Who Would Trump Put On the Supreme Court?

“[A]ll federal court judges, but most particularly Supreme Court justices, exert substantial influence on the development and application of the law over a long period, often for decades after the president who appointed them has left office…. The stakes are high indeed.”  — John G. Malcolm, director of the Heritage Foundation’s Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies

If you read my previous post about (reluctantly) voting for Trump, you may have noticed that I didn’t mention the Supreme Court nominations that the next president will probably have to make. It’s not that they aren’t important — they absolutely are! But, I tried to talk only about the issues themselves, many of which will, of course, be addressed in federal court cases and, in some cases, before SCOTUS.

The Roberts Court (Oct. 2010 – Feb. 2016)

The Roberts Court (Oct. 2010 – Feb. 2016)

As we all know, with Justice Antonin Scalia’s untimely death — which some believe to have been under suspicious circumstances — back in February, the Supreme Court is still awaiting a replacement for that 9th position. It looks like that won’t happen until the next POTUS is sworn in. But, given the advanced ages of half of the currently sitting justices, it is likely that three or four more will need to be replaced over the next 4-8 years.

I shudder to think of the Left-leaning, activist justices that a President Hillary Clinton would appoint. Republicans in Congress would not be able to reject all her nominations, and it’s highly doubtful that she would nominate an actual originalist/conservative. At best, we would get a few centrists in the mold of Justice Anthony Kennedy, the Court’s current moderate and unpredictable swing-vote. As “fair” as this might sound, it would probably be a disaster. However, a President Donald Trump would appoint more Right-leaning justices. In fact, Trump has already provided 21 names of people that he and his team have preliminarily vetted for nomination.

In an article published a few weeks ago, The Heritage Foundation’s John G. Malcolm gave a brief analysis of Trump’s picks. First, though, here’s the list in two parts. (The first group was announced here and the second here.):

Steven Colloton
Allison Eid
Raymond Gruender
Thomas Hardiman
Raymond Kethledge
Joan Larsen
Thomas Lee
William Pryor
David Stras
Diane Sykes
Don Willett

Keith Blackwell
Charles Canady
Neil Gorsuch
Sen. Mike Lee
Edward Mansfield
Frederico Moreno
Margaret Ryan
Amul Thapar
Timothy Tymkovich
Robert Young

Malcolm says that they all “appear to be eminently qualified”. Many held distinguished clerkships, including nine for Supreme Court justices. Many teach or have taught law at prestigious law schools. Several served as state or federal prosecutors and at least one as a federal public defender. One (M. Lee), of course, is currently a U.S. Senator, while another (Canady) is a former, four-term U.S. Representative.

With nine on the list being sitting state supreme court justices from eight different states across the country, Malcolm notes that Trump’s potential nominees represent a much better “cross-section of America” than the current Supreme Court line-up. Beyond geographical diversity, what is the advantage of this?

“Individuals with experience on state courts are less likely to have a jaundiced view of the competency of state court judges…. They are also more likely to pay greater heed to issues involving federalism, which also tends to get short shrift by federal legislators and judges.”

Even more important, Malcolm believes that everyone on the list appears to hold the position that…

“… a judge should interpret the text and structure of a statute or the Constitution, based on the original public meaning of that text at the time it was adopted, and should not, under the guise of statutory or constitutional interpretation, impose on the rest of society his or her own policy predilections based on that judge’s perceptions of contemporary mores.”


Some have been worried about who Trump would appoint to the Supreme Court, especially since he told Mark Halperin last August that he thought his sister Maryanne Trump Barry, a very liberal and strongly pro-choice federal judge, would make a “phenomenal” justice. Thankfully, she seems to be off the (official) list. Not only would that smell of nepotism, it would be terrible news for the pro-life movement. I, for one, am very encouraged by this list of originalist, constitutionalist candidates — not just for pro-life cases but for the many defining issues that will be addressed in the near future, and for the integrity of the Court and the federal judicial system.


Why I Will Still (Reluctantly) Vote for Trump

“[W]e do not have the choice to vote for [some] ideal candidate but only for the real ones that are on the ticket. In an ideal world this would not happen, but we do not live in an ideal world…. [W]e can only choose the best one available, not the best one conceivable. And as an evangelical Christian living in this real fallen world, it looks to me that Trump, as imperfect as he may be, comes closer to what we need in America now than Hillary Rodham Clinton.”  — Norm Geisler, Christian author, theologian, & apologist

I didn’t enjoy writing this post, and I may even lose a few Facebook friends over it. But, I needed to say my piece….


Donald Trump

Donald Trump is a greatly flawed man, as am I. As a rich and famous man, Trump’s flaws are bound to come to public attention, especially since he is running for the highest public office in the land. (Of course, he has been in the public eye for decades, so most of his behavior is hardly surprising.) Many claims that have been made about him have been exaggerated and sometimes turned out to be fearmongering fabricated by those “on the other side” (e.g., racism) or much ado about nothing (e.g., avoiding taxes via legal loophole). Unfortunately, some of those claims do have an element of truth.

The Access Hollywood “hot mic” comments were indeed vulgar and inexcusable. I’m not going to defend them. But, frankly, I’m not entirely surprised that a “blue-collar billionaire” with an enormous ego would spout off like that on occasion. And, yes, sometimes guys do talk that way in the locker room and elsewhere, despite what HuffPo says. Much of it is macho posturing, while some of it reflects actual views and possibly conduct.

Of course, the real issue is not the obscene language itself but the degrading attitude toward women that it evinced. The even more concerning question of whether or not Trump ever really followed through on his boasting is still up in the air (as of this writing), as allegations are being made and, in some cases, discredited. Certainly, the timing of the tape’s release and subsequent claims of being groped are very suspicious and personally and/or politically motivated. However, that doesn’t mean the claims are totally false. We shall see as the investigations progress. In the meantime, I will not presume him guilty of sexual assault. In fact, I am willing to give Trump the benefit of the doubt and hope that he has cleaned up his act a bit in the intervening years. (You better believe Melania wouldn’t knowingly let him get away with that crap, anymore!)

Finally, I won’t make questionable comparisons to King David or King Cyrus or St. Paul or anyone else. But, I know that God has a history of using broken and imperfect people — aren’t we all? — to be a blessing to others and carry out His purposes.

With that said, I would like to plead for some perspective. When we consider the upcoming election, we need to put aside the media-hyped distractions and look at the big picture. The person elected as our next President will have some incredibly important and often complex issues to deal with, both foreign and domestic. I believe we are at a crossroads as a nation, and the next president’s understanding of those issues and his/her approach to handling them will likely determine America’s future. Illegal immigration and refugees, abortion, LGBT rights, jobs & the economy, military strength and defense policy, Constitutional rights, healthcare, international trade, etc. All of these are in the balance. Knowing what we do about Hillary Clinton, we must do what we can to make sure she (and her “progressive” colleagues) do not take over this country. We may be unsure of what Trump will do, but we have a darn good idea what Clinton will do.

Back to the candidates…


Mike Pence

If Trump drops out, great. But, I seriously doubt his ego would let him do that, and he is on record saying that there is no way he’s quitting the race. If the RNC somehow forces Trump off the ticket, fine — though, a) the legality of such a move is questionable, and b) the angry outcry from hard-core Trumpers and others decrying a denial of “the will of the people” may torpedo any replacement’s chances at winning, too. Besides, Reince Priebus has said that the GOP — under his leadership, at least — has no intention of booting Trump. (It would be extra tricky, given that voting has already begun.)

On a related note, Mike Pence would be the most likely person to move into the top position on the Republican ticket, if Trump were to “leave”. I have liked him from way back, so I hope he would accept it if called upon. There were rumors that Pence was distancing himself from Trump, due to the recent release of the “hot mic” recording. But, Pence is now on record as saying that he is not abandoning Trump.

So, assuming Donald Trump remains at the top of the GOP ticket this November, what are the alternatives?

1) Don’t vote: This one just doesn’t make sense to me. Even with less-than-desirable choices, don’t you want to be heard? Don’t you feel a responsibility to do what you can to at least get some good done, even if you only agree with the “better” candidate on some of the big issues?

In a recent article, Dr. Jeff Myers identified four myths that many Christians (and probably others, I’d wager) believe, which has resulted in Christians having less & less influence. They are:

Myth #1: God doesn’t care about politics
Myth #2: It’s not my problem
Myth #3: Choosing between the lesser of two evils is evil
Myth #4: Politics doesn’t matter

Myers briefly explains why none of those excuses holds water. Here’s a relevant quote that I came across:

“[C]ivic engagement is still not optional for Christians. We must do the good we can and stand against the evil that we can. And that means voting. There are so many important things on the ballot: representatives and senators, decisions about legalized drugs and legalized suicide, and yes, who will be president. We must show up to vote.”  — John Stonestreet, author, radio host, Speaker and Fellow of the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview

Note: I also wrote about non-voting and 3rd-party voting in another post four years ago.

2) Vote 3rd party: I understand the appeal, here; I really do. Of course, I could never vote for Jill Stein (Green Party) nor for Bernie Sanders (Democratic Socialist “independent”), if he chose to jump back in at the last hour. I’m not crazy about Gary Johnson (Libertarian Party) or Mike Maturen (American Solidarity Party), either. I could see myself voting for Evan McMullin (Independent) or Tom Hoefling (America’s Party) under other circumstances, as they both seem fairly consistent in their conservatism. And I really like Darrell Castle’s (Constitution Party) positions (see pic).

comparing-five-2016-candidates-on-issuesUnfortunately, in my estimation, none of them is truly viable. (Heck, some of them can’t even get on the ballot in most states.) Not that “3rd party” candidates never win, but it’s very rare in national races. We can complain that the current, two-party system doesn’t seem “fair”, and we can discuss how it might be improved. But, right now we have to accept and work with the system as it is. (See the Geisler quote above.) I contend that it is too late in the game to try to build a groundswell of support for a 3rd-party candidate. We need to face the harsh reality of what and who we are stuck with and make the best of a terrible situation.

Voting for someone else might make you feel better, but it won’t actually accomplish any good. Worse, it might help someone truly evil attain the most powerful position in the world. Speaking of which…

3) Vote Hillary: I honestly don’t understand how a conservative, Christian or otherwise, could even consider voting for HRC in this election. (There might be a scenario where I would vote for Hillary, but her opponent would probably have to be an avowed communist or fascist or convicted serial killer, and contemplating such circumstances scares the *&%$#! out of me.) I mean, do I really need to go over her well-documented history (with and without her husband) of blatant lies and extreme corruption? The DoJ and FBI know she’s guilty of crimes and she still skates.

Beyond that, Clinton is strongly pro-choice — loves Planned Parenthood, is in favor of partial-birth abortion, wants to get rid of the Hyde Amendment, etc. She wants to eliminate citizens’ right to be armed and sue gun manufacturers. She wants to save Obamacare, and, if that doesn’t work, will likely push for a government-controlled single-payer system. She will push all sorts of nonsense from the LGBTQ agenda, and that’s just one area where religious rights will be threatened. She is for higher taxes and increased regulations, along with bigger government and more dependency on it. She will increase entitlement programs, including for illegal aliens, and other government spending, which means even more debt. Under Clinton, the race-wars, class-wars, “war” against cops, etc., will just get worse. She will likely support actions against Israel and in favor of Muslim nations and other groups. She will support “progressive”/globalist projects, while giving away America’s sovereignty in the process (as Obama is doing). She will continue the vendettas against Republicans and conservatives via executive actions and agencies. I could go on, but you know all this….

“If I were voting for Trump in a vacuum, this would be different. But Clinton isn’t a vacuum. She’s more like a vulture lying in wait to end the republic as we know it. Accuse me of hyperbole or alarmism if you must, but I genuinely fear Clinton could do irreversible damage to the country. And millions agree with me.”  — David Limbaugh, political commentator & author

OK, now, let’s look at Trump’s platform/agenda. I admit up front that he has only recently seemingly come around to the pro-life side, and I am hoping that it is a principled change. At this point, at least, he seems to be genuine, though he does (unfortunately) allow for exceptions for incest and rape. He also believes there should be exceptions to the 2nd Amendment, but he is generally supportive. He wants to repeal Obamacare and replace it with a consumer-focused, competitive system. He is “mixed” on the LGBTQ agenda, which is disappointing but clearly better than what Clinton has in store. He is for reducing and simplifying taxes across the board, as well as eliminating every wasteful and unnecessary regulation. He wants to end government corruption and rein in profligate spending. He is a big supporter of the law enforcement community. He has no patience for politically-correct nonsense. He has no problem calling out our enemies by name (e.g., Islamic terrorists) and wants to rebuild the American military for a strong defense, while taking necessary precautions against terrorists entering the country. Trump appears to be pro-Israel, though not aggressively so. He likes Netanyahu and has a lot of support from conservative Israelis. He will definitely not be ceding authority over America(ns) to the UN or anyone else, and I’m pretty sure he will put a stop to any anti-Republican/conservative vendettas by federal agencies under his watch. (He is in favor of abolishing the IRS, which has been one of the biggest offenders.)

But, you know all that, too. The main point is that with Trump, our nation has a chance at retaining its independence, its freedoms and liberties. Innocent lives will be saved. The economy will be rejuvenated. Many stupid and/or unsafe policies will be rolled back. Forget not voting, forget ineffective 3rd-party votes. I will vote Trump in order to avoid another Clinton administration — worse than the last one and potentially worse than Obama’s — and sure disaster.

blacks-and-women-for-trumpYou can accuse me of being blind, stupid, ignorant, delusional, compromising this or that, “sacrifice [my] principles and values”, etc. That is your right, but I think you’re wrong. It is also my right to vote for an (highly) imperfect candidate, because I think the alternatives are all much worse. And, I’m not willing to throw in the towel and accept that the U.S. has gone past the point of no return. It may have, but I’m not ready to give up without a fight and just throw away my vote.

I’m not a Trump-ophile — never was — and my eyes are wide open on this. I disagree with some of his proposed policies (e.g., on trade) and cringe over many things he says, or at least how he says them. That’s just the beginning of his shortcomings. Trump is definitely not the second coming of Reagan or anyone else. He is not a true conservative and not the savior of the Republican Party, nor will he be able to save the nation on his own. He’ll probably disappoint a lot of people on the Right — especially those who think he’s awesome. But, I truly believe that he is capable of at least slowing the decline that we are currently experiencing in so many areas (i.e., economic, military, security, etc.). (That’s why we need to keep a Republican majority in both the House and Senate, preferably conservatives with backbone, to help him do it. Also to keep Trump in check on other stuff.) Hopefully, someone like Pence or Cruz can then succeed Trump and put us on a more sane, consistently conservative-minded course.

Is Trump the “lesser of two evils”? Yes, I believe so. But, I don’t approach it that way. Rather, I look at the viable options and choose the one that I believe is likely to do the most amount of good for the country and the least amount of bad. This election cycle, knowing (and suspecting) what I do about the candidates running, that person is Donald Trump. Or, as a friend of mine said on Facebook,

“In this presidential election, I’m not voting for a person. I’m voting, however, for pre-born children, for the First and Second Amendments to the Constitution, for our military, our police force, our national security, and our future as a country. Which candidate most fits this?” (h/t Dr. Rick Walston)

I don’t want to vote Donald Trump into the Oval Office. But, all things considered, once we get past the frustration and moral outrage, I think it is the most responsible thing to do at this time — for the good of the nation as a whole, for the American people, and for our allies.

God have mercy on us all….

P.S.  Other than the ones I already linked to, here are 6 more articles I recommend on this topic:

1) “Why Donald Trump is the Best Choice for President”, by Gary DeMar
2) “Words vs. deeds”, by Thomas Sowell
3) “Why I Am Voting for Trump”, by Bruce Bialosky
4) “Why Vote Trump”, by Terry Paulson
6) “The consequences of a Hillary Clinton victory”


Truth and Compassion: A Christian Response to Transgenderism

“The legal/cultural battle over whether biological males who have a female gender identity (or vice versa) can use the public bathroom, spa facility, or school showers reserved for the opposite sex is consuming the attention of the national media and the national conscience. Christians find themselves caught in an awkward situation, facing another obstacle they need to navigate with grace and wisdom. How should we respond as good ambassadors who follow Christ?”  — Greg Koukl, speaker, author, and president of Stand to Reason

allgenderbathroomsignAs Koukl says in the opening quote, this is indeed a difficult time, where finding a balance between bold “witnessing” and sensitive diplomacy is often fraught with legal and social landmines. Unfortunately, Christians as a group in America (and elsewhere) have not always had a reputation for handling such situations well. (This, of course, contributes to accusations of xxxxphobia and bigotry, among others.) There are many reasons for this — e.g., fear, ignorance, lack of biblical education, inconsistency in biblical worldview, our own sin issues, etc. — but no excuses. We need to do better.

In a recently published book, A New Kind of Apologist (edited by Sean McDowell), STR’s Alan Shlemon contributed an essay/chapter on this very issue. In “Transgender: Truth and Compassion”, which was excerpted in the Sep/Oct 2016 issue of STR’s “Solid Ground” newsletter, Shlemon educates the reader on both the relevant science and relevant biblical principles, as well as providing a little insight into the transgender mindset. He ends by offering sound counsel, proposing a few guidelines for engaging the transgenderism issue — with transgenders and those who support their “gender choice” and lifestyle — without compromising either truth or compassion.

The following are a few excerpts from the “Solid Ground” version….

“Imagine a woman telling you, “I’m transgender. Please call me Michael.” It’s obvious she’s female, but she’s asking you to call her by a man’s name. What do you do?

Many people today reject the notion that gender is a fixed trait based on biology. Rather, they believe gender is a flexible trait based on society. As feminist and social theorist Simone de Beauvoir wrote, “One is not born, but rather becomes, woman.” Anatomy, therefore, is not destiny. One can choose what gender one wants to be.

Though this sounds counterintuitive, the culture is buying it. They are sympathetic to the plight of transgender people. They believe “Michael” is a man trapped in a woman’s body and they’re willing to accommodate the transgender perception.

Recently, a woman complained to the management of a fitness gym after she was startled to see a man in the women’s locker room. The public relations department responded by saying, “Guests may use all gym facilities based on their sincere self-reported gender identity.” In other words, if you’re a man but believe you’re a woman, you can use the women’s locker room. Concerned by the gym’s policy, the woman warned other women at the gym about the transgender person. Management asked her to stop. When she refused, the gym cancelled her membership.

time-transgender-coverIt’s not surprising, then, that Time Magazine called transgender the next civil rights movement. They predict a cultural shift as significant as that toward African-Americans and (though not parallel) homosexuals.

Christians, then, face another great challenge. The culture thinks they’re backward-thinking on moral issues, bigoted about homosexuality, and probably biased against transgender people. How do we respond?

We need to move forward with truth and grace, the way Jesus did. This requires becoming a new kind of apologist. We can’t simply quote what Scripture says because most of our culture rejects biblical authority. Instead, science is king in today’s world. Apologists need to be savvy enough to know the truth revealed in Scripture (special revelation) and in science (general revelation). Both sources of knowledge come from God and, as a result, conform to each other.

As you learn the truth about transgender people from both Scripture and science, it will help you have compassion for them. Jesus knew that those around Him were lost and hurting. That’s what led Him to act with kindness and good will towards them.

Following in the footsteps of Christ, the new kind of apologist integrates both truth and compassion in his response. Knowing truth requires knowing what Scripture says, what science says, and understanding the experience of transgender people. If we are steeped in this truth, it will change the way we feel about transgender people and it will change the way we treat them.

Know the Truth

Although Scripture is largely silent about transgender, it does speak directly to the broader question of the created order, gender, and sexual behavior. It turns out we have a biblical grounding for the gender roles we intuitively know to be true….”

Shlemon then briefly discusses the gender complementarity clearly taught in Scripture, which is then backed up by science and intuition. From there, he launches into a very helpful section that talks about the relationship between biology and gender identity, what it means to be “transgender”, the psychological and emotional distress involved (which does not go away after sex reassignment surgery), considerations of public policy, etc….

“It is possible, though, for a person to develop a gender identity that is different from his or her biological sex. Male homosexuals have a conscious gender identity that’s male, but most (though not all) have a subconscious gender identity that’s female.

A transgender man has a female subconscious gender identity too, similar to a homosexual, but also consciously thinks of himself as female. That’s why (unlike a homosexual man) he might say he feels like a woman trapped in a man’s body. The converse would be true with a female transgender person. The reality is more nuanced than this, but these charts [see link below] summarize this concept.

trans1Transgender people feel like they are trapped inside a body that is the opposite of their perceived gender. As you can imagine, this leads to a tremendous amount of psychological and emotional distress. Many of them are also stigmatized by society. Sadly, 41 percent of transgender people attempt suicide (compared to 1.6 percent of the general population).

They are deeply hurting inside. That’s why many of them attempt to change their bodies with hormones, drugs, and sex-change surgery. Instead of working to change their gender identity to match their biology, they want to change their biology to match their gender identity. An obvious concern with the latter approach is that while it’s not possible to mistake your biological sex, it is possible to mistake your perceived gender….”

This is a very informative section, and Shlemon references such sources as the National Center for Transgender Equality and National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the New England Journal of Medicine, the Archives of General Psychiatry, First Things, and The Federalist. He concludes this section with some advice for dealing with the reality of current cultural demands that result in transgenders having access to areas of privacy traditionally preserved for those who self-identify with their own biological sex.

Here is an excerpt from the final section…

Treat Them with Compassion

The new kind of apologist who is aware of the transgender person’s brokenness finds that this knowledge changes the way he responds….

The truth we’ve learned about transgender people is a sober reminder that we live in a fallen world. These people have been hurt. The culture has lied to them and medical professionals have been complicit in their gender-identity confusion. We need to speak truth to them, but it must be motivated by compassion.”

At this point, Shlemon recommends a 3-pronged approach, which I’ll summarize:

1) Build friendships first. Communication, especially on difficult issues, comes easier with those we know and (hopefully) trust.

2) Remember that we are not to have the same expectations of those outside the Christian community/family as we do for professed Christ-followers. Therefore, while we hold all those in the latter group to the same Christ-like standard, we must handle those in the former group differently. (I Cor. 5:9-13)

3) Focus on the Gospel.

Shlemon continues…

“That’s the approach I take with everyone: a Muslim, an atheist, a homosexual, or a transgender. In most cases where a nonbeliever has changed how he lived, it was because he first committed his life to Christ. Then the Holy Spirit transformed him from the inside out. The Spirit changed his heart and his desires, and then changed his life. As the saying goes, God catches His fish first, and then He cleans them. We want our transgender friend or family member to turn to God first. Then, the other changes come more easily over time.”

As far as I know, I haven’t encountered any transgenders, let alone gotten into any serious conversations regarding these issues. (Of course, I don’t get out much.) When I do, as I’m sure is inevitable, I pray that I remember Shlemon’s advice and am prepared to respond with equal parts truth and compassion.

I urge my readers to read Shlemon’s entire article online, which contains much more supporting data, discussion, and footnotes.


A Symphonic Approach to Reality

“Is a scientific analysis in terms of light waves more ultimate than a human being’s perception of a red apple?… No, neither one is more ultimate. Reality has many levels, and human beings have many legitimate perspectives.”  — Dr. Vern Poythress

cover to Redeeming ScienceAs you may recall, I blogged on an excerpt from Vern Poythress’ book, Redeeming Science, a few weeks ago, in which he discussed education. I’m still working my way through the book, though I took several days off from it. This week, I’d like to share from the 15th chapter, “Debates About What Is Real”. Poythress explores some ideas that were new to me, though he has apparently discussed them elsewhere. It will probably make more sense if you are familiar with the studies of epistemology and/or ontology. (Those are sub-disciplines of philosophy, in case you were wondering.) I’m only a little familiar with them and am still trying to wrap my brain — well, actually my mind — around this stuff. But, I think I got the gist….

“The comprehensive coherence entailed by the unity of the plan of God also involves coherence among different points of view or different emphases that people may use in understanding God’s world. I have discussed this principle of coherence among viewpoints at some length in Symphonic Theology, and John Frame’s works exhibit extensive instances. For example, the four Gospels each present the person and work of Christ with different emphases. But, rightly understood, they harmonize. Christ is both the great king in the line of David (Matthew) and the revealer of the Father (John).

Consider another example of harmony. With a Christian worldview, we find harmony between different aspects of ethics. A normative perspective focuses on the norms or laws or standards for right and wrong. A personal perspective focuses on the attitudes and motives that drive behavior. A situational perspective focuses on what helps in practice in a situation, in promoting the glory of God. Because God issues the norms, governs the people, and governs the situation, all three in principle exist in harmony. But non-Christian thought, not having God as an ultimate source for all, tends to polarize and treat one pole or another as ultimate. Deontological ethics starts with norms, existential ethics with persons, and utilitarian ethics with situations.

The three perspectives on ethics show kinship with the five schools and their views of science. Realism, in its concern for real laws out there, focuses on norms (the laws) and on the situation to which the norms apply. Idealism focuses on thoughts, which connect it to the personal perspective. Empiricism focuses on sense experience, which connects it to the personal perspective. Pragmatism focuses on practice in the world, which connects it to the situational perspective. It pulls man back down to earth by observing that God created man to fill the earth and subdue it, both practical tasks; and neither task guarantees that man will ever penetrate to some ultimate ontological skeleton, if it even exists. Finally, postmodern relativism may be seen as a form of idealism that champions the diversity rather than the unity among human persons.

active_christians_in_scienceWithin a Christian worldview, all five of these ‘isms’ belong together as perspectives on the one plan of God. No one of them makes sense without the others. Human beings need to be there to do science, and to think the thoughts about scientific theory. Science without persons is a mere vapor. And human beings exist in their diversity as well as unity, as postmodernism would like to remind us. In addition science requires something that the persons will investigate: an external world both with lawful regularity (realism) and with particular data that we may organize for practical purposes (empiricism and pragmatism). One does not choose between these perspectives, but chooses all of them at once as fruitful options. At the same time, one chooses none of them in their non-Christian forms, in which they are set against one another, or in which they remain unclear as to whether man is to proceed as if he had an autonomous mind or as a creature in submission to God.”

After examining the increasingly popular idea of “critical realism” and its attractiveness, Poythress continues…

“Consider finally the atmosphere that realism may produce. Some realist writing can emanate an atmosphere of normalcy and sanity. If so, it is both a strength and a weakness. Most people, most of the time, intend to operate in the sphere of what is normal and sane. We know that an external world exists and that we have knowledge of it. Realist discussion can reassure us by showing up the fallacies and deficiencies of alternative, ‘strange’ approaches.

Yes, other approaches have their failings. But I wonder whether some realists, before turning their backs on the failings, have sufficiently appreciated why others might adopt such strange, deficient approaches. I sympathize deeply with those others, because I suspect that underneath they are discontent with the ‘normal.’ Something is radically wrong, and they feel desperation. One follows normalcy if normalcy holds promise of giving what one wants. But if the world is desperately sick, and if normalcy appears to be unaware of it — if perchance normalcy itself displays symptoms of the sickness — one casts about for alternatives. One becomes radicalized. And the more desperately sick the world is, the more desperate the alternatives. The realists are like contented bourgeois managers of factories, while the radicals are like the visionaries who plot for a bloody communist revolution. I sympathize, because I think the radicals are right to be desperate (chapter 3); but I regret that the desperation may break out in ways that make the sickness worse (the bloodshed in revolution). That is the nature of sin. Christ came to bring the true remedy for sin, through his death and resurrection.

So we have ended up affirming all five of the different schools, provided that one does not take them up unchanged but treats them as perspectives on science, or even perspectives on all of life. For example, one redefines and reshapes postmodern relativism by dropping the relativism that despairs of finding truth but continuing to affirm a God-ordained diversity in ways of expounding truth, whether that diversity is seen in the four Gospels, or in Schrodinger’s and Heisenberg’s two approaches to quantum mechanics, or in the contrast between starting with human capabilities (idealism) and starting with pointer readings on instruments (a form of empiricism)….

milky-way-face-on-edge-on-nasa-richard-powellThe acknowledgement of multiple perspectives enables us to make some sense of the diversity of ‘levels’ with which we may analyze the perception of a red apple. We may affirm the value both of ordinary human experience and of special modes of analysis that science introduces. We affirm our ordinary visual experience, and we also study scientifically the cellular and neurological processes involved in human vision. We study the physics of light, or we look at light from the standpoint of special relativity, or quantum theory, or perhaps even further theories still to be developed. These viewpoints are like different perspectives on the world. But they are not isolated from one another. Through our ordinary world we learn of science, and we expand that ordinary world as we develop a capacity to occupy more of the specialized standpoints that science offers. And those specialized standpoints, rightly understood, also lead to affirming the reality of what we experience in the ordinary world.”

Whew! Got all that? I’ve read it through a few times, now, so I think I understand and pretty much agree. Still, I think I strained a few brain cells gettin’ there. What about you?


Another Step Closer to Quantum Teleportation

Came across this interesting nugget of science news this week and had to share….

Who would have thought that commercial optical fiber networks would be instrumental in developing quantum teleportation technology? But, yes, it’s true. Now, we’re not talking about Star Trek-type teleportation, here. (Sniff!) Quantum teleportation is limited to transmitting information, not physical things. Even so, it’s pretty cool. See, there’s a weird phenomenon called “quantum entanglement”, which Einstein once called “spooky action at a distance”. But, I’m getting ahead of myself….

quantum-entanglementAny subatomic particle is said to have a “quantum state”. For a photon, this is a combination of its “phase” and a mixture of vertical and horizontal “polarization”. If we wanted to send that “state” (i.e., information about the particle) to another location, how would we do it? Well, we can’t just make a copy or take a snapshot. Any measurement of the particle’s state only captures limited information, plus it results in the “collapse” of the original state. (It’s a pain, but that’s how quantum theory works.) What can we do? That’s where “entanglement” comes in, as well as the use of a third particle as a middle-man… sort of.

When two particles (e.g., photons) are entangled, they have a strange-yet-subtle connection, such that what affects the quantum state of one affects the state of the other, and the distance between them is irrelevant. “[T]he state of each photon is completely uncertain but the two states are correlated.” So, despite taking certain necessary measurements, we can use this to transfer that state to another particle. As Hamish Johnston points out in Physics World,

“Crucially, the original particle loses all of the properties that are teleported. This satisfies the ‘no-cloning’ theorem of quantum mechanics, which dictates that it is impossible to make a perfect copy of a quantum state.”

Science‘s Adrian Cho breaks it down for us (using a “point on a globe” as analogy for the precise quantum state):

“Here’s how it works. Suppose you have two people, Alice and Bob, with a third, Charlie, in the middle. Alice prepares a photon that she wants to teleport — that is, she sets its position on the [aforementioned] abstract globe. She sends it down an optical fiber to Charlie. At the same time, Charlie prepares a pair of entangled photons. He keeps one and sends the second one on to Bob.

Now, here’s the tricky part. When Charlie receives Alice’s photon he can take it and the one he’s kept and do a particular type of “joint” measurement on them both. Because quantum measurements collapse the states of photons, Charlie’s measurement actually forces those two photons into an entangled state. (Charlie’s measurement actually asks the either/or question: Are the photons in one particular entangled state or a complementary one?)

But as soon as Charlie does the entangling measurement on the two photons he has — the one he got from Alice and the one he kept from the original entangled pair — a striking thing happens. The photon he sent to Bob instantly collapses into the state of Alice’s original photon. That is, the globe setting of Alice’s photon has been teleported to Bob’s even if Bob is kilometers away from Charlie — as he was in these two experiments.”

Why was this in the news this week?

quantum-cryptology-7Two independent teams — one at the University of Calgary in Canada, and the other at the University of Science and Technology of China in Hefei, China — recently performed quantum experiments that took advantage of the local communications infrastructure. The Canadian team successfully used entanglements to send quantum information 6.2km across optical fiber; the Chinese team used a little different method and sent quantum information more than twice as far: 12.5km. These aren’t the furthest distances achieved, but they are the furthest outside of a lab. This was crucial in demonstrating the “viability and practicality of the process.” The teams both published their findings in the latest edition of the journal Nature Photonics.

The Canadian and Chinese teams didn’t do things exactly as described above, but close.

“The only difference is that they used two slightly different arrival times for the basic states of the photons, not different polarizations. The hard part in the experiments was guaranteeing that the two photons sent to Bob arrived at the same general time and were identical in color and polarization. If they were distinguishable, then the experiment wouldn’t work. Those were the technical challenges to teleportation over such long distances.”

So, what’s this quantum teleportation good for, if it can’t “beam me up?” As Avaneesh Pandey put it in the International Business Times,

“From the development of super fast quantum computers to quantum crypotography and the creation of extremely secure ‘quantum internet,’ feasible and reliable teleportation has the capability to revolutionize communications.”

That sounds pretty good, and if it requires a little “spookiness”, that’s find by me.

[For more details on the experiment(s) and the quantum physics behind them, as well as the implications for computing, follow the above links to Physics World and Science.]


Would God Communicate Through a Book?

“He is there, and He is not silent.”  — Francis Schaeffer

This should sound familiar to some of you….

Sometimes, skeptics of Christianity or of “revealed truth” more generally will throw out various claims about the Bible or about what (they think) God would/should/could do, in an attempt to undermine Christians’ faith in what we believe to be the inspired Word of God. One way they do this is to make it sound as if using a book — really, a collection of manuscripts of different types — as the primary means of communicating His desires and intentions to mankind is not very smart or effective.

2-peterWhy use fallible people in the writing, copying, and translating? After all, such a book can easily be corrupted and misunderstood. (That’s another favorite attack vector of skeptics, btw.) Also, why give this revelation in pieces, in a very limited area of the planet, starting well after humanity first showed up? Wouldn’t it make much better sense to speak audibly and unmistakably to all people everywhere, repeatedly throughout human history, so that there was no mistake about who God was and what He wanted us to do? Couldn’t He avoid a lot of confusion, suffering, death, and damnation of souls that way? (To be fair, Christian believers can legitimately be curious about some of this stuff, too.) On the other hand, how can we be sure that the real God, if there even is one, would speak to us propositionally at all?

Of course, much of why God did what He did and how He did it can be gleaned from careful study of those very scriptures being maligned. To answer all of those questions in an intellectually satisfying way, however, would take a lot of time, so I don’t intend to try that here. But, at least a couple aspects of the issue can be addressed. The following excerpt from James White’s book, Scripture Alone, is the first of “Three Arguments Related to Scriptural Sufficiency” (aka Chapter 1). It actually precedes the section I quoted from in last week’s post about the sola scriptura principle, but I thought it was worth backtracking a bit for this helpful explanation.

“While most of God’s complex earthly creatures communicate with one another in basic ways, much of this communication is merely instinctual and not definitive of the species. Man, on the other hand, is marked not only by his ability to communicate but also by the near necessity of communication…. While people communicate in many ways, they interact primarily though language, whether spoken or written; the complexity and capacity of human language testifies to humankind’s inherent desire to communicate and relate with others.

It is eminently logical to believe that the God who formed man’s body, with all of its intricate biological facilities, who created the wonder of man’s mind, with all of its amazing intellectual capacities, and who instilled man’s very ability and desire to communicate, would Himself be capable of communication with His creatures. The very thought of a mute God is on its face absurd: The only basis upon which one might suppose God to be silent would be God purposefully choosing to remain so. But even this makes no sense, as if God would create man to be desirous of communication and then absent Himself from the scene so as to leave us wandering alone in the midst of the vast, silent creation. Such a God would hardly be worthy of praise or emulation.

No, God must be able to communicate, and that on a level at least equal to that of His human creatures. Otherwise, from whence would our abilities come? God is able to make Himself known, to communicate His will, His thoughts, and His desires to His creation. This is simply necessary if, in fact, God is the Creator of all that is.

And so we should ask ourselves not if God has revealed Himself to man, but how and when? Again we are struck immediately by the fact that if God is to reveal Himself with clarity, His revelation must be capable of carrying the same kind of ‘truth content’ as our own speech. That is, through the use of context (including grammar, syntax, connotation, et al.) we expect to be able to communicate to another person certain facts. Our society functions on the basis of this truth…. Therefore, God must be able to communicate truth to us.

scripture-alone-by-whiteIf we combine this line of reasoning with the assumption that God has a purpose in His creation and is pursuing His own ends therein, we can see that God would have a motive to reveal His truths in such a fashion so as to produce the ends He desires. If those ends were to include the clear communication of truths to the whole of humanity or to any specific portion thereof, how might God communicate so as to allow this revelation to serve generations of human beings? Obviously, a written document, or set of documents, transmitted over time would allow for a revelation of transcendent truths. The consistency of the revelation would provide a means of maintaining its integrity over time.*

[*Footnote: I refer here to the consistency of the revelation itself providing the means (through exegesis) of correcting misinterpretation, not specifically to the transmission of the text. The protection of the text over time falls under God’s purpose in giving the revelation in the first place; that is, if God has a purpose in giving the revelation, He will then see to its protection over time.]

The preceding series of arguments, taken as a whole, is consistent within itself — there are no logical contradictions. Obviously, if God wished to reveal Himself to His creation, He could do so in a written body of revelation. In fact, such a revelation is consistent with the facts of creation as we have experienced them.”

There is a *lot* more that could be explored regarding God’s purposes, His means of communication (even besides the written Scripture), the role(s) of humans (corporately and individually) at different times, etc. But, I thought White did a great job in communicating this particular argument. What about you?


Sola Scriptura: What It Is and Isn’t

“[T]he Bible alone is the written Word of God, and as such is the only infallible, definitive standard in matters of controversy in the church.”  — Robert M. Bowman, Jr., Orthodoxy and Heresy

2timothy316-hcsbIf you are a Christian (and maybe if you aren’t), you have probably heard of the term sola scriptura. It is one of the “Five Solas”, Latin phrases that came out of the Protestant Reformation and represent central, theological principles held by the Reformers in opposition to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. Given its origin, it’s not surprising that sola scriptura is held most dearly by those who identify with a conservative and “Reformed” theology. Other groups, Protestant and otherwise, may claim to hold to some form of “sola scriptura”, but it is often a misrepresentation or misunderstanding of what the term actually means. Even some who identify as Reformed can be a bit confused as to what it does and doesn’t mean.

So,… What does sola scriptura mean?

Translation of the Latin phrase is “Scripture alone” (or, “only Scripture”), and the principle is based on passages like II Timothy 3:14-17 and II Peter 1:20-21. But, obviously that needs to be fleshed out a bit. In his book Scripture Alone, James White observes that the term is often taken to mean something like, “Scripture in isolation, Scripture outside of the rest of God’s work in the church.” But, he says a much more accurate definition would be,

“‘Scripture alone as the sole infallible rule of faith for the church.’… A rule of faith is that which governs and guides what we believe and why.”

White later gives a longer definition, which he used in a debate years earlier. But, what I’d like to cite instead are a couple sections of the London Baptist Confession of 1689, which White also quotes and which I think puts it quite well (if somewhat archaically)….

“The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience, although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men inexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God and his will which is necessary unto salvation….

The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men. Nevertheless, we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the word; and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature, and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the word, which are always to be observed.”

There is more, but I’ll leave it at that. I want to get to a section of Robert M. Bowman’s book, Orthodoxy and Heresy, where he explores the topic by identifying some common misperceptions….

orthodoxy-and-heresy-by-bowman“Taken in its true sense, this [“Sola Scriptura”] means that only Scripture is an unerring verbal expression of the mind of God for the church prior to Christ’s return. Unfortunately, the doctrine of sola scriptura is often misunderstood and misapplied in our day. Often the ‘Bible-only’ kind of approach criticized by Catholic and Orthodox Christians is actually a distortion of the protestant (with a small ‘p’) principle. [Here, Bowman is referring to the first of four principles for identifying and exposing heresy, which I quoted at the top of this post and which is summarized by “sola scriptura”.] So let me specify very clearly what sola scriptura does not mean.

First of all, the protestant principle should not be interpreted to mean that truth can be found only in Scripture. There are many truths — mathematical, scientific, historical, psychological, and other sorts of truths — that are not found specifically in the Bible. All such truths, if indeed they are truths and not mistaken notions, must cohere with the Bible. Sometimes our knowledge of the Bible will lead us to correct our mistaken notions about history or science or psychology. On the other hand, sometimes advances in our knowledge in these fields will force us to reexamine and refine, even correct, our understanding of the Bible. This happened, for example, when Galileo proved that the earth revolves around the sun and therefore that the earth moves, contrary to the standard interpretations of the Bible at that time. The motto “all truth is God’s truth” is itself true. Granted sometimes people accept as true theories and speculations that are not, but that is an abuse….

Second, the protestant principle does not mean that all traditions are based on falsehood. Traditions that cannot be found in the Bible are not thereby proved false. To prove a tradition false, it must be shown to contradict the Bible. If this cannot be done, then the tradition must be evaluated on the basis of the historical evidence for its authenticity. For example, the Bible never identifies explicitly any of the authors of the four Gospels. However, that does not invalidate the traditions that they were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

On the other hand, traditions that cannot be substantiated from the Bible should not be made binding on Christians. That is, Christians should not be required to accept as dogmas traditions that do not have biblical warrant. This is the aspect of the protestant principle that is most troublesome to Catholics….

Third, the protestant principle should not be interpreted to forbid using words not found in the Bible to express biblical doctrine. For example, the idea that the Bible is a “canon,” or rule of faith, is biblical even though the word canon is not found in the Bible. The idea that God is “self-existent,” meaning that his existence depends on nothing other than himself, is biblical even though the word self-existent is not in the Bible. [I would add that the same goes for “Trinity”, which is commonly pointed to by skeptics, Muslims, and Unitarians.]

scripture-alone-by-whiteA related point is that necessary deductions or inferences from the Bible are as normative as the statements of the Bible themselves. That is, any statement that logically follows from the express statements of Scripture is just as true and binding as the statements of the Bible themselves. For example, once we understand that the biblical statements that God is not a man and God is spirit (among many other statements in Scripture) logically imply the statement God is incorporeal (that is, God does not have a body), then to be faithful to Scripture we must agree that God is incorporeal. It is perfectly valid for the church to require, as a test of orthodoxy, that Christians confess that God is incorporeal, even though this statement is never found in the Bible. (By the way, this statement is speaking of God in his eternal divine nature, and does not deny that God became incarnate in a bodily form in Jesus Christ.)”

Some of the above explanation may sound obvious, but some people do indeed try to make such arguments against the Bible and orthodox (small ‘o’) doctrine. In fact, White gives a few more in an imaginary dialogue between a “Reformed” Christian and a Roman Catholic.

The following definition of sola scriptura from The Cambridge Declaration (1996) of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals (also cited by White) may be helpful, as well:

“We affirm the inerrant Scripture to be the sole source of written divine revelation, which alone can bind the conscience. The Bible alone teaches all that is necessary for our salvation from sin and is the standard by which all Christian behavior must be measured. We deny that any creed, council or individual may bind a Christian’s conscience, that the Holy Spirit speaks independently of or contrary to what is set forth in the Bible, or that personal spiritual experience can ever be a vehicle of revelation.”

Two notes on this: 1) Notice that it begins by assuming inerrancy, which is a separate but related issue. As White says, “trying to defend an errant view of sola scriptura always results in defeat.” 2) While I lean strongly Reformed these days, I am not totally convinced of cessationism. However, if the Holy Spirit does still speak via prophecy or “words of knowledge”, we know that it will be in accordance with God’s written word in the canon of Holy Scripture.

I’ll finish by attempting my own summary statement: “Sola scriptura, or ‘Scripture alone’, is the principle that the Bible is the sole, divinely-inspired and reliable revelation in written form and the ultimate authority in matters of salvation, doctrine, and right-living. This does not deny, however, the existence of other sources of truth, the active working of the Spirit in the lives of believers, or the authority of elders in the church, etc.”

That’s it for this week. I hope it was helpful.


Never Forget

“Mourn the dead, Fight like hell for the living.”  — Mother Jones



There are scads of 9/11 memorial images and memes online, but I wanted to share just a few that I really liked.





Mr. Peña Nieto, Pay For That Wall!

“It’s difficult to agree on secure borders without realizing that Donald Trump is the only candidate that has the spine, conviction and love for America to do what is necessary.”  — Dan Celia, “Trump’s Immigration Plan is a Winner”

im ready to work on the wallThe subject of immigration, and particularly of illegal immigration, into the U.S. has been a hot potato for several years now, and it’s only heating up during the run-up to the 2016 elections. Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump recently gave a speech in Phoenix, AZ, in which he laid out his official position on the matter. Now, some thought what he said betrayed a “softening” of his earlier comments. This is worrisome to some, encouraging to others. On the other hand, there are those like Townhall.com’s Dan Celia who think that Trump’s stance on immigration is now “more solidified than ever. We have more detail — and conviction — than we did four months ago.”

However, I’m still mulling it over and am not going to comment on that particular controversy. What I want to focus on is Trump’s longstanding and consistent call for an “impenetrable, physical, tall, powerful, beautiful, southern border wall” along the border with Mexico and, especially, his insistence that he will make Mexico pay for it. That one has had me stumped for awhile and shaking my head every time I heard him say it.

We know that both the current Mexican president (Enrique Peña Nieto) and his predecessor (Vicente Fox) have spoken adamantly against it, and many of the Mexican people don’t like it, either — especially those with an interest in a porous border. (Of course, they don’t appreciate some of the incendiary remarks Trump has made about Mexico/Mexicans, either.) The Mexican government isn’t just going to build a wall voluntarily, and they aren’t going to write a huge check to the U.S. for that purpose. How in the world can Trump force Mexico to pay for a massive, expensive undertaking that they want nothing to do with?

There are legal, diplomatic, pragmatic, and ecological concerns regarding such a barrier, as well, which I think are probably all surmountable with reasonable solutions. But, for purposes of this post, let’s just take a quick look at the direct costs. Originally, Trump was talking about the wall covering the complete 1900 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border. But, now he is estimating more like 1000 miles, with rough terrain being a natural impediment for the remainder. Assuming this is satisfactory (and I’m not convinced it is), we’re still talking hundreds of millions of cubic feet of concrete. Costs include production (e.g., materials, labor, overhead) and transport of the concrete slabs, along with labor for the installation. Trump has given an overall cost estimate of $8-10 billion (or was it $10-12 billion?), but various fact-checkers and engineers have since weighed in. A study by the Bernstein Group puts a more realistic cost at $15 billion and possibly as high as $25 billion. (The decisions on height and thickness have yet to be made.) Plus, there will be ongoing maintenance.

According to the narrative by many news outlets, Trump doesn’t really have a plan for paying for his proposed wall, let alone for making Mexico pay for it. In fact, Trump has mentioned some ideas on this, and he even provided a two-page memo to The Washington Post back in March that outlined several funding options he was considering.

Animation of proposed wall

Animation of proposed wall

One idea involves amending a provision of the Patriot Act which would allow the federal government to cut off money transfers (aka remittances) from illegal immigrants back to their relatives, friends, and associates in Mexico. This would hurt not only those Mexican nationals but the Mexican government — to the tune of $24+ billion per year. So, Trump would essentially threaten to enact this stranglehold plan unless Mexico makes a one-time payment of $X billion (likely $5-10 billion), which would of course go toward paying for the wall. This option sounds a bit like extortion on a massive scale, but the argument can be made that the illegal immigrants aren’t even authorized to make money here. That money should be earned by Americans in the first place, which means that most or all of it would stay in the U.S. I’m still thinking that one over. However, I am also uncomfortable with this option for the reason that it exploits an already controversial law and requires “redefin[ing] applicable financial institutions to include money transfer companies like Western Union, and redefine ‘account’ to include wire transfers.” This might have bad, unintended consequences for the rest of us down the road.

Another idea proposed by the Trump camp involves “[t]rade tariffs, or enforcement of existing trade rules”:

“There is no doubt that Mexico is engaging in unfair subsidy behavior that has eliminated thousands of U.S. jobs, and which we are obligated to respond to; the impact of any tariffs on the price imports will be more than offset by the economic and income gains of increased production in the United States, in addition to revenue from any tariffs themselves.”

Since Mexico needs our markets much more than we need theirs, it is reasoned that we have the leverage on this front. OK, but I am uncomfortable with the imposition of trade tariffs to begin with, so this isn’t a favorite of mine, either.

The next couple options in the memo involve visas for Mexican nationals. The point is made, “Immigration is a privilege, not a right,” and we always have the right to cancel immigration visas (idea #3) from Mexico and perhaps put a moratorium on issuing anymore for the forseeable future. “We also have leverage through business and tourist visas for important people in the Mexican economy.” Threatening these would definitely have an economic impact on Mexico. I suppose it’s worth considering, but I’m not sure the pluses outweigh the minuses from antagonizing a close neighbor and partner in trade. On the other hand, increasing visa fees (idea #4) sounds like something I could get behind. According to the memo,

“Even a small increase in visa fees would pay for the wall. This includes fees on border crossing cards, of which more than 1 million are issued a year. The border-crossing card is also one of the greatest sources of illegal immigration into the United States, via overstays.”

This seems like a valid, reasonable method of raising the funds with a minimum of additional cost or effort required. It has the added bonus of negatively impacting many of those who would abuse the privilege of visiting the United States.

Trump’s memo concludes:

“Mexico has taken advantage of us in another way as well: gangs, drug traffickers and cartels have freely exploited our open borders and committed vast numbers of crimes inside the United States. The United States has borne the extraordinary daily cost of this criminal activity, including the cost of trials and incarcerations. Not to mention the even greater human cost.”

mexican-drug-lord's cash seizedJust this past week, another innovative funding proposal has come to light that might be called a taste of “poetic justice” re the above, and it is my favorite. In short, the idea is to use drug money and other assets seized from cartels and others involved in illegal drug-trafficking to pay for construction of the wall. After all, $8.7 billion worth was seized by the U.S. Justice Dept. in just 2015. Add in similar assets seized by Mexico, and we’re well on our way to paying off that wall. One version of the plan would have both countries depositing said assets into a “joint border security fund,” from which funding for the construction and ongoing maintenance of the wall would be paid out.

According to LifeZette, which got the scoop on this proposed plan,

“A 2012 estimate compiled by the RAND Corporation at the request of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, found that Americans, on average, spend $100 billion annually on the four most widely trafficked illegal drugs: crack/cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and methamphetamine (meth)….

A 2013 study published by the University of Pittsburg estimated the annual profits hauled in by the cartels in Mexico total $25 to $30 billion dollars….

Advocates of the “make the cartels pay” plan believe it has the added benefit of punishing the “worst of the worst who bring violence to our streets and prey on innocent Mexicans and Americans,” while giving political cover to both leaders to accomplish their objectives….

A combined, cooperative effort to boost border enforcement could bring significant economic, national security, and health and safety benefits to millions of citizens in both nations.”

Depending on what option(s) Trump decides to go with, the Mexican government might pay for some of the wall, but they won’t be paying for 100% of it. Mexican nationals and/or Mexican criminals (along with criminals and their customers from the U.S. and elsewhere) will end up paying for everything else. Mexico does have some skin in the game, as noted above, so they should want to at least pay for measures to combat illegal trafficking of drugs, weapons, and humans by gangs, cartels, and others. In fact, I heard or read recently that Mexico has decreased the dangers from those elements over the past few years. But, there is still much to be done.

The problem is that Mexico probably benefits more from illegal immigration — i.e., relocating many poor and/or criminals to the U.S. and getting an influx of cash from the remittances — than if they kept those people in country, so they are understandably reluctant to support a huge and costly wall across the U.S.-Mexico border. Certain Mexican officials are probably also pressured/threatened by the cartels et al. to block any efforts that would put a serious dent in their bottom line. If anyone can “remind” the Mexican government of their dependence on us and use that leverage to negotiate a more favorable status quo, it’s Trump.

Personally, I’m in favor of both the visa fee increase and the “make the cartels pay” options.


Private Space Firm Targets the Moon

“Bang! Zoom! To the Moon!”

Did you miss it? Splashdown!

SpaceX Dragon capsuleJust a couple days ago, SpaceX’s Dragon capsule came home after spending over a month at the International Space Station (ISS). This mission was the 9th (out of a planned 20 under contract) since 2012, when Dragon “became the first commercial spacecraft in history to deliver cargo to the International Space Station and safely return cargo to Earth.” It is still the only such spacecraft that can return large amounts of cargo to Earth.

Dragon has been effectively functioning as a remote-controlled shipping container, hauling essential equipment and supplies to the crew of the ISS and returning with, for example, results from various scientific experiments being performed up there — even live mice. All together, it transports thousands of pounds worth of cargo on both legs of its journey. For instance, this time…

“Among the 5,000 pounds of cargo it delivered was a docking ring that will enable astronauts to visit the orbiting research complex in commercial capsules SpaceX and Boeing are developing under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program…. NASA astronauts Jeff Williams and Kate Rubins installed the docking ring, called International Docking Adapter-2, or IDA-2, during a spacewalk last Friday.” (Florida Today)

That’s right. SpaceX is planning manned missions, too. In fact, once it finishes refining and installing the necessary modifications to Dragon for “crew configuration”, two-person crews will suit up for manned flights to the ISS. These are currently scheduled for late-2017 and early-2018.

But, SpaceX isn’t the only commercial space venture with big plans or making news with their progress. Earlier this month, it was announced that the U.S. government has finally approved the first private mission to the Moon. The “winner” of this honor goes to Moon Express (aka MoonEx), the first company to apply (back in April 2015) for a commercial space mission beyond Earth orbit.

Under the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, each country must “authorize and continuously supervise” any space missions, governmental or otherwise, from within its jurisdiction. This involves reviewing safety measures and ensuring compliance with “proper planetary protecting procedures.” This being the first such commercial mission, new ground is being broken in regards to regulations and procedures. In this case, the review process involved not only the FAA and NASA but the White House, State Dept., and additional participation by the NOAA, FCC, and the Dept. of Defense. It was a long and complex undertaking, but they somehow managed to work through all the issues and developed what they hope to be a model for “a standard launch licensing process for deep space missions.”

Moon Express MX-1 lander“The Moon Express 2017 mission approval is a landmark decision by the U.S. government and a pathfinder for private sector commercial missions beyond the Earth’s orbit. We are now free to set sail as explorers to Earth’s eighth continent, the Moon, seeking new knowledge and resources to expand Earth’s economic sphere for the benefit of all humanity.”  — Bob Richards, co-founder & CEO of Moon Express

This is just one hurdle, though, and there are many challenges yet to be met. MoonEx’s plan is to launch a small, single-stage spacecraft for lunar landing by the end of 2017. The endeavor is part of the Google Lunar X Prize competition, and there are others around the globe shooting for the same deadline. First Prize is $20 million for being “the first privately developed spacecraft to land on the moon, travel at least half a kilometer across the surface, and return photos and videos.”

Of course, it’s not just about the prize money, which will only partially offset the costs. MoonEx already raised $30 million, and it hopes that the federal approval will convince investors to provide the additional $25 million needed to finish constructing the “coffee-table sized MX-1 lander”. As reported by Eric Berger at arstechnica, MoonEx has been utilizing some of the latest tech in their designs.

“[T]hanks to Cubesat innovations, composites, and 3D printing, MoonEx has been able to reduce the weight and improve performance of the spacecraft’s systems.”

This is all an investment into what MoonEx (and its investors, of course) hopes will be a burgeoning new industry, capitalizing on lunar resources —  from water ice to Helium-3 — and eventually further commercialization of the Moon. (Hotels, theme parks, and casinos?) Meanwhile, I suspect the technological advances will lead to other applications for the rest of us, much like the Space Race of the 20th century did. I, for one, look forward to seeing what comes of it all, though I doubt I’ll ever be able to afford a vacation on the Moon.

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