Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Iran So Far Away

I was looking to laugh a bit this afternoon with Andy Samberg and the Lonely Island crew with this hilarious video:

and instead ran into this video, which is a great explanation of Iranian/American relationships from a brilliant and thoughtful conservative libertarian named Jack Hunter.

The video is from 2009, but it is amazing how little things change, and how most of the Republican candidates are trying to out-hawk each other on Iran, which is the last thing we need right now.

By the way, make sure you check out Jack Hunter's website:

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Wicked government: King Noah vs. Modern America

In the Book of Mosiah in the Book of Mormon, we read about a group of Nephites who separated themselves and went to inherit the land of Nephi Lehi. Though they were righteous for some time, after a few generations, a wicked king named Noah inherits the throne and reins very oppressively. His reign has some striking parallels with modern America. Mosiah chapter 11 talks about this king:

For behold, he did not keep the commandments of God, but he did walk after the desires of his won heart. And he had many wives and concubines. And he did cause his people to commit sin, and do that which was abomnible in the sight of the Lord. Yea, and they did commit whoredoms and all manner of wickedness.” (Mosiah 11:2)

That is to say that a political leader often sets the stage for the moral character of a people, and while it is possible to stay righteous when surrounded by such wickedness, (and it is definitely certain that our moral compass should not be the government) staying righteous is very difficult. But after that verse, it gets interesting:

And he laid a tax of one fifth part of all they possessed, a fifth part of their ziff, and of their copper, and of their brass and their iron; and a fifth part of their fatlings; and also a fifth part of all their grain. And all this did he take to support himself, and his wives and his concubines; and also his priests, and their wives and their concubines; thus he had changed the affairs of the kingdom.” (Mosiah 11:3-4)

Interesting to note that the tax rate for this wicked and oppressive king was only a 20% income tax.

Yea and thus they were supported in their laziness, and their idolatry, and in their whoredoms, by the taxes which king Noah had put upon his people; thus did the people labor exceedingly to support iniquity.”(Mosiah 11:6)

We surely don't have anything like that in our current political structure. Our income tax doesn't go to support the laziness of politically well connected corporations and fat-cats *cough GM, Goldman Sachs, ethanol industry, GE, Solyndra, cough*.

The sad thing about this people is that they didn't repudiate what King Noah did. In fact, it seems that they celebrated it!

Yea and they (the people) also became idolatrous, because they were deceived by the vain and flattering words of the king and priests; for they did speak flattering words to them.”

We surely aren't sucked in by vain and flattering words uttered by our politicians, no sir!

And it came to pass that King Noah built many elegant and spacious buildings; and he ornamented them with fine work of wood, and of all manner of precious things, of gold, and of silver, and of iron, and of brass, and of ziff, and of copper; And he also built him a spacious palace, and a throne in the midst thereof, and all of which was of fine wood and was ornamented with gold and silver and precious things. And he also caused that his workmen should work all manner of fine work within the walls of the temple, of fine wood, and of copper, and of brass. And the seats which were set apart for the high priests, which were above all the other seats, he did ornament with pure gold; and he caused a breastwork to be built before them, that they might rest their bodies and their arms upon while they should speak lying and vain words unto his people.” (Mosiah 11:8-11)

Anybody else picturing Washington DC when they read this?

The next verse almost seems like it comes out of a manual on being a congressperson:

And it came to pass that he placed his heart upon his riches, and he spent his time in riotous living with his wives and his concubines; and so did also his priests spend their time with harlots.” (Mosiah 11:14)

Even the verses on their military have some interesting parallels:

And it came to pass that the Lamanites began to come in upon his people, upon small numbers, and to slay them in their fields and while they were tending their flocks. And king Noah sent guards round about the land to keep them off; but he did not send a sufficient number, and the Lamanites came upon them and killed them, and drove many of their flocks out of the land; thus the Lamanites began to destroy them, and to exercise their hatred upon them.” (Mosiah 11:16-17)

They only began to be attacked as they increased in wickedness. Finally, the military issue comes full circle:

And it came to pass that king Noah sent his armies against them, and they were driven back, or they drove them back for a time; therefore, they returned rejoicing in their spoil. And now because of this great victory they were lifted up in the pride of their hearts; they did boast in their own strength, saying that their fifty could stand against thousands of the Lamanites; and thus they did boast, and did delight in blood and the shedding of blood of their brethren, and this because of the wickedness of their king and priests.” (Mosian 11:18-19)

It is implied in verse 19 that even though the Lamanites did attack, and even though self defense is a justifiable use of military force, delighting in shedding the blood, even of our enemies, is a sign of a wicked nation. Sadly, this chapter could just as easily be talking about present affairs in the United States. Our national pride is in our militarism; in our ability to conquer small, backward nations that pose us no threat. We are taxed highly in order to support the laziness and idolatry of our supposed leaaders and their well-connected friends. I will leave you on your own to read the next several chapters of Mosiah, but if history repeats itself as I believe it does, they should serve as a sobering look at where we could be headed.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ten Years Later - What have we allowed ourselves to become?

Ten years ago, our country suffered the largest terrorist attack that the world had ever seen. Everybody remembers where they were on that day of tragedy. In my memory, that day still passes by as if it were in slow motion. I will never forget how it made me feel. Ten years later, I want to look back and write down some things that I think of as I reflect on that day and what has happened since. In that reflection, I believe and fear that the initial 9/11 attack has unleashed a far worse national tragedy than even those who carried out the attacks could have thought possible: the loss of our nation's self-identity, the continued – even quicker – erosion of our economic power, and most importantly, the loss of our freedom itself.

Before I get into that, we need to understand why we were attacked, and why those attacks were planned by a man, Osama bin Laden, who was an ally of ours in the Cold War. After the attacks, President George W. Bush stated that, “they hate us for our freedoms.” This is a dangerous and overly-simplistic view of international affairs that ignores our constant meddling in the middle east. Believing that the United States was standing idly yet triumphantly by, completely innocent, and was suddenly attacked for no reason other than our freedoms is essentially saying that we were attacked because we wear blue jeans and eat at McDonalds. This view is too simple, even for children.

Prior to the attack, a political scientist named Chalmers Johnson wrote a book that describes the growth in overseas militarism that the United States has carried out since the end of the Cold War, and states that our increased efforts to grow our empire will result in something called “Blowback” (also the title of his book). Examples are plentiful: In 1953, the CIA overthrew a democratically elected government in Iran and installed the Shah, who turned out to be a repressive military dictator. Historian Stephen Kinzer (author of All the Shah's Men) believes that, without our intervention, Iran would have developed into a stable, modern representative democracy. Instead, the people of Iran overthrew the Shaw in the Iranian Revolution of 1979, and installed the current Ayatollah government, which is a closed-down, repressive theocracy and is (for obvious reasons) unfriendly to the United States. We also installed Saddam Hussein to represent U.S. Interests in the Iraq/Iran war, and then turned against him in Operation Desert Storm. We were heavily involved in arming and supporting the Muhajadin (led by Osama bin Laden) in Afghanistan against the Soviets in the Cold War. Muhajadin, by the way, refers to Freedom Fighters who simply desire to be left alone by foreign powers. This organization eventually became the Taliban. It is probably only a matter of time before our “friends,” the so-called rebels, in Libya become our enemies, just as have countless other regimes we support when they do our bidding, and bomb when they try to act independently.

Today we use our military to tell countries what they can or can't do. If Iran pursues nuclear weapons , we will first starve, then bomb them. We refuse to even allow travel to Cuba, a country that has not been any threat to the United States for decades. Instead of trading with other countries, respecting their sovereignty and independence, and showing by example the fruits of liberty, we pursue a truly isolationist foreign policy wherein we attack (verbally or physically) any country that disagrees with us. This behavior is absolutely hypocritical. It seems as though any time an (especially Islamic) country expresses a desire to do anything that might negatively affect the American Empire, you hear the pounding of the war drums to threaten (or even force) the country back into compliance by means of sanctions (starvation, which repressive leaders easily blame on the United States) or outright war. Of course, those who committed the 9/11 attacks committed horrible crimes, but to assume that they acted without motive, is dangerous, stupid, and utterly defiant of history.

Finally, a word needs to be written on what we have lost since the attacks. We are less free and less prosperous:
  • We have lost more than 5,000 of our men and women in uniform and wounded tens of thousands more fighting wars that were largely unnecessary.
  • We spilled that blood and spent trillions of dollars trying to remake the political landscape of tribal cultures that we do not understand.
  • We have been the instrument of death of more than one million Iraqis and Afghans, most of whom were innocent civilians; and we have displaced millions more.
  • We have “given up essential liberties to purchase a bit of temporary security,” showing the prophetic Benjamin Franklin that we were undeserving of our liberty to begin with.
  • As Franklin prophesied, we will likely loose our security as a result of our lost liberty
  • We passed the PATRIOT act, allowing government bureaucrats to tape our phone calls and monitor our electronic communication without a warrant, and have given federal agents power to write their own search warrants. This is a disgusting breach of our right to privacy, in excess of any law passed since King George's tyrannical rule over the American Colonies.
  • We have, through the same abominable piece of legislation, given the FBI the ability to break into our houses, make it appear as though a robbery had occurred, plant bugs, confiscate evidence, and leave without a warrant, and without disclosing anything for 18 months
  • We have also given the government power to tap into our cell phones and use the microphone to listen to anybody within its range, again without a warrant of any kind.
  • We have entrusted our airline security to government agents, absent any market discipline, and have empowered them to either sexually molest us or photograph our naked bodies with heavy doses of radiation as a precondition of our freedom to travel.
  • We have allowed ourselves to become a nation that operates secret military prisons; a nation that engage in the kinds of torture that we abhorred when the North Vietnamese did it to us.
  • In short, we have become a mere shell of the free country that made us a beacon to the world. We are no longer an example of freedom or prosperity, as are thus likely destined to fade into the pages of history, just as every empire before us has. If in fact they did attack us for our freedoms, everything I mentioned above proves that they won.
I pray that we can overcome these severe deviations from our Constitution, and that once again we will be a beacon of liberty, but I fear that we may not.