July 23, 2009 - Cool New Opportunity!

Friends, Washingtonians and Countrymen (and Countrywomen):

Exciting news, and just had to share it with you! I am now officially a citizen journalist. My new blog, “Forthright with Sue Lani Madsen,” has been added to the Seattle P-I on-line news page at http://blog.seattlepi.com/forthright/ .

I comment on current events from my eclectic background and broad range of interests combined with a lifelong love of books and history, and hope to open new insights into who we are and where we are going as a society. Most of all, I hope to spur people to participate in our government of the people, by the people and for the people. Our system of government only works if people show up.

My architecture practice and our ranching operation are both doing well, and continue to make first demands on my time, but my love of writing gives me the energy to also pursue this new opportunity. My old blog at That Got My Goat (loved the name, but the P-I insisted on a one or two word title) will remain on the web for now, but I am not planning to keep it updated. I hope you can drop in and check it out this week, and maybe even bookmark for future visits!

July 4, 2009 – The Spirit of ‘Seventy-Six

A few years ago, my father gave me his favorite reference book as a teacher of US History – “The Spirit of ‘Seventy-Six – a story of the American Revolution as told by participants,” edited by Henry Steele Commager and Richard B. Morris. It has been well-thumbed through, and I am sure provided the source for many an extra credit test question.

Dad taught me to always question the source, to understand the context, and gave me an appreciation for going to original documents. This book includes letters, memoirs, journal entries and other original source materials as written by our founding fathers and mothers. It documents the philosophical revolution behind the physical revolution, It was the birth of a nation “destined to fix the character of much of modern nationalism.”

I pulled the book off the shelf today to look for something sentimental to say about the Declaration of Independence by going to contemporaneous sources for context. I was fascinated to discover only one instance of highlighting in the entire 1,296 pages (plus Acknowledgements, Bibliography and Index). It is in a portion of the second paragraph of the final draft of the Declaration of Independence, right after the familiar part about our unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Here’s where the highlighting starts:

“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, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers
in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and
Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established
shall not be changed for light and transient causes;”

He skipped highlighting the part about experience proving people will tolerate a bad situation for a long time before acting to change that to which they have become accustomed, then the highlighting picks up again with:

“But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same
Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their
right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government”

The Declaration of Independence is not a sentimental document. It is a call to armed revolt, and it emphasizes the ongoing role each of us has to play in our government. Here is today’s extra credit question: What will you tolerate before you will act to create change? Use as your case study the following bi-partisan situation from yesterday’s Washington Post “Breaking News” alerts:

Under a Bush-era plan, the National Security Agency will help the Department of Homeland Security screen government computer traffic on private-sector networks, according to three current and former government officials. The plan has provoked debate within DHS, in part because of uncertainty over whether private data can be shielded from unauthorized scrutiny.
Maybe this passes your personal liberty test. The intent appears to be to screen government employee communications, and we certainly want to see transparency in our government. On the other hand, once the NSA camel gets its nose in the tent and starts monitoring computer traffic, it will be hard to keep from peeking at the whole network. Social networking continues to break down the barriers between public and private information – does this NSA policy go too far, or is it hardly worth worrying about given the new context? What do you think will be the best arrangement to support your safety and happiness? Do you give your consent to be governed in this manner, and if not, have you made your desires known to your duly elected representatives?

Re-reading the Declaration of Independence is a good reminder that we are called to be vigilant participants in, not just observers of, the spirit of ‘Seventy Six.

July 3, 2009 - Focus, Focus

Every day we are faced with innumerable distractions, multi-tasking like crazy, a condition that has been called "continuous partial attention." In fact, as I write this , I am attempting to listen to a podcast interview of a colleague in Colorado and have the emergency scanner running on open channel to monitor the holiday weekend traffic.

My colleague is discussing his run for city council in his hometown, and what he learned from the experience. Although unsuccessful, he found that it was an excellent way to build relationships throughout the community. He is saying that he no longer uses the term politician, but rather elected officials, to refer to those who have been elected to serve all of us. The scanner says one of the occupants of the vehicle that just got pulled over has a felony warrant, or maybe it wasn't a warrant, I didn't catch all of it. Ah, the e-mail is dinging at me, tempting me to check the new message, probably junk mail, but you never know, so better go look . . . . now what was that on the podcast again?

Oh yes, building relationships. It takes focus to build a relationship, and focus is in precious short supply. We all need to shift into campaign mode more often, holding a single minded focus on one objective or one person or one task at a time. The podcast is over, the scanner is off, the e-mail can wait and its time to close the day the same way I started it - relationship time with God. Time to focus.

June 19, 2009 – Mr. President, I Agree

I have plenty of political and philosophical differences with President Obama, but today I heard him speaking at a special White House Event and agreed with every word. The subject was the importance of fathers in every child’s life. He spoke from the heart of his own abandonment and the hole left in his life by a missing father.

We’ve all heard that part of the story, what made this speech special was what came next. He quoted the statistics on children in homes without fathers, statistics that are bad for white kids and horrible for black kids, and delivered what may be the most important message for the future of America. We need fathers to take responsibility for raising their children. Having an absent father or an abusive father is no excuse but even more reason to step up and do better yourself. He is in a unique position to deliver this message to black America, to lecture without the perceived condescension a white messenger might be chastised for. His visible delight in his own active fatherhood makes him a great role model for young men, and especially young black men in the inner cities.

If he can turn the horrible statistics around, if he can redefine fatherhood for today’s young men, it may be worth putting up with his politics for four years. Better fathering for a generation will do more for the country than any political program over the next four years.

P.S. Happy Father’s Day, Dad. You did a good job, thank you for your guidance, love and support.

June 16, 2009 - Stacking the Deck

When I was in the 6th grade I was given a "Learn to Play Bridge" tutorial game, a pre-computer interactive plastic and paper contraption, and I worked at learning the rules. My mom, dad, aunt and uncle played bridge regularly, and I decided to put my newfound knowledge to work. I meticulously stacked a deck so that everybody would get a good bidding hand but in different suits, just to see how high and heated the bidding would go. I strolled into the room and casually handed over a deck, assuring them I had already shuffled it. My family humored me and dealt the hand, but figured it out pretty quickly. I realized later my plan lacked subtlety. I should have made the hands less than perfect to be more believable. It was a childish stunt.

Ahmadinejad needed to learn a little subtlety before he tried to pull a similarly childish stunt in the recent Iranian elections. If all you knew about any national election anywhere was it had a record 85% voter turnout and used paper ballots that have to be counted manually, would you believe final results announced 2 hrs after polls closed? Would you believe reports of a candidate losing his home precinct, where previous elections showed a pattern of strong tribal/regional loyalty, by a steep margin in favor of an outsider incumbent? Even Walter Mondale managed to hold onto Minnesota in the face of the Reagan landslide. Now we know Ahmadinejad is not only a tyrant, he isn't smarter than a 6th grader either.

June 14, 2009 - Property Rights, Property Respect

Craig is currently out on targeted grazing projects for the summer. He is hired by property owners to bring in our herd of 240 goats as weed and brush cutters to manage noxious weeds in eastern Washington and invasive species on the west side. Our clients are a mix of private individuals, private homeowner’s associations, and the public (i.e. government owned property). On a recent assignment, the target is primarily Himalayan blackberries which have invaded a former pasture. The goal is to reopen the pastures as part of a working model farm.

Folks often ask if we are worried about predators when our herd is out in the field. Four legged predators haven’t been a concern, it’s the two legged kind we mostly worry about. In urban sites, it’s the 12 – 14 year olds with nothing to do on a Friday night except dare each other to try goat wrangling. On this project, it’s a semi-rural area where the problems are both urban (homeless campers) and rural (ATV riders). Both are trespassing.

Craig visited with the campers to explain that our fences would cut off their access to their temporary home at some point during the project. They were cooperative, and understood they were trespassing. They were good neighbors while they were there, alerting Craig one evening to a possible problem with the fence. They moved on without complaint.

The site is criss-crossed with illegal and unwanted ATV trails. They’ve been handy for the project, providing an easier access through the blackberries for fencing. The trails, or more specifically the trail users, will continue to be a challenge for the property managers as they work to restore the pastures and livestock operation.

Craig heard the sound of an ATV headed up to where the goats were grazing, and figured he’d best go check out the situation. A teenager with his little brother along was parked on the trail, watching the goats. Craig told them they were trespassing, and the teenager asked if Craig owned the property. Craig answered no, and turned the question around and asked. “Do you know who owns the property?” The boy answered that he didn’t, and that he thought nobody owned the property so it was okay for him to use it. His upbringing and his schooling leave something to be desired.

I know we have kids who don’t know their Constitutional history, but how hard is “No Trespassing” to understand? How can you value personal liberty if you have no idea what personal property means? Rights require a respect for responsibility and a respect for what is NOT yours, and this young man lacked both. To top it off, he’s a great example of why ATV riders find land blocked off to them – disrespect for others.

June 2, 2009 - Weaning Day

We have a commercial goat ranch operation and have about 100 does (mama goats) kidding (giving birth) each year in March/April. When a doe abandons one of her kids, we end up bottle feeding it 3 to 4 times a day for about two months. We had nine bottle kids this season, with all the scheduling and mess that goes with the process. Our bottle kids were weaned last week, and in a way I’ll kind of miss the bottle routine. The kids push against your knees, looking for the bottle, and always seem to want more. There is something satisfying about having a young animal eagerly seek you out and greedily enjoy the sustenance you provide. .

It’s always hard to decide exactly when they are ready to stop the bottle. The last three had been out of the pen off and on, doing a pretty good job of sampling the alternatives (as the bedraggled state of my raspberry bushes can attest!). As their foraging improved, they were less pushy at bottle time, interested but not desperate. We found a buyer for the trio, and they wanted them weaned, so that decided it. We mixed one last batch of milk replacer and they got get weaned when the milk ran out.

No doubt the kids will still feel entitled to a bottle for a few more weeks, and they’ll keep nuzzling around for a handout, but over time they’ll move on. It’s for their own good. We can’t afford to feed them forever and it wouldn’t be healthy for them. They need their independence.

How does this parable relate to politics? Just like the kids needed us as a safety net to survive a bad start, we often ask government to intervene in our lives for all sorts of reasons. The problem is that rarely is there ever a weaning day. Instead we have generations depending on the existence of some subsidy, program, incentive or other type of support. The entitlement mentality is a lot harder to address at a government level than in the barnyard. No politician ever got re-elected on a platform of weaning us all off the government bottle, and it’s much more satisfying to hand out the milk.

Republicans from Conservative to Mainstream and everything in between will tell you that we believe in the following (from a Reagan era Republican National Committee creed):

I believe the proper role of government is to provide the people only those
critical functions that cannot be performed by individuals or private
organizations and that the best government is that which governs least.

Republicans need to be honest in assessing how well we have lived up to this creed. Independent voters often point out how both parties have contributed to the growth of government and the creeping sense of entitlement. Hypocrisy leads to political apathy and disdain for the entire system. One clear way for Republicans to differentiate ourselves is to start living up to our beliefs. We need leaders who will ask tough questions about the Constitutional basis for specific programs and proposals. We need leaders who will not be swayed by the nuzzling of special interest groups and powerful individuals. We need citizens to step up and admit that every one of us has some little bit of government support that we’d hate to give up, but we might just have to when the milk runs out. Given the rate of deficit spending, the milk is going to run out sooner rather than later.

Let’s reposition the Republican Party, not in a new direction, but back to basics. In that spirit, here is the entire Republican creed:


I believe the strength of our nation lies with the individual and that each person’s dignity, freedom, ability and responsibility must be honored.

I believe in equal rights, equal justice and equal opportunity for all, regardless of race, creed sex, age or disability.

I believe free enterprise and encouraging individual initiative have brought this nation opportunity, economic growth and prosperity.

I believe the proper role of government is to provide the people only those critical functions that cannot be performed by individuals or private organizations and that the best government is that which governs least.

I believe the most effective, responsible and responsive government is government closest to the people.

I believe Americans must retain the principles that have made us strong while developing new and innovative ideas to meet the challenges of changing times.

I believe Americans value and should preserve our national strength and pride while working to extend peace, freedom and human rights throughout the world.

Finally, I believe the Republican Party is the best vehicle for translating these ideas into positive and successful principles of government."

The Republican Party grew out of the abolitionist movement, a party founded on ideals and believing that positive change from the status quo is possible. If we can break the stranglehold of 19th century slavery, we can break the stranglehold of 21st century slavery in the form of burdensome regulations and intrusive government.