Facts Undercut Walker Stapleton (Again)

Walker Stapleton.

State Treasurer Walker Stapleton.

As the Grand Junction Sentinel’s Charles Ashby reports, Treasurer Walker Stapleton’s favorite axe to grind, the estimated rate of return for the state’s Public Employee Retirement Association fund, has once again failed to fulfill his dire predictions. Last week, Stapleton lost big at the Colorado Supreme Court, when the court refused to hear his appeal to gain access to confidential PERA data. Stapleton’s campaign to “reform” PERA, while complaining loudly about the fund’s supposed weakness, has been his most visible policy as state treasurer.

Well, as Ashby reported yesterday…it’s a bunch of BS.

A state audit of the Colorado Public Employee Retirement Association, which holds and manages pensions for just about every state and local government employee in Colorado, has “no significant deficiencies or material weaknesses.”

…Along with the audit, PERA’s actuaries also reported last week that the pension fund will become 100 percent funded in 34 years, Smith said. While the ideal solvency level is aimed at 30 years, the pension system doesn’t have far to go to get to where it needs to be fully funded, he said.

Smith credited much of the pension’s good health on reforms made by the Colorado Legislature in 2010. That new law, SB1, reduced retirement benefits for new government hires, reduced automatic cost-of-living increases for existing retirees and increased contributions to the fund by employers over seven years…

Though it now has a projected 7.5 percent return rate, which the pension lowered from 8 percent, over the past 30 years its investments have returned more than that — 9.5 percent on average, he said. [Pols emphasis]

The fact is, Treasurer Stapleton’s doom and gloom assessments of PERA’s outlook, segueing into the usual political arguments for “doing something” about the “lavish benefits” PERA pensioners receive, have totally failed the test of basic accuracy. Even after the 2010 SB-1 reforms significantly increased employee obligations, not to mention the lowering of the projected rate of return for PERA investment to 7.5% last year, Stapleton has continued to find a ready (if ignorant) audience for his message on PERA with partisan Republicans.

As we discussed last week, Stapleton has missed a large number of PERA Board meetings, going back years–all the while pursuing his now-failed lawsuit, and arguing that PERA’s “irresponsibility” was exposing Colorado taxpayers to massive risk. The full facts of Stapleton’s campaign against PERA make the whole business just laughable. Even if you’re with Stapleton on “reforming” PERA, he’s done a terrible job making the case. For us, having missed so many PERA board meetings while grandstanding on the issue for years destroys Stapleton’s credibility. For everyone else, there’s the increasingly undeniable fact that Stapleton is just plain wrong about PERA.

“Without being confrontational with the treasurer, we like to talk about the numbers, [Pols emphasis] and are focused on the numbers, and the numbers indicate to us that we don’t have a current crisis. Every indication is we’ll be able to meet our obligations and eventually we’ll return to fully funded status.”

Back in 2010, when Stapleton campaigned for treasurer warning of a coming “hyperinflationary environment” and calling for the state to buy gold Glenn Beck style to ward off disaster, we marveled a little that this silly man was actually poised to defeat a competent and trustworthy administrator like then-Treasurer Cary Kennedy. But it was a wave year, and things happen down the ticket in such elections that have nothing to do with the greater good.

There was no “hyperinflationary environment” after 2010, but Stapleton has proven no less silly.

More evidence that Gardner tried to stop Obamacare by threatening government shutdown

(Once again, the record makes a liar of Cory Gardner – promoted by Colorado Pols)

Cory Gardner.

Cory Gardner.

In a blog post last week, I noted that senatorial candidate Cory Gardner threatened, during a radio interview in August of last year, to shut down the government unless Obamacare was defunded.

This is in 180-degree-contrast to what a Gardner spokesperson was quoted as saying last week, that "Gardner had warned against requiring Democrats to defund the Affordable Care Act as a requirement for keeping government open.”

It turns out Gardner also launched the defund-Obamacare-or-we-shut-down-the-government warning from the floor of the House of Representatives. And he did it the day before the shutdown occurred:

Gardner: "Over the weekend, this House worked to find a solution to the impasse over the Continuing Resolution, sending over various options to the Senate to try to jump start negotiations to work through an agreement to find a solution to keep our government funded. In the early hours of this morning we finally said to the leader of the U.S. Senate, Harry Reid, let's find a way to meet face-to-face, through a conference committee, to negotiate a solution and avoid a government shutdown. We passed three times now measures to keep the government funded and a way to find solutions to this critical issue.

But there are many people in Colorado who are struggling now because of the shutdown and who are worried about what happens to their situation, particularly those who may have been impacted by the flood. And that is why we must find a way to get government funded, to find a solution to get government going back on track, while preventing policies that we know are bad for the economy."

Here, Gardner acknowledged the concern that the shutdown could affect flood recovery, and he blamed Harry Reid for the impasse, but he insisted that a budget deal must prevent "policies that we know are bad for the economy" (i.e. Obamacare riders in the Gardner-supported funding resolutions to keep the government open).

This contradicts his spokesperson's statement that Gardner warned Republicans not to shut down the government to try to stop Obamacare. I don't see any such warning in Gardner's floor speech, and, in fact, the government shut down the next day.

[Pols Note: Video moved so that it appears after the jump]

(more…)

33 Consecutive Months Of Job Growth In Colorado

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As the Denver Post's Howard Pankratz reports, what may be the worst possible news for GOP  political campaign messaging is great news for the rest of us:

Colorado logged its 33rd consecutive month of job growth in July and unemployment dipped to 5.3 percent, the ninth-lowest rate in the country.

The state last hit 5.3 percent unemployment in October 2008.

In June, the state unemployment rate was 5.5 percent. Since then, Colorado has added 5,500 non-farm payroll jobs, raising the total to nearly 2.5 million jobs, the fifth-fastest job increase in the United States.

"Employment gains and the improving labor market are pretty widespread across the state," said Alexandra Hall, chief economist for the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.

Politically, there's very little for detractors to carp about in these latest numbers: the unemployment rate fell not due to workers leaving the workforce or government job growth, but thousands of honest-to-Pete private sector jobs being created in Colorado.

Despite all of the day-to-day message battles between Republican and Democratic campaigns and surrogate spin doctors, it remains a truism in politics that a good economy gives incumbents a big advantage in any election. Voters reliably punish incumbents when they feel uneasy about their own economic prospects, and reward incumbents when they feel positive. This is a big reason why, in the present economic climate of not just recovery but real bullishness beginning to peek its head out, Republicans hoping to oust Democrats both in Colorado and nationally cannot acknowledge that the economy is doing well. To do so, as we've discussed previously, would be to admit the inadmissible: that Obamacare hasn't wrecked the economy as Republicans not only predicted beforehand, but insisted has happened in the months since the law took effect.

And if Obamacare didn't destroy the economy, a whole lot of other things descending from that aren't true either. Very quickly, a small admission like "yes, the economy is getting better" could lead to major troubles for the GOP's whole ideological edifice.

Bottom line: one of the biggest dangers Republicans face today is this simple news report being broadly understood by the voters: who then hear the words "the economy is a disaster" from a GOP politician, and realize it isn't true. If Republicans lose control of this narrative, and economic bullishness becomes a prevalent mindset before November, it will severely weaken their case for undecided votes.

In the meantime, we'll say it gladly: congratulations to the thousands of Coloradans headed back to work.

Hemp Producers

Someone posted a meme at Facebook recently that showed a Henry Ford car made entirely of hemp. I’ve known for a long time that our constitution was printed on paper made of hemp, but it never occurred to me that it was strong enough to manufacture things like cars. Since then I’ve seen all kinds of memes promoting the value of hemp, which is not legally grown in the U.S., but legally grown in every other first world country.  Just as Colorado is blazing a new trail by being one of the first states in the nation to legalize marijuana, it is also now legal to grow hemp in the state.

But nothing about growing hemp is easy. First it is illegal to import any of that hemp seed into the US, or to transport it across state lines. So hemp farmers such as Adam have to find seed suppliers within the state in order to grow their product.

I first met Adam at what looks like a farmer’s market booth, but is not on Main Street with the rest of the booths. Instead it is at a coffee shop popular with young, trendy adults. He was selling ice cream sandwiches, where the cookie’s ingredients included hemp. They are pretty tasty. Adam gets excited when he talks about the possibilities for hemp. “Imagine a landfill where everything, all the plastics, are biodegradable” he gushes, as his blue eyes sparkle.

I asked Adam what kinds of hassles he had with getting in on the ground floor of an industry that is as yet only quasi-legal, and he immediately mentions getting set up as an LLC, not the regulatory burdens that I expected. He is growing hemp on a 3 acre plot of land where he plans a three year crop rotation, with alfalfa growing on two acres and hemp growing on one. He has a license to plant one acre in hemp. The problem is that he really doesn’t have a market for anything but the seeds. The fiber, the stuff out of which Henry Ford made plastic for his car, has no market because there are no commercial processing facilities in the U.S. Adam can’t transport it across state lines without it being fabricated into something, and there are no local manufacturers needing his product. He’s experimenting with fodder and paper, but for now he’s a commercial seed grower hoping that lots of farmers will join him in growing the renewable and biodegradable products of the future.

He also proudly tells me that the labs that have tested his product have detected zero THC, the component in marijuana that is psychoactive. However, his plants have 3% CBD, which is the component in medical marijuana that has the most medicinal applications.

Certainly there needs to be a future for a product that can replace fossil fuel based plastics with hemp based plastics that are biodegradable and don’t involve chemicals any more toxic than fertilizers. I applaud risk takers like Adam and his partners. They are blazing a way for a greener future for all of us.

Now, if only we could get rid of the regulatory restrictions that Adam shrugs off.   

Homework:

Images of Henry Ford's Hemp Car

Canadian hemp trade

Colorado's Regulations

Everything You Never Wanted to Know About TCH

Everything You Never Wanted to Know About CBD

Say it ain’t so, Andrew, say it ain’t so!

Oh boy, the thoroughly discredited and Colorado-Tried-and-Failed strategy whereby a Colorado Dem tries to run and govern like a Republican will never die:

So which is it? Are Dems tacking left or veering right? The answer isn’t clear yet. But Isenstadt offers some worrisome anecdotes. He points to several Democratic candidates who are recycling Republican rhetoric, even in districts that went for Barack Obama in the 2012 election.

Isenstadt highlights, for example, a campaign video and accompanying material from Colorado Democrat Andrew Romanoff. Romanoff’s video is indistinguishable from a Republican’s, complete with a Paul Ryan-style graph of “soaring” federal debt and admonitions that “you don’t buy things you can’t pay for.”

Andrew Romanoff was one of the few candidates I've given money to the last few years. D's just can't seem to quit this congenital need to pretend they are Republican, or to pretend that some kind of High-Minded Bipartisanship will be met with the same by our Tea Party counterparts. 

RJ Eskow is really an excellent writer, and here's a bit more of his analysis regarding our good friend Andrew:

The game plan for candidates like Romanoff appears to be: Adopt your competition’s failed economic agenda, make yourself your opponent’s pallid shadow, and base your campaign on issues, positions and priorities that have little or no support among voters.

That’s not just a bad strategy. It will also be very difficult to execute. As will inevitably happen in many Democratic races, the National Republican Congressional Committee pointed to Romanoff’s past support for the stimulus and said, “It’s dishonest for Andrew Romanoff to criticize the mountain of government debt he helped create.”

The “government debt” canard is a silly critique, one that Romanoff could easily refute – if he hadn’t already abandoned his ideological post by running away from much-needed government investment. The stimulus didn’t create debt. It helped reduce long-term debt by spurring modest growth and offsetting the job losses caused by the financial crisis. What’s more, its objectives were consistent with the electorate’s priorities. Its only problem, as any good economist will tell you, is that it wasn’t large enough.

Candidates like Andrew Romanoff could choose to campaign on jobs and growth. That would be a winning approach, even in red districts, with voters who are fearful of the economic future. But when they choose to echo Republican messaging instead, they leave themselves defenseless against attacks like the one Romanoff is facing.

It won't work. He might get elected, as Salazar and Markey did, but if he carries it through a bland and unproductive first term, he'll end up exactly as they did.

And Harry Truman's aphorism will remain as true today as the day he said it:

Given the choice between a Republican and someone who acts like a Republican, people will vote for the real Republican all the time.

- Harry S. Truman, 33rd President of the United States and Homespun Political Genius

Where Divesting from Fossil Fuels was born

There is a lot of news about Colorado lately, but I bet this story is still under the Radar.
I interviewed John Powers who is the founder and visionary for the Alliance for Sustainable Colorado and found out that the idea of Divestment from University Portfolios from Fossil Fuels was birthed at a place made to find Energy solutions, the Alliance Center. (a movement needed internationally for Low Lying Islanders)

On the Divestment movement at 3:28 in the video

“There’s a movement now Divest – Invest, I want to go on record that this idea was conceived on the 3rd floor of this building. Here at the Alliance Center, a group called “As You Sow” and other folks happened to be meeting here… they came up with the idea that you have to divest. Take your investments out of fossil fuels and then you have to invest them into something alternative.”


Read on for John Powers’ views on the problem with Natural Gas as a ‘bridge fuel’, the future of Renewable energy, warning about the future of our energy portfolio, and changing the model on which businesses operate from the ground up.

Colorado recently has been in the midst of a fight between pro-fracking and anti-fracking ballot measures that were pulled as ‘compromise’ which left environmentalists upset.

From John Powers:

“When you are talking about a ‘bridge fuel’ (Natural Gas), a bridge starts at some place and ends some place. We are putting all this infrastructure for Natural Gas…
That infrastructure is money we should be putting into demand side and most benign supply side energy (Renewable Energy)
And now Utility scale Solar is the cheapest form out there.
Colorado and the U.S. has the chance to provide the leadership to take these steps…Colorado has the the potential to be a leader internationally.”

On that subject, John knows what he is talking about. He built a coalition to pass the ground breaking Amendment 37 in 2004, which required our State utility, Xcel to make their energy portfolio include renewable energy.

On the Climate forecast of Storms, Droughts, and Floods:

(Question) What things have we seen in real time, the example I want to use is the (Colorado) Flood of September 2013…. When is that point when 50 plus 1 gets that something has changed?

“We can either anticipate what’s coming at us, which is irrefutable, or we can wait for these crises to mount, (if that’s the case) there’s going to be a lot of heartache, sorrow, and economic pain.
People in the short term say that economically, we cant afford to these controls…
I’m saying economically long term if you don’t do them now, you’re TOAST

And on the Grand Re-opening of an even more Energy Efficient Alliance Center on August 14th:

The Alliance for Sustainable Colorado was founded to bring points of view together to find long term solutions. When you are part of creating solutions, you are more likely to implement those solutions. (The Building Remodel) We tend to think in terms of costs in a building per square foot. Instead of per square foot, the deeper more sophisticated question is how much is this building going to cost per worker? This is a model we are looking for people to implement in existing buildings, and IT’S PROFITABLE!

Thanks to John Powers for being the visionary for the Alliance Center and to all the people who are part of the Alliance for Sustainable Colorado for helping navigate the way in which we plan our Renewable energy future.
And come to the Grand Reopening of the Alliance Center August 14th!

CACI Democratic Endorsements: What RMGO Cost The GOP

CACI.

CACI.

The Denver Business Journal reports on endorsements released today by the pro-business Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry–with a very few perennial exceptions like pro-business Sen. Cheri Jahn, this is an organization well known for supporting Republican candidates over Democrats in the vast majority of cases.

But as Ed Sealover reports, not this year in a couple of key Jefferson County races:

Often known as a Republican-leaning organization, CACI, for example, endorsed Republicans in three of the seven most competitive Senate races, endorsed Democrats in two of them and declined to endorse anyone in two others…

CACI endorsed incumbent Democratic Sens. Rachel Zenzinger of Arvada and Cheri Jahn of Wheat Ridge, who sit in two of the six seats that Republicans feel they can win, and that they need to take control of a Senate that Democrats now hold by an 18-17 margin. Two is the minimum target because most observers believe the GOP will lose a Pueblo-area seat that they won in a recall election last year, but that sits in a heavily Democratic area.

…CACI members were closely divided in the Senate District 16 race, with many liking GOP challenger and former state Sen. Tim Neville, but just enough feeling they could work with Nicholson that Neville’s support fell below the two-thirds level needed for endorsement, [CACI vice president Loren] Furman said.

And in the Senate District 22 race, where Kerr has been known to clash with business groups, there just wasn’t support to endorse Tony Sanchez, a gun-rights supporter who beat more mainstream Republican Mario Nicolais in the primary, she said.

Like we said, Sen. Jahn winning CACI's endorsement isn't a big surprise, since she's one of the more centrist pro-business members of the Democratic majority in the Colorado Senate. But in three other vital Senate races with Democratic incumbents on the defensive–Rachel Zenzinger in SD-19, Jeanne Nicholson in SD-16, and Andy Kerr in SD-22–it certainly appears that the victory of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners-endorsed Republican candidates directly affected CACI's decision to either endorse the Democrat, as with Sen. Zenzinger, or in Sens. Kerr and Nicholson's cases, at least remain neutral in the race. In the House, we see a similar flight to moderation in the endorsement of Rep. Tracy Kraft-Tharp over far-right movie theater owner Susan Kochevar in HD-29. Surely CACI has their key votes to gauge support for their agenda, but beyond that, as the decision to stay out of SD-22 shows especially, this is a tacit acknowledgement of the major disaster the primary defeats of more mainstream Republican challengers represents for the Colorado Republican Party.

Because frankly, if you're a Republican, it takes a lot to alienate these people.

Markey Slams Stapleton’s PERA Obsession on West Slope Tour

Betsy Markey.

Betsy Markey.

While all eyes in Denver have been on the big Frackapalooza compromise reached this week, former Rep. Betsy Markey, now the Democratic candidate for state treasurer, has been touring the Western Slope–and previewing her message against GOP incumbent Walker Stapleton with the local press. As the Grand Junction Sentinel's Charles Ashby reported yesterday, and the Durango Herald's Chuck Slothower similarly reports today:

Markey said the only issue Stapleton focuses on is the state’s Public Employees’ Retirement Association, and then only to criticize it, even though it’s working just fine.

“This is a big, dynamic state,” Markey told the editorial board of The Daily Sentinel. “We turn big ideas into reality, and the treasurer’s office should be no different. We can’t just focus on beating down teachers and state workers and their pension program.”

Since taking the job in 2010, Stapleton has been highly critical of the board that oversees PERA, saying its expectation of high returns is unrealistic even though it’s realized 15 percent and 12 percent returns on those investment the past two years, respectively. State treasurers serve on that board as part of their jobs.

Markey, who represented the Eastern Plains in Congress for one term in 2008-09, said problems with PERA’s long-term sustainability were largely addressed by the Legislature years ago, which helped turn the state’s largest public pension system into one of the nation’s best.

Walker Stapleton.

Walker Stapleton.

Markey is referring to 2010's Senate Bill 1, which significantly increased employee contributions to the Public Employees' Retirement Association, as well as reducing the rate of annual increase for benefits. Representing a major concession by employees in the interest of preserving PERA's solvency, Senate Bill 1 was considered by all parties at the time to be a long-term fix for the nation's 21st largest public pension system.

But it's never been enough for Treasurer Stapleton, who took office the January after Senate Bill 1 was signed into law. Stapleton has continuously harped on the need for the fund to base its projections on a lower rate of return in order to "keep taxpayers off the hook" for PERA pensions. He has continued to demand this even as the fund has blown past its projected rates of return in the last couple of years as the economy has recovered. While a 15% rate of return is not something Colorado's public employee retirees can count on, PERA managers feel comfortable with the rate of return they project for the long term. Last November, PERA lowered its expected rate of return by .5%, but that hasn't stopped Stapleton from continuing to make PERA a campaign issue.

Our shorter answer to this technical debate over PERA's solvency is that we don't have much confidence in Walker Stapleton's opinion on fiscal matters, you know, at all. Try as we might, we just can't get past the fact that this is the same guy who warned of a coming "hyperinflationary environment" in 2010 based on all the supposed fiscal evils being committed by the Obama administration in Washington–actually going as far as to suggest the state should buy gold Glenn Beck-style to stave off this coming disaster.

We've never heard Stapleton's explanation for why this "hyperinflationary environment" never happened. We'd like to, and we hope to sometime between now and November. We get that 2010 was a heady time in Republican politics, and it was necessary to say all kinds of crazy things to win their support–but still. You'll have to forgive us if we can't take Stapleton's word on PERA's rate of return over their actual performance.

Romanoff Waxes Centrist In First TV Spot

The Denver Post's Jon Murray reports on Democratic CD-6 candidate Andrew Romanoff's first ad, now playing:

In the ad, the former Colorado House speaker touts a record of balanced budgets, with legislators working across the aisle to make tough choices. The contrast to Congress’ partisan gridlock is clear.

Of course, as Romanoff points out, the state constitution requires a balanced budget each year. He ends the spot by saying “it ought to be the law in Washington, too.” Romanoff has said he supports a balanced-budget amendment…

The ad’s simple lines leave little to pick apart factually, opening with: “It’s really pretty simple. You don’t buy things you can’t pay for. But that’s what Congress does all the time, spending our tax dollars on perks and privileges, while racking up a mountain of debt.” It’s an ad that Romanoff hopes will cast him as financially responsible in a district where he needs to win over plenty of moderates.

A little more from Romanoff campaign spokesperson Denise Baron:

Romanoff’s communications director, Denise Baron, noted the different approaches of the two candidates in this race. “Congressman Coffman and his colleagues voted for a budget that would shift the tax burden onto middle class families, make college more expensive, and force seniors to pay thousands more in Medicare costs. Andrew supports a balanced budget plan that grows the economy, protects Social Security, and puts the middle class first.”

It's not an ad aimed at partisan Democrats, but for the purposes of introducing Romanoff to lay CD-6 voters, that's just fine. The story of Romanoff's background in the Colorado legislature, where the budget must constitutionally balance each year, makes a great counter to trying to pre-emptively hold Romanoff responsible for fiscal profligacy in Washington, DC. It would make a good follow-up for Romanoff to make clear that said fiscal irresponsibility is the fault of Republican tax cuts and wars as much as anything Democrats have done, but that's maybe a better point for later in the cycle.

For today, Romanoff has a well-produced ad up that doesn't go expressly negative, but nonetheless responds squarely to a central Republican talking point. We'd call that a good investment.

Operation Choke Point – Denying the Dollars

Victor “Everyone Loves” Head is all choked up about a Federal program, Operation Choke Point (OCP). In an interview with Jennifer Kerns, Head claimed that credit card services for Pueblo Freedom and Rights (PFR) were suddenly cut off the week before the recall elections in 2013.  Other right –wing groups  also reported sudden and mysterious severance of their banking relationships, and an astroturf organization, USCC, has been set up to take reports of suspected OCP interference.  The funders of USCC are unknown, but have strong ties to conservative groups.

“Operation Choke Point” overreach is the latest generator of anti-Obama, anti-AG Holder outrage in the right wing blogosphere. Look for it to become the next big attack on the Obama administration and Attorney General Holder, with Pueblo’s own “grassroots hero”, Victor Head, prominently featured as the poster boy. Here is your daily requirement of irony: (Below, right, is Victor Head of PFR, a recall organizer, and current Pueblo Clerk candidate, posing  in 2013 with El Paso Sheriff Terry Maketa, himself recently the target of a failed recall for sexual and  administrative offenses.)

But…Is OCP  a real “scandal”? Is it “overreach”? Is OCP the bank version of NSA spying on ordinary Americans?

William Isaac , columnist for “The Hill” wrote:

The DOJ launched Operation Choke Point in 2013, working in concert with a wide range of agencies including the FTC, FDIC, OCC, CFPB, and FBI.  The stated goal of Operation Choke Point was to “sensitize” the banking industry to the risk of doing business with legal but “undesirable” businesses through the issuance of non-public FIRREA subpoenas ( as opposed to enforcement actions where the authority could be challenged).

Regulators and the DOJ highlight some two-dozen businesses that they consider “high risk” or “undesirable”, including ammunition dealers, producers of adult films, check cashers, short-term unsecured loans (commonly called “payday loans”), telemarketers, firearms/fireworks vendors, raffles, pharmaceutical firms, life-time guarantees, surveillance equipment firms, and home-based charities.

I am all for the DOJ monitoring some of these shady businesses, and if they find illegal action, stopping it. I’ve had hundreds of dollars deducted from my own bank account via a scam for a non-existent health insurance card company, prior to the ACA’s enactment. Had someone taken the money from my purse, there would have been criminal charges; however, because it took place in the obscure world of third-party bank businesses and fly-by-night internet scam artists, it proved impossible to stop or to get redress. I'll never get that money back.

 I don’t want felons and violent offenders to be able to order firearms online.  Pharmaceutical firms that market under-the-counter medications need some oversight to protect public health.  Online child pornography businesses need oversight of their bank transactions so that they can be shut down and punished. This is the DOJ appropriately protecting the public.

The grey area is that most of these are legal businesses, at least until there is proof of criminal activity. Where I agree with the right wing outrage, (and the possibility of being on the same side of any issue as Victor Head makes my own gag reflex kick in) is on this point:  there is little or no oversight on the overseers.  People are losing access to their own money, without a warrant, without a trial, without a civil action.

Liberals may applaud the restrictions on shady businesses, and on right-wing political groups that benefit from dark money. However,  there is no guarantee that the OCP’s possible overreach stops there. Like the IRS scandal, we may well find that progressive organizations are also targeted as much or more than conservatives.   How will the Department of Justice be made accountable and transparent, when the agency is now unaccountable and its transactions are hidden from the public?

The United States Congress has initiated legislation on this issue. House Bill 4986, the End Operation Choke Point Act of 2014,  was introduced with bipartisan support in June 2014. It was referred to the Committee on Financial Services, where it sits. Given the dismal history of Congress in passing legislation, govtrack.us gives it only a 26% chance of being signed into law.  I frankly don’t have the financial expertise to understand how or if this bill will provide oversight and transparency on OCP, so I’m not going to try to evaluate the legislation.

Given the people promoting the right wing outrage over OCP, most critical thinkers are justifiably skeptical of the claims of OCP overreach. Jennifer Kerns, aka California Partygirl, aka anti-recall spox, aka California Republican media consultant, now a Washington pundit, wrote in  “TheBlaze.com” that Operation Choke Point,  (OCP): “Evidence has emerged of Operation Choke Point targeting other Republicans on or before Election Day.”  Victor Head has a record of rummaging through post office trash for ballots to bolster his claims of possible election fraud.

Jennifer Kerns would be an expert on dark money funding of political organizations, from the inside – Magpul funded $150,000 for  the organization “Free Colorado”, which in turn funded  the recall efforts against  Senator Morse in Colorado Springs.  Free Colorado was promoted by the Koch brothers on the AFP-Colorado website. Kerns was the spokesperson for Basic Freedom Defense Fund, and helped to promote “Free Colorado”  anti-recall efforts.

I don’t find the outrage over OCP to be credible, because it comes from these sources. However, I’m aware of and concerned about NSA and IRS overreach, during the course of legitimate agency endeavors. Progressives shouldn't dismiss concerns about government stomping on privacy rights, just because they come from a conservative direction. I’d like to see more transparency and accountability of OCPs efforts to curtail borderline-criminal financial transactions. I just don’t quite know how that balances with civil-liberties concerns.

UPDATE:  A Huffington Post article by Zach Carter posits that OCP is an effective way to curb money laundering schemes.  Similar laws were put in place during the Bush administration, and resulted in, for example, Wachovia Bank paying $150 million to resolve charges that it laundered money from drug cartels.

Elizabeth Warren, Jeff Merkely, and Dick Durbin like the OCP program.

Can We Admit The Economy Is Doing Better Now?

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​The Washington Post with a point that, in our view, hasn't been made enough in recent months:

For six straight months, the U.S. economy has added more than 200,000 jobs, according to government data released Friday morning, the longest streak since the mid-'90s. [Pols emphasis]

The Labor Department reported 209,000 net new jobs were created in July, though the unemployment rate edged up slightly to 6.2 percent as more workers joined the labor force. The report was the latest in a string of upbeat data suggesting the country’s economic recovery has shifted into the next gear.

Industries with the strongest hiring were professional and business services, as well as manufacturing and construction. That dovetailed with a private estimate of job growth earlier this week indicating broad-based improvement in the labor market. That analysis, by human resources firm ADP, showed both larger corporations and smaller businesses were adding workers.

“There was some meat on the bones," said Diane Swonk, chief economist at Mesirow Financial. "This wasn’t just temporary hires.”

By no means are economic conditions perfect, if they ever are in a free market economy–there are still lots of underemployed workers, and there are still several million long-term "structurally unemployed" Americans who haven't found a way forward in the new economy. A big stock selloff last week caused in part by foreign policy crises reminds us that our prosperity doesn't exist in a vacuum. But it's worth acknowledging that the last six months of 200,000+ per month job growth is the longest stretch of growth that high since 1997–the fabled Clinton years, which so many Americans look back on nostalgically as the last great economic boom time.

So why aren't we hearing more about the economy showing not just "recovery," but real strength for the first time since the Great Recession? That's simple: it's an election year. To admit that the economy is turning bullish would be to admit things that Republicans simply cannot admit right now. It would mean admitting that Obamacare did not plunge the economy into a new dark age after all. It would mean admitting that Obama's "mountain of new regulations" are not choking the life out of American business.

This development also could really screw up the media's pre-written narrative about the upcoming elections–you know, the one where Democrats take a beating because, well, obviously! For all of these reasons, this is not a growing economy that anyone should feel good about…until the second week of November. Of course, if Republicans do triumph in this year's midterms, the economic growth now underway and fully expected to continue through the end of the year and beyond will suddenly have enormous political import.

As always, we would welcome the most accurate narrative, sooner rather than later. Surprise us.

Colorado River Basin drying out faster than previously thought

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

What will our Fracker in Chief say about this?

Seven Western states that rely on the Colorado River Basin for valuable water are drawing more heavily from groundwater supplies than previously believed, a new study finds, the latest indication that an historic drought is threatening the region’s future access to water.

In the past nine years, the basin — which covers Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona and California — has lost about 65 cubic kilometers of fresh water, nearly double the volume of the country’s largest reservoir, Lake Mead. That figure surprised the study’s authors, who used data from a NASA weather satellite to investigate groundwater supplies.

About two-thirds of the water lost over the past nine years came from underground water supplies, rather than surface water.

“We were shocked to see how much water was actually depleted underground,” Stephanie Castle, a water specialist at the University of California at Irvine and lead author of the report, said in an interview.

This water is critical for all aspects of life in the geological area.(No, I will not change my screen name to Captain Obvious.) Fracking, which our governor, a trained geologist, says is harmless, uses enormous amounts of water which in turn affects individuals' water wells. Discarded fracking fluids are now also beginning to affect water tables and aquifers around the nation.

Oh, and did I mention increased earthquake activity in fracking areas?

Here's a map of the Colorado River Basin by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation that is in the Post article:

The ease with which our Governor gives his support to the highly disruptive extraction of fossil fuels from our environment never ceases to amaze me. There are many negative aspects of the technology, yet he has remained firm in his support of Big Energy. Maybe this latest piece of evidence will finally catch his attention to the long-term harm fracking will do to Colorado's environment. 

An Assessor, a Sugar Daddy, and “Infilling” Open Space in El Paso County

UPDATE: KRDO has picked up this story, and citizens are calling for Lowderman to resign. There is an "appearance of impropriety", according to current El Paso Treasurer Bob Balink.

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Something is rotten in El Paso County.

 It’s not the persistent dank from the recent flooding.  It’s not the shower mold from Sheriff Maketa’s selfies.  There is, however, quite a stench wafting from the recent campaign finance violation of the El Paso County Tax Assessor, Mark Lowderman. Lowderman sent out 20,000 campaign mailers on the taxpayer’s dime.  Ostensibly informing seniors about a tax credit, the mailers described Mr. Lowderman in glowing terms, coincidentally, the same terms as his campaign literature.  A complaint was filed, Lowderman was fined and penalized $14,580, yet is running unopposed for the County Treasurer’s office, and  will almost certainly be the next El Paso County Treasurer. Matt Lowderman, Candidate for El Paso County Treasurer

The El Paso County Commissioners appear to be no more concerned about Lowderman's ethical lapse than they were about Sheriff Maketa's hijinks.  The Commissioners "circled the wagons" to protect Maketa for years, according to an insider source. The County Comissioners also had to have known about Lowderman's ethical lapses – yet there is no record of any censure of the Assessor. The Board of Commissioners is reputed to be marshalllng resources to overturn the Administrative Judge's ruling on Lowderman's finance complaint. El Paso is apparently the swamp where ethics go to die. "At every turn, it's dirty," said an informed source.

That would explain the smell. Wafting from the swamp is the funk of the aggregate $17,500 campaign donations Lowderman received from David Jenkins, Chairman of Nor'wood Development Corporation, the largest property owner and developer in El Paso County, within 10 days of Jenkins buying the biggest parcel of property in the County – the legendary Bannings / Lewis Ranch. Donations to Lowderman's campaign for Treasurer were dated May 30 – June 2, 2014. The Banning- Lewis property sale was announced by Nor'wood on June 10, 2014.

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Strong Economic Growth in Colorado Great News for Hickenlooper

Hickenlooper-Head

As the Denver Post reports, Colorado's economic growth is outpacing earlier forecasts:

Colorado is on track to add 68,000 net new jobs this year rather than the 61,300 the Colorado Business Economic Outlook in December predicted it would gain, according to a midyear update from the University of Colorado.

"We are seeing broad-based growth in the whole economy, not just energy," said Rich Wobbekind, the CU economist who puts together the closely watched forecast, which is in its 49th year…

The biggest unexpected employment gains, however, are coming in leisure and hospitality, which has added 13,000 jobs on a year-over-year basis in May compared with the annual gain of 7,500 the Outlook predicted in December.

"It is largely tourism-driven, on the accommodations side," Wobbekind said.

Other areas with stronger-than-expected hiring are professional and business services, health care, and local and state governments.

You don't need James Carville to explain why this is good news for Gov. John Hickenlooper. There are plenty of other issues that will be debated in advance of the November election, but from a practical political perspective (say that three times fast), there's really no way that Hickenlooper loses his bid for re-election if Colorado's economy continues to grow in the coming months. First and foremost, Hickenlooper has always tried to position himself as a leader when it comes to economic and employment growth, and he can use this issue to trump virtually every attack from Republican opponent Bob Beauprez.

Even without strong economic news, Hickenlooper has several potential paths to victory in November. The same cannot be said of Beauprez; if he is forced to try to argue that Hickenlooper should not get credit for Colorado's economic growth, he's already lost.

Thank you, Charles and David Koch, for improving Colorado’s health care coverage

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

The Law of Unintended Consequences:

The hundreds of millions of dollars spent on anti-Obamacare ads may have inadvertently encouraged enrollment, a Brookings Institution study released Wednesday found.

In a state-by-state look at spending on ads attacking the Affordable Care Act, Brookings found that increased ad spending per capita was tied to declining enrollment in red states but linked with increasing enrollment in blue states.

“This implies that anti-ACA ads may unintentionally increase the public awareness about the existence of a governmentally subsidized service and its benefits for the uninsured,” wrote Brookings Institution fellow Niam Yaraghi, noting that anti-Obamacare ads may have encouraged people to sign up by making them think it might be a limited-time offer.

“In the states where more anti-ACA ads are aired, residents were on average more likely to believe that Congress will repeal the ACA in the near future,” he said. “People who believe that subsidized health insurance may soon disappear could have a greater willingness to take advantage of this one time opportunity.”

Of the more than $445 million spent on ads mentioning Obamacare, negative ads outspent positive ones 15-to-1, a Kantar Media CMAG report found in May.

What do you know about that, "Americans for Prosperity"?

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