Thursday, April 29, 2010

Cockeyed Coverage

City jobs eliminated; un-planted flower beds; cutbacks in park maintenance; streetlights turned off: these are the tell-tale signs of a city on the brink of disaster -- a city being strangled by the stinginess of conservative voters and a government straitjacket called the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights. That's the sensationalist and silly caricature of Colorado Springs we've seen drawn by certain journalists, peddling a left-wing morality play about the alleged dangers of reasonable taxation and restrained government.

But what about Salt Lake City?

Salt Lake City is cutting city staff; Salt Lake City is reducing park maintenance; Salt Lake City is eliminating flower beds; Salt Lake City is turning off streetlights as an austerity measure -- all in response to its budget crunch. None of this has garnered much attention, though, because the simplistic morality play doesn't as easily fit there. The city is led by a liberal Democrat, Mayor Ralph Becker. It's about as "progressive" as you get in Utah. Editorials in the city's daily read like The New York Times. There is no Taxpayer's Bill in Rights, no Douglas Bruce, no Focus on the Family, no libertarian editorial page whipping the mob into anti-government frenzy. Reporters can't caricature it the way they have Colorado Springs, apparently, so they just don't seem interested.

Next time a reporter calls, I'll make him or her a deal. I'll be happy to give an interview about the budget situation in Colorado Springs (because I think the creative way we're dealing with it makes this an interesting story), on one condition. First go cover the budget crunch in Salt Lake City.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Shorten the Session

I've seen no studies confirming my theory, but I would bet, based on observation and intuition alone, that it's valid.

I believe there's a direct correlation between the length of time a state legislature meets each year and the fiscal and financial health of the state in question. The shorter the session, the better off the state, in terms of its tax and regulatory climate, its economic circumstances, its overall quality of life. States where full-time legislators meet year-round, or for most of the year -- California comes to mind -- tend to be basketcases, while states with part-time, citizen-legislators -- like Wyoming, where lawmakers adjourned weeks ago -- are much better off.

The most dangerous thing in the world is a legislator with too much time on her hands. That's what turns so-called lawmakers into law-manufacturers. Make-work legislating is a dire threat to our pocketbooks, our personal liberties, our economic prosperity. The shorter the session, the safer we all are from overreaching and overweening government.

We aren't so bad off in Colorado, with a legislative session that lasts 120 days. Only a few weeks more and we'll be in the clear, at least for a year. But a lot of damage still can be done to a state in 120 days, as we've seen this session. That's why I like the idea, floated by State Sen. Gail Schwartz, a Democrat from Snowmass Village, of limiting the legislative session to 100 days. The idea won an endorsement today from The Pueblo Chieftain. And it has my support as well, for what that's worth.

In my opinion, the state would benefit immensely from a session of just 50 days, or 75 days. Think of all the mischief legislators couldn't make under such circumstances. But 100 days at least represents a step in the right direction.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Nanny State Begets Nanny City

Cutting a city's payroll isn't an easy task, politically or practically, as we're learning in Colorado Springs. But one Florida mayor has found an ingenious new way to trim city staff using Nanny State justifications. It can seen so cold-hearted eliminating positions based on fiscal necessity alone. But what if you condition a city job on the employee making responsible lifestyle choices? That turns the heartless budget-cutter into the compassionate nanny. It's brilliant, really, and it just might fly, given the strange times in which we live.

Brooksville Florida Mayor Lara Bradburn really hates smoking, and smokers -- so much so that she wants the power to terminate city employees who don't kick the habit within a year. “For employees, they would have one year to quit smoking or using chewing tobacco or face disciplinary action that includes termination,”she has said. But these rules won't just apply in the workplace. They'll apply in the privacy of an employee's home.

How can Bradburn justify such an invasion of an employee's personal life? Easy. She uses the same reasoning that all nanny-staters use when they invade our personal lives.

Because the city helps pay for an employee's healthcare, it has an interest in that person making healthy lifestyle choices. An employee's failure to choose correctly can increase coverage costs, increase absenteeism, impact city operations. The city's control over a worker's healthcare plan gives it the leverage it needs to control a worker's personal life.

There's a reason that argument sounds familiar -- it echoes one we hear whenever nannies use the shared burden of healthcare costs as a reason to regulate personal choices. Motorcyclists should be required to wear helmets, say nannies, because "we all pay the price" when they fall and crack their skulls. If the motorcyclist isn't covered, other people pay directly for his care. And even if he is covered, the costs of his care may have to be subsidized by others with coverage who don't end up with an expensive cracked skull. Medicine in America already is "socialized," to some extend. And that gives nannies all the leverage they need.

But why stop at smoking, since city workers make other un-healthy choices? Maybe they gorge on snack foods and junk foods, leading to weight problems. Maybe they ride motorcycles or sky dive or scuba dive or engage in other high-risk activities. Once the state or the collective has a stake in your health -- once healthcare costs are socialized -- it also has an invitation to start dictating lifestyle choices. We see this on the small scale in towns like Brooksville, but on a much larger scale in the country at large.

The nanny state begets the nanny city, just as night follows day. ObamaCare will only accelerate the spread of such tyranny.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

"Independent" in Name Only

Critics have fits when Fox News claims that it's "fair and balanced."

They go nuts when O'Reilly welcomes them into the "no spin zone."

But Fox isn't the only news outlet that doesn't quite live up to billing.

It's odd, for instance, that so many publications with the name "Independent" are so far from independent in terms of their thinking and editorial content. There's The Independent of Great Britain, which is slavishly left-wing, as I learned first-hand last week. There's The Colorado Independent, an online news site -- and it also closely toes the liberal party line. Finally, of course, there's our own Colorado Springs Independent -- and we all know where it's coming from.

All three publications call themselves "independent" but seem so vested in ideas that lead not to independence, or self-reliance, but to the expansion of government power and dependence of the individual. And what exactly are they independent of, since they're on such warm and friendly terms with the state? Statism, collectivism, liberalism, whatever you want to call it -- it's a philosophy that destroys true independence by making government the master. There's little room for true independence in a world built by collectivists. This misuse of the term, and inversion of its meaning, is nothing short of Orwellian.

I'll insist that Fox dump "fair and balanced" when these publications change their names to something more honest, like "The Dependent."

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Two Paiges May Be Too Much to Handle

I was booked to be on Fox's Neil Cavuto Show today, to talk about the budget situation in Colorado Springs and the creative ways we're responding to it. But I was "bumped" from the show to make room for another guest -- some loud-mouthed chick from Washington named Leslie Paige, who will be on (at 4:00 Eastern) to talk about an annual pork barrel report called "The Pig Book."

Damn those big sisters, always trying to upstage younger brothers! But maybe one Fox show just isn't big enough to hold two Paiges.

Tune in to see Leslie at 4:00 today.

What's happening way out here in "fly-over country" will just have to wait for another day.

Monday, April 12, 2010

A "Baton" or a Bludgeon?

"Healthcare reform "baton" passes to states" is how The Washington Post headlined today's article about the ObamaCare mandates Washington is expecting states to implement -- which makes it sound as if we're all one big happy team, sprinting toward an agreed-upon finish line. But that "baton" looks more like a bludgeon to many states, judging from the resistance they're showing.

This isn't a foot race; it's a forced march, in a direction most Americans just don't want to go. Uncle Sam isn't the pace-setter; he's the cruel mule-driver, with a lash at the ready for any who dig in their hooves. But leave it to The Washington Post to spin the situation as a relay race in which a few of the runners are reluctantly falling behind.

That's the view today from WashingtonWorld. We now return you to more reality-based content.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Slouching Toward Disarmament

Every American president talks rhetorically about nuclear disarmament. It' a polite way to cloak the iron fist in a velvet glove. But none until Barack Obama has been reckless and naive enough to pursue this in practice, in the vain (and I mean it both ways) hope that the rest of the world will disarm right along with us.

While all eyes were riveted on an audacious domestic agenda, Obama has promulgated a policy change, and negotiated a treaty with Russia, that makes nuclear disarmament through intentional neglect official U.S. policy. It's a decision our grandchildren will rue as one of the worst of his presidency.

From last week's New York Times:

"Discussing his approach to nuclear security the day before formally releasing his new strategy, Mr. Obama described his policy as part of a broader effort to edge the world toward making nuclear weapons obsolete, and to create incentives for countries to give up any nuclear ambitions. To set an example, the new strategy renounces the development of any new nuclear weapons, overruling the initial position of his own defense secretary."

Previous presidents have signed treaties reducing the number of U.S. warheads (and a further reduction in numbers might even make sense). But none ever before renounced the development of new weapons to replace old ones, which amounts to incremental disarmament by default. It's a dangerous decision, with huge implications. The only hope we have is that cooler heads in Congress will reject the new "nuclear posture review" and refuse to fund implementation. It can also leave the arms reduction treaty with Russia unratified, saving Obama from his fecklessness.

The treaty makes a virtue of necessity, since large reductions in U.S. nuclear forces will soon become unavoidable, because our "science-based stockpile stewardship" program has failed. We no longer can verify the safety and reliability of an aging arsenal, which hasn't seen a major modernization or innovation since the late 1980s. Computer simulations were supposed to give us the same level of assurances we formerly received from real-world testing. But that was just another techie pipe dream. Much of the arsenal is now beyond its design life expectancy. It's degrading (perhaps dangerously) in place. Computer simulations can't provide real world assurances. A situation I anticipated years ago, in pieces like this and this, is coming to pass.

Unfortunately, most commentary on the policy shift has focused on the issue of first use and targeting and the number of warheads. But that all becomes irrelevant if, in 10 or 20 or 30 years, we don't have reliable warheads and delivery systems to make the deterrent credible (or to deliver the goods, if a major conflict breaks out). Designing and deploying nuclear weapons isn't an off-the-cuff (or off the shelf) endeavor. Reversing the present decline will be immensely costly, politically controversial and could prove impossible, given the brain drain and experience deficit our national labs have suffered during this extended period of inactivity. Much of the specialized infrastructure and expertise required to modernize might be impossible to recover.

Arms reductions are probably desirable. But even a smaller arsenal will at some point need to be modernized, in order to maintain safety and reliability (not to mention a credible deterrent) -- unless Obama intends to cobble together our future force with salvage parts and scotch tape.

A weapons expert I interviewed years ago, in my reporting days, used this analogy to describe the approach we're taking. Go out today and buy a Ferrari, he said. Then, park it in your garage for 35 years. Don't drive it. Don't service it. Look under the hood occasionally, if you like, but replace no parts. Now, bet your life and the safety of your family on that Ferrari roaring back to life, and functioning perfectly, when an emergency strikes, 35 years hence. That's the gamble we're taking with our nuclear forces, according to the expert.

The policy of disarmament by neglect can't all be laid at Obama's throne. Two blundering Bushes and one Bill Clinton also refused to upgrade the arsenal, with the full complicity of no-nuke retreads in Congress, choosing to abide by an unratified test ban treaty that makes it nearly impossible to verify the toll that time is taking on our mothballed weapons. The test ban also makes it nearly impossible to field next generation weapons -- at least if we want to be sure that they go "boom" when we want them to.

I suppose fumbling away the nuclear football, through disarmament by disintegration, will be hailed by unreconstructed no-nukers, who now have one of their own in the White House. But if they imagine that our present and future geopolitical rivals will follow our lead, they're due for a shock. The test ban will be broken before long -- probably by Russia -- providing another Sputnik moment. But it's doubtful we'll have the will to respond, given the controversy and costs a modernization effort will generate.

We're settling for second or third or fourth as an economic power; we'll settle for second or third or fourth as a military power too. According to the Obama Doctrine, our moral standing in the world will rise as our economic and military power declines. The true demonstration of our virtue and our strength is to gracefully surrender first place.

The nuclear arms race won't end simply because the former frontrunner decides he's too old and winded and lazy to carry on. If Obama gets two terms, we'll be lucky to be also-rans.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Nothing That a Name Change Won't Cure

Stop the economy. Cap all carbon emissions immediately. Some of the glaciers in Glacier National Park are reportedly melting. It's just the latest in the seemingly endless list of crises blamed on global warming. And what the heck will tourists say when they show up at Glacier National Park and all the glaciers are gone?

Most will shrug, yawn and point their cameras at something else.

I've been to Glacier National Park. It's a wonderful place. It's a worthwhile visit, and stunning experience, with or without the glaciers, unless you are a true blue glaciophile and won't rest content until you've seen and photographed every remaining glacier in the lower 48. That's probably 2 percent of park visitors; the other 98 percent go there because they've already been to Yellowstone, or because their mother-in-law lives in Kalispell.

It's really more of a marketing problem than an ecological one, since the glaciers will eventually bounce back, once human beings have gone extinct (assuming the two are causally linked). The craggy landscape they carved is good to go for the next 10 million years, at least. Think in geologic terms for a second; that usually puts it all in perspective. It's nothing that can't be cured with a name change.

Why not rename it Vanishing Glaciers National Park? That might even boost visitation, by adding an element of urgency to the whole thing: "See the glaciers while you can; they won't be back for 150,000 years." That way, Washington can't be accused of false advertising. Lost Glaciers National Park also has a nice, slightly spooky ring to it. We might borrow a marketing ploy from the pop music world, by calling it The Place Formerly Known as Glacier National Park, though that's a little clunky-sounding, no question. I think we can all agree to take Puddles National Park off the list.

I know it's politically incorrect to make light of such matters, but really: If the planet is doomed, and teetering on the brink of complete catastrophe, as alarmists assert, the lack of glaciers at Glacier National Park is the least of our problems.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Tax Credits and Cooperative Conservation

I agree in principle with the goal of moving federal environmental policy away from coercive conservation (which has been the prevailing model since the early 1970s) and toward "cooperative conservation," a concept that was touted by the Bush administration but gained little traction (mainly because nothing touted by the Bush administration could possibly win favor with left-leaning greens). And a part of that paradigm shift will almost certainly involve using economic incentives, rather than the blunt force of government mandates, to encourage environmental stewardship.

Simply paying people to do the right thing -- to create or maintain habitat for the Salt Pond Slime Slug, for instance -- is one concept that some, like Idaho Senator Mike Crapo, are pushing. But as someone who also believes in the conservation of endangered tax dollars, I worry that the tax credit system Crapo is proposing, if not tightly controlled, will lead to widespread gaming of the system and a massive waste of money.

Crapo's attempt to incrementally reform the Endangered Species Act is laudable (given the political futility of trying to overhaul it all at once). But the tax credit component can hardly be called "targeted," and the potential for scams will be huge, if they'll cost an estimated $2 billion over ten years. Billions already are squandered annually, paying farmers to idle their fields in the name of improving wildlife habitat or protecting so-called wetlands. Whether any of these programs serve as anything more than a federal sop has never been shown (or seriously studied, as far as I know). It mostly amounts to slapping the "green" label on another government giveaway. Expecting Crapo's program to operate with more accountability, and integrity, is probably folly.

That's the sort of cynicism that's bound to greet even a decent and interesting idea, given the federal government's almost perfect track record for turning good ideas into a scandalous glop.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Joke's on Boulder

Pranks succeed best when the situation is just plausible enough to be believable, at least until the victim catches-on. And that makes Boulder a practical joker's paradise, since almost anything, no matter how outlandish, is plausible in this notorious bastion of wacko-liberalism.

Does Boulder really have a Clean Sidewalk Cracks Ordinance? Not yet. But because it's the sort of place where such things are possible -- where equally ludicrous rules routinely get handed down by City Hall -- resident Patrick Murphy was prepared to believe it when a notice appeared on his door Thursday, reminding him of his civic duty to keep his sidewalk cracks manicured.

The April Fools Day prank was good enough to earn a write-up in The Boulder Camera:

"When Boulder resident Patrick Murphy stepped outside early Thursday morning to get the newspaper, he found what appeared to be a warning from the city about keeping his sidewalk cracks clear of debris.

According to the door hanger, the 58-year-old resident failed to comply with a municipal code that requires homeowners to “keep cracks in sidewalks free of dust and insect larvae.”

“Such persons shall remove dust and larvae from the full width of the cracks,” the notice read.
The warning went on to say that it's the responsibility of all Boulder residents to clear the cracks by noon the day “following wind,” and that violations could include fines up to $4,620 or the city could choose to clean the cracks and charge for the labor.

Murphy was stunned.

“I thought, wait a second, the cracks on my sidewalk are perfectly clean,” Murphy said.
The man then inspected the cracks in his neighbors' sidewalks, and said his were downright glistening compared to theirs.

“I kept saying, ‘No, no, this can't be true.'”

Murphy suspected a neighbor called in the apparent violation."

That Murphy found the situation so plausible says something funny, but also damning, about the regulatory wonderland (or regulatory madhouse, depending on your perspective) called Boulder. He eventually caught on to the gag, and got a good laugh out of it -- but he refuses to divulge the prankster's identity, for fear that he or she, by counterfeiting a city document, may have broken some other ordinance on the city's voluminous books. And city officials, who take everything (especially themselves) seriously, evidently weren't pleased about being the secondary butt of the joke.

"Sarah Huntley, a spokeswoman for Boulder police, said the prank probably wasn't illegal.
“We think it was probably done in good fun,” she said.

Still, she said the designer went to “great efforts to make it look official,” and that by including the real contact information for the city, staffers have spent time dealing with the prank instead of city business.

The city issued a statement Thursday afternoon about the prank, saying, "While we recognize this may have been an attempt at humor, the city of Boulder would like to caution residents about making phony documents on behalf of the city and/or impersonating official city personnel."

"This could be a citable offense, in some situations," the statement continues.

"Misunderstandings can result in staff time that could be spent on other city and community priorities."

"Other city and community priorities" like what? Collecting the city's carbon tax, perhaps? Or finding creative ways to spend it? Or finding ingenious new reasons to hassle property owners? With so many ridiculous rules and regulations to enforce, we can't have city staff wasting precious time responding to calls about a phony Sidewalk Crack Ordinance. These April Fools Day pranks are getting way, way out of hand -- something has got to be done about it. Maybe we need . . . . well, maybe we need some kind of Responsible Pranking Ordinance, which would fine instigators of pranks that create distractions for city staff.

That's the Boulder way, after all.

No joke.