Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Pro-Petition Response Part II: HB 174 Cannot Be Challenged by Referendum

First of all, I apologize for the formatting problems with the previous post. I hope that it is still readable.

My next response is to the idea that the petition referendum is wrong-headed because it did not challenge both HB 148 and HB 174. Surely the answer to this question is: if they could have, they would have, but legally they cannot.

There are many major legal provisions that proponents of this view are not aware of (most likely), are willfully ignorant about, or are intentionally deceitful (least likely).

The first is in the Utah Constitution, Article VI, Section 1, which states:

“(2) (a) (i) The legal voters of the State of Utah, in the numbers, under the conditions, in the manner, and within the time provided by statute, may:…

(B) require any law passed by the Legislature, except those laws passed by a two-thirds vote of the members elected to each house of the Legislature, to be submitted to the voters of the State, as provided by statute, before the law may take effect.”

The second is in Utah Code 20A-7-102:

“By following the procedures and requirements of this chapter, Utah voters may, subject to the restrictions of Article VI, Sec. 1, Utah Constitution and this chapter:…

“(2) require any law passed by the Legislature, except those laws passed by a two-thirds vote of the members elected to each house of the Legislature, to be referred to the voters for their approval or rejection before the law takes effect;…”

HB 174 was passed by votes of 54-11 in the House (72%) and 23-5-1 in the Senate (73%). That clearly makes it ineligible for referral to the voters.

Utahns for Public Schools has also claimed that they could not challenge HB 174 because it was not signed by the Governor until March 6, six calendar days after the session ended. Utah Code 20A-7-302 clearly states:

(1) Persons wishing to circulate a referendum petition shall file an application with the lieutenant governor within five calendar days after the end of the legislative session at which the law passed.

To understand the importance of this, let us see the definition of what a law is, according to Utah law. Article VII, Section 8 of the Utah Constitution declares the duties of the governor, detailing:

“(1) Each bill passed by the Legislature, before it becomes a law, shall be presented to the governor. If the bill is approved, the governor shall sign it, and thereupon it shall become a law.”

So therefore, HB 174 was not a law before Governor Huntsman signed it on March 6, and was not eligible for challenge on that basis either.

Does this mean HB 174 is bullet-proof? Absolutely not! Without the major provisions contained in HB 148, especially the religious neutrality provision, it is even more likely to be struck down by the courts if some state agency attempts to implement it.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Pro-petition Response Part I: A dead (or static) HB 148 could kill vouchers.

There has been plenty of discussion on vouchers on a lot of Utah blogs, some of whom I have listed below. While there has been plenty hyberbole on the pro-petition side, there has been a lot of disinformation on the anti-petition side. I respect everyone’s views and have no reason to believe any blogger is writing out of any ulterior motive. However, that does not mean that some are wrong.

For those of you who want to see what I think about vouchers in general, I urge you to read my series of blog posts in January and February about vouchers:

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

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

School Choices: Part III Problems

School Choices: Part IV Problems for Government

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

School Choices VI: A Brief History of Choice

School Choices VII: Implementation and Outcomes

No on HB 148, No to Vouchers: An Unproven Risky Scheme

No on HB 148, No to Vouchers: Constitutional Issues

No on HB 148, No to Vouchers: Unrealistic Finances

No on HB 148, No to Vouchers: The Wholesale Purchase of the Legislation by Purchase of the Legislators

No on HB 148, No to Vouchers: Conclusion

I want to address this issue in several posts, and will start with the differences between HB 148 and HB 174. In doing so, I recognize that I am not a lawyer, but I am simply making some reasoned arguments in comparing the two bills.

174 does not have any amendments to six of 148’s sections. I believe the following could be implicated based on the absence of the following sections, should the petitions qualify for ballot access and 148 not be enforced until a referendum:

  • 53A-1a-801, Utah Code Annotated 1953—I will leave it up to a lawyer to decide whether a code section without a title means anything. I don’t know.
  • 53A-1a-802, Utah Code Annotated 1953—There are major problems with the program without the findings. Perhaps most importantly, and Rep. Urquhart made pains to state this in his committee testimonies, the religious neutrality clause is stripped away.
  • 53A-1a-803, Utah Code Annotated 1953—Without definitions, there are major problems enforcing a law. Especially when there is no specific agency assigned to enforce it.
  • 53A-1a-807, Utah Code Annotated 1953—Mitigation monies were some of the major justifications for passage, and many legislators cited it as a reason for voting for this bill instead of previous attempts. Without these monies, public schools will be punished. Because each school will have no idea who will receive a voucher or not, schools and districts will not be able to carefully plan budgets for submission to auditors.
  • 53A-1a-809, Utah Code Annotated 1953—HB 148 was already short on accountability provisions; without enforcement power, whatever agency in charge of administering the program will effectively be giving tax dollars away without any way of stopping. If the agency chooses to stop funding a scholarship, the recipient school could sue that their due process rights were abridged, because there is no due process written in the code to terminate funding.
  • 53A-1a-810, Utah Code Annotated 1953—In an alternate line of reasoning, without the prohibition against regulation, Rep. Aagard’s fear that a voucher program could unnecessarily regulate private enterprise could come true. (I am not certain it was Aagard that said this during floor debate, but it was one of the no votes from Northern Davis County).

Also missing from 174: a fiscal note for funding the scholarships, meaning if spending for the voucher program does not jive with the overall budget, it could cause major problems for fiscal analysts and down the line (to the taxpayer who may be over-taxed).

The two bills have exactly the same text in the other five sections, with five exceptions which I have bolded:

In 53A-1a-804. “Scholarship program created -- Qualifications – Application,” adds

“(4)(b) Upon acceptance of the scholarship, the parent assumes full financial responsibility for the education of the scholarship student for the period in which the student receives the scholarship, including costs associated with transportation.”

In section 53A-1a-805. “Eligible private schools,” adds

“(1)(g) employ or contract with teachers who have completed a criminal background check that complies with the requirements of Section 53A-3-410 and:…”

“(3) The following are not eligible to enroll scholarship students:…

(c) a school that encourages illegal conduct; or…”

Adds another $100,000 for the School Board to administer the program next fiscal year (2007-08)

Also adds: “Section 7. Coordinating H.B. 174 with H.B. 148 -- Substantively superseding amendments.

“If this H.B. 174 and H.B. 148, Education Vouchers, both pass, it is the intent of the Legislature that the amendments to the sections in this bill supersede the amendments to the same numbered sections in H.B. 148 when the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel prepares the Utah Code database for publication.”

What are the implications of these changes for our purposes? Well, it could mean that vouchers could be instituted, but with major legal problems evident. Therefore, it would be up to the courts to determine if, either between ballot access and referendum and/or the referendum is successful, HB 174 amendments would be legal without a code to amend them to.

As I said, this is a series and I will address further arguments in further posts. But if you have a question on this analysis, feel free to ask.

Blogs for voucher petition:

Utah Amicus

Jeremy’s Jeremiad

Utah State Democratic Party

The World According to Me, Bob

Centerville Citizen

Third Avenue

Democracy for Utah

Utah Senate Democrats

Education in Utah

Blogs against voucher petition:

Coolest Family Ever

Davis County Watch


Utah Conservative

Senate Site

Utah House Majority

Saturday, March 10, 2007

“…it seemed to be a good idea at the time.”

I will admit, when I wrote this post last week, I was thinking not much would come of it. I was wrong. I have no ill will against the artist as a person or in the quality of his art. As I said in my updated post, I simply disagree with his premise that the UN has been ineffective has at combating terrorism. As I wrote there, this is because the US has made the UN ineffective; blame the current administration if you don't like how the UN is fighting terrorism.

I will give Mr. Perkins praise for this week’s cartoon in the Clipper (I cannot find a link; hopefully he will post it on his blog and I will update this). It effectively addressed an issue in Davis County: the near wholesale ignorance of the UTA towards Davis County residents. I have long been upset at the poor state of “public” transportation in Davis County, and I don’t think the proposed changes will help out much. I have no problem with the cartoonist mocking UTA leadership for their deafness. However, this is another post altogether.

I do not really want a “flame war,” and that was not my intent in my post. I simply hoped that Mr. Perkins would take the time to look at an alternative point of view. I am saddened that he did not, but I am glad he did not engage in name-calling, either.

I am taking this opportunity to address some of Mr. Perkins concerns. First, he is right that a didjeridu is a wind instrument (see illustration), used by certain tribes of the Aboriginal people of Australia. Next, he mistakenly assumes I do not believe that there is bias in other news sources. Bias obviously exists; my opinion is that most of the Utah (and national) news sources have a conservative bias most of the time. This is because most of them are owned by massive conglomerates (including public broadcasting’s conglomerate, the Federal government bureaucracy) who find little need to address news and opinions beyond those of their bread and butter: elected officials, businesses who advertise, and foundations that contribute. That is not to say that they sometimes have the dreaded “liberal” bias in some stories, but I do not see that often. I suggest anyone wishing to understand this issue read two great books on the subject by prominent academics of the subject: Lance Bennett’s News: The Politics of Illusion, especially chapter 4 “How Journalists Report the News;” and Calvin Exoo’s Democracy Upside Down, chapter 2 “’And That’s the Way It Is’: The Bias of the News.”

However, my post was intended not to criticize the other media sources, but confine it (mostly) to the Clipper. Its bias was proven in his very post. Mr. Koecher’s February 22, 2007 editorial column was virtually copied-and-pasted from a chain email, which Snopes describes with the following disclaimer:

…context is provided for none of them — several of these quotes were offered in the course of statements that clearly indicated the speaker was decidedly against unilateral military intervention in Iraq by the U.S. Moreover, several of the quotes offered antedate the four nights of airstrikes unleashed against Iraq by U.S. and British forces during Operation Desert Fox in December 1998, after which Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen and Gen. Henry H. Shelton (chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) announced the action had been successful in "degrad[ing] Saddam Hussein's ability to deliver chemical, biological and nuclear weapons."

Suffice it to say I believe that Mr. Koecher was unprofessional and biased in not researching these quotes, finding their context, elucidating their meaning, and reporting the speaker’s intents’ at the time they were made. I usually feel that words taken out of context are some of the worst lies, because they attempt to veil falsehood in truth. I believe Mr. Koecher should be ashamed.

While I am glad that the Clipper allows the two party chairs to express their views, they also publish two columnists whose views do not officially represent those of either party. In fact, there have been many times when I have seriously disagreed with Ms. Brandvold and am frustrated because the caption makes it seem like she is representing the party’s viewpoint, which she is not. I have also found it annoying that, while they allow each chair to write a column, they give substantially more coverage to county Republican party activities than Democratic party outings. Two examples illustrate this. In 2004, Davis County Democrats were represented by elected delegates at the Democratic National Convention in Boston; however, there was only one story about the national conventions that year, and it was about how Dannie McConkie and others went to the Republican National Convention. Second, there was this Thursday’s misprinted back page, where the Republican Women of Davis County’s event was printed for a second time, but there was only one section on the Davis County Democrats Monthly breakfast held this morning.

I apologize for not being clear with my comment about Bagley and the Tribune editorial cartoons. I should have just said that because I feel the repeated conservative slant of his cartoons render them unfunny to me. Others may feel different, but usually I have found them offensive because they mischaracterize the facts or engage in ad hominem attacks based on false stereotypes. I also feel he misses opportunities to equally skewer both sides of a political issue, with one exception. For example, this cartoon could have pointed out that it was the lame duck Republican Congress that didn’t give Utah a 4th seat, or that all the County Commissioners in this post are Republicans, and remain so, and they are the ones who are raising taxes. I probably would not care as much if it wasn’t so one-sided. I also would not mind it so much if it was just on his blog instead of in the Clipper.

As to our disagreement about the UN, he simply has a different view about how the UN works. He apparently sees it as a strictly majoritarian institution, where the US is just one country among another nearly 200 other states with competing interests and/or jealousy. I don’t doubt there is some element of that in the body. However, as I have repeatedly said in my posts, I do believe that the UN is an extension of the foreign policy objectives of the individual states, especially the most powerful one: the USA. I feel that when the UN fails, it is usually because the US is unwilling (not unable) to exercise influence in the body to prevent or correct those failures. From the Oil-for-Food corruption to the allegations of rape in the Congo to the inaction in East Timor and now Darfur, I feel most of the blame falls on the US government’s (of both parties) unwillingness to take a more active role in the body.

I do have to take one exception with one of his statements: “Inaction against terrorism, is, effectively, surrendering to it.” Mr. Perkins seemingly equates inaction with unwillingness to go to war, which I believe was the false choice in the Iraq war debate. I believe, and the facts bear it out, that continued and intensified diplomatic pressure (like we are trying with Iran and North Korea) can achieve security goals. If that was allowed in Iraq, we may have come to know the truth that there were no more WMDs in Iraq. Do I think that diplomatic pressure would have resulted in regime change in Iraq? Probably not, but I do not think the US has to or should use its power to change the governments of sovereign nations without clear evidence of threat. Also, even before the war, when I was in a relative news blackout, I was never convinced that the Hussein regime in Iraq had anything to do with al Qaeda, which the facts have borne out to be true.

As to my statement against Señor Dangriga, I hope that his comment was a joke. His Blogger profile makes no mention that he is in the Air Force, working military intelligence. Even so, that makes his comment worse, not better, as he should know better. Again, I challenge Dangriga or Perkins to find one statement where a member of the Democratic National Committee wishes to surrender to terrorism. I suspect they will make another false equation, claiming that redeployment from Iraq to Afghanistan and other bases is tantamount to surrender. I cannot adequately express how that is not the case, I will leave that to others like: Reps. Murtha, Murphy, Sestak; Sens. Webb, Inouye, Kerry; Gens. Clark, Batiste, Eaton; among others. Google their official statements at your leisure.

While I do relish the opportunity to express myself, I fear such a back-and-forth conflict between Mr. Perkins and I on this issue alone would bore me eventually, probably driving me from blogging. For that reason, I am going to move on to other issues after this post. Anyone is free to comment, but hopefully I will restrain myself from further “war.” I am trying to make my blog a place of intelligent discourse, but not get bogged down in one single issue. I want to move on to write about things like the voucher referendum, the UTA’s deficiencies, veterans care, my thoughts on spring training, how much American Idol sucks, etc.

P.S.—5 points on the board to whoever can recognize the quote from the post title.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Sunday Talk Show Highlights: Break Up the Vanocur Group

As with most things at KTVX these days, the Vanocur Group is in a poor state. Today’s episode was merely the (opposite of) icing on the cake. Nobody disagreed with each other except on lobbying; even then, there was no real insight offered as to why things happened at the legislature or how people should interpret the events.

I have long been upset at the content on the Vanocur Group. For most of last year, they seemed overly focused on the national electoral scene and wholly unwilling to discuss any of the state or local races. By doing so, they looked like a single A minor league team trying to figure out how the major leaguers play, and it made them look bad. I was hoping things would get better when Kirk Jowers, Director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics, was added, but he seemed excluded from the conversations and has not been on the show recently.

I am going to sound selfish in saying this, but the Vanocur group does not speak to my demographic of young people who are involved in politics. I want to have vibrant discussion, but I want it from individuals I can respect, trust, and count on for thoughtful local news commentary. While some members of the Vanocur group can fit one of those criteria, none of them currently embody all of them. Utah Now is working toward that, Take Two (if it still exists) is another joke, and On the Record is dying a slow, painful death.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Romney and Coulter Endorse Each Other

I was disgusted to find today that Gov. Romney sold his soul to the Conservative base by endorsing Ann Coulter today, saying it is "a good thing" to hear from her--"Oh Yeah!"

Any google search will find that Ms. Coulter claims to be act in the name of polemicism, but she is not. Her activities do not drive forward an ethical debate; she has no ethics so she debates solely on prejudice and pure hate.

The fact that Governor Romney endorsed her, and then she subsequently endorsed him, has transformed my opinion of him. Previously, I have had a mild disdain and annoyance; now I feel utter contempt. I will now be actively campaigning against him at every opportunity. I do not believe our President should be a bigot or knowingly endorse the rhetoric of acknowledged bigots.

I am even more upset because I believe Governor Romney has now betrayed his faith. As a Latter-day Saint, I am commanded to love one another, including my enemies. Romney has admitted that he believes that it is a good thing to expose yourself to someone who hates her enemies. That is not Christlike, in my opinion. I do not claim to be Christlike in all my actions, but I will never commit the sin of endorsing hatred and bigotry.

Blog-a-palooza: Should have known it would be a DC

So the Fox 13 Blog-a-palooza was a complete joke. It was mostly Fox's web team, a few reporters, and their families. Much of the discussion was how cool was compared to the previous site. I admit that it is a vast improvement over their previous crapfest of a website, but it's nothing revolutionary. It appears every Fox station across the nation has a myfox_____ website, and therefore lacks the personal feel that KSL's website has captured.

To me, our market's websites rank:

  1. KSL--Without the horrible commenters, it would still be a good site because of the speed of posting and easy video access. Its great archives make it useful for research also.
  2. KUED--The sheer volume of free video, transcripts, and other features make it worthwhile.
  3. KSTU--It's good that they're trying.
  4. KUTV--Takes too long to load anything and they have very little of their previous stories online.
  5. KBYU--A good website if you want to find devotional talks.
  6. KTVX--As with everything else, they are just treading water until a new owner shows up.

The problem with tonight's event was that it was horribly publicized. Nobody in Utah's blogging community knew about it. A quick Technorati and Google Blogsearch found my post, another myspace post from a girl in Magna, and (here's a shocker) a bunch of posts from Milwaukee and St. Louis about their Fox affiliate events. It seems like those two affiliates somewhat tried to get actual bloggers on board with the events. Here it seems all they did was announce it on their blog on Feb. 16, but didn't try to announce it on any others. My opinion: they overestimated the number of people who watched or blogged on their website.

I believe in having events like these, but they should be well done, well publicized, and appealing to the broad blogging community.

Blog-a-palooza for SarahBellum!?

I just heard about this on the news and thought we could use it to generate broader media support for Sarah’s struggle. Fox 13 is hosting a “Blog-a-palooza” tonight at the Raw Bean Coffee House in downtown SLC. Now normally I would avoid this event for two reasons: first, it has “palooza” attached to it and I have long since grown tired of that suffix; and two it is done by Fox 13, whose news coverage I have not been too happy about since they fired Nick Clooney 15 years ago (among other disagreements).

However, this provides us an opportunity to bring this issue to further light immediately, and meet other bloggers to build our network. Last week, Tyler organized a relatively successful Davis County Bloggers meeting; last summer, Ryan Money’s Utah Bloggers Conference was a great success. If you have the time, let’s use this opportunity to bring some blogger’s issues to the media’s attention. At the same time, we can get to know each other better and grow our netroots community in Salt Lake.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

More Evidence of Bias at the Clipper: The Editorial Cartoons

As I noted before, I believe that there is a bias at the Davis County Clipper. This issue was discussed at the recent Davis County bloggers meeting, where we agreed that the bias was mostly toward elected officials. Because Davis County is currently represented exclusively by Republicans, it is a Republican bias. Sometimes that bias manifests itself against Republican challengers in primary races, such as during the District 19 or Sherriff’s primaries in 2006, where there was a quantitative and qualitative difference in the coverage.

However, another bias exhibits itself in the editorial cartoons by Nick Perkins at the Clipper. Before I go on, I recognize that the job of the editorial cartoonists differs from paper to paper and also that such cartoons rarely reflect the actual opinions of the editorial board or the coverage done by reporters. I also recognize my own bias in this matter. I usually find Pat Bagley’s cartoons in the Tribune funny, mostly because they are such ridiculous representation of the facts. I know that Bagley is drawing from a particular viewpoint that is designed to mock the prevailing political, social, religious, economic, and/entertainment culture.

However, because the cartoons in the Clipper do the exact opposite of this, I do not find them funny in the slightest. The artist usually just copies the same old conservative stereotypes, doesn’t take of the issues in Davis County usually, and is just not funny. Many times he simply ignores the facts if they do not support his particular view of the world. Even when he takes on things that I would agree with, he doesn’t recognize the true causes of the problem and it’s usually not all that funny.

The artist blogs, posting his editorial cartoons and another comic series. Last week’s cartoon was particularly stupid poor, again because it is not true. When I saw this, I nearly yelled: “When has the UN advocated surrender to terror?” I challenge the cartoonist to find a single UN resolution which has advocated surrendering to terrorism. You certainly won’t find it in the 12 September 2001 Security Council Resolution 1368, which stated that the UN was: “Determined to combat by all means threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist acts” (emphasis added). You won’t find it in General Assembly Resolution 56/1, which:

“Also urgently calls for international cooperation to prevent and eradicate acts of terrorism, and stresses that those responsible for aiding, supporting or harbouring the perpetrators, organizers and sponsors of such acts will be held accountable.”

You won’t find it in the 20 September 2006 United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy; for example it resolves:

“To consistently, unequivocally and strongly condemn terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, committed by whomever, wherever and for whatever purposes, as it constitutes one of the most serious threats to international peace and security”

and “To take urgent action to prevent and combat terrorism in all its forms and manifestations…”

You also won’t find it in the UN’s brand new Counter-Terrorism Online Handbook. There isn’t a theme, entity, or keyword devoted to surrender. In fact it is just the opposite, with specific plans to combat terrorism worldwide based on cooperation and preventative measures, with strict response procedures.

The blog post also claims the UN is ineffective. This has long been the clarion call of the misinformed and/or willfully ignorant. The UN is only as effective or ineffective as its member states allow it to be. For the first forty years of its existence, it was effective at being the arbiter of Cold War disputes, but not effective at solving major problems like Vietnam because the US and USSR didn’t want it to. For the past 20 years, it has been ineffective in places like Rwanda because the US, under the Clinton administration, was too cowardly to stop the genocide; it was also hamstrung by low funding and few defensive resources, which member states again lacked the courage to help.

Another reason I believe the UN works is because of Iraq. The sheer fact that the UN was able to contain Iraq, prevent the spread of WMDs, and had the right idea on continued sanctions instead of an ill-planned war is unquestionable. I fully admit that the Oil-for-Food programme was criminally corrupt and those responsible should be held accountable. However, again, it is up to the individual member states to accomplish true accountability. That means the US, must use the UN to accomplish its foreign policy objectives and not just ignore the organization by acting unilaterally or not paying dues.

I became convinced of the UN’s promise during my time as a Model UN delegate, when I actually went to UN HQ in New York. I went into the General Assembly Hall and saw how all the nations of the world could sit together in peace and harmony. I understand its weaknesses, biases, problems, and bureaucracies, more than most people. That doesn’t mean I can’t still believe in the words of President Roosevelt:

“The structure of world peace cannot be the work of one man, or one party, or one nation. It must be a peace which rests on the cooperative effort of the whole world.”

P.S. As to the Señor Dangriga’s aspersions in El Cartoonista's comments, they as so incredibly stupid they do not merit a response.

UPDATE 3/6--I have been noticed by the artist. I look forward to his response, but I never called him insane. I simply disagree with his premise that the UN has been ineffective has at combating terrorism. As I wrote above, this is because the US has made the UN ineffective; blame the current administration if you don't like how the UN is fighting terrorism.