Sunday, September 30, 2007

Oh, My Heck: Smith's Marketplace; Souper! Salad!; and Classifieds

What's the point of having a blog if you can't use it occasionally to air petty grievances? Fans of The Colbert Report have seen his Tip of the Hat/Wag of the Finger segment. We've decided to steal his idea and occasionally express dismay or praise for things we see around town. Today, two places get a No-No, and one a Go-Go:

Smith's Marketplace: No-No to ruining Halloween. Yesterday, one of us arrived at the Smith's Marketplace in West Jordan just as two young boys and their father did. The boys were jumping around, so excited to get Halloween costumes they could barely stand it. When the doors slid open, they froze, their enthusiasm transforming into a disappointed keening. What upset them so much? The display: Christmas trees, blinking lights, fake snow, the whole works. That's right: a Christmas display in September. No-no, Smith's Marketplace.

Don't deprive us those kids of the coolest holiday just because you do 70 percent of your business at Christmas time. This is how your display should look this time of year (example via Shopko):

Souper! Salad!: No-No to Souper! Bad! Service! Bad service? Beat this: (1) After waiting several minutes, having to hunt someone down at the designated Employee Chat Table to ask if you could please pay so that you could in fact start the dining process; (2) mid-way through one's meal, having to flag down someone else's server to ask if you might possibly receive the drink that you paid for; (3) once said drink is consumed, having to accost a manager to ask if you might possibly have a refill before you die. No-No, Souper!Salad!

KSL-com Classifieds: Go-Go for awesomeness. They're free, easy, and you can find just about everything there. Caveat: Some posts can be disturbing. Is this one a scam? We really hope so.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

No, Mitt, you've got me wrong

Skimming through the latest fundraising letters in my mailbox, something in Mitt Romney's pitch caught my eye. Since I have "been so generous in my support of the Republican Party," he says, how about forking over some dough for his campaign?

Two things. First, if I were Mitt Romney, I would be a little embarrassed that his No. 2 state in contributions is the tiny and reputation-precedes-it state of Utah. As if that doesn't emphasize what, to some anyway, is a question mark about his candidacy, and make it appear that his overall support is limited.

But here's my bigger gripe. Yes, I have donated to Republican candidates, but what does that have to do with the Republican Party? They are not the same thing. Believe it or not, some of us make decisions by looking at individual candidates, rather than marching lockstep to a political party tune. By assuming the two go hand in hand, Romney is reinforcing, albeit subtly, the same partisan rhetoric that a lot of us voters are growing tired of. Please stop--and then (if you'll stop saying some other things, too) we'll talk about money.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Sneak preview of Mero's next voucher "research"

Through diligent investigate work, Voice of Utah have gotten our hands on an advance copy of next month's Voucher newsletter, including a preview of the next bombshell to be lobbed on those PelosiKennedyClintonMoveOn.Org-loving-anti-voucher liberals by Paul Mero and his highly esteemed Sutherland Institute: Voucher Monthly

P.S. There's a "view fullscreen" option on the linked site. The quality may not be the best, but today was my first attempt to play with the new Mac, once IT showed me where the damn On button is. P.P.S. If anyone knows a better place to upload PDFs, please give us a holler.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

More voucher vagueness from Mero & Co. (UPDATED)

UPDATE: No wonder the Sutherland Institute's "research" was short on details. Richard Warnick has pointed us to an informative Trib article about private school affordability. From reading that article, the Sutherland Institute's results aren't just vague, they are intentionally misleading. [Last sentence about Catholic schools deleted in deference to Derek's comment below.]

The Sutherland Institute's credibility is sinking faster than a back yard in Draper. Rather than admit that they're rabidly pro-voucher and that everything they say is intended to advocate for that position, they try to pass themselves off as an "educational" resource that just happens to have done some research that might happen to be of interest on this subject. Frankly, though, if their latest press release is any measure, we question the Sutherland Institute's ability to research its way out of the proverbial paper bag. (Hat tip to KVNU's For the People.)

First, the title: "Average Tuition at Utah’s Private Schools is $4,520"

That characterization itself is b.s. Did the headline writer even read the press release?
Salt Lake City, UT – September 27, 2007 – Independent research conducted by the non-profit Sutherland Institute shows the average tuition among the majority of voucher-eligible private schools in Utah is $4,520. And nearly 64 percent of these private schools are within the range of affordability for low-income families, having tuition below $4,500.
"Independent" research? Yeah, like all those independent tobacco studies conducted by Philip Morris. The "average" tuition "among the majority" of voucher-eligible private schools is $4,520, the Institute says. It later mentions that it subtracted the six highest-priced schools before it calculated this average. Translation: The alleged "average" tuition "among those school we chose to include" is supposedly $4,520.

"Nearly 64 percent" of "these" private schools (i.e., 64 percent of those left after subtracting another 9 percent from the 73 percent that responded) are "within the range of affordability for low-income families, having tuition below $4,500." “Affordability is a subjective term,” said Sutherland Institute President, Paul T. Mero. “But consider a low-income family that receives the maximum school voucher amount of $3,000 per child. The difference between the average tuition rate and the maximum school voucher is $1,520, or $127 per month. That is less than the price of a car payment.”

Right. The poorest families who would qualify for the $3,000-per-child max would hardly notice an extra $127 per month out of their paychecks. We can't decide whether these guys are arrogant or delusional.

Of the 88 voucher-eligible schools contacted, 64 responded.
OK, the Institute's figures are based on 72.7 percent of the schools that it contacted. (And, by the way, can we see the survey questions and answers? Hate to sound cynical, but you don't suppose some of the 24 no-shows were on the high end, do you? And that, possibly deducing how the Institute wanted to use its results, they figured they shouldn't hike up the bell curve by answering?)
The responding schools reported annual tuition charges from $1,600 to $52,200. Only six private schools are clearly unaffordable for low-income families the new voucher law is primarily intended to serve. Those six were omitted from Sutherland’s results.
Sutherland's website calls this an "adjusted average." Hey, Mom, I got an F in Social Studies, but I have omitted it from my results. So now I have an adjusted B average! P.S. If vouchers are intended primarily to serve low-income families, why aren't they limited to low-income families?
“In addition to being affordable, private schools in Utah are also convenient and accessible. These are important factors for the families that vouchers are primarily intended to serve,” said Mero. “The current supply of private schools in Utah is within close proximity to 85 percent of Utah’s school-age population.”
Is this a research report or a travel brochure? Knowing Mero's definition of "affordability," I shudder to think how he defines "close proximity."

From its research conducted in August 2007, Sutherland Institute found that there are private schools in 17 of Utah’s 29 counties.
Which counties? And as the word "private" is not preceded by "voucher-eligible," does this figure include all private schools? How was the list compiled? Hate to pester you about research, but...

Most private, public and charter schools are concentrated in the Wasatch corridor and the St. George area. In the most recent school year, these areas accounted for 85 percent of school-age children in Utah – which means the majority of school-age children have access to private schools that meet the qualifications to accept vouchers.

Are there private schools in St. George? We assume so, but they don't even bother to say it. How do they define "Wasatch corridor"? How do they define "access"? Within a few blocks of a bus route or Trax station (or however far Sutherland Institute personnel let their kids travel unattended to school)? Less than a 5-mile drive? 40 miles? And how many of these "voucher-eligible" schools will in fact accept vouchers? Some have already said they will not.

We would actually like to know this information, so we surfed over to the Institute's web site, hoping to find the details. No luck, other than this one-page brochure that jacks up the affordability quotient even more by including tuitions of up to $5,000 per year, assuming that everyone will get private scholarships and that poor people won't notice a $166 (or $332 for two kids) hit in their monthly income.

Give us a break. When a "research institute" spews out vague, slanted junk like this instead of detailed, at least semi-objective analysis, it does not do anyone any good. Information about private school tuition in Utah could be useful; let's hope someone like the Trib or the News gives us some.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Two questions about the Jeffs verdict (UPDATED)

We e-mailed these questions to KSL's Nightside Project, hoping they would ask Attorney General Mark Shurtleff when he called in tonight, but it was one of those giggly segments instead. (You know you're not going to learn much when the host starts by congratulating the 'interviewee' on behalf of all Utahns.)

Like most people, we are glad that Warren Jeffs is behind bars. However, we can't help but scratch our heads as to why Jeffs was prosecuted before / instead of the (alleged) rapist himself. The two questions we would like answered are simple:

(1) Will the (alleged) rapist himself be prosecuted? and
(2) If so, what would happen to the Jeffs conviction if the (alleged) rapist is acquitted?

Judging from the Trib and comments, many others are wondering the same thing. So, anyone know the scoop?

UPDATE: Apparently the husbnad is going to be prosecuted. That just leaves question no. 2.

Rep. Clark's Voucher-Tourette's Syndrome

In this morning's D-News, Rep. Phil Riesen (D-Salt Lake) accuses House Majority Leader Dave Clark (R-Santa Clara) of saying that a United Way health care proposal may fail in the 2008 Legislature if leading businesses don't support vouchers. Apparently, Clark happened to mention the two concepts in close succession at a United Way subcommittee meeting last month that was unrelated to vouchers (or so they thought), and can't for the life of him figure out why people took it as a threat:
"It was not my intent to tether those two issues together," said Clark, the second most powerful Republican in the Utah House. "I've never had (such) a conversation with a colleague. It has not been a part of any (GOP) leadership conversation — tying health care and vouchers together," said Clark Monday. And he personally does not tie the two issues together, Clark added. "But I do think that those are all relevant issues for discussion."
And discussion in the same sentence, even!

We're sure that Clark wasn't threatening or predicting retaliation if vouchers are rejected by Utah voters. After all, didn't Senate president John Valentine recently assure us that GOP legislators weren't going to be mean to people (any more) just because they disagreed? It must have been sheer coincidence that vouchers popped into Clark's head at the exact instant that people were talking about a health care proposal. It's "Voucher-Tourette's Syndrome": A GOP legislator is talking about health insurance or day care when suddenly he blurts out "Vouchers!" mid-sentence. Poor guy. It's not like he can help himself.

P.S. We would have asked the man himself what words were uttered, but alas, Rep. "Alberto" Clark "doesn't recall exactly" what he said. Bummer. We're sure that would have cleared it right up.

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Jeffs jurors at this moment--what is the Trib hiding?

I don't get it. It's been more than three hours since jurors broke for the day in Utah's Trial of the Millennium, and we have not been given an update. Did Juror #1 watch Heroes or The Bachelor? What did Juror #7 have for dinner? Where is the JeffsJurorCam? What isn't the Tribune telling us?

Don't pretend you don't know, Trib. We know these details have not slipped through your dragnet -- not the paper that offers its own special link to "newly filed court documents, photo galleries, multimedia presentations and past articles," a veritable smorgasbord for those of us who are holding our breath about the fate of this guy. Now I'm going to toss and turn all night, stewing about where Warren Jeffs will be at this time tomorrow, watching Kitchen Renovations and wondering if maybe, just maybe, one of the jurors is watching it too....

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Winging it: Salt Lake's 'Guardian Angels'

Read an exciting new article this morning about our local Guardian Angels, a "ragtag band of nine volunteer crime fighters" who went on their first patrol yesterday in Pioneer Park, headed up by regional director Frank Lee. The article was so inspirational that we can't resist offering our own annotations:
They formed two lines and walked together through the park about 6:30 p.m. as about a dozen mostly homeless people remained scattered about. . . . The walk-through lasted less than 30 minutes.
Wow, nearly 30 straight minutes of crime prevention! Maybe when they've regained their strength, they can go for the full half hour.
Lee told the group that to some it appeared they had accomplished nothing other than meeting new people.
He's psychic, too!
But the group's presence alone would deter "bad elements," he said, and a trained group of Guardian Angels could have done more.
No doubt about it. One comparably trained group of crime fighters comes to mind that managed to break up a meth lab and kill numerous drug dealers and innocent bystanders on their very very first day . . . .

The exciting part about this Guardian Angels thing, though, is that they don't feel constrained by that "reasonable suspicion / probable cause" thing that the Framers of our Constitution were always whining about. Being a Guardian Angel apparently eliminates that whole "do we actually have any proof?" hassle:

Lee, a sturdy man with a sense of humor but little patience for disrespect, asked his volunteers if they noticed a man in a long-sleeve white shirt. A few nodded yes. "If we had experienced Guardian Angels here, he would have been on the ground," Lee told the group. "I know he has narcotics on him."
Yes, if only some experienced Guardian Angels had been with them, they could have physically attacked someone they suspected might have drugs on him. Granted, they would have been arrested for assault and hauled off to jail, but then they could have met even more criminals, without having to do all that walking. If only!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Shocking (and avoidable?): Judge Cassell's resignation

Utah's legal community was shocked today by the surprise resignation of federal district court judge Paul Cassell. Cassell was appointed six years ago over objections by NancyPelosiMoveOnDotOrgLiberals (c)Sean Hannity that he would wear himself out trampling over our basic constitutional rights. (He had, for example, made a name for himself by arguing that criminals should not be entitled to those wussy "Miranda rights".)

As it turns out, Cassell gained a reputation as an intelligent, hard-working, thoughtful judge. Yes, he has a passion for victims' rights, but he was also one of the first judges in the country to question the constitutionality of federal mandatory sentencing laws. So why did Cassell leave? He will be going back to his former job at the U of U law school, with some private work on the side. In a nutshell, he will work just as hard, but for twice the money. The continued low pay for judges (compared to the private sector) was one reason mentioned by Cassell in his letter of resignation:

And finally, I would be less than completely candid if I did not mention the uncertainty surrounding judicial pay as a factor in my decision. With three talented children approaching college years, it has been difficult for my wife and me to make financial plans. As you know, this year federal judges have yet to receive even a cost of living pay increase. Your much appreciated proposal to raise judicial salaries has yet to be acted on by Congress. I would like to ensure that my children will have the same educational opportunities that I had. How to achieve that within the constraints on current judicial pay is more than a difficult task. My wife and I have concluded that we may not be able to do what we have always planned to do unless I make some changes.
U. S. Chief Justice John Roberts (and we) warned about this risk last January, if something wasn't done. Now Utah has lost an excellent judge, and perhaps opened itself up to a year of nasty political infighting while his position remains vacant. Just great.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Eat at Pie Pizzeria, become a web sensation?

Maybe it's just me, but I'm not sure I want to be broadcast throughout the internet with a mouth full of pizza. The Pie Pizzeria must think there's an audience for it, though -- which is scary -- because its website offers live cam footage of its hungry patrons in Salt Lake, Ogden, and Midvale.

I don't get it. I don't get why people would want strangers in Peoria watching them slog down a pepperoni with extra cheese, and I don't get why a restaurant would think that they would. But hey, to each his own.

I just hope this doesn't become a trend, and that the Pizzeria tells customers to Smile, 'cause they're on Candid Camera. Otherwise--surprise!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Utah Capitol: Now you see it . . .

Lights were Off! early at the state capitol building tonight, as Gov. Huntsman flipped switches for the inaugural Lights Off Utah! campaign. We've often thought of the Capitol as a big black hole, but tonight it was literal:

Monday, September 17, 2007

Cal Rampton's favorite joke

We don't know if this was really Governor Rampton's favorite joke, but that's what we were told at one of the last functions that he and Lucybeth attended before her death in 2004. It's a good one, and the Governor re-told it at the event. It went something like this:

A man lived his entire life as a diehard, yellow dog Democrat. Shortly before his death, though, he suddenly switched parties, registering as a Republican.

People who knew him were shocked. "Why did you do that?" they asked.

"So that when I die, there will be one less Republican," he replied.
Rest in peace, Governor.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Eagle Mountain: We know what's really going on

Is there any place in Utah with higher per-capita weirdness than Eagle Mountain? (Okay, other than Hildale/Colorado City.) This Utah County community, founded by developers and incorporated in 1996, has already been through 7 mayors (10, if you count acting mayors while they were looking for interim mayors to replace elected mayors). As the Provo Daily Herald wrote last week, "That community's experience with elected officials would energize a junkyard dog to go to the polls and leave a paw print." Its legacy includes:
September 2007: City Councilwoman and former acting mayor Linn Strouse is charged with a felony for requesting, and receiving, a $10,000 "loan" from the city's principal developer and forgetting to report it for two years.

September 2007: Former city councilman Greg Kehl shoots and kills himself on a paraglider after a domestic disturbance call at his house.

September and June 2007: Two city council members are cleared of allegations that they violated state conflict-of-interest laws. (Good news for once!)

October 2006: Mayor Brian Olsen is charged with seven felony counts of misusing public funds.

November 2005: After three months in office, interim Mayor David Lifferth resigns amid allegations of financial shenanigans. (Gotta admire his efficiency.)

March 2003: Mayor Kelvin Bailey falsely claims to have been kidnapped and forced to drive to Barstow, California.
All this in a town of, what, 13,000? Inexplicable, you say? Maybe--or maybe not. This past July, one of Eagle Mountain's wells failed (the city owns all its own utilities), reducing pumping capacity by 40 percent. For the next month, residents were asked not to do any outside watering, to conserve inside watering, and not to catch their houses on fire. By August, the well was fixed.

Or was it? Did the well really fail, or was it just time to add more of whatever it is that is that makes people stay in Eagle Mountain? City officials (whoever happened to be in office at the moment) aren't dumb. They saw a surge in Eagle Mountain listings on MLS/ They could tell that the Soma was wearing off. Soon, very soon, everything will be okay again in Eagle Mountain. Until the next mayor is kidnaped by aliens.

Eagle Mountain: Utah's (What) Now Frontier.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

How much did that China trip really cost? (And why the coyness?)

This morning's Tribune brought a frustrating headline: Lawmakers want regular paid vacations trade trips". The sub-headline said: "But convincing media, taxpayers that the foreign travel is worth the cost is a hard sell."

Just what was that cost? The Trib and the D-News routinely cite the pre-trip estimate, $36,000, but was that the actual cost? This question remains unanswered from last month's legislative "town meeting." During the online event, Voice of Utah submitted this Q that we thought would be easy to A:

(1) What is the final, actual (vs. estimated/budgeted) cost of the recent trip to China by selected legislators?

(2) Will we Utah taxpayers be expected to reciprocate by contributing toward a visit by Chinese legislators?
We then received a request to re-submit the question with a real name. Um...OK. Conservative blogger Alienated Wannabe got to submit one under his nom de plume, and the other question VoU asked was answered, so we weren't sure why this particular question triggered a "real name" request. We really did want the info, though, so we asked Ed Partridge from Part of the Plan to risk retaliation by submitting it under his name. (Aren't we nice?)

After that hassle, we thought the information would be provided. Nope. It's now been almost a month since the town meeting -- more than two months since the China trip -- and the question remains unanswered. So does our second one. According to a KUTV report, "[Utah] lawmakers say the Chinese government must have spent several hundred thousand dollars hosting them for tours, receptions and dinners." Will Utah taxpayers be expected to do the same if we receive a reciprocal visit?

These questions don't seem that hard. How about an answer? Especially since, from today's article, it sounds like Utah may soon become Boondoggle Central. Please don't make us submit a GRAMA request under Ed's name, too.

Hillary to Utah: This is the place

Once the proverbial red-headed stepchild of the national Democratic party, our pretty, great state is now the place to be for Democratic presidential candidates, who have finally realized that some Utahns not only have a modicum of interest in who the president of our nation is, but also have that thing called "cash."

"Who knew?" said Howard Dean, chair of the Democratic National Committee. "The last data we had on Utah was the 1880 census, which didn't really give us the whole picture."

Our latest coup: The big cheesette herself, Hillary Rodham Clinton, is Beehive bound on October 23.

Advisors said the candidate is excited about her upcoming visit. "I've been intrigued by Utah ever since I heard rumors of its existence last summer," Clinton said. "Now it's like one of those songs you can't get out of your head, you know, like 'Having My Baby.'"

Clinton added, "I promise that, if elected, I will work hard to get a Democratic member of Congress elected in the State of Utah."

Who do we write the check to?

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Naked pix of Trib editors pay off again, and a Taser (non)follow-up

Okay, this has gone from odd to weird. Last January, we wrote:
Naked pictures of Tribune staff. That’s what we assume bookstore owner Ken Sanders has in a safety deposit box somewhere. Sanders’ smiling face was the first thing that popped up when surfing yesterday. It was easy to recognize him because it’s only been two months since his last full-length feature in the Trib. In fact, he's been featured four times since 2005. Four major features on one business owner in two years? If naked pictures aren’t involved, we want the number for his agent.
And what did we see in this morning's Trib? Yet another feature on Sanders, the second so far this year, and the fifth in the past two years. If this guy ain't (1) paying someone off, and/or (2) in possession of certain airport restroom photos, we are mystified as to why he gets so much ink.

Hey, Trib: If you're out of new ideas, we've got one. Since you're re-running the same stuff you did last January anyway, how about a follow up on this one that we also wrote about at the time:

Two days ago, a Zion's Bank branch at 1420 S. 300 West was robbed. A man dressed similarly to the suspect was approached by police, and ended up getting Tasered. Without knowing the Taseree's side of the story, the Tribune simply assumed the police version to be 100% accurate, declaring in its article, "The man did not respond to the officer's orders, was hostile and made verbal threats of physical harm against the police. One of the officers deployed his Taser to subdue the man."
In light of another mistaken-identity Tasering a year earlier involving a mentally disabled man, we expressed concern whether local cops were adequately trained to distinguish between mental disability and hostile resistance. At the time, the Trib chided us because the cops had refused to give them the guy's name by the time they ran the article, so they couldn't get his story. Of course, that didn't excuse their decision to report the cop's version as undisputed fact, but anyway, it's been 8 months now, plenty of time to have GRAMA'd the police report, gotten the victim's name and story, and perhaps evaluated whether local cops need more training in distinguishing mental disability from combativeness. (The Trib did run a story in July about the number of local Taser incidents, but did not address this troubling aspect.) So how about it, guys?

P.S. One thing we do know: The Taseree wasn't Ken Sanders, or the Trib would have been all over it.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

A pie in the face for Utah legislators?

Oh, my heck--it is the perfect fundraising idea! Dr. Laura is going to take a pie in the face for $1,000 at an upcoming benefit for injured Marines. It's perfect--she gets to look like a good sport, some lucky person gets to vent, and it's all for a good cause! Left and right having a bonding moment!

The old pie-in-the-face is, of course, a time-honored tradition, which comports with all the talk about traditional values here in Utah. So how about it, legislators and other elected officials? You might not be worth $1,000 (no offense, but you're no Dr. Laura), but if certain ones agree to take one for the kids at some good, non-partisan fundraiser, we're there. Or how about Rocky? He could raise enough to pay for school vouchers all on his own.