Another political article in the Ensign

The March issue of the Ensign has an excellent article (reprinted) by Marion G. Romney called The Celestial Nature of Self-Reliance. I was introduced to this article last year at the BYU Women's Conference Broadcast of Sacred Relationships and Self-Reliance by Ana Maria Coburn and was delighted to see it reprinted in the Ensign.

What stood out to me in reading it was how many times it has the word "government" in it. I count 9. I find this particularly interesting because this is the third article in six months in the Ensign that relates to politics. I just wanted to share a few quotes, give my "analysis", and see what you think. So, here goes.

On this subject, Elder Albert E. Bowen said, “The … Church is not satisfied with any system which leaves able people permanently dependent, and insists, on the contrary, that the true function and office of giving, is to help people [get] into a position where they can help themselves and thus be free.”

Many programs have been set up by well-meaning individuals to aid those who are in need. However, many of these programs are designed with the shortsighted objective of “helping people,” as opposed to “helping people help themselves.” Our efforts must always be directed toward making able-bodied people self-reliant.

So, how do our current government welfare programs stack up in helping people "get into a position where they can help themselves"? It seems to me that our current programs are creating and enabling cycles of poverty (permanant dependence) rather than helping people to break free from poverty. I appreciate that he credits individuals who support these programs as "well-meaning". (I would probably have used "misguided", which might be offensive, so I appreciate well-meaning)

President Romney quotes a story about gullible gulls out of the Reader's Digest:
In our friendly neighbor city of St. Augustine great flocks of sea gulls are starving amid plenty. Fishing is still good, but the gulls don’t know how to fish. For generations they have depended on the shrimp fleet to toss them scraps from the nets. Now the fleet has moved. …

The shrimpers had created a Welfare State for the … sea gulls. The big birds never bothered to learn how to fish for themselves and they never taught their children to fish. Instead they led their little ones to the shrimp nets.

Now the sea gulls, the fine free birds that almost symbolize liberty itself, are starving to death because they gave in to the ‘something for nothing’ lure! They sacrificed their independence for a handout.

A lot of people are like that, too. They see nothing wrong in picking delectable scraps from the tax nets of the U.S. Government’s ‘shrimp fleet.’ But what will happen when the Government runs out of goods? What about our children of generations to come?

Let’s not be gullible gulls. We … must preserve our talents of self-sufficiency, our genius for creating things for ourselves, our sense of thrift and our true love of independence.

This one line in particular stood out to me: But what will happen when the Government runs out of goods? This is a very real possibility. In fact, what do you call an annual trillion dollar deficit? The government is long out of "goods" and is borrowing those goods from other countries. It was recently announced that the deficits of Obama's administration are even worse than previously forecasted. Economists all seem to agree that these kinds of deficits are unsustainable. And yet, Obama is marching forward with his spending agenda of "overhauling health care, exploring new energy sources and enacting scores of domestic programs".

The dismal deficit figures, if they prove to be accurate, inevitably raise the prospect that Obama and his Democratic allies controlling Congress would have to consider raising taxes after the recession ends or else pare back his agenda.
Well, Obama has made it clear that he is not paring back his agenda.
"What we will not cut are investments that will lead to real growth and prosperity over the long term," Obama said. "That's why our budget makes a historic commitment to comprehensive health care reform. That's why it enhances America's competitiveness by reducing our dependence on foreign oil and building a clean energy economy."

Obama's $3.6 trillion budget for the 2010 fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 contains ambitious programs to overhaul the U.S. health care system and initiate new "cap-and-trade" rules to combat global warming.

Both initiatives involve raising federal revenues sharply higher, but those dollars wouldn't be used to defray the burgeoning deficit and would instead help pay for Obama's health plan and implement Obama's $400 tax credit for most workers and
$800 for couples.

I guess I just don't believe that Obama's agenda is actually going to lead to "real growth and prosperity over the long run". I wonder if we are "sacrificing our independence" for a $400 tax credit. So, if Obama won't cut spending, the alternatives are to borrow more or increase taxes. Believe it or not, there are limits on the amount the U.S. can borrow. We have to borrow from other countries (namely China), and they are giving us warnings about spending too much. Plus, the more debt we have, the weaker our currency becomes and the higher our interest rates go. That's why deficits around 5% of GDP are "unsustainable". So, I know the answer to "But what will happen when the Government runs out of goods?" Higher taxation. Glenn Beck pointed out that if every person who made more than $200,000 (the top 2% of the population) was taxed at 100% (so the government takes every single red cent from the "rich"), that would increase revenues by $1.3 trillion. Incidentally, that's almost the exact amount of Obama's projected deficit in 2010. But, you can't really tax them at 100%, can you (who would give the rest of us jobs?!?!?)? So, if taxes need to be raised, they will come to all of us.

To me, the answer to "What will happen when the Government runs out of goods?" is that I will likely see reduced services (more crappy roads, for example) and pay higher taxes. Can anyone say "oppression"? If not us, it will happen to our children. That's the answer to, "What about our generations of children to come?" We'll leave them with debt and deficits to oppress them.

Back to President Romney,
The practice of coveting and receiving unearned benefits has now become so fixed in our society that even men of wealth, possessing the means to produce more wealth, are expecting the government to guarantee them a profit.
Can anyone say "Bailouts"?
Elections often turn on what the candidates promise to do for voters from government funds.

This reminds me of the woman on youtube crying with joy because Obama is going to pay her mortgage and buy her gas . . .

This practice, if universally accepted and implemented in any society, will make slaves of its citizens.

We cannot afford to become wards of the government, even if we have a legal right to do so. It requires too great a sacrifice of self-respect and political, temporal, and spiritual independence.
President Romney repeatedly ties self-reliance to freedom. In an earlier part of the article, he says
It is easy to understand the reason the Lord places so much emphasis on this principle when we come to understand that it is tied very closely to freedom itself.
and in a later part, he says
Whenever we get into a situation which threatens our self-reliance, we will find our freedom threatened as well. If we increase our dependence, we will find an immediate decrease in our freedom to act.

Does anyone else feel that the more control we give to government, the less control we ourselves have? The less freedom we have? Conservatives (like me) are going crazy watching Obama because we can see our liberty rapidly slipping away.

We can’t always control government programs, but we can control our own homes and congregations. If we will teach these principles and live them, we can do much to counter the negative effects which may exist in government programs in any country.

Interesting, interesting. This is largely how I feel right now. As I listened to the last general conference, it seemed much more focused on strengthening our families and our stakes in Zion than on effecting change in our country and world. I am not sure there is much I can do as I watch the government (not just Obama, but Democrats and some Republicans) destroying our economy and leading us to socialism. However, if I teach principles of self-reliance to my children and live them myself, I may be able to "counter the negative effects" the government will have on our lives. Now, that is reason for hope!

Those quotes come from the first half of the article. The second half of the article is dedicated to encouraging (even admonishing) us to use our self-reliance to help others. After quoting several scriptures about helping the poor (and pointing out that it is a commandment),he says

There is an interdependence between those who have and those who have not. The process of giving exalts the poor and humbles the rich. In the process, both are sanctified. The poor, released from the bondage and limitations of poverty, are enabled as free men to rise to their full potential, both temporally and spiritually. The rich, by imparting of their surplus, participate in the eternal principle of giving. Once a person has been made whole, or self-reliant, he reaches out to aid others, and the cycle repeats itself.

I really like that. One thing we LDS liberals and conservatives agree on is that we are commanded to help the poor, to "Think of your brethren like unto yourselves, and be familiar with all and free with your substance, that they may be rich like unto you" (Jacob 2:17). We are commanded to "consecrate [our] properties" (D&C 42:30). We seek for Zion, where we will have all things in common.

However, we differ greatly on government's role in accomplishing that. I think that President Romney's talk does a pretty good job of showing how using government programs (however "well-intentioned" they may be) to accomplish that will decrease our individual freedoms and liberties and instead bring us into bondage or oppression (like the seagulls who "sacrifice their independence for a handout").


Pet Food and Capitalism

So last night I was on my way home from Walmart (you know - those dreaded Saturday night Mormon runs to make sure you have milk, etc. for Sunday. We might as well make it a ward activity. Half the ward is there.) Anyways, I was on my way home, listening to talk radio, when a very interesting conversation came up. (I have tried to find the text of the conversation for you, but it seems impossible since I don't have a subscription to the site. Based on the KLIF website, it appears I was listening to "Coast to Coast AM Encore", to a rebroadcast piece from 5/20/97 by Art Bell interviewing Ann N. Martin, authority on commercial pet food production. I am going to recap the best I can.)

Ann was explaining how dead animals (road kill, dead pets, euthanized animals, livestock unfit for human consumption, etc.) are rendered to create pet food. The entire animal (minus head because it's sent to a lab to be tested for rabies) is ground up - hair, bones, everything. Then the ground up animals are boiled for about 20 minutes at a high temperature. The fat floats to the top. The rest sinks to the bottom. The stuff at the bottom is dried out into "meat meal", which is then used to make pet food. Ann was saying that she feels human food is more healthy for animals to consume than pet food, despite what veterinarians may say.

Art then said something like this, "I've heard that sometimes people who are poor, particularly the elderly, will eat pet food because they can't afford real food".

Ann laughed and said that although she had heard that, it didn't appear to be true - just more of an urban legend. For one, she said, pet food is more expensive than alternative forms of protein. When comparing a can of tuna to a can of pet food, the tuna is cheaper, so she can't imagine someone choosing the pet food. Plus, she had researched these claims thoroughly and had never found anyone who had eaten pet food because they were too poor to afford real food.

Art replied like this, "Well, that's because you live in socialist Canada where they take care of their own. Here in America, our capitalism allows people to slip through the cracks, so believe me, people are eating pet food. I know".

Can someone please explain his logic to me because I am just not getting it. If people are "slipping through the cracks", that means that the government is not providing food for them. That leaves them with a few options:

  1. Go to a charity. What charities are giving out pet food to hungry people?
  2. Purchase your own food. As Ann pointed out, pet food is more expensive than people food. Since capitalism assumes people make rational choices in their best interest, what rational person would choose to purchase the more expensive pet food to eat if they are basing their purchase on cost?
  3. Steal. But again, if someone is stealing food, what rational person is going to choose to steal pet food rather than people food?

(Plus, there's the fact that he acknowledged she was a world-wide expert in commercial pet food and believed everything she said applied to the U.S. except this one little thing. I think that if you are going to discredit some aspect of someone's research based on the fact that they are "only in Canada", then you would need to discredit all of it.)

So, I am really not getting it. My take is that this was a very ignorant stab at capitalism. Am I missing something?


Big Free Speech

Ah, Big Love. I'm one of those bad Mormons who kind of likes HBO shows - I mean, John Adams was amazing, Rome is one of those guilty pleasures, and Flight of the Conchords is one of the best things to ever happen to TV - and Big Love....You know, a few years ago, when everyone had all their panties in a wrinkle over this show, I decided to just try it out, and I kinda liked it - I never became an avid fan or watcher - I've just sometimes caught an episode here or there. From what i've seen, I've felt like, despite the hype, it usually portrays the LDS Church in a remarkably respectful way. The drama (and disrespect, if there was any) was not on the LDS Church, but on some fictional fundamentalist compound in southern Utah - and they made the distinction between that group and the LDS Church multiple times. So I thought, kudos to them.

But, in true Hollywood fashion, they feel the need to keep pushing the bar, so now there is this. and this Oh c'mon, guys - really? Yes, that's right - the LDS temple ceremony is to feature (allegedly it will be prominent) in tonight's all new episode. It makes sense - I mean, the temple is a big question mark to most Americans - so exposing the secret...well I'm surprised it hasn't happened more often.

So I get that HBO execs have a right to free speech - couldn't this be viewed as a)slander, or b) copy right infringement? I mean the church is sure to own a copyright on the Temple Ceremony, right? I'd think it could be a little risky. From reading other blogs, its apparent just how many indignant Mormons have their blood pressure going out the roof. I get where you are coming from - experiencing a little righteous indigestion. Just remember this - its not the first time it has happened, and it surely won't be the last. The whole ceremony is available on the Internet, the God Makers movie parodied it a million years ago, And Bill Maher's Documentary, "Religilous" briefly forayed into LDS temple rites. The difference between Big Love and other anti-Mormon garbage out there (like God makers) is that Big Love, apparently, had a former temple worker as a consultant to recreate the situation. Not saying that I agree with this broadcast. I think it is wrong, insensitive, and outright upsetting. But maybe, just maybe, they'll portray it accurately and thus show just how...unexciting the Temple Ceremony really is. Then all those tasty little rumors of sacrificial cows, temple orgies, temple horns and necrophilia will fade into their appropriate obscurity. People love the unexplained mystery - they are fascinated by it -and ours has been unexplained for a long time. Now people can have a better idea of it. Before you get too upset and call for boycotts, as so many have done, remember that media misrepresentation really has no impact on your own personal experience.