Archive for September, 2007

Pro-Public Education Bloggers

September 30, 2007

The fight over vouchers continues unabated here in the state of Utah, and there have been a great number of very worthy arguments against over the course of the last month or so. Here are some of my favorites

Many have responded to the voucher defence by Sutherland Institute spokesman Paul Mero (who prefers his quiver privately fletched at public expense). The Voice of Utah and The World According to Me both challenged the flawed arithmetic, research skills, and reasoning of Mero’s press release (If the staff of the Sutherland Institute was largely publically educated, would that mean the flaws in the press release actually help their case?).

Mero not only presents inaccurate information, but makes the ludicrous assertion that public education has threatened the LDS faith with “cultural extinction” (yes, Paul, the LDS faith is certainly dwindling in Utah, isn’t it?). Accountability First, a great source for exploring many aspects of the voucher issue, condemns Mero’s use of religious demogogury. Jeremy’s Jeremiad takes Mero to task for pining for the idyllic early days of Deseret. Rob at the Utah Amicus does as well, and also points to an article by BYU emeritus professor of history Thomas G. Alexander challenging Mero’s vision of Days Gone By (must be one of them Ivory Tower liberals!).

But Mero wasn’t the supporter of welfare for the rich whose data seems flawed. The Third Avenue notes that one advocate determines the average cost of private schools by excluding the more expensive schools from his average. This makes perfect sense—why account for data which doesn’t support your previously determined conclusion?

Voucher-supporting legislators apparently don’t mind using manipulation and bully tactics in support of their pet cause. The Third Avenue finds it reprehensible that key Republican legislators have threatened to blackmail local businesses. The Voice of Utah, however, sees another, more understanding excuse for their behavior.

Wasatch Watcher questions the integrity of pro-voucher campaign leader Jeff Hartley, who attempts to mislead the public about the nature of the pro-voucher campaign.

The Davis Dijeridu links to the astounding lack of quantifiable data in support of the theoretical claims of the voucher folks.

And finally, Steve Olsen at Utah Amicus boils both sides down to their essential arguments, with the aid of the Ogden Standard Examiner.

There are plenty more good ones where those came from. But I’ll stop at these, a sampling of the best responses to the voucher argument.

LDS Connections to Torture

September 29, 2007

Speaking of the CIA and morally bankrupt foreign policy, the Centerville Citizen noted some bizarre news back in August (unfortunately, my feed aggregator seems to be acting strangely regarding the CC blog, repeatedly flagging an old post about a foreign guest as new and neglecting to show new posts; I was unaware of this entry until the CC author mentioned it in a comment on my page on torture). In a report that I would have dismissed as absurd rumor had I not read it myself, Vanity Fair uncovered that the torture policies which have been accepted by the administration during their foreign misadventures of the past five years were authored by a pair of LDS psychologists.

Having become very financially successful paving the way for increased human rights abuses by U.S. forces, these two “brethren” have boldly proclaimed “We are proud of the work we have done for our country.”

Others are less convinced. The policies these men enabled have increased the already grave tension between the U.S. and the Muslim communities of the Middle-East and helped alienate the rest of the world. “I think they have caused more harm to American national security than they’ll ever understand,” says Kleinman [Air Force Colonel].

How loathsome to find that I share the religion of men who devised methods of torture. What a disgrace to our faith.

I can’t decide whether I’m more perplexed by this revelation, or by the defense of torture by Antonin Scalia, who pointed to the successful capers of a fictional character to justify the use of torture.

“Jack Bauer saved Los Angeles,” he told a panel of judges, referring to the torturer protagonist of the Fox series 24. “Are you going to convict Jack Bauer?”

(Murphy Brown, Tinky-Winky, and now Jack Bauer. Maybe the leaders of the Right need to stop watching so much TV…)

Honestly, could the tabloids have concocted a more bizarre story? Truth is stranger (and sadder) than fiction.

A Milestone for a Government Millstone

September 29, 2007

A couple weeks ago (while I was still incommunicado; I apologize for the tardy post) the federal government observed a particular milestone. With little fanfare (appropriately enough), the CIA turned sixty.

Forgive me if I’m not ecstatic about this anniversary.

The CIA’s history is, to put it charitably, a dubious one at best. The more recent scandals of allowing intelligence information to be doctored to support the administration’s desire to invade Iraq, the CIA’s support of torture in “extreme rendition” and in possible “black sites” are only the most recent—and in many ways, least damning—in a long history of scandal.

The CIA was born as the descendant of the WWII OSS, and was created with an essentially legitimate purpose: “…procure intelligence both by overt and covert methods and will at the same time provide intelligence guidance, determine national intelligence objectives, and correlate the intelligence material collected by all government agencies.” Unfortunately, it was also considered a prime candidate to pursue subversive operations, and suffered a dearth of oversight. As is typical in such cases, it became increasingly independent and expanded its operations without any significant accountability (most notably under Director Allen Dulles). Administrations of all stripes succumbed to the temptation to use it for illicit and illegal activities which they felt important to the interests of the nation—or their administration.

The CIA has been involved in overthrowing several legitimate, democratically elected governments—often supporting in their place corrupt dictators and butchers (Iran in 1953; Guatamala 1954; The Democratic Republic of Congo in 1960 and 1965; Iraq in 1963 and 196, paving the way for Saddam Hussein; Chile on 9/11 of 1973)—not to mention several unsuccessful efforts at regime change in nations such as Nicaragua and Cuba.

The CIA is also known to play a role in supporting and protecting already established tyrants and unsavory groups considered “favorable” to U.S. interests (such as recent warlords in Somalia, past and present despots in Pakistan, Indonesia, and various brutal autocracies in the Middle East).

The series of reports infamous as “the family jewels” details a litany of activities ranging from widespread illegal domestic surveillance, to attempted assassionation of foreign leaders, to mind control experiments on non-consensual and often unwitting participants.

In “The Intelligence Community in the 21st Century” by the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, US House of Representatives (1996), it is estimated that the clandestine service of the nation’s various intelligence agencies break “extremely serious laws” several hundred thousand times a day.

This is reprehensible. Such actions cannot be justified in a moral nation. Its history is an albatross hanging around our neck.

There is certainly a need for entities within the government to collect, correlate, and interpret data vital to making policy decisions of this nation. We need reports such as the national intelligence estimates which the U.S. intelligence community produces each year (which seem to contradict the “intelligence” coming from the White House, and which the White House seems determined to ignore). But covert operations involving the invasion of privacy of U.S. citizens and residents or interfering with the political affairs of other nations are corrosive to foreign relations and to the integrity of our nation.

The recent scandals mentioned above suggest that despite efforts by Congress in the late Seventies and early Eighties, the CIA has changed little. The CIA must be reformed to provide the sort of accountability to keep the agency on a short leash and prevent the sort of nefarious operations in which they’ve engaged so often in the past.

If our government cannot provide such oversight, then the agency should not be around to celebrate its 70th birthday.

Green Home Tour

September 23, 2007

Yet again, other opportunities and commitments have kept me from the blog. As much as I’d love to be a full time blogger, there is too much more to life for me to spend several hours (or even several hours a week) on the blog.

Yesterday, my wife and I were able to participate as docents on the annual Salt Lake City green homes tour. Sponsored by the Green Building Center, the tour highlights homes around the valley which are making use of recycled, natural, or less hazardous building materials, energy efficient features, and alternative energy sources. It was a lot of fun. My wife, an aspiring architect, met several professionals who specialize in “green” architecture. It was nice to see several features we have read about applied in real world situations. We loved the bamboo counters and flooring, cork floors, “paperstone” countertops, tiled wool carpet, reclaimed hardwood flooring, the creative use of windows to enhance natural lighting, and various ingenious methods to passively heat water and house. The owners of the house at which I was stationed had built an ingeniously simple “solar closet.” Twenty fifty-gallon drums of water were used to collect and retain heat over the course of the summer behind a plexiglass solar collector, which would heat the air in the insulated “closet” and passively filter through the house during the winter when the shutters were opened. There is obviously more to it than that, but I’m a graphic designer/librarian not an engineer. Suffice it to say that it is entirely low-tech and effective.

Its great to see these technologies become more widely accepted and accessible to the average citizen. While the initial investment is typically a little higher than the conventional options, they typically pay off through reduced energy consumption and replacement costs. They also reduce the health risks of the many potentially hazardous chemicals used in mainstream products (you know that nasty new-carpet smell? That ain’t good for anybody). The more we take advantage of these options, the better off we and our families will be.

Want to find out more about local “green” housing products, building materials, and designs? Check out the Redirect Guide, which lists all sorts of local progressive product suppliers (such as the Green Building Center and Underfoot Floors) and architects (such as CRSA and AMD—a firm owned and operated by women, a nice thing to see in a very male dominated industry). Another great resource for general green building ideas is the Green Home Guide.

If you’re building a home or considering a remodel, see if you can give green a chance.