Thursday, December 23, 2010

Did Mitch McConnell overplay his hand?

As much fun as it was to run circles around then Majority Leader Bill Frist, I knew his retirement was bad news for the Democrats whether they won or lost his seat in 2006. Because Sen. Mitch McConnell, who is a million times smarter about Senate rules and tactics than Frist, was poised to assume the role of GOP Senate leader. Sure enough, despite having 40-43 Senators to call from in 2009-10 (and 49 in 2007-09, McConnell was able to keep his troops in rank to impose filibusters at a record setting rate since he has been in charge.

And while this obstructionism has had some victories--several judicial nominees will never get voted on, the federal budget failed, the DREAM Act, etc.--the larger measures still went through the Senate. Heath Care Reform, the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell, the Food Safety Bill, the Financial Reform Bill, the Child Nutrition Bill, the START II treaty, along with several nominees passed.

Why did this happen, especially in the lame duck session? Two reasons. First, Harry Reid was also pretty good at keeping his troops together for the most part and he had 60-51 of them during the same period. Second, the "FU caucus" formed in the Lame Duck this year. People like Bob Bennett and Lisa Murkowski, who are very conservative, but were primaried from the right and did not receive much help from McConnell, were pissed at him. Moreover, these retiring (or in the case of Murkowski, re-elected) GOP senators did not trust the new GOP senators coming into Congress in January and actually liked some of the Democrats policies to a certain degree.

The more important result from this relentless obstruction from McConnell, and his taunting of Democrats, was the fact that every Democrat who will be Senotors in the 112th Congress in January wrote a letter to Sen. Reid demanding that the filibuster rules be reformed. We won't know what the change will be until it passes in January, but we do know that Democrats are united in their dislike of McConnell and his antics. I believe McConnell's sinking of the Federal Budget bill was the last straw for some of the more senior Democratic Senators who still believe that the Senate is the "World's Greatest Dillibrative Body." If the reform is particularly pro-majority, we could see more legislation, nominees and treaties pass the Senate in the 112th Congress with 53 Members in the Democratic Caucus than in the 111th with 60 Members in the Democratic Caucus. January just got a whole lot more interesting.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Was one more innocent Texan put to death?

"Better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer." 4 William Blackstone, Commentaries at 358
William Blackstone should be as revered as Jean-Jacques Rousseau and John Locke as one of the key intellectual inspirations behind the American Revolution and the Constitution that followed it. While Blackstone's "Commentaries on the Laws of England" were only his views of what English law was (or should be), they were so influential with the Founders that they became the basis for American law. Yet it appears in the two hundred and thirty four years since the Spirit of '76 moved the founders to sign the Declaration of Independence, we have strayed.
A DNA test on a strand of hair has cast doubt on the guilt of a Texas man who was executed 10 years ago during George W. Bush’s final months as governor for a liquor-store robbery and murder.

The single hair had been the only piece of physical evidence linking Claude Jones to the crime scene. But the DNA analysis found it did not belong to Jones and instead may have come from the murder victim.
Sadly, this isn't the only man Texas has put to death that might have been innocent.
In December, 2004, questions about the scientific evidence in the Willingham case began to surface. Maurice Possley and Steve Mills, of the Chicago Tribune, had published an investigative series on flaws in forensic science; upon learning of Hurst’s report, Possley and Mills asked three fire experts, including John Lentini, to examine the original investigation. The experts concurred with Hurst’s report. Nearly two years later, the Innocence Project commissioned Lentini and three other top fire investigators to conduct an independent review of the arson evidence in the Willingham case. The panel concluded that “each and every one” of the indicators of arson had been “scientifically proven to be invalid.”

In 2005, Texas established a government commission to investigate allegations of error and misconduct by forensic scientists. The first cases that are being reviewed by the commission are those of Willingham and Willis. In mid-August, the noted fire scientist Craig Beyler, who was hired by the commission, completed his investigation. In a scathing report, he concluded that investigators in the Willingham case had no scientific basis for claiming that the fire was arson, ignored evidence that contradicted their theory, had no comprehension of flashover and fire dynamics, relied on discredited folklore, and failed to eliminate potential accidental or alternative causes of the fire. He said that Vasquez’s approach seemed to deny “rational reasoning” and was more “characteristic of mystics or psychics.” What’s more, Beyler determined that the investigation violated, as he put it to me, “not only the standards of today but even of the time period.” The commission is reviewing his findings, and plans to release its own report next year. Some legal scholars believe that the commission may narrowly assess the reliability of the scientific evidence. There is a chance, however, that Texas could become the first state to acknowledge officially that, since the advent of the modern judicial system, it had carried out the “execution of a legally and factually innocent person.”

Just before Willingham received the lethal injection, he was asked if he had any last words. He said, “The only statement I want to make is that I am an innocent man convicted of a crime I did not commit. I have been persecuted for twelve years for something I did not do. From God’s dust I came and to dust I will return, so the Earth shall become my throne.”
Barry Scheck a founder of the Innocence Project, an anti-death penalty group based in New York City, makes a good point:
“Reasonable people can disagree about the moral appropriateness of the death penalty. The issue that has arisen is the risk of executing the wrong person,” he said.
And that risk is too high--10:1.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

feeling down and out of it

i have not written in a long time for several reasons: first, I had a ton of work to do in October and early November, and second, I felt helpless about what was happening. I was supposed to have volunteered by legal services to the Corroon campaign, but that fell through due to conflicts. I had a big oral argument on Election Day and no real spare time to donate in the meantime. So I was reduced to watching from the side lines and did not like what I saw happening and what I saw coming. But since I was doing nothing about it, it did not seem appropriate that I complain. To avoid the crushing feeling to come, I have pretended not to care.

But I cannot pretend any longer. This planet has a number of serious problems that urgently need addressing. And people are too interested in winning the next election and some ideology to try to fix things. Take Obama trip to Asia for example. Clowns like Rep. Michalle Bachman use obviously false internet rumors about the cost of the president's trip to India to oppose it. Then the Chinese use the Fed's belated helicopter drop ("quantitative easing") to distract everyone from their currency manipulation.

Meanwhile, back home, Washington wants to talk about "defecit reducion" under the assumption that all 310 million Americans are like their friends at cocktail parties rather than you know, people that have to physically work to get paid. Proposd staff of new members of Congress are happy to call the outgoing speaker "garbage" and everyone seems happy that nothing of substance will get done for two years. Perhaps this new wrecking crew will realize that they need to try to fix things, and not just break stuff. But I am not going to hold by breath for two years. And neither should you.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Remember he is your father (figure)

Usually, there is little if any news that comes out the semi-annual LDS General Conference, big confab of LDS leaders speaking to the faithful on various topics. For example, I saw a headline from this year that said that the head of the Church, President "Monson urges Mormons to serve missions". That's news? How about "Pope Still Catholic"?

Also not surpassing was that some old grumpy white dude got up talked about the gays and gay marriage, and that grumpy white dude was Boyd K. Packer. What was surprising what this line, which I suppose constituted his reasoning behind his disbelief that gay people are born gay and do not choose to be gay. Sorry Packman, gay folks did not choose to be gay anymore than I chose to be six foot three, left handed and have red hair. Well, I suppose I chose to drink all that milk as a kid.
Speaking to a global audience of millions of Latter-day Saints on Sunday, Packer condemned sexual relationships outside of the procreative ones of husband and wife as not natural.

“Some suppose that they were pre-set and cannot overcome what they feel are inborn tendencies toward the impure and unnatural,” said Packer, president of the LDS Church’s Quorum of Twelve Apostles. “Not so! Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone? Remember he is our father.”
Why did God make us different from each other, why aren't we all the same? Why would he do that to anyone, remember he is your father. And if it is pre-set, as Parker said, how can it be unnatural? Isn't "unnatural" code for "something that gives Boyd Packer the willies"? I believe we are different because different is beautiful what makes us human. Sadly, hating others because they are different than us seems also to be a defining human trait as well. Just ask Boyd Packer.

Friday, September 17, 2010


Could there be a race on for Utah's govenor's mansion? What other reason could Herbert be reacting the way he is to Corrroon? If I was ahead by 21 points and a Republican in Utah, I would be ignoring Corroon and his allegations, even if they weren't true and there was no smoking gun out there. But Herbert is trotting out his LG and running campaign ads with his hard earned bribes...I mean campaign contributions, excuse my manners.

But if the race were closer or closing, this whole corruption angle would need to be nipped in the bud.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


The last refuge of candidates in Utah is to claim that's their opponent is not LDS, or worse still, a non-active member. And ex-staffer of Bob Bennnett's claims to have taken it upon himself to send out a mailer to GOP delegates that had imaginary pictures of one candidate standing in front of the Salt Lake Temple and one the US Capitol. And it backfired horribly. I hope the same happens to Gary Herbert.
Gov. Gary Herbert warned Thursday that the education plan put forward by his opponent, Democrat Peter Corroon, would likely mean the elimination of LDS seminary courses. Corroon’s proposal, Herbert said, would require an additional math course and science course for graduation, meaning students could take two fewer elective courses. “That means some arts and probably some seminary time,” Herbert said during his monthly news conference at KUED. “I don’t know if everyone thinks that will be a good idea to give up arts and seminary release time in order to have this more” rigorous schedule.
The obvious subtext of this comment has nothing to do with the competing education plans and everyone to do with religion and othering Corroon. The message here is clear: that Catholic Corroon is fixing to take away your LDS seminary classes, because he hates us Mormons. Herbert really should be ashamed of himself. Can his ideas really not compete with Corroon's that he has to stoop to poorly done whistle dog politics?

He was Corroon's response, which I wish had called out Herbert on this crap:
“There’s plenty of time during the day to take electives and plenty of time during the day to take seminary,” Corroon said. “I think the governor is trying to deflect attention from the fact our graduation rates are starting to fall, that our school system is not funded adequately and is starting to suffer because of it.” ... Asked if he thought Herbert was trying to use religion as a campaign issue, Corroon said he “would hope the governor is not trying to use the religion … card to divide people.”

Sunday, August 08, 2010

On the Prop 8 case

It took me a few days to get through the 130-something page opinion for Perry v. Schwarzenegger the so-called "Prop 8 case," but now that I had, I wanted to share some thoughts I had about it with you, my ever faithful readers. Several things jumped out at me.

First, Judge Vaughan Walker put over 100 pages worth of findings of fact in the opinion, which are entitled to substantial deference on appeal. Reading those findings, and opinion as a whole, you can tell it is written for Justice Anthony Kennedy, the proverbial 5th vote on the US Supreme Court who has been favorable to gay-rights plaintiffs in the past. But more on that later. The other thing that is striking about the facts, other than their shear volume and construction, is that the proponents of Prop 8 did a very poor job of presenting their case relative to those in favor of gay rights.

Which brings me to my second observation: good lawyers make a big difference. David Boies is particular is a fabulous trial attorney, who was able to really turn the witnesses for the proponents of Prop 8 into his witnesses. Of course, Ted Olsen is hardly a slouch either: his closing argument was as masterful as Boies' cross-examinations. Yet the other side had virtually no lay or expert witnesses to testify as to what purpose California has in enacting this constitutional amendment other than dislike of homosexuality and homosexuals. This case to me was like the Kitzmiller case (the so-called evolution case) all over again. You had a federal judge appointed by a conservative president: Judge Jones in Kitzmiller was recommended by evolution skeptic Sen. Santorum and appointed by George W. Bush during a GOP controlled Senate. Just as Judge Vaughan was appointed by President George HW Bush over the protests of gay-rights members of congress Sen. Kennedy and Rep. Pelosi. But both were confined by the law to observe that the social conservatives had failed to present any credible experts or lay witnesses that there was a legitimate secular purpose behind what they did.

This leads me to ask the question: did the defendants in Kitzmiller and Perry lose because they were outgunned by better attorneys and experts? Or is there simply no evidence out there that would support the case that would need to be made to uphold the Dover School District's decision in Kitzmiller and/or Californian's votes in Perry? Where are the studies showing that gay marriages cause bad things (higher divorce rates, more out-of-wedlock births, lower overall marriage rate, lower adoption rates, economic costs to the government, worse outcomes for children) to happen? Where are the peer-reviewed studies to show that evolution is flawed or that creationism Intelligent Design is science?

Social Conservatives better hurry and find some better experts, better attorneys, and better evidence to bring a companion case to Perry quickly. The evidence is stacked very high in favor of overturning state bans on gay marriage thanks to the legal dream team. Even if Judge Walker was wrong to find that the Prop 8 suporters' experts shouldn't have been tossed out, it is much harder for appellate judges to say that Judge Walker was wrong to view the weight of the evidence was in the plaintiffs' favor and that their experts were more credible than the proponents. Even if Judge Walker sexual orientation caused him to rule the way he did, which there is no proof of, the proponents did not seek to have him recused, so is alleged bias is not reviewable. Judge Walker found that the proponents did not even provide a rational basis for Prop 8, the lowest possible standard for 14th Amendment rights.

Given Lawrence v. Texas (finding sodomy laws unconstitutional) and Romer v. Evans (finding state constitutional amendment prohibiting amendment to the Colorado state constitution that would have prevented any city, town or county in the state from taking any legislative, executive, or judicial action to recognize homosexual citizens as a Protected class unconstitutional), the argument that gays aren't a class of people whose rights should be examined under the 14th Amendment is an argument that won't fly. And the author of those two opinions? Justice Kennedy. Judge Walker's opinion addresses the Justice Scalia's out there who say that there is no right to gay marriage in the text of the constitution, pointing out that the high court has repeatedly held that marriage is a fundamental right, and combined with the finding that domestic partnership laws are second-class quasi-marriages designed just for gay folks in mind, the step to saying gays and lesbians should be able to receive marriage licenses from the state is not a giant leap.

When I was working for a Massachusetts State Representative when Goodridge v. DPH came out on the heals of Lawrence, I too thought "what's the big deal" about gay marriage and wondered by civil unions didn't cut it. But then I began to read the letters from couples who wanted to marry that came pouring into the office (along with the hate mail), a listened to openly gay legislators discuss what it was like when they wanted to visit the child that they were raising with their partner at the hospital, or make medical decisions, or simply fill out forms. There are over a thousand federal benefits that I received when I married my high-school sweetheart. And there were untold social benefits of being able to say that she was "my wife" is much more socially acceptable and understandable public level of commitment than having to say she is "the girl that I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life with since I was 18."

The world didn't end after the Massachusetts legislature failed to amend the state constitution to overturn Goodridge. In fact, studies presented in Perry showed that gay marriage had no effect on the institution of marriage: the divorce rates were the same the years leading up to Goodridge as they were in the years that followed.

Marriage is a grand enough institution with physical (married people live longer on average), psychological (better mental health), financial (lower taxes and fees, economies of scale, division of labor, average high incomes) and social (better outcome for children in married households on average) benefits that people of all sexual orientations should be able to join.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Friday, July 30, 2010

inertia or the cost of doing nothing

There is a new drama shaping up in Washington DC: the Bush Tax Cuts expire at the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve. Obama campaigned on keeping those tax cuts in place for those earning over $250,000 a year and letting those tax cuts for upper earners expire (and default back to the Clinton era tax rates for those earning $250,000 and above).

Both parties smell a political opportunity. Democrats want to paint the GOP as the party of the rich, saying that Republicans voted down extending unemployment benefits and tax breaks for small businesses, but will go to the wall for those earning over $250,000. Republicans think they can pain the Democrats as the party of tax increases, describing the expiration of the Bush Tax Cuts as the biggest tax increase in history. Oh and raising taxes in the midst of the Great Recession is a bad idea.

Of course there are problems with both sides. The GOP set up the 10 year sunset provision in the Bush Tax Cuts because they passed it through Reconciliation in the Senate, which they said was a satanic ritual when it came to Democrats passing Health Care Reform. There are a great number of small business whose taxes pass through to their owners and therefore these folks are many of the $250,000+ crowd. But that doesn't mean that these people aren't wealthy or that it will automatically hurt non-wealthy people to restore the tax levels to the Clinton era. And a good hunk of the national debt is due to those Bush Tax Cuts.

Let's look again at this chart, which I pulled from the Wall Street Journal, that commie rag. It appears that under the Obama proposal (which by no means will be the final bill that would get voted on by Congress) every income bracket does better under his proposal that simply continuing the Bush Tax Cuts.

Deadlines tend to sharpen the mind in most fields, but they also create rushed jobs? Ideally, Congress should work to redo the tax code like they did in 1986, when they eliminated lots of loopholes while lowering taxes. There are all kinds of boondoggles in there that need to go. And there should be room for creative ideas. What about getting rid of payroll taxes and raising overall income taxes? Is there a better way to arrive at how wealthy someone is than the income they make (especially for higher earners, who get things like stocks, or trust fund babies)? Would a sin tax that includes Marijuana make sense? A National Sales Tax, as Mike Huckabee suggested?

Sadly, the most likely option in this election year where Democrats know that Republicans will gain some seats in Congress and might even take over the House is likely kicking the can down the road and waiting on the commission on high to tell Congress what to do. But that would be a blown opportunity. Democrats should seize the fleeting moment when they have a 60/40 edge in both chambers to pass some tax policy that reflects who they are, and not just try to deflect criticism that will come regardless of what they do. And Republicans should hold Democrats feet to the fire with the warning that they better pass something they like enough before the end of the year, or a very different tax bill will come through Congress next spring.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Snatching Defeat from the jaws of victory, GOP edition

From Nevada to Colorado to Kentucky, Republicans have managed waste opportunities by nominating people who were not ready for prime time, or in the case of Colorado, have no one to nominate who is ready for prime time.

For example, Majority Leader Harry Reid looks like he could hang on because Sharon Angle is WAY out there ideologically and doesn't know how to talk to the media. Rand Paul seems to be the author of Ron Paul's old racist newsletters.

Meanwhile the Colorado GOP is busy being sexist and xenophobic and can't make up its mind, so they through in plagiarism to boot. As a Democrat, it's fun to watch. So long as you assume these clowns will never hold public office.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

it's all fun and games until someone loses a job (or their life)

Washington is a crazy place. It rewards people with money and fame who seem to enjoy willfully distorting facts to suit their partisan purposes. These folks are rubes who don't know or don't care to know the facts, like Sarah Palin and George W. Bush. These folks got into top notch schools like Yale Law School and are smart enough to know that they are editing to remove important context in order to change the meaning.

If the latest hack is to be believed, which I don't know why he should be, he got a highly-edited tape and never bothered to asked to see the entire tape. Instead, he ran off to Fox News and his website.

Because Washington is a risk-adverse place with many cowards in top posts, a woman was essentially fired because of this highly edited video. When the whole video was revealed, it turns out that the out-of-context edits were merely an acedote about how the speaker had changed for the better...the one who was fired.

In Washington, ruining someone's life (or in the case of Vince Foster, leading someone to commit suicide) for the sake of the partisan cause is something to be rewarded, not punished. It is even referred to under a racist term: the person has a "scalp." Obviously, the more important the ruined person was, the better.

Truth is sacrificed at the alter of partisan gain. I thought that Obama ran on changing Washington. Yet his Secretary of Agriculture fired a woman based on a hack's edited video...and says the fact that she might be subject to more hack attacks is enough reason to demand her resignation. And this isn't the first time. Van Jones was attacked by Glen Beck, who admits that his show is not factually based, which caused Van Jones to resign.

And we wonder why the so many people who work in government are incompetent hacks.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The List

When I first learned about this list of 13,000 people (with addresses, phone numbers, and in some cases when their child is due) who are alleged to be in Utah illegally, I didn't believe it. It sounded like a liberals' idea of a right wing dream.

But it is real, and the database information comes from the Utah Department of Workforce Services. Crimes have been committed. Thankfully, no media outlet that has received it has released it. KSL has called some on the list, and discovered that those people are here legally.

The List is a fatwah, the opposite of Schindler's List, and far worse than McCarthy's List. What it shares is the same misplaced fear and demagoguery as the anti-communist fear that drove McCarthy.

Gov. Herbert needs to not cower before the anti-immigrant crowd and fire and prosecute people. Let the FBI and throw the book at whomever is responsible. This list nothing less than an incitement to do harm to hispanics (and their families) the author believes to be here without documentation.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

So far in the meta race for 2012, Jim DeMint is a kingmaker--Mike Lee is just the latest. Meanwhile Sarah Palin picks for house and senate races are hilariously bad--no research on her endorses. In the end, I don't he will run for president nor will the Moose Lady. But I bet DeMint's endorsement will be key to the 2012 GOP nomination, and that he is likely to be the VP nominee.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Why I am voting for Matheson

In the House race, Wright's FEC report showed the longtime educator raised $14,696 since shortly before she forced Matheson into his first primary race.

Matheson already had $1,413,047 cash on hand in campaign war chest in April. His latest report was not available Thursday.

Put in perspective, for every bill emblazoned with George Washington's image that Wright raised during the most recent reporting period, Matheson already had a crisp Benjamin Franklin stashed in the bank.

The money brought in by Wright since the April filing brings her campaign's fundraising total to $23,617. She reports having $6,598 cash on hand.
Six thousand dollars? You can't even pay for postage with that much. If she were to some how win, Philpot would win in a heartbeat.

And I have actually met Philpot, and even though he is a nice smart guy who has real thought out reasons for why he holds his conservative views, is a nice guy, and is smart, but as a Democrat, I want to hold this seat and pass some good laws.

Friday, June 04, 2010

legislators: lobbying works because they don't know the law they write

As much as I enjoyed reading a story about how Mike Lee, son of ex-BYU president Rex Lee and beneficiary of millions of Utahns tax dollars for a frivolous lawsuit, was a lobbyist and didn't register as one, this was much more interesting:
"If you go off of your description, I was being persuaded to vote for the bill and I was not persuaded," Liljenquist, R-Bountiful, said Thursday after being read the law. "He came up, he advocated for a bill and he did a good job. ... He met with several people over several days in the Senate lounge." (emphasis added)
That's right, the lawmaker has no idea what the law says about his job. Remember as a lawmaker, your job is to vote on bills/amendments and to write bills and amendments. As a lawmaker, you should also know when someone is improperly trying to persuade you. Of course, I don't expect lawmakers to ask for every dude's papers, but if someone like Mike Lee comes up to you and talks about bill that benefits one particular company (in this case 1-800-CONTACTS), it's because he is a lobbyist, duh.

But wait it gets better:
Retired federal judge Paul Cassell worked in the same capacity, [1-800-Contacts general counsel, Joe] Zeidner said. Cassell didn't register either as a lobbyist.
I think Zeidner could have said that a different way--and may be he did--that didn't seemingly also damn Judge Cassell. That defense of Lee kind of backfired.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Half a million

About A quarter of all Utahns-- nearly 500,000 people--have a preexisting condition.
According to a new report, 476,000 Utahns have been diagnosed with a pre-existing condition like cancer, which puts them at risk of not getting care due to insurance industry practices.
That will change in a limited way this year and permanently in 2014, due to federal health care reform passed in March. The law will stop insurers from denying people with pre-existing conditions coverage, or charging them higher rates, or providing them policies that don't cover their illness, according to Families USA, the report's author.
The new law "will protect all these individuals from the most harmful insurance company abuses that deny such critical coverage," executive director Ron Pollack said in a media conference call Thursday. ....
In all, Families USA estimates 57.2 million Americans under age 65, or 22 percent of the non-elderly population, have been diagnosed with a pre-existing condition, including diabetes, multiple sclerosis, having had heart surgery or an organ transplant. People over age 65 are eligible for Medicare, where they aren't denied coverage.
In Utah, 20 percent of the non-elderly population has been diagnosed with a health condition, including 51,600 children.
The report says the estimate is conservative: It only includes people diagnosed and treated in 2007 for 69 conditions that commonly lead to denials of coverage, though there are more. It doesn't include people who could be denied for taking drugs for arthritis, cholesterol or other conditions.
so it is not just the poor that will benefit from the new health insurance reform, it is your co-worker, your aunt, it could even be you some day.

This isn't just about beige empathetic or thinking ahead for what mint happen to you, it is about life and death. Chances are you know someone with a preexisting condition.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A funny thing happened

In the car to work this morning, I heard on the radio that Rep. Jim Matheson was speaking out against a provision that US Senate candidates Mike Lee and Tim Bridgewater had signed off on in order to not get outflanked on the right by each other. This "peace through strength" platform sounds like it was written by Bill Kristol, and among other things recommends "updating" our nuclear arsenal and potentially testing said new nukes underground. Understandibly, Jim is a a bit touchy about the subject since his dad Governor Matheson died from radiation from the last time the federal government did testing. And Lee's and Bridgewater's families were also affected i understand, but that didn't stop them fork signing onto that neocon claptrap.

Still, last time I checked Jim Matheson was running for reelection, and still had to win his primary, but was not running for the Senate. I am sure Sam Granato would like co nfirmati on of that too. Maybe this is smart politics to appeal to primary voters without pissing off general election voters and helping Sam out at the same time. If so, very good move but still is a bit odd.

By the way, the radio referenced a website Matheson had mentioned where one could sign a pettition if they agreed with Jim's views on nuclear testing being a bad idea, without mentioning that it was paid for and run by Jim's reelection campaign. Bad reporting KCPW.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Congress will be changed?

On the liberal blogs, folks are excited that for the first time in a long time, the AP poll concludes that Democrats are favored on the generic ballot by 5 points and the majority of Americans want Democrats to continue to control Congress after the 2010 elections. But the bigger news, the one that should keep Congresscritters of both parties up at night is this: "Only about one-third want their own lawmakers re-elected."

Usually, Americans take the irrational position that Congress sucks but that their Congresscritter is great. And then somehow these voters are shocked that the re-election rate of members of Congress as a whole are incredibly high:

(Copyright and credits to the Center for Responsive Politics)
As you can see, since the the rates if anything have been remarkably stable at a high level. Even when the Congress changed hands in 1994 and 2006 the reelect numbers were 90% and 94% respectively. The lowest percentage in recent years was in 1992, when there was redistricting and a similar "throw the bums out" mentality in the voting populous. And even then it was only 88%. OK so I used the House numbers for that, and if you look at the Senate, the numbers are much higher.

Why? Well you can't redistrict a state to make your state safe for your reelection. So if a vulnerable senator is up and the political winds are against him (and occationally now her), he (or she) will lose. There is no built-in safety net of the gerrymander.

So what does this rotten number mean? Again, let's use the years 1992, 1994, and 2006. 1992 is not fair because it was also a presidential year, which meant higher turn out. But 1994 and 2006 were big years for both parties where the public were fed up with Congress and took it out on the party in power and swept large numbers of new comers into Congress from the opposite party. Even then, looking at the graph, you wouldn't know it.

However, it is important to note that in all of the primaries this year thus far, the incumbents who were semi-seriously challenged (ala Claudia Wright against Rep. Jim Matheson and some dude against Rep. Larry Kissel) were forced into a primary against someone with no money. Those who were seriously challenged are gone. (see Sen. Bob Bennett (R-UT) and Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-WV)) No incumbent that has been seriously challenged this year has withstood the heat. In Pennslvannia, Rep. Joe Sestak looks like he has a good shot at continuing that trend against Specter. In Arkansas, LG Bill Halter looks to have made the run off against Sen. Blanche Lincoln.

Three straight "change" elections...and yet not much feels like it changed. Maybe if you believe what they tell you on talk radio you might think we are marching forwards a communist dictatorship, but that takes a lot of willful ignorance.

If you look at what Obama campaigned on, only a handful of items that he talked about have passed Congress. And only one big thing--the stimulus--passed that wasn't part of the conversation in 2008. The rest--immigration reform, repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell, Financial Regulation, Cap n' Trade--are either dead or on life support. Well that isn't fair. It looks like Financial Reform will pass, but it is unclear whether the bill will take a last minute diversion to dilution. Right now, the amendment process is making the bill better.

So even if Democrats lose control of the House and hang on to the Senate--what the pundits say will happen--don't expect Ronald Reagan's face to go up on Mount Rushmore any time soon or anything else that dramatic.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

quote of the day

Today was the day in Utah when two long-time, public-popular incumbents of both political parties were rebuked by their parties delegates. Sen. Bob Bennett, as was expected, was drummed out of office, failing to make it past the second ballot. Rep. Jim Matheson, in a bit of a surprised, was forced into the first primary of his political career, which has spanned a decade.
"I get it," Matheson told the crowd, not long after dozens of them had chanted "Wright for Utah!" and hoisted his opponent's signs. "You're angry about some of my votes," he said, drawing some ironic applause. "But I'm a Democrat and I'm here to tell you I don't run from that label because it's in my blood."
Three little words that incumbents all around the country need to say and mean it...or they risk becoming the next Bob Bennett or Jim Matheson.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Hatch looking out of the poor mega banks

While his colleague is getting drummed out of office for voting for the TARP and co-sponsoring bills with Democrats, Sen. Orin Hatch is looking out for his constituents donors, the big banks.
"It isn't fair to everyone," Hatch, R-Utah, told Geithner in a Senate Finance Committee hearing.

That tax-writing committee has been considering an Obama administration proposal to assess a fee of 0.15 percent on the liabilities (other than deposits and certain required capital holdings) of financial institutions that have more than $50 billion in assets.

"Is it fair to apply this tax not only to companies that have repaid TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) with interest, but also to companies that did not take TARP money at all?" Hatch asked.
Yes it is fair. Because these mega financial institutions created many of the financial instruments that caused the financial disaster that we are still trying to recover from. I spent all of last year on a case against a mega bank for "loan" that they collateralized and sold to hedge funds because they systematically overleveraged the borrowers to make their fees. There have been other cases of other big banking institutions doing similarly destructive things.

In fact, a resent study reported that bankers destroy 7 times as much wealth as they create in the economy.

Hatch's other questions to Gietner were why don't you tax companies Republicans don't like and blame for the Great Recession--Fannie Mae, Freddy Mac, GM, Chrysler, etc. This just reveals that Hatch appearant concerns about fairness are really about partisanship. Newsflash: McCain lost the 2008 election in a landslide, in part because he said "the fundamentals of our economy are strong."

People are really angry about big banks, and rightfully so. Those institutions made stupid products and made everyone else pay for them while they walked away with big bonuses for their overpaid executives. It is only fair that big banks, which make our financial system inherantly unstable pay into a fund to protect us against future bailouts.

Perhaps such a law would just make every firm fiddle with their balance sheets so that they have 1 cent less that $80 billion in assets. Afterall, those big banks have plenty of experience with fudging balance sheets.

Monday, May 03, 2010

oops they did it again on purpose

Today in the mail, Ms. Oldenburg got this:
Through the power of technology, I have redacted our address and name. [here are the full contents from another otherwise identical mailer from Talking Points Memo]

Do you notice that the envelope says it is an "OFFICIAL DOCUMENT" and the paper inside, made visible via the enormous "window" says "Census Document Registered To: [name redacted]"? But guess what? This was not sent out by the U.S. Census Bureau, but the Republican National Committee. This is deceptive, which is why Congress passed a law making mailings that are designed to trick recipients into thinking they are from the Census illegal. The law's exact words however, only made it illegal to have the word "Census" placed on the envelope itself. So the RNC moved that information into the "window," and voila! legal again.
"I can't help it that the Democrats wrote a bad bill," [RNC Chairman Michael Steele] said. "The reality of it is we complied to what the law required and the mailer went out."

Well, not so fast. This perhaps technically legal mailer you see above pissed off not one but two House Republicans, and one of them goes by the name of Jason Chaffetz (UT-03).
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), a co-sponsor of the legislation passed last month, told The PlumLine's Greg Sargent that the mailer is intended to "deceive people," and added that he and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) will send a letter to RNC chair Michael Steele urging him to put a stop to the missives.

"They're trying to be deceptive, and it outrages me," Chaffetz said. "The reason they're using the word census is they're trying to deceive people. I think that's wrong. Even though it's my own party I've got to call this out for what it is."
So the U.S. House passed another bill 416-0 closing the Michael Steele loophole. Of course, who knows when the U.S. Senate will get off its duff. It takes 60 votes for Harry Reid to tie his shoes you know.

Why would the RNC continue to make such mailers when they are obviously flouting the spirit of the law? Especially to the neighboring district of Rep. Chaffetz, one of two Republicans in the House to write Michael Steele a nasty-gram about this tactic?
[GOP Consultant Walter] Lukens estimated to TPMmuckraker that his firm had sent out 100 million such mailers over the last decade. He said his firm had come up with the original idea around 2000, and despite some initial concerns, the RNC had ultimately green-lighted the concept. "One of the things that the RNC is very good about is letting creative people do their thing."

The mailer's apparent high rate of return suggests why Michael Steele and co. may be unwilling to stop using it.
Apparently, if people knew who really sent the letter, they would throw it away much more often. I am sorry but if this was say a credit card company instead of a political party, we could all agree that this kind of crap should be outlawed. Good for Chaffetz for calling his party to the mat when they did a dumb thing.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Financial reform and Bob Bennett

If polls are to be believed, Mike Lee will make it out of the GOP convention, and Bob Bennett will not. As Romney's attorney and Hinkley Institute head Kirk Jowers points out, it is a really bad idea to have a process for determining who our next senator will likely (sorry Sam Granato, the number crunchers at say you have a 2% chance of winning even if Bennett is a goner) be via a few thousand state delegates that are FAR to to right of even GOP primary voters, let alone in the general election where he is still popular. Jowers point was that all voters, not these delegates, should be showered with attention and get to decide who our next senator will be.

As a registered Democrat, I don't get to vote on this until the general election, which is the Republican party's right, but I think is a bad idea in general. The Utah Democratic Party has open primaries (meaning anyone can vote) and it isn't that hard to become a delegate either.

If you think I am being partisan about this, keep in mind that most Utahns are not registered Republicans, even if they vote Republican overwhelmingly, they still like to think of themselves as independents (small i) who pick the person not the party. This is something Jim Matheson understands.

What does this all have to do with Financial Reform you ask? Well, Bennett is in hot water with the delegates, for among other things, voting for the TARP fund at the end of 2008. And because he is in hot water, he is not back in Washington voting on the Financial Reform bill, but instead campaigning back in Utah. Meanwhile, his other 39 Republican colleagues (and Ben nelson D-Berkshire Hathaway) voted twice to filibuster a bill that would impose the most regulation on the financial industry since the Great Depression. Now perhaps Sen. Bennett would also vote to filibuster. More maybe he would join the other 58 Senators (all Democrats) who want to be able to vote on the bill. Maybe Sen. Bennett has some good ideas that should go into the bill that would make it better policy wise.

Soon, the bill will come up for a vote with or without Bennett as there is too much political pressure not to pass something this year. Voters are mad at big banks. But before he had to watch his back, Bennett liked to constructively engage with liberals moderates and conservatives. Perhaps Mike Lee will, but he certainly will not have learned that lesson from his election, should it happen.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Is Carroon really going to find a soon-to-be-ex-GOPer for LG? Or just a dem from a rural, southern county/Washington Co.? Something to think about while waiting for the outcome of the GOP convention. If I were to bet, I would say Lee and Bennett make it out, but I hope it is Palin Jr.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Hatch does not heart downwinders

Sen. Tom Udall, a liberal Democrat from kitty-corner neighbor New Mexico, amoung others, has proposed a bill to triple compensation to downwinders in Utah other. Downwinders are those who got radiation simply because they lived in the wrong place, and were lied to by the federal government.

And Sen. Orrin Hatch opposes the bill.
"I fear it is overly broad and prohibitively expensive," he said, worrying that high costs might sink the program in budget battles and take current compensation programs with them. Hatch added, "I also believe it is important to continue to base any expansion of the program on sound science"
Sound science? Was he getting his talking points confused? That is the talking point against the Cap and Trade bill. It must be tough to keep all those scripts straight.

And while Sen. Udall's dad, fmr. Interior Secretary Stewart Udall, represented many downwinders against the government, this isn't a partisan issue.
Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, added, "The victims of this testing have waited years for just compensation, and the cruel irony is that the federal government has postponed action for so long that many aren't living to see this bill passed."
In fact, this bill is conservative in nature in a way. The government should be held accountable for lying to the public and punished so harshly that it will be disincentive to take similar measures against the populuous.

Because they are still lying about Utahns' exposure to radiation from nuclear testing.
Earlier research by the Deseret News found secretive government maps of fallout that showed the radiation had hit most of Utah, even though just some southern counties were eligible for compensation. Maps showed that Salt Lake County and eastern Utah — which have been ineligible for compensation — sometimes were hit harder than southern Utah areas.
Sen. Hatch didn't mind spending billions and billions on an unnecessary war in Iraq, yet doesn't want his consituents to be justly compensated for getting cancer from the federal government.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Dear Mark Shurtleff,

If the NRA isn't joining in the Montana gun case, why do you think Utah has a chance of winning? Appearantly you must have not read those interstate commerce cases in law school. Or you just want to ignore them. Do you think the NRA will endorse you for Governor or Senator later because of this case? You know, the statement case that is slightly less stupid than the eminent domain case? What a race to the bottom. Was this your "deputy" John Swallow's idea? Please explain that and the Health Care lawsuit in terms of a court will actually do.


Sunday, April 11, 2010

Hatch's activist judges

Sen. Hatch warns President Obama: you better not appoint a "liberal activist" to the Supreme Court, or what he will still vote against his nominee? How is this a real threat? Can he bring Sen. Brown or one of the Maine Senators with him?

I mean, I know that Sen. Hatch technically represents Utah and he used to Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and is still on the committee, but he isn't even ranking member anymore. The Republicans' choice for chairman is a guy who was denied a federal judgeship because he was too racist. So why does it matter was he says? I want to know if a Republican on the Judiciary COmmittee who might vote for Obama's pick says no, or a Republican not on the committee who makes noises about voting for the eventual nominee on the floor. That's news. Sen. Hatch is one of the most partisan guys in the Senate, and that is saying something. He knows how to ask softball questions when it is a Republican nominee and he thinks he knows how to ask tough questions when it is a Democratic nominee.

Appearantly, Conservative activists like Justice Alito and Chief Justice Roberts are OK to Sen. Hatch. Let's look at what an "Activist Judge" is supposed to mean: someone that disreggards public will and publicly elected officials policy decisions to substitute their ideological views in that place. So since both of these catholic men have made it to the high court, what have they done?
In every major case since he became the nation’s seventeenth Chief Justice, Roberts has sided with the prosecution over the defendant, the state over the condemned, the executive branch over the legislative, and the corporate defendant over the individual plaintiff. Even more than Scalia, who has embodied judicial conservatism during a generation of service on the Supreme Court, Roberts has served the interests, and reflected the values, of the contemporary Republican Party.
  • Ledbetter v. Goodyear, where the conservative faction read into the statute a time limitation to sue for sex discrimination, even if you don't learn that you got stiffed by your your employer until years afterwards.
  • The Louisville and Seattle cases, where two school districts tired to progressively diversify their schools at the choice of their local communities, and Roberts et al overturned them
  • Overturned decades and decades of precedent on arbortion rights to protect the health of the mother (including a case a few years earlier which nixed a nearly identical law), to dissregard the health of the mother.
  • D.C. v. Heller, where the court decided, for the first time since the creation of the second amendment, that there is an individual right to bear arms. That's right, never before in 220 years had a court held that there was a right to bear arms, even if the public believed that it existed.
  • Ricci where the Court made up a new standard to ensure a white guy won (and embarressed incoming Justice Sotomayor to the delight of Fox News) where the New Haven had remade a test after no minorities passed it.
  • Citizens United v. F.E.C., wherein the Roberts court overturned 102 years of precedent to hold that those poor corporations shouldn't be constrained from advertising for and against elected officials. Because when Massy Coal CEO Don "mining accident" Blankenship wanted to avoid a multi-million judgment, and he bought himself a West Virginian Sumpreme Court Justice, that was a good thing for democracy.
I could go on, but you get the picture. The point is, the next time a conservative rattles on about "activist judges," you should say, "You mean Roberts and Alito?"

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Sen. Chris "Kettle" Buttars

Default Governor Herbert vetoed a bill that would have made "Cool Keeper" Program--where a little device shuts down some A/C units at peak hours to reduce the strain on the grid--an opt out. Herbert claimed that he cares about the environment and has signed up for Cool Keeper himself, but he doesn't think the state should be "forcing" people to join the program. I guess he didn't read that "opt-out" part. But the part that made me laugh out loud at work was this:
"I don't know how much further you can let government in the house," Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, said while the Senate was debating the bill. "I find it offensive that for 25 bucks you're going to allow the government to come into my house and tell me when my thermostat is on or off."
Seriously, Buttars? Of all state senators to complain about government intrusion into the home!

Isn't he the same guy that wants the government not to issue marriage licenses to gay couples? Who uses his lofty seat as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee to compare what gay couples do in the privacy of their own homes to be akin to bestiality? And compared homosexuality to alcoholism? Who sought to ban gay-straight alliances in high schools? I guess he is ok with the government invading your home and your personal life, as long as it is doing something that Sen. Buttars agrees with.

If I had to choose between having the government force me to turn off my A/C for 15 minutes a day in the summer (which it wasn't doing to do anyway) or to prevent me from marrying the person I love (I already married my wife, but stick with me here), I would pick 15 minutes of suffering heat in the summer rather than a lifetime of wishing my love could be recognized in the state of my choosing. I have this crazy belief that the government should never invade the home unless it has, a really good reason, let's call it probable cause. And that invasion should be limited to that probable cause and a one time deal, with independent judicial oversight. Definitely not the oversight of Chris Buttars.

Friday, March 19, 2010

painted into a corner

Of all of the moves that the Obama Administration wishes it could do over on health care, the timing of the announcement of Scott Matheson, Jr. to fill Judge Michael McConnell's seat on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals has to be one of the dumbest.

Matheson had been a shoe in for the spot for months and months. I had heard rumors that Matheson had support from HHS Sec. Sebelius and DHS Sec. Napolitano last fall. Scott were friends with them from his days on the 2004 campaign trail and from his days working for Common Cause. Not to mention that Matheson is literally a Rhodes Scholar, a brilliant legal theorist, and imminently qualified. If Judge McConnell could have, he would have supported Matheson for the spot on the bench too--McConnell is also a law professor at the University of Utah--even though they are ideologically miles apart.

Heck, once he was announced, the entire Utah delegation either wholeheartedly supported him (including noted hippies Sen. Hatch and Rep. Cheffetz) or didn't stand in the way. Scott Matheson is going to Judge Matheson, I have no doubt.

But by announcing Scott Matheson's appointment on March 3, after it became clear that Pelosi needed to flip votes to pass the Senate version of the Health Care bill, Obama cost themselves a vote they might have been able to get.

As soon as Scott Matheson was announced, the right wing began to baselessly allege that President Obama was selling the Judgeship for Rep. Jim Matheson's, Scott's brother, vote.

If Jim were to vote for the health care bill, those hacks' smears would be "confirmed." If Jim voted against the health care bill, his union allies might abandon him (like they are abandoning Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA)).

In the end, it looks like Speaker Pelosi and her whips (which now includes Dennis Kucinich on this issue thanks to Obama's trip to his district) will reach the magic number 216 they need to pass the Senate bill with the negotiated amendments on Sunday without Matheson's vote.

Still, it goes to show that Obama's judicial pick team has been WAY too slow in clearing candidates for openings. This is especially true when you consider that during the period when the Democrats had 60 votes in the Senate, they should have just piled on the judicial nominee votes. Now, Judges could be filibustered by the Republicans (even though they considered even suggesting such a thing for Bush's nominees to be the end of humanity).

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Rep. Garn's Hot Tub Time Machine

On the last day of the session, Utah House Majority Leader stepped into his personal way-back machine to 1985 via a hot tub, just like the John Cusack comedy.

Twenty-five years ago, I made a mistake that has now come back to haunt me. I was 28 years old and I foolishly went hot-tubbing with a young woman nearly half my age. Although we did not have any sexual contact, it was still clearly inappropriate — and it was my fault.

One of the consequences of that decision was the negative impact it had on this young person's life. Years later, when I was running for Congress, she decided to bring this incident to the attention of the media. Shortly thereafter, my wife and I met with her, and at her demand, I paid her $150,000. While this payment felt like extortion, I also felt like I should take her word that the money would help her heal. She agreed to keep this 25-year-old incident confidential. Now that this issue is coming up again, it is apparent to me that this payment was also a mistake.
Translation, when he was 28, he and a then-15 year old staffer both entered into a hot tub. Naked. He claims nothing sexual happened.

"He is not being completely honest," [Cheryl] Maher told the Deseret News by telephone from her home in New Hampshire.
Maher declined to be specific about what happened, but said Garn "likes massage." She said she does not want to talk about specifics because she wants the focus not on Garn's actions but on "the devastation of my life because of sexual abuse that happens to so many." She hopes that by talking, "others will come forward, too."
So there are two things going on here: (1) inappropriate contact with an underage staffer, regardless of what happened in that hot tub in 1985; (2) he attempted to bribe her/she attempted to blackmail him when he was running for the 1st District seat against Rob Bishop in 2002. Oh and there is a third element: the Deseret News knew about it and sat on the story back in 2002.

Before we go on, it is important to note that this is not as momentous and important as the unconstitutional warrantless wiretapping program that the New York Times knew about in 2004 but spiked so as not to appear to try to tip the scales for John Kerry. Nevertheless, this man was running for Congress and had displayed questionable judgment twice, first in a hot tub in 1985, and second in 2002 when he gave Ms. Maher $150,000. Worse still, he roped in Maher's LDS bishop in this whole corrupt bargin.

Another appalling fact is that after Garn gave his confessional on the Utah House floor, his colleagues clapped for him.

So that makes the second member of the GOP leadership that has been undone and resigned by a morality scandal. Sheldon Kilpack, the Senate Majority Leader, was arrested for Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol. Apparently, it was well known that Killpack had a drinking problem, but no one cared until he was caught endangering the legislative agenda public. I hope he gets help for his addiction.

Clearly, these scandals had such bite because the legislature was in session. If Kilpack had a DUI any other time of a year, he might have been able to hang on to his leadership position. Garn's scandal seems too big to have gone away. Nevertheless, Maher's (or Garn's political opponents') timing in resurrecting this story is far from coincidental.

One can argue that Deseret News was right to not publish the story during the 2002 GOP congressional primary, what excuse do they have for not publishing it afterwards? That he lost? What Garn did still could be 1-2 crimes. True, Maher's demand for $150,000 is far from innocent. Unlike Lohra Miller, however, David Yocum was competent enough to have screened both of them for charges rather than just one side at a time.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

still broken

Even though Harry Reid found a way to appease Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Metamucil) that he will stop hurting millions of Americans, my contemplated piece on the Senate's "rules" is still worthwhile.

There are some good reasons for having anti-majoritarian parts to the government and slow things down. For example, in the wake of 9/11, the Department of Justice (which includes the FBI) cobbled together their wish list of powers they had lying around for decades into a bill and named it the PATRIOT Act. Only one senator voted against it, and he didn't pull a Bunning either. There are some things that deserve more thought and should require a much larger percentage of grumpy old men and women who call themselves senators to agree.

Here's another example: Judicial Appointments. Once a Article III judge is placed on the bench, they are on there for life (or they have to retire or be impeached). That's why you see Supreme Court Justices being appointed in their 50s these days, so a president can shape the court for decades. I for one think that judges should get lots of scrutiny before they get their life time appointment. Not the did you cheat on your biology exam in high school kind of scrutiny, but what articles have you written, what opinions have you written, what briefs have you filed in court? Is this a judge that wants to find any old excuse to have the result match their ideology, ala Roberts, or are they willing to rule against their fellow travelers for the sake of a high legal principal?

But enough throat clearing, let's get to the bad stuff:
  • Unanimous Consent: this is where Bunning got the undeserved power to keep seniors from getting medical care, furloughed construction workers, eliminated health insurance and unemployment benefits. Normally, all 100 senators have to agree to how a bill is going to come to the floor of the senate. Most times, it is no big deal, but senators can use this in really bad ways (see holds below) True, not every senator is a big a jerk as Bunning. But what's to stop them, comity? These days, Senators are betting at raising money, giving red meat speeches, and showing up on the TV than they are at talking to their fellow senators. This is especially true with those outside their caucus. We may wish for a bygone era where Senators treated each other with respect and collegiality. But people also forget during that time we had segregation and husbands could beat their wives with impunity. So take off those rose colored glasses, things weren't all that great in the 1950s.
  • (Anonymous) holds: Sen. Shelby from Alabama did this recently with 70 plus appointees waiting senate confirmation. When everyone gasped, he reduced it to 3 semi-relevant appointee. His beef? Airbus, a European Union subsidized airplane maker, lost a bid for some Air Force taker to Boeing, an American company. But Airbus decided it would put its factory in Alabama, so that Shelby could be a dick. Others like my Senator Bob Bennett placed a hold on a 2nd or 3rd tier level guy at the Department of Interior so that he could get some concession from the Obama Administration about public lands. Others just place holds to get attention for their pet issue, which has nothing to do with the individual who's life is placed in limbo. These Senators do it through the unanimous consent provision, which also applies to nominees. Worse still, some are too chicksh!t to reveal who they are, so they hide behind their party leader who stands up and says he objects on behalf of someone in his caucus. Grow a pair and say why you are obstructing. Even better get rid of the whole 100 senators need to agree thing. I say 55 votes if people won't agree.
  • Filibuster/Cloture: many others have beat this one to death so I won't go into that much detail. But suffice it to say that this Congress has turned an obscure procedure in a commonplace event. The rate of filibuster is up six times the previous record. Worse still, senators don't need to actually stand there and read the phonebook anymore, it is just a time wasting device that cripples the Senate from considering anything else while time ticks away. I liked the idea of having the number slowly go down (60->55->51) so that the spirit of the idea--to force Senators to think long and hard about bill X before they vote on it--remains while not preventing a vote on the actual bill itself forever. The other reform I like is having it go away in X years such that Senators won't know which party will have majority at that time and will think about merits rather than political expediency.
  • Quorum/Roll Call Another annoying stall tactic is for some random senator to "suggest the absence of a quorum" meaning that there are not 51 Senators (assuming there are no unfilled seats due to death, resignation, impeachment, or resignation) on the floor at the moment. However, the room could be filled with those pompous windbags and the chair still has to do a roll call and wait the requisite amount of time. And as far as I know, there is no real limit on how many suggestions one can make. Now I can see the tactical advantage this could provide to the majority to twist arms of recalcitrant senators or to wheel some half-dead senator onto the floor. [By the way, LBJ passed the Civil Rights Act by getting a Senator who had just had a stroke wheeled in and point to his eyeball to indicate that he was voting "Aye" on the bill] But the opposition could use it to stall, to be jerks, or to twist arms of endangered Senators to vote with the minority party to save their own hides. But really, I just can't stand hearing that same classical music and the tape of some clerk saying all 100 names any more. It's bad enough already to watch C-SPAN.

Those are my top procedural nightmares that still plague the Senate and the country. If these were reformed/eliminated, a lot more great bills could see the light of day.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

priorities, part duex

Here are bills that caught my eye, one which passed, and the other which failed. And their respective faits tells you a lot about the Utah state legislature.
Sponsored by Rep. Chris Herrod, R-Provo, HB143 was hailed as a way to challenge federal control over certain public lands that have remained untapped because of access issues.

Despite legal analysis by state attorneys that says the measure would not withstand court scrutiny, private attorney Mike Lee said he believes it is a fight worth fighting. Lee is a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate.

"I cannot rule out the possibility of victory in this case nor can I assure it," Lee told members of a natural resources committee on Tuesday. "I believe we have a good faith basis for an argument here, an argument the likes of which has yet to be addressed as far as I am able to discern. It is argument that strikes at the heart of the sovereignty of the state."
Two other bills sponsored by Rep. Ken Sumsion, R-American Fork, also seek to wrest control of public access to property held by the School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration, and specifically that property Sumsion and Herrod said has been devalued by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to yank back 77 oil and gas leases that had been offered at auction.

"Most of the land is not in production. We cannot tax it and it cannot provide for us," Herrod said. "But the rewards of going after that land are in the billions and billions. I am not a gambling man, but if someone were to say I could put a quarter in a machine and had a chance to get a billion dollars, I would put that quarter in.


Those quarters for the legal fight come with Sumsion's HB323, which provides up to $3 million for up to three years to take on the federal government.


"Utah PTA is very concerned about the risk involved with this," said Tyler Slack. "Despite the articulate argument of Mike Lee," this is gamble, he added. "The odds are not very important when you are gambling with someone else's money."
So we have a bill, which proposes the state attempting to exercise eminent domain over the federal government, which will result in an instant, expensive, and doubtful legal battle. And the handpicked attorney? Why it is Republican insider-favorite challenger Mike Lee, who is running for Senate and must need the cash.

Someone in the comments section of this article taked about the equal footing doctrine, showing they paid attention in Constitutional Law class, or got notes from someone who did. However, Utah didn't quite enter the union on equal footing. In the later half of the 19th Century, Radical Republicans in Congress made a list of damands that the state had to agree before it would admit Utah into the U.S. Most famously of course was to ban polygamy and separate Church from State. There is a whole line of cases that fleshes out the equal footing doctrine to be more complex that Utah's rights=Alabama's rights.

Moreover, remind me the last time that a state exercised eminent domain against the feds. There is another doctrine out there, one which is actually written in the Constitution, so people like Scalia are happy. It's called the Supremacy Clause. So any law that a state passes that violates the U.S. Constitution or the constitutional laws of the U.S. preempts any state law. And it is not as if U.S. laws on this subject have not "occupied the field" as the magic words go. So really, while it would be a fun topic to debate at academic forums, it is not worth the state's money.

But hey what's three million dollars in the scheme of the entire budget?
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - A Utah lawmaker wants school districts to get ready to shore up buildings against earthquakes.

Many education officials say it's too expensive to even get started.

Rep. Larry Wiley, a West Valley City Democrat, is sponsoring a measure in the Utah Legislature that would require districts to get a seismic evaluation of every school building.

Deputy state schools superintendent Martell Menlove says the seismic evaluations would cost nearly $2 million and building upgrades more than $9 billion. Menlove says there's no money for any of that.

The Utah Seismic Safety Commission says an informal 2006 survey suggests around half of Utah's schools are vulnerable to collapse from a major quake.
So let's see, we would rather take a $3 million gamble, which I thought was against the religion of most of the legislature, on a dubious legal claim so we can stick and eye in the Democrats in Washington Federal government than spend $2 million to find out just how much at risk a plurality of our population is to an earthquake. Is the legislature's plan to pay $3 million in legal fees, win the case or settle favorably, strike oil in school trust lands and then turn around and fix our schools before children die? Somehow I don't think they are planning on taking that next step.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

I'm not alone

About a month ago, I wrote a screed wherein I talked about how the government is broken and the system has failed us.

Finally, CNN commissioned a study asking whether government is broken. The results?
Eighty-six percent of people questioned in the poll say that our system of government is broken, with 14 percent saying no. Of that 86 percent, 81 percent say that the government can be fixed, with 5 percent saying it's beyond repair.

Full results (pdf)

The number of Americans who think the government is broken has grown eight points since 2006. "That increase is highest among higher-income Americans and people who live in rural areas," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. "Maybe it's just a coincidence, but those are the groups that make up the bulk of the Tea Party activists today."
My question is, who are these 14%? Do lobbyists and their employers really make up 14 percent of the population?

Sound like those who voted for Obama and those who go to Tea Party events do have something in common: they think the government is broken and not going a good job. "Teabaggers" think we are turning into a "socialist" commune. Obama voters are thinking that they voted for change and mostly have gotten minimal results.

For example, credit card reform is one of the few changes that happened. The credit card reform finally went into effect, but the bill was rigged so that just after it passed the credit card companies jacked their rates up for no reason whatsoever other than they wouldn't be able to do that anymore after the bill went into effect. Gee, I wonder why that happened.

It's the same reason why the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee is one of the crookedest in Congress. There's money in it.

Voters handed Democrats the keys and expected things to change. They expected Democrats to pass the agenda they campaigned on, crazy I know. But health care reform, cap-n-trade, financial regulation, and lots of Obama appointees are indefinitely stalled. They don't care who's to blame for this. And that's the genius behind the GOP approach...politically. Practically, our country is in big trouble and no one is stepping up to the plate and taking any risk to make things work.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

While you were distracted

So while you were getting all hot and bothered by some legislator's attempt to place a gun rights holiday on Martin Luther King Jr. Day (a guy who was assassinated by a gun), or cutting 12th grade, or eliminating school buses, the legislature crafted a major reform of state pensions.

Why should you care about state employees' retirements? Because these are our judges, our highway patrolmen, our firefighters, and even our teachers. Many county employees join into the state system. Public employees make less generally than employees of private companies. And in exchange, to get good workers, employees are offered better hours, and used to have a pretty good retirement package. Pensions used to be available for private employees as well, but most folks are placed into 401Ks and if you have been paying attension lately, you would know that these funds lost lots of money in the last couple of years.

Here's what the reform would do:
Senate Bill 63 would replace the defined-benefit pension plan for public employees hired after July 1, 2011, with a scaled-down option.

The bill from Sen. Dan Liljenquist, R-Bountiful, would provide a choice between a hybrid retirement plan with reduced benefits or a 401(k) plan that allows workers to contribute 8 percent of their salaries.

Under the hybrid plan, public safety employees like firefighters and police officers could retire after 25 years instead of the 35 years originally proposed.
The other bill would bar Utahns who retire and are rehired after July 1, 2010, from collecting a pension and a paycheck at the same time, a practice known as ''double-dipping.'' The Senate didn't have time to vote on Liljenquist's third proposal, Senate Bill 94, which would relieve employers of the requirement to add 1.5 percent of a state or school employee's salary into their defined-contribution plans.

The two measures passed Friday now go to the House for consideration.

The economic meltdown in 2008 left many pension funds shortchanged. The crisis stripped Utah of $6.5 billion, and returns in 2009 did little to recover losses.
The reason why the rest of the country's press is covering this is not because they care about Utah, it is because every state's pension is woefully underfunded and their budgets are in deep red. Most of the gap-filling last year and this year was from the Recovery Act. Yet the local press likes to cover the message bills instead.

Here's a rare exception:
State Sen. Jon Greiner, the Ogden police chief who draws a public-employee pension, was notably absent from a pair of long and contentious hearings last week on historic changes to the state's retirement system.
Had Greiner voted against any of the measures, the dramatic changes to Utah's retirement system would have stalled in committee on a tie vote.
"I'm not happy with two out of three of the bills," Greiner said. That includes the reform effort's centerpiece, which would replace the current pension system with a 401(k)-style plan for future hires.
Greiner, R-Ogden, said he had committed to Sen. Dan Liljenquist, sponsor of the reform effort and chairman of the Senate retirement committee, that he would not vote in committee to defeat the bills.
"He's not happy with some of them, but he would have voted them through anyway," said Liljenquist, R-Bountiful. "He understands that the rest of the body needs a chance to debate them."
Numerous law enforcement representatives turned out Wednesday and Friday to speak against the bills, including proposals to add 15 years to the time police officers must
serve before they are eligible to retire by raising the service requirement from 20 years to 35 years.
Greiner acknowledges the issue puts him in a difficult spot, with an inherent conflict on the issue no matter how he votes.
He is not only a recipient of a law enforcement pension and Ogden's police chief, but he also is a so-called double dipper. Greiner retired from Ogden's force and was rehired. He now receives a pension in addition to his $107,000 salary. The bills would not end double dipping for workers such as Greiner, but for future employees.
Liljenquist said the argument that law enforcement and firefighters should have an earlier retirement deadline has merit because of their jobs' physical demands, and he plans to find ways to change his legislation to let them step down earlier.
That will likely cost more money, which could raise the amount employees are expected to contribute.
Don't get me wrong: double dipping is wrong and I think the practice should be prevented...but there are downsides to ending it. If you want an experienced former chief from one city/town to be your chief, you can't hire him because he would rather take is pension and work for a private company or just be retired rather than give up his pension for the job you are offering.

There is likely waste in the system that can be rooted out like double dipping. There are probably employees who should not be retained but are kept on so they can reach the magic number of years in order to get their pensions. But this change will mean that a slew of experienced state employees will retire in droves just before the effective date if they have passed that magic number. Why stay on six more months or whatever and lose your pension when you could get a guaranteed discounted portion rather than play the Russian Roulette known as the stock market?

This proposed change is indeed massive and massively important. Will attorneys in private practice think twice about applying to open seats on the bench if it means that not only will their income be slashed dramatically, but they will not get pension benefit? I bet they will. Just like how Congress is filled with the characters we have due to our campaign finance system (who wants to constantly be dialing for dollars, knowing that some outside group and blind side you and knock you out of office?) Will some folks opt for other professions when they learn that the benefits of being a police officer, a firefighter, a teacher, etc. will much worse than they were even last year? Probably.

Will this reform make us safer, our children smarter? That's the big question that no one knows the answer to. But what we do know is that these three bills are a hell of a lot more important that whatever crap bills Buttars scrawls with his crayons. There is a reason why the Ogden Police Chief was told to either vote for the bill or make up an excuse not to be there for the committee vote: the leadership wants this to pass...while you are distracted about school buses or abortion or gay rights. When asked, Utahns weren't that favorable to the idea, hence, the distractions.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


In the first month following Haiti's devastating Jan. 12 earthquake, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints provided an estimated $4.25 million in assistance, with plans for ongoing relief and recovery support for the ravaged Caribbean nation.

Mormon church officials, facing an ongoing investigation by the [California] Fair Political Practices Commission, Friday reported nearly $190,000 in previously unlisted assistance to the successful campaign for Prop. 8, which banned same-sex marriage in California.

The report, filed with the secretary of state's office, listed a variety of California travel expenses for high-ranking members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and included $20,575 for use of facilities and equipment at the church's Salt Lake City headquarters and a $96,849 charge for "compensated staff time" for church employees who worked on matters pertaining to Prop. 8.

“We’re going to lose this campaign if we don’t get more money,” the strategist, Frank Schubert, recalled telling leaders of Protect Marriage, the main group behind the ban.

The campaign issued an urgent appeal, and in a matter of days, it raised more than $5 million, including a $1 million donation from Alan C. Ashton, the grandson of a former president of the Mormon Church. The money allowed the drive to intensify a sharp-elbowed advertising campaign, and support for the measure was catapulted ahead; it ultimately won with 52 percent of the vote.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Headline of the Day

I am a political junkie, but cheep so I read the free feeds of the Hotline, the National Journal daily online rag. Here is the headline that got my attention:
Dicks Hopeful For "Powerful Position"

But wait, it gets better:
Rep. Norm Dicks (D-WA) is making phone calls to fellow members of the House Appropriations Committee to line up the necessary votes to take over a defense panel left vacant by the passing of Rep. John Murtha (D-PA).
Dicks and Murtha joined the defense panel the same day in '79, and since Dems took control of the House Dicks served as Murtha's vice-chair. Dicks is the likely choice, based on his seniority, but he's taking the necessary steps to lock down the vote, he said today.
Stay classy Dicks

Of course he considered Rep. Murtha to be his friend and said good things about him further down in the article. But still, the man has been dead for less than 24 hours and Rep. Dicks is calling around to secure the chairmanship of the Appropriations Sub-Committee for Defense?

Let's just look at some of the members of this corrupting Sub-Committee:
Nearly half the members of a powerful House subcommittee in control of Pentagon spending are under scrutiny by ethics investigators in Congress, who have trained their lens on the relationships between seven panel members and an influential lobbying firm founded by a former Capitol Hill aide.

The investigations by two separate ethics offices include an examination of the chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on defense, John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), as well as others who helped steer federal funds to clients of the PMA Group. The lawmakers received campaign contributions from the firm and its clients. A document obtained by The Washington Post shows that the subcommittee members under scrutiny also include Peter J. Visclosky (D-Ind.), James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.), Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) , C.W. Bill Young (R-Fla.) and Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.).

The document also indicates that the House ethics committee's staff recently interviewed the staff of Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) about his allegation that a PMA lobbyist threatened him in 2007 when he resisted steering federal funds to a PMA client. The lobbyist told a Nunes staffer that if the lawmaker didn't help, the defense contractor would move out of Nunes's district and take dozens of jobs with him.
As you can see, this is not a Republican or Democrat problem. The party in power tends to have more targets for the defense industry lobbyists to corrupt, simply because there are more of them on the committee.

Why is this committee the source of so much investigation? Because Defense is a sacred cow in Washington. No one dares to make serious cuts to rid the Department of waste, mismanagement, fraud, or boondoogles...lest they be accused of being weak or pro-terrorist. For example of what a member of that committee can do, read (or watch if your are pressed for time) Charlie Wilson's War.

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) for a few days held all of Obama's appointments up on behalf of a foreign Defense contractor--Airbus--to aid them in their longstanding feud with Boeing over a bid to supply a multi-billion dollar air refueling tanker aircraft contract. Now the holds are more relevant, limited to 3 nominees involved in the Air Force and the like.

Defense spending in a members' district means jobs for his constituents and millions in donations in the members' campaign coffers. Its a win-win...for everyone but the American people. So Dicks may get his "powerful position," but it won't change the fact that Norm is a corrupt dick.