Differing transportation thoughts

Last week at Blue Ridge Forum, regular author Richard Falknor stepped aside for a two-part series by writer Peter Samuel, a specialist in writing about toll roads. In part one, Samuel advocated for a reduction in tolls and license fees, which was good, but in return we would have to endure this:

Fairness and efficiency will be best served by moving toward transport systems that self-finance with user fees: more precisely, fees-for-use roads should finance themselves with fees based on the cost of providing road service, road use fees, or tolls based on the distance traveled, the scarcity of road space, and the costs the vehicles impose.

Unfortunately, this raises the prospect of abuse by the state. Imagine portions of U.S. 50 and Maryland Route 90 becoming toll roads from the Bay Bridge to Ocean City, such as the bypass around Salisbury and any future routes around Easton and Cambridge. Sure, you could avoid the tolls and go through town but the traffic would become the same issue it was before the current U.S. 50 portion of the Salisbury bypass opened a decade or so ago. This would also be discouraging for truck traffic.

Maybe the best example of the problem with this philosophy is the Inter-County Connector between Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. The ICC, as it’s called, was in the pipeline for decades before finally becoming a reality under Bob Ehrlich, with Martin O’Malley finishing it last year. But the ICC isn’t popular with drivers because of its lower speed limit and heavy enforcement of traffic laws, so it hasn’t met revenue projections.

It’s likely Samuel is thinking more of the urban areas with their existing HOT lanes and other means to divide express traffic heading to the suburbs and local traffic which may hop on the highway for a couple exits. But Samuel’s second part discusses the fate of the Red Line in Baltimore and Purple Line in the Washington suburbs.

In that case he is correctly diagnosing the problem with mass transit solutions such as these:

Project advocates list all the jobs created during construction, but this is only a measure of cost, and avoids the real question: what value are they creating?

In any enterprise there is positive net value if the users are paying sufficient user fees (fares) to both cover operating costs and provide a competitive return on capital (ROI).

To the extent fares won’t cover costs plus return on capital, we have a clear measure that the value to users falls short of costs, making the project a net loss to any operator.

Rail transit in Maryland presently collects in the ‘farebox’ less than 30 cents on the dollar spent on operating the system and, of course, makes no return on capital invested. Light rail is the very worst with lower farebox recovery (currently under 20 cents per dollar.)

Some of those results could be improved, but almost no rail system in America come close to the black (100 on the dollar + ROI).

If you read further, Samuel likes the concept of the Red Line but is concerned about the construction cost and likelihood of overruns. On the other hand, his thought on the Purple Line is that it should change its form and become a bus-only route. The construction would be far cheaper and the schedule could be more easily adjusted to suit the needs of consumers. That’s an approach which makes more sense, although one has to ask why automotive traffic couldn’t utilize the route then.

At the end of part two, Peter also adds a map of proposed changes, including a westward extension of the ICC which crosses over into Virginia and provides another Potomac crossing west of Washington, as well as an eastbound addition which connects to U.S. 50 near Bowie. Also noted is a “new span Bay Bridge.”

What I would propose, though, is a truly new span Bay Bridge that’s several dozen miles south and connects Dorchester County with Calvert County. There’s no question the environmentalists (and some of the locals) would scream bloody murder, but they would for any attempt at progress anyway.

I think this bridge would encourage more tourism from the Washington area and, if combined with an extension of I-97 to its original destination near Richmond, could open up the Eastern Shore as a new tourist destination as travelers seek an alternate route around the traffic presented in Baltimore and Washington. Adding a bypass around Easton and cutoff between U.S. 50 and U.S. 301 through Queen Anne’s County (paralleling or upgrading the existing Maryland Route 213) could make this route even more desirable. Samuel could even get the cutoff to be a toll route.

There is a lot which can be done in lieu of wasting money on the Red Line and Purple Line because both are destined to be money pits; on the other hand, investing in transportation alternatives which maximize options and freedom makes more sense. As Samuel writes:

Better mobility provides greater employment opportunities, better shopping choices, more specialized health and medical services, more social and family interaction, better education, sporting. and recreational opportunities.

Our travel is not frivolous. People don’t drive the Capital Beltway for the scenery. We travel because the trips provide value.

There would be value in having a second Bay Bridge as well as the other roads for which I advocated. People and goods could move more freely up and down the East Coast, avoiding the bottlenecks presented in northern Virginia and around Baltimore, while the Lower Shore would have more direct access to a route across Chesapeake Bay, allowing for easier movement west and south.

It’s time to think on a larger scale while accepting the reality that people want the freedom to be able to jump in their cars at a moment’s notice and go wherever they wish. Mass transit simply creates dependency on the provider and allows them some level of control of movement. That may be acceptable to some, but the rest of us want to get where we want to go as quickly as possible – on our terms – and this is where government can be of service to the public.

Wage deflators?

The Center for Immigration Studies put out an unusual list yesterday, one which details the worst offenders for abusing H-1B visas. As CIS explains it:

The H-1B program is one that allows, in general terms, U.S. employers to hire nonimmigrant foreign workers, usually (but not always) into high-tech positions, at wages lower than those that would be paid otherwise. Thus all users of the program are at least nibbling away at labor standards, and are involved with denying jobs to available professionals who are citizens or green card holders.

Naturally I looked on the list for any local companies, but did not find any in the immediate area. Four different companies, two of which I suspect are the same entity, are listed from Newark, Delaware. There is also the Prince George’s County school district as well, for which CIS notes:

Prince George’s County, MD public school system qualified for the list by their extensive and controversial use of the H-1B program to hire foreign schoolteachers.

That should help the learning process out.

It should be noted this program is a little bit different than the J-1 student visas often used by foreign students, mainly from Eastern Europe, who annually descend on Ocean City and the other beach resorts each summer to work. The H-1B program operates under the notion that there aren’t enough qualified Americans to do these jobs, when opponents argue that there’s simply not enough Americans who want to work under the pitiful wage scale allowed.

Yet the process for an employer to secure H-1B visas is mind-boggling, so it’s hard to believe anyone is abusing the system unless there is a huge difference in wages that makes the various application fees all worth it. Perhaps that’s why there are comparatively few scofflaws.

But I suppose the real enforcement needs to come on the end of verifying these H-1B workers are making an appropriate wage. If a company would have to pay an entry-level engineer $60,000 a year but gets away with paying a foreigner $20,000 because they’re here under an H-1B visa, that is an issue and should be prosecuted under law. It’s the problem with the lack of scruples in our society that some employers look to take advantage of the system like this.

The question about Common Core

My friends up in Delaware are blessed to live in a relatively small, easy-to-get-around state. While its national reputation is that of a reliably Democratic state, they have a significant conservative grassroots presence and one subpart of that group, the 9-12 Delaware Patriots, is trying to spread the word about a Common Core Workshop to be held at the University of Delaware Saturday morning. It’s a free event but you have to follow the link to get a seat. While it may be somewhat Delaware-centric, other surrounding states are in on Common Core as well.

The event is sponsored by the Mid-Atlantic Education Alliance, which has some interesting opinions on Common Core, and is set up to be a debate between those who support and oppose the Common Core concept. It’s good to see the 9-12 Delaware Patriots involved because they are an activist TEA Party group (witness their recent pro-police rally I spoke about earlier this month) which stands up for that which they believe.

But I also wanted to focus on one aspect of Common Core that is bothersome to me, and that’s the role of crony capitalism. While the goals of Common Core were admirable when the concept was introduced in 2008, it’s come to mean a nationalized approach to schooling – ironic when one of the original goals of Common Core was to note:

A number of studies… have found that students perform better in systems that give schools greater freedom to hire and reward teachers, purchase supplies and make other school-specific budget allocations, and choose curriculum materials and teaching methods. Those studies also show that decentralization works best when it is combined with various forms of accountability. According to one team of researchers, the positive impact of school autonomy coupled with choice and accountability amounts to more than one-and-a-half grade-level equivalents on the PISA assessment.

Instead, we seem to be saddled with a one-size-fits-all approach, perhaps because it’s a really lucrative market with a captive audience. This has led to questions about motives and who actually controls the system (hint: it’s not our Board of Education, whether elected or appointed.)

So because one group, formed by government and financially backed by a wealthy philanthropist, decided the United States lagged behind the world academically we had to adopt new standards in the name of competing in a global marketplace. Wouldn’t it be better to let each state pick and choose the methods which work best for their children?

Much as we try to teach down to a bland sameness, drug down the mischievous tendencies of boys through medication to calm them down, and wring our hands about every manner of politically incorrect social interaction, we need to remember that all kids are different and learn certain things at their own paces, which can vary from subject to subject. The girl who may struggle with math could master five languages or the boy who can’t tell you the concepts behind a particular book may be adept at vocational skills and excel at robotics.

While other nations may have more of a top-down approach, Americans pride themselves on local control and that’s a significant reason why Common Core has had trouble being accepted. Add in the large gobs of federal money dangled as incentive for state governments to adopt Common Core and you get a distinct “us vs. them” mindset.

For the most part, parents want their children to be well-rounded, well-mannered, and well-educated. Unfortunately, there are too many who don’t care or can’t be there to assist their offspring and that leads to poorly-educated, poorly-prepared kids who drop out of schools that they cause trouble in before they leave. Common Core does nothing to address that problem because that is a cultural divide and not an educational one. In fact, throwing money at the issue can even make it worse.

Yet there is a bucket load of taxpayer dollars involved, so the advice is the same for this matter as it is for almost everything else: follow the money. It may have started out with good intentions, but it seems to me that Common Core is just another scam being perpetuated on unwitting taxpayers and fattening the coffers of well-connected groups.

Different perspectives

It’s not quite a GO Friday, but relatively close. I’m going to point out a piece on the Manufacture This blog, which is a product of the Alliance for American Manufacturing. In it, they note: “We asked Americans in manufacturing about the State of the Union. Here’s what they said.” The post excerpts from interviews with 10 Americans about how they assess the current economic situation; of course, most are worried about some of the pet issues AAM talks about and advocates for as well.

Jobs, opportunity, and a growing economy are what middle-class families want President Obama to speak to during Tuesday’s State of the Union address. The faces in the Alliance for American Manufacturing’s (AAM) “Manufacturing State of the Union Box” will not be in Washington for the speech. Instead, they will watch from home or work, hoping President Obama will offer solutions on issues that matter to them, including manufacturing jobs that afford them a middle-class lifestyle.

Quite honestly, the AAM’s leftward bias shows through in that statement because it’s highly likely both the Republican and TEA Party responses will advance possible solutions for what ails the middle class as well. In fact, I would be brash enough to state that government is not the solution at all – getting it out of the way as much as possible seems to me a more likely prescription to cure an ailing economy. Let entrepreneurs of all stripes thrive, workers have the freedom to work in a union shop without joining the union, and minimize regulations so that more labor is spent being productive than reactive. Somehow, though, I don’t think these will be addressed in either the State of the Union speech or its responses, although the TEA Party one may come relatively close. Unfortunately, not a lot of people will see it because viewership for the SotU is relatively light to begin with and the patience of most Americans with Barack Obama wears thin quickly.

So it will be interesting to follow the reaction of the AAM ten after the speech on Tuesday, and whether they paid any attention to the Republican or TEA Party responses.

186,000 reasons to smile (and one to worry about)

In the quest to get America back to making things, it was good news to find that manufacturers added 17,000 jobs in December. That brought the 2014 growth in that sector to 186,000, continuing the steady growth in that sector since the job market hit bottom there in 2009-10. When you consider that 2012 predictions saw the manufacturing sector losing jobs through this decade, having a very positive number nearly halfway through is a good sign.

Naturally Barack Obama tried to take some credit for this during a speech at a Ford plant near Detroit last week. As I noted in a piece I wrote for the Patriot Post, it’s ironic that the plant was idled due to slow sales of hybrids and small cars built there, but the auto industry has played a part in the resurgence of manufacturing jobs in America. This is particularly true in the construction and expansion of “transplant” auto plants in the South by a number of foreign automakers.

But there has been criticism of Obama from his political peers. As a carryover from my American Certified days I often quote Scott Paul, the president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, because his organization is strongly influenced by Big Labor and presumably supported Obama in both his elections. Yet Paul is none too happy with Obama’s progress:

Manufacturing job growth slowed to 17,000 in December, which portends some of the challenges an overly strong dollar, weak global demand, and high goods trade deficits may bring in 2015. While President Obama is touting factory job gains and our Congressional leaders are looking for ways to rebuild the middle class, what’s missing for manufacturing is good policy.

Congress and the president need to hold China and Japan accountable for currency manipulation and mercantilism, and invest in our infrastructure. New innovation institutes are a good thing, but their presence alone won’t bring manufacturing back. And as the president enters the final half of his second term, he’s falling way behind his goal to create one million new manufacturing jobs.

The innovation institutes Paul refers to are public-private partnerships being created around the country in various fields, in the most recent case advanced composites. But Obama lags behind on his promised 1 million new manufacturing jobs for this term as it nears the halfway mark as he’s created just 283,000. It’s great if you’re one of those newly employed workers, but his policies are leaving a lot of chips on the table. In fact, National Association of Manufacturers economist Chad Moutray frets that:

…manufacturers still face a number of challenges, ranging from slowing global growth to a still-cautious consumer to the prospect of increased interest rates. With the start of the 114th Congress, manufacturers are optimistic that there will be positive developments on various critical pro-growth measures, including comprehensive tax reform, trade promotion authority and a long-term reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank, and focusing on important infrastructure priorities like building the Keystone XL pipeline and addressing the solvency of the Highway Trust Fund.

While manufacturers would like to see these measures, attaining some of them may be tough sledding in a conservative Congress. There are a number of representatives and conservative groups who don’t want to give the President fast track trade authority, wish to see the Export-Import Bank mothballed out of existence, and will not consider increasing the federal gasoline tax – an action for which Moutray uses the euphemism “addressing the solvency of the Highway Trust Fund.” These actions may benefit the large manufacturers but won’t help the bread and butter industries solely serving the domestic market like the 24-employee machining shop or the plastics plant that employs 80.

Turning to the state level, our local manufacturing (so to speak) of poultry has a big week coming up. On Wednesday morning, the final deadline to submit new regulations to the Maryland Register for the January 23 printing will pass. You may recall that the December 1, 2014 Maryland Register featured the new Phosphorus Management Tool regulations as proposed (page 1432 overall, page 18 on the PDF file.) The new regulations were not in the January 9 edition, so January 23 may be the last chance to get these published under the O’Malley administration due to the deadline being set in MOM’s waning days.

Yet I’m hearing the rumors that a legislative bill is in the works, to be introduced in the coming days by liberal Democrats from across the bridge. Doing this legislatively would perhaps buy a few months for local farmers because such a bill would probably take effect in the first of October if not for the almost certain veto from Governor Hogan. If Democrats hold together, though, they would have enough votes to override the veto in January 2016, at which time the bill would belatedly take effect. Still, it will be difficult to stop such a bill given the lack of Republicans and common-sense Democrats in the General Assembly. To sustain a Hogan veto would take 57 House members and 19 Senators, necessitating seven Democrats in the House and five in the Senate to join all the Republicans.

We haven’t received the data yet to know whether the installation of Bob Culver as County Executive was enough to break an 11-month job losing streak year-over-year here in Wicomico County, but his task would be that much tougher with these regulations put in place.

Harris explains his vote for Boehner

Needless to say, many conservatives around the country are disappointed (but not surprised) that the House of Representatives they elected to be the counterweight to Barack Obama decided to elect as its Speaker an insider who has shown little fortitude in fighting for the cause of limited government.

Included in that number who re-elected Boehner as Speaker was our own representative, Andy Harris. He took to social media to explain why, but I think it’s relevant to express my thoughts on why his assessment was incorrect by dividing his statement into portions.

In November, Speaker Boehner was re-nominated by the Republican House Conference without a single opponent stepping forward. That was the appropriate time for an alternative to step forward and be considered by House Republicans.

A lot changed in two months. The House vote occurred on November 13, before Barack Obama followed through on his pledge to take executive action on immigration and before the CRomnibus bill was voted on – in fact, the idea was hatched around that time. It was his handling of these two events and unwillingness to take a stand which included any slim prospect of a government shutdown which angered a number of conservatives. Too many things were taken off the table.

So the timing argument isn’t one which holds water with me.

Today’s vote on the House floor was simply whether Nancy Pelosi or John Boehner was going to be Speaker of the House.

Wrong. There was no chance Pelosi was going to be Speaker. The idea was to bring a second ballot in the hopes that Boehner would see the light, withdraw his name, and allow a compromise candidate to emerge. As Erick Erickson wrote, fellow Ohioan Jim Jordan may have been that guy.

I hope that we can now move forward and work with the Senate to pass common-sense conservative policies. If Speaker Boehner does not deliver on his promises, a Republican House Conference can be called by 50 members and I would join in that call.

Color me extremely, extremely skeptical on that one. We have a four-year track record of a lack of leadership and of kicking multiple cans down the road. And I can already see the excuses.

Over the summer: “We can’t call a conference now – we’re in the middle of working on the FY2016 budget and it would be a distraction.”

Come next fall: “We can’t call a conference now because it would handicap our nominee in 2016. The media would have a field day.”

In 2016: “It’s too close to the election, we can’t risk the infighting and distractions.” And so on. It would be a waiting game where they would hope to outlast our side.

I have no problem standing up for conservative principles to the Speaker and Republican leadership, such as my vote against the reauthorization of the Patriot Act, as well as my votes against the Ryan-Murray budget deal and debt ceiling increases.

But you voted for the CRomnibus, while civil libertarians dislike your vote for CISPA and FISA, so both these items you cite are somewhat mixed bags on the whole.

Please know that I will continue to fight for conservative values and Maryland’s First District in the 114th Congress.

You’re not off to a good start.

I go back to something I highlighted in a previous post on this subject, which reprinted a letter from the Wicomico Society of Patriots:

I am aware that it is potentially politically dangerous for Andy Harris to vote against Boehner. If Boehner were to win anyway, then he can retaliate by removing people from their prestigious positions. Andy Harris is on the appropriations committee, one of the most powerful committees. However, we did not vote for Andy Harris so that he could protect his political power in DC. We voted for Andy Harris to stop the Obama agenda. Boehner has been completely ineffectual in stopping Obama.

Sadly. John Boehner is the kind of leader who would be so petty as to punish conservative opponents – whose constituencies are the backbone of the Republican Party – so he’s no leader at all. If only he would exhibit the same backbone to the opposition. It will be worth checking out what happens to the 25 Republicans who did not support Boehner – locally Rep. Scott Rigell, who represents the Eastern Shore of Virginia, was among those opposed.

As for Harris, the questions have to be asked: is this the first major signal of the slide toward the center exhibited by those who have become comfortable inside the Beltway? And how much of an effect will it have on his 2016 prospects? It’s early but if there’s a sentiment underneath the surface that says a more conservative alternative would get the grassroots support that is needed to overcome Andy’s financial advantage – basically, that campaign would have to begin in the next few weeks given the 2016 primary is tentatively scheduled for April 5.

It’s clear that in its current configuration the First District is a Republican stronghold as Harris won in 2012 with 63% of the vote only to breach the 70% threshold in November – yet against a completely unknown, underfunded, and outclassed opponent Harris got just 78% of the primary vote in 2014. (Harris was unopposed in the primary in 2012 and beat Rob Fisher with 67% in 2010.) So Harris does have his detractors and hasn’t faced a “name” Republican opponent since his primary win (with 43%) over then-Congressman Wayne Gilchrest and fellow State Senator E.J. Pipkin.

There’s also been the sentiment that the Eastern Shore needs “one of ours” in the House. While Harris is not a stranger to the Eastern Shore, one part of the reason we were represented by Frank Kratovil for two years was Frank’s successful case that he had “Eastern Shore values” because he lived here (albeit as a come-here who lived almost within sight of the Bay Bridge.)

Perhaps the two saving graces that Andy will have is distance from the election and the slight chance that Boehner figures out the reason we elected more Republicans to the House. But that light you might see looking toward Washington is that of a whole lot of bridges burning.

The tale of social media

January 4, 2015 · Posted in Business and industry, National politics, Personal stuff, Politics · Comments Off 

I have a Twitter account.

Although I’m notified of a lot of different functions such as favorites, replies, retweets, and new followers, it doesn’t mean I fanatically check it on a constant basis. Thus I missed this gem from December 28 until I fired up my Tweetdeck for the first time in a week.

Needless to say, Tweetdeck only featured the original so I was scratching my head trying to figure out how I was on this guy’s radar. It would be one thing to get a reply from a powerful politician or member of the conservative new media, but I had no idea who this guy was. Neither of us follow the other.

It wasn’t until I went to embed the Tweet that I saw the original, and a post was born.

So then I went to his Twitter page and found out he’s an author trying to sell books, both on union organizing and a book of football poems. Guess he’s not your prototypical “union thug,” although I haven’t read the poetry or checked out “football chess.” I wasn’t the only one to get a promotional Tweet like this, but at least you can’t say I ignored it like (presumably) almost everyone else did.

It all started on the front end of this recent holiday season. Remember the Black Friday protests that were supposed to shut Walmart down? Neither do I, but I did write about it. A month later, Joe Mahan noticed. Don’t know if he read the post, but I did tweak the UFCW on the Tweet.

Listen, Joe can do all the union organizing he wants – I would just like to see it done in an environment of right-to-work states from sea to shining sea. And here’s hoping he helps himself to sell a few books – heck, maybe I should glom on to an appropriate Twitter handle to sell a few of mine. (I can even do autographed copies from the small paperback stash I have here at home.)

So I thought this would be a good opportunity to remind people I do have a Twitter handle (@monoblogueUS, naturally) and don’t mind followers. You never know what you may find out.

Supporting the thin blue line

Update: the event has been bumped back to Saturday, January 10 due to the predicted weather.

First of all: a happy new year to all my readers, near and far.

I’m going to be curious how well this does. It’s not often I talk about events from “north of the border” but the 9-12 Delaware Patriots are holding a rally to support law enforcement:

The statewide 9-12 Delaware Patriots, a grassroots, non-partisan, Constitutionalist group has voiced concern with recent developments across the country concerning race relations and law enforcement, said Executive Director Karen Gritton.

On January 4th this community group will show their support for the Rule of Law and for those who protect and defend our Constitutional rights by organizing a peaceful rally on Route 13 just south of the Dover Mall. Citizens are encouraged to join the 9-12 Delaware Patriots and other like-minded groups to show their support for local law enforcement. Participants will assemble at 1 p.m. until 4 p.m. and signs of support are encouraged. Many will be wearing blue to show their support.

The 9-12 Delaware Patriots focuses on protecting the individual Constitutional rights of all people regardless of their differences and will use this opportunity to show their appreciation for the dedication and bravery of local law enforcement. The 9-12 Delaware Patriots encourages an open dialogue between religious leaders, community leaders, and local law enforcement toward peaceful progress and improved race relations.

Regular meetings of the 9-12 Delaware Patriots are held the first Tuesday of the month in Dover, DE and the second Thursday of each month in Millsboro, DE.

Something tells me this will indeed be a relatively peaceful protest, unlike those who disrupted the Salisbury Christmas Parade to make their point (and were arrested for their trouble.)

Yet here we are again, talking about a divide in society as I complained about last year. And this 9-12 Delaware Patriots demonstration comes at a time when police are openly being targeted for assassination after the New York incident where two police officers were murdered in cold blood by a Baltimore man, who also shot his ex-girlfriend before going to New York and eventually killing himself after gunning down the police officers. Simply put, there’s little respect for the law (or societal mores, as these incidents demonstrate) anymore in some quarters.

Yet a good deal of that lack of respect for law enforcement comes from the libertarian side, too. While the group Cop Block has gone out of its way to note they don’t support the murder of police officers, it’s painted as representative of a segment of society which undermines the authority of law enforcement officers. Naturally, there are some who abuse their privilege as officers of the law and too many times lately tragedies have occurred. But the first rule of a police officer is simply to make it home alive, and being on hair trigger alert because some in aggrieved communities talk openly about “putting wings on pigs” is probably going to lead to many more innocent lives lost.

Figuring out whose hands the blood is on is important to the families who lost loved ones, but for the rest of us it’s a matter for a legal system that is already far too overburdened. So let’s see if we can make this the year we all take a couple steps back from the brink, inhale a deep breath, and try to begin fixing the real problems: respecting authority while making authority worthwhile of respect. Both sides need a crash course.

A look ahead: 2015 on the national front

You know, it’s disgusting yet telling that I could use much of what I said last year word for word as my prediction for 2015, like these paragraphs:

We will see absolutely zero effort to reform entitlements, whether Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security. This will be another year they hurtle toward insolvency, probably going splat just in time for Generation X to reach retirement age in about 15 years. (That would be me – I’m on the cusp between Gen X and Boomer.)

Nor do I care how many articles of impeachment are drawn up: the House leadership doesn’t have the courage to pursue it, nor would they ever get the votes in the Senate to convict. They could find Barack Obama in bed with a dead girl, live boy, a bloody knife in his right hand and a signed confession in his left and the Democrats would swear the boy set him up and the girl stabbed herself thirteen times – in the back – and not convict him.

It doesn’t matter how poor the economy is, either. The government won’t dare stop priming the pump to the tune of a trillion dollars a year in debt, parceling out $80 billion or so of “quantitative easing” monthly. When the Dow and its record highs are the one factor of success apologists for Obama can point to, anything which maintains that facade will be continued despite the possibility of long-term inflationary catastrophe – again, probably in time for Generation X to retire.

Just as ineffective is our foreign policy, which has been a muddled mess as old friends are ignored and longtime enemies coddled. We may have an idea of what the hotspots may be, but events have a way of occurring at the most inopportune times and places for American interests.

Here’s the problem. We have a Republican Congress once again, for the first time since the 2006 elections. But it’s all but certain to me that they will be the do-nothing Congress, as the lame-duck session showed. Many would want me to have faith in the leadership, and I understand the political reality being what it was led us into the budget deal that enshrined the government spending for the rest of the fiscal year (except for the Department of Homeland Security, funding for which is supposed to expire in February to set up a fight over Obama’s amnesty.) But why do I think Republicans will cite some obscure (and probably push-polled) data which tells it to avoid that messy immigration fight and just fund DHS for the rest of the fiscal year so they can have the fight in September? Then they’ll tell us we’re too close to the 2016 election.

Each time Congress has been begged to act, they have kicked the can down the road.

But that leads me to another point, and it’s been gnawing at me for some time now. Unfortunately I’m not sure just how it gets resolved.

Supposedly we are the United States of America. But are we really…united?

Over the last decade, we have been continually divided – red against blue, religious against agnostic (or religion vs. religion in the case of Christians and Jews vs. Muslims), and now at its most pronounced, black against white. Some consider those who are the enforcers of law to be the criminals, as are those elected officials who create it.

There’s a deep distrust of our fellow man these days, so we all retreat inward and look suspiciously at those who we don’t know. Thousands of people are on high alert with their guns at the ready against someone…they don’t know who that Other is, but many of us are tense and on edge, almost as if we are on a war footing. I imagine my ancestors may have felt the same way about the prospect of Japs or Nazis marching into our neighborhoods during the two world wars.

The person who will have the most impact on 2015 on a national scale is someone whose role we don’t know yet, but he or she will emerge either as the healer we all need or the person who tears the fabric of our society to bits. It may be a little hyperbolic, and I’m not going to go all Book of Revelations on you or assume that Jefferson’s quote about the tree of liberty is our fate, but we are rapidly approaching a point of no return if things continue the way they are. To borrow a term favored by Radical Green, our current path is unsustainable.

Too many people have come to the way of thinking which believes there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between the Republicrats and the Demoblicans. The only clear winners seem to be the small elite which runs Washington and Wall Street, leaving the shrinking middle class to fend for itself. That’s not the way it’s supposed to be; certainly that’s not the way I want it to be. But as more and more Americans say about that perception: it is what it is.

Truly I hope I am wrong in my assessment of how things will be on a national scale, particularly when so much good can be done on the local and state levels. But it can all be undone with a single spark that lights our national tinderbox, so it seems to me the thing to do is pray for the best and prepare for the worst.

Passing on prosperity

Since both have been mentioned in the news as potential Presidential candidates, governors Martin O’Malley of Maryland and Andrew Cuomo of New York have been natural rivals for the attention of the various interest groups that make up the constituency of the Democratic Party. It seems that they are always trying to one-up the other in enacting off-the-charts liberal legislation – when one allowed gay marriage, passed draconian gun laws, or pandered to illegal immigrants, the other tried to follow in rapid succession.

Martin O’Malley and Andrew Cuomo also both cast their lot with the radical environmentalists who claimed (falsely) that hydraulic fracturing for energy extraction would ruin their state’s environment. Yet while O’Malley relented ever-so-slightly in recent weeks, allowing the practice but with regulations one energy expert called “onerous and time-consuming,” Cuomo stopped the practice cold in his state by decreeing in an announcement last week that fracking would be banned, timed nicely after his re-election. Observers of both states are scratching their heads about these decisions, both in the media and in the energy industry. In New York, local media bemoaned the lost opportunity while landowners in the affected area called Cuomo’s ban a “worst-case scenario.”

Yet in the middle of all this sits the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, a state which has embraced the economic benefits of the practice to such a degree that Tom Wolf, the incoming Democratic governor of the state won’t ban it. (However, he may stiffen regulations and increase taxes on energy producers, which will be something to watch in the coming months.)

Granted, their good fortune of geography means Pennsylvania has the largest share of the Marcellus Shale which yielded all that natural gas, while Maryland only has a small slice and New York has a small but significant portion.  For their part, Ohio and West Virginia also have sizable portions of the formation, while Virginia’s share is similar to Maryland’s. Ohio has been nearly as aggressive as Pennsylvania in taking advantage of the shale – although recently re-elected Republican Governor John Kasich is also trying to increase taxes on producers – while West Virginia is lagging behind their neighbors and just beginning the process of allowing extraction.

It’s a given that fracking isn’t without risk, but neither are installing large solar farms or erecting 400-foot high wind turbines. Yet the natural gas and oil provided from fracking make for a much more reliable energy source than the intermittent electricity provided by the latter pair, sources which ironically need a natural gas backup to be consistent.

As time goes on we will see just what economic effects a fracking ban will have on the affected areas of New York. But as we have seen in states which have already began the extraction, the Empire State is missing out on the potential for investment and return that having the Marcellus Shale provides for those lucky enough to live over it. Hopefully our neighbors in western Maryland will see some benefits in the next couple years as Governor-elect Hogan puts “sensible” regulations in place to benefit all concerned parties.

A pair of projects, from opposite sides

December 22, 2014 · Posted in Business and industry, National politics, Politics · 1 Comment 

There are always those who use film as the best means to illustrate an issue. I’m not one of those, but I admire those who make the attempt and a couple projects in need of funding piqued my interest as they deal with problems on opposite sides of the country.

Given the distance from their Indiegogo goal, Chris and Lisa Burgard need more help in following up on a project they did several years ago called “Border.” As they note:

Back then, we filmed and documented armed narcotics traffickers breaking into the country, women being abused and tortured under rape trees, children being used by drug cartels to move product and people across the border, American ranchers routinely finding dead bodies, sometimes murdered women.  Lawlessness and violence were so bad that ranchers and their wives had to carry semiautomatic weapons in order to safely feed livestock on their own property.

The new film, tentatively titled “Beyond the Border,” promises “to expose the truth about this new wave of illegal immigration and the danger that has spread far beyond our southern border and into the American heartland.” This “movie Barack Obama doesn’t want you to see” goes against the politically correct narrative promoted by the amnesty lobby and Chamber of Commerce types that all our immigrants just want to improve their economic lot (conveniently, at a lower labor cost than they might pay comparable American workers.) Instead, the most recent influx of border-crossers is blamed for overwhelming the legal system and spreading the deadly EV-D68 enterovirus to American children.

I have my Facebook friend John LaRosa to thank for bringing my attention to “Beyond the Border” above, but the below had a little more advertising firepower than a Facebook post, so they are somewhat closer to their goal. It’s also a subject a little closer to my heart since I grew up 90 minutes (and within the reach of their sports teams and radio stations) south of Detroit. Yes, this Maryland transplant still roots for his Tigers and Lions.

I watched the original film and one thing which leaped out at me was the role of government in the demise of the city through bad planning, bad choices, and bad apples in charge. But we’re told Detroit is a city on the rebound.

As Executive Producer Ben Howe describes it, though:

Detroit is often framed as a lost cause but we never hear the whole story. What brought the city to this point? Not chance, but incompetence, corporate cronyism, greed, and above all, corruption.

To the people of Detroit, this is a personal reality – a reality about the homes and lives they built, and some have lost, and that all want back and improved. They want to see their city thrive again. They will not concede to defeat and despair. The Detroit Project will spotlight the people experiencing the bankruptcy first-hand, and most importantly, the people who are doing something about it.

We intend to fearlessly engage with those in power that claim to be working on behalf of the people. We will investigate how city planners are spending public money, what projects are in the works, and what they believe the focus of city efforts should be.

Is Detroit headed for a future of prosperity that harkens back to her earlier years? Or are they going down the same troubled path that brought them to the brink? Who do you trust to answer those questions? Someone has to hold the policy makers accountable. Together with your help, that is precisely what we intend to do.

Over the last half-century the region that we consider Detroit has spread out over countless suburbs in surrounding counties, with bedroom communities spreading out from Oakland and Macomb counties on the north to Ann Arbor on the west to Monroe toward the south. It’s created somewhat of a donut effect as entire blocks of inner-city Detroit were abandoned to the elements and certain remaining homes in the city proper can literally be purchased for less than $100. Indeed, it’s a tale of people who once drove from the suburbs downtown to work now mainly commuting from one suburb to another – only returning downtown to catch the aforementioned Tigers or Lions before retreating back out I-75, I-94, or I-96 – and the reasons deserve a thorough investigation.

These are just two examples which piqued my interest. But elements of both could actually be applied locally as illegal immigrants have made their way to our area, settling in a city which has seen its own share of tough economic times but whose downtown is enjoying a little bit of a renaissance which is hoped will continue with the opening of new entertainment venues and plans for more residential development. I don’t think we quite need a film in these veins about Salisbury but the lessons learned could be illustrative.

The required renovation of Andy Harris

For the four years he has been in office, Andy Harris has generally enjoyed the support of his conservative Eastern Shore constituents. He’s not had a serious primary challenge since he was elected and garnered over 70% of the vote in 2014 against Democrat Bill Tilghman, whose centrist posture was well right of mainstream Democrats but far out of step with the district.

But since that resounding November victory, Andy’s actions in Congress during the lame duck session have earned him further enmity from the strong libertarian wing of the party and alienated conservatives as well.

By inserting a provision into the so-called CRomnibus bill preventing the District of Columbia from enacting its Proposition 71 marijuana legalization, Harris again became the target of District residents and leaders who demanded a tourism boycott of Andy’s Eastern Shore district earlier this summer. Accusations of being in the pocket of Big Pharma followed, but Harris defended the role of Congress spelled out in the Constitution [Article 1, Section 8] as overseer of the District’s affairs.

Yet while the libertarians of the Shore make up a small slice of the constituency – a Libertarian candidate ran in the First District for three successive elections from 2008-12, but never received even 5% of the vote – the conservatives are upset about Andy’s vote in favor of CRomnibus. That segment of the electorate is Andy’s bread and butter.

In the TEA Party community, there are whispers about who could challenge Andy from the right, as several feel he is on the same glide path that Wayne Gilchrest took during his long Congressional career. His 2008 primary defeat (by Harris) came after a bitter campaign where Andy stuck the “liberal” tag successfully on the longtime pol as well as fellow Maryland Senate opponent E. J. Pipkin.

Ironically, a politician long allied with Pipkin could be a prospect to make that challenge. Michael Smigiel, a delegate who was defeated in the 2014 District 36 GOP primary, is popular among the TEA Party community for his strong Second Amendment stance. But it would be difficult for anyone to raise the money Andy has at his disposal and Harris has bolstered his profile among local elected officials and the state Republican party by being generous with his campaign funds through A Great Maryland PAC.

It’s also worth mentioning for context that CRomnibus is probably roughly the same deal which would have been made if the budget were completed in regular order, given the partisan divide between the House and Senate.

Instead, while most functions of the government will continue through next September, the Department of Homeland Security budget has a February expiration date. This sets up a showdown between Congress and Barack Obama regarding the latter’s executive actions to give de facto amnesty to millions of illegal aliens; however, some hardliners already feel the damage is done.

In response to a lengthy Facebook post by Harris explaining his CRomnibus stance, though, local activists summed up the frustration TEA party activists felt, noting:

  • “(Harris) does a nice job of listing those riders and amendments that might seem to gain the approbation of the conservative and Republican audiences, while omitting anything that might serve as a balance – what effectively was the PRICE paid for what was had, the PRICE of ‘compromise.’”
  • “It is rather sad that Andy thinks that he can list a few paltry gains and that will make us overlook the whole thousand page monstrosity. The obvious question is that if he got in a few tidbits that he wanted, then who else got in their tidbits and what are those?  I would imagine that they will far outweigh any small gains that he is bragging about.”

These activists agree one way Harris could help to restore his image would be to take the lead in the conservative grassroots push to replace John Boehner as Speaker of the House. Bear in mind that this could come at some cost as Andy serves on the Appropriations Committee and a Boehner victory over any challenger for whom Andy shows support could bring repercussions such as the stripping of his position there, but on balance I believe a potential sacrifice such as that is worth the opportunity to have a stronger conservative leader as Speaker. It’s a sentiment shared by commentators at American Thinker, WorldNetDaily, and RedState.

On November 4, people hungry for real change went to the polls to reject the Democratic Senate and place Republicans firmly in control of Congress. The events leading to the CRonmibus, though, shook the confidence that Washington would depart from its business-as-usual benefits to the ruling class by allowing the outgoing defeated members one last hurrah. While all of this blame cannot be laid at the feet of John Boehner, there is a mood in this country that a strong counterbalance is needed to the increasing use of Executive Branch power by Barack Obama, particularly on immigration and Obamacare. The fear of many conservatives, particularly those in the First District, is that John Boehner doesn’t have the spine to rein in the executive.

Just like in 2008, when Andy Harris first ran for Congress, the potential is there in 2016 for state elected officials to “run from cover” as their Delegate or Senate seats aren’t on the ballot. During the similar 2012 election, 7 members of the Maryland General Assembly ran for Congress – one for the Senate and six for various Congressional seats. While none were successful overall, two won their party primary and ran through November.

No member of Congress is universally loved, and being a representative at any level of government means you won’t please everyone. But there’s a growing number who want Andy Harris to be a conservative leader and not just talk a good game.

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