Archive for September, 2010
House Republicans’ Platform – Jobs
Posted by Joshua Sharf in Budget, Colorado Politics, Economics, HD-6 2010, PERA on September 27th, 2010
One of my biggest concerns regarding the impending state House elections was that we, as a party, might end up running without much of a platform beyond, “We’re not them.” Now, this year, “We’re not them” probably would be enough to get us the six seats we needed for the majority. But it’s not really much of a governing mandate. Had this happened, we’d have been running the risk of repeating the same mistake we’ve just lived through with the Democrats, who took a “We’re not Bush” vote to be a mandate to remake the country into Sweden, and are now looking at their worst electoral performance in generations.
You’ll note that I’m using the pluperfect subjunctive, which means that this didn’t happen. Today, the House Republicans issued a four-part governance plan, dealing with Fiscal Issues, Jobs, the Economy, and PERA. I’ll be rolling these out over the next couple of days, along with my own commentary on them. Let’s start with the one that’s the most important to Coloradoans – Jobs
Everyone knows the numbers: we’ve lost 160,000 jobs since the beginning of 2008. Our state unemployment rate hit 8% in 2010, double from three years earlier. The only way we’re going to get those jobs back is to create incentives for business, and by growing the private sector. There are no easy fixes here, but Colorado can make use of its world-class research facilities, and it can draw on its tremendously well-educated workforce. There are also long-term strategies, and short-term jump-starts.
- Incentivize large-scale business investment in manufacturing, aerospace and other high-wage sectors by revisiting the Business Personal Property Tax.
It’s important to do this this year, when the deficit is relatively low (“relatively,” in this case, meaning a couple hundred million dollars), to give the jobs time to materialize, so that they’ll be around when the federal money disappears in 2011-2012.
- Constructing and maintaining a cutting edge multi-modal transportation system is essential to a thriving economy. Policymakers must create an infrastructure strategy for the state, seeking lower cost solutions and opportunities for public-private partnerships.
Not such a big fan of “multi-modal,” as it usually means, “expensive, inflexible, under-used rail.” But it could also mean, “flexible, privately-operated buses and cars.” This could mean privately-operated toll roads, which have worked extremely well in other places.
- Improve the state commitment to biotechnology and biosciences by building on a 2008 package that provided some $26 million assistance for Colorado start-up companies8 and research institutions seeking to commercialize new technology.
- Work with Colorado’s universities in technology transfer opportunities, to create new Colorado jobs and companies. Identify reasonable solutions to obstacles which stop cooperation between academic research institutions and free enterprise.
I’d include “nano-tech,” which will change the world, in this list, but that’s a quibble. Productizing this stuff is really the name of the game; it lowers costs, raises our standard of living, creates both fabrication and design jobs, meaning it can employ both skilled workers and PhDs. It creates the potential to raise our exports from the state, which haven’t kept pace with those from other states. In the best-case, it can turn Colorado into another Silicon Valley-type operation, assuming it can find and attract venture capital for these operations.
The co-location of research, industry, and capital is fundamental to truly inventive entrepreneurship, and while it won’t create large-scale employment tomorrow, it’s the kind of thing that will bring back the economy. I’m delighted to see the prospective House leadership embracing it.
Shariah vs. Halachah
Posted by Joshua Sharf in War on Islamism on September 26th, 2010
This evening on Backbone Radio (listen live at www.710knus.com), attorney David Yerushalmi will be testifying on the key differences between Islamic (Sharia) Law and Jewish Law (Halachah). For anyone looking for intellectual ammunition in the fight against introducing Sharia in the US, this is must-listen radio.
You can read, and see, Mr. Yerushalmi at BigPeace.com.
The Clarity of Robert Conquest
Posted by Joshua Sharf in Uncategorized on September 21st, 2010
It’s never too late to find new heroes. So at 39 (again), I’ve found Robert Conquest. Conquest, now 93, is a fellow at the Hoover Institution, but he made his bones as a historian of the Soviet Union, one of the few who was fearless is his condemnation of the Sauron-like evil that emanated from the place. His hostility to the USSR, and his contempt for their enablers in the West, was born not of any particular political ideology, but out of a deep-seated love of political liberty, and an understanding of what it takes to make that work. In 2000, he wrote Reflections on a Ravaged Century, about the West’s conflict with leftist totalitarianism. Several quotes jumped out at me:
A democratic community enjoying political liberty is only possible when the attachment of the majority of the citizens to political liberty is stronger than their attachment to specific political doctrines. And this is to say that on many controversial issues a certain comparative apathy must prevail among a large part of the population. But apathy cannot appear a virtue to the man who has committed himself to an intellectually elaborated scheme or policy.
One of the great political successes of the Left has been to relegate that attachment to political liberty to a political doctrine in itself, and having largely chased it from one of our major political parties. One of the more inspirational developments of the last two years has been the emergence of a political movement which appears to be largely agnostic or even divided about many issues, except for its attachment to liberty.
But Marxism’s greatest success has been the demonizing of “capitalism.” No one is likely to raise barricades under the flag of “capitalism” – presumably the skull and crossbones.
I don’t know if Conquest even remembers writing these words, but I wonder if he’s surprised that a somewhat different flag of capitalism has been dusted off, albeit thankfully without the barricades.
Posted by Joshua Sharf in Jewish on September 17th, 2010
Wednesday, the Denver Post carried a picture similar to the one on the left, with this caption from the AP:
An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man swings a chicken, later to be slaughtered as part of the Kaparot ritual in which it is believed that one transfers one’s sins from the past year into the chicken, in the religious neighborhood of Mea Shearim, in Jerusalem, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2010. The ceremony is held before the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which starts on Friday. Jews traditionally observe this holy day with a 25-hour period of fasting and intensive prayer.
Clearly, the AP (or its source) is confusing kaporot with Azazel, the goat that was sent out to die in the wilderness in the times of the Temple. Azazel really did symbolize a transferrance of the people’s sins, and was a sacrifice in the truest sense of the word. The chicken is neither, and the AP’s description leaves the whole thing sounding ridiculous, even on a spiritual level. In fact, we’ll do kaporot today, but we’ll use money that we’ll give to charity, standing in for a chicken. The notion of transferring sins to money that you later give to charity is so nonsensical as to be meaningless to me.
While the AP has shown a remarkable degree of anti-Israel bias, I don’t think this is anything other than cultural ignorance, supported by a quick Bing or Google search. In fact, Kaporot has nothing to do with transferring one’s sins to the chicken. Here’s what it really means, according to the ArtScroll book Yom Kippur, Its Significance, Laws, and Prayers:
The ritual is designed to imbue people with the feeling that their lives are at stake as Yom Kippur approaches, and that they must repent and seek atonement. The ceremony symbolizes that our sins cry out for atonement, and that our good deeds and repentance can save us from the punishment we deserve….The chicken is later slaughtered [symbolizing the concept that a sinner deserves to give up his soul for not having used it to do God’s will] and either the chicken or its cash value is given to the poor…
…in order that the ritual not be misconstrued as a sacrificial offering – an act prohibited in the absence of the Temple – the animal used for kaporot may not be one that is suitable for such sacrifices.
Just a Dog
Posted by Joshua Sharf in General on September 13th, 2010
Like most dog adoptions, it began with an ad: “Lab puppies. Akron. $150. Call 970-xxx-xxxx.”
So I brought him home, without a name, a black lab. Not only without a name, I realized as I pulled into PetSmart. Without a bed, a collar, a leash, food, bowl, or toys. That first night, he slept in cardboard box, padded by shredded newspaper, in the unfinished basement of the house I was renting. He went to sleep crying, and woke up crying. At 4:00. This was a dog who had spent his first three months on a farm, never even coming indoors. Suddenly, he wakes up in a room, in a strange house, no mom, no Man Who Milks the Cows, nothing familiar. Alone. Last time that happened, I can promise you.
Thus began an 11-year friendship, familiar to all dog owners. Eleven years, dozens of trips, hundreds of days in the car. Hiking, snowshoeing, carrying bags, swimming, camping. Sage probably saw more of the western half of the country than most people who live here. His last trip, a day trip over July 4th weekend, we took him swimming at Jefferson Lake. He could barely make it around the block for the arthritis, but he could swim for 15-20 minutes straight. God, how he loved to swim. Took him a year from puppyhood to learn to stop wading, but once he did, there was no stopping him from chasing the thoroughly unconcerned ducks.
He wasn’t a big fan of the rides, never did like to hang his head out the side, and hated, hated off-road travel, although the destination was usually to his liking. Once, on a shelf road down Comb Ridge in Utah, he almost got us both killed trying to climb into the front seat with me. I had to leash him to the Jeep’s frame in the back to keep him from trying it again. In fact, he was sort of an all-around coward; for a gun dog, he couldn’t stand fireworks. When he heard the vet’s voice, he scampered under the seats in his exam room. That’s a trick for 110-lb dog.
Like all dogs, he was a bundle of paradoxes. He could break a marrow bone in half, but carry a balloon across the floor without busting it. He was a coward who took our mutual defense pact seriously, and jumped in-between my father and me when I asked Dad to fake a punch, to see what would happen. (Wednesday morning, with only minutes to live, he rose unsteadily to challenge the intruder who was there to help.) He loved to eat, but waited for permission. He took a long time to get used to the car, but put his head in my lap as a puppy when we were diving late at night. His was the model for the dog-squirrel relationship in Up, even though he only got in-between a squirrel and its tree once.
He got used to the fact that most of life was outside his control. We went camping one time, and when a wind came up and I had to lean into the windward side of the tent for half an hour to keep it earthbound, he just crawled over to a safe part of the tent to daven in his doggie way for the weather to clear. We took him to the Sand Dunes, and when wind kept blowing sand into his eyes on the way back, he just looked over to make sure I appreciated the sacrifice. When he went snowshoeing for 5 hours – about 3 hours longer than intended – he carried the food, treats, and water, and never complained. And when, on that last trip, I needed him to make it back to the Jeep, he did, even though he really wanted nothing more than to lie down in the cold, cold runoff for the rest of his life.
If you’re the unsentimental type, the type that would need a scientific, rational justification for the human-dog connection, let Temple Grandin provide it in Animals in Translation:
Basically, two different species with complementary skills teamed up together, something that had never happened before, and has never really happened since.
Going over all the evidence, a group of Australian anthropologists believes that during all those years when early humans were associating with wolves, they learned to act and think like wolves. Wolves hunted in groups, humans didn’t. Wolves had loyal same-sex and nonkin friendships, humans probably didn’t, judging by the lack of same-sex and nonkin friendships in every other primate species today. Wolves were highly territorial, humans probably weren’t – again, judging by how nonterritorial all other primates are today. A lot of the things we do that the other primates don’t are dog things. The Australian group thinks it was the dogs who showed us how.
…Fossil records show that whenever a species becomes domesticated its brain gets smaller. The horse’s brain shrank by 16%; the pig’s brain shrank by as much as 34%; and the dog’s brain shrank by 10 to 30%….Now archaeologists have discovered that 10,000 years ago, just at the point when humans began to give their dogs formal burials, the human brain began to shrink, too. It shrank by 10%… And what’s interesting is what part of the human brain shrank. In all of the domestic animals, the forebrain, which holds the frontal lobes, and the corpus callosum, which is the connecting tissue between the two sides of the brain, shrank. But in humans, it was the midbrain, which handles emotions and sensory data, and the olfactory bulbs, which handle smell, that got smaller. Dog brains and human brains specialized: humans took over the planning and organizing tasks, and dogs took over the sensory tasks.
Sage’s and my teaming up came to an end last Wednesday.
Tuesday morning, he was fine, except for his arthritis. Tuesday evening, he was sick. Wednesday morning, we didn’t even need to put him down; I just asked him – gave him permission, really – to go to sleep, that when he woke up, we’d go for a walk, maybe even go to the park to go swimming. I left the room to call Susie, and as soon as I did, he went to sleep. I was told there was nothing to be done, but he saved me the doubt.
Good boy, Sage. Sleep tight.
More Bad Regulation from the PUC
Posted by Joshua Sharf in Business, Transportation on September 6th, 2010
So you move to the US from a foreign country, go to work, save your money, and then decide to strike out on your own to start your own business. Pretty much the American dream, huh?
Not if you’re the Colorado Public Utilities Commission:
All Colorado cabdriver Edem “Archie” Archibong wants is to fulfill the next stage in his immigrant success story — to start his own business.But Colorado’s heavily regulated taxi industry isn’t cooperating, causing some local politicians to ask why government is getting in the way of the free-market system.
Mr. Archibong, a Nigerian native and married father of two, came to the U.S. legally in 1977. He joined the Army, where he worked as an optical technician and later started driving a cab to support his family. In 2008, he helped lead a group of 150 Denver-area cabdrivers, many of them legal African immigrants, with plans to start a taxi company called Mile High Cab to serve five Denver-area counties.
In July, the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC), which oversees the local taxi industry, ruled that Mr. Archibong’s startup had its financial house in order. The entrepreneurs pooled their collective savings to start the company, eschewing cumbersome bank loans.
But the PUC said Mile High Cab would hurt the public interest.
That’s right. More cabs and more competition would hurt the public, according to the PUC. Why it wouldn’t be a simple matter to let the public decide this is apparently beyond the reasoning capacity of the PUC.
In fact, it’s a perfect example of how regulatory bodies often become captive to the industries they’re supposed to be regulating. Since they establish barriers to entry, they then become overly concerned with the health of the existing entities.
It’s also an example of how regulatory bodies will almost always seek to expand regulation, rather than contract it, in order to solve a problem. A 2008 report by the PUC to the legislature shows that when the legislature had the opportunity to prevent this situation from arising, it took the opposite fork.
During the discussion and debate at the Legislature, multiple amendments to the original bill were proposed. Each of these amendments sought to balance the nature and scope of taxi regulation in Colorado in various ways. For example, in its early form, the bill stated a legislative declaration that “competition in the motor vehicle carrier industry will benefit Colorado consumers, making for greater choice and convenience.” The introduced version of the bill included a criminal history background check; the requirement that the operator meet certain safety, insurance and service quality standards; and the requirement that the Commission not limit the number of companies authorized to provide taxi service. Amendments were drafted, but not adopted, that required the Commission to conduct a study regarding expanding taxi service in rural areas; mandated the Commission to prescribe taxi rules regarding wheelchair access, refusals of service, taxi hailing without dispatch, reasonable lease rates, and the use of alternative fuels; prohibited unreasonable lease rates and fees to process credit transactions; and required companies to have at least 25 vehicles in populous base areas; required the companies to operate vehicles that are less than eight model years old, and to have a central dispatch open at all times.
Ultimately, after much discussion and debate, House Bill 07-1114 repealed the prohibition that precluded the Commission from regulating the lease rate charged to a driver by a common or contract carrier as found in § 40-3-103, C.R.S. (emphasis added)
That’s it. The bill started out with reasonable consumer protections in return for letting as many companies operate as could meet those standards, quickly became a hobby horse for a couple of dozen special cases, at which point the sponsors decided that the best solution was to ditch the deregulation aspect of the bill and add regulatory authority to the PUC.
As the report points out, cab drivers are independent contractors, leasing their vehicles from the cab companies. Right now, many of the cabbies are charged $800 or $900 a week rental. To make up this fixed cost, the cabbies often have to drive 12 or 14 hours a day. The PUC formerly had no oversight of these arrangements, but has for the last three years, and hasn’t seen fit to do anything about them. It’s obvious why. Cab companies get to testify about over-capacity, and seek to protect their (literal) rent-seeking by limiting the number of cabs.
This arrangement serves the cab companies just fine. It may very well be that the number of cabs is optimized for their close-to-extortionist lease agreements. But for the rider who wants faster service or a lower fare, or for the cabbie who wants negotiating leverage, it’s not such a good deal.
With control over the number of available cabs, the fares, and the lease arrangements, the PUC has done little more than to discredit (once again) the idea of central planning. The right answer is to remove the PUC’s control of all three elements, and let normal market forces work their magic. If Yellow Cab or Metro Cab drivers find they can’t make their leases, Yellow Cab and Metro Cab will find themselves with fewer drivers. Some drivers will leave to join Mile High Cab. I can certainly see where Mile High Cab could even work with finance companies to help refugees from Yellow and Metro who want to work, but who haven’t yet set aside enough cash to buy a car.
To maintain standards, let fares decide – on the spot – whether they want the cab that pulls up or the next cab in line; no reason anyone should have to ride in an unsanitary vehicle.
The members of the PUC are appointed by the Governor and approved by the Senate. All terms of the current Commissioners will expire during the term of the next governor. As a member of the House, I won’t have any say in the matter. But I’d certainly encourage my colleagues in the Senate to ask about new nominees’ positions on regulation the markets. And I’d happily sponsor legislation similar to the original HB07-1114.
Maes Endorsers Begin to Stampede?
Posted by Joshua Sharf in Colorado Politics, Governor 2010 on September 2nd, 2010
On the heels of Hank Brown’s withdrawal of his endorsement yesterday, John Andrews issued this statement this morning:
This morning I called Dan Maes to withdraw my endorsement and urge him to end his candidacy, for the public good. As a conscientious Republican who earlier voted for Dan, I cannot support a manifestly unfit nominee. He has flunked his job interview with the people of Colorado in the weeks since Scott McInnis faded. The party should cut Maes loose if he does not resign the nomination. I intend to write in a vote for Jane Norton for Governor.
A Bad Start to the Talks
Posted by Joshua Sharf in Israel on September 2nd, 2010
Many, including myself, have expected the latest round of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations to go pretty much nowhere. (Whether or not the Obama Administration will use this as an excuse to jam an otherwise unacceptable solution down Israel’s throat is another matter.) I had based these expectations on a couple of pre-meeting signals from the Palestinians. While the administration had touted loud and long their claim that these were negotiations “without preconditions,” in fact, the Palestinians just before the talks insisted that they’d walk away from the table unless Israel agreed to continue its building freeze in its own capital. Anyone who’s observed Palestinian non-negotiating tactics for more than about minutes should have seen this coming: timing the talks to start before the end of the freeze, and then pocketing the de facto concession as a condition for continuing talks.
Palestinian President Abbas’s comments this morning only made matters worse:
And we call on the Israeli government to move forward with its commitment to end all settlement activity and completely lift the embargo over the Gaza Strip and end all form of incitement.
It’s probably too much to expect the Palestinians to come to the table in good faith, but this statement doesn’t even state the current state of affairs correctly. Israel has, of course, made no such commitments as stated here. They are pure invention on the part of the Palestinians, and attempt to gain further concessions by rewriting Israeli statements. And of course, it’s the Palestinian government, not the Israelis, who have been guilty of incitement, most recently by naming streets and schools after murderous thugs.
Abbas then goes on to defend his government’s response to the murder of four Jews a couple of days ago:
Also, with respect to security, you do know, ladies and gentlemen, that we have security apparatuses that are still being built, that are still young, but that are doing everything that is expected from them. Yesterday we condemned the operations that were carried. We did not only condemn them, but we also followed the perpetrators, and we were able to find the car that was used and to arrest those who sold and bought the car. And we will continue all our efforts to take security measures in order to find the perpetrators.
Probably to see if they could get a fleet rate. Much of the purpose of putting Palestinians in charge of their internal security is that a well-intentioned Arab government would have a more effective intelligence network inside hostile circles than the Israelis would. Perhaps this is true, but the Palestinian record has been one of catch-and-release, rather than actual enforcement.
No sane Israeli can believe that the Palestinians would either negotiate in good faith, or carry out any agreements that were reached.