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September 26, 2008
Way To Match Costs There, Denver Water
So we get this again:
Colorado's largest water utility will raise rates 7.5 percent next year as it seeks to offset rising operating costs and soft water sales among its drought-conscious customers.
The rate increase is designed to cover an estimated $18.5 million shortfall next year, due in part to rising costs and lower water sales.
Since the drought of 2002 struck, the giant utility has been trying to restructure its rate system, charging more to people who use large quantities of water.
So in a state with 140% snowpack last year, where we let 1 million acre-feet of water leave the state in a normal year, we still can't get the Powers That Be to admit that we need more storage. More conservation isn't the solution this year - we had plenty of water. In fact, we've just been told that conservation is the problem.
No. The problems are twofold. First, we need more storage to be able to ride out actual drought years, and to account for the fact that rains may hit the state unevenly.
Second, Denver Water needs to match its revenue structure with its cost structure. Something like 90% of its costs are fixed, while something like 90% of its revenues are variable. There's no way they're going to close that gap by reducing consumption and reducing new investment in "developing water."
Can't anyone here play this game?
The FasTracks Light At The End of the Tunnel
Really is the headlight on an oncoming train. So, RTD has announced that it won't be able to finish FasTracks without a tax increase, otherwise, the last rail won't be laid down until it's time to start replacing what's working now.
The Regional Transportation District says it would need a 0.2- to 0.3-cent hike in the metro sales tax - half again or more of the original FasTracks sales tax increase - to build what was promised to voters in 2004.
Absent other new revenue from federal, state, regional or private sources, meeting the original 2017 completion date and building out all 10 corridors to their planned end points would require the extra tax on top of the 0.4-cent hike voters approved four years ago.
So this white elephant that I see whizzing by me - mostly empty - every morning as I drive down I-25 is looking so swinish there isn't enough lipstick in the front range for RTD to make it look better. I could take the thing into work, except that I'd either have to drive to the station or take two buses on the way in and a call-for shuttle once I got down here.
When A-I came up last year, I calculated that this little property tax increase - the one they asked about, as opposed to the one they didn't - was going to cost me three months of my retirement. Looks like we're about to be up to a full half-year. Which is good, because I can spend the extra time riding the Light Rail from station to station.
September 23, 2008
Support Your Local Gunfighter
State Television, er, Denver Government's Channel 8, is filming a series of candidate forums and debates this week and next week. They have room for about 100 in the studio audience. The studio is at 8239 E. 23rd Ave. near Stapleton, (23rd goes through from Monaco and from Quebec, so it's a straight shot from either of those).
Here's the schedule for our Denver candidates:
Tonight (September 23):
6:00 p.m. - State Senate District 35, Joyce Foster and Bob Lane
7:00 p.m. - State Representative District 2, Mark Ferrandino and Thomas C. ‘Doc’ Miller
8:00 p.m. - State Representative District 3, Anne McGihon and Paul Linton
Wednesday, September 24
7:00 p.m. - State Representative District 5, Joel Judd and J.J. Swiontek
Thursday, October 2
6:00 p.m. - State Representative District 6, Lois Court and Joshua Sharf
7:00 p.m. - State Representative District 9, Joe Miklosi and James Landauer
8:00 p.m. - RTD Board District A, Laura Yribi, John Maslanik, and Bill James
I believe it'll be possible to embed the video from these into websites, but I'm not sure when Channel 8 is going to begin broadcasting them.
Regardless, show up and support our Denver candidates. It's one of the few opportunities we'll have to go head-to-head with our better-funded opponents.
September 19, 2008
Learned Hand on Joe Biden
Anyone may arrange his affairs so that his taxes shall be as low as possible; he is not bound to choose that pattern which best pays the treasury. There is not even a patriotic duty to increase one’s taxes. Over and over again the Courts have said that there is nothing sinister in so arranging affairs as to keep taxes as low as possible. Everyone does it, rich and poor alike and all do right, for nobody owes any public duty to pay more than the law demands: Taxes are enforced exactions, not voluntary contributions. To demand more in the name of morals is mere cant.
Honorable Learned Hand, U.S. Appeals Court Judge, Helvering v. Gregory, 69 F.2d 809 (1934).
September 18, 2008
For Big Arbitron Numbers...
...book David Freddoso or Stanley Kurtz as a guest.
Now Obama's presidential campaign is increasingly using the list to beat back media messages it does not like, calling on supporters to flood radio and television stations when those opposed to him run anti-Obama ads or appear on talk shows.
It did so as recently as Monday night, when it orchestrated a massive stream of complaints on the phone lines of Tribune Co.-owned WGN-AM in Chicago when the radio station hosted author David Freddoso, who has written a controversial book about the Illinois Democrat.
And as early as the same show's interview with Stanley Kurtz.
Did someone say something about "digital brownshirts?" In the best tradition of Saul Alinsky.
The Monetary Crunch - Act III
The monetarists have been hard on the Fed. But understanding why the Fed screwed up 8 years ago or ever 4 years ago is different from understanding what it's trying to do now.
First, everyone go back and re-read (or re-watch) Milton Friedman's explanation of the Great Depression in Free to Choose. Then read remarks by the-Fed Governor Ben Bernanke on the subject. (For dessert, read this article by Princeton professor Ben Bernanke arguing that central bankers shouldn't move interest rates in order to affect stock prices.)
Now with your homework done, we're ready to discuss this stuff, er, rationally. Remember that the monetary aspects of the Great Contraction were essentially a three-act play. In 1928, the Fed, led by NY Governor Ben Strong, left out the punch bowl by keeping rates low. By 1929, the Fed had tightened policy, and was bursting the stock market bubble. But by 1931, the Fed, in a misguided attempt to keep the country on the gold standard, raised interest rates again, furthering the contraction. (A paper by then-Princeton economist Ben Bernanke shows that countries' recoveries were a direct result of going off gold and reflating.)
So here we are in the early 2000s. Act I - Greenspan leaves out the punchbowl, possibly partly in response to the withering criticism he incurred in 1996-1997 when he tapped the brakes. Act II - Bernanke begins to tighten incrementally, not so much to bust the bubble as to bring it down gently. Whether such a thing is possible remains an open question.
What Bernanke is desperately trying to do is to avoid a repeat of Act III. He's not trying to prop up stock prices, though access to credit markets will have that effect. He is trying to prevent another Great Contraction, where nobody lends to anyone else, and the underlying economy suffers mightily. And anyone who thinks that anything else is going on here simply doesn't know what he's talking about.
It's possible that this will work, and it's possible that it won't. Certainly the Fed has been pursuing this policy for over a year now, and the financial crisis has rolled on to clobber bigger and bigger institutions. It may well be that administering the medicine while the patient is still contagious simply won't work. It may be that the risk of moral hazard creates more problems than it solves. And it may be that - with LIBOR jumping up this morning - the credit markets will seize up, anyway.
None of this means that what the Fed is doing now is the right - or the wrong - thing. It is to say that it's trying to do something different from what it did 80 years ago, and maybe we ought to at least be pleased about that.
September 15, 2008
Thinking Outside the Lox
My favorite essayist, Joseph Epstein, this morning in the Wall Street Journal:
Today, class, we shall take up the oxymoron, the figure of speech in which two contradictory words appear in conjunction. Here are some prime examples: amicable divorce, congressional ethics, definite maybe, military justice and Jewish Republican. Jewish Republicans may be rarer than Jewish coal miners. Let's face it, no one gazing at the crowd of the Republican convention in St. Paul last week would have mistaken it for Sam and Becky Lebowitz's grandson's bar mitzvah party.
The reason it is so difficult for Jews to vote for Republicans is largely historical. The GOP for many years seemed the party of the large corporations, the excluding country clubs, the restricted neighborhoods -- all institutions dedicated to keeping Jews out -- so that even now the Republican Party is associated, in the minds of Jews of a certain age, with anti-Semitism.
I have Jewish friends who believe in free markets, are deeply suspicious of big government, view the general bag of leftist ideas as callow if not dangerous, yet would sooner tuck into a large plate of pigs' feet than vote for a Republican for president. They just can't bring themselves to do it.
This may finally be a persuasive answer to Dennis Prager's eternal question. Epstein admits that his first vote for a Republican for President was in 1980, and, with the exception of sitting out 1996, he's voted that way every since.
The Democrats' record on things Jewish is finally not all that strong. Joe Kennedy, the so-called founding father of the Kennedy clan, was pro-Hitler and famously anti-Semitic. Jimmy Carter, in his sentimental idealism, has called Israel an apartheid state, comparable with South Africa. I always thought that Bill Clinton, in his vanity, would have done his best to convince the Israelis to give up the West Bank and the East Bank, and toss in Katz's Delicatessen on Houston Street at no extra charge, in his eagerness to win a Nobel Peace Prize.
Despite all this, Jews cling to the Democratic Party. The Democrats, they claim, remain the party most interested in social justice, and it is incumbent upon Jews, who have known so much injustice in their own history, to be on the side of social justice.
The only Democratic administration in the past 50 years that may be said to have made good on a program of social justice was that of Lyndon Johnson, himself today much less admired, by Jews and others, for his efforts in this line -- the civil rights voting acts, the war against poverty -- than despised for his policy in Vietnam. As for social justice, who is responsible for more of it, on a world-wide scale, than Ronald Reagan, in his helping to bring an end to tyrannous communism?
For those Jewish Republicans who wish to persuade themselves that they're not alone, the local Denver group meets at the East Side Kosher Deli this Thursday at 6:30 PM, and we'll be hearing from the rather impressive Claire Schwartz, who heads up AIPAC out here.
September 14, 2008
There's no question that the Colorado Constitution has suffered from various inconsistent amendments. The primary argument in favor of the so-called SAFE Amendment is that we need some solution to the traffic jam of Amendment 23, TABOR, and the Gallagher Amendment. That's Exhibit A, although it's hard to actually find an Exhibit B.
Now, the Democrats, with considerable Republican support in the state Senate (8 of 15 Republicans supported the bill), are trying to use this vague dissatisfaction to pass Referendum O, a Constitutional amendment making it harder to, well, pass Constitutional amendments.
Referendum O would:
1) Increase the signature requirement by 7,000. Currently, constitutional amendments require 5% of the last vote for Secretary of State. Referendum O would require 6% of the last vote for Governor.
2) Push the deadline back to April from August. Petitions campaigns would have to start before the legislature met, and wrap up before adjournment. For all practical purposes, anything passed by the legislature wouldn't be subject to an Amendment over-turn for over a year. Any effort to pass anything could be derailed by a plea to wait and led the legislature deal with it. And if you believe that...
3) Require that at least 8% of signatures come from each Congressional district. Initially, it would have required 8%.
Here's where we need to do some math. With roughly 93,500 signatures needed, that means that about 7,500 valid signatures would be required from each Congressional district. Realistically, we'd need 15,000 since up to half may get invalidated by the Secretary of State. This won't affect signature gathering in Denver, Colorado Springs, or Boulder (CD-1, CD-5, or CD-2), and probably wouldn't affect CD-6 very much, as it's becoming urbanized, or at least, suburbanized. But take a look at the population distribution in CD-3 and CD-4.
CD-3 has liberal Pueblo, and more-liberal-than-conservative GJ. The population - especially the more Republican population - is much lower density, much more spread out. And it's not even like Grand Junction is that large. According to the Mesa County Clerk and Recorder, at the last municipal elections, there were roughly 21,000 registered voters in Grand Junction.
This, just like Amendment 27, places a premium on organization and money to pay for signature-gatherers, especially for more conservative amendments. Especially as proponents will no longer be able to rely on popular anger over legislative action.
While the Democrats were in a perpetual minority, they made spectacularly effective use of the initiative amendment process, passing Amendment 23, which has helped hamstring the budget, and Amendment 27, which has placed a premium on big money and union organization in campaigns. Now that they are in the majority, the modern-day "progressives" find no end of fault with the only meaningful check the citizens have on a runaway legislature backed by a governor and a compliant State Supreme Court.
This is what the Democratic party is exceptionally good at: using power to perpetuate power.
When Coloradoans passed Amendment 27, they probably didn't realize that in their desperation for "reform," they were actually voting for a Trojan Horse.
This time, there are no excuses.
September 12, 2008
Tales From the Trail
Mr. M answers the knock at the door.
Joshua (hands Mr. M the palm card): Hi, I'm...
Mr. M (smiling, pleasant): Oh, I'm a big Lois Court supporter.
Joshua (laughing): Well, thanks for your time
Mr. M (every so lightly condescendingly): Still, I think it's good you're running. It's good we have a 2nd voice out there.
Joshua (smiling a little mischievously): Yes, I agree it's important we have a 2nd voice. And I certainly hope Lois runs again.
Mr. M laughs, perhaps just a touch less surely than he'd like.
September 11, 2008
Blog Talk Radio II
Tonight was installment #2 in the campaign's Blog Talk Radio show, and we talked about Health Care and, on the anniversary of September 11, Homeland Security.
Here are the links and graphics we discussed:
Robert Wood Johnson on High-Risk Pools
Robert Samuelson's article on health care in the US
Gary Burtless, the poverty expert who came up with those surprising numbers
And the three charts I described, a la LaGuardia reading the comics:
And lastly, from our discussion with Capt. Jennifer Steck of Denver's Urban Area Security Initiative, Ready Colorado. Be Prepared!
The further we get from September 11, the harder it is to write about.
Of course, we continue to honor the first responders who gave their all - and many their lives - on that day. We honor the heroes on United 93 who took the most effective action that day. We honor the air traffic control staff who may well have prevented additional attacks that day. (A fine behind-the-scenes description of those events can be found in Touching History.) And we honor those in the military who fight overseas so we don't have to fight at home. But even those risk becoming pro-forma announcements, as the immediacy of the moment fades.
At the time, like many others, I compared the attacks to Pearl Harbor. I don't think we experience the same difficulty surrounding Pearl Harbor, Nicholson Baker and Pat Buchanan notwithstanding. Pearl Harbor resulted in a war which, in retrospect, had clearly-defined beginnings and endings, conducted by governments. It resulted in the destruction of those governments, the reduction of their countries to rubble, and their occupation and reconstruction along lines less likely to produce genocidal imperialism.
By any rational accounting, we've done extremely well in the past 7 years in our fight. The Islamists have refrained from further attacks on the US homeland, but have also found themselves stripped of much of their capability to plan and carry out such attacks. Our worldwide presence has allowed us to police against Islamist cells in remote areas, and helped train local governments to defend themselves. The size and effectiveness of their attacks on civilians have steadily shrunk, and they have found themselves routed out and crushed in their self-declared "central front" in Iraq.
Still, there is an unease, and a sense that this isn't over yet by a long shot. September 11 has instead resulted in a new Cold War, in many ways. We engage and decisively defeat the Islamists on many fronts, but sadly have allowed their control of certain countries to last long enough for them to form effective counter-strategies. The Iranian threat is real, and has acquired a major ally in Russia, and this thing could go very badly, very quickly unless we continue to act.
Let's remember that the purpose of this war isn't to buy time, but to win. And anything less than winning will be a betrayal of those that we're honoring today.
September 5, 2008
How Palin Plays in Douglas County
First words out of Steve Terry's mouth this morning at the Douglas County First Friday Breakfast:
Followed by a hearty mock cheer, that was repeated by just about every speaker.
People are not fools. They understand the humor, as well as the very real effect that Gov. Palin's nomination has had on this election. But they also understand that she's the Vice-Presidential nominee, not the Presidential nominee. Her nomination may turn out to be game-changing, and people have real affection for her, but are also capable of keeping things in perspective.
In the meantime, it was strange to be at one of these breakfasts where the majority of speakers were elected officials rather than candidates.
September 4, 2008
Stop it. Stop it now.
This party has been waiting for Ronald Reagan II since at least 1992, probably since January 21, 1989. But it's unfair to Gov. Palin and unfair to the conservative movement that's hoping it's found a future leader.
Sarah Palin is a first-term governor of a 3-electoral vote state. While this makes her over-qualified compared to Obama and Biden, it doesn't stack up against 8 years as governor of California. It's enough to qualify her for Veep, and to be trainable for President.
Ronald Reagan was a speaker gifted beyond belief. He was also a man with tremendous physical courage, who spent years negotiating with movie producers and personally fighting communism; who spent 8 years governing the most affluent and fractious state in the union; an intellectual who spent years afterwards writing radio addresses and working out his positions on the critical issues of the day.
Sarah Palin is a speaking phenomenon. She's a woman of strong convictions that she lives out herself. She's got a compelling personal story. She has stood up to bullies and thugs who think that politics is a 3rd grade cafeteria. She is - to all appearances - raw material of rare quality.
But she's not Ronald Reagan.
At least not yet.
September 3, 2008
Sarah-cuda, Once Removed
On Sunday, we had the chance to interview Mead Treadwell, who directs the Security and Defense Program for the Institute of the North, a Alaska's answer to our own Independence Institute, about Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.
Part One has some rocky sound levels at the very beginning, and for some reason the sound cut out at just over 9:00, but the interview it enlightening and reassuring nonetheless. Reassuring to conservatives, alarming to liberals, no doubt.
UPDATE: I've had some complaints about the audio in certain browsers, so I've removed it from the posting. If Backbone America doesn't have it up yet, it will soon.
September 2, 2008
Fall Arrives, Right on Schedule
Yesterday was the unofficial end to Summer, the last of the three tent poles, as Lileks calls them. So I took the dog up to Mt. Evans in an attempt to hike to the Chicago Lakes. (As opposed to the Chicago Lackeys, who got Obama his first political job.)
The map said there was a gravel road leading from 103 to the reservoir, and then a level trail leading to the Lakes. Except that I kept driving back and forth along 103, and the only roads I saw were a private road and another one that was blocked off. So against my better judgment, I parked at Echo Lake, and started down the side of the mountain to the reservoir.
Nice hike, though I was measuring each step down, knowing it'd be a step back up later. The dog was thrilled to get to some drinking water, and then more thrilled to go swimming. He's a lab, and he's an exceptionally strong swimmer even for the breed. Although I'll never understand why he shakes himself off while still standing in the water.
I got some beautiful pictures of the mountains and the valley, and a couple of the Front Range against the reservoir. Shame nobody will ever see them, that they'll remain forever locked in digital limbo, encoded on a flash memory chip.
Because as I got almost to the top of the trail, I slipped, and then, felt something else slip. Ominously, there was no camera strap on my shoulder. I grabbed, and looked over just in time to helplessly watch the camera bounce down the hillside. I liked that camera. It wasn't anything special, but it was easy to use, had all the basic features, the flash and auto-zoom worked well, and it took lenses. And, oh yes, it had a 10x optical zoom.
Here's the replacement.
And then, this morning, overcast and chilly. As the ESPN promo goes, I could've sworn I heard the NFL Films music.
Power, Faith, and Fantasy
Six Days of War
An Army of Davids
Learning to Read Midrash
Deals From Hell
A War Like No Other
A Civil War
The (Mis)Behavior of Markets
The Wisdom of Crowds
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
Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory
Beyond the Verse: Talmudic Readings and Lectures
Reading Levinas/Reading Talmud