Wednesday, February 9, 2011

On state firearms, feral animals, and "degrees to nowhere."

It's been awhile since i've posted here, but alas, the 2011 legislative session has begun and it was only a matter of time before our state legislative body proposed or did something that merited response. As usual, it didn't take long before some rather bufoonish legislation had garnered national attention for Utah. Rep. Wimmer pushing for a state firearm just weeks after the tragedy in Tucson showed a distinct lack of class or good taste. And Rep. Oda has followed suit by sponsoring HB 210 that would give Utahns the much needed ability to shoot any animal that we have a "reasonable belief" is feral. Great, if all goes well and these bills proceed through the legislative body i'll be able to acquire a Browning 1911 Offical State Handgun and lay waste to all the damn feral cats that come and defecate under my porch. Pet owners beware! Make sure to mark your pets well lest they be mowed down by a 2nd-amendment-celebrating neighbor who "mistakes" them for feral animals.

But it wasn't either of these bills that really spurred me out of my political correspondence hiatus. As tasteless as i consider Wimmer's bill, it was something far more specious that has prompted me to write. Recently a couple of state senators have begun to criticize liberal arts degrees as "degrees to nowhere" and have even advocated cutting english, philosophy, and other degrees that, in their opinion, don't contribute to a growing economy. Last week in a presentation to the Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee, Sen. Howard Stephenson argued that the state is wasting billions of dollars on "degrees to nowhere" that do not prepare graduates to enter the workforce. Instead of funding degrees such as sociology, psychology, and philosophy, Stephenson argued we should be putting our money towards job training programs and "STEM" (science, technology, engineering, and math) programs. Although Stephenson said he supported the liberal arts and wanted students to be able to pursue a liberal arts education if they so desired, he consistently insisted that departments were "tricking" (his exact word) students into signing up for majors that would leave them unemployed after graduation. He suggested that higher ed is to blame for economic problems because of a misalignment between college degree programs and job vacancies (there are a lot of unemployed folks right now who i'm sure are really interested to know just where these job vacancies are). His solution: an "Economic Value Assessment" performed by IBM and set up as a web portal through which students can be tracked from an early age into an appropriate area of study. Other legislators and university officials, as reported by the Desnews and SLTrib, were quick to point out that the data does not support Stephenson's assertions.
Sen. Stuart Reid also called for a cut in liberal arts programs, suggesting that if the University of Utah was so cash-strapped in its STEM programs that it had to offer saturday chem labs, it should cut liberal arts programs in order to more adequately fund the STEM programs. In responding to President Young's comments to the committee Senator Reid argued that the U shouldn't be all things to all people and should drop liberal art programs so that resources can be allocated to STEM degrees. Reid went on to suggest to Pres. Young that the U is competing with itself by offering programs (i.e. the liberal arts) that won't get it to it's goals of national prominence in economic development.

Plenty has already been written and said about how a liberal arts degree actually prepares students for the work place. Plenty of information is readily available about how four-year college degree holders have much lower unemployment rates and much higher earning rates. But these responses only further validate the real problem here and why this particular avenue of thought about the purpose of education is so dangerous. Responding to critics of the liberal arts by suggesting that the liberal arts adequately prepares, and is some cases better prepares students for the workplace only perpetuates the notion that the primary purpose of an education is job training. And underlying this assumption is the notion that educational merit, and even more disturbing, the merit of a person, can only be measured in terms of economic value. The value of your education, and by extension you, is only as good as the amount of money you can generate for the economy after graduation. Of course this falls right in line with how we measure progress in most developed countries: the GDP. And although the GDP is a useful measure for overall economic growth, this economic growth does not necessarily correlate with happiness, satisfaction, strong families, and most certainly not with sustainability. To give an oft-cited example, a mother who pays to leave her child at a daycare then drives her car to a separate daycare where she works until she drives back to the first day care to pick up her child contributes far more to the GDP ( in terms of paying for her child's care, driving her car, and then taking an income for her work at a separate daycare) than the stay-at-home mother who spends her day with her child. Good for the GDP, not necessarily good for the child or family. Yet these are exactly the kind of means by which these legislators want to measure the value of our education; inasmuch as it can increase our overall economic development.
Sen. Stephenson emphasized that he supported the liberal arts, yet he wants to use an "Economic Value Assessment" to track students into the STEM programs so that they will be more employable after graduation. We, as students, teachers, educators, our being reduced to our "economic value." In such a system we are not valued for our creativity, passions, beauty, stories, differences, experiences, or any of the other things that make building relationships and human interactions so exciting and fulfilling. We are valued solely for what we can contribute to the GDP. This model is appalling and contrary to the human spirit. It is contradictory to the concept of democracy, though it certainly meets the needs of capitalism, but be assured the two are not necessarily synonymous. How does such a system help prepare us for participation in civic society? How does such a system prepare us to live and work and play in a pluralistic society? Because despite the best attempts of the xenophobes, we are becoming increasingly and increasingly pluralistic. How does such a system prepare us for the moral and ethical questions that accompany developments in sciences and technology? And most importantly how does it prepare us to live rich lives full of learning and engagement? Let me be clear, i do not believe that learning only happens in the university and a university degree is a requisite for a full life, but life-long learning and challenging oneself are critical to an engaged and rich life, and these should be the trademarks and foundation of a good liberal arts education.
Senators Stephenson and Reid walk dangerous ground when they reduce the value of education to it's ability to train workers for the labor force. Likewise those who defend the liberal arts by citing their economic value in the workplace compromise and disparage the true value of an education. Remember the adage, those who forget their history are bound to repeat it. We're far more likely to forget our history if our history programs are cut in favor of more profitable disciplines determined by the market. There is value to a liberal arts education that cannot be quantified in economic terms, and we're in big trouble if we fail to recognize that.

Friday, February 26, 2010

No need to look far to find racism in Utah

Representative Curtis Oda (R- Clearfield) surprised a lot of people a couple of weeks ago when he sprung a proposed constitutional amendment to end "preferential treatment" based on "race, sex, color, religion, ethnicity, or national origin," on Democrats at a House standing committee meeting. The text of his resolution had barely been released the day before without much notice to anyone outside of his party. After the resolution passed out of the House committee meeting on a party line vote, Oda arranged to have it heard on the House floor the next business day on the time certain calendar.
Seem pretty quick for a constitutional amendment? It was. And fortunately even a lot of Republicans thought so as well and Oda had to circle the resolution when the time for debate came on the House floor because he didn't have the votes. But now Oda is trying to resurrect the resolution that the SL Tribune described as "plodding through the process" and the Desnews described as "sinking fast."

Most Republicans who oppose the bill oppose it on the ground that the state constitution is a serious, even sacred, document, and any proposed changes to it should be thoroughly vetted and potential consequences closely examined. Oda has been criticized, by both Dems and Republicans alike, for failing to do any of the above. In fact, the resolution was passed out of committee before Oda had even passed it by the Constitional Review Commission. But beyond the protests about Oda's attempt to slip a potential constitutional amendment through the process so quickly, this is a lousy bill, and you don't need to look any further than the Utah State Legislature to understand why.

House Joint Resolution 24: Equal Treatment by Governmen
t, at first glance, may seem like a good resolution. I mean, it calls for a public vote during the next general election to amend the state constitution to "prohibit the State, public institutions of higher education, and political subdivisions from discriminating against or granting preferential treatment to any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, religion, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting." Since Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. marched on Washington and gave the "I have a Dream Speech," President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, and more recently Barack Obama was elected President of the U.S. we've all been taught that racism and discrimination in the U.S. have ended. We're taught that we don't need affirmative action anymore because we all have equal opportunities. If you work hard enough, you can get what you want, we're told. Along these lines, Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, told the DesNews that this resolution marks the culmination of the civil rights movement. "This is where we want to go," he said. "This proves that the civil rights movement worked" (circular arguments don't get anymore blatant than that; thanks Rep. Hutchings for a textbook example of a fallacy of argument i can use in my writing classes).

But this is hardly the case, and as i said, we need look no further than our own state legislature for the proof. Let's start with Senator Chris Buttars. I hardly need to recount his racist comments and attitudes, they quite regularly make national headlines. Most famously, in 2008 he compared a bill he didn't like to a "Black baby, . . . a dark ugly thing," then didn't get what all the fuss was about and went on to say that he was being harrassed by a lynch mob, after which he claimed ignorance about the racial history of the term "lynch mob.": “Lynch mob is a Western term. You wouldn't find one person in 10,000 in Utah that thinks that's a racist term," he protested.
Buttars may be the poster child for good 'ol boy racists, but he's not the only one, just the only one who can't censor his mouth enough to keep out of national news. Rep. Carl Wimmer's the kind of guy who refers to immigrants as "those people," and my own Representative, Todd Kiser, told me at one point that he would vote to repeal in-state tuition for undocumented students because he didn't want to invite a "south-of-the-border" mentality to Utah. In another instance, a colleague of mine was a bit taken back when after an interview, another representative asked him if he was Hispanic. My colleague replied "no, I'm Chicano," to which the representative replied, "oh, is that like a wetback?" and then left the room.

Racism, and by extension, discrimination still exist in the U.S. For an ugly, and very recent example, look at what is happening on the UC San Diego Campus. But Rep. Oda, and may of his colleagues in the state legislature such as bill co-sponsors Rep. Carl Wimmer and Sen. Margaret Dayton, would have us believe that in actuality, it's white people who are being discriminated against when "preferential treatment" is given to others based on racial or ethnic categories. As reported in the Deseret News and the SLTrib, Oda and Dayton are both convinced that quotas are being used in Utah higher education, though not one of them can supply any specific examples. Oda has consistently provided only ambiguous statements like "I think we all know people who have dealt with this" though he couldn't name names, and "I've given them [opponents to the resolution] all plenty of data about this problem, but they just don't want to recognize it," (as reported by the Desnews).
I had the opportunity to talk to Rep. Oda today, and despite having the financial resources of Ward Connerly behind him and another whole week to prepare, he still coudn't do much better in terms of providing specific examples of reverse discrimination or "preferential treatment" of ethnic or racial groups in college admissions or job hiring. "My people have the data," he kept telling the group of students and I who had approached him outside the House of Representatives, and then he would look around for "his people," but they were nowhere to be found, and neither is his data. "I have a friend, and his son was denied admittance to the medical school because of this, and those friends, they have another friend, and he was too," he told us.
Now i'm academically trained as a folklorist, among other things, and we have a little acronym for this: the FOAF or "freind-of-a-friend." We've all heard plenty of stories that happened to a friend-of-a-friend. In fact, my friend's friend was in Vegas and took a drink from an attractive woman he met at a bar, and next thing he knew he woke up in a bath tub full of ice with one less kidney. "Look at the audit of the UofU medical school for 2003," he finally told us after failing to find "his people." One of the students quickly pointed out that was seven years ago.
But beyond the fact that Oda can't provide a single specific example of preferential hiring or admissions, there's a bigger problem here regarding quotas, and it is illustrative of the overall problem with the way whites (and those who benefit from privilege) understand affirmative action and race in the U.S. today. Quotas as a tool for increasing racial diversity have been unconstitutional in the United States for over 30 years since the Regents of the University of California v. Bakke Supreme Court decision in 1978. Yet many whites, at much higher rates than other racial groups, still believe that quotas exist and are used to deny them opportunities.
Recently I did a small, but informative survey of high school and college students from diverse racial and socio-economic backgrounds. Of the whites surveyed, 80% believed that affirmative action and reverse discrimination are prevalent and 89% believed that quotas are frequently used in hiring, admissions, and scholarship decisions, although only 38% had personally experienced or knew someone who had experienced reverse discrimination.
That almost 90% of whites surveyed believe that quotas are still used in hiring, admissions, and scholarship decision when quotas have been unconstitutional for more than 30 years is incredible. Whites frequently don't recognize the preferential treatment they get because of their own skin color, but they have no problem seeing a perceived advantage given to other racial or ethnic groups even when it doesn't really exist and hasn't existed for 30+ years. But it is under this rallying cry of reverse discrimination that Oda, and his co-sponsors, Carl Wimmer and Margaret Dayton are pushing forward with this resolution. In so doing, they are exploiting an unfounded "myth" as Rep. David Litvack called it, and as Litvack pointed out in the DesNews, "We are asking voters to amend the constitution based on falsehoods."

On paper HJR24 is a fair resolution. In reality, and understood within the framework of the social and historical context in which it is situated, it is not about equality, it is about further propping up a false notion of meritocracy that does not and has not ever existed in the U.S. (or anywhere else for that matter).

The tagline of the American Civil Rights Coalition, the national organization founded by Ward Connerly who is driving this movement in Utah and the nation, is "race has no place in American Life or Law." Again, understood within the historical context of race and the law in the U.S. this is an ignorant and uninformed affirmation. Race always has had a place in American law, usually in ways that privilege whites and discriminate against just about every minority group. Our legal history is so full of laws that promoted the the explicit discrimination and oppression of racial minority groups to the benefit of whites that i cannot even begin to do it justice here. Even though many of these laws have changed in the last 40 years, their legacy persists. We can hardly expect that 500 years of racial oppression and legally-mandated discrimination, disenfrachisement, and exclusion can be undone in less 40 years.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Gravy trains and "cow taxes"

Much has been made by Rep. Gibson and the Farm Bureau in recent debates of HJR 12 (Climate Change Joint Resolution) about conspiracies, gravy trains, misrepresented data, and the alleged "cow tax." During the House floor debate Rep. Gibson argued that a proposed "cow tax," targeted at belching or "foofing" (as my nieces say) cows would result in loses, estimated by the National Farm Bureau at "67.7 million dollars [for beef cattle], $87.50 per head on the dairy side. $175 per head/per year on an animal that might emit CO2." Gibson went on to ask, "Now can you imagine what that endangerment finding [of CO2] might do to American agriculture and in turn to our ability to put food and fiber on the table and our ability as consumers to afford it and eat it?"

During the Senate Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Committee meeting last friday, Sterling Brown of the Utah Farm Bureau, cited similar numbers. The "EPA's cow tax cost to Utah farm and ranch families, if in fact the proposal goes through," he argued, would result in the following costs: "beef cattle at $87.50/head times the number of head in Utah would equal just over $67 million. Dairy at $175/head, almost $15 million for a grand total of $103 million dollars resulting to Utah's producers."** He then estimated the total net farm income in Utah at $196 million. Then as Sterling Brown does the math, "$196 million minus $104 million, which is the EPA cow tax, resulting in $92 million. EPA's quote 'cow tax' takes over half of the net farm income here in Utah."

Scary right? Devastating even. I agree with Gibson and Brown. Family farms and ranches could certainly not bear the burden of a "cow tax" and would be forced out of business. My brother is a cowboy, an honest-to-God, ride-his-horse-every-day-fixing-fence-and-caring-for-cattle cowboy. I know some of the struggles of good, hard-working families involved in agricultural and ranching, and with Gibson and Brown, I oppose any type of "cow tax" on family farms and ranches.

But this is a non-issue, because the EPA is not proposing a "cow tax." The EPA has consistently and repeatedly asserted that they are not pursuing, nor do they have the authority to enforce, a "cow tax." You can read their statement at In fact, as was reported in Scientific America, last fall the federal House and Senate appropriations committees amended appropriations for the EPA that specifically forbids them from requiring agricultural operations to acquire Clean Air Act operating permits for the biological emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, and other green house gases.

So this begs the question, why is the Farm Bureau making such a big deal about the "cow tax?" Well remember the alleged gravy trains Gibson made reference to in the original language of HJR12? Seems the biggest gravy train here may have the Farm Bureau in the conductor's seat. If you listen closely to both Gibson and Brown's testimony you'll notice that they both hedge a little and use qualifiers when they reference the "cow tax." But that doesn't stop either of them from rolling out the made up figures about how much this would cost the state in terms of lost agricultural revenues or talking about it as if it's inevitable. As observed, "This one is a case study in how lobbyists sometimes justify their own salaries by loudly fighting against hypothetical but nonexistent threats from Washington." Check for a fuller story on how the Farm Bureau created hype about a tax that never was.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Conspiracy in the House (literally)

Last week the Utah House of Representatives passed HJR12:CLIMATE CHANGE JOINT RESOLUTION sponsored by Rep. Gibson (R-Ogden) on a more-or-less party line vote. The House did make a couple small amendments to the resolution before passing it, however. Most notably, they deleted the line "conspiracy," along with some other language originally in the bill about the "tricks" related to global temperature data and a reference to the "climate change 'gravy train.'" Evidently, according to the writers of the bill, climate change data is based on a giant conspiracy of tricky scientists motivated only by the financial gains that can be made by jumping on the "climate change gravy train." Evidently the amendments were the attempt of GOP representatives to reclaim some small sense of credibility after they passed the original bill out of standing committee with language about conspiracy and "tricks" in place. Even with the amendments, however, the resolution is so thoroughly problematic and based on such questionable data, it's passage is an embarrassment to the state. Enough has been written by others questioning the premises of the resolution that i won't focus on that here, rather i'll point you to a couple of other sources, including a letter written by a group of BYU professors challenging the data presented in the resolution. (Check the bottom of the post for a few other stories about the resolution).

Instead i'd like to focus on the alleged "conspiracy," because conspiracy theory is far more entertaining; though not so entertaining when it has the potential to enter official public policy. In fact, it is getting downright frightening that a man as ignorant as Mike Noel has a position of power in this state, and i don't use the word ignorant lightly. This is the guy, after all, who made an amendment to a resolution sponsored by a group of school kids to encourage people not to idle their cars, to remove the words carbon dioxide, because according to Noel, Carbon Dioxide is found in soda pop, and therefore can't be dangerous to our climate. I wonder if he's confident enough in his science to wrap his lips around the exhaust pipe of any fossil fuel-driven vehicle, since he seems to think the emissions don't do any real damage and certainly don't contribute to climate change.

But i digress, back to the conspiracy theory alleged by Gibson in the original resolution and defended by Noel in the standing committee hearing. The orginal resolution mentions "conspiracy" in two places. Lines 13-18 state:

This resolution: urges the United States Environmental Protection Agency to immediately halt its carbon dioxide reduction policies and programs and withdraw its "Endangerment Finding" and related regulations until a full and independent investigation of the climate data conspiracy and global warming science can be substantiated.

Further on, lines 67-71 read:

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Legislature of the state of Utah urges the United States Environmental Protection Agency to immediately halt its carbon dioxide reduction policies and programs and withdraw its "Endangerment Finding" and related regulations until a full and independent investigation of the climate data conspiracy and global warming science can be substantiated.

During the standing committee meeting, Rep. Barrus questioned the use of the word "conspiracy" as "inflammatory" and mentioned that is was stronger language than legislators were accustomed to, but went ahead and voted for the resolution. Noel adamantly defended the use of the word and explained why it was included. According to Noel, the climate data conspiracy is actually part of a larger conspiracy to limit population growth. I swear, I can't make this stuff up.

During the standing committee Noel read numerous passages from a science textbook published in 1977 called Ecoscience: Population, Resources, Environment. John Holdren, who is now Obama's "Science Czar" was one of the authors of the book, in which he and the other two authors, Paul Ehrlich and Anne Ehrlich, discuss numerous methods of curtailing population growth such as government-mandated population regulation, mass sterilization, the forced removal of children from unfit single mothers (minority women, the authors write, are especially inept at caring for their children), and compulsory abortion.
Although I have not read Ecoscience, only skimmed some of the aforementioned passages, I do agree with Noel that ideas discussed by Holdren and the Ehrlichs are offensive and immoral. In fact, they reflect a paternalistic, imperialistic, and racist worldview that has firmly been rejected by women around the world. Holdren and the Ehrlichs have attempted to distance themselves a little from the textbook, calling it just that, a three-decade old textbook in which they are discussing numerous viewpoints, rather than advocating anything in particular, although by my brief reading they do certainly seem to be advocating many of the positions they discuss rather than just presenting them (although it's hard to tell because of their irresponsible use of the passive voice, which i abhor). The Ehrlichs, after all, did serve on the board of advisors of the Federation for American Immigration Reform until 2003.

So how does this textbook relate to climate change? If the links are not yet clear to you, that's because there aren't any. In his statements defending the inclusion of the word "conspiracy" Noel stated, "I in my mind absolutely believe that this is a conspiracy, there is no question in my mind that it is and I can give you some absolute data." At that point he read numerous passages from Ecosceince, after which he concluded by proclaiming rather emphatically,

"This is Paul Ehlrich and John Holdren, and he is the energy advisor for the president. Now if you can't see a connection to that you are absolutely blind to what is going on. This is absolutely, in my mind, this is in fact a conspiracy to limit population, not only in this country, but across the globe."

Now I like to think I'm a pretty smart guy, but I don't see a connection. And Noel certainly doesn't spell it out for us. He just says, I'm going to give you some "absolute data," after which he reads some passages from a thirty year old textbook that, appalling as they may be, have no connection to the climate change debate. Noel then sums up with the lengthy, lengthy leap that because Holdren put this stuff about population control in a textbook thirty years ago and because he is now the "science czar" for the Obama administration, there must be collusion between climatologists and population control advocates. Seem like an outlandish and desperate grasp at straws, even for someone as far on the fringe as Noel? Does Noel really believe that Holden, as the Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, has enough global power and influence that he has single- handedly orchestrated a conspiracy, based on false science and "tricks" as Noel contends, that has convinced the overwhelming majority of climatologists and atmospheric scientists to jump on the climate change bandwagon in a nefarious attempt to control population?

If Noel is really interested in pursuing conspiracies he might have more luck investigating the collusion of big oil and PR firms (some of which were also involved in muddying up the science about the lethal effects of cigarettes) in order to confuse the public about the science of climate change in the first place.

But don't despair that our state is being run in part by fringe politicians getting their science from conspiracy websites. Now is your chance to act. Tomorrow (Friday, February 19, 8:00 am, rm 415 State Capital) the Senate Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Standing Committee will consider HJR12 and vote on whether to pass it on to the Senate Floor. This is your chance to show your opposition to the antics of Noel and Gibson. Show up at the standing committee to testify. Call your senator. Email your senator. Call and email all the senators who sit on the Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Standing Committee. Here are their email addresses:

Sen. Dennis E. Stowell,

Sen. Allen M. Christensen,

Sen. Gene Davis,

Sen. Margaret Dayton,

Sen. Karen W. Morgan,

Sen. Ralph Okerlund,

Other links and stories related to HJR12:

Discussion on Climate Change Pushed Back, Daily Utah Chronicle

House Formally Questions Global Warming, Deseret News

Utah legislative panel OKs resolution on climate-change, Deseret News

Lawmaker: Climate change just ruse to control population, SL Tribune (w. a fact check on the assertions in the bill)

BYU, UofU scientists chastise legislators on global warming resolution,

And click here for a link to the letter written by BYU professors.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Raise the flag and load your weapons!!

Traditional protocol holds that if you're flying both the state and the U.S. flag, the U.S. flag flies higher and is usually larger. I wouldn't be surprised, however, to find some Utah state legislators flying the state flag above the federal flag at their own homes. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me, given some of the current rhetoric, if they stopped flying the stars and stripes altogether. A number of conservative legislators are running "message bills" this year with the explicit message that Utah is not beholden to the federal government. The SLTrib recently reported that Sen. Stephen Urquhart (R-St. George), commenting on one such bill, asserted that Utah is "sovereign and we take our sovereignty seriously."
Grandstanding of this type against the federal government is nothing new in Utah. Utah was at the center of the Sagebrush Rebellion during the 70s and 80s and has the ironic distinction of giving George W. his largest margin of victory in both the 2000 and 2004 elections, but then leading the charge against his No Child Left Behind education mandate. But this most recent revival of the tired old motif, especially when considered in light of much of the legislation proposed by those most loudly sounding the call, is worrisome and irresponsible on a whole new level. What did Urquhart mean by his claim that we are "sovereign and we take our sovereignty seriously"? Just an assertion of states' rights over federal rights or something more?
When considered in the context of the teaparty movement and the legislation being proposed by many of Urquhart's compatriots the latter doesn't seem so far fetched. Consider, for example, Texas Governor Rick Perry's addresses to tea party rallies in which supporters cheered, "secede!" as Perry ranted against federal spending. Is a similar sentiment growing in Utah?
While state legislators may not be pushing for all out secession from the Union (at least they haven't gone public with such an agenda yet), they are certainly fanning the flames. Senator Margaret Dayton wants to exempt firearms made in Utah from all federal regulations, including background checks. Representative Chris Herrod wants to use eminent domain to take over federal land, and Rep. Carl Wimmer has introduced a bill that would require legislative approval before the state abides by federal rules on health care. These are just three of a dozen or so bills being brought forward by conservative legislators with the specific intent of asserting state sovereignty as part of a concerted effort.
Before I move on, let me make it clear that i am not opposed to local control or local governance. I believe, as many conservatives do, that local officials are often in a better position to make decisions for their unique situations. I am, however, opposed to irresponsible legislating with significant potential negative repercussions simply for the sake of making a point
, and the proposed bills being brought forward by Dayton, Wimmer, et al certainly fall under this category. Each of them will face significant constitutional challenges if passed into law, but that is the intended purpose.
Herrod and Dayton have both acknowledged that these bills are first and foremost designed to spark legal battles. Herrod, as reported by the Daily Herald, explicity stated his bill is "designed to be a court case." Dayton has likewise commented that she is not pushing her bill because of any specific problem with existing law, but rather as a challenge to the feds. And a challenge is certain, Montana is already in court over a similar law passed there last year. Dayton wants a fight. But at what cost?
As many of those opposed to these potentially unconstitutional assertions of sovereignty have rightly acknowledged these legal battles will cost money at a time when we don't have any. The worst recession since the Great Depression has done its damage to our state coffers and forced the legislators to cut funds from every source possible. On the same day Dayton's bill passed out of the Senate, the House passed out the public education base budget that represents 12-15% cuts and the next day a higher education base budget that represents 19% cuts moved forward. Sen. Buttars has even proposed doing away with the 12th grade and busing in order to save money and as the Deseret News reported, service agencies across the state are struggling to serve the disabled and other clientele.
Yet even in the face of these all these cuts and financial challenges, the state sovereignty advocates are out to pick a fight (or more accurately a number of fights) with the federal government. If Dayton, Wimmer, Herrod and their ilk were willing to foot the bill for their reckless behavior, i wouldn't have much of a problem with it, but don't kid yourself. It is you and I the taxpayers who will pay for their petty attempts to send a message, and in the current financial recession that is downright immoral and unacceptable, not to mention the public safety problem of removing background checks on those purchasing weapons.
But let's be clear, this is not really about states' rights or limited government. It that were the case, then by logical extension, such advocates of states' rights would also support the rights of local cities and municipalities to determine their own policy. On the contrary, ever since Salt Lake City passed it's anti-discrimination ordinance banning housing discrimination against same-sex couples, there have been threats and rumblings from conservative lawmakers about a state law to overturn this decision. Hypocrisy is in the air.
So don't be surprised if you see the Great Seal of the State of Utah superimposed on the confederate flag, sans stars and stripes, flapping in the wind on a flag pole in Utah County. The movement is afoot. There may be other reasons Dayton wants to make it easier to acquire firearms.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Why Margaret Dayton should not be allowed to sit on the senate education standing committee (among other things)

The legislative session has barely begun and already the purveyors of hate and xenophobia have declared war on our children. Today Senator Margaret Dayton attempted to amend SJR2: Joint Resolution on Combating and Reducing Gang Activity—sponsored by Senator Luz Robles—with some startling language that makes a number of seriously flawed racist assumptions that highlight her xenophobia.

Senator Robles' original bill "expresses support for sports, arts, academic, targeted counseling, and employment programs to counter gang recruitment." Senator Dayton, on the other hand, has proposed an amendment that strikes this support for sports, arts, academic, and employment programs, and replaces it with the following:

"expresses support for a coordinated effort between state and local law enforcement agencies and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to remove illegal alien gang members from Utah communities."

Clearly the minutemen have been whispering their lies in her ears, but Dayton's own record speaks for itself. She is afterall the same woman who killed a bill last year that would fund International Baccalaureate programs because the organization was, *gasp* based in Switzerland, and IB programs promoted an anti-American, UN agenda, so it's no surprise that her solution to the "gang problem" is to cross deputize local law enforcement officials to act as ICE officials to deport "illegal alien gang members."

My first question for Sen. Dayton, is how will her strategy address or inhibit the growth of white supremacist gangs? Will she add another amendment to revoke their citizenship so that ICE can deport them back to England or Germany (or wherever their ancestors came from)? Or is Sen. Dayton incapable of even considering the possibility that white folks participate in gangs? Is she so entrenched in a xenophobic, racist worldview that she can only imagine that brown people, and more specifically "illegal alien" brown people, are gang members?

Ironically it's not undocumented workers that commit the most malicious identity theft, rather it is white supremacist gangs. It's the white supremacist gangs who are taking the credit card applications out of your mailbox and applying for the cards, which they then max out, but of course the minutemen would have us believe the opposite.

My second question for Sen. Dayton is, "why do you hate children and education so much?" I mean, really, who proposes an amendment to a resolution that strikes support for sports, arts, academic, counseling, and employment programs and replaces it with draconian policing policies? What kind of worldview informs her opinion that cutting youths sports and arts programs and replacing them with increased law enforcement is good policy?

And this leads me to my third question for Sen. Dayton? What empirical evidence shows that increased law enforcement and policing of communities is more effective at reducing gang activity than providing education, after-school programs, counseling, or employment services? All of the research I’ve seen suggests that Dayton is dead wrong on this one. There’s good reason why Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank has refused to cross-deputize Salt Lake City police officers. He recognizes that taking such actions can greatly decrease trust and community relationships and create an even greater public safety threat (and potentially more gang activity), but Dayton, in her myopic nationalistic fervor, no doubt was amongst those who railed against Burbank for his decision.

Sen. Dayton’s amendment is not a thoughtful, measured attempt to reduce gang activity. It is, in reality, nothing more than a racist and calculated attempt to criminalize undocumented people by conflating them with gang activity regardless of the fact that most undocumented people are hard-working, family-oriented people who contribute to our economy more than Sen. Dayton would ever dare admit.

So what can you do? Call or write your senator immediately and tell them to support SJR2 as is, without Dayton’s proposed amendment. Voice your support for youth sports, education, and arts programs and let your senators know that increased policing is not the answer. You can look up your legislators’ contact info here:

And you can read the original resolution and Dayton’s proposed amendment here:

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Utah Legislative Session 2009

With the advent of the Utah 2009 Legislative session we are pleased to introduce the Magpie Forum, a place for policy critique and analysis, news updates, and other information relevant to resistance, democracy, justice, education, and change.

Magpie Collective Manifesto:

Born of scrub oak and sagebrush,
children of radioactive winds, saline waters, and inversions

heeding the call of Brigham Young and Joe Hill,
La Virgen de Guadalupe and Māui
We are generations of immigrants from every continent
blossoming in the desert, fed by snow and juniper.

We recognize that most policy makers and politicians serve their own interests
and cannot be counted on to guarantee justice, dignity, and freedom for all our brothers and sisters unless they also stand to benefit.

We recognize that most politicians and business leaders that make policy decisions and laws that affect our community view our bodies and our environment as commodities that can only be understood through cost/benefit analysis.

De tod@s para tod@s