Regrettable words and the ethics of tale-bearing

Germany_Sindelfingen_GossipsRecently, the news reported some comments from a well-known, and by all accounts, generous and philanthropic individual in the state, of an unfortunate and ad hominem nature about a prominent politician. Such comments are, of course, always regrettable.

What could explain them? We have to admit that we don’t know. It could be a regrettable lapse such as all of us make—and hope will not be widely reported or remembered. It might be that the remark was misreported and, based on context or some other factor, is not as uncivil as it appeared in the report. Perhaps the speaker was experiencing some lapse, such as might be caused by a medical condition. Perhaps it accurately reflects an unkind feeling, though one hopes not. At bottom, it’s difficult to understand, much less explain.

It should be said that the story reports that there was no response from the public official impugned, which speaks well of him.

The episode raises other questions as well. For instance, what is the ethical responsibility of a person who is told by one person an unflattering characterization of another? This is a familiar scenario — the teenager, for instance, who stirs contention: “Do you know what she said about you?” What about others who relay the comment?

Also, what is the responsibility of those who seek such comments? Are they merely reporting news? Is it part of the public’s “right to know” that an admirable public person thinks badly of another? Is there yet another person in the background spurring on the expression or reporting of the comments for their own political or other purposes? What is their responsibility?

Of course, anyone active in public life runs the risk of being poorly thought of by others. Ideally, disagreements about policy choices will be expressed as such rather than as ad hominem statements. Those who are admired ought to be particularly careful not to add to the coarseness of political debate.

That does not, however, absolve the listeners, relayers and instigators of their responsibility as well.

On Point video: Holly Mullen on rape culture, 12/5/14

In this episode of On Point, Holly Mullen, executive director of the Rape Recovery Center, discusses rape culture with “Holly on the Hill” blogger Holly Richardson and Michelle Mumford, former assistant dean at BYU Law School.

You can watch all the half-hour On Point videos here on Sutherland’s YouTube channel.

Use this link to subscribe to the On Point podcast on iTunes.

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Ethanol: How politics takes an interest in you

Cornrows“Politics isn’t for me.”

“I’m too busy with everyday life to bother with politics.”

These are refrains we often hear and perhaps have said ourselves. The problem with this thinking, however, is that politics affects our daily lives with ever-increasing regularity.

The Athenian general Pericles famously said, “Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.”

How true this has turned out to be! Take, for instance, something as mundane as going to the grocery store. You’d think there’s no politics in groceries, right? It’s just a farmer selling a customer a head of lettuce, or a baker selling a loaf of bread, right?

Nope. Politics has taken an interest in food.

Between 2006 and 2013 food prices increased 22 percent, far more than prices of other goods. This cost the average family an additional $2,000 a year and came at a time when jobs were scarcer and wages weren’t increasing. What caused this drastic rise in the price of your groceries?

Or, more specifically, the federal government’s mandate that a certain amount of biofuel be added to your gasoline. So instead of farmers planting crops based on what you buy at the grocery store, they switched to corn en masse. Suddenly, there was less of every other crop being grown, and we all got a lesson in Econ 101’s supply-and-demand cycle.

But this mandate didn’t just affect prices of vegetables and grains. You see, the federal government’s biofuel requirements were so hefty that even after growers switched their fields to corn, there still wasn’t enough to go around. So corn prices went up too. And everything that depends upon the price of corn feed went up – meat, poultry, dairy. Not only are vegetables more expensive, but so is milk, cheese and butter. We’re talking the very staples of Americans’ dinners.

Why would our politicians do something like this? And why wouldn’t they fix it at a time of massive job losses and stagnant wages?

When enough citizens ignore politics, it amplifies the influence of those who do take an interest in what government can do. There’s money to be made when government arbitrarily increases the price of food – and those who make that money don’t say, “I’m too busy to bother with politics.” They are acutely aware of how politics take an interest in you.

Rejection of a faraway government meddling in our daily lives is what this nation was founded upon. An engaged citizenry voting for good representation is the only way to keep it.

Want to dig deeper? Click here to explore this topic at Utah Citizen Network.

On Point video: Utah primaries and hot-topic court rulings, 6/26/14

In this episode of On Point, “Holly on the Hill” blogger Holly Richardson is joined by three lawyers – Michelle Mumford, assistant dean at the BYU Law School; Curt Bentley, Utah political blogger; and Bill Duncan, director of Sutherland’s Center for Family and Society – to discuss the recent primary elections, the 10th Circuit Court ruling on Utah’s marriage amendment, and two recent Supreme Court decisions.

You can watch the half-hour On Point videos here on Sutherland’s YouTube channel.

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The blind spot of same-sex-marriage advocates

Photo credit: cesarastudillo

Photo credit: cesarastudillo

The optic disc is the point at which the optic nerve enters the retina. The optic disc is insensitive to light. It has no rods or cones and, therefore, cannot detect any images. The optic disc is also called the “blind spot.” By way of analogy, we use the blind spot to describe many things in life to which we’re simply insensitive and, ironically, over-sensitive to the point at which we’re not willing to see what is real.

Parents are particularly susceptible to blind spots regarding their children. For instance, some kids just aren’t gifted athletically or in the arts despite their parents’ insistence. Politics has its blind spots, usually in the form of obligatory optimism (wherein a true believer can’t face the reality of defeat) or extreme ego (wherein an unqualified or unprepared candidate for elected office convinces himself he is ideal).

Giving others the benefit of the doubt, the debate over same-sex marriage has its blind spots too – perhaps nowhere more pronounced than the inability of many same-sex marriage supporters to see the rational basis within the state interest over the definition of marriage.

The description of this blind spot does not include willful ignorance or callous disregard motivated by ideology or even an honest disagreement about what legal arguments trump another (e.g., equal protection or a state interest). This blind spot regards the inability of same-sex-marriage advocates to even see a state interest in Utah’s marriage law.

In candor, I admit my incredulity about this blind spot. It’s increasingly hard for me to give advocates of same-sex marriage the benefit of the doubt for this blind spot when they so easily and consistently argue for the socio-psychological benefits of marriage. “We just want what you have.” “We want to be happy like you.” Frankly, it’s hard to believe that these advocates can’t see the state interest in marriage when they clamor to get married on multi-grounded justifications rooted in the general welfare of men, women and children, and exemplified, at least partially, in amicus brief after amicus brief currently filed by friends of the plaintiffs at the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The state interest in the definition of marriage is otherwise self-evident and has been so, whether or not formally recognized under law, since the time families created communities that needed governing: Society has a fundamental stake in demographic progress and the welfare of men, women and children. If people aren’t reproducing or, when they do, aren’t doing so in the optimal setting to maximize the general welfare of men, women and children, state measurements of progress (economic, social, health, psychological, physical, etc.) decline. The intact, two-parent (male/female) family produces the best results in both of these criteria. The state interest is the best interest requiring, ipso facto, the adoption of policies reflecting what’s best.

But, as I mentioned, giving others the benefit of the doubt compels us to advance the idea that same-sex marriage advocates who cannot see the state interest in the current definition of marriage must have a significant blind spot. These advocates seem to have 20/20 vision for their own self-interest but suffer an insurmountable blind spot regarding the general welfare and the common good – what we refer to as the state interest. Read more

On Point video: views from Utah women in politics, 5/9/14

Holly Richardson, political blogger, and Aimee Newton, Salt Lake County Councilwoman.

Holly Richardson, political blogger, and Aimee Newton, Salt Lake County Council member.

Watch as our panelists for this episode discuss Utah politics, divisions within conservatism, Benghazi, and the choices that women in politics must make.

On the show this week: Aimee Newton, Salt Lake County Council member; Holly Richardson, “Holly on the Hill” political blog; Kim Coleman, Republican nominee, Utah House district 42; Utah Republican Party secretary Michelle Mumford.

You can watch the half-hour On Point videos here on Sutherland’s YouTube channel.

Use this link to subscribe to the On Point podcast on iTunes.

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Utah’s ‘inner rings’: the healthy and the sinister – Mero Moment, 4/29/14

This post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations.

Peter_Paul_Rubens_-_Self-Portrait_in_a_Circle_of_Friends_from_MantuaDuring the Memorial Lecture at King’s College in 1944, famed Christian apologist C.S. Lewis delivered remarks titled “The Inner Ring.” His purpose was to share with those college students a psychological force in their lives even greater than sexual desire. C.S. Lewis described the “inner ring” as the desire to be on the inside of whatever social or economic group provides us with status, prestige or wealth.

Lewis remarked that these “inner rings” are quite natural and many are personally useful and socially constructive. Think of people of faith. Here in Utah many Latter-day Saints make sacred covenants placing them within an “inner ring” of their faith community. College students join fraternities and sororities. Country clubs are a type of “inner ring.” So too are sports teams and high school clubs. Even in our close circle of friends there are certain friends who we count on and trust. These are our “inner rings.”

The fact is that human beings have a natural attraction to associate in groups like families and friends. Nobody wants to be an “outsider” when it comes to the things we love most. Even in politics, insider relationships are what matter most if influence is to be found.

But as Lewis warns, not all “inner rings” are useful and constructive. Some are nefarious, even evil. In the world of politics, we call these sinister groups by many names. We hear tales of evil doings inside America’s greatest philanthropic foundations and among the nation’s wealthiest people – and, to a certain degree, everyone buys into the idea that evils are perpetrated every day to benefit a few wealthy individuals. The progressive left now calls them the “1 percent.”

The most predominant and unhealthy “inner rings” in Utah are what I refer to as “cronyism.” There are certain businessmen in Utah who feel as if they are the adults in the room, our caretakers who know what is best for the rest of us and why Utah needs to be more enlightened and progressive. They know what “real” cities look like and how enlightened people are supposed to think. They envision Utah for everyone else while they live how they want regardless of the common good.

While Utah is filled with many wonderful people who use their wealth to serve those in need and relieve suffering, cronies of the “inner ring” use legal plunder, through the force of government, to get gain and become wealthy through government positions, contracts and taxpayer-financed business schemes that primarily benefit them and their friends.

They thrive on political power and only scandal reveals their circles. And when they’re out of power they do everything they can to get it back. I have spent my career fighting against these cronies and, fortunately, many good and decent people have formed their own circles of influence to promote the common good. But these two worlds do collide and when they do it’s sometimes hard to tell the wheat from the chaff. After all, the insiders need to look distinguished and sound respectable to get gain. Ronald Reagan warned us about people who say, “I’m from the government; I’m here to help.” You might also keep your eye on Utah businessmen and their cronies who require tax dollars to do their business.

For Sutherland Institute, I’m Paul Mero. Thanks for listening.

Receive the Mero Moment each week directly to your iTunes by clicking here.

Obama: I don’t know anything, and what I say means nothing

800px-Barack_Obama_in_the_Oval_Office,_April_2010Back in November, I collected a few instances of the left calling out President Obama for his claims of ignorance on a spate of issues — NSA spying, Obamacare, IRS targeting, Fast and Furious gun trafficking, the AP reporter harassment and Benghazi. That post is below for your enjoyment. But now it’s becoming more and more clear that, in addition to apparently not knowing much about what’s going on with his administration, Obama does not expect to be held to what he or his administration says. The message from Obama is clear: What I say means nothing, and I don’t know anything anyway.

On Obamacare, the president’s administration has repeatedly delayed or changed what were once hard deadlines and clear policies, while also insisting that some deadlines could not be altered. The Heritage Foundation has a rundown of what happened to one of those “unchangeable” deadlines:

“We have no plans to extend the open enrollment period. In fact, we don’t actually have the statutory authority to extend the open enrollment period in 2014.” — Health and Human Services (HHS) official Julie Bataille, March 11

“Once that 2014 open enrollment period has been set, they are set permanently.” – HHS official Michael Hash, March 11

“March 31st is the deadline for enrollment. You’ve heard us make that clear.” – Press Secretary Jay Carney, March 21

“There is no delay beyond March 31.” – HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, March 12

There was no delay … until there was. The Washington Post reported [Tuesday] that March 31 is not, in fact, the final word. To get more time, you tell the government that you haven’t been able to sign up yet:

Under the new rules, people will be able to qualify for an extension by checking a blue box on HealthCare.gov to indicate that they tried to enroll before the deadline. This method will rely on an honor system; the government will not try to determine whether the person is telling the truth.

OK, so everyone knows about the issues with Obamacare. But Obama certainly means what he says when it comes to foreign policy, right?

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Politics in Utah needs more integrity, less emotion – Mero Moment, 3/4/14

This post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations. (Scroll down for podcast.)

Photo: Hannibal Poenaru

Photo: Hannibal Poenaru

Speaking of my role as president of Sutherland Institute, a very dear friend of mine has told me more than once that I will be the life or death of the organization. What he means is that my professional experience in politics and policy, along with my leadership abilities, are what will carry Sutherland to consistently achieve its vision and mission in defense of faith, family and freedom, or my candor and my hubris will sink the ship ultimately.

He and I are the same creatures. We are big, red, testosterone-driven personalities. We hate to lose more than we like to win. We aren’t gentle people. We have to work at being Christ-like. It doesn’t just come naturally for us. Here’s one example from my life: Our oldest boy was playing a high school basketball game when he stepped on the foot of an opposing player and twisted his ankle. He thought he broke it. He was on the floor writhing in pain. We have it on videotape. You can hear my wife in the video shouting, “Stop the game! Stop the game!” and then you can hear me saying “Get up! Get up!”

Personalities like mine are clearly not a fan favorite. Inside Sutherland, whether they know it or not, nearly every one of my great colleagues is assigned some part of my personality to guard against and protect. I refer to one colleague as our “Department of State” while typically I am the “Department of Defense.” Everyone on staff has become my editor. We have a love/hate relationship – depending on the circumstances, they either love what I say, write, blog, tweet and post, or they hate it.

So why do organizations, like Sutherland, and businesses, like my dear friend’s, put us in charge?

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