Cropped shot of musicians during an orchestral concert

With music and people, it’s about the process of becoming

In a celebration of “Mozart’s Genius” earlier this year, Jeffrey Brown of PBS NewsHour interviewed composer and pianist Robert Kapilow about the musical giant.

(In the process, Kapilow provided glimpses not only into the underlying architecture of a particular masterpiece, an opus known as Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G minor, but of the genre itself. If you take six minutes to watch the clip, you’ll be glad you did.)

Observing that classical music is about “becoming, not being,” Kapilow asserts,

“It’s not what a musical idea is when you first hear it, … but it’s about what it can become or how it transforms over the course of a piece of music.”

A thought-provoking pearl worth pondering, this insight may have relevance beyond the realm of musical composition.

From the vantage point of a conservative, it might sound like: It’s not what a foundational principle is when learned or discovered, but about what it can help people become as it iterates through a community and transforms into a culture.

And from another perspective: It’s not just about what parents’ examples are when bestowed, but about what unfolds as they reverberate through a family and influence the growth and development of their children and grandchildren. Of course, the examples can be constructive in their effects, and they can be otherwise.

Exercising personal privilege for a moment, I consider my parents, Don and Geniel, to have set wonderful examples for our family. Their integrity, compassion, work, sacrifices and service are not only the essence of what composes the core of ‘family as the fundamental unity of society’ and thereby of functional civil society, but their examples also are very personal and edifying for each member of our tribe.

As members of the so-called G.I. generation, they endured and survived the Great Depression, World War II, the unprecedented technological developments and social dynamics that followed – and have done so with faith, hope, honesty, courage, humility and persistence, like many of their siblings and contemporaries. And our folks have done so with cheerful hearts and great humor. Though we bid a temporary farewell to our dear Dad and Grandpa nearly three years ago, we are blessed still to have our Mom/Grandma/Great-Grandma with us.

Today, we celebrate Mom’s 90th birthday. A five-foot dynamo, she continues to volunteer weekly at the IMC hospital in Murray, regularly play the piano in the lobby of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building downtown, and keep her grandkids in stitches as she stays in touch with them via social media – “Instagramma,” as they call it. Last year, she remodeled her front room complete with a new piano, and this year she bought a bright red Camry! We tell her that’s the way we want to grow old – but find ways to say so gently as for the past few decades she has referred with a wink to the milestones as “celebrating anniversaries of my 29th birthday.”

Geniel is also loved and revered by dozens of nieces and nephews, hundreds of friends and thousands of students whom she taught over a 34-year career as a public-ed, 4th-grade school teacher and itinerant district music specialist. To these we can add the countless lives she has touched by generously sharing her musical gifts at weddings, funerals, church services and community events … the epitome of civil society in action.

With all their years of effort and effectiveness in so many important dimensions of life, Mom and Dad regard our family – still very much a work in process – as their magnum opus.

And we will continue to do our best to live up to their expectations and priceless examples.

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Intolerance of judge’s religious belief puts her career in danger

Probably thanks to both increased attention and heightened conflict, every few weeks or so, we see a new story featuring a conflict over religious belief and a new intolerance of those beliefs when they are contrary to current philosophies of family and sexuality.

The most recent example is the criticism of hosts of a television show who attended a church considered insufficiently supportive of same-sex marriage. This particular controversy appears to have died down, with a promise to feature a same-sex couple on the show.

It’s important, though, to remember that each instance, epic or trivial, has a real human story behind it.

In July 2016, Sutherland Institute joined an amicus brief submitted to the Wyoming Supreme Court in one of these cases.

It involves a local judge, Ruth Neely, who has been honorably serving the town of Pinedale, Wyoming, for more than two decades, having been appointed and reappointed by four different mayors. Since 2001, she has also served as a part-time circuit court magistrate. In that position, she is allowed to perform marriages but is not legally required to.

Same-sex marriage was legally mandated in Wyoming after state officials decided not to defend the state’s marriage law, which had been struck down by a federal judge in October 2014. Though Judge Neely had never been asked to officiate at a same-sex wedding, a reporter at the Pinedale Roundup called to ask Neely if she would do so if asked. After explaining she had not been asked to, she also explained her religious belief that marriage is the union of a husband and wife. In a subsequent conversation, the reporter offered not to run a story if Neely would “state a willingness to perform same-sex marriages.”

There is no concern that if Neely referred a couple to someone else to officiate the wedding, this would end access to marriages since, as Neely’s attorneys note, “any ‘upstanding’ citizen can become authorized to perform a wedding in Sublette County.”

After the story was published, a resident of Pinedale (and chair of the Wyoming Democratic Party) sent the article to the executive director of the Commission on Judicial Conduct and Ethics, who had also served on the board of Wyoming Equality, an advocacy organization that had challenged the state’s marriage law in court.

In January 2015, the commission decided to investigate Neely for alleged ethical violations based on her statement of her religious beliefs about marriage. She was suspended from her court magistrate service because of the investigation.

At the end of that month, the Roundup reporter wrote a column saying: “It is sad that Judge Ruth Neely is still in an office of responsibility, almost two months after admitting to me that she would not officiate in same-sex marriages.”

On February 18, 2015, the commission began formal proceedings against Neely, officially charging her with four ethical violations a few weeks later. In August, the commission added two more charges because Neely had hired a religious liberty organization called Alliance Defending Freedom to represent her. The commission said ADF was an “an organization that discriminates and advocates for discrimination” since it supports marriage as between a man and a woman – as it was universally understood prior to the recent court rulings. These two amended charges had to be dropped after Neely challenged them.

Just under a year ago, a panel of the commission issued its opinion that Neely violated ethical rules. In February 2016, the commission recommended that the Wyoming Supreme Court remove Neely from both of her judicial positions. It must be underscored that this was solely because she had expressed her religious beliefs about marriage.

On August 17, 2016, the formal oral argument in the case was held in the Wyoming Supreme Court. A decision could come at any time.

This legal recital should not mask the bottom line: An individual’s livelihood is at stake because of the expression of her religious beliefs.

Surely, this is too extreme a result for a polite disagreement with a position that was almost unheard of when Neely first took office. We cannot lose sight of these kinds of real human stories.

Political Twinkies won’t nourish the nation

In an 1857 address on education, John Taylor described a conversation he had with a man in Paris, France, about educational and religious matters. Taylor compared the European approach to a particular French pastry which he described as a very light cake, so light that a man could eat it all the time and never be filled. He called it fried froth. I think he was actually describing the precursor to the modern-day Twinkie.

Taylor was cautioning against approaches that were sweet, pleasing and tasty but failed to carry life-promoting nutrition to the body, mind and soul.

In today’s hyperpartisan environment, it is easy to get caught gorging on political Twinkies instead of consuming less appealing, but nutritionally important, principles and policies. I shared in the Deseret News a few thoughts on political Twinkies:

President-elect Donald Trump recently swooped into Indiana to take credit for keeping around 1,000 jobs that Carrier was planning to move to Mexico.

Sadly, Trump was merely delivering one more economic Twinkie to a national economy that needs real nourishment.

Like a good Twinkie, the Carrier deal was sweet to the taste, had great packaging and a perfect marketing campaign.

Also like a Twinkie, the deal had little substance and no nutritional value, and it is most likely to produce a sugar high of hyperactivity followed by a crash when real substance is required.

The Carrier deal sends the message that if you are a big business and politically connected, you can extort subsidies from taxpayers and boost your profits by threatening to outsource blue-collar jobs. Backroom deals between big business and big government are simply empty economic calories.

Feeding the public with this kind of economic Twinkie often ends up hurting the poor and the middle class the most – and the very blue-collar workers they are claiming to help.

Corporate cronyism is not only unfair, but it also artificially distorts the market and incentivizes companies like Carrier to sacrifice sound long-term business growth for short-term gain in the form of corporate welfare. When you are full of Twinkies, going out to cultivate the broccoli and spinach isn’t all that appealing.

Sadly, many in Washington are already lining up at the Twinkie trough. A stunning number of conservative lawmakers have started to awkwardly justify abandoning lifetime commitments to free markets and free trade. They say, in effect, “The voters want Twinkies and don’t like spinach.” In other words, “The political price of delivering the policy nutrition the nation needs is too high for me as a politician.”

For America to thrive we need to leave political Twinkies for the state fair and instead focus on and vigorously promote the substance and economic nutrition of a truly pro-growth agenda.

For Sutherland Institute, this is Boyd Matheson. Thanks for engaging – because principle matters.

This post is an edited transcript of Principle Matters, a weekly radio commentary broadcast on several radio stations across the country. The podcast can be found below.

Receive this broadcast each week directly via iTunes by clicking here

Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day

While December 7, 1941, was a tragedy that lives forever in infamy, it was also an important hinge point in freedom’s history.

Pearl Harbor galvanized Americans and freedom-loving people around the world to stand up and prove that might doesn’t equal right. The gates of history turn on small hinges, and those hinges turn on the courage and commitment of ordinary but inspired individuals. Join us in honoring those who gave their all for freedom.

Hand vector exchange money idea and one way provide benefit

How leftist imperialists take advantage of corporate philanthropists

By Miriam Merrill

In an unprecedented move, outdoor clothing retailer Patagonia announced that 100 percent of its Black Friday sales this year would be donated to conservation efforts. Under this initiative, it received five times the revenue that it expected – over $10 million in sales, all going to environmental organizations.

Impressive charitable pushes like this have the potential to leave a powerful mark on our planet. Unfortunately, too often we see progressive imperialists seduce corporate philanthropists into reaching in their deep pockets and donating to a cause deemed to be worthy – but not backed up by facts.

Imperialism has made many appearances in the pages of our history books. The “superior man” – who has often earned his title not by ability or leadership quality but by skin color, net worth or family name – automatically assumes he knows better than the “little guy,” and so nobly takes it upon himself to educate and civilize his lesser.

It happened with the English colonists and Native Americans, it happened with Europeans and Africans in the 1800s, and it still happens today. Some members of the human family can never get past their selfish illusion that “I” know best: I have the most correct opinion. I understand more than my neighbor.

Progressive imperialists appear to have duped corporate interests with this type of egotistical ideology, leaving us with well-intentioned philanthropists who believe they “get it” but are missing out on crucial facts in determining where the needs really lie, or what their generously donated money is contributing to.

One popular cause as of late is the proposed Bears Ears national monument. Many corporate donors believe the myths that the designation would increase income for the people of San Juan County, protect sacred lands, and fulfill the wishes of local Native Americans. They then send money to environmental groups to help in the efforts without understanding the consequences.

To this notion, San Juan County Commissioner and Navajo Nation member Rebecca M. Benally wrote:

“While we recognize the allure of deep-pocketed environmental groups with their promises and potential jobs on a Native American Advisory Council, we reject the notion that groups outside of San Juan County should dictate the future of these lands or pretend to speak for us and have our best interest … we know better. We can speak for ourselves. Environmental groups: do not insult our intelligence.”

Besides the fact that a national monument isn’t what local Native Americans want, there are other realities that environmental groups ignore and corporate philanthropies don’t take into account. Do they recognize that this area is already federally protected by a number of well-established laws and regulations? Do they know that vandalism has been increasing in Utah’s other national monuments and that a Bears Ears designation would put the area at risk as never before? Do they care that Garfield County has been forced to declare an economic and scholastic state of emergency because of the consequences following the designation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument?

Clearly not, or they would certainly rethink their efforts and where their charitable efforts are being directed. They may have the interest of the locals in mind, but a little education would offer a different – and a better – solution.

Philanthropic desires of all kinds should be applauded, but the money’s impact would be far more influential if corporate philanthropists thoroughly researched their causes to discover the most valuable way to help, rather than assuming they already know best. Charitable efforts to serve are more than commendable – let’s also make sure we actually know what the problem is and how to effectively solve it.

Miriam Merrill is a policy intern with Sutherland Institute.

The home of former president of the USA George Washington. Wide angle view.

Washington was right about moving on

In the Broadway sensation Hamilton, the song “One Last Time” features President George Washington informing Alexander Hamilton that he will not run for a third term. Despite Hamilton’s pleading that that the father of the nation was simply irreplaceable, Washington responded with,

“One last time
The people will hear from me…
And if we get this right
We’re gonna teach ’em how to say
Goodbye…
You and I—
If I say goodbye, the nation learns to move on – It outlives me when I’m gone.”

Last week I stood at Mount Vernon and realized the many times Washington taught the nation, how to say goodbye, and where America’s power lies and how to truly lead. I shared much of what follows in an op-ed for the Deseret News:

Following the Revolutionary War Washington had access to absolute power. He could have been – and scores of Americans wanted him to be – king. Many declared him the indispensible and irreplaceable man.

Washington knew better and rejected the throne of irreplaceability while setting a standard of servant-leadership for all to follow.

I have seen the fallacy of the “irreplaceable” person in business, politics and government.

The irreplaceable often becomes a constraint on innovation, growth and improvement in organizations and nations.

Sadly, the American people have also begun to buy in to the indispensible leader syndrome. Currently the United States Congress has a 9 percent approval rating. Yet incumbents in Congress are re-elected at a rate of about 94 percent.

It is easy to cast aspersions on the rest of Congress while convincing your constituents they cannot survive without you. This attitude fosters the belief that some political savior can waltz in from Washington and fix all our problems – further weakening the nation as more and more citizens absolve themselves of personal responsibility.

During my time in Washington, D.C., I regularly walked through the Capitol rotunda late at night. I would always pause and spend a few moments gazing at the majestic painting of George Washington resigning his commission as general in 1783. In the quiet and stillness of the empty rotunda, you can hear and sense and know the principles that made Washington an authentic and extraordinary leader.

His resignation of his army commission was an ultimate act of servant-leadership. In one of the few such instances in history, the commander of a conquering army did not assume complete authority, control and power, but instead returned it to the citizens and their representatives.

Washington knew the future of the nation wasn’t dependent on him. He believed America’s destiny would be secured, down through the ages, by individual citizens who would enter the world’s stage, make a contribution in their homes, communities and country, and then travel on.

If we begin to view political leaders as replaceable, they will be, and elections will become less consequential to our lives because we will make government less consequential in our lives.

True leaders will echo Washington’s line: “If I say goodbye, the nation learns to move onIt outlives me when I’m gone” – and that is what makes America strong.

For Sutherland Institute, this is Boyd Matheson. Thanks for engaging – because principle matters.

This post is an edited transcript of Principle Matters, a weekly radio commentary broadcast on several radio stations across the country. The podcast can be found below.

Receive this broadcast each week directly via iTunes by clicking here

Giving a lecture about global warming

Is global warming real? Experts pick sides

Financial website WalletHub posed the question – Is global warming real? – to a panel of leading experts in related fields.

Derek Monson, Sutherland Institute’s director of public policy, was among the respondents. He wrote:

According to the most reliable temperature data (i.e., satellites), the globe has exhibited some warming in recent decades. There is really not much to discuss in that regard.

In other words, while it sounds interesting on its face, this question is actually a distraction from what we should really be talking about.

For example, focusing our attention on the reality of global warming distracts our attention from the fact that climate change models have thus far predicted between 1.7 and 3 times more warming in temperatures than we are actually seeing in temperature data. By extension, it preempts the scientific questions about human understanding of the climate that would otherwise naturally arise from the failure of climate models to accurately predict climate change.

Focusing on the reality of global warming also distracts us from addressing whether policy ideas that actively seek to influence climate change are more harmful – to both humans and the environment – than policies that simply adapt to a naturally changing climate. And it prevents us from coming to grips with the awkward reality – that proposed climate change policies do not hold much promise for significantly reducing warming temperatures, even though they do dramatically increase government intrusion into and control over people’s personal lives.

Click here to read Monson’s conclusion, and here to read the entire WalletHub article.

Istanbul, Turkey - September 18, 2015: Apple Iphone 6 screen with social media applications of Whatsapp, Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and Periscope while a male finger is about to touch on Facebook app.

How social media makes you polarized

By Miriam Merrill

It’s impossible to ignore the extreme political polarization in America. An article by Pew suggests that the values of the American people are more polarized now than at any time in the past 25 years.

Of course it is possible to maintain civility and find common ground while defending one’s beliefs, but it seems to be rare.

Are unseen forces pushing us toward such polarization? How can there be such a plethora of subcultures that all believe their philosophy is the most moral, humane and correct? To find an answer to this question, we need not look further than our fingertips.

While the internet caters to a wide spectrum of users, we are exposed to only a small, narrow slice of it. Essentially everything that we view online, from Netflix suggestions to Google search results, are “hand picked” for us based on information collected from every minute detail of our web activity. Countless algorithms collect even the most casual of our web exchanges to curate similar content that we’re expected to enjoy equally.

“Trending” news stories on Facebook are personalized based on pages you’ve liked. There are no checks put into place to ensure accuracy of articles; some are completely false. Additionally, every single Facebook and Instagram post is given a relevancy score according to your activity. That means that you see content from the same users over and over because the network has done the dirty work of sifting through content for you. This ensures that your few daily scrolls will be full of comfortable content. These are just two illustrations of a bigger problem.

These algorithms may seem harmless enough, but a majority of social media users now rely on Twitter and Facebook as their primary news resources. In fact, around 60 percent of all millennials (those born from 1981-96) rely on Facebook for political news over any other news source. This results in echo chambers, where our already existing biases are continually reaffirmed through a personalized Internet experience.

Jaron Lanier, author of You Are Not a Gadget, warns of this prevalent social trend:

“People tend to get into this echo chamber where more and more of what they see conforms to the idea of who some software thinks they are. … You start to become more and more like the image of you because that is what you are seeing.”

This can easily be illustrated by searching for a current event or debatable topic on Google and comparing your search results with a friend’s – results will differ slightly, yet significantly. If you’ve ever strongly supported a political candidate and wondered how anyone intelligent could feel differently than you, this might be part of the reason.

Once the social network algorithms know who and what we like, we are consistently fed reaffirming information that fosters pride in our beliefs and avoids potential for offense. Often, dissenting views that would help us create well-rounded, educated opinions are completely left out of our viewing experience, and it is all carefully done in a way that we don’t even realize. This does little to ease our polarized opinions, as we rarely see content which challenges us. Rather, our electronic experience becomes a safe spot for us, regardless of the actual validity or correctness of our beliefs.

Despite the prevalent factors working against us, it is possible to develop a balanced view of the political world amid extreme polarization. Solutions include:

  • Refrain from “unfriending” or “unfollowing” those those who civilly post in opposition to your beliefs. Allowing yourself to contemplate their suggestions will foster well-rounded opinions of your own.
  • Fact-check your “trending” stories before you allow them to influence your political opinions. Snopes is a valuable resource for checking the validity of viral news.
  • Visit multiple news sites to develop a more educated overview of a particular current event. AllSides collects articles from the left, right and center for any given topic, allowing readers to get multiple sides of the story.

Community-driven solutions provide the strongest foundation for solid public policy. These solutions can only be created through elevated, civil dialogue between those who disagree. It will take humility and openness to realize our own view of the world isn’t the only one that exists. However, as we seek to truly understand those around us – even those whose views may seem totally irrational initially – we will be better suited to influence and change the world for the better, one social media post at a time.

Miriam Merrill is a policy intern with Sutherland Institute.

Greeting your day with love and thanksgiving

Several years ago I had the chance to assist my mother-in-law, Joan Casper, in preparing her biography for printing. She was a great woman with an even grander soul. Despite her tiny frame, she was a powerhouse and whirling dervish of a worker, toiling alongside her husband, Bill, to wrestle – from the dry and barren soil of the Columbia Basin in eastern Washington – their version of the American dream: an apple orchard which eventually featured thousands upon thousands of fruit-filled trees.

The early years were most difficult as they cleared the land, planted trees and started a family that would itself blossom to nine children, 52 grandchildren, 70 great-grandchildren, and more on the way. Joan’s biography was aptly titled Dreams Really Do Come True.

After the biography was typeset, I spent an afternoon in the printer’s office proofing the text with my sister Jana – a great writer and editor who really was the only reason I passed English in high school. The lives of Bill and Joan Casper raced off the pages as a witness of their devotion to each other and their herculean commitment to serve and make a difference. At one point I looked over at my sister to see that tears were rolling down her cheeks. She pointed to page 98, where I read through my own tears this description from Joan, “Bill took off a few hours on Christmas Day. He gave me an aluminum measuring cup … for Christmas. … I was surprised he had taken the time and spent the money to buy something just for me.”

Jana whispered, “If only everyone could be that grateful for something so simple!” The world would be a very different place – a place filled with love – without measure! The principles of love and gratitude seem to naturally swell at this time of year. Properly lived, they aren’t a set of behaviors as much as they are a way of living and being. Gratitude drives out greed, selfishness and entitlement, bringing in its wake a desire to lift and serve others.

Og Mandino shared this insight for gaining gratitude:

I will greet this day with love in my heart. For this is the greatest secret of life.  

And how will I do this? I will love the sun for it warms my bones; yet I will love the rain for it cleanses my spirit. I will love the light for it shows me the way; yet I will love the darkness for it shows me the stars. I will welcome happiness for it enlarges my heart; yet I will endure sadness for it opens my soul. I will acknowledge rewards for they are my due; yet I will welcome obstacles for they are my challenge.

On behalf of everyone here at Sutherland Institute – Happy Thanksgiving! Whether your blessings are quantified in aluminum measuring cups or overflowing buckets, we hope that today you will pause and be grateful for freedom, for those who sacrificed for it, for those who defend it, and for all who keep the home fires of freedom burning.

With the principles of gratitude and love driving our days and our deeds, each of us can play our part – relying on the better angels of our nature as we strive to create a brighter future and a more grateful nation.

For Sutherland Institute, this is Boyd Matheson. Thanks for engaging – because principle matters.

Boyd C. Matheson is president of Sutherland Institute, a conservative think tank that advocates for a free market economy, civil society and community-driven solutions.

This post is an edited transcript of Principle Matters, a weekly radio commentary broadcast on several radio stations across the country. The podcast can be found below.

Receive this broadcast each week directly via iTunes by clicking here

Mathemathics professor at chalkboard writing formula

Trump won. What’s next for education?

Trump won. What does this mean for education? The answer is – we’re not quite sure yet.

At Sutherland Institute, we hope Trump respects the uniqueness of each individual’s God-given ability to learn and accomplish great things by re-empowering states with power to make education policy decisions; championing educational choice; and emphasizing parental involvement.

Education was not a top issue for either candidate this election cycle, so we’re left to make predictions based on a handful of statements. During his campaign, Trump suggested closing the U.S. Department of Education; spending $20 billion on expanding vouchers so students could use federal money to attend the school of their choice; and getting rid of Common Core (which would have to be done by the states, not the federal government). It’s clear that his idea is to scale back federal control in education and make a return to local control. Which is good news, if he’s able to accomplish it. Here are some opportunities Sutherland Institute hopes the new administration takes advantage of:

The new administration can re-evaluate and get rid of many of the regulations under ESSA – federal legislation that was intended to give states greater power, but which has fallen short of that objective in many ways. For states to actually control education, federal influence must be reduced significantly.

The Trump administration has the power to ensure that school is not used as a tool to further political agendas. A new administration could start this by withdrawing the current administration’s letter regarding transgender bathrooms. This broad and clunky guideline took decision-making power away from those who know their students and possible solutions best – state and local governmental entities.

We hope a Trump administration will continue dialogue about the importance of parental choice and returning education policy-making power back to the states. This could potentially reignite a nationwide discussion – even a movement – for parental choice and local control. Good policy comes from robust discussion.