Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Defining the family

I copied the image below off the web.  I have no idea who these people are, but they appear to be two parents, male and female, and two children presumably image belonging to said parents.  While their backs are turned there is no reason to believe they aren't all perfectly happy and healthy.  The universal response anyone looking at this picture would have - "This is a picture of a family" - reaffirms at its most fundamental level a family is an archetype and requires no one to reach for the dictionary when they see one or hear the word. 

In spite of it really needing no definition, the legislature likes to remind us what family really means and this year is no exception.  One guesses they do this out of concern some of us see something other than a family in the above picture.  Worse yet,  the picture or others like it may trigger some kind of liberal Pavlovian response causing some of us to propose "anti-family" policies like universal health care or a living wage law so one parent can support the family and the other can stay home with the kids if they choose.

An archetype is defined by my dictionary as "the original pattern or model for all things of the same type."  A child's family is the original and, assuming it is a loving functional family, certainly the best model for the expanding circle of relationships developed over the course of a lifetime.  But the archetype is the "original pattern" upon which future patterns are based.  It is not the limit or extent of all future patterns. 

When I consider those who are part of my family either because of some genetic relationship, by marriage, or simply because there is an emotional bond similar to that found between parent and child or siblings, certainly the archetype the image above represents is not inconsistent with any of these relationships. 

How often have we either personally said or heard others say they love someone "like a son/daughter", "mother/father" or a "brother/sister"?  Are such strong relationships not to be considered a part of our family if we choose to treat them as such?  Why should the Utah legislature care if we do?  Certainly there is no real marital or biological bond here.  No real mother or father, brother or sister in the original archetypal sense. 

For my part my wife and I had a daughter together.  In addition, I have someone I have come to love as a son.  Both will receive whatever support I can give when needed for the remainder of my life. I worry about both when I know they are struggling or suffering and I miss both when they are absent.  Both I consider part of my family. 

The fact the law doesn't recognize someone who is "like a son" to me as a son is beside the point.  With the recent exception of legislation dealing with gay marriage the definition of family being promoted by the legislature or by town councils and county commissions in recent years are written into non-binding resolutions carrying no more legal weight than my personal choice about how I define my family outside the existing legal framework.  In other words, they are both patronizing and irrelevant.  They would be worth completely ignoring if they were not also intended to divide people rather than bring them together while diverting attention from more pressing issues.

I find it ironic a state whose predominate religion asks its members to greet each other in fellowship as "brother" or "sister" finds it necessary to also keep passing resolutions and bills premised upon a definition of family which is so narrow.  In referring to one another as "brother" or "sister" Mormons and members of other faiths with this same/similar tradition are broadening the meaning of family at least to members of their own denomination if not to humanity at large.  While this practice is modeled upon the archetype, the new pattern created is one of greater inclusion.

The resolution the legislature is considering will probably pass.  No one wishes to appear "anti-family" and it has no legal effect anyway.  It will have no practical effect on people either.  Humans are endowed with an incredible amount of freedom and most of us will go about defining and building our families in our own deeply personal and immensely meaningful ways. 

But such resolutions are still worth questioning.  They enable legislators to claim at election time they have supported the family while real threats to families such as a decline in real wages, growing lack of health insurance coverage and the rising tide of bankruptcy and unemployment are largely ignored.  These problems certainly place many families in real distress, often contributing to spousal and child abuse and ultimately to divorce. Perhaps a society that took a more inclusive view of family wouldn't be so willing to sweep such problems under the rug.

Regardless, I for one pity those who see family as simply the archetype and nothing more.  Those of us who know it is all of that and much more are well aware what blessings they are missing.

Monday, February 8, 2010

If we're really serious about states' rights...

Confederate flag

As the Utah State Legislature is busy demonstrating, the question of states' rights remains a divisive issue in the United States.  While some historians might argue it was more or less put to bed 145 years ago with the defeat of the Confederacy in The Civil War, this clearly isn't the case.

More than 300,000 Utahns are without health care coverage, we rank fifth in the nation in the number of foreclosures and a record number of our citizens are currently on Food Stamps.  Now wouldn't seem a very propitious time to be insisting the federal government butt out of our affairs, especially since the Utah Legislature has shown absolutely no interest in dealing seriously with Utah's health care crisis or expanding, or even maintaining social programs to help those most in need during the current crisis.

The bills and resolutions being considered this year effectively telling the United States Government to take a hike include a prohibition on state agency cooperation with the government on implementation of health care reform (assuming the Congress ever gets around to passing something), legislation exempting guns made in Utah from any federal gun laws, resolutions trumpeting states' rights and Utah's "sovereignty", a resolution opposing regulation of green house gas emissions by the feds and a resolution insisting on the removal of the wolf from the Endangered Species List allowing us to kill any wolf that dares enter the Beehive State.

Okay, so we elected these folks and they have clearly determined the state's top priority, or maybe second priority after cutting education and fraying the safety net even further, is to emancipate Utah from the clutches of the federal government.  Fine, let's not mess around.  The slave states of the south may have lost, but they didn't mess around and neither should we if this is really what the people of Utah expect from their elected officials.

Turning down all federal funding for Medicare, Medicaid, transportation, education and the school lunch program, just to name a few, is the best place to start if this is about Utah demonstrating sovereignty and self reliance as legislators claim.  It is the height of hypocrisy, not to mention ingratitude, to take all this federal money but insist the feds have no right to tie strings to it.  If we don't like the strings, don't take the money.

In addition, public lands management is an ongoing sore spot with our legislature and apparently at least a few vocal Utahns.  Instead of passing endless resolutions insisting federal land managers really have no business managing federal lands, let's make an offer and see if the feds won't sell them to us.  We'll have to raise taxes just to come up with the down payment, but the US Government could use the money right now and we would finally be out from under their thumb.

Finally, no truly sovereign state can have such a heavy United States military presence on its sacred soil.  Utah abuts no foreign country, so there can really be no reason beyond intimidation for the US government to have two Army facilities and an Air Force base within our borders.  Time for the military to get lost.  And while the feds are packing up, they can build that massive National Security Agency facility they are planning in some other state where people don't care about their freedom as much as we do.

If the federal government doesn't allow us to turn down all their money, accept our offer to buy the public lands, and withdraw its military presence, then the legislature should vote to secede.   All this bloviating about states' rights is getting tiresome.  Either Utah lawmakers mean we are a sovereign state and the feds are exceeding their constitutional powers or they don't.  Something about getting off the pot comes to mind here.  If all these bills and resolutions amount to nothing but posturing, then stop wasting taxpayer time and money and get down to actually conducting the people's business.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Tell the legislature municipal waste incineration is not "renewable energy"

Incinerator The following was an alert sent out via email by the Wasatch Clean Air Coalition.  The CEP asks its members and followers to join with them in opposition to HB 228 designating municipal waste incineration a form of "renewable energy".



Please call or write your Utah Rep and ask them to vote NO on HB 228. This bill may be voted this Monday, Feb 8.

HB 228  Renewable Energy Source Amendments -- Barrus, R.

This bill would add municipal waste incineration to Utah's list of
renewable energy.  That would allow garbage incinerators tax credits and it would count to Utah's renewable energy goal.  See below for more info about municipal waste incineration, some highlights:

A study by Ontario's Ministry of the Environment concluded that
state-of-the-art garbage incinerators release 15 chemicals that cause cancer, lung disease and nerve damage. These include dioxins and furans, lead, cadmium, and mercury.

  • A British study in 1996 of 14 million people living within 7.5
    kilometers of 72 municipal incinerators concluded that these people have an increased likelihood of getting several different cancers.
  • Three municipal incinerators in France were closed in 1998 because milk from cows on nearby dairy farms was contaminated with high levels of dioxins.
  • In 1997, scientists in Japan found that the rate of infant deaths in areas neighboring incinerators were 40% to 70% higher than average.

Please call or write your Rep this weekend.  If you know any constituents of Rep Barrus, please ask them "What is he thinking, incentives for incinerators?"

Find your Rep at

Kathy Van Dame, Policy Coordinator
Wasatch Clean Air Coalition

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Cutting arts programs a bad idea

The arts

Among the many programs the legislature is looking at cutting in order to balance the budget are school arts programs.   According to the Deseret Morning News, as many as 52 schools statewide could lose their arts specialist as cuts to arts education is added to a growing list of bad ideas circulated so far to balance the budget - a list which already includes brilliant brainstorms like eliminating the 12th grade and/or busing kids to and from school.

It is not as though the arts have generally been a top priority in Utah schools lately, or in the American K-12 educational system as a whole.  For years now arts programs have gone through cuts during periods when states were experiencing shortfalls, typically to have only a portion of the funding restored when revenues improved again.  As a result, the trend in funding for the arts has been declining for quite some time.

One does not need to be gifted artistically to benefit from an arts education.  The creativity essential in the arts, if nourished, bears fruit in many other aspects of life.  A society which likes to boast how much it values innovation cannot long be a leader in innovation if its people lack an appreciation for the arts and the creativity essential to them.

The time has come for the legislature to stop looking for places to cut education spending and start looking for more fair and balanced means of funding it.  Restoring Utah's progressive income tax would be a good place to start.

Unfortunately, the emphasis continues to be on running government like a business, something it most assuredly is not and never will be.  A well rounded education is an investment in our future that will pay back society many times over in ways both monetary and that cannot be measured.  That includes the arts as well as math, language and the sciences.  A vision that does not extend beyond the current fiscal year never fails to miss this fact. 

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty good for Utah

Nuclear test

The following appeared as an Op-ed in the Saturday, January 23, 2010 issue of the Salt Lake Tribune.

In April, President Barack Obama addressed the people of Prague. In that speech he committed his administration to pursuing U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), putting an end to the fear any Utah - or U.S. - citizen living downwind from the Nevada Test Site would ever again face the deadly threat from nuclear testing.

This is the best opportunity since the conclusion of the Cold War for the U.S. to move toward eventually meeting its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. As President Obama stated last April, “The basic bargain [under the NNPT] is sound: Countries with nuclear weapons will move towards disarmament, countries without nuclear weapons will not acquire them…”

The United States currently has about 9,400 nuclear weapons. That’s down about 1,000 from 2002, but still far more than any reasonable nation could claim to need to deter a nuclear attack. President Obama pledged last January not to authorize any new nuclear weapons, yet some within the Pentagon and the military industrial complex are already pushing back against Obama’s commitment to permanently ban nuclear testing and are resisting efforts to incorporate into the Nuclear Posture Review plans to significantly reduce the size of America’s nuclear arsenal or change its role in America’s military defense strategy.

A nation committed to moving toward a community of nations where no country possesses nuclear weapons has no reason to test them. Our pleading with other nations they not develop these weapons of mass destruction will not be taken seriously so long as we continue to persist in keeping the option of “improving” or “maintaining” our own arsenal through possible future testing of our own.

The CTBT is verifiable, and has been ratified by 148 nations and signed by another 32. An analysis of the nuclear stockpile stewardship program by the independent, highly-respected JASON defense advisory group found that the U.S. can maintain a reliable nuclear arsenal without testing for decades. Ratification of the Treaty is supported by former Secretaries of State George Shultz and Henry Kissinger, former U.S. Senators Sam Nunn and Jake Garn, and many other prominent Democrats and Republicans.

The human and financial cost of nuclear weapons testing and production has been staggering. In the United States alone millions of citizens were exposed to fallout with tens if not hundreds of thousands developing cancer or other illnesses as a result. From the mining and processing of the uranium ore right through the making of the bomb and frequent testing that continued up until the last of an estimated 1,054 nuclear tests on September 23, 1992, Americans of every race, creed and economic status have paid dearly for what has been done in the interest of keeping them safe.

The time has come to close the door forever on that shameful era of lies, cover up and death perpetrated by our own government in our name.

The Pentagon's Nuclear Posture Review, due out this spring, should reflect the new policy announced by the Commander in Chief in Prague last year. The U.S. should abandon expensive, unnecessary and provocative plans to rebuild its bomb-making capacity and develop new nuclear weapons, pursue diplomatic efforts to achieve further reductions in nuclear arms worldwide, and design its military structure and capabilities to address post-Cold War realities.

Senators Hatch and Bennett – who voted against ratification of the CTBT in 1999 - should stand with their Utah constituents who overwhelmingly oppose new nuclear testing and declare they are ready to back up that new policy with an “aye” vote on the CTBT when it is brought before the U.S. Senate. In the words of our president, Americans “seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.”

Craig Axford is the executive director of the Citizens Education Project. Steve Erickson is CEP policy analyst.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Saving journalism means saving our republic


A world without journalism is not a world without political information.  Instead it is a world where what passes for news is largely spin and self - interested propaganda - some astonishingly sophisticated and some bellicose, but the lion's share of dubious value.  It is an environment that spawns cynicism, ignorance, demoralization, and apathy.  The only "winner" are those that benefit from a quiescent and malleable people who "will be governed," rather than govern themselves.

Death and Life of American Journalism: The Media Revolution that will Begin the World Again -

Bob McChesney & John Nichols

With the news last week the holding company which owns the Salt Lake Tribune is declaring Chapter 11 bankruptcy, all of us should pause to imagine what the decline of journalism means for our communities, states and our nation. 

The Tribune isn't alone.  The Deseret Morning News has had to lay off a number of reporters and reduce the resources it dedicates to gathering and reporting the news.  The Rocky Mountain News recently ceased publication.  Even the New York Times has had to borrow tens of millions to continue operating and may well be on the verge of collapse.

While the current economic crisis has certainly had an impact and the advent of the Internet has caused more Americans to seek their news online than by more traditional means, the decline of American journalism isn't a recent phenomenon according to Bob McChesney and John Nichols, authors of a new book out on the subject.

McChesney and Nichols were also recent guests on PBS' Now program and they are offering a solution which will ironically seem like a radical idea to many Americans; government subsidies for journalism.  I say "ironically" because as McChesney and Nichols point out, for our founders the question wasn't should America subsidize print journalism, but how much.  James Madison advocated giving newspapers free access to the US Postal Service while others argued for simply giving them the lowest postal rates possible. 

At the time, newspapers relied on the postal system for delivery and for the first 75 years of our history delivery was heavily subsidized.  In fact, 95% of the weight mail carriers delivered consisted of print journalism while print journalism generated only 12% of the revenue for the US Postal Service.

McChesney and Nichols point out most democratic nations today, particularly Scandinavia's social democracies, subsidize their free press just as we used to.  Their media is thriving and does a great job holding the governments in those countries accountable. 

McChesney and Nichols propose giving each adult American $200 that can be entirely deducted from their taxes  they can use to contribute to any non-profit media source.  Given the commercial media model is in collapse, they will likely mostly be non-profit in the future. It is estimated this $200 credit would cost us about $30 billion annually though by my calculations it would cost more if everyone actually used all $200, which would mean we have a citizenry far more engaged than we do.

By allowing the people to determine the media they wish to support with this type of tax credit without government interference, we can restore the investigative journalism and real news reporting essential to the survival of our Republic.  This is definitely an idea worth exploring.  All you have to do is imagine Utah without either the Salt Lake Tribune or Deseret Morning News, not to mention any of the many smaller community papers operating throughout our state, to understand the vital role these institutions play.  Self governance without a strong and vibrant journalism is impossible and $30 billion or so is a small price to pay to save the Republic.

Friday, January 15, 2010

CEP sends letter to Attorney General Shurtleff regarding inaction on Snake Valley Water Grab

Shurtleff at tea party

The Following letter was sent to Attorney General Mark Shurtleff's office earlier today.


January 15, 2010

Mark Shurtleff, Utah Attorney General
Utah State Capitol Complex
350 N. State, Suite 230
P.O. Box 14320
Salt Lake City, UT 84114-2320

Dear Mr. Shurtleff,

I am writing in response to your comments in the Salt Lake Tribune (12/31/09) regarding the work of your office on the SNWA plan to export water from Snake Valley to Las Vegas. You reportedly stated that your office is “just advising – they [Nevada interests] want to work out some agreement. But we’re prepared to litigate if we have to.”

Many of us who oppose the Las Vegas Water Grab wonder how “advising” equates to advocacy for a deeply flawed agreement to give Utah’s permission to Nevada to export more water from the Valley than it can sustain without unacceptable consequences. Certainly, your office has advocated for that agreement. Forgive us if we fail to understand what you mean by litigating in the future if you “have to” when you have thus far shown no inclination to litigate to protect the legal rights of Utah citizens from this Water Grab.

Specifically, your office failed to litigate to protect the due process rights of Utah successors in interest to Snake Valley water rights holders, or those who moved to the Utah side of the valley after the close of the protest period in 1990. When that case was pursued to the Nevada Supreme Court by lawyers representing affected individuals and organizations, you made no effort to assist or file briefs in support of that pending appeal. Your office did not object to the decision of the federal agencies – BLM, NPS, FWS, BIA – to drop their protests of SNWA applications in Spring, Cave, Dry Lake, and Delamar Valleys in favor of stipulated agreements when the impacts of those water withdrawals will affect Utah’s environment and water rights holders. Rather, your office supports a similar Utah-Nevada stipulated agreement in Snake Valley to avoid litigating this to the U.S. Supreme Court, where this issue will wind up in due time. Should the federal agencies again “stipulate out” of their protests of the Snake Valley applications, is your office prepared to challenge legally those decisions?

We further note your apparent unwillingness to take legal action to protect Utah citizens’ rights from oppressive federal actions like the premature USDOE shipments of depleted Uranium to EnergySolutions and to demand that an Environmental Impact Statement be completed prior to approval and construction of the massive new National Security Agency electronic eavesdropping/spy complex at Camp Williams. Such inaction erodes your credibility in defending Utah interests vis a vis the “feds”, your histrionics about the supposed unconstitutionality of the proposed health care reform legislation notwithstanding.

Perhaps you could redeem yourself on the Water Grab front by filing a friend of the court brief on behalf of the plaintiffs whose win in the Cave, Dry Lake and Delmar Valleys case is being appealed by SNWA to the Nevada Supreme Court. Or by preparing to challenge the adequacy of the environmental impact statement on the SNWA groundwater development project later this year. Or by examining the legal options to challenge the cloud seeding in the Ruby Mountains that SNWA is funding.

These suggestions may not rise to the level of “have to”, but were you to take action on any of them it would be more appropriate and less expensive than bringing a grandstanding case on health care reform.




Steve Erickson
Policy Analyst, Citizens Education Project