Saturday, April 05, 2008

40 years without Dr. King

Yesterday, I spent the day of Dr. King's assination contemplating the unfinished business of his Dream. My old law school hosted the event entitled  "Did Dr. King Die in Vain?"  [We concluded "No!" by the way] It was very inspiring in all respects.  Now some undoubtedly came from the 6.5 hours of free CLE (continuing legal education, a part of the requirements to keep your license) and free lunch.  But those who stayed did so due to the incredible speakers and fellow attendees.

My sister's boyfriend gave my "My Traitor's Heart" a memior/history book about South Africa in the mid-1980s from the perspective of an Afrikaner (white) exile who came back to face his race and his country.  

This book, along with NAACP's Julian Bond (in his speech yesterday) reminded me  that even though we never (nor our ancestors) owned slaves, we stil continue to benefit from slavery and the persistance of the institution of racism.  

I think we all need to realize our privileges and confront what it is like to be an Other, to purposely place yourself in a spot where there are lots of people that don't look like you, believe what you believe, nor share your same culture.

And we all must realize that we are not helpless to stop/reduce the persistance of the achievement gaps.  While the problem is a large one, it can only be solved by individuals confronting it and doing their own small part.  

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

conflict of interest?

I was reading the articles about the lawsuit against Bob Murray et al that everyone knew was coming...and I came across this editorial note at the bottom of the Deseret Morning News: "Ruth Lybbert is a director of the Deseret News Publishing Co. and a stockholder in the law firm of Dewsnup King & Olsen." Meaning, Ruth Lybbert would profit from something that sells more of her companies newspapers and from large awards of attorney fees to her firm.

When do those two scenarios occur? The Crandall Canyon mine lawsuit:
The firm Dewsnup King & Olsen is filing the suit in Salt Lake City's 3rd District Court on behalf of 20 survivors of the six dead miners, the two injured rescuers and their spouses.
At present, the suit does not include heirs of three rescuers who were killed and four others who were injured in the Aug. 16 collapse.
You will notice that this tidbit of information came from the Salt Lake Tribune, not D-news.

The paper with the conflict of interest goes on to detail some of the most damming internal documents that have been uncovered thus far. As litigator, you have to love it when the Congress does your discovery work for you, and culls all the "greatest hits" into one long report. They should be thanking Senator Kennedy and his HELP (health education labor and pensions) Committee staff.

But I guess the problem is now can you really trust the D-News to be objective about the case when they obliquely pointed out their conflict of interest. An attorney cannot comment on a case that is currently pending in a manner that would "poison the jury pool" (nor can the judge on the case), but a newspaper has the 1st Amendment right to do so. We might be getting into a sticky situation where the paper is "speaking for" the firm to which the plaintiffs attorneys belong (and share their fees with). I am sure Ms. Lybbert is aware of this problem, which is why the disclaimer appears. But people wouldn't get suspicious if the D-news article was more upfront about the potential problem.

Monday, March 31, 2008

'free time'

As Mel Brooks once said, its good to be the king.
Taxpayers have forked over more than $75,000 to Nathan Rathbun in salary and reimbursements for his work as a field coordinator and caseworker for Rep. Chris Cannon's congressional office in Provo since January 2005.
During the same period, Rathbun also took paychecks from Cannon's re-election campaign totaling more than $90,000.
While not violating any House rules, Rathbun's situation - shared by several on Cannon's federal payroll - underscores what the Utah County Republican's opponents call an alarming crossover between taxpayer-paid staff and campaign workers.
House ethics rules prohibit congressional staffers from working on campaigns while on the clock for their official positions or on the grounds of House or district buildings. But staffers are allowed to help a campaign in their free time as long as they don't use any congressional resources.
Hunter insists the staffers do not do campaign work on congressionally paid time or vice-versa. But Cannon's office does not require the staffers who work for both the congressional office and the campaign to log what hours they work for either, as suggested by the House Ethics Committee.
Hunter says he personally ensures that they are being paid commensurate for their work and doesn't see a need for detailed logs. Last year, for example, Hunter says he took a voluntary cut in pay because he also was doing some work for a pro-school voucher group that paid him $8,000.
In another disputed point, Cannon has reimbursed several congressional staffers with campaign money for expenses such as telephones and office supplies, despite a recommendation from the Ethics Committee that a House employee "should not make any outlay on behalf of the employing member's campaign" other than travel expenses.
The thing is, these staffers aren't "volunteering" or even working during their "free time" out of the goodness of their heart. They are working for their boss so that they will have a job next year. "Without a doubt, I volunteer a lot of free time to it. I obviously care a lot about Rob's re-election," said Scott Parker, chief of staff to Rep. Rob Bishop. And from talking to my friends who are congressional staffers, you are only off the job when you quit, are fired, or your boss loses, because a crisis could emerge while you are on vacation or trying to sleep.

That would true if their boss' name was "Chris Cannon" or "Jim Matheson," and that is the true ethical quandary, not the fact that these staffer's work is yet another advantage that an incumbent has over a challenger. Jim opts to not pay any Congressional staffers that work for his campaign off the federal clock. But really, I wish that the Ethics Committee would forbid staffers from working on campaigns at all. As a former legislative staffer on the state level (in Massachusetts) I can tell you that there is big pull--even if your boss or supervising staffer never mentions it--to help out on the re-election campaign, both economically and emotionally. And sure, Cannon's challengers are pointing this out because it is a easy way to score political points, but they still would be a valid point to make even if they didn't stand to gain from making Cannon look bad.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

When is pork pork?

Some say that earmarks aren't all bad. What seems like a crazy waste of money to some is really a necessary project back in a politician's district, the argument goes. But if that is true, why are members of Congress too ashamed to tell the local press about their earmarks?
In Utah, only Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson released his earmark requests when asked by The Salt Lake Tribune. He is seeking more than $100 million to fund nearly 50 projects ranging from military technology to road construction. [PDF]
Utah's other two House members refused to identify the earmarks they endorsed, but Republican Reps. Chris Cannon and Rob Bishop did release basic lists of every request their offices received from Utah groups. Somewhere on that long list are the items they have submitted for funding.
Utah's senators, Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett, will release information only on earmarks that are successful.
I can understand why some Congress critters might not want to tell some constituency that they couldn't get (or didn't try too hard to get) $X earmarked for Y's pet project, but they are going to find out sooner or later that it didn't happen. So in the end, that excuse doesn't add up. The need for secrecy doesn't really fly for me. I get that members probably trade earmarks or reduce some in exchange for others, or support ones of a powerful members so that he will support theirs...but come on guys (and gals), it is our money.

Some members of Congress, like Matheson and Obama, see the upside in disclosing their earmarks: they get to brag not only about their purported honesty and transparency, but also their ability to bring home the bacon. Similarly, not all lobbyists and bundlers are upset with the new ethics reforms, because now everyone in the Beltway get to see exactly how influential they really are.

The lack of disclosure only makes the public cynically assume that something nepharious is taking place, that campaign contributors are getting earmarks while constituents are getting hosed. Now that does happen sometimes--like Alaska Rep. Don Young's earmark for a road expansion in Florida the day after getting $40K in donations from a Florida developer--but they also happen to be illegal and Rep. Young is in danger of losing his party's primary as well as the general election, even though he has brought home the bacon for decades. The moral of the story is that sunshine, as Justice Brandeis once said, is the best disinfectant.