Archive for June, 2006

Consistency

June 29, 2006

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

I, and I would suspect most of you, grew up with that phrase. Oft repeated by parents and primary teachers, this paraphrase of the Savior (Luke 6:31) is commonly known as the Golden Rule.

About what was the Lord teaching us with this maxim?

One word: Consistency.

Consistency is a key element of morality. If a given concept is morally good, it is good whether you’re man or woman, right- or left-handed, tall or short, American or Laotian. If a given concept is morally bad, it is bad whether it is night or day, weekday or weekend, winter or summer. And most particularly, as Christ implies in the Golden Rule, those concepts are the same for you and for me. Without consistency—If we arbitrarily determine when or to whom those principles apply—they can no longer be considered moral principles. At best they can only be considered preference or whim. At worst, they are examples of our hypocrisy.

I think we forget the concept of consistency far too often when we get into the political arena. It would be wise if we were to apply the Golden Rule more often as we contemplate current events and political issues.

  • If we don’t care for the idea of the government stepping in and telling us we can’t marry the person we love, or restricting how we pursue marriage, then we shouldn’t use government coercion to interfere with marriage for others.
  • If we want the sort of safeguards deemed most appropriate for protecting the innocent in the event that we are accused of a crime, then we should ensure those safeguards are applied to others accused of crimes.
  • If we feel it is acceptable for our nation to have WMDs in order to protect itself, we should be willing to allow other nations to make that same decision.
  • If we would not appreciate others using our government to promote their religious beliefs, we should not use our government to promote ours.

This isn’t about law and legal obligations. We are talking about basic decency.

Its a pretty simple concept, actually. I would hope more people would consider it.

The Supreme Court and the President both speak

June 29, 2006

My, my! So many things to talk about over the last few days, and so little time in which to blog! I’ll see what I can get to.

Nice to see, in today’s Supreme Court ruling on the Guantanamo Bay detainees, some branch of the federal government finally making some effort to check this administration’s abuse of power. It’s just a small step, but it is a start.

The President’s press conference this morning with the Japanese Prime Minister was, rather typically filled with unintended irony. One particular anecdote stood out.

I also talked about one of the most touching moments of my presidency, when the mom of the abducted daughter came to the Oval Office and talked to me about what it was like to have a young daughter abducted by the North Koreans. And it really broke my heart. I told the Prime Minister it was — it was a moving moment for me. I just could not imagine what it would be like to have somebody have taken, you know, my daughter — one of my daughters — and never be able to see her again. And the woman showed such great courage, Mr. Prime Minister, when she came and shared her story with me. It took everything I could not to weep, listening to her.

It also reminded me about the nature of the regime — what kind of regime would kidnap people, just take them off offshore, you know; what kind of person would not care about how that woman felt.

As I recently noted, the U.S. is responsible for the abduction of hundreds of innocent citizens of Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan. Many have been taken “offshore, you know;” to Guantanamo Bay. They have been kept indefinitely, without legal recourse or civil protections.

I wonder if the President cares about how their mothers, wives, and families felt?

How does this differ?

Of course, the President once again made the false claim that the detainees had been “picked up off of a battlefield,” implying that they were dangerous, criminals, terrorists, and enemies.

Both the President and Prime Minister Koizumi took North Korea to task for their plans to test fire a missile. They insisted that Japan and the U.S. should not be “held hostage to rockets.” But the U.S. seems to have no qualms about holding Iraq hostage with the threat of rockets and other arms.

I have no desire to see the Iraq or North Korea armed with WMDs. But as long as we claim the right to nuclear weapons, what right have we to deny that same right to others? By what virtue are we the arbiter of military might? What makes us more worthy of firepower? Just because we have the biggest military? Does might make right?

Who are we, who invaded Iraq against the concensus of the world community and the U.N, to go scolding North Korea for being isolated?

President Bush has in the past complained that North Korea’s pursuit of long-range missiles and potentially nuclear weapons violates agreements he has made with the world and the U.S. But this is the very same president who only a few years ago decided to “withdraw” from various international agreements on those same sorts of weapons. His administration has sought to pursue new WMDs and strategic weapons, such as the “bunker-buster” bombs which may yet be tested in Nevada.

This is a president who apparently very much believes “Do as I say, not as I do.”

The “Cut and Run” Smear

June 26, 2006

A few days ago, congress had a fierce debate on the idea of troop withdrawals. In the face of two Democratic proposals for setting a date on withdrawal from Iraq, Republican congressmen repeatedly referred to those proposals as “cut and run.” This is very much consistent with the strategy Karl Rove has suggested for the Republican Party during the upcoming elections. The implication of the “cut and run” labeling pretty clearly seems to be that the Democrats are cowards, lacking the fortitude to see the conflict through to its conclusion. They don’t have the spine for governing, Rove’s plan suggests. Leadership takes resolve, and the Democrats haven’t got it.

The premise of this position is one I find rather distasteful. It turns foreign policy into nothing more than simian chest-beating. We can’t let America look weak. They’ll think we’re not manly enough. We gotta stick it out until we’ve shown those insurgents who’s boss.

This isn’t some John Wayne western. This isn’t Jr. High. This is the real world. We and our leaders should have outgrown such a juvenile attitude. That sort of macho pride has no place in our foreign policy or our politics. No good can come from it. Succumbing to it in the past led to our escalation and ultimate defeat in the Vietnam War. At root, it is simply another manifestation of pride.

A foreign policy based on integrity and moral principles isn’t based on how our nation “looks” to other nations. It isn’t concerned with “face.” It is concerned exclusively with the best interests of the American people and the world with which we interact. If serving those interests means ending a war without clearly and decisively “winning” or achieving our objectives, we should do it—regardless of what other nations or our enemies might think.

A case can be made that, regardless of how immoral the instigation of the conquest of Iraq, continued military presence can help stabilize the region and facilitate the ultimate transfer of power to the Iraqi people. The Republicans should convince us of that case, if they can. But if they keep up their testosterone driven chest-beating, making the occupation an issue of backbone and cajones and never backing down from a fight, and they merely show us how disingenuous they are when they when talking about the Prince of Peace.

Estate Tax observation

June 23, 2006

Just today, the House of Representatives passed a bill reducing the estate tax (recently dubbed by some liberal wag “the Paris Hilton tax”). The Senate will now consider the bill.

Conservatives, including the administration, were hoping to eliminate the estate tax altogether.

I can’t help but break out in a rueful smile every time I think of the issue. Conservatives, particularly when talking about economics and welfare, like to speak fondly of the archetypical American success story: the rags to riches tale of the man who “makes it” by the sweat of his brow, self-reliance, and steely determination, who pulls himself up by his bootstraps to stand on his own two feet. Hard work builds character, and we can appreciate our circumstances more if we have to work for it, these conservatives (rightfully) explain.

But these same people are hellbent on eliminating the estate tax, a tax limited to several thousand of the nation’s wealthiest inheritors.

Go figure.

Torture

June 22, 2006

I just posted a page exploring Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and all things torture relating to this administration and the “War on Terror.”

For an interesting examination of Guantanamo in particular, I’d encourage you to listen to “Habeas Shmabeas” The March 10 episode of This American Life.

Jon Huntsman jr.

June 14, 2006

I’m very gratified of our Utah governor, Jon Huntsman.

I was rather skeptical about him when he first ran for office. Aside from his Republican membership, Huntsman Chemical is involved in a lawsuit concerning environmental pollution leading to cancer (the lawsuit is yet unresolved, and Huntsman Chemical has not been “convicted” of anything; nonetheless, if Huntsman Chemical has acted unethically, Huntsman jr would have been complicit in that action and defending that action rather than acknowledging and making restitution for their irresponsible behavior). Being a wealthy businessman, I was afraid he would be focused on supporting corporate interests. And one of his primary campaign planks was to institute a number of “tax holidays” and economic incentives to ostensibly entice corporate investment and growth (ie, corporate welfare). I supported Scott Matheson for governor, and was very disappointed when Huntsman won (if not particularly surprised).

Huntsman is far from perfect. I was disgusted he would be so petty as to fly in Sean Hannity to provide a “balance” to Michael Moore’s visit to Utah in 2004 (where is the balance to Hannity’s daily radio show broadcast in Utah?). I did not agree with his support for a constitutional marriage amendment at both a state and federal level. I do not agree with much of his economic agenda.

But Huntsman has very pleasantly surprised me. The Utah legislature, dominated as it is by very hard-line conservatives, was yet again determined to push through a pretty radical right-wing agenda. But Huntsman proved himself to be much more moderate and responsible than his predecessor and many other representatives of Utah’s majority party. He was instrumental in the bid to lower or eliminate the tax on food, a tax change which would most benefit the poor (a bid narrowly defeated by the more conservative elements of the legislature). While he is a proponent of a flatter tax, he did work reduce the more regressive nature of flat taxes and protect the poor. When Republican legislators were discussing meddling with the separation of Church and State by implementing “Intelligent Design” in science education, Huntsman stated very clearly his opposition, noting that we should not be mixing religion and science. He vetoed a bill aimed to prevent environmental groups from barring road construction, a petty attack on the groups which opposed the Legacy Highway. And now Huntsman is working furiously to ensure dental health care for disabled Utahns, an issue which the legislature refused to deal with.

It is interesting to compare Utah’s governor with our president. I was mildly skeptical about both when each first ran, feeling both were the less attractive of my options in both cases, but having no strong feelings about either. Bush betrayed all hope I had for him, revealing himself to be much worse than I could have anticipated, and doing damage in almost every action he took. Huntsman has proven to far exceed my expectations, being a reasonable and pretty compassionate person aside from his ideology, and on the whole advancing the cause of the people who accepted his offer to serve. He is one of the few Republicans whom I feel I can trust, and whom I would be willing to work with.

More Voices from the Wilderness

June 10, 2006

I’m rather glad to see that I’m not alone in the LDS community in speaking out in questioning the wisdom of the Marriage Amendment.

Just a few days ago, Jeffrey Nielsen, BYU Professor of Philosophy and LDSaint, published an editorial in the SL Tribune opposing a Constitutional ban on homosexual marriage.

Ed Firmage, prominent BYU graduate and professor emeritus of Constitutional Law at UofU, has recently posted a critique of the movement to ban gay marriage at OneUtah.com. He makes his claims in a strong yet eloquent fashion.

Somalia and U.S. tendencies in Foreign Policy

June 10, 2006

After being largely ignored here in the states for over a decade, Somalia has again entered the news.

For most of that time, Somalia has been in the midst of civil war. A provisional government was formed two years ago by the UN, but has proven ineffective. In this power vacuum, a coalition of Muslim clans calling themselves “The Islamic Courts Union” have risen through popular support to provide order to the nation. They have been able to establish control of a good deal of southern Somalia, recently including Mogadishu, the nation’s capital.

However, they continue to face stiff opposition from various secular warlords.

The warlords are widely reputed to receive backing from the U.S.

Let me restate that.

The United States is widely suspected of aiding warlords.

(see The Washington Post, The LA Times, Reuters, and The Newshour with Jim Lehrer)

You can’t stop purported or potential terrorists by employing warlords. If anything, you are that much more likely to push the Islamic Courts towards extremism and to develop an affinity for terrorist organizations.

Why should anybody take our administration’s rhetoric about “spreading democracy” and “pursuing peace” seriously when they have (allegedly) supported warlords?

The administration has not affirmed (nor denied) this charge. Nor is there yet any proof to back up this accusation.

But the possibility is not without historical precedent.

Over the course of the past century, we have been perfectly willing to support warlords, generals, dictators, and any other sort of brutal thug when we feel it serves our purposes. From Pinochet, to Noriega, to the Contras, to the Sauds, to the Shah, to the Taliban, Bin Laden, and Hussein himself; these are just a few of the brutes who were at one time or another supported by the U.S. Many of these brutes we aided in overthrowing democratically elected governments, simply because we did not approve of the choice of those electorates.

This is a big reason why there is so much animosity towards the U.S. around the world, particularly among the developing nations. This is why anti-American leaders from Hugo Chavez to Bin Laden achieve such popularity among their communities.

It has nothing to do with such foolish notions as “They hate our freedom” or “they hate our values.”

The only way to cool the heat of their hate is to stop betraying the principles of peace, human rights, and democracy for our own short-sighted interests.

American Values?

June 8, 2006

Bush was in Nebraska the other day, speaking out on the issue of immigration.

One aspect of making sure we have an immigration system that works, that’s orderly and fair, is to actively reach out and help people assimilate into our country. That means to learn the values and history and language of America.

What values would those be?

Family values? Latin America has a strong tradition of close-knit families. Immigrants already tend to value families.

Hard Work? That’s why most of them are here; to take the labor-intensive jobs for which employers refuse to offer a decent wage.

Liberty? Would they have made the dangerous and arduous journey had they not believed in liberty?

Religious values? We’re talking (primarily) about Latin Americans here.

America has no monopoly on any values. How condescending to imply that we do.

This is a good example of the common perception of American Exceptionalism—another form of crude pride.

Yes, they do need to learn something about the history of America (but then, so should a great many of the native-born citizens…). They need to learn the specifics about how the government works. But I think that most of them already have a fine grasp of American values.

As to the language, I will reiterate my stand: even if we assume that immigrant populations are not assimilating linguistically (which assumption, as Thom pointed out in a comment, is rather dubious), there is nothing wrong with being a multi-lingual nation. There are plenty of multi-lingual nations around the world, and they function just fine. Nobody is hurt if ethnic communities continue to talk amongst each other in foreign languages or create alternative-language media formats. America is about liberty, not English.

Homosexual Marriage

June 6, 2006

Well, we’re heading into election season again. What a surprise—homosexual marriage is again becoming a central issue in politics. Forgive me if I’m a bit cynical about the Republicans’ motives for bringing the issue up again.

I was in Church the other week when our Bishop read the 1st Presidency letter urging our support for the Marriage Amendment. The letter perplexed me. I’ve given the issue quite a bit of thought and study, and I cannnot find the justification to support the amendment. I know some people will think I’m on rather theological thin ice here, and I don’t take this position lightly. Nor am I unwilling to update my opinion based on new arguments or perspectives. But for now, my concerns prevent me from advocating a ban on homosexual marriage.

Please go to my page on the topic for a full exploration of my concerns.


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