August 14th, 2014

After Ferguson, Then What?

Cheye Calvo was the mayor of Berwyn Heights, Maryland, in 2008 when law enforcement officers raided his home as part of a botched drug raid. The mayor and his mother-in-law were held at gunpoint, and officers shot and killed the mayor’s two dogs—one while it was trying to escape to safety. If this story is unfamiliar to you, read Radley Balko’s summary here.

Calvo and his mother-in-law were completely innocent, and the officers involved in the raid faced no repercussions. The Sheriff was even so bold as to say that “we’d do it again. Tonight.”

The mayor began lobbying the state legislature for reform, and succeeded in passing a bill that would bring a bit of transparency to law enforcement. It required every Maryland police agency with a SWAT team to periodically issue a report on how many times the team was deployed, whether shots were fired, the nature of the alleged crime, etc. It did not enact any restrictions on law enforcement activity, yet it was opposed by every police organization in the state. Still, it passed. Crisis paved the path for reform.

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July 7th, 2014

Why I Now Remain Silent During the Pledge of Allegiance

Four years ago I wrote an article explaining the sordid history of the pledge of allegiance and the modification I made to its words to make it more palatable to me. For a couple of years I used this version whenever I found myself at an event or meeting in which those present were invited to verbally demonstrate their allegiance.

Now I don’t say any pledge at all.

Honestly, I have simply grown tired of seeing people wear their supposed love of freedom on their sleeve. Whether it’s attending a patriotic event, expressing gratitude for “living in the freest country,” saying the pledge of allegiance, participating in a parade, or a variety of other superficial activities, these are devoid of any substantive meaning without corresponding actions. In short, many talk the talk but few walk the walk—or, in Tom Paine’s words, there are too many summer soldiers and sunshine patriots.

While I take issue with the pledge itself—both its history and its textual composition (why do so few find it odd that they are pledging their allegiance to a piece of cloth or symbol of the state?)—my primary motivation for abstaining altogether from saying the pledge is to encourage people to think about their regurgitation of the same. In other words, I want people to focus on the “walk” and see how without it, the “talk” is worthless fluff.

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June 30th, 2014

The Public Relations Meltdown Regarding a Renouncing of War

The events of 9/11 served as a catalyst for the neocolonial interventionist power brokers in government to advance their agenda. In the months that followed, fabrications and talking points intertwined to paint a large target on the nation of Iraq. Not three months later, George Bush identified the country, along with Iran and North Korea, as part of an “axis of evil.” Sanctions against the Iraqi people were renewed and focused. World leaders were told by Bush at the United Nations General Assembly that Saddam’s regime was a “grave and gathering danger” and failure to escalate tensions would make the UN “irrelevant.”

Amid all the (supposed) diplomacy and agitation, the flames of fear and revenge were being eagerly fanned by the media. As one commentator has said, “Propaganda is still used more as an antecedent to war; in other words, if war is the paint, then propaganda is the paint primer that makes possible the total devotion of the public to the just cause of the state in wartime.” Americans had to be sold on the idea of fighting in Iraq before politicians pressed too hard.

Days after his speech at the United Nations, Bush pushed Congress to authorize him to use military force in Iraq. A bill was introduced on October 2, 2002. A few days later, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints held its twice-yearly general conference in Salt Lake City. On Saturday afternoon, apostle Russell N. Nelson delivered an address that any faithful Christian would consider gospel truth. He drew attention to our living in the last days, full of prophesied turmoil. He referenced our mandate to follow the Prince of Peace, and noted that he taught, “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.”

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June 19th, 2014

Libertarianism Does Not Mean “Live and Let Live”

Critics of libertarianism—and there are many—object to the supposed “selfishness” they believe is at the core of the political philosophy. It is common, in reviewing their complaints, to see libertarianism referred to as “live and let live mentality” or, synonymously, a laissez-faire approach. I intend to show that this characterization is misguided; libertarianism does not mean, and should not be interpreted as, a blanket “live and let live” attitude towards the actions and beliefs of others.

It is true that an anti-authoritarian undercurrent pervades libertarianism. This is an inevitable counter-cultural response to the rise of the authoritarian state. It is therefore not surprising that those who generally sympathize with or support the state’s presumption and actual exercise of authority would object to those who dissent. If government, as Tom Paine said, “even in its best state is but a necessary evil [and] in its worst state an intolerable one,” then it is generally evil—and evil should be opposed.

Libertarians see the injustice in the system and therefore want to distance themselves from it. This is basic human nature; where danger exists, a rational individual desires to keep a safe distance. Because the state claims absolute authority, and because absolute power corrupts absolutely, as a general rule libertarianism stands at odds with the status quo. But does this equate to an across-the-board laissez-faire lifestyle?

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May 18th, 2014

Don’t Confuse Progress With Apostasy

In my last post, I argued that ideally we should progress past the point of constitutionalism and find even better ways to secure individual liberty and promote the common good. But I was careful not to use the word progress, because it is so charged and ill-defined—like many words, it has been commandeered and contorted.

When somebody describes their political ideology as “progressive,” what do you think? Do they support or oppose elective abortion? Do they support or oppose imposing new or higher taxes? Would this person object to, or advocate for, redistributive welfare programs? What, exactly, is a progressive?

Those who apply this label to themselves often believe that they are intellectual—smart in the sense that they have risen above the ignorance of past generations. Where tradition, culture, and political or religious views prevent others from being similarly enlightened, the progressive has evolved beyond such caveman-esque thinking. After all, who can object to progress? Its very name suggests a positive development that every sensible person should support.

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May 8th, 2014

The Constitution was a Means, Not an End

After several generations of preceding philosophical musings and political pamphleteering, a group of American colonists revolted against the most powerful empire in the world. It’s quite staggering to contemplate the boldness of their action—short of the divine providence to which many of them credited their ultimate success, they surely would have failed.

“Mankind are more disposed to suffer while evils are sufferable,” they wrote in their treasonous Declaration of Independence, “than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.” This is, after all, the human condition; apathy and inertia are powerful tools of the state to keep its subjects in line. “But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism,” they wrote, “it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government…”

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April 17th, 2014

Why Religious Liberty is the Wrong Fight to Pick

There’s been heavy debate regarding religious liberty in the past several years, specifically in relation to the mandate under Obamacare for employers to provide contraception and the surging movement to legalize same-sex marriage. The conversation extends to other issues such as the right to refuse service in commerce, discrimination in employment and housing, and adoption—among many others.

Without question, there are an abundance of examples one might reference suggesting a violation of religious liberty. In other words, many laws require a person to act contrary to the tenets of his faith, presenting him with what Bastiat called “the cruel alternative” of deciding between obedience to God or Caesar. This trend led Pope Benedict XVI to comment in 2012 that this, the “most cherished of American freedoms,” was being undermined by government policies.

But what, exactly, is religious liberty? Most would define it as the ability to believe in God—or, more generally, the supernatural—and act on those beliefs. Of course, religion is often comprehensive and all-encompassing; theology isn’t just focused upward upon God, but more importantly downward on each individual—our lives, our interpersonal relationships, our behaviors, our thoughts, our feelings. As Stephen L. Richards once stated:

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April 6th, 2014

How I Intend to Educate My Children

Because I’ve written several books along with hundreds of articles, op-eds, and other material all dealing with politics, economics, history, and religion, people often assume that my educational background deals with these subjects.

The truth is quite different—I strongly disliked, and performed poorly in, these types of courses in school. I didn’t write well at all, and couldn’t stand English class. I majored in Information Technology and became a web developer. I often wished I could have been spared my “general education” coursework and be allowed to focus on the subjects that I found interesting and worthwhile.

Upon graduating from college I had massive amounts of free time on my hands. There was no more homework, no more assignments, no more summer classes, no more reading requirements. I was liberated! No longer required to think about and invest my energy in issues other people deemed important, I began to spend time thinking about issues that I wanted to learn more about and better understand.

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February 17th, 2014

Consequences of a Refusal to Recognize Our Creator

Can an ungodly society be a free society?

This question has kept busy both philosophers and pastors for ages. Whether the bondage of sin correlates to, or causes, the bondage of statism is a subject of significant importance. How necessary, really, is a belief in God?

Of course, a belief in God is rather irrelevant without corresponding behavior; actionable belief, or in other words faith in God, is what’s important. Too often faith is treated with tunnel vision, whereby people only consider its influence on their individual lives. But just as faith can move mountains, it can shape societies—and a lack of it can likewise leave a noticeable imprint.

It takes effort not to notice the many stains on society that surround us—news reports overwhelm us constantly with tales of government corruption, societal scandal, depravity, or corporate malfeasance. In systematic fashion, people use their rights in an irresponsible way or have them violated by others acting wrongfully. All of this stems from a rejection of our Creator.

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February 10th, 2014

Anti-discrimination proposal violates property rights

The following op-ed was published in the Deseret News.

According to a unanimous decision by the New Mexico Supreme Court, the suppression of one’s moral convictions and the denial of one’s property rights has become the “price of citizenship.” The court’s opinion stemmed from a lawsuit against a photography studio whose owners declined to offer their services to a homosexual couple. Citing their religious convictions as a basis for their choice, they were soon faced with a legal battle over their discriminatory decision.

This is part of a larger trend nationwide. A Vermont country inn was fined $30,000 because one of its employees turned away a gay couple seeking to hold their wedding reception at the facility based on the owner’s religious convictions. In Colorado, a judgeupheld a gay couple’s lawsuit against a bakery for not offering them a wedding cake. A florist in Washington was likewise sued for her refusal to offer her services in support of a same-sex ceremony. We can expect more legal battles along these lines in the future, including here in Utah.

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January 5th, 2014

The Gamification of the Gospel of Jesus Christ

When game designers began to leverage the networking potential of the internet to connect players together, a new layer of interaction emerged that has become a standard feature of today’s video games. Through direct competition, players were incentivized to improve themselves and achieve victory over others and were given rewards for doing so. Earning badges, ranking high on leaderboards, and acquiring skill points or other character improvements entice players to dedicate themselves to the game.

Game designers and other cultural thinkers have recognized the benefits that might come from applying these game mechanics to other things. In one of the most popular presentations on this concept of gamification, Carnegie Mellon University professor Jesse Schell illustrated the degree to which this incentive system can permeate our personal behavior.

There are numerous positive benefits gamification can bring to behavior modification—encouraging us to improve our hygiene habits, diet, exercise, study, etc. At its core, gamification is merely the encouragement of (and reward for) the completion of small tasks, each of which lead the person to the fulfillment of a larger goal. In a game, it might be the completion of a level; in real life, it might be going six months without a cavity.

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December 21st, 2013

When Judges Overturn the Will of the People

In the past week Utahns have produced a cacophony of emotions, with elation on one side and wailing and gnashing of teeth on the other. This rollercoaster of reaction was sparked by a pair of opinions issued from federal judges in Utah relating to marriage. In response to both, many critics have cried out that the judges overturned, and thus violated, the will of the people of Utah.

Let’s see if this is true.

The first ruling, Brown v. Buhman, was issued last week by Judge Waddoups in response to a lawsuit over Utah’s bigamy statute. While most bigamy statutes around the country aim to prevent fraud by prohibiting a person from marrying more than one spouse, Utah’s goes a step further by banning cohabitation with a person other than one’s spouse. This clause was introduced specifically to target polygamists, and was declared unconstitutional by the judge. Asked for comment on the ruling, Utah Governor Gary Herbert summarized a popular criticism of the ruling in saying:

I’m always a little concerned when we have decisions that change public policy by the courts. I’d much rather see decisions on social issues come from our Legislature representing the will of the people.

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