More evidence of business unfriendliness

For three years, the folks at Thumbtack.com, a service for entrepreneurs looking to trumpet their wares, has partnered with the Kauffman Foundation to produce a Small Business Friendliness Survey for much of the country. I’ve referred to this survey before on several occasions.

Out of 38 states which had enough data to analyze, Maryland falls in a range between 25th and 27th with a “C-” rating, placing it in a group with Michigan and Wisconsin. While it rated top grades (an A+) for training and networking programs, it had only one other good grade – a B+ in ease of hiring – and several D+ grades in regulations, tax code, licensing, environmental, and zoning.

There are a couple caveats to bear in mind for Maryland’s grade. There aren’t a whole lot of businesses surveyed, and the written responses came from a small area of the state representing Montgomery, Prince George’s, Howard, Frederick, and Baltimore counties as well as Baltimore City. Those are the areas which generally represent the Democratic strongholds of the state, which leads me to wonder whether the grades are inflated because the responses tend to skew toward a liberal population or whether their frustration level is such because they are conservatives in a liberal state. Regardless, you have a number of survey answers like this one from Severn:

Maryland is all about taxing entrepreneurs and driving them to other states.

To be fair, there were a lot of positive responses, too, like this one from Hyattsville:

I have no complaints. The state of Maryland does a very good job in providing incentives for small business owners like myself to continue to conduct business.

If you hold your cursor over a dot on the page, you can read the good and bad reviews – by my count there are 32.

But to me this is a good primer for politicians to read – real responses from real business people who are hustling daily. And you can easily compare notes with a state like Texas, where responses were plentiful (at least from the urban Dallas, Houston, Austin, and San Antonio areas) and the grades were outstanding across the board – Texas was the lone state to not have any B grades whatsoever, just straight A’s. (Virginia was also in a fairly elite category as well, along with Idaho and Utah.) That’s a very useful facet of this survey in my eyes.

Having three years of data to work with can be telling as well. Out of ten sub-categories the survey measured, Maryland slipped in eight of them between 2013 and 2014. (Only the “training and networking” improved, while “employment, labor, and hiring” stayed put. These were the two best categories for Maryland.)

It is a legitimate question to ask, though, whether the frequent talk over the last couple years about how bad Maryland businesses have it has become a self-fulfilling prophecy insofar as these survey responses are concerned. While there’s obviously been changes in law and regulation, they didn’t seem as bad as some of the grade drops may seem to indicate. But then these are the people in the trenches.

With the timing of the survey, I suspect it will be taken next year in the opening weeks of either the Hogan or Brown administration, and the responses may hold a key to what we can expect over the next few years as far as businesses see Maryland.

This will leave a mark

Although Jenna Johnson’s Washington Post piece described Governor Martin O’Malley as “brusque…terse and often lack(ing) patience” during a Board of Public Works meeting, that meeting still netted Dominion Resources another small step toward investing $3.8 billion into upgrading their Cove Point facility by allowing them a tidal wetlands license. O’Malley joined Comptroller Peter Franchot and Treasurer Nancy Kopp in approving the permit, leaving only federal authorities in the way. The permit was for a temporary pier to offload construction supplies for the project, which environmentalists fear will lead to further extraction of natural gas in the region for export.

To me, it wasn’t a vote O’Malley wanted to take, and he really didn’t have to – his vote against would have only made it a 2-1 decision. But to do otherwise would have left another black mark on his administration’s legacy of making Maryland one of the states most unfriendly to business in the nation, even though the permit would have gone through.

And it’s not like environmentalists aren’t winning the war despite losing that battle – the prospect of fracking in Western Maryland is growing dimmer by the day given some market saturation and the outlandish regulations proposed for drilling – never mind the possible benefits that would bring. But O’Malley had to disappoint the few hundred who are passionately opposing the remodeling of the LNG terminal in Calvert County.

Cove PointAt this point, though, it’s all about promoting the legacy and let’s face it: are the environmentalists going to vote for Larry Hogan? Well, there is that slight possibility but when the Washington AFL-CIO and other trade unions support Cove Point, O’Malley can’t afford to alienate that group. That’s hundreds or even thousands of motivated voters he has to keep in the Anthony Brown camp. So Martin O’Malley will hold his nose and vote for Cove Point, all the while hoping that his buddies at the EPA or somewhere else in the federal government will bail him out by turning thumbs-down on the project at a late stage. After all, if they can stall the Keystone XL pipeline for this long, pushing back a project just a few miles outside Washington, D.C. is almost a no-brainer to them.

So when Martin O’Malley acts like a petulant child in a meeting because he knows he has to take an unpopular vote, we shouldn’t feel any sympathy for him. He’s left a whole lot on the table insofar as benefiting from our American energy boom goes and he knows it.

 

WCRC meeting – July 2014

We don’t always hold a meeting in July, but since it is an election year and we like to give candidates a chance to update us on their platform, the Wicomico County Republican Club heard from the guy who predicted “I’m going to be your next County Executive.”

Obviously the voters will have their say on this in November, but Bob Culver laid out a compelling case for himself once we got through the usual business of the Lord’s Prayer, Pledge of Allegiance, and introduction of distinguished guests. The latter list was somewhat shorter now that the primary is over. We also heard the Treasurer’s report and got a quick update from our President Jackie Wellfonder.

Welffonder revealed that “we do have a headquarters, finally.” Once the building is turned over for our use and a few minor modifications made in the way of utilities, we should be up and running soon. It’s the former Mister Paul’s Legacy on North Salisbury Boulevard.

She also introduced the man who would be running the headquarters, David Warren. In this cycle he’s done work for the Ron George and David Brinkley campaigns, but instead of taking up an offer to go back to the Midwest (he worked for the RNC in Youngstown, Ohio in the 2012 election and had an offer to go work in Michigan this time) he came here because “I view this as a huge opportunity…(District) 38 is a very winnable district.” He was also complementary to Jackie, citing her as “one of the reasons I stayed.”

Wellfonder, for her part, called Warren “an asset to us because of his experience.”

We then turned the meeting over to Culver, who vowed to “bring back a government you can trust…government needs to work for you.”

If elected, his missions would be to sustain and diversify our local economy, improve workforce training and skills while recruiting within Maryland for new employers, and insuring the proper infrastructure – not just physical infrastructure, but including the environment and education as well. He also noted that our community is judged by how they take care of the elderly and less fortunate. And, as music to my ears, he wanted County Council to send him a proposal for an elected school board he could sign on to.

But while he won’t necessarily clean house, he did want to do things differently in various county departments. He would work more closely with Council on the budget, though, and try to change the “sense of entitlement” in certain quarters of government. Culver also promised to work toward a term limit for County Executive, believing two terms was plenty.

In Dave Parker’s absence, I read a Central Committee report he submitted. It talked at length about the upcoming Allen West Patriot’s Dinner on September 27, although we were also trying to work with the state on a Super Saturday the week before or after.

With fewer candidates because the primary weeded many of them out, we only had a few updates. A common theme was their door-knocking as most were getting out in the community. We heard from Circuit Court Judge candidate M.J. Caldwell, County Councilman Joe Holloway from District 5, County Council District 2 hopeful Marc Kilmer, County Council District 3 candidate Larry Dodd, and Delmar Mayor and Delegate aspirant Carl Anderton, Jr.

Another concern raised by some was how some opponents will get outside financial support, even on a more local level.

Tom Taylor brought up that candidates can take advantage of PAC-14, the local cable access channel, and discuss issues with host Phil Tilghman.

Shawn Jester mentioned some recent events Andy Harris was involved in, including the District of Columbia marijuana controversy and the Eastern Shore boycott that “fizzled out” as well as the possibility of housing illegal aliens in Westminster, which won’t happen. Harris also sponsored a well-attended event in Worcester County dealing with emergency preparedness.

Plans for the Crab Feast were moving along, but more volunteers were sought, said Joe Ollinger. The event will be held September 6 at Schumaker Pond.

With that and the reminder we next meet August 25, we broke into our usual post-game kibitzing. Most of the people stick around for that, so when you consider we have a pre-event social time at Cellar Door Tavern and linger for awhile afterward, it makes for a full evening. Those who are Wicomico County Republicans and want to get engaged in the local political scene should make a Monday night of it next time.

AC Week in review – July 27, 2014

July 27, 2014 · Posted in Business and industry, National politics, Politics · 1 Comment 

Thought I was missing something this morning. Oh well, it gave my previous post a little time to breathe.

Actually, I had a busy week outside the AC realm – actually, outside the entire realm of writing. Running around for the outside job will do that to you.

Fortunately, my slack was picked up around the AC world. Take, for example, the news that Volkswagen’s new SUV will be made in America – more specifically, at the Chattanooga plant that just became unionized via the back door. So it’s good news for the plant and perhaps better news for American consumers, even those residing locally as we have a relatively new Volkswagen dealership.

While German-based VW brings more production to America, though, others are considering the opposite move. AC colleague Ed Braxton reveals one reason why in his look at high domestic business tax rates, but the practice of tax inversion has led to a call from the Obama administration for “economic patriotism.” (I got to expand on this a little bit on the Patriot Post as well.)

But whether it’s Volkswagens coming in or businesses moving out, infrastructure remains a concern. Barack Obama’s recent stop in Wilmington was the site of his unfortunate Malaysian Flight MH17 comment, but it was originally intended as the backdrop for a new infrastructure initiative and announcement of an upcoming summit on the subject, all thanks to the I-495 bridge debacle.

(When you think about it, though, we really have to give credit to those up in Delaware who discovered the issue and are addressing it. You may recall a couple other interstate bridge collapses in recent years with tragic results.)

Next week should be a more fruitful week, although Washington will soon be in vacation mode. I’m sure I can find something to write about.

Running for the tall grass

Over the last several days, it’s become clear that Democrats believe they own this state lock, stock, and barrel. Why else would they raise a stink about an otherwise obscure local county council race?

On June 24, Michael Peroutka won the Anne Arundel County District 5 County Council primary on the Republican side by just 38 votes out of 7,181 cast in a five-way race – meanwhile, the Democratic candidate won with a majority out of the 4,062 votes Democrats in the district tallied. Presumably, then, this is a majority-Republican district; however, Peroutka won with just 32.5% of the vote but defeated incumbent Council member Dick Ladd in the process. Ladd’s downfall, according to Peroutka, was his vote in favor of Anne Arundel County’s “rain tax.” Peroutka also noted his belief that the rain tax was “an end run around the (county’s) tax cap.”

This is the platform Peroutka ran on:

I have an American View of government. I believe, like many others across America and my home state of Maryland believe, that there is a God, the God of the Bible, and that our Rights come from Him, and that the purpose of civil government is to secure our rights. I am the only candidate who pledges:

  • To NEVER increase taxes for any reason, period!
  • To work for the repeal of the rain tax which Dick Ladd voted for “with pleasure.”
  • To be guided in all things by the original, true view of American law and government which is: There is a God; our rights come from Him; and it is the purpose of government to protect God-given rights.
  • To work tirelessly to make government smaller with less debt.
  • To courteously pay attention to what our citizens say when they come before the County Council.

I am strongly for:

  • Traditional, man-woman only marriage;
  • 2nd Amendment right to self-defense;
  • Legal protection for innocent, unborn human life.

And strongly against:

  • Obamacare;
  • Common Core;
  • And any programs or proposals not authorized by the US Constitution or the County Charter.

I will admit that few of these are applicable to the Anne Arundel County Council but the idea of smaller, more limited government is appealing – or at least it was to the plurality of voters. So what was the issue?

Peroutka is “affiliated” with the League of the South, a group which claims to stand for “Servant Leadership, State Sovereignty, and Southern Independence.” In addition, their statement of purpose is to:

“We seek to advance the cultural, social, economic, and political well-being and independence of the Southern people by all honourable means.”

I say “affiliated” because Peroutka is currently listed as neither a state or national leader of the group, but was previously appointed to its board.

Regardless, the group has attracted the attention of the left-wingers of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which classified the League of the South as a “neo-Confederate” group:

The League of the South is a neo-Confederate group that advocates for a second Southern secession and a society dominated by “European Americans.” The league believes the “godly” nation it wants to form should be run by an “Anglo-Celtic” (read: white) elite.

The SPLC also considers the American Family Association, Family Research Council, Federation for American Immigration Reform, and WorldNetDaily among its targeted “extremist” groups, although it also considers the Nation of Islam and New Black Panther Party in that vein as well. Perhaps there are some groups too far to the left for them.

It was the SPLC involvement which got a couple prominent Republicans to run for the tall grass. Larry Hogan quickly disavowed the “secessionist” Peroutka, while Anne Arundel County Executive hopeful Steve Schuh called on Peroutka to resign from that group. Others took a wait-and-see approach.

While most people reading this have probably never heard of the League of the South, I actually wrote about one of their Eastern Shore events in 2012. The “Take Back Maryland Rally” featured onetime Congressional candidate Robert Broadus, State Senator Richard Colburn (speaking on Eastern Shore secession) and David Whitney of the Institute on the Constitution, which Michael Peroutka co-founded. I did not attend the event, but noted at the time that a number of their ideas (short of secession, since we already had that war) were worthy of discussion in a cultural and societal context.

Democrats have become good at painting Republicans in a negative light for casual encounters with unpopular causes – for example, in 2010, an Ohio Congressional candidate was targeted by liberal media because he played a Nazi soldier in various World War II re-enactments as a hobby. (Never mind that Rich Iott was a successful businessman and film producer.)

To me, the proper response would have been along these lines:

While I don’t personally agree with the League of the South’s views on secession, the fact that Democrats are using this national issue in a local race speaks volumes about what they’re worried about come November. As a local Council member, Peroutka will have little influence on broad cultural and spiritual context nationally, although one has to ask why our opponents would disagree about reminding our people that we were “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.”

Rather, the focus should be on the important issues where the opposition regularly falls short: addressing a “rain tax” which is unfairly penalizing certain counties of the one state which has rolled over to federal demands rather than standing up and asserting a shared solution proportionate to the cause of the problem, rightsizing a local government which can be more efficient in its services while minimizing its reach into people’s pockets, and, above all, listening to the people and not the siren song of a state government too powerful for its own good, one where the opposition has fiddled while this great state burned under a stalled economy and terrible business climate.

As long as Peroutka can be a trusted public servant who devotes his time and effort to the people of his district while advocating for the causes he’s placed on his platform, his affiliations are his business. It is a local matter and I trust the voters of his district will judge the candidates accordingly.

At the same time, perhaps we need to look a little bit closer into who the other side affiliates with. Chances are there are skeletons in their closets which really will negatively influence how they operate.

The bad news for good performance

If you go to the gas pump, you’ve probably noticed the little sign that says the blend is “10% ethanol.” For several years, the EPA has mandated a certain amount of ethanol be used to slake America’s thirst for gasoline, with a 10% blend of ethanol being just enough to cover the mandate. Unfortunately, with less gasoline being necessary to meet demand thanks to both a stagnant economy and more fuel-efficient cars, the mandated amount of ethanol isn’t being used anymore. I noted the other day that the oil companies were calling on the EPA to scrap the proposed mandate increase this year.

When I wrote that I wasn’t aware that a movement is out there to not just stop at E-15 but go all the way to E-30. Oddly enough, I saw a piece from Rick Weiland, who I referred to in my dark money post, which brought it to my attention. (Damn, that dude has made it on here twice in one week. After he loses that race, he’ll probably move to Maryland and run with his newfound name recognition here.) So I did a quick bit of research and found there is a movement out there which believes E-30 is actually the optimum amount of ethanol to take best advantage of its attributes. Weiland is obviously driving a vehicle tuned to that specification and there are actual service stations which have the blend in his region – in both cases, the average motorist isn’t usually going to have that condition. A check of this site revealed no such stations around Delmarva, so it wouldn’t do us much good.

Needless to say, what the market won’t do government will force. So Senate Democrats are pushing the EPA to increase the mandate, meaning that they’ll artificially create a market for higher ethanol blends. (Flex-fuel cars are supposed to be able to handle E-15, but they’ve never been a popular option because they’re not as fuel-efficient running an E-15 blend. It’s telling that you see a lot of government cars with that option, but not a lot of private cars.)

But let’s say the mandated number of gallons increases. The scarcity will be in the E-10 or straight gasoline which smaller motors need to run properly; in addition, the cost of anything which consumes or has corn as an ingredient will rise. It’s why so many different groups advocated for a smaller ethanol mandate.

If we really wanted to do something to use less gasoline, it makes more sense to me to impose part of the Pickens Plan. Now I don’t think wind power is the way to go because it’s not as reliable as fossil fuels, but I think running fleets on natural gas is a fairly good idea for the reasons they state. To me, using food as fuel for automobiles doesn’t make a whole lot of sense – and yes, I know Brazil uses sugar cane for their ethanol. Brazil can use all the sugar cane it wants.

But I look closer to home, and our chicken farmers want their feed to be as inexpensive as possible. Corn growers already have plenty of mouths to feed, so they really don’t need to fill our gas tanks, too.

Shorebird of the Week – July 24, 2014

July 24, 2014 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comment 

Before spring training began, Josh Hart was best known as the Orioles’ sandwich first round pick (37th overall) last season. Now that he knows who Frank Robinson is we can pay attention to how the prospect is doing on the field, and after a hiatus due to injury Hart is back patrolling center field for the Shorebirds.

At just 19 years old and barely a year removed from Parkview High School in Lilburn, Georgia, the bat hasn’t quite caught up to the potential – although he has made strides in his pro career. After hitting just .218/0/9/.588 OPS between the Gulf Coast League and Aberdeen last year (just 1-for-10 with Aberdeen in 3 games) Hart has picked up the pace with Delmarva. The power isn’t there yet, as Hart has just 3 extra base hits on the season, but the average for Delmarva is a respectable .250 mark in 56 games.

Josh missed most of June with an injury, easing back into playing with the Gulf Coast League Orioles and hitting .167 there (4-for-24, with a triple.) But since returning to the Shorebird fold on July 5, Hart has found some success – in particular a nice 7-for-20 in the series against Hagerstown which wrapped up this week.

And while Hart was a first round pick, there are some things he will need to work on as he progresses. Building up that extra-base hit total is one obvious task, but getting a better understanding of the strike zone is also paramount as Josh has just 9 walks vs. 56 strikeouts this year (in only 247 plate appearances.) I suspect the plan may be for Hart to repeat at this level next season, which would not be a real setback considering most of the players he’s up against are several years older.

Over the years, hundreds of players with tools have come from high school with all the promise in the world and garnered a high draft position, only to fail. If Josh is as willing to work and learn on the field as he did off the field – and has the talent the scouts thought he might – he may take the steps needed to join Frank Robinson in the fraternity of Oriole players.

Bye bye Beretta

We were warned about this all along, but everyone seems shocked that gun maker Beretta has followed through and decided to relocate its production to a new plant in Tennessee next year. The loss of 160 manufacturing jobs from its Accokeek plant will be the gain, once production ramps up, of Gallatin, a town which is a few miles outside Nashville and is about the same size as Salisbury. Here’s what Maryland is losing, from Beretta’s release:

Beretta U.S.A. anticipates that the Gallatin, Tennessee facility will involve $45 million of investment in building and equipment and the employment of around 300 employees during the next five years.

It’s worth noting that Beretta is not the only gun manufacturer potentially leaving Maryland. LWRC of Cambridge said last year “we simply couldn’t do business here” if the gun law passed, with 300 jobs at stake. Rumors of a purchase of LWRC by Colt were rampant earlier this year,  yet while no formal announcement has been made the Bob Owens piece I’m citing is useful as a reminder of what such a company means to a rural area.

Needless to say, Larry Hogan had the expected reaction on Beretta’s plight. Yet the question isn’t one of “high taxes and punitive regulations” so much as it’s a question of repealing a knee-jerk law passed in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting – not that any law was going to stop Adam Lanza anyway, nor does this law stop a single homicide in Maryland. It was all feelgood legislation from the start; unfortunately, the powers that be chose not to back the referendum route which would have placed the law on the ballot at the same time as many who voted for it.

To change Maryland’s fate in this respect, not only does the state have to improve on its business friendliness but it also has to find the political will to overturn its onerous gun laws like 2013′s Senate Bill 281. Elections mean things, and not only do we need a governor willing to backtrack on this mistake but also enough of a General Assembly coalition to get a bill through the legislature. That part may be the most difficult, because getting to just 50 Republicans in the House and 19 in the Senate would be a minor miracle – yet Republicans need 71 and 24, respectively, to actually control the chambers. It’s mathematically doable but the odds of hitting the Powerball are probably much better.

So say goodbye to Beretta’s production, and know that it won’t be missed at all by the Democrats in Annapolis.

The peril of ‘dark money’

Of all the states in the union, South Dakota is not one where I have a ton of readership – maybe one or two a month wander by here from the Mount Rushmore State. But I have somehow found my way to the mailing list of their Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Rick Weiland, and if his e-mails are any indication, the dreaded Koch brothers aren’t just the obsession of Harry Reid. Get a load of this:

“Americans for Prosperity,” a dark money front group for the Koch Brothers, have quietly set up shop in South Dakota in an effort to exert big money control of South Dakota’s United States Senate seat.

The Washington Post reported over the weekend, “Americans for Prosperity, the on-the-ground wing of the network of conservative organizations spearheaded by the billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch, will open new state chapters in South Dakota and Alaska in coming weeks, the group’s president said.”

“Big Money is becoming increasingly concerned that our town-to-town grassroots campaign to take our country back from groups like the Koch Brothers and other billionaires and big corporations is working. And, as a result, South Dakotans will be “subjected to a never-ending stream of negative television advertisements,” said Sioux Falls small businessman and US Senate candidate Rick Weiland.

Weiland challenged Republican nominee to work with him to keep so-called “Dark Money” groups out of South Dakota. “Mike, this is an opportunity for both of us to show we can be leaders. Let’s sign a pledge and agree to keep billionaires from buying these elections,” Weiland said. (Link added.)

I’m less than impressed, particularly since the South Dakota version of AFP really doesn’t have a full site and their Facebook page has 11 likes. Then again, they have a state chapter and Maryland doesn’t anymore. That’s a very, very quiet setting up of shop, though.

But it sounds to me like AFP is trying to do something the Republican Party doesn’t seem to be doing otherwise – trying to mobilize action on a local level. Something Weiland didn’t quote from the Post story:

Building AFP’s presence in new states, (AFP president Tim) Phillips said, is one of the lessons the group took away from the 2012 elections, when Democratic efforts to organize voters proved far better than the GOP’s turnout operations.

Sounds like the old “50 state strategy” to me, although for now AFP hasn’t returned to Maryland. Guess we have to do it ourselves.

My point is that Democrats seem to be desperate to attack anyone who has money and wishes to donate to conservative causes because they sure can’t run on their record. The seat Weiland is aiming for is one held by a retiring Democrat, Sen. Tim Johnson. Polling is still rather scarce, but Weiland – who’s threatening to move into the “perennial candidate” category with another loss – trails in the state’s polls by about 15 points, with former Gov. Mike Rounds, the Republican, leading, and a third candidate, former Sen. Larry Pressler, in the race as a centrist independent and behind Weiland by about 10 points. No wonder Weiland is blaming AFP, since he’s lost any prospect of running to the center. Moreover, there’s no question Democrats are fighting elsewhere to save seats.

But this tale also provides a good transition to something I’ve been meaning to do for awhile. How much “dark money” is in our local politics? And by that I mean how much do our candidates here on the Lower Shore get from elsewhere? Now that we have just two entrants in most races, it should be easier to see where the money came from pre-primary and can serve as a lead-in to the next report due August 26. Look for these updates in coming weeks.

If we would only be so lucky to get some conservative counterweight around these parts to all the special interests which seem to be funneling money toward the Democrats. But we will have to make do with what we have, which is the right position on most issues. Many of our folks have been out knocking on doors and engaging in the retail politics which will have to beat the 30-second commercials and expensive full-color mailers the other side will surely try to fool us with. Let’s keep those tricks from working this time.

Update: As if on cue, Michelle Malkin has this piece on a major-league lefty contributor. But you won’t hear anything from the rest of the media on the eeeeevil Democracy Alliance, nor will John Boehner begin screeching about them.

The quest for energy security – and sanity

It’s been awhile since I wrote about the energy industry but things are always happening there and I decided to take a peek because of some items I’ve spied in daily updates I receive from the American Petroleum Institute. I like to know what’s going on in important growth industries which profoundly affect our daily lives.

As one might expect, API CEO Jack Gerard is a leading spokesperson against what he calls Barack Obama’s “irrational” energy policy. It makes sense when you consider that the United States is now the world’s leading producer of both natural gas and oil, thanks in large part to recent advancements in fracking technology which have revitalized the once-moribund American energy industry. Speaking before an audience in New Orleans, Gerard noted:

The choice before us is whether we pursue an American future of energy abundance, self-sufficiency and global leadership or take a step back to the era of American energy scarcity, dependence and economic uncertainty.

It is that simple.

There’s a clear benefit to having the abundant resources we do. I was only nine years old when the first oil crisis hit in 1973, but I remember the long gas lines and jump in prices. If you consider the long-term effects in policy and marketing, such as the adoption of fuel economy standards and the push toward smaller cars, ask yourself what may have happened if we hadn’t become so dependent on Middle Eastern oil. Would we have had the resulting mid-1970s recession?

Obviously we have recessionary conditions now in spite of the current oil boom, but there’s a valid argument that opening up the spigots (so to speak) and allowing more extraction would push the economy into more consistent growth.

Another example of an irrational energy policy is our continued ethanol mandate, about which API is asking for another cutout of a mandated increase. The EPA decided not to change the allotment for this year, but needs to finalize the rule.

To me, there are two telling facts about this story: one is that API has given up on legislative relief from Congress and appealed directly to the EPA, which speaks volumes about the transition of our supposedly limited government into a fiefdom unto itself.

The second is the sheer volume of interests on the side of eliminating the mandates entirely – everyone from motorcyclists who complain about ethanol’s deleterious effects on their engines (as is the case for other small engines from boating to lawn equipment) to the poultry producers who have seen corn prices artificially propped up due to the amount of corn necessary for creating ethanol and even environmental groups who fret that the corn-based product is actually worse for the environment. Obviously the corn growers love the price support, though, and farmers have their own determined lobbyists who would love to see an even higher ethanol blend called E-15 allowed.

API and other ethanol opponents are hinging their future hopes on a more business-friendly Congress in the next term, though.

Irrational energy policy on the state level may occur after this fall in Colorado, a state which has taken advantage of the energy boom but may fall prey to the scare tactics environmentalists use to portray fracking in a negative light. There Governor John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, sees his state’s energy success being threatened by a petition drive to place further restrictions on fracking on their November ballot. Hickenlooper is quoted in Bloomberg as pointing out, “(t)hese measures risk thousands and thousands of jobs and billions in investment and hundreds of millions of dollars in state tax revenue.”

I found this interesting because the proposed restrictions would prohibit drilling within 2,000 feet of structures, a change which energy companies complain would “effectively ban” fracking in the state. Their current restriction is 500 feet.

Now something which came out the other day to little fanfare was a draft report outlining some of Maryland’s proposed fracking regulations. The original recommendation, based on other states’ best practices by the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, Appalachian Laboratory, was for a 500-foot setback from wells. That guidance was expanded by the Department of Natural Resources and Maryland Department of the Environment to – you guessed it – 2,000 feet. (Page 18-20 here shows the recommended DNR/MDE changes.) In short, these regulations are intended to “effectively ban” fracking in Maryland to the detriment of not just our far western counties, but any of the regions of the state (including the Eastern Shore) that have shale deposits underneath. Talk about an “irrational” energy policy!

So here’s the deal: Maryland wants to depend more and more on methods of generating electricity which lack reliability and increase cost to consumers. Yes, that’s sounds like “smart, green, and growing” to me – not too bright, costing more green, and growing the desire of businesses to leave the state to find a place where energy exploration and extraction is encouraged and rates therefore are cheaper.

I know the Hogan administration would want a “balanced approach” to energy in the state, but I would have to hope part of that balance is returning to the best practices suggested by UMCES and not the onerous restrictions which would effectively ban fracking in the state.

AC Week in review – July 20, 2014

It was a varied palette of items written about on my American Certified blog, The Sausage Grinder. Maybe it was a little more like scrapple. Regardless, I made several contributions to the discourse.

For most of the spring and summer, I’ve been following a sort of obscure Commerce Department case regarding allegations of Korean dumping of a processed steel piping product called Oil Country Tubular Goods – it’s strange that Korea is an OCTG producer when it has little oil. They made a decision favoring American steelworkers, which got positive reaction from a variety of interests.

One of those I quoted in the Commerce piece was the leader of the steelworkers’ union. His fellows at the United Auto Workers got an unexpected surprise from Volkswagen, which let the UAW in the back door despite workers at the Chattanooga plant voting against the UAW in February.

The concept of economic patriotism was brought out last week in a letter from Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, who pressed Congress to do something about the practice of tax inversion, where companies transfer assets overseas to take advantage of lower tax rates. While I didn’t bring up the argument in my piece, locally it’s just like the practice of stores selling big-ticket items locating just across the Delaware line so they can advertise their “no sales tax” prices and hope to increase volume accordingly.

Finally, I restated the obvious: Obamacare rates will go up in 2015. In a government takeover of the health insurance industry, did you really expect otherwise?

As always, I’m working on new stuff for next week, with other stories to follow.

monoblogue music: “Insubordia” by The Lost Poets

July 19, 2014 · Posted in Music Reviews · Comment 

They have always said that you can’t judge a book by its cover, but in this case a lot of clues about the debut EP from Stockholm’s The Lost Poets can be found: the release is a stark yet mysterious five-song effort which may not seem attractive at first glance – or first listen – but is intriguing enough to have staying power in the mind’s eye. In short, it’s worth the listen and I’ll tell you why.

First, though, you have to eliminate your preconceived notions of how a rock band which lists influences as “Queens of the Stone Age, David Bowie, The Raconteurs, Soundgarden and Nick Cave” should sound because The Lost Poets are a two-piece band. Vocalist David Rosengren also handles the guitar while bandmate Petter Ossian Stromberg handles both bass and drums.

So it shouldn’t be surprising that the leadoff track, Ode To K, has a simple yet powerful arrangement through most of its length. To me, it was a very straightforward song which began to reveal what The Lost Poets are all about, and it’s not upbeat bubblegum pop.

Instead, what you get is a almost menacing, grungy, snarling tone like that exhibited on the second song, Lying Down. It’s heavy, not in a bombastic sense with sledgehammer riffs, but more of a constant weight, although its ending near-silence, evoking a skipping record, struck me as odd.

The slow-developing Die To Live takes its acoustic opening about as far as one can take it without becoming trite and boring, transitioning quickly at that point into a plodding, churning heavy midsection chorus with distorted lyrics before fading away and restarting. I’ve always been partial to that soft to hard transition in various metal songs, and it’s developed nicely on this track without veering into Metallica Nothing Else Matters territory where the heavy stuff is too little and too late.

Repetitive lyrics such as you’d find in a blues song are the hallmark of the title track, Insubordia. Yet it’s not a traditional bluesy sound that the lyrics are paired with; instead, this intriguing rhythm goes in a different direction. It’s quite the haunting song.

Finally, to keep the listener off-balance, the last track Inside The Cage is a brief, distorted acoustic track, with the accents coming through on the chord changes.

On many of these albums I review, I take issue with self-production because there’s either overkill or missed opportunity with the sound. This effort has a nice production touch, as the two members seem to know just what they are looking for and execute it well, particular when one figures it was laid down as several tracks. Having the drummer and bassist as the same person may have helped in that regard, although it would be interesting to see what The Lost Poets do for a live show.

But if you’re into a a slow, almost soul-crushing grunge sound, this might be the EP to check out. Given my partiality to metal and grunge I actually rather liked it, so I encourage you to listen for yourself.

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