Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Are We Winning In Iraq?

James Taranto says here that polls showing declining support for the war effort are not terribly important.
The Great Summer 2005 Iraq Panic has been built almost entirely on two wisps of public opinion: President Bush's approval ratings, which have declined since his re-election, and the increasing number of people who tell pollsters it was a "mistake" to liberate Iraq. Those who conclude from this that the war effort is doomed forget that public opinion is (1) fickle and (2) more complicated than a few poll questions can capture.
Taranto notes that more than half of those that now think the war is a “mistake” never supported it in the first place. Some openly want us to lose. The rest originally supported the war but now have misgivings mainly due to the media’s incessant “drumbeat of defeatism.” He says, “The point is that if they now think, or fear, that the war was a mistake, it is because they are afraid we may lose.”

Andrew McCarthy says here that declining poll numbers are due to a bait and switch in the aims of the war. He says, “we started off right after the 9/11 attacks with a crystal-clear purpose.” We were out to destroy militant Islam jihadists, which most Americans clearly saw then and see now as an immediate threat to our security. The Afghanistan affair was a rousing success.

But then we spent months fruitlessly working through the quagmire of the UN Security Council, a body consisting of unelected officials representing mostly undemocratic governments. During that process we relinquished our main thesis that Saddam had a “rich history of abetting militant Islam” in favor of the argument that he had stockpiles of WMD that violated the treaty that resulted from the Gulf War.

We were no longer out to kill jihadists; we were out to rid the world of a madman with stockpiles of WMD. That shift has led many to the ridiculous claim that Saddam didn’t support militant Islam. While Americans could easily see the link between militant Islam and 9/11 (and threats of similar events), the link between Saddam’s WMD and our immediate national security wasn’t nearly as clear. When we failed to find WMD in the amounts suggested by our intelligence, it exposed how bad our intelligence program was. While that was painfully necessary, it further weakened support for the war.

After the invasion, the Bush Administration made another shift. Suddenly we found ourselves in a war to bring democracy to the Middle East. Since we went into Iraq to topple Saddam, it is implicit that we be required to replace his regime with something else. In the minds of most Americans, that meant something not dangerous to us. It did not necessarily mean building a democracy, which we know from the aftermath of WWII is very long and hard work. But this has become the singular aim of the mission in Iraq. Now, instead of killing jihadists and thugs that are actively trying to kill us, we are trying to make them part of the political process.

It can certainly be argued that in the long run this is the best strategic move and that democracy will now spread throughout the region. But McCarthy says, “The causal connection between the Islamic world being free and Americans being safe is not clear.”

McCarthy’s point is that we went from a clear goal of eliminating jihadists with all due haste, to building democracy in the Middle East however long it takes and however much it costs. The first objective is obviously tied to our immediate security in most people’s minds, while the last is not. Moreover, the first is winnable in most people’s minds, while they aren’t so sure that the last is winnable.

McCarthy argues that most Americans readily bought into the first objective and that most still do. They believe that the war against jihadists is winnable and will achieve the desired outcome of making us safe. But he says that most Americans never bought into the current fuzzy objective of nation building. Falling poll numbers reflect the fact that the war in Iraq is now tied to an objective most people never bought into.

A good leader makes the right decisions, even if they result in hardships and even if the people he/she leads can't envision the outcome. I believe President Bush is right; building democratic societies in the Middle East is actually the best long-term solution to the problem of militant Islam. But right now, most American’s aren’t so sure about that.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Starving for the Fountain of Youth

Here is yet another story about our medical community’s obsessive search for the mythical fountain of youth. The Reuters article titled “Starving won't make people live longer–researchers” (which James Taranto points out is a rather obvious statement – “duh” in the common vernacular), researchers concluded that severe calorie restriction will only marginally increase life span.

A couple of years ago the National Geographic published an article about longevity. The article noted that researchers had significantly extended the lives of several species by restricting calorie intake. One researcher had experienced tremendous success with a particular species of chimps, but he admitted that they often go nearly berserk when food is being served up at mealtimes because of the hunger they are experiencing. The researcher said that he himself had tried to similarly restrict his calorie intake, but he simply couldn’t bear the incessant hunger pangs. Some readers felt that the research constituted cruelty to animals.

The Geographic made a point of suggesting that it was obvious that human lifespan would also be increased by severe calorie restriction. Since the implication was that this statement was more than a mere hypothesis, the magazine jumped to a conclusion, a practice that is quite common in the articles it publishes. In this case, the conclusion has proved faulty.

In the Reuters article, researchers at the University of California, realizing that calorie intake is just one of the myriad factors that help determine longevity, created a computer model that employed known factors to develop an idea of how calorie restriction impacts human lifespan.

They know, for example, the average calorie intake and lifespan for the average Japanese male. They know these same data for the average Sumo wrestler. They know that the average Okinawa male has a lower average calorie intake and a slightly longer lifespan than the average Japanese male.

Using these data, as well as a host of other variables, the researchers concluded that severe calorie restriction would increase lifespan only by about 7% rather than the 50% achieved for worms and mice because humans have different variables than the animal populations heretofore studied. The researchers said, “Our message is that suffering years of misery to remain super-skinny is not going to have a big payoff in terms of a longer life.” This is another one of those “duh” statements. At least it seems that the average person already instinctively knows this and lives accordingly.

I have no doubt that our society will continue its obsession with extending life. We will also continue to come up against an insurmountable wall. We will continue to pursue every avenue, regardless of cost and credulity. When you’ve got little or no faith in the next life, what else is there but this one?

I’m not suggesting that we should give up – eating, drinking, and being merry in anticipation of our impending mortality (see here). I have stated many times that I believe we should live reasonably healthy lives. Most of us already know what we should be doing.

I’m not suggesting that we should become a nation of health fanatics. While people in this group drive an industry, they drive most of the rest of us crazy. I know, because I have been in that group and have been a bane to others.

But almost every one of us can do something today to improve our future health and longevity prospects. And even if you think I am deluded, at least having faith in the next life provides a basis for hope beyond our current situation.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Tax Simplification: Flat Tax or "Fair Tax"?

Representative Steve Urquhart (R-St. George – who is running for the U.S. Senate seat currently occupied by perma-Hatch) has an interesting post about the necessity for tax simplification.

Good laws and legal systems are simple and transparent; people readily can know the law, follow the law, and watch how elected officials propose to tamper with the law. By contrast, the mess that is our current tax system creates a grotesque scene where lobbyists and elected officials can cut marginal deals in the tax code without the public having much real opportunity to weigh in. The deals only add to campaign coffers and taxpayers' burdens. The system must be simplified.
Steve discusses the two major camps on this issue: the flat tax (see my previous post) and the fair tax initiatives. The defining difference between the systems is that the flat tax is an income tax on both personal and corporate income (17%), while the fair tax is a national sales tax (23%) that is collected at the final point of sale on goods and services.

I see pros and cons to both systems. However, I see the following problems with the fair tax initiative.

  • It is highly regressive up front. The poorest people would be hardest hit at the point of sale and would be forced to file for a refund proving their poverty after the government has held their sorely needed money for up to a year. Many poverty level people that are due a refund under today's system fail to file. I doubt it would be any different under the new system.

  • A national sales tax would distort the market costs of goods and services. If you bought a home for $180,000 your end price would be $221,400 with a 23% sales tax. Imagine what that would do to the real estate market. A $20,000 car would cost $24,600. Ouch!

  • History shows that it is easier to pass a sales tax increase than an income tax increase. How many of us fall for the “It will only cost you one tenth of a cent more on every dollar spent” argument time after time.

  • As has been demonstrated in other countries, it would spawn a new black market system and a new national sales tax collection bureaucracy. At least the flat tax would leverage its collection system from the current system where we already have sunk costs.
I think that if either of these proposals actually receive serious consideration we should push to require a supermajority vote to pass any increase while retaining a simple majority vote to pass any decrease. Experience shows that we need to provide a strong disincentive for our representatives to increase government spending.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Please, Mr. President, Stand Up and Lead

Apparently I am not the only conservative that is less than happy with President Bush’s (and his administration’s) lousy communication about the war. See David Frum’s 8/23/05 post on this issue. Daniel Henninger posted an article on 8/5/05 practically begging the administration to leverage the passions resulting from the 7/7 bombings in London to help people understand what we are doing in Iraq.

I think the Bush team has missed many an opportunity to give Americans cogent reasons beyond the same tired rhetoric to support the war effort in Iraq and Afghanistan. I’m not looking for propaganda or worn out phrases. I want solid up-to-date information on a regular basis that helps me understand what we’re doing over there and why we’re doing it. And I want it from our nation's leader, not just from journalists like Victor Davis Hanson.

Reliable poll numbers show that Americans’ support for the war effort is sliding. 20 years ago former President Nixon listed what a president needs to successfully prosecute a foreign war (see my post on this issue): 1) It must be vital to America’s national interest. 2) It must be winnable with the means that we have to commit to it. 3) The public and the Congress must support it. (See here #16)

Nixon noted in his book that in a democratic society a leader has a limited time to prosecute a foreign war because public opinion will inevitably wane with time regardless of how strong it was at the outset. For that reason, he says that it is absolutely necessary to have a set of objectives and an exit strategy clearly defined before committing to the effort. Many Americans feel that these two essential elements have been overlooked in the current conflict.

Nixon goes on to state that leaders cannot simply follow uninformed public opinion when defining national interests. However, it is the leader’s “responsibility to educate the people and the Congress about where our vital interests are and then gain support for whatever military actions may be necessary to protect them.” (See here #21)

Public opinion is turning against the war effort simply because the President and his administration are failing to provide effective communication and leadership on the issue. While the President has repeatedly said the same words over and over, it should be clear by now that he is failing to help the public understand our objectives.

The President needs to do something different. For the good of the country he needs to stand up and provide the kind of communication Nixon says a leader must provide. Unfortunately this doesn’t seem to be Bush’s style. He has followed the same tack with Social Security reform and it isn’t gaining much support either.

Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE) made news the other day by saying that Iraq is looking more and more like Vietnam (see here). Conservatives promptly trashed Hagel (see here), calling him a media lapdog and noting that he is merely starting his 2008 presidential campaign early. I think Hagel is wrong on some points, but he is correct that some parallels exist between Iraq and Vietnam.

In Vietnam we achieved a tenuous peace, but than threw it away, sacrificing millions in the offing merely to satisfy anti-war political sentiment at home. We could repeat the same mistake in Iraq, or we could stay the course as the President repeatedly says we must do (see here). But if the President is serious about the American people staying the course in Iraq he must regularly give them compelling reasons for doing so.

Please, Mr. President, stand up and lead.

Monday, August 22, 2005

A National Flat Tax? In Your Dreams

Steve Forbes, the publisher of Forbes Magazine who ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 1996 and 2000, has lately been very active in promoting a flat tax with a single rate of 17% charged on income in excess of a base level (both business and personal). You can see his latest op-ed article in the Wall Street Journal here.

The article caught my attention because Forbes pays attention to something that usually goes unmentioned in most discussions about our tax system: the politics involved.

Having been a tax professional in a previous career, I am often asked questions such as, “Why do we have to pay a third party to electronically file our taxes? Shouldn’t the IRS do this for free?,” and “Why is it so hard to figure out what tax exemptions are available for having paid college tuition?”

The simple answer: politics. The last major bill that altered our tax system was the Tax Reform Act of 1986. (It’s been amended more than 14,000 times since then). The exploits of the lobbyists and the various politicians involved were nicely exposed in a book called Showdown at Gucci Gulch.

For example, the main reason you can’t electronically file with the IRS for free (people meeting certain criteria actually can, but the total number of targeted taxpayers is relatively small) is that several groups lobbied very hard against it, particularly the CPAs and tax preparation firms. They were successful in getting an agreement written into the law that the IRS would never provide this service for free to the general public, despite the fact that it would be far cheaper for the IRS to do this than to process paper returns. It was apparently a tradeoff to get funding for the expansion of electronic filing beyond a being a pilot program. The result is the subsidizing of an industry that needn’t exist.

Forbes notes that “One-sixth of the private-sector employees in Washington are employed by the lobbying industry. Half their efforts are directed at wangling changes in the tax code.” That is why our tax system has become “a beast whose complexity, confusion and outright unfairness have corrupted our economy and society.”

Hitting on health care costs, Forbes ominously adds that “our health-care system, with its runaway costs, is, in fact, the ultimate product of the tax-code distortion in our economy.”

Then Forbes touts the benefits of his flat tax system, predicting an unprecedented economic and innovation boom. He discusses the basic economics of his proposal:

What so many "experts" can't grasp is that taxes are not only a means of raising revenue for governments but also a price and a burden. The tax you pay on income is the price you pay for working; the tax on profits is the price you pay for being successful, and the levy on capital gains is the price you pay for taking risks that work out. When you lower the price of good things, such as productive work, success and risk taking, you get more of them. The flat tax does that dramatically.
Forbes slams the idea of a national sales tax, noting that it would substantially raise prices on goods and services. “Imagine a couple buying a new house costing, say, $200,000, coughing up an extra $60,000 in sales taxes.” I am opposed to a national sales tax because it is one of the most regressive forms of taxation and it would spawn two whole new industries: one on the collection side and one on the black market side, as has been demonstrated in other countries.

Forbes is touting his tax reform proposal in his recently published book.

The biggest obstacle in achieving the kind of tax reform Forbes suggests is the political system discussed above. These people are not going to lie down and see their current stream of captive customers evaporate. It would require serious and forceful leadership to see this through. Indeed, Forbes calls for President Bush to stand up and provide that leadership.

Will President Bush be the kind of forceful leader on this issue that Forbes wants? If his leadership on the Social Security issue is any measure, I doubt it.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

It's Good to be an American

Michael Barone has written an excellent article that speaks to the patriotic American within me. Barone explains how the 7/7 London bombings were brought to us by the wonderful philosophy of multiculturalism.

Barone notes that multiculturalism has taken a beating worldwide since 7/7. Previously dyed-in-the-wool multiculturalists, especially in the UK, are uttering phrases and supporting measures that are heretical to the multiculturalism gospel.

Multiculturalism is based on the lie that all cultures are morally equal. In practice, that soon degenerates to: All cultures all morally equal, except ours, which is worse. But all cultures are not equal in respecting representative government, guaranteed liberties, and the rule of law.

In America, as in Britain, multiculturalism has become the fashion in large swaths of our society. So the Founding Fathers are presented only as slaveholders, World War II is limited to the internment of Japanese-Americans and the bombing of Hiroshima. Slavery is identified with America though it has existed in many societies, and the antislavery movement arose first among English-speaking evangelical Christians.

But most Americans know there is something special about our cultural heritage. Multiculturalist intellectuals do not think our kind of society is worth defending. But millions here and increasing numbers in Britain and other countries know better.
This dovetails well with Nathan Tabor’s less-than-eloquent rant about the difference between freedom haters that hide behind the mask of being against the war and freedom lovers that love freedom enough to fight for it.

One group feels that our country and culture are not worth fighting for. The other side feels that these ideals are worth fighting for “– so much so that when necessary, they are willing to fight to preserve and protect it, as well as to export it around the world and extend it to other peoples less fortunate than we are.”

Like many of the Americans Michael Barone refers to, I know that there is something special about this country and its culture. Of course we are not free from problems, even serious ones. We should work to correct them. But we should not focus so closely on these blemishes as to miss the grand picture that is the USA.

I am proud to be a patriotic American.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Scouting In Utah

A recent letter to the editor in the Standard Examiner by an outdoor recreation professional criticized the outdoor skills of Boy Scouts. The author notes that people in his industry widely consider the Scouts to be “the yahoos of the outdoors.” He credits inadequate leader training as the likely root of the problem.

In response to my recent post, Ethan said that the problem lies not with the Boy Scouts of America organization, but with some of its local leaders.

I have seen the BSA program from many different angles: as a boy in the program, a camp staff worker, an adult volunteer at many different levels (sometimes working closely with Scouting professionals), a parent of boys in the program, a chartered organization representative, etc. I will try to piece together a picture from these varied perspectives.

I have seen the entire gamut of Scouting leadership, from the totally untrained to the highly trained, along with attendant results. There is no question that better trained leaders generally provide better and safer Scouting experiences. While the author of the above cited letter suggests that no BSA outdoor training materials exist, this is simply not the case. The BSA has substantial current training materials and training opportunities.

I had several great Scouting leaders as a boy. The local unit I attended had a strong tradition of quality Scouting. Most of my leaders up until I became an Explorer Scout were well trained and highly committed. My Scoutmaster’s commitment and perseverance helped me achieve the rank of Eagle Scout. My life was positively impacted in a major way because of the Scouting program. From a boy’s point of view, the program is good if it provides adventure, achievement, and good friendships absent of major injuries.

As an Explorer Scout I was temporarily lost in the mountains one night on a snowmobile outing, mainly due to poor attention to safety by my inadequately trained leaders. Fortunately I had enough outdoor experience to keep myself safe in a severe environment until, by the grace of God I was located by my frantic leaders in the wee hours of the morning.

So why does the BSA have safety and environmental problems? Much of it boils down to the fact that it is chiefly a volunteer organization that is privately funded. Most volunteers serve at least out of a sense of duty. Some youth are fortunate enough to have leaders that serve out of a sense of love.

LDS Church units sponsor most BSA units in Utah, although, some BSA units are sponsored by other religious denominations, the PTA, or various civic organizations such as Kiwanis and Rotary. While it is highly desirable to have well trained Scouting volunteers, many leaders in sponsoring organizations are simply grateful to find people that are willing to serve in these positions at all. While they offer training, they usually don’t feel like they are in a position to force volunteers to get properly trained.

Speaking from experience, many leaders in chartering organizations have so many things on their plates that they fail to give adequate attention to training of Scouting leaders. Many organization leaders are unaware of the training opportunities that exist and/or do not feel that their budgets warrant paying for training that has associated costs.

Scouting volunteers already spend at least one night every week running meetings for the boys. They spend more time preparing for these meetings. They run courts of honor, merit badge classes, fundraisers, boards of review, and service projects. They take their vacation time to take the boys camping. The last thing many of these people want is to attend yet another set of meetings that take them away from their families. Most wouldn’t mind being fully trained, but don’t anticipate sufficient benefit to commit additional time to the effort.

Volunteers also teach the training courses. Having participated on many training staffs, I can vouch for the fact that the quality of training varies greatly even if the training materials are the same. When busy people attend a course that is not well run, they have little incentive to become trained.

While the BSA now does a background check on every volunteer leader that registers, it has no certification program for preparing adult leaders. In other words, volunteers are not required to become trained in order to serve. Most training occurs after starting service.

To get a tour permit to take the boys camping or to some other venue, at least one leader in attendance must have watched the BSA’s video about preventing child abuse and one leader attending must have read the Guide to Safe Scouting. However, many untrained leaders don’t bother with tour permits and are quite unaware of the rules of safe Scouting.

Training in outdoor skills and tour management is usually provided through monthly roundtable meetings, but these opportunities usually only show the tip of the iceberg. It is largely up to the volunteer leaders to obtain approved training materials, self train, and/or obtain the needed training. In my district, most volunteers do not attend the monthly meetings because they consider them to be of dubious worth.

Adult volunteers that opt to do so attend the BSA’s advanced training program called Woodbadge. The program is intense and requires one to two years of application in the field following a weeklong initial training to obtain certification. Only the most committed Scouters usually attend this course, usually only after they have been involved in the program for several years.

Should the BSA have a certification program that is required prior to serving as an adult leader? The BSA should probably study this possibility. Requiring rigorous training prior to beginning service could lead to difficulties getting sufficient volunteers. Some units could end up being disbanded. On the other hand, if the certification program was well run enough to become prestigious, volunteers might flock to attend.

Still, the vast majority of Boy Scouts safely pass through their Scouting experiences. Many leaders are adequately trained. Many units are properly environmentally conscious in their outdoor activities. However, it only takes a few that do safety and environmental care poorly to cause a significant and long lasting negative impact. There are frankly still a lot of untrained leaders out there. The BSA and its sponsoring organizations should take this matter seriously and consider what more should be done to adequately address the situation.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Down With Morality!

What’s wrong with America? Well, if you’re the ACLU, it’s horrible things like public prayer, nativity scenes, defense of traditional marriage, keeping porn from kids, enforcement of immigration laws, the Pledge of Allegiance, and the Boy Scouts. The ACLU has filed numerous lawsuits aimed at each of these.

I have to admit that as a Scouter for over three decades and an adult Scouter for over two, the ACLU’s 30-year fight to destroy the Boy Scouts of America gets me hot under the collar. Writing in the Weekly Standard, Scott Johnson details the latest salvo in the battle here.

For two decades the BSA has held its national jamboree at Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia every 4-5 years. But it is likely that Scouts will have to hold Jamboree 2010 at a different location thanks to a recent ruling by Illinois federal district court Judge Blanche Manning in favor of the ACLU (Winkler v. Chicago). According to the suit, the BSA is akin to a religious institution. So allowing the Scouts to hold their jamboree at a military installation is akin to the government making a special accommodation to a religion.

This is the cloud in the silver lining of the 2000 Supreme Court ruling in Dale that allowed the BSA to prohibit homosexuals from being leaders in the organization. In various lawsuits, including Dale, the ACLU had argued that the BSA effectively had no moral rules and that it was illegal for the organization to exclude homosexuals. When SCOTUS ruled otherwise, the ACLU started filing suits from the other direction, arguing that the BSA had so many moral rules that it was a de facto religion.

The ACLU has had a lot of success in taking this tack. It has been able to get the Boy Scouts excluded from a variety of government sponsored venues across the nation, including parks, schools, libraries, town halls, etc. The ACLU seems to have an endless supply of support for filing lawsuit after lawsuit aimed at destroying the BSA.

When I was a kid, the Boy Scouts stood for everything that was good and upright in America. Guess what? It still does. Only now, it finds itself under relentless ferocious attacks by those that intend to either destroy it completely or remake it in their own image.

While the ACLU website is chock full of altruistic statements about how it is the “nation’s guardian of liberty,” etc., its actions present a much different and more clear message. The ACLU is out to destroy the Boy Scouts and just about anything else that is considered “virtuous, lovely, or of good report, or praiseworthy.” *

Thursday, August 04, 2005

The Slippery Slope to Legalized Incest

Many elites said that Justice Scalia was off his rocker when he made his slippery slope argument in his dissent in Lawrence v. Texas where the Supreme Court decided in 2003 that laws against consensual homosexual sex were unconstitutional. Scalia (joined by Rehnquist and Thomas) argued that the Lawrence ruling would lead to the overturning of laws against adultery, fornication, adult incest, homosexual “marriage”, polygamy, etc.

While many scoffed at this merely two years ago, Radford University professor Matthew J. Franck says here that we are on the verge of seeing it come to pass. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled in Muth v. Frank that Wisconsin’s prohibition on incest is constitutional, but Franck says that the ruling will end with a bad result.

Let’s note that Franck is a professor of political science and is not a lawyer. Still, his analysis is difficult to reason against. He notes that while the court held in favor of Wisconsin, it clearly erred in its interpretation of Lawrence. He concludes that this was done on purpose so as to force the Supreme Court to take care of its own mess – a protest of sorts by the Seventh Circuit against having to rule that laws against incest are unconstitutional.

Franck suggests that this issue will soon come before the Supreme Court. The court will rely on Lawrence and will have to conclude that government has no legitimate interest in preventing adult incest. The rest of the practices mentioned above will quickly follow on the heels of that decision with the result that many of the laws codifying millennia-old mores that constitute the fabric of Western civilization will be tossed to the wind like so much chaff.

The current Supreme Court’s version of the Constitution consists not of law, but of what seems to be good in the minds of at least five justices. Justice O’Connor’s statements in Lawrence make it clear that she was ruling in the interest of what she thinks is fairness. However, the court does not exist to implement fairness. It exists to interpret law. As noted by Jonah Goldberg, many members of the current court simply “cannot tolerate the idea that a good law can be unconstitutional or that a bad law can actually be constitutional.”

Moreover, a ruling by the court will not settle the matter if public sentiment is against it. Note that three decades after Roe v. Wade the public is more sharply divided than ever over abortion and people on both sides of the issue are far from letting it be. The court may strike down widely accepted moral laws, but instead of ending the battle it will add new fire to it.

There is a groundswell of people who are tired of being told that the laws that they pass through our representative process do not pass the muster of elite justices. The court once held the philosophy that it should intervene against the properly represented will of the people only in the most egregious cases. Today it intervenes whenever something seems unfair to the elite and it keeps lowering the bar.

Charley Foster has a link on his blog to an American Enterprise Institute paper on the push by progressives to substantially alter the Constitution through judicial fiat (Part I, Part II). These articles are well researched and are very eye opening. It is worth fighting to bring some legal conservatives to the court. John Fund says that even this will be insufficient and that we now need 18-year term limits on Supreme Court justices. This is an idea I can support.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

So, How Is Hatch Representing Utah?

Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) is gearing up to run for his sixth term in the U.S. Senate. Of course, few voters remember that when he beat Democrat Frank Moss who was running for a fourth term in 1976, he campaigned largely on the fact that long-term service in the senate resulted in incumbents being out of touch with their constituents.

Moss was blindsided by Hatch’s victorious campaign, not realizing that the political demographics of Utah were rapidly sliding from Democrat to Republican largely due to the culture wars of the 60s and early 70s, and which side of those wars the party of the kicking mule seemed to represent.

With state Representative Steve Urquhart (R-St. George) announcing his intent to challenge Hatch, many are spouting the same arguments against dumping Hatch that were commonly used in favor of keeping Moss 30 years ago. The main argument is that Utah doesn’t want to lose its seniority in the senate. However, seniority is good only if it actually benefits Utah. What has Hatch done with his oh-so-precious seniority?

The Hatch team has put out 28 press releases in the last 31 days. Senator Bob Bennett (R-UT), who won re-election last year, put out nine press releases during the same period. Here is a run-down of some of the things Senator Hatch is taking credit for doing in Washington.

  • Introduced bill to use taxpayer money to subsidize purchases of gun safes.

  • Supported the transportation bill, but failed to get language attached to enable the Legacy Highway to move forward. Did get language included to protect a small traffic data collection company in Utah County.

  • Helped pass a bill that increases the small business tax exemption for medical device companies.

  • Supported government funding of embryonic stem cell research.

  • Supported language in the energy bill aimed at increasing staff to process the backlog in BLM gas and oil permit requests.

  • Helped pass a bill to transfer ownership of Minersville State Park to Beaver County.

  • Helped pass Senator Bennett’s bill adding some pioneer trails to the national trails system.

  • Negotiated language in the (truly wasteful – see here) energy bill that would subsidize the purchase of alternative fuel cars, refineries that are increasing production, and development of alternative fuel sources.

  • Supported President Bush’s various nominees.

  • Supported copyright law changes that would benefit mostly large media companies and hurt smaller concerns.

  • Introduced a bill aimed at protecting some private property in light of the recent SCOTUS ruling giving governments unprecedented power over private property.

  • Supported a bill funding the move of the Moab tailings pile.
Many of these things sound great. I appreciate many of Hatch's votes, but the issues into which he really put his energy may not resonate well with conservatives in Utah. Do we really want to subsidize gun safes, alternative fuel cars (which are already heavily subsidized and usually cost more than the average Utah family can afford anyway), medical equipment firms, individual small businesses, etc.? Do we really want to use taxpayer money to fund embryonic stem cell research? Do we want a senator that represents the interests of large media companies with the result of stifling innovation and ensuring higher prices for consumers?

These issues are only part of the problem. The real problem is that Senator Hatch only pays attention to Utah voters, and elected and appointed officials during his election campaigns. Then they are safely tucked away back in that big squarish state out west while the good senator pursues his goal of inside-the-beltway immortality.

If seniority in the senate is so important, it’s time for us to start building new seniority now. Otherwise Utah will likely end up with two freshman senators only two years apart. That’s supposed to be good for Utah?

Hatch’s use of his seniority in the senate shows that it is not nearly as valuable as conventional wisdom seems to dictate. It’s time for fresh blood and time for someone that will actually represent Utah interests.

If you want to see where Steve Urquhart stands on issues, see his blog. If you want to know what kind of legislator and person Urquhart is, check out the blog of Representative John Dougall (R-American Fork). I think Urquhart is a great alternative to perma-Hatch.