Ethics are a good thing, until they diminish the law

scales of justice

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A civilized nation relies upon the rule of law. Lately, though, our nation seems more fascinated with the nuances of ethics than with a code of law. Maybe we’re becoming less civilized.

Ethics are abstract guidelines of acceptable behavior that require only a credible (believable) standard of proof in order to condemn, with no legal binding. On the other hand, laws are written rules that require a finding of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and if found guilty is punishable with fines and/or imprisonment.

It seems pretty clear where we should be focusing our attention, and yet the news is filled with stories about scandalous ethics violations instead of real criminal charges. It becomes difficult to remember that an ethics accusation does not carry the same weight as a criminal conviction.

Or, it shouldn’t.

Television journalists, Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose, were immediately fired after allegations of sexual harassment.

Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., is welcoming a congressional ethics investigation after a photo surfaced of him during his comedian career days with his hands on the breasts of a sleeping and unsuspecting woman.

Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., stepped down from the Judiciary Committee after multiple staffers accused him of sexual harassment.

And the Republican senatorial candidate in Alabama, Roy Moore, is accused of sexual misconduct with several individuals including a 14-year-old child several decades ago. The election is just weeks away, and he is under heavy pressure from members of both political parties to exit the race.

None of the allegations have resulted in charges of criminal activity.

If a law is broken, the breaker should be prosecuted and those who have been victimized should receive justice. Let the alleged offenders have their day in court to determine guilt or innocence, and let the alleged victims seek restoration through prosecution and the hopes that the abuse will not happen to others. And it needs to be done long before any statutes of limitations run out.

Lauer and Rose were fired by their employers. Voters will eventually determine the fates of Franken, Conyers and Moore.

For the most part, employers can fire at will and voters can fire on Election Day. That certainly includes firing individuals who at least appear to be unethical or criminal.

It just seems that the right thing to do would be to determine guilt first—before punishment.

But that’s not where this civilized nation is trending.

“Adult coloring book” is not an oxymoron

coloring cupAdults and creativity go together. That’s why sales of coloring books for adults have taken off in the past few years. Sure, they’re promoted for stress relief. But it also confirms what we innately know to be true. Human beings desire to be creators, even if the best tools we can come up with are crayons.

Some people don’t need coloring books. They’re fortunate enough to be creators in their careers—professional artists, photographers, engineers, researchers, landscapers, florists, writers, carpenters, interior designers, jewelers, fashion designers, actors, chefs, musicians, architects, along with many other professions.

Problem solving is a form of creativity, and many are required to problem solve at work. Still, most of us come away from our jobs at the end of the day without the feeling that we were able to put our unique stamp of individuality into something. Over time, we become cognizant that there’s something missing.

It’s a noble thing to earn an honest living and to financially provide for our family.

But there’s more to life than being responsible. At least, there should be.

In, “The Charge: Activating the 10 Human Drives that Make You Feel Alive,” by Brendon Burchard, he defines creativity as one of ten necessary components to living a charged life—one in which you feel truly alive and not just drifting from one day to the next.

The biggest mental roadblock to creativity is the thinking that some people received the creative gene or gift, and others did not. But we were all born with the desire and ability to create, somehow and in some way.

Think about how excited children are to show off their coloring page masterpieces. That’s our natural state. But as we move into adulthood, we often lose that creative drive.

Part of the reason is that it does require effort. According to Burchard, “Creativity isn’t a trait; it’s a discipline. Those who say they are not creative are often those who are averse to the hard work of transforming a good idea into something truly magnificent.”

Even if we don’t achieve creative magnificence in our jobs, we can at least find creative satisfaction in our personal life and through our chosen hobbies. We may not be florists, but we can take great pride in our flower gardens surrounding our home. We may not be photographers, but we can put together a fun photo book that preserves memories from a family vacation. We may not be interior designers, but we can craft our home into a unique living space. All of these things can nourish our need for creative self-expression.

There’s a commercial that promotes the arts with a dog that runs with a stick in its mouth to a man and lays the stick at his feet. With wagging tail, the dog waits for the delightful moment when the stick is thrown so that it can retrieve it. The man looks down at the stick in a puzzled way and instead of considering the possibilities of the playfulness of the moment—he picks it up and puts it in a garbage can. His mind is too tunnel-visioned on being responsible.

With all of our necessary adult responsibilities, it’s easy to forget to play and create—but we need that dimension in our lives.

Don’t be the guy that puts the dog’s stick in the garbage can. Find a way to infuse creativity into your life.

Even if you start with just a coloring book.

Money, or lack of it, will determine anthem debate

anthemProfessional football players, along with coaches and franchise owners, are locking arms together during the national anthem. It’s to show unity against perceived police brutality, and at least they’re on their feet.

It’s a strange thing, though, for the average football enthusiast to witness. It gives the impression that an arm lock is necessary in order to prevent a player from bolting from the group and kneeling or sitting during the anthem—an act that, for many in the country, is seen as disrespectful to the flag and our country.

That’s a lot of faux bravado to tough through a 60-second song that simply honors our country. It needn’t be so difficult and complicated.

If a player wants to kneel, let him kneel. If players choose to disrespect our flag on foreign soil, let them humiliate us. If the entire team wants to hide in the locker room, let them hide. None of these employees have been disciplined for this behavior. As long as their employers approve, it is the players’ right and choice to protest this way.

Professional football is a for-profit and private business enterprise. No matter how upsetting it is for some fans to witness this disrespect of our flag, they have no direct decision-making in the matter. If they don’t like it, they can purchase their own football franchise and call the shots.

Then there’s the indirect method.

If the issue is that important to fans, they can boycott the sport and the industry will lose revenue. If enough taxpayers say “no” to subsidizing football stadiums, no new ones will be built. If the money flow stops, management will make a correction. On the other hand, if fans decide that the love of the game of football supersedes the anthem debate, it will be business as usual at the NFL.

In the end, it will come down to money and the will of the people. Will enough fans care enough to withhold their hard-earned entertainment dollars? The outcome of the anthem debate will be on us—the fans.

Together, we call the United States of America our home. It may not always be the perfect residence. There may be work that can be done yet on racial injustice. But this land and our flag are always worth defending.

Former President John F. Kennedy said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” Imagine a mythical meeting between Colin Kaepernick, the first kneeler, and Kennedy, where Kaepernick explains that he had no other way to problem solve than to refuse to stand for the national anthem. I can’t imagine Kennedy publicly swearing, as our current president does, but I doubt he’d be a supporter of this spectacle.

It won’t be until next season when we see the true fallout from the anthem debate. Right now, too many people have season tickets. Too many taxpayers are already on the hook for subsidizing stadiums. Too many fantasy football leagues are up and running. Too many already have travel plans to watch their favorite team play football.

Next year, though, could be different.

Until then if a player wants to kneel, let him kneel. And let athletes who want to respect the flag do so by allowing them to stand on their own two feet, without having to hold up others who don’t want to be there. No more babysitting of grown men through arm locks.

Then, in time, money—or the lack of it—will sort this whole thing out.

We can unite behind term limits

term limits

The country is politically polarized, but one issue that Democrats, Republicans and Independents can unite behind is term limits for members of the U.S. Congress.

We wouldn’t need to have this conversation if Congress weren’t so dysfunctional. It passes highly consequential legislation without reading it (Obamacare), is incapable of managing our money ($20 trillion debt) and will not work together on an issue as bipartisan as term limits. What is good for the nation is many times pushed aside for what is, instead, good for the politician or party.

There are three common arguments against term limits, but they’re weak.

Some say that we already have term limits, and that it’s called voting. But we don’t really have primaries or elections anymore. We have incumbency retention days. It’s the day citizens go to the voting booth and pull the lever for the name most recognized, thanks to media and money advantages that incumbents possess.

The Center for Responsive Politics reports that during the 2016 election, the average Senate incumbent raised nearly $13 million while the challenger raised about $1.6 million. The average House incumbent raised $1.6 million compared to $200,000 from the opponent. With the help of all that money, about 87 percent of U.S. senators and 97 percent of U.S. representatives were re-elected.

Money is helping to send the same people back to Washington D.C. over and over again, and it wouldn’t be the worst thing if citizens actually had confidence in these elected officials. But high re-election rates don’t equal high enthusiasm for the work of the incumbents. A recent Rasmussen survey found that only 15 percent of voters felt members of Congress did a good or excellent job.

The vote is no longer efficacious.

A second reason given to oppose term limits is that while it would purge the corrupt and power-driven, it would also kick out the good ones. For example, it could be argued that decades-serving U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley has represented Iowa well and done a lot of good for our nation.

But it’s not that Grassley has done something wrong. It’s that there are lots of other people who are fully capable of doing something right. If we vote with the fearful belief that there’s a scarcity of intelligence and wisdom in our country, we’ve already become a nation at risk. There are more than 535 individuals, out of 200 million adults, who love this country and can do what is necessary to keep her safe and prosperous.

Lastly, it’s said that it’s just too difficult to pass term limits because it requires a constitutional amendment.

The last amendment was the 27th and it stopped Congress from giving itself a pay raise that became effective immediately. Now, pay raises don’t become effective until after the next election. But without term limits, all it means is that instead of 100 percent of the current session of Congress enjoying the pay raise, just incumbents or 87 – 97 percent get it.

The amendment was needed, but the lack of term limits is the loophole that keeps members of Congress voting for their pay raises without consequence. We passed an amendment that has done little to rein in the power of lifer legislators. It’s worth the effort to pass an amendment that could dramatically reshape Congress back into a staff of citizen legislators, as was originally intended by the founding fathers.

In 1776, the colonists had the crazy notion that people didn’t need a king and could self-govern. It was a radical idea at the time, but now we take for granted that it will always last.

There will be, though, opposing forces driven by the lure of power that will continuously challenge this great Republic and our ability to effectively govern ourselves.

In President Abraham Lincoln’s time, proponents of slavery—thinly disguised as a states’ rights issue—was the opposing force. But in the Gettysburg Address, we hear his concern not just for a nation in a civil war, but also for the fragile future of such a country when he laments, “…whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and dedicated, can long endure.”

Our “great task” is to ensure that it will endure.

For many today, there’s a sense that our government is no longer “of the people, by the people, for the people,” and part of the problem is the feeling that we’ve lost control of the political process.

Term limits could go a long way to bring power back to the people.

Colleges promote diversity, sometimes

diversity

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Colleges seem to care more about multiculturalism than about diversity of thought.

The University of Iowa and Iowa State University are predicting a decline in international students this year. That’s causing concern. Advocates for big international student numbers say it’s important for an institution of higher learning to provide an environment where multiple cultures can learn from each other. The extra tuition income doesn’t hurt, either.

Universities, though, are selective in what kind of learning is encouraged. A large university can brag about its 70 multicultural student organizations, but then balk at allowing a high-profile conservative speaker on its campus. Cultural diversity is embraced. Diversity of thought is sometimes stifled.

According to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, there have been more than 300 attempts to disinvite campus speakers since 2000. More than two-thirds were conservative speakers that liberals were attempting to silence.

The data quantifies what’s been common knowledge for quite some time. College campuses are heavily tilted toward liberalism.

That’s why most parents sending a child with conservative leanings off to college have had “the talk” with them. Know who has the power—professors. Know the likely political leaning of these professors—liberal. Know what could happen if you challenge their belief system—the “A” paper could become a “B” paper.

Better to keep your head down, get through college, and let your conservatism shine after you have the degree in hand. Not a very proud talk to have with your child when you’re supposed to be living in the land of the free, but reality dictates it.

A recent Pew Research Center survey showed that 58 percent of Republican and Republican-leaning Independents felt colleges and universities had a negative effect on the way things are going in the country, while 72 percent of Democrats and Democratic leaners said colleges had a positive impact.

In a very lopsided way, conservatives believe colleges are teaching the wrong things—but liberals are loving it.

It’s disingenuous for universities to be alarmed about lack of diversity through declining international student numbers, while at the same time showing little concern about protecting diversity of political thought.

It would be terrible if there were no international students on campus. Universities are a unique place where students can learn about their world. What better way to learn than to bring the world to them through international students?

But multiculturalism is just one type of diversity. Political thought is another. Half of the population of this country leans conservative, and yet the conservative voice on campus isn’t always heard.

Many years ago, a wise junior high teacher gave his students the assignment of writing and delivering a speech where each would argue either for or against hunting. Using critical thinking, our young minds eventually reached the correct conclusion that it wasn’t an either-or debate. Hunting is a pleasurable hobby for many and provides food. It can also be necessary to thin populations when there aren’t enough natural predators. But hunting is wrong when it puts a species on the brink of extinction. All or nothing doesn’t work in the hunting world.

It doesn’t work that great in political discourse, either. We need choices. We need to hear differing opinions, from both liberals and conservatives on college campuses.

Even a seventh-grader would know that.

Country has bigger problems to solve than legal immigrant benefits

statue of liberty

Nobody gets into the country illegally. That’s been President Donald Trump’s message to his base, and it’s been well received. Now, though, he’s adding that nobody gets into the country legally without showing that he or she can be self-supporting for the first five years. He shared this message at a recent Cedar Rapids visit, and his supporters gave raucous accent.

On the surface, it makes sense. Many taxpaying citizens are not fond of punching a time clock for 40 hours a week, just to hand over part of that paycheck to new arrivals seeking immediate government handouts.

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 already states that immigrants are not eligible for any federal means-tested public benefit for five years after arriving in our country. If not independently wealthy, it means that many require sponsors either through an employer who promises paychecks that are sufficient enough to be self-supporting or through an individual—often a relative—who promises to provide for the immigrant financially if paychecks fall short.

But emergency medical care, public health assistance, school lunch programs and other benefits are still available to immigrants and are exceptions to the rules. And although it may take a permanent legal resident up to six years to become a naturalized citizen, the household qualifies for some assistance immediately once a child is born on U.S. soil. Lastly, the five year rule is not so awfully long. After that period, a greater number of government programs become available.

According to the Center for Immigration Studies, a 2012 report showed that legal immigrant households, receiving assistance, consumed $6,378 annually in government benefits.

Nobody wants to deny lifesaving health care, and every child should have their basic needs met. But this shows that taxpayer dollars are, indeed, finding their way into the homes of immigrants.

I get what the president is after. We want to be the land of hope and opportunity, not the land of generosity that can be easily manipulated.

Six thousand dollars, though, isn’t enough to support a family. It means that immigrants are working. They’re just not earning enough to provide for their family. Unfortunately, there’s a difference between working full time and being self-supporting.

The solution to the immigration and welfare problem isn’t to limit newcomers to just those who already possess the skills, education or wealth to be completely self-sufficient upon arriving in our country. We can certainly welcome the elite immigrant, but it seems a little harsh to deny legal immigration to individuals without those advantages.

A better approach to further reduce benefits to immigrants is to increase the federal minimum wage. This is the legislation that Trump should be promoting. Small businesses can absorb a reasonable increase (not a ridiculous 100 percent increase to $15.00 as some advocate), and it would give immigrants and all workers a better chance of supporting their families without government assistance.

People will continue to legally arrive in our country and receive government benefits, no matter what Trump would like to propose. The sensible goal is to strive to keep benefits at a minimum. We’re not a country that refuses emergency medical care. And once children are born in the United States, they become citizens. A household with low wages then qualifies for assistance that not even Congress or the president can take away. Trump’s time would be better spent on solving the illegal immigration problem.

The inscription on the Statue of Liberty states, “Give me your tired, your hungry, your huddled masses…” That belief system seems to be in direct conflict or tension with attempts to allow only self-supporting immigrants or the elite into the country.

Over the years, the huddled masses have done their part to build our country and build a better future for the next generation. More want to do the same.

Trump is a self-described builder. He should recognize that same desire in others.

Adoption subsidies and home-schooling can be lethal combination

blue ribbonTaxpayers are funding adoption subsidies that sometimes provide a generous, supplemental income to abusive parents.

It’s an unintended consequence of a well-meaning law. Until the 1980 Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act, foster parents were discouraged from adopting children because foster care payments ended once the adoption went through. The new law gave an adoption subsidy close to what was received in foster care payments. It was for those who had a lot of love to give—but maybe not the financial resources—to adopt hard to place children out of foster care.

Foster parents, though, are closely monitored. Those with full adoptive parental rights are not.

A hard to place or special needs child is defined as a Caucasian child who is eight years of age or older, a minority child who is two years or older, or a child with physical, mental or emotional problems. According to the North American Council on Adoptable Children, parents who adopt a hard to place child out of Iowa’s foster care system may receive monthly payments of up to $500 – $900, depending upon their special needs status.

That’s for one child. Multiply the money when more children are involved. The subsidy is an entitlement, and the adoptive family’s income is not considered when negotiating financial support.

For the average family trying to provide a loving home for these children, the subsidy is likely not enough. And, it’s not why they do it. Most want to give these forgotten kids a permanent home and a good start in life. The subsidies are just one tool they can use to help provide for the well-being and needs of their adopted children.

On the other hand, abusers see foster kids as dollar signs. These adoptive parents use subsidies as supplemental income that will benefit themselves—not the children. If money didn’t come attached to the kids, there would be little interest in adopting them.

Once the adoption goes through, abusive parents can use home-schooling as a method to isolate these unwanted children and conceal neglect and abuse.

Three recent cases in Iowa show the vulnerability of these children. Natalie Finn, 16, died of emaciation. Malayia Knapp, 17, ran away from her home, reported abuse to the police, and is a survivor. Sabrina Ray, 16, was found dead in her home. Initial reports are that she was severely malnourished.

All three girls were adopted out of foster care and being home-schooled by parents, who were receiving adoption subsidies.

These cases have been so distressing that in an effort to find a fix, some want all parents who home-school their children to submit to new regulations.

But home-schooling, alone, is not the problem. Many children, from all walks of life, are achieving excellent academic results and are thriving in the home-schooling atmosphere.

Adoption subsidies, alone, are not the problem either. Many children have found a loving and permanent home with a family that would not be possible without this financial support.

The problem is the potentially lethal combination of the two. Isolation plus money equals a fraud that can kill. And taxpayer dollars are funding it.

When there’s public money involved, there needs to be transparency. If parents are accepting adoption subsidies, it should be under the condition that the children be enrolled in public or private schools. It’s not enough for Iowa’s Department of Human Services to become involved after a complaint is filed. One visit does not compare to regular observations from the public or private school system.

Whenever tragedy strikes, there’s a tendency to overreact. We don’t need to shut down home schools or discontinue adoption subsidies. Both do a lot of good. We do, though, need to look at the link between home-schooling and adoption subsidies.

It’s a false narrative to say that Natalie Finn fell through the cracks. It implies that she was an unfortunate enigma, but that all is well everywhere else. And all the while, Malayia, Sabrina, and an unknown number of other children suffer.

It’s not a crack. It’s a chasm, and it demands a policy change.