Friday, March 19, 2010

Stonewall Shooting Sports of Utah - Policy Q&A

1. What would you do if you are elected to protect the equal rights of gay Utah citizens?

I believe in equal rights for everyone regardless of age, race, religion, creed, color, sexual orientation or gender identity. I am opposed to any sort of legislation that would attempt to exclude a minority group from equal protection under the law. This would include the unfair restrictions placed on homosexual members of the U.S. armed forces under the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, the so-called Defense of Marriage Act and any Constitutional amendment to define marriage based on a religious definition instead of a legal definition.

I have a personal definition of marriage that is consistent with the teachings of my religion but I don't think it prudent or even legal for me or anyone else to try and force that religious definition onto other people who don't share my religious views or choose not to adhere to any religion at all. I recognize that the definition of marriage as a civil contract between two individuals is subject to evolve and include relationships that fall outside of "traditional/religious" contexts. Since the rights of religions to define marriage and its practice are protected by the First Amendment, there is no need to codify any sort of additional protections for those religions and their adherents; to do so would be redundant considering the scope of the First Amendment.

2. What would you do if you are elected to protect the firearm rights of Utah citizens?

I believe in the natural right of all individuals to protect themselves and to have access to the tools that allow them to do so including firearms insomuch as they do not infringe on the rights of others to do the same. I do not support renewing the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act (AKA the Federal Assault Weapons Ban). Such legislation does not prevent crime or deny criminals access to such weapons. They only infringe upon the natural rights of law abiding citizens to acquire and legally use such firearms however they please--again, as long as they do not use those tools to infringe on the rights of others.

I personally do not own any firearms. I have used them recreationally on occasion and as part of my training when I served in the U.S. Navy and, frankly, I couldn't hit the broad side of a barn if my life depended on it. Having been diagnosed and treated for clinical depression over the years, I never thought it wise for me to own a gun but I have no issue with any law abiding citizen who chooses to own a gun for their protection and recreation and everyone that I know who owns a gun is a law abiding citizen.

3. What have you done so far to protect these rights?

For starters, when I joined the Navy in 1993 I swore an oath to protect the Constitution of the United States which includes the Bill of Rights and that oath carried with it no expiration.

Where the rights of gay Utah citizens are concerned, I have been a strong supporter of the Common Ground Initiative and the organization Equality Utah. I also support the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act signed into law last October and coincidentally opposed quite vocally by my opponent Congressman Jason Chaffetz. I also voted against Amendment 3 to Utah's Constitution in 2004 defining marriage as a union exclusively between a man and a woman. While I do embrace that definition of marriage personally and religiously, I think that the legal definition can be much more flexible without infringing on the rights of individuals and religions to retain their traditional and doctrinal definitions for their own purposes.

Regarding gun rights, since I do not own a gun I never considered joining any firearms organizations like the NRA or GOA and living in Utah with a long standing tradition of hunting and its pioneer heritage, I haven't felt compelled to speak out on any Utah-centric gun issues except for the recent proposal to celebrate the life of hunting rifle manufacturer John Browning concurrently with Martin Luther King Jr.--a man who was killed with a hunting rifle (not built by Browning). That struck me as just plain distasteful.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

On GOP manipulation of the tea party "movement"

I don't subscribe to the so-called tea party "movement." It's roots were noble and honest enough but it has since been overrun by extremists and I simply don't deal in extremes.

Another reason why I don't ally myself with the tea party is that they're allowing themselves to be manipulated by Republicans. Who's making speeches at these rallies and the so-called Tea Party Convention? Republicans. Who are the tea partiers' biggest cheer leaders? "Conservative" talk radio and Fox News--echo chambers of Republican rhetoric. This isn't what the tea party was supposed to be about.

What was started as a Libertarian demonstration has been usurped by the GOP for the sole purpose of returning control of the government into Republican hands. I can't think of a single self-respecting Libertarian that actually wants that to happen. But why has the tea party allowed itself to be so manipulated? Well, what has been absent from all of the histrionics emanating from the tea party? Answer: Any call for the election of independent candidates for Congress, the Senate or the White House.

Tea partiers are fearful, and no organization knows how to capitalize on fear like the GOP. For all their vitriol over business as usual in Washington and their distrust of government, the tea party is so desperate for leadership that they'll even turn to business-as-usual Republicans simply because they're telling the tea partiers what they want to hear.

I'm curious to see how this all plays out. Will the involvement of the tea party serve to marginalize the Republicans even further? What will the tea partiers say if the GOP regains control of the government and fails to deliver what the tea partiers want?

The pendulum has been swinging between the Republicans and Democrats for years and nobody is ever happy with what either party brings to the table. How many more times does it need to swing from one side to the other before people realize that we have the option of removing the pendulum altogether and electing individuals to public office instead of party loyalists?

Discrimination against reservists

I've been talking with a gentleman by the name of Ron Hendry who's son, Chris, was the assistant manager for a store called Furniture Row. Chris recently joined the Army Reserve and informed his employers that he would be leaving for basic training in 6 weeks. A day later Chris was fired because he “Lacked focus.”

It's illegal to fire a reservist because of their military obligations. Furniture Row might be trying to skirt this law by firing Chris before he goes to basic training but the timing of their decision, so soon after Chris gave them the courtesy of letting them know that he wanted to serve his country part-time, makes it painfully obvious that reservists are not welcome as employees.

Let there be no doubt that this is discrimination.

Ron is asking that people spread the word about what his son and many reservists have to deal with and to e-mail the following members of Furniture Row's corporate staff:,,,,

Ron would also appreciate being CC'd any correspondence at

Thursday, March 4, 2010

On Opinion Polls

People like to reference opinion polls because poll numbers carry with them a certain air of authority.

Of course an old idiom from my high school debate days was that statistics can prove anything. Place one foot in a bucket of ice water and another in the middle of a campfire and--statistically speaking--you should feel comfortable.

I also used to work for a company that conducted "research" through polling where I learned that more often than not opinion polls have leading questions to ensure that who ever is sponsoring the poll gets the results that they want.

For example, if Candidate A voted to approve the federal budget which includes funding for the National Endowment for the Arts which then gives money to a state arts council which in turn issues grants to a number of artists and one of those artists takes a picture, paints a painting or writes a novel that one person finds offensive you will see the following question in the survey:

"Candidate A voted to fund offensive art. Does this make you...

"A) More likely to vote for him

"B) Less likely to vote for him or

"C) Makes no difference to your vote."

Most people who get that question are going to pick B. It doesn't matter that the Candidate has no say in how the NEA, a state arts council or even an individual artist spends their money. The question isn't designed to rate public opinion, it's designed to manipulate it.

We see all these poll results on healthcare but we never see the questions that are being asked.

Do the polls that say Americans are against healthcare reform ask specific unbiased questions like:

"Are you in favor of a public insurance option?

"A) Yes. B) No. C.) I'm not sure"

or do they include a rhetorical label and skew the question to read:

"President Obama wants to put a government official between you and your doctor with a socialist government-run healthcare system like they have in countries like Britain and Canada. Do you support this?

"A) Yes, government-run healthcare is fine by me.

"B) No, I'm a patriot who believes in Capitalism.

"C) I don't know but it sure sounds scary."

The possible answers to the biased survey are exaggerations but the style of the question is typical of the surveys I conducted and I hated it because I knew that the people I was interviewing weren't being asked their opinion, they were being manipulated.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

On Workers' Rights

One thing I have never understood is the attitude among some working class people of vilifying organized labor. The arguments I keep hearing have to do with "unreasonable demands," "unfair union dues," "increased cost of goods and services," etc.

In reality though, throughout my lifetime, the power of labor unions has been severely undermined to the point that modern-day criticism of organized labor is severely misplaced. When the federal government has become so compromised by corporate interests that the federal minimum wage can't be reasonably called a living wage anymore then why shouldn't workers in any industry be given the tools to negotiate better wages, meaningful benefits and good working conditions, particularly workers in industries that can afford to treat their workers better without having an adverse effect on the costs of their products or services.

I know many small businesses owners who are uncomfortable with the idea of raising the federal minimum wage--especially in difficult economic times; but these business--many of them family operations with a small employment base with flexible working conditions--wouldn't need to concern themselves with legislation designed to work on behalf of employees for large corporations. The businesses that fight the hardest against unions and do everything they can to denigrate the proud tradition of organized labor in this country belong to the aforementioned industries that can afford to treat and pay their employees better but opt not to in the interest of padding already inflated profits--to say nothing of disproportionately large compensation packages for their executives.

Companies like Walmart, Home Depot, Loews, Office Depot, Starbucks, even Whole Foods--all Fortune 500 companies--are among the loudest detractors of organized labor and all can afford to pay and treat their employees better but choose not to.

My father was born in San Fernando, California in 1924 but only a few years later his family returned to Spain just in time for the civil war. At tender age of 11, after his father died, Dad had to quit going to school and start working to support his family. He experienced working conditions first-hand that weren't far removed from those of slave-labor as he grew up in Spain under the fascist dictator Francisco Franco. It was only the knowledge that he was an American citizen that gave Dad the courage and motivation to overcome a great deal of personal, physical and economic adversity to join the U.S. Navy during World War II so that he could just have a chance to return home to the States and bring his family back with him.

Dad wasn't a man with a particularly sophisticated skill set like that of an electrician, auto worker or meat packer. Nor did he have the skills to work in management but with only a rudimentary education and a strong work ethic he became a simple grocer working in the produce sections of grocery stores in the Los Angeles area for 34 years.

Go to your local grocery store today and talk to an employee in their teens or twenties and ask them if they can imagine working in that particular job for the majority of their adult life. I've asked them and their response is usually to roll their eyes or laugh because they know that they can't raise a family or buy a house with the wages they earn in that job. When I tell them that my dad did the same job that they did for 34 years, their jaws drop and they ask, "How could he stand it?" My answer: He belonged to a union and that union looked out for him and his co-workers to make sure that they got a wage that they could live on. A wage that they could raise a family with. A wage that allowed them to become home owners. And there's no reason why people working those same jobs today shouldn't be given the same respect, benefits and living wages that men like my dad earned for his honest labor.

It's because of Dad's experience with his union, an organization that looked out for his best interests--and by extension those of his family--that I support workers rights in this country . One's level of education or limited skill set should not preclude one's ability to earn a living wage for honest work that will enable them to raise a family and own a home.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Looking around from the center

There's something to be said for the point of view held by those of us in the political middle. There's balance here. A perspective that cannot be appreciated by those who have chosen to ally themselves with a particular faction--especially those who take extreme positions within said faction.

From time to time, I've referred to something called the Nolan chart. It's a diagram attributed to David Nolan--founder of the modern Libertarian movement--in which the traditional "left/right" political spectrum is replaced by a two-dimensional plane with four corners representing four distinct areas of political and economic thought. Occupying two opposing corners are the traditional schools of American politics, "Liberalism" and "Conservatism." The other two corners are occupied by "Libertarianism" and "Statism"--though the "Statism" corner has been labeled at various times as "Populism," "Communism," "Fascism," "Socialism," "Collectivism" and many other "isms" that have been imagined to be the polar opposites of "Libertarianism."

Nolan believed that "Conservatism" focussed too much of its attention on economic freedom at the expense of personal liberty and that "Liberalism" had the opposite problem, focussing its energy on personal freedom while suffocating free enterprise. Libertarianism claims to value both economic and personal freedom. Its philosophical opponent, "Statism," valued neither, suppressing both personal and economic liberty for the sake of the "State," "Collective," "Populous," "Community," etc.

My position on the Nolan chart is in the center (though not the exact center). I value individual liberties and can appreciate the benefits that can be enjoyed within a free market system. One might conclude from this statement that I lean toward libertarianism in my political philosophy and one wouldn't be entirely wrong.

However, when it comes to economics, I do not believe in laissez-faire capitalism--a completely unfettered, unregulated economy. I'm too familiar with human nature not to expect people to do everything they can to satisfy their natural sense of greed up to and including taking unfair advantage of other people. To borrow a phrase from a libertarian friend, the government's role in the economy is not to run it but to establish the rules under which it operates. Well, rules need to be enforced--policed, if you will--and this is often referred to as "regulation." I have no problem with this. What I do have a problem with is the notion that there is something inherently noble about the free market system. That free enterprise can be counted on to solve all of our problems and police itself when unethical practices erupt. This is a foolish notion. The free market can be counted on to do only one thing and that is what's most profitable. And what's profitable isn't always what's right. Take a look at what the free market has done to healthcare in this country. People who purchased health insurance in good faith are having their coverage dropped when they try to make a claim. Why? It's not because the insurance executives want to hurt or even kill people, it's because claims hurt profits. The insurance company executives are simply looking out for the interests of their shareholders. That's their job. And as long as the rules that are in place allow them to drop coverage when a claim is made or deny it based on preexisting conditions, they will continue to do it. Healthcare legislation that is currently festering in Congress addresses these very issues because insurance company executives have made it abundantly clear that as long as the law doesn't require them to behave differently, they will continue to act in the interests of shareholders at the expense of the health--and sometimes the lives--of their customers.

Now, while this causes the blood of ethical people to boil, I want to go on the record as saying that this does not mean that the free market is "bad" or "evil." The free market is amoral. But it does lend itself to working in the interest of those whose goal in life is the acquisition of wealth and often, as has clearly been demonstrated time and time again, people will go right to the edge of the law in their quest for more and more wealth and they will always make sure that their actions are "technically legal." Some laissez-faire capitalists like to claim that it is regulation that causes unethical behavior because it presents a temptation to do what is wrong and to skirt those laws. I find that to be a ridiculous notion. Especially when one considers that laissez-faire capitalism is a purely academic concept. For as long as economies have existed, there has always been some form of regulation to keep it in check with the values of the people participating in it.

While I wouldn't call myself a statist, I don't think that government is inherently evil. The vilification of government is quite popular these days with the "tea party" movement. But, like the free market, governments are neither good nor evil, they are amoral--Merely a collection of laws and buildings. The people who run government, however, are imbued with a moral compass, whether that compass is pointing due north or running on an ethically challenged tangent determines what those people in government do with the public's trust. I don't automatically assume that government can't do anything right but in reality there are some things that the government manages without much complaint from the people. The government maintains our roads and highways. It insures that our water supply is clean and flowing. I enjoy making use of public parks and libraries. I rest easy at night knowing that there are police officers and firemen on watch to keep the peace and ensure our safety. Whenever I see these Tea Partiers on television complaining about the government, all I can think of are the government services that they probably take for granted. It's important to note that many of the services that I referred to are provided by state, county and municipal governments and a lot of vilification is being directed at the Federal government. Well, I agree that the federal government is bloated and wasteful and there are a lot of things about it that need to be fixed, privatized or dissolved but, again, I do not share the sentiment that it is inherently evil, nor do I think that those who run it are evil, regardless of which major political party is "in control." They might be wasteful, incompetent, feckless, even stupid... but not evil. And the federal government isn't entirely useless, we've just kept demanding more and more from it than it was ever intended to provide and to add insult to injury, we've all been too selfish and unwilling to pay for it. And since our government is a reflection of those who give it power then when we point at it and complain, ultimately we're pointing at ourselves. Regardless of whether or not we voted for the latest gaggle of idiots in office is irrelevant, they represent everyone, not just those who voted for them and, as such, we all need to accept the responsibility, dare I say, collectively.

One thing that I've noticed in the political discourse that I've observed and participated in is that those with the most extreme views seem either unwilling or unable to even comprehend the possibility that other factions have their good points. Extreme "conservatives" are convinced that nothing good can come from "liberalism." Extreme "liberals" look at "conservatism" and see nothing but the absolute worst in humanity. "Libertarian" extremists seem to view any form of government action as a direct attack on their personal freedom and might even consider complete anarchy as preferable to even the most rudimentary government body. Extremists are so far removed from the plane that they can't get a clear picture of just what it is they say they are against. And being unable to see clearly, they are left only with their imaginations which leaves them little more to think about the other factions than their worst possible and most paranoid nightmares.

That's why I like it here in the middle. I have a better view of all the political philosophies than I otherwise would, were I to ally myself with any one of them. I don't concern myself with the extremists in the corners--they're often completely out of touch even with their own parties--because the people that I can connect with are those who occupy sections that approach the center. It is from this perspective that I can see the value--the good points--of each of these political philosophies. The straight-talk and vehement commitment to personal liberty held by libertarianism. The practicality, caution and sobriety of genuine Conservatism (not to be confused with the paranoid, self-serving, power hungry "neoconservatism" embraced by the GOP). The optimism, sense of working for the public good and championing the downtrodden that Liberalism USED to stand for. And yes, respecting the need for a participatory government that serves the people and protects our rights.