Atheists & secularists, like anyone else, will sometimes speak of what gives their life meaning and purpose. It might be fighting against religious dogma, or helping people think rationally, or spending time with their family, or "making the world a little better place", or... whatever. Note that these are self-imposed "purposes" or "meaning", often involving leaving some sort of intellectual or philosophical legacy. But, is this really consistent with their worldview? Have you ever heard of Lawrence M. Krauss or Glenn D. Starkman? Even if you don't run in scientific circles, you may be familiar with Krauss, who is a well-known ...
"Those who are unwilling or incapable of discerning or judging between good and evil are in this manner revealing either their disobedience or their immaturity." -- Pastor E.L. Bynum In our last "episode", we began to address the issue of what it means to "judge" others. Specifically, we took a practical, nonsectarian look at why people cry, "Don't judge me!" and why we should, in fact, make fair judgments about others' behaviors & beliefs, always with the welfare of them and others around them in mind. Now, what about Christians, in particular? Aren't we supposed to be extra loving and kind and ...
If you are at all familiar with Christian apologetics, whether engaging challenges from non-theists or from Christians with different views, you know that the topic of pain, suffering, and death is a major issue. (In fact, Darwin's struggle with this was the impetus for developing his theory.) These things are considered "evil", so the question is "Why would a 'good' God make a world full of pain, suffering, & death for His creatures to endure?", or "How could God include pain, suffering, & death (for millions of years) in His 'very good' creation?" The Young-Earth Creationist (YEC) solution is that none ...
Welcome to the 3rd and penultimate installment of this series, in which I explain how self-deluded I have been about my own hatred and bigotry regarding, well, just about everyone but straight, white, white-collar males between 18 & 65 years of age (or thereabouts). Where was I? Oh... [caption id="attachment_1341" align="alignleft" width="225"] Pro-choice Activists[/caption] 7) I hate women. And it's not just because I'm single. (Or, should that be the other way around?) ;-> In particular, I think most of today's "feminist" positions and causes reveal a certain level of narcissism and another excuse to play the blame game for ones woes, real ...
"America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves." -- Abraham Lincoln "AAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGHHHHHHHH!!!" That was my response (posted on Facebook), give or take an "R" or two, to the 2012 Election results. Actually, that was my second FB post. My first was, "Crap on a stick! I'm so depressed." But, that's not quite right. I'm very disappointed, obviously. And a bit morose. But, really, I'm angry. So, here goes the rant... Are you freakin' kidding me?!! Do we really have to listen for 4 more years to this pompous, Marxist ...
Sometimes, I can't help myself. I mean, people make spurious claims and ridiculous accusations against God, Christians, "the Church", etc., all the time. Usually, I let it go. Can't be constantly getting into long, drawn-out internet debates ALL the time, after all. But, sometimes, I just have to say something. And, so it went the other day, when a FB friend of a FB friend, amidst generally mocking comments, claimed that Christians were responsible for "lots of mass murders." Of course, I had my suspicions about what she was referring to. There are some nasty stains on Christianity's record. But, I also ...
"I am pro-life. I believe that abortion is the wrong choice except in cases of incest, rape, and to save the life of the mother." -- Mitt Romney, in an op-ed piece in The Boston Globe (7/26/2005) In "The Pro-Life Position: Just One Question", I argued that if the unborn is indeed a member of the human family, no matter how small or odd it looks, then "no justification for killing it is adequate." But, then I left a footnote saying that there are rare exceptions to that rule. So, I figured I may as well address those now.... When the ...
Part 1: Firm Foundation "I yam what I yam, and that's all what I yam." -- Popeye, the sailorman Given the subjects that I usually read and write about on this blog, critical thinking really comes in handy. Not that I'm some great logician or anything. Far from it! But, over the last few years, I've been exposed to the discipline of informal logic by some pretty darn good thinkers. (At least, I think they are.) I've noticed that I am now more apt to notice logical errors & fallacies when reading or listening to someone's arguments for his/her position on a ...
[caption id="attachment_1464" align="alignleft" width="300"] Original Star Trek bridge crew[/caption] I remember when, many years ago, I first found out that the cast of the original Star Trek series did not always get along and a huge part of the problem was William Shatner's ego. Star Trek was one of my all-time favorite TV shows (and the movies and the books), and Shatner was a favorite actor when I was growing up -- right up there with Lee Majors, the Six Million Dollar Man, and later Tom Selleck of Magnum, P.I., fame. So, I was understandably disappointed to find out my "heroes" ...
"[S]cience and religion are two essential components in the search for truth. Denying either is a barren approach." -- Dr. Martin Andreas Nowak, mathematical biologist Once upon a time (actually, it was about a year ago) in a land far, far away (OK, it was here in NE Florida), I had a brief but interesting discussion. I had been taking a few skills & personality assessment tests, which involved identifying what I thought my strengths & weaknesses were, figuring out my personality traits, etc. While discussing the results with a couple family members, the religiously-agnostic one noted, "Huh! You consider yourself ...
I am still slowly working my way through Thomas Sowell’s Basic Economics, 4th ed. I don’t think I expected the topic of air/water pollution to come up in a tome on economics, but it does make sense, as you’ll see. Cries for increasing efforts toward environmental (i.e., ecological) purification are common — all in the name of saving the land, the wildlife, the children, etc. — and even understandable. But, they come at great cost, and those efforts are not always the best use for that money. Sowell explains…
“The application of categorical laws prevents the enormous powers of government from being applied at the discretion or whim of individual functionaries, which would invite both corruption and arbitrary oppression. [However, since] there are many things which require discretionary incremental adjustments, for these things categorical laws can be difficult to apply or can produce counterproductive results. For example, while prevention of air pollution and water pollution are widely recognized as legitimate functions of government, which can achieve more economically efficient results in this regard than those of the free market, doing so through categorical laws can create major problems.
Despite the political appeal of categorical phrases like ‘clean water’ and ‘clean air’, there are in fact no such things, never have been, and perhaps never will be. Moreover, there are diminishing returns in removing impurities from water or air. A study of environmental risk regulation cited a former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency on this:
A former EPA administrator put the problem succinctly when he noted that about 85 percent of the toxic material could be removed from waste sites in a few months, but years are spent trying to remove the last little bit. Removing that last little bit can involve limited technological choice, high cost, devotion of considerable agency resources, large legal fees, and endless argument.
Reducing truly dangerous amounts of impurities from water or air may be done at costs that most people would agree were quite reasonable. But, as higher and higher standards of purity are prescribed by government, in order to eliminate ever more minute traces of ever more remote or more questionable dangers, the costs escalate out of proportion to the benefits. But, even if removing 98 percent of a given impurity costs twice as much as eliminating 97 percent, and removing 99 percent costs ten times as much, the political appeal of categorical phrases like ‘clean water’ may be just as potent when the water is already 99 percent pure as when it was dangerously polluted. That was demonstrated back in the 1970s:
The Council of Economic Advisers argued that making the nation’s streams 99 percent pure, rather than 98 percent pure, would have a cost far exceeding its benefits, but Congress was unmoved.
Depending on what the particular impurity is, minute traces may or may not pose a serious danger. But political controversies over impurities in the water are unlikely to be settled at a scientific level when passions can be whipped up in the name of non-existent ‘clean water’. No matter how pure the water becomes, someone can always demand the removal of more impurities. And, unless the public understands the logical and economic implications of what is being said, that demand can become politically irresistible, since no public official wants to be known as being opposed to clean water.
It is not even certain that reducing extremely small amounts of substances that are harmful in larger amounts reduces risks at all. Even arsenic in the water — in extremely minute traces — has been found to have health benefits. An old saying declares: “It is the dose that makes the poison.” Similar research findings apply to many substances, including saccharin and alcohol. Although high doses of saccharin have been shown to increase the rate of cancer in laboratory rats, very low doses seem to reduce the rate of cancer in these rats. Although a large intake of alcohol shortens people’s lifespan in many ways, very modest amounts of alcohol — like one glass of wine or beer per day — tend to reduce life-threatening conditions like hypertension.
If there is some threshold amount of a particular substance required before it becomes harmful, that makes it questionable whether spending vast amounts of money to try to remove that last fraction of one percent from the air or water is necessarily going to make the public safer by even a minute amount. But what politician wants to be known as someone who blocked efforts to remove arsenic from water?
The same principle applies in many other contexts, where minute traces of impurities can produce major political and legal battles — and consume millions of tax dollars with little or no net effect on the health or safety of the public. For example, one legal battle raged for a decade over the impurities in a New Hampshire toxic waste site, where these wastes were so diluted that children could have eaten some of the dirt there for 70 days a year without any significant harm — if there had been any children living or playing there, which there were not. As a result of spending more than nine million dollars, the level of impurities was reduced to the point where children could have safely eaten the dirt there 245 days a year. Moreover, without anything being done at all, both parties to the litigation agreed that more than half the volatile impurities would have evaporated by the year 2000. Yet hypothetical dangers to hypothetical children kept the issue going and money being spent.
With environmental safety, as with other kinds of safety, some forms of safety in one respect create dangers in other respects. California, for example, required a certain additive to be put into all gasoline sold in that state, in order to reduce the air pollution from automobile exhaust fumes. However, this new additive tended to leak from filling station storage tanks and automobile gas tanks, polluting the ground water in the first case and leading to more automobile fires in the second. Similarly, government-mandated air bags in automobiles, introduced to save lives in car crashes, have themselves killed small children.
These are all matters of incremental trade-offs to find an optimal amount and kind of safety, in a world where being categorically safe is as impossible as achieving 100 percent clean air or clean water. Incremental trade-offs are made all the time in individual market transactions, but it can be politically suicidal to oppose demands for more clean air, clean water or automobile safety. Therefore saying that the government can improve over the results of individual transactions in a free market is not the same as saying that it will in fact do so. Among the greatest external costs imposed in a society can be those imposed politically by legislators and officials who pay no costs whatever, while imposing billions of dollars in costs on others, in order to respond to political pressures from advocates of particular interests or ideologies.”
This is yet another example in which many millions, even billions, of taxpayer dollars that could be put to good use are instead wasted in unnecessary efforts, thanks largely to the ignorance — in this case, scientific and economic — of the general populace and the obligation(?) of politicians to bow to the wishes of their constituency — or, at least, the vocal minority and/or lobbyists. I’m not sure what the answer is, but a better-educated citizenry — including the politicians, of course, who are supposed to be representing our best interests — would be a good start. If only we could get them to care….
“By engaging in simplistic and sometimes misleading environmental narratives — by exaggerating the stakes and brushing over the inconvenient facts that stand in the way of foregone conclusions — we do our field, and our subjects, a disservice.” — Hannah Nordhaus, environmental journalist and author of The Beekeeper’s Lament
No one likes to get stung, so we tend to fear, or at least shy away from, bees. But, we also need to remember that, in many ways, bees are our friends. After all, they don’t just pollinate 16% of all the flowering plant species. They also pollinate one-third of our food crops, which not only keeps us well-fed but adds $14-15 billion dollars annually to the U.S. agricultural industry alone. As such, they are an integral part of the food chain, as well as a source of jobs and wealth-building. So, we would have a right to be concerned if something began causing bees to die off.
Back in 2006, some commercial beekeepers started seeing higher-than-normal winter die-offs among honeybees — more than double the usual 15% average. As more reports came out and the media ran with it, we have seen alarmist claims of “a crisis point for crops,” a “threat to our food supply,” and my fellow word-players have warned us of “beemageddon” and the “beepocalypse”. (Heck, I even saw an episode of “Elementary” last season that dealt with it.) It isn’t only honeybees that are affected, either. Bumblebees, which make similar contributions, have seen population declines, too. The overall phenomenon has been dubbed Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), and the various culprits accused of causing it range from parasites (e.g., Varroa mites), neonicotinoid insecticides, and GMOs, to coldspells from anthropogenic climate change, even cell phones.
Enter, the U.S. Federal Government to the rescue…
In 2014, the Obama administration issued a presidential memo directing the formation of a task-force to develop “a Federal Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators.” Last month, the Pollinator Health Task Force, co-chaired by the Secretary of Agriculture and the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and including the heads of multiple other Executive departments and agencies, announced its creatively-named “National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators”. The plan? Reduce the honeybee-colony losses to “sustainable” levels and create 7 million acres of pollinator-friendly habitat, all for the low, low price of $82 million. (I wonder how long before that estimate gets adjusted upward.)
A noble goal, and perhaps even a reasonable price — that is, assuming the problem is real and as bad as we are led to believe. Consider this, as reported by Shawn Regan at the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC):
o There are more honeybee colonies in the U.S. today than there were when colony collapse disorder began in 2006.
o According to the USDA, U.S. honeybee-colony numbers are now at a 20-year high.
o U.S. honey production is also at a 10-year high.
“Almost no one has reported this, but it’s true. You can browse the USDA reports yourself. [Note: See the graphs in this post.] Since colony collapse disorder began in 2006, there has been virtually no detectable effect on the total number of honeybee colonies in the United States. Nor has there been any significant impact on food prices or production.
How can this be? In short, commercial beekeepers have adapted to higher winter honeybee losses by actively rebuilding their colonies. This is often done by splitting healthy colonies into multiple hives and purchasing new queen bees to rebuild the lost hives. Beekeepers purchase queen bees through the mail from commercial breeders for as little as $15 to $25 and can produce new broods rather quickly. Other approaches include buying packaged bees (about $55 for 12,000 worker bees and a fertilized queen) or replacing the queen to improve the health of the hive. By doing so, beekeepers are maintaining healthy and productive colonies — all part of a robust and extensive market for pollination services.”
While this need to replenish their increased losses means that commercial beekeepers are obliged to buy more queens & workers, the abovementioned ease and speed with which large numbers of queens can be raised has kept commercial breeders from needing to raise their already low prices. Now, it is true that the pollination fees beekeepers charge producers of almonds — a very important pollination crop — have more than doubled in recent years. But, the rise began a few years before CCD was reported, so CCD can only account for a portion of the inflation. The almond producers have had to pass on much of their increased costs to the consumer, so you might have to pay an additional 3 cents or less for a pound of Smokehouse Almonds. (Not exactly a budget-breaker.) The increased fee income has helped many beekeepers more than recover the costs of rebuilding their lost colonies.
To summarize, then, commercial bee colonies are stable and healthy, honey production is up, and economists Randal Rucker and Walter Thurman’s research on the relevant markets led them to conclude that CCD has had almost no discernible economic impact. It seems that commercial beekeepers are not the “passive, unimaginative onlookers” to disaster that some journalists make them out to be. They actually know what they’re doing, and they have responded & adapted to this problem as they have to others. Also, while the CCD phenomenon is worthy of concern and research, the supposedly impending bee/food crisis is hardly the calamity that some, including the Obama administration, are making it out to be. In fact, as Regan has observed,
“With U.S. honeybee colonies now at a 20-year high, you have to wonder: Is our national pollination strategy a solution in search of a crisis?”
So much for the “beepocalypse”….
“And I can use that pen to sign executive orders and take executive actions and administrative actions that move the ball forward in helping to make sure our kids are getting the best education possible, making sure that our businesses are getting the kind of support and help they need to grow and advance, to make sure that people are getting the skills that they need to get those jobs that our businesses are creating.” — President Obama on 1/14/2014, continuing his “pen and phone” comments about advancing his economic agenda as he convened his first Cabinet meeting of the year
A few weeks ago, I defined and explained the differences between “executive authority” and “executive privilege”, particularly in regards to U.S. government. I promised to also address three more, similar and related terms — “executive action”, “executive order”, “executive memorandum” — in hopes of clarifying their differences and how they may (not) be used by the President to further his agenda. I’ll do that now, and I’ll even throw in a fourth term — the “presidential proclamation” — for good measure.
“Executive action” is actually a somewhat vague and broad term, referring to just about any informal proposal or move that the President expresses his desire to make, usually calling on Congress or his administration to do something. However, even when the President lays out some “executive actions”, they are simply his (or her) personal wishlist of things he wants to accomplish — i.e., items for his desired agenda. None of the “actions” has any legal weight behind it until either an executive order, memo, or proclamation is issued to implement it. These executive instruments are the ones we need to be wary of. But, according to political writer Tom Murse, “Those that do actually set policy can be invalidated by the courts or undone by legislation passed by Congress.” I might also add that sometimes the term “presidential action” is used instead. At whitehouse.gov, “Presidential Actions” is used as an umbrella term to include executive orders, presidential [aka executive] memoranda, and proclamations. Apparently, it does not list the unimplemented “actions”.
Given the way the terms “executive action” (EA) and “executive order” (EO) are sometimes used, one might think they are interchangeable. Even the professional media have been known to mislabel one for the other on occasion. For example, when Obama issued 23 executive actions to curb gun violence back in Jan. 2013, some were touting them as “executive orders” (which gives the impression of accomplishing more than they are) or at least assuming they had the same legal force. But, they don’t. So, while conservatives and others were justified in objecting to much of what Obama wanted to do re the gun issue, those like Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) were wrong (this time) when they accused the President of “abusing his power by imposing his policies via executive fiat.” (One might say Rubio jumped the gun on that one.) On the contrary, Obama was perfectly within his rights to express his desire to take “executive action”.
What about executive orders, then? Political writer Robert Longley puts it this way:
“A presidential executive order (EO) is a directive issued to federal agencies, department heads, or other federal employees by the President of the United States under his statutory or constitutional powers. In many ways, presidential executive orders are similar to written orders, or instructions issued by the president of a corporation to its department heads or directors. Thirty days after being published in the Federal Register, executive orders take effect. While they do bypass the U.S. Congress and the standard legislative law making process, no part of an executive order may direct the agencies to conduct illegal or unconstitutional activities.”
It should also be noted (as Murse does) that executive orders can be reversed by the courts, and Congress can overturn one by passing legislation in conflict with the EO. Alternatively, as always Congress may use its “power of the purse” to refuse to fund, in part or as a whole, the execution of policy measures contained within an executive order.
The first U.S. President to issue an “executive order” was, of course, George Washington in 1789, though it wasn’t called that. Executive orders are not explicitly mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, but the courts have determined that such a thing is justified by the requirement (Article II, Section 3, Clause 5) that the president “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed”. For many decades, executive orders had no official form or substance and went largely unannounced and undocumented. To restate what Longley said, they are typically issued to direct or facilitate 1) the operational management of the Executive Branch; 2) the operational management of federal agencies or officials; or, 3) the execution of statutory or constitutional, presidential responsibilities.
Some notable examples include FDR’s Executive Order 6581, which created the Export-Import Bank of the United States; Truman’s Executive Order 9981, which ordered the integration of the armed forces shortly after World War II. Clinton’s Executive Order 13155 would have required federal benefits and services to be provided in foreign languages, but it was overturned by the Supreme Court. The Heritage Foundation, in a paper by Todd F. Gaziano (Director, Center for Legal & Judicial Studies), has accused presidents of abusing executive orders, using them to bypass Congress to make laws and to redirect existing laws from their original mandates.
While the abovementioned 23 executive actions did not carry much weight, the 3 presidential memoranda issued at the same time did. What is an executive/ presidential memo[randum]? According to New York Magazine, “executive memo” is just a less “controversial and politically charged” term for an executive order. But, technically it is a different type of “administrative order”, issued to manage and govern the actions, practices, and policies of the Executive Branch’s various departments and agencies. Though an executive memo is generally considered less “prestigious” than an executive order, they are both vaguely defined and often either one can be used to do the same thing. Whereas executive orders are numbered, memoranda are not numbered, not indexed and, until recently, difficult to quantify.
According to the Congressional Research Service Report for Congress No. 95-722 A,
“They differ in that executive orders must be published in the Federal Register whereas presidential memoranda are similarly published only if the President determines that they have “general applicability and legal effect.” [Note: That is a very important difference.] If issued under a valid claim of authority and published, executive orders and presidential memoranda have the force and effect of law and courts are required to take judicial notice of their existence…. One may say that the difference between executive orders and presidential memoranda may be, similar to executive orders and proclamations, one more of form than of substance…. [I]t is important to examine the legal basis for each executive order and presidential memoranda issued and the manner in which the President has used these instruments.”
The presidential memorandum comes in three flavors: presidential finding/determination, memorandum of disapproval, and hortatory memorandum. The first is a document issued by the White House stating a determination resulting in an official policy or position of the Executive Branch. It must be required by a statute and issued before certain actions can be taken. (E.g., President Clinton’s Presidential Determination 95-45, exempting the U.S. Air Force’s facility in the vicinity of Groom Lake, NV (aka “Area 51″) from environmental disclosure laws.) The second type is essentially a public veto statement, in which the President explains that he is withholding his approval for a particular bill/act/resolution for stated reason(s). The hortatory memorandum is a broad policy statement issued to direct (or “encourage”?) an executive agency to take certain (types of) actions. (More on these memos below.)
As for presidential proclamations, I’m going to cheat a bit and cite the following from Wikipedia (which, in turn, cites an authority):
“According to political science professor Phillip J. Cooper, a presidential proclamation “states a condition, declares a law and requires obedience, recognizes an event or triggers the implementation of a law (by recognizing that the circumstances in law have been realized)”. Presidents define situations or conditions on situations that become legal or economic truth. These orders carry the same force of law as executive orders -— the difference between the two is that executive orders are aimed at those inside government while proclamations are aimed at those outside government.
The administrative weight of these proclamations is upheld because they are often specifically authorized by congressional statute, making them “delegated unilateral powers”. Presidential proclamations are often dismissed as a practical presidential tool for policy making because of the perception of proclamations as largely ceremonial or symbolic in nature. However, the legal weight of presidential proclamations suggests their importance to presidential governance.”
Or, more succinctly, as per the San Diego State University on-line library:
“Proclamations (Proc.) are issued for ceremonial purposes (Proc. 7211 Parent’s Day) or as broad policy statements (Proc. 4865 High Seas Interdiction of Illegal Aliens).”
In my research, Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which ostensibly freed the American slaves, was referred to as an executive order. However, given its name and the fact that it was a broad policy statement not limited to those inside government, it does indeed appear to be better classified as a presidential or executive proclamation.
So, you may be asking, where is the threat from the Obama administration? Some have pointed to the number of executive orders issued, but liberals — including Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) and the President himself — have countered that he has actually issued fewer executive orders than any president in the past century. And, as of Dec. 2014, at least, they are correct. But, that doesn’t tell the whole story. Obama has issued more presidential memos “than any other president in history -— using it to take unilateral action even as he has signed fewer executive orders.” The report at usatoday.com continues…
“When these two forms of directives are taken together, Obama is on track to take more high-level executive actions than any president since Harry Truman battled the “Do Nothing Congress” almost seven decades ago, according to a USA TODAY review of presidential documents.
Obama has issued executive orders to give federal employees the day after Christmas off, to impose economic sanctions and to determine how national secrets are classified. He’s used presidential memoranda to make policy on gun control, immigration and labor regulations… [and] to declare Bristol Bay, Alaska, off-limits to oil and gas exploration.”
Clyde Wayne Crews Jr. of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, observes that after laws and “normal” regulations, presidential memoranda now have the most regulatory impact.
But, even those numbers are insufficient. Think-tanks like the Brookings Institution and the Mercatus Center have pointed out that some executive orders (and proclamations) have much more impact on policy than others. So, Mercatus decided in 2014 to analyze the content, not just the number, of executive orders and proclamations. (I wish they had been able to include presidential memoranda in their study. According to USA Today, “About half of the memoranda published on the White House website are deemed so inconsequential that they’re not counted as memoranda in the Federal Register.”)
“[W]e have used RegData, a database producing statistics based on the Code of Federal Regulations, to examine some of the content of these executive orders and proclamations for the past six presidencies, through the end of Obama’s first term. In particular, we examine the usage of restrictions —- words that create binding, legal obligations, such as “shall” and “must.” Although the current administration has issued fewer executive orders than other modern administrations, the figures below show that its total usage of restrictions in executive orders and proclamations exceeds that of any of the past six administrations, with the exception of Clinton’s first term….
Executive orders and proclamations do not have to contain restrictions…. Executive orders can be used to provide information or suggestions, or they can be used to create constraints on actions sets in a way that is similar to regulation. Restrictions create binding, legal constraints, whereas suggestions may not….
Simply counting executive orders, pages, or words can produce misleading statistics. In legal language, at least, the frequency with which restrictions occur can serve as a proxy for measuring the overall restrictiveness of text. Content matters.”
(Check out the Mercatus report at the link to see more charts and further analysis, revealing additional trends. Also, the USA Today report is very eye-opening.)
These are not the only questionable methods the current administration uses to accomplish its policy goals, particularly in the face of pushback from a Republican majority in Congress. But, the somewhat deceptive use of presidential memoranda and the excessively restrictive nature of executive orders and proclamations — all of which carry legal force — reveals Obama’s always pushing the limits of his authority, even to the point of executive overreach.
As Crews says, Obama’s “imperious” use of pen-and-phone tactics are increasingly threatening, especially given the administration’s lack of transparency and accountability. It’s also easier to do, apparently, what with the increased intrusion of the federal government into the private sector. Crews also points out that, with the issuance of 12 memos over the first half of 2014, Obama was able to: “create a dubious new financial instrument, implement new positive rights regarding work hours and employment preferences, seem to nod toward California-style written consent before sex, blur energy and infrastructure in a manner aimed at extending government control and more.” All without an act of Congress.
President Obama says that, as long as Congress keeps obstructing his agenda, “I’ll keep taking actions on my own.” I believe him, and now we have a little better understanding of what that involves. If you aren’t angry or, at the very least, concerned about this, I hope your eyes are opened soon.
I published “The Right to Refuse Service” a day earlier than usual this week, so I decided to do a “bonus” post today. Besides, I hadn’t done anything science apologetic-y in a while. This is an excerpt from The God Abduction: How Scientific Discovery Strengthens the Case for a Creator by Ron Londen, writer, photographer, and self-described “lifelong science nerd”. I’m currently less than a third of the way through the book but am really enjoying it — delightfully & clearly written for the layman, providing lots of good information with plenty of end-notes referring curious readers to articles and books by notables in the various fields explored. Consider this post a sequel of sorts to my “Living on a Razor’s Edge” series….
“Remember back to Albert Einstein’s original idea of a “cosmological constant” (Chapter 3). He theorized an “antigravity” force that only acted at a distance, undetectable and irrelevant up close. He came up with the idea to allow general relativity to accommodate an eternal and unchanging universe. When the data came out strongly favoring an expanding universe, Einstein abandoned the cosmological constant, calling it the greatest blunder of his career. Eight decades later, the cosmological constant was discovered, performing the opposite function Einstein originally expected. How positively Einstein! Even his biggest mistake turned out to be correct.
The cosmological constant is also widely called “dark energy,” perhaps a rhetorical companion to “dark matter” and the recently discovered “dark flow,” which we won’t go into here. What’s with all the “dark” talk? Perhaps it’s a marketing ploy from Cosmology, Inc., to increase funding. Or maybe these terms are intended to make astronomers look dangerous and edgy, perhaps a ploy to attract more girls. If so, I predict failure.
(Let me beg the indulgence of the physics community for having a little fun at their expense. In truth, the term “dark energy” is invoked because there are several competing theories to explain the phenomena. The distinctions between them are technical and beyond the scope of this book. And no clear consensus has yet emerged. Suffice it to say whatever it is called or how it is explained, something is behaving very much like Einstein’s cosmological constant.)
There is a bigger point. The universe is flat, balancing on a knife-edge between wild expansion and a slowdown that will eventually collapse. “Flat” [as opposed to "open" or "closed"], as it turns out, is the most life-friendly condition for the universe, and we have the cosmological constant to thank for it.
But there is a theoretical fly in the observational ointment, and it’s a big one. The best theories of “quantum cosmology” — that is, using quantum mechanics (discussed in the next chapter) to explain the beginning of the universe — suggest that dark energy should actually be a very powerful factor, so powerful that it ought to rip the universe apart in a fraction of a second. Since the universe has not been ripped apart, scientists have assumed some unknown factor was driving the dark energy to zero by balancing one factor against the other. They didn’t know what was causing this equilibrium, but whatever it was appeared to balance out the cosmological constant to be zero — and zero is an easy number to ignore. But the 1998 discovery (and others since) have revealed a value that is not zero, and also much smaller than expected. The predicted value varies wildly from the actual measurement of the cosmological constant.
How much does theory disagree with fact? By 120 orders of magnitude. For decades, all observations indicated a cosmological constant of 0. Instead, we find a decimal point followed by 120 zeroes and a 1. “This apparent discrepancy would involve the most extreme fine-tuning problem known in physics,” wrote cosmologist Lawrence Krauss in a groundbreaking paper on the subject.
Something cancels the cosmological constant out to 119 decimal places, but fails at the 120th. What would happen if it didn’t? Using well-established methods of theoretical physics, as noted earlier, the “predicted” value would rip the universe apart. But what if dark energy were canceled out by, say, one less decimal place? Physicist Paul Davies weighs in:
“So our existence depends on the dark energy’s not being too large. A factor of ten would suffice to preclude life: if space contained ten times as much dark energy as it actually does, the universe would fly apart too fast for galaxies to form. A factor of ten may seem like a wide margin, but one power of ten on a scale of 120 is a pretty close call. The cliche that ‘life is balanced on a knife-edge’ is a staggering understatement in this case: no knife in the universe could have an edge that fine.”
As noted earlier, an original recognition that the mass of the universe was incredibly fine-tuned was explained away by the idea of inflation. But what replaced it was fine-tuned to a vastly more precise degree, almost beyond the ability to visualize. The ratio represented by that fine-tuning, astronomer Hugh Ross observes, is “vastly greater than the difference between the mass of a single electron and the mass of the entire universe.”
The depth of the fine-tuning we encounter makes a subtle point about the difference between our world and our tools for exploring it. Our human efforts are characterized by hard-won progress. We struggle with the facts, we argue, and some theories gain sway at the expense of others. In that sense it is an evolutionary process, after a fashion — with the effort, intellect, and will of human scientists standing in for natural selection.
But our universe had no such latitude. It had to be right, exactly right — “dime in the universe” right — from the earliest conceivable instant. Our best scientists argue and struggle to find the truth, and over the course of a century they have found this: an unexplainable moment forming a universe that is incomprehensibly fine-tuned for life.”
Reading and hearing of such exquisite fine-tuning of the universe for life, down to the subatomic level and the very fundamental forces of nature, reminds me of God’s incredibly great love for us. It also demonstrates His incalculable power and the fact that He not only created all matter, energy, space, & time, but He continues to hold it all together — balanced on that “knife’s edge” — as an act of His almighty will. There are many Bible passages that speak of this, but here is one of my favorites:
“God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power….” — Hebrews 1:1-3a (NASB)
Yahweh, Creator and Sustainer of the Universe!
“We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone.”
“No shirt, no shoes, no service.”
– signs posted on restaurants nationwide
I’m sure you have all heard about the “Sweet Cakes” case, in which Aaron and Melissa Klein were recently ordered to pay $135,000 in emotional damages to a lesbian couple because they refused to bake them a wedding cake based on their religious convictions. (And, now, the state of Oregon says it will place a lien on the Kleins’ home, if they don’t hurry up and pay.) The Kleins didn’t refuse to bake said cake because the potential customers were lesbians, but because the cake was for celebrating something the Kleins could not in good conscience be party to. Commenting on the case, Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said,
“You shouldn’t be able to turn people away based on who they are.”
She is absolutely wrong.
Assuming you own the business, you should have every right to refuse service to anyone for any reason. I don’t care if they are LGBT or straight; liberal or conservative; Christian, Muslim, Jew, or atheist; black or white; Trekkie or Whovian; open carry or pacifist; vegan or meat-eater. I also don’t care if you are a racist, bigot, or generic jerk, or if you have legitimate, practical and/or principled reasons for discriminating against one or more groups, characteristics, or behaviors. If it’s your business, you should be able to serve or not serve whomever you want, in general or only in particular circumstances, for whatever bleepin’ reason you please!
You should be able to make this known with signs or word-of-mouth, via social media or traditional media, or not at all until a certain situation arises. Of course, as soon as any such restrictions to your clientele become known, you run the risk of losing business, because even people whom you would not turn away but who object to your policy can & will take their business elsewhere. On the other hand, others will appreciate and support you all the more. You chalk it up to competitive risk within a free-market system and go into it with eyes wide open. That’s up to you. And any businesses involved in marketing, tax prep, vendors, etc., that you want to do business with should have the right to accept or refuse your business, for the same reasons and with the same potential ramifications.
I don’t care if you run a bakery, print shop, B&B, restaurant, gun store, florist, photography studio, computer repair service, or anything else. No private business should be told — either by government or by any other group (unless you voluntarily submit to their authority) — who they must or must not serve or what kinds of services/products they must or must not provide. No one has a right to demand that you serve them, nor do they have a “right” to not be offended or have their feelings hurt. “That’s mean! That’s not fair!” These aren’t legal arguments. And you should not be under threat of a lawsuit — with potentially huge fines, legal fees, even jailtime, putting your business, home, and/or life at risk — for not serving them. That’s just wrong and a violation of your rights! The fact that this is even an issue in this of all countries is a symptom of the sad state of affairs we are in and the constant battle to maintain our constitutionally recognized freedoms.
Now, many of you are probably yelling at me through your screen and reminding me of anti-discrimination law like the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination by privately owned places of public accommodation on the basis of race, color, religion, or national origin — “places of public accommodation” being hotels, restaurants, theaters, banks, health clubs, and stores. (Non-profits, e.g., churches (for now), are generally exempt.) Also, there is the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits discrimination by private businesses based on disability. In return, I would first point out that you can refuse to serve someone even if they are in a protected group, but the refusal can’t be arbitrary and you can’t apply it to just one group of people. (Unfortunately, this can work for or against you, depending on the judge.) But, I also question the constitutionality of such anti-discrimination laws and suspect that they impinge on First Amendment rights like freedom of association and, in cases like that of “Sweet Cakes”, religious liberty and freedom of conscience. I would also point to the benefits of full competitiveness in a free-market capitalist economy and the often detrimental effects of unnecessary regulation and other manner of government intervention in business.
But, my rant is not really about what laws may or may not be in force right now. I’m talking about what, in my humble opinion, should be the case. Ultimately, it’s your business. Barring any criminal activity or issues of genuine public health & safety, you should be able to determine your own clientele. It’s that simple. Or, at least, it should be.
OK, I’ve said my piece….
Happy Independence Day, everyone!
I hope y’all are enjoying your long holiday weekends! If you have been fortunate enough to have good weather, fantastic! My family didn’t plan any activities, and it’s just as well, because it has been raining on and off here all weekend. Even got a brief thunderstorm Saturday. But, rain or shine, it is still time to remember and celebrate the sacrifices made in the founding of this nation, and the many freedoms we still — for the most part and for the moment, anyway — enjoy as citizens and residents of the United States of America.
On June 7, 1776, Richard Henry Lee presented his resolution for independence from Great Britain to the 2nd Continental Congress in Philadelphia. Not all the colonies were ready to commit, so the delegates took a few weeks off to rest, discuss informally, and communicate with their constituents. Meanwhile, a “Committee of Five” — with Thomas Jefferson as lead penman — was tasked with drafting a formal declaration, which was presented for review on June 28. Congress then reconvened on July 1 to resume debate on Lee’s Resolution. The next day, July 2, they formally adopted the resolution for independence, with 12 of the 13 colonies voting in favor. (Still-hesitant New York abstained.) The day after that, John Adams wrote the following to his wife, Abigail, about the momentous occasion:
“… The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America.
I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.
You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. — I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. — Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not.”
Of course, we now know that it was July 4th, when the 2nd Continental Congress formally adopted the final draft of the Declaration of Independence, that became historically celebrated. But, Adams got pretty much all the rest of it correct, even if the celebratory specifics have been modified over time and vary from place to place.
Despite later claims by Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson that they signed the document on July 4, most historians agree that this was false. New York’s delegates finally gave their official support to the Declaration of Independence on July 7, after receiving authorization from their home assembly. But, it wasn’t until August 2, after the Declaration had been copied in clear handwriting onto parchment, that most of the 56 signatories signed the official document. (A few held out until a later date, and two never signed at all.) Thus marks the formal and auspicious birth of the great “American Experiment” that continues even today.
Now, we don’t claim to be a perfect nation or to consistently actualize our founding principles. Our nation and our government will never be perfect. It never can be, because ‘We The People’ are imperfect. But, what we have done for the good, domestically and around the world, over the past 239 years has been truly amazing and unmatched in blood and treasure. It is easy to get caught up in the politics and the various worldview battles evidenced by daily headlines. But, although we are under assault from without and within, I firmly believe that the U.S.A. is still the greatest, most exceptional nation that has ever been. I, for one, am Proud to be an American!
That said, I invite you to follow this link to a video of country music legend Lee Greenwood, backed up by the Jay Sekulow Band, performing Greenwood’s beloved tribute to America, “God Bless the U.S.A.”. Enjoy!