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,


Pickens Plan

It is now time for the third and final installment in my series on the major Energy Plans. In case you missed it, part one in the series (Obama) an be viewed here. Part two (McCain) can be seen in its entirety here. Today I will address the plan of a non-politician, T. Boone Pickens, who has personally financed a massive national campaign to promote his Pickens Plan for energy.

For those of you that don't know, T. Boone Pickens is a Texas billionaire who made his fortune in oil and natural gas. He has formed and run several companies, most notably Mesa Petroleum. Pickens came to the national stage while running Mesa due to his attempts at hostile takeovers of much larger oil companies. He made big money in in these takeover attempts, and later in oil and natural gas futures. What I'm trying to get across is that this man has amassed his billions playing the energy game, and he understands it very well.

Unlike the plans of the politicians, the Pickens Plan is a series of relatively simple ideas and largely lacks details like dollar amounts, money from the federal government, and timetables. This plan was designed to get some basic ideas into the heads of the country so we will make our elected leaders figure out the details and make it happen. So here it is (Sorry, I'm pulling the points out of Chapter 13 of his latest book, so you'll either have to take my word for it or read the book):

  • Move natural gas out of power generation and into transportation
  • Clean up coal
  • Step up nuclear power
  • Replace the power currently generated with natural gas with wind and solar
Well, that's really it. There are more details that I will get into as I discuss each point, but what it all boils down to is: stop using fuels we don't have and start using fuels that we do have. Allow me to discuss.

Bullet 1): We are currently importing 70% of the oil we use. Also, 75% of the oil we use goes directly to transportation. It does not take a leap of faith to see that if we use another fuel for transportation, we won't need to import nearly as much oil. Natural gas is the logical alternative. True, it is not a renewable energy source, nor is it pollution-free. But we have the technology NOW and we have the natural gas NOW. Los Angeles runs the majority of its buses on natural gas, as do multiple other municipalities. Overseas, natural gas use in vehicles is not an uncommon thing. We know how to do it. Natural gas is also cheaper than oil (though the difference was much larger when oil was $140/barrel). The switch is completely feasible.

There are drawbacks and criticisms, of course. The biggest criticism is that Pickens has big money in natural gas, so of course it makes sense for him to promote it as the next big fuel. I agree that he does have hundreds of millions (if not, billions) of dollars in natural gas and thus needs natural gas to work in order to make A LOT of money. However, his argument is a valid one. The technology is ready today, and the fuel is domestic and cheap. Drawbacks as they exist in my head: Infrastructure and the fact that this plan will require not just one, but two MAJOR shifts in transportation fueling.

It is painfully obvious to anybody who does happen to have a natural gas-powered car that there is not a nationally available system for fueling CNG (compressed natural gas) vehicles. Making natural gas available at gas stations will require some investment of cash. This money should come from the gas station companies, not the public. If station A sells CNG and has a massive consumer base while station B across the street is missing out, station B will get CNG. There just has to be a demand for the fuel before it is going to be available. The problem is that nobody will buy a car that they can't use due to lack of a fuel source, so the demand for that fuel source will never be there. You can actually buy systems to fill your CNG car up at home, but these are multiple thousands of dollars and are thus cost prohibitive for most people. This is thus a circular problem. Also, we could use plug-in vehicles (for passenger cars anyway, not buses and trucks) or CNG-electric hybrids. Pickens does not mention the use of these types of vehicles.

The thing that I really like about the Pickens Plan is that it seeks to provide a bridge between non-renewable, dirtier energy and renewable, clean energy by replacing oil with fuels that we have readily producible in the United States. It is a short term, transitional plan. It basically buys us thirty to fifty years to figure out the energy source of the future. Thus, once everybody is finally used to having and using their CNG-powered cars and all the fuel you need is readily available, whether in your garage or at stations, we will have to make another change. We will have finally developed a limitless, clean energy source that is usable in transportation, and everybody will need new cars again. Yeah, this sucks, but you know what? It gets us thirty to fifty years of not sending trillions and trillions of dollars overseas to terrorist-sponsoring nations to buy a fuel that is running out. I don't think that there is a better solution out there right now.

This is already massively long, so Bullets 2 & 3): Coal is the only fuel source (used on a large scale) that we have that is more abundant than natural gas. Yes, if somebody can figure out how to use is much more cleanly than simply lighting it on fire, it will help us make electricity. We already get 50% of our juice from coal, but it is dirty. This needs capital to work. I don't know where clean coal stands on the feasibility scale, but if we can get it in use, we will have abundant supplies of cheap electricity. Nuclear plants need to be constructed. Yeah, they produce radioactive waste. True, nobody wants to store it. But nuclear power is otherwise perfectly clean (really, the radioactivity is the only by-product) and perfectly safe. This country is actively building nuclear power reactors every year. We use them on aircraft carriers and submarines, amongst other vessels. I don't know about you, but I can't think of a more confined space to be stuck with a nuclear reactor than a submarine. They are safe. We need to use more nuclear power.

Bullet 4): The United States is windy. This is a completely free energy source that is never going to be depleted, and we should use it. To harvest the wind only requires the construction of wind turbines. They aren't the most attractive thing in the world, but they do leave the land around them entirely intact. That is the drawback of solar. We have a lot of sun (in the southwest, for example) and a lot of land. However, you can't harvest the sunlight without taking it away from the plants and animals on the ground. Massive solar farms by definition will destroy the environment on which they would sit. Wind doesn't have that downside.

So let people and companies invest in wind power from Texas to North Dakota. Give them a way to get the power out from the wind farms (this is another issue that goes back to updating the electrical grid (see McCain Energy post)). There is money to be made, so it shouldn't require taxpayer input. North Dakota could supply 1/3 of the nation's electricity needs, with Texas capable of producing an almost equal amount. Mind you these are gross overestimates because there is no way to harvest all wind in these states, but it give you an idea.

Bottom line: This is a transitional, national energy plan that does have its drawbacks. It also has a lot of good ideas. It still relies VERY heavily on the unknown (i.e. development of renewable energy sources), but does provide a way to stop sending trillions to terrorists. I agree it is not a perfect plan. There is no single, world-changing, snap-of-the-fingers energy solution, and I think that this plan is based in reality. The plan should be more inclusive of other alternative energy sources, as well as plug-in-type vehicles. Overall, B- to B.


A discussion on notions of Obama's terrorist ties

Hello all. I'm fairly new to this politicalds but very excited to offer some input. I would like to start my first post by asking a question and hoping to bring out some discussion on the topic of Obama's accused ties to radical terrorists. If you haven't seen this video Sean asserts that Obama is tied to many radicals.
Here is my question. Whether or not these ties are either 1. true 2. of any importance, or 3. lies I am extremely curious as to why obama supporters dont seem to be calling him to account for the inconsistencies and dismissed queries on this matter?
I would love to hear some opinions from you about why this hasn't seemed to bother many people that he truly does have "ties" to Bill Ayers (and dismissed his relationship as just a guy in the neighborhood) and others from Rev Wright who hates white america, to His first mentor and communist writer, Frank Marshall Davis.
Are these ties important? Could they actually lead to any malpractice of Presidential office? if they are.... why are a supposed 40-50% of polled americans seeming to have dismissed them and chosen their man to be Obama?


McCain's Energy

This will be a continuation of my Energy Series. To see the first post in the series, click here. I am working on addressing the three major energy policy plans: Obama's, McCain's, and that of T. Boone Pickens. This post will be on McCain's plan, which he has dubbed The Lexington Project. I think that the stupid name is a response to the Pickens Plan having a name, but that is neither here nor there. Let's get to it:

John McCain's "The Lexington Project" main goals/plans/points:
• Expanding Domestic Oil And Natural Gas Exploration And Production
• Taking Action Now To Break Our Dependency On Foreign Oil By Reforming Our Transportation Sector
• Investing In Clean, Alternative Sources Of Energy
• Protecting Our Environment And Addressing Climate Change: A Sound Energy Strategy Must Include A Solid Environmental Foundation
• Promoting Energy Efficiency
• Addressing Speculative Pricing Of Oil

What is it with these guys and their six point plans? So much writing... Okay, so McCain's main points have a lot of buzz words and phrases. Let's delve deeper and see if this is all a load of crap or if McCain actually has an issue he has an articulated, consistent position on.

Bullet 1): Well, this one breaks down into the two components listed, nothing complicated. a) He wants to open up the Outer Continental Shelf to oil drilling, where such practices are currently restricted by federal law. This would be the offshore drilling that we heard a little about before the economy took a crap. This is a fine and dandy proposition for helping energy independence, but it will accomplish effectively nothing.

We are using ~7.6 billion barrels of oil a year. That's 21 million barrels a day. We are producing 5.5 million barrels a day domestically. There is guessed to be about 18 billion barrels "offshore" that McCain wants to tap. Compare that number to the 96 billion barrels that are currently open for drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, coastal Alaska, and coastal California. McCain doesn't really think that this new offshore oil drilling is gonna come up with 15 million barrels a day of oil, does he? Hopefully not. There simply isn't that much oil there to be had. And it will take 10 years to get oil from. Too long.

b) Natural Gas Production. Natural gas is something we have in this country. We have a lot of it. "The Outer Continental Shelf alone contains 77 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas." (from McCain's website) And that doesn't include all the other supplies we have. I am in COMPLETE agreement that natural gas is NOT the end-all solution to our problems. But it buys us time to develop the technology that will be. We can run a lot more on natural gas then we do now. It will be cheaper than oil and it will last longer than oil. I will save more of this discussion for the Pickens Plan post. That'd be a cliffhanger, people... However, McCain still doesn't give us specifics on how/where he'd use the natural gas.

Bullet 2): McCain wants to accomplish this by:
a) Giving tax credits for buying "cleaner" cars. I'm not thrilled about this. People can buy their own blasted cars; the taxpayers don't have to help them.
b) Incentivizing the private sector into developing better technology for electric cars. Again, I'm not thrilled, though I'm more okay with this then tax credits. These companies have plenty of incentive. They make a car that plugs into the wall and uses zero gasoline (i.e. the Volt), they are gonna make a lot of money selling it.
c-f) Using flex fuel vehicles, alcohol-based fuels, killing tariffs/mandates on ethanol, and increasing penalties for violating MPG standards. Flex fuel only works if you HAVE to use alternative fuels. Alcohol/Ethanol-based fuels might work, but they need to come from things other than corn. We've seen what this does to the price of food. Good, fine the people that violate the law (MPG standards). I'm okay with that.

Bullet 3): McCain outlines using clean coal, nuclear, wind, water, and solar power. He also outlines a plan to dump cash into these things to make them work. $2 billion a year for clean coal and tax credits for research into technologies. This is the kind of money we need to be using. We need to make developing these technologies a national priority and fund it like a national priority. We just "spent" $700 billion of our children's children's tax dollars to buy up some banks and bad mortgages. We spend $700 billion A YEAR on foreign oil. We should be spending at least $100 billion a year to stop using foreign oil.

Bullet 4): Environment stuff that Rick could talk better about. McCain wants a cap-and-trade system, too (like Obama).

Bullet 5): Yay, energy efficiency. McCain talks about cutting energy use across the federal government, which he claims "is the largest electricity consumer on earth". Wants to make the buildings more efficient, turn the lights off, build solar panels on rooftops, and all that good stuff. He also wants to make it easier to upgrade our 1970s era power grid to make energy transfer more efficient. I think that both of these ideas are easier said then done and are going to require people making sacrifices, monetary or otherwise, that they might not want to. These are good ideas that I would love to see happen.

Bullet 6): Regulating the futures market (if there have been cases of ill intentions). This assumes that the current laws have been violated, which I doubt that they have. This is a simple supply and demand equation. Oil is expensive cause there ain't a lot of it and people want a lot of it. And some people are smarter than me and know how to make money off of it. Good for them. This is McCain blaming people who did nothing wrong because it is politically popular to do to. It always looks better to say that it is somebody else's fault. He should man up and say "If you don't like $4 gas, quit buying it." We were doing just that before the economic world ended and made all that a moot point.

Bottom Line: I think that McCain has several junk proposals in here, but they are mixed with some good ones. If he could get these ideas implemented in a timely fashion, we could avoid complete collapse. But time frames are something that McCain leaves out. I'd like to see him take more of a stand there. Overall, C+ to B-.


Obama's Energy

Despite what the worldwide economic crisis has done to the price of a barrel of oil, the United States of America needs to become energy independent. Yes, that is a trendy thing to say. Reality is that we aren't going to be energy INDEPENDENT for a very long time, if ever. We can make massive strides towards producing more of our own energy and not buying hundreds of billions of dollars of foreign oil per year.

The thing that gets me is that neither presidential candidate (yeah, sure, there are more than two...) is making this a focus of their campaign. Energy is a big deal and is a major factor of this economic crisis.

Let's look at the "Big Three" (energy plans, that is). I was going to do them all in one post, but it would be a mammoth that nobody would read. So I'll do one plan per post in a little series. Now you have something to look forward to.

Our next President, Barack Obama: His plan is outlined here. The highlights:

  • Provide short-term relief to American families facing pain at the pump
  • Help create five million new jobs by strategically investing $150 billion over the next ten years to catalyze private efforts to build a clean energy future.
  • Within 10 years save more oil than we currently import from the Middle East and Venezuela combined.
  • Put 1 million Plug-In Hybrid cars -- cars that can get up to 150 miles per gallon -- on the road by 2015, cars that we will work to make sure are built here in America.
  • Ensure 10 percent of our electricity comes from renewable sources by 2012, and 25 percent by 2025.
  • Implement an economy-wide cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050.
Well, now we can all rest easy. There will be absolutely no transitional periods, times when things are going to be painful, nobody will be out of a job, no new taxes, and flowers will spontaneously bloom across America. In my opinion, Obama's plan is by far the most vague and useless. Obama's plan will do nothing except ensure that our economy utterly collapses.

Here are some problems: Bullet 1) NO MORE FREAKING GOVERNMENT INTERVENTION!!! It has been demonstrated quite effectively that when the price of gas gets too high, people will figure something else out. Take the bus, carpool, walk, run, bike, move closer to work, stop buying things we can't afford, etc. We can handle it. We don't need the federal government stepping in with checks to help us fuel our addiction to oil. (Sorry, I couldn't resist the pun.) Barack is in favor of taxing businesses for being overly successful and transferring that wealth to all the people that buy that businesses product. This is right up there with the dumbest things I've ever heard. Equivalent: You buy a house and live in it for several years. You sell your house for a $20,ooo profit. Barack feels you made too much money on that deal, so you are taxed and the people who bought your house get a rebate.

Bullet 2): That isn't enough money. And the vast majority of the money should be coming from the private sector. Perhaps subsidize some things to get them up and running, but let's not keep up with the government-buying-private-businesses crap.

Bullet 3): He wants to accomplish this by making fuel milage standards better. More MPG. However, he wants to do this by dumping $4 billion (with a "B") into the automakers' wallets to "help them out". C'mon. Our current MPG isn't a problem. If people don't want to buy $4 gas, they buy Priuses or Fits or Yarises or whatever. They get over 30 MPG, which I'm sure is way above whatever the dumb government fuel standard is. (And everybody knows that the MPG limits are set by CA anyways, Barack...)

Bullet 4): He wants to get 1 million plug-in hybrids on the roads within 7 years (i.e. 143,000 per year). Oh, but there is only one such vehicle that is currently going to be mass produced (Chevy Volt) and it isn't coming out until 2010. Oh, and there are more than 250 million cars on the roads. So getting 0.4% of them running on electricity in 7 years is gonna do a lot. Oh, and electricity doesn't come from thin air (well, not most of it anyways), so we are still gonna be using fossil fuels to make the power to move the Volt.

Bullet 5): Good idea, bad plan for implementation. Because there isn't one. He will "weatherize homes", build an Alaskan natural gas pipeline, and develop clean coal. I'm counting ZERO renewable energy sources there. This is the only point with promise, but also the only point with no substance at all to back it up.

Bullet 6): This gets more into the environmental issue rather than the energy issue, but this basically dittos my thoughts on 5. Sounds great (other than my being mostly dead by 2050), but he doesn't have any ideas to get it done. He proposes a cap-and-trade system; at least that leaves the innovation up to the innovators and out of the hands of the government (potentially).

Bottom line: This plan does not do nearly enough, and it does it way too slowly. Overall, F+ to D-.


Sarah Palin drags down GOP ticket

This isn't really news, I suppose, since this has been the impression of many political observers for several weeks now, but it appears that Sarah Palin's perceived lack of qualification to be President is dragging John McCain to defeat. Not that he wasn't going to lose anyway, as the political and economic climate so heavily favors the Democrats, but Palin has made McCain's situation markedly worse. A new NBC/WSJ poll released today gives us numbers that back this theory:

Fifty-five percent of respondents say [Sarah Palin]’s not qualified to serve as president if the need arises, up five points from the previous poll.

In addition, for the first time, more voters have a negative opinion of her than a positive one. In the survey, 47 percent view her negatively, versus 38 percent who see her in a positive light.

That’s a striking shift since McCain chose Palin as his running mate in early September, when she held a 47 to 27 percent positive rating.

Now, Palin’s qualifications to be president rank as voters’ top concern about McCain’s candidacy - ahead of continuing President Bush’s policies, enacting economic policies that only benefit the rich and keeping too high of a troop presence in Iraq.

Not exactly what John McCain had in mind when he made the rash decision to select her, now is it? Can you imagine what a different landscape we would be looking at had McCain selected Mitt Romney? Now, I don't love Romney, and the two of them obviously dislike each other, but his business expertise and "Presidential" persona would look pretty good about right now.


Apathy and the Electoral College

Before I get started, let me apologize for my absence. The Wizzle and I just spawned a third child, I've been hammered with school, and I mixed in some training for a Grand Canyon hike. So I've been a bit busy. Things have settled back down a bit, and I should be joining the fray on a more regular basis.

Back in March, Mike led a discussion of the pros and cons of the Electoral College. I have long been a critic of the Electoral College. It gives way too much influence to people who live in "swing" states - the Ohios, Floridas, and Virginias of the world. I hate that I will be voting for John McCain whether I like it or not, simply because I live in Arizona.

But I'm starting to think the Founding Fathers may have gotten it right after all. A Pew Research Center survey published last week revealed that a paltry 18% (yes, EIGHTEEN PERCENT) of Americans could correctly answer the following three questions:

1) Which party has a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives?
2) What is the name of the current U.S. Secretary of State?
3) What is the name of the current Prime Minister of Great Britain?

That is unbelievably pathetic. Even excusing the last question (how dare we be expected to know anything about a foreign country?!), only 53% could recall the Democrats as having the majority in the House, and only 42% could name Condi Rice as the Secretary of State. The goal of the survey was actually to determine how consuming different news sources affects one's ability to answer these basic questions. As it turns out, readers of highbrow publications like The New Yorker and The Atlantic and regular NPR listeners (woohoo - that's me!) were most likely to be able to correctly recall this information ... but still at only 48% and 44% success rates, respectively.

The framers of the Constitution did not trust average American citizens to directly elect the President, much less actually govern themselves, ala ancient Athens. Instead, the framers provided for citizens to elect Electors to actually choose the President. Granted, the late eighteenth century provided drastically fewer opportunities for average Americans to consume news and commentary on current events, but I'm not sure the additional information is doing anybody any good.

I suppose this is more of a rant than anything, but seriously - what is there to be done about an American voting public that is so apathetic that it doesn't even know who its leaders ARE, much less what they stand for and what policies they espouse?


Obama, McCain roast each other

At the annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation dinner, Barack Obama and John McCain took some time out from a bitter, divisive campaign to make some comedic remarks - both self-deprecating and opponent-deprecating. You've gotta watch these videos. For anyone who's weary of the tenor of these campaigns, it's an absolute breath of fresh air.

McCain, part one
McCain, part two
Obama, part one
Obama, part two

I will say that if the election was based on comedic delivery, it'd be a solid McCain win. I also thought his serious comments at the end were more heartfelt than Obama's. Barack had a few good ones, too, though. Check it out! :)



I watched a superb documentary on Barack Obama and John McCain that aired last night on PBS. They laid out where the candidates had come from and how they'd gotten to this point in their careers, a step away from the world's most powerful office.

I was struck by a number of points about both candidates, but let me outline three that really stood out to me.

  • Barack Obama has had his sights set on the presidency for a long time
Have you ever noticed that, although Barack Obama is by all accounts a liberal, the attacks on his record haven't really stuck? Yeah, he planned that. The Frontline documentary claimed that in the first days of his Senate career, he laid out a plan with advisers to get to the presidency which entailed involving himself in serious legislation but avoiding the truly controversial issues that could be used against him in the presidential election.

What kind of first-term Senator who just got off the bus to Washington sits down and makes a presidential plan before his first term is up? I get the impression that Obama is power-hungry. Now, you can't become president without having some serious ambition and a desire to win - after all, what kind of person do you have to be to look the world in the face and say, "I should be in charge of you"? - but for Obama, it seems clear that he must have been thinking about this even before he arrived in the U.S. Senate! Never really thought about that before...
  • The John McCain of 2000 is not the same man as the John McCain of 2008
This is not news, but the documentary laid it out with great clarity. Sometimes we forget we're talking about a man who absolutely bucked the Republican establishment by winning the 2000 New Hampshire primary over the candidate with perfect conservative credentials, Gov. George W. Bush of Texas. That campaign was ultimately derailed by a Karl Rove-engineered smear campaign (read: McCain "fathered a black child out of wedlock") which left McCain so furious and so unhappy with the GOP that he considered changing sides. He stood against the Bush tax cuts and the mismanagement of the war. He was a maverick! Both the success of New Hampshire 2000 and his victories in the primaries of 2008 were motivated by strong support from moderates and independents - the very voters which appear to have deserted him in this presidential election.

Candidates have to swing away from the center for the primary season and back toward the center for the general election. McCain clearly learned the first part of this theory in 2000, where his independent streak failed to galvanize the base. So he swung hard right for the primaries of 2008, and eked out a victory over candidates with stronger conservative bona fides - Romney, Thompson, even Huckabee and Giuliani. But maybe his biggest failure has been failing to swing back. He seems paralyzed by the fear of losing his base, not realizing that he is going to win South Carolina, Utah, Idaho and Alabama in the general election by the virtue of the "R-AZ" by his name, whether they actually like him or not.
  • A McCain victory remains possible
The unlikelihood of McCain's nomination is all but forgotten. He was down and out. He was way behind in the polls. He was out of money. He was flailing. He was written off. And he won. It's beyond unlikely that he'll lose, but I believe him when he says he relishes the underdog role. He won the nomination by retooling his campaign staff, and it's time to do that again. He needs to absolutely wreck Obama in tonight's debate. No Ayers stuff - whether it's a problem or not, it doesn't stick with moderate voters - and make Barack Obama defend his political positions. Grill him on his "redistribution of wealth" comment; that was a rare gaffe and he should jump all over it. Paint him as an abortion extremist. Nail him down on drilling for oil. Condemn the Bush administration on something. Then, Thursday morning, fire your campaign managers and hire new people. Retool the "Who is Barack Obama?" question away from his personal stuff and toward his policies. Announce Mitt Romney as your Secretary of the Treasury. Everyone thinks Wall Streeters are the villains, announce some economic policy that punishes them, because while people like tax cuts, nobody really thinks it's going to help their economic problems right now. Do something. Anything. Give the poor media, who is falling all over themselves to try and paint this as a tight race when it appears closer to a landslide, something to talk about.

Make it less boring, for heaven's sake!


Lesser of Two Evils: This November 4th

A hearty welcome to our first guest blogger, Tim Larsen (aka "Utes"), who wrote this post. If anyone else would like to submit a post, please email one (or all) of the permabloggers. Thanks!


As we approach November 4, we seem to be hearing more and more frequently that individuals will be voting “The Lesser of Two Evils.” What does this phrase really mean, who profits from its’ results, and is there another choice?

When information, ideas, or rumors are being spread deliberately and widely to help or harm a person, group, movement, institution or nation, the method of delivery is said to be propagandistic. Ezra Taft Benson once said:

We are going through what J. Reuben Clark, Jr., once termed the greatest propaganda campaign of all time. We cannot believe all we read, and what we can believe is not all of the same value. We must sift. We must learn by study and prayer.
Two synonyms of the word propaganda are misinformation and half-truths. Misinformation implies that another is deliberately harming another through information that may not be true, relevant or pertinent. Half-truths can tend to be even more dangerous in that something that may not be as easy to swallow on its’ own is easier to ingest when coupled with something that we recognize as truth. As Mary Poppins put it so well, “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down . . . in the most delightful way!”

Satan knows well how mortals succumb to the power of half-truths. It was in the Garden of Eden after the Lord had told Adam and Eve that they could eat of every tree of the garden except of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, because eating of that tree would lead to death. The master of half truths started working on Eve:
Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes , and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.
The propaganda had worked. Today, many do not realize they are being fed propaganda; much comes in the form of the 5:00 news. As J. Reuben Clark said, we must sift and learn by study and prayer. We must be wise.

The Lesser of Two Evils is Still Evil

Part of what the propagandists leave out of their argument that we must vote for the lesser of two evils is that the lesser of two evils is still evil. As a Latter-day Saints, we have been taught that the Constitution of the United States was divinely inspired. In the 98th Section of the Doctrine and Covenants we read:
And now, verily I say unto you concerning the laws of the land, it is my will that my people should observe to do all things whatsoever I command them. And that law of the land which is constitutional, supporting that principle of freedom in maintaining rights and privileges, belongs to all mankind, and is justifiable before me. Therefore, I, the Lord, justify you, and your brethren of my church, in befriending that law which is the constitutional law of the land; And as pertaining to law of man, whatsoever is more or less than this, cometh of evil. I, the Lord God, make you free, therefore ye are free indeed; and the law also maketh you free. Nevertheless, when the wicked rule the people mourn. Wherefore, honest men and wise men should be sought for diligently, and good men and wise men ye should observe to uphold; otherwise whatsoever is less than these cometh of evil. And I give unto you a commandment, that ye shall forsake all evil and cleave unto all good, that ye shall live by every word which proceedeth forth out of the mouth of God.
It is interesting to note that in these first sentences of the Lord’s discussion regarding evil He is speaking specifically with the “law of the land which is constitutional.” Did the Lord tell us that we should uphold the lesser of two evils? He reminds us that we are free, but also reminds us that when the wicked rule the people mourn. He then goes on to say that we should forsake all evil and cleave unto all good. Is voting for the lesser of two evils cleaving unto good? To cleave is to adhere closely, stick, or cling. According to the website dictionary.com to cleave means to “remain faithful,” it then uses cleave in the sentence, “To cleave to one’s principles in spite of persecution.” We must cleave unto principled candidates in spite of the persecution by the “sheeple” that by doing so you will be wasting your vote.

Numerous examples of the Lord using the word cleave are found in the scriptures: Deuteronomy 13:4; Joshua 22:5; Matthew 19:5; Acts 11:23; D&C 11:19; and many others. One of the more frequently used examples of cleaving in the scriptures is found in Genesis 2:24; Mark 10:7; D&C 42:22; Moses 3:24 and Abraham 5:18 in which we learn that a man should cleave unto his wife and none else!


Part of the propaganda of voting for the lesser of two evils is that by doing anything to the contrary would be to throw away your vote. In pondering this line I have come to the conclusion that the sole purpose of such a statement is one of fear. Fear that our time and voice have been wasted. Fear is the antithesis of faith and hope. Humans tend to not want to be on the losing team—nobody wants their candidate to lose in an election but, fear of failure is not reason enough to not cleave unto all that is good.

Political polls seem to fluctuate more than gas prices these days. Are these polls simply a tool of the propaganda machine to keep us in fear of cleaving unto the good candidates? If the polls tell us that our best, principled candidate has no chance of winning, is this when it becomes apparent that our vote will be wasted in voting for them. What if 60% of the country actually would like to vote for the best candidate but the polls tell us that the best candidate only has an 8% chance of winning and that we would be throwing away our vote if we voted for them. See how the propaganda worked? Fear.

In the October 2008 General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf stated:
In the twilight of the Nephite Nation, Moroni wrote that without hope, we cannot receive an inheritance in the Kingdom of God. But, why then, is there despair? The scriptures say that there must be an opposition in all things. So it is with faith, hope and charity. Doubt despair and failure to care for our fellow man lead us into temptation which can cause us to forfeit choice and precious blessings.
We must not fear that our vote is wasted, but rather have hope that others will cleave unto their principles. It is only is this fashion that true change can occur: through electing principled leadership in government.


To those of you who feel there is no reason to get involved in the fight for freedom, a word from Ezra Taft Benson:
In spite of the scriptural evidence and the counsel of modern-day prophets during the past more than 100 years, there are still some who seem to feel we have no responsibility to safeguard and strengthen our precious God-given freedom. There are some who apparently feel that the fight for freedom is separate from the gospel. They express it in several ways but it generally boils down to this: Just live the gospel; there’s no need to get involved in trying to save freedom and the Constitution.
Of course, this is dangerous reasoning, because in reality you cannot fully live the gospel without working to save freedom and the Constitution.

In the war in heaven, what would have been your reaction if someone had told you just to do what is right—there’s no need to get involved in the fight for freedom?

The first presidency of the Church counseled its’ members in a letter dated September 11, 2008:
Latter-day Saints as citizens are to seek out and then uphold leaders who will act with integrity and are wise, good, and honest. Principles compatible with the gospel may be found in various political parties.

Therefore, in this election year, we urge you to register to vote, to study the issues and candidates carefully and prayerfully, and then to vote for and actively support those you believe will most nearly carry out your ideas of good government.
We must not take the two minute sound-bites of the candidates and base our decision on these alone. We must pray, search and sift through the propaganda. We must research, know and understand what the proper role of government is, and then look for those principles in the candidates. And finally, when we find a candidate who we believe will most nearly carry out our ideas of good government, must we vote for the lesser of two evils? NO! As our modern-day prophets counseled, we must actively support and vote for that candidate. Doctrine and Covenants section 98 continues:
For he will give unto the faithful line upon line, precept upon precept; and I will try you and prove you herewith.
Might the Lord try us in the form of seeing if we are willing to take a stand and cleave unto the principled candidates? His promises in Section 98 are fabulous:
Therefore, be not afraid of your enemies, for I have decreed in my heart, saith the Lord, that I will prove you in all things, whether you will abide in my covenant, even unto death, that you may be found worthy….Therefore, renounce war and proclaim peace, and seek diligently to turn the hearts of the children to their fathers, and the hearts of the fathers to the children….Let not your hearts be troubled….And again I say unto you, if ye observe to do whatsoever I command you, I, the Lord, will turn away all wrath and indignation from you, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against you.
In this election regardless of who you see as being the lesser of two evils, vote for neither of them. Find a candidate who strictly adheres to principles of good government. There are six candidates running in the presidential election this year who will be listed on the ballots in all 50 states. Research each of them and find what they stand for! Then, fear not, and know that the Lord is God. Though others may say that you are throwing your vote away, know that the gates of hell shall not prevail against you for you have done as the Lord has commanded.


My October 2008 LDS General Conference Top 10 List

When I was a kid, and even when I was in college, I thought LDS General Conference was sort of boring. Not anymore. There are so many interesting and scary things going on in the world now, that maybe that's why I'm so much more piqued by what LDS Church leaders have to say about them all.

Here are the top ten tidbits that I took away from October 2008 LDS General Conference.

President Monson - Be good citizens and neighbors and reach out to those of other faiths. So often we feel so pressed upon to be good missionaries that we don't take the time to appreciate the religious diversity that is around us, let alone the great people behind that diversity. A world with only Mormons would, I think, be kind of boring.

President Uchtdorf - Whether moving a grand piano from the chapel to the cultural hall, or serving in some other capacity, "Lift where you stand". Some people want to lead, while some people want to hide, whereas we should all be content to serve where we are called. I have a calling that I give about 75% of my effort to. I guess that makes me somewhat of a hider, because my excuse is often that I am too busy with the other things that I think are more important.

President Eyring - Skillful peacemakers search for anything on which opposing parties agree. I once served on a city council, and my overarching goal was to set an example of decorum. I have not been so successful in other areas of life, but in the council chambers I am happy to say that overall decorum improved markedly during my 5 1/2 years of service. As a blogger, I (usually) try to point out constructively and kindly how I might disagree with someone's point of view. I'm glad in some instances, however, that I have reviewed what I typed before I clicked the submit button!!

Elder Ballard - Our challenges are not any more severe than those of the early saints--they are just different. We're not required to walk across the continent for the church, but rather just across the street to share the gospel message with our neighbors. I'm getting better at "walking across the street". I find that if I imagine and pray about ways of introducing gospel topics to friends and acquaintences that those opportunities come along much more often.

Elder Hales - We should answer contention with kindness. We should communicate using such means as letters to newspaper editors and blog comments to correct errors of fact, but we should always be cordial. We should speak out to help others understand the truth, but never to score points or to defend our egos.

Elder Scott - Husbands should show respect to their wives by taking charge of Family Home Evening and other activities. We should pay them more compliments. Bishops should show more respect for the insights of women on the ward council. Priesthood leaders should respect women's opinions and perspectives as much as their husbands'. Men's condescending actions toward women, including sometimes husbands toward wives, are similar to their actions toward people of other races and cultures. They are sometimes well meaning, but they are not perceived that way. In any circumstance we should try to perceive how we would feel if we were talking like that to ourselves. If a woman is as capable as a man of doing a job, she should be paid as much as the man would be paid.

President Monson - Told the story of the father who cancelled an emergency business appointment because 'the circus keeps coming back, but childhood doesn't. Also said that the fingerprints on those things around the home that you have just cleaned will disappear all too soon, so cherish them while they're there. My wife and I, as part of being debt-free (knock on wood!!) have discovered that we have more means to make memories with our children. Our youngest will turn 9 in a couple of weeks, and we're starting to wonder how so much of it has already passed us by.

Elder Cook - With the current economic crisis, there is great concern throughout the world. There will in the future be more lean years as well as plentiful years, but if we're prepared in either event, everything will be alright for us. Along these lines, President Monson encouraged us to be self-sufficient so that we can come to the aid of those over whom we have responsibility when they are in economic hard times. Considering the current economic situation, my wife and I talked yesterday that we are so glad that we avoided the temptation to buy a bigger home, because had we done so, we would have become so preoccupied with our own situation that we would have been much less able to help and serve others.

President Packer - During July 24th, 1849 celebration, the Saints in the Salt Lake Valley celebrated their patriotism to the United States despite the fact that Congress had not come to their assistance when they were losing $2 million in property and had otherwise been been persecuted for their faith. It occurred to me like it hadn't before that in some small way we can relate to blacks, women, and other minority populations who have not always been included in the group of "all men [who] are created equal", yet we understand the genius of America's founding documents and continue to use our liberties to strive for freedom and justice for all.

Bishop McMullin - Told the story of Chinese official who visited LDS Welfare Square and was so impressed with the integrity of the Church that he paid his fast offering in a "red pocket" envelope. He said "If the world loved like this, it would be a much better place." Government diplomacy may or may not be the best solution to any adversarial situation, but it has worked very well for the Church over the years. In a plethora of circumstances, including President Monson's story of how the example of Julius Fuseg of Poland caused Polish leaders to welcome the LDS Church into that country with open arms.

Which principles and anecdotes were your favorites?

This article was published in similar form on My Two Mormon Cents.


An Obama Presidency

McCain and Palin both held their own in the debates (note: the standard for holding one's own was vastly lower for P. than McC.), but at this point, they need a huge game-changer if they're going to gain the needed ground in the polls. Add in Obama's superior ground game in battleground states and it's not looking good for old Mac.

Indeed, after watching the first presidential and the only vice-presidential debate, I've determined that, barring some kind of "October Surprise", Barack Obama has an insurmountable lead over John McCain, and will be the next President of the United States.

(Man, that felt good to say.)

Of course, I could be eating my words on election night - it has certainly happened before. But it's looking good for Team Hope.

That begs the question - what will the presidency of Barack Obama actually look like?

It would start with an inauguration speech for the ages. Even his critics acknowledge the man's oratorical gifts. He's simply got a talent for delivering a mesmerizing, inspirational speech.

Obama has stated that he would direct his Attorney General to review all of George Bush's executive orders and that he would rescind those deemed unconstitutional. I expect him to follow through with this, and we'll see some (if not all - many of them are secret and if Obama wants, he can keep them around and nobody'd be the wiser) overturned. Although you wouldn't expect a new president to immediately go about weakening the power of the executive branch, I think Obama will have the confidence in Democratic control over the legislature to go through with this promise.

The bailout bill has proven that Democrats are not willing to make unilateral legislative moves - in other words, they're afraid to stick their necks out, even though they have the votes to pass whatever they want. They wait for bipartisan support; that way, if something goes bad, they don't have to shoulder all the blame. Some have expressed fear of a Democratic president and Congress moving the country to far to the left, but I don't expect this to happen. They will move slowly, working hard to ensure that they don't appear to middle America to be a bunch of rabid, crazy liberals.

Expect Wall Street regulations to come crashing back. I don't really see any effective spin in favor of deregulation these days, and "greed on Wall Street" is the new "terrorism" buzzword that everyon can rally around. The real economic test for Obama will be to see if he gets the regulation "right"- a proper balance between regulation and market freedom - or if he goes overboard, strangling the market in a PATRIOT Act-style, disproportionate response. Of course, I have no idea where the line is on this - I doubt that anyone does - but if the regulations have bipartisan compromise, we should be in good shape. In his campaign, at least, he has come off as a man possessed of that kind of restraint, but we'll see what happens when the power is actually there.

I think Barack Obama will work with congressional and military leaders to redistribute our military assets in the War on Terror and set a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq. Given his aforementioned restraint, however, I believe that if the timeline for withdrawals resulted in the situation worsening, he'd be willing to change his mind. This would, of course, have great political cost. But Obama believes that the timetable will lead to increased Iraqi self-governance and a more stable region, and I agree with him. He can simultaneously show his strength by focusing on Afghanistan and rooting out terror cells. It's vastly important for him to do this, to flex his military muscles a little bit and prove his resolve to the world, and to put aside the image of him (and Democrats generally) as weak on terror. The best thing that could happen for Obama politically would be the capture or death of Osama bin Laden. It would instantly legitimize his War on Terror strategy whether it's legitimate or not, and it would be the premiere example of him "setting right" the major Bush failure. I don't think it's likely, but I think it's possible.

As I've mentioned in a previous blog, we can expect to see the quick retirement of one or more Supreme Court judges. This is an area where Obama and the Democrats can really push through whoever they want without worrying about political fallout or placating congressional Republicans. It'll be like the Roberts and Alito nominations, where Dems brayed on about how bad they were but ultimately couldn't do anything about it. Expect to see ideologically liberal judges on the bench. Joe Biden made it quite clear last night that he believes strongly that the ideology of judges is highly relevant to their qualifications.

Lehrer and Ifill pushed all four of them to identify what they'd be cutting from their agendas in the face of this economic turmoil and $700 billion dollar bailout, but the only real answer given when Biden said they'd have to cut foreign aid - what a non-voter-offending answer, Joe! The fact of the matter is that if Obama believes in balancing the budget, things are going to have to get chopped. Bush tax cuts will be expiring - at least those for families making $250,000 or more. If you're making that much money, you can expect to be losing some cash under Obama, there's no question about it. Joe Biden was unequivocal last night in stating that "fairness" is how they'll describe redistribution of wealth. The big question is whether or not he'll push through his sweeping middle-class tax cuts. My boss, who came across this site recently, sent me an e-mail, which said, among other things:

"I doubt you remember the entire thrust of his [Bill Clinton's] campaign that previous year was directed toward a "middle-class tax cut". Of course within days of being inaugurated, President Clinton "got religion" and declared (you can add your own Arkansas drawl here), "I guess the problem is worse than we thought, and maybe we can't do the middle-class tax cut this year". Of course that tax cut (the promise of which got him elected) never did come about, instead we all got tax increases, even the middle-class. My prediction...Sen. Obama wins the election, but again, the promise will be broken. History is on my side."

Is he right? History is on his side. The government needs cash, especially with a president who is unlikely to want to cut social programs and can't afford politically to cut the military budget. I want to believe that Obama will follow through with his Main Street tax cuts, but we'll have to wait and see.

One thing will not be changing: the federal status of same-sex marriage. Joe Biden made it clear last night that neither candidate supports same-sex marriage. I would expect an Obama presidency to mirror this paragraph from "The Divine Institution of Marriage":

"The Church does not object to rights (already established in California) regarding hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment rights, or probate rights, so long as these do not infringe on the integrity of the family or the constitutional rights of churches and their adherents to administer and practice their religion free from government interference."

The repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and the ability for gay couples to file taxes jointly would be issues we might expect addressed by the Obama administration. A federal marriage amendment would be unlikely to pass.

Sadly, illegal immigration has totally fallen off the political radar - when was the last time you heard a candidate mention it? It's one of those toxic issues where it seems like whatever you say, you'll be alienating more voters than you gain. I am not "up" on the illegal immigration issue - though I am reading Ankarlo's book - but it appears that Arizona's employer sanctions law is working, and Obama's website says they will "remove incentives to enter the country illegally by cracking down on employers who hire undocumented immigrants." I wouldn't bank on anything getting done in the first Obama term.

Finally, we come to health care. Barack Obama claims that the expiration of the Bush tax cuts on those making over $250,000/year will fully fund his optional universal healthcare proposal. How that will work when the plan is supposed to cost $50-65 billion annually and we just spent over ten times that on an unplanned-for bank bailout is yet to be determined.

Obviously, I'm in the tank for Obama and I want him to win, badly. I also understand that many of his lofty ideas will come crashing down to earth when faced with the reality of an economy in crisis. I would love to take a summer vacation in Europe, but I have bills to pay. The government has bills, too. We know he has it in him to be a president of great vision; we shall see if he can be a president of great practicality.