Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Happy Birthday Olivia

My family welcomed a new addition last week. This makes number four for us, and she is absolutely gorgeous if I do say so myself.

A few thoughts related to her birth:

She was born on Earth Day, which makes me wonder, did we harm or help the planet?

Are arrogant people drawn to medicine or does medicine make people arrogant? Either way, I have yet to meet a humble, likable doctor.

Speaking of doctors, for the second time we were "warned" during pregnancy that our baby had a higher risk of having downs syndrome, and for the second time the doctors were wrong. Which isn't a big deal until you consider the amount of stress that pronouncement puts on a pregnant mother, coupled with the fact that the tests they use to make that prognosis is next to meaningless and only serves as a gateway to a more reliable test which just happens to carry a risk of miscarriage with it. So thanks again, doctors. Next time, how about not having a clueless office worker (not her fault, she's just doing her job) call to schedule a follow up appointment because our baby is high risk for developmental problems, and not have anyone available to explain anything to us?

We delivered at Jordan Valley hospital in Sandy and it was superb. The nurses and staff were great.

There is nothing in this world quite like holding a newborn baby. Their smell, the little noises they make, their eyes as they look up at you. It's incomparable.

Welcome Olivia, thank you for making our lives a little brighter.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Difference in Core Values Between Israel & Hamas

Much was made of Israel's military action in the Gaza Strip late last year. A lot of the news centered on the civilian suffering and casualties caused by the engagement.

A new report by the group Human Rights Watch, and discussed here by Richard Cohen, sheds additional light on the topic:
Some residents of Gaza were taken from their homes and shot in the legs or feet. Some were brutally beaten and some were simply murdered, sometimes after hideous torture.

If you are expecting — based on everything that has happened — that the awful Israelis did this, guess again. It was Hamas, the authentic and genuine government of Gaza. Well, no one's perfect.

The information about the shootings is taken from a report issued Monday by Human Rights Watch and available on its Web site. It says that "Hamas security forces or masked gunmen believed to be with Hamas" executed 18 people, most of whom were accused of collaborating with Israel, sparing the expense and bother of a trial.

Others were shot, maimed or beaten, not for allegedly collaborating with the enemy — or, as is invariably the case, having a house or woman that a snitch covets — but for belonging to the opposition political party, Fatah.

No doubt the Human Rights Watch report will be ignored or dismissed in the greater cause of demonizing Israel. This has been the trend of late. No doubt, too, some will excuse Hamas' criminality as the inevitable result of Israeli actions — the Officer Krupke School of Behavior made famous by the singing gang members of "West Side Story."

But as much as some would like to criticize Israel — and I have done so myself — they still have a minimal obligation to acknowledge the difference in core values between it and its enemies.

Human Rights Watch is to be commended. It does not have one standard for Israel and another for Hamas, Hezbollah or the other despotic regimes of the Arab world.

That is more than can be said, though, for critics who vilify Israel, romanticize Hamas and clearly have never had the inexpressible pleasure of living in a place where a chance remark can get your legs riddled with lead. Say what you will, but that place could never be Israel.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Another Example of the Evil Bush Tax Cuts For The Rich

I still do a few tax returns on the side, and it interests me to see how the tax code affects different situations.

From an actual federal income tax return filed this year:

A family consisting of a husband, wife, and three children, with an income of $70,000. They own a home, so are able to deduct the interest from the mortgage. They also made sizable contributions to charity. Thanks to Bush's tax cuts, they can claim $3500 in exemptions for each person in the household, for a total of $17500.

After their exemptions and deductions, their tax liability was $2899. Since Bush doubled the child tax credit, they get to claim $1000 per child, which lowers that tax liability dollar for dollar. That means they have zero tax liability. And since the child tax credit is refundable, the family not only pays $0 in income tax, but gets $101 from the government.

Now, they had money withheld from their paycheck throughout the year, but they get all of that back too, making their tax return about $1400. It could have been much higher, but, knowing how their return was likely to turn out, I had them withhold the least possible amount from their checks during the year.

This return is similar to that of the "struggling mother earning minimum wage", and that of the family earning $45k, paying zero income tax and getting paid $2400 by the government. Before the Bush tax cuts, that family would have owed $950.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Alaska Realizing Consequences of Higher Taxes

Alaska relies heavily on its tourism industry for revenue. A major part of that industry is cruises. In an effort to make the cruise lines "pay their fair share", the state passed a referendum in 2006 which increased taxes on the cruise lines for every passenger they brought to Alaska.

Shockingly, those cruise lines are now reducing the amount of business they do in Alaska.
In February, Royal Caribbean International announced that in 2010 it would redeploy the Serenade of the Seas, one of its three ships operating in Alaskan waters. The cruise line cited the high cost of doing business in the Frontier State.

The following month, Carnival Corp. followed suit, significantly reducing the 2010 capacity of the Alaska market’s two biggest players, Holland America and Princess.

Those moves were the culmination of almost constant industry protests since the Cruise Ship Initiative was enacted.

Binkley said the loss of Royal Caribbean’s Serenade of the Seas would mean 42,000 fewer visitors to Alaska in 2010, which translates to an estimated loss of $55 million in tourist revenue.

"I’ve been concerned for some time as I’ve seen the cruise traffic level off for the last three years," he said. "We’ve lost market share."

An Apostle's Easter Thoughts on Christ

Monday, April 13, 2009

UTA "Express" Bus Service to Eagle Mountain Sucks

Eagle Mountain passed a tax increase last fall in order to get an express bus line to Salt Lake City. You can read my previous posts on the topic here. The bus service began this month, and not everyone is pleased with it.

From an email sent to city councilman David Lifferth and posted on his website:
We voted sales tax for UTA to come to our neighborhood. This is now reality. Except for those that ride the bus, it is a nightmare. We have CITY BUSES, not the MCI EXPRESS BUSES.

We therefore cannot sleep – no place to rest your head and the ride is way to bumpy (the entire hour trip) to sleep.. we do not have WiFi service – which is promised on the EXPRESS buses.. and most upsetting of all, we are paying the PREMIUM PRICE of $162.00 per month for trash service, and no express services.

The regular monthly pass for the CITY BUSES is $67.00. Now tell me that is fair, right, and just? I don’t think so. In waiting for the 806 to go home, I have seen two 327 and 347 FAST BUS routes with the MCI buses – both of them pay the $67.00 per month, get our WiFi service – but don’t pay the express price. This is not right.

UTA is advertising and promising EXPRESS to the 806, but we are getting what we are paying for. Will they refund our money to the $67 for the services we are getting? Not likely. And they get city funds, federal funds, and likely state funds. I have sent emails to them on this subject – no responses to date. Perhaps some prodding from the constituents will get them moving to provide the advertised EXPRESS MCI bus with WiFi. Otherwise, the cities of EM and SS need to put pressure on and get us reduced fairs.

I am including the emails that I have sent. Hopefully someone can do something. I do not know who the officials are in SS, so please feel free to forward this to them if you have emails for them.

Thank you

Chris Power

Friday, April 10, 2009

Allen Iverson as Example of Failed Families

In a column blasting basketball player Allen Iverson, Jason Whitlock makes an interesting observation,
Iverson is a one-man, no-country Army, more than likely the victim of a dysfunctional upbringing that left him incapable of embracing the concepts essential to teamwork, winning and sacrifice for the benefit of others.

We're a nation of Allen Iversons, and the unchecked Wall Street greed that has us on the brink of collapse is nothing more than our chickens coming home to rot.

The assault on, the destruction of and lack of appreciation for the American family has created a nation of independent contractors. We're no longer connected.
Iverson is infamous for a press conference he gave where he derided practice, saying it wasn't a big deal that he missed them. What's the big deal, right? It's only practice. The importance of family often receives the same treatment. It's just tradition. Unnecessary, even. Sometimes it's through simple neglect, other times from intentional assault. Either way, family as the fundamental unit of society is forgotten.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Charlie Rosen on Phenom Lance Stephenson

From basketball columnist Charlie Rosen:

Here's what's wrong with high school, AAU, college and professional basketball.

Lance Stephenson is a 6-5 senior at Lincoln HS in New York, and one of the best schoolboy players in the country. But he's strictly a one-man show, who always insists on dominating both the ball and every spectator's attention. Mark him down for lots of points and sensational plays, as well as plenty of ill-advised shots and turnovers. Plus, every mistake he makes is somebody else's fault.

Stephenson was featured on the cover of SLAM when he was 14, was the star of an online reality show, and has been celebrated as the epitome of a hip-hop hoopster.

Which is all well and good, except that the kid also happens to be a jerk.

Last fall, Stephenson was arrested on a Class B misdemeanor charge of sexually harassing a 17-year-old girl on the school grounds. Midway through his junior season, he was involved in an in-school altercation with a teammate that drew blood.

The outcome of his arrest has not yet been decided, but Stephenson was suspended from school for five days (and two ball games) for the fight.

OK, youngsters sometimes get into trouble. But consider his behavior late last month during a game in upstate Glens Falls, N.Y., that matched the Big Apple's public school champions (Lincoln) vs. the private school champs (Rice).

Late in the first half, Stephenson executed a power dunk, but instead of letting go of the rim he chose to swing-and-sway to emphasize his accomplishment. This led to one of the refs' tooting him for a technical foul, which under local rules simultaneously counts as a personal foul — Stephenson's third.

Much to Stephenson's displeasure, his coach, Dwayne Morton, quickly — and appropriately — yanked him from the game. Stephenson responded by loudly cursing the coach — something he's done all season-long — and sitting himself on the floor beyond the end of Lincoln's bench. Still cursing.

Morton has put up with his star's antics for two reasons:

# The kid's extremely talented and has helped Lincoln to four straight PSAL championships.
# Like most very successful high school coaches, Morton is undoubtedly yearning to graduate into a college job.

Rice won the game 77-50, with Stephenson — the state's career scoring leader — scoring only 14 points.

According to reports, if Stephenson doesn't choose to pursue a hefty contract overseas — good riddance! — he'll pick Kansas, St. John's or Maryland as his next stop.

But why would any self-respecting college coach want anything to do with Stephenson?

Especially since he'll only be around campus for one season before declaring for the NBA draft.

Just what the NBA needs — another spoiled, self-indulgent, knuckleheaded player who thinks he already belongs in the Hall of Fame.

So what's wrong with the game?

Too many colleges recruit players on the basis of their talent. Ditto for the NBA's draft process. And hardly anybody recruits/drafts on the basis of a player's character.

The truth that so many recruiters/drafters don't get is that talent and character are not always mutually exclusive.

Fire Them?


Dear MoveOn member,

Last week the Obama administration took tough, decisive action with the auto industry, forcing the resignation of the CEO of General Motors.

The president knows that we can't trust the same folks who got us into this mess to help lead us out.

It's time to do the same for the banks. And the best way to start is by firing Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis. He's the worst of the worst.

Lewis's poor management helped ruin his company and our economy. Shareholders are calling him "reckless" and citing "disastrous missteps."1 Worse, Lewis accepted $45 billion in taxpayer bailout funds, but instead of using all the money to get the economy going again, he let $3.6 billion go to bonuses for top execs.2

There can't be real reform on Wall Street until the CEOs who brought down the banks we had to bail out are long gone.

Can you sign our petition asking Treasury Secretary Geithner replace the leadership at bailed out banks—starting with Ken Lewis? Clicking here adds your name:

The petition says: "We can't trust the same people who got us into this financial mess to help lead us out. Replace the leadership at the bailed-out banks, starting with Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis."

Lewis is the CEO of the biggest bank in the United States.3 If Secretary Geithner forces him to resign, it'll send a strong message to the rest of Wall St.: The era of zero accountability is over and reckless behavior that puts our economy at risk won't be tolerated.

Of all the folks who helped bring about the recession, Lewis is one of the worst:

* Shareholders say he helped drive the company into the ground. Bank of America has lost billions—and 90% of its value—in part because Lewis "hastily arranged the ill-considered acquisition" of Merrill Lynch.4
* Even after the crisis, he hasn't changed his ways. He ensured that high-level staff received bonuses—despite recent announcements that the bank was laying off another 35,000 employees.5
* On top of all this, he's fighting against more rights for workers. Three days after receiving $25 billion in bailout money, Bank of America brought together powerful banking interests to figure out how to defeat the Employee Free Choice Act, a bill that makes it easier for workers to form unions.6

Ken Lewis has got to go. And we need to look closely at the other bailed-out banks that may need new leadership too.

Our friends at Service Employees International Union (the country's fastest-growing union) have been leading this campaign for a few weeks—and they're building momentum quickly. If hundreds of thousands of us act, together, we'll be impossible to ignore. Please sign today!

Thanks for all you do.

–Daniel, Patrick S., Eli, Lenore and the rest of the team


1. "Investment group calls on BofA to fire Ken Lewis," WCNC, March 5, 2009

"Union to B of A: Fire Ken Lewis or Risk a Shareholder Revolt," Talking Points Memo, March 5, 2009

2. "Thain tells investigators BofA's Ken Lewis knew of bonuses," CNN Money, February 20, 2009

3. "Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis scores another deal," Fortune, September 15, 2008

4. "Investment group calls on BofA to fire Ken Lewis," WCNC, March 5, 2009

5. "Ken Lewis, What's Really in Your Company's Best Interest?" SEIU Blog, February 12, 2009

6. "Bailout Recipients Hosted Call to Defeat Key Labor Bill," Huffington Post, January 27, 2009

Iran's Nuclear Program Is Purely Peaceful

Right? That is what they said.

Perhaps not, after all.
A Chinese national allegedly used U.S. banks to fund the smuggling of banned nuclear materials to Iran, prosecutors say.

The shipments allegedly included 33,000 pounds of aluminum alloy used in missile production, 66,000 pounds of a copper used in missile guidance systems and 53,900 pounds of steel rods used in uranium enrichment

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Chinks in Democratic Party Armor, or Constructive Criticism Leading to Better Leadership?

I wrote about my flirtation with the Democratic Party, and how the last election was the final nail in the flirtation coffin, here. However, with Obama's "Change" candidacy sweeping into the presidency, and Democrats increasing their hold over Congress, the Democratic Party was supposed to be marching to total domination. Republicans were told elections have consequences, and many long pent-up Democratic Party priorities were thought to have clear sailing in the coming months and years.

It was with that backdrop that I read with interest a recent article in The New Republic titled, Why the Democrats Can't Govern. It highlited areas of concern for President Obama - not from the opposing Republican Party, but from his own supposed party faithful in Congress. In that article, Jonathan Chait argues,
The last Democrat who held the White House, Bill Clinton, saw the core of his domestic agenda come to ruin, his political support collapse, and his failure spawn a massive Republican resurgence that made progressive reform impossible for a decade to come. The Democrat who last held the White House before that, Jimmy Carter, saw the exact same thing happen to him.

At this early date, nobody can know whether or not Barack Obama will escape this fate. But the contours of failure are now clearly visible. In Obama's case, as with his predecessors, the prospective culprit is the same: Democrats in Congress
It's a well written critique, but one that comes on the heals of a supposedly watershed election for the Democratic Party. An election that was all about change, about the public ditching the Republican Party and the political pendulum swinging inevitably in favor of the Democrats.

But apparently there are significant roadblocks to Democratic domination.

It was in the midst of reading and pondering that article on national Democratic Party internal politics that another internal struggle erupted. This time within the local party.

After apparently simmering for some time, the criticisms boiled over into a blog post by Bob Aagard, who expressed his frustration at state party leadership. It attracted a lot of attention in the form of comments and follow up posts, and seems to have inspired others who share the same frustrations to blog about them as well.

Basically, there is frustration at how the party is being led locally. Utah Dems see party gains in other Western states and lament the failure to capitalize here in Utah. This failure is being blamed on party leadership generally and State head Wayne Holland specifically. Rob Miller of the Utah Amicus blog, and the state vice chair, commented and gave a reasoned defense of the Party's activities. Rob's was one of the first blogs I found when I started this almost 3 years ago, and frankly was one of the reasons for my flirtation with his party. But he hasn't fared so well in these series of posts.

I'm left to wonder at the coincidental timing of these two controversies - one local, one national. The major difference is that the national story is about the struggle with success while the local version is dissatisfaction with failure, or at least less success than was desired. But the link in both stories is criticism of one's own party and party leadership. Does it reveal a hefty chink in the Democratic Party's new found armor, or does it show a party faithful not content to allow the failures of the past? I suppose only time will tell.