Friday, August 31, 2007

GOP legislators call up the Voucher Militia

In case anyone missed Rolly's column this morning, it's worth a quote. In it, he describes the latest example of state legislative leadership making an innocent, no-pressure request of the citizenry. (Well, of lobbyists, anyway--you know, those people whose clients, coincidentally, want legislative access and support.) Having moved on from parade floats, this time the innocent, no-pressure request was to help defeat the citizens' referendum on vouchers.

"Ask not what your GOP legislator can do for you," Sen. Curt Bramble said in a rousing speech. "Ask what you can do for your GOP legislator." According to Rolly, Sen. Bramble, Rep. Greg Curtis, and other legislators held a harmless little tea party to aid their pro-voucher cause:
About 20 lobbyists were summoned to a meeting Monday by legislative leaders who urged them to roll up their sleeves and help save the voucher law.

The meeting was held at the Utah Board of Realtors office and the lobbyists were put in the position of either committing to the pro-voucher campaign or rejecting a request from the very lawmakers they need to help pass their legislative agendas each year....

Those summoned to the meeting were asked to help defeat the November referendum that would repeal the voucher bill passed earlier this year. Most were lobbyists for business associations representing manufacturers, mining, homebuilders, small businesses, real estate agents, food retailers, trucking, the Chamber of Commerce, utilities and others.

The legislators explained to the captive audience that they were invited because their organizations were part of former Gov. Mike Leavitt's Business/Education Coalition, which issued a report in 2002 recommending various ways to improve education, including tuition tax credits for private schools.

Because their groups had already endorsed the voucher concept, the legislators said, they need to step up and help defeat those who want to repeal the law that provides up to $3,000 toward private school tuition.

They were asked to raise money for the effort and lend the names of their institutions in support of vouchers.

The lobbyists have been summoned to a follow-up breakfast meeting Thursday at the Board of Realtors to report on their fund-raising progress.
See? No pressure at all. Nothing to see here...


Wednesday, August 29, 2007

More fun with Sen. Larry Craig

KSL's Nightside Project was interesting last night. Host Michael Castner talked about the persistent rumors regarding Sen. Larry Craig's sexual orientation that he heard as long back as the 1970s, when he was a young reporter at a small Idaho station. And again in the early 1980s, when Craig's name kept coming up during the Congressional page sex scandal.

Craig is doing a lot of tap dancing--er, explaining what really happened in that men's room. He has a wide stance, that's why his foot ended up under the next guy's stall. (Too much information, Senator.) And, um, he was just tapping his foot thinking about that rockin' Idaho state song.

And as for standing outside the stall and looking through the crack into it, well, maybe he wasn't sure if it was occupied, and couldn't tell from the two shoes on the floor.

Craig is also busy on the "I'm not gay" circuit. That may well be true. But has anyone asked him what his definition of "gay" is? We could have another Clinton "sexual relations" hair split here.

In the meantime, though, thank you, Sen. Craig. Wild thing, you make our hearts sing.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Utah (mostly) missing out on the sex scandals

Have we forgotten some, or do we just not get very many of these juicy political sex scandals in Utah? Now that married senator Larry Craig (R-Idaho) has pled guilty to doing nothing improper at all in an airport men's room, and the Idaho Statesman has found other men who say they've had sexual interaction with or were solicited by Craig, we are once again reminded of how relatively boring Utah is when it comes to this kind of thing.

Colorado gets the Rev. Ted "Let's call it massage" Haggard. Idaho gets Craig. What does Utah get? The closest we can think of in the Anti-Gay-Publicly-But-Likes-'em-Just-Fine-Privately category was state rep Brent Parker (R-Logan), who pled guilty to soliciting sex from a male undercover officer in a Salt Lake parking lot in 2003, and resigned from the legislature. Guess the old "just asking directions" line doesn't work when you drive to a parking lot to meet the guy. ("The light was better to look at his map...")

The biggest Utah political sex scandal that comes to mind was Democratic Congressman Allan Howe, who was busted in the naughty part of town in '76 asking for directions from two undercover policewomen posing as prostitutes. (If only they'd had MapQuest back then!) He refused to bow out of the re-election race, and was unsurprisingly tromped.

And then there was long-time '90s legislator and unsuccessful Congressional candidate Kelly Atkinson (D-West Jordan), who generated all sorts of eye-opening press a few years ago, but it was after he had left office. Ho hum.

What are we missing? Wait, how could we forget? In 1906, Senator Arthur Brown (R-Utah) was shot and killed by a jealous mistress, who was later acquitted on grounds of "temporary insanity". This one actually made #4 on a recent list of America's Top 10 Sex Scandals. Yea! We're No. 4!

Saturday, August 25, 2007

FloatGate: Raining on the GOP's parade

Wow, you go out of town on business for a week, and are rewarded on your return with a fun little GOP 'scandal' with pretty colors. True, you can't tell from the media reports what really happened in FloatGate, and the chance of an actual ethics inquiry is about the same as Hillary Clinton keynoting the state GOP Convention. But it's something different at least. As we understand it:

The Republicans wanted their own parade float, but didn't want to and/or couldn't build it themselves. Someone decided to call MATC, the Mountainland Applied Technology College, and ask if its students might do the work. In itself, that does not seem improper. We assume that a private person could ask the same thing, if he was willing to pay for it. Unfortunately, the call was made by senate majority leader Curt Bramble, who says he merely inquired, without exerting any political pressure. Come on. When a publicly funded institution gets a call from a highly placed legislator, that is inherent pressure. If it wasn't political, why would Bramble have dialed the number personally? Why wouldn't some low-level person in the party have called? The concept itself might not have been inappropriate, but the execution was.

Until a MATC employee (who will probably be legislated out of a job soon) blew the whistle, someone had also decided that the GOP wouldn't have to pay for this float. Utah County legislator Becky Lockhart, wife of GOP chair Stan Lockhart, says it wasn't her. She says she offered a check both before and after the project. One school of thought believes that it's true, that such high-profile party officials would not be dumb or arrogant to blatantly violate the law by having a public institution do a partisan project for free. Proponents of that theory figure that campus president Clay Christensen simply bent over a little too far backwards in sucking up to The Powers That Be.

The other school of thought is that GOP party officials might not be that dumb, but they are that arrogant. Republican legislators in this state have de facto immunity from ethics inquiries, and they are at no risk of losing re-election, so heck yeah, they push the envelope.

Which version is correct? We don't know. All we know is that there are an unlimited number of jokes that can be made about this, for now and all eternity. Between China junkets and Float fodder, the Utah Legislature is a local blogger's dream.


P.S. The above photos are of the actual infamous float.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

When Parents for Choice in Education calls...

So Parents for Choice in Education has started "push" polling Utahns, basically telling them through survey questions that a vote against vouchers = a vote for gay marriage. (Can't wait to see that voter's guide!) What's the beef? They're just following the old adage, "If you can't dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with push polls."


To those who don't see the connection between school vouchers and gay marriage: So what? When taxpayer money the education of impressionable youth is at stake, it's no holds barred! PCE, you make life interesting.


P.S. Please put us on your Do-Not-Call list. Thank you.

2 questions about the salon killing in Glendale

The murder of Faviola Hernandez at her salon last week was tragic, one more blow in a hard week for Utahns. But as we follow media reports of it, two things have us wondering:

1. Did Hernandez pull a gun? And if so, did it have any effect on the outcome? Here's what the Trib has said in two different stories:
Faviola, 24, fell to the floor. Laura said she saw "blood everywhere" and her sister's gun by her side.
* * *
The man shot Hernandez with a silver handgun, killing her, and ran without taking money, police said. Witnesses said Hernandez was also armed but apparently did not shoot, although [police spokesperson] Bedard declined to confirm that.
There is no excuse for the attempted robbery or the killing, but police need to confirm whether Hernandez drew a weapon, and whether she aimed or fired it at the robbers. The police (and, of course, the gun nuts) like to point out when a citizen pulling a gun has a happy ending. If the drawing of a gun here led the robber to open fire, we need to hear that side of the story as well.

2. Do KSL copywriters need glasses? Here's what KSL said yesterday:

Police released the name of the second man they are looking for, and right now, he's just wanted for questioning. He is 19-year-old Miguel Mateos-Martinez. He resembles the suspect in a composite sketch, which police released yesterday.
He what? Here are the composite sketch and the suspect:

Not to make light of the situation, but as some KSL.commenters noted, the composite looks more like Curly from the Three Stooges or an Irish cop than the actual suspect. Of course, we don't really think KSL copywriters have impaired vision. Like other media, KSL has a tendency to simply parrot police statements as undisputed fact, even when they are iffy on their face. Come on, guys. How hard would it be for you to add "According to police," or "Police say that" before the "he resembles the suspect in a composite sketch" part?

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Legislators cheat death in Davis County!

We all know that Davis County is a crime-infested cesspool. No sane person will cross that border with a 10-foot pole--or without a full clip. I still get chills when I--

Deep breaths. You can do this.

--when I think back on the afternoon when, disoriented from hours of house hunting, I suddenly realized that I had crossed into Davis County--without a gun! I was paralyzed with fear! I couldn't floor it because I was low on gas, but I couldn't stop at the Tesoro because I had no gun! With trembling fingers, I dialed 911, which sent four SWAT units to escort me to my bunker.

Needless to say, I can relate to the sheer terror experienced yesterday by four Utah legislators who, like those mine rescue workers in Huntington, set aside concerns for their own safety and agreed to tour the Chevron plant in Davis County without a single gun.

According to the Trib article, even knowing that their portable safety devices would not be allowed at the facility, Rep. Curt Oda (R-Clearfield), Sen. Mark Madsen (R-Lehi), Rep. Carl Wimmer (R-Herriman), and Sen. Howard Stephenson (R-Draper) still agreed to go on the tour, after stopping their bus, getting off, and solemnly handing their manhoods hardware over to an NRA rep. We are so impressed.


"I've never been so scared in my life," Wimmer said. "I peed my pants."

Saturday, August 11, 2007

A fond memory of President Faust

In the two days since his death, much has been written about President Faust, second counselor in the First Presidency. We thought we would add our own small contribution. VoU2 was fortunate enough to meet President Faust on a few occasions, and was always impressed by his kindness. He was truly a nice guy. The most vivid memory, though, involved his humorous side:

At a function with the First Presidency several years ago in the Church Administration Building, the guests included Olympic gold medalist Rulon Gardner. As President Faust stood near the wrestler, he suddenly got a mischievous look on his face . . .


Next thing we knew, President Faust had Gardner in a wrestling hold.


Everyone except the French judge called it a draw...

He'll be missed.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Utah's legislative lookalikes

Jack 103.1 (aka The Used-To-Be-Cool-And-Now-All-'80s Station) has been touting a "Celebrity Lookalike" contest, aimed at listeners who think they resemble real-life celebrities. We'll see. What we're really looking forward to, though, is next month's contest: "Legislator-Celebrity Lookalike" contest. Legislators who have already turned in their entries include:

Rep. James Dunnigan (R-Taylorsville) and . . .



Rep. Ben Ferry (R-Corinne) and . . .



Sen. Chris Buttars (R-West Jordan) and . . .



Sen. Margaret Dayton (R-Mars) and . . .



Eerie, ain't it?

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Huntington mine owner Bob Murray: a uniter, not a divider

Gotta give credit to Crandall Canyon Mine owner Bob Murray. In a crisis, when one's true colors shine through, he has accomplished what President Bush never could: he has brought us all together. I mean, is there anyone in Utah who doesn't think he is a lousy excuse for a human being (or reasonable facsimile thereof)?

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

'Happy Valley' documentary on Utah County drug use - Wow

I met a man this evening who jumped from the sky last night and was reborn, like aliens. I couldn’t understand it, he said, unless I understood mathematics. Nor could I understand why Trax rails don’t work, because metal and concrete are like fire and water, and they will get up and walk away. My brother says I'm jumping to conclusions, but I suspect this guy was on something.

What made the encounter noteworthy – other than his declaration, “You look like a politician” – was that I was waiting for the Trax near the downtown library, where I had just attended a screening of “Happy Valley," a documentary about addiction.

I wasn’t sure what I had expected. Something preachy maybe. Something dry. Something amateurish (it is filmmaker Ron Williams’ first documentary). Instead, it is hard to describe how affected I was by this film. It has humor – including a laugh-out-loud opening scene in which "Danny" describes his initiation into prescription fraud – and stunning twists and, near the end, one of the most creative mechanisms of expressing inner thoughts that I’ve ever seen.

This movie does not judge the Utah County kids who died or their parents. As Det. Doug Lambert said before it started, it is about “good people making bad choices” – some horrific. The film also theorizes why Utah is #1 in anti-depressant prescriptions, #1 in prescription drug abuse, and #1 in suicide in every single age category.

The movie is not anti-Church, although if you can’t allow yourself to laugh at an addict pretending to buy drugs from “Sister Anderson,” or you don’t want to hear why LDS teens think that getting high on painkillers isn’t against the Word of Wisdom, you might be uncomfortable at times. Many of the parents and addicts interviewed are active LDS.

Unlike most documentaries, there are actually spoilers for this one, so I can't go into detail about individual stories. I can't even say which of the people whose lives were shattered were at today's screening. I’ll just say this: “Happy Valley”—Don’t miss it, and bring Kleenex.

P.S. Some images can't be improved upon. The Happy Valley ad speaks for itself:

Matheson: You say 'maverick,' we say 'embarrassment'

This morning's Trib labels Jim Matheson (DR-Utah) a 'maverick' for, among other things, voting to authorize warrantless electronic surveillance of Americans and resisting reform of our national energy policy.

"I think people have figured out a long time ago that I vote on substance, not party," Matheson said Monday.

"I think people have figured out a long time ago that he votes on what will get him re-elected, not on substance," Voice of Utah said Tuesday.

Well, that's only partly true. He has always sided with big business on energy matters. It's just a bonus that he gets to tout that he voted with the GOP on it (That's WITH THE REPUBLICANS! NOT WITH NANCY PELOSI! Wayne County, are you listening?)

Monday, August 06, 2007

For once, Utah's law is not unconstitutional (same-sex adoptions from other states)

In many states (but not Utah, of course), same-sex couples can legally adopt children. As in Utah, adoptive parents receive a judgment or decree, which they can use to request amended birth certificates for the child. Feeling superior to its sister states, Oklahoma passed a law that refused to recognize "an adoption by more than one individual of the same sex from any other state or foreign jurisdiction." Gay adoptive parents? Not only are you going to hell, but your child can't have an amended birth certificate either. So there.

On Friday, the Tenth Circuit (the federal appeals court that covers Utah and other states) invalidated Oklahoma's statute, holding it unconstitutional under the Full Faith and Credit clause of the Constitution. Article 4, Section 1 of that divinely inspired document provides: "Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State." For a century or two, the Supreme Court has held that (duh) this clause requires individual states to (duh) recognize lawfully entered judgments from other states. That means you, Okiehomie.

After reading the opinion, we figured that Utah had some similar anti-gay statute that prevented the issuance of amended birth certificates to same-sex adoptive parents in other states. Lo and behold, we were wrong. Utah's statute says:

26-2-10. Supplementary certificate of birth.
(1) Any person born in this state who is legitimized by the subsequent marriage of his natural parents, or whose parentage has been determined by any U.S. state court or Canadian provincial court having jurisdiction, or who has been legally adopted under the law of this or any other state or any province of Canada, may request the state registrar to register a supplementary certificate of birth on the basis of that status.
So, Utah law already recognizes adoption decrees lawfully entered in other states. Wow. What are we going to do with all that money we usually spend defending our unconstitutional statutes? Lobby other states to loosen their marriage laws, maybe. After all, a lot of states don't allow first cousins to marry as Utah does (if they're over 55 and can't reproduce), and don't recognize marriages that would be illegal in their own state. So your granny may be allowed to marry Uncle Tim in Utah, but in other states she's just a big ol' slut.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

The strange legacy of the Enola Gay hangar in Wendover, Utah

This morning's Trib had a nice feature on Wendover, Utah. A couple of lines from the article struck a memory:

WENDOVER - The first atomic bomb. The world land-speed record. Wendover Will.
. . .
Toward war's end, Col. Paul Tibbets and the crew of the Enola Gay trained in Wendover to drop the first atomic bombs - dubbed Little Boy and Fat Man - on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Along with Smith, Tibbets is an icon in Wendover.
The crew didn't just train in Wendover. The Enola Gay mission actually launched from Wendover. On June 14, 1945, the newly manufactured B-29 was ferried from Nebraska to the army base there. On June 27, 1945, it took off from Wendover for the South Pacific. After stops at Guam and the Marianas Islands, the aircraft carried out its historic mission on August 6 and 9, 1945, dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Japan surrendered a month later.

The memory? Driving around on a quest for Mildred's, a restaurant on the Utah side that makes its own veggie burgers, noticing a historic marker, stopping to read it, and exclaiming, "THE Enola Gay?" The most important military mission in U. S. history was launched from Utah?

One reason it was hard to believe: This is what the hangar that housed the Enola Gay looks like now.


Granted, the Enola Gay's mission remains controversial. Co-pilot Robert Lewis himself wrote, "My God, what have we done?" Nonetheless, this mission has enormous military and historical significance. The hangar from which it was launched shouldn't look as though it has been condemned. To Utah legislators, we say: Next time you have an extra, say, $36,000 or so to spend, how about shifting some of it toward the long-envisioned restoration project out at Wendover. In the meantime, the project accepts donations via PayPal to the e-mail address support(at)wendoverairbase.com.

Friday, August 03, 2007

LDS Family Services and biological fathers

Today's Trib mentioned that LDS Family Services wants a paternity test and proof of payment of pregnancy expenses by a man who won a Utah Supreme Court case against it a few months ago. In May, the court ruled that Nikolas Thurnwald was entitled to challenge the adoption of his child. From the court's opinion, it was hard not to worry that LDS had done a disservice to this baby and the prospective adoptive parents. The result? A 3-year-old child may be removed from the only home that he has ever known, and placed with a veritable stranger. The nub:

Under Utah law, a biological father must file a paternity suit and register with the state before the birth mother relinquishes custody of the baby. The mother cannot relinquish until 24 hours after giving birth. Thus, by statute, biological mothers and fathers are both supposed to have some period of time following the birth of a child to assert or waive their parental rights.

Nikolas Thurnwald learned on the Saturday before Labor Day 2004 that his girlfriend was giving birth prematurely. LDS Family Services took the mother's relinquishment 24 hours later. Because government offices were closed, Thurnwald was not able to file his paternity suit and notice until Tuesday, the next business day. The Supreme Court held that the filings were timely.

Unlike cases in which a biological father shows up long after a baby has been placed, LDS and the adoptive parents knew from the get go that Thurnwald was seeking custody. Rather than accept that hard fact and avoid a risk of traumatizing the child years later, they decided to fight. We can understand the emotion. One of us has a friend who recently adopted. The couple dreaded the possibility that the mother would change her mind following the birth, but they were prepared for it. The same would have been true had the father intervened.

One can argue that Thurnwald should have filed earlier, even if his girlfriend assured him that she was keeping the baby. That may well be true, although the court suggested one potential benefit of waiting:

[T]he Legislature may have intended under the adoption statutes for the unwed father to reach a certain maturity in the decision-making process regarding the care of the child after birth before filing a paternity action. Therefore, the unwed father also has an incentive to wait until he is ready to finally decide what is best for the child before taking the actions required by the adoption statutes.
But whether Thurnwald should have acted sooner is not really the point. The law is the law and, frankly, the court's ruling seemed pretty Duh to us. As the court pointed out, LDS could not cite a single case holding that a biological father's rights could be cut off before the birth of a child.

In this case, we hope that the paternity test comes back negative, or he can't show that he provided support during the pregnancy. Otherwise, this 3-year-old football will be taken, screaming and afraid, from his home and handed over to a stranger. If that happens, whose fault will it be?

Obama's mysterious visit

Okay, maybe it's not all that mysterious, but it sure seems like it to an acquaintance trying to figure out when and where to fork over the admission fee. Have money, will donate. Unlike Edwards' visit, where news stories told how to hand over the cash, the items on Obama have been as discreet as a Provo ankle-showing party. An e-mail to the address specified in an earlier news story generated an eerie silence.

Never have so many worked so hard to donate to so few. Give it up, I suggested. You'll need the money when Utah's economy skyrockets from that legislative trip to China.

Obama, we hardly saw ye.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Boneheads like us who still don't get the China trip

Following the golden rule -- if it makes you laugh out loud, it's blogworthy -- an article in this morning's D-News proved irresistible. The headline? "Lawmakers, others say critics of China trip are 'boneheads'". The text, with our notes, follows:

Critical of a recent trip to China by some Utah lawmakers? Those who felt the need to write letters to newspaper editors about it were described as "boneheads" on Tuesday. During a meeting of the Legislature's Utah International Trade Commission, the group's co-chairman, Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Lehi, acknowledged that he did not read newspapers, "so I don't know what they're saying. ... It sounds like they're pretty bonehead-type stuff."
One can only imagine the chutzpah it takes for a man who says he doesn't read newspapers to call someone else a bonehead.

Madsen and other commission members were talking about criticism of the eight-day, relationship-building trip taken by 13 legislators and two staffers — a venture costing $36,000.
$36,000 of taxpayer money, just to be clear. The term "relationship-building" is a good one, though. "Honey, I'll be down at Squatters building relationships. Don't wait up."

Lew Cramer, chief executive officer of the World Trade Center Utah, said he would be happy to discuss the trip's value with lawmakers' constituents. "Some of the letters to the editor, I thought, you, writing and complaining about this trip, you ought to send back your high school diploma because you didn't earn it," Cramer told the commission. "Whatever you learned in civics, you didn't deserve to keep it, because these letters are so basically naive about the kind of world that we live in today."
I don't know if "naive" is the right word. They did, after all, call b.s. on this little field trip.

Memo to Accounting Department: I do not understand the delay in reimbursement of my Squatters expenses. I would think that anyone who actually earned a high school diploma would understand the concept of 'relationship-building'.

Rep. Kerry Gibson, R-Ogden, said he has "a hard time responding to some of the questions and some of the criticisms, especially because it's so difficult to put a dollar value on an experience like this."
A hard time responding, huh? Gosh, what could be the reason for that? What could it be...?

2nd Memo to Accounting Department: I am having a hard time responding to some of your questions and criticisms about my business development efforts at Squatters. Do you know how difficult it is to put a dollar value on an experience like that? I want my $435.

"I think as we discuss this it becomes easier to do that, at least to justify. But to those who want to be critical and, for whatever reason, won't look at the larger picture, how do we help them understand the monetary return?" Gibson asked.
3rd Memo to Accounting Department: Obviously, someone down there in the black hole that is Accounting is unable to see the larger picture here. I can guarantee you that everyone who was in Squatters that evening now knows me. I'm sorry if you cannot understand the monetary return of such interaction with other cultures.
Cramer said the money spent on the trip was "the best money we spent this year in the state."
And that is the scariest statement made this year in the state.

He later said Utah has many elements in place to be at the forefront in fostering international trade. "We should lead the world in this. There's just no reason why we shouldn't, boneheads aside," Cramer said.
Heck, yeah. When one thinks of major players in fostering international trade, who doesn't think of Utah? When President Bush denied Chinese president Hu Jintao the honor of a formal state dinner last year, hurt feelings were no doubt assuaged by the promise of a visit soon by Utah state legislators. It's exciting that our legislators are jumping on this China thing before the rest of the U.S. figures out that it has, like, a really big economy.

"But we'll work with them. I'm inclined to call some of them up and have a little one-on-one chat and explain to them how this world is working."
E-mail will suffice: VoiceOfUtah@yahoo.com

Cramer insisted it would be helpful to have some legislators on an upcoming trade mission to India.
AAAAARRRRGHHHH! The Junketeers strike again!


He took offense to a description of the China trip as a "junket"--
Oops.

--and noted that forging international relationships takes time, usually with tangible results being difficult to quantify.
4th Memo to Accounting Department: It is becoming increasingly obvious that only I have the vision that is needed to forge relationships between this company and the wide range of potential customers that frequent Squatters. True, I did not return with any contracts or the name and address of likely clients; what's your point? You say "no tangible results," I say tomato. I guess the only way to bore a hole through that bone head of yours is to pull out the big guns. Holier-than-thou accounting department, prepare for a little one-on-one chat with Lew Cramer, chief executive officer of the World Trade Center Utah...