Yearly Archives: 2012

Fiscal Farce

 

President Obama returned from his holiday vacation to meet with Congressional leaders in an effort to resolve the differences between the parties over the ‘fiscal cliff’ issues.

 

Big surprise—no deal?

 

Why?  Because no serious negotiations are really going on.  President Obama has demonstrated he really isn’t interested in a deal unless, of course, he gets his way.  The Speaker could not get his Republican colleagues in the House of Representatives to sign on to his Plan B which would have conceded revenue growth by raising taxes on those making more than $ 1million while extending the tax cuts, eliminating the hated alternative minimum tax and few other sweeteners.  Why?  Because the Republicans realized Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had no intention of taking up the bill in the Senate thus leaving them exposed for having voted to raise taxes with nothing to show for it.

 

Now that the White House meeting failed to produce any progress, the ball bounces to the Senate to take action.

 

QUIT LAUGHING!

 

Yes, this is the same Senate that has not passed a budget bill in nearly four years.  Yes, this is the Senate that Harry Reid has prevented from considering virtually any of the bills the House has passed to address these issues over the past year.

 

So what’s different now?  Not a darn thing except time is running out.

 

The public reaction seems to be

 

‘ A pox on both your houses—and the White house too!’

 

So here we are waiting for one side to blink!

 

This is a big fiscal farce.  The only thing you can count on if that when they do finally agree to pass something expect it to be larded up with pork  for every special interest known to man—except you and me!

 

 

 

Did the Feared October Surprise Arrive Early?

Image representing YouTube as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

The killing of the US Ambassador to Libya and three of his staff, the sacking of the US embassy in Egypt and a copycat attach on our embassy in Yemen is projecting foreign policy into the heart of the 2012 presidential election campaign.  In the Middle East, the facts surrounding the attacks are still being clarified but the feigned outrage over the YouTube posted video involving the Prophet Muhammad looks more like a convenient pretext for radicals looking for just such opportunity.

Meanwhile, stuff is happening that in reaction and anticipation of more to come.

What should we make of this?

President Obama must feel blindsided by tragic events not of his making that nonetheless risk spinning out of control when he least needs to give his electoral opponent more ammunition.  Just as the President hoped for a bump in the polls after the Democratic Party convention he finds himself stuck in the mud of what some are trying to characterize as Iran 1979 all over again with the embassy attacks taking place on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

Governor Romney calls the president’s foreign policy feckless and failed trotting out the ‘apology tour’ videos and telling the likely voters—See!!!!  The president’s weak positions of national defense and weak position on projecting American strength internationally are leading to more insecurity. But if he presses too far he risks looking like piling on when America is vulnerable.

The President then steps in it big time by telling the Israeli Prime Minister he is too busy campaigning to meet with Netanyahu over Iran.   Israel smacks him upside the head by telling the world just that only souring an already bad relationship.

The President of Egypt takes a LONG TIME to condemn the embassy attack in Cairo.  Not a smart move for a government that counts on $1.5 billion of US military aid each year.  Republicans call for suspending US aid to Egypt and Pakistan and Afghanistan in retribution for the attacks and the lack of confidence that these places are really friends.  Even the president says that Egypt is NOT an ally, but neither is it an enemy.  HUH? Are you kidding me?  This really is amateur hour at the White House!

Behind the scenes these events in the Middle East, upon reflection, look TOO planned, TOO well timed, TOO orchestrated to be coincidence.  Is this Iran’s hand at work through proxies?  Are the jihadists really able to orchestrate such large scale multi-faceted events—again?

So What?

Part of me just wants to take two Tylenol PM and get a good night’s sleep hoping these crazy events will blow over and things will be better in the morning—-it won’t!  The fear is this is just the start of a period of skirmish, displays of plumage and posturing stunts designed to undermine the credibility of the US in the Middle East before Israel bombs the holy crap out of Iran in an effort to degrade the nuclear option, buy time and force the Obama team to come to its rescue BEFORE the election—or else.

That is the President’s real October surprise nightmare scenario.   And the jihadists know just as they knew in Iraq when Sunni insurgents attacked Shi’a causing a counter reaction.  Or when Iran tells Hezbollah to lob rockets into Israel.  Stuff happens!   Are the people of Egypt at fault because stuff happens?  Of course not.  Do they run into the street waving American flags and cursing the jihadists because Americans are their friends, of course not.

We are at the crazy time in our electoral cycle and the international trouble making cycle that symbolic dates like 9/11 or Election Day bring out the troublemakers.  We should expect it, but we don’t have to like it or overreact to it.

The Administration is trying to contain the violence by condemning the You Tube video the jihadists claim provoked it. This is worse than dumb.  The American Government should be defending the American value of freedom of speech not make apologies for it pandering to terrorists.  WEAK!  WEAK!  WEAK!

But there are also lessons for Muslims.  Chill out people!  Don’t let a bunch of nutcases hijack your religion.  And cut us a little slack will you, we believe in freedom of speech and not everything that comes out of someone’s mouth or shows up on YouTube is justification for stupid behavior on your part. Get over it!

The worry is this is only September and the October surprise is yet to come before election day.

Regulation and Common Sense Often Don’t Mix

In California, Proposition 65 requires that retailers and manufacturers disclose the use of any chemicals that may pose an environmental health risk.    Sounds like common sense, right?  Except go to virtually any retail or commercial or office building in California and pasted on the front door will be a sign that reads:  Chemicals are used in this building known by the State of California to cause cancer or other environmental hazards.

Now, does this warning help you very much? 

Of course not, because it was not designed to inform but to insure that building owners have a legal defense when they gets sued.  The California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) maintains a list of such chemicals required to be included in a Proposition 65 warning as a short cut of “gotcha” starting points for rookie lawyers eager to score their first settlement.

Why it Costs So Much to Do Business Today

In October 2011, OEHHA added the chemical commonly known as “TDCPP” or “Tris” [Tris(1,2-dichloro-2-proply) phosphate)] to that list of Proposition 65 required disclosures. Tris is used widely as an approved flame retardant in home furnishings (couches, chairs, pillows, and ottomans) as well as automotive products (seat padding, overhead liners, foams, and infant car seats).  Once a chemical is added to the Prop 65 list retailers and manufacturers have one year to come into compliance. So after October 2012 these Tris users and makers are eligible for lawsuit target practice.

In practical terms, adding Prop 65 warnings to Tris products forces manufacturers and users to balance two competing risks.  One set of rules requires the use of approved flame retardants in furniture, bedding, auto products and infant clothing and Tris is approved for that purpose while another now labels the use of this flame retardant a cancer risk under Proposition 65.

So which is it?

Are products made with Tris safe or not? 

If I can’t find a product without Tris does this mean I don’t buy furniture, bedding, auto products or kids clothing?

The same OEHHA that added Tris to the Proposition 65 list of chemicals is now accepting public comment on its proposed “No Significant Risk Level” (NSRL) for TDCPP of 5.4 micrograms per day. This means that daily exposure below this level would be exempt from Proposition 65. OEHHA’s decision on whether to adopt this NSRL will not be made until after the public comment process closes in July 2012 but manufacturers have already had to incur the cost of compliance with the Prop 65 listing in order to have them in fully effect by October 2012.  This is a PERECT example of how California has become unfriendly to business, unfriendly to taxpayers, unfriendly to common sense.

So what do you think manufacturers of kids clothing will do—risk being sued by the trial bar if their product does NOT have the required label or take their chances?  Drop the use of Tris and use another approved flame retardant?  Quit making the product all together?  Go out of business?  That is what happened to the company that makes the ubiquitous red plastic gasoline cans we see almost everywhere.  you may have one in your garage to fuel your lawnmover.  The company was sued after some idiot poured gasoline using one of its cans on a fire and was burned by the fire ball he created.  The punitive damages awarded bankrupted this small Miami Oklahoma company which was forced to lay off its 120 employees and shut down.  The makers of Tris and any retailer that sells a product using Tris now have the same big target on their back.

So what should the label read?

“PROPOSITION 65 WARNING: The State of California requires that this cute onesie contain a flame retardant.  The flame retardant chemical “Tris” used in this product is approved for use as a flame retardant in children’s clothing, furniture, bedding and automotive products, but it is also listed on the Proposition 65 list of chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer and other environmental health problems.  If this product exposes your kid to less than 5.4 micrograms per day don’t worry.  Longer exposures may cause cancer.  Change your kid’s clothing often to restart the clock on your daily exposure readings. If your kid gets cancer while wearing this product you may be able to sue the manufacturer and the store that sold this cute onesie to you.  The State of California has sovereign immunity from lawsuits such as these even though we require the use of the cancer causing chemical contained in this product. Trial lawyers are standing by to take your call.  Anything you win in damages from any such lawsuit is fully taxable by the State of California at the maximum rate allowed by law.”

Time to Boil Political Frogs

united states currency seal - IMG_7366_web

united states currency seal – IMG_7366_web (Photo credit: kevindean)

It must be an election year!  How do I know, because politicians of both parties are spouting talking points about the need for fiscal responsibility even while they do the opposite.  These same politicians have set up themselves and the rest of us for what is being called the ‘fiscal cliff’ at the beginning of 2013.

The fiscal cliff is the consequence political evasion, ill-considered gimmicks and cynicism.  Because the cost of enacting the ‘Bush tax cuts’ on a permanent basis was seen as politically unacceptable without also cutting spending by like amounts—also seen as unacceptable, Congress did neither.  Instead Congress jumped into the pot of cold water and turned on the heat by adopting the Bush tax cuts, giving them an expiration date, never expecting the water to boil on their watch thus engaging in the age old sport of driving up the deficit while complaining about all the spending.  This was not the finest hour for Republican leadership not because they got the policy wrong but because they bungled the execution and accountability. Had Republicans made the Bush tax permanent there would be no tax cliff.  Had they adjusted spending to match revenue the deficit would be substantially smaller today even counting the first round of stimulus spending. And ten year later Republicans in Congress are still on shaky grounds preaching about fiscal responsibility.

The other part of the fiscal cliff is made possible by another politically correct but imminently silly gimmick called sequestration.  This scheme allowed for the extension of the Nation’s debt ceiling sufficient to pay the bills but ordered automatic cuts in spending divided equally between defense and non-defense programs.  The Democrats agreed to this because they had no choice if they wanted to get the President’s debt ceiling measure approved in a divided Congress.  The Republicans agreed to it because it exacted a pound of flesh from the President’s backside because he needed something and decided to take the beating to get it.  Longer term, the Republicans believed they would win the next election and (avoid having their frog boil) by undoing sequestration for at least defense programs to avoid the cliff even if they sacrificed a few nondefense programs to claim they were cutting the fat out of the budget.

President Obama and the Congressional Democrats made the consequences of the tax cliff manifestly worse than the Republicans by driving up government spending, programs, staffing levels and industrial policy grants to favored players.  In typical Washington fashion any discussion of slowing down the INCREASE in Federal spending as a percentage of GDP is labeled as a ‘cut’ and YouTube videos of Paul Ryan pushing grandma over the cliff in her wheelchair suddenly appear.

“A Pox on Both Your Houses!”

That is the American public’s reaction to these stunts.  But here we are—careening down the 2012 election highway way above the speed limit heading toward the cliff.

In 2008, we voted for Barack Obama because we wanted to believe in his message of hope and change.  We wanted to be part of a historic presidency that celebrated to the world everything we cherished in the American dream.   We wanted to demonstrate that America was still the world’s leader and superpower.  We wanted to again reinvent America to face our economic problems squarely and to be that beacon of hope and change that a desperate world in 2008 desperately needed.

But President Obama has disappointed us instead by playing bait and switch, divided us by endless class warfare, apologized abroad for America’s vision of freedom and world leadership, and undermined our sense of optimism and American exceptionalism that drives Americans to confront challenges with a ‘yes we can’ spirit.  The challenge for President Obama in the 2012 election is America still longs for the 2008 hope and change historic Presidency he promised.  But President Obama abandoned hope and change—and us—after the 2008 election.  We do not like this ‘new normal’ and we don’t want four more years of what he’s given us.  The President has lost the benefit of our doubt and he has very little time left to try to change our minds.

The Republicans are set to nominate Mitt Romney.  He has the business experience a recovering America desperately needs.  He has the executive management and leadership experience the President lacked and we’re now paying for our ‘hiring mistake.  We are persuaded that Mitt Romney will be a good manager of America’s programs, services and finances.  The problem for Mitt Romney is so far he has been unable to ‘close the sale’ with us because while we need a good manager for America’s economic recovery—we still want a hope and change leader to restore America’s potential, self-confidence and global leadership.

Having been baited and switched once before on hope and change we are reluctant to sign up for another ‘squishy promise’ even one of competence and business savvy.  To close the sale Mitt must be more than the un-Obama.  He must inspire us more.  He must reveal his strategy in more detail so we can KNOW this time what is in the bill before we vote for it.

We want to hold our President accountable to deliver what he promises to deliver.

There are worse fates than a competent, but boring President.  But we have waited so long for hope and change and we don’t want to settle for less.

The polls tell us the campaign is a dead heat.  I believe the polls are REALLY telling us that Americans still want to believe in the 2008 hope and change Obama.  But Obama must persuade us that he still believes in hope and change.  We’re listening!  But if the 2012 Obama keeps giving us more of the same class warfare, hyper partisan, left of center rhetoric with continuing bad performance results, Americans are more likely than not to vote for competent but boring Mitt than take a chance of four more years of Obama under-performance.

The heat has been turned up under the Congressional frog with the tax cliff.  But like it or not the President and now Mitt Romney are also in the same pot as the Congressional frog.  Whoever proposes the most rational and achievable political strategy to avoid the fiscal cliff, rescue the nation and jump start our economic recovery will win our votes. A deal that avoids the tax cliff BEFORE the election is what we expect, but if we don’t get one there will be plenty of frog legs on the menu.

Give the President What He Wants—-and Give It To Him Hard!

English: The United States Supreme Court, the ...

English: The United States Supreme Court, the highest court in the United States, in 2010. Top row (left to right): Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Associate Justice Stephen G. Breyer, Associate Justice Samuel A. Alito, and Associate Justice Elena Kagan. Bottom row (left to right): Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, and Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The decision by the US Supreme Court upholding the Affordable Care Act mandate as a tax was a stunning surprise to many.  Probably no one was more surprised that President Obama.  He has seemed apprehensive that his signature legislative accomplishment was about to be thrown out.

What was also surprising was that the swing vote in the 5-4 decision was Chief Justice John Roberts.  Most speculation had focused on Justice Anthony Kennedy.  And equally surprising was the realization that Roberts could have taken then entire health care act down 5-4 had he sided with the conservatives who, in their dissents, said flatly that the mandate was unconstitutional and the rest of the act had to fall with it as an unconstitutionally broad overreach in the commerce clause.

But why did Chief Justice Roberts side with the President in this case?

And did the Chief Justice just pin the target on the President’s chest instead of having it pinned to his own back?

The beauty of this decision is the ruthless efficiency with which the Chief Justice has made the Affordable Care Act the central political issues in the November 2012 election instead of taking the burden on the back of the Court for undermining the President and Congress.  The decision protects the Supreme Court from being dragged into the political debate over the wisdom of the law while forcing the proponents of the law to defend it all over again in the court of public opinion.

The decision of the Chief Justice seems to follow the advice from two of the three Appeals Court decisions that were taken on review.

The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati and the D.C. circuit Court of Appeals said in their decisions that while the law is intrusive it is within Congress’s power to enact.  The Washington Post quoted from the opinion of Senior Judge Laurence Silberman, a Ronald Reagan appointee, who said:

“It certainly is an encroachment on individual liberty, but it is no more so than a command that restaurants or hotels are obliged to serve all customers regardless of race, that gravely ill individuals cannot use a substance their doctors described as the only effective palliative for excruciating pain, or that a farmer cannot grow enough wheat to support his own family.”

In deciding the case by upholding the law as a tax and limiting Congress’ power under the commerce clause, Chief Justice Roberts has sidestepped the political debate that will rage and fixed the accountability for the political wisdom of the act where it belongs—on the President and Congress.

It is Still the Economy Stupid

English: President Obama had called on the two...

English: President Obama had called on the two former Presidents to help. During their public remarks in the Rose Garden, President Clinton had said about President Bush, ‘I’ve already figured out how I can get him to do some things that he didn’t sign on for.’ Later, back in the Oval, President Bush is jokingly asking President Clinton what were those things he had in mind. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The phrase made famous by Bill Clinton’s political campaign has a habit of creeping back into the conversation.  It happened again when the former President made two statements to the press that appeared to undermine the sitting President.  Clinton first said that he thought the US was now back in recession given the falling economic data.  And then to add injury to the insult, they said he thought the ‘Bush era tax cuts’ should all be extended ‘for a little while’.

The views are contrary to President Obama’s so they seem almost deliberately off-message if the goal is to help the president in his struggle to be re-elected.  Yet, just as the phrase rang true in the 1992 campaign against George Bush the elder, they have the added advantage of being the truth twenty years later in this 2012 campaign.

To be fair to the President’s lament too often repeated—-‘we inherited this mess’ we will all concede that digging out of the hole created by the great recession has not been easy.  But the President’s policies and the hard left partisan way he won them and is implementing them have not helped make things better faster.  So now he is being tormented and the gum of a gummed up economy is sticking to his shoes.

There are many ironies in this evolution of events:

  • How’s that Hopey Changey Thing Working out? The President we voted for in 2008 because as historic a figure as he was, we also wanted to believe badly in the ‘Hope and Change’ he championed.  It was the right message at the right time from the right person.  But after the election hope and change turned into a nasty ‘I won’ persona that was NOT what we voted for.
  • The World Still Wants the US to Lead.  The world’s leaders may not have liked George W Bush but they did not doubt his resolve.  Four years later America’s resolve seems in retreat conveniently responding to our war weariness.  But we have watched this movie before and it didn’t turn out well.  A weaker America makes for a more dangerous world where the bad boys in every neighborhood take advantage of the vacuum to occupy the turf.  The same is true in global economics, a weak America can lead to pneumonia elsewhere.  It is tough to lead from the bottom of the debt hole we have dug for ourselves, but lead we must especially if first Europe, now China and maybe America is slipping back into recession.
  • We Still Want Hope and Change! Having put away his hope and change super-cape, it is tough for the president to argue now he had it on all the time.  We are not THAT stupid.  So while we once believed, and we still want to believe—-we no longer truly believe that the guy who brought us to the hope and change dance will dance with us if we renew his lease for another four years.  The President has squandered his best opportunity.

And then there is this irony.

George W. Bush whom the president has spent the last four years blaming and vilifying has kept his mouth shut and taken the President’s abuse true to his word not to speak ill of his successor.  Meanwhile the former President of the president’s own party appears by his side, expresses support for him even while periodically stabbing him in the back with his statements to remind him who the big dog in the Democrat party is.

Playing Politics with National Security

The New York Times

The New York Times (Photo credit: niallkennedy)

How is it that the New York Times is able to write elaborately detailed stories about the cyber-attacks on Iran from Stuxnet and Olympic Games, the code names for the computer viruses allegedly used to infect Iran’s nuclear enrichment program?  The NYT even is able to produce a graphic that shows the detailed business process used to produce these virus attacks.

We’ve also been treated to detailed information about drone strikes on terrorists, on the campaign for targeting specific people, and even the president’s fingerprints on the “kill list”.

The answer to the question seems both obvious and disgusting.

The information is apparently being deliberately fed to favored reporters in order to bolster the President’s ‘war on terror’ credential in national defense.  That seems to be the logical conclusion of analysts and journalists either amazed or drooling over the prospects that they would be leaked information for the next juicy story.  There seems to be very little attempt by “administration officials” to hide what they are doing.

I thought national defense and security intelligence was supposed to be secret.  Why would we tell Iran these things?  Is this some giant ‘head fake’ to persuade Iran to give up their program and cut a deal before the worms start taking aim at other stuff in the Islamic Republic?  Is this a reminder that Iran cannot procrastinate forever, that there are consequences short of air strikes, that there really isn’t that much distance between Israel and the US?

Is this a trial balloon to judge public reaction to war played by alternative means than sending in the Marines?  Because cyber-attacks are, in fact, an act of war, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said so himself recently when discussing the issue of Chinese espionage.

If the president thinks that he is going to get ‘macho man’ credit for spamming Iran with computer viruses to make their centrifuges spin out of control, or deliberating targeting the terrorists of the world to demonstrate that there is no place the hide from American justice and self-defense—he will.

Until we realize that he put at risk the very successful tactics, intel and people in America’s defense forces by leaking it to the press for partisan political purposes without regard to the collateral damage it might do.  And worse, the President risks an even more precipitous loss of public confidence as we realize his actions undermine the nation security he is sworn to uphold.

Disgusting!

October Surprise

While most of the speculation about an October surprise has revolved around the probability of an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear capability, or a financial collapse in Spain or Italy that drags the Eurozone to the depths, it could be that we already know the October surprise but are either ignoring it or hoping, against hope, that it is not true.

We got a surprise this week with the announcement that JPMorgan Chase lost $ 2 billion in a risk management strategy gone bad.  We saw oil prices decline on news of lower than expected economic growth in China, the defeat of President Sarkozy in French elections, and similar results in Greek elections further undermining confidence in the Eurozone.  But this is May not October.

What is our October Surprise?  

The realization that the US is back in recession.  That now seems the most likely scenario for the US economy given the anemic pace of US GDP growth, persistently high unemployment, a declining work force shrinking because more people quit looking for work and thus are no longer counted and continued polls telling us Americans think the country is going in the wrong direction.

But don’t take my word for it.  The Economic Cycle Research Institute (ECRI) a New York City-based independent economic research think tank said May 9, 2012 that year-over-year growth in US real personal income has been lower for the last three months than it was at the beginning of each of the last ten recessions. The ECRI has correctly predicted three of the last three recessions.  In September 2011 the ECRI said it saw this pattern emerging and now it is reaffirming its analysis telling us that “this is what personal income growth typically looks like early in a recession”.

Some would argue the US feels like we have been in recession or worse since 2008, but data tells us we came out of recession in mid-2009 but our deficit spending levels, fiscal and monetary policy has not produced the kind of robust recovery previously seen.  So it is tough to see how digging our fiscal hole deeper with more deficit spending will change things now.

We could tax the rich—if we can find them.  California is the poster child —or basket case for that strategy with a deficit now looming to $16 billion from $9 billion at the beginning of the year.  California is not only bleeding red ink, it is bleeding people.  From 2000 to 2009 California lost a net 1.5 million resident to other states. Only New York lost more—1.6 million residents. Think about that— 1.5 million people is a city the size of San Diego voting with their feet. Yet,  on the June primary ballot is a new tax increase on cigarettes and on the November ballot we face the prospect of two dueling income and sales tax increase measures.

So the October surprise is that it may all hit the fan starting in October as voters realize not only is our economy back in recession but that we are staring in the face the prospects of a tsunami of new taxes at the beginning of 2013 from the end of the Bush tax cuts, the end of the payroll tax cuts,  the prospects of higher taxes on both the Federal and State levels.  Meanwhile it will be obvious to every voter that our current policies are not working.

This is not what President Obama and Governor Jerry Brown want to hear, but it is the reality we all face.  The challenge for the President and Governor of California is to define a message and a policy that is something other than more of the same—because that is going to be a tough sell.

The challenge for Republicans now is to present the country with a policy vision they think will work better.  Being opposed to everything President Obama is doing is not sufficient and will not overcome our belief that both parties are guilt of the same sins.

They both spend too much of other people’s money and pander to the pet causes of their base.  They all lack ‘day jobs’ that force them to live with the laws, policies and regulations they impose on the rest of us.  They forget whom they were elected to serve and the longer they are in Washington the more disconnected they become from Main Street.  These are the manifest symptoms of confidence lost.

Senator Richard Lugar lost his first primary election challenge in more than 36 years in the US Senate from Indiana to a Tea Party activist this past week.  The Democrats said this was the ugliness of the Tea Party cleansing the GOP of moderates. But one of the reasons Lugar was defeated was the realization by Indiana voters that Senator Lugar sold his house in Indiana years ago taking up permanent residence in Washington DC and has not truly been a Hoosier for quite some time.

Crucify! Crucify!

The EPA was directed to set standards for radi...

The EPA was directed to set standards for radioactive materials under Reorganization Plan No. 3 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I know we are still in the season of Easter but this is not an Easter story.  By now you’ve heard the news report of EPA Region 6 Administrator Al Armendariz’ remarks at a local Texas government officials meeting in 2010 where he used a crude analogy to describe his “philosophy of enforcement.”

“It was kind of like how the Romans used to conquer villages in the Mediterranean. They’d go in to a little Turkish town somewhere, they’d find the first five guys they saw, and they’d crucify them. And then, you know, that town was really easy to manage for the next few years. You make examples out of people who are in this case not complying with the law … and you hit them as hard as you can” — to act as a “deterrent” to others.”

Apologies have dutifully now been issued disclaiming these remarks and called them out as not reflecting the Administration’s policy on enforcement.  But the reason the video clip went viral is that it rings so true of what many have come to believe is, in fact, the Administration’s policy.

This comes on the heels of a unanimous Supreme Court Decision in Sackett v US EPA where the Court overturned an enforcement order of the EPA which sought to fine a couple thousands per day in civil penalties for the temerity of challenging an EPA decision that building a house on their own property was a violation of the Government’s wetlands policy.  The decision overturned longstanding precedent that enforcement orders must be challenged administratively before an action is taken to court.

The Regulatory Process is Not Serving the Public Interest

These examples are easy to focus on, but the bigger issue is the pervasive, creeping and creepy over reach of regulation that once just strangled the economy but now is being used to pursue a political agenda the Administration has been unable to get approved by the Congress.

There is a de facto war on fossil fuels being pursued by the EPA.  The rush of new regulations is focused on getting as much done in the first term as possible administratively, perhaps out of fear there may not be a second terms or that the Democrats will lose the Senate.

Congress is also to blame big time for this mess.  It writes laws that are vague or ill-considered and leaves it up to bureaucrats to define the details and sort out the problems.  The Code of Federal Regulations now consists of thousands of pages of rules bearing only a vague resemblance to their authorizing legislation.

We can do better than this:

  1. Require that rules must either be incorporated directly into legislation or proposed as a companion rulemaking by affected parties BEFORE Congress passes the law. Force the parties to work out their differences before the law is passed and embody the rules in the law.
  2. Require that EVERY regulation contain a sunset date of not more than 7 years.  The law and every rule adopted pursuant to it should expire unless it is reauthorized by Congress.  This requirement would be applicable to EVERY existing rule which should be subject to sunset review.
  3. Require that NO rule may be proposed without a cost benefit analysis based upon standard objective criteria applicable to all regulation for calculating cost and benefits.  No rule may be published if the results of the cost benefit analysis show that the costs outweigh the benefits.  The cost benefit study may be challenged as not meeting the standard objective criteria before an Administrative Law Judge to decide whether the rule meets the cost benefit test.
  4. Require that Congress much approve EVERY regulation imposing a cost of more than $100 million on an up or down vote to be taken within 90 days of submittal of the rule to Congress or else it is automatically rejected.

These steps would clarify that regulations are designed to cost effectively and fairly implement specific policies adopted by Congress.  It clarifies that rules are not a separate process for pursuing political agendas.  It levels the playing field giving business an equal opportunity in the rule making, enforcement and sunset review process with other interest groups.  It forces ALL SPECIAL INTERESTS to work out their differences BEFORE laws are passed and rules proposed or have those interests framed to be decided in an up or down vote for all to see.

Sea Level Rise and Sustainability

Do you feel lucky?  New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg apparently does not.  He sent one of his Long Term Planning and Sustainability staff members to a hearing before the US Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee in Washington DC on April 19th to testify on New York City’s concerns about the impact of rising sea levels.  The NYC witness Adam Freed, told the Committee that the mayor wanted the Federal Emergency Management Agency to develop detailed flood projection maps to help New York prepare for the impacts of sea level rise on infrastructure and real estate properties in the next century.

Another witness, Ben Strauss, chief operating officer and director of the program on sea level rise at Climate Central, told the committee that sea levels in the United States will rise between one and eight inches by 2030 and between four and 19 inches by 2050. But while Mayor Bloomberg’s staff member was sent to worry out loud in a politically correct way about rising sea levels, the Climate Central witness wanted action on a four-step federal program to reduce risk and vulnerability:

  1. Protect existing beaches that help prevent the impacts of storm surge,
  2. Build artificial defenses where appropriate;
  3. Halt construction in high risk areas; and
  4. Develop a planned retreat from areas that cannot be effectively protected.

With trillions of dollars of Federal debt looming and deficits as far as the eye can see, what do you assess is the probability that the Government will spent your money entertaining strategies like this?  I know—that’s what worries me too!  If we can fund bridges to nowhere imagine how much Congress might spend to keep Broadway from turning into Venice.

Then again, think of the charm New York would have if the streets of Manhattan were all turned into canals with yellow hybrid water taxis wisking you from downtown to midtown.  Bike lanes could turn into kayak channels and since the subways would all be flooded we could build giant moving sidewalks to connect the building above the projected high water line powered by wave action turbines used to squirt sea water through the subway tunnels under pressure.

Deutsch: Blick auf das Empire State Building v...

Deutsch: Blick auf das Empire State Building vom Top of the Rock English: Empire State Building as seen from Top of the Rock (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The torch on the Statue of Liberty can be replaced with a wind turbine and solar panels can be mounted on all rooftops oriented toward the Empire State Building which can be converted into a concentrated solar power tower with giant tanks of molten salt in the underwater floors to create a combined heat and power microgrid to power the city.

Think of it—auto emissions would be a thing of the past.  We would not need RGGI or EPA regulations or the New York Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability.

Maybe this isn’t such a bad idea after all—by all mean prepare the maps.  And make sure you hire the same climate scientists who cooked the books to get more research grants because Al Gore told them the climate science was incontrovertible.  Let’s see where did I put that hockey stick formula again?

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