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.