Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Greatest President

I'm no book reviewer, but I want to put a plug in for "Team of Rivals" by Doris Kearns Goodwin and give a few impressions I had about Abraham Lincoln.

The book is a biography of Pres. Lincoln intermixed with biographies of his key Republican-rivals-turned-cabinet-members: William Seward, Salmon Chase, and Edward Bates. It follows each from birth until Lincoln's assassination.

We are always told that Washington and Lincoln are the two great presidents and anyone else is a distant third, but I did not have a clear idea why apart from the fact that they both presided over and were victorious in the most important wars in American history. I suppose that is enough in and of itself to label them great, but of course there is so much more.

A few years ago I read "His Excellency" by Joseph Ellis. That is a biography of George Washington. In that book you get a sense of the iron will of Washington and the unquestioning devotion and respect he garnered from the entire country, including men much more brilliant than he was like Jefferson and Hamilton. But so much of what created that respect seemed lost to history. I found it difficult to connect with Washington and instead still just rely on the fact that he lead the nation to victory against the powerful British. Again, that is enough to justify our awe, but there still seems something lacking.

With Lincoln we have a much more complete understanding of him as a person and why he is so universally respected, both now and by his contemporaries, that by the time I finished the book I felt this deep respect and, this may sound corny, love for him. I will freely admit that when the book described the assassination of Lincoln I nearly became emotional, so thorough was my connection with him.

So here are some of the basic aspects of Lincoln's leadership that I took away. First, he was a master storyteller. He apparently had an inexhaustible supply of stories and anecdotes which he employed to make a point or to drive a point home. Listeners were then better able to understand, appreciate, and relay the message to others.

He also had that ability, which I have known in some people, to make any person feel like the most important person on Earth, and to make them feel welcome and respected in any situation. One illustration of this was when Fredrick Douglass, the great African-American orator and abolitionist, arrived at a White House ball where everyone was white and everyone seemed to be sneering at him. Basically, he was generally unwelcome. Lincoln approached him, however, with a big smile and a handshake and took time to sit with him and have a one-on-one conversation. He had a personal warmth that could make any person feel appreciated.

Lincoln did not hold grudges. There are too many stories to reproduce here where Lincoln turned the other cheek at an offense. This undoubtedly kept him more happy, but it also became useful when he needed some of these very people to assist him as he ran for and became President. He had a level of sincere magnanimity that is rare in the population in general, and completely missing in our political class. This trait even extended to Southern traitors and rebels, who he was willing to admit back into the Union with minimal restraints or conditions. Unfortunately he was assassinated before his plan for Reconstruction could be implemented.

Lincoln was patient. He waited patiently for the right moment (after an important Union win in the battlefield) to announce the Emancipation Proclamation, despite thunderous criticism that it be done immediately. He waited patiently for his turn to serve in Congress as others stepped in front of him. He waited patiently for subordinates in whom he trusted to prove their worth before acting hastily and letting them go. He knew he was right and he knew that patience would serve him better than haste.

This list could go on. He was a master judge of character. He showed sincere empathy. He was humble. He had an intoxicating sense of humor. His prose was poetic and powerful. He was a convincing orator.

He was the greatest President the United States has ever had, and he died a martyr, like so many of the greatest are fated to do. There have likely been other Americans as great as Abraham Lincoln, but never have character and circumstance aligned so perfectly.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


I think it is time to talk torture. This is perhaps the most sickening and anti-Christian legacy of a Bush Administration that has out-done itself in creating an ugly legacy.

The Senate Armed Forces Committee just released its "Inquiry Into the Treatment of Detainees In U.S. Custody." What we learn is that in December 2001 the administration was already planning its use of torture. On February 7, 2002, Pres. Bush signed a memorandum stating that the Geneva Convention did not apply to the conflicts with al Qaeda and the Taliban, which meant that Common Article 3, which affords basic humane treatment to detainees, did not apply.

In August 2002 the Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel issued two legal opinions. The first of which redefined torture:
Physical pain amounting to torture must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death. For purely mental pain or suffering to amount to torture under [the federal torture statute], it must result in significant psychological harm of significant duration, e.g., lasting for months or even years.
The second opinion analyzed and approved of specific torture techniques, including waterboarding (the simulation of drowning). These memos are referred to as the First Bybee Memo and the Second Bybee Memo because they were approved of and recommended by Jay Bybee, Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel. Jay Bybee is (sigh) a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and a graduate of BYU undergrad and law school. I am ashamed.

Pres. Obama recently released the memos to the public. The memos are legal documents describing and justifying brutal interrogation methods including "forced nudity, the slamming of detainees into walls, prolonged sleep deprivation and the dousing of detainees with water as cold as 41 degrees," as well as "keeping detainees awake for up to 11 straight days, placing them in a dark, cramped box or putting insects into the box to exploit their fears."

Keep in mind that this is the United States government we are talking about. Our government. The policies and practices of our government represent our shared values and the image we present to the world. But lets continue.

These "techniques" were used in both Afghanistan and Iraq. It is much harder, I think, to make the argument that the Geneva Convention does not apply to those wars. I can agree that the larger war on terror may not be the type of conflict that is contemplated in the Geneva Convention (though I adamately disagree with its total suspension in those cases), but the Afghani and Iraqi Wars were the type of conventional wars that were contemplated by the Geneva Convention. To suspend it and use torture in those wars is an absolutely inexcusable breach of justice and humanity.

Now, perhaps, the most disgusting revelation of them all. A former senior U.S. intelligence official and a former Army psychiatrist has stated that the Bush Administration pushed for torture to be used in order to create a link between al Qaeda and Iraq. Top al Qaeda detainees were waterboarded dozens and dozens of time in an effort to extract information that the intelligence community had already advised the administration did not exist. It is clear now that the Bush Administration knew it was going to war with Iraq (despite claiming that war was always a last resort). In order to build a case that it was told could not be built, it ordered torture. Torture was not just used to extract information of imminent threats to America, it was used for political purposes. This makes me sick to my stomach.

There is not much to add to any of this. The arguments have been made that torture produces more false confessions and evidence than facts. The arguments have been made that our use of torture creates more animosity and, as a result, terrorists, because we are known torturers. The arguments have been made that America and Americans are supposed to be the shining example of freedom and justice in the world. We are supposed to be the beacon that the oppressed and hopeful flock to in order to flee oppression and fear.

After initially stating that no prosecutions would be forthcoming at any level as a result of torture, it now appears that those that devised and ordered the torture policies will be subject to possible investigation and prosecution. This is the way it should be. We are a nation of laws, and when those laws are broken justice must be done. We have to assure that this will never happen again. We have to cleanse our government of this type of thinking. These decisions will be made independent of the administration through the Department of Justice (what? You forgot that the Department of Justice is an independent agency after the Bush Administration abuses of power? That is understandable).

There is a significant argument put forward by conservatives that it was dangerous for the Obama Administration to release the torture memos. We need to remember that these are memos that outlined the legal foundation for the use of torture. These are not memos that give specific names, dates, or locations of torture. The only people put at risk by the release of these memos are the criminals that authorized, drafted, and approved of them. These memos reveal the arguments in favor of torture, which needs to come to light so we can avoid this type of reasoning in the future. Everyone in the world already knew America had become a torturer, now we know the depraved reasoning that got us there.

Finally, and I realize this is getting long, but I want to stress again that the way we use language is so important. The great David Foster Wallace said it best:
There's a grosser irony about Politically Correct English. This is that PCE purports to be the dialect of progressive reform but is in fact--in its Orwellian substitution of the euphemisms of social equality for social equality itself--of vastly more help to conservatives and the U.S. status quo than traditional SNOOT prescriptions ever were. Were I, for instance, a political conservative who opposed taxation as a means of redistributing national wealth, I would be delighted to watch PCE progressives spend their time and energy arguing over whether a poor person should be described as "low-income" or "economically disadvantaged" or "pre-prosperous" rather than constructing effective public arguments for redistributive legislation or higher marginal tax rates on corporations. (Not to mention that strict codes of egalitarian euphemism serve to burke the sorts of painful, unpretty, and sometimes offensive discourse that in a pluralistic democracy leads to actual political change rather than symbolic political change. In other words, PCE functions as a form of censorship, and censorship always serves the status quo.)
We call "torture" things like enhanced interrogation, harsh interrogation, techniques, coersion, aggressive interrogation, a necessary tool, mistreatment, tough interrogation, freely interrogate, refined interrogation, etc. We refer to stress positions and waterboarding, sleep management, sexual humiliation, and non-injurious physical contact. We hold illegal combatants at black sites. In short, we use non-offensive language to maintain the status quo and prevent real discourse and real progress.

We held human beings, children of God, in secret prisons and tortured them. Now that we are being honest about it, it's time for social progress.

Monday, April 20, 2009

One More Post About Welfare

This welfare discussion may be dragging on a bit, but I wanted to quickly share this study. It is a few years old but it shows that in the late 1990's and early 2000's the number of families receiving welfare decreased by about half, that the percent of families on welfare dropped precipitously to about two percent, that poverty rates are falling (though it looks like they ticked up again during the Bush years), and that for a few decades in the 70's through 90's the rate of Americans on welfare essentially held steady. It also shows a rough, but not absolute, correlation between unemployment rates and rate of Americans on welfare.

If I understand the conservative argument correctly, part of it relies on the fact that by providing welfare to the poor we are creating a "Nanny State" in which the incentive to work is diminished and more people will rely on welfare. But if we were creating a welfare state that incentivized laziness shouldn't we see welfare rates rising instead of falling? Welfare rates had previously held steady for decades. Wouldn't conservatives expect that number to rise steadily?

The reality is that the vast, vast majority of Americans are willing to work and do not want to be on welfare. Those on welfare are looking for and finding work. The welfare program actually helps families work their way out of poverty. There is a certain small percentage (we're talking less than 1%) of Americans that rely on the welfare system instead of personal responsibility, but they are the exception, not the rule.

Much of the progress came as a result of the 1996 Welfare Reform Act, a bi-partisan effort signed into law by Pres. Clinton. That act required more personal responsibility from welfare recipients and funded programs to help families get out of poverty.

Nobody, liberals and conservatives alike, wants their money going to welfare abusers. Everybody, liberals and conservatives alike, wants fewer people in poverty and fewer people in the welfare system. We all have faith in the American people to work if they can and support themselves. Our welfare system appears to positively influence all of these things by providing a useful social safety net. So, far from creating a Nanny State, our welfare system seems to be at least useful, at most successful.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Patriotism v. Nationalism

While a boisterous minority of Americans prepared for and engaged in the Tax Day Tea Party That In No Way Should Be Equated With Or Positively Compared To The Actual Boston Tea Party, according to a recent Gallup poll nearly two-thirds of Americans think the taxes they paid this year are fair. There are more Americans (48%) that think their taxes are about right than Americans that think their taxes are too high (46%). This represents the most positive feelings that Americans have about their taxes since 1956.

Pres. Obama's approval and favorability ratings are holding steady around 60% nationwide. A majority of Americans feel the economy is on the right track. Even in Utah, land of the religious conservative, the latest data (discussed here) show that a majority of Utahns approve of the job Pres. Obama is doing.

So how do we square these generally very positive feelings about the president and taxes with the Tax Day Tea Party That In No Way Should Be Equated With Or Positively Compared To The Actual Boston Tea Party, where so many protesters toted incendiary and offensive posters? (Go ahead and Google Image search Tax Day Tea Pary, or go here. Note: I understand they are the small minority of the protesters, who were in turn a small minority of conservatives, who are in turn a minority of Americans. Disturbing nonetheless).

I think what we are seeing is how thin the line is between patriotism and nationalism. I came across a nice summary of the difference:
The love of country—patriotism—is a very different sentiment from nationalism. A fine book by Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities, beautifully distinguishes between nationalist and patriotic sentiments. Nationalism is an aggrandizing, tribalistic sentiment that defines one’s own group as opposed to alien groups, which are seen as potential rivals or enemies to be overcome or excluded. Patriotism, by contrast, implies love of country without necessarily implying hostility to anybody else. American patriotism is built of shared knowledge, attitudes, loyalties, and values, including the values of nonexclusion, toleration, and respect for other religions and cultures. Americans have proved that it is possible to feel patriotic about a cosmopolitan, diverse country, which is loved more for its vital diversity than for its racial or ethnic purity.
More Americans are patriotic than nationalistic, no question. I suppose you get more nationalists on the right, whereas the complaint about the extreme left is that they are internationalists who want to give up American sovereignty. But with all the rhetoric lately about Pres. Obama being a socialist, communist, fascist (the irony), tyrant, anti-American, mixed with the over-the-top language by Glenn Beck and Texas governor Rick Perry about sucession from the Union, I think it is important to step back every once in a while and contemplate the difference between nationalism and patriotism.

In American patriotism we embrace diversity, the political process, peaceful dissent, democracy, the good we see in each other, and ways we can improve. The nationalists embrace homogeny, power, and exclusion. Peaceful tax day protests, or any other peaceful protest, is patriotic. Mean-spiritedness and fear-mongering (from both sides, things were regularly said about Pres. Bush that were not patriotic) have no place. Criticizing our leaders is patriotic, vitriol is not.

We are absolutely not in danger of becoming socialist, communist, lead by a dictator, or any of the other silly things we are hearing from the extreme right. Americans employed the democratic process and elected a government that most closely aligned with the views of the majority. In time, as is always the case, conservatives will find a voice that appeals to the majority and come back into power. We are constantly searching for an equilibrium and never finding it, which is perfectly healthy. But seriously, enough with the sensationalism (synomym: nationalism).

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Great 2009 Tea Parties

I am going to fight every urge in my body and refrain from turning the subject of today's Tax Day Tea Parties into a verb. I'm not going to do it as it would be crude and puerile. I will, however, point out the ridiculousness and offensiveness of it all.

As of 3:00 pm MDT, KSL wins the award for most mind-numbing coverage in Utah. The story starts off on the right foot by stating, correctly, that as part of the stimulus the vast majority of Americans, 95%, got a tax cut. Then the proverbial train comes off the proverbial tracks:
Not everyone will be seeing those tax cuts though. People making more than
a quarter of a million dollars will be seeing a tax increase, and that is
leading to a number of protests across the country, including several here in

Now, either KSL has completely lost its sanity, or the tea protesters have. People would really go out of their way to organize little tea parties all over the country to decry the tax increase for people making a quarter of a million dollars or more? I would be astonished if not every single one of those protesters got a tax cut. So the jist is: get a tax cut, protest against the one who gave you the tax cut. Brilliant. This simply is too good to be true for Democrats.
One such protest is happening in Salt Lake. It's just like the Boston Tea
Party more than 235 years ago. They're protesting taxes, but these people are
upset with the Obama administration.

It is so not like the Boston Tea Party 235 years ago. It is, in fact, diametrically opposed to the Boston Tea Party 235 years ago. The Boston Tea Party was a protest mainly against taxation without representation. The colonists believed it was their right to be taxed only by elected representatives, not the British Parliament which did not allow representation from America. Today tea partiers have no such qualms.

They just don't like President Obama. Which is fine, I didn't like Pres. Bush. They have every right to protest, that is the American way. In fact, we should encourage more peaceful protests to raise public awareness on certain important issues. But please don't insult us by equating today's highly organized, weak turn-out* protests with one of the most iconic patriotic acts in American history.

*I'm fully aware that the pathetic turn-out in Utah is at least partly due to the horrendous weather. I like to think it was a higher power crying over the lameness of the event, but it could just be dumb luck. But turn-out was weak all over the country, so maybe it was just a contrived idea that failed to meet impossibly high standards.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Open Thread Discussion

The following discussion broke out down thread and I thought I'd move it up to the top so everyone can read along and jump in if they are interested.Blogger I hope you don't mind, Randy.

Randall said...

So I actually know one of these people personally, how interesting. This will be an interesting experience if you are open to a dialogue on these questions. If so you will challenge my presumption that the left is interested primarily in silencing dissent.

I am not going to explore this question in great depth at this time, but I am going to plant the seed with this. Skousen outlines the difference between the United Order, and Socialism. This subject is a large topic and moves beyond the scope of this communication. In summary, however, any act of benevolence ( effective or ineffective which most of the welfare state is ) must, must, MUST not be compulsory. The act of forcibly removing resources from one person and transferring them to another is, to put it in simple terms, Satan's plan. It is Satan's plan whenever someone makes lofty speeches about being generous and compassionate with someone else's money. At the moment when resources are forced from the hand of the giver he robs from the giver the opportunity to be generous, turns the benefactor into a thief, and the agent of the transfer an extorsionist.

I look forward to your future elucidations. I hope you have the courage to have them challenged.

Randy Lewis

April 11, 2009 9:32 PM

Blogger Jacob S. said...


I'm always glad to debate the issues and I never debate with a closed mind. I don't think it has anything to do with courage, just hashing out our ideas and beliefs.

I addressed the Democrats-as-Satanists issue here:


The upshot, though, is that in a democracy the majority can decide (or, has the agency to decide) to spend its tax dollars in any way it thinks is best for the society in general. Your agency comes at the ballot box. Since majority rules this means that if I am in the minority I will necessarily have to do, or refrain from doing, some things that I want. My agency is therefore limited because of the consequences attached. But that is the nature of democracy.

I don't recall Mormon liberals complaining that conservatives were espousing Satan's plan because they used my tax dollars to fund an unjustified war that I opposed, for instance. We didn't like it, we protested, and we convinced a large majority of Americans we were right and, as a result, we exercised our agency to change the country's direction.

In any case, Satan became Satan and was cast out because he wanted to take away our ability to genuinely progress spiritually and he wanted God's glory and position, which have little or nothing to do with our country's tax system.

April 13, 2009 2:08 PM

Blogger Randall said...

Money Speech

"So you think that money is the root of all evil?" said Francisco d'Anconia. "Have you ever asked what is the root of money? Money is a tool of exchange, which can't exist unless there are goods produced and men able to produce them. Money is the material shape of the principle that men who wish to deal with one another must deal by trade and give value for value. Money is not the tool of the moochers, who claim your product by tears, or of the looters, who take it from you by force. Money is made possible only by the men who produce. Is this what you consider evil?

"When you accept money in payment for your effort, you do so only on the conviction that you will exchange it for the product of the effort of others. It is not the moochers or the looters who give value to money. Not an ocean of tears not all the guns in the world can transform those pieces of paper in your wallet into the bread you will need to survive tomorrow. Those pieces of paper, which should have been gold, are a token of honor--your claim upon the energy of the men who produce. Your wallet is your statement of hope that somewhere in the world around you there are men who will not default on that moral principle which is the root of money, Is this what you consider evil?

"Have you ever looked for the root of production? Take a look at an electric generator and dare tell yourself that it was created by the muscular effort of unthinking brutes. Try to grow a seed of wheat without the knowledge left to you by men who had to discover it for the first time. Try to obtain your food by means of nothing but physical motions--and you'll learn that man's mind is the root of all the goods produced and of all the wealth that has ever existed on earth.

"But you say that money is made by the strong at the expense of the weak? What strength do you mean? It is not the strength of guns or muscles. Wealth is the product of man's capacity to think. Then is money made by the man who invents a motor at the expense of those who did not invent it? Is money made by the intelligent at the expense of the fools? By the able at the expense of the incompetent? By the ambitious at the expense of the lazy? Money is made--before it can be looted or mooched--made by the effort of every honest man, each to the extent of his ability. An honest man is one who knows that he can't consume more than he has produced.'

"To trade by means of money is the code of the men of good will. Money rests on the axiom that every man is the owner of his mind and his effort. Money allows no power to prescribe the value of your effort except the voluntary choice of the man who is willing to trade you his effort in return. Money permits you to obtain for your goods and your labor that which they are worth to the men who buy them, but no more. Money permits no deals except those to mutual benefit by the unforced judgment of the traders. Money demands of you the recognition that men must work for their own benefit, not for their own injury, for their gain, not their loss--the recognition that they are not beasts of burden, born to carry the weight of your misery--that you must offer them values, not wounds--that the common bond among men is not the exchange of suffering, but the exchange of goods. Money demands that you sell, not your weakness to men's stupidity, but your talent to their reason; it demands that you buy, not the shoddiest they offer, but the best that your money can find. And when men live by trade--with reason, not force, as their final arbiter--it is the best product that wins, the best performance, the man of best judgment and highest ability--and the degree of a man's productiveness is the degree of his reward. This is the code of existence whose tool and symbol is money. Is this what you consider evil?

"But money is only a tool. It will take you wherever you wish, but it will not replace you as the driver. It will give you the means for the satisfaction of your desires, but it will not provide you with desires. Money is the scourge of the men who attempt to reverse the law of causality--the men who seek to replace the mind by seizing the products of the mind.

"Money will not purchase happiness for the man who has no concept of what he wants: money will not give him a code of values, if he's evaded the knowledge of what to value, and it will not provide him with a purpose, if he's evaded the choice of what to seek. Money will not buy intelligence for the fool, or admiration for the coward, or respect for the incompetent. The man who attempts to purchase the brains of his superiors to serve him, with his money replacing his judgment, ends up by becoming the victim of his inferiors. The men of intelligence desert him, but the cheats and the frauds come flocking to him, drawn by a law which he has not discovered: that no man may be smaller than his money. Is this the reason why you call it evil?

"Only the man who does not need it, is fit to inherit wealth--the man who would make his own fortune no matter where he started. If an heir is equal to his money, it serves him; if not, it destroys him. But you look on and you cry that money corrupted him. Did it? Or did he corrupt his money? Do not envy a worthless heir; his wealth is not yours and you would have done no better with it. Do not think that it should have been distributed among you; loading the world with fifty parasites instead of one, would not bring back the dead virtue which was the fortune. Money is a living power that dies without its root. Money will not serve the mind that cannot match it. Is this the reason why you call it evil?

"Money is your means of survival. The verdict you pronounce upon the source of your livelihood is the verdict you pronounce upon your life. If the source is corrupt, you have damned your own existence. Did you get your money by fraud? By pandering to men's vices or men's stupidity? By catering to fools, in the hope of getting more than your ability deserves? By lowering your standards? By doing work you despise for purchasers you scorn? If so, then your money will not give you a moment's or a penny's worth of joy. Then all the things you buy will become, not a tribute to you, but a reproach; not an achievement, but a reminder of shame. Then you'll scream that money is evil. Evil, because it would not pinch-hit for your self-respect? Evil, because it would not let you enjoy your depravity? Is this the root of your hatred of money?

"Money will always remain an effect and refuse to replace you as the cause. Money is the product of virtue, but it will not give you virtue and it will not redeem your vices. Money will not give you the unearned, neither in matter nor in spirit. Is this the root of your hatred of money?

"Or did you say it's the love of money that's the root of all evil? To love a thing is to know and love its nature. To love money is to know and love the fact that money is the creation of the best power within you, and your passkey to trade your effort for the effort of the best among men. It's the person who would sell his soul for a nickel, who is loudest in proclaiming his hatred of money--and he has good reason to hate it. The lovers of money are willing to work for it. They know they are able to deserve it.

"Let me give you a tip on a clue to men's characters: the man who damns money has obtained it dishonorably; the man who respects it has earned it.

"Run for your life from any man who tells you that money is evil. That sentence is the leper's bell of an approaching looter. So long as men live together on earth and need means to deal with one another--their only substitute, if they abandon money, is the muzzle of a gun.

"But money demands of you the highest virtues, if you wish to make it or to keep it. Men who have no courage, pride or self-esteem, men who have no moral sense of their right to their money and are not willing to defend it as they defend their life, men who apologize for being rich--will not remain rich for long. They are the natural bait for the swarms of looters that stay under rocks for centuries, but come crawling out at the first smell of a man who begs to be forgiven for the guilt of owning wealth. They will hasten to relieve him of the guilt--and of his life, as he deserves.

"Then you will see the rise of the men of the double standard--the men who live by force, yet count on those who live by trade to create the value of their looted money--the men who are the hitchhikers of virtue. In a moral society, these are the criminals, and the statutes are written to protect you against them. But when a society establishes criminals-by-right and looters-by-law--men who use force to seize the wealth of disarmed victims--then money becomes its creators' avenger. Such looters believe it safe to rob defenseless men, once they've passed a law to disarm them. But their loot becomes the magnet for other looters, who get it from them as they got it. Then the race goes, not to the ablest at production, but to those most ruthless at brutality. When force is the standard, the murderer wins over the pickpocket. And then that society vanishes, in a spread of ruins and slaughter.

"Do you wish to know whether that day is coming? Watch money. Money is the barometer of a society's virtue. When you see that trading is done, not by consent, but by compulsion--when you see that in order to produce, you need to obtain permission from men who produce nothing--when you see that money is flowing to those who deal, not in goods, but in favors--when you see that men get richer by graft and by pull than by work, and your laws don't protect you against them, but protect them against you--when you see corruption being rewarded and honesty becoming a self-sacrifice--you may know that your society is doomed. Money is so noble a medium that is does not compete with guns and it does not make terms with brutality. It will not permit a country to survive as half-property, half-loot.

"Whenever destroyers appear among men, they start by destroying money, for money is men's protection and the base of a moral existence. Destroyers seize gold and leave to its owners a counterfeit pile of paper. This kills all objective standards and delivers men into the arbitrary power of an arbitrary setter of values. Gold was an objective value, an equivalent of wealth produced. Paper is a mortgage on wealth that does not exist, backed by a gun aimed at those who are expected to produce it. Paper is a check drawn by legal looters upon an account which is not theirs: upon the virtue of the victims. Watch for the day when it bounces, marked, 'Account overdrawn.'

"When you have made evil the means of survival, do not expect men to remain good. Do not expect them to stay moral and lose their lives for the purpose of becoming the fodder of the immoral. Do not expect them to produce, when production is punished and looting rewarded. Do not ask, 'Who is destroying the world? You are.

"You stand in the midst of the greatest achievements of the greatest productive civilization and you wonder why it's crumbling around you, while you're damning its life-blood--money. You look upon money as the savages did before you, and you wonder why the jungle is creeping back to the edge of your cities. Throughout men's history, money was always seized by looters of one brand or another, whose names changed, but whose method remained the same: to seize wealth by force and to keep the producers bound, demeaned, defamed, deprived of honor. That phrase about the evil of money, which you mouth with such righteous recklessness, comes from a time when wealth was produced by the labor of slaves--slaves who repeated the motions once discovered by somebody's mind and left unimproved for centuries. So long as production was ruled by force, and wealth was obtained by conquest, there was little to conquer, Yet through all the centuries of stagnation and starvation, men exalted the looters, as aristocrats of the sword, as aristocrats of birth, as aristocrats of the bureau, and despised the producers, as slaves, as traders, as shopkeepers--as industrialists.

"To the glory of mankind, there was, for the first and only time in history, a country of money--and I have no higher, more reverent tribute to pay to America, for this means: a country of reason, justice, freedom, production, achievement. For the first time, man's mind and money were set free, and there were no fortunes-by-conquest, but only fortunes-by-work, and instead of swordsmen and slaves, there appeared the real maker of wealth, the greatest worker, the highest type of human being--the self-made man--the American industrialist.

"If you ask me to name the proudest distinction of Americans, I would choose--because it contains all the others--the fact that they were the people who created the phrase 'to make money.' No other language or nation had ever used these words before; men had always thought of wealth as a static quantity--to be seized, begged, inherited, shared, looted or obtained as a favor. Americans were the first to understand that wealth has to be created. The words 'to make money' hold the essence of human morality.

"Yet these were the words for which Americans were denounced by the rotted cultures of the looters' continents. Now the looters' credo has brought you to regard your proudest achievements as a hallmark of shame, your prosperity as guilt, your greatest men, the industrialists, as blackguards, and your magnificent factories as the product and property of muscular labor, the labor of whip-driven slaves, like the pyramids of Egypt. The rotter who simpers that he sees no difference between the power of the dollar and the power of the whip, ought to learn the difference on his own hide-- as, I think, he will.

"Until and unless you discover that money is the root of all good, you ask for your own destruction. When money ceases to be the tool by which men deal with one another, then men become the tools of men. Blood, whips and guns--or dollars. Take your choice--there is no other--and your time is running out."

April 13, 2009 3:03 PM

Blogger Randall said...

It is simply true that in a democracy the majority can ennact any law it chooses and impose its will on the minority.

That fact does not excuse or free us from the debate about what the government should do, or what is the appropriate or even moral role of government.

Your example of the government funding a war that you do not support is an interesting one. Certainly not every person has supported every military ambition of the United States.

It is certainly in the charter of any nation to assemble an army and defend itself from its enemies. The question about whether that particular conflict was wise in interesting and irrelevant to the question of the role of government.

Government spending money on a war is a different action than transferring wealth from one party to distribute it to another. In the second case the government is acting in compassion, moving resources from one person to another.

The example is fails because it is not the same for a government to tax its people to support its military and its own expenses ( whether they be wise or not ) or to use its power to move resources away from some of its citizens and towards others.

The morality of using the power of the mob to take money from the few, must be argued on its own supposition.


April 13, 2009 3:51 PM

Blogger Randall said...

If were going to play, lets play.



April 13, 2009 3:55 PM

Blogger Jacob S. said...

I was responding to the notion that when the government uses my money for a purpose with which I disagree, that is tantamount to Satan's plan of removing my agency. It does not matter where the money is going, so long as I am not able to spend it how I please. It could be welfare, war, or infrastructure. And yet the argument only seems to surface when discussing welfare, when in reality any government spending of "my money" has the same result: I can't decide how to spend it myself.

My response was that we do have a choice and it is not an enactment Satan's plan. It does not follow that this gives free reign to the government to use tax money for any purpose, good or evil.

I would argue that any government spending, especially on wars, is still a redistribution of wealth. The car drivers pay taxes that are redistributed to the users of public transportation and vice versa. The childless pay taxes to support schools for those with children. The money spent on war goes to lucrative defense contracts. The money spent on Iraq was to keep the era of cheap oil going forward. Its all redistribution.

But if the amount of money a person makes is really an accurate barometer for measuring their worth to society, meaning that everyone has the exact amount of money they deserve, then whole system would be a fraud. But who is worth more to society: A derivatives trader or a public school teacher? A CEO of a failing car company or a garbage man? The latter both times. The market hasn't properly valued work and skill in our country, so we have the government come in. An imperfect choice, to be sure, but at least reactionary.

April 13, 2009 4:27 PM

Blogger Randall said...

At last we come to the point of essential disagreement. That last paragraph of yours could literally have been taken from the communist manifesto. That is not a crticisim, per se, but it is certainly an accurate represenation of your statement.

You state essentially

1. That all government spending is economic redistribution.
2. That the market is not a valid tool for determining compensation and that it is appropriate for the government to establish it.

That isn't even progressivism, its simple socialism.

If I printed your statement and gave it to 100 political science professors, 98 percent would describe it accordingly.

So there is no reason to dance around the question. This argument has been experimented with all through the 20th century. I would say the only thing it has succeeded at is in transferring power to the few arrogant people who proclaim themselves the arbiters of who should get what.

Classic animal farm again and again.

There are several concepts of "left" worthy of exploration.

1. Left as a description of twentieth century political American progressivism starting with Wilson through FDR and Johnson

2. Left as a partisan democrat

3. Left as intermational socialist

4. Left as the other side in the culture war of the secular humanists vs. the Christians. The intellectual movement which has at its foundation Darwin and which is at its core athiestic. The left of abortion, eugenics, the sexual revolution, and drug legalization.

I am curious which of these "left" connotations you are referring to in your reference.

This is a pleasant debate I hope it is for you as well.

Best Wishes,


April 13, 2009 10:50 PM

Blogger Jacob S. said...

So anyone that points out that the market does not perfectly compensate all members of society is now a communist? I find that type of sensationalism is what drives down political discourse in our country. I have never advocated complete income parity, dictatorships, or government control of all private property. So lets not start with the communism stuff. A progressive tax system and some social programs that attempt to lift parts of society out of poverty are hardly communist or socialist. Even conservative thinkers and leaders have advocated and enacted such policies for decades. American Liberalism is no more socialist/communist than American Conservatism is nationalistic/fascist.

So are you saying that you agree that a derivatives trader or stock broker should be making exponentially more money that school teachers or nurses? Has the market got that right?

Now, you know as well as I do that it is too simplistic to simply put up a list of political categories and ask which one describes a certain person. There is a long continuum of political thought and each person is just a point along that continuum. I think, generally, that anyone that blindly and wholeheartedly agrees with every plank of a political party's platform probably hasn't thought through the issues hard enough.

April 14, 2009 8:37 AM

Blogger Jacob S. said...

Oh, and I always enjoy this type of debate and one thing I never want to do is offend someone personally, so I hope to avoid that. But conversations like this is why I started this little blog in the first place.

April 14, 2009 8:39 AM


Friday, April 10, 2009

Supporting the Welfare System, Part II: A Gospel Argument

Part I, the public policy argument for supporting the welfare system, is found here.

This is not going to be an argument that the Gospel requires us to support the federal welfare system. This is going to be an argument that it is perfectly in line with Gospel teachings to support a welfare system that aids the poor and needy, even if there are those that abuse the system, and that the typical criticisms of that system are not based on Gospel principles. There is no better place to start than with a lengthy excerpt from King Benjamin's speech in Mosiah 4:
16 And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish.
17 Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just—
18 But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God.
19 For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind?
20 And behold, even at this time, ye have been calling on his name, and begging for a remission of your sins. And has he suffered that ye have begged in vain? Nay; he has poured out his Spirit upon you, and has caused that your hearts should be filled with joy, and has caused that your mouths should be stopped that ye could not find utterance, so exceedingly great was your joy.
21 And now, if God, who has created you, on whom you are dependent for your lives and for all that ye have and are, doth grant unto you whatsoever ye ask that is right, in faith, believing that ye shall receive, O then, how ye ought to impart of the substance that ye have one to another.
22 And if ye judge the man who putteth up his petition to you for your substance that he perish not, and condemn him, how much more just will be your condemnation for withholding your substance, which doth not belong to you but to God, to whom also your life belongeth; and yet ye put up no petition, nor repent of the thing which thou hast done.
23 I say unto you, wo be unto that man, for his substance shall perish with him; and now, I say these things unto those who are rich as pertaining to the things of this world.
24 And again, I say unto the poor, ye who have not and yet have sufficient, that ye remain from day to day; I mean all you who deny the beggar, because ye have not; I would that ye say in your hearts that: I give not because I have not, but if I had I would give.
25 And now, if ye say this in your hearts ye remain guiltless, otherwise ye are condemned; and your condemnation is just for ye covet that which ye have not received.
26 And now, for the sake of these things which I have spoken unto you—that is, for the sake of retaining a remission of your sins from day to day, that ye may walk guiltless before God—I would that ye should impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants.
27 And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize; therefore, all things must be done in order.
There are a few things to take away from this scripture. First, it is our affirmative duty to give what we have in excess to the poor. Second, this duty is not conditioned on whether or not we think that poor person should really be more self-sufficient, our opinion that the poor are lazy, or how we think that poor person is going to spend our hard-earned money. Third, the only basis for receiving help is need. It is not whether or not I am worthy to receive help, whether I actually did bring this poverty upon myself, or any other predicate. If I am in need I should be helped. Fourth, it is hypocritical to judge the poor as unworthy of our support when we are completely dependent upon God for all that we have, and when he is freely merciful and giving of blessings despite our unworthiness to receive such.

Two more important things. One is that, in that classic Gospel irony that comes up all the time, when we help the poor and needy it is really ourselves that receive the benefit. Every single disadvantaged person that we help could be completely unworthy in every way of our money, from wasting away what we give on frivolities to being mean and uncharitable to others and the like, and it would still be the commandment to give because it is more about us than about them. It is about us "retaining a remission of [our] sins" and "walking guiltless before God." It is about us learning to part with our material possessions in order to learn to be more Christ-like.

Two, and finally, that last verse about running faster than we have strength and doing all things in order is often taken out of context and quoted on its own, unconnected with its context of giving to the poor. It is still useful out of context to be applied to many situations, but we forget that it is specifically given in regards to our charitable work. The problem of the poor and poverty is way too far-reaching and complex to dealt with on an individual basis. In order to be as efficient as possible, and touch the most lives possible, there needs to be organization. The government, as noted in Part I, uses about one quarter of one percent of your income (one percent of the federal budget) to help millions in poverty through welfare. There is still plenty left over to donate to fast offerings, other charities, or individuals that need help if you would like. But the government welfare system is one particular way to do charitable work in orderliness.

But, of course, the scriptural mandate to help the poor doesn't stop there. Here is a representative list of scriptures that encourage us to care for the poor and needy, among dozens more not linked here:

Alma 1:27

Luke 18:20-24

Doctrine and Covenants 42:30-31

Doctrine and Covenants 56:16-19

James 2:16-19

1 Samuel 2:7-8

Alma 4:12-13

Mormon 8:37-39

Deuteronomy 15:7-11

Alma 34:28-29

Doctrine and Covenants 124:75

Here is a list of scriptures that condemns the poor to their own devices because there are some unworthy among them, requires that the poor get serious and start becoming more self-sufficient, makes the poor feel guilty for requiring help, excuses our not giving because some of the poor are lazy or waste our hard-earned money, or justifies our judging of the poor to find out who is the most worthy to receive our help (among the common complaint of the welfare system):

(. . .)

See what I'm getting here? The typical rants against the welfare system are not Gospel based.

Now, there are modern day prophets and apostles who have extolled the virtues of self-sufficiency, but to a different end than I imagined before getting into this.

Marion G. Romney said that "we should strive to become self-reliant and not depend on others for our existence," and then warned that "governments are not the only guilty parties." Any form of charity has the threat to create dependency and one of the goals of any should be to foster independence. The welfare system may need some fixes in this regard, but it is not the worst offender and it is not worth condemning wholesale.

But Pres. Faust asks, "is personal self-sufficiency one of the reasons men and women lack faith?" When we get so caught up in self-sufficiency above all else, we can become "afraid to look to any source of wisdom and knowledge above" ourselves.

Pres. Hinckley concurred, stating that "I cannot escape the interpretation that meekness implies a spirit of gratitude as opposed to an attitude of self-sufficiency, an acknowledgment of a greater power beyond oneself, a recognition of God, and an acceptance of his commandments."

So to what end do we strive to be self-sufficient? It is clearly not absolute independence which leads to a lack of humility and gratitude. I thought the talk "Sacrifice and Self-Sufficiency" by Elder Ballard summed it up pretty well. He tells of the wards and stakes in South America striving to decrease the cost of missionary work in order to become self-sufficient. The saints decided that one thing they could do was provide lunch each day to the missionaries. This took sacrifice from each member.

By sacrificing to make sure that they, as a larger community, became self-sufficient, they reaped many blessings. The goal of self-sufficiency was to put themselves in a position to lift up all the members of their community and not leave anyone behind. Self-sufficiency was achieved through the aggregation of community efforts and through sacrifice to the common good.
Our responsibility is to become self-sufficient so that we can help the poor and needy, and strengthen our communities. One way, a way that helps people nationwide through minimal personal investment on our own part, is the government welfare system. Many of the typical criticisms by Church members of that system are not solidly based in Gospel principles, but are based on materialism and pride, as opposed genuine concern for the best way to help our fellow Americans that are poor and needy. So while the Gospel does not require our support for a governmental welfare system, it does debunk many of our notions of why it should be discarded.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Supporting the Welfare System, Part I: A Public Policy Argument

Let's say you were approached by ten poor people who needed your help. You happen to have $100 extra dollars to help them out. Eight of those people were honest, hard-working, and have come on rough times through no fault of their own. Some have been laid off, are looking for work, maybe they come from a difficult background and are trying to claw their way out, maybe medical expenses got the best of them, or whatever. Some have a job, work hard, but still find themselves in poverty. They have children who need adequate meals, clothes, and opportunities the parents never had. They are truly worthy of your support. The other two are free-loaders. They look for a job, but not seriously. They would use some of your money for necessities, but some of it would go to things like an Xbox or a new TV or an iPod.

In this hypothetical situation, if you had an all or nothing choice, you either give the money to them all or none at all, what would do? Should you send a message to the two loafers at the expense of those that really need help or do you give to the two loafers incidentially so you can help the other eight? For me, the answer is clear cut, but for others it presents a serious dilemma.

Too many Americans project their justified distaste towards that minority of welfare abusers onto the majority that need help and are worthy of our support in order to demonize those on welfare and the system itself. Too many Americans view poverty as an indication of personal failures. This is not the case. What drives people to poverty and public assistance are low wages and lack of education.

Most families on the welfare system use it for a temporary period of time. About half are leave the system within a year, about 70% leave within two years, and about 90% leave within five years. Less then half come back within a year, but about 70% will use welfare again within five years. What this means is that a small fraction of welfare recipients are long-term cases. Those that come back will again remain on the welfare list temporarily. There is a small percentage of people that remain on welfare for extended periods of time, sometimes up to 25 years. A good percentage of welfare users are underemployed, meaning they have part time jobs but would rather have full time jobs.

Of course the system is imperfect and can be improved upon. Finding ways to weed out the abusers has proved difficult. The best welfare system is one that requires recipients to put in some amount of work for the benefits and also provides education and counseling to help people gain skills and motivation needed to get out of the system. But such programs are not needed for the majority of welfare recipients. The majority stay in the system temporarily, have a desire to work and a skill that makes them employable, and look for and find jobs.

Contrary to the empirical evidence to the contrary, human nature is to make conclusions based on personal experience. They see an abuser of the system who openly flouts his or her misappropriation and conclude that that must be the norm. They do not see, or ignore as contrary to their strongly emotional reaction to the abuser, the larger majority who hide the fact, out of pride, that they are receiving assistance.

The U-3 unemployment rate is at 8.5%. U-3 measures those unemployed and looking for employment. The U-6 unemployment rate is 15.6%. U-6 includes those who are underemployed (they are looking for a job but have taken a part time job or lower paying job as a temporary stop-gap) and those that have looked for a job but have temporarily given up looking. These are the highest numbers in decades. The economy has lost 5.1 million jobs since the recession began in December 2007.

Do all of these people that qualify for welfare assistance deserve what they got handed to them? Are they just lazy and that's why they lost their jobs? This recession and all those lost jobs were caused by greedy, immoral financial executives who produce nothing of worth for society, who toy with our life savings and futures by creating secondary and tertiary markets based on speculation and, again, greed. The wealthy are getting wealthier at the expense of the working class. And yet our ire is pointed at the welfare system? The poor are supporting the lifestyles of the rich and when that system creates situations of poverty we blame the poor.

And yet only about 1 or 2 percent our total federal, state, and local budgets goes to welfare programs. We complain that welfare is a drag on our economy and ability for national growth, and yet just tiniest percentage of our tax burden goes to helping those unprivileged families. The risk is far greater that we will start seeing abhorrent slums, abject poverty, and systemic hunger than that we will see a "Nanny-state" which encourages widespread laziness and a general sense of entitlement.

Don't forget, too, that the middle and upper classes get forms of welfare, as well. We get things like tax breaks for owning a home, we get heavily subsidized student loans and Pell grants for going to college, we get lower tax rates on capital gains, we get more benefit out of the infrastructure because we can afford to live farther out in the suburbs and commute longer distances, and so on.

We can't blame all of our problems on society in general but we can pinpoint serious flaws in the hopes of improving them. Welfare, of course, isn't the final answer, for that we should strengthen and equalize our education system so that every person is given a quality, free education that provide real opportunities for success. Welfare is, however, a necessary link for many families between jobs or going through a difficult periods in their lives.

We are not islands unto ourselves. We are one nation and the successes or failures of some reflect on and affirmatively impact everyone else. The greatest nations are those that respect all law-abiding citizens, mete a measure of dignity to each, and do not simply leave the poor behind.

Coming up next will be "Supporting the Welfare System, Part II: The Religious/Moral Argument," wherein I preach.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Rite of Opening Day

Let's take a break from our regularly scheduled political scrum to celebrate a national day of regeneration. In my own twisted mind I like to consider baseball's Opening Day as akin to the weekly sacrament. In both cases the regularly scheduled event is a way to brush off the unpleasantness of the past and look with new hope to the future. In the case of the sacrament we put an end to the previous week's sins and sadnesses and look forward with renewed hope and strength to the new week. In the case of Opening Day we put behind us the fact that the Red Sox did not win the previous World Series (or whatever other team you happen to follow, excluding the Phillies, of course) and the long, cold, baseball-less winter and look forward with renewed hope at the upcoming season. Is this a sacrilegious analogy? Perhaps, but aptness demands its expression.

Opening Day marks the beginning of spring and the end of winter. And for the next seven months baseball will be played every single day. You can no more hope to escape the influence of the game than you can the influence of the sun itself. Not only in the shear number of games played, but in its ubiquity in our culture. Think of the all the baseball phrases we use on a near daily basis: "Out of left (or right) field" for something unexpected, "Safe at home," "Hit a homerun" for doing something well, "Strike out" for failing to achieve a goal, "Three strikes" for giving a person three chances at anything, "Southpaw" for a lefthander, and so many more. The game is engrained in our national psyche and you have no choice but to embrace it.

Our nation has been celebrating Opening Day since around 1876. Opening day 2009 is just another chain in the link between the early game played by teams such as the Cleveland Spiders, the Detroit Wolverines, and the Providence Grays in the 1800's and the game that will assuredly be played in the afterlife in its celestial form (see: no steroids and Yankees go winless year-in year-out).

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The LDS-Gore Alliance

The Deseret News and the Salt Lake Tribune are both reporting that Al Gore is meeting with Church leaders today. It appears that Gore requested the meeting, perhaps after witnessing the Church participating in Earth Hour by turning off the lights at the Salt Lake Temple.

As for Earth Hour, where people are asked to turn off their lights for an hour as a show of respect for our environment, a way to act against global warming, and a way to raise awareness, I guess its not too bad an idea. I am all for reducing energy consumption, replacing old lightbulbs with CFLs, driving less, and the like, but I'm not sure sitting around in the dark for an hour is for me. But I was glad to see the Church participate with its most iconic temple as an indication that we are aware of the global warming problem, we think it is real and manmade, and we are willing to make that known publicly.

On top of that the Church is now working on building new LEED certified meetinghouses, which are green buildings that use less energy and are more environmentally friendly.

So now Utah's favorite politician, Al Gore, is requesting meetings with Church leadership. No one knows what they are going to discuss, but I imagine Gore is interested in prodding the Church to stick with this new lurch towards the left, environmentally speaking, and offering any support he can.

I think this is a tremendous step in the right direction, with or without the involvement of Gore (who I think is awesome, by the way, so throw your stones, I don't mind). I'm not saying it is necessarily the Church's responsibility to teach the members a sound environmental ethic as an extension of Church doctrine (though I believe it fits in nicely), but the fact that our spiritual leaders are beginning to lead by example shows that it is an issue that should be treated seriously by members and not just dismissed as left-wingers' attempts to take away our freedoms and comforts for a mere whim.

Now, if we can just stop using rain forest wood for decoration in our temples . . .

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

A Change in Utah's Liquor Laws

It's no secret that Utah recently changed its unique liquor laws. The change has gotten national, even international, attention. Previously, all bars were considered private clubs, and to get in you had to be a member of that private club. This system has been replaced by one where anyone looking 35 years or younger must have their ID scanned to keep underage drinkers out.

I tend to think of alcohol as an invasive social ill. Statistics show that violent crimes are all too often related to alcohol consumption. DUI's, in particular, are a selfish and devastating crime that, I believe, should be punished more severely. In my opinion alcohol is far more dangerous than marijuana (not that I think marijuana should be legalized, but that's another discussion).

That said, Utah's old liquor laws were not effectively aimed at preventing alcohol abuse. Those that wanted to drink but were not interested in the hassle of the private club system would just head to the State Liquor Store and purchase their alcohol to drink at home, a friend's, or some other private place.

It might reasonably prove effective to make of-age drinking more accessible in public bars where a bartender is keeping track of consumption, a person is more likely to plan ahead and identify a designated driver, and taxis are waiting to drive people home. Despite all of that, the argument that won the day in the Utah legislature was that liberalizing Utah's liquor laws would increase revenue from tourists.

What is interesting is the role the Church played in this process. The Church has previously been very involved in shaping Utah's liquor laws and is widely considered the force that kept the unique laws in place. This recent go-round, however, the Church was conspicuously quiet. Its public statement on the matter was that its goal, as always, was "reasonable regulations on alcohol that reduce underage drinking, over consumption and drunk driving."

There is reason to believe that the Church liked the idea of scanning ID's for younger drinkers, but rightly opposed the idea of compiling that information into a central database. That issue was resolved by maintaining the records of those scans for seven days before discarding them. So with that compromise on the table, the Church was willing to quietly back the bill in order to avoid ballot initiative on the issue (which likely would have been more liberal and widely accepted by the voters) that would have dragged the Church into another public battle right on the heels of Prop 8. There is also the feeling that a change in Church leadership, following the deaths of Pres. Hinckley and Pres. Faust, made the change possible because both were involved in creating the original private-club program, whereas Pres. Monson, with his business background, may have been more inclined to support the more practical approach to the situation.

So the watch is on now to see if alcohol-related crimes, particularly DUI's, increase in the coming months and years. I would frankly be astonished if that were the case, but I would also like to see some additional measures taken to make sure that is not the case. The buses and trains should extend their service hours past around midnight and bars should be required to have taxis waiting. There need to be real alternatives to driving home drunk after a night of drinking.

All in all, it is probably a good compromise between economic considerations, moral considerations, and crime considerations. Hopefully it is a good signal going forward that the Church is going to be less actively politically outside the core areas of freedom of religion and expression, and the separation of church and state.