Monday, January 26, 2009

Wind farm decision weighs heavy on Obama's shoulders

Joe Biden said Barack Obama would be tested early in his administration, and now that prediction seems eerily prescient. Someone must decide whether to approve a wind farm off Cape Cod that could ruin Teddy Kennedy's views. And because this is America -- where every stupid decision becomes a federal case -- this is naturally something that lands on the desk of the man at the top.

No one said this president thing was going to be easy, Mr. Obama. This is why you get to fly around in a really big jet and have a Saturday radio address.

Next up on Obama's must-decide list: Whether or not to move ahead with a new Jiffy-Lube in Kalamazoo.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

He won't last a year in that job

Rahm Emanuel may be suited for many jobs in the White House, like walking the fence line at night with the Secret Service, sniffing for bombs and snarling at tourists, but he's going to be a disaster as Barack Obama's chief of staff, as today's profile in The New York Times confirms. Remember that you read it here first: He won't last a year in that job. It's a role that requires tact, moderation, composure, maturity and the ability to sublimate ego and partisanship for the greater good -- all attributes the former Clintonista (like most of his ilk) lacks in spades. And he's absolutely the wrong pick for a president who says he wants to lead the nation in an Olympian, post-partisan fashion.

So print out this blog post and tape it to the refrigerator. If Rahm Emanuel is still White House chief of staff one year from now, and my amazing powers of prognostication have been proved wrong, anyone who calls me out on it will get a free tee-shirt from The American Contrarian Gift Shop. He may still be working for the president, but he won't be chief of staff.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Windmills of Their Minds

The Wall Street Journal editorial page is at its best this weekend, when highlighting the hypocrisy of liberal "blowhards" who are bullish on green energy -- as long as the ugly machinery doesn't end up in their backyards. I've included the entire piece below, but the final sentence is one for the refrigerator door:

"Environmentalists love the idea of milking Mother Nature for power, but they hate the hardware needed to make it work: huge windmills, acres of solar panels, high-voltage transmission lines to connect them to the places where people live. Of course, they still totally, absolutely, wholeheartedly support green energy -- as long as it gets built where someone else goes yachting."

Here's the rest of it:


The fabulous debate over wind power on Nantucket Sound.

For all the hype about the Bush Administration's oil-and-gas energy bias, one of its last official acts was to give the go-ahead to what could be America's first offshore wind farm -- thus enraging more than a few self-deputized environmentalists. Such are the ironies of the wilderness of mirrors known as the Cape Wind project.

For the last seven years and counting, the green entrepreneur Jim Gordon has been trying to build a fleet of wind turbines in federal waters near the upscale seascapes of Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket. The site seemed ideal, given the stiff ocean breezes and the eco-friendly politics in Massachusetts. The company says its 130 towers could meet 75% of the region's electricity needs and reduce carbon emissions by some 734,000 tons every year.

The sort of people who can afford to use "summer" as a verb are in favor of all that. Completely in favor, really. But they did want to raise one quibble. Unfortunately, the wind farm would create "visual pollution" in Nantucket Sound, particularly the parts within sight of their beachfront vacation homes.

Mr. Gordon went ahead anyway, and the opposition rose to gale force. Supposedly the wind farm will lead to everything from the disruption of seabird habitats to "desecrating ancient American Native burial sites," in the words of Glenn Wattley, the head of an antiwind outfit funded by the likes of Bunny Mellon. But what really upsets these well-to-do Don Quixotes is the thought of looking at windmills that would appear about as tall on the horizon as the thumbnail at the end of your outstretched arm.

Then there is the political saga, with the Kennedy family as the Hyannis Port Sopranos, supplying the muscle. While Ted Kennedy was castigating President Bush for destroying the environment, the Senator was working furiously behind the Congressional scenes to kill Cape Wind. He even had the inspiration of getting former GOP colleague Ted Stevens of Alaska to slip wording into a spending bill that would have handed a veto to then-Governor Mitt Romney, another aesthetically minded opponent. Robert Kennedy Jr., a Time magazine "hero of the planet," tried to get the Sound designated as a national marine sanctuary to bar development.

Incredibly enough, this political sabotage has so far failed. And last week the Interior Department issued its long-awaited regulatory study, mostly finding "negligible" environmental impact -- apart from a "moderate" impact on the scenery. If the Obama Administration signs off, construction could begin next year.

Mr. Kennedy blustered that the report was rushed out: amusing, considering it runs to 2,800 pages. Bill Delahunt, the windy Cape Democrat, also denounced the action as "a $2 billion project that depends on significant taxpayer subsidies while potentially doubling power costs for the region."

Good to see the Congressman now recognizes the limitations of green tech, such as its tendency to boost consumer electricity prices -- but his makeover as taxpayer champion is a bit belated.

Green energy has been on the subsidy take for years, including in 2005 when Mr. Delahunt was calling for "an Apollo project for alternative energy sources, for hybrid engines, for biodiesel, for wind and solar and everything else." The reality is that all such projects are only commercially viable because of political patronage.

Tufts economist Gilbert Metcalf ran the numbers and found that the effective tax rate for wind is minus-163.8%. In other words, every dollar a wind firm spends is subsidized to the tune of 64 cents from the government. The Energy Information Administration estimates that wind receives $23.37 in government benefits per megawatt hour -- compared to, say, 44 cents for coal. Despite these taxpayer crutches, wind only provides a little under 1% of U.S. net electric generation.

We'd prefer an energy policy that allows markets to shape the sources that predominate -- which would almost certainly put Cape Wind out of business. But President Obama seems determined to unload even more subsidies on green developers as he seeks to boost renewables to 10% of the U.S. electricity mix by the end of his first term and 25% by 2025; their share today is about 9% (5.8% of which is hydropower).

We wouldn't be surprised to see the President's green future wrestled to the ground by the likes of Mr. Delahunt, the Kennedys and other anticarbon Democrats. Environmentalists love the idea of milking Mother Nature for power, but they hate the hardware needed to make it work: huge windmills, acres of solar panels, high-voltage transmission lines to connect them to the places where people live. Of course, they still totally, absolutely, wholeheartedly support green energy -- as long as it gets built where someone else goes yachting.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Goldwater's Ghost

Arizona isn't the conservative bastion of Barry Goldwater's day, but it's heartening to see that residents there can still show a bit of "old West" orneriness if backed into a corner, as illustrated by the anti-traffic camera uprising that seems to be taking place there. The state went in big for Big Brother-style law enforcement, but seems poised to back off, amidst public suspicions that revenue-raising is the primary motivation, not public safety.

A bill to ban photo speed enforcement on state highways is advancing in the Statehouse. "This was done in the name of revenue," one member told The Arizona Republic, explaining his support for the measure. "It is a speed tax, and it is being done to fund social programs." And Pinal County Supervisors voted Wednesday to end the use of speed cameras, on the recommendation of a new sheriff who called it a "failed" experiment that decreased traffic safety. Opponents of a state cam ban say the devices improve roadway safety, but Pinal County's experience contradicts that. The sheriff told supervisors that accidents increased by 16 percent since the county's program began, with traffic fatalities doubling.

These bans would be a Christmas wish come true for the secret Santa's who staged an anti-traffic camera protest in Phoenix over the holidays, by covering a number of the devices in wrapping paper. The perpetrators videotaped the act of civil disobedience and posted it on YouTube, accompanied by the message, "lumps of coal to all of those who make it their business to watch and control.''

Maybe there's still a bit of Barry Goldwater grit left in Arizonans yet.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Loving the Forests to Death

A report in today's Helena Independent Record highlights one of the great ironies, and great outrages, of our time: that the groups who claim to love our forests the most are doing everything in their power to destroy them, by obstructing any federal mitigation efforts that involve the harvesting of trees.

Our Western forests are in crisis, with beetles and wildfires destroying vastly more trees every year than the timber industry ever could, even in its heyday. Yet as the story below illustrates, litigious "tree-huggers" are the single biggest obstacle to saving the trees. Bigger than budget constraints. Bigger than bureaucratic inertia. Bigger than "analysis paralysis."

The story pretty much speaks for itself, but it's not an isolated case. Many a national forest has been stymied in its efforts to respond to the crisis, by extremists who would rather see the forests die en masse, and go up in flames, than see a single tree removed by human hands.

Managers of the Helena National Forest had a plan to counter invading mountain pine beetles and buffer nearby communities from the wildfire threat, which involved culling parts of the overly-dense forest in an effort to reduce "fuel loads" and cut out the cancer. That was in 2003. But because there was a commercial element to the plan -- because some of the logs could be milled and put to productive and profitable uses -- the zero-cut crowd, true to form, went running to the federal courts, demanding it be stopped.

Six years later, the plan has been upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. But at this point the damage has been done, and there's not much forest left to save.

It's outrageous. It's criminal. It's madness. But it's typical of how knee-jerk obstructionism by gang green is helping to wipe out the very forests they claim to love -- and explains why federal agencies have been so ineffectual in countering the forest health crisis. The 3 groups that helped kill this forest, just for the record, are Alliance of the Wild Rockies, Native Ecosystems Council and the Wildwest Institute. An army of rampaging loggers couldn't have done this forest more harm.

Here's the story:

Court rules in favor of logging project

By Eve Byron

Three environmental groups couldn’t quash a project on national forest lands meant to lessen the threat of wildfires near Clancy and Unionville southwest of Helena, but it appears that the tiny mountain pine beetle has made the Helena National Forest rethink its plan.

In a decision issued Tuesday, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the Helena forest’s 2003 plan to undertake commercial thinning and other efforts to remove small trees and vegetation on about 1,500 acres. However, Helena District Ranger Duane Harp said the prescription is only good now for about 100 acres containing Douglas fir trees, since about 90 percent of the trees on the remaining 1,400 acres — mainly lodgepole pines — are now dead.

“We are obviously extremely pleased that the Ninth Circuit has found in our favor. But it’s bittersweet news because with the current beetle epidemic, the vast majority of the project area, which was proposed for timber harvest, is now dead,” Harp said. “You can’t use the prescription for green trees on dead trees.

“So I guess we’ve implemented the no-action alternative.”

Mike Garrity, executive director of the Alliance of the Wild Rockies, said that if the Helena forest had worked with his organization and the two others that began appealing the lawsuit in 2004 — Native Ecosystems Council and the Wildwest Institute — that some compromise might have been reached to allow the project to move forward. He said the groups did agree with the forest that some thinning should be done on forest lands near homes while the lawsuit was under way, and that his group has worked with the Helena forest and others in the past to craft projects that wouldn’t be litigated.

“Our main focus was that the forest’s own five-year review of its forest plan showed that it was failing to ensure the viability of species,” Garrity said. “The forest service never disclosed that report to public, as originally planned, and has never addressed that concern even though it continues to implement the same flawed forest plan.”

He added that the appeals court’s decision wasn’t “published,” meaning it can’t be used as precedent, and that they disagree with the findings of the three-member judicial panel that issued the ruling. Garrity said they’re considering whether to ask for an opinion involving more of the appeals court’s judges.

Planning for what became known as the Clancy/Unionville Project began in 1997, because the forest service and some of the neighbors in the area thought this might reduce the threat of large-scale catastrophic wildfire. Harp said he also hoped thinning the forest here would also create a habitat less conducive to mountain pine beetles.

A final Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision for the project was issued in 2000, but was successfully appealed and sent back to then-forest Supervisor Tom Clifford by the regional forester. Additional analysis was conducted and a new decision issued in February 2003. It’s that decision that’s been in litigation until this week’s Ninth Circuit Court ruling.

Garrity and others have long disputed that logging is good for reducing the threat of wildfire forestwide; they’d rather see it implemented only near homes for that purpose. They also argue that it’s impossible for the forest to “log its way out of the beetle epidemic.”

“British Columbia has a huge beetle infestation, and they log like crazy in Canada,” Garrity said. “There aren’t any scientific, peer-reviewed papers that say you can log your way out of a beetle infestation.

He adds that once the needles fall off of the dead trees after a year or two, the fire hazard actually is reduced. The danger increases, however, when those trees eventually fall to the forest floor, creating ladder fuels that fires use to creep up a tree from the ground into the crowns of trees.

But Harp said that at this point, the fire hazard has significantly increased in the Clancy and Unionville areas due to the standing dead trees.

Harp said they plan to remove “hazard trees” lining roads in the area that are at risk of falling on vehicles or people. They also may try to sell the dead trees as part of a commercial harvest plan, but will have to do additional studies to look at the impacts. He doesn’t expect any logging, other than possibly for hazard trees, in the area this year, but he wants to proceed as quickly as possible because the longer the dead trees stand in the forest, the less value they have to sawmills.

“We now have to decide if we will do any harvest at all under the Clancy Unionville decision,” Harp said. “We will however, move forward with the prescribed burning and other treatments that are outside the timber harvest units.”

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Birth of a Personality Cult?

I anticipated that media coverage of Barack Obama's inauguration would be celebratory, fawning and even giddy, which is why I could only take it in small doses. But what I witnessed yesterday and today is something far more ominous than mere media bias, bubbling over after 8 years of simmering in an anti-Bush stew. There was an almost religious fervor to events, which the adulatory media coverage and commentary mirrored. It seemed like the birth of a personality cult, quiet frankly -- something anathema to American tradition and potentially dangerous to our political institutions.

I'm not writing this as an embittered Bush partisan: On the contrary, I generally found the man an embarrassment, and feel that his tenure was a disaster for those of us who still believe in the virtues of limited government. But I prefer to look on U.S. presidents -- whether black or white, Democrat or Republican -- as flawed human beings, whom the U.S. Constitution grants limited powers to screw things up, and not as gods, in whose hands the fate of the nation rests. And that quintessentially American skepticism toward our presidents -- even those history judges as "great" -- is in danger of being lost in Obama's case, washing away one bulwark against abuses of power and an assault on checks and balances.

Here the parallels between Obama and FDR, and Obama and Abraham Lincoln, might be most apt, since it was during the twin crises of The Great Depression and The Civil War that American presidents came closest to exercising, and seeking, dictatorial powers.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Of Coronations and Cow Attacks

Yes, yes, I know today is the day everything changes for the better in America -- the day that the darkness and despair of the Bush years finally gives way to a new dawning of American hope and promise, as Abraham Obama takes the oath of office in Washington. But what I really want to blog about is a cow attack in a Boulder open space.

Here's how the Boulder Daily Camera covered the incident, followed by my selection of reader responses, which not only show that Boulderites can't resist a pun, but that some of them have a sly sense of humor about the slightly nutty place they call home.

Cow charges cyclist on Boulder open space

BOULDER, Colo. — A cow charged a woman on the South Boulder Creek Trail on Monday afternoon, knocking her down, officials said.

The woman was riding her bike on the trail when she encountered the cow, and she stopped to let the animal pass, said Pete Taylor, a ranger for Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks. The cow knocked the woman over and walked on her legs, he said.

He said the woman -- whose name wasn't released -- wasn’t seriously injured, and she refused medical treatment.

She didn’t appear to do anything to provoke the animal, which witnesses said appeared to have an injured leg, he said. The cow had left the scene by the time rangers arrived, but hikers coming down the trail were warning others about the rogue bovine.

Marshall Mesa open space is leased by livestock owners and used as grazing land. Taylor said the cow’s owner was notified.

In 2003, a woman was rammed three times and her pelvis fractured by a grazing mama cow when she accidentally ran between the animal and her calf on the South Boulder Creek Trail.
Jason Vogel, vice president of the Boulder Mountain Bike Alliance, called Monday's attack "odd, rare and random" and said he hasn’t heard of any other cows going after cyclists. It’s not even common to come across cows on the trails, he said, though they often can be seen nearby. "It’s not something people should be concerned about," he said.

And now some of the responses:

"Udderly ridiculous."

"Obviously, she was invading the natural habitat of the bovine beast. One should tread there carefully, if not at all. Humans must pay attention to what mother nature is trying to tell them. We have far exceeded our grasp; do not cows need a home, too? Why? Why? Boulder!? Let them graze with grace! And do not insult them with your feeble, misguided attempts at recreation."

"This was an accident waiting to happen; there are so many off leash cows in the Open Space it was just a matter of time before one attacked a visitor. And who picks up their poop? And who keeps them out out of the riparian areas?? The answer is simple. The ranchers need to go to the OSMP and watch a video about the impact of off-leash cows in the open space, and pay a fee to get a green tag indicating the cow is safe. If the cow can't be trusted around people it should be kept in a "cow park" with a fence round it to keep it away from the populace. Cows in riparian areas or ditches should be leash only: they can get water at a trough. The farmers need to pick the poop and rangers need to ticket offenders."

"What's happening to the cow? Let's hope it's granted immoonity."

"A solitary cow? That's unherd of."

"This woman was clearly cycling beyond her weight class. That cow was roughly 6 times her size. May I suggest cycling trails near a farm that raises fainting goats?"

"It would have be-hooved this lady to pay closer attention when in the cow pasture."

"Clearly a case of an angry Republican cow. Can't take the changes happening. We will probably see more of this for awhile. If you're cycling, protesting, driving a Subaru or Prius, you might steer clear of known Republican cow hang-outs for a few months."

"The (Daily Camera) completely misses the obvious question. Is the lady a vegetarian or not? This could be a hate crime."

"I hear the cow is trying to get a book deal out of the whole thing. Really milking it for all it's worth."

"Arguably, the cow is to blame, but it's a mooed point."

"Why didn't she steer around the cow?"

"There's a guy in Wisconsin who knows how to take care of sh*t like this!"

"How much did the cow charge? I thought the trails were free?"

We now return you to coverage of the Barack Obamafest taking place today in Washington, D.C.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Lights. Cameras. Subsidies?

Everyone else feels entitled to a government handout; why not Hollywood?

The movie and television industry last week began lobbying Colorado legislators to subsidize filming in the state, reports The Rocky Mountain News, arguing that other states are going it and our failure to follow suit will cost us economic development dollars. But this is one idea I hope Colorado leaves on the cutting room floor.

I object to this in principle, but there are practical questions, too, about whether giving handouts to Hollywood really pays dividends. I’ve seen nothing indicating that show biz is suffering recession-related hardship. And even if it is, it ranks low on the list of American industries one might classify as “too big to fail.”

The jury is still out on whether this form of corporate welfare delivers the economic benefits that backers promise. In New Mexico, which began subsidizing the film industry in 2003, two recent reports paint starkly different pictures of the situation. One study, commissioned by the office of Gov. Bill Richardson, a film subsidy supporter, found that the strategy is paying off, bringing in an estimated $1.50 for every dollar doled out. But that’s contradicted by another analysis, done for the Legislative Finance Committee by The University of New Mexico, which found that the state gets about 14.4 cents in tax revenue for every dollar it spends on these efforts.

The study commissioned by the governor’s office might be slightly more suspect, given the political and economic capital Richardson has invested in the issue. But even that report concedes that the direct economic benefits don’t make up for foregone tax revenues, dollar for dollar. It manages to find a net benefit by estimating the present and future impact of "film tourism.”Does anyone really choose New Mexico as a vacation destination because some scene in an Indiana Jones movie was shot there? Could be. But this seems a slender thread on which to hang a program that has handed out an estimated $67 million in tax breaks since 2003 -- in a state that’s facing a $450 million budget shortfall. And does Spielberg really need the handouts? I think not.

While Hollywood welfare still has many boosters, the fiscal squeeze is prompting second thoughts in many states, according to a recent piece in The New York Times. A cost-benefit analysis of one film shot in Wisconsin (another state that offers subsidizes) found that it was a virtual wash, according to The Chicago Tribune, stirring debate about whether the program should continue. Florida slashed its subsidies, which has the industry working furiously to restore them. And in Michigan, where the economy is in the dumper and existing businesses are being pummeled by higher business taxes, some legislators want to cap the subsidies, while economically-desperate cities like Detroit and Bay City pin false hopes on becoming the next Tinseltown.

I’m not saying Detroit isn’t a suitable location for shooting movies – especially if they ever get around to making Omega Man II. But how many post-Apocalyptic backdrops does Hollywood need? Telling shell-shocked Detroiters that they’re on the brink of becoming another Hollywood borders on cruelty, given all the other empty promises they’ve endured. The Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a conservative Michigan think tank, has been asking hard questions about where the money is going -- here and here – but has had a hard time getting straight answers or reliable data from the state’s film promotion office.

How much gaming of the subsidies is going on is anyone’s guess, but it's almost certainly occurring. Manipulation of Louisiana's film-fare program already has led to one case of criminal corruption, in which New Orleans lawyer and film promoter Malcolm Petal pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges for bribing the state's top film official. “To get artificially inflated tax incentives on a festival film project, Petal paid $135,000 to Hammond attorney William Bradley, who acted as an intermediary to pass half that amount to the state's former movie-business recruiter Mark Smith,” according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

That's probably just a preview of coming attractions -- and potentially costly future distractions -- if Colorado legislators head down this road. Backers of film-fare promise an economic blockbuster, but, like virtually everything else that comes out of Hollywood, it's mostly fantasy and hype.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Federal Agencies will Fatten-up on "Stimulus Package" Pork

The "economic stimulus package" Democrats are streamrolling through Congress, in a rush to make a rendezvous with Barack Obama on one of his first days in office, evidently will also serve as a stealth federal spending bill, with tens of billions of dollars going to fatten the coffers of federal agencies. dug into the bill and produced the following list of agency goodies, all tucked neatly away inside -- expenditures that should be funded as part of the normal budgeting and appropriations process.

President-elect Obama vowed that this would be an earmark-free bill, understanding that Americans would be even more repulsed by the glut of spending if members of Congress began piling their pet projects even higher on the gravy train. There are many definitions of "pork," however, and many different ways to serve it up. And this certainly has that tell-tale aroma.

Here's the report from Read it and weep.

Stimulus package contains billions of dollars for federal agencies

By Katherine McIntire Peters
January 15, 2009

Federal agencies stand to gain billions of dollars in funds if the economic stimulus package under consideration in Congress becomes law.

According to a summary of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Bill released on Thursday by the House Appropriations Committee, agencies would receive billions to repair and rebuild infrastructure, upgrade computer systems, repair environmental damage and improve energy efficiency. Billions more would be funneled through agencies to states and local governments in the form of grants. The following federal agencies would receive funds to directly enhance their facilities and operations:

Agriculture Department

$650 million for construction and improvements at National Forest Service facilities
$209 million for deferred maintenance at Agricultural Research Service facilities
$245 million to critical information technology improvements at the Farm Service Agency
$44 million to repair and improve security at USDA headquarters
$300 million for fire hazard reduction
$400 million for watershed improvement programs at the Natural Resources Conservation Service

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

$426 million to complete the agency's buildings and facilities master plan, and to renovate the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health offices

Defense Department

$350 million for research into using renewable energy to power weapons systems and military bases
$3.75 billion for new construction of hospitals and ambulatory surgical centers
$455 million in renovations to medical facilities
$2.1 billion for repairs to military facilities
$1.2 billion for new housing construction
$154 million to improve troop housing
$360 million for new child development centers
$400 million for new construction to support Guard and Reserve units
$4.5 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers for environmental restoration, flood protection, hydropower and navigation infrastructure (the committee noted the Corps' construction backlog is $61 billion)
$300 million to clean up closed military installations

Energy Department

$1.9 billion for basic research
$400 million for the Advanced Research Project Agency-Energy
$500 million for nuclear waste cleanup

Environmental Protection Agency

$800 million for hazardous waste cleanup at Superfund sites
$200 million to clean up leaking underground storage tanks
$100 million for competitive grants to clean up former industrial sites known as brownfields

General Services Administration

$6.7 billion for renovations and repairs to federal buildings, including at least $6 billion focused on increasing energy efficiency and conservation
$600 million to replace older vehicles with alternative-fuel vehicles

Health and Human Services Department

$900 million to prepare for pandemic flu, support medical countermeasures for weapons of mass destruction and cybersecurity

Homeland Security Department

$500 million for the Transportation Security Administration to install aviation explosive detection systems at airports
$150 million for the Coast Guard to repair or remove bridges deemed hazardous to marine navigation
$1.5 billion to construct GSA and Customs and Border Patrol land ports of entry to improve security and commerce

Housing and Urban Development Department

$2.5 billion for a new program to upgrade low-income housing to increase energy efficiency

Interior Department

$1.8 billion for the National Park Service for infrastructure projects
$325 million for the Bureau of Land Management for infrastructure projects
$300 million for the National Wildlife Refuges and National Fish Hatcheries
$400 million to address deterioration of the National Mall
$500 million to the Bureau of Reclamation to provide clean drinking water to rural areas (the committee noted the bureau has a backlog of more than $1 billion in rural water projects)
$500 million to the Bureau of Indian Affairs to address maintenance backlogs at schools, dams, detention and law enforcement facilities, and roads (the committee noted the bureau has a maintenance backlog at schools alone exceeding $1 billion)
$550 million to modernize facilities at the Indian Health Service


$600 million, including $400 million to put more scientists to work on climate change research, $150 million for research to improve aviation safety and Next-Generation air traffic control, and $50 million to repair NASA centers damaged by hurricanes and floods last year

National Institutes of Health

$2 billion, including $1.5 billion for expanding jobs in biomedical research and $500 million to implement the repair and improvement strategic plan developed for NIH campuses
$1.5 billion for NIH to renovate university research facilities

National Institutes of Standards and Technology

$300 million for competitive construction grants for research buildings at colleges and other organizations, and $100 million to coordinate research at labs and national research facilities by setting interoperability standards for manufacturing

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

$600 million for satellite development and acquisitions
$400 million for habitat restoration projects

National Science Foundation

$3 billion, including $2 billion for expanding employment opportunities in science and engineering to meet environmental challenges and improve economic competitiveness, $400 million to build major research facilities, $300 million for equipment, $200 million to repair and modernize facilities, and $100 million to improve instruction in science, math and engineering

Social Security Administration

$400 million to replace the 30-year-old National Computer Center
$500 million to process a steep rise in disability and retirement claims

State Department

$276 million to upgrade information technology platforms

U.S. Geological Survey

$200 million to repair and modernize science facilities and equipment

Veterans Affairs

$950 million for medical facilities (the committee noted there is a $5 billion maintenance backlog at the agency's 153 facilities)
$50 million to make monument and memorial repairs at veterans cemeteries

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Come Hither, Californians -- but Please Check Your Politics at the Door

The Colorado Springs Gazette has a fun editorial today on why the migration of Californians to Colorado is a good thing, and a positive sign that we're doing things better here. I agree up to a point, though I think transplants should be required to sign a document, renouncing all the way-out and wacky political ideas for which that state is famous, before being allowed in.

We could set up highway checkpoints and airport screening areas where escaped Californians would be quizzed about their politics, much like California sets up screening points to stop invasive species or contagious plant diseases from crossing state lines. Those unwilling to recant -- to acknowledge the error of their ways and leave California ideas and politics in California -- will be turned back, or given a bus ticket to Portland. California should be quarantined, ideologically speaking, lest its refugees do even more harm than they already have to the intermountain West.

What will be the point of leaving California for Colorado or Wyoming or Montana, after all, if you continue to support the sorts of politicians and policies that made life in the Golden State unbearable?

The editorial correctly credits Colorado's Taxpayer's Bill of Rights as a major reason we're not the basketcase California is -- which is something people should keep in mind when they start taking shots at TABOR. And the paper proposes an intriguing new economic development strategy for Colorado, based on each Coloradan personally recruiting a Californian we care about to move here. And I'm willing to do my part.

So hey, all my California friends -- Mac and Jody, Marty, Scott and Molly, Bruce, Paul, Steve -- give it up already and come live in Colorado! The California dream is a dying ember. Taxes are lower here. Hassles are fewer. Avalanches are less of a threat than earthquakes. Sanity still prevails, outside a few urban enclaves. Our economy isn't completely in a shambles -- and you can help make it better. And you'll have the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights (for as long as it lasts) to protect you against the predations of politicians.

We've got plenty of extra beds at the Paige house if you need a place to bunk while settling in.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

There Goes the Comeback

Speaking up in defense of Bush? This Mickey Rourke guy really does have self-destructive tendencies.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Liberal Newspapers for School Choice

The Boston Globe has an excellent editorial today urging an end to that state's resistance to, and discrimination against, charter schools. It joins The Washington Post among otherwise left-leaning newspapers that have broken with anti-school reform dogma of teachers' unions, and the Democratic Party, by embracing educational choice as an imperative for the troubled schools in the urban areas the papers serve. And the impact of this can't be underestimated, since such arguments have much more power coming from the left than from the right.

There may be other left-leaning editorial pages out there that have similarly broken ranks, understanding that a slavish conformity to ideology is costing millions of kids a better education and opportunity. But today I can cite only these two.

So bully for The Boston Globe.

Bully for The Washington Post.

The Post blazed this trail by supported a voucher program for the District of Columbia, which must have set unions and Democrats back on their heals. And the paper has generally seemed to support controversial D.C. schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee in her efforts to turn around a terrible school system, including with this Jan. 7 editorial excoriating the D.C. City Council for undermining Rhee. And now comes the Boston Globe, to advocate for lifting the state's caps on charter schools, in response to compelling evidence that they're producing better results.

Here's The Globe:

Raise the cap on charters
January 10, 2009

THE SHORTEST DISTANCE between urban students and quality education is a charter school that is free to lengthen the school day, enhance the curriculum, and assign teachers without interference from teachers unions or downtown bureaucrats. Yet state education officials not only resist lifting tight caps on new charter schools but are now contemplating measures that would undermine opening charter schools under the current cap.

A new Boston Foundation study compared the achievement of Boston students at charter, traditional, and in-district pilot schools, which have adopted some charter-like reforms. The charter schools, which are run by independent boards, topped the list. The most dramatic finding in the new study was the success of charter schools in raising math performance by middle school students - usually a resistant bunch.

For middle school students in Boston, the impact of attending a good charter school meant moving from the 50th to the 69th percentile on the MCAS math test. The study also dispatched the tired argument that charters succeed only because they attract students from education-minded families and leave district schools with the hardest-to-serve students. It compares the achievement of charter school students in Boston with those who were motivated to enter the lottery but failed to win a seat.

With 61 charter schools underway, there seems to be plenty of room under the statewide cap of 120 schools. But a deeper look reveals a problem. State law also requires that no school district be required to transfer more than 9 percent of its net school spending to charter schools. That cap looms over Boston, where there is room for only 111 more charter school seats while 7,000 Boston students linger on waiting lists.

And how does one expand charter school opportunities in North Adams, with room under the cap for only 34 students, or in Somerville, with room remaining for just 70 students? The situation is barely better in Cambridge, Chelsea, Holyoke, Lowell, and other urban districts where the addition of a single new charter would meet or exceed the cap.

Now, to make matters worse, Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester is working on a proposal to the Board of Education that would delay the opening of new charter schools even under the current cap. State education officials are under heavy pressure from school district and local officials who must reallocate per-pupil costs to charter schools in hard times. But these are the same officials who are responsible for running schools that so many families are determined to flee. The touchstone in this debate should be student achievement, not the fiscal challenges in school districts, which can close or consolidate schools to offset declining enrollment.

The best strategy would be to double the potential for new charter schools in low-performing urban districts by raising the net school spending limit from 9 percent to 18 or 20 percent. School districts will howl. But they may also recognize the urgent need to provide their own students with longer school days and deeper opportunities.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Boom to Bust: Who's to Blame?

Colorado Governor Bill Ritter's one claim to fame, as he stands at the midpoint of his term, is his over-hyping of what he calls the "new energy economy" -- and the fact that another rising politico, a guy named Barack Obama, stole the phrase from him.

It's more appropriately called the "New Energy Baloney," in my view, since it's largely based on subsidies, mandates and other government interventions in support of niche energy technologies that aren't ready for prime time -- while regulatory and rhetorical war is waged against an "old" energy economy that actually delivers the goods.

But perhaps it's time that Ritter began paying a little more attention to "old energy economy" in Colorado, since his two year effort to undermine it seems to be turning energy boom into bust. Factors beyond one governor's control are involved, no doubt, as the Durango Herald story below points out. But Ritter's anti-energy development attitudes, and the deterrent effect these might be having on the industry, can't be discounted.

The 3 most obvious moves Ritter made against the industry are:

His packing of the state's "greener" oil and gas commission with people who are either hostile or indifferent to (or ignorant about) the industry;

His championing of a ballot measure -- roundly defeated -- that would have jacked-up energy severance taxes;

His efforts to slow or block a balanced and sensible drilling plan for the Roan Plateau (the product of 7 years of careful study and public process by the BLM), and the development of oil shale in Western Colorado, in a pander to eco-extremists who reflexively oppose energy development almost everywhere it's proposed.

Ritter's touting of the "new energy economy" is widely cited as his most notable accomplishment thus-far. But his foolish assault on the "old energy economy," and the toll it is taking on Colorado, is having a much greater real impact -- only in a negative way.

Here's today's story from the Durango Herald:

Legislators get preview of gas debate

by Joe Hanel
Herald Denver Bureau

What killed the golden goose?

The gas and oil industry often bills itself as Colorado's golden goose, but in recent months, drilling rigs have started to leave Colorado. Lawmakers on Monday got a preview of the political mystery that is sure to be one of the hottest debates of the year.

The Legislature doesn't officially begin until Wednesday, but a special committee on job creation has been meeting since last fall. Gas and oil industry representatives visited the committee Monday to argue that new rules of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission are chasing away jobs. Legislators will vote on the rules this session.

The debate has raged since Gov. Bill Ritter's administration proposed the changes two years ago. Republicans in general oppose the new regulations, while Democrats defend them.
"I wonder - I hate to say this - why some of the oil and gas companies would want to do business in Colorado," said Rep. Larry Liston, R-Colorado Springs.

Companies indeed are leaving Colorado, according to the latest counts of drilling rigs.
Colorado's rig count declined to 93, according to the latest count Jan. 2 by Baker Hughes, a company that tracks rig data. Colorado has 99 rigs in January 2009, but it had as many as 123 last spring.

However, many other major gas states declined as much or more, including Wyoming, Texas and New Mexico.

Rigs left Colorado even though the industry has unused drilling permits and the new rules haven't taken effect yet, said Harris Sherman, chairman of the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. "If these rig declines are occurring, they're occurring under the old system, not the new system," Sherman said.

Sherman blames economic reasons for the loss of rigs, not the new regulations.

Jon Harpole or Mercator Energy, who opposes the rules, said companies have quit drilling for four reasons.

The price of gas is too low, the credit markets are frozen, shale gas has opened opportunities in other states and Colorado is about to adopt new rules. Legislators can control only the last factor, he said. Shale gas, in particular, has revolutionized the industry. Companies now have the technology to tap large deposits that they couldn't reach three or four years ago, he said.
"What's happened is phenomenal, and most Americans don't even understand what's happened here," Harpole said.

Montezuma County has a promising deposit of shale gas that could open the county to the industry. States including North Dakota, Louisiana and Arkansas also have large deposits.
"You don't want to be at a regulatory disadvantage to these states, and quite honestly that's where we are now," Harpole said.

Friday, January 2, 2009

American dairy farmers have grown fat and happy with a helping hand from Uncle Sam. Federal price supports and commodity-buying programs, combined with regional milk cartels that are allowed to conspire to keep prices high, have kept them in high clover, insulated from market forces and competition, while consumers and taxpayers get milked dry.

So forgive me if I don't weep over the hardships recession has brought dairymen, as detailed in today's New York Times. If one reads the story carefully, one learns that the market-distorting influence of government "support," even more than global economic trends, lies at the heart of the industry's current woes -- as with so much of the American Agricultural sector.

Government intervention and market manipulation, not free enterprise and free markets, created this "crisis." Now perhaps the government will step in, again, to "rescue" beleaguered dairy farmers. It's a vicious cycle, which won't be broken until we begin throwing farmers off the government milk wagon.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Let Them Build Plug-ins

It's a dream come true for bashers of gas-guzzlers. The scourge of the planet, the American SUV, has been driven to the brink of extinction, killed off by high gas prices and bad PR from guilt-tripping greens. Here's part of a recent New York Times obituary:

"Even a federal bailout could not save three of the last remaining plants in the United States still making sport utility vehicles.

Reeling from its financial problems and a collapsing S.U.V. market, General Motors on Tuesday closed its factories in this city and in Moraine, Ohio, marking the passing of an era when big S.U.V.’s ruled the road. The moves followed the shutdown last Friday of Chrysler’s factory in Newark, Del., which produced full-size S.U.V.’s.

The last Chevrolet Tahoe rolled off the line here in Janesville shortly after 7 a.m. in the 90-year-old plant, which had built more than 3.7 million big S.U.V.’s since the early 1990s.

Most of the plant’s 1,100 remaining workers were not scheduled to work the final day, but many showed up for an emotional closing ceremony. Dan Doubleday, who had 22 years on the job, broke down in the plant’s snowy parking lot afterward.

“I was a fork lift driver,” he said, glancing at his watch through welling tears. “Until about seven minutes ago.”

Only now will public attention turn to the assembly plants that will be shuttered, and the jobs lost, to the consumer choices that will be narrowed and the motorist safety sacrificed, because of the SUV's demise. That part of the story wasn't talked about much before. Nobody have a damn about the fork lift driver in Janesville.

Are SUV-haters -- putzing along in the slow lane in their matchbox toys, munching tofu burgers and anxiously searching for someplace to plug in their plug-in -- feeling a tinge of guilt or regret about the SUV's decline, or the economic hardship this will bring to those who built and sold and maintained these Mastodons? Not a bit.

Such sacrifices are required to "save" the planet. "Let them build plug-ins," they'll say, echoing Marie Antoinette.