Archive for category Denver
Denver Jobs Market – Mile-Hi Unemployment
Posted by Joshua Sharf in Colorado Politics, Denver, Denver Mayor on November 2nd, 2014
With the 2014 mid-terms mercifully (almost) behind us, it’s time to start thinking about the next cycle – the May 2015 Denver municipal elections. All City Council seats and the Mayor will be up for election. You can already hear them touting Denver’s remarkable recovery from the recovery, and no doubt will be citing the city’s reported 4.2% unemployment rate in their campaigns.
If only it were so.
Over on Watchdog Wire, I’ve been keeping track of the Colorado unemployment rate, if you adjust for the state’s increasing population and decreasing labor rate participation. The situation is even more disconnected in Denver. I’m going to go through this in some detail, because it’s worth doing that once. Future posts will certainly shorthand this.
First, here’s the nominal unemployment rate, as reported in most of the media:
Looks pretty good. We’ve been on a nice, downward trajectory since early 2010, and we’re almost back to pre-recesssion levels. Also, take this chance to note the seasonality of Denver’s employment, mostly around the school year and holiday retail.
Unfortunately, the number of jobs hasn’t kept pace with the population growth:
Since the previous peak of employment, in 2008, Denver has 15,000 more jobs, but around 90,000 more people. So why is the unemployment rate down? Because a smaller percentage of the population considers itself part of the labor force:
At its peak, in June 2008, 57.1% of the population considered itself part of the labor force – meaning that those people were either working or looking for work. Since then, the percentage has declined, even as Denver’s population has increased substantially. What would the labor force look like if participation had kept pace with population growth?
That’s about 40,000 people who would be int he labor force who aren’t. If we counted those people as being in the labor force, what would the unemployment rate look like? Honestly, it looks like depression-level unemployment:
That’s right, just under 14.5% unemployment for the City and County of Denver, if people hadn’t exited the labor force in such numbers over the last few years. In order for the real unemployment rate to match the stated unemployment rate of 4.2%, Denver would need to have created about 38,000 more jobs than it has.
When this calculation is made nationally, one counter-argument has been that as the Baby Boomers get older, Americans are basically aging out of the work force, with a higher percentage of the population 65 or older. Those people naturally shouldn’t be counted in the labor force. But that argument doesn’t hold for Denver. In fact, the opposite is true. Here in Denver, according to Census estimates, the percentage of the population that’s 18-64 has increased since the recession, as the city enacts pro-density zoning and planning policies:
It’s not much of a difference: 65% to 68.5%, but it certainly doesn’t sustain a story of large families and urban retirees.
Either many people working aren’t being counted in the employment figures, or else the employment situation – and thus the state of Denver’s economy, is far more fragile than we’re being told. Either way, this has serious policy implications for the route that Denver’s government is taking. The increase in population is not an accident – it’s the result of a deliberate policy of densification. And if the increase in property values and “recovery” in jobs is for an increasingly narrow portion of the city, it also means that fewer and fewer people will be paying the higher and higher taxes needed to pay for politicians’ desiderata, making Denver less and less friendly for the middle class.
Springtime for Putin
Posted by Joshua Sharf in Denver, Foreign Policy, History on March 10th, 2014
Last week, I posted a comment on Facebook to the effect that I was waiting for the Pat Buchanan column defending Putin’s invasion of Ukraine as a defense of traditional conservative values. I meant it as a joke, but he seems to have taken it as a challenge.
In a remarkable Townhall.com column, Buchanan takes Hillary Clinton to task for comparing Putin’s motives to Hitler’s in 1935-39. Then he does the same thing, in order to exonerate Putin. In doing so, he has to exonerate Hitler. It’s the Double-Reverse Godwin, and he gets 6.0 from the German judge! And the Russian judge! The only thing missing was a description of how it’s all Israel’s fault, or the Jewish lobby’s fault, although I guess this is only a few hundred-word column, and he has to leave something for the long program.
Here’s Buchanan’s take on the events of 1935-1939:
He imposed conscription in 1935, sent his soldiers back into the Rhineland in 1936, annexed Austria in 1938, demanded and got the return of the Sudeten Germans from Czechoslovakia at Munich in 1938.
He then sought to negotiate with the Polish colonels, who had joined in carving up Czechoslovakia, a return of Danzig, when the British issued a war guarantee to Warsaw stiffening Polish spines.
Enraged by Polish intransigence, Hitler attacked. Britain and France declared war. The rest is history.
It’s not often you get to read histories from a parallel universe in a political journal. Hitler didn’t just get the return of the Sudeten Germans, he got the Sudetenland, which included the only serious geographic obstacle to the rest of Czechoslovakia. In-between Munich and Hitler’s, ah, “negotiations” with the Poles, Hitler walked into Bohemia, Moravia, and Prague, effectively annexing the rest of Czecholovakia and along with it, the Skoda Works. Although not very many more Germans.
It’s true that Poland fought a series of short, unpleasant border wars with most of its neighbors, and that it took advantage of Munich to settle some leftover business with Prague. (Paul Johnson in Modern Times suggests that that’s at least part of the reason why Poland didn’t have any local friends when its own day of reckoning came.) It’s also true that Zaolzie bore none of the strategic or military significance that the Sudetenland did, and that the Poles didn’t exactly have the same strategic ambitions as did Germany.
Hitler wasn’t going to get Gdansk/Danzig without a fight, and he knew it. But he didn’t just walk in an take the Polish Corridor. He shelled Warsaw for weeks, and partitioned the entire country between himself and Stalin. So according to Buchanan, Hitler needed Prague to secure the Sudetenland, and he needed Warsaw to secure Danzig.
If I were living in Kiev right now, I’m not sure I’d find that encouraging.
Blurring the Lines
Posted by Joshua Sharf in Business, Denver, Economics on November 25th, 2013
Aaron Renn of the relentlessly engaging Urbanophile posts on the need for our legal structure to change to accommodate peer-to-peer, where people more efficiently share resources rather than owning a lot of unused or idle capacity:
But beyond the sheer efficiency gains, I think it’s under appreciated in developed countries how economic informality can create economic dynamism. Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto noted that lack of property titles and difficulties of the formal economy perpetuated poverty because people in developing countries couldn’t access the system for credit to fuel business, etc. In the developed world we’ve got a similar problem brewing. Our economy has been largely entirely formalized to the point where we are choking in red tape that has produced an economic system that has failed too many of its residents and leading to the creation of these informal economies as a safety valve. And our societies are very ill equipped to deal with that as we’ve become excessively formalized.
We don’t need to establish property titles as we already have them, but we do need regulatory systems that enable entrepreneurship and new business models like peer to peer to thrive. What’s more, I think enabling some level of an informal sector to flourish is actually a good thing, as it’s a de facto “incubator” for new ideas that can later be developed into a more officialized system. Without a toleration of informality, these would never get off the ground.
These innovations are getting stifled by incumbents, and it’s tying up a lot of the economy’s capital. You can’t rent a room in your house through AirBnB because that supposedly turns you into a hotel, and you’re avoiding the hotel tax. Uber can’t schedule limos because that somehow is unfair to Yellow Cab or Metro Cab. The car-sharing stuff seems to have found favor, though, for some reason. Lyft began service in Denver a couple of months ago.
I agree with some of the commenters that there’s a qualitative difference between creating new value – like nanotech and 3D printing – and wringing the most out of existing resources. Living standards really rise because of the former, not so much the latter. The big improvements in quality of life happen when productivity jumps, and that’s not going to happen through renting out that spare room on a regular basis, or sharing cars.
Bear in mind that not all restrictions are just naked rent-seeking. There are externalities associated with many businesses, and making sure that infrastructure gets paid for, and that you’re not taking up your whole block’s available parking with your in-home B & B are perfectly reasonable concerns. I think most of that is already recaptured by excise taxes and gas taxes and incorporation fees and oh, income taxes. So tying up capital in inventory is something most US companies have been avoiding since the 1980s, and no fair keeping us from joining in on the fun. But unless you’re turning that money into productive ideas, someone else is going to end up capturing the benefit of your thrift.
The wrong model will end up raising the cost of owning-your-own outright to the point where it becomes a luxury. I’m not entirely sure that’s healthy, and given the way these things tend to work, it could end up reinforcing a socialist model where ownership itself becomes a blurry concept.
For that reason, among others, I tend to prefer the Lyft model to the Car2Go model, although I hasten to add that that shouldn’t be enforced through regulation. (Neither, of course, should Car2Go get the benefit of a parking subsidy as they do now.) I think it’s healthier when the individuals own their own cars, rather than surrender ownership of a large part of the available fleet to what will end up being a small number of owners. Private ownership also ends up making it more likely that individuals will recognize an individual payment, rather than just avoiding an expense. Not only is that likely more satisfying, it’s also likely to result in more of the experimentation that we’re trying to encourage.
The other reason that a company going into business as a clearinghouse might prefer the Lyft model to the Car2Go model is the capital expense. Car2Go has to spend a lot of money to buy a fleet large enough to make the service worth using, to make sure that there will be cars available. And right now, it seems to be all tiny SmartCars. I suspect that the existing vehicle inventory out there on the road (or in the garage, as it were) pretty closely mirrors the overall composition of what people actually want to be driving. Why try to guess at a fleet composition, when the country has already done that math for you?
As always, read the whole thing.
Fairness and Compassion, Liberal-Style
Posted by Joshua Sharf in Colorado Politics, Denver on October 2nd, 2013
One of the manifest failings of conservatives in the battle for public opinion has been to cede arguments based on fairness and compassion to the Left. Conservatives care about fairness and compassion every bit as much as liberals do. However, following the advice of Milton Friedman, they have been reluctant to make arguments on that basis. In part, this is because they pride themselves on making fact-based and (in the case of the more libertarian-inclined) philosophically clean arguments. In part, this is because they consider fairness and compassion to be subjective, and a slippery slope to accepting the basic liberal thesis of an activist government.
Ultimately, this has been a mistake, leading many in the middle to conclude – incorrectly – that since conservatives only talk about poverty in terms of numbers, rather than people, conservatives don’t really care about poor or vulnerable people.
At Monday night’s City Council meeting, we got a chance to see what happens when conservatives make fairness and compassion arguments, and defend the poor and vulnerable. Virtually every one of those testifying against the Bag Tax brought up the fact that it would disproportionately hurt the poor. Here’s how liberal Democrat Paul Lopez, who was a strong supporter of Occupy Denver, responded:
If you’re on SNAP benefits, you’re food is paid for. If you can carry five bags, that’s fifty cents. It’s not that big of an impact.
In his manner, his style, and his words, he sounded exactly like every liberal’s caricature of a conservative talking about how the poor don’t carry their weight.
Here was Councilman Debbie Ortega:
You know, I get the Mayor’s concern about the fee and the impact to people. I just had the budget office pull for me a list of all the fees that we’ve done in the last two years, and we’ve got over twenty-three different fees that have been brought forward, so to say that we’re concerned about a 5-cent fee when – and, and that’s not all of them that are on the table. We’ve got some others that are being discussed right now. So I’m not real sure what the real angst is, about a 5-cent fee…
Wow, we’ve already jacked up fees on poor people twenty-three times over the last two years, so why do they care about about five cents every time they pick up some groceries?
This is what happens when conservative learn to properly point out that liberal policies hurt the poor the most, and conservative policies offer them the best chance at a better life. Liberals react by saying the same, tone-deaf things that conservatives have earned a reputation for saying over the last few years.
Certificates of Prevarication – Part II
Posted by Joshua Sharf in Budget, Colorado Politics, Denver, PERA, PPC on November 27th, 2012
Yesterday, I wrote about the Jefferson County School District’s use of Certificates of Participation to get around the State Constitution’s requirement for a public vote before issuing general obligation debt. I had forgotten that once upon a time, Denver Public Schools did almost exactly the same thing.
The scheme – used widely around the state, and even by the state, is for the district to set up a corporation and then lease its own property back from the corporation, with the lease payments matching bond payment due on debt floated by the corporation in the public debt markets. The debt isn’t exactly unsecured – the school buildings themselves serve as collateral. But there’s no separate revenue stream dedicated to the lease payments, which come instead out of general fund revenue, the very definition of general obligation indebtedness that the constitution seeks to limit.
In 2008, Denver Schools issued$750 million worth of both fixed- and floating-rate COPs, in order to recapitalize its own pension program, which had a $400 million funding gap. This was necessary for PERA to agree to absorb the DPS retirement system. While the ins and outs of the deal are beyond the scope of this post, suffice it to say that by 2010 the deal had become a key element in the Democratic US Senate primary between Andrew Romanoff and Michael Bennet, who had been Denver Schools Superintendent at the time of the COPs.
Our concern here isn’t whether or the the deal was well-structured on its own terms. It may well have been, and has, at any rate, since been refinanced on terms more favorable to the District. The point here is that Denver Public Schools, in order to facilitate turning over the unfunded portion of its own pension plan to the rest of the state, issued what is general obligation debt in all but name in order to cover a shortfall. That debt, issued without public approval, now accounts for 37.6%, or 3/8, of the school district’s entire long-term debt.
In the meantime, the burden of DPS’s unfunded pension liability has been neatly shifted onto the rest of the state. DPS may be required to step in with additional payments if an actuarial analysis shows that, in 30 years, the plan will be less sound than the rest of PERA. As of the 2011 CAFR, the plan’s fundedness had fallen from 88% to 81%, still the least-unhealthy PERA division by far. And the process of renegotiating what is likely to be, as with most public pensions, an unsustainable burden on the taxpayers, got much more complex with the addition of the state and PERA as explicit parties to the contract.
Denver Schools Back For More
Posted by Joshua Sharf in Colorado Politics, Denver, Taxes on September 20th, 2012
schools teachers unions come back for more, they always want you to forget how much they’ve taken in the past. This year, Denver Public School are proposing both a tax hike, and a debt issue. We’ll look at the tax hike another day. What many people don’t realize is that DPS has been borrowing like they had the Fed at the other end of the line (which they sort of did). Over the last 10 years, the bonded debt per capita has almost doubled, and the proposed $466 million increase would, I estimate, raise it almost another $700 per person.
That alone doesn’t tell us much, though, about our ability to pay this debt. The debt is funded through a mill levy on personal property, and is therefore limited based on the total assessed property value in the district.
So to consider how affordable and wise additional debt is, we should look at the ratio of Debt/Assessed Value – in effect, how mortgaged is your property for this debt?
But unless someone annually rolls their property tax into their mortgage, though, they have to pay it out of current income or savings. Which means that it’s also important to consider the debt as a percentage of total personal income. The charts below show how those ratios have risen over the last ten years, with the dashed line estimating how the additional $466 million would increase these ratios:
Both ratios have risen, and would rise dramatically on passage of 3B. Note, though, that the burden on income is rising faster as a percentage basis (vs itself) than the burden on assessed value. The property tax is a regressive tax. While it’s nominally paid by the property owner, they really pass it on their renters, so the burden rests on the entire city. This chart shows that while the debt burden for the school district has been rising as a function of assessed value, it’s been rising even faster in terms of people’s ability to pay.
The DPS and the CEA will always argue that they need the marginal increase. What they won’t tell you is how these marginal increases add up over time.
Note on data sources: The Denver Public Schools, like all Colorado Public School districts, is required to file a Comprehensive Annual Finance Report. It gives the Net Debt for the school district, and also calculates the per capita, and the other ratios. But it only had that data through 2008. While the BEA calculates total personal income at the county level, its latest data was for 2010. The BLS publishes a total wages number at the county level, though, and had numbers through 2011. The ratio of the DPS’s reported total personal income for the county to the BEA number was 1.24, with a standard deviation of 0.02, so I decided to use the BEA numbers multiplied by 1.24 for 2002-2011. With current reports showing wages in Denver declining slightly, and employment static, I plugged in the 2011 number for 2012.
For the 2012 Assessed Valuation, I used the 2011 Assessed Valuation plus 10%, which is about what the Case-Schiller is showing for the Denver area.
For population, I used the official Census estimates for Denver, and then added 16,000 to the 2011 estimate for 2012. These differ somewhat from the population numbers used by DPS.
For the total debt, I simply added the $466 million requested to the latest 2011 Net Debt reported by DPS.
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock’s Lack of Vision
Posted by Joshua Sharf in Colorado Politics, Denver, PPC, Taxes on August 3rd, 2012
The following is a Guest Commentary published this morning in the Denver Post. For the uninitiated, since 1992, Colorado has had a law on the books called TABOR, or the “Taxpayers Bill of Rights.” The bane of tax-raising legislators statewide, it limits revenue growth to inflation + population, year over year. In the case of cities, this means that a city may only be entitled to keep a portion of the mill levy on a property’s assessed value, returning the rest to taxpayers. TABOR includes a provision known as “De-Brucing,” after TABOR author Douglas Bruce, whereby the residents of a district may opt out of those limitations, and allow the city to keep the full mill levy on the entire assessed value of a piece of property. To date, Denver has not done so, and this year, Mayor Michael Hancock is proposing that the City Council approve a referendum for Denver citizens to do just that.
At the invitation of the Independence Institute, I wrote the following piece, opposing the proposed tax measure:
UPDATE: The Post edited the piece somewhat for space. An earlier version of this post just used what they printed. I’m replacing it here with the slightly longer version that was submitted to them.
Denver’s a big city, a major element of Colorado’s economy, and of the Rocky Mountain West. And its governance is not for the faint of heart. But the Hancock Administration is not asking the hard questions, Instead the administration is seeking the easy way out of a budget deficit through a proposed permanent property tax increase for the November ballot.
Instead of proposing bold changes to Denver’s fiscal structure, Mayor Hancock has opted to tinker around the edges of city finances, and stick Denver homeowners with the bill for his lack of vision.
Denver is just beginning to recover some of its housing value. Yet, only a month ago, the Denver Post reported that “another wave of foreclosures appears to be looming.” A sudden increase in property taxes strikes at the heart of households’ precarious financial stability, even as government take a bigger bite of homeowners’ slowly increasing equity. Renters would also be affected, as property owners pass along the increased expense.
The mayor’s proposal assumes that rising home values necessarily mean rising incomes. But the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports Denver’s weekly income fell nearly 5% in 2011, 305th out of 323 major counties surveyed. The mayor’s mill levy override scheme would mean an immediate property tax increase of 20% for households who are still finding it difficult to make ends meet.
Denver’s unemployment rate remains stubbornly high, at 8.7%. The Mayor’s Structural Financial Task Force cites a failure to create jobs as one reason for lower revenues. That’s hardly a reason to penalize the employed and unemployed alike.
Another of the mayor’s proposals, eliminating the business personal property tax for new purchases, is a smart and welcome revenue enhancing move, but merely shifting the tax burden from struggling business owners to struggling families – often the same people – will leave us no better off.
When the government proposes a tax increase, it’s claiming that the least important thing it can do with that money is more important than the most important thing you can do with it.
Many households’ finances are just beginning to stabilize after years of uncertain employment. People have savings to rebuild, retirements to plan for, and children to feed, clothe, and put through school. Maybe even take the odd vacation they’ve been putting off for years.
The government has a moral obligation to exhaust all reasonable efforts at cost savings before asking taxpayers for more. But the mayor hasn’t just “gone small” on savings, he’s also “gone vague.” With the exception of specific personnel moves, the overwhelming proportion of savings includes studies and promises to find cost savings, rather than actual cost savings.
The mayor’s proposals to increase retail sales and identify unused parcels of land assume that private developers are incapable of doing this themselves. At a recent hearing on the redevelopment of the old Health Care District near 9th Ave. & Colorado Blvd., the developers identified that parcel as one of the most desirable retail spaces in Colorado.
The mayor’s rejection of specific fees for libraries and trash collection may avoid taxpayer ire, but it’s hard to escape the feeling that the decision had more to do with avoiding the accountability imposed by earmarked revenues.
Genuinely bold proposals would include privatizing or outsourcing such city services as vehicle fleet maintenance, building and road maintenance, and park maintenance and rec centers.
Big city Democrat mayors have championed similar moves across the country, including Rahm Emanual in Chicago, Antonio Villaraigosa in Los Angeles and Alvin Brown in Jacksonville. Newark Mayor Cory Booker has been at the helm of an astonishing and ongoing turnaround of that troubled city. Facing a fiscal crisis during his first term, Mayor Hickenlooper made ends meet without resorting to tax increases. One reason he became governor was his understanding that Colorado has “no appetite” for tax increases.
In California, where cities like Stockton and San Bernardino have declared bankruptcy due in part to crushing public pension obligations, voters in San Diego and San Jose voted overwhelmingly to significantly reform public employee pension and health plans.
Earlier this year Newark’s Mayor Booker was the featured speaker at the Colorado Democrats’ Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner. While he spoke largely about his personal story, he no doubt talked city business with Mayor Hancock privately during his visit.
Unfortunately for the citizens of Denver, Mayor Hancock’s proposed permanent property tax increase for the November ballot shows that he wasn’t listening.
Denver voters should recognize this proposal for the lost opportunity that it is, and instruct their leaders to try again.
The Denver City Council Wants Your Money
Posted by Joshua Sharf in Colorado Politics, Denver, Denver Mayor, PPC, Taxes on March 15th, 2011
Well, that shouldn’t be any surprise to anyone living in Denver over the last few years. But usually they have the decency to pretend that it’s for someone else. This time, the Denver City Council wants your money for themselves and the office some of them hope to occupy come May.
At last night’s City Council meeting, they voted themselves (10-3, the Denver Post article neglects to mention who the three were) a 6.6% pay raise, starting two years from now:
Denver is the only large city in Colorado that pays its council members a living wage — $78,173 a year, plus about $30,000 in benefits.
The raise would give the council members an annual salary of $83,332 by July 2014. The council president makes about $10,000 more.
The mayor’s salary will grow to $155,211 from its current $145,601. The salaries of both the clerk and recorder and the auditor would be $134,235, up from their current $125,924.
Right now, the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate for Denver is 10.9%; a seasonal adjustment might bring that down to 10.4% or so. This is the highest that it’s been going all the way back to 1994, when the CDLE numbers begin.
In addition, Denver is looking at a $100,000,000 budget gap this year, slated to get worse over the next decade. To City Council chairman Chris Nevitt, this may only be “symbolic,” but it’s pretty clear what it’s symbolic of.
More Lefty Back to the Future
Posted by Joshua Sharf in Budget, Colorado Politics, Denver, PPC, Transportation on December 22nd, 2010
Of all the ideas for public transportation, one of the nuttiest to take hold in recent years is to revive streetcars. They have all the disadvantages of light rail, on a small scale. These include inflexibility and large capital costs. They carry a few more people than buses, but no faster, and are more expensive to build and maintain. They offer virtually unlimited opportunities for graft in the form of routing and station location. They offer the additional benefit of being anti-car while not replacing enough bus service to reduce traffic. In short, they’re a bureaucrat’s dream, a union’s gravy train, a taxpayer’s nightmare, and a commuter’s inconvenience. No wonder the Left loves them. (See the numbers here, pages 19 & 20.)
The Federal government has awarded Denver $2 million to continue to study such a boondoggle from the State Capitol out to the Fitzsimmons campus. Of course, for the Feds this is chump change, seeing as they’ve already funded over $300 million of your money for other cities to build these things (p. 48 & 51). That same presentation has several different proposals for lines east of Civic Center, costing between $100 million and $175 million.
For that, we won’t replace buses, but will allow politicians and political appointees to collect their share in graft. We won’t make traffic and better, and will likely make it worse. When neighborhoods change, we’ll have to lay more track instead of just re-routing bus lines. All in all, the $2,000,000 alone would pave a lot of roads, but the $175,000,000 of the largest project would pave a lot more, and repair a fair number of bridges as well.
If after all that, for some reason, you’re still nostalgic for streetcars, you shouldn’t go away empty-handed:
Can We Spare Denver Passengers TSA?
Posted by Joshua Sharf in Denver, PPC, Privacy on November 17th, 2010
By now, pretty much everyone has heard about John Tyner, the Oceanside, CA man who reasserted his individual dignity by refusing to submit to either the option of groping or self-pornification in the service of what Reason‘s Matt Welch (and now, Rep. John Mica (R-FL) calls, “security theater.” You know, the fellow that TSA has decided to make an example of for us all.
In addition to being large, impersonal, and top-heavy, what really worries critics is that the TSA has become dangerously ineffective. Its specialty is what those critics call “security theater” — that is, a show of what appear to be stringent security measures designed to make passengers feel more secure without providing real security. “That’s exactly what it is,” says Mica. “It’s a big Kabuki dance.”
It’s good to see that someone – one of the authors of the original TSA legislation, no less – is telling us that yes, indeed, all this stuff is to make us feel better, not actually to make us safer. I’ll grant that there is something to the operational theory that ever-changing rules and oddly intrusive regulations keep the bad guys off-balance and force them to take risks that make failure and detection more likely. Except that the underwear bombers and the ink toner bomber weren’t really stopped because the system worked, were they?
It’s not often I disagree with Dennis Prager outright, but this morning, he and guest Michael Fumento were seeking to defuse the panic over the scanners. Now, Fumento has a creditable history of taking on irrational public fear – see last year’s swine flu plague that swept away civilization, for instance. But in this case, they’re not taking into account that the TSA has dealt with us in bad faith over these scanners from the beginning. We were assured, for instance, that pictures could not be stored or shared. Which is why they’re all over the Net.
The fact is that these options are insulting, intrusive, humiliating, and demeaning, and the sort of thing that a free people should never have to put up with simply to get from point A to point B. The argument from Big Sis that they’re absolutely necessary, that nothing else will do, that no other solution short of Amtrak or Greyhound is possible, is pretty rich coming from a Lilliputian government that routinely ties down its citizens and businesses with regulations, and then excuses the extra cost on the grounds that they can always find a work-around.
It’s time for Big Sis to find a work-around. And not the current SPOT program.
In a May 2010 letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Mica noted that the GAO “discovered that since the program’s inception, at least 17 known terrorists … have flown on 24 different occasions, passing through security at eight SPOT airports.” One of those known terrorists was Faisal Shahzad, who made it past SPOT monitors onto a Dubai-bound plane at New York’s JFK International Airport not long after trying to set off a car bomb in Times Square. Federal agents nabbed him just before departure.
Now, Mica has written another letter to over 150 airport administrators reminding them that they can opt out of TSA, and hire private contractors for screening instead. At one point, this seemed to be an attractive option for many airports. In 2004, Mica tried to remind them of the option, but Peter DiFazio (D-Public Employees Unions) suspected a nefarious Bush plot to continue reducing the size of government.
Since the rules actually state that security screeners have the right to use their judgment in determining which screening methods to use, presumably passengers at private security wouldn’t feel it necessary bring a wad of one-dollar bills to get them through security.
In most places, citizens lack the means to force their local airports to do this. The good news is that we do. DIA is owned and operated by the City and County of Denver. With Denver’s municipal elections coming up in May, there’s no reason we couldn’t place a ballot measure requiring DIA to transition to private, non-union, security contractors within a year.