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School Choice: The Trojan Horse

the trojan horse

The US Supreme Court’s Espinoza ruling struck down Montana’s ban of an education tax credit for private institutions.  This school choice trojan horse called is a perplexing calling card of conservatives who also treasure private school autonomy from government.  Coordinated benefits for private use are antithetical to conservative values by promulgating greater government entanglement with private institutions.

School choice is a rallying cry among Republicans, conservatives generally seeking to give parents greater access to private schools.  School choice takes on many forms including vouchers (parents take the state contribution amount and transfer that voucher to any private school willing to take the voucher), tax credits, and direct cash to families (Federal Child Tax Credit).  Ultimately the government coordinates these benefits and confers them to parents. Doesn’t this sound a little like other government entitlement programs?  

The larger issue isn’t school choice; we already have that in Montana in the form of open enrollment and the wide range of private schools.  The root issue is the subsidizing of any private institution with public funding or at a minimum, publicly coordinated benefits (ie tax credit).

As a public school employee for 24 years as a teacher, Montana principal and Montana class A superintendent, I’ve witnessed the debacles of entangling federal dollars with public schools.  Any US President can pull strings (aka federal funding) when districts or states don’t follow their rules. Do you remember No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and the pinnacle example, Former President Obama’s spring of 2016 “Dear Colleague Letter”?  In this letter, then President Obama required districts to provide open access of student bathrooms and locker rooms to transgender students.  Districts or states not in compliance risked losing all federal funding.  School districts with hundreds of students risked losing hundreds of thousands of dollars.  Districts with thousands of students risk losing millions of dollars. By allowing parents to use public money to pay for private schools, the government handcuffs private schools to federal regulations and mandates.  Private schools should be unfettered to educate as they see fit. 

While every private school can choose to reject vouchers, doing so may increase discrimination law suits especially with students who have identified disabilities. Private institutions that accept vouchers become obligated to federal reporting requirements. Reporting by private organizations will increase public scrutiny and expectations.  Additional questions arise: How long before state or federal legislation is passed putting conditions on institutions who have received these benefits? Are we ok with tax dollars going to private institutions with whom you or I may fundamentally disagree? How long before the tax break or voucher value is considered “too low”, compelling private institutions to petition state legislators and/or the federal government for voucher increases? Isn’t this what public schools currently do?  Private schools would likely build their budgets around expected enrollment based upon the value of a voucher or tax credit becoming dependent on this revenue making independence from federal mandates financially more difficult. Who knows, maybe they even get their own  Dear Colleague Letter from a Democrat Governor or from a Democrat President (such as the vaccination mandate through OSHA). Ring a bell?

What part of conservatism encourages further government entanglement with private institutions couched as a public good?  This sounds like a play from the Democratic party playbook.  A publicly generated voucher or any other publicly coordinated benefit transferred to any private institution lays the tracks by which the government train can claim increasing pieces of private institutions as part of the public domain.  School choice utilizing government initiated benefits is fundamentally a dangerous idea.

Tim Johnson

Excerpt from “Liberty UnBridled” (release in 2022)

Founder of Liberty Education in Action

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Taking risks is our #1 priority

I read a post from Montana’s now Governor without a job where he stated that safety was his #1 priority. Really? Taking risks should be our #1 priority. Read the full explanation.

Safety cannot be our #1 priority. If that were true, we would never do anything…and I mean anything.

At the heart of this idea is an often quoted founding father of the United States of America, Benjamin Franklin. “Those who exchange liberty for safety, deserve neither and will lose both.”

Safetyism is the notion on full display around February/March of 2020. It went like this, “we need to stop the spread of Covid-19 (C-19).” Governors across the country implemented social distancing orders, limitations on group size, closed restaurants, movie theaters, and other social gathering venues. Masks were required and in some states, enforcement meant fines for individuals or businesses. Why? Initially, it was to flatten the curve and preserve hospital space. Restrictions were ramped up, especially in ‘blue’ states but not exclusively in blue states. Then came the virtue signaling of the highest magnitude from politicians and socialites. The horror stories of exceptional cases (statistically below significance) driving policy making in the form of, “we must stop the spread of C-19…even though it was a forgone conclusion we all would experience it. This is an admission that risk isn’t optional, it’s required. By late spring into early summer it became clear, stopping the spread was impossible. Our culture and economy was in free fall. We tried to remove risk and like synapses in the brain, the negative effects of eliminating risk left nothing untouched: economy in free fall, depression and suicide rates skyrocketed, domestic and child abuse rose, unemployment rose and continues to linger, surgeries elective and necessary postponed.

By mid-summer, we saw states loosening restrictions. We could go back to the beaches and swim in the ocean with the sharks and jellyfish. By early July another spike was upon the nation and this was larger than the spring dose. Governors began to walk back some liberties. By fall, our nation was in the grip of the highest infection rates…and yet we are not reacting as we did in the spring? Why?

Risk taking is a required, #1 priority and activity. We cannot sustain safetyism. It’s impossible to live under that premise. Under pure safetyism, we shut down businesses, halt family gatherings, puree’ our food and bubble wrap each other before getting out of bed. The reality is joy and satisfaction rests within risk, acceptable risk to be clear and fair.

Each time we get into a car we buckle up, drive on the right side of the road, yield to traffic with the right-of-way. Not BECAUSE those actions eliminate risk, because those actions reduce the risk so that I can go to work…where I take on other risks by shaking hands, writing reports, manufacturing goods, providing medical services, and eating from that crockpot of soup someone brought in from their dinner party.

Risk is what we embrace when we marry someone we don’t fully know, when we buy a used car, when we drink water. We know these things are not in our control and we choose to continue because the risk is embedded with the reward. Sharing my opinion on this blog or even having an independent thought is a risk and yet sharing these ideas provides others with choices…aka freedom. Freedom requires risk (see prior article). If safety was my #1 priority, then as the superintendent of a school district I wouldn’t have proposed a shooting sports club for ALL high schoolers who rated it #3 of preferred activities to cooking and gaming. To date, there is NOT one state HS sanctioned shooting sport in all of Montana. Why? It’s dangerous.

With risk being #1 on our list of life priorities, managing risk is daunting, important, and extremely satisfying. Within a mindset of risk taking, we share our opinions, blow out the candles without wearing a mask, and we have family gatherings. Why? Because freedom requires risk, experiencing joy requires risk…and being with the in-laws is worth the risk. In other words, the risk never takes a back seat, it just puts on a seatbelt.

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Freedom and the Moral Compass

Freedom in our great country is entirely dependent upon a moral compass. For example, our freedom of speech is predicated upon a moral understanding of how the tongue can divide, deceive, and denigrate. All individual freedoms are tied to this moral compass. This means we don’t need additional rules or laws to regulate behavior if an individual’s moral compass guides the exercise of free speech, for example to limit yelling “fire” in a crowded theater.

The dependence of freedoms on a moral compass is what allows an individual (a sworn School Resource Office) to be inside a school with a loaded gun, no matter the gun. We don’t worry about regulating the gun because we trust the judgment and integrity of the person holding it. Freedom with a moral compass is what makes peaceful assemblies normal and not to be feared. The issue isn’t whether or not freedoms are acceptable. The crux of the issue is whether or not individual freedoms can be exercised devoid of a moral compass and, if so, how? Government intrusion.

When citizens exercise their freedoms without a moral compass, public outcry follows. Protests that turn into looting and destruction of property increase government intrusion in the form of police presence and oversight. Shootings result in more gun control legislation. The limitations on government contained in the Bill of Rights outline a citizenry capable of exercising those rights within the context of a moral, upstanding society. Benjamin Franklin described it this way: “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become more corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters. ”

Without a moral compass, a mediator must stand in the void. We have seen this mediation in the form of increased legislation impacting all our Constitutional freedoms. While the Bill of Rights and more specifically the 1st Amendment prevents the establishment of religion (aka entanglement) , the entirety of the Declaration of Independence, Constitution and other founding documents explicitly connects freedom to faith. This reliance of freedom on faith is a fundamental precept to our country; it is not up for debate and it is what draws people to our country. Alexis de Tocqueville, a french diplomat, political scientist and historian, traveled the US during 1830s and noted of this aspect of our government and culture in his book “Democracy in America” (1835).

Liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith.” Alexis de Tocqueville

Alexis de tocqueville.jpg
Alexis de Tocqueville

Upon the completion of our Constitution, Mrs. Powell of Philadelphia asked Benjamin Franklin, “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” Without hesitation, Franklin responded, “A republic, if you can keep it.” The point is this: with freedom comes a moral response and moral responsibility of its citizens to freedom. The response in this case was the formation of a Constitutional Republic containing the apex of freedom from government, which is the Bill of Rights. The responsibility is to maintain a virtuous society if we want to keep it [freedom].

As a nation, we must acknowledge the consequential importance of a moral compass to freedom while simultaneously releasing our dependence to the pen of legislation. Only then will we liberate freedom from the clenched fist of government.

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Choosing the Right Sling

RIFLE SLINGS: WHICH TYPE IS RIGHT FOR YOU?Rifle Slings: Which Type is Right for You?
Your sling probably won’t make or break your next hunting trip. It won’t save you those tenths of a second on your next stage and it probably isn’t ever going to save your life. That said, a good sling can go a long way to improving comfort when carrying your firearms, will let you free your hands, and even offer an option for a more stable off-hand shot. With all the sling options available, how do you find the best one for you?

Well, first you’ll have to decide what style you need.

There are a wide variety of slings available on the market today, including 3-points, Hasty slings, cuff slings, and other more specialized options. For most shooters, the two most common sling options will do everything they need. Let’s take a look at single point and two point slings.
Single Point Slings – The Pros
Single point slings got that name because they only have one attachment point on the rifle, generally towards the rear of the receiver or stock. Single point slings offer a lot of flexibility, making transitions from shoulder-to-shoulder a quick and effortless affair. They also allow the rifle to sit directly in front of you (or under one arm), making transitioning from carry to ready very fast. When using a rifle-style pistol, or compact sub-gun style firearm with a PDW-style collapsible stock or a folding stock adapter, you can even push out against the sling and use the tension to improve control in an emergency.

The Cons
They are not without their cons though. While excellent for static positions where you don’t need to move or run, single point slings simply do not secure the rifle very well against movement. Having a large, heavy carbine like an AR-308 swinging free in front of you can be detrimental in multiple ways to your ability to move, especially if you need your hands free at the time. While they can be a shooting aid with compact, stockless firearms like a KRISS Vector, they can’t be used as additional support when shooting offhand with more traditional firearms.
Two Point Slings – The Pros
Two point slings attach to your rifle in two places, usually your rifle stock or rear of the receiver and your handguard. Most two point slings offer users the ability to quickly tighten the sling down when the rifle is being carried, preventing the firearm from flopping around when you need your hands free or need to move and you can’t spare a hand to retain it directly. They can also be used as a shooting aid. Simply loop your support arm into your sling and tighten it. The additional tension between your arm and the sling can significantly improve stability when shooting offhand when you don’t have the option to use a bipod or a supported position.
The Cons
While two-point slings offer a lot of options, they lack the flexibility of a single point sling when it comes time to shoot. Poor technique when transitioning shoulders can result in a taught sling digging into your neck and throat. Especially if you opt for the most comfort while carrying your rifle and run a wide or padded sling. Proper technique requires you to mostly get out of the sling when making your transition. While many single point slings offer a quick-release buckle should you need to immediately free yourself from your rifle, very few two point slings offer such a feature.

Which Option Is Best for You?
So, what it really comes down to is how much you’re planning on moving with your rifle slung. Pulling guard duty and stuck standing in place, have a compact firearm, or simply want to quickly transition shoulders? You probably want a single point sling. Do you need to hike to your stand, move dynamically, or want the ability to improve your stability when you can’t put a bipod on a shooting bench? Then you’re probably going to prefer a two point sling.
Don’t want to get too locked into one or the other? There are hybrid options available! Magpul’s line-up of MS4 slings can be readily converted from single point to two point and back with no additional hardware. If you have a two point sling you like but want to be able to convert it to single point? You should check out the Viking Tactics 2-to-1 Sling Conversion attachment. It simply slides onto your sling and allows you to move your forward QD sling swivel from your rifle to the attachment to run your sling as a single point. Another choice is the Black Rain Ordinance 2-to-1 sling which uses a simple design to give you flexibility.
Article retrieved from Primary Arms; May, 2019

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Liberty and the Truth

Every relationship is founded in truth.

Education that is inclusive of parenting, mentoring and the like is in the business of conveying the truth. As educators both public and private, professional and lay person, we employ methods helping our children and indeed each other, learn the truth. When I presented this idea to a community member during a discussion over a book that he wanted introduced into our district’s high school, he had a quizzical look on his face. I went further with him on this idea. That if we didn’t have a clear definition for that which is true, we all suffer greatly. Imagine if middle school math class shared formulas for solving the circumference of a circle that weren’t true. Imagine what would happen if we shared the Newtonian Laws of Motion based on ‘my truth.’ Education IS the business of identifying, verifying, sharing, and helping others learn about that which IS true.

What is true? This question, although not currently in empirical or objective terms in our post-modern world, is most often asked in light of one’s feelings or that which is true for you. Steven Colbert hit this point squarely when he coined the term ‘truthiness’ and that American culture is, “divided between those who think with their head and those who know with their heart.” So how do we know with our head AND heart that what we as educators share is true?

The following is my Corvallis High School graduation speech (2017):

“Amid all the distractions, you’ve made it, YOU ARE HERE. Have you ever stopped and wondered why you’ve taken so many classes…and why ‘those’ classes? Have you noticed a commonality of 4 core courses that you’ve taken almost every year of your 13 yr career: English, history, math, and science? Why are those courses offered most frequently in a K12 experience? What is it about those courses that make them core courses?

Your education has and will continue to be the ability to pursue truth in the face of distraction in order to experience freedom. Lets quickly think about a couple of core classes. What is so special about math class and why learn all of those formulas? To be wise in the ways of numerical uses for construction, finance, and logic. Why did we spend so much time in science? To learn the scientific method in order to separate anecdotal opinions from objective realities. For more than a decade, you’ve been on a journey, a journey that will help you better identify the truth. What are a few of the characteristics of truth?

Here are 6 characteristics:

1) Truth is timeless. The truth prevails in the short and long term. Truth doesn’t evolve over time. Truth is constant and establishes continuity over time. Time has no negative effect on truth.

2) The truth is transmittable. The truth can be passed from generation to generation without degradation and only to benefit. That which is true, has and will continue to withstand generations of scrutiny.

3) That which is true is simple (and profound): The truth is simply understood and profound. It unravels the webs of distraction and fads because they are flawed and overly complex. William of Ockham who was an English Franciscan Friar developed what bears his name, Occam’s Razor which states that among competing hypothesis, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected. The truth is simple and not lost among even children. Often, the truth is more clearly understood by children and muddled by adults. Be alert for the simple and profound.

4) Truth doesn’t shy away from challenges. The truth withstands all challenges and in so doing, further separates from the distraction and lies…that’s why it’s stood the test of time! Never be afraid of the outcome when an argument challenges the truth. When was the last time something that was true, lost an argument? The truth stands undefeated.

5) The truth is what it is regardless of what you or I say. Just because someone said it, doesn’t make it true. The truth does not depend on a personality or circumstance. The truth is not an opinion or exclusive to a person such as “my truth.” Any claim made by a truth is subject to and encourages objective questioning so that anyone can understand. No person has the corner of the market on a truth. Look for the undefeated, simple yet profound claims/ideas that have withstood generations of challenges, remained constant over time and are without personality.

6) The truth is freeing. The truth frees us from subjectivity, from dependence, from personalities, from lies…

A word of caution…

Be wary of the subtle deception stating that the consequences for not following the truth aren’t real. Within this deception winds a ball of yarn forming increasing dependence on faulty reasoning. Regardless of anyone’s opinion (Including your own), regardless of circumstance and regardless of the challenges, regardless of time, there are consequences for not following the truth.

So what does this mean now? You’ve spent the last 13 years preparing for the adult pursuit of truth, becoming more sophisticated in asking why and challenging….parents am I right?? This is the way all of us are wired. From the beginning, this is our blessing. We are curious, truth seeking beings. This pursuit is the connective sinew leading to adulthood. Asking why, presenting challenges that are thoughtful and balanced…to better understand and seek out your place in the world….that has been the last 13 years, that’s the point.

You are entering into the adult world of alternate news, fact checking, social constructs, virtual reality, and more. You live in a country and culture where exchanging the truth for a lie is quickly rationalized by short term comfort. Don’t shy away from the struggle to defend truth from compromise. Remain vigilant in your training and open to correction. Remember, the truth is what it is no matter who is in office, no matter the organization promoting an idea, the truth is immovable and is the north star to which you can set your life’s course. Be confident in that which has withstood the test of time, that which boldly answers why… even if its the 100th time, the truth will always be consistent, simple, impartial, timeless, and fair…even if you don’t like it.

Be independent in thought but grounded in that which is reliable and constant.”

Three final thoughts: 1) Understanding and applying the truth is fundamental to a universal moral compass. 2) The truth never loses an argument. 3) The truth is what bounds and organizes liberty.

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Education and Freedom

I was a middle school math and science teacher for 15 years. During that time, I experienced the “new math” phenomenon. For years, I answered phone calls from frustrated parents who were trying to help their child learn a mathematical concept. I reassured parents and students that there are multiple ways of getting you from point A to point B. There are direct routes and ‘scenic routes.’ More importantly, students and parents must understand that the larger goal in math, as with any other subject, is to become critical consumers of diverse processes and circumstances so that the student can independently develop reliable, accurate, and efficient pathways to get to point B. In essence, a quality education develops knowledge, skills, and wisdom to discern: better from the lessor, good from the bad, or right from wrong. Education is entirely about developing a higher understanding and practice of freedom within a universal moral framework.

The Oxford Dictionary defines freedom as “The power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants; the power of self-determination attributed to the will; the quality of being independent of fate or necessity.” In short, freedom contains two distinct parts: 1) an individual’s willful act to 2) choose between at least two options. Freedom requires an independent will and choice. Freedom’s biggest role and challenge exists within diverse people, ideas, and things. To independently navigate through diverse options is the mission of education and why education is imminently critical in promoting and also maintaining freedom.

Counter to this idea of freedom is the mindless or lazy approach of telling someone what they ‘need to know’ thereby removing critical thought, debate, and censoring information. To counterbalance the extreme assumption of ‘anything goes’ approach, freedom requires a universal moral compass (see my prior editorial on this subject).

Therefore, public education’s role in establishing and maintaining freedom is to provide the setting and culture within which students critically process information to make informed choices (aka freedom). Informed choices are absolutely dependent on the fact that at least two sides of an issue are present. As an educator, I would go so far as to say we have an obligation to showcase bad ideas and answer ridiculous questions alongside good ideas even though we know the futility of bad ideas. The freedom to willfully choose within a universal moral compass requires us to compare and contrast ideas. Therefore, debate is necessary and in fact a healthy process for promoting and protecting freedom. Today more than ever, bad ideas are more often than not defended and elevated by emotionally hollow defenses best summed up as being offended. The ‘I’m offended defense’ is simply not a defense but rather an emotional reaction.

Education and certainly public education, is in the freedom business. As educators (private, public, parents, coaches, mentors), we are ethically obligated to engage and enlighten our youth to be thoughtful, independent agents who respond to diverse ideas (freedom). To this end, education is founded and should never waiver no matter the sentiment or opinion.

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The Parade Fallacy

I’ve seen many parades in my lifetime, whether it is for Memorial Day, 4th of July, or the Pioneer Festival in Potomac, MT. The beauty of a parade is the display of the floats, horseback riders, antique cars, emergency responder vehicles, and everyone else involved. Popular parades are filled with people lining the streets waiting for each parade participant to pass by. When going to a parade, the general goal is to be there for the beginning and wait until the end to see the entire parade and from the best vantage point. We certainly would temper conclusions made someone who observed the parade through a knothole in a fence. Great parades are full of entertaining and awe-inspiring designs. At the same time, it’s reasonable to say that one poorly designed float or hiccup in a parade doesn’t negate the awe of the rest of the parade. It’s human nature to focus on things that stand out, even if they’re not representative of the whole picture.

When driving in a parade, is it reasonable to say that the delay is the fault of the driver in the car directly in front of you? Is it reasonable to say that the delay in one parade must be occurring parades all over the state or country? Is it reasonable to generalize from one individual exceptional example and apply it to understanding the totality of an issue?

The example of the parade is becoming the norm in public debate, news coverage, where the limited perspective or exceptional circumstances are driving national dialogue without noting the limitation of the exception or the limited perspective.

When we the public observe important public actions, whether it is related to a school district, legislature, or any public entity, we must be critical, thoughtful consumers. Being a critical consumer asks: does the issue in this uniquely isolated circumstance truly apply to the larger picture? We must also critique the perspective of the individual or organization making the claim. Does this person have an accurate and holistic understanding of the issue they claim to comprehend or are they looking at the parade through a knothole in a fence? This is our ethical responsibility as consumers of information and even more so if we pass information along to others. Thoughtlessly passing on unverified information via print or electronic media or reader boards is gossip, not news. As a superintendent, I remind myself that anyone can say whatever they what; that doesn’t make it factual or true without some semblance of thoughtful verification.

As we navigate through another year, be a critical consumer of ALL claims. Be thoughtful of claims based upon exceptions misapplied to larger circumstances. Be even more skeptical if that person or organization making the claim has been viewing the issue through a knothole in a fence.

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Freedom: The Prevent Defense

In football, when a team is ahead with time winding down, the winning team usually goes into a low risk prevent defense. A prevent defense lowers risks and takes on a minimalist approach. In our country, we have gradually taken on a prevent defense mentality regarding freedom by reducing the risk allotted to others because of the potential that such freedom may result in harm. This is highlighted in our culture of warning labels followed by lawsuits and is the epitome of becoming a passive slave to fear with the government being our nightlight or moral compass.  We suffocate under the weight of laws while simultaneously realizing that laws accentuate our innate, flawed human nature. Legislation has become our comforting nightlight limiting freedom used improperly,   To better understand freedom, we need to understand the function and impact of laws.
Like walls within a maze, laws attempt to restrict ‘bad’ behavior. Laws do not fundamentally promote good behavior, they typically define misconduct that can be prosecuted and disciplined. It is true, laws restrain people who behave with a conscience or a responsive soul.  However, laws should not take the place of a conscience in practice, laws have a horrible history of improving misconduct.

Laws always reveal the flawed nature we have as a people, all of us. Laws are not just for them; laws are for all of us because the embedded flaws affect everyone, not just bad people. Freedom accepts this risk while also putting the emphasis on promoting morality rather than justice. Laws reduce risk (and freedoms) by providing a false sense of security and justice when in fact NO ONE escapes the impartial reach of true and complete justice.

Laws are the walls of a maze defining acceptable or unacceptable behaviors. Conversely, freedoms promote choice and independence while inherently increasing risk individuals accept that may result in bad decisions. Laws reduce risk by limiting individual freedom. Do we resolve this by taking away freedom? “Those who would trade liberty for safety deserve neither and will lose both” (Benjamin Franklin). The reality, we accept a false sense of security when we depend upon laws, as the defining, social moral compass or soul of a society. The prevent defense in this case is to enact laws reducing the freedom of people to make choices good or bad; they are prescriptive, specific barriers directed at specific circumstances.

As adults, we cherish options whether it’s the food we eat, the places we go, the relationships we pursue, or the jobs we desire. The central issue isn’t that fact that freedoms exist, it’s the manner in which freedoms are exercised. This is why it is always more cost effective to educate then to legislate.

The crux of the argument is WHERE do we as a society invest our limited resources: training one’s moral compass to make good decisions in a variety of circumstances or legislating behaviors through enacted laws? If we rely upon the latter, than government becomes our conscience and laws the prescriptive tunnels through which we play a prevent defense. Freedom without a soul results in freedom bound by government.

“Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth,” President John Kennedy