LDS Church Neutrality on Abortion Legislation

While a student at BYU, I encountered an incredible amount of misconceptions on the political issue of abortion. It seemed that anyone who spoke to me of the issue assumed that Democrats and liberals "believed in" abortion, meaning that those who were pro-choice thought abortions were good things, and not something to be avoided. Over the next few posts, I aim to explore various aspects concerning the political issues of abortion, stem cell research, and as President George W. Bush termed it, "the culture of life." To be clear, this is not an effort on my part to support the pro-choice position as I do not define myself as pro-choice, nor do I define myself as pro-life. I hope to establish a framework for thoughtful people to have rational discussions about these issues.

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Sean Hannity Scams Injured Vets, Children

Conservative blogger Debbie Schlussel revealed that Sean Hannity's "Freedom Concerts," which are ostensibly for raising money to pay for college tuition of the children of fallen soldiers and to assist wounded military veterans, spent less than "20%–and in two recent years, less than 7% and 4%, respectively" for these causes. This is based on information obtained from a Fox News source and from publicly available tax return information on Hannity's charity, Freedom Alliance.

According to the Fox News source, "there’d be a lot more money every concert to go to the cause if Hannity didn’t demand–and get–use of a Gulfstream 5 plane to fly him and his family/entourage to the concerts; a “fleet”... of either Cadillac or Lincoln SUVs for him and his family/entourage; and several suites at really expensive hotels for him and his family/entourage. The promoter apparently values Hannity’s star demands at well over $200,000 per event."

"The Rage is Not About Health Care"

Frank Rich stated what I was trying to point out in my previous post, "Right-Wing Terrorism," in a much more eloquent and straightforward fashion than I did. (That's probably why he's a NYT columnist and I'm not.) Here are some of the best parts:

In fact, the current surge of anger — and the accompanying rise in right-wing extremism — predates the entire health care debate. The first signs were the shrieks of “traitor” and “off with his head” at Palin rallies as Obama’s election became more likely in October 2008. Those passions have spiraled ever since — from Gov. Rick Perry’s kowtowing to secessionists at a Tea Party rally in Texas to the gratuitous brandishing of assault weapons at Obama health care rallies last summer to “You lie!” piercing the president’s address to Congress last fall like an ominous shot... If Obama’s first legislative priority had been immigration or financial reform or climate change, we would have seen the same trajectory.

...As no less a conservative authority than The Wall Street Journal editorial page observed last week, the bill’s prototype is the health care legislation Mitt Romney signed into law in Massachusetts. It contains what used to be considered Republican ideas. Yet it’s this bill that inspired G.O.P. congressmen on the House floor to egg on disruptive protesters even as they were being evicted from the gallery by the Capitol Police last Sunday. It’s this bill that prompted a congressman to shout “baby killer” at Bart Stupak, a staunch anti-abortion Democrat. It’s this bill that drove a demonstrator to spit on Emanuel Cleaver, a black representative from Missouri. And it’s this “middle-of-the-road” bill, as Obama accurately calls it, that has incited an unglued firestorm of homicidal rhetoric, from “Kill the bill!” to Sarah Palin’s cry for her followers to “reload.” At least four of the House members hit with death threats or vandalism are among the 20 political targets Palin marks with rifle crosshairs on a map on her Facebook page.

Glenn Beck Called Out By Mormon Leaders

Glenn Beck, who recently demonized churches that preach social and economic justice as communist and fascist, caused some LDS church leaders to become so uncomfortable that they personally apologized to a reverend whom Beck had attacked. More specifically, Glenn Beck said, "I beg you, look for the words 'social justice' or 'economic justice' on your church Web site. If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words. Now, am I advising people to leave their church? Yes!" He went on to compare organizations that practice social and economic justice with communism and fascism.

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Right-Wing Terrorism

The news over the past few days has demonstrated that elements of the Tea Party and others on the far right have resorted to blatant bigotry and threats of violence in the run up to and in the aftermath of Sunday's House vote on the landmark heath care reform bill. As some Democratic lawmakers were making their way up to Capital Hill on Sunday, Tea Party protesters hurled racial and other epithets, like ni***r and fa***t to a few black congressman and one gay congressman. One black congressman was even spat upon.

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Response Written Concerning The Current Healthcare Legislation

A couple points of response:

If any company takes taxpayer dollars, then by right of being a shareholder, taxpayers should have some say in how the company operates. I completely agree with you regarding the government's lack of industry expertise, but at the same time if the banking industry is going to benefit from my investment, as a stockholder, I have a right to their profits.

Same with the insurance companies. Medicaid and Medicare pay billions to insurance companies to regulate healthcare. What do we get in return? Larger premiums and poor coverage while the share holders rake in the profits. With government being the largest customer of private insurance companies, they have a right to demand better service, lower premiums, and higher quality of care. If an insurance company does not want to deal with the government's request, capitalism steps in. The insurance company needs to drop the government as a customer and the market will pick up the slack. However, insurance companies understand current legislation has been written in their favor. The government has legislated high barriers to entry and strict state to state competition laws. You and I have limited choices in what insurance companies we can purchase from, stifling competition. To make matters worse insurance companies are protected by anti-trust legislation making it harder to pin responsibility on price fixing and collusion.

Similar condition with with drug companies. Drug companies (with the help of Republicans) wrote price fixing laws into the 2003 Medicare bill making it illegal for the government to directly negotiate pricing. As a result the largest buyer of drugs pays the highest price. Capitalism or intervention? Drugs are cheaper in Mexico and Canada for the sheer reason of market forces. Now I wish the best for the pharma industry. I hope they make billions in profits. They should be rewarded for their innovation.  However it’s a double edged sword to play the victim of legislation that encourages the use of free market concepts to drive down profits. The drug companies have been sucking the tax dollars from our wallets with no repercussions of the price gauging they have regulated.

Now, "Obamacare" fixes several of these issues. It protects consumers from being dropped when their health takes a turn for the worse. It reinstates the government’s power to negotiate drug prices. It creates an insurance exchange to allow small businesses to band together and negotiate like massive corporations. Several of these concepts are free market principles. Now, I am not sure how I feel about mandating every citizen to buy healthcare. Obviously cutting down on emergency room care through scale would be a huge cost saver, and one of the driving principles of this legislation. I am also not sure if regulating small businesses to provide healthcare is a wise market principle either. However, economics will teach you that there are vast economies of scale as competition increases and demand rises. This is exactly why we can cover more people, using market principles, at a lower cost per individual. Is the healthcare bill perfect? No. But it is definitely better then the legislation we currently have in place. The CBO, a non-partisan organization, has projected the bill will be covered by forecasted costs already in the system (I guess we should thank the Republicans for that – the Medicare 2003 bill was quite an expensive entitlement program!) and increasing payroll taxes on individuals making over $250,000.

The Conservatives' Waterloo

David Frum, President George W. Bush's former speechwriter and a conservative political pundit posted the following on his website yesterday. I highly recommend the entire article, but here are some key points:

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Just to clear it up once and for all...

In 1998, Elder Marlin K. Jensen of the First Quorum of the Seventy gave a lengthy interview with the Salt Lake Tribune, in which he explained why the First Presidency of the Church issued a letter to all LDS congregations encouraging members to participate in the functions of government in their communities. Part of the concern that prompted the statement from the First Presidency was that it is not in the Church's "best interest to be known as a one-party church." Furthermore, he stated:

I think I could safely say that one of the things that prompted this discussion in the first place was the regret that’s felt about the decline of the Democratic Party [in Utah] and the notion that may prevail in some areas that you can’t be a good Mormon and a good Democrat at the same time. There have been some awfully good men and women who have, I think, been both and are both today. So I think it would be a very healthy thing for the church—particularly the Utah church—if that notion could be obliterated.

"Beware of Those Who Stir Us Up to Anger"

To start the blog, I would like to link one of my favorite LDS General Conference talks from the past few years given by Elder Robert S. Wood of the First Quorum of the Seventy. In observing the political climate in 2006, Elder Wood noted:

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Atlas Shrugged Response

(Response challenging my views being opposite the lessons of Atlas Shrugged)

I don't see it that way. I am a pretty pure capitalist. I support Milton Friedman's ideas about school vouchers to maximize privatized education. I never supported Obama’s plan to control CEO pay. In my MBA classes I was one of the few students to oppose CEO pay regulation, as compensation is a market function. I even work for one of the largest corporations in the world which provides a lesson everyday about supply and demand. I think government subsidies for corporations are anti-capitalistic. I thought that the American car companies should fail. I think unions have outlived their purpose and are the major cause of the auto company’s demise (and airlines). I think minimum wage laws are useless and unnecessary and I disagree when Democrats push regulatory legislation. I think the Federal Reserve is what allowed banks to undertake excessive risk with minimal consequence. If the Philadelphia bank in the 70’s, the Savings and Loan bank in the 80’s, and other large banks in the 90’s were allowed to fail, it would have sent a clearer message to manage risk this past decade, instead of embrace it. I don’t think it’s possible for a company to make too much money. This includes drug companies, as profit drives innovation.

However, there are times when I see conflicts between capitalism and the best interests of society. Healthcare is one example. The interest of shareholders does not align with the interests of the people. I see insurance companies as one of the most wasteful corporate entities, being fed by taxpayer dollars, and supported by legislation to stifle competition, creating a high barrier to entry. Tell me how this plays into a free market belief? I also find it absurd that the largest buyer of drugs pays the highest price driven by legislation making negotiation illegal. Tell me how that is capitalistic? (By the way, I have enormous respect for your brother who bucked party lines to vote against the Republican monstrosity healthcare bill. The Medicare 2003 bill is perhaps one of the most detrimental pieces of legislation to ever come out of Congress. A one trillion dollar entitlement program over ten years?! And the right calls Obama a socialist!)

Remember that Ayn Rand was a Russian immigrant seeing firsthand the problems with communism. It was the Russian Government that taught her how destructive anti-capitalistic models are, and drove her motivation to push ideas on capitalism. I don’t think anyone would question Greenspan’s dedication to free markets, but even he saw a flaw with the current capitalistic model stating that he had made a "mistake in believing that banks, operating in their own self-interest, would do what was necessary to protect their shareholders and institutions." Greenspan called that “a flaw in the model that defines how the world works.” This contradicts Adam Smith. This also demonstrates to me that Ayn Rand needs some revision.

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