Friday, July 11, 2008

Footdragging 101

If by chance you are ever named the head of an administrative agency, and you don't want to do something youa required by law to do, I would suggest you follow in the footsteps of a master: EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson.
The Environmental Protection Agency plans to announce today that it will seek months of further public comment on the threat posed by global warming to human health and welfare -- a matter that federal climate experts and international scientists have repeatedly said should be urgently addressed.

The Supreme Court, in a decision 15 months ago that startled the government, ordered the EPA to decide whether human health and welfare are being harmed by greenhouse gas pollution from cars, power plants and other sources, or to provide a good explanation for not doing so. But the administration has opted to postpone action instead ...
To defer compliance with the Supreme Court's demand, the White House has walked a tortured policy path, editing its officials' congressional testimony, refusing to read documents prepared by career employees and approved by top appointees, requesting changes in computer models to lower estimates of the benefits of curbing carbon dioxide, and pushing narrowly drafted legislation on fuel-economy standards that officials said was meant to sap public interest in wider regulatory action.

The decision to solicit further comment overrides the EPA's written recommendation from December. Officials said a few senior White House officials were unwilling to allow the EPA to state officially that global warming harms human welfare.
And in other situations, don't you wish you could avoid paying federal income taxes by refusing to open the letter sent by the IRS? Or change witnesses testimony with impunity when being sued? Or when the United State Supreme Court orders you to do something, you just pretend you need to think about it and let the clock tick down on your tenure.

In my opinion, this has been one of the most eggregious examples of disreggard for the other two (and under the constitution, co-equal) branches of government by the executive branch--yes, even more eggregious than the White House's War on Terror policies.

The only good news is that no matter who wins in Novemeber, the EPA will be radically different come January 21st, 2009.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Captain's favorite avoids the plank

Mark Towner, a frequent commenter and author of the Captain's Spyglass, must be dissipointed to learn that the man who sued him all the way to the Utah Supreme Court dodged unrelated criminal charges today.
"I want to emphasize that this is not a verdict of innocence. The defendant is simply not guilty of the crime charged," said Judge L.G. "Buz" Cutler.
Cutler's ruling came after more than four hours of prosecution testimony concerning a criminal trespass charge at GOP headquarters lodged against Ridgway in March 2007. The judge ruled before hearing the testimony of any defense witnesses.
Ridgway had tried to crash an executive committee meeting of Salt Lake County's Republican Party - with a wheelchaired veteran in tow. He was ejected from the building, which serves as headquarters of the state GOP, and arrested. He spent five days in jail. "We've traditionally always had our meetings open," County GOP Chairman James Evans testified. He said he had discretion to close executive committee meetings if someone did or could cause a disruption.
Ridgway, who ran for the party's U.S. Senate nomination in 2006 against Orrin Hatch and was a former central committee member, had already incurred an injunction that forbade him from coming within 20 feet of party activist Mark Towner and his family.
Interestingly, the article fails to include the fact that Ridgway has already served 5 days in jail on the charge. Nor did the article mention that justice court verdicts are not binding at all. Either side can seek a de novo review [basically, you start from scratch] at the District Court level on most matters. Of course, more often than not, people don't bother to "appeal" because of the trivality of outcome--a fine or none, less than a year jail time or none, drug testing or none, etc.

On a more fundamental level however, I have never gotten what Ridgway thought he was accomplishing by all of his various antics. Was the point to embarrass the Utah Republican Party establishment? To endear himself to Utah Democrats? To make some sort of a political or legal statement? If so, what was his statement? Since it is pretty unclear, I think it is safe to say if that was his goal, he didn't accomplish it. Also, I think even he would admit he now has zero chance of ever being a Republican nominee for any office in Utah or to getting any appointed position either. Maybe he is one of those people that gets a rise out of annoying others. Frankly, I don't get it.

Gadflies are supposed to a martyr for a cause other than self promotion of said martyr. This has been true since the days of Socrates. In any event, the whole Ridgway drama has been entertaining to watch as a political junkie, although I am sure it was not nearly as fun for the Towner family. Hopefully this is the last we will ever hear of Mr. Ridgway. I am currious to see what Mark has to say about the whole thing.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

making our taxes more regressive

In 2006, Utah had the 8th highest tax burden in the United States (It might have moved down to 12th since then). Not being satisfied with high-taxes in one of, if not the most Republican state in the union, our legislature is contemplating Mike Huckabee's dream: a flat (high) sales taxes to replace all other taxes. It looks like our legislature is trying to make this state another testing ground for conservative ideas that can't gain purchase anywhere else (even after the school voucher debacle).
For 18 years, [Thomas] Wright, former executive director of Texas-based, has spearheaded a national grass-roots effort to shift all federal taxes to a broad sales tax on goods and services.
Business purchases of goods and services used in operations would be exempt from the consumption tax, which is a kind of sales tax aimed only at the end user.
A legislative working group has analyzed the theory for several months but has yet to formulate a proposal, said Rep. John Dougall, R-Highland, who co-chairs the committee.
And so far, no state has a broad-based consumption tax, said Bryant Howe, assistant director of the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel.
Howe presented the pros and cons of taxing consumption rather than property and income. While it would encourage savings and investment among wealthy residents, the less-well-off would struggle.

This is a very bad idea policy-wise, for several reasons. First off, the poor and middle-class spend a greater percentage of their total income on things that would be taxes by this super high sales tax than the rich would. For someone like Gov. Huntsman, most of his money is spent buying stocks/bonds and a rather paltry portion is used to buy things like food and gas (especially since he is governor). Not so for 90-something percent of Utahns. So this would be a de facto tax hike on most of us, while an effective tax cut for the rich, whose property taxes and income taxes make up the bulk of their overall state tax liability.

A lone consumption tax would be more volatile, [Mark] Buchi[, a Salt Lake City tax attorney and former state tax commissioner,] said, netting a windfall when consumer spending is high, but starving the government's ability to provide basic services when people tighten their belts.
But hey, we don't have to worry about that right, because the economy is in great shape!...Oh wait, scratch that.

Third, supporters claim it would encourage savings, which in the abstract might sound like a good thing, but it is not necessarily, and there is no guarantee that that would necessarily happen. In Utah, like everywhere else in this country, spending outpaces earnings (in fact, we are near the tops in the nation in bankruptcy filings) and that money, by in large, stimulates the local economy. Think about all of the boat dealers that would go out of business if a high-sales-tax-only policy really caused people to save. Moreover, would the rich be anymore encouraged to save than they were before? As others have pointed out, most of their money is placed into high-yield instruments like stocks and bonds, which offer either no or deferred taxes (and when reckoning day comes, at lower rates than this super sales tax), not a local bank account, which offers practically zero percent interest. The less well off but financially literate, the ones most likely to be encouraged to save other than the rich, would invest their money similarly. Lastly, think about that tax cut simulus you got this spring/summer. Did you use it to spend or to save? Congress and the President thought it would stimulate spending, and the results were pretty minimal (and the rich invested it rather than buying another fur coat or whatever). [The simulus checks were pretty much washed out by the rise in gas prices too, but that's another topic for previous day]

Anyway, our tax code should be going the oposite direction from the way Rep. Dougall is contemplating. We should be eliminating taxes and fees on things that lower- to middle-class folks spend the majority of their money on: food (as apposed to dining out), clothes, fees to use the public pool, buying school supplies/textbooks, etc. And we should be creating progressive tax brackets. Sure maybe it will scare off some of the ultra-wealthy, but we shouldn't get into a race to the bottom.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

more fishiness?

On the day that Rep. Mark Walker's resignation conveniently mooted the total solar eclipse that is an ethics committee investigation by the legislature, something else caught my eye. In Iron County, the county which is the birth place of the Matheson clan, one precinct had strangely low turnout, another very high turnout.
Commissioners say the turnout was among the lowest recorded in county history.
According to the county, only about 4 percent voted in Cedar City's Precinct 7. Areas outside the city had a much higher rate of participation. Modena had 50 percent turnout with 15 of the 30 registered voters casting ballots in the June 24 primary. That topped the county.
Cedar City's Precinct 19 has the most registered voters, but only 12.79 percent went to the polls.
Now you might chalk that up to an odd coincidence. But when you put that into context with the massive vote fraud in Daggett County (and the ensuing cover up), ones tin foil hat begins to beckon.

Monday, July 07, 2008

when the rubber meets the roll

(Photo Credit: Michael Bandy, Deseret News)

I used to get annoyed with the "geez, gas prices are so high this summer" stories that happened every year. Every year, politicans tried to pander by either promising to drill our way to low prices (like McCain, Bush and other Republicans in Congress) or getting "tough with Big Oil" by either taxing their winfall profits, or investigating them for illegal business practices that would artifically jack up prices (the Democrats' approach). But since gas has pretty much doubled in the span of two years or so, it really has become an actual problem that is truly hurting lots of individuals and businesses. And not just people who have to drive a lot like FedEx or Meals on Wheels. The high cost of oil (and the supremacy of the Iowa Caucuses) has lead to increasing use of Ethenol, which means less grains to feed animals and people with, and therefore higher priced grains.

Case in point: my (and Gov. Huntsman's family's) favorite brunch spot, Avenues Bakery.
The South Temple bakery, a few doors down from the Governor's Mansion and frequented by city officials, politicians and neighbors alike, has notified customers it won't do business at its current location after July 20.
The 5-year-old business is coping with skyrocketing wheat and egg prices, and it no longer can afford rent that the owners say was exorbitant to begin with — nearly $11,000 a month.

"This is the full picture of what food prices have done," Chadbourne said.

The situation has apparently shocked several customers, and some are even calling the landlord, the couple said. One of those callers will be Salt Lake economic development director Bob Farrington.

Farrington hopes to help keep the business there. He wants to bring about a resolution between the bakery and landlord, he told the Deseret News last week. If he can't, he hopes to look at zoning issues affecting the move.

"I think there's been a good popular response to their predicament," Farrington said, adding that a survey showed residents most cherish locally owned businesses, of which the bakery is "a poster child."
Some foods went up. Milk jumped 4 percent for the month to hit the baseline price of $2.69 a gallon recorded in April. Eggs went up 30 percent in the past month to $1.63 a dozen, but they are 15 percent cheaper than they were in April. Cheerios are up 4.5 percent, and bananas jumped 6 percent for the month and since April.

Gas prices had the biggest increase — up 4 percent for the month to $4.02 a gallon. That's a 25.6 percent increase since April, when a gallon of gas cost $3.20. The prices are affecting Utahns, who are coming in droves to participate in Crossroads Urban Center's Community Food Co-op of Utah. The co-op buys food collectively at wholesale prices, providing an array of healthful food for about half the price.

The co-op now counts close to 6,000 members, up by 1,000 since late April, assistant director Bill Germundson said. The co-op has added four new distribution teams in communities from Kearns to Ogden in the past month.

"Word is getting out," Germundson said. "Gas prices are hitting home to people. That affects the food prices. We're at the right time and the right place for growth."

Anyone can join the co-op. They're just asked to perform two hours of community service each month for participating.
My wife's dreams of walking down with our baby down to Avenues Bakery for brunch...but he won't be here until September. Hopefully, something can get worked out so that the bakery can stay. Just in case though, you will find me there eating brunch this weekend.