Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Ron Paul Train is Picking Up Speed

Donate to the Ron Paul campaign. Join the tens of thousands of others who have!

Even if you are a member of the Establishment, you must admit that the Ron Paul Presidential Campaign is becoming a reckoning force. "Ron who?" doesn't work anymore.

They've done their best to ignore him. Of course I talking about the rest of the Republican presidential hopefuls, not to mention the Democrats. But I'm also talking about our 'wonderfully impartial media'. In a recent Democrat debate, for example, the statement was made that no candidate on the Republican side has a plan to get out of Iraq. The media did not offer correction to the statement. But you know what?

Horse feathers. Ron Paul has such a plan! They know it, but it pains them to admit it, on both the Establishment's left and its right.

The self-annointed of the American Establishment might as well stop ignoring Ron Paul's presidential candidacy. Because that is becoming a pretty precariously embarrassing situation for them as the rest of the country is taking notice of the future President Paul with the alacrity of wildfire.

In approximately the last week of September, Congressman Paul's campaign set a very audacious goal to raise $500,000 for the campaign. Because of overwhelming support, that goal has now been revised, and the new goal of $1 million in roughly one week has nearly been achieved.

Yesterday, when I made my most recent donation, the total was nearly $691,000 (click on pic at right). I watched for a few minutes on various occasions as the mercury rose in the donation thermometer. The largest donation I noticed was $100. The average donation is much smaller than that. It is likely, therefore, that as many as 20,000 individual donations have been made to the Ron Paul campaign in the last week alone.

Support for Ron Paul is infectious. When people discover what he stands for, they agree that Ron Paul is what we have needed for a long time.

As people wake up all across America on this Saturday morning, the donation total now approaches $850,000.

Watch out Establishment America. Here we come!

Man-Made Global Warming? Follow the Money

It's a trait of human nature that people can be influenced with small amounts of money. Imagine what happens when then they get tantalized with a whole bunch of money. Unfortunately, some advocates in the man-made global warming (MMGW) debate have been highly compromised by filthy lucre. It turns out that one of the greatest of these is the supposedly impartial NASA Director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, James Hansen.

Part of the mantra of the man-made global warming advocates is that everyone on the opposing side is bought and paid for. They have often cited specious claims that the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) sought to undermine the theory of MMGW by offering scientists $10,000 to speak out against it. The reality, however, was not that cut and dried:

The American Enterprise Institute offered scientists, including some who in no way can be seen as allies of the so-called "skeptic" camp, $10,000 to review several thousand pages of scientific material from the most recent United Nations IPCC climate change report and write an original piece of 7,500-10,000 words reflecting their view of it.

But here is something that is cut and dried. James Hansen of NASA, one of the world's foremost advocates of the MMGW theory, received $720,000 in influence money from George Soros, who desperately wants to prove that MMGW is real.

How many people, for instance, know that James Hansen, a man billed as a lonely "NASA whistleblower" standing up to the mighty U.S. government, was really funded by Soros' Open Society Institute , which gave him "legal and media advice"?

That's right, Hansen was packaged for the media by Soros' flagship "philanthropy," by as much as $720,000, most likely under the OSI's "politicization of science" program.

That may have meant that Hansen had media flacks help him get on the evening news to push his agenda and lawyers pressuring officials to let him spout his supposedly "censored" spiel for weeks in the name of advancing the global warming agenda.

Yes we can follow the money, all right. But it's not where MMGW advocates tell you from their Land of Oz that it is. Besides pointing to government scientists who lose their grant money if they don't prophesy a doom that requires their continued services, the money points to George Soros. Everyone already knew that. But it is the height of irony that James Hansen is also in on the take, courtesy of Mr. Soros.

Why can't they just debate the MMGW theory on its merits? Because they know they'll lose.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Health Coverage: We Aren't Insured, We're Insulated

Health coverage that covers events that occur catastrophically or infrequently is called health insurance. Health coverage that covers almost anything is called health insulation, because we become insulated from the costs of the health care we receive. When we don't care about the cost of a product, we nearly always demand more of it. So it is with health care.

In 2002 there were only two countries where the people receiving the health care paid less of the costs for that care than in the United States. In the US, government and private insurers pay for nearly 90% of all health costs.

This is one significant reason that the cost of health care is so high in the US. (The other is because we have better health care technology, which costs more to provide.)

Until recently, insurance has always meant to insure against usually unexpected events that are "large" or "infrequent". Somehow, more recently, we have come to demand coverage for nearly everything, and we wonder why the costs climb more than 10% every year.

If health insurance worked the way it should:

...benefits would rarely be paid out. Large but predictable expenses, such as the cost of obstetrics for a normal baby, are not risks that can be spread [over a risk pool], so they are not insurable. Unpredictable expenses, such as the cost of caring for a high-risk infant, are more properly considered an insurable risk. Unpredictable but small expenses, such as the cost of diagnosis and treatment for strep throat, are inappropriate for insurance. Because the cost is low, even a risk-averse consumer would not pay an insurance premium to protect against such expenses.

Yet most of us have employer-purchased health plans, where we pay little--or sometimes no--of the premium. So we have come to expect the strep throat to be covered by the health plan, and we for sure think that normal baby deliveries should be covered.

But that's not what insurance is for. And until we learn that one issue, we will have a blind spot for the fact that government cannot solve the health care crisis. Some people's blind spots are so burned into their perception that they even think government should be called on to solve the health care crisis.

The crisis will be solved when we stop insulating ourselves from all the everyday costs of health care and start taking responsibility for ourselves.

The solution for most health insurance consumers is a Health Savings Account (HSA). An HSA in NOT a Flexible Spending Account (FSA)--you get to keep the money you don't spend on health care when the end of the year rolls around. This is a huge incentive to cut back on those health care events that fall into the "gray area" of being neither completely necessary or completely unnecessary.

Between myself and my employer, we pay over $15,000 for the health plan for my family. We don't even come close to spending (including health insurance billing) $15,000 in one year for non-catastrophic coverage, even though all we pay usually are $15 or $20 co-pays for office visits. I sure would like to have most of that $15,000 as part of my salary. The health care for me and my family would be just as good (if not better) and I'd feel a lot less poor.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Knockout...Mah-Moud...Ahhhh-maaaa-dinejad!!!

Columbia University President Lee Bollinger may have thought he was pulling a fast one by inviting Mahmoud Ahmadinejad into the ring of verbal opinion. But with only one minute gone in the second round, Bollinger's oral parries had been long forgotten, and he was laying on the canvas.

Americans are getting stupider all the time. What a silly claim that it would have been a violation of free speech to deny Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to appear at Columbia University? Okay, I want to appear as well! And I want the same amount of media coverage as Ahmadinejad got!

Columbia University just invited the #2 enemy of the United States to exercise his right of free speech on American soil. Imagine if we had invited Josef Stalin or Adolf Hitler to speak in their heydays! The only thing worse than inviting Ahmadinejad to speak in the US would have been to invite Osama b...wait a second...I don't want to give anybody any ideas.

Mahmoud Admadinejad is a tin-horn oligarch. He has no business being in power. The main reason that he is in power, though, is because of blowback due to the obscene and constant meddling of the United States in the affairs of Iran over the last 50 years. But history being what it is, and the current time being itself as well, you cannot invite your enemy to speak on your home turf!

For heaven's sake, how stupid are we?

Bollinger said a lot of very manful things, such as

Why have women, members of the Baha’i faith, homosexuals and so many of our academic colleagues become targets of persecution in your country?

Why in a letter last week to the Secretary General of the UN did Akbar Gangi, Iran’s leading political dissident, and over 300 public intellectuals, writers and Nobel Laureates express such grave concern that your inflamed dispute with the West is distracting the world’s attention from the intolerable conditions your regime has created within Iran?

In a December 2005 state television broadcast, you described the Holocaust as a “fabricated” “legend.” One year later, you held a two-day conference of Holocaust deniers.

For the illiterate and ignorant, this is dangerous propaganda. When you come to a place like this, this makes you, quite simply, ridiculous. You are either brazenly provocative or astonishingly uneducated.

While your predecessor government was instrumental in providing the US with intelligence and base support in its 2001 campaign against the Taliban in Afghanistan, your government is now undermining American troops in Iraq by funding, arming, and providing safe transit to insurgent leaders like Muqtada al-Sadr and his forces.

There are a number of reports that also link your government with Syria’s efforts to destabalize the fledgling Lebanese government through violence and political assassination.

My question is this: Why do you support well-documented terrorist organizations that continue to strike at peace and democracy in the Middle East, destroying lives and civil society in the region?

But nary a jab connected. Mahmoud sidestepped them all. The underdog gained favor not only with the international crowd--who will always cheer for the little guy against the perceived American hegemon--but also with the home crowd. Many of the international crowd disdain Admadinejad, but not as much as they used to. The Glenn Beck program for September 25th played BBC interviews of American students saying that they were embarrassed by Bollinger's actions.

This is unfortunate, but unfortunately, it was to be expected.

Bollinger finished his opening remarks with this statement:

Frankly, and in all candor, Mr. President, I doubt that you will have the intellectual courage to answer these questions.
If you knew it wasn't going to be a debate, why did you invite him, you intellectual doofus? You Don Quixote, Jimmy Carter wannabe!!!

I guess I was embarrassed by Bollinger, too. That he was stupid enough to invite Mr. Ahmadinejad in the first place. The only stupider person is George W. Bush for not thinking about the effects of the gleeful skipping of his military into Iraq.

Face it President Bollinger, you got your butt kicked. And America's butt got kicked with it.

Postscript - 9/26/2007, 8:42 AM - Karnit Goldwasser, wife of a captured Israeli soldier who was never returned by Hezbollah as part of cease-fire terms last year, was not given her freedom of speech in a meeting with President Ahmadinejad.

Monday, September 24, 2007

My Latest Qwest DSL Horror Story

From my perspective, Qwest has improved its service and offerings in several ways, but holy cow, they still have some silly policies.

This past June, our Qwest DSL modem went out. A technician came to the house and found nothing wrong. It took four days for him to get there. Ironically, just after he left it started working again. Then, about 3 weeks ago, it went out again. I called Qwest DSL tech support and was greeted by a much friendlier representative than before.

He pointed out that electrical surges, and particularly lightning storms, cause problems with the particular modem that I had. It all started to make sense--there had been lightning storms in close time proximity to when the modem had failed, sometimes for a few hours, sometimes for a few days.

They agreed to send me a newer-model modem for nothing but a deposit fee of $99.99. I have the new modem, and it works great. I sent the old modem back via UPS two weeks ago. My bank account is now overdrawn, because Qwest still hasn't credited my money back to it.

I called Qwest today. They told me that, yes, they had received my modem, but that it would be 3 or 4 weeks before they could refund my money.

Keep in mind that it is a bank account that they need to apply a credit to--they don't need to mail me a check. Do you know how long it took them to take the money out of my account? From the time I said, yes I want the new modem--about 32 seconds.

I can think of nothing but that Qwest is trying to make some interest off my money, which would amount to about 65 cents over the course of the extra month they used to twiddle their thumbs and file their nails before they credited my account.

Qwest is improving, but it seems only begrudgingly--when they have to to keep in competition. I'm not sure what the fastest speeds are for residential DSL, but holy cow, they're only about half what some people can get here in Utah with Utopia! And that's not to mention how much better internet speeds are in Japan and even Canada.

I remember when I first signed up for DSL. I had to talk to 6 different people, each of whom could only see their little slice of the non-empowered pie. About a year ago, I tried to upgrade to 1.5Mbps from 640Kbps and was given the runaround by the customer support representative. More recently, they've done a better job of customer support. But the payments department? It needs a massive overhaul.

I wish I could say that I'm through with Qwest nightmares, but I kind of expect another one sometime soon.

I Support a Consumption Tax to Replace the IRS

Here goes Don Quixote Staheli again, tilting this time not against the voucher windmill, but against the current income tax system in the United States. I haven't done a whole lot of study on it yet, but this is my announcement that I support a Consumption Tax to replace the Internal Revenue Service.

My brother is an accountant, so he probably won't really like this post too much, but I support a consumption tax instead of an income tax. There, I said it.

So I submit to you, the Committee of the Whole, my initial ideas on a consumption tax. (That way, if I have any hair-brained ideas, I can change my mind!! ;-) )

I know it's not an easy proposition. Because after all, there is still the behemoth known as the IRS. Any Consumption Tax would probably need a Constitutional amendment at the same time to repeal the 16th Amendment. Ron Paul reminded us of this a couple years ago:

One tax reform idea tacitly endorsed by Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan calls for a national retail consumption tax to replace the existing income tax. Absent the outright repeal of the 16th Amendment, however, we cannot be sure that an income tax would not reappear at some point. One can easily imagine popular support for retaining the income tax on the “very rich,” which of course is how the 16th amendment originally was sold to a gullible public in the 1910s.
He also said

A pure consumption tax like the Fair Tax would be better than the current system only if we truly did away with the income tax by repealing the 16th amendment. Otherwise, we could end up with both the income tax and a national sales tax. A consumption tax also provides more transparency and less complexity. But the real issue is total spending by government, not tax reform. In other words, why change the tax structure if spending stays the same?
I recently listened to an interview of presidential candidate Mike Huckabee on The Right Balance with Greg Allen. Here are some notes that I took of the interview (I had to pull over to the side of the road a couple times to type them into my Palm Treo 700WX smartphone, as I was en route to work while listening to TRB).

Governor Huckabee said that there is already a 22 percent built-in tax for everything we consume, because corporations pass their costs along at that rate--after all they don't pay taxes, you do! The US already has the highest corporate tax rate in the world, which encourages corporations to hide their companies and accounts "off-shore". The part that I really like about his plan is that each family that lives below the poverty level would receive a consumption tax rebate check to bring them back up to the poverty level.

Here are some concerns:
  • Will we need the IRS to send all the rebate checks out?
  • How complicated would it be for companies to upgrade their computers and cash registers to account for this new tax?
  • How long (if ever) would it take for corporations to reduce the cost of the goods they sell to us by 22% to match the taxes they no longer have to pay?
Another concern expressed by some is that a consumption tax might affect charitable giving. It might. But I hope not. It won't affect mine. That's not a very good argument anyway against changing the tax code to something that is fairer and simpler.

Getting rid of all the current income tax loopholes would be much better.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Nearly Everyone Has Their Own Axis of Evil

The vitriol that punctuates our political debate is fast becoming an epidemic. It is no cure for our collective malady when President George W. Bush refers to a handful of countries in the world as an Axis of Evil, directly implying that the facts are all in and that diplomacy has no chance of succeeding with such an opponent. Unfortunately, perhaps taking the lead from our governmental leaders, we as individuals more and more often treat those who disagree with us as our own personal Axis of Evil.

Do I think that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad should be allowed to speak at Columbia University while in the United States? No--because Iran is supporting the killing of US troops in Iraq. But the problem didn't start in recent Iraq. It started long before, with the US and other Western countries' meddling in Iran and most of the rest of the Middle East. This inflamed nationalistic passions against the United States, which are perfectly rational in the minds of those who hold such passions, and which greatly predate the arrival on the world stage of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (or even the Ayatollah Khomeini). When George W. Bush branded Iran as part of the Axis of Evil --while trying to keep the other side of the story buried--he made things much worse.

Besides the fact that diplomacy (at least at one point in time--I'm not sure about it now) could have reaped enormous peace dividends, the epithet Axis of Evil seems a simplistic attempt to squelch all discussion and debate, and to brand our opponent hopelessly irrational and somehow less human than ourselves. Iran has its own story, but those of shallow minds in America don't want you to know what it is. And here we stand once more on the brink of mutual nuclear annihilation.

Like so many times before, the truth can be found on both sides of the issue, and that truth is aching to be told.

The Enemy is Us

Come to think of it, a lot of us have our own Axis of Evil--that political enemy or enemies with whom we have forsworn all discussion as hopelessly and impossibly counterproductive. Somehow branding our local political enemy as part of our Axis of Evil gives us that sense of self-superiority that we need in order to feel that only our side of the issue has any merit.

That's wrong. It has to stop.

A recent musing by the Salt Lake Tribune's Paul Rolly helped me to think more clearly about my feelings on this issue (Hat Tip: Utah Amicus). Here's the paragraph that particularly got my introspective juices flowing:

"What is the greatest problem facing public service today?" the young Republican governor [Jon Huntsman, recently] asked the old Democrat [Cal Rampton, three-term Democrat governor who recently passed away]. Without a pause, Rampton replied: "The lack of civility. People don't dare cross the political divide. The system has become too darn mean."
My dad was a Democrat (and I'm sure he would still be if he were still alive--I personally am a CRID-Constitutionalist Republican Independent Democrat). He was involved in state Democrat party politics, and he became good friends with then-governor Scott Matheson, so I'm sure he had at least an association with Calvin Rampton. I still respect Cal Rampton and Scott Matheson as two of the greatest governors Utah has ever known. I never remember my dad speaking ill of 'the other party'. He took enough of it from 'the other party' to know that it was painful enough to take, and he was man enough to have no desire to dish it back.

What is it about human nature that we think we are wise when we are merely snide? Why is it that winning a political argument is more important to so many than being friends?

In light of clear history, George W. Bush was wrong to brand Iran, Korea, and Iraq as charter members of the Axis of Evil. In much the same way, we are wrong when we brand our political opponents with the same broad and bristling brush.

Everyone has his or her story. Each of our stories motivate our world views, in nearly every case for clearly rational and good reasons. Everyone's story is worth understanding. Until we have heard their stories, no political opponent should be on our Axis of Evil.

Once we know their story, we'll much more likely than not be very glad we did not put them there.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

School Vouchers: "The Bramble Memo"

$429 million? What? Where?

The legislative fiscal analyst for the State of Utah calculated the costs to the public schools over the next 13 years if school vouchers are implemented. It said the costs would be $5.5M in the first year, and $71M in the 13th year. Suddenly, the number I have started seeing thrown around was $429 million, the total costs for vouchers over 13 years. Where did that number come from? Enter the mysterious "Bramble Memo".

In the past few days several of us (Jeremy, Utah Taxpayer, Craig, Sara, Urban Koda, Jesse, and me) have (sometimes?) enjoyed a lively discussion about school vouchers in Utah.

Jeremy clarified to me the costs of the venture by linking to a copy of the Utah Legislative Fiscal Analyst's Impartial Analysis (LFA) of the costs of Vouchers, found on "The Senate Site". In my previous voucher article, I quoted some of Lavar Webb's article from last Sunday's Deseret News, wherein he stated that those total costs are $429 million. Craig commented to my article that the LFA did estimate $429 million. It was just today that I looked back at the LFA on The Senate Site. It does NOT state the costs as $429 million--only that the costs would be $5.5 million in the first year and $71 million in the thirteenth year.

Craig also referred in the comments on my article to the "Bramble Memo", following comments by Utah Taxpayer about "Sen. Bramble's Request". This request is something that I had not seen before. I have since come by a copy of The Bramble Memo. (click on the image at right). That's where the $429 million is referred to. That's where Lavar Webb got his $1.8 billion number that I quoted in my previous post.

In the comments to the previous post, Craig said:

I have a copy of the Bramble memo (Frank I am happy to e-mail it to you if you'd like to see it). The press aren't using it because it is meaningless. Clearly, the $1.8 billion number is incompatible with the $429 million as it was calculated and requested for a specific purpose but it isn't relevant to the discussion.
I disagree with Craig--to an extent. (See why below.)

Near the bottom of the LFA Memo to Senator Bramble is this paragraph:

We have previously projected the nominal cost of the voucher program to state government over the same thirteen years for the same population of students to be approximately $429 million.

Adjusted for inflation, the real cost of vouchers to state government over thirteen years would be around $327 million. (Memorandum to Senator Pat Jones, February 9, 2007)

So it looks like $429 million came from the memo to Senator Jones. I can't find that on the internet, either.

But here's the interesting part. The Bramble memo also mentions the $1.8 billion. (I'm doing some super sleuthing here, aren't I?)
Per your request this office has estimated the cost of educating in public schools all who would qualify for a Parent Choice in Education scholarship over the next thirteen years at approximately $1.8 billion. Corrected for price inflation, we project that the real cost of educating in the public school system all those who would qualify for vouchers over the next 13 years would be on the order of $1.4 billion.
Now, let me draw your attention to a phrase from the $429 million paragraph:

...for the same population of students...

So the $1.8 billion and the $429 million are related. In other words, if "the same population of students" left the public schools, the State of Utah would save $1.8 billion, except for the nominal cost of vouchers, which is $429 million. So, Utah Taxpayer and Lavar Webb are right...sort of.

That makes Craig right, then, too.

The problem with the comparison is that the savings difference between the $1.8 billion and the $429 million ($1.371 billion) would accrue to the State of Utah under the LFA's scenario, but NOT, as it currently stands, to the Utah Public Schools.

This is a huge oversight that needs to be immediately corrected.

If the governor convened a legislative session before the November vote to get this correction written in stone, meaning that the "savings" monies were legally dedicated to the public schools, I think vouchers would be approved overwhelmingly by Utah voters.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Kirilenko: Stop Tanking It, and Stop Asking for a Trade

I really used to love to watch Andre Kirilenko play for the Utah Jazz. Now I feel sort of sorry for him, because he's not much fun to watch anymore. It's not simply the game of basketball, but it's also the downfall of a great player. The key to the resurgence of Andre Kirilenko is Andre Kirilenko.

It came out during a very inopportune time for the Utah Jazz last year--right in the middle of the NBA playoffs, AK47 aired his dirty laundry. He wasn't getting as much playing time, and so he wanted to be traded to a team that appreciated him more. The problem is it will be hard for any other team to appreciate him enough to pay his salary. Yet still he remains vocal in his demand to leave Utah. Most NBA franchise cities would say "Don't let the door hit you in the butt on the way out of town." But somehow Utah is different. Despite his whining, we still love Andre.

It happens all the time--superstar gets the contract of a lifetime, then his performance goes in the tank because he doesn't have to prove anything anymore. It has been roughly since the time Andre got his gigantic contract that his performance went downhill. Sure, there are other factors, including new personalities on the team, but the only one that Andre can blame for his predicament is looking at him every time he stares into the mirror.

Andre may likely play better under a new system, actually, but likely it would only be to show his (potentially) former team what they were missing. No, AK, we already know what we're missing. Running the floor like a gazelle in perfect position for a transition shot, the high flying dunks, the shot blocks that continued to us to seem impossible, yet you made still them. We've seen it before. Where did all that go?

C'mon Andre. Stop tanking it. And stop asking for a trade.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

If You Want More Money Per Student, Support Vouchers

For someone to categorically allege that there will be less money per student in the Utah public schools if vouchers become legal is to reveal that that person has either not followed the details of the voucher debate very closely, or purposefully ignored them. The likelihood of this (less money for public schools) happening is very small, because it would only happen if more students currently in private schools opt to use vouchers than do those who are currently in public schools.

The State Legislature acted in very good faith last year to increase teacher salaries. We need to do it again. But we can't do it forever. Therefore, the next best hope for increasing teacher salaries and funds for school supplies is for everyone to support vouchers.

In conjunction with a report that the National Education Association now thinks it has a dog in the Utah education voucher fight, the Salt Lake Tribune reported this:

Lisa Johnson, a parent of three children and spokeswoman for anti-voucher group Utahns for Public Schools, said spending public money on private schools is the wrong thing to do when Utah has the nation's largest class sizes and spends less money per student than any other state.

"We've been told for many years that we'd like to do more for public schools, but it's too expensive," she said. "We think it's a little ironic that suddenly they found the $430 million to pay for private school subsidies."
Actually, it is precisely the reason to support vouchers. The $430 million Jones mentions are costs that accrue over 13 years. On that same yearly basis, the state legislature found just about the same amount last year to increase teacher salaries. So I'm not sure what Lisa Johnson is trying to contribute to the debate with incendiary rhetoric such as is quoted above.

Here's what Lisa is not telling you. The $430 million figure represents only one side of the balance sheet.

Lavar Webb stated the prognosis succinctly in the Deseret News (emphasis added):

Because I'm a public school advocate, I'm also an enormous voucher supporter. I am absolutely convinced that by every measure Utah's public schools, students, parents, teachers and taxpayers will be much better off if vouchers are approved by voters in November.

Here's why: Utah schools desperately need more funding. We need more money for teacher salaries, for class size reduction, for computers and supplies. We need to spend more money per pupil.
Here's a key to why Utah spends so much per student in public schools--because we have the fewest percentage of children attending private schools of any state in the nation. Webb says:

But another big reason we're short of public school money is we have relatively few children attending private schools. Utah has about 3 percent of school-age children in private schools compared to 10 to 12 percent in most states. The difference amounts to hundreds of millions of dollars.

If we can encourage another 7 to 10 percent of students to attend private schools, while leaving most of the money we would have spent on them in the public school system, that's an enormous financial windfall for public schools.

This is a concept that only those who don't want to can't understand.

State Sen. Howard Stephenson likes to say that a voucher really is just a way to get families to raise their hands and volunteer to educate their children for $2,000 (the estimated average voucher amount) instead of $7,500 (the amount we spend per pupil from all revenue sources), leaving $5,500 [per child] remaining to educate other children in the public education system. Not a bad deal.

Now to deal with the crux of Lisa Johnson's $430,000,000 argument. Webb says:

And the money adds up. The legislative fiscal analyst estimates that the voucher program could pay out $429 million over 13 years if all qualified voucher students use the program. But it would mean we would not have to spend $1.8 billion for those students in the public school system, a direct net savings of $1.37 billion. That is money that can go to improve salaries, reduce class sizes and improve public education.

There's that $430 million she so dutifully reported. But how did she miss the $1.8 billion less spending and $1.37 billion overall savings? I don't think she did. Public, you are being hornswoggled by Lisa Jones.

Similar to what I've said here before, Webb explains the benefits that will accrue to Utah over the next several years if we start implementing vouchers now.

Even if we had 10 or 12 percent of students attending private schools, public school enrollment would not be cut back. This would all happen over several years, so we're simply talking about slowing the growth in public school enrollment, reducing the number of new students we have to pay for. Our public schools will still be crowded. The vast majority of Utahns will always attend public schools. But with 10-12 percent of students in private schools, significantly more money will be left in the public school system.

There you have it. Both sides of the story and both sides of the equation. I'm not sure what Lisa Jones and her group Utahns for Public Education expect to achieve by not admitting this.

I think it would be a great thing if we could all debate the voucher issue after stating both sides of the story. Lisa Jones and Utahns for Public Education don't seem to want to.

They are afraid of something. They're afraid it's going to work.

"Our Top Story This Morning Is"...OJ Simpson?

In a world where a Hollywood-infatuated media feels an obligation to report on a regular basis about Hollywood harlots, should I be surprised that at least one Utah radio station led off its news broadcast with a crime story involving OJ Simpson? Well, I'm unfortunately not surprised. But I haven't stopped expecting better out of organizations that purport to report the news.

KRNS AM 570 this morning (and for many of the past several mornings) has selected as their "top story" that OJ Simpson has been arrested in conjunction with some crime in Las Vegas. Please. There are probably at least 100 stories on any given day that could "top" that.

Out of a 3-4 minute newscast, KNRS devoted between 30 seconds and 1 minute to tell us all the latest--which was nothing. Such reporting is just plainly and simply lazy. As a result of this august reportage, we now know that
  • OJ will be arraigned today.
  • Members of the media think they know which door he's going to come out when he walks to court.
  • They have measured that he will walk one block to the courthouse
  • They are fairly sure that he will be wearing a blue jumpsuit
  • They are positive that he will be wearing handcuffs
Awesome. Everything I needed to know about what's going on in the world today.

Mary Shaw of
also has a very interesting take on this issue.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Utah Amicus Unfairly Criticizes Paul Mero

Why is it that Paul Mero of the Sutherland Institute is such a magnet for criticism? Is it because it is warranted? Maybe sometimes, but I think usually not. In the case of the recently published Sutherland Institute white paper entitled Vouchers, Vows, and Vexations, I think Mr. Mero is being criticized by some because it feels good for them to criticize him. There doesn't appear to be anything in the document worth as much vilification as he has received.

I've been disappointed with the Utah Amicus lately. Instead of well-reasoned logic regarding Utah education vouchers, the Utah Amicus web site has resorted to name calling and sound-biting that are neither fair nor accurate. UA discussed briefly in a recent post about the interview KVNU Radio's "For the People" had with Paul Mero. Here's part of what UA had to say:

The Sutherland Institution lead thinker is still regurgitating his doomsday revelation that our local public schools are devoid community values and we better vote for vouchers to stave of "cultural extinction", and that's just the beginning.

I don't remember Paul Mero saying that.

Here, instead, is the sum of what he said that might be construed to remotely resemble UA's accusation. He said that the federal government has been historically notorious for not nurturing the cultural differences of minorities, instead preferring a one-size-fits-all solution. The most well-known recipient of such non-nurturing in Utah is the Mormon church. (Others, not specified in the radio interview, but described in Vouchers, Vows, and Vexations, are the Mennonites, Catholics, Blacks, and Native Americans.) Based on these examples (the most detailed--but not only--one being the Mormon church) The Sutherland Institute believes that vouchers will help to restore this sense of cultural appreciation among minorities.

Mero did say in the KVNU interview that voucher opponents fear that private-school voucher users will be "freaks of society or something" and not "real Americans." I see where he's coming from, but that's putting it a bit less than tactfully. Then again, I've done radio interviews, and I know what it's like to be put on the spot.

Utah Amicus goes on to say

My favorite part of the show was when I listened to Paul try to explain how the LDS culture was basically extinguished by the federal government, and that public education was a player in that extinction.

That wasn't what he said, either.

He basically said that current government schooling forces assimilation to a generic American standard, and that Mormons are the largest historical example of that in Utah. In the interview he said, "The voucher bill that was passed by the legislature has everything to do with helping low-income and minority students." Forty-plus percent of this population do not graduate from public schools. The public schools in Utah, according to Mero, are not helping the minority populations in Utah, and private schools are better suited to help them, since they do not have to subscribe to the one-size-fits-all paradigm.

The statement about "cultural extinction" can be found only in the introduction (page 8) of Vouchers, Vows, and Vexations and says this:

Practical realities may ultimately require modern Church members to confront an old choice: expand access to alternative education and educational choice, or face cultural extinction.
Based on the tenor of Vouchers, Vows, and Vexations, this makes perfect sense to me. Navajos have lost a great deal of their culture. So have Blacks. So have Mormons.

The only beef I have with Paul Mero's statements in the KVNU interview is that he stated, in essence, that if a community is (for example) 75% LDS that LDS values should predominate for that community. I disagree.

I agree with KVNU's Tom Grover is correct that public education should be religiously neutral. The problem is that it is not, by and large, religiously neutral. Because they can't encourage the understanding of various religions, the dominant religion is no religion at all.

Here are some substantive paragraphs from Vouchers, Vows, and Vexations that help to describe where Sutherland is coming from with relation to vouchers. From page 32:

[Thomas] Jefferson believed that tax-subsidized elementary schools should be wholly governed by parents of the local neighborhood. "But if it is believed that these elementary schools will be better managed by the Governor and Council, the commissioners of the literary fund, or any other general authority of the government, than by the parents within each ward, it is a belief against all experience. Try the principle one step further and amend the bill so as to commit to the Governor and Council the management of all our farms, our mills, and merchants’ stores."
Although the way Mormonism was treated by the Federal Government becomes the main focus of the article, page 35 makes it clear that Mormonism was not the only minority thus treated. (A failure to carefully read or understand this most salient point can convey to the reader a completely different perspective than the one that was intended.)

President Andrew Jackson developed the social-engineering paradigm used against Native Americans, Mormons, and Japanese-Americans. Loose or partial variations of the paradigm were also employed against Mennonites, Catholics, African-Americans,German-Americans, Italian-Americans, and other distinctive demographic minorities, depending upon the strength and sophistication of the relevant minority group’s opposition.

Once applied to the unpopular Native Americans, use of the Jacksonian Paradigm evolved and spread. Starvation and other means were used to compel Native-American school attendance.

To belie the statement in the interview that religious discussion always has to resort to animosity, page 38 tells the story of Frances Burke, a public school teacher who was sent to Utah to de-Mormonize public education. He then describes how well she was loved in the community of Tocquerville, Utah despite her being of a different religious faith and despite the reason for which she was sent there. Mero concludes the story with this observation:

Frances Burke’s story is perhaps illustrative of how we can reclaim Utah’s education identity and how we can overcome politics as usual to answer urgent and important questions of education policy today. Frances was in the middle of the education wars of those days. There were fewer contentious spots than standing as an educator in rural Utah publicly proclaiming your intent to use “anti-Mormon” schools to convert Latter-day Saints. But upon her death, she was not remembered for any contentions in which she was involved, she was remembered for who she was. She was well-respected not because she defended a system of education or a preference of faith, she was well-respected because she saw her neighbors as she saw herself, a valued human being.

I'll admit that because I come from the perspective of already supporting vouchers, I read Vouchers, Vows, and Vexations with a bias in favor of vouchers. Those who are opposed to vouchers are more likely not to pay attention to the details of Mero's logic. I have paid attention to it, and it makes sense to me. I personally feel that if someone reads Vouchers, Vows, and Vexations with an intent to understand the details of what is written, that they will be compelled to conclude that, regardless of their position for or against vouchers, that this Sutherland whitepaper is an excellent defense of vouchers.

Postscript: Another sub-conversation in the KVNU interview had to do with the average cost of public education in Utah. According to this paper, Sutherland calculates the average cost of private education in Utah to be $4,519.97.

Monday, September 17, 2007

'The San Fran Health Plan' - A Great Health Insurance Idea!!!

It could be worse. At least it's only one city that is offering to provide health insurance for every one of its residents. It's a great health insurance idea only because it doesn't involve the whole country, and when it fails it won't (at least initially) hit your and my pocketbooks. But it's also a terrible health insurance idea, because when it fails, you know who they'll eventually ask to bail them out.

As Time magazine is reporting, San Francisco is now providing health insurance coverage for all of its residents who don't have health insurance and don't qualify for Medicare and Medicaid. If it would only work. It won't. But pay attention to the shell game, because if you miss it, you'll think it did work.

Here's what I like about the 'San Fran Health Plan'--it's starting small, and (hopefully) its failure will be observable (unless the state and federal money spigots transfuse the process beginning immediately).

Gigantic computer programming projects nearly always fail, because they are so large. It is critical when writing computer applications that you start small, that you start with a proof of concept that works, and then build on that. San Francisco is not very small, but at least it isn't the entire United States. Some computer programming projects are demonstrated to be failures from the get-go. I expect the same result of San Franscisco's 'universal' coverage.

What a cataclysmic failure it would be if the Mayor of San Francisco could guarantee health insurance for everyone in the country. As it stands, only the residents of San Francisco will be out in the cold when The San Fran Health Plan crumbles to the dust.

Someone once said, If you want more of something, subsidize it. It will be interesting to watch how many people start moving to San Francisco to take advantage of this too-good-to-be-true extravaganza.

Yes, people need to have good health care. We should do everything we can to improve our health. But government is the problem with health care. It will be interesting down the road for those with critical thinking and analytical skills to have observed how the city of San Francisco exacerbated the San Francisco health care problem, and that since the San Fran Health Plan failed, it couldn't possibly work on a national scale.

There are a lot of people with vested interests in seeing this succeed (including the reincarnated Francine Delano Roosevelt herself--Hillary Clinton). So it will be important for those who want to know the truth about government health care failure to watch the state and federal shell games closely when San Francisco runs out of money.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Impeach Bush Before He Attacks Iran

Previous fervor for the impeachment of George W. Bush has subsided as of late. If--as is being reported--he's thinking about attacking Iran before the end of his second term, though, I suggest we need to strike up the calls for impeachment once again.

It was a huge mistake to attack Iraq, and now we are cleaning up the mess. I'm all in favor of The Pottery Barn Rule. But if Bush is really planning to attack Iran, he would make a mistake of colossal proportions.

Since we are in Iraq, and we must fix what we have helped to break, I support General Petraeus in what everyone is calling "The Surge", even though it isn't much of a surge. It's actually a successful implementation of Counterinsurgency Tactics (working together with the populace to defeat the enemy instead of treating everyone like they are the enemy) that has caused most of the improvements in Iraq. These tactics, when implemented in limited areas of Iraq by Petraeus when he was a brigade commander, had wonderful success. I see the fact that these tactics are now being implemented nation-wide as a very good thing. Paetraeus is not betraying us, as some quarters have suggested. Petraeus is not George W. Bush's yes man, as they would have you believe.

What I do not support, however, is the rumors I'm hearing that President Bush is looking to attack Iran before the end of his last term.

Fox News recently reported:

Political and military officers, as well as weapons of mass destruction specialists at the State Department, are now advising Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that the diplomatic approach favored by Burns has failed and the administration must actively prepare for military intervention of some kind. Among those advising Rice along these lines are John Rood, the assistant secretary for the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation; and a number of Mideast experts, including Ambassador James Jeffrey, deputy White House national security adviser under Stephen Hadley and formerly the principal deputy assistant secretary for Near Eastern affairs.

Consequently, according to a well-placed Bush administration source, "everyone in town" is now participating in a broad discussion about the costs and benefits of military action against Iran, with the likely timeframe for any such course of action being over the next eight to 10 months, after the presidential primaries have probably been decided, but well before the November 2008 elections. (Emphasis added.)

Bush has made life for himself and his Administration way too simplistic (similar to the simplistic nature of their Iraq battle plans) by declaring the concept of pre-emptive strike against terrorists. From that standpoint it becomes much simpler to propagandize against any group to convince the American populace that 'any group' is a terrorist organization. This is a huge mistake. If we really knew the whole story about Iran, Iraq, and North Korea (charter members of Bush's "Axis of Evil"), to include America's provocations and attempts to exacerbate problems in these countries, it would surprise us. Instead we prefer the titillation of propaganda to the patient research required to unearth historical reality.

As for Iran, at best it would be the duty of the next US president to determine if Iran warrants being attacked. Hopefully that's all the Bush administration is doing is putting together contingency plans. But it doesn't sound that way according to the report from Fox News.

If George W. Bush is really rattling his saber against the Iranians with the hope of having an attack consummated by next November, I suggest congress dust of its impeachment binders, roll up their sleeves, and get to work. At the least it would sidetrack his attempts to colonize yet another Middle Eastern country. At best it would highlight the grossly inadequate way with which another Establishmentarian has mismanaged American foreign policy. And it might get the President released from his job a couple months early.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Forget the Talk-Radio Bigots and Buffoons. Catch "The Right Balance"

The animosity and mind-numbness caused by the world of media sound bites is exacerbated by most radio talk show hosts. Some are not as bad as others. There is one, however, who stands head and shoulders above the rest-- Greg Allen. Catch him weekdays on The Right Balance. Update for Utah listeners (9-15-2007): You can listen to Greg's show on KNAK 540 AM and KHQN 1480 AM.

If you're tired of sound bites and if you're tired of pseudo-intellectual combat, then I hope you're not listening to Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Bill O'Reilly. If you want in-depth perspective about important issues, Michael Medved and Glenn Beck aren't too bad, but if you want in-depth in conjunction with a down-to-earth, always-educational radio program, your best bet is The Right Balance with host Greg Allen. This morning's show, for example, included the following:

  • Lanny Davis -Former Clinton Administration official discussed President Bush's address to the nation last night, as well as how Democrats aren't doing a good job of elucidation their position on the Iraq troop drawdown.
  • Phyllis Schlafly - Eagle Forum president discussed threats to United States patents.
  • Dr. Alejandor Badia - Discussed how he recently performed successful reconstructive surgery on NFL football star Terrell Owens' hand.
  • Yuri Felshtinsky - Former associate of Russian intelligence expert Yuri Litvinenko, talked about the recent machinations of Vladimr Putin in a possible effort to shore up his personal 'legacy'.
  • Flemming Rose - Editor of Danish newspaper told why he allowed anti-Islamic cartoons to be published in his paper.
With the other guys, here's what you get:

  • Sean Hannity - The Torquemada treatment. If you disagree with him, this radical Christian fundamentalist well tell you to 'get off my phone.'
  • Rush Limbaugh - As a listener you are assumed to have a 'mind full of mush' and are expected not to listen to the news over the weekend, because on Monday Mr. Limbaugh will tell you what you need to know.
  • Bill O'Reilly - If you disagree with him, speak fast, because as soon as he's onto you, he'll give you no quarter as his shouting diatribe continues just longer than the length of your attempted contribution to the 'conversation'.
  • Michael Medved - He's a pretty good talk show host, as long as you call in to talk about something that he agrees with.
  • Glenn Beck - If you don't care that your talk show is punctuated by long bouts of mindless entertainment, Glenn Beck is all right.
  • Michael Savage - If we could learn to harness anger, Savage could power the entire city of San Francisco.
Your best bet for hearing continually stimulating conversation is to tune in to The Right Balance. Greg Allen is the consummate courteous host, regardless of who his guest is. Unlike the other guys, the show isn't about him--it is about his guests. Greg has a well-rounded understanding of the world, which makes him excellent at eliciting interesting and stimulating conversation from his guests. Greg always encourages his guests to talk about what is important to them.

You can listen in to The Right Balance from 10 AM to noon (Eastern Time) weekdays on or Rebroadcasts are from 10 PM to midnight eastern. If your local radio station doesn't carry it, ask them why they don't.

For Utah Listeners: Tune into KNAK 540 and KHQN 1480 AM from 8 to 10 AM Mountain Time to catch the show live, and from 8 to 10 PM for rebroadcasts of The Right Balance. Don't forget to check out all the other excellent shows and events broadcast by KHQN and KNAK as well.

Rebroadcasts can be heard as well on from 2-4 PM central time.

Check it out.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Are We Too Busy to Be Good Samaritans?

Have you ever had a chance to help a stranded motorist push his dead car out of an intersection? Or to aid in a traffic accident? Did you take that opportunity? When we become the one who needs help and nobody stops, it changes our perspective.

On the way home today I noticed up ahead on the freeway a gigantic cloud of smoke followed by the sudden glare of dozens of brake lights. As I came closer, I could see a car swerving first to the left and then to the right. It came to a stop part way on the shoulder and part way in the right lane of traffic, all four tires belching smoke that had once been tread. The cars ahead of me streamed around the forlorn driver as she sat wondering what had just happened. I pulled over to the shoulder and backed up to see if she needed help. By that time she had gathered her wits, and, being uninjured, drove back into traffic, waving a thank you to me for taking the time to stop.

What made me stop? I'll admit that as often as not, I'm way too busy to pull over and give assistance. But what made me stop is the way I felt the other day when no one stopped for me.

I don't know if it's the I'm-Too-Busy syndrome or the Somebody-Else-Will-Take-Care-of-It syndrome, but we don't stop often enough to help each other. Just as in a crowded room, on a busy freeway full of cars we are far too often complete strangers to one another as we proceed down the roads of our separate anonymities.

Have you ever been behind a car that has stalled? "Da%$it", I've found myself thinking. "I'm in a hurry! " And I get angrier as the cars behind me are able shift into the other lane and escape the obstacle ahead of me.

Then, recently, my van broke down in the middle of a busy street. My wife was there, so she steered the car as I pushed it down to and around the nearest corner and into a parking lot, a stream of sweat running down my face and a heart attack making its contemplation. The image that I remember most in that ordeal was the look of intense irritation on the face of the 'gentleman' in the brown Ford pickup directly behind me, wondering when the hell I was going to get out of his way.

That is not a fond image in my memory. So now, every chance I get, I'm going to stop to help.

Mountain Meadows and Jihad: One Lesson From Two September 11th Events

It’s interesting that the Mountain Meadows Massacre and Jihadist terror attacks happened on the same calendar day. Mormons and Americans can both learn the same lesson from both of these events: we usually get respect when we give respect. If we don’t–-if we think that people of other religions or cultures or nationalities are somehow inferior to us-–then we have lost the right to the respect of those other peoples.

The Mountain Meadows Massacre should never have happened. Actually, neither should the atrocities of September 11th, 2001. Both events occurred for the same reason: arrogance and a sense of self-superiority.

The Massacre at Mountain Meadows almost didn't occur, but Mormon leaders in Southern Utah continued to tempt themselves and follow temptation with justification until the situation got dreadfully out of hand. A massive cover-up, which included mass murder by Mormons, was the result.

Mormons had conjured up all sorts of bogeymen by the time the fated Fancher party passed through the Cedar City area. Despite how difficult it may have been under the circumstances, had the local Mormons made even the tiniest attempts to put themselves in the settlers' shoes, an embarrassing travesty would likely have never happened.

Shortly after 9/11, President George W. Bush asked the question, why do they hate us? I will admit at the time that I didn't understand the answer to that question as fully as I do now. But I can't imagine that a President of the United States didn't understand the answer. It is in large part because of the foisting of American empire on the rest of the world. The members of your American Establishment know exactly how their dim-witted actions engender animosity for America the world over.

But that's not the reason we should stop. The reason we should stop tromping the American boot on the backs of the world is because it is not American to do so.

I wrote yesterday about what Newt Gingrich said before the American Enterprise Institute. His statements and their implications still has my emotions rubbed raw. I get so angered when Gingrich and others use the auspices of places like the American Enterprise Institute to convey the idea that the Enterprise of America is to choose other countries’ leaders, bomb their civilians into oblivion, and force them to be just like us. This is wrong, and America should be embarrassed for it.

Yesterday I listened to the Glenn Beck radio program, where he described with considerable emotion what it was like to sit down with his 16-year-old daughter to watch the cataclysmic destruction as jumbo jets crashed into the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon. Why is it that Glenn Beck can engender such emotions within himself only for American dead?

I'm sure he'd have a different perspective if his daughter were Iraqi. What if there were video tape that conveyed the sheer horror of these words?

The final days of Baghdad's war were the bloodiest. As is their practice, they deployed overwhelming force, often blurring the line between civilian and military... Hospitals overflowed with wounded... Anesthesia ran short, and generators struggled to fill the void left by a blackout. At one hospital, refrigerators were breaking down...leaving corpses stacked on top of one another to rot in a warming sun.
And these as well:

"We don't know what's going on," she wrote. "At 11:30 the building was shaking and it almost collapsed. You can't imagine the fear and panic. We thought these were our last moments alive..."

A lull followed, creating a rare moment of silence. "Every time there is quiet, I feel more afraid. After the quiet ends, we don't know what will happen."

I know the Mormons are embarrassed for the roles of Church members in the killing of 120 innocents at Mountain Meadows. What will it take for America to learn a similar lesson--that if we expect to be respected and not feared, that we must give respect? Why does America think it is better than the rest of the world, and that we don't have to abide by the same rules and morals when dealing with the rest of the world? If we learned and practiced this one simple lesson, we would once again have the respect of nearly everyone. As it stands, they would spit on us if they didn't think we'd drop a smart bomb on them for it.

Of course there will always be the implacables. Nothing that we do will satisfy them. Some such people can be found within the ranks of Islam. But there are actually very few of these types. Most people in the world are just like most Americans--trying to live a good life one day at a time. For most of the people of the world the issue is one of morality and fairness. If America treats the world with little respect, why should we expect them to respect us? The disrespect we receive as a nation is compounded by the confusion most people have in knowing that this is not the real America, the America of 100 years ago. America was always seen as and is yet expected to be a generous nation, not a pompous and vindictive one.

That's actually a comforting thought. Most people on earth today are just like most Americans--generous, gracious, and in hot pursuit of liberty and happiness. Not everyone is the enemy, as people like Newt Gingrich would have you believe. The Newt faction tells you these things because it knows if you believe them you will entrust them with greater and greater levels of power.

You know, if we don't soon discount the cockamamey ideas of people like Newt Gingrich, everyone will become our enemy.

And they will have every right to be.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

On 9/11, I Nominate Newt Gingrich for Dogcatcher

I forgot why I didn't like Newt Gingrich. Well, all he had to do is open his mouth. Now I remember.

Mr. Gingrich spoke to the American Enterprise Institute today. Before his speech, he apparently didn't read up on American foreign policy and how its implementation over the past half century has pissed off nearly everyone else in the world. But, you see, it's all radical Islam's fault, according to Newt. Because of the Radical Islamic bogeyman, we must create even greater restrictions on your freedom. According to

"America needs a more realistic and more powerful solution to the challenges of our enemies," said Gingrich. "Beyond the Petraeus Report, we need a report on the larger war with the irreconcilable wing of Islam."

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich criticized supporters and opponents of the Iraq progress report for not seeing the bigger picture.Gingrich called for "a debate about a vision of victory for the larger war in which we are engaged and the strategies needed to achieve that vision. We need a debate about the genuine risks to America of losing cities to nuclear attack or losing millions of Americans to engineered biological attacks."

So now our enemy is not just Iraq. It's not even just al Qaeda. According to Newt Gingrich, our enemy is anyone who doesn't agree with the predestination of events declared by the American establishment. I nominate Newt Gingrich for dogcatcher.

America is despised by nearly 90% of Indonesians for being primarily responsible for their economic crisis in 1997. America is despised by most of the Islamic world because what is good for us (free elections) is something that we haven't really allowed them to do (unless Iraq counts) for the last 60 years. Many people in South America hate our guts. Many people in Europe think we got what we deserve on September 11, 2001. After all, how many military bases does Italy, Indonesia, or Iraq have on our soil?

So on this 9/11, six years after the fact, I suggest that we resolve to get to the root of the problem. Let's get the heck out of other peoples' business. Let's stop playing their leaders against each other, and placing sanctions on them that only hurt the civilian populace, and propping up the erstwhile strongman dictator as a political time bomb waiting to crap all over us as well as fodder for the next Tom Clancy novel. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hugo Chavez are dime-store dictators, but the actions of the United States are primarily responsible for the fact that loons like this are now taken seriously.

I agree with Congressman Ron Paul. We shouldn't be forcing everyone everywhere to accept American democracy. We should set an example such that everyone around the world would clamor for what we have of their own volition. But what we have now, complete with its multinational bankers, politicians, and agents provocateur, is no democracy to emulate. Fewer and fewer people want it. But Newt seems to think we have to force them to have it and to like it.

Newt Gingrich's authoritarian view says we're not into enough peoples' business. According to him, because now supposedly anyone can be the enemy, we must compel everyone, including hapless Americans, to conform to the ideal that the American establishment has decreed.

This is a recipe for disaster.

Newt is fully aware of the shipwreck that has been American foreign policy since about 1950. Come to think of it, I don't think Newt would even make a good dogcatcher.

Dogpile on the Mormons!!!

September 11th is the anniversary of two terrorist acts: (1) the killing of approximately 3,000 people in the World Trade Center, Pentagon, and Pennsylvania, and (2) the killing of 120 westward traveling settlers by Mormons and Indians at Mountain Meadows, Utah. Since I'm a Mormon, with the current re-dredged controversy surrounding the Massacre, I occasionally feel an urge to apologize for my part in the Mountain Meadows conspiracy.

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the most despicable act ever committed by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (unless you believe Fawn Brodie, according to which atrocities by Mormons had by that time become standard fare).

It's clear by now that the Native Americans of the Mountain Meadows area weren't nearly as involved in the murders as the guilt-ridden Mormon participants wanted everyone to believe. But it's also clear--except to the anti-Mormon axe grinders--that the Mountain Meadows Massacre was anything but a large-scale Mormon conspiracy.

A recently released movie places the blame squarely on the shoulders of Brigham Young, although it's not difficult for Michael Medved, a Jew, to identify that allegation as hogwash.

Why would Hollywood release a controversial feature film about alleged Mormon terrorists of 150 years ago while all but ignoring the dangerous Muslim terrorists of today?

The movie industry has pointedly avoided harsh treatment of modern Islamic radicals, but September Dawn (to be released nationally Aug. 24) portrays the 19th century Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a deeply corrupt cult led by an all-powerful, blood-thirsty mass murderer.

The trailer for the film makes clear its hostile point of view, with Terrence Stamp as Brigham Young announcing in portentous and menacing tones: "I am the voice of God. And anyone who doesn't like it will be hewn down."

There's probably some validity to ultimately turning the current Mountain Meadows memorial site over to the Federal Government, but it's a bit over the top to blame the Mormon Church, which actually took the initiative to create the existing memorial several years ago, for holding onto the memorial property at least for the time being.

Mormon basher (and fellow Mormon?) Will Bagley sees no problem in believing the worst about Brigham Young and the Mormon Church.

Historian and author Will Bagley believes Young gave the order and is to blame for the atrocity. The Mormon leader, Bagley says, "acted guilty, lied about it for 20 years and didn't go after the Mormon perpetrators."

The history surrounding the event is much more nuanced, but easy to ferret out, as this article on the LDS Church website describes.

As the troops were making their way west in the summer of 1857, so were thousands of overland emigrants. Some of these emigrants were Latter-day Saint converts en route to Utah, but most westbound emigrants were headed for California, many with large herds of cattle. The emigration season brought many wagon companies to Utah just as Latter-day Saints were preparing for what they believed would be a hostile military invasion. The Saints had been violently driven from Missouri and Illinois in the prior two decades, and they feared history might repeat itself.

Church president and territorial governor Brigham Young and his advisers formed policies based on that perception. They instructed the people to save their grain and prepare to cache it in the mountains in case they needed to flee there when the troops arrived. Not a kernel of grain was to be wasted or sold to merchants or passing emigrants. The people were also to save their ammunition and get their firearms in working order, and the territory’s militiamen were put on alert to defend the territory against the approaching troops if necessary.

These orders and instructions were shared with leaders throughout the territory. Elder George A. Smith of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles carried them to southern Utah. He, Brigham Young, and other leaders preached with fiery rhetoric against the enemy they perceived in the approaching army and sought the alliance of Indians in resisting the troops.

It's interesting that we are so enamored by nice round numbers, such as the 2,000 or 3,000 (soon to be 4,000) American troops that have been killed in Iraq, or the 150 years that have elapsed since the Mountain Meadows Massacre. On such occasions as these, we find a sort of solace by dredging up old memories and old wounds. I'm sure the current holding of the entire Mormon church under the microscope for an atrocity that a handful of its members committed will fairly soon pass back into its more common use as the occasional weapon of the anti-Mormon bigot.

Yes, it's clear that Mormons did it. A handful of them. Just like the descendants of slave holders who didn't hold slaves, I am not to blame for what happened at Mountain Meadows. Gordon B. Hinckley, the current leader of the LDS church, isn't either. And accurate historical research has exonerated Brigham Young as well.

Monday, September 10, 2007

What Happened to the $2,500 Teacher Pay Raise?

The $2,500 raises that Utah public school teachers were supposed to get is a lot less now. Somebody made a mistake in calculating how many public school employees there were in Utah. Who was it?

KCPW reported that

State officials miscalculated how much it would cost to give every teacher a 25-hundred dollar raise as lawmakers intended.

KSL said that

someone made a costly error, forgetting to count more than 2,500 jobs.

Who could it have been? The Legislature has pledged to get the problem fixed in the 2008 session, but it's interesting that neither the legislature nor the State Office of Education caught the problem.

Districts are working around the problem in different ways. For example, says KCPW

...Ogden says some districts have opted to rearrange their budgets and offer the raises now, in anticipation of the legislative appropriation.

Teachers in the Granite and Jordan School Districts will get about 19-hundred dollars for an average salary increase of about six percent.

We need to get the problem solved. It was a mistake of $6,250,000. With the size of the Utah budget, that shouldn't be an insurmountable task.

But we're hemorrhaging teachers as it is. At 38th lowest in salaries in the country and at almost the smallest salaries in the west, why would our best teachers want to stay here and teach? To fix the problem, we need a lot more than $6,250,000. And it is in Utah's best interest to find it.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

U.S. Poverty: Bad, But Not as Bad as We Think

Poverty is still a problem. Inflation and preferential policies for the super rich make it clear that a dollar doesn't go for most of us as far as it used to go. But a recent report about poverty made it seem worse than it actually is.

The Deseret News recently reported

The nation's real median income rose for the first time since 1999, while the poverty rate remained virtually unchanged at 12.6 percent, marking the end of four consecutive years of increasing poverty, according to a new U.S. Census Bureau report.

...the fact that poverty rates failed to decline — despite four years of economic growth in Utah and across the country — is of particular concern, Utah anti-poverty advocates said Tuesday. And the number of seniors in poverty rose from 3.5 million in 2004 to 3.6 million in 2005, according to the report.

However, the nearly exclusive reason that the poverty rate remained unchanged (didn't go down) is due to the influx of Hispanic immigrants, legal and illegal, who start out lower on the poverty ladder (who probably weren't considered as living in poverty when they were in their home countries). Investor's Business Daily describes it this way:

Last year, the poverty rate was 12.3%, down slightly from 12.6% in 2005 but higher than the 11.3% in 2000, the recent low. It was also higher than the 11.8% average for the 1970s. So the conventional wisdom seems amply corroborated.

It isn't. Look again at the numbers. In 2006, there were 36.5 million people in poverty. That's the figure that translates into the 12.3% poverty rate. In 1990, the population was smaller, and there were 33.6 million people in poverty, a rate of 13.5%. The increase from 1990 to 2006 was 2.9 million people (36.5 million minus 33.6 million). Hispanics accounted for all of the gain.

Consider: From 1990 to 2006, the number of poor Hispanics increased 3.2 million, from 6 million to 9.2 million. Meanwhile, the number of non-Hispanic whites in poverty fell from 16.6 million (poverty rate: 8.8%) in 1990 to 16 million (8.2%) in 2006. Among blacks, there was a decline from 9.8 million in 1990 (poverty rate: 31.9%) to 9 million (24.3%) in 2006. White and black poverty has risen somewhat since 2000, but is down over longer periods.

Only an act of willful denial can separate immigration and poverty.

The increase among Hispanics must be concentrated among immigrants, legal and illegal, as well as their American-born children. Yet this story goes largely untold.

So yes, it's bad. But it's important to know the why behind the numbers. And it doesn't help matters to exaggerate by improper inference from the numbers.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Larry Craig: We Are All Hypocrites

It seems to me that there have been two perspectives on the demise of Larry Craig. One is that it's good that he resigned, because he did something morally wrong. The other is that it's good that he resigned, because he is a hypocrite. Both sides asked for his resignation, each for their separate reasons. I'm not so sure if I'd have asked for him to resign.

The first of these groups says that hypocrisy is okay, but that hypocrites shouldn't be leaders. The second seems to feel that hypocrisy is the meanest of vices. I am a member of the first group. I hope that I understand the perspective of the second group correctly.

In the 1600's Fran├žois, duke of La Rochefoucauld penned the witty--and I think true--statement that "hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue." I agree. The failure of Larry Craig was not, in my opinion, that he took moral stands on issues (although he was clearly insensitive and wrong to call Bill Clinton a "naughty boy" during the Monica Lewinsky scandal). Those stands are, in my opinion, correct. Where I think he failed is that he did not live up to those standards.

Carried to its conclusion, those who feel Mr. Craig was a failure because he was a hypocrite do not feel that others who engage in the same behavior are at fault--because they didn't make a public statement that they felt such behavior is wrong. Conversely, those who feel Mr. Craig's failure was a failure of morals also feel that others who engage in the same behavior fail personally, because the social responsibility to be moral should apply to everyone.

The worst thing someone on either side of this issue can do is to make fun of or otherwise taunt Mr. Craig for his failures. We all have our shortcomings, and because nearly all of us at some times or other do not live up to our own personal standards, we are all hypocrites. We shouldn't shun him as he deals with what he feels is a dramatic personal failure. Nor should we shun him because he failed to live up to the standards that he espoused.

I appreciate the sentiments of Glenden Brown at OneUtah, who says

And despite his raging hypocrisy and his long track record of harmful legislation, it’s truly difficult not to feel some sympathy for him.

I don't agree that his hypocrisy was raging, nor that he had a long track record of harmful legislation, but I agree that, regardless of our perspective on this issue, we should sympathize with Larry Craig. We should sympathize with a man who didn't live up to what he expected of himself.

That's all too often part of life. We fall down. We get up and brush the dust off of our clothes, and we move on, hopefully in the direction of being a better person. Mr. Craig, I don't think you're anymore of a hypocrite than the rest of us are.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

School Vouchers: Proving the Opponent's Point without Intending To

It was never a point of the pro-voucher crowd that students using education vouchers would end up being smarter than students in public schools (rather it was that students in both environments would become better learners).

It has been a strident point, however, of the anti-voucher crowd that there are no standards of measuring whether private schools provide at least the same quality of education as public schools. Utah Amicus, in an attempt to disprove a non-issue for the pro-voucher crowd, actually helped disprove a very fundamental theory of the anti-voucher crowd.

Utah Amicus has implied here that studies have shown that students who are educated through the use of vouchers are no smarter than children educated in the public schools. So? It's interesting that relative intelligence is hardly ever an issue to those who support vouchers, unless it is to cite evidence that the education of both vouchered and non-vouchered students improves when vouchers are implemented. Rather, choice is the issue.

A great outcry of those who are opposed to vouchers is that there are no standards or measurements which can be applied to the efficacy of the private schools who accept vouchers, and thus we can't be sure whether privately educated students are being educated on par with their publicly educated peers.

Utah Amicus refers to an analysis of the results of vouchered versus non-vouchered education in places like Milwaukee. Unfortunately for the intended point to be made, the analysis says in part

After three years, averaging across all students, there were no differences between voucher and non-voucher students on national tests (Howell & Peterson, 2002). When students were categorized into ethnic/racial groups, however, an advantage was found for African-American students in math. No other ethnic group, including Hispanics and non-Hispanic Caucasians, was helped by the vouchers. Subsequent analyses suggest that even the specific gains shown in math by African-Americans may be very small (Kreuger & Peu, 2003).

Evaluators of a new voucher program in Washington, D.C., report no difference between voucher users and nonusers in the first year (Wolf, et al., 2007).

So, in an effort to disprove something that has not been a central issue of its opponent's views, Utah Amicus has actually done damage to its own advocacy by admitting that measurements exist to indicate that students educated through the assistance of vouchers actually do as well as their publicly educated counterparts.

Incidentally, the reason for the lack of educational difference is an interesting one. Parents for Choice in Education has this to say on its web site:

2. Does school choice help students do better in school? What about public school students who don't use a voucher?

A large number of high-quality studies show that vouchers improve academic achievement for students who use the voucher AND for those that choose to stay in public schools. This is because there is a change in the system, and the public schools become accountable to all parents, including low-income parents, who now have a choice in which school to enroll their child. Studies also show high parental satisfaction with voucher programs, as well as increased graduation rates. No empirical study has ever found that vouchers hurt a student's academic achievement or public-school outcomes. (Emphasis added.)

The analysis that Utah Amicus cites indicates some evidence that tends to agree with PCE's statement.

In 1999, Florida instituted a school accountability system, in which low-scoring schools (F grade) were put under sanctions and their students were offered vouchers for other schools. Test scores in F schools improved.

That is, students who stayed in F schools and did not use vouchers did better (Greene & Winters, 2003).

In neither place, however, was there direct evidence that remaining students had lower achievement scores.

It sounds to me like vouchers are a good thing. It appears that Utah Amicus agrees.