Back in 1991 when the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment set up the call center to process people who need unemployment benefits, it seemed like a good way to increase efficiency and prevent long lines at the office. Back then, there were about 400 calls a day.
Fast forward to 2009. "What we're seeing now is 4000-5000 calls a day," says Bill Thoennes, who handles press questions in the office of Government, Policy and Public Relations. With more than 200,000 people out of work in Colorado, the phone system -- and the 100 or so people who are fielding calls -- simply can't handle the volume. Thoennes says more people are being hired, but it takes up to six weeks to train employees so that they can answer questions about the state's employment laws.
Meantime, people who have questions or problems regarding their unemployment benefits are forced to wait for up to two hours on the phone -- that is, if they get beyond the busy signal.
Colorado's unemployment figure is 7.5 percent -- still under the historical high of 9.1 percent in 1982, and a modest number compared to California's 11.2 percent and Oregon's 12.1 percent, both at historical highs. "It's frustrating," says Thoennes. "We're trying everything we can think of. Some retirees have volunteered to come back to work, and some of the adjudicators are taking phone calls. We just keep hoping the recession will level out."
With an extra 13 weeks of emergency unemployment now authorized, people out of work can receive up to 59 weeks of benefits. Unless they hit what Thoennes termed "the endless brick wall."
Doubtless you've heard of George Will, a prominent member of the chattering class. He wears a bow tie. And now this fop, with prominent sartorial affectations of his own, presumes to give us fashion advice.
In a recent syndicated column, Will rants against blue jeans, also known as "Western wear."
Will borrows many of his critiques from a Daniel Akst, who earlier wrote in the Wall Street Journal that denim is "hot, uncomfortable and uniquely unsuited to people who spend most of their waking hours pushing keys instead of cows."
Well, pushing keys is how I spend most of my working hours, and I wonder. Has Daniel Akst ever had to crawl down on the floor to find an errant computer cable? Had a sharp-clawed cat jump on his lap while he was trying to work? Had to venture down into a dusty cellar to find the file from something he wrote years ago?
Here's a new angle on fire in the west: one large southern California utility is trying to convince ratepayers that some regions of its service area are too fire-prone for uninterrupted electricity. Or at least, that's the implication behind San Diego Gas and Electric's proposal to unplug portions of its grid when there's a high risk of fire; for example, when winds pick up or humidity levels drop beyond a certain point. According to spokeswoman Jennifer Ramp, the plan is an attempt to "address fire head on," but it also looks a lot like an effort to dodge liability. In 2007, arcing power lines and gusting Santa Ana winds stirred up a handful of big blazes, leaving San Diego Gas and Electric saddled with more than a hundred lawsuits, and potentially responsible for hundreds of millions of dollars of damages.
Those who have lived for any amount of time in a western ranching community will not be surprised by news that the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), an agency of the US Department of Agriculture, overpaid landowners for “conservation” benefits. According to a report in the Capital Press, a western Ag weekly reporting on a March 25th House Agricultural Sub-committee hearing, between 1999 and 2003 the agency illegally inflated payments to landowners for “conservation easements" by hundreds of millions of dollars. Another audit by the agencies Inspector General found that NRCS officials in five states didn’t check to see if landowners lived up to the terms of easement contracts. One of the states reviewed – California – is located in the West. The others were Missouri, Arkansas Louisiana, Florida and Maine.
You can read opening statements by witnesses testifying at the March 25th hearing, including the USDA and GAO auditors, at the House Agricultural Committee’s web site. Here are a few highlights of testimony to the Committee.
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Newspapers across the West have been replete with stories about California’s water woes. But almost all those reports – including my recent GOAT post - focus on California’s Central Valley where farmers from the North (the Sacramento Valley), the South (the San Joaquin Valley) and the Center (the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta) compete with municipalities, wildlife refuges and endangered fishes for a water supply which is insufficient this year to fill the region’s reservoirs.
Central Valley water issues center on the mammoth Central Valley Project managed by the federal Bureau of Reclamation and the equally large State Water Project. Water issues in the remainder of the state are dominated by smaller federal, state, municipal and private water developments. And while they are no less controversial these other water conflicts have not been extensively reported even by local and regional media.
Nevertheless, these other water conflicts are arguably just as important to the future of California as high profile Central Valley conflicts. Here then is a brief description of one California water conflict which may erupt into public and media consciousness over the next year:
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There are few sights as lovely as a diatom. Single-celled, photosynthetic algae with intricate skeletons made of pure silica, they fascinated famous 19th century German zoologist Ernst Haekel, who painted this illustration in oils. Recently they have also become fascinating to scientists developing biologically-based solar panels.
Diatoms are ecological workhorses. For at least 100 million years they have formed the basis of oceanic food chains. They fix nearly a quarter of atmospheric CO2. (Rising acidity in oceans may affect their populations).
At Oregon and Portland State Universities, researchers are advancing the relatively new thin-film, dye-sensitized solar cells using diatoms' ready-made structural complexity. First, a transparent, conductive glass surface is coated with diatoms. Their organic matter is removed, leaving the skeletons, which are then impregnated with a nanoparticle solution containing highly absorbtive, photo-sensitive dye molecules and the semiconductor titanium dioxide.
The nanostructure of diatom skeletons increase the interaction between incoming photons and the dye molecules. Dye-sensitized solar is relatively environmentally safe, and scientists expect using the ready-made diatom shells will make the technology up to three times more efficient, and much cheaper.
Spam – not SPAM – is the stuff of evil Internet marketers. It’s bred in dark, dark spaces and spread to the intangible depths of E-mails and pop-up ads of YOUR computer. And today, I found out that spam’s got quite the environmental impact!
Well, I’d never actually eaten SPAM until today, but I thought it’d be the perfect occasion to make a SPAM & cheese melt and read through the new study put out by McAfee Inc. about spam.
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Thirteen years ago, when outgoing President Clinton designated Grand Staircase-Escalante a national monument, the outcry from some southeast Utah residents was deafening (and HCN was there to write about it). Angry ranchers called their representatives and demanded repeal, locals burned Clinton in effigy, billboards saying NO MONUMENT! went up along the highways. Garfield and Kane counties immediately set to work to undercut the designation, blading illegal roads, pulling out the BLM's "closed to motorized use" signs, and more. And, of course, they filed a lawsuit, complaining about unfair federal interference with access to water and roads.
Now, a federal court has (again) rejected their claims. The Deseret News reports:
The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver shot down contentions by Kane and Garfield counties that the Bureau of Land Management's land-use plan for 1.9 million acres unfairly infringes on that access, saying such assertions were overly vague and failed to prove actual harm. The same ruling torpedoed claims by the Kane County Water Conservancy District that water rights were stripped away.
Rep. Mike Noel, unsurprisingly, blasted the court's decision as representing "faceless, nameless, unaccountable bureaucracy in Washington, D.C., who thinks they can hold sway over a sovereign state."
Noel's outrage reflects the Sagebrush Rebellion mindset that's slowly dying out as Westerners realize that natural resources aren't infinite, that complete lack of regulation leads most often to chaos. Their viewpoint was described astutely two decades ago by writer Wallace Stegner: “Westerners who would like to return to the old days of free grab, people of the kind described as having made America great by their initiative and energy in committing mass trespass on the minerals, grass, timber and water of the Public Domain, complain that no Western state is master in its own house.”
Even here in the boondocks, far from any place that Fox News has ever covered, it's impossible to escape the publicity about the impending "Tea Party on Tax Day."
First came a robocall on Saturday; a husky male voice advised me to "show that you care about our country" by "attending a Tea Party on April 15."
This morning I learned that there will be one just a few blocks away from my house. The local newspaper carried an ad, paid for by the Chaffee County Republican Central Committee, inviting me to "Join Us For a Teaparty/Taxpayer Protest Wed. April 15 at 3rd & D Streets 5-7pm."
Above the invitation was a headline, "Why the Rich Get Tax Cuts," followed by a list of income brackets and rates which implied that the rich, such as the top 1 percent of earners, were suffering from serious oppression as they were paying 40 percent of America's income taxes.
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In an ideal world, we'd be able to stash most of our planet-warming carbon dioxide emissions in underground formations, where they would turn to stone. As High Country News has reported in the past, the carbon in C02 can be incorporated into calcium carbonate, or limestone, through chemical reactions. That's a good thing for climate change because calcium carbonate stores carbon for the long haul. Few climatologists lie awake at night worrying that limestone will bubble out of the ground and into the atmosphere.Read More ...