Archive for August, 2010

Philpot swings at Matheson’s land use policies

August 31, 2010

Utah’s delegation is almost universally united in standing up to Ken Salazar, his cronies and their control of 2/3 of the land in Utah. The lone hold-out is, of course, Democrat Jim Matheson.  Matheson – aka Phantom Jim – didn’t have the, um, …. courage…. to stand up to Salazar when 77 leases were yanked in Uintah county. (He did ask Salazar in a letter to pretty please restore them. Nothing happened, of course.) Matheson stayed in the background when Rep Rob Bishop and others spoke out on the administration’s backdoor plan to claim millions of acres. Matheson DID, however, announce a plan earlier this year to set aside 26,000 additional acres of wilderness in the Wasatch Mountains, prompting Alta mayor Tom Ballard to remark “It’s been kind of jammed down our throats.”

Yesterday, Matheson’s Republican opponent, Morgan Philpot took him to task as he unveiled his short, medium and long-term goals for land use.. He claimed that with 67% of the state owned by the federal government, we are no longer a sovereign state, but a “geographic area administrator” for the feds. He announced that he is endorsed by all three Washington county commissioners and said that his campaign is on track to wrap up the endorsements of 75% of the county commissioners in the second district.  He pointed to Matheson’s absenteeism and said the district – and especially the rural counties – needed someone who would go to bat for them.  The current Congressman simply will not.

Congressman Rob Bishop appeared with Philpot at his press conference. He said unequivocally that Philpot’s ideas “hit the core” of what needs to be done. “They are the kind of proactive, positive ideas that need to go back there to Congress,” he said. “He will fit in brilliantly with the entire delegation, as well as within Congress.”

In the short term, Philpot proposes that the Utah delegation work to restore the recently canceled energy leases, to increase access, specifically to school trust lands, and to open them for development.

In the medium term, he says that we must establish “once and for all” the validity of county RS2477 road rights of way and to pursue permanent, full funding of PILT – Payments in Lieu of Taxes.

In the long-term, Philpot said we must pursue a “legal and legislative strategy designed to achieve parity (as required by the Constitution) between public lands states and the rest of the Union.”

Matheson told KSL he has nothing to be ashamed of and that he has worked well with county commissioners in the past. His spokeswoman said it was not surprising Philpot got the endorsement of the Washington county commissioners –  they were Republican, after all. Wonder if she’ll be surprised if Philpot also gets the majority of the votes in this R+15 district?

Phantom Jim making an appearance!

August 30, 2010

Quick! If Jim Matheson is your Congressman, Wednesday is your chance to catch him at a rare town hall. (OK, that’s what HE would call it anyway…..) He’ll be at the Hinckley Institute of Politics to talk about current issues starting at 9:40 am, then will attend a meeting held by the Hinckley Institute Student Alliance at 11:15. HISA is an umbrella organization that serves as a resource for politically active student groups. The meeting will serve as a more casual setting for students to talk with Matheson.

This free event will include a Q&A session and will be held at Orson Spencer Hall, in the Hinckley Caucus Room. (Me, me, me – pick me!!)

Both the forum and HISA meeting are open to all students. The forum starts at 9:40 a.m. and the meeting at 11:15 a.m. I am a “student of life” – does that count? I’m going. If I get to ask one hard question of Phantom Jim, what should it be? No softball suggestions – sorry.

Take Back Utah recap

August 30, 2010

Saturday’s “Take Back Utah” rally saw hundreds of people gathered to show solidarity for the right to use Utah’s lands – including the 67% owned by the federal government.

Last year’s rally had an estimated 4000 people. This year’s rally was maybe half that size and as City Weekly’s Josh Loftin points out, a kinder, gentler group of folks. (That’s my eyeball estimate on the Hill –  the parade portion had over 5000 people – 12 city blocks worth.)

In a humorous vein, he notes that he planned a drinking game for this years rally – “every time a speaker used the phrase “environmentalist,” “sovereign” or “Obama,” he said, he “would take a pull from my flask of whiskey.” Poor thing – he only got one drink.

Rep Rob Bishop said “The world is run by people who show up,” commending the attendees for sticking it out in blustery winds.

House Speaker Dave Clark, R-Santa Clara, said the federal government has turned “ugly and irresponsible” and it is time for America to dismount from a “dead horse.” “On every policy issue that has faced the Reid, Pelosi and Obama administration, there has been a choice between freedom and more government” Clark said. “And on every single issue, they have chosen the path of more government and less freedom.” That’s about as tough as it got.

Gov. Gary Herbert addressed rally participants, bringing cheers when he told them the “squeaky wheel gets the grease. I believe we have a lot of squeaky wheels here today that are going to let their voice be heard.”

Senator Steve Urquhart, R-St. George led the crowd in song – This Land is Your Land – and 2nd Congressional district candidate, Morgan Philpot, pointed to the states’ financial hands being tied because we can not access our many natural resources.

Loftin concluded:

Last year, this rally proved to be a harbinger of things to come nationally. It brought together a lot of disparate groups that a shared a common frustration with the direction of the country, which is the same thing the Tea Party began doing in earnest a couple of months later. So, is it also a harbinger this year? If so, today’s rally and my unexpected sober ride home through the City Creek Canyon may indicate that the Tea Party activists, who have shook the political landscape for the past year, may very well be nearing the end of their uprising.

California’s pension cliff

August 30, 2010

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger penned an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal last week that lays out the stark reality of California’s budget crisis. Bluntly stated, without significant public pension reform, the state budget is shot all to heck – leading to its inevitable demise.  “Here’s the plain truth,” says Schwarzenegger. “California simply cannot solve its budgetary problems without addressing government-employee compensation and benefits.”

Right now, 80 cents out of every government dollar is being spent on public employee compensation and benefits. The costs over the last decade rose THREE TIMES faster than revenues. There must be trade-offs, so on the chopping block has been higher ed, state parks and even one of California’s sacred cows – environmental protection.

It gets worse. According to the governor, “much bigger increases in employee costs are on the horizon.” He continues:

Thanks to huge unfunded pension and retirement health-care promises granted by past governments, and also to deceptive pension-fund accounting that understated liabilities and overstated future investment returns, California is now saddled with $550 billion of retirement debt.

The cost of servicing that debt has grown at a rate of more than 15% annually over the last decade. This year, retirement benefits—more than $6 billion—will exceed what the state is spending on higher education. Next year, retirement costs will rise another 15%. In fact, they are destined to grow so much faster than state revenues that they threaten to suck up the money for every other program in the state budget.

Over the last TWO years, the private sector has seen the loss of almost 1.2 MILLION jobs in California. The public sector? Virtually none. 401K’s have declined 20% nationally since 2007. Public sector? Up in value, to the point that in California public employees who retire at age 55 can look forward to a million bucks for their retirement.

Before he signs a state budget, Governor Schwarzenegger insists that the Democrat-controlled California assembly:
#1: Reverse the massive and RETROACTIVE increase in pension formulas enacted 11 years ago.
#2: Prohibit “spiking” – the practice of giving someone a big raise in his last year of work so his pension is boosted.
#3: Require public pension funds to make truthful financial disclosures to the public.
#4: Require public pension funds to use REALISTIC projected rates of return.
#5: End the “annuity give-away” they passed in 2003.
#6: Require employees to up their contributions.
#7: End the immoral practice of pension fund board members accepting gifts or even campaign contributions from lobbyists, salesmen, unions and other special interests.
#8: Establish a rainy day fund.

So far, his demands are falling on deaf ears. The Washington Examiner published a piece two days before the Guv’s op-ed titled “California rejects even modest pension reform.” In fact, recent California legislation allows government employees to PAD their pensions during their last year on the job. “We should be taking away the candy, not adding more,” Marcia Fritz of the California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility complained to the Los Angeles Times.

There is one state, though, that has addressed the pension black hole. Any guesses? Yep – it’s Utah. In March, the state legislature became the first in the nation to pass a major overhaul of the state’s defined benefit pension system after it lost 30 percent of its assets ($4 billion) in the stock market. All current employees are “held harmless” and will continue in the current system. All new workers hired after July 1, 2011 can choose to enroll in either a 401(k) or a hybrid pension system that caps state contributions at 10 percent of employees’ salaries – no matter what the stock market does.

I admit – this one flew under my radar during the last session. I went to a couple of committee meetings where it was discussed and heard blah, blah, blah, actuarial tables, blah, blah. I did understand Representative John Dougall who said something like this on the House floor: “Without these changes, pensions blow a HUGE hole in the state budget and we go bankrupt.” (Dougall didn’t think Utah’s changes went far enough, by the way.)

According to the Washington Examiner,

Utah state Senator Dan Liljenquist, who sponsored the legislation, said it was the only way to honor current pension commitments and also keep unfunded pension liabilities from bankrupting his state.

Other states have tried increasing retirement age, scaling back retiree benefits, freezing cost of living increases and requiring employees to start contributing to their pension plans, but hybrid plans like Utah’s are increasingly viewed as the best way to keep government promises to current employees while scaling them back to sustainable levels for future workers.

We’ve completely eliminated the pension-related bankruptcy risk. This is exactly what California needs to do,” Liljenquist told The Examiner, adding that all the public unions in Utah were initially opposed to the idea. “But they eventually realized that we preserved benefits for current employees, and if we go bankrupt, all pensioners will be out of luck.”

Contrast that with California’s irrational ability to make even minor adjustments to its unsustainable pension system, virtually guaranteeing its own demise.

I still don’t fully understand all the ins and outs of pension systems – but I do recognize a broken, unsustainable system when I see one. I don’t buy for one second the line that “California is too big to fail” (nor do the companies leaving CA and flocking to Utah, apparently). I wish Governor Schwarzenegger luck in pulling his state back from the brink.

Restoring Honor

August 29, 2010

Unless you’ve been on another planet, you know by now that Glenn Beck held a huge rally in DC over the weekend. Estimates of 87,000 to upwards of 500,000 people gathered to hear the talk show host pay tribute to America’s troops and to plead with Americans to return to traditional values.

Determined not to turn it into a political rally, Beck instead “championed a religious brand of patriotism and called on the nation to recommit itself to traditional values he said were hallmarks of its exceptional past.”

“For too long, this country has wandered in darkness,” Beck said. “This day is the day that we can start the hearts of America again and it has nothing to do with politics. It has everything to do with God.”

The New York Times reported that “the program was distinctly different from most Tea Party rallies. While Tea Party groups have said they want to focus on fiscal conservatism and not risk alienating people by talking about religion or social issues, the rally on Saturday was overtly religious, filled with gospel music and speeches that were more like sermons.”

Over at Hot Air, allahpundit noted that

In a way, the rally today mirrored rallies held for then-candidate Barack Obama in 2007 and leading up to the election of 2008. Both this rally and many of Obama’s featured mesmerizing speakers, who chose to inspire audiences by rhetorically empowering them to take matters into their own hands.

While Beck’s rally emphasized belief in God, Obama’s generally emphasized himself as a savior of the American people. This, I believe, was the contrast the talk radio and television personality was trying to achieve. Beck’s rally, and the speakers who addressed the crowd, were continually thanking God and Beck for bringing such an inspiring crowd together…

The crowd erupted when Beck introduced tea party favorite, Sarah Palin. Palin said she was speaking not as a politician but as the mother of a combat veteran.

The military is “a force for good in this country, and that is nothing to apologize for,” she said. She honored three military veterans, hugging them onstage, and told people to look to them as inspiration, even when the nation’s challenges might sometimes seem “insurmountable.”

“Here today, at the crossroads of our history, may this day be the change point,” Palin said. “Look around you. You’re not alone. You are Americans! You have the same steel spine and the moral courage of Washington and Lincoln and Martin Luther King. It is in you. It will sustain you as it sustained them.”

She also had a veiled reference to Obama and his pledges to “fundamentally transform” America. “We must not fundamentally transform America as some would want,” she said. “We must restore America and restore her honor.”

CNN said Beck was positioning himself as a “new leader for Christian conservatives,” a position that is catching many evangelicals by surprise. However, they have been able to find common ground.

“The evangelicals participating in the Restore Honor event are not endorsing Glenn Beck’s theology, nor is he asking them to,” said Ralph Reed, former executive director of the Christian Coalition, who attended Saturday’s rally.

“Together, we and millions of our fellow citizens are calling America back to its Judeo-Christian values of faith, hard work, individual initiative, the centrality of marriage and family, hope, charity, and relying on God and civic and faith-based organizations rather than government,” said Reed.

What it means to be the President

August 27, 2010

As performed by Steve Bridges

State budgets without pension reform

August 27, 2010

Got it? Good.

More fun with campaign ads

August 27, 2010

Here’s one out of California that has a Frankenstein theme

And an “Eyeballs” one from Minnesota

1984 has arrived

August 27, 2010

Need a scary story for sharing around the campfire? Here’s one reported by “Time“.

Big Brother can now track your every move and do it legally. Government agents can put a GPS device on your car without your knowing and with no need for a warrant.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals with jurisdiction over 9 western states has ruled that a person’s driveway is not private, therefore not protected by the 4th amendment. They also ruled that once a device is planted, the government is free to continue tracking at will, without a warrant because there is no “reasonable expectation” that the government is NOT tracking our movements.

The dissenting judges on the case warned that this could turn America into a totalitarian state and is, in fact, a form a class warfare because there is one group excluded from this carte blanche – the wealthy. If you can afford a fence completely surrounding your property, including the driveway, then agents can not enter and tag your car. The Court’s Chief Judge, Alex Kozinski, wrote in his dissent: “1984 may have come a bit later than predicted, but it’s here at last. Some day, soon, we may wake up and find we’re living in Oceania,” referencing Orwell’s totalitarian dystopia where privacy is non-existent.

Other courts of appeal are ruling differently. It’s likely this issue will end up at the US Supreme Court. In the meantime, park your car in your garage.

UEG, hypocrisy is thy name

August 26, 2010

Utahns for Ethical Government, the cleverly named movement to gut the Utah legislature, is apparently having a hard time with that simple word “ethics“. Not only are they forcing the issue to court and not only are there no watchers to watch the watchers, the chairman of the committee, Kim Burningham, conveniently “forgot” to disclose his affiliation with UEG when he filed to run for the state board of education.

He lists his employer as Franklin-Covey, then under “organization or entity for which you serve on the board of directors or in any other formal advisory capacity“, he lists the Utah School Boards Association. That’s it. The last question asks again for the candidate to describe “any other matter or interest you believe may constitute a conflict of interest“. It’s blank. Seems like Mr. Burningham is more of a do-as-I-say kind of guy. Of course when he would be a lifetime appointee with no one ever able to oversee your doings, notifying the public might have just slipped his mind. Perhaps the best option is to hold him to his own UEG standards – guilty until proven innocent.

(H/T to Joe the sausagegrinder)


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