Friday, October 29, 2010

The Liberal Gene

Ever wonder why it's so hard to talk sense to your left-of-center friends -- why they seem so resistant to seeing the light, no matter what facts, arguments or logic you muster in support of your case? Well, try not to lose patience with them, because it might not be their fault. Scientists have now found an explanation for Hopeless Liberal Syndrome in a dopamine receptor gene called DRD4, which they think can predispose a carrier to embrace left-wing ideas, depending on cultural influences.

"It is the crucial interaction of two factors -- the genetic predisposition and the environmental condition of having many friends in adolescence -- that is associated with being more liberal,” according to the study.

"These findings suggest that political affiliation is not based solely on the kind of social environment people experience,” said Fowler, who is a professor of political science and medical genetics. The researchers also said their findings held true no matter what the ethnicity, culture, sex or age of the subjects were."

That means it's genetic. They may have been born this way. They can't help it. So look on them not as hopelessly-naive and misguided, or dense, but as otherwise normal individuals afflicted with a genetic predisposition to be led astray. You can save yourself the trouble of lending them copies of National Review or Atlas Shrugged or The Weekly Standard. They may lack the natural capacity to embrace better ideas than those they were born with.

This helps explain a lot, if you think about it. And it may have many conservatives rethinking their opposition to certain kinds of genetic engineering. Now that we know this is a medical condition, we can begin applying all our science and technology to finding a fix, which will help liberate millions of Americans from the stigma of Hopeless Liberal Syndrome. And who knows: once a fix is found, it could also help bring down the budget deficit.

We must not rest until we find a cure for this terrible affliction.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Now for a Little Substance

Close of voting is just five days away. An untold number of ballots already have been cast, thanks to early and mail-in voting. Yet this is the first serious examination I've seen of where Tancredo and Hickenlooper differ on energy, water and environmental issues, though these are among the most important they'll deal with as governor. The differences are stark, but many Post readers, unless they did independent research, probably cast their votes in ignorance of these differences. The story comes too late to have the impact it should.

One of my many beefs with the media is how campaigns are typically covered. Most of the focus is on the horse race aspects, or tisk-tisking over the nasty campaign ads, while too little attention is paid, and often too late, to substantive differences between candidates. The media has made some adjustments to the prolonged voting period, which begins weeks before actual "election day" (maybe we should start using the term "election month"), but still seems to operate on the old timeline, holding important stories like this one until the 11th hour.

This story ought to have run weeks ago, when it could have stirred more debate and perhaps made a difference. As is, it's almost an afterthought -- something we should have talked more about before, not after, we elected a new governor.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Maybe We Should Call Him Slickenlooper

Microbrewmeister John Hickenlooper is touted as the most business-savvy of the gubernatorial candidates. It's this quality, above all others, that earned him the endorsement of The Colorado Springs Gazette and the city's Chamber of Commerce. But you can have success as a businessman while also being an economic illiterate, as Hick seems to be proving with his half-baked proposal to boost state subsidies for higher-ed through a "voluntary" hike in the severance tax paid by energy companies. The idea is naive in several ways.

The Ritter administration has been on a 4-year crusade to make life miserable for energy companies operating in Colorado: I'm not sure, if they ever return in force, that they'll be in the position or the mood to engage in education philanthropy at the state's urging. That's not their job. And they would be completely justified -- to echo one Rhode Island politician -- in telling the new governor to take his severance tax hike and shove it. The energy sector has no more obligation to help fund higher education than any other industry. It just seems like the most convenient cow to be milked. Why doesn't Hickenlooper ask micro-brewers to volunteer to pay a special "higher education" tax on every pint sold, if he's taking us down the road to coerced corporate "philanthropy"? The nexus between beer drinking and college students seems much stronger to me.

But here's the truly troubling part. Hickenlooper must understand, even vaguely, that these additional severance taxes wouldn't come out of the company's till, but will be funded by energy consumers -- meaning us -- in the form of higher energy prices. Energy companies may somehow be gulled into going along with the scheme, given the relish with which big government and big business bed down together (see the Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act), but they will really be "volunteering" to help keep higher ed fat and happy on behalf of their customers, who won't be polled on the matter. We'll be paying for this whether we volunteer or not.

What Hick really wants is to "volunteer" Colorado energy users to bankroll a higher ed establishment that refuses to economize, refuses to cut costs, refuses to change the way it operates. But he's afraid to ask us point blank, or to say that he wants to raise energy taxes, so he opts for this subterfuge.

And we all know what happens in this country when you don't "volunteer" to cooperate with politicians and regulators: those friendly overtures have a nasty habit of becoming threats, and then mandates. If this is what we can expect from Hick The Business Wiz, we may come to look back fondly on the Bill Ritter years.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Labor Pains

It's unclear from this Pueblo Chieftain story whether Hilda Solis is the U.S. Secretary of Labor or the U.S. Secretary of Labor Unions. It's obviously the latter, judging from the reference Solis makes to her "brothers and sisters" in the United Auto Workers.

Can't we somehow put an end to the president and senior administration officials traveling around the country on the government's dime, stumping for candidates? They should be forced to fly commercial, at their own expense, and have their salaries docked accordingly, when they do so. The next president, Democrat or Republican, should put an end to this blatant, though somehow tolerated, misuse of office.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Fur May Fly Over Federal Bait and Switch

Imperial Washington has some states on the verge of rebellion. They’re acting out in various ways. Some are taking ObamaCare to court. Others are challenging Washington on firearms and emissions controls. One state, Arizona, is bucking Uncle Sam on immigration enforcement.

But what, one wonders, will be the breaking point? When will all the neo-federalist saber-rattling -- all the talk of the 10th Amendment, the 17th Amendment, nullification – cross the line and become in-your-face defiance? What state, what governor, will take this resistance movement the next step, and force the seemingly-inevitable showdown, by just saying "no" to Washington?

I think the breaking point may come in a relatively unexpected place, on a relatively obscure issue -- wolf reintroduction.

The history of federal re-wilding efforts involving gray wolves is too convoluted to detail here. But the program's statistical success, instead of quelling the controversy, is actually bringing the conflict to a fresh boil, as Wyoming, Idaho and Montana fight for a federal de-listing decision they think science and the original program benchmarks support. One federal judge in Missoula thinks otherwise, and recently reversed wolf de-listing at the behest of green litigants. Frustrated states, feeling betrayed by what they view as a bait-and-switch, seem on the verge of open rebellion. There is talk of states refusing to enforce federal wolf protections, in the face of an escalating number of conflicts between man and beast.

The fight over wolves has from the beginning been a states' rights dispute, but it's becoming more obviously so every day.

Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal, a Democrat who gained and maintained popularity in the Cowboy State by standing up to Washington on a range of issues, precipitated the most recent conflict, by declining to strictly follow federal dictates on how states should manage the booming number of reintroduced wolves. It was that lack of uniformity, across the 3 states most impacted by the re-wilding effort, that served as the pretext for a recent re-listing of the animals by a federal judge in Montana. That reversal of a widely-applauded de-listing decision angered many and reignited the conflict.

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter's announcement that his state will no longer pay compensation for livestock kills by wolves, his bitter accusations of promises broken by the federal government and his evoking of Idaho's "sovereign right to protect our wildlife" from wolf predation, seem to move us a step closer to a showdown -- one that's fueled by the powerlessness Westerners feel living in Washington's long shadow.

Some are hoping to get relief by working the issue in Washington, but that's a fool's errand, if history is any guide. Environmentalism Inc. has a lot of lobbying clout inside the beltway. It has turned back any and all attempts to reform, temper or tweak the Endangered Species Act. Non-Westerners in Congress don't understand or don't care about the law's impacts out here. Getting Congress to intervene on the side of common sense seems like mission impossible. State legislators also are talking strategy, but what they can do about any of this is questionable.

Legal avenues to relief remain open, but fickle federal judges and conflicting and contradictory rulings make coherent policymaking nearly impossible. Today the wolves are listed, tomorrow they're not. Two days later, some robed dictator in a federal courthouse, interpreting an inflexible and unworkable law, is pushing policy in another direction. Public lands policy-making through judicial edict helped create this jumbled mess: no reasonable person looks there for the answer.

All this, along with the frustration that comes from feeling betrayed, and the fact that wolf recovery benchmarks keep shifting, has people in wolf-impacted states in a very rebellious mood, with some at the grassroots pushing for a non-compliance or open defiance. The old joke about adopting the "Triple S" approach to wolf management -- shoot, shovel and shut-up -- is now told in less jocular tones. A sagebrush rebellion is being reborn. Wolf management is becoming a states' rights issue, setting the stage for a test of wills.

How Washington would police the far-flung federal wolfpack without state assistance is unknown. It probably lacks the resources and manpower to do so. Would President Obama sue states to force compliance, or dispatch the national guard to babysit federal wolves if states refuse to comply with a court order? That could precipitate quite a showdown -- perhaps even bigger than what's happening in Arizona -- given the anti-Washington mood that prevails.

No one relishes the thought of such a confrontation, but unless something soon gives -- either the states or the feds -- that seems to be the path we're walking. On this issue, wolf-impacted states feel as if they've given all they can, and more. For every inch they've given, a mile has been taken. And if the fur must fly, it might as well fly over this issue.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

"Waiting" is Worth the Wait

I was fortunate last night to have attended a special screening of the documentary "Waiting for Superman," which follows the paths of five or six at-risk school kids, from different walks of life, who must enter a lottery to get into a local charter school. Please find a way to see this film when it gets wider release. It's in parts inspiring, heartbreaking and infuriating -- a call to change that only the most jaded could ignore. Also in attendance were some of those who aren't "waiting for Superman" at the local level, but are working for school reform now, on the front lines or behind the scenes, like District 2 Superintendent Mike Miles and school reform advocate Steve Schuck (please see my previous post on these heroes).

Sad today, though, to wake up to news reports that Michelle Rhee, one of the school reformers profiled in the film, is resigning as chancellor of the D.C. school system. What ann unfortunate thing for District kids. It feels like they all just lost the lottery.

Throw the Bums Out

"The Colorado Mining Association late Tuesday filed a motion with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission seeking to have two of its three commissioners recuse themselves from any further involvement with Xcel Energy Inc.'s $1.3 billion plan to switch 903 megawatts of coal-based power to natural gas," reports The Denver Business Journal. "The CMA motion accuses the pair of making a "behind-closed-doors deal" with Xcel, Colorado's largest power utility."

But mere recusal seems insufficient, in my opinion. The two should be asked by the governor to resign. And if they decline to resign, they should be purged. The only problem with that, practically- and politically-speaking, is that the governor who should do the purging is part of the plot, involving legislators, regulators and industry, to shift the burden of an unnecessary coal-to-gas power plant conversion onto ratepayers. The PUC is supposed to look out for the public interest. But under the influence of Chairman Ron Binz -- a green-leaning social engineer who helped sell the state on renewable energy production quotas -- the public interest in this case came second or third or fourth to a larger agenda called the "new energy economy."

Purging the tainted PUC members would force Bill Ritter to acknowledge that one of his proudest achievements as governor, the passage of HB-1365, was little more than a backroom corporate welfare deal cleverly wrapped-up as a "clean jobs" bill. Thus, we'll probably have to wait for the next governor to straighten this mess out (if he's so inclined) and clean house at the PUC.

For more on this issue, please read the Business Journal story.

P.S. PUC Chairman Ron Binz offers a lame defense of his actions in a letter in today's Denver Post, which isn't convincing enough that I would change any of what I wrote above.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Regulatory Malpractice

Stories like this one, which indicates that California's "landmark" diesel control law was based on a 340 percent overestimate of pollution levels by the state's Air Resources Board, makes one wonder what other costly regulations are premised on false -- or even falsified -- government data.

The government is conveniently immune from the sorts of malpractice claims that can be brought against private individuals and entities, meaning it can walk away from such costly debacles embarrassed (perhaps) but unscathed. And that's an injustice that needs addressing. It's time to change the rules so that injured parties and average citizens can hold the government liable in such cases of regulatory malpractice. That might help make the reflex-regulators a lot more careful about getting the science right before they begin recklessly imposing new rules.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Federally-Funded Fear

The Bush White House took a lot of heat for "politicizing science," and for allegedly muzzling federal employees who didn't agree with the administration's cautious approach on climate change. But if all the government's in-the-closet climate alarmists were being persecuted, how to explain the perpetually sky-high profile of NASA climatologist James Hansen, whose spokesman work for the Chicken Little Lobby didn't slow down a bit during the Bush years.

If ever a federal employee needed muzzling, or a career change, it's Hansen, who travels the globe, trading on his NASA credentials, while spewing sensationalist climate spin to any audience that will listen. And plenty evidently will. The man is not a "scientist," in any serious sense: he's an extreme ideologue, shilling for a cause. Hansen could earn a very good living trading on fear in the private sector -- it's a big business, as Al Gore can attest. I'm sure any number of environmental groups would pay him a hefty sum to serve as their front man. But as a taxpayer, I resent having to help pay the man's salary, and help pay his future pension, and I fear his association with NASA is threatening the agency's already-shaky stature and credibility.

Will someone in the Obama Administration please fire James Hansen? Even if it makes him a martyr, it would do the tarnished reputations of climate science and the federal government a world of good.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Stuck Between a Rock and Red Tape

If you want a quick look at how maddeningly hard it can be to get anything -- anything -- done on federal land, given the endless layers of "process" one must wade through, consider the case of Kimberly Appelson, 23, whose body has been wedged under a rock in the Arkansas River since July, awaiting a recovery operation knotted in red tape.

Appelson drowned after falling from a raft at Frog Rock rapids, a notoriously tricky spot not far from Buena Vista, but her body remains trapped there, months later, while retrieval options are studied by bureaucrats. From a story in The Denver Post:

"The river's managers hope to erect a temporary dam — possibly using concrete highway barriers — to divert flow away from the sieve and give divers a chance to reach Appelson.

There's plenty of red tape to go through before any work is done. The Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service would require some environmental analysis. The Army Corps of Engineers would need to approve the plan. Wildlife officials require protection for the river's brown trout. If all goes well, work would be done sometime this month."

I'm not diminishing the challenge involved in this recovery, but it doesn't seem right to have a family waiting for the return of a loved one while all the usual agencies are consulted and a pointless "process" drags on. If you can't even recover a body without such delays, what chance do you have of getting anything else done on federal lands (or waters) in a reasonably-timely way? The "process" is broken, as the story proves. Appelson is as much a captive of federal red tape as she is the boulders at Frog Rock rapids.

Cut the crap, move the rock and return this woman to her family. I don't believe retrieving the girl's body will present any threat to the frigging brown trout. Slavishness to a "process" under these circumstances isn't just inhumane -- it's insane.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Toward the Separation of Cult and State

Druidry (or Druidism?) has officially become a state-sanctioned religion in the U.K., opening the door, according to CNN, for a similar status change for Pagans, animists and other pantheist or polytheist religions. Traditionalists will decry the move, but I welcome it, as a potential step toward recognizing the only state-sanctioned religion in the United States -- environmentalism -- for what it really is.

Once we acknowledge the fact that environmentalism is a religion, which has wormed its way into government under a secular and "scientific" guise, we can begin fighting for the separation of cult and state.