Thursday, December 29, 2011

Keeping Presidents in their Place

This conservatarian recoils when he sees self-styled conservatives playing a game of Job Creation Derby with the president, or with any of the other job destroyers on the Left. In a truly free market system, and under the Republican form of government with which Americans were blessed, presidents ought to have minimal influence over the economy. Any president who claims or believes he can "create jobs" like a wizard is a president with too much ego and too much power. We can't be said to be practicing "free enterprise" if any politician holds such sway over the economy. I can't support any candidate for president who doesn't have the humility to recognize the limits of economic interventionism.

Swept-up in the irrational exuberance of the moment, and in trying to compete with a President who has assumed God-like powers, some conservatives seem to have forgotten that we're the non-interventionists. Such presidential posturing isn't just presumptuous. It doesn't just raise impossibly high public expectations, resulting inevitably in disappointment and cynicism. The worst thing about it is that it's incompatible with the economic and political systems we Americans claim to revere. In short, it's unAmerican.

A president's job ought to be enforcing a few simple rules, protecting private property and other civil liberties and otherwise getting government out of the way, allowing the real job-creators and wealth-producers to do their thing. A president, if he or she wants to be helpful to the economy, should focus on preventing government from killing jobs -- and on creating a general economic climate hospitable to free enterprise, rather than trying to plant the seeds himself. The rest will happen naturally.

Any Republican who wants to compete with the President as a "job creator" is a wolf in sheep's clothing.

(To be fair to Newt Gingrich, it's worth conceding that the campaign ad that prompted this post talks a good game about clearing away existing hurdles to economic development, rather than engaging in the kind of Keynesian spending binges Democrats call "stimulus." But Newt's chameleon-like history as a consummate Washington insider and manipulator makes me wary.)

Monday, December 19, 2011

Keynes to The Kingdom

Robert Samuelson, a writer I admire, sees Keynesianism in eclipse, but I'm not sure we should nail down the coffin lid just yet. I thought Keynes was confirmed dead years ago, only to see him resurrected with relish, ala Vlad the BigSpender, after the housing bubble burst and this President was elected.

Just a few years ago, before the Bush/Obama bailouts and spending binges drove the economy further into the ditch, exposing the limits of government pump priming, the Left was gleefully declaring Adam Smith dead. Markets had once again failed us, they said. Keynesianism is the way to go.

Now Keynes is being pulled off his pedestal and replaced by. . . . well, we still haven't figured that out. Keynes will not die, or even rest, until statists concede that government kills far, far more jobs than it "creates." And that, I'm coming to believe, is a religious position, over which reason and fact have no bearing.

Deadly Delusions

It's interesting that the media focuses so much attention on Kim Jong-il's more frivolous "insane delusions" while ignoring his most insane delusions of all: that Marxism makes sense; that communism is humane and just; that individuals exist to serve as slaves of the state.

Such delusions aren't just insane, they're deadly, as the bloody history of the 20th Century shows. The sad thing is that such delusions won't die alongside this demented tyrant. They are carried forward, in watered-down form, by leaders, academics, pundits and people who aren't widely seen as deluded at all.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Warren Buffett's Subsidy Buffet

White House pal Warren Buffett didn't become a gazillionaire by not knowing how to work the angles. And he's not above using government power or the taxpayers' pocket to pump-up his profit margins. With this purchase Buffett not only reveals himself as a run-of-the-mill subsidy chaser, but he's betting that taxpayer support for these not-ready-for-primetime energy technologies will continue, despite the scandals that have rocked these programs.

He's a crony capitalist who trusts that taxpayers will hedge this bet on solar.

The Los Angeles Times speculates that Buffett's investment in solar will help "boost" the industry. But by what means? Will his involvement increase the likelihood of technical breakthroughs in solar technology, open new markets for solar power or magically make solar power cost-competitive with conventional alternatives? Probably not. The "boost" he'll give the industry stems not from his influence in the free market, or his excellence as a businessman, or his track record as an innovator, but from his influence in Washington and Sacramento, where his lobbying power will be used to keep the government propping-up companies that can't survive without mandates or subsidies.

Buffett, like all good crony capitalists, is a parasite who wants to keep feeding off the body politic. And his deeper investment in these government-protected industries means he will do everything in his considerable power to keep the protection racket going -- to keep profiteering at our expense.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Obama Dons Teddy in Latest Reinvention

Teddy Roosevelt charged up San Juan Hill. The only thing Barack Obama ever charged up was this bankrupt nation's credit card. If his image is ever carved in stone, it should be on Mount Spendmore.

The guy cuts and pastes a few slogans from a century old TR speech, taken out of context, and suddenly he has "a voice"? What a fraud. And it's a fraud perpetrated and enabled by frauds in the media establishment, who are so easily sucked-in that they actually take such comparisons seriously.

The man isn't fit to hold TR's horse.

Who better to puncture the pretensions of our strange President Zelig than a bona fide historian, Victor Davis Hanson.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Unforgiven

I used to sort of like Clint Eastwood but now, after the release of "J Edgar," I just think of him as another Hollywood half-wit, regurgitating revisionist "history" in a pander to the Left. Hoover, like Nixon and McCarthy, truly are America's "Unforgiven." Virtually everyone else who becomes notorious gets at least one shot at rehabilitation and redemption in America, sometimes even two, except for these perennial lepers. And why is that?

Is it because they conducted wiretapping? Is it because they were ruthless? Is it because they sometimes became rule-bending zealots in pursuit of political or personal demons? Not really. The same could be said of many American historical figures (Bobby Kennedy, to name just one) who are still held in relatively high esteem.

So what was their unpardonable sin? It was fighting the spread of Stalinism and Soviet tyranny. It was being correct about the evils of communism, at a time when so many Americans, especially fellow-travelers on the left, were ignoring or minimizing or actively enabling Soviet crimes.

You can be forgiven for anything in American, it seems, but for being a staunch anti-communist -- though it's by now beyond doubt that communism was a force for evil in the world. It's that, not Watergate or the Army-McCarthy hearings or Hoover's alleged abuses of power, that makes them the pariahs they remain.

Not everyone likes gleefully jumping on their graves, however. Some of us find their anti-communist crusading admirable, even heroic, given the Cold War context in which they lived. And they rise even higher in our esteem in response to the hatred and derision heaped on them by unreconstructed fellow-travelers and their useful idiots among opinion-makers. We understand that they are hated because they were honest about communism. We know they are doubly hated because they were effective anti-communists. And that, more than anything else, is why we can forgive them their other human foibles.

And what of Eastwood's motives? Why would this supposed Republican (though a Hollywood Republican) bastardize Hoover's biography (especially his alleged sexual history) the way he does in J. Edgar? It seems like just another bid for redemption by the former Dirty Harry, who made a fortune and sold out theaters in politically-incorrect shoot-em-ups that undoubtedly offended Tinseltown's liberal sensibilities, but who has in more recent films struck a notably softer tone, as if he is making amends for his former movie persona (not to mention his reputation for being one of the industry's few -- gasp -- Republicans).

This is a portrait of Hoover that's sure to win Eastwood the love of Hollywood's left-leaning establishment, which is what he still obviously craves. And it might also just win him a best director Oscar, since "the Academy" isn't above making political or social statements with the awards it hands out. That, in my view, explains it. It's a cynical, shameless, pandering move on Eastwood's part, which lowers his stature in my opinion. But no one ever went wrong, or broke, in contemporary Hollywood cranking-out Leftist propaganda.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Virtue of Admitting Defeat

In an interesting development for energy war watchers, the great and powerful Google admitted today that it can't overturn the laws of economics, physics or thermodynamics, by abandoning grand plans to get into the renewable energy racket. Now if only "clean energy" gurus in Washington has enough humility to admit defeat and invest themselves in more worthwhile pursuits.

That won't happen, of course, and for a very revealing reason. Google, although amazingly profitable, remains a business, subject to the dictates of profit and loss. If it's wasting shareholder money on unprofitable and futile ventures, sooner or later the sinking bottom line will force a course correction, as it did in this case. But no such rules apply to the federal government, which is why it's so reckless, wasteful and dangerous to our pocketbooks. Unlike Google, it has a seemingly-endless supply of money and time to squander in pursuit of energy police panaceas and pipedreams, ala Solyndra. And nothing short of total bankruptcy will apparently change its ways.

Google is doing the smart thing by admitting defeat. But government never admits defeat -- all its failures, in fact, become excuses to spend even more on the fruitless, the forlorn and the phony. How much better off we taxpayers would be if the people in Washington had just a modicum of the smarts and humility Google just showed.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Cain Scrutiny

Two factors may help Herman Cain weather the first major political storm of his candidacy.

The first is that many folks predisposed to support Cain also have serious doubts about the objectivity, credibility and honesty of the liberal media elite pushing the story. The "mainstream" media is widely perceived to have an agenda -- justifiably, in my opinion -- that's hostile to conservatives and libertarians. People on the right, if they haven't actively tuned-out the MSM, simply aren't going to allow a media cabal to drag their candidate down -- at least not without hard, damning evidence that the man is a genuine demon.

Second, Cain seems to be benefiting from what might be called The Clinton Effect.

The former president set the bar so low in terms of presidential behavior, personal mores and salacious sexual adventures that almost anyone can easily clear it, inoculating candidates like Cain against the damage that certain revelations might formerly have inflicted. Clinton's continuing popularity with certain Americans -- the fact that he still struts upon the national stage as a lecherous elder statesman -- tells politicians that a sexual scandal does not have to spell political ruin. On the contrary, you can sodomize an intern in the Oval Office coat closet and still live out your days as the political celebrity, with the media hanging on your every pronouncement.

But Republicans are different, some will say. "Values voters" don't tolerate such nonsense. They have higher standards. Such scandals still can damage candidates on the right, since Republicans still expect something more from their leaders than someone who can run the welfare state spoils system.

Yes, but maybe that's changing, as conservatives, libertarians and even RINO Republicans recognize that there's something far more dangerous to the Republic than a candidate with a loose tongue, wondering eye or history of divorce -- which is having a dangerous, left-wing ideologue like Barack Obama in the White House for 4 more years. When the survival of the Republic is at stake, winning becomes more important than nitpicking and moral preening. Certain character flaws can (and must) be overlooked in a candidate who can knock-off Obama and reverse this country's toboggan ride toward fiscal and economic ruin.

Maybe this time Republicans are so determined to win that they aren't going to allow rank hypocrites on the other side, and in elite media circles, torpedo viable candidates and turn their value voting tendencies against them. The stakes are much higher, and clearer, this time around. They fear Barack Obama and his radical policies more than they fret over minor alleged character flaws in their candidates.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Debt Be Not Owed

Finally, fitfully, belatedly, the real purpose of the OWS temper tantrum emerges from the mists. It's increasingly obvious that it's all about debt forgiveness -- or debt evasion, depending on one's perspective -- for those who've been living beyond their means and aren't willing to settle accounts. And the President obviously gets this, given his hasty efforts to bailout student debtors and re-launch a failed federal mortgage "rescue" program.

Flea Party protesters don't really object in principle to bank bailouts -- they're just pissed because they didn't get one! The terms "economic justice" and "economic equality" are just code for debt evasion and deadbeatory.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Taxpayers Were Victims Too

The Cobell lawsuit and case is worthy of a book-length treatment. I hope someone is working on one. But here's the takeaway for me. The $3.4 billion settlement was probably excessive, since most of it will be pocketed by the sharks, but the obscene mismanagement of Indian trust funds by Uncle Sam was an injustice that required redress.

Yes, American Indians were the primary victims. And Elouise Cobell is a hero for becoming the human face of the long fight for justice. But taxpayers were screwed, too -- since it's another price we all must pay for federal bureaucratic bumbling. These payments ought not to come from the general fund, but from the Department of Interior's budget, since that's where the responsibility for this sad episode lies.

It really wasn't so much the result of anti-Indian maliciousness, as it was bureaucratic indifference and incompetence. But it's also fair to wonder whether enough of the latter at some point amounts to the former.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Idiocy in Print

They obviously don't teach enough economics in journalism schools, or the right kind of economics, which is why stories like this one, touting storms as economic stimulus, get written with a straight face.

Most reporters are economic illiterates. Few understand the so-called broken windows fallacy, or the concept of "opportunity cost." They see only what is seen, having not read Bastiat, and seldom bother to look for the unseen. That's why we can find serious journalists seriously asking whether hurricanes are a benefit to the economy. Just imagine how good the U.S. economy would be if we got slammed by one every week!

I've come to conclude that the fight for America's survival is not between the Right and the Left, the black and the white, the secular and the religious, the haves and the have-nots. The real dividing line is between the economically literate and the economically illiterate: between those who can still connect the dots, and those who can't.

The latter have an edge over the former as long as our newswriters are of their ilk.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Burning Questions about Burning Man

The business side of Burning Man is explored in this New York Times piece, which is a subject worth studying for students of economics. It's nice to read that some Burners embrace capitalism, despite their counterculture attitudes -- perhaps because it's about voluntary, free, mutually-beneficial exchange, which is what makes the economy of Black Rock City tick. That economy may not involve cash, and it may shun overt displays of crass commercialism, but it is freedom-oriented and thus capitalist in the purest sense of the word.

The 10 Principles embraced by burners may on first glance appear anti-capitalist, since they diss commercialism and include a left-sounding slam on so-called "exploitation," but they in many ways mirror the image of a society built around libertarian, free-market principles.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Animal Cruelty

Those who've been trying to "re-wild" today's far more developed, densely-populated "new West" with large predators, based on the fantasy that we can magically return to the "old West" of 1855, should be indicted on charges of mass animal cruelty -- since it's the animals that pay the price for this nutty science fair project run amok.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Green Bubble Bursting

Defy the logic of the market and the market will eventually have its revenge.

Panacea-peddling politicos have been using our tax dollars to prop up "green economy" fantasies that don't make market sense. And that "bubble" -- like all the government-induced bubbles before it -- is destined to burst.

Nothing will really improve in America as long as good intentions continue to be an acceptable excuse for bad results.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Seeing the Light

Solar cycles have been cited by some experts as one plausible explanation for climate change. But this explanation doesn't generate research grant windfalls, empower government regulators or keep Al Gore in the headlines, so it doesn't get much play.

Here's a key quote from this story about an upsurge in solar flares:

"With solar activity expected to peak around 2013, the Sun is entering a particularly active time and big flares like recent one will likely be common during the next few years."

The phrase "expected to peak" suggests to this layperson and science class slacker that this isn't an isolated flare-up, but part of a cycle, which may be approaching a crescendo. If this activity can inflict all the Earthly damage described in the linked article, might it not also be responsible for relatively sudden or seemingly-dramatic temperature fluctuations on Earth?

Nah. Couldn't be. Just doesn't fit with the human-bashing narrative that eco-masochists prefer.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Radical Departure

The Orwellian phrase of this week is "domestic radicalism," which on the surface seems like something aimed at heading-off the nurturing of potential domestic terrorists, but which could, under the Obama administration, easily become an effort to marginalize and intimidate anyone who says anything harsh about the government. If they want to purge "radicalism" from schools, they could start by banning the extreme left-wing and environmentalist teachings that have become part of the accepted curriculum. Where do you think Earth-Firsters and other eco-terrorists get the idea that "saving the planet" justifies acts of vandalism and violence?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Simple Wooden Box

While flying back to Colorado from Michigan yesterday, I happened to sit beside an impeccably-dressed Air Force member named David, who, I soon learned from our small talk, was escorting the remains of a comrade killed in Afghanistan back home to his family in Colorado Springs. We talked a bit about that, and about the huge mortuary the military houses at Dover, Delaware, where David was based, before moving on to safer topics, like sports, but the reality of the situation struck home again after we landed, when David carefully reached beneath the seat in front of him and produced a plain wooden box with a shiny brass handle on it. This, I suddenly realized, was the airman David was bringing home.

There was also a small metal plate affixed to the box, which I presume carried the person's name, but I resisted the temptation to look closer and read it, fearing it might seem a ghoulish invasion of privacy.

I followed David out through the terminal and into a blazingly-beautiful summer day, and I noticed, as he made his way through the crowd, that no one took any notice of the plain wooden box with the brass handle he was carrying.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Canada Cashes-in While America Pets Owls

Canadian sawmills are working overtime to satisfy China's insatiable appetite for wood imports, while American sawmills sit shuttered and rusting, because we evidently care more about "saving" spotted owls than saving American jobs. We were once a timber exporter; now we're an importer. Then some people wonder why our "trade deficit" is so out of whack. And this at a time when tens of millions of acres of federal forest are dying or burning, due to a failure of the federal government to aggressively and responsibly manage these lands.

It's another example of how far the U.S. has fallen, in terms of competitiveness and a lost instinct for economic self-preservation, that Canada is cashing-in on the Chinese building boom while we sit complacently on the sidelines, handing out welfare checks and petting spotted owls.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Shotgun Conservation?

The Orwellian term of the day is "shotgun conservation," which describes a crazy federal plan to save endangered spotted owls by butchering barred owls, a competing species, which we now know are the real reason for the spotted owl's decline, not the loss of "old growth" forests.

Natural selection favors the barred owl. Yet natural selection apparently isn't permitted by the Endangered Species Act, which requires that every species be saved, even if the cold, hard laws of nature say otherwise.

Talk about playing God.

The timber industry in the Pacific Northwest was decimated, thousands of high-paying jobs were destroyed and dozens of timber towns were brought to their knees based on the claim that the loss of "old growth" forests was to blame for the spotted owl's decline. But it belatedly became apparent that a rival species, doing what it does naturally, is invading the spotted owl's habitat and wiping it out. And the only response the feds can muster is a bizarre scheme to protect one species by killing-off the other.

The spotted owl saga is certainly among the most sordid in the annals of the ESA. But does anyone sue the federal government for regulatory malpractice and fraud? Is anyone called to account for the clear-cutting of jobs and opportunity in the former timber towns of Oregon and Washington State? The sad answer is "no" and "no."

It's hard to afford a good lawyer when you're living on food stamps.

Friday, June 24, 2011

It's a Start

What do you do with an out-of-control, reckless, irresponsible teenager, who has too much allowance for his own good?

You start by taking away his car keys.

Confiscating the credit card comes next.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Price We All Pay

Chalk-up this $3.4 billion as part of the price we Americans must pay for inept and wasteful bureaucracy at the federal level. Whether $3.4 billion is a just or reasonable settlement can't be determined, because Department of Interior record-keeping was so shoddy that even millions of dollars spent on forensic accounting, in an attempt to reconstruct a reasonably-accurate set of records, was futile.

American Indians paid a high price for this, tragically, but so have the rest of us, since we taxpayers -- not "the government" -- will be footing the bill for decades of federal bumbling.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Keep Pulling the Plug, Doug

It's a shame that U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn is backpedaling on his support for federal funding cuts that could have led to staff reductions at the National Renewable Energy Lab in Golden, Colorado. He's obviously caving-in to political pressure from others in the Colorado congressional delegation, who like to crow about all the techno-wizardry the lab supposedly cranks out but really only care about the federal revenues and jobs it keeps in state.

Lamborn was right the first time on NREL, even if he was right by mistake. It's time to pull the plug on the lab. It lab has been sucking on the taxpayer teat since 1974, with precious little to show for it in terms of renewable energy breakthroughs, and all it's really good for is keeping a lot of federal technocrats employed in Colorado. NREL has been studying solar and wind power breakthroughs since I was in junior high school, yet neither technology even today can compete with conventional energy sources -- which is why solar and wind must rely on taxpayer subsidies and government mandates to increase their meager market share.

NREL has failed, in other words, if one looks objectively at the results. If what the lab produces is so damn valuable, it ought to be able to support itself on the royalties it receives from technology transfer deals with private companies. But the lab received only $1 million in royalty returns last year, reports the Denver Post, while "investing" $350 million of your tax dollars in research. That's not just a lousy return on investment, it's corporate welfare of the worst kind.

Wind and solar power were held-up as our energy portfolio saviors way back in the mid-1970s, two or three energy crises ago, yet the same windy and sunny promises are being repeated 35 years later -- showing how little real progress the wizards inside NREL have made. Doug's original push to pull the plug on NREL was completely justified, even he's backing away now and calling it a mistake.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

While Bureaucracies Fiddle . . .

A former Forest Service chief coined the term "analysis paralysis" to describe how too much red tape, too much analysis, too many legal fights and too much prolonged public "process" was tying his agency in knots, making it impossible to deal with public lands challenges in a coherent and timely fashion. This Arizona inferno is one result of analysis paralysis. And it might have been prevented, as this report points out, if federal public lands policymaking wasn't such a slow, complicated, belabored process.

The complexity and contentiousness involved in getting almost anything done on federal lands has gotten to the point where managing them has become virtually impossible. Federal agencies therefore have defaulted to a policy of complacency, passivity and non-management. That's made it impossible to get on top of the forest health crisis ravaging the West. And the consequences are becoming even more visible, from runaway wildfires to the bark beetle blight that is browning-up vast swaths of Colorado.

Imagine the public outrage if a rogue band of loggers clearcut 336,000 acres of national forest in an act of mass vandalism. People would be going to jail. But when 336,000 acres is destroyed, due in large part to federal incompetence, mismanagement and paralysis, all we get is a collective sigh. The destruction of America's national forests is a scandal that can and should be laid at Uncle Sam's doorstep. Yet a clueless public thinks these are all acts of nature or God.

Nature is playing a part, but don't let anyone fool you: This is a man-made disaster.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Sports Welfare is a Losing Game

Many big city mayors reportedly are getting very nervous about the prospect of an NFL player lockout later this summer, which threatens to cancel or shorten the 2011 season, and it's not because they're sports fans. It’s because taxpayers in too many NFL cities have been seduced, blackmailed or bamboozled into bankrolling lavish new stadiums for the privately-owned teams, in what must rank as one of the most egregious examples of corporate welfare there is. And the direct and indirect losses could mount for some cities if the season is canceled because they didn’t bother to write revenue guarantees into whatever agreements they made with fat-cat franchise owners.

The prospect of a canceled season is belatedly highlighting the inequity of such “deals.”

Reports Governing Magazine:

“There's been an ongoing debate in communities across the country over whether NFL teams will still have to pay their leases on publicly-owned stadiums if games are canceled due to a lockout. In many cases, it appears the teams would be off the hook for those payments -- even though they'd be the ones who canceled the season in the first place.

In some cities -- such as Denver and St. Louis -- the teams never pay rent to use the publicly-owned stadiums. So while the municipalities wouldn't technically be losing a revenue stream, they'd be getting no return on the major gift of that free rent itself if the season was canceled.”

Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard is leading an effort “to get cities that host sports teams to form an organization that would represent their interests,” according to the story. "We want to make sure the cities kind of understand that they're a piece of this," Ballard said. "We have the owners. We have the players. But the cities have a voice in this too. There are a lot of people involved in the city who've put a lot of heart and soul, and a lot of tax dollars, into these things."
And we’re talking about a lot of tax dollars – possibly as much as $10 billion, according to Governing:

“Many city leaders and fans have expressed frustration at the potential loss of an NFL season, due largely to the massive amount of public dollars put into stadiums. Since 1992, 29 of the 32 NFL stadiums have been built or refurbished at a cost of $10 billion, and more than 60 percent of that total was paid by municipalities, according to Ballard. Teams also typically get favorable lease and taxing terms, as well as other perks such as infrastructure construction and operational expenses at below-market price.”

That level of “investment” is dragging cities into something which in a saner world they wouldn’t and shouldn’t be a part of. They not only now want to have a say in absurd collective bargaining disputes between billionaire owners and millionaire players, but city politicians and citizens also are becoming pawns in these conflicts.

“Mayors in Kansas City, Minneapolis, Miami and Houston, along with elected officials in San Diego, have reportedly contacted league and team officials to advocate against a canceled season. Meanwhile, the players' union has mailed letters to city and state officials to emphasize the negative economic impact a canceled season would have on cities that host teams. In the players view, a canceled season would be the fault of the owners -- as would any negative financial side effects that result from it.”

Mayor Ballard wants to call his new group the “Municipal Alliance for Taxpayer Equity in Sports.” Part of its mission will be “to protect municipalities' capital investments -- the stadiums -- and the city income associated with teams,” according to Governing, and to “retain teams in their home cities based on terms that strike an appropriate balance between taxpayers, players and team owners” But there was never any “equity” for taxpayers to begin with. The real beneficiaries of such “partnerships” are wealthy owners, wealthy players and the highly-profitable professional sports business, along with a few businesses located near stadiums.

Most objective studies have shown that the economic benefits of football and baseball welfare are either exaggerated or illusory. Most taxpayers never attend these games in person – mainly because they can’t afford it. And many aren’t even sports fans. The answer isn’t in trying to achieve “equity” from these patently-lousy deals, but in avoiding such fiascoes altogether by refusing to buckle-under when sports franchise owners threaten to take their team and go elsewhere. That sort of disloyalty, and attempted-extortion, should be met with public anger, not acquiescence.

Pro sports welfare is a losing game that savvy taxpayers should simply refuse to play.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

More Toys Won't Turn Things Around

Handing kids more learning gadgets is no substitute for having them hit the books, harness a little discipline and master the fundamentals, yet educrats continue to believe that expensive new toys will somehow turn things around. Today's kids already are surrounded by such toys, so whatever novelty there is in a new iPad won't last long, and all the other school gadgets we gave them, from pocket calculators to laptops, haven't produced results. This is just another way for adults to excuse failure by fixating on a supposed shortfall in technology.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Ethanol Test

Everyone looks for something different in sizing-up a preferred presidential candidate – those tell tale signs that this might actually be someone who won’t let you down once in office. One criterion I’m using when weighing the merits of Republican contenders is what I call The Ethanol Test.

It’s simple, really. I’m watching to see which candidates have the character and courage to go into corn country and speak the truth about ethanol – to say (even in diplomatic language) that it’s a boondoggle that has to end. Any candidate who isn’t willing to do that probably isn’t someone who has what it takes to challenge all the other boondoggles, special interests, misuses of taxpayer money and stupid government programs that make the Washington merry-go-round turn. If they’ll pander to the farm lobby in a bid for votes, they’ll pander to every other lobby in order to keep power. They just don’t have what it will take to wrestle the beast called Washington to the mat.

Mitt Romney just flunked the test – which is two strikes for Mitt, given the black eye called RomneyCare. Newt Gingrich failed it as well. No surprise there, right? As part of the McCain-Palin Ticket, Sarah Palin first opposed, then embraced ethanol. Ron Paul has executed an interesting libertarian straddle on the issue, denouncing corn-based ethanol but pushing a hemp-based alternative, which might be just as big a boondoggle for all I know.

The list of Republican contenders is too long, and too much in flux, and my patience is too short today, to list every contender’s position on ethanol. But it's something worth noting as they begin making their pilgrimages through Iowa. But I do note that Minnesota’s Tim Pawlenty has passed the test, and distinguished himself in my eyes, by going to Iowa and saying ethanol subsidies need to be phased-out. He’s also had the nerve to go to Florida and talk about Social Security reform, and to go to Washington (as he did last week) and talk about cutting federal pay and pensions and downsizing the federal workforce.

Pawlenty's lion’s den strategy may or may not pay dividends, but I like his post-pandering style. Being a contrarian might just work for him at a time when a growing number of Americans seem to have grown tired of all the sucking-up and just want someone who will upset the apple cart and do the right thing.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Bring Back the "Wild West"

I'm feeling a bit nostalgic today for the "wild West" -- not the old wild West of gunslingers and saloon girls, but a more recent incarnation, spurred by the medical marijuana business boom --after reading about what a colossal mess local and state politicians have made of the medical marijuana opportunity.

I say "opportunity" because it's not often, these days, that Americans have an opportunity to witness an actual expansion of freedom, rather than the contraction of freedom, or that we have a chance to get freedom right, handle it responsibly, make it work. It's not often, either, that we have the chance to show a little regulatory restraint when dealing with an emerging new industry, permitting it to breath, grow and bear fruit, rather than smothering it under the usual blanket of taxation and regulation.

Colorado voters more than a decade ago approved partial legalization of marijuana for medical purposes. It was an opportunity to deal maturely, rationally and responsibly with an expansion of personal liberty, in an era in which reducing freedom is the norm. But we're failing the test of freedom in numerous ways in Colorado, by killing-off through taxation and micromeddling the freedoms that were approved by voters more than a decade ago.

The "wild West" side of the medical marijuana boom was surprising, crazy, exciting and fascinating to watch, even if it was disconcerting to nanny-cons (nanny conservatives) and "just say no" retreads. But it invited an overreaction. The sanctimonious and hypocritical reaction of so many Republicans was particularly interesting, and ironic, since they crow loudest about protecting freedom and limiting government but fumbled the ball when an opportunity to put these ideas into action came along. Let the record show that the party of freedom, personal responsibility, medical choice, limited government and regulatory restraint led the charge against medical marijuana in Colorado, all in a reactionary, knee-jerk fashion. It shows that Nannyism isn't confined to the left side of the political spectrum.

The boom was a little hairy and scary for some, but it was also an interesting experiment in how Americans deal with newfound freedoms. New businesses and jobs were springing-up almost overnight and an entrepreneurial spirit flourished in an almost completely unregulated environment -- an exceeding rare phenomenon these days. A previously off-the-books product was suddenly visible and taxable, which was a net benefit to cash-strapped governments. And out of the initial chaos order and self-regulation soon emerged, spontaneously, before our "leaders" decided to screw things up by trying to "fix" what wasn't broken.

I'm now convinced that we would all be better off today, and things would have worked themselves out just fine, if we had let the wild West phase take its natural course, with no government meddling -- just as the real wild West matured and mellowed as time went on and spontaneous order emerged out of the initial chaos.

Now, however, a political overreaction to the boom is leading to bust, as the politicians and regulators do to this new industry what they've done to virtually all American industries -- which is to do everything in their power to kill it. The more politicians tried to "fix" alleged "problems," the more they tried to micro-meddle in an industry most politicians didn't understand, the more actual problems were created. Before MMJ businesses and patients had time to adapt to the first wave of legislated hyperregulation, another wave came along, threatening to drown the adventurous entrepreneurial spirit that the new freedoms sparked. Greedy governments began treating these fledgling businesses as cash cows, to be milked dry at every turn with exorbitant fees no ordinary business would survive or tolerate. And that's how the boom in only a few short years became a bust.

Average Coloradans showed they could responsibly handle these newfound freedoms. Most of them shrugged-off the alleged menace this presented. But unreconstructed drug warriors and control freak politicians couldn't tolerate the freedom and went to work legislating and regulating it way. And they've largely succeeded in whittling-away what voters approved a decade ago, not through a frontal assault but by backdoor means.

That's the story, in short, of how the medical marijuana boom became another of this state's many busts. Then we wonder why America is an economic basketcase, that's only growth industry is government. Then we wonder why the freewheeling spirit of the "wild West," in which this nation's independence and freedoms are rooted, has been so thoroughly snuffed out even out here in the once wild, but now mild, mild West.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Udderly Fed-up

Old MacDonald, please get back to the farm as soon as possible.

The milk cows are going on strike.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Playing the Kid Card

Having failed in every other attempt to stampede the public into the long-sought overreaction, climate alarmists are now playing the Kid Card, apparently hoping to guilt trip the country into signing an economic suicide pact. If we adults won't agree to destroy what's left of the U.S. economy, in a futile attempt to halt global climate cycles, for our own wellbeing, just maybe we'll agree to do it "for the kids."

It works as a means of selling every other lame idea and government program. Maybe it will work for this one, too.

The mark of a truly despicable mind is the willingness to use old people and children as pawns in political agendas.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Dionysians Decry Air Force Academy Discrimination

This report in today's Colorado Springs Gazette prompted the following letter of protest to Academy Superintendent Michael Gould, acting in my capacity as High Priest (3rd Degree) in the North American Temple of Dionysus, Colorado Springs Chapter. We Dionysians have long borne the brunt of various forms of religious discrimination, often suffering in silence, but I felt that something must be said in response to this latest outrage. I hope you'll all join me in urging the Air Force to end this pattern of unequal treatment and provide all neo-pagan fertility cults with an appropriate worship area of their own on academy grounds.

"May 4, 2011

Lt. Gen. Michael C. Gould
Superintendent, U.S. Air Force Academy
Colorado Springs, Colorado

Dear Lt. General Gould:

The Colorado Springs Gazette reported today about the dedication of a shrine for earth-based religions on academy property. I feel I must weigh-in, as a high priest in the North American Temple of Dionysus, Colorado Springs Chapter.

While I applaud your efforts to accommodate earth-based groups such as Druids and Wiccans, we Dionysians do not belong in this over-broad category. Nor do we view ourselves as an earth-based religion or “new age” fad. A little research will indicate that Dionysianism dates back to very ancient times, making Druidism look like a flash in the pan. Moreover, we have strict rules against associating with many of the “new age groups” with whom we are expected to share this space.

We therefore find that your efforts to be inclusive have fallen woefully short. We will be contacting the American Civil Liberties Unions on this matter because we believe your unequal and unfair treatment of Dionysians may constitute grounds for court action.

Just lumping Neo-pagans in with so-called earth-based groups, and expecting us to share the same facilities, not only indicates a poor understanding of Dionysianism. It’s disrespectful and possibly discriminatory. It’s crude stereotyping of the type we Dionysians have suffered from for too long. We therefore request that you end this clear pattern of discrimination and authorize the construction of a shrine suitable for Bacchanals and other Dionysian-oriented worship on Academy grounds as soon as possible. A failure to do so invites legal action.

We stand ready to work with you on the thoughtful design of this facility, but here are the broad parameters of what is required. We note from newspaper photos that the Academy’s earth-based shrine is on a hilltop, exposed to the elements. That simply will not do for Dionysians or our rituals. A secluded and wooded setting is more appropriate for the sort of orgiastic, free-roaming festivities we host. And many of our members wear little to no clothing during these rites, and engage in activities not suitable for viewing by minors, so such an exposed space simply isn't suitable.

We also note that the academy’s earth-based shrine forms a circle, though triangular or rectangular worship areas are favored by Dionysians. Animal sacrifices are a part of certain Dionysian rites, so we’ll need some rudimentary pens nearby, sturdy enough to hold everything from baby goats to brahma bulls (no offense to any Hindus out there). We of course will provide our own livestock, our own wine, our own maenads. Fire-burning alters also are needed, which we like to have simply constructed out of local natural materials, but which must meet all applicable OSHA safety standards, of course.

A clearing in the forest, large enough to accommodate several hundred heavily-intoxicated revelers, dancing in serpentine lines, will also be necessary. We generally hold our Bacchanalias after dark, during new moons, and they often go on through the night, until all our primal appetites have been sated, so we’ll need appropriate permits to be on academy grounds after hours. Animal fat-fueled torches are used for illumination (incandescent bulbs are strictly forbidden, due to the damage they do the planet) and moderate human bloodletting sometimes occurs at these events, so we’ll need fire and ambulance crews standing by, at a respectful distance, in times of celebration. (We’ll of course compensate you for the expenditures such crews will require). Handicap-accessible restrooms would also be appreciated, since our rituals can stretch on for many hours and the wine and other libations flow freely.

The North American Temple of Dionysus, Colorado Springs Chapter, stands ready to meet with you and your staff, at your convenience, to discuss in greater detail how we can avoid a nasty legal battle and get the fair treatment federal and state law requires. Prompt action on your part will not only avoid the need for legal action, but will earn the U.S. Air Force the undying gratitude of Dionysians everywhere. And we are sure that Dionysians who attend the academy, or send their children there, will also be grateful.

Thank you for your time,

High Priest Sean Paige
North American Temple of Dionysus
Colorado Springs Chapter

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Why Fear the Ferret?

The Salt Lake Tribune reports that Rich County residents have grown gun-shy of a proposal to start an experimental colony of endangered black-footed ferrets on a private, church-owned ranch there. And well they should be.

As Colorado learned the hard way, when former Gov. Bill Owens sucked us into a similar "experiment" with reintroduced Canada lynx, federal assurances that a wave of regulations won't follow in the wake of such experiments just can't be trusted. Folks in Utah are being told the same lies:

"Biologists tried to supply (skeptics with) certainty. Releasing the animals as an experimental, nonessential population, as the government has done with other ferret colonies, gives flexibility not allowed with endangered species enjoying full federal protection. Program managers said they wouldn’t impose restrictions on grazing or other uses even if ferrets migrate onto federal Bureau of Land Management land."

Such assurances are meaningless, as they proved meaningless in Colorado, because federal biologists and bureaucrats don't really control the process. They don't decide where federal regulations apply and were they don't. Listing and de-listing decisions generally are made by federal judges, responding to saturation litigation brought by professional environmental zealots, who have been shopping around for a judge who will place these "experimental" colonies under full federal protection. These efforts haven't succeeded, yet, but all it takes is one judge with a fondness for ferrets to nullify such agreements and lay-out a welcome mat for the feds.

Colorado welcomed reintroduced lynx based on similar assurances. That we were double-crossed should serve as a warning to all who are tempted by similar inducements to do something stupid. Until the Endangered Species Act is repealed or significantly reformed, and a bit more reason and sound science is introduced into federal efforts to preserve truly endangered species, only fools would invite a colony of black-footed ferrets into their backyards.

(Just click on the key words "Canada lynx" below for more on the Colorado case.)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The New Blacklist

I think this sort of behavior, when done by folks on the political right, used to be called "blacklisting."

Sunday, April 24, 2011

New Deal Dinosaur

The National Labor Relations Board is one of those Depression-era dinosaurs that still roams the Earth, long after it ought to have gone extinct, but which has suddenly burst back into the news, with Jurassic Park-like ferocity, thanks to a union-friendly White House that likes to use surrogates to do its dirty work.

The NLRB's first iteration, hatched in 1933, was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court -- a blow against socialism that helped prompt FDR's infamous court-packing scheme. The second iteration, created in 1934, somehow survives to this day, though most Americans don't even know it exists or understand what it does.

That's something current board members obviously intend to change through increasingly-provocative actions like last week's demand that Boeing shelve plans for a new plant in South Carolina, because it will be a less union-friendly workplace than the company's other facilities in Washington State. Reported the New York Times:

"In what may be the strongest signal yet of the new pro-labor orientation of the National Labor Relations Board under President Obama, the agency filed a complaint Wednesday seeking to force Boeing to bring an airplane production line back to its unionized facilities in Washington State instead of moving the work to a nonunion plant in South Carolina.

In its complaint, the labor board said that Boeing’s decision to transfer a second production line for its new 787 Dreamliner passenger plane to South Carolina was motivated by an unlawful desire to retaliate against union workers for their past strikes in Washington and to discourage future strikes. The agency’s acting general counsel, Lafe Solomon, said it was illegal for companies to take actions in retaliation against workers for exercising the right to strike...

...Boeing said it would “vigorously contest” the labor board’s complaint. “This claim is legally frivolous and represents a radical departure from both N.L.R.B. and
Supreme Court precedent,” said J. Michael Luttig, a Boeing executive vice president and its general counsel. “Boeing has every right under both federal law and its collective bargaining agreement to build additional U.S. production capacity outside of the Puget Sound region.”

It is highly unusual for the federal government to seek to reverse a corporate decision as important as the location of plant. But ever since a Democratic majority took control of the five-member board after Mr. Obama’s election, the board has signaled that it would seek to adopt a more liberal, pro-union tilt after years of pro-employer decisions under President Bush."

An unelected board dictating to a private company where it can or can't locate an assembly line -- that sounds like an edict out of Stalin-era Russia, or Maoist China, not the United States of America in the 21st century. And so it is. But it's not altogether shocking with this union-friendly president in the White House -- a president who enjoys using surrogates to advance agendas he knows Congress won't codify (his use of the EPA to push for carbon controls being another prominent example).

How Congress will respond to this outrageous act of overreach remains to be seen. House Republicans ought to place the defunding and disbanding of this arrogant little anachronism, this embarrassing New Deal relic, high on their list of priorities. The only fitting home left for the NLRB is in a display case at The Smithsonian.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Crazy has Consequences

Turns out that there's only so much crazy some companies can take. That's all for the better of the sane, and all the worst for the crazy.

I like to think of it as economic Darwinism.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

New App Turns Your Phone into a Whistle

I have a lot of silly and pointless applications (or "apps") on my smart phone. Some are remarkably useful. Most are just distracting drains on the battery. But imagine the transformative possibilities of a phone app that allows you, as an alert citizen and taxpayer, to instantly blow the whistle on the government waste, fraud and mismanagement that you see first-hand as you go about your daily lives.

No more need to complain to a hard-to-reach council member or commissioner. No more getting bounced from bureaucrat to bureaucrat, in search of someone in charge. No more calling into a"hotline" that no one ever answers. Just punch a button and report what you see, as a citizen-watchdog, knowing that the report -- and the accompanying video -- will reach someone who might actually do something about it.

The city of Philadelphia is experimenting with just such a concept, reports the Philadelphia Daily News, a smart phone application, dubbed the PhillyWatchdog, that "that allows citizens to report fraud or government misconduct directly to the controller's fraud unit."

"City Controller Alan Butkovitz yesterday unveiled an iPhone app that allows citizens to report fraud or government misconduct directly to the controller's fraud unit.

"Our Philly WatchDog app allows citizens to play a crucial role in protecting their tax dollars by reporting fraud, waste and abuse," Butkovitz said during a news conference.

Using the application, available for free through iTunes or the App Store on the iPhone, residents can report sightings of fraud or city workers goofing off and send in pictures or videos. Messages can be sent anonymously.

Butkovitz said that the app, which the office developed for $5,400, is the first of its kind in the nation. Butkovitz and his staff said that residents might capture examples of bribery by city workers, or city workers napping on taxpayers' time.

The office gets between 75 and 100 such reports from citizens each year, but the app certainly could boost that number."

The story doesn't say what happens to reports or tips that don't rise to the level of fraud. But how useful would this potentially be for a city manager or mayor who us seriously interested in weeding-out waste, improving city services or just keeping city employees on their toes? It potentially turns every citizen into a deputy watchdog, providing city officials with hundreds of extra eyes and ears out on the streets. It's affordable, empowering and gives average people a stake in the improvement of their government. And it's something we could easily and affordably do in Colorado Springs.

The city auditor's office already has a waste and fraud hotline. But that's so 1950s and too few people even know it exists. Adding a higher-tech twist would be a good opportunity to re-launch and republicize the effort, while highlighting the important work this often-overlooked city office does.

The first mayoral candidate to add the creation of a "Springs Watchdog" phone app to his campaign platform can claim all the credit. That he read it here first will be our little secret.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Great Big Toll Booth in the Sky

Years ago, while working as a journalist in Washington, I wrote a few short pieces about how then-newfangled technologies, being developed by a few universities with grants from the federal government, were going to crack open the door to a whole new method of taxing motorists by the mile -- something I described back then as The Great Big Toll Booth in the Sky.

Instead of taxing us by the gallon, a longstanding practice that just isn't meeting the government's insatiable demand for revenue, the then-emerging ability to track every vehicle's every move from space, via satellite, might one day allow authorities to impose a mileage tax, I warned, possibly in addition to, not in lieu of, the good old gas tax.

Back in 2001, when I did the stories, it all seemed like a nutty fantasy, dreamed-up by some mad technocrat in the bowels of the department of revenue. But it's no futuristic fantasy now. Now, it's very much on the verge of becoming a reality, as this news story out of Minnesota attests:

"GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. -- The Minnesota Department of Transportation is looking for 500 people to test technology that could someday be used to collect a mileage-based user fee.

Mn/DOT anticipates a fee on road usage might someday be necessary as more fuel efficient and hybrid cars are on the road, decreasing revenue from the gas tax.

"This research will provide important feedback from motorists about the effectiveness of using technology in a car or truck to gather mileage information," said Cory Johnson, project manager.

"We are researching alternative financing methods today that could be used 10 or 20 years from now when the number of fuel efficient and hybrid cars increase and no longer produce enough revenue from a gas tax to build and repair roads."

So, is The Great Toll Booth in the Sky really 10 or 20 years off? It's probably half that far off, if we're lucky -- and unless people rebel.

And isn't it odd that the same government prodding and pushing Americans to be more fuel efficient, by urging us to choose more environmentally-friendly rides, is at the same time hatching new schemes to squeeze more money out of us, as our "reward" for conserving? It's not odd at all, given the fickle nature and constant desire to tinker among social engineers.

It's probably too much to expect that Minnesota's mileage tax guinea pigs will grasp the fuller implications of this demented experiment and refuse to participate, as conscientious objectors to the next great innovation in taxation. So our only hope of derailing this idea is to warn the people of what's ahead and hope they raise hell.

I tried to do it back in 2001, even if it then seemed far-fetched. I'll try to do it again now, when it's just around another bend in the road. Apply the brakes now if you want to stop this from happening.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Under Suspicion

Careful, everyone. Talking too much about "sovereignty" could land you on the FBI's domestic terrorism watch list.

The Casper Star-Tribune, in its investigative series about the so-called sovereign citizen movement, presents the tell-tale signs of a movement member as follows:

"The sovereign citizen movement often shares the same views of the tea party movement, and its emphases on the Second and 10th Amendments:

* Opposition to taxes -- especially the federal income tax.

* Opposition to regulations and regulatory agencies.

* Loathing of President Obama.

* "Take America back" rhetoric.

* Christian spirituality.

* And property rights."

Holy crap! This sounds like me and most of my friends. Maybe we all belong on the FBI's domestic terrorist watch list.

I wouldn't say I "loath" President Obama, which means I can't quite check that box (though I certainly don't like him much). I'm not heavily into "Christian spirituality," so that isn't a perfect fit. And I'm not quite sure who America should be taken back from, or who took it from whom, or who American belongs to these days, or what that really means, so there's no check mark there either. But I have to admit that some of the warning signs of a sovereign citizen sympathizer hit pretty close to home.

Of course, they might also describe most of the founding fathers, as well as many millions of middle-of-the-road Americans, past and present, living and dead, who simply take the ideas ensconced in the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution seriously. Is that really all it takes, these days, to qualify as a potential domestic terrorist in the eyes of the FBI?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Necessary Measures

A lot of howling will be heard and some fur may fly over a budget deal rider that removed federally-reintroduced wolves from the endangered species list. But in this case the ends really did justify the means.

This science fair project gone mad shows that the Endangered Species Act is hopelessly broken -- that it's just a playtoy in the hands of litigious nature-worshipers. Western states can't continue to operate under a wolf-related regulatory regime that changes almost month to month, based on the latest court ruling or judicial whim. Wolf numbers have grown far beyond the original goals, yet a de-listing was impossible to get. And impacted states are perfectly able of manage the packs in a responsible and sustainable way, without federal meddling. But the law is impossible to reform or repeal, so extraordinary measures were in this case warranted.

Using a legislative rider isn't an ideal way to set things right, admittedly. But an unworkable law and unreasonable people pushed us to this point.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Can't You Just Hear the Howling Now?

One lesser-known provision of the shutdown-averting budget agreement will remove reintroduced federal wolves from the endangered species list, ending a long-running battle that not only highlighted the absurdity of one of the nation's most powerful environmental laws, the Endangered Species Act, but showed how a lone agenda-driven federal judge can hand down dictates that tie an entire region in regulatory knots. I may not condone the means, but I loudly applaud the ends, since we can't have one activist judge and a gaggle of radical greens standing in the way of common sense and sound science forever.

It's a shame this couldn't be done legislatively, but a much-needed repeal or overhaul of the ESA by Congress just isn't in the cards, given the lobbying clout of Environmentalism Inc. The West shouldn't have to live in a perpetual state of regulatory conflict and uncertainty, with listing decisions seemingly changing on a monthly basis, just because Washington can't muster the courage to overrule arrogant judges, address the law's glaring flaws or bring an end to this impasse.

I can almost hear the howling this will generate in certain circles. But at this point, it's music to my ears.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

True Tales from a Shutdown Survivor

Somewhere in the dark recesses of my closet hides a threadbare memento of one of the most harrowing experiences of my Washington years, second only to Sept. 11, 2001. It's a tee shirt bearing the boast, "I Survived the Government Shutdown of 1995."

It's true. I was there. And I lived to tell the tale.

As the nation stands once again on the brink, facing the first government shutdown since then, I feel I must speak out about the horrors I experienced first-hand there at ground zero. Those who survived have an obligation to share our stories, so that it never, ever, happens again.

I remember it as if it were yesterday, driving to work one bright winter morning, past a glitzy Northern Virginia megamall, wondering why the hell the parking lot was spilling over on a day when most of the city was normally at the office, shuffling papers and looking busy. Then it hit me. It must be that government shutdown thing I'd been reading about. Our worst fears have finally been realized. It was actually unfolding, right before my eyes.

The malls were jammed with federal workers, out doing some early holiday shopping and enjoying the day off. So overflowing were the parking lots that day -- this is true – that some had to go to another shopping mall five miles away. Other than that, all seemed eerily normal as I went about my routine that day.

Traffic signals worked. Jets flew in and out of Reagan International. Gas stations were open. I caught glimpses of the subway -- it appeared to be running. State troopers were in their usual frenzy, ticketing High Occupancy Lane violators along the beltway. Buses swooshed past. Buildings were brightly lit and appeared to be heated. No panic was evident. It was absolutely creepy.

And this went on not just for a day or two, but maybe three. Each day the malls were buzzing like hives, as off-work federal employees stripped the shopping racks bare, before the rest of us, who weren’t getting any days off, even had a chance to get our shopping done! The federal workers were enjoying an extended holiday, while the rest of us wage slaves were still schlepping away, working for The Man. It was horrible. It was unnerving. It was an experience that scarred me.

But we in Washington didn’t see the worst of it. According to media reports, passport offices were closed, which really screwed-up a few vacations, and some national park visitors were turned away at the gates. They too can testify, first-hand, to the shock, the madness, the momentary inconveniences of the great government shutdown of 1995.

This is all tongue-in-cheek, of course, because there was no real government shutdown of 1995, as far as I recall, as someone who was living in the belly of the beast at the time. So there is no commemorative tee-shirt in my closet. There are no post traumatic stress symptoms. Most of my memories of the “shutdown,” in fact, are happy ones. Having thousands of idled federal bureaucrats out shopping, or at home, rather than doing whatever they do, meant less congestion on my daily commute. There were fewer cars clogging the roadways; fewer frowning faces on mass transit. That fewer bureaucrats were manning their posts was actually a comfort.

I venture to guess the experience was the same for all but a tiny number of Americans, who either had delays in getting their passports or were turned away at park gates. The vast majority of us didn’t notice, weren’t even slightly impacted, and so probably have no real recollection of that completely unforgettable alleged crisis. It wasn’t a shutdown, or even a brownout. And life went on uneventfully. It was the greatest non-event since Geraldo Rivera opened Al Capone’s vaults.

What really happened was this. The Clinton White House ordered some selective closures, and pushed on a few pressure points, in order to maximize the public outcry and make Newt Gingrich and his Republican revolutionaries flinch first. The media blew minor inconveniences into major disruptions, manufacturing a sense of hardship and crisis. This tactic even became known as "the Washington Monument strategy," because this iconic mall attraction was one of the few federal facilities actually padlocked.

And this all worked beautifully. Gingrich backed down and the Republican revolution of 1994 at that point died, by my calculation, based on the view from front row seats. When people ask me when I think the Republican Party went astray, and lost its soul, or when Republicans in Congress began taking on the worst attributes of the Democrats they ousted in the 1994 coup, I point to this as a turning point. Whether history will repeat itself depends on the next few moves in the game of budget chicken unfolding now.

That’s more than you can put on tee-shirt. But it’s all that really happened. If another impasse comes, President Obama will take a chapter from the Bill Clinton Handbook and do some selective shutdowns, designed to maximize screaming and garner media attention, while most of the rest of the government, and life in America, plods on as normal. He’ll bet that Republicans will retreat when enraged passport recipients or locked-out park visitors tell their sob stories to the media, and the media uses those stories to generate a sense of crisis. It’s all the fault of Republicans and the Tea Party: that will be the line from the White House, congressional Democrats and most in the media. Republicans will have to do some ferocious counter-spinning to win the blame game.

Will Republicans again blink first? Only time will tell. It depends on whether, and what, if anything, they learned from the last so-called shutdown. The stakes may be high for political parties, but the American people have little to fear from this piece of political gamesmanship and theater, since neither party has the nerve to truly shut down the federal government, or even shrink it significantly, as recent history shows. The fear of potential disruptions, not disruptions in fact, is what the White House will count on to carry the day.

But there’s another reason why no real shutdown of the government will happen. What Washingtonians of both parties fear most of all about a real shutdown is that the rest of America won’t care, or notice, and that we might even cheer – that we might just shrug it off, adapt, and find that we can get along perfectly well (and maybe even better) without omnipresent Washington.

Just imagine if that happened. The game would be up for both parties.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

A Celebration of Civilization

Americans take reliable and affordable energy so much for granted that they've developed a reckless contempt for the companies and people that provide it to them. They must think their homes are electrified and heated by magic, given the disdain they show for coal mines, drilling rigs, power plants, nuclear reactors, transmission towers and pipelines, and judging from the vilification they heap on the evil energy companies, which routinely are portrayed as the murderers of Mother Earth.

One demonstration of that contempt comes tonight, with the annual celebration of "Earth Hour," when "millions of people around the world" will turn off their lights for one hour in order "to make their stand against climate change." Energy use = global catastrophe: that's the dangerously simplistic equation touted by the dim bulbs who thought up Earth Hour. The only way we can "save the planet" is by turning off the lights, parking our cars and crawling back to the dank caves from whence we came, much to the planet's misfortune. Light has always been synonymous with civilization. It was long believed to be a friend to humankind (thank you, Prometheus). Earth Hour turns it into the enemy of the planet.

Energy providers take this abuse in stride: they've been so badgered into submission by eco-Luddites that they can barely rise to their own defense. They seem apologetic and ashamed -- some probably even sponsor Earth Hour events and distribute pro-Earth Hour propaganda in an effort to placate their implacable critics.

But I have an idea that might help them turn public perceptions around.

I propose a counter-event called "Energy Hour," which would also occur once a year, but at a randomly-selected time. All at once, on cue, all the world's energy providers would suspend operations for an hour (maybe longer if you really want to make things interesting), plunging the planet into darkness, cold and immobility. The lights would go off. The computers would stop. Electric appliances would not work. Gas tanks would go dry. Streets would be gridlocked. Apprehension and uncertainly would grip most of the industrialized world, as the people wait anxiously and prayerfully for the light to return.

Maybe the worldwide standstill that would result -- maybe the disruptions, the danger, the discomfort and the desperation that would occur, if civilization were for even an hour "off the grid" -- would remind disconnected moderns of the debt they owe to energy providers. Maybe they'll understand, once again, that electricity doesn't come from light switches, and that without drilling rigs, their cars become inanimate objects. It probably won't take more than one or two Energy Hours before the Earth Hour movement loses its mojo, and before people take a more rational, balanced and appreciative view of the energy sector. Maybe we'll see a halt to the regulatory warfare waged on energy producers. Maybe we'll get a national energy policy based on realism, not pie-in-the-sky pipe dreams.

Happy "Energy Hour," everyone! Take a moment this weekend to savor all the comforts, conveniences and benefits that come from living in this gloriously energy-dependent society.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

No Energy Policy

No drilling.

No coal.

No nukes.

No fracking.

No oil sands.

No shale oil.

No hydropower where fish swim.

No solar where turtles roam.

No wind where bats and birds fly.

No transmission lines.

And now, no biomass.

Does anybody else see a pattern here?

Saturday, March 19, 2011

"Enemies of Progress"

What stands as the single biggest obstacle to reinventing government and fiscal sustainability in the United States? The Economist knows.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Legislative Therapy

Too many laws get approved as a form of legislative therapy -- as a way to make politicians feel needed, relevant and better about themselves. Here's one excellent example. Whether or not those new laws make much sense -- if they can be enforced -- is of secondary concern. It's all about feelings: how we feel about them and how they feel about themselves. I'm open minded on the question of whether this simply mirrors, or whether it feeds and perpetuates, our national neurosis.

How much trouble we all would be saved -- and how much madness could be avoided -- if, instead of letting them "act out" legislatively, we simply paid their psychiatry bills instead.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Less is More When it Comes to Legislating

The "Paige Postulate" says that the longer a legislature meets, the worse off that state will be, fiscally, economically and by almost every freedom-oriented measure or metric. Why? Because the more unnecessary legislating there is, the bigger mess of things legislators make.

There isn't a "Freedom Index" done for states, the way some think tanks do it for countries, as far as I know, but if there were such a ranking, I'm betting that states with short, part-time legislatures would rank far better than those with longer sessions or full-time legislatures, thereby proving the "Paige Postulate" correct.

Wyoming's 2011 legislative session is already closed, amazingly. All the better for Wyoming. Such short sessions are one major reason why the cowboy state isn't the fiscal and economic basket case that so many states are.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Revisionist History

I was working in Washington in 1995 when Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton squared off in the last great government shutdown showdown, and I recall it much differently than Gingrich does in the slick piece of revisionist history appearing in today's Washington Post. But he's running for president, I'm not. I guess he feels a need to re-write events in a way that cast him in a heroic light. But I mark that as the moment the "Republican Revolution" of 1994 died.

Newt doesn't mention the fact that Republicans were so outmaneuvered by Clinton, and so defensive about being blamed for what was called a "shutdown" but was actually just a few days of extra Christmas shopping for federal workers, that they passed a resolution or approved a statement vowing to never again engage in shutdown politics. It was a stupid thing to do -- the statement, not the shutdown -- and I keep wondering if anyone is going to go back and dust that old statement off, now that another possible showdown looms, and waive it in the faces of Republicans.

When people ask me when the Republicans started becoming so much like Democrats, when they ask me when I started drifting away from a party I had supported and carried water for, I often say the turning point came in late 1995. Newt is correct in saying that this new crew of Republican revolutionaries should stick to their guns if another shutdown comes. But it's just not true that he held the line, or won the showdown, back in 1995.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Making Widgets

I've long objected to the practice of calling politicians "lawmakers," because it elevates them to an august status most don't deserve. Given the way they crank-out unnecessary, superfluous and frivolous new laws, like they're foremen in a widget factory, I think we should start calling them law-manufacturers.

The linked story offers a good case in point. And he's a Republican.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Are We There Yet?

Conservative politicos and pundits keep warning that the president wants to impose "European-style socialism" right here in the good old US of A. But he needn't bother. Signs point to the fact that it's already here.

The backlash France has seen from the entitled classes created by European-style socialism is already being witnessed here, albeit on a small scale, in the attacks by public employee unions on any politician or proposal that threatens their spot on the government gravy train. We see the entitlement mentality at work in Wisconsin. We see it at work in every other state where governors are trying to achieve fiscal sustainability by seeking concessions from unions or rolling-back collective bargaining rights. And the backlash is getting angry and ugly.

Mass demonstrations and riots of the sort we sometimes see in Europe haven't been seen in the United States, yet. But that's because printed money and massive borrowing are delaying the day of reckoning, when entitlements and unsustainable pay and pension plans actually have to be pruned back. Europe got there sooner only because it had a head start. We're catching-up fast, however -- and actually accelerating toward the inevitable train wreck under President Obama.

European-style socialism isn't something that's coming. It's something that's already here.

Bjorn Channels Bastiat to Expose the "Green Jobs" Myth

Bjorn Lomborg, "the skeptical environmentalist," has a good piece in Slate taking on the myth of the "green energy" economy -- which should be required reading for all those who are still drinking the "new energy economy" Kool-aid peddled by one former Colorado governor. The claimed economic benefits are largely an illusion, Lomborg explains, which results from studying only one side of the ledger, a common mistake among economic illiterates.

Lomborg's analysis is straight out of Bastiat, the free-market pamphleteer and popularizer who explained this oft-made mistake in a famous essay, "What is seen and what is not seen." Wikipedia explains Bastiat's point as follows, for those who aren't inclined to read the essay:

"One of Bastiat's most important contributions to the field of economics was his admonition to the effect that good economic decisions can only be made by taking into account the "full picture." That is, economic truths should be arrived at by observing not only the immediate consequences – that is, benefits or liabilities – of an economic decision, but also by examining the long-term consequences. Additionally, one must examine the decision's effect not only on a single group of people (say candlemakers) or a single industry (say candles), but on all people and all industries in the society as a whole. As Bastiat famously put it, an economist must take into account both "What is Seen and What is Not Seen." Bastiat's "rule" was later expounded and developed by Henry Hazlitt in his work Economics in One Lesson, in which Hazlitt borrowed Bastiat's trenchant "Broken Window Fallacy" and went on to demonstrate how it applies to a wide variety of economic falsehoods."

The "green energy economy" is an illusion generated by looking at only one side of a multi-sided equation -- by focusing on the apparently-obvious benefits and beneficiaries, while ignoring the less-obvious costs and economic casualties that stem from a government-ordered reallocation of scarce resources. The economic illiterate applauds the new job being "created" in the wind turbine plant -- a job being subsidized by federal or state "incentives" -- but ignores the job that's destroyed at the coal mine or on the drilling rig, all because politicians decide that they know better than the market does about how to organize the energy sector.

True "economic literacy" requires an ability to see not just what seems obvious, but what is harder to see but is just as consequential. When you see the picture in totality, the "green jobs" delusion disappears.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Star Struck or Struck Dumb?

If there's anything worse than jumping on a bandwagon, it's jumping on a bandwagon after everyone else and their cousins are aboard and it's broken down in a ditch with two flat tires and a shattered axle.

Handing-out tax "incentives" (read bribes) to filmmakers was quite the fad a few years back. A bunch of states, all dreaming of becoming "another Hollywood," jumped aboard the bandwagon, each trying to outdo the other in throwing taxpayer money at television and movie producers. And this seemed to "work" well enough for some of the star-struck states, at least from the filmmaker's vantage point, since most people are more than happy to take money that's thrown their way.

But regular readers of this blog know that Hollywood handouts have been a losing long-term proposition for most states, generating little lasting return on investment and only a short-term economic bump, while lending themselves to abuse and fraud. Most "studies" commissioned by handout backers show benefits; but more objective research indicates that the primary beneficiaries are those getting the subsidies, not those giving them. Why Colorado would want to jump aboard this broken-down old bandwagon is a mystery, at a time when many states that pioneered this new kind of corporate welfare are having second thoughts and backing away. And why two Colorado Republicans would be pushing this is even more baffling, if they're hoping to rehabilitate the party's reputation for fiscal responsibility.

Proponents of the idea want to slap a tax on movie tickets to fund the subsidies, which seems self-defeating, given that higher ticket prices are likely to result in lower attendance and reduced profits for some of the same filmmakers these "incentives" are supposed to help. Filmmakers may shrewdly prefer to get some cash up-front, given the box-office bombs so many of them bring to the big screen, but forcing all movie fans to bankroll the select few production companies that would get the subsidies is unfair and counterproductive.

Even The Denver Post recognized this as a dumb idea. Let's hope a majority of legislators will too.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Test of Resolve

The rubber is about to meet the road on the GOP's budget promises, which could result in the first government shutdown showdown since the mid-1990s, when Newt Gingrich blinked first and the "Republican revolution" hit the rocks. The only question is, will Barack Obama be the windshield, or will he be the bug?

Newt fancied himself the windshield back in 1995, still dizzy-drunk from his ascent to power. But Bill Clinton played his cards perfectly and Gingrich became the bug. That, in my opinion, marked the beginning of the end for the so-called "Republic revolution" of 1994.

Will history repeat itself?

Stay tuned.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Business is Booming

I just returned from a few days of family time in Washington, D.C., and what a scene it was.

The place is booming! No sign of recession can be found. Shiny glass towers are springing-up everywhere; major road projects too; all the fancy restaurants were packed; empty storefronts and the otherwise-ubiquitous "Space for Lease" signs were rare. It felt a bit like it must have in Moscow during the Soviet era, when the elite nomenklatura lived like royalty and everyone else, out in the provinces, served as vassals.

Government is the only industry left in America. And it's booming.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Blocking the Exits

The Airport Advisory Board, in a memo responding to my questions about exploring a private option for handling passenger screenings at Colorado Springs Airport, recently recommended against replacing TSA. The costs and complications of making the change far outweigh any tangible benefits, in terms of improved service, according to the board. Relatively few passenger complaints have been heard at COS. And relations between TSA and airport managers have been good, according to the memo.

Fair enough. That no doubt will please those on council who do everything possible to not rock the boat. I still think the question was worth asking. I fear the situation will deteriorate once TSA screeners gain collective bargaining rights and the union ethos -- which I know first-hand thanks to nearly two years as a card-carrying member of the United Auto Workers -- seeps deep into the bureaucracy's pores. Airports should at least have an option regarding TSA, in my opinion, even if they don't take it, this being a free country and all.

Such discussions just became completely irrelevant, however, because Moscow .. . . sorry, I meant Washington . . . last week slammed the door on the option, by declaring that no more airports will be allowed to go private. That doesn't sit well with certain members of Congress, including the chairman of the House Transportation Committee, who say Congress wrote an opt-out clause into the original legislation for a reason, so the last word on this has not been heard. Maybe a sharp reduction in TSA funding will lead to a change of heart. But the move drew loud cheers from the National Treasury Employees Union, which hates private sector competition and wants to turn every airport screening station in America into a union shop. Just think of the efficiency and improvement in work ethic and service that will bring.

There's no evidence that private screeners are less competent than federal screeners. I'm aware of no security breaches linked to airports opting-out. The 16 airports that contract-out these services (which suggests to me that there must be some benefit) seem perfectly happy with the choice they made. So why wouldn't Moscow . . . . there I go again, sorry . . . permit the expansion of a program that seems to be working well?

That could be the first problem: It's working well. Or this could just be another case of heavy-handed Washington lording it over the peons beyond the beltway. A third possibility suggests itself, however -- that this union-friendly White House fears a stampede of airports to the exits once collective bargaining rights are finally granted TSA workers, which could really put a dent in the union dues collected by organizations that gave (and will give) a lot of campaign money to Barack Obama

Could this administration's motives for slamming the door on the private option really be that base, that tawdry, that self-serving? Could this really be just another way for the White House to throw Big Labor a bone? With no better explanation to offer, that's the one I'm going with for now.