Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Vouchers Blog Note

As you may have seen, I have published a lot today on school choices. The events of this week have forced me to move faster on my publishing than I had originally planned. Tomorrow, (Thursday) is the day of decision for vouchers in Utah. The House will vote on the measure at 10:45 AM tomorrow. A group of concerned citizens, including myself, will be holding a press conference tomorrow morning to talk about the mistake that vouchers would be for Utahns. The details of the event are below.

Tomorrow, I will also blog about this with my opinion more evident, and hopefully convince some people to change their minds on this important issue.

Who: Citizens of Utah
What: Press Conference on voucher legislation
When: 9:00am - Thursday, February 1, 2007
Where: State Capitol
West Building
House Chamber Lobby

School Choices VII: Implementation and Outcomes

One report issued by the General Accounting Office in August of 2001 reviewed Cleveland and Milwaukee's voucher programs. It found that "the contracted evaluations of voucher students' academic achievement in Cleveland and Milwaukee found little or no difference in voucher and public school students' performance..." but warned that "none of the findings can be considered definitive..." because of methodological differences in different studies. They did warn that funding for evaluations was dangerously low, noting: "For example, Wisconsin has not funded voucher student academic achievement evaluations since 1995, thereby losing data on program performance during the years when the program had grown the most."

This study built upon the work of previous research, such as that undertaken by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, which found that Minnesota students who exercised their "choice" improved from the 30th to 34th percentile in reading tests but fell from 33rd to 30th in mathematical examinations. It also noted that enhanced student attainment in choice programs was affected more by experimental programs funded lavishly by federal tax dollars, which many schools did not receive. (Harlow G., "School Choice," Encyclopedia of American Education, Second Edition, Vol. 3, page 935.)

One of the conflicting budgetary issues that often complicate education is whether to spend more money on reducing class sizes or provide for school choice and vouchers. Alex Molnar's 1999 study sheds light on which issue should take precedence. He detailed the positive effects of smaller class sizes and then noted some serious difficulties in evaluating small-scale voucher programs:

The problem with research on small-scale voucher experiments, however, is not only the lack of clear performance effects. More fundamentally, the problem is that such small-scale programs—no matter how crystal clear their achievement consequences—can tell us little about larger-scale programs. Voucher evaluations are less informative than class-size research because "vouchers" do not represent a specific educational reform. If a voucher program generates positive effects, the research does not generally look inside the schools to ask what explains the success. It simply assumes that private is better.

A second reason that voucher research tells education policymakers little relates to the issue of scale. As research on private schools shows, some private schools appear to raise achievement through "peer effects"—by placing low-income students with other students from more privileged families who place a high priority on education. (Elite private schools also tend to spend large amounts of money per student and to have smaller classes.) But in a large-scale voucher program, peer effects could be quite different than in a small-scale program. This may help explain why new schools that enroll voucher students in Cleveland perform less well than public schools while established private schools perform better than public schools.

For these reasons, the only way to find out the impact of a large-scale voucher program is to implement one. However, there is no strong evidence that this would improve achievement. In addition, such a large-scale program would likely raise spending on students who already attend private schools and reduce educational spending on children currently in public school.'' (Download paper from Keystone Research Center with free registration required.)

School Choices VI: A Brief History of Choice

With the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, school choice was made a part of federal law, available to every child in every state. According to the Department of Education's NCLB website, school choice helps everyone:

…parents with children in schools that fail to meet state standards for at least two consecutive years may transfer their children to a better-performing public school, including a public charter school, within their district. If they do so, the district must provide transportation, using Title I funds if necessary. Students from low-income families in schools that fail to meet state standards for at least three years are eligible to receive supplemental educational services-including tutoring, after-school services, and summer school. In addition, the NCLB Act provides increased support to parents, educators, and communities to create new charter schools. The act also provides students the choice to attend a safe school within their district if they attend persistently dangerous schools or are the victim of a violent crime while in their school.

However, the school choice revolution did not begin in Washington, but in several experimental programs nationwide. Minnesota was the first state to introduce inter-district open enrollment, which, among other things, provided for families to claim up to $1000 in school expenses, including private school tuition. Massachusetts introduced a controlled choice plan in the 1980s, though that effort was less concerned with educational quality than it was about racial and ethnic diversity. The Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP), the nation's first pilot voucher choice plan, was a limited intersectional voucher plan for the Milwaukee School District. Implemented in 1990, MPCP permits selected students to receive public monies to go to any nonsectarian private school of their selection. The plan is expressly intended to allow low-income families admission to private or alternative educational opportunities. The cash worth of the voucher is typically equivalent to the state per pupil expenditure on public schooling. It has since been expanded to include sectarian private schools. (in Peter W., Jr. Cookson, Sonali M. Shroff, “Recent Experience with Urban School Choice Plans,” ERIC/CUE Digest Number 127, October 1997)

According to the Heritage Foundation, an unambiguously pro-school choice organization, 15 states have either inter- or intra-district choice programs approved. Only 6 states have tuition tax credits and 7 have publicly funded voucher programs statewide or in selected areas.

However, not all school choice and voucher proposals have succeeded in becoming policy. According to the National Education Association, a decidedly anti-voucher organization, no ballot measure has passed the approval of voters for the past thirty years. Voters in Maryland, Michigan (twice), Colorado, California (twice), and Washington have all rejected, with the exception of Maryland, by super-majorities attempts to pass voucher proposals.

School Choices: Part V A Preferred Policy Solution: School Choice?

In 1962, Milton Friedman, later winning a Nobel Prize in Economics, proposed the idea of education vouchers as an alternative to failing public schools. Since then, several organizations have justified the propositions of such a program with varied support. Some have argued that vouchers fit into a Rawlsian theory of justice, giving students their greatest opportunity to achieve equality. (William G. Powell and Paul E. Peterson, The Education Gap, pages 1-2. Also Brighouse, Harry, "Egalitarian Liberals and School Choice," Politics & Society, vol. 24 (December 1996), pages 457-86.)

There have been three major types of school choice: intra-district, inter-district, and extra-system or parochial/private school choice. Intra-district school choice allows parents to transfer students anywhere within a public school district, with transportation costs subsidized. Inter-district choice allows students to attend any public school, within the state, though perhaps without transit subsidies. Extra-system expands the range of choices by allowing parents to send their children to private schools with their tuition credited or vouched from that pupil's public school spending budget. (See Unger, Harlow G,, "School Choice," Encyclopedia of American Education, Second Edition, Vol. 3, page 934.)

School Choices: Part IV Problems for Government

The difficulty confronting state governments is the constitutional and statutory requirements causing friction with government spending objectives, especially in lean budget years as many state governments are now facing. As the Harvard Law Review wrote:

Although seventeen state courts have upheld their states' education systems, high courts in thirteen states have found their education systems to violate state constitutional requirements. ("The Limits of Choice: School Choice Reform and State Constitutional Guarantees of Educational Quality," Harvard Law Review, June 1996, Vol. 109, Issue 8, page 2010.)

States have constitutionally undertaken the task of providing quality education, now they must keep the promise. Several proposals have been proffered to assuage the government's burdens. Some involve building better schools with more computers; paying teachers more; increasing per pupil spending; school uniforms; and testing, testing, testing. All of these have required an increase in spending, though, something that governments usually find difficult to do, especially during recessions.

School Choices: Part III Problems

The problem is a perception among the populace that public schools that are not preparing students enough for life, giving them the skills they need to prosper in life and work.

This sentiment is expressed by recent public opinion polls:

These opinions are supported, somewhat by data collected nationally and internationally, according to the NCES:

Again, these are not the only statistics available for public opinion and information regarding the issue of public education. However, these paint a sufficient picture.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

School Choices: Questions About State Educational Policy in America: Part II

For most of the past fifty years, education has been compulsory for all children in United States. The following figures from the US Department of Education's National Center for Educational Statistics illustrate the enormity of the situation involving education:

In Utah, as of 2005:

    • 83% were enrolled in private schools in Weber, Davis, Salt Lake and Utah counties, compared with 69% enrolled in public schools in those counties.

These numbers represent only a fraction of the data available to exemplify the present Utah and American didactic predicament. The numbers alone do not show the entire situation, as many problems exist with schools.

Monday, January 29, 2007

School Choices: Questions About State Educational Policy in America--Part I

Education has been canonized as an essential part of life in the United States. Stipulations for education have been placed in the constitutions of every state.* Among Thomas Jefferson's three greatest achievements, as listed in his personally-approved epitaph, was founding the University of Virginia. However, education issues have become a hot political topic in recent years, with questions surrounding government's responsibilities and policies.

* "The Limits of Choice: School Choice Reform and State Constitutional Guarantees of Educational Quality," Harvard Law Review, June 1996, Vol. 109, Issue 8, page 2010.

Aspiring to Something You are Not

I was having dinner last night with my family, and the discussion turned to how the new City Creek Center was going to have a Dillard’s department store, but not something higher-end, like a Neiman Marcus, Lord & Taylor, Bloomingdales, etc. The answer given was that Salt Lake does not have the economic strength to sustain stores that cater to a customer base that would routinely spend $2000+ for a pair of shoes (either sex). The fact is I agree with them.

With this morning’s news, I realized that is probably the major mistake that Dave Checketts made when creating his business plan. He believed Salt Lake City is something that it is not. Beyond the arguments of soccer’s viability in the market, the secondary supports of his stadium plan were based on unrealistic projections of what the Salt Lake Valley market can sustain. As has been made abundantly clear, we have difficulty selling out even the most popular touring acts at the largest venues. The use of an outdoor stadium for a summer sport is limited, as long as Utah does not become even more of a desert.

When RSL came, I was hopeful; I still hope it works. However, the deeper problem is our state’s education status. It has been long established that, for the most part, earning power is determined by education level; subsequently, businesses choose certain ventures based on money but also on where that money comes from. In Utah, it comes from a relatively few elite citizens, too few for businesses like Crate & Barrel and the Cheesecake Factory, according to published reports. These citizens are the ones with college degrees, all 28 percent of Utahns, as of last year. I suspect that is why we aren’t getting a Saks Fifth Ave or Brooks Brothers either. It is also why the RSL stadium plan was so shoddy in the first place. I suppose that Checketts was unable to attract enough private financial support because of this (and other factors) and he leaned too heavily on public financing. I do not say that he was wrong to ask for public support; while in a perfect world, tax money would go to arts and cultural life before sports stadia, but we are living in a real world where public financing is almost a certainty.

That is why I feel it will such a huge mistake for Utah to miss this opportunity to strongly invest in Utah’s public education system at all levels, and not waste time and money on an unproven scheme like vouchers. Over the next week or so, I will be publishing an updated analysis I produced three years ago for a college course on state and local government (not politics). The topic was school choice, and the results were surprising, even to me. I got a 98/100, and I hope the updates will be up to that muster.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Television

Compare.

Davis Didjeridu Tuesday January 23, 2007 10:13 PM:


"I was even more grateful when I realized I would miss both of what I consider the greatest threats to civilization: the President and (what I join City Weekly columnist Bill Frost in referring to it as) That Gawdawful Fox Karaoke Show Which Shall Not Be Named Here."


Bill Frost's True TV The Only TV Column That Matters January 24, 2007 4:01 PM:


"The greatest threats to the hemisphere, American Idol and President Dubya, have knocked the return of Fox's Bones back a week, to Jan. 31. Swell."


I am not so arrogant to believe that Mr. Frost took the time to find this blog, as new and lowly as it is, and copy me. But I don't really care either way. Great to know some of my thoughts are shared by others. However, I didn't care about Bones; I just couldn't catch on to the show after watching the first couple episodes.

September Dawn: Hollywood History Fails Us Again

I usually have little confidence in movies based on historical events or people. Most of the time, actual human drama, comedy, love, and sadness is sacrificed on the altar of “artistic license.” How that “art” is defined is usually in the mind of an avaricious producer or talentless screenwriter, who slaps the labels of “inspired by true events” or “based upon on true story” in the hope of drawing in audiences who yearn, consciously or not, for understanding of how their world has been shaped by past events. Rarely do we see what actually happened, or gain that comprehension.

It appears that this Hollywood version of history will fail us again. What could have been an analysis of the morality of Western expansion, a study of theocracies, or even how lack of communication can create disasters will become “A love story set during a tense encounter between a wagon train of settlers faces off against a renegade Mormon group.” What is so upsetting is that the real history, whatever we have of it, is compelling. Disappointingly, what we will probably see is a one-sided portrayal that will leave the taste in many viewers mouths that Mormons are, as they were, quietly violent. This is in spite of historical truth or present-day acceptance and attempts at reconciliation on the part of all parties.


Perhaps that is why I find documentaries compelling. They try to answer questions about history, though I admit they are driven by the documentarian’s version of “compelling history.” I still yearn to watch films like The Queen and The Last King of Scotland, though I recognize that they have been fictionalized as well.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

State of the Union or Spice Assignment?

Tonight, I did not watch the State of the Union address. I agree with many of the reasons Steve wrote about, but thankfully I was actually able to do something good. On Sunday, I finally worked up the courage to do some Priesthood service and signed up to work at the Centerville dry-pack cannery for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For those not familiar, dry goods for the Church’s welfare programs are canned/bottled there.

When I signed up, I didn’t even realize that I was going to miss the State of the Union tonight. I was aware that the speech was happening, but the two events did not connect in my mind. I finally put two and two together this morning, and I felt relieved.

I group State of X speeches with national political convention speeches and others that attempt to satisfy both the audience physically present in the hall and TV viewers. I first was annoyed by this during Clinton’s 1994 SOTU when I realized how short the speech would be if he would just cut out the applause lines and/or the audience would just applause once at the end. So, I was glad I missed the speech itself. I will take the time to watch the highlights and read analyses, but I can do without the actual joke of a speech.

I was even more grateful when I realized I would miss both of what I consider the greatest threats to civilization: the President and (what I join City Weekly columnist Bill Frost in referring to it as) That Gawdawful Fox Karaoke Show Which Shall Not Be Named Here.

After two hours and 3840 ounces of cinnamon bottled, the kind Elder supervising us thanked us and told us there would be great blessings in store for our work. I have faith in that, but I have gratitude for tonight’s blessings.

However, I must disagree with Steve on one of his points. I was able to listen to the Democratic response by Sen. Webb, and I was pleasantly surprised by the piffy and succinct manner his speech effectively responded to Bush’s rhetoric.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Huntsman State of the State Post-Mortem

My main feelings about Governor Huntsman remain unchanged after last night’s address. He remains a terrible governor. Why? As I outlined before and as was reiterated tonight: he is too committed to the photo-op; too uncommitted to fighting for real change in government; and still ignored by legislative leaders who, according to their responses, will not take his recommendations seriously. Richard Piatt made the point immediately before last night’s broadcast on KSL that this is one of the few times citizens see the governor in a substantive role. The fact that we see him in so many un-substantive roles reinforces my negative opinion of him. The policies expressed in the address were mostly agreeable to me, many Democrats, and the majority of the public. Though, I do take exception to the abhorrent dual tax system that will not help the majority of Utahns but just make the rich richer. It has not been proven to work yet and until then I think we should hold off until we see the tax returns until we expand it. Absent of a strong response from the legislature to deliver real funding for education, health care, and other major issues instead of just tax cuts, and absent of Huntsman actually using his executive power and PR machine to push for his policies, I will remain a committed Democrat this year on the state level.

During the speech, Huntsman asked families of those serving in the military to stand. This led my father to joke about how many serving in the legislature or administration could have had stood up; he guessed no one, but I think it would be interesting to find out.

A hearty round of applause to the Democratic response, especially Rep. Riesen; when you watch it, you’ll see he hasn’t lost his touch, despite what several local TV stations may believe, and Democratic legislative leaders would be smart to keep his visibility high.

Finally, thanks to Also a round of shameful scorns at KUTV and KTVX, who again showed bias in their coverage by failing to cover both sides of a political issue. One of the things I was frustrated about during the Senate campaign I worked on was when President Bush held his fundraiser for Orrin Hatch. KUTV and KTVX (and KSTU) all carried this half-hour free commercial without allowing any response from our campaign. This time they failed to air the Democratic response. I expected little from KTVX; their station has been a joke for years now and even more so after seeing they actually believed people would rather watch America’s Most Boring and Stupid Home Videos instead of the Democratic response. KUTV I expect somewhat more of, despite the fact that they are the biggest info-taint-ment provider in Utah, with little real news staff left. Bravo to KSL and others who chose to be more fair to the issue.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Utah Blogosphere Activity

Tyler Farrer at Davis County Watch made an interesting post on the status of the local blogosphere in Utah. He made some salient points, but I disagree with some of his conclusions. I appreciate those who do confine their blogging to local issues, because there are a depth of issues on the local level that many people, citing voting turnout during local elections, don’t seem feel are worth concern. I hope to have posts soon on the Davis County tax increase and the Bountiful skate park issue soon. Despite my political differences with Mr. Farrer, I expect we would most likely agree on many local political issues, though we may disagree on specific candidates in local politics.

I agree that many Utah bloggers have very little influence on national political issues. I also agree that some Utah bloggers spend too much time talking about national issues. The difference between my blog and others, I hope, will be that I will attempt to localize the national issues. I hope to point out when our local political leaders make statements of national importance or discuss national or international issues they have no business discussing. Greg Hughes’ talking on Take Two on Iraq yesterday is an example.

I do hope for the same camaraderie on local issues that Mr. Farrer writes about in his post. I do not believe that we need to engage in flame-wars and ad-hominem attacks with local bloggers in the same way that perhaps other states have let their political blogosphere devolve into. I believe more activities like Ryan Money’s Utah Bloggers Conference are important to ensure we see more than just the words of bloggers, but their faces, families, and friendliness.

Sunday Talk Show Highlights: Augmentation is Cosmetic Surgery

I oppose the surge in troops in Iraq for many reasons. Perhaps the best explanation I have heard so far was on yesterday’s broadcast of the McLaughlin Group. The host made the point (and I will put up the transcript when it is online) that Secretary of State Rice’s description of the escalation as an “augmentation” is illuminating. Augmentation is a word frequently used in the context of plastic surgery, used to hide flaws and create the illusion of beauty, at least temporarily. McLaughlin, I believe, correctly made the point that this augmentation is merely cosmetic in the strictest sense.

It may create the illusion of security and success for a few months, say the next 14 months, wherein Bush is able to pass the problem off to the next administration or least to make it a big enough issue for the presidential election. There will be no lasting security or political solution based on this “augmentation.”

Also on the program, UPI editor Martin Frost made the point that the surge will not work because it hasn’t worked in the past and in other areas of the nation. When we surged in Fallujah, the insurgency moved to Ramadi; when we moved into Ramadi, it moved to Mosul; when we surged in Mosul, it moved to Basra. I may be off on the chronology, and will correct it based on the transcript, but the point is valid. The surge is a cosmetic option that is useless against a faster-moving insurgency. You can bring reinforcements against a standing army in an area, but not against a group who holds no value in any particular piece of land, but in creating instability in the government and fear in the hearts and minds of the public.

We need to accept the reality, as Senator Obama noted on Face the Nation yesterday:

One of the things that I strongly disagree with Senator McCain, though, is this notion that we have future catastrophe to look forward to if we start phasing down troops. We are in the catastrophe that Senator McCain described right now. We've got bloodletting taking place, we see great influence of Iran in the region as a consequence as--of us moving forward.

Some people, notably the Administration, and add to that Rep. Greg Hughes of Draper, don’t understand that it can’t get much worse unless we add more troops. Yesterday’s broadcast of Take Two for some reason had Rep. Hughes, who was also on On the Record, talking about Iraq with Marshall Thompson, someone who has actually been there. Hughes is quickly approaching Paul Ray as the new media whore of the Legislature. Hughes had absolutely no idea what he was talking about on Take Two, spouting off the same old (and now rejected) Administration talking points on Iraq. We should take Take Two to task (too many stupid puns, I’m sorry) for not asking someone who has actually been to Iraq to make the case for the surge. I personally know of several veterans who would be more than happy to support the surge publicly. I may disagree with them, but they are still my friends because I value their service.

In conclusion, I feel we need to recognize that the Bush plan is nothing more than a boob job, designed to destroy life and create the illusion of beauty and success. I doubt it will succeed, because I believe the majority of Americans, and Utahns soon, will understand that the future of Iraq is now, and we need to leave.

Governor Huntsman Pre-Session Question: Photo-op vs. Political Courage

Watching the news Saturday night, it was reiterated to me what a terrible governor we have in Utah. Many Utahns obviously disagree with that position. My concern is not that Governor Huntsman is a bad person, or that his stated policies are all that bad. I think he has some great ideas about education, immigration, and health care. However, my main concern with Governor Huntsman, and the main reason I most likely not be voting for him next year, is that he lacks the political courage to truly stand up for his beliefs. The main reasons for this are: his penchant for photo-op politics; his unwillingness to take on the legislature; and his fear of an ultra-right wing backlash at the Republican caucus/convention/primary next year.

First, Governor Huntsman is too concerned with his public visual image than with how his policies are implemented. The litany of fluffy images (and all-too complicit media stories) is almost endless. Among the more recent and prominent stories: opening car shows; riding in a moto-cross race; playing keyboard with REO Speedwagon (that at least should earn most Utahns disdain) and Brent Brown; and perhaps most ignominiously, adopting children from Third World nations as if he was in Hollywood. My anger with the coverage of these events is the total lack of questions as to what else the Governor of Utah could be focusing on during these times. There have been proposals that Americans should create a government executive whose sole duty is ceremony, like the monarch in Britain or President in India or Israel, thus freeing up time for another person (a prime minister, usually) to concern themselves solely with the operation of governing. Governor Huntsman makes me long for such a system.

However, the better solution would be for Huntsman to stand up to the legislature. There are inherent problems with this solution, though. Utah has, at least for my lifetime, had a very strong legislature and a very weak executive. The legislature routinely spends hours working at cross-purposes with the governor, even when they are the same party. Whether the issue is roads, education, tax reform, etc, they also find ways to disagree vehemently. Usually, the governor is unable to exercise more than a few weak vetoes on a couple message bills, but rarely any spending legislation. Governor Huntsman has upheld this shameful tradition, in place since at least the end of the Matheson administration, during his term. Governor Huntsman’s budget proposal this year is a very progressive document, one that deserves attention, but I am skeptical about its implementation or even discussion due to pre-session comments by legislative leaders, especially with Rep. Greg Hughes blowing it off during almost every interview I have heard. Part of Huntsman’s problem is institutional, with the state constitution giving a lot of power to the state legislature and appropriating comparatively few functions to the Governor. This situation works at cross-purposes with the public’s expectation of executive power. Especially at a time when the President has appropriated unprecedented power to the executive, Utahns have an unrealistic expectation of what the Governor can do. However, I believe, with all of his PR prowess, Huntsman could easily make the case for a more powerful executive branch in Utah, on any issue he wishes to have greater influence.

Huntsman’s unwillingness to fight for his plans, though, is based in the fear of the far right of the Utah Republican party. This wing is controlled by a few very powerful legislators and fund raisers, which could, either publicly or discreetly, put up a candidate against him in the Republican nomination process. The electability of such a candidate is not important, because such challenges in the past have been enough to push incumbent governors running for re-election far enough to the right to satiate the ultra-cons. Again, the past three incumbent governors have had to deal with such challenges, two of three have failed (Huntsman is the exception against Walker), but powerful enough in the convention to remind the incumbent where his or her loyalties lie.

This legislative session will be the crucible for Huntsman. As I mentioned earlier, the 2004 election was a basic difference of opinion. Matheson Jr. based his campaign on the idea that we need to invest in education first, so that economic growth can follow. Huntsman Jr. based his campaign on the opposite, that we must stimulate economic growth so that funds for education can be reliably accrued. Huntsman won; the state economy has produced strong tax revenues and a strong budget surplus for the past two years. I will admit that the first part of Huntsman’s platform has worked to the degree that there is a budget surplus. However, the test of this legislative session is whether he will exercise enough political courage to fight the prevailing legislative opinion of tax cuts before education spending, which the public obviously opposes.

If Huntsman fails in this session, I hope that we can find a strong Democratic alternative to him. Such a candidate must combine the photo-op with political courage and bring the new Western tradition of fiscally-responsible, popular Democratic governors. He must also have the support, financial and political, of a broad base of Utahns in order to win.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Link of the Day: Best mash-ups of '06

While I am not a huge fan of every mash-ups, I think some of them are pretty good and inventive combinations of artist who would never collaborate in real life. I extend this link, which has already been boing-boinged, to a list of what some are releasing as the best mash-ups of 2006. An interesting addition was that of Arty Fufkin; I don't know if it is the same as the DJ on X96, but I doubt it could be anyone else, since he is an actual mixing DJ.

Some of the songs I don't care for because either one artist or both are bad and the combination of the two promises hell. Who I am avoiding and why:

Lady Sovereign—British rap? No one can beat Mark Morrison, so don’t try. Still waiting for the Mack to return. Anybody else?

Madonna—Not worth my time to explain.

Justin Timberlake—Not even Siouxsie & the Banshees can help.

Fergie vs. Cake—I want to seem them fight in a real-life celebrity death-match, not a mash-up.

Bon Jovi vs. George Michael—I had an idea of what to say here, but it looked too homophobic for my tastes. I’ll just say they should both go away.

*A warning that the lyrics on some songs are mature, so read who you are downloading.

Democratic National Convention to Denver

I was extremely relieved to see the DNC award the 2008 convention Denver. It is about time that either party decided to have a convention in the Mountain West. Colorado's transition to a bluer state has been no accident; it was an investment of money, time, and people into reforming the media structure, recruiting good candidates, a strong field operation, and long-term (more than one election) planning for victory. Utah Democrats (and obviously Republicans) have something to learn from this model, and we should be working hard to export it. However, it will take Utah’s donor community to finally stand up and make some substantial investments into the same sort of operations with which Colorado’s progressive community successfully experimented.

I am going to seriously think about how I can get to be a delegate.

DNC—The 2008 Democratic National Convention: Denver, CO

Divine Strake Info Session: Questions of Trust

I think my last two posts were way too long, so I will try to be more piffy & succinct from now on.

I attended the Divine Strake information session last night, held at the Grand America Hotel’s Imperial Ballroom. The change of venue initially concerned me; I thought many people would feel less comfortable just walking into Utah’s only 5-star hotel. My concerns were unfounded, though, as the place was packed when I got there at 6:30 and was still buzzing after 8 when I left.

The presenters from the National Nuclear Security Agency and Defense Threat Reduction Agency were well prepared and extremely patient. I was very impressed with this aspect of our Federal Government. I tried to keep my questions to the technical issues of the test; I wanted to allow them the courtesy of listening to their viewpoint.
However, the majority of the other participants could not get beyond the fundamental questions of how they could trust these government officials when so many lies have been told in the past. In the gaggles I participated in, the ratio of questions on the project itself versus questions of the integrity of the government was probably 1:4. This does not bode well for reactions to the test, which I came away with the impression that it was inevitable. I felt while this session was helpful, it was wholly insufficient to assuage the trust issues that persist in Utah regarding testing at the Nevada Test Site. I could not help but sympathize with the presenters at last night’s meeting, because many of them expressed that they were not the policymakers, but were the instruments of that policy. It does not appear that policymakers from the NNSA, DTRA, Departments of Defense or Energy will be subjected to the brunt of personal commentary many of last night’s attendees were eager but unable to express. At least legally, in the case of one man there.

I was also left completely frustrated at the conflicted trust issues posed by last night’s event compared to the results of the election in Utah. Despite press releases to the contrary, it is obvious that Hatch, Bishop, Matheson, Cannon (and Bennett, but he wasn’t on the ballot) all have staff that were if not aware of this test in it’s initial stages, were at least aware before we knew. One of the statements that stood out last night was when one of the NTS personnel describing the environmental assessment bluntly asserted that none of Utah’s Federal representatives had looked over the EA we all had in our hands. With the incredible public distrust on this issue, why were we unable to gain traction on the issue? Why were people willing to vote for representatives whose only actions before the Election (and since) appeared to be only press releases and staff visits? Why did they not vote for the candidates who pledged to fight tooth and nail against it? Why are Utahns filled with a level of distrust of the Federal government but unwilling to express that distrust at the ballot machine against those candidates who failed to exercise oversight? These are basic questions I have no answers for, beyond the understanding that perhaps we in the campaigns did not do enough to publicize that issue and connect it to other major issues of government scandal and distrust.

Links:
Tribune: Divine Strake visitors frustrated
D News: Divine Strake session criticized

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Legistlative Town Hall Meeting Wrap-Up: Waffle Waffle, "Hillary Care," Unintentional Feminism

I just returned this evening from a Town Meeting with my legislators. It was an interesting exchange, one which I am sure will be repeated across our state. When I got there, the first four people to talk were relatives of the panelists, which was puzzling. It finally got real interesting when Kim Burningham, State School Board Member, started talking about the governor’s proposed budget and how great it was for education. That was followed by some cautionary discussion by Rep. Sheryl Allen (R-19), who, in deference to Sen. Eastman (R-23), said that the current state of the budget was a “potential surplus.” Odd prudence, beacuse Eastman stood strongly in favor of another tax cut, because the surplus is so large; however, he did temper that with the good idea of paying off some of the bonds in order to keep the AAA rating.

There were some pretty good questions, but some were weird. Here were the highlights, and lowlights:

Ø The legislators were stumped when they were asked about altering and increasing the deduction for medical expenses on the Utah state tax form. A very well-informed individual on the subject let them know that once, the deduction would apply to those few individuals whose expenses over the past year were equal to 7% of their gross income. Today, though, many people, even those on Medicare Part D plans, regularly see health-related expenses reach that 7% threshold. The legislators asked for a tax accountant, but were met with crickets. More importantly though, Eastman and Allen deflected the question into a general discussion on the flat tax, in which Allen admitted that the number of people eligible for the higher tier of the dual track system would drop from 10% of Utahns in 2006 to 5% in 2007. The man called them out on that stupidity, but they moved on to the next question.

Ø One of my former teachers, Brian Ferguson, now a librarian at South Davis Junior High, made an impassioned defense of public schools against private schools. He noted one of the major problems with tuition tax credits: the lack of accountability for how our tax dollars are spent for private education. He answered his own questions for the most part, pointing out how most proposals have no requirements for what a school is, teacher certification, testing requirements, graduation ethics, time and days in school, etc. When he was finished, they moved on to the next question, without taking up his concerns.

Ø I had the opportunity to ask a couple of questions. I phrased my questions in the context of the 2004 election; as we should recall, Huntsman campaigned on a platform of economic growth providing the state resources for education funding increases. Now that we have strong economic growth (for the state budget at least), I asked whether they would fulfill the promise of Governor Huntsman by acting on his proposals concerning increased education funding, which Mr. Burningham outlined in his earlier remarked. I asked for a yea or nay from each one. Then I asked them to answer the questions of Mr. Ferguson about accountability for public dollars going to private schools. Responses varied, to say the least.

o Rep. Allen said she would strongly support the Governor’s proposals, as they are now. Drawing on the surveys she has done (not always scientific) and finding most constituents opposed to the idea, she vowed to oppose any tuition tax credit bill or voucher legislation.

o Rep. Neuenschwander (R-20), who was quiet for most of the meeting, waffled around both issues. He said the House Republican caucus wanted greater increases to the WPU, but he failed to say how he would vote on the proposal as is. Then he really waffled back and forth on the voucher issue, not taking any real stand, asking for more input. Why did the UEA support this guy? I predict arm-twisting will push him into voting for vouchers.

o Sen. Eastman made it clear that it was just a budget proposal and was not binding on the legislature to take any action. Then he said more money should go to tax cuts. Then he gave a defense of charter schools as the middle of the road for the voucher debate. Then he said he would support a voucher bill if would come out of committee this year. Following all that, he waffled on how he would enforce accountability for such things, drifting off into how PUBLIC schools needed more oversight and accountability for how funding is spent in each district. It took three questions from three different people, including myself, to remind him that I was asking about accountability for private schools using taxpayer dollars. He eventually admitted his ideal was a pilot program whereby 1500 vouchers would be distributed via lottery to any student to use and then they would be “evaluated” in rather vague terms.

Ø One lady was very upset at the lack of public transit available in Bountiful, wishing that Trax was extended into Bountiful. She justified this on the growing population of senior citizens in Southern Davis County. Eastman expressed his displeasure with UTA, claiming that it had reneged on earlier plans to expand Trax into Southern Davis, start Express routes through the county, and how they had actually reduced stops in the county. They seemed rather impotent when it was pointed out that they had no power over the operations of UTA due to their “quasi-governmental” status. This brought an incredulous reaction from the crowd, whereby Eastman expressed his desire that UTA be rebuilt with a stronger state government component.

Ø The second to last speaker went off on a diatribe against public education. Noting that God holds parents accountable for the education of children, not bureaucrats, he argued against “socialized education.” Under the logic that 90% of the attendees would be against “Hillary Care,” we should be against schools being socialized, because socialism has destroyed every nation and civilization in which it has been attempted. He was scared that children were being taught more about sex than God, our schools were overrun by gangs, and that they were being taught socialist values. The solution to this problem is to allow parents to be accountable for their children’s education. Picking up on a previous commenter’s concern that polygamists could set up their own private school and get voucher money, he said he had no problem with that because they were getting God in their school (I would argue that, in a polygamist school, sex and God would become one). What he meant by all this I don’t know; I can only assume he favored vouchers. Rep. Allen made it clear the abstinence-only policy of sex-ed in Utah, and Mr. Burningham was very defensive of the schools, to the point of upsetting this gentleman again. So many problems with his ideas, so little space.

Ø The final speaker was a mother who complained about her value in Utah’s tax system. She was appalled that, apparently, mothers who stay at home for the first year of their child’s life receive only a $100 deduction. Noting her advanced degree, she said she would contribute a lot to the economy by working, but chose to contribute to society by raising her five children in her home. Her argument was essentially based on feminist economic theory, though she would probably be appalled by that description. It was interesting to end the meeting on that note.

My conclusions:

I expect little or nothing from Rep. Neuenschwander; tonight’s meeting left the impression in my mind that he is typical Republican follower, a back-bencher who will continue to uphold the failed legislative traditions of Ann Hardy and Richard Siddoway. I liked those two personally but both proved legislative failures. (Stopping school sports recruitment, emasculating GRAMA, etc).

Dan Eastman is exactly the same as he was six years ago; he is a conservative car dealer who is also a follower, but I believe he is player behind the scenes in getting Republicans in line. However, he expressed very little individual thought and again leaves Southern Davis County without real legislative clout in the Senate. While Lane Beattie wasn’t my ideal State Senator, at least he was effective.

Rep. Allen is a true moderate, but I question her willingness to stand up for her beliefs in the face of strong conservative opposition in her district. Marc Jacobs, similar to John Jacob, self-destructed near the end of the primary; however, I believe her moderate convictions do represent almost all of her constituents, expect the few who are willing to fund a primary opponent (most of which were outside her district anyway). I hold hopes she will demonstrate political courage by making a strong stand for education this session, become the Republican moderate leader the Legislature desperately needs. However, I am skeptical; but I don’t vote for her anyway.

Kim Burningham is an invaluable asset on the School Board. Articulate, calm, but he was tough when challenged tonight; he didn’t back down when he took on the second to last speaker. It’s a shame he’s not in the legislature anymore.

I believe Democrats must have in their message this year a challenge for the Huntsman administration. If he does not live up to his 2004 election promises to spend excess money gained from pro-growth economics, we need to call him out on that. His budget proposes some great ideas, but we need to point out his impotence if he cannot get it past the legislature. If only we had a candidate to challenge him.

How?

When contemplating starting this project, I asked several people about how I should do this. I am choosing blogger now because it is fairly easy to learn, now, and I want to get the hang of blogging before I switch to something more complicated. I envision when I get the hang of things, I will probably switch to wordpress and get my own address. Any help with starting is always welcome.

Who are you?

This is probably one of the biggest problems I have with starting a blog. I have already sacrificed some anonymity in starting and in the first two posts, but I feel I should let you know a little about me, but not everything.
I have lived in Bountiful for almost all of my life. Exceptions include: a year studying at Southern Utah University; a two year, full-time mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Melbourne, Australia; and a semester internship in Washington, DC. I have a Bachelor's of Science in Political Science from the University of Utah, with a Certificate in International Relations. I recently finished working on the campaign for the Democratic US Senate candidate in Utah. In lieu of finding a real job (yet), I have returned to the U to take classes for the Campaign Management Minor.
As I said before, one of my biggest interests is politics. I have been interested in it since I witnessed Ronald Reagan interrupt cartoons on TV one day, shocked at the power one man could have to stop cartoons. However, my political philosophy does not have great appreciation for Reagan. I consider there are three main influences on my political outlook: my family, my education, and my mission. My father is a Vietnam veteran, now retired from a defense contractor, and has evolved in his own political ideas from a strong Republican from Nixon through Dole to voting for Nader in 2000, now berating the "fascists masquerading as Republicans." My mother is a kindergarten teacher, and her struggles with that profession have greatly influenced my positions on government. Though she considers herself an independent, as a result of her early activism in education labor politics brought me into contact with more Democrats, and I have eventually sympathized with the party's other positions, for the most part.
My education involves schooling, but also the books I have read and the documentaries I have watched. Understanding the historical ideas of the political parties and their leaders has shaped how I feel about each party's philosophies. My schooling has forced me to evaluate the policies on a mostly objective basis. Such study has led me to believe that Democrats have salient morals, values, and ideas, as well as effective policies that address real problems. My favorite quote comes from the PBS American Experience documentary on LBJ, and illustrates what I think government should have its clearest focus: “People programs. People. I'm talking about people. I mean, p-e-e-p-u-l. I'm talking folks!"

My mission was a very important experience because it really made me a Democrat. I entered the MTC on September 12, 2001. On September 10, because I was so politically interested, I worried that I would constantly be distracted by politics, even in Australia. On the 12th, I had confidence that I could ignore politics and the news and give my full effort to the work. I figured that Bush would assume a FDR-like mantle, rallying the nations of the world together to fight a common enemy and no one would disagree with him because it was so obvious the reasons that we had to fight and other nations, including Australians, would be glad to help. For the first few months, it was good. Most Aussies were kind and understanding when they found out my companion and I were Americans. That started to change after the first missile strike on Afghanistan, and slid further downhill as Bush became more and more obsessed with Iraq. I distinctly recall one door where the woman would not talk to us “because your President wants to go to war.” I had no idea at the time (around October 2002) what was going on, but it soon became apparent. (As a sidenote, I doubt the woman would have listened to us anyway.) I realized how stupid things were when, on the day the invasion started, we went to fill up our car at the 7-11 next door to the mission office where I worked. The attendant, in a rather frightened tone, asked if many Americans were around the office; I surmised he was afraid of terrorists attacking the mission office, which would probably have a negative effect on the petrol station. When I came home, I realized how crappy things were in Iraq, and the rest of the state, county, and country.

That sums up my political history, somewhat. I am taking a class on political philosophy this semester, so that may become more detailed.

This blog will not be all politics all the time. I intend to write about sports, especially my teams: the Utes, Jazz, Yankees, Nationals, 49ers, and Real. I will also talk about music; my tastes tend to favor anything but pop, and I may have some Pandora stuff on here. I hesitate to put movie reviews on here, because I have no real expertise, but I will probably make some comments. Anything else you want to talk about, feel free to let me know.

Monday, January 8, 2007

What are you writing about?

This blog will focus mainly on political activities. As the title indicates, it will come from the perspective of a lifelong resident of Davis County, Utah. However, I do intend to write about more than just local, Davis County politics. I envision posts on issues covering the globe, the political spectrum, and reflections based on history.
But I have more interests than just politics. I will give my opinions about sports, music, TV, movies, religion, and anything else I can think of and/or about which I lack the tact to shut up.
What I will not discuss (hopefully) are personal interactions that will comeback to bite me later. While my life is too boring to be a Washingtonienne-type, I hope I will not offend friends and family here.

Post Number One: Why

Why am I blogging? Well, during and after the election season, I felt I constantly had some things to say, but no real outlet. I had been admiring blogs and working with bloggers, but have been hesitant until now to get into the game, but I am going to give it a shot. I have a lot of things to say, most of them are my opinions and my opinions alone. I do not claim to have the best opinion, but I hope that this blog will contain writing based on facts. If not, I hope whoever reads this will comment. I am moderating comments, but only as a spam filter.