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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

USATODAY links to Op-Ed on prayer and patriotism

I was interested to see that my recent Op-Ed in the Salt Lake Tribune dealing with prayer and patriotism was published in the University of Utah topic section of USATODAY. I have received a great deal of unsolicited response to this article and hope that it can contribute to the discussion on illegal immigration. While prayer (or belief in God) is not required to show patriotism, prayer can in fact be a patriotic act - regardless of the language in which it is offered.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Prayer shows patriotism - in English or Spanish

On July 4, 2010, the closing prayer at a Hyrum, Utah celebration was offered by a Spanish minister - in Spanish. The event elicited a number of letters to the local newspaper claiming that it was unpatriotic to offer a prayer in Spanish. I offer this Op-Ed in the Salt Lake Tribune and suggest that prayer can be a very patriotic gesture - regardless of the language in which it is offered.

Link to Op-Ed in the Salt Lake Tribune

Friday, July 16, 2010

Alison Peek Asks About Utah's Closed GOP Primary

Several weeks ago, I published an Op-Ed in the Salt Lake Tribune which dealt with a choice I made not to vote in Utah's GOP primary. I recognized the severity of the consequences, but made a conscious decision for a specific reason. I was interested to see that Alison Peek of the Salt Lake City Political Buzz Examiner used my story as a catalyst for a recent article.

Link to Article in the Salt Lake City Political Buzz Examiner

Awareness Is A Valuable Commodity

A Salt Lake City radio host recently covered a variety of topics in his three-hour program. He mused aloud in the final hour why people are so quick to call in with opinions about Mel Gibson's latest debacle or the immigration fervor that is increasing in its intensity, yet few people have an opinion about matters of international human rights. I took his question, rhetorical though it may have been, and pondered on it. I share some of my thoughts in an Op-Ed in the July 26, 2010 edition of the Deseret News.

Link to Op-Ed

Monday, July 12, 2010

Drug Tests for the Unemployed

Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah is proposing an amendment to the tax extenders bill which would require mandatory drug testing for those seeking new unemployment and welfare benefits. He recently responded to an editorial I published in the Deseret Morning News and asked a number of questions about alleged flaws in this amendment. Given the economic implications involved, I would like to take this opportunity to address his questions.

First, would the passage of this amendment actually increase crime rates rather than lessen the number of drug users around the country? In short, it is very likely that such would be the case. Senator Hatch argues that “certainly there will be a good proportion of the population who will self-identify their problem and seek treatment options.” This is not necessarily the case. Most substance abuse treatment professionals do not believe that money is enough of an incentive to break the cycle of addiction. Study after study shows that when drug users don’t have access to a typical source of income, they turn to property crime to obtain the necessary funds to feed their addictions. From a historical perspective, crime rates do tend to increase during times of economic recession. Although the current recession is an anomaly in that aspect, this much can be said: the lack of welfare funds is not likely a significant deterrent to drug abuse.

Second, what do we do when individuals seeking welfare assistance actually test positive for substance abuse? Senator Hatch asks if it is not a good thing to create a policy that leads more individuals to seek treatment for their addictions. His question skirts around the issue. Yes, it is a good thing to know who needs help. The data obtained from the passage of this amendment would be very valuable. But what do we do with those who we identify as drug users? In Utah, the state utilizes 19 different treatment facilities. While the demand for their services continues to increase, their budgets continue to be cut; there is already greater need than there are resources. Perhaps the rest of the country is different in this regard and has adequate funding for state treatment centers, but I doubt it. Yes, it is good to identify those who need help. But if there are no resources to treat them, what lasting good will come from denying them access to welfare funds?

Third, Senator Hatch utilizes statistics from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA) to illustrate that “we simply cannot afford to do nothing.” He is right. In fact, the latest statistics from CASA show that the drug problem is even more serious than the Senator suggested. We cannot afford to do nothing. But at least in Utah, we have also not been able to afford what we have already been doing. This amendment is not “a modest first step” as the Senator states. Rather, it is a one-mile stretch of an already-long highway which is running increasingly short on funds.

So what is to be done? The Senator inferred that he was open to criticism if “prescriptive solutions or ideas” were offered to help those who suffer from the effects of substance abuse. While there are numerous criminal justice programs which have already proven effective, individual states have chosen to cut funding for these programs. It is therefore something of a moot point to discuss alternatives.

Accordingly, I suggest the following modifications to the Senator’s amendment if it retains its original goals to better use the taxpayer dollar and to help those who suffer from substance abuse. First, institute random drug tests instead of tests at the beginning of the welfare process. A simple Google search will show any drug user how to test clean for any substance with advanced warning. Second, provide federal funding to support 100% of the outstanding need for drug treatment services in all states and territories which would be impacted by the amendment. Third, provide federal funding to support both the anticipated cost of random drug testing and the projected need for additional treatment services. The costs associated with these modifications would be enormous, but they would enable the amendment to the tax extenders bill to achieve its objectives.

Unless modifications are made to the amendment, it is not likely to achieve its objectives. Crimes rates could potentially increase. Drug users would likely not be deterred in great numbers. And most importantly, those who were found to test positive would  have only modest access to treatment because of lack of funding. The goals behind this amendment are solid and commendable. But it would be irresponsible for any Senator to vote for its passage without providing the resources necessary to reach its objectives.

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Ten Commandments and the Death Penalty

The execution of Ronnie Lee Gardner on June 18, 2010, elicited protests from groups and individuals who oppose the death penalty. In the process, the Ten Commandments were used out of context in support of an anti-capital punishment position.

Rocky Anderson, former Mayor of Salt Lake, stated that the Ten Commandments were meant to be commandments and not merely suggestions. He further emphasized, quoting from the Book of Exodus: “Thou shalt not kill.”

The point which Mayor Anderson was likely trying to make is that to kill a killer is still to kill. This viewpoint is held by many who oppose the death penalty. They ask how we can discourage homicide when we espouse its use by our criminal justice system. An old adage says that you can’t teach a child not to hit by hitting. For opponents of capital punishment, the same principle applies: you can’t teach someone not to kill by killing.

The problem with an issue such as the death penalty is that evidence is sometimes taken out of context to enhance the emotional aspect of an argument. In particular, Rocky Anderson’s example of the Ten Commandments fails to consider the totality of the Law of Moses which was practiced during the times referenced in the Old Testament. The Law of Moses was a form of theocratic government. It is true that one of the Ten Commandments reads, “Thou shalt not kill.” But it is also true that the next chapter of Exodus goes on to prescribe capital punishment for a number of offenses. The context of the Ten Commandments clearly shows that while murder was forbidden during the time of Moses, it was also punishable by death.

Capital punishment is a sensitive issue. Strong arguments can be made—and have long been made—on each side of the debate. Rocky Anderson brings up an incredibly valid point when he infers that killing is killing, no matter who carries out the deed. The philosophical implications of capital punishment are profound and have tried the intellect of great thinkers across the world. The reality of capital punishment is even weightier, and tries not the intellect alone, but also the hearts of those involved. It could be said that there is nothing more sacred in life than life itself. It is therefore no surprise that the enforcement of the death penalty would generate a tremendous amount of passion and debate.

There are numerous and valid reasons for supporting either side of the death penalty issue. However, an issue of such importance deserves to have arguments which provide evidence in its proper context. Many a war has been fought by focusing on various biblical passages at the expense of setting aside the context. There is even debate today over the meaning of certain passages in the Koran which has given way to violence on a global scale. Controversy and holy writ often seem to be firmly intertwined. And yet to ignite passion by ignoring context is irresponsible. Yes, the Ten Commandments state, “Thou shalt not kill.” Yet the Ten Commandments are only ten out of 613 commandments found in the Law of Moses. And the violation of some of those commandments was punishable by death.

The death penalty is a sensitive issue which rightly demands our respect. While persuasive arguments can be found on either side of the capital punishment aisle, it is only ethical to take context into consideration when arguing for or against the death penalty.