Monday, January 31, 2011

W. Cleon Skousen (& Ken Ivory)

This has been gnawing on me for some time. I feel a need to address my thoughts on this controversial figure in 20th Century Mormonism who is posthumously enjoying a bit of revival with his books and philosophies promoted by TV Personality Glenn Beck. As a blogger, I have the opportunity to address this however I choose. And I choose not to give a detailed historical, political or religious argument. There is some of that out there in the cyber-marketplace of ideas. Feel free to "google" (or "bing" or "yahoo" or whatever) to see what is there - and there's nothing wrong with going to his own books and documents as I have done to a limited extent. Here, I merely want to give my own thoughts and feelings acknowledging as many of my prejudices and shortcomings as I can even as there may be many I haven't yet recognized.

I am a child of the Cold War. My first exposure to Skousen was in my grandparents' living room where I noticed on their library shelves of a few, mostly church books, a large, red volume by Skousen entitled The Naked Communist. I was intrigued. I first wondered how a book with two evil things in the title could be in my grandparents' house. "Naked" perhaps being more tempting than "Communist," I took the opportunity when no one was looking and sneaked a peak. Well, there wasn't a lot of naked stuff in there, at least not from a boy's perspective of fleshy things. However, I was a serious child given to reading and even with some interest in history. So there I was reading along a lot of excitable language about how bad Communists were and how they were infiltrating our government, society and our very thoughts. Of course I already knew some of that because, well, I was a child of the Cold War.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Basic Principles

As it's Sunday, I felt it appropriate to go a little (actually, a lot) religious today. I have a lot of thoughts going around my head for blogging, including one actually in draft form, but I come back to this idea of the most important message I could convey.  I have this opportunity rather frequently as I teach young Aaronic Priesthood men on Sundays (14-15-year-olds in Teachers Quorum).  I also used the theme when I was Bishop. And I used all the way back through my life including when I spoke in church on my LDS Mission to Brazil.  This isn't something I came up with on my own, but had an amazing spiritual instructor when I was a young man of eighteen.  It has formed the basis of my religious life.

My freshman Book of Mormon teacher at BYU was a guy named Jeff Holland.  I only had him for the first semester or first half of the Book of Mormon.  But when we got to Second Nephi, Chapter 2, he launched into a presentation of the basic principles of the Gospel.  Jumping from Second Nephi to Third Nephi which would have normally been in the second semester, he went through Chapter 27 starting at verse 13, where the Lord Jesus Christ himself explains his Gospel to the Nephites, and listed seven basic principles:

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Utah and the Public Lands

OK, this post is obviously biased and influenced, but also fairly well informed because of my employment with the US Department of the Interior (But remember the disclaimer that I am not speaking in my official capacity on behalf of the Department!).

I was leaving the house last night to go to the church for Scouts and I heard a bit of Governor Herbert's State of the State address (that would have been fun to blog, but I had to go to Scouts.) Anyway, I heard him complaining about the Interior Department and the new plan to inventory "wild lands" which would seem to violate the settlement between Bush's Interior Secretary Norton and Utah Governor Leavitt from a few years back. Well, regardless of the merits of all that and whether the settlement may have been outside the authority of the Federal Lands Policy and Management Act ("FLPMA") and the inventory well within FLPMA, the Governor complained about the amount of federally-owned land in the State and threw out the line to great applause that the State is not a colony of the federal government! That is in line with the popular theme of Utah's overwhelmingly Republican Legislature some of whom are actually proposing to take federal lands, including national parks, by eminent domain.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

SOTU Scorecard

I pretty much nailed my predictions.  I was right on with Iraq and Afghanistan.  The Theme is "The Future" and the goals are education and innovation for JOBS with education reform being the area where he thinks the Republicans will work with him.  I should have predicted Boehner tearing up because that was the most entertaining and I should have seen it coming earlier.

And, I eat crow only with regard to the failure to adopt the deficit reduction framework of the Debt Commission.  That may be a real failure as I saw it as the President's chance to "appear" responsible in addressing the issue while deflecting blame for the hard stuff on to the Commission.  What he did, though, was almost as good politically, and also rather pragmatic and even respectful of the Constitution..  He did not propose or address specifics but hit the theme and left the responsibility dangling for the Republican House to pick up.  That is where the Constitutional responsibility lies to initiate spending (or debt reduction) measures.  And he has a shield in the Senate (not just by party - but institutional and Constitutional).  So he can sit back to some extent and see what the House can accomplish to be tempered by the Senate and the Prez as necessary.  He probably recognizes, as distasteful as it may be, that not much will be agreed to in the short term.  The new Republican House has to deal with their internal conflicts and contradictions first.  He may just be able to step in and help mediate to "principled compromise" - not just between Dems and Repubs, but among the various factions of the Republican Party (Tea Party, Libertarians, Fiscal Conservatives, and Social Conservatives, not to mention the ingrained career politicians that even they have).

Regardless of what many say, I still think this President is all about the Constitution.  He clearly miscalculated the debate on Health Care to some extent and in what manner is the subject of much debate.  But what I see is that he had a goal, ran on it to be elected, and turned it over to the Congress to work out and legislate the details and compromises that he would ultimately sign and execute according to Art. II.

The Executive Branch has taken far too much out-front responsibility in these modern days both in drafting legislation and proposing budgets.  IMO the Constitution places those responsibilities in the Congress with budgets to originate in the House.  The Congress is We the People through our elected representatives.  Get involved.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Tea Party Response Response

Is CNN really the only network broadcasting Bachman?

Tea party "a force for good"  well, that's debatable.  Isn't she leaving something out of her chart, like the crash of 2008?  The stimulus spending wasn't "unlike anything we've seen before".  She's a little over the top and she's outright lying about the IRS police coming to get you.  But ya know what?  She's beating down Palin.  She knows a few things even if they're wrong.  And she's a little unrealistic (a little?) expecting the Prez to repeal health care.  And she is tripping over words - I admit, that's a little petty on my part but she's all eyes are on the teleprompter.  Her eyes are glazed, frozen, and off camera.  That is a little weird. "Iwo Jimmah?"  The slide show isn't helping.

Republican Response

Ryan does look better than Jindal or McDonnell did the past couple of years.  He's fairly temperate - 'til he got to the spending and "failed stimulus" without mentioning economic crisis - the worst since 1929 w/o going into a 2nd Great Depression.  He has good themes but how does he make it work?  No more specifics here."We still have time." which sort of cuts his immediacy argument.  Lincoln and limited government don't exactly go together (not to mention the Railroad gov/private enterprises and the homestead act - gov. actions to support economic development).

Competent and on theme but no specifics and not a lot of hope here.

Live-Blogging the State of the Union

[Now that I have a little more experience in managing my blogging, I am consolidating these posts on my live-blogging the State of the Union, Tuesday, January 25, 2011.]

I'm already 3 points up.  Justice Alito won't be there, Dems and Repubs are sitting together, and Daniel Hernandez will be sitting with the First Lady!

We're going to give live-blogging a try.  No one may care, but here goes!

Monday, January 24, 2011

SOTU Update II - Iraq & Afghanistan (Hitler watch on the side)

Oh yeah, Iraq and Afghanistan - getting us out of Iraq first, one of the main reasons we elected the President.  And hopefully out of Afghanistan.  He will modestly declare a victory in Iraq and announce our departure (which "Mr. Modest Foreign Policy President" should have done in 2003 - or better yet, never got us in the wrong war at the wrong time in the wrong place for the wrong reasons - but I digress).

He will also talk about being on schedule to start removing troops in Afghanistan.  He was right that Afghanistan was abandoned in favor of Iraq for all the wrong (well, see above).  It appears to be too late.  It probably already was when he surged there to help justify getting us out of Iraq.  But after two more long years, he has given the US military and the Afghan government every chance to make it and having not made it, the President will again have to put the best interpretation on the horrible situation at the same time recognizing the amazing service and sacrifice of our heroic troops and get us the heck out of there.

He very craftily (and I mean that in a good way) did not get ahead of the American people.  We have sadly put the wars out of our front pages.  But this allows us to withdraw without too much screaming from the right.  Both Iraq and Afghanistan may fail,  but it doesn't seem to make any difference if we stay or leave.  In fact, it may be worse if we stay and it's our guys (and gals) dieing right now!  So let's leave.  The helicopters on the top of the US Embassy in Saigon were even tolerated without us going back into that one we probably should have never been in to begin.

In between errands and house duties Saturday, I happened to watch a lot of Hitler on the History and Military Channels (There's always something WWII on).  The thing that struck me is how no major characters in our modern US politics are anything like Hitler - not Bush, Palin, Limbaugh, Newt and certainly not Our President or Pelosi (well, maybe Glenn Beck, just a little bit).  I mean Hitler was a class all his own.  Even in the early years with the Beer Hall Putsch, etc., it was all ludicrous and I don't see anything like that in current America.  Now, I still don't understand it and certainly don't understand how Germany went with him.  And I do not ascribe to the "it can't ever happen here" because the only explanation for Germany going with him was the horrible economic situation and humiliation of WWI (which was sort of their fault anyway, but I digress).  And horrible things could come out of economic and political collapse in our country.  FDR clearly saved us from the extremes of right or left when we could have easily gone one or the other as most of the rest of the world did.  And we certainly can NEVER FORGET the Holocaust and what the Nazis did to the Jews of Europe with a lot of complicity of those that stood by.

But having said all that, look at all the free and easy criticism all over the place of what ever crazy or even sane current US politician or figure you can think of.  I will concede that even the tea party has some value to let people vent and hopefully more rationally step back and think a little about the issues.  We still have a free press (as corrupt and inadequate as the MSM is) and we have a free and open internet as I'm evidencing now (even if nobody ever reads me).  So, we're a ways from seeing a Hitler in our current situation.  (Just let me know if Beck's friends all start wearing the same color shirt).

SOTU Update

Well, I was right about one thing so far:

Sitting with the first lady is . . .

Of course that was a pretty easy call.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

State of the Union

My prognostications for what the President will say in the SOTU this Tuesday.  Crow will be eaten to the extent I am wrong.

Beginning and main theme follows off of the "can't we all just get along" speech from Tucson.  He will have the heroic intern who saved Rep. Giffords's life sitting with the First Lady.  The point of Rep. Giffords is not that the crazy guy may have shot her because of Sarah or Rush (or Glenn), the point is that she is one of the best examples of a moderate compromiser - a passionate moderate, if you will.  The President will play of this theme - not the blame game.  And our hearts go out to those lost and to Rep. Giffords's continued miraculous recovery!

The thing we can all get along on is his new challenge in the style of Kennedy's "we're going to the moon in this decade" speech (and we did!).  That challenge is a new commitment to education and innovation for JOBS in order to remain competitive in the new global economy.  This is one area where he might get some room to compromise with the new Republican Congress.  Education Reform is one of the few areas the Republicans and the President may be able to work on together and with public support.  The President may have some specific trick up his sleeve in the form of an exciting national goal, but I haven't figured that part out yet.  He needs to win the public and likely will.  Then Congress has to do something to at least appear to go along.  And they lose if they don't actually accomplish something on the goal.

He will also address debt reduction and he has the upper hand in solid proposals from his Debt Commission (with no help from the Republicans in the last Congress), the most positive of which he will promote even if nothing gets done much in this Congress because the Republicans have a very different agenda in what they would like to accomplish in dismantling the federal government.  The President will come out strong on shared sacrifice at the same time he attempts to promote and protect the social safety net of Social Security and Medicare.  He will push Defense Sec. Gates's military cuts (or at least "slowing of the growth").  He will tout his freeze on federal pay having thrown us slightly under the bus in the place of the Republicans wanting much harsher measures in their desire to get rid of as many of us as possible.  This will all eventually stalemate and we'll see what happens down the road with the federal debt limit and the need for a budget or further continuing resolution by March.  There are ways to work this out without destroying Social Security, Medicare, or the government of, by and for the people.  And if we have to, we can do it after 2012.

Some of the Members of Congress will sit together.  Justice Alito will be a no show or at least much more stoic.  No one will yell, "You lie!"  If the Congress does behave and sit together, and they just might in the wake of Tucson, that will be to the credit of the President as it will in part fulfill his campaign of a "change" in the way we do things.  If they don't sit together, and remain nasty, it still works to the President's advantage because people think they ought to get along better.  And the President will remain above it all, as he should.

Buyers' remorse on the Republican Congress is already setting in.  Wait until 2012 with the Dem base coming back along with the youth vote and minorities that sat out 2010 to some extent.  There's no room for the Republicans to grow and they're going to have a tough couple of years working with tea party set and traditionalists in Congress.  The President is in a very good position (and I don't think he tacked to the right as much as most everybody is saying - I read his books!).  I mean, imagine if the Republicans had not taken Congress.  The small but loud group of Americans that absolutely will not accept this President would be even louder.  For now they are quiet because most of their issues and conflicts are with the Republican-controlled House.  The only way the President loses reelection is if the economy tanks further and we face the real threat of some right-wing populist like St. Sarah (shudder) or even the Newt.  Even if the Republicans make it worse hoping for that result to retake control of the Presidency and cut more taxes (!), I still think this President is a smart guy who wants to do right for the country, is willing to compromise to accomplish what he can, and that may just be enough to eke it out if there is further economic or other disaster.  If the economy does pick up well and unemployment drops somewhat, reelection is a cake walk.


Facebook just isn't enough.  I'll try it here where people that are really interested (if there are any at all) can follow, engage, or maybe even be entertained by my thoughts on politics, religion, and general living.

Firstly, caveats need to be given.  As I am employed by the federal government, my thoughts are clearly my own and have nothing to do with my official position which will likely be revealed as we go along.  As my [family] points out, my employment certainly has its impact on my political and economic views - that goes without saying.  But because some of this may touch on politics, I am required to follow the Hatch Act which protects me in my First Amendment expressions as long is there is no clear link that the U.S. Government or my Agency or local office has in any way endorsed my personal speech.  I will not use any confidential government information.  I am also restricted in the use of government equipment or official work time to express personal views.  I will honor that requirement with the commitment that I will never blog during my regularly scheduled work hours of 7:45 am - 4:45 pm Mountain Time, Monday through Friday.  That will be true for days I am on leave as well just so there will not be any confusion on anyone's part.    So, no matter how tempting it may be, I will not engage during those regular business hours.  (I might just sneak a peak to look but not to blog on a lunch break to see if anybody ever comments.)

Secondly, why blog?  As I started out, I feel a need for expression beyond the limitations of Facebook and the patience of my numerous friends thereon.  I have a lot in me anxious to get out.  I have had a few guest op-ed pieces published in the Salt Lake Tribune (I'll try to link below).  I find myself in such a unique and often contradictory situation as a middle-of-the-road registered Democrat living in a red state that is very conservative.  I mean, there's the whole passionate moderate thing to begin with.  I am active LDS or Mormon and have been all  my life, even serving as bishop, yet I was not born in Utah, did not grow up here, and can't really figure out why I keep ending up here.  And I find the dominant Utah culture rather strange at times.  Maybe I'm on a mission to Zion?  A good part of my extended family is much more conservative than I am to the point that it has caused some familial tensions.  But I still love them and they love me (I think).

For instance, I love the Constitution of the United States of America.  I use it in my daily work.  (OK, I guess it's time to admit I'm an attorney.)  But the Constitution I read and use seems to be a little different than the sometimes strange Constitutional interpretations I often find around me.  Well, more of that later.

So, for now, sit back, enjoy, engage or ignore as you wish.  I will attempt to be positive, passionate and moderate as I trust in Faith, Hope, and Charity.  And I will attempt to practice Charity in my communications, which after all, is the greatest of these.

(I will also edit offensive language or comments - remember Charity always! - if I can figure out how to work this blog thing.)

Previously published op-eds in the Salt Lake Tribune:
The most recent was from last Spring 2010 on Joseph Smith and States Rights Doctrine.  An older one from Spring 2007 is Temperate Pacifism which is unfortunately behind the Trib's Archive wall requiring payment.  I will likely post that text from my drafts at a later point.