Sunday, July 26, 2009

Where to find me

In case you haven't guessed, I'm blogging/posting elsewhere these days.

From now on, the best place to find me is on Facebook. Or as a regular contributor to the JLF blog The Locker Room.

See ya on the Interwebs ...

Monday, June 01, 2009

Weber Q-140 electric grill

Because years ago some careless dolt didn't pay attention to his grill (and burned down his apartment building), it's against the law in North Carolina to have any grill using an open flame on an apartment balcony or patio. Gas or charcoal grills must be at least 10 feet from the structure.

Which makes barbecuing on the third floor a challenge.

Not grilling was not an option. So I had to obtain an electric grill and researched the alternatives. The result: A Weber (duh).

The Q series comes in gas and electric models; and if you saw "Dear Food Network" last week, you'll recall one of the hosts (it may have been Aida Whatsername) cooking on one of the Q series gas models.

This grill is not cheap. We got it at Bed, Bath & Beyond and using the standard 20% off coupon it was about $220 including tax. But it's a terrific grill that should last for years. And when we move to a house, I can see it being our primary grill when we don't use charcoal -- when we're cooking for just us and it's burgers or hot dogs or any veggie or non-steak protein that requires direct heat and can cook in less than 15-20 minutes. In other words, we probably won't need a gas grill to supplement our Weber kettle.

On the highest setting, the Q-140 can reportedly reach temperatures of 600 degrees F. That's because Weber developed a reflective coating for the cover and the base that intensifies the heat from the element.

All I know is, it really can sear meat, as you can see from these pork chops.

And salmon

It also does indirect cooking well, too. Turkey thighs

Stuffed peppers

The final word: An outstanding alternative to lousy tabletop appliances or cheesy George Foreman models if you can't have an open flame. Comes apart for easy cleaning, too. And you can buy accessories, including a stand with wheels (and trays) giving you all the convenience of a "real" patio grill.

Highly recommended, notwithstanding the hefty price tag.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Dems want Obama to make Easley/Edwards probes go away

"John Edwards admits federal investigators are asking him questions. Federal subpoenas were issued Friday related to Mike Easley.

"As the separate federal probes into a former senator and the former governor are emerging, Democrats are taking steps to replace the Republican prosecutor who is spearheading the inquiries about the highest-profile North Carolina Democrats of the past decade."

That's the lede of today's story by N&O reporter Andy Curliss on the deepening federal investigations of the two top Dems. (Curliss has been absolutely on fire lately.)

Curliss goes on to report that freshman Sen. Kay Hagan has chosen a panel to come up with successors to U.S. Attorney George Holding, a Bush appointee, who's led the probes. And Hagan said she might have a nominee in mind within a few weeks.

When a new president takes office (especially when that transition involves a change of parties), it's not at all unusual for the new administration to replace most if not all U.S. attorneys, not to mention other office-holders who serve at the pleasure of the president. Obama could have fired any or all of the nearly 100 federal prosecutors who worked for George W. Bush. But he didn't, and as Curliss reports,

So far, Obama has been slower to make changes than some of his predecessors. Bill Clinton asked all U.S. attorneys to resign when he took office, for example. Democrats this year also have signaled they want to keep some holdovers, including political independent Patrick Fitzgerald in Chicago, who is overseeing the case against former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a Democrat.

So with Holding knee-deep in the Edwards and Easley probes, any move to replace him now sure would look like a calculated move to help Democrats escape scrutiny now, wouldn't it?

Friday, May 15, 2009

Newspapers may be dying but journalism isn't

Thoughts on a world that will increasingly on different sources of information. It's my first Carolina Journal column.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

North Carolina bans smoking

That's a four-word sentence I knew I'd never write. But it's going to happen as soon as Gov. Bev Perdue signs the law passed by the state House yesterday.

On a purely selfish, personal level, I'll be happy to no longer come home from a restaurant or bar with smoke-infused clothing. But as a matter of principle, this is a sad day for property owners. Setting aside cigar bars, private clubs, and some hotel rooms, the state ban outlaws smoking at all places of employment in the state -- including home-based businesses and one-person operations (think small convenience stores or shoe repair shops).

The law prevents state or local governments from banning smoking in private residences ... for now. (Strike that; you can't smoke in your home if you provide child-care services.)

So that exemption won't last forever.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

"Former Gov. Jetsetter"

That's how Sam Hieb, Piedmont Triad blogger for JLF, describes the travel habits of Gov. Mike Easley during his two terms in office. And that's just part of what the News and Observer unveils in a two-part series on the former governor's outside-the-lines activities.

I'm proud to say that Carolina Journal did a lot of the early (and follow-up) reporting on Easley's taxpayer-funded private travel and his shady real-estate deals. You can read it all, dating from March 2006, here.

Back at the N&O, here's how reporter Andrew Curliss' series opens:

While he was governor, Mike Easley turned a small group of influential North Carolina businessmen into his own private air service, an arrangement Easley kept secret.

Starting in 2003, Easley took at least 25 flights on private jets, some in apparent violation of campaign laws and ethics rules, documents and interviews show. Some flights were free. The value of others exceeded campaign contribution limits.

Taxpayers also coughed up $72,000 to rent lodgings for his state-trooper security detail when Easley frequently visited his second home near the coast.

Turns out that Easley had plenty of money in his campaign coffers to pay for the travel and the troopers, but hey, who could blame him for getting the services for "free"?

Part two highlights the Easley family's dealings with longtime friend McQueen Campbell, who wormed his way into the administration of NC State University and seems to have rewarded Easley with a sweetheart deal on -- yes -- beachfront property at the Cannonsgate development. Along with a phony-baloney job at NCSU for First Lady Mary Easley that'll pay her $850,000 over the next five years.

The air travel and free cars the Easley family received from a couple of auto dealers through his second term, if not earlier (and that they continued to get after Mike Easley left office), and particularly the Cannonsgate transaction have gotten the attention of the U.S. attorney, as this CJ story reported.

Because Easley's no longer governor, this mess probably won't attract the outside attention that the Blago pay-to-play scandal received. But stay tuned. The feds may lay the hammer down on some major political players in the Tar Heel State.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Merlefest 2009: First take

Folks, the 2009 Merle Eddy Watson Memorial Music Festival was hot. And the temps were pretty high, too -- around 90 Saturday. A few highlights of the stuff we saw.

Friday, afternoon: The Chris Austin Songwriting Competition. This contest helped launch the careers of the first winner in the bluegrass category, Gillian Welch (1993), and Tift Merritt (2001), who was one of the judges this year (seen pictured with, among others, Jim Lauderdale and Leonard Podolak of the Duhks).

We disagreed with the judges in all four categories. And one entrant who was a finalist in two categories and finished first in one should have won for best country song instead of best gospel song, but whatever.

Tift Merritt played the Cabin Stage Thursday evening, and it was her first appearance at Merlefest since she won the Austin contest (and performed on the Cabin Stage) eight years ago.

Friday night, Watson Stage: The Del McCoury Band. For my money, there's no one better playing straight-ahead bluegrass. The band incorporates some contemporary influences at times (playing a great arrangement of Richard Thompson's "1952 Vincent Black Lightning," for instance -- which they've also recorded), but staying true to tradition without sounding musty or hokey. Forgot to take photos, unfortunately.

Friday night, Watson Stage: The Waybacks. Still our favorite Americana band. We wound up seeing them three times over about a 20-hour period.

Saturday morning, the Lounge: Doug MacLeod. You gotta see this guy play, especially if your only contact with him was his tenure several years back as the host of "Nothin' But the Blues" on KLON/KJZZ in Long Beach.

He's a terrific singer, songwriter, guitarist, story teller, and a charming and funny fellow. Plays traditional blues the way they're supposed to be done. He's based in SoCal, so if he's in your neighborhood, please go see him live. And if you don't live there, buy his CDs. He's a treasure.

Saturday afternoon: The Waybacks, the Walker Center. Set No. 2 with the guys, all by their lonesomes, before a SRO crowd. (Apologies for the lousy photo quality.) How James Nash makes that flattop acoustic guitar sound like a Stratocaster is anyone's guess.

Saturday afternoon, the Creekside Stage: The Belleville Outfit. The find of the festival, IMO. This group of kids, now based in Austin, launched their career on the back stages of Merlefest 2007. They've become quite an item on the Americana circuit. If your tastes run to gypsy swing and celtic, with a little Patsy Cline for good measure, you'll love the Belleville Outfit.

Saturday afternoon, the Hillside Stage: The Hillside Album Hour with The Waybacks and John Cowan. Last year they played Led Zeppelin II, start to finish. This year it was Sticky Fingers, with special guest Emmylou Harris handling vocals on "Wild Horses" (sure to be popular when makes the songs available as downloads). Sam Bush joined the band on 'lectric guitar (the first time I've heard of him playing anything other than mandolin or fiddle). The place was packed, despite the 90-degree temps, and it was a blast.

Saturday night: Emmylou Harris, Watson Stage. She was in great form, though she is what she is (as she joked onstage) -- a charter member of the depressing singer/songwriters' club. After nearly 12 hours of listening to music (and at the end of the third day of the festival), we were toast and couldn't even hang around long enough for Sam Bush's set. It was probably awesome. Rats.

Besides Sam, who else would we have liked to see but didn't? Doc, who performed only Saturday and Sunday. His Saturday night Docabilly set began after the Album Hour and we had to take a break and catch up with family and friends. And we didn't attend the festival Sunday. Again, we had hit our limit.

The Greencards. The Duhks (in a set by themselves). Sierra Hull and Highway 111. Joe Thompson. The Carolina Chocolate Drops.

Doc'll be in Raleigh this summer, and you wonder how much longer he'll be with us. So if you get a chance to see him, do so.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The 21st century's David Gergen?

Well, maybe the analogy is not precise, but I'm trying to figure out a way to peg NYT columnist David Brooks. He's the MSM's version of an acceptable conservative, who can offer presumably insightful platitudes to the chin pullers of PBS and the BosNyWash political class. Even though there's nothing really conservative about him (unless you think conservatism = martial state, because Brooks has long advocated some type of coerced government service as a rite of passage for young Americans). Brooks is the sort of guy who, like Gergen, gets invited to present the right-wing viewpoint on acceptable TV shows and in prestige newspapers. And though he can turn a phrase, he's pretty useless in that role, because in his heart of hearts he's hoisting his wet finger to the wind and trying to figure out how he can continue being invited to those really nifty public functions by the political elites.

Anyway, I typically don't waste my time reading him, but he was in the N&O today (it was yesterday's NYT column), and I had a couple of minutes, and, well, things happen before the first cup of tea kicks in.

Brooks recounts Obama's "National Foundation" speech from last week in a suck-up that must have made Gergen bow in admiration ("Obama then went on to describe his remedy in the soothing, understated manner of a country doctor prescribing a few small procedures." Must ... resist ... wretching ...). But nevermind that. What got me was this telling quote:

The first danger for the Obama administration, of course, is that his teams of experts may not be as farsighted as they believe. It may not be so easy to out-think the market.

Wow, ya think?

Brooks has officially become a Silly Person and I will no longer waste any time considering anything he has to say. I have regained an extra five minutes a week or so of my life.

Ross Douthat, the Times's new "conservative" columnist, has a lot of work to do to rise above the intellectual goo that Brooks considers insight.

The Times goes from Bill Safire to John Tierney to ... this?

P.S. If anyone can come up with a better mantle for Brooks to wear than Gergen's, I'm all ears.

Monday, April 13, 2009

While we were away ...

1) Ward Churchill won his lawsuit against the University of Colorado. And wants his old job back. Or a million bucks.

2) The Colorado legislature prepared a $1.9-million wish list of tax hikes it may soon pass -- without getting voter approval as the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights supposedly requires. Didn't take long for the political establishment to exploit the state Supreme Court ruling I wrote about here.

When I was working in Colorado, I can't tell you how many times we'd have an editorial board with Democratic politicians (Gov. Bill Ritter, former House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, you name it) who would swear on a stack of Bibles their fidelity to the linchpin of TABOR: voter approval of tax increases. They'd say TABOR's revenue limitations ought to be tweaked, but by golly, any attempt to raise taxes deserves, no, demands a vote of the people, and they could not countenance any attempt to water down or bypass that explicit limitation on representative government.

I could dig out my old notebooks with those interviews and cite you date and time, chapter and verse.

Now that the court has ruled that the government can raise taxes without voter approval, however, those previous pledges have gone down the memory hole. And unless Colorado voters hold their elected officials accountable -- or at least insist that the people in office honor the language and the intent of TABOR -- Colorado will soon resemble Oregon, except without the lovely coastline.

3) Carolina won a title.

Hat tip: Jeff T. at Meck Deck.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Jim Calhoun is done

Don't get me wrong. UConn could still win the NCAA hoops championship this year. But the Hall of Fame coach may be preparing for his final weekend.

The much-talked-about Yahoo! Sports story provides solid evidence of multiple recruiting violations. Essentially, as UConn pursued recruit Nate Miles, a former team manager turned sports agent steered Miles in UConn's direction. In other words, professional agents aren't just representing players before they turn pro; they're signing them up before college. And in this case, the agent went to pretty significant lengths to arrange for Miles to qualify academically at UConn.

The specific violations may seem trivial, involving hundreds of phone calls between the agent and the recruit and the school at a time that NCAA rules limit contact between recruits and school officials to one a month.

But Calhoun's reaction Thursday and again Friday to the developing story was especially telling.

Could I have made a mistake? Sure. The (rules) manual is 508 pages. Someone could’ve made a mistake.

Not so fast. More than 1,500 contacts with a recruit during a time schools can make only one call a month is not an innocent mistake. Besides, coaches know quite well how often they're allowed to touch base with prospects.

This is, after all, the same type of violations that ended the career of former Oklahoma and Indiana coach Kelvin Sampson -- who was reportedly on the short list for the Carolina job when Matt Doherty was hired. Calhoun and his staff had to know the NCAA does not allow them.

It's as if a 60-year-old who hasn't filed taxes in 15 years gets caught -- and then blames the complexity of the tax code for "dropping out of the system." It doesn't wash.

Say what you will about the NCAA's rulebook. The regulations are supposed to apply to everyone. If you want to have a big-time college program, you have to comply. And if you don't, and are caught, you should suffer the consequences, not point fingers at the unfairness of the system.

ESPN's Colin Cowherd had it right this week. The head coach of a major college basketball program is like the CEO of a 20-person company. The successful ones know everything that's going on inside the operation. Besides, Calhoun said Miles was the most talented wing prospect he'd ever seen. He knew what was happening.

The question is, how long will Calhoun fight? And if he's forced out after the season, how long will it take UConn to become an elite program again? UNLV has never fully recovered, nearly two decades after Jerry Tarkanian was kicked out. And Indiana may be a doormat in the Big Ten for years because of the sanctions Sampson attracted.

UConn, the program Calhoun built from scratch, may fast disappear into obscurity.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Buyers remorse?

The newest fad on the respectable left: Dissing Barack Obama and the Dems' mindless populism. Take this from NYT columnist and former editorial page editor Gail Collins:

In summary, there appear to be only two constants in our ever-changing world. One is that Barack Obama is going to be on television every day forever. No venue is too strange. Soon, he’ll be on “Dancing With the Stars” (“And now, doing the Health Care, Energy and Education tango ...”) or delivering the weather report. (“Here we see a wave of systemic change, moving across the nation ...”)

The other immutable truth is that we always need to have somebody we can be really, really angry at. The A.I.G. bonus-takers have pretty much worn out their 15 minutes. In an Op-Ed article in The Times on Wednesday, Jake DeSantis, one of the executive vice presidents of the company’s dreaded financial-products unit, offered up his side of the story about how even though he had never met a credit default swap in his life, he had promised to stay around to help clean up the mess for $1 a year and a bonus at the end of the tunnel. And then, suddenly, there was the head of the company throwing him to the wolves, or at least to the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Capital Markets, Insurance, and Government Sponsored Enterprises.

Too bad these "opinion leaders" weren't so enlightened or willing to lead oh, about 18 months ago.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Bartenders rule. The rest of us drool

David O'Brien at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's outstanding Braves blog shares this story about the Boston Plaza Park Hotel's A-Roid cocktail:

The A-Roid starts with a shot of El Mejor Tequila, served straight up. To give the shot a little something extra; a spicy smoky splash is served on the side in a convenient syringe … minus the needle. Inject the Performance-Enhancing Boost of Spicy Tomato “Juice” right into the shot or use it as a chaser. However you use it, come clean and acknowledge it … don’t deny it.

And as the blogger at points out, "At $11, ARod may be the only one able to afford the cocktail in this economy."

So Ah-nold was lying all along

The Governator was perhaps the best-known proponent of the fallacy (also propagated by Al Gore, Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper and others) that it's possible for economic vitality and draconian green policies to co-exist. That any trade-offs required to reduce greenhouse gases would be scarcely noticed by Joe Citizen, and that we're all about to reach a carbon-neutral, nirvana of high incomes and minuscule environmental footprints.

Or not. David Owen, in The New Yorker, acknowledges that the only way to significantly reduce greenhouse gases in the near term is by tanking the economy. He also notes that

The environmental benefits of economic decline, though real, are fragile, because they are vulnerable to intervention by governments, which, understandably, want to put people back to work and get them buying non-necessities again—through programs intended to revive ordinary consumer spending (which has a big carbon footprint), and through public-investment projects to build new roads and airports (ditto). Our best intentions regarding conservation and carbon reduction inevitably run up against the realities of foreclosure and bankruptcy and unemployment. How do we persuade people to drive less—an environmental necessity—while also encouraging them to revive our staggering economy by buying new cars?

Damn those governments pushing policies to employ people and enable personal mobility!

So keeping GM in business may be patriotic, but it's an act of treason if your true loyalty should be to Gaia instead.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Mencken meets AIG

Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., introduces a bill that would let newspapers restructure as nonprofits and get many of the tax benefits extended to charitable institutions.

But to what purpose? Rocky Mountain News publisher John Temple asked as much in a column published a month before the paper closed:

[Even] national newspapers ... do far more than inform their citizenry with serious reporting on public affairs. That's just a part of what they do. I can tell you from experience that the comics are far and away the section of newspapers that many readers feel most passionate about. [The] Washington Post publishes comics. Are we going to have nonprofits publishing the funny pages? Members of the public getting tax breaks for donating to keep Garfield alive? If we want to be so high-minded to create nonprofits for public service journalism, we'd have to exclude not only comics but also sports, entertainment, cooking, lifestyles, gossip, horoscopes, puzzles and all the other stuff that readers love but has nothing to do with Jefferson's ideals.

We're a country that values freedom and independence. Invariably, by going the nonprofit route, newspapers would become more beholden to government and more subject to regulation.

Sure enough, Cardin's bill would immediately erode some of the editorial independence that makes newspapers (when they're doing their jobs) an effective public watchdog. If you want a bailout, you have to answer to your paymasters.

From Reuters:

Under this arrangement, newspapers would still be free to report on all issues, including political campaigns. But they would be prohibited from making political endorsements.

So what would constitute "political endorsements"? Opinions from editorial boards, signed or unsigned? The musings of staff-written columns, op-eds, letters to the editor?

Could papers weigh in on ballot issues? Opine about political strategy? Ask media critics to analyze broadcast ads or direct-mail campaigns?

Would a series of rules like that in the original McCain-Feingold campaign finance law apply -- in other words, would any mention of political candidates by name in an opinion piece 60 days before an election be verboten?

To the degree any of these restrictions are part of the law, they muzzle the press, much as restrictions on political content on broadcast stations (such as the Fairness Doctrine) make a mockery of free speech.

Bailout recipients wouldn't be much more reliable than Pravda, which may be what the Common Cause types want anyway. Might as well toss the First Amendment in the Dumpster.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Ya see, newspapers still have value

How else would we learn of the desire by Trekkies to "get their Kirk on," as The New York Times reports? (Hat tip: The Corner.)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Talk about shooting yourself in the foot (as it were)

Yesterday came reports that the Obama administration might force wounded veterans to get treatment under their own private health insurance. Now comes news that the administration has suspended the program that allows commercial pilots to safely carry firearms aboard planes.

The Federal Flight Deck Officers program was instituted after 9/11 to enable formal training of pilots in firearms use as a way to protect passengers in case a genuine security risk (not just a terrorist threat) emerges when a plane is aloft. And yet a Washington Times editorial says the White House has secretly diverted $2 million that was used to train flight officers and instead will pay bureaucrats to harass, er, "conduct field inspections" of pilots who have been certified to carry.

Since Mr. Obama's election, pilots have told us that the approval process for letting pilots carry guns on planes slowed significantly. Last week the problem went from bad to worse. Federal Flight Deck Officers - the pilots who have been approved to carry guns - indicate that the approval process has stalled out.

Pilots cannot openly speak about the changing policies for fear of retaliation from the Transportation Security Administration. Pilots who act in any way that causes a “loss of confidence” in the armed pilot program risk criminal prosecution as well as their removal from the program. Despite these threats, pilots in the Federal Flight Deck Officers program have raised real concerns in multiple interviews.

Unless you're openly hostile to personal firearms ownership, there's no explanation for this switch. And don't doubt for a second that Second Amendment groups are already lining up candidates to run against any lawmaker who defends this lunacy.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Obama's "catastrophic health care" blunder?

To provide some spending leeway to expand federal health-care subsidies, the Obama administration is reportedly considering a plan that would require wounded U.S. veterans to pay for their service-related injuries using private health insurance. (Hat tip: NRO's Campaign Spot.)

Unless you're in favor of privatizing the armed forces, the idea is not only manifestly unfair -- the nation's taxpayers have an obligation to pay for the treatment of those injured defending the country -- but it's also absolutely nuts politically. It reinforces the most damning indictments of the Democratic Party's left -- primarily that they hate the military.

Even if this idea founders, Obama will have a tough time living it down. Veterans groups have the memories of elephants, and they do not accept slights (real or imagined) gracefully.

While I was at the Rocky Mountain News, we supported a proposal by the Veterans Administration to share a new hospital with the University of Colorado rather than build a stand-alone facility. The plan would have saved taxpayers tens of millions of dollars, because the complex would not have to duplicate some expensive diagnostic equipment (not just the machine that goes "ping!"). It would have also arguably offered better medical care to vets.

Didn't happen. Even though Congress has approved only half the money needed to build a separate hospital at the site, it appears that a stand-alone facility is inevitable.

Looks like Obama has not followed the history of Chicago pols very closely. Two decades ago, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dan Rostenkowski's political career began to unravel when he pushed a tax increase on high-income senior citizens to pay for catastrophic coverage under Medicare.

Rosty was seemingly bulletproof before he supported means-testing. But senior groups didn't forget, and Congress actually repealed the tax increase. Moreover, Rosty showed he was vulnerable, and his opponents later uncovered the House Post Office scandal, which led to Rosty's defeat in the 1994 GOP landslide.

I'm not saying this suggestion (it's not even a policy) will be Obama's undoing, but the longer he waits to publicly drive a stake through its heart, the more trouble it'll cause him.

Another reason to leave Colorado

The state constitution is whatever the courts say it is.

That's the upshot of yesterday's 6-1 ruling by the Colorado Supreme Court upholding a tax-rate freeze championed by Gov. Bill Ritter and passed by the 2007 legislature.

For those of you outside Colorado, here's this convoluted story in a nutshell.

The 1992 constitutional amendment known as the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights requires, among other things, a vote of the people before approving "any new tax, tax rate increase, mill levy [property tax hike] above that for the prior year -- or a tax policy change directly causing a net revenue gain to any district."

Another provision of TABOR -- the one that drives liberals really crazy -- requires the government to issue tax refunds if revenues grow faster than inflation plus population growth. Residents of individual school districts can elect to forgo reductions in property tax rates that would be mandated by TABOR, again by popular vote. Since 1995, 174 of the 178 school districts in Colorado have voted to "de-Bruce," a process named after TABOR author Douglas Bruce.

But four haven't; in fact, their residents had voted no in elections to de-Bruce. But when Ritter and the legislature moved in 2007 to freeze mill-levy rates across the state, suspending scheduled tax-rate reductions, that move delivered an extra $117 million to state coffers immediately, and over time would bring many million more to the state in higher taxes that no voters approved. Moreover, as the Independence Institute's Jon Caldara pointed out last year, that $117 million didn't go to fund education at the local level; it was diverted to the state's General Fund to close a short-term budget deficit.

The Mesa County Commission, the Independence Institute and several other taxpayer groups filed suit in court, calling the tax freeze an unconstitutional tax policy change that lacked voter approval -- and they won in Denver District Court. (Trying to track down that opinion, which seems to have disappeared from the Web.)

But the state Supreme Court reversed the lower court ruling, saying the legislation was not a tax policy change but instead an extension of the de-Brucing election most of the other districts had approved.

My former boss Vincent Carroll, now at The Denver Post, nails it:

The audacity of the court’s claim is breathtaking. There is not one voter in this state who consciously approved the freezing of mill levy rates yesterday, today, and some day in the future when residential property values rebound and start to accelerate skyward again — not one who heard that issue debated at a local election. To the contrary, many were explicitly told their votes would have no impact on future taxes.

Voters merely agreed to forgo any surplus collected by their districts under the existing system, which did not foresee frozen rates.

Critics of the court say a gang of unelected judges are rewriting the state constitution because they disagree with the policy preferences of voters. (Where have we heard that before?)

All I know is, as someone who values separation of powers and government that's played by the rules, it looks like a good time to leave Colorado.

UPDATE: The District Court opinion, by Judge Christine Habas, is available through the Attorney General's Web site. Colorado AG John Suthers thought the law was unconstitutional, btw, and issued his own opinion about it in 2007 here.

Monday, March 16, 2009

From the ashes

A new news site is born.

Thirty former Rocky Mountain News staffers announced the launch of, a subscription-based online publication. Their goal: Line up 50,000 subscribers by April 23, what would have been the Rocky's 150th anniversary, and go live May 4. At $7 a month ($5 if you sign up for a year), initial subscriptions will be roughly half the cost of The Denver Post,

A lot of familiar names (and decades of institutional/intellectual capital) if you're a Rocky reader: Sam Adams, Mark Brown, Mary Chandler, Kevin Flynn, Tillie Fong, Gary Massaro, David Milstead, Bill Scanlon, Marc Shulgold,
Ed Stein and Mark Wolf. Along with some not-as-familiar ones, mainly from the paper's fine stable of editors. Gotta keep folks on deadline, right?

Best of luck to 'em. There'll be no shortage of news for the Timesters to provide.

UPDATE: Mike Roberts at Westword covers the press conference that kicked off the project.

As the earlier announcement mentioned, some outside capital is pledged to make the site commercially viable if enough readers pony up some dough before the April 23 deadline. The question is -- will readers pay a little to get some of what the Rocky provided? (No comics, no puzzles, no recurring features, no comprehensive coverage of sports, etc.) And do so knowing that they won't have a bundle of newsprint tossed on their doorsteps daily?

This could be a

Smart people did not repeal the business cycle

In The Atlantic, my friend and former boss Virginia Postrel explains why super-intelligent policy-makers falsely believed that had tamed the ups and downs of the economy. And why their miscalculations may keep us in a funk for longer than is necessary.

Congratulating policy makers for “the virtual disappearance of the business cycle” oversteps the evidence and encourages the hubris that fostered the current crisis and could make recovery more difficult. The conventional explanation for the Great Moderation gives too much credit to easily identifiable economic policy makers—“I feel the contribution of good policy cannot be overstated,” said [Christina] Romer — and too little to all those anonymous managers and workers whose everyday actions get summarized in the aggregate statistics that Fed economists watch so closely.

Read the whole thing.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Second prize ... two weeks!

From the "I'm not making this up" file:

The Democratic Party, with the tacit consent of the Obama administration, has locked their phasers on Rush Limbaugh in hopes of discrediting the popular conservative talk-show host. Again, I'm not making this up.

As part of Operation Rushbo, the Dems plan to purchase anti-Rush billboard space, and they conducted a survey to pick the best phrase to use.

And the winner is:

Americans Didn't Vote for a RUSH to failure.

To paraphrase W.C. Fields, if this was the winning phrase, the losers must have been whoppers indeed.

Setting aside the ridiculous nature of the entire endeavor, Mark Steyn had it right on The Corner: Limbaugh will probably consider the billboards free advertising for his show. As if he needs the pub.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Plenty of good seats available

Just for the halibut I decided to check out ticket prices for tomorrow's game at StubHub.

Let's see -- Upper Level Corner, Section 222, Row Y -- as high in the rafters as you can get: $395 per. Lower level, near courtside: A cool two grand. Oh yeah, we'd have to pay for plane fare, too.

Makes those tickets we could have bought for the UC-Santa Barbara game in November for $219 apiece (at UCSB) a screaming bargain.

Think we'll go to LoDo's Bar and Grill (we're in that photo album, keep clicking) instead and hang out with 100 or so of our best Tar Heel friends.

Go Heels!

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Shape of things to come

The features departments at the Charlotte Observer and the Raleigh News & Observer are merging.

I wonder why that hasn't happened more frequently.

In fact, though I worked with some very talented feature writers and editors at three general-interest dailies, you have to ask what they bring to the table that's not now being replicated by their counterparts at alternative weeklies. Other than frequency of publication.

Just before the Rocky closed, I had a conversation with a veteran from the paper who's been there for several decades, and he said he'd been asking himself the same thing for years.

Why wouldn't the Rocky (or the Post) benefit by getting rid of their feature depaprtments (and the 15-20 employees) entirely and simply inserting a copy of the Denver alt-weekly Westword in every Thursday edition? The daily could pay for the weekly's extra copies (Westword's print run may be 80,000, or about one-third the circulation of either daily).

Westword gains a lot of extra readers, which would presumably let it boost its ad rates. The daily can provide its readers local arts and entertainment coverage without replicating the efforts of the alt-weekly.

The main downside I see is that the daily might cringe a bit at the salty language in the weekly, not to mention all the sex ads. And the weekly might lose its eagerness to serve as an independent critic of the daily's new coverage.

But that might be a price each side is willing to pay -- particularly a daily that's struggling to stay in business.

Breaking news from the Rocky

Or at least from former Rocky reporters.

The Web site, founded by a number of staffers when the paper was put up for sale, has become an outlet for those former reporters to continue breaking news until they land on their feet, launch their own specialized Web sites (as transportation reporter Kevin Flynn appears poised to do), or -- potentially -- the site drives enough traffic as an aggregator of local news that it someday stands on its own.

As Flynn notes, there's still appears to be no revenue model that could make a general-interest news site like IWantMyRocky profitable. But should one arise, former Rocky employees could surely offer the software -- the expertise, sources and reporting chops -- that could generate the content to make site like that a must-read.

The Yanks owe A-Rod how much? For how long?

Alex Rodriguez will undergo surgery next week to remove a cyst from his hip. Unless you're a fantasy baseball player or a Yankees season ticket holder, the obvious question is, could his admitted use of steroids have contributed to this condition?

My lovely and talented intended, who's a nurse, suggested as much when she first heard this. And it turns out that at a minimum, frequent use of anabolic steroids could make it possible for osteoarthritis to set in prematurely, as the abstract of this study from the American Journal of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation concludes.

Which makes the statement Yanks GM Brian Cashman made after A-Rod's mid-February press conference even more telling:

Well, we're not in a position to go backwards on this. The position we're in is to try to move forward and make sure that we can help him get through this. We've got nine years of Alex remaining. … We've invested in him as an asset. And because of that, this is an asset that is going through a crisis. So we'll do everything we can to protect that asset and support that asset and try to salvage that asset.

The value of that asset's dropping faster than shares of Citi.

UPDATE: Apparently the Yanks and A-Rod have chosen rest and rehab over surgery on his torn labrum. Still, we wonder if this unusual injury resulted from unnatural causes. And whether it's a chronic condition he'll have to deal with for years to come.

Dow 3,600?*

As I write, the Dow 30 is at 6,673, meaning the index has lost nearly half its value in about 10 months.

President Obama offered advice to investors Wednesday, and they responded by dumping shares as fast as they could get their brokers on the line.

My former colleagues at Investor's Business Daily offered a critique of his views of the market, and, as usual, their analysis is on point.

But Obama's comments also affirmed another place I take issue with those who argue that the new president is, to borrow from Bugs Bunny, a wolf in cheap clothing -- a barely closeted socialist, a genuine radical, Bill Ayers without the bombs.

Instead, Obama (and congressional Democrats) aren't that at all. They're power-hungry, to be sure. But that's as far as it goes. They don't want to really remake the economy because I don't think they're smart or principled enough to try to pull that off. They continue to rhetorically embrace entrepreneurship and capitalism, even though they have no understanding of the processes guiding either. Instead, they want to keep the labor unions and welfare-state activists and environmentalists and cultural liberals and the other special interest groups that got them into office well fed -- so that they can build electoral majorities. If we become Eurosocialists in the process, big deal.

Take health care. If Obama were really a doctrinaire socialist, he would have either backed single payer or called for individual or employer mandates for medical insurance. He's repeately rejected all those options. Granted, his pay-or-play ideas would eventually result in a system even more dominated by government. But why bypass the middle man, as it were, when you have big majorities in a friendly Congress?

It's why Obama's bizarre comparison of the stock market to public opinion polls is so telling. If he truly believes capital markets are merely popularity contests, then he's not a socialist, by any definition I've ever seen. He's merely a very slick, extremely talented, articulate panderer. He certainly wants to concentrate political power in the White House but has very little understanding of the way the world works.

Not that I find that conclusion at all reassuring.

UPDATE: Glenn Reynolds considers the alternatives (socialist or pol?) and suggests

Never attribute to malice what can be explained by incompetence, and after the Geithner/Daschle/Richardson/Killefer/Carrion/Kirk problems, incompetence is looking like the strong horse. [That's what they're expecting you to think! -- ed. Ah, it's all becoming clear now . . . .]

You make the call.

*With apologies to Jim Glassman, who I know, like and respect.

Obama's fake birth certificate

I knew I'd get one -- an e-mail response to the NRO piece saying the MSM couldn't be trusted because they wouldn't report on Obama's fake birth certificate. Guy laid out the case and everything.

I replied the only way I knew how:

And I suppose 9/11 was an inside job.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Milstead on the Rocky's final chapter

Mike Roberts at Westword publishes a lengthy, fascinating Q&A with David Milstead, the Rocky's finance editor, who produced more hard-nosed journalism about the Rocky's demise than anyone.

The Rocky's business section under the leadership of Rob Reuteman was top-notch, thanks to reporters like Dave, who explains what separates solid daily business journalism from something else:

Business at the Rocky Mountain News was a section where the people there wanted to be working there. They were generally career business journalists. We hired experienced business journalists from the outside. We had three people who'd been at Reuters. I had been at the Wall Street Journal. And we had another person who'd been at Bloomberg. We had people who took business journalism seriously and were making it their first priority career choice. ... If you have serious, smart, career journalists working in your business section and you treat it like a real section, then it's going to be good. I joke that there were bad old days of business sections, where if you were too drunk to be a sportswriter, they put you in business. And that has not been the philosophy of the Rocky Mountain News during my time there. And that pleased me, and that's what kept me there.

He's also the sort of reporter who followed the story to its logical conclusion, which some right-wing media bashers might want to take into account.

Consider his tough treatment of the state's public pension system, the Colorado Public Employees' Retirement Association:

I think I got a reputation through that coverage as being one of Colorado's most prominent conservative journalists -- which I'm not, actually. But my criticism of the pension plan fell right into the hands of the right-wing ideologues who hate pensions and want to see everyone in 401(k)s. And I don't believe that at all. I just believe that if you promise people a certain amount of benefits, you ought to be able to pay for it. And their financial position for much of my time here hasn't shown the ability to pay for it. That's what concerned me about PERA several years ago, when I began looking at them -- these projections that showed them going into insolvency in about thirty or forty years. But yet at the same time telling the members there was nothing to worry about. If the member was 80-years old, that was true. If the member was 30-years old, it wasn't.

And he's the commissioner of the fantasy baseball league that I still hope to join. Not to mention a Dodger fan, though I'll give him a mulligan for that.

We won't know what we won't know

Infinite Monkey Ben Boychuk offers his own take on my NRO piece with typical aplomb.

It's not that the media does a fabulous job all of the time. And God knows the nation's newsrooms are teeming with liberal do-gooders. The news media is suffering from a crisis of legitimacy. Deadline pressures and an often poor grasp of the nuances of particular issues and industries undermine good journalism. It was ever thus, and probably always will be.

But who's going to rake the muck when the last city reporter is hanged by the entrails of the last advertising manager? Glenn Reynolds? Your next door neighbor? You?

From the e-mail reactions I've received to the piece so far, some well-read, thoughtful conservatives still harbor a striking amount of ignorance about the role of newspapers. It's not to validate your worldview, whatever that might be. The news and business sections are supposed to inform readers about the workings of government and other public institutions and how they affect your world.

One writer, from Santa Cruz, Calif., pointed out that his local paper is hopelessly in the tank for county government and that two school board members were actually on staff at the paper. All I could do was offer my sympathies. I echo those sentiments for anyone living in California these days.

Several wrote in generic terms to condemn the Rocky for not digging deeply enough into Barack Obama's past to prove that he was too dangerous to elect to the presidency. A couple actually praised the Chicago dailies for doing just that without acknowledging the irony. Obama's from Chicago. We're in Denver. The local media in the Windy City did its job, and guess what? You could read their coverage online.

The Denver dailies were more interested in using their limited resources to cover local politics. The newsrooms of both papers were a good deal smaller in 2008 than they were for the last election, so there were fewer people to cover the campaigns. Were they supposed to further neglect the races close to home and parachute into Chicago to dig up dirt on Obama?

This is another blind spot conservatives have a hard time acknowledging. They flay the mainstream media and heap praises on Fox News without recognizing that Bill O'Reilly or Sean Hannity will not cover the days and days of hearings during which Colorado's regulations covering oil and natural gas exploration were rewritten. If you want to understand the intricacies of that process, and how they will affect energy production, tourism, wildlife protection and economic growth, you've got to rely on newspaper or wire service reporters. Rush won't do it for you.

New media allow local outlets to be more intensely local than ever before. Why should they stray from their own backyards -- especially when you can easily track down coverage from other folks' backyards for free on the Web?

Another correspondent said he canceled his subscriptions to the Rocky and the Post because he thought both were hopelessly left-wing, and as evidence cited this story from yesteday's Denver Post about a, shall we say, unconventional family.

First of all, the story was in the Lifestyles section. It wasn't a news report. But my correspondent said the story made it obvious that the Post believes gay marriage should be celebrated, raising kids in nontraditional homes is no different than male/female arrangements, etc., and that "there is no reason for me to pay for those opinions."

Read the whole thing. Without question, it's a very sympathetic portrayal of a nontraditional family. But it doesn't pretend that everything's rosy in this mixed household. Besides, it's a fascinating story, though the presumed message it sent about gay parenting was beyond the pale, in my correspondent's view.

To that, all I can say is what Claude Sitton, former editorial page editor of the News and Observer in Raleigh, wrote to me a quarter century ago when I complained to him about the strident anti-free-market positions he took in his columns: If you don't like what I write, you can surely find something to enjoy in the other parts of the newspaper.

I took his advice. Sad to say, a lot of conservatives seem to be less willing to overlook those objectionable parts than I was. And our civic culture is less informed as a result.

The Polis thing ain't over 'til we say it's over

Retired Rocky film critic Bob Denerstein takes a whack at the Polis story, too.

Never mind that it takes years to become a skilled reporter. Never mind that it takes time, tact and savvy to develop sources. Never mind that talk radio has given us a pretty good idea of what a broadened expression of opinion can be worth. Never mind that some of the best bloggers in the world ply their trade on Old Media sites. Never mind that bloggers had little or nothing to do with the demise of the Rocky Mountain News.

All I can say is that if Polis' grasp of other issues is in any way comparable to his understanding of this one, his constituents should be afraid. Very afraid. So with apologies to MSNBC's Keith Olbermann, I'm naming Jared Polis today's worst person in Colorado, even if he happens to be in D.C. at the moment.

I may actually start referring to the 2nd District congressman as Rep. Jared Polis, D-Not Ready for Prime Time.

Why conservatives and libertarians shouldn't celebrate the fall of newspapers

My friend John Miller at National Review invited me to reflect on the Rocky's demise for the mag's online edition, and rather than lament the loss of our editorial page, I chose to talk about the loss of a valued civic institution.

Newspapers pay people to sit through endless city-council and land-use-planning and legislative-committee hearings, enduring the sausage-making process that is modern government. These reporters tell readers what’s going on and — when they’re at their journalistic best — what it all means. They take the trouble to analyze court decisions and search government records and decipher regulatory filings and pore through leaks from public-spirited civil servants.

They don’t get every story right, and they’re often captives of their sources. But even reporters who are lazy or incompetent or hopelessly compromised provide an irreplaceable service. They keep self-government possible, perhaps even manageable, at a time when the state is growing ever larger and more difficult to understand.

Meantime, my former boss Vincent Carroll and colleague Mike Littwin take on Jared Polis for gloating about the Rocky's collapse.

My piece went to NRO on Sunday, before reports about Polis' victory dance became public. But Littwin had the same reaction to Polis as me.

Polis ... issued an apology Tuesday to "anyone who was offended."

It's the typical, politician's, old- media-style, non-apology apology, in which he apologizes for, uh, getting caught saying what he really thinks.

As for Vincent, he notes what is not exactly the reaction you'd expect from an elected official in these circumstances:

If Polis welcomes newspapers' demise, so be it. If he had a particular grudge against the Rocky, who cares at this point? His comments Saturday and his damage control this week are disturbing not for what they say about his media tastes but rather because of what they reveal about his character.

When people lose their jobs, the normal human reaction is one of compassion. When a politician's constituents lose their jobs — and a number of former Rocky staffers do live in the 2nd District — the obligatory reaction is one of concern.

Polis revealed no trace of either emotion in his remarks at the Net- roots Nation in Your Neighborhood event in Westminster. In fact, he seemed to giggle — or smirk out loud — on a couple of occasions in referring to the Rocky's death. And he never so much as noted the human consequences of the closure.

Then there's Jeffrey Goldberg's post at The Atlantic:

I don't know too many Democrats who think that the death of a newspaper is a positive development for society. And by the way, "All of us" are the new media? I'd like to read the investigations of government corruption produced by "all of us." I imagine there are many journalists -- and advocates of government accountability -- wishing for the death of Polis's congressional career right about now.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Talking on the Interwebs

My podcast with Ben Boychuk and Jim Lakely of Infinite Monkeys fame is here.

We talked about the Rocky, the role of free-market thinktanks and Obamanomics. Enjoy!

Tap is back

Spinal Tap's "Unwigged and Unplugged" tour is on.

So who's the unfortunate drummer?

Monday, March 02, 2009

Not waiting for the corpse to get cold

Newly elected U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Boulder, isn't likely to get many Christmas cards from former staffers at the Rocky Mountain News.

The Denver Post and report the far-left, super-rich Internet entrepreneur crowed about the Rocky's closure at a Nutroots, er, Netroots gathering in the Denver suburbs the day after the Rocky's final edition.

"We killed the Rocky Mountain News... Long live new media," said Polis.

It took Polis about a second and a half to start weaseling his way out when contacted by the Post Monday:

The end of the Rocky Mountain News was a blow to all of us in Colorado. We were proud to have a city that had two powerful voices, two daily venues for informing the public, and a diversity of editorial voices. Not only has Colorado lost over 200 jobs, but the voice of the RMN has been silenced.

Indeed, some of the blame rests with new media. While there are many other factors that have contributed such as the recession and a decline in advertising, the very fact that we are discussing this issue here, in the online forum of the DP, is demonstrative of the rise of new media. The newspaper industry has yet to figure out how to monetize online traffic, and until they do, I worry not only about the demise of the RMN but I worry about the future of a strong third estate across our great nation.

As the Post pointed out, journalism is the fourth estate, not the third estate, but hey, statists are too busy dancing on the Rocky's grave to bother with details.

HOV lane to serfdom?

Yesterday, my friend Ben Boychuk invited me to participate in the podcast he and his RedBlueAmerica running mate, Joel Mathis, produce weekly. Joel wasn't available, so fellow Infinite Monkey Jim Lakely (aka Dr. Zaius) joined Ben and me. When Ben gets the audio edited, I'll post a link.

Jim made the point that Barack Obama has done more to remake the relationship between individuals and the U.S. government in one month than has taken place by any administration in recent memory. (Can't remember if he referenced FDR, but it'll be in the podcast.)

As I suggested, Obama appears to be familiar with some of the work done by the "Chicago boys" at the University of Chicago, led by Milton Friedman, F.A. von Hayek and George Stigler. Problem is, he's taken the wrong lessons.

In 1984, Milton and Rose Friedman published Tyranny of the Status Quo, a book asking why it's difficult for political reformers to maintain momentum after their early days in office. Looking at the administrations of Margaret Thatcher, Francois Mitterand and Ronald Reagan, the Friedmans concluded that any new head of state has between six and nine months to implement whatever meaningful reforms they will accomplish.

After that, the "iron triangle" of politicians, regulators and special interests that prospered under the previous regime would reassert their authority and halt if not reverse the new leader's changes.

If Obama studied his Friedmans, he knew that he had to propose an initial budget that would have seemed unconscionable in the fall of 2008 -- including all its expansions of the welfare state and the bureaucracy. Because he wouldn't get a second chance. Talk about change ...

The next year will be a test of the Friedmans' idea. I see a potential problem with it, because Obama's policies are pandering to the regulators, the special interests that benefit from bigger government and the politicians (at least of his own party) who want to bribe people with their own money.

If in this case, however, the Friedmans mean "the status quo" is republican self-government, then we can only pray that their thesis holds up.

The Rocky's Final Edition

As you've probably heard, the Rocky Mountain News, where I spent three fantastic years as an editorial writer, closed Friday.

Here's a 20-minute video produced by the staff about the paper's final weeks. Riveting stuff, but then again, I'm an insider.

You can read the entire final edition online (of course) here.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

AFraud juiced?

Sports Illustrated reports Alex Rodriguez tested positive for steroids in 2003, his final season with the Texas Rangers.

It's a big deal because

Anticipating that the 33-year-old Rodriguez, who has 553 career home runs, could become the game's alltime home run king, the Yankees signed him in November 2007 to a 10-year, incentive-laden deal that could be worth as much as $305 million. Rodriguez is reportedly guaranteed $275 million and could receive a $6 million bonus each time he ties one of the four players at the top of the list: Willie Mays (660), Babe Ruth (714), Hank Aaron (755) and Barry Bonds (762), and an additional $6 million for passing Bonds. In order to receive the incentive money, the contract reportedly requires Rodriguez to make extra promotional appearances and sign memorabilia for the Yankees as part of a marketing plan surrounding his pursuit of Bonds's record.

Unlike Bonds, ARod's power production never took a dramatic spike during the steroid heyday. His final three years in Seattle (when he was in his early 20s), he hit 42, 42 and 41 HR. He then signed with Texas, hitting 52, 57 and 47, but the Arlington ballpark is a haven for hitters, so his added power raised few eyebrows.

Bonds, by contrast, had never hit more than 46 HR in a season until 2000, when a 35-year-old Bonds hit 49 ... and the next year he hit 73. (It's fairly well accepted that a major league player's peak years are between ages 26 and 30, and performance should show a steady decline afterward.) His spike in power was also significant because the Giants moved to their new ballpark in 2000, and it's been death for every left-handed hitter not named Barry Lamar Bonds.

MLB was counting on ARod eventually passing Bonds and erasing some of the bad memories of the juicing era. If this story pans out, those plans are scotched.

And in the eyes of many fans of the game (now including me), Henry Aaron will always remain the all-time home run king.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Sarko saves the Fourth Estate?

French President Nicolas Sarkozy (who passes for a conservative among Euro pols, BTW) has come up with a novel way to keep newpapers from folding: a government bailout!

From French blogger Frederic Filloux:

Young people reaching 18 are now entitled to a free subscription of the paper of their choice, the publisher providing the paper, and the government paying for the delivery. And, from a tax perspective, when you pour money into a newspaper this is treated as investing in a foundation. In the past, industrialists used the press as an ego booster, it has now become a charity business.

Such a thing would never happen in the U.S. (we hope), but the idea of providing direct government aid to news organizations not named NPR or PBS has gained some currency on the left, as in this recent LA Times op-ed.

The op-ed mentions postal discounts periodicals have received since the founding of the Republic as examples of government subsidies to the media. But expanding that subsidy would only help the handful of national outlets -- the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post -- that have a lot of mail subscribers. The lion's share of newspapers are delivered to people's doors by carriers who at least get a tax write off for the use of their vehicles. And it's the metro dailies rather than the national/international pubs that are collapsing in our midst.

Among the many problems (and there are plenty) with providing any additional government aid to the media is that a subsidized press is no longer a free and independent press. There will be limits to the amount of criticism allowed in media outlets that depend on direct taxpayer support for their survival. Genuine dissent won't be tolerated by the parties paying the bills and overseeing the distribution of the funding.

To paraphrase Jefferson, were it left to me to have government without newspapers, or newspapers funded by government, I would not hesitate to prefer the former.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Now they tell us

Democrats: Stimulus no quick fix for economy.

It's 20 degrees outside. Time for thoughts of spring

And Merlefest. Here's a 2007 performance featuring Sam Bush, Bela Fleck, Jerry Douglas, Bryan Sutton and Byron House -- an hour or so before they joined Elvis Costello on stage!

As Sam Bush said, "You get out of your house, the winter's over, and you go to MerleFest."

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Dusty nails Dickie V

My former colleague, retired Rocky Mountain News TV columnnist Dusty Saunders, explains the problem with Dick Vitale:

Vitale's loud, machine-gun delivery, coupled with an everybody's-a-winner philosophy, would pale quickly if he were a broadcaster for a specific college - or NBA - team....

Vitale's breathless banter covered a lot of ground on the NBA and college hoops scene, particularly while referencing current and former stars.

But there was very little precise commentary about what was happening on the court.

A precise style is not a Vitale strong point.


Obama's Treasury sec'y pick's Zoe Baird problem

We really are reliving the Clinton years.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Testing ... testing

I'm attempting to post to Deregulator from my Facebook page. We'll see what happens ...

Chris Warden, RIP

My friend Ben shares memories about our friend and mentor, and my former neighbor.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Dave Barry's still got it

His 2008 in review.

Two highlights:
Barack Obama, having secured North and South America, flies to Germany without using an airplane and gives a major speech -- speaking English and German simultaneously -- to 200,000 mesmerized Germans, who immediately elect him chancellor, prompting France to surrender.


As the [financial] crisis worsens, an angry Congress, determined to get some answers, holds hearings and determines that whoever is responsible for this mess, it is definitely not Congress.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Sarah Palin, on clearance

Spotted today, on an end cap in a Hobby Lobby. A big stack of those license-plate size items of wall art featuring the guv's one-liner about hockey moms and pit bulls.

They were 50 percent off.

No further comment.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Newspapers, 1690-2009?

OK, I have a personal stake here, because the newspaper I work for may fold in a few weeks. But this may be the year that a number of medium-size and larger cities lose their dailies, at least in the form of a paper-and-ink product delivered to the customers' front door.

Name your reason for the demise of the daily -- Craigslist surely accelerated a trend that was well under way -- but there are plenty of reasons to be scared scatless when general-interest newspapers disappear.

This op-ed from The Wall Street Journal sums up a lot about the challenges "citizen journalists" trying to cover local events will face, at least initially. Over at The Corner, Mark Krikorian has echoed these thoughts.

There may be people who are passionate enough about local affairs (and who have lots of time on their hands) and are perfectly willing and capable of attending public hearings and reporting what happens.

But before bloggers or other online-only media can replace newspapers, they'll have to build reputations that inspire respect and even fear from public officials and corporate titans. Like it or not, there are advantages to working for organizations that can buy ink by the barrel. Amateurs won't have the same access to officials that professional journalists (even free-lancers working for established media organizations) do. An institution with the capacity of reaching several hundred thousand people a day in a concentrated market keep people in the public sphere minding their p's and q's. At least they'll return a reporter's phone call if they don't want to see their name on the front page in an unfavorable light when it's justified.

But bloggers may never have that influence. What mayor or council member or agency employee in his right mind would respond to a call or a question or an e-mail from an amateur? And what outlet would a whistleblower trust to break a story of corruption or malfeasance or other official misdeeds?

I'll concede that a local blogger who has built up credibility through his own efforts -- via celebrity or reputation or personal wealth -- may be able to create an institution that replaces the journalistic functions of the current daily newspaper. And perhaps that outlet can build a professional operation, even if it has a staff of one.

But any such outfits need financial support to be anything other than hobbies for part-timers with narrow interests. And as of now, I've not heard of a business model that makes an online news organization sustainable at the local level, even in a city the size of Denver.

I honestly hope that such business models are forthcoming. Heck, I'd be eager to participate in a startup like that. Because I know that a vacuum in news coverage will be toxic to the health of our political system.