Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Youth Leadership Summit: Opening Minds and Lifting Expectations In Utah's Ethnic Community

I had the privilege of attending a Multicultural Youth Leadership Summit hosted by Weber State University.  As a member of the Multicultural Commission, I meet regularly with members of the commission who are stakeholders in Utah's diverse ethnic communities.

A big part of our discussion is about education and how to open children's minds to the opportunities in society to succeed and excel.  The Youth Leadership Summit was a great opportunity to show these kids how they can be successful despite the popular narrative that ethnic minorities can't be.

There were 1,000 kids in the audience today which is a great turnout.  The meeting had a tremendously positive message with some great presenters. 

Our new Lt. Governor Spencer Cox gave a rousing introductory speech about his personal experience.  He first apologized for being "the white guy in a suit".  He described how he was on the wrong road as a youth and through some the care of some mentors was able to change his life, attend school. and make a difference in his community.  It was a well received message by the audience and very poignant.

   Judge Andrew Valdez spoke about his personal story of being mentored as a young man by a stranger he met while selling newspapers.  His story is compelling.  So much so, that it has been put in a book titled No One Makes It Alone.

I strongly encourage you to pick up a copy.  It was great to see the young men and women at this meeting being uplifted by the message.

Truly, we will be whatever we want to be...if we are willing to do what it takes to become it.  Hopefully, these messages of hope will find a home in the hearts of these young people and lift our rising generation.


Monday, October 28, 2013

Reforming Utah's Court Systems - Part 1

I recently presented my proposal to reform Utah's court systems to the Judiciary Interim Committee.  The presentation went well except for the time constraints which limited input from the public on the issue.  Here is the document presentation I gave the committee:


At the conclusion of my presentation, and in reference to the brightly colored charts, Senator Mark Madsen who is Vice Chair of the committee, said " I don't know Rep. Peterson very well.  But based on this presentation, I could't tell if you are an attorney, an economist, or an interior decorator."  I almost took offense.  Nobody has ever accused me of being an attorney before.

You can listen to the entire presentation including a rhetorical rebuttal by the Administrator of the Courts against the proposal.  While his rebuttal was spirited, he did not offer any alternative solutions to the problems discussed in the presentation.  Here is the video (audio only):

The committee was mostly receptive to the idea but again time constraints prevented us from getting into the dollar figures debating idea thoroughly.  We are on November's agenda to discuss the issue further and give the public time to comment.


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Cruelty and Hope: Our Columbus Day Inheritance

I recently read Bartolome de las Casa's classic book A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies.  It is a first-hand account by the Bishop of Chiapas of the depredations and atrocities that descended on the Americas following the arrival of the Spanish.

The account is jaw-dropping as Bartolome details the campaigns that subdued and subjected each country in Central and South America.  For instance, the Conquistadors established a practice of entering cities under pretenses of peace, dining with the leadership of a native kingdom, and then rising up and killing all the nobility during the event.  This decapitated, literally and figuratively, the leadership of the community and put the rest of the population into terror and the control of the Conquistadors.  The remaining population would then be tortured to expose the source of their gold, sold into slavery, or held captive for an even worse fate.

When the people fled to escape this brutality, they typically fled for the mountains.  The Spaniards had brought with them a particularly potent tool for dealing with this problem: the mastiff.  The Spaniards brought these enormous dogs with them and trained them to hunt and consume human flesh.  Many of the natives held captive were used as fresh food for these animals.  While on the hunt, the dogs were set loose to chase down the natives in hiding and devour them.

In one case, a Spaniard ravaging the Guatemalan countryside conquered several villages totaling 20,000 people.  He subjected these people to become his army in his march across the land.  However, he refused to feed them.  Instead, he promised them the meat found on the bones of the armies they defeated.  And thus, the army went about destroying and consuming communities across the country in a scene of endless indescribable horror.

This book has forever changed my world view.  From a historical sense it has illuminated my mind to the importance of our heritage and our histories.  This is especially so when it comes to the founding events that have set countries and nations into existence.  The United States of America was founded by those seeking to create a new life.  The Puritans were seeking to escape religious persecution.  Many more came for economic freedom and opportunity which did not exist in England at the time.

These colonizers of North America came escaping oppression; yet, the Spaniards who descended on Central and South America were the authors of it.  This fact ranks among the greatest of injustices to a people; for it not only affected those alive at the time, but echoes through the generations to the present.

Following the Conquest, a social order was established called the Sistema de la Casta, which institutionalized racism and based economic and social fortunes for individuals on the purity of their Spanish blood.  This system created a pecking order of social standing with Spanish immigrants at the top and indigenous people and African slaves at the bottom.  Though abolished, the effects of this historic practice cast a long and lingering shadow on the culture of countries unlucky enough to have been "settled" by the Spanish.

Today, the economic policies of the Mexican government rely on the United States' goodwill to prevent social upheaval.  In the early 1980's, economic forces put tremendous pressure on Mexico and its currency.  At that time, most of the indigenous poor worked on collective farms run by the government.  Inflation induced by national debt excesses pushed the poor to a breaking point where food and necessities were unaffordable.  To ease the tensions, the Mexican government encouraged its poorest and most oppressed people, people we would recognize today as being at the bottom of their former sistema de la casta, to emigrate to the U.S.  This movement of people saved Mexico from a potentially violent revolution.  Yet, the U.S. was left to absorb the new economic refugees however it could.  This phenomena created pressure within the U.S. and culminated in the 1986 legislation called the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA or "Reagan Amnesty").

Thus, we see an example of how the different histories of two nations, one founded on oppression, and the other founded on freedom, affect how they pursue their own self-interest based on the conscience and values imbued at their founding.  While the IRCA was a bait-and-switch policy failure due to half of the Act going unfunded and unimplemented, as originally written, it reflected rational and reasonable thought on how to balance American ideals of freedom with the reality that our country's capacity to digest and assimilate immigrant populations at any one time is limited.

As we prepare to celebrate Columbus Day, may we take note of our good fortunes in the United States and better understand our neighbors in the Western Hemisphere who wish to have fared as well as we have.    

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Legalize Pot: UtahCARE Loves Nearly Nude Runners and LDS

I don't have TV in my house but there was a rumor on the street that I was mentioned on Channel 4 yesterday.  Sure enough I was.

Elizabeth Osbourne was interviewed and given time to explain what UtahCARE's mission and how they plan to go about collecting signatures at LDS General Conference and during the Undie Run.  The purpose of course is to place an initiative on the ballot to legalize pot in Utah.  In the last 30 seconds of the interview, she blasts my response to an email they sent.  WATCH THE VIDEO HERE.

The House and Senate received a curious email at 1:43AM yesterday morning.  Here is what I received:

Hello Utah lawmakers and representatives! In honor of the 2013 LDS Church General Fall Conference, our group, UtahCARE, will be in the area to answer questions about the benefits of medical marijuana as well as to gather signatures necessary to place the issue up for a vote in 2014. Please see the attached Press Release and consider attending or sending any questions in a response to this e-mail or the contact information located below. Thank you for your time and consideration. UtahCARE Press Release 09302013

Gradi Jordan, Director UtahCARE

Utah Cannabis Awareness, Respect and Education

This email seemed a little odd.  The group was gathering in "honor" of LDS General Conference?  Ironic.  So, to point out the irony, I responded accordingly:

"Uh…so remind me again how your presence and movement honors LDS General Conference?  It's like the Quorum of the Seventy showing up in Nevada to honor Burning Man.  Makes no sense.  For congruity's sake, I suggest meeting in Pioneer Park on April 20th instead."
Of course, April 20th is the "420" holiday widely celebrated in marijuana aficionado circles as a day to light up.  And, Pioneer Park seems to be a popular hang out for those who support the holiday.  So, it only seemed appropriate to direct the petition gatherers to the place and time to achieve the greatest likely success for their efforts.    

Now, for the record, I will never vote to legalize marijuana.  It is a gateway drug and I believe the risks associated with its legalization far out weigh its benefits.  For those Utahn's who want to consume marijuana anyway, I suggest planning a trip to Colorado.