Monday, August 31, 2009

Pastor Anderson: The Unfortunate Flip Side of Reverend Wright

No sooner does the Watchman advocate that conservatives rally behind an increase in Secret Service protection for President Obama, than a pastor in Arizona preaches a sermon calling for God to strike him dead.

Let's take this in two parts:  political and spiritual.

To advocate that God strike Obama down is politically stupid for two reasons.  First it's mean spirited and Americans don't cotton to mean-spiritedness.  Obama is on the wrong track, sure -- a terribly wrong track.  But isn't it enough that we oppose him by every political means possible?  Isn't it enough to protest at every town hall meeting in America and on the steps of the Capitol in Washington?.  No, let's tell the whole world that we're calling on the almighty to be our hit man.  Yeah, that'll get the people on our side... the CRAZIES!  And the reasonable, rational, limited government lovers will cringe in the corners.

Second, like Obi-Wan Kenobi before him, Obama would be legislatively more powerful in death than in life.  I pointed this out yesterday.  He's already losing the battle in the marketplace of ideas.  So let him lose.  When a lib is self-destructing, leave him alone.  Pull up a chair, pop some popcorn and enjoy the show, but leave him alone!

From a spiritual perspective, Pastor Anderson is on the thinest of ice. He's broken with the teaching of his Baptist denomination.  I'd like to know what he believes is the biblical instruction that tells him to pray for the death of the President of the United States -- his own leader.

I can give him two passage of scripture that fly directly in the face of the pastor's actions:
I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. -- 1 Timothy 2:1-2
Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king. -- 1 Peter 2:17
If these very specific instructions about prayer and respect for leaders are not enough, then consider this general command on how we are to respond to our enemies.
You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'  But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. -- Matthew 5:43-45
Make no mistake. there's nothing unbiblical about disagreeing with your leaders in our form of government.  It's not wrong to pray for their minds and hearts to be changed.  It's not even wrong to pray that God will give us new leaders.  But to cross over into asking God to strike your leader with brain cancer and death, is very wrong indeed.

There are kooks on both sides, of course. Let's police our own by rebuking comments like those from Pastor Anderson.  And please write your representative in Congress exhorting them to increase Secret Service protection for President Obama.

[If you would like to read other Watchman thoughts on religion and government health care, go here]

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Lion Is Dead. Long Live the King!

As Senator Edward Kennedy is laid to rest, a question is raised.  What effect does the death of a politician have on legislation?

In the case of Senator Kennedy, probably not much.  Despite calls to lionize the liberal lion yet again by naming the health care bill after him, the passage of Obamacare is not likely to be moved much in either direction.

Those who loved ol' Teddy bear already love Obamacare.  Name one Congressman or Senator who's vote will swing based on Kennedy's passing.  Give up?

However, there is one politician whose passing would result in the landslide passage of a government controlled health care bill.  One politician still so beloved by the American people that his demise would create a groundswell of public sympathy to eclipse that even of Teddy's brothers.  A man who has done more to cast the American political and economic system in his own image than any politician in a generation.  The one man whose continued existence is ironically imperative to the survival our center-right republic.

For these reasons, Liberty Watchman calls on conservatives throughout the nation to do everything possible to preserve, protect, and defend, the life of Barack Hussein Obama, the 44th President of the United States.

The urgency of this call could not be greater.  According to Ronald Kessler's recently published book, In the President's Secret Service, the level of protection provided by the Secret Service has declined significantly in recent years.  Kessler reports that despite a 400% increase in the number of threats against the life of President Obama, the Secret Service has, on more than one occasion, either not screened at all or inadequately screened crowds with metal detectors prior to the President's or Vice President's appearance.

What??  That's right.  No metal detectors.

There may be multiple reasons why security is slipping.  Kessler says that in part it's the result of budgetary constraints imposed when the Secret Service was moved from the Treasury Department to the Department of Homeland Security in 2003.  Maybe, but it would be a mistake to think this is only a matter of money.  No President is at the mercy of his security detail.  Every President is fully briefed on his own security arrangements and has ultimate say over how he is guarded.  If the President wants greater protection, he gets it -- budgets be hanged.  If he wants less, he gets that too.  And more often than not, as Kessler chronicles, Presidents want and get less security.

We have seen the tragic results of Presidents who eschew their Secret Service protection.  Lincoln went to Ford's theater without his security detail.  John F Kennedy refused to have Secret Service agents on the running boards of this vehicle at Dealey Plaza.  It's unclear if guards could have saved President Lincoln, but the first shot having missed President Kennedy, there's a good chance that a human shield could have saved his life.

Why did these men risks their lives in this way?  Was it bravado?  Was it to protect their image?  Was it just the fatigue of being watched like a bug under a glass 24x7 and the desire to have some time unfettered by guards?  In Lincoln's case we're told it was a combination of image and watchman fatigue (no pun intended).  For Kennedy it was purely to protect his image as a president who does not cower.

With Obama we have an even more fearful concern: self-sacrifice.  It's widely reported that Obama has said he would sacrifice his second term as president if that's what it would take to get the health care bill passed.  His sense of noblesse oblige is commendable, but is there more to it than that?

The messianic nature of the descriptions which swirl around Mr Obama give even greater reason for pause.  Does he embrace his alleged divinity?  If he's willing for his second term to be a sacrificial lamb, is he also willing to lay down his life for historic legislation?  Does he fancy himself as the Obi-Wan Kenobi of the titanic struggle between limited and unlimited government. “You can't win, Darth.  If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.”

I submit that whether he believes in the Obi-Wan philosophy or not, it's probably true.  He would be even more powerful in death than in life.

I'm not saying President Obama has a death wish.  I suspect that like most sane people he does not.  But the pomp and circumstance, the sheer adulation of the office, can cloud a man's judgment.

And what of his staff?  For the sake of quickly seating the guests, his staff pressured the Secret Service to halt magnetometer screening at at least one campaign event last year.  Which of his Chicago mafia gave that order?  Do they believe their own press clippings?  Do they think that Obama's charisma can disarm even an assassin?

I think most men who ascend to the office of POTUS are made more noble by it.  There is a sense of purpose and destiny far beyond one's self.  I'm sure Barack Obama senses this.  But just beyond the horizon of that nobility lies the poison of self-importance and the delusion of invulnerability.  The antidote for these is self-sacrifice.  But beware the noble self-sacrifice that leads to foolish decisions.

Let's hope the president has not taken the poison and let's make sure no one else is allowed to give it to him.  Call your representatives today and insist on a congressional investigation into the claims in Kessler's book.  Insist that President Obama's security detail be increased immediately.

As conservatives we want to see Mr Obama defeated on the field of ideas and policy, not lionized in a state funeral.

The Lion is Dead.  Long live the King.  Long Live the King.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

What's Old is New Again


Chicago Tribune.  Circa 1936  (click the pic to see full size)

Some amazing parallels here.  And some surprising ones.

It's the same government debt orgy as today only they didn't have anywhere near the national debt we have going into it.  So although their fear of  "depleting the resources of the soundest government in the world" was real, it's far more achievable today.

Both periods involved a push by the government toward central planning and huge new government programs.

Their communist threat was was largely external and required 70 years of dogged defense to overcome the threat.  Our fascist threat is very much internal and it remains to be seen if we can overcome it or how long it will take.


Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Lake Zurich Chamber Shocked, Shocked at Outrage Over Bean Town Hall

On August 24th, Liberty Watchman wrote to the Lake Zurich Area Chamber of Commerce requesting that their meeting with US Rep Melissa Bean be opened to the public:
"Please reconsider opening this meeting to the public. The Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce did the same closed meeting with Reps Judy Biggert and Mark Kirk. It resulted in a huge public opinion black eye for the chamber. Please don't make the same mistake."
In an email reply,  LZACC Executive Director Dale Perrin said:
"We initially contacted he Congresswoman’s office 6 months ago to request her participation in this breakfast event. This was before the current health care issue became such a volatile subject. The intent of this breakfast meeting is not to debate the health care issue."
As the Watchman previously reported, the meeting was originally billed as a Town Hall Meeting (what is that if not a place to debate?) and the only legislative subject mentioned was health care.  Here's proof of the original intent from the LZACC's web site.

So why would the Executive Director claim, "The intent of this breakfast meeting is not to debate the health care issue?"

He went on to say:
"Frankly I’m a little confused why the general public seems to think they should have the right to attend a meeting, at not (sic) cost, that an organization they don’t belong to is conducting, just because an elected official has been invited to speak at that meeting. This is the third or fourth time Congresswoman Bean has attended and spoken at one of our Chamber events over the past several years, but the first time anyone outside of the organization has bothered to even take notice."

The Watchman is not asking for a free breakfast.  He's asking the chamber to step up to their unique opportunity to provide a public service.

One thing is clear and one is murky.  It's clear that ol' Bean is not using hers.  She's intentionally dodging a public meeting with her constituents.  The suspicion is that "Blue Dog Democrat" Bean was politically bought off in the health care negotiations in Washington.  Whether that's accurate or not is unknown because she won't sit down in a town hall forum and take questions from the voters.

The murky part is LZACC's role in all this.  Are they intentionally harboring a fugitive from the public as their bald-faced flip-flop on the intent of the meeting and mock shock at the public outrage seem to suggest?  Or are they truly ignorant that they stand at the fulcrum of the most hotly contested public policy issue to hit the 8th district -- and their business owners -- since prohibition?  Are they not aware that the voters are so angry with Bean that 'empty chair' town hall meetings are being scheduled?

The chamber has everything to gain and nothing to lose by opening the breakfast meeting to the public.  If Bean accepts an open meeting, then the chamber has performed a public service.  If she declines the meeting then the chamber has still performed a public service by flipping on the light switch in a room full of political cockroaches.

If the chamber is worried that Bean's rejection of an open meeting might result in their loss of a chamber advocate in Washington, they need not fear.  If she scurries for the baseboards, she only ensures defeat in the next election cycle.  Cozying up to a soon-to-be-defeated Congresswoman won't buy the slightest leverage on Capitol Hill.

Mr Perrin, you can charge for the breakfast or cancel the feed, but please open the meeting!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Protest Outside Bean's Office



Since US Rep Melissa Bean wouldn't come to the Town Hall Meeting, the meeting came to her.  This was Saturday, August 22, outside Bean's office in Schaumburg, IL.

This one caught the Watchman unaware.  He would like to have been there.

H/T  Illinois Review

Friday, August 21, 2009

Kirk Announces Town Hall

Mark Kirk has just announced that he will hold an "open town hall meeting at the Arlington Heights Village Hall's Village Board Room," on Monday, August 24. He says, "We will meet to discuss health care, including my concerns with the cost, complication and taxes included in the House bill."

It's interesting that he refers to it as an open town hall -- obviously in contrast to the closed town hall meeting Kirk had with the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce on August 12th. Liberty Watchman wrote about the fact that media cameras were kicked out of the last town hall meeting attended by Kirk.

Did Liberty Watchman help to influence this new spur-of-the-moment town hall meeting? Certainly we played a part!

The question is how open will this meeting really be? The timing of the announcement is strange -- late on a Friday afternoon, the usual time for press releases you don't want anybody to read. And with only 72 hours notice the turnout probably won't be all that it could be. Add to that a complete absence of the meeting announcement on Kirk's congressional web site and you have to wonder is this an intent to fly under the radar or just poor organization.

The only reason Watchman heard about the town hall is that his better half is on Kirk's email list. By emailing his presumed supporters before making a general announcement, is Congressman Kirk attempting to stack the deck of the meeting? Or again, is this just poor planning? Either way, it raises some unnecessary questions about a would-be US Senator.

Will cameras be welcome this time around? We'll let you know as the Liberty Watchman will be there, camera in hand.

Monday, August 24
Arlington Heights Village Hall
Village Board Room
33 South Arlington Heights Road, Arlington Heights
3:00 p.m.


Thursday, August 20, 2009

Health Care: WWJD?

The public debate over health care has become so heated and so factious that even one as high and exalted as Barack Obama is seeking endorsement from a higher power. Yesterday, in a web conference with 140,000 faithful on the line, President Obama appealed for support of his health care reform plan on religious grounds.

“There are some folks out there who are, frankly, bearing false witness.” the president said. He went on to itemize "death panels", "a government takeover of health care", and "government funding of abortion" as some of the falsehoods being promoted by opponents of his plan.

"These are all fabrications that have been put out there in order to discourage people from meeting what I consider to be a core ethical and moral obligation, and that is that we look out for one another, that I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sister’s keeper.” he said.

Combatants throughout the ages have sought the imprimatur of the almighty on their cause. It's a fool's errand. Our most heralded causes -- even world wars -- are but a jot or tittle in God's eternal plan. The mismatch of context is so staggering that the question "Whose side is God on?" is almost laughable.

But it might be worth a moment to consider this ancient yet trendy question: What would Jesus do? In other words, if Jesus was walking around on planet Earth today, what would he do, what would he think, what would his attitude be toward the health care debate?

Historic Perspective

Let's start with the source of the health care problem: illness and aging. Neither of these conditions existed in the Garden of Eden. It was not until man sinned and was thrown out of the garden that illness and aging came into existence.

It was not God's desire that illness and aging would ever exist. But it's an inescapable fact that Jesus, as the second person of the triune Godhead, booted Adam and Eve out of the garden and cursed them with illness and aging (and ultimately death) as part of their punishment for sin.

So the question "What would Jesus do about health care?" seems incredibly out of place considering Jesus is responsible for the need for health care in the first place.

There, I said it!

No matter what your theology, it seems to me an inescapable fact that an all powerful God simply must be responsible for the illness and aging that we use health care to treat. Whether you believe that God causes the ravages of illness and aging or just allows them as the consequence of sin, the net result is the same. God is on the hook for the health care 'problem'.

Don't worry, God has big shoulders. He's OK with you identifying him as the one responsible for the health care problem. Just don't go so far as to say that it is his fault. He set up a perfect system free from all illness and aging. Adam and Eve were the ones who messed it up. It's their fault and God is responding in a just manner to that fault.

So are we clear on this? We are living a life that is God's plan B for us. Plan A had no illness or aging (nor accidental death or injury either) and no need for health care.

Neither did plan A include socialism or communism. It didn't even include western democracy, representative government (a republic) or market-based economics. In fact, it included no form of human government at all. In plan A God was (and is) the sovereign King. In plan A, God personally governs all of man's affairs and personally provides for all of man's needs. All of them. All the time.

Even after the fall, God was not a fan of human government. He established governmental 'chains of command' for the nation of Israel, but he was always at the top of the chain. Eventually the people begged God for a human king like all the other nations had. God resisted that idea knowing man's tendency would be to look to their king for their every need rather than looking to God.

After a lot of pestering, God finally relented and gave Israel a king. He basically said, "Fine, you want a king? OK, I'll give you a king. But you'll regret it." And Israel often did regret it. They had good kings and bad kings. Their kingdom was like a box 'o chocolates: you never knew what you were gonna get.

So human government is not part of God's plan A. I don't think it's even fair to say that human forms of government are part of God's plan B. He only yielded to man's desire for a human government. He never suggested it and I don't think to this day he much likes the idea.

So doesn't this question of "What would Jesus think of Barack Obama's health care plan?" become ever more absurd? Well God, now that your people have rebelled twice, first by disobeying you and introducing illness and aging to the world, and then again when they rejected you as their preferred form of government, what's the best way to handle this mess? Should we try to mitigate the curse you put on us by turning over the mitigation strategy to a human form of government which does not acknowledge you as it's sovereign?

How, exactly, should God answer this question?

Isn't it ironic that God initially set up the most perfect nanny state one could imagine, but we rejected it and are now trying to recreate that nanny state in our own image?

WWJD

To understand what Jesus would do about health care if he was walking around on the planet today, we need only to look at what he did about health care the last time he was on the Earth.

"14But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus. 15Aware of this, Jesus withdrew from that place. Many followed him, and he healed all their sick..." - Matthew 12:14-15
In every translation of the Bible that I have checked, this passage conveys the clear idea that Jesus healed them all. Not most. Not some. Not just the ones he could. He healed them all. Jesus' health care plan -- then and now -- is to return to eternal plan A: no illness or aging at all.

He didn't tell Caesar that there were 47 million in the Roman world who needed a health care plan. He didn't direct the government to set up health savings accounts for all Roman citizens. He didn't even tell the church to build hospitals for the sick. He personally, forthrightly healed them all.

And he directed his followers to do the same. He told them that they would do even greater medical miracles than he did. This is one aspect of the health care system that I believe is seriously broken. His followers either don't believe what he did or don't believe what he said they could do and as a result the sick are not healed in anything like the numbers Jesus would wish. We don't believe in a return to plan A I'm afraid.

During his time on earth, Jesus did not say very much to or about government. I think this is because he was focusing on the return to plan A and he just didn't think it very worthwhile to spend much time on anything else -- let alone reforming human government which to him was at best a societal band-aid to their self-inflicted wound caused when they rejected him as their King.

The two things he did say about government are of course noteworthy. First he said that we should "Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's and unto God the things which are God's." (Matthew 22:21) It's dangerous to expand the meaning of this verse beyond the original context. Recall that the smarty-pants of the day were trying to trap Jesus into saying something that would get him in trouble no matter which way he answered. So his answer was designed to sidestep that danger more than anything.

I think his answer was also a kind of back-handed slap at the smarty-pants. Why are you guys asking me about plan C? (which I don't even like that much) You should be focusing on plan A -- rendering rendering unto God.

In his second teaching on government, Jesus said,
1Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you.4For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. 6This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing.7Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor." - Romans 13:1-7
This is a clear teaching on government authority. It may be plan C, but government officials still report to God (whether they think so or not) and they operate with God's authority so we are to respect that. This is a hard teaching for citizens of a democratic country where we believe that government derives its authority from the consent of the governed. Also challenging for a conservative like me is this clear teaching that government has the right to tax her citizens. That chaffs a bit!

Two functions of government are described here: "God's servant to do you good" and "God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrong doer." Clearly government administers God's justice and dispenses God's judgment.

It also serves to "do you good". I really wish Jesus had fleshed that out a bit more. It's like the "general welfare" clause in the US Constitution which is claimed for a great many more purposes than the original authors intended. I don't think you can argue that Jesus intended to provide justification for the comprehensive nanny state with this one sentence. Remember that Jesus desires to be our nanny state.

But I admit that the statement "do you good" is broad and not further qualified. It's not unreasonable to use it as a supporting argument for the Obamacare plan. However, I've never heard President Obama or anyone in the administration use this scripture in support of their case.

Jesus tells us the administration of justice is a function of government. However, health care is not the administration of justice. To tell you the unvarnished truth, illness and aging are the result of God's justice in action. So it is just wrong headed to say that people deserve health care as a matter of some civil right derived from God's justice.

Health care is the administration of grace and mercy. In the scriptures virtually all the dispensations of mercy are done by an individual or by God. I can't think of a biblical example of the governmental administration of mercy (except in forbearance of the God-ordained administration of justice).

This is subtle, but so important to our way of thinking. Health care is grace from justice, not justice itself. Read that last sentence a few times until it sinks in. To think otherwise is to negate God's right to curse and to treat his grace with the contempt of privilege rather than the thankfulness we owe him.

The very fact that we can rollback the curse to any degree at all is purely a function of God's grace in granting mankind the medical wisdom to do so. To treat that grace as an expectation, worse as a right, is a terrible affront to God I think.

Probably the best example of biblical health care administration is the story of the Good Samaritan. In this story an individual pays the recuperative health care costs for a man who has been mugged and robbed. It was not the government who provided the services or paid the tab. It was a private business that provided the services and a private individual who paid the tab.

In making a biblical case for his health care program, President Obama references the story of Cain and Abel. In the biblical account, God asks Cain what has happened to Abel (Cain has murdered Abel) and Cain replies, "I don't know. Am I my brother's keeper?" Obama decides this means that "...I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sister’s keeper.”

Even if that interpretation is correct, that we are all our brothers' keepers, it is not a license for government to force us to be our brother's keeper. At the most, the story is an admonition to personal responsibility, not community or corporate responsibility.

But Obama's interpretation here is wrong. God's response to Cain really had this meaning: "Of course I don't expect you to be Abel's keeper. Why are you throwing up that smoke screen when you know I don't expect that? I am Abel's keeper. Oh, I see, it's a bogus argument designed to distract from what I really do expect -- that you obey my command not to murder. I don't expect you to be Abel's keeper, but I sure expect you not to kill him."

Any claim that the story of Cain and Abel is support for government sponsored health care is a complete misapplication of this scripture.

Summary

Let me close with this. God is very interested in health care. He desires that man be healed supernaturally by the administration of God's grace and mercy via his saints (his people on Earth). He also provides the grace to overcome his own curse via the medical knowledge he imparts to mankind.

God's interest in human government is at best tertiary. He desires that man returns to God's eternal plan A in which God is all the government there is and all the provision anyone ever needs.

There are no biblical commands that would require government to provide health care coverage at all. Likewise, there are no biblical commands preventing government from providing health care coverage.

The only biblical examples of health care being provided are voluntary, sacrificial acts by individuals or acts of grace and mercy by God himself. There is no biblical account of compelling anyone to participate in health care and no record of government being involved in health care.

However, there is no biblical reason why people could not decide to join together in a health care program under government auspices. The biblical model would suggest that such an association should be voluntary, but the scripture also gives government the right to levy taxes and says almost nothing about how the taxes should be used.

Based on this brief and admittedly incomplete study, I don't think either side in the Obamacare debate can make any claim that God favors their position.

So why don't both sides cut it out.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Open Meetings - The Trilogy

In our third installment of the popular Open Meetings series, the amazing Melissa Bean, US Congresswoman from Illinois' 8th District continues to shrink from view. Like so many brave democrats she refuses to meet with her constituents except under the most controlled circumstances.

As first reported by Michelle Malkin -- somewhat unfairly, I think -- Bean backed away from a free town hall meeting in favor of a $25 breakfast meeting hosted by the Lake Zurich Area Chamber of Commerce. Malkin blasted Bean for charging a fee for the meeting, but I have no problem with that. There's no free lunch, Michelle (or breakfast).

What I do object to is the very tight controls over who can attend the meeting. You can see the evolution of that control in these images from the LZACC web site. At first the meeting was billed as a town hall.



A bit later, it was called a 'chamber' breakfast...


... and attendance was limited to chamber members only -- and only members in the 8th congressional district.

How terrified must a congresswoman be to feel that limiting the audience to chamber members only was not enough protection from a blood thirsty public. No, she felt the need to slap on the 8th district limitation to avoid being absolutely overrun by both of the LZACC members who don't live in the 8th district (if there are that many). Oh the horror!

All of this would be fine if Bean was holding other public meetings during the congressional break, but she is not. In fact her web site has no indication that she's having any meetings at all, including the chamber breakfast!

Don't pols usually taught their public appearances? Yes, unless they're hiding from angry constituents.

Doesn't the average chamber of commerce delight in throwing open to the public a meeting like this that demonstrates the chamber's high-minded civic responsibility? Yes, unless the chamber doesn't mind being used as a political shield to hide politicians from the verbal tar and feathers.

The most disturbing aspect of Bean's Town-Hall-cum-Chamber-Breakfast is that she is the third Illinois politician to seek refuge from the big bad public behind the skirts of the local chamber of commerce. I wrote earlier this week about how US Reps Judy Biggert and Mark Kirk displayed a similar act of political cowardice by allowing television cameras to be kicked out of a town hall meeting hosted by the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce.

This is a disturbing trend: an unholy alliance between poltroon politicians on the run and self-serving chambers of commerce who provide safe havens for them.

Come on, politicians! How frightening can a town hall meeting be in a state as blue as Illinois? In your savior's home state??

Come on, chambers! Stop aiding and abetting a political felony.



Monday, August 17, 2009

Really Open Meetings

On Saturday I posted a story about The Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce kicking cameras out of a public meeting with two congressional representatives. I said, "When a public official is discussing a public issue, no matter what the venue and no matter who is present, that is a public meeting."

Today we have a real-life example of the importance of that principle. Have a look at this video of US Rep Eric Massa (D-NY) discussing his voting rationale at a round table discussion at the annual Netroots Nation conference. Is he standing on principle or betraying his constituents? You decide.




The audio quality is not very good, so here's a transcript of the key statements
MASSA: I will vote for the single payer bill.

PARTICIPANT: Even if it meant you were being voted out of office?

MASSA: I will vote adamantly against the interests of my district if I actually think what I am doing is going to be helpful.

(garbled participants’ comments regarding the the word “interests”, to which Mass shrugged and then said:)

MASSA: I will vote against their opinion if I actually believe it will help them. (emphasis added)

It's an age old question. Should our elected representatives vote according to the wishes of their constituents or according to their own convictions. I think there are strong points that can be made on both sides of Congressman Massa's dilemma, so I won't opine on the merits of his choice.

Instead I want to focus on the extraordinary value of this video! How often do we get this kind of insight into the machinations of our elected officials?

Did he know he was being recorded? It's hard to say. The cameraman was standing and everyone between the camera and Massa were sitting. So it would seem likely he saw the camera, but if it was a cell phone or other small device, who knows?

His comments about the liberal need to 'stack the deck' at his town hall meetings make me think he didn't know he was being recorded. This seemed like a very relaxed and casual meeting in which an elected official let down his hair with those he believed to be 'friendlies'.

Imagine if all such meetings had transcripts!

Now wait a minute Mr Watchman. Don't our representatives have a right to private conversations?

If the topics are private, then yes they do. But when the topic is a health care bill, no they don't.

Gee, can't they even have private strategy meetings within their own party?

Again, if the subject matter is their re-election strategy, then maybe so. But to the degree that strategy has *anything* to do with public policy (eg, stacking the town hall deck so that they don't lose the allegiance of three million voters on the health care bill, as Mr Massa suggested was happening), then heck no.

I admit there are grey areas here. But I long for the day when a candidate for public office will run on a total transparency platform, a candidate who will record all his/her conversations every day (except obvious things like personal calls with the family, etc) and post the transcripts online.

That man or woman will either be a one-termer or the next President of the United States. The difference will be a matter of personal character and integrity -- as it ought to be.

Any takers?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Open Meetings

On August 12th, the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce invited US Reps Judy Biggert and Mark Kirk to attend a town hall meeting about health care reform. The Chamber sent out a press release inviting local TV to attend the public forum. But when the debate began, the cameramen were asked to leave.


My understanding is that the Chamber paid for the hotel ball room so they certainly had the right to include or exclude anyone they wish. Of course they also have the right to stand atop the Moser Tower in downtown Naperville and declare that the Chamber renounces the First Amendment to the Constitution, but I wouldn't recommend they exercise that right. Oh wait. That's pretty much what they did, isn't it?

What is the point of inviting the broadcast media to your meeting only to bar their cameras from the main event? What was the Chamber thinking? Mostly they weren't thinking I suspect. They were just acting like scared children afraid of the dark. They saw the cameras as the boogey men who might draw out more vocal opposition in their prim and proper meeting.

Grow up.

According to the CBS2 reports, there was vocal opposition at the meeting anyway. The public just weren't able to see or hear it.

And what of the politicians who accepted this arrangement? Shame on them. When the cameras were kicked out, they should have followed them out the door in protest.

There is a cancer growing on the body politic in Illinois: it's the notion that there ever was or ever should be such a thing as a private meeting with a public official. Balderdash! That's a dangerous notion advanced by evil doers. To quote Mark Levin. "There! I said it!"

When a public official is discussing a public issue, no matter what the venue and no matter who is present, that is a public meeting. Unfortunately, the Illinois Open Meetings Act is a toothless piece of legislation with so many exemptions that only a few government meetings in Illinois are truly open.

The lack of government transparency is a threat to our republic. It's a threat precisely because we are a republic. If we were a pure democracy and every citizen voted directly on every measure, there would be little need for open meetings. However, in a republic we elect representatives to vote on the individual measures. A congressman, for example, is casting a vote for 693,000 citizens in his/her district. Such a concentration of power requires the highest degree of transparency and integrity.

If I had my way, every member of congress would wear a recording device whenever conducting public business and the transcripts would be posted daily to their web site. Any violations of my open meetings act would be grounds for impeachment. I assure you that government corruption would immediately be reduced by 95%.

Shame on the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce. Shame on Judy Biggert. Shame on Mark Kirk. And shame on us for putting up with their secretive ways.

Protests No Waste of Time

Jeff Wartman attended an anti-Obamacare rally in Joliet just outside Debbie Halvorson’s office.
He concludes that "Two groups, standing on opposite sides of the street, screaming at the top of their lungs, have never in the history of mankind actually changed anyone’s mind." I disagree.

Standing on the street corner and shouting at each other is not a waste of time, Jeff. It awakes a sleepy public to the fact that the subject being shouted about is important. And they start to tune in. The minds of the awoken can very well be changed -- or decided in the first place.

If your argument is better reasoned (as the anti-Obamacare argument is) and your numbers are greater than the opposition (as ours are increasing weekly) you can actually convert a certain percentage of the other side. Most people, when they find themselves in an overwhelmed minority, really do reconsider their views. You can't convert them all -- the partisan zealots and the mindless robots of the unions -- but you can convert some that live examined lives.

Decisions are made by those that show up. Keep showing up, Jeff.

As for me, I'm off to attend Danny Davis' town hall today. Might be interesting.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Humanitarian Appeasement

It's nice to have the girls back from North Korea. No question about it. But what was the cost of that humanitarian appeasement? We may never know.

One thing's for sure. Bill Clinton is the master appeaser of the past 30 years.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Consent of the Governed

"Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government..."
-The Declaration of Independence

"As long as I'm the Director we will not make decisions by public consent"

-Ray McGury, Executive Director, Naperville Park District

Welcome to the wrong side of history, Ray. May your reign be short.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

How to Fight City Hall... or Not

They say you just can't fight city hall. In many ways that's true. Government bodies have tremendous resources that you and I just can't match. They have money, staff, lawyers, executive power, and even police power. Even with right on your side, it can be a formidable battle.

But the saying is ultimately wrong of course. You can fight and you can win. But you better have a tough hide and you better pack a lunch. And always remember the wisdom of Sean Connery in the Untouchables, “Never bring a knife to a gunfight.”

In my case the fight has been with the Naperville Park District. Regular readers of the Naperville Sun may recall that I've requested that an elevator or lift be installed in the Centennial Beach Bathhouse as part of the upcoming bathhouse remodeling project.

I didn't think a battle would ensue. I naively figured that since this is the 21st century and most multi-story public buildings now come with an elevator as standard equipment, my suggestion would be received with a hearty handshake and the warmth of a good idea well met.

As my teenage son likes to say, “Epic Fail!”

“Elevator? Elevator? We don't need no steeeenkin' elevator!” I was told by the district staff in almost so many words. Well the exact words were a bit different, but just as comical, “While an elevator or lift would not decrease accessibility, is (sic) would not appear to increase accessibility by any significant level.” Golly, it never occurred to me that an elevator could make the site >less< accessible. Aren't you glad the park district paid for outside help to affirm this bit of common sense?

But how about the flip side of the district's solomonesque statement? “...would not appear to increase accessibility by any significant level.” Really? Tell that to the manual wheelchair user or elderly father who can't negotiate the 550 foot walk from the entrance to the chair lift which lowers a disabled person into the pool. That's two tenths of a mile round trip, folks. And it's really farther than that because I'm not counting the walk from the parking lot to the bathhouse – an uphill walk made longer because the district grants some of the closest parking spaces to their staff, not to the disabled. In my opinion that's a clear violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Or tell it to the mother with a stroller, a wagon, and two small children in tow who's afraid if she loses control on the steep sidewalk she'll have to pull her toddler out of the sand feet first.

An elevator reduces the door-to-pool distance from 550 feet to 150 feet. I think no reasonable person would deny that this improves accessibility. No, it takes big bucks public officials to come to a conclusion which is that completely counter-intuitive – and in my opinion that completely wrong.

It was this first flash of a pistola on the hip of a hired gun that made me realize this was no knife fight. In the first round their shots missed, but it would get worse.

So what do you do when the facts are on your side, but public officials aren't? You start a petition drive! Public opinion is a bigger gun than hired opinion, right? And what better place to collect signatures than at Centennial Beach itself. At the end of my first evening there I knew from all the signatures, from all the heads shaking in disgust, and people literally chasing me down to sign the petition as I was exiting the beach, that I had the public on my side. Surely, the park district would start to listen now, right?

Um, no. Epic fail again. The park district's response to public opinion was to quash it. They told me I'm not allowed to collect petition signatures at the beach. Not only that, I am not allowed to collect them anywhere on the sprawling 2,400 acres of park district property with the exception of a 20 x 20 foot shelter on the river walk. 2,400 acres vs 400 square feet.

This seemed like an abuse of power to me, so I filed a Freedom of Information Act request asking for a list of all enforcements of this ordinance in the history of the park district's existence. Guess what? There are none. They dusted off a never before enforced ordinance to stop a lone disabled man trying to improve accessibility at Centennial Beach.

Never mind that the ordinance is a clear violation of the first amendment. Never mind that it's never been enforced, except against me. Never mind that the park district spent your tax dollars on attorney's fees for the advice they needed to squash me like a bug. I was in no position to argue with the executive director, a former chief of police in Bolingbrook, who now commands his own park district police force. So I stopped collecting signatures at the beach. Score 1 for the park police.

An attempt was then made by Executive Director McGury to lampoon me in the press – to make me look unreasonable, like a crackpot. At least that's the way it felt to me. McGury falsely claimed in a Sun article that, “...I don't know his exact position because he refuses to meet with us...” That was nonsense and he knew it. We had exchanged several letters at that point and he knew exactly what I was asking for. It seems he just wanted to make me look bad in the eyes of the public.

Yes, I refused a meeting initially because he refused an elevator. He also refused the Centennial Beach Accessibility Challenge – to take a manual wheelchair round trip from the parking lot to the pool. If he was unwilling to walk 550 feet in the shoes (or wheels) of the disabled, I figured a meeting wouldn't get very far. Better to appeal to the public I thought.

District escalation then continued with a letter to the editor from the Western Dupage Special Recreation Association. Another consultant, a bigger gun. The WDSRA made a reasonable argument that the bathhouse is sometimes subject to flooding. Reasonable, but hardly compelling. Shall we deny improved accessibility for 99 years because we fear a once in a century flood? Besides, they make elevators with all the mechanical and electronic parts on top of the car. When the water starts to rise, park the elevator on the top floor and leave it there until the water recedes. It's not rocket science. Look, the district is making special plumbing configurations so they can have flood-proof toilets in the lower level of the bathhouse. They can make appropriate provisions for an elevator too. They just don't want to.

Then the executive director of the WDSRA overreached in a way you only see when someone is grasping at straws. She claimed that installing an elevator, “...for three months a year usage is not a prudent use of dollars.” Well, by that same logic we should not be spending $5-6 million taxpayer dollars on a bathhouse that is in use for only three months a year either, now should we? Why do all these people begrudge an elevator or lift which is a rounding error on the total cost of this renovation? I mean the district can't even say within a million dollar variance what the cost of the project will be. Who's kidding whom about prudent expenditures?

At this point, with all the bullets flying at me, I needed answers. Both the WDSRA and the NPD have been supporters of accessibility rights in the past. We should be natural allies. They should be on my side. Why are their heels dug in on this?

In my quest for answers I started asking more questions about the Centennial Beach Project. I asked for project records, meeting minutes, and anything else that could give insight into why certain decisions had been made. After answering my first few queries, the district fired another shot: they required me to make any further requests for information through the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.

This is about as tortured an application of the FOIA as ever there was. The FOIA was not written to be a refuge for scoundrels. It was designed to be a tool for the public to get access to information that government is reluctant to give up. Yet here it is being used to delay and complicate my requests for information about the beach project and other park district activities. I am the only citizen under this restriction. In my opinion this is clearly retaliation for my charges of ADA non-compliance. Such retaliation itself is illegal under the ADA.

Absent a more nefarious reason, I can only assume the district's resistance to the elevator is rooted in pride. Not invented here, who-are-you-to-lecture-us pride. I guess I embarrassed them with the Centennial Beach Accessibility Challenge. But what's more important, the district's pride or easy access to the beach for the elderly, disabled, and moms with small children?

I have only one bullet left – one chance left. On August 6th, I will present to the park district the petition for an elevator or lift at Centennial Beach. Despite their attempts to quash public opinion, the petition has grown to over 500 signatures. Readers can help by signing the on-line petition at http://cb.libertywatchman.com. Readers can also help by attending the meeting August 6th at 6pm at the Rubin Community Center.

You can fight city hall. You can strike a blow for liberty. Join me this Thursday to do so. Leave the knives and guns (figurative and certainly literal) at home. But do pack a lunch because the battle lines are drawn.

Liberty Watchman Launches

After months of blogging on Facebook, I've decided to step it up a notch with my own dedicated blog.

So why blog at all?

For the past few years I've watched in horror as the country I love has moved away from her founding principles. It's not so much that the people have changed, but misguided and even corrupt leadership certainly has. The principles of liberty, private property, limited government, and rugged individualism are being set aside in favor of forming a Nanny Sstate, a centrally controlled Nanny State. It's been coming for 80 years, but now it's accelerating.

After reading The 5000 Year Leap: A Miracle That Changed the World, a tour de force in summarizing the founding principles of this country and spotlighting the unmatched brilliance of the founding fathers, I realized that what we have is as special as anything that has ever existed on the face of the planet. It needs to be nurtured and protected from dilution and corruption.

And so Liberty Watchman is launched. I have no delusions of grandeur that I alone can save the republic. But perhaps in some small way, I can join with the voices of millions of other Americans to help save the republic. She's worth saving.

I open with a couple of quotes from the founding fathers which have affected me deeply.
"I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them." -- Thomas Jefferson
This is the antithesis of the Nanny State. A warning from the past.
“A government big enough to give you everything you want is powerful enough to take everything you have" — Thomas Jefferson
The quintessential reason for limited government.
“It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people's minds” - Sam Adams
I almost called this blog "Prairie Brushfires", in honor of Illinois and Sam Adams.
“If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquillity of servitude than the animating contest of freedom, — go from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains sit lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen!” - Sam Adams
A challenge to rugged individualism if ever there was one.

I could go on. There are so many to which we should take heed.

A subtext of this blog will involve disability rights. I am a disabled American who suffers from Multiple Sclerosis and I regularly use a wheelchair.

It's twenty years on from the passing of the American's with Disabilities Act and architetural barriers still abound. I try not to shake my fist at all of them. I understand that it's nearly impossible to remove all the barriers in the world -- ever -- let alone in 20 years. But the ADA is not unreasonable. It asks for changes now when they are 'readily achievable' and demands them in new construction and when significant modifications are made. That's sounds reasonable to me.

A favorite target of mine is new construction. Architects and builders think they know how to build accessible structures, but they often don't. If you're going to build it, build it right.

Another subtext that I will cover is spirituality. I am a born again Christian and a woefully imperfect follower of Jesus Christ. Where the spiritual and political life intersect, I will sometimes comment.

I hope you enjoy Liberty Watchman.

Wayne Cummings