About Me

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I'm a single Mormon Democrat, an NPR & BBC news junkie, a dog lover, opera buff, bookavore, migraineur, knows just enough about technology to be a danger to myself, fan of James Bond and Godzilla. 

Micah 6:8; D&C 11:20 

"do justly, walk humbly, judge righteously."

Friday, November 22, 2013

Senators McConnell & McCain, I'm Outraged at Your Outrage

All this outrage over Senator Harry Reid going "nuclear" on the filibuster is just pissing me off! McConnell talking about a bad precedent, that how they will regret this. I hear people saying that it can be used against the Democrats when the Republicans take charge, about how things will get worse. It's just disgusting.

Why am I so upset?? Well, let me count some reasons.

1. The Republicans in the House, and, to a lesser degree, the Senate decided as soon as Obama was elected President they were going to obstruct him at every opportunity. Which they did. 

2. Constant obstruction of legislation and presidential nominations. How many nominations were automatically put on hold as soon as they were announced?? How many nominations are still on hold? 

3. Obstruction of nominations were done with no reason given other than it was made by President Obama. 

4. All this objection to a rule change. What about the rule change in the House which restricted the Rules so that Boehner was able to put a bottleneck on all legislation. 

5. Objection to the DC Appeals Court is that the Democrats "are going to pack the court." Well, since the Republicans have "packed" the Supreme Court when their guy was in the big house, I don't see the problem with letting the Democrats nominate some judges once in a while. 

Regardless whether or not I think Obama is doing a good job, what really makes me angry is the obstructionism. It has gone beyond just checks and balances. Obama can't really be judged. He hasn't really had a chance to govern. 

It's alright for the parties to disagree. That makes our system healthy. But, the real problem is this obstructionism. The Founding Fathers provided a system that worked. 

I don't blame Harry Reid for this action. I applaud him for it. It's not that the Democrats are making a power grab. What the problem is having a minority party that is trying to nullify this President. They demonize him, they condemn him, and they disrespect him. Is it just a coincidence this happens with the first black President?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Iran, Turkey, and Strategic and Social Values

Yesterday, while walking my dogs:
Sierra& Misty

I was listening to a podcast I found on my computer. It was an interview from the How We Got Here podcast from PRI's The World. Dated February 25, 2010, Marco Werman interviewed Stephen Kinzer about his book Reset:  Iran, Turkey, and America's Future. There were many intriguing facts and opinions that I'd like to share. Unfortunately, the podcast is no longer available on the internet but I will try to share helpful links. 

As I said, the podcast from PRI is no longer available, but I did find this interview on YouTube at the Harvard Book Store


Stephen Kinzer argues that America needs to work harder on strategic vision that emphasizes good strong relations with two key countries: Turkey and Iran. He believes that there is a potential power triangle in Middle East with a partnership between Turkey, Iran, and the United States. One would think that Iran wouldn't work and that Turkey is too independent to be counted on, but he gives very good arguments. 

He states that a good partner for any country has to fulfill two qualifications:
  1. Long-term strategic goals are the same as your own or roughly comparable
  2. The partner needs to be a  place where the society shares the fundamental values of your own country.
For instance, Saudi Arabia would not measure up because Saudi society has absolutely nothing in common with the United States. 

Turkey and Iran have societies that are democratically oriented and therefore very much in line with our own. This makes them very interesting potential partners with the U.S. in the coming century. Kinzer goes on to say that partners have to treat each other a certain way:
  • it is important to treat a partner on a equal basis
  • a real partner is one you listen to
  • a real partner is one whose advice you follow
The U.S. doesn't always do this. For instance, Kinzer pointed out that in the Cold War, we liked partners who were more subservient and did what we said. 

However, he says that the great obstacle to this construction is that American policymakers have an aversion to original thinking. There are certain paradigms in our policy towards the Middle East and we are frozen in those paradigms. We don't see anybody thinking strategically in the long run about where we want to be in some decades from now in the Middle East. He believes that we have to conceptualize a big picture. 

Getting to the big picture, he shows why Turkey and Iran are such good partners for us. He talks about the history and the society and politics of these countries. 

Turkey


What has contributed to Turkey's success in its 80-year history is that it has managed to evolve with the times. The modern Republic of Turkey was created by the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923. 


It was founded by the Father of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk


In the beginning, the government was a dictatorship as the countries around it were. Later democracies were becoming popular in the area and so it moved to democracy. When globalization became widespread, Turkey deregulated much of its society and entered the global society. In the modern era, when Islamic fundamentalism and religious society involvement in the government started heating up, now we have a government that is more religious than secular. This is the strength of Turkey. It is able to evolve, able to withstand tensions and confrontations. 

The modern government has one foreign policy: to have zero problems with its neighbors. And they did that. (Please remember that the podcast is dated 2010 before the Syria Crisis.)

One of their strengths and assets is the fact that they are able to talk to groups of people, countries, factions, etc., across a remarkably broad range, broader than the groups the U.S. can talk to: Israel and Hamas, Iran and the U.S., Russian and Georgia. When the Turkish Foreign Minister lands in Pakistan, all factions are eager to talk to him. Turkey can play a role that makes it a valuable partner for the U.S.

Iran (Persia)


When it comes to Iran, we may have to wait for the current regime to change or evolve to work with them; however, it does not change the fact that there would be great value with a partnership with them. The strategic goals of Iran do not change as governments change. 

Iran is eager to see a stable Iraq and Afghanistan. They want to see a stable and nuclear-free Middle East. They do not want to see Russian influence in the Middle East. Additionally, Iran's oil industry needs massive investment and the U.S. is well placed to provide that.

These congruences don't change as the governments change. In the long term, we ought to see a partnership with Iran as a place we want to get to. We have more in common with Iran in terms of strategic values and social values than we do with many of our traditional allies in the Middle East.

Iran is not a natural enemy of Israel. In the past, Iranians have had remarkably good relations with Israel. If you look further back in history, relations between the Persians (Iranians) and the Jews (Israel) have been quite strong for thousands of years. 

It is even described in the Bible. The great King Cyrus of Persia liberated the Jews from their Babylonian overlords, he freed them and sent them back to Israel and Jerusalem, and he even helped them build the Temple. 


Iranians - let's not forget - are not Arabs. They are not necessarily on the same wavelength as Arabs when it comes to dealing with Israel and Kinzer doesn't see any reason for a built-in hostility. 

Democracy in the Middle East

Only one other Muslim country in the Middle East can claim a democrat heart that beats passionately as in Turkey, and that is Iran. Only one other country that might emerge to rival or even surpass Turkey's level of political freedom and that is Iran. In the last hundred years, only two countries in the Muslim Middle East have spent that period working towards democracy and that is Turkey and Iran. 

All past experience shows that democracy only thrives and grows after a long period of acclimation. You cannot impose it as we are trying to do in Afghanistan and Iraq. In Turkey and Iran, it has been developing for over a hundred years. It is seen very much as a domestic product. The people there have decided on their own that it is something they want. 

The Green Revolution in Iran shows just how passionately they feel about democracy.


The Gezi Park protests in Turkey of earlier this year show how the Turks feel.


 People in these communities believe strongly that their governments need to be accountable and responsive to their people. 

Nobody in Egypt (pre-Arab Spring) goes out in the streets to protest a fraudulent election. It's just assumed that elections will be fraudulent. In Saudi Arabia, one of our allies, we don't even expect elections at all. 

Mr. Kinzer states that this shows just how much Iranians are thirsting for democracy. They know what democracy is, they want it, and it's seen as something that's coming from within, not something being supplanted artificially from the outside. He believes that the consciousness of what democracy is and what democracy means is infinitely higher in Iran, than in countries like Afghanistan and Iraq. Iran, after all, has had a constitution for a hundred years -- and all during that period they have been having elections. 

Now, these elections haven't always been fair, the institutions haven't always been followed. Nevertheless, over a period of generations, Iranians have deeply assimilated it. What is a political party, what is a parliament, these are things Iranians understand and expect. Democracy is not just elections, democracy is a whole way of dealing with life, the world. Iranians have understood this over a period of a hundred years. 

Conclusion

I really enjoyed this podcast. It got me thinking. We do have a lot in common with these countries. In these countries, the frameworks, the structures of democracy are very similar to ours. Our societies are very similar. We all have similar education structures. Higher education is very important in all three of our societies. All three of our societies encourage women to educate themselves. 

The Turks and the Iranians are not tribal societies like other Muslim countries in the Middle East. They are used to thinking of themselves as countries. Many countries in the Middle East - like Iraq - are hodgepodges, created in the chaos following World War One. After all Britain and France, separated up the spoils after the War. 

It is too bad that we have such bad relations with Iran. We can only blame ourselves for this. If we had not interfered with a democratically elected government in 1953, maybe the Islamic Revolution might never have happened. Maybe Iran would be more like Turkey. Who knows? Those are two big words: what if? 

I also think we need to treat Iran and Turkey as our equals. So many Americans somehow think they are inferior societies. These are societies that have existed for thousands of years. The Turks descend from the Ottoman empire which was founded in the 13th Century; the Iranians come from the Persians who are even older, they were founded in the 5th Century B.C.! We are pikers compared to them.

I hope that one day we can deal with the Muslim world in a more honest and open way. I realize that terrorism makes this hard, but we really have more in common with the Muslims than we could think. We all - Jews, Christians, Muslims - venerate Abraham. We all believe that Moses was a prophet and honor the 12 Commandments. We have only recently come apart. Our problems from lack of respect and knowledge of our neighbors. Better education can only help both of our peoples. 


Sunday, November 17, 2013

Responsible Gun Ownership

A responsible gun owner! Well, it's about time. Time after time, you seen news items about people abusing their "right" to "stand their ground". These owners are not responsible. They take out their gun at the smallest of circumstances. They do not warn their victim, they just shoot. Many don't even have to confront their victim. 

Zimmerman did not have to leave his car. In fact, he had been told not even to follow his victim. 

The recent case of Renisha McBride near Detroit was even sadder. She was trying to get help for her broken car. She was just knocking on doors. Maybe she was getting a little desperate but there was no reason for Mr. Wafer to leave his house. He could've stayed inside and dialed 911. When he finally did police were there in less than two minutes. Even if he did open the door to confront her, he should not have just fired -- in the face!! 

Every day I dread to see how many people have been shot carelessly since I last logged on to the internet. Now, I'll say right up front -- I don't like guns. Never have. However, I do accept that people should have guns. What I am more disturbed about is how people seem to act with those guns. Otherwise, law abiding, rational citizens don't seem to have any value of human life. Innocent people are shot by innocent people all because one of them has a gun. 

Today, however, I was pleased to hear about the case of Crystal McKinney of Milwaukie, Oregon. Now, I don't know if Oregon has a Stand Your Ground law. But, yes or no, Ms. McKinney exemplifies a great example of what you should do when put in a situation. Ms. McKinney discovered an intruder in her apartment. She confronted him verbally at first, asking him to leave. When he advanced, she retreated to her bedroom where she had a gun. 

Now, Mr. Zimmerman or Mr. Wafer might have just shot the man with no warning. Ms. McKinney aimed the gun and told him to leave again or she would fire, which he did. 

There are two things about this case that impress me. One, it's a case of defending yourself in your home. All this business about being able to Stand Your Ground recklessly wherever you are is dangerous. And, two, she warned him. I don't know what would've happened had she had to shoot. But I'd like to think she wouldn't be shooting to kill.

I know many people bring up race when talking about Stand Your Ground. I realize it is a factor. Blacks are far too often the victims in these cases. However, I think there is a bigger lesson to be learned. In these cases, it is often the surviving person that gets to control the narrative. The victim is always further victimized by being characterized as threatening. It becomes "might is right". This is very disturbing. It must be stopped. 

We cannot keep on going down this path just because gun owners (and the gun industry) seem to think they have an unalienable right to terrorize the rest of us. I don't think that's too strong a word. To terrorize (according to Merriam-Webster) is to create and maintain a state of extreme fear and distress (in someone). Well, that happens to every mother of an African-American child when he leaves to go to the store. That happens to me every time I see someone openly carrying a weapon in a restaurant or store. 

Owning a gun should not be a right, it should be a privilege. When we see someone carrying a gun, we should have the security to know that they had to undergo a serious background check and investigation to acquire that gun. We should want to know that not just anyone can get a gun. 

We should also be secure in knowing that not just anyone can buy just any gun. There should be limits. There should be some system of deciding if someone has an actual need for that gun. Does a grocery store manager from Cleveland who never leaves the city need an AR-15? Does anyone?

Finally, gun registry should be reviewed on a regular basis. It should be monitored federally, not state by state. People should be allowed to report gun owners for certain behaviors that are risky and gun ownership should be reviewed regularly. 

I admit I'm no expert. But we have to take the emotion out of this. Now many may say I'm the emotional one. Maybe. I'll admit they frighten me. But gun owners need to realize that they're emotional too. Many have an unhealthy attachment to these things.

Thank God Ms. McKinney was thinking. 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Oh, Pope Francis, How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count The Ways or, A Love Letter to Pope Francis From A Mormon

If someone had to ask you who you most admired today in a religious and/or spiritual sense, who would you name? 

Well, without doubt, I would name Pope Francis! He exemplifies what I think about when I think of true Christian principles. He is humble, and has spent all the time since his election trying to focus the Church (and Christians, for that matter) to think more about the true message of our Savior, Jesus Christ. 

Some also-rans:


As a Mormon, you may ask why isn't Thomas Monson, President and Prophet of the Church, up there? Well, I do admire him greatly. I know he is a Godly man, an inspired man, and a man to live up to. But he is not in my top 5. 

The problem is this: I believe in the Mormon gospel. But sometimes I don't quite accept teachings from individual present-day Mormons. I believe I can do this and still be a good Mormon. 

To me, Pope Francis and Frank Schaeffer have been preaching more along the lines of the teachings of Jesus Christ of late. 

Today, in fact, Jonathan Freedland published an op-ed in the Comment is Free section of The Guardian entitled: "Why Even Atheists Should Be Praying For Pope Francis." This reminded me why I not only admire the new Pope but love him more and more. I cannot think of one statement, one news item, anything that lessened my admiration of him, it just seems to increase it. In fact, more and more, I wish that not only atheists pay attention to him, but all Christians, Jews, and Muslims. Heck, EVERYONE needs to pay attention to him. The world would only be a better place if you followed his advice!

Number One Reason I love Pope Francis: his humility. 

He doesn't live in the well-appointed (nigh, ostentatious) apartments normally reserved for the pope. No, he has been staying in the Casa Santa Marta, a Vatican residence which accommodates visiting clergy and lay people. 
Pope Francis' bedroom at the Casa Santa Marta

He doesn't wear fancy red shoes. No, he asked his Buenos Aires cobbler to repair his old ones. He doesn't travel around in a limousine; no, he has a older Ford Focus to visit the Italian President in:

As the article states, you could condemn these as stunts, as gestures. But he is remarkably consistent. He is trying to send a message not just to his congregation, but also to the clergy of the Church and the wider world, this is part of Christ's message. Pay attention. To quote Mr. Freedland: 
He is in the business of scraping away the trappings, the edifice of Vatican wealth accreted over centuries, and returning the church to its core purpose, one Jesus himself might have recognised. He says he wants to preside over "a poor church, for the poor". It's not the institution that counts, it's the mission.
This is an important message. One of the things I always liked about the LDS church is that the clergy are lay-people. They are not paid. They have their own jobs and income and their time working for the church is service to not just God, but their fellow brothers and sisters on this earth. 

Additionally, it is a strong message to his clergy. In fact, when a scandal erupted in Germany regarding the "Bishop of Bling," Pope Francis did not try to excuse him or even ignore it. No, he made a strong statement by recalling him to Rome. In fact, as of November 1st, Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst is now living in a Benedictine monastery in Metten. There have even been calls for his $4.2 million residence to be turned into a soup kitchen for the homeless! 

A wonderful message to the clergy: get with the message! Get with Christ's message!

Number Two Reason I Love Pope Francis: His Love and Tolerance

Early in his papacy, the Pope was quoted as saying "If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?" That stopped me in my tracks. There are a few individual churches that have been opening up to gays and lesbians, but who knew the Catholics would be one of them? Now, true, he hasn't changed the doctrine but he is changing the focus of the church. 

If you listened to the recent General Conference put on by the Church last October, many of the talks focused on the dangers of gay marriage, of religious freedom, of liberalism. Things like this just make me cringe inside and want to scream out loud "Wait a Minute!" They are focusing too much on items like this. If they do mention income inequality, it is to condemn the dole. Groan. 

But this Pope is focusing on the poor and the evils of income inequality. In fact, he has made a frontal attack against what he calls "unbridled capitalism" and the "throwaway attitude" of today's society. 

In September, he said that church had become too "obsessed" with the topics of gay marriage, abortion, and contraception. They had focused on these while forgetting the central message of Christ. He criticized the church for "putting dogma before love" and "prioritizing moral doctrines over serving the poor and marginalized." What a wonderful message!

Look at how Christians in this country work so hard trying not to support anyone that disagrees with them on abortion, gay marriage, or contraception. They focus on these items so much that they support a party and a political ideology whose central goal is to help the wealthy and to cut social services that protect the poorest and most marginalized in society.

There have been quite a few instances where the Pope has made personal contact with these people. He has written e-mails and telephoned people, reaching out. He has even gotten the nickname "The Cold Call Pope." A pregnant woman, who is bearing a child out of wedlock, feared her baby would not be baptized due to its illegitimacy. The Pope wrote and offered to baptize the child himself. He called a young gay man that his "homosexuality doesn't matter...we are all children of God." 

Are you paying attention evangelicals? Fellow Mormons? This is how you should do Christianity! No judging! No condemnation! Straight love and service. 

My Third Reason to Love This Pope: Social Justice

Have you seen who dislikes the Pope? Sarah Palin! Well, if that wasn't an endorsement! The free-market Institute of Economic Affairs laments that he lacks the "sophisticated" approach of his predecessors. He has denounced the conditions that fashion workers in Bangladesh work in. He has said that God wants men and women to be at the heart of the world, yet we live in a world that worships "an idol called money." What a breath of fresh air!

Why don't I hear such topics spoken by my Church leadership? Instead, we have talks where about the supposed threat against marriage. The threat of a liberal ideology and a secular world. Even Brigham Young spoke out against income inequality: 
The people of communities and nations among whom wealth is the most equally distributed, enjoy the largest degree of liberty, are the least exposed to tyranny and oppression and suffer the least from luxurious habits which beget vice… One of the great evils with which our own nation is menaced at the present time is the wonderful growth of wealth in the hands of a comparatively few individuals. The very liberties for which our fathers contended so steadfastly and courageously… are endangered by the monstrous power which this accumulation of wealth gives to a few individuals and a few powerful corporations… 
If this evil should not be checked, and measures not taken to prevent the continued enormous growth of riches among the class already rich, and the painful increase of destitution and want among the poor, the nation is likely to be overtaken by disaster; for, according to history, such a tendency among nations once powerful was the sure precursor of ruin.
 Another Hope from the Pope: Eco-Theology

We are asked to be stewards of this earth. So, I have always been disgusted at other Christians who support the climate skeptics and continue to support policies that harm our planet, our home. 

Recently the Pope was actually photographed with anti-fracking activists. Wow!! Now, that's a statement:
@Pontifex says no to fracking

It has even been revealed, according to Mr Freedland, that the Pope has been in contact with Leonardo Boff, an eco-theologian who was shunned by Rome and sentenced to "obsequious silence." It is even said that an encyclical on care for the planet is on the way. 

Now, this is not to say that I think the Catholic church has cured itself of all its ills. It needs to work harder on curing the cancer that is the sexual abuse scandal. But the Pope is a wonderful sign of hopeful signs to come. He is also a great role model for other religious leaders out there. Christian or not. He is showing us the way not just back to Christ, but how Christ would have us act. I hope we pay attention.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Please, let's keep politics out of church!

Really, I get so irritated at church sometimes. I'm a liberal who lives in a conservative county and attends a conservative church. Most would ask why? I even ask that from time to time. 

To answer: because the gospel isn't conservative. It's liberal. But unfortunately God has to work with people. As imperfect as they are. And many are conservative. 

I am a Mormon and I hear quite frequently how we are a non-political church. That's a lovely statement. But not always put in practice. 

Like today, the lesson in my Relief Society class veered into a lecture against choosing wrong between God and the devil. She spoke about liberty and choosing the right and then veered right into gay marriage. 

I hoped it was a temporary tangent. But unfortunately it seemed to be a central theme. Now, I know this woman's feelings. I don't agree with them. And I think it goes beyond the pale to teach them to a captive audience. 

Now, part of me wanted to speak up. To complain. But I couldn't. As it says in 3 Nephi 11:29, "contention is of the devil". So I took the better part: I left and read my Scriptures until my ride was ready. 

I find myself thinking of religion often. The people that seem to represent Christian values are the atheists. They are the ones that support actions and policies that most go in tandem with the words of Christ. 

If we were made in the image of God... if we were sent down here to learn... to grow... than why are we all different? Male and female... dark and white... tall and short... gay and straight. We were all born differently, with different talents and gifts. But why?

Maybe, just maybe, our Heavenly Father sent us down to see how we would learn to work together... whether we could see past appearances to the person underneath. 

In the 22nd Chapter of the Book of Matthew in the New Testament, Christ tells us what the two great commandments are:

 36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law?
 37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt alove the Lord thy God with all thy bheart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy cmind.
 38 This is the first and great acommandment.
 39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt alove thy neighbour as thyself.
 40 On these two commandments hang all the alaw and the prophets.
Let's look at that. "on these... hang all the law and the prophets". What does that mean? I think it means that if you interpret anything else in the teachings that runs counter to those two commandments, then it is not of God.
Any doctrine... any teaching... any "commandment" that causes harm --- emotional, physical, spiritual --- must be ignored or fought against.
Discrimination... denying people the same rights you have... telling people that they are wrong... that they are sinners just because they are different. That is the sin. 
I've got news for my fellow churchgoers. Homosexuality, contraception, women working instead of bearing children, the internet, working on Sundays... these are not the issues that we, as servants of Christ, must be concerned with. 
We must be more concerned with the things that the new Pope of the Catholic Church has been focusing on: poverty, illness, income inequality, etc. These are the issues that are really hurting people... hurting families.
I have been criticized for expressing opinions counter to some that have been put out by our church leaders. But who is the head of this Church? Whose name is in the actual name of our Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints! That's right. Christ. 
I respect our Church leaders, even love and admire them. But if they give me advice and guidance that runs counter to those two first great commandments, then I have to conclude that those are their personal feelings, and not God's guidance. 
I pray that my Church... that all churches... would get back to Christ's teachings... about the things that mattered to Christ. We are taught to emulate Christ. That means leaving our intolerances and prejudices behind. 
And, please, leave the politics when you go into your church.