Friday, January 23, 2009

LDS Church Strangle Hold on Legislature

I have believed for years that Utah is as close as you can come to a religious state, like the ones in the Middle East, in the free world. No social legislation gets passed unless the LDS Church gives its nod. Again....if you are tempted to say well you should try living in the bible belt...spare me. Just because someone is as goofy as we are does not justify our goofiness.
I was listening to Doug Wright on this subject the other day. He went on in his diatribe defending the LDS Church as a constituent of the State of Utah who was merely exercising its voice as a part of that constituency. This is a complete manipulation of the churches relationship with government. There is supposed to be a healthy separation. By definition a constituency is : a body of citizens entitled to elect a representative (as to a legislative or executive position). The LDS Church does not have a vote as a church or as a corporation and therefore it is not a constituent of the local government. In Utah, this groups approval of controversial or morals base legislation in sought. They do not have to lobby like a regular corporation does but they get a greater proportionate share of attention than the voter or any other corporation and church.
As a lobbyist, you will not find a more influential group in the State of Utah and we found recently that the power can reach across our borders like they did in the Prop 8 controversy in California. A mere memo read from the pulpits of the local ward houses can create a wave of activism and a financial out reach that is very powerful and has undue influence on out elected officials. I personally cannot wait for the day that they are equal with the Catholics and other minority groups. Maybe not in my lifetime but my kids may see it.

In Obama-History!

I watched the Obama inauguration from start to finish in my cubicle at my day job. I watched it with a couple of my peers who were completely captivated by the historical moment. However I was taken back by the fact the majority of my co-workers were on the surface disinterested and when probed looked at the event with contempt. I heard comments like "what has he done."... " He's a socialist"..."you think he is our savior".

Regardless of politics we have to acknowledge this is a landmark event for our country. Barack Obama is indeed the first African-American president and not only did he win a general election he won by a substantial margin. This one event legitimizes the civil rights movement and represents a culmination of a 150 year struggle to achieve equality for many African-American citizens. The history is not just in his inauguration as the first president of color but in the fact that the American Public elected him for the hope he represented.

I have to admit that I am an avid Obama supporter. I did not vote for him in the Utah primary election ( I voted for Hilary) but I was converted in part by my children who are of voting age and by his reasoned message that was always thoughtfully and eloquently delivered. I wanted a clear break from the Bush policies that not only discredited our great nation but threatened the integrity of our constitution. I have been impressed by the folks who have crossed party lines to support this man as well. Men and women who have unquestionable integrity like Colin Powell.

I have a dear friend who is upset that Obama in his first three days in office has issued 5 executive orders and one of them ordering the close of GITMO. She said she believed these were the actions of a king and not a president. I believe we are seeing a man who knows the weight and the importance of his office and the constitution acting to reverse perverse wrongs that we allowed the last president impose on not only the world but his own people.

I am concerned that many Americans, pushed by their own political prejudice are rooting for Obama to fail. Rush Limbaugh recently said on his radio show that he wanted Obama to fail. He went on to say that he didn't want the liberal policies to be successful. My questions is if it works why do we not want it to be successful. I don't see how we can defend the last 8 years or at the end of the day say this country is better off.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Hold on to your rights...the Legislature is in session!

For the last decade or so I have followed the Utah State Legislature while it is in session. Every year we get a new 340 or so laws and resolutions. However we rarely see any removed from the books. For example, in Utah Fornication is a Class B Misdemeanor. What does that mean? Technically pre-marital sex is a crime. Now they have acknowledged they have not enforced this law for years but they have a moral imperative to keep it on the books because pre-marital sex is immoral.

Private Clubs and the Zion Curtain

This year the hot button issue is our ridiculous liquor laws. Let me stop you before you are inclined to point out to me that we are not the only state with silly liquor laws....Just because someone else is doing it does not mean that we should. Here in Utah the control of liquor is more than a public health issue it is a moral issue. The state legislature is controlled by an overwhelming group of Teetotalers. Folks who have not consumed alcohol in their lives and their knowledge of alcohol consumption is based upon their religious and moral objections to it. The LDS church has a strong moral objection to any consumption of alcohol. Most of our legislators are LDS. It is not the public health portion of the argument that causes folks to want to deny your free choice to consume, in a bar, an alcoholic beverage. It is the religious moral objection. There is a moral imperative and that translates into a crusade and if you don't get on the wagon you will be ran over by it.

We have a private club system here in Utah and I believe we are the only state that does. We relegate alcohol sales to liquor stores that are closed on Sunday and Election Day (as well as all other state and federal holidays). What we know is the Private Club system is no more successful at stopping underage drinking than our Liquor stores. The liquor stores are about revenue. In a state where we try to privatize everything including some emergency services and prisons, we have state run liquor stores(socialism?). Why? They really do not stop or slow the flow of alcohol but they do produce revenue because all alcohol is taxed and marked up at a ridiculous rate. That money goes to pay for the expensive retail buildings and state employees (most of whom get health benefits and retirements that all retail sales folks would love to have).

Now the President of the Senate, Michael Waddoups, wants to have all drinks mixed in a back room or behind a barrier and out of the view of children because it will tempt the little lads and lasses into drinking, under age. There has been much said about this in the local Salt Lake Tribune Public Forum. My favorite points have been:
  1. Over Eating is as dangerous as drinking and can have the same deadly effect. We should make sure our children do not witness obese people eating and enjoying their food as the may become obese.
  2. Tavern owners should have armed guards protecting the alcohol and making sure no one is seen enjoying themselves (this is sarcasm of course)
  3. Our liquor laws are driving away jobs. Companies decline to locate here because there is a perception you cannot get a drink. Tourism suffers because folks choose Colorado instead of the greatest snow on earth.

There has been no documentation that any of our current controls curb alcohol abuse. In some cases our laws have been determined unconstitutional. However, tavern owners and retailers are hesitant to aggressively challenge liquor laws because the Alcohol Control Commission has a history of being heavy handed and vindictive.

I am of the opinion that liquor laws should have controls that reduce opportunity of under age drinking. Good ID laws are effective. I also believe we have a public health concern regarding over consumption and drunk driving. However I do not think any of our current archaic controls resolve any of the above problems. Liquor stores, as I said before, are about revenue. Private clubs are about making it difficult for all who want to drink. The Zion Curtain is about shielding the faithful and those who might be lured away from the temptation and offensiveness of drink.

Abortion and Sex Education!

I am not going to spend a lot of time on this hot button issue. It is noteworthy that in this country there has not been a significant change to the issue since Roe V. Wade. I am a liberal and a firm believer that a woman should have the right to choose and that this country's male dominated political system has no business determining what her reproductive rights should be. I am not pro abortion. I don't think anybody is.

Our legislature has announced it will not seek further bans on abortion, this year, because it knows the expensive legal fight in poor economic conditions will be unpopular. It has proposed that a legal defense fund be set up to pay for a future legal fight, maybe next year.

Most adults reading this post know how human life originates. However, in this state, we reject any comprehensive sex education that teaches our youth about the use of birth control or barriers to disease contraction. We prefer the abstinence only approach believing that the parents of the children should be the ones to determine their level of education. Unfortunately this method is flawed on several accounts:

  1. Studies have show that abstinence only education is no more effective at preventing unplanned pregnancy than comprehensive sex ed.
  2. Teens who engage in abstinence pledges have premarital sex at the same rate as Teens who have had comprehensive sex ed but fail to use any type of disease barrier at a higher rate than their educated contemporaries.
  3. We know from the 80's that "just say no" is a great slogan but a poor public policy.
  4. Parents are not doctors or nurses or otherwise educated on public health issues and pass on urban legends to their children.
  5. Education is important because my Daughter may date your son. I don't know what you have told him and you don't know what I have told my daughter. Conversely you don't know what they have learned from their friends.

I believe the Salt Lake Tribune's opinion on this matter is correct. Educate teens and parents and we will dramatically reduce the instance of abortion.

I think we are on the precipices of a new era in politics; one were science and fact not religious piety and superstition will set public policy. I am also a firm believer that is how we stay free. I am hoping more folks "just say no" to laws that are written to limit rights in the name of morality but have no real effect on the problem or make the problem worse by putting it behind a Zion Curtain.