Commentary From the Mile High City

"Star of the conservative blogosphere" Denver Post

"The Rocky Mountain Alliance offers the best of what the blogosphere has to offer." -David Harsanyi, Denver Post
Joshua Sharf

 notify list
to receive email when this site is updated, enter your email address:
 recent posts
24 (2 entries)
Anglosphere (1 entries)
Biking (1 entries)
Blogging (35 entries)
Business (173 entries)
CFA (3 entries)
China (5 entries)
Climate Change (3 entries)
Colorado (20 entries)
Denver (12 entries)
Design (4 entries)
Economics (39 entries)
Education (6 entries)
Electoral College (1 entries)
Environmentalism (3 entries)
Europe (0 entries)
Flying (2 entries)
Foreign Affairs (1 entries)
General (89 entries)
Gun Control (2 entries)
Health Care (7 entries)
Higher Ed (7 entries)
History (8 entries)
Home Improvement (1 entries)
Illegal Immigration (35 entries)
Internet (4 entries)
Israel (57 entries)
Jewish (49 entries)
Judicial Nominations (12 entries)
Katrina (0 entries)
Literature (1 entries)
Media (37 entries)
Music (3 entries)
Photoblogging (32 entries)
Politics (152 entries)
Porkbusters (5 entries)
Radio (16 entries)
Religion (1 entries)
Reviews (8 entries)
Robed Masters (4 entries)
Science (1 entries)
Sports (9 entries)
Taxes (2 entries)
Transportation (6 entries)
Unions (1 entries)
War on Terror (180 entries)
my other blogs
Three-Letter Monte

Rocky Mtn. Alliance
Best Destiny
Daily Blogster
Geezerville USA
Mount Virtus
Night Twister
Rocky Mountain Right
Slapstick Politics
The New Conservative
Thinking Right
View from a Height

other blogs
One Big Swede
American Thinker
Meryl Yourish
NRO Corner
Little Green Footballs
No Left Turns
A Constrained Vision

business blogs
Accidental Verbosity
Assymetrical Information
Carnival of the Capitalists
Cold Springs Shops
Commodity Trader
Coyote Blog
Different River
Everyone's Illusion
Fast Company Blog
Financial Rounds
Freakonomics Blog
Management Craft
Trader Mike
Carnival of the Capitalists Submission

business data
Inst. Supply Mgmt.
St. Louis Fed Economic Data
Nat'l Bureau of Economic Research
Economic Calendar
Stock Charts

colorado blogs
Pirate Ballerina
Pagan Capitalist
Boker Tov, Boulder
Colorado Pols
Jeff Sherman

<-?Colorado BlogRing#->

sites, not blogs
Thinking Rock Press
 help israel
Israel Travel Ministry
Friends of the IDF
Volunteers for Israel
Magen David Adom
 1939 World's Fair
1939: The Lost World of the Fair
The New York World's Fair: 1939-1940
The Last Great Fair by Jeffrey Hart
Iconography of Hope (U.Va.)
Images From the '39 Fair
Tour the 1939 New York Fair
Powered by
Movable Type 3.2

« February 2008 | Main | April 2008 »

March 31, 2008

Hitting The Trail

So, after casting about for a candidate to challenge Rima Barakat Sinclair, looking for a candidate who's a legitimate conservative, reasonably articulate, with a history in the party, and a record of promoting free markets, personal liberty, and limited government, a group of us has finally hit, me.

Yes, I'll be spending my summer just about the last way I thought I would, petitioning on to the ballot to force a primary, and then going on to represent the party in the fall election.

No, the blog's not going away. If anything, it's going to become more important, as a sounding board for ideas and issues. And as important as this race is to me, what profiteth it man if he gain the nomination and lose his personality?

If you'd like to contribute time or, eventually, money, drop me a line here or at my email,, and you can be plenty sure I'll get back to you.

The adventure begins.

UPDATE: The adventure begins with a little editing. Thanks to all of you who are better proofreaders than I. Maybe there is something to this Army of Davids thing!

I cannot tell you how gratifying it is that people are inquiring as to where you may send campaign contributions, and we have finally set up a campaign committee, "Citizens For Joshua Sharf." The address is:

Citizens For Joshua Sharf
c/o Treasurer Mark Makowitz
PO Box 24926
Denver, CO 80224

Or by PayPal:

In a state house race, even a little goes a long way, so thanks to everyone who sees fit to drop a few bucks in the mail.

Put The Check Down, And Back Slowly Away From The Table

It turns out that Mrs. Barakat Sinclair has, like any good politician trying to break into show business, been working the ropes, making friends with the movers and shakers in the party, and contributing to their campaigns. In fact, last year, on December 31, she donated $500 to Mike Coffman's Congressional run, and then was listed on the host committee for a reception last Wednesday night.

Well, she'll have $500 more to spend on her own race, if she chooses, since according to Dustin Zvonek, Coffman's campaign manager, they're returning her contribution.

Apparently, once Mike - a strong supporter of Israel and a US Marine - found out exactly what Rima's primary political activities were prior to running for the state legislature, he decided he really didn't want to have anything to do with her.

Can't say that I blame him. Rather feel that way myself. We'll soon see if the voters in District 6 agree.

MSM Turncoat

The Rocky Mountain News gets it:

Maybe you're thinking of setting up your own blog to comment on the affairs of the day. By all means, join the fray. But please make sure you don't run afoul of a judge who considers your opinions a political contribution that should be regulated by federal campaign law.

We're not joking. This nation that so enshrines free expression still hasn't decided for certain whether bloggers should have the same leeway that, ahem, newspaper editorials and other traditional forms of opinion enjoy. Fortunately, Congress will soon have an opportunity to give Web blogs more durable First Amendment protection.

Not sure you're going to see the same sentiments expressed on CBS News or at the New York Times any time soon, though.

March 30, 2008

Educating Inspiring Impressionism

I've always loved the Impressionists, so when I had a chance to go to the Inspiring Impressionism exhibit touring over at the Denver Art Museum. The show's fascinating, but more educating than inspiring itself.

This was my first time in the new wing, and I can't say it was a transformative experience. There is a diorama in the coffee-shop area, showing the arts district, and the new building stands out, looking like an alien spaceship, maybe an early Borg model. Once you're in the exhibit space, you're looking at paintings on walls one way or the other. The fact that the exterior walls militate against rights angles in somewhat annoying, but the artwork is still hanging on the flat part.

What was laughable was the weird, banal "public art" display of cycling digits. Each digit represents someone with something to do with this building, and the digits rotate at a speed represented by some number they chose. God forbid they have something at trite as actual, you know, portraits.

The exhibit itself was, as I said, more educational than inspiring. Its central conceit is smart: pair the impressionist paintings with other, older masters of a style that may have been the inspiration for the new guys. Thus, the title of the exhibit. The subject matter ranges from fruit to cleaning women to romantic rendezvous and family portraits.

It is indeed educational to see how the impressionists re-interpreted the original subject matter in their own styles. But so few works are actually striking, that the display comes across as a lecture in art history. That's a pity, as the examples are drawn from museums all over the country. I would have thought that such a broad draft would have yielded more first-round picks.

If you like that sort of thing, it's...that sort of thing. But if you're expecting to see a collection of the greats, you'll have to wait for another show.

March 29, 2008

War Films

At the end of Across the Pacific, Humphrey Bogart, having helped to thwart a Japanese plan to attack the Panama Canal, offers up the US Army Air Force to assist any home-islanders wanting to commit hara-kiri over their failure.

Make that picture today, and not only would the plan succeed (although the enemy would either be nameless, or a fascist member of the fast-disappeaing class called, "white Europeans"), some heroic American would probably try to off the President, not for failing to stop it, but for trying to stop it.

Glenn Reynolds is proposing an X-Prize for Iraq War films, where the 1) Americans are the good guys, 2) the jihadis are the bad guys, and 3) we win, for the benefit of innocent civilians more interested in living their lives. A lot of people might contribute to such a prize, but it would seem that such a prize is unncessary - just buy a ticket.

C'mon, Glenn, whatever happened to the whole Army of Davids idea?

UPDATE: This is what happened. Outside the Wire is trying to sell 2900 DVDs to beat Redacted's box office. Heh. Still, it's a documentary. While decent on-the-spot reporting is in short supply, documentaries like this aren't going to make box-office history.

We need stories.

Light Up The Night

I would have posted earlier, but I was busy turning on all the lights for Earth Hour. In fact, this latest attempt to turn the US into a rolling version of North Korea, came right around the end of the Jewish sabbath, so I couldn't turn anything on until about halfway through.

Still, I thought it was a perfect time to replace the bulbs on the front porch. After all, the dog's getting older, and can only do so much...

Denver's Red Light Cameras

So some cities are capable of learning, after all:

Denver is re-examining its plans for its first red light cameras after a Rocky Mountain News investigation found that the locations had short yellow lights, which could make the intersections ticket traps and accident hot spots.

Traffic engineers will do a quick study of the four camera locations to determine whether the yellow signal should be increased from the legal minimum of three seconds - timing that's considered appropriate for 25 mph traffic.

This has been a problem for years in other places, and the report cites studies elsewhere are motivating this re-examination,

I have to agree with one of the commenters, though: red-light running may be a sport out here, but it could be contained by timing the lights. As near as I can tell, the lights were last recalibrated when horses were competing with cars, and the program hasn't been revisited since. If you're going against what used to be the traffic flow 25 years ago, you can hit just about every red light on a major street like Monaco.

You want to help accomplish everything the Greenies say we should be trying to? You want to improve actual fuel efficiency and cut down on pollution? You also want to help the economy be more efficient? Keep the traffic moving. And on the surface streets, that means timing the lights strategically.

March 28, 2008

Shuler Blindsided...Again

This morning on a blogger conference call, a spokesman for the McCain campaign wondered aloud if Heath Shuler hadn't taken one too many hits from a linebacker during his playing days, and categorically denied that Senator McCain was calling Republicans, trying to get them to block the discharge petition of the Save Act.

Perhaps it's time that Shuler see another echo of his football career - benching.

Barakat Transcript

A number of people have asked for a transcript of the Rima Barakat Channel 4 interview. Here it is. It's not worth Fisking, but it certainly is worth reading. Note how, as she warms to her subject, and realizes that she's not exactly going to be subjected to close questioning, she proceeds from distortion to outright lies.

Mrs. Barakat Sinclair claims she wants a respectful and civil primary. But respectful and civil people don't look others in the eye and lie to them.

Q: First of all what is the problem in the region, (inaudible) the conflict going on in the Middle East right now?

A: It is occupation. The imprisonment of 5 million Palestinians in Gaza and in the West Bank. People there have - literally - very little control over their lives. They cannot go out or come back to their homes without controls (sic) of the Israeli soldiers. Plainly and simply, occupation.

Q: And, did Hamas begin this conflict?

A: Well Hamas is not occupying Israel. They are in Gaza and in the West Bank Israel is the one who is occupying Palestinian land. We have been trying and trying as Palestinian people to resolve this conflict peacefully, also that was we got (unclear) was more and more land-grabbing, more and more of settlement, more and more now with the wall that is encircling towns, literally, literally imprisoning hundreds of thousands of people in Bethlehem, in Ramallah, in Gaza, in Jenin, in Nablus, everywhere. It is really tough life there. I just got back from there two weeks ago, three weeks ago, and we cannot even start to imagine the life they live there.

Q: What is the significance of the hole in the fence between Gaza and Egypt?

A: Well, I assume you're referring to the Rafah crossing, It is the border, it is a very internationally recognized border crossing between Gaza and Egypt. Unfortunately, since the beginning of this escalation, over 5000 people are trapped there, usually patients, they went to Egypt for medical services. Till yesterday, six people have died waiting to go home. The are prevented by the Israeli soldiers again, to go home. This type of collective punishment against civilians, is in all conventions, any human right accords, is not just in violation of this, but is also basically immoral.

Q: And is there anything that you'd like us to know that we haven't asked you?

A: Yes. We have to be able as a community, as Americans, as Coloradoans, as Sunni and Shiia, to as first, "What is good for America?" Is it good to, uh for America to be involved, and to be so biased in our approach towards these policies, or is it better for America to have an even-handed approach? There are 10,000 prisoners in Israeli jails, most of whom have been there for years, with no charge, including women and children. Women are giving birth in these jails. Nobody, nobody is listening to the cries of the families. To have an equivalence, the equivalent for population, the impact of 10,000 prisoners would be amounting to about 40,000 people in jail for no reason, no charge.

What the Israeli government is doing is basically following the Saddam Hussein...the Saddam Hussein policies of imprisoning families of people who are wanted in order to get revenge on them or to being them in. That is not right. It is not right anywhere. It is not right in the Jewish religion, it is not right in the Christian religion, it is not right in the Muslim religion. It is just immoral.

Q: Will this get better before it gets worse, or will it get worse before it gets better?

A: Well I try to be always hopeful. It hope that it doesn't get worse. It looks like it will. I think the Israeli leaders, and the military - I'm not even talking about politicians - the military are really acting like the bully in the region. Unfortunately, the Israeli soldiers now are known to be just bombing and killing babies.

In fact, and this is a statistical fact, Shin-Bet, which is the equivalent of the security, institution, I think it is the equivalent of the FBI, has already acknowledged that 80% of the people they killed are civilians have nothing to do with any militant group. They admitted that in 2003, we can imagine the ratio today. And this 80% of the 4000 people that are killed since 2000, in any civilized society they were murdered. 80% they admitted, Shin-Bet, had nothing to do with any militant group. This will give you an idea about how bad the scope of things are in the Palestinian area.

March 25, 2008

Campaign Finance Dialogue

Finally, someone over at who actually answers your questions. Nancy Watzman and I are engaged in a discussion about campaign finance reform. She's for it, and so am I. But I'm for reforming in favor of freedom, and she's in favor of more restrictions.

Follow the fun here.

March 24, 2008

L.A. Times: Who? Us?

The L.A. Times runs a story today about the difficulties that the US is having in tracking and shutting down terrorist financial operations. The story leads with a number of factors impeding both our domestic and international efforts:

The U.S.-led effort to choke off financing for Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups is foundering because setbacks at home and abroad have undermined the Bush administration's highly touted counter-terrorism weapon, according to current and former officials and independent experts.

In some cases, extremist groups have blunted financial anti-terrorism tools by finding new ways to raise, transfer and spend their money. In other cases, the administration has stumbled over legal difficulties and interagency fighting, officials and experts say.

But the most serious problems are fractures and mistrust within the coalition of nations that the United States admits it needs to target financiers of terrorism and to stanch the flow of funding from wealthy donors to extremist causes.

Can anyone spot what's missing? Anyone? Sigh Anyone besides Lisa?

Apparently the Times doesn't think that the media's disclosure of the nature, procedures, and targets of those programs could have a deleterious effect on their effectiveness and foreign cooperation.

Moreover, the Times doesn't thing that the House Democrats' refusal to grant immunity to telecom companies who helped the government with foreign intelligence gathering could be interpreted by foreign banks and governments as a warning of might be in store for them if they, too, make the mistake of assisting the US is tracking down terrorist transactions.

And certainly, the House Democrats' refusal to renew the PAA couldn't have any effect on our ability to locate and track new targets for investigation?

No, certainly not. But we wouldn't want to question their patriotism.

March 19, 2008

Rima's Next Move

So, what to do when you've been exposed as a terror apologist with no discernable conservative record who stands accused of lying her way into the nomination?

Never apologize, never explain.

I'm sure one of the papers - or a whole bunch of nervous supporters - will get a letter explaining how

  1. She really wants to get along (see video below for evidence to the contrary)
  2. She really is pro-life, yes, she really is, despite having wished to a reporter for a pro-choice president in 2004.
    Her evidence for #2 will be to cite Muslim law on the issue, which tends to be pro-life. Fair enough.

And completely irrelevant. Because we're not electing an Imam, as the saying goes, we're electing a state representative.

When John Kerry gave that answer, it didn't help him. Hell, when Jeff Hecht gave that answer at District Assembly, it didn't help him. The only question for pro-lifers that matters is, "What's your public policy position on abortion?" And from that point of view, Rima has exactly one data point and it's not pro-life.

That's how the best ones do it. They look you in the eye, deliver a line that they've justified to themselves, that they know you'll interpret however they like, and then move on. They wouldn't even move the needle on a polygraph.

Last of the Big Three

Arthur C. Clarke has died, at 90. He was the last of the so-called Big Three science fiction writers of the mid-century. Writing about a great writer is tricky, since nothing you write will be as good as what he wrote. Still, what's the point of a blog, otherwise?

Clarke was more scientist as a writer than the other two, Asimov and Heinlein. It always seemed to me that where Asimov and Heinlein tried to grasp what technology might mean for people, Clarke was more satisfied playing around with the technology itself. Childhood's End was an exception to this, of course, but except for that, he seemed to take it for granted that space was as interesting for its own sake, as much as for anything that it might do to people.

It was, and if they ever need a web developer or financial analyst up there, I'll be first in line.

Others, with more to say include: Bruce Webster, Ad Week, John Derbyshire, George Wiman, Paul Levinson, Matt Bowles, Charlie Martin.

March 18, 2008

In Stereo and Living Color

Our Friend Rima on CBS 4 News from 2006 during the 2nd Lebanon War. Very illuminating.

March 17, 2008

Recreate '38

Netflix is addictive. While working on the computer, I spent yesterday watching Seabiscuit twice - once with commentary and once without - and watching the special features, including a mini-documentary about the Seabiscuit's times, the Depression. Unenlightened self-interest has pretty much wrecked horse-racing, but if the current crop of self-styled "Progressives" has its way, we may soon get to relive the 30s economy.

(WARNING; The following links contain shameless self-promotion and extreme economic geekery. Follow at your own risk. The management assumes no liability.)

Even almost 80 years after the fact, we still don't fully understand the Great Depression. Still, economists now seem to be groping towards a multi-pronged consensus: 1) the Fed tightened money when banks were failing, 2) stubbornly high wages and 3) artificially high tariffs kept the costs of doing business up when they should have been falling. Amity Shlaes adds 4) uncertainty caused by incessant government "experimentation" with the economy as another leg.

When unions and union contracts keep wages artificially high, they discourage new hiring. The profit from increased sales doesn't match the cost of the new workers needed to get there. Further. businesses can't lower prices through economies of scale; and consumers don't have money coming into buy the stuff, anyway. This isn't just bad for workers, it's pretty much bad for everyone except union bosses, who can keep on collecting fat-cat salaries and perks, and spending their union dues on politicians devoted to, er, keeping wages high.

Now, you can offset some of this through incresed productivity. Unions don't much care for this, either, because they think that it costs jobs. It's only the very definition of economic progress, so you'd think "progressives" would be in favor of it, but next time you see one, ask how it is we've managed to keep everyone employed as the population has gone up 100 times in 200 years.

But if you've got tariffs in place, the incentive to invest in more efficient equipment and processes declines. Fifty-cent tariffs on Brazilian sugar ethanol mean that we can continue to produce expensive, inefficient corn-based ethanol to the point where we cause food riots in Mexico. Inefficiency makes it harder to ramp up production when you want to, and also artificually suppresses economic activity.

Combined, the two are deadly.

Fortunately, the Dems will only be in a position to repeat mistakes 2) and 3), while exacerbating 4) again as well. Unfortunately, that may well be enough to spread what should be a short recession over most of the next 10 years.

Last word to the brilliant Lileks:

Speaking as an utter amateur, I’m worried less about a recession than inflation. I’m worried most about a recession, inflation AND a jolly round of trade wars, coupled with fragile banks, overcapacity, diminished consumer confidence and aggressive messianic collectivism. Something about that smells familiar. I love studying the thirties and forties, but not first hand.


Progressively more restrictive. Progressively more expensive. Progressively more intrusive.

Progressively more...reactionary.

March 13, 2008

Islamist Trouble In House District 6

The Republicans in State House District 6 in Denver are about to make a terrible mistake.

At their Assembly on March 1, they nominated a terror apologist, and an avowed enemy of Israel, with no credible conservative credentials as their candidate to succeed Rep. Andrew Romanoff. Her name is Rima Barakat Sinclair.

Mrs. Barakat Sinclair is a local Muslim activist, who 1) works to discredit Israel and for its destruction, 2) has a stated goal of getting Muslims involved in the political process, and 3) builds alliances with mainline and liberal American churches, and leftist political organizations. When engaged in anti-Israel propaganda, she usually goes by Rima Barakat. When engaged in broader political work, she goes by Rima Sinclair, as she did at the Assembly.

When asked questions about terror, she responds with moral equivalence, and then proceeds to outright fabrications. In order to discredit MEMRI, practically the only English-language source covering Arab Friday sermons broadcast on state media, she magnifies small discrepancies into malicious conspiracies. She claimed, on air, that the Hamas Charter does not call for the destruction of Israel.

She doesn't merely write. She acts. John and I asked her about MILA, Muslims Intent on Learning and Action, a group with the potentially laudable purpose of getting Muslims involved in the political process, on Backbone Radio on KNUS, December 3, 2006. Instead of simply answering that the group's purpose was as stated, Mrs. Barakat Sinclair lied, claiming that she was only a member, who showed up to meetings, but otherwise had no position with the group. MILA's own newsletter lists her as a member of the Steering Committee, in charge of PR. Typically a PR Chairman uses opportunities such as free radio to discuss her group's activities, not to avoid doing so.

Her activities may not always have been so benign towards America herself. She served as a translator for CNN during the opening weeks of the Iraq War, a time when American and British soldiers and Marines alike were disgusted by the network's coverage ("A Front-Row Seat to the War in Iraq," Rocky Mountain News - April 14, 2003).

In order to get the nomination, she represented herself at the District Assembly as pro-life. However, she has been quoted publicly contradicting that, "Sinclair, too, shares concerns about homeland security. She also likes parts of the Democrats' social platform. 'I would like to have a president who is pro-choice,' she says."("Colorado Muslims Aspire to Become a Political Force" - Rocky Mountain News - August 14, 2004)

In fact, a Google search for Mrs. Barakat Sinclair turns up no op-ed, letter to the editor, or press release, on any subject other than Israel or the Middle East. While it may be fine to have a cause, this monomaniacism seems to have precluded her from any public statements on issues likely to be of interest to Colorado voters in a state legislative election. There is simply no public evidence of a conservative mindset, however defined, or any evidence that she has thought deeply or even at all about such issues as education, immigration, water, health care, taxes, energy, regulation, or individual liberty.

The irony is that she probably could have gotten on the crowded Democratic ballot merely by being honest. On the Republican side, she had to travel in cognito.

This is going to be a difficult year for Republicans, especially Republicans running in heavily Democrat districts such as the 6th. We should have no illusions about the difficulty of capturing that seat. But we also shouldn't write it off and hand our nomination to someone's identity politics, who has misrepresented her true intentions.

Republicans deserve a candidate who has a coherent conservative philosophical grounding for his policy views. They deserve a candidate who has spent years thinking and writing about relevant issues and governing approaches. Republicans deserve a candidate who is in step with their party's unwavering opposition to radical Islam and support of our democratic ally Israel.

Fortunately, the nomination is not yet set in stone, and there is still a chance to petition a more appropriate candidate onto the ballot.

Such a candidate would be able to help build party strength, keep it viable in a difficult season, promote ideas and philosophies we all care about, and perhaps even help in some small way the candidates for statewide and national office.

What we don't need is a Barakat in Sinclair's clothing.

March 12, 2008

Mark Udall, Natural Gas, Iran, and You

Mark Udall - a good, patriotic American - is a threat to national security.

OK, not all by himself, and not any one of his positions, but as part of a Democratic Senate majority, and as a combination of his policy views.


  1. He has repeatedly opposed expanded gas production on the western slope
  2. He has voted against an additional 700 miles of fencing along our border with Mexico

Why is this a threat to national security? Because Iran is almost certainly plotting to disrupt our supply of natural gas from Mexico, And because they may well be trying to insert operatives directly into the United States.

Todd Bensman of the San Antonio Express-News, wrote the series, "Breaching America," and appeared as a guest on Backbone Radio with John Andrews and me. Well, he's back, with a story about Iran establishing a presence in Nicaragua, now run by Venezuela-friendly and decidedly US-unfriendly Danny Ortega.

Make no mistake, this is no humanitarian mission. This is exactly from the Soviet playbook - promise aid to establish a reason for being there. In this case, the aid amounts to a ridiculously ambitious project with little-to-no economic reason for being. Send a high-level delegation, with ministers of electricity, or whatever, providing cover for intelligence operatives. (Note that one of the delegation members is the Iranian Ambassador to Venezuela, also a likely intelligence agent.)

With completely ineffective border security, the Iranians will soon be in terrific position to start slipping agents across borders. And there aren't a whole lot of borders between Managua and El Paso.

More immediately, they may already have tried to blow up the main Mexican pipeline. Or, they may have gotten the idea from that attempt, and want to do it right this time.

If it were an oil pipeline, it might matter less. Oil is easily shipped all over the world, so there's a world market for it. Natural gas is difficult and expensive to ship across oceans, and the US has also resisted building LNG terminals. This means that there is, at best, a continental market for natural gas. And it also means that the best defense against any disruption in supply is...a good, reliable, local supply.

Mark Udall's policies leave us both more vulnerable to an attack, and more vulnerable to the effects of that attack.

March 11, 2008

Old New Deal

Home sick yesterday with something that even weapons-grade Mucinex wasn't helping, I saw a part of a speech where Barack Obama proposed his "solution" to the higher education "crisis." This is a paraphrase, but not much of one:

I'll make college education affordable for every American with a $4000 tax rebate payable towards tuition. We're going to invest in you. But in return (There's always an, "in return." -ed.), we're going to require you to invest in us by volunteering in the Peace Corps, the VA...

I'd give it about half an hour before every college in the country raised tuition by about, oh $4000. Repeat after me: subsidies either raise prices or create surpluses.

But the really insidious part is that public service requirement, couched as, "investing in us." "Us" being the government and government programs. Obama is proposing to take more of your money, transfer it directly to liberal universities, many of whom already get your tax money or have endowments the size of small countries' treasuries, and then claim the first two years of your kids' working lives doing make-work projects for the government.

Now, if "us" meant the country, then going out, getting a job, and doing research in alternative fuels or new drug therapies, possibly nanotech. Notice what else is missing from this list: the CIA, FBI, the military.

But then, making money or defending the country aren't nearly as appealing as ticking off allies.

Progressively more expensive. Progressively more intrusive. Progressively more restrictive.

March 10, 2008

Sen. Salazar on Mortgages

U.S. Senator Ken Salazar seems to believe that you can create wealth by moving it around, so it's only fitting that the current Democratic leadership would put him on the Finance Committee.

The Senator's office sent out a press release about the mortgage problem, and the legislation he's backing to "solve" the "crisis."

The housing crisis has hit Colorado especially hard. The rising number of foreclosures have had a direct impact on home values in the state; according the Case-Shiller home price index, housing prices in the Denver area are down 5 percent from their peak in August 2006, and further declines may be on the horizon. In 2007, Colorado ranked 5th in the nation in foreclosures and in Colorado in 2007 foreclosures were up 30 percent over 2006 and 140 percent over 2005. During September of last year, 1 in every 376 houses in Colorado was in some stage of foreclosure.

The same Case-Shiller Index shows prices down only 1.8% year-over-year, with inventory on the market among the lowest in the country, and barely any increase in inventory. It's almost impossible to interpret these numbers: 5th in foreclosure rate, or 5th in number of houses? Certainly more than doubling the number of foreclosures isn't good; but given that the number of houses owned has increased considerably since 2005, an increase of the foreclosure rate to less than 0.3% of homes from about 0.2% in 2005 is hardly cause for panic.

. The National Association of Home Builders estimates that, in 2002, 6.77% of Colorado’s Gross State Product (GSP) was directly accountable to home building, and another 12.71% was accountable to housing services, for a total housing contribution of 19.48% of GSP.

Let's stipulate that the NAHB has an incentive to pump that number up as high as possible. Let's also recall that from 2002 to 2003, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, construction fell from 6.33% of Colorado's GDP to 5.79%, yet there was little if any actual panic then. Given that the actual recession was over by late 2001, it's fair to characterize housing activity as dependent on broader credit markets, and that it's a trailing industry.

In fact, the problems in the credit markets may have started with subprime mortgages, but have since spread far beyond them. Given that, most of the proposed, "help" is worse than useless. It's closing the barn door after the horses have already hopped a freight train and are designing silks for the races at Aqueduct. Other bits constitute a shell game. And a few make some sense, but those are the ones that belie most Democratic rhetoric about taxes and business.

Increase pre-foreclosure counseling funds ($200 million) - This additional funding will help housing counselors continue their outreach to families at risk of foreclosure. These added funds should assist as many as 500,000 additional families connect with their mortgage servicer or lender to explore options that will keep them in their homes.

Probably a worthy endeavor. Certainly not the Federal government's job. And you can bet that the non-profit recipients of this "aid" will suddenly find themselves bound by all sorts of equal-protection rules that they had never considered. And doesn't $4000 per family seem like a lot of money? At a very generous $100/hour, that's a week's worth of work per family.

Allow Housing Finance Agencies (HFAs) to Issue Bonds for Refinancings (increase current cap by $10 billion) - This provision will allow housing finance agencies to use proceeds from mortgage revenue bonds to refinance subprime loans...

So they're going to refinance subprime loans with mortgage revenue bonds. But the underlying loan isn't a better risk just because the Federal government is refinancing it. If, as with most FHA loans, the Federal government is guaranteeing the loan, the family may get a better rate, and it may have a better chance of staying in the house. But FHA default rates are significantly higher than mortgages overall. There's no particular reason to think that this is much more than throwing good money after bad.

Change Bankruptcy Code to Allow Judge to Modify Mortgage of Debtor - This title could help more than 600,000 financially-troubled families keep their homes by allowing them to modify their mortgages in bankruptcy. It eliminates a provision of the bankruptcy law that prohibits modifications to mortgage loans on the debtor’s principal residence for homeowners who meet strict income and expense criteria. With this change, primary mortgages are treated the same as vacation homes and family farms.

Again, this is basically taking money from the lender and giving it to the borrower. Note that this isn't a renegotiation of the terms between the borrower and the lender. It's a condition imposed on the lender by a judge. The potential for socio-financial engineering here by activist bankruptcy judges should be apparent. And it keeps houses off the market, artificially supporting prices. If we are headed into a recession, or even a plod-along economy, it's only going to keep houses out of the hands of people who could otherwise afford them.

CDBG Money for Purchase and Rehab of Foreclosed Properties ($4 billion) - Homes that have been foreclosed and are sitting unoccupied on the market can sap neighboring homes of their value. This provision allows localities with the highest foreclosure numbers and rates access CDBG funds to use toward purchasing these properties, rehabilitate them if necessary and rent or re-sell them. Productive occupancy of foreclosed homes will help stimulate economic activity and help prevent further loss of home equity in struggling neighborhoods.

Why are these houses a better investment for municipalities than for auction bidders?

Net Operating Loss Carry Back from Finance Stimulus Package - For companies losing money in this economic downturn, this proposal extends a provision that allows corporations to apply (or “carry back”) their net operating losses to tax returns from prior years in which they were profitable, and receive any applicable tax refunds. Under current law, companies are allowed to carry their losses back only two years – this proposal would extend that period to five years for losses incurred in 2006, 2007, and 2008, effectively allowing companies to average out their good years and their bad years for tax purposes. This is particularly helpful for “boom-and-bust” industries such as the home construction industry.

This proposal actually makes some sense. It would be nice to see Democrats apply it to other cyclical industries. Oil and gas are classic boom-and-bust industries, and they've grown from 1% of Colorado's economy in 1999 to 5.5% in 2006. But the Senator never misses a chance to hobble their in-state development through regulation and EPA actions.

On the other hand, loss carry-forwards are usually intended to help startup companies and companies and rapidly expanding industries. Housing was never conceived of as a growth industry, and probably wouldn't have been without the financial innovation that made it possible. Tech companies didn't get this sort of help in 2001, and it's possible that this sort of tax break will encourage over-investment, and actually help produce the sort of bubbles we're working through now.

Simplified Disclosure on Mortgages Documents -This provision would amend the Truth-in-Lending Act and improve the loan disclosures given to homebuyers not only when they apply for a home purchase loan, but also when they refinance their home. The measure would require: (i) firm disclosure of the terms of the mortgage loan within 3 days of application (and not later than 7 days before closing); and (ii) the maximum loan payment be disclosed, not only at application, but also seven days before closing. Finally, this provision would clarify that lenders are subject to statutory damages for violations of Truth-in-Lending disclosure provisions and increase the damages for mortgage violations.

This provision also makes sense. A free market needs to be an informed market. If your maximum payment turns out to be several times your current income, maybe you ought to think about putting away a little more for a down payment and going conventional. Then, too, maybe the mortgage lender will look at that number, and stop putting people with $90,000 incomes into $500,000 homes.

So there you have it. One-and-a-half provisions that make sense. A lot of other money shifting economic risk

March 7, 2008

How To Win Allies and Influence Governments

Is David Sirota really suggesting that the government of Canada is involved, for political reasons, in a conspiracy to influence the US Presidential election? That's certainly what he implies in his most recent posting:

Instead, she made the entire NAFTA debate about an uncorroborated report from the right-wing Canadian government designed to embarrass Barack Obama.

The clear implication is that the Canadian government, a coalition government led by the Conservative Stephen Harper, deliberately leaked a report from a career civil servant in order to embarass Barack Obama because of his stated opposition to NAFTA.

If anyone's frustrated by this whole affair, it's the Canadian government, which is being used as a political football by two candidates "committed" to rebuilding supposedly shattered relations with our allies:

A Canadian Embassy official would not confirm or deny that such a contact took place, but said it's totally implausible that her officials instigated one to reassure Canada."

Our ongoing frustration is the number of times we are sideswiped, not out of malice, just because they (U.S. politicians) never thought about us," the official said.

This passage comes from the very same CBC article that Sirota claims proves that Hillary's just as mixed up in NAFTA-gate as Obama is. Of course, the article also notes that:

Some close to the embassy are doubtful a contact with the Clinton campaign took place. If it did, there is no paper trail on what was said.

The first thing the Clinton campaign would have done before beginning sharp criticism on Obama over the meeting is to ensure that the attacks couldn't backfire, they said.

"If they were exposed on this issue, they wouldn't have gone bananas," said one source.

Yes, accusing our largest trading partner and historically closest ally with deliberately mucking around in a US Presidential election is precisely the sort of thing guaranteed to win us renewed respect and esteem around the world.

It's a good thing that Sen. Obama is committed to talking unconditionally to our sworn enemies. Because by the time these two (or three, if we include Mr. Sirota) are done, we'll have a lot longer list of countries who will only speak to us on those terms.

March 6, 2008

Cycle of Violence

These are pictures of the contrite, introspective, apologetic reaction in Gaza and the Lebanon refugee camps.

I'm sure our local bridge-builders and voices of reason will be willing to help us understand.

Of course, the Arab countries and the UN refuse to dismantle the camps and assimilate their residents inmates precisely in order to create such scenes.

In contrast, here are the scenes from the murder scene created by Hamas, the elected government of Gaza.

Will someone please explain to me exactly why we're supposed to help broker a base of operations state for these jackals and hyenas?

March 4, 2008

The Machine

Bob Beckel was just on Fox News, discussing the decision of a federal judge to keep the polls open in certain precincts in Cuyahoga County near Cleveland. With a smile, he made four points:

1. The precincts in the Obama campaign's lawsuit appear to have been cherry-picked to maximize the black turnout
2. There does not appear to have been a prima facie case of voting irregularities in any of those precincts
3. If the judge was a Clinton appointee, that was a mistake
4. If the judge was a Reagan appointee, the Clinton campaign might think about bringing that up
5. Cuyahoga County frequently reports last, and it often comes down to, "How many votes do ya need?"

And the Democrats think Karl Rove is Machiavellian.

I'd note that point #2 means that a federal judge may well have violated the Constitution (Article I, Section 4) in overturning the state's polling times without a good reason for doing so. (And he doesn't appear to be a refugee from the Florida Supreme Court.) This is a most unusual action, especially when it's not extending polling in heavily Democratic precincts around St. Louis in a general election.

Just remember this the next time some member of the Kos Kontingent brings up Diebold.

UPDATE: Even when it's not close, they cheat, anyway.


No, this isn't how the Democrats' feel about foreign intelligence gathering. I was in New York this weekend, and finally saw a Broadway play on Broadway.

It's called Curtains, and it's an entertaining little musical that's being asked to punch way above its weight.

Curtains is showing at the Hirschfeld Theater at 45th and 8th Ave. (This is the same theater that hosted my favorite musical you've never heard of, "Milk and Honey.") It's an original musical comedy, starring David Hyde Pierce (who for some reason doesn't mind using his middle name) as a Boston police lieutenant, investigating a murder on the set of a stage play.

The play gets creamed in the papers, the star of the vehicle gets offed, and the good lieutenant is sent in to sort out the mess. Of course, he's a theater-buff and sometime community-play actor, who's in love with the understudy. The lyricist and the composer are a separated and possibly divorced couple. The lyricist is in love with the play's leading man, and the producers, an older couple, aren't getting on so well, either. Not to mention the critic for the Globe.

Hijinks, romance (and a couple of more murders) ensue.

The plot travels on parallel tracks - solving the murders, several love interests, and saving the faux show. It's hard to manage all this plot, and the mystery side doesn't really get a whole lot of momentum until the second act, when Lt. Cioffi finally starts confronting individual characters. It's not a flaw, exactly, but you do sort of notice that all the questioning takes place off-stage in the "Green Room." That's fine, but it relegates the mystery to maguffin status for an hour.

Curtains's music aspires to be Jerome Kern and Richard Rogers, maybe with a dash of Stephen Sondheim, rather than Andrew Lloyd Webber, and this strikes many of us as an improvement. All the songs could have been written before 1960, and most of them sound like the 1930s. The same team wrote Cabaret and Chicago, two great musicals from Before the Fall, and the songs are generally cheerful, upbeat, and stand-alone, rather than the operatic smear that you get in Phantom and its kin. Nobody sings the dialog here.

As for Mr. Hyde-Pierce, since I haven't seen any other shows this year, I have no idea whether or not he deserved the Tony for this performance, but I do know it was a good one. Very, very good. The role is still fresh, so he hasn't worn groove in it that will jar the audience if he misses one. (I remember seeing Topol as Tevye about 20 years ago, and if he had changed even one "biddy-bum," it would have rankled through the rest of the first act and well into intermission.) He's believable in the role, sings well, can dance a little (OK, a lot).

Then there's that whole Niles thing. Now moving from Moon-struck shrink to star-struck cop isn't that big a stretch. But the very very thick Boston Police Irish accent reminds you that this is a hero, not a schlemiel. Once in a while, he goes into the insecure non-boyfriend mode, but as stage acting is done mostly with the body, while TV acting is almost all facial, even this demonstrates some versatility, rather than failure.

That's the good news. But there's bad news, too. The musical-within-a-musical conceit means that two or three production numbers are for the interior play, rather than having to help move the plot along. And that comedy vein was tapped out, sealed up, and slated for reclamation round about the time of Aeschylus. As for the brassy Mrs. Bernstein, the writers establish her personality by having her swear like a sailor and complain about her husband's - inadequacies. It's cheap and lazy and the audience deserves better.

The show wants you to think of it as a throwback to the days of the Great White Way, but because it's neither 1930 nor 1960 nor 1975, they can't do it without winking at the audience. There's a nice dream-dance sequence with dry ice and everything, and the opening pose is a none-too-subtle quote from Gene Kelly and Cyd Charise in "Singin' in the Rain." That should be enough. But the writers don't trust the audience, so the leading man and leading lady shake off the dream-hangover by marveling that they had the same dream! It's symptomatic of the too-self-aware post-modern irony affliction that substitutes for actual creativity, and has led to Broadway staging movies, when Hollywood used to film stage plays.

If all this sounds as though I'm panning it, I'm not. Curtains is an enjoyable evening or afternoon, as long as you remember that you're watching Most Happy Fella and not South Pacific.


Power, Faith, and Fantasy

Six Days of War

An Army of Davids

Learning to Read Midrash

Size Matters

Deals From Hell

A War Like No Other


A Civil War

Supreme Command

The (Mis)Behavior of Markets

The Wisdom of Crowds

Inventing Money

When Genius Failed

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

Back in Action : An American Soldier's Story of Courage, Faith and Fortitude

How Would You Move Mt. Fuji?

Good to Great

Built to Last

Financial Fine Print

The Day the Universe Changed


The Multiple Identities of the Middle-East

The Case for Democracy

A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America's Last Years in Vietnam

The Italians

Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory

Beyond the Verse: Talmudic Readings and Lectures

Reading Levinas/Reading Talmud