HB 477 Utah

The HB477 Disaster

Written by Randal Serr on . Posted in Politics

HB477 passed in about as much time as it took Charlie Sheen to break the Guinness Book of World Records for most followers on Twitter in the least amount of time — and before the public knew what hit them, they just got a heaping load of Sheen-style nuttiness in the Utah legislature.

HB477 is a borderline crazy bill — if you believe in open democracy, anyway. I cannot figure out why people in both mainstream parties or anybody of any political ideology for that matter is not completely outraged by this bill. I think we can all agree that transparency in government is an essential part of democracy, maybe a few national security issues aside.

The bill can be summed up like this: it restricts public access to government records. It paves the way for corruption and conflict of interest. In other words, it gives Utah legislators a way to communicate with each other and with rogue power players in secret. It vaguely allows the Utah government to charge an unrestricted amount of money for access to their records, putting the burden on the public and on the media (rather than on the government) to disclose information about the Utah legislature as they see fit.

Don't Ask Don't Tell Repeal

Being on the Wrong Side of the Arc of History

Written by Randal Serr on . Posted in Politics

The arc of history does not bend toward justice as promptly as I and many others would like, but with the repealing of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell we have witnessed an event that people will refer back to far into the future as a moment when things changed for the better. The repealing of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) will undoubtedly serve as a catalyst toward greater acceptance and equality in other areas. Hopefully it has much the same effect that desegregating the military had in 1948.

There were, however, 31 senators and many others who did not want this repeal to happen. You could even go so far as saying they were on the wrong side of the arc of history, the side that bends toward inequality and discrimination rather than justice. One senator said that, while the policy needs to be changed in the future, “In the middle of a military conflict is not the time to do it.”

The problem with this statement is that it is a misnomer. The U.S. has troops around the world all the time and there will be troops or “residual forces” in Afghanistan and Iraq for decades. What this means is that the senator was basically saying it should never happen.

Reason #4,672 Why Congress Kinda Sucks

Written by Steve Pierce on . Posted in Politics

Because they don’t have spirited, culturally awesome arguments like this one between British Prime Minister David Cameron and a member of parliament, where they pretty much just throw out old Smiths songs as a way of bickering about Cameron’s proposed budget cuts:

MP Kerry McCarthy: “As someone who claims to be an avid fan of The Smiths, the Prime Minister will no doubt be rather upset this week that both Morrissey and Johnny Marr have banned him from liking them. The Smiths are, of course, the archetypal students’ band. If he wins tomorrow night’s vote [on tuition fees], what songs does he think students will be listening to? ‘Miserable Lie,’ ‘I Don’t Owe You Anything’ or ‘Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now?’”

Cameron: “I accept that if I turned up I probably wouldn’t get ‘This Charming Man,’ and if I went with the Foreign Secretary [William Hague] it would probably be ‘William It Was Really Nothing.’”

David Cameron and an MP rapping about the Smiths in public? As part of a policy exchange? Sign me up!

Of course, the British parliament has always been noticeably more, um, lively and exciting than their American counterparts. In short, the House of Commons is basically the political equivalent of a rap battle.

We don’t do that in the United States. In fact, we pretty much do the opposite — we let our elected representatives pontificate ad nauseum to a near-empty chamber until they quite literally put people to sleep. But that doesn’t mean there’s not an appetite for this kind of robust debate in American politics.

Indeed, think back to last February, when the country was (briefly) atwitter over President Obama’s decision to take on his opponents head-to-head in a question-and-answer session at the House Republicans’ retreat. It was like the Woodstock of actual, real-life debate in Washington. It was legitimately thrilling to actually see (for once) the best and brightest of both parties really going at it in a more casual, open setting.

However, that unique moment becomes significantly less thrilling when you then realize that the British prime minister does the same thing every single week in Prime Minister’s Questions (or PMQ, as it’s apparently abbreviated), which is where the aforementioned Cameron-McCarthy Smiths exchange took place.

You may be thinking this isn’t really a substantive critique. You’re right — it isn’t. Barack Obama and John Boehner clearly aren’t going to develop a bipartisan plan to magically eliminate the national debt by swapping Run-DMC references on a weekly basis (although I hear Boehner is a huge fan.) But I can’t help but feel that our policy and our politics could only benefit from having more spirited public debates on the issues — particularly debates where policymakers and leaders from both parties (including the president) have to stand up and answer their critics directly in a healthy exchange of ideas and opinions.

I refuse to believe that such a heightened level of debate and transparency could somehow be bad for this country. But then again, I do love myself some political theater and a good Smiths reference — so maybe my motives are selfish in that regard. I guess I just live in the wrong country to be consistently entertained by my public officials’ weirdly encyclopedic knowledge of mopey 1980s British pop music…

John McCain

Will Republicans Finally Have the Guts to Repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell?

Written by Jim Dalrymple on . Posted in Politics

The studies are in and the verdict is clear — the American public supports it; Secretary of Defense Robert Gates favors it; even the majority of our troops are cool with it. So why is there any doubt about the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell? And, more to the point, will congressional Republicans still try to prevent something that, by virtually every account, will strengthen our armed forces and increase national security?

On Tuesday, the Pentagon released the “Report of the Comprehensive Review of the Issues Associated with a Repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” That’s a long title, and it comes with a fittingly long report that basically says what has been obvious for years — DADT is outdated and needs to be ended.

More Pay Freeze: Bad Politics, Worse Policy

Written by Steve Pierce on . Posted in Politics

I was a little worried about the post I wrote yesterday on President Obama’s pay freeze. After all, he announced the freeze a few days back — maybe it was all talked out by the time I got around to it? Turns out that wasn’t the case.

I consider The Washington Post‘s Ezra Klein to be one of the best bloggers around — the way he takes complicated policy minutiae and consistently distills them into engaging, highly informative masterpieces is truly stunning. And the best thing about Ezra is that, while he is unapologetically liberal, he’s not a hack. He’s genuinely more interested in good policy than political ideology — and while he believes liberal solutions to problems are generally more effective, he’s open-minded and intellectually honest enough to consider ideas from all sides. In other words, he’s pretty much my hero (if you couldn’t already tell.)

So wasn’t I surprised when, at 2:06 p.m. MST today, the great Ezra Klein posted this excellent piece basically articulating the same argument I made yesterday — that the Obama administration is being played like a fiddle by the Republicans because they don’t know how (or just flat-out refuse) to negotiate in a way that’s politically advantageous. Of course, he did the argument far more justice than I did — and wrote it a thousand times better — but it’s still kind of fun to quasi-scoop your idol every once in a blue moon. Either way, Ezra’s post is definitely worth your time and then some.

After reading Ezra’s thoughts and sleeping on mine from yesterday, I remain absolutely convinced that the administration’s unilateral pay freeze is horrible politics — but, even worse than that, it’s also terrible policy.

If, as the White House has stated early and often, your chief economic goal is to get as much capital flowing into the market as possible and to get as many Americans as possible spending money at businesses that will then turn around and create jobs here at home, then this policy is a massive failure.

Federal workers are just like any other American — they work for a living, they collect their paycheck, and then they spend their paycheck consuming goods and services. They are, in a sense, living and breathing little economic stimulants, just like every American worker with some cash in his pocket. The only difference? They just happen to work for the government instead of McDonald’s or FedEx or some other privately owned business.

Does that mean their money isn’t good? Does that mean their consumption won’t put dollars in the coffers of American businesses that can then use the additional revenue to hire new workers? Of course not.

We need these people to have that discretionary income now more than ever. We need them infusing that money into the market via consumption. We need them providing revenue for the private sector that will help create permanent, well paying jobs. To be brief, now is not the time to be skimping on anybody’s Christmas bonus.

I understand the flipside of the argument, too. We’re massively in debt. The federal government is carrying an annual operating deficit of about $1.2 trillion. This is unacceptable, as it presents a huge problem for the long-term financial stability of the country.

Believe me, I get it. I’m as big a deficit hawk as anyone. We need to fix it — but a federal pay freeze isn’t going to do the job. This policy is going to save the government approximately $5 billion over the next few years, which is practically nothing in the face of a projected $1 trillion budget deficit. It’s a miniscule drop in the clichéd figurative bucket.

I would love nothing more than to see both parties get serious about deficit reduction by, you know, doing the stuff that will actually work — reforming Social Security and Medicare, eliminating excess defense spending, restructuring our tax system, etc. Freezing salaries for federal employees isn’t one of those effective options. It just makes life a little harder for a lot of middle-class families and restricts the stimulative flow of capital into the markets — all without seriously tackling our deficit problem. It’s nothing but a symbolic gesture, and a bad one at that.

That’s not something the economy, the administration, or the American people can afford right now.


The Daily Universe and Prop 8

Written by Randal Serr on . Posted in Politics

Brigham Young University’s official newspaper The Daily Universe has been well known for its right-leaning reporting over the years. That makes sense since the newspaper is put out by writers, editors and photographers who are all students from the mostly conservative campus. Take a look at the letters to the editor section on any given day and this ideology will be clear, sometimes absurdly so. Naturally, letters to the editor will reflect the student body’s general ideology.

A recent article about the overturn of California’s Proposition 8 lacked the objectivity necessary to do this important story justice. The story had a title and a lead paragraph that made it clear where they as a newspaper stood and assumed that their audience agreed. The article tried to hide its true feelings using an old journalism tactic — using the word  “some” to avoid appearing biased.

For example, the article states that “some BYU students from California are struggling to understand how a single federal judge could invalidate the collective voice of voters who passed Proposition 8 nearly two years ago.” The author reiterates this feeling later with “some BYU students said they felt the decision was difficult to understand.”

I’m sure most BYU students are, in fact, upset about the judge’s overruling of Proposition 8 — but The Daily Universe has a responsibility to report the news without the subjectivity that leaves its readers with only a partial examination of the issue.


Another Prop 8?

Written by Randal Serr on . Posted in Politics

Not quite.

Argentina is the latest country in the process of legalizing gay marriage. The lesser branch of congress in Argentina, known as the Chamber of Deputies (comparable to the U.S. House of Representatives), approved a bill on May 5th that would legalize gay marriage, as well as make adoption legal for gay couples. The Senate was due to vote on the bill today.

The LDS Church took notice of this momentum and issued a statement to be read to its members in the country this past Sunday, July 11th. There were some stark differences between what was read to members of the LDS Church in Argentina and what was read to Mormons in California in 2008. The letter read to Mormons in Argentina on Sunday was not nearly as explicit and determined as was the California letter. The California letter was a call to action while the Argentinean letter was more of a statement of belief with a reference to the church’s “Proclamation on the Family,” a document highlighting the LDS belief that the family is a fundamental and important part of society.

Glenn Beck 2

Glenn Beck the Prophet

Written by Randal Serr on . Posted in Politics

Glenn Beck is at it again. Actually, he has been at it for a while now, but his crazy scale sometimes goes so far off the charts that you can only go so long before he says something so absurd it begs to be addressed.

On August 28th, Glenn Beck will unveil his plan to “save our country.” Mr. Beck has been getting his followers prepared for what he calls “The Plan” over the past few months, much the same way his rants led to The 9/12 Project and the Tea Party. Take, for example, the talking points used by both Beck and his Tea Party followers. Just the other day, both were on the verge of tears ranting about how they need to “take our country back.” How could they accomplish such a valiant effort? That is where The Plan comes in.

Los Suns

Los Suns and the Heated Immigration Debate

Written by Randal Serr on . Posted in Politics

Fans of the NBA have probably noticed that certain teams with large Latino populations in their state have what is called a “noche latina” every so often.

Teams from Miami, San Antonio, Los Angeles, and Phoenix have all participated in such nights dedicated to their Latino community, sporting jerseys saying “El Heat,” “Los Spurs,” “Los Lakers,” and “Los Suns.” Let’s be honest, it is largely a marketing scheme. Most recently, the Phoenix Suns were united in a decision to sport the jerseys, not on the “noche latina” but in the midst of a fierce debate about a bill that the Arizona Legislature recently passed which gives police an unprecedented amount of power to crack down on those suspected of being in the state illegally.

This story underlies a larger discussion in the midst of all the turmoil. The Suns decided to wear the jerseys not for marketing, but to show support for the Latino community. This comes in the face of some possibly very serious repercussions to a business that is already in financial distress. A recent poll shows that 70 percent of likely voters in Arizona favor the bill while, interestingly enough, 53 percent are concerned that its enforcement will lead to violation of many citizens’ civil rights. From those poll numbers it is apparent that people want the immigration problem to be dealt with, but they do not agree with how the bill allows for law enforcement to question anyone under “reasonable suspicion” to prove they are in the country legally.

Glenn Beck

Bein’ a Hater: Glenn Beck, Mormons, and Hate Speech

Written by Jim Dalrymple on . Posted in Politics

Saturday’s On the Media — an NPR news program that discusses media — focused on the rise of hate groups in the United States. It featured Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center, who (about halfway through the discussion) talked about, among many other things, how right-wing media figures and politicians are mainstreaming hate speech — and among those cited by name was Glenn Beck. To be fair, Beck wasn’t the focus of Potok’s discussion. Hate was. But Beck was one of the very few people whose names were mentioned as troubling.

For Mormons, that should be a distressing assertion. As a Mormon himself, Beck has always been something of an oddball. However, Potok’s point wasn’t that Beck is simply extreme, or embarrassing to people of one political persuasion or another. It wasn’t even that he personally disagrees with Beck and those like him. Rather, it was that Beck and others are actually helping hate become more common. Tellingly, Potok also points out that hate crimes in the United States are becoming more widespread, which could obviously correlate with the increase in hateful rhetoric.

Ironically, and because I too am a Mormon, I listened to this segment of On the Media between sessions of LDS General Conference. As some surely know, that’s a bi-annual event that teaches Mormons to strive for Christ-like attributes, like love and respect. Yet in the midst of that message I also ended up listening to an expert on hate speech point out that one of the most prominent Mormons in the United States is doing the exact opposite of what the Church teaches.