POLITICS: Obama's Afghanistan Repercussions

Written by Randal Serr on . Posted in Politics

Randal Serr

Randal Serr

President Barack Obama’s recent decision to increase U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan has resulted in some interesting coalitions. Democrats are split with all sorts of opinions. Some people inside and outside of the Democratic Party have abandoned all hope they had in Obama, claiming he is no different from Bush. Another group has been assuaged by his speech, giving him some breathing room to finish up in Afghanistan.

Conservatives are divided on the issue as well. Part of them agree that the U.S. should send the additional troops and leave victorious. Even Karl Rove offered President Obama a certain amount of praise, saying his speech “deserves to be cheered.” And there are all sorts of critiques in between, some less informed than others. All in all, he has somehow accomplished becoming the first liberal socialist far-right warmonger in U.S. presidential history.

This was undoubtedly a tough decision to make and the president made it clear it was not easy for him. There was inherently a lot of risk involved in this decision. If Obama was concerned purely about elections and politics, then he probably would have made plans to immediately exit Afghanistan since a majority of his party (and America) is skeptical of the war.

The July 2011 timetable for withdrawal is more of a goal than a sure exit date. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said we will not leave until the Afghans are ready to take over their own security. If the strategy fails and U.S. troops are required to remain in the country longer, Obama surely will suffer political losses. If the strategy succeeds, he will undoubtedly win back some doubters and former supporters, but not all of them.

Obama and his administration made a comprehensive analysis of the situation. He consulted with experts looking at the reality of the situation on the ground and listened to wide-ranging and differing opinions, a scenario far from the “groupthink” of the Bush administration. He reached a decision after months of consideration. Regardless of whether or not you agree with the conclusion, at least his decision process was thorough. He addressed the concerns of both Americans and Afghans, rather than trying to coerce or scare them into following him.

Having had a few days to let President Obama’s decision to send an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan sink in, I’m still not convinced it was the right decision. Nor am I convinced that pulling out the troops as soon as possible would have been the right decision either. I’m not exactly sure what the best decision would be. The conclusion I have reached, however, is that this is a very complex issue and I appreciate the president treating it as such, rather than making a knee-jerk decision or just “following his gut.”

Randal Serr is a liberal political columnist for Rhombus. He is currently pursuing a graduate degree in public policy at the University of Utah.

POLITICS: A Big Small Step

Written by Randal Serr on . Posted in Politics

Randal Serr

Randal Serr

Last week, the same church that propelled a campaign prohibiting gay marriage in California came out in support of a statute in Salt Lake City that would protect the GLBT community from discrimination in housing and employment. Before the Salt Lake City Council unanimously approved the measure to a standing ovation, the LDS Church sent a spokesman to officially represent them and show support for the proposal. The representative recognized the complexity of the issue and the strong feelings involved, and went on to say the ordinance would grant “common-sense rights that should be available to everyone.” He finished his statement by emphasizing the importance of human dignity and respectfulness.

While gay-rights supporters were surprised and articulated their gratefulness to the church, others have not been so respectful. Gayle Ruzicka, president of a conservative interest group in Utah and host of a talk radio show, has since called the anti-discrimination ordinance “very discriminatory,” because it “discriminate[s] against people who have personal religious beliefs.” I’m sure Ruzicka’s opinion of Mormons being persecuted and eventually expelled from the state of Missouri in 1833 simply because of their faith is similar: the residents of Missouri were the real ones being discriminated against. And, of course, if Mormons were kicked out of their apartment or fired simply for being Mormon today, Ruzicka would not find that to be discriminatory either. In fact, according to her logic regarding discrimination, she would probably side with the persecutors. They are the victims after all.

There are talks among state legislators of attempting to overturning the ordinance, but it’s iffy so far and probably lacks the support needed to pass. Even Chris Buttars, a legislator who has compared gays to radical Muslims, has said he has no problem with the Salt Lake ordinance. Even he agrees that “a person ought to be able to have a roof over their head and have a job.” It seems to me that if this ordinance is good enough for Salt Lake City, it should also be good enough for the entire state, given that roughly 80 percent of gay Utahns live outside of the capital city.

Nonetheless, the passage of the statute is momentous, especially in the state of Utah. There have been talks between gay rights advocates and LDS leaders for months now, which ultimately resulted in a small but meaningful change. The Church showed the ability to compromise and willingness to engage with the gay community (albeit on a small scale), and that is commendable. That is more than we can say for many fundamentalist or orthodox religions.

No, the LDS Church did not come out in support of gay marriage. They have not expressed support for civil unions, nor have they fully committed to supporting the Common Ground Initiative, which would extend the same protections that are now law in Salt Lake (as well as other rights) across the state of Utah. But they did send an official representative to back a non-discrimination proposal in their own backyard, and an Apostle of the church has since said these rights could be modeled anywhere with a process of goodwill. Call it expediency or call it compassion, but the narrative has certainly changed.

Randal Serr is a liberal political columnist for Rhombus. He is currently pursuing a graduate degree in public policy at the University of Utah.

POLITICS: Podcast: Tom Squires on Youth and American Politics

Written by Steve Pierce on . Posted in Politics

This is something we’ve wanted to do for awhile, but have failed to find time for — until today. We hope you enjoy this Rhombus podcast, the first of the many we hope will follow. While this inaugural installment centers on politics, we hope to offer podcasts on many different topics featuring our various contributors in the near future. So for now, enjoy our first Rhombus podcast and go easy on us — this is our first time and we hope to get better with each successive attempt. As always, we will endeavor to continue bringing you timely, relevant information and opinion on a variety of subjects, no matter the medium. Thanks for reading (and listening).

You can stream the podcast by simply clicking on the link below, or you can download it to your computer by right-clicking the link and selecting “Save Link As” from the menu.

Listen to: Rhombus Podcast 001 — Tom Squires on Youth and American Politics (11.08.09)

POLITICS: The Malt-O-Meal of Health Insurance

Written by Daniel Anderson on . Posted in Politics

The public option of breakfast cereals.

The "public option" of breakfast cereals.

The Great Health Care Debate has produced enough bantering material over the last few months that it seems pretty trite to write yet another piece on the subject. As health care reform rounds more corners in Congress, though, here is yet another opinion on the matter, specifically the hope that somehow, some way, the public option doesn’t get passed over in the discussion.

It seems as though, in both houses of Congress, leaders of health care reform talks are making the public option a top priority. Rhombus columnist Randal Serr recently wrote a piece about Arizona’s functional public insurance plan that stood, in my mind, as a fascinating precedent for this particular component of reform. Earlier this summer, as health care reform began to get serious attention (attention which, by the way, escalated into a literal blogosphere nightmare riddled with outrageous propaganda), I also wrote a column suggesting a public option might provide the functionality needed to save a severely dysfunctional and unsustainable health care market.

There are two general criticisms of the public option. The first is cost. Recent scores by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, however, have put the cost of the most expensive version of the public option in the neighborhood of $871 billion. Or in other words, close to the same amount as the Senate Finance Bill, which included no public option.  This $871 billion proposal is also well below the $900 billion price line set by President Obama in September. Not bad, I would say.

The other (and more legitimate) skepticism of a public option is the belief that the government could run everybody else in the insurance industry out of business by collecting tax revenues, which would allow them to keep their premiums below industry standard. What I’d like to suggest, though, is that facet of the public option is far from the destruction of privatized insurance — and may actually end up being great news for the rest of us. (You know, unless you’re the CEO of CIGNA or Blue Cross and Blue Shield).

While some may scream about the public option representing the government sneaking in through the back door of socialized medicine, it may seem surprising to realize that we actually have some evidence right before our eyes that a public option would not, in fact, lead to the destruction of the private health insurance market. That evidence, my friends, is Malt-O-Meal cereals. Seriously.

The two industries have more in common than you may realize. Consider the fact that, in both cases, the public option and off-brand cereals share some sort of competitive advantage that allows them to charge a lower price than their competitors. Government health care can collect tax revenues to cover cost, while generic cereals pay almost nothing in advertising. They don’t have to — Lucky, Cap’n Crunch and Toucan Sam do all the heavy lifting for them. Then when people saunter down the cereal aisle looking for a magically delicious bowl of Lucky Charms, they see a dog food-sized bag of the comparable Marshmallow Mateys for a fraction of the price. What would you choose? What do you choose? Me too.

But here’s the big secret: Despite this supposed undercut of the market, Post, Kellogg’s and General Mills are still in business. How do we explain this? Well, however we do, we can (with confidence) use the same logic and apply it to the health care industry, since now we see a public option working in Arizona as our functional example.

Essentially, this new competition of off-brand cereals results in three types of purchasing decisions with three distinct types of buyers:

  • First, those people that buy the generic stuff because it is all they can afford. My wife and I, impoverished newlyweds that we are, fall into this category.
  • Second, those who prefer the taste difference in the name-brand cereals and can afford to buy them, so they do (or maybe they feel buying Frosted Mini-Spooners as opposed to Frosted Mini-Wheats is below someone of their societal position — either way).
  • And third, people that could afford to buy name-brand cereals, but are more than satisfied with the generic copy, because they see it as practical to save money for a comparable product, and choose to do so.

What are the results in the cereal industry? The name-brands are forced to lower prices. They can’t quite ever get prices as low as the bagged stuff since they have a different cost structure, but they have to at least stay in the ballpark. Again, this is good for the consumers of name-brands, because they’re now available at a cheaper price. Are profits as large as they were before? Of course not — but in every economic transaction there are winners and losers. If you’re an executive at General Mills, you hate competition from Malt-O-Meal. If you’re one of the hundreds of millions that aren’t said executive (and assuming you eat breakfast cereal), you love Malt-O-Meal.

And this is the fundamental basis of the public option idea. Some will use it for health insurance, because it’s all they can afford. Others will instead be able to pay for the best medical treatment money can buy, and they will. And still others will find the public option’s health coverage perfectly adequate and opt for it, even if they might be able to afford better. Profits will go down and the health industry and pharmaceuticals will lose since they’ll have to lower prices to stay in the ballpark, but millions of Americans would win. As in Arizona, this would prove not to be the demise of insurance companies — they still exist in the state, even after 25 years of a competition from a public option.  Rather, it would become a benefit for citizens looking for solutions to the current, untenable system of privatized health care.

Daniel Anderson is Rhombus’ resident armchair economist. He needs to write more columns comparing public policies to breakfast foods.

POLITICS: Political Hacks, Even in the Case of Rape

Written by Randal Serr on . Posted in Politics

Randal Serr

Randal Serr

KBR, a company controlled by defense contractor Halliburton, has become well-known over the past few weeks. The reputation it has gained is not a positive one, though. On July 28, 2005, one of their employees by the name of Jamie Leigh Jones was drugged and gang raped while on assignment in Iraq.

Jones began working for KBR as an administrative assistant in Iraq after signing a contract, unaware of the fine print that required her to arbitrate any future dispute with the company. (Arbitration is a form of resolution outside the court of law that does not bring the case to the attention of the public.) KBR housed her with 400 other men and just a few women. During this time she told KBR two times that she was being sexually harassed, but to no avail. Four days later, she was raped and later had to have reconstructive surgery because of the incident.

Jones and an Army physician gathered evidence of the crime in a rape kit (containing items such as blood samples, clothing, photos, etc.) After gathering the evidence in the kit, it was given to KBR security forces and mysteriously disappeared. Following the incident, she was confined to a container by KBR and Jones has testified she was sometimes denied food, drink, and medical treatment during this period. She was eventually allowed to use a phone and call her father; He immediately got in touch with Republican Rep. Ted Poe of Texas, who acted promptly and responsibly. Jones was soon removed from KBR’s control. It is undeniable that KBR had extensive knowledge of and was heavily involved in the incident.

Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.) has since presented an amendment to Congress to prevent corporations from using arbitration in such cases of assault and battery, infliction of emotional distress, false imprisonment, and negligent hiring, retention and supervision. These requirements are consistent with the precedet set by the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court in Jones’ case.

Yet there have been some concerns expressed regarding this amendment. For example, some have worried about vague language in the bill. That’s a legitimate concern since vague wording can lead to unforeseen problems in the future — but that’s not what the Republican senators were arguing in their debate. These opposing senators argued instead that the government “should not be writing or rewriting private contracts” and that “we should probably be looking for ways to utilize mediation or arbitration more in these kind of disputes.”  Others argued that the amendment was nothing more than a political grudge against Halliburton. I don’t believe the opposing senators are okay with Jones’ rape, but who are they representing here? It’s not the rape victim, that’s for sure.

Other critics argue that since the companies’ contract clauses allow rape victims to sue the rapists themselves rather than the companies, there was no need for the amendment. If that were the case, then Jamie Leigh Jones would not have had to wait four years to get her day in court. Jones herself stated in a hearing, “I have been fighting arbitration for four years. I have been waiting my day in front of a trial by jury for four years.” It’s hard to believe there’s no need for Franken’s amendment, considering KBR has since appealed the case in hopes that a higher court will rule differently after the Fifth Circuit’s original ruling showed clear evidence that KBR was deeply involved in the sexual assault, along with the individuals.

Jones’ case is not an isolated one. Since the ruling of the Fifth Circuit Court in Texas and the amendment was presented to Congress, other women have come forth with their own similarly horrifying experiences, explaining they were not able to get justice due to arbitration clauses. The ruling has already set precedence for other victims to be able to come forward and receive justice.

The amendment passed with 58 senators in favor and 30 (all Republican) against, but I have yet to hear a sound argument as to why this amendment should have been voted down. It seems to me that the majority of those in opposition are more concerned with loyalty to a particular party or obstructing the legislative initiatives of their political opponents than with integrity or justice.

Randall Serr is a liberal political columnist for Rhombus. He is currently pursuing a graduate degree in public policy at the University of Utah.

POLITICS: The Face of Contemporary Bigotry

Written by Jim Dalrymple on . Posted in Politics

Last week the ugly specter of racism appeared once again when Louisiana Justice of the Peace Keith Bardwell denied a marriage license to a couple simply for being interracial. While the incident must have been painful for the couple, it also points out more broadly that we have not yet completely extricated bigotry from our culture. Accordingly, if any good comes from this event, hopefully it will include reminding people that prejudice is still something that needs to be confronted head-on.

In the past week or so, that is exactly what has happened and Bardwell’s actions have been condemned by just about everyone. Organizations like the ACLU have naturally called for Bardwell’s ouster, as have political leaders like Senator Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and the state’s superstar Republican governor Bobby Jindal. Furthermore, much of this non-partisan criticism has emphasized that, while Bardwell’s actions were personally repugnant, they also violated laws prohibiting race-based discrimination.

The most surprising part of this whole story, given the virtually universal consensus that Bardwell’s actions were the definition of bigotry, is that Bardwell himself insists he isn’t a bigot. The Associated Press quoted him as saying that he isn’t a racist and that he does “ceremonies for black couples right here in my house.” Indeed, Bardwell isn’t a reputed member of the Ku Klux Klan and there are no reports that he has ever been intentionally insulting, disparaging, or violent to people of ethnicities other than his own. In other words, Bardwell has probably not participated in such extreme acts of prejudice that many people (including myself) have only seen on videos in high school history classes.

Despite Bardwell’s insistence to the contrary, however, his actions clearly do constitute prejudice, discrimination and bigotry, as everyone else in America seems to realize. His bigotry is simply subtle, to the point that he is apparently unaware of it himself. When asked, Bardwell said he tries “to treat everyone equally.” Unfortunately, his version of equality obviously includes arbitrarily denying some people the right to marry, simply because he doesn’t approve of who they’ve fallen in love with or because laws would have kept them apart in bygone eras.

Perhaps the most important lesson that can be taken from this incident then, is that contemporary bigotry often takes the form of well-intentioned and soft-spoken attempts to impose a particular set of values on people who don’t want them. Sometimes bigotry even becomes apparent as people try to look out for the well-being of others; Bardwell, after all, doesn’t do interracial marriages because, he said, “in my heart, I feel the children will later suffer.” Clearly there are times when people believe they are doing the right thing and watching out for others, but just as clearly those beliefs can end with blatant discrimination.

In the aftermath of this whole event, it might be interesting to hear from people like Bardwell — who evidently feel they have a monopoly on the definition of marriage — just what is required to earn the moniker of “bigot.” Spit on someone? Burn a cross? Lynch or light a person on fire?

In many parts of the country, such acts of extreme violence are a part of the past. That doesn’t mean, however, that prejudice has disappeared. Instead, it manifests itself in gross stereotypes, insensitive humor, and an absolute conviction that everyone should live according to one set of values. Hopefully this occasion exposes and begins to expel those behaviors as it reveals that bigotry is sometimes as simple as feeling you have the right to tell people how to live (or marry), simply because those people are different.

Jim Dalrymple is a popular culture writer for Rhombus, who occasionally touches on political issues. His band, Electron Deception, was featured in this week’s Daily Universe music podcast. Listen to it here.

POLITICS: Nobel Prizes for Everyone!

Written by Jess Jones on . Posted in Politics

Jess Jones

Jess Jones

Well, now that everyone has returned to their separate corners, let’s just have a little chat. So Obama won the Nobel Peace prize: woop-dee-doo! He’s joining the illustrious company of our greatest contemporary minds, such as Albert Gore, the father of the World Wide Web, and Jimmy Carter, the modern straw man himself. I’m so outraged!

Honestly, unless I were to really wake up and check my RSS feeds each day to survey the possible Nobel recipients prior to the announcement, there shouldn’t be much reason for any bellyaching from me. In all reality, I woke up the other day and peeked at the Drudge Report and saw that Obama had received the Prize. After picking my jaw up from the floor, I sat half asleep and in my jammies, wondering what the guy did to get a Nobel. I mean, at least Gore made a movie and contributed to the economy with ticket sales and donations to tree-hugger campaigns all over the States.

Then came the blogging and Facebook status updates. I was happy to see that so many others had already tweeted and blogged their disapproval. News agencies around the globe were scrambling to comment on the issue. Apparently there were mixed feelings about this somewhat forgotten award.

Isn’t it funny how we only care about the awards given to those we don’t approve of? (Obviously, we’d feel the same if the Nobel Prize went to Jon Huntsman, Sr. “Oh, Huntsman got the Nobel for curing cancer? That’s outrageous!”) Somehow, the only time most had even heard of the Nobel Prize was when they watched Russell Crowe receive the award (for economics) in A Beautiful Mind. Since then, all we’ve had to say about the prize is how much we disagree with the nominations of our vanguard thinkers like Gore and Obama.

Nevertheless, I do have to tip my hat to Obama. He sure does deserve the award. I mean, if I had spent millions of dollars parading around the world getting scoffed at and catered to, only to be sent packing time and time again without really accomplishing anything, I’d be expecting a pat on the back and a Nobel too! If we’re going to start handing out awards before we see results, then I think Samuel L. Jackson is due for an Oscar for Best Actor anytime now because, after all, he’s worked so hard!

With that, I need to get back to my list of suggestions for deserving Nobel recipients. So far I’ve got Oprah, Richard Simmons, Phil Collins, Chuck Norris, the Pope, the cast of Friends, U2 and David Bowie. After all, they all spread hope in one way or another (Chuck spread more fear, but that must have helped to promote nuclear disarmament, right?) Excuse me while I go brainstorm a few more.

Jess Jones is a conservative political correspondent for Rhombus.

POLITICS: Gay? You're Fired.

Written by Randal Serr on . Posted in Politics

Randal Serr

Randal Serr

This past week Gov. Gary Herbert met with gay rights groups Equality Utah and Foundation for Reconciliation. The meeting came at the organizations’ request after Herbert stated that homosexuals should not receive the same legal protection as people get based on race, religion, or gender.

Right now in the state of Utah, you can be kicked out of your house or fired from your job simply for being gay or transgender. Is this still a debate? California went through this over 30 years ago. Herbert, the current governor of Utah, agrees that this kind of discrimination is wrong but is against any law that would protect this group of people. His reasoning is as follows: “Where do you stop? That’s the problem going down that slippery road. Pretty soon we’re going to have a special law for blue-eyed blondes. … We ought to do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do.” Isn’t that the point of law, to redress wrongs and ensure justice? And I wasn’t aware that blue-eyed blondes are regular victims of hate crimes.

One of the conclusions from the meeting was that there needs to be more state numbers dealing with discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Herbert agreed that there is a lack of state statistics, but would not commit to creating a task force to gather the information. The human rights groups probably want him to commit to a task force because they know what he will find.

Nationwide numbers are pretty clear on the subject. The FBI reported that, of the 7,621 hate crimes (the number is undoubtedly much higher since there are always hate crimes not reported) committed in 2007, anti-gay crimes accounted for 17% of the reported crimes. The FBI also reported that there were more hate crimes reported in Utah in 2007 than there were in 2006. UCLA’s law school reported that the complaint rate for employment discrimination based on sexual orientation is about 5 people per 10,000 workers, a rate similar to those based on sex and race. We already know hate crimes and discrimination based on sexual orientation happen at an unacceptable rate.

Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker said the city is committed to passing an ordinance to protect gay people from being fired or evicted just for being gay, but there are already state legislators saying they will write a bill to counter the city’s actions. These are the same ideologically conservative legislators that support local government rights. Apparently Utah state legislators are determined to deny gays any protection, despite any contradictions of their own principles. Even the Supreme Court unanimously found in Wisconsin v. Mitchell that bias crime laws are constitutional, so there is no credible argument about any supposed unconstitutionality of protecting gays.

Utah legislators on the other side of the aisle are working to compromise with Herbert to “investigate and research whether there is discrimination against LGBT people in the state,” in order to reach the worthy goal of passing legislation. The question is, what happens when they inevitably discover that there is a high rate of discrimination against the LGBT community in Utah? That seems like a good reason to put the issue off for now, but once the bi-partisan task force comes back with some numbers, conservative legislators will have to come up with another reason not to protect the rights of all Utah’s citizens.

In a poll of 600 people by the Information Alliance (conducted in January with a random sample of 600 residents across Utah and only a four percent margin of error), 62 percent of Utahns support a fair workplace for those who are gay or transgender, and 56 percent of Utahans either support or somewhat support changing Utah’s current housing law to make it illegal to deny someone housing solely because they are gay or transgender. It looks like Utah legislators are at odds with their constituents.

When Herbert makes his slippery slope argument, he asks “Where do you stop?” I have an answer: You stop when those committing hate crimes against the gay community are held accountable and the law provides equal rights for everybody, including gay people.

Randal Serr is a liberal political columnist for Rhombus. He is currently pursuing a graduate degree in public policy at the University of Utah.

POLITICS: Mainstream Morality: A Modern Paradox

Written by Jess Jones on . Posted in Politics

Jess Jones

Jess Jones

In the time following the recent General Conference of the LDS Church, I’ve had a brief moment to reflect on the question of faith and public reason. Although there has been great debate concerning the relationship between these two tools of society, there remains a great divide over which many dispute the issue from either side of the schism. It is clear to me, as I sit in reflection, that man is innately required to balance the powers of both faith and reason, and wield them both in the public sphere with equal fervor and dexterity.

In society today, there is a growing number of questions that conflict with the religious beliefs of many. Some such questions beg for a decisive opinion that perhaps would place the decider in conflict with the doctrine of his church. Many of you may already be thinking about one such question (as am I), and that is the matter of accepting homosexual marriages as legal and mainstream. Though I will not address this topic (as several of my colleagues have already done so), I merely wish to address the popular fashion of removing religious opinions from the public sector in all its forms.

There are those that would argue that the long lasting creed of separating church and state stands in direct opposition to promoting any sort of moral ethic tied to a religion. But are we not subject to religion? Is not our relationship and concept of man based on principles derived from religious origins founded in Christianity and other religions like unto it? I would argue that it is. We hold that men are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights; rights which men, by sheer virtue of existence, are entitled to exercise. Our reality of the natural comes as an attempt to incorporate the supernatural and incomprehensible. Regardless of sect, creed or denomination, the fact that we as a human race value human life and our planet resides in the foundations of religion.

Specific religions, though not publicly codified or universally accepted, provide the mooring line to which we can anchor our nation state. Political scholar David Walsh observed that if reason is used as though it were a mere instrument, it would proceed without direction or course. Reason becomes the means by which all laws are subject to discretion and change. Though we might argue that such a quality of change is necessary for laws born under democracy, is there not a line which we must draw in the sand? Is there not a moral compass by which we guide our decisions in this nation? The question regrettably remains unanswered.

Therefore if man, be he religious or no, abstains from promoting his values according to the dictates of his religious upbringing out of fear of persecution, then we as a people only march closer towards a privatization of religion. That is, a removal of deity from our daily lives. Politics, we know, grow more tacit and divisive as time marches on. Greed and selfishness, though ever present in our history books, have continued to corrode the institutions and laws that have held firm our nation until now. Slowly, the virtues of right and wrong fade into a haze of rationality and personal indulgence. Would it be so wrong to more assertively champion the virtues taught by the religions we hold as sacred?

I hope that none will confuse my affirmation of religious fervor as an attempt to merely place myself amongst those LDS leaders that spoke during General Conference. Yet I have found that I cannot be content with halfheartedly promoting that which I know to be true. I hope this article will be nothing more than an additional voice sounding in favor of the incorporation of moral and religious virtues into our secular society. May you be blessed in your efforts to better society and promote the values you feel we must profess in order to secure further liberty and peace.

Jess Jones is a conservative political columnist for Rhombus. He hasn’t written an article in so long that many feared him dead.

POLITICS: Vietghanistan

Written by Randal Serr on . Posted in Politics

Randal Serr

Randal Serr

The war in Afghanistan is not quite the Vietnam War, but there are some similarities that are worth considering, especially right now. Depending on some of the decisions that are going to be made in the near future, the Afghanistan occupation could become another long-term, unconventional conflict with no easy exit option, much like its 1970s predecessor. President Barack Obama inherited a complicated war and has now come to a fork in the road. General McChrystal, the U.S. Commander in Afghanistan, has all but formally called for an additional 40,000 troops, saying if we do not send them we are headed for “failure.”

Needless to say, this leaves the president in a tough situation. He can either oblige McChrystal and risk escalating a deathly war with no clear strategy, or pull out the majority of troops and be accused of being weak on foreign policy by his hawkish critics. Or he can opt for another strategy somewhere in the middle, which is essentially setting the stage for a prolonged presence in the region.

The situation on the ground is not making his decision any easier. With the delayed results from the recent presidential election, it has been that much harder to establish a clear plan. If he decides to scale back to more of a nation-building strategy, he could be seen as backing a fraudulent government. Currently, President Obama is in the middle of meetings with a myriad of people from various groups, including national security advisors, NATO leaders, members of his own administration, the secretary of defense, and General McChrystal himself, just to name a few. And you can be sure they are all pulling him different directions.

Obama is taking time to make a wise decision, stating that he does not want to be in Afghanistan “for the sake of being there or saving face.” Considering that, since taking office, Obama has already nearly doubled U.S. troop presence in the country (to around 62,000) in order to combat the surge in violence, it’s not such a bad idea to think this through thoroughly. NATO has added roughly 9,000 troops over the same amount of time. There have been over 1,500 civilians killed just since the beginning of the year, largely due to a strategy of drone attacks which I wrote about a couple months ago.

As if all of that were not enough, global opposition is growing. NATO countries are becoming more and more opposed to the war. Two-thirds of Germans oppose the troop presence, with 60 percent wanting immediate withdrawl. Rome recently dedicated a day to mourning the troops that have died in Afghanistan. In Australia, 51 percent of the population opposes our involvement and two-thirds oppose an increase in troops. Sixty-four percent of France opposes their country’s involvement. Other countries have similar views — it’s not just the “socialist” countries that are against the war. The U.S. itself now has more people opposed to increasing troop levels than are for it, with 50 percent against and only 41 percent in favor. There have been additional calls from within Congress for the presentation of a clear exit strategy.

President Obama will have a tough time dealing with any of the issues that need to be taken care of — whether they be health care, climate change or something else –  if the Afghanistan riddle becomes any more of a problem. The way things are looking, regardless of whether Obama ultimately decides to send an additional 40,000 troops, any strategy they devise won’t have the necessary backing to last very long.

Randal Serr is a liberal political columnist for Rhombus. He is currently pursuing a graduate degree in public policy at the University of Utah.