Sunday, July 31, 2005

Eureka! Oil Discovered on Mall Site

Come listen to a story
about a man named Jed
A poor mountaineer
barely kept his family fed
Then one day
he was shootin up some food
and up from the ground came a bubblin crude

Oil that is
Black gold
Texas tea

It appears that our intrepid Standard-Examiner ace city-beat reporter Scott Schwebke has identified the problem requiring the Ogden City Council Rec Center bond-vote to have been once again re-calendered, this time to August 16 of this year.

Oil contamination was apparently found on the old mall site during an earlier city-prepared environmental study. While city officials express confidence that this is only a minor problem, GE Commercial, one of the lenders "involved in financing the recreation center," isn't taking city officials word for it, and has reportedly demanded preparation of an independent study, which will reportedly take another couple of weeks.

It would seem, gentle readers, that this situation is truly evolving into one where Ogden City government literally can't spent our tax money fast enough.

For those Weber County Forum readers in far-flung places who don't have their own hard-copy of this morning's Std-Ex edition, you can read Scott Schwebke's entire article here.

I'm considering setting up a formal reader poll on this, and maybe I'll put one up later on. In the meantime, what about it, WCF readers? Will the old mall site ultimately check out "clean," as the Ogden City administration insists; or will our downtown dirt-pile prove to be floating on a sea of oil?

Place your bets here, folks.

Update 7/31/05 12:02 p.m. MT: Okay, here's the new poll:

Take My Poll

Update 8/3/05 10:14 p.m. MT: Due to the high volume of comments on this thread, I've shut down comments here. You may, however, continue your comments on the Union Square topic on this new thread that I've now set up for discussion of this topic.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Legislation -- Fellini-style

The Standard-Examiner features an elaborate "special" commentary this a.m., wherein Representative Rob Bishop rationalizes his House of Representatives flip-flop Thursday morning on the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA.) There's no doubt that he's caught plenty of flak during the past few hours from the "paleo-conservative" faction of his Republican party (not to mention Utah "liberals") for abandoning his core principles, and "going along" on CAFTA in the wee hours Thurday morning. At least an attempt at a formal explanation was in order, I guess.

There are lots of things he doesn't like about CAFTA, he says in a nutshell, but it's nowhere near as bad as NAFTA, WTO or FTAA, he assures us. Besides, it'll deal a blow against those pesky Central American commies... right?. It's bad alright... but really not all that bad, he explains. He doesn't explain, of course his, and our US gummint's slavish support of Red China.

Before I go on to linking today's Rob Bishop commentary, however, I want to make note that The Std-Ex yesterday published a Lisa Roskelley report which elaborates on Rep. Bishops role in the House vote. Ms. Roskelley's article "frames" the CAFTA vote story nicely, I think, and sheds some interesting light on what happened on the House floor early Thursday morning. I'll incorporate some of her story here:
In a crucial House of Representatives vote early Thursday morning, Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, appeared in the yea column despite earlier opposition to the Central America Free Trade Agreement.

Bishop's affirmative vote gave the president's top trade priority the ability to pass 217-215.

"This is a referendum on our foreign policy more than it is on our free trade," Bishop said in a prepared statement Thursday.

Bishop was joined with a yea vote by his Utah House colleagues, representatives Chris Cannon, also a Republican, and Democrat Jim Matheson.

The two-page statement outlined Bishop's concerns about the trade agreement and his belief that the agreement is also a fight against communism in Central America controlled by Cuba's Fidel Castro and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez.

"No other potential trade agreement will have an anti-communist component," he said.

Bishop compared this agreement with others from the past -- he voted against the World Trade Organization and the Australia Trade Agreement -- and those in the future: "I also see no reason to support (Free Trade Area of the Americas)."

However, Bishop said CAFTA is a way for the United States to develop "inter-governmental cooperation."

His swing vote could be seen as part of the massive White House lobbying effort to get the legislation passed, but Bishop's chief of staff Scott Parker said that wasn't the case.

"There was lobbying from a number of groups: the White House, business, constituents (and) people representing those countries," Parker said, "but he just found the foreign policy part of the issue more compelling. Rob usually doesn't react too well to that kind of lobbying."

The executive branch has been said to be offering both threats and bribes for affirmative votes.

"He's shown in the past that he votes his conscience even when it means bucking leadership and the White House," Parker said of Bishop. "He's done it before and he'll do it again."

Many conservative Utahs had high hopes on this issue for Rep. Bishop, who's demonstrated a bit of a "maverick" streak of late. He'd already declared his opposition to CAFTA, before suddenly "pulling" his complete 180-degree turnaround. It appears however that the "lobbying pressure" may have been a little too much for the iconoclastic Rep. Bishop this time around, despite what his spokesman, Mr. Parker says. Hopefully Rep. Bishop will recover his maverick principles and get back to bucking leadership and honoring his conscience some time soon though, on other bills where the lobbying pressure isn't so intense as it was Thurday morning. Traditional conservatives of Utah certainly wish Rep. Bishop's conscience a full and speedy recovery.

You can read today's Rob Bishop "explanation" here. It really is quite "special," as the Std-Ex headline says.

The Salt lake Tribune Published a lucid editorial on the subject of CAFTA in yesterdays edition; and for something a little more "jagged," don't miss Billmon's general background blog commentary here.

Comments, gentle readers?

Don't let the cat get your tongues.

Update 8/01/05 2:14 p.m. MT: Jay Ivensen sounded off on this subject yesterday in a Deseret News editorial here.

Friday, July 29, 2005

A Tale of Two Rec Centers

There are two noteworthy Standard-Examiner articles this morning, which are relevant to ongoing Weber County Forum discussions.

The first is a guest commentary by Wayne April, an Ogden resident who was active in the unsuccessful anti-mall-bond petition drive a couple of months ago. He theorizes that Mayor Godfrey will not run for a third mayoral term, based on an "observation" made at an unspecified meeting not long ago.
At a recent meeting, I asked Ogden Mayor Matthew Godfrey if it was true that he did not intend to run for re-election in the next mayoral race. His only response was a coy smile.
From this off-hand gesture Mr. April bootstraps a fantastic grand conspiracy theory, which goes something like this:

Ogden City is "broke" and mayor Godfrey knows it. Notwithstanding this knowledge, the mayor is wilfully barreling ahead with the Rec Center project, even knowing it's doomed from the start. Mayor Godfrey continues to borrow and spend, hypothesizes Mr. April, because he plans to depart from city hall a little over two years from now, thus avoiding the indignity of dealing with the inevitable loan defaults which will occur right about that time. It'll be somebody else's problem, Mr. April further hypothesizes, when Mayor Godfrey's succussor-in-office is forced to clip the taxpayers with a remedial tax increase, necessitated by a "moral obligation" to "cover" Mayor Godfrey's defaulting loans and bonds.

I am not making this up. You can read Mr. April's guest commentary here.

The only factor that Mr. April glaringly leaves out, gentle readers, is his undisclosed owner-operator interest in a climbing center in Harrisvile, which will become a main business competitor of the Ogden Rec Center climbing wall, unless Mr. April can succeed in bringing the Rec Center project to a halt. I'm certain however, gentle readers, that this factor in no way influences Mr. April's position regarding the Ogden Rec Center project.

The second article is today's main editorial, which also lambastes public planners for botched Recreation Center planning. The subject Rec Center isn't the one on Ogden, however. What the Standard-Examiner editorial board complains about is one that's planned for Centerville, in Davis County.

It seems that the residents of Centerville approved $20 Million in bonding in 2004, to construct their own recreation center. Now that the final estimates are in however, the project will go over-budget by some thirteen percent, due to increased materials costs.

The Centerville City fathers are now scrambling to make the project go, one way or another, either by raising the extra funds, or cutting back project amenities.

I'm linking this article here, not only because Weber County Forum has a substantial number of readers in south Davis county, but also because I wonder whether this Davis County debacle portends the future for our own Rec Center project here in Ogden City.

Will the $17-19 million dollars now projected to be required for the Ogden Recreation Center be sufficient? Or will our local RDA and city government find itself scrambling, due to the the unanticipated, but steadily-rising costs for necessary contruction materials?

As an added bonus for Grohndahl fans, this morning's Std-Ex editorial is accompanied by this great companion illustration:

Click to enlarge image

Feel free to comment on either of these articles, or anything else you choose.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Ogden Plagued With Rusty Tap Water

Read this and weep, fellow Ogdenites. While the Ogden City neocon council faction (Safsten, Jorgenson, Burdett, Stevenson and Filiaga) fiddles around and plays "Big Time Real Estate Developer" downtown, the infrastructure of the rest of this town crumbles under our very feet.

Call me old fashioned, I guess, but I'd naively thought that maintaining the basic culinary water supply was supposed to be one of the first priorities of municipal government.

There's an election coming up in November, citizens of Ogden.

It's time to vote some of these "asleep-at-the-wheel" Ogden City council incumbent Donald Trump wannabes OUT!

How Costco Became the Anti-Wal-Mart

Daily Kos alum Steve Gilliard published an interesting article a couple of days ago, contrasting Costco's employee-friendly business model with that of the evil Wal-Mart, which can only be characterized as nickel-dime stingy.

Costco of course draws continuing flak from Wall Street analysts, who claim Costco CEO Jim Sinegal fails to captain a tight ship. Sinegal, on the other hand, is pleased with his company's performance, and believes Costco's excellent salary and benefits package goes far beyond altruism, and is merely "good business."

Check out Steve's article here. Treating employees with generosity is really nothing new in the business world, although it's a business philosophy that's quite recently fallen out of fashion.

Via Democracy for Utah

Comments, anyone?

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Std-Ex RDA Fiction -- Part Deux

By Don Porter - Editor

I was out of the office all last week on vacation, and so only checked back this morning to read any further postings in response to my essay on the S-E relocation. Here's some other information that is worthy of note, and might answer the persistent critics:

Scott [Trundle -- former Std-Ex publisher] also looked seriously at property in Davis County. By moving to BDO, Scott kept us in Ogden city. Our property taxes at our new site are considerably higher than they were downtown. (We built a new press building at BDO which exceeds 100,000 square feet; this added considerably to the value of the property.)

So the city ended up a big winner because of the 5013C tax-free exchange of property. This is just the opposite of what happens in an RDA, with the city losing incremental tax revenues.


Don Porter
editorial page editor

Box-Businesses and Block-Heads

The Standard-Examiner is apparently still writhing in its angst over the "killing" of the downtown Wal-Mart Project. Their paper's revenues are sinking to new lows, mainly because they don't report the REAL news anymore. They've somehow segued into a weird and botched Northern Utah "People Magazine" clone. They'd counted on massive new ad revenue from the 2005 DOA Wal-Mart landgrab to keep them afloat through 2005; but they got caught flat-footed, when the Utah Legislature passed Senator Bramble's SB-184.

The Std-Ex Editors aren't done crying in their beers though; not by any means.

Check out today's letter to the editor, which obliquely demonstrates why these STD-Ex saps still haven't gotten the message that seizing other people's property for Wal-Mart ain't kosher:

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

This letter is to all those in Ogden opposed to Wal-Mart in "our city."

Take a good look around at all the vacant buildings and unkempt properties that surround us!

Also, notice the lack of shopping and chain restaurants in Ogden.

The reason is because our leaders and residents block anything beneficial that comes our way.

One would think that those who live in the Wal-Mart area would be thrilled to move up in the world, but we guess they and the rest of the opposition are content to live in the "armpit of Utah."

Roxanne Marocchi

That's about it, folks! There's a segment of the voting Ogden City population that doesn't care a whit about private property rights, and the Std-Ex is straining itself to convey the public perception that such an attitude is "mainstream."

The important thing for dopes like Ms.Marocchi of Ogden, is that there should be more "chain" restaurants and "box" stores.

The great thing about Ogden, in my view, is the absence of "box" businesses.

It's not as if the Std-Ex editors don't know anything about non-chain restaurants. Check out the article that appeared in the Std-Ex a few days ago. The beauty of Ogden is that there are so many local owner-operated top-notch restaurants as reported in that article. Rooster's is but one of many.

It's neither a box store, nor a chain restaurant. What it is is a place where the imbecillic Roxanne Marocchi can get an owner-prepared national-class gourmet meal, and where the Std-Ex Editorial staff can possibly go to cry over a well-made and top-quality beer.

If the air-headed Ms. Marocchi needs to shop, by the way, there's always the Newgate Mall.

If the Std-Ex Editors don't like Ogden's unique culture, they can move back to Sanduskey, as far as most Ogdenites are concerned...

And somebody please inform the dim-witted Ms. Marocchi that Ogden is NOT the "armpit of Utah."

Leno Marocchi would roll over in his grave over this, I swear.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Mormon Portion of Utah Population Steadily Shrinking

The Salt Lake Tribune had an interesting article in today's edition, describing a unique wrinkle in Utah demographics. According this Matt Canham report, the Mormon portion of Utah population is steadily shrinking, and within the next three years, the Mormon share of Utah's population is expected to hit its lowest level since The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints started keeping membership numbers:
On this day, 158 years ago, Brigham Young and his band of pioneers arrived in the Salt Lake Valley, starting a migration that quickly turned Utah into a Mormon-dominated desert realm.
That domination - at least in terms of raw numbers - appears to be nearing its end.
Within the next three years, the Mormon share of Utah's population is expected to hit its lowest level since The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints started keeping membership numbers. And if current trends continue, LDS residents no longer will constitute a majority by 2030.
These projections are based on normally secret membership counts the LDS Church voluntarily hands over to Utah's Office of Planning and Budget, under what it assumed was a binding confidentiality agreement. The state planning office uses the county-by-county numbers to help estimate future population growth.
Through a public records request, The Salt Lake Tribune obtained the data from 1989 to 2004. State employees believe the LDS Church has provided the records since at least the 1960s but could retrieve only the numbers for 15 years and found no such confidentiality agreement.
Still, these 15 years are enough to identify a historic transformation in the makeup of Utah's ever-growing population.
Stated simply: "Utah is essentially becoming more like the nation," said Robert Spendlove, the planning office's lead demographer.
You can read the full article here.

This raises some interesting questions, as the State of Utah aggressively recruits out-of state corporations, and considers abolition of the state corporate income tax, among other things. Although the planning office's lead demographer projects a "slow shift," such a projection fails to take into account, it seems to me, the sudden effect of corporate-related immigration, if Governor Hunstman's administration substantially succeeds in luring out-of-state companies to Utah, with a more manufacturing-friendly -- and generally business-friendly -- economic environment.

What say our gentle Weber County Forum readers? Will an influx of skilled workers and executives to Utah in the next few years accelerate the pace of Utah's already-documented demographic shift? How will this shift effect the local political climate? Is this really about mere Republican-Democrat politics, as the article suggests; or will these inevitable changes be more fundamental, and go beyond mere partisan party politics? How will these changes effect our unique local culture, and the manner in which politics are presently conducted in the State of Utah?


Thursday, July 21, 2005

Another Rec Center Bond Vote Delay

For those who have been sitting on the edges of their seats, eagerly awaiting the Ogden City Council's seemingly-inevitable approval of the new Rec Center bonding, there may be some more bad news.

I got word yesterday from a very reliable source close to City Hall that the city council vote, now set for July 26, will be taken off-calender yet again.

My source informed me that this may be something more problematic than the mere bonding agreement financial details, which had presumedly been the main obstacle holding this matter up. I was told that the bond underwriters are suddenly asking nervous questions about previously prepared "environmental site studies" relevant to the old mall site.

I've since spoken with Mayor Godfrey about this situation; and he confirms that the vote will indeed be delayed -- again. He offers his reassurrence, however, that the existing reports are in order, that the site itself is "clean," and that whatever reservations are now being expressed by the underwriters are merely part of the "cat-and-mouse" game that typically occurs when an underwriter and an RDA are engaged in negotiations. As to the December 31, 2005 "drop-dead date" that I mentioned in this earlier WCF article, Mayor Godfrey advises that whatever delay that occurs will be measured in days, or weeks at worst, but that the Rec Center project is not itself in jeopardy.

There you have it, faithful readers.

And here we'd all assumed it would be a slam-dunk.

Comments, anyone?

Update o7/23/05 8:15 a.m MT: Scott Schwebke updates this story with additional information. It appears that members of the the City Council are growing frustrated.

A New Contender for a Senate Throne

There's been a rumor floating around at the Republican grass-roots (be sure to read the excellent comments) that Senator-for-Life Orrin Hatch may face a serious challenge this year, in his bid for re-election to the US Senate. He's been regularly criticized by local Republican insiders for various forms of silliness, such as his close personal association with Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy, his truly weird songwriting aspirations, and his lapdog support for the Washington neonon agenda. And of course, there was his strange idea about randomly destroying people's computers -- a "Dr Evil" touch -- through government-implanted viruses. Adding insult to injury, Senator Hatch would appear to be a "software pirate" too, at least if you believe what this article says.

Check out what popped up on the web this morning. There's plenty of information on Rep. Urquhart on his website, and for more info, you can check out his blog.

It's my bet that Utah House Rep. Urquhart will give Senator Hatch the race of a lifetime. Perhaps it will be his "swan song," so that he can get down to songwriting full-time.

Here are Senator Hatch's own words, which may very well live to haunt him in the upcoming race: "What do you call a Senator who has served 18 years? You call him home." Hatch has warmed his current US Senate seat for twenty-nine.

Update 7/25/05 9:34 a.m. MT: Bob Bernick of The Deseret Morning News had some interesting analysis of the upcoming Senate race scenario in Friday's edition.

Phil Windley also elaborates on why Orrin Hatch is no friend to the Utah "technical community" here.

Homeland Insecurity - Patriots or Xenophobes?

There's a firebrand political group that's arisen in the western United States recently. Calling themselves "The Minuteman Project," this group garnered national media attention early in 2005, when it organized and activated volunteer citizen patrols, to assist the US Border Patrol in preventing illegal immigration along the Arizona-Mexico border.

Predictably, this group has created quite a stir in the American southwest, and indeed even south of the border. For those who are unfamiliar with this group, you can read more about them here, here, and here. Surprise of surprises, there also seems to be at least one "official website", which seeks volunteers and solicits donations.

Until now, It had appeared that this group's activities were confined to those areas of the United States adjacent to the Mexican border. That's apparently not quite the case however. According to Salt Lake City Weekly, the group has been quite active (and politically effective) in Utah, too. As today's City Weekly reports this morning, this group (or an affiliate) may have been effective in lobbying for recently-enacted Utah legislation which could be fairly-characterized as "anti-immigrant." This is a fascinating wrinkle in the local political landscape, I think; and it's something that seems to have been ignored by the establishment Utah print and broadcast media. For those interested in the issue you can read the City Weekly article here.

This story hasn't entirely gone unnoticed in the the Ogden area however, as City Weekly reports:
El Ogdentino, an Ogden, Spanish-language newspaper, devoted its April issue to minutemen from Utah and elsewhere who traveled to Arizona, concluding in an editorial they were “terroritas-racistas” hiding behind the cause of national security.

“These racist persons believe we Latin Americans are plotting to take over this country. … [that] we are a criminal band and we come to destabilize their well-being,” a newspaper editorial said.
For my own part, I found this City Weekly article to be more than slightly disturbing. What about our gentle Weber County Forum readers though? Do you believe this group are "true patriots," defending our national sovereignty, as these "minutemen" contend? Or are they just the usual tiny group of wacko xenophobes who fear anyone -- and everyone -- who's even a little bit different from them?

Chime in readers! It would be interesting to hear your views on this.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Council Appoints Reid's Replacement

The Standard Examiner reports this morning that Dave Harmer was formally appointed as Ogden Ciy's new Community and Economic Development Director, at last night's city council meeting. Mr. Harmer arrives on the job with an excellent resume. His academic credentials are quite impressive; and his previous government economic development experience is also a major plus. Most importantly, it's encouraging that he has substantial real-world business experience, too. I'd always believed that the latter quality was something sorely lacking the in background of his predecessor, Stuart Reid.

Mr. Harmer says "his new job will fit well with his professional experience," and I couldn't be more in agreement. It's about time that Ogden City had an actual, real-life businessman heading the department that's charged with the responsibility of promoting business growth in Ogden City, I believe.

I'd long-suspected that Mayor Godfrey's office had an ulterior motive in luring Mr. Harmer from his position as Executive Director for the Utah Department of Community and Economic Development back in February. He was obviously over-qualified to serve as Ogden City's Public Services Director. It seems pretty obvious in hindsight, at least to me, that Mayor Godfrey had been keeping him "on ice" in the PSD job, until Stuart Reid's CEDD position could be made available.

Both the Mayor and Mr. Reid told us that Mr. Reid had moved on to new opportunities quite voluntarily. I say he was probably fired. Otherwise, he wouldn't have walked out with that tidy little five-figure severence package he's taking with him.

Something also tells me we'll see more business reality, and fewer grandiose "pipedreams," now that Mr. Reid is gone -- and now that we have a seasoned business executive like Mr. Harmer at the Ogden Economic Development Department helm.

A tip of the hat to Mayor Godfrey, for the selection of the right man for the job...

And for properly playing his "hole card," which turned out to be an "ace."


Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Courts as "Cash Cows" (Updated)

We'll have to confess that using courts as "city revenue generators" is a new concept for us. We'd always regarded the courts as places where citizens sought justice. These were the institutions of democracy, we'd previously thought, where disputes were sometimes adjudicated, and most often resolved, in an atmosphere of civility, fairness and judicial neutrality.

We were disabused of that naive notion yesterday morning, though, upon reading a Salt Lake Tribune article which describes the latest Utah municipal neocon fad -- establishing revenue-generating "Justice Courts."

They're "cash cows" folks, as the SL Trib article reports. Read the article yourself, if you don't believe us.

This brought to mind a recent Scott Schwebke Standard-Examiner story we read a few weeks back. One neoCON councilman Safsten quote ought to have alerted us to what the Justice Court scheme was all about, but it didn't truly dawn on us until we compared it with yesterday's SL Trib article.

From Scott Schwebke's June 22, 2005 story:

"Ogden City Council Chairman Rick Safsten said he is confident the justice court would be a financial success... ."

Guess what? The Ogden City Council has just approved its own cash cow. It's going to remodel the old Health Services building at the southwest corner of the Municipal building block, and start raking in the bucks with its own Justice Court cash heifer.

Make sure your license-plate light works from now on, and that your yard's nicely trimmed, fellow Ogdenites.

We feel a new municipal "user-fee" coming up.

The Ogden City Council neoCONS have found yet another reliable -- but heretofore untapped revenue source:

Ogden City "Justice" Court

Smooch! Kiss Ogden's Downtown Wal-Mart Good-bye

Scott Schwebke reports this morning that the Ogden RDA is officially dead in the water in its attempt to acquire the 98 parcels of real estate necessary to assemble the proposed 22-acre Wal-Mart downtown site:

OGDEN -- The Ogden Redevelopment Agency will apparently be unable to assemble a 22-acre site for a proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter downtown, making it doubtful the project will become a reality, a city official said Monday.
Although the RDA has options to purchase a majority of the 98 parcels needed to build the 206,000-square-foot store on Wall Avenue between 21st Street and 22nd Street, it has been unable to reach agreements with a few property owners who have refused to sell.
"We are not in a position to deliver the preferred site to Wal-Mart," said Richard McConkie, the city's deputy director of community and economic development. "Being able to develop the site is very questionable."
It appears that the project will be permanently "DOA", unless Wal-Mart decides to negotiate with the individual property owners on its own, and in good faith:

However, Wal-Mart could still move ahead with the project if it is able to assemble the parcels on its own, he said.
Wal-Mart has not considered acquiring land on its own, said John Petrovich, a Wal-Mart real estate manager. The company has not been notified by the Ogden RDA that the deal is off for the supercenter, he said.
"If it (the RDA) can acquire the land, we would still be interested," Petrovich said. He declined to elaborate on terms of the agreement with the RDA.
Fat chance of that. What's obvious is that Wal-Mart is only interested in coming to town if it can do so with a sweetheart deal, borne on the backs of individual property owners, with the Ogden RDA acting as its broker/hatchet-man.

This raises the question as to whether the result might have been different if Wal-Mart had operated in a more conventional and less oppressive manner, engaging an experienced real estate broker to conduct negotiations, rather than relying on the coercive power of the Ogden RDA, wielding the heavy eminent domain hammer, and offering low-ball "take it or leave it" offers. The ham-handed manner in which this situation was conducted is an embarrassment to the citzens of Ogden City, and illustrates why Ogdenites need to look toward more business-experienced replacement councilmembers than we have now, as the November election approaches, I think.

The Ogden Wal-Mart tale reeks of arrogance, insensitivity, corporate greed and government hubris, and started out a sad one. It has a happy ending, however, in the tradition of Jack the Giant Killer folklore:

Cris Rodriguez, who lives on Oak Street and has refused to sell her home for the Wal-Mart project, said she is pleased the big-box store apparently won't be built in her neighborhood.
"It makes me feel great," she said. "I never wanted to move."
It makes me feel great too, Cris.

Howbout everybody else?

Monday, July 18, 2005

Dilbert: On Leadership & Optimism

A helpful and attentive Weber County Forum reader submits this cartoon panel via email, and suggests that yesterday's Scott Adams cartoon may have certain "implications," shall we say... regarding current local government leadership and optimism:

(You can click on the image to enlarge it, by the way, Viktor, in case you can't find your spectacles again.)

Via the Official Dilbert Website.

A Provo Senator with Chicago Attitude (Updated)

Provo State Senator Curtis Bramble has developed into something of a Utah legislative powerhouse of late. As anyone who's been following Weber County Forum for more than a couple of days knows, Senator Bramble is responsible for last year's Senate Bill 184, which put a 1-year moratorium on new Utah RDA projects, and entirely stripped the power of eminent domain from the RDA toolbox. I also mentioned part of his 2006 legislative agenda in a previous Weber County Forum article.

For anyone who'd like to know a little more about this State Senator from Provo, the Salt Lake Tribune has a thumbnail biography of Senator Bramble in this morning's edition. His background is very interesting: He's a Chicago native, Notre Dame alum, BYU grad, LDS convert, career tax-accountant and ex-collegiate varsity wrestler. We're going to be hearing a lot more about Sen. Bramble in the upcoming year, as he builds up a head of steam for his ambitious upcoming legislative agenda. This SL Trib piece sheds some light on some of the factors that contribute to his effectiveness, I think. Those readers who don't have access to a hard-copy version of this morning's SL Trib article can read it online here.

I thank an alert and early-rising WCF reader for the heads-up on this article.

Update 07/20/05 8:07 a.m.: Utah House Representative John Dougall posted some interesting comments about Senator Bramble yesterday, on his Dynamic Range blog.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

It Didn't Take Long, Did It?

By Greg Palast
The Observer
Britain's Premier Sunday Newspaper
Guardian Media Group

Friday, July 15, 2005

Well, it didn't take long, did it?

In the USA, the curtain opened on new anti-terror follies Wednesday when three Senate committees, in blustery response to the London bombings, voted to extend the power of the FBI under the Patriot Act to obtain library records without a subpoena. Exactly what suicide bomber or sleeper cell has so far been exposed by this powerful new intelligence weapon, we are not told. Did Osama fail to return his copy of 'Harry Potter'? Or 'Hijacking for Idiots'?

What we have here is the great con: to get us to pull each other's hair over the sanctity of library card privacy. We're dragged into some nit-wit debate over the "balance between security and civil liberties" -- with the defenders of America against terrorism sneering at the sissies from the ACLU.

Civil libertarians are all shook up that the FBI is going through our summer reading list. My concern is deeper. What I want to know is, who at the FBI is poring over my choice of novels, how much do we pay this guy and why isn't he reviewing Swiss and Pakistani bank transfer records instead?

If our nation's safety depends on enlisting Marian the Librarian for anti-terror espionage, then I'm checking out.


Greg Palast is the author of the New York Times bestseller, "The Best Democracy Money Can Buy." Subscribe to his commentaries or view his investigative reports for BBC Television at

Saturday, July 16, 2005

WCF Expose: The Secret Truth About Tom Owens

Anyone who's at all active in Ogden politics has heard of Tom Owens. He's that cranky guy who lives in Farmington, owns an Ogden city rental property, and contributes those highly-entertaining and well-written articles about Ogden City to the Standard-Examiner. His articles never fail to get the City administration's hackles up -- for good reason. His style is witty and acerbic, and he's a definite and constant "burr under the saddles" of the Ogden City mayor and council, (and the Std-Ex editors, even as they "mount up" this week in their new "cowboy boots" and "ten-gallon-hats" for the upcoming Pioneer Days celebration.)

Tom Owens is more than that, though. I've come to know him through various political events, from city council meetings to the BBQ that I referenced here in another article. My impression of him is that he's quite brilliant. The fact that he's a native Ogdenite doesn't temper that impression at all. Being a native Ogden boy myself, it enhances it, of course. Tom Owens is definitely NOT a "carpetbagger." He grew up in our town; and he definitely knows our unique local culture. And being a native Ogden boy, he's naturally tough as nails. He's U.S. Army "Airborne" to boot, as rumor has it. All these factors make him a force to be reckoned with, I think.

For those who are unfamiliar with Mr. Owens' contributions to the ongoing Ogden City political dialogue, you can brush up on his two most recent Std-Ex communications here and here.

We're also fortunate to have him contributing to Weber County Forum, from time to time, in the reader comments sections.

Recently, Steve Larsen contributed his own Std-Ex political broadside, slamming Mr. Owens, in the form of this guest commentary.

I consider myself a friend to both Steve and Tom, by the way. They're both honest, decent and honorable men, but I think Steve went a little off-track on this. I do hope they'll meet for lunch sometime soon, in order to identify what I see as much common philosophical ground.

Now that I've brought everybody up to speed, though, I'm about to expose Mr. Owens' secret life -- the one he leads down in Farmington. He's an evil guy, alright, and he hangs out with a bad crowd -- like the Utah Daughters of the Pioneers, Glen Leonard, LDS Church historian and Mary Johnson, International DUP president.

Tom Owens leads a stealth life. It's high time that he should be exposed.

In that connection, here's the interesting article that appeared yesterday in the Deseret Morning News, which was emailed to me by one of our attentive Weber County Forum regulars. It seems to me that Tom Owens may be quite a bit more "establishment" in real-life, than his detractors portray him. Read the article here.

Oh, the shame! And here we'd thought that he might be just another evil "obstructionist."

Yer busted, Tom Owens!

Comments anyone?

Friday, July 15, 2005

The Race is On

Well, the race is on and here comes pride up the backstretch,
Heartaches are a-going to the inside.
My tears are holding back,
An' tryin' not to fall.
My heart's out of the running,
True love's scratched for another's sake.
The race is on and it looks like heartaches,
And the winner loses all.
-George Jones

The one-month filing period for the upcoming Ogden City council race started today. Four council seats are in play, as reports the Standard-Examiner this morning.

OGDEN -- The filing period begins today for those wishing to run for elected offices in cities throughout the Top of Utah.

The filing period precedes an Oct. 4 primary and Nov. 8 general election. It ends Aug. 15. Candidates can file at their local city or town offices.

Up for grabs in Ogden are two at-large seats held by Donna S. Burdett and Kent Jorgenson, as well as the Ward 1 seat occupied by Jesse M. Garcia and the Ward 3 seat belonging to Fasi M. Filiaga.

Burdett, Jorgenson and Garcia plan to seek another four-year term, while Filiaga will not run again because of health problems.

There hasn't been a time within my memory as a native Ogdenite when there's been so much community interest in local events and happenings as now. It's been less than four months since the local townsfolk were riled-up about eminent domain and the Wal-mart land-grab question; and it's my own perception that people remain pretty stirred-up on the issue even today, in the wake of the outrageous SCOTUS Kelo anti-private property decision.

The Ogden Rec Center council bonding vote also apparently comes up on July 26; and it seems certain that this will be a political lightning rod for council incumbents who will stand for election this coming November, regardless of the predictability of the lock-step outcome.

Most city council elections occur with nary a peep; but something tells me this election will be quite different. Seldom have day-to-day Ogden City politics been accompanied by such rancor and contentiousness as we have witnessed recently. The upcoming race will be very interesting, I think.

Who do you think will throw their hat into the ring this time around? Is there anyone in particular you readers would like to see enter the city council race? What head-to-head matchups would be particularly interesting to you? What candidates, if any, seem vulnerable to challengers? What will be the pivotal issues?

In the event that any of our gentle readers would like specific information as to how to enter their own horse in this horse-race, by the way, you can find procedural instructions online here.

If there are any other council races in any other Weber County cities or towns that may be of interest to any of you, please don't hesitate to chime in here. Although Weber County Forum discussions have recently focused on Ogden events and issues, I suspect there are important issues in other elections elsewhere in the county. Greater Weber County is what this forum is designed to be all about, after all. So if there are other local races and council seats that deserve discussion, this is the place to do it.

Comments anyone?

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Better Late Than Never -- The Press Finally Starts Doing Its Job.

The U.S. media has been in a tizzy for the past few days, over freedom of the press and journalist-source privilege. What's brought this to a head is that the media's constitutional "ox" has finally been "gored" -- New York Times reporter Judith Miller was finally ordered to jail last week by a federal judge, for refusing to reveal her source in the ongoing "Valerie Plame CIA agent outting" affair.

The intrepid editors of our hometown paper even got into the act a couple of days ago, with a nice little editorial published on Tuesday, bemoaning the federal government's encroachment on protections contained in the First Amendment to the US Constitution. The Std-Ex made some excellent points in this strong editorial. It's a short one, so I'll quote it in full:

"Goodbye, and don't betray me too much." -- Simone Signoret
(ending an interview)

Americans assume, wrongly, that the liberties enumerated in the Bill of Rights are of an absolute nature. Just because the First Amendment says "Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press ..." doesn't mean we have free speech or that the press is free.

The courts have seen to that over the past 200-plus years.

The primary sticking point vis-à-vis the press has always been the use of anonymous sources. For reporters to get information about corporate wrongdoing, government corruption and the like, they often have to depend on anonymous sources for information.

That being the case, prosecutors who want to build cases against the wrongdoers enjoy compelling reporters to reveal their sources. Indeed, a federal prosecutor and judge just last week ordered Judith Miller of The New York Times to jail for refusing to reveal a source -- for a story she never wrote.

Most states -- between 31 and 49, depending on which sources you believe -- have shield laws that protect reporters from having to reveal anonymous sources. Utah is one of those states.

But the federal government does not. That's why Miller is in jail: Federal law permits prosecutors and judges to coerce reporters' cooperation by locking them up. This is not a partisan issue, but an ethical one. And it highlights the need for a federal shield law to protect reporters from over-zealous and unconscionable officers of the court who resort to intimidation in trying to get journalists to betray confidences with their sources.

This is vitally important to the health of the nation. And here's a good example: What if The Washington Post had been somehow compelled to reveal the name of its anonymous sources -- including FBI official W. Mark Felt, who before revealing his own identity earlier this year was known only as "Deep Throat" -- early in the course of its Watergate reportage? It's possible that such intimidation would have stalled the investigation by drying up the anonymous sources and we may never have discovered the full extent of the corruption within the Nixon administration.

Congress is now considering a pair of bills that would establish federal shield laws. But the House and Senate versions differ in some significant ways. For example, the House bill defines Internet "bloggers" as journalists to be protected, but the Senate does not. Some legal scholars warn that any definition of who is or is not a journalist curtails the liberties granted by the First Amendment -- defining who is or is not a journalist may be tantamount to licensing.

We would prefer a federal law that grants absolute privilege for confidential sources, reporters and the information they provide. A free press -- a truly free press -- is an absolute necessity in an open society. Without it, citizens of this nation will not be able to know what is going on in government or any other aspect of the society, because sources will know their anonymity cannot be guaranteed.

Freedom of speech is our nation's bedrock liberty. It must be made to flourish, free of threats from prosecutors and judges who would strip it away from those people who reveal the news of the day.

I'll also volunteer that I entirely agree with the Std-Ex editorial staff on this. For what it's worth, I agree with their every word. Freedom of the press is crucial in a free society, and if any "privilege" ought to be absolute, or near-absolute, it's journalist-source privilege, as far as I'm concerned. It's a privilege that protects not only journalists, but also benefits the general public at large.

Having said that, I find it fascinating that the establishment print (and broadcast) media has taken so long to look into the "meat" of the Valerie Plame story. It's been simmering for several years, but they're only just getting around to examining it now -- and only because "one of their own" is cooling her heels in the federal calaboose. Involving spies, high-level dirty deeds and international intrigue as it does, the story seems like just the kind of cloak-and-dagger stuff that would would sell plenty of newspapers to our reality show-addicted American public. But for all intents and purposes the establishment media hasn't covered it at all. Some would suggest that "cover-up" would be a more accurate description, in fact.

For those who don't know what the Valerie Plame story's all about, it's not your fault. The establishment media has let us down on this. For those interested in catching up, you can find good summaries here and here. The Whiskey Bar blog also has a particularly scathing article on the topic here.

The Std-Ex editorial mentions Nixon and Watergate; and I've often speculated that the Valerie Plame story would evolve into president Bush's own version of that. Woodward and Bernstein are button-down establishment journalists now, of course; and it seems the establishment media has failed to rear any idealistic youngsters to take their place.

I'm all in favor of the broad shield law that the Std-Ex editors advocate. I'm not convinced, however that the the public has been very well-served by the establishment media in recent years, and I'd hope they continue to dig into the facts of the disgraceful Plame affair, now that the story seems to have finally caught their attention.

Perhaps this vicarious brush with the prison experience will remind American journalists that they're supposed to be the whistleblowers for the people, and not lobbyists for the neoCON chamber of deputies.

The Std-Ex is off to a good, though belated start on this, I believe, with this San Jose Mercury-News article, which appeared on this morning's editorial page. (Free subscription required.)

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Open Letter: "The Std-Ex RDA Fiction"

By Don Porter
The Standard-Examiner

In reading a response to your blog today, I was reminded of something Walcott Gibbs once wrote about someone else: "He wasn't exactly hostile to facts, but he was apathetic about them." I strive to be neither, but I do enjoy a good story.

I'm guessing that love of delicious irony has colored some of the discussion about the Standard-Examiner's editorial stance regarding Ogden's Wal-Mart RDA. The first I heard it was a month or so ago, in a letter from a reader who made the accusation that the newspaper favored the RDA because, she said, the S-E had benefited from an RDA when it relocated to Business Depot Ogden.

A fun story, but completely untrue.

While I was not involved in the negotiations, I do know a few things that might be of interest to those who love to believe the worst about my newspaper.

When then-Publisher Scott Trundle and our owners decided to buy a new printing press and expand our operations, they spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to do it in place at the 23rd and Adams. We loved being downtown. But no matter how we tried to configure the necessary 100,000-square-foot-plus Top of Utah PrintWorks building, an office structure which needed to be two or three times our current footprint, expanded parking and the need for a rail spur to more efficiently deliver our newsprint, etc., it was obvious we needed to either start purchasing more property adjacent to our existing facility -- that option proved too expensive, since most who were willing to sell wanted more than their property was worth, and not everyone wanted to sell -- or move off-site. (I’m pretty fuzzy on this, but I think there was also some concern that the geology of the downtown site, involving water underground, precluded building the necessary foundation for our extremely heavy presses.)

That decision made, Scott looked at every piece of commercial land in Ogden and Weber County, I think, and we finally decided to exchange -- straight across -- our downtown location for the BDO parcel where we are now. The upshot: Ogden got a chunk of downtown real estate it's been redeveloping, and we got everything we needed. We have title to the land and structures at our BDO site, and Scott told me he never would have considered an RDA (in fact, I doubt one was ever offered); we knew we would be continually writing about various redevelopment projects all over the Top of Utah in the decades to come, and didn't want to taint our news coverage or our editorial positions by having benefited in an RDA ourselves.

I hope this finally puts to rest the rumor that the Standard-Examiner was involved in an RDA. But don't take my word for it; the public record will confirm what I've written here.


Don Porter
editorial page editor

RDAs -- Robbing Peter to Pay Paul?

The Standard-Examiner published a gem of a guest article this morning. Written by the Utah Taxpayers Association's Mike Jerman, it's a response to a July 11 Standard-Examiner editorial questioning whether Weber County's reported 2004 $.3 million-dollar property tax shortfall was the result of the diversion of property tax revenues by the numerous local RDAs.

I won't devote any of my own commentary to this discussion, at least not now. I thought it would be a useful to WCF readers, however, if I linked these two articles on the same page, so that the competing arguments could be conveniently compared and contrasted.

The original Standard-Examiner editorial can be found here, and Mr. Jerman's response is here.

I'll also note in passing that the Standard-Examiner wasted no time in getting Mr. Jerman's responsive piece into print. The original Std-Ex editorial was published only two days ago, and Mr. Jerman's response appears today. The Std-Ex editors deserve a tip of the hat, I think, for facilitating timely and reasoned debate on this very important topic. RDAs are a fairly new phenomenon, and it's in every citizen's interest to learn as much about them as we can.


Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Guest Editorial: Avoid Political Labels -- Think for Yourself

By Dorothy Littrell

There is a very disturbing trend gathering steam in the political arena. This trend is to paint all individuals with a brush that tars and feathers them as "terrorists" or "not supporting the troops" if they disagree with government policies on the national level.

On the U. S. Supreme Court issues a person is labeled as liberal or conservative or pro-life or pro-abortion with no regard to the issues particular to a specific case.

This idea that " you're either with us" or "you're agin us" is very dangerous as it removes all personal thought and prerogative to present opposing viewpoints. The local trend to label all persons opposing Mayor Godfrey's political agenda as being part of Mitch Moyes' group shows the persons doing the labeling don't know what they are talking about.

There are several groups such as the petition gathering group, Citizens and Businesses Concerned for Ogden's Future. Chuck Eddy's organization, Citizen's Coalition, includes citizens from all over the state attempting to become informed to solve different problems such as West Haven's growing pile of refuse and the Weber County Sewer and Water Districts' failure to have taped meetings.

I personally did not have an organization when I took on the Wal-mart eminent domain fight. I fought Ogden City tooth and nail on that but that does not automatically make me part of the Citizens and Businesses Concerned for Ogden's Future. My sole issue was eminent domain seizure of private property for another private person or entity.

The Ogden Standard-Examiner has a tendency to label all persons with opposing viewpoints to theirs as obstructionist.

Let's bring back free speech on its own merits without a blanket label for everyone.

Dorothy Littrell


Ms. Littrell is a local CPA, a prominent property-rights activist, and worked as a primary community organizer in the recent anti-eminent-domain fight.

Monday, July 11, 2005

B-B-Q'ing for Freedom

Like many Ogdenites, I attended a backyard barbecue on Saturday afternoon. This wasn't an ordinary run-of-the-mill Ogden neighborhood barbecue, by the way. This one was special - VERY special. What made it so was this: it was hosted by two Ogden property owners whose property had been targeted by our local Ogden planners and developers to be knocked down and resurrected as Ogden's miraculous new Wal-Mart Superstore Property & Sales Tax Generator. Milton and Cris Rodriguez are the owners of this nice little piece of residential Ogden real estate where the BBQ was held, just west of Wall Avenue, and north of 22d Street. They'd turned down all Ogden city offers on their property, and were ready to litigate in the Spring of this year, when Senator Bramble's SB-184 made the eminent domain discussion moot. The Rodriguezes served as gracious hosts, and provided a fare worthy of BBQ Kings, with ribs, burgers, dogs and all -- I mean ALL -- the trimmings. A fine time was had by all in attendance.

The purpose of the event was two-fold, I think. First and foremost, I believe it was the Rodriquez's intention, in hosting this BBQ, to thank the many people of the local community for their year-long effort, ultimately culminating in Senator Bramble's SB-184, to save their home from the wrecking-ball. Secondly, I believe it was done as a celebratory event, where local anti-eminent domain activists could finally get together socially, pat themselves on the back for a job well done, and let their hair down a little bit. I won't name names, but for sake of the privacy of the various local community "leading lights" who enjoyed the barbecue, take it from me, most of the prominent local property rights activists who worked feverishly for over a year to strip the condemnation power from local RDAs were happily in attendance.

I honestly didn't know what to expect of the Rodriguez's property, before I arrived at the event. Ogden City planning experts and our diligent and trustworthy city council had declared it "blighted," after all. Well, that's what they "said," at least. Having spent a few hours on the property myself, I'll just say that the adjective "blighted" is about as far off the mark as you can get. "Gorgeous" would be much better, I think. I'm not a part of the elite "urban planning intelligentsia," of course, so what do I know about intricate and convoluted things like blight, anyway?

I'll devote a few paragraphs to describing Mr. & Mrs. Rodriguez's property. It's parcel of a little over one acre, located on a country lane accessed off 22d Street. It's fully enclosed by modern suburban style fencing, which lends a cozy and private ambiance. There are two residences situated on the south side of the parcel and two non-residential buildings on the north. The structures are attractive and well-maintained, and clearly reflect the Rodriguez family's obvious "pride of ownership."

The barbecue was held in the fastidiously manicured backyard of the main residence, which is mainly planted in full lawn and mature trees. To the side is a large and well-tended vegetable garden. All-in-all, the place has a little bit of a "country feel" to it, even though located in the center of Ogden city. It's obvious to me why the Rodriguezes love this property. Such a private and peaceful place as theirs is unique and entirely irreplaceable. It is equally obvious to me, having visited them for a few hours, why they were willing to fight to save it.

I mingled for a while under the canopy of the back patio, but finally retreated later in the day, as the temperature ratcheted up into the mid nineties. I found a lawn chair in the shade under a pear tree toward the south of the back yard. Others had already gathered in this cool and shady spot; so I sat down to join into their discussion. Like me, they were thinking, and commenting, about the remarkable beauty and comfort of the Rodriguez place, and the sheer injustice of ousting them from their lttle piece of "heaven on earth," for the sheer sake of greedy corporate interests. Somebody wise-cracked that we'd probably be sitting right then in the Wal-Mart cosmetics department if the elite urban planners and corporate greedheads had gotten their way.

Nobody in their right mind would call the Rodriguez property "blighted," under the common definition of the word. Of course the Rodriguezes are self-made people, mere commoners; and not part of the Ogden city hoi-polloi.

As the event grew to a close, somebody brought out some bottles of non-alcoholic "bubbly," and we all hoisted our glasses for a variety of toasts to victory and freedom, before we all hit the road. This was a celebratory event, after all, so there were a couple of things (almost) left unsaid. This was a also a gathering of fairly politically-sophisticated people, who know the fight for individual property rights is not yet over. We have a new legislature convening for the 2006 session, and we all know the developers and the League of Cities & Towns will be waving the US Supreme Court's ridiculous Kelo decision in our local legislators' faces, demanding the curbs put on the city RDAs by the 2005 legislature be rolled back. I think everybody at the BBQ knew that, although the subject hardly came up at all.

In that connection, I did some research over the balance of the weekend, and came up with an excellent article from Senator Howard Stephensen, who also happens to be the president of the Utah Taxpayers Association. It's the first article I've seen that directly addresses the question of what legislation will be pending re RDAs in the upcoming legislative session. From the article:
Senator Curtis Bramble (R-Provo) will be sponsoring legislation this year to prohibit city abuses of so-called redevelopment agencies (RDAs). The Utah Taxpayers Association is teaming up with the Utah Association of Counties and the Utah School Boards Association in lobbying aggressively for this bill. All three groups have identified this bill as one of their highest priority bills for the upcoming legislative session.
The article discusses Utah RDA law, and explains the issues and arguments at length. As to the question of what's going to happen in the legislature next year, the article provides this:
Bramble’s bill will prohibit cities from using RDAs to subsidize retail and other business activity that is patronized by local customers. The bill would eliminate RDA subsidies for the following types of businesses:

• General retail including big boxes and strip malls

• Office and professional parks

• Auto dealerships

• Movie theatres

• Stadiums (i.e. SLC proposal to use RDA money for soccer stadium)

Due to increased awareness by the public and by legislators concerning RDA abuses, the Utah Taxpayers Association is confident that significant RDA reform will occur this year.
Senator Bramble's on a roll right now in his effort to protect individual citizen rights and to eliminate RDA abuse. Having the UTA, the Utah Association of Counties and the Utah School Boards Association backing his efforts can't hurt at all, either.

I spoke with Mike Jerman of the Utah Tasxpayers Association by phone this morning, by the way, and he agrees with something I've been thinking about. The Kelo decision, which basically gives redevelopment agencies carte blanche to take virtually anyone's property at the whim of local government officials, may well backfire on the developers, box-stores and government schemers. The citizens are in an uproar all over the country on this, which will afford the ideal political atmosphere and opportunity for reformists to further clip the wings of local RDAs.

There's room for optimism for property rights advocates, I think. Perhaps its time to schedule next summer's barbecue event. Maybe I'll do it on my dime this year. If I do, I'll be sure to invite a few select local developers, planners and politicians, just in time for the main course. They're not half bad, I've heard, after being grilled over hot coals with Senator Bramble's special recipe BBQ sauce.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Ogden Rec Center Buzzers, Bells & Whistles

We've spent lots of energy here during the past month or two, debating the relative merits and risks of our new High Advententure Recreation Center; and we've dissected its plan from almost every possible angle. Although some of the plan's detractors disdainfully refer to it as some kind of "gloried bowling alley," (with a "Chuck-E-Cheese" attachment,) I think most of us realize that a $17 million-dollar facility really has to be quite a bit more than that.

I confess I'd previously failed to look into the actual details of this facility, and had been too lazy or inattentive to research what a "Flo-rider Pool" is all about, or what an indoor "skydiving tunnel" looks like, myself.

In that connection, I've recently spent some time over at our friend UTmorMAN's "the good in ogden" blog, and I can say we're now "covered" on that. If you haven't visited his blog recently, I'd suggest you go there, if you're curious about some of the features that will be included in Ogden City's new Rec Center. UTmorMAN has done our footwork on this, and assembled some excellent multimedia clips to give us all a better idea what the completed project will look like. He's also put together some other related audio clips that I also consider to be quite innovative and informative.

In the event that you don't have his site already bookmarked, you can follow the link right here.

I found his information to be quite interesting, and I hope you'll feel the same way too.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Too Funny...It's Grondahl Redux

Two reader letters appeared in this morning's Std-Ex, re last week's "Blight Family" political cartoon. Something tells me that our local newspaper of record took substantial heat over that over-the-top illustration:

From Ogden's own Rulon Yorgason:
Reader reacts to 'Blight' family cartoon
Friday, July 8, 2005

After seeing the June 28 cartoon, "Living with the 'Blight' family," first I was angry; second, I was disgusted; and third, I was sorry for the offenders.

Angry at what? Angry that Grondahl would denigrate upstanding, law-abiding, taxpaying citizens who happen to live where they wish -- in peaceful, safe neighborhoods where friends look out for each other. Neighborhoods the city has neglected for years. One can guess why.

I was disgusted because the cartoon assumes we should be alike, and if we aren't like the perfect Ogdenite ideal, then we should be forced to conform or made to leave and be sacrificed for the good of the majority.

Sorry for the bullies? Why not? These are the people who pick on those they assume are defenseless. Sorry, because bullies are really afraid to face their equals; they need help. As it is, they find someone to do their dirty work.

One form of their bullying is: "Do this if you really like your job." We saw this during the petition drive. It doesn't need to be done openly. A hint here and there and a little body language can say a lot.

Do this or you are not patriotic. We are seeing this today when our trusting young people are ordered to kill innocent women, children and other young men they have never met and don't even know. Oops! Now I have strayed onto another stage and another bully.

-Rulon Yorgason
And from the inimitable Tom Owens:
Cartoon was tasteless, warrants an apology
Friday, July 8, 2005

The Standard-Examiner has reached an all-time low with the publication of the extremely tasteless June 28 cartoon "Living with the 'Blight' family," depicting the decent folks who stood up to the mayor and Wal-Mart as a bunch of rabble-rousing scum.

The cartoon may reflect how Lord Mayor Godfrey sees those who oppose his policies, but it was a big disappointment to see you sully the reputation of the great newspaper Bill and Abe Glasmann built with such cheap and biased shots.

I think that you owe the brave people who stood up to this naked land grab a front-page retraction and apology.

-Tom Owens
The reader poll here has 69 votes tallied, by the way, and these are the results, so far:
"What's your take on the 06/28/05 Grondahl cartoon? (Scroll down page)"

Totally innocuous (2) 3%
Mildly insensitive (5) 7%
Grossly insensitive (24) 35%
Accurately describes property rights advocates (2) 3%
Accurately reflects the perception of Std-Ex editors & publisher (30) 43%
Other view suggestions (6) 9%
Total Votes: 69
My initial take was that this cartoon was basically innocuous, but I've changed my mind on that. Grondahl obviously rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. Grondahl is a fine illustrator, I think, but you won't see his works hanging in the Smithsonian or the Louvre, so long as he's willing to continue selling his soul to the corporo-fascist "Suits from Sanduskey."

It really was a cheap shot. But I don't think we should hold our collective breath for the well-deserved apologies that would naturally flow forth in a righteous and decent world. The Std-Ex editors and publisher are obviously still too preoccupied with wringing their hands -- and crying towels -- over the Wal-Mart ad revenue that was lost as a result of our local citizens' noble efforts to stand up for their God-given individual property rights.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Tax Increment Dollars -- Lost or Not?

There's been major debate raging locally which I promised to address. Mayor Godfrey says we must commence construction of the Rec Center project before the end of the year; otherwise millions of tax increment dollars will be lost forever. Opposing forces say "no, these monies won't be lost; they'll just fall back to "the general fund."

Both sides are partly right and partly wrong on this. This post will be my effort to clarify this muddy situation.

The present argumentative impasse is a result of legislation enacted by the 2005 Utah legislature. As you'll recall, the legislature made major but interim modifications to Utah RDA law, including a ban on the use of the power of eminent domain by RDAs.

It was a true battle royal, with Utah cities lobbying for the preservation of their formidable RDA toolbox; while counties, local taxing districts and individual property rights advocates fought to strip as many powers from city entities as possible.

The consequence was disjointed legislation seemingly made in hell. Part of the result was Utah Code Section 7B-4-1003.

The statute is a real doozy, as contorted government code sections go. But a careful reading solves the puzzle about why the Ogden City Administration is pursuing a "recreation center" project, and explains why Mayor Godfrey is mainly right when he contends that millions of dollars of tax increment money from at least ten Ogden projects will be "lost," in the event that the High Adventure Recreation Center project isn't commenced by December 31, 2005.

In deference to local entities (like Ogden) who'd set up RDA projects prior to July 1, 1993, the 2005 Utah legislature set up a sliding scale of tax increment allocation between local RDAs and other taxing entities. Ogden city has at least ten of those. The following section governs the diminishing portion of tax increment that RDAs were generally permitted by the legislature to keep, based on the age of each project:

(i) (A) for the first through the fifth tax years, 100% of tax increment;
(B) for the sixth through the tenth tax years, 80% of tax increment;
(C) for the eleventh through the fifteenth tax years, 75% of tax increment;
(D) for the sixteenth through the twentieth tax years, 70% of tax increment; and
(E) for the twenty-first through the twenty-fifth tax years, 60% of tax increment; or (ii) for an agency that has caused a taxing entity committee to be created under Subsection 17B-4-1002(1), any percentage of tax increment up to 100% and for any length of time that the taxing entity committee approves.
In doing this, however, the legislature left local RDAs an "out" -- a way to keep unto themselves more tax increment money than otherwise allowed by the above code sub-sections. Under provisions of subsections 3(b) et seq. of the statute, local RDA entities threw out a "carrot on a stick," allowing pre-July 1993 RDAs to recapture up to 100% of tax increment dollars, provided they commenced construction of a "recreational facility," prior to December 31, 2005:

b) Notwithstanding the tax increment percentages and time periods in Subsection (2)(a) and Subsection 17B-4-403(1)(m)(i), an agency may be paid additional tax increment for a period ending 32 years after the first tax year after April 1, 1983 for which the agency receives tax increment from the project area if:
(i) the additional tax increment is used to pay some or all of the cost of the land for and installation and construction of a recreational facility, as defined in Section 59-12-702, or a cultural facility, including parking and infrastructure improvements related to the recreational or cultural facility, whether or not the facility is located within a project area;
(ii) construction of the recreational or cultural facility is commenced on or before December 31, 2005; and
(iii) the additional tax increment is pledged on or before July 1, 2005, to pay all or part of the cost of the land for and the installation and construction of the recreational or cultural facility, including parking and infrastructure improvements related to the recreational or cultural facility.
That's why Mayor Godfrey's administration is hammering the Rec Center project. It's an effort to keep RDA tax increment money from 10 pre-July, 1, 1993 RDA projects within the Ogden RDA framework. He's right. If the Rec Center project isn't commenced by the end of the year, all tax increment dollars, including millions of dollars of those that will accrue in future years, will be lost to Ogden city forever.

Now for the "other" side of the argument. The local anti-development Luddites contend that these dollars won't actually be lost; they'll merely be returned to what they vaguely refer to as the "general fund." They're halfway right on that. What will happen, in the event that the Rec Center project isn't commenced by December 31, 2005, is that current Ogden City tax increment dollars, and those to accrue in future years, will fall back to Weber County, in trust, to be disbursed under the standard statutory scheme that would operate in the absense of a local RDA: Schools: 50%; Ogden City 25%; individual county taxing districts: 25%. They're completely wrong, though, when they say these dollars will directly fall back to any government entity's "general fund."

Parenthetically, it must be pointed out that local school districts will not suffer even in the event that the Rec Center project is commenced prior to the end of the year. Schools are explicitly held harmless, notwithstanding commencement of the Rec Center project per subsection 3(b)((c) of the statute, which provides, "(c) Notwithstanding Subsection (3)(b), a school district may not, without its consent, be paid less tax increment because of application of Subsection (3)(b) than it would have been paid without that subsection."

That's it in a nutshell. The Mayor's right when he argues that millions of dollars of accruing tax increment from 10 Ogden projects will be lost in the event of a failure to commence the project prior to January 1, 2006. The Luddites are technically correct when they argue that the dollars "will not be lost," although they're completely off-base when they say the monies will directly fall back to any "general fund."

Questions? I've spent several hours trying to distill this. It wouldn't break my heart to try to further explain it to anybody who needs more details.

Comments? Post them here, if you please.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Beware "New Urbanism"

by C.C. Kraemer
October 2002
Foundation for Economic Education

Most folks would never consider that the choice between intown and suburban living could hold any moral implications. The questions of cost, security, education options, house size, and yard size are far more important in buyers' minds. But to those who fear the sprawl of cities into suburbs and beyond, the decision to live either in an urban setting or in tract housing outside the city is the choice between salvation and damnation. They think in terms of auto emissions, storm-water runoff, community disconnect, and livability, a code word that hides their desire to make housing choices for everyone.

They never think in terms of property rights and choice.

"Let's not try to pretend these choices are morally equal," Charles Brewer, MindSpring founder, millionaire, and now a developer of intown housing, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in March when comparing traditional neighborhoods with suburbia. Last October the Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit joined others in the church to proclaim urban sprawl an enemy of the church to be fought through a political-not spiritual-crusade. A few years ago, the New York Times declared that it is freedom that "lies at the root of Atlanta's [sprawl] crisis." The implication, of course, is that sprawl rivals money as the root of evil.

Since the 1950s, America has been moving away from the cores of its cities to suburbia. The middle class thought it was simply opting for larger houses, bigger yards, less crime, and better schools. But the Sierra Club has called the move "The Dark Side of the American Dream," a malignancy that could not be allowed to spread.

The remedy was "smart growth," which has been widely expressed through "New Urbanism." Proponents of New Urbanism, such as Brewer, wish to recreate the traditional cities of pre-World War II America, where people lived in dense, self-contained, pedestrian- and mass-transit-centered communities in urban settings.

It's not nostalgia that motivates the smart-growth advocates. They are driven instead by what they judge to be a superior worldview based not on choices made by individuals but on what the advocates see as important. They believe in the "traditional neighborhood pattern," which they declare (in Brewer's words), as if it's settled fact, "consumes much less land and wildlife habitat, and . . . leads to much less air pollution and much less water pollution as compared to the conventional suburban pattern. From an environmental point of view, it is simply a better choice."

The first claim is debatable. Unless all future intown housing is of the high-rise variety, as long as homes are being built, new neighborhoods based on traditional patterns will consume land. How much more or less than suburban housing depends on market choice and public policy.

Destruction of wildlife habitat is not limited to suburban development. There is potential for animals to be dispersed wherever man builds. Wildlife was displaced when those quaint old homes so tightly packed together were built 50 or more years ago. And it continues. In the spring of 2000 construction on the government-subsidized Bay Area Rapid Transit system in California was shut down for 18 days when a foot-long garter snake was crushed and his habitat presumably destroyed at a work site. Dozens of luckier snakes were caught-and apparently displaced from their habitats-at the site, where workers were expanding public mass transit, the sort of progress that has enormous appeal to smart-growth activists.

The second statement is arguable. The gridlock found in dense cities causes greater air pollution. Think of all those cars idling while drivers wait for traffic lights to change just to move a block or two before doing it again.

All that makes the third assertion simply wrong. The traditional pattern may be the better choice for some but not for others. Anti-sprawl projects and the gridlock found in a densely packed urban core have their own harmful effects on the environment.

Seaside, Florida

The most visible face of New Urbanism is Seaside, Florida, an early project of designers Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, widely recognized as leaders of the New Urbanism movement. Seaside is the substance of the imagination of Robert Davis, who began in 1982 to recreate on his 80 acres on the Gulf the beach towns he had known as a child. It is a planned beachside community of charming wood-frame cottages with clever names and wide porches; shady, pedestrian-friendly lanes; and neighbors who are gracious, even if they're in town only for a short visit. It offers a glimpse and a feel of a time gone by.

Critics say the town is a bit cloying, almost too perfect. It's the unreal world of The Truman Show, the Jim Carrey movie filmed in Seaside, whose pastel homes and picket fences seemed to share top billing with the star rather than support him.

Yet Seaside works. It works largely because it was privately planned, privately developed, and is privately owned. Those who enjoy Seaside, the homeowners and the repeat visitors, enter into the experience voluntarily. They take pleasure in the escape from reality offered by its pink and turquoise hues.

There is a central plan, and there are central planners who administer strict architectural codes, from roof pitch to roofing materials, and from outside lighting to the color of exterior paint. But Seaside is not a retrofit development in an existing city where the property is owned by discrete parties who are unlikely to share a common goal, yet are highly likely to have many of their choices made for them by a government board or agency. Nor is it an urban or suburban infill project micromanaged by bureaucratic decree. It is a vacation destination for all but a few full-time residents, 40 at last count, and its visitors appreciate the beauty created by the code, just as vacationers value the architectural planning that makes large hotel resorts the havens that they are.

Seaside works for those reasons. And it works because it was built from the sugar-white sand of Florida's Panhandle where the beach once met the pines. There was no government agency dreaming up and managing its development, no board dictating the actions of others. No one used the coercive power of the state.

Whether by design or accident, the development of Seaside acknowledged the integrity of the free market. Those who liked the Seaside design were free to join Davis in his vision to build a town. Those who didn't were just as free to go elsewhere. It was Davis's land and he was exercising his property rights. If he wished to sell only to those who would comply with his plan, that was his business. At Seaside, no one's liberty is being violated by an urban boundary, restrictive government building codes, or limits on lot size, all ingredients of the smart-growth stew Americans are being asked to swallow.

That point seems to be lost on the advocates of smart growth. Convinced that their ideals are morally superior, many want the force of government to further their movement. While understanding that to achieve their goals they'll have to coerce people to do things they don't want to, these activists fail to recognize that their goals can never be realized-unless society falls entirely under the absolute control of the state.

What Do Americans Want?

The New Urbanists believe-and use data to try to prove-that Americans don't want sprawl. These advocates are convinced the country favors traditional neighborhoods over tidy developments in the suburbs with serene-sounding names and prefers expanded public transportation over more asphalt. So they push their agenda, yet seem puzzled that New Urbanism hasn't sucked masses of suburbanites back to town or at least halted the growth of suburbia. Despite their efforts to rein in growth, cities continue to sprawl out from their cores.

The obvious factor they're missing is that planning has its limits and its outer boundary is public choice. In places where governments have tried to fight sprawl with policy, they've lost. When the central planners have attempted to force their idea of the good on an ostensibly free people, those people have rebelled.

Portland, Oregon's Metro plan, arguably the most ambitious effort to direct smart growth, was going to curb sprawl by keeping growth within an urban ring. But not only did the boundary create an artificial shortage of housing that has sent home prices soaring, the 1979 plan hasn't yet stopped the spread. The city's metro area has extended past the mandated perimeter by leaping the no-build zone onto land beyond the Portland Metropolitan Council's jurisdiction. The homeowners who built on that land now have to drive farther to their jobs and other destinations in and around Portland than they would have if they had been free to live in the green area the Metro Council roped off to development. That means more time in cars and more emissions filling the air, a reality the smart-growth crusaders apparently didn't anticipate and certainly don't welcome.

The lesson, still unlearned by the smart-growth camp, is that while traditional neighborhoods might be appealing, a large segment of America wants the bigger homes, larger yards, better schools, and relative safety they typically find in the suburbs.

Still the smart-growth advocates march on. They block new road and infrastructure construction intended to serve suburban development. They seek out government grants to curb sprawl and would ban gated communities if they could. Look behind light-rail projects that go nowhere and there will be a stubborn troop of anti-sprawlers.

Some of the more zealous even believe in the morality of their convictions so deeply that it's reasonable to fear that they are on the brink of urging local governments to seize private homes through eminent domain so they can be replaced with high-rises. So far it hasn't happened. But Dana Smith, a homeowner from Daly City in the San Francisco Bay area, is worried it might. Smith's concerns are so great that she's even handed out fliers at government smart-growth workshops that say: "Excuse me, someone already lives where you want to build your high-rises."

Moral Component

Ultimately, there is a moral component to sprawl, but it's exactly the opposite of what the anti-sprawl faction assumes. There are deep moral questions when government considers using the powers of taxation and coercion to order lives. Should governing bodies limit choice through public policy to achieve what a few believe is the ideal for the many? Or should they defend the freedom to live where one chooses?

If it's the former, government has entered into the business of making value judgments, a realm better left to individuals. If it's the latter, then governments across the country will have to give a hard look at where public policy fits into the trend toward smart growth.

None of this is meant to defend suburbs, which can be a blight even to those who defend suburbanites' right to live where they wish. Nor is it an attack on traditional and intown neighborhoods, which often have the soul and charm that's missing from tract homes. The only defense is of choice and property rights, and the only rebuke is of those who feel a moral imperative to restrict them.


C.C. Kraemer is the pen name of a writer who lives in California.

07/14/05 10:16 a.m. Update: Another interesting article on the subject of "new urbanism," for those who've been following this article. It's really quite a complex topic.

Monday, July 04, 2005

The Founding Sachems

Amherst, Mass.
The New York Times
July 4, 2005

SEEKING to understand this nation's democratic spirit, Alexis de Tocqueville journeyed to the famous centers of American liberty (Boston, Philadelphia, Washington), stoically enduring their "infernal" accommodations, food and roads and chatting up almost everyone he saw.

He even marched in a Fourth of July parade in Albany just ahead of a big float that featured a flag-waving Goddess of Liberty, a bust of Benjamin Franklin, and a printing press that spewed out copies of the Declaration of Independence for the cheering crowd. But for all his wit and intellect, Tocqueville never realized that he came closest to his goal just three days after the parade, when he stopped at the "rather unhealthy but thickly peopled" area around Syracuse.

Tocqueville's fascination with the democratic spirit was prescient. Expressed politically in Americans' insistence on limited government and culturally in their long-standing disdain for elites, that spirit has become one of this country's great gifts to the world.

When rich London and Paris stockbrokers proudly retain their working-class accents, when audiences show up at La Scala in track suits and sneakers, when South Africans and Thais complain that the police don't read suspects their rights the way they do on "Starsky & Hutch," when anti-government protesters in Beirut sing "We Shall Overcome" in Lebanese accents - all these raspberries in the face of social and legal authority have a distinctly American tone. Or, perhaps, a distinctly Native American tone, for among its wellsprings is American Indian culture, especially that of the Iroquois.

The Iroquois confederation, known to its members as the Haudenosaunee, was probably the greatest indigenous polity north of the Rio Grande in the two centuries before Columbus and definitely the greatest in the two centuries after. A political and military alliance formed by the Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, Mohawk and, after about 1720, the Tuscarora, it dominated, at its height, an area from Kentucky to Lake Ontario and Lake Champlain. Its capital was Onondaga, a bustling small city of several thousand souls a few miles south of where Tocqueville stopped in modern Syracuse.

The Iroquois confederation was governed by a constitution, the Great Law of Peace, which established the league's Great Council: 50 male royaneh (religious-political leaders), each representing one of the female-led clans of the alliance's nations. What was striking to the contemporary eye was that the 117 codicils of the Great Law were concerned as much with constraining the Great Council as with granting it authority. "Their whole civil policy was averse to the concentration of power in the hands of any single individual," explained Lewis Henry Morgan, a pioneering ethnographer of the Iroquois.

The council's jurisdiction was limited to relations among the nations and outside groups; internal affairs were the province of the individual nations. Even in the council's narrow domain, the Great Law insisted that every time the royaneh confronted "an especially important matter or a great emergency," they had to "submit the matter to the decision of their people" in a kind of referendum open to both men and women.

In creating such checks on authority, the league was just the most formal expression of a regionwide tradition. Although the Indian sachems on the Eastern Seaboard were absolute monarchs in theory, wrote the colonial leader Roger Williams, in practice they did not make any decisions "unto which the people are averse." These smaller groups did not have formal, Iroquois-style constitutions, but their governments, too, were predicated on the consent of the governed. Compared to the despotisms that were the norm in Europe and Asia, the societies encountered by British colonists were a libertarian dream.

To some extent, this freedom reflected North American Indians' relatively recent adoption of agriculture. Early farming villages worldwide have always had less authoritarian governments than their successors. But the Indians of the Northeast made what the historian José António Brandão calls "autonomous responsibility" a social ideal - the Iroquois especially, but many others, too. Each Indian, the Jesuit missionary Joseph-François Lafitau observed, viewing "others as masters of their own actions and themselves, lets them conduct themselves as they wish and judges only himself."

So vivid were these examples of democratic self-government that some historians and activists have argued that the Great Law of Peace directly inspired the American Constitution. Taken literally, this assertion seems implausible. With its grant of authority to the federal government to supersede state law, its dependence on rule by the majority rather than consensus and its denial of suffrage to women, the Constitution as originally enacted was not at all like the Great Law. But in a larger sense the claim is correct. The framers of the Constitution, like most colonists in what would become the United States, were pervaded by Indian images of liberty.

For two centuries after Plymouth Rock, the border between natives and newcomers was porous, almost nonexistent. In a way difficult to imagine now, Europeans and Indians mingled, the historian Gary Nash has written, as "trading partners, military allies, and marital consorts."

In a letter to Thomas Jefferson, the aging John Adams recalled the Massachusetts of his youth as a multiracial society. "Aaron Pomham, the priest, and Moses Pomham, the King of the Punkapaug and Neponsit Tribes, were frequent visitors at my father's house," he wrote nostalgically. Growing up in Quincy, Mass., the young Adams frequently visited a neighboring Indian family, "where I never failed to be treated with whortleberries, blackberries, strawberries or apples, plums, peaches, etc." Benjamin Franklin was equally familiar with Indian company; representing the Pennsylvania colony, he negotiated with the Iroquois in 1754. A close friend was Conrad Weiser, an adopted Mohawk who at the talks was the Indians' unofficial host.

As many colonists observed, the limited Indian governments reflected levels of personal autonomy unheard of in Europe. "Every man is free," a frontiersman, Robert Rogers, told a disbelieving British audience, referring to Indian villages. In these places, he said, no person, white or Indian, sachem or slave, has any right to deprive anyone else of his freedom. The Iroquois, Cadwallader Colden declared in 1749, held "such absolute notions of liberty that they allow of no kind of superiority of one over another, and banish all servitude from their territories." (Colden, surveyor general of New York, was another Mohawk adoptee.)

Not every European admired this democratic spirit. Indians "think every one ought to be left to his own opinion, without being thwarted," the Flemish missionary monk Louis Hennepin wrote in 1683. "There is nothing so difficult to control as the tribes of America," a fellow missionary unhappily observed. "All these barbarians have the law of wild asses - they are born, live, and die in a liberty without restraint; they do not know what is meant by bridle and bit."

Indians, for their part, were horrified to encounter European social classes, with those on the lower rungs of the hierarchy compelled to defer to those on the upper. When the 17th-century French adventurer Louis-Armand de Lom d'Arce, Baron de Lahontan, tried to convince the Huron, the Iroquois's northern neighbors, of Europe's natural superiority, the Indians scoffed.

Because Europeans had to kowtow to their social betters, Lahontan later reported, "they brand us for slaves, and call us miserable souls, whose life is not worth having." Individual Indians, he wrote "value themselves above anything that you can imagine, and this is the reason they always give for it, that one's as much master as another, and since men are all made of the same clay there should be no distinction or superiority among them."

INFLUENCED by their proximity to Indians - by being around living, breathing role models of human liberty - European colonists adopted their insubordinate attitudes. Lahontan was an example, despite his noble title; his account highlighted Indian freedoms as an incitement toward rebellion. Both the clergy and Louis XIV, the king whom Lahontan was goading, tried to suppress these dangerous ideas by instructing French officials to force a French education upon the Indians, complete with lessons in deferring to their social betters. The attempts, the historian Cornelius J. Jaenen reported, were "everywhere unsuccessful."

In the most direct way, Indian liberty made indigenous villages into competitors for colonists' allegiance. Colonial societies could not become too oppressive, because their members - surrounded by examples of free life - always had the option of voting with their feet.

It is likely that the first British villages in North America, thousands of miles from the House of Lords, would have lost some of the brutally graded social hierarchy that characterized European life. But it is also clear that they were infused by the democratic, informal brashness of American Indian culture. That spirit alarmed and discomfited many Europeans, aristocrat and peasant alike. Others found it a deeply attractive vision of human possibility.

Historians have been reluctant to acknowledge this contribution to the end of tyranny worldwide. Yet a plain reading of Locke, Hume, Rousseau and Thomas Paine shows that they took many of their illustrations of liberty from native examples. So did the colonists who held their Boston Tea Party dressed as "Mohawks." When others took up European intellectuals' books and histories, images of Indian freedom had an impact far removed in time and space from the 16th-century Northeast.

The pioneering suffragists Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Matilda Joslyn Gage, both Finger Lakes residents, were inspired by the Great Law's extension of legal protections to women. "This gentile constitution is wonderful!" Friedrich Engels exclaimed (though he apparently didn't notice its emphasis on limited state power).

Just like their long-ago confreres in Boston, protesters in South Korea, China and Ukraine wore "Native American" makeup and clothing in, respectively, the 1980's, 1990's, and the first years of this century. Indeed, it is only a little exaggeration to claim that everywhere liberty is cherished - from Sweden to Soweto, from the streets of Manila to the docks of Manhattan - people are descendants of the Iroquois League and its neighbors.

Charles C. Mann is the author of the forthcoming "1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus."


We often haggle about what particular "Founding Fathers" said and what the Founding Fathers intended, but tend to ignore the very real contributions that Native Americans made to our democracy.

Have a happy and safe 4th of July, everyone.

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