Sign petition: Let Herbert, Reyes know we stand with them in defending marriage!

Wedding rings

Gov. Gary Herbert and Attorney General Sean Reyes are being bombarded by voices demanding they give in and stop defending Utah’s law preserving marriage between a man and a woman.

The silent majority needs to stand up and let them know we support their efforts to preserve marriage in Utah.

Click here to sign the petition and we’ll hand-deliver it to Gov. Herbert and AG Reyes.

Thank you for your support!


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The pleasure-versus-pain calculation of modern morals – Mero Moment, 6/10/14

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

Head of Epikouros (Roman, AD 100-120) - Epikouros (341-270 BC) was founder of the Epicurean philosophy that pleasure (emotional tranquility and absence of pain) was the greatest good.

Head of Epikouros – founder of the Epicurean philosophy that pleasure (emotional tranquility and absence of pain) was the greatest good.

Every year since 2001, the Gallup organization has surveyed Americans regarding the moral acceptability of 19 social issues. These social issues range from birth control to extramarital affairs, from divorce to suicide and from human cloning to medical testing on animals.

Of the 19, the most morally acceptable behavior is the use of birth control, even across party lines. Largely accepted, although with less consistency across party lines, are divorce, sex between an unmarried man and woman, stem cell research, gambling, the death penalty, buying and wearing animal fur, out-of-wedlock births, homosexuality and medical testing on animals.

Coming at this list from the other direction, extramarital affairs, cloning humans, polygamy and suicide are seen by Americans as highly unacceptable. Three issues were found to be largely unacceptable: sex between teenagers, pornography and the cloning of animals. Interestingly, the most contentious social issues of the day – the two issues that divide society right down the middle – are abortion and doctor-assisted suicide.

I mentioned in a previous commentary that one author calls this new moral acceptance “utilitarian hedonism” – a fancy term to describe the growing sentiment in society that pleasure is an intrinsic moral good and a moral pursuit. Now, this isn’t a new idea. Utilitarian ethics have been around as long as selfish people and were canonized as a science into polite society nearly two centuries ago. Some of the old believers even created a calculus of pleasure and pain intended to identify, measure and weigh nearly every human action to maximize pleasure and reduce pain.

This all gets rather silly. But there is a growing fascination with pleasure as a political credo. The Gallup poll attempts to measure the degree to which modern Americans accept behavior that gives pleasure and reject behavior that gives pain. Again, the most morally acceptable behavior in the Gallup survey is the use of birth control. While civil libertarians like to get misty-eyed about the right to control one’s own body, in this other context, birth control is more about pain relief. Unsupported unwed mothers are viewed as a stain on a progressive society, especially in an age of inexpensive and widely available birth control.

Polygamy also is viewed as harming woman and children but it doesn’t have a pill to make it go away. Its only prescription is legal prohibition on the conduct. Public opinion behind each of the 19 categories in the Gallup survey is highly predictive in terms of pleasure and pain. Continue reading

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Watch live stream: Sutherland’s Carl Graham to speak at Heritage on Western states

Sutherland-Coalition-Self-Govt-Logo-200Watch live on Tuesday (June 10) as Carl Graham, director of Sutherland’s Coalition for Self-Government in the West, speaks in Washington, D.C., as part of a Heritage Foundation event. “States of Dependence: Reducing Washington’s Control of the Western U.S.” begins at 9 a.m. MST and can be streamed online.

Here’s more about the topic, from Heritage:

Values and priorities imposed by Washington are disenfranchising rural economies and communities. Nowhere is this more true than in Western states, where large amounts of public lands are managed with top-down Washington policy prescriptions funded by federal dollars. Shifting control of some of these lands to Western states will require charting a course whereby states can responsibly manage these lands and insure benefits to their citizens including the responsible stewardship of natural resources and bringing policy decision closer to home.


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Hypnotized by the minimum wage – Mero Moment, 6/3/14

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

streetworksI got my first job when I was 15 years old loading groceries into cars at one of the nation’s first membership stores in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. I made $2.15 an hour that, for a 15 year old in 1973, was nothing to sneeze at. After a while I got a 10-cent raise and was promoted to work inside the store in its warehouse.

I remember vividly the day that the union representative from the retail workers’ union stopped by to sign me up. He explained all of the benefits to joining the union. I knew how hard I worked and I recall asking him how much the guy pushing the broom all day was paid hourly. The union rep told me proudly, “He makes the same as you! That’s the strength of our union!” I told him I didn’t want any part of an organization that would pay that guy the same as me. We did different work. Furthermore, I did more work than the other guy and I expected to be paid more. I didn’t have anything against unions – how could I, I was 15 years old? – but I had a strong sense of self-interest.

The minimum wage has long been the sweetheart of unions and progressives alike. In 1973, the minimum wage was $1.60 – a point the union rep was sure to highlight when I was making $2.15 under union rule. But the same rules that paid me higher than minimum wage also kept me from making more if I worked harder and produced more.

Today, the minimum wage is $7.25 and the Obama administration is pushing for an even ten dollars or higher. Last February, around 100 employees of McDonald’s demonstrated and were arrested outside of its corporate headquarters for demanding $15 an hour. There is something hypnotic about the minimum wage for many people. Continue reading

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Even things forbidden will be compulsory

Jack Phillips

Jack Phillips, Colorado baker

The state of Colorado has put out a welcome mat for recreational marijuana use but is decidedly cool to private business owners who want to act on their faith as they conduct business. Last week, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission ordered a bakery owner to make wedding cakes for same-sex marriages and to “submit quarterly reports for two years that show how he has worked to change discriminatory practices by altering company policies and training employees” and “disclose the names of any clients who are turned away.”

One irony of this is that Colorado law, approved by voters in 2006, provides that the state will not recognize same-sex marriages. So, what the state is forbidden to do, private business owners are required to do.

It would be well to remember this in the debates over discrimination laws in Utah. It’s clear that even having a law protecting marriage as the union of a husband and wife would not necessarily prevent these kinds of results here. A law protecting individual religious expression will be necessary, period, however Utah defines marriage.

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The #YesAllWomen non sequitur

crime sceneHere’s what I don’t get.

I agree with much of the sentiment behind #YesAllWomen. I think all women, or darn close, are subject to sexual objectification and harassment. It’s common and often subtle enough that men don’t see it, and often women don’t really notice it either. We are subconsciously conditioned to expect it.

But what does this have to do with last week’s killings in Southern California? The killer took the lives of more men than women. He was filled with rage toward women, yes, but also rage toward his male roommates – in fact, he killed them with a knife, which (arguably) can be seen as a more personal act of violence than shooting someone. And he nurtured feelings of inferiority that translated into rage toward the world in general.

In the YouTube rant posted the day before his killing spree, he said, “Tomorrow is the day of retribution. The day in which I will have my revenge against humanity, against all of you.” This is not an issue of misogyny. This is an issue of mental illness and of evil.

How can women seize upon this dreadful slaughter to say, “It’s all about us! This guy hated women, and hey, men are bad to us!”? Are sane men not horrified by this crime as well? (If you cut them, do they not bleed? If you stab them, do they not die?)

The hijacking of this tragedy to serve another agenda is narcissistic, or at least misguided.

The families of the men slain in this rampage – how do they feel about #YesAllWomen? I can’t help but wonder what they think about this hue and cry, which has more to do with the evil that (some) men perpetrate against (many) women than the actual bloody deaths perpetrated against their sons and brothers.

There’s no lack of crimes that stem from objectification of women. If you want to tie an atrocity to #YesAllWomen, try these:

Two teenage girls in India were raped and killed after going into the fields to relieve themselves because there was no toilet in their home (warning: disturbing images) (Associated Press)

In Pakistan, 1,000 women die in ‘honor killings’ annually – including a pregnant woman whose family stoned her for her choice of husband (Washington Post)

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Culture of traffic laws is upside down – Mero Moment, 5/27/14

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

Traffic laws are nearly precise metaphors for freedom. Driving without these laws would be unsafe – anarchy. But too many traffic laws begin to impinge on our personal liberties.

In many real ways, driving is an exercise in freedom. One of the last things taken away from us in advanced age is our privilege to drive – our mobility. Anyone who’s had to tell an aged parent or loved one that they can no longer get behind the wheel of a car knows what I’m talking about. Our personal liberty to drive a car has a broader context than simply personal liberty. There are other considerations. But those other considerations are equally important.

I have said before that if I were king for a day my very first edict would be to abolish all speed limit laws and all speed traps created to catch innocent people in the exercise of their personal liberty. Instead of speed limit laws, law enforcement would have broad power to enforce “reckless driving.” That means no more speed traps. No more creating criminals out of innocent people. That means law enforcement is out on the road as part of the regular flow of traffic.

I’m sure some study somewhere proves me wrong. I’m sure some professor at some university has studied this issue and determined beyond reasonable doubt that speed limits and speed traps are more effective at reducing traffic accidents and fatalities than laws against reckless driving. But I haven’t seen them.

Regardless, our whole culture of traffic laws is upside down. A case a few months ago out of Missouri is just one example. A man in Ellisville, Missouri, noticed a speed trap one day and proceeded to warn oncoming traffic by flashing his lights at them. The man, quite literally, was telling oncoming traffic to slow down – the exact reason used by law enforcement to justify speed traps. For his trouble, the man was cited for issuing this warning to other drivers. Continue reading

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The next broken Obamacare promise

President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and senior staff react at the White House as the House passes the health care reform bill.

President Obama, Vice President Biden and staff celebrate as the House passes the health reform bill.

Remember the lie of “if you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan”? Now, it seems, Obamacare’s “promise” of free preventive health care, such as checkups, screenings and immunizations, is also turning out to be something less than accurate.

As summarized in an informative Politico story on the issue, “as millions of newly covered people begin to seek that benefit [of free preventive health care], some are still getting stuck with bills.” This is because many people getting free preventive health screenings and tests (e.g., a colonoscopy) are still being charged for any preventive health care that comes along with it (e.g., immediate removal of not-yet-cancerous polyps found during the colonoscopy).

Just add it to the growing heap of Obamacare falsehoods, misstatements, and factual inaccuracies.

As someone who admires Ronald Reagan, I believe in the political principle of “trust, but verify.” But how do you apply that with an administration that has proven through both incompetence and misleading statements to be untrustworthy when it comes to its signature health care program?

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The new American religion – Mero Moment, 5/20/14

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

As I’ve watched the continuing decline of American culture and the rise of progressivism, I have searched for words to describe this transfer of culture. I’ve pinned the blame on selfish individualism, political correctness, secular humanism and progressivism on the left and right.

One author calls it “utilitarian hedonism.” Utilitarian meaning that life is about maximizing personal pleasure and reducing personal pain. Hedonism meaning that pleasure is the only intrinsic human good. Combined it describes a political philosophy wherein “the pursuit of happiness” is debased as the pursuit of pleasure. Don’t do or say anything that gives me discomfort – let me do what I want to do.

This guy’s on to something. He describes a new American religion. He writes that this new faith “tries to make respectable the old disparaging slogan ‘eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we will die.’” He writes that the “lowest common denominator” of this new faith “boils down to this: suffering is worse than being happy, and being alive is better than being dead – except if it means that you will suffer.”

He says, “It’s the only rational way to explain to your grandmother how it is that gay marriage is now legal in most places where cigarette smoking isn’t, and why states that shrug at sadistic pornography grimly insist upon seat belts.” Continue reading

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Statement regarding judge’s order to recognize same-sex marriages in Utah

scalesToday’s decision is disappointing because it rewards judicial overreaching. There’s nothing in the United States Constitution that allows courts to mandate same-sex marriage on the states, but one judge was able to do just that by issuing a novel ruling and then forcing the state to put it into effect before the court of appeals could correct any legal errors in that decision. Our system is weaker when judicial gamesmanship is not kept in check. We trust the 10th Circuit will do that quickly.

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Am I the only one skeptical of projections for 36 years from now?

SuburbanStreetYou may have seen recent news coverage about a report projecting that Utah’s population will double by the year 2050.

On the heels of this reporting, some voices have been calling for “smart growth” policies to preserve quality of life in Utah. Utah’s quality of life is not in any actual danger today from population growth, but presumably that inconvenient fact is not important to the “smart growth” paradigm. Instead, what seems important are things like “embrac[ing] a more urban lifestyle” and funneling population growth into areas near public transit, in order to encourage this preferred lifestyle.

But does the basis for this approach to public policy make any sense?

Try this thought exercise: Can you predict with confidence where you will be in 36 years? Unless you expect to be dead by that time, the rational answer is “no.” Now let’s go a bit larger: Can you predict with confidence where your family members will be in 36 years? In this case, the rational answer is an even more emphatic “no.” One more: Can you predict with confidence where everyone in your neighborhood will be in 36 years? Perhaps the relevant response is: “If I can’t predict where my close loved ones will be by then, how in the world am I supposed to predict where relative strangers will be?” Good question.

Now think about this: The “smart growth” policies being advocated in Utah are founded on the idea that a relatively small group of experts (researchers, government planners, and elected officials) can predict with confidence not just where you, your family, and your neighbors will be in 36 years, but where every person in the state of Utah will be in 36 years. And based on these guesses, they want to plan out how most people should be living their lives and doing business in Utah. And, yes, they do this with a straight face.

Look at it this way. Would you have wanted researchers and government leaders in 1978 – 36 years ago, before smartphones and the Internet even existed – to plan out the lifestyle and standard of living you would enjoy today? I shudder to think where quality of life would be in Utah today if it were dictated by the understanding and knowledge of the late 1970s. Continue reading

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A win for public prayer, and freedom, at Supreme Court – Mero Moment, 5/13/14

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


In the May 5 U.S. Supreme Court decision City of Greece, New York v. Galloway, the court saved public prayers in legislative settings and, in doing so, reminded Americans that freedom transcends modern progressivism.

In the court’s decision, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority, “The Court is not persuaded that the town of Greece, through the act of offering a brief, solemn, and respectful prayer to open its monthly meetings, compelled its citizens to engage in a religious observance.”

Secularists, represented by Americans United For the Separation of Church and State, claimed that public prayer violated the Establishment Clause and offended the sensibilities of non-believers.

The court responded, “As a practice that has long endured, legislative prayer has become part of our heritage and tradition, part of our expressive idiom, similar to the Pledge of Allegiance, inaugural prayer, or the recitation of ‘God save the United States and this honorable Court’ at the opening of this Court’s sessions.”

The court continued, “It is presumed that the reasonable observer is acquainted with this tradition and understands that its purposes are to lend gravity to public proceedings and to acknowledge the place religion holds in the lives of many private citizens, not to afford government an opportunity to proselytize or force truant constituents into the pews. That many appreciate these acknowledgments of the divine in our public institutions does not suggest that those who disagree are compelled to join the expression or approve its content.”

The court concluded, “The principal audience for these invocations is not, indeed, the public but lawmakers themselves, who may find that a moment of prayer or quiet reflection sets the mind to a higher purpose and thereby eases the task of governing.”

Early in my career I had the privilege of working on legislation to reinstate prayer in public schools. Our argument was simple: Prayer, in any public setting, is an acknowledgement of a higher authority and this acknowledgement is essential to freedom. In fact, this acknowledgment has a very secular justification for public prayer.

Opponents of public prayer are concerned with any gesture that suggests a preference for one religion over another religion. Indeed, many opponents of public prayer, especially atheists, cringe at the idea of any acknowledgement that, to them, seems irrational. But, irrational or not, recognition of a higher authority in government has its virtue. It regularly reminds legislators – hopefully even humbles legislators – that the exercise of their political power has limits.

Opponents of public prayer also claim that such religious expressions are divisive. But any divisiveness exists from opponents only. They choose to be offended and freedom will not long endure if a choice to be offended is the governing doctrine in a free society.

The new progressive religion worships idealistic harmony and seeks to enforce its sensitivities very insensitively upon anyone who disagrees with them. Conservatives believe in “live and let live.” The new progressive religion does not. The court is right to defend a rational basis in public prayer.

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

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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.

Or use this link to subscribe to the RSS feed.

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Economic forecast: optimism or doom and gloom?

Reymerswaele_Two_tax_collectorsThe federal Commerce Department announced recently that growth of the U.S. economy was “near zero,” as reported by some media outlets. Growth was estimated at 0.1 percent, a pitiful rate that comes after several years of sluggish economic recovery from the most recent recession.

As reported, the reasons given for the stagnant economy include “an unusually cold and disruptive winter, coupled with tumbling exports.” Yet some economists remain optimistic that this year “will be the year the recovery from the Great Recession finally achieves the robust growth that’s needed to accelerate hiring and reduce still-high unemployment.”

In this context, scholarly economist John H. Makin at the American Enterprise Institute published an article titled “The limp recovery, five years on” that seeks to explain the current “feeble expansion” and project its prospects for growth in the next year. His prognostications are decidedly less optimistic than those reported in various news outlets.

Makin (see his bio and impressive credentials here) reports that the current recovery “has been considerably below average when compared to post-World War II recoveries.” Only in two quarters has growth been above average since June 2009. He gives several reasons for this.

One is weak growth in business investment due to investor uncertainty, driven by the financial crisis and massing changes in federal regulation from the Obama administration, weak growth in consumer demand, and slowing levels of inflation. A second reason is the slow growth of household spending, which is attributed in part to the fact that “it has required seven full years for households to regain levels of net worth last seen in 2007,” leaving households cautious about spending money.

Subsequently, according to Makin, “the recent expansion has been characterized by especially weak growth of employment and persistence of high unemployment, notwithstanding some progress over the past year.” This problem has been compounded by the fact that “labor-saving technologies [have reduced] the need for labor in the production process,” such as “the ability to use smartphones and tablets to manage communication and scheduling without a human assistant.” Interestingly, Mr. Makin ties this to income inequality: “[T]he result has been a shift in income distribution away from labor and toward capital during much of this expansion.”

Makin predicts a gloomy outlook for the economy over the next year, but concludes with a prescription. “Something additional is needed to sustain a stronger recovery in the United States – leadership.” That leadership includes pushing to reform federal welfare, taxes and regulations (such as those created under the auspices of Obamacare) to make work more financially rewarding for employees and creating new jobs less costly for employers. It also includes reforming things like the education system in ways that make it more possible, and I might add more affordable, for individuals to climb the economic ladder.

Makin’s article is a good one for anyone interested in the economy and where it is likely headed in the near future. For my part, I wonder whether the Obama administration has the maturity and statesmanship to support reforms that amount to a tacit admission that its policies have been economically harmful to individuals, families, and businesses. But there’s always hope.

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Read with caution: Why ‘The Law’ lacks context for today’s readers

Frédéric Bastiat

Frédéric Bastiat

I read The Law by Frédéric Bastiat in 1977, when I was 19 years old and attending a small college in North Texas. The Law, along with other writings on liberty, had a profound effect on my intellectual development.

Sutherland Institute has distributed dozens of copies of The Law over the years to introduce responsible citizens to ideas on liberty. In fact, for several years The Law has been one of three books we provide inner-circle donors to get their minds focused on freedom (the other two books are The Road to Serfdom by Friedrich Hayek and Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt).

But last year I took The Law out of the Sutherland collection and replaced it with Freedom and Virtue: The Conservative/Libertarian Debate by George Carey. Frankly, I came to feel we had been doing more harm than good by sharing The Law in this manner.

I’ll explain.

Demographically speaking, Millennials tends to be increasingly progressive in their politics. Many gravitate to the progressive left (i.e., liberals) but many also lean toward the progressive right (i.e., libertarians). Surveys tell us that Millennials in Utah, including those among the predominant Mormon population, tend to focus more on individual liberties and less on the common good. That focus is more on “choice” among consenting adults and less on the full constellation of rights and responsibilities that are part of authentic freedom.

I feel The Law, appropriate for 1850 when it was written and even 100 years later, now simply fuels the modern appetite for selfish individualism and justifies selfishness as doctrine. As conservative icon Russell Kirk once quipped, “We flawed human creatures are sufficiently selfish already without being exhorted to pursue selfishness on principle.”

This isn’t to say that The Law isn’t valuable as political philosophy. But 2014 is not 1850 or even 1950 in terms of understanding and rationally applying ideas of individual liberty. Ideas stated rudimentarily, but refreshingly, even radically, in 1850, seem incomplete and immature today. Continue reading

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