Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A very nice summary of Obama's abortion position

I took on the issue of Obama and abortion here already. But at the time I was still confused about Obama's position, because there was some discrepency between the pro-life's accusations of Obama's legislative record and Obama's defense of his own record.

Well today I happened upon this blog that explains it really well.

Read the whole article, but this portion of it is particularly informative:

Having read through the various arguments back and forth, here's my gut about what actually happened and what was actually at stake. The crux of the debate was over what, legally, counts as "alive." At the time, some doctors, courts and lawyers were operating on the assumption that a baby was effectively viewed as alive only if it was "viable," i.e it could survive, even with life support. That was, in effect, Obama's view.

The bill declared that the very act of being born and still being alive, gave you protections. Being alive was defined as one who "breathes or has a beating heart, pulsation of the umbilical cord, or definite movement of voluntary muscles." Before the law: a baby who had a pulsating umbilical cord but who would not - in the view of the doctors - survive would be allowed to die. After the law: the question of viability would be removed from the equation. If they were born, then they were deemed to be alive. Period.

As a result of the redefinition, doctors would need to treat any living baby that was produced through an abortion the same as one produced through an intentional birth, including taking urgent steps to keep it alive. That's why some pro-choice leaders viewed it as an attack on Roe v. Wade. The abortion process sometimes results in non-viable fetuses/babies living for a short time; to outlaw that, was to prohibit a legal form of abortion.

To some degree, what this is really about is who you trust to make that decision. The pro-choice forces and the Illinois Medical Society argued that "the doctor" was in the best position to make such a decision, not some anti-abortion activists. The Born Alive bill was accompanied by legislation making it easier to sue, feeding doctors fears that it really would be the trial lawyers working with anti-abortion groups that would wrest authority from the doctors.

On the other hand, the pro-life forces argue that the doctor in charge happens to be an abortionist, someone with a vested interest in claiming that the baby was not viable. For an abortionist to admit that the baby was viable he would be admitting that he failed at the basic task of performing a successful abortion - a profound conflict of interest. This strikes me as a very legitimate concern on the part of the pro-life advocates. They argued that its "alive"-ness should simply be assumed: if the baby is alive, it's then a case for the neo-natal doctor.

I hope you can see from my description that the born alive bill was neither a slam dunk, unconstitutional, boneheaded bill (as the Obama campaign said) nor a clear, black-and-white verdict on whether you care about life. It was a gray-area dispute over how non-viable fetuses brought forth during an abortion should be treated.

I think I also now understand why Obama has given such varied and shifting answers on this. My guess: the real reason he opposed it is that her preferred the old definition that focused on viability. But try saying that out loud: "I believe that babies that are still alive should be allowed to quietly die. " It's actually a defensible position. If you support mercy killing for terminally ill patients, for instance, you'd feel totally comfortable with allowing non-viable babies brought forth during an abortion to die, too. But it is excruciatingly difficult to explain without sounding like Dr. Kevorkian. You'd have to say what many people believe and yet is still harsh in the articulation: "Some things that are alive should be allowed to die. It is neither compassionate nor wise to sustain life that will not survive." How's that for winning campaign line? Better just say it's "unconstitutional." (For a more positive view of why Obama did what he did, see Doug Kmiec's book excerpt. For a less positive view, read the National Right to Life Committee's site)

My personal view is that Obama made a mistake in opposing the bill. He obviously made a mistake politically. But more important, he made a mistake in concluding that because the legislation was coming from the pro-life forces that it was therefore a trick entirely lacking in merit. He claims he's about bringing people together but in that case, he did not succeed in forging a workable compromise. In fact, when workable compromises came before him, he either voted no or did not embrace them. No, he did not show himself to be an infant killer. That charge is, as he's said, a lie. But he did show himself to be uninterested in forging common ground around abortion. He now says he wants to do just that but given his ardently pro-choice record, the burden of proof is on him to show that he's sincere about that.

I understand the controversy especially about this one detail on the abortion problem. I totally support the notion of not illegalizing abortion, but working to pass legislation to make it more rare.

Obama doesn't have a record of compromise on this issue that I would like to see. I would hope to see him address this and other similar issues more carefully and with more detail. But largely this is a cultural war issue that I would hope we could move past.

I suspect he has evolved on this issue over time, but like I said before, issues like health care, taxes, energy, foreign policy just matter so much more when choosing a president than whether or not a he or she wants to lock up both doctors and mothers who choose to abort a fetus...

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Trickle Up Economics

Obama has been accused of being all "flash" and no substance. I think there's a tinge of racism (if even subconsciously) behind this notion, but generally I understand where it comes from: he's new, he's young, early on, his popularity seemed to come from these souring speeches that were big on generalities but without a lot of meat.

But he has since followed it up with plenty of meat, and what's interesting to me, is that meat basically fleshes out the tag lines from his early campaign.

Basically, you can sum up Obama's plan in his most famous tagline: "Yes We Can". His message and his policies all point toward this phrase. That through institutions, both public and private, a framework can be laid such that the many can lift themselves a little higher, contribute a little more, such that all our benefited. Call it the trickle up economic theory.

His tax plan gives greater tax cuts to the poor and middle class all the way up to those making $250K/year. Because we have a massive debt and massive obligations incurred by past administrations, he imposes tax increases on the very rich. Wealth re-distribution you accuse?

Consider that 1% of the wage earners in America today make 16% of the income, the largest disparity since the 1920's. If you want to fund the government, you have to tax those with the income.

Its not wealth redistribution by the way, there are no give-aways in Obama's plan. The revenue would be used to shore up infrastructure, education, and health care programs that benefit everyone including the rich. Everybody benefits when more people are educated, when more people have access to health care. We all suffer when some of us don't get access to such things.

And good roads and bridges, an education plan targeted at bringing more people into productive work, and a health care plan that will free up people to take greater risks (its harder to leave that big company and its health care benefits to start a business these days)... benefits everyone including the rich.

And its not socialism. Obama believes seriously in the free market, but he also appreciates and understands its limitations, I think we all feel it now with this financial crisis. His plan tends toward solutions where the free market is allowed to work within the confines of a framework that provides some protection for individuals who may be hurt by it. It also strives to enable more people to become bigger players in it. A more dynamic, talented, educated work force is the driving force that makes the free market go.

Reagan's trickle down economy, where you give tax breaks to those with the biggest incomes with the hopes that they will use the extra cash to invest thus spurring on job growth had an ounce of truth to it.

But it makes a ton more sense to work on creating environments where more people are better educated, more people have a greater opportunities to innovate and create.

That has been truly America's contribution to the world, and Obama more so than McCain hopes to continue that tradition.

Its all about trickle up economics. Yes We Can.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Impressions from the Presidential Debate

Loved it. Loved it. Loved it. Loved it.

Disclaimer: I didn't really watch the debate. I listened to about 20 minutes of it on the radio while driving home from work. Then caught probably another 15-20 minutes of it driving around with my family as we made a half-hearted effort to get to "Ballet in the Park" (yes, I was completely ignoring my family...) which we inevitably ditched because we were both late (thanks to me) and intimidated by the crazy popularity of the event and the lack of facilities to accommodate that popularity, especially parking... So, our yearly tradition has now ended...

But back to the debate. When John McCain and Barack Obama won the nomination I was pretty excited. Excited because those were my two favorites from each party. Before I threw my support behind Obama around last December, McCain was actually on the top of my list. So, how often is it that you can seriously say yes, this year I will pick the best of two goods.

But then the campaign began, and McCain's presidential campaign turned into the McCain train wreck capped by the disastrous Palin VP pick. Quick diversion here, but in the VP debates next week, the strategy is obvious. Biden needs to debate Palin like she's John McCain, and just let Palin hang herself by herself. Did you see her interview with Katie Couric? It was devastating. Palin is the anchor that is sinking the McCain's candidacy (when he's not sinking it himself with his over-reactions and crazy talk about campaign suspensions). There is absolutely no precedence for this.

And its all McCain's fault. For one, you don't make stupid arguments like in defense of Palin's lack of foreign policy experience saying that because Alaska is close to Russia, Palin is ready to take over the Presidency if something should happen to McCain. That's an insane argument, obviously. And when Palin tried to explain that argument to Couric, it was absolutely obvious even Palin doesn't believe it.

I'm a firm believer that you have to be basically who you are. Authenticity is important, and Palin would be doing better if McCain and company never tried to play up her experience and just accepted Palin for what she is. Unfortunately, what she is is someone completely unready for the Vice Presidency.

Anyway, back to the debates.

I've grown used to presidential debates being pretty light weight affairs. Candidates stuck repeating the same stupid talking points, afraid of specifics, both just hoping to score points with great one-liners.

The primary debates were different, this debate was different.

Also, one more thing. People, for some reason, believe McCain is a bad debater. I watched many of the primary debates on both sides, and I felt McCain won most of his, and I never felt Obama won any of his. At best Obama held his own. But through the primaries, Obama showed consistency and discipline and got better.

Tonight was the best I've ever seen (actually heard) from him. He showed energy and concisenesss in his answers...

McCain was good too. Although I read later that McCain never once looked at Obama, seemed a bit edgy and irritable, while Obama looked directly at McCain while addressing him and seemed overall better composed. I missed pretty much all of this from the radio.

But this debate really explained the differences between the two candidates clearly:

McCain as president will mainly carry forth many of Republican (Bush's) principles but will do it better and more ethically than Bush. I really believe this is true. McCain's foreign policy will largely be a continuation of Bush's, but where Bush basically let Cheney run the show behind closed doors, McCain would be the architect and executer. So, more of the same, but more of the same, only better.

McCain's domestic policy would also be very much Republican oriented but definitely a departure from Bush. Where Bush emphasized "compassionate conservatism" which meant an expansion of government to promote conservative values such as No child Left behind, etc, McCain's campaign would largely be about cutting govenment waste and corruption and not much else.

His most notable line in the debate (and surprising) was that in response to the current finanical crisis, McCain would consider a complete government spending freeze on everything but the most essential government functions, defense, veterans (and under his breadth entitlemens, that would be social security, medicare, medicade), so basically a freeze on all but 99% of the government expenditures. Unrealistic and a litle crazy, but and indicator of where he's at. End pork, end earmarks, end corruption. McCain will be the crusader against all that is evil with this government.

Obama, of course, wants his presidential theme to be about "bottom up" growth. Where the tax system is changed to benefit low and middle class earners. Where government spending is targeted at low and middle class earners - early childhood education, college education affordability (grants, student loans), health care. Where much more of this is paid for by the top 1-5% o the wage earners (tax increases on earners making > $250K, tax hikes on capital gains from 15 to 20 or so percent).

Obama's foreign policy is much more comprehensive, in my view, than McCain's. Where Bush and McCain have been focused on Iraq (I would say bogged down) and as a result have killed US credibility elsewhere, and have limited our ability to do anything else anywhere else, Obama wants to view the terrorists threats more comprehensively. Which means, of course, a draw down in Iraq, a beef up in Afghanistan, and a better focus on engagement with the world, both with our friends and with our foes.

McCain's strenght, of course, in foreign policy lies in his first hand experience. It's obviously his passion, and he's been doing it a long time.

Obama's experience, here, is weak. His politics largely is more academic than real-world (ten years as a Constitutional Law professor at the University of Chicago). And that's his style. He surrounds himself with experts, and his governing style will be collaborative and research based, for better or for worse.

With McCain, you get a highly effective and principled Senator who has run one of the most disfunctional presidential campaigns in recent memory. But, McCain is no light-weight. I'm not sure what kind of a president he would be, but I'm sure he would be better than our last one.

Brooks loves John McCain, and this article sums up why I loved him too.

Why McCain has been a great Senator, especially recently:

"His mood darkened as the Iraq war deteriorated, but his accomplishments mounted. I don’t think any senator had as impressive a few years as McCain did during this span of time.

He lobbied relentlessly for a change of strategy in Iraq, holding off the tide that would have had us accept defeat and leave Iraq to its genocide. He negotiated a complicated immigration bill with Ted Kennedy. He helped organize the Gang of 14 and helped save the Senate from polarized Armageddon over judicial nominations.

He voted against opportunist bills like the pork-laden energy package and the prescription drug plan. He led a crusade against Jack Abramoff and the sleaze-meisters in his own party and exposed corrupt Pentagon contracts."

Why McCain would be a bad president:

"No, what disappoints me about the McCain campaign is it has no central argument. I had hoped that he would create a grand narrative explaining how the United States is fundamentally unprepared for the 21st century and how McCain’s worldview is different.

McCain has not made that sort of all-encompassing argument, so his proposals don’t add up to more than the sum of their parts. Without a groundbreaking argument about why he is different, he’s had to rely on tactical gimmicks to stay afloat. He has no frame to organize his response when financial and other crises pop up."

And its not just that he's too much of a Senator. It's also that he's being hamstrung by his party. As a Senator, he has freedom to be a maverick. He wins Senate elections over and over again without trying. People in Arizona love him, and no one really runs against him here.

But to win the presidency you need the base. And the base forced Palin on him. McCain wanted and should have chosen Joe Lieberman or one of the other front runners in consideration (not Romney). Someone he knows and likes, someone who could have enhanced his campaign. But his base wanted nothing to do with it.

You can see it in some of McCain's other ideas as well, especially in health care. I'm not sure if McCain even believes in his own plan. He put it out there in the debate. When Obama attacked its primary weakness, that employers would stop providing health care and force more people to go out in the open market to get it. And that's a problem, because unless people are brought in as a group, insurance provides will target the young and healthy where profits can be made and make it hard for older folks and more chronically ill folks to afford it, even with the tax credit McCain offers. And McCain basically ignored the attack.

The Republican party is the albatross around McCain's neck.

So McCain loses this election because he's too much a Senator whose running for President with Senator ideas. He loses because he can't free himself from a dysfunctional, corrupt party who care more about ideology than country.

Obama wins because he does have an over-arching message whose time has come. Obama wins because he is the man for the moment. Obama wins because he is a candidate not burdened by the past, a Democrat who can talk about foreign policy and military strength without appearing like he's pandering. A Democrat who can talk about faith and God with authenticity. A Democrat who can propose liberal ideas regarding education or health care with confidence and without shame.

Obama wins this election hands down. The VP debates next week will clinch it, exposing Palin for the gimmick she is.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

My Head is Spinning

So, here's how my political day has gone. It started out with my morning trek to the gym, podcast in hand. And of course, I flipped through fresh air looking for a nice political broadcast, and I happened upon this. I have heard stories like this before. The first half was with the author of this book. In the NPR link, there's a mind-blowing excerpt from the "Dark Side" outlining what happened to the Bush/Cheney ticket after 9/11. The author talks about how the paranoia that immediately followed the attack led directly to an expansion of the power of the executive branch to the point where civil liberties were violated in the most devastating ways.

The second half of the interview was with Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen who was detained while in the US, sent to Syria, where he was tortured and kept in tomb like jail cell for almost two years before his wife finally pushed for the Canadian government to look into the case. After investigation, the Canadian government got him released and awarded him $10 million dollars after discovering he was completely innocent of all charges.

The US still considers him a suspect and he is unable to enter the country.

So, after listening to that and thinking seriously that Bush and Cheney are quite literally criminals deserving a long stay in a jail cell of their own, I head to work... Later that day I read the news that John McCain has suspended his campaign and wants to postpone the debates and, conveniently enough, postpone the VP debates until after Congress can work out a bill to salvage our economy...

What? Seriously, postpone the Presidential debates one week, the VP debates until when?

Call me cynical, but we have endured 8 years of a president who with suspect intelligence, driven by paranoia and fear, convinced us to invade Iraq; convinced us to pass legislation to give him unprecedented powers to wiretap US citizens; used his powers to send terrorist suspects without trial or lawyer representation to the worst regimes in the world to be subject to torture so bad that it literally pushes the person close to death. That same president now requests our Congress to fork over $700 billion to his branch so that, without oversight, they can buy into whatever company they want however they want it in the name of rescuing our country from another Great Depression.

And John McCain, who cheered Bush on while he waged a senseless war in Iraq, now wants to postpone a presidential debate and a vice presidential debate so that he can single handedly get such a bill passed through Congress (or so he would have us believe I guess).

I realize I'm cynical, and I'm over-simplifying the whole process... And $700 billion dollars may be exactly what this country needs to prevent another Great Depression. I have no idea. But do you understand why I might be a little skeptical of this president?

Well, something will get passed. I trust Congress will figure something out. John McCain and Barack Obama need to have their fingerprints on some form on a bi-partisan solution that would and should get signed by the president. Nobody wants to get blamed for doing nothing or for doing the wrong thing, but it seems like nobody really knows exactly what the right thing is. This $700 billion dollar bail out smells of desperation to me, from a president with a long record of spending billions on desperation moves. But whatever they do, we all need to pray that it works.

Because my job and your job may be on the line...

But no matter what, the debates have to go on. John McCain chose a wildcard, with no experience, no national exposure, who has submitted herself to absolutely no press conferences, who has given one interview and one info-mercial, for his vice president. We have a little more than a month to choose the next president to succeed one of the worst presidents in our history. Our country is in a mess, and the American people need to have as much of the facts laid out as possible.

Yes, Sarah Palin and Joe Biden need to debate next Thursday. John McCain and Barack Obama need to debate this Friday.

No excuses.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A little fun with Sarah Palin

Truth be told, I like Sarah Palin generally, but I don't like her on this ticket... at all. It is completely obvious to me that John McCain used her as a prop, a gimmick, and not much else. Its completely obvious to me that she's not ready for a position this high.

I like her because she seems to have some obvious political skill, a ton of courage, and was a rising star in the Alaskan political scene. I think some of the attacks used against her experience as it relates to her performance as an Alaskan politican are unfair. She took earmarks, but Alaska has a long tradition of doing so, and she did reduce the amount. She did shake things up there, but to be fair, she also came in when things were already getting shacken up. But the problem is that she hasn't been governor very long, and the politics of Alaska are so different from the politics in other states.

By all accounts, she seems to have hardly had a serious thought about national security, foreign policy, and the national economy.

So far on the campaign trail, she's had exactly two interviews (one of them a Fox news cream puff) and one speech and really has done nothing else, not a single press conference. She has strong opinions on oil and on the Alaskan environment (views that contradict McCain by the way), but not much a clue on anything else. McCain, for his part, is shielding her from the press, attacking the press for not showing "deference", and then using her symbolism for all its worth.

Its a cheap political ploy. McCain deserves to lose the election based solely on this one fact about his campaign.

At any rate, have fun with this hilarious clip from Jon Stewart:

The $700 Billion Dollar Bailout

I wish I could give you my complete expert assessment of all this mess that is happening with our financial institution. Over the past several months I've read and listened to more than my share of analysis on what has happened to our real estate market, how all of the sub-primed mortgage (largely) backed securities caused banks and other financial institutions to over-leverage into risky debt and now, as a result, we're experiencing a massive whip-lash back to reality. And it has affected everyone and has the potential of seriously affecting everyone, even those of us who did not get a sub-prime mortgage...

The problem is that I've been living with this sense of dread in my gut for the past few days I can't completely explain. I wish I could. But because of it, I've been trying to ignore the news, skipping over the op eds I usually read where liberal and conservative columnists are trying to make sense of the news and what if anything should government do about it.

Well, last night and some today, I jumped in for a bit.

The short of it is that Treasury Secretary Paulson wants to dump $700 billion dollars of tax payer money to basically buy off these almost worthless mortgage securities with the intent to inject the banks with an infusion of cash so that lending can begin again, with the hopes of basically pressing the restart button so that the economy can chug along again as if this whole mess never happened.

The last controversy remains is that Secretary Paulson wants complete authority, Bush Jr style, to spend that money however he wants. It looks as though some oversight will probably be required, but in the end $700 billion dollars looks to be coming.

I cannot even get my head around $700 billion dollars, but by all accounts without it, we could be facing a complete banking collapse and the US economy could be heading straight into a depression. Even with it, things are not sure, I've heard some fear that it could be money down the drain and a recession would happen anyway.

I'm at a complete loss.

The one thing I do believe is that the financial system just seems to be too complex. Too many of our best and brightest minds, the Harvard grads, are heading to Wall Street to make bank. But its not clear to me just how what they are doing really helps the economy. What is clear to me is that much of what they've done has helped drive our economy into this problem in the first place.

Sure, we need investment bankers. We need smart people to route money to the best and most promising companies. To the extent that investors do that, our economy runs much better, smoother, more efficiently. But in both of our recent bubbles, this one and the dot com bubble, this was not happening. You had too many people throwing money at stuff with no thought except a quick buck.

The fallout of all of this appears to be more government oversight, and hopefully smarter government oversight. What is also needed is a shift in our culture. Since Ronald Reagan, the Republican brand has been all about Americana and the culture of shopping. It seems we need to roll some of that back some. We need more smart people choosing less glamorous work like education, engineering, health care, and the like. Because really, it's what we do and what we make and what we innovate that is the backbone of an economy, and not only what we spend.

By the way, here's Barack Obama's lastest response to the crisis.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Whatever It Takes

Just heard a really fascinating interview on Fresh Air with Geoffrey Canada and the author of Whatever It Takes written by a reporter who gained access for five years in Canada's schools.

The interview is here.

Geoffrey Canada himself was raised in the Bronx to a single mom and ended up with a masters degree in education from Harvard. He started a "Harlem's Children Zone" that currently serves 8000 children and whose goal is to provide the same sort of comprehensive services that many middle and upper class students receive.

Canada uses a conveyor belt approach to education, where they work with parents and the child before Kindergarten all the way through college, providing both social and educational services the entire time. The goal is to transform not just the school but the entire neighborhood and culture these inner city kids grow up in.

Just a couple of political points made in the interview:

1) Canada is a big believer in the standardized tests component of No Child Left Behind. He says those who are critical of teachers teaching to the test are working with the basic premise that the students are on grade level. If only teachers in inner city schools were teaching to the test. In his schools, 70% of teachers assessments are based on test scores of their students. And Canada believes tests are a fair evaluation of student's and teacher's performance.

2) Canada was highly critical of the symbolism behind Palin's "gun-toting mama", seeing as he has children being murdered and murdering with hand guns. He talks about the hypocritical nature of our culture that steps in with all sorts of social workers when violence occurs in middle class schools, but nobody blinks an eye when it happens in inner city schools.

3) Teacher accountability: In Canada's schools, if you can't get the job done you can't work in his schools. This is at all levels, administrative and teaching. And it is whatever it takes. If you have to work weekends and summers, you work weekend and summers. If you have to show up at the student's home at 6pm, you show up at the student's home at 6pm.

4) Obama's educational plan has been influenced by Canada's successes. McCain's plan mainly involves school vouchers.

One final note: I had a friend tell me that he worries about Obama as president, thinking Obama might focus too much on the black community's needs.

To me, that is a huge plus. Black and minority communities are in trouble and have been for generations. We all suffer when significant portions of our community suffers. Imagine if we could transform black communities, injecting into our work force, thousands if not millions of talented, hard working, contributors to society, people who might otherwise be working in menial jobs or worse in jail.

Imagine the innovation possible having more not fewer people in energy research, in education, the arts. We would all benefit. We would all be richer.

Another article here.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Why I am a pacificst (well almost)

This is from an e-mail I sent around November 2004 shortly after we invaded Iraq. I was torn about Iraq for a long time. It's easy to want to go out and get the bad guy, especially when you don't have to do it yourself and you don't have much first hand experience with war.

But war is a terrible, awful thing. Not one time in the Book of Mormon, for example, is war ever justified except for self defense. And even then, it happened when the Nephite lost their moral footing and let themselves slide.

This e-mail largely quotes from a person who wrote a book about Hugh Nibley. My father in law sent me an excerpt at the time that described Nibley's views on war. It is pretty powerful stuff.

His pacificism came from his experiences, truly awful experiences in WWII. Here are two:

1) High Nibley witnessed a friend of his shoot himself in the head after his friend was ordered to gun down an enemy officer in the back of the head while that officer was driving away.

2) Also, a Jewish soldier was ordered to shoot a German prisoner. When the soldier met the prisoner, he discovered the German was an old friend who had helped him escape Germany earlier.

Messy, messy.

And I read statistics even now about those who are serving are country, the post tramatic stress, the suicide rates.

Or in Iraq, the millions of people who are still refugees. And all of the murder and mayhem and chaos that ensued.

It's utterly sickening how eager our current president sent troops into Iraq. War is ugly, messy, and can and should be avoided.

Here are some direct quotes:

"And the result of that very expertise is an unshakable cynicism about war. At the time of World War II, Hugh's knowledge of ancient history made him skeptical about the effectiveness of war as a solution to the world's problems, but his involvement in World War II left him convinced that war in general is a 'nasty and immoral business.' In the men who fought on both sides in the conflict, Hugh discovered both heroism and unspeakable cruelty. While affirming that 'the heroism and sacrifice were real,' Hugh has unsparingly denounced the situation of war as 'utterly satanic and shameful'.
The historical perspective would not allow Hugh ever to view war as a sane answer to the world's problems. War had never worked in the past, and it could not work in the present...."

Third, Hugh learned that, in the military, careers are built chiefly on the battlefield. As a result, ambitious men longed for the continuation of war. Hugh remembers the gloom that pervaded the upper echelons as the war was drawing to a close: 'The war was ending too fast, recalls Hugh. 'It meant the end of quick promotions. It meant the slowing down of careers.' He later drew on this situation to illustrate the 'Mahan Principle' - by which he meant Cain's 'great secret' from the Book of Moses of converting...your life [into] my promotion." Just before the Battle of the Bulge, Hugh wrote Lucien Goldschmidt: 'The whole world today is paying the price of a few careers. I have never objected to being the simple-minded implement of other men's greatness, but one can hardly submit to that wit hout becoming the foil of their spite; for when the mighty fight, the mighty clash by proxy. We are the humble abrasive that polishes their armor."

Fourth, Hugh discovered an even more frightening example of the Mahan Principle, that of 'converting life into property-your life for my property.' Some businesses were profiting from the war by maintaining interests on both sides of the conflict. 'I had to snoop into everything,' remembers Hugh. 'And I found out all sorts of things I shouldn't have found out. The whole thing was being run as a game for profits.' In particular, Hugh discovered incriminating evidence while 'mopping up' in Heidelberg at the end of the war that Standard Oil and I. G. Farben 'had an equal part on both sides in the war.'":

Finally, the most important lesson Hugh learned from his war years was that war is wasteful and wrong. 'I remember General Bradley said, 'War is a waste! And that's what it is, you see. The utter wastefulness of the thing. But the wrongness of what we were doing was so strong that everybody would cry. People would cry; they would weep! It was so utterly, unspeakably sad! It was so sad you could hardly stand it. That people would do such things to each other."

"Hugh concludes that for the Book of Mormon's authors, war is 'nasty, brutalizing, wasteful, dirty, degrading, fatiguing, foolish, immoral, and above all unnecessary.' Furthermore, he argues that the Book of Mormon shows war as the inevitable fruit of true wickedness on both sides. Contrary to conventional thinking, Hugh argues that war is 'never a case of 'good guys verses bad guys.' Rather it is always a case of the wicked destroying the wicked, exactly as Mormon 4:5 puts it 'It is by the wicked that the wicked are punished... Whenever Nephites and Lamanites fight it is because both have rebelled against God. Righteousness for its part invariably brings peace. 'Whenever the Nephites were truly righteous... the old polarizations broke down or vanished completely.'"

"Hugh noted how the noble emotion of patriotism can be abused by conspiring politicians to create conflict", argued Hugh. He termed patriotism of this type, 'the 'principal weapon used against the Prophet [Joseph Smith] and the Saints' as they were driven from their homes in Ohio, Missouri, and Nauvoo. This patriotic zeal occurs on both sides of a conflict, and 'all we can be sure of is that there will be waste and destruction, and the greater the victory, the greater the destruction on both sides."

"In a 1979 talk at BYU, 'Gifts', Hugh described Satan's plan of presenting us with two equally bad choices and making us believe that we must choose one. 'So we have always been told we must join the action to fight against communism, or must accept the leadership of Moscow to fight fascism, or must join Persia against Rome (or Rome against Persia-that's the fourth century),' wrote Hugh. But 'there is only one real choice between accepting the gifts of God for what they are on his terms and going directly to him and asking for whatever you need, or seeking the unclean gift, as it is called, of power and gain.' He concluded, 'The Saints took no sides in that most passionately partisan of wars, the Civil War, and they never regretted it.'"

"Kimball (former President of the Mormon church) decried our becoming too concerned with wealth, our lack of respect for the environment, and our reliance on 'gods of stone and steel, ships, planes, missiles, fortifications' to defend ourselves. He stated that when threatened, we become anti-enemy instead of pro-kingdom of God.'"

"War creates false polarizations, persuading people that 'everything evil [is] on one side and everything good on the other. No problem remains for anybody on either side but to kill people on the other side. 'The Book of Mormon pattern begins when the people become first privatized, having nothing in common; then becoming ethnicized, learning to hate other nations; then becoming nationalized, serving ambitious men's careers; then becoming militarized, storing up weapons; then becoming terrorized, developing organized crime; then becoming regionalized, forming organizations for protection and profit; then becoming tribalized, abolishing the central government; then becoming fragmentized, forming wandering groups, paramilitary organizations, and family shelters; then becoming polarized, creating great armies; finally becoming pulverized, wiping each other out as the great armies clashed. 'It is left for a future generations to take the final step and b ecome vaporized.'"

"... and called for a more balanced view of war which acknowledged such 'adverse consequences of military life as post-traumatic stress syndrome, alcoholism, immorality, crime, and depression. 'Contrary to the Orwellian title of the article,' the letter continues, 'the military's primary mission is to kill and destroy. Those who have served have not forgotten basic training.'"

"'Whoever chooses war must break most of the Ten Commandments,' Hugh argued. Since the object of war is to win, 'warriors justify any means necessary.' He further took the position that war is absolute; one cannot condone part of it without condoning everything that it entails. He also stated that military leaders puposely lie to the public. 'To ask a military man not to lie is like asking a lumberjack not to cut trees.' Revenge is what sustains the public in a war; therefore, stories about atrocities committed by the other side will constantly be recounted, but stories about atrocities committed by our side will be suppressed. In sum, Hugh stated, 'The great lesson of the Book of Mormon is not to seek a military solution.'"

"Incidents like this convinced Hugh that war diabolically forces us to create divisions, rupturing the essential unity that should bind us to each other as sons and daughters of God. Hugh's knowledge of ancient history, his careful reading and understanding of the scriptures, and his first-hand experience in World War II left him convinced that war is an unnecessary evil. This has led him to raise a warning voice. And while he decries war, he always reminds us that there is hope. Hugh has pointed out that the Book of Mormon sets up the Ammonites as being the perfect example of what to do when faced with a conflict: refuse to take up arms. 'In the end the most desperate military situation imaginable is still to be met with the spirit of peace and love.'"

"Is there a point at which war is justified? A point at which evil caused by war would be less than the evil war would remedy? The Hugh Nibley of today doesn't seem to think so. When I asked Hugh recently if he would join the army if he had it to do over again, Hugh responded with a firm and definite, 'No'."... "It is also interesting that Hugh still does not discuss his visit to Dachau. Perhaps this is because it represents the one piece of data he has not been able to process in his anti-war philosophy. Perhaps genocide is the one crime Hugh would be willing to go to war to prevent. Certainly, events and age have shaped Hugh's attitudes He was not immune from the widespread cynicism about war as a solution that was part of the legacy of the Vietnam conflict. However as he noted during his 1984 visit to Utah Beach, every conflict must sooner or later be settled by discussion, so 'why not have the discussion now' and avoid the senseless conflict."

Saturday, September 13, 2008

When Government Involvement is Required

A main point of disagreement between the two parties is how much should government be involved. The Democrats want more the Republicans want less.

Jeffrey Sachs in his book The End of Poverty makes a compelling case on where the boundary should be placed.  Just to be clear, when Sachs uses the term poverty in the book, he's talking about extreme poverty, where an individual's survival is in jeopardy.  The main premise of the book is that the world is becoming rich enough to have the resources to completely end extreme poverty world wide with the right international politics.    Extreme poverty still exists, obviously, in Africa, parts of Asia and in other parts of the world.

Anyway, this is a direct (long) quote from the book that really hits home those areas where government has a role:

Why should government finance schools, clinics, and roads, rather than leave those to the private sector? There are five kinds of reasons, all compelling in the proper context. First, there are many kinds of infrastructure, especially networks like power grids, roads, and other transport facilities - airports and seaports - which are characterized by increasing returns to scale. If left to the private markets, these sectors would tend to be monopolized, so they are called natural monopolies. If such capital investments are left to the private sector, the privately owned monopolies would overcharge for their use, and the result would be too little utilization of this kind of capital. Potential users would be rationed out of the market. It is more efficient, therefore, for a public monopoly to provide network infrastructure and set an efficient price below the one that would be set by a private monopolist.

A second category of public provided capital goods include those that are nonrival, when the use of the capital by one citizen does not diminish its availability for use by others. A scientific discovery is a classic nonrival good. Once the structure of DNA has been discovered, the use of that wonderful knowledge by any individual in society does not limit the use of the same knowledge by others in society. Economic efficiency requires that the knowledge should be available for all, to maximize the social benefits of the knowledge. There should not be a fee for scientists, businesses, households, researchers, and others who want to utilize scientific knowledge of the structure of the DNA! But if there is no fee, who will invest in the discoveries in the first place? The best answer is the public, through publicly financed institutions like the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the United States. Even the free-market United States invests $27 billion in publicly financed knowledge capital through the NIH.

Third, many social sectors exhibit strong spillovers (or externalities) in their effects. I want you to sleep under an antimalarial bed net so that a mosquito does not bite you and then transmit the disease to me! For a similar reason, I want you to be well educated so that you do not easily fall under the sway of a demagogue who would be harmful for me as well as you. When such spillovers exist, private markets tend to undersupply the goods and services in question. For just this reason, Adam Smith called for the public provision of education: "An instructed and intelligent people... are more disposed to examine, and more capable of seeing through, the interested complaints of faction and sedition..." Smith argued, therefore, that the whole society is at risk when any segment of society is poorly educated. Natural capital is another area where externalities loom large. Private actions - pollution, logging, overfishing, and the like - can lead to species extinction, deforestation, or other kinds of environmental degradation with serious adverse consequences for the whole society, or even the whole world. Governments therefore have a crucial role to play in conserving natural capital.

Fourth, societies around the world want to ensure everybody has an adequate level of access to key goods and services (health care, education, safe drinking water) as a matter of right and justice. Goods that should be available to everybody because of their vital importance to human well-being are called merit goods. The rights to these merit goods are not only an informal commitment of the world's governments, they are also enshrined in international law, most importantly the Universal Declaration of Human rights as follows:
  • Everyone has a right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing  and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age, or lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
  • Everyone has the right to education.  Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages.  Elementary education shall be compulsory.  Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the bases of merit.
Moreover, according to Article 28 of the Universal Declaration, "Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized."  A follow-through on commitments to the Millennium Development Goals would mark a major practical application of that article.

Fifth, government will want to help the poorest of the poor not only by providing infrastructure and social investments, but also by providing productive inputs into private businesses if that, too, is required to help impoverished households get started in market-based activities.  Thus the government might want to provide subsidized fertilizers to subsistence farmers so that they can produce enough to eat or microcredits to rural women so that they can start microbusinesses.  Once these households successfully raise their incomes above subsistence, and begin to accumulate savings on their own, the government subsidies can be gradually withdrawn.

At the same time, except in the case of the poorest households, government generally should not provide the capital for private businesses.   Experience has shown that private entrepreneurs do a much better job of running businesses than governments.  When governments run businesses, they tend to do so for political rather than economic reasons.  State enterprises tend to overstaff their operations, since jobs equal votes for politicians, and layoffs can cost a politician the next election.  State-owned banks tend to make loans for political reasons, rather than on the basis of expected returns.  Factories are likely to be built in the district of powerful politicians, not where they can best serve the broader population.  Moreover, governments rarely have the in-house expertise to manage complex technologies, and they shouldn't, aside from sectors where the government's role is central, such as in defense, infrastructure, health, and education.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

One more little post

David Brooks is one of my favorite columnists. He's a pretty firm conservative, but he's a moderate one at that, and he definitely does not mind taking on the Republican party. I read him pretty diligently, and it is obvious he's been a fan of John McCain for a while.

It's also obvious that he likes John McCain because of who McCain aspires to be, and that is not a Republican after the order of Ronald Reagan, but a Republican after the order of Teddy Roosevelt. And that was obvious during the Republican convention, well at least before the convention became the Palin convention.

But Palin is more Bush Jr than Roosevelt, with her oil connections, her deep social conservatism, her antipathy against federal programs.

But McCain aspires to me more Teddy, someone who adores and wants to protect the environment. McCain has supported the notion to fight global warming (something Palin denies as being human caused), someone who wants to protect the lower class from government (Teddy broke up trusts and supported labor movements). The problem is that the party wants Reagan not Roosevelt, and McCain being a Senator for all of these many years, really hasn't had to think so comprehensively and it shows.

His policies are the same old, same old.

In that vain, this op ed from Brooks is remarkable.

Some very good quotes:

Goldwater’s vision was highly individualistic and celebrated a certain sort of person — the stout pioneer crossing the West, the risk-taking entrepreneur with a vision, the stalwart hero fighting the collectivist foe.

The problem is, this individualist description of human nature seems to be wrong. Over the past 30 years, there has been a tide of research in many fields, all underlining one old truth — that we are intensely social creatures, deeply interconnected with one another and the idea of the lone individual rationally and willfully steering his own life course is often an illusion.

What emerges is not a picture of self-creating individuals gloriously free from one another, but of autonomous creatures deeply interconnected with one another. Recent Republican Party doctrine has emphasized the power of the individual, but underestimates the importance of connections, relationships, institutions and social filaments that organize personal choices and make individuals what they are.

If there’s a thread running through the gravest current concerns, it is that people lack a secure environment in which they can lead their lives. Wild swings in global capital and energy markets buffet family budgets. Nobody is sure the health care system will be there when they need it. National productivity gains don’t seem to alleviate economic anxiety. Inequality strains national cohesion. In many communities, social norms do not encourage academic achievement, decent values or family stability. These problems straining the social fabric aren’t directly addressed by maximizing individual freedom.

And yet locked in the old framework, the Republican Party’s knee-jerk response to many problems is: “Throw a voucher at it.” Schools are bad. Throw a voucher. Health care system’s a mess. Replace it with federally funded individual choice. Economic anxiety? Lower some tax rate.

Really, just read the whole article.

More Hookah Lounge Business

Well, I posted about a Hookah lounge that was operating in a Walgreen's shopping center here. I'm a little confused on the details, but I think at the hearing they allowed the owner of the lounge to expand his license to include smoking? I'm not sure the details...

At any rate the president of a local neighborhood association appealed the decision and tonight they had an open forum to allow all those with an interest to make the case. I was not going to go. To be honest, I was a little lukewarm about the issue. My major concern was actually addressed: the owner was not going to open his operations until 7pm. I figured that he already had legal permission to operate the business because he was operating before the law prohibiting such establishments near a school had been passed.

However, a very passionate woman that attends my church who lives in the neighborhood of the association he submitted the appeal, called me this morning encouraging me to come. How could I tell her no, so I came, and I'm glad I did because it was pretty interesting.

This issue completely comes down to how you feel about laws that prohibit smoking in bars and restaurants. Tempe passed a pretty comprehensive law a few years ago prohibiting such things. Well, the owner of this Hookah lounge assumed that hookah was really not smoking. In 2006, he was allowed to operate his business as long as he was only selling hookah not having people actually sitting in the establishment smoking it.

However, he was cited a year or so back with violating this provision, and as a result, he was petitioning the city council to allow him to expand his license to allow him to actually operate the Hookah lounge as a Hookah lounge.

It was as simple as that, actually, and that was all the mayor and the council really needed to hear.

But, of course, it was an open agenda, and the owner of the lounge got to petition his case, the president of the neighborhood association gave his statement. A few people who frequent the lounge, a business owner who operates his business next to the lounge made an appeal to keep it open.

Many neighbors, and most notably some passionate anti-smoking activists got up to give their rant.

But it all seemed superfluous, and actually, made this particular meeting really long.

In the end, the appeal was sustained, and the hookah lounge was transformed into a hookah store.

Am I happy with the result? A little mixed, actually. The owner seemed pretty sincere and honest. He has only been in the country for a short time, and this seemed to be partially a clash of cultures.

I do understand and really appreciate the anti-smoking arguments. How, we can't keep letting people slide around the law. We need to make a firm stand. One man, actually, came up attached to an oxygen tank, presumably earned through long years of smoking.

And apparently, there have been some studies indicating Hookah smoking is potentially even more harmful than normal cigarette smoking, but what do I know.

Did I get up to speak? Of course not... If I would have, I would have been inclined to propose some sort of compromise. Allow the establishment to operate, but maybe propose a new location further away from the school. Or perhaps allow it to stay as long as there was some way to hide the fact that it was a smoking lounge.

In the end, though, having a smoking lounge or a bar or any thing along those lines jammed right up next to a high school just doesn't seem like the way to go, so I have to say, I am happy with the result.

By the way, attending this meeting helps me understand why I do not have political ambitions. The tediousness of the meeting just makes me want to scream. They had the agenda all typed out for everyone to read, but our mayor still had to read through every last bullet out loud to everyone. All 50 or so items? Really?

Could I ever imagine PayPal being so formal? Why all the formality? Honestly, I really don't get it...

More On Schools from "First, Kill All the School Boards"

There is this really smart article from the Atlantic entitled First, Kill All the School Boards, that lays out the case for federal involvement in education.

Some really good quotes:

The United States spends more than nearly every other nation on schools, but out of 29 developed countries in a 2003 assessment, we ranked 24th in math and in problem-solving, 18th in science, and 15th in reading. Half of all black and Latino students in the U.S. don’t graduate on time (or ever) from high school. As of 2005, about 70 percent of eighth-graders were not proficient in reading. By the end of eighth grade, what passes for a math curriculum in America is two years behind that of other countries.

Many reformers across the political spectrum agree that local control has become a disaster for our schools. But the case against it is almost never articulated. Public officials are loath to take on powerful school-board associations and teachers’ unions; foundations and advocacy groups, who must work with the boards and unions, also pull their punches. For these reasons, as well as our natural preference for having things done nearby, support for local control still lingers, largely unexamined, among the public.

The problems with local control:

No way to know how children are doing. “We’re two decades into the standards movement in this country, and standards are still different by classroom, by school, by district, and by state,” says Tom Vander Ark, who headed the education program at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation from 1999 through 2006. “Most teachers in America still pretty much teach whatever they want.”

Stunted R&D. Local control has kept education from attracting the research and development that drives progress, because benefits of scale are absent. There are some 15,000 curriculum departments in this country—one for every district. None of them can afford to invest in deeply understanding what works best when it comes to teaching reading to English-language learners, or using computers to develop customized strategies for students with different learning styles.

Incompetent school boards and union dominance. “In the first place, God made idiots,” Mark Twain once wrote. “This was for practice. Then He made School Boards.” Things don’t appear to have improved much since Twain’s time. “The job has become more difficult, more complicated, and more political, and as a result, it’s driven out many of the good candidates,” Vander Ark says. “So while teachers’ unions have become more sophisticated and have smarter people who are better-equipped and -prepared at the table, the quality of school-board members, particularly in urban areas, has decreased.” Board members routinely

The unions are adept at negotiating new advantages for their members, spreading their negotiating strategies to other districts in the state, and getting these advantages embodied in state and sometimes federal law as well. This makes it extraordinarily difficult for superintendents to change staffing, compensation, curriculum, and other policies. Principals, for their part, are compliance machines, spending their days making sure that federal, state, and district programs are implemented. Meanwhile, common-sense reforms, like offering higher pay to attract teachers to underserved specialties such as math, science, and special education, can’t get traction, because the unions say no.

Financial inequity. The dirty little secret of local control is the enormous tax advantage it confers on better-off Americans: communities with high property wealth can tax themselves at low rates and still generate far more dollars per pupil than poor communities taxing themselves heavily. This wasn’t always the case: in the 19th century, property taxes were rightly seen as the fairest way to pay for education, since property was the main form of wealth, and the rich and poor tended to live near one another. But the rise of commuter suburbs since World War II led to economically segregated communities; today, the spending gap between districts can be thousands of dollars per pupil.

In all of these efforts, we must understand one paradox: only by transcending local control can we create genuine autonomy for our schools. “If you visit schools in many other parts of the world,” Marc Tucker says, “you’re struck almost immediately … by a sense of autonomy on the part of the school staff and principal that you don’t find in the United States.” Research in 46 countries by Ludger Woessmann of the University of Munich has shown that setting clear external standards while granting real discretion to schools in how to meet them is the most effective way to run a system. We need to give schools one set of national expectations, free educators and parents to collaborate locally in whatever ways work, and get everything else out of the way.

And finally:

Nationalizing our schools even a little goes against every cultural tradition we have, save the one that matters most: our capacity to renew ourselves to meet new challenges. Once upon a time a national role in retirement funding was anathema; then suddenly, after the Depression, we had Social Security. Once, a federal role in health care would have been rejected as socialism; now, federal money accounts for half of what we spend on health care. We started down this road on schooling a long time ago. Time now to finish the journey.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A despicable John McCain add, and Obama's education policies

I hope people that watch this realize that its just ridiculous that anyone would actually support sex education to kindergartners.

It was actually a bill, not created by Obama, that teach kids how to protect themselves from sexual predators.

McCain is attacking Obama's education record because McCain has no new ideas about education. Basically, his only "idea" is to repeat the Republican talking about about school vouchers that first gained fruition during the 1980's under Ronald Reagan.

Obama's much more expansive and modern education plan actually comes from Obama's own association with policy experts, some of which were his neighbors in Chicago.

This column from the conservative columnist David Brooks states:

"it’s worth noting that both sides of this debate exist within the Democratic Party. The G.O.P. is largely irrelevant. If you look at Barack Obama’s education proposals — especially his emphasis on early childhood — you see that they flow naturally and persuasively from this research. (It probably helps that Obama and Heckman are nearly neighbors in Chicago). McCain’s policies seem largely oblivious to these findings. There’s some vague talk about school choice, but Republicans are inept when talking about human capital policies."

The debate referenced is how to close the gap between the rich and the poor, the answer is education:

" As Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz describe in their book, 'The Race Between Education and Technology,' America’s educational progress was amazingly steady over those decades (between 1870 and 195), and the U.S. opened up a gigantic global lead. Educational levels were rising across the industrialized world, but the U.S. had at least a 35-year advantage on most of Europe. In 1950, no European country enrolled 30 percent of its older teens in full-time secondary school. In the U.S., 70 percent of older teens were in school."

And how can we really progress education:

"Heckman points out that big gaps in educational attainment are present at age 5. Some children are bathed in an atmosphere that promotes human capital development and, increasingly, more are not. By 5, it is possible to predict, with depressing accuracy, who will complete high school and college and who won’t."


"It’s not globalization or immigration or computers per se that widen inequality. It’s the skills gap. Boosting educational attainment at the bottom is more promising than trying to reorganize the global economy."

This really hits home with me because my experience as a volunteer for Big Brothers/Big Sisters recounted here. Where my little was just so far behind academically from his peers that high school graduation was an enormous barrier. And his own personal ego maybe, or fear to admit or face how far behind he was really inhibited him from catching up.

I am not an education expert. But when one candidate, McCain is throwing out weak and desperate slander, instead of having the debate on ideas, and another is actually proposing ideas that have backing in current research...

These issues are important enough to have the debate. Unfortunately, the Republican party is the party without ideas.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Obama and Homosexual Marriage Part II

Ok, I got some feedback through my wife that my previous post was confusing. Just where did I stand? And I admit that I probably did not state my position clearly enough. One, homosexual marriage is a divisive, touchy issue, there are strong, probably irreconcilable differences that exist between the extremes on both sides.

But let me reiterate the point I was trying to make:

The Stake President said two basic things (in my interpretation) on Sunday.

1) Vote yes on the proposition to amend the Arizona Constitution to limit the legal definition of marriage between one male and one female.

2) Show an increase in love and tolerance for all people including the homosexual community.

Obviously, point one was emphasized on Sunday, but point two was just as, if not more important than point one. In fact what are the two great commandments anyway? To love: love God and love our neighbors.

The primary point of my first post was that Barack Obama more than anyone one on the Republican ticket supports the spirit of both points in this way:

1) He supports limiting the legal definition of marriage between a man and a woman. I heard him make this exact point in the primary debates hosted by the Gay and Lesbian community. I am not sure he would go so far as supporting a constitutional amendment, but he supports the underlying issue all the same.

2) He supports any action that will enhance equal opportunity for all people which include allowing gay couples to enjoy some of the same legal benefits that married people receive. I am not sure what the specifics are, but he laid out two specific points in his acceptance speech, that gay couples should be allowed hospital rights for their partner, and that they should be able to live lives free of discrimination. I support both of these positions.

But in my view, those two points essentially follow the basic points made by the Stake President.

I think Barak Obama and Joe Biden are by far the better alternatives in this presidential election. And this issue is just one example.

The extreme right of the political party, which in many symbolic ways Sarah Palin represents (and by the way, all Sarah Palin is to anyone right now is a symbol, since nobody really knows anything substantive about her), have adopted a marginally (and not so marginal) hateful politics toward the homosexual community.

The Republican party has exploited that by getting votes for this and other "moral" issues, then proceed to run the government without lifting a finger to really move the law in any significant ways to address these issues, but then are given a virtual free pass by this same Republican base to run a largely corrupt government where the interests of the few are catered to at the expense of the many.

Quite simply, the Republican part has been in power too long, it has done too much damage, and change is needed. And I'm sorry, but John McCain is not change. Sarah Palin is definitely not change.

Regarding my view on this issue. Quite simply, I will vote yes for proposition 102 and I will cast an emphatic vote for Barack Obama and Joe Biden for president. I encourage you to do the same.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Obama and Homosexual Marriage

Last Sunday, our Stake President came for a visit. In Sacrament meeting he encouraged all adults possible to meet for the first fifteen minutes of Sunday school so he could make an announcement. So, needless to say, I was anxious to see what he would have to say.

So, here it goes: he announced that the church was taking a stand in favor for a proposition that will be on the Arizona state ballot this November involving adding an Arizona state constitutional amendment to define marriage as being between a man and a woman.

The Stake President was careful to say that our church does not usually get involved in political issues, but with this issue there was a compelling reason for it. He didn't spend time making the case, but just encouraged people to study up on the issue and to get behind the proposition. He did carefully caution that we should be loving and tolerant (I'm paraphrasing) to all people, but that this amendment was needed to protect the family. He vaguely referenced some data he studied regarding the consequences of the legalization in other states and in other countries.

There was a similar proposition in 2006 which actually went further than this one, removing some number of benefits from unmarried couples, gay or straight, which went too far for too many people and was defeated.

In regards to the data referenced by our Stake President, I'm not sure what it was, but this post seemed to make a pretty compelling summary of some of the most poignant consequences. The case is not so much that legalizing homosexual marriage destroys heterosexual families, which argument seems hard to defend, but that, depending how the law is applied, can infringe upon the rights of religions to worship how they please.

I don't have my mind wrapped around this issue completely yet, but definitely marriage is something where religious views and legal definitions are very tightly coupled. In our church, one of the most important laws is the law of chastity, where sexual relations are confined between a couple legally and lawfully married. So a religious commandment is tied directly to a legal definition.

And that's significant when you consider some of the examples sited in the article:

Example One: The Methodist church loses their tax exempt status for a worship space they owned where a lesbian couple wanted to get married but were refused to do so by the Methodist church. The couple sued and the state ruled in favor for the lesbian couple.

Other Examples:
"Yeshiva University was ordered to allow same-sex couples in its dormitory for married couples. A Lutheran school has been sued for expelling two lesbian students. Catholic Charities abandoned adoptions services in Massachusetts after it was told to place children with same-sex couples. A psychologist in Mississippi who refused to counsel a lesbian couple lost her case and a doctor who refused to provide in vitro fertilization to a lesbian in California is likely to lose his case before the California Supreme Court."

Another Example:
A Christian photographer who refused to photograph a lesbian wedding is sued and loses because of discrimination.

Now, how does Barack Obama's position relate to this? Well, he said it quite nicely in his acceptance speech, thus:

We may not agree on abortion, but surely we can agree on reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies in this country. The reality of gun ownership may be different for hunters in rural Ohio than for those plagued by gang-violence in Cleveland, but don’t tell me we can’t uphold the Second Amendment while keeping AK-47s out of the hands of criminals. I know there are differences on same-sex marriage, but surely we can agree that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters deserve to visit the person they love in the hospital and to live lives free of discrimination. Passions fly on immigration, but I don’t know anyone who benefits when a mother is separated from her infant child or an employer undercuts American wages by hiring illegal workers. This too is part of America’s promise - the promise of a democracy where we can find the strength and grace to bridge divides and unite in common effort.

That simple phrase in bold aligns quite nicely with my own views. I have also heard Obama state that he is against the legalization of homosexual marriage but for legal provisions for those couples to receive many if not all of the same legal benefits that married couples receive.

I don't believe this statement is a capitulation one bit, but fits in perfectly with my religious leaders assessment that we should protect the traditional definition of marriage, while at the same time we need to be compassionate and loving to everyone.

I realize that a many gay couples would take extreme offense to this compromise, that to not enjoy the same marital status as a heterosexual couple would be considered extremely prejudicial. I also know that many if not most people use these sorts of statutes and propositions and amendments to justify hateful and hurtful feelings to groups of people they don't know at all. Also, I know the Republican party has used this issue as well as abortion to manipulate their base for votes, even as they drive our government straight into the ground.

I hope those Mormon voters of Arizona, even as they will vote yes for this proposition, will also remember that Barack Obama more so than the Republican party, more so than especially the likes of Sarah Palin (McCain voted against a recent attempt to amend the US Constitution to ban homosexual marriage) believe in and understand the deep feelings of both sides of this very divisive issue.

The middle ground (and the right ground) is compassion, constraint, and respect, knowing that there are differences on homosexual marriage and that surely we all can agree that our gay friends and neighbors should be able to live lives free of discrimination. But also, that same homosexual community should also respect the fact that there are many people with legitimate and deeply held religious convictions about marriage, sexuality, and family that may preclude the inclusion of homosexual relationships. That our laws should respect and protect someone against discrimination, but at the same time, respect and honor a person's right to worship and behave according to their own faith.

The interesting thing about this issue and abortion is that they both involve our ability to produce children. And that reproduction has both deeply held religious connotations and legal consequences. A society simply cannot separate the two cleanly in a way that is satisfying for everyone.

On abortion, when does life exist, or to put the matter more succinctly, when does the fetus have a soul? Or more legally, when does the fetus become a baby with rights to life and liberty?

On homosexual marriage, I think many of our marriage laws involve the recognition that strong societies have to be made up of strong families, where the majority of children are brought into the world and loved and raised by the same parents that share their DNA.

So for many religions, the case for marriage and family is not meant to be an anti-gay statement, merely a pro-family one.

But the bottom line is that religious freedom and individual civil liberties are both involved, and that it is Barack Obama who has most eloquently expressed and seems to believe the important balance that must be gained on both sides of this divisive issue.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

McCain's speech

I'm going to blog about his speech right now and maybe one more time, and I'm going to take a break for a while... Fair warning...

Now the conventions are finally over and the Palin media frenzy will continue through September, I'll just let everything settle out before I come up with too many conclusions.

However, I do want to say that McCain's speech was almost the exact opposite of Palin's in almost every way possible.

For the first time in this convention, he actually offered some words of grace toward Obama. Calling him a fine American and that the issues that bind them as Americans are greater than the issues that separate them as contenders for president, or something like that.

He gave a few digs at Obama, calling him a big spender, a big taxer, but there was not much red meat in the speech. I actually don't think McCain (similar to Obama) has the heart to do it. Instead, he spent a lot of his speech on his biography, and to tell you the truth other people did it better than he did. From McCain it started to sound redundant. Nonetheless, McCain's is an incredible and moving story. A story that's hard not to love.

He tried to get through a ton of policy, making particular mention of his surge and his foreign policy, but ironically he tempered his hawkish tendencies a bit here. Injecting a tad of refreshing pragmatism maybe recognizing the utter recklessness of Bush/Cheney and how much that has cost us.

Two pieces of the policy portion of his speech that were the most noteworthy for me:

First, he talked about how he wanted to modernize government. How he said that many of our programs our dated remnants of the past and need to be updated. So true, but he offered no specific plans other than a proposal to supplement a laid off worker's salary until the person was able to get re-trained with a new more relevant skill... Not sure that proposal resonated with the crowed, also seemed strange to have a 72 year old present himself as the choice to modernize our government...

Second, he talked most forcefully and sincerely about his desire to really change and reform not only the government but also the party. He blamed the party for getting too corrupt, too bloated, for being part of the problem. He talked about how Americans are tired of the political in-fighting, about how he wanted more cooperation. How he wanted to take the best ideas of either party, how he wanted to get past this notion where one party wanted to take credit for everything, how there should be shared victories.

The problem with these portions of the speech, while he sounded most sincere and most passionate here, the crowd hated it, there was very little clapping or cheering.

And that's when it hit me... All this talk about him being a maverick, and this was part of his speech as well. How people have used the label as both a complement and a criticize him. But who did? The democrats loved his independence his maverick-spirit. It was these freaking delegates who criticized him for it.

And when he used talked about it in the speech, they all laughed because McCain was the prodigal son who came back to the fold like a good soldier with the Palin VP pick.

Really the biggest cheers came when he talked about the surge (of course), when he talked about his POW experience (of course), but by far the loudest cheers came when he mentioned Palin.

This speech was weird and sad. It had none of the energy of Palin's speech, and it was largely poorly delivered. But I liked it. It reminded me why I've been such a firm McCain supporter for so long. The guy does have some goodness buried in there, and genuinely wants to do the right thing. It reminds me why John Kerry wanted him as his VP.

He is genuine friends with guys like Kerry and Biden and Kennedy. McCain is just not red-meat. He sees the good in people and really wants to do the best for his country. His desire is sincere.

The problem is that his policies seem very poorly flushed out. Partly because the party won't let him take it further, partly because he probably is a little too much burdened by the past. He just hasn't figured out a way to modernize his conservative principles in a way that makes sense in our world today. I'm not sure he really knows how to do it.

His plan for education reform? school vouchers.
For health care? Greater competition...
The economy? Tax cuts.

Sound familiar? So, he wants to reform the party, he's just not in a very good position to do so.

So, there you have it, definitely the most dysfunctional presidential ticket I've ever personally witnessed. And you can't tell me McCain really wanted to pick Palin. After hearing this speech tonight, and Lieberman's speech on Tuesday, Lieberman was the one he wanted. And a McCain/Lieberman ticket, although probably a losing ticket just makes a whole lot more sense. It also probably would have been much better for the party long term. Maybe would have forced them to soul searched...

But please tell me again, how the McCain/Palin ticket is going to defeat Obama/Biden?

Sarah Palin's speech

Word of the day: tendentious. I've come across this word more than once the past couple of days, and it applies.

And yes, this blog is tendentious, and its impossible for me to write about Sarah Palin in an objective way probably for a while... I'm really trying to be fair with her, but it's so hard: read too much from an Obama blogger and you get spun up too far ranting and raving about Palin the lunatic; so I read a conservative blogger and a little balance is splashed in my face, and I question my original assumptions. I'm still not totally sure who is right. There's just still too much unknown about how this will play out politically. I'm pretty sure as a ticket built to actually govern America, the McCain/Palin is a complete disaster, maybe even a worse disaster than Bush/Cheney. But politically, a least so far (and it is way too early to tell), it looks like McCain hit it out of the park.

But I don't really trust myself on any of this, so at least for now, take this for what its worth:

Wow, All I can say is wow.

I was stunned by the pick because, who again is Sarah Palin? I guess I have gotten my first real glimpse of her last night.

I compared her in this post to Obama in purely superficial, symbolic ways. But the comparisons continue to deepen in very unexpected ways. There's still a long way to go, and she's only been at this national politics thing for a few short days, but last night was the first step to showing, that like Obama, she's a serious player on the big stage.

The speech was all show with very little substance (much like some of Obama's speeches) and her style was very different than Obama's, but just like Obama, she was charismatic, full of energy, and stole the show. Strange to say, but I think this is the first time in my memory that the VP candidate looks stronger than the presidential candidate.

Now, don't get me wrong, I hated the speech. I hated the speech for all the reasons I love Obama's speeches. Where Obama's speeches inspire, and at least for me, make me want to do more, become more, get involved, Palin's speech and style was all pit-bull. There was not an ounce of grace or generosity toward the Democrats. Palin's symbolic political power seems to come from this inner drive to shake things up, to take a stand against evil and corruption, and for now at least, the source of evil and corruption for her lies with the Democratic party, with Obama at its head, aided by his accomplices, the evil, elite media. And this kind of over-energy to battle is great when your actually confronted with something that needs to be battled (e.g. an over-the-top corrupt Alaska Republican leadership), but is downright scary when its used against someone who is not but perceived to be, (e.g. allegedly she had a librarian fired for failing to remove books Palin viewed as inappropriate from the library).

Yes, Palin is the rising star of the AM talk radio circuit. I have heard it said that you could change Palin's gender and ugly her up a bit and at least for the second half of her speech, it could have been delivered by Rush Limbaugh himself up there.

This is the type of person missing when the Republican presidential candidates were running last year. Based solely on the speech last night, Palin would have won the Republican nomination (not without a fight of course). Again, based only on what I saw last night, Palin has effectively hijacked the ticket.

Truly, is anyone even interested in hearing McCain's speech tonight? No, this convention began last night and ended last night.

I'm not sure this is how Obama wants it to go (I'm not sure this is how McCain really wants it to go). Again, based only on this one speech, Palin would be a tough person to beat. Obama's tactic it seems is going to try to turn attention back on McCain. I'm just not sure the media will let him. Palin has stolen the show.

It was interesting that I remember only two policy statements in her speech last night, and both of those (drilling in Alaska for oil, and the criticism of Obama for wanting to grant habeus corpus to Guantanomo Bay detainees) are issues where McCain has made strong statements squarely on the side of the Democrats.

And the Republican base could not be happier. They never really wanted McCain as their nominee. Believe me, I heard all about it on the AM talk radio circuit. Many of those folks were touting Romney, but Romney was a week candidate, and really there wasn't much else to choose from.

But Palin, they are excited about. Because the Republican base hates liberals, and they see Obama as the epitome of liberalism. Palin is their new hope. A red-meat conservative with a ton of bite, ready to keep this country and this government fighting the cultural wars in America for another generation.

Palin impresses me, but she also scares the living hell out of me...

I'm guessing in the end it won't work. This is still a Obama/Biden's race to lose.

While Palin is the next, new thing, the person destined to steal the headlines throughout September... Luckily, there's still an October, and it will be in October not September that Obama and Biden will have to win this election.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Republican Nomination Second Day

Obviously, I'm biased...

This was a weird first day to tell you the truth, very dissonant:

The three most notable speakers were in order George W. Bush, Fred Thompson, and Joe Lieberman.

Bush, conveniently held up in Washington overseeing the Hurricane Gustav disaster. Really? What exactly is he doing anyway? Felt like banishment more than service.

Thompson gave a really good speech especially for his standards, the most dynamic and articulate I've heard from him, but he threw out some serious red meat and some very typical party line conservative talking points.

Lieberman's speech was the weirdest, praising McCain's efforts on global warming and immigration, for example, which failed to get much of an applause from the group. And calling for bi-partisonship and inter-party cooperation to an audience that clearly and truly is not interested in such things.

Which really speaks to the challenge of this campaign. McCain really wants to be who he is, a traditional conservative, mainly, but someone who most wants to shake things up, go his own way, do things he believes in, like immigration reform (my personal pet issue) or global warming.

But does the core of this party really want a deviation from the last eight years? Didn't Bush get elected as president two straight times by this base? They don't want immigration reform, or government intervening on global warming's behalf. What is even more strange, while Palin has a record of shaking things up, she also has a record of being very solidly within the far right of the republican party, on oil, on the environment, on drilling, on global warming.

So, how do you blend a story of conservative red meat, and loyalty to Bush's party, with McCain's desire to rebel from the party and go his own way.

There was definitely some dissonance felt by me in this regard, especially with Lieberman's speech. And that's the problem with this campaign, McCain is an appealing person and could make a good president, but will his party truly let McCain be McCain.

"He's trying to run against his own party without running against his own party." - Mark Shields during post commentary.

I do want to say that Fred Thompson told McCain's story very well. He was the perfect person to tell it. His biography was breathtaking and one really good reason why McCain would have made a good presidential candidate in 2000. Why wasn't his biography good enough for them then, when if I remember correctly he was found unfit to govern because of his POW experiences by his own party.

And make no mistake about it, his biography was barely good enough for the party now, he won this nomination with a lot of luck.

Abortion and Obama

I want to get into Barack Obama's speech in more depth, but I loved, loved this portion of it:

We may not agree on abortion, but surely we can agree on reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies in this country. The reality of gun ownership may be different for hunters in rural Ohio than for those plagued by gang-violence in Cleveland, but don’t tell me we can’t uphold the Second Amendment while keeping AK-47s out of the hands of criminals. I know there are differences on same-sex marriage, but surely we can agree that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters deserve to visit the person they love in the hospital and to live lives free of discrimination. Passions fly on immigration, but I don’t know anyone who benefits when a mother is separated from her infant child or an employer undercuts American wages by hiring illegal workers. This too is part of America’s promise - the promise of a democracy where we can find the strength and grace to bridge divides and unite in common effort.

And this is the central theme of the Obama's candidacy, to get past all of the divisiveness that turns our country in a never ending war of words, a war that never ends, a war where nothing substantive gets done. Instead his message is to build on common beliefs and common interests, to get at the root of the problems and to find both common cause and compromise.

There has been a lot of slander on Obama's abortion views. It's pretty clear that he stands pretty clearly in the pro-choice camp, but there's been a lot of talk and some controversy that his stance is even more dark and mysterious than this, that he actually supports infaticide. Really? Does that even make sense?

Read the whole thing on fact check that details three bills in question, 2001, 2002, and 2003.

Here's some quotes:
Obama opposed the 2001 and 2002 "born alive" bills as backdoor attacks on a woman's legal right to abortion, but he says he would have been "fully in support" of a similar federal bill that President Bush had signed in 2002, because it contained protections for Roe v. Wade.

Regarding the 2003 bill, it did have provisions to protect Roe v. Wade in it and that Obama reportedly voted against it in committee. That's where it gets complicated, and you will need to read it and explain it to me. But I really doubt, no I know, that Obama is not in favor of infaticide in any respect:

What we can say is that many other people – perhaps most – think of "infanticide" as the killing of an infant that would otherwise live. And there are already laws in Illinois, which Obama has said he supports, that protect these children even when they are born as the result of an abortion. Illinois compiled statute 720 ILCS 510/6 states that physicians performing abortions when the fetus is viable must use the procedure most likely to preserve the fetus' life; must be attended by another physician who can care for a born-alive infant; and must "exercise the same degree of professional skill, care and diligence to preserve the life and health of the child as would be required of a physician providing immediate medical care to a child born alive in the course of a pregnancy termination which was not an abortion." Failure to do any of the above is considered a felony.

Nonetheless, I am pro-life, I am against abortion, and I would be somewhat concerned if a presidential candidate actually would support their own family to have an abortion.

In that regard, there's been some controversy over this quote a few months ago:

it should also include other, you know, information about contraception because, look, I've got two daughters. 9 years old and 6 years old. I am going to teach them first of all about values and morals. But if they make a mistake, I don't want them punished with a baby. I don't want them punished with an STD at the age of 16. You know, so it doesn't make sense to not give them information."

Now, I am sure Obama would like to rephrase this if given a chance. Look, this whole thing is tricky. I know well and am affected by someone who is raising a child as a single parent, whose father has never been part of the child's life. And the mother is struggling trying to balance it all.

Her son is precious, a gift from God, but life would be so much better for both the mother and the son if the birth happened differently. I think that was Obama's primary point. That we should have a comprehensive approach to teenage pregnancy and sexuality. And surely, you would have to live in a box if you believe that we could solve these problems just by teaching abstinence while the storms of hyper-sexuality swarm in virtually every part of a teenager's life.

But back to Obama, I am sure he respects and cares for life. But with abortion and unwed pregnancies, these issues are complicated, more complicated than most people seem to understand, tied down as we are to our own limited and unique experiences. One quick example, I have a friend who had to file for bankruptcy partially because insurance wouldn't cover a DNC required after she had a miscarriage, denied because the procedure, it was felt, was too close to an abortion.

Having said all of that, the abortion issue is not even all that relevant in regards to a presidential election. A president has absolutely no power to overturn Roe v. Wade. As far as I understand it, this would have to come either through an ammendment to the Constitution by a hyper Congress majority(?) or through a Supreme Court decision, interpreting the Constitution differently than it does now.

Now, some people would then choose a President based solely on how they would select Supreme Court justices. I guess there is something to this argument, but its tricky to know how a president's selections will go. Some of the more liberal justices were selected by Republican presidents. Personally, I am just mainly concerned that qualified, competent and fair thinking justices are nominated, and that a president is not tied down too much to ideology in the selection process. Competence and fair thinking first, ideology last. I love having a balanced court which is something we have now.

And really, tell me again, what has Bush Jr done to limit abortions? Has abortion rates gone up or down during the past eight years? I have no idea because nobody is talking about it, including George W. Bush.

But the bottom line, is that I want a competent, qualified, and effective president. Certainly I'm not going to let the abortion issue hijack my choice.