Thursday, April 23, 2015

Governor Jindal talks about Gay Marriage

Gov. Bobby Jindal, front, with his family during a prayer at the opening session of the Louisiana State Legislature in April. Credit Pool photo by Gerald Herbert
Governor Bobby Jindal staked his position on the Gay Marriage debate. He stands firm on the rights of businesses to choose not to serve potential customers whose views they find abhorrent.
A lot of people compare this to Woolworths refusing to serve black customers in the 1960's. This is a poor comparison. In the 1960's the vast majority of southern businesses refused to serve blacks, leaving a large group disenfranchised with nowhere to eat, sleep or use public restrooms.
The Gay Marriage push is quite different. In this case we have a small group of people who are being overwhelmingly embraced businesses keen for their money. The few religious business owners who object to their behavior are not preventing them for getting their wedding cakes or flowers from someone else. These potential brides and grooms need to stop pushing their views on others and find the businesses who are happy to serve them. They are not hard to find.
Weak state governments are forcing these business owners to choose between violating their religious beliefs and going out of business. I'm glad to see one governor standing up for religious freedom.

Here's Jindal's full text:

BATON ROUGE, La. — THE debate over religious liberty in America presents conservatives and business leaders with a crucial choice.
In Indiana and Arkansas, large corporations recently joined left-wing activists to bully elected officials into breaking away from strong protections for religious liberty. It was disappointing to see conservative leaders so hastily retreat on legislation that would simply allow for an individual or business to claim a right to free exercise of religion in a court of law.
Our country was founded on the principle of religious liberty, enshrined in the Bill of Rights. Why shouldn’t an individual or business have the right to cite, in a court proceeding, religious liberty as a reason for not participating in a same-sex marriage ceremony that violates a sincerely held religious belief?
That is what Indiana and Arkansas sought to do. That political leaders in both states quickly cowered amid the shrieks of big business and the radical left should alarm us all.
As the fight for religious liberty moves to Louisiana, I have a clear message for any corporation that contemplates bullying our state: Save your breath.In 2010, Louisiana adopted a Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which prohibits government from unduly burdening a person’s exercise of religion. However, given the changing positions of politicians, judges and the public in favor of same-sex marriage, along with the potential for discrimination against Christian individuals and businesses that comes with these shifts, I plan in this legislative session to fight for passage of the Marriage and Conscience Act.
The legislation would prohibit the state from denying a person, company or nonprofit group a license, accreditation, employment or contract — or taking other “adverse action” — based on the person or entity’s religious views on the institution of marriage.
Some corporations have already contacted me and asked me to oppose this law. I am certain that other companies, under pressure from radical liberals, will do the same. They are free to voice their opinions, but they will not deter me. As a nation we would not compel a priest, minister or rabbi to violate his conscience and perform a same-sex wedding ceremony. But a great many Americans who are not members of the clergy feel just as called to live their faith through their businesses. That’s why we should ensure that musicians, caterers, photographers and others should be immune from government coercion on deeply held religious convictions.
The bill does not, as opponents assert, create a right to discriminate against, or generally refuse service to, gay men or lesbians. The bill does not change anything as it relates to the law in terms of discrimination suits between private parties. It merely makes our constitutional freedom so well defined that no judge can miss it.
I hold the view that has been the consensus in our country for over two centuries: that marriage is between one man and one woman. Polls indicate that the American consensus is changing — but like many other believers, I will not change my faith-driven view on this matter, even if it becomes a minority opinion.
If we, as conservatives, are to succeed in advancing the cause of freedom and free enterprise, the business community must stand shoulder to shoulder with those fighting for religious liberty. The left-wing ideologues who oppose religious freedom are the same ones who seek to tax and regulate businesses out of existence. The same people who think that profit making is vulgar believe that religiosity is folly. The fight against this misguided, government-dictating ideology is one fight, not two. Conservative leaders cannot sit idly by and allow large corporations to rip our coalition in half.
Since I became governor in 2008, Louisiana has become one of the best places to do business in America. I made it a priority to cut taxes, reform our ethics laws, invigorate our schools with bold merit-based changes and parental choice, and completely revamp work-force training to better suit businesses.
Our reforms worked because they were driven by our belief in freedom. We know that a nation in which individuals, and companies, are protected from the onerous impulses of government is one that will thrive and grow. That’s the intellectual underpinning of America, and in Louisiana we defend it relentlessly.
Conservatism faces many challenges in today’s America. Hollywood and the media elite are hostile to our values and they tip the scales to our liberal opponents at every opportunity. Yet the left has lost repeatedly in state elections all over America. Republicans control 31 governorships. We control nearly 70 percent of state legislative chambers, the highest proportion since at least 1900.
Liberals have decided that if they can’t win at the ballot box, they will win in the boardroom. It’s a deliberate strategy. And it’s time for corporate America to make a decision.
Those who believe in freedom must stick together: If it’s not freedom for all, it’s not freedom at all. This strategy requires populist social conservatives to ally with the business community on economic matters and corporate titans to side with social conservatives on cultural matters. This is the grand bargain that makes freedom’s defense possible.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Bloomberg and Gates fight Tobacco Company's dirty tricks

Lately major Tobacco companies are using a dirty trick to ensure they hook new customers in the third world. They threaten to sue the countries for unfair trade practices, going to far as to quote lawsuits, in which they were found guilty, in their legal fights. These small countries are quailing under the legal pressure and giving up their fights to protect their own citizens.
Today, Mike Bloomberg and the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation donated $4 million to a fund that will help these countries fight these lawsuits. Good job Mike! Full NYTimes article below:

Cigarette production at the British American Tobacco Cigarette Factory in Bayreuth, Germany.  Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced on Wednesday that they had started a global fund to help low- and middle-income countries fight legal challenges to their smoking laws. Credit Michaela Rehle/Reuters
Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced on Wednesday that they had started a global fund to help low- and middle-income countries fight legal challenges to their smoking laws by the tobacco industry.

The fund is modest, at least so far, with a total of $4 million from the two charities. But Michael R. Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies and the financial data and news company Bloomberg LP, said in a conference call with reporters that the investment was more like an initial marker, and that it was expected to grow as more donors joined the effort.
“The fact that there is a fund dedicated to taking on the tobacco companies in court sends a message that they are not going to get a free ride,” Mr. Bloomberg said. “If they say that’s not a lot of money — yes, well, take a look at who’s behind it.”
He added, “We just picked $4 million just to say, ‘O.K., here, let’s start it.’”
The fund was set up to counter what health experts say has been a strategy by tobacco companies to block smoking laws in poorer countries through legal means. In a number of cases, companies have challenged laws in development or after passage, warning governments that they violate an expanding number of trade and investment treaties that the countries are party to, and raising the prospect of long, expensive legal battles.
Companies say that there are only a few cases of active litigation and that giving a legal opinion to governments is routine for major players whose interests would be affected by a proposed law. But tobacco opponents and officials say the specter of litigation has had a chilling effect for countries that lack the financial resources to defend themselves.
“In an ominous trend, in some countries the battle between tobacco and health has moved into the courts,” Dr. Margaret Chan, the director general of the World Health Organization, said in a statement on Wednesday. Dr. Chan is participating in a conference on tobacco use in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. She added, “We will push back hard.”
The strategy has gained momentum in recent years, health experts say, as smoking rates in rich countries have fallen and tobacco companies have sought to maintain access to fast-growing markets in developing countries.
In Africa, at least four countries — Namibia, Gabon, Togo and Uganda — have received warnings that their laws run afoul of international treaties, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, an advocacy group that will administer the new fund. In Uruguay, Mr. Bloomberg’s charity is also helping the government defend itself in court.
Wealthier countries have also been targets, including Australia, which is in court with an affiliate of Philip Morris International over rules on packaging, and Norway.
British American Tobacco, which issued some of the warnings in Africa, did not respond to requests for comment. Philip Morris International said in a statement, “Governments can and should honor their international obligations when enacting tobacco control measures, and this fund can provide them with resources to do so.”
Tobacco consumption more than doubled in the developing world from 1970 to 2000, according to the United Nations. Much of the increase was in China, but there has also been substantial growth in Africa, where smoking rates have traditionally been low. More than three-quarters of the world’s smokers now live in the developing world.
Every year, more than five million people die of smoking-related causes, more than from AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined, according to the World Health Organization. The organization said in a statement on Wednesday that new data shows a declining rate of tobacco use around the world.
Beyond giving money, the fund will also help countries draft tobacco laws in a way that could help avoid challenge from industry, and establish a network of lawyers experienced in trade litigation. Mr. Bloomberg said some law firms had already expressed interest in volunteering their services. Mr. Bloomberg has committed about $600 million to combat tobacco use since 2007.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Politician eliminates his own position

Would that more politicians did what Matt Adamczyk plans to do: eliminate the position he just won. Here's the pledge he made when running for Wisconsin State Treasurer:


I am running for state treasurer on the pledge to eliminate the position. The antiquated office no longer is needed and has become a prime example of wasteful government spending. Governor Walker and the Republican legislature have removed almost all duties that once were the responsibility of the state treasurer and transferred those duties to other agencies. I fully support this effort by Governor Scott Walker and the Republican legislature to save tax dollars with these efficiencies.

My campaign consists of five pledges I’m making to the residents of Wisconsin if elected:
1. Pledge to work tirelessly to eliminate the Office of State Treasurer
2. Pledge to use the position to find government waste and eliminate it
3. Pledge to never waste taxpayer money
4. Pledge to return 25% of salary to taxpayers
5. Pledge to only serve one term

The only constitutional duty of the Wisconsin State Treasurer is to serve on the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands (BCPL). Serving on this board literally consists of two 15-minute phone calls per month. I feel it is wasteful to spend tax dollars on a four person staffed office for just one responsibility. That is why I fully support the Republican amendment, AJR 48, which would replace the state treasurer with the lieutenant governor on the BCPL.

The position is no longer needed since most of its duties have been transferred to other state agencies. But the position and the bloated staff remained until Matt took over. So far he has eliminated positions and wasted technology like cell phones that are being paid for but not used.

Maybe we can get someone in New Jersey to remove some wasted school boards for towns that don't have schools.

A novel use for used rail tracks.

Here's a man in the Bronx who looks at abandoned rail yards as a park rather than a place to leave graffiti. With $3,500, Justin Fornal and his father bought a used rail car and are planning on driving it around old rail tracks, encouraging investment and public use and converting these areas into parks. There is a lot of green and Justin envisages a version of the Highline but with passengers riding on trains.

 Justin is taking this plan seriously and invited William Goetz, a vice president of CSX Transportation, one of the nation’s largest freight railroad companies, along for the inaugural ride. 
Justin is asking CSX for assistance in riding his car on the rails across the country mostly on unused tracks to raise awareness for his plan. Goetz is skeptical but has not ruled out the plan. 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Kent Haruf on National Leadership

Below is a quote from one of my favorite authors. The book is on my wish list and I'll get to it eventually. But what a great idea is represented by this quote? And what happens next?

“And so we know the satisfaction of hate. We know the sweet joy of revenge. How it feels good to get even. Oh, that was a nice idea Jesus had. That was a pretty notion, but you can't love people who do evil. It's neither sensible or practical. It's not wise to the world to love people who do such terrible wrong. There is no way on earth we can love our enemies. They'll only do wickedness and hatefulness again. And worse, they'll think they can get away with this wickedness and evil, because they'll think we're weak and afraid. What would the world come to?

But I want to say to you here on this hot July morning in Holt, what if Jesus wasn't kidding? What if he wasn't talking about some never-never land? What if he really did mean what he said two thousand years ago? What if he was thoroughly wise to the world and knew firsthand cruelty and wickedness and evil and hate? Knew it all so well from personal firsthand experience? And what if in spite of all that he knew, he still said love your enemies? Turn your cheek. Pray for those who misuse you. What if he meant every word of what he said? What then would the world come to?

And what if we tried it? What if we said to our enemies: We are the most powerful nation on earth. We can destroy you. We can kill your children. We can make ruins of your cities and villages and when we're finished you won't even know how to look for the places where they used to be. We have the power to take away your water and to scorch your earth, to rob you of the very fundamentals of life. We can change the actual day into actual night. We can do these things to you. And more.

But what if we say, Listen: Instead of any of these, we are going to give willingly and generously to you. We are going to spend the great American national treasure and the will and the human lives that we would have spent on destruction, and instead we are going to turn them all toward creation. We'll mend your roads and highways, expand your schools, modernize your wells and water supplies, save your ancient artifacts and art and culture, preserve your temples and mosques. In fact, we are going to love you. And again we say, no matter what has gone before, no matter what you've done: We are going to love you. We have set our hearts to it. We will treat you like brothers and sisters. We are going to turn our collective national cheek and present it to be stricken a second time, if need be, and offer it to you. Listen, we--

But then he was abruptly halted.”
Kent Haruf, Benediction    

Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Pope criticizes the Curia

I respect a leader who is not afraid to expose the weakness of the organization he is trying to clean up. Listen to the 2014 Christmas address to the Vatican elite. He describes '15 ailments' the curia suffers.

The disease of feeling 'immortal' or 'essential''A curia that does not practice self-criticism, does not keep up to date, does not try to better itself, is an infirm Body'. The Pope mentions that a visit to cemeteries could help us see the names of many who 'maybe thought they were immortal, exempt and essential!'. It is the disease of those who 'turn into masters and feel superior to everyone rather than in the service of all people. It often comes from the pathology of power, the "Messiah complex" and narcissism'.

The disease of excessive activity
It is the disease of those who, like Martha in the Gospel, 'lose themselves in their work, inevitably neglecting "what is better"; sitting at Jesus' feet'. The Pope recalls that Jesus 'called his disciples to "rest a little", because neglecting necessary rest brings anxiety and stress'.

The diseases of mental and spiritual 'petrification'
It is the disease of those who 'lose their internal peace, their vivacity and audacity, to hide under papers and become "procedural machines" instead of men of God', unable to 'weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice!'.

The disease of over-planning
'When the apostle plans everything in detail' and believes that, through this, 'things progress effectively, thus becoming an accountant. Good planning is necessary but without falling into the temptation of wanting to enclose or steer the freedom of the Holy Spirit... it is always easier and more convenient to fall back on static and unchanged positions'.

The disease of bad coordination
It is the disease of members who 'lose the community among them, and the Body loses its harmonious functionality' becoming 'an orchestra producing undisciplined noise because its members do not cooperate and do not live communally and have team spirit'.

The disease of spiritual Alzheimer's
That is a 'progressive decline of spiritual faculties' which 'causes severe disadvantages to people', making them live in a 'state of absolute dependence on their, often imagined, views'. We can see this in those who have 'lost their memory' of their encounter with the Lord, in those who depend on their 'passions, whims and obsessions'.

The disease of rivalry and vainglory
'When the appearance, the color of  the vestments and the honors become the first objectives of life... It is the disease that leads us to become false men and women, living a false "mysticism" and false "quietism"'.

The disease of existential schizophrenia
It is the disease of those who live 'a double life, a result of the hypocrisy typical of mediocre people and of advancing spiritual emptiness, which degrees or academic titles cannot fill'. It often strikes us that some 'abandon the pastoral service and limit their activities to bureaucracy, losing touch with reality and real people. They thus create their own parallel world, where they set aside all that the others harshly teach' and live a 'hidden' and often 'dissolute' life.

The disease of gossip and chatter'It takes hold of a person making them "sowers of discord" (like Satan), and, in many cases, "cold-blooded murderers" of the reputation of their colleagues and brothers. It is the disease of cowards, who do not have the courage to speak upfront and so talk behind one's back... Watch out against the terrorism of gossip!'.

The disease of deifying the leaders
It is the disease of those who 'court their superiors', becoming victims of 'careerism and opportunism' and 'live their vocation thinking only of what they must gain and not of what they must give'. It might also affects the superiors 'when they court some of their collaborators in order to gain their submission, loyalty and psychological dependence, but the final result is real complicity'.

The disease of indifference to others
'When each one thinks only of themselves and loses the truthfulness and warmth of human relationships. When the more experienced ones do not offer their knowledge to the service of less experienced colleagues. When, because of jealousy or cunning, we rejoice in seeing others fall, rather than lift them up and encourage them'.

The disease of the funeral faceIt is the disease of people who are 'scowling and unfriendly and think that, in order to be serious, they must show a melancholic and strict face and treat others - especially those, whom they think are inferior - with rigidity, harshness and arrogance'. In reality, adds the Pope, 'theatrical strictness and sterile pessimism are often symptoms of fear and insecurity about themselves. The apostle must strive to be a polite, serene, enthusiastic and joyful person...'. Francis invites people to be full of humor and self-irony; 'How beneficial a healthy dose of humor can be!'

The disease of hoarding'When the apostle seeks to fill an existential void in his heart by hoarding material possessions, not because of necessity, but only to feel secure'.

The disease of closed circlesWhen belonging to a clique becomes more important than belonging to the Body and, in some situations, than belonging to Christ himself. Even this disease starts from good intentions, but in time it enslaves all its members becoming "a cancer"'.

The disease of worldly profit and exhibitionism
'When the apostle turns his service into power, and his power into a commodity to gain worldly profits, or even more powers. It is the disease of those people who relentlessly seek to increase their powers. To achieve that, they may defame, slander and discredit others, even on newspapers and magazines. Naturally, that is in order to show off and exhibit their superiority to others'. A disease that 'badly hurts the Body because it leads people to justify the use of any means in order to fulfill their aim, often in the name of transparency and justice!'

Francis ended by recalling that he had once read that 'priests are like airplanes, they make the headlines only when they fall, but there are many who fly. Many criticize, and few pray for them'. He said this statement was 'very true, because it highlights the importance and the delicacy of our priestly ministry, and how much a single priest who 'falls' may hurt the whole body of the Church'.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Gaming theory helps place NYC Students in school of choice

The NY Times neatly reported on the use of Nobel Prize winning gaming theory in the perennial problem of matching New York's high school students with the school of their choice. Since all 75,000 NYC Middle-school students have the option of attending any of the 426 NYC schools and there are many over-achievers, a simple priority list like the college acceptance process used to result in many unhappy applicants.
So a group of professors got together and modified a gaming theory called "The Stable Marriage" for this purpose. In the early 1960s, the economists David Gale and Lloyd Shapley proved that it was theoretically possible to pair an unlimited number of men and women in stable marriages according to their preferences.
By running a series of rounds of proposals and acceptances with tentative acceptance sometimes being trumped by a rejection and acceptance of another suitor, all the men and women get matched up with someone within their range of preferences.
Below is a nice graphic showing the process simplified to ten students, three schools, each of which have three slots, three preferences and three rounds. In reality there are more of each variable but, with computerization, the process works the same.

In 2003, New York City changed its method for matching eighth graders to high schools with a system, called a deferred acceptance algorithm, that was designed by a team of professors, including one who later won a Nobel prize in economic science. The key feature was mutuality: Students submit a list of preferred schools in order, and schools prepare an ordered list of students whom they want or who meet their standards. After rounds of computer matching, schools and students are paired so that students get their highest-ranked school that also wants them. Here, in simplified form, is how it works. In this example, each school can take three students, although it can list more, and each student can list up to three choices.
Sources: Academic papers, with assistance from Parag Pathak, Massachusetts Insitute of Technology