the media
(D) the sheer volume of competing news stories means that some important issues are not always covered
(E) press beats limit reporters to following only one story

#184: The departments of Agriculture, Labor, and Commerce differ from the Treasury, the Justice Department, and the Department of Defense because the former

(A) serve general social purposes
(B) do not represent a particular clientele
(C) naturally grew out of the needs of society
(D) do not need anyone to lobby on their behalf
(E) All of the above

#210: Lower-court judges tend not to contradict the Supreme Court because

(A) a reversed decision is a defeat for a judge
(B) frequent reversals could damage a judge’s reputation
(C) reversed decisions will bring greater scrutiny
(D) controversial decisions may not be recognized
(E) All of the above

#316: The media’s demands for timely and accurate information serve all of the following purposes EXCEPT

(A) making sure the government remains transparent
(B) providing the public with necessary facts about government actions
(C) meeting the needs of the public to form opinions
(D) forcing the government to explain its actions
(E) preventing public officials from having the time to craft their own news stories

#352: The president can set policy by which of the following methods?

(A) Executive appointments
(B) Public speeches
(C) Meetings with congressional leaders
(D) Executive orders
(E) Judicial appointments

#365: National bureaucracies are important in setting policy agendas because

(A) the president gives them the power to do so
(B) Congress gives the the power to do so
(C) they possess the necessary expertise in a certain area
(D) they often come up with necessary innovations that pertain to issues
(E) they have to approve any policy goals

#373: The information problems associated with bureaucracy are complexity of information and

(A) executive branch interference
(B) changing public opinion
(C) the preference of bureaucratic agencies
(D) congressional oversight
(E) the proliferation of interest groups

#385: Until the New Deal in the 1930s, judicial attitudes toward the U.S. political process were republican, meaning

(A) they favored Republicans
(B) they protected property from legislative majorities
(C) they favored the institutions of democracy
(D) they did not appreciate or consider arguments for democracy over republic
(E) they wanted to expand political freedoms

#404: Major party leaders influence the policy process by

(A) negotiating with the executive branch
(B) negotiating with agencies
(C) reacting to judicial decisions
(D) shaping the overall budget
(E) responding to public opinion

#432: In terms of civil rights and liberties, a suspect classification is one

(A) where legislators legitimately apply the law to a certain group of citizens
(B) where judicial interpretation is questionable
(C) where there is concern that legislation separates a class of people
(D) where the law gives favor to a particular group
(E) where a law is seen as unnecessary

#462: What was the pivotal Supreme Court decision banning prayer in public schools?

(A) Betts v. Brady
(B) Wolf v. Colorado
(C) Benton v. Maryland
(D) Engel v. Vitale
(E) Brown v. Mississippi

#495: Using the Fourteenth Amendment to restrain the private sector is controversial because

(A) the amendment does not provide for that
(B) the Supreme Court has had difficulty creating a clear line of reasoning for it
(C) the amendment is aimed at government action
(D) the amendment originally pertained only to racial discrimination
(E) All of the above


#7: (E) Alexander Hamilton was perhaps the strongest proponent of a strong central government and became the leader of the Federalist Party that emerged after ratification. His focus was economic strength, but he believed that all other aspects were connected to economics and held equal importance on the international stage.

#14: (B) “Frequent” may be a misleading term, as there have been only 27 amendments; however, all amendments except Prohibition have occurred through the method in answer B. Answers A and C represent parts of the other ways that amendments can be passed, and Answer D is not a proscribed method.

#27: (A) Federalism works primarily because the national government and state governments have exclusive spheres of influence.

#49: (A) In his Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith laid the groundwork for free-market systems that separates the government from business, which is the foundation of capitalist theory. Smith believed that the market is self-correcting and that the more government intrudes, the more business is impeded. Since Smith, many economic theories have been developed, but America still holds on to his main idea of free-market capitalism as its economic structure.

#51: (A) Foreign affairs and the intricate relationships involved are more than the average citizen has time to follow. Therefore, opinion leaders are important for the average citizen to remain aware of what is happening. Of course, events such as September 11, 2001, capture everyone’s attention, but those events are rare and cannot be considered alongside the day-to-day interactions of our government with the rest of the world.

#70: (C) Aggregate public opinion becomes more consistent over time. This is due in large part to the consistent message of opinion leaders. As people coalesce around certain ideologies, general views will remain consistent.

#78: (B) It is human nature to drift toward that with which we agree and move away from that with which we disagree. Therefore, political attitudes are not a neutral measurement but often show a high degree of bias, because individuals are going to find information that supports their belief structure rather than refutes it.

#86: (B) All of these answers may seem to be legitimate, but although a candidate might like to track an opponent’s expenditures, there is no ethical need for him or her to have that information. All other responses deal with either public funding or voter perception, which fall under the idea of campaigns being transparent.

#95: (E) Voters go to the polls when they see activity for or against a candidate. Until recently, this was the focus of political parties and their mobilization efforts. The decline in these mobilization efforts has coincided with the decline in voter turnout.

#108: (B) Duverger’s law explains the lack of third-party success in American political history. If there are choices other than the two major-party candidates (which there are in every election), voters will end up voting for one of the two major candidates because they feel their first choice has no hope of winning. Voters do not want to feel that their votes are entirely wasted, even if they compromise their political beliefs to have their votes “count.”

#134: (A) Knowledge is power, and interest groups seek to educate politicians. More important, they seek to educate the public that is affected by the issue. Without public support, an interest group’s political power evaporates.

#148: (D) With ever-growing news coverage and reporting from traditional press and broadcast sources to new media on the Internet, there is a lack of far-ranging coverage of government activity, because no media outlet wants to miss the “big story”. The consequence is that with everyone chasing a handful of stories, many lesser stories of perhaps equal importance are overlooked or given scant attention.

#184: (C) These departments grew out of the needs of American citizens and specific business groups, so the corresponding cabinet positions were added. The Defense, Treasury, and Justice departments provide a general need that apply to all citizens and the workings of government.

#210: (E) The Supreme Court is the ultimate destination in a judge’s career, and most will never reach it. However, the federal judiciary is relatively small, and not following precedent again and again will be noticed and can hurt a judge’s hopes for career advancement. Further, any subsequent rulings will be given more scrutiny based on the judge’s previous behavior.

#316: (C) Public opinion is formed continuously, and the information people receive adds to that, but there is no deadline or time-sensitive aspect to what voters think. Granted, a breaking news story or emerging crisis may be important to them, but that information will be added to the aggregate public opinion that is constantly evolving.

#352: (D) Executive orders have the power of law as long as they do not conflict with any existing legislation or the Constitution. Because the president can issue orders unilaterally, policy can change instantly.

#365: (D) As policymaking rests firmly with bureaucracies, so does the creation of the agenda. Unless there is a reason for Congress to do otherwise, it will defer to agency expertise as to the best way of moving forward in developing and implementing policy.

#373: (C) Bureaucracies are made up of people with opinions and perspectives on the best way to accomplish a goal. Due to their expertise, they are often deferred to by those with control of the policy apparatus. Couple this with the complexity of information and situations arise in which Congress may not receive what it thinks is relevant because the agency representatives do not think it is relevant, or they would rather not share it because it may alter their policy implementations.

#385: (B) Republican government is generally based on government representing the people but not intruding on their daily lives, as power is vested in elected representatives who pursue the interests of the governed. According to the Supreme Court, property rights were at the heart of that system until the New Deal expanded federal authority. Civil rights and government responsibility did not occupy the court’s time in the nineteenth century.

#404: (D) The budget, proposed by the president and passed by Congress, is the vehicle that party leaders use to influence policy. In the House, the Rules Committee sets the legislative agenda and can shape the budget. This committee is controlled by the majority party, so any part of the budget that does not agree with its political agenda will receive less attention than items that do. Thus, party leaders can influence policy.

#432: (C) Legislation designed to limit activity or deny a group the opportunity to do what others are allowed to do is suspect. This does not mean that the group is suspicious, rather it refers to the historic discrimination or marginalization the group has faced in society and through legal limitations.

#462: (D) Engel v. Vitale, still decried in conservative circles nearly 50 years later, banned prayer in public schools, which was found to be a violation of church and state. Because schools were publicly funded entities, prayer in schools was a government endorsement of religion and thus violated the establishment clause.

#495: (E) The business of government has become more involved in the private sector, merging the two interests. Therefore, all the responses apply to this situation. The Supreme Court has placed restraints on the private sector that are similar to those it has placed on government action.

Frankly, I found some of the questions/answers somewhat vague or otherwise confusing. Mostly, though, I just haven’t really studied this stuff in ages, and I didn’t do as well as I’d hoped. How about you?


Top 10: The Sequel

calvin-writing.gifIn October 19, 2014′s post celebrating this blog’s 5-year anniversary, I included links and introductory text to ten of my personal favorite posts. I got a little extra traffic to those posts (and maybe an extra subscriber or two), so I was happy. But, there were several other posts that I am especially pleased with, of course, that did not get included. So, in hopes of encouraging more readers to check out some of my earlier articles, I am closing out the year by selecting ten more for your edu-tainment pleasure. They’re even in chronological order of publication, this time — not that it matters. (Technically, I suppose, both lists can’t be “Top 10″, especially since the criteria are the same, yet somewhat vague and subjective. Just go with it.)

Given the time of year that this is going out, it is only fitting to begin with…

“Is December 25th Pagan?” (2 parts)

“What do Jimmy Buffett, Larry Csonka, Karl Rove, Cab Calloway, Anwar Sadat, Rod Serling, Humphrey Bogart, and Conrad Hilton (Paris’ great-granddaddy) have in common? Based on the title above, you may have guessed that they were all born on December 25th. Yet, as long as we’re listing famous people with that particular birthday, someone else seems to be conspicuously missing from the list. Someone who lived in Ancient Palestine (i.e., Israel, the Holy Land) about 2000 years ago, caused quite a stir with his radical teachings and truth claims, died a horrible death, etc. Yeah,… Jesus of Nazareth, aka Jesus Christ. Wrong!”

“Racial Profiling and Discrimination in Arizona”

“Have you seen some of the signs held by those protesting the new Arizona immigration law? They say things like “We have rights!” and “We are human!” Well, nothing in the law allows for inhumane treatment of anyone. (Of course, illegal immigrants do have fewer rights precisely because they are NOT LEGAL citizens — or, even residents — in this country.) So, these people are either ignorant of what the law actually says or dishonest about its implications. Honestly, you’d think Arizona was gonna round up all the Hispanics and throw them in an internment camp!”

“Carbon-14 Dating Gets an Update”

“While writing about the recent purported discovery of Noah’s Ark, supposedly dated to about 4800 years old, I was reminded of an article I read several weeks ago. It has to do with carbon-14 (C-14 or 14C) dating and its limitations…. Carbon-14 dating, or radiocarbon dating, is rather unique among radiometric dating methods, in that it can only date organic matter — i.e., things that used to be alive…. New developments have resulted in the publication of probably the most accurate radiocarbon calibration curve, yet. It’s referred to as the INTCAL09 standard.”

P.S.  I hope to have an update to this update in the coming weeks.

“What Would Jesus Cut (from the Budget)?”

“A day or two ago, a more liberally-minded friend sent me a message on Facebook. He pointed me to an article on HuffPo, which asked the question (prompted by liberal theologian / “social justice” activist Jim Wallis), “What Would Jesus Cut?” Of course, it refers to the federal budget and is a challenge to let Jesus’s words be a guide…. [A]fter giving it some thought and jotting down some ideas, I decided maybe it was good enough for a blog post. So,… it ain’t perfect, or comprehensive, but here it is:…”

“Why the Gospels Differ”

“When reading through and comparing the four canonical Gospels, Christian and non-Christian alike will sometimes wonder why the books aren’t in the same format and tell the same stuff. True, they do follow the basic style for biography in the ancient Greco-Roman world (which can be frustrating to us ‘modern’ people who want more complete information). But, why do they use different titles for Jesus? Why do they sometimes overlap but not always give the same details? Why don’t they always stick to a timeline?”

“Young-Earth / Old-Earth Creationist Exchange” (3 parts)

in_the_beginning“It has been my experience that many evangelical Christians are brought up or socialized to believe that the Young-Earth Creationist (YEC) view is the only acceptable, orthodox position on these matters. If they are aware of the Old-Earth Creationist (OEC) position, they are usually taught that it puts science above Scripture and “compromises the Gospel”. (Neither of which is true, I assure you.) Some have even called OECs heretics and apostates! Last September, I had a brief dialog on Facebook with a Young-Earther that I thought might be of interest (even instructive) to my readers, whether you follow the debates or are unfamiliar with the issues.”

“Uncaring, Bloodthirsty Hypocrites: A Liberal’s Description of Conservatives”

“I was scanning through the comments at the end of a Time article online and came across some interesting claims by a liberal. It came in the midst of the typical Right vs. Left bashing, with accusations and generalizations from both sides. But, it occurred to me that this particular commenter did not have much of a grasp on WHAT conservatives actually believe/do and WHY. So, I thought I’d reproduce his comments here and give brief responses to them.”

“But It’s Only Natural”

“Nobody likes to be blamed or accused of doing something bad or wrong. We don’t like to be punished or embarrassed. We don’t like to be made to feel guilty — even if we are guilty of wrongdoing. We usually realize that what we were caught doing (or habitually do) is illegal and/or immoral — and maybe dangerous, too. But, we wanna do what we wanna do….. Another favorite reason/excuse given for one’s behavior is that it is “only natural”. Homosexuals and their supporters often use this as part of their arsenal, saying that gays & lesbians should not be prohibited from or “judged” for doing what comes naturally…. Let me respond to this argument with a few questions….”

“On Botched Executions”

“A convicted murderer was constitutionally executed by the state because he was found guilty of a terrible, capital crime. From what I can tell, his guilt is not disputed. The problem(s) that resulted in a delay in the murderer’s passing are separate and incidental…. The specific issue at hand is whether or not so much hay should be made of the fact that, on this particular occasion, something went wrong, which caused the inmate being executed to experience some pain for a few minutes before finally dying…. Frankly, it really doesn’t bother me too much if a monster like that — like Clayton Lockett — experiences some pain when he’s on his way out.”

“Mere Christian Eschatology”

It makes sense (in my mind, anyway) to have the last post linked here be one about the theological study of the Last Days (or “End Times”).

“Sadly, eschatology can be [quite] divisive within the Church…. It can also be rather distracting and the cause of unhealthy obsession…. So, I am glad I never got caught up in “end times mania”, and I pray that the Lord helps me stay grounded and focused on more important matters. In fact, that is a major point made in Kenneth Samples’ latest book, Christian Endgame: Careful Thinking about the End Times. Part of what Samples talks about is the fact that, despite the various views about how everything will play (or is playing) out in the end times, there are five core, foundational points that are held as orthodoxy in all historic Christian theological traditions.”

Have a Happy New Year! See y’all in 2015!



I may get “in trouble” for TABWW (i.e., talking about Blacks while White), but I’m gonna do it anyway.

Woman with Black Lives Matter placardIn the wake of the recent, highly-publicized incidents in which a white police officer killed an unarmed Black man (e.g., Michael Brown, Eric Garner) and the subsequent non-indictments of the officers involved, you may have noticed the phrase “Black Lives Matter” being used on everything from protest signs to social media hashtags. As I understand it, it is meant to be a combination reminder and protest that Blacks in America are marginalized and consistently being targeted for brutal (sometimes deadly) treatment by law enforcement and that the white perpetrators often seem to “get away with it.” Moreover, it is claimed that this is a “massive epidemic” and the result of systemic racism throughout the nation and, in particular, within the criminal justice system. If accurate, this is an incredibly serious matter that needs to be investigated and dealt with. If it is a largely inaccurate perception, then the real facts (from reliable sources) need to be communicated to the general populace (not just Blacks) and the reasons for the false perception need to be addressed with patience and sensitivity.

Before long, some people began using the more inclusive phrase “All Lives Matter”, in an effort to take race out of the equation and recognize that police brutality is not just a problem for Blacks. I certainly appreciate the motivation behind such an effort, but not everyone does. Kathleen McCartney, the (white) president of Smith College, did something she thought was compassionate but has earned her national notoriety. When she included the “All Lives Matter” sentiment in a campus-wide email regarding her college community’s “struggle” and “hurt” over the non-indictment of Officer Wilson in the Ferguson case, she was berated for being insensitive to the Black Community. A student at Smith tweeted,

“No, Kathy. Please do not send out an email saying ‘All lives matter.’ This isn’t about everyone, this is about black lives.”

Columnist Julia Craven at the Huffington Post concluded her rant against Ms. McCartney with,

“Police brutality is a BLACK issue…. Telling us that all lives matter is redundant. We know that already. But, just know, police violence and brutality disproportionately affects my people. Justice is not applied equally, laws are not applied equally and neither is our outrage.”

Not wanting to cause any dissension or add to the problem, McCartney promptly issued a public apology, stating she was “unaware the phrase/hashtag ‘all lives matter’ has been used by some to draw attention away from the focus on institutional violence against Black people.” According to the Daily Hampshire Gazette, she later led a vigil in honor of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice.

Honestly, I am of two minds as to whether McCartney really needed to apologize. I obviously disagree that police brutality should be treated solely as a Black issue, even if it is perceived by some as particularly affecting Blacks. But, I also understand that the phrase has been adopted in service of a cause focusing on a particular group, and efforts to adopt a similar but more inclusive phrase could indeed dilute that message. One doesn’t have to fully agree with the message to be sympathetic.

A suggestion, for what it’s worth: Modifying the phrase to “Black Lives Matter, Too” would keep the focus on the Black Community, but it would implicitly acknowledge that non-Black lives are valuable, as well.

However,… since the emphasis is on injustice against Black people and unnecessary deaths of Black people, and they are the ones putting the Black Community in the spotlight, I think it is fair to comment on other aspects of that community in context. Specifically, I would like to see more consistency in the activism on behalf of reducing — even eliminating — unnecessary deaths of Black people due to violence. So, yes, I am going to bring up two very touchy issues that nevertheless deserve attention.

black lives matter abortion cartoonFirst, there is the issue of black-on-black crime. Yes, I know. Many columnists and commentators have brought this up already. And, yes, many in the Black Community have acknowledged that it is a huge problem, though some will get rather indignant that non-Blacks dare to call attention to it. They also point out — and rightly so — that intraracial violence is not solely a Black problem. Of course, we are not ignoring or minimizing the reality of other intraracial and interracial crimes — white-on-white, white-on-black, black-on-brown, brown-on-white, etc. But, it is disproportionately high among Blacks, given that they make up ~13% of the national population, commit nearly 40% of all homicides (when race of offender is known), and comprise roughly 43.5% of homicide victims, with 90% of these Black homicides being committed by Black offenders. (Based on single victim/single offender homicide numbers provided by FBI for 2013.)

Now, my perception is probably influenced by a) my not being part of the communities in question and b) the recent national attention given to specific examples of white-on-black violence (particularly involving white cops) and the local riots and demonstrations that followed. But, it makes me wonder if the attention given to these types of crimes(?) is also unfairly disproportionate to that given to fighting black-on-black crime. After all, many more Black lives — civilians, cops, and criminals — are lost to other Blacks than are lost to (white) cops. I sincerely hope that those crying “Black Lives Matter” in memory of Michael Brown and others are also lending their voices & efforts to the many local rallies and programs sponsored/hosted by churches, community groups, and, yes, local law enforcement, trying to “clean up the streets” and keep kids in school and away from gangs, drugs, etc. In the end, it takes a dedicated community effort in cooperation with police to make a true and lasting difference. (And guys like Jackson and Sharpton don’t seem too interested in black-on-black crime, ‘cuz it doesn’t fit their agenda.) That phrase the activists are using is a pretty broad statement and can be used to cover a lot of problems & solutions.

And, yes, before you ask, I agree that the past and present policies — local, state, and federal — that have contributed to black-on-black crime and associated conditions must be recognized, discussed, and steps taken to help correct them. (Although, we may disagree on what those steps should be and/or who should take them.) At the same time, I hope that the Black Community will recognize and takes steps to counter the harmful contributions made by certain aspects of “urban culture”, as represented by the hip-hop/rap music glorifying all manner of violent, criminal, and immoral behavior.

The second issue, which I will try to sum up more succinctly, is that of abortion, particularly of Black babies. (Note: This is another reason why many on the socio-political left would be against the phrase “All Lives Matter”.) Other columnists and commentators have brought this up, too, and it is well worth addressing. Did you know that the abortion rate is 5 times higher in the Black Community than among whites? In fact, Ryan Bomberger (who is Black) over at points out, among other things,  that 363,705 Black lives are violently slaughtered every year in the name of “reproductive justice”. In comparison, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund touts a list of 76 unarmed, Black individuals who, between 1999 and 2014, have been shot by cops. This averages to roughly 5 per year — not exactly a “massive epidemic”. Each lost life is a tragedy, but clearly abortion is the #1 killer of Black lives, not police brutality. Why aren’t more people upset and marching about this?

With all of that in mind, and assuming the activists want to remain exclusively Afrocentric, what I would love to see is for the catchphrase to change to “ALL Black Lives Matter”, with appropriate national attention added to stopping intraracial violence AND abortion of innocent Black children.

Can I get an “Amen”?


3D Atlas of the Universe

“My job is to translate the difficulty of science into understandable stories.”  — Carter Emmart, Director of Astrovisualization at the American Museum of Natural History

This is really fascinating!

Carter Emmart has spent the last several years “coordinat[ing] scientists, programmers and artists to produce scientifically accurate yet visually stunning and immersive space experiences in the AMNH’s Hayden Planetarium.” In essence, they have taken huge amounts of astronomical data (constantly being updated) to create a groundbreaking, 3D atlas called “The Digital Universe”. What’s more, it is interactive, and I understand that you can play around with it via the “Exoplanet” app for iPhone/iPad.

In this brief video, you’ll travel from the Himalayas, through our solar system, our galaxy, out to the limits of time and (visible) space, then back again, while stopping briefly to see where several exoplanets are in relation to Earth. This TED talk is nearly 5 years old, so who knows what else they have added since then….


Aspartame: How Bad Is It, Really?

I make a habit of not drinking anything artificially sweetened with aspartame (aka aminosweet). (In fact, I tend to avoid “diet” drinks in general.)

I remember reading or hearing something many years ago that said studies showed aspartame causes serious health issues, when consumed regularly. In fact, if you follow the various “alternative health experts” (online and offline) and the medical-industry conspiracy theorists, the FDA and the relevant corporations are in collusion to keep the truth from the general public, even though the product is blamed for anything from migraine headaches and obesity to various cancers and neurological disorders. I never really bought into the conspiracy theory, but the supposed health dangers were enough of an excuse not to drink diet soda with aspartame in it. Besides, it tastes nasty!

(typical fearmongering)

(typical fearmongering)

I haven’t really thought much about this for awhile. But, then, a friend posted a link to an article (from 2010) that examined the issue, and it piqued my interest. The author is Steven Novella, who is a clinical neurologist and assistant professor at Yale University School of Medicine. He is also a proponent of “scientific skepticism” and executive editor of the Science-Based Medicine blogsite where the article is posted. I point this out so that you know where he is coming from and to establish his “cred” on the topic. Sure, I would disagree with Novella on various other matters (e.g., philosophy and theology). But, when it comes to conspiracy theories and fearmongering about certain medicines and food additives, I identify with much of his skepticism and appreciate his efforts to disprove the conspiracies and allay people’s fears. In any case, I recommend you read the article, but if you haven’t the time, I’d like to highlight a few things from it.

First, a note about the likelihood of a huge conspiracy involving government and the “medical industrial complex”:

“I am not arguing that corporations are all good corporate citizens or wouldn’t dream of sweeping some inconvenient evidence under the carpet. But I am saying that a decades long conspiracy among industry, federal regulatory agencies, the medical community, and multiple research institutions and individual researchers – all under the nose of the press and lawyers looking for big class-action suits – is implausible in the extreme. I am also arguing that we should fairly assess all the evidence, not just cherry pick the evidence we like and dismiss the rest out of hand.”

Great advice.

Here’s a bit more on systematic review vs. cherry-picking of data:

“[Y]ou have to interpret a literature, not a single study. The results of one lab or one study can be erroneous. When decades have produced hundreds of studies on a question, the cherry pickers will always have a lot to choose from. That is why systematic reviews are necessary, and it is also necessary to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each type of research.”

As it happens, just a few years ago, a study was published which reviewed all of the available evidence regarding aspartame. As with all previous studies going back to the additive’s commercial debut, the review concluded that no evidence supported the claims of serious health risks for humans. Subsequent studies confirmed this. As Novella summed it up,

There is no pattern of evidence to suggest that aspartame causes cancer, autoimmune disease, neurological disease, diabetes, or anything else its critics claim. What legitimate scientific controversy there is comes from the animal data, mostly in rats. Here the evidence for a carcinogenic or genotoxic (causing changes in the DNA) effect of aspartame is mixed and requires careful review. Some effects, such as a dose-dependent effect on renal tumors, are specific to rats and do not translate to humans. Other studies are plagued by significant flaws, such as properly calculating doses (a big issue when trying to extrapolate doses from rats to humans). And still others show flat effects without a dose response curve, suggesting that a confounding factor, and not aspartame, is responsible for any observed increase in tumors.”

So, what about migraines?

“[T]here are case reports of aspartame triggering migraines in susceptible people. Migraineurs frequently have multiple food triggers, and there is a long list of foods known to be potential migraine triggers. This is not evidence for toxicity. So, while evidence is lacking to demonstrate aspartame is a headache trigger, this is not implausible and not particularly worrisome. What I recommend to patients with frequent headaches is to keep a headache diary, rather than trusting to memory (and confirmation bias) to detect real associations. If there is a clear pattern between a potential trigger and headaches, then avoid that trigger.”

Alright. What about obesity? Some theorize that aspartame “dissociates the sensation of sweetness from caloric intake,” so the sweets aren’t as satisfying and people end up consuming more calories to make up for it. (This applies to other artificial sweeteners, too, of course.) According to Novella,

aspartame molecule“At present the question is very much unsettled. It seems that there is no significant metabolic and no demonstrated neuronal effect from artificial sweeteners. However, people who knowingly consume diet drinks do tend to overcompensate by consuming greater calories overall. While studies of substituting aspartame for sugar in a blinded fashion show that calories are reduced, contributing to weight loss.

By my reading, the current summary of available research is that consuming calories in drinks contributes to weight gain and obesity, substituting calorie-free drinks (whether water or diet drinks containing artificial sweeteners) does help reduce caloric intake and aid in weight control, but there is a tendency to overcompensate by increasing other caloric intake. Therefore it seems reasonable to use artificial sweeteners to reduce caloric intake from drinks, but to be careful to control overall caloric intake (so no, putting aspartame in your coffee does not mean you can eat the cheesecake).”

Bottom line, then, is that the oft-proposed conspiracy to hide supposedly dangerous effects of aspartame is highly improbable; and the body of literature about relevant scientific studies, reviewed by many independent agencies and expert panels, reveals decades of support for aspartame being “safe [for humans] at current levels of consumption as a nonnutritive sweetener.”

But, I’m still going to avoid aspartame, ‘cuz it just tastes nasty….


As Dr. King Spins in His Grave

Joe R. Hicks

Joe R. Hicks

I recently heard a radio interview with a guy named Joe R. Hicks. I really appreciated what he had to say regarding the situation in Ferguson, MO, and the problems within the Black Community that are denied or left unaddressed in such controversial situations. Hicks is an African-American commentator & activist, former Executive Director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (founded by Martin Luther King, Jr.), former Executive Director of the Los Angeles City Human Relations Commission, and current vice president of the L.A.-based political think-tank, Community Advocates Inc. A self-described political conservative with libertarian leanings, he is also a member of the Project 21 black leadership network, which can be found at the website for The National Center for Public Policy Research (

Why haven’t I heard of the National Center or Project 21 before? Why haven’t I heard of Hicks before?!

Anyway, here’s an excerpt of what Hicks said on “The Kelly File” on Fox the other night:

“You heard somebody behind the camera saying, ‘this is justice.’ Somewhere Dr. King is probably… spinning in his grave, if that’s what ‘justice’ looks like. That tramples on the graves of all the old martyrs of the civil rights movement that really did struggle for real things, [against] real racism, real issues they were trying to overcome. And you’ve got thugs, and punks, and hoodlums in the street, and you’ve got somebody saying, ‘this is justice.’”  [Full transcript here.]

Hicks is right! “Justice for who? How?” Since when does committing crimes — vandalism, theft, arson, etc. — constitute “justice” for anyone?

But, this post isn’t just about Hicks or his particular comments. I just wanted to highlight him for a minute to bring him and Project 21 to your attention. There are many other members of Project 21 that are speaking out on the issues of the day, too, which I found on Amy Ridenour’s National Center Blog at Conservative Blog. One particular post by David W. Almasi has several quotes on Ferguson (after the grand jury decision) that I’d like to reproduce for you:

Christopher Arps, local businessman and co-founder of “You had two types of protestors in Ferguson last night, and neither were peaceful. You had those hell-bent on destruction, looting and rioting.  And you had those out there who were not doing those activities but who were encouraging the looters and urging them on. I was there. To me, they are both guilty of the lawlessness we witnessed last night.”

Dr. Day Gardner

Dr. Day Gardner

Dr. Day Gardner, media host, president of the National Black Pro-Life Union, executive member of the D.C.-based National Clergy Council: “Those rioters in Ferguson really don’t seem to care about Michael Brown’s death.  They refuse to hear all the facts. They appear to just consider this a license to steal and act out. They have burned a Public Storage, Little Caesars, liquor store and more. They are laughing while they destroy their own community -– burning businesses and stealing liquor and cell phones. It’s ridiculous and so sad! All the stores and businesses that have been looted and burned to the ground mean that, as we enter the Christmas season, families are forced out of work. How many residents will be out of work because of the destruction? They will be unable to pay bills or provide for their families. Al Sharpton incited tensions in Ferguson before all the facts were known. He should have waited for the grand jury documents. He is such an embarrassment to the black community.”

Demetrius Minor, motivational speaker and pastoral assistant, former White House intern in the Bush administration, former conservative talk show host: “There was no indictment in. Ferguson for Officer Wilson, but there was an indictment of the conscience of many. Riots and violence proves our nation still needs healing. It’s shameful that the same people who are inciting –- directly or indirectly -– the protests and mob violence in. Ferguson will be quoting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and praising his message just two months from now. Something needs to be done. Dear 21st century churches: This is your moment. Stand up for morality, but also advocate peace. Speak healing, but also be sensitive. Ferguson needs you. The world needs you.”

Wayne Dupree, internet talk radio host (aka the “News Ninja”), speaker, U.S. Air Force veteran: “Words have meaning. It seems people are too willing to fall into the media’s portrayal of the victim and the media’s own version of the truth. Allowing the media to use words that indicate one’s innocence or guilt is a very slippery slope. There is no innocence or guilt unless proven by law. And Officer Wilson has the law on his side. His life is now destroyed at the hands of a thug who died. Wilson didn’t force the fight. Wilson did what he needed to do to save his own life, but he will never seem to have the same sympathy that have been afforded to the deceased by the media and the mob. Many people saluted Obama for stepping in and asking for peace, but that executive action should have been done earlier. He was too late -– the looting was just beginning. The mob looted a beauty store, burned down a bakery and destroyed Advanced Auto Parts among other businesses. What the Hell! Agitators were angry and they wanted “justice” for Mike Brown, but instead they destroyed innocent business owners’ livelihoods. Where is the justice in that?”

Where, indeed?

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