"And seeing the people in a state of such awful wickedness, and those Gadianton robbers filling the judgment seats - having usurped the power and authority of the land; laying aside the commandments of God, and not in the aright before Him; doing no justice unto the children of men; Condemning the righteous because of their righteousness; letting the wicked go unpunished because of their money...."
Helaman 7:4-5Read more
Thomas Piketty, Marriner Eccles and the Book of Mormon
If you follow current events at all, you have certainly heard the buzz about French economist Thomas Piketty and his book Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Briefly stated, the main premise of the book is this: Classical economists back to Adam Smith wrote that there was a problem with capitalism:Read more
Put your shoulder to the wheel
Why do many of our fellow Latter-day Saints seem blind to many of the injustices in today’s America?
How can a people who read the Book of Mormon every day think that a political philosophy that worships wealth, idolizes rich people, demonizes poor people and whose religious base consists of fundamentalists who deny Mormons are Christian somehow reflects their values? How can these same people read King Benjamin and complain about ‘welfare moms’ taking their pittance away from us ‘hard working people’ while ignoring the vastly larger sums the rich and powerful are pilfering to line their already fat pockets?
How can the one predominantly Mormon state in the nation, whose people supposedly value families and children so much, consistently be rock-bottom in support for public education?
How can the descendants of the loyal followers of Brigham Young not be outraged at the environmental mess we have made of Brother Brigham’s Zion?
I could go on, but you get the point. Yeah, we’re frustrated.
It’s time we do something besides sit around the table and complain to each other. An election is coming up, and it’s time to put our shoulders to the wheel and get to work. The LDS Dems have experienced explosive growth the last few years, and we’re all excited about that, but this is more than a social club. Pick a few Democratic candidates that share your values. They don’t have to be Latter-day Saints. Donate to their campaigns. Volunteer to walk with them in your neighborhoods. If your health doesn’t permit that, make phone calls. Hold a house party and get a roomful of people together to meet your candidates.
Most importantly, speak up. I was getting my recommend signed several months ago by a wonderful councilor in our stake presidency. We got to talking afterwards and he asked about my plans for running for the Utah Legislature. After learning I was running as a Democrat, he leaned in and whispered (even though we were alone): “My son and I have been discussing this for a year now, and we’ve decided we’re Democrats!”
My response was simple: My good friend, stop whispering!
Obama didn't build that
Since the crisis in Ukraine took center stage in the news a little over a month ago, we could have added to the list of death and taxes another absolute certainty of life: that Republicans would blame the whole thing on Obama.
Democrats prefer democracy
“To me, the scariest voter is the uninformed voter.”
I can think of a few things more scary, Mike.
To me, the scariest voter is the voter that believes he deserves more say in how our country is run than his fellow citizens. They have a name for that: oligarchy. It sure ain’t democracy. One of the things that pushed me into being a Utah Democrat was hearing Republican delegates in 2005 call in to the Doug Wright show one afternoon explaining why they deserved more say in how the state was run than their clueless fellow citizens (especially if those citizens were registered Democrats). The arrogance of those people really shocked me. Rep. Noel makes it clear they haven’t repented.
These folks argue that it’s none of the public’s business how the Republican Party chooses their candidates. What arrogance. The taxpayer foots the bill for our elections; our system of electing our representatives belongs to the people, not to any political party.
While we’re talking uninformed voters, Mike: Which voter is more uninformed? The voter who is maybe a little superficial in how she investigates the candidates and issues, but remains open minded – or the voter who is so rigid in his ideology that his mind is completely closed to facts, evidence or any sort of rational argument that disagrees with his cherished beliefs? Neither of the above is ideal – but if I had to choose, I think we would be much better off with the first. Modern Republicans remind me of the old Mark Twain quote: “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you in trouble. It’s what you know that ain’t so.”
The Utah Legislature in general, and the fact that we sent John Swallow to the AG’s office and Mike Lee to the US Senate, are irrefutable examples that the current system is not working for Utah.
Kudos to Senator Bramble for bucking the extremists in his party and trying to find a workable compromise that maybe, just maybe, will be a good solution that balances the rights of the public with the concerns of political activists.
Time for a Tax Increase for Education
Former Utah State Representative Ogden, UT 84403
Let’s raise taxes to fund education. I know this is a bold statement in Utah where we are expected to do much with little funding, but most polls show that over 60% of Utah citizens are willing to pay more taxes if the money is used for schools.
Believe it or not, in the 1980’s, Utah’s funding per child was about the national average. At the time, we had large families and many children in our schools just as we do now.
Years earlier with a Constitutional Amendment, some forward thinking legislators, I will call them statesmen, earmarked all income tax to go to schools. The Education Fund would support our public schools, kindergarten through 12th grade. This decision would leave the General Fund to take care of the other obligations in the State.
But come 1995, the Legislature saw the money in the Education Fund and wanted to use it as they saw fit. So again, a Constitutional Amendment was put on the ballot that the Education Fund could be used to fund Higher Education. Teachers were concerned about losing this funding, but they were told if they came out against the Amendment that the income rate could be lowered. Also, the worst part was that it was pitting one educational entity against another. The Amendment passed. As a result, in 1996 the public schools were receiving about 98% of the Education Fund. In 2008, the last year that I served in the House, they received 73%.
In 2008, the Legislature passed the “flat tax” rate for income. The idea was to make it easier to file your state income tax. Even though it was touted as a “flat tax,” several items were kept, such as a deduction for children and a deduction for charitable contributions. The change was to be revenue neutral. In other words, taxes would not increase, but the schools would not lose money. The end result: the schools lost approximately $200 million per year.
At the present time, our “flat tax” is 5%; not including the deductions that are still allowed. If we raised that amount to 5 ½%, $275 million would be generated which could lower each classroom by three students or which could be used for needs as assessed in each school district. Six percent would give the schools $550 million. About 10 years ago, Mississippi was on the bottom as far as per child funding. They always used the term “bite the bullet” as they raised taxes to fund their schools. Their funding is now well above ours.
During this recession, many have had to sacrifice; some have not. The hard part of any proposal is trying to decide how people will be affected. We do know that those with large families, including some legislators, end up not paying any income tax.
In the past fifteen years, we have had these two dramatic hits to educational funding. Now is the time that we need to step up to the plate and take care of the students of Utah. Reports are showing that our students are not doing as well as they should. Of the 50 states, Utah is at the bottom of funding by at least $1000 per child. I believe it is time we meet the challenge and increase our income tax rate to meet this crisis of funding in our public schools.
Two options for solving the "disincentive to work" problem
Despite the occasional snarky comments you hear about poor people being lazy, there are tens of millions of American families where both spouses are working full-time, or even multiple jobs, and still struggling to make ends meet. One thing Krugman admits in his column is that the current safety net has huge disincentives for improving one’s economic situation. This is not because America’s working poor are lazy. It’s because the current system of public assistance tapers too rapidly. Working more hours, taking a second job, or sending your spouse into the workplace could result in an effective tax rate on that new income of up to 80%, as the government takes away assistance almost at the same rate as income increases. If the system penalizes you for improving yourself, it will of course affect the choices you make. The Affordable Care Act makes an honest attempt to remedy this situation in regards to access to health care (in the states where Republicans allow it to function), but in general, it’s still true that those who are on full public assistance are sometimes better off than those who are working hard to try to support themselves.
There are theoretically only two ways to remedy the above incentive problem:
- Dramatically reduce or eliminate public assistance. If there is little or no public assistance for poor Americans, the tapering question is moot.
- Reduce the rate of change for tapering public assistance from earned income sources, with an eye toward eliminating the disincentive for self-improvement. This could be done many different ways; through the tax code (such as making the earned income tax credit more generous), through temporary “underemployment” benefits, or direct assistance.
The first proposal would result in an increase in human suffering, especially for children, and arguably would hurt the economy by reducing already suppressed consumer demand.
The second proposal successfully solves the incentive problem, while reducing human suffering and adding demand dollars to the economy. It would be one of the simplest ways to begin to address what President Obama has rightly called the challenge of our time: persistent income inequality and the separation of Americans into economic classes with little economic mobility.
The second solution does have one drawback: It would cost more. And by definition, given what we’re trying to accomplish (removing disincentives for self-improvement among the working poor), that cost would have to be borne by higher income Americans.
Conservatives would obviously balk at the second idea. But there is one argument that they could not make: That it would be just another government give-away to lazy freeloaders. The people who would be helped by this approach are the hardest working Americans of us all. The whole idea would be to ensure their efforts at self-improvement are not in vain.
It remains to be seen if the President or any mainstream elected Democrats out there are courageous enough to pick up the gauntlet that Professor Krugman has thrown down.
A few thoughts on marriage
As a practicing, temple-endowed Latter-day Saint who was sealed for time and eternity to my high-school sweetheart almost 36 years ago, I believe that the religious sacrament I call marriage is a sacred covenant between one man and one woman.
However, here’s the problem: Others have deeply held religious views that marriage between individuals of the same gender is also approved by God. This creates an uncomfortable quandary (or at least it should) for a people who believe in a modern scripture that reads “We do not believe it just to mingle religious influence with civil government”. The quandary is especially uncomfortable when Amendment 3 opponents are able to produce quotes by John Taylor and Brigham Young condemning monogamy (i.e. traditional marriage) that use much the same language as today’s opponents of same-sex marriage.
How do you decide whose religious belief gets enacted into law, when there is no consensus? The obvious answer is you can’t. Because of this, well-meaning supporters of Amendment 3, including attorneys in Utah’s AG office, have tried to translate religious arguments into secular and legal ones. It is from this perspective that Judge Shelby decided arguments that same-sex marriage was harmful to traditional marriage did not hold water. In their latest appeal to the Supreme Court for a stay to Judge Shelby’s decision, the AG’s office sent a subtle signal about the legal weakness of their case when they dropped the procreation argument. Attempts have been made by Amendment 3 supporters in editorial columns in Utah newspapers the last month to state logical, legally sound secular arguments for their support, and to any fair-minded person, these arguments come across as stilted and strained.
I think we have to admit that the only logically sound arguments for opposition to same sex marriage are religious ones, and the soundness of such arguments depends upon whether one accepts that particular religious viewpoint.
Given the political climate in Utah, the Attorney General’s office probably doesn’t have any choice but to pursue all avenues of appeal to Judge Shelby’s decision. But it’s hard to see that effort succeeding in turning back the sweep of history.
In the meantime, LDS Dems have a great opportunity to change the discussion. If the goal is strengthening the family – who can disagree with that? Why not start a discussion of things we agree on, and how we can take effective, concrete steps to strengthen traditional families?
Here is one example. Leaders as diverse as Ezra Taft Benson, Hillary Clinton and Robert Reich have argued forcefully that full-time care by a parent in the early stages of a child’s life is a worthy goal for society. If that is true, if we all agree on that, then why is it that the “godless socialists” in Europe have parental leave policies that are so much more family-friendly that we do? My own daughter gave birth to a beautiful daughter six months ago, but little Mariah was born with significant health problems related to being one of the “little people” (the new kinder term for dwarfism). The crush of medical bills made it necessary for my daughter to go back to work just a few short weeks after birth. Thank goodness for a good girlfriend who was able to care for this handicapped child, but how can one describe this situation as “family friendly”?
Our fellow Mormons claim strengthening the traditional family is their most important priority, and Judge Shelby’s ruling has brought that subject to the forefront. It’s an opportune time to forcefully point out how damaging conservative economic policies have been to the traditional family.
In closing: A wise and good friend, who is a member of a stake presidency, made an interesting comment in a Sunday School class recently. He said that we as Latter-day Saints believe the ideal family is a father and mother married in the temple for life and raising their own children in righteousness. But he went on to say that upholding this ideal is not mutually exclusive to recognizing the reality that there are other types of families, and we need to find a way to serve and strengthen all families. There are single parent families. There are families like my wife and I who are raising a grandson. And yes, the unavoidable fact is that there are families where two members of the same gender are making a life together. I am hopeful that recent events might act as a catalyst to help us begin working on the things that we can agree on to strengthen all families.
My discovery of "It Takes A Village"
Well, I knew he hadn’t read it and based his opinion on one smart-alecky sentence from a political opponent. I would have called him on it, until I realized: I hadn’t read it either!
Thanks to the miracle of technology, within an hour from arriving home from church, the 2006 second edition of “It Takes a Village” was on the Kindle reader on my smartphone. (I don’t know about you, but the ease of getting a new book from the Kindle Store sure makes it hard to keep on a reasonable book budget.) I’ve been reading it during lunch the last few weeks, and was left with one overriding impression: Not only was Bob Dole and our priesthood instructor dead wrong; I believe if you took the text from that book, put it in a different cover with a new name, and pasted the name of a General Authority on the front, it would be an instant best seller at Deseret Book. I’ve never read anything more supportive of the traditional family, or more sympathetic to our traditional LDS values.
The chapter on divorce was especially emotional for me. I think everyone knows about President Clinton’s troubled childhood. Mrs. Clinton had good, supportive parents, but her mother, Dorothy Rodham, came from a broken home. She tells the heartbreaking story of how her 8-year old mother and her 3-year old younger sister were put on a train in Chicago by their father for a three-day trip, all alone, to live with their grandparents in Los Angeles. Our little grandson Silas, who lives with us, turns eight in April. I just can’t imagine! I have never read more passionate arguments about the scourge of divorce on the lives of young children than those contained in that chapter, or a more clarion call for us to do better as a society. Suddenly, I had an epiphany about Mrs. Clinton’s own life. There have been all sorts of nefarious theories about why she stayed with her husband after his well-publicized problems with keeping his marriage covenants, but it became clear to me that she simply hated divorce, and loved Chelsea too much to allow their family to be split up. If conservative leaders in our country were as committed to keeping marriages together “for better or worse” as Hillary Clinton has been, our nation would be a much friendlier place for traditional families. The contrast between her and folks like Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich is stark indeed. (Speaking of snark: I loved the one-liner from the late night comedian in early 2012 who said the only Republican presidential candidates that had only one wife were the two Mormons.)
Mrs. Clinton had extraordinary credentials for writing this book. During her years at Yale Law School, she participated in ground breaking research into childhood health and development, and her book is filled with both the passion for the importance of loving homes and the science supporting her passion.
The theme of “It Takes a Village” is simple: Hillary Clinton argues passionately that our communities need to do a much better job of supporting traditional families and the precious children than live in those homes. Bob Dole’s snarky remark couldn’t have been more wrong. It reinforces my anger at an LDS culture that automatically assumes that conservatives are pro-family and progressives are anti-family. I am embarrassed now that it took me this long to read this landmark book, and it makes me more dedicated than ever to the cause of speaking out against that falsehood. I gained a new appreciation for Mrs. Clinton and the strength of her character. Makes me even more proud to be a Democrat! You can count me in as one American who would be thrilled to see her become our first woman President.
A kinder, gentler Mike Lee?
Now, we in Utah believe in repentance. If a kinder, gentler Mike Lee has arrived, it would be a great thing for our state. He does seem like a genuinely nice guy, if somewhat misguided, so I would be inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt – even if the probable incentive for this possible change of heart is his cratering approval numbers.
But in the spirit of “bringing forth fruits meet for repentance”, I’d like to concentrate on one important aspect of his speech. Senator Lee admitted we need to do something about the broken ladder of upward mobility in America. The gap between rich and poor is greater than any time since the Great Depression, and studies show economic mobility in our nation is lower than any other developed country. If a child is born to a poor family, the barriers to her rising out of poverty in America are nearly insurmountable. Surely this must be considered one of the most pressing issues we face.
I’m wondering if Sen. Lee is ready to acknowledge that some dearly held Republican policies have contributed to this serious problem.
Take supply side economics. The admitted goal of these policies was to transfer more of the nation’s ongoing wealth to the “job creators”. Hence the huge cuts to upper income tax rates and investment and inheritance taxes, coupled with payroll tax increases and elimination of middle income tax exemptions and cuts to social programs for the poor. We now know from hindsight these policies also resulted in an explosion of “rent-seeking capitalists”, who make their fortunes not from creating new wealth but by transferring existing wealth into their own pockets. (Dylan Rattigan coined the colorful term “greedy b**tards” for this type of capitalist.)
The claim was that the benefits from these policies were supposed to “trickle down”. The evidence is indisputable: Instead, there was (using a term coined by Utah business tycoon and mid-20th century Federal Reserve chair Marriner Eccles) a “giant suction pump” pulling all the nation’s wealth into the hands of a few at the top.
Which of these policies is Senator Lee now willing to admit helped create today’s huge gap between rich and poor, and what changes would he support to reverse the trend?
Here’s another thought: Conservatives hold up the 1950’s as a time when everything was right in America, but one characteristic of that period was that almost 40% of American workers belonged to a union. It is no coincidence that the stagnation in middle class wages correlates to a huge drop in union membership.
Conservatives like to point to anecdotes that demonstrate union corruption (some of which are a half-century old), but occasional bad apples are found in every human endeavor. I didn’t see any Republicans calling for the end of corporations after Enron and Tyco. The fact is that large corporations will always have a power advantage over workers, and collective bargaining is one way to mitigate that imbalance. Large retailers like Costco and Starbucks have proven you can pay your employees a livable wage with benefits and remain profitable. As they have in the past, unions could help make these fair practices more universal.
Is Senator Lee willing to take the lead in ending the long-standing Republican animosity to organized labor?
Yes, there are non-political factors that have contributed to the wealth gap like the rise in technology and globalization, but the fact remains that other developed nations have done far better than we to ensure the fruits of economic growth are shared by everyone. Senator Lee is correct. America’s huge gap between rich and poor is a serious problem. I hope he will follow the example of Bill Clinton in the 1990’s in admitting the policy failures of his own party and take the lead in charting a new course.