Rob Douglas: There's no free money

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Rob Douglas

Rob Douglas' column appears Fridays in the Steamboat Today. He can be reached at rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.

Find more columns by Douglas here.

This week, while watching a parade of Colorado Mountain College students and local residents plead their case before the Steamboat Springs City Council for the continuation of the Yellow Line as a “free” bus service, a variation of the adage “There’s no such thing as a free lunch” kept coming to mind. After all, there’s no such thing as a free bus.

But that’s a cheap shot. It’s a cheap shot because it’s clear that most of the folks who lined up in Citizens Hall on Tuesday realize Steamboat’s transit service is a multimillion-dollar operation.

However, it’s also clear that most who have been protesting the possible loss of the Yellow Line don’t have an understanding of the total costs incurred by the city to provide bus service at no cost to riders. And, just like the protesters, several members of the City Council didn’t have a grasp of the actual cost of transit services because they, like most citizens, haven’t been factoring in the cost to purchase new buses on a regular basis.

Depending on the size and type, new buses range from more than $100,000 to more than a half-million dollars. But these costs rarely are brought up when discussions about how much the bus service costs because the city only pays 20 to 50 percent of the total cost of the buses. The rest is covered by funding supplied through government grants from outside Steamboat.

Just as it has for local governments all across the country, grant funding from state and federal coffers has become the magic elixir for Steamboat officials.

Need a new bus? Apply for a grant.

Want to expand a city-owned recreation facility? Apply for a grant.

Think a new publicly funded special event would be a great addition to the calendar? Apply for a grant.

Let’s face it. We’ve become a nation of individual communities seeking to fund our desires with the tax dollars ostensibly collected from our sister communities by the state and federal governments. In fact, most local governments — including Steamboat — employ a grant writer whose specialty is identifying and applying for grant funds.

We feel justified in seeking those dollars because we think we’re returning to our communities tax dollars we paid upstream. Therefore, we act as if grant dollars are free dollars in that we rarely consider the true impact this form of funding — along with other public funding that originates at the federal level — is having on the economic health of our country.

So let’s return to the original “no free lunch” adage and apply it to grant funding. Because most government grant dollars originate or are supplemented at the federal level, and because our federal government spends $1 trillion each year above what it collects in taxes, tax dollars flowing back to local governments in the form of grants are supplemented by dollars borrowed by the federal government from foreign governments and investors who must be paid back with interest.

The day will come when trickle-down grant money begins to dry up because the federal government’s ability to borrow money will be reduced or eliminated and we will finally — either voluntarily or involuntarily — confront the unconscionable debts we’ve amassed as a nation.

And when that day comes, it will be clear that there’s no such thing as a free grant, and there’s certainly no such thing as free money.

Perhaps, instead of waiting for that day, it would be prudent if we demanded that our local elected representatives and government officials started to wean our community away from grant funds and toward self-sufficiency.

Perhaps, instead of expecting myriad services for free, we should begin to pay the actual cost of those services.

After all, we’re one of the wealthiest communities in the nation. Surely we can live without dollars borrowed by the federal government that eventually will have to be paid back by communities far poorer than us.

Since 1998, Steamboat resident Rob Douglas has been a commentator on local, state and national politics in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Colorado. To reach Douglas, email rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.

Comments

Harry Thompson 1 year, 11 months ago

Rob, You are so wrong. Steamboat lives on free stuff. We deserve free stuff because we allow the tourists to come to town. We even had a candidate in a recent city council election who's platform was for the town to buy the ski area so the locals could ski for free. I wonder whatever happened to that genius or if his mmj prescription ran out?

When real austerity measures are forced down our throats here in Steamboat, I hope the "free stuff crowd" choose to move to Boulder and don't burn down our town.

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maynardshort 1 year, 11 months ago

Since the grant money will all be borrowed from China, perhaps a Community Richshaw would be an appropriate mode of free transportation for the Nordic Elites of Steamboat Springs. Maynard

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Harry Thompson 1 year, 11 months ago

George, Did I read your last post right. Because a grant from the federal government actually benefits local people, it is not apart of the economic debacle.

The grant money from the Federal government comes from one of these sources:

  1. It was collected as a tax from somebody. It is not from Obama's stash.

  2. It was borrowed from someone, likely the Chinese. this is not a good thing.

  3. The government prints more money, which creates inflation. This also is not a good thing.

So, please explain to me how every little town, city, state and all the programs looking for free money from the Feds is not a bad thing.

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Fred Duckels 1 year, 11 months ago

Folks used to call for Harry Truman to "give em hell". Harry's reply was that he was going to tell the truth, and they would think it was hell. As usual Rob has nailed this one and it aptly describes the welfare mentality that we have come to cherish. George, your entry into the bus system was at the behest of a cadre of lefties who also championed the affordable housing debacle and left us in deep goo. Unfortunately we are unable to get a bailout grant so our only recourse was to vanquish the rascals. You can point and say what good has been done but I think that we would be just as happy pursuing a path of personal responsibility and the benefit to our character would be invaluable. Chasing grants seems to be the preffered method of seeking happiness but in the end this is fools gold.

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Zac Brennan 1 year, 11 months ago

Fred, I appreciate your comment about personal responsibility. But I can't help but notice that a large portion of your contracts are with the City. Such as the Promenade, Elk River Road sewer/water project and now the Dream Island-Lincoln Park sewer work. It appears you benefit frequently from government tax dollars. Are there no privately funded jobs out there? Just say in' .......

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John St Pierre 1 year, 11 months ago

And in a nutshell.... it comes to... Cut your programs but don't touch mine..... the deficit wether in Steamboat, Colorado or Washington DC is not going to be resolved until we all "suck it up"..... grants are not free,,,,

CMC just spent a very large sum of money to expand their campus...when did it become "our"responsibility to provide transportation to its students and employees......they could not budget for a shuttle to employ students on work study??? the figure quoted was a one way trip... in effect "we" are really paying $20+ per day to transport these individuals.....to and from....

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Scott Wedel 1 year, 11 months ago

It may not make the most sense for the federal government to provide grants for buying buses. Though, having a well operating national transportation system is a huge benefit to the nation's economy and it is far more effective to make using it as easy and inexpensive as possible. Major cities would have far worse traffic impairing the transportation of commercial products if the cities lacked public transportation. So public transportation does affect the smooth delivery of commercial products and thus the local economy. So it might have made sense for federal transportation to worry about public transit. But exactly why that extends down to SB is questionable.

But public transit is never about generating money from fares to operate the system. It simply costs too much to be supported by fares and high fares cause usage to drop significantly. But public transportation is still a popular common program because it is all about efficiently allowing people to move about. All of the people on the bus are not adding to road congestion and not occupying parking spots. Public transportation allows downtowns and other commercial areas to grow well beyond their limited parking and street access would otherwise allow.

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mark hartless 1 year, 11 months ago

I once had a guy working for me who quit because he didn't like the fact that we worked in the rain. A few weeks before he quit he took off on opening day of trout season to fish all day in the pouring rain.

Maynard nailed it. Why do folks who pride themselves in biking in the snow, rain, and cold need a bus? If you can live without grocery bags, power plants, internal-combustion engines and gasoline then what 's the big deal getting by without a bus? Or a ski lift, for that matter...

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Fred Duckels 1 year, 11 months ago

Zac, I bid all work to put food on the table but spending money borrowed from China can put us over the edge and then there will be no work to bid.

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rhys jones 1 year, 11 months ago

If one is judged by their competition, I prefer worthy foes. To attempt to reason with a brick wall demonstrates one's own fallibility. Unlike some terriers, I don't chase every stick somebody throws for me.

Judging by their banter, some people must be pure joys to deal with on a daily basis.

Every party needs a pooper -- that's why we invited YOU!!

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rhys jones 1 year, 11 months ago

While I intended that for one person, I can see how some others might take it personally.

Sorry, other guys.

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rhys jones 1 year, 11 months ago

Fred raises a valid point: We continue on in ignorant bliss, while world events and economy dictate a major shakeup or disaster in the very near future, to the benefit of the Chinese and our detriment. I helped make the mess, me and my hot-rod Mustangs and their thirsty V8's, fueled by cheap 22-cent-gallon ethyl, courtesy the Shah of Iran. With our vast distances and entitlement to luxury private transportation, our dependence on Middle East oil is assured. Turn off those valves, life here changes real quick.

MORE mass transit is the answer, not less, but some are not only entitled to their massive machines, but dependant upon them. It's for them, that I most fervently pray for The Crash.

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Scott Ford 1 year, 11 months ago

I do not think it is necessary to consistently single out China as buyer of US debt. They are just one buyer of many. To be sure China holds the lion’s share US debt purchased by foreign governments.

Of the $16.1 trillion dollars – “We the People” (United States Citizens-US Private Institution, Social Security, Medicare, Federal Reserve, civil and military retirement funds) own almost 70% of this debt. This simply means that 30% of the US Debt is owned by foreign governments, private institutions and citizens in those countries.

“We the People of the United States …” ought to be mad at ourselves because we are by far the biggest buyer of own the debt. Social Security Administration because they are mandated by law alone buys almost twice what China buys on an annual basis of US debt.

We live in a very crazy time and world. I am surprised it works or at least we believe it works. What happens when there is no longer people/nations standing in line to buy US Debt at today’s ridiculously low interest rates? Even a small increase in the amount of interest we may need to pay to attract buyers of US debt will make the deficit and debt explode. The time is relatively short for us to begin working seriously on this.

It’s a wee-bit scary.

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mark hartless 1 year, 11 months ago

If we are headed for "The Crash", which to me seems imminent, let us ask ourselves how we came to sail upon such treacherous waters, and what actions have put us on such a perilous heading.

One of my greatest wishes for all of us is that we begin each day looking into the mirror and repeating the following words: "I am where I am today because of the decisions I have taken. I will begin today to take decision that improve my life."

So it is for the town, state and nation as a whole.

Which actions pushed us so close to the abyss?

Was it because we too often employed the principles I have often espoused on this blog? Personal responsibility, adherance to the Constitution, operation of a public sector free of debt, corruption and excess which restrains itself and recognizes it grows only by consuming the liberty and property of individuals??? I think not.

Or was it because, in an ill-concieved and misguided attempt not to be "heartless" we tried to provide every person, group, and trade with every need, want, and demand they could imagine? I think so.

And which course is truly "heartless"? Treating people like cattle which are shipped where, when, how and to the location the owner wants, which are provided food and shelter that pleases the rancher, not the cattle? Or giving people the responsibility for their own lives, and that greatest blessing of all, freedom, which ever accompanies it?

And how do we change course? With substantive criticism? By sounding alarms when we see danger? By pointing out the problems and saying, as a doctor would, "where does it hurt?" Or by lobbing "brilliant and original" personal insults, including about someones name, which is neither within their control or even mildly relevant?

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rhys jones 1 year, 11 months ago

I can only paraphrase Garrison Keelor here, but I'll give it a go:

Successful people -- those who have acquired much, and have few worries -- are often likely to attribute their fortune to their own skill and wherewithal, while those of us who have suffered in life, who have toiled and lost, are much more likely to get down on their knees and thank the Good Lord for whatever blessings we do enjoy.

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Bob Smith 1 year, 11 months ago

I for one feel that in the richest nation on earth it is "heartless" not to provide adequate healthcare to all of our citizens. The end result of our current system will result in folks being turned away at the emergency room door, left to suffer and die on the sidewalk. (it is simply too expensive to keep administering healthcare in the emergency room!)

Just one example of where I am coming from.

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Bob Smith 1 year, 11 months ago

okay, sorry for the name joke. it was in poor taste.

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Bob Smith 1 year, 11 months ago

(but man, your previous comments do make a case...just kidding)

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Robert Dippold 1 year, 11 months ago

Man has this thing gotten off topic. Enough with the name calling and personal attacks. It cost the city of Steamboat an average of $10 one way to get someone to the CMC campus on the Yellow line. Rob is telling us that that figure is heavily subsidized because of grant money. Maybe it is $20 one way. I don't care if you are far to the left or the right, rich or poor, it is illogical for anyone to think that this is a cost effective system. I would think you could get a taxi to take people for $10. As usual, Rob gave me something to think about. Scott, I appreciate your comments as well. I also think the city council and the people protesting created a good temporary solution. Keep the yellow line going until January and then let's get an alternate solution. I think it is a good example of things working right, not perfect, but right.

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mark hartless 1 year, 11 months ago

Georeg K. You assume too much. You are dead wrong. I mean you couldn't be more wrong. I am not a child of privilege. I worked hard, out in the elements my entire life. Grew up on a farm working from sun-up to sun-down. Got up this morning at 5:40 and stopped working this evening at 6:15. I peeled the skin off my right knuckle, and left hand index finger today (I always hated gloves). I would wear the same dirty pants again tomorrow but the amount of blood I wiped on them might freak some people out, you know, if I have to go anywhere in "public"... like a cocktail party. I would also be glad to take a friendly little wager against you on any powder day. The deeper the better.

Rhys, Deuteronomy 8:18 Wise men, rich and poor alike, ALL get on their knees and thank God for their blessings. The poor have no special claim to proximity to God. Nor do the rich.

Bob, I accept your apology. Thank you. To your point: When it's YOUR money you're passing out it's called generosity. And I'm a big fan of people giving to help others. But if we, whether personally or through the power of the state, put a gun to another man's head and take HIS money that is an act which is just as "heartless" as turning a blind eye to the suffering of others. In fact, when we do so we become an instrument of plunder rather than of philanthropy. For the money taken from that other man might have been what HIS family needed to feed itself, thereby keeping themselves solvent, rather than dependant. This IS NOT compassion. It is taking property from its rightful owner; something nthe law was intended to prevent, not facilitate. Fredrich Bastiat, in his masterpiece work titled "The Law", explains these principles clearly and brilliantly. I highly recommend it to any and all.

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mark hartless 1 year, 11 months ago

I think hiring transit out to someone like Alpine is a splendid idea. Why wouldn't it work?

New York City? That explains a lot.

As you can see I'm a bit late this morning but I just got my 55 minute workout in so I can catch up on my reading now till it's light enough to smash my fingers properly.

Enjoy your Latte or Cappuccino or whatever...

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rhys jones 1 year, 11 months ago

No Mark, you missed my point. I was saying us poor folks are losers and thus in need of God's help and your money.

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Harry Thompson 1 year, 11 months ago

George, What is absurd is the city council continues to do the feel good voting. What in the world makes so many people in this community think everything should be free. I am aware that in many ways the SST was your doing, and that most government employees like to have as many layers of employment between themselves and a potential layoff as possible. You were very successful in growing the system beyond its original intent. Steamboat needs to start doing things that make the town a resort that people want to vacation in, are willing to spend the money to get here and can find great dining, night life and shopping or the bus service won't really matter.

On another note we now have people pushing the bus only system. Limit the parking instead of creating more parking and see how the shops, dining and clubs do in the future.

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John Weibel 1 year, 11 months ago

George if the bus takes someone to within a half mile of campus is that not close enough? I generally had to walk/bike .5-1 mile to class. If there are people in need maybe we can set up a fund to pay there cab fare.

Unfortunately many people fail to listen to others opinions as there's are right. Had friends in town who are lefties and when I discussed some issues they stated my opinions were simplistic. That unemployment funding by taxing employers based upon payroll penalizes employers and not technology or outsourcing.

Had their heads in the sand and really would not discuss the issues as they were right. The only thing they agreed to was that people tend to live in echo chambers and only hear what they believe is right.

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mark hartless 1 year, 11 months ago

New York City prospects??? Go ahead George; tell yourself that those New York City types are somehow important to me. That's hillarious. If you only knew... You actually think I am a respecter of persons, don't you? (that is to say titles or connections or where you boarded the plane, that kind of thing) It's understandable. So many folks are like that these days. The biggest value I've seen with most NY yankees I've met would be if I could buy them for what they are ACTUALLY worth and sell them for what they THINK they are worth. With every assumption you make, you seem to know me less. You are funny though... or maybe it's the Balvenie... Cheers,

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John Weibel 1 year, 11 months ago

The hospital service is part of another line is it not? That service on a line basis is not as expensive as the yellow line based upon ridership of the whole.

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Robert Dippold 1 year, 11 months ago

George, I know you have had a couple rough months dude, but are you looking at what you are writing? Get some help and stop destroying your reputation and beating the hell out of everyone. 1-"I just ran into one of those former Fortune 500 CEO's and, believe me, local citizens and Nordic Elites are dust on his soles. His super deluxe Range Rover is more convenient than obvious lackies but he wouldn't hesitate to whip 'em with a "Jump, local scum!" 2-"I bet Mark Hartless is a child of privilege. The more money and handouts in a person's life, the more certain they are they made it completely on their own" 3-"I guess the board members can't appear at their banker's cocktail parties after a default." 4-"By the way, you should've heard Fred when he was bidding on City funded projects. All mash sweet potato pie in his mouth then. "Yes sir, no mam, we'll do a great job for you." Probably the way Mark talks to New York City prospects" 5-"This is typical city government - don't acknowledge the realities of the situation and leave it to your successors and staff to work out."

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mark hartless 1 year, 11 months ago

If one thinks that a glance at County records is enough to confirm that someone else has lived a "privileged" life, or gives one enough information to make foolish assertions in an attempt to hurt the messenger, then it is not surprising that your "skills" were no longer required at that last job of yours, George. Vindictiveness and rabbit-chasing are not usually a "plus" for most employers. Who knows, maybe your numbers were right, but your tactics and conduct here sure are NOT.

I have stooped pretty low on this blog at times; something of which I am not proud. But I can honestly and proudly say I have never attempted to hurt or silence someone by bringing obviously personal information to light or encouraging others to do so.

Congrats George and Bob!!! You have shown everyone just how "compassionate" and "progressive" you really are.

If this is what passes for intelligent debate in your minds then knock yourselves out. I have nothing to hide. If I did I sure as Hell wouldn't be here with folks like you.

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rhys jones 1 year, 11 months ago

Two reasons I severely curtailed my forum participation recently are:

-- Several weeks back, when my meds were running low, I was prone to some ill-considered and emotional retorts, of which I am not proud, and

-- The intended recipient of these remarks, apparently, went to some trouble to Google my brother, whose name I had been careful to omit from my posts, then fed him some misinformation about claims I had made in theses forums, and between those and my brother's own lack of knowledge about my service, came away with the impression that I am quite the liar -- while I will gladly defend any claim I ever made in here.

This person has no idea of my brother's current activities; bro' did not become overly alarmed, as this call was not about him -- all I can say is, the caller put both himself and myself at some risk -- I exaggerate not, when I say some confidentiality has now been breached, these are matters of national security, and we had to be the subject of some high-level discussions. This got my brother snooping, he took exception to several of my comments even years ago, and now I have a GS-the-highest with every security clearance possible out to destroy me, professionally and personally.

Thanks a lot, whoever you are -- I have my suspicions, but no names. However, the above claim "I have never attempted to hurt or silence someone by bringing obviously personal information to light or encouraging others to do so" is highly dubious, to say the least.

Bob -- I do believe you are correct.

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cindy constantine 1 year, 11 months ago

OMG--has this conversation deteriorated!! Why don't you "men" just get together with your knitting needles over a cup of coffee and air it out some place else!!!!

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Robert Dippold 1 year, 11 months ago

I just learned how to send an individual email to a person on this comment board so my apologies to George for making my comment public. I didn't know how else to reach him. Bob

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rhys jones 1 year, 11 months ago

Obviously we need a moderator. Volunteers, Cindy?

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Bob Smith 1 year, 11 months ago

Hi cindy how's that tea party thing treatin' ya? You remember old sled, right? Not to be -TOO much of a troll, but if I wonder if anybody has any thoughts on seeuski?

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Scott Wedel 1 year, 11 months ago

George, Being fired by YVHA is a resume builder, not damaging to your reputation.

I think you could further enhance your reputation if you were to precisely document the accounting issues. The accounting records should be public information if they are given to board members. Then present your findings to the county during public comment. That will probably put them into the meeting minutes and the CCs might even discuss your findings.

Your previous appearance before the SB City Council mostly asked for your job back. And YVHA has come up with their story on how their board chairman fired you on his own initiative after the July board meeting and then ratified that decision in August. Since they clearly have the right to fire you then it is a nonstarter to get your job from the current (inept) YVHA board.

Sorry to say that I am too busy with other more important issue of Town of Oak Creek taking $180,040 from the utilities for spending as they please from the general fund this year and maybe more in future years without bothering to ask for voter approval. I have written up the initiative petition which needs to be blessed by the town government before collecting signatures.

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cindy constantine 1 year, 11 months ago

Hey, Bob--Actually I am a fiscal conservative but more socially liberal (R v. Wade and all that) just like about 75% of the pop.--prefer libertarian, not tea partyer. As for Mark, if he is indeed sled, I wish he would return to his former self--really made me laugh. Seeuski is an ultra conservative friend of mine who is a fabulous skier--hence the name. But I would never, never OUT him--what a bunch of pansies who do that to the former anon posters. IMHO

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mark hartless 1 year, 11 months ago

Cindy, Thanks. I agree. Former anon's should be allowed to RIP. I miss Seeuski too.

Rhys, It sounds like you think the culprit was me... maybe?. I don't know you. I don't know your brother. I have, to my knowledge, never met either of you.

I can assure ALL of you that I have NEVER, EVER went away from this blog (or any other) with malice or ill intent in my heart or mind. I have never sought out any of you folks' personal information, acquaintences, etc for any reason... NEVER. I disagree with a lot of you from time to time but my "feelings" stay right here.

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Scott Wedel 1 year, 11 months ago

George, Well, seems to me that you have put yourself very dependent upon a very thin thread since presumably your successor can satisfy the fiduciary responsibilities required by the USDA. Seems to me your firing only becomes relevant to the USDA if YVHA cannot satisfy their fiduciary responsibilities.

I think you'd be better off to ignore the lies of your firing because ultimately they have the right to fire you and instead focus on locally disclosing the financial issues of YVHA.

As for Lance, I have doubts he personally doped. He was well known for intensive use of hyperbaric chamber which allows quicker recovery in high oxygen and then red blood cell stimulation in low oxygen. Those chambers are expensive and not available to the whole team. But Lance had ones at home and on the road. It would have been needlessly risky to dope since that would have put all of his earlier accomplishments at risk and he was extensively drug tested as leader and winner of races.

Nor do I find some of the accounts of his teammates credible. Even if he was the ringleader for his team then as a famous person he'd want to retain deniability. It makes no sense for Lance to personally have EPO to give to a teammate. That could be end of Lance's career if room was bugged. Nor does an elite rider wake up and decide to take EPO. That would be madness, of questionable effectiveness and easy to be caught. Note that much of the testimony against Lance was from people that had been busted and were being reduced suspensions for testifying against Lance. Because EPO was hard to detect, WADA and UCI created maximum levels of hemocrits. Marco Pantani was never caught using EPO, but he exceeded legal hemocrit levels.

I think it is much more likely that Lance kept himself clean by using hyperbaric chambers and financed his teammate's expensive testing and expert advice to reduce their chances of being caught in order to have the needed team support during the Tour. I note that unlike his main competitors such as Jan Ulrich that started the season needing to lose 20 pounds to get into Tour fitness, Lance was well known for having a year round training program and can probably provide documentation of any day regarding at what point he was on his overall plan to be in peak shape for the Tour.

Ironically, Greg Lemond far more fit the description of a drug cheater since he'd be awful in the early season, take a few weeks of private training far from teammates and questioning eyes and emerge in July as being the best shape of anyone.

Was Lance or anyone clean? Probably not. Did he risk it all taking drugs once he achieved success? Probably not since he had alternative means to the same result.

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Robert Dippold 1 year, 11 months ago

There are some very interesting, intelligent and opinionated people on this site. I think it would be a great time to get together and have coffee and discuss the subject of the week. I already talked to one person on this post about doing so. Unfortunately, I don't live in Steamboat yet, but I will be out there the first two weeks in December.
If anybody is up for it, I would like to meet the folks here. Think we should probably leave our guns in the truck though. Peace, Bob

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Steve Lewis 1 year, 11 months ago

Bob, Yes to the coffee. 2nd week in December?

Cindy is right. Keyboards in solitude take us places we would never go when sitting around a table.

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Robert Dippold 1 year, 11 months ago

2nd week in December sounds good for a coffee meeting. Do you mind picking the location, date and time? Thanks and look forward to meeting you. Bob

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Steve Lewis 1 year, 11 months ago

Wednesday, Dec 12, 10am, Mountain Brew on Oak Street Look forward to meeting you too. Maybe some of the others will show up.

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