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Utah School Vouchers- D. Sirmize's Take

Filed under:D. Sirmize, Guest, Web Log (Blog), Politics, Opinion — posted by D. Sirmize on September 17, 2007 @ 11:07 pm

Since Tyler’s August 26 post on school vouchers in Utah, several people have asked me to weigh in with my $.02 on the issue. Normally I’m more of a national and international politics kind of guy. But I have kids in public school now, so I should probably start paying better attention to local politics- especially when it could mean big changes for my kids’ schools. So I’ll change the channel for a moment from Headline News to KSL and set the Wall Street Journal aside and pick up (forcing back the dry heaves) the Salt Lake Tribune.

A little context first- just so you know where I’m coming from. Regular readers of this blog may have noticed that I lean a little bit to the Right, politically speaking. Ok, anatomically speaking as well (my right leg is slightly longer than my left, which means I go through pairs of shoes as quick the government goes through my tax dollars). Being conservative, I have an intrinsic distrust of and disdain for government programs of any kind. This is because democratic government, by definition, is inefficient and ineffective. Believe it or not, that’s a good thing. The only efficient and effective governments are dictatorships. Unfortunately, this results in government programs- take welfare for example- that are bloated and misguided.

Government programs also tend to be run by bureaucracies fatally afflicted with Leftist groupthink. Modern American Liberalism (or neo-Marxism) bleeds into most government programs on both federal and state levels. This includes public education. The highest levels of Utah’s public education system are populated and run by social liberals. The school system is heavily influenced by teachers’ unions, which make up a sizable chunk of the Democratic Party. I am employed in a position that has me dealing with a smorgasboard of public education officials, school principals, and teachers intimately on a daily basis. Were I not writing under a pseudonym on this blog, my business relationships would be tense and strained.

The most troubling aspect the whole voucher debate for me is that I’ve met precious few people who actually possesses a clear understanding of the issue. People who lean Right tend to favor vouchers because they see public education as generally lacking and a voucher system theoretically gives the public a greater say in education. Left leaners tend to oppose vouchers because theoretically it amounts to government subsidizing of private enterprise and threatens the established system. Unfortunately, once a theory fits a person’s political framework, that’s usually where the thinking stops.

The heart of the problem is a combination of cultural misunderstanding and dubious politics.

Voucher proponents tend to look at the issue through the prism of business. In the private sector, a competitive atmosphere nets a better product. If something isn’t working, it goes under. It’s scrapped. It gives way to something better. The business world is fluid and ever evolving. Change is the only norm.

The exact opposite is true of government. Bureaucracies are innately resistant to change, and even the smallest financial and policy changes literally require an act of Congress. Because the overall structure and purpose of government is so different from the private sector, the concept of competition doesn’t apply the same way. Voucher opponents tend to approach the issue from a government standpoint.

Since private sector enterprise and public administration overlap in the arena of education, the framework for the debate is flawed. We’re comparing apples to oranges in order to describe grapes. Neither side can understand the other- and neither seems to want to.

Misunderstanding leads to heated debate. And just as a basketball team may resort to throwing elbows and flagrant fouls in a down-to-the-wire fourth quarter, both sides of this political battle have resorted to nasty tactics.

No, I don’t think Utah’s schools are as great as many, including Tyler, think they are. But it doesn’t help the pro-voucher cause that it’s primary media proponents are resorting to religious intimidation and out of state funding from phantom interest groups.

Conversely, Utah’s school system certainly isn’t as bad as many voucher proponents think it is, but it doesn’t help that much of the push to kill the voucher program comes from the decidedly liberal National Education Association, out of state unions, and other liberal activist groups.

The caricatured activists on the front lines of this debate further solidify the unresearched opinions most voters have on this issue. Further aggravating the fight is the issue of precedent. Utah is now the battleground for national education debate. Hence the pervasive involvement of out of state interests. Everybody- not just Utahns- seems to have a dog in this fight.

So where do I stand? I think Utah schools are generally well run. They’re well organized and run by good people with a passion for education. I admire most everybody I deal with in the education establishment. When I send my child to the bus stop every day, I know he is in good hands.

My beef with public education lies only in the politics. I despise the fact that public education is so deeply influenced by Marxist ideology. I was outraged when several Utah school districts refused to mention 9/11 on its six year anniversary. I was very frustrated that my elementary student’s class last year had 32 students in it and total chaos was only avoided when several parents per day volunteered in the classroom. Most of my child’s papers came home having been graded by me or some other parent. I hate that Utopian concepts of multiculturalism and diversity are given higher priority than accountability and individualized instruction.

That said, a voucher system- at this time and in this form- is not the answer. I predict that the referendum will fail (because referendums in Utah have historically failed- even hotly-debated ones) and that the passed voucher legislation will be implemented. But it will be ineffective and inequitable, for the very reasons Tyler mentioned in his post. There is no need to rehash the points he’s articulated.

But let’s consider a heretofore unexplored aspect of the issue. The voucher system will not only hurt public education, it will also be the long term downfall for private schools. Many studies suggest that taxpayer-funded voucher systems will likely increase the cost of private education. One must also consider that no money has ever come from government without strings attached. Many private schools worry that vouchers will effectively turn private schools into de facto public schools, essentially stripping them of the things that made people want to send their kids there in the first place. Private schools will become dependent on public money and will eventually subject to government regulation. That prestigious Catholic private school might someday lose it’s religion.

I’m not sure there’s any way now to clarify the argument this late in the game. It’s unfortunate that the issue is so politically charged. The spin from both sides has clouded the facts, and honest dialogue has given way to malicious rhetoric. It’s sad that neither side is willing to appeal to the other by simply laying out the facts, divorced from politics and ulterior motives.

Brace yourselves, my friends, we’re in the fourth quarter. It’s going to get even more interesting.

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A Crisp, Clear Tuesday

Filed under:D. Sirmize, Guest, Inspiring — posted by D. Sirmize on September 11, 2007 @ 7:47 am

I don’t like to think about 9/11.

Probably for the same reason I don’t like waking up in the morning. Not because I am depressed or don’t want to face the day. I’m just fine once I open the door and dash out for my morning run. It’s getting to that point that’s the problem. I dread waking up in the morning probably because I enjoy sleep so much and I don’t think I get enough. It’s hard to leave the warm, comfortable world of sweet slumber.

But I do, every day, because I have to.

I don’t like to think about 9/11 and I don’t think I’m alone. As Americans, we enjoy the comfort of our every-day lives. The human mind likes to pretend problems don’t exist. Perhaps this is a survival instinct. I loved the perceived innocence of the pre- 9/11 world, that slumbering twilight before the alarm went off- the calm before the storm.

It’s been six years. Long enough to get used to the security inconveniences at airports, long enough to be ok with the provisions of the Patriot Act, long enough that our nation at war is the rule, not the exception.

Long enough that I don’t really need to think about 9/11 as much anymore. Gone are the days that I worried about the national Terror Threat Level. Gone are the days that I worry about flying. I still realize the short and long term threats of Radical Islam, but it’s late enough in the day that the nightmare of 9/11 begins to fade.

It was six years ago today, on a crisp, clear Tuesday morning. It’s time to wake up again.

I left too early this morning to talk to my first grader. I wanted to remind him that today is a special day. I hope they mention it at school, but I won’t be surprised if they don’t.

You’re probably reading this at work. Chances are you’ve got a decent Internet connection. Watch the towers fall again- the footage is out there. Shut the office door and listen to the emergency dispatch tapes. Take your phone off the hook for an hour and listen to the cell phone calls from planes. Listen to the victims speak their last words as the towers collapse. Watch it. Listen to it. Relive the horrible catharsis. Forget 9/11 and the American Spirit will fade with it.

Wake up.

Here’s a good place to start.

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The above phrase in Arabic is “lan astaslem.” It means “I will not surrender/I will not submit.”

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Al Gorevara and the Global Warming Super Fad

Filed under:D. Sirmize, Media, Guest, Web Log (Blog), Politics, Opinion — posted by D. Sirmize on June 12, 2007 @ 11:17 am

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Do you know who Che Guevara is? Probably not. But you know what he looks like. You know, the t-shirt. The one you see at night clubs, college campuses, and leftist protests across the country. The famous posterized image was even recently spotted on the streets of Baghdad. But I’m willing to bet 300 carbon offsets that outside of Latin America, nobody knows anything about the guy gracing their $30 t-shirts. I’m not going to waste space on the guy. Google him if you care. Better yet, Wikipedia him.

The only thing that bugs me worse than political stupidity is fads. The Atkins diet, beanie babies, Survivor. They hit the pop culture scene, drive hordes to obsession, then disappear as quickly as they came. Ok, so Survivor hasn’t yet been voted off the island, but when was the last time you heard “Sorry, I can’t tonight. Survivor’s on.”

Today it’s myspace, organic food, and “going green.” Of course if I were smart and would have been the guy who invented these things, I’d be on sitting on some beach counting my stacks of green.

Today’s Che Guevara is Al Gore. Who’da thought? Some turds just don’t flush. Seven years ago I would never have believed that Al Gore would lead pop culture’s pantheon of idols. Of course Gore would be nothing if his pet cause hadn’t taken the world by storm. Al Gore has become the face of Global Warming. And he’s recruited quite a cabinet of indoctrination pros- Hollywood, national news media, academia, and education. Musicians like Pearl Jam croon about green living while distinguished climate experts like Sheryl Crow and Leonardo DiCaprio preach about conserving toilet paper and living “carbon neutral” lifestyles. Network news reporters poo-poo even the most intellectual challenges to Global Warming theory and college professors teach it as gospel. Even red state elementary schools have made “An Inconvenient Truth” a curriculum staple (never mind that the premise of this Gore flick is shaky and packed with exaggerations and stretched truths).

Global warming will go down in history as the super fad of modern times. I’m constantly amazed at how it has gripped the country. I recently attended a large educational conference whose keynote speaker was Bill Nye (the Science Guy). The subject of his speech, as stated in the conference program, was “promoting educational technology.” After a few self-serving stories about his various inventions, the lovable geek we all grew up watching on PBS launched a tirade on Global Warming (known nowadays by it’s current fad name, “climate change”). Nye told the several thousand educators present that their main goal should be to raise awareness of the dangers of global warming. He ended with the following:

“We are facing a serious business here on Earth; we are facing a very serious future unless we get on it,” he warned. “This is where we, as educators, must change the world.”

I think I was the only one that didn’t give him a standing ovation. So much for educational technology. Can I get a refund?

Come on, you say. Climate change isn’t a fad. It’s science. Al Gore says so. Well there’s plenty about this “science” that doesn’t sit right with me, which I’ll discuss in subsequent posts. Even if the science is sound and humans are indeed affecting global climate, today’s climate change chic is still a fad. And like all other fads, most of the people wearing the t-shirts don’t have a clue what’s behind the graphic. And also like all other fads, it will be gone once the hype dries up.

Now I consider myself an environmentalist. I love nature and I contribute annually to several conservation organizations. I drive a fuel efficient vehicle, recycle, and actively oppose unwise land development in my county. I believe humans should be good and wise stewards of the earth. Climate change I can believe, but I’m not so quick to believe the change is caused by humans. But even if any of the hype pans out, there are a few things about the hysteria that bug the hell out of me:

1. Al Gore. Ok, you must realize by now that I think Al Gore is a lying, hypocritical, steaming pile. I couldn’t stand him during the Clinton years and I can’t stand him now. The man has no credibility and I’ve never understood his appeal. The best way to convince me of something’s falsity is to have Al Gore promote it.

2. Celebrity activists. First of all, to think your average celebrity has any sense of reality is ridiculous. How much in common with the everyday Joe do actors and musicians have? And they’re telling me how to live my life? Shut up and sing.

3. Carbon offsets. Nothing like buying off guilt.

4. Indoctrination. Despite what Al Gore and Bill Nye say, global warming science is not set in stone. There is a difference between scientific hypothesis and scientific law. I’m no scientist but I’ve read enough to know that there are many, many climate experts who seriously doubt the theory of human-caused global warming. But you’ll never hear them on the news and your kids will never read their side of the story in school. On the other hand, Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” is required viewing in many American schools. It is widely shown in elementary schools. Some students have reported seeing the movie several times in several classes. I do not pay thousands of dollars in taxes for the government to ram these things down my kids’ throat.

5. Purging dissidents. Scientists who have doubts about Global Warming theory face a modern-day witch hunt. Just ask Oregon state climatologist George Taylor, who faces possible removal by Governor Ted Kulongoski because his views aren’t in line with “the consensus.” John Christie, Alabama state climatologist, told Cybercast News Service “It seems if scientists don’t express the views of the political establishment, they will be threatened and that is a discomforting thought.” Read the New York Times or watch a network newscast. Anybody skeptical of man-made global warming is painted as a marginal hack funded by Big Oil, while the fact that global warming alarmists are openly paid by environmentalist groups and far-left foundations goes unscrutinized. I’m no expert on Democracy, but since when was silencing critics a democratic value?

Global warming alarmists may be able to indoctrinate a sizable portion of our kids, but as long as they promote their agenda by fad, they’ll never reach adults with half a brain. I anxiously await the day when celebrities and scientists alike will lament the fact that they tarnished their names with the global warming fad- like an old lady regrets getting that huge tatoo on her back in her younger, more ignorant days. Environmental problems can only be tackled with true open debate, exhaustive peer review, and politics-free analysis.

Thanks to Glenn Beck for the awesome Al Gorevara graphic! Somebody should put that on a t-shirt…

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Rocky Rally II: Give Mercedes Benz a Chance!

Filed under:Media, D. Sirmize, Guest, Politics, Opinion — posted by D. Sirmize on March 19, 2007 @ 1:29 pm

My Pal Rocky’s at it again, bravely leading the charge to impeach President Bush, and Tyler and I were there to snap some pictures. The crowd was notably smaller than at Rocky’s last protest and it seemed not quite as peppy as last year’s party. But it was amusing nonetheless. We recognized the troubled youth bucket brigade from last time, but no sign of the paper mache Bush. There was a nice flag-draped homemade coffin that really impressed. And what would a good left-wing protest be without an abundance of Mercedes Benz peace signs? Enjoy.

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al Quaida?

Confusing Messages

Not to mention the many mixed messages that were shared through various conflicting or misspelled signs; some beautifully decorated (such as another Mercedes Benz peace sign), others a mere scribbling.

I’ve said before that I think protests are just plain stupid. I wonder what a protest rally would be like, sans the press. It seems the only people there are the speakers, the sign-holders, and people like Tyler and I who are simply there for the entertainment value. Then there are the press, who seem to flock to the City-County Building like paparazzi every time Rocky passes gas. Today’s rally will be followed up with a silent candlelight march this evening. Won’t that be special!

UPDATE:  Couldn’t resist popping over for the candlelight march.  There were maybe 50 people in all marching from the Federal Building to City Creek Park.  A lot less yelling, but more colorful protestors.  I snapped a few shots with my phone.

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See also: Death to Israel Rally in Salt Lake City, Let’s Talk Some Smack, Shall We?

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Al Gore and the Profitable Politics of Global Warming

Filed under:D. Sirmize, Guest, Politics, Opinion — posted by D. Sirmize on March 15, 2007 @ 2:26 pm

I’ve been very amused by the recent popularity of “carbon offsets,” the newest idea from the Global Warming we’re-all-going-to-die crowd. Actually, whoever invented the carbon offset is a genius. What, you don’t know what a carbon offset is? You stone-aged ignorant freak! Let me enlighten you.

Al Gore, Forrest Gump turned international rock star, says the earth is warming, and Man is to blame. The theory goes that increased greenhouse gas emissions (CO2) are increasing the earth’s average temperature. Though the greater scientific community agrees that some climate change is occurring, there is significant debate over the scope, cause, and results. While the theory has been tossed around for a couple decades now, only recently has it become chic. “Going green” is the new thing now. Many activist websites feature a carbon footprint calculator, which allows you to calculate just how much you are contributing to the destruction of the planet. The goal is to live a “carbon neutral lifestyle.”

While Al Gore didn’t invent global warming (he hung up his inventor’s cap after the Internet), he has ridden the hype to international fame and fortune. “The debate is over,” says Al. If sale numbers for his book and the success of his movie are any proof, his message has been well received.

At this year’s Academy Awards, Gore’s crowning moment finally came. I wanted to puke. But much to my delight, the backlash has begun. Shortly after the Al Gore Worship Hour aired, the Tennessee Center for Policy Research released a report revealing the Climate Messiah’s personal energy use. Turns out Gore is quite the energy burner:

The average household in America consumes 10,656 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year, according to the Department of Energy. In 2006, Gore devoured nearly 221,000 kWh—more than 20 times the national average.

Last August alone, Gore burned through 22,619 kWh—guzzling more than twice the electricity in one month than an average American family uses in an entire year. As a result of his energy consumption, Gore’s average monthly electric bill topped $1,359.

Since the release of An Inconvenient Truth, Gore’s energy consumption has increased from an average of 16,200 kWh per month in 2005, to 18,400 kWh per month in 2006.

Gore’s extravagant energy use does not stop at his electric bill. Natural gas bills for Gore’s mansion and guest house averaged $1,080 per month last year.

But wait! Gore is no hypocrite! How, you ask? Carbon offsets, my friend. Gore buys carbon offsets.

Some ingenius capitalist a few years ago came up with this brilliant idea. Here’s how it works-You want to go green, but just can’t bear to give up that private jet, the 10,000 square foot house, and the SUV. No worries! Simply pay a third party who balances your carbon emissions by being carbon neutral themselves. Cool, huh?

That way enlightened environmentalists can continue living their lavish, earth ravaging lifestyles and still go to bed at night. One problem- there is no way to make sure these companies are making good on their word. The customer is no longer accountable for his carbon footprint, and the offset company isn’t accountable to the customer. Customer is happy, offset provider is happy. Mother Earth sheds tears of joy.

I think the Greens are on to something here. I’d like to buy a few sin offsets, please. Being LDS these days is just too tough. I want to live my religion, but I’m just too darn busy. How great would it be to pay somebody else to live righteous for you? Too busy to go to church on Sunday? No problem. Just pay the sin offset company to send somebody for you! Didn’t get that home teaching done again? Grab your checkbook! Tired of resisting that urge to hit on your smokin’ hot secretary? Relax. Just pay an offset volunteer to not cheat on his wife.

Just when I thought leftist greenies couldn’t any shallower, they prove me wrong again. At least Gore is balancing out his energy consumption, right? That’s better than nothing, isn’t it? Heck yeah. Especially when you consider this gem from the blogger Bill Hobbs, via WSJ’s James Taranto:

But how Gore buys his “carbon offsets,” as revealed by The Tennessean raises serious questions. According to the newspaper’s report, Gore buys his carbon offsets through Generation Investment Management:

Gore helped found Generation Investment Management, through which he and others pay for offsets. The firm invests the money in solar, wind and other projects that reduce energy consumption around the globe . . .

Gore is chairman of the firm and, presumably, draws an income or will make money as its investments prosper. In other words, he “buys” his “carbon offsets” from himself, through a transaction designed to boost his own investments and return a profit to himself. To be blunt, Gore doesn’t buy “carbon offsets” through Generation Investment Management-he buys stocks. . . .

Seems Gore is much smarter than I thought he was!

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