San Juan Mountains

San Juan Mountains
San Juan Mountains: Grenadier Range

Friday, March 30, 2012

Another Government Boondoggle

In today's Denver Post there is an article entitled "Government looks to gauge happiness".  The article is sub-titled "Experts in psychology and economics have been meeting to hash out measures of well-being."  Written by Peter Whoriskey of the Washington Post, we are informed that the program is funded by the Department of Health and Human Services.  Once the various data points measuring our happiness have been selected, we are told that "these could become official statistics."  To top it all off, the White House issued a release in which President Obama gave his blessing to the boondoggle.
In case you are unfamiliar with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), consider this:
1.  HHS has a budget just shy of $900 billion.
2.  HHS has almost 76,000 full time employees.
3.  84% of the HHS budget is dedicated to Medicare and Medicaid.
4.  HHS also includes such vital government services as a council on "aging", a program to get children to "move", and a program to stop "bullying" in school (good luck with that one).
Added to this list of vital government services is this new program designed to measure how happy we are.  I am not happy at all.  The national debt now stands at $15.6 trillion.  There are no realistic budget proposals that would balance spending and revenue in sight.  In light of the fact that our debt is enormous and we are still spending more than we are making, how could anybody in his right mind propose a new bureau dedicated to measuring how "happy" we are?  Have these bureaucrats all lost their minds?
What I find particularly amusing is the belief that "experts in psychology" are capable of determining precisely what constitutes human happiness.  We have over 300 million people in this country.  I would be willing to wager that not one of those 300 million plus people has the exact same list of things that would make them happy.  One fellow would be happy if he won the lottery.  Another would be happy if he did not.  One fellow would be happy if his neighbors moved away.  Another would be happy if his neighbors did not move away.  One fellow would be happy if government did not try to define happiness.  Another fellow is ecstatic that government is trying to define happiness. There are millions of people with millions of conditions that bring about their happiness and HHS believes it is possible to quantify all of this into a single index number?
Besides the fact that defining human happiness is impossible, the creation of this new federal government bureau indicates something quite sickening about our government.  These folks really believe they are omniscient.  They believe that, with the right combination of highly paid professionals and unlimited funding, it is possible to come to a position of total knowledge.  Your tax dollars are being used to pay for a program that believes the state is all-knowing.  The President, government bureaucrats, and a good deal of the citizens of this country believe that the government has the ability to know about all of the hundreds of subjective conditions that bring about a felling of well being in over 300 million different people.  If that is not a claim to deity, I do not know what is.
What possible utility can there be in such a study?  Even if we assume that the government is a god, and capable of knowing the level of happiness in 300 million different people, what purpose would it serve?  Is it possible that government officials are creating this index for political purposes?  Is it possible that politicians want another index that they can integrate into their campaign speeches?  Is it possible that career politicians want this index so they can tell you how much better off you are now that they are in power?  Or conversely, so they can tell you how much worse off you are because some other person is in power?  Is it possible that the federal government is creating this index, not because it cares about your happiness, but because it serves its own need to procure, wield, and maintain power over you?   I wonder....

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Government Hypocrisy Never Ends

In April of 2010 an deep sea oil well owned by British Petroleum exploded.  We all know the story.  A significant amount of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico.  As a result of the spill, fishing operations had to be temporarily shut down.  Also as a result of the spill, tourists decided to take their business elsewhere until the beaches on the Gulf coast could be cleaned of oil residue. 
British Petroleum was targeted with a massive program of propaganda.  Environmentalists accused then of environmental rape.  Fishing operators accused them of destroying their businesses and contributing to the destruction of their families.  Anyone who was unemployed at the time accused BP of causing their unemployment.  Federal, state and local governments all got involved.  Politicians were anxious to be seen in TV interviews speaking about how they felt the pain of the locals and agreeing with everybody that BP was an evil, profit seeking, soulless corporation that must be punished. 
Without being ordered to do so by the federal government, British Petroleum set up a fund to reimburse those who had suffered real damages from the oil spill.  BP paid out $6 billion in private claims to 221,000 different parties, mostly related to the fishing and tourist businesses.  Then, earlier this month, BP settled in court with those who decided to take the pathway of litigation.  An additional $7.8 billion will be paid to claimants alleging financial harm due to the spill.  After the court settlement the federal Department of Justice announced that it will be going to court seeking "tens of billions" of dollars for alleged "negligence" and "environmental damage".  How it can be the case that, after all the people who were truly harmed by the spill have been paid, government can seek an even bigger settlement for damages it has not incurred, was not explained by the DOJ representative.   I believe it is accurate to say that the DOJ simply realized it could pile on and get some cash for itself. 
Flash forward to Colorado today.  A forest fire is burning SW of the Denver metropolitan area.  Over 4000 acres have burned.  Two people have been killed.  Another is missing and presumed dead.  27 homes have been destroyed.  Countless billions of ash particles have been spewed into the atmosphere.  Thousands of allergy and asthma sufferers in the Denver area have had their conditions exacerbated by the smoke.  53,000 gallons of "slurry" has been poured on the flames.  The environmental damage caused by the slurry soaking into the ground and getting into ground water supplies has not been accounted for.  Once the fire is extinguished, the summer rains will cause massive mudflows that will silt the local rivers and lakes.  That silt will kill animals and fish.  Although not yet investigated, it must certainly be the case that wetlands are endangered by the runoff flows.  In addition, it must certainly be the case that endangered species are imperiled.  Yet, there has been no outcry from the public to hold the perpetrators of this fire accountable.  There have been no interviews with local politicians in which they promise to make sure the guilty will be held liable for this environmental disaster.  Environmentalists have been strangely silent about the damage being done to the environment.  Why?
The reason there is no outcry about this injustice is simple.  The fire was started by the government.  The fire was started when a "controlled burn" set by the Colorado Department of Forestry got out of hand.  The only thing the department had to say is that they are "sorry" for the harm that has resulted from their "controlled burn".  Actually, that is not the only thing.  The state of Colorado has also made it quite clear that it will invoke its legal liability indemnification privilege in order to ensure all of us that no lawsuit will be permitted to be filed against them.   
So let me get this straight.  A profit seeking business has an accident that creates financial damage and it pays out over $13 billion in claims (to date).  The government has an accident that creates financial damage and it refuses to be held responsible for anything.  A profit seeking business has an accident and it is crucified by the press, environmentalists and politicians.  The government has an accident and it is given a free pass by the press and the politicians speak only to inform the citizens that they will not be held accountable.  Environmentalists fall all over themselves to protect their State-god by telling us that this fire is not a disaster.  No, they tell us, it is part of the normal cycle of life and is a good thing.  Tell that to the 27 families who no longer have a home.  This entire affair is just another refrain in that old song entitled "Government is Good and Business is Bad, Praise the Government."

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Looking Tough

Although the killing of Trayvon Martin took place almost a month ago, it has just recently exploded into a media sensation.  The fact that President Obama made the highly political decision to champion the cause of the dead boy has certainly added to the firestorm of media coverage.  I suspect I do not have to recite the details of the story to readers of this blog.  In fact, many of the details of the story are yet to be determined.  As is the case in every dispute, there are two sides to the story.  I do not particularly care about the story.  That is not because I am a cruel and indifferent human being.  About 15,000 people are murdered in the United States every year and I do not ever remember caring about any of them.  I do not see why I should care about this one, if it is indeed a murder, just because the President thinks I should.  Furthermore, I have a very hard time seeing how any of this is my business.  The family of Trayvon Martin, Mr. Zimmerman, the police, and the district attorney have to figure things out.  I suggest that we mind our own business and let them do theirs.
What I am interested in is one of the alleged details in the story.  Apparently Trayvon was dressed in such a way that Mr. Zimmerman subjectively appraised him to be a threat to his personal safety.  Apparently Trayvon was dressed in a "hoodie".  Now let me set some things straight.  I am not a gangster.  I do not know what gangsters look like.  I am not a fashionista.  I have no idea what is cool, hip, or in fashion at this particular point in time.  My fashion sense extends only to utility.  If it is comfortable, I wear it.  It it keeps me warm, I wear it.  If it keeps me dry and it is raining, I put it on.  But I am aware that lots of people make decisions about what they will wear based upon how they think their attire will affect the opinions of others about them.  I am aware that many people like to dress in such a way as to be considered "tough".  I find that incomprehensible.
I spent a night in Las Vegas last week, walking up and down the "strip".  I ran into the usual assortment of bums, drunks, and people peddling prostitution.  I also ran into a large number of people, both men and women, who were dressed in order to portray the image of being tough. As I examined these folks I wondered to much time do these people spend in front of the mirror getting it just right?  I find it impossible to believe that a man would spend more than a few seconds in front of the mirror before going out into public. Some of these guys had to spend hours!  The amount of time required to do the hair, the makeup, the clothing, the jewelry, the tattoos, and the various fragrances is staggering.  And I am talking about guys!  These people are trying way too hard.  They need to relax.  They need to realize that nobody is thinking about them anyway.  They need to realize that everybody is thinking about himself and, apparently,  they are all thinking that they look tough.
On the contrary, when I am out walking, be it a trail or a street, and I come across a single woman, I want to shout out, "Don't worry.  I'm safe."  My goal is to be meek.  My goal is to be unnoticed by those around me.  I know how fragile life is.  I know how fragile my body is.  I know that I could die from a multitude of causes at any time.  Plus, I am not tough.  I whimper when I feel the slightest pain.  If I ever decided to throw a punch I am sure that it would only result in my hand being broken.  When things get tough, I run the other way.
Although I live in the Denver metropolitan area, I am not a city boy.  I spend as much time in the mountains as I can.  I often run into other people in the mountains. Almost without exception, when I come across somebody else, either on the trail or off-trail, we will smile, nod our heads, or give a friendly greeting.  Sometimes we will stop and talk for a few minutes.  Nobody is trying to be tough. Nobody is trying to project an image of "don't mess with me because I just might decide to kill you".  What utter nonsense.  How have we come to this place where so many want to be perceived as tough?  How many mental midgets are so influenced by Hollywood movies about tough guys that they dedicate their entire lives to creating an imaginary world in which they become one?  What a waste of a life.  Looking tough may have resulted in the death of Trayvon Martin, I don't know.  What I do know is that trying to look tough is just plain dumb.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Supreme Court Justices Have No Clothes

Remember the story of the little boy who had the temerity to declare that the Emperor had no clothes?  Everyone else in the Kingdom had become so hoodwinked by the power of the Emperor that they were unwilling to say what was obvious to a small child.  When the Emperor presented himself in public, totally naked, only the little boy was able to see the obvious.  A similar situation exists in our country at this very moment.  In our case, the Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States have no clothes.
The Justices are presently hearing arguments from 26 attorneys general that Obamacare should be declared to be unconstitutional.  Hundreds of lawyers have spent thousands of hours and millions of taxpayer dollars to prepare the argument that Obamacare is unconstitutional.  We are told that this is an exceptionally complicated issue to resolve and that only the combined wisdom of America's greatest legal scholars can give us a moral resolution.  Hogwash!
The Constitution of the United States is a very short document.  The Constitution of the United States is a very easy document to read.  The Constitution of the United States is not difficult to comprehend.  The Tenth Amendment to the Constitution (Bill of Rights) flatly declares that "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."  It is impossible to misunderstand what is asserted in that statement.  The Constitution designates powers to the federal government.  If the power is not designated, the federal government does not have it.  If the Constitution does not explicitly state that the federal government has the right to do something, then the federal government does not have the right to do something.  Simply put, for Obamacare to be constitutional, the Constitution needs to explicitly declare that the President/Congress has the right to require employers to provide health insurance for all employees and/or the right to require all US citizens to purchase private health insurance policies, under penalty of law for non-compliance. 
Now, we have to answer a very simple question.  Where in the Constitution is it written that the President/Congress can do what Obamacare has done?  Why is this a hard question?  Why does it take the best legal minds in the country to answer this question?  Why does the media pretend as if this is a difficult issue to resolve?  Either the Constitution specifically states that the President/Congress has the right to force US citizens to purchase particular products or it does not.  Either the Constitution specifically states that the President/Congress has the right to force employers to provide particular benefits to their employees or it does not. 
Guess what?  Nowhere does the Constitution ever grant the President or the Congress the right to force employers or US citizens to purchase particular goods, under penalty of law for non-compliance.  Have your ten year old read the Constitution and ask him if he can spot any statement that gives the President/Congress the right to force us to buy a government issued health insurance policy.  We all know what he will say.  Of course not!  Who could possibly be so stupid as to believe that the Constitution gives the President/Congress the right to force us to buy a health insurance policy, under penalty of law for non-compliance?  Answer:  Everyone who believes that the Justices are wearing robes. 
P.S.  I recognize that so called "constitutional scholars" (what a farce) argue that Section 8 of Article I declares that the Congress shall have the power to "regulate commerce...between the states" and that that phrase is used to justify Obamacare.  I am also aware of the legal history of the "commerce clause".  My point still remains, any child can understand that the commerce clause was never intended to grant to Congress the right to force US citizens to purchase particular products.  Only a naked lawyer could read the commerce clause and come to that conclusion.

Monday, March 26, 2012

California Is Crazy

I just returned from spending a week in Death Valley National Park.  I do not normally visit National Parks since I find the restraints of government regulations enforced in them to be oppressive.  I am forbidden to walk along a trail with my dog in a National Park.  I am forbidden from carrying a firearm in a National Park.  I am required to stand in certain areas called "Free Speech Zones" if I want to speak my mind in a National Park.  But, if I was going to visit the lowest, driest and warmest place in the western hemisphere, I had to comply with the rules of the government.
Making my experience in Death Valley doubly bad is the fact that the National Park is in California.  I try to stay out of California.  I find my throat constricting, my breathing labored, my eyes fogging over, and my balance insecure every time I have the misfortune of being in California.  There is something in the air that reeks of government oppression, control and the nanny-state.  Yet, if I was to climb Telescope Peak and thereby experience the greatest vertical elevation change in the lower forty eight, I had to visit California.  I took a deep breath and crossed the border, dropping steeply into the bottom of Death Valley.
Checking into my rustic motel room in Panamint Springs I was greeted by a sign informing me that the entire building had been found by the State of California to be dangerous to my health.  I was shocked.  Here I am, out in the middle of the desert, hundreds of miles from anything that could possibly be considered toxic, and the State of California warns me that I am doomed to contract cancer simply by sleeping in my room.  After asking a few questions I found out several appalling things about California.
First, California has its own Environmental Protection Agency.  I thought the first version from the federal government was enough.  Not so in California.  The federal version is not nearly intrusive enough. So California voters created their own EPA.  It is a massive and expensive bureaucracy.  We wonder why California is bankrupt?
Second,embedded in the California EPA is a sub-bureau called the Office of Environmental Hazard Assessment (or something to that this point my eyes were starting to glaze over and my balance was wavering).  This group of bureaucrats has come up with a list of over 800 items that it deems to be hazardous to my health.  Shockingly, many of those items were found in my hotel room. Even more shocking, several of those items were found in my bags!  Aspirin was one of them.  By this point I did not know if I would ever get out alive.  I went for a long hike up a desert canyon to try and clear my head.
As I was walking it occurred to me that there were two additional items that are not on the list of hazardous substances.....water and sunshine.  Too much water can kill.  Too much sunshine can burn.  Too little water can kill.  Too little sunshine can lead to rickets.  I didn't know what to do.  I panicked!  I was drinking water and walking in the sunshine.  Certainly I was doomed!  I rushed back to my room and the safety of government protection.
Wood dust (on the list) from a fellow cutting a two by four board filled the air near the motel restaurant.  Silica (on the list) from the sand blowing around in the air (I arrived to 50 mph winds and a nice sandstorm) filled my lungs.  I suddenly realized that despite the best efforts of the State of California, I had arrived at a death trap.  I had pre-paid my room for the entire week and, being a Welshman, I was willing to take my risks with the environmental hazards rather than give up the money.  I skittishly finished my week in Death Valley and then drove to Las Vegas, Nevada.  I knew that, according to the State of Nevada, there is nothing hazardous to my health in Las Vegas.  I breathed a sign of relief as I watched Death Valley recede in my rear view mirror.  I was reminded of the '49er who is credited with naming the valley as he exclaimed, while leaving the valley, "Goodbye valley of death".  I too uttered a goodbye as I left.  Goodbye crazy California.