Saturday, April 14, 2007

the nose in the camel's tent CEO Patrick Byrne, a major GOP donor and pusher of the unconstitutional trademark law in Utah, is also the biggest in state donor to the voucher effort. Here's why he wants voucher's to succeed:
"This is the camel's nose under the tent," said Patrick Byrne, who...gave $70,000 to the local pro-voucher group Parents for Choice in Education. "If it takes hold here and proceeds here it will have a demonstrative effect that no other states can afford to ignore."

By afford to ignore, I think he means politicians will have to support it because big moneyed donors from out of state will get pro-public school politicians out of office.
Nearly half the money the group spent on legislative campaigns came from a political action committee called All Children Matter based out of Alexandria, Va., that has its headquarters in Grand Rapids, Mich. All Children Matter donated $240,000 to Parents for Choice in Education in 2006 and about $250,000 during the 2004 campaign cycle, finance reports in Utah show.
Utah was one of 10 states that All Children Matter has targeted to affect state elections, spending about $8 million nationwide in the 2003-04 election cycle. It is an organization dedicated to supporting candidates who favor charter schools and voucher programs.
It's largely financed by heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune and the founders of Amway, according to finance reports in Virginia.
In 2004, Jim Walton and John Walton, children of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton, each donated more than $3 million to All Children Matter, the reports showed.
In 2006, the estate of John Walton donated another $4.1 million, the reports showed.

Each one of these groups are right-wing organizations that are more anti-union than pro-education, especially the Walton family.

I don't blindly support whatever teacher's unions, or other unions want, but I fail to see how unionization is the cause of Utah's educational struggles. It has far more to do with class size & per pupil spending. More, highly-trained teachers and better facilities (and better student loans) will go a long way towards Utah's education problems, vouchers will not.

But if the anti-union out-of-state corporatists have their way, our public school system will suffer and then die.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

A non-partisan bipartisan agenda

Listening to the Becker-Buhler debate (I am about half-way through it), you get the distinct impression that being a Democrat in this Utah race, for once, is a distinct advantage.

Over and over again, Buhler went out of his way to pretend he was not a Republican or a partisan Republican...except when it would help him, touting his period in the UT Senate leadership for "I can get pork for the City" argument. You don't get to be in the leadership in the legislature unless you toe the partisan line and make nice with those already in leadership. So how he can be "bipartisan" in a "non-partisan" election is beyond me.

Lucky for both men, the debate got front page, front fold coverage by the Tribune of course, the article focuses on the new downtown mall's skybridge, the boringist controversial issue I have seen in this state, and the mormon/non-mormon debate, wherein no one wins.

But Ralph was the debate winner for related reason, the article's second and third paragraphs:
"I wouldn't [trot around the globe as an activist for a cause]," said Buhler, a city councilman and former state senator. Buhler, a Republican, argued the mayor instead should focus on being chief executive - to manage all city departments while working with other city captains and state lawmakers.
Becker, a Democrat, pledged to work with residents, steer clear of anti-war rallies - Anderson has participated in several at home and in Washington, D.C. - and resist hopscotching across the globe. But the professional city planner and House minority leader maintained the mayor should give voice to issues such as air quality.

In talking with Ralph's people during the blogger meeting, they told me that if they got the debate to be about parties they were halfway home. Later in the article...
The candidates placed a lopsided emphasis on party affiliation - despite the fact the mayor's race is officially nonpartisan. Buhler downplayed his Republican pedigree, saying city issues are nonpartisan. But Becker celebrated his Democratic status.
"In a city that is progressive like Salt Lake City," Becker said, "it is important that those values are reflected and represented."

Ralph, a city planner, talked about making SLC more like Portland, with green spaces, public transportation, walkable neighborhoods, and bike trails. Buhler talked about "experience" and his ability to "get things done" because he was "bipartisan" even though his key getting things done ability comes from his Republican credentials.

Rocky Anderson didn't win two terms because of "experience" or because he was "bipartisan" or because he could "get things done." In fact, he was elected and reelected despite of his lack of those qualities. Salt Lake residents liked having a jerk for a mayor because he was an articulate, passionate guy who talked back to legislators instead of cooing in their ears. They liked his activism, to a degree. And they liked pissing off conservatives from neighboring cities and towns, even if it meant less state money for their city and capitol.

The Utah Republican Party Morning News had a different, no-shockingly pro-Buhler spin on the debate, focusing on "experience." Yet they still played into Becker's plans:
Ralph Becker and Dave Buhler have both represented Salt Lake City on Capitol Hill. [...]
The two mayoral candidates tout their experience as key to helping them lead [...]
Becker is a Democrat and current House minority leader. Buhler is a Republican [...]
According to recent polls and the city's political history, Buhler's party affiliation may pose challenges in the mayoral race, and Becker may struggle for never having served in an elected city position.
"While some people want to put people in a box and label people, it's really about working with people," Buhler said.
The mayor's office is officially nonpartisan, but Salt Lake City residents have not elected a Republican mayor since the early 1970s.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Real family values

"The Republicans talk a lot about family values. It's time they started valuing families." --Wes Clark.

If you really believe the LaVar Christensen/John Swallow "family values" rhetoric is not just code for anti-gays and anti-abortion, then why is our pro-family state allowing this to happen?
The number of Utah's uninsured children, up to and including the age of 18, rose by 18,200 from 71,300 in 2005 to 89,500 in 2006. Meanwhile, the number of adults, ages 19 to 64, who lacked health insurance declined from 221,600 to 220,100.
"The increase is almost exclusively among children," said Norman Thurston, health economist for the state agency. "Most of that increase is among kids under 200 percent of the federal poverty level."

You can believe in Social Darwinism (which is a load of crock by the way) and still support universal health care for children. It is not the fault of children that their parents are too poor to afford health care for them.
The Legislature this year appropriated $4 million to allow an additional 12,000 children to be insured through CHIP starting July 2, he said.
Enrollment in CHIP, for which children living under 200 percent of the poverty level — roughly $40,000 for a family of four — are eligible, has been closed since last September because of a lack of funding, he said. CHIP currently provides insurance for an average of 35,000 children.
"It's definitely not good news for kids," Karen Crompton, executive director for Voices for Utah Children, said of the report. "It does highlight the fact of what happens when you have CHIP closed."
While the Legislature's CHIP appropriation is a good start, she said, more needs to be done to make sure all eligible children can access the publicly funded health insurance program.
"Kids need coverage 365 days a year," she said. "It's about immunizing on time, about well-baby check-ups, about getting glasses kids need if they can't see the blackboard."

Karen Crompton ran for SL County Mayor against Nancy Workman the first time around. Al Gore proposed universal health care for children by 2004 when he ran in 2000. Every Democrat running for president has supported expanding CHIP programs, so why can't American children get health insurance?

To me, family values are helping families stay together strongly. That means sick leave, maternity/paternity leave, flex time, virtual commuting, clean air, clean water, quality education, safe neighborhoods, health care for working families and all children, tax reform for working families, and living wages. It seems when Republicans talk about family values, what they are really saying it "Dobson's agenda," which has very little to do with actually making life better for families.

And one would think that here in Utah, with the highest percentage of the population under 18, we would truly put children first. And not behind big business, anti-arbortion, anti-gay zealotry.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

unconstitutional special interest driven legislation 101

Wherein two Republican Utah State Legislators write a bill for 1-800-Contacts, Unspam technologies [who wrote another unconstitutional bill] and that regulates interstate commerce. "Utah's innocently named Trademark Protection Act is set to take effect June 30." The Act would ban keyword advertising, basically destroying Google's--and every other internet business's--business model.
[Law Professor Eric Goldman] said the bill's history shows that Utah lawmakers are "easily captured by industry interests" and eager to serve up bad Internet experiments.
The law is deeply flawed, said Corynne McSherry, an attorney for the San Francisco-based public-interest group Electronic Frontier Foundation.
"Consumers also have an interest here. This isn't just harmful to Google. It's harmful to consumers who benefit from comparative advertising," she said.

In response, one of the co-sponsors showed he knows as much about the internet as US Sen. Ted "series of tubes" Stevens (R-AK):
House Majority Leader David Clark, R-Santa Clara, Utah, likened the deed to diverting a shopper who enters a particular department store to buy a dress shirt.
"You get right to the front door and somebody whisks you away to a different store," said Clark....
[Senate Majority Whip Dan] Eastman [(R-Bountiful)] and Clark said they didn't come up with the idea but believe in the cause. They said they understood they were doing the bidding of a select group of Utah companies. [...]
Representatives at both companies acknowledged they have a problem with rivals stealing their customers but insist they weren't involved in drafting the Internet trademark law.

Unspam Chief Executive Matthew Prince, who claims "We wear different hats," in an email, has a pretty cosy relationship with Senate Republicans:
Prince is identified only as an adjunct professor at Chicago's John Marshall Law School on the Utah Senate [Republican]'s blog site, where he wrote a defense of the Trademark Protection Act. The blog makes no mention of Prince's business interests.

I guess if you don't believe in conflicts of interests among legislators, you don't believe it among lobbyists either.

I wish I was surprised, but I still can be dissipointed. Shame on you Republican legislative leaders. Why do you have to be such a cheep date?

© 2006 Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret Morning News
The caption: "IHC lobbyist Elaina White talks to Rep. Brad Dee, R-Washington Terrace, during the House GOP's $100-per-person 'speed dating' event at the Hard Rock Cafe on Thursday [January 5, 2006]."

ex-Bush administration official reclaiming reality

Welcome back to the reality based community former EPA chief and ex-NJ Governor Christine Todd Whitman!
This ruling [Massachusetts v. EPA] should herald the beginning of a carbon-constrained U.S. economy.
For guidance on which to base a policy [on how to regulate greenhouse gas tailpipe emissions], we can look to the results from the last time the Clean Air Act was amended, in 1990. Those amendments required substantial reductions in the emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2), the primary component of acid rain. There was broad agreement that acid rain was seriously damaging our environment. There was less unanimity about the method to be used to achieve the reduction in emissions - a market-based cap-and-trade system.

Cap-and-trade works for free marketeers and pro-regulation environmentalists, and actually creates incentives to reduce pollutants. Everyone wins, especially companies who innovate.

There will be a renewed push in Congress to create such a program to force the EPA's plan. McCain and Lieberman have a bill that would do just that, not just for car tailpipes, but all carbon dioxide emissions (like coal-fire electric power plants, oil refineries, etc.) With Democrats now in control, I would assume that a version of this bill will come out of EPW committee in the Senate and the House's select committee on Global Warming or Energy and Commerce committee.

Moderate Republicans, ex-Democrats (Joe Lieberman) and Democrats can form a working majority and pass this bill.

putting your political career on the dotted line

If only more politicians had as much cajoles as SL County Mayor Peter Carroon:
Get Real Utah might fall short - by thousands of signatures - in its petition drive to put public funding for a Sandy soccer stadium to a public vote, but the grass-roots campaign did secure at least one high-profile voter.
Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon, who refused to steer county hotel taxes to the stadium project, signed the petition last month.
The Legislature, led by Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., trumped Corroon's decision and passed a bill that funnels $35 million of county hotel taxes to land, parking and infrastructure for Real Salt Lake's $110 million stadium, slated for 9256 S. State St.
"We didn't think [the stadium] was a sound investment," Corroon said Monday. "The state has a higher risk tolerance than Salt Lake County does. That was their priority. It's a little disconcerting that they used Salt Lake County hotel taxes to pay for a state priority."

I can think of few politician who would risk their career on a potentially losing effort against big political powers for something they believe in.
Petition sponsor Brad Swedlund acknowledges the referendum is a "long shot," but said Monday that signature booklets were being turned into county clerks across the state. He doesn't have a count of how many signatures have been gathered.
Organizer Gary Forbush said Monday, if the petition drive fails, it's not because of a lack of public will - opinion polls consistently have shown most Utahns oppose public funding for the stadium - but because the referendum process is too cumbersome.
Forbush, who ran a surprisingly strong race against incumbent Tom Dolan in the Sandy mayoral race in 2005, handed in 6,000 signatures at the Salt Lake County Clerk Office Monday morning. Forbush argues the effort should have had to gather signatures only in that county because the bill deals exclusively with Salt Lake County revenue.
And he said low-budget, grass-roots groups like his - the campaign spent about $2,000 total - could have a chance if voters were allowed to sign the petition online or by phone.
"The referendum process is broken," Forbush said. "To have to do pen on paper in this day when we can e-file our taxes . . . it's just archaic. If we don't end up making it with the number of signatures, I hope we can maybe have a more thoughtful conversation about referendum reform."

I couldn't agree more. And so do others "Salt Lake City mayoral candidates Jenny Wilson, Ralph Becker and Nancy Saxton also signed the referendum petition."

Monday, April 09, 2007

SLC mayoral race shakes up

Meg Holbrook, is out! She is ex-chair of the Utah Democratic Party, and wife of a beloved professor of alternative dispute resolution at my law school.

But why did she decide to drop out well before summer? A guaranteed job with Gov. Huntsman's administration.
Instead, she will accept Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.'s request that she serve on the state Transportation Commission.
"I can't do everything," she said. "I've thought it over a long time, and I've decided this is the best way to serve the state and Salt Lake City."
That leaves eight candidates in a field that once had 10 contenders.
The governor also nominated former state Rep. Stewart Adams, R-Layton, to serve on the commission. Their nominations now must be approved by the state Senate.

Plus, she is nice enough to not run while holding an office that gets federal funding, creating Hatch Act problems.

For me, there are two questions that need to be answered. First, why did Huntsman pick her? Because she is a good person and qualified candidate, or because he feared she might win? Second, what does a top tier candidate's drop out say about the race?

The article helps answer number two:
Holbrook's former role as head of the state's Democrats had given her some name recognition in the mayor's race, but many of the other candidates are widely known through their political and business history in the city, and Holbrook had not been a front-runner.
A Dan Jones & Associates poll conducted last week for the Deseret Morning News and KSL-TV showed Holbrook as the favorite candidate of only 2 percent of respondents. That put her in sixth place, although fully 44 percent of respondents remained undecided in this early stage of the campaign.
In the first round of campaign fund-raising disclosures, filed Feb. 15, Holbrook ranked seventh in the amount of money raised. She had raised $18,470, compared with the top fund-raiser, former City Councilman Keith Christensen, who had $257,176, and City Councilman Dave Buhler, who was second, with $123,026.

Right now, few people know who is running "Dan Jones and Associates put the list before Salt lake voters last week and only two get double-digit recognition right now: City Councilman Dave Buhler with 12 percent and County Councilwoman Jenny Wilson has 20 percent." More interestingly, this is a Democrats race to lose if they can get the Donkey out there. "Twenty-one percent said it has a great deal of impact, 33 percent said some and 44 percent said party affiliation in this race has little effect."

It seems that maybe Ms. Holbrook saw that Jenny Wilson was sucking away voters from her big time. To me, it looks like Wilson, Becker, Christensen, and Buhler are all in the running for the top two spots. At this point, it looks like Wilson will take the poll position, but if she is paired with Becker, thing will get interesting. If she is paired with a Republican, I can call it today.

Other than that, the race is still wide open.

the people will be heard

Despite what our state legislature wanted, and what out-of-state monied interests demand, Utahns will be able to decide if they want to privatize their schools and if taxpayer money should go towards building an unnecessary soccer stadium.

Now I don't want to turn Utah into California, where the legislature and governor are powerless to make any real changes and only monied interest groups can get big issues on a 1 inch thick ballot booklet. However, Utah's petition rules are draconian and anti-democratic, requiring (usually) lots of money to fund ballot issues.

However, despite scary TV ads by the out-of-state voucher groups, it looks like those who want to keep our public schools public and keep the state out of private schools have more than enough signatures to get the issue on the ballot in November. I still think the whole law can be overturned as unconstitutional under the State's constitution as well, regardless of what SCOTUS wrote about it.

Meanwhile, folks are gathering signatures against the Dolan-Huntsman-Curtis Stadium, brought to you by ego.

In general, when the people really want something or don't like something, and the constitutional rights of a minority group would not be infringed, I don't see why the issue should not be reconsidered and voted upon.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

progressive taxation

House Democrats have a big idea--permanently fix the Alternative Minimum Tax ("AMT"). The AMT, for those of you who aren't aware, is something set up in 1969 to prevent millionaires from hiring clever tax attorneys to avoid paying taxes. But stupidly, lawmakers then never indexed the AMT to inflation. As a result, over the years more and more middle class have been sucked into its powers.
Under it, affected taxpayers have to do a second tax calculation without claiming popular deductions like those for state and local taxes that they have come to rely on. It is akin to a flat tax of 26 to 28 percent.

But the tax is expanding at a rapid pace, partly because it is not adjusted for inflation. It can hit people with incomes as low as $50,000 and if left unchecked is expected to affect 23 million households during the 2007 tax year — up from 3.4 million last year.

Bush sold his tax cuts by counting on this increasingly regressive tax's revenue to make is tax cuts seem smaller. Foolish Republicans (and some Democrats) bought into this scheme, shifting America's tax burden from the wealthy to the middle class.

But now there is hope for change:
Between now and the end of May, House Democratic leaders hope to draft a permanent overhaul of the tax that would effectively exclude anyone who earns less than about $200,000 a year — about 97 percent of taxpayers.

The details are still being worked out as to how to make up the missing income. Some ideas are to jack up the rates for those who make over $500K, and then those over $1M. Others hope to cut wasteful spending (might I suggest Star Wars II and all those no-bid contracts for Iraq) to make up the gap, or a combination of the two and the new PAYGO budget rules.

This was the last paragraph of this New York Times article, but a good one:
After his re-election in 2004, Mr. Bush vowed to overhaul the income tax and abolish the alternative minimum tax as part of the process. But even though he received recommendations from a handpicked advisory panel, Mr. Bush ignored the proposals and never came out with a plan of his own.

Catch that last one? He had a handpicked "tax reform" panel, but doesn't really care about reforming taxes, so he never came out with a plan. Just like Iraq. Senate Democrats forced the Iraq Study Group on Bush, with its handpicked wise old men (and Sandra Day O'Connor) of Washington, and its plan was also ignored by Bush. But wait you say, Bush adopted a new strategy. Actually, no, he just did John McCain and Joe Lieberman's strategy if you want to call throwing thousands of more troops off a cliff a strategy.

I will say it again: Joe Lieberman is dead wrong on everything he touches. He has the midas touch when it comes to policy and politics. Whatever you do Democrats, don't listen to him. And Republicans, please listen to Joe, Democrats would like to control Congress for another 35 years.