Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Dr. Wakefield's License is Revoked -- Autism and Vaccines Are Not Connected.

One of the biggest frustrations as a parent of an Autistic child, is all of the crap theories and off-based suggestions that come at you from all directions -- from Jenny McCarthy to a stranger on the street that inquires about your child's strange behavior and from gluten and casein to the now debunked and irresponsible immunization theory. There is a myriad of books, causation theories, and treatments that regularly bombard parents of Autistic kids. It may be helpful for those without Autistic family members to realize that the Autistic spectrum is very broad -- my son who is Nonverbal Autistic is quite a bit different from the kid with Asperger's who rambles incessantly about his obsession with NASA and space travel. As a rule, I thank most people for asking and trying to be helpful but in most cases they have no idea what they are talking about and it is annoying having to deal with the misguided (albeit well-intended) suggestions and comments of family and strangers.

The immunization theory has sparked one of the most common comments from family and strangers, "Did you have him immunized? You know the MMR causes Autism." This comment, although it never felt accurate or made any real sense to me, often caused concern and worry that my wife and I may have caused my child's severe disability -- this despite the fact that my wife and I have the benefit of an additional genetic diagnosis that our doctors have pointed to as a causal link to my son's Autism. I can imagine the guilt and doubt that Dr. Wakefield's irresponsible and erroneous research has caused many other parents who have no known causal link to their child's condition.

In 1998 Dr. Andrew Wakefield of the UK released a study that showed a possible causal link between the MMR shot and Autism in twelve "allegedly" normal children prior to receiving the vaccine.

This link was debunked by a couple of sources (if you get the chance watch the Frontline documentary from a few weeks ago on this subject) the WSJ article linked in the the title mentioned one in particular "a 2004 statistical review of existing epidemiological studies by the Institute of Medicine, a respected nonprofit organization in the U.S., concluded that there was no causal link between the MMR vaccine and autism" as the biggest piece of research that has debunked Wakefield's theory.

Dr. Wakefield's research, it turns out, was funded by a lawyer representing parents who believed the MMR shot had harmed their children. This conflict of interest was one of the biggest reasons for his disbarment from the UK Medical Registry.

Who knows what good could have been done in Autistic research, if the scientific community wouldn't have been forced to look into this charlatan's irresponsibly conducted "research" and his fraudulent conclusions. What's even more frustrating is the number of children (mine and yours) that are needlessly endangered from diseases that were virtually eradicated a few decades ago. This man has caused what may be decades of irreparable damage.

With the misinformation available on the internet, devout crusaders of the vaccination=autism link, and the increasing distrust that many in the public have for the medical field it is highly likely that the myth caused by the former Dr. Wakefield will exist is the public's mind for many years to come. Hopefully state and local governments that instituted optional vaccination policies in public schools because of the mythical vaccination=autism link will soon reverse those policies so that the well-meaning but irresponsible actions of concerned parents won't put children at needless risk from diseases that can and should be prevented.

Monday, May 24, 2010

I hope Sam Granato has been taking notes!

I like Jim Matheson! I like him alot.

I appreciate the way he has represented the state of Utah. For alot of representatives and politicians, the way you vote is a more of a matter of the party with which you are affiliated than the needs and desires of the voters that elected them. I don't have that complaint with Jim Matheson.

Mike Lee and Tim Bridgewater have, thus far, appeared to be pandering right wing puppets who will say and support anything they believe the far right "tea partyers" embrace. I have little doubt at this point that both men will become part of the problem in Washington as soon as they are elected. So who do we elect of these two men?

The answer may come by doing something that some Utahn's may consider a sin -- vote the Democratic candidate into office. If Sam Granato has political leanings similar to Mr. Matheson (which, from what I have read it sounds like he does), and if he is a man that will be willing to buck the party in the name of serving Utah voters as often as Rep Matheson has, I think he may our best choice for the next Utah Senator (I'm still considering his candidacy). My biggest hesitations are (1) a lot of the Granato campaign information has seemed somewhat vague and that vagueness doesn't give me full confidence that he isn't a raging liberal in moderate clothing, and (2) adding to the Democratic super majority likely isn't in the best interest of the country or (especially) the state of Utah.

Unfortunately the two party system has been most favorable to the state of Utah when Republicans are in the majority, and although Matheson (and possibly Granato) may be great representatives -- their mere presence in Congress may give detrimental power levels to the far-left factions of their party.

Nevertheless, I think Sam Granato's candidacy deserves solid consideration by all Utah voters. I think many Utah voters would rather have a representative like Jim Matheson over one would-be representative who panders extremely hard to the "your not a worthy member of the LDS Church if you vote Democrat" right wing and another whose personal history and campaign rhetoric are in seemingly sharp contrast.

Hooray for Rep. Ray and Shelby's Law!

The Ethan Stacy case may lead to the use of a law that (I'm sure) lawmakers hoped would never be needed again.

In 2006, Shelby Andrews died after being brutally abused by her parents Ryan and Angela Andrews for a year or more. When charges were filed, Syracuse Police were frustrated to learn that aggravated murder charges were not an option in that case. Syracuse Police later testified to the legislature in committee hearings to help get Shelby's law passed.

Four years passed by, and unfortunately, the brutality of unfit parents remains with this new and horrific example. Ethan Stacy's mother and "stepfather," or mother's boyfriend deserve the death penalty and whatever suffering the next world may inflict on the cruel and inhumane.

Bravo to the Legislature for passing Shelby's law, and I hope the the Davis County DA is brave enough to use it. Parents who are that brutal to their children, or who fail to protect their children from such violence deserve the most severe punishments that can be inflicted upon them.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Mike Lee & Tim Bridgewater -- Immigration Pandering (I mean) Platforms

Bridgewater and Lee had a radio debate a few days ago, and the subject of "anchor baby" came up again. From a SLTrib article, here is what they said:

Lee said, "For someone to be entitled to that citizenship they need to be born to citizens or lawful residents or aliens involved in active U.S. military service,"

He supports a bill, HR 1868, which alters the verbatim interpretation of the 14th Amendment:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
So I get that Mike Lee is for getting back to the original interpretation of the Constitution, or at the article put it "returning the country to its constitutional roots", but what exactly do those roots mean to Mike Lee?

The 14th amendment has been around since the end of the civil war, and it was the amendment that gave all slaves, who were 3/5ths citizens (original intent of the founders?) full (although, restricted for many years after that) American citizenship. So, does Mike Lee support women not being allowed to vote and slaves being considered a little more than half-human? Of course he doesn't! However Mike Lee and Tim Bridgewater are both willing to endorse anything that they believe will endear them to the fear/rage intoxicated right-wing.

Yes, the 14th amendment grants citizenship to anyone born in our borders, and what is wrong with that? My in-laws had their third son on Mexican soil and as such he was a Mexican citizen until the US made him renounce that citizenship when he filed for Selective Service -- the Mexican's do it the same way we do. The right needs to remember that the United States of America is founded on immigrants, they have come here to find better lives since 1868 and protectionism is not what we need to solve our immigration problem.

I cannot fault illegal immigrants. If I was in Mexico and I knew I could make better money in lower paying jobs in America, but in order to do so I would either have to wade through up to ten years of bureaucratic BS or I could sneak to the US border and run across -- I think would run across the border.

The problem isn't the fourteen amendment, the problems is we have been too cheap and stupid to make an effective border wall where we could control the flow of people to our country, and legal immigration is so insanely complex that there is no incentive to go through legal channels.

The right is loosing on this issue! The winning platform is to control the border, and make legal immigration a much cheaper and much more efficient process.

Illegals who are trying to make prosperous (legitimate) lives here in America should get a path to citizenship -- it is our leadership's fault for not controlling our border for the past several decades.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Good Wednesday

Yesterday sucked, but here's to today.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Utah State Taxes -- Tax Issues Effecting Utah Taxpayers and Tax Professionals?

If you are a CPA EA or a Tax Preparer, please respond.

How has the flat tax effected your clients?
-- Lower Class
-- Middle Class
-- Wealthy

Personally, most of my middle-class clients whose incomes have been consistent have seen tax increases. I would like to know if this is a common problem.

Also, I'd like to have some input on problems with the state tax commission in negotiating installment agreements, offers-in-compromise, and other tax settlement arrangements. If anyone is interested I'd like to start organizing Utah tax pros to lobby for a tax collection statute, and clearer Utah state OIC guidelines.

Comments or email would be fine.

Section 104 Exclusion and Wrongful Termination Settlements

The most recent edition of the EA Journal brought up a 2008 US Tax Court decision regarding section 104 and a wrongful termination lawsuit settlement.

In Ruch Suder v. Commissioner, the Tax Court reaffirmed numerous other decisions regarding the applicability of IRC Section 104 (Exclusion of Non-Punitive Damages for Physical Injury or Physical Sickness). From 2000 to 2001 Ms. Suder was employed as a sales representative for Adelphia and was inexplicably terminated by Adelphia in 2001. She filed a lawsuit alleging defamation and other violations of state and federal employment laws. The lawsuit was settled and she was paid 41,000 dollars with the stipulation that she would pay all of the associated taxes. Is the settlement excludible under for IRC Section 104?

The US Tax Court holds that lawsuit settlements do not qualify for IRC Section 104 exclusion unless the damages are associated with an actual physical injury or a physical sickness. The Tax Court rejected the petitioners claims that the defamation caused damage to Ms. Suder's reputation and that such damage caused mental pain and anguish and as such qualified as physical injury and sickness.

Before IRC Section 104(a)(2) was amended with the by the Small Business Job
Protection Act of 1996 (SBJPA), Pub. L. 104-188, sec. 1605(a) 110 Stat. 1838, the statute allowed the exclusion to include damages associated with physical injury and sickness. In Moulton v. Commissioner, the court stated the following regarding pre-SBJPA Section 104(a)(2):

The reference to personal injuries or sickness included
“nonphysical injuries to the individual, such as those affecting
emotions, reputation, or character”. United States v. Burke,
supra at 235 n.6; see Robinson v. Commissioner, 102 T.C. 116,
125-126 (1994), affd. in part and revd. in part on another issue
70 F.3d 34 (5th Cir. 1995).

After SBJPA, the statutory language of IRC Section 104(a)(2) was changed to “the amount of any damages (other than punitive damages)received (whether by suit or agreement and whether as lump sums or as periodic payments) on account of personal physical injuries
or physical sickness”. There was also a subsequent amendment to SBJPA that further narrowed the scope of IRC 104(a)(2) to the following language:

“For purposes of paragraph (2), emotional distress
shall not be treated as a physical injury or physical sickness.
The preceding sentence shall not apply to an amount of damages
not in excess of the amount paid for medical care * * *
attributable to emotional distress.”
Therefore it appears that Congressional intent and the current legal interpretation of 104(a)(2) only permits the exclusion of damages received that are the result of actual bodily harm and an actual bodily sickness. The court will not exclude damages for emotional distress other than damages that are used directly for medical treatment of mental or emotional trauma.

It is interesting to see how narrow Congress made this exclusion. Not surprisingly, I'd assume this area must have been an area of taxpayer abuse prior to 1996. I wonder if this was a common theme in lawsuit settlement arrangements, lawyers likely made sure that emotional distress was mentioned in the damages in order to qualify for Section 104(a)(2) exclusion. The debilitating effects of emotional stress can be rather subjective especially when taxes and money are involved, and removing this exclusion likely has made a great deal of revenue for the Treasury.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Legal Immigration -- Why Would Anyone Want to Come Here Illegally?

A friend linked this post on Facebook (apologies for the one or two expletives in the linked article, but they are warranted)

This is my favorite line in the article:

At some point, from within a cloud of despair, you'll realize that you could have simply caught a plane from your homeland to Central America, bribed a friendly drug lord to get you across the border, and then paid someone to give you a dead guy's social security number.

That process would have saved you a year of your life, several tons of money, and your sense of trust in the basic competence of the American government and authority in general. Sure, you might be breaking the law. Sure, you might end up dying of thirst in the desert, your bleached bones standing as an ironic symbol of the drawing power of the American dream. But at least none of the drug lords are going to casually pull you aside at the airport and ask you if you've ever been convicted of genocide.

Seriously, is it any wonder why people are sneaking across the border? Any candidate that doesn't get the need to make legal immigration more efficient and cost effective is unelectable.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Mike Lee, Kagen and the Judiciary

Mike Lee and the Judiciary Committee

Mike Lee is a constitutional lawyer, right? At least he sure tries sell his "expertise" in interpreting the constitution as a selling point to voters. Due to his career as a constitutional lawyer, I think we need to carefully scrutinize his statements regarding the judiciary.

Mike Lee has come out as an early opponent of the Supreme Court nominee, Solicitor General, Elena Kagan. The biggest reason for his opposition is due to the fact that Elena Kagan prohibited military recruiters from conducting on campus interviews because of her opposition to "don't ask, don't tell" while Dean of Harvard Law School.

First, the allegation of Ms. Kagan single-handedly prohibiting the military from accessing Harvard students is, as Jason Williams at KVNU's For the People points out, fundamentally incorrect. According to the NYTimes article linked supra, she reinstated the long-held Harvard ban shortly but bowed to pressure from the Federal government to remove the ban and she never banned the military from all access to Harvard Law students -- recruiters were only banned from operating out of the schools career center.

Second, "don't ask, don't tell" is, in fact, a discriminatory policy and as such it's constitutionality is questionable. For Mike Lee to quickly and openly oppose the current nominee because of her opposition to a Federal policy that openly discriminates against a group of people, is either blatant pandering to the right or it shows a complete disregard for thoughtful reasoning and analysis. In the case of Mike Lee, I'm pretty sure it is the former. His immigration platform has already demonstrated his willingness to pander, and embrace about anything necessary in order to get the right to embrace him as the re-embodiment of Ronald Reagan. There are some very reasonable questions about the constitutionality of "don't ask, don't tell" and that should not be an automatic dis-qualifier for a Supreme Court justice.


From what I have heard about Kagan, I like her. My favorite part about her is the criticism she placed on the Judiciary committee for allowing nominees to get by with, what she called, "vague answers", and she also has commented that the confirmation process had become "a vapid and hollow charade." Given that this was written before her nomination to the high court, I'm sure Ms. Kagan will probably end up using the same stonewalling tactics that just about every Supreme Court nominee since Bork has used in her confirmation hearings -- but I appreciate that she expressed that sentiment in her pre-nomination writings.

Given the fact that she has been nominated by Obama, I'll assume that she has some pretty strong liberal leanings aside from the opposition to "don't ask, don't tell" -- but she appears to have some moderate views as well. For example, while she worked as counsel to Clinton she urged him to sign a ban on late term abortions and she also has made some comments or has some writings that appear to support keeping terrorists under the scope of battlefield law rather than giving them the rights of US citizens in the US Justice System.

For a nominee from a liberal President, I'm cautiously optimistic that she may turn out to be a good moderate-liberal addition to the court. Anyways, if she isn't Borked, I'm sure time will tell.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Tribune Editorial -- Utah's Broken Caucus/Primary System

I've been perturbed at the recent ousting of Sen. Bennett. I was disappointed to hear of some of the utter disrespect with which delegates treated Sen Bennett's departure.

I've read some hard core right-wingers who are patting themselves on the back and are seething at the opportunity to go after Orrin Hatch in a few years (on a side note, where the hell were you tea party-ers the last time Hatch was up for election? Talk about being in office too long!). Some have mentioned their contempt for moderates in the "Big Tent" Party that the conservative demigod Ronald Reagan sought to build -- a party that had room for differing points of view.

One blog in particular tried to assert that the convention's ousting of Bob Bennett was an ousting by the Utah voter. The blog's author's argument (I'm assuming) goes like this, the state of Utah is known as the most Republican state in the country, therefore the majority of Utah voters must be registered as Republicans, therefore the majority of voters had the opportunity to attend the Republican neighborhood meetings where the delegates were chosen, and therefore the majority of Utah voters chose the delegates that chose to knock Bob Bennett out of the Senate. There are a couple of flaws I'd like to address regarding this line of reasoning:

1.) Many Utahns refuse to declare a party affiliation -- nor should they have to. The Republican party's record for keeping with campaign promises and party platforms has been unreliable at best over the past few decades. Couple that with the Republican Party's current climate of Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin-ified rage and fear, and there are quite a few Utahn's who have absolutely no desire to be associated with what once was Ronald Reagan's "Big Tent" Party. Those who are not declared members of a political party are not invited to participate in the delegate selection process or to vote in primary elections -- those voices are not heard in the caucus/primary system

As a side note, I wonder if the Tea Party Republicans (I'm referring to anyone whose views mirror someone like Cherilyn Eager) would embrace Ronald Reagan as their political Messiah if he would have been involved in the race to be Utah's next U.S. Senator. Ronald Reagan gave great speeches about conservative values, but Ronald Reagan's record as president saw large deficits, and high taxes -- two cardinal sins for conservative leadership. It might be argued that he couldn't do anything about that because of the Democratic majority under which the Congress was ruled throughout his tenure as president, but hasn't Senator Bennett been working under same conditions for the past few years?

2.) The purpose of the convention is for the party to choose the candidate which is the most electable not to elect the representative. Especially here in Utah, the Republican candidate will more than likely be the winner of the general election and so the convention results have more importance than it likely should. While the tea party-ers are pleased with their coup, many of the rest of us feel cheated of a good representative for Utah. The key word is for Utah, not for conservatives or for liberals! Senator Bennett, like him or hate him, was able to get things done for our state and there are many that would have voted him in a 4th term if they were given the chance. Unfortunately, they won't be given that chance because the state's convention/primary system is only open 3500 of the most politically active and often the most politically polarized among us.

I agree with the SLTrib editorial board when it wrote:

In the 43 states where the political parties value the input of all members and hold direct or open primary elections to select candidates for statewide offices, the answer would be an unequivocal "yes." Anyone who wants to run can gather signatures from registered voters and have their name placed on the ballot. And anyone who has registered to vote can pick from the entire field.

If that were the case in the Beehive State, Bennett, a clear favorite of the Republican rank and file in public opinion polls, may well have won. But in Utah, one of just seven states where conventions play a primary role in selecting candidates, party delegates do all of the talking, and most of the voting. The rank and file are largely silenced, left to pick between the top two candidates in a primary election only if the top vote-getter fails to amass 60 percent of the delegate vote at convention.

I was pleased to hear that Bennett is considering a write-in campaign. I haven't decided who I will vote for, I would like to learn more about all of the candidates. However, if Bennett want to be written in as Senator I will definitely consider it.

Honestly, I'm not a rabid Bennett supporter or hater. I simply believe in democracy, and when democratic systems fail provide democratic results those systems need to be challenged. The control that the convention/primary system has on the outcome of Utah elections is one of those systems. Olene Walker (not to diminish the great work JMH, Jr. did as Governor) was the last victim of this broken system, she did a great job as Governor is her short tenure and the general population should have been able to pass judgment on Walker's governorship and the general population deserves a vote on Bob Bennett too.

Anyways, I'm going to move on. There are many other issues to discuss.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Bennett and PaliHanniBeckian Utah Republican Delegates

First, I'm not glad to see Bennett go. I believe he was the the type of politician who approached issues with reason and logic, and was able to find room in his heart for compromise and civility.

Second, I think it was the wrong decision. The two candidates that the Utah State Convention chose over Bennett both appear to have impressive resumes, but both of them are far too willing to pander to the Hannity/Palin/Beck-ified Utah conservative base on issues like immigration and health care. The fact that the Republican Party no longer has room for Bennett, makes me wonder if the GOP's may no longer have room for moderate points of view. I'll admit that some life experiences have made me lean a bit more to the left than I have in the past, but the ever increasing degree for which some "Republican's" embrace fear-mongers like Beck, Hannity, and Palin has made me move even closer to joining the Democrats (unfortunately, that party is just as screwed up and direction-less -- with less fear, but more anger)

Mike Lee's campaign immigration platform is ridiculous and, quite frankly, I don't believe he plans on truly pursuing a single word of it if elected. Lee gets the need for congressional term limits, but term limits are/were in his best interest -- so I don't feel like any great credit should be granted for that position. The flat tax is a bad idea (a subject that I written on repeatedly if you care to search my archives) that multiple other Senators have pursued and failed at achieving before, and I anticipate that Mike Lee will pursue it and fail to get support for it as well.

Tim Bridgewater hasn't tried to position himself as far to the right as Lee, and I think it will serve him well in the long-run. Unfortunately, Tim Bridgewater has some credibility issues due to recent revelations of his past business dealings he either sought for Federal Government earmarks for his business enterprises and the enterprises of clients that he advised, and I'll have hard time accepting his assertions of keeping a iron clamp on the Federal purse-strings when he has made a living helping entrepreneurs seek/attain Federal Funds for business purposes. However, despite his continued use of the phrase anchor baby on his campaign website, I think Tim Bridgewater has the most well reasoned approach to illegal immigration of the two Republican candidates.

I actually think that the biggest thing that the Republican convention succeeded at in ousting Bennett is offering Utah Democrats their best opportunity at a Senate seat in decades. If Granato can position himself as a Jim Mathesonian moderate Democrat, than he stands a good chance at winning the Senate seat.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Grading the Candidates -- Bob Bennett

I have decided not to go through the same grading scale that was used for Mike Lee and Tim Bridgewater with Bob Bennett. The reason why is that Bob Bennett is the incumbent, and we already have a good idea of what kind of Senator he has been. The question is do we as voters in Utah want to keep Bennett (the devil we know) or do we want to go with one of the challengers.

Reasons to Keep Bennett --
1. Seniority -- Even if I hate the seniority system in Washington -- it is the system that is in place. getting rid of Sen. Bennett would mean forfeiting a certain level of power and influence for Utah in Washington.
2. Solid Moderate-Conservative -- While there are votes that Bennett has made which are unpopular with Utah's right wing base, they were (in my opinion) the right votes to cast. I believe he represents the views of most Utahns

Reasons to Ditch Bennett --
1. He has been there too long -- His biggest strength may also be a major weakness. Orrin Hatch has been in the Senate longer than I have been alive, and that length may lead, or appear to constituents to cause, a major disconnect with the constituents that these Congressional leaders are supposed to represent.
2. May be overly willing to compromise on values that his constituents hold -- Some of the things that are causing Bennett trouble are votes that appear in opposition to core conservative values.

Conclusion -- Bennett may not be great, but he has been building seniority in Washington. Unfortunately seniority is still a crucial sword in order wield power in Washington on behalf of the State of Utah. Until a congressional term limit is finally enacted, I don't believe Utah can afford to drop a senior senator -- especially for a candidate whose potential congressional career will inevitably mirror that of the senior senator that we would be removing from office.

If you (referring to delegates) are mad at Bennett because of the past couple of painful years, get over it. However. if you seriously want a different direction for Utah's Congressional delegation -- vote for the Democrat. Otherwise, you will force our state to lose a fair amount of influence in Washington without having really changed a thing.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Grading the Candidates -- Tim Bridgewater

Tim Bridgewater

The Economy and Government Spending – Mr. Bridgewater has a much longer treatise on this issue than Mike Lee has. He rails against the ills of government spending, Bob Bennett’s record, and the consequences of Congress spending too much. In the end he claims that he will vote no on spending bills in a majority of cases. He claims he will support spending for government agencies that he feels have a constitutional role.

Unfortunately, Mr. Bridgewater’s professional record is (at least in a small way) contradictory of his position. The SL-Trib exposed some inconsistencies related to his business dealings and his (and his clients) being beneficiaries of government earmarks and the very programs that Mr. Bridgewater rails against.

Honesty – A
Best Move for our Country – B
Realistic – D (I don’t believe for an instant that Tim Bridgewater will manage to vote no on a vast majority of appropriations bills, as the campaign site puts it “when I have cast 133 votes on appropriations bills, most of them will have been NO votes.”)
Believability – C (The revelations of his business dealings call his believability into question on this issue)

Average – C+

Afghanistan (and Iraq) – Mr. Bridgewater’s stated position on Iraq and Afghanistan is that he doesn’t support withdrawing from Afghanistan. He claims he believes we need to make sure that those countries understand that our commitment isn’t open ended, but that we cannot have a cut and run strategy (the idea of openly setting a deadline to be out of the US military commitments). He believes that discussions of withdraw need to be done behind closed doors because, he asserts, discussions of military withdraw might provide encouragement to enemy organizations – and that it would promote Iranian expansionism.

While I agree that we need to make sure the nations where our troops are deployed understand that our commitments are not open ended and that we don’t provide encouragement to the enemy, Mr. Bridgewater needs to answer the fundamental question of when do we need to finish these engagements and return our troops home. The Saddam regime has been gone for years – how long will it take for the Iraqi’s to take control of their nation? Mr. Bridgewater also fails to provide much insight into how he would suggest that Congress should avoid quagmires like that of Iraq and Afghanistan, and his opponent Mike Lee defeats him soundly on this point.

Honesty – C
Best Move for our Country – C
Realistic – A
Believability – C

Average – C+

Immigration – For starters, the Bridgewater campaign is still using the infamous and offensive “anchor baby” phrase to describe the Mexican-American babies born to illegal immigrants here in the United States. Strike one. However, the Bridgewater position on illegal immigration does get better.

Bridgewater supports controlling the border with physical barriers and additional Border Patrol enforcement. I agree with him on this point.

Unlike Mike Lee, Tim Bridgewater acknowledges that the immigration system is broken costing on average thousands of dollars to attain citizenship and several years. He would support a “massively comprehensive” (snarky reference to the campaign site) reformation of Immigration and Naturalization – this is crucial if we are to incentivize would-be immigrants to come here through proper channels.

Honesty – A
Best Move for our Country – A
Realistic – A
Believability – A

Average – A

Tax Reform – Mr. Bridgewater’s tax position is that if spending is controlled, than taxes will be kept low as well. The tax talking point is basically a reiteration of his earlier position on deficits and congressional spending. Again, if Mr. Bridgewater can be successful at slowing congressional spending and using restraint in voting for appropriations bills, than I believe this would be good for the country.

For consistency, I’m handing the exact same grade for this as his position for the economy and congressional spending.

Honesty – A
Best Move for our Country – B
Realistic – D
Believability – C

Average – C+

Education – Mr. Bridgewater advocates a number of suggestions for education. These suggestions include the following:

 Return more power to state and local governments
 Cutting Federal spending on early childhood education and higher education programs (or at least give states more authority over these programs funds)
 (Without saying vouchers) Vouchers for private schools and even home schools
 Expand innovative education systems like charter schools

I agree with Mr. Bridgewater on lowering the Federal impact on public education, however I doubt that vouchers (especially for home schooling) would be passable into law.

Honesty – A
Best Move for our Country – C
Realistic – D
Believability – A

Average – B-

Healthcare – In lieu of the 2000 page healthcare bill that recently was signed into law, Mr. Bridgewater suggests that we pass 4 bills:

1. Bill 1: Creating real competition & choice in the insurance market – The plan includes refundable tax credits for the purpose of paying private insurance premiums for lower income families, the nationwide insurance market proposed by Obama, health insurance pooling for small businesses, expansion of HSA’s.

2. Bill 2: Litigation reform – Bridgewater wants to make it more difficult to get large malpractice settlements.

3. Bill 3: Move Medicare and Medicaid to the States’ Control – Bridgewater believes that if Medicaid and Medicare were controlled more by the states, than these two programs would be more efficient and economical.

4. Bill 4: Investing in science & innovation – Government spending should focus on speeding medical innovations to the marketplace, and on making new and better innovations in medicine.

This position strikes me as a reiteration and parroting of many right-wing talking points after the Obama-care bill was passed on Christmas Eve. I appreciate that Mr. Bridgewater is supportive of the national insurance market suggested by Barack Obama, allowing small businesses to from health insurance pools, and forcing some sort of litigation reform (although we need to be careful about caps due to the devastating nature of so many malpractice caused injuries).

Honesty – A
Best Move for our Country – B
Realistic – C
Believability – A

Average – B+

Overall GPA 2.92 (B-)

Conclusion: Despite the distasteful use of the term “anchor baby” and the apparent contradictions between his business dealings and his rhetoric. I actually like a few of Mr. Bridgewater’s positions. I really appreciate that he seems to get the need to make immigration more attainable to would-be immigrants and that he doesn’t suggest that the Federal government mandate all estimated 20+ million illegal immigrants be deported before they can take steps to attain legitimate citizenship.

Unfortunately, there are enough negatives that keep me from believing that he is the change candidate that Utah voters are looking for.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Grading the Candidates -- Mike Lee

Grading Scale

Honesty -- Whether the position has been thoughtfully considered, and shows intellectual honesty.
Best Move For Our Country -- Whether this position (if successfully passed into law) would lead the country on a better course than it is now on.
Realistic -- Whether the position is mere pandering to the right wing with no realistic chance of being successfully mandated if the candidate was elected.
Believability -- Whether the position enhances or diminishes the candidates trustworthiness. Heavy pandering diminishes trustworthiness, and thoughtful well designed positions enhance trustworthiness.

Maybe a tad redundant. However, I needed some sort of a scale to evaluate the candidates.

Mike Lee

Issues from his campaign site:

End Deficit Spending – Mike Lee supports a balanced budget amendment like that of most states. Okay, great – what Republican doesn’t theoretically believe in having a balanced budget?

One problem with the balanced budget amendment is that it doesn’t always make sense for the nation’s economy. Many economists argue that government’s ability to spend can be a key to quickening economic recovery during recessions. One example of arguable and unproven success is the Bush and subsequent Obama stimulus packages – the economy appears to be improving even if the improvement hasn’t been all that apparent to the average taxpayer.

Balanced Budgets sound great. Unfortunately, I don’t believe they can be realistically achieved at the Federal level and to a certain level I’m not sure that it is best to tie the Fed to a balanced budget each and every year.

Honesty – A
Best move for our country – B
Realistic – C
Believability – A

Average – B+

Strengthen National Security – Mike Lee’s campaign site suggest that our armed forces have clear objectives before deployments are authorized – and that troops are sent home as soon as objectives are met. The second suggestion is that our militaries “hands are not tied by unnecessary rules of engagement.”

I agree wholeheartedly with Mr. Lee on the first point. The two front war that our nation is currently engaged in has become a quagmire that has no visible end in sight. Part of the problem is the lack of planning and purpose – especially in Iraq. I believe this objective (if achieved) would be in the nations best interest.

Unfortunately, and this is dependant on what he means by “unnecessary rules of engagement”, I disagree with Mr. Lee on the second point. While possibly cumbersome, the rules of engagement that our troops abide by are necessary to keep our troops safe and to keep civilians safe in the areas where we deploy our troops to serve. When the job includes the use of deadly force, rules and encumbrances are necessary to keep our troops on the right side of the thin line that divides soldiers from criminals of wartime crimes against humanity

Mr. Lee's campaign is somewhat vague in explaining the position. If he is asserting that Congress should allow the military to have complete control over rules of engagement, than I disagree. However, I would still disagree with his position if he is asserting that Congress needs complete control over rules of engagement. Rules of engagement should be set by the military and should be checked and reviewed as needed by Congress. The military should be free to do their job, but rules and regulations need to be in place to make sure the military isn’t crossing moral and ethical lines.

Point 1
Honesty – A
Best move for our country – A
Realistic – A
Believability – A

Average – A

Point 2
Honesty – A
Best move for our country – C
Realistic – C
Believability – B

Overall – B+

Reform the Tax System – Mr. Lee supports the flat tax or the fair tax. Both of these proposals fail to take one major, albeit altruistic, point into consideration – 5% to a family living at the poverty level is much different than 5% to the rich. Having all Americans pay the same amount of tax is almost as regressive as taxing food at the grocery store. In my opinion the current tax code, although far from perfect or fair, has been developed through nearly 80 years of trial and error. The graduated tax rates keep those who have very little from being burdened with an additional tax liability, and has most taxpayers paying what they can (or should be able to) afford.

However, I agree that tax entitlements have gotten out of control. Although I’m not complaining about one of the biggest refunds I have ever received this year, I think the tax entitlements should be entitled for only those who are at or below the poverty level. Keep the middle class from paying too much, but we don’t need to give those who have enough to get by free hand outs.

Honesty – A
Best Move for our Country – D
Realistic – D (How many Congresses have had flat taxes introduced?)
Believability – A

Average – C+

Reduce Government Regulations – The talking point is a vague assertion that government regulations are bad for the market. Every good Republican would agree with this, but it isn’t all realistic. Given how vague the talking point is, I doubt Mr. Lee believes that it realistic either.

Overall – C (Vague)

Term Limits – Mr. Lee claims that he is for a twelve year limit on Congressional terms. This is something that I wholeheartedly agree with. However, it is also something that is pretty unrealistic to actually happen. I wonder if Mike Lee will believe in term limits after (and if) he is elected?

Honesty – A
Best move for our country – A
Realistic – C+
Believability – C

Average B+

Illegal Immigration – Mike Lee listed a whole list of items that he believes will help solve the illegal immigration problem. Items that I agree with him on:

1. Securing the border
2. Enforce Existing Law
3. Improve and Promote the Use of E-Verify

These are all important to control the flow of new immigrants to the United States. We need to control who comes in to the US from Mexico and Canada and we need to know who they are, but we also need to offer new immigrants (all immigrants) a pathway to legitimate citizenship that takes less than a year (at least less than a decade) and doesn’t require the intervention of a lawyer.

Specific items that I disagree with Lee on include:

1. Mandating and enforcing the denial of welfare benefits to (illegal) immigrants
2. NO Amnesty

First, I see the right-wing pandering in the position statement that we need to deny any welfare benefits to illegal immigrants. However, I also see a harsh reality for millions of people who (although illegally) have come to our nation seeking a better life. Life in America is often difficult for first generation immigrants, and I can’t accept the idea of refusing denying welfare to any new comer who may need assistance.

Second, and most important, Mike Lee proposes (as have many extreme right-wing pundits) that no amnesty be granted to the estimated nearly 20 million illegal immigrants currently living in the US. He even suggest that the government mandate that everyone return home and go through the proper channels before they can return. While pleasing the extreme-right’s fear of being overrun by our neighbors to the south, the proposal is unrealistic and illogical. We need to first get complete control of our borders, and second we need to offer a citizen path to any who are here and are legitimately trying to prosper in the land of the free – 5-10 year conditional green cards (no felonies, and proof of income) for all with citizenship after the waiting period.

Honesty – B-
Best move for our country – C
Realistic – D
Believability – D

Average D+

Other issues

Entitlements – C
Education – C
Abortion – A (I’m pro-life)
Federal Lands – A (Great idea to push for the property taxation of Federal Lands – probably unrealistic)

Overall GPA 2.85 (B-)

Conclusion -- While I disagree with Mike Lee on a few of his stated positions and I'm not a fan of some of his campaign moves, I'm pretty convinced that he would be no better or worse than Bob Bennett or any other member of Utah's Congressional delegation if elected albeit with less of that cursed but crucial word in Washington D.C. -- seniority. I'm pretty sure he is pandering heavily to the right on some of his less realistic campaign positions (immigration, education, finance, and entitlements) However, given his previous employment with former Governor and current Ambassador Jon Huntsman, I'm somewhat hopeful that he is more of a moderate in right-wing clothing during the pre-convention stage of his campaign.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Grading the Candidates

As a commenter noted, I may be guilty of drive-by commentary in the Republican senate race(I hate using the Limbaugh-phrase).

In order to rectify this I'm going to spend a few days grading the Republican candidates -- hopefully before the convention.

First up -- Mike Lee (tomorrow)

Utah Tax Commission -- Stories of Incompetence and Malpractice

I had a new potential client call me with a sales tax issue.

To make a long story short and confidential, the state tax commission audited this man's business for sales tax purposes and hit him with as much tax as possible -- much of it completely erroneous. After months of negotiation and review, the tax commission and this individual and his business partner had come to an agreement about the final tax bill owed.

The taxpayers each secure enough financing to pay there share of the assessed liability. The partners cashes out all of his retirement and pays his portion of the liability, and the potential client set up a home refi in order to cover his portion of the liability.

When the taxpayer was set to close, the USTC agent sends the mortgage company (never mentions this to taxpayer) a payoff that was 17,000 dollars more than the amount known to the taxpayer. When the taxpayer questioned the USTC agent she said she made a mistake! The taxpayer lost his interest rate (not sure I understood why) and he need to come up with a new mortgage.

This is probably one of the worst case screw ups I have ever heard of. To come back and try and assess an additional 17,000 dollars because of a agents mistake after the assessment had been agreed to is unconscionable. Anyone in the private sector would face an E&O suit for a similar mistake. Come on USTC!

Mike Lee -- This is insane!

Utah Republicans need to vote this guy out of the primary.

I don't have complete faith that they will. Unfortunately, much of Utah Republican ideology seems to have been hijacked by the rhetoric of Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin. Combine that with the "Republican Party = Temple Worthy Mormon" idiots in this state, and we this video may lead us to have this schmuck as a Senator.

I agree with Ethan Millard. Delegates, please don't give us another Chaffetz!

As a Mormon, this video is quite disturbing and insulting. It is disconcerting that either Mike Lee, or a supporter or Mike Lee, believes that this religiously manipulative crap can win votes. Even more disconcerting, is that I can see some RP=TWM delegates actually feeling "the spirit" from this piece and casting their votes for this guy.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Immigration -- Legal or Not?

Fellow blogger and Facebook friend Tom Grover left a status update that made me think:

I can't be sure that all of my family immigrated legally to the US, and neither can you.
Thinking made me fairly suspicious about the legality of one family member's immigration to the US.

My grandmother came to the US in 1939 from Northern England, and by the end of the year she married my grandfather. From outside appearances it could easily have been asserted that she may have been marrying my grandfather for his U.S. citizenship. She was an attractive woman, and he was a half-deaf, nearly crippled man that was 10 years her senior. She also had two sisters in England who later immigrated, and my grandmothers marriage to an American citizen was likely very helpful in securing citizenship for those sisters

Her marriage, even if it had some level of convenience/necessity in 1939, did grow into a 50+ year happy marriage. The children of that marriage all received college educations and the grandchildren have gone on to become successful members of society including doctors, lawyers, social workers, counselors, educators, engineers, and business leaders.

The point is this: America has always been and will continue to be the land of opportunity. The poor and huddled masses want to come here, and they will use whatever means necessary to get in. Should we condemn them for it? The answer should be a resounding no.

We must control our border, but we must also make it possible for the sincere seeker of prosperity and freedom to pass through the gates into American citizenship. While many on the right are calling for tougher laws to crack down on those who entered the US illegally, it must be remembered that someone in all of our ancestries sought to anchor themselves to the land of the free anyway they possible could.

Some of the current GOP senate candidates have used the phrase "anchor baby" to describe Mexican immigrants who come the US to have babies that will be US citizens. The offensive nature of this catch phrase is beyond the scope of this essay. We are all "anchor babies". Stop condemning those who are anxious to enjoy a better life -- the problem isn't with those who want to come to America. The problem is with those who don't believe there is enough prosperity to go around. I believe in America, and that it can bring great fortune to anyone who desires prosperity and has the will to work for that dream.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Tim Bridgewater -- The Business Candidate or a Hypocrite

Tim Bridgewater has been presenting himself as a business friendly candidate and as someone who would be a champion against big government spending. However, it was revealed this week Tim Bridgewater advised client companies to seek government earmarks and funding from the stimulus, and that he co-founded and operated a company which operated to take advantage of the NCLB program. This revelation does make Mr. Bridgewater look at least slightly hypocritical, and majorly untrustworthy to taxpayers.

So, Mr. Bridgewater has advised his clientele to take advantage of cheap government money -- who wouldn't? Yes, Mr. Bridgewater is correct in his assertion that his clients would have been foolish not to use the government financing options that he has condemned. The problem is that Mr. Bridgewater wants us, the taxpaying voters, to believe he is somehow different than everyone else who is in Congress or who is running for Congress. This revelation, if not damning, is disconcerting. His business dealings show that he is just as willing as anyone else to say one thing to the voter in order to get elected, and do something completely different in his regular life or when faced with pressure from party leaders if elected. Although I agree with Mr. Bridgewater that he was prudent in advising clients to seek after, and he was prudent in seeking cheap government financing in his own business -- it doesn't show a man who stands firm on his convictions (especially the ones that he preaches from the campaign podium)

I doubt that Tim Bridgewater is the solution to our problems in Congress that he is hoping we will believe he is.

I'm pretty thoroughly convinced that nothing can change in Washington until there are some major changes to the way Congress operates.

First, it is time that we have term limits to Congress and the Senate. Congressional leadership spend so much time in Washington that they have no real connection to the areas that elected them. Second, cut Congressional pay. It is insulting that members of Congress, a majority of whom are independently wealthy, go to Congress only to be paid larger salaries than most Americans and to be granted lifetime benefits that employees of some of the most stable American corporations would envy -- especially when so many Americans are struggling financially. Third, we need a system that is favorable to any and all comers -- stop the two party control of Washington. The two party system is one of the biggest causes of organizational myopia in the Federal Government. Decisions should be made by merit of ideas presented and thoughtful debate and negotiation, not by the letter that you have affixed next to your name.

In general, members of Congress receive a great deal from their time in Congress. Many find gainful employment as lobbyist, business leaders, bureaucrats, and financial gain by being public figures. Congressional pay and benefits are obscene, as is the job security and length of time for which congressional leaders serve. We need fresh ideas and faces every few years to combat the myopia and group-think which seems to command most of the decision making that comes out of Washington.

I'm sure Mr. Bridgewater is a nice guy and a good businessman, but I'm just as sure that he would become part of the problem within seconds of taking the oath of office.