Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Our National Security Depends On Iraq

Until relatively recently, the idea of immediately withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq was politely relegated to the fringe Left. But the drumbeat for repeating our cut-and-run episode in Vietnam has grown incessantly louder, not just from the bitter Left, but from relatively mainstream politicians.

Victor Davis Hanson explains here what has changed to allow this to happen. Hanson thinks this is a losing strategy. He notes that it only worked in Vietnam due to the Watergate scandal, and that despite the Bush loathing of the Left, the Plame kerfuffle doesn’t come close to rising to that level. Hanson asks some serious questions.
"First, are the metrics of this war in the terrorists’ or our favor? Are the Iraqi security forces growing or shrinking? Are elections postponed or on schedule? Are Europe, Jordan, Lebanon, and others more or less sympathetic to a war against Islamic terrorism in Iraq? Are bin Laden, Zawahiri, and Zarqawi more or less popular or secure after we removed Saddam? Is al Qaeda in a strengthened or weakened position? Is the Arab world more or less receptive to democracy in the Gulf, Egypt, Lebanon, and the West Bank? And is the United States more or less vulnerable to a terrorist attack as we go into our fifth year since September 11?"
To be sure, the President’s approval rating is low and people are tired of the war. But the same pollsters reveal that relatively few Americans seriously think we ought to pull out and leave Iraq high and dry. Hanson says that this is why “wiser,” “street-smart” Democrats “give full rein to the usefully idiotic and irresponsible in their midst, but make no move yet to undo what thousands of brave American soldiers have accomplished in Iraq.”

Fortunately, there are some politicians that are serious about our national security that assess Iraq in a levelheaded manner. Senator Joe Lieberman (D-CT) wrote in such a manner in an op-ed piece published in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, written following his fourth trip to Iraq in 17 months. His article should be required reading for American adults and youth old enough to understand.

Lieberman is very optimistic about the future of Iraq, but he is also realistic about what is going on there and the road ahead. He admits mistakes have been made. I might add that mistakes are still being made (see here). Lieberman says, “the Iraqi people are in reach of a watershed transformation from the primitive, killing tyranny of Saddam to modern, self-governing, self-securing nationhood--unless the great American military that has given them and us this unexpected opportunity is prematurely withdrawn.”

Lieberman clearly defines what the war in Iraq is about. “It is a war between 27 million and 10,000; 27 million Iraqis who want to live lives of freedom, opportunity and prosperity and roughly 10,000 terrorists who are either Saddam revanchists, Iraqi Islamic extremists or al Qaeda foreign fighters who know their wretched causes will be set back if Iraq becomes free and modern.” He discusses some of the good things that are happening in Iraq.
"In the face of terrorist threats and escalating violence, eight million Iraqis voted for their interim national government in January, almost 10 million participated in the referendum on their new constitution in October, and even more than that are expected to vote in the elections for a full-term government on Dec. 15. Every time the 27 million Iraqis have been given the chance since Saddam was overthrown, they have voted for self-government and hope over the violence and hatred the 10,000 terrorists offer them. Most encouraging has been the behavior of the Sunni community, which, when disappointed by the proposed constitution, registered to vote and went to the polls instead of taking up arms and going to the streets. Last week, I was thrilled to see a vigorous political campaign, and a large number of independent television stations and newspapers covering it.

"None of these remarkable changes would have happened without the coalition forces led by the U.S. And, I am convinced, almost all of the progress in Iraq and throughout the Middle East will be lost if those forces are withdrawn faster than the Iraqi military is capable of securing the country."
Senator Lieberman says that while polls show Americans are increasingly dour about the war effort, Iraqis are very optimistic. “Two-thirds say they are better off than they were under Saddam, and a resounding 82% are confident their lives in Iraq will be better a year from now than they are today.” Lieberman praises our military troops and their tremendous accomplishments.

Lieberman explains why our effort in Iraq is critical. “We are fighting on the side of the 27 million because the outcome of this war is critically important to the security and freedom of America. If the terrorists win, they will be emboldened to strike us directly again and to further undermine the growing stability and progress in the Middle East, which has long been a major American national and economic security priority.”

Lieberman asks “whether the American people and enough of their representatives in Congress from both parties understand this.” He expresses disappointment in Democrats that are more concerned about scoring political points against President Bush and Republicans that are more concerned about their chances in next November’s elections than they are in the long-term security of our nation. He aptly says that it would be “a colossal mistake … for America's bipartisan political leadership to choose this moment in history to lose its will and, in the famous phrase, to seize defeat from the jaws of the coming victory.”

As I have written before, we have a duty to clean up the mess we’ve got in Iraq. Some may argue that the best way to do that is to run away from it, naively thinking that the terrorists will also leave if we do. Lieberman notes that we have a strategy (forged in part by past mistakes) that is working well and that will lead to victory if we follow it through to its conclusion. President Bush has done what both the U.S. and Iraqi legislatures have asked, and has provided a thorough plan for victory in Iraq and the ultimate redeployment of American forces from Iraq (see here). As the President noted up front, it will still be a long, hard slog. But it is a slog we must endure.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Turning Our Backs On Iraq Is Not the Answer

Fred Barnes has an absolutely frightening article about the parallels between Iraq and Vietnam. But he’s not talking about the parallels on the ground in Iraq. He’s talking about the parallels on the political front in the U.S.

Barnes echoes what Richard Nixon says in his book, No More Vietnams (see my post here). The Vietnam War was essentially won. The U.S. had pulled all of its military personnel out of Vietnam, and South Vietnam was holding its own against the well-funded communist north—but only with significant aid from the U.S. But antiwar sentiment prevailed in Washington, and Congress slashed funding, leading directly to “a stunning and unnecessary defeat for America and for a free Vietnam.”

Indeed, that defeat resulted in untold volumes of death and human suffering. But somehow the fact that this was inflicted on residents of Indochina made it all OK for the antiwar crowd. This sentiment finds a parallel today. Lysis discusses this here saying, “Iraqi heroes fighting beside our troops count for nothing, their deaths not worth a moment’s outrage. At the same time [antiwar people] have spent years screaming about the vulgar prank pictures from Abu Grahib, or alleged toilet flushings at Guantanamo Bay.” Do Americans truly believe that having toppled Saddam, we are morally free to let the Iraqis fend for themselves against well funded terrorists?

Barnes says, “the lesson is clear: A war can be won on the ground overseas and lost in Washington.” Barnes then details the chain of small events that he says may constitute the beginning of a ground swell that culminates in another unnecessary defeat.

Barnes specifically points out the (dramatically failed) Murtha resolution, the disastrous Republican Senate resolution rebuking the President on the war, and former President Clinton turning against the war. He explains why each of these small events has greater meaning, and why when taken together they are “ominous.”

Barnes concludes with the chilling note that Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden's deputy, also sees parallels between Vietnam and Iraq. “In his intercepted email to al Qaeda's man in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, he said, "Things may develop faster than we imagine." He wrote that "the aftermath of the collapse of American power in Vietnam--and how they ran and left their agents--is noteworthy."”

As sentiment turns against the war and we see our politicians line up to score political points through antiwar grandstanding, terrorists are taking note. Barnes asks, “What message did this package of events send to the insurgents in Iraq? Stay the course, the Americans may be going soft again, just as they did in Somalia a decade ago, in Lebanon in the 1980s, and in Vietnam in the 1970s. What other conclusion could the insurgents draw?”

In the wake of 9/11, I frequently saw a bumper sticker with the words “These colors don’t run” emblazoned across an American Flag. Apparently a fair number of Americans think there should have been a qualifier attached that says, “… unless it gets too expensive or we grow tired of it or we simply wimp out, etc.” As in the Vietnam days, some antiwar folks are absolutely giddy about the idea of American defeat.

As a Scout leader I frequently tell boys on campouts that Scouts always clean up after themselves and that we leave our campsites better than we find them. (I know from experience that some leaders don’t insist on this and that means that someone else eventually has to take care of it). We’ve got the mess in Iraq now. We can argue about how we got there—which sounds like my kids bickering in the back of the van about who touched whom first—or we can roll up our sleeves and deal with the mess. Clearly, as was shown by the 403-3 vote against the Murtha resolution, just turning our back on Iraq and leaving is not the answer.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The Wrong Educational Focus Will Hurt Our Economy

It seems like every time a new study is published ranking American schoolchildren with those of other nations, we rank ever abysmally lower than before. From the trend, it appears that the solutions being generally applied are akin to C.S. Lewis’ analogy of people frantically running around with fire extinguishers during a flood.

The areas of greatest concern revolve around the core subjects of science and math, commonly called the hard sciences. Some are inclined to think, “So what? I hated those subjects when I was in school. Why are they so important?”

Kathryn Wallace has an interesting article on this subject in the December 2005 Readers Digest (America’s Brain Drain Crisis – sorry, no electronic version available). In it she documents how much of America’s economic prowess is built on our scientific and technological advances. She quotes several experts to make her point, including David Baltimore, president of the California Institute of Technology and a Nobel Laureate, who says, “We can’t hope to keep intact our standard of living, our national security, our way of life, if Americans aren’t competitive in science. Period.”

Given where the upcoming generation stands, those are pretty sobering words. If you understand how Nobel laureates are chosen, you have to take Baltimore’s words with a grain of salt. Still, he has a point.

We are producing steadily fewer graduates in the hard sciences, while many other countries are graduating steadily more. In 2000 China graduated 56% in hard sciences while the U.S. graduated 17%, a sharp decline for the U.S. from three decades ago.

Moreover, Wallace notes that our supply of nerdy smart foreign immigrants is drying up. It used to be that many came to the U.S. because they could not get a world-class education in their home countries, but that is changing. Many are staying home because university programs in hard sciences in their own countries are achieving world-class status.

Paul Goss notes here “there is ample reason to worry that America's longstanding lead in science is slipping away. … A recent National Academy of Sciences report concludes that "Without high-quality, knowledge-intensive jobs and the innovative enterprises that lead to discovery and new technology, our economy will suffer and our people will face a lower standard of living."”

The problem doesn’t originate in our universities, but in our K-12 education. Craig Barrett, chairman of Intel, has been running around blasting the “dismal” quality of our K-12 math and science programs (see here, here and here). Wallace quotes Bill Gates as recently saying, “Our high schools, even when they’re working exactly as designed, cannot teach our kids what they need to know today.”

Barrett says what many other CEOs are confirming. American business is going for offshore talent not simply because it is cheap, but because “It's well-educated labor that can do effectively any job that can be done in the United States.” Many managers complain about the inability to domestically hire the type of people they need.

What do we do? If you ask those involved in K-12 education, the answer will always be the same: “Give us more money.” But Wallace says, “Don’t blame school budgets. We shell out more than $440 billion each year on public education, and spend more per capita than any nation save Switzerland.” Yet we still rank 24th in math, tied with Latvia.

Wallace quotes Gerald Wheeler, executive director of the National Science Teachers Association as saying, “The highest predictor of student performance boils down to teacher knowledge.” But she notes that about a third of our 7-12 math and science teachers are inadequately qualified to teach their subjects. Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA) questions, “How can you pass on a passion to your students if you don’t know the subject?”

We need serious reform of our K-12 educational priorities. Some state and local governments are trying a variety of measures. Many business and philanthropic efforts are underway. But all of these together are insignificant given the sheer size of the problem. There are some things Congress can and should do, but we need to be careful about feeding more cash to the ever-growing centralized bureaucratic monster.

In fact, that bureaucratic monster is part of the problem. In her article, Wallace shows how other countries are staffing their governments with grads from the hard sciences. One of the most sobering lines in the article comes from a professor at Georgia Tech, who said, “That’s quite a difference from a government made up of lawyers.”

We need to wake people up and get them to realize what is at stake. When large numbers of people understand the nature of the problem, we can have public discourse on the matter that will help us fashion both private and public efforts to confront it. If we don’t, the ultimate cost will be enormous.

Monday, November 14, 2005

With Urquhart Out, It's Most Likely Term Six for Hatch

I’m sorry to see Steve Urquhart drop out of the U.S. Senate race. Steve said up front that he knew it would be an uphill battle. He knew that he had to get 60% of the vote at next spring’s state Republican convention. Steve’s a smart guy, and he could see that the current trajectory wouldn’t carry him to that goal. But keep your eye on Steve to continue to be a mover and shaker in Utah politics. Maybe the future will see him in national politics.

Perma-Hatch can now breathe easy that he has no Republican challenger. Ethan at SLC Spin has an interesting series of posts on this issue here, here, here, and here. Ethan and some of his readers postulate whether conservatives will now support Pete Ashdown, who is running against Hatch as a Democrat.

Gary Thornock suggests that conservatives should like Ashdown because he stands on the conservative “principles of … limited government, local control and fiscal restraint.” As appealing as that may be, I believe that most of the people that actually vote in Utah won’t give five seconds of thought to Pete Ashdown between now and the ’06 elections.

Frankly, most Utahans really aren’t disenchanted with Senator Hatch. Hatch really hasn’t done anything terribly controversial over the last three decades. He generally gets pretty good press. Most Utahans don’t really understand how ineffective Hatch has been for Utah and how bad he is for technology. His tenure is seen by most as an asset rather than a liability.

Most voters aren’t going to toss an incumbent out unless they are seriously unhappy with him. And most Utah voters aren’t unhappy with Hatch. Steve Urquhart understood this. He knew that he had no chance in a primary election against Hatch. That is why he was working to win at the state convention.

But that’s only part of the problem. Many Utah voters consider themselves conservatives, but they define the term rather fuzzily. When it comes right down to it, they are mostly moral conservatives rather than fiscal conservatives. If they were fiscal conservatives more than half of the Republicans in the Legislature wouldn’t be there and our state budget and tax systems would look very different.

Ashdown may score some points on the side of fiscal conservatism, but he doesn’t speak the same moral language as the majority of actual Utah voters. Although he steps carefully when discussing moral hot button issues, the reality is that Ashdown comes down on the opposite side of most actual voters on those issues.

What’s more is that it probably doesn’t really matter what Ashdown says publicly on moral issues. His national party affiliation hurts him. The stand of the DNC on moral issues important to Utah voters speaks louder than the candidate. Party representatives like Rocky Anderson and Howard Dean don’t help matters much. When Steve Urquhart said that the senate seat would remain in Republican hands, he wasn’t being arrogant. He was simply being pragmatic.

Many people grouse about Utah’s lopsided political system, but there are two ways of looking at it. One is that DNC positions have killed the party’s opportunities in Utah. The other is that Utah voters are too stupid to vote Democratic. And don’t expect voters to support people who think the latter unless they are running in areas heavily populated by Democrats (a la Rocky).

Well, if it’s so difficult for a Democrat to be elected in Utah, why do we have a Democratic Congressional Representative? Jim Matheson serves a district that is closely divided between the two parties. It is not representative of greater Utah. He was initially elected in an open election in 2000. He didn’t have to unseat an incumbent because the Republican voters did that for him by unseating Rep. Merrill Cook in the primary election. Since gaining office, as Democracy for Utah noted here, Matheson has proved to be “a sell-out Democrat who votes with the Republicans. That's why we like him.” And that’s why voters have sent him back to Washington twice and will likely do so again next year.

Unlike Matheson, Ashdown has to win the entire state. He has to unseat a sitting incumbent that has given most voters no reason to vote against him. Unless Perma-Hatch does something like have a public extramarital affair, I think Ashdown is unlikely to win. Even if Hatch were to die, voters might give him a sympathy vote, much the same as Missouri voters did for Mel Carnahan in 2000 (see here), rather than elect Ashdown.

So should Ashdown not run? Of course he should run! Even if he has no realistic chance of winning at the moment, politics is a strange business and the only sure way to lose is to get out of the race. You never know what might develop between now and next November. Besides, Ashdown has the opportunity to influence the public debate on current political issues. That may even mean indirectly influencing national policy. I could be wrong about all of this, but I think it’s the most realistic view.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The Real Reasons For the French Riots

The riots that have raged throughout France and spilled over into neighboring countries over the past two weeks can be described in simplistic terms, but they are the result of multiple factors. Many have looked at the riots through one lens or another, but have failed to get to the bottom of the issue.

Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal included a masterful article by Joel Kotkin of the New America Foundation. Mr. Kotkin demonstrates how the socialist agenda of Western Europe, particularly France, over the past three decades has killed off job growth and opportunity for advancement, leaving youth with a lack of opportunity. The entire EU has generated only 4 million (mostly government) new jobs in the last 25 years, while the U.S. has generated 57 million. While Mr. Kotkin is correct, he fails to drive to the heart of the matter.

Western Europe’s plummeting birthrate has required very relaxed immigration to supply sufficient people to support its infrastructure. Millions of immigrants have moved there, mostly from Islamic countries. But they came as “guest workers” rather than as full citizens. I’m not disregarding the immigration problem we have in the U.S., but there is a difference (more than theirs being legal and ours being illegal). Immigrants to the U.S. have the opportunity to advance, to achieve affluence, and to become equal with long-term citizens. Europe’s guest workers don’t have that. They will always be regarded as less than full Europeans, even generations later.

When I lived in Norway over two decades ago, Norwegians saw the Muslims that came there, ostensibly under some contrived amnesty, as quiet people that worked the lower level jobs and that “knew their place” in society. It was pretty much the same throughout Western Europe. They had their own brand of Jim Crow. Now they have third generation Muslims that are being infused with Wahhabist (and similar) teachings from the Middle East. These factors create a cultural mix that has the makings of being highly volatile. Indeed, the Dutch (as well as most of Europe) were deeply shaken by the murder of pornographer Theo Van Gogh by a Dutch born Muslim in broad daylight on an Amsterdam street.

Ed Morrissey points out here that the French riots didn’t simply happen through spontaneous combustion. They were orchestrated. By whom? By militant Islamists. Although the MSM has gone to great pains not to mention this fact over the past two weeks, it is not exactly a secret. Morrissey notes that the Washington Post wrote last month about a September call to action against France by a well known Islamic terrorist group that outlined how to carry out some of the mayhem that has recently been perpetrated. So nobody wants the riots to look like terrorism, but there is no denying that terrorists at least used them as a terrorist tool. Neither the French government nor MSM wants to say so because it would lend credence to the much despised neo-con policies of George W. Bush.

But the problem goes deeper than Morrissey’s observations. Western Europe wouldn’t be in this predicament at all if it had family friendly policies. If it weren’t so secularized and socialized it would have those kinds of policies. So it’s a cultural issue that strikes at the heart of the personality of the culture.

Pitzer College’s anti-religious Phil Zuckerman has concluded (see here) that religion “seems to be critical to people's decision to raise children. People in these advanced industrial societies see children more and more as a liability.” He continues, that people “don't even need to get married since there is no legal advantage to doing so.” These self absorbed cultural attitudes become reflected in public policy.

Daniel Peterson argues here that the basis for Western Europe’s problems are its lack of faith in Deity. Peterson discusses the atheistic viewpoint and argues that, taken to its logical conclusion, it has no basis for claiming any kind of morality, and that morality requires a belief in God. He says that any morality claimed by atheists must necessarily be weakly borrowed from faith in God.

Critics will certainly ask whether religion isn’t part of the basic problem of the riots in France and of terrorism in general. Peterson, of course, cites the murderous secular regimes of Stalin, Hitler, Pot, etc. to show that atheism does not guarantee peace and freedom from atrocities. Peterson concludes that even in the face of doubt there are plenty of rational reasons for accepting God.

I have a friend that is fond of arguing that moral laws are eternal. Just as physical laws cannot be violated, neither can moral laws. C.S. Lewis notes in his book Mere Christianity that most of us deep down agree on basic moral principles of what is right and fair. In fact, we wouldn’t even argue about the fairness of something unless a basic moral law existed that defined fairness. Atheism simultaneously attempts to deny and embrace this fact.

Western Europe has been actively working to defy eternal moral laws for well over a century. The last three decades are just the latest version of the attempt. Their cultural situation is a product of that effort. But don’t worry, American society is working its way toward that goal as well. Fortunately there are some righteous among us by whose prayers we are largely spared (see here) the most dire consequences. I am grateful for them, and I aspire to be one of them.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Let the Free Market Help the Environment

There is still a lot of disagreement in the scientific world about whether global warming is really occurring in any meaningful manner. (Although, strong proponents will try to kill the debate up front by using lines such as, “No serious scientist questions whether global warming is occurring.”) Among those that agree that global warming is occurring, there is a wide variety of opinions regarding the degree to which human activity has any impact. (Again, strong proponents will attempt to kill debate using standard tactics.)

Conservatives are all over the board on this issue, but they are relatively united in the belief that government policy should not be based on the idea that we can successfully regulate human activity so as to reduce global warming. Many conservatives disbelieve the effectiveness of such proposed policies. Most are simply opposed to further restriction of liberties that would transfer more power to the government and to the environmentalist left.

Edwin Stafford, an associate professor at Utah State University, notes here that Wal-Mart is spending half a billion dollars to “reduce fossil-fuel greenhouse gas emissions over the next seven years.” He says that some conservatives think this will be money wasted and that some liberals think that it doesn’t go far enough. But he makes several interesting points arguing that Wal-Mart’s initiative will be both good for business and for the environment.

Stafford argues the initiative will:
  • Improve energy efficiency, thereby reducing the cost of goods and creating less pollution.
  • Cause innovation that will reduce the costs of environmentally friendly technologies, making them more generally available.
  • Set new industry standards that competitors will end up following, thus reducing costs and improving the environment across the board.
This is the kind of thing that we should be happy about. It is happening in the free market system rather than through repressive regulation and it has the potential of making life better for everyone. It should actually cost us less rather than costing us more and it should actually improve the environment. Who knows? Maybe a decade from now we will all be ubiquitously using energy efficient technologies for which we can thank Wal-Mart.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Will the Legacy Highway be Built?

A lot of people are breathing easier, thinking that we are now on track to build the Legacy Highway – um, Parkway (see here). Maybe we are, maybe we aren’t.

Rep. John Dougall (R-Am. Fork) notes that the following steps remain:
  • Approval of the agreement by the Gov.
  • An up or down vote by the legislature (no amendments, no changes).
Rep. David Ure (R-Kamas) thinks the agreement that was inked last month is immensely better than the July agreement, but he will still vote against it (see here). He opposes on principle negotiating with environmental groups perpetrating “Blackmail.” (Some would disagree with him – see here). Ure says that the state has more than satisfied the requirements of the original lawsuit, spending more than $2 million per mile of the proposed road just in environmental studies. He notes that the agreement has nothing to do with that lawsuit, but was negotiated in order to avoid another threatened lawsuit.

Rep. Dougall discusses here the federal process that got us to this point with environmentalists, noting that “Essentially, Congress hands them the gun, loading the chamber, and then expects us to negotiate.” His suggestion: “Don't like it? Contact your Congressmen (and/or one of their opponents).” Not a bad idea.

As we have known all along, the Sierra Club and its friends never had any intention of allowing Legacy to be built unless all of their demands were satisfied, not just the three issues cited by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. The environmentalists threatened to file another suit that, regardless of merit, would tie the process up for another number of years. So UDOT decided to cut bait and give them what they want.

Rep. Ure cites John Adams’ statement that we should have “a government of laws and not of men.” He contends that “Giving in to groups who threaten to use the courts to rob Utah taxpayers of money and economic progress is giving in to a government "of men."” Ure says that despite his desire to get Legacy built and his wish not to delay it a single day more, it is more important to stand firm on the principle of being governed by laws rather than by men.

Rep. Dougall is more pragmatic. He says, “This was a win-lose agreement. Either way the Sierra Club, et al. won and the traveling public lost. The key debate will now be whether this settlement is better than just continuing the battle in court.” While Dougall never states how he will vote, he says, “The State's option is how do we cope with a bad situation and minimize its impact on the taxpayers.” I’m not sure that puts him at odds with Ure, but to me it comes across as more practical than principled.

Of course, many friends of mine are quick to point out that the Founders also created the judicial branch of the government. They will argue that Ure and Dougall are both off base in claiming that legal action or the threat thereof thwarted appropriate action. They will rather contend that it resulted in a reasonable outcome.

This all comes down to the basic struggle about the proper role of the judicial branch. Some want the courts to implement desired policies regardless of the will of the people expressed via the legislative branch. They want courts to find “innovative” interpretations of legal documents, including the Constitution. Others want our laws strictly interpreted to determine if they meet the standards established by the Founders in the Constitution.

This latter group’s understanding of the role of the judiciary was embodied in Chief Justice Roberts’ statement during his confirmation hearings that “judges are like umpires. Umpires don't make the rules; they apply them.” This is why conservatives fought so hard to kill the Miers nomination. It is also why they are thrilled about Judge Samuel Alito’s nomination to the Supreme Court. His record shows that he sticks to interpreting the law rather than making it up as he goes.

The simple threat of a lawsuit would not carry so much sting if our judicial system were dedicated to strictly interpreting the law. But that would solve only part of the problem. Our legislative branch sometimes creates statutes that they fully intend to be resolved by the judiciary rather than grappling with the hard issues up front. My friends in legislative positions will be quick to note that this is a chicken-before-the-egg kind of issue. Legislative bodies create statutes that way because the judiciary has gained so much power, and vice versa. But maybe if Congress actually did its job of judicial oversight, the judiciary would not be out of control. And maybe if we hadn’t federalized so many matters that should be handled locally, our local judicial jurisdictions could manage things at the appropriate level rather than tossing them up to the federal level. (See LaVarr Webb’s marvelous essay on federalism). And maybe if we hadn’t implemented so many socialist policies that the government is now in every facet of our daily lives we wouldn’t need all of those court rulings.

What we need is for everyone to go back to doing the job intended for them by the Founders. Changing Supreme Court justices can help, but it’s only part of the puzzle. We need to decentralize many functions that should be handled at levels below the federal level. We need Congress to exercise proper judicial oversight. We need legislative bodies to do the hard work of creating good laws up front. We need citizens to reduce their dependence on the government and legislatures to reduce socialist programs. Like a good team, we need all of the players to play their positions and to play them well.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

LDS Pilgimages Can be Misguided

As a Latter-Day Saint (a.k.a. Mormon), I don’t particularly understand the need to make pilgrimages to LDS historic sites. I appreciate the fact that these sites exist and are maintained. But I guess I look at a visit to one of these places the way I look at a visit to a museum rather than to a house of worship.

In saying this, I in no way intend to belittle those whose religious beliefs demand that they make pilgrimages. LDS doctrine demands pilgrimages of its members as well – to the chapel for weekly worship and to the Temple, for example. But while the LDS Church works hard to preserve historic sites, its doctrine does not demand that members visit these sites.

I am concerned with the underlying spiritual pilgrimage attitude with which some of my acquaintances encourage visiting LDS historic sites. I believe that they are getting away from the meat of the gospel of Jesus Christ and are focusing on peripheral stuff.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe I would enjoy visiting places like Nauvoo, Carthage, Independence, Farr West, Adam-Ondi-Ahman, Kirtland, and the Palmyra area. I have studied a lot about these places. But if I don’t make it there sometime during this life I won’t feel like I’ve shirked my duty nor will I feel spiritually slighted.

Of course, living in Utah I have visited many local LDS historic sites. Also, last year I had the opportunity of doing a mini handcart trek at Martin’s Cove. I also visited Rock Creek Hollow. I have enjoyed my visits to these places and have had some personal spiritual experiences on some visits. But I still don’t regard it to be my spiritual duty to make such visits.

I do not discount the value, even spiritual value, of visiting LDS historic sites. But let’s keep things in proper perspective. Visiting these places is more like dessert rather than the essential main course.