Ezra Taft Benson Predicts Economic Collapse of 2008-2009

The following article was posted recently at SimpleUtahMormonPolitics.com

Ezra Taft Benson, thirteenth prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was one of the greatest statesmen that has ever lived. Not only was he prophetic when it came to spiritual things, he was equally prescient when it comes to economic issues. I have read several times the economic warnings of President Benson, but his warnings have never rung more true than now--when we are in the midst of suffering for failing to heed his warnings.

Recently I wrote about the prophetic mantle of Gordon B. Hinckley as regards the world economy. With similar prophetic insight, Ezra Taft Benson authored The Red Carpet in 1962, and in 1969, he penned An Enemy Hath Done This. What follows are selections from those two books. Warning: If you feel a sense of dizzying deja vu, don't be surprised.

Care for a stimulus package, anyone? How about a bailout? When you read the following axiom from Benson, the futility of such economic silliness will make perfect sense to you.

A nation cannot spend itself into prosperity. Nor can we preserve our prosperity and our free-enterprise system by following a reckless policy of spending beyond our income...

The Red Carpet, p. 167
Do you ever wonder why Americans have become so conditioned to spend themselves into drunken oblivion? It's because we've been encouraged to do so by the profligate monetary policies of our government Treasury and quasi-government organizations, such as the Federal Reserve.
Few policies are more capable of destroying the moral, political, and social basis of a free society than the debauching of its currency.

An Enemy Hath Done This, p. 211
Free enterprise = corporations, right? No--not very often anymore. If it was bad enough in the 1960's for Benson to write the following, imagine how bad it must be today.
...corporate entities seem to lack that social consciousness proportionate to their power and the privileges granted them by the state. Some...still fail to recognize that there are social and spiritual values...that should be considered in their operations.

The Red Carpet, p. 119
In his recent book, Bad Money, Kevin Phillips observed the insanity of the United States having nearly completely replaced its manufacturing capability with a non-productive financial sector. Forty-six years ago, Ezra Taft Benson warned against such foolishness.
In the long run, a nation enjoys in the form of goods and services only what it produces.

The Red Carpet, pp. 116-117
It has been common for economic analysts to predict that the current economic collapse will ultimately be "great"er than The Great Depression. For statesmen like Benson, this was not hard to predict almost fifty years ago.
We must reverse our present dangerous fiscal policies. If we fail to do so, we will set off an international monetary debacle that could easily make the experience of the 1930's sink into insignificance.

The Red Carpet, p. 308
Much of our program of letting the government pay for it "can be described as an attempt to better yourself by increasing your pay and then sending yourself the bill."

The Red Carpet, p. 221
Ron Paul, among others, from a closer vantage point in time, had been warning about the obviousness of the pending economic collapse, although hardly anyone would listen. But it takes a prophet to notice, from five decades hence, the obviousness of something the likes of which nearly everyone else observed only when it began affecting them personally. Part of Benson's prophecy is still yet future, however. Are we stupid enough to simply count him lucky in what he has correctly "predicted" so far?
The pending economic crisis that now faces America is painfully obvious. If even a fraction of potential foreign claims...were presented to the Treasury...the rush to get rid of dollars would rapidly accelerate the visible effects of inflation... Uncertainty over the future would cause the consumer to halt...spending. ...problems of unemployment and low production will be compounded by a monetary system that will be utterly worthless.

An Enemy Hath Done This, p. 216
Benson taught that free choice should always prevail, and that along these lines, government should never insinuate unfairness between business and labor unions. Yet with recent financial and automotive bailouts, this is precisely what's happening. Big business and labor bosses are getting the cream of the crop, and the rest of us get to pay for their indulgences.
My conscience forbids me to consent to granting exclusive privileges to either business or labor unions. ...the power of government should never...force it one way or the other.

An Enemy Hath Done This, pp. 237-239
What's the antidote? Free enterprise, says Benson, which we haven't experienced too much of lately.
The welfare state...not only fails to provide the economic security sought for, but [it] always ended in slavery---and it always will.

The Red Carpet, p. 308
We abolished slavery once in America. Now, unfortunately without most of us even noticing it, slavery is coming back in vogue.


A Smoker's Tax for Fat People

I used to be fat. Solidly in the CDC's obese category at 255 lbs., I last year embarked on a serious diet and exercise routine to ditch the excess weight, and now I'm down to a very normal and healthy 175-180, depending on the day. I look so different that I have been asked by 4 different people if I have cancer. I don't, but that just kills me (no pun intended) - even if I did, that's just NOT something you come out and ask someone.

In any case, I often get the opportunity to explain to people how I lost so much weight and have been able to keep it off. The whole method is explained in excrutiating detail here, but certainly the most important change for me was a very simple dietary modification - I stopped drinking non-diet soda.

I used to consume a couple cans of soda a day, which apparently isn't that far from normal - the average American drinks 35 gallons of non-diet soda a year (just over 1 can per day). And if some people are drinking no non-diet soda (like the new me), an equal number of people are drinking a lot more than 35 gallons of the stuff.

Let's run through a simple calculation. 35 gallons converts to 4480 fluid ounces, which equals 373.3 twelve-ounce cans of soda. For our purposes, let's assume each of these cans are Moutain Dew (my personal favorite), at 170 calories a piece. Some sodas have more calories per ounce, some slightly less, but we'll use 170 for our example. That comes out to 63467 calories for the year. Now, for every 3500 calories one consumes over the amount your body burns in the same time period, one will gain a pound of body fat. So assuming the soda consumed is in excess of the body's maintenance calorie level, that's 18+ pounds of body fat gained per year. For a beverage. That's pretty disgusting, and I'm 100% certain that soda played a major, starring role in my former self's obesity.

Obesity in America has become a public health crisis. In 1998, the medical costs associated with overweightitude and obesity reached $78.5 billion, or over 9% of total U.S. healthcare expenditures. (I'll provide a 12-pack of the fabulous, zero-calorie Vanilla Coke Zero to the author of the comment featuring the best one-word noun version of "overweight"). Tack on ten years of inflation and ten more years of the horrific American high-fructose-corn-syrup-partially-hydrogenated-soybean-oil diet, and you can see where we are now. Something urgently needs to be done to mitigate a problem that has reached critical mass (pun intended this time).

New York Governor David Paterson has proposed a state budget that includes what is essentially an 18% sin tax on soft drinks and other sugary beverages. Nicholas Kristof writes in today's New York Times:

Let’s break for a quiz: What was the biggest health care breakthrough in the last 40 years in the United States? Heart bypasses? CAT scans and M.R.I.’s? New cancer treatments?

No, it was the cigarette tax. Every 10 percent price increase on cigarettes reduced sales by about 3 percent over all, and 7 percent among teenagers, according to the 2005 book “Prescription for a Healthy Nation.” Just the 1983 increase in the federal tax on cigarettes saved 40,000 lives per year.

In effect, the most promising cure for lung cancer didn’t emerge from a medical research lab but from money-grubbing politicians. Likewise, the best cure for obesity may turn out to be not a pill but a tax.

My first instinct was to think that this tax was a ridiculous money grab by a politician in a time of economic crisis, but the more I think about it, the more I think it is sound public policy. One legitimate role of government in a capitalist society, no matter your ideology, is to mitigate externalities - the costs borne by entities besides those directly involved in a transaction. Excessive consumption of this stuff doesn't just affect the consumer and the producer; we all share in the cost via higher insurance premiums.

Is it perfect? Of course not. For one thing, diet sodas aren't great for you, either, but at least they don't directly contribute to obesity. And why, as Kristof writes, is there no "Twinkie Tax" to go along with it? And I'm sure I'm sure Coke and Pepsi are going to fight this tax tooth and nail. Regardless, I am hopeful that this sort of innovative nutrition legislation (not the first to come out of New York) will at least get substantive conversations going at the national level and have a meaningful, positive impact on our consumption society.


CNN just posted an editorial piece directly from Governor Paterson regarding his proposed tax. An excerpt:

In June, New York state raised the state cigarette tax an additional $1.25. According to the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, this increase alone will prevent more than 243,000 kids from smoking, save more than 37,000 lives and produce more than $5 billion in health care savings.

These taxes may be unpopular, but their benefits are undeniable. Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that, for the first time in generations, fewer than 20 percent of Americans smoked. Lung cancer rates have finally begun to decline. As a result, we are all healthier.

Just as the cigarette tax has helped reduce the number of smokers and smoking-related deaths, a tax on highly caloric, non-nutritional beverages can help reduce the prevalence of obesity.


"Washington Arrogance Has Fomented a Muslim Revolution"

Are either Pakistan or India responsible for the attacks in Mumbai? No. The thing most responsible for the reprehensible attacks is the equally reprehensible foreign policy of the United States.

At least since 1953, when the CIA paid Iranian military leaders and civilians millions of dollars to overthrow Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh and re-install the Shah, the United States of America has been its own worst enemy. Revolution seldom has the intended consequences, and the Mumbai attacks are the latest evidence of this. In his article today, entitled Washington Arrogance Has Fomented a Muslim Revolution Paul Craig Roberts reminds us of this stark reality.

"It is not terror that Washington confronts," he says, "but revolution."

Roberts continues:

The attack on Mumbai required radicalized Muslims. Radicalized Muslims resulted from the US overthrowing the elected government in Iran and imposing the Shah; from the US stationing troops in Saudi Arabia; from the US invading and attempting to occupy Afghanistan and Iraq, bombing weddings, funerals, and children’s soccer games; from the US violating international and US law by torturing its Muslim victims; from the US enlisting Pakistan in its war against the Taliban; from the US violating Pakistan’s sovereignty by conducting military operations on Pakistani territory, killing Pakistani civilians; from the US government supporting a half century of Israeli ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from their lands, towns and villages; from the assault of American culture on Muslim values; from the US purchasing the government of Egypt to act as its puppet; from US arrogance that America is the supreme arbiter of morality.

If we could remember this one little concept--to avoid entangling alliances, like George Washington advised us to do--the world, and the United States itself, would be a much better place.


The Mess We're In

So, today is Black Friday. What does that mean? Hordes and hordes of people stomping all over each other to save a few dollars (and in the interest of full disclosure, I sent my husband to Walmart this morning to buy clothes for my kids that they need for winter: jeans, pajamas, coats. Most all of it was gone at 5:15 when he got there. We ended up with a couple of items that turned out to be so cheap in quality I will likely take them back). Anyways . . .

Apparently people are cutting back on their holiday spending due to the poor state of the economy. Here are a few examples:

Even for the growing number of parents who were limiting their gift buying to just their children this year, financial troubles were forcing them to be stingy.

"I have never slept here before to save a few bucks, but with the economy so bad I thought that even a few dollars helps," said Analita Garcia of Falls Church, Va., who arrived at a local Best Buy store at 7 a.m. Thursday with 10 family members. She bought a 32-inch LCD TV for $400, slashed from $500, along with an iPod and several DVDs.

"This year a lot of people I know won't be getting Christmas presents. I have to pay the rent and bills, and I have two little ones at home to think of," Garcia added.

Oh, wow. That is rough. I am really feeling for this poor woman who has rent and bills to pay and two little ones. All she can afford is a $400 t.v. and an ipod. *sniff*

Let's take a look at another tragic story.

Inside, Kira Carinci, 33, a teacher from Cicero, N.Y., searched for the $80 "Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock" video game and guitar controller bundle for her son but said she is more concerned about money than she was last holiday season. She said she had set aside a certain amount for Christmas spending.

"I don't usually save, so this year is a little different," she said.
Wow, actually needing to save money. What a concept! Last but not least:
Joyce and Kevin Kirk of Georgetown in southwest Ohio, who arrived at Kohl's at Eastgate Mall in suburban Cincinnati, at 4 a.m Friday, bought toys for the baby and clothing for her older children, mostly at 50 percent to 60 percent off.

She said they decided to focus more on the kids this year and cut down on gifts for other people. Her husband, a construction worker, wasn't getting enough work at his company and recently switched to another company.

"We just can't do as much this year because of the economy," said Joyce Kirk, who aims to cut her holiday budget to $1,000. She usually spent $3,000 to $4,000 on Christmas gifts

Oh, this is TERRIBLE. The shock of it all. Only being able to spend $1000 on Christmas gifts for your children. HOW WILL WE SURVIVE?!?!

Okay, obviously I am being facetious, but stories like this make me want to THROW UP. What an over-privileged, spoiled, fat, greedy nation we are. A failing economy means only $1000 to spend on the kids? If only other countries (like, perhaps, Haiti, where children are starving to death) had the struggles we have. If a $400 t.v. and an ipod is "cutting back" - if people used to spend $4000 on Christmas and didn't save money, well, no wonder we are in the mess we are in! And to top it all off, a Walmart worker in New York was stampeded to death in the melee - just a martyr to the cause, I suppose. (Okay, I can't believe I wrote that last sentence. What a sickening thing to happen. What a sick, sick world when someone dies because of a bunch of greedy people wanting to shop for deals.)

In October Conference, Elder L. Tom Perry spoke on simplifying our lives. He says there are "spiritual benefits" to a simplified lifestyle and that man only really needs four things: food, clothing, shelter, and fuel. Elder D. Todd Christofferson spoke of building up Zion and said:

We might ask ourselves, living as many of us do in societies that worship possessions and pleasures, whether we are remaining aloof from covetousness and the lust to acquire more and more of this world's goods. Materialism is just one more manifestation of the idolatry and pride that characterize Babylon. Perhaps we can learn to be content with what is sufficient for our needs.
And what are our needs? Elder Christofferson quotes 1 Timothy 6:7-8
We brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.

This Thanksgiving weekend, I pray that we can all be grateful for our many, many blessings and recognize the great responsibilities associated with those blessings. I pray that we will be wise during these difficult economic times to use our resources to provide for the needs of our families and to help those around us who are less fortunate. I pray that the adversity we face as a nation can be a blessing if it humbles us to turn to God for relief. Amen.


The Wizzle is back, just in time for the whole darn economy to fall apart

Hey there, it's me - the mostly absent, cautiously optimistic, baby-making, tree-hugging, flip-flopping resident bleeding heart! The newest, smallest member of my household is 8 weeks old and I'm starting to come up for air periodically, so I thought I'd write an actual post of my own - you know, instead of just lying in wait and then picking apart other people's deepest thoughts...

...although my own preference is to do less talking and more listening. It really has been enlightening and a pleasure to read everyone's perspectives on the issues we've discussed. I surely get tired sometimes of hearing my own voice talking itself in circles in my head!

I've been thinking a lot about the economy and all, as I try to calculate how many children we can reasonably stuff into our little house (since it appears that selling it for a profit is, shall we say, a pipe dream at best). While I'm calculating that, I'm studiously avoiding checking the value of our 401K and praying that BBD's job will continue to be secure. I'm sure we're all pretty much in the same boat there.

So my family's future isn't looking too bad at the moment - but I'm way out here in the Wild West. Many of the good people of Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and the rest of the Midwest are waiting this week for the other shoe to drop. The very foundations of their livelihood, the Big 3 automakers, have come groveling to the government to save them from bankruptcy. People aren't buying their products, and they're bowed low with the weight of some of the most generous pension and health care plans in the known world. Millions of people depend on Chrysler, GM, and Ford for their jobs in one way or another, and the way I see it, those people will get screwed now or they will get screwed later. The question is, are the rest of us going to go down with them?

Mitt Romney wrote an editorial for the New York Times this week that really summed up the situation very well, in my opinion. Basically, if the Big 3 bailout is shot down, the companies will declare bankruptcy. They will be able to start over and restructure the areas that are most problematic: the management that has come up a day late and a dollar short in anticipating the changing needs and expectations of the American buying public, the adversarial relationship between the management and the workers' union, the gross excesses of executive compensations and benefits that are in no way tied to company performance or the compensations of the "regular" employees, and the total lack of investment in research and development - the pioneering spirit that this country - and the American auto industry - was built on! We pioneered high-quality/low-cost cars, for crying out loud, and now practically everyone in the world makes them better and more efficiently than we do.

Bankruptcy is going to hurt the employees of the Big 3, and all the employees of other businesses in their wake. And anyone who knows me, knows that my heart breaks for those people who have given their lives to these companies, trying to support their families and just keep their heads above water. It's an honest living. But I just don't see any way around the restructuring that needs to happen. For the Big 3 to regain their competitive footing, they're going to need to address these problems sooner or later. So people's pensions are going to be smaller, their pay will be cut, their benefits reduced, because that's the only way for American car companies to keep making cars. The difference is, it can happen in 5 or 10 years anyway and the rest of the taxpayers can foot the bill, or it can happen now and we can begin the extraordinarily painful rebuilding process sooner.

Now, as I've been typing this my mind has wandered, as it so often does, and I find myself thinking: building cars that all of us drive is an honest living. We manufacture so little in this country anymore, yet our know-how and infrastructure for automobile manufacturing is so good that even many "foreign" cars are now made right here in the USA. I think we should cling to that and do it the very best that we can.


Henry Ford built his extremely successful operation on mass production of of inexpensive cars - coupled with high wages for his employees. It was one of the critical, fundamental tenets of his business model. We are now at the point where the Big 3 can no longer afford to offer that to their workers, because Honda, Toyota, and others pay their workers less and yet churn out better products. But why is that? People used to buy cars and houses and furniture and groceries from their local vendor or producer of said items. They used to go to their physiciand and pay in cash for their treatment. They weren't all wealthy, but they didn't have to buy everything at Wal-Mart just to have enough money left over to keep the lights on.

What has changed in the world? Is there just so much more information, so much "access", that we are aware of all the "stuff" out there in the market and we perceive it to be necessary for a middle-class life? Is it globalization? Is it overpopulation? Is it the ever-growing chasm between the Haves and Have Nots? Why do we run around like chickens with our heads cut off, working more hours, spending more money, getting more stuff, but not any happier? Why can we "not afford" to shop at ethical businesses, to buy high-quality products that don't fall apart after 5 uses and sit in a landfill, to pay our honest workers a living wage? Is our income relative to our needs so much less than it used to be? Or has our perception of what we need, or deserve, grown faster than we can support it?

These are not rhetorical questions, any of them. I really don't know, and I'd really like to. I wonder if there's any hope for a society where you can only live comfortably by entering a few select professions. Teachers, auto workers, construction workers and garbage collectors provide services we need, and I would venture that they provide a great deal more benefit to us than all these executive-investment-banker-speculator number crunchers who circle over us, betting on our misfortunes, shuffling imaginary money around and profiting from the people who actually get their hands dirty and WORK.

What does the future hold? Does GM restructure its benefits, cutting back so far in the name of competition that another blue collar career becomes one that cannot support a family? Or does the new management find a way to keep Henry Ford's dream alive in a new century, a new society, and a whole new world?


A Hero

I'm proud to be posting the 100th post on politicaLDS. This is really a fun site, and I've learned a lot from everyone who has participated - bloggers and commenters alike. Thank you all!

The Internet is an incredible place - Wikipedia, in particular. I was reading some articles on World War II and somehow made my way over to the entry for the Medal of Honor. The Medal of Honor is the highest decoration awarded by the American military. Seven Medals have been awarded for acts since 1990, all posthumously, to military heroes who distinguished themselves "conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States".

I was reading through a list of living Medal of Honor recipients and I recognized a name - Daniel K. Inouye - who is a senator from Hawaii. His story is pretty incredible and I thought I'd share it.

I'm paraphrasing/quoting liberally from this page, which you should really go and read, it's a great, uplifting story.


Dan Inouye was born in 1924 in Hawaii, the grandson of Japanese immigrants. His grandfather had moved to Hawaii to work, trying to earn money to pay off a debt of $400 incurred when his house burned down in 1899. They had hoped to be able to move back to Japan after five years, but with a wage of $10/month, it soon became clear they'd be staying there longer. (The debt, by the way, was eventually paid off, after thirty years of work.)

When the Pearl Harbor attacks happened, Inouye was a medical student, and gave aid and assistance. For Inouye and other Americans of Japanese ancestry, this was a difficult time:

...I was driven by an insidious sense of guilt from the instant the first Japanese plane appeared over Pearl Harbor. Of course we had nothing to feel guilty about, but we all carried this special burden. We felt it in the streets, where white men would sneer as we passed. We felt it in school when we heard our friends and neighbors called Jap-lovers. We felt it in the widely held suspicion that the nisei were a sort of built-in fifth column in Hawaii.

Not long after the war began, the military government ordered us to report all radios with shortwave bands. My father had just bought such a set. It was a beauty, picking up Tokyo and the Philippines perfectly We were all enormously proud of it for we had few possessions and had save] a long time to get it. But we promptly complied with the order, and about a week later three men came to our door. They were from Naval intelligence.

"Where is your radio?" one demanded.

"It is here," Father said. "Please come in."

"No, no. Bring it outside."

We did as he said and, without another word, he dug a screwdriver in behind the backing and ripped it off. I looked at my father. His eyes had narrowed, but he said nothing. The man with the screwdriver snapped the wiring inside the set, then reached in and removed the tubes one after another, smashing them on the ground. It was needless destruction; he could have deadened the shortwave band by disconnecting a single wire.

My father's face turned black, and I knew he would not suffer this indignity in silence.

"Here," he said, "let me help you." He reached down to the pile of wood we used for our stove and hefted his ax. Instantly all three of the Naval officials reached for the bulges under their jackets.

Father smiled sadly "Put your guns away, gentlemen," he said. "I only want to help." Then with three great swinging blows of the ax, he smashed the new radio into splinters of wood and glass. "There," he said, breathing hard from his effort and anger, "that should do it. Now you'll never have to worry about it."

He put down the ax and walked back up the steps into the house, leaving us looking at each other in silence.

Japanese-Americans were not allowed to fight in the War until January 1943, when they were permitted to form a segregated unit. Inouye was initially passed over for service because his medical service in Hawaii was perceived to be valuable; he quit the next day and was shipped out shortly thereafter:

There was a new flurry of packing and good-byes, all hasty now, and a heartfelt hug for my mother. Then my father and I caught the bus to the induction center. He was very somber. I tried to think of something to say, some way to tell him that he was important to me, and dear, but nothing came out.

After a long period of silence between us, he said unexpectedly, "You know what on means?"

"Yes," I replied. On is at the very heart of Japanese culture. On requires that when one man is aided by another, he incurs a debt that is never canceled, one that must be repaid at every opportunity.

"The Inouyes have great on for America," my father said. "It has been good to us. And now it is you who must try to return the goodness. You are my first son, and you are very precious to your mother and to me, but you must do what must be done. If it is necessary, you must be ready to. . . to. . ."

Unable to give voice to the dread word, he trailed off. "I know, Papa. I understand," I said.

"Do not bring dishonor on our name," he whispered urgently.

And then I was clambering up into the back of a GI truck, struggling to hold my balance as it rumbled off, and waving to the diminishing figure of my father.

"Good-by!" I called long after he was out of earshot, a forlorn but resolute figure standing there alone as if he never meant to leave. "Good-by!"

Inouye did not dishonor his family. Here's his account of his final battle in the War, and what happened thereafter:

We moved, and almost at once three machine guns opened up on us, pinning us down. I pulled a grenade from my belt and got up. Somebody punched me in the side, although there wasn't a soul near me, and I half fell backward. Then I counted off three seconds as I ran toward the nearest machine gun. I threw the grenade and it cleared the log bunker, exploding in a shower of dirt. When the gun crew staggered erect, I cut them down. My men were coming up now, and I waved them toward the other two emplacements.

"My God, Dan," someone yelled in my ear, "you're bleeding! Get down and I'll get an aid man." I looked down to where my right hand was clutching my stomach. Blood oozed between my fingers. I thought, "That was no punch, you dummy. You took a slug in the gut."

I wanted to keep moving. We were pinned down again and, unless we did something quickly they'd pick us off one at a time. I lurched up the hill again, and lobbed two grenades into the second emplacement before the gunners saw me. Then I fell to my knees. Somehow they wouldn't lock and I couldn't stand. I had to pull myself forward with one hand.

A man yelled, "Come on, you guys, go for broke!" And hunched over they charged into the fire of the third machine gun. I was fiercely proud of them. But they didn't have a chance against the deadly stutter of that last gun. They had to drop back and seek protection. But all that time I had been shuffling up on the flank, and at last I was close enough to pull the pin on my last grenade. As I drew my arm back, a German stood up waist-high in the bunker. He was aiming a rifle grenade at me from a range of ten yards. And then as I cocked my arm to throw, he fired, and the grenade smashed into my right elbow. It exploded and all but tore my arm off. I looked at my hand stunned. It dangled there by a few bloody shreds of tissue, my grenade still clenched in a fist that suddenly didn't belong to me anymore.

Some of my men were rushing up to help me. "Get back!" I screamed. Then I tried to pry the grenade out of that dead fist with my other hand. At last I had it free. The German was reloading his rifle, but my grenade blew up in his face. I stumbled to my feet, closing on the bunker, firing my tommy gun lefthanded, the useless right arm slapping red and wet against my side.

It was almost over. But one last German, before his death, squeezed off a final burst, and a bullet caught me in the right leg and threw me to the ground. I rolled over and over down the hill.

Some men came after me, but I yelled, "Get back up that hill! Nobody called off the war!"

After a while a medic got to me and gave me a shot of morphine. The German position was secured, and then they carried me away. It was April 21. The German resistance in our sector ended April 23. Nine days later, the war in Italy was over, and a week after that the enemy surrendered unconditionally.

To Light a Cigarette

Of course the arm had to come off. It wasn't an emotionally big deal for me. I knew it had to be done and had stopped thinking of it as belonging to me. But acceptance and rehabilitation are two different things. I had adjusted to the shock of losing my arm before the operation. My rehabilitation began almost immediately afterward.

I was staring at the ceiling my first day as an amputee, when a nurse came by and asked if I needed anything. "A cigarette would go pretty good," I said.

"Yes, surely." She smiled and walked off, resuming in a few minutes with a fresh, unopened pack. "Here you are, lieutenant," she said, still smiling, and placed it neatly on my chest and went on her way.

For a while I just stared at the pack. I fingered it with my left hand. Then I sneaked a look around the hospital ward to see if there was anyone in good enough shape to help me. But everyone seemed to be at least as badly off as I was. So I began pawing at that cursed pack, holding it under my chin and trying to rip it open with my fingernails, It kept slipping away from me and I kept trying again, sweating as profusely in my fury and frustration as if I were on a forced march. In 15 minutes I'd tom the pack and half the cigarettes to shreds, but I'd finally got one between my lips. Which was when I realized that the nurse hadn't brought me any matches.

I rang the bell and she came sashaying in, still smiling, still "tailing an aura of good cheer that made me want to clout her. "I need a light," I said.

"Oh," she said prettily, "of course you do." She pulled a pack of matches out of her pocket-she had had them all the time-and carefully put them in my hand. And she strolled off again.

If I obeyed my first impulse, I'd have bellowed after her in rage. If I'd obeyed my second impulse, I'd have burst out crying. But I couldn't let her get the best of me. I just couldn't.

So I started fooling around with the matches. I pulled them and twisted them and dropped them, and I never came remotely close to tearing one free, let alone lighting it. But this time I had decided that I'd sooner boil in oil than ask her for anything again. So I lay there, fuming silently and having extremely unchristian thoughts about that angel of mercy

I was on the verge of dozing off when she reappeared, still smiling. "What's the matter, lieutenant?" she purred. "Have you decided to quit smoking? It's just as well. . . cigarettes make you cough and.. ."

"I couldn't get the damned thing lit."

She tsk-tsked and sat on the edge of my bed. "Some amputees like to figure it out for themselves," she said. "It gives them a feeling of--well, accomplishment. There'll be lots of things you'll be reaming for yourself."

"Look," I growled, "just light the cigarette. I've been three hours trying to get this thing smoked."

"Yes, I know. But, you see, I won't be around to light your cigarettes all the time. You have only one hand with which to do all the things that you used to do with two. And you have to learn how. We'll start with the matches, all right?"

Then she opened the cover, bent a match forward, closed the cover, flicked the match down and lit it-all with one hand, all in a split second.

"See?" she asked. "Now you do it."

I did it. I lit the cigarette. And suddenly her smile was not objectionable at all. It was lovely. In a single moment she had made me see the job that lay ahead. It took me a year and a half to become fully functioning again, but I never learned a more important lesson than I did that afternoon.

He returned home from the war with numerous decorations, met and married his wife, and entered politics. He was elected to the Hawaii Territorial House of Representatives in 1954, then the Territorial Senate, and after Hawaii was granted statehood, the U.S. House of Representatives:

In 1962, then-Congressman Leo O'Brien of New York commemorated the third anniversary of Hawaii's admission to the Union by reminiscing about Dan Inouye's arrival on the national political scene. His recollection of the day Dan Inouye took the oath of office in the U.S. House was recorded in the Congressional Record:

"Tuesday last was the third anniversary of the admission of Hawaii. Today is the third anniversary of one of the most dramatic and moving scenes ever to occur in this House. On that day, a young man, just elected to Congress from the brand new state, walked into the well of the House and faced the late Speaker Sam Rayburn.

"The House was very still. It was about to witness the swearing in, not only of the first Congressman from Hawaii, but the first American of Japanese descent to serve in either House of Congress.

" Raise your right hand and repeat after me,' intoned Speaker Rayburn.

"The hush deepened as the young Congressman raised not his right hand but his left and he repeated the oath of office.

"There was no right hand, Mr. Speaker. It had been lost in combat by that young American soldier in World War II. Who can deny that, at that moment, a ton of prejudice slipped quietly to the floor of the House of Representatives."

He became a senator in 1963, and has served in the U.S. Senate ever since. On June 21, 2000, President Clinton presented him with the Medal of Honor.


We have a common heritage of great Americans who have come before us and served selflessly - not just in the military, but in factories, offices, and in the home. This man was not held back by racism, poverty, or bullets - rather, he was driven forward by a love of family, culture and country. I think we all have something to learn from this story. May we live up to those who have sacrificed on our behalf.


Church and State collide once again

Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court began hearing arguments on a case involving the town of Pleasant Grove, Utah, incidentally a next-door neighbor to my childhood home of American Fork. In 1971 Pleasant Grove, accepted the donation of a statue from the Fraternal Order of Eagles depicting the tablets containing the 10 Commandments. Since that time the statue has been publicly displayed in Pioneer Park, along with a stone from the original Nauvoo temple and other historical artifacts.

In 2003, the founder of a religion known as Summum wrote a letter to the town asking to donate a similar statue containing the Seven Aphorisms of Summum for display in the park. Summumers (or whatever you call them, perhaps Summis or Summuma...) believe that these Seven Aphorisms are the higher law that Moses destroyed because he believed the Israelites were not ready for it. We LDS folk have other ideas about that, but that's very much beside the point.

Predictably, the town refused to display the monument, and Summum sued in order to force the town to treat them equally, arguing for the First Amendment protections of freedom of speech. Pleasant Grove initially won the case, but the 10th Circuit Court of Nutty Liberal Activist Judges Appeals overturned the original decision. The court ruled that the town must either accept the donation and display the Summum monument, or remove the monument depicting the 10 Commandments.

Summum argues that by displaying only specific religious monuments, the government's constitute a tacit endorsement of a specific religion, which would obviously contradict the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The town argues that its role in monuments such as these is not unlike a museum curator's, responsible for the selection of historically important artifacts.

Both sides have a decent argument, and it will be fascinating to see which side prevails when the ruling is issued in the Spring. I tend to side with the fruity Summum folks on this one, despite my obvious regard for the Ten Commandments. What business is it of the government's to endorse and publicly display specific religious symbols while refusing others? I would rather the government and the church be completely separate, for mutual protection from undue influence. It is the same reason I oppose school-sponsored prayer and the unnecessary addition of the phrase "under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance in the fifties.

What if the monument in question had been a symbol of Judaism, or Islam, or even one of a Christian denomination in opposition to LDS teachings - say, the Five Points of Calvanism? Surely it would have been rejected, too. Just because there are those who don't feel Summum is a "legitimate religion" doesn't mean Summum's arguments aren't valid.


By the way, I hereby expressly forbid any discussion of same-sex marriage in this thread, thankyouverymuch.


Obama's Appointments

Let's keep this thread open as the place to discuss Barack Obama's appointments to his administration. I'll update the post as each major appointment is made.

November 6th, 2008 - Rahm Emanuel, White House Chief of Staff
The WHCOS is a usually a very powerful position, chiefly responsible for controlling the flow of information, protecting the interests of the President, and advising the President on policy issues and politics. From what I know of Mr. Emanuel, he is regarded as very intense and direct, but above all, someone who gets things done. He has a personal relationship with Obama and they should form an effective good cop/bad cop routine. Republicans are wary of his partisan reputation, but he is not an idealogue, and his git-er-dun nature seems to make him an ideal candidate for this demanding position as a sort of realist grounding rod for the idealist Obama.



What now?

Well, it's over. We have been hashing, arguing, debating, posturing for months now, and it has finally come to an end (for a few days). Barack Obama will be our next President. How do I feel? Dare I say "hopeful"? I learned a few things watching the election returns come in and from the speeches last night that I would like to share.

First, both McCain and Obama were incredibly gracious, and I appreciated that. They set an example the rest of us should follow in dealing with each other and working together. McCain is a good man.

Second, some parts of Obama's speech gave me hope and one part worried me. As a conservative, here are things I was glad to hear Obama say:

Let's remember that it was a man from this state who first carried the banner of the Republican party to the White House, a party founded on the values of self-reliance and individual liberty and national unity. Those are values that we all share. And while the Democratic party has won a great victory tonight, we do so with a measure of humility and determination to heal the divides that have held back our progress . . .

To those who would tear the world down: we will defeat you. To those who seek peace and security: We support you. And to all those who have wondered if America's beacon still burns as bright: Tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity and unyielding hope. . .

There will be setbacks and false starts. There are many who won't agree with every decision or policy I make as president. And we know the government can't solve every problem. But I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face. I will listen to you, especially when we disagree.

I also liked the story about Ann Nixon Cooper and found it inspirational (but it is long, so please read it if you did not watch the speech). The one part of his speech where my little red flag went up was this:

So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism, of responsibility, where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves but each other. Let us remember that, if this financial crisis taught us anything, it's that we cannot have a thriving Wall Street while Main Street suffers. In this country, we rise or fall as one nation, as one people.

You know - it sounds good, it really does. If it were President Monson saying this same thing, I would probably stand on my car and shout "Yes we can!" But, I can't help but feel that it sounds a lot like a campaign speech for socialism, too. I guess my big question is: HOW? How are we going to pitch in and look after each other? Is this a call for individual action and charity or more government? I am nervous, Barack. Please prove me wrong.

I had an epiphany this morning. I realized that I tend to vote for and support politicians that are much more right-wing than I am. I figure that if they are extremely conservative, they will balance out all the liberals and we'll end up somewhere in the happy middle. I also realized that I DO NOT extend this same courtesy to left-wing politicians. I assume that they are going to come in and enact all their liberal agendas and lead us as a nation to the left. However, I suppose there is the possibility that with Barack being extremely liberal, he will balance out the few remaining conservatives, and we'll end up somewhere in the happy middle. Please prove me right!!

There were a couple of other interesting issues on state ballots. First, abortion. In South Dakota, a law that would implement an abortion policy very similar to the church's position failed. This tells me that abortion is not going away. It has never been my big issue. I kind of have this feeling that our nation has already spoken about abortion, and it is just not going away. So, people who vote on this one issue, please stop. It doesn't really matter if your candidate does want to abolish abortion in every case. If the people won't vote to abolish it, it isn't going to happen. And, it is way too easy for a candidate to get your vote by saying that he is pro-life but then not doing anything about it. There are other issues out there to consider. I have already established on this site that I am pro-life and support a position like the church's position. I would vote that way. But, I think that values voters are being taken advantage of by focusing on this one issue that doesn't seem feasible to change.

Second, Prop 8. It passed by a thin margin. I have to admit I am honestly surprised. Yesterday, when I saw the missionary commercial, I was afraid. I was afraid that if Prop 8 passed, Mormons (and especially missionaries) would face more persecution. But then I realized that I was letting FEAR influence my feelings rather than FAITH. I was allowing myself to be intimidated into not standing for what I feel is right, and that is WRONG.

In a lot of ways, I view Prop 8 as a battle between good and evil (or, more appropriately, truth and error). Yes, this is a great over-simplification, and I already have my shield up to protect me from internet arrows. But, for a lot of people (like me) this came down to a decision of "equality" vs. "traditional values".

The campaign in California pitted those who argued that a same-sex marriage ban was nothing more than outdated discrimination against gays and lesbians, and conservatives and Christian groups who countered that the state and the courts have no right to unilaterally change a definition of marriage that has existed for centuries.

The fact that Prop 8 won tells me that a majority of the population in California still supports traditional values, and I take heart in that. In California, that crazy liberal state, every wacky proposition out of San Francisco failed (prostitution will not be legalized, they will not name a sewage plant after George W Bush, ROTC will not be banned from high schools).

One very interesting thing I noted about the Prop 8 returns is why it passed. I had to check the California exit polls to be certain, but it appears that African Americans supported Prop 8 in great numbers.

Blacks turning out in droves to support Obama also threw their support strongly behind Proposition 8, which would overturn the state Supreme Court decision allowing gay marriage. Opposition to the ban held a small edge among whites, while Latinos and Asians were split.

I find that fascinating. Mormons may not end up being the group "blamed" for Prop 8 passing. It may be the African American population in California. Isn't that interesting that the group who fought discrimination on the basis of their skin color, who fought for true civil rights and equality chose the value of traditional marriage in this vote?

From all of the past two days, I have learned this: we don't need to let political parties define us and our values. We don't need to let them divide us. As Barack said in his speech last night:

Let's resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long.

We share values that cross party lines. The Democrats try to claim that they are the party for minorities, yet African Americans crossed party lines to support Prop 8. The Republicans claim to be the party of faith and values, and yet people who stood in support of traditional values voted for Obama. This gives me hope! We are not defined by our party. We are defined by our values. Let's work together and find shared values and possibly buck our two parties or reshape and define them.

Obama, you have my attention. As I watched the crowds of people celebrating and crying last night, I wondered, "What do they see in him that I don't see? Why do I feel like I just got punched in the gut while they feel like the world is dramatically changing for the better? What am I missing?" I don't know. But, I am willing to look. And, I pray that we all are willing to look for the good in each other and the good in each party and work together to make this a stronger, more unified America. God bless.


Congratulations, President Obama!

It's over folks, and it was over the second the networks called Ohio. There is no feasible path to 270 electoral votes for John McCain. So, congratulations, Barack Obama, you are officially (well, according to me) the President-Elect. Now get to work! :)


Closing Arguments

In my opinion, which is generally right though often disagreed with, John Sidney McCain III should be the next President of the United States. Here's why:

The primary qualification that McCain has is his experience. He has seen more than most, and he knows how to make the right decision quickly. His experience, not only in politics, but also in the military, is what the country needs during this time of war.

McCain also brings to the table a solidly conservative positions on social issues, including abortion, gun control, education, and gay marriage. We need an individual that will stand up for what he believes, and John McCain will do that.

McCain has spent a considerable amount of time trying to change what is broken in Washington. He has shown the capability to cross party lines when he believes that such an agreement is for the good of the country. He knows what it takes to actually get things accomplished with the other side, and he will be able to create the bipartisan change that we need as President.

Look, you guys know all this. You know the issues and where the candidates stand on them. You know that this campaign has been far too long and far too negative. Everybody is tired of hearing about these two guys. You hardly need me telling you who to vote for. I can only offer you the assurance that when I step up to my belly-high plastic desk on Tuesday and pick up that pen (that never has a cap so you don't steal it), I will be marking my vote for John McCain. It is not a wasted effort; this election is not decided already. This race is going to be a lot closer then all the polls indicate. Your vote matters! Let's turn Senator McCain into President-elect McCain on Tuesday.

Joel, politicaLDS.com
The presidential election of 2008 is already a victory for America in the diversity of its candidates – an African-American and a woman on the Democratic and Republican tickets, respectively. Both presidential candidates have compelling personal narratives. However, we must put the historic nature of the election aside and ask ourselves: who is better equipped to lead the United States for the next four years? I believe Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois is the clear choice.

Obama’s campaign platform of hope and change is not limited to changing the policies of the Bush administration, though he will change essentially all of them. He promises to change “politics as usual” and leave behind the painful, divisive partisanship that so alienates Americans from the political process. That is a promise for which I will vote.

He has shown incredible soundness of judgment. On foreign policy, he rightly opposed the war in Iraq from its inception and will bring it to a judicious close, sensibly refocusing our military assets where the need is greatest. On the economy, he recognizes that average Americans are paying too much, and will cut taxes accordingly. Domestically, he knows that the federal government has overstepped its authority and intruded upon our civil liberties. Both candidates will increase government spending; Obama has the judgment to reform the government spending, focusing on what works and eliminating what doesn’t. He chose a running mate who is ready to step in as president if the need should arise, and he promises a bipartisan cabinet.

An Obama election would do much to restore our tarnished reputation in the minds of citizens of other nations, who remember fondly when a strong, free America led the world under the banner of liberty and democracy.

This election is nowhere near concluded; many battleground states are polling within the margin of error, and either candidate can still win. Please vote for Sen. Barack Obama tomorrow.

Mike, politicaLDS.com


Supreme Court Judge Selections (coming soon to a ballot near you)

With under a week to go, some lesser discussed issues may play an important part of our future....

On July 17, 2007 Obama in speaking at a Planned Parenthood conference…
We need somebody who’s got the heart, the empathy, to recognize what it’s like to be a young teenage mom…what it’s like to be poor, or African-american, or gay, or disabled, or old. And that’s the criteria by which I’m going to be selecting my judges.

McCain has said...
"The moral authority of our judiciary depends on judicial self-restraint, but this authority quickly vanishes when a court presumes to make law instead of apply it. A court is hardly competent to check the abuses of other branches of government when it cannot even control itself.

Am I to understand Obama is saying we need MERCIFUL judges? So there justice AND mercy? Its amazing that Obama managed to accomplish what God couldn't with one person. Justice Vs. Mercy. ooohh, I see, we should let drug dealers and murderers go free if they are Gay, Single moms, Black or poor?

Are McCain's ideas much better?

As a side note, here is a funny clip from Howard Sterns show... (excuse the foul language please)


Obama and Faith

I recently did a post that on my own blog about Obama and faith. It was later featured as a guest post on Feminist Mormon Housewives and afterwards I was asked by Mike whether I would be interested in submitting it as a guest post here on Politicalds. So I want to thank Mike for that opportunity and I look forward to the discussion here after you all read it. I have made some minor edits to it in order to make it more applicable to Politicalds. As well, I am including the explanation to why I wrote the post that I submitted to FMH.

Although I'm not American, I have always been fascinated by American politics. I guess what makes American politics so interesting and unique is how intertwined politics and religion are in the political sphere of the United States. Many believe that they cannot co-exist, and yet how can they be completely separated? This is, I believe, especially a challenge for Mormons — who believe in the separation of church and state, and yet sometimes seem to have an awfully hard time of keeping them separate. For most of my life, I considered myself politically neutral, believing that the term "liberal Mormon" was an oxymoron. I now consider myself to be a Social Democrat and have now seen my personal political views take a gradual turn to the left, even though I remain faithful and active in the Church. Although I respect those who regard themselves as conservative Republicans, I reject the notion that you have to be one in order to be a good Mormon. I am very excited at the prospect of an Obama presidency for several reasons, among them being the fact that it will be the first time that a minority family occupies the White House, as well as the fact that Obama represents more of the policies and values that I identify with, namely accessible and affordable health care for all, better social programs, and making international diplomacy more of a priority. As an individual that comes from a family of mixed races, I also think that Obama brings personal experience and assets to the table that no president before him has been able to do, and I am excited by what this can mean for race relations. But most of all, I am impressed by his approach to reconciling faith with politics, which is something that I personally struggle to do. While reading his book, "The Audacity of Hope," I felt especially connected to the chapter entitled "Faith," and was inspired to write a post about it on my blog, along with some personal commentary that I feel is relevant to Mormons and how we reconcile our faith with our politics.


How I Co-Authored Barack Obama's "The Audacity Of Hope" (originally posted October 20, 2008)

by The Faithful Dissident

Before anyone accuses me of being a pompous liar, let me explain what I mean by the title of this post.

I've been reading "The Audacity of Hope" by Barack Obama. I've mentioned in previous posts on my blog that I like Obama. I've thoroughly enjoyed his book and look forward to reading "Dreams From My Father" when I get the chance. As I've read "The Audacity of Hope," I've thought many times that if I had the knowledge, experience, and gift of words that Obama does, not to mention a real talent for writing and not just a hobby for blogging, if I were a political scientist instead of just a political spectator, then I could have written much of this book myself. There was one chapter in particular that "spoke" to me, as if I was recognizing my own words that I lack the ability to articulate and express; the thoughts and ideas that swirl through my head so quickly on a daily basis that they are often gone before I'm able to pick up a pen or turn on my laptop. And since much of this whirlwind of thought of mine usually has something to do with politics, religion, and how to reconcile the two, I guess it's no surprise that the chapter of this book that appealed to me most was the one titled "Faith."

I'd like to share a few excerpts that really appealed to me, as a liberal-minded Mormon who often feels torn between the tenets of her faith and a desire to allow every human being the freedom to worship — or not worship — how they please. The parts that really rang true in my mind are highlighted in bold.

"Surely, secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering the public square," he says. "Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, William Jennings Bryan, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King, Jr. –indeed, the majority of great reformers in American history — not only were motivated by faith but repeatedly used religious language to argue their causes. To say that men and women should not inject their "personal morality" into public-policy debates is a practical absurdity; our law is by definition a codification of morality, much of it is grounded in the Judeo-Christian tradition. What our deliberative, pluralistic democracy does demand is that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals must be subject to argument and amenable to reason. If I am opposed to abortion for religious reasons and seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teaching of my church or invoke God's will and expect that argument to carry the day. If I want others to listen to me, then I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all."

Admittedly, the most troubling thing about Obama for me is his pro-choice stance. So although I'm perhaps not as liberal as he is, I see that his position has come after careful consideration and lacks the traditional "it's my body, my choice, stay out of my uterus" attitude. When confronted by a man that had come to protest against abortion at one of his rallies, he says, "I told him I understood his position but had to disagree with it. I explained my belief that few women made the decision to terminate a pregnancy casually, that any pregnant woman felt the full force of the moral issues involved and wrestled with her conscience when making that heart-wrenching decision; that I feared a ban an abortion would force women to seek unsafe abortions, as they had once done in this country and as they continued to do in countries that prosecute abortion doctors and the women who seek their services. I suggested that perhaps we could agree on ways to reduce the number of women who felt the need to have abortions in the first place."

Closely related to the problem of abortion is the problem of poverty. Of this, he says:

"After all, the problems of poverty and racism, the uninsured and the unemployed, are not simply technical problems in search of the perfect ten-point plan. They are also rooted in societal indifference and individual callousness — the desire among those at the top of the social ladder to maintain their wealth and status whatever the cost, as well as the despair and self-destructiveness among those at the bottom of the social ladder. Solving these problems will require changes in government policy; it will also require changes in hearts and minds. I believe in keeping guns out of our inner cities, and that our leaders must say so in the face of the gun manufacturer's lobby. But I also believe that when a gangbanger shoots indiscriminately into a crowd because he feels somebody disrespected him, we have a problem of morality. Not only do we need to punish that man for his crime, but we need to acknowledge that there's a hole in his heart, one that government programs alone may not be able to repair… I think we should put more of our tax dollars into educating poor boys and girls, and give them the information about contraception that can prevent unwanted pregnancies, lower abortion rates, and help ensure that every child is loved and cherished. But I also think that faith can fortify a young woman's sense of self, a young man's sense of responsibility, and the sense of reverence all young people should have for the act of sexual intimacy."

Wow, did a LIBERAL DEMOCRAT write that last sentence???

In reference to the success of evangelical churches, he says:

"There are various explanations for this success, from the skill of evangelicals in marketing religion to the charisma of their leaders. But their success also points to a hunger for the product they are selling, a hunger that goes beyond any particular issue or cause. Each day, it seems, thousands of Americans are going about their daily rounds — dropping off the kids at school, driving to the office, flying to a business meeting, shopping at the mall, trying to stay on their diets — and coming to the realization that something is missing. They are deciding that their work, their possessions, their diversions, their sheer busyness are not enough. They want a sense of purpose, a narrative arc to their lives, something that will relieve a chronic loneliness or lift them above the exhausting, relentless toll of daily life. They need an assurance that somebody out there cares about them, is listening to them — that they are not just destined to travel down a long highway toward nothingness. If I have any insight into this movement toward a deepening religious commitment, perhaps it's because it's a road I have traveled."

Obama then goes on to tell about the way he was raised, that it was not a religious household, and yet he was exposed to different religions through his mother, who "viewed religion through the eyes of the anthropologist she would become; it was a phenomenon to be treated with a suitable respect, but with a suitable detachment as well."

He continues:

"And yet for all her professed secularism, my mother was in many ways the most spiritually awakened person I've ever known. She had an unswerving instinct for kindness, charity, and love, and spent much of her life acting on that instinct, sometimes to her detriment. Without the help of religious texts or outside authorities, she worked mightily to instill in me the values that many Americans learn in Sunday school: honesty, empathy, discipline, delayed gratification, and hard work. She raged at poverty and injustice, and scorned those who were indifferent to both."

Obama learned through his conversion that, "You needed to come to church precisely because you were of this world, not apart from it; rich, poor, sinner, saved, you needed to embrace Christ precisely because you had sins to wash away — because you were human and needed an ally in your difficult journey… It was because of these newfound understandings — that religious commitment did not require me to suspend critical thinking, disengage from the battle for economic and social justice, or otherwise retreat from the world that I knew and loved — that I was finally able to walk down the aisle of Trinity United Church of Christ one day and be baptized. It came about as a choice and not an epiphany; the questions I had did not magically disappear. But kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side of Chicago, I felt God's spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth."

I felt a particular connection to Obama, when he told about his 2004 Senate race against Alan Keyes, a conservative Catholic Republican who was not afraid to bring religion into the picture in order to challenge Obama. "Christ would never vote for Barack Obama," Mr. Keyes proclaimed, "because Barack Obama has voted to behave in a way that is inconceivable for Christ to have behaved. Mr. Obama says he's a Christian, and yet he supports a lifestyle that the Bible calls an abomination. Mr. Obama says he's a Christian, but he supports the destruction of innocent and sacred life." Obama admits that he "was mindful of Mr. Keyes's implicit accusation — that I remained steeped in doubt, that my faith was adulterated, that I was not a true Christian."

This was something that I experience regularly while discussing Prop 8 with other Mormons on the Internet. I've said before that I still remain undecided on the issue, but the fact that I could even possibly question the Church's policy or involvement in politics is enough to call my testimony or reason for being a member into question. Of course, as a liberal Mormon, I know that I'm outnumbered. Sometimes I thrive in this position, but sometimes the burden feels very heavy and I have asked myself many times whether I really am a good Mormon, whether I really have a place in this church, and whether I'm really a disciple of Christ. As one Mormon blogger that I came across put it, "a vote for Barack Obama is a vote against Christ himself." Since I would vote for Obama if I were American, would I really be voting against Christ? I have my low times when I could be spiritually battered into believing that that is true.

Going on to tell about how he was able to shed some of his skepticism and embrace the Christian faith, he says:

"For one thing, I was drawn to the power of the African American religious tradition to spur social change. Out of necessity, the black church had to minister to the whole person. Out of necessity, the black church rarely had the luxury of separating individual salvation from collective salvation. It had to serve as the center of the community's political, economic, and social as well as spiritual life; it understood in an intimate way the biblical call to feed the hungry and clothe the naked and challenge powers and principalities. In the history of these struggles, I was able to see faith as more than just a comfort to the weary or a hedge against death; rather, it was an active, palpable agent in the world. In the day-to-day work of the men and women I met in church each day, in their ability to "make a way out of no way" and maintain hope and dignity in the direst of circumstances, I could see the Word made manifest. And perhaps it was out of this intimate knowledge of hardship, the grounding of faith in struggle, that the historically black church offered me a second insight: that faith doesn't mean that you don't have doubts, or that you relinquish your hold on this world."

Prior to the Church's involvement in Prop 8, I was pretty satisfied with the Church's silence on political issues. To be honest, I think I looked down upon churches, such as Obama's, that got involved in political matters or used the pulpit to further a political agenda. But since morals and politics are so difficult to separate (even for our church, in the case of gay marriage), then I wonder if perhaps the Church has made the right decision in getting involved in this matter that it deems moral, even though it affects the political. The problem? By getting involved in this one moral issue, one that is proclaimed to have dire consequences for children and families if gay marriage is legalized, then I want to see the Church get involved in other moral matters in the world that have equally large consequences, if not even larger. The Church has been silent on matters such as the Iraq war, torture of prisoners of war, the AIDS epidemic in Africa, class inequality, sex slaves, etc. By staying silent as a Church, does that mean that it's understood that we're supposed to be fighting against such moral evils? If so, then it seems to me that many members aren't getting the implied message. Why do we need explicit instruction on gay marriage, but not on other moral issues? I'm starting to think that the black churches, megachurches, even conservative evangelical churches, are actually setting an example for our church when it comes to social justice, equality, and the welfare of every family — not just in their sexual morality, but in their fight for their physical well-being as well. Our church has now opened the floodgates by getting involved in one matter that is deemed moral but crosses into the political. Now that it's gotten involved in one, I'd like to see it get involved in others — particularly since the leaders of our Church later found themselves on the wrong side of history in another political matter that they deemed a moral one: the fight for black civil rights during the 1960's.

Regarding the difficult subject of gay marriage, which contrary to popular conservative belief, Obama personally opposes, he says:

"All too often I have sat in a church and heard a pastor use gay bashing as a cheap parlor trick — "It was Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!" he will shout, usually when the sermon is not going so well. I believe that American society can choose to carve out a special place for the union of a man and a woman as the unit of child rearing most common to every culture. I am not willing to have the state deny Americans a civil union that confers equivalent rights on such basic matters as hospital visitation or health insurance coverage simply because the people they love are of the same sex — nor am I willing to accept a reading of the Bible that considers an obscure line in Romans to be more defining of Christianity than the Sermon on the Mount. Perhaps I am sensitive on this issue because I have seen the pain my own carelessness has caused. Before my election, in the middle of debates with Mr. Keyes, I received a phone message from one of my strongest supporters. She was a small-business owner, a mother, and a thoughtful, generous person. She was also a lesbian who had lived in a monogamous relationship with her partner for the last decade. She knew when she decided to support me that I was opposed to same-sex marriage, and she had heard me argue that, in the absence of any meaningful consensus, the heightened focus on marriage was a distraction from other, attainable measures to prevent discrimination against gays and lesbians. Her phone message in this instance had been prompted by a radio interview she had heard in which I had referenced my religious traditions in explaining my position on the issue. She told me that she had been hurt by my remarks; she felt that by bringing religion into the equation, I was suggesting that she, and others like her, were somehow bad people. I felt bad, and told her so in a return phone call. As I spoke to her I was reminded that no matter how much Christians who oppose homosexuality may claim that that they hate the sin but love the sinner, such a judgment inflicts pain on good people — people who are made in the image of God, and who are often truer to Christ's message than those who condemn them. And I was reminded that it is my obligation, not only as an elected official in a pluralistic society but also as a Christian, to remain open to the possibility that my unwillingness to support gay marriage is misguided, just as I cannot claim infallibility in my support of abortion rights. I must admit that I may have been infected with society's prejudices and predilections and attributed them to God; that Jesus' call to love one another might demand a different conclusion; and that in years hence I may be seen as someone who was on the wrong side of history. I don't believe such doubts make me a bad Christian. I believe they make me human, limited in my understanding of God's purpose and therefore prone to sin. When I read the Bible, I do so with the belief that it is not a static text but the Living Word and that I must be continually open to new revelations — whether they come from a lesbian friend or a doctor opposed to abortion. That is not to say that I'm unanchored in my faith. There are some things that I'm absolutely sure about — the Golden Rule, the need to battle cruelty in all its forms, the value of love and charity, humility and grace."

If Obama becomes president, he brings an insight and experience to the table that no other president before him has been able to do, simply because of race. Regarding those values of "love and charity, humility and grace," he continues:

"Those beliefs were driven home two years ago when I flew down to Birmingham, Alabama, to deliver a speech at the city's Civil Rights Institute. The institute is right across the street from the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, the site where, in 1963, four young children — Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley, and Denise McNair — lost their lives when a bomb planted by white supremacists exploded during Sunday school, and before my talk I took the opportunity to visit the church. The young pastor and several deacons greeted me at the door and showed me the still-visible scar along the wall where the bomb went off. I saw the clock at the back of the church, still frozen at 10:22 a.m. I studied the portraits of the four little girls. After the tour, the pastor, deacons, and I held hands and said a prayer in the sanctuary. Then they left me to sit in one of the pews and gather my thoughts. What it must have been like for those parents forty years ago, I wondered, knowing that their precious daughters had been snatched away by violence at once so casual and so vicious? How could they endure the anguish unless they were certain that some purpose lay behind their children's murders, that some meaning could be found in immeasurable loss?…. Friends and strangers alike would have assured them that their daughters had not died in vain — that they had awakened the conscience of a nation and helped liberate a people; that the bomb had burst a dam to let justice roll down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream. And yet would even that knowledge be enough to keep you from madness and eternal rage — unless you knew that your child had gone on to a better place?"

It's words like this from Obama that I find so appealing. His Christianity lacks the scary fanaticism that leaves a bad taste in your mouth for religion. His liberalism lacks the disdain for religion and spiritual that is typical of some Godless progressives. He gets both sides and he sees that not only can the two sides work together, they belong together.

If we are to believe the polls, Obama is most likely to become the next President of the United States. As with all presidents and politicians, he's going to disappoint us someday, somehow, one way or another. Nevertheless, if he at least tries to live up to the ideals that he has presented in his book (which is certainly possible, but will no doubt be extremely difficult to do under the pressure of reality), then I think the world has reason to be optimistic. In a recent post on my blog, I discussed being unsure of whether politics and religion should ever mix. I questioned whether religion should have a place in the political sphere. I also mentioned how in Canadian and European politics (the only political regimes I have personally lived under), religion is less of an issue, a non-issue, or even an issue that should never even be brought into the picture. Seeing how things have been in America, especially after the past few years, and the cultural and religious wars that seem to always accompany any US political election, not to mention the hate, ugliness, and distractions as a result of religious extremism — particularly among many so-called Christian sects and the influence they try to wield on political parties — I have to say that I was becoming more and more convinced that 100% secular politics was the way to go. However, Obama's bridge-building approach is not just one that is realistic and, in my opinion, acceptable to both believers and non-believers if they are willing to actually work together for the sake of their country; it's simply superior to any other alternative.

Topics for discussion:

For those of you who want to see religion kept entirely out of politics, are you satisfied by Obama's compromise?

For those of you who believe that our personal moral convictions (which are often based on our religious convictions) have a relevant place in politics, do you feel that there would be a place for you under an Obama presidency?

Do you all feel that Obama's approach is fair to both sides of religious vs. non-religious?

If you are a conservative, do you feel he is offering too little of a place for religion in politics?

If you are a liberal, do you feel he is compromising too much on the separation of church and state by suggesting that the religion can have a relevant place in politics?


One Eternal Round - Ancient Egypt and the U.S. Today

This GUEST POST was submitted by jonathan, a regular reader and occasional commenter, who lives in California.

While walking door to door for Prop 8, I was pondering why this proposition is so important, and I thought of the following . . .

A Land of Promise
The followers of God lived in the most powerful country of the world. The people had been guided to this land by the hand of God - this was a land of prosperity. The followers of God held a feast each year to mark the gratitude they felt for God, who lead their ancestors to this land of promise. Their ancestors had come to this land in a time of desolation when they had no food; if it had not been for the generosity of the people in the land, the ancestors of the current followers of God would have perished. The ancient original inhabitants of the land gave the ancestors, or the followers of God, food and helped them through the famine.

An Imbalance of Power
In the centuries that followed, after the followers of God began to inhabit the land, the land was blessed with financial prosperity and global power. The followers of God existed in peace with the other people in the promised land for many generations; however, as the power of the nation increased, the leaders of the country began to covet their power. The leaders of the country did not have as many children as the families of the followers of God, and the imbalance was increased because the people of the land invented ways to abort unwanted babies. The leaders of the country began to feel threatened by the increasing numbers of the followers of God, and as a result, they took away many of their liberties.

A Prophetic Proclamation
The Prophet of the followers of God gave the leaders of the land a proclamation which warned them to let the people of the land be free. The prophet warned that if the people were not free to follow God as they chose, then God would send famine and pestilence. The Prophet was respected by the leaders, but the Prophet held no political power, so his proclamation was ignored.

Nation's Global Power Diminished
The Prophet prayed for the people in the land, but after a period of time, it became clear that the prophetic warning needed to be fulfilled for the benefit of the people. The basis of the global power of the country was its power in shipping and global trade; and all shipping routes led to the Nile River. The Lord demonstrated His power by turning the Nile River to blood. The bloody Nile was annoying; however, the ships continued to float across the bloody river, so the shipping wasn't completely devastated until the Lord sent plagues of frogs, lice, and flies which infested all of the cargo and made it so that no one would trade with the country.

A Mark of Faith for Each Home
Now that the nation had been sufficiently humbled, the Lord told His prophet that He required a sign of faith from His people. The leader of each home was told to make a mark for their house to show that they believed in the original Prophetic proclamation. The Prophet warned that the children of each family were at risk and that every family was at risk. The political leaders of the country monitored as the people made their marks; however, they ridiculed the followers of God and did not put any significance into the original prophetic warning or the risk to their children. The political leaders' main concern was to count how many people made a mark for their homes, and they were concerned that if a majority of the homes marked that they were following what the prophet said, then they would outnumber the political leaders. The political leaders were still covetous of their political power, but the Prophet knew that this was a moral issue, not a political issue.

Angel of Death
A day had been set apart as the deadline for when everyone had to make their mark for their family. The day came and left, and it soon became clear that the prophetic warning had been true. Now the politicians did not care if there were more than 50% of the houses with marks; the political leaders only cared that they had lost their families and their children. The political leaders finally conceded to give the people the freedom they had been denied; however, by now it was too late. The story of the followers of God still continues today, but the once great nation that refused to follow God never again attained the same level of Global and Financial power it once enjoyed. The Nation had once been a promised land, but it no longer held the same promise.

The story above happened thousands of years ago and can be read in Exodus Chapters 5 to 14, but it is surprisingly similar to our situation today . . .

A Land of Promise
The followers of God live in the most powerful country in the world. The people had been guided to this land by the hand of God, this was a land of prosperity. We celebrate Thanksgiving each year, we state what we are thankful for, and the followers of God are thankful that God led their ancestors to this land of promise. The story of the pilgrims who were starving in their first years here is similar to the story of Joseph's technicolor dream coat and how the Egyptians helped Joseph's family.

An Imbalance of Power
Our country's government is based on the principles of a balance of power among factions and among political branches of the government. We believe that God guided the founders of our country, and our country has enjoyed immense financial prosperity and global power. The followers of God have existed in peace with the rest of the country for many generations; however, as the power of the nation increased, the leaders of this country have begun to covet power. What was once a model for balance and a government of the people, for the people, has turned into a government of political inbred elite who bring politics into each branch of the government and fight over the imbalance. The leaders of the country currently feel threatened by the increasing numbers of the followers of God, and as a result, they have begun to use judges in the judicial branch to take away many of the liberties that the people established through the legislative process.

A Prophetic Proclamation
In 1995, the Prophet Gordon B. Hinckley, his counselors (including Thomas S. Monson) and the quorum of the 12 apostles made the following proclamation to the leaders of the world:

We warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets. We call upon responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society.

Nation's Global Power Diminished

Many people from around the world flocked to the land of promise, and many came through New York to obtain the American Dream. Although our country's reputation and global power has diminished, when the price of oil was expected to reach 10 times historical norms and new global conflicts were escalating in each region of the world (Georgia, Venezuela, etc.), the economic advisors of the political leaders projected that the economy would be fine because the core fundamentals of our nation's economy were still strong. However, it wasn't long until the credit annoyance of the sub-prime mortgage loans began to bleed into other financial markets, and now the whole investment banking industry is gone. Companies all around the world came to Wall Street in New York to be listed and to do business, but Wall Street is now crumbling before our eyes. America's bank and the U.S. Treasury notes were the base of the world's trade markets and the nation's financial power, but now banks are refusing to do business with each other, and no one has confidence in their economic future.

A Mark of Faith for Each Home

In this time of uncertainty, the Lord told His prophet that He required a sign of faith from His people. The leader of each home was told to make a mark for their house to show that they believed in the original prophetic proclamation. The prophet warned that the children of each family were at risk and that each family was at risk. Thousands of years ago, I am sure that Moses instructed the faithful to go door to door trying to persuade their neighbors and friends to put a positive mark for their home. The political leaders of the country today are polling and watching as the people prepare to make their marks. Many ridicule the followers of God and do not put any significance in the original prophetic warning or the risk to their children. The political leaders' main concern is to count how many people make a mark for their homes, and they are concerned that if a majority of the homes mark that they were following that the Prophet said, then the followers of God would outnumber the political leaders. The political leaders are covetous of political power, but the Prophet knows that this is a moral issue, not a political issue.

Angel of Death

November 4th is the day set apart as the deadline for when everyone must make their mark for their family. The day will soon come, and I do not know if 50% of the people will vote for Proposition 8 to pass; however, I do know that for this moral issue, my family will follow the Prophet. I do not anticipate that the firstborn sons of families will physically die, but I don't think it is unlikely that their spirits may die. In the end, thousands of years from now, I do not know if it will matter if Proposition 8 passes; however, I do know that the prophetic warnings will come true today like they did for the people of Moses. The calamities of old are happening today, and if Prop 8 does not pass, then I do believe that many families will lose their children. The people may currently only see this as just another proposition to vote on; however, when future families are in jeopardy, I wonder if political leaders will look back and realize the significance of Prop 8.

In this context, please read these words again from 1995:
We warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets. We call upon responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society.

What will happen to our country if we as a people choose not to support the family as the fundamental unit of society? What calamities will come to our country? Will our country ever have the same political and financial power as it did before the calamities came? I do not know the answers to these questions, but I believe the Lord and His Prophet do. As for me and my house, we will follow the Lord.

God bless us all,