counter fast against Romney

Mitt Romney
Now this would be a fun face to see during the debates.

Apparently there is an unofficial movement in the LDS Church to fast for Mitt Romney on September 30th so he’ll do well in the debates against Obama. While I’m inclined to think that Mitt actually coming up with some solid positions may help him more, I think it would be fun for MSP to sponsor a counter fast so Mitt will do poorly in the debates against Obama, you know, just to cancel out some of that “spiritual” mojo that may be flowing his way. Of course, since it is a “counter fast” and not an actual “fast”, I think that actually means you are to be gluttonous on September 30th, all the while being deeply engaged in non-prayer in order to send negative energy toward Mitt Romney. Or, of course, if you’re a devout Mormon who opposes Romney (for reasons like he’s a bad Mormon who hates poor people), you could genuinely fast. I think we need an official name for our counter fast, though. Something like: “Fast to Flub Mitt”. Suggestions?

Oh, and in case you hadn’t heard, LDS Inc. backed down in the effort to excommunicate David Twede over Mormonthink.com. Lest any question remains about who is running LDS Inc. these days, the answer is, of course, the PR Department.

Mitt Romney’s Funny Math

So, Mitt Romney released his 2011 tax return. The newspapers report that Mitt and Ann Romney engineered their tax return to show that he paid 14.1% of his income in taxes. The primary mechanism employed to engineer their tax return, according to the press reports, was to not claim all the charitable deductions Mitt and Ann could have claimed. Reportedly, the Romneys donated $4 million to various charities (I wonder which charities?) in 2011. Although they could have claimed a $4 million charitable contribution, the Romneys only claimed $2.5 million in charitable deductions on their return. By doing so, they increased their tax rate to 14.1%. A press release was then issued reporting their effective tax rate.

My prediction: the first item on Romneys to-do list, whether he wins the election or not, is to file an amended tax return the day after the election, claiming the entire $4 million of charitable contributions, and getting a big fat refund from the IRS that will reduce his effective tax rate to about 10.5%.

But thats not all . . . the Romneys released a summary of their taxes for the past 20 years, showing that their average tax rate over that time period had never fallen below 13.66%. I love math problems involving average rates. Average rates can mean anything.

For example, Billy the Hillbilly wants to go to school. The school is 3 miles away. The first mile involves climbing over a mountain with lots of boulders, etc. Over this mile, Billy can only walk 2 miles per hour. After the first mile, Billy comes to a river. There is a path along the river for another mile. While walking along the river, Billy can walk 3 miles per hour. Finally, Billy comes to a road. Billy walks the final mile to school over the road, and can walk 4 miles per hour. What is Billys average speed while walking to school? If you answer 3 miles per hour, Mitt Romney may have tricked you into voting for him (the correct answer is approximately 2.769 miles per hour).

Heres the thing: Romneys summary doesnt tell us much at all. For the first several years of that average rate, Mitt Romney may have been climbing over a number of tax boulders. Paying 18% on $10,000 of income one year, and 10% on $1 million of income the next year, does not mean Romney paid an average tax rate of around 14%. The truth can only be ascertained by examining the details of every tax return for all 20 years. My guess is hell never let us do that.

Any more than hell let us see his underwear.

Mitt Romney – a typical Mormon?

I caught a rather interesting letter-to-the-editor in the SLTrib taking Mormons to task for disregarding their own scripture. The letter basically noted that the Book of Mormon condemns those who despise the poor. Here are the relevant cites from the Book of Mormon:

2 Nephi 9:30

But wo unto the rich, who are rich as to the things of the world. For because they are rich they despise the poor, and they persecute the meek, and their hearts are upon their treasures; wherefore, their treasure is their god. And behold, their treasure shall perish with them also.

3 Nephi 6:12

And the people began to be distinguished by ranks, according to their riches and their chances for learning; yea, some were ignorant because of their poverty, and others did receive great learning because of their riches.

Mosiah 4: 16-19

And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish.Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are justBut I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God.For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind?

 

Now contrast that with what Mitt Romney said when he didn’t think the cameras were rolling (from MotherJones):

Romney: There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what. And I mean, the president starts off with 48, 49, 48he starts off with a huge number. These are people who pay no income tax. Forty-seven percent of Americans pay no income tax. So our message of low taxes doesn’t connect. And he’ll be out there talking about tax cuts for the rich. I mean that’s what they sell every four years. And so my job is not to worry about those peopleI’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.

 

Is Mitt Romney a bad Mormon? Or is this typical for Mormons – focus on the parts of the Book of Mormon you like (e.g., Jesus came to America and Moroni’s promise) and ignore the parts you don’t (dark skin is a curse and don’t demean the poor)?

David Twede and looking for a powerpoint

Apparently LDS Inc. isn’t fond of MormonThink.com. David Twede, the lead editor there, is being summoned for a disciplinary council September 30th. Since I don’t live too far away, I’m happy to go protest. Feel free to think of other creative ways to express your thoughts on this.

Also, apparently some LDS leaders are walking a fine line between advocating for Mitt Romney and encouraging voting in Nevada. A powerpoint is circulating. If anyone has seen it, I’m happy to post it on here to share it with the world. Send it to me at: profxm@gmail.com.

news roundup – Mitt’s coffee; more openish books; weird birthday bashes

I’ve been out of town hiking in the Rockies without internet access and now that I’m back and going through my backlog of news, a bunch of interesting stories have grabbed my attention.

First, there’s news that Mitt Romney is fine with coffee-flavored ice cream. I’ve seen lengthy debates over caffeinated sodas, hot chocolate, and herbal tea as to whether or not they run afoul of the Word of Wisdom, but I’ve never seen a discussion of coffee-flavored ice cream. It’s technically not a hot drink, and the word of wisdom says nothing about caffeine or ice cream. I think coffee-flavored ice cream is in. Thoughts?

Just how orthodox is Mitt?

Second, apparently if enough news sources raise questions about Mormon finances and keep reiterating how miserly the religion is when it comes to charitable work, LDS Inc. feels an inclination to respond and kind of, sort of, open the black box just a little bit. The powers that be put together a flowery, effluent, paean to Mormon charitable work on mormonnewsroom.org. Anyone care to dissect what’s included?

Third, in a seeming contradiction to their humble efforts to shower the world with Mormon charity, just a week earlier LDS Inc. held a mega birthday bash for the top dog, Thomas Monson. I don’t get this. Really, I don’t. Mormons don’t worship their prophet (so they say, over and over again, and so says their doctrine). But then they throw this mega-bash with tens of thousands of onlookers, gobs of musical numbers, a variety of video clip dedications, etc. Perhaps this didn’t cost that much, but it no doubt cost thousands of dollars, probably tens of thousands, when you consider the security involved, the time spent filming and rehearsing, etc. What gives? If Monson is the humble voice of the Lord, why does he need a mega birthday bash? I’m asking that in all sincerity. This wasn’t common when I was a member. I don’t recall EBT birthday bashes. Was I just not on the guest list and therefore oblivious?

The humble servant of the Lord’s Chosen at his birthday bash observed by tens of thousands.

How Dare They: The Romneys’ Sense of Entitlement

I am not really tuned in to the presidential election. Not as I think I should be. I am, after all, a bit of a political junkie. But I listen to the news on NPR, and I catch the headlines on the Internet, the New York Times, Huffington Post, the Salt Lake Tribune, and other premier news outlets and call it good. Or at least as good as its going to be.

One thing I have been struck by so far in this election is the Romneys sense of entitlement. For example, when people started questioning why the Romneys were not releasing more tax returns, Ann Romneys response was: Weve given all people need to know and understand about our financial situation and about how we live our life. And so the election, again, will not be decided on that. [It] will be decided on who is going to turn the economy around and how are jobs going to come back to America.

Hmmm. Ann Romney has decided what the American people need to know. (And how dare those nasty Democrats challenge what she and her husband have decided is what the American people need to know.)

Then there was the recent tit for tat between the Obama and Romney campaigns. From a recent USA Today story, we read:

Vice President Biden, criticizing Republican deregulation policies, told a crowd in Virginia on Tuesday that Romney ‘s approach would “put y’all back in chains.”

Later, during a speech in Ohio, Romney said Biden’s comments reflected “an angry and desperate presidency.” The Republican challenger added, “Mr. President, take your campaign of division and anger and hate back to Chicago.”

That drew this retort from Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt: “Governor Romney’s comments tonight seemed unhinged and particularly strange coming at a time when he’s pouring tens of millions of dollars into negative ads that are demonstrably false.”

(Biden said there was no hidden meaning in his use of the word “chains,” noting that Republicans have been pledging to “unshackle” businesses.)

Romney did not back off today, telling CBS This Morning, “The president’s campaign is all about division and attack and hatred — unhinged would have to characterize what we’ve seen from the president’s campaign.”

As I listened to the stories coming across NPR, the thoughts that came into my mind were these: This is not about Mitt and Ann Romney being members of a privileged wealthy class of Americans who look down with distain upon ordinary Americans who need to be told whats best for them. This is really about Mitt and Ann Romney being Mormons and believing that they are not answerable to others for their actions and believing that they are not accountable to a common standard, but to a higher standard which they alone understand.

How dare others impugn their integrity? The Romneys believe that they have acted with integrity, that they have disclosed all they need to disclose, and how dare others impugn their actions and their decisions, and most importantly their integrity. If its one thing Mormons like the Romneys take issue with, its with others impugning their intergrity.

How dare they?

 

Book Review: Could I Vote for a Mormon for President?

Mormon for President Book CoverReview of Could I Vote for a Mormon for President? An Election Year Guide to Mitt Romneys Religion, by Ryan T. Cragun and Rick Phillips, July 2012, Strange Violin Editions (strangeviolineditions.com).

Could I Vote for a Mormon for President? is a well-written, thoughtful, fair, and balanced appraisal of the Mormon religion and the role it may, and more importantly should, play in deciding whether to vote for Mitt Romney for president of the United States. Its also a book in search of an audience it will probably never find. Why? Because its presumed audience is people who may not vote for Romney because of his religion. As Cragun and Phillips admit themselves, in real terms, this is a fairly narrow segment of the population: mostly evangelical Christians (and possibly some Catholics, if my own experience as a Mormon missionary in South Texas is any guide) who have been indoctrinated by their religious leadership to believe that Mormonism is a cult. Or, to put it another way, people who likely believe that the Earth was created in six dayspeople not known for embracing the rational, or views that are fair and balanced outside of the context of Fox News. One can always hope, though, that theres a segment of the citizenry that, wishing to be well informed before exercising their democratic rights, might be willing to learn.

Cragun and Phillips are up front about their own backgrounds and political views: theyre both formerly active, faithful Mormons who have since left the Mormon church, and neither of them intends to vote for Mitt Romney because they both disagree with his politics. Theyre both sociologists, and that fact obviously informs their approach and tone.

That out of the way, they proceed to tackle the controversial questions that repeatedly arise in the public sphere about Mormonism. In order, the subjects they tackle: cultishness, Christianity, history, polygamy, temples, garments, Word of Wisdom, missionaries, Kolob, King Follet Discourse, Jesus/Satan sibling rivalry, heaven, the Bible, feminism, abortion, homosexuality, racism, and authority. Their conclusion? No rational person should let any of these reasons stand in the way of voting for a Mormon purely on the basis of religion. Their defense against several of the weirder strains of Mormonism (such as Kolob and temple garments) boils down to this: its really not that much weirder than mainstream Christianity or masonry, when you get right down to it. Which is a perfectly reasonable approach to a sociology professor. Other people, such as the presumed target audience, may take umbrage at the idea that their beliefs are just as weird as Romneys.

While I largely agree with their analysis and conclusions, I think there are a couple of areas where a reasonable person could be concerned by Mitt Romneys religious background: the revelation factor and the apocalypse factor.

In Mormon culture, revelation plays a central role. Mormons are regularly warned about placing the learning of men (an expression that is always derogatory) above their own personal testimonies of the Truth (very much with a capital T). There is a distinct hierarchy of knowledge for a Mormon: the highest level is revelation received by Mormon leaders, starting with prophets and moving on down through the ranks. Revelation, for Mormons, also has reverse chronological precedence–later revelation always trumps earlier revelation. The next layer in the hierarchy of knowledge is ones personal testimony, which constitutes direct revelation from God, via the Holy Ghost, of the correctness of the revelation received by the church leadership (a revelation that the leadership is wrong can only have come from Satan rather than from God). Every other form of knowledge, including science, facts, and even reason, should always be subservient to revelation. My worry is that a Mormon might be more likely to resolve difficult problems through prayer, which is at best a roll of the dice, an appeal to the irrational within oneself, and at worst deeply tainted by religous goals, most of which I, and many Americans, do not share. Im not suggesting that Romney would appeal to the Mormon leadership for guidance, or that the Mormon leadership would reach out to Romney to offer such guidance. This seems highly unlikely (though not impossible). Im more concerned about Romenys internal process, and the way that Mormons have a strong tendency to devalue reason.

The second problem is related to the first, but regarding a very particular area: the Mormon view of the end of the world. Mormons believe that we are very near the End Times. The standard Mormon view is that the history of mankind begins at roughly 4000 B.C. In Mormon theology, as Cragun and Phillips note, God lives on planet where each day is approximately 1000 years, or one millennium. Thus there have now been six millennia of earth history. As with the days of the week, this means earth is now due for its sabbath, a thousand year period known as The Millennium. The bad news is that before the arrival of the Millennium, a lot of bad things have to happen first, some of which are already happening, some of which are still to come. Essentially, Mormons believe that Satan is nearing the apex of his power, and the period immediately preceding The Millennium will be marked by a plethora of disasters, both natural and human, culminating in a cleansing of the earth by fire (a companion piece to Noahs Flood, which was a cleansing of the earth by water).

The United States, in Mormon theology, was raised up specifically by God for the restoration of his one True church, and it also has an important role to play in the End Times. Ditto Israel, and Jerusalem in particular. While not all Mormons agree on all the theological particulars (such as the literal age of the earth), and the teachings have built in caveats (No man knoweth the day and the hour), I think its safe to say that most faithful Mormons believe that the end of the world is very near, and could arrive at any moment. Mormons are fond of nodding knowingly at every bad thing that happens in the news, every one a sign of the times. Id be very surprised if Romney doesnt share this general view. There are a number of ways this view could be bad for a U.S. president to have. For one thing, its an easy justification for ignoring long-term problems like global warming. Why worry about what will happen in 100 or 200 years, when the earth is likely to be wiped clean and rebooted much sooner than that? Of even greater concern to me is mix of Mormon theology and foreign policy regarding Israel. Is a Mormon president likely to make decisions about our support for Israel, and our willingness to get involved in conflicts that have a nuclear component, based on theological considerations?

Neither of these considerations is unique to Mormonism. George Bush, after all, was famously incurious and impervious to facts, and frequently undermined the role of scientists in government decision making. Many Christians share the Mormon view of the end of the world, or something very similar. The lack of uniqueness, however, doesnt diminish the importance of such considerations. In lesser part, this is a quibble I have with some of the other defenses that Cragun and Phillips offer of Mormon views. They several times point to the fact that some criticisms people make of Mormons are not unique to Mormons, but I take small comfort in the idea that the sexism or homophobia likely to pervade a Romney administration cannot be definitively traced to Romneys Mormon background. Cragun and Phillips argue that the important thing is Romneys politics. It is the nature of politicians, though, and Romney more than most, to equivocate, to refuse to be pinned down about actual policy, or worse, to present conflicting, but politically expedient, views to different audiences. In the absence of solid information about what Romney would do as president, I think its fair to examine his Mormon background for clues.

On the whole, though, I find Craguns and Phillipss arguments to be compelling. Mormonism, in its modern form, falls solidly within the American mainstream. Romney does not have some hidden Mormon agenda. The policies a person could object to that may have some basis in his Mormon upbringing are all in plain sight. Theres no good reason to be worried about the possible impact of Mitt Romneys religion when there are so many better reasons to fear the prospect of a Romney presidency.

Mormons and the Beltway

Here’s a long CNN article on the growing Mormon influence in the Beltway. Pretty much an all-purpose article on the intersection of Mormon and politics from the time of Joseph Smith to now.

Heres a section that seems interesting to discuss:

Mormon experts say the churchs support for a relatively strict separation of church and state is born of the U.S. governments refusal to help Mormons in the face of early persecution.

And after being accused of setting up a rival government around the turn of the last century, the church is loath to be seen giving marching orders to LDS politicians.

The church did, however, play a leading role in passing Prop 8, Californias gay marriage ban, in 2008. Church officials called it a moral cause, not a political one.

Plenty of critics disagree. But neither Mormon bishops nor church officials are known to lead the kind of church-based legislative lobbying efforts that Catholic bishops or evangelical leaders do.

I would argue that since the 1980s, when Mormons started entering the government en masse — that while the lobbying isnt born from the LDS hierarchy — its still church-based given how Mormon culture functions. The top tiers of LDS hierarchy are considered directly connected to God. Basically, the hierarchy doesnt have to give orders because

The members will go to the hierarchy instead. This other article talks about Romneys frequent travels to Salt Lake when in Massachusetts, making sure he was still in good standing with the Church after having to talk about such things as equality for gays in order to get elected.

From the latter article:

Gordon Hinckley, the president and prophet with decades of ties to the Romney family (he and Mitts father, George, went to high school together), reportedly found the frequency and dithering, as Scott put it, a little tiresome.

heh.

BBC’s This World: The Mormon Candidate

Finally, a Mormon documentary for the rest of us.

Hailed by the creator of the I am an Ex Mormon video series as “my favorite video about Mormonism I have ever seen.”

Part 1: Mitt Romney

Part 2: Mormons

Part 3: Exmormons

Part 4: Prophets

Part 5: Park

Part 6: Pundits

After I get done watching, it’ll be interesting to compare and contrast John Sweeney’s approach with that of Helen Whitney in her earlier PBS documentary The Mormons.

Come to think of it, I’m also going to revisit that France 24 report from a few weeks back:

Exmos popping up everywhere these days, even in Provo, with French cameras rolling! :-)

Oh, and others are discussing Sweeney’s documentary here and I particularly liked the comment over there that begins:

“The thing that makes this documentary amazing isnt the amount it relied on ex-members, but the amount it relied on the LDS Church to be embarrassed about its past, to lie about its past and then finally to admit the claims that were being made.”