Opinionated @ CFE

The Myth of Government-Free Marriage

May
10

I’ve seen a trend among my libertarian friends to try and argue that the solution to the entire same-sex marriage debate is to completely remove government from any involvement in marriage. I can see where this would have some kind of appeal. After all, the goal of same-sex marriage is to force those who do not support it to do so using the power of government. Libertarianism holds special contempt for using the force of government to make people do things to which they object. Unfortunately, their solution is pure anarchy and undoes one of the central and proper powers of government.

Contracts between private parties are central to functioning society. They allow individuals to spell out the terms of an arrangement and penalties for failing to oblige by those terms. A contract has no power unless you have a mechanism by which you can seek relief if a party to the contract violates it. If a contract is vague or leaves some terms undefined, we have to operate with some assumptions as to what would constitute fair terms to both parties. If we didn’t, a contract for purchasing a stick of gum would require reams of paper and months of legal review. For obvious reasons, we have to have some kind of assumed terms for various transactions lest we be paralyzed by an inability to enter into more casual contracts.

This is where government comes in and provides much-needed services to ensure contracts can function. Our system of laws, as imperfect as it may be, establishes some basic assumptions to use in the absence of anything more specific. It also provides a way to force a party that doesn’t live up to the terms of the agreement to either comply or provide compensation for abrogation. If we didn’t have these two things, contracts would be unworkable monsters and “might makes right” would be the only way to enforce a contract.

Legally speaking, the marriage contract is no different. Two people enter into an agreement. If one of them breaks the agreement, the other needs some kind of element of force to either seek redress or compliance. In the absence of a meticulously-detailed prenuptial agreement, we have to have some set of assumptions to work from. It sounds really good to say “keep government out of my marriage”, but who are you going to run to when a spouse decides to seize all of the joint property and change the locks on you? Without someone to enforce the terms of the contract, marriage becomes a lot like a casual dating relationship.

My fellow libertarians have fallen into the trap of thinking that simple mantras can solve complex problems. The reality is that they make a good starting point for discussion, but they are rarely implementable on their own. The marriage debate is no different.

Making Elizabeth Smart Say Something She Never Said

May
07

Elizabeth Smart recently delivered a speech at a human trafficking symposium at John Hopkins University about her experiences being kidnapped and raped. As she’s done many times before, she shared her feelings at the time that left her feeling trapped with her kidnapper for nine months. There are a number of important lessons we can take away from her experiences. Unfortunately, a lot of people are trying to make her says things she didn’t say to score some political points.

What is abundantly clear is that the way that chastity was taught to Ms. Smart was grossly insensitive to victims of sexual assault. The “chewed gum” analogy simply makes me queasy, and I can see how, with such an indelicate comparison, she would feel worthless after being abused. That’s a tragedy that should be avoidable, especially with the under-developed mind of a teenager.

Where this goes off the rails, however, is with the implication that this has anything to do with abstinence and sex education. In fact, I think it’s been made very clear that Ms. Smart’s remarks had absolutely no political or religious overtones to them:

Ed Smart told Fox 13 his daughter was simply sharing her experiences, speaking for herself as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but she wasn’t trying to make any religious or political statements.

And yet, the progressive media has decided that this is exactly what she did. Locally, a bunch of other left-leaning individuals have chosen to repeat this falsehood. While I get that their attitudes on sexual activity lead them to attack the concept of abstinence, what I don’t get is why any of them would feel the need to explicitly lie about what Ms. Smart said to try and lend more authority to their argument. Unfortunately, I don’t see that anyone perpetuating the lie is going to issue a retraction. At best, we’ll get a mealy-mouthed explanation as to why the mixture of her statements and injected outside opinions is accurate enough that it should stay up.

What this highlights is the supreme importance of going to primary sources when these kinds of stories pop up. You’ll almost always find that what was actually said differs greatly from the sensationalized headlines. This case is no different.

Partisanship creates hypocrites

Feb
06

Someone asked today where the anti-war, pro-civil liberties left has gone. They’re certainly not as loud as they were six or so years ago. I think I can explain it. I’ve noticed a pattern from the media and partisans alike. They are highly deferential to presidential power during the first term, then start to let the teeth come out once that second term is secured. It happened with Bush, and it’s happening with Obama. My guess is once they are assured that their president-emperor doesn’t need to face the ballot box once more, they can finally be honest about him. By then, though, it’s usually too late to do anything of substance about it.

A core problem with this blatant hypocrisy is that it suggests that you can and should  compromise deeply held principles (or at least be less vocal about them) if you think that the person in power can give you some of what you want. I think it’s a bad idea to make that kind of deal with the devil. When the power shifts, and it inevitably will, that lack of principled stand will cost you credibility when you call it out in The Other Side(TM). You’ve revealed that power, not principle, is your guiding force, and your criticisms will ring hollow as you find the perpetrator of the misdeeds to be a bigger issue than the misdeeds themselves.

Utah should decline Medicaid expansion

Jan
24

One of the hot-button issues to be discussed at the upcoming legislative session is whether or not to expand Medicaid as part of the Affordable Care Act. The Act provides 100% funding to begin with, then drops back to 90% (or possibly less) in future years. That big sack of money makes for a pretty tantalizing offer, but I don’t think it’s a good idea to take it. Here’s why.

The obvious problem is that most of the Medicaid expansion money is only available via federal borrowing. It’s pretty easy to rationalize that the money will be spent anyway, so we should get our share. It’s also easy to justify as being a relatively small amount of money compared to the current budget deficit. To be fair, I think this is probably one of the weaker arguments against the expansion, but I do think that, even as a largely symbolic gesture, it’s a good idea to put our money where our mouth is on federal spending.

A deeper problem (and, indeed, the core problem with the ACA) is that a Medicaid expansion is subsidizing an overpriced healthcare system rather than attempting to resolve the cost issues that make even routine procedures unaffordable. True, using a subsidy may alleviate the symptom for some, but there is no mechanism to try and curb costs. This is a long-term recipe for requiring more subsidies to maintain the same levels of care. This turns into a vicious downward spiral where both costs and subsidies for that cost continue to rise. The end result is that more people end up relying on Medicaid and the cycle continues.

Since the Medicaid expansion doesn’t appear to be serious about either controlling costs or providing flexibility in doing so, I see no reason why Utah should get involved with it. There are much better solutions out there, such as targeting hotspots, that can both curb Medicaid spending and provide a much higher level of care while driving down costs across the board. Let’s do something smarter than tossing a multi-billion dollar bandage on the problem.

Yes, John Swallow, you need to resign

Jan
17

Most of us who play inside ball knew from the start that John Swallow was bad news. After a decade of questionable choices in his actions (all seemingly carefully crafted to be just on the inside of legal), he’s now finding himself caught up in a very serious accusation of being involved in a bribery scheme. While Swallow denies attempting to bribe US Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, what he does admit to is enough that he needs to step aside for the good of the state and the office. A few highlights:

  • He transferred ownership of a consulting business to his wife in order to avoid including it on campaign disclosure forms. This business was allegedly setup to provide services to Jeremy Johnson.
  • There is both a recorded conversation and email record showing that Swallow knew he was walking right up to the line of barely being legal.
  • Most importantly, he has admitted to providing legal advice and referrals to Johnson despite knowing that he was the subject of an ongoing investigation. This breach of legal ethics, providing advice to a potential future defendant while serving in a prosecutorial role, is egregious enough to warrant potential disbarment.

All of these actions only further the accusations and rumblings that the AG’s office has been effectively operating a paid protection racket, allowing donors to write a check to make problems go away. Even if there is nothing to them, bringing this dark of a cloud with you should warrant that you leave immediately. Multiple newspapers agree. So do high-profile politicos.

And so do I.

Mr. Swallow, you need to put the good of the state and the office of Attorney General above your personal (and often transparent) political ambitions. It’s time for you to resign.

Where I Stand 2012: State School Board, Judges, and Ballot Questions

Oct
30

These are my picks for state school board, judicial retention, and ballot questions as part of a continuing series of who I’m voting for this election cycle.

State School Board 10: Dave Crandall

I’ll repeat what I said last time: more tech people in government is good, so I’m happy giving Dave Crandall another four years. I’m also very uncomfortable that his opponent, Nina Marie Welker, is touting her experience as a delegate as a reason to vote for her. Sorry, but you’ll have to do better than that.

Judicial Retention: No to All

The state of Utah has a website where you can evaluate judges based on feedback from jurors and attorneys. In theory, this is supposed to help you make an informed decision about which judges need to stay and which need to go. Personally, I find it rather worthless. Our legal system has all kinds of serious systemic problems in it, and many of those problems often come from a collusion between judges and lawyers. Judges almost always fly through retention elections with a victory rate that’d make any Congressman jealous. Are we really to believe that judges are really this far above reproach? I do not. As a result, I cast a no vote in the off chance that we change up the makeup of the courts and catch the occasional egregious offender.

State Constitutional Amendment A: For

Whenever mineral resources are extracted and removed from the state, the removing business must pay a severance tax. This constitutional amendment would require that a portion of this money be placed in a permanent trust to be invested and create future interest revenues. Given that the severance tax is a one-time revenue source, this seems like a smart fiscal move. I have no problems voting for this amendment.

State Constitutional Amendment B: Against

I have a big problem with making the tax code favor any particular group over another, even if it’s wrapped in good intentions. This constitutional amendment would allow military personnel who are deployed out-of-state for more than 200 days a year to be exempted from paying property taxes. While I’m sure that at least one person will call me an America-hater and insult my mother, I can’t in good conscience support this kind of exemption. Not only would it cause severe financial hardship in the towns closest to military installations, it would imbalance the tax code based on the voluntary choice of profession. I can’t see that this is a net benefit to the community, but rather a hand-0ut of sorts to a specific group. I have to vote against this amendment.

Salt Lake County Proposition 1: Against

Really? Another open space and parks bond already? Look, I like both open space and parks. I don’t have a problem paying for them. I do have a problem with issuing bond after bond after bond for them, inflating the cost to double what it would be if we paid out-of-pocket. I have to vote against this on principle to encourage the county to make me pay more for it now so that I can pay a lot less later. Learn to save up for these things, guys.

Where I Stand 2012: Salt Lake County Offices

Oct
30

These are my picks for Salt Lake County offices as part of a continuing series of who I’m voting for this election cycle. As a resident of an unincorporated township, these offices are especially important to me as they are, in effect, my city government.

Salt Lake County Mayor: Ben McAdams

This is probably one of the most difficult races I’ve had to weigh in on. This is one of the few occasions where I think we’re getting a chance to pick between the better of two goods, so I don’t have a clear choice to be made. While I believe Mark Crockett’s political positions match my own most closely,  general temperament concerns me. Several high-profile Republicans have opted to cross party lines and endorse Ben McAdams. More than a few of them have alleged that the campaign has threatened them with intra-party reprisals for doing so. Among them is Steve Urquhart, someone who I know to be honest and unlikely to make up something like this. I’m also a bit concerned at his adversarial tone in the campaign including during the GOP primary.

Ben McAdams leans a good bit left of where I do, but he’s a competent manager, and I believe he will carry out his executive duties exceptionally well. Given that the county is often providing services to and working jointly with cities throughout the county, I think his experience building consensus is going to be a much better asset to county government than matching my ideology so rigidly.

Salt Lake County Council At-Large C: Joseph M. Demma

The big question facing the county is between contraction in the face of wall-to-wall cities or an attempt to preserve things largely as they are. The shrinking direct tax base lost to incorporation leaves the remaining islands of county land in the position of incorporating, being annexed, or seeing a tremendous tax increase to pay for municipal services to an ever-shrinking base. While I’ve been very happy to not be a party of the city of Sandy (and it’s sales tax-obsessed mayor, Tom Dolan), I can see the writing on the wall that this is likely to end up changing Real Soon Now(TM) as Millcreek moves towards incorporation and drives the final nail into the tax base. As such, I’ve got to support the candidate that acknowledges this eventuality and tries to get ahead of it.

The county needs to move away from the 20% of the budget stuck in municipal services and focus more on its duties to provide the services delegated to it by the state. I’ve met Joseph Demma and think he’d do well carrying out this vision. Jim Bradley has left me with the feeling that he wants to keep things as they are. While I get that this is a popular idea for hold-out communities like mine (White City), I think we need to take our lumps now and move forward.

Salt Lake County Council 6: Max L. Burdick

This one has the same issues as the at-large race with a twist: I’ve known Paul Recanzone, one of the candidates, for a number of years and we share a passion for broadband policy. Outside of this, though, I don’t know that we can find a lot more common ground. The county doesn’t have a role to play in education (that’s handled by school districts), labor laws (that’s a state function), or the state code (a function of the legislature), but he takes positions on all of them. What about incorporation of townships? Parks and trails? The Unified Police District and Unified Fire Authority? I’m left with a feeling that there’s a lot of passion, but not necessarily for county issues. It doesn’t help that Paul leans a lot further left than I’d like either.

I’ve been happy with Max Burdick’s work so far, and I feel he’s on board for the county to make the upcoming transitions into a more focused role.

Where I Stand 2012: State Offices

Oct
17

These are my picks for state offices as part of a continuing series of who I’m voting for this election cycle.

Governor: None of the Above

Every so often, you get an election with nobody worth voting for. A lot of people will just hold their nose and pick one, either at random or whoever they believe will be the least bad option. No, not me. It’s either a good option or none at all (though if the choices are particularly bad, I may pick the worst one just to speed along the inevitable implosion). Unfortunately, the governor’s race is one such spot where it’s a choice between candidates that I don’t think have much right to be there.

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Where I Stand 2012: Federal Offices

Oct
16

Each election, I share who I’m voting for and why. Here are my picks for federal races this cycle.

US President: Gary Johnson

To say that this presidential election cycle has been disgusting would be an understatement. There’s been a constant clown car parade of candidates with whom I have not just disagreements on the issues, but find to be simply disagreeable.

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GOP Primary Endorsement: Mike Winder for Salt Lake County Mayor

Jun
02

I like elections where the choice is obvious. Elections with less-obvious choices, however, really are frustrating. You’re sometimes forced to pick between two good candidates, and you often feel like you’re doing a disservice by leaving one of them behind. That’s the position I find myself in with the race for Salt Lake County Mayor.

The biggest problem is that I can’t make this decision exclusively issue-based. Both Mike Winder and Mark Crockett are following the course that the county needs to scale back and devolve control to cities. In particular, they’re both accepting the reality that Millcreek will soon either incorporate or be annexed leaving the county without much of a tax base at all. Smaller townships like Magna, Kearns, and White City (where I live) in the position of incorporating, being annexed, seeing large tax increases, or getting a sharp decrease in services. Independent of this, both would like to see the county scale back further since it largely failed to do so as other cities incorporated over the last 20 years.

This means it comes down to a matter of what methods and styles the candidates would use to accomplish these ends. Both candidates are focusing on a bottom-up style of governance, pulling input from the cities and remaining townships before making any decisions. While I like Mark Crockett’s data-driven approach, I think that Mike Winder has better established relationships with local government leaders that will allow him to better execute this vision. He also very clearly understands the difference between what various levels of government should do, a very Jeffersonian view that I can get behind.

Some people will hand-wring about choosing Winder to go up against the charismatic, capable, and all-around good guy Ben McAdams. Almost all of the concern swirls around the Richard Burwash incident and any potential impacts on electability. To be honest, I think those concerns are largely overblown. I listened to Mike as he responded to someone asking him about it, and his response indicates both that he recognizes how poor the decision was and that he learned from it. Taking ownership of your failings is a highly admirable quality in a leader, and I think it represents a strength, not a weakness.

I hope you’ll join me in supporting Mike Winder for Salt Lake County Mayor.

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