Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Blood on My Hands?

I've said and written some unflattering things about federal workers over the years. Back when I was a spokesman for Citizens Against Government Waste, a fiscal watchdog group, and later, when I wrote the weekly "Waste and Abuse" column for Insight Magazine, I regularly penned pieces that cast federal workers in an unflattering light. I didn't always have to ferret these stories out; they mostly just fall in your lap, so pervasive is waste and mismanagement at the federal level.

Did all that work make me complicit in murder? That's the message coming out of Washington this morning.

Did all my "government-bashing" -- all my disrespecting of the dedicated men and women, "public servants" all, who labor tirelessly on my behalf in thankless government jobs -- help lay the predicate for the murder of census worker William Sparkman, who was found dead on Sept. 12 in the Daniel Boone National Forest? It just might have, says Bill Schauman, president of American Federation of Government Employees Local 2782, in today's Washington Post.

"Perhaps, if more of our leaders had talked over the years about the dedication of the federal workforce, and shown us more of the appreciation and trust we deserve, this terrible event might not have happened," Schauman told the Post. Other union leaders quoted in the story were more cautious about making such connections. But John Berry, who runs the Office of Personnel Management, ratchets up the rhetoric again by suggesting that Sparkman may have been the victim of "domestic terrorism." "We cannot tolerate essentially domestic terrorism, if that is what this is," he said. "But until we understand the law enforcement investigation, we don’t know."

The Post further inflames the situation by trotting out some context-free statistics about crimes against federal workers (or in which federal worker are involved), leaving the inference that there's some political component to the crimes, though this is not supported in any way.

The Post:

"It is a federal crime to attack or kill a federal worker during or because of their job and government employees regularly face threats due to the nature of their work. Officials insist they have no information suggesting Sparkman was targeted because of his federal employment, but the slaying has raised concerns about the safety of federal employees.

The Justice Department had filed 277 such cases against 299 defendants as of August, according to spokesman Ian McCaleb. It prosecuted 303 cases against 330 defendants in FY '08, 326 cases against 348 defendants in FY '07 and 313 cases filed against 329 defendants in FY '06. McCaleb could not provide details about specific employees or agencies targeted or the number of successful prosecutions.

Union leaders have suggested that statements by lawmakers and commentators about the federal workforce may also be to blame."

So watch what you say about federal workers, everyone. Your critiques just might be egging on "domestic terrorism" and instigating cold-blooded murder.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Roll over, Barry Goldwater

Just a little news item from my old home state of Arizona -- link -- indicating that it's no longer the sort of place that the state's most iconic politician, the arch-conservative Barry Goldwater, would recognize or celebrate.

Nearly 200 new laws went into effect today in Arizona -- not one of which makes Arizonans more free, more self-reliant, more prosperous. And this is just the work product of one legislative season. This churning out of new laws, assembly line fashion, goes on year after year, decade after decade -- incrementally chipping away at America's claim to being "the land of the free." It's not just happening in Arizona; it's happening in every state in the union. Not all the new laws are bad; just most of them. Arizona won't be measurably better off tomorrow than it was yesterday because of all the new rules. The opposite is probably true.

Roll over, Barry. This isn't the Arizona you knew.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Move Over Hybrid Hotshots . . . .

. . . there's a new privileged class favored by social engineers: story.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Giving the Devil its Due

It's fashionable in right wing circles to slam the Washington Post for being a left-wing rag. On most days, it lives up to that reputation. But the paper's editorial page has broken ranks with the hard left on at least one important issue, school choice. And it deserves credit for that.

The Post has lent rhetorical support to controversial D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, in her epic battles to turn around one of the worst systems in the country -- a national disgrace unfolding right in the shadow of the capitol dome. And the paper has come to embrace school choice, including charter schools and voucher programs, as important options for urban students trapped in failing systems.

Tomorrow's Post editorial touts the now-demonstrated benefits of charter schools for underprivileged kids, while slamming teachers unions for their hidebound opposition to this public school innovation. It's almost like reading The Washington Times, but better -- since it will be read, and hopefully taken to heart, by tens of thousands of hard core liberals over a cup of coffee tomorrow morning.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Three Cheers for "The Kelo Curse"

Maybe there is a just God out there after all.

Four years after the U.S. Supreme Court approved the bulldozing of a New London neighborhood, so the city could hand the land to a company promising more tax revenue, the city has yet to profit from its act of theft. Instead, the cleared lots still stand vacant, like a gaping wound. The company, and all the promises it made, never materialized. New London is no better off today than before it embarked on this notorious abuse of eminent domain. The wages of sin . . . is vacant lots.

And I for one, in a slightly malicious way, hope the "Kelo curse" will continue.

Here's the AP:

Conn. land vacant 4 years after court OK'd seizure

NEW LONDON, Conn. — Weeds, glass, bricks, pieces of pipe and shingle splinters have replaced the knot of aging homes at the site of the nation's most notorious eminent domain project.

There are a few signs of life: Feral cats glare at visitors from a miniature jungle of Queen Anne's lace, thistle and goldenrod. Gulls swoop between the lot's towering trees and the adjacent sewage treatment plant.

But what of the promised building boom that was supposed to come wrapped and ribboned with up to 3,169 new jobs and $1.2 million a year in tax revenues? They are noticeably missing.
Proponents of the ambitious plan blame the sour economy. Opponents call it a "poetic justice."

"They are getting what they deserve. They are going to get nothing," said Susette Kelo, the lead plaintiff in the landmark property rights case. "I don't think this is what the United States Supreme Court justices had in mind when they made this decision."

Kelo's iconic pink home sat for more than a century on that currently empty lot, just steps away from Connecticut's quaint but economically distressed Long Island Sound waterfront. Shortly after she moved in, in 1997, her house became ground zero in the nation's best-known land rights catfight.

New London officials decided they needed Kelo's land and the surrounding 90 acres for a multimillion-dollar private development that included residential, hotel conference, research and development space and a new state park that would complement a new $350 million Pfizer pharmaceutical research facility.

Kelo and six other homeowners fought for years, all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. In 2005, justices voted 5-4 against them, giving cities across the country the right to use eminent domain to take property for private development.

The decision was sharply criticized and created grassroots backlash. Forty states quickly passed new, protective rules and regulations, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Some protesters even tried to turn the tables on now-retired Justice David Souter, trying unsuccessfully in 2006 to take his New Hampshire home by eminent domain to build an inn.

In New London the city's prized economic development plan has fallen apart as the economy crumbled.

The Corcoran Jennison Cos., a Boston-based developer, had originally locked in exclusive rights to develop nearly the entire northern half of the Fort Trumbull peninsula. But those rights expired in June 2008, despite multiple extensions, because the firm was unable to secure financing, according to President Marty Jones. In July, backers halted fundraising for the project's crown jewel, a proposed $60 million, 60,000-square-foot Coast Guard museum.
The poor economy meant that donations weren't "keeping pace with expenses," said Coast Guard Foundation president Anne Brengle.

The group hopes to resume fundraising in the future, she said.

Overall, proponents say about two-thirds of the 90-acre site is developed, in part because of a 16-acre, $25 million state park. The other third of the land remains without the promised residential housing, office buildings, shops and hotel/conference center facility.

"If there had been no litigation, which took years to work its way through (the court system), then a substantial portion of this project would be constructed by now," said John Brooks, executive director of the New London Development Corp. "But we are victims of the economic cycle, and there is nothing we can do about that."

A new engineering tenant is moving into one of the office buildings at 1 Chelsea St., and a bio tech firm with as many as five employees is getting ready to move into an existing building on Howard Street, Brooks said.

Kelo, paid $442,000 by the state for her old property, now lives across the Thames River in Groton, in a white, two-bedroom 1950s bungalow. Her beloved pink house was sold for a dollar and moved less than two miles away, where a local preservationist has refurbished it.

Kelo can see her old neighborhood from her new home, but she finds the view too painful to bear.
"Everything is different, but everything is like still the same," said Kelo, who works two jobs and has largely maintained a low profile since moving away. "You still have life to deal with every day of the week. I just don't have eminent domain to deal with every day of the week, even after I ate, slept and breathed it for 10 years."

Although her side lost, Kelo said she sees the wider ramifications of her property rights battle.

"In the end it was seven of us who fought like wild animals to save what we had," she said. "I think that though we ultimately didn't win for ourselves, it has brought attention to what they did to us, and if it can make it better for some other people so they don't lose their homes to a Dunkin' Donuts or a Wal-Mart, I think we did some good."

Scott Bullock, senior attorney for the Institute for Justice, argued Kelo's case before the Supreme Court. He calls "massive changes that have happened in the law and in the public consciousness" the "real legacy" of Kelo and the other plaintiffs.

The empty land means the city won a "hollow victory," he said. "What cities should take from this is to run fleeing from what New London did and do economic development that is market-driven and incorporate properties of folks who are truly committed to their neighborhood and simply want to be a part of what happens," he said.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Watch Your Behind . . .

The eco-prohibitionists are coming for your toilet paper now: Washington Post

For Charter Schools, Failure Is An Option

As a charter school supporter, I've watched with dismay as a once-renowned area charter school network, Cesar Chavez, has spiraled into disorder, scandal and disappointment for parents, students and teachers. It's too early to say exactly what went wrong. I hope some enterprising local journalist takes the time to tell the story in full. It appears there were problems in the network's upper ranks, which have now cast shadows over everyone below.

But the disappointment of parents and students, along with independent efforts to salvage some elements of the network, indicate that the schools still have strong support among customers, despite problems at the top.

The silver lining to every story of a charter school failure is that these schools are allowed to fail -- that they are held accountable for poor performance, unlike most conventional schools, that blithely carry on, in perpetuity, even when they aren't performing up to par. Such failures are rare. But they do occur. And that's okay. For every charter school that flounders and fails, three or four or five are flourishing. On balance, these school are still serving students well, as a mountain of new evidence shows, and despite what some blinkered critics say.

For charter schools, failure is an option. Maybe that's why so many succeed.

Still More Clunkequences

If you thought everyone who turned in a "clunker" as part of the federal "Cash for Clunkers" program was trading down to something a lot smaller, think again. Turns out, plenty of SUVs and pickups were purchased with the $3 billion, "with three truck models among the top 10 sellers," according to this report in The Detroit Free Press.

The story suggests that the Obama administration may have finessed the data a bit, in order to downplay the fact that not everyone who participated was buying a Prius (which ranked 15th among makes purchased).

Reports The Free Press:

"While the mania over cash-for-clunkers was under way in July and August, federal officials offered a breakdown of deals submitted by dealers that split models based on whether they were two-wheel or four-wheel drive. That analysis tended to give higher ranks to cars with no such option while underplaying the popularity of all-wheel-drive SUVs and trucks.

Using data released by the government this weekend, the Free Press’ analysis found that while the top four vehicles were the same in both lists -- the Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, Toyota Camry and Ford Focus – the Ford Escape SUV was the fifth-most popular vehicle overall, with 21,894 sold."

The paper also confirms that foreign car companies were the program's primary corporate beneficiaries, "with Detroit automakers claiming just 38.9% of the sales submitted."

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Gang Green Infects Obama White House

Denver Post columnist David Harsanyi hits a home run today with this piece about another Obama administration radical-in-residence, Energy Secretary Steven Chu -- who thinks Americans need to be treated like unruly and irresponsible teens, lest our carbon-chugging binges destroy the planet. Chu's positions and statements may not be on par with those of former green jobs czar Van Jones. And he won a Nobel, which carries weight with the easily-wowed crowd. But they're nearly as outlandish. And they're not out of place in this green-leaning administration.

High Country News senior editor Ray Ring has been keeping count of recognizable "greens" who have taken senior positions in the Obama administration, or have strong ties on the inside. Last I checked, the count stood at 37. Whether this is a cause for alarm, or a reason to rejoice, depends on where one stands. I find it alarming; Ring doesn't, since he works for a publication squarely in the green camp. Ring tries to draw lines between reasonable and truly radical greens, in another interesting exercise. From where I stand, even those he puts in the centrist camp are way out of step with mainstream thinking. But at least he's paying attention.

It's only right that someone keeps tally, given the close watch environmental groups keep on "industry" people appointed to Republican administrations. Environmentalism is an industry, too, after all, with money, influence and lobbying clout that rivals many real "industries." If hard "industry" occasionally goes too hard on the environment, in pursuit of economic ends, the Environmental Anxiety Industry frequently goes too hard on the economy, in the name of "saving the planet."

A sensible balance is needed, since it's economic prosperity that makes environmental protection affordable. It's doubtful President Obama can strike that balance with so many radicals on board.

If we're concerned as Americans about the undue influence hard "industries" can have on an administration (any administration), given the corruption, abuses of power and self-dealing this can invite, isn't it time that Environmentalism Inc. received equal treatment -- and equal skepticism? I think so.

It's the Government, Stupid

There are some Obama haters out there, to be sure. And some of that, at least on the far lunatic fringe, might well be tinged with racial hatred. But the grassroots backlash that's been building out in fly-over country is really a reaction to two things, economic turmoil and big government, as even the "mainstream media" is coming to understand.

It's natural that Obama has become the focus of the wrath, since 1.) he's obviously a big-government liberal (I don't dare use the "S-word") and 2.) Americans have been convinced (mostly by presidents themselves, and presidential candidates) that the president has control over the economy. The fact that he's black has little to do with it. It's the government, stupid, to borrow a Clinton-era phrase from the unctuously reptilian James Carville. And the economy.

Two just-published pieces highlight the point, bases not on the suppositions of left-leaning media types, or the musings of addle-brained former presidents with a love of the spotlight, but based on scientific polling of actual Americans. Steve Moore writes in today's Wall Street Journal about the feeling among Americans that wasteful government spending is completely out of control. And a report by AOL News, highlighting results of a recent Rasmussen poll, shows that the backlash was building before Obama's election, and stems from a deepening public disgust with both major parties. The orgy of spending and government interventions on Obama's watch simply served as the tipping point.

Reports AOL:

". . . Sixty-six percent of the 1,000 adults polled on Sunday and Monday said they were either very angry or somewhat angry about federal government policies.
"People feel they're not being listened to," said Scott Rasmussen, president of the polling organization.

Skip over this content
The anger didn't start when the Obama administration came to power, according to Rasmussen. He pointed to polls that showed "people were overwhelmingly opposed" to President Bush's bailout of financial firms, yet the measure passed. The same was true for federal aide to automakers.

"It just fits into this same pattern of it really doesn't matter what we do. It doesn't matter what we say," Rasmussen noted. "That's what the frustration we saw in the town hall meetings was."
While President Obama has taken most of the heat lately, 60 percent of those polled said neither Democratic nor Republican leaders understand what the country needs.

"I think what people are looking for is different than what the politicians want to provide," said Rasmussen. "Part of the reason that the two parties are having a hard time ... is because they're not connecting -- they're not able to find a way to resonate with voters. They're just sort of missing the discussion."

Washington isn't the only target of populist anger, although fear of "big government" control is a common theme for protesters.

"You really have to throw big business into it as well," according to Rasmussen, who added that people don't trust the media, either.

It all adds up to a lot of frustration, he said, for voters who want to "get involved in the decision-making process in a meaningful way."

"I think there's a group of people that are reaching the point that they don't know what to do."

I've spoken at 2 tea parties and attended a third in Colorado, and, despite media insinuations about the dark and diabolical motives of attendees, my sense is that the Rasmussen poll hits the nail on the head, in terms of analyzing what's really behind the movement.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

To Hell with Tarot Cards . . .

. . . .I turn to the all-seeing, all-knowing Zoltar for the truth about ObamaCare.

More Clunkequences

Stumbled across a very good write-up on The Law of Unintended Clunkequences today, by AOL Auto's Editor-at-Large William Jeanes: link. What I really like is Jeanes' suggestion to change the acronym of Cash for Clunkers from "C4C" to "P2P" -- short for robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Writes Jeanes:

"According to a survey of new-vehicle buyers who participated in the recent Cash for Clunkers program, more than 17 percent now harbor “some” doubt or “serious” doubt about letting a government subsidy convince them to go further into debt. CNW Research of Bandon, Oregon, a firm specializing in automotive marketing research, conducted the survey in late August.

Buyer’s remorse is not a new phenomenon as anyone who ever opened an envelope containing Visa’s autopsy of that Spring Break trip to Margaritaville can tell you. The significant revelation of the CNW survey, however, is that under normal conditions only 6 to 8 percent of new-car buyers suffer the shouldn’t-a-done-that syndrome.

That means that over twice as many C4C participants as normal buyers are worried about the negative impact a brand spanking new payment book with $275 printed on each of its 72 pages might have on rent and Hamburger Helper expenditures. (The actual C4C numbers were an average loan length of 49 months and an average payment of $317.) No wonder. I’m surprised that the survey didn’t find half of the C4C spenders sitting up nights watching Suze Orman and Dave Ramsey re-runs."

As P2P participants begin to fall behind on new car payments -- to default on loans they couldn't afford and wouldn't have taken without a cash incentive from good old Uncle Sam -- how long before we'll be hearing calls for a "repo rescue" by Washington, eerily similar to the sub-prime borrower bailout, as "victims" of the clunkers program come forward, using the "government-made-me-do-it" excuse? Not long at all, I'm guessing.

No wonder Gore Vidal called this The United States of Amnesia.

The United States of Myopia, better yet.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Lights, Camera, Corruption

Regular readers know how much I loath corporate welfare of every stripe -- and Hollywood welfare especially. So they'll understand how delighted I am to pass along news of a mini-scandal hitting Iowa's film "incentives" program.

An 11th-hour orgy of tax credit claims, timed to beat a rules change that capped the handouts at (a mere) $50 million annually, drove program costs well above the $300 million mark last year, according to media reports -- even while an ongoing audit indicates the program is being abused. It appears that some tax credits were used to purchase at least two luxury vehicles, a Mercedes and Land Rover, unrelated to film projects. This led to last Friday's resignation of the state's economic development director, and paid leave for the man who hands out the checks to fat cat filmmakers.

Reports the DesMoines Register:

"On Friday, questions about the state's film program led state economic development leader Mike Tramontina to resign. The state's film manager, Tom Wheeler, has been placed on paid administrative leave.

A memo, written by Tramontina, said an independent auditor found lax oversight of film producers' spending in Iowa. The state gives producers back half of what they spend in Iowa in tax credits. Among the complaints: Film producers claimed tax credits for luxury vehicles they bought for themselves."

It's extremely concerning," said [State Sen. Joe] Bolkcom. "We have this program that grew extremely fast, on top of what seems to be an appalling level of oversight."

Gov. Chet Culver suspended the tax-credit program Friday, saying in a statement that he was troubled by the findings. Culver spokesman Troy Price said Saturday that the audit is ongoing and could not be released."

Here's a link to the memo that prompted Culver to suspend the program.

Given the way Iowa and other star-struck states have been throwing money at moviemakers, trying to land more location shoots, it was only a matter of time before such abuses began to surface. Maybe this will help take some of the shine off the latest craze in corporate welfare.

See earlier posts for more on this topic: here, here,

The Law of Unintended Clunkequences

The mark of the economically-literate person is an ability to see a few levels below the immediate surface of an event or policy -- to understand, for instance, that every government intervention in the market sets off a series of ripples and reverberations, like a pebble breaking the surface of a placid pond. Some of these effects are more obvious than others, but all have consequences. They might benefit certain parties, but harm others. They might enrich one group, at the expense of another. The beneficiaries may be obvious, while the victims are hidden from view.

The key is trying to see things whole – or as whole as one can with something as complex as an economy. Perhaps the best writing on the subject was done by Frederic Bastiat, in his essay on "what is seen and what is not seen": link. Every American who aspires to economic literacy should read it.

It’s impossible to anticipate with precision what all those ripple effects will be (thus the folly and danger of central planning). But a prudent person at least counsels caution when it comes to government meddling, since it could result in more negative than positive consequences. A wise person has the humility to hold back.

A local story about the after effects of the federal Cash for Clunkers program offers a good case in point.

The immediate, surface impact of the program seemed positive. Americans flocked to take advantage of the giveaway, happy to have the government (meaning other people) subsidize their new car purchases. Dealers were delighted to get the showroom traffic. And all the transactions that took place, as $3 billion in federal money was blown in just a few weeks, did give a measurable (but modest and temporary) boost to one sector of the economy. That’s about as far as some people could (or cared to) see. And what they saw made them happy.

But one consequence of taking so many used cars off the market so abruptly is that a shortage was created, which is driving up the costs for used car seekers. Reports the Gazette:

“Several car dealers in Colorado Springs are reporting sharp price hikes and a drop in availability of affordable used cars on the wholesale market in the wake of the federal government’s Cash for Clunkers program and the financial turmoil in the new-car industry.

The dealers said the effects are — or will soon — be visible on a car lot near you, in the form of slimmer selections and higher prices.

One dealer said every late-model used vehicle he’s seen lately on the wholesale market is $2,000 to $3,000 higher than it would have been a month ago.

The Cash for Clunkers program paid $2.87 billion to scrap 690,114 gas-guzzling cars and trucks, according to the latest statistics. The number of cars turned in on new car trades in Colorado was not disclosed, but the feds spent $37.6 million in the state. Each trade-in was worth either $3,500 or $4,500, so if those rebates are averaged out, that suggests about 9,400 used cars were taken off Colorado roads last month. Some of those presumably would have gone to the used car market if the program hadn’t existed.

In addition, the program came at a time when many new-car dealers were beefing up their used-car stock because of slow new-vehicle sales. At the same time, some dealers who lost their factory franchises have been converting to used-car shops, and they’ve been scouring the country for good used vehicles for their lots.”

C4C may have been a one-time boon for Americans wanting to trade in a “clunker” for something new and marginally more efficient. But it’s becoming a bust for Americans who want to get a better “clunker” than what they're driving now. Federal splurging reduced car costs for some Americans, but increased them for others. New car dealers got a temporary booster shot, but used-car dealers have now come down with a terrible cold. One sector of the economy felt a bump; another experienced a slump. And whether the economy as a whole is better off is doubtful.

What economic-illiterates hailed as a "success," prudent people recognize as a case of shell game economics, in which money was taken from one set of pockets and transferred to another. The flurry of activity did nothing to nourish and actually grow the economy; it gave us a short-term sugar buzz from which we're now coming down.

But not to worry. We'll soon be hearing this described by politicians as "the used car cost crisis," prompting calls for another government intervention, to fix a problem created by the earlier intervention. And so it goes, ad infinitum, one government blunder inviting another -- as we ride the fast lane toward a centrally-planned economy.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Legal Larceny

Stealing from a church?

Where's a thunderbolt when you really need one?

Goose and Gander

It isn't hard to tell what Washington Post scribes Dan Eggen and Del Quentin Wilber think of the latest court ruling against campaign finance restrictions. They disapprove, obviously. These were "hard-fought" "reforms," in their eyes, not unconstitutional erosions of the First Amendment. They describe court challenges to such laws as "assaults," which if successful will open the floodgates to conservative attacks on Barack Obama. Such rulings give Republicans an edge in their quest to retake Congress, according to the story. Such rulings will inject for negativity into campaign season.

"The ruling, if it stands, could provide a boost to Republicans and their allies as they try to win back Congress in 2010 and the White House in 2012. Outside conservative groups could become particularly important in countering the fundraising juggernaut of President Obama, who shattered past records by raising more than $750 million during his 2008 campaign.

Experts suggested that the court's decision could provide a boon to groups tapping into the fervor of anti-Obama activity and "tea party" events. It will certainly allow groups across the political spectrum to raise and spend money without pause, potentially leading to a more acerbic campaign environment.

The groups "are now free to accept unlimited contributions, to spend unlimited funds independently supporting or opposing federal candidates," said Richard L. Hasen, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles and an election law expert. "One of the things we know about outside groups, as opposed to political parties, is that they run more negative ads. . . . This could lead to a more negative campaign season."

Here's the interesting thing, though.

This lawsuit wasn't brought by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. It was brought by Emily's List, a liberal group that works to get female Democrats elected -- undermining the story's premise, which is that the court-ordered overturning of campaign finance laws (which is really a restoration of First Amendment freedoms) hands an advantage to conservatives.

Liberal groups obviously are chaffing under these restrictions as well. And as long as all parties are operating under the same rules of engagement, more or less, such rulings don't really favor one side over the other. They open up the process by throwing-off the shackles imposed by McCain-Feingold and other campaign finance laws.

What's good for the goose is good for the gander, right? Right.

Except if you're a pair of Posties with an agenda to push.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Collateral Damage

Most media coverage of the public land wars follows a familiar but simplistic pattern. You have the malevolent force called "industry" on one side, poised to ruthlessly plunder the planet for private gain. Then you have the good guys, wearing green hats, who are just trying to "save" something "pristine" and "precious." Ignored in this sort of coverage are the Americans caught in the middle -- Westerners who appreciate (but don't necessarily worship) their natural surroundings, but would also like decent paying jobs, in something other than an ice cream scoop economy that caters to tourists.

I'm talking about unemployed timber workers in Oregon and Washington, living on welfare because America cares more about the Spotted owl than it cares about them. I'm talking about out-of-work commercial fishers in New England, California and Florida. I'm talking about ranchers and miners who've thrown in the towel, because government regulators are waging war on them. I'm talking about energy industry workers who aren't working, because anti-drilling zealots have derailed another domestic gas and oil project.

I'm talking about Jeremy and Amber Harrison of Vernal, Utah, who traveled all the way to Washington last week, for an appointment with an Interior Department official whose decisions can mean work or a welfare check for so many Westerners. They went carrying hand-written letters from folks back in Utah, who were left in the lurch when Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, immediately after confirmation, unilaterally canceled 77 drilling leases in the state, which he and a few green groups say pose a threat to national parks.

The Harrison's wanted to deliver a "human impact statement." But the official, Deputy Interior Secretary David Hayes, snubbed them at the last minute -- reinforcing the message that arrogant Washingtonians are indifferent to the collateral damage their decisions inflict out here in fly-over country. Here's the story, as told by the Deseret News.

Stood-up Vernal couple still seek to tell oil-lease story in D.C.

They were there to talk about oil leases, but official canceled

When told they could meet with the Interior Department's No. 2 official, Jeremy and Amber Harrison pulled money out of their tight savings and with friends' help traveled to Washington, D.C., from Vernal, hoping to tell how canceling federal oil leases is hurting Vernal.
But after they arrived, an aide to Deputy Interior Secretary David Hayes called and canceled the meeting that had been scheduled in the office of Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah. They were told no other time was available with Hayes, but an alternate official could maybe meet with them sometime.

"This is not the way people ought to be treated," said an upset Bishop. He said his office had verified the meeting last week, but it was canceled at the last minute. "It is unfortunate. I mean these guys came back on their own dime to try and meet with Hayes."

It comes as the House Natural Resources Committee is beginning two days of hearings Wednesday on how to meet America's energy needs while protecting the environment, as administration officials, environmental groups, sportsmen, landowners and others are scheduled to testify.

Amid that, the Harrisons had sought Bishop's help to meet with Hayes and bring 150 or so letters from Vernal residents about how the administration's cancellation of oil leases there is hurting them. "It's going to be like a human impact statement," Bishop said, noting he will enter all of those letters into the record at the hearing.

"We need Americans at work, not foreigners" selling foreign oil to America, Jeremy Harrison said. He and his wife want to tell how unemployment has gone from about 1 percent around Vernal to 8.5 percent, which they blame largely on administration actions making it harder to drill for oil.

Amber Harrison said she and her husband own a small business to truck crude oil. "Our income has gone down drastically. We were on the verge of losing a few items, but we were able to pull things out," she said.

"But a lot of people around us have lost entire homes and cars and are wondering if they can feed their families," she said. "Many people have had to move away because they cannot find a job." Amber Harrison said she and her husband attended a "tea party" protest in April, and began talking with others about the need for a group to counter what they feel are misleading claims by environmental groups.

She said they formed a citizens group called Grassroots Alliance for Public Lands. "It was our response to the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance," she said, and it started looking for ways to get out the story of the economic impacts of actions that make drilling harder.

When Hayes traveled to Vernal earlier this year for a hearing on canceled oil leases, the Harrisons and other members of their grass-roots alliance were there.

"I did get up and speak with David Hayes and I presented him with an 'I Love Drilling' T-shirt signed by people in Vernal. We were hopeful that because of comments he had made directly to me, that he would be willing to meet with us. Unfortunately, the willingness just isn't there," Amber Harrison said.

The Harrisons are meeting, however, with all members of the Utah delegation and with the Western Caucus of the House to tell stories of people in Vernal. They will also attend the hearings on energy, and Bishop has promised to ask some questions on their behalf while also presenting their letters.

One letter is from 9-year-old Heather Mendoza. It says that before her grandfather was laid off from his oil industry job, they lived in a home where she had a horse and a dog.
"We sold my horse because we could not afford to keep her. Where we moved in Vernal, we had to get rid of my dog as well," Mendoza wrote. "The only thing I ask is please let my grandpa go back to work so we can at least stay in Vernal."

In another letter, Kathleen Fladeland wrote that her husband has been out of work since February, after working in the oil industry for 40 years. "I am working a part-time job, but it does not cover even a quarter of our bills," adding they will "soon be in foreclosure if he can't find a decent job."

In another letter, Julie Curry wrote how even her car wash for large trucks in Vernal has been hurt by canceling oil leases, so truckers have fewer jobs and less need of her service.
"Our business has experienced a 67 percent decrease," she wrote, adding that it went from having nine employees earlier this year to now having just two.

Jeremy Harrison said of such letters, "Stuff like this should not be happening in America."
He added that while environmental groups argue that canceling oil leases could help tourism in Vernal by making areas more pristine, "tourism may help a bit in summer. But the oil fields are what keeps the area going all year long."

Several days later, at a congressional hearing, Secretary Salazar was asked by Rep. Bishop what response he had for people like the Harrisons. "Look at what is happening to real people on the ground as a result of decisions the Department of Interior has made in my home state of Utah," Bishop said. But the insufferably smug Salazar would not take responsibility, shifting that (as all Obama administration officials do) to the previous administration, which he says rushed the leases through.

"Salazar . . .said the Obama administration should not be blamed for economic problems in Utah oil country related to rescinding the auction, but the Bush administration should be for rushing the auction without fully consulting the National Park Service. "What happened with those 77 parcels … is that there was simply not the consultation that should have taken place there between the Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service," Salazar told the House Natural Resources Committee. "Because that consultation did not take place, there was a need to review that to ensure that the other legal interests of the United States of America were being protected," he said . . .

. . . . Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, complained that Deputy Interior Secretary David Hayes had canceled a meeting with Jeremy and Amber Harrison of Vernal who brought 150 letters from neighbors to describe economic distress from the canceled auction — after they spent their own money to travel to Washington on the promise of meeting him Tuesday.

"I'd be happy to take whatever documents they have," Salazar said, but said economic problems in the Uintah Basin should be blamed more on rushing a bad auction than on him for trying to fix it. "Sometimes what ends up happening is when the government does things in a rushed and wrong way, you end up having consequences to human beings like the Harrisons that you don't have when you do it the right way," Salazar said."

The oil and gas industry vigorously denies the process was shortcut. The Independent Petroleum Association of the Mountain States has produced a point-by-point rebuttal to these claims. An independent panel reinstated a number of the canceled leases, raising more doubts about the legitimacy of Salazar's actions. But the Interior secretary defending his abuses of power, arguing that he had the authority to unilaterally cancel leases "near" national parks.

"Many of those lease parcels are in fact going forward," Salazar said. "But the fact is I don't believe we should drill everywhere because not everyplace is appropriate for us to drill. We shouldn't be drilling near Arches National Park and Canyonlands and Dinosaur. Those are important treasures that we need to protect."

"Near" and "close" are relative terms in the sprawling West. What's "near" here would be "far" back East. Is a drilling rig 20 or 30 or 40 miles away from a national park boundary line really too close? Salazar and others are trying to make that claim (using what I call the "proximity ploy").

But since when did a single individual's subjective judgments become the basis for making such momentous decisions? And how many millions of acres of public lands are we removing from potentially productive uses when we draw such arbitrary and subjective buffer zones around parks? Given the prevalence of parks across the West -- just look at a map of southern Utah --isn't this a rationale for locking away a huge new swath of public lands?

That's exactly what it is.

Rep. Bishop is asking hard questions about whether Salazar's Interior Department colluded with outside groups on the issue. He pressed Salazar on this at the hearing:

"Bishop also complained that the department has not provided documents he has requested that he says may show it has a too cozy relationship with environmental groups that oppose oil drilling in Utah. "Your department has been foot-dragging, stonewalling and the only thing we have received is the apparently false claim that there are only seven communications," Bishop said. Salazar said, "We have thousands of pages, frankly, that have been sent over (or) are being sent over. … You've gotten a lot of those documents. You're getting a lot more."

Whether or not collusion can be documented, is there any doubt that Salazar and the Obama administration are water-carriers for the radical green groups that helped put them in power? No doubt, in my opinion. It's evident not just in the policies they're adopting, but in their arrogant indifference to the human casualties, and collateral damage to the American economy, these policies leave in their wake.

The Harrisons of Vernal Utah are just the tip of the iceberg.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Local "Stimulus" Gets Same Response

The excruciatingly-"progressive" mountain burg of Basalt, Colorado, recently gave small-scale Obamanomics a try, by launching a local economic stimulus program that, just like its federal counterpart, robs Peter to pay Paul. And it's worked no better than the federal stimulus plan, according to The Aspen Times -- meaning not very well. Yet local officials, just like their Treasury Department doppelgangers, claim the effort wasn't in vain, using the "it-might-have-been-worse" line of "reasoning."

The town's sales tax revenues are down 12.7 percent over last year, with all major sectors of the local economy taking hits. Grocery store sales were down 10.25 percent; sales at restaurants and bars fell by 29.4 percent; general retail was off 41.3 percent. This despite the town's stab at small-scale economic stimulus.

Reports the Times:

"Town officials had already expressed disappointment after June that Basalt's own stimulus program didn't spur more business. The town funded a program that offered $30 gift certificates to shoppers for each cumulative $300 they spent at participating shops and restaurants.

By one measure, the program was a success. The town awarded 2,500 gift certificates and spent $75,000 to honor them. Despite that success, sales tax revenues fell 17 percent in June. [Town finance director] Tippetts said she believes the program was worthwhile even if it didn't keep sales on par with last year. Without the program, this summer might have been even tougher on shops and restaurants, she said."

Local politicos fall into the same trap federal politicos do, by measuring the "success" of a government initiative not by whether it had the intended benefit, but by how many people took advantage of it. Give away gift certificates, paid for with other peoples' money, and you'll find willing recipients. No shock there. If that's your measure of success, pat yourselves on the back.

But all you're doing is moving money from one set of pockets to another, and tinkering at the edges of an economy, as the lackluster results in Basalt and elsewhere show. Obamanomics, on the small and large scale, is a shell game, which creates the illusion of economic growth. But only through increased productivity and risk-taking and value-creation can you actually "stimulate" -- meaning "grow" -- an economy. Otherwise, you're just handing out gift certificates, paid for with other peoples' money.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Village Idiot

The Wall Street Journal's editorial page keeps columnist Thomas Frank on board to serve as a sort of court jester: he's the liberal whose arguments are so stupid they make conservative arguments look brilliant. He's there as the village idiot, who makes every one else on the page look good in comparison.

Yesterday he delivered on both counts.

His piece bemoans the fact that the left has meekly surrendered the mantle of the freedom fighter to the right, even though, according to Frank, liberals, statists and collectivists are the true freedom fighters in this society. The founding fathers were wrong, he says; it's just not true that expansive government is a threat to freedom. For support, he cites no less an authority than the painter Norman Rockwell. His other authority is of course Franklin Delano Roosevelt, whose "Four Freedoms" established the predicate for the nanny state we live under today.

You'll want to read the whole piece, for the same reason you gawk at car wrecks. But here are the key passages:

"Any increase in the size or duties of government, the right tells us, necessarily subtracts from our freedom. Government is, by its very nature, a destroyer of liberties; the Obama administration, specifically, is promising to interfere with the economy and the health-care system so profoundly that Washington will soon have us all in chains.

"What we're going to end up with is higher taxes, bigger government and less freedom for the American people," House Republican Leader John Boehner said on Fox News in July. "We're going to have a real fight for how much freedom we're going to have left in America." . . .

. . . That our ancestors could ever have understood freedom as something greater than the absence of the state would probably strike protesters as inconceivable. But they did. You can see it in that famous Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving painting from 1943: "Freedom from Want," an illustration of one of Franklin Roosevelt's "Four Freedoms." Strange though it might sound, this is a form of freedom that pretty much requires government to get involved in the economy in order to "secure to every nation," as Roosevelt put it, "a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants." The idea is still enshrined today in the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights" . . .

. . . Conservatives of the 1930s, led by an upper-crust outfit called the American Liberty League, certainly felt that way. "That Roosevelt was a dictator there was no doubt; but Liberty Leaguers were not quite sure what kind," wrote the historian George Wolfskill in "The Revolt of the Conservatives," a 1962 study of that organization. "Some thought he was a fascist, others believed him a socialist or Communist, while others, to be absolutely sure, said he was both."

Today, of course, we know that the right's tyranny-fears were nonsense. Most of Roosevelt's innovations have been the law of the land for 70 years now, and yet we are still a free society free enough, that is, to allow tens of thousands of protesters to gather on the National Mall and to broadcast their slogans and speeches to the world via C-SPAN.

Even such pits of statism as Britain and Canada remain free societies, generally speaking, despite having gone skipping blithely down the universal-health-care road to serfdom decades ago. For the sort of people who gathered on the Mall last weekend, however, I doubt that such observations would matter in the least. Their conception of freedom soars on by a force all its own, carried aloft on the wings of pure abstract reasoning: Government intervention equals tyranny. Liberalism is forever a form of despotism-in-waiting."

Most American "ancestors" who predate the 1930s did in fact define freedom, in part, as the "absence of the state," which is why American government was designed to be strictly limited in power. And I could fill this post with quotes, citations and evidence to back that up. But for leftists, like Frank, American history begins not at the founding, but in the Roosevelt era. That's as far back in American history as they dare delve, in search of rationales for the superstate.

I happen to believe Americans have become less free since the New Deal, if one defines freedom not just as having the right to march on Washington to protest ObamaCare (Frank's emasculated definition of "freedom"), but the freedom from dependency on government programs and largess, which tends over time to make one an indentured servant (if not a slave) of the state. It's our independence -- meaning independence from state interference and state coercion and co-option -- that's been eroded as the size, power, appetite and mission of the mega-state grows. There's no denying it's grown significantly since the 1930.

Construction of the mega-state has gone on under both Democrat and Republican regimes. What Obama is doing is the logical extension of the trajectory the country had been traveling for decades. But the changes until now were too incremental to stir more than minor rebellion. The accelerated pace of Barack Obama's Great Leap Forward -- his fevered rush to finish the edifice Roosevelt laid the foundations for -- has jarred many American awake to the trap into which they've sleepily wandered. And that, not racism or embittered partisanship, is at the root of the ObamaCare backlash and tea party movement.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Science Finally Proves "John Denver Hypothesis"

Sunshine on his shoulders made singer John Denver happy. But CU researchers needed a $500,000 federal grant from the National Science Foundation to finally prove the "John Denver Hypothesis," according to this report in today's Boulder Daily Camera. One major scientific question has been answered. Who said all the big breakthroughs in science have been made?

"CU scientist Christopher Lowry, an assistant professor of integrative physiology, received a $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to continue studying the link between temperature and mood. The grant is paid for with a Faculty Early Career Development Award.

"Whether lying on the beach in the midday sun on a Caribbean island, grabbing a few minutes in the sauna or spa after working or sitting in a hot bath or Jacuzzi in the evening, we often associate feeling warm with a sense of relaxation and well-being," Lowry wrote in a recent edition of the Journal of Psychopharmacology.

Lowry said that people intuitively understand that temperature affects mood, but he is looking to clearly define that link. Understanding these mechanisms might help scientists develop better treatments for depression and other mood disorders, according to Lowry."

Many of us knew, anecdotally, that we tend to feel better on sunny days than on cloudy days. We know from observations that Minnesotans and Michiganders tend to spend their winter breaks in Florida, rather than the other way around. But so what? Science cannot stand on anecdotes and casual observations alone.

Testing the "John Denver Hypothesis" has been a National Science Foundation priority for years. Now, finally, thanks to perseverance and an unconscionable misuse of resources, the case has been cracked: Sunshine on our shoulders does, in fact, make us happy. This wasn't just some pop song-inspired myth.

Now federal dollars can be spent solving the next great scientific question: Do albino alligators really live in the sewers under New York City? The National Science Foundation is standing by now, to take your grant proposals.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Why Fear the Black-Footed Ferret?

I’ve written before about what a mistake I think it is for Fort Carson to volunteer as a testing ground for the reintroduction of black-footed ferrets. I have nothing against ferrets, per se. They seem cuddly and adorable – unless you’re a prairie dog. I just believe American military bases have enough trouble with so-called “encroachment issues” – restrictions on training activities resulting from excessive environmental rules or complaints from NIMBYs – that they shouldn’t invite more of it. That’s exactly what Fort Carson is doing in this case.

Establishing a ferret colony at Fort Carson is just the sort of heart-warming story that earns the base brownie points with animal advocates and environmentalists. It’s good PR. They may rain fire and death on America's enemies, but hey, they're nice to animals. But I fear it will come back to bite the base on the ass if the animals living in this and other experimental colonies win listing as endangered species.

With a listing comes more regulation. With more federal regulation comes restrictions on training. Restrictions on training make bases less useful. Less useful bases end up on closure lists. Closed bases aren’t good for the local economy.

Follow my logic? Folks at Fort Carson obviously don’t.

But maybe this story in the Sept. 8 Billings Gazette will help them see the long-term implications of that they're doing. Here's an excerpt:

Three groups ask feds to protect reintroduced ferrets

CHEYENNE - Three environmental groups say they are petitioning the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect reintroduced populations of black-footed ferrets as endangered.

The federal government already protects black-footed ferrets as an endangered species. But it's a Catch-22: The protection doesn't apply to 17 reintroduced ferret populations in eight states, which are the only black-footed ferrets known to exist in the wild.

Instead of being endangered, they are considered "nonessential experimental" populations.

The groups WildEarth Guardians, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance and Center for Native Ecosystems want three black-footed ferret populations - in western Arizona's Aubrey Valley, southwestern South Dakota's Conata Basin and southeast Wyoming's Shirley Basin - designated as endangered. The groups announced Tuesday that they had submitted an endangered species petition to the Fish and Wildlife Service . . .

. . . . Black-footed ferrets were believed to be extinct in the wild until a population turned up in Wyoming in 1981. The 18 animals remaining in that population soon were rounded up for a captive-breeding program.

Fish and Wildlife began releasing captive-bred ferrets in Wyoming's Shirley Basin in 1991. Subsequent populations have been established in Arizona, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Kansas, South Dakota and Utah.

But only the Arizona, South Dakota and Wyoming populations in the endangered species petition are considered viable, said Erik Molvar, with the Laramie-based Biodiversity Conservation Alliance.”

Fort Carson’s ferret colony isn’t one of the “nonessential experimental” populations the groups want listed, so the base is in no great danger at the moment. But if this lawsuit succeeds, and if Fort Carson ferrets flourish, it won’t be too long before environmental groups are suing to have this colony listed too. That’s not necessarily the end of the world. A number of military facilities continue to function with endangered species on base. But the work-arounds can be costly and the encumbrances can be significant. It’s not something any base would want, much less invite.

It’s a little dated, but here’s a piece I did on the encroachment problem at American military bases back in 2001: link. I think it’s safe to assume things have gotten worse since then. Endangered Species Act rules have become a nightmarish fact of live at many facilities. But this is the first time I’ve seen a base actually courting such problems, thanks to such a stunning lack of foresight.

As the case of the Canada lynx shows, there’s a game of bait-and-switch being played when it comes to experimental populations of endangered species. The federal government promises that the normal regulations and regulations won’t apply at the time of reintroduction. But once the animals are established, and the listing petitions and lawsuits start flying, such agreements aren’t worth bupkis. Colorado agreed to host an experimental population of Canada Lynx back in the Bill Owens era, based on assurances that a tidal wave of new rules wouldn’t follow. But today you have “lynx habitat” being used by federal agencies as a reason to limit ski resort expansions and stop forest thinning projects. The old promises mean nothing. Colorado is being punished for showing the lynx a little compassion.

If Fort Carson commanders are smart, if folks in the Pentagon are smart, they’ll start looking for reasons to quietly back away from this animal rescue mission, which is unrelated and potentially detrimental to the facility’s main purpose. There are better places to put ferret colonies. And there are better uses for military bases.

It's As American As . . .

. . .mom, baseball, apple pie and lawsuits.

Nuff said?

God bless America is right.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The "Climate-Made-Me-Do-It" Defense

First came the insanity defense. Then came the "Twinkie defense." That was followed by "the O.J. defense" -- "You must acquit if the glove doesn't fit." Now comes "the-climate-made-me-do-it" defense (also known as the "save-the-planet" defense).

Tim DeChristopher is a college student and monkey-wrencher who recently made a name for himself by making bogus bids on oil and gas leases in Utah, with no intention of paying, as a seemingly-clever way to protest drilling. But the prank went awry. Rather than laugh the stunt off, the federal government pressed charges, correctly arguing that this was an act of fraud. It was good the feds didn't just slap him on the wrist, because that would encourage copy cats and draw loud protest from energy companies, to whom this isn't a game. But the charges also mean the circus has a few acts to go before the big top can come down.

And a circus is exactly what the trial phase of this story will produce.

DeChristopher quite naturally became an Earth martyr, as gang green rallied to his side. He's gotten hero treatment by the green-leaning media. He retained the legal services of Pat Shea, a Utah lawyer and Democrat Party nabob who briefly ran the Bureau of Land Management in the Clinton years (a job for which he had no apparent qualifications). Celebrity-scientist James Hansen, the NASA employee who leads the Alarmist School in the climate science debate, even showed up for a pro-DeChristopher pep rally in April, turning this criminal case into a cause celebre.

Here's some backstory from The Salt Lake Tribune:

"Bogus bidder: I did it for good of the planet

Monkey-wrencher asks federal court to allow his climate-change defense. By Christopher Smart

In the court of public opinion, Tim DeChristopher always has argued that he monkey-wrenched an oil and gas lease auction to combat the global climate crisis. Now he wants to make that argument in federal court. Attorneys for the University of Utah economics major have filed papers in U.S. District Court contending a federal judge should reject a government motion and allow their client to use his battle against global warming as a defense against two felony charges . . .

. . . Defense lawyer Pat Shea, who oversaw the Bureau of Land Management during the Clinton administration, said Tuesday the Constitution guarantees his client a "full and complete defense, rather than a trimmed defense when the trimming is done by the government."

DeChristopher pleaded not guilty in April to a two-count federal indictment stemming from a Dec. 19, 2008, BLM oil and gas lease auction in which he offered a total of $1.8 million -- admittedly with no intention of paying the money -- to win bids on 14 parcels near Arches and Canyonlands national parks.

In May, U.S. Attorney for Utah Brett Tolman filed a 27-page motion in federal court, arguing that a civil-disobedience defense --- such as fighting the climate crisis -- would inflame a jury and serve only to urge those empaneled not to follow the law.

"Accordingly, at trial," the prosecutor's motion states, "defense counsel should focus the jury's attention on facts and not try to confuse it with appeals based on emotion, sympathy or other similar conclusions."

Some legal experts have said the government is trying to wipe out the civil-disobedience defense because it fears some jurors would side with DeChristopher -- despite his acknowledgement that he placed bogus bids on the parcels. At the same time, without that defense, experts have said the U. student may not stand a chance against the charges.

Shea said federal prosecutors have the burden to prove DeChristopher's guilt. "They want a straight rendition of the facts that transpired on Dec. 19, 2008," Shea said. "We want a contextual examination of those events within the parameters of global warming."

If Shea's "contextual examination" squeaks into federal court, this may become more than a sideshow. It could become the Scopes Monkey Trial of climate change -- a Scopes Climate Trial, if you will -- in which the validity of global warming theory becomes the center of debate, not the guilt or innocence of a monkey-wrencher. A jury of laypersons will be called on to settle the matter, not scientists.

Where this could lead, and what precedent a "not guilty" verdict would set, is anyone's guess. But it could be ominous.

We can imagine who the defendant's lawyers might call to the stand, in making the case that almost anything is justified, including criminal acts, in the name of "saving the planet." Hansen, of course. He can resist anything but the spotlight. Activist-Actor Robert Redford, one of the inspirations behind the anti-drilling protests in Utah, might be called. Maybe even a certain former Vice President would testify. How might that sway a jury? Talk about a circus!

But how tenacious would federal prosecutors be in making the case for the Cautiously Skeptical School of climate science, given that they work for an administration that's clearly sided with alarmists in the climate debate? Would prosecutors be tempted to pull punches, or rely on less-than-credible, C Team witnesses?

Shea probably already imagines himself in the role of Clarence Darrow (although given the attention this trial will attract, he may quickly be pushed aside by more established celebrity-lawyers -- Alan Dershowitz leaps to mind -- reaching for Darrow-like immortality). But who will do the lawyering, and play William Jennings Bryan, for the feds? Will they bring the A Team (such as it is)? Or will this fall to some second-string Justice Department stiff, with a cobweb in his ear, tossed into the maelstrom as a sacrificial offering to Gaia?

The imagination runs wild.

There's recently been talk in Washington -- link -- about the need for putting climate science on "trial." The idea is being pushed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in response to EPA plans to regulate so-called "greenhouse gases."

From The Los Angeles Times:

Chamber Threatens Lawsuit if EPA Rejects Climate Science 'Trial'

The nation's largest business group is asking U.S. EPA to hold a public debate on climate change science -- or face litigation -- as the agency prepares to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act.

In April, EPA said it planned to declare that emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride from new automobiles and their engines contribute to air pollution that endangers public health and welfare. The proposal, which does not include any regulations, comes in response to the Supreme Court's 2007 Massachusetts v. EPA ruling.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce filed a 21-page petition with EPA today, asking the agency to approve an on-the-record proceeding with an independent trier of fact who would allow EPA and environmental and business groups to engage in a "credible weighing" of the scientific evidence that global warming endangers human health. EPA has hosted two public hearings and received more than 300,000 public comments on the matter already.

"They don't have the science to support the endangerment finding," Bill Kovacs, the chamber's vice president for environment, regulatory and government affairs, said in an interview. "We can't just take their word for it."

Kovacs envisions the EPA proceeding as a modern-day "Scopes Monkey Trial," where the science of global warming -- rather than evolution versus creationism -- would be debated. The 1925 trial, which pitted prominent defense attorney Clarence Darrow against three-time presidential candidate Williams Jennings Bryan, centered on the prosecution of John Scopes for violating a Tennessee law by teaching evolution in a high school classroom.

But be careful what you wish for.

The Chamber's "trial" would take place in a controlled environment, before "an independent trier of fact." It would have the flavor of an academic exercise. And there might be some value in it. What's shaping up in Utah would be far different. There you could have a circus-atmosphere jury trail, in which grandstanding lawyers, celebrity witnesses, hyper-technical evidence and a likable, well-meaning defendant could produce an irrational verdict from a jury of scientific illiterates (if they're representative of typical Americans).

And what if, at the end of the day, the "climate-made-me-do-it defense" works for DeChristopher? Although it's doubtful such a verdict would permanently settle the science -- Darwinism still is being debated more than 80 years after the Scopes trial -- it would certainly embolden a whole new generation of monkey-wrenchers, who will feel licensed to break the law as long as it's for a good of the planet. Where might that lead us? Where does the rule of law stand then?

The implications are ominous.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Speech

The speech Obama will give American school kids later today is a decent one, as you can see for yourself: link. It's not overtly political. It's only mildly self-serving. Anything smacking too much of either would have been purged from early drafts by the time it was made public yesterday, given the controversy. It says many of the things most American parents already have said to their kids, ad nauseum, if they're any kind of parent at all.

Obama's speech might inspire some young Americans to take their studies more seriously; to not sass their teachers, to set lofty goals, to shoot for the stars, etc. It will do the most good, arguably, for those kids who never hear their parents deliver such pep talks, or demand higher standards. But I still believe it's inappropriate, for the reasons presented in an earlier post.

Most of what this annoyingly-verbose president says in a 20-minute speech could have been said, probably with more impact, in a series of 30- or 60-second Ad Council PSAs, which could be aired on networks where young people tune in. That would have been a much more effective means of delivering the message, with no need to disrupt school days or stir dissension in the ranks. This sort of 20-minute soliloquy might work well in the U.S. Senate, and will probably have many left-leaning teachers spellbound. But it will probably have many students tuning-out or nodding-off half way through.

This president loves to hear himself talk -- he's "intoxicated with his own verbosity," as my dad used to say. And he can blather on with the best of them. But it's arrogant and presumptuous of him (or any president of either party) to ask American public schools to furnish him with a captive audience, on demand. I think it sets a bad precedent that invites future mischief.

Will the Presidential Pep Talk to Students become an annual ritual, ala the State of the Union Address? Obama did it, so the next president, and the president after her, will want to do it, too. And why shouldn't the president also give an annual Presidential Address to High School Graduates, or a National Presidential Commencement Speech? And how long before more politics creeps into such messages? You can see the slippery slope that beckons.

This is nothing but an ego trip -- another opportunity for the imperial president to pose and preen and lecture Americans. And if a president isn't willing to respect any boundaries, in terms of invading the lives of supposedly sovereign-citizens, the citizens will have to tell the president that there are certain lines he or she shouldn't cross -- starting at the school house door. We didn't do that in this case. We'll come to regret it in the long-run.

Americans (including school kids) already are bombarded by the images, words and actions of the president, making that person appear god-like in stature. But he's simply supposed to serve as chief executive, in a system of divided powers and checks and balances. His powers are limited. He's just a cog in a machine that works for "we the people." And that's what young Americans should be learning in school.

Instead, they're required to assemble like sheep, to hear from our glorious leader, lecturer-in-chief Barack Obama. The office of president is taking on the attributes of a personality cult. This sort of thing doesn't help.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Hunting for Sanity

A long-overdue culling of the federal wolf pack has begun in Idaho. Robert Millage of Kamiah was the first lucky hunter to turn in a tag, bagging an 80-pound female with a .243 rifle in the northern part of the state. "I guess it was the luck of the draw," Millage humbly said.

Though what he did was perfectly legal, and something that's necessary if the size of the burgeoning federal wolf pack is to be kept in check, Millage himself then became a target -- of loose-screw wolf-worshipers who live in a world of Disney-inspired nature fantasies, where man and beast happily coexist. But so it goes in the Rocky Mountain wolf wars. The only thing more vicious than wolves killing sheep is humans fighting over wolves.

If I seem to take delight in the kill, don't get me wrong. I'm not some bloodthirsty, kill-everything-that-moves nut, or a woodsman out to rescue Little Red Riding Hood. It's just that Idaho's wolf hunt signals the triumph of sanity over insanity, reason over unreasonableness, in the decade-long debate over how "wild" the "new West" can be. It means that against long odds, and an army of screaming green weenies, Western states are poised to begin responsibly managing wolf packs that were foist upon them by Washington against their will. And not a minute too soon, given the growing toll these animals are taking on Westerners.

From a recent edition of The Idaho Statesman:

"Kathy Konen has lost guard dogs to wolves in the past, but nothing prepared the Dillon (Montana) rancher for the killing of 120 buck sheep on their ranch last week. "They were in the sagebrush, on the creek bottom — just all over the pasture," Konen said Thursday during a telephone interview before heading up to check cattle. "It's a terrible loss to our livestock program . . .

. . . The total included 82 confirmed kills and 40 carcasses that were classified as probable kills, including some that had been eaten by bears. The attack occurred on private land the Konens own. "That's a lot all in one incident," Sime said.The sheep were just killed and yet the carcasses were almost all intact, Konen said. "They didn't eat what they killed, most of them were just brought down," she said. "I don't know whether they were teaching their pups or what."

It's not the first attack that the Konens have had this summer. They lost 26 sheep to wolves in the same pasture in July, she said. After that attack FWP authorized federal trappers to remove three wolves that had been observed in the area. Trappers shot and killed a gray coated wolf and shot another black one that got away but was believed to be mortally wounded. The third wolf, another black one, got away."

Here's another recent wolf kill story, in this case from Oregon. Such reports used to be rare. Today they appear regularly.

I'm not anti-wolf. I'm not opposed to "re-wilding" efforts when and where they make sense. But the federal wolf reintroduction program has gone from a laudable success to a looming menace, with wolf populations -- which are spilling over state borders and increasing by 20 percent per annum -- growing unmanageable. Livestock kills are steadily rising. Federal workers are running around the countryside, trying to babysit the animals. The effort to restore some textbook "natural balance" teeters in some places toward imbalance, as the wolves begin to eat their way through elk and deer herds. The "experiment" has gotten out of hand.

But rather than acknowledge a success and be reasonable, wildlife advocates have fought every effort to bring some sanity and discipline to the re-wilding effort. States have had to fight to get wolves delisted, fight to win the right to manage the animals, fight for the right to hold hunts. As program benchmarks have been reached and exceeded, animal activists have shifted the goal posts or attempted to change the rules, as in New Mexico and Arizona, where backers of the less-successful effort to reintroduce Mexican wolves (that's another blog post) are trying to end the three strikes rule on livestock-killers.

States that have (sometimes reluctantly) done their parts to make this effort work are now feeling double-crossed by animal advocates, who keep changing the rules of the game. I know most environmentalists are hopeless pessimists. But surely some of them must have given thought to what might happen if wolf numbers grew larger than what's practical in today's more densely-populated, heavily-recreated "new West."

Surely they knew that wolves would at some point have to be managed, just as deer, elk, bear, cougar and other species are managed, in order to keep the populations healthy while minimizing human-animal conflicts. Surely they don't really believe that managing the pack opens the door to another "war on the wolf," or that the feds would passively stand by as the states wipe the animals out?

This is the moment that separates reasonable and responsible wildlife advocates from the environmentally retarded and the complete kooks. And it's clear that the kooks are setting the agenda.

The Spokane (Wash.) Spokesman-Review had a balanced editorial on the subject, which included the following points:

"The hunting period opened Tuesday in the first two of Idaho’s 12 wolf management zones, and although more than 11,000 tags were sold, only three animals had been taken as the weekend approached. That’s hardly a slaughter, and it’s no indication that the impressive gains of the past 14 years are likely to be reversed.

Consider that the restoration effort began in Idaho with the import of 35 wolves. By 2007, the population was about 650; it’s now up to some 1,000. Federal authorities say that the wolf population throughout the Northern Rockies has exceeded the law’s goals every year since 2002.

Now that the animal has been delisted and its management turned over to the states, the law requires that the population be managed to stay above an absolute minimum of 100 animals with 10 breeding pairs, although the feds would start talking about relisting when the numbers dropped to 150 animals and 15 breeding pairs.

Even if all 220 allowed wolf kills happen this season, the surviving wolf numbers will be well above those figures, and Idaho officials know from experience that if they get careless in their duty, the feds won’t hesitate to step back in."

"It’s not the hunting that needs to come to an end now," the newspaper concludes, "it’s the litigation."

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Parental President

Gazette columnist Barry Noreen thinks parents who worry about Barack Obama's address to school kids are all paranoids or ideologues. What's the big deal, asks Barry? Other presidents have tried to manipulate school kids, or have used school kids as props and pawns. Shouldn't this president get his shot at it?

I think Barry is too cavalier in his analysis and conclusions.

What Obama is proposing -- a captive audience with all American school kids -- isn't analogous to the cases he points to, as examples of other presidents reaching out to school kids. School houses have served as backdrops for many presidential photo-ops, as when President George W. Bush went to a Maryland school to tout No Child Left Behind. But that event was aimed not at winning over school kids, or teachers, but at getting his mug on the nightly news and influencing adults. That's not the same as demanding an audience with all school kids, while they are in school.

George W. Bush did ask American school kids to donate a dollar to help Afghan children -- but he didn't do that during some national address to school kids. So once again, Noreen's analogies don't hold up. George Bush senior did hold a "kids symposium" on space, but I'll bet Barry Noreen a 6 pack of cerveza that this was narrowly targeted to a subset of students, or science classes. I would be shocked if he can show me that all American school kids served as a captive
audience for that one.

These aren't analogous situations, in short. And even if some Republican president did do it before Obama did it, so what? That doesn't make it right. Presidents should serve as good role models and govern wisely, acting with the welfare of children in mind. But they shouldn't drag kids into adult policy disputes. That crosses the line. The "Bush did it" argument doesn't fly with most real conservatives or libertarians, who understand that neither Bush was a champion of limited government ideas, and that both men had a hand in drawing the GOP into the statist camp, landing it squarely where it is today.

I think this event does seem unprecedented. And I can understand why some parents would object to it, even on non-ideological grounds. I'm uncomfortable with it not because I disagree with Obama, or because I think one presidential address will turn American school kids into an army of little Obamatons, bent on bringing their skeptical parents into line with his agenda. I also have no problem with kids taking an interest in politics and the president -- I'm delighted when they do.

It just strikes me as arrogant and presumptuous -- smacking of an "imperial presidency" -- for a president to demand a captive audience of all American school kids, while they are at school and when parents can't be there to contextualize what they're told. That's something that Castro or Chavez or Putin could get away with. All self-respecting totalitarians make a play for the kids. But I'm not surprised that it strikes some Americans as creepy or "Orwellian."

What precedent might this set for the future? Presidents (of both parties) will now assume they can talk directly to school kids whenever they please. Obama might just want to give a pep talk about education. Fine. But maybe next he'll want to pass along some important information about health issues: smoking is bad; obesity is bad; don't forget to use a condom; look both ways before crossing.

And what else might future presidents want to lecture kids about? War? Health care? The environment? Energy policy? Social Security (today's school kids will be carrying this ponzi scheme on their backs, after all)? A slippery slope beckons. And this could set the precedent for a lot of mischief, not just with Obama but with presidents that follow.

I know Obama is anxious to finish construction on the American nanny state, but we don't need a parental president. And many American parents may resent seeing him trying to assume that role. This speech almost seems as if it's designed to remove parents from the equation, which there's already far too much of in the education arena.

The timing also raises red flags. Obama's numbers are tanking. The halo he wore inauguration day is in danger of falling off. The media that showered him with roses is now sticking him with thorns. Obama's "good war" in Afghanistan is a bloody mess. With health care not working for it, the White House is just dying for a subject change.

Maybe a presidential pep talk to school kids would help turn things around; you can almost hear the sprockets spinning in Rahm Emanuel's head. Political calculation is written all over this, in other words. It's driven by political cynicism, not sincerity.

Obama should direct this speech to American families, not just students, since we all know that families are the key to educational success. And he should deliver his speech not during the school day, to a largely captive audience, but in the evening, when students and their parents can opt in or out as they choose, without peer pressure or coercion being part of it. Students who want to will be free to listen. Students who don't won't have to sit in the study hall, or stay home from school for a day, or ask for special permission. Parents can be there to help contextualize what's being said.

I don't think most Americans would have a problem with that, whether or not they support Obama.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Dionne's Double Standard

Stop the presses!

Put out a bulldog edition!

The Washington Post's E.J. Dionne says today that there's now "overwhelming" evidence that the most boisterous people at the most raucous town hall meetings got too much media attention during the August recess. This distorted the picture of the nation's real mood, he says. Unbalanced coverage might be influencing policymakers! All the focus on the naysayers may have derailed ObamaCare.

But why so surprised? Of course the cameras tended to focus on the screamers and fist-shakers. Of course microphones get shoved in the mugs of people who mouth-off. That's the way it's been since the advent of television news. And the electronic media's attraction to loudmouths has been something the left has used to great political advantage since the 1960s, when a relative handful of radicals -- people far out of the American mainstream -- learned that they could dominate the news and political debate just by throwing a public fit.

Funny that Dionne only takes note of this, or finds something untoward about it, when those grabbing the spotlight aren't on the left. Dionne has been in the news biz for decades. Surely he's noticed how it feeds on conflict and controversy. He must have noticed how it paints a distorted picture of America.

Six hippies chain themselves to a logging truck, to protest the end of old growth forests. Cameras are there. Politicians take notice. No complaints from E.J.. Nine nuns gather at the gates of an air force base, praying to end the nuclear arms race. Cameras are there. Politicians take notice. No complaints from E.J.. A pair of animal rights protesters splash blood on a celebrity, found guilt of wearing a fur. Cameras are there. Politicians take notice. No complaints from E.J.. One overwrought and unbalanced mother, grieving the loss of a soldier-son, stalks the president wherever he goes. Cameras are there. Politicians pile on. No complaints from E.J..

Then comes August, 2009. Thousands of people begin mobbing congressional town hall meetings, anxious about the direction the country is going. Apathy turns to anger. Normally easy-going Americans begin jeering the political platitudes. Cameras are there. Politicians take notice. But only now do we hear objections from E.J.. Only now does he ask whether the media is being manipulated. Only now does he wonder whether a vocal minority is wielding too much influence.

The tree-huggers, the nuns, the PETA people, the Cindy Sheehans: none of these lunatics represent "mainstreet America." Yet for decades they've held the media spotlight, almost at will, exercising more influence than they deserve, with nary a peep of protest from left-wingers like Dionne. But when the "silent majority" from real mainstreet America is finally pushed to the point of rebellion by a radical in the White House, and starts raising its voice in protest, people like Dionne want to dismiss the phenomenon as a right wing media creation.

I have a three word response. Un. Fing. Believable.