Thursday, July 03, 2008

Happy 4th of July!

I love Independence Day. I don't do a lot to celebrate, outside of watching fireworks, but I always take time to remind my family, and myself, of the freedoms we enjoy as Americans.

For example, I can blog about my government and not have to worry about being harassed, arrested or killed for my words.

Sadly, not everyone in the world can do that.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Protecting Parent's Rights

Over the years I've held a lot of different jobs. Some were better than others. All of them taught me something. One of the most disturbing was the year I spent as a tracker for the Child Protective Services system her in Utah.

One the one hand, I worked closely with children whose parents were downright abusive. It really opened my eyes as to just how much better my own upbringing had been. My parents weren't perfect, but they weren't raving lunatics, either.

On the other hand, I saw plenty of abuse within the system itself: private organizations being contracted for services by CPS worried more about their upper management and paperwork than about the kids in their charge, case workers who talked a lot about caring, and taking action, and then sitting on their duffs and doing nothing, foster parents that were in it solely for the money and creating equally abusive situations in their home, and so on.

Honestly? I was glad to get out.

Over the last year or two I've become more and more aware of the abuses, and potential abuses, of power within the CPS system. Children being removed from their homes on trumped up charges that are discovered to be false only years after the children have already been psychologically damaged by being torn from their families. Young teens being given into foster care because they complained to a school councilor that their parents grounded them after discovering the teen was using drugs and being sexually promiscuous and, worse yet, the parents even suggesting that their kids should attend church with the family.

All of this is being done through policies that being enacted on a whim in board rooms and are given the full weight of law without a single lawmaker in site.

It's crazy. It's like there's an entire movement that believes the government can raise our children better than their parents.

Our rights as parents are getting harder and harder to defend. Some people seem to think we have no rights when it comes to our children, only responsibilities. With what's going on in Texas with the FLDS polygamous sect, it's getting harder and harder for the rest of us parents to defend our rights, as well.

One organization aims to change that. is a group of people who would like to pass an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that spells out in very clear terms what a parent's rights are in regards to their children. They've got a new video out that I thought I'd share with you.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Why is Violence Increasing in Utah?

I've noticed a horrible trend of increasing incidents of violence within my home state of Utah, and across the rest of the United States as well. The latest victim in the news is 7-year old Hser Nay Moo, a beautiful young girl from Burma. She had been abducted a couple of days ago and was found dead, late last night. Reports say that the police already have a man in custody and that he has admitted to causing her death.

This seems to be happening more and more. Why? All I could think of, as I listened to the formal press conference, was of my own children. This young, innocent, girl was described as being very bright and out going. Why would someone abduct her? Why would someone want to hurt or destroy such a beautiful life?

This isn't the only case that caught my attention, though. There have been allegations that a group of 3rd graders in Georgia were planning on killing their school teacher. Their actual intent is in doubt, because of their age. Most premeditated acts of violence don't occur until children get to be 12 years old, or so. It's quite likely that the students were involved in an elaborate form of play, in order to act tough around each other and vent their frustrations, rather than actually hurting their teacher.

What's gets to me, though, is they brought together everything they needed to do it. They brought weapons, handcuffs, and other supplies they would need, to school. That's what got them caught. One of their peers told a school official that one of the other students had a knife. Even if they were just "playing," where did they get the idea that plotting someone's murder was an acceptable form of play?

How do we defend our kids? What happened to the halcyon days of my youth, when playing outside in the neighborhood for hours at a time was considered safe? What happened to showing basic respect for adults, especially teachers, whether they were your parents or not?

On the other hand, how come we haven't prepared our children better? When I was a kid, strangers were potentially scary people to avoid at all costs, and yet my kids think nothing of engaging an unknown adult in conversation. Have I failed them? We've talked about "stranger danger" and all that, and yet sometimes they still don't get it. How can we teach our kids to be safe without making them paranoid of everything and robbing them of their innocence?

I'm so disturbed by all of this that I just don't know, anymore.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Questar Gas Makes Utahans Pay

Questar Gas, which really holds a monopoly for natural gas delivery in Utah, has made a mistake and wants Utahans to pay for it. They screwed up calibrating some of their meters, and now say that about 500 customers owe them more money, about $600,000 more.

Interestingly enough, they didn't tell anyone. They just billed them for a "correction." Bob and Ann Slattery's natural gas bill jumped from $112.00 a month to $400.00 in their February bill, because of a $370.00 "correction."

This is on the low end, it turns out. The average "correction" billed to make up for Questar's mistake was $1,200.00.

If Questar, and some other public utilities, didn't have a government sanctioned monopoly on services, this wouldn't be happening. Any other company would be apologizing profusely and then eating the cost themselves in an effort to keep the customer. Questar doesn't have to do that. There is no competition for them. They know they've got a hold of the customer by their heating elements.

The whole thing has, thankfully, sparked an investigation. There is going to be a hearing by the Public Service Commission (PSC) on the matter because 34 of the 500 affected customers have filed complaints.

If you're one of the affected customers, I recommend you contact the PSC to file a complaint, as well. Don't just "roll over" for this. We can't allow our public utility companies to take advantage of us because they made a mistake. They are privately held companies and need to be held accountable for their own actions.

For more information, see this KSL article.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Utah Man Wants to be Reimbursed For Scam Operations

Jack Daggs of Heber Utah was convicted of running several fraudulent business scams for over a decade. He was sentenced to six months in jail, and reimbursement of all the money he scammed his victims out of, at a rate of $2,000 a month, only covering out-of-pocket losses. Nothing for pain and suffering.

Get this. Daggs wants to be reimbursed for the phone calls and drive time he spent on the victim's projects.

What's he doing? Trying to scam the courts?

It might be working. The restitution hearing is set for April to determine just how much he actually has to pay back. You can read more about it at KSL.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Obama on Race in America

Mitt Romney was forced to talk about religion; I suppose it was inevitable that Barack Obama would have to talk about race.

It was an interesting, and powerful speech. I didn't get to hear all of it but, after reading the whole of it on Senator Obama's campaign website I've got to say, I'm impressed. I'm beginning to better understand why people are being inspired by him. Many pundits have tried to demean the idea of Obama as an inspirational speaker, saying there is no substance behind him. I think we need to quit being ashamed of being inspired. What is a national leader if not someone who can inspire us, as American citizens, to better action?

I believe that this speech was a direct result of attacks on Obama's character because he attended a church run by Reverend Jeremiah Wright, no stranger to controversial speeches. Reverend Wright has been, as Obama freely admits, a "fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy" to say the least.

What I love about Obama's speech is that he doesn't side step the issue. He doesn't try to dismiss his relationship with Reverend Wright. He certainly tells us that He doesn't always agree with Reverend Wright, and that some of the comments the Reverend said across the pulpit bothered him. But Obama also tells us about the things that kept him in the pews.

It's funny. He talked about race, but he really talked about religion, too. And he did in a way that drives home one of the messages Senator Obama seems to be trying to give us: strength as united Americans, all the while celebrating our diversity.

Here's an example from the speech, where Obama talks about Reverend Wright:

"But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren't simply controversial. They weren't simply a religious leader's effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country - a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America; a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.

"As such, Reverend Wright's comments were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity; racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems - two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis and potentially devastating climate change; problems that are neither black or white or Latino or Asian, but rather problems that confront us all."

There it is. I've said this a hundred times to just as many people. Race is not the issue. It provides a back drop to the real issues, but it's not the issue. Economics, health care, foreign policy - yes. Not race. Race doesn't matter. The only point where race matters is where people continue to buy into ethnic stereotypes, including the very people are stereotyped by them.

There is an entire sociology tied to poverty and the other economic factors that have been created by racial prejudice. To ignore that is to ignore the history of this nation. But, it doesn't have to stay that way. We all want to be able to create the best lives for ourselves and our families. We all can take advantage of the opportunities afforded us, and quit buying into the parts of our personal histories that tie us down. We have a choice to work, and move forward, or flounder and die. Once we can accept that fact, we can move on to what the best solutions to those problems will be.

"Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze - a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many. And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns - this too widens the racial divide, and blocks the path to understanding. "

Let me leave you now with another quote from Obama's speech.

"This is where we are right now. It's a racial stalemate we've been stuck in for years. Contrary to the claims of some of my critics, black and white, I have never been so naïve as to believe that we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle, or with a single candidacy - particularly a candidacy as imperfect as my own.

"But I have asserted a firm conviction - a conviction rooted in my faith in God and my faith in the American people - that working together we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds, and that in fact we have no choice if we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union."

Monday, March 10, 2008

Drugs in our Water

Drugs have been found in the drinking water of America's cities. 24, of the 28 major metropolitan cities that were tested, were found to contain caffeine and trace elements of various human and animal pharmaceuticals. In the Washington DC area, anti-depressants, pain relievers, anti-seizure medications, antibiotics, and anti-psychotics were found in the water. Other cities water supplies were found to contain synthetic hormones, heart medications, and tranquilizers.

Some scientists are saying there is little health risk. They are only trace amounts, after all. The trouble is that we are in completely new waters here (pardon the pun). There are no long term studies on these kinds of dosages and their effects.

We can't blame “big pharma” on this, either. At least we can't blame them for dumping the drugs, which was my first thought. Drugs have a shelf life and it wouldn't have surprised me if a lot of them were simply being dumped into our oceans and other water supply systems like other pollutants are. Instead, their presence in our drinking water has to do with the drug's bio-availability.

Bio-availability is a measure of how much of the drug is actually absorbed into your body when you take it, and how much just passes through. It turns out that these drugs are coming from the very people who take them. The portions that pass through are, well, passing through the urinary and digestive tracts and into our sewage systems. When that water is treated for bacteria and waste contaminants, and returned to the drinking water systems, the remaining drug is coming along for the ride.

I don't think we need to panic. I do think we need to take our environment more seriously. This may not be an imminent species-wide threat but, it is a threat, nonetheless. Modern medicines have done amazing things. They've also done some very terrible things. This seems to me like one more example in the ongoing battle human beings have with the “law of unintended consequences.” It's one more reminder of how we are hurting our environment, and ourselves, in the name of a quick solution to our problems.

Save the humans.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Illegal Immigration

Let's get started with part three, in our continuing series, addressing Claudi (Fran) Davilla's comments to me about Mitt Romney. As I said before, she brings up some very important topics and I want to address them. Frankly, she's given me the impetus to actually blog about them, as opposed to just sitting back and saying, "I should blog about that."

"Personally, I cannot understand how a person's or group's beliefs can be based on a force of love (Jesus), and at the same time be against people (immigrants, non-christians, the poor) and continue tarnishing our life-giving ecosystem (by supporting industry growth and energy consumption instead of environmental preservation). He encourages family values, but are Mexican immigrants (mostly christian, by the way) not displaying family values in trying to forge a better life for their disadvantaged children? How does loving your brother, or neighbour, justifyably translate into protecting one creed at the expense of all others? But John, from everything I've read on your blogs, I know you are a peace-loving egalitarian. This is not what Romney seems to be."

To be honest, I don't know what Mitt's views on illegal immigration are. I do know it's been a hot bed topic here in Utah. Let's face facts. No matter how people like to frame this, the biggest problem is illegal immigration from Mexico. More people are screaming about illegal Mexican immigration than illegal Canadian immigration, or from any other country for that matter. While I think some of this can be attributed to racial bigotry, the majority of the problem is simply this: more illegal immigration is coming by way of the U.S. Mexican border than any other entry point.

This is where it starts to get interesting. I've heard from many people who want to "round 'em all up and ship 'em back to Mexico." They content that these people have broken the laws and they should be punished. No room for mercy, here.

This is completely unrealistic. It would be a logistical nightmare. You can't just say, "Come out to Rice Eccles Stadium tomorrow so we can deport you." That's just stupid. It's not like the Department of Homeland Security or the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents are coming out en masse.

Others have suggested we should help the ICE agents by deputizing local law enforcement agencies. As a friend to many officers within local Utah law enforcement, I can tell you that each and every one of them that I know is against this. Their reasons are clear and obvious.

  1. It creates additional burden on the officers by making them responsible for federal law enforcement.
  2. It discourages illegal aliens from calling on law enforcement to stop other bad guys because they're afraid they'll be deported.
  3. Such discouragement will encourage further, more dangerous, illegal behavior on the part of illegal aliens.

This would be a horrible thing that I simply don't want to see at the local level. I want our policemen to be able to take care of the bad guys, those who want to hurt us, that peddle dangerous substances, that want to rob from us, not people who are otherwise law-abiding contributors to our society.

Those bad guys would be able to terrorize otherwise good people just by the threat of deportation. "I'm going to set up a meth lab in your basement and take over your house. If you say anything to anyone, they'll deport you."

Yes, there is a small portion of illegal immigrants that turn to illegal activities to make a living, and an even smaller portion that come her to do illegal things in the first place. These are bad guys and need to be punished according to the law. The vast majority of illegal immigrants, however, are here just trying to make a better living for their families because they can't do it in Mexico.

What's the answer, then? Are illegal immigrants a drain on social services and education? Yes, they probably are. I can't imagine it's any more that other poor people are. Having been numbered among the poor during certain points in my life, I feel like we need to take care of our poor, but that's a debate for another day.

Having said that, we still need to do something about the problem of illegal immigration if only from the standpoint of securing our borders.

The answer must come from the federal level, in my opinion. I think that George Bush's proposed immigration bill was a good start. This was a true bi-partisan bill, with representatives from both sides of the aisle backing it. For some reason, Nancy Pilosi decided not to bring it up for a vote in congress before the deadline and effectively killed it, even though it would have likely passed, given the large number of democrats that were behind it. I suspect it was simply a move to sabotage George Bush. Speaker Pilosi seems to be against anything that comes out of the Bush administration, whether it's a good thing or not.

Many people here in Utah claim that bill "offered amnesty." That couldn't be farther from the truth. It required illegal aliens to register themselves by a particular day. If they registered, they could start naturalization proceedings as if they had come into the country the day they registered. Those that chose not to register would then be deported, once caught. That's not amnesty. Amnesty is a free ticket. This wasn't free. It just recognized that the situation was a mess and offered a way out that didn't interfere with those who had come to this country legally. It also didn't punish the children of illegal immigrants, who may be U.S. citizens based on the fact that they were born in this country.

Do you want to throw a U.S. citizen out of the country because his or her parents have to leave? Do you want to take them from their parents and put them into a social care system paid by your tax dollars?

Neither solution makes sense to me.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Is Waterboarding Torture?

A week or so ago, one of my readers, the amazing Claudia (Fran) Davila, posted a comment, here, about Mitt Romney, religion, and violence (war). Fran is amazing and she brought up some very important issues. I'd like to continue addressing them, today. Check out my previous post, for the first part of this discussion.

Let's pick up where we left off with Fran's posted comments.

"And he enthusiastically supports torture of military combatants and presumed terrorists. Where in the bible does it say we should hurt and kill people in the name of religion? Not even the Koran says this. All the world's religions are based on peace, and what Romney and the jihadists have in common is that they are all perverting religion for a misguided goal."

I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that Fran was talking about water boarding when she mentioned torture. I could be wrong, but I've been thinking about blogging on the issue of water boarding anyway so, here goes.

I have very mixed feelings about this so-called "interrogation technique." From a certain standpoint, water boarding is not physical torture. It does not cause physical harm in the same way that electrocution, burning, beating, or cutting someone would. At the same time, there's a reason why the person being questioned is hooked up to an EKG so they can monitor his or her heart, and it has nothing to do with lie detection. The fear and stresses involved are immense and can have lasting physical and psychological effects.

The US Navy SEALS, and other elite US military units, use water boarding as part of their survival training to psychologically prepare them for the possibility of capture. The SEALS have quit doing it, though, because it has such a horrible effect on morale. The CIA continues to use it as part of their training.

From what I understand, even the most hardened CIA operative usually "folds" within 14 seconds of subjection to water boarding. And this is when they know that the person performing it is not going to let them die.

Why do people "start talking" so quickly? Water boarding simulates drowning. Most of us can hold our breath for longer than 14 seconds. From what I understand, from people who have undergone it as part of military training, is that water boarding is so terrifying that they can think of nothing else but making it stop. The fear of death and drowning is far more severe than the reality of their situation.

Is this torture? In my mind, it most certainly is psychological torture, with a potential physical threat due to stress. There's a problem with such things. The person is so afraid that they may tell you anything in order to get it to stop. That puts the value of the information into question.

The updated Army Manual of Interrogation prohibits water boarding, and many of the other things we saw at Abu Ghraib prison. It was updated because of what did happen at Abu Ghraib. The CIA, on the other hand, can still use water boarding as an interrogation tool. They received written permission from President Bush to do so in 2006. They've denied using it since 2003, however.

So, is water boarding torture? Yes. It's mock execution. I can't see any other definition for it, legal or otherwise. It's only been under our recent administration that it status as torture has ever been questioned.

It's also horridly effective. Even given the chance of someone giving false information, the CIA has claimed that a lot of very good intelligence in the War on Terror has been garnered through water boarding. The 2002 through 2003 interrogations of Al-Qaida suspects Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri are examples.

Let me give you some food for thought, though. This is a question that nags me when I ask it of myself. I'm not sure of my answer, and that doesn't make me very proud of myself. There are parts of my psyche that fall on both sides of the issue.

Here we go.

If you knew that there was an imminent terrorist plot that would result in the potential death of hundreds or even thousands of lives, and you also had a prime suspect in that plot in your custody, would you employ water boarding? What if other means of interrogation had yielded very little?

Remember. Time is of the essence. People's lives are on the line, and you have a sworn duty to defend them.

If you knew that your actions as an interrogator - putting one person through a few moments of sheer terror - could save thousands of people and their families from horrible pain and death, would you do it?

What would you do?

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Talking with Fran

A week or so ago, one of my readers, Claudia (Fran) Davila, posted a comment here about Mitt Romney, religion, and violence (war). I have the highest amount of respect possible for Fran. I really do. She's awesome. If you have yet to go and read her blogs, especially those on sustainable living and her post-oil survival guide, you should.

Because of my respect for her, even if I don't agree with her on certain details, I think some of the things she talked about in her comments to me deserve more discussion.

Here's part of what she said.

"He points to impending jihad from the middle east as a great threat based on their religious views, which Romney says needs to be prevented with escalating war - though somehow for Romney to run a country and lead wars abroad based on his religious views is okay? Where's the difference?"

I don't think Romney would have tried to lead the country based on religious views. There were a few things that happened on his watch as governor of Massachusetts that are not in line with strict LDS tenants. At the same time, we cannot separate a person's faith and beliefs from their actions, and Fran is good to point that out. We also need to understand that a person's stated affiliation does not mean that he or she is a perfect example of the group they are affiliating with.

This is the very problem that Islam is facing. What happens to Islam when it comes to terrorist organizations using Islam to justify terrorist acts?

As I see it, there are many people who are perverting the teachings of Islam in the name of hate. They hate others who are not like themselves. They hate the conditions they are living in. They hate their own lives. They have been indoctrinated to this hate from birth, and continue to indoctrinate others. They have turned to violence as a means of justifying their feelings, and inflicting pain on others. Such people believe that only by murdering others and inflicting fear and pain can they make themselves feel better, and increase their own standing in the world. They use a perversion of religion to justify their hatred and violent actions. This is not true Islam.

I agree with Fran that escalating violence cannot solve the problem. Such action simply gives fuel to the terrorists. "See! The evil American Satan is bombing us! They are killing us! We are justified in killing them and the evil Jews!" they scream. All the while they ignore the fact that they started this fight when they targeted and killed innocent civilians (non-combatants) to further their true cause: chaos and destruction.

How do you deal with someone like that? How do you deal with a group that indoctrinates others into a culture of hate and violence? They want you to talk with them, to try and understand them, because then you've let your guard down. They don't want to be understood and helped. They want to kill you, and they will do it by any means they can. This is especially true with so-called "Islamic fundamentalists." (I hate that term. These people are extremists. They are not practicing the fundamental ideals of Islam.)

"And he enthusiastically supports torture of military combatants and presumed terrorists. Where in the bible does it say we should hurt and kill people in the name of religion? Not even the Koran says this. All the world's religions are based on peace, and what Romney and the jihadists have in common is that they are all perverting religion for a misguided goal."

We can both agree that the jihadists are perverting religion. I'm not sure Romney is but, as I said in my initial reply to Fran, I didn't actually hear the speech she was talking about.

I'm going to deal with the torture issue, and some of her other very good points, in later posts.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Homage to President Hinckley

If you live in Utah, you probably already know that Gordon B. Hinckley, beloved Prophet and President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, passed away quietly at the age of 97 yesterday. He will be missed by all members of the LDS Faith, including myself, and many others as well.

My seven year old daughter took the news the hardest. It often surprises me how close of a connection my children had with the prophet. They never met him in person. They only knew of him through television. Same goes for me. And yet we love him, all the same.

I won't bother to go into the many great and marvelous things he spearheaded while he was in office. Many others have already done so. I'll just leave you with my own message of love for the man, condolences for his loved ones.

In spite of his passing, I also have great hope for the future. I know the LDS Church has Jesus Christ at its helm. Our next prophet and president will be chosen soon, and the work of building the Kingdom will go on.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Caucus Hub-bub

With all the hub-bub surrounding the Iowa and New Hampshire caucuses, you’d think I’d be blogging more about about them. It’s been quite the spectacle, I have to admit. What I think is interesting is that those that won in Iowa, lost in New Hampshire, and vice versa. It’s still anybody’s game, it seems.

A lot of what I’m seeing going on, though, just reminds me of just how stupid people really are. Everything I see about Huckabee makes me think he’s a lying, calculating, huckster, and yet I keep hearing others talking about just how “genuine” he is. Obama was poised to win in New Hampshire, and yet Clinton took it by a last minute landslide of mostly women voters. Giuliani seems to have fallen asleep at the wheel.

The whole thing’s got all the drama of a Wagnerian opera, just less bloodshed.