Insomnia Log

This is what keeps me awake at night???

Who needs sleep? (well you’re never gonna get it)
Who needs sleep? (tell me what’s that for)
Who needs sleep? (be happy with what you’re getting,
There’s a guy who’s been awake since the second world war)

-- words and music by Steven Page & Ed Robertson

Location: Boulder, Colorado, United States

Everything you need to know about me can be found in my posts

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Bush Tax Increase

Bush signs the tax increase of 2001One of John McCain's biggest campaign issues this election, and a favorite talking point among conservatives is the so-called Obama tax increase. But what I don't get is why they are blaming Obama, when it was their own man George W. Bush who signed the tax increase into law.

That's right. Our very own President Bush signed into law the tax plan that will result in taxes increasing after he leaves office. The only way he could make the budget math even sort of work was to put an end date on each of his tax cuts, expiration dates at which taxes would increase. Otherwise, the fiscal damage would have been even more obvious at the time and they never would have passed Congress.
Bush signs the tax increase of 2003And now the conservatives are blaming Obama for raising taxes even if he does nothing and lets some of the tax cuts expire. That's just plain dumb. George W. Bush and the Republican Congress are totally responsible for raising taxes.
Bush signs the tax increase of 2005So, Bush is a tax hiker. And we already know that John McCain is as well.
Bush signs the tax increase of 2006Barack Obama is proposing to follow the Bush tax plan -- letting the Bush tax cuts expire as Bush put into place. Meanwhile, John McCain has proposed a brand new tax (his tax on health care benefits). But don't worry, he tells us, it will only be a net increase on 5% of people, the people who can most afford it.

I smell hypocrisy here.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Running this City would be so much Easier if only... Boulder Ballot Questions 2B, 2C, and 2E

City Council is asking for a few changes to the city charter in this election, changes that they believe are important to the smooth functioning of city government.

Question 2B would, for the first time ever, allow the council to meet in executive session to discuss "sensitive" issues, without the public present, something that is allowed in most other cities in this state. The meetings would require a 2/3 majority of council to approve, and would have to be on one of a few defined topics: property sale, acquisition, or lease; legal advice; security matters; negotiation strategies; and personnel matters.

These seem like reasonable precautions. But the fact of the matter is that the current system has worked fine since the city was founded. I'm not convinced that this new power is really needed.

Question 2C would amend the procedures around recall elections. Because of changes in state law, the recall timelines and procedures in the charter are no longer realistic. The changes proposed here would bring the city's process into line with what is required by the State of Colorado.

Question 2E would amend the charter "to provide that city residents may be appointed to serve on city commissions even if they are not city electors, if they are at least eighteen years old and if they have resided in the city of Boulder for at least one year immediately prior to their appointment." Under the current charter, only "registered electors" (U.S. citizens registered to vote) can be appointed to these positions.

Ignoring the substantive question for now, I find this one confusing and ambiguous. By the sentence above, commission members who are not city electors would be allowed if they meet these new requirements. But it is not clear whether city electors (i.e., citizens who are registered to vote) would have to also meet the age and residency requirement.

I went on a mining expedition on the city's website to try to figure this out. What I discovered was that on August 19 the city reviewed and approved the proposed change (after it had been modified in several previous council meetings). In the approved ordinance, the actual language of the charter would be changed as follows:
Each of such commissions, including the library commission, shall be composed of five electorscity residents, appointed by the council, not all of one sex, who are well known for their ability, probity, public spirit, and particular fitness to serve on such respective commissions and who are at least eighteen years old and who have resided in the city of Boulder for at least one year immediately prior to their appointment to serve on the commission.
So, there is no ambiguity in the actual change. Being a registered voter does not remove one from the requirement to have lived in the city for a year. So despite the comment in the presentation to council that "at the second hearing, a good deal of attention was given to crafting a ballot title that accurately reflects the changes being suggested by the proposed amendment", the ballot title implies an ambiguity that is not in the actual change.

Although the difference may seem trivial, I'm of the opinion that citizens should not have to go on a treasure hunt through public records in order to understand the actual changes being proposed in ballot questions. My reading of the ballot title led me to believe that registered votes would not have to meet the new requirements, but in fact they would.

Now to the actual change. Commission members (who generally advise council but have no real power other than that) would no longer have to be registered voters. Because of that, it would implicitly allow non-citizens (and convicted felons) to be appointed to these positions. Commission members would also now have to be residents of the city and to have been so for a year.

Council could have avoided much of the controversy of this measure if they had added the requirement of being a legal resident of the U.S. (and perhaps not a convicted felon). However, they did not want to impose the burden of actually enforcing these checks on commission members. (Note that they already have to check for legal residency for city employees.)

Convicted felons and illegal aliens are probably among the last people that will apply to these commissions, so the actual impact is probably pretty minimal. But council is giving the appearance that they are not listening to the concerns of the citizens by not addressing these issues.

For all these reasons, I think council should go back and work on this one some more. Getting broader participation in city commissions is a laudable goal, but it's not important enough at this time to ram through a deceptively titled issue that ignores the concerns of many citizens.

Vote NO on Question 2B.
Vote YES on Question 2C.
Vote NO on Question 2E.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Council Calls for a Do-Over -- Boulder Ballot Questions 2A and 2D

Last year, City Council put a couple of issues on the ballot that didn't pass, and this year they included variations of the same issues. Ballot Question 2B in 2007 asked us to give council members a raise of almost 200%, granting them up to $1,000 per month (based on attending two council meetings per month). At the time, I recommended voting for the change, but the measure did not pass. This year, Ballot Question 2A asks for a similar raise (including annual cost-of-living increases), with the exception that it is not tied to the number of meetings attended.

In principle, I agree with this. Being a council member is about a half-time job. Raising the pay from about $4/hour to about $12/hour makes it easier to recruit from a broader base of candidates. However, there is also the fact that one year after the voters rejected an almost identical measure and during a down economy the council is asking us for a huge increase. I would be much more comfortable with this with one simple change: Make it effective after the next council election.

Ballot Question 2A in 2007 asked us to allow City Council (with a 2/3 majority) to lease public property for up to 40 years (currently limited to a maximum of 20 years). I recommended a no vote on that measure and it failed. This year, Ballot Question 2D resurrects the issue in pretty much the same form.

The argument for this one is that nonprofits that lease space from the city can better borrow money, plan, and raise funds if they have the certainty of a 40 year lease. The examples given are The Dairy Center for the Arts, BMOCA, Chautauqua, the Boulder History Museum, Eco-Cycle, Boulder Day Nursery, Farmer's Market, and Meals on Wheels. However, no specific example has been given of even one of these organizations that has actually suffered because of the current 20 year limitation (although most of them do support this measure).

Meanwhile, paranoids in the community suspect the council is putting this in place as part of a scheme to ram through an unpopular project such as the suggested downtown conference center. I'm not sure this is a valid concern, but then I haven't seen an example of a valid reason for this expansion.

I suppose my bottom line is I'd like to see a better explanation of why this one is necessary. You'd think that after is was rejected a year ago council would have learned the lesson and told us more about why they need this power. But maybe they just figured the odd-year election was an anomaly and they'd have better luck this time.

Oh, and a message to City Council: Changing the question number on the ballot will not confuse us enough to remember that we voted on these same issues just twelve months ago.

Vote NO on Question 2A.
Vote NO on Question 2D.

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Sunday, October 12, 2008

Honest, They're Not Tax Increases! Boulder 2008 Ballot Issues 201 and 202

The City of Boulder has two measures on the ballot this year that impact tax collection. Neither of them is a tax increase, although opponents will argue otherwise for both.

Issue 201 "de-Bruces" the city's property tax collection. Currently the voters in Boulder have eliminated all other city taxes from having to comply with Douglas Bruce's TABOR law. That is the state law that prevents government spending from going up in any year more than the combination of inflation plus population growth. Obviously local voters have a history of supporting this type of measure. Issue 201 merely says that the city can keep and spend the property tax it collects every year.

Without this provision, the city must refund "excess collections". TABOR is particularly a problem when coming out of a down economy -- government spending may have been cut back due to lower tax revenues, but when tax revenues return to their pre-downturn level spending can't resume at the same level. If this provision is passed, it will be phased in over six years, and most of the additional money retained will be added to the general fund, available for any city priority.

Issue 202 if passed would make permanent the current 0.38% sales tax that is set to expire at the end of 2011, and dedicate the revenue to the general fund. (This tax would also be de-Bruced.) When this tax was originally put into place it was dedicated to supporting library construction. At this point, 10% of the revenues are used for the library debt and the rest is available for the general fund. The library debt will be totally paid off when this tax expires in 2011. So, this is an opportunity to increase general fund (non-earmarked) revenue without increasing the tax burden on the citizens.

Without these two measures, city revenues will go down while expenses are going up, and major cuts will be required.

Vote YES on Ballot Issue 201.
Vote YES on Ballot Issue 202.

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Saturday, October 11, 2008

It's All for a Worthy Cause - Boulder County Issue 1B

Issue 1B is the extension, for an additional ten years, of an existing 0.05% county sales and use tax which would otherwise expire at the end of this year. The proceeds from this tax have funded and will continue to fund capital expenses for a number of local nonprofit agencies. These agencies provide services such as low-cost health care, transitional and affordable housing, childcare, early childhood education, food and clothing assistance, and services for the elderly and people with disabilities.

Some organizations that may be getting money in the next five years for capital projects under this fund: Boulder Day Nursery, OUR Center, Mapleton ECE Center, Clinica Campesina, Mental Health Center, Special Transit, Sister Carmen, and Salud.

Boulder Day Nursery Association exists to provide and promote high quality child care, early learning programs and family support services for low-income families, in environments that respect diverse ethnic, cultural and social traditions.

Outreach United Resource Center, Inc., OUR Center, has a mission to unify community resources to help people in the St. Vrain region meet their individual needs and move toward self-sufficiency.

Mapleton ECE is the proposed conversion of the site of the former Mapleton Elementary School into an early childhood care and education center.

Clinica Campesina is a community health center that is committed to providing affordable, high-quality medical care to low-income, unemployed and uninsured people.

In partnership with others, The Mental Health Center improves quality of life and reduces the burden of illness by providing comprehensive, community-based mental health services for those with the greatest need.

Special Transit is a private, nonprofit organization located in Boulder that promotes independence and self-sufficiency for people with limited mobility by providing caring, customer-focused transportation options.

The Sister Carmen Community Center provides clients with emergency food assistance through their food bank and additional assistance through their various community support services.

Salud Family Health Centers's ultimate goal is to provide quality, comprehensive primary health care services, and to improve the overall health of the communities it serves by reducing barriers to health care.

Each of the above organization is currently slated to get somewhere between $500,000 and $900,000 in the next five years for capital and equipment costs. Every one of these organizations is a great (even worthy) cause helping local people who are in need.

Why would anybody vote against extending a tiny sales tax that helps such worthy causes? Well, here's the deal. These are but eight of the dozens or hundreds of local worthy causes. To earn this money they will have to convince the County Commissioners (or their designees) that their causes are more worthy that anybody else's.

And a penny on a twenty dollar purchase may not be much money, but for the very people that most need these services, and others that may need other help, those pennies will add up.

Shouldn't those people that want to help worthy causes get to decide for themselves which causes are worthy or their contributions?

Vote NO on Issue 1B.

(And be generous with your personal contributions to the local causes of your own choice.)

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I will Gladly Pay You Tuesday for a Solar Panel Today -- Boulder County Issue 1A

Issue 1A is a rather clever way to help people afford renewable energy systems (primarily solar) and energy efficiency upgrades for their homes. The county, using its credit rating and ability to sell bonds, borrows money at a decent rate. Homeowners can access that credit to pay for green upgrades to their homes. So, even if the upgrade doesn't pay for itself for several years, the homeowner still gets a positive cash flow starting on day one. The debt is applied to the home, not the homeowner, meaning that if the home is sold both the debt and the energy savings go with it. There is no tax increase and this does not impact anybody who does not agree to participate.

Sounds like a win-win, except for one big concern. With our current credit crisis and the poor economy, this measure would provide another way for people to go into debt. My hope is that when the county program is put into place they create standards to measure the proposed improvements and the expected payback. The last thing people will need is something that will add $100 dollars/month to their mortgage payment (via escrow) and save them only $10/month in energy costs.

That said, if this program is well administered it could be a very positive way to encourage capital-intensive home energy improvements.

Vote YES on Boulder County Issue 1A.

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Thursday, October 09, 2008

The Grand Compromise -- Colorado 2008 Amendment 59

Douglas Bruce in his native habitatOne of the worst abominations that has been added to the Colorado Constitution by virtue of the current ease with which citizens can amend it was called TABOR, or the Tax-Payers' Bill of Rights. It says, among other things, that the state can't spend any more money each year than the previous year, plus population growth plus inflation. This is regardless of tax revenue that has been brought in (which must be refunded if in excess of this amount), any economic conditions, the fact that the cost of some things rises higher than inflation, or the fact that a down economic year may force the entire state's spending to "ratchet" down for all future years. This law was designed purposely to cripple government by one of our state's laughing stocks, Douglas Bruce.

[The other laughing stock is the City of Boulder.]

Another item added to the state constitution a few years back, in response to TABOR, was Amendment 23. It requires the state to increases its funding on P-12 education every year.

Of course, just having the limits of TABOR guaranteed that the state government would go into crisis eventually. But when you added in the bad economy a few years back and then Amendment 23, things got pretty bad. The state had to cut spending on just about anything that moved that wasn't constitutionally mandated. For example, spending for higher education was decimated. This explains why we see items like Amendment 50 which would fund community colleges with gambling taxes, and Amendment 58 which would fund college scholarships using oil and gas severance taxes. Note that every single earmarked tax proposal includes a so-called "de-Brucing" clause, which says they get to keep and spend all the money that comes in, instead of refunding it.

Members of the state legislature tried to come up with a compromise to put on the ballot but were not able to get it passed. So, instead, they created this citizen's initiative, Amendment 59.

Amendment 59 eliminates the requirement for the state to refund "excess" tax collections. Instead, the money that would have been refunded is put into the State Education Fund, which is used to pay for P-12 education. It also creates a savings account within that fund, with 10% of the fund revenues saved per year. Finally, it eliminates the Amendment 23 requirement that education spending go up every year. (In fact, education spending may actually go down, as money is put into the savings account.)

Given the state of the economy, it is likely that tax revenues will not be increasing and no new money will actually make it into the State Education Fund for a while. But eventually when the economy recovers and tax revenues increase faster than inflation, there will almost certainly be money to add. However, as more and more items get "de-Bruced", I assume this amount will go down.

The long-term benefit of this is elimination of the conflict between TABOR and Amendment 23. The short term benefit is pissing off Douglas Bruce. I'm not sure which is the more compelling reason.

Vote YES on Amendment 59.

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Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Oil for Roads or Oil for Colleges? Colorado 2008 Amendments 52 and 58

When companies in Colorado take nonrenewable resources out of the ground (such as coal, gold, oil and natural gas, but mostly from natural gas), they pay a severance tax in order to compensate the state for the permanent loss of those resources. This is on top of the income taxes, property taxes, sales taxes, etc., that they pay to do business in Colorado. The rate is between 2% and 5%, but with tax credits and exemptions it actually works out to an average rate of 1.3%. This is the lowest effective severance tax rate in the large-producing western states region.

The revenue gained from the severance tax is split evenly between the local governments affected by the extraction and several state programs. The bulk of the state money is spent on water projects, but some of the revenue is spent on wildlife conservation, low-income energy assistance, invasive species such as pine beetles and zebra mussels, soil conservation, renewable energy, and a few other priorities.

With the current energy boom, severance tax collections are expected to increase significantly in the next few years, although of course there are no guarantees.

There are two measures on the Colorado ballot this year that would affect the severance tax, and they need to be considered together. In fact, if both pass, there are contradictory provisions and it is not clear how they would be resolved.

Amendment 52 is a constitutional amendment, which means its provisions would likely prevail in court and would be harder to change. It would not impact the money provided to local governments. But in the portion allocated to state programs, the amount spent on current priorities would be capped at the prior year's amount plus inflation, and the remainder would be allocated to transportation projects. Within these transportation projects, special emphasis would be placed on reducing congestion on I-70, the major east-west highway in the state that provides the majority of access to the mountain resorts.

So, this amendment would be enshrined in the constitution, making it impossible to change without another vote of the people. It would potentially conflict with and trump another legally passed measure. It would remove revenue from a number of important state spending priorities. Some of there priorities are likely to need more money because of rising energy costs and global warming, such as water projects (global warming is predicted to increase droughts in this state), invasive species (pine beetles have already laid waste to the pine population on the Western Slope and have begun to make their way through the Front Range), renewable energy, and low-income energy assistance. And it increases spending on roads, which will only exacerbate the energy and global warming issues. Not only that, by focusing on a single transportation corridor, I-70, the interests of most of the state or ignored for the benefit primarily of the ski industry.

Oh, and once the state legislature sees this new revenue stream for transportation, what's to stop them from decreasing its allocation from the general fund?

I don't see a single reason to vote for Amendment 52.

Amendment 58 approaches the severance tax issue from a different angle. First, it increases the effective severance tax rate by making three changes. Currently, companies can apply a large chunk of their property taxes to effective eliminate a big chunk of the severance tax, and this amendment would eliminate that tax credit. The amendment applies the severance tax to a number of smaller wells currently exempted. And it changes the multi-level tax rates (between two and five percent) to a single level (five percent), while exempting smaller companies from the tax.

Plus, Amendment 58 is a statutory amendment, meaning that the state legislature can adjust this as necessary when things change over the years.

So far so good. There really is a cost to the state when companies permanently extract natural gas from beneath our ground, and companies are largely not paying that cost. This measure would fix that. Even after the increases, our effective severance tax rate would remain the third-lowest among the large-producing western states. Nobody is going to stop drilling or significatly raise natural gas prices.

Amendment 58 also changes how the severance tax revenues are spent. Sigh. I knew this wasn't going to be so easy.

Amendment 58 takes 44% of future severance tax revenues and splits them according to the old formula. According to projections, over the next four years, these older priorities should get about the same amount of money as they do today (because the expected increase in extraction and the increased effective tax rate would make up for the loss of 56% of the total income).

This 56% would be split among a new set of priorities. Most of the money, 60% would be applied to a new fund providing college scholarships to low and middle income Colorado residents. The remainder would be spent on wildlife habitat, energy efficiency and renewable energy, transportation projects in areas affected by the oil and gas industry, and small community waste water and drinking water projects.

Who can argue against college scholarships, especially given that the state has hugely cut spending on higher education? The other priorities all seem good. It is more earmarking, but at least we're earmarking a revenue stream that has historically already been earmarked.

So, this one has a new revenue stream I can live with and reasonable, albeit earmarked, priorities. And some of the new priorities actually help with energy and climate change issues, which is where the severance tax revenue should be spent if it has to be earmarked.

Vote NO on Amendment 52.
Vote YES on Amendment 58.

And, whatever you do, don't vote for both of them!

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Monday, October 06, 2008

This Amendment is Still on the Waiting List -- Colorado 2008 Amendment 51

Amendment 51 is a breath of fresh air -- it is not written as a constitutional amendment, but rather updates the Colorado Revised Statutes. I'm tempted to vote for it for that reason alone.

But I figured I should at least read it first. So, here's the bottom line:

The State of Colorado, with the help of a number of local nonprofits, provides a number of services to people with developmental disabilities. These are people who have no means to provide these services for themselves. Unfortunately, there is a waiting list for these services, and that waiting list is getting longer rather than shorter. In fact, there are 9,700 people on the waiting list and funding for only about 11,800 to receive the services. In four years, the number of people on the waiting list is expected to exceed the number of people receiving services.

The authors of this measure have a solution. That solution is a 0.2% sales tax increase (phased in over two years) that can only be used to provide these services and bring down the waiting list.

So far so good. The state has signed up to provide services to a population that relies on and has no other way of getting them, and the state can't afford to adequately provide these services. These are services such as job training, speech therapy, physical therapy, even basic long-term care. This measure would bring in more money to meet that commitment.

Here's the downside. A sales tax is a regressive tax, and it would be increasing at a time when the economy is in pretty bad shape. In Boulder, the tax total sales tax paid by each person would increase by more than 2%. This increase is almost as bad as getting a 0.2% pay cut. The people paying the tax would be those who are struggling most. The tax revenue would be earmarked, which means that it could not be spent on anything else. If any other state spending priority needs more money, its supporters will just have to get their own earmarked tax increase.

I would agree that deciding public spending priorities through earmarking at the ballot box is an incredibly bad way to run a government. It's where we've ended up, and I don't see a way out of this cycle.

This measure comes down to one simple thing, then. Do you believe that the state's obligation to help people with developmental disabilities is strong enough to override the negatives of an earmarked sales tax increase in a poor economy? I guess the guilt has gotten to me, but just barely, and I'm going to go for this one.

Vote YES on Amendment 51.

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Sunday, October 05, 2008

What Are the Odds I'm Going to Vote for This? Colorado 2008 Amendment 50

A while back, the people of Colorado voted to allowed "limited gaming" (gambling) in three mountain towns, ostensibly to help preserve their historical character. Now they've gotten the taste of money and they want more, and they are prepared to bribe us to get it.

Currently, the Central City, Black Hawk, and Cripple Creek allow slots, blackjack, and poker. The maximum bet on anything is $5. And the casinos must close between 2:00 AM and 8:00 AM.

Under Amendment 50, the casinos in those three towns (with the approval of the local voters) would be allowed to stay open all night, add roulette and craps, and up the maximum bet to $100.

They have another big ask, which has not been so well advertised: Currently the gaming tax is 20%, but the gaming commission has the right to up that to 40%. But if this measure passes they would require a statewide for any such increase.

For comparison, the gaming tax in Nevada is 6.75%, in Atlantic City is 9.25%, in Mississippi is 24%, and in Pennsylvania is 55%.

So what would we get in exchange for turning our "family-friendly" $5 bet casinos into all-night, high-stakes joints with even more ways to lose your money, and for protecting the casinos from the threat of paying higher taxes?

First of all, the gaming commission has to figure out what portion of the gaming tax revenues are attributable to this new rule. I guess that means casinos have to separately track all bets between 2:00 and 8:00 AM, all bets on roulette and craps, and all bets over $5. (I'm wondering if the casinos suporting this issue are budgeting for this new expense.) This money would not be subject to the TABOR limits that restrict increases to tax revenue.

Then the amount of gaming tax that exceed the revenue from fiscal year 2007 would be deposited into a special fund, and distributed 22% to the local governments of those three towns (based on how much increased revenue they brought in because of this new law) and 78% to community colleges in the state. Of course, that is dependent on the amount of tax revenue actually going up.

So, to summarize, we turn these three towns into high-stakes gambling destinations, destroying what little historical character they have left. We protect the casinos from a potential doubling of the casino tax. We give the local governments a bribe to encourage them to make these changes. And if there is any money left over (remember, we're in a recession, and who knows how many people will be willing to bet $100 at a clip) it can be used to support community colleges. That would be instead of actually funding them at a responsible level.

Vote NO on Amendment 50.

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Saturday, October 04, 2008

A Person's a Person, No Matter How Small -- Colorado 2008 Amendment 48

Don't tread on me!Amendment 48 was written for one reason -- to outlaw abortion. It tries to do this by defining the term "person" in certain sections of the Colorado Bill of Rights as "any human being from the moment of fertilization".

A couple of very basic problems with this approach. First of all, Roe vs. Wade was decided based on the U.S. Constitution. Changing a term in one state's constitution won't change that one bit.

Second, this definition is circular. According to my understanding of the terms, a person is a human being and a human being is a person. If I don't believe that a fertilized egg is a person, I certainly won't acknowledge that it is a human being. Therefore, this entire definition is either redundant or illogical.

There are plenty more problems. For example, the moment of fertilization is unknowable. There is no way to tell if one of these brand new people even exists, and therefore no way to guarantee its (his or her) rights.

People have been struggling with the definition of "person" for thousands of years. Philosophers, religious leaders, legal experts, everybody has an opinion. Science fiction writers have struggled with the question of whether robots, androids, and extra-terrestrials qualify. Some animal ethicists argue that great apes should have the rights of people. When is the start of life? When is the end of life?

Why is this the realm of the State of Colorado to define, and not the role of each "person" to define for himself or herself?

Suppose this amendment passes. About 50,000 babies are born in Colorado every 9 months. That would be 50,000 people immediately added to our population. How are we going to perform a census to catch all of these new people? Does this one percent increase get translated into the right to an additional Representative to Congress, and if so how would that be fair to the other states?

The Colorado Bill of Rights does not currently define "person", although it is defined elsewhere in the Colorado code. For example, it's not currently considered murder unless you kill a born person. Presumably, every place in the Colorado code that mentions "person" would be impacted by this. Has anybody done the analysis, to determine which laws now apply to 50,000 more people?

This amendment only applies to three specific sections of the Bill of Rights. Who decided which ones and how did they decide? Why wouldn't they have included the entire thing? Seems rather hypocritical to me.

Let's look at the specific sections that would be impacted:
Section 3. Inalienable rights. All persons have certain natural, essential and inalienable rights, among which may be reckoned the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties; of acquiring, possessing and protecting property; and of seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness.
So now a fertilized egg has the right to enjoy and defend its life. How? Do the supporters of this measure really believe that a newly fertilized egg can enjoy anything or defend itself? Are we going to provide them with teeny tiny knives to use in this self defense?

What about acquiring, possessing, and protecting property? Has anybody thought about the impact of allowing a fertilized egg to own property? What impact does this have on inheritance law?

How the heck is a fertilized egg going to seek out its safety and happiness?

Now the supporters will no doubt argue that the state will have the right and duty to protect the safety, happiness, life, and liberty of this newly anointed person. But who is speaking up for this entity and what it wants (as if "want" is even relevant)?

And, given that this fertilized egg is now a person, think of all the things that immediately become crimes against a person. The morning after pill, for one, is murder (a conspiracy between the pregnant woman and her doctor). If a pregnant woman drinks an alcoholic beverage she is committing child abuse. In fact, if a pregnant woman has sex, she and her partner are committing child sexual abuse, and will have to have their names added to that of other sex offenders.

Oh, and forget about in vitro fertilization or stem cell research. Those poor little people will be taking the doctors and researchers to court for damages.

Here's another:
Section 6. Equality of justice. Courts of justice shall be open to every person, and a speedy remedy afforded for every injury to person, property or character; and right and justice should be administered without sale, denial or delay.
So now a wronged fertilized egg can take you to court. Presumably that egg will not be taking the stand on its own behalf, so the concept of being able to face your accuser will require significant reinterpretation.

There will have to be a whole new bureaucracy added to the state and all local governments to provide legal and medical protection to all of these otherwise defenseless people. How much will that cost?

And finally:
Section 25. Due process of law. No person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property, without due process of law.
That's comforting. If someone were to, say, imprison this "person" for nine months, that kidnapper would have to have a court order.

What about all the rights that these new "people" wouldn't have, because the new definition only applies to those three identified sections of the Colorado Bill of Rights? They wouldn't have the right to determine the form of government, which I guess means they can't vote. I don't know how they would use those new electronic voting machines anyway. No religious freedom. This should be comforting to the supporters of this measure in that they will be able to impose their religious beliefs on their spawn without consequence. (They already feel comfortable imposing their religious beliefs on the rest of us anyway.) No speedy trials. No requirement for search warrants. No protection of their estates if they commit treason. No freedom of speech or press. No right to assemble (sorry, that means no twins) or petition. No right to bear arms. (So much for those teeny tiny knives.) No protection against eminent domain. No habeas corpus. No equality of the sexes. (Even for a fertilized egg? How can you even tell?) No prohibition of slavery. Yes, you can legally make a fetus work for you without compensation! And so on.

How ridiculous.

As you have guessed, I'm opposed to this measure.

Vote NO on Amendment 48.

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Friday, October 03, 2008

Is This Dr. King's Dream? -- Colorado 2008 Amendment 46

I constantly complain about initiatives that are written as constitutional amendments but shouldn't be. Well, Amendment 46, the so-called Colorado Civil Rights Initiative, really does address a constitutional issue. So, I have to actually decide this one on its merits.

On the surface, this measure is fairly straightforward. It says that the state can't discriminate in hiring and education based on race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin. Sounds pretty good, eh?

Well, if you look deeper, and you understand the goals of the people who wrote it, there's more. The underlying purpose of this amendment is to ban affirmative action.

There are a few exceptions. If your job reasonably requires that the employee be a woman, you can discriminate. (I suppose that would be the strip club exemption.) If there is an existing court order, you can follow it (although there is nothing that says you can follow future court orders.) And affirmative action would still be allowed if it is necessary to get federal funds.

Oh, and it would still be legal to have an affirmative action plan to hire more gays, Catholics, or Republicans.

One of the complaints of the opponents of this one is that it is misleading. Indeed, several folks who signed the petition claim that they were misled into thinking that this initiative was exactly the opposite of what it claims. In fact there are reports that petitioners were specifically targeting black community events and telling potential signers that the measure would support affirmative action.

Well, I certainly don't condone potentially fraudulent petitioning practices. The fact is, between now and the election anybody who cares has ample opportunity to find out what this measure really means (although it would definitely be better if the ballot title actually mentioned that fact that it would end affirmative action.)

It's also been said that the author of this amendment likely benefited from affirmative action himself, and would profit from the passing of this measure.

So, the author may be a hypocrite, his motives may not be pure, some less than forthright techniques were used in putting the measure onto the ballot, and it certainly doesn't ban all discrimination. Is what's left a net good or bad?

Anybody who pays attention would be hard pressed to deny that racial and gender discrimination still occur. Look, for example, at dropout rates, pay equity, and other easily measured factors. So, affirmative action still seems relevant.

I've just mentioned several really bad things about this measure. And yet, I've been struggling with how to vote on it. Because, no matter how disingenuous the supporters may have been, no matter that there are holes in the protection, no matter that discrimination still does occur, it still bothers me that the way to fix that discrimination is with more discrimination.

I wonder if there might not be different ways to attack the problem. For example, invest more in education in lower income areas. Provide scholarships based on income, not race. Perform color-blind interviews. Make sure we are adequately enforcing existing anti-discrimination laws.

I can certainly see giving extra help to people who grow up in the slums, who are in single parent households, who have personally suffered high crime rates, who went to inferior schools, and who have been dragged down by their environment. But isn't it an insult to tell someone they need extra accommodation just because they are a different race or gender?

I'm going to vote YES on Amendment 46.

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Thursday, October 02, 2008

Seven at One Blow -- Colorado 2008 Amendments 47, 49, 53, 54, 55, 56, and 57

I can't believe my good fortune today. Business and labor leaders, who were publicly feuding via the ballot box, have reached an agreement which means that I don't have to read seven Colorado ballot initiatives!

It all started when business leaders put one, two, then three measures on the ballot this year. Amendment 47 would have prevented unions from collecting mandatory dues. Amendment 49 would have prevented public employers from using payroll deductions to fund private organizations. And Amendment 54 would have banned some unions from making campaign contributions.

In retaliation, labor leaders came up with no less than four measures to use as leverage against the business measures. Amendment 53 would have allowed corporate executives to be prosecuted for corporate crimes. Amendment 55 would have required companies to show cause when firing employees. Amendment 56 would have required most employers to provide health insurance. Amendment 57 would have allowed employees to sue their employers in workers comp cases.

I say "would have", because now all of these measures are irrelevant. Business and labor were using the ballot as part of their negotiations, playing a big game of chicken, using all of us as pawns in that game. And now the two sides have reached an agreement and we are once more irrelevant.

At the eleventh hour, literally hours before the state deadline, the two sides blinked. Neither side was willing to risk the chance that the opposition's measures would pass. So, in exchange for labor withdrawing all four of its measures, business has agreed to campaign against its own measures.

Kind of makes you sick, doesn't it?

So, the four labor measures will be pulled from the ballot. Since ballots are already printed, they will still appear, but the results won't be counted. And business leaders have committed to spending $3 million to the campaign against their own measures.

If there ever was a tiny chance that I would vote for any of these, it is surely gone now. If you resent being played with this way as much as I do:

Vote NO on Amendment 47
Vote NO on Amendment 49
Vote NO on Amendment 53
Vote NO on Amendment 54
Vote NO on Amendment 55
Vote NO on Amendment 56
Vote NO on Amendment 57

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Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Sarah Blinked

Pretty cool, it turns out that Anderson Cooper reads my blog. How else would I explain this piece he did on Sarah Palin?

You see, Sarah famously claimed foreign policy experience based on the fact that Russia is visible from an island in Alaska. I, however, pointed out that she carefully worded her statement such that she never actually claimed to have been on that island. And I lamented that my faith in her foreign policy credentials hinged on whether she had actually look at Russia.

Well, the folks at CNN have now confirmed my words suspicion. Sarah has indeed never been on the island of Little Diomede and has never seen that nation that strikes fear in all of our hearts. So, Sarah, I must now say that you and your running mate (I forget his name) have lost my trust. I looked you in the eye, and you blinked.

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