Friday, April 30, 2010

The Enumerated Powers

I wish I could be a libertarian.  I really do.  In fact, I think we all do.  Nobody loves paying taxes, nobody loves a big bloated government, nobody loves politicians who are almost universally slimy and packaged and plastic.  I think we all have our own certain ideal for a government-light society.  But there is where the problem comes in: everyone's ideal is different.  Not only that, but those with the most money tend to force their ideals upon the rest of us until we can't take it anymore and turn to government to try to inject some sort of counter-balance.  The rich and powerful then try to game the new system, and away we go.

That is a basic back and forth we have in America today.  We are presented with a choice of who we hate more: corporations or government.  Both are big and ugly and powerful and inhuman and seemingly untouchable and, to our horror, actually really so intertwined as to be almost the same thing.  The financial reform legislation process highlights this fact nicely.  On the one hand you have Democrats trying to reform the system and put some regulations on how Wall Street functions in order to avoid another Great Recession, on the other hand you have Wall Street there every step of the way trying, and succeeding, to make the new reform as painless to themselves as possible, and with as many loopholes as possible.  The majority of Americans could not possibly be more confused about who to hate more.

Those that hate the government more have tended recently to question the constitutionality of federal government action, particularly as big reforms are being enacted to rein in the the insurance and financial industries' excesses.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

What Would the Founding Fathers Have Thought About Ebay?

So let's pretend that you discovered a new continent with seemingly limitless natural resources, fertile soil, and a varied climate.  It began to be populated by people from every nation, religion, and walk of life and was thus tolerant and dynamic.  Essentially, the potential for growth and progress was boundless.  And let's pretend that those people turned to you and your colleagues to establish a government that would endure and upon which they could rely for generations to come.  What would you do?

Remember that this Constitution could endure for hundreds of years and see changes in the world that you cannot possibly imagine. Would you write a short document that gave a basic framework and allowed for a variety of interpretations to fit the needs of future generations?  Would you write a document that that had some broad language but a strict interpretation to be followed by all future generations?  Would you create essentially a large volume of specific statutes to be followed for all time?  Would you be confident that your wisdom should be followed explicitly by the progeny of your generation hundreds of years down the line?  Or would you want them to be able to adapt to a changing world while holding on to a few key principles of freedom that you hold dear?

These are, in essence, the issues that America's Founding Fathers faced while creating our new nation and producing a Constitution.  For a little context, here's a real rough sketch of America in 1790, just a couple of years after the Constitutional Convention.  America had about four million inhabitants, including about 700,000 slaves.  New York City was the largest city with about 33,000 people, Philadelphia was next with about 28,000, which means that the nation was overwhelmingly rural.  Most people were self-sufficient to the extreme, meaning they produced their own food and made their own clothes and built their own houses and bred their own horses.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Earth Day

And behold, all things have their likeness, and all things are created and made to bear record of me, both things which are temporal, and things which are spiritual; things which are in the heavens above, and things which are on the earth, and things which are in the earth, and things which are under the earth, both above and beneath: all things bear record of me.  Moses 6:63

The scriptures are laid before thee, yea, and all things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator.  Alma 30:44

If all creation testifies of God, then perhaps we can utilize Earth Day as a sort of testimony meeting.  A chance to look around and remember that not only was the Earth created for the temporal benefit of man and woman but also for man and woman to gain a testimony of the Supreme Creator.  I think that this balance has been skewed far to the former at the expense of the latter, and Earth Day is a chance to try to reset our way of valuing creation.

As an example of this conflict, consider the sage grouse.  This little fella makes his home in, if you can believe it, sagebrush habitat.  It just so happens that much of the United States' sagebrush habitat is also oilman habitat, and the more oil wells we sink the less habitat the sage grouse can call home, and the more threatened it becomes.  The Interior Department was petitioned to protect the sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act and recently made its dissonant decision: the sage grouse deserves protection, but we aren't giving it.  Jason Chaffetz showed his lack of imagination in reaction to this decision--"The only good place for a sage grouse to be listed is on the menu of a French bistro"--a variation on a common theme among the anti-environmentalism crowd.  (Why would the French eat a bird native to the American West?  How about: "I get enough grouse at home from my wife and kids, I don't need it in my oil production facilities," or something?)

So anyway, is the sage grouse just an annoyance to brush aside in our thirst for more fossil fuels, or is it possible that this quirky bird that attracts potential mates by making a rubber-ball-bouncing sound with its chest is something to be valued as bearing record of a Creator?  Is it fundamentally ridiculous to put so much emphasis on any single species, such as quirky bird which, seriously, attracts potential mates by making a rubber-ball-bouncing sound with its chest, which is, let's be honest, bizarre and a little gross?

Monday, April 12, 2010

Opposing Nuclear Weapons

In 1981 the First Presidency, in a statement opposing the storage of nuclear weapons in Utah and Nevada, made the following statement:
First, by way of general observation we repeat our warnings against the terrifying arms race in which the nations of the earth are presently engaged. We deplore in particular the building of vast arsenals of nuclear weaponry. We are advised that there is already enough such weaponry to destroy in large measure our civilization, with consequent suffering and misery of incalculable extent.
It is my feeling that nuclear weapons are evil, and that part of the responsibility of bearing the Gospel of Peace is speaking out against them.  I would love for members of the church to take the lead in opposing the proliferation of nuclear weapons and encouraging the nations of the world to disarm.  This goal can only be achieved through full international cooperation, and since the church is an international entity preaching peace we should have a strong and loud voice.

And there is a lot going on in the world of nuclear weapons these days.  President Obama recently signed a new START Treaty and Protocol with the Russians which will significantly reduce the number of weaponized nuclear warheads in both countries and increase monitoring of the progress of that reduction.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Urban Sprawl and the Utah Lake Bridge

A group of groups, led by the Sierra Club, recently offered their idea regarding a potential bridge that would span Utah Lake: Don't build it.  The Daily Herald, in typical fashion, offered a poorly thought-out rebuttal to the rebuttal, on which I would like to comment.

They were first offended that Marc Heileson of the Sierra Club called it a bridge to nowhere, saying:
Bridge to nowhere? That's quite a slam. Utah Valley is nowhere?  One end of the bridge would land near 800 North in Orem. That's not only at the heart of the valley, it's likely to be even more bustling in the future. Close by is the planned transportation hub for the Frontrunner train line and the Bus Rapid Transit project.
He didn't say a bridge from nowhere, he said a bridge to nowhere.  Clearly Orem is somewhere.  A lot of people live there.  The other side of the proposed bridge, however, is nowhere, and that is a good thing, and it should stay that way.  Unfortunately, there are developers eying the west side of the Utah Lake like Utah Republican lawmakers eye fifteen year old girls in hot tubs (too soon? low blow? I couldn't resist.  I take it back).

Monday, April 5, 2010

Re: Worth the read "I'm 63 and I'm Tired"

Following the lead of Jacob S., I decided to also post an e-mail that I received. The original e-mail has been circulating recently, but the responses come from a friend of mine who gave me permission to post it here:

I normally don't respond to these and I usually dislike getting political emails. But in light of all the lies and hatred going around these days, I took my lunch break to read and respond this time. For me, there was just a line or 2 that I DO agree with. Here are my rebuttals to the rest. My comments are in blue.

I'm 63. Except for one semester in college when jobs were scarce and a six-month period when I was between jobs, but job-hunting every day, I've worked, hard, since I was 18. Despite some health challenges, I still put in 50-hour weeks, and haven't called in sick in seven or eight years. I make a good salary, but I didn't inherit my job or my income, and I worked to get where I am. Given the economy, there's no retirement in sight, and I'm tired. Very tired.

I'm 43. Except for a period of time when I needed to leave a company and hadn't found a new job yet, I've worked, hard, since I was 13. I don't put in 50-hour weeks because my family is more important than spending time at an organization that doesn't value families. I don't make a good salary, but I make enough to provide for my family while still having time to spend with them. I'm hoping someday I can manage an early retirement, but that's not in the works yet.
I'm tired of being told that I have to "spread the wealth" to people who don't have my work ethic. I'm tired of being told the government will take the money I earned, by force if necessary, and give it to people too lazy to earn it.

I'm tired of greedy wealthy corporations controlling everything in this country. I'm tired of being forced to pay money to industries to enrich their shareholders, just so I can buy basic goods or provide basic services for my family. Corporations make hundreds of billions of dollars yet still pay their employees poor wages. These wealthy multinational corporations cringe whenever they're asked to stop polluting or have to pay to clean up messes they made that destroy our environment and kill our children.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Unhealthy Mingling of Politics in Mormonism

I received the below email today from a person I don't know.  It seems to be making the rounds:

Dear friends,

In light of the recent Gallop Poll which calculates that 60% of active Mormons self-identify as Conservative or Republican and that over 60% of inactive Mormons who still consider themselves Mormonism [sic] are self-identified "Liberals or Moderates" suggesting that the more liberal you are the more likely you are to go inactive; in light of Glenn Beck's recent public comments where the prominent Mormon declared that social justice was a code word for Communism and Nazism; and in light of the recent invitation by a Nevada Stake to Democratic Senator Harry Reid to speak at a fireside which was met by threats of violence and cancelled [sic]. 

As moderate, liberal or radical Mormons, it is time to make our voices heard WITHIN Mormonism. I for one am weary of hearing Republican talking points pass for Gospel truths. The Gospel is for everyone, not just Republicans; guided by the spirit, liberal and radical interpretations of the Gospel and scriptures are just as valid as those made by Conservatives.

The Idea:

  • On May 1st 2010, International Workers’ Day, or May Day, we will participate in local May Day festivities and organize 'Social Justice and the Gospel' Teach-ins/Firesides all across the country. 

  • On Sunday May 2nd, during Fast and Testimony Meeting, we will hold a special fast for those who are working all over the world to advance the causes of the Gospel, social justice, environmental sustainability and fighting the root causes of poverty. Then, we will attend our local Wards and, guided by the spirit, bare strong, sincere and non-confrontational testimonies on these themes.
Please pass the word along and start organizing events. Respond with ideas and comments.

Will you help me make the Mormon Church hospitable for all of God's Children? Even Liberals and Radicals?

In Solidarity,

Jason M. Brown
Master of Forestry (M.F.), Master of Art and Religion (M.A.R.), 2011
Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies & Yale Divinity School
(714) 261-5616

If anyone out there wants to participate, feel free, but I think this is a problem and a mistake.  One of the main goals we were trying to achieve with this blog was to show that Mormonism and liberalism are compatible, just like Mormonism and conservatism are compatible.  The implication is that there is no inherent political bias in our religion.  The doctrines, principles, and ordinances are pure, they are Truth.  They are not created by man.  Politics and government, on the other hand, are man-made institutions and deeply flawed.  The two should not be conflated.