Archive for January, 2011

The Chairman, the Party, and the Candidates

After the election, Dick Wadhams sent out an email discussing the role of the party in vetting candidates for office.  Dick was roundly criticized for the mess that the Republican side of the governor’s race became, largely for his failure to properly “vet” candidates for that office.  He makes the point – rightly – that the people who are criticizing him for not vetting the candidates are the same ones who saw him as Bismarck in the last cycle, maneuvering everywhere, with any lack of maneuvering all the more evidence for his Machiavellian schemes.

The Party is not Dick Wadhams.  The party is everyone who shows up at caucus, assembly, convention, or primary.  The reason we have a caucus and a primary is exactly to vet the candidates, to see their strengths and weaknesses, to ask hard questions, to see how they’ll react to a long campaign, and to learn more about them.  The party chairman should tell a candidate for statewide office that a bankruptcy can’t be hidden and will be terminal.  Most would also look unkindly at a chairman substituting his judgment for that of the candidate or the party.

Neither should the party elders substitute their judgment for that of the party.  I largely blame them for the mess of a nomination process.  No amount of vetting could have uncovered the “plagiarism” by Scott McInnis.  That was deliberately leaked, for personal reasons by people inside the party, at a time when it could do the most damage.  And McInnis’s ham-handed handling of the charge kept him from recovering from it.

Had Josh Penry still been in the race, even for a few months, even with all his flaws, had the party elders simply sat back and waited to see how things played out, rather than trying to pick the nominee before the caucuses, it might have been a different story.  Because ultimately, the embarrassment didn’t come from McInnis not being vetted, but from Maes not being vetted.  Few who used him as a protest vote wanted him to win the nomination.  McInnis never felt threatened enough to do any digging.  But in a race between McInnis and Penry, each would have needed some of Maes’s votes, and at least one would have made sure that the party knew who this guy was.

A couple of months ago, in the wake of the election, I heard a senior party member, a former officeholder, tell a group of activists that he hoped that the presidential nomination would be settled by the South Carolina primary.  Coloradoans would have little say in the process aside from what checks they could write before, say, November of this year.  Having learned nothing from the governor’s race, this fellow was prepared to repeat his errors nationally.

In retrospect, it’s clear that the party’s nomination process for governor was broken, and that it had considerable outside help in getting that way.  Whether that was Dick’s fault or not depends on what you consider to be the proper role of the party chairman.  Dick reads his job description largely as that of a mechanic; largely non-ideological, although you want him to be on your side.

The party chairman is no longer the guy with the biggest cigar in the smoke-filled room.  Changes in campaign finance laws mean that the party machine plays little if any role in branding the party.  That comes from the candidates.  And the candidates meet directly with the party bosses, the ones who’ll fund their campaigns, rather than going through the party hierarchy to get there.

The genius of The Blueprint isn’t just that they throw a lot of money at key races.  It’s that they coordinate their limited resources as a team, so they are, by and large, not working at cross-purposes, spending money to defeat each other, or duplicating effort.  The outside groups, the Tea Parties, the affiliated groups, the business lobbies, the taxpayer watchdogs, and the groups with specific policy agendas all need to be cajoled into working together to defeat Democrats.

Leadership of that team needs to come from somewhere, and if the party chairman can’t do it – and Pat Waak has shown that he needn’t – then someone outside the party hierarchy needs to play that role.


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Governor Hickenlooper (and boy, that need to be in the editor clipboard) has signalled a desire to be more “pro-business.”   There’s a reason for that:

It’s already bad enough that the US has the highest corporate tax rates in the industrialized world.  We also know that jobs tend to flow from blue states to red ones, and Colorado has a lot of red states surrounding it.

Kim Strassel has a fine piece in today’s Wall Street Journal about how the red-state governors of Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Ohio are already taking advantage of Illinois’s addiction to self-destructive behavior by luring businesses away.  There are some limits; it’s 

unlikely that Gary, Indiana, a joke since Meredith Wilson’s time, will be able to replicate Chicago’s freight infrastructure.  But there’s no good reason why businesses can’t relocate to Salt Lake City, Cheyenne, Santa Fe, or Texas.  (Cheyenne, you say?  Well, yes.  It made news last year when a large computer server farm, dedicated to some environmental purpose or another, relocated there to get away from Colorado’s high electricity rates.)  Minnesota also isn’t so far away, and the new Republican majority up there may be enough to override Governor Dayton’s apparent intent to fumble this opportunity for his state.

Utah, Nevada, Wyoming, and Texas all rank higher on the Tax Foundation’s Business Tax Climate Rankings (  Nevada could be a nice stop for Californians looking to defect.  The aforementioned Minnesota ranks 43rd, another reason they could be looking to improve.

And remember that “business-friendly” doesn’t necessarily mean “market-friendly,” or “growth-friendly.” Success at nurturing large businesses could come at the expense of small ones, which may or may not be more mobile.  The hunger to lure larger defectors from California could mean subsidies at the expense of the rest of us.

Mayor Hickenlooper has already succeeded in driving business out of Denver to the surrounding cities, through software taxes, the head tax, and regulatory snarl.  He’ll face similar pressures from his base to repeat that performance as governor.  Let’s hope he realizes that other states will be willing to capitalize on that error.

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Reflections on Speech and Speeches

Enabled by the excuse of being temporarily dislocated, I also decided to wait until the dust had settled on the Arizona shootings to comment on them, and on the political reaction to them.  It seemed to me better to wait, rather than jump in with all sorts of assumptions of the kind that have justly earned so many commentators on the left the disdain of most Americans.  Now, with things having settled down, I can safely put pen to pixel.

I’m pleased that Obama gave the speech he did, rather than the one we were afraid he would.  The audience’s behavior was atrocious, the fact that public officials rather than religious figures quoted the Bible was regrettable, and the administration bears responsibility for the program.  But all that doesn’t tell us anything new.

Obama’s speech itself did rise to the occasion, and I’ll refer people to Ross Kaminsky’s analysis here.  All of that said, there’s no particular reason to believe that it was sincere.  After all, it’s easy to call off the game when your side it getting creamed, and that’s largely what happened here.  If the President could score a few harmless points off people who’ll support him anyway, and by doing so, appear to move to the center on a matter of optics rather than policy, it was little more than a smart political move.  He gets some points for abandoning a shrill attack machine in its tracks.  Let’s not forget that he helped create that machine, and that it had apparently thrown a rod and was leaking oil all over the road.

Among the worst offenders was our own Representative Diana DeGette, who used an appearance on KOA on Monday afternoon to try to link the shooting to ObamaCare.  She argued that Speaker Boehner had taken a large step, doing the right thing by lowering the temperature of the political debate, by putting off the ObamaCare repeal vote.  The vote was, according to her, “controversial,” “not going anywhere,” and, “intended to appease the Republican base.”  This comment just about encapsulates DeGette’s unworthiness to represent us in Congress.

The vote, in fact, isn’t all that controversial -60% of voters consistently support repeal.  Which means that the Senate’s vote to keep ObamaCare in place, or more likely, its vote to kill repeal in committee and prevent a floor vote at all, is the real base-pandering going on here.  If we stipulate – for the purposes of discussion – that it’s a symbolic vote, then it ought not be controversial at all.  Controversy is what happens when you actually seek to pass a wildly unpopular bill into law, and what you seek to avoid by doing so at midnight on a Saturday.

The same interview saw DeGette claim that despite protests at her home, her church, her office (I’ve lived near DeGette for 13 years and can’t remember any newsworthy protests at her house), she bravely soldiers on, meeting with voters as before.  That, at least, is undoubtedly true, as her only town hall appearance during the health care debate was by telephone.

We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that, essentially, there was nothing at stake here for the President and his party.  They continued to bull ahead pushing the health care overhaul despite its obvious unpopularity because the prize – nationalizing health care – was worth an election defeat, even a shellacking.  Here, they were launching a major PR offensive to score what would, in military terms, be a minor objective in a long campaign.  They may love censors and hate guns, but the FCC will or won’t try to reimpose the Fairness Doctrine anyway, and even the state where the attacks took place seems uninterested in revising its Vermont-style concealed carry.

But the campaign against self-protection and for “civility” by the Left isn’t over, it’s just looking for a better fight to pick, and the President signalled that, as well.  If a supposed lack of civility by the right didn’t cause or encourage this attack, then the attack, by definition, can’t provide us any lessons in the importance of civility.  And restraining my speech in response is an offense against society, not a protection of it.  If Arizona law would have permitted the family to keep an obviously unstable man off the streets, then restraining my right to carry a weapon on that basis is likewise an offense against society, not a protection of it.  (And if Arizona law didn’t permit that, then it ought have.)

We may allow the President his moment of appearing Presidential.  We ought not allow that to obscure the very real, very menacing agenda his party still holds.

UPDATE: I have been informed that Representative DeGette did indeed hold at least one live, in person, townhal during the health care debate.  It was called at the last minute, and timed to coincide with a large anti-ObamaCare rally at the state capitol.  Holding a townhall on the most contentious issue of your tenure at a time when you know that most of those hostile to your position will be otherwise occupied is hardly the most courageous stand for a member of Congressional leadership to take.


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Prayers for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords

In case you haven’t heard by now, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) was critically injured today in a shooting at one of her “Congress at Your Corner” events.  Six others were killed.

This is beyond repulsive, and it appears to have been carried out by a deeply deranged man of indeterminately radical political opinions.  An attack such as this isn’t a political attack in the normal partisan sense, it’s an attack on our system as a whole.

We pray for Rep. Giffords’s speedy and complete recovery.

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Whose House Is It, Anyway? – Part II

In this morning’s Denver Post, the organization Historic Denver, Inc. has an oped defending Denver’s demolition ordinance.  This isn’t in and of itself surprising, and neither is the fact that people who seek to extend their rights over your property would commit a number of logical fallacies, while employing all sorts of rhetorical sleight of hand.

The authors assume that if some is good, more is better.  By admitting that Denver’s historic ordinance has protected historic properties for 40 years, they place the burden of proof on themselves to show that additional protections are necessary.  They go on to mention a number of historic districts and buildings that were saved much longer than four years ago, without showing any building that has been both recognizable and saved since the demolition ordinance was passed.

As  to the property that started the recent conversation, they refer to the “Wallbank House,” a name that virtually nobody would recognize, writing out entirely the name of the man who actually bought and paid for the property, Gary Yourtz.  A nice touch to show where the authors’ sympathies lie, with houses rather than with the people who inhabit them.  It makes sense that they don’t refer to the case in any depth, since it went against them in just about every way conceivable: the demolition objection was withdrawn, largely under pressure from the community, and was in any case initially filed by one neighbor and by one resident of Arapahoe County.

They claim that since everyone buying a house knows the rules, it’s perfectly fair to property-owners. I doubt Mr. Yourtz knew these rules, and until his case hit the papers, I doubt most Denverites knew about them.  Sniffing that you knew the risks only makes sense if most people actually do.

They also quote some telling statistics.  This past year, not a single building threatened by demolition was granted historic status, although 10 were identified as “potentially significant.”  They nowhere quote the costs involved in pursuing the claims, either by the landowner or by the city.  As in many such laws, filing the objection entails trivial cost, while the investigation and legal defenses can run in the the tens of thousands.  These are extraordinarily expensive conversations, and the price is only incidentally borne by those starting them.

As I’ve said before, I’m all in favor of historic preservation.  But Historic Denver, Inc., is trying to use the law the stack the deck in favor of making some people live in a museum against their will.

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Don’t Let The Bedbugs Bite

No, really.

And the Denver Post doesn’t seem to have any answers.  In a 760-word article about the problem, insecticides, the one thing that actually killed the bugs, are dismissed because the bugs seem to have mutated around them.  And we are told, “get over it,” rather than invent new pesticides.

Bedbugs are easy.  The bite, cause welts, and they hurt.  But they don’t actually carry disease.  Mosquitoes carry disease, and millions have died because we won’t spray them in Africa, either.

They’re also more invasive and troubling than coyotes, another old-new urban pest that the local authorities tell us we can’t do anything about, although we did something about them for decades.

Silent Spring has been thoroughly discredited, but its effects in the public imagination live on, to our detriment.

The point of civilization is to civilize, not to live in a higher-tech, but all-too-literal, state of nature.

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Donald Berwick’s America

As we all know, President Obama’s choice to head Medicare and Medicaid, Donald Berwick, is a big fan of the British National Health Service.

Powerline has made a practice of chronicling the NHS’s success, from dead babies, lack of basic diagnostic equipment, patients texting their own neglect, others not being able to do so, and tales of horror from those who made it here, to safety.

In case all that hasn’t convinced you that maybe we could do better with some other model, perhaps this will.  Britain is apparently unable to cope with the flu, H1N1:

The deaths are mostly among children and young adults, with five cases in the under-fives and eight cases among those aged five to 14.

The release of the HPA figures comes as hospitals across the country begin cancelling planned operations to free up intensive care beds to deal with rising numbers of seriously ill flu patients.

Managers of hospitals in Newcastle, Manchester, Norfolk, Leicester and London have already declared they have had to put some elective operations on hold, including heart surgery. That list is expected to grow.  (emphasis edded)

And this:

In one of the worst flu outbreaks in recent years, surgeries in Oxfordshire, Kent, Derbyshire, Hertfordshire and Gloucestershire have all reported vaccine shortages.

Dr Peter Holden, a GP in Matlock, said: “In Derbyshire – with just over one million people in total – we have 1,300 doses left.

H1N1 was last year’s flu scare, which for a number of reasons, never materialized here.  But with not one, but two flu cycles to prepare, Britain’s medical system couldn’t produce enough vaccine, and is now having to postpone heart surgery because of the rush of flu cases.

How long before Berwick’s recess appointment expires?

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Well, There’s Unions, And Then There’s Unions

When John Hickenlooper was running for Governor, he touted his business experience, and sold himself as a socially-liberal, fiscally-conservative, pro-business candidate.  If true, even in an environment favorable to Republicans, with a viable candidate, that package is an appealing one.  Unfortunately, as many of us predicted, it’s not true.

Governor-Elect Hickenlooper’s choice of political-labor activist Ellen Golombek to head the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment is the latest example.  It’s not merely that Ms. Golombek runs the labor arm of  the Colorado Democracy Alliance, the so-called Progressives’ political machine.  It’s that she has a long history with the SEIU, the most political of labor unions, and one closely associated with public employees unions. By doing so, Hicklenlooper has put himself on the wrong side of the public on one of the central issues of state governance facing us today.

Remember that Gov. Ritter essentially unionized state workers, who started getting AFSCME cards in the mail, whether or not they had requested them.  There was little interest on the part of state workers in actually joining AFSCME, though.  I think we can count on Golombek using her position to actively promote union membership among state employees.  While Colorado WINS apparently stopped tweeting and posting to its website, that may have been in preparation for exactly such an appointment.

It’s those unions, and their ability, through the electoral process (and in Colorado, through ballot measures), to help write their work rules and select the people they negotiate with, who are largely responsible for the impending fiscal crises in California, New York, and Illinois, with other states soon to follow.  Estimates are that across the country, public pensions are $3,000,000,000,000 in the hole, and the same unions that negotiated these sweetheart deals are now crying foul when anyone tries to rein them in.  Of course, what’s unfair is not attempts to treat the public fisc responsibly, but the fact that many of us will never be able to retire because of the taxes collected to pay for the 2nd-half-of-life scholarships for bureaucrats who put in 25 years, largely telling us how to run our homes and businesses.

The presence of large pots of government-controlled money has its dangers, as well.  Subject to politicization, as in the California pension plan, the management of these portfolios can start investing more in the interests of their political patrons than in the interest of the beneficiaries and taxpayers.

Public pensions are, of course, only one manifestation of the problem of public unions.  Work slowdowns, like the one that likely took place during the recent New York snowstorm, are effective because of work rules the unions have negotiated making it virtually impossible to fire anyone for incompetence or performance.  This avoids the PATCO response, where the air traffic controllers struck in open defiance of the law.  The moral indignation of New Jersey teachers when asked to contribute even small amounts to their own health insurance or retirement also shows the sense of entitlement that the culture of public unions engenders.

Fortunately, people are starting to notice, even unions.

William McGurn notes this in a Wall Street Journal op-ed:

These days the two types of worker inhabit two very different worlds. In the private sector, union workers increasingly pay for more of their own health care, and they have defined contribution pension plans such as 401(k)s. In this they have something fundamental in common even with the fat cats on Wall Street: Both need their companies to succeed.

By contrast, government unions use their political clout to elect those who set their pay: the politicians. In exchange, these unions are rewarded with contracts whose pension and health-care provisions now threaten many municipalities and states with bankruptcy. In response to the crisis, government unions demand more and higher taxes. Which of course makes people who have money less inclined to look to those states to make the investments that create jobs for, say, iron workers, electricians and construction workers.

Private sector unions have been most effective when they have confined themselves to collective bargaining for wages, hours, and working conditions.  Public sector unions, almost by definition, see their role as part of a larger, leftist political program that is ultimately at odds with the healthy economy that private workers need.  Given that private unions have, for the most part, shriveled into irrelevance, the alliance with public sector unions seems to benefit private unions mostly through laws allowing them to strongarm workers into unionize against the wishes of the majority.  The 2010 election results will, however, put most of those legislative efforts on hold, possibly forcing the private sector unions to re-examine the value of this alliance.

Make no mistake.  Private-sector unions will continue to work to elect Democrats, and will continue to put boots on the ground in urban and suburban elections to make sure that happens.  But on specific issues, particularly public-sector pensions and benefits, it’s possible that governing Republicans can make allies of them in their efforts to rein in spending, and that private sector unions can put pressure on Democrats to go along, forcing officeholders to choose between factions in their coalition.

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The King’s Speech

This is a movie about courage.  OK, it’s also a movie about love, friendship, responsibility, and heroism.  But first and foremost, it’s about courage.

We all know the story about how Edward VIII abdicated the throne for American Wallis Simpson, in favor of his brother (Colin Firth) who would become George VI.  It was a good trade for Britain.  Nazi sympathizer Edward would rootlessly and pointlessly travel the world as the Duke of Windsor, while George would go on to hold the Empire  together during WWII, if not afterwards.

What people don’t remember, although it was painfully obvious to those who heard him speak, was that George was a stammerer.  A major handicap for a prince whose main function was to speak at public events.  A serious morale-killer for a nation who would look to him to boost spirits and to, as George puts it, “speak for them.”

Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter), the current Elizabeth II’s mother, would seek out the help of one Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), a speech therapist with experience helping shell-shocked WWI veterans overcome their own stammers.  His methods involved a sympathetic ear and friendship with his patients as much as physical training, and some of the films funniest moments come from the comedy of manners that results from a friendship between royalty and commoner.

George, never meant to be king, never trained to be king, and plagued by private self-doubt about his ability to carry out his duties, watches in horror as events move him closer to the crown, and to a position whose one duty he seems incapable of fulfilling, in an hour when much rests on that one responsibility.  The courage that he shows in facing it down stands in stark contrast to Edward’s abdication of it, long before his formal abdication.

The performances are stellar, all the moreso since they have to overcome what we do know of the current set of royals, and present us their parents and grandparents.  For those of us who only know the Queen Mother as the short, plump presence next to the Queen in the Royal Box, Carter shows us an early middle-aged woman, still young enough to be vivacious, but with some of the steel that she would show later on. Ironic then, that after we know what she thought of Edward, we see her with her children, Elizabeth and Margaret, not knowing that for her family, the worst is yet to come, and that she’ll live to see it.

None of us will every have George’s responsibility, but Firth’s portrayal allows us to identify with the head of the British Empire in his struggle to connect with people like ourselves.  Yet it’s in no small measure Logue’s insistence on friendship rather than submission, that allows us to see the Prince, and then the King, as a human being rather than a human flag.  Rush brings a dignity and a humanity to the role of an everyman who knows his place, but refuses to be intimidated by royalty.

As historical pictures do, the film plays fast and loose with some of the surrounding facts.  In the movie, Elizabeth approaches Logue in the 30s; in fact, most of Logue’s work would be done by the time George took the throne.  While it explains the C.V.O., it leaves us with the impression that it’s a knighthood – in reference to some by-play earlier in the film – when in fact, CVO is short for “Commander of the Victorian Order,” where only recipients of the two higher ranks, Knight’s Cross and Grand Cross, are knights.  There’s a scene where a BBC official, having only just met the King, shakes hands with him, which I believe would be most unlikely.

But these are quibbles.  Logue was there with George, alone, as he makes his crucial September 3, 1939 speech upon Britain’s entering the war, and was there with him for his subsequent speeches, as well.  Listen to the record of the actual speech, and you’ll hear it in a wholly different way.

In an era when a president speaks over the people in service of his ambition, it’s important to remember a time when a king spoke to his people in service to his country.

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The Theodosian Walls Return

Greece, tired of being Muslim Asia’s illegal gateway to Europe, has decided to build a border fence with Turkey.  It’s not a long border, but it will significantly raise the cost of sneaking into Greece from Asia.  Greece already has trouble dealing with the 300,000 illegals there, and has asked the new European border patrol to help supplement their own attempts to control the border.

Greece claims that the fence will be modeled on the US fence with Mexico.  Skeptics will wonder if that means that it will be budgeted for, but not built.  More likely, it will resemble the fence in another way – forcing those sneaking across to be more creative.  Take a look at the Aegean Sea, and you’ll see lots of islands.  Islands that Turkey, for the most part, owns.  Even today, this has to be a smuggler’s paradise.  I haven’t seen any reaction from Bulgaria, but unless they’re willing to follow suit, I suspect that many Asians will start turning north, rather than west, when they cross the Straits.

Some will argue that this makes the whole exercise fruitless, but these are largely people who look at the world as a football game that, like Donovan McNabb, they believe can’t end in a tie.  When you’re faced with opposition, one of the most important things you can do is to complicate their planning and raise the cost of their operations.  It reduces their chances of success, forces them to take risks that might betray them, and in general, makes enforcement elsewhere easier.

I’m sure there are some that will say that this will just drive a wedge between Turkey and Europe, forcing Turkey to turn east.  But the current Turkish government seems to have already made that decision, and with their prosecution of some 200 military officers, also seems to be consolidating its grip on the country, showing that they are no longer afraid of the military’s intervention in civilian affairs.  The proposed fence and increased border controls are more of a response to this situation than a catalyst.

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