Sunday, January 31, 2010

Nuclear Retractor

President Obama was sounding bullish on nuclear energy in his State of the Union speech, but he's been sheepish on the storage of spent nuclear fuels, having driven a stake in the heart of the best option available, at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. Last week he was calling for additional power plants; a budget he released this week didn't include a dime for dealing realistically with the hazardous byproducts. The gap between rhetoric and reality is jarring, even for Obama.

It's evidently a ploy to win Republican support for a climate bill, as this Washington Post piece explains. It may also be a case of the president chasing the polls, in a bid to recapture the middle. But Obama's credibility on the issue is shaky at best.

The president made killing Yucca Mountain a campaign promise, in a bid to woo Nevada voters and curry favor with gang green. It's one campaign promise he actually kept. Now, one year later, having dealt the prospect of a nuclear energy revival a staggering blow, he comes out in the State of the Union as an advocate for new plants. He's a champion of nuclear power, rhetorically, but opposes the most logical and secure waste storage option available -- a solution he nixed after decades of study and tens of billions of dollars were spent. Will the real Barack Obama please stand up?

The president proposes "a tripling of government loan guarantees for new nuclear reactors to more than $54 billion," reports Reuters. Yet the Department Of Energy has been dragging its feet on releasing loan guarantees already available. Loan guarantees aren't enough if power providers have no assurance that the regulatory and political climate will remain as hostile as it has been. And no such assurances are possible when the president says one thing and does another.

The president also announced the "formation of a panel to consider the future of nuclear waste storage, including alternatives to a proposed site at Yucca Mountain in Nevada," Reuters reports -- which sends the country back to a drawing board it began scribbling on 30 years ago. The panel will explore every option -- except the most obvious one. It's not allowed to revisit Yucca Mountain. Dusted-off Washington retreads Lee Hamilton and Brent Scowcroft will lead the effort. I guess James Baker was unavailable. Who else would chair a blue ribbon commission that begins its work with its hands tied behind its back?

You can begin work on a new generation of nuclear power plants without resolving the waste storage problem, at least in the short-run, but that's risky, given the strength of the no-nukes lobby. Going back to the drawing board erroneously presumes that no-nukers eventually will embrace a reasonable solution, which they won't.

Republicans should insist that Obama reverse his position on Yucca Mountain before they even consider support for a climate measure. Anything less and they're being played for suckers.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Osama bin Loco

"Osama bin Laden sought to draw a wider public into his fight against the United States in a new message Friday," reports the AP, "dropping his usual talk of religion and holy war and focusing instead on an unexpected topic: global warming."

But why is this choice of topic so "unexpected," given that a blind faith in global warming theory has itself become a religion, which true believers adhere to with a holy warrior's zeal. This new religion is called Catastrophism. Its catechism is taught by Al Gore (a former divinity school student, not coincidently) and his ilk. Its messianic mission is "saving the planet," by restoring a lost Eden to this wickedly wasteful and despoiled world. Followers do penance for their environmental sins by reusing grocery bags, driving hybrids and buying offsets for their "carbon footprints."

That Obama's latest tirade echoes the rhetoric and themes of environmentalism should surprise no one. Fanatics of the feather flock together.

Obama's statements, with only slight modulation, faithfully mimic what you hear from many environmentalists, whose agenda is as much about economic revolution as ecological protection. "The world is held hostage by major corporations, which are pushing it to the brink," he said on the latest tape. "World politics are not governed by reason but by the force and greed of oil thieves and warmongers and the cruel beasts of capitalism." Obama decries America's failure to sign the Kyoto treaty. He calls for the "wheels of the American economy" to be brought to a halt. "This is possible," he says, "if the peoples of the world stop consuming American goods."

Obama is saying such things for effect, according to an expert quoted by the AP. "The change in rhetoric aims to give al-Qaida's message an appeal beyond hardcore Islamic militants, said Evan Kohlmann, of, a private, U.S.-based terrorism analysis group," reports the wire service. "If you're looking to draw people who are disenchanted or disillusioned, what better issue to use than global warming?" Kohlmann asks.

But environmentalists say such things because they actually believe them. And that, in my opinion, is even more alarming.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The "Historian" Who Hated America

I take no personal delight in the death of histrionic "historian" Howard Zinn, despite the unhealthy and warping influence his revisionist, left-leaning text books have had on an untold number of school kids. I only wish his "People's History of the United States" could so easily be expunged from school bookshelves.

The propaganda will outlive the propagandist, unfortunately. That's what I'm grieving over.

So far out of the mainstream was Zinn's interpretation of U.S. history that even the late Arthur Schlesinger Jr. -- no slouch as a liberal -- called Zinn a "polemicist, not a historian." Yet that never prevented Zinn's texts from winning wide acceptance among educrats, who inflicted his politically-motivated distortions on impressionable young minds. He also developing a cult following among the fashionably left wing, including fellow revisionist Oliver Stone, as the following write-up indicates.

From the Associated Press:

"Howard Zinn, an author, teacher and political activist whose leftist "A People's History of the United States" sold millions of copies to become an alternative to mainstream texts and a favorite of such celebrities as Bruce Springsteen and Ben Affleck, died Wednesday. He was 87.
Zinn died of a heart attack in Santa Monica, Calif., daughter Myla Kabat-Zinn said.

Published in 1980 with little promotion and a first printing of 5,000, "A People's History" was — fittingly — a people's bestseller, attracting a wide audience through word of mouth and reaching 1 million sales in 2003. Although Zinn was writing for a general readership, his book was taught in high schools and colleges throughout the country, and numerous companion editions were published, including "Voices of a People's History" and a volume for young people.

At a time when few politicians dared even call themselves liberal, "A People's History" told an openly left-wing story. Zinn charged Christopher Columbus and other explorers with genocide, picked apart presidents from Andrew Jackson to Franklin D. Roosevelt and celebrated workers, feminists and war resisters.

Even liberal historians were uneasy with Zinn. Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. once said: "I know he regards me as a dangerous reactionary. And I don't take him very seriously. He's a polemicist, not a historian."

In a 1998 interview with The Associated Press, Zinn acknowledged he was not trying to write an objective history, or a complete one. He called his book a response to traditional works, the first chapter — not the last — of a new kind of history.

"There's no such thing as a whole story; every story is incomplete," Zinn said. "My idea was the orthodox viewpoint has already been done a thousand times."

"A People's History" had some famous admirers, including Matt Damon and Affleck. The two grew up near Zinn, were family friends and gave the book a plug in their Academy Award-winning screenplay for "Good Will Hunting." When Affleck nearly married Jennifer Lopez, Zinn was on the guest list.

Oliver Stone was a fan, as well as Springsteen, whose bleak "Nebraska" album was inspired in part by "A People's History." The book also inspired a 2007 documentary, "Profit Motive and the Whispering Wind." It even showed up on "The Sopranos," in the hand of Tony's son, A.J.

Zinn himself was an impressive-looking man, tall and rugged with wavy silver-gray hair. An experienced public speaker, he was modest and engaging in person, more interested in persuasion than in confrontation."

That Zinn became the teacher of so many American students is another indictment of a system that often seems more interested in political indoctrination than real education.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Travels with Tax Collectors

Heading out to Miami today for a funeral -- which is why my blogging will be sporadic at best for the next 3 or 4 days. I found a pretty good deal on a rental car, with a daily rate of around $25, costing me around $100 for 4 days. But when all the taxes, fees and other charges are tacked-on, the total price jumps by nearly 50 percent!

Here are the add-ons:

Facility Charge $15.80

Concession Fee Rec $10.56

Energy Recovery Fee $1.80

Florida Surcharge $8.08

State Tax $8.41

Vehicle License Fee $1.88

Total Est. Mandatory Charges $46.53

When we Americans travel, whether for business or pleasure or for funerals, we become a moving but easy target for tax collectors of all stripes. And I, for one, resent the never-ending shakedowns. It's taxation without representation of the most egregious sort. But because it targets transients -- travelers who are only passing through and can't voice objections -- the taxes can be levied with complete impunity.

I haven't taken a close look at my air ticket, but it too will be loaded with additional fees and charges, which will greatly inflate the cost of this trip. My hotel bill will also be heavily padded with taxes -- taxes that are levied on me without my consent, by local or state politicos I didn't elect, and which benefit me not a whit.

I'm not sure what can be done about traveler taxes. Even we in Colorado Springs are guilty of doing it, with our LART, for instance. But my resentment at becoming a prime target for tax collectors every time that I travel makes me all the more reluctant to use similar tactics on out-of-towners who visit Colorado Springs. It's inhospitable. It's opportunistic. It's the modern equivalent of highway robbery.

"Do onto others as you would have them do onto you," is probably a good rule to follow. But whether that sort of high-minded (and apparently archaic) precept will dissuade the highway robbers of the present day is doubtful.

I'll be back from Florida -- a lot less light in the pocket -- early next week.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Study Not the Evil Weed

The debate over the legality of medical marijuana was settled by Colorado voters back in the year 2000, when they wrote partial legalization, for medical purposes, into the state Constitution. But voters didn't and couldn't settle the question of whether medicinal marijuana actually helps people, and works as advertised -- something that opponents of legalization continue to raise doubts about.

Hundreds of thousands of Americans seem to think MMJ helps them in some way: thus the explosion of dispensaries and grow operations in states where it's legal (which include New Jersey, as of yesterday). Yet doubters and scoffers still abound, who believe this is all a massive scam, perpetrated by potheads who just want to get the law off their backs.

One major reason the science remains unsettled, and the debate rages on, is the federal government's "just say no" policy on the study of medical marijuana, spotlighted in this story in today's New York Times. The hurdles the feds have erected to MMJ-related research allow legalization opponents to continually raise doubts about efficacy even while blocking studies that might help settle the question.

Talk about a massive scam.

Here's an excerpt from the Times:

"Despite the Obama administration’s tacit support of more liberal state medical marijuana laws, the federal government still discourages research into the medicinal uses of smoked marijuana. That may be one reason that — even though some patients swear by it — there is no good scientific evidence that legalizing marijuana’s use provides any benefits over current therapies.

Lyle E. Craker, a professor of plant sciences at the University of Massachusetts, has been trying to get permission from federal authorities for nearly nine years to grow a supply of the plant that he could study and provide to researchers for clinical trials.

But the Drug Enforcement Administration — more concerned about abuse than potential benefits — has refused, even after the agency’s own administrative law judge ruled in 2007 that Dr. Craker’s application should be approved, and even after Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. in March ended the Bush administration’s policy of raiding dispensers of medical marijuana that comply with state laws.

“All I want to be able to do is grow it so that it can be tested,” Dr. Craker said in comments echoed by other researchers.

Marijuana is the only major drug for which the federal government controls the only legal research supply and for which the government requires a special scientific review.

“The more it becomes clear to people that the federal government is blocking these studies, the more people are willing to defect by using politics instead of science to legalize medicinal uses at the state level,” said Rick Doblin, executive director of a nonprofit group dedicated to researching psychedelics for medical uses."

How the scientific debate plays out is of secondary importance to me, since I'm of the school that says adults should be free to use whatever herbal, pharmaceutical or spiritual remedies they choose, as long as they educate themselves about (and take responsibility for) any adverse consequences, and as long as they harm no one else in the process. I know people who swear by vitamins, others who turn to herbal elixirs, still others who dance around trees during the Winter Solstice, searching for health and happiness. Some sit near light boxes to fight Seasonal Affective Disorder. I once knew a chiropractor who prescribed coffee ground enemas as part of a "cleansing program."

There's a lot of quackery out there; a lot of snake oil, in different packages, being sold, with and without a doctor's precription. There's a lot of searching for answers, and cures, for our physical and psychological maladies. I just happen to believe that government in a free society should play a minor role in policing such activities. If some Americans are turning to medicinal marijuana for comfort, what business is it of mine, or of government, to tell them they can't -- or to tell them that this really doesn't work, even though they think it does?

That's a bigger question for me than whether the science is settled.

But as long as critics of medical marijuana continue to hang their objections on science, it's only right that they work to facilitate, not block, research in the field. The federal government supports research on virtually everything else, from the mating habits of fruit bats to the childhood origins of road rage, yet it enforces a virtual ban on MMJ-related research.

What, except for stubborn political prejudice, explains this stupid double standard?

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Blind Faith

Sometimes I get really annoyed with Denver Post columnist Vince Carroll. I guess it's a case of pundit envy.

He keeps writing the columns that I would be and should be writing, if only I had the time (and the skill). He did it again this week with a piece on New Energy Economics, a field of theory that has nothing to do with Real World Economics, as Carroll points out. But trying to reason with people on so-called "green energy" is like trying to get a Jihadist to join a kibbutz. It's a discussion, as Carroll point out, in which reason doesn't apply and trying to make sense is a waste of time.

Here's an excerpt:

"Maybe he needn't worry about making sense. A surprising number of Americans seem to believe the normal rules of economics and government investment don't apply to clean energy — that subsidies, for example, create more jobs than they destroy. Recently, when an Associated Press-Stanford University survey asked people whether policies to combat global warming "would cause there to be more jobs, fewer jobs or wouldn't affect the number of jobs," 40 percent said more jobs, 33 said "no effect" and only 23 percent said "fewer."

The most sensible answer — "government industrial policy is almost never an efficient way to allocate resources, so I'm guessing job growth will be slower as a result" — wasn't even an option.

Most commentators who support growing subsidies for clean energy dismiss the possibility that the money might do as much or more good invested, say, in other cutting edge technologies where the returns would be higher. Or, if they're like The New York Times' Thomas Friedman, they simply ignore the inevitable trade-offs. Friedman tirelessly promotes the idea that "building a clean-power economy" at government direction and support will make us "stronger, more innovative and more energy independent" — without ever asking the question, as George Mason professor Don Boudreaux points out, "compared to what?"

As Boudreaux explained on his blog, "How can Mr. Friedman be so sure that the benefits of windmills, solar panels, and battery-powered electric cars will exceed the costs of making — will exceed in value that which must be foregone to make — these green fetishes a reality?

"Of course, he cannot be sure. Not even close. Like so many other pundits, Mr. Friedman simply ignores, or arbitrarily discounts, the costs of turning his oh-so-lovely daydreams into quotidian actuality."

Last week, The Wall Street Journal's Jeffrey Ball reported that "government spending and price supports accounted for about one-third of the roughly $145 billion invested worldwide in clean energy in 2009 . . . ." Little wonder that under the Obama stimulus plan, "renewable energy producers are eligible for cash grants totaling 50 percent of the cost of projects they do this year — however high those costs go."

At what point does this gusher of subsidies become a scandal?"

Not any time soon, apparently.

It's not just the subsidies but the government mandates that are helping to prop-up an "industry" that can't stand on its own, an "economy" that makes no real market sense. Carroll points out that members of the Church of New Energy Economics, Colorado Chapter, are preparing to push for even higher statewide renewable energy production quotas this legislative session.

Heaven help the common ratepayers of Colorado if they succeed.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Medical Marijuana and "hypocrisy"

"I would rather have legalization than have that widespread government-sanctioned hypocrisy,” Attorney General John Suthers said in Wednesday’s Denver Post, regarding action the legislature might or might not take on medical marijuana this session. But when did it become the attorney general’s job to police “hypocrisy,” rather than criminality? If that’s his job he could charge himself with a violation, based on that statement alone.

Suthers opposes legalization of any kind, even if it would end the alleged “hypocrisy.” He has for as long as I’ve been paying attention. He’s simply having trouble adapting to new realities, so he wants to roll the clock back as far and as fast as he can. He has plenty of colleagues in law enforcement (and a good number of politicians) willing to join him in that effort. But there’s a bit of “hypocrisy” on that side as well.

Americans can dose themselves and their children with massive quantities of any pharmacy-bought drug — drugs that are widely abused and aren’t always safe, even with FDA approval. They can sop their brains with alcohol, as long as they don’t get behind the wheel while under the influence. But if some of them find answers to their physical or psychological maladies in the “evil weed,” Suthers raises red flags.

Does that constitute “hypocrisy”? It’s “inconsistency,” or a case of “cognitive dissonance,” at the very least.

Medical marijuana use has been legal in Colorado for nearly a decade, like it or not. Yet providers and patients have had to operate in the shadows, fearing that abiding by the state Constitution would invite a federal drug bust. And Suthers, who is sworn to uphold the state Constitution, was content with that arrangement, in which a legal, constitutionally-sanctioned activity was treated as an illegal one. He was content to have law-abiding Coloradans slink around like common criminals. Instead of siding with Coloradans, and Colorado’s Constitution, Suthers and his predecessors sided with the George W. Bush Justice Department, which was also stuck in the “just say no” era.

Does that constitute “hypocrisy”? Some might say so.

The AG’s major complaint about MMJ, as I understand it, is that it’s all a giant scam—a back door path to legalization. He, like a lot of law enforcers, look back fondly on a time when the “drug war” battle lines were boldly drawn in the sand. Use of pot for any purposes was prohibited. Drug-busters were the good guys, marijuana-users the bad. Partial legalization complicates their jobs. It’s disorienting. It goes against deeply ingrained (but largely personal) prejudices.

Suthers is nostalgic for that simpler time, because it made his job easier. But policy isn’t and shouldn’t be made for the convenience of attorney generals. His personal prejudices about pot and potheads are largely beside the point. And if he can’t adapt to the new situation, and defend Colorado’s Constitution, he should go back to private practice.

I’m not an advocate for medical marijuana, or non-medical marijuana. I don’t doubt there’s some abuse of the new system (such as it is) going on. And, yes, I’m sure some out there view the medical marijuana movement as a circuitous route to full legalization. But I am an advocate for freedom, reason, limited government, states’ rights and constitutionalism (both state and federal), which in this case puts me at odds with an attorney general who (at least on paper) espouses some of these same values.

Is it “government-sanctioned hypocrisy” to move forward – to deal with the new reality constructively, creatively and compassionately? I see far greater hypocrisy in claiming to uphold the state Constitution with one hand, while trying to undermine it with the other.

Thanks to the Denver Post for publishing a version of this post today.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Calling All Water Warriors

Just what Colorado needs: another invitation to fight over water.

State Rep. Sal Pace, a Democrat from Pueblo, apparently doesn't believe there's enough water-related conflict in Colorado. That's why he'll introduce a bill in the 2010 session that seems designed to ratchet tensions to new highs. The measure will prohibit district-to-district water transfers unless the recipient can negotiate a "mitigation agreement" with the originating district addressing ecological and economic impacts. It invites one water district to shakedown the other, in short -- which may explain the appeal in Pueblo -- despite the fact that these are private transactions between willing buyers and willing sellers.

Measuring the alleged ecological or economic impacts of water transfers can be a tricky business, since this often confuses chicken with egg. Most rural areas are economically depressed not because residents are selling water rights; residents are selling water rights because rural areas are economically depressed. Cash transfers from urban areas to rural areas -- which is what this is all about -- may make rural folk feel less like victims, temporarily. But it won't revive the agricultural sector or address its root economic problems. Like many other forms of government intervention -- farm subsidies, price supports, ethanol mandates, milk quotas -- this will be a temporary crutch, not a long-term answer.

Pace's bill will erect new barriers to a statewide water market, drive up costs for water users, gum-up water transfers in red tape and create more conflict -- while doing little to enhance the long-term viability of rural economies. It penalizes water sellers as well as water buyers, since sales could be delayed or derailed if mitigation agreements can't be agreed upon, or if they end up in court.

The freedom of people to sell or buy water will be impaired, which amounts to an impairment of their water rights -- which are really property rights. And we all suffer when these rights get watered down. So let's hope Sal Pace's bill goes gurgling down the drain.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Free Charlie Toups

When a ski bum can face prison time for daring to defy the feds, and for being "openly hostile to the government," this country is definitely on the slippery slope to tyranny.

The intolerance of the individual; heavy-handed law enforcement; rules and regulations rigidity; eviction of the people from "public lands;" creeping authoritarianism: A lot of what's wrong with this country can be found in this story from today's Denver Post. The real "danger to the community" isn't an eccentric ski bum who lives in a truck, but those (like U.S. Attorney Michelle Heldmyer) who are turning this otherwise harmless man into a criminal.

Is this really still the "land of the free"? It's hard to read this story and think so.

From behind bars, hard-core ski bum defies authorities

GEORGETOWN — Charlie Toups is Colorado's ultimate ski bum and a relic of a fading era.
Since 1976, the 63-year-old has skied 120 days a season, shoveling snow and doing other odd jobs for a few bucks and skiing every day. What affirms his title as ski bum supreme is the fact that at night he retired to his car, parked close to the lifts.

But now Toups' brawny 6-foot frame is wedged in a jail cell in Georgetown, imprisoned for the past 57 days on misdemeanor federal charges of camping on public land, possessing marijuana and assaulting a Forest Service officer.

He could walk free with time served if he admitted his guilt. But Toups won't do that.
"I've lived this life for 33 years and now all the sudden I'm supposed to admit I'm guilty? I can't do that," he said from jail last week. "I don't know what changed after the Forest Service tolerated me for all these years. I thought we were just respecting each other. Let me ask you, is it snowing?"

Toups' tale is the embodiment of ski bumdom. Since the 1970s, he has bummed at Mammoth in California, Snowbird in Utah, Oregon's Mount Hood, Aspen Highlands and all the ski areas in Summit County. His home — for nearly a decade — was a Volks wagen Beetle, the passenger seat torn out so he could sleep. "He had a little tunnel down to it like a snow cave," said Halsted Morris, a longtime Loveland skier. "He was the real deal"

After a few years at Loveland, where Toups worked in the ski area's kitchen, he moved on to Aspen Highlands, where every morning he stomped steep snow as part of the ski patrol's avalanche mitigation. A few hours bootpacking earned him a day's lift ticket. He haunted the mid-mountain cafeteria, munching food from abandoned trays. He stocked shelves at the local grocery at night.

"He was the epitome of ski bums. He was the real deal," said Mike Tierney, a veteran ski patroller at Highlands. "He was just a totally eccentric individual who was here to ski. We don't see those kinds of ski bums anymore. And that's kind of sad."

Mac Smith, the longtime director of the Highlands patrol, spent a few seasons in the 1970s camping at the base of the ski hill. He remembers Toups with fondness, as a "gentle giant."
"He was a really intelligent person," Smith said. "He just had a different drum beat, and he followed it."

Toups first ran afoul of the Forest Service, which prohibits living on public land, in 2007 when he was back living in Loveland in the ski area parking lot.

So, he fired up his most recent home — a tired Ford, its hood and doors closed with ropes, its bed topped with a dilapidated camper. He rattled over Loveland Pass, towing a trailer full of old skis and a rusting Honda motorcycle. He landed in the Colorado Department of Transportation utility lot on Forest Service land next to Arapahoe Basin ski area.
On Nov. 14, five months after a Forest Service cop issued Toups a ticket for camping on public land in the CDOT lot, they came for him with a warrant for his arrest.

Toups had missed two mailed summonses, sent to an Aspen-area post office box he never visited.

Forest Service law enforcement officer Jill Wick and a Summit County sheriff's deputy found him, naturally, skiing. He grew irate when told he was under arrest.

At a Nov. 20 detention hearing in federal court in Grand Junction, Forest Service special agent Travis Lunders testified that Toups "became actively resistant in the sense that he tensed up."
"Officer Wick described Mr. Toups as shrugging his shoulders, bending his arms, flexing and putting his knuckles together near his stomach, at which time both officers took Mr. Toups to the ground, the snow covered ground, and placed him face-first down," Lunders testified, according to court transcripts.

Toups said he was trying to make a call on his cellphone before he was taken away. He said he was under the impression he had a "gentleman's agreement" to stay near the CDOT utility shed, based upon his camaraderie with CDOT employees.

When officers searched his pockets, according to Lunders' testimony, they found "misdemeanor level paraphernalia and marijuana."

The day after Toups' arrest, Lunders testified that Wick suffered a "post traumatic condition or disorder . . . that caused her heart to enlarge after the arrest." Doctors later told her, Lunders testified, "she did not suffer a heart attack and her arteries were in fact good."

Lunders wrote in his report detailing the arrest: "At no time was she (Wick) struck by Toups, nor did he attempt to kick, punch or strike either officer."

Still, Toups is facing charges that he "did forcibly assault, resist, oppose, impede, intimidate and interfere with an officer." Add the illegal camping and marijuana charge, and Toups is facing more than two years in federal prison and $250,000 in fines.
Toups is scheduled for a jury trial in Denver District Court this month.

Toups' attorney declined to comment, but Jeff Dorschner, spokesman for the Colorado U.S. attorney, said the charges are appropriate, "given his conduct."
"Danger to this community"

U.S. Attorney Michelle Heldmyer is prosecuting the case against Toups. At his November detention hearing, she argued successfully that Toups be held without bail on three misdemeanor counts.

"This defendant has shown he is dangerous, that he has no place to go," she said. "Being that he — all he wants to do is apparently ski and not work and live this alternative lifestyle, makes him a prime candidate for flight, not to mention he has exhibited himself now as a danger to this community, openly hostile to the government."

Calling Toups "hostile" and "dangerous" dismays Toups' friends.

"Charlie has been harassed most of his life, but even though he can be a bit of a curmudgeon, he's a really sweet guy," said Michael Cleveland, who has known Toups for 30 years and paid $1,700 to get his friend's truck out of impoundment. "He's just a ski bum who never grew up."

Toups proudly explains that in all his years of homelessness, he has never collected any public money. In the past three years, he's earned about $20,000, mostly from shoveling snow and moving furniture.

Still, he admits he has struggled to keep jobs. "I guess I have a personality that conflicts with some tenets of management," he said.

Decades of negotiating (or violating, say the feds) federal, state, county and municipal boundaries and rules has taken its toll on Toups. When he parked near A Basin in 2007, he was at the end of his rope. He needed to be close to his work shoveling — where his boss, Bob Towne, said he never missed a day in two winters. He could no longer keep his truck running to move it daily. And he needed to be close to his beloved ski hill.

"I ski because it is a portal, a gateway to health," he said, noting that in all his years on skis he has never been injured. "But when I moved into that lot, I was desperate. Sure, I may live like a bum, but I do not behave like one."

Free Charlie Toups.

Free the United States of America.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Setting the Stage for the Next Energy Crisis

The energy economy of the Rockies has gone from boom to bust in only a few short years, jacking-up jobless rates and leaving a yawning hole in state coffers. But two new body blows are poised to slam energy producers, courtesy of anti-drilling obstructionists and green-leaning Democrats.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on Wednesday announced new regulatory barriers to domestic oil and gas development, under the guise of giving the public a greater say in the approval process. And a likely Endangered Species Act listing of the sage grouse promises to throw yet another monkey wrench into the works, not just for oil and gas producers but for wind projects too.

Any suggestion that the public lacks influence over drilling decisions is just bizarre. The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) makes ample -- arguably excessive -- provision for public input (though the "public" process routinely gets hijacked by professional extremists who are anything but "mainstream"). And federal energy leases frequently are canceled or shelved at the behest of greens and NIMBYs.

Burying federal land managers in more layers of process will further stunt domestic energy production and deepen our reliance on foreign imports. This White House is killing jobs with one hand, while claiming to "create" jobs with the other, and setting the stage today for tomorrow's energy crunch.

When the next energy crisis crashes down on us, as it will when the world economy recovers from its swoon, Americans might think back on such decisions when they're searching for the reasons. Assuming, that is, they can connect the dots between regulatory causes and market effects. That will demand a level of economic literacy most Americans lack.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Lights, Cameras, Logrolling

Brian Lamb, the founder and CEO of the C-SPAN networks, is one of the great (though unheralded) Americans of our time, in my opinion.

That most Americans don't know or care who he is doesn't mean he hasn't done them an invaluable service, by creating a set of cable channels that give average people unprecedented (and unbiased) access to the inner workings of Washington, D.C. It comes to them direct, without any "mainstream media" filter. It comes to them straight: Lamb carefully picks his on-air personalities not just for their high degree of intelligence and civic literacy, but for their notable lack of personality and political agendas. People speak in full sentences on C-SPAN, not sound-bites. And it comes to Americans free, courtesy of responsible cable providers.

Now the normally low-key Lamb is courting potential controversy by trying to do Americans another huge favor: He's asking Congress to open House-Senate CongressCare negotiations to C-SPAN cameras, which would give the people an unprecedented look into the inner-inner-workings of Congress -- taking us right into the backrooms where the deals are cut. That's why it's highly unlikely Congress will comply with Lamb's request.

"As your respective chambers work to reconcile the differences between the House and Senate health care bills, C-SPAN requests that you open all important negotiations, including any conference committee meetings, to electronic media coverage," Lamb wrote in a letter to President Obama and congressional leaders. "President Obama, Senate and House leaders, many of your rank-and-file members, and the nation’s editorial pages have all talked about the value of transparent discussions on reforming the nation’s health care system. Now that the process moves to the critical stage of reconciliation between the Chambers, we respectfully request that you allow the public full access, through television, to legislation that will affect the lives of every single American. We hope you will give serious consideration to this request. We are most willing to employ the latest digital technology to make the cameras, lights and microphones as unobtrusive as possible."

The more unobtrusive C-SPAN can be, the better, in my opinion. Maybe some of the conferees will forget they're being recorded, drop the phony veneers and become what they really are behind closed doors, in unscripted action (the pros and cons of televising such meetings is explored on this Fox News blog, penned by a former C-SPAN employee). The network's presence might confer an even greater benefit, however -- a blessing, really -- if the presence of cameras serves to reduce or eliminate the sort of back room deal-cutting, logrolling and earmark-chasing that normally marks such sessions.

One public interest will be served by pushing back the frontiers of government transparency. Another will be served if that transparency fosters more restraint, caution and circumspection on the part of conference participants, resulting in a better piece of legislation than we would see if the cameras are excluded.

The bill still will stink. It just may stink a little less.

The Congressional switchboard is at 202-224-3121 if you want to weigh-in on the issue. It's not just Congress that needs to support this proposal, though. President Obama said during a 2008 presidential debate that he would be "broadcasting those negotiations on C-SPAN so that the American people can see what the choices are," if this piece of legislation ever came to pass. Now is the time for Obama to make good on that promise.

Monday, January 4, 2010

No! No! Not the Plea Bargain, Please!

Stung by criticism that it has taken a too lenient and legalistic approach to homeland security, The Obama Administration yesterday unveiled what could be the most potent weapon yet against terrorism: the plea bargain.

That's right, the plea bargain.

Those who think underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab should be treated just like any other terror war detainee -- that he should be shipped straight off to Cuba, with no chance to lawyer-up and no Get Out of Gitmo Free card -- may be overlooking the incredible power of the plea bargain, as a tool for getting him to tell all that he knows about this and other plots.

There are no plea deals in Gitmo. That's an arrow that only U.S. prosecutors have in their quiver. And it makes waterboarding and other "enhanced interrogation" techniques look like child's play.

"We have different ways of obtaining information from individuals," President Obama's chief counterterrorism adviser John O. Brennan said yesterday on Meet the Press. "A lot of people . . . understand what they're facing, and their lawyers recognize that there is advantage to talking to us in terms of plea agreements, [and] we're going to pursue that." Brennan also told CNN's "State of the Union" that other terrorism suspects have "given us very valuable information as they've gone through the plea-agreement process," reports The Washington Post.

How timely that "valuable information" will be, if it's forthcoming, is an open question, given the glacial pace with which the wheels of justice turn in the United States. If Abdulmutallab knows of other pending bomb plots, but doesn't cop a plea before they unfold, that might be a slight hitch in the plan. But let the word go out to all terrorists, wherever they may be, that attempted mass murder against U.S. citizens won't be treated lightly by the Obama administration.

You'll be arrested, handcuffed, comfortably housed and fed, given a lawyer. And if at that point you don't break, and won't spill the beans about the al-Qaeda Network, you'll be offered the dreaded plea deal -- which forces you to choose between divulging secrets and serving only 5 of the 7 life sentences you're likely to face, if convicted. Refuse the plea, decline to give up your information, and we could go hard on you. Very hard, indeed.

You'll be given Constitutional protections. You could face a jury trial. The media spotlight will follow you everywhere. Your battery of lawyers will run up huge legal fees. The trial could take years. Proceeds from any book deals will be confiscated. And, if convicted, you'll live out your days with few creature comforts (but complete medical and dental care, as well as recreational amenities and nutritionally-balanced meals, as required by law), in a federal prison somewhere -- maybe even one designated to warehouse jihadists (just so you don't get lonely).

So think long and hard before trying anything, terrorists. We aren't messing around any more. Barack Obama is ready to open a can of whup-ass on you if you come around here, setting off underwear bombs. And if you fail to give up your co-conspirators, you'll be presented with a plea bargain!