Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Fast Food Politics: The Key to Voter Participation in the Future

Unless you have no Facebook friends or you never watch the news, you probably know something about all the attention given to recent statements by Chick-Fil-A's founder Don Cathy about marriage.  A quick recap is in order for the uninitiated.  Don Cathy said he is in favor of traditional marriage.  Some people didn't like that.  Other people did.  The first group organized a boycott.  The second group organized a day of patronage to show their support.  With all the attention the story has been getting in both local and national news, on Facebook and Twitter, you would think that the U.S. had just entered World War III.  (Hey, speaking of war, don't we still have some troops, like tens of thousands in one of those countries in the Middle East?  I don't seem to hear much of anything on the news about them these days.  Was it Kyrgyzstan?  Hmm... no, that doesn't sound right.  Uzbekistan?  No.  That's not it.  But I'm getting close.  I'm almost certain it was a "stan"...)

Anyway, for whatever reason, this seemed to become the most important political news of the day.  Move over, Florida. Forget you, Ohio.  We have a new bellweather to measure voter intensity and all the political headwinds, and the drama is palpable.  People on the right are buying chicken nuggets.  People on the left like Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel counter by stating that Chick-Fil-A doesn't fit "Chicago values" and should look elsewhere when considering where to build.

I'll admit that at first glance, I felt the whole thing was somewhat ridiculous.  Don't get me wrong.  I understand that the legal definition of marriage is a serious issue, but it just seemed to me that, for the most part, the definition of marriage is not decided by what saturated fats we choose to boycott or digest.  Decisions about this kind of stuff are usually made by voter initiatives, or in state legislatures, or by judges in a courtroom.  Couldn't people see that the fight for marriage was never going to be decided at a fast food restaurant?

And that's when it hit me.

What if it could be?  What if fast food restaurants could be the key to ensuring vigorous voter participation?

After all, I can't recall ever seeing this level of enthusiasm during legislative debates about whether or not the President can arrest American citizens without pressing charges.  The lesson is simple:  Give people a hamburger, and they will be happy.  Have a politician pontificate on the merits of quantitative easing by the Federal Reserve, and you'll lose them; their eyes glaze over, and they start to nap.  (Can't really blame them, though. You did just give them a big, greasy hamburger, remember?)

So here's the proposal.  What if, instead of wasting all that time studying out the candidates and the various party platforms, we just decided elections by the fast food restaurant with the best sales?  Why let Chick-Fil-A have all the fun?  You're a strong supporter of gun rights, you say?  Don't worry about reading up on the latest gun control proposals.  Enjoy a hearty lunch at Texas Roadhouse.  Perhaps you are fervently pro-choice.  No need to wave a sign.  Just make sure to choose Burger King next time you need a quick bite.  (Have it your way, it's been said.) By attaching a single issue to every single restaurant, we can completely eliminate election day altogether, as each establishment's profitability will tell us how the voters feel.  You might counter with the fact that there are a lot of important issues.  Well, what did you think we have all these restaurants for anyway?

Of course, we'll attach the less important and less glamourous issues to less visible restaurants.  If you don't think the President should have the power to assassinate American citizens overseas, you'll have to look up Mike's Taco Shack.  Do you think the U.S. could actually bring our troops home and close some of the 900+ bases we have around the world?  You'll get to dine at a lovely little food court in Evanston, Wyoming.  You see the system?  The more politicians that seem willing to discuss a given topic, the more well-known the restaurant the issue gets linked to.

Just imagine.  Instead of a disaffected voting populace and participation rates that hover below fifty percent (and worse in off-year elections), we'll see political participation skyrocket, especially if the statistic is true that says the average American eats fast food twice a week.

Some might oppose this system, believing that not only will our politicians still be ignoring issues of substance, we'll also be adding insult to injury by eating ourselves to death just to state our opinion on the latest political sideshow.  That's actually part of the point.  When you think about it, how much difference is there really between our two major parties' nominees for president?  Besides for tax rates, there's not a lot of disagreement.  Bailouts, mandates, wars declared by Presidents and not Congress, support of the Patriot Act, more spending for either the military or for entitlements, and no credible plan to balance the budget in the near future.  As it turns out, despite passionate arguments to the contrary, McDonalds and Burger King are quite similar as well.  But people don't really need to eat different food all the time.  They only need to believe they are.

That's why I propose the restaurant-voting system.  It's cheap, requires little effort, and rewards voters with a full stomach.  No more time wasted on finding politicians who actually believe what we say we believe.  Just a #5 to go and a couple of ketchup packets.  It won't be long before voters everywhere will be heard to say, "I'm loving it."


Friday, December 16, 2011

Reality, Hope, and a US intervention

Okay, USA.  It's time to talk.

We've been engaging in a long list of destructive behaviors for a while now, and we seem to lack either the desire or the ability for meaningful change.  "Hey, we're fine" we might say.  "Yeah, things aren't perfect for us, but we can stop if we have to, and we really only need a few minor adjustments."  Yet somewhere deep inside we know this is the voice of denial.  We've run up the VISA, the MasterCard, and borrowed against our house.  We've lost our jobs, the kids fight constantly, and that back door is in a state of complete disrepair.  In our mouth burns a freshly lit federal agency (it calms the nerves, of course).  We now smoke continuously, pausing intermittently for hasty swigs of our favorite 80-proof Middle Eastern war.

We have a problem.

And this is our intervention.

Let's begin with where we are at this very moment.  Our national debt has passed $15 trillion and is still climbing.  We will add another one and a half trillion in 2011.   Neither President Obama's plan nor the Paul Ryan plan make the debt to GDP ration less than 60% by 2020. The Bowles-Simpson proposal, arguably the most comprehensive, would have not had us spending less than we take in until some time in the 2030's, roughly four or five presidents from now.  Of course, the Super ( or more accurately, "par for the course") Committee was not able to adopt any of the Bowles-Simpson plan, so it's clear that even the most workable or timid path of deficit reduction is not likely to be made law any time soon.

That brings us to a divided, hyper-partisan Congress, whose approval rating hovers in the low teens, placing them somewhere north of Benito Mussolini, but lagging behind Lebron James, kidney stones, and getting punched in the face.  And yet, despite abysmal job approval and an anti-incumbency fervor, more than half of us want to see our representatives win re-election.  We enjoy the power and influence of our own member of Congress, believing the other guy to be the problem.  We preach against government waste and pork, the smell of bacon still on our breath.

Abroad, things may not be much better.  We have 900 military bases worldwide in over 130 countries.  The war in Iraq has officially ended, and not a moment too soon, as many in our government start marching towards Iran, the drums of war beating.  Syria may not be far behind, and then Pakistan, and then...

At home we have lost the ability to take care of ourselves.  Nearly 20% of personal income comes from government assistance.  We have believed we could be made safe by subordinating ourselves to the Patriot Act and the TSA.  Yesterday, December 15, on the anniversary of the Bill of Rights, the Senate sent to the President for signature the National Defense Authorization Act, which allows the military or civilian law enforcement to hold indefinitely those suspected of terrorism or loosely associated with them.  This includes American citizens.

So we come to the cold hard truth.

We. must. stop.  The status quo cannot be maintained.  The button we mistakenly labeled auto-pilot is in fact self-destruct.  If we wish to avoid financial disaster, and preserve for future generations the supernal gift of liberty, we must change.

We can no longer be all things to all people.  The rich may have to give up their tax cuts. The poor and middle class may see a reduction in their favorite government programs. Some of these programs may cease to exist at all.  A lifetime of intemperance now calls for a season of restraint.

Some might say this gloomy forecast gives us no reason to hope.  Who would even favor such a thing?  Why should we pay more to get less?  But let us be clear, this is not a national austerity agenda, as much as an agenda of national sobriety.  And for that, we have reason to hope.

Think of the alcoholic who has taken his last drink, or the pack a day smoker who has had her last taste of nicotine.  We even have hope for the cancer patient in the throes of chemotherapy, knowing that tomorrow can bring health and happiness, but only because the diagnosis was made.  And so is the former smoker suffering painful withdrawals better off than the one that won't try.  The alcoholic who has recognized the devastation of his addiction can believe in a better life while the denying drunk can only despair.

We do have reason to hope, and we can believe again in liberty and our sacred Constitution.
We can save the "last, best hope of earth" and preserve it for future generations.  In the words of Henry Van Dyke, "The glory of the Present is to make the Future free.  We love our land" not only "for what she is" but "what she is to be."

Monday, September 12, 2011

September 11th and the Question We Won't Ask

It's been ten long years since the horrific events of September 11, 2001.  Much has happened since that day:  two majors wars have begun and are still being fought.  Osama Bin Laden has been pursued and eliminated, the lives of those lost have been remembered and celebrated.  We have endured heightened security measures in airports, gratuitous replays on our televisions, and even some crazy conspiracy theories.   But there is one thing I think that is missing any time we remember that day.  It is the question of "Why?"

Why did those terrorists commit those terrible acts?  What drove these men to such desperation and such hatred to feel they had no other choice but to take their own lives along with the lives of thousands of innocent civilians?  What was their motivation?  I don't think these are unreasonable questions.  Establishing a motive is a major component of criminal investigations.  We don't ask why thugs and monsters do what they do in order to justify their actions or provide them with mitigating circumstances, but we do it in a hope to prevent similar events in the future, remove incentives towards violence and to protect those we love.

When we finally get around to the question of what motivates people to attack us, we are usually told it is simply because we are rich and free.  That may be part of it, but I think the answer is much more complex.  I wish to cite a few words from a Muslim writer who has lived in both America and Pakistan, giving him what I think is a unique perspective (the whole article is worth the read, here's the link).  While conceding that part of the hatred directed toward us is jealousy of our relative wealth and liberty, the author states there is much more to it than that: 
"But there is another major reason for anti-Americanism: the accreted residue of many years of U.S. foreign policies. These policies are unknown to most Americans. They form only minor footnotes in U.S. history. But they are the chapter titles of the histories of other countries, where they have had enormous consequences. America's strength has made it a sort of Gulliver in world affairs: By wiggling its toes it can, often inadvertently, break the arm of a Lilliputian."
So what were the footnotes of our history that could have possibly led to September 11th?  Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda stated three main grievances as motivation in their plot.  Those three things were U.N. sanctions against Iraq, our military presence in Saudi Arabia, and U.S. support for Israel.

In 1996, Madeline Albright, who was then U.S. ambassador to the U.N., was asked about the purported death of half a million Iraqi children under tough sanctions.  She stated that while a very hard choice, "we think the price is worth it."  She later apologized for the remark but it is not so difficult to see how such a  policy or attitude could lead to outrage.  Is there any political end that we would consider "worth it" if it required the death of 500,000 American children?

The U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia after the first Gulf War was another irritant.  Many Muslims felt the over 5,000 foreign troops were much too close to some of Islam's holiest sites.  It's important to remember that 15 of the 19 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia.  Could the U.S. presence in their homeland so close to sacred sites have been their main motivation?  We may never know for sure.

We cannot bring back those lost on that terrible day.  We can only change our present actions in order to prevent tragedy in the future.  Are we doing anything now that is short of the great and noble ideals of the United States?  Anything that may stoke fires of hatred toward us?  If we want to honor the memory of those who died on 9/11, we could begin by being willing to ask some uncomfortable questions.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Why Ron Paul Supporters are so Annoying

Maybe you've seen them clogging your news feed with constant links, flooding discussion boards and online polls, proudly displaying the bumper sticker, or just anxious and eager to preach about their man, but wherever or however you know them, you probably know a Ron Paul person.

Certainly every politician has their contingent of passionate supporters, people willing to take a bullet for their candidate of choice, but Ron Paul people have got to be some of the most ubiquitous, vocal, and yes, annoying people ever.  Don't get me wrong, when I say "they" are that way, I really mean "we".  I'm not ashamed to declare my support for Dr. Paul, and I've been told by friends and family that I may be obsessed, or have an idol problem.  I don't see it that way.  I definitely value many things more than politics, and I don't woship the man, but I do respect him.

Why does he earn my respect?  And why are we "Ron Paul nuts" the way we are?  Perhaps you've concluded that he, Ron Paul, and his supporters are just plain crazy, and you haven't given it a second thought.  But if you look more closely, there's something so incongruous about this man of clarity and conciseness, that you may wonder.   Why does this 76 year old man receive so much support from the young, whether on college campuses or on the internet?  He is one of only two presidential aspirants to have actually served in the military, yet is an avowed non-interventionist, saying "we accomplish much more in peace than we do in war."  He proposes cuts to military spending and closing bases around the world, argues against the current wars, and is certifiably the most anti-war of all the candidates, yet receives the most money from active duty military.  How is it?  I would like to try to explain what makes his supporters tick, at least from my perspective. 

Ron Paul supporters are usually very vocal about him for one simple reason:  If they don't talk about him, no one else will.  You likely won't hear his name mentioned on the news or in major papers and magazines as a "top-tier" candidate.  If he is mentioned at all, it will be with the caveat that he is 'unelectable' or that 'he has a passionate, but small following'.  Ron Paul has polled consistently above others in the race who have received much more air time.  Tim Pawlenty, who has now ended his campaign, and former governor of Utah Jon Huntsman are two notable examples.  When Ron Paul took second, trailing by less than one percent, at the Iowa straw poll last weekend, one headline read, "Michele Bachmann wins Ames Straw Poll, Tim Pawlenty gets third."  Some may believe that a benevolent and wise media should do our vetting for us, picking the preferred candidates and leaving out the electoral dross.  I don't think that's how it should work.  Let the people decide who is 'electable' by voting for and electing that person.

Ron Paul asks supporters and detractors alike to bring some background knowledge to the equation.  When he talks about quantitative easing, he assumes you know what that means.  He expects you to follow along when using phrases like, "monetizing the debt" or  "liquidating malinvestment."  You should know what America did in Iran in 1953, or what happened in Beirut in 1983.  Ron Paul prefers substantive debate to monosyllabic slogans.  He challenges his supporters to dig a little deeper, read a little more, and I believe they appreciate the challenge.

Some of the fervency has to do with his near prophetic warnings about the bursting of the housing bubble and coming economic collapse as he ran in 2008.  It could be his humble and reserved nature.  Perhaps it is the fact he isn't very telegenic, and doesn't have the polished style of some of his competitors, but just seems to be telling the truth.  I don't know all the reasons for the feverish support he receives but maybe he says it best.  "I have my shortcomings, but the message has no shortcomings.  The message of liberty is powerful."

I encourage you to learn about Ron Paul and what he believes, and not just from what you hear.  If you don't come away always agreeing with him, you will at least have developed a measure of respect.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Mitt Romney, Barack Obama, and the Politics of Sameness

There's a statement I've heard recently that perplexes me, and gives me pause on a couple of levels.  The statement goes something like this:  "Barack Obama is destroying our nation's economy and working to dramatically change the nature of our government."  The first thing that bothers me is, assuming the above is true, is that we have allowed the Executive branch to become so powerful that we believe a single person can "destroy" or "ruin" a nation that has been around for two hundred plus years in a couple dozen months.  I've heard similar remarks about previous presidents.  Maybe, instead of looking for an all-knowing candidate with whom we always agree, we should reduce the power of the office so one person can only do so much damage, but I'd like to say more on that another time.

The second part about this statement that bothers me is usually what follows.  The remark about Obama is continued with "and that's why we need Mitt Romney (or someone like him) as President."  Why does that bother me?  Because saying Mitt Romney is the cure to the problems caused by Obama presupposes something I find hard to believe, namely, that they are actually different in any substantial way.

But they are completely different, you might protest.  Hear me out on this as we examine some of the similarities.

Let's start with the obvious, their respective views on health care.  Both the health care plan credited to Mitt Romney and the Affordable Care Act signed by President Obama contain an individual mandate.  Romney argues that what he did was at the state level so it's entirely different, but I think the principles are the same.  Both believe, that the government, at some level, state or federal, can require people to purchase services from a private organization.

When it comes to government involvement in the economy both supported the bailout of the banks, or TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program).  Romney now says while he supported the idea, he didn't like how the money was distributed.  The principle is that government money being given to poorly run businesses is okay, as long as it's done 'responsibly.'  (As an interesting quid pro quo side note, Wall street millionaires are big donors to Romney's campaign.)

Obama has been criticized recently as being in violation of the War Powers Resolution for failing to receive Congressional authority for continued action in Libya.  He contends that it does not apply, as the action is 'limited in scope.'  I guess that makes sense, if you change the meaning of words like 'war' and 'approval'.  When asked in 2008 if he would need Congressional authority to take the country to war, Mitt Romney responded, "You sit down with your attorneys, and [they] tell you what to do, but obviously the President of the United States has to do what's in the best interest of the United States."  Although both the Constitution and the War Powers Resolution are explicitly clear on the matter, maybe Mitt could sit down and talk about it with an attorney, perhaps a Constitutional lawyer, like Barack Obama.

I could continue with how both the President and Mitt Romney have defended Ben Bernanke and upheld or ignored the policies of the Federal Reserve.  There are other similarities, but my point is this:  why don't we really have a choice?  With Obama as the incumbent and Mitt Romney as the media anointed front runner, what are they who believe government is headed in the wrong direction to do?  The size of government has grown.  The debt has grown.  American involvement oversees is constantly increasing.  'Mainstream' candidates have done nothing to slow or stop either.  Here's the problem, better than I can say it:
Fundamental questions...are off the table in our mainstream media, which focuses our attention on trivialities and phony debates as we march toward oblivion.  This is the deadening consensus that crosses party lines, that dominates our major media, and that is strangling the liberty and prosperity that were once the birthright of Americans. Dissenters who tell their fellow citizens what is really going on are subject to smear campaigns that, like clockwork, are aimed at the political heretic. Truth is treason in the empire of lies.1
To conclude, I'm not saying don't vote for Obama or Romney.  Just don't vote for them expecting anything to change.  If you think America is fine, let's stay the course.  Or maybe, just maybe, it's high time to engage in some treasonous truth.

1- Paul, Ron.  The Revolution:  A Manifesto  Grand Central Publishing, 2008.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Church, Immigration, and the Wrong Side of the Fence

I share the thoughts that follow only because I hope it might be helpful to someone else.

A little over a month ago, Utah Governor Gary Herbert signed a group of immigration bills into law.  Definitely the most notable and controversial was HB 116, that includes a guest worker program for those not here legally.  I must admit that I wasn't thrilled.  My main issue with the whole thing was that even the Legislature's attorneys admitted there were some Constitutional problems with the new laws.  I felt completely satisfied in my disregard for the bills except for one small problem; one of the local members of the community there to support the signing was Presiding Bishop of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, David H. Burton.  When questioned by the media for the Church's position on the bills, he said, "We feel that the Legislature has done an incredible job on a very complex issue".

At this point, I had to do some mental gymnastics: well, I didn't hear him say the Church supports HB 116 specifically, I thought.  Another, more insidious thought (I'm ashamed to admit this one), came to my mind.  It was just Bishop Burton.  If it were really important to the Church, it probably would have been one of the Apostles, or even a member of the First Presidency, so I think I'm okay to disagree on this little issue.

Now, let me explain. I've always had an interest in politics and some strong opinions to go along with that interest.  I'd also like to think I've always at least tried to be in line with the teachings and doctrines of the Church.  I believe the fifteen men called to be Prophets, Seers, and Revelators, are indeed exactly that.  While I often fail to follow their guidance, I'm grateful for their words.  But now I had a problem.  What I believed politically did not agree what I seemed to be hearing from my spiritual leaders.  If you've ever had a similar experience, you may be familiar with the knot in your stomach that results when two of your strongly held beliefs do battle.  My mind was lagging behind my heart in readjusting my views to be in line with the Church position.  But as I said, I had somewhat justified my dissension so the issue drifted to the back of my mind.

Then this past week the LDS Church released a statement that reiterated their support for the "responsible approach" of the Utah Legislature, and mentions specifically their appreciation for HB 116.  The statement also lists the basic principles that guide the Church position.

Brought to my mind were some words from Neal A. Maxwell:
President Marion G. Romney said, many years ago, that he had “never hesitated to follow the counsel of the Authorities of the Church even though it crossed my social, professional or political life”. This is a hard doctrine, but it is a particularly vital doctrine in a society which is becoming more wicked. In short, brothers and sisters, not being ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ includes not being ashamed of the prophets of Jesus Christ!
I remembered loving those words the first time I read them, partly because I felt their truth, and partly because I could never remember disagreeing with any official action taken by the Prophets until that point, so I was feeling pretty good.  But now that an intellectual conversion, at least on this point, was lacking, the words seemed more to condemn than to congratulate.  I also was led to reread President Benson's famous talk, Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet.  The fourth ("The Prophet will never lead the Church astray") and tenth (the Prophet may advise on civic matters), along with prayer, helped me make the necessary change in my thinking.

I say all of this not to try to change the mind of anyone else.  We all have our personal issues, and at some time or another may find ourselves on the wrong side of counsel from the Presiding Authorities of the Church.  These things can be very personal and individual.  Salvation itself can be a very individual experience.  That's something else I think I'm beginning to learn.  If some other man finds himself on the wrong side of a nation's political borders, that doesn't really affect my salvation.  That's between him and the laws of that country.  But when the Lord, through his servants, gives me posts and markers by which to guide my life, I better listen.  I don't want to be on the wrong side of that fence.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Clifford the Big Red Dog and a Government We Can Afford

If you're like me, you probably look back with fondness on the books and movies of your childhood.  One of my favorites is Clifford the Big Red Dog.  For those who haven't read any of the books, or just need a refresher, Clifford is indeed, a big (the T.V. series has him as 25 feet tall), red dog.  His size often gets him in trouble with his friends and neighbors, but in the end everyone is grateful for it.  He is always there to save the day:  he may suck up a lake and put out a forest fire, put a lighthouse on his back and bring a boat lost in dense fog back to shore, or ignore his canine tendencies and safely lower a cat stuck high in a tree, but he can only do these things thanks to his colossal frame.  Lately, however, a stark reality has started to bother me a little bit.  No, I don't mind so much that there is a dog the size of a house, we'll just pretend that could actually happen.  But who's going to pay for it?  Think of the costs of owning such a dog.  Emily Elizabeth's parents would not only have to feed his monstrous appetite, but provide shelter, specialized veterinary care, waste management (probably can't bury all of it), and liability payments when his size causes damage to property.  I'm sure Clifford's family had to wonder, at least once, 'is owning such a dog worth it?  Should we give him away', or a more grotesque thought, 'put him down?'

And so that brings me to our federal government, which, if present trends continue, we will not be able to afford.  Barring changes,  as early as 2040, our entire federal budget will be consumed by Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and interest on the debt.  Doing nothing is not an option.  But the problem with proposing cuts is nobody wants to see their program cut.  Truth is, the government does do some good things, and we have been conditioned to believe that without the government, those things could not be done at all.  So we keep Clifford around, because if there is a fire, we might need him.  If there are burglars at the door, he can scare them away.  When disaster strikes our "Clifford" will be there.  Unfortunately we learn from events like 9/11 and hurricane Katrina that Clifford can't protect us from everything and he is getting more expensive to take care of all the time.  So the choice is simple.  Not easy, but simple.  Much higher taxes and the government services we have become addicted to, or lower taxes, more liberty and the painful realization that there is not enough money, even in the entire United States, to solve all the world's problems.  We should choose carefully, because Clifford may not always be so benevolent, and he's not the type to just bark, he can bite.