Post-Mortem, Episode II

“Well, Doctor, what have we got—a Republic or a Monarchy?”

“A Republic, if you can keep it.”

– Benjamin Franklin, upon leaving the Constitutional Convention in 1787

I do not want to say much about the election today, but I do want to share a few thoughts.

I will begin by referring the reader to my post-mortem of the 2008 election. When I wrote that post, much was still unknown: how Barack Obama and his Democratic colleagues in Congress would govern; whether they would unite us or divide us; whether the campaign-trail talk of bipartisanship was at all legitimate or just so much smoke; and so on. Now, four years later, we know the answers. Obviously, half of the people who voted in the last few weeks liked the answers they came up with.  Others — nearly as many, in fact — did not like the conclusions that they reached, and so we are even more bitterly divided than we were four years ago.

As those who know me well — or read this blog — already know, I think last night was a catastrophe. But it was a catastrophe in the sense that a heart attack is a catastrophe for a person who has smoked heavily and drunk too often and too deeply for the first seventy years of his life: terrible, frightening, but hardly unexpected to anyone paying attention. The election was only a symptom of the nation’s condition, not an unforeseeable landslide or a paradigm shift.  This is simply true, whether or not you were happy with the outcome. People went to the polls, and they voted for what they believed in; they did not suddenly reach some new and startling conclusions in the privacy of a voting booth. The results are a symptom: either that we are recovering from many of our maladies, or that we have taken a turn for the worse. Either way, our course of treatment is largely set for at least two more years and arguably far longer.

The good news today is that, as I observed after the 2008 election, we still are a nation, and we have again chosen new leaders with essentially no bloodshed or rioting and with minimal (but not zero) fraud and voter intimidation. The framework set out in the Constitution and its handful of amendments has survived, at least in this sense, for another four years.

As for the bad news, there is plenty of it.  We are a deeply divided nation in countless ways, a reality that only got worse, not better, in the last four years. We are mired in debt, bitter factionalism, and debates that involve more ad hominem attacks than reasoned arguments. There are very few topics that we can talk about without someone hurling (meaningless) epithets such as “one-percenter,” “____-phobic,” “anti-woman,” “anti-child,” and so on. Measured without accounting gimmicks, our deficits and our debt are soaring and are already well beyond levels that can be bridged even with punitive levels of taxation. Indeed, our country’s credit, once seen as the safest in the world, has been downgraded and is on multiple watch lists for further downgrades. Our military is weakening and faced with further, eminent, and debilitating cuts unless action is taken quickly. Our foes are emboldened, while some of our most faithful allies no longer even question whether we can be depended upon; we have proven all too often that, at least for now, we cannot. I pray that our leaders — all of them — can work together to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States and the people governed by it.

Whether we can overcome the challenges ahead, only time will tell. A look at the history of nations with such deep debts and deep divisions does not bode well. If we are to overcome the tests ahead, it will be a remarkable feat, and it will take all of our effort. As a start, please pray for this nation and her people. They do sorely need our prayers.

Election 2012: Please Vote

I have been quiet about this year’s election, but not for lack of caring.  The last few months have been extremely busy for me; to my shame, my busy schedule has meant that I have been silent about what is likely the most important presidential election in more than 30 years, not to mention extremely important battles for control of Congress, many governorships, and thousands of other state and local elections.

The first and most important thing that I want to say is this: go vote.  Voting for our executive, legislative, and — at the local level, anyway — many judicial and administrative offices is a huge part of what makes this country special.  It made America unique at the time of her founding, and it still makes us unique today for the orderly, peaceful, and overwhelmingly honest and fair way in which we manage transitions of power.  So, vote.  Please.  If you don’t, you can’t complain when whomever we elect does things you don’t like.  Yes, you may still have the constitutional right to complain about it, but the choice not to vote is a choice to waive any moral right to whine about the outcome.  At the very least, it waives any chance of the rest of us taking you seriously.  If you care about how this country — or your state, or your city — is run, go vote.

As for my take on the election, well, I don’t expect to persuade anyone here and now, but I have to share my thoughts anyway, just in case.

I am a conservative first and foremost, in the tradition of Edmund Burke.  My heroes are people like Ronald Reagan and Russell Kirk.  In this post, if I can accomplish nothing else (beyond reminding you again to go vote), I hope to outline briefly why conservatism is the only safe choice for this election.  I am not going to delve into social issues such as abortion, not because they are not important, but because, realistically, how we vote in this election has little to no impact on these issues.

Our nation is at great risk, due to years of inattention to the federal budget, a military with aging equipment and little new materiel coming online, and a foreign policy that is naive at best and timid, even spineless, at worst.  Government increasingly intrudes upon the lives of average citizens, making it harder and harder to afford a good education; harder for our teachers, schools, and universities to pursue knowledge and learning rather than focusing first and foremost on the bottom line; harder to get and keep a good job; harder to start and run a business; and harder even to exercise everyday rights such as freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of conscience.  Every new statute, rule, regulation, executive order, permit requirement, or other government action serves only to make government’s powers larger at the expense of the rights of the people.  More startling still, those powers are increasingly concentrated in a national — not federal — government, of which, as Reagan warned, the states are becoming mere administrative districts.  Our democratic federalism is dying, and it is being replaced by a monolithic, paternalistic government of bureaus, administrations, agencies, and czars.

The result is this: our official national debt is 16 trillion dollars — that’s $16,000,000,000,000 — and counting, or more than $51,000 per citizen.  But the real story is far, far worse.  By the standards that public companies must use (known as GAAP), the government has unfunded liabilities in excess of $120 trillion, or more than $1,058,000 per taxpayer.  And it only gets worse; every time the government passes a “stimulus” package which fails to stimulate, engages in quantitative easing, or even repairs a pothole, that number — and your share of it — gets bigger.  This is scary enough when we are only talking about legitimate functions of government, such as defense and administration of a justice system.  But that’s not all we’re talking about; we are also buying countless handouts to private parties, pork-barrel projects, and a reality in which more people than ever are on food stamps, even as it gets harder for employers to offer good jobs due to the crushing regulatory and tax burdens they face.

To fund all of this, we are borrowing trillions of dollars from China, Japan, Brazil, Russia, Taiwan, Switzerland, and so on.  Even worse: the single biggest creditor of the United States government is our own Social Security system, which, when combined with other federal pension systems, holds 5 trillion dollars in federal debt.  Who will be left holding the bag for that?  Our children and even my own generation, because the debt train will run out of track long before we reach retirement.  We need to spend less.  We need fiscal responsibility, but our elected officials don’t seem to have any.

Meanwhile, our military is weak.  Our navy and coast guard have aging ships, and fewer of them than anytime in the last decades.  The air force is flying old and increasingly obsolete planes, leaving us entirely dependent on drones to project air power; it’s not the same, and it’s not enough.  The army drives vehicles that are ill-equipped for a world of IEDs and fighting wars in which the enemy does not always do us the courtesy of wearing uniforms.  Our ever-faithful marines are underfunded, with all of the problems of the other forces.  Our elected officials seem to think the military is an obsolete relic of a dangerous world that no longer exists, which we can always “turn on” again if the world becomes dangerous.  Yet that same military is engaged in multiple undeclared wars and countless “peacekeeping” missions, even as our nation’s diplomatic representatives come under attack and die due to a lack of security.  We need to maintain a strong defense, but we are at risk of losing it.

We need a foreign policy that other nations respect, even if they do not find it pleasant.  There is a reason that President Obama has been endorsed for reelection by the likes of Putin, Chavez, and Castro, and it is not that they think he is strong.  We need a president who recalls that he is President of the United States of America, not of the world, and who bows to no one.

Our country was founded on a simple idea: the people, not their rulers, are supreme.  They have endowed the government with certain powers; the government has not bestowed upon the People the rights that they received from their Creator.  The Founding Fathers gave us an intricate system, balancing the need for unity with the demands of individualism, local needs with national interests, and the need for a strong government with the even more important need that it never be too powerful.  It’s time to reclaim their great idea, and restore a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, not of technocrats and career politicians, by the same, for the same.

It’s time for some real hope and change — hope for a stronger future, in which America is prosperous, strong, and free, and in which Americans do not fear their own government’s excesses.  It’s time for a real conservative.  Not a neoconservative who runs up our debt and needlessly engages in protracted wars, not a statist who sees government as the solution, but a Reaganite conservative who sees government for what it is: the problem, not the solution.

As in 2008, I am again endorsing Mitt Romney and other Republican candidates for office.  Governor Romney is a proven leader and strong conservative, as is his running mate, Paul Ryan.  They are merely men, with no pretensions to be more than men, but they are good men and proven leaders.  I honestly believe that this presidential ticket is the most genuinely conservative ticket this country has seen since Reagan proclaimed that “it’s morning in America.”  They are the right choice for America in this election cycle.  When you vote, please vote for these proven leaders and all of the others who want to get this country back on track by restoring the proper balance between the People and their government.

If you are so inclined, please consider donating to help Governor Romney and Representative Ryan bring real hope back to America.

The First Thing We Do…

The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.
~ Dick, in Shakespeare, Henry VI, Part 2, Act IV, Scene 2

I am always amused when I get campaign literature from various folks attempting to smear some candidate or another as “a trial lawyer.” Being a trial lawyer myself, I tend to have a flickering sense that I should be somewhat offended. But then I remember that this kind of campaign literature gives good insight into the candidates promoting it, who, hypocritically, are very often trial lawyers turned into politicians. I then get a good chuckle out of the whole thing as the literature in question enters the trash compactor (or paper shredder, depending on how strong that first reaction was).

You Need a . . . Discount! (on You Need A Budget)

I have blogged before about the awesome personal budgeting software You Need A Budget!, a/k/a YNAB.  It is now in version 4 and better than ever, with cloud syncing among all your devices (computer, smartphone, iPad or tablet, etc.).  We use it for all of our budgeting, and we absolutely love it.

Anyway, if you want a $6 discount on the new version, use this link: http://ynab.refr.cc/XTT5GR6

Disclaimer:  I will receive a small commission on any sales through the above link.

Last Day

As many of you already know, today was my last day as an associate at Baker Botts. I had many great opportunities there over the last three and one-half years and will miss my many wonderful friends, colleagues, and mentors.

On June 18, I will be joining the litigation section of Baker Hostetler, here in Houston. I am looking forward to the new challenges and new opportunities there.

Handy Software – WinDirStat

This is a PSA for those who have way too much junk on their hard drives.

Background

For several months, McAfee has been taking ever longer to run virus scans on my hard drive, getting to the point that it sometimes took a couple of days. When I investigated, it reported that it was scanning almost 1.1 million files — far more than I realized that I had. In fact, I couldn’t even figure out where that many files had come from. For example, I knew that I have several large collections of sample data from programming efforts over the years, but these totaled at most maybe 100,000 files, not hundreds of thousands.  So, at first, I was just left wondering which program had secretly cluttered up my drive with random junk, but without any good options for resolving the problem.

WinDirStat to the Rescue

I found the problem areas by downloading and installing WinDirStat, an open source application for scanning a hard drive and determining which files and folders take up the most space, as well as which file types do so.

Screenshot of WinDirStat

A screenshot of WinDirStat (from the official site)

WinDirStat took about 20 minutes to analyze my hard drive on the first run, but the results were tremendously helpful. I was able to see at a glance that I had two enormous folders buried on my system about which I had totally forgotten. One contained a complete backup of Sarah’s hard drive from, I think, 2007 — it had even been migrated in at least one laptop replacement, if not two. The other folder contained hundreds of thousands of files from an old backup of my own files, which I didn’t even know was on my system. Many of those were related to software development, meaning they got extra processing time from the virus scanner. The upshot: two folders alone accounted for more than 450,000 files and more than 100 GB. Unsurprisingly, getting rid of this junk sped up those virus scans tremendously, at least four-fold based on the first post-cleanup scan.

Summary and Non-Windows Options

If you are looking for a good way to clean up your hard drive, WinDirStat is a handy tool to have. Check it out at the official site or the project blog.

WinDirStat Logo

The official WinDirStat logo (variant 06 shown here) is pretty nifty, right?

WinDirStat is Windows-only, but there are good options for other systems. Although I don’t have personal experience with them, similar alternatives for other operating systems include:

P.S. Sarah glanced over at my computer from a good distance while I was writing this post and thought that I was writing that I had 1,000,000 flies in my hard drive. Fortunately, no. If that happens to be a problem that you do have, I am afraid I can’t help you.

P.P.S. This post had the unintentional effect of illuminating serious shortcomings in my WordPress theme; the way images with captions are displayed is terrible.  I think it’s a question of new versions of WordPress coming out more often than I post, on average, so the theme has languished for quite a while and quite a few versions.  Time to give it another face lift, I suppose.

Note to Self…

Always, always double-check that anyone who has worked on your car gave you back the key for your wheel locks. Apparently, the last folks to work on Sarah’s car did not give us the key for her wheel locks, which we discovered today when I tried to get a screw removed from one tire and get the tire patched. Better now than out on some highway, but still a pain.

The stupid part is that I’ve had this happen to me once before. Fortunately, in this case, I was able just to put some air in it, drive it to the nearest dealership, and buy a replacement key on the spot. The last time that happened was a much bigger pain.

Six Hundred

I just realized that my most recent post (GTD: Your 6 Most Important Things) was my six hundredth post on here.

This site has come a long way since I started working on it in vi and Netscape on a Unix workstation. It has been edited in — and arguably abused by — vi, Netscape Communicator, multiple versions of FrontPage, multiple versions of Dreamweaver, and countless other tools. I am pretty happy with the way it runs now (almost entirely driven by WordPress, with some portions hand-coded in Notepad++).

Mostly, I’m happy it’s still ticking along, despite a few long slowdowns, and still has some readers. Thank you for reading!

GTD: Your 6 Most Important Things

I recently read a blog post by Natalie Peace, entitled Your 6 Most Important Things. For those of you not familiar with her, Natalie is a serial entrepreneur, hailing from Canada. As is usually the case with her writing, this blog post was straightforward, to the point, and reminds the reader of something he or she probably knows, but has forgotten. At least, that was true for me with respect to this particular post.

The point of the post is to make a list every day of the six things that you will get done that day. Things that you will accomplish if humanly possible, but which are not automatic, like brushing your teeth. I make myself lists like this all the time at work—I always have a lengthy to-do list going, which I update as my workload evolves or priorities change. That list usually has far more than 6 entries—sometimes, it has dozens and includes sub-bullets!

But for some reason, I was not applying the same method to the ever-growing list of things I want to accomplish outside of my job. After reading Natalie’s post, I started making a list each morning, following her suggestion and using 6 items. It immediately made a difference in my ability to focus. Rather than wasting “just another couple of minutes” on various blogs or whatever was distracting me, I found it easy to get back into productive mode.

An obvious tip, perhaps, but a useful one, so I thought I would share it with y’all.

P.S. If you find this information useful, I highly recommend following Natalie’s blog or following her on Twitter at @Natalie_Peace.

musings of a conservative Texas attorney on law, faith, politics, technology, and life