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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Blood for Oil

                    Blood for Oil

Congress has just passed a bill that calls for raising the CAFE Standards (Corporate Automobile Fuel Economy) by 40% by the year 2020.  This bill passed overwhelmingly and the President has already said he will sign it into law.
I didn’t realize that Congress now has the power to simply pass a bill that will change science.  How about a bill to turn water into Jack Daniels?  Or a law that requires a piece of string to have just one end?  Both of those laws would make just about as much sense as Congress mandating scientific advances that make it possible for automobiles to suddenly improve their economy by 40%.  This is a great bill for conspiracy theorists who contend that “Detroit” could have doubled our fuel economy years ago, but they have a deal with the big oil companies not to do so.

And whatever happened to the US Constitution?  Where in the Constitution is Congress given the power to enter into the marketplace and tell a seller how his product must perform?  It’s not there.  Yet this foolish bill was passed overwhelmingly by know-nothings who have no concept of how a free market works, by pie-in-the sky liberals, and by gutless conservatives who know better.  After all, who can be against better fuel economy?

What this bill really means is that Congress and the President have signed a death warrant for thousands of Americans who will die in small, unsafe cars.  This bill will hit the young and the poor the hardest since they are the ones who buy the most inexpensive cars.  Get ready for the great American shrinking car, because that is the car in your future.  

This is a typical liberal solution to a problem—run away from it.  Stick your head in the sand.  And if we must do something, let’s reduce individual freedom.  Let’s mandate what kind and size of cars Americans can drive.  We know better than they do, so instead of solving the energy problem, let’s make Americans give up more of
their freedom.

Where are the courageous congressmen and congresswomen who will address the energy issue head on?  It doesn’t take hand wringing, just common sense to get this problem behind us.  Windmills won’t do it.  Bio fuels won’t do it. 
The energy crisis can be solved by taking just four simple steps:

    1.  Convert oil and gas fired power plants to nuclear power plants. 
         Build more nuclear power plants to handle growing energy needs.

    2.  Allow offshore drilling of our vast, untapped reserves of oil and
         natural gas.

    3.  Open up Alaska (as well as Montana, Utah, and Wyoming) to
         exploration and drilling.

    4.  Expand and build more refining capacity.

By taking these four steps we can put our energy problems behind us in ten years.  Commonsense—where have you gone?

Friday, December 21, 2007

Forces for Good

Forces for Good
This book, Forces for Good, has been a long time in coming. In the 1980’s Tom Peters and others helped to revolutionize the for-profit sector of the US through the publication of books such as In Search of Excellence and A Passion for Excellence. Jim Collins added to this treasure with the publication of Built to Last and Good to Great.

While these books made passing reference to the nonprofit sector, the truth is that most books devoted to nonprofits dealt with the process—how to build a better board, how to raise money, etc. There weren’t any books that provided an empirical analysis of high impact nonprofits, as In Search of Excellence provided for excellent for-profit organizations. That huge void has now been filled and filled admirably by Leslie R. Crutchfield and her co-author, Heather McLeod Grant as presented in the book, Forces for Good (Jossey-Bass).

Where In Search of Excellence identified twelve practices of "America’s Best-Run Companies," Forces for Good identifies the six practices of high-impact nonprofit organizations. In other words, Crutchfield and Grant identify practices common to nonprofit organizations that focus on results, rather than on the process.
They put it this way, "We get caught up in measuring the wrong things, because the things that really matter are often more difficult to measure." AOL founder, Steve Case, says it this way in his introduction to Forces for Good, "This thoughtful book provides what business people, policy makers, philanthropic investors, and nonprofit leaders have needed for a long time—an intelligent articulate analysis of the key factors required to generate successful, lasting outcomes in the nonprofit space."

Historically donors and philanthropists have judged the worthiness of a nonprofit on a single dimensional basis—how effective and efficient the organization is in raising funds, period. That was it and still is it for well-intentioned groups like the American Institute of Philanthropy (AIP) who basically limit their analysis to the effectiveness of an organization in collecting funds. Is your cost ratio to raise a dollar good? If so, you are a great organization. If not, you are an organization unworthy of support. In fairness, AIP does endeavor to take into account the amount of money allocated to overhead vs. that spent on projects and programs, but in truth, creative accounting and cost allocation can present a less-than-complete picture of a nonprofit organization. Moreover, such an analysis does not even attempt to determine how effective the group is in reaching its objectives, i.e. is it really a force for good?

In fact, Crutchfield and Grant have this to say about the various analysis groups which limit their evaluation of costs, ratios, etc. –"These ratings web sites can tell you which groups have the lowest overhead ratios, but they can’t tell you which have had the most impact." (page 18) They address this topic again near the close of the book (page 203), "The problem with using these metrics is that they fall into the trap of measuring financial inputs or ratios as a proxy for success, rather than measuring impact, or the amount of change accomplished with that investment. Worse yet, they assume that nonprofits can implement programs without any infrastructure or support. They may encourage donors to support groups that spend too little on people, IT systems, or management, which can lead to weak organizations at best, or accounting trickery at worst."
Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, calls Forces for Good "Inspired and inspiring." David Gergen, a professor at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, says, "For people who want to change the world—and who doesn’t? – This book provides an invaluable road map. Bravo!"

This is the most important book on evaluating the impact and worthiness of donating to a nonprofit that I have ever read. If you are starting a nonprofit, work for one, or are a donor to nonprofits, this book is a must read.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Sean Taylor, RIP

Sean Taylor, RIP

On Tuesday, November 27th, the news of Sean Taylor’s death hit the Washington, DC area hard. Taylor was an up-and-coming, all-pro safety for the Washington Redskins. Just 24 years old, this young man had his entire future in front of him. Although he had some troubles with the law several years earlier, he had put those issues behind him and was on his way to a great NFL career when he was shot by four young men who were attempting to rob his home. It was a tragedy indeed, not just for Taylor or the Washington Redskins, but also for the four young men.

I’ve seen those young men before. No, not those particular young men, but young men of the same mold headed for prison, or worse. For more than 20 years my wife and I have been involved with Youth for Tomorrow, a home for at-risk boys and girls, founded by Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs. A man with strong faith and true compassion, Gibbs wanted to do something in the Washington area to help turn around the lives of young men (and young women) who fit the general description of the four boys who shot and killed Sean Taylor. 

Who are these young men? Well, the ones who come to YFT have a hard edge. Many, if not most, have been involved with drugs, both using and selling. Some have been involved in car jackings and drive by shootings. They’re angry. They don’t have a good male role model, and they are without hope. At Joe Gibbs’ Youth for Tomorrow they learn to shed their anger, they live with good male role models, and they gain hope and faith. It’s too bad that YFT didn’t get to those young men before it was too late. Unfortunately there are many more where these boys came from, and today girls have the same problems too.

Sean Taylor’s death set Washington, DC back on its heels. We were shocked. We were stunned. Why, we asked, did this happen? 

Death hits survivors like a bucket of cold water. The death of Sean Taylor, or any loved one, brings us back to reality. It forces us to focus on our own mortality. The tears we shed may be for the one who died, but there’s nothing more we can do for Sean or anyone close to us who has died. More likely, the tears we shed are for our self. We too must eventually face death.

I used to joke that if you can multiply your age by two and think you will still be alive, then you are young. I’m long past that calculation. In fact, it really was just a joke, because all of us know of friends and family that die young. But whether we die young or die old, we will die. 

And since the actuarial tables show that the average person only lives to his or her 70s, we know that our time will come. More importantly, since we will be dead forever, don’t you think it’s worthwhile to at least give some thought to where you will be spending eternity?

Perhaps you’re an atheist or an agnostic and you think that once you are dead that’s all there is. That is what the gamblers in Las Vegas would call a high risk bet. The trouble is that while you may think the odds are that you are right, if there is even the slightest chance you are wrong, the downside is horrible and irreversible. 

Even if you believe in some vague God, don’t you think it’s worth your while to try to find out who that God is? As for me, I believe that Jesus is the Christ who was promised in the Old Testament. I believe that through faith in Him I will spend eternity where there are no tears and no troubles. I’m 100% convinced that He died for my sins and rose victorious from the grave so that I too can rise and live again. You’re going to be dead forever. Don’t you think it’s worth checking out the God of the Bible? You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Democratic Field

The Democratic Field

This year’s Democratic Presidential field is unusual. I can’t imagine John F. Kennedy or Harry Truman feeling comfortable with this group of candidates. There are no perfect candidates and no perfect presidents, but over the years there has been a general understanding that both parties put the country over politics. That is where the term "loyal opposition" originated, if I’m not mistaken.

Today, however, it appears that politics triumphs country on the Democratic side. Good economic news is bad news for the Democrats and they and their allies in the news media spin it that way. Is there a hurricane? It must be George Bush’s fault. Even the weather can’t escape being politicized. Good and indisputable news that the surge is working must be denied and doubted. 

Where did such partisanship come from? What happened to "politics stops at the water’s edge?"
In some ways it can be traced back to 1948 when young Democratic activist George McGovern refused to back Harry Truman and bolted to Norman Thomas’ Socialist Party. It’s hard to imagine what George found so bad about big spending, high tax, somewhat shady Harry Truman. He probably didn’t like it that Harry had the courage and good sense to drop the bomb to end the War in the Pacific Theater. A decision, by the way, that saved hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of American and Japanese lives.

Perhaps it was the fact that Harry was just too much of an America-first patriot for George. Regardless, since 1972 when George McGovern and the prairie radicals took over the Democratic Party, it has never been the same. George failed in his bid for the White House, but the Democratic Party has been firmly in the hands of the prairie radical element since 1972. Bill Clinton likes to talk about following in the footsteps of JFK, but he and Hillary are really children of George McGovern, not Jack Kennedy.

The views of John Kennedy on foreign policy and taxes in the 1960s would make him an outcast in today’s Democratic Party. After all, it was Kennedy who sent "advisors" into Vietnam and his running mate, Lyndon Johnson, who prosecuted the Vietnam War.

Those who were rioting outside the convention in Chicago in 1968 are the same folks who are calling our soldiers terrorists and Nazis today. They are the same folks who are running for the Democratic nomination for President and who think that the United States is far, far from being a great nation. They believe that this is a terrible nation of bigots, racists, war mongers, planet desecraters, evil capitalists, and imperialists. They reject traditional moral values and free markets. They can’t wait for the day that America becomes like Europe—a weak, socialist economic basket case.

Hillary Clinton is ambitious for power beyond words. She wants to bring socialist medicine to the US, not because it will result in better medical care (she has never once said that), but because it will result in equal care (except for elitists like Hillary and Bill, of course).

Barak Obama hasn’t even served one full term in the US Senate, yet he apparently feels he is ready to sit in the Oval Office. He too, calls for an immediate withdrawal of American troops, even in the face of unchallengeable evidence that the surge is working and the tide of the war has turned.

Trial lawyer extraordinaire and environmental hypocrite in chief, John Edwards, advocates policies that would put everyone in the poor house. And the rest of the field follows similar lines—pull out the troops, socialize medical service, raise taxes, grant blanket amnesty, cut the military, etc.

It’s a depressing field for a Party that brought our nation leaders like Truman and Kennedy. They were Americans first, and politicians second. They also understood a thing or two about economics and foreign policy. Sadly, the same can’t be said for this year’s candidates put forward by the Democratic Party.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Santa Claus

                        Santa Claus

Christmas will soon be upon us. That being the case, I thought it might be fun and enlightening to share the story of the real Saint Nicholas. Courtesy of Pastor John Eich, what follows is the story of the real Nicholas, along with Pastor Eich’s personal views in regard to the celebration of Christmas.

"Nicholas was born in AD 270 in the seacoast town of Patara in Asia Minor, which is present day Turkey. His wealthy parents died in a plague while he was little. As he grew older, he traveled and enjoyed using his money to help people. When he was nearly 50 he decided to become a pastor. This is when his story really begins. 

Today doctors wear green, nurses wear white, and football players wear pads, jerseys, and helmets. Ministers at the time of Nicholas wore a uniform too. They wore a long red coat to remind people that the blood of Christ cleanses us from all sin. The stole around the collar was a symbol of the yoke of Jesus, a simple reminder we are all his servants. The hat wasn’t a stocking cap, but a miter symbolizing the helmet of salvation. 

For 22 years Nicholas watched over his church. He loved having children sit on his lap while he told them stories about Jesus. One of his other joys was gift giving. Once a man in his church went bankrupt. In order to pay his bills, the man was going to sell his three beautiful daughters into slavery, a common practice in those days. When Nicholas heard about it, he collected an offering and in the dead of night tossed the bag of gold into an open window in the man’s house. In other cases, if the windows or doors were locked, he would drop the gift down the chimney, which often had stockings hanging nearby to dry from washing. 

Nicholas died in AD 342 on Dec. 6. By then he was well known in the area. Many Christians began to follow his example in Christ and gave gifts to the poor. It became popular to hold a feast and worship service in his memory on Dec. 6. People would dress up like him, hold children on their laps, and give them gifts. 

Nicholas soon became a patron saint, like a sports hero. In Holland the Dutch pronounced his name as Saint Nicklaus. As they came to America and spoke quickly, to the untrained ear it sounded like they were saying "Santa Claus." The Germans, because of the Lutheran Reformation, focused their attention on the Christ child. In German the baby Jesus is called the "Krist Kindle." Again spoken quickly this would sound like "Kris Kringle," which later was applied to the Santa Claus legend because Christmas was celebrated near the time of St. Nicholas’ day. 

The Puritans, however, made it illegal to mention any saint’s name. During the 1600s it was forbidden to light a candle, exchange a gift, or sing carols. Still, people will celebrate what they want. If we don’t teach them how to sing and feast and pretend to the glory of God, then the world will teach them how to do it without glorifying God. That’s what happened to St. Nicholas.
In 1820 a dentist named Clement Moore wrote a poem for his sick child to cheer him up. Called "Twas the night before Christmas," the poem told children that St. Nicholas lived at the North Pole, drove a sleigh pulled by eight reindeer, and had a tummy that shook like a bowl full of jelly. (Actually he was probably thin from fasting.) Forty years later Thomas Nast drew a cartoon picture showing St. Nicholas with a long white beard (probably true), rosy cheeks (probably not), dressed in red (true), and with a sack of toys on his back (probably not, since the people needed money and food more). 

Parents should be aware that fostering a belief in the Santa Claus of today may backfire later. A child looks to parents to furnish everything -- food, comfort, courage, and truth. When a parent says, "Yes, there really is a Santa Claus, and his reindeer can really fly," he is no longer playing a game. That parent is lending his personal authority as a parent to the myth, giving it the ring of truth. 

What happens later to a parent’s credibility when the child finds out that the story isn’t true? Maybe the other things a parent has said about safety, moral values, right or wrong aren’t true either. 

If you once believed in a man who knew what you were doing, who had amazing abilities, and who gave you nice things, and he turned out to be a fake, why should you believe in another man who knows what you are doing, has amazing abilities, gives you nice things -- Jesus Christ? 

If you get burned once, why get burned the second time? Wouldn’t it be better to be honest with our children right from the start, and teach them the difference between truth and make-believe?
Some people love Santa Claus so much that they forget about Jesus. Some churches burn the present day Santa Claus in effigy. Both extremes are too much. It’s better to remember the real Nicholas, who can serve as an example of how to really keep Christmas. 

Don’t think "Look what the world is coming to." Rather think "Look who’s coming into the world!" 

A little girl was once asked, "What is a saint?" Thinking of the heroes of faith who are pictured in stained glass windows she answered, "A saint is someone who lets the light in." That’s how we best perhaps can use the myths about Santa Claus. Let’s use them to let the "light in," Jesus Christ the light of the world. Let’s keep Santa Claus always kneeling at the manger of his Savior and ours. Merry CHRISTmas!"

Thank you, Pastor Eich, for enlightening us in regard to the origin of Santa Claus. And let me take this opportunity to wish each of you a joyous Christmas celebration.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Political Parties are Private Organizations

Political Parties are Private Organizations

It is surprising to me how little understanding individuals and even radio talk show hosts have of our political process. A few days ago a local talk show host took the Republican Party of Virginia to task for requiring individuals who want to participate in the GOP Presidential Primary to sign a loyalty oath. A loyalty oath to participate in a party’s primary or convention is not something new in Virginia. It’s been around for many years.

While I happen to believe asking someone who participates in a primary or convention for the purpose of selecting that party’s nominee is a good idea, that’s not the point. 

The Republican and Democratic parties are private organizations. In our free society, any individual or group of individuals may set up a new political party and go through the necessary hoops to get on the ballot. That’s why there is a Conservative Party and a Liberal Party on the ballot in New York. That’s why there is an American Independent Party. Unfortunately, most people don’t really understand or comprehend the ramifications of the Parties being private organizations.

It could be either a smart or a stupid decision to limit participation in the selection of a Party’s nominee for local, state, or national office. That’s something those who are members of the Party can argue over. But make no mistake about it, local, state, and national party leaders aren’t dummies. They have specific political goals in mind, but they also know that having goals is meaningless if you can’t win.

Most folks active in political parties hate so-called "open primaries" where an individual can vote to select a Republican nominee for Congress and then jump across the aisle and vote to select the Democratic nominee for State Attorney General. The reason they hate such "open primaries" is that if you are a Republican and your candidate for Congress is the incumbent who is assured of getting the nomination, you will likely vote to select the weakest Democratic nominee for Congress. Open primaries have inherent conflicts and do not serve the public well.

Conventions, contrary to popular opinion, are often the best vehicle for selecting party nominees. Primary voters are fickle. One stumble in a speech, or a temporary current event may cause undereducated voters to pick a weak nominee for their party. Those who generously volunteer their time to work, go door-to-door, stuff envelopes, put up signs, and stand out in the cold on election day are usually the most well-read and well-informed voters. They not only understand issues, but have specific philosophical reasons for supporting candidates of their choice.

The argument against primaries (closed or open) is to eliminate uneducated and independent voters from choosing the nominee of your party. The argument for conventions is that they more often select nominees who actually believe in something and have an agenda. These types of nominees give the public the best, most clear-cut choices in the general election.

The convention approach tends to be a more republican process when selecting political candidates, while the primary route tends to be a mobocracy which can result in poor choices by uninformed or mischievous voters.