Friday, April 18, 2008

selective prosecution?

The raid and impending prosecution of the polygamists of the FLDS sect in Texas is growing messier by the day.

We learned that the warrant was based on a phone call to a battered women's center by a woman calling herself "Sarah" and claiming that she and her children were being abused by her "husband" (physically and sexually). A Texas judge approved a warrant that sought not only "Sarah's" family, but all families in the compound, and seems to have given the authorities permission to also enter and seize evidence from the FLDS temple as well. So far, they haven't found their affiant "Sarah." Defense attorneys for the women and the children are seeking to toss out all of the evidence seized based on this inability to find the affiant and arguing that the warrant itself was overly broad on Fourth and First Amendment grounds.

Now we learn that Texas prosecutors are contemplating filing charges of bigamy against the women who admitted in the press that they practiced "plural marriage." My question on both matters is, what about the FLDS men? Were they arrested? Are they charged with anything yet? So far, I haven't seen any reporting to suggest they have (but if so, please let me know).

Prosecuting the "wives" for bigamy without going after the "husbands" is like prosecuting the prostitutes for prostitution without doing the same for the Johns. Both the institution of "plural marriage" as practiced by the FLDS and the institution of prostitution are based on sexual exploitation of women and girls for the benefit of men.

Some argue that polygamy is OK when the women consent to entering such relationships, just as some argue that sex-for-hire between two consenting adults should be legal. The trouble is that even if it was somehow possible to eliminate all the child marriages or child prostitutes, you still have consent problems with women that are under financial or sociological/cultural pressure to join such institutions.

I suspect that it will take years to resolve the FLDS raid, a problem that will be compounded by the fact that judges in Texas are popularly elected. If a judge tosses out the warrant or evidence or convictions of polygamists, they probably won't get re-elected, even if the U.S. Supreme Court ends up agreeing with such a judge.

There are no easy legal or sociological answers to either polygamy or prostitution, which is why officials have for decades taken a mostly hands-off approach to dealing with them. This post is intended as an invocation of discussion of the problems, not saying what is or isn't legal, proper, right, etc. But it is a discussion worth having.
Some Mormons, especially those with polygamist ancestors, feel conflicted as they watch Texas authorities separate FLDS families on the basis of alleged abuse.
They don't support the practice of polygamy today, yet these Latter-day Saints see the faces of their great-grandparents in the FLDS women and children.
A Dan Jones & Associates poll of 314 people reported in the LDS Church-owned Deseret Morning News revealed that 31 percent of Utahns believe Texas authorities were definitely justified in removing the children and another 31 percent believed the actions were probably justified; 13 percent of those polled believed the actions were probably not justified and 6 percent said they were definitely not justified. The poll has a margin of error of 5.7 percentage points.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

my new favorite punching bag

(Taken from the blog of the late great Steve Gilliard)

Given that Sen. Chris Buttars might lose in the primary, let alone the general election this fall, I have been on the lookout of another local politician who can be counted on to say stupid things that I can make fun of on a regular basis. And sure enough Buttars's colleague and heir apparent to his title of Eagle-Forum-Mouthpiece fits the bill: Sen. Margaret Dayton (R-Orem).

Due to the large number of cars to people ratio, the traffic bottleneck on I-15 between Logan and Salt Lake, Kennecott Copper, Geneva Steel, and high pressure fronts in the winter, the Wasatch Front has dangerously bad air quality.

Concerned mothers and doctors have banded together to bring attention to the health impacts of such polluted air: children developing asthma and dying, elderly dying, heart disease, etc.

So at a hearing on whether to reauthorize the Utah Air Conservation Act, Dayton
said she is "agitated" by too many regulators and regulations costing too much taxpayer money to monitor and control emissions in Utah.

"It's frustrating to me," she said. Dayton criticized state and federal regulators for placing too little confidence in letting people solve air quality "issues" on their own.

Where to begin? Let's compare the cost of inaction with the cost of action. For FY 2008, Utah spent a mere $10.8 Million (page 87 on the print out, page 97 of 300 on the PDF) on improving air quality and doing its part to enforce the Utah Clean Air Act, which also includes provision for banning smoking indoors (spend any significant length of time at the SLC airport and you too will have this fact beaten into you). More critically, only $3.92 Million of that came out of the General Fund (table 19, page 90). The Californian government took a look at the cost of air pollution in 2004 and found these disturbing findings:
Of course, California's air quality, despite the toughest rules in the country, is still worse than ours, but it gives you a sense of what will happen in a few decades if we listen to Dayton's advice.

To be charitable, I assume Dayton is attempting to express the conservative ideological idea that individuals can always solve problems better than the government can by regulation. Of course, air pollution is the classic example of what economists call a negative externality. When you buy car, or gas, or anything made of copper or steel, you aren't paying for the pollution emitted in making/using the product. At most you are paying for the cost of cleaning up the prior emissions (but since Kennecott and Geneva are SuperFund sites, you are mostly paying for those out of your federal tax dollars) So where is the incentive to make cleaner gas, cars, cooper, and steel? Other than customer's moral complaints, there is actually a reverse incentive, because technologies to reduce or prevent emissions costs more money.

This is a classic example of the failure of markets to include the full costs of a product and to address a public harm. So how does one fix that and still appeal to their beliefs that markets solve everything: pollution-trading-credit-markets. All three presidential candidates believe in some form of a cap on emissions and then distributing credits to pollute X amount, which companies can then sell among themselves and thereby incentivize companies to invent cheaper and more efficient ways of reducing emissions. But governments have to be sure to set the cap low, and not give out too many credits, otherwise the whole purpose of the cap and trade system will flop, as it has in Europe.

But where was I? .... Ah yes, Ms. Dayton, congratulations! You are going to provide many a day of fodder.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

money talks

Now occationally, underfunded challengers (and incumbents) win (re)election, but study after study of Congressional races shows, the candidate that raises the most money usually wins.

Is it because money buys TV ads, and people listen to TV ads? Partly, but mostly because donors usually "bet on" winners/favorites, which is why candidates like Pete Ashdown had trouble scaring up money. Money from individuals also tells you to some extent who has grassroots support, especially if the individual donors come from within the candidate's voting district. Of course, the longer incumbents are around, the easier it is for them to raise money outside their district (and thus the percentages alter).

Political junkies know that looking at quarterly fundraising reports are a good way to get a read on whether a race will be close--or a blowout--and which one insiders think it will be. Case in point, Utah's Second Congressional District.
Dew, who has previously said he was willing to spend his own money on the race, proved Tuesday that he really will fund his campaign — so far, almost entirely. Based on Federal Election Commission reports filed Tuesday, he raised only $40 for his campaign but still is awash in money when compared to his GOP rivals.

A millionaire former homebuilder who has been a GOP state delegate and precinct chairman, Dew has $203,535 cash on hand, according to his report. He loaned his campaign $250,000 and spent $46,504 on "operating expenditures," according to his statement.

He said that he has not decided on a cap for his personal campaign spending but that he started with $250,000 so that "people would know we are serious about beating Jim Matheson."

Matheson's other Republican challenger, former congressman and perennial candidate Merrill Cook, raised $21,069 since the beginning of 2008 and has $10,131.08 cash on hand, according to the filings.

None of the challengers, however, are close — yet — to touching Matheson's war chest. The four-term Democrat raised $218,476 for the first quarter and has more than $1 million cash on hand.
Incumbents also build up a big warchest to scare away challengers--like Sen. Clinton did in 2006. But sometimes, incumbents are so vulnerable, no amount of money raised is going to scare challengers away. Othertimes, their vulnerability is indicated by their low cash-on-hand numbers (that's amount raised minus amount spent). For example, Alaska's lone House seat:
In the first three months of 2008, [Rep. Don] Young raised $131,575 -- a sum that wasn't nearly enough to meet his net expenditures of $443,238. His once-burgeoning cash-on-hand is now sitting at $604,268. Will Young have the resources he needs to fend off very competitive primary and general election challenges?

Young's tab included a long list of legal fees, including $212,752 paid to Akin Gump, $1100 to Holmes Weddle, $24,520 to Tobin O'Connor, and $15,020 to John W. Wolfe. That's a lot of scrilla, especially when you consider that Young began 2007 with $1.86 million cash-on-hand, a number that has dwindled in large part due to legal fees such as these.
Why is he spending millions on lawyers? He altered a spending bill after it passed both chambers of Congress, but before it reached the President's desk--to include a $10 Million earmark for a road in Florida. Why would an Alaskan Congressman violate the consitutition about a road in Florida?
Daniel J. Aronoff, a real estate developer who [owns as much as 4,000 acres along Coconut Road] helped raise $40,000 for Mr. Young at the nearby Hyatt Coconut Point hotel days before he introduced the measure.
It's a pretty obvious case of quid pro quo, one that Conservative Republican Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Senator Barack Obama want to investigate.

But let's get back to Utah, where we have an incumbent who is at risk of losing in the primary based on issues, not on massive corruption.
Cannon, R-Utah, raised $180,760 in the first quarter of 2008, according to financial disclosure reports filed with the Federal Election Commission Tuesday, bringing his total contributions to $528,732. Cannon spent $105,358 this quarter and has $127,580 cash on hand.

Cannon has about $199,000 in campaign debt obligations at the end of the fourth quarter. Of the money he raised the past four months, about $152,000 has come from political action committees.

Leavitt, the former Juab County attorney and younger brother of former Utah governor and current Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt, estimates that his total raised this quarter is $185,438. He is still calculating the expenses but said his estimated cash on hand was $85,000.
Being down only about $27,000 to a long-time incumbent is pretty dang good. Best of luck to all those running for Congress, and please try to keep it clean. Nobody wants to see ads about "Utah values" and they don't work. Just ask not-Congressmen LaVar Christensen and John Swallow.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

it just keeps getting better and better

The more I learn about the Utah County GOP organization, the more fun it is to write about it. Previously, I have noted Rep. Morley's troubles with his own constituents and activist (the ones that he needs on his side to win the primary) in that he a) has a primary and b) is in serious legal hot water, is accused of doing something that said activists don't seem to thrilled about. I haven't focused on the use of delegates emails, nor the listing of incumbents and omission of challengers in party mailings.

One Utah County Republican who has been following the "Fabulous Five" controversy closely, Kip Meacham, commented on my blog saying:
Thanks for this post. Clearly we as the Republican Party have issues to address. Shining light on the issues is how people will affect change.

In the aftermath of the event, I find the Party Leadership disallowing questions from the delegates to the candidates in the venue unconscionable.
How are the delegates to make an informed vote without dialogue?

How can there be dialogue without questions?

This "thinking for the delegates" mentality is unbelieveable and unacceptable. Either the Party must open up the debate and the inquiry, or it should cease engaging in sham events.
But now I will highlight another one the delegates' complaints because it is essentially about gaming the convention:
Among all the other complaints about insider dealing in the Utah County candidate nomination system this year, add one about state Republican Chairman Stan Lockhart's daughter being elected as a delegate in a neighborhood caucus where she didn't live at the time.
It appears to violate the plain language of the rules, though party leaders insist it doesn't.
According to state and Utah County bylaws, caucus participants must turn 18 by November's general election and reside in the precinct where they caucus.
Hannah Lockhart, who turns 18 in July, lives with her parents in Provo, said her dad. But she moves to her new precinct before the county's April 26 convention to attend Brigham Young University for spring term.
"Our rules say you must live within the precinct you represent when the convention takes place - that's the key." [said Mariann Monnahan, who chairs the Utah County Republican Party]
Other GOP faithful disagree, countering that residency refers to where someone lives at the time of the caucuses, which were held in neighborhoods around the state on March 25.
"If not, I could show up anywhere and say, 'I'm moving into the precinct' and get to vote without ever having lived there," said Dave Irvine, an attorney who has been active in the Republican Party for years.
"Regrettably, the rules that apply to everyone else ought to apply to the party chairman."
First off, it is dumb to give your teenaged college daughter a delegate seat when there are many other wanting to spend an afternoon at a convention. Why? Because now you have just pissed off a person who would have knocked doors, manned phone banks, driven people to the polls etc. for you. Second, she obviously supports her dad (she isn't a Giulliani after all) and can be there as a non-voting supporter and still gin up votes for him without voting herself. Third, is Rep. Lockhart really so worried about the delegate count that he has to stick in his daughter? Are all state legislators from Utah County this out of touch with even the activists within their own party, let alone their regular constituents?

To be clear, this has nothing to do with the nature of the Republican Party itself, only with the nature of any group that has been in power for so long that it neglects why it is in power, and abuses such power. This year promises to bring new blood into the Utah legislature, which will hopefully serve as a wakeup call to the moribund political leadership in places like Utah County.

Monday, April 14, 2008

experience, part deux

Commenter Brian makes a good point, what about domestic experience. Usually when the punditry talk about "experience," the words foreign policy are usually either prefixed or implied. Rarely when people talked about Obama's "inexperience" did they mean he doesn't know (for example) the difference between Medicare and Medicaid. Still, there are far more experiences that would prepare one for the domestic responsibilities of being president than ones for the role of Commander-in-Chief and other foreign policy roles.

Governors and Mayors who have to work with their legislative bodies to get stuff done have a great deal of experience in a large part of being president--trying to pass your (mostly domestic) legislative agenda. Notice I didn't offset part of the sentence with commas. And for good reason. Governors and Mayors that have either rubber-stamp or screw-you legislative bodies are going to be in for a real shock when they get to D.C. This is why Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney don't really have relevant domestic experience either, but Mike Huckabee does.

The NY City Counsel has for years been a debating society where most of the real decision making power lies with the office of mayor. Giuliani, or Bloomberg for that matter, have a real test when they sought something from Albany, not from the Counsel.

The opposite is true in Massachusetts. Mitt Romney could posture and hand the General Court any old budget he wanted, because he knew darn well that the bosses in the House or Senate could muster veto-proof majorities (or veto-overrides) at will on any line item or bill they felt like. That is, although Massachusetts gives its governor line-item veto power, veto-overrides were a routine matter. During budget season (right about now) while I was working for Rep. Blumer in 2003-04, there would be several veto-override votes about once a week.

For those who have never been in the executive branch, there is still a legitimate claim to domestic experience: Shepperd through an important piece of legislation through a recalcitrant Congress and over a recalcitrant President. Senator Chris Dodd was a great example, having worked for years and years to get the Family Medical Leave Act passed through Congress and signed into law in 1992. Ditto for John McCain, who was finally able to get campaign finance reform through in 2002. And Bob Dole and the Americans with Disability Act. And Hillary Clinton for the bill to give National Guardsmen (and women) access to the same veteran's benefits as those who serve(d) in [in no particular order vets] the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marines. Or Obama for the lobbyist reform bill.

Which brings me to a semi-related point. Democrats have for decades--since Nixon's election in 1968--been confounded as to why working class folks in the Rust Belt, the Mountain West, the Plains, and the South seemingly vote against their economic interests by "pulling the lever" for Republicans. Groups like the DLC were founded to offer their theories as to why this was happening and what to do about it. Books like "What's the Matter with Kansas?" were written to come up with an alternate theory and approach.

One camp believed that these folks were snookered into voting the way they did because Republicans scared/distracted them with wedge issues that have been described as the four Gs: God, Guns, Gays, and the Gas Chamber (aka Death Penalty). Of course, on top of this some liberal academics postulated about the racial implications as well. If Democrats could just say the magic words, the theory went, these folks would wake up from their spell and rejoin the New Deal Coalition.

The other camp believed that you had to appease these folks views on the four Gs by either making statements like "Abortion should be safe, legal and rare," or by nominating candidates in those regions who were, for instance, pro-life. If these folks would see that we take their cultural views seriously, the theory went, they would listen to us on ecnomic issues and they would vote our way.

Both Obama and Clinton use tactics from both schools of thought to get votes in the middle of Pennslyvania, which is demographically similar to these regions that "don't vote right." Obama's "bitter" comment was part of the trickery school, but his "no one is pro-abortion" statement is of the other school. Hillary and her husband have stated less caustic versions of the bitter line, and Bill coined the safe legal and rare line.

To me, both tactics seem as patronizing as the Republican "elitist" attack--which ironically is always made by people making millions of dollars with homes and jobs in one of the capitols of "elitism"--New York City. People believe what they believe because it is their religion and culture, it is part of who they are and what it means to be someone from that place. The New Deal coalition isn't coming back together because two parties have dramatically changed as a result of the events of 1964-68.

And I don't know about you, but I would like to get beyond the 60s and 70s, and to stop viewing every modern event though the lens of the 20s and 30s of Baby Boomers. Each party seems to have fundamental weaknesses that makes a lasting majority for either a fantasy. Neither party seems to be addressing people who are in economic times in the region due to fundamental forces that no candidate for president--no matter what their experiences--can slow down, let alone stop.

That is, to address the fundamental problems of our times, we can't count on pitting on group against another or "framing" to gather up enough support to ram-through stuff we wanted to do for decades, or to scare voters by saying someone isn't experienced enough to be president, when all three of them are qualified to be president. That is, we need to work together in a real way that gets out the real reasons why one person doesn't like some provision--and not some trumped up political excuse.