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.