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Richard Larsen: Time for Candidates to Address Debt, Spending and the Economy

April 15th, 2016 by Halli

by Richard Larsen

The discourse on the presidential race has devolved to a point that the most pressing issues seem totally lost in the verbal brawls between candidates. The economic threats and risks to the republic should be the centerpiece of the campaign, for both parties, rather than relegated to a footnote to their public statements.

We have nearly $19 trillion in debt now as a nation. Eight years ago when it was $8 trillion, then candidate Barack Obama denounced the fiscal profligacy of such exorbitant debt, only to more than double it during his two terms. Even Hillary Clinton called it a “threat to our national security.” Why is this threat hardly even mentioned during this campaign?

Due to the massive debt being amassed by government spending, the role of the dollar as the global reserve currency is threatened. During the first five years of the Obama administration, our deficit spending exceeded $1 trillion per year. The first two of those years we were within a few hundred billion of spending twice what we were collecting in treasury receipts. The lack of discipline and fiscal responsibility in Washington led to a downgrade of the nation’s sea of debt by Standard & Poor’s. The ratings organization stated at the time, “Elected officials remain wary of tackling the structural issues required to effectively address the rising U.S. public debt burden in a manner consistent with a ‘AAA’ rating.”

Three years ago, Dick Bove, vice president of equity research at Rafferty Capital Markets said, “Generally speaking, it is not believed by the vast majority that the American dollar will be overthrown. But it will be, and this defrocking may occur in as short a period as five to 10 years… If the dollar loses status as the world’s most reliable currency, the United States will lose the right to print money to pay its debt. It will be forced to pay this debt.”

At the current rate of spending, the federal debt is projected by the Congressional Budget Office to be a staggering $24 trillion by 2020. Erskine Bowles, co-chair of the Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction Commission has calculated that service on the interest for that debt alone, if rates stay near current record lows, will be nearly $1 trillion! If interest rates rise, we’ll pay more. Very soon the largest line item spending category will be paying interest on our debt. More than welfare programs, more than defense spending, more than everything!

The General Accounting Office was explicit in its warning to the policy makers three years ago about our spending. They said in the very first paragraph, “GAO’s simulations continue to show escalating levels of debt that illustrate that the long-term fiscal outlook remains unsustainable.”

Yet we hardly hear a word about our onerous and debilitating debt. Nor do we hear much about economic growth, that is equally important as prudent fiscal policy. As Bill McGurn of the Wall Street Journal recently noted, “A growing economy means a growing standard of living. … That translates into more dreams fulfilled for more Americans, whether that means a college degree, a home in a decent neighborhood, or just the certainty that your children will do even better than you did.”

It’s no surprise for the Democrat candidates to not fret over the debt or economic growth. Bernie’s programs are calculated to cost $18 trillion themselves, and Hillary’s plans would require a 69% tax increase! Don’t expect economic reality from them. But the Republicans should know better.

To illustrate how critical economic growth is to the country. University of Chicago economist John Cochrane recently wrote that “sclerotic growth is the overriding economic issue of our time. From 1950 to 2000, the U.S. economy grew at an average rate of 3.5 percent per year. Since 2000, it has grown at half that rate, 1.7 percent.”

This is more important to the middle class than any other segment of the population, because as Cochrane points out, from 1952 to 2000, real income per person in the U.S. rose from $16,000 to $50,000. If the economy grew by only 2 percent per year over that period, rather than 3.5 percent, real incomes for the average person would have risen to only $23,000, not $50,000. That’s why average middle class incomes have actually declined since 2008 – a moribund economy with negligible growth.

And it’s organic economic growth we need, not questionable monetary-policy-based growth that we need. Arguably, the Federal Reserve’s “quantitative easing” has exacerbated the problem with regard to the debt hole we’re digging for ourselves.
ftblog63Bond manager Jeffrey Gundlach, CEO of DoubleLine Capital, concurs. Gundlach says, “The slow-growth U.S. economy is living on cheap money as is the bull market, which is in its last stages.” He explains that the central bank is committed to “easy money,” referring to the accommodative low rate policy and quantitative easing. He calls these policies “circular financing schemes.”

The economy has not improved in any tangible way for the millions of Americans struggling with unemployment and underemployment. A healthy jobs market is crucial to strengthening the middle class, which currently exhibits a troubling lack of long-term stability. More people have dropped out of the work force than at any other time, and median household income continues to decline. A growing economy can solve this economic malaise.

There are other important issues as well. But these are the most crucial for survival of the republic, and having the wherewithal to provide for the defense of the realm. And what we need from our presidential aspirants is solutions to these critical issues. Whichever one of them starts to provide meaningful and realistic solutions should be the winner not only at the convention, but in November. I believe economist John Cochrane is exactly right. “Solving almost all our problems hinges on reestablishing robust economic growth.”

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Posted in Constitutional Issues, Guest Posts, Pocatello Issues, Politics in General, Taxes | No Comments »

Richard Larsen: Possible Drama for GOP Convention

April 8th, 2016 by Halli

by Richard Larsen

This could be the first year in a long time that a major political party convention actually serves the function of producing a nominee, rather than simply being a coronation of a nominee. For many who are emotionally invested in a certain outcome from the conventions this year, the angst and outright anger is nearly palpable. But it’s unwarranted, as borne out by history, and an understanding of the function of conventions.

Until 1972, major party presidential candidates were all chosen by the respective party conventions. The chaotic 1968 Democrat convention in Chicago provided the incentive to move more to a presidential primary system to generate delegates to party conventions. Hubert H. Humphrey became the Democrat nominee even though he had not run in a single presidential primary.

The Republican Party has also reformed its nomination process over the years, yet has left most of the delegate selection process in the power of the state party organizations. Each state has rules for selection of their delegates, and their voting obligations, that may be different from even their neighbor states.

For example, Republicans have never adopted proportionality as a universal rule, which has left some with “winner take all” delegate assignation while others have been allocated on a percentage basis. They have intentionally left many of the delegate rules in control at the state level, rather than imposing a top-down system.

This also applies to how rigidly committed the delegates are to a particular candidate once the convention begins. If any of the candidates garner the requisite 1,237 delegates before the convention, nominee selection is a moot point. He will be the party nominee. But if none of the candidates garner that many delegates, the convention will of necessity be a contested one, not technically an open or brokered one. And there’s nothing ominous or pejorative about that, it just means the votes on the convention floor will actually mean something, rather than being a perfunctory vote for a predetermined nominee.

The RNC is going to great lengths to make the process as transparent and open as possible for the convention scheduled for July 18–21 in Cleveland. They’ve even created a new website where rules, facts, and details can be perused at conventionfacts.gop.
With a contested convention, the eventual nominee is unknown beforehand, since no candidate has garnered the requisite number of delegates to secure the nomination. Under the rules established by the party, since it is their convention and the respective candidates have at least ostensibly pledged allegiance to the party since they’re running under the party’s banner, several rounds of voting may occur before a nominee is selected by a majority vote. A plurality will not suffice. Most state rules only obligate delegates to vote according to the primary results of their respective states for the first ballot. After that, most can vote according to their conscience.

As of this week, Donald Trump has 736 delegates of the 1,237 needed to secure the nomination on the first ballot at the convention. The number of delegates awarded to non-Trump candidates, including those who have “suspended” their campaigns (meaning they’re no longer seeking the nomination with an active campaign, yet have debts they still need to liquidate) is 834 delegates. That’s 98 delegates more than Trump has at this point. And there are still 902 delegates to be determined by the remaining primaries.
www.usnewsThis week Donald Trump reportedly met with the Republican National Committee to consider a rule change that would assure him the nomination even if he doesn’t reach the necessary threshold to secure the nomination. This seems more than a bit ironic since he’s been alleging that the RNC would change their rules to prevent him from securing the nomination, but he has no compunction in requesting a rule change to assure his victory. Perhaps ironic is insufficient; duplicitous would be much more accurate.

While Trump supporters are vociferous in their assertion that Trump should be the nominee if he has the most delegates, if he fails to secure the required 1,237 delegates, they must acknowledge that those supporting candidates other than Trump actually have more. So technically, the majority belongs with the non-Trump delegates, and a second or third ballot at the convention will likely determine the nominee. If he fails to secure the required number of votes, he loses the nomination, fair and square.

Metaphorically, having the best record in the NFL does not make a team the world champion. They have to win the Super Bowl to earn that title. A team is not merely proclaimed “champion” due to their record. Yet that seems to be what Trump adherents are arguing.

If, after losing a nominating vote on the floor of the convention, Trump opts to break his word and not support the nominee, he’s done nothing more than perhaps prove he is just a common politician after all, as his word means nothing. And if he pursues a third-party nomination, he simply proves he’s in it just for himself, and not for the nation, for he’d certainly hand the general election to either of the socialists running for the other party’s nomination.

For a little historical perspective, it would be good to know that Abraham Lincoln was the nominee who emerged from an open convention in 1860, on the third ballot. He was victorious even though he was not considered a contender heading into the convention.
Another contested GOP convention was in 1952 when retired general Dwight D. Eisenhower was in a close race with Senator Robert A. Taft, a respected party elder making his third try for the office once held by his father, William H. Taft. Eisenhower won on the first ballot after some delegates changed their vote to Ike.

In 1976 Ronald Reagan challenged incumbent president Gerald Ford. Neither had sufficient delegates to ensure the nomination, but the unpledged delegates to the convention pushed Ford over the nomination threshold on the first ballot. The same thing happened with Democrats in 1984, when the race between Walter Mondale and Gary Hart was decided on the first round of balloting after unpledged delegates opted for Mondale.
Reagan_giving_his_acceptance_speech_at_Republican_National_Convention_7-17-80Of the total of 2,472 Republican delegates, 437 of them are unpledged delegates, and 168 of those are members of the Republican National Committee. Any combination of those could well be the deciding factor pushing Trump over the top, even in the first round if he fails to secure 1,237 before the convention. Or they could combine with the non-Trump votes to the nomination of someone else.

Despite cries of inequity and manipulation, the GOP has rules established, and will follow those rules in the selection of their nominee. While many Trump supporters maintain it’s them, not the party per se that should be selecting the nominee, it is, after all, the “Republican Party.” The Party chooses the nominee, not just a plurality of boisterous adherents.

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Posted in General, Guest Posts, National Sovereignty, Pocatello Issues, Presidential Politics | No Comments »

Richard Larsen: Uncomfortable GOP Fit for Trump

March 30th, 2016 by Halli

by Richard Larsen

Even the mention of political parties in general brings out the worst in some people, and the reaction only becomes more vociferous and “colorful” when specific parties are mentioned by name. As despised and maligned as the two major parties are, at any given time, it’s amazing they’re still around, even though they fill a crucial role in our American political system. But there has perhaps never been a presidential election in which party affiliation has meant less than in this one.

The founding fathers were adamantly opposed to the concept of political parties, or “factions,” as they often referred to them. The principles upon which our republic was established are fundamentally premised on the assumption that governance would be by rationality and collaboration amongst the citizenry and those in government, and our founders were convinced that a consensus for the greater good would always prevail.

The ink was hardly dry on the Constitution before factions, or parties, began to be formed. And perhaps most surprisingly, those most critical of parties were most instrumental in their formation. George Washington had said that party bickering “agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another.” And Thomas Jefferson claimed, “If I could not go to heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all.”

Washington’s policies, foreign and domestic, strengthened and expanded the power of the new federal government, spawning a faction of Federalists. A broad cross-section of the populace was opposed to this expansion of centralized power, and became known as the Democratic-Republicans, harboring the same loathing of centralized power that the Anti-Federalists did during the drafting of the Constitution. This anti-federalist sentiment led Jefferson to resign as Secretary of State to lead the opposition to the Federalist faction of Washington, John Adams, and Alexander Hamilton. This marked, in essence, the birth of America’s two-party political system.

The ideological bifurcation of our founder’s republicanism, which spawned America’s earliest two-party system, continues today, and still provides the demarcation of contemporary parties. In general ideological terms, yesterday’s Federalists are today’s Democrats, more inclined toward centralized power, and the Anti-Federalists, or Democratic-Republicans, are today’s Republicans, favoring decentralized power and individual liberty.

Like the Anti-Federalists of yesterday, today’s Republicans generally favor less government, less centralized control over the economy, less regulation and control over the private sector, less spending, and lower taxes. Also, like their 18th century predecessors, the current iteration of anti-federalists also are more literal and devout in enforcement of our Bill of Rights, and the credo trifecta of the Declaration of Independence, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Even though such a general belief system runs deep in the GOP (Grand Old Party), there’s no litmus test for fealty to those principles in order to declare party affiliation. Nor is it requisite for those who run under the Republican banner. It’s simply a matter of self-identification, and anyone can claim at any time to be a member of either of the parties, or none of the parties.

And the same holds for candidates. And this is where things get sticky for Republicans. The current GOP frontrunner, Donald Trump, has a history of statements on his belief system that could make him more of a Democrat than a Republican. He also has a history of donating more to Democrat candidates in the past than to Republicans. Yet today, he claims to be a Republican.

Perhaps even more disconcerting for Republicans, rather than broadening the GOP’s “big tent,” he’s narrowing it with his incendiary speech and antics. By so doing, he’s reshaping the perception of the party he claims to be a member of and wants to lead. And judging from current polls indicating Hillary Clinton would thoroughly trounce him in November by eleven points, his alienation of minority voters, certain religious voters, most voters with a sense of principle, many conservatives, and people with a sense of decency and propriety, his march to the nomination could easily be characterized as a GOP political suicide by amputation – one limb (or demographic) at a time.

No wonder “the establishment” Republicans, and life-long party members who have invested years, even lifetimes, to broaden electoral appeal while striving to stay true to party principles take exception to his redrawing the face of the party! He is not a Republican at heart, and in 2004 even said “I identify more as a Democrat.” He has given little over the years to the Party, and shares little ideological alignment with it, yet much like a 19th century “carpetbagger,” sweeps in and hijacks the political apparatus with which he shares little affinity, and takes over.

With no litmus test or oath of fealty to the GOP, or to the principles espoused by the party, it’s disturbing that one can simply assume the right to take over and reshape the face of an entire organization, simply on the strength of his populist lingo and propaganda. To many who have spent their lives attempting to favorably shape the public perception of their party, Trump’s hijacking is as distasteful as it would be if Rush Limbaugh were to do so to the Democrat Party.

Party representation has perhaps never, in recent political history, meant less substantively or ideologically, than it does this year. The surprising breadth of support for Trump is not based on principles and party ideology. It’s based on electorate anger, dissatisfaction with the system, and adulation of an anti-establishment persona. Because ideologically, Trump is a box of Cracker Jacks – we have no idea what kind of surprise comes inside!

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Richard Larsen: Mitt Romney has Every Right to Express His Concerns for America

March 18th, 2016 by Halli

by Richard Larsen

The vitriol heaped upon former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney this past week is entirely illogical and irrational. It only makes sense in the emotion-driven context prevailing during this election cycle. But alas, due to the prevailing emotional populist sentiment, logic has become the most obvious casualty of the primary election season. No wonder this is often referred to as the “silly season.”

Romney had the temerity to criticize the demeanor, abrasive and crass style, as well as some of the unpropitious statements by current Republican frontrunner, Donald Trump. “He creates scapegoats of Muslims and Mexican immigrants. He calls for the use of torture. He calls for killing the innocent children and family members of terrorists. He cheers assaults on protesters. He applauds the prospect of twisting the Constitution to limit First Amendment freedom of the press. This is the very brand of anger that has led other nations into the abyss,” Romney declared.

The former Massachusetts governor came short of endorsing one of the other three candidates in the GOP race, but discouraged Republican voters from supporting Trump. In doing so, he echoed the sentiments of many who claim affinity with an ABT approach to the primaries – Anyone But Trump.

Some of the critics of Romney’s interjection into the race have said he has no right to do so. Isn’t it ironic that those so critical of Romney think they can express their disdain, but Romney can’t? Can’t get much more duplicitous than that! Frankly, every citizen has that First Amendment right of free speech. One is not deprived of that right just because they’re a former candidate, or may have lost an election.

Should his opinion carry weight? Logically, as well as a matter of principle, one should think so. He’s carried the party banner, and did so with dignity and class. He’s a man of sound judgment and acumen, and sometimes those who have run and lost have a better grasp of the stakes than those who haven’t. He has a vested interest in the future of the country and the future of the Republican Party. Perhaps his words are ignored at our peril.

Others have criticized Romney saying he was a “horrible” candidate in 2012 running against Barack Obama. This begs the question, what is a good candidate? He had no skeletons in his closet, no moral turpitude, and he acted presidential. He is, in many ways, the antithesis of this year’s frontrunner. Maybe that says more about the party and how it’s changing, than it says about Romney.

That’s not to say he didn’t make faux pas’ as a candidate. His factual observation that 47% of the populace is on some kind of federal assistance didn’t help, and according to some political operatives, his refusal to go negative against Obama sealed his fate. Is that another component to being a “horrible” candidate? Refusing to go negative? If so, it certainly explains why many in the GOP are in full-fledged adulation mode with Trump. With him, it will be a surprise if and when he goes positive.

Perhaps the animosity directed toward Romney is merely transference because of the anti-establishment mentality prevalent during this election cycle. Even this is illogical since Romney was not the preferred “establishment” candidate either in ’08 (when he bowed out early) or in 2012.

As the Washington Post reminded us a year ago, “Romney wasn’t the first choice for many in the establishment. True, a few bigwigs were deeply committed to him from the start. But they hardly represented consensus opinion. That’s why we heard so many entreaties for other candidates to run.”

In an interview earlier this week, Chris Wallace asked Romney about the “establishment” allegation. Romney responded, “Establishment suggests there must be some Wizard of Oz somewhere pulling the strings. That’s not the way it works. I sat there and watched Donald Trump, and I said, look, someone has got to say something. I didn’t talk to anybody and say, ‘I’m going to do a speech, do you have some ideas?’ This is something I did on my own because I care very deeply about the country.”

“I love America. I’m concerned about America and I believe the heart and soul of conservatives and Republicans recognize that the principles that Donald Trump is talking about have nothing to do with conservatism, nothing to do with keeping America strong.”
What the establishment allegation against Romney does is create a whole new definition of the “establishment.” In this iteration, it’s everyone who doesn’t share the gutter-mentality, gutter-speech, and noncommittal ideology of Donald Trump.

Which brings us to arguably the most denunciatory claim made against Romney – that he’s a “loser.” This requires assessment of why he lost in 2012. As Rush Limbaugh explains it, “4.5 million to 5 million Republicans didn’t vote in 2012. This is the conventional wisdom and they didn’t vote because they didn’t like the nominee, he wasn’t conservative enough, or there was a religious component.”

So was he conservative enough? Many in the establishment thought he was too conservative, hence their efforts to recruit and back more “mainstream” candidates. Further, anyone who read his book “No Apology,” knew where his priorities and his values were based. He did not lack in conservative fidelity! But as Rush points out, there likely was a bigotry issue with some who refused to back an LDS (Mormon) candidate. Their ecclesiastical purity trumped their love of country. That is unconscionable! Voting for a president is not an ecclesiastical endorsement!

Those verities translate into Romney’s critics perhaps being the real losers. If they didn’t bother to get behind him and vote four years ago, they’re the losers. Romney, and the nation, simply reaped the fruits of those who condemned us with another four years of “the One” by their imprudence and inaction.

The country missed one of the greatest opportunities for principled, conservative, and classy leadership four years ago. What a shame that he is maligned now for having the audacity to share his valid concerns for the future of the party and the nation!
Romney had every right to share his insights, and we simply prove yet again that we’re losers, as a party and as a nation, if we fail to listen to wisdom and reason, regardless of how much we may like or dislike the source.

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Posted in Guest Posts, National Sovereignty, Pocatello Issues, Politics in General, Presidential Politics | No Comments »

Richard Larsen: Donald Trump’s Cult of Personality

March 9th, 2016 by Halli

By Richard Larsen

The most disturbing aspect to the Donald Trump candidacy is not the empty rhetoric, non-substantive solutions, or even his brash politically-incorrect style. The most disturbing aspect of his candidacy is what it says about so many of our fellow citizens. A veritable personality cult is developing around the GOP frontrunner rivaling that of the Democrat nominee from four and eight years ago. And it’s just as speciously founded.

Some assert that the Trump bandwagon is reshaping the Republican Party. Some go even further and claim that his candidacy is simply bringing out sordid and ignoble characteristics of the party that have been heretofore more latent and simmering under the veneer surface of decency. Such characterizations are erroneous.

Both major parties are grappling with atypical undercurrents that are largely reshaping the face, and perhaps the heart, of each. Regrettably, both are founded in a pejorative form of populism, whether it’s the promise of “free stuff” for adherents of the Democrat Party, or the abject anger aimed at unresponsive and tyrannical government for the Republicans. Such populism is destructive to the political process in a republic, as it appeals to citizens’ selfishness and most base instincts. And it’s culturally destructive as it drags the public dialogue to the lowest common denominator, while appealing to emotion at the expense of logic and reason.

In the last two presidential election cycles there was a veritable cult following for “The One” that venerated and idolized him regardless of what he said or did. He could do no wrong. His speech was lofty; language grandiloquent; substance lacking; and promises vapid.
low-infosThis year the leading GOP candidate has a similar cult following. It doesn’t seem to matter that “Make America great again,” and “we’re going to win…” constitute 50% of his specious speeches, with the other 50% reiterating his greatness. With little substance accompanying his bold statements, it’s hardly distinguishable from the empty “Hope and Change” mantra of Obama’s cult following.

But unlike Obama’s elevating elocution, Donald Trump’s speech is degrading, debasing, and uncivil. As Mitt Romney aptly delineated this week, Trump is one who “mocked a disabled reporter, who attributed a reporter’s question to her menstrual cycle, who mocked a brilliant rival who happened to be a woman due to her appearance, who bragged about his marital affairs, and who laces his public speeches with vulgarity.” But to the cult of Trump, civility, class, and decorum don’t matter.

Whether we like it or not, the fact is that the president of the United States is the face of the nation. For all of Obama’s policy and ideology failures, at least he was not always an embarrassment in terms of his conduct and decorum. He has typically filled his role as face of America to the world with class. He has acted presidential.

Trump has no illusion of what it means to act presidential, and is redefining it to the depths of depravity with his tactlessness and inexorable ad hominem attacks on anyone who crosses him. But to the cult of Trump, it doesn’t matter.

Following Barack Obama’s Super Tuesday victories in 2008, he revealed his “messiah complex” by claiming, “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.” Millions of Americans seemed to agree whilst gullibly falling for his grandiloquent, yet vapid speech. He could do no wrong in the eyes of his cult-like followers.

And perhaps unsurprisingly, the leading narcissist of the 2016 presidential race, claims that, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” Such is the power of the cult of personality and its hold on the sycophants who suspend reason in order to wholly buy into a campaign idiom of populist appeal. To the cult of Trump, it doesn’t matter.

When Obama preyed upon the emotions of low information voters, many on the right were critical not just of Obama and his insubstantial campaigns, but of the uninformed, ill-informed, and misinformed voters who flocked to him in ignorance. Ironically, many of those critics are now devout members of the cult of Trump.

Compromise is a bad word and anathema to the political purist. Yet in the cult of Trump, it doesn’t matter, because compromise is rebranded as “the art of the deal” and the great dealmaker is adored and praised.

Just as sound-thinking Democrats would likely prefer to not have their party seen as the party of economic illiteracy, abdication of personal responsibility, and freeloaders, so also most Republicans don’t appreciate Trump’s redrawing the face of their party to reflect the crassness, rudeness, callousness, debasement, and moral turpitude of their leading presidential candidate. Such regression in both parties does not portend well for the republic.

In that context, both major political parties are being redefined, and it’s to the detriment of the nation and the freedoms and liberties we hold sacrosanct. Let’s hope there are enough sane and sensible people to save us from the populists in both parties!

Today for the Republican party, the choice is remarkably similar to the ’08 and ’12 choices for the Democrats, and it comes down to the classic Platonic dichotomy of form versus substance. Regrettably for the GOP this time around, not only is the substance lacking, but even the form is not appealing, as it culturally spirals down to the lowest common denominator and our most base instincts.

When reason and logic are employed in the candidate and presidential selection process, policy matters, character matters, and substance matters. When a cult of personality rules the process, none of it matters. And there can be little doubt of how the Trump zealots are amassing behind his persona. And he knows it. He can say or do anything, even “shoot someone in the middle of 5th Avenue,” and his adherents remain faithful. That’s when you know all reason has been suspended.

Anger and frustration with Washington is totally understandable. But the solution is not a classless self-adulator who spews venomous aspersions as fact, and whose platform is based in rage. Appealing to emotion is the low-information approach to leadership, and requires a cult-like fealty to succeed, much like the last two election cycles. The Trump cult, regrettably, seems filled with faux conservatives who care less about principles, character, or truth, and are willing to march to the beat of another narcissistic, egocentric political drum based on vapid memes and platitudes. Trump has become a Pied Piper of populistic political porn.

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Posted in Constitutional Issues, Guest Posts, National Sovereignty, Pocatello Issues, Politics in General, Presidential Politics, Taxes | No Comments »

Richard Larsen: Martin Luther King and His Far-reaching Impact

January 21st, 2016 by Halli

By Richard Larsen

Some people take umbrage at the fact that Martin Luther King, Jr. has a holiday dedicated to his remembrance, while none of our founders, or even presidents, do. I am not among them. In many ways, MLK epitomizes the founding principles the nation was based on, for they, along with his theological convictions, comprised his core belief system.

As we celebrate the 87th anniversary of his birth, acknowledgement of his contributions to civil rights and peaceful demonstration for just causes is just a portion of what the man represented. His insights on freedom, work, selflessness, and morality apply equally to all Americans, regardless of political orientation, race, or creed.

Perhaps that was the key to his enduring legacy – not just that he advanced civil rights, but that he taught and expounded precepts that transcended the great social divide of his time. Perhaps there is as much for us to learn from those teachings in transcending and bridging the divisions of our time.

To him, everything revolved around freedom. “I say to you that our goal is freedom, and I believe we are going to get there because however much she strays away from it, the goal of America is freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be as a people, our destiny is tied up in the destiny of America.” This may seem ostensibly a self-evident truth, but the concept is increasingly foreign to too many of us as we look continually to government for solutions, at the expense of individual liberty to choose and to act.

He also stated, “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” When we realize that much of what’s done in the name of government is oppressive to freedom, it’s increasingly evident that as an electorate we must needs rise up in opposition to freedom-inhibiting laws and regulations, and demand redress.

“Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom,” he declared on another occasion. Individual and universal freedom was everything to him, without regard to ethnicity or other contradistinction. He advocated freedom, as opposed to government programs that diminish the freedom to build, achieve, to be rewarded for those achievements, and to succeed.

He often talked about how critical it was for all Americans to have a job. To him, a good job was ennobling, and built character. “All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.” A working society was a free society, for without work, one becomes the ward of the state and loses their individual freedom to become and do.

He was so critical of those whose entire focus was on themselves and their own self-interests. And he made no distinction between the personal and the private; the political and the individual. Said he, “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” And as if to underscore this notion, “Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.” Clearly those who engage in identity politics for their personal aggrandizement are not looking at the greater good for society and America.

He always emphasized doing, and acting on principles. It wasn’t enough to echo the refrains of freedom, one had to work for them. And at times he seemed to echo the sentiments of Edmund Burke, the English philosopher who said “All that is needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing,” King’s version was, “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.” How can one claim ownership of great precepts, and not be willing to act on them?
“When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Clearly, to King, all lives matter!

The Reverend was a highly principled man, driven by truths and fundamental values. He referred often to those values. “If we are to go forward, we must go back and rediscover those precious values – that all reality hinges on moral foundations and that all reality has spiritual control.” Some of those values were the very foundational principles upon which the nation was founded, that he found lacking in their application to all American equally.

He was not a perfect man. None are. Yet he advanced a commitment to “moral foundations” and “spiritual control” which he saw as critical for society as a whole, and can only be accomplished by each of us dong our part.

I think he would concur with General Douglas MacArthur, a great student of history, who declared, “History fails to record a single precedent in which nations subject to moral decay have not passed into political and economic decline. There has been either a spiritual awakening to overcome the moral lapse, or a progressive deterioration leading to ultimate national disaster.”

Although an icon of the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King was not single-dimensional. He called upon all citizens, regardless of ethnicity, religious convictions, or socio-economic status, to do their part for the benefit of society and the country. It’s wholly fitting to have a holiday dedicated to his memory and teachings. And the nation would be better off if more effort were expended in adherence to his precepts.

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Richard Larsen: Independent Voters, America Needs YOU!

January 15th, 2016 by Halli

By Richard Larsen

The final word to escape the lips of William Wallace of “Braveheart” fame was “Freedom!” The scene still today sends chills down my spine, and arouses a profound sense of gratitude for the freedoms we have in America, even with their gradual erosion that we’ve witnessed over the past 240 years. Even as William Wallace was willing to give his all for freedom, so likewise Republicans in America are generally committed to the ideological foundation of our republic: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We implore independent voters to side with the cause of liberty and individual freedom.

With that said, the Republican Party is no more monolithic than the Democrat Party is. There are elements within both parties that are more or less conservative or progressive. Those of us who are more conservative align ourselves ideologically with the classical liberals of the 18th century who founded this nation, again based on the Lockean Creed and embedded in our founding documents. These are the principles that have made America unique, and it is our conviction that this legacy must be perpetuated for the republic and American exceptionalism to survive.

As classical liberals, we acknowledge that the more government grows and encroaches into our individual lives, the more our individual freedom and liberty is diminished. It was this principle that Benjamin Franklin referred to when he stated, “Those who would sacrifice freedom for security deserve neither.”

While we acknowledge the need for some security as a safety net for some in society, we believe that freedom is ennobling and the ability to achieve or fail develops character and is good for all, individually as well as collectively as a society. Consequently, we resist expansion of government power and incursion into, and control over, our lives.

We believe that in a representative republic we have a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, and that our elected officials are beholden to the will of the people to act in our collective best interests, rather than catering or pandering to select groups or special interests. Thomas Jefferson is often quoted saying, “When governments fear the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny.” While the attribution may be in question, the logic isn’t.

We maintain that the Constitution purposefully delineates the limited powers of government in order to maximize individual freedom and liberty. Consequently, we are supportive of the constitutional functions of government, and logical and progressive levels of taxation in order to support them. We support logical, protective regulation, but reject centralized planning and government intrusion into every aspect of our lives at the expense of our liberty.

We are supportive of rational levels of taxation to pay for the services we demand of government, but acknowledge the factual consequences of diminished return the higher taxes are. And as the former Council of Economic Advisors Chairman Christina Romer has proven, for every $1 collected in taxes, there is a diminution of GDP (Gross Domestic Production) output of $3. Taxes, then, should be kept as low as possible to maximize growth of the economy and provide us individually with maximum financial freedom.

We want the economy to grow, not just for the improvement of our station in life, but because we need more than 120,000 new jobs created each month just to keep pace with population expansion. And more than that is needed to start picking up the gap of those who are underemployed, who, based on the Department of Labor’s U6 report, currently stands at 10%.

This kind of job expansion can only occur with a healthy, thriving private sector, that rather than being demonized by Washington and inflicted with senseless regulation and micromanagement by government bureaucrats, is fostered and facilitated by prudent policy and regulation. Ronald Reagan said, “The best welfare program is a job,” to which we would qualify further, a “good job.”

We adhere to fundamental fiscal principles, that the government should be beholden to the same financial restraints that we as individuals are, and that we shouldn’t spend what we don’t have. We maintain that it’s illogical to presume that spending two times more than you receive in income or revenue is sustainable and that believe that unrestrained spending threatens to bankrupt the nation and raze the republic.
We believe in free market economies, not only because they work, but because they afford the most freedom to hard-working Americans. Government can serve a legitimate role in protection of citizens and their property, but should not have power to micromanage our health care, our energy use, or our commercial activities.

Thomas Jefferson succinctly stated, “A wise and frugal government, which shall leave men free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned – this is the sum of good government.” We hold that to be a self-evident truth.

Right now we have a federal government that is neither wise nor frugal, but to that end we strive for a reversal at the national level, and an improvement in state and local government as well. To effect such change, it is imperative that independents consider not just the personalities of presidential and congressional candidates, but the broad principles at the base of their ideologies.

If the republic is to survive as intended, it will be because a majority of the 39% of independent voters decide that it’s worth saving, and vote accordingly. We would invite a thorough examination of the issues and the candidates, and a resolve to make logical, cogent decisions on how to vote that will facilitate a return to common sense governance, and a resurgence of commitment to the principles upon which the nation was founded. America’s founding principles made her great; she can be so again!

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Richard Larsen: Making the World a Little Bit Better in 2016

January 15th, 2016 by Halli

By Richard Larsen

In spite of all the challenges and vicissitudes we’re facing domestically and globally this year, and the daunting challenges facing the country and our culture, there is much good that oftentimes escapes our notice. Sometimes as we review the year, both societally as well as personally, it can be a matter of perspective, whether we deem the glass half full, rather than half empty.

Reviewing the significant events of the year, it’s difficult to find the good, through the predominance of the bad. Bad news definitely grabs the headlines and the airtime, so the good news is mostly eclipsed or underreported since they don’t garner the attention-grabbing attributes of the bad.

As any student of history can aver, bad things always happen. There are always some catastrophes happening somewhere, always some acts of nature reminding us of our smallness compared to the powers of mother nature, and bad things happening to good people. And most of the time, there is little that can be done by us to prevent such events. But the weight of such pejoratives mustn’t weigh us down so much that we cannot see the good.

As a matter of fact, there is little any of us can do for issues and events vexing much of the world. But there is always something that we can do in our own homes, in our own neighborhoods, and our own communities.

Throughout the year much good has been done by commoners like us, which reminds us of our shared humanity and membership in the family of man. Not grandiose acts of unbounded magnanimity, but the little acts of kindness, thoughtfulness, and sensitivity to others. After all, not all of us can be as munificent as the Australian woman who left a $4.3 million estate to a charity that serves the homeless in her community.
But we can all do little acts that go a long way, like the Ogden, Utah hair stylist who organized a free haircut day at the local homeless shelter. The tears of joy and appreciation from the beneficiaries brought a sense of accomplishment and gratitude to those who gave of their talents and time to their fellowman in need.

We can “pay it forward,” the beneficent principle of repaying kindness shown to you, by blessing the lives of others, who in turn pay that kindness forward to others. Lily Hardy Hammond, in her book, “In the Garden of Delight,” coined the phrase, and explained, “You don’t pay love back; you pay it forward.” Imagine the delight and joy shared recently by all those involved in a “pay it forward” act that resulted in over 250 McDonalds customers in Lakeland, Florida paying for the car behind them. It all started with one person!

Pictures of a professor at the University of Louisville babysitting the children of one of his students went viral in social media. The student had a babysitter scheduled so she could take her test, but when those plans fell through, she had to take her four and five year old children to take the test with her. The professor entertained and cared for them in the hallway until their mother was through taking the test.

Several local young single adult LDS wards every year pitch their shekels together to help disadvantaged families have a semblance of a Christmas for their children. For these young people, mostly students, the sacrifice is great as they have little to spare themselves, yet they relish their opportunity to share of what little they have, to bring joy to others.

Literally volumes could be written of the little acts of kindness and thoughtfulness rendered just in the past few days alone. And hopefully each of us have our own stories of selflessness to contribute.

And as great as the temporal concerns may be to some amongst us, perhaps the greatest gifts we share are those that have no pecuniary cost, for their value far exceeds monetary numeration. The first of these is kindness, and genuine sensitivity to the concerns and needs of others. It doesn’t cost a dime, and exhibits an alluring selflessness and depth of character.

The former president of the LDS Church, Gordon B. Hinckley made a superb observation when he said, “Generally speaking, the most miserable people I know are those who are obsessed with themselves; the happiest people I know are those who lose themselves in the service of others…By and large, I have come to see that if we complain about life, it is because we are thinking only of ourselves.”

Author Joyce Meyer has said, “If selfishness is the key to being miserable, then selflessness must be the key to being happy.” An altruistic attitude makes it extremely difficult to be egocentric and preoccupied with our own inadequacies. Look to the welfare of others, in love, rather than focusing on our own life challenges. There is no cost in temporal terms to being thoughtful, sensitive, supportive, kind, courteous, and loving to our fellowman.

Another thing that we can each do to make a difference in our homes and communities is an investment of time. Time to visit loved ones, time to serve those who are incapable of serving themselves, time given to worthy causes, time with our children and grandchildren, and time to reflect on what we can do to lessen the load of others.

None of us can do everything, but all of us can do something. If we all would do everything within our power to improve the lives of those within our respective spheres of influence, there is no limit to the good that could be done, the lives that could be touched, and the hearts that could be buoyed up.

The American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr wrote the poignant “Serenity Prayer” nearly a century ago. It includes the petition, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Perhaps rather than obsessing over what we cannot change, we should focus more on what we can. And we can change our attitudes, our commitment to others through kindness, thoughtfulness, and love, as well as time dedicated in service. If we all did that, the impact could well be immeasurable, as we leave our little corner of mortality a little better than how we found it. Come to think of it, that sounds like a noble New Year’s resolution!

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Richard Larsen: ISIS, ISIL and Daesh – What’s in a Name?

January 15th, 2016 by Halli


By Richard Larsen

This week President Obama addressed the nation in a rare Oval Office speech. The intent was to assuage concerns that the government isn’t doing enough to protect us from radicalized jihadists, like the couple in San Bernardino last week. But the speech may have raised more questions and apprehensions than provided answers or assurances. And perhaps the largest is in the language used to describe the threat.

The speech made reference to ISIL sixteen times. This is itself significant. ISIL is one of the retired acronyms the organization that prefers to be referred to as the Islamic State has used. The original acronym they employed was ISIS, or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. ISIL, however, has much more broad regional significance, for it stands for Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

The Levant includes some historically significant territory, including not just Syria, but the region referred to in Biblical times as Palestine. So ISIL includes the entire Fertile Crescent from the Persian Gulf through southern Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, and northern Egypt. In other words, the entire region from the Taurus Mountains of Turkey in the North, the Mediterranean Sea on the west, the Tigris-Euphrates river system on the East.

Secretary of State uses a different term to identify the group. Since late last year Secretary John Kerry habitually has referred to them as Daesh. Perhaps just as incendiary as the president’s insistence on using the ISIL acronym, Daesh refers to the Arabic name of the group, ad-Dawlah al-Isl?miyah f? ‘l-?Ir?q wa-sh-Sh?m. The Arabic version implies that the Islamic State is a worldwide caliphate, with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as its caliph. As a caliphate, it claims “religious, political and military authority over all Muslims worldwide, and that the legality of all emirates, groups, states, and organizations becomes null by the expansion of the khil?fah’s [caliphate’s] authority and arrival of its troops to their areas,” according to Washington Post foreign affairs writer, Ishaan Tharoor.

The significance of the terms the administration chooses to employ in referencing the group cannot be overstated. With Secretary Kerry’s Daesh (or Da’ish) he may presume to be ideologically neutral, since it doesn’t have the name “Islamic” in it, (at least an English transliteration). He may also use the term in part due to his French allegiance. France’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has said, “This is a terrorist group and not a state. I do not recommend using the term Islamic State because it blurs the lines between Islam, Muslims and Islamists. The Arabs call it ‘Daesh’ and I will be calling them the ‘Daesh cutthroats’.” Perhaps they’re both being either obtuse or naïve, thinking they’re avoiding “Islamic” with the Daesh designation. But use of this term grants the group universal pertinence as a global caliphate.

The President’s insistence on using ISIL could well betray his perpetual downplaying of the influence, scope, motives, and successes of the terrorist group. After the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, the military vacuum in the country began to be filled by ISIS forces in Northern Iraq. The President called them “jayvee” terrorists at the time they initially encroached into Iraq. And even while repeatedly saying they were “contained,” they have expanded to include 20% of the 169,234 square mile country. To put that in context, California, the third largest state in the U.S., is 163,694 square miles, and the area of ISIS control in Iraq is equivalent to the size of the state of South Carolina.

Obama has been unrelenting in his denunciation of Israel, and unremitting in his criticism of its leadership. In the earliest days of his presidency, he made his now infamous “Cairo Speech,” where he referenced Israel’s “occupation” of Palestinian lands, and the “daily humiliation” and “intolerable” condition of the Palestinians. And it’s only gotten worse since then.

Several times over the past five years, Obama administration officials have leaked classified Israeli information regarding defensive measures and offensive plans related to Iran. The effect has been an unmistakable chilling of the relationship between Washington and Tel Aviv, as Washington’s objectives seem clearly at odds with the protection and preservation of the state of Israel.

Even the heralded Iran Nuclear deal was done over Israel’s objections, since it assures Iran will be nuclearized by year ten of the agreement, and Iran has vowed to “blow Israel off of the map.”

So is it coincidental that Obama uses the ISIL name intentionally to include the Levant, which includes Israel? Indubitably not. Even by his chosen appellation for the terrorist group, the President continues his denunciation, disavowal, and rejection of the state of Israel. And rather than graduating to the more geographically broad “Islamic State” name the group applies to itself, he has chosen to stick with their earlier iteration which conspicuously includes the land of Israel.

Not only does our president consistently understate our enemies, and fail to accurately identify them, but he has severe problems recognizing our primary ally in the region, and providing the support key allies should expect from one another. If we’re to ever succeed in vanquishing ISIS, it’s not going to be by alienating our allies and placing them increasingly at risk.

Words matter. And in foreign affairs, the symbolism employed by policy-makers through their word choice, are of immense significance, not just to our allies but to our enemies as well. Our enemies should not be emboldened, and our allies alienated by the language they use.

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Richard Larsen: Is Carbon Dioxide Really Our Greatest Threat?

December 15th, 2015 by Halli

By Richard Larsen

If we were aboard a sinking ship, and the captain boldly stated that to prevent submersion we must turn off the air conditioners, burn less oil, and start using squirrelly new-fangled light bulbs, it would be clear that the captain had truly lost his mind. President Obama’s fixation on climate change as the most pressing issue facing the nation whilst experiencing a global conflagration of Islamic extremist terrorism, should be seen no differently.

ISIS, contrary to the president’s assertion, is not “contained,” and is spreading throughout the Middle East, leaving a wake of beheadings, mass executions, and destruction. Terrorists sympathetic to jihad are striking globally, including 130 innocent victims slain in Paris two weeks ago, and now striking on our own soil in San Bernardino this week. Yet the president and his administration continue to appear impotent not only addressing the threats, but even acknowledging them for what they are.

Instead, in conjunction with the Paris Climate Conference this week, administration officials uttered these inanities and non-sequiturs: “Today, there is no greater threat to our planet than climate change.” “No challenge poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change.” “It is indeed one of the biggest threats facing our planet today.” “Climate change is the threat multiplier.” “If another country threatened to wipe out an American town, we’d do everything in our power to protect ourselves. Climate change poses the same threat right now.”

Seemingly doubling down on the idiocy, the president told CBS News, “A deal to cut carbon emissions would be an act of defiance against terror.” Terrorists around the globe, following such a statement by the leader of the free world, are either, a) quaking in their boots fearing the damage to their cause by reduced carbon emissions, or b) laughing hysterically. If one buys into the president’s illogic and biases, it’s the former. For all those not detached from reality, it’s the latter.

And unsurprisingly, the mainstream media parrots the lunacy. CNN reported, “The recent terror attacks are tragic. And many lives will never be the same because of them. They should not be minimized. But climate change is another form of terror and it’s one we’re wreaking on ourselves.” So after the estimated 350 billion tons of CO2 emitted for the confab in Paris, we’re apparently to assume that we’re safer from the threat of global jihad just because they conflated the two dissociated issues. And if we ascribe validity to the president’s premise, all 150 global leaders are now accomplices to global climatic terror by their carbon footprint to Paris.

We have addressed this issue ad nauseam in the past, how the “science” behind purported anthropogenic climate change (aka “global warming,” until the earth quit warming 17 years ago), is not “settled.” The issue is a political one, not a scientific one, as recently averred by a Nobel Prize-winning scientist who has been a supporter of Obama.

Dr. Ivar Giaever, a Norwegian-American physicist who won the Nobel Prize for physics, declared in July, “I would say that basically global warming is a non-problem.” After referencing Obama’s declaration that “no challenge poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change,” Giaever said it was a “ridiculous statement.” He went on to say, “I say this to Obama: Excuse me, Mr. President, but you’re wrong. Dead wrong,”
In 2009, Giaever was one of over 100 scientists who wrote a letter to the president that stated, “We the undersigned scientists, maintain that the case for alarm regarding climate change is grossly overstated.”

Giaever says that the theory behind fears about rising carbon dioxide levels created by man “is not backed by evidence.” He said, “Global warming really has become a new religion. Because you cannot discuss it. It’s not proper.”

Clearly the Nobel Laureate is correct. The political left is wholly sold on the notion that carbon dioxide, the gas we exhale and that plants feed on, causes climate change. And to attempt to reason with them based on the actual evidence and logic, rather than the hyperbolic talking points of those with vested interests, especially those receiving government grants for their confirmation bias, is utterly futile.

The ideological fascism exercised from the left on climate change disallows the possibility of diversity from their preconceived conclusions. Discussions, regardless of logic and data, inexorably devolve to casting aspersions and adolescent name-calling. One is a “flat-earther” if one fails to embrace the highly doctored, exaggerated, and pre-conceived notion of man-made climate change.

Yet interestingly, even among climate scientists, there is no “consensus,” and the “97% agree in man-made climate change” is bogus. The most recent polling of 6550 scientists working in climate related fields including climate physics, climate impact, and mitigation, was conducted by PBL Netherlands Environment Assessment Agency. They found that only 43% agree with the premise that human activity is causal to global warming, or climate change.

Obama’s attempt to conflate terrorism with climate change is entirely specious, and his preoccupation with faux man-made climate change is ideological, not scientific. There is no evidence that governmental intervention and regulation, however well intentioned, can alter climatic trends, for such an assumption is based upon an unsettled and unproven “scientific” premise.
When it comes to facing exogenous and valid threats to the nation, we truly need a reality-based commander in chief, not an ideology-based meteorologist in chief.

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