Friday, October 31, 2008

This Halloween at the Paige House

I think I'll try an experiment in Obamanomics at the Paige house this Halloween.

If the trick or treaters who show up at my door have more candy in their goody bags than I have in my candy bowl, instead of giving them a piece, I'll take some of theirs, explaining the virtue of sharing the wealth. Or if one of them has more candy than another, I'll redistribute it, explaining that this constitutes social and economic justice, and will be official government policy under the next president.

These kids are going to grow up in a socialist superstate; isn't it time we started breaking them in?

Disarmament by Default -- an Update

Most would agree that the continued downsizing of Cold War-era nuclear arsenals is a good thing, if undertaken with care. But it's embarrassing to see the U.S. pushing -- or is it groveling? -- for a new round of arms control reductions with Russia, by necessity rather than choice, because we've permitted our capabilities to decline to the point that their safety and reliability can't be assured.

Secretary of Defense Bill Gates "says the next American president should pursue a new agreement with Russia to further reduce the size of both nations' nuclear weapons arsenals," the Associated Press reported a few days ago. ". . . Gates spoke Tuesday at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, where he said the long-term outlook for keeping U.S. nuclear weapons safe and reliable is 'bleak,' in part because the United States is experiencing a brain drain in the laboratories that design and develop the world's most powerful weapons. Gates said America's more than 5,000 nuclear weapons are now safe and secure, but he sketched out a series of concerns about the future, while stressing that nuclear weapons must remain a viable part of the U.S. strategy for deterring attack as long as other countries have them."

As if this isn't alarming enough, Gates also said "he is concerned about the possibility that some Russian nuclear weapons from the old Soviet arsenal may not be fully accounted for," indicating that the United States isn't the only nuclear power that might have become a little sloppy following the momentary easing of Cold War tensions. "I have fairly high confidence that no strategic or modern tactical nuclear weapons have leaked" beyond Russian borders, Gates said -- that's a relief! "What worries me are the tens of thousands of old nuclear mines, nuclear artillery shells and so on, because the reality is the Russians themselves probably don't have any idea how many of those they have or, potentially, where they are."

That American weapons aren't in the most capable hands is also evident, as my earlier posts on this subject indicate. Just yesterday, in fact, another alarming story of "nuclear decline" and nuclear neglect ran in our local paper, The Colorado Springs Gazette.

It's a situation I've been following -- and warning about -- for years: link, link, link, link.

Gates emphasized that the current U.S. arsenal is "safe, secure and reliable," but worried aloud about "the long-term prognosis," which he characterizes as "bleak." "He noted that the United States has not designed a new nuclear weapon since the 1980s and has not built a new one since 1992," reports the AP, and he "called for urgent action to reverse a decline in focus on nuclear issues."

"Currently the United States is the only declared nuclear power that is neither modernizing its nuclear arsenal nor has the capability to produce a new nuclear warhead," Gates said. "To be blunt, there is absolutely no way we can maintain a credible deterrent and reduce the number of weapons in our stockpile without resorting to testing our stockpile or pursuing a modernization program."

It's troubling that this hasn't become a major issue in the presidential race -- is it too late in the game to make it one? -- because it's shaping up as one of the major challenges the winner will confront. It might even help precipitate the "crisis" that Joe Biden and others are predicting, if our adversaries decide to "test" the young and inexperienced Barack Obama.

I'm predicting -- clip this post and tape it to the refrigerator -- that the Russians will resume nuclear testing within a few years. That will be the "Sputnik Moment" that reawakens America to the fact that the nuclear arms race isn't over, and that Cold War II is a reality. How the next president and next Congress respond will determine whether the U.S. continues as a military superpower, or chooses the easier course of decline and disarmanent by default.

This would seem to be an issue that plays to McCain's advantage, since he is perceived as the more capable candidate on national security issues. Of the two men, he's the most politically courageous -- a quality the next president will need if it becomes necessary to resume nuclear testing. But even that isn't certain in this topsy-turvy political climate.

Many Americans seem convinced, based on scanty evidence, that Barack Obama is the better choice for managing the economy. Maybe they also think he has the right stuff to manage the next arms race, and can handle a showdown with a snarling Russian bear, emerging from hibernation.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Obamanomics at work in Pitkin County

"Spreading the wealth around" doesn't just occur at the federal level, despite all the focus that redistribution has received in the presidential contest. It takes place at the local level too, as a story in yesterday's Aspen Times makes clear.

Pitkin County commissioners are mulling a six-fold increase in their "affordable housing mitigation fee," according to the paper, which is actually a tax levied on builders -- and the buyers of what they build -- that's used to fund affordable housing projects in the area. It's redistribution of wealth, plain and simple: Some people pay more for a home or building than they need to, so the county can provide other people with subsidized shelter. This creates the illusion that "affordable housing" is increasing, when the net effect is to make building and housing county-wide much more expensive, deepening a "crisis" county leaders are trying to solve.

But this is what can happen when economic illiterates are in charge, and when do-gooder dogma supplants reason in policymaking circles.

As the cost of building these "affordable housing" units has risen -- a consultant hired by the county estimates that “a subsidy of $394,200 is necessary to make a 1,000-square-foot residential affordable housing unit in 2008” -- the tax extracted from builders (and passed on to customers) doesn't go as far. So now the county may raise the tax, possibly by a factor of 6, which will increase the overall cost of housing on most people in the county, while benefiting a minority of folks who win the affordable housing lottery.

If it really wanted to promote affordable housing, Pitkin County would be reducing barriers and costs for builders and developers, which would increase housing stocks and reduce sticker shock. But Pitkin County wants contradictory things: It wants to control "growth" and effectively punish developers, while offering ample affordable housing for its non-wealthy residents.

Until it recognizes the error of its ways -- and realizes that "spreading the wealth around" isn't just unfair, but also counterproductive -- the situation will only get worse.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Obama a Perfect Encore to Bush

My successor at The Colorado Springs Gazette, Wayne Laugesen, has a barn burner of an editorial today, arguing that the Socialism Lite of George W. Bush laid the groundwork for the real deal we'll be getting under President Barack Obama.

Far from being an abrupt lurch to the left, Obama's presidency will amount to Bush's third term, given how far this Republican Party, under this president, has strayed from core conservative principles. "It's George Bush the sequel, with a twist," writes Wayne. "Bush gave us spending and deficits; Obama promises spending and taxes. Each advocates centralizing society under a large, benevolent federal government."

I might quibble on a few things -- the nation's embrace of entitlement thinking has been decades in the making and predates Bush's admittedly disastrous reign of error -- but the editorial makes many points that deserve a wider read.

Let 'er rip, Wayne:

Mr. Obama, buy Mr. Bush a Bud

After he wins by a gargantuan, mandate-making landslide Nov. 4, Barack Obama owes George Bush a beer. He should thank President Bush for pushing this country so far toward socialism that Americans were ready for the full enchilada by the fall of 2008. Obama supporters think they're voting for change when nothing could be further from the truth. Obama promises a government that will give us better lives at a painless expense to the rich.

It's George Bush the sequel, with a twist: Bush gave us spending and deficits; Obama promises spending and taxes. Each advocates centralizing society under a large, benevolent federal government.

Just as Obama will do, Bush tried to give Americans better lives through spending. He gave seniors better access to prescription drugs. He tried to give us safety with absurd foreign interventions and a massive bureaucracy for "homeland security." He federalized education. He outspent any other president by any measure.

And quietly, off most radar screens, Bush gave housing to the poor. A story in Sunday's Gazette gleefully explained how the Bush administration, at the urging of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Mel Martinez, addressed homelessness by giving people rent-free homes. The story explained that traditional homeless programs required longtime street people to undergo months of treatment and counseling before they were deemed "housing ready."

Under the Bush administration, which never found a problem that shouldn't be addressed with money and bureaucracy, tradition changed dramatically. Bush established a program called "Housing First." It gives money to cities, including Denver, so the chronically homeless can receive rent-free apartments.

What's the catch? There is no catch. It basically goes like this: "You're chronically homeless? Here, have an apartment. See ya later, alligator. Oh, and try not to drink." It's patterned after socialist homeless programs in western Europe. The syndicated story characterized the Bush program as "radical" and "liberal."

Under Bush, to fund radical liberal social programs, authorizations for federal homeless agencies rose from $1.1 billion annually in 2002 to $1.6 billion. If one looks at combined federal authorizations that help the homeless, including Social Security and Medicaid, Bush increased spending from $2.9 billion to $5 billion. Bush has given us the least creative, least thoughtful, most government-intensive approach to homelessness this country has ever seen.

Obama is running against Bush, but only against the media portrayal and conventional misunderstanding of Bush. In a dumbed-down country divided more by labels and party lines than ideology, the media cast Bush as an uber-right wing conservative Republican.

It's a simple, black-and-white message the public easily consumes. In truth, Obama's election will be due largely to the fact George W. Bush conditioned this country for western European-style socialism. He prepared the populace for Obama's message, willfully or not.

In 1981, the late Ronald Reagan said "government is not a solution to our problem, government is the problem." Just 27 years later, a so-called conservative Republican administration has established a dependency mentality so widespread that American's are clamoring for government to solve problems that history has repeatedly shown governments can't solve long term. For the first time in this country's history, thanks to Bush, the word "socialism" isn't naughty.

The economy is collapsing because of greed combined with corporate welfare and government solutions. Unfortunately, few Americans seem to understand that Fannie May and Freddie Mac, "affordable housing," and the financial bailout are prime examples of socialism-light, in the form of corporate welfare, government solutions, economic regulation and social engineering. If they understood this, they wouldn't be looking to a Bush-style government - the one Obama promises - to save them. They'd run the other way, without a candidate to back.
Even before the economic collapse, which Americans think government must solve, a Rockefeller Foundation/Time poll found in July that Americans wanted more Bush-style government: 70 percent said more government programs should help people struggling economically; 82 percent favor more government-created jobs; 77 percent favor government initiatives to expand access to health care; and 66 percent favor government-funded child care.

Don't blame Obama for this dependency/entitlement mentality. Obama didn't create it.
He's merely responding to it, which is smart if the goal is to win. Put the blame for this squarely on Bush. He created this mentality by governing without so much as a nod toward the idea that Americans should provide for themselves. Bush gave us welfare on both ends, growing government for rich and poor alike.

Obama will do the same, with one caveat. He plans to raise taxes on the rich - those louts who gave us the lending crash and slinked off with cash. That means, unlike Bush, Obama at least has a hare-brained plan to pay for the welfare.

That makes the difference between Bush and Obama one of deficit spending (Bush), vs. taxing and spending (Obama). Each doctrine favors the use of government to give Americans better lives, while reducing incentives for people to innovate, invest, work hard and produce wealth in pursuit of rewards - rewards like health care, and homes.

Both ideologies place government growth ahead of individual liberty and genuine prosperity - the values this country was founded to nurture.

Expect Obama to win big next week. He'll win because George Bush addicted this country to government solutions and handouts. Lacking economic and motivational prowess, Bush sold us on a right to happiness, rather than a right to pursue happiness.

Bush provided safety, education, homes and even prescription drugs. Obama promises more of the same at a time when it's all crashing down. History shows us that dependent societies don't produce enough to survive. But the lending crisis has taught us something else: short term gain is the name of the game.

Obama and Bush know this all too well. On Nov. 4, they should high-five each other.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Another Sign of American Decline

This report by The Associated Press (also pasted below) confirms something I've been predicting for years -- though I take no delight in being vindicated.

It's long been obvious that the United States was pursuing a policy of what I call "disarmament by default," through benign neglect of our nuclear forces, by adhering to a never-ratified test ban treaty, mothballing its nuclear programs, retiring or cashiering its top nuclear experts and allowing its nuclear labs and manufacturing facilities to fall into decline. (I pitched this story to the New York Times Magazine back in 2000 or 2001; an editor politely declined to go with it, apparently failing to see the relevance.)

It's partly the fault of recent presidents, who didn't have the political courage to return to real world testing, and who believed, rather naively, that we could maintain the safety and reliability of an aging nuclear arsenal through computer simulations. None of them wanted to remind Cold War-fatigued Americans that we still had a deterrent force to maintain, modernize and upgrade, and they feared that arsenal modernization would be seen as provocative by some in the "international community." Better to let sleeping dogs lie.

But Congress also shares much of the blame, for permitting a handful of members -- unreconstructed "No Nukes" types -- to defund or otherwise stymie most recent efforts to modernize the arsenal.

Both branches of government acted irresponsibly, on the assumption that the end of Cold War I also meant the end of the nuclear arms race. Technocrats in the nuclear labs went along, intrigued by the computing challenges presented by the "Science-Based Stockpile Stewardship" program and perhaps hoping to shed the taint of being known as Bomb builders.

And now we find ourselves in a potential crisis.

Neither presidential candidate has much of substance to say on the subject, the AP reports, because it's an issue still below the radar of most Americans. The story notes, however, that "of the two senators competing to succeed President Bush, Democrat Barack Obama is most unequivocally against building new nuclear weapons."

That may be one of several campaign trail policy positions that a President Obama will have to modify or abandon once the weight and responsibility of the office is sitting squarely on his shoulders. Or perhaps he and Democrats in Congress will be content to stand by as more and more elements of America's once mighty nuclear arsenal become too aged, too unsafe and too unreliable to remain on alert, consciously embracing the policy of disarmament by default.

US considering implications of nuclear decline


WASHINGTON -- The mighty U.S. arsenal of nuclear weapons, midwived by World War II and nurtured by the Cold War, is declining in power and purpose while the military's competence in handling the world's most dangerous arms has eroded. At the same time, international efforts to contain the spread of such weapons look ineffective.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, for one, wants the next president to think about what nuclear middle-age and decline means for national security.

Gates joins a growing debate about the reliability and future credibility of the American arsenal with his first extensive speech on nuclear arms Tuesday. The debate is attracting increasing attention inside the Pentagon even as the military is preoccupied with fighting insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan. The unconventional tools of war there include covert commandos, but not nuclear weapons.

Gates is expected to call for increased commitment to preserving the deterrent value of atomic weapons. Their chief function has evolved from first stopping the Nazis and Japanese, then the Soviets. Now the vast U.S. stockpile serves mainly to make any other nation think twice about developing or using even a crude nuclear device of its own.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, wrote in the current issue of an internal publication, Joint Force Quarterly, that the United States is overdue to retool its nuclear strategy. He referred to nuclear deterrence _ the idea that the credible threat of U.S. nuclear retaliation is enough by itself to stop a potential enemy from striking first with a weapon of mass destruction.

"Many, if not most, of the individuals who worked deterrence in the 1970s and 1980s _ the real experts at this discipline _ are not doing it anymore," Mullen wrote. "And we have not even tried to find their replacements."

Gen. Kevin Chilton, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, which is responsible for maintaining the nation's nuclear war plans, told Congress last spring that technical nuclear expertise also is lagging. "The last nuclear design engineer to participate in the development and testing of a new nuclear weapon is scheduled to retire in the next five years," Chilton said.

Of the two senators competing to succeed President Bush, Democrat Barack Obama is most unequivocally against building new nuclear weapons. Both he and Republican John McCain say in their campaign materials that they support the long-standing U.S. commitment to eventually do away with nuclear arms. Neither says explicitly that the safety or credibility of the arsenal is in question; that's an argument made most frequently by congressional Republicans.

Sen. John Kyl, R-Ariz., for example, said in a speech Sept. 15 that the network of laboratories and industrial plants that produce and maintain U.S. nuclear weapons is, in some cases, "simply falling down from age," and that this amounts to an alarming national "emergency."

Some private experts dispute Kyl's assessment. "It's completely overblown," said Hans M. Kristensen, who tracks nuclear weapons developments for the Federation of American Scientists. The advocacy group opposes the Bush administration's proposal to develop a new nuclear weapon design.

The number of nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal is a state secret. But Kristensen and a fellow expert, Robert S. Norris, estimate that the total stood at nearly 5,400 warheads at the start of this year. That includes an estimated 4,075 ready for potential use and 1,260 in backup status.
In an interview, Kristensen argued that even though the number is declining, the capability of remaining weapons is increasing as older missiles, for example, get new engines, guidance sets and computer software.

Gates takes a different view. He has expressed concern about lack of official attention to the nuclear arsenal.

"Even though the days of hair-trigger superpower confrontation are over, as long as other nations possess the bomb and the means to deliver it, the United States must maintain a credible strategic deterrent," he said Sept. 29 in a speech at the National Defense University.
Gates tied the question of credibility to well-publicized slip-ups in Air Force nuclear operations. In June he fired the Air Force's top general, Michael Moseley, as well as the top civilian, Michael Wynne, after an outside investigation concluded that the Air Force had not adequately heeded warning signs that its nuclear expertise, performance and stewardship were eroding over a period of years.

In August 2007, a B-52 bomber flew from an Air Force base in North Dakota to a base in Louisiana with nuclear warheads that neither the bomber's pilots nor its crew knew were aboard. Then came the revelation that electrical fuses that trigger the detonation of strategic nuclear missiles had been shipped mistakenly to Taiwan _ and the mistake was not discovered for months.

Richard Wagner, a physicist who worked in the government's nuclear weapons laboratories for many years, told a conference in Washington this past week that the August 2007 incident was "the worst breach of security of nuclear weapons that the United States has ever had."

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Not Necessarily News, but Still Interesting

Campaign donations by Brown University faculty are running 10 to 1 in favor of Barack Obama, according to this admirably professional piece of reporting by The Brown Daily Herald, and higher than that if you count the donations of the school's non-faculty employees.

That's slightly higher than the national average of 8 to 1, but both numbers confirm what most of us already understand about the troubling conformity of thought in American universities, despite the mocking hosannas their faculty members sing to "diversity," "academic freedom" and "free inquiry."

Explanations for the lopsided support are predictably self-congratulatory: Academics are drawn to Obama, according to the story, because he's perceived as an intellectual, meaning he'll "reason through" his decisions, rather than "shoot from the hip," as academics fear with McCain. Whether Obama's alleged propensity for socialism (or worse) adds to his appeal wasn't mentioned in the story, oddly. But does anyone doubt it?

Without any apparent awareness of the ironies, a Brown prof told the reporter that Obama was popular "because he broadens the 'kind of diversity and inclusiveness' encouraged in university settings to society at large."

Inclusiveness? Diversity? In university settings? Stories like this one prove otherwise.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Consult your conscience, not the law

The city of Colorado Springs has suspended its cleanup sweeps of homeless camps in order to “study the law” on their legality, according to a report in this morning’s Gazette. But do city officials really need to study the law, searching for technicalities, on an issue that’s really about “right” and “wrong”?

Colorado Springs will suspend publicly financed cleanups of homeless camps until the city can clarify legal and ethical issues surrounding the monthly sweeps, Mayor Lionel Rivera and other city leaders said Thursday.

Part of what's at issue: whether the city has the right to remove blankets, sleeping bags and
other belongings the homeless keep on public lands - and whether it's appropriate to exercise that right.

Even if the city is technically within its rights to confiscate and dispose of the property of the homeless, in its drive to beautify Colorado Springs, we all know that stealing from people, that confiscating their property, is wrong, even if they happen to be unattached to a mailing address and living under a bridge. People don’t surrender their property rights or other civil liberties when they take to the streets. And it’s doubly inhumane to snatch and destroy the few possessions they carry around with them, when they have so little else to cling to.

That the injustice of this situation didn’t dawn on city officials until the media began reporting on it, sparked by a Barry Noreen column in The Gazette -- kudos to Barry on that one -- and before the city was threatened with a civil rights lawsuit, shows a glaring blind spot on someone’s part.

That these injustices were done in the name of doing “good,” by a group that tasks itself with beautifying and cleaning-up Colorado Springs, shouldn’t be a surprise. Do-gooders frequently can also do ill, because they're so convinced that they’re doing the right thing that they don’t stop to question whether someone is being wronged in the process.

"If anything we do violates any laws, we welcome a court test to determine what should be done instead," Deborah Cunningham, executive director of Keep Colorado Springs Beautiful, told the Gazette. But do we really need a “court test” to come up with a better course of action – one that maintains public safety while also protecting the rights of the homeless? Do we really need a court order or judge to tell us how to proceed, or can we figure this out for ourselves?

Colorado Springs doesn’t need to study the law on this one. It needs to consult its conscience. And it appears that this process is underway, even if belatedly.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Sarah Palin as Rorschach Test

The fear and loathing, hate and scorn that Sarah Palin has generated since her meteoric appearance in the political firmament is both fascinating and disturbing; a subject for study by psychologists even more than political scientists or party tacticians. And it can't be chalked up to mere ideology, since some of the most vicious attacks have come from right-leaning pundits like Peggy Noonan, David Brooks and Kathleen Parker.

I tend to write off the sniping from Noonan and Parker as cattiness and envy; there's a hot new conservative "it" girl in town and they're old news, as charter members of the conservative cougars club. Parker swung from swooning over Palin to dissing her in a matter of weeks, based, in seems, on Palin's poor showing in the Katie Couric interview. She seemed like a fickle teen dumping her latest BFF over some perceived slight. Plus, Parker is savvy enough to know that the quickest way to become a "mainstream" media darling, and get invited to the right parties, is to attack someone else on the right. I never saw Parker on the cable news gab shows until she did her hit piece on Palin. You shouldn't discount the element of self-promotion in her actions.

Sarah Palin was the girl who made cheerleader and got the hunk, while Noonan and Parker headed-up the forensic team and served as president of the School Library Club, determined to prove that they were more than just pretty faces (but secretly hoping they could be as popular as Sarah). And Brooks can only be counted a "conservative" in relative terms -- because he appears on an editorial page, and provides analysis on a PBS news show, that skew so far to the left. He's the sort of conservative liberals are comfortable with, and will tolerate, because he's really not much of a conservative at all.

That's a superficial (and somewhat snide) analysis, I know. Obviously, the national reaction to Palin -- which swings from adoration to contempt, depending on where in American society one stands -- exposes a deeper cultural divide, which Wall Street Journal columnist Dan Henninger takes a laudable stab at explaining, in a piece I've pasted below.

I also think Henninger shows a flash of insight with the following observation: "Presidential candidates such as John McCain and Barack Obama have become untethered from the discipline of party institutions, largely because the parties have lost coherence. So we get celebrity candidates made famous, fundable and electable by dint of their access to the Beltway media. For voters, this election is a national Hail Mary."

But here's Henninger's column in its entirety:

Hatin' Palin

She's not the reason Americans can't stand their politicians.


The abuse being heaped on Sarah Palin is such a cheap shot.

The complaint against the Alaska governor, at its most basic, is that she doesn't qualify for admission to the national political fraternity. Boy, that's rich. Behold the shabby frat house that says it's above her pay grade. Congress has the lowest approval rating ever registered in the history of polling (12%!). She isn't the reason polls are showing people want the entire Congress fired, with many telling pollsters they themselves could do a better job.

Sarah Palin didn't design a system of presidential primaries whose length and cost ensures that only the most obsessional personalities will run the gauntlet, while a long list of effective governors don't run.

These rules have wasted the electorate's time the past three presidential elections, by filling the debates with such zero-support candidates as Dennis Kucinich, Mike Gravel, Al Sharpton, Duncan Hunter, Chris Dodd, Joe Biden (8,000 total votes), Wesley Clark and Alan Keyes.
Out of this process has fallen a Democratic nominee who entered the U.S. Senate in 2005 fresh off a stint in the Illinois state legislature, with next to no record of political accomplishment. He may be elected mainly because, in Colin Powell's word, he is thought to be "transformational." One may hope so.

By not bothering to look very deeply at the details beneath either candidate's governing proposals, the media have created a lot of downtime to take free kicks at Gov. Palin. My former colleague, Tunku Varadarajan, has compiled a glossary of Palin invective, and I've added a few: "Republican blow-up doll," "idiot," "Christian Stepford wife," "Jesus freak," "Caribou Barbie," "a dope," "a fatal cancer to the Republican Party," "liar," "a national disgrace" and "her pretense that she is a woman."

If American politics is at low ebb, it is because so many of its observers enjoy working in its fetid backwash.

The primary discomfort with Gov. Palin is the notion that she doesn't have sufficient experience to be president, that Sen. McCain should have picked a Washington hand seasoned in the ways of the world. Such as? Here's an opinion poll question: If as Joe Biden suggests the U.S. is likely to be tested by a foreign enemy next year, who of the following would you rather have dealing with it in the Oval Office: Nancy (of Damascus) Pelosi, Harry Reid, John Edwards, Joe (the U.S. drove Hezbollah out of Lebanon) Biden, Mike Huckabee, Geraldine Ferraro, Tom DeLay, Jimmy Carter or Sarah Palin?

My pick? Gov. Palin, surely the most grounded, common-sense person on that list of prime-time politicians.

The established political pros let the selection process come to this. Presidential candidates such as John McCain and Barack Obama have become untethered from the discipline of party institutions, largely because the parties have lost coherence. So we get celebrity candidates made famous, fundable and electable by dint of their access to the Beltway media. For voters, this election is a national Hail Mary.

For nearly two years, all the major candidates have rotated through our lives as solitary personalities attended by careerist campaign professionals. Barack, Hillary, Rudy, Mitt, Mike, McCain. When the moment arrived to pick a running mate, input from the parties was minimal. That famous party boss, Caroline Kennedy, advised Barack Obama. They picked a three-decade denizen of the Senate. John McCain's obligation was himself and his endless slog to this big chance.

The quick surge of party-wide excitement and campaign contributions after his selection of Sarah Palin made clear that the McCain candidacy was moribund and headed for a low-turnout debacle. If he had picked any of the plain-vanilla men on his veep short list -- Pawlenty, Sanford, Romney or Lieberman -- they'd have won approval from the media's college of cardinals, and killed his campaign.

The stoning of Sarah Palin has exposed enough cultural fissures in American politics to occupy strategists full-time until 2012. We now see there is a left-to-right elite centered in New York, Washington, Hollywood and Silicon Valley who hand down judgments of the nation's mortals from their perch atop the Bell Curve.

It seems only yesterday that the most critical skill in presidential politics was being able to connect to people in places like Bronko's bar or Saddleback Church. When Gov. Palin showed she excelled at that, the goal posts suddenly moved and the new game was being able to talk the talk in London, Paris, Tehran or Moscow. She looks about a half-step behind Sen. Obama on that learning curve.

Lorne Michaels, the executive producer of "Saturday Night Live," lives on the forward wave of American life. This week he gave his view of Sarah Palin to "I think Palin will continue to be underestimated for a while. I watched the way she connected with people, and she's powerful. Her politics aren't my politics. But you can see that she's a very powerful, very disciplined, incredibly gracious woman. This was her first time out and she's had a huge impact. People connect to her."

Uh-oh. Sounds like the cancer could be in remission.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Ritter Called Out on Questionable Jobs Claim

Like many a politician, Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter is prone to exaggerating the blessings his policies have bestowed on constituents. His over-selling of the state’s “new energy economy” – a windy catch-phrase Barack Obama has appropriated, without attribution – offers the best case in point. But thankfully there's at least one skeptic in the Colorado media who will bring the governor back down to earth when he embarks on these flights of fancy.

Ritter last week told energy conference attendees that his push for renewable energy and energy efficiency had directly or indirectly created 90,000 jobs in Colorado -- 90,000 -- citing an un-published report by the American Solar Energy Society. “We're quickly becoming a national and international hub for renewable energy," Ritter said of Colorado (though I've read or heard a lot of other governors make similar claims).

I’ve written before about this phantasm called “the new energy economy,” so I’m alert to Ritter's hucksterism on the issue. But apparently I wasn’t the only one taken back by the audacity of Ritter’s claim. Vincent Carroll, editorial page editor of the Rocky Mountain News, on Friday called Ritter out on the issue, in one of his always-incisive columns.

Here’s Carroll’s column, for readers who may have missed it.

"Gov. Bill Ritter made the startling claim this week that "the renewable energy industry is creating directly or indirectly 90,000 jobs" in Colorado - in other words, 20,000 more than the estimated employment associated with the booming oil and gas industry.

Is that possible?

Probably not, even if the figure does eventually appear in a study scheduled for release in a few weeks by the American Solar Energy Society in Boulder. Ritter got a sneak preview of the results - little wonder, as his office co-commissioned the research - which reinforced his New Energy Economy theme. So he started trumpeting the findings.

Let's put the figure of 90,000 jobs in perspective. It's nearly twice the number of cops, firefighters, security guards and prison guards in Colorado - combined. It's more than the combined total of every teacher in K-12 schools together with every lawyer and paralegal.

Ninety thousand is twice the waiters and waitresses in this state, twice the number of fast-food workers, and only 10,000 or so less than the total for all major health-care occupations (see the Bureau of Labor Statistics for the occupational employment totals).

Here's another reality check: After the legislature increased the renewable energy standard for utilities last year from 10 percent to 20 percent for 2020, the League of Conservation Voters - not known for soft-pedaling the impact of green energy - told its members that the measure would create a grand total of 4,100 jobs.

So what's up with the 90,000 claim?

For a clue, go to the American Solar Energy Society Web site and review a report called Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency: Economic Drivers for the 21st Century. The first thing you'll realize is that Ritter defined the industry more narrowly than the study apparently will. It will measure jobs not only in renewable energy but in the "energy efficiency" industry, too - which casts a very wide net.

The report admits that the energy efficiency business is "much more nebulous and difficult to define" than renewables, but that doesn't stop it from trying. For openers, its definition includes "partial segments of large industries such as vehicles [those considered energy efficient], buildings, lighting, appliances, etc." And don't sneer at that "etc." because it covers a lot of ground, too, including "insulation sales" and the recycling industry.

Never mind that people have been blowing insulation into walls for decades: That activity has now been drafted into the New Energy Economy, where it can be displayed by politicians as a trophy of their economic leadership.

According to the solar energy society, "one in four jobs in 2030" could be in the renewable-energy and energy-efficiency industries. One in four! You could be an autoworker, plumber, architect, welder, bureaucrat, furnace salesperson - you name it - and apparently be counted.
"Do you have a green job?" the society asks. "You will."

Now, there is always a certain amount of stretching and reaching in a study whose purpose is to magnify the importance of a particular activity. If the authors become too greedy, though, the exercise begins to take on the features of a farce. Maybe there are 500 renewable-energy companies in Jefferson County, as the governor also said - three times the number of public schools - but it's going to be interesting to see just what that list includes.

Who knows, maybe you're in charge of one and didn't even know it."

Carroll is at something of a disadvantage, trying to critique a report that isn't out yet. But it's not hard to anticipate that the conclusions will be skewed to advance Ritter's agenda, given that it's a state-funded "study" conducted by what's obviously an advocacy group.

A guess the next question should be: Is this an appropriate use of taxpayer money?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Green Shirts are Coming, the Green Shirts are Coming

Every successful totalitarian movement makes a play for the youngsters. The Nazis, as we all know, had the Hitler Youth, or Brown Shirts. The Soviets had the "Young Pioneers," which Vladimir Putin is reinventing as "Nashi." Cambodia's Khmer Rouge turned kids into eager little executioners in the killing fields.

Something nearly as sinister is occurring in contemporary America, as the next great totalitarian movement, environmentalism, is using our schools and popular culture to indoctrinate and recruit young converts. For now, these Green Shirts-in-the-making are content to lecture and shame their elders about our environmentally-incorrect ways, as this disturbing New York Times story indicates. But how far off can command-and-control coercion and outright persecution of "Earth enemies" be, once the eco-youth grow up to be Nature Nazis, with their hands firmly on the levers of power?

Yet American parents -- many of whom would have a fit if their kids began dragging home the dogmas of any other religion -- seem to find this form of programming and indoctrination cute, rather than menacing. They feel guilty, instead of alarmed.

The Times:

“I have very, very environmentally conscious children — more so than me, I’m embarrassed to say,” said Ms. Ross, a social worker in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y. “They’re on my case about getting a hybrid car. They want me to replace all the light bulbs in the house with energy-saving bulbs.”

Ms. Ross’s children are part of what experts say is a growing army of “eco-kids” — steeped in environmentalism at school, in houses of worship, through scouting and even via popular culture — who try to hold their parents accountable at home. Amid their pride in their children’s zeal for all things green, the grown-ups sometimes end up feeling like scofflaws under the watchful eye of the pint-size eco-police, whose demands grow ever greater, and more expensive. They pore over garbage bins in search of errant recyclables. They lobby for solar panels. And, in a generational about-face, they turn off the lights after their parents leave empty rooms.

“Kids have really turned into the little conscience sitting in the back seat,” said Julia Bovey, a spokeswoman for the Natural Resources Defense Council, a leading environmental group that recently worked with Nickelodeon on a series of public service announcements and other programming called “Big Green Help.”

“One of the fascinating things about children is that they don’t separate what you are doing from what you should be doing,” Ms. Bovey said. “Here’s this information about how we can help the environment, and kids are not able to rationalize it away the way that adults do.”

Another fascinating thing about children is that they are infinitely malleable and the ultimate idealists, making them easy prey for fanatics and propagandists. They're also, by and large, economic illiterates, oblivious to what things cost, where things come from and the necessity of making trade-offs. They take their affluence and material comforts completely for granted, and are willing to vilify the institutions and individuals that make both possible. They are disconnected from reality and still believe in magic -- all qualities they share with "eco-adults."

Today's "pint-size eco-police," as The Times calls them, are tomorrow's green gestapo. Today's "little conscience" in the back seat will become tomorrow's "sustainability" commissar, once behind the wheel. Perhaps the green menace is less menacing to some Americans because it marches under the seemingly benevolent banner of "saving the Planet." But every totalitarian movement is animated by such grandiose and messianic goals. "The greatest tyrannies are always perpetrated in the name of the noblest causes," warned Thomas Paine.

And what more noble cause can there be than "saving the planet?"

Friday, October 17, 2008

Joe the Plumber must be Flushed Out

Whom the gods wish to destroy they first make a celebrity.

Andy Warhol assured Americans that they'd all get their 15 minutes of fame. But he neglected to mention how quickly infamy could follow.

By now, "Joe Plumber" of presidential debate fame is wishing that he'd never been caught on tape quizzing Barack Obama about his tax proposals, which led to Joe becoming a motif -- a stand-in for the average American -- at Wednesday's presidential debate. And that, according to an unwritten but immutable law of contemporary American culture, meant he had to be dragged into the gutter and exposed as a fraud.

Bespeaking the sickness and cynicism of our times, the "mainstream" media didn't ask whether the man on the video had a point -- didn't wonder whether Obama's agenda would hurt the little guy. It instead set to work picking apart the "plumber" persona, in an attempt to belittle, discredit and destroy this everyman icon, resulting in stories like this one, in which we learn that Joe isn't a licensed plumber and owes $1,200 in back taxes.

Tomorrow we may learn that Joe had a nasty divorce and owes child support; or that he has lousy credit; or that he was busted for smoking pot at the age of 23. Through a weird twist of fate, and through no plan of his own, Joe's life has suddenly become an open book, into which the media can pry with malicious impunity. All because he dared ask the Democrat in the race a tough question on camera.

To today's media, every icon must be smashed with a hammer, every hero dragged down from his pedestal. And all the better if the target is of, or on, the political right.

Does anyone else wonder what the story would be if "Joe Plumber" had instead been "Wanda Welfare Mom," confronting John McCain over his indifference to the plight of the urban poor? What if it had been "Frank the Foreclosed Upon," asking McCain why he had done nothing to stop the bank from taking his home? My guess is that there would be no media effort to air Wanda's or Frank's dirty laundry; all their bad choices and human flaws would be forgiven and excused. Far from being the subject of a media inquisition, they'd be honored guests on the Oprah Winfrey Show or "The View."

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Seattle Times Squeals on the Squealers

The Seattle Times on Sunday rolled out a pretty damning expose of Congress's continuing appetite for pork, suggesting that the earmarking epidemic goes on, despite vows of reform and transparency. Here’s a link to the stories, which the paper packaged together as a feature called "The Favor Factory 2008."

This is all just an appetizer, keep in mind. These earmarks come from just one bill, which funds the Pentagon in Fiscal 2009. That was the only place the paper could go, though, since Congress -- derelict in its duties as usual -- failed to pass most other spending bills this year. The Times also provides readers with a database, itemizing the defense earmarks and campaign contributions for each member. That leaves us to judge whether these earmarks seem legitimate (though the project descriptions can be maddeningly vague), and to draw our own conclusions about whether there appear to be quid pro quos between earmarks and donations.

It's a nifty piece of investigative journalism, that provides a wealth of possible story angles, and research opportunities, for local reporters and curious constituents alike, if they take the time to connect the dots. Kudos to The Seattle Times for putting it all together.

Here are links to earmark/campaign donor lists of particular interest to local readers.

U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn: earmark list.

Sen. Wayne Allard: earmark list.

Sen. Ken Salazar: earmark list.

U.S. Rep. John Salazar: earmark list.

U.S. Rep. Mark Udall: earmark list.

It's always tempting, when looking at home state pork, to let narrow self-interest cloud our judgment about the propriety of such expenditures. Since state or local institutions may benefit, we have a tendency to be more forgiving of "our" earmarks than we are of those that go elsewhere. This cognitive dissonance is perfectly captured in this editorial from the Port Huron Times Herald, which decries earmarking as "reprehensible" -- except when it benefits Michigan. And this is one reason why members of Congress rarely pay a political price for their plundering.

One way to get a more objective perspective is to ask yourself whether you would consider this a good and legitimate use of federal money -- of your money -- if it were going to some other state or congressional district. If you wouldn't be happy paying for such a project in Peoria, you shouldn't ask people in Peoria to pay for one here.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Boston Palintologists Discover American Dinosaurs

Sarah Palin was a defender of property rights, and an opponent of zoning, during her tenure as mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, much to the obvious disdain of Boston Globe reporter Sasha Issenberg, who turns this into another anti-Palin indictment in a story appearing Sunday. The piece is as revealing about the smug Eastern elitism of the author, and Globe editors, as it is about the governor.

The story has an anti-Palin, anti-property rights slant from beginning to end, but here's a key excerpt:

"Palin's property-rights agenda exploited a deep anger toward the expansion of local government, an attitude that had defined politics in the Matanuska Valley since its settlement 80 years earlier as a way station for gold miners heading north.

She used opposition to land-use restrictions to tap that vein of frontier libertarianism and a conspicuous display of her social views to connect with the new middle-class families who had suburbanized the valley in the 1980s. In doing so, Palin created a microcosm of the modern conservative coalition in Wasilla, exploiting a period of radical growth and progress while feeding off the resentment it created.

"That probably was the reason she was elected mayor," said David Chappel, who joined Palin as the only two of six council members to vote against the city plan and later became her deputy mayor.

As a vice presidential candidate, Palin has suggested that a similar attitude toward growth would prevail nationally if she were elected. "We will get out of the way of private-sector progress," Palin said last week at a Colorado rally. "It's the small business, the mom-and-pops, that are the cornerstone of America."

The municipality Palin repeatedly heralded as a classic "small town" in her convention speech has no discernible center and a Main Street in name only. To its critics, Wasilla has become a famously bad example of suburban growth even by the standards of Alaska, a place where city planners have long noted a dangerous combination of too much land and too few rules about how to build on it."

To a Bostonian, Wasilla's relatively free, open and unregimented ways seem as alien and incomprehensible as the planet Mars, judging from the following description, which oozes disapproval:

" . . Wasilla had few natural barriers to growth, and government did not add any hurdles. With no zoning or building code, a resident able to finance a house on his or her property could build without oversight. Despite the fact that the city sits in an earthquake zone with extreme weather conditions, Wasilla enforced no standards on building materials, methods, or dimensions - and no construction documents needed to be filed at city hall.

In return, government was truly hands-off: Most residents lived on gravel roads and off their own septic tanks. They paid no sales tax. State troopers were the only police presence. There was no trash collection and the only firefighters were volunteers.

In the mid-1980s, a borough manager who proposed a zoning plan was chased out of office after being burned in effigy. "The reaction was so vehement, and so widespread, that politicians were loath to propose any land-use planning that had any teeth to it," said Richard Deuser, a former Wasilla city attorney.

When Wal-Mart expressed interest in building a store in the Wasilla area, the company faced few restrictions. Residents, who had a smattering of small, locally owned stores but were used to driving into Anchorage for other purchases, appeared to be uninterested in dictating the terms of the development."

My god! How can people live like this? No planning? No restrictions on what they can build? No sales tax? No uprising against the big box store? No "smart growth," or "sustainability"? It boggles the mind.

These Alaskans really are a barbaric subspecies; a missing link to America's lawless past, who haven't evolved much beyond a frontier state of mind and existence. And now they have a chance to put one of their own, named Palin, a heart beat away from the oval office. If that happens, all America will come to look and operate like Wasilla, Alaska. It will be the greatest setback for Western Civilization since Alaric sacked Rome.

Or so say the Brahmans at The Boston Globe.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Throwing in City Hall Helps Seal the Deal

Communities across the country are selling their souls, and selling the taxpayers out, in order to win bidding wars with other communities over the retention or relocation of jobs and companies. The panhandlers in pinstripes shrewdly play one city (or one state) off against another, to secure the best "incentive" packages, usually involving huge tax abatements or cash on the barrel head.

But this is the first time, as far as I know, that City Hall has been auctioned off as part of the "deal." Reports the Daytona Beach News-Journal:

"And to sweeten the deal on their end, the city in September offered up City Hall as the company's new headquarters at $240,000 annually, with the option to buy it for $3 million within three years. Meneough said, although the company will be breaking ground soon on a 200,000-square-foot facility, the City Hall offer was instrumental in Palm Coast being selected. "Without it, it would have been a very difficult decision to make to stay here and move jobs here," Meneough said."

It's outrageous. It's pathetic. It's unbelievable. But the auctioning off of City Hall is also a fitting symbol of how mercenary, and how out of hand, the corporate whoring, and community pandering, has become.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Colorado Corrects the Record

Secretary of State Mike Coffman yesterday challenged the facts and conclusions of a New York Times story -- the subject of my blog post yesterday -- that claimed Colorado and 5 other states were illegally purging voters from the rolls. Coffman identified at least two major factual errors in the story; something he blamed on miscommunication between his office and the paper, rather than biased or sloppy journalism. And, just to make the critique bipartisan, State Democratic Party chair Pat Waak chimed in, confirming the inaccuracies.

The Rocky has a more thorough treatment of the story here.

Will the Times correct the record? Perhaps. But don't look for that in bold black on page 1-A. The correction will be tucked away, in the smallest print possible, where you'll have to hunt for it. And in the meantime, the perception has been created, just a few weeks before election day, that states are "illegally" purging people from the voter rolls, in what might sound, to a casual or sloppy news reader, like some sort of dark plot.

You can bet the story was also been clipped and filed away by certain law firms, just in case the outcomes of certain razor thin races are contested in court.

These problems originate not with the states, as I pointed out yesterday, but with Washington's 2002 effort to "fix" a state-based election system that wasn't, by and large, broken. That's the real story -- which the Times brushed past in its search for something more sensational.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Federal "Help" Becomes Election Hindrance

Talk about a letdown.

One of the top stories in today’s New York Times takes you from 60 to 0 in about 11 seconds, by promising much more than it delivers -- which might create misperceptions for people who glance at a headline, gasp at the implications, but don’t bother to actually read the story.

“States' Actions to Block Voters Appear Illegal” is how the story is headlined. And the lead promises something big: "Tens of thousands of eligible voters in at least six swing states have been removed from the rolls or have been blocked from registering in ways that appear to violate federal law, according to a review of state records and Social Security data by The New York Times."

There’s a qualifier in there, the word “appear,” which might make one wary of jumping to conclusions. But otherwise, this seems like dynamite in print. Yet in the story’s second paragraph, for those who get that far, the dynamite turns into a dud, as the Times explains that this isn’t the result of some dark partisan plot, or a dirty tricks operation run out of RNC headquarters, but due to bureaucratic errors and – ironically -- the convolutions of a 2002 effort by Congress to improve elections integrity!

“The actions do not seem to be coordinated by one party or the other, nor do they appear to be the result of election officials intentionally breaking rules, but are apparently the result of mistakes in the handling of the registrations and voter files as the states tried to comply with a 2002 federal law, intended to overhaul the way elections are run,” concedes the Times – leaving this reader feeling mislead, but also enlightened.

The real story here is that the so-called “Help American Vote Act of 2002" (passed by Congress in an overreaction to the Florida voting debacle), by trying to create a federal fix for a state-administered voting system that wasn’t, by and large, broken, is creating more problems than it solved. Far from “helping” America vote, the act has become a hindrance. And if the outcome of this election ends up in court, Washington's meddling, not hanging chads, will be to blame.

Washington, in trying to “help,” made our lives a little harder.

But that isn’t news, is it?

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Obamunami Update

The surge in Iraq may not be working for Barack Obama as a debating point, but another surge -- the tidal wave of newly-registered voters -- is working for him where it counts even more, on the political battlefield in Colorado. I predicted, only a few posts ago, that Obama will win convincingly in Colorado, based on a flurry of stories, from around the state, indicating that the surge in new voter registrations is running overwhelmingly in favor of Democrats. Today comes two more stories, from Pitkin County and Eagle County, confirming the trend.

These are smaller counties, it's true. And Republicans will argue that, statewide, they still have an edge, depending on how Colorado's large block of unaffiliated voters break. Here's a snapshot of the situation from 40,000 feet, which doesn't seem as dire for the GOP. But the momentum, and the numbers game, clearly is moving decisively against them, irrespective of debate performances or political advertising barrages.

An Obamunami is coming. All the GOP can do now is duck and cover.

But perhaps, after some years of wandering in the political wilderness, if the party's leaders can rediscover core values and articulate a coherent philosophy and agenda, the Republicans can return a stronger contender, having regained both their souls and the political high ground.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Lead Them not into Temptation

For those of us who live in "bear country" -- though I still say we humans conquered it fair and square, and to the victors go the sprawl -- this is the time of year when encounters are more likely to occur, as the bruins go into their pre-hibernation feeding frenzy. And that means it's also the time of year for a lot of finger-wagging and guilt-tripping by wildlife officials and animal activists, who love to lecture the rest of us on the need to minimize temptations, so our provocations don't get an animal in trouble, or shot as a nuisance.

All the rogues in this world view are human; all the beasts, blameless. There is no such thing as a nuisance bear, just a nuisance human, who needs to be properly trained. Animal control is out; people control is in. If we get our faces ripped off, that's just the price we pay for invading bear habitat. Payback's a bitch.

And the lectures are increasingly backed up by stiff fines for those who don't weld their garbage cans shut, or fail to batten down doors and windows securely against home invasion, or allow tempting food odors to waft unchecked into the air, leading the innocents down the road to perdition. La Plata County, in Western Colorado, is the latest to put the onus for curbing nuisance animals on people -- link -- with a "bear-proofing" ordinance.

"La Plata County's ordinance will require householders, businesses and homeowner associations to either have a bear-proof garbage can or Dumpster or keep unsecured garbage cans in a safe area except for three hours on collection day," reports The Durango Herald. "Fines for violations would be stiffer than originally proposed. Instead of $100, $200 and $500 fines for successive violations, the scale would increase to $200, $300 and $500, respectively. A first-time violator could avoid the fine by purchasing or leasing a bear-proof garbage receptacle. Bear-proof cans cost $200 to $250 each."

This people-are-the-problem mindset gets a little annoying to those of us who take reasonable precautions, and who aren't anti-wildlife, but still have to be "bear aware," and looking over our shoulders, when we go out to pick up the paper each morning. Running into a sow and two cubs, as I did one day a number of years ago, groping through the early morning murk without my contacts on, can make for a potentially rude awakening. The charm of hosting urban wildlife wears off when encounters get a little too close. My wife hit a deer -- actually, it hit her -- on her way to the office a few years ago, even though we live right in the city and it's a concrete jungle between here and there. What rats are to New York, deer are to some parts of Colorado Springs.

The neighborhoods where I've lived in Colorado Springs are long-established, so it's ridiculous to suggest, as wildlife apologists do, that my presence constitutes an encroachment on bear habitat, giving them license to roam at will. My neighborhood has been human habitat since the 1930s at least, and bears still haven't gotten the message. There's a lot of counter-encroachment going on, as bear, deer, fox and mountain lion become more fearless and more urbanized.

We're repeatedly told that the animals are drifting down into developed areas because wild food is scarce. Every year, it seems, we hear reports that acorns aren't plentiful enough, or berries aren't bursting. But the truth is that these animals aren't in town by necessity, but by choice. It's just easier raiding garbage cans and breaking into homes than it is grubbing for acorns or scrounging for berries. Yet wildlife officials like to maintain the pretense that these situations are anomalies, rather than the norm, just as they like to suggest that most human-bear encounters -- they never, ever use the word "attack" -- result from some confusion, or perhaps even physical or mental illness, on the animal's part.

This recent story in the Boulder Daily Camera may give those who don't live in "bear country" a taste of this pervasive, people-are-the-problem guilt-tripping. Here's how the Camera wrote it up:

"With the season for bear hibernation approaching, the lure of fresh fruit hanging from trees in Boulder was enough to bring a small group of volunteers together Saturday to eliminate some of the sweet temptations that draw bears to the city.

Billie Gutgsell organized the first Community Harvest Day and works for Bear Smart Campaign and WildEarth Guardians -- groups that try to raise awareness that so-called "nuisance bears" are wild creatures with a natural tendency to seek out food. "We want to bring out public awareness that this isn't a bear problem, it's a people problem," Gutgsell said. "They're not nuisance bears, it's just a nuisance situation."

Gutgsell, with a group of about half-a-dozen volunteers, picked mostly apples from Boulder residents' trees to help reduce the number of bears wandering into the city scavenging for food. The picked fruit will be shipped to the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keenesburg, which will feed about 48 rescued bears from across the country who are taking shelter there.

"People need to act now to prevent any more bears from learning bad habits," Gutgsell said. "Once learned, it's impossible to get them to stop." Possible bear-human encounters aren't just dangerous for people. The Division of Wildlife tags and relocates bears who are deemed a threat because of breaking into homes or rummaging through garbage. And if a tagged bear is found back in the city causing problems, it's considered a risk to people and killed."

Personally, I blame Walt Disney (and, more recently, the Animal Channel and Discover Channel, etc.) for anthropomorphizing and over-romanticizing animals in a way that helped create the animal cult we see developing in America today. Anyone who's been watching The Grizzly Man Diaries, or who's seen previews for this other creepy show, about the guy who thinks he's a wolf, can see this taken to its insane extremes. But this mindset, in a lesser form, also inhibits the ability of Westerners to deal rationally with our animal management issues -- meaning that the conflicts will escalate, and the human and animal casualties will mount, as time goes on.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Brace for the Obamunami

Even if Sarah Palin wipes the floor with Joe Biden’s hair plugs tonight, the political tide seems to be turning decisively against the GOP here in Colorado, judging from a flurry of recent stories about voter registration trends.

In story after story after story we learn that there’s been a significant surge in voter registration -- a surge that heavily favors Democrats. Left-wing celebrities are venturing out into "flyover country," including pivotal Colorado, to boost registration among impressionable college students. Obamanistas are even having a voter registration pub crawl in Boulder, helping ensure he'll get the beer-guzzler vote

Now, we’re told by experts that many of the newly-registered don’t actually show up to vote. We're also reassured, by Republican politicos whistling past the graveyard, that this remains a solidly red state, statistically speaking. But even if half the newly-registered show up election day, the GOP seems in serious trouble. Palin's star status seems to be fading far faster than Obama's is, barring an electrifying performance tonight.

For all the talk about debates, and the candidate's positioning, and how 11th hour developments like the economic crisis could suddenly shake things up, politics is still a numbers game. And the numbers just don‘t look good for the GOP. If there’s no significant game-changer, I predict that Obama will carry Colorado -- decisively.

Biden Gets Scrubbed -- Just Not as Hard

A few posts back, I chided the "mainstream media" for their obsessive "investigations" of Sara Palin's past, which have turned up some less-than-devastating revelations about her college-hopping youth, the special treatment she may have received on a zoning matter and her receipt of free flowers and a salmon while serving as mayor of Wasilla, Alaska. I asked, sarcastically, whether Sen. Joe Biden would undergo a similar scrubbing, even though, as a member of the senate since Richard Nixon was president, he seems to be a "known commodity."

Well, as one who likes to give credit where credit's due, I feel obligated to point out this story in today's New York Times, which does do a little gentle probing into the "real" Joe Biden, painting a portrait that doesn't quite square with the "just Joe from Scranton" persona he wants to project.

It makes the point, which I made in my post, that people in positions of power almost invariably get some perks out of the deal, whether they serve as a mayor in Alaska or a lifer in the U.S. Senate. If the individual is unscrupulous, this can obviously be corrupting. Ted Stevens serves as the most recent case in point. But it's important, in the witch hunt atmosphere that prevails post-Abramoff, that we keep things in perspective, and don't go around tarring all politicians, and otherwise upstanding people, with the same dark stain.

So, yes, Joe Biden got some media scrubbing -- though not the kind of behind-the-ears scrubbing Palin is getting.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Scariest Headline of the Week

We seem to live in a constant state of crisis -- a few genuine, but most of them trumped-up by the American Anxiety Industry -- so there's always stiff competition for top prize in my "Scariest Headline of the Week" contest (which I just started today). And this has been an especially competitive week, under the circumstances. But even though the week is still young, and we still have one vice presidential debate and another congressional rescue plan vote ahead, I've already made my pick.

So here it is, the Scariest Headline of the Week, which appeared above an AP story featured at

"Postal Service may deliver meds
in next anthrax attack"
The rest of the story -- if you have the nerve to read it -- can be found here. This is alarming on at least three levels.

First, use of the word “next” assumes there will be another anthrax attack – and one massive enough to require distribution of an antidote by postal workers. Not reassuring. Second, it means the victims of the attack, facing imminent death, will be relying on their postal carrier for a cure (and terrorists could easily foil this countermeasure by attacking on Sundays or federal holidays). Third, and perhaps most alarming, this new mission will become yet another justification for perpetuating a “government service” that long ago should have been privatized.