Dabakis Diary Day 15

All this Olympic talk has got me fired up. And reminiscing.

Guess I can talk now. When the world came to Utah in 2002, I was a volunteer ambassador for Team Russia. Soon after they arrived in Utah, one of my first responsibilities for Team Russia was to get them 50 cell phones. The Team business director had gone to CrossRoads Mall and learned that a local could get cell phones for $30 rather then the out-of-state $300. I went down and signed up for the phones. Put them on my credit card. Many months later, the FBI showed up. They wanted to know WHY it was, that my cell phone had a very suspicious series of phone calls during the Olympics. Calls from a certain French ice skating judge to a certain shady businessman from Uzbekistan. Why were the calls so close to the skating events? How did I meet these people? As Sargent Schultz used to say. “I know nothing.” And of course truthfully, I knew absolutely nothing.

Another note that history probably has not recorded. The Russian team arrived at SL Int’l with cases of vodka. Cases. Big crisis. Upon arrival, one call was made and in total disregard for our local laws and customs, the vodka was quickly OKed (thanks Mitt) and was on its way to ‘Russia House’ within minutes. All of it. Now, despite weeks of paper work and begging, cases of Chobani Yogurt destined for Team USA sit in a New Jersey warehouse, unapproved for import into Sochi. Utah was a great host!

Just Another Day at the Governor’s Office?

 Protest

Protesting for one’s values is a long held American tradition. Non-discrimination is a Utah value. Every poll shows that more than 70% of Utahns believe in statewide non-discrimination. Yet, for the 6th year in a row, the Utah legislature has refused to bring a bill to the floor for a debate and vote. This year was particularly egregious, as SB 100 was killed in a closed caucus without any outside discussion. The support of the LDS Church in the SLC non-discrimination ordinance, the Salt Lake Area Chamber of Commerce support, and overwhelming support of the Utah public didn’t seem to matter.

In America and in Utah, society does best when issues are openly debated and discussed, not shoved under the rug. I understand the frustration of the protestors and of so many Utahns.

If you could ‘Turn Back Time’, would you still hire Shaerr? 

cher (dabakis)

The new, ‘special’ attorney hired by the Attorney General should resign or be fired. The AG has more then 200 attorneys on staff, can’t we find one to do a federal appeal?

Apparently not. So the state has agreed to pay $200,000 for a couple of months work to Gene Shaerr. he was hired from an east coast firm to defend Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage has a terrific conflict-of-interest. Mr Shaerr, has some kind of secret deal for $$$ with the rabidly anti-gay Sutherland, right-wing think tank. That cash deal from Sutherland certainly makes the appearance of divided loyalties of Mr Shaerr a serious ethical breach. In my opinion, it is a conflict of interest that makes it impossible for him to represent the state of Utahn with fidelity. For example, the lobbying from Schaerr to Republican legislators played a key role in killing the non-discrimination bill before it got a hearing. It certainly gives the appearance of divided loyalties between the client the state, and Sutherland.  Was Schaerr lobbying non-discrimination, as he says to help the states appeal to the 10th Circuit or was he lobbying for his paymasters at Sutherland? It’s a very serious issue. Additionally, the attorney general’s office should inquire into the issue and disclose to the people of Utah what arrangement exists between Mr Shaerr and the Southerland Institute. It was in a smoke-filled back room, closed GOP cacaus that Schaerr gave his do not let non-discrimination be passed suggestion.

Policy in Closed, Smoked filled (metaphorically speaking) Rooms?

smoke room (dabakis)

Why would the Republicans to continue accept discrimination? The people of Utah are against it. 73% (Deseret News-Dan Jones poll) yet in a CLOSED meeting, the GOP decided in secret closed caucus to kill non-discrimination. From personal experience, I can say it feels a lot better to come out of the closet and make decisions out in the open.

Insults to Teachers?

students (dabakis)

All political blah, blah aside I think the only thing that has prevented a complete collapse of the Utah education system over the last generation is dedicated, vision-led hero teachers. The legislature thinks, in many cases, that teachers are superfluous. Not necessary in an age of computers. An expense to be phased out on the way to non-human warehouses of hundreds of children sitting before laptops. (Some of them hungry, if their parents have not put money on their lunch cards). I disagree vehemently. Teachers are the heart. They will remain so. New technology can be a tool but it will NEVER replace teachers. As a part of a long term degradation of teachers, in 2008, the state basically ended professional development time. A childless class period here and there to prepare, correct papers. Develop. The sate saved $80 million a year. But it crushed teachers. Crushed.

Finally, after years of stalling, the legislature has come back this year with SB 103. To deal with this glaring open wound in our classrooms. Finally, a solution to the demise of professional development for our teachers. But, here is what they did. Instead of re-funding our hardworking teachers prep time again, the Senate decided to LOWER the days required of students to be in the classroom, and allow up to 6 days less of children in the classroom to be used as teacher professional development time!

Cheap decision. Bad decision. Fewer days with students in the classroom is not the solution! Australia spends 200 days in school, China has 260, Japan has 220, South Korea has 200 and Utah has… 181. Compared with other countries, schools in the United States provided a relatively low number of instructional days.

Clean Air, Not Hot Air!

clean air (dabakis)

Just because you keep saying something a lot does not mean it is true. There is a totally misleading ‘fact’ up here at the Capitol that needs enlightenment. The myth, repeated again and again says, “About 60% of Utah’s air pollution comes from vehicles, 30% from everyday life, and 10% from industry.” Pants on Fire. What the mythmakers do not say is the area covered. If you take an area around northern Salt Lake County and Southern Davis County combined the percent of pollution caused by industry is huge. They just fudge the numbers so that it seems like only 10% is from industry, when in truth industries cause much more air pollution.

Wendy Touched My Heart  

Yesterday Wendy came to the Capitol. A lot of people come. I love people. Meeting people (even some that call me an idiot) is a great part of the job. Within a few seconds, I fell for Wendy. Hard. After we spoke for a while, I had to turn my head so she could not see how emotional I was feeling. Wendy inspired me. A very attractive young woman of about 30, Wendy had a brain injury when she was 15. She cannot speak. She is paralyzed. Her hands are deformed and it is with tortuous difficulty that Wendy typed individual letters into a specially designed keyboard. Her mind was clearly zooming at 100 MPH yet her crippled body was moving messages impossibly slow. Wendy was interesting, opinionated, outspoken, a little naughty, and one of the most interesting people I have ever met. More than anything, Wendy says she wants a job. I will do whatever I can to take her skills and try and help her get a job. Wendy depends on the state of Utah 100%. I am proud as a taxpayer to be able to help Wendy. This is state government at its finest.

The Senate Bill of the Day

Also, a new bill today: SB139, quadruples licensing fees for hybrid vehicles, and significantly increases registration fees for electric and natural gas vehicles.  The argument is that these energy efficient vehicles use much less gas, thus they are not paying their fair share in road taxes. In that spirit, maybe a bill to allow Hummers into HOV lane for free!

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