City Weekly’s querulous ‘fact-check’ article is short on fact-checking

BardrinksIn response to a news release, with accompanying videos, from the LDS Church on Utah’s alcohol control policies, City Weekly published an article claiming to “fact check” the church statement. Reading through the article, the odd thing about it is that it didn’t really contain much fact checking. Rather, it reads more like a list of complaints about how the news release didn’t say what City Weekly wanted it to say. Let’s take City Weekly’s “fact checks” in turn.

“Fact check” No. 1: “Utah laws are ‘perhaps’ the reason why there are so few alcohol problems”

In one video, the church suggested that “perhaps the most important” factor in Utah’s low alcohol-related traffic deaths per capita are the state’s alcohol control laws. Note the word “perhaps,” suggesting one possibility or communicating that this is a statement of opinion.

Most reasonable people would read or hear that and realize that it was a suggestion or statement of opinion, not a definitive or factual statement. City Weekly, on the other hand, evidently felt compelled to “fact check” this statement, which amounted to providing a dissenting opinion from another organization…which of course is not fact-checking at all since opinion is not fact, no facts are being disputed, and no facts are being offered to correct any misstatement of fact. Maybe City Weekly wanted to remind people that there are various opinions on the question of why Utah’s alcohol-related traffic deaths per capita is so exceptional. But to call that “fact-checking” would be, ironically, factually inaccurate.

Fact check” No. 2: “Only jerks weird-shame Utah for its liquor laws”

The second complaint … sorry, “fact check” … that City Weekly wrote about was that the figure in a church video representing opposition to Utah’s alcohol laws did not have a face. The “fact check” is that “the voices calling for changes to Utah laws aren’t just faceless whiners b_____ about Utah’s liquor laws.” The article then went on to put faces, names, and/or affiliations to some of those “faceless whiners.”

Presumably, City Weekly would have the church video point out a specific person or group in its video, like City Weekly does in its “fact check.” However, this would also be a factually inaccurate representation of the “Zion Wall” opponents since it doesn’t fully represent all the voices opposing the policy. So this “fact check” is less about getting the facts straight than it is about complaining about how the video was done. Once again, not really fact-checking at all.

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On Point presented by Sutherland Institute, Show 2, 1/24/14

Panelists for Show 2 are Holly Richardson, Michelle Mumford, Tami Pyfer, and Traci Gundersen.

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Cuomo’s intolerant remark emblematic of ‘progressive tolerance’


New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (photo by Pat Arnow)

Last weekend, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo made some comments regarding those whom he disagrees with politically and philosophically, which have gotten him in trouble. Specifically, he said (taken from an open letter written by the governor’s office):

 You have the Republican Party searching for identity; they are searching to define their soul. That is what is going on. It is the Republican Party that is it a moderate party or is it a conservative party? [sic] That is what they are trying to figure out and it is very interesting because it is a mirror of what is going on in Washington, right? The gridlock is Washington is less about Democrats and Republicans. It is more about extreme Republicans versus moderate Republicans. And a moderate Republican in Washington can’t figure out how to deal with the extreme Republicans. And the moderate Republicans are affair of the extreme conservative Republicans in Washington in my opinion.

You’ve seen that play out in New York, their SAFE act, the Republican Party candidates are running against the SAFE Act. It was voted for by moderate Republicans who run the Senate. Their problem is not me and Democrats; their problem is themselves. Who are they? Are they these extreme conservatives, who are right to life, pro assault weapon, anti-gay, is that who they are? Because if that is who they are, and if they are the extreme conservatives, they have no place in the state of New York. Because that is not who New Yorkers are.

Clearly, he limited his initial comments by addressing both intra- and inter-partisan disagreements in Washington, D.C. But as he turned his attention to his own state, he broadened the scope of his remarks to address those who simply disagree with him (“extreme conservatives”), rather than just his political opponents (Republicans).

And what did this “tolerant” progressive/liberal have to say about those who simply think differently than he does? “They have no place in the state of New York.”

This comment is emblematic of the progressives/liberals’ definition of “tolerance,” which means tolerance for those with different looks and lifestyles, and intolerance for those with truly different ways of thinking.

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Count My Vote will put decisions in hands of fat cats

This post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations.

Cats_&_PeugeotDuring a Sutherland Institute panel last week at the state Capitol discussing the Count My Vote initiative, I mentioned that I have no concerns about low voter participation rates or worries about under-participation by women and youth. I stated matter-of-factly that I’m more concerned about the quality of participation. Are voters educated? Frankly, I don’t want people deciding my freedom who think a “call to duty” is a videogame.

For my candor, the Count My Vote panelists lectured me for my generalizations about uninformed youth and the value of 18-year-olds who are old enough to fight and die for their country. What I said is true. I’m not running for elected office and I’m not being paid to engage this campaign – so I get to tell the truth.

The game being played by Count My Vote leaders is the old bait-and-switch. Their problem is that Count My Vote is an elitist scheme. They need it to look more mainstream, so they wrap it in the context of concerns over voter participation. They complain about a limited number of neighborhood delegates who get to pick candidates for the general ballot when these elites know full well that their scheme would put those decisions in the hands of a dozen or so rich fat cats.

Yes, their arguments are shameless. But that’s campaign politics! They will say whatever it takes to win.

Back to reality: If we’re to avoid creating voter tests to determine participation in one of the most sacred roles of citizenship, we have to find nonintrusive ways to filter the negative impact of irresponsible citizenship – irresponsible meaning single-issue voters, special-interest parasites, and uninformed citizens who think and vote based on selfish emotions. Utah’s caucus and convention system is that filter. And it works.

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Lawyers and the integrity of Lincoln

A statue of Abraham Lincoln in Urbana, Ill.

A statue of Abraham Lincoln in Urbana, Ill.

I am currently reading a biography of Abraham Lincoln by Henry Ketcham, titled The Life of Abraham Lincoln. This book (fortunately part of the public domain) goes into some detail to illustrate the integrity and honesty of the 16th president of the United States, even as a practicing lawyer.

Lincoln put his conscience into his legal practice to a greater degree than is common with lawyers. He held … that law is for the purpose of securing justice, and he would never make use of thwarting justice. When other maneuvered, he met them by a straightforward dealing. He never did or could take an unfair advantage. On the wrong side of a case, he was worse than useless to his client, and he knew it. He would never take such a case if it could be avoided. … Sometimes, after having entered on a case, he discovered that his clients had imposed on him. In his indignation he has even left the court room. Once when the Judge sent for him he refused to return. “Tell the judge my hands are dirty; I came over to wash them” (page 80).

Ponder that. A lawyer whose integrity would not allow him to “take an unfair advantage,” and who was known for leaving the courtroom mid-case if he found out his clients had misled him as to the justice of their cause. Is it any wonder that such a man was able to lead his country through the turmoil and tragedy of the American Civil War into unification, while simultaneously bringing freedom to African-Americans?

Some of the lawyers fighting to redefine marriage in Utah could stand to learn from the integrity of “Honest Abe.” Up to this point, they have practiced the Giddianhi school of letter writing: craft arguments that twist and manipulate words to serve your needs, are designed to create baseless accusations that demean (and hopefully silence) those you disagree with, and generally inspire hopelessness in your opponents. In this strategy, honesty and integrity are demoted from principles to guide life and shape character to rhetorical and political tactics to be used with discretion, as they advance your argument and political position.

Abraham Lincoln used his honesty and integrity to expand freedom, preserve his country, and fight for greater equality for his fellow Americans. Those who claim to take up any part of this mantle would do well to learn from his example.

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On Point presented by Sutherland Institute, Show 1, 1/17/14

Join Utah’s only all-female panel of political insiders for insightful conversation that gets to the hears of Utah policy and politics.

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Lively debate over caucuses and Count My Vote at SI event


Audience and panelists at Sutherland’s Legislative Policy Conference on Jan. 15 at the state Capitol.

Sutherland Institute held its annual legislative policy conference yesterday, which included a rousing debate on the caucus convention system and the Count My Vote ballot initiative drive. KNRS’s Rod Arquette moderated the panel, whose participants included Sutherland’s Paul Mero; James Evans, chairman of the Utah State Republican Party; LaVarr Webb, president of The Exoro Group and member of the Count My Vote board; and Kirk Jowers, president of the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics and Count My Vote board member.

One of the panel discussion’s early questions was centered on voter participation. While the Count My Vote panelists sparred with Evans over what Utah’s voter turnout is attributable to, Mero turned the question on its head, saying he was more interested in quality over quantity. To get the best government, we need an engaged, informed citizenry who care about the common good. The issue shouldn’t just be how do we get as many people as possible to vote, but how do we get citizens engaged in the process. When questioned about low youth turnout, Mero said that young people are less inclined to attend caucus meetings because in the aggregate they are less interested in or have a complete understanding of the common good.

A Sutherland guiding principle is Responsible Citizenship, and that should be the purpose of any proposed reforms to Utah’s election process. The answer isn’t simply to drag people to a polling location, but to have a system which incentivizes a responsible citizenry. Sutherland does not believe the Count My Vote reforms will result in increased civic responsibility or involvement, so it does not support the initiative.

But there are practical realities to the caucus system that need addressing. As the panel discussion continued to revolve around involvement in and access to the voting process, and amid allegations that the caucus system is elitist, Mero asked if there is an adult citizen in Utah that is excluded from the system. Jowers responded that the groups most likely to be unable to attend caucus meetings are military personnel, single mothers, missionaries, and business travelers.

Evans noted that the state party has instituted absentee voting for the caucuses, so now everyone with a desire to be involved has the ability to do so. There are other reforms which will make the process go faster, so even more people will be able to attend without it interfering with other commitments.

Mero then asked Webb and Jowers if, should their complaints with the current system be resolved, they would then drop their efforts to scrap the system in favor of their new Count My Vote proposal. Webb responded that they have a number of supporters and he can’t speak for everyone.

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In politics, where there’s a stink … there’s probably a rotting fish

This post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations.

Dead_fishEmbattled New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s scandal provides a wonderful case study in politics as usual. Not that I think he’s done something wrong – at this point I don’t know. But having been in politics for a long time, where there’s smoke there’s fire. Let me explain.

Governor Christie has been accused of using his political power to punish opponents – in this case, he’s accused of using political power to close a lane of freeway to inconvenience an opponent. Actually, all things considered in the game of politics, playing with an opponent in that manner is one of the tamest things I’ve heard of.

Let’s get real.

Politics is a nasty business because people can be nasty. We take opposition very personally. We don’t like to be criticized. We certainly don’t like to be accused of wrongdoing. And politics has all of that in spades. Most of all, politicians enjoy power because they’re human and human beings enjoy power. Government concentrates power, and that’s why we see so many bad examples in politics. But it’s no different in the business world or in sports.

The problem has as much to do with gaming ethics as it does a man’s character. Most politicians and their supporters view politics as a zero-sum game. People are objects to be stepped over, stepped around or stepped on. It’s true that we don’t have enough time in the day to respond to critics. But, in general, we don’t go the extra mile to converse or explain or debate civilly because it’s simply easier to attack an opponent. And there’s more money in conflict than in peacekeeping.

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The argument that should have been made

courthouse17483On Dec. 20, 2013, federal district court Judge Robert Shelby ruled Utah’s marriage law unconstitutional after the state attorneys who were assigned to defend the law failed to make a compelling case.

A new paper by Sutherland Institute says a compelling case in defense of Utah’s marriage law would include the state interest in traditional marriage and the natural family, deconstruct the plaintiff’s arguments, and aggressively address the 14th Amendment.

Click here to read the paper, “What Should Have Been Said, Part 1.”

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Freedom from the fringes

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson

Back in my Navy flying days we had a saying: If you’re not getting shot at, you’re not over the target. Apparently talking about founding principles, self-governance, and individual rights and responsibilities puts us over the target, because there’s been a lot of incoming lately.

A lot of the shots come from thoughtful, interested, and concerned people who just disagree. Nature and nurture give us different priorities, values and beliefs. Vive la différence. Thoughtful debate is what keeps us in business.

But all too many reactions are just meant to grab headlines or come from small-minded, unpleasant people who think that tearing someone else down builds them up. It’s easy to wonder why we should suffer some of them.

A lot of this has at its root, or at least in the stem, the confused reaction that so many on the left (do we call them progressives or liberals? I can’t keep track, and they’re neither of those things anyway in the true meanings of the words) have to the role government has come to play in our lives.

“Government should protect us but shouldn’t spy on us. It should fill our refrigerators but stay out of our bedrooms. It should ensure our health care but not tell us what health care to get.” Their ideals are at once libertarian in that government should leave us alone, and communitarian in that it should provide for all of our needs. They are also loath to criticize anyone else’s chosen beliefs or lifestyles … unless of course they don’t agree, in which case they’ll declare those beliefs intolerant.

In the days before suburbs, fast food and widespread prosperity, these self-declared arbiters of cultural mores were largely ignored or left to rot by the larger population, who understood through their works that freedom did not equate to narcissism, and that success was more often cumulative than spontaneous … and more worthy of admiration than of envy.

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Sen. Reid responds to LDS Church statement on same-sex marriage

REIDSCI wholeheartedly support the LDS Church authorities’ call for civility among all those engaged in the public dialogue over same-sex marriage. In addition, their statement reminds all of us that faith leaders and people of religious conscience have First Amendment rights to share the public square with others, advocating their views, including views on marriage and morality. The free exercise of religious expression is indispensable for the well-being of society and the republic established to represent its interests.

– Sen. Stuart Reid

Click here to read the church’s statement.

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Cash for Clunkers: Why it was a flop

A "death row" of Cash for Clunkers cars.

A “death row” of Cash for Clunkers cars.

Cash for Clunkers may be the poster child for how it seems to be bad news anytime everyone in Washington, D.C., agrees on something. It was proposed in the midst of the flurry of stimulus programs during 2009, and sailed through both houses of Congress largely because it appealed to a variety of groups – it was supposed to boost U.S. car companies, create jobs, and reduce greenhouse gases. It was a politician’s dream bill, and it was a total flop.

The idea was to have the government give people up to $4,500 to trade in their old car for a new, more fuel-efficient one. Congress set aside $1 billion when the program began July 1, and within weeks upped the amount to $2.85 billion. When the program ended that August, the U.S. Transportation Secretary called it “wildly successful.”

Today, after a few years to study Cash for Clunkers’ impact, we know it was anything but a success. Multiple organizations across the political spectrum have found the environmental impact to be negligible, the paltry 3,000 jobs created cost more than $1 million each, and the cars sold would have been sold anyway. That’s $3 billion of deficit spending that accomplished basically nothing.

So what can we learn from this fiasco? First, government stimulus spending rarely stimulates. Second, note how many interest groups, think tanks, and economic advisors advocated for this program and promised its success. The White House’s Council of Economic Advisors predicted Cash for Clunkers would create 70,000 jobs, but when the final tally was counted it created less than 5 percent of that total. Cash for Clunkers perfectly demonstrates what economist F.A. Hayek meant when he said,

“The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.”

The lesson to be learned is, when the next can’t-miss, no-brainer economic stimulus policy comes out of Washington D.C., let’s remember how many times we’ve been sold Cash for Clunker programs, and let’s not be fooled again.


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How Judge Shelby got the 14th Amendment wrong

This post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations.

scalesThe 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution has been at the epicenter of most controversial court decisions over the past 40 years. Few people understand it even as many people invoke ideas such as “due process” and “equal protection” in support of their causes. The recent Judge Shelby decision on same-sex marriage in Utah is just one more example.

There are three main schools of thought regarding the 14th Amendment. The first school of thought, represented by Supreme Court Justice Anthony Scalia, is “original intent.” This school of thought holds that the 14th Amendment was adopted in 1868 with specific application addressing slavery – and that terms such as due process and equal protection were intended at that time to be limited to legal proceedings such as contracts and court cases.

This school of thought relies heavily on the intent of the legislative bodies at the time laws were adopted. It looks to the meaning and intent of the sponsors of the laws. Permitting judges to interpret those legislative purposes and meanings would be a violation of judicial jurisdiction. In other words, this school of thought holds that judges shall not legislate from the bench.

A second school of thought – a modern progressive school – holds that terms such as due process and equal protection in the 14th Amendment have substantive meaning not simply procedural application. But this progressive school takes it a step further by using its own ideologies to define the substantive meaning. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy and our own Judge Shelby think in these terms. This school of thought is perfectly comfortable, indeed legally and morally justified in their own minds, to legislate from the bench and substitute their own personal morals for the voice of the people.

They say, “Look, society got slavery wrong. It got abortion wrong. And now it got same-sex marriage wrong – we’re simply fixing what society got wrong.” And then we get government by judiciary.

There’s a third school of thought that also believes in substantive due process but is not driven by ideology.

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2 cheers for the federalist left

colorado coinLet’s all take a moment to welcome our progressive left friends to the self-government movement. They’re a little late to the party, generally favoring judges and bureaucrats over actually persuading people they’re right. But it’s good to see they have at least a taste for local decision-making when it suits their needs.

This Kumbaya moment comes to me after perusing an article from Colorado describing local efforts there to give communities the power to ban fracking, even though it’s already (for now, at least) regulated at the state rather than federal level.

Still, the cynic in me wants to call their efforts at bringing policy decisions closer to home rank opportunism, but even that dark cloud has a silver lining. There’s at least an inkling of understanding behind the effort that maybe, just maybe letting local people have a say in what’s good or bad for them might be useful and fair and proper, even if the folks are sometimes wrong. So two cheers for opportunism masquerading as principle.

Only two cheers because federalism, you see, isn’t really the favorite tool in their policy toolbox. They don’t normally want to leave deciding what is best for the great unwashed to, well, the great unwashed because all too often the great unwashed don’t know what’s good for them.

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Supreme Court stay is a step toward sanity

800px-United_states_supreme_court_buildingThis blog post was also published here at National Review.

This morning, just a few minutes after the last submission from the state of Utah had been received, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered a stay of a trial-court judge’s mandate that marriage licenses be issued to same-sex couples. This (apparently unanimous) decision should not be that surprising. The district-court judge had not only ruled that the U.S. Constitution mandated Utah redefine marriage but that it had to give effect to this novel ruling starting immediately (and Salt Lake County officials were remarkably expeditious in doing so). This after the judge had signaled in oral argument (held just two weeks earlier) that since the case was so difficult he would need at least a month and maybe more to decide.

To come to its decision today the Supreme Court needed only to accept that single federal judges cannot, without any oversight, upend the marriage system of a state in a matter of hours. The Tenth Circuit will now decide the case in an expedited process but with the knowledge that the Supreme Court has reserved the final word on the issue for itself.

It’s a modest step towards sanity but one for which the people of Utah are grateful.

William C. Duncan is the director of the Marriage Law Foundation and director of Sutherland’s Center for Family and Society.

Listen here to Duncan’s Jan. 6 interview with KSL’s Doug Wright:

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