Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Sotomayor and Judicial Activism

President Obama nominated Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court and conservatives are gearing up for a fight. They are not finding a lot of ammunition so far, but there is one bullet they find particularly potent:

So Sotomayor thinks that policy is made in the Courts of Appeal. If it wasn't so absolutely and incontrovertibly true, it might just be appalling.

The United States is a common law country, and it has been since its inception and our legal roots go back hundreds of years to the English common law system. Common law is a system in which the law is developed over time by judicial decisions which hold precedent over subsequent decisions. Just about every basic law we have was developed by courts over hundreds of years of decisions, from criminal law to contract law to property law to torts and on and on.

This is opposed to a civil code jurisdiction which is governed by, just that, a civil code. The United States is moving in that direction, codifying most of our laws, but in true civil code jurisdictions like France and South American countries the courts hold no precedential weight.

So what does this all mean? It means that judges make law all the time and have done so for centuries. Sotomayor's comments in the Youtube clip were in response to a question about the differences in being a law clerk in a district court (trial court) and the Courts of Appeal. Trial court decisions hold no precedent. Other trial courts can follow or not follow another trial court decision as they please. As a result, trial judges look narrowly at the law and facts before them and decide accordingly.

Appellate court decisions do hold precedent and thus the judges need to have a more broad view of the law in making their decisions. They need to think about how the decision will affect other courts and litigants in the future. They need to think about how a decision fits in with all the other pieces of law that surround it. They absolutely must make policy decisions. Their job would be impossible if they did not, and the legal system would be in disarray because no courts would be thinking about the big picture. It is silly to act like appellate courts should not consider policy when making their decisions.

Legislatures and Congress, for example, often pass laws that are worded vaguely or subject to multiple interpretations. Sometimes they do this on purpose and sometimes out of oversight and sometimes out of incompetence. It is up the judiciary, then, to divine the legislatures intent (if possible, because often its not) and interpret the law accordingly, with an eye toward the effect of the decision on future actions and litigation. This is one ways courts "make" law, by interpreting statutes. This type of analysis requires consideration of public policy.

It is equally silly to rail against judicial activism. I suppose judicial activism is where a court overturns a law enacted by the legislature or enumerates a right or activity as legal/illegal where legislatures have not spoken.

As to the first, that is often the exact role a judge must play, and it is done all the time by both conservatives and liberals. I can find just as many decisions of conservatives overturning laws they don't like as you can liberals doing the same thing. If a law is unconstitutional, irrational, or unsupported by facts it is the courts' duty to overturn that law. This is part of the principle of checks and balances that is essential to our system of government.

As to the second, the courts are often (almost always, really) on the front lines of constitutional issues. The Constitution is an amazing document. It was purposely written broadly to allow for the inevitable changes in society. The Framers could not possibly have imagined a society so complex and different from the one they lived in, and yet they drafted a Constitution that is equally applicable and useful today as it was over 200 years ago. But what it means is that society is necessarily going to view certain provisions differently than had been done previously.

So when an issue of constitutionality comes before a court where Congress has not acted, it is often required of the courts to make hard decisions. In fact, it is the express duty of the Supreme Court to be the final interpreter of the Constitution. Courts often find themselves in the position to announce new or altered interpretations of the Constitution, and time and public opinion usually bare those decisions out. The Courts are not always right, but they do a fine job in the face of big and difficult problems.

Over the next few months we are going to hear a lot about judicial activism. Just remember that "judicial activist" is simply a code phrase for "liberal" and nothing more. There are serious and interesting debates about the role of the judiciary branch in the United States, but this really isn't one of them.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Term Limits

"We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion."

The Washington Post recently posted a funny story about Senator Orrin Hatch test driving a hybrid Hummer for the media. First of all, I applaud the good Senator for trying to take the lead on the issue of increased fuel economy and technologies. The story, however, is about Sen. Hatch's basic incapability of driving a car. He could not distinguish between the brake pedal and gas pedal, he did not know how to start a car or even know if it was on or not, and he could not perform basic maneuvers.

I don't think I'm going out on a limb here in suggesting that perhaps Senator Hatch has it a little too cushy in his position as Senator which he has held since 1977, a total of 31 years and counting. Hatch is notorious for campaigning against the incumbent, Frank Moss, in part because 18 years in office was too long and he, Moss, had lost touch with his constituency. I have no doubt that Sen. Hatch meant what he said, but it is all too clear that Joseph Smith was right: once a person gets what they think is a little power and authority, they find it suits them rather well and they'd just as soon hold on to it by any means necessary, thank-you-very-much.

One very obvious exception to this is the Father of our country, George Washington, who would easily have been reelected for the rest of his life had he so chosen, but instead was hesitant to even be elected for a second term, and was adamant that two terms were enough for any President. This set a precedent that was only broken once, by FDR, who was elected to four terms (though he died shortly after the fourth term started). Soon thereafter we got the Twenty-Second Amendment which official limits the president to two terms.

There was a major push for a Constitutional Amendment requiring term limits in Congress in the mid-90's. The limits would have been six two-year terms in the House and two six-year terms for the Senate. The Amendment was voted down 227-204, short of the two-thirds majority needed to keep the Amendment process going.

So system we get instead is one of Congressional Stagnation. Incumbents are re-elected to Congress more than 90% of the time. Most never face a primary challenge, many do not face any opponent at all, and those incumbents that are challenged are challenged by under-funded candidates without any really support (Pete Ashdown, anyone?). This is a vaguely democratic system, but not by much.

And the American people suffer. We don't get fresh, new ideas out of Congress. We don't get varying ideas and healthy debate out of Congress. We don't get leaders who are willing to take risks on important new ideas. We don't get representatives who are accountable to their constituencies. Instead we get entrenchment. We get leaders who are only interested in getting re-elected. We get status quo, no matter what the status quo happens to be. Change happens a a glacial pace (which is good in some areas and very, very bad in others). We get intellectual dishonesty passed off as cool-headedness. We get cliques. We get increased pork spending because that is why people keep sending their ineffective representatives back to Washington, seniority alone. We get more and more influence from special interests.

I firmly believe that federal term limits would revitalize our government. I think such a system would attract interesting new voices and ideas to the national debates we have on important issues. It would attract talented leaders who are more interested in progress and innovation as opposed to power-mongers who are only looking for a life-time gig. I actually find it fascinating that there is not a more sustained and organized push for federal term limits because I can't think of a single good reason to not limit terms. If our greatest leaders can achieve so much good in eight years as President, I certainly think that our greatest leaders in Congress could achieve great things in twelve years.

But the catch is: how do you get a bunch of men and women who are, by definition, power-hungry to limit their own power?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Haves and the Have Nots

There are two stories in the Deseret News that offer a nice little contrast. In the first, the DesNews scrutinizes the political donations of the Huntsman family. The article states that the family, as a whole, donated about twice as much to Democrats as to Republicans (but this is not what the post is about). In the second, the DesNews finds that 82% of low-income families are fully employed and still not able to meet the basic necessities of modern life, such as food, shelter, and health care.

So what we have here in Utah, in part, which is a microcosm of our nation as a whole, is on the one end a very successful family worth billions of dollars and on the other end 94,000 working families with 243,000 children, struggling to keep a home or apartment, food on the table, and basic health care.

You should know right now that I am in kind of a liberal/upset mood, so I'm going to get a little indignant here.

This is ridiculous and it makes me angry. I have no beef with the Huntsmans, they donate a lot of time and money to charitable causes and they seem like good people. But we've created a society where two people with the same drive and work ethic live in two separate worlds. In one world your family owns several mansions and offers you the best education and best connections that money can buy, and in the other the kids are in over-crowded classrooms without physical and psychological security or basic healthcare. In one world you expect to inherit millions of dollars from the family business and in the other you inherit callouses on your hands and a healthy distrust for a society that will just wear you down.

And yet all we hear is that the government better not touch my money. The government better stop encouraging lazy people to live off the Nanny State. The government is singularly ill-equipped to deal with social problems. The Invisible Hand will sort it all out!

All of which is nonsense. The rich receive so much more benefit from society and the government each day than the poor do in years. The rich grow rich from the physical labor of the poor. The government is not perfect, but we have seen again and again the injustices of a laissez-faire philosophy. We have seen slavery, monopolies, gender and racial inequalities, depressions and recessions, and the like.

I'm not calling for socialism, and I'm not calling for complete income parity. I'm calling for a society that fosters the hopes and dreams of all of its members, each of whom has something important and essential and meaningful to offer. I'd like to see better public schools that give every kid a chance to learn and succeed, affordable higher education available to anyone that wants it (including more emphasis on vocational schools), a public health care system that makes sure every family has their basic health care needs met, and no family (absolutely zero families) worrying about what they are going to eat tomorrow because the cupboards are empty.

This is what being a liberal is all about. Equality. Do those beliefs make me less of a Mormon than a conservative? I openly scoff at the idea.

There are plenty of ways liberals and conservatives can work together, and I respect many, many conservatives and think they present a lot of good ideas. But the goal of both political ideologies must be equality and security (which are completely intertwined), and you can't just come to the table with ideas that merely reinforce a system that leads to the rich getting richer and getting more opportunities, and the poor getting poorer with fewer opportunities.

If conservatives want to champion less government involvement that is fine, but that is not enough. They have to come up with ideas that replace government action that promotes equality. Can we rely on individuals acting independently with human compassion alone to create justice and equality? History has shown that we cannot. The only society that I can think of that achieved such total equality was this one, and I'm not sure we should just sit around and wait for that to happen again any time soon.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Congrats to Jon

China, eh? That's a very interesting move by Obama. Definitely not something I was expecting; were there any rumors running about in Utah Democratic circles? It does make the 2012 race more interesting by potentially removing him from it. At the same time, it'll burnish Jon's foreign policy credentials for a possible run at the Presidency in 2016.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

A National Sales Tax

I tend to keep out of tax reform debates because, frankly, I'm not smart enough to keep pace. I used to brag about how I haven't taken a math class since high school, but now that my kids are getting to be school-aged I am beginning to fret about when, exactly, they will surpass me. I'm thinking I have until junior high before I have to start learning (or re-learning) along with them to help out with homework.

So I'd heard of the proposal for a national sales tax, but didn't think too much about it, until I recently heard it boiled down to this: "We should tax consumption, not productivity." Stated that way, it seemed incredibly sensible to me, so I decided to dig a little deeper. You can play along by Googling consumption tax or national sales tax.

Basically, because that's the way my mind has to work in this area, a national sales tax would eliminate the income tax, so you would get the full amount of money you earn, and replace it with a tax on new goods and services purchased.

One of my pet peeves with our society is how consumption-oriented it is. We have to have the bigger house (with higher energy bills), we have to buy the bigger car (with lower fuel efficiency), we feel like our self-worth is measured by possessions and owning more and more. Wouldn't we be better off learning how to live more efficiently and focusing more on the simple pleasures of life? And even though I am a liberal and, as the stereotype goes, love big government, I think we all would love a more efficient government.

A national sales tax would seem to be a step toward both. First, it would likely encourage saving and investment over consumption. Here are some quotes from modern-day prophets on staying out of debt and living within our means:

President Heber J. Grant: “From my earliest recollections, from the days of Brigham Young until now, I have listened to men standing in the pulpit . . . urging the people not to run into debt; and I believe that the great majority of all our troubles today is caused through the failure to carry out that counsel.”

President Ezra Taft Benson: “Do not leave yourself or your family unprotected against financial storms. . . Build up savings.”

President Harold B. Lee: “Not only should we teach men to get out of debt but we should teach them likewise to stay out of debt.”

President Gordon B. Hinckley: “Many of our people are living on the very edge of their incomes. In fact, some are living on borrowings. . . I urge you to be modest in your expenditures; discipline yourselves in your purchases to avoid debt to the extent possible. Pay off debt as quickly as you can, and free yourselves from bondage.”

Americans, as a whole, spend more than they earn. Bankruptcies continue to climb. Very few people had created a safety-net for the current economic crisis (which I have heard many refer to as the Great Recession). A tax on consumption (ranging anywhere from 15-30%, usually pegged at about 23%) might encourage more savings, thus creating a more stable society and economy. It would also encourage investment, leading to greater capitalization of business. Increased savings would reduce stress, interest payments, and becoming beholden to banks.

Second, under the current income tax system, individuals and corporations spend hundreds of billions of dollars every year just complying with the income tax requirements. The code is so long and so complicated that it is astonishing to me that the system even works. A national sales tax would virtually eliminate the tax code bureaucracy, eliminate the need to ever file a tax return again, and some have even suggested it would eliminate the need for the IRS completely under certain conditions.

The downside, and there are always downsides, is that it is inherently regressive. The poor must spend nearly every penny they earn in the marketplace, whereas the rich spend an increasingly small amount of their wealth on goods and services. This means that the poor would spend a larger percent of their money on taxes than the wealthy, which is the opposite of what our income tax has always been.

This alone is enough to torpedo the idea, for me and most Americans, but there are ways around it. The most common is the annual or monthly prebate or rebate check which would eliminate the tax for those living below the poverty level, and lessen it for those making otherwise low incomes. Another idea is to eliminate the tax on essentials, like food and medical expenses, and/or create a higher tax on luxury items.

So I like it because of its simplicity and its propensity to encourage Americans to save and invest. I am leery because it is potentially very oppressive for the poor. I am by no means completely sold on it, but it is an interesting way to look at tax reform. Thoughts?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

On Manny and Steroids and Human Nature

There is no more over-written-about subject on the internets than steroids in baseball. I have tried to remain aloof. I have tried to reserve judgment. I have more or less navigated my way through the stages of grief quietly and introspectively. But now it has hit a little too close to home and I must make my completely unoriginal thoughts on the matter known.

It recently became known that Manny Ramirez, currently on the Dodgers, formerly of the Red Sox, has been suspended for 50 games, or about one-third of the season, for taking performance enhancing drugs. The offending substance was hCG, which is, and I find this amusing, a female fertility drug that steroid users inject at the end of a cycle of steroids to get their bodies back to normal (I think the term of art is, "cycling out").

Manny's excuse is that it was prescribed, just an innocent mistake. We've heard that one before. Some other reactions to getting caught with steroids or, more generally, performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) are:
Quick story about Roger Clemens. Last summer I was in New York City with my dad and brothers and we decided to go to a real nice steakhouse to, you know, get the complete feel of New York. At the table next to us is seated none other than The Rocket with what I imagine are some sons and other friends/family. I'm wearing my Red Sox cap, which he had to have seen. My thought is, I'm not the type of person that, as a grown man, will bother another grown man during dinner, so I'll just pull out my blackberry and take a real incognito picture because, hey, these things don't have a flash. It's a phone! It couldn't possibly have a flash! That would be absurd. I snap the picture, the entire dimly restaurant lights up in a blinding glow, and The Rocket looks right at me as I quietly put the phone away and act like nothing happened.

Anyway, like I said, this newest PED revelation about Manny hit a little close to home. I am someone who loves baseball, and I love the Red Sox. I am too old for this, I know, but it is what it is. My wife swears I came to tears when the Sox finally won the World Series in 2004 after an 86-year drought, and again when I bought the complete DVD's and watched the moment again. I say hogwash, but she is adamant. I almost named my dog Manny a few years ago to honor the greatest right-handed hitter of the generation who propelled the Sox to two World Series championships. And he's a druggy.

I was initially surprised and saddened. But that wore away pretty quick. Nothing should surprise us anymore in this regard. And then I remembered this take on the situation from baseball thinker extraordinaire, Bill James:

"You give me the opportunity to earn $22 million a year by taking steroids, I’ll shoot the pharmacist if I have to. I’m not saying it’s right. I’m not saying I shouldn’t be punished for shooting the pharmacist. I am saying it is self-righteous to pretend that I don’t have the same human failings that these guys do, and further, if you are insisting that you don’t have them, I don't believe you."

Now, obviously some people would not do it, and I imagine many baseball players resisted, but this is basic human nature, I think. There is a lot of money at stake, enormous amounts, and injecting a little steroids seems like a small price to pay. If I could inject something that I knew was illegal but that suddenly made me much better at what I do for a living and would increase my salary by three, four, five times, would I do it? I tell myself the answer is no but that is a very real temptation for anyone.

Another factor to consider is that advances in medicine and pharmaceutics has blurred the line between what is cheating and what is therapeutic. We can now remove ligaments from our ankles and insert them in our elbows to treat elbow injuries (the so-called Tommy John Surgery). We have medication that treats illness and allergies far better than in the past. We have corrective laser surgery for our eyes to make us see better.

Of course, we can see a distinction between these advances which are deemed safe and legal and corrective, as opposed to PEDs which fewer players are presumably willing to take because of long-term health risks and illegality, and which put the person on an unhuman level of ability and strength that the other treatments don't, but it really isn't so cut and dry. Especially in the heat of the moment with millions of dollars on the table.

So I don't end up angry, or sad, or give up the game completely. I try to remember how I felt when this happened. How I feel when I play catch in the backyard with my boy or watch one of his little league games. I try to remember that these are all still just humans and that, like the rest of the population, some are cheaters, some are jerks, some are idiots, some are genuine, some are honorable, and some are just completely normal except for the fact that they can throw a ball 95 mph and nail a precise target. Or hit a round ball coming in at 95 mph with a round bat, 400 feet and make tens of thousands of people cheer and forget about life for a moment.

Knowing this almost makes the game seem more real, in a finding-out-there-is-no-Santa kind of way. I feel a little nostalgic for the cleaner past, but more human knowing the truth.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Revolution Will Not Be Authorized

"Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed." (Thomas Jefferson, The Decalaration of Independence)

"After the Revolution, of course, there was no king and that changed the conditions under which revolt was justified. There were some Americans, such as the farmers of western Massachusetts in the 1780s, who because of economic distress rose up to close the courts and prevent debt collection. Samuel Adams, the most radical of the Boston leaders in the Revolutionary movement, adamantly opposed these rebels. The reason he gave was that revolution was unnecessary in a republic because all officials were elected by the people. The people in western Massachusetts were rebelling against themselves, or, what was more likely, a faction of special interests was attempting to advance its own cause under the guise of a revolution of the people." (Richard L. Bushman, I Have A Question, June 1976)

Recent polls show that a large number of Republicans in Texas and Georgia support the idea of secession. As politically active people we often get worked up over policy issues. Is this sort of response justified? Are we justified in resisting the government in an attempt to live within our "rights"? These questions and more were part of an excellent "I Have A Question" article (linked at the end of Richard Bushman's quote above) in the June 1976 Ensign. While these are not statements of doctrine by General Authorities per se, they do provide excellent guidance about the topic. And, as the title of this post suggests, sedition and revolution are generally not a good idea and only appropriate in extreme circumstances.

Now, people may have different definitions of "extreme". Having survived the Bush years, I can attest to the feeling of powerlessness one gets when your political views aren't represented nationally. In my opinion the Bush administration engaged in egregious crimes, both against our laws and against humanity -- torture, illegal wiretapping, going to war without justification, politicization of the federal bureaucracy and so forth. None of those things, however, meet the standard of appropriate cause for revolution. We have in this country a representative government, one formed of elected officials who are accountable (ultimately) for what they do. They may not get prison time, but they won't hold office forever. Therein lies the key to the appropriate expression of political discontent.

The left, collectively, discovered a far more powerful form of protest -- the ballot box. Various organizations were formed to raise money and fund candidates who more closely represented our views. Much of this organization was organic; I contributed on many occasions to causes and candidates whom I felt were better suited to running the country and worth my time and effort. Apparently a number of people felt the same way, enough so that I was (and still am) reasonably satisfied with the outcome. And now, with a president in power who I felt was the best man for the job, comes the real "revolution" as laws are changed and policies enacted that generally align with what I think is right and proper. I don't agree with everything the Obama administration is doing, but I feel like the time and energy I've invested in supporting his and other's elections were well-spent.

So to Republicans and other right-leaning individuals feeling discontent, I say you should focus on building your party. Chances of converting "liberals" to your point of view are slim to none. While I don't think the current Republican platform will attract Independent voters, that's not to say a few modifications and a better infrastructure couldn't swing things your way. During the Bush years there was a lot of talk about the Republican party being the "party of ideas". Well, now is the time to identify new ideas with true value (both practically and politically) and work to implement them.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Greetings from the Republic of California

Posting on the weekend is a bit like advertising on late-night television. You better understand the type of audience you're going to attract...

With that, I'd like to publicly thank the Editors (not those The Editors) for inviting me to post on this blog. Hopefully something I say will prevent you from spending too much time actually working, after all this life is way too transitory for paid labor. We should all be able to subsist off of blog advertising. Think of it as the Internet version of Amway.

My name is Andrew. I live in Southern California although I grew up in Utah and still visit from time to time (have they arrested Rick Koerber yet, btw?). I studied international relations in college, with an emphasis on African politics, especially Portuguese colonial history and the chaos that followed. Since then I've put my degree to proper use as a computer programmer. In my free time (and paid time, but don't tell anyone) I think about politics, math, religion, and so forth. Thus I am thoroughly qualified to comment on current affairs; definitely on the same level as, say, David Brooks or David Broder (only hopefully not as annoying, and a lot cheaper).

Since we all have opinions, I'll share one of mine -- immigrants rule in America. As the demographics of the U.S. change, so do our politics as we import the views of various immigrant populations. This has always been the case; after all, our own Constitution was written by immigrants eager to cast off British colonial power. It is a testament to its durability that it has provided shelter to vastly different populations who've come here seeking its protection. In California there are a number of these groups -- Vietnamese and Koreans who fled from conflicts in their respective countries, Central and South American immigrants fleeing the effects of the "Cold" War, Ethiopians and Eritreans doing the same, and so forth. Many of these groups helped place California in the Republican column during the Reagan years. Now the opposite is happening as Immigration itself is a hot-button political topic. We've seen sometimes dramatic shifts to the Right in Europe over the issue; what will happen here? Considering our history, I'd bet against the nativists.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Advocacy and Partisanship

A lot of people don't like lawyers, me included (to get in on the joke, realize that I am a lawyer). A lot of people don't like lobbyists, me included. But I feel like they (or we) play an important role in democracy. This isn't a post about lawyers or lobbyists, though, it is a post about advocacy.

As lawyers we are taught to zealously represent the interests of our client. There is no requirement that we actually agree with our clients non-criminal or fraudulent position, we are to advocate for them regardless. This, on the surface, may seem to indicate an ethical compass with no true north. We are also programmed to give nothing unnecessarily to the opposition, instead making them earn every point in painstaking fashion. This, on the surface, may seem to indicate extreme obstinacy and an unwillingness to see the other side of the equation.

What all of this means to me, however, is that every person or business has the absolute right to full representation and that no charges or actions can be brought against them without the accuser having the onus of fully proving their case. This avoids situations where frivolous claims or charges are brought against a person, or where only people or entities with popular opinions have access to legitimate justice.

Politically I think we tend to fall into these same patterns. Most Americans prefer one political party to exclusion of the others. The intelligent ones on both sides don't agree with everything in the party's platform, but that party more or less represents their world view. So what happens, I think, is that in order to feel like an integral part of a group, and in order to justify their beliefs, people will defend their party to the fullest, criticize the other party to the fullest, and overlook the flaws in their own and the virtues in the other.

This is partisanship. And while we have stated many times that it is dangerous to blindly follow any party or ideology, I think partisanship is very, very good for democracy. It allows for full debate of the issues, it allows for minority point of view to be expressed and disseminated, it requires anyone who makes a charge or takes a public policy position to have to prove it to the public because the other side isn't going to just give it to you.

But what it also often requires is for the partisan to take a more extreme view than what she might be exactly comfortable with because democracy is also about negotiation and compromise. Which leads partisans having to take sides, sometimes, with extreme factions of their party in the hopes that the political compromise will be more to their liking, which is often the case. Do I agree with every position that the Sierra Club or Green Peace or the ACLU or gay rights groups take? Of course not. Do conservatives agree with every position that Limbaugh or Hannity or Coulter take? Of course not.

But we play along because if we start from a moderated position and the other side starts from a more extreme position we end up with a compromise skewed against us instead of comfortably in the middle.

The side effect of all of this, of course, is that emotions tend to take over where we intend only rational and reasonable debate. This, again, isn't necessarily a bad thing. We cannot, no matter how hard we try, free ourselves of our emotions. Nor should we, but we shouldn't allow them to take over. I think the best advocates are those that color their reasonable arguments with well-placed emotion.

So this blog will keep going forward with our liberal stances. We'll take positions that will shock some, cause others to roll their eyes, and cause some to throw their hands up in the air and give up. We can certain improve in some areas, like our tone (you may not realize this, but SO and I tend to have sarcastic personalities, which is fun for us, but annoying for others, especially because sarcasm is hard to convey in writing). In doing so it is never our intention to offend or belittle, nor to imply that opposing points of view are stupid or uneducated, nor to unfairly generalize based on group identification. We don't think all conservatives are dumb rednecks and we don't disillusion ourselves that all liberals are educated and tolerant.

We are proud Mormons and proud liberals, though, and we don't see a conflict, and we are going to keep advocating and explaining our positions. And no amount of uneducated conservative thought is going to change that.*

*Did that sarcasm come through? I can honestly never tell. If you could have seen me wink and smile after that last line, you'd have gotten it.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Characteristics of Great Leaders

Some have advocated that "giving power to any leader in the time of crisis" is a mistake. Images of Hitler and Mussolini are conjured to illustrate the danger of allowing a political leader to emerge and increase the power of government. While these two are poignant examples of the abuse of power that can occur, the mortal sins that will seal their fates probably don't include "I was given power in a time of crisis and increased the role of government." If so, then there are many others that will find a fire-side seat waiting for them.

An excellent, and often-cited, example of great leadership is Abraham Lincoln. Jacob S. recently posted about a book on the Civil War presidency, and I will direct you to a second book that further details the life and presidency of Lincoln. Much is said about the growth of President Lincoln, about his initial hesitation in leading a nation, about his sincerity, and about his self-doubt. One idea that persists, is that when Lincoln was faced with the single greatest internal challenge this country has ever seen, he rose to the occasion and led the country from the brink of disintegration.

First, when faced with economic distress of the north and impropriety on the part of the banks, he called on Congress to issue government-backed bond notes (Greenbacks) to cover labor and service to the United States. This action expanded the role of a central bank to issue national currency and resulted in one of the greatest economic and industrial expansions this country has seen. For example, a transcontinental railroad was established (Pacific Railroad Acts), provided for free public higher education (Morrill Land Grant Act), and consistently supported scientific research and founded the National Academy of Sciences (Act of Incorporation).

Second, he issued the emancipation proclamation. The long-term consequence of this policy wasn't just to end slavery. It in fact refocused political power to the central government - the federal law outlined in the proclamation overruled that at a state level, allowing the federal government to establish rules and regulations that affect the entire nation. In addition, it set up the federal government as the humanitarian watch dog of the citizenship. Before Lincoln, individual states had the right to decide on the legality of slavery.

Lincoln was a leader that was given power in a time of national crisis, and he centralized economic power of the government, increased government control of the private sector, increased taxes (first ever income tax), and increased the role of government in nearly every aspect of the economy: medicine, industry, banking, and manufacturing.

According to the criteria listed at the beginning of this post and elsewhere, Lincoln has a seat at Satan's dinner table. In contrast to that belief, I feel that Lincoln's performance in a time of national crisis was essential to the survival of the country. He did not abuse his power. He did strengthen a nation.

Alongside Lincoln rightfully stand other great power-in-time-of crisis leaders that increased the power of the central government: Thomas Jefferson (established a Federal Republic), James Madison (drafted the Virgina Plan), Franklin Roosevelt (New Deal), and John F. Kennedy (Federal Grants).

If all of the action Obama has proposed actually comes to fruition, he will not have done 1/100 as much as Lincoln, and others, to expand the role of central government. If Obama's proposals are successful, then I believe it can aid in returning the United States to a position of industrial, scientific, and moral leadership. He has not (so far) abused his power, and he has strengthened a nation.

I am in no way claiming that all increases in federal government are good. I only want to point out that not all increases in federal government are bad. Let me be very clear on this - a significant number of policies that have increased the power of the federal government have been imperative to the progress of our country. I feel many (I didn't say all) of the recent policies of the Obama administration continue in this vein.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Is President Obama a Socialist?

Shaking my head in despair

I can't believe I have to right these words, but: Pres. Obama is not a socialist.

Go ahead and Google Obama + Socialist and you will come up with over 7.3 million hits. This is the duly elected POTUS, and we have to have a discussion about whether or not he is a socialist. The unfounded hysteria, I suppose, is based on the bank bailouts (TARP), the auto-industry bailout, and the stimulus bill.

Am I really writing this?

Socialism is state ownership and control over the means of production and distribution. Socialists, like the Socialist Party USA or the Socialist Party of America, call for nationalization of all or most of: the financial system, the health care system, the transportation system (including the production of cars, airplanes, and ships), factories, media, etc. They call for absolute income inequality and the abolition of classes. All of this to be achieved by militant action, if necessary, which they believe it almost always is.

I'm dreaming, aren't I? This can't be real.

The first piece of evidence that Pres. Obama is not a socialist, and I'd say its the biggie, is that socialists disavow and want nothing to do with Pres. Obama. They don't think he is a socialist. And they are not an especially humble or an easily embarrassed crowd. Nor are they the types to shun the spotlight. They appear to be absolutely giddy with all the new-found publicity they are receiving, but still don't accept the president as one of their own.

Now why is that?

As for TARP, a socialist would have used the financial crisis caused in large part by a lack of personal responsibility and regulation, coupled with immense greed and pride, to completely restructure the financial system and put government in permanent control. This is clearly not the case. The banks came asking to be bailed out, the government did so. The reason was because businesses and banks rely on short-term loans that are borrowed and paid back nearly daily, day in and day out. Because the banks had gambled and lost on the mortgage bubble, they had no money for these short-term loans which businesses need, as in have to have, in order to function. The government stepped in and guaranteed the loans and got credit flowing again.

Hey, that sounds like the capitalism! It is. There are basic regulations and oversight which dictate how the banks can use that bailout money, but there is no complete government control and the whole system is temporary until the economy turns around. Socialists would like to see complete control of the banking system, or something akin to the public utility system. This ain't that.

Every word I have to waste on this subject kills a puppy.

As for the auto bailout, I don't know what to say. They received an infusion of cash, again with them on their knees begging, to avoid catastrophic collapse that would have resulted in hundreds of thousands of lost jobs. It is not just the workers for the Big 3, but the workers of every industry that is supported by the Big 3, such as all the parts manufacturers. The government, again, has no real control of the companies and no permanent control whatsoever. Again, the government propping up capitalism until the economy recovers.

Is this what hell is like?

The stimulus gives the government control of nothing. It was federal money, mostly to states, for things like infrastructure and schools. It was a lot of money, and it is still unclear how effective it will be, but no threat of socialism. In fact, just about every Congressperson, Democrat and Republican alike, put pork in that bill. No one has clean hands on that one.

So what we see so far is that the federal government has just transferred millions of dollars into private hands. They took money from the masses and transferred it to the select few bankers, mostly. Does that sound like socialism? Sounds a little like bizzaro-socialism to me.

Please someone kill me.

That leaves us with health care. In that I want universal health care, which I laid out ad naseum on this site previously, to the degree that I want that certain industry universal-ized, I guess I am a health care socialist. Pres. Obama's plan is not a call for universal health care. It is not complete government control of the health care apparatus. That is what is needed, frankly, but he isn't willing to go that far yet.

So does anyone who wants government control of an industry a socialist? What about the police force? The fire department? Schools? Public transportation? Public utilities? TV and radio airwaves? The military? Does the public control of these industries stifle capitalism? Is anyone that supports government interference in these services a dreaded socialist?

We make decisions all the time that the government is best suited to control certain services and industries. Is health care so different from schooling and public safety?

Merciful, this is almost over.

I will say this again: Pres. Obama is not a socialist. He's not even close.

Suggestions to the contrary are conservative fear-mongering at its worst. Republicans have been out of office for a little over 100 days now and they are already acting like the ruin of America is upon us. They think that Americans are so dumb that they can't even see a socialist Manchurian candidate staring them right in the eyes.

They remind me of a Simpson's episode (Steve M. can help me out on this) where Marge kicks Homer out of the house for some indiscretion. Homer is forced to live in the kids' treehouse. Within less than a day, when he and Marge reconcile, his clothes are in tatters, the beard is full grown and unkempt, and he basically is a hysterical homeless man. He can't live without Marge for even a few hours. Republicans had unchecked power in Washington for such a long time that they are now not able to live without it for even just a few months, let alone years, and have turned to the sensational to help reclaim that power. Americans just are not buying it.

* Know that when I am talking about Republicans, here, I am mostly referring to the Washington and media elite like Boehner, Cantor, Gingrich, Limbaugh, Beck, Hannity, etc. I understand the average Republican still has his or her head on straight.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Utah Loves Obama

The Deseret News has come out with another poll showing Pres. Obama's favorability in Utah that it downplays to an almost criminal degree. In this latest poll it shows the president with an amazing +10 favorability among Utahns, 53-43%.

There are some pretty striking features of this poll. First, 100% of Democrats polled in Utah approved of his job performance. I've never seen that in a poll. Not suprising, though, is that Republicans disapprove 64-34. But independents, the real gem of the electorate, and typically reliably conservative in Utah, support the president +24, 59-35.

Sixty-one and 56 percent of Utahns approve of the job Pres. Obama is doing in foreign policy and health-care reform, respectively. Fifty-five percent, however, disapprove of the stimulus spending.

Since I already threw a fit once about the ugly bias with which the Deseret News reports positive news for Pres. Obama here in Utah, I will pretty much refrain except to show these ridiculous quotes:
While much of America really likes the job President Barack Obama has done in his first 100 days in office — a milestone reached today — Utahns are more reserved, with a bare majority approving his actions.

. . .

Since Republicans outnumber Democrats in Utah two-to-one, it's no surprise that the president doesn't do very well here.
I think the President, the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, and any person with even just a little bit of sense, would disagree whole-heartedly. Pres. Obama is doing very well here. Have we forgotten that this is Utah? This is easily in the top three of conservatives states in the country (out of fifty!). And he has a plus ten favorability here? He's kicking butt, is what he is doing. And he has been kicking butt since the election. His favorability in Utah has actually increased the more Utahns see the job he is doing. The man is a juggernaut.

And all of this bodes very, very poorly for Republicans. The Republican party has essentially been relegated to the deep South and what is now being called the Mormon Belt. They are chasing off moderates, like Senator Arlen Spector, in an effort to become more and more ideologically pure and far-right conservative. Independents throughout the nation strongly favor Pres. Obama. Congressional Republicans are seeing some of the worst poll numbers across the board in decades.

This is a party in crisis, and the number one piece of evidence could easily be that arch-conservative Utah has a strong preference for the way Pres. Obama and the Democratic party are running the nation. If the Republicans can't even count on good old reliable Utah anymore to be staunchly conservative, then what can the count on?

I would pay close attention to the 2010 and 2012 elections here in Utah, because I think we're going to see a decided shift to the left. If Utah Republicans want to have any chance to preserve their dominance of state politics, they had better start moving swiftly center-ward (think Gov. Huntsman) or they are going to have start learning how to play nice with the opposition.