Sunday, August 31, 2008

Save the Planet, Stay at Home

Foreign tourism was once viewed as a lifeline to the world's stagnant economic backwaters.

No longer.

Now, like everything else, travel and tourism are seen as a threat to the planet.

Elizabeth Becker in today's Washington Post declares the explosion in exotic foreign travel a "global menace" and "nothing short of a planet-threatening plague." She finds it a bummer, apparently, that her former "old haunt" in the Himalayas, where she once "climbed . . . steep, silent paths and watched langur monkeys swinging in the trees outside my window," has been discovered by outsiders. Today, her personal Shangri-La is "chock-a-block with tourist lodges, garbage and noise; the monkeys are fleeing."

So, it's okay for Becker to hang with the monkeys of Moussurie, but when the rest of us want to do it, it becomes a threat to the planet. Here's just a taste of Becker's insufferable eco-snobbery:

"The places we love are rapidly disappearing. Global tourism today is not only a major industry -- it's nothing short of a planet-threatening plague. It's polluting land and sea, destroying wildlife and natural habitat and depleting energy and natural resources. From Asia to Africa, look-alike resorts and spas are replacing and undermining local culture, and the international quest for vacation houses is forcing local residents out of their homes. It's giving rise to official corruption, wealth inequities and heedless competition. It's even contributing to human rights violations, especially through the scourge of sex tourism."

So, what's the answer? Government intervention, of course. Anything and everything else will be regulated in the name of reducing mankind's carbon footprint, and "saving the planet," why not travel and tourism? Here's more Becker, establishing the predicate for such action:

"The United States has taken a lead in attempts to eliminate sex tourism, but otherwise, it has stayed out of the tourism debate, mostly viewing tourism as a private matter. Now, however, says Isabel Hill, director of the Commerce Department's Office of Travel and Tourism Industries, the questions raised by mass tourism have become too large to ignore. She hopes that the United States, like so many European countries, will "recognize our limitations and how we have to regulate our resources."

Still, there probably won't be a U.S. secretary for tourism and the environment anytime soon. But don't be surprised if the next international agreement on climate change mentions the role of tourism, or if some countries start regulating tourism along with the environment, because the two go hand-in-hand.

In fact, you'd better hope that they do -- if you ever again want to find that cool vacation spot where you can get away from it all."

It's not hard to imagine a Brave New World -- or is it Slave New World? -- in which travel is regulated like everything else; in which it is calculated and capped as part of your individual AACQ, or Annual Allotted Carbon Quota, with travel in excess of that quota having to be offset with the purchase of carbon credits, or offsets, from non-travelers. This mimics the cap-and-trade system some people want imposed on corporate America, only tailored to the individual.

Or perhaps a Climate Change Travel Tax (CCTT) could be levied, applied on a sliding scale tied to the Environmental and Cultural Vulnerability Index (ECVI) of the destination in question, as calculated by the U.S. Department of Commerce. Where a traveler's environmental and cultural impacts are likely to be greatest, according to the ECVI, the CCTT will be highest. If they're traveling to Detroit or Cleveland of Trenton, on the other hand, the tax will be much lower -- and they might even get a tax credit.

We'll have a separate CCTT for business travelers, calculated according to the "greenness" and "sustainability" of their industries. Big Oil execs will, of course, pay through the nose, while traveling wind turbine salesmen will pay little or no CCTT (and might even get a subsidy, in accordance with current federal practice).

These methods of regulating travel favor the relatively wealthy, however, raising fundamental questions of travel equity and fairness, which perhaps argues for a National Travel Lottery (NTL) of some sort, in which permission to go abroad will be granted by chance.

Is my imagination running away with me? Perhaps. But I've learned that nothing is beyond the realm of possibility on the regulatory front. If it can be imagined, it can be imposed, once "saving the planet" becomes the rationale.

And that's a one-way ticket to tyranny, in my view.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Feeling a Chill Yet?

Anyone else out there feel a chill creeping into the room?

While most Americans have been enraptured by the coronation going on in Colorado, the Second Cold War (or Cold War II, if you prefer) has been building ominous momentum -- confirming that this blogger isn't entirely paranoid, and might even be prescient.

While our own nuclear arsenal ages in place, untested and un-modernized, and attended by sleeping launch crews, Russia just tested a new ICBM that incorporates stealth technology. This comes only days after a senior Russian official evoked the old Cold War in the present context -- and just days after a British general pronounced the new Russian military "a force to be reckoned with" -- and just days after a spokesman for Vladimir Putin warned of a possible "direct confrontation" with the U.S. over Georgia, after U.S. and Russian ships drop anchors off Georgia's coast.

How about working this question into the usual softballs the press tosses Obama and McCain: "What's your plan for dealing with Russia?"

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Disunity over unions

Most of the images and words flowing out of Denver this week have been predictable, even boring. But one story stood out from the rest, in terms of what it potentially means for the future of American education.

The Rocky Mountain News reported Monday that a divorce may be in the offing between some Democrats and the teachers’ unions, whose marriage has been among the most stable in modern American politics. At an event at the Denver Art Museum on the day before delegates began trying to unify behind a single candidate and a coherent message, there was disunity over unions, with some in the party saying they've become a major impediment to improvement and innovation in public education.

Here’s how The Rocky reported it:

"An eclectic mix of Democratic wunderkinds, tough-talking education reformers and one elder statesman - former Gov. Roy Romer - are challenging their party to step away from teachers unions and return to fighting for the educational rights of poor and minority children.

"It is a battle for the heart of the Democratic Party," said Corey Booker, the 39-year-old rising star mayor of Newark, N.J. "We have been wrong in education," Booker said of his party and its alliances with teachers unions that put adults before children. "It's time to get right."

Booker was among those who appeared Sunday at the Denver Art Museum to challenge the Democratic Party to reconsider its course on education.

In references sometimes veiled and sometimes blunt, they tackled the party's often- cozy relationship with the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, which typically support - financially and otherwise - Democratic candidates.

"The Democratic Party is supposed to look out for poor and minority kids," said Washington, D.C., schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee. "That's not the dynamic today," said Rhee, who is battling her city's union over a plan to overhaul teacher pay.

The rousing rhetoric shocked John Wilson, executive director of the NEA. "I was absolutely stunned at the level of union-bashing," Wilson said. "I think leaders who wish to provide a vision and a plan for improving our schools undermine themselves by alienating the teachers . . . who have to carry out that plan."

Those behind the "Ed Challenge for Change" aren’t proposing anything too radical, in my view. The plan, reports The Rocky, includes universal access to preschool, extended school days and school years and – here’s where they run afoul of anti-school choice teachers’ unions – more access to charter schools. But that’s the point: The unions are so reflexively opposed to almost any change or reform, and so vicious in attacking those who do support change, that they are now even alienating erstwhile allies.

Not a good sign for a party seeking unity, perhaps. But for Americans who rank better education as a top national priority, and for teachers who don’t walk in lockstep with unions on politics and policy, this rift can only be seen as a hopeful and welcome development.

Noting the oddity of seeing union-bashing at a DNC, one fellow blogger asked, "Isn't this one of the seven signs of the Apocalypse"?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Road Less Regimented

Power through the digressions on Proust and you have a very fine, thought-provoking essay in The Wilson Quarterly on Hans Monderman, a European traffic engineer whose "shared space" concept argues for fewer rules of the road, not more -- which stands in sharp contrast to the diktats of American safety Nazis. The author warns readers about libertarians who read too much into Monderman's ideas, or try hijacking them for nefarious purposes -- guilty as charged. But it does seem they could be usefully applied beyond just the roadway.

Here's a key excerpt for those who don't have 17 minutes to spare:

"If Monderman’s ideas seem heretical to many in the United States, it’s worth considering exactly who created the American system in the first place, and why. In Fighting Traffic, a fascinating history published earlier this year, Peter D. Norton documents how the automobile industry, in concert with ­self-­proclaimed traffic experts, helped shift the debate on urban traffic safety during the 1920s. As motorization levels soared, measures such as “speed governors” on engines, a once popular idea, fell out of favor, and the urban street was redefined from a place with various uses to a channel for moving the most vehicular traffic as quickly as ­possible.

And this is what we got: an entire infrastructure of ­inner-­city expressways and elevated pedestrian crossings, whose ethos of separation was adopted under the banner of safety but was meant to move cars through cities faster (and even that strategy backfired, as the available space quickly filled with new drivers). The traffic infrastructure was intended to make cities safer for pedestrians by removing them from the street; but in any vital city this was, of course, never possible. The illusion of ­safety—­roads built so that, as one engineer put it, “accidents will be impossible”—simply brought new dangers, and degraded the very qualities that made cities attractive: spontaneity, locality, interactions at human ­scales.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given how long we have lived with this built ideology, Monderman’s ideas encounter two common criticisms. The first is that measures that appeal to the better angels of our nature could never work in a country such as the United States, where drivers seem stubbornly reluctant to “share the road” even with other cars, much less pedestrians and cyclists, and the threat of a lawsuit hovers over the smallest traffic intervention. It is true that if a local government is to remove the signs from a busy intersection, and orchestrate the smooth movement of bicycles and cars through it, strong social norms must be in place. But norms can be influenced by context. Picture, for example, the improvised grass parking lots at county fairs: no stop signs, no speed limits, no markings of any ­kind—­maybe just some kids with flags telling you where to go. But people, by and large, drive and walk in a cautious manner. There is no great epidemic of traffic fatalities at county ­fairs.

The other objection Monderman’s ideas often meet is that people do act like idiots, and that, if anything, we need more separation, more safeguards, more rules. Standing with me near the roundabout in Drachten, Monderman noticed a driver speeding past. “There’s a little part of society who don’t accept rules, who don’t accept social structures,” he said. “It’s not up to a traffic engineer to change it.” A few weeks earlier, he said, a local 21-­year-­old who had just gotten his driver’s license had died in a crash. “He used drugs, alcohol. There’s not a street that can cope with that problem.”

Traffic signs, for Monderman, were an invitation to stop thinking, to stop acting on one’s own volition. In streets designed to safely handle the actions of the riskiest participants, everyone slips into riskier behavior. As he put it to me, “There are so many things that can be forbidden. The stranger thing is that we believe everything that isn’t forbidden is allowed.”

Monderman loved cars. “I like to drive really fast on the Autobahn,” he admitted. But he did not love the accommodations that had been made to cars everywhere outside the ­Autobahn—­the garish, ­over­sized warning signs, the pens for pedestrians, the anonymous asphalt roads. For decades, traffic engineers have pursued, with the best of intentions, an impossible goal: the elimination of accidents. Monderman questioned how safe this kind of safety was. More fundamentally, he asked if mature automobile societies could, in essence, act like adults."

Treating people like adults should be the aim not just of "mature automobile societies," but of mature societies, period.

They Came to the Right Place

Backers of not-ready-for-primetime energy technologies are out in force at the DNC, looking for a government crutch to lean on, reports the Denver Post -- showing that the "new energy economy" touted by Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter, Barack Obama and other Democrats is and will be predicated on massive government intervention, from research support to subsidies to manipulations of energy markets through mandates and other means. And if they were looking for easy marks, they came to the right place.

"From the eye-catching 131-foot wind turbine on display near the Colorado Convention Center to the onslaught of industry-sponsored events, the burgeoning renewable energy industry is using the Democratic National Convention as its coming-out party," writes the Denver Post.

For some, the hope is to shine the spotlight on their new technologies. For others, the goal is to garner influence with politicians and regulators.

"They drive tax breaks," said Sam Ley, chief designer for Boulder-based Standard Renewable Energy. "They drive laws that affect whether or not HOAs (homeowner associations) can ban renewable energy systems.

"In a new industry like this, the only way any company can survive is if everybody bands together," Ley said.

Band together to get their hands in the taxpayers' pockets, that is, or to get government to regulate them an advantage in the marketplace.

Ron Lehr of the American Wind Energy Association -- who once (not surprisingly) chaired Colorado's Public Utilities Commission -- told The Post that "securing political favor" is the goal. The top priority for Lehr and a gaggle of subsidy-chasing allies is to see that federal wind and solar tax credits are extended indefinitely. A second priority, according to reports, is approval of national renewable energy production quotas, similar to those that many states, including Colorado, have adopted.

Since as far back as the last energy crisis, I've been hearing and reading about how wind, solar and other renewables are just on the verge of major breakthroughs that will make them cost competitive with traditional, "dirty" energy technologies. All they need is a little assist from Uncle Sam and they'll be able to stand, and compete, on their own. Yet such pronouncements are belied by the chronic inability of these niche energy technologies to deliver on those promises -- and to stand on their own, without leaning on the government crutch.

If they're looking for enthusiastic enablers, they'll find them at the DNC.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Biden gets Dissed by Denver Papers

The Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News, the two major papers in the city hosting the DNC, don't agree on much. But they agree in today's editorials -- here and here -- that Delaware Sen. Joe Biden was an uninspiring, if not risky pick for VP. And such tepid reviews, from two influential voices in a region that could be key to this presidential contest, can't be good news for the Barack Obama camp.

It's perhaps predictable that the right-leaning Rocky would be underwhelmed by the choice. Its headline simply reads, "Biden. Really?" But here's a little more:

"Joe Biden.


If you're going to make an uninspiring choice for your vice presidential running mate - and Barack Obama is hardly the first presidential candidate to have done so - at the very least the choice should be safe. It should not put your message at risk.

But Joe Biden is not entirely safe, as anyone who has followed his career knows all too well. The Delaware senator is a walking verbal gaffe waiting for the right opening."

Even more troubling for Democrats, though, has to be the similarly snide reaction of the left-leaning Denver Post, which seemed even more dismayed and disappointed by the pick:

"Barack Obama must think he brings enough excitement to his presidential ticket all by himself.

His selection of Joe Biden as his running mate was hardly bold or inspiring for a campaign that, at its heart, is about change. And adding a longtime Washington insider to the ticket isn't likely to invigorate a campaign that's dropped a few points in the polls, nor will it help Obama in the Western states he so badly needs to win."

These are just a few of the reviews that will pour forth in the days ahead. Some, no doubt, will call the choice a stroke of genius. Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, for instance, called Biden "a great choice for Colorado" in one interview -- although The Hickster (or is it The Huckster?) isn't qualified to talk about Colorado beyond the city limits. But when the otherwise-incongruous newspapers in the city hosting the DNC can't even muster much enthusiasm, it seems safe to say that Biden is falling flat.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Company He Kept

Although it might be accused of drawing guilt by association, a Chicago area paper, The Daily Herald, today takes a troubling look at the ethically-compromised political environment in which Barack Obama cut his teeth. And it's clear that the Land of Lincoln these days doesn't produce too many Honest Abes.

Here's a teaser:

"When Barack Obama announced his candidacy for president from the steps of the Old State Capitol, he described Springfield as the crucible where he learned the art of politics and bridging division.

"It was here in Springfield where I saw all that is America converge," he told a crowd of thousands that frigid February day in 2007. "It was here where we learned to disagree without being disagreeable. That it is possible to compromise so long as you know those principles that can never be compromised. And that so long as we are willing to listen to each other we can assume the best in people instead of the worst."

One has to wonder today what Springfield Obama was talking about.

Given complete control of state government, Illinois Democrats have produced unbalanced budgets, callous funding cuts, and antagonistic gridlock. Yet the Democratic leader Obama describes as his political mentor believed state lawmakers deserved a pay raise for their work.

And the Democratic governor whose administration is under criminal investigation is quick to remind anyone listening of Obama's ties to those in trouble. Plus, the Democrat who Obama backed for Cook County Board president produced the nation's highest sales tax.

Sheesh, it seems like enough to make Obama bid aloha to his adopted Land of Lincoln and start calling himself a Hawaiian Democrat. In the midst of Obama's shining moment in Denver this week, the Illinois Democratic Party could be a political blemish."

Of course, that's all behind Obama now; it's all ancient history.

Or is it?

What Detroit can learn from Dublin

Detroit, Michigan and Dublin, Ireland: The two cities would seem to have little in common except an intimate acquaintance with hard times. But Dublin, although a basket case in the 1980s, is today enjoying an exciting economic renaissance, while Detroit continues on a downward trajectory.

A thoughtful piece by Ellen Creager in today's Detroit Free Press asks what the Motor City might learn from Dublin's stunning success.

Not everything that worked for Dublin applies in Detroit. The Irish city has a major advantage in that it skipped over the industrial/manufacturing phase, leaping from agriculture to high tech, so there was less rebuilding and environmental clean-up to do. Dublin is a capital city; Detroit is not. And Detroit, though it once had beautiful neighborhoods, lacks some of the inherent charm which makes Dublin a tourist draw. Detroit's infamously high crime rate, as well as 47-50 percent functional illiteracy rate (Dublin's is 15-20 percent), may be insurmountable hurdles to climb over.

But where Detroit -- or any other American city -- can follow in Dublin's footsteps is on tax policy. Here's a key passage:

"Key to (Dublin's) success was Ireland's decision to slash its corporate income tax rate to 12.5%," writes Creager. "By turning itself into a tax haven, Ireland stole all kinds of European headquarters of multinationals (including 500 American firms) from neighboring European Union states.

That created jobs, which created wealth, which sent Dublin on an upward spiral.

Detroit has seen some growth based on tax breaks to companies like Compuware; Quicken Loans is expected to follow.

But could Detroit compete on corporate taxes? Unlikely. The United States has a 35% top corporate federal income tax rate, plus Michigan's new business tax is 4.95%."

Just slashing corporate taxes probably won't be enough to duplicate Dublin's success in Detroit. But it might help jump-start the Motor City's sputtering engine. And Detroit, at this point, has little to lose by trying.

"The biggest lesson Dublin may teach Detroit is that when you're on the bottom looking up, you've got to be bold," writes Creager. "When cities reinvent themselves as Dublin has and Detroit is trying to do, pain is involved, and some grief, and finally a rebirth."

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Environmentally Correct Key Card

Extremism in defense of environmentalism is no vice, to cop a line from Barry Goldwater. In fact, it's de rigueur. But Democrats are going to truly bizarre lengths to hold the "greenest" political convention in history, from banning fried foods to having dignitaries chauffeured around in hybrid SUVs. And they pursue environmental correctness with such earnest fervor that they can't step back and see the absurdities.

I shudder to think what this portends for America when they gain complete control.

This story, though, especially cracks me up, because the ironies are so delicious.

One of many companies trying to cash in on the madness is Boulder's Sustainable Cards LLC, which is producing 70,000 biodegradable hotel room key cards for the DNC. "The cards, which will be emblazoned with the Denver 2008 Host Committee logo, will reduce waste, and the company expects the cards to become a souvenir of the 2008 DNC," reports The Boulder County Business Journal. And the company eventually wants to go national with the concept.

"Our mission is to reduce nonbiodegradable card waste to zero during the convention and throughout the year by encouraging the use of our eco-friendly wood cards in every hotel in America," said company president and chief executive Greg Hartmann.

But wait. Did he say "wood"? The kind that comes from trees? Trees that live in pristine forests? Wood degrades faster than plastic, we know. But there's nothing "eco-friendly" about making hotel key cards from wood! How many trees must die, and clear cuts must occur, to satisfy this man's lust for filthy lucre?? The least the company can do is certify, with a sticker on each card, that "No old growth trees were used in the making of this product."

The biggest drawback to the biodegradable key card, however, is the problem it will present to future archaeologists, who, when sifting through the ruins of a society that lost its mind, will be unable to find this critical and telling piece of evidence.

It will be the missing link that helps explain the madness of the age.

Friday, August 22, 2008

And Wearing a Cowboy Hat Never Hurts

Colorado's own Sen. Ken Salazar had an op-ed in Monday's L.A. Times -- an interesting choice of venues, given that there are plenty of Colorado papers in which it might run -- counseling his fellow Democrats on how they can win the West. And the senator, with all due modesty, offers himself up as the paradigm to follow.

One piece of advice he didn't offer up is the importance of wearing a cowboy hat, since it's worked as well for Salazar as the pony tail and Harley Davidson worked for former Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell. I can't recall Salazar wearing a cowboy hat when he was attorney general; then the part called for a suit and tie. Now he's never seen without the hat when he's back in the home state.

Maybe Salazar is sharing these trade secrets behind closed doors. If Barack Obama accepts the nomination in a cowboy hat, we'll have Salazar to thank.

Most of what the senator serves up is re-warmed press release, but he actually makes some interesting, if misdirected points about the strained relationship between the West and Washington. "In many Western communities, the frustration also comes from feeling like an afterthought in Washington's policies," he wrote. "The resentment toward the administration's consistent disregard for Western wisdom has reached a boiling point. From federal money grabs of state mineral revenues, to oil and gas development in valuable hunting and fishing areas, to false promises on oil shale, Washington has come to see the West as a means to an end."

Actually, Western frustration with Washington reached a boiling point years ago, with a little something called the sagebrush rebellion (which continues, albeit at a slow simmer, in some untamed corners of the mild, mild "new" West). And Salazar's attempt to pose as the sagebrush rebel is about as convincing as the cowboy hat, since his support for Western self-determination has been inconsistent and selective.

Salazar argues that Colorado should have had more say in the drilling plan for the Roan Plateau, for instance, and I, too, believe Western states should have much more control, and a true "partnership" with Washington, when it comes to federal land policies. But how much latitude Salazar would grant states on a host of other key issues, from the Endangered Species Act to the National Environmental Policy Act to the clean water and clean air acts, is negligible to nil, as far as I can tell. I've never heard Salazar argue that Colorado and other states should be able to tailor these regulatory regimes to meet their individual needs, or to opt out of them. On the contrary, he seems to embrace all of these onerous impositions from Washington, in letter and in spirit.

When President Bush tried to settle the seemingly-endless roadless areas controversy by allowing Colorado and other states to come up with their own plans -- a potential breakthrough moment in terms of forging a new Western partnership with Washington -- Salazar was quick to condemn this as a gimmick, preferring that Washington dictate terms on roadless areas.

On this issue, as on so many others, Salazar is all hat and no horse.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

American Dream, RIP?

Will relentlessly high gas prices finally drive a stake in the heart of "urban sprawl," the bete noire of the better-living-through-centralized-planning crowd? Will pain at the pump finally force lethargic suburbanites out of their gas hogs and onto mass transit, where they belong? Has the long-sought Era of Lowered Expectations finally arrived?

New Urbanists, smart-growthers, "sustainability" gurus and other green-leaning "coercive Utopians" obviously hope so, as this recent story in The Washington Post makes clear. The Denver Post, covering somewhat similar territory, rather smugly reports about the sudden popularity (or is it utility?) of car pooling. Stories abound about an upsurge in the use of mass transit.

Having helped orchestrate the current energy crunch, by encouraging a U.S. regulatory climate that contributes to false scarcity, these same individuals and groups now are relishing the lifestyle revolution this scarcity will necessitate. They're reading last rites over the "old" American dream, with grand plans to replace it with something more "sustainable." Most of those plans involve more government planning by "experts," more central control, and less freedom for Americans to live as they choose. And their glee is barely concealed.

But I wouldn't so quickly count the suburbs out, given their long, stubborn association with the American dream. The Economist isn't, either, as this piece indicates. Here's another thoughtful examination of suburbia's future in Crosscut, a Seattle-area publication.

Some suburbanites will stick to their personal transport, instead of cramming into that hydrogen-powered bus, even if it means giving up two or three Starbucks a week. Transit options are limited in many parts of the country. Technology and changing work patterns mean more Americans are telecommuting, or spend their workdays in a home office (or have no office at all). The mass retirement of baby-boomers will free millions of Americans from the need to commute; and those retirees, though some may choose to live in city centers, will continue to prefer the suburbs.

High gas prices seem secondary to the mortgage meltdown and tighter lending practices as factors in the purported "death" of urban sprawl. When the housing market turns around, people will begin buying in the burbs again. And many urban areas will just never have much appeal to some segment of the American public, no matter how good the museums, the mass transit and the coffee shops are.

No, I think rumors of the American dream's death have been greatly exaggerated. But the delight with which some people are reading it last rites might serve as a warning to those of us who want to choose for ourselves what the dream means -- rather than have some self-annointed, environmentally-correct social engineers deciding it for us.

Addendum: A related story appeared in the August 24 Seattle Times

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

American Contrarian Quote of the Day

The American Contrarian quote of the day comes from Glenn Spagnuolo, co-founder of the protest group Recreate 68, in response to the pamphlets Denver Police are handing out to would-be Democratic National Convention protesters, laying down the rules of engagement.

"We have a pamphlet called the Constitution. A lot of us have read it already," Spagnuolo told the Denver Post.


Cold war "icon" removed from Academy grounds -- just as Cold War II heats up

"An icon of the Cold War will disappear from the Air Force Academy this week when an intercontinental ballistic missile on display for nearly the past four decades is torn down," the Colorado Springs Gazette reports this morning. "A Minuteman III missile that has stood proudly near Clune Arena on the campus has rusted its way through too many Colorado winters and is in danger of collapsing."

The writer then adds, just in case we were wondering, that the "structure is just the shell of the weapon and lacks solid fuel rocket motors and city-leveling warheads." That's certainly a relief.

"We're going to miss it," academy spokesman Johnny Whitaker told the Gazette. "The old cold warrior has been a landmark here for 37 years."

Removing the missile isn't some sort of political statement, thank goodness; it's just rusting out. But still, one can't help but be struck by the ominous symbolism involved, as America enters what has all the appearances of Cold War II, with an aged, perhaps even decrepit nuclear arsenal to serve as a deterrent.

See my earlier posts on "nuclear neglect," and Congress's reckless refusal to modernize, for the bigger picture.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

"Traveling pants" may be banned in Charleston -- and not the movie

No, this isn't a spoof put together by comedy writers at "The Daily Show" with John Stewart.

It's an actual news story and clip from WCIV-TV, the ABC News affiliate in Charleston, South Carolina, where the City Council is passionately debating the pros and cons -- and the constitutionality -- of an ordinance banning low-riding pants. Best of all is the part where a backer of the droopy drawer ordinance produces a manikin that models the fashion faux pas, evidently hoping a visual aid will help sway colleagues.

It's not Comedy Central. It's just another example of local government officials hard at work, looking for a non-problem to solve -- and of why America is still a shining example to the world of representative government at its best.

Big oil may not be big enough -- and bad enough -- to compete in the era of "resource nationalism"

Imagine a world in which those greedy, evil, profiteering "big oil" companies have been brought to their knees or gone out of business. To some Americans, who really seem to hate these companies, this would be a dream come true. But it would be an economic and national security nightmare if the world's privately-owned oil companies fail, leaving America at the mercy of the foreign-owned oil "companies" that have locked-up the lion's share of oil and gas fields.

If Americans don't like having to buy gas from ExxonMobile or Chevron, paying market prices, perhaps they’d prefer depending for their fuel supply on Russian-owned Gazprom (which is the third largest holder of oil and gas reserves in the world), or Petroleos of Venezuela (which ranks 6th in oil and gas reserves), or the Nigerian National Oil Company (which ranks 9th in the world), or the National Iranian Oil Company (which ranks first in oil and gas reserves, just ahead of Saudi Arabia's Aramco) -- with the price dictated by the political whims of the people who run these countries.

Think that’s far-fetched? Then read this sobering article in today's New York Times, which not only explains some of the major challenges facing the world's privately-held oil companies but warns of the ominous rise of “resource nationalism.” Here's an excerpt:

“Oil production has begun falling at all of the major Western oil companies, and they are finding it harder than ever to find new prospects even though they are awash in profits and eager to expand.

Part of the reason is political. From the Caspian Sea to South America, Western oil companies are being squeezed out of resource-rich provinces. They are being forced to renegotiate contracts on less-favorable terms and are fighting losing battles with assertive state-owned oil companies. And much of their production is in mature regions that are declining, like the North Sea.

The reality, experts say, is that the oil giants that once dominated the global market have lost much of their influence — and with it, their ability to increase supplies."

ExxonMobile, America’s largest oil company, doesn't even crack the world's top twelve, in terms of oil and gas reserves. And all the "supermajors" higher on the roster are owned by governments, not all of which are friendly to the United States -- and some of which are potentially hostile.

Most Americans seem blithely ignorant of these facts. A recent survey by the American Petroleum Institute found that only 6 percent of Americans knew that the world’s 10 largest oil companies are owned by foreign governments. Only 16 percent understand that U.S. companies control less than 10 percent of the world’s proven oil reserves. It's fair to say, based on these results, that a tiny fraction of Americans have thought through the implications of this.

The Times points out that the private energy companies America relies on for much of its oil and gas are better at finding it and extracting it than the "supermajors." But that’s where our advantages end.

National oil companies don't have to turn a profit to stay in business. National energy companies don’t have the whims of shareholders to satisfy, or have environmental extremists obstructing and criticizing everything they do. National oil companies operate in a regulatory environment established by the owner. National oil companies don’t have public relations worries. They don’t have to be wary of cuddling up with despots, or operating in world "hot spots," as the Chinese are doing in Sudan and Nigeria.

These aren’t just national energy companies: they are instruments of national power, which will be used as such by those in charge of the country that controls them. America represents a huge energy market, which it would he hard for "supermajors" not to sell to. But Russia has shown a willingness to sacrifice energy revenues to advance geopolitical ends. And profits may take a back seat to exercising raw power for many of the nations with their hands on the tap.

This doesn't argue for nationalizing private energy companies. It doesn't mean Americans should give them special treatment, or a free pass on meeting reasonable environmental standards. But it might make Americans a little less prone to waging rhetorical and regulatory warfare on these companies if they realize that “big oil” is just a bit player in the new era of “resource nationalism” – and that Americans would be in an even bigger energy predicament without it.

Monday, August 18, 2008

One for the Refrigerator Door

You can never go wrong with me calling Californians hypocrites, slackers and elitists. And doing it right to their faces, in the L.A. Times, really takes blue steel cajones.

So you just have to love today’s column by George Skelton, “Let go of the past and allow offshore drilling,” which cuts like a clean ocean breeze through the rhetorical and intellectual fog obscuring energy realities in the Golden State. It's one for the refrigerator door.

The entire column is worth reading, but here’s where Skelton puts it all in context:

"California is the nation's biggest consumer of gasoline -- 45 million gallons a day, plus 10 million gallons of diesel. That makes us the third-biggest petroleum-consuming entity in the world, behind only the United States and China.

We are the nation's No. 3 oil-producing state, behind Texas and Alaska.

But California produces only 39% of the crude oil it uses. An additional 16% comes from Alaska and the remaining 45% is bought from foreign sources, according to the California Energy Commission.

So there's a gusher of hypocrisy here: The state that is the biggest consumer of gasoline in the nation -- but produces less than 40% of what it uses -- is opposed to drilling for more oil off its shores. We're slackers not pulling our weight."

Bravo, George Skelton, for giving your fellow Californians the spanking they so richly deserve. But the rest of Americans are only a little less confused, deluded and hypocritical -- which makes this a piece of opinion journalism that deserves a wider audience.

Ban the Bomb -- any Bomb.

I've written on this blog before about the reckless reluctance of some members of Congress to modernize America's aging nuclear arsenal, and their desire to abide by a never-ratified nuclear test ban treaty, for fear of appearing "provocative." But as this and other stories indicate, doves in Congress also seem reluctant to develop non-nuclear alternatives -- including Trident missiles armed with conventional, high-explosive warheads -- that might be used in a crisis.

Here's an excerpt from the story at

"An independent panel on Friday advised that the U.S. Navy develop and field a conventional version of its nuclear-armed Trident D-5 missile, a Defense Department initiative that has received scant support thus far from a skeptical Congress.

In a 192-page report, commissioned by lawmakers in 2006, the National Academy of Sciences experts take issue with a Capitol Hill decision to eliminate this year's funding for the Conventional Trident Modification.

"The committee disagrees with the congressional decision not to fund testing of [the] CTM [missile] in 2008, and recommends instead that Congress fund" Conventional Trident Modification research and development "at a level sufficient to achieve early deployment if tests confirm system effectiveness," writes the group, composed of 18 national defense and nuclear weapons experts.

The Navy missile was to be the first weapon developed and deployed for a new mission called "prompt global strike," in which terrorist targets or rogue nations could be attacked within just one hour of a launch command. Currently, nuclear weapons are the only tools in the U.S. military arsenal available to hit urgent targets halfway around the world in such short order.

Lawmakers last year decided that the Navy project would be limited to basic research and development and must share a $100 million budget in fiscal 2008 with an array of other "promising conventional prompt global strike technologies." Critics on Capitol Hill cited concerns that, if launched from the same Ohio-class submarines that carry an identical nuclear weapon, a conventional D-5 ballistic missile might be mistaken for a nuclear salvo and elicit a violent response from other atomic powers like Russia or China."

The "critics on Capitol Hill" ought to worry less about the reaction of ruthless leaders in Russia and China -- nations that won't flinch from doing what's in their national security interest -- and more about the risks this country runs if doesn't take the necessary steps -- and take them soon -- to modernize and strengthen its sagging deterrent capability, nuclear and conventional.

The best way to avoid having to resort to the "nuclear option" is to have an array of equally-effective conventional options available. "Prompt Global Strike" is meant to do that. Yet the neo-disarmament crowd in Congress is making a nuclear strike even more likely, during some future crisis, by scuttling a viable conventional arms alternative.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

A Tale Half Told

I haven't read this book. And based on this review, and what I know of the author's previous work, and my years living and working in the city about which he writes, I probably won't.

It's not because he blames Republicans -- the "wrecking crew" of the book's title -- for everything that's screwed up and corrupt in the capital city's political culture. As the party largely in charge since 1994, Republicans certainly deserve plenty of blame, not just for falling prey to the city's many temptations but for abandoning what ideals they once had. And they'll face a well-deserved reckoning for that in just a few short months, when the Democrats take control of the White House.

No one's rougher on the party than those of us who at one time labored in the GOP vineyards, only to see the fruits of those labors turn sour. But I also lived in Washington long enough, and followed goings on there closely enough before plunging in myself, to put the issue into the context this book obviously lacks. All the corruptions the author decries or could decry -- fiscal irresponsibility, lobbyists, earmarks, abuses of office, patronage-building -- were pioneered (and in some cases perfected) by Democrats when they ran the show. Has the author so quickly forgotten names like Tony Coelho, Dan Rostenkowski and Jim Wright, to name just a few?

Republicans simply took things to the next level. And if the author imagines these things will vanish when Democrats are again completely in charge, he's imagining things. Has earmarking ended since Democrats regained control of Congress, promising to clean things up? Have lobbyists packed their bags and left town? Is Congress run by a bunch of rabidly partisan politicos, who will bend and break procedural rules, and throw basic fairness out a second story window, to get what they want? The correct answers are no, no and yes.

And none of this will change as long as so much power, money and regulatory clout remains centered in Washington. The corrupting influence of so much centralized power will eventually take root in whichever party is in charge at the moment. It was there before the Republican "revolution." It will continue during the Democratic "devolution" ahead. But will the author, 8 or 10 years hence, be penning "The Wrecking Crew Revisited"? Don't bet on it. His sort of "muckraking" conveniently ignores both sides of the pig sty.

The author takes shots at libertarians in the book, according to this review, but libertarians at least recognize that the only way to end power's corrupting influence in Washington is for states and people to take their power back, by returning to the limited government ideals the founders espoused. Liberals, like the author, fail to grasp that their own support for big government -- their Statolatry, as Von Mises called it -- creates the optimum conditions for abuses of power and corruption to flourish.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Twilight Zoned

I come across some amazing, head-shaking stories when I'm doing the daily search for items to post on the news aggregators at Local Liberty Online. org. But some, like this one, merit special mention.

The story involves a New Castle, Pennsylvania, farm family who may have their cows evicted from their barn because the structure is less than 200 feet from a neighbor's property line, which violates county zoning laws. 200 ft. is an arbitrary number to begin with, pulled ex nihilo out of some professional planner's head. But here's the real absurdity.

The barn is 100 years old.

The zoning law it violates was passed in 1986, and revised in 1999 -- meaning the barn had been there for nearly 80 years before the silly rules were made.

And the neighbor's property line is only closer-than-permitted because the family that owns the barn sold that parcel in 1994 -- to the people who are now complaining about the barn!

Injustice. Ingratitude. And the inflexibility of local despots who enforce frivolous zoning laws as if they came down from the mountain with Moses. It must be hard for these farmers to believe that they're still living in "the land of the free." I headlined this post "Twilight Zoned," but an even better title might have been "Orwell's Animal Farm, 2008."

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Power of the Pill

Sometimes, when you read a news story like this one, don't you have the sinking feeling that a hundred trial lawyers are reading it, too -- and that the wheels have started spinning in their squirrelly little skulls?

Just imagine the class action lawsuits to come if these researchers are correct -- and every woman who's ever been on the pill when she picked the wrong guy, or had a relationship end badly, can get a jury to find a pharmaceutical company liable for the pain and suffering that resulted. No longer will women on this form of birth control have to take responsibility for their bad relationship choices: It's the pill that made 'em do it.

The last time we saw such madness was the health hysteria surrounding breast implants in the 1980s, which, after the lawyers picked the bones clean, drove some implant makers out of the business.

The time before that was in Salem, circa 1690.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Shape of Things to Come

Americans have for so long been living in an asylum that, like the poor souls in actual psychiatric wards, they've come to think of events here as normal and sane. Sometimes it takes an outsider's perspective to snap the true picture into focus.

The U.K.'s Times Online does just that when it wonders whether the tyrannical neo-puritanism taking root in "Nannyfornia" (that's Cali-fornia to Americans) offers a sneak peek of what America might become when Democrats control the White House and Congress. Read the entire devastating piece here. It may go down in history as ironic that California, a place that symbolizes a laid-back, hang loose, anything goes, live-and-let-live lifestyle, is on the vanguard of America's neo-puritan (or is it eco-puritan?) revival. But there it is.

One California political consultant quoted in the story astutely describes the state's ban-everything atmosphere as a sort of regulatory arms race. “San Francisco bans plastic bags, then LA bans plastics, then everyone else has to," he says. "It's ironic, because the US was founded as a reaction to the colonists telling them what to do. I mean, hey, when are we gonna start banning alcohol again?”

It's only a matter of time, I'm sure. But the nuttiness won't be confined to California, because the state is as much a regulatory trend-setter as a fashion trend-setter.

It's not just in banning things that California leads the herd, but in pushing Field of Dreams energy ideas: "mandate it and it will happen." The state has set unrealizable goals for automobile fuel economy standards, renewable energy production quotas and "greenhouse gas" reductions -- all of which will have a head-on with reality sooner or later. Without weighing the costs versus benefits; without really knowing if meeting these mandates is possible; and without doing any due diligence at all, they simply throw a number up against the wall and hope it will stick.

Now someone in California is trying to put a measure on the ballot that would set a renewable energy production standard of 50 percent by 2025, or some such date. But why stop at 50 percent, if you're just pulling numbers out of your keister? Why not go for 75 percent? It's completely arbitrary. It's completely insane. But it's acceptable to a surprising number of the asylum's inmates.

California has a faith-based energy policy. Yet all it does is beckon other states, and the country at large, to leap off the same cliff, using the argument that "California's doing it."

Of course, California's really only talking about doing it, since all the self-congratulatory claims of success are made today for goals and benchmarks that have to be met (if they can be met) years in the future, when Ahhnuld will be out of office and filming Terminator 9: Attack of the Cyber-Geriatrics. But because this is the Unites States of Amnesia, and most folks can't connect the dots between regulatory causes and market effects, people won't know who or what to hold responsible when the house of cards comes crashing in.

And the people pushing these stupid and self-defeating ideas have a bullet-proof defense: They were acting with good intentions.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Avenging Angels in Skimpy Bikinis

Who, after seeing the harrowing news reports and photos out of Georgia, wouldn't take glee in kicking a little sand in the face of that international "bully of the beach," Russia? We all would, if we could, wouldn't we?

It's gratifying, then, to see that the Russkies got a comeuppance, of sorts, on the beach volleyball court in Beijing, when team Georgia did a smack down on team Russia. Better still, from this blogger's perspective, was the fact that the avenging angels wore skimpy bikinis. But while psychologically gratifying (and visually stimulating), the victory comes with an asterisk attached, as The Washington Post undiplomatically points out.

It seems that the team "representing" Georgia is made up of players from Brazil, who didn't make the cut in their native country but "recently obtained Georgian citizenship so they could compete in the Olympics." (I thought it was a little odd that the "Georgians" were rather swarthy lasses named Cristine Santanna and Andrezza Martins.) But who's quibbling. We live in a global village, right, where ethnicity and nationality have become outmoded and artificial constructs, meant to sow divisions and stir-up counterproductive animosities? If the Georgians need a few nationalized Brazilians to kick butt on the beach volleyball court, bully for them. We are the world. It's a small world after all. Think globally, act locally. Yadda, yadda, yadda.

I just hope the girls have a dacha on the Black Sea to return to, after the dust settles.

An Update on my "Nuclear Neglect" Posts

Just a quick update on a subject high on this blogger's list of concerns: America's slumping nuclear posture since the end of Cold War I. I was unaware of the fact that this issue was being studied by a special task force appointed by Defense Secretary Robert Gates; unaware until today, that is, when I ran across this story posted at, a news source I highly recommend for folks interested in a below-the-surface look at the federal government's inner workings.

Here's an excerpt:

"In June, Gates tapped former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger, who served in the Nixon and Ford administrations, to lead the Task Force on Nuclear Weapons Management, following an internal investigation into Air Force lapses that led pilots to fly nuclear weapons unknowingly from North Dakota to Louisiana last August and accidentally ship ballistic missile fuses to Taiwan in 2006, a mistake that was discovered only earlier this year.

As a result of that initial Defense Department investigation, Gates fired the Air Force's top civilian and military leaders, Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne and Air Force Chief of Staff Michael Mosley, explaining in a June 5 press briefing that "the focus of the Air Force leadership has drifted with respect to perhaps its most sensitive mission."

The investigation that led to the firings was conducted by Adm. Kirkland Donald, director of Naval Nuclear Propulsion and the senior military official responsible for nuclear weapons safety. According to Gates, Donald identified "a substantial number of Air Force general officers and colonels potentially subject to disciplinary measures, ranging from removal from command to letters of reprimand."

One senior Air Force official told Government Executive that as many as 20 officers could be disciplined as a result of the lapses."

Gates deserves credit not only for ordering up the study, but for moving swiftly to hold people accountable when lapses are identified. One possible shortcoming of Schlesinger's work, though, may be its limited scope. How the current stockpile is handled and managed is only one area that needs attention; of equal importance is the question of whether the aging systems we have in place remain safe and reliable, and whether we are retaining the expertise and infrastructure required to modernize these weapons, when the time comes to do so.

Monday, August 11, 2008

There's a Bear in the Woods

I've mentioned the coming of Cold War II three or four times in the short history of this blog. It didn't take a neo-Kremlinologist to predict it. But I'm frankly surprised at the speed with which it's becoming a reality, hastened by Russia's vicious attack on a former satellite, the (temporarily) free republic of Georgia.

Thus far, the media commentary has been more forceful in response than anything mustered by the "international community" or the U.S. State Department -- an indifference punctuated, at least on the U.S. side, by embarrassing photographs of President Bush playing beach volleyball in Beijing while Georgians bleed in the streets. But today's piece by Robert Kagan, the Washington Post's World Columnist, stands out for its cut-to-the-chase clarity.

"From the Baltics in the north through Central Europe and the Balkans to the Caucasus and Central Asia, a geopolitical power struggle has emerged between a resurgent and revanchist Russia on one side and the European Union and the United States on the other," writes Kagan. And though he never calls this emerging struggle Cold War II, the description seems apt.

Another Post columnist, Richard Cohen, does a good job here of noting Vladimir Putin's calculated brutality. The Russian action, he writes, "is not merely disproportionate, it is purposely, studiously, coldly atrocious. It is meant to punish -- not as a deterrent, the Israeli approach to such things, but as a way to show the world that the old Russia is reasserting itself. This is the Russia that looks at Georgia no differently from the way the czars did or, for that matter, the way of that most infamous of Georgians, Stalin himself."

Can we officially declare this the start of Cold War II? Not as long as the United States and most of its sleepy citizens, from the daffy president on down, continue to live in a state of denial. How can you call something a war, cold or hot, if one side refuses to believe it is happening?

Perhaps it's time to dust off that old Ronald Reagan campaign ad, "There's a bear in the woods" -- a cold war classic that suddenly seems relevant again. I actually found it on youtube. It's worth taking a fresh look at.

John McCain, the candidate Americans probably trust most when it comes to handling national security, should revive the ad for use in the current campaign. More than just an effective campaign ad, it might also serve as a wake-up call to the fact that the Russian bear is again on the prowl.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

China's Big Show . . . and Russia's Show of Force

It can't be coincidence that Russia chose China's big day in the Olympic spotlight -- and a day when the nations of the world are supposed to suspend their geopolitical animosities in favor of more healthy forms of competition -- to launch a brutal military attack on Georgia. And that makes it a provocation not just to the former Soviet republic but to the world.

Russia's issues with Georgia, as with its other former satellites, have been simmering on a low boil for years. Mother Russia doesn't want one of her former charges joining NATO. And Georgia's embrace of American values must rankle Kremlin insiders, who may have lost the ideology but have Soviet attitude (and aggression) implanted in their genes. The tensions have been there for years -- Ralph Peters does his usual bang-up job of laying it all out in this New York Post column -- but as far as I can see, there was no compelling reason for Russia to attack now. Any other nation would have delayed bringing down the hammer until after the games, in deference to the spirit of the thing. But not Putin's Russia.

Peters thinks Putin timed the attack to coincide with the opening ceremonies because he thought it would divert world attention away from his military aggression. I suspect just the opposite -- that Putin fully intended to steal the show, and to upstage a longstanding rival (China), with an in-your-face show of military muscle.

Chinese leaders must be furious about the timing, Peters notes. But the rest of the world should be more than just furious; it should be alarmed.

Denver Post Establishes "Right to Serenity"

I'm not sure how familiar people working on the Denver Post's copy desk are with the U.S. Constitution. Not very, probably, of they're like most left-leaning people one meets in newsrooms, who see it as some faded old parchment that's either largely irrelevant or open to spontaneous amendment. Perhaps that explains this week's announcement, in the Denver Post, of a new American right not known before: the "right to serenity."

"Neighbors fear their right to serenity will be quashed," reads the headline to a report about downtown Denver residents who are worried about how the Democratic National Convention will disrupt their tranquility. These are residents of the city center, who presumably live there because they want to be where the action is, in contrast to those stodgy old suburbs. Yet some apparently feel put-upon when the action really begins.

It's only a silly headline, I know, which hardly seems worthy of mention. And I was relieved to find that the phrase "right to serenity" appears nowhere in the body of the story, which is why I point an accusing finger at the copy desk. But it might seem less trivial to people who still take the idea of constitutional rights seriously -- and who cringe and worry when Americans, most of whom don't have a clue about what the constitution does or says, start declaring new rights at the drop of a hat.

Just as today's cavalier use of the word "racist" threatens to rob it of real weight and meaning, the constant manufacturing and evoking of new "rights" threatens to trivialize concepts that serve as the foundation of our legal system and national identity.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Broncos Coach Needs to make a Goal Line Stand

It's not just the poor and the powerless who can find themselves on the business end of a bulldozer when their property stands in the way of some grand new business development or "infrastructure improvement" for which government officials are willing to use eminent domain. As this Denver Post story shows, even relatively well-to-do and influential people, like Denver Broncos coach Mike Shanahan, can find themselves targeted for a "taking" when government goes on the offensive. The only difference is, these intended victims can play defense.

Shanahan is part of an investment group that owns a piece of property that Denver's Regional Transportation District, or RTD, covets as a bus terminal. And RTD has the authority to use eminent domain to take what it wants, if the owner won't sell voluntarily, which, in this case, they won't.

Unlike average Joes who find themselves facing eminent domain, Shanahan and his partners have the resources and know-how to fight for their property rights when an 800-pound gorilla shows up, suggesting they sell or else. And I for one hope that Coach Shanahan & Co. mount a bruising goal line stance against RTD.

That’s because we all are at risk when eminent domain takings become an easy score for those doing the taking.

The Bush Conspiracy Continues Afoot

Calling all conspiracy buffs. Congressional committee staffers; it's time to cut short your August recess and get back to Capitol Hill. A well-known climate change researcher has lost his job, according to today's report in the Boulder Daily Camera -- due to budget cuts at the lab, they say. But who can doubt that it's all just another attempt by the "deniers" in the Bush administration to silence those who want to warn the world about the disaster that looms?

I'd say another congressional witch hunt is in order. What did the president know about this lay-off, and when did he know it?

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Another Coast Heard From

I recently did a post chiding The New York Times editorial page for its long distance, laughably Disneyesque take on wolf management issues in the West. Now comes a very similar editorial in the Los Angeles Times, which underscores how completely disconnected people on the coasts are from on-the-ground realities here in "fly-over country." This piece even repeats the simplistic line that the West's alleged anti-wolf animus stems from the selfishness of Elmer Fudd-like hunters, who want all the deer and elk for themselves.

Where do these people get this stuff? Straight from Friends of the Wolf talking points, apparently.

Such ignorance wouldn't matter much if Western states had more direct control over the public lands and wildlife inside our borders. But as long as the populous east and west coasts call the shots, through their representatives in Congress, we'll continue to be treated like a vast theme park and wildlife menagerie, which exists for the experimentation and entertainment of non-Westerners.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Forest Restoration Work Runs into a Buzzsaw

Being able to responsibly manage public lands, and national forests especially, requires being able to take the long view -- to think and plan in time increments of 50, 75, 100 years. And that's a major problem in the United States, given the public's short attention span, its expectation of instant gratification and, in the case of forest management, its frequent unwillingness to sacrifice short-term aesthetics for long term benefits.

This story in the Boulder Daily Camera illustrates what I mean.

Boulder County, working in tandem with the state's Forest Service and researchers at Colorado State University, is removing hundreds of trees in the Bald Mountain Scenic Area in an attempt to "return the area to its pre-settlement state," reports the Camera. But some folks living nearby, and who visit the area, can only see the short-term scenic impacts, which they object to. Their untrained eyes see Colorado's dense forest thickets as healthy, normal and desirable, even though these stands are unnaturally overgrown, making them especially prone to wildfires and disease. They can't understand that the short-term removal of some trees will improve overall forest health in the long-run. All that matters to the critics is what the forest looks like now, today, when they go hiking there. They frequently harbor naive, romantic, mystical notions about nature, which make arguments for science-based management moot.

And this illustrates, in a nutshell, the public relations challenge facing federal land agencies that need to confront a forest health crisis but frequently find themselves stymied by the threat of litigation, or protests from people who can't take the long view. These factors, along with the usual tape and "analysis paralysis," leave us powerless to address the crisis. Unless we can overcome these hurdles, millions more acres will die and burn in Colorado and elsewhere.

One additional point.

It's odd to see so many environmentalists pulling their hair out about an alleged climate "crisis" of vaguely understood origins, predicated on computer models that predict what might happen hundreds of years in the future, while a much more tangible and preventable ecological catastrophe unfolds right before their eyes. In one case, they demand immediate and dramatic action, claiming that a decisive human response now will make all the difference in the world. In the other case, they counsel passivity, claiming that man can do little to save Western forests from bark beetles and wildfires. Although we're unsure of the origins of climate change, and of man's contribution to it, we're told we must act. Although we fully understand the forces destroying our national forests, and the man's considerable part in creating the crisis, we're told that we must not, we can not. act.

It's an interesting (and probably revealing) social and psychological phenomenon, which I wish I had the time and expertise to explain.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Springtime in Antarctica

Researchers have learned that the frozen and foreboding interior of Antarctica once was home to moss and insects -- but they hasten to add that this shouldn't lower our anxiety levels about the allegedly dire consequences of human-caused global warming.

Taking the long view does confirm that warming and cooling cycles were taking place on the planet long before SUVs and coal-fired power plants first appeared, in the late Eocene period, which might also suggest that we puny humans (despite our gargantuan egos) have little to do with it. But the researchers are quick to warn that we don't know enough to discount the possibility that mankind's actions might serve as some sort of threshold, or "tipping point," which could send the planet spinning out of control.

"You have to understand where these thresholds are," cautions Geoscientist Adam Lewis, "because, if human beings are unfortunate enough to push climate over one of these thresholds, it could be a total catastrophe."

A total catastrophe for mankind, perhaps, if you want to take that narrow, species-centric view of things. But what about the mosses and midges and ostracodes that once called Antarctica's Olympus range home? They may see things quite differently. For them warming will be a blessing, and could mark a triumphant return. It will be Springtime in Antarctica again. The ostracodes will rejoice.

And we humans -- if we're still around -- can take some credit for that.

Obama-Ritter Would Have Made a Perfect Match

Today's Rocky Mountain News reports that Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter isn't on the short list -- or any list, apparently -- of possible VP picks for president-in-waiting Barack Obama, dampening speculation that swirled since a Washington Post columnist raised the possibility. And that's a shame. Not only would Colorado greatly benefit from Ritter's promotion -- by having him elsewhere -- but the two actually would make a perfect pair.

Both men have accomplished little in their scant political careers, but obviously see themselves in larger-than-life terms. Both men speak in vague platitudes. Both men are liberals who travel as centrists. Neither man has enough of a record to run against. And both men tout the largely-illusory benefits of a "new energy economy," seeming to believe that wishful thinking and futuristic rhetoric (along with massive government intervention) will make it a reality, while supporting measures that needlessly chip away at the supports of the "old" energy economy, putting the cart before the horse.

There is one significant difference, however; Obama electrifies crowds, while Ritter puts them to sleep.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Just Wait Until the Stars are Added

His name is John Suave but he's anything but suave in the eyes of the neighbors, who are outraged that the Titusville, Florida, man is painted his house the color of an Easter egg. Suave -- that name just kills me -- says he's just going for the "Key West look," and that it will all come together when he adds a line of bright stars around the top of the house. But he may have ulterior motives, according to this report by a Florida TV station.

"He told Channel 9 the paint job, what he called 'war paint,' was his way of fighting back against a handful of neighbors who kept reporting him to code enforcement," the station reports. "The city has cited him for his steel carport, the pool in the backyard and the gravel driveway he installed without a permit."

"I live in this neighborhood and I have neighbors, but they aren't very neighborly," Suave's wife, Bridget, told the station. This seems to be the couple's way of reciprocating. They're betting that the city can't do anything about what color they paint their house. I just hope they researched that thoroughly before breaking out the rollers.

Whatever their neighbors may think of them, the Suaves are personal heroes of mine. Who, when placed in similar circumstances, wouldn't fantasize about exacting a similar sort of revenge? Most of us just don't have the stones to go through with it.

Food Fight Erupts in The LA Times

LA's outrageous experiment in what some have dubbed "food zoning," and others are calling "food apartheid," due to the racial element at play, has prompted a pair of dueling op-eds in the Los Angeles Times; one con and the other pro. Readers already know where I stand on the issue. But perhaps the contrasting views of people closer to the action will be of more interest, and more relevance.


Sunday, August 3, 2008

Recommended reading

I highly recommend two level-headed pieces from unlikely sources: William Saletan, writing in Slate, takes on what he calls "food apartheid," -- echoing some observations I made in a July 30 post -- while Joel Achenbach, writing in The Washington Post, launches a welcome broadside against what he calls "weather alarmism."

Saturday, August 2, 2008

An Editorial, Red in Tooth and Claw

Last weekend I proposed shipping the West’s surplus wild horses off to West Virginia, where they’ve found a champion in House Natural Resource Committee Chairman Nick Rahall. Today, in response to this misinformed and insulting editorial in the New York Times, I propose letting our surplus wolves loose in Central Park.

One really shouldn’t expect that Times editorial writers would offer any nuanced, in-depth understanding of Western issues, since this is all just fly-over country to them, a huge swath of squaresville between the ultra-hip coasts, where the deer and the antelope and the cutout cowboy caricatures play. But the sheer depth of their misperceptions about the West, and the people who populate it, were on full display in this editorial, which lauded a Montana federal judge for re-listing wolves at the behest of environmental groups.

It was headlined “A Stay of Execution for the Wolves,” implying that without the judge’s intervention, it would once again be open season on wolves in the West. The Times seems to think that without the restraining hand of Uncle Sam, we knuckle-dragging Westerners would be piling into our pickups en masse, armed to the teeth and jacked-up on hooch, to sally forth in total war against our sworn enemy, the wolf. This not only betrays an amazing lack of understanding of Westerners, but of the Endangered Species Act, a law venerated most by those it effects least.

The wolf population in some places is increasing by 20 percent a year, a growth rate that's unsustainable in the "new West." Plenty of safeguards exist for the animals even with de-listing. And the states, including Wyoming, are perfectly able to manage them responsibly; if they don't, re-listing will result. Hunting is the most practical means of keeping their numbers in check.

All the goals of the reintroduction effort have been met or exceeded, but the animal worshippers now want to move the goal posts. And this is outrageously unfair to Westerners, who have been forced to go along with this bizarre re-wilding experiment, and who now have to live with the consequences -- unlike editorial writers in Manhattan, who watched too much Walt Disney as kids and get most of their exposure to wolves in coffee table books. Their romantic nature fantasies; our serious animal management problem.

Demonstrating how disconnected the writer is from on the on-the-ground realities of wolf management, the editorial even indulges in a bit of pop-psychology, explaining that the “deep-set hostility” wolves face in the West “has only a little to do with ranching.” “It is really driven by the competition between human hunters and wolves for the same game animals: elk and deer. And underneath it all is a false myth — the wolf as a kind of ferocious coward and an indiscriminate killer — that says less about the true nature of wolves than it does about human fear.”

Wow. Somebody at the Times read too much Edward Abbey when they were a sophomore at Bryn Mawr. If anyone's guilty of perpetuating "false myths" (as opposed to true myths?), it's editorial writers who traffic is such simplistic clap-trap, which they obviously got spoon-fed by some old college chum who now works for Friend of the Woods or some other neo-Druid group.

I wonder what their reaction would be if wolves were reintroduced to Manhattan Island, or if the discovery and ESA listing of the Central Park Elephant-Eared Mouse placed large areas of their playground off limits? I venture to think their arrogant attitudes would change.