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                                                                                                                                                Bangor Daily News, Monday, February 6, 2012, OpEd A5



 Assad’s fate                                                                                                       ALEXANDRA PETRI

  a crucial                                                                   An IPO bigger than the rapture
                                             J
                                                 esus had better not return to           flatter our face shapes. It is going to   you’re the product. If so, I am the          The company’s unofficial philoso-

  question                                       earth this week. We will be too
                                                 busy with the Facebook IPO to
                                                 deal with Him. “That’s very nice,
                                                                                         find us dates on the Internet who are
                                                                                         neither creepy nor excessively ear-
                                                                                         nest. What penicillin did for medi-
                                                                                                                                   product, and anyone who invests in
                                                                                                                                   Facebook is investing in me — or,
                                                                                                                                   more specifically, in my capacity to
                                                                                                                                                                             phies are “move fast and break
                                                                                                                                                                             things” — which might explain
                                                                                                                                                                             Timeline — and that it’s easier to
                                                 Lord,” we’ll say, escorting Him         cine, the Facebook IPO will do for        click on ads. I should warn investors     beg forgiveness than ask permis-




I
      mperial regimes can crack when         to a chair in the corner. “But we’re        everything else.                          that, while I excel at clicking on ads,   sion.
      they are driven out of their major     looking at an initial stock price of           And I fear that I’m understating       I am less good at buying things after-       Facebook users are the definition
      foreign outposts. The fall of the      $100! Initial! Do you know what that        things.                                   ward.                                     of a captive audience. And with the
      Berlin Wall did not just signal the    means?”                                        I am not sure how Facebook de-            This monetization question is the      failure of a viable alternative to
      liberation of East-                      “Stop talking to Him, He only had         cided to value itself at $5 billion.      big problem of the Social Internet:       emerge in Google(plus)+, things are
ern Europe from Mos-                         11 friends,” someone will shout.            Consider that Facebook contains           Everyone’s here, but how do we make       likely to remain that way for a while.
cow. It prefigured the                       “And 12 subscribers.”                       Farmville and users like my friend        them pay for things without under-        Half the world’s Internet population
collapse of the Soviet                         The Facebook IPO has passed               who updates on an hourly basis to         mining the premise?                       sounds like it should be worth $5 bil-
Union itself just two                        through the stratosphere of hype            say how “fierce” she is feeling. And         People expect a lot from this IPO.     lion.
years later.                                 and is hovering somewhere between           this IPO is supposed to spin the          But I’m chary. Facebook has a                But monetizing us? Forget the
   The fall of Bashar                        “Star Wars: Episode 1 — The Phan-           questionable straw of Facebook user       strange track record when it comes        loaves and fishes — that’s a miracle
al-Assad’s Syria could                       tom Menace” and M. Night Shyama-            profiles into, well, actual gold.         to privacy, and pressure to squeeze       I’d like to see.
be similarly ominous                         lan’s second film.                             How? No one is quite sure. They        money from users for its advertisers
for Iran. The alliance CHARLES                 The Facebook IPO is going to cure         say that if you are using something       seems unlikely to improve things on       Alexandra Petri is a member of The
with Syria is the cen- KRAUTHAMMER           cancer and also tell us what glasses        for free, you aren’t the consumer —       that front.                               Washington Post’s editorial staff.
terpiece of Iran’s ex-
panding sphere of influence, a mini-
Comintern that includes such clients as                                                                             CARRIE SHEFFIELD
Iranian-armed and directed Hezbollah,
now the dominant power in Lebanon;
and Hamas, which controls Gaza and
threatens to take the rest of Palestine
(the West Bank) from a feeble Fatah.
   Additionally, Iran exerts growing
                                                   Mormon church badly needs reform

                                             T
pressure on Afghanistan to the east and                      here has been much talk                                                                                                        .”
                                                                                                                                                                             pornography BYU’s dean of religious
growing influence in Iraq to the west.                       recently about whether                                                                                          education wouldn’t answer my grow-
Tehran has even extended its horizon                         America is ready for a                                                                                          ing list of questions. Ot her leaders
to Latin America, as symbolized by                           Mormon president. This                                                                                          told me that questioning is acceptable
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s                              tolerance      question                                                                                                                       .
                                                                                                                                                                             so long as it’s done secretly I became
solidarity tour through Venezuela, Ec-                       should cut both ways.                                                                                           distraught. For years my faith was an
uador, Nicaragua and Cuba.                                     Nearly a quarter of                                                                                           unshakable part of my identity, and if
   Of all these clients, Syria is the most   Americans told Gallup last summer                                                                                               I openly voiced my concerns I risked
important. It’s the only Arab state          that they wouldn’t vote for a Mormon                                                                                            rejection from the community I loved.
openly allied with non-Arab Iran. This       president, which is unfortunate since                                                                                           Since Mormonism is highly central-
is significant because the Arabs see the     former Gov. Mitt Romney and former                                                                                              ized, without the local doctrinal flexi-
Persians as having had centuries-old         candidate Jon Huntsman are both                                                                                                 bility that exists in Judaism and many
designs to dominate the Middle East.         smart, capable men.                                                                                                             Christian churches, I had no place to
Indeed, Iranian arms and trainers,              Meanwhile, though the Pew Forum                                                                                              live a moderated, reformed existence.
transshipped to Hezbollah through            on Religion & Public Life recently                                                                                                 Salt Lake City’s male gerontocracy
Syria, have given the Persians their         found that 56 percent of Mormons                                                                                                told me to avoid books and marry, but I
first outpost on the Mediterranean in        think America is ready for a Mormon                                                                                             could not stomach all their teachings.
2,300 years.                                 president, the church isn’t exactly wel-                                                                                        For example, mainstream Mormons
   But the Arab-Iranian divide is not        coming of outsiders. Mormons ac-                                                                                                banned polygamy in 1890 to obtain
just national/ethnic. It is sectarian.       count for 57 percent of Utah residents                                                                                          Utah’s statehood, but they continue to
The Arabs are overwhelmingly Sunni.          yet some 91 percent of Utah state legis-                                                                                        perform temple ceremonies that “seal”
Iran is Shiite. The Arab states fear Shi-    lators self-identify as Mormons. The                                                                                            one man to multiple women in the
ite Iran infiltrating the Sunni home-        state that’s home to the Church of                                                                                              hereafter. My idea of heaven did not
land through (apart from Iraq) Hezbol-       Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has                                                                                           involve a husband whose love could be
lah in Lebanon, and through Syria, run       elected only two non-Mormon gover-                                                                                              shared with many wives.
by Assad’s Alawites, a heterodox off-        nors in nearly 116 years and has sent                                                                                              Staying in the church meant I would
shoot of Shiism.                             just one non-Mormon to Congress in                                                                                              have my family, but I couldn’t pretend
   Which is why the fate of the Assad        the past five decades.                                                                                                          to believe. And it was difficult to live a
regime is geopolitically crucial. It is,        Some of this distrust of outsiders is                                                                                        fulfilling life without Mormonism. My
of course, highly significant for rea-       understandable because the church                                                                                               parents shut me out of their home for
sons of democracy and human rights           has been persecuted by religious and                                                                                            nearly five years because of religion,
as well. Syrian Baathism, while not as       secular foes since its inception. Many                                                                                          and some former friends shunned me.
capricious and deranged as the Sad-          mainstream Christians consider Mor-                                                                                                Many other dissident Mormons find
dam Hussein variant, runs a ruthless         monism a cult — a fact thought to have                                                                                          themselves discouraged from voicing
police state that once killed 20,000 in      given Romney trouble in South Caroli-                                                                                           doubts and ostracized if they do. Those
Hama, and has now killed more than                         .
                                             na’s primary To combat anti-Mormon-                                                                                             whose spouses leave the church are
5,400 during the current uprising.           ism, last year church leaders expanded                                                                                          sometimes encouraged to get divorced
   Human rights — decency — is rea-          a multimillion-dollar image campaign                                                                                            and remarry a faithful Latter-day
son enough to do everything we can to        begun in 2010 that is nearly identical to                                                                                       Saint. Non-Mormons are not allowed to
bring down Assad. But strategic oppor-       the “I Am A Scientologist” campaign                                                                                             attend family members’ weddings in
                                 .
tunity compounds the urgency With its        from a year earlier: On airwaves, You-                                                                                          Mormon temples. Many gay Mormons
archipelago of clients anchored by           Tube, billboards and more, smiling,                                                                                             have been driven to suicide, deeply
Syria, Iran is today the greatest re-        family-oriented people declare, “I’m a                                                                                          conflicted about whether acting on
gional threat — to Saudi Arabia and the      Mormon.” It’s part of a series of ef-                                                                                           their sexuality is, as the church teach-
Gulf states terrified of Iranian nuclear     forts to buy public affection.                                                                     OP ART BY JOHN ROBERGE       es, a sin.
hegemony; to traditional regimes men-           Yes, Mormons love families. But the                                                                                             With public interest in Mormonism
aced by Iranian jihadist subversion; to      family-values facade applies only if        lead conscientious lives.                 stifles efforts to openly question church so high, I hope the scrutiny will help
Israel, which the Islamic republic has       you stay in the fold. Former Mormons           I was born into an multi-generation-   pronouncements, labeling such behav-      break down the church’s fundamental-
pledged to annihilate; to America and        know the family estrangement and big-                                 .
                                                                                         al Mormon pioneer family The mantle       ior as satanic.                           ist trappings: secrecy about its financ-
the West, whom the mullahs have              otry that often come with questioning       of those ancestors who made the ulti-        Critics of Mormonism include ge-       es, anti-women doctrine and homopho-
vowed to drive from the region.              or leaving the church.                      mate sacrifice while crossing Ameri-      neticists, Egyptologists and even the     bia, to start. Perhaps someday the
   No surprise that the Arab League,            The church I was raised in values        ca’s plains to Utah weighed heavily on    Smithsonian         Institution,    which church will not excommunicate, fire
many of whose members are no tender-         unquestioning obedience over critical       me as I grew up romanticizing the         stopped Mormon apologists from            and demote people who want honest,
hearted humanitarians, is pressing           thinking. This caused trauma and cog-       church’s worldwide missionary suc-        claiming the institute viewed the Book    church-wide dialogue about Mormon
hard for Assad’s departure. His fall         nitive dissonance when I questioned         cesses.                                   of Mormon as a factual document.          history and doctrine.
would deprive Iran of an intra-Arab                                                .
                                             church doctrine and official history In        But I struggled after realizing that      While studying at Brigham Young           Some Mormons compare Joseph
staging area and sever its corridor to       online forums and support groups, for-      Mormonism’s claims about anthropol-       University, I spiritually imploded after  Smith, the church’s founder, to Martin
the Mediterranean. Syria would return        mer and questioning Mormons gather          ogy, history and other subjects contra-   learning these things and other facts     Luther, the Protestant reformer who
to the Sunni fold. Hezbollah, Tehran’s       and offer comfort. Some of us are           dict reason and science. While many       outside official church curriculum.       exposed Catholic power abuses and
agent in Lebanon, could be next, with-       prominent, such as Steve Benson, the        faiths’ irrational claims are obscured    Disturbed, I met with a high-ranking      doctrinal inconsistencies. Mormonism
ering on the vine without Syrian sup-        Pulitzer Prize-winning political car-       by centuries of myth and rubble, the      Mormon leader who told me to quit         needs a Luther of its own.
port and Iranian materiel. And Hamas         toonist, or singer Tal Bachman. Most        LDS church lacks the moderation and       reading historical and scientific mate-
would revert to Egyptian patronage.          of us are quiet dissidents who wish to      scholarship of its older peers. It also   rials because they were “worse than Carrie Sheffield is a writer in New York.
   At the end of this causal chain, Iran,
shorn of key allies and already reeling
from economic sanctions over its nucle-                                                                           COLLEEN M. KELLEY
ar program, would be thrown back on
its heels. The mullahs are already
shaky enough to be making near-sui-
cidal threats of blocking the Strait of
                                                                       Nothing fringe about these benefits
Hormuz. The population they put down




                                             A
in the 2009 Green Revolution is still                    s a longtime member of          CBO admits these are “more uncer-         find a balance between offering a         like fund, the Thrift Savings Plan,
seething. The regime is particularly                     the Federal Salary Coun-        tain than its estimates of wages.”        fair and competitive wage, a secure       may provide around $400 per month
reviled by the young. And its increas-                   cil, which studies and             Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said that      retirement and a satisfying work en-      if the average employee is able to
ing attempts to shore up Assad finan-                    makes recommendations           the report shows “government bu-          vironment for those who believe in        contribute 5 percent of his or her
cially and militarily have only com-                     to the executive branch on      reaucrats in Washington continue to       public service. Especially for the        salary for 30 years.
pounded anti-Iranian feeling in the re-      federal pay, I take issue with some of      enjoy significant advantages over         most educated, highly skilled and            While many private-sector enti-
gion.                                        the methodology and conclusions in          those whose tax dollars finance their     highly compensated federal employ-        ties have taken to eliminating or
   It’s not just the Sunni Arabs lining      this week’s Congressional Budget            compensation.” This seems to be an        ees, the importance of the mission,       slashing health insurance and re-
up against Assad. Turkey, after a recent     Office report comparing federal em-         attempt to rally support for his ef-      the challenge of the work and the         tirement benefits, especially for low-
flirtation with a Syrian-Iranian-Turk-       ployee compensation to that in the          forts to slash pay for all federal em-    commitment to public service pro-         paid employees, our leaders should
ish entente, has turned firmly against       private sector.                             ployees.                                  vide nonmonetary incentives.              not support a race to the bottom for
Assad, seeing an opportunity to extend          The CBO concluded that the most             But the employees that the report         It is clear that the public and its    working Americans. Rather, they
its influence, as in Ottoman days, as        highly educated and highly paid fed-        claims may be overcompensated are         representatives in Congress do not        should seek out ways to increase
protector/master of the Sunni Arabs.         eral employees are underpaid by             hardly those whom people would            support compensating even the most        economic and retirement security
The alignment of forces suggests a           more than 20 percent compared with          think of as “government bureau-           educated and skilled employees at         for those who may never be able to
unique opportunity for the West to help      employees with similar “character-          crats in Washington.” No, these “bu-      the level they could attain in the pri-   retire.
finish the job.                              istics” in the private sector. Those        reaucrats” are among the lowest-          vate sector. Nor would these employ-         This report veers from the middle
   How? First, a total boycott of Syria,     with college degrees — which the            paid federal employees, doing un-         ees ever see the kinds of monetary        path that allows the government to
beyond just oil and including a full         bulk of the federal workforce has —         glamorous but critical work around        and non-monetary perks their coun-        attract and retain the best civil ser-
arms embargo. Second, a flood of aid to      are about on par with their private-        the country. They include border-se-      terparts in the private sector re-        vice workforce while keeping both
the resistance (through Turkey, which        sector counterparts; those with less        curity personnel, customer service        ceive, such as paid sabbaticals, 12       the top and bottom compensation
harbors both rebel militias and the po-      than a college degree, the lowest-          representatives and food safety           weeks of paid maternity leave, bo-        levels reasonable and fair. If Con-
litical opposition, or directly and clan-    paid federal employees, are overpaid        workers. And the main reason they         nuses, stock options, on-site spas        gress were to implement legislation
destinely into Syria). Third, a Security     by about 20 percent, it found, and          come out ahead of their private-sec-      and more.                                 based on the report’s findings, the
Council resolution calling for the re-       have more generous benefits than do         tor counterparts in the CBO report           On the other hand, the report’s        resulting bills would not call for
moval of the Assad regime. Russia,           their private-sector counterparts.          is because the federal government,        conclusions would also suggest se-        across-the-board pay freezes or ben-
Assad’s last major outside ally, should         First, the CBO’s expertise is really     as any responsible business should,       verely cutting the compensation of        efit cuts, as many have suggested.
be forced to either accede or incur the      in crunching numbers and applying           provides basic benefits such as paid      the lowest-paid federal workers, with     They would call for eliminating
wrath of the Arab states with a veto.        the arcane rules of congressional           sick l eave and health coverage.          the focus on slashing basic benefits.     health coverage and retirement ben-
   Force the issue. Draw bright lines.       budget scoring. In this report, it             The logical policy implications of     Here is why that would be wrong:          efits for the lowest-paid federal
Make clear American solidarity with          compared characteristics of the fed-        the CBO conclusions would be to           The federal government, as one of         workers while increasing salaries
the Arab League against a hegemonic          eral and private-sector workforces,         provide significant raises to the         the nation’s largest employers, must      for the highest-paid employees to
Iran and its tottering Syrian client. In     rather than comparing jobs done in          highest-paid federal employees,           set a standard of basic fairness. Con-    more than $200,000 per year. Would
diplomacy, one often has to choose be-       each sector. The latter is the ap-          which would amount to $30,000 to          trary to portrayals of “generous”         Congress really pass such legisla-
tween human rights and strategic ad-         proach of the Bureau of Labor Sta-          $50,000 for annual salaries of $150,000   federal benefits, federal employees d     tion?
vantage. This is a rare case where we        tistics, which has consistently found       to $200,000. The union I lead repre-      o not receive paid dental or vision          The writer is president of the Na-
can advance both — so long as we do          a pay gap in favor of the private sec-      sents some very highly educated and       coverage or paid parental leave, nor      tional Treasury Employees Union,
not compromise with Russia or relent         tor . The latest BLS report shows           skilled attorneys, physicians and         do they get rich off their pensions.      which represents 150,000 workers in
until Assad falls.                           that gap to be an average of 26 per-        nuclear scientists in this pay range;     The typical lifetime federal employ-      31 government agencies.
                                             cent.                                       we would support, but do not expect,      ee will have an annuity from the de-
Charles Krauthammer’s email address is          Many have focused on the report’s        such increases.                           fined benefit of approximately $1,000     Colleen M. Kelley wrote this for The
letters@ charleskrauthammer.com.             comparisons of benefits. But the               The federal pay system aims to         per month. The government’s 401(k)-       Washington Post.

				
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