Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Vouchers -- Steve Urquhart's Proposal

On Steve Urquhart's blog he has laid a couple of proposals in overcoming the confusion with the 2 voucher bills. Basically his proposals are this:

1 - Hold a Special Session and through HB148 and 174 out the window.
2 - Pass a new HB1001 with basically the same language as HB174 (the bill that was created as a compromise between voucher advocates and foes)
3 - Hold implementation of HB1001 until after June 2008, with a provision that HB1001 is repealed or implemented depending on the outcome of the November vote.

I like the proposal. It provides the citizens of this state with one law that can be voted on up or down. I don't know that it will keep the two loudly opposing voucher lobbying groups from taking the results of the November vote to the courts, but it at least settles the ambiguity of having two virtually identical bills not being subject to the same referendum voting requirements.

All this would have been helpful when the legislature was originally considering vouchers. But it is better late than never.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Vouchers -- The Fiscal Effect of School Choice Programs

It is time to start talking about vouchers. A few weeks ago Utah had a link to the results of a study conducted by the Milton Friedman Foundation regarding the financial impact different voucher programs across the country. It was an interesting read. This study suggests that voucher programs in most areas have saved school districts money, and in districts that didn't experience savings those voucher systems have been revenue neutral.

The study is worth reading. I was going to take the time to do a thorough written analysis of the study, but I have since decided it would be better to recommend reading the study results for yourselves.

Yes, the study was conducted by the Friedman Foundation (a group that voucher adversaries like Craig at the Amicus would marginalize simply because Milton Friedman was a voucher advocate) however, as the study leader states in her introduction, the fact the group who produced the study supports vouchers shouldn't invalidate the scientific methods that were applied in reaching the end conclusion of the study.

Read it. This is a valuable piece in the voucher debate.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Vouchers -- HB174 and the 500 Pound Gorilla in the Corner

I have read recent posts and articles about the State School Board's decision refusing to enact HB174 before the HB148 referendum vote, as well as calls for a special session to attach HB174 to the referendum vote. Steve Urquhart has recently made his opinion of a special session known quite clearly. Derek Staffanson recently commented on the bravery he felt the school board showed by refusing to enact HB174. While I don't necessarily accept the moral high ground that Mr. Staffanson gives to the School board president, I agree that HB174 shouldn't be ram-roded into action while the original substantive HB148 bill hangs in the balance of public opinion and an Election day vote.

I fully believe that there are many in the education establishment who have a solid, and biased agenda of keeping vouchers from becoming law. (they were successful in gaining enough signatures to force a referendum vote) The fact of the matter remains we are having vote on the issue, because there are either enough Utahns who either don't support vouchers, or enough Utahns who want to have more public dialogue on the issue before we are bound to it. It would nullify the democratic process to enact virtually the same law (HB174 was basically an Amendment to HB148 -- the law under scrutiny) before the voice of the people has been heard in a vote, or worse against the will of the people if the referendum is successful in repealing HB148.

While I fully agree with Rep. Urquhart on the merits of vouchers as an efficient, fair, and even handed means of education funding. as well as the need for the education establishment to declare a willingness to truly engage in the process. I strongly feel that voucher bill HB174 should be on hold until after the referendum vote coming this November, and should be repealed if the referendum vote is against the bills implementation.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Mitt Romney has bigger Fish to Fry in Regards to Anti-Mormonism

Hat tip -- JM Bell

After a week where we heard much ado about Al Sharpton's Anti-Mormon comment. It appears that there may be a much more potent and venomous anti-Mormon sentiments from the Christian-right. This shouldn't really be surprising since much of the Christian community in this country has somewhat of an obsession with criticizing the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints as not being a Christian religion. (I always found this view to be paradoxical for them, given the incredible lengths that the LDS Church has taken to provide some of the greatest charity work on Earth. I guess they missed that part of the New Testament.)

A Mr. Bill Keller (An ex-convict who was convicted of insider trading turned televangelist -- a man who recognizes that there are vast amounts of money to be made in the service of god. Once a swindler always a swindler.) stated that "If you vote for Mitt Romney, you are voting for Satan!" Mr. Keller continues,

"Romney is an unashamed and proud member of the Mormon cult founded by a murdering polygamist pedophile named Joseph Smith nearly 200 years ago. The teachings of the Mormon cult are doctrinally and theologically in complete opposition to the Absolute Truth of God's Word. There is no common ground. If Mormonism is true, then the Christian faith is a complete lie. There has never been any question from the moment Smith's cult began that it was a work of Satan and those who follow their false teachings will die and spend eternity in hell....Those who follow the false teachings of this cult, believe in the false jesus of the Mormon cult and reject faith in the one true Jesus of the Bible, will die and spend eternity in hell. Romney getting elected president will ultimately lead millions of souls to the eternal flames of hell!"

After making all of these above statements, he piously goes on.

"Please take some time today and pray for Mitt Romney and all those who have been deceived by the lies of the Mormon cult. The fact is that unless they renounce those lies and turn to faith in the one true Jesus of the Bible, they will die and spend eternity in hell. Pray also for these Christian leaders who have for whatever reason, foolishly aligned themselves with Romney. Pray the Holy Spirit will convict them and that they will renounce Romney and find a candidate to support who will hold to Biblical values. There is no excuse, no justification for supporting and voting for a man who will be used by satan to lead the souls of millions into the eternal flames of hell!"

The sad thing is I'm sure there are people who revere this man as being a man of God. Wow! If his hateful-rhetoric really was true Christianity, I'm glad to be a pagan. Comparatively of his view of Christianity, and the LDS view of Christianity this an affirmation of a famous quote of Joseph Smith "if we (the Latter Day Saints) go to hell we will turn the devil out of doors and make a heaven of it." As for Mr Keller, his ministries operate as a 501(c)(3) with over 2 million dollars of donations (here is a link to his 990) you will not find much of his donations funneled to charitable causes like disaster relief, humanitarian aid, or anything like that. The 501(c)(3) funnels nearly every dime into his television programing (BK Media) and from there I can only guess. If anyone is curious you can learn alot about religious and charitable organizations on Guidestar.Org. I'm curious is anyone in the IRS 501(c)(3) unit paying attention to this fellow. He certainly bends (nearly breaking it off) the political neutrality rules of IRC 501(c)(3).

To make a long story short. I'm sure there are many more Christian conservatives like Mr. Keller out there. The distrust that Southern Christians have for Mormons most certainly is still a large hurdle for the Romney campaign. I would like to believe that most people wouldn't vote for Romney because he might be flimsy in his support of conservative social issues (or if a Democrat because you oppose conservative views) rather than hateful rhetoric used by dishonest-swindlers who have discovered a niche by cloaking themselves in the Bible.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Health Benefits, Equality, and the 2008 Presidential Election

Every campaign year many campaigns use accessible, affordable, and equitable health care as a campaign promise. If we can or are to make health coverage equitable and obtainable for everyone, the question is how? I am of the school of thought that this should be done without us dragging our efficient and advanced free market health care system to the depths of Canadian health care or as Pete Ashdown once erroneously said the efficient model of VA hospitals. (Do we really want Walter Reed Medical Center's infamous building 18 to become a norm of American Health Care?)

However, health care coverage in this country is no where near accessible, affordable, and equitable for all Americans. For instance small employers health coverage is extremely unaffordable due the way group plans are written -- the smaller the group the bigger the per employee premium is. In many cases it is worse than that, employers who can't afford the extremely expensive small group plans leave their employees purchasing health care as individuals. Here is where the income tax code currently falls short of providing the desired equity we Americans so desperately seek. From a taxation standpoint, if you are covered by an fairly large employer-sponsored plan you receive pretty solid benefits, otherwise you may are hosed one way or another. Here is a breakdown of Health care and taxation:

Employees Covered by Employer

-- No income tax on premiums paid from wages
-- No FICA and Medicare tax on premiums from wages
-- No State income tax on premiums from wages
-- Employees of a large employer receive coverage at very little cost
-- Employees of a small employer pay significantly larger premiums.

Self-Employed Coverage

-- Premiums are deducted from Adjusted Gross Income (AGI)
-- Nearly the same effect as employee's covered by an employer.

Employees who have to cover themselves

-- Premiums are not deducted from AGI
-- Taxes are paid for FICA and Medicare on wages used to pay premiums
-- Premiums can be deducted as a severely limited itemized deduction (A floor of 7.5% of AGI in most cases taxpayers do not have enough medical expenses to deduct)

In this regard President Bush's recent health care tax proposal in the 2007 State of the Union address, would be a step in the right direction. The proposal plans use the Internal Revenue Code to allow those taxpayers who self-fund their own health insurance would pay no FICA, Medicare, or Income tax on the wages used to purchase health insurance. The change would also require those who benefit from larger-employer plans to recognize some income on some of the premiums covered by their better large-employers health plans. The proposal would level the playing field between those who have large-employer health care coverage and those who have pricey small-group or self coverage. This is one of the most innovative ideas I have heard regarding health care. Due to the fact that the rabid anti-war movement has the Bush administration on the ropes regarding Iraq, a meaningful and innovative domestic policy change like this has little chance of passage.

I do hope to hear more innovative ideas like this from the current field of presidential candidates on both sides of the isle.

(P.S. I wrote an similarly titled earlier post that was inspired by a year-old OneUtah post, which I erroneously and unbelievably thought was current. I guess that's what happens when you live in a cave for the 1st four months out of the year.)

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Voucher Vote is in November

The Governor changes his mind on the voucher vote again. The vote will be on November 6, 2007.

At least it is sooner rather than later.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

SLC Council overrides Rocky's veto of the Skybridge

While Rocky and his staff may have (on taxpayers dime) prepared a mountain of evidence for the utterly meaningless "SMACK DOWN" with Sean Hannity, he once again fails to have a meaningful impact on the affairs of the city he officially (however occasionally)manages. In another indictment of Rocky Andersen's ineptitude (or apathy) as mayor, the SLC council has overridden Rocky's veto of a proposed skybridge in the LDS church's downtown reconstruction project . It is somewhat pathetic, this one of few acts Rocky has actually made recently in regards to city planning, infrastructure, and management, and he fails to make his influence stick here.

Oh well. I'm sure he is as excited as everyone else is for his term to finally end, so he can take his rightful place as a (certain to be) iconic left-wing poster-boy. I really have found many of the candidates for mayor in SLC to be refreshing changes to the divisiveness of Mayor Andersen.

"The Mormons" -- ERA and the Church's Opposition

I received this email from my uncle regarding "The Mormons" documentary on PBS. My uncle was an Attorney for Senate Republicans untill a couple of years ago, his career included assistance in drafting legislation like the Defense of Marrages Act and other key pieces of conservative legislation. He is currently working with a conservative group that is working to maintain traditional marriage.

I thought this email provided some insightful reasoning into the Mormon Church's opposition to ERA, and is useful to the dialouge produced by the recent PBS documentary.

"I did not see the first night's episode, but I did see all of the second. I thought it was excellent.

I write, though, to say something about a subject I know something about, namely the Equal Rights Amendment. Persons interested in the Church's position can find it in an extensive booklet that the Church published, and, if I recall correctly, included as an insert in the "The Ensign". Rex Lee's book, "A Lawyer Looks at the ERA" also acquired a sort of authoritative status, although not official.

The Church did not oppose the amendment for reasons given in "The Mormons" by a professor of political science, which more or less boiled down to what he saw as the Church's interest in keeping women barefoot and pregnant. He gave sort of a standard p.c. blurb.

Just for a little background, ERA applies only to "state action" and most employment is in the private sector; additionally, the civil rights statutes (particularly Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964) forbids sex discrimination in employment in the private sector, and latter was amended to include state governments. During the ERA debate the Supreme Court had already brought sex discrimination within the scope of the 14th Amendment. The professor's claims about employment and opportunity are simply mistaken in my judgment.

If you want to know why the Church opposed ERA (I am giving my opinion) take a look at a recent decision by a Maryland trial court in which that State's marriage law was held unconstitutional under the State's ERA. (The case is now pending at the State's highest court, awaiting a decision.) Maryland has an express statute saying that marriage requires a man and a woman. The judge said this was sex discrimination because, for example, a man could marry a woman but not a man and this distinction is simply based on the sex of the partner. In many other cases now being litigated, marriage is challenged as being a form of sex discrimination.

Marriage is not the only problematic area; abortion is another (and there are others, sports teams and the military draft, to name just two). Years ago, "Dialogue" (isn't it the "Journal of Mormon Thought"?) published an article of mine on this subject. At the time, the editor of "Dialogue" was a member of this Ward, a supporter of ERA, and possibly the wife of the Bishop (if not, it happened later when he was ordained). Perhaps she still supports ERA; you can ask her. Arlington Ward was a hot bed of liberated women. Still is. At that time, though, some feelings ran hot.

(You want to be a radical woman? Try being a stay-at-home mom and see if society doesn't think you are either (a) weird, (b) ignorant and uneducated, or (c) under the thumb of some benighted patriarch.)

I do not believe the claim (or implication) in "The Mormons" that Sonia Johnson was excommunicated for "supporting" the ERA. Sonia Johnson was a member of this Stake (at the time, it was Oakton Stake) when she was excommunicated, and although we never get to hear the Church's side of these disputes, we do know that Sonia Johnson had advocated that persons not welcome "Mormon" missionaries until the Church changed its position on ERA. Now, if you tell the world not to hear the message of our missionaries for any reason whatsoever, you are, in my judgment, putting your membership at risk.

Sonia Johnson has gone on to become a leading Wiccan (unless I am confusing my pagan sects), and her recent books give evidence of where her heart and mind have gone. Her soul has followed -- or perhaps vice versa.

I would like to know more about the professor of classics on "The Mormons" who says she was excommunicated for her feminist writings. I, for one, was impressed by her. The thing is, we'll never know why the Church acted (through her stake president).

Here's my summing-up: I regard the Church's stand on ERA as one of the more powerful recent evidences of divine inspiration within the hierarchy. That stand was, in my judgment, the work of prophets and seers. Law consists in large part in forecasting (or guessing) what courts will do in the future. I count the Church's position as a brilliant job of constitutional lawyering.

We are in the midst of a world-wide revolution on sex/gender (if you think there are just two sexes/genders you haven't been keeping up). This comes on the heels of the largely successful revolution on sex/the act. ERA was ("is" -- it's still around and being urged in the states), in my judgment, a weapon in these revolutions. A religious organization that can issue the "Proclamation on the Family" would have a problem with the Equal Rights Amendment, and with some (not all) of the hopes and goals of some (not all) of the advocates of that amendment."