Saturday, December 30, 2006

Madame President and 'The Glass Ceiling'

I get really irritated for some reason when I hear about women and the Glass Ceiling. It really irks me when the term is used in conjunction with becoming President of the United States. May the best woman or man win!

A ceiling seems to me to be a symbol of a barrier that cannot be broken through. A glass ceiling seems to be symbolic of being able to see the goal, but not being able to break through.

In this vein today, the Deseret News editorial staff published a piece entitled "Awaiting Madame President". The staff opinion begins thusly:

India had Indira Gandhi, England had Margaret Thatcher. Israel had Golda Meir. Today, Chile has Michelle Bachelet. Even Spain once had Isabela. But the United States, a nation that prides itself on being ahead of the curve, lags behind in having a female chief executive. Other countries have dismantled the glass ceiling, but women in the United States continue to bump their heads.
I think it is excellent that these great women have been leaders of their countries. It is because they were very qualified to do so. America has the same caliber of women, but very few have come forward to run for president as of yet.

Because it doesn't matter to me what sex someone is--if they're the most qualified, they should get the job--it really irks me that DesNews would perpetuate the idea of a glass ceiling in, of all places, the quest for the President of the United States.

There have been 46 different presidents of the United States, 55 presidential elections, and who knows how many total candidates. In all these elections, there have been 21 women candidates, and 12 of those candidates ran in 1996. Male candidates run all the time who are not considered serious contenders. Similarly, only about 6 of the women candidates for president could be considered serious contenders.

Women have run for president in only 10 of 55 presidential elections. Therefore, a very tiny statistical probability exists that a woman would have been elected president.

The same case can be made for minorities. There has never been a black president of the United States. And when a serious contender, Alan Keyes, ran in 2000, he was marginalized by the press.

Perhaps the most sloppy portion of DesNews' opinion is their final statement:

Undoubtedly the United States will one day have a woman president. And when that day arrives, undoubtedly — as when Jackie Robinson broke the color line in baseball and Rosa Parks broke it in bus riding — Americans will slap their foreheads and say, "What were we thinking? We should have taken this step years ago."

Yes, we will have a woman president, but no, we won't say 'What were we thinking?'. Only when more high-quality women candidates for President come forward. It is not a matter of a glass ceiling. It is a matter of desire.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

C'mon Putin-You Can Do Better Than That!!

Normally the KGB isn't that stupid. So maybe I'm missing something when the Putin Administration blames someone with nothing to gain for the death of Aleksandr Litvinenko.

Vladimr Putin has recently started a campaign of "sovereign democracy". It sounds very lofty--perhaps meaning to some at first glance that Russia will make its own decisions unimpeded by the pressures of other nations. What is becoming more clear, however, is that "sovereign democracy" has become the mantra behind ensuring that Putin and his cabal will make their own decisions unimpeded by the pressures of the Russian people, whom he is supposed to be serving.

Several months ago, because he was becoming too much of a vocal critic of the Putin administration, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, CEO of Yukos Oil, was arrested for supposed income tax evasion. He is still in prison. Putin's government controls Yukos oil now. Today word is out that a partner of Khodorkovsky, Leonid B. Nevzlin is being charged with the assassination by radiation poisoning of former KGB officer Aleksandr Litvinenko. Nice job Nevzlin! You sure did an excellent job of making it look like Putin's people did it!! I'm glad Putin set me straight.

Litvinenko often told those willing to listen about the escapades of the KGB, by whom he had previously been employed.

The bombing of four Russian apartment buildings in 1999 that left hundreds dead; the Moscow theater siege that killed 129 people; the 2004 explosion on the Moscow metro that killed dozens of commuters -- all the work of one of the KGB's post-Soviet successors, the Federal Security Service (FSB), according to Litvinenko.

Litvinenko has been marginalized by some in the Soviet Union as a quack and a conspiracy theorist. But then why the lame attempt by the Kremlin at ascribing his death to someone who had no reason to kill him?

Litvinenko also claimed that the recent killing on Anna Politkovskaya was on the orders of the Kremlin as well. Based on her strong criticism of President Putin for his involvement in such things as the war in Chechnya, it is clear that the Kremlin would have a motive for the killing.

On December 29, Moscow news reported that closed-circuit television is being analyzed for possible clues to the man who flew from Moscow to London at about the same time traces of Polonium-210 were discovered on airplanes of recent British Airways flights.

Leonid B. Nevzlin has lived in Israel since 2003 and was recently on holiday in New Jersey. The Kremlin has for quite some time been attempting to extradite Nevzlin from Israel on other specious charges.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Utah Should Come by its House Seat the Right Way

A lot of scuttle has been made lately about Utah gaining a fourth seat in the US House of Representatives. This would be a great boon to Utah, but only if it is done the correct way.

Updated December 28, 2006.

Utah governor John Huntsman Jr. has been very interested in drawing up plans for a fourth district for the United States House of Representatives. He has been so aggressive that it has caught some Utah legislators by surprise.

A plan actually already exists. In 2001, following the 2000 US census wherein Utah narrowly missed getting that 4th seat, and in anticipation of winning a subsequent appeal at the Supreme Court (Utah missionaries living out of country were not counted in the census) that plan was drawn up. Utah Senate President John Valentine says the 2001 plan "is the official four-seat plan."

It is interesting to note why there is currently a new push for a 4th Utah seat in the House, considering that the 2010 census is about 4 years away. In conjunction with giving Utah a 4th seat, the District of Columbia would get its first-ever seat. Currently the District's non-voting representative can vote in committee only.

Recently I posted on this site about what does and does not constitute Constitutional. Well, in light of my opinion, let's turn directly to the Constitution. Article I, Section 2 of that document begins by saying:

The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States, and the Electors in each State shall have the Qualifications requisite for Electors of the most numerous Branch of the State Legislature.

This paragraph leaves a little bit to speculation as to whether a Representative in the United States House must be elected from a particular state. Combined with the next paragraph, however, any confusion on the issue is put to rest.

No Person shall be a Representative who shall not have attained to the Age of twenty five Years, and been seven Years a Citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State in which he shall be chosen.

Not only is it a requirement that the person elected to the House of Representatives be an Inhabitant of the state for which he is being elected; it is also a requirement that the electors of that state participate in the election. The District of Columbia is not a state.

But we wouldn't want an insignificant little detail such as that to get in Utah's way of getting its 4th seat, would we? Actually, yes we would.

Some Constitutional issues are vague as to their interpretation. This one is not. If Utah waits until the 2010 census, we will very likely get our 4th seat in a fair and credible way. If we show our impatience now, Utah will live with the ignominy of being the first state to participate in the violation of paragraphs 1 and 2 of Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution.

Update: December 28, 2006 - Former Utah Congressman James Hansen agreed in a Deseret News opinion with much of the information in this post, and warned that a House seat would not be the only thing demanded by DC--they would logically want 2 Senate seats as well. And then Guam, Puerto Rico, and American Samoa would clamber for representation as well. It's too bad he retired instead of a couple of our sitting Senators.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get...Propagandized

It is not a bad thing that people become wealthy, unless they achieve their wealth at the expense of others. Politicians and others with ulterior motives want you to believe the rich become rich at the expense of the poor much more often than this actually occurs.

During the Christmas season, as always, it is important for us not only to be thankful for the things that we have, but also to be aware of those around us who are in destitute circumstances. Often, through no fault of their own, families fall on hard times. Politicians and pundits often point to a widening gap between the proverbial rich and the proverbial poor to claim that, not only is the incidence of poor people in America increasing, but that somehow it is the fault of the rich, as though the rich steal an ever greater slice of a static pie.

When a rich person acquires money by ill-gotten means, such as--ironically--by using government to expropriate property from lifelong home owners, he is guilty of theft and should be punished. But claiming that the nebulous group of 'the rich' are to blame for the plight of the nebulous group of 'the poor' is a gross oversimplification that overlooks more than one important fact. But the poor-mongers continue to harp on their emotionally charged but unprovable theses.

Thomas Sowell, the author of Basic Economics: A Citizen's Guide to the Economy, highlights one of these facts:

Although...the rich and the poor...may be discussed as if they different classes of people, often they are the very same people at different stages of their lives.

It is not uncommon for most of the people in the top 5 percent of income-earners to be 45 years old and up.

Remember when you were young and making close to the minimum wage, and how as time went on you developed skills and you now make a lot more money? That happened to me. I used to be in the class of poor, but I never thought of myself that way. But as I have gotten older and married and realized I had a responsibility to take care of a family, my desire to produce increase--with a commensurate increase in income.

The scariest thought that comes to mind when people claim that the rich are taking more of the pie than they should is their solution to what they see as a problem:

Lofty talk about "social justice" or "fairness" boils down to greatly expanded powers for politicians, since those pretty words have no concrete definition. They are a blank check for creating disparities in power that dwarf disparities in income -- and are far more dangerous.

Thomas Sowell recently struck again when he explained that if people don't even know what it takes to make a pencil, how should they know why someone is making a lot more money than something else? Interestingly enough, when these people complain about CEOs making $50 million a year, why don't they complain about Hoolywood stars and starlets who make even more?

Thursday, December 21, 2006

A Look at Hamas

How would you define Hamas? A sponsor of suicide bombings against Israel? A charitable organization that is highly respected by international organizations as taking good care of its own? If you answered yes, you are correct.

Hamas is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States. Considering that Hamas sponsors suicide bombers who have succeeded in killing several Israelis seems to make that designation appropriate.

But what about the other side of Hamas? Is there one? Yes.

In the Gaza, many people have a great deal of love and respect for Hamas. Those whose loved ones have died in the conflict with Israel received an approximate $200 per month stipend. Their children are each given another $30 for food and clothing, and receive a free education.

This year, however, tourism is way down
. After Hamas took over the Palestinian Authority Parliament, and after more recent clashes with rival group Fatah, the hope of a year ago that 2006 would be somewhat of a return to normalcy has faded.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Religion Healthy for Families

Religion is dangerous to society, right? Well, it depends on whether there is freedom of religion. Evidence is clear that freely religious families benefit in nearly every way over those who are less religious. Why don't we tout that more regularly in public life?

There is a great misnomer in the world today--the claim that religion is detrimental to society. After all, religion has been behind nearly all of the wars in history, right? Well, With the exception of current Islamic Fundamentalists, in distant history, despots who have hijacked religion have caused a lot of problems, but in more recent memory, the furthest things from religion--Communism and Nazism--caused more deaths than probably all previous wars combined.

Evidence today is clear that among those nations where freedom of religious practice is the norm, religion is of great benefit to society. Even where certain forms of religion are prescribed, such as in the Middle East, it has an overall benefit.

A recent study on the effects of religion
indicated, among other things, the following:

  • Religious couples are much more likely to stay together
  • Religious fathers are much more praising of the skills and traits of their sons and daughters
  • Religious mothers have much more enduring and mature relationships with their children
  • Religious people have a much greater sense of well-being and purpose
  • Religious husbands are much less likely to commit domestic violence
Religion often gets a bad rap. Sometimes religious people either are or appear a bit pompous. But the truth is, religion is a great benefit to society. It would be hard for even non-religious people to counteract the evidence.

NCAA Persecution of Mormons!!!

BYU always comes up short in statistics regarding those who graduate in a timely manner. Recently it almost caused problems for the football program. But the statistics are unfair to a predominantly Mormon university, from which a LOT of students interrupt their studies to serve missions.

I have to admit, I gave the post its title in hopes that it would generate a lot of search engine hits. But the truth of the matter is, it wouldn't take much for the NCAA to make a sensible program that takes into account that BYU has a lot of missionaries who leave the team for three years.

The Deseret News recently posted an article claiming that BYU avoided NCAA sanctions by the skin of their teeth. On a 1,000-point scale, BYU scored 3 points above the minimum of 925 on the NCAA graduation statistics scale. A major factor in the scale deals with how many athletes graduate in 5 years.

Do the sanctions mean anything, or does the NCAA not really hand out sanctions? I hope so, but it doesn't seem like it. BYU has made its case for years and years, and no one at the NCAA seems to see the unfairness. But if the statistics were tabulated correctly, BYU would be at or near the top of the list for graduation.

I'm a database programmer for a living, and I could in less than 4 hours write a program that takes into account the two years that many BYU athletes take away from school and athletics to serve a mission for the LDS Church. The beginning and ending dates of every mission are common knowledge among BYU administrators, so it wouldn't even take pop-gun science to figure out which semesters a student-missionary missed from school. Then add those semesters to the NCAA baseline of 5 years, and that's how many years a BYU athlete/missionary would have to 'make the cut'. Purty easy, huh? So it can't be the prohibitive cost that the NCAA would undergo to update their programs.

I was just kidding about the persecution thing. But the lazy thing? I think the NCAA's got that going big time.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Tithing and Bankruptcy

I don't know much about bankruptcy, but it seems that someone who is in bankruptcy should be required to pay off his creditors before he contributes to his church.

Following a recent court case in which the judge declared that a person in bankruptcy could not continue to pay tithing to his church, Senators Orrin Hatch and Barrack Obama sponsored a bill that would allow such payment of tithing to continue. The bill was recently also passed by the House of Representatives.

Congress has the authority, under Article I Section 8 of the United States Constitution, to set the laws governing bankruptcy. Hatch and Obama's bill was inititated, because, according to Obama, "in a country where 37 million citizens live in poverty, we should be encouraging charitable giving, not limiting it."

I'm glad that Congress is in this case performing a clearly delineated role, but I'm not sure if I agree with the outcome.

From what I understand about bankruptcy, the bankrupt party is allowed by the court to exempt certain of his assets, but the remainder are to go to pay off creditors. I think, therefore, the solution should be that the bankrupt party should be able to pay tithing on that portion of his income that has been declared exempt by the court.

But I think that the debtor should not be able to pay tithing on the rest of his "non-exempt" assets, including income, because, since the go directly to pay off debts, they should not be considered as income.

This compromise view leaves some ability of the debtor to pay tithing, but in addition the encumbered debts are payed off in as expeditious a manner as possible. A hopefully sooner rather than later the debtor can return to full financial status and will then be able to pay tithing on all of his income assets.

Like the title says, mine are Simple Utah Mormon Politics, so there may be flaws with this argument. After all I don't know much about bankruptcy. So what do you think? Will my idea work?

Monday, December 04, 2006

Republican Candidates for President in 2008

Initial polling data are out for the upcoming presidential election. Do you have any idea who you are going to vote for? Does religion play any role in the potential vote you will cast?

It's interesting that polling is already begun for president in 2008. A recent poll on asked the following question:

Q: In this early stage of the presidential campaign for 2008, which republican candidate would you prefer?

Answer Percent
Mitt Romney
Condoleezza Rice
Rudy Giuliani
John McCain
Bill Frist

It's even more interesting, considering all the negative press that Mitt Romney took for being a Mormon, that he is leading in this poll.

Will I vote for him because I'm also a Mormon? Not necessarily. There are much more important reasons to support a political candidate than just because you share the same religion.

But I'm this point, would you be able to support any of these candidates? Why or why not?

Friday, November 24, 2006

Thou Shalt Not Covet – A New Perspective

Traditionally, we look at the Judeo-Christian commandment “Thou shalt not covet” as an injunction against wanting what other people have. But it can also apply to how what other people have affects the value of our possessions.

“Thou shalt not covet.” This basic part of the Ten Commandments means that we should not crave what other people have. In a day and age where some people have a lot more than we do, it is easy to consume our lives with wanting others’ possessions—the fast and beautiful automobile, the luxurious home, frequent nights out at the finest restaurants, cabins and condominiums in the mountains, and season tickets to professional sporting events are some of the items on my covet list.

But there is a different form of coveting that we don’t often recognize as such. This consists of not wanting other people to have what they have, because their possessions may detract from the value of ours. The problem is compounded in our eyes when our possessions are leveraged to the bursting point with our own mortgages.

It is very common for home owners to wish to limit the kinds of homes that can be built around them. This is often accomplished through zoning laws, which exclude others from building homes around us that would reduce the value of our home. It is fairly common for homeowners to complain to local government when someone plans to bring a mobile or prefabricated home onto the property next door or across the street.

We covet what we think we can change, while we ignore what we can’t. Government is involved in both.

Interestingly when government takes away the value of our homes, we either don’t understand that the process is occurring or we feel impotent to stop it. When government transforms a country lane into a thoroughfare, homes suddenly on the edge of dense traffic lose a great deal of resale value. When government takes homes and properties by eminent domain for non-public purposes or for less than fair-market value, most of its victims feel powerless in the face of the juggernaut. When government policies reduce the standard of living, a sudden glut of homes for sale reduces the value for which we can sell our homes.

When government ‘does it’ to us, we often feel powerless to complain, but when we feel slighted by our neighbors, not only do we covet what they have, we turn to government to ensure the short-term fruits of our coveting. Our coveting enshrines improper government practices, and we become much less neighborly in the process.

The recipe for general reduction and avoidance of coveting contains the following ingredients

  • Living within our means, both as relates to our purchasing power as well as to our real sustenance needs, sharing with others the means that we have left over.
  • Being satisfied with what we have relative to what other people have when they have come by it through lawful means, and pressing for legal remedies when others have acquired possessions illegally
  • Ensuring that government fulfills its proper role, both in the compensation for value lost through takings for public purposes, and in not taking properties for non-public uses
If we’re okay with what other people have acquired fairly, regardless if it is more or less than what we have, and if government contributes to the fairness and predictability of what everyone has, life is a lot more enjoyable among our new-found community of neighbors.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Banning Prayer in Public Schools

We have prayer in public places very frequently: the Supreme Court, Congress, athletic events, state legislature meetings, and meetings of city councils and county commissions for example. So why should we not have prayer in public school classrooms? Because such prayers might allow religion to exercise undue influence over our children.

Both houses of the Congress of the United States begin each session with prayer. Members of a variety of religions are called upon to provide those prayers. Something very similar occurs in the US Supreme Court.

Before being called to active duty military, I served for 5 1/2 years on the city council of the city in which I live. We began each meeting with a prayer. On every occasion we asked for a volunteer from the audience to give a prayer. On some of those occasions the mayor or a member of the council was the person who volunteered to give the prayer.

If we have prayers in these public venues, why should we not allow prayer in public schools? The answer is that the having of such prayers may unduly influence children in the public schools toward an acceptance of religion.

Lest by the tenor of this post so far you think that I oppose prayer in public school, let me set the record straight. Banning prayer in public school is bunk. Allowing prayer in public school is under no circumstances an undue influence of religion on children. Rather, the banning of prayer in public schools not only takes from children an excellent opportunity to be more aware and understanding of other people's beliefs and feelings, it also unwittingly encourages general intolerance among public school students.

Here is a simple solution that would encourage school children to have a healthy respect for others' religious beliefs (and such a solution could easily be given the force of law) It would not be an undue influence of religion over public school students but would have a healthy inculcation for general tolerance of others beliefs. Let's assume a simple example of a class of 30 students. In other states the ratios would be different, but in Utah, the religious population ratios might be something like this:
  • 20 of those students would be Latter-Day Saint
  • 3 would be Catholic
  • 3 would be Protestant
  • 1 would be Jehovah Witness
  • 1 would be Jewish
  • 1 would be Muslim
  • 1 would be Atheist
Based on this, for every 30 school days, there would be the potential for 20 LDS prayers, 3 Catholic prayers, 3 Protestant prayers, 1 Jehovah Witness prayer, 1 Jewish Prayer, 1 Muslim prayer, and 1 day of no prayer. Yet ultimately it would still be up to each student (and his or her parents) what sort of religious devotion (if any) would occur on his or her assigned day.

The societal ratio of religious population would not matter. Rather, the religious ratio in each class would be the determining factor. Students of any religion not wanting to participate would not have to participate. Students (or their parents) who do not support prayer in public schools (or for any other reason) could designate their assigned day as a day for no prayer.

Using this mechanism, the beliefs of all can be celebrated as having value, and tolerance for various people and points of view would become enshrined in the public square. As it stands now, the lack of tolerance for public devotion--especially in the public schools--engenders a tendency toward lack of tolerance for many other things.

Latter-Day Saint students in Utah usually make up a majority of each classroom's population, but this would not be the case in other States in the U.S. But the point is, it doesn't matter. What does matter is that every religion would be respected in the classroom regardless of its relative size with relationship to society.

Under such circumstances, would the religious (or non-religious) majority of children in a school or classroom have a tendency to tease their fellow students in the non-religious (or religious) minority? Would the members of the predominant religion tease their fellow students who belong to other religions? No. It is likely that there would be less teasing than there is--for other reasons--in public schools today. It is my expectation that carefully administered prayer in public schools (as outlined above) would have a tendency to reduce bullying and teasing of every kind.

Everyone believes something. Many individuals believe that there is a God, while some do not. But whatever we believe as to the existence or non-existence of God, and as to our relationship with other people is our religion. Yes, everyone believes something, and thus, everyone has religion. So the attempt to quash public expression of religion turns out to be a public elevation of the beliefs of those whose religion esteems there to be no God.

The very idea that we should not have prayer in public schools because it may exercise undue influence on children's minds is an undue influence on their minds by insinuating that religion is dangerous and undesirable. The greater danger is for children to be taught that religion is inappropriate and that intolerance for religion is appropriate.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Not Much Will Change

It doesn't matter which party gets a majority in the House or the Senate, not much is going to change in the way government runs. Will we stop unconstitutional programs? No. Will we cut wasteful spending? No. Why? Because our representatives do exactly what we want them to do.

I'm writing this post on election day, before the polls close, with breath baited beyond anything that has ever been baited before. Democrats pontificate that it's high time for a change, and so that's why they're going to take over the House and Senate. Republicans tout the recent improvement in poll numbers to prognosticate that they're going to win.

Maybe they will, maybe they won't. It's all very entertaining, the conservative pundits punding and the liberal news organizations editorializing--and we get vignettes about Mark Foley and John Kerry absolutely free(!), but you know what? It really doesn't matter. But this thought occurs to me as I think of the intelligence and alacrity of the
average American voter:
“Perhaps the fact that we have seen millions voting themselves into complete dependence on a tyrant has made our generation understand that to choose one’s government is not necessarily to secure freedom.” —Fredrich August von Hayek
We don't have a tyrant yet. But we do have dependence. And we vote ourselves into more and more of it.

Robert Samuelson captures the essence of why it doesn't matter in his editorial in the Washington Post. Synthesis: We get what we want when we vote. And we want things that, due to their contrast, shouldn't be wanted by the same person at the same time. Boiled down to its essence, our representatives do what we tell them to. We have met our representatives, and they are us. We get further and further toward nowhere because we haven't the ability to hold our representatives responsible to do their jobs well. We enjoy--and thus we have become a part of--the circus.

When asked if the government is wasteful when it comes to spending, nearly everyone says yes. But nearly no one can agree that the spending for some of the most wasteful programs should be cut.

It doesn't matter whether we are Republican or Democrat when it comes to most issues. We want Congress to reduce spending, but we must have our Community Development Block Grants, Educational Grants, Social Security, and Medicare. The two opinions are diametrically opposed.

We have become so enamored with a two-party system that we perceive only two options: (1) if the Democrats are in power, let's throw the bums out and put the republicans in, and (2) if the Republicans are in power, let's throw the bums out and put the Democrats in.

Do we ever stop to think that it doesn't make much difference at all? There's not even 8 cents worth of difference between the two major parties, yet we campaign and debate and argue like it makes all the difference in the world.

The problem is not them. It is us. Our problem has the potential of becoming a never-ending cycle of (1) Claiming that the current bums in office have failed, and (2) voting in a new set of bums with the chimerical hope that something will change, until finally (1) happens all over again. Until we decide that we want government to limit itself to its proper role, not much will change. Government is what we make of it and nothing else. We deserve nothing better.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Utah Proposition 3 is a Waste of Money

Transportation funding initiatives known as Proposition 3 in Salt Lake County and the Opinion Question in Utah County are fraught with unknowns. They stand to be colossal wastes of money. Mixing automobile transportation funding and public transportation funding in one initiative is a mistake, because each mode of transportation is so different from the other.

It seems like just about everyone in Utah is in favor of the transportation funding initiatives that are on the ballot in Utah. I'm not.

It's interesting to note that the Utah Transit Authority (UTA) transit district was formed as a result of the pending energy crisis in the early 1970's. It didn't pay its way then, and it never has since. In 2000, Utahns subsidized every Trax rider to the tune of $6.60 per ride, and every bus rider got a gift of $2.20 every time he rode. According to some, we have a new transportation crisis.

In 2000, UTA requested additional subsidies in the form of a .25% increase in the sales tax. An entity that continues to request additional funding while providing a service that raises revenue is not worthy of any funding. It is easily seen that such a service is something people do not want. Private transportation systems could provide a much more efficient service than UTA currently provides.

Utah's public transportation receives the most subsidization of any state in the country. In 2000, UTA claimed that freeway congestion would be significantly minimized because many more people would ride public transportation if light rail were available. Trax was installed, but UTA's dreams didn't materialize. Their most current claim is that a commuter rail system will draw huge crowds, but based on previous behavior, this won't happen either.

Utahns' traveling behavior is not conducive to public transportation. We love to have our own automobile at our disposal. Private transportation is generally much more convenient than public transportation, and Utahns are all about convenience and efficiency. There is nothing wrong with this. The only way to get us out of our cars would be to create a prohibitive sales tax on gasoline that made it cheaper to ride public transportation. But therein lies the problem--the prohibitive gas tax would become an effective subsidy for public transportation. Government should not subsidize what people do not want.

A gasoline tax is one of the best taxes that can be levied on a society, because revenues generated from the tax go toward the maintenance of the use for which the tax is levied. If you use public roads, you probably buy gasoline. If you buy gasoline, you are (currently, in addition to federal gas taxes) paying a 24.5-cent-per-gallon state tax . You are thereby contributing to the upkeep of the public roads that you use. The amount collected from the Utah gas tax and other fees such as driver licenses has generally been thought as paying for the roads that we need.

But suddenly into the fray jumps Utahns for Proposition 3. In much the same way that UTA was founded 35 years ago, VoteFor3 is holding aloft again the specter of a new transportation crisis. If we add another .25% to our sales tax, so they claim, we can solve that crisis in only 9 years instead of 24. I'm not sure where they got this statistic from, but it is surely faulty if ANY of the money goes toward public transportation, because historically money thrown at public bus and rail transportation has had much less effect on traffic congestion than has money invested in public roads.

Instead of voting for proposition 3, if we really need more roads than the current gasoline tax can fund, let's increase the gasoline tax! Let's even peg it to inflation! But goodness gracious, let's not throw our money down the bus-and-rail rathole. It has never been effective, and it never will be.

If you don't use public roads, then you don't pay taxes for them. Conversely, even if you've never used public transportation and never will, you still pay for it. This is what is wrong with public transportation. This is what is wrong with Proposition 3 in Salt Lake County and The Opinion Question in Utah County.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Energy Alternatives are Paramount

Many of our international problems would be solved if we weren't reliant on foreign oil. As it stands today, energy dependence allows the enemies of freedom to prosper. To silence the oppressors, we need energy alternatives that can be used around the world.

Gasoline prices are down all over the United States, and most of us are breathing a sigh of relief. I save about $25 every time I fill up my GMC Yukon compared to the highest prices we were paying 2 months ago. But there's a problem with these lower prices. When the cost of something is high enough there is a large incentive for innovators to provide a substitute for it. Which is exactly what American companies were starting to do when the price of gas was so high. Now that the prices are lower, it is not as cost effective to research alternative energy sources.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently stated that the one thing that has surprised her most in her current office is how dramatic is the effect of being dependent on other countries for our energy. Our energy-buying habits make us much less safe in the world, because the very money we spend to facilitate our transportation habits is being used in many cases by despots and dictators to undermine and destroy America.

Democrats must know how precarious our situation is when they vote in such silly ways as to prohibit many types of off-shore drilling and to whine about the non sequiturious problems that drilling for oil in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) would cause the wildlife there.

But meanwhile:
  • The former economic advisor to Russian President Vladimr Putin can see a direct relationship between Russia's turn away from democracy and liberty and the country's takeover of its largest energy companies.
  • Iran earns tens of billions of dollars from its oil exports, much of which it bribes its own people into living with their serf-like lives, and some of which it gives to its brainchild, Hizballah, which terrorizes Lebanon and now has Israel in its sights.
  • Hugo Chavez, the butcher of Venezuela, has similarly bought off the Venezuelan underclass and used surging oil revenues to support other freedom-squelching dictators in Latin America, and has gone a-whoring with Iran.
The problem will not be entirely solved if the United States becomes energy independent. Rather, we will come much closer to a solution that makes us secure if we can create new forms of energy that are usable the world over. If we get the Chinas and the Europes of the world to, with us, reduce their dependence on oil as a form of energy, then we significantly reduce the sabber rattling and America-taunting that worthless crackpots like Hugo Chavez and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are currently so proud of.

When we take away these despots' overweening means of income, we not only give the Venezuelan and Iranian people a much greater chance of living in freedom, we provide their self-selected 'leaders' much less of an opportunity to undermine America as well.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

That's Not Constitutional!

If it weren't such a serious problem, it would be laughable about what some people think is and is not Constitutional these days. A misunderstanding of constitutionality will lead to legal disaster.

  1. Of or relating to one's physical makeup.
  2. Of or proceeding from the basic structure or nature of a person or thing; inherent.
  3. What the judges say it is
In the previous definition, taken mostly from the American Heritage dictionary, I inserted definition #3, just so you can see how absurd it is.

But there are many who say these days "That's not constitutional!" when they really mean "I don't like that!". Constitutionality is not based on emotion, but on the Constitution. If the Constitution says it, it's Constitutional, if it doesn't it's not. Constitutionality cannot possibly mean simply what the judges say it is, or all legality and lawfulness will eventually break down into a complete disrespect for law.

Perhaps the most absurd claim to unconstitutionality that I have seen is one with regard to the Electoral College. In point of fact, Article II Section 1 of the Constitution discusses the office of President, including how he or she is to be elected. The several states are to determine how presidential electors are appointed. The electors are to choose the president. So it's very clear, isn't it? "That's unconstitutional!" A reply to the above-mentioned article on unconstitutionality states:
One could argue that the Electoral College is no longer necessary or is ineffective in the electing of the President, but it is ridiculous to argue that it is unconstitutional when it is clearly in the constitution...
Robert H. Bork should be a Justice on the US Supreme Court, because he clearly understands that the Constitution is what the Constitution says, not what the judges say it is. However, those who interpret life emotionally--Liberal Democrats--clearly understood that he would respect the Constitution in his decisions, so they hounded him until he withdrew his nomination. Mr Bork explains succinctly, in his book The Tempting of America what happens when judges let their opinions run wild.
When powers are shared...the Constitution is usually explicit on the subject. There is no faintest hint...that the judiciary shares any of the legislative power. (p 4)

...when a judge realizes that in the case before him his strongly held view of not embodied in...any provision of the Constitution...[h]e must then choose between his version of justice and abiding by the American form of government. (p 1)

The democratic integrity of law...depends entirely upon the degree to which its processes are legitimate.

Either the Constitution and statutes are law, ...or they are malleable texts that judges may rewrite to see that particular groups or political causes win. (p 2)

It is common today for demonstrators to demonstrate in front of the Supreme Court instead of Congress, believing that legality has little to do with their demands.

Politics has nearly everything to do with everything these days, unfortunately. But we cannot afford to let politics drive everything we do. We must let truth rule the day. The rule of law is truth. Rule by judges is destructive politics.

It is important for us to know what really is and is not constitutional and expect it to be interpreted and enforced correctly and equally--not expect a small coterie to change it for us just because "I don't like that!"

Friday, October 27, 2006

I Don't Want Your Social Security

Social Security is a Ponzi scheme that will ultimately fail. It is a terrible experiment that, the longer it goes on, the worse the financial catastrophe will ultimately be. We should be able to keep our money and invest it where it will do some good. Social Security is not secure and it destroys the social fabric of our society.

I see approximately $300 per month of my paycheck go some god-forsaken entity called FICA, and if I think too long about that acronym, it begins to look like a vulgarity. Not only does this FICA soak me for $300, but he gets the same amount out of my employer, only to deceive me into thinking he's taking only half as much as he really is. This means that under normal circumstances I would be making about $600 more per month on my paycheck.

If I were to invest this $600 per month for the 16 years that I have worked at this job at a conservative rate of 4% interest, I would have approximately $161,003. If, from now until I retire in the year 2030, I just let that money sit and continue to gain 4% interest, it will be worth $412,692. But if I continue to invest $600 per month during that time, I will have saved $709,177.

The 2006 average monthly benefit for a retired couple is $1,648. Let's say that by the time I retire, the amount my wife and I get from Mr. FICA is $3000 per month. If I live to be 100, we will have received $990,000.

Looks like we'll be getting a great deal! But wait... If I were to take the same $3000 per month from my personal account as it continued to earn the same 4%, it would take me til I was 106 years old to deplete my savings. More importantly, I could hold down another job if I wanted to and still collected my annuity from my personal savings account, which I cannot do if I want to collect $3000 from Social Security.

Social Security does not earn interest, at least not for me. Besides that, it is a pipe dream to imagine that my wife and I will really receive $3000 per month from Mr. FICA when we retire. And what happens to my Social Security when I die? It's gone. But the savings in my personal account belong to my spouse and children.

I want my money back. No actually, let's do this. Stop making me pay Social Security taxes (and my employer on behalf of me) and let me invest that amount in a private account. I will make way more than 4% doing that, by the way. And you know what? I would be glad to renounce all prior payments to Mr. FICA if I could make this change right now.

The problem is--the money I spend into Mr. FICA's account was never meant to socially secure me. It's meant to socially secure my parents and my grandparents. So who's going to secure me when I get that old? And then whose going to secure them? You start to get the picture. It's a corrupt Ponzi Scheme. The Social Security Trust fund is bankrupt now, but Mr. FICA doesn't tell you about that. Imagine the financial fallout that will obtain in the near future when it is determined that there are no more government money buckets to rob to pay for Social Security entitlement obligations.

Social Security takes away the responsibility of family members to take care of themselves and thus breaks down the family unit. In the past when grandparents had trouble, their children were more likely to take them in and help them pass the last few years of their lives. But with the advent of Social Security, they unfortunately let everyone else take care of them in most cases. Nowadays families don't stick together as much as they once did, and a major cause is the advent of Social Security.

It is far past time to phase out Social Security and let us take care of ourselves with our own money. Everyone will be better off.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Embryonic Stem Cell Research is Hot Air

We pause now for a moment to identify the rather long list of ailments that embryonic stem cells have cured... O...kay...We now continue with our regularly scheduled program.

A friend of mine who recently lost his arm to a roadside bomb in Iraq spent quite a bit of time at Walter Reed Army Hospital. While there he learned of some excellent remedies that have come along due to stem cell research. With tongue firmly in my cheek, I asked, "what sort of stem cells, embryonic?" No, he replied, adult.


So far, all stem cell cures or remedies for any ailment that exists have been made with adult cells. Embryonic stem cells have made no contribution whatsover.

In the picture accompanying this post, the first cherub says "I died waiting for embryonic stem cell research to find a cure. What about you?" To which the second angel says "I was the embryo." It becomes a huge slide into moral relativity when we begin to say that it is okay to kill some people because their death might provide the benefit of helping us to find cures for the diseases of other people.

A Time magazine cover article within the past year made it sound as though the United States' not funding embryonic stem cell research was a catastrophe. Other countries are funding such research, and we will be way behind if we don't jump on the bandwagon. Well, despite all of their funding and research, we are still not behind. They haven't found anything yet.

Embryonic stem cell researchers generally also believe in a woman's right to abort her child. Deep down, the main desire of the embryonic stem cell supporters is this--to find a place to use their waste product, to find justification for further killing of the unborn, and to assuage their consciences.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Moral Relativity is not Relative

It can be easily proved moral relativity is not at all what it claims. In every case where moral relativity prevails, someone's specific brand of moral relativity becomes the moral norm. We can accept truth, or we can become victims to the most powerful as they decide what 'truth' is.

In George Orwell's book Animal Farm, one of the animals' mottoes was "All animals are equal." This motto was a value invented by a self-proclaimed leadership of pigs. Due to conspiracy and pressure, the other animals came to believe the motto. So it was to their great surprise when they awoke one morning to discover the barn wall had been painted with a modified motto:
All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.
If what the moral relativist claimed were true, he would not be able to make his claim. In reality what the moral relativist says initially is "There is no view or value that is better than any other, except for the fact that there is no view or value that is better than any other." Ultimately and unfortunately (but predictably) the moral relativist's motto changes to
There is no view or value that is better than any other, except for the views and values that I possess.
The Netherlands is a good example. Believing that any sort of lifestyle shall be tolerated, they have come to determine that this tolerance allows them to euthanize those parts of their populace that have become a drain on or are otherwise of no use to their society.

A daughter brought home from school one day a values survey that she was required to complete. As the mother studied the survey, she became more and more agitated. Each question was asking the daughter to assign a value to something for which there was really only one truth.

Finally the mother asked the daughter, "When Martin Luther King stated that slavery was an abomination, was he right?" The daughter replied, in effect, "I agree with Mr. King that slavery is wrong, but that is just one opinion." School teachers ought to at a minimum be fired from their jobs for inculcating such obtuseness in their students.

The lifeboat question is another silly antic that occasionally appears in the classroom. It goes something like
There are 10 people on a lifeboat, and there is enough room, water, and food for 9. Which person do you get rid of?
It does not matter how many times the teachers who present such drivel hope that their students determine that their personal value would be to make do with what they have and accommodate all 10 people on the lifeboat. The only value that is of any importance is that value which comports with the truth. Teachers should not simply encourage their students to fashion their own values--they should teach truth and should be held accountable when they teach such falsehoods as 'the value of moral relativity.'

Moral relativism regarding a particular subject ALWAYS gravitates to that view or value of the subject that is considered by the most powerful people to be the 'truest' view or value. And that 'truest value' WILL be enforced by the most powerful.

So which do you want? A bedrock truth that has been true since eternity because it was established by a perfect God? His yoke is easy, and his burden is light. Or do you want to risk everything by allowing what is true to be determined by discussions in moral relativism?

Moral relativism is never relative.

We Don't Need No Stinking Open Space

The state of Utah has more open space than it has any idea what to do with. We don't need any more.

Groups like Envision Utah claim that Utah needs to set aside more open space for its people. This is bunk.

Utah has more open space as a percentage of its total space than nearly any other state in the United States (Nevada possibly excepted). The Federal Government owns so much of Utah that there is virtually no risk whatsoever that we will run out of open space. If you want to go camping, camp one day in each public camping spot in the state and it would probably take you 10 years to camp in all of them. You couldn't possibly hope to hike all of the open space in Utah if you hiked it from now until the day you die.

Utah has made very good use of a lot of its open space already. State and National parks are very majestic, enjoyable, and cared for. Opportunities to visit such sites are open and accessible to all. In addition, most cities and counties do an excellent job of setting aside park land for athletics and other recreation.

Utah is one of the most urban states in the country. A lot of this has to do with the fact that we have a gigantic amount of open space. We don't need any more.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

"One Person One Vote" Was a Huge Mistake

The Supreme Court's decision to require all legislative districts to be "apportioned substantially on a population basis" was a ludicrous decision that has caused a multitude of problems.

The Congress of the United States is a bicameral (two-chambered) legislature. The House of Representatives is apportioned roughly according to population of the various states of the union. Within those states, the various House districts must be generally equal in population.

The Senate is a completely different animal, however. Every state in the union, regardless of population, is given two senators in the United States Senate. This is a very healthy balance in lawmaking, pitting the overweening effect of large states in the House with the disproportionally stronger effect of the smaller states in the Senate.

The concept of "one person one vote" was popularized by the Baker v Carr Supreme Court decision in 1962, and hardened by the Court's 8-1 decision in Reynolds v Sims in 1964. These decisions effectively made it impossible for state legislatures, wishing to emulate the United States Congress, to have one house of their bicameral legislatures apportioned according to geography rather than strictly according to population. Such a clear misunderstanding of the Constitution of the United States has unfortunately been matched several times since by a Supreme Court that until recently has been largely out of touch with anything but a liberal and cultural elitist point of view. Most members of the court for the last 50 years have cared very little about the Constitution's original meaning.

This is why Robert Bork was not approved by the Senate to sit on the Court--because he cared about the meaning of the Constitution, because the Senate was aware of this fact, and because most of the members of the Senate were worried that Bork would somehow singlehandedly reverse all of their "progress" of the last several years. Somehow, the Congress failed to "Bork" Clarence Thomas, and in addition to him, a near majority, including Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito, of the Court regards the basis of our country instead of wanting to be like the cesspool that is Europe.

In Utah, "one person one vote" has meant that Utah citizens living in outlying areas have very little say about what goes on in their state. Prior to 1964, the Utah Senate was apportioned at one senator for each county. This gave small counties, like Daggett (population 921 as of the 2000 census), Piute (1,435), and Rich (1,961) equal influence on state affairs that would affect them equally along with such large counties as Salt Lake, Utah, Davis, and Weber. The disproportionate effect was counteracted by the Utah House of Representatives, which always has been apportioned according to population.

It is reasonable to believe that Utah would not have become as socialist as it has become in many areas--welfare, education, taxation, regulations on business, etc.--if it had been allowed to retain its Senate apportionment according to county.

Metropolitan populations have very different needs and persepectives on life than do rural populations. Because they have a lot more people, metropolitan areas will always win the day in a "one person one vote" political environment. With "one person one vote" metro populations effect far more negative effects on rural populations--than they know or care about--than they would in a legislature like Utah had before the Supreme Court pulled the rug out from under us.

As with any decision the Supreme Court makes, it is not about who wins or loses. The important point to consider is what is right. What is right is what was intended by the original Document until such time as it is amended. The Supreme Court cannot amend the document.

Clearly the Constitution intended for States to apportion their legislatures as they see fit.

I hope we are close enough a fair and correct makeup of the Supreme Court so that Baker v Carr and Reynolds v Sims can be thrown on the ash heap of history, and then we can let each individual state determine the composition of its own legislature, as it once was and should be.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Gun-Free School Zones Are Not Gun Free

Recent events show us how Gun-Free School Zones never really are gun free. If more people carry guns, then criminals would be much less likely to commit wanton violence.

There have been a lot of school shootings lately. I'm just hearing that a school principal has been shot this morning. That would make 3 incidents in the past week, I think.

Do you know what one thing in common each of these school shootings have? Every school shooting has been at a school where the shooter knew their was a gigantic chance that he was the only one at the school (besides maybe a police resource officer who's there sometimes) who had a gun.

If adults were allowed to carry guns in schools, there would be fewer of the kind of wanton incidents that have been all the rage lately.

The Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms are alleging that

laws creating gun-free school zones have "disarmed the wrong people and left our schools, and the children inside, vulnerable to this kind of atrocity."
I agree.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

To Have the Compassion of an Ogre

At least when it comes to using government as a weapon of compassion, I have the compassion of the ogre. I will explain below why I think government cannot and should not be in the business of compassion.

The force of government has caused many people to show less compassion to their fellow men. On the other hand, some of the best things happen when government is not compassionate. In such circumstances, individuals personally begin to display more compassion. One such instance of this happened recently in Utah when the governor asked the legislature to convene a special session in order to (among other things) provide special monies to pay for dental care for the disabled. If they didn't fund the governor's compassion project, it would make the legislators look even more heartless in a year where the budget surplus was projected to be at least $150 million. In spite of these political odds, the legislature did not grant the $2 million that 40,000 members of the disabled community required to receive adequate dental care.

Perhaps not surprisingly, especially for the very charitable state of Utah, private donors came up with the money that had been requested. I applaud in this case the correct exercise of compassion.

Government is in the business of compassion, but it was not designed to be so. Good government is limited to providing for the general welfare, because a populace that is afforded peace and tranquility by its government is apt to be more compassionate than government could ever come close to being. Forced compassion by government is an abdication of its primary responsibility to provide peace and tranquility.

When government works toward the special welfare (that is, toward issues that benefit a small group of people at the expense of society at large), even when it is something as apparently appropriate as providing dental care to the disabled, not only does the moral authority of government break down, but so do the morals of society as well.

Government compassion is frequently misplaced. Even worse, it is woefully inefficient, and not just because government employees are paid to administer government compassion distribution projects. An excellent example is a comparison of the responses from private groups and individuals following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, versus the response from government. Individuals and groups responded with alacrity and compassion, while government responded with lethargy.

I believe in compassion. I attempt to be compassionate in my personal life, though I may not always succeed. But when government usurps from society the responsibility to be compassionate, then before long neither society nor government have any compassion left.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Evolution: To Teach or Not To Teach

If we don't want to teach our children anything about faith and religion in the public schools, then we clearly should not teach them about The Theory of Evolution. The Theory of Evolution is every bit as much a religion of liberalism and a tenet of their faith as the creation story is of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Shinto, and many other religions.

Public schools should be allowed to teach The Theory of Evolution, so long as they correctly identify it as a theory. Children are potential adults, and can make their own conclusions about whether The Theory of Evolution is a fact or not. If children can be taught one theory, then they are perfectly able to digest others.

I hear from time to time that we all surely believe in evolution, because we can all observe that things change over time, people become generally taller, world records are broken in track and field and weightlifting on a regular basis, and similar such occurrences. This tactic is simple logical slight of hand. Everyday evolution is not the type of evolution the Utah public schools primarily teach. The Utah Eduation Association website supports the fact that many educators believe The Theory of Evolution to be much more than a theory.

Nothing from The Theory of Evolution has ever been proven. The Evolution Theorizers have had nearly two centuries to explain such things as

  • How all of the parts and processes that make up the human eye (or an animal eye, for that matter) would have any functional benefit to an evolving organism until they came together in one perfect eyeball. Charles Darwin himself admitted this gaping hole in what he referred to as his "theory".

  • How the complexity that is involved in a single cell could have come about on its own.

  • How, in the absence of any evidence that it has ever occurred, one species could evolve into another.

Let's examine The Theory of Evolution for a minute as being a part of our culture. Whether for better or for worse, it has become such. It has also been okay to teach Islam from a cultural perspective in the public schools. Why then shouldn't other religions that are a part of our culture, including but by no means limited to Christianity, be exposed to the children as additional forms of cultural enrichment? What better way to get children to understand that different people have different opinions about the world, and that we can all get along despite our different opinions, than to teach them about the various popular theories that exist? Why limit the public educational experience to the propounding of one theory? I hope the fear is not that by exposing them to a variety of cultural experiences, to include religion, that they might become more intellectually mature and decide for themselves that The Theory of Evolution is baseless!

Very few Creationists or Intelligent Design proponents are asking that Creation Science or Intelligent Design be presented as fact. It is simply asked by most of these advocates that Creation and Intelligent Design be presented as equally popular and probable theories.

Your next argument, if you disagree with me, is, I'm sure, that the difference between The Theory of Evolution and Creation Science or Intelligent Design is that research into the Theory of Evolution is observable. I will grant you for a moment and just for the sake of argument that evidence of Creation or Intelligent Design cannot be observed. If that were true, that merely puts Creation and Intelligent Design on the same footing as The Theory of Evolution, for which there is no observable evidence either. Uh, uh, uh! Hold on a sec. Keep in mind that everyday evolution and The Theory of Evolution are two separate things. A multitude of evidence exists for everyday evolution, but none for The Theory. But somehow The Theory is what is most heavily propounded in the public schools, and a near-monopoly at that in the world of theory.

It is disingenuous for public educators to believe that children are mature enough to be taught one theory, but that they are too immature to be inculcated with others. Let's teach The Theory of Evolution, but let's also teach other plausable theories. No child will be harmed by learning more than one theory regarding the meaning of life. After all, look at what they already watch on television. Wait, that's for another post... ;-)

Friday, July 14, 2006

To Have Children's Best Educational Interest at Heart

Children thrive educationally when there are a variety of educational options open to them. An educator who tries to put stumbling blocks in the way of alternatives for children's education is actually encouraging children's educational failure.

The Deseret News recently published an article about the tenure of Pat Rusk as president of the Utah Education Association. I don't know if Pat Rusk feels the way the article portrays, but the following paragraph in the article jumped out at me.

the leader of the 18,000-member union also has friends, handing over dollars and manpower to one of Utah's strongest political arsenals that has helped block Republican Party-backed tax credits or vouchers for private school tuition in one of the nation's reddest states.
Let me get right to the point. I can't, based on the above paragraph, cast aspersions at Ms. Rusk, but I do feel that anyone who feels proud of blocking other educational opportunities for children, such as vouchers and tax credits, truly does not have the interest of children at heart. They only have the furtherance of their own career and interests at heart. The DesNews article makes it sound like it is thrilling for the UEA to block educational opportunities for students, simply because the republican majority in the Utah legislature makes such a good enemy.

Now I know that Utah public educators have taken their series of bumps and bruises from some of the Utah public and from the legislature, much of which has been undue, but it doesn't change the fact that more educational options are better than one. More options encourage each other to provide a better service in order to remain viable. Public educators can show their true dedication to children's education by at least not frowning on alternative methods of education.

I applaud charter schools as an alternative to regular public schools. I applaud private schools as an alternative as well. And I think that in nearly all cases, home educator-mothers and fathers can provide as good an education as any of the three alternatives listed above.

Lest I be misinterpreted, I think public education is an excellent alternative as well. It has been for a long time, especially in light of the fact that--whereas home, private, and charter schools can be selective--regular public education must take all students from even those areas of society where parents are more concerned with such things as drugs and debt than they are reading to their children. But additionally, regular public education has and will become better as it is confronted with competition in the form of other methods of education.

Competition causes innovation, which is nearly always positive. Public educators, if they truly have the interests of children at heart, should support alternative forms of education, as these alternatives will help public educators find even better ways to provide better education for the children they serve.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Illegal Utah Aliens and In-State Tuition

At first glance, it seems unfair for Utah to provide lower-cost, in-state tuition to non-resident aliens. But precautions are in place that make it more fair than it seems.

In a March 2003 article on the Eagle Forum website, Phyllis Schlafly chastized four states, including Utah for contravening Federal Law by providing, lower-cost in-state tuition to illegal aliens. I have not studied the laws enacted by the other three states, but the Utah law makes a great deal of sense.

In 2002, prior to the Eagle Forum article, the Attorney General of the State of Utah gave the opinion that Utah actually is in compliance with Federal Law in allowing in-state tuition to "nonimmigrant aliens". His letter to the President of the University of Utah on the subject is reprinted here.

Most importantly, Utah is not allowed to provide in-state tuition to aliens if it violates Federal law. To wit, if it would provide the same lower-cost tuition to other groups of residents or foreign nationals, it can offer the same to nonimmigrant aliens. The letter linked to above provides a few instances of where Utah does offer such a benefit.

Furthermore, in Utah's case, alien students can only be considered for in-state tuition if they have attended a Utah high school for 3 years and have graduated (or equivalent) from a Utah high school.

To tighten up matters even more, the student's family must be in the process of applying for legal US residency to be considered for the in-state tuition benefit.

The United States can absorb a large influx of immigrants. Many of the problems thought to lie at the feet of illegal immigration actually are the blame of government programs. Students who are furthering their education while at the same time attempting to become American citizens should be considered potential Utahns.

The board of regents is tasked with writing the rules for the implementation of the law. Assuming they have included punishment rules for fraudulent use of the benefit, I am in favor of providing in-state tuition to those potential Utahns who have complied with Utah law.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Duke Lacrosse and Integrity

Summary: Did any of the Duke Lacrosse players rape the stripper at the party in March 2006? I don't know. But I know a whole bunch of them were there.

E. D. Hirsch wrote a book a few years back, called Cultural Literacy, about things we need to know in our culture to be able to understand and contribute to society. The problem is nowadays there are certain things that we don't need to know but that are foisted in our faces non-stop anyway, and make us less able to contribute in a meaningful way to society.

There has been a running joke among my buddies and I here in Iraq. Almost anytime we get around a television we hear something on the news or on the sports channel about the Duke lacrosse team and an exotic dancer at some party last March. "Did you hear about this Duke thing?" we exclaim to each other as though the story hadn't bored us to death already in the last 3 months. "The lacrosse team supposedly raped a stripper!" "Wow, I hadn't heard about it!" the other will say mockingly.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not mocking the fact that someone may have gotten raped. What I am mocking is that our voyeuristic American society can still find this as newsworthy. I don't know whether she was raped. Even more importantly, I do know this--the Duke lacrosse team could have made their lives much easier by never having had such a party in the first place. And, to be fair and balanced, I should mention that the stripper was making pretty good money, so we can't blame her!!!

I know..about now you're saying this Staheli guy is probably one of those people who thinks that "Oh, they're going to do it, so we need to teach them how to do it safely" is a bad idea. Well, you would be right. It's a bad idea, but that's an issue for another day.

I graduated from Brigham Young University, and when I'm not moonlighting as a full-time soldier in Iraq, my day job is as a computer programmer at BYU. One of the areas I support is the BYU Honor Code Office. To attend school at BYU and to work at BYU, I have to abide by an Honor Code. In section 137, paragraph L, sub-part 15 of that Honor Code, it reads: "I promise, that if I am a member of the BYU lacrosse team, I will not hold a party and invite a stripper."

I think Duke University should either acquire or modify an Honor Code, because University leadership has not acted with integrity in the matter. Here's what I think probably would have happened had the BYU lacrosse team held a party and invited a stripper--every member of the team attending the party would have been at least suspended from school, making them ineligible for further lacrosse play in that academic year. They might have been banned from future lacrosse play and maybe even dismissed permanently from the University. Would this have had a negative effect on the ability of the BYU lacrosse team to compete in NCAA play? Of course, but this is not the issue. The issue was forged when a gaggle of dense teen and twenty-somethings decided to have a stupid party. At that point, the team members who attended the party made the determination (conscious or otherwise) to ruin the University's lacrosse season.

So my point is that all the people at Duke are asking the wrong questions. The main question should have been 'what in the hell were you doing having a party like that, you doofuses?' Maybe the parents have asked such a question to their sons, and maybe the Duke administrators have asked this of their lacrosse players, but I haven't heard about it in the 987,362 times I've heard the case reported about on the news and the sports.

At Brigham Young University, the process is simple. There are certain things in life that are dishonorable, that cannot be condoned. If you do one or more of those dishonorable things that you committed not to do, you will no longer have the privilege of associating with this institution (at least until you have made amends).

Duke University until now has always seemed to me to be a very honorable institution. It hasn't demonstrated this very credibly, though, since the rape allegations surfaced nearly three months ago. It's time for Duke to make amends and reclaim the honor that I once thought it had.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The Problem with Licensure

Summary: Licensure in many cases is simply a license for (1) people to do substandard work, (2) other people to be trusting of people that shouldn’t be trusted, and (3) groups of people to limit entry of others into their profession. In my opinion, licensing in most cases should not be required, but should be an option for people who choose it as a form of insurance that the good or service provided is trustworthy. Here’s what I mean…

First, a couple of stories to set the stage. When I was a teenager, my father was on the city council in our town. He was frustrated one time about a man in town who refused to get a building permit to make modifications to his house. As I thought about it, I found myself on the side of the man who didn’t want to get the building permit.

Later on, in a different town, I became a member of a city council. Every year, it came time to renew the licenses of every business in town. And nearly every year I asked for a discussion on why we required business licenses. No one could really explain why, except that it was the law, that it helped ensure our business tax revenue, and that we needed safety personnel to inspect their premises for dangerous substances or environments (which only happened for new businesses anyway). We never did come to a conclusion whether piano teachers and lawn mowing youth needed business licenses.

While still on the city council, we hired a licensed well drilling contractor to fix a well we were having problems with. During the course of fixing the problem, the driller made a serious mistake, after which he promised for several days to get the problem fixed. When, finally our calls were not returned by him, we sent an officer of the peace to track him down, but to no avail. Getting the well fixed correctly cost the city an enormous amount of extra money.

What do all of these events have in common? Government.

It has become the unfortunate trait of most Americans that, when a venture is sanctioned by government, they trust that it is, will be, or has been done correctly. A multitude of problems ensues. I’d like to analyze each of the above-mentioned anecdotes in this light.

Building Permits. The home I purchased has been in need of plumbing repair on 2 or 3 occasions in the 14 years we have lived there. Each time the plumbing contractor comes, he exclaims “Who did this plumbing? It’s terrible!” My house, shoddy plumbing and all, was inspected and passed by the building inspector. Several homes in our town had to be redone, even after inspections by the building inspector, because the building contractor used deceptive and shoddy practices. Yet who do people remember when it comes to the problems this event caused the families who bought these homes? My city government. But who cares? Nobody can vote the building inspector out of office anyway. But did you forget for just a second that the problem was not the building inspector’s fault?

Because people know that homes have been inspected by an authorized building inspector, people don’t often think about the reputation of the home builder. They just want a home that is in their price range and that the government tells them is fit to move into. In most cases this works well. But when you have a shyster building contractor, licensure prevents the full onus of shoddy workmanship from falling upon him.

Building inspection should remain an option, but it does not have to be a function of government. Government does not have a reputation to keep up, in the first place. But imagine what would happen to a private building inspector if word got around that the houses he inspects are actually of substandard workmanship? He’d be out of a job before too long. I don’t even think there should be a requirement to have your home inspected. What I do think, however, is that it should be required to list on the title of your home who it was inspected by, if anyone, and who the inspector was. I suspect that most people would opt to get their home inspected by a private inspector. I know I would. And did you notice that in this scenario, no one has to be issued a building permit before they can start building.

Business Licenses. Business licenses accrue no benefit to a city, and in fact cause more work for city employees than they are worth. Surely certain kinds of businesses should not be allowed in certain areas (such as very noisy, dusty, or otherwise caustic establishments in residential areas) but this has nothing to do with licensure. The penalty for non-payment of taxes, especially in the case of large businesses, is very prohibitive; and it’s easy to discover when such businesses aren’t paying taxes. It is as easy to hide one’s business from the business licensors as it is from the tax collectors, anyway.

Engineering Licenses. Engineers are so often trusted first for the fact that they have a license rather than the fact that they are good engineers. I sat through a plethora of city council sessions where the ‘lowest responsible bid’ was accepted, responsible meaning more than anything else that the engineering firm was licensed and that it had bid lower than any other bidding firm. In most cases, this works just fine. But in the case of our well driller, it didn’t. It is interesting that government issues licenses to engineers based on their ability to pass a test. The head engineer in a state government usually has a great deal of prior experience in the private engineering sector, but his government office is in no way responsible if an engineering firm makes a huge mistake. In a private-licensing scenario, licensing engineers would have their reputations sullied if engineering firms that they certified are caught doing substandard work. Better yet, a firm’s history speaks many more volumes than a license does. If I am required to delve into a firm’s historical accomplishments, I am much more likely to find an engineer that will do my job correctly. If a firm has no history, I would be a fool to ask him to do a large or complicated task for me. Licensure for engineering firms should be optional, with private entities providing certification of licensure. This will require everyone—buyer, seller, and certifier—to work harder in order to ensure a quality product or service.

The following is a partial list of the ever-increasing number of licenses required in the state of Utah:

Nail Technicians
Athletic Trainers
Environmental Health Scientists
Occupational Therapists
Speech Therapists
Massage Therapists
Landscape Architects
Security Personnel
Court Reporters

Every one of these license schemes has the effect of making it more difficult both for individuals to become entrepreneurs in these fields and for beneficial innovations to occur in them. A lot of these are relatively new licensing requirements that contribute to the bloat of government.

Licensure by government makes little sense in most cases. In cases of public health or social welfare there is an arguable reason to have licensing, but in most other cases it makes much more sense to have private firms do the licensing. This makes for smarter consumers and better service providers all around.