Monday, November 24, 2008

The Environment

I try not to get too worked up over politics, for the most part, because most policy decisions are reversible. That doesn't mean I don't enjoy talking policy, debating ideas, and getting offended for a while, but in the end tax policies can be readjusted, infrastructure can be modified, relationships with other countries can be tweaked, and the people's relationship with its government can be mended. Just now I am feeling pretty good about our ability to change course with a new President Obama at the helm.

There are, however, certain decisions that are not reversible. I am thinking about actions such as wars and casualties of war and the death penalty. These are actions that, once done, can't be taken back. Another big one, in my mind, is how we treat the environment. Once a species is lost, it can't be recreated (unless we find dinosaur DNA in an amber-entombed mosquito, in which case all bets are off). Once a habitat is lost it takes generations upon generations to reappear. Once a person gets cancer or some other terrible disease from our pollution, we can't take it back.

One of the driving forces to the modern environmental movement is this photo:

This is photo is entitled "Earthrise" and was snapped by astronaut William Anders from lunar orbit on December 24, 1968 during the Apollo 8 mission. For the first time in human history we were able to see the Earth completely, as a whole. Look at the photo and what do you see? Many people, for the first time, saw an egg-shell thin atmosphere, its smallness in the immensity of space, and how everything is intimately interconnected. It is no surprise that while orbiting the moon the crew of Apollo 8 read the creation story from Genesis to a live TV audience.

Here is the final verse from the creation story in Moses, chapter 2:
31 And I, God, saw everything that I had made, and, behold, all things which I had made were very good; and the evening and the morning were the sixth day.
This impresses on me the need for our religion and our country to take a leading role in the vigorous protection of the Earth, and to not let a species or a habitat be destroyed without a serious effort to preserve it for ourselves and our children. There are lots of good social policy reasons to protect the environment, which I will undoubtedly chronicle to our faithful droves of readers in the future, but the most persuasive arguments to me are those based on something deeper like faith and beauty and a connection to the Earth and a belief that the Earth is sacred and worth protecting.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Fountain of Life

Stem cell research is another polarizing topic of late. I definitely think that people are intentionally under-informed on this subject. Perhaps if the details about stem cell research, including embryonic stem cell research are more clear, those supporting this area would not be instantly vilified. I will first say that all life must be treated with respect, whether it be human, canine, porcine, or a single cell.

As always, we have to start by introducing some terminology.

Multipotent progenitor cells - Cells that have the ability to develop into several other cell types, all of which are closely related. A good example is the blood stem cell that can develop into cells like red blood cells, platelets, T-cells, B-cells, etc.

Pluripotent progenitor cells - Cells that have the ability to differentiate into a large range of cell types. It is now commonly accepted that pluripotent cells can develop into any cell that is included as part of the embryo, i.e. organ tissue, bones, nervous system.

Totipotent progenitor cells - A cell that can produce all cell types needed to develop a fetus, including extra-embryonic tissue like the placenta.

The hope of stem cell research, is to take a multipotent or pluripotent stem cell and guide it to develop into a desired cell type. These cells can then be used to replace or repair damaged cells in the body. For example, a person with Type I diabetes might benefit from having stem cells developed into new, functioning pancreatic cells that can be placed to compensate for these patient's lack of insulin production. Amazing! One current limitation is that we can not take a multipotent stem cell, like a blood stem cell, and make it develop into a non-blood cell tissue like pancreatic tissue. Only a pluripotent stem gives us that power.

Where can we get multipotent stem cells? Some can be harvested from the umbilical chord, some from bone marrow, and some from fat. There is even a small amount of pluripotent stem cells available from these tissues.

If we can obtain pluripotent stem cells from adults, or non-embryonic sources, then why would we want to use embryonic stem cells? First off, the potency of non-embryonic is often limited, second, cells differentiated form adult stem cells often have shorter life times, or fail in transplantation. Embryonic stem cells (ESC) are truly pluripotent, and cells derived from ESC progenitors currently display superior performance at their relative function. That doesn't mean we abandon adult stem cells, it only means that we must continue to compare the function and potency of cells from all sources. In fact there is research currently investigating the potential of turning multipotent stem cell into a pluripotent one.

The controversy of ESC research I believe is mainly a result of false links to abortion. I do not know of ANY embryonic stem cell line that has come from an aborted fetus. The vast majority of ESC lines are the result of in-vitro fertilization. That is, the combination of sperm and egg outside the body, and chemical stimuli to induce proliferation. Despite all of the scientific advances, this cluster of cells will not, can not, develop into a human being.

The essential missing component of life is the womb. From a biochemical standpoint, the womb is a complex relationship between mother and fetus that can not be replicated in the lab. From a religious standpoint, the womb is the vessel of mankind. I find it very significant that Heavenly Father would so choose to introduce his Only Begotten into the world after being harbored in this consecrated manner.

As the cells for embryonic stem cell research have never been introduced into the womb, I must maintain that it is not parallel to abortion. If the manipulation or destruction of cell clusters from in-vitro fertilization is murder, then how should we feel about any other tissue that is of human origin? Should we preserve fat after liposuction? Should we protect the rights of an appendix? I am not devaluing life. I am just pointing out that a group of cells should be treated as such. The benefits and promise of stem cell research are magnificent, and I support the harvasting and culture of cells from all sources, save aborted children. Do not confuse embryonic stem cell research with abortion, the two could not be more different.

Simply put, stem cell research seeks to improve and preserve life.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Boy O Boy

I've busy and distracted and haven't had a chance to respond to Jake's rant on Operation, oh I mean, Proposition 8.

My initial reaction to the news of the LDS church's direct involvement in the political process reminded me of a quote I heard in the late 90's. This statement was released by the Shell Petroleum company after being (justifiably) accused of participation in Nigeria's civil conflict with the Ogani people:

"Some campaigning groups say we should intervene in the political process in Nigeria. But even if we could, we must never do so. Politics is the business of governments and politicians. The world where companies use their economic influence to prop up or bring down governments would be a frightening and bleak one indeed."

My main issue with the LDS church's support of Prop 8 is in the method, not in the motive. I adamantly proclaim the sanctity of marriage, and agree that on a religious level this union is only between a man and a women. I also agree that the LDS church retains the right to comment on ethical and moral issues - "
churches and religious organizations are well within their constitutional rights to speak out and be engaged in the many moral and ethical problems facing society."

I beleive that marriage is a religious action, and should not be governed by the state in any way. I feel the church would be better served to break away from defintions approved or disapproved by government, and instead guide membership as to the symbolism and eternal commitment that is marriage.

My issue is with this statment read to congregations in California. In particular is the admonition that members donate"of your means and time to assure that marriage in California is legally defined as being between a man and a woman."

This is where I feel the LDS church made a mis-step. I agree with their statement of belief, an encouragment to prayerfully consider the issue, and an appeal for tolerance and love, but I disagree with the call for donations. Using economic influence (directly or vicariously through it's members) to force "moral" changes in society, is a frightening prospect.

The problem is that if we give one church, or organization, the right to request monetary and literal action from it's members, then we are doomed to give all large groups, be it companies or churches, the protection to swing the club of economic influence. Pray that you always stand on the side far away from the blow, lest the giant is the self contradicting "Shell" and you are the "Oganis".

How can you be a Mormon and Republican?

One of the reasons I wanted to write a blog that no one would ever read was to answer the most annoying question on earth: How can you be a Mormon and a Democrat? We surely will attempt to answer that question as we go along, but today I want to throw it back out there: How can you be a Mormon and a Republican?

I'd like to take a look back at the last eight years of near complete Republican control of all levels of government, meaning the executive branch, legislative branch, and judiciary. We've had eight years of George "W" Bush, six years of Republican control of Congress, and a conservative Supreme Court that became more conservative over the last eight years with three Bush appointments of hard right judges including the replacement of swing voter O'Connor. So lets turn it up a few notches from "Reconciliatory" to "Hyper-Partisan" and take a look at some of the things that have happened while the Republicans have been on the watch.

Seriously? Torture? Here is a nice timeline of the Bush administration's dalliance into the torture scene. From Abu Ghraib to Guantánamo, here are some of the delicately name "enhanced interrogation" techniques specifically authorized and utilized by the Bush administration: stress positions, exploitation of phobias, forced nudity, hooding, isolation, sensory deprivation, exposure to cold, waterboarding, forcing men to wear women's underwear, performing "dog tricks" on a leash, 18 to 20 hours of interrogation a day for months at a time, slapping, use of vicious dogs for intimidation, dietary manipulation, environmental manipulation, and sleep "adjustment."

Not only is torture immoral and should in no way be condoned under any circumstances, it is plainly against United States law and violates the Geneva Convention. Even more, studies are showing that torture does not yield reliable information. It is simply appalling that our government allowed this to go on.

Big Brother is watching. The Bush administration secretly created a domestic spying program to monitor communications by its own citizens, without the need for a warrant. A warrant is a simply way for the government to go to a judge and present some evidence that, in this case, it has a reason to collect information from someone believed to be a threat. Such a hearing can be completely confidential and allows for a system of checks and balances that our Founding Fathers envisioned. This may be the most appalling, to me, abuses of power the Bush administration perpetrated. So next time you hear a strange clicking sound in your phone, hang up fast.

Iraq War
The biggie. I won't go into all the detail, it is pretty well known by now, but here is a rough overview. We were told that, contrary to all credible information, that Saddam Hussein was linked to 9/11. We were told that Iraq had WMD's, which turned out to be false. So those were the big reasons we were sold on to go to war, we're talking war here, and those were bunk. So when the bottom fell out of those excuses, we were told to just be happy we were liberating Iraqi. We were told the soldiers would be welcomed as liberators. They were welcomed with IEDs. And, as a nice little bow on top, the adminstration had no feasible plan for the occupation, which is now nearing the six year mark.

The cost for overthrowing a regime that, while admittedly horrible, had never attacked us and was no threat to attack us in the future? Try 4,201 US military casualties, over 30,000 wounded, $602,819,000,000 and rising, and a number we don't hear that often because it is liable to make us sick, nearly 100,000 documented Iraqi civilian deaths. How Christian.

I could go on, and I likely will later, but let me finish up with one thing the Republicans did not do for all of their control and power over the last eight years. There are many single-issue voters in this country, and I suspect even more so among religious people. And I suspect that the largest single-issue voter issue is abortion. So for everybody that votes one party on that single issue because that is the only issue they care about, or for people that might otherwise be more independent or even liberal but for this issue: You may have wasted your vote.

I will state here that I support the Church's stance on abortion found here, that abortion may only occur in very limited instances: rape, incest, health of the mother, if the baby cannot survive beyond birth.

However, there has not been a bit of movement or even attempted movement on this issue for the past eight years of Republican control. The appalling secret is that abortion is a political issue used during the election cycle to get votes and then left dormant by politicians until the next election. Politics is simply not the way to make a real difference on this issue, and voting Republican because of this issue will get us nowhere.

I realize these are fightin' words. And I certainly don't mean to suggest that you can't be a Mormon and a Republican, that was a little rhetoric to get the ball rolling. There is no "good Mormon" political party, both have serious flaws and both have serious virtues. But I don't want to have to answer the question of how I can be a Mormon liberal because the premise of that question is that you cannot and you must be a Republican, which is false and wrong and I reject it.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Prop 8 and Tax Exemption

Here is the church's response to the Prop 8 hullabaloo:
Since Proposition 8 was placed on the ballot in June of this year, the citizens of California have considered the arguments for and against same-sex marriage. After extensive debate between those of different persuasions, voters have chosen to amend the California State Constitution to state that marriage should be between a man and a woman.

Voters in Arizona and Florida took the same course and amended their constitutions to establish that marriage will continue to be between a man and a woman.

Such an emotionally charged issue concerning the most personal and cherished aspects of life — family, identity, intimacy and equality — stirs fervent and deep feelings.

Most likely, the election results for these constitutional amendments will not mean an end to the debate over same-sex marriage in this country.

We hope that now and in the future all parties involved in this issue will be well informed and act in a spirit of mutual respect and civility toward those with a different position. No one on any side of the question should be vilified, intimidated, harassed or subject to erroneous information.

It is important to understand that this issue for the Church has always been about the sacred and divine institution of marriage — a union between a man and a woman.

Allegations of bigotry or persecution made against the Church were and are simply wrong. The Church's opposition to same-sex marriage neither constitutes nor condones any kind of hostility toward gays and lesbians. Even more, the Church does not object to rights for same-sex couples regarding hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment rights, or probate rights, so long as these do not infringe on the integrity of the traditional family or the constitutional rights of churches.

Some, however, have mistakenly asserted that churches should not ever be involved in politics when moral issues are involved. In fact, churches and religious organizations are well within their constitutional rights to speak out and be engaged in the many moral and ethical problems facing society. While the Church does not endorse candidates or platforms, it does reserve the right to speak out on important issues.

Before it accepted the invitation to join broad-based coalitions for the amendments, the Church knew that some of its members would choose not to support its position. Voting choices by Latter-day Saints, like all other people, are influenced by their own unique experiences and circumstances. As we move forward from the election, Church members need to be understanding and accepting of each other and work together for a better society.

Even though the democratic process can be demanding and difficult, Latter-day Saints are profoundly grateful for and respect the ideals of a true democracy.

The Church expresses deep appreciation for the hard work and dedication of the many Latter-day Saints and others who supported the coalitions in efforts regarding these amendments.

One issue that the protesters don't understand is the tax exempt status of churches (otherwise know as 501(c)3 organizations). There are two areas of lobbying of concern: political activities and legislative activities. According to the IRS, as to political activities, "501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office." The church has never, directly or indirectly, participated in such activities. In fact, over the years the church has consistently encouraged members to be politically diverse. Here is a good link with information on that issue.

As to legislative activities, the line is a little more fuzzy. The IRS defines that line by stating that "no organization may qualify for section 501(c)(3) status if a substantial part of its activities is attempting to influence legislation (commonly known as lobbying). A 501(c)(3) organization may engage in some lobbying, but too much lobbying activity risks loss of tax-exempt status." The IRS considers hours put in by paid workers and volunteers and expenditures devoted to the action. So the church may influence legislation so long as such activities do not constitute a substantial part of its activities. Unfortunately for the protesters, the LDS Church is big and has a lot of money, so it would take an enormous effort to cross the line in the so-called "substantial part test."

According to this list, the church itself donated $4,943 to support Prop 8. The church does not release financial information, but it is believed to have billions of dollars in assets. Members individually donated millions more. But this is just a drop in the bucket compared to the available assets. And the few thousand volunteers that got involved were just a small percentage of members in California, the United States, and throughout the world. There is no good argument that the church devoted a substantial part of its resources to Prop 8, especially given the hundreds of millions of dollars donated every year to issues such as poverty, disease, and natural disaster relief.

So, while I may disagree with how the church's went about its support for Prop 8, the protesters calling for a loss of the church's tax exempt status are either ill-informed or voluntarily deluding themselves.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Proposition 8

The Church has been receiving an inordinate amount of vitriol and hate because of Proposition 8, and against my better judgment I have decided to make a comment or two about it.

First off, I disagreed with how the Church got involved but agree with the Church's stance on homosexuality. And, as I understand it, this is the Church's stance: Marriage is between a man and a woman; we support basic rights for same sex couples such as hospital visits and insurance benefits under some sort of civil union rubric; same sex attraction can be biological and this is not a sin nor do we try to change the person; acting on a same sex attraction is a sin.

Many, many liberals will disagree with this stance. They call it bigoted, hateful and intolerant. They call the Church hypocritical for supporting a proposition that limits a marriage to one man and one woman with our past of polygamy.

As to the last argument, here is my rebuttal. The Church has never supported same sex marriage, it has always been between man and woman. In the past that included polygamy, but several factors coincided to end that practice, with the end coming by revelation from a prophet. So polygamy is off the table now because of what we consider God's will. That leaves only marriage defined as between one man and one woman. It is not a repudiation of our past practices a beliefs in any way. It is entirely consistent with our belief system from the beginning.

As to whether support of Proposition 8 is bigoted, intolerant or hateful, I believe it is not. The Church has made progress in supporting gays and reaching out to some gay advocacy groups. It is completely respectful of those that live a gay life but will not support what it believes is a fundamental change in the institution of marriage to include a group that has never been so included and goes against the very core of our beliefs in the primacy of the family. Also, focusing on the same sex marriage issue while ignoring the way Church leaders reach out to and support individual gay members is disingenuous.

I don't happen to agree with the way the Church went about supported Proposition 8, not from a doctrinal standpoint but from a social standpoint. I think the best way to spread our beliefs is not through such heavy-handed tactics, but through love, example and missionary work. I'm not sure the benefit of winning that vote is worth the hate and vitriol the Church is receiving because of the way it supported Proposition 8. That in no way means we should apologize or be ashamed of our support for the nuclear family, but it means we choose the most effective way of conveying our message.

Of course, the Church has received a disproportionate amount of blame and hate for Proposition 8's passage. Members of the Church equal 3% of California's population, and many members of the Church likely voted against it, so not even that full 3% were involved. Furthermore, 29 other similar votes have occurred in other states and the opposition is now 0-30. It is true that members (not the Church itself) poured in millions of dollars, but the opposition had millions of its own and in the end what really counts are the votes.

Now, in Utah there is a gay advocacy group that is proposing bills to the Utah legislature which track some of the Church's stances on the matter and, without having read them yet, I do hope the Church will consider supporting them to mend some of the divisions. Whether we like it or not, the Church is as much a social structure as a religious one, and we do have to be part of our communities. It is on us as individual members to represent the best that the Church is and try to explain our positions on these matters. We can't play the same game as the protesters in California, Utah, New York, and everywhere else. We must be respectful, tolerant, even supportive, without compromising our beliefs.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The "L" word and other social taboos

So as not to place blame where it is not due, anyone reading this blog should be aware that there are multiple authors contributing. If you look at the bottom of a post, you should see the affiliated authors name or initials. However, I feel that for the most part you will find a significant level of similarity in our ideas. If we do have a different point of view, I'm sure a worthy debate will emerge. That's what is beautiful about our country.

Enough on that. Let's move onto the dreaded "L" word.

When I told my Grandma that I was a liberal, she almost passed out. Literally. She held her head in despair and wondered out loud "I never thought I would see the day..." I have tried to rationalize with her, and many other friends and family since then, mostly to no avail. What makes so much sense to me, spiritually, emotionally, and intellectually is also the hardest thing to help others understand. I will continue to try anyway.

If you haven't hit the link to the definitions of "liberal" I suggest you do so before moving on.

Let's take a journey back to the beginning, where there "were many of the noble and great ones." One plan, and on plan only, was proposed to "prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them." (Abraham 3:25) The fundamental component of the plan of salvation is choice. It is the free agency to follow the guidelines and example we have been given. If God had sent the second that raised his voice on that monumental day, all would have won the prize, but only through absolute order and elimination of choice. Our religion values the freedom of choice, and I feel we must award to others, the same rights we demand. In other words, if I want the right to worship how I want, and live the way I want, should I not grant that same privilege to others, especially if their ideas differ from my own?

In the political gradient between freedom and order, most of us inherently sit somewhere in the middle. We can't accept complete freedom, that would be anarchy; and we can't accept complete order, that would be prison.

I value individual freedom more then about anything else, and so I am a liberal. I favor the freedom of action with respect to matters of personal belief or expression, and so I am liberal. I encourage progress, representation, tolerance, generosity, and freedom to act upon the dictates of my own conscience, and so based on both connotation and denotation, I am liberal.

I admit that some of my motivation for embracing freedom, is a fear of being forced to obey. Maybe Huxley or Orwell got to me, but I would rather live in a country that gives people the choice of guiding their own future, than live in a place that all are forced like cattle to follow. Of course that means that I must also accept that people might choose a direction that I disagree with, but it also means that I maintain the ability to live the way I want too.

Now back to the present. I look at Obama and I see the prospects of a better world. I may not agree with every aspect of his campaign or his individual character, but we share the hope of a more tolerant world, where two very different people can sit down and talk about their differences before unleashing war. We share the hope of breaking down the racial divide that penetrates through generations despite denial, and the political divide that is propogated by money and greed. We share the desire for the United States to regain its prowress as the world leader in invention and inovation, so that "we may achieve in our time and for all time the ancient vision of "peace on earth, good will toward men."" (JFK)

And that is why I am a liberal.

Careful. If you agree, then you might be a liberal too.

Election Day and Founding Fathers

Lest Sarah Palin or Michelle Bachman call me un-American after my last post, I thought I'd clean it up and maybe share some thoughts as we go vote for a new president.

The point I was trying to make, and maybe it came across and maybe it didn't, is that I don't think we can point to one form of government or one political party and say, "That is God's." Governments and political parties are made by imperfect men and women for imperfect men and women. As to Democrats and Republicans, their values and platforms shift from year to year and decade to decade. The Republican Party today in no way resembles the progressive and liberal Republican Party of which Lincoln was a member.

So when I hear someone say that a good Mormon must be a Republican, or ask how I can be a good Mormon and a liberal, it is like fingernails scratching a blackboard. I count to ten, take deliberate breaths, give that person an open-handed slap in my mind to ease the tension, and then try to explain. If you are 40 years old, have been a member of a certain political party all your life, and have always just followed the party, your views have shifted a lot over the years. You can't just blindly follow a party. I don't align myself 100% with any candidate's views. I disagree with Obama on abortion, I think he should reveal the names of all of his donors, which he hasn't done, and I wish he had more foreign policy experience, and there are others. But his views generally line up with mine.

I am belaboring the point, as I often do. I've got a little of the Biden in me.

Anyway, as I said, to get Palin and Bachman off my back, and to assure that President Bush's last action in office is not to wiretap my phones, I wanted to talk about the Founding Fathers for a minute. I went through a phase where I really wanted to read a lot of books on the Founding Fathers and the Revolutionary War period. I gained, of course, a deeper understanding of their sacrifices and virtues, as well as their faults and imperfections. It should be no surprise that some of them had terrible vices and flaws. Some were slave owners, some were adulterers, johns, liars, some had uncontrollable tempers, and the the like. If you think we are partisan now, look back at how vitriolic they were. But despite these imperfections, we know they were inspired to do the things that they did.

Here is a fascinating account of their temple work being done in the St. George Temple. My favorite line is Wilford Woodruff's assertion that they were "best spirits the God of heaven could find on the face of the earth." That doesn't mean that they were perfect, it just means that at the time, without the Gospel on the earth and gift of the Holy Ghost, they were the best. God needed a nation in which he could reveal his Gospel and used these men to establish it.

What they did in forming this government was something truly new. Not many people in all of history have done something truly new, but they did. They stood up to the greatest military power on earth to create a nation that, for all intents and purposes, should have either never won that war or collapsed very soon after. There are so many close calls and lucky breaks that it defies all logic unless you believe there was a greater force driving it forward.

Clearly we live in a world they could not possibly comprehend or could have predicted. I guess that is what is so amazing about what they did, that the constitution they wrote in 1787 survived the Civil War and end of slavery, the Industrial Revolution and urbanization, two World Wars, the Great Depression, and the nuclear age (and President George W. Bush, the greatest accomplishment of all). So, we vote, we argue, we threaten to move to Canada, but in the end we are in awe of what the Founding Fathers created and how it is still thriving today and how, no matter who wins this election, it will continue forward and meet the next great challenge. We can be proud of our country and its foundation no matter who leads it. Hopefully Obama, though.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Hug a Pinko Socialist Theocratic Autocrat

Before I get into the meat, I was thinking that there are two ways to look at this blog, and one is probably inappropriate. This is not a view of Mormon doctrine through the eyes of liberals, this is a view of our culture and politics through the eyes of a Mormon liberal. Big difference.

Second, I hope to have some fellow bloggers on this site soon who are smarter than me.

Now, the question that spawned the immediate creation of this little enterprise was on my wife's blog, directed at me. The question was, what do I think is the role of government. I thought about this a lot as I was raking six huge bags of leaves. My blisters will be other-wordly by tomorrow. Anyway, I thought I'd start real broad and work my way in, in a manner that will be likely both boring and wordy (I'm a lawyer!).

The Twelfth Article of Faith says: "We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law." I think that's where we start. It is clear from this and a reading of the scriptures that there just isn't a single system of government that is "right." There may be some that are inherently better than others, but I don't know if I could make that list.

We have members of the church in hundreds of nations comprising nearly every form of government you can imagine. Tonga has a king, Europe is what conservatives would call Socialist, Venezuela is Socialist, countries in Africa and South America have dictators, and there are faithful members in them all that support the government and obey the law.

Righteous people in the scriptures had kings such as Mosiah, Benjamin, and David; they had communal living such as in 4 Nephi and in Acts, which was resurrected in the early church of this dispensation; they had judges such as in Israel and the Book of Mormon (perhaps a system of activists judges is God's way?); Joseph Smith created a form of theocracy which was continued by Brigham Young; and other examples probably exist that I am not remembering right now.

All this is to say, I don't think there is (capital) A role of government that members of the church should embrace. As long as the decisions they make are righteous or, if we lower our standards a bit, not unrighteous, we believe that we obey them.

Of course, in America we have a specific form of government with a constitution that makes it clear that not everything goes. The constitution lays all power on the shoulders of the people, giving some responsibilities to state and federal governments. I'm not going to go through them all, but the federal government is given authority over things like war, interstate commerce, taxation, and immigration. The judicial branch is given authority to interpret the law, including the constitution itself.

The constitution is inherently and purposely broad, meant to be conformed to a changing world. The founders themselves never agreed on its full meaning. So it seems to me that the role of government, to finally get to some sort of answer, is whatever the people want it to be. We probably all agree that the government should protect us, most of us would agree that it should provide infrastructure, educate our children, and promote fairness.

But if the people want a government that runs a single payer insurance system, the constitution wouldn't forbid it. If we want a government that provides free university level education to all citizens, the constitution wouldn't forbid it. If we want a government that mandates equal pay for women, the constitution wouldn't forbid it. If we want a government that taxes the rich more than it taxes the poor, the constitution wouldn't forbid it.

So I think the role of the government should be whatever not unrighteous thing the majority wants. Right now the majority is likely going to vote in a Democrat to be president and that party to control both houses of Congress who have promised a progressive tax system, expanded health care, more access to education, and an end to the war in Iraq. So that is the role of the government. The government is constantly cleaning up the messes of the Invisible Hand, so lets avoid those messes in the future. This is where I come down. Safety, prosperity, fairness, and opportunity.

If in the future the people want a change, they will elect new leaders with different goals. Government will have a new role. But in a broad view, as long as the government is not oppressive to the majority and is not unrighteous, I think we should respect that.