Monday, February 28, 2011

The Military Industrial Complex or a balanced budget?

A recent conversation amongst friends and total strangers recently revealed a couple of interesting points in terms of budget deficit reduction.

Here are the generic, stereotype laden talking points (generally dependent on political leanings):

1) We need to cut spending from the military, the evil empire spends well over every other country in the world combined!

Okay so not everyone is so hyperbolic with their wrongly cited numbers but you get the idea.

2) We need to cut the welfare programs that are a burden to society and doing nothing more than spreading around hard earned wealth and enslaving the working class.

Everyone else talking about budget cuts is really just noise right? I mean, sure, we can cut the endowment for the Arts because they offer little value and promote divisive materials, sometimes. Sure we can cut the Department of Education, because honestly, I dare you to go read their website and tell me in concrete terms what they actually provide. I have read it, and personally I don't get it. As a person that has been formally enrolled in some sort of school for 24 of the last 27 years of my life I get it. Education is important and all that jazz but really how much value does the Dept. of Education really bring to the table when a huge amount of our spending is being done at "for profit" educational institutions?

To be succinct, the current budget of our fine government qualifies about 30 % of our spending as "non-mandatory", or discretionary. To include the FBI and the Army......yes something is wrong with this picture.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Let's imagine a worst-case scenario where the United States, through internal factors, disintegrates and splinters.  As a result, different states and regions band together to form new nations.  One natural fit would be for the people of the "Mormon Belt" to form an alliance and create a new nation, let's call it Deseret.

Now imagine a choice between creating a democracy, similar to the one established in the Constitution, and a theocracy where the prophet was the head of state, similar to the institutions created by Joseph Smith and Brigham Young.  Which would you choose?  I'm not sure that is such an easy choice for Mormons.

Now, how does this effect your views on the revolutions taking place in the Middle East?  There is considerable hand-wringing by conservatives, given voice by Fox News, and hilariously parodied by Glenn Beck, that the revolutions are distinctly bad because Islamists may take power.  After all, Palestinians elected Hamas and in Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood has some amount of popularity and political organization.  It is certainly not a perfect analogy, but how critical can we be of Muslims choosing to create a theocracy when we, as Mormons, would likely be inclined to do the same?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Utah State Legislature Fails Constitutional Interpretation

I got a really nice laugh this morning on the way to work.  KUER, the local NPR radio station, ran a story about the Utah legislature defining rules for how it sues the federal government.  One of the sections of this legislation is a list of powers given to the federal government.  Rep. Ivory explained the need for this list by stating:
I thought it was fascinating. There oughta be a list out there that just lists the enumerated powers. There's just not. There's just not, and we talk so often about the government being one of enumerated powers, but there's no list anywhere.
There oughta be a list?  Uh, I believe that "list" is the United States Constitution itself.  In fact, within the Constitution there is an actual section known as the Enumerated Powers.  Is Rep. Ivory too lazy to read the Constitution and therefore needs a nice, simplistic list for him to understand?  Or is it possible that Rep. Ivory doesn't like how the Constitution is written and would like to re-write it in a way a bit more pleasing to himself?  Is there something wrong with the Constitution that he believes needs fixing or clarifying?

The bill also requires the state to "judge federal action against that list, using the meaning of the provision at the time it was drafted - as far back as 1789."  So the touchstone for all Constitutional interpretation by the Utah state legislature is now not the Constitution itself, but a hackneyed, superficial, and biased list of enumerated powers as interpreted by Rep. Ivory?  Sounds like a real logical step forward.

And I've laid out before why it is inane to try to interpret the Constitution based on "original intent" -- because there was no single original intent and because it doesn't make sense to try to overlay 18th century understanding on an infinitely more complex 21st century world and because the Constitution was intentionally written broadly to adapt to changing circumstances -- but now the Utah legislature has made state law.

We now have further evidence that the Tea Party extremists who profess such love and fealty to the Constitution neither understand it nor respect it.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Elder Oaks and Preserving Religious Freedom

There is considerable discussion out there about Elder Oak's talk given at Chapman University about religious freedom.  It is the sort of message that leaves me torn and restless.  As a deeply religious person I agree completely with the general sentiment expressed in his conclusion:
We must never see the day when the public square is not open to religious ideas and religious persons. The religious community must unite to be sure we are not coerced or deterred into silence by the kinds of intimidation or threatening rhetoric that are being experienced. Whether or not such actions are anti-religious, they are surely anti-democratic and should be condemned by all who are interested in democratic government. There should be room for all good-faith views in the public square, be they secular, religious, or a mixture of the two. When expressed sincerely and without sanctimoniousness, the religious voice adds much to the text and tenor of public debate.
No one should ever feel embarrassed or intimidated for expressing strong religious beliefs in the public square, and I agree that religions have much good to offer public policy on a more abstract level.  But at the same time, I disagree with Elder Oaks that religious expression should be given a special, elevated status in such discussions:

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Democracy in Egypt and the Middle East

What you are hearing from Washington insiders regarding the uprising, or revolution, in Egypt is that Pres. Obama is in a very tough spot.  Republicans are surprisingly supportive of this view and are standing behind the president as he tries to figure out what to do.  It's tricky because we've been supporting, through billions of dollars in aid, Mubarak for decades, this despite the fact that he is an undemocratic autocrat who excludes his people from legitimate public debate and involvement.  But the US is okay with that because he has been friendly with Israel, he has been moderate in keeping fundamentalism at bay in Egypt, and the country has been stable under his rule.

This is the classic foreign policy realism point of view.  Realism is not concerned with right or wrong, moral or immoral, and the like.  Realism is concerned with who has power and how does that effect me?  The paramount concern for a foreign policy realist is one's own security and self-interest.  From the realist's point of view, Mubarak has been perfectly acceptable.  The idea of a revolution in Egypt, with the possibility of chaos or fundamentalism taking hold as a counter-weight to the possibility of real democracy taking hold, is a risk probably not worth taking.  So the establishment is treading very carefully, not really sure what to do about it.  Of course a stable democracy is the very best thing for America's self-interest, but the cost/benefit analysis is tricky.  This is why the Obama administration is making wishy-washy statements and being blamed for being one step behind the situation, and why Republicans are supportive.

And it's all wrong.