17 October 2014

Vote Yes on Denver Ballot Issue 2A

Vote Now!

I filled out my mail in ballot today, and will drop it off at a 24 hour drop box (all of which have been open since October 15, 2014 in Denver), today or tomorrow.

If you vote by mail in Colorado, you should have your ballot for the 2014 general election by now.  If you don't, take action to make sure that you can vote.  Due to recent legislative changes, it is easier than every to vote, and the register to vote close to the election, than ever before in Colorado.

Previous Posts In This Series

In previous posts, I've discussed Colorado's four state ballot issues:

* Amendment 67 (personhood - vote no);
* Amendment 68 (horsetrack casino gambling - vote yes);
* Proposition 104 (restrictions on collective bargaining with school boards - vote no); and
* Proposition 105 (labeling genetically modified food - vote no).

I have also written about Colorado's judicial retention elections in 2014.

I've also discussed the importance of electing Democrats this year in Colorado.  Once again, Colorado is a critical swing state in both the U.S. Senate and U.S. House races, in addition to having a very close Governor's race underway.

In particular, the performance of incumbent Colorado state treasurer Walker Stapleton has been dismal.  (Incumbent  Republican Secretary of State Scott Gessler's performance has also been dismal, but he isn't running for re-election.)

Referred Measure 2A

Denver's Preschool Program, which was improved in 2006, provides access to high quality preschool for all Denver 4 year olds and is financed with a 0.12% sales tax (12 cents per 100 dollars).  The program will end in 2016 if not reauthorized.  Referred measure 2A will reauthorize the program and increase the sale tax amount to 0.15% (15 cents per 100 dollars) from 0.12%.

Also on the ballot is the City and County of Denver, Colorado is local referred measure 2A.  This ballot measure reauthorizes and expands Denver's Preschool Program.

Why Should You Vote Yes on Referred Measure 2A in Denver?

One of Mayor Hickenlooper's initiatives in Denver, before he became Colorado's Governor, was to subsidize preschool education, which is much more costly than K-12 education which is supported by state and school district tax dollars.

Preschool programs are more effective, by far, improving the lifetime academic performance of low income, black and Hispanic children relative to their middle class and affluent peers, than any other form of education spending.  2013 and 2014 Denver Preschool Program students did better than their peers who didn't attend a DPP program on their third-grade reading TCAP tests.

Participation in a preschool program also significantly reduces the likelihood that a child will be abused or neglected.  And, a parent's ability to put a child in preschool at an affordable price greatly increases the economic well being of low income and middle class families, both because it reduces the amount of money that must be devoted to child care, and because it makes it possible for a parent to obtain at least part-time employment where it would otherwise have been important.

Denver's economic well being is well served by having all children (or at least as many as possible) whose parents want to be able to place them in preschool programs do so.  The preschool program in Denver has generally been a great success.  This is an investment in children that is well worth it.

The United States has a social welfare system and economy that produces epic rates of poverty for children, while almost no senior citizens, and a far smaller proportion of adults are destitute.  Poverty rates are particularly high for children of preschool age.  So, preschool subsidies are also justified in terms of relative demographic justice.

Vote Yes on Denver Referred Measure 2A.  This funds a preschool program that works and provides exceptionally great rewards compared to other public spending programs.

Vote For Betsy Markey For Colorado State Treasurer And Toss Incumbent Walker Stapleton

Besty Markey is the Democrat and a former state representative, who is running to replace incumbent Republican state treasurer Walker Stapleton in Colorado.

Why should you vote for for Besty Markey and against Walker Stapleton?

Mostly because in his first four years, Walker Stapleton has done a lousy job as state treasurer.

State treasurer is one of the least partisan elected positions in the state.  It calls for competence, diligence and honesty in managing state funds, while offering very little policy discretion.  It doesn't tip any partisan balances in the legislative or executive branches.

If you are going to cross party lines in your voting on any office, and instead focus merely on the candidate, this is the office where this can make sense.  And, whether you are a Republican, an unaffiliated voter, a Libertarian, or a Democrat, getting incumbent Walker Stapleton out of this job that he has utterly failed in, and replacing him with someone else, is an easy choice.

In practice, the only way to do that is to vote for Democrat Betsy Markey.  She is competent enough, and given the incumbent's performance over the last four years, the choice is an easy one.

1.  Walker Stapleton devotes very little time to this full time public office.

He shows up to work about 10 days a month.  He is gone from the office for weeks at a time.  When he does show up to work, sometimes it is after three p.m. and for short days.

He rarely shows up for PERA meetings, on whose board he serves ex officio, and when he does attend, often leaves early.  Here's his PERA meeting attendance track record:
2012: There were 10 PERA meetings. Stapleton attended 3, but left early at 2 of those. 
2013: There were 7 PERA meetings. Stapleton attended 2, but left both early. *NOTE: From the September 20, 2013 PERA Board Meeting Minutes: “Mr. Stapleton requested the removal of his absence from the June 25, 2013 Board meeting minutes, as his designee Brett Johnson was present.”
2014 (through June): There have been 5 PERA Board meetings. Minutes are not available for the June 24 meeting. Of the other 4 meetings, he has fully attended 1 and left early at another 2 meetings.
These meetings are not just some extracurricular fund activity for Mr. Stapleton.  They are a core responsibility of his full time job that the people of Colorado elected him to do.  He shouldn't have any higher priorities than his duty to the people of the State of Colorado as a statewide elected official.

2.  He has done a poor job carrying out his responsibilities to serve on the board of PERA, the public employees retirement system for Colorado.

He is on the record saying that:
It's time, unfortunately, that everyone that benefits from PERA sufferers. 
His has spent much of his term in contentious litigation with the rest of the PERA Board, which he lost.

3.  He has secured only a dismal 1% annual rate of return on Colorado's investments, during a recovery and financial market boom.

By comparison, the PERA board which manages the state's retirement assets, has had a long run (and recent) rate of return in excess of 8%.  His Democratic predecessor, Cary Kennedy, who served from 2007-2010 during the Financial Crisis and went on to become Denver's very competent CFO, in contrast, outperformed market benchmarks during this very difficult fiscal climate.

In his 2010 primary campaign, he said that the State of Colorado should invest its financial assets heavily in gold, which if he had done so, would have led to massive losses on the state's investments.  This has a lot to do with the fact that Stapleton is a life long realtor, a career to which he still devotes most of his time and efforts, with essentially no experience in finance or accounting.

4. He games Colorado's property tax system.

Walker Stapleton games Colorado's property tax system by pretending to be a gentleman farmer to secure huge property tax breaks for property that can't fairly be described as farming.

This isn't illegal, but it doesn't inspire confidence in someone whose primary responsibility should be to look out of Colorado's fiscal solvency.  Simply put, it doesn't reflect well on his character.

5.  He was arrested for DUI in  a hit and run incident in San Francisco in 1999 after hitting two pedestrians, and acknowledged that he was an alcoholic at the time.

He pleaded no contest to the DUI charge in exchange for having the more serious hit and run felony dropped.  He was sentenced to three years probation, twice a week AA meetings, and community service, in addition to restitution, fines and costs.

It could be that Walker Stapleton is managing his alcoholism better now than he was then.  But, this was no youthful indiscretion, hurt people and property, and he demonstrated irresponsibility when life tested him.

There are worse things in life to be than a recovering alcoholic.  But, why have a recovering alcoholic in a highly responsible statewide political office when we could have someone who isn't in alcoholic in that post.

6.  He is an heir to the KKK wing of the Republican party.

Walker Stapleton is the great-grandson of Denver's Mayor Benjamin Stapleton (from 1921-1931 and 1935-1947) and as Democratic State Auditor from 1933-1935, after which Denver's former airport and current redeveloped neighborhood is named.  This was back when the Democrats were the party of Southern Conservatives and the GOP was still the party of northern liberals in the tradition of Abraham Lincoln.

Mayor Stapleton's key to getting elected was support from the Ku Klux Klan:
Stapleton was the Klan candidate for mayor of Denver in 1923 and won the election with Klan support. When Stapleton declared his candidacy for mayor in March 1923, he was Klan member number 1,128 and a close friend of the Colorado Klan Grand Dragon, John Galen Locke.
After realignment, when conservative Southern Democrats were replaced by Republicans, and liberal northerners joined the Democratic party, most of the political heirs of the KKK wing of the Democratic party became Republicans.

Admittedly, Walker Stapleton is not responsible for things that he great-grandfather did before he was born (and in fairness, his great-grandfather's detestable racism and anti-Semitism didn't prevent him from accomplishing a lot as state auditor and Mayor of Denver).  But, it is hardly a proud legacy either, and is certainly not a legacy that Walker Stapleton is running away from himself.

Simple Graphs and Formulas Are Persuasive

Published this week in Public Understanding of Science, the Cornell Food and Brand Lab study found trivial graphs or formulas accompanying medical information can lead consumers to believe products are more effective. "Your faith in science may actually make you more likely to trust information that appears scientific but really doesn't tell you much," said lead author Aner Tal, post-doctoral researcher at the Cornell Food and Brand Lab. "Anything that looks scientific can make information you read a lot more convincing." 
The study showed that when a graph -- with no new information -- was added to the description of a medication, 96.6 percent of people believed that the medicines were effective in reducing illness verses 67.7 percent of people who were shown the product information without the graph. . . ."In fact, the more people believed in science, the more they were convinced by the graphs."
From here citing A. Tal, B. Wansink, "Blinded with science: Trivial graphs and formulas increase ad persuasiveness and belief in product efficacy." (Public Understanding of Science 2014) (emphasis added).

Let charitably, but to the same effect, the vast majority of people are at least somewhat innumerate, but most people can easily grasp simple graphs and formulas.

16 October 2014

Truth Stranger Than Fiction In Alaska National Guard Scandal

Wonkette's recounting of a sexual harassment, rape and credit card fraud scandal in the Alaska National Guard's recruiting office that implicates the Governor, who is now running for re-election, and numerous senior National Guard officials, reads like a John Irving novel.  It is both wacky and tragic, and is filled with characters so bizarre, it shouldn't be possible for them to exist in the real world.

Consider, for example, a Deputy Chief of Staff of the Alaska National Guard, who was a former pornography company manager and co-founder of an end times religious sect.  During his tour in Iraq, he served as the military advisor to the Mongolian Army.

The Republican Governor promoted him to his current high ranking post at the same time that a confidential report recommended him for a bad conduct discharge (a military equivalent of  serious misdemeanor conviction), for his role in facilitating $200,000 of credit card fraud in the recruiting office he supervised which was also notorious for its rampant pattern of sexual harassment and rape by a core of several recruiters under his command.

But, investigative reporting from the Anchorage Press, a newspaper with documents and sources to back up its allegations, corroborates the story.

We Are Uplifting Racoons

In the Uplift Universe of science fiction writer David Brin, humans deliberately upgrade the intelligence of chimpanzees and bottle nosed dolphins making them into sentient species equal in ability to humans.

In real life, humans are inadvertently placing selective pressures on urban raccoons that is creating a highly intelligence and capable subspecies of this scavenger species.  They are smarter than previous generations of their kind and smarter than their rural counterparts.  Alternately, their rapid adaptation could be a cultural or epigenetic adaptation.