Archive for April, 2012

The Strawman

April 30, 2012

One of the most insidious arguments is the strawman. It’s insidious because it is effective, and insidious because it takes great effort to avoid on your own.

The simple formula for a strawman is to invent the arguments of your opponent, and then argue against those arguments, rather than the actual arguments of your opponent.

Consider the debate about homosexual marriage. Proponents poo-poo the arguments of the opponents by claiming that they support bigotry and hatred against homosexuals, and are opposed to homosexual marriage simply because Jesus said so. Both of these are not arguments that the best and representative opponents use. In fact, opponents would argue easily against these two reasons as valid reasons for opposing homosexual marriage.

If you want to avoid the strawman, you have to dig into your opponents mind. You have to first assume that your opponent is a reasonable and good person. You must assume that they have thought the issue through and have come to the conclusion they have because they believe that is the best decision for them or for the people around them. At the very least, you must suppose that they are exposed to the same arguments and evidence that you are exposed to, and try to understand why they have not changed their mind.

You have not freed yourself from the strawman until you can express your opponent’s positions, and the logical and reasonable reasons for them, at least as well as he can himself.

I know that people who support homosexual marriage do not believe that it is right to discriminate against homosexuals and deny them the “right” to marry whomever they love. I know that people who support homosexual marriage do not have to be homosexual themselves.

Once I have accomplished this, I can actually begin arguing against them. For instance, I can say that there is no discrimination in marriage because we do not limit who can marry whom based on their sexual orientation. Whatever limitations exist are there for reasons way beyond simple discrimination. The same reason why a corporation is not the right legal structure for a partnership is the same reason why marriage is not the right legal structure for two people who love each other very much but are of the same gender.

When we engage in this kind of debate, we learn more about each other and what we are thinking. Two people can learn a  lot from each other, even when they agree on nothing. This is because people tend to be reasonable and there is no preliminary requirement for agreement for two people to reason together.

On the debate of religion vs. atheism, there is a ton of strawmen arguments out there. It’s quite clear that the vast majority of people who claim to be Atheist know little to nothing of the world’s religions. They may be familiar in one or more religions, but they do not have an appreciation for why perfectly reasonable people would believe in those things, and so cannot help but make strawmen arguments. It’s rather pathetic, because every religious individual must have already conquered the arguments for atheism before they could begin to believe. In other words, one set of beliefs is superior than another simply because you cannot believe in it without completely comprehending the other, while the other has no such requirement.

I’ll call strawmen when I see them. I hope you’ll do your best to identify your own strawmen arguments by educating yourself to opposing viewpoints.

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The Ideal Government

April 30, 2012

It’s fun to ponder on what the ideal government would look like. When you take into account human nature and the physical situation our world is in, and try to make something that is more moral and just, it sometimes help you see to what direction our own country should go.

Lysander Spooner is one of those radicals who wasn’t paid much attention in his day. He nevertheless had some neat ideas that I can’t completely disregard. Among them, my favorite is the idea of consent. Governments should not suppose they have the consent of the governed, but should seek to explicitly obtain such consent. When a child turns 18, they should be given the same citizenship tests we give to immigrants, and required to take the same oath.

People who choose to live among us but do not choose to subject themselves to the government would be treated the same way we treat foreign nationals. As long as they obey the rules, they get to participate fully, except in matters of government. If they disobey the rules, the suffer the same consequences, which they have no say in determining since they are not part of the government. If they don’t like that, they can choose to live somewhere else.

I would like to see some mechanism for changing the government of the land. The only sane thing I can think of is giving the landowners a say in what government is in force on their land. As such, there is a sort of superior government that governs only who owns what property and what government is in force on that property, and several governments depending on the land.

In that vein, I don’t see why we can’t have a different government for every county in our country. Each county would span a population of up to a million people or a few square miles. These counties can choose to participate in a larger government that determines common law among the counties, via representatives elected by the counties (and not necessarily by the people in the counties.) If groups of counties become dissatisfied with this broader government, then they can choose to organize themselves in a new federation.

Counties would administer their territory through a system whereby groups of ten families would send 1 representative, and groups of 100 would send 3. These “villages” would be almost completely autonomous. Although they would probably be required to sustain a certain minimum law, they wouldn’t have many restrictions beyond that. Any crimes committed in their area would be handled by their judge. Serious crimes would be handled at the county level, in much a similar way as we have it now.

The system we live under today gives more than enough power to our federal and state governments. It’s simply absurd. It removes almost all the responsibility that citizens in our country have, and puts responsibility on our capitols. There is no effective way to fight this. If we allowed our counties to secede from the states, and form new states, I am sure the problem would be solved rather rapidly. It would not cross the mind of a state government to offend any county. Likewise, if we allowed our states to secede and form their own federal governments, we would eliminate any potential for the federal government to abuse any state or small group of states.

Such a system is clearly radical! I can’t imagine a path of small changes that would move us from where we are to this system, short of a complete, systemic collapse. (Such a collapse is possible in my lifetime.) Maybe Spooner’s idea of a true consent will catch on, and we’ll start to move towards such a system.

The Slate Gets it Wrong Again

April 27, 2012

I know readers of the Slate think they are well-educated on the issues addressed. When it comes to the LDS church, they are woefully inaccurate. It’s better to leave the propagation of LDS beliefs to our 19-year-old missionaries, and let the Slate refer those who have questions to them.

The latest is an effort to link the corporatization and maintream-ization of the LDS church and theology to Elder Harold B. Lee’s correlation committee. (link)

What Elder Lee did was simply unify the church curriculum and apply already existing doctrine to the structure of the church. In short, he was bringing the church back to its roots.

This is a difficult concept for people to grasp. When you have an organization that claims their founding member was receiving revelation from God, it’s rare that the revelations are actually relevant, insightful, and, dare I say it, prophetic. Joseph Smith revealed the organization and structure of the church, which can be found in the Doctrine and Covenants. Details about how the church should be organized and administered are in that book. The curious are welcome to examine its pages and see for themselves.

Over time, church leaders, out of necessity or whatever, have lead the church in directions. Sometimes enthusiastic church members have changed the essence of the church as well. What I’m talking about here is not something malicious. It’s no different than any other large organization with enthusiastic and helpful members. The deviations of the church from the standard have always been small and insignificant, and temporary.

When church leaders have discovered problems within the church, they turn to God and the priesthood organization and authority for direction. Time and again, the answer is simply to look back in history, examine the revealed doctrines, and apply them more fully than they have been applied in the past.

Elder Lee did just that. He looked carefully at what our doctrines were, what has already been revealed, and combined with insight that was heretofore lacking, proposed changes to how we schedule our meetings. (That was the end result of the correlation committee: having our church services in one three-hour block instead of spread throughout Sunday. That, and ensuring that all the materials taught in our churches was drawn exclusively from authoritative, correct, and doctrinal sources.)

Regarding the women’s organization, the Relief Society. The Relief Society has its roots in an effort by the women of Nauvoo to assist in building the Nauvoo temple. They proposed an organization and presented it to Joseph Smith for his blessing. Joseph Smith received, at that time, the revelation that the women were also a critical component of the church, and he told the women he would do better than what they proposed, and organize the Relief Society under the authority of that priesthood. In times past, there has been confusion as to how the Relief Society fits into the system of quorums and leaders. Today, that confusion is all but gone, as the Relief Society is directed and led by God just as the quorums and groups in each ward. I don’t know exactly what role Elder Lee had in that, but whatever it was, it was a restoration of the roots of the organization, not a deviation into new territory.

Mormons have never been a people wont to be separate from the world. We tell ourselves, “in the world, but not of the world.” We genuinely like being around people that don’t agree with us, even if they harbor secret animosity towards us. We genuinely want to improve their lives and build up communities. That’s the way we were from day one. However, we do not turn to the world for leadership and counsel. That means we do things quite a bit differently than the world, and we are very proud of our differences. As an example, we wear modest but modern clothing, we keep our speech appropriate and clean, we do not tattoo our bodies, we do not drink alcohol, tea, or coffee, nor do we partake of tobacco, we try to be honest in all of our dealings, etc… Yet we still adopt and embrace and expound upon every good aspect of the culture we live in. “Seek [y]e learning, even by wisdom and by faith” says our Head, Jesus Christ. “yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom” (D&C 88:118) We have always been this way, from day one.

We were driven out of the United States into Mexican Territory. We raised the Mormon Battalion to fight for the very nation that rejected us and refused to protect us. We lived for a very long time in isolation, building up not just Utah but the entire West, turning the desert into a garden. Today, we are no longer cut off. We never wanted to be cut off in the first place! Even in our isolation, great efforts were made to keep our culture compatible with the culture that tried to murder and rape us. “In the world, but not of the world.” is a very, very good motto.

If people feel like the Mormons are secretive or isolationists, then they are either talking about a handful of specific instances of introverts, or they are thinking about the exodus we had to take to survive. That is not who we are nor who we wish to be.

Elder Lee didn’t change that. It didn’t need changing. The church hasn’t changed in that way at all.

The Slate would have you believe we were once separationists who did what David Koresh did but less violently. Not so, never so.

The reason why we shave our beards is because it separates us from the world, makes us seem like we don’t want to be a part of it, which isn’t true. Nowadays, now that beards are coming back into style, I would imagine the church would begin relaxing that standard since, honestly, the shaving of beards is not doctrine nor ever was nor can I see it ever being so.

The “I’m a mormon” campaign is to show the world that what the Slate is saying is wrong. Mormons are a part of your community. We want to be, that’s who we are. We don’t want to be separate in that sense, we never have. We love you guys, we love you a lot, and we don’t want to build unnecessary walls between you and us. Yes, we do things a little differently, things like taking care of our bodies and not violating the Lord’s law of chastity, but not so differently that we can’t ride Harley’s or go surfing or teach kids in inner cities or whatever.

The Book of Mormon Endorses Capitalism

April 27, 2012

These two verses in the Book of Mormon seem to declare and obvious cause and effect, something that Adam Smith discovered and described in The Wealth of Nations:

 And it came to pass that the Lamanites did also go whithersoever they would, whether it were among the Lamanites or among the Nephites; and thus they did have free intercourse one with another, to buy and to sell, and to get gain, according to their desire.

And it came to pass that they became exceedingly rich, both the Lamanites and the Nephites; and they did have an exceeding plenty of gold, and of silver, and of all manner of precious metals, both in the land south and in the land north. (Helaman 6:8-9)

A few verses later, it seems to endorse prosperity and industry as the key to peace:

 And behold, there was all manner of gold in both these lands, and of silver, and of precious ore of every kind; and there were also curious workmen, who did work all kinds of ore and did refine it; and thus they did become rich.

They did raise grain in abundance, both in the north and in the south; and they did flourish exceedingly, both in the north and in the south. And they did multiply and wax exceedingly strong in the land. And they did raise many flocks and herds, yea, many fatlings.

Behold their women did toil and spin, and did make all manner of cloth, of fine-twined linen and cloth of every kind, to clothe their nakedness. And thus the sixty and fourth year did pass away in peace. (Helaman 6:11-13)

Indeed, it wasn’t the riches that lead to their subsequent downfall, it was the love of their riches (rather than God and each other.)

For behold, the Lord had blessed them so long with the riches of the world that they had not been stirred up to anger, to wars, nor to bloodshed; therefore they began to set their hearts upon their riches; yea, they began to seek to get gain that they might be lifted up one above another; therefore they began to commit secret murders, and to rob and to plunder, that they might get gain. (Helaman 6:17)

When members of the LDS church talk about the secret of prosperity lying in individual righteousness, this is what they are referring to. If we set out into the world with intent to love God and love our neighbors as we love ourselves, then capitalism is the natural result. We won’t need government programs for the poor because we’ll have more than enough wealth to go around. People will naturally apply themselves to whatever job they decide on, and will naturally build the wealth that is needed not only to eliminate poverty, but to build a lasting peace.

The problem arise when people begin to value wealth over God, themselves, or their neighbors. When this happens, then it is only natural to see why you’d go about hurting people to make your money, even killing those who stand in your way. War is a natural result, because if you’re willing to kill one person, you’re capable of killing many to achieve your desires.

Wealth doesn’t cause wickedness any more than poverty causes righteousness. The two concepts are completely orthogonal one to another, meaning that there are endless combinations of relative righteousness and relative poverty.

One cautionary note: Note that when people attack the “rich” and want to “punish” them to help the poor, they are no different than those who value wealth over people. They falsely ascribe maliciousness to people who simply have done well for themselves, and then prescribe injustice as the cure. This is just as bad as a rich man who abuses the poor to get what he wants out of them, such as an employer who hires people far below the wage they deserve! (Thee are scriptures condemning both actions; both are a sign of pride or a lack of love for fellow men.)

I would love to live in a society where we have groups of insanely wealthy people, groups of extraordinarily wealthy people, and groups of fantastically wealthy people, with no poor among them. In this society, it would be no burden to see that even the least among us, those who are incapable of communication and bound to wheelchairs, would be treated with the highest level of attention and care. If anyone had any lack, they could simply ask the nearest person for assistance, who would not only freely share his substance but help of all forms because he has no real needs that are not met and exceeded.

As long as people in this society put God, their neighbors, and themselves even, above wealth, there would be no wars, no contention, no conflict of any kind, just industrious people trying to create ever more vast sums of wealth to satisfy their desires and the desires of the people around them, as well as to glorify God. This is what I imagine Zion to be, and the reason why in the future paradisaical world we would have buildings encrusted with rare gems and precious metals, and why we would have fantastic gardens of unimaginable beauty: the people on the earth would have so much wealth that providing such luxuries to their communities would hardly be a sacrifice, and that every pressing matter of higher importance than what to put on the walls of our buildings would be taken care of.

Why Atheism is Untrue

April 25, 2012

Following on my previous post about why Atheism is morally wrong, I’m going to show you why Atheism cannot be true.

First, what is Atheism?

Atheism is the belief that there is no god.

What is a god?

I suppose if you take a narrow definition of god, something that can be trivially disproven, then you should feel safe in calling yourself Atheist. But you must realize, that for different definitions of god, you are no longer Atheist! At best, you can claim Agnosticism — you do not know, you cannot know. I would hope these people who wallow in ignorance adopt the title “Ignoramus”, but “Agnostic” is certainly a good middle ground. If you are this sort of Atheist, please don’t use that title anymore since it is simply not correct.

Gods can be a tricky thing to define. I guess you could define a god as anything and everything. Ancient people saw gods in death, life, the sun, lightning, and even the trees and wind. If everything is a god, then Atheism is the belief that nothing exists. Obviously, we have to limit our definition of god.

What about defining god as anything people believe to be a god? As long as we eliminate those beliefs which make everything a god, and focus primarily on those gods which have a significant following, then we can limit the possibilities to a finite set of things. So now our definition of Atheism is:

Atheism is the belief that no god of any kind that a large number people believe in exists, excluding those who believe everything is a god.

If you go this route, then you have to take the time to study and learn about the religions people believe in, and not just superficially, but deeply. Once you have come to a very good understanding of what they consider god, then you can go out and attempt to disprove such a thing exists.

Suppose that there is some definition of “god”. How would you go about proving that such a thing doesn’t exist? This is the same problem cryptozoologists have in proving that a legendary animal does not exist. That is, you have to examine every possible location of any instance of the animal at a single point in time. Then, and only then, can you say with certainty that such a creature does not exist.

With gods, who typically have the attributes of existing beyond nature, and have attributes that make them more intelligent and more capable than us, such a process is simply impossible.

You’ll note how much time and treasure was spent trying to find the Higg’s Boson. Bit by bit, physicists could declare where it did not exist, and what properties it did not have. But until they have exhaustively searched every possible hiding place for the particle, they could not declare that it did not exist. Indeed, many physicists grew to believe that the Higg’s Boson was unlikely to exist, because the evidence began to suggest that. However, all it took was on possible sighting to change their minds.

The Higg’s Boson is a much easier thing to find than many of the gods people believe in.

Multiply by the numerous gods in our limited set, by the difficulty of disproving even one of them, and you have created an impossible task.

As such, with this definition, at best Atheists can only claim to believe what they claim, with no certainty whatsoever that their belief is true, and a good chance that they are wrong.

Since Atheists cannot prove that there is no God, what could possibly be the foundation of their certainty? After all, not many Atheists trumpet their doctrine as a belief, but a sure knowledge.

Perhaps we need a different definition for Atheism altogether.

Atheism is the belief that phenomena in nature can be explained without action by any kind of god people believe in.

This is a different kind of mindset than simply “there is no god.” I imagine true-blue believers in Atheism, the sort that are capable of following logical arguments like the one I am making now, begin with the assumption, the belief, that the universe is ordered, along with the other assumptions that lead to modern science, (IE, that the order is logically consistent, that you can observe nature and deduce the order, etc…) This, they say, is enough, and we need no God to explain phenomena in the world around us.

The problem is, they have not begun their reasoning from nothing. Why is the belief, the religion, that the universe is ordered and so on, valid? No one can explain this logically, since is it beyond logical. That is, if you use logic, you are already assuming the conclusion. No such argument could be constructed to explain logically why the universe is logical. We can only believe that it is.

Certainly, God may exist between nothingness and the ordered universe, be the driving cause for order in the universe, the only possible explanation that bridges illogically to logic. How can an Atheist of the sort I just described prove this to not be the case? They simply can’t.

In short, Atheism is at best a belief, and has no certainty whatsoever, and no way of creating certainty of the validity of their beliefs. What a horrible system! A set of assumptions that are never provable! Surely, we must have knowledge as our philosophical foundation, not suppositions!

All of what I have said is enough to destroy anyone’s certainty in Atheism. What I mention now is counter-factual evidence, that is, proof that Atheism’s beliefs simply are not so.

It’s rather simple, actually. All I have to do is demonstrate God.

And here is my counter-factual evidence: I know that God lives. He is real, he talks to people on earth, and he is the same today, yesterday, and forever. His mind is above ours, he comprehends things we cannot conceive of. If my knowledge is real, that is, if things are really the way I say they are, then Atheism is untrue.

How do I “know” the thing to be true? How do we “know” anything? By our observations through our senses. I have felt God the same way I can see a mountain or a microbe, or hear the waves of the ocean or a bell, or touch a kitten, or sense how hot a frying pan is with my hand. To me, the sensation I have felt when God showed himself to me in my life is no different than the above sense. In fact, I have come to learn to trust in this feeling more than my other five senses. Call it the “sixth sense”, I call it the influence of the Holy Ghost. This sense has never lead me astray.

The fact that you can’t see very well doesn’t mean I cannot see; likewise, the fact that your “sixth sense” is dull does not change the fact that my “sixth sense” is very real.

The fact that you have not “felt” God doesn’t mean God doesn’t exist. It simply means you have not felt God. It is the same as if you haven’t been to Paris to see the sights and smell the smells. Because you have not done so does not mean that Paris doesn’t exist. It only means that you haven’t felt Paris. To try and convince someone who has been to Paris that Paris doesn’t exist is simply absurd.

Unfortunately, I cannot give you the same knowledge I have unless you experience it yourself. I can only witness what I have felt. The way, the only way, to experience this is to sincerely pray to the true God and allow himself to manifest himself to you. I suggest finding LDS missionaries, inviting them into your home, and doing everything they ask you to do for an absolute witness.

Maybe I am a liar; maybe I don’t really have a sixth sense but am suffering under some kind of psychotic delusion; This kind of reasoning is just as easily used to confuse eye-witnesses of a crime.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, is the claim that something outlandish is automatically not true until observed to be so. This is absurd reasoning. You might choose not to believe in the outlandish claim, but you must realize that your belief may very well be wrong. Take, for instance, Einstein’s belief that “God does not play dice.” He refused to accept the outlandish claim that events around us are truly born of randomness. And yet, we know that things are that way. It has always been true, even before we conceived of it, and even before we generally accepted it and still considered it outlandish.

There are a lot of things that are true that are inconceivable or outlandish, and you don’t have to go far to find it. When someone comes with a reliable witness that something outlandish is true, go ahead and refuse to believe it at first, but promise yourself to investigate the claims thoroughly if the matter is important to you. I would think that matters about your eternal fate would be important to you, so you shouldn’t wait long before seriously investigating religious claims.

I will accept all logical arguments. All ad hominem or other logical fallacies will simply be ignored or torn to pieces, given my mood. If there is a particular argument you like in favor of Atheism, I’ll show you how I already incorporated it above.

Once Again: Atheism is Wrong

April 18, 2012

A lot of Atheists are, frankly, unintelligent. They simply don’t understand what atheism means nor its implications. Some Atheists are a bit smarter, and understand some kind of logical argument for their beliefs.

I challenge all Atheists to think critically about the problem of morality: What, exactly, is good, and what, exactly, is wrong?

We certainly are programmed to think of some behavior as good and others as bad. We look at murder and universally condemn it, and we condemn other actions in specific circumstances. Certainly it is wrong to intentionally deceive someone to their harm. Certainly it is wrong to withhold your substance from the poor. Certainly it is wrong to sexually abuse children!

But why? What makes those things wrong? If we can understand that, then we can start to live our lives to maximize good. But what is good? A natural definition is “that which is not wrong.” But isn’t wrong “that which is not good?” We have a problem.

We need some way to determine whether behavior is good or bad, so we can make a moral decision to choose the good and avoid the bad.

Philosophers have struggled with this problem throughout history. All, without exception, have failed to build a foundation for morality from nothing.

Modern Atheists think, in their ignorance, they know what is right and wrong. They condemn war, or condemn child molestation, and they think they are doing good. Are they?

If they define morality in a way that allows the preference of the individual to influence it, they have defined no morality at all. Certainly, the murderer thinks it is a good thing to murder at the time, and a child rapist thinks it is a good thing to rape the child at the time. We cannot allow human preference or emotion to enter into the equation at all.

That means we must have a universal definition of morality, a morality that applies to all sentient beings, everywhere, at all times, without change.

When I say “Atheists have no morality”, or “Atheism is amoral”, this is what I mean. They have no basis for morality, since they do not admit to anything but human reason and logic.

All religions carry in them an assumption of what is right and wrong. Judeo-Christian traditions define morality based solely on God’s preference. God is good, good is God. Whatever God wants, that is good. Whatever he doesn’t want, that is evil.

The problem then becomes: How can we obtain the will of God in our day-to-day lives? My Christian religion, the LDS religion teaches that all people, when they are born, are given a conscience, the “Light of Christ.” They are told, in no uncertain terms, what is right and wrong with emotional promptings before they embark upon a decision.

We are also taught that ignoring these promptings weaken their influence. The first lie is hard; the hundredth is not even considered. The first murder is difficult; the hundredth not even a thought is given. That’s why we strongly encourage people to not commit sin at all. Those people who violate the grosser sins lose their moral compass, almost completely. Adulterers and fornicators (hetero or homosexual) are among those who have the most badly damaged moral compasses. They are so damaged that when they are faced with spiritual impressions, they demand an outward, physical sign to confirm it.

We may also temporarily or permanently injure our moral compass in the way we treat our bodies. Alcohol and other substances leave their stain in our consciences. Hard drugs may even irreparably damage them. Members of the LDS church abstain from coffee, tea and tobacco for this reason. We simply don’t want to risk it.

Those who pay attention to their moral compass are inevitably lead, when they are prepared, to face the Holy Ghost, which will demand positive action such as prayer, scripture study, and baptism into the church. Those who have made a conscience decision to heed these promptings will inevitably end up within the church.

You can see how the belief that there is no God, or even that God’s will is not known among mankind, present us with a moral system without any morality. You can see also how a just God would ensure that every person be told what is right and wrong so that they can make their own choices.

If you’re the type of person that rejects the good promptings in their heart, the promptings that say to speak kindly, to serve one another, to avoid behaviors that hurt yourself and others, then I would not be surprised if you turn to Atheism. It’s the only hope for your shattered conscience to have any consistency at all.

However, if you try to justify your morality, or rather, the lack of morality, as the superior one, just know how stupid you sound.

Why You’re a Communist Stooge

April 18, 2012

If you think that Mitt Romney’s work in dismantling failing companies is something bad, then you’re a communist stooge. You really don’t belong in America.

Let me help you understand.

A corporation is a legal entity where many stockholders own the company and have a claim to its profits. They elect a board of directors, who appoint officers to actually run the company.

When a company is mismanaged, the officers and board are cheating the stockholders out of their money. It’s no different than a plumber who shows up, ruins your plumbing system, then demands to be paid.

You may not like stockholders because they are rich. That’s a communist knee-jerk reaction that has nothing to do with reality. Even if you own 0 shares of any corporation, your life is dependent on people making money for their stockholders.

If you have some money in the bank, if you buy a CD or buy insurance, if you interact with money in a financial institution in any way, then you are affected by how boards and officers are held accountable to their stockholders. Heck, the company that pays you likely pays you with money that comes directly from the sale of stock. Or were you naive enough to think that your company put its payroll cash in a warehouse?

When a company goes bad, when it no longer delivers as much profit as it could, something needs to change. Either the officers and board need to develop a new plan and implement it successfully, or the stockholders need to change the board. When things go really bad, such a change isn’t possible, likely because the stockholders are too naive or too powerless to do anything.

In comes companies like Bain Capital. They raise money to buy the stock of a failing company. Then they go in and hopefully fix things up so it becomes a successful company. If it can’t be made successful, then they salvage the company and sell it off, just like you’d sell your car to a junkyard which would take the car apart and try to make as much money as possible from the parts.

In the first place, additional money flows into the pockets of the shareholders who leave the company. Bain must pay more than the company is worth to buy enough shares to take it over. That is a net benefit to you, because your company or insurance or bank may own quite a few shares of the failing company. Cha-ching!

In the second place, Bain may restore the company to profitability. If your bank or insurance company or payroll company held shares in the company, then Cha-ching!

Or maybe the company is sold for parts. In this case, the stockholders actually make a positive return, because the company is paid more than it’s worth. Cha-ching!

Let’s suppose you had no connection whatsoever with the company. That doesn’t matter. The additional wealth made from the takeover ends up funding companies you are invested in.

It’s impossible to track every economic transaction made every day. What can be said is that as long as the transactions are made with good knowledge and freely, every transaction creates wealth, both for the seller and the buyer. Bain Capital simply looks for particular kinds of transactions that would be profitable both for them and their takeover targets, and executes on them. The fact that they are done with knowledge and out of free will means that wealth is created, despite the fact that it isn’t much better than a junkyard buying a car that can no longer be driven.

If you don’t get this, you’re a communist stooge. A stooge, I say, because you are not intelligent enough to realize how the communist movement and ideology is using you. If you’re reaction is to deny the label communist and apply “liberal” or “socialist” or whatever else, then you’re still a communist stooge, so stupid to be incapable of realizing that you are a stooge. That’s a classic stooge.

Romney: Fire them!

April 18, 2012

Romney has already started acting as if he were president. Responding to the Secret Service scandal in Colombia, his knee-jerk reaction was: “Fire them!” (link)

This is the completely sane response. When someone abuses their power, they no longer have any right to that power.

What’s interesting is the response from the left: The agents weren’t responsible for their actions (Colombian prostitutes are too attractive), the agents shouldn’t be held accountable for a minor moral lapse (prostitution is no crime), the agents should be given a chance to redeem themselves (we should not judge others; forgive first).

These are all the wrong answers.

If people are not held accountable for the things they do, then they won’t act responsibly. In my line of work, if I write crappy code that causes damage, I am held responsible. There is no forgetting of past lapses. After all, if the site’s down, and revenue isn’t flowing into the company, people will lose their job. In the case of the secret service agents, they engaged in an activity that could compromise the life of the person they were sworn to protect. That’s a much weightier crime than bankrupting a company.

Prostitution is not a minor moral lapse, and even minor moral lapses such as overlooking a small thing should not be held lightly. On the scale of stupid things to do with your free time, soliciting prostitutes is way near the top. I hopefully don’t have to expound why, but inevitably, there are readers who are so morally broken they cannot understand why it is such a serious matter. Put simply, sexual relationships create life, and sexual relationships outside of marriage have the potential of creating life outside of marriage. At the very least, it breaks the hearts of the spouses and children, and sets a dangerous moral pattern that can overthrow entire civilizations. I am sure the agents knew that prostitution was not a good idea. It is certainly against the military code of conduct.

Even minor moral lapses, such as overlooking someone who doesn’t attend to their duties, or ignoring a few dollars that go missing, can lead to bigger problems. If you handle minor moral lapses before they become serious, you never have serious moral lapses.

Redemption is a complicated topic. We can’t simply go around ignoring people’s behavior and giving them a second chance when there are better people lined up ready to take the job. When you have a job opening, you take the best person for the job, and lapses of judgment move you down the list of qualified people for your job. The Secret Service is supposed to be the elite of the elite, the group of men who have shown themselves to be absolutely honorable and trustworthy, and without any entanglements that might cause a conflict of interest. It is also a ceremonial position, one of the highest honors a marine corpsman can hope to achieve, much as standing guard at the various memorials. If any member of these positions of highest honor act even the least bit way dishonorably, the honor of the position demands that they be replaced.

Mitt Romney will be known as the “You’re Fired” president. That’s what he did at failing companies. He went in, took names, kicked butt, and turned things around. Everyone who acts responsibly should look forward to having him as the commander in chief.

Let me tell you, in the federal government, we need a whole lot of people fired.

Taxes Hurt the Poor the Most (The Rich can Flee)

April 17, 2012

Reuters: More US citizens and legal residents are leaving the US over tax issues.

Liberals argue that using the tax system as a form of “Robin Hood” economic policy is a good idea. Conservatives argue that it’s a terrible idea.

Why is it a bad idea? Because the inevitable target of the taxes, the rich, are able to modify their behavior or flee. Tell me: Have you ever seen a rich person become poor due to taxes? Of course not.

Taxes inevitably end up hurting the poor.

  1. The poor tend to be more ignorant about tax policy, and come tax time, end up paying.
  2. The poor are not as mobile as the rich, and end up caught in bad tax systems while the rich flee.
  3. The poor rely on the rich providing them with handouts and jobs, which dry up when taxes are too high.
  4. The income tax is a tax on getting rich, not a tax on the rich, and so the poor stay poor.

Conservatives want a fairer tax system, a tax system that gives the poor as much as an advantage as the rich.

  1. A simple tax code means even those with little time or mental capacity can effectively weigh their economic decision, and make decisions that favor themselves rather than the government.
  2. A low tax rate, the lowest in the world, means there is no economic incentive to flee, and every economic incentive to come to America.
  3. With taxes low, not only people but investment capital will flow into our country, giving the poor opportunities to get rich that would not exist.
  4. With taxes low, the poor will be very mobile on the economic ladder, since there will be no tax keeping them poor.

Liberals would like people to believe that if the government doesn’t do it, it doesn’t get done. What backwards thinking! Government is corrupt, the very definition of corruption. Government works by force, not persuasion. When government grows, freedoms are lost. This is exactly what we need less of in our society today.

Especially in the charity sector of our economy! What horrible thinking that no one will “pay their fair share” and help the poor on their own? What horrible thinking that only the devastating power of state coercion can cause people to do what needs to be done to help their neighbor! If we lived in such a society, it would be worse than living in hell.

That’s not the America I know. America is powered by volunteers at every level doing what needs to be done not for personal gain but for the benefit of their family, friends and neighbors. A tax code that punishes people for getting rich, that teaches people that it is not their job to look after the needy, that teaches people that they must turn to the awful power of the state to obtain generosity and compassion—that is the very opposite of the American spirit that makes us special and unique.

If you care for the poor, you’ll want to lower taxes for all. If you care for the sick, the hungry, the needy, you’ll want to join the conservative movement in keeping government limited and small and well apart from charity.

Don’t Read the Salon for Mormon Doctrine

April 16, 2012

The Salon hopelessly tries to attack Mitt Romney based on LDS doctrine. (link)

They fail, hopelessly.

First, the full context of Samuel the Lamanite. See http://www.lds.org/scriptures/bofm/hel/13.21?lang=eng#20

Behold ye, the people of this great city, and hearken unto my words; yea, hearken unto the words which the Lord saith; for behold, he saith that ye are cursed because of your riches, and also are your riches cursed because ye have set your hearts upon them, and have not hearkened unto the words of him who gave them unto you.

Even a casual reading of this passage says why they are cursed: they set their heart on their riches. In the modern LDS church, a poor person can sin in this way as much as a rich person. Paying your 10% and “laboring in the vineyard” religiously is a good way to keep your perspective of things. Mormons, including Mitt Romney, likely spend a great deal of time actually working with their hands and time to help people in need. Just yesterday I visited two people who needed my help, but not in a money way.

The Salon article continues:

In 6 BC, as the story goes, somewhere on the American continent, the inhabitants of this mythic city had grown decadent. There were extreme class divisions. Politicians were corrupt. The government disregarded the sick and poor.

The disregarding of the sick and poor is not what you may first think. The Nephite government never, ever gave even a tiny amount of assistance to the poor. The rich were called to help the poor, and the church might have helped coordinate that. But the government was condemned for giving preference to the rich because of their riches, and ignoring the poor and the sick in their legal needs. The Law of Moses was the law of the Nephite government, and there were specific condemnations for judges who refused to hear the case of the sick, the poor, and the widows.

God had called Samuel to essentially Occupy Zarahemla, to stand up and speak out against corporate greed and wealth accumulation.

This is plain silly. God called Samuel to deliver a message, and that was all. There were no corporations recorded in the Nephite country. They lived the Law of Moses and the Law of Moses doesn’t have any provisions for incorporation. The Occupy Movement is nothing like what Samuel the Lamanite did, not even a little bit. Yes, he spoke against people who put their hearts on their riches, but he didn’t assault their police or poop in their parks.

The mention of “environmental upheavals” seems to bring in the topic of Global Warming into the debate. The Nephites were a superstitious people by our standard. They believed it was God that caused the stars and the storms and the earthquakes and disasters. In fact, it was the lack of superstition by the time of Jesus’ death that condemned many Nephites to die. They had grown so accustomed to seeing the prophecies of God fulfilled word-for-word that they came to believe that there was no power of prophecy at all. This does remind you of this day, but not the LDS church.

It’s an ontological dilemma facing every millionaire Mormon.

Mormon doctrine is entirely clear on this matter. There is no dilemma. We work as hard as we can, make as much money as we want to, without neglecting our family, church, and civic duties. What we earn is ours to do with as we please, beyond the 10% of tithing. We are asked to donate generously to the Fast Offering fund, and we are asked to do good in our communities. In today’s economic climate, doing good is as simple as depositing your money in a bank, or buying stock or investing in startups. This money goes to help people who need it more than you do at the time.

The Church does not support and will never support handouts. We always attach strings to the handouts. Why? Because freeloading is not acceptable in Zion. Everyone must work, even the rich. I am sure, again, that Mitt Romney was out there doing the menial labor that every other member of the church does. I’ve worked with the very rich and the very poor, doing the same things they do in the church. There is no class distinction. We do not treat the rich any differently than we do the poor. We do not allow them the luxury of thinking they are better because they have money and others do not. Their money is for them to bless their lives and the lives of the people around them. We are taught also not to covet, to wish to take things from people to make it our own. That is a gross crime and sin against nature as well.

Mitt Romney and City Creek represent the culmination of a great transformation within Mormonism.

The church has always had the rich and has always been involved in expensive real estate ventures, almost from day one. The Book of Mormon was printed using a rich person’s money who joined the church as a founding member. The Kirtland Temple was an extravagant structure built in frontier land inhabited by Indians and nothing but a few settlers. Again in Missouri, and again in Nauvoo, the church undertook expensive real estate projects to brighten the frontier and build a community worth living in. In Salt Lake, from day one, the plans were made for what could have been the most ambitious building at that time, the Salt Lake Temple that took forty years to complete. In addition, the layout for a bustling city was begun with the church behind the project.

Joseph Smith would definitely approve. It is our job as stewards of the earth to beautify it and to use its natural resources for our benefit. We have rich among us because we are righteous, and because we take care of the poor and because we make sure that everyone who is willing to work can find a decent job. We inspire people to get as much education as they can, to stay out of debt, to live within their means. Being rich is one of many goals every Mormon should have. Although many will not obtain material wealth, we should work and plan and save to become financially secure, aka, rich.

Ironically, while Romney would prefer to discuss wealth inequality in “quiet rooms,” the topic consumed both Joseph Smith and Brigham Young’s sermons and writings. For a short time in the Book of Mormon, the Nephites abandoned their love of riches and established “Zion” — a classless utopia that “had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor, but they were all made free.”

There is no irony here. Romney’s goal is likely the establishment of Zion, just as my goal and Smith and Young’s goals were.

The Mormon concept of Zion is entirely foreign to those outside the church. It is literally beyond their imagination. Smith taught that Zion could only be built by a people who attended to their church duties, observed the Sabbath, and worked hard, along with keeping all the sacred commandments. If a people do this, then they can join together in an economic unity called the United Order. We do not practice the United Order (because we could not keep it if we tried — we are not yet pure in heart enough),  but we know exactly how it would work. I don’t know any Mormon that doesn’t wish they could join in such an order.

This is how the United Order worked.

First, those who wanted to join had to make sacred covenants with God to keep the order. They gave all of their property to the bishop, and likely working with the bishop, received property they would own outright.

Members of the order owned what they had. There is no leasing. (One of the early bishops ignored Smith’s express orders on this topic.) If you want to leave the order, you keep what you owned. No harm, no foul.

Within the order, things behave almost exactly like they do in a free market system. You work, you make money, you buy what you need, and you generally try to do well for yourself. The difference is your surplus. You take all of the surplus that you make and give it to the bishop, who then distributes it out to whomever needs it.

One of the problems with capitalism is people stop working when they have enough. Under the United Order, you try to be as productive as possible so you can benefit the people around you as much as possible. You can never make enough under the United Order, because you don’t rely on your surplus to establish your future.

We are promised that if we live worthy enough to begin the United Order again, that when we do start it, we’ll be so productive and wealthy that the outside world looking in will envy us. I can see this happening. It happened on more than one occasion in the Book of Mormon, where the righteous people probably lived the United Order on more than one occasion. Mormons who look to the millenium do not imagine slogging out life in the mud, barely able to put a square meal together. No, our buildings will all be encrusted with gigantic gems of the most precious nature, and the surface of the earth will be ornamented with the most extravagant gardens. How can we have these things unless we are so brilliantly productive that the idea of putting a gem on the side of a building seems like a good one, or devoting immense time and energy on building and maintaining a garden is seen as a proper use of resources? Any such people will have completely eliminated all forms of poverty, including sickness and ignorance.

Note that the church becomes the center for economic activity. Outside of the free market, the church is the nexus where all charity is done. If you need something, go see the bishop. If you have surplus, go give it to the bishop. It is apparent that the church would build universities and science foundations and hospitals and markets all for the purpose of benefiting everyone with these resources. The church will be the foundation for almost every other facet of our lives.

Young’s plan for building up the saints into the United Order is not the United Order. The experiments they did in places like Orderville do not describe the same kind of environment that the scriptures and Smith prophesied of, and the people at the time knew it. Young’s plan to feed the hungry and tend to the sick and educate the ignorant is the same plan and mission we have today. Why do you think the church spends considerable time helping its youth prepare for college, and why do we build colleges across the country? Why does it administer the perpetual education fund? Smith and Young’s vision has not changed today. We would feel just as comfortable as listening to them lecture on helping the needy as we do today.

The LDS church is deadset against government charity. When the ideas were first formed, the LDS presidents decried them as tools of the devil and the path to slavery. Although the church today has incorporated government welfare into its resources, it is well understood that if you are on welfare, you are doing something wrong. If it were possible, we would handle all the cases ourselves. As it is, the saints are no longer able to afford it, because of the burden of taxes and regulation, along with the enticement of free money for people who do not work.

The Book of Mormon speaks about this. Were we to live under wicked King Noah, who taxed his people mercilessly to fund his extravagant building plan and alcoholic addiction and standing army, we would have far more freedom than we do today under our current government! The people of Israel rebelled against their king who demanded 10% of their time. Our situation is more comparable to the people of Alma who were enslaved by the Lamanites and held captive and had half their property taken away. Were we free from this oppression, we would have more than enough to see to it that no one in our communities would have to ever talk to the government for charitable aid.

But how would the poor fare under the first Mormon president? By all accounts, not well.  Romney has eagerly endorsed Paul Ryan’s budget plan to slash $3.3 trillion from programs that benefit low-income Americans. Furthermore, Romney refuses to consider increased taxes on millionaires or a modest increase on the taxable rates of capital gains. He encourages the wealthy to hoard their riches while the poor continue to struggle. It’s a familiar story he should know. Samuel the Lamanite continues to cry out to Romney in sacred protest, “The day shall come when they shall hide up their treasures, because they have set their hearts upon riches; cursed be they and also their treasures.”

This is communist pablum, pure and simple. Taxes hurt the poor, not the rich. The rich will be fine after taxes. The poor see prices go up, services go down, and are not educated well enough to avoid tax increases. Romney does not hoard his wealth, and does not ask anyone to hoard their wealth. Romney’s money is at work right now, helping the poor. We know, for a fact, that government money spent on charity does more to hurt the poor than never collecting the money in the first place would.

If Romney had his heart set on his treasure, he wouldn’t run for president. He wouldn’t donate 10% of his income to the church. He wouldn’t be hiring people to work on his houses. He’d be making plans to make a billion or more, and finding ways to cheat other people out of their wealth. That’s not what he is about, and the Salon knows it.

I hope this isn’t the last attack born of ignorance of Mormon doctrine. I’m glad I have the chance to explain what we really  believe and practice. If you line up the Salon’s idea of the ideal society vs. the Mormon one, and gave people the chance to seriously contemplate it, they would choose the Mormon one every time. Yes, it looks remarkably similar to the American dream. Well, the Mormon dream came first, or rather was a product of the same elements that lead to the American dream. What do the Salon writers imagine to be our dream? A communist utopia where you have to line up to get your government money and beg the government for lenience? Sorry, I’d rather live in Zion than that society.