Monday, December 28, 2009

Twas the Night Before Christmas

When all through the House,
Act'lly it was the Senate, sorry for the rouse;
With congress in session for the first time in years
The parties were separate, sitting only with peers
Healthcare was the debate, as long it had been,
Still no common ground, no mutual win;
Conservatives scoffed at everything brought,
Democrats trimmed away things that they sought;
Amid cries of "redneck" or "you lame communist"
Nobody would bend, to what others wished.
In the end there was a vote, along party lines
The bill "IT HAS PASSED" despite all the whines.

So, obviously I'm not lyrically gifted, but considering the season, I thought I'd try for a little parody. Maybe it comes from my complete disgust of popular media's relentless moaning over healthcare reform. Regardless, I think a couple of things need to be made clear - an insane number of people do not have healthcare coverage; the current healthcare system is not effective because it leaves too many people without coverage; healthcare premiums continue to increase, while the coverage continues to decrease; access to medical care is a RIGHT; all rights are tethered to responsibilities.

According to estimates by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), more than 45 million people will be without health insurance in 2009. I'll be upfront about "estimates" and that I think one can manipulate statistics readily to tell a story, however, this can only be done to a point. So let's say for arguments sake that the CBO has inadvertently doubled the amount of people without health insurance so that there are actually only 22.5 million without it. That's only 8 times the population of the state of Utah, so a much more palatable number. Be it 22 million, or 45 million, that's a ridiculous amount of people to have no coverage. Luckily we are able to help some of them with medicare and medicaid.

Oh, I forgot to mention, about 10 million of those people are actually children, so it's hard for me to swallow the argument that those without coverage are lazy bottom-feeders that are looking for a free ride.

Of those of us that still are able to pay for some kind of a plan, the rates continue to rise, while the coverage falls. I'm not just citing ostensibly biased surveys, but my own personal experience. My rates for a private plan (from IHC) increased every year from 2002-2007, after which we moved to an employer-based plan that also increased its yearly premium from 2007 to the present. What concerns me is not just the increase (inflation explains part of it), but the necessity for rates to go up so dramatically (>130%). Translating that means that if you spent $100 ten years ago, then this year you would be upwards of $230 with less coverage.

I am extremely disappointed that universal healthcare has been dropped from the current proposal. The majority of developed countries (by majority I mean 97%) already have some form of universal coverage in place. This is my favorite map. Glad that we are on par with Africa and Southeast Asia. The entire European Union has adopted various forms of universal healthcare because they agree that medical access is a right of each of their citizens. Don't confuse my support of universal healthcare with the pretense that all these systems are without flaw. I case-by-case analysis of each form would be fantastic, and beneficial in developing a system for the United States. Why must we re-invent the wheel?

I digress. The point is that as a population moves away from despondency and poverty, the trend is for an understanding that all citizens (as part of the "life" clause) deserve healthcare. If private industry could guarantee that, I would advocate the system. Fortunately governments "were instituted of God for the benefit of man". Unfortunately, I don't think that equal coverage or access can be guaranteed on a State level, but will require the intervention of the Federal government. Hence the current reform.

Lastly, a few good things I like in the current bill (which is difficult to read, but should at least be read by EVERY individual, D or R or I, voting on the bill) -

- establish strict federal standards for insurance companies
- limitations on the amount of profit per premium dollar
- insures can not deny coverage because of a person's medical condition
- higher premiums can not be charged based on gender or health status
- companies can not rescind coverage when a person gets sick or disabled

It's a start.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Liberalism and Agency

Of all the reasons given for why a person can't be a good Mormon and liberal, the one used most often is that liberalism takes away free agency. This is the one conservative Mormon activists tend to favor. I attempted to refute this argument in my post "Agency and Democracy," wherein I argued that as long as we live in a democracy where we are allowed to vote, we retain our agency. I also pointed out that conservatives have taken a lot of my money and used it for things with which I disagreed, such as torture, the Iraq War, illegal wiretaps, and tax cuts for the wealthy, thereby highlighting the hypocrisy of this accusation.

I continue to encounter the liberals-as-anti-agency accusation, though, and so have thought a little more about it and want to take a different angle. The conservative Mormon activist argument, by the way, is that liberals want to take away our agency by raising taxes to pay for government programs. The person, then, has less agency because she has less money in the bank.

This argument says way more about the conservatives that put it forward than the liberals they are accusing. What it says is that they only think of agency in economic terms, whereas the idea of agency in scriptures and religion is in entirely clothed moral terms. Our eternal progress is dependent on our using our agency to make good decisions morally, not good decisions with our temporal wealth. Do we treat our families well? Do we honor our covenants? Do we live Christ-like lives? The use of our agency in these important areas has nothing to do with taxes, government regulation, or any other temporal, man-made, economic consideration.

Under a system where capitalism is regulated in order to level the playing field just enough to get people out of poverty and have health security, we are still able to exercise our agency completely, fully, unfettered. We are still able to make those most important decisions that will enable us to receive the gift of eternal life.

To suggest that liberals deprive individuals of the full range of their free agency based purely on economic motives reveals, in my mind, a fundamental misunderstanding of the principle of agency and the very purpose of this life. It is time we (including myself, of course) spent less time worried about our money and temporal possessions and more time worried about living Christ-centered lives.

I have no problem with an argument about taxes, social programs, and government regulation in terms of public policy, there is legitimate room for debate there, but I cannot see merit in opposing liberal ideology in terms of deprivation of free agency.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


The authors of the Mormon Left have been a little distracted and busy as of late. It may not be the most glamorous or popular blog on the internets, but if anyone would like to send articles/essays/opinions for us to post, please feel free to send them to the email address on the right of the page and we'll see about adding some new and exciting voices our repertoire. Thanks.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

An Offense Against Religious Freedom and Tolerance

Switzerland recently voted to ban the construction of Muslim minarets. They reasoned that the minarets are symbols of a radical religion bent on violence and terrorism. I guess the money quote from that article is this:
"The minaret is a sign of political power and demand, comparable with whole-body covering by the burqa, tolerance of forced marriage and genital mutilation of girls," the sponsors said. They said Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan compared mosques to Islam's military barracks and called "the minarets our bayonets."
I've got to say that this is incredibly disturbing to me and represents a line of thinking that could be used against any religion in the future. The Swiss have taken a religion with a billion peaceful adherents and boiled them all down to intolerant genital mutilators and taken away their right to practice their religion.

Using this line of reasoning, we could ban any new construction of Catholic cathedrals because they are a sign of political power, comparable to pedophilia and the Crusades, and are just training grounds for future child molesters.

We could do the same with Mormon temples or any other religious place of worship. No religion is free from mistakes or radicals, but the same is true of just about any other institution. Democracies have institutionalized slavery and war. Charities have funded fraud and embezzlement. We are not suggesting banning the construction of new government buildings or stopping the creation of new charities. But it is much easier to go after religions, because they are based on faith, which public policy has a hard time grasping.

And the threat to religions comes from both sides of the political spectrum. The attack on Islam in Switzerland came from the extreme right. The extreme right here in America has a similar view of Islam and would similarly love to wipe the religion out. There was also the harsh treatment of Mormonism by the conservative right fundamentalists precipitated by the presidential candidacy of Mitt Romney. Likewise, the extreme left has an uneasy relationship with religion because it (the extreme left) is trending more and more secular and does not care for fixed moralism. So on one extreme side you have the desire to exterminate all religions except for the one (usually fundamental Protestantism) that you believe is most correct, and on the other you have the desire to exterminate all religions equally.

Of course neither is right. And while I don't believe that our freedom of religion is under attack, and I don't feel like, as a Mormon or a believer in general, that I am a second-class citizen, it is fairly clear how the extremists would make it happen like they did in Switzerland to Muslims. I don't think it is too alarmist to suggest, then, that we should be on the lookout for offenses against our freedom of religion in America, like that in Switzerland.

But part of this falls on the religious, as well, to behave in such a way that makes it easy for us to retain our freedoms. The religious, and Mormons in particular, should be acutely aware of how any hint of religious in-fighting, an attempt to legislate our beliefs, moral superiority, or intolerance of other beliefs systems (including atheism) can open the door, fairly or unfairly, to limiting religious freedom.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Daily Herald Shanks Its Health Care Manifesto

It's time to head back into the Utah County psyche and contemplate the gymnastics of logic and and reasoning of the Daily Herald. With the Senate voting to allow full debate over the health care reform bill, conservatives are apocalyptic. In a robust showing of a lack of undemocratic principles, every single Senate Republican voted against allowing debate of the bill. They don't even want the bill debated. The Daily Herald tackled the health care reform discussion with: Outright Fraud in the Health Bill.

So what is this outright fraud to which the Herald is opposed?
Consider the literal bill itself: the Senate version is numbered HR 3590, a tag that normally refers to a House Resolution. Confused? Harry Reid and his minions gutted an already passed House bill and crammed their own scheme into it.
Why? Because if the bill is OK'd by the Senate, it would go back to the House as if it were the original bill, already passed. That could bypass a conference committee and speed its passage.
It's outright fraud.
The Merriam Webster definition of fraud: "an act of deceiving or misrepresenting." This is such a common tactic in legislation that it barely warrants a sliver of a thought, and it certainly, under no detonation or connotation of the word, amounts to fraud. No one is disguising anything from anybody. If the lowly Daily Herald can spend two minutes surfing the web to come up with this open-for-all-to-see tactic, then it isn't fraud. Daily Herald: look words up before using them. Moving on:
Now consider the costs. The Democrats and some in the media will say the bill cuts costs. Baloney. Any "cuts" are achieved by shifting costs into other bills, or pushing them down the road a few years.
Now, I understand that the Daily Herald has a team of crack economists crunching numbers and sussing details, but lets turn to the fair and balanced Fox News to rebut this:
The Senate bill, which includes a government-run insurance plan that would allow states to opt out, would extend health care coverage to more than 94 percent of the population, or 31 million additional Americans. It also would cut the federal deficit by $127 billion over the first 10 years and as much as $650 billion over the next 10 years, according to the analysis by the nonpartisan CBO.
It will cut the federal deficit by hundreds of billions of dollars. Hundreds of billions. Over the next twenty years. Why is this so hard to accept? Why does this blind spot exist in the collective conservative field of vision? This is a bill that will extend coverage to nearly all Americans and cut costs. Extend coverage. Cut costs. The Daily Herald is either lying to its readers or has a basic reading comprehension disability. Which is more charitable to assume? Anyway:
You will become a statistic, an unwelcome expense for a flat-broke U.S. government.
This is oddly placed off by itself with no further reasoning or explanation. One thing I will miss about our current system, though, is the way my insurance provider treats me like a true human being. How I am called regularly just to see how I'm doing and to ask if they can do anything for me. How they send cards and flowers for major life events. How they don't run actuarial tables to determine if I am eligible for certain rates or coverage at all. Oh, and the government is not broke, and this bill will save us hundreds of billions of dollars.
Health-care rationing has been pooh-poohed. Well, a government panel announced this week that women younger than 50 or older than 75 should no longer should get routine mammograms. Why? The panel says the mammograms are not necessary -- an interesting change, and coincidental. It also saves boatloads of money.
This is a harbinger of how you can expect the government to whittle away at your health options once bureaucrats run things.
First, a recommendation based on scientific studies from a non-partisan panel is not rationing or whittling away your health options. Go and have as many mammograms as you'd like, no one will stop you. But if you want to use your resources wisely, you may consider following this recommendation. Second, it is an interesting change, and is in no way coincidental of anything. This is a study that has been going on for years and is in no way linked to the health care reform bill. Third, of course it saves money, with very few risks to women. The entire health care system is built on inefficiencies and bloated costs, so we should be applauding when a careful, thoughtful study of the system comes up with ways to save money while not endangering our health. But, whatever, Daily Herald, if you can only see rage in regards to all things government, continue on and don't let facts get in the way.

The principle concern from conservatives, it seems to me, is that the government is going to start forcing health care decisions on Americans. But we have Medicaid, Medicare, and the health insurance system that all federal government employees use that show otherwise. There is simply no evidence, beyond the bad feelings conservatives are getting about a public option, that any of this will occur. The Herald points to none, in any case.

The Herald then quotes the dean of the Harvard Medical School, who opposes the current bill. There are dozens and dozens of equally impressive people who support it. The AMA endorsed it, for instance. Quoting one smart person does not end the debate.

Then there is some talk of a Republican health care bill which no one has ever heard of, which, get this:
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said the Republican House alternative would lower Americans' insurance premiums, while also cutting the federal deficit by $68 billion.
Thank goodness we have the Republicans to introduce a bill which would save Americans hundreds of billions of dollars less than the current bill. Nicely done. And thank you to the Herald for ignoring the CBO when its studies are inconvenient, citing when its studies are convenient, and undercutting your entire argument. The Republican bill would do the following:
It would let people shop for the best values by allowing companies to sell policies across state lines. It would put the brakes on runaway malpractice awards and bolster the private insurance market while encouraging employers to offer cheaper policies for people who follow healthier lifestyles. It would expand Health Savings Accounts.
Bottom line: give people more control in a free market while reining in costs.
Malpractice costs make up less than two percent of health care costs. Maybe tort reform is something to consider, but to make it the basis of health care reform is like walking into a room full of murderers and asking the teenage shoplifter to please leave because he's making you uncomfortable.

Encouraging employers to offer cheaper policies? I laughed out loud when I read that. Problem solved, America! We're going to encourage employers to offer cheaper policies! That is sure to fix the problem. Please, employers? I mean, come on, health insurance is expensive. Please lower costs?

Finally, the underregulation of the insurance companies to begin with was what created the crisis we're facing right now. Insurance companies have proven themselves to be completely irresponsible and manipulative, so I don't think giving them more freedom is the answer. They need tight regulation and Americans need true choices, which includes the ability to opt into Medicare before age 65. This will lower costs and cover nearly all Americans. This is the Democratic plan, and it represents real progress in America's health care.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Trying Terrorists in Civil Court

The latest evidence proffered by conservative ideologues that Pres. Obama is anti-American and that America is being ruined is the announcement that certain detainees from Guantanamo Bay will be tried in civil courts for the 9/11 attacks. Chief among them is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-described mastermind of 9/11.

The reasons for conservative outrage go like this, I think:

1. These men do not deserve the privilege of the American court system. To try them in our court system would be to defile that system.

2. It is dangerous to bring these terrorists to American soil because it would invite further terrorist attacks.

3. The government would have to give up its secrets in court in order to prosecute them effectively.

4. It would be a media circus and too great a strain on our court system.

As to number one, I agree. He does not deserve due process of law. Neither did Timothy McVeigh or Jeffrey Dahmer. These types of men do not deserve the rights and privileges of due process of law. But in America this is how we do it. In America we are a nation of laws, due process, objectivity, and justice. We have a Constitution to protect us from mob rule and decisionmaking based on emotion, hatred, half-truths, rumors, and the like. It is fundamentally American, and the right thing to do, to drag these terrorists through the court system and show the world that America does things the Right Way.

Number two is, I believe, a scare tactic. There have been no other terrorist attacks on U.S. soil since 9/11, despite the fact that they have tried. We are more alert now than ever, and I believe that we are safer now than ever. I don't believe that we are more at risk having these few terrorists locked up in America than we did having them locked up 100 miles south of Florida in Cuba.

Number three is probably not going to happen to begin with, but reveals something about ourselves in any case. The government has a long standing exemption from regular discovery rules for national security secrets. They will not give away information that could be used to harm America, our troops, or our citizens. But really what we are worried about is the embarrassing stuff that could come out as a result of this trial. The torture, the poor conditions, the poor decisionmaking, and all the other skeletons in our closet regarding how we have prosecuted the war on terror.

Part of the reason I support this move by the Obama Administration is because it will lead to more openness about how we've been doing things and it will shed some light on some of our actions that we should not be proud of. Hopefully we'll come out of this a stronger nation with more desire to be just, open, and supportive of human rights than before. They will convict these terrorists no matter how embarrassing some of the details may be, so I hope we end up doing a little soul-searching along the way.

Number four is trivial and doesn't matter to me. It will be a media circus. It will strain the courts. Compared to how important it is to get this right, and show America to be just and strong and confident, those concerns mean little.

It has been well documented (I get my information from Glenn Greenwald: see here, here, here, and here, who in turn gets his information from the Pentagon, Gen. McChrystal, and others) that the imprisonment of Muslims suspected of terrorism without any sort of due process of law is a key recruiting tool for Islamic extremists. The mistreatment of extremists in our custody is driving more extremism. We have to put a stop to this, and it is within our power to do so. Muslim extremists, it is true, will never "like" us, but that is besides the point. We don't need friends, we just need to take the edge off that seething anger that drives manageable dislike to terrorism.

Trying these extremists in civil court, including KSM, is the right thing to do both for ourselves internally as a nation and our security worldwide.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Church Supports Nondiscrimination Ordinances

The Salt Lake City Council passed two nondiscrimination ordinances which make it illegal for landlords and employers to discriminate based on sexual orientation. The Church sent Michael Otterson, the director of its public affairs office, to make a statement supporting the ordinances.

This will no doubt come as a shock to many members of the Church who have taken a hard-line stand against homosexuals, especially after Prop 8. Perusing the internets and the comment sections on the Deseret News and Salt Lake Tribune, I found three reactions to this news:

1) Good for the Church. This shows that they are not bigots or anti-homosexual, only that they are trying to protect marriage between a man and a woman.

No surprise, this is where I fit in. I am happy that the Church made this effort to affirm the basic dignity and rights of all people, no matter their sexual orientation. I may not have thought Prop 8 was a great idea, but I absolutely understand the desire to protect the institution of marriage. God purposely created the traditional family as the means to best prepare us for eternal life. Protecting the LGBT community against bigotry and discrimination in no way harms or undercuts this belief.

2) This is just a public relations stunt. Where was the Church during the Common Ground Initiative debates? Why should we believe the Church is committed to gay rights after the bigotry that was the Prop 8 campaign? This is merely a drop in the bucket compared to what needs to be done to secure equal rights for gays.

I don't think it is dissonant for the Church to have supported Prop 8 while at the same time support these nondiscrimination ordinances. The one was a direct change of the definition of marriage, the other is a basic affirmation of human dignity and human rights. The Church, doctrinally, will never change its belief that marriage is between a man and a woman and that homosexual acts are a sin, but that does not mean that they will not support rights for gay people that fall short of marriage. It is of no use for the LGBT community to get upset over it.

3) The people running to the right of the Church. They see this as just another assault on traditional marriage and will not accept any rights for homosexuals. The epitome of this is the Sutherland Institute which vigorously opposed the ordinances and put out this message yesterday:

The LDS Church, like all religions in Utah, has a vital role to play in making Utah a better place to live, work, and raise a family. Sutherland’s important role is to help elected officials craft sound, principle-based public policy toward that same end. We recognize the growing differences between religious and secular cultures within Salt Lake City and commend the LDS Church for its earnest desire to keep cultural and political tensions to a minimum.

As a public relations opportunity, the LDS Church’s statement before the Salt Lake City Council may assuage the minds and soften the hearts of advocates of “gay rights” in Utah. As a policy statement, it is problematic. The approved ordinances before the Salt Lake City Council are unsound in principle, clarity, and effect.

We have learned from California and other states that the meaning of marriage will die by a thousand cuts. Each new inclusion in the law of such vague terms as “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” represents a mounting threat to the meaning of marriage. Of course, each one, singly and in isolation, does no violence to the meaning of marriage. However, the legal debate is far ahead of such parochial analysis. Unfortunately, homosexual activists seeking to redefine the meaning of marriage – as well as activist courts seeking to do the same – do not view these types of ordinances singly or in isolation but as a pattern of public opinion to justify radical changes to law as we saw in California.

As we have stated previously, we hold that the approved ordinances are vague, dangerously broad, and unjust to the parties they seek to regulate.

We, once again, call on the Utah State Legislature to overturn these local ordinances on the basis of sound public policy.

The Sutherland Institute is a Utah-based conservative think tank, made up mostly of LDS members, whose agenda is primarily to stop any progress to humanize immigrants and homosexuals, and to support the radical de-governmentization of society. I imagine it is very uncomfortable for its many LDS members to realize that the Church is taking a decidely more centrist view on its core issues of immigration and gay rights. I don't think it is wrong to disagree with the Church's stance on these ordinances, it's just that so many people try to pin their politics to what they perceive are the Church's politics of the Republican Party that it must be astonishing when they don't line up completely.

I am not suggesting that I think the Church, as an institution, practices liberal politics. Just like don't think it practices conservative politics. My feeling is that the guiding principles the Church espouses when it comes to involvement in political debates are to: 1) defend our beliefs and 2) show Christlike love to all. If that means opposing gay marriage but supporting gay rights, then so be it. If that means requiring all members to obey the law but turning the other way when it comes to illegal immigrants, so be it.

We get so caught up in our understanding of American politics that we, and I'm absolutely including myself here, try to pigeon-hole the Church into one American political ideology or the other. It should be clear by now that this is a mistake, and that God works so far above these human-created distinctions that it is embarrassing to even put them in the same sentence.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Fort Hood Memorial Service Roll Call

I don't have anything interesting or new to say about the tragedy at Fort Hood. Of course our hearts go out to the family and friends and fellow soldiers of the murdered. I usually won't just copy a video or link and leave it at that, but I found this so moving that I wanted to share it:

The silence for the few moments after the names of the murdered are called is so poignant it speaks louder and clearer, I think, than anything anyone could say.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Health Care Reform Passes in House, America Dies

America has survived the Revolutionary War, traitors, the Alien and Sedition Acts, the first ever peaceful exchange of political power between opposing political parties, the War of 1812, slavery, the first death of a sitting president, the Trail of Tears, the Missouri Compromise, Dred Scott, the Civil War, the suspension of habeas corpus, the assassination of our greatest president, Reconstruction, Jim Crow laws, the disputed election of 1876, the corruption of the Gilded Age, the assassinations of a couple more presidents, the Spanish-American War, World War I, the Espionage and Sedition Acts, Eugene Debbs, the Great Depression, the New Deal, J. Edgar Hoover, Pearl Harbor, World War II, the Smith Act, Japanese Internment camps, FDR court packing, desegregation, McCarthyism, the Korean War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the assassination of JFK, the assassination of Bobby Kennedy, the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., the Great Society, the Vietnam War, Watergate, Iran-Contra, the Cold War, two Iraq Wars, impeachment of the president, 9/11, and an administration that tortured and started unprovoked wars and illegally wiretapped and spied on American citizens. Just to name a few.

We have been attacked and mauled from without and from within. We have suppressed and brutalized minorities. We have allowed our most basic civil liberties to be trampled during almost every war we've ever fought. We have been so divided we've started an internal war.

Through it all, however, America has remained the greatest nation on Earth and triumphed again and again. It is tempting to call it destiny, looking back, but it is also because of the strength and resiliency of the American people. It is because of the genius of the Constitution and the Founding Fathers. It is because, deep down, Americans have a sense of justness and fairness and liberty that no other nation has ever achieved.

But it's all over, folks. We may have endured those difficult times, but we've encountered something greater than them all: The 111th House of Representatives has passed health care reform. This is the end of America. Liberty itself is now dead. The Constitution has been broken. Democracy is failing.

Nothing in our 233-year history could have prepared us for this. The rest of the world may have watched the Civil War unfold and predicted the end of the Great Experiment, but if they could have seen health care reform they would have viewed that war as a mere pittance in comparison. We may be a nation that is strong and resilient and jealous of our liberties and freedoms, but when one house of Congress passes a bill reforming a broken health care system and allowing all Americans essentially to opt in to Medicare before the age of 65, well, that is too much for even the most freedom-loving people.

So goodnight, fair America. You were a beacon of justice and liberty for so long. We will always remember you with fondness. But every great nation must pass away eventually. Because of health care reform.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Green China

China has made significant political, economic, and environmental progress since the Tian'anmen Square incident of 1989. One major reason that incident was so important is because of the amount, and type, of media coverage it received. I feel that it was truly the turning point of modern China; a moment of shame that sparked the realization that the rest of the world was watching China, and despite their best efforts, the government couldn't keep the wool in place.

China remains a socialist country according to its behavior, and as stated in Article 1 of the Chinese constitution. As such, perhaps many people's deep rooted belief that anything related to "socialism" keeps us cautiously sinophobic. I do agree that there are countless examples of misuse of power in China, including, but not limited to, the suppression of personal freedoms and freedom of the press - for example, government blocking of facebook, twitter, youtube, etc. However, I suggest that we can still benefit by inspecting some aspects of China's policy that are on the right track, and may be even more progressive than our own.

China is a world powerhouse, if not soon The powerhouse. It is one of the commercial mainstays of the world, and its industrial output continues to exceed our own. But economic policy and progress aside, I am fascinated by the push in China to "go green."

Two major areas have started to emerge as fundamental changes in government regulation. The first is the transportation industry, the second is the power industry. China announced last year that several automakers were exploring the production of electric cars, with two manufactures to date already reaching the goal. Interestingly, the government has already committed to subsidizing the purchase of clean cars to be used in a number of cities "by public transport operators, taxi companies and postal and sanitary services."

But this is in the future, right?

I visited the city of Xi'an this summer (famous for the Terracotta soldiers). All scooters are, by law, electric powered which cuts down on both exhaust and noise pollution. All taxi cabs, by law, have been converted to run on natural gas. In fact, there is an initiative to increase the development of Xi'an as the "port" city to the vast resources of western China, and government oversight is trying to ensure the growth and expansion of the city happens with a green foundation by awarding contracts to companies that are "green." Which brings us to the second aspect of government intervention to push the green envelope.

A few years ago, the Three Gorges Dam was completed and the hydroelectric generators started up, bringing energy desperately needed to the region. Although this particular dam is riddled with controversy, it is a step in the right direction, and with the passage of a Renewable Energy Law in 2005, other hydroelectric power stations will follow.

China has also recently begun to investigate wind power. A new coalition was announced in October that partners workers and investors both in the US and in China to develop and manufacture large scale wind farms. The deal does include spending some of the money set aside by the economic stimulus plan, and the project will create jobs locally in Texas as well as in China. I think this is a great direction for our two countries - to pursue a common goal that will benefit citizens of each.

China is also exploring other forms of renewable energy including biomass, solar, and geothermal (of which they are already number one in the world).

But when do these advancements reach the general public?

It already has. In my travels in China, I have recently noticed every (literally) rooftop being decorated with the same object - a solar-powered water heater. These units do not power any electrical outlets, but they do capture the sun's power to heat enough water for all daily use, including showers, washing clothes and dishes, and cooking. Amazingly, these units are very cheap (about $170), and are available in even the most rural of settings.

"Green" is a hot topic, and although the US leads the world in talking about the problem, countries like China openly discussing the problems, and are using government intervention to solve it. We have done some good things, but this is still one aspect where I think government policies and oversight may be the only way to guarantee success.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Extreme Right-Wing Strategy Fails, At Least This Once

I think it is dangerous to put too much stock into these really off-year elections. There are so few that the national infortainment machine puts excess weight on each. The governorships in Virginia and New Jersey went from Democrat to Republican. Independents in those states that voted for Pres. Obama, and who, in exit polls, still supported the president, voted for the Republican governor. Not a great sign for Democrats, but really a small sample size.

The other race that, for me at least, was the most interesting was the special election in NY-23. In that race you started out with Democrat Bill Owens, Republican Dede Scozzafava, and Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman. Scozzafava is a moderate, which conservative ideologues and purists did not appreciate, to the point that they drove her right out of the race. Palin, Bachmann, Fred Thompson, Dick Armey, and the unholy trio of Beck-Limbaugh-Hannity all publicly supported the extreme conservative Hoffman over their party's moderate candidate. Scozzafava dropped out and urged her supporters to vote for the Democrat, Bill Owens.

Like I said, it is dangerous to put too much weight on single races like this, but this really felt like a war between the purity v. big-tent conservatives to see who would take control of the party. And the purity group won. They are pushing moderates out left and right. They are anointing extreme right-wingers to lead the party.

So what happened in that race, to the seat that has been solidly Republican since the Civil War? The Democrat won.

An ideologically pure, kick-out-the-extremists political party cannot be a national power, whether conservative or liberal. If the Republican party is intent on purging itself of moderates then it will continue to fail like it has for the past few years. I understand that some people in the party want to stick to their extreme-right agenda. They should be perfectly free to do so. But that does not mean they should alienate other moderate conservatives from their party. There is room for both. The Democrats are now the party that attracts moderate voices because they are a "big-tent" party. Just look at how much power the Blue Dogs have. There is no corresponding moderate bloc of Congresspeople among Republicans.

So we should not put too much emphasis on these few races, but that doesn't mean we can't learn something from them. And one thing we can learn is that pure ideology at the expense of more widespread appeal is a strategy for failure.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Unity Despite Political Differences

BYU recently held its "Religion and Politics: The Philosophical Problem and Its Contemporary Implications" symposium. All I can glean so far is what the Deseret News reported, the goal of which seemed to be to lump as many different thoughts from different people into one short column as possible. So I haven't gotten too much information yet and I'm hoping a transcript becomes available soon.

One point I wanted to hit on was from BYU political science professor Ralph Hancock who is paraphrased as saying that we, as Mormons, have three choices when it comes to politics: "claim to be a part of the mainstream, beg tolerance or work to change the mainstream." I take this to mean that if we join the mainstream we do so at the risk of our own principles and beliefs. If we beg tolerance we maintain our integrity but do nothing to become a positive force for good in the nation. That leaves us with the option of going out and trying to change the mainstream.

He went on to say:
We cannot shrink from the challenge of inflecting the majority in as wholesome a direction as might be possible. Neutrality is a lure; it's a trap. There cannot and will not be such a thing. Our task ought to be: make as many of the best kinds of friends as we can to affect the best direction of our … public discourse.
The question, I guess, is whether there is only one way, politically, to be a positive influence on the "mainstream." Do we have to stand together as members of the Church on every political issue to make a positive difference? I've noticed ever since I starting writing this blog how divisive politics is, even among members of the Church. Check out the comments section to newspapers that mix religion and politics to see just how nasty and inhuman and unChristian we can be towards each other over politics. Then remember this commandment: "I say unto you, be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine."

It would be nice, for me, if every member of the Church adopted my politics and was one with me. Unfortunately, I don't believe this was the commandment. I also don't believe that this commandment requires that members of the Church all espouse the same politics. Remember, our Church leaders have expressly encouraged political plurality. What we want is to be unified in love and respect for each other, and unified on "points of doctrine."

So when we flex our political muscles as members of the Church I don't think we all need to be flexing the same muscle in unison. I think we can disagree on politics and still remain "one." I also think there can be issues that members of the Church from all political persuasions can stand behind. Freedom of religion comes to mind. Otherwise it is up to us as individuals to understand the points of doctrine, live them, and then decide on our own how to best influence the "mainstream" to change for the better. I don't think there is a single, simple way to accomplish this goal, and it probably affirmatively requires voices from many different points of view.

But we are Mormons first, and liberals and conservatives somewhere further down the list. We have to stand together as members of the Church before we can stand with our separate political parties. This Church has never been affiliated with one political party over any other, and I'm not sure why there is a desire to do so now.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Harry Reid, Prop 8, and Being A Good Mormon

Harry Reid, Senate Majority Leader and active Mormon, recently told a gay rights group that he did not support the Church's Prop 8 campaign. He said he believes that it was a waste of resources and a detriment to the Church's missionary program.

Reid's statement once again gave Mormon conservative activists the opportunity to question how one can be both a Mormon and a liberal. From a Salt Lake Tribune article comes this quote from Holly Richardson, who has a blog called Holly on the Hill, who said: "I just don't get how his politics translate to somebody who has LDS beliefs. He's an embarrassment to me as a Mormon." This quote is merely representative of the types of comments out there. It is truly astonishing that this type of thought still exists.

First, how can people not understand that holding a personal belief and not supporting that belief's codification into civil law are completely compatible? I believe in God. I do not believe that we should enact laws requiring everyone to believe in God. That is an individual choice and other people's beliefs do not effect me and my beliefs. Some Mormon conservatives do not seem capable of making this distinction.

Second, a Mormon Democrat does not have to personally espouse every majority Democratic issue. I have said it so many times it is getting boring and cliche. I do not have to be pro-choice to be a liberal Democrat. The next person does not have to be pro-torture to be a conservative Republican. There is room for debate and disagreement in any group, particularly political groups. Do not just blindly accept a political party's stances and likewise do not just blindly believe that members of the other party are monolithic. That is naive and foolish. All liberals do not want to abort babies and all conservatives do not want to torture and kill all criminals.

Third, we have also pointed out before that Pres. Faust was a Democrat and worked in the Kennedy administration. Elder Marlin Jensen of the Seventy, Church Historian and Recorder, is a Democrat. Pres. Hinckley explicitly stated that a good member of the Church can be a good Democrat. The Church as explicitly encouraged political plurality. And so on. There is nothing inherent about Mormonism and conservatism that make them a match. There was a time when Mormons consistently voted for more liberals political candidates. It ebbs and flows.

So Sen. Reid is the Democratic Majority Leader and Mormon? So Harry Reid thinks that Prop 8 was a mistake? So what? We live in a complicated world, people, and there is plenty of room in the Church to have debates like this. It doesn't mean that we can start deciding who is a good member of the Church based on party affiliation.*

*I fully realize that I recently questioned Glenn Beck's Mormonism, but that was not for his politics, it was for the hateful and vindictive things he has said about political opponents and minorities, and inciting hatred in others. Different things.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Right to Life and a Public Option

Momentum is gaining in Washington for a public option. I say "in Washington" because the American public and doctors have favored a public option for some time now. Democratic Senators and Representatives appear to be coming around finally, hopefully not too late.

This movement comes on the heels of a CBO report that says that the House public option bill would reduce the federal deficit over the next ten years. It also comes at a time when liberals are doing a better job branding the public option as "Medicare for everyone." The question now is, would you like the option of buying into Medicare before you turn 65?

Republicans, of course, are pushing back. Sen. Hatch is trying to shift the focus away from morals and whether we have a "right" to healthcare, to an appeal to personal freedom, as if that it is a useful distinction. He recently said, "Framing it as a moral question is simply wrong because health care does not occur naturally and is not self-evident. . . It's a choice. It's the freedom of health care and a kind of personal medical liberty."

Calling health care a right, or arguing against it as a right, is misleading. As Sen. Hatch implies, we basically have two kinds of rights we believe in. First are "certain inalienable rights" endowed to all men "by their Creator," namely "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." Don't forget what Jefferson wrote about those rights: "That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."

Second are the rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights. They are well known and include the freedom of religion and speech, right to a trial by jury, and right to be free of cruel and unusual punishment.

Obviously there is no enumerated right to health care in the Bill of Rights. When conservatives say there is no right to health care, that is what they mean. But what if Americans believe that included in the right to Life, given to us by our Creator, is the right to adequate health care? And what if a majority of Americans consented and gave power to a properly instituted government which secured that right for all of us?

That is where the discussion should be when it comes to whether or not we, as Americans, have a right to health care. We have a right to Life. That right is inalienably given to us by God. We can consent to the government securing that right for us by providing access to adequate health care for every American in the form of a public option. Hopefully Washington Democrats will listen to Americans and give us the public option we want and to which have a right.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

What To Do About Afghanistan

Here are three pretty convincing arguments about what Pres. Obama should do about Afghanistan.

The first argues that if we want a victory in Afghanistan we are going to have to decide to Get Nasty, send a lot more troops than even Gen. McChrystal is asking for, and use overwhelming military force to oust the Taliban and Al Qaeda for good. We can't win this war by going home or using half measures. We need to fully engage, no matter how politically unpopular the idea may be. Peace is only achieved through war.

The second argues that brute military force in Muslim countries is the actual cause of hatred towards America, and thus creates breeding ground for terrorism. Even if we oust the Taliban through military force, we will have lost the bigger goal of stamping out terrorism because the act of taking out the Taliban through military force will cause more hatred and terrorism towards America.

The third takes the middle ground and argues that our goal should be protecting and propping up a few major cities in Afghanistan by "throw[ing] at them all the resources they can absorb: military, civilian, financial, the works." We don't worry about the sparsely populated rural regions because if popular opinion turns our way in the big cities it will seep out to the rest of the country.

What is likely to happen will be more like the middle of the road suggestion than anything. We won't just leave, but it is too unpopular a stance to approve a major troop increase, so Pres. Obama will send a few more troops and hope it all works out.

You, of course, can decide which plan makes the most sense for you, understanding that very few of us can really understand the full scope of these foreign policy decisions. But that doesn't mean we can't have an opinion. We may not grasp the full implications of these decisions, and we don't have access to the intelligence information on which the government bases its decisions, but we can still have an opinion about how our government should generally make these decisions.

I want to re-post two quotes from modern-day prophets that guide my feelings on this subject. During World War I Pres. Joseph F. Smith said:
For years it has been held that peace comes only by preparation for war; the present conflict should prove that peace comes only by preparing for peace, through training the people in righteousness and justice, and selecting rulers who respect the righteous will of the people.
Pres. Marion G. Romney said:
We should find no pleasure in the fact that men’s strivings for peace have proved ineffectual. I wage no war against their efforts. Many of them are doing the best they can in the light they have. Nevertheless, I can see no justification for us, who have the clear light of the revealed gospel of Christ, to spend our lives stumbling around through the mists following the uncertain glimmer of a flickering candle lighted by the wisdom of men. Rather, we should devote our energies to spreading the true light, and leave the mists to those who do not see that light.
Wars are creations of man. They are only waged because we want them waged and we have created situations where they are then necessary. At some point we have to stop looking for opportunities for war and start looking for opportunities for peace. So I am personally ready to bring the troops home from Afghanistan and have our leaders start focusing on peace.

That may be naive at this point, especially to those in the government who have spent their lives in the "uncertain glimmer of a flickering candle lighted by the wisdom of men." They would say that we have to wage these wars to protect America from terrorism. Perhaps, though, we protect America best by focusing on peace and understanding instead of war.

There is no way of knowing this, but I suspect America may have been better off if we never went to Korea, Vietnam, Iraq (twice), Somalia, Afghanistan, and all the other places we've taken our military might. There is not a decisive victory in the entire list, and all we've reaped is more hatred and bitterness towards our country. And now people are even talking about going after Iran. This type of thinking has to stop.

So I say, bring the troops home from Afghanistan, start creating understanding and diplomatic ties, start focusing on peace and commonalities. That, to me, is the best way to ensure peace and change the world.

Monday, October 19, 2009

100th Post Extravaganza

The fact that this is our 100th post says more about our stubbornness here at the Mormon Left than about the inherent quality of our writing and thinking or the number of people reading this blog.

It started out almost exactly a year ago as a way to explain that, yes, a person can be politically liberal and a good Mormon. I think we sussed that out pretty effectively and have now moved on to mostly writing about current events through the points of view of Mormon liberals. We've also made it clear that the purpose of this blog not to criticize or reinterpret doctrines, it is just a way to discuss secular politics from an angle that hasn't historically gotten a lot of publicity.

We've got some excellent readers who check in often and make really interesting and insightful comments. We thank everyone that comes and reads and comments. We welcome comments from all over the political spectrum and have had some great discussions over the past year.

I thought I would take this opportunity, then, to go over the thesis once again. Modern political liberalism and church doctrine are not mutually exclusive. There is plenty of room within the doctrines and teachings of the church for people of all political persuasions as long as they affirm the right of the individual to freedom of choice, including the freedom to practice religion.

The word "liberal," of course is pretty loaded (just like the word "conservative") and can mean a lot of different things to different people. I think Shawn O. made the definitive statement for this blog, however, when he wrote:
I value individual freedom more than 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.
Liberal is more than just Democrat, in fact sometimes they are at odds altogether. It is not always about government control or regulation of markets and systems. The focus is not on abortion or gay rights. "Liberal" is about progress, questioning the way we do things, looking for ways to improve, focusing on the rights and freedoms of all individuals, fostering tolerance and dialogue.

I feel this is a good fit with my religion, for me. I feel like believers should be constantly questioning the ever-shifting winds of societies, challenging individuals and groups to improve human conditions and relationships instead of holding on dearly to the secularist ideas of the past. We should embrace progress in technology and science and understanding to reach out to the least fortunate and powerful among us to lift them up and give them real opportunities in life.

Sometimes that means giving power to the government as the entity with the most potential to reach everyone. Sometimes that means trusting in individuals to do what's right on their own. It always means tolerance, respect, generosity, and selflessness. It means giving up what may be best for Me, for what is best for Us.

There have been no shortage of prominent Mormon liberals and statements by church leaders that both conservatives and liberals are welcome and encouraged in the church. But that doesn't mean that there are not issues where a liberal has to take a non-liberal stance in order to conform with the teachings of the church (abortion, for instance). The same can be said for conservatives, though (torture and war, for instance). We stated before and we will state it again, if you accept and agree with 100% of the views of a political party chances are you are not thinking critically. You are likely just following along blindly without examining the rhetoric.

So once again we state unequivocally that a person can be a strong liberal and a strong Mormon. We have loved working through these tough issues over the past year and hope to continue doing so. Feel free to tell your friends and, if you are new to the blog, to browse through our older posts which cover a wide variety of subjects. Thanks again for reading and contributing.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Jason Chaffetz Show

I like having Jason Chaffetz around. He is fun to follow. He has kooky ideas, a weird personality, boyish enthusiasm, and really kooky ideas. Don't get me wrong, I'd rather have a liberal representing that district, but since it is arguably the most conservative district in the nation, and any representative they elect is going to be an extreme right-winger anyway, we might as well be able to sit back and enjoy the show.

Chaffetz, remember, won his seat by ousting Chris Cannon, the 16th most conservative representative out of 435 by one measure, by running to Cannon's right. I still find that fact horrifying and entertaining, like watching the audition stage of American Idol.

Interestingly, however, sometimes there are bizarre issues that Chaffetz latches onto where I can kind of see his point. For instance, Chaffetz recently had a vendetta against TSA whole body imaging devices at airports. This is a device that creates something like a 3D image of the persons body for security purposes. Chaffetz's money quote is that "Nobody needs to see my wife and kids naked to secure an airplane."

I have got to say, I kind of agree with him. The images are not like photographs by any stretch of the imagination, but they kind of do look like a human body naked, kind of, and it seems maybe a little too far. And what is wrong with all the other security measures we have at the airports that we need this new thing? Does our right to privacy have some bounds that this maybe encroaches? I get where he's coming from.

But don't forget that he is still Jason Chaffetz. He recently went to the airport, purposefully got in line for one of these machines, and then reportedly went berserk and made a big scene about them and caused a ruckus and claimed he was being harassed because he was the Congressman that introduced the bill to get the things banned. Again, weird dude.

He went to Congress with this real absolute personal quest to end all earmarks. Again, there is something to that. Earmarks, while just a fraction of the federal budget, are a place where a lot of money gets wasted on pet projects, like the infamous "Bridge to Nowhere." He was incredibly adamant about this and used it as a major campaign issue. Remember he is still Jason Chaffetz, though, and now has a set of rules where it will be okay for him to get some of his own earmarks.

Which brings us to the latest Jason Chaffetz issue. He wants the census going out next year to require people to mark if they are legal U.S. citizens. Okay, so I understand the problem. The House of Representatives is configured by the number of citizens in each state and in each district. There are 435 seats which can get switched around from state to state as populations shift. We should make sure we have a pretty good idea of where U.S. citizens are before we move around seats. For instance, Utah is going to get a new seat, probably at the expense of South Carolina, with the new census. That should not be done willy-nilly.

But it is such a horrible idea to make people check a box if they are legal citizens in the census questionnaire. First, it would obviously depress responses. If I was not a citizen I wouldn't mark it and send it back in. I would be afraid that would be used against me, even if I was in the country legally. Second, the census is used for more than just redistricting, it is used to track population trends, income trends, gender trends, and the like. It is more important to get as many accurate responses as possible than to use it as what looks like an attempt to further his extremely offensive immigration stances.

Anyway, since we are going to get an extreme conservative out of Utah's Third District no matter what, we might as well get one that is entertaining (again, in an American Idol audition kind of way) and harmless.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Utah's Red Rock Wilderness Bill

The Red Rock Wilderness Act to protect, as wilderness, about 9 million acres of federal land in Utah raises several interesting issues.

1. What is the best use of wild lands? Resource extraction? Tourism? Motorized recreation? Non-motorized recreation? Conservation in a pristine state? Development?

2. Who has the most valid claim to making decisions about the use of federal lands in Utah? Utahns? Utah's Congresspeople? Counties? Congress at large? Americans at large?

3. Why, again, do we consider Jim Matheson a Democrat?

The primary conservative argument against the Red Rock Wilderness bill is best summed up by Rep. Rob Bishop in his editorial to the Deseret News. It is that the the bill would foreclose a large portion of Utah to economic activity. First, we should make clear that these are lands that are not suitable for commercial or residential development, nor are they anywhere near where any serious development is likely to occur in the foreseeable future. So really we are talking about extraction: oil and gas wells, hardrock mining, and logging.

The assumption is that Utah's economy will benefit more from extractive industries than what is termed as "ecosystem services," which includes such things as:
provisioning, such as the production of food and water; regulating, such as the control of climate and disease; supporting, such as nutrient cycles and crop pollination; and cultural, such as spiritual and recreational benefits.
Economists have estimated that ecosystem services contribute about $5 trillion each year to the global economy. Really, though, ecosystem services are impossible to quantify because they are irreplaceable. You cannot create through artificial means the natural process that moderates our weather, mitigates droughts and floods, cycles nutrients, controls agricultural pests, purifies the air and water, and more.

Utah, and most of the West, has been beholden to the extractive industries for our entire American existence. Just a fraction of pristine, untouched land remains. It is time we shift our focus from consumption to conservation.

And that is exactly what is happening. A recent Dan Jones & Associates poll, commissioned by SUWA, shows that over 60% of Utahns think that those 9 million acres should be protected as wilderness. SUWA, of course, is biased, but Dan Jones is not, and that is who makes sure the poll is unbiased and objective. More polling should always be done, but that is a pretty good indicator of where Utahns stand on the wilderness issue. Utahns want their undeveloped land to be protected as wilderness.

But Utahns are not the only people with a stake in this issue. These are federal lands, they always have been. They belong to America, and that includes every American. There is a legal doctrine that says that states are in this together and that one state can't discriminate against another. For instance, New York cannot deny landfill space to New Jersey just to make sure there is enough for New York. We have to pool together as a nation.

Americans from Maine to California, from Florida to Alaska, pay taxes that support our federal lands. People from all over the nation come to Utah to experience wilderness. These lands belong to us all. Just as much as the Statue of Liberty, Everglades National Park, and Denali National Park belong to Utahns as much as the residents of the states where they are located. We are in this together as Americans, and all Americans have a right to protect the last vestiges of pristine wilderness in Utah.

So is it really important, as Rep. Bishop wrote, that no Utah Congressperson supports this bill? No. The only thing noteworthy about that is that Jim Matheson continues to win reelection by 10-20 points every year and never takes a stand as a Democrat. He has political capital to stand up for liberals in Utah as our only Democratic representative in Washington, but he never uses it. Like most members of Congress, he appears to make decisions based on maintaining his power and authority than on doing what is right and representing his constituents. It would be a shame if this bill did not pass just because no Utah Congressperson stood up for it, including the perpetually spineless "Democrat" Jim Matheson.

The Red Rock Wilderness bill is good for Utah, economically, ethically, and as a practical matter. It should pass, Utahns want it to pass, Americans want it to pass. We deserve to have our natural, untouched land protected as wilderness both for ourselves and for future generations.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Flubs of August

When people look back on August (about my post title, fyi) I think they'll realize it was a pivotal point in the healthcare debate, and possibly in national politics. It is the first time that I'm aware of where the Noise Machine that is the media totally failed to "move the needle".

Despite ballyhooing about raucous town hall meetings and endless hours of airtime for any health care reform opponent, nobody really changed their minds. In fact, public opinion may now swing more strongly in favor of reform. Solid majorities support the idea of a public option, even though they're uneasy about health care reform in general. Now, however, I think we're seeing those two lines starting to converge. People are getting the message that current reform efforts (generally) include support for a strong public option. The Finance Committee bill is only one of several bills that need to be reconciled before this thing is over, and it looks more and more like the Finance Committee's efforts are more of a sideshow to the main attraction. While the Senate is being a bit of a wet noodle, the House is much more strongly behind a public option, so there are many opportunities to get it into a bill. Perhaps the Finance Committee efforts will fail completely and no bill will come out. If that happens, then the other bills which include a public option are in a much better position to lend their language to the final version.

The bigger story for me, though, is the failure of the aforementioned noise machine. In the past it's been terribly effective, and Republicans have pumped their talking points through it, with the result being that people believed them. This time, however, it failed in a big way. Even though all the parts are working fine (and Fox/Beck continue to gain viewership relative to other cable news channels), nobody outside of their base is listening, or they just don't care. It's instructive that Frank Luntz, a Republican messaging specialist, warned Republicans not to oppose health care reform. The party, however, has a new set of leaders who don't stay "on message" (Beck, Limbaugh, Palin, et. al.) and as a result the whole apparatus has lost its power to affect the public debate for longer than a week or two.

Opponents of reform like to think that time is against the reformers, but in this case it appears that the opposite is true. Indeed, as time goes on the public opinion trends and the politics on the ground are swinging in the favor of a public option. And I'm fairly optimistic that, until the Republicans figure out how to be relevant in the health care debate, those trends will continue.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Glenn Beck, Cleon Skousen, Secret Combinations, and Conspiracy Theories

It's well known by now that Glenn Beck loves W. Cleon Skousen. If you are a Beck follower, Skousen's The 5,000 Year Leap is practically required reading. I won't go into a history of Skousen, but you can find some good information here.

In brief, Skousen is a member of the church, sometime FBI employee, BYU professor, Salt Lake City Police Chief, author, and lecturer. He devolved from conservative to right-wing conspiracy theorist. He was denounced by conservatives of the 50s and 60s after finally getting to the point where he called President Eisenhower a communist agent and warning against a New World Order. President Kimball and the church leadership issued a statement in which local leaders were not to support or advertise for Skousen's groups. The 5,000 Year Leap and other Skousen writings flit about from American history in religious terms to worldwide conspiracy theories linking fascists, communists, rich people, and anyone else opposed to the Skousen world view.

This is the man Glenn Beck is putting forth as the foundational thinker for his 912 Project. Now, there is enough take-down material on Skousen out there that I do not want to rehash it all. But are we not alarmed that the man too conservative and radically right-wing for McCarthy-era Republicans has become the new touchstone for the tea-baggers and birthers of today?

I cannot read Beck's mind, but after reading this article from the Dallas Morning News I have a theory for what might be going on. Beck, like Skousen before him, is trying to identify secret combinations like those chronicled in the Book of Mormon. Since there is no proof of anything of the sort he has been reduced to groping about for any little perceived evidence that crosses his consciousness. The now-famous communo-fascist art history lesson Beck put on a few weeks back stands as the perfect example.

I think we are all susceptible to a conspiracy theory or two. For instance, there was a time when I could be convinced that the moon landing was a hoax (A moon rock with a letter "C" on it?! Come on!). It's just in our nature to tend to believe some of these. Most of us don't think President Obama is the Manchurian candidate or that President Bush was behind the 9/11 attacks, but we've all got something.

But what happens if you take a particularly sinister conspiracy theory and link it your religion? Then it gets a little dangerous. Then you stop thinking objectively and critically and start seeing the the hand and will of God in your nutty theories. Then what happens when you a take an ascending figure in American T.V. and radio, a prominent Mormon who happens to be incredibly charismatic and has tapped into an angry segment of American society that feels disenfranchised, and really convince him of a grand conspiracy theory and link it to secret combinations that were prophesied by his religion? Could anything possibly go awry there?

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Losing the Public Option

Americans probably won't get the public option that we want, at least any time soon. The Senate Finance Committee rejected the public option. This comes after Speaker Pelosi assured us that the House bill would include a public option. The only hope, then, in the near future for a public option is during the reconciliation phase with the House and Senate, but that appears unlikely.

The latest poll, from the NY Times/CBS News, shows strong support for the public option. About 65% said that they would favor a government plan like Medicare that competed with the insurance companies. This is the latest in a string of polls that show either strong support for a public plan or, at the very least, a nation evenly divided.

We have a Democratic president, sixty Democrats in the Senate, and 256 Democratic Representatives to 177 Republicans. So what is going on here? Why have we lost the public option? The initial blame, of course, goes to the Senate. I understand that the reason Democrats have such a strong majority in Congress is because there are quite a few Democrats elected from conservative states and districts and that those members of Congress are concerned about getting pegged as "liberal" and losing their seats. But, as is mentioned in that latest poll, even more Republicans support a public option than oppose it, 47-42%.

It seems to me, then, that this is a failure of messaging and also the inherent difficulty of being the party in majority. It is always much easier and much clearer to be the one to say no, as opposed to being the one introducing complex reform. It is much more difficult to explain what a public option is, which we've never seen before in America, how it will improve the lives of individual Americans, and what problems it is going to ameliorate, than it is to be the minority party and simply set up an opposition.

The Democrats did this under the Bush administration and were very effective at it. So effective that we now have a Democratic president, Senate, and House. Holding onto a majority will always be more difficult than being the opposition party.

Given all of this, I can see why Pres. Obama wants to go out and make a lot of speeches. He is a great communicator and he probably believes that he can explain and sell Democratic ideas better than anyone else. He is probably right, and judging by the poll numbers he succeeded, but it hasn't translated to votes in the Senate.

So, what is the point of all this rambling? I am once again convinced that most Senators are more interested in maintaining power than being leaders. They are afraid of new ideas and taking risks because their primary motivation is serving themselves rather than the American public. I guess I'm a little disgusted right now, and maybe this is a rambling, cranky post, but I feel like Americans are losing out on something that could make our lives better.

Hopefully we can get some leadership on the climate change issue coming up next, but I don't have high hopes at this point.

Monday, September 28, 2009

To Everything There Is A Season?

I’ve been considering the phrase from Ecclesiastes 3 for a while, and wonder what exactly was meant by the term “everything.” Does it mean that there is a time and place for certain things to happen, or does it literally mean that everything has its time and place? I can understand the seasons of peace and the horrible reality of war, but what about the details? Does peace include complete abandonment of politics, religion, culture and the punishment of crimes? Does war include rape, pillage, torture, murder and the wanton destruction of cities?
A first thought would be that, in some cases, there are extenuating circumstances that define each situation. Worldwide peace likely consists of different components than national peace. Likewise, war likely consists of different mechanisms for religious conflicts and political battles. But does “everything” find a time and place to appear along the spectrum?
Admittedly, I have never been to war. I have never been a soldier. I do not understand the details of warfare from firsthand knowledge. Nevertheless, there is no part of me that can accept certain aspects of modern day warfare; namely rape, murder, and torture. I don’t care what information is gleamed from certain “tactics.” I don’t care how many lives were saved by information obtained by interrogation. I don't believe that the clause in Ecclesiastes is all inclusive.
On April 16, 2009 the Justice Department released memos that detailed the "interrogation techniques" used by the CIA, with the promise from President Obama that those involved would not be prosecuted. You can read the heinous documents for yourself. If you read nothing else, I encourage you to read the first 4-5 pages of the documents and come to your own conclusions. Some of the practices detailed and approved in the memos include: attention grasp, walling, facial hold, facial slap, cramped confinement, wall standing, stress positions, sleep deprivation, insects in a box, and water-boarding, mock executions, and sexual exploitation. Granted there is no Jack Bauer-like burning or electrocution, but they are truly inhuman and degrading and therefore in violation of international treaty. Also, there is a nice catch all that allows interrogators to "use these techniques in some combination" in an "escalating fashion." Luckily for the interrogators, one is not limited to one technique at a time, and isn't even limited to stopping at these methods.
Shortly after release of this information, two dissimilar ideologies began to emerge. From former Vice President Dick Cheney in an interview on Fox:
CHENEY: Chris, my sort of overwhelming view is that the enhanced interrogation techniques were absolutely essential in saving thousands of American lives and preventing further attacks against the United States, and giving us the intelligence we needed to go find Al Qaeda, to find their camps, to find out how they were being financed. Those interrogations were involved in the arrest of nearly all the Al Qaeda members that we were able to bring to justice. I think they were directly responsible for the fact that for eight years, we had no further mass casualty attacks against the United States.
It was good policy. It was properly carried out. It worked very, very well.
WALLACE: So even these cases where they went beyond the specific legal authorization, you’re OK with it?
Cheney admitted to being aware of waterboarding, and other extreme measures, but instead of backing down he "stuck to his guns." Instead of concerning himself with humanity or dignity, he defends the policies of that Administration as essential and effective when there is in fact no scientific evidence to support it. In contrast, President Obama reflected:
This is a time for reflection, not retribution. I respect the strong views and emotions that these issues evoke. We have been through a dark and painful chapter in our history. But at a time of great challenges and disturbing disunity, nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past. Our national greatness is embedded in America's ability to right its course in concert with our core values, and to move forward with confidence. That is why we must resist the forces that divide us, and instead come together on behalf of our common future.
The United States is a nation of laws. My administration will always act in accordance with those laws, and with an unshakeable commitment to our ideals. That is why we have released these memos, and that is why we have taken steps to ensure that the actions described within them never take place again.
At this point, we must answer the real question - is torture acceptable under any circumstance? If the answer is yes, then one would agree with Cheney's assertion that it gave valuable information and there will be a time in the future that requires us to repeat the techniques. If the answer is no, then one would agree with Obama, and this dark page should be turned and only reviewed in order to prevent the action from being repeated.
Turning again to the scriptures gives insight into approach that we, as humans, and as Mormons, should take. There is not one instance of torture mentioned anywhere in the current set of scriptures that was used by godly people to obtain anything. Captain Moroni did not interrogate detainees for tactical information, he did require that they repent and change, but did so humanely. David didn't waterboard Goliath. Nephi didn't throw his brothers in a box and toss in a couple of spiders. In contrast, every mention of torture is related to "evil" people and their actions. From Alma and Amulek being beaten, starved, and forced to watch women and children burned alive; to Jeremiah being beaten and placed in stocks; to the abhorrent torture and crucifixion of our Savior.
I'm not claiming that the scriptures are short in violence. There are countless stories of warfare and bloodshed, but I would argue that these are the "seasons" of war that are necessary, and that none of these include documentation of torture. The scriptures show that the godly are always the victims, not the enforcers. As such, we must do everything we can to realign the actions of ourselves and the actions of our government to eliminate torture of any form as a "tactical" choice.