Archive for July, 2010

Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game?

This morning on the way into work, I heard Mike & Mike discussing an ESPN report on the health standards of food in major league stadiums.  Let’s just say that Upton Sinclair would have been unsurprised.

So here we have concessions in government-financed (and often government-owned) stadiums, covered under government health standards, easily available to government health inspectors, and catering to patrons of government-favord monopolies (and yes, I love baseball, too), and they’re still serving up a little extra protein with those corn chips, all over the country.

This is exactly the sort of thing the government ought to be regulating.  How about we let them get this right before handing over additional responsibility?

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Discount That Optimism

On Sunday night’s Backbone Business, we discussed the problems with (mostly) public pensions.  PERA, Colorado’s Public Employee Retirement Administration, is not exempt from these issues. 

The biggest issue with public pensions is that, for some reason, they’re allowed to game the number that describes how much money they need to have in hand in order to cover future expenses.

We should always discount future cash flows according to the required rate of return of the project.  In this case, the project, a government guarantee, should be discounted at the same rate as comparable government bonds.  Corporate pensions, a company guarantee, discount at a rate equivalent to a basket of highly-rated corporate bonds, since that closely matches their obligation.

The economic reason for this is that a lower interest rate is associated with lower risk.  If you discount at a lower rate, it implies a higher level of safety, and therefore, creates an obligation to have more money on hand to cover those expenses.  Since the level of risk associated with a state pension is the same as the level of risk associated with a government bond, they should be discounted at the same rate.  Otherwise you have equivalent risks paying different returns which creates all sorts of arbitrage opportunities.

The problem is that government pensions are allowed to discount at the expected rate of return of their investments, in effect presenting a risky investment as though it were a sound one, and therefore underfunding the plan.

Currently, PERA takes full advantage of this loophole, and discounts its obligations at 8%, the expected return on its investments.  Needless to say, despite whatever reforms were passed in the last session, it’s not enough, and the taxpayers are going to be left holding the bag.

Eventually, we are going to have to transition to a defined contribution plan, and with the unfunded obligation growing rather than shrinking, the sooner we make that decision, the less painful it will be.

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Biases – Who Cares For the Poor?

I’ve mentioned before how much I enjoy walking the district, and not just because I get to meet people who agree with me.  You learn more from the people who disagree, and how they disagree.  Usually, we manage to do that without being disagreeable.  After all, it’s surprising to me when people taken the campaign more personally than I do.

But then, there are the times that are revealing.  I started a conversation with one voter, who asked how I felt about the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.  I’ve never made any secret of the fact that I support it, especially the provisions that require taxpayer approval for any increase in taxes.  I firmly believe that recipients of new funds should have to make the case of the worthiness of their cause to the people whose money they’ll be spending, not merely to legislators who see an opportunity to buy votes with taxpayer dollars.

The voter, who, as it turns out, works for a very left-of-center think tank here in Colorado, vociferously disagreed.  Nothing wrong so far.  Then, this:

She: I’m a member of society, and I’m willing to do my part and pay more if I have to
Me: Fair enough, but you do realize that there are plenty of private charities that you can contribute to, that are just as much a part of society, and do just as much good
She: Well, you go ahead and contribute to your religious groups (slight pause) and your secular groups….
Me: Ma’am, please don’t put words in my mouth.  I didn’t mention religious groups at all.
She (spitting nails at this point): Well, I know what you meant.
Me: No, you don’t.  Although, remember that the soup tastes just as good when the Catholics serve it.

This is problematic on a number of levels.  I don’t have any reason to believe the woman was reacting speficially to my yarmulke.  That is, I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt and assume that she has a problem with religion in general.  But the close-minded opposition to the assumed close-mindedness of the religious is an especially destructive sort of prejudice.  It undermines our civil society, those institutions that exist independently of the government, and provide a community connection for both the giver and the receiver.

There is also, perhaps a cautionary tale here for those religious (and secular) organizations whom the government uses to provide needed social services.  These groups, seeing an opportunity to do more, can all too easily be converted into clients of the state, dependent on the government not only for money for service delivery, but also for general overhead.  And after that, they can become easy prey for those who, like my neighbor, hold them in disdain.

Nobody ought dispute the need for a government safety net.  But the temptation to “do more,” laden though it is with good intentions and sympathy for those who need our help, also carries its own risks.

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Forcing The Issue

This afternoon, Tom Tancredo issued the following statement to the press:

Events of the past two weeks have developed in such a way as to create an unprecedented situation in the race for Governor of Colorado. The two candidates vying for the Republican nomination have, in my opinion, lost any hope of carrying out a successful campaign.

This situation is unacceptable to me, and I am sure, to thousands of other Colorado Republicans, Independents and other Colorado voters whose hopes for a change to a smaller and fiscally responsible government in Colorado in November now seem dashed.

To achieve this goal the winner of the August Republican primary must step down and allow the Party to appoint a viable replacement candidate to face John Hickenlooper and the Obama-Pelosi smear machine. It is up to the Party to pick that replacement except that it is imperative he or she be a solid conservative with a chance to win the general election in November.

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The Quantum Theory of Government

Back in the early days of quantum theory, Sir William Bragg used to say that on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, physicists thought of the electron as a wave, and on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, as a particle.

The Obama Administration, and their Democrat counterparts here in the state, have adopted a similar theory of taxation.  First, it was the state Democrats insisting that a fee wasn’t a tax, except when it was.  Now, the Obama Administration, in response to Virginia’s lawsuit against Obamacare, has changed its tune about the penalty you will soon pay for not carrying health insurance.

Initially, they claimed it wasn’t a tax, in order to avoid rhetorically breaking the President’s promise not to raise taxes on anyone making less than $250,000 a year.  Now, in response to the lawsuit, which claims that the government can’t impose a penalty for not engaging in commerce, and that the IRS can’t be used to collect penalties unrelated to taxation, the Administration has decided that it’s a tax, after all.

Which will create difficulties of its own.  The Constitution limits the direct taxation authority of Congress pretty severely.  While the 16th Amendment permits income taxes, this isn’t an income tax.  And while it permits capitation taxes, those taxes have to be in proportion to a state’s population, which this also isn’t.

So we’re left with a situation where something is a tax on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, a fee on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, and a penalty on Sunday.

The resolution to the quantum paradox, most agree, is that the electron and other particles aren’t really particles or waves at all, but something else entirely that has features of each.  I think it’s pretty clear what’s what in this case, but no doubt the Democrats will soon be arguing that it’s neither a penalty nor a fee nor a tax, but something else altogether.

The one common denominator to all these definitions is that it means more money for them, and less for you.

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I Wonder If He Got The Idea From Journo-List

In this morning’s Denver Post, Mike Littwin manages to display simultaneously the insularity and smugness of the One Party media, as well as one of the last tools left in the left’s rather empty playbook.

Apparently, during a Senate debate at Channel 12, Jane Norton said, “We need a NASA budget that doesn’t cater to making Muslims feel good but that is strong on science …” This scandalized Littwin, who assumed it was a cheap shot at Muslims. Evidently, he hadn’t seen the video that’s been making the rounds on the conservative and libertarian blogosphere:

Remarkably, instead of conceding that we’re paying all those scientists, engineers, and bureaucrats to actually achieve, or at least facilitate achievement, in space, Littwin uses his and the rest of the MSM reporters’ ignorance of the interview as evidence that the argument was out of place, and then goes straight for the race card:

When I read the stories, I remembered hearing something about it. But when I showed Norton’s quote to several people up on the news — but not necessarily up on Fox News — they each registered a blank.

That suggests something we already knew: that we get our news these days from different places. What it doesn’t tell us, though, is why Norton thought the story was worth mentioning at all.

Presumably Norton meant to say “Muslim countries” rather than all “Muslims,” including those who might live, say, next door. I guess that’s still up for debate.

For the record, I’m as proud as anyone of Ilan Ramon, but his presence on the shuttle should have been incidental to its mission, not actually its mission.  Also for the record, I’m with Bill Whittle when he lauds NASA’s retreat to make room for a more sustainable private space program.

A few years ago, at an LPR session, Littwin told me that reporters were well aware of the blogosphere, that they spent tons of time reading blogs in an effort to understand this new media.  Seems they manage to miss HotAir, Powerline, Pajamas Media, Instapundit.

The line of argument, to the extent that there is one, is that since Littwin hadn’t seen the video, Norton may be a bigot.  In a year when the left’s traditional arguments appear to have run out of steam, there’s one they think they can reliably return to, time and again.  The Journo-list extracts over at Daily Caller indicate the power that the accusation of racism once had, and that the left still thinks it has.  But with the country having elected a black president, answering a cry of “read the Constitution” with “you must be racist” is increasing falling on deaf ears.

Those who thought that Obama’s presidency might herald a post-racial era may yet be right.  Just not exactly how they thought.

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Western Conservative Summit Roundup

From Ben at Mt. Virtus:

The Summit featured many top-notch speeches, all marked by a thematic consistency. The flow of the conference appeared to feed off the broader energy and enthusiasm among the Tea Party crowd for downsizing Washington and embracing fiscal responsibility and Constitutional government. National security and immigration also were key themes — and largely geared less for a libertarian audience. Judging by the enthusiastic reactions, the hundreds who attended got what they wanted to hear: including many stirring, motivating, ennobling words.

From Michelle at Mom for Freedom:

Funny thing is, I’m no fan of the term “tea party” applied as a label to this incredible freedom revival all across our land.  Just wraps it up and constricts it way too tightly!  I covered that briefly, PLUS I got to bring my football and share the big picture vision of the Super Bowl for freedom in 2010.

From Al at Reclaim the Blue:

There’s already plenty of reporting about the event so it would be pointless to repeat simply what happened. Just google the event. What is a little more interesting is how the event is reported.

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Western Conservative Summit Post Mortem

This weekend marked the inaugural Western Conservative Summit. Given the lineup, it would have been a major event under any circumstances. It also marked the successful public branding of John Andrews’s second Colorado think tank, the Centennial Institute. Andrews, of course, was one of the founders of the Independence Institute way back when. That group has tended towards small-l libertarianism over the years, and while there’s probably little there that actually conflicts with most conservatives, II focuses on economic, budgetary, and regulatory issues, largely to the exclusion of social and foreign policy discussion.

The Centennial Institute is clearly intended to be something a little different, perhaps the seeds of a Rocky Mountain Claremont Institute, with which Andrews was associated with some years back.  Rather than seeing the Founding as a great Libertarian (large-L) experiment, the Centennial Institute will attempt to promote the growing assertion of individual liberty as a logical destination of, rather than a deviation from, the country’s religious beginnings.  It will also not contain itself to state or economic issues, but will take on the war on Islamism, immigration, and, one assumes eventually, social issues.

If so, this weekend’s summit set the tone.  The highlights of the weekend for me were Rep. Michelle Bachman, Arthur Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute, Dennis Prager, and Dick Morris.

Rep. Bachman spoke of specific programs she wants to roll back or reform, and of the need to insist that new Congressional Republican leadership actually be what they’re all talking about being – committed to free-market ideas that work, and to rolling back so-called “progressive” legislation, followed by a detailed description of what such an agenda would look like.  Her re-telling of the story of the Four Chaplains left me fighting back tears (Tom Tancredo later told me, “I don’t even try to fight them back.”)  She’s a remarkably confident and engaging speaker, and to see her live is to see what all the fuss is about.

Arthur Brooks‘s talk was almost certainly the most content-laden, discussing how the debate over free enterprise vs. statism isn’t really an economic debate, but a cultural one.  As long as we’re talking about the money, we lose.  Free enterprise is a maintream value, one that maximizes not only wealth but also happiness, and the system that is, ultimately, the fairest.  Conservatives need to make the moral case, not merely the economic case, for free markets.  He backed that up with data, most of which I remember even without taking notes and without the benefit of power points.  Brooks makes wonkishness accessible, and AEI is in for a long run of intellectual success under his leadership.

Prager’s talk was also somewhat unfocused and a bit more rambling than his usual fare.  But he discussed his American Trinity with his usual entertaining aplomb.  And Morris presented both the political landscape, and the governing as well as electoral challenges with conciseness and clarity.

Some of us who were looking for a little more wonkishness and a little less repeatition of the conference’s broad themes were disappointed by some of the presentations.  Frank Gaffney, a A-lister on the subject of Islamism if ever there was one, misplayed his time by taking too long to introduce Lt. Gen. Boykin, leaving himself less time to discuss his own subject area.  Michelle Malkin’s lunchtime talk was engaging, but lacked a theme.  Foster Friess, who could have delivered a free market health-care talk to rival Brooks’s speech, wandered too much to be effective.  These shouldn’t take away from what was achieved, but neither are they minor defects, and in future summits, one hopes that speakers can be persuaded to resist the temptation.

Judging from the turnout – over 600 people when 300 had been planned for – and the parade of candidates seeking to make their pitches to the crowd, it’s hard to call this anything but a major success for Colorado’s latest think-tank.

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Happy Independence Day!

From the document itself:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed

The Archives has a terrific set of pages about the Declaration, although they have unaccountably demoted it from a foundational document to one of a series of “Charters of Freedom.”

From President Calvin Coolidge’s remarks on the 150th anniversary of the Declaration:

On an occasion like this great temptation exists to present evidence of the practical success of our form of democratic republic at home and the ever-broadening acceptance it is securing abroad. Although these things are well known, their frequent consideration is an encouragement and an inspiration. But it is not results and effects so much as sources and causes that I believe it is even more necessary constantly to contemplate. Ours is a government of the people. It represents their will. Its officers may sometimes go astray, but that is not a reason for criticizing the principles of our institutions. The real heart of the American Government depends upon the heart of the people. It is from that source that we must look for all genuine reform. It is to that cause that we must ascribe all our results.

It was in the contemplation of these truths that the fathers made their declaration and adopted their Constitution. It was to establish a free government, which must not be permitted to degenerate into the unrestrained authority of a mere majority or the unbridled weight of a mere influential few. They undertook to balance these interests against each other and provide the three separate independent branches, the executive, the legislative, and the judicial departments of the Government, with checks against each other in order that neither one might encroach upon the other. These are our guarantees of liberty. As a result of these methods enterprise has been duly protected from confiscation, the people have been free from oppression, and there has been an ever-broadening and deepening of the humanities of life.

And you can listen to Professor Thomas Krannawitter discuss the origins, history, and meaning of the Declaration this evening on Backbone Radio.  Or you can stream it here:


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