EPA slow-walks unpopular mandate – again

It may not have been such a bad idea at the time, but the thought of adding corn-based ethanol to automotive fuel to stretch the oil supply seems rather silly in retrospect given our recent prowess in finding new supplies of black gold. In 2005, under the George W. Bush administration and a Republican Congress, the EPA was given the first Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) mandate to include ethanol in motor fuel. It was at a time when many still believed in the theory of “peak oil” and determined we had to look past this resource in order to meet our growing needs.

Fast-forward to the present day and we find that, because of issues with decreased consumption of gasoline combined with increasing statutory requirements for the inclusion of ethanol in automotive fuel, the EPA took the unprecedented step of reducing its mandated amount of ethanol for this year; meanwhile, the RFS which was supposed to come out in November of last year is still on the EPA drawing board.

In reading a summary of energy news I receive daily from the American Petroleum Institute, it was revealed that retailers and other petroleum marketers have their own concerns about the prospect of E15 fuel being approved for use in order to achieve the mandated amount of ethanol required for these increasing RFS numbers.

Naturally, this is from the perspective of what’s derided as Big Oil – on the other side, you have officials in corn-producing states beseeching Barack Obama to stand firm on these standards, while desperately attempting to secure infrastructure to provide the even higher E85 blend for flexfuel vehicles, such as the “I-75 Green Corridor” which has a lot of gaps.

The whole flexfuel idea was popularized a few years ago by a group I gave some pixels to during the $4 a gallon price surge called NozzleRage, which was the brainchild of another group called the Center for Security Policy – their goal in creating yet a third group called Citizens for Energy Freedom was to mandate cars be equipped as flexfuel vehicles. Even though it’s essentially a free option, there are few takers for flexfuel cars as they occupy a tiny proportion of the market – about 1 in 20 cars sold are flexfuel cars (although that number is higher for government vehicles.)

Obviously the hope for ethanol proponents is to expand the number of facilities where E85 can be purchased in order to eliminate the need to go to an unpopular E15 blend while simultaneously being able to ratchet up the RFS figures. If even 15 percent of the cars can run on E85 and the price is competitive, then corn growers would be happy. (Never mind the folly of using food for fuel.)

Personally, though, I’m hoping they scrap the RFS altogether. It was an idea which may have had merit (and a lot of Congressional backing from farm states) a half-decade ago, but we can do better because our oil supplies are much more plentiful thanks to new technology. That’s not to say that technology can’t eventually be in place to use another source for ethanol (like the sugar cane Brazil uses for its much more prevalent ethanol market) but how about letting the market decide?

And while it’s unrelated to ethanol, I thought it was worth devoting a paragraph or two to note that North Carolina – hardly a conservative state – is getting closer to finishing the rulemaking process for fracking in the state. Most noteworthy to me in my cursory reading of the rules is that North Carolina is looking at a fairly sane setback distance from various impediments – nothing more than 650 feet. They also seem to lean heavily on industry standards.

On the other hand, Maryland was looking to set rules which would require a completely arbitrary 2,000 foot setback and require plans for all wells proposed by a drilling company, rather than single wells. In short, we would do to fracking in Maryland what Barack Obama is doing to the coal industry nationwide – strangle it with unneeded and capricious regulations. That should not stand in either case.

It’s been my philosophy that an area which doesn’t grow will die. It may take a while, but killing growth will sooner or later kill the economic viability of a city, county, region, state, or nation. Putting silly regulations in place because a minority believes the debunked hype about a safe process is a surefire way to kill a vital region in the state, not to mention impede the possibility of prosperity elsewhere. We can do much better when common sense prevails.

The silly season

August 22, 2014 · Posted in National politics, Politics · Comment 

Normally on Thursday night I write a piece for the Patriot Post. But this week my editor came to me and said that the news was so slow I had the week off. Basically they’ve covered their fill of Ferguson and the Islamic State, and it’s sucked most of the oxygen out of the news cycle. It’s all about people behaving badly these days, I suppose.

And I think the general public senses that as well. I’ve seen a number of exasperated people on social media being grateful for a football or baseball game to take them away from the news cycle. Even if it was a Philadelphia blowout over the Steelers last night, it was three hours people could more or less escape and talk about something else for a change.

It’s times like these I’m glad I don’t do wall-to-wall politics. Last night I did my penultimate Shorebird of the Week for 2014, as their season is rapidly coming to a close. Tomorrow I will have another record review and Sunday I review my other blog. Some may call it filler, but I consider it sanity. Indeed, we live in interesting times.

I don’t often get writer’s block but it’s worth pointing out I have done and redone this opening set of sentences three times. Mentally I think we just all need a break from the two top stories, particularly Ferguson. We need to remember that one man is dead, another scarred for life, and dozens who made their livelihoods from affected businesses have taken a financial blow as well. Yet there’s not really a political solution to the problem because it’s more a question of culture and upbringing: the ending of Michael Brown’s short life was the compounding of multiple bad decisions on his part. And they came not just on the day of the incident, but for hundreds of days prior and perhaps his whole life.

I don’t profess to be any sort of expert on raising children, but the one I was most involved with is married and has a steady job working with mentally challenged individuals. I can guarantee she and I don’t always see eye-to-eye on political issues, but she seems to have a good sense of right and wrong and a solid work ethic, so if I had anything to do with that I’m grateful to have helped out. If only all children were given that same direction and desire.

I’ll return with political direction and desire over the coming weeks, but for now it’s a couple easier days. Sometimes it helps to just start freeform to deal with writer’s block.

Let’s get back to work

Yesterday, in my thoughts on an unrelated subject, I alluded to the massive loss of jobs in Maryland. Turns out it was worse than I thought – based on the unrevised Bureau of Labor Statistics totals, 16,286 fewer people in Maryland were working in July than June, adding 10,057 to the ranks of the unemployed.

The state compiles this data for Wicomico County as well, and I thought it would be instructive to note the June totals for the last several years. It’s worth noting that employment here normally tops out in July, with June usually a close second. The numbers are readily available for the period 2009-14, which covers the trough of the recession and the recovery.

So here are the June totals since 2009:

  • 2009 – 49,271 employed, 4,556 unemployed (8.5%)
  • 2010 – 49,548 employed, 4,856 unemployed (8.9%)
  • 2011 – 49,160 employed, 5,030 unemployed (9.3%)
  • 2012 – 49,585 employed, 4,759 unemployed (8.8%)
  • 2013 – 48,991 employed, 4,526 unemployed (8.5%)
  • 2014 – 48,760 employed, 3,964 unemployed (7.5%)

Over the five-year period, the unemployment rate went down 1 percent, but the number employed also went down by 511.

Just as a comparison to use a (generally) worst-case scenario, here are January numbers:

  • 2009 – 47,015 employed, 4,722 unemployed (9.1%)
  • 2010 – 45,526 employed, 5,669 unemployed (11.1%)
  • 2011 – 46,838 employed, 5,393 unemployed (10.3%)
  • 2012 – 46,758 employed, 5,178 unemployed (10.0%)
  • 2013 – 46,806 employed, 5,066 unemployed (9.8%)
  • 2014 – 46,711 employed, 4,338 unemployed (8.5%)

Over that five-year period in the month which is generally the nadir for local employment, we still lost 304 jobs although the rate deceased 0.6 percent.

But it’s estimated that Wicomico County gained 2,163 people between the census in April, 2010 and the 2013 estimate. So how are those people supporting themselves on 300 to 500 fewer jobs?

The title of this piece comes from a tagline and hashtag that District 38B candidate Carl Anderton, Jr. has been using during his campaign. While state numbers have fluctuated due in large part to changes at the federal level, the number of jobs in this area really doesn’t depend on the mood of the federal government. Instead, much of it is influenced by the policies at the state level and, judging by the figures, it’s pretty obvious that what’s being tried isn’t working – particularly if you’re one of those who had a job and lost it.

It’s often forgotten that the government doesn’t necessarily produce anything nor does it create value. Even in cases where infrastructure is being improved (such as the airport runway I described a few days back) the actual work is contracted out to a private company. But that private company has to follow additional rules and regulations to access that federal money, ones which may not apply in a truly private transaction – oftentimes there is a prevailing wage provision, for example. Meanwhile, we also have to pay the bureaucrats who reviewed the grant application, wrote the specifications, and so forth. The airport is receiving $5.53 million, but it may have cost taxpayers $7-8 million with the overhead involved.

Simply put, the Washington bureaucrats served as a conduit and a filter, meaning they received their cut first. Sure, this project will create a handful of construction jobs but imagine what the overhead could have done. It’s pretty much the same when Annapolis or local government is involved, since they get their cues from higher levels.

There are a number of economic drivers which this area relies on: agriculture (particularly poultry, with the feed stock being an integral part of this), tourism, and to a small extent, technology (thanks to spillover from Wallops Island.) Here’s where we really need help from the state:

  • improving transportation by using the gas tax we pay to actually build the needed bypasses and through routes to make access easier for tourists and getting goods to market more efficiently for producers;
  • leaving alone our true environmentalists, the farmers, by allowing them to use their land as they see fit and reforming the transfer of development rights to a generational term rather than perpetual;
  • creating a sales tax-free zone to allow us to compete directly with Delaware for retail sales;
  • finally, putting an end to blaming farmers for environmental problems and looking at common-sense solutions for cleaning the Chesapeake Bay. Work on the problems we know we have and put a moratorium on new regulations until we can determine how well the ones we have in place work.

Larry Hogan addresses some of the problem in his new video:

But the other side of that is reining in the Maryland Department of the Environment and Chesapeake Bay Foundation, neither of which Hogan addresses. That’s okay, though; I’d rather not telegraph those sorts of moves.

I have often seen complaints from the other side (of both the Bay and the political spectrum) that we on the Eastern Shore take more from the state than we give to them. For the sake of the argument, let’s say that’s true.

One has to ask, then, why this is the state of affairs? The people of the Eastern Shore seem like the hard-working, prideful sort who don’t like the thought of handouts. All we want is a chance to shine and do what we do best – left to our own devices, we can prosper and lead the state.

But there are those who like the Eastern Shore just as it is, preferring it remain rural and backward so they can look down on us and refer to us as the state’s “shithouse” as they fly through on the way to their beachfront Ocean City condo. Those are the people who need to be on the outside looking in politically in order for us to succeed.

Taking the detour

As more proof that Democrats in Maryland are bereft of good ideas – or, for that matter, any clue on how to turn this state around – I bring you the continuing Michael Peroutka saga.

Fresh off his screed about the Maryland GOP and illegal immigration, onetime columnist Barry Rascovar has unearthed a new bogeyman in the person of Peroutka, devoting an entire column to rehashed opinions about how frightening Peroutka’s Christian Reconstructionist views are – a “bizarre view of government,” as Rascovar writes. Peroutka “could be the nail in the coffin for the Republican Party’s hopes of winning over independents and conservative-leaning Democrats,” writes Rascovar. Like he honestly cares about the fate of the GOP? Truthfully, I think the people are smart enough to see through this ploy for what it is, the last refuge of scoundrels.

Naturally, a group of Democrats has put together their own anti-Peroutka website, emblazoned with the Confederate flag. As Len Lazarick writes at Maryland Reporter:

Anne Arundel County Council member Jamie Benoit and a prominent Democratic lawyer have launched a political action committee and website called StopPeroutka.com “dedicated to educating voters on the theocratic policies and bigoted national network of Michael Peroutka,” a Republican running for Anne Arundel County Council in District 5.

Benoit is term-limited and this is not his district.

Dan Clements, an Annapolis resident who is former president of the Maryland Trial Lawyers Association and active in many Democratic political campaigns, is the treasurer of StopPertoutka.com, which filed its paperwork 10 days ago.

So it’s an outgoing Anne Arundel County council member and a trial lawyer who are worried about a county council race while Rome is burning – from February through July this year, Maryland has shed 16,600 jobs, 14,500 more people are unemployed, and the largest employment sector remains government. All this is from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, yet Democrats from Anthony Brown on down are completely concerned about one candidate’s views.

If Michael Peroutka wins, he will be just one of seven members on Anne Arundel County Council. He’s already become one of 13 members of the Republican Central Committee in Anne Arundel County, but will be a minor cog in the 300 or so who make up the state Central Committee. It’s not exactly great odds if you’re looking to build up a theocracy, now is it?

So I’m going to restate what I think should have been made clear a month ago when the subject first came up:

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.

So when the other side asks about Michael Peroutka’s views, ask them if they’re as important as the desire of any of the 14,500 recently unemployed people in the state to get a job. Either that retort shuts them up, or if they continue you know they have nothing.

Not a dime for ‘not a peep’

First, the setup: one of the many e-mails I’ve received beseeching me for donations. It asks “Are you on this list, Michael?”

Michael,

Chairman Walden just sent me a list of NRCC Members for 2014, and I don’t see your name.

I know you’ve been one of NRCC’s most loyal supporters since the start, this just can’t be right.

You donated in the past in defense of a Republican House Majority, but not yet this year.

It’s getting urgent with 80 days until Election Day. We need you now more than ever. We’re working to stop the Obama campaign machine in its tracks – BUT we can’t do it without you.

In order to combat the $374 MILLION that Democrats are spending this cycle, we need grassroots supporters like you to renew your support for Republicans across the country today.

Together we’ll rally families and workers to stop President Obama’s disastrous Big Government Agenda – and advance better solutions for a brighter future.

Please don’t wait another moment. Renew your NRCC membership today with a gift of $10.

And, if you renew by tonight at midnight, I will triple your donation, so your gift of $10 will have an impact of $30.

Thanks,

John Boehner
Speaker of the House

Let’s clear a few things up. I don’t think I’ve ever given a penny to the NRCC, so they’re pulling that one out of their rear end.

But more importantly, what have you really done to “stop President Obama’s disastrous Big Government Agenda?” Have you defunded Obamacare or told the EPA where to go? How about impeaching some of the lesser members of the administration? Of course not, because your consultants said it would drive away independents, as if most of them will vote in a non-Presidential race anyway.

And then you have what this duly-elected Congressional nominee wrote yesterday:

I just pulled over about 2 hours into a trip to Allegany County to write this. I think it’s time.

Have you heard of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC)? They exist to allegedly help Republican candidates get elected to congress. Do you know that it’s been months since my victory in the Republican primary in Maryland and I haven’t heard a peep from either them or the RNC?

Do these establishmentarians think it’s easy running as a Republican in deep-blue Maryland? Do they think that after years of having OUR party nearly taken over by cronyists, interventionists, purveyors of bad policies like TARP and grotesque levels of government spending, that outsiders like me have it easy?

I can barely knock on an Independent’s or a non-white-male-voter’s door without being thrown off their porch. Do you feel that you’ve mastered the message and it’s really people like me who are the problem? Who do you think is fighting this battle? It’s certainly not you. We’re the ones at the doors, where it matters.

What’s your reason for ignoring me, and the many others fighting for this magical country’s tomorrows? Do I not fit into your box? Is it my youth, my message, or is it that I haven’t firmly planted my lips on your rear-end?

I’m a Republican because I believe liberty matters and we should not surrender OUR party to cronyists and connected-insiders. We built this house and you don’t get to burglarize it and keep the spoils. If elected Democrats want to monopolize unlimited government and evaporating liberty then go join them in their house but stay out of ours.

Finally, thanks to the grassroots who have accepted me as one of their own, despite my recent entrance into the political arena. It’s your sweat and positive energy that keeps me going despite the willful ignorance of so many on the inside. It’s you that matters. Thank you so much.

Really? You at the NRCC ask me for money and don’t support a guy like this? Well, perhaps I have an idea why Dan Bongino and others like him get the shaft. I won’t blockquote the whole thing, but a piece by Dr. Steven J. Allen of the Capital Research Center is worth reading in order to get a peek into what I think is the mindset of the NRCC and “establishment” Republicans at large.

But the problem isn’t just Washington. Just look at what the Democrats have tried to stick on Larry Hogan with the help of a most compliant media. From a Michael Dresser piece in the Sun:

“The No. 1 priority is to expose Larry Hogan as a conservative, knee-jerk Republican who doesn’t support universal pre-K and doesn’t support a woman’s right to choose, doesn’t support increasing the minimum wage but instead supports giving billion-dollar tax giveaways to the largest corporations,” (Anthony Brown campaign manager Justin) Schall said.

Needless to say, there was no follow-up as to why universal pre-K is so vital (Head Start has been shown to be ineffective after grade 3), proof that Hogan isn’t pro-choice, and, frankly, why Brown thinks we should be confiscating tax money from our largest employers – you know, those people who create jobs that have value rather than push paper?

Unfortunately, this is what Hogan’s side had to say.

“We obviously have to get our message out to a broad segment of the population. We have to lay out a clear vision of what we want to accomplish,” (Hogan campaign manager Steve) Crim said. “It’s a humanization. It’s showing people that Larry does care about everyone.”

I didn’t know that was a question. I would contend that Anthony Brown only cares about the special interests bankrolling his campaign. So why is it implied that the Republicans don’t care about everyone? I deeply resent that implication.

Or read this lead paragraph from John Wagner in the Washington Post:

To hear Maryland Democrats tell it, a victory for Republican gubernatorial nominee Larry Hogan could lead to the legalization of additional assault rifles, new limits on women’s access to contraception and the clock being turned back on gay rights.

Prove it. Come on, Maryland Democrats, let me see the legislation Larry Hogan has proposed to do just that. Put up or shut up. Unfortunately, Larry plays along to an extent:

“It seems like every other day, we’re getting some off-the-wall attack on something that no one cares about,” Hogan said. “They’re trying to make me into a right-wing, tea party Republican.”

Trust me, Maryland, if only…but he’s the best we have to work with.

It’s time for a little attitude. Later in the Post piece, the whole Michael Peroutka affair is brought up, and look who went dumpster-diving for that minor little issue:

The Brown campaign e-mailed reporters about the secessionist views of Michael Peroutka, a Republican council candidate in Anne Arundel, where Hogan lives. Hogan promptly responded by saying Peroutka’s views have no place in politics. An aide said that Hogan and Peroutka have no relationship. (Emphasis mine.)

Divert from important issues much? The Brown campaign is worried about a local County Council race? I think I’d worry more about the $150 million or so of taxpayer dollars you wasted on a balky website than one person’s personal views, which wouldn’t affect how he served the public in his capacity anyway.

There are a lot of fed-up people out here in the real world. They’re tired of struggling to make ends meet while watching the borders and the law be ignored, their taxes constantly go up while government cronies prosper, and being told their conventional, Judeo-Christian views of morality are politically incorrect and intolerant. I’m sick of it, too.

I have a number of friends who are Democrats. A lot are great people, and perhaps there are places we share political common ground. But to blame Republicans for the problems affecting this state and nation is the height of folly, considering who’s been in charge recently. Simply put, the Democratic prescription is not making the patient better; instead, Uncle Sam is more infected and weakened than he was when the Democrats took over Congress in 2007 and the White House two years later.

The real truth is out there beyond the headlines. Talk to the people, and they will tell you just what I said a couple paragraphs above. Maybe the political consultants and hucksters who keep putting out constant e-mail appeals for my money (trust me, it comes from both sides) are getting a cut, but I say we ignore them and just give to our favored candidates. (Okay, I will make an exception for the state GOP, if only to keep their lights on and phone working.)

I think somewhere we lost our way, and the world needs good leaders on par with our Founding Fathers to steer us back. Just wish I knew who they were, because when I look at a lot of those people who would deign to be our national leaders I see a load of snake oil salesmen.

AC Week in review: August 17, 2014

I put together a few things this week, and what’s apparent to me is that the political world doesn’t really take a break in August.

Take for example the late-session attempt to promote “Buy American.” Does it really have a chance in Congress before the session ends? Probably not, but it keeps Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown in the headlines and the favor of his friends in organized labor.

But labor should be more concerned about some of the points brought up by my AC cohort Ed Braxton in two articles this week, particularly if his assertion that manufacturing is moving beyond labor is correct. But he also contends that American-made is gaining credibility again in the global marketplace.

On the other hand, we seem to have an Environmental Protection Agency which is bound and determined to drive jobs back overseas. Coal miners and their allies came out in force to recent EPA hearings in Pittsburgh, driven by a proposed standard which they contend would all but wipe out their industry. As a buttress to their contention, it was also revealed that a separate EPA effort to reduce ozone standards to as low as 60 parts per billion (from a current level of 75 parts per billion, established in 2008) would cost the American economy dearly. Perhaps the worst thing is that the EPA doesn’t even know itself how compliance can be attained.

Having sat down and written a couple pieces for next week, I can tell you trade will be on my radar screen. As is often the case, politics will play a role there but you’ll have to wait and see how I interpreted it.

Getting to know…the real me?

August 11, 2014 · Posted in Campaign 2014, National politics, Politics · Comments Off 

This will be a fun little post.

In an effort to have further blog fodder (and sometimes a good laugh) I’m on the mailing list of the Democratic National Committee.

So on Saturday I received an e-mail with the subject line “Getting to know you.” I found out a couple neat little tidbits about that “powerful, dedicated community” on that side of the spectrum:

  • 853,185 have been on their e-mail list for five years. I think I’m one of them, but that number seems surprisingly low. They must cull their list based on response/open rate.
  • 11 people signed up as Barack Obama and “think they are pretty funny.” Hey, with the history of failed hard drives around Washington, D.C. perhaps Barack Obama was being intentionally redundant or he simply wanted to tailor the message to his multiple favorite vacation spots.

And they “consider me a critical part of their team.” Well, I am pretty critical about their intentions, motives, and methods of operation.

But the idea behind the e-mail was to flesh out the information they have on me. I actually trashed the e-mail then decided to bring it back because I was curious what they wanted to know. Truthfully, I was disappointed.

They already had my first and last name, along with my e-mail address (duh!) And of course, they know I live in the 21804 zip code so things are pegged to Maryland. The character string attached to the link has all that, along with the particular e-mail date they would harvest the information from.

So those things are spotted. The next information they wanted was my phone number. Since most people use cell phones, there was also an opt-in checkbox to receive “periodic automated text messages and calls on my mobile number from the DNC.”

The next items were my birthday and gender. I’m thinking they are going to tailor specific messages to specific people – if I had put down “female” my e-mail would be filled with items dealing with the so-called “war on women.” Older folks would certainly be given the usual scare tactics about cuts to Social Security and Medicare, although it’s likely their targeting is a little more sophisticated. It will be interesting in my case to see how messages change when I make it to a half-century next month and slide into a different age category.

The next item asked where I primarily got my news: internet news sites, newspapers and magazines, TV, social networks like Facebook or Twitter, e-mail, or friends and family. It’s surprising they ask this considering they cater to the low-information crowd.

Finally, they asked where I go for my updates on Democratic candidates and races: the DNC, local campaigns in my community, the state Democratic party, the DCCC (House Democrats), the DSCC (Senate Democrats), the Democratic Governors Association, or friends and family. Interestingly, the DNC Services Corporation didn’t include the local news or internet.

Obviously I get similar e-mails from the Republican side as well. But one thing they often ask for that these Democrats don’t are the issues I’m most interested in. To me, that would seem like a missed opportunity for the other side until you figure out that they are on the wrong side of practically everything, and often focus on issues of little actual importance: witness the whole “Redskins” name controversy, for example. If thousands of people came back and said we needed to do something about securing the border, those Democrats have no solution.

So they didn’t get anything else out of me: just name, rank, and serial number. Maybe “Barack Obama” needs to transform into a 25-year-old woman just to see what kind of soap they try to sell her.

AC Week in review – August 10, 2014

August 10, 2014 · Posted in Business and industry, Delmarva items, National politics, Politics · Comments Off 

Thanks to a slow week a few days back I skipped an installment of my AC week in review – but I’ve come back with some new stuff.

On Friday I posted a piece about Andy Harris’s Salisbury town hall meeting. It was intended to be a followup of sorts to this piece I posted at the AC site regarding questions which should be asked at these gatherings – and as you hopefully read Friday, my question in that vein was indeed answered by the Congressman.

Oddly enough, the answer to my question at that town hall touched on a concern expressed by my AC blogmate Ed Braxton, who wrote about America’s high tax rates in a piece he did a week ago. But in a seeming contradiction, Ed penned a piece dealing with the decline in the necessity for manufacturing labor because workers today are much more productive than our forefathers were, while I noted that manufacturing employment was on the upswing last month.

One thing I didn’t ask Andy Harris about was his inclination to support the Ex-Im Bank, a saga which has played out over the last few months as some manufacturers would like to keep it going while conservatives consider it a piece of corporate cronyism. There aren’t too many session days left before the September 30 deadline, a fact I mentioned in this piece from last week.

There is one more item I wrote last week, and I’m hoping it gets on the site early next week because it looked at the recent EPA power plant emissions hearings in Pittsburgh. Regardless, it’s a topic which deserves comment and the opportunity is still there.

As I recall, there are a couple other stories I’ve been following which reach milestones as well. We may learn the fate of the OCTG complaint against South Korea this week, and there’s movement elsewhere on the trade front, too. I might see about writing a piece on something I learned Thursday night as well.

So hopefully my next installment will be chock full of good information. Generally I spend time on the weekends writing for AC so it’s ready early in the week. Looks like I may be busy.

The life of one (soon to be) former Delegate

August 9, 2014 · Posted in Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, National politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off 

While we have to wait and see what November brings, the chances are pretty good that there will be an additional few dozen Marylanders walking around with the unofficial title of “former member of the General Assembly.” Some, like outgoing Senator Nancy Jacobs or Delegate Donna Stifler, decided well in advance, while our local Delegate Rudy Cane cynically waited until after the filing deadline to insure no one would oppose his apparent choice for successor, Sheree Sample-Hughes.

And then we have the handful who lost in their primary – among them was Delegate Don Dwyer, whose well-documented personal struggles and legal issues, along with redistricting, made his an uphill battle. But as he wrote a few days back:

I simply couldn’t walk away without committing to continue my efforts in regaining liberty and true freedom. I believe as many do, that the one best solution to federal tyranny is the doctrine of NULLIFICATION under the 10th Amendment of the US Constitution. I would like to introduce the States Rights Foundation and new blog The Rightful Remedy.

Washington will not fix itself. Our intent is to partner with other groups and people who are dedicated to advancing the 10th Amendment movement. It is the solution to the out of control Federal Government. If enough States say NO, the Federal Government will be unable to enforce its unconstitutional laws, lacking the resources to do so without aid by the States.

Whether intentional or not, The Rightful Remedy was officially launched on Bastille Day, July 14.

As has been his modus operandi in the past Dwyer is holding a gun raffle to raise funds for his project, which he explains further:

As a Maryland State Delegate, I introduced several bills considered Nullification Legislation, by which the State of Maryland would refuse to comply with Federal “laws” for which the Federal Government has no Constitutional authority to impose. The legislation essentially prohibits the State to use any resources to assist the Federal Government in taking action against Maryland Citizens who are not complying with any Unconstitutional Federal Act. The result, should such legislation pass, profoundly affects the ability of the Federal Government, which rely (sic) heavily on resources from the state, such as police, to effectively enforce their “laws.” (Emphasis in original.)

Nullification is an intriguing practice, although it’s not often tried (here’s one example.) It brings arguments about whether it should be up to the states or left to the judiciary to decide what is in accordance with the Constitution.

But states are generally reined in under the federal judiciary’s interpretation of the Supremacy Clause (such as the case with Arizona’s SB1070 in 2010) as well as the prospect of losing needed federal funding if they don’t perform a particular action – examples I’ve often used are the .08 blood alcohol level standard and legal drinking age of 21, for which the lack of acceptable state law resulted in a deduction of federal highway funding. It would take a state willing to endure the penalties of perhaps defying the Supreme Court (as in a fictional example I recently reviewed) and losing a significant part of its federal funding to openly adopt nullification, and I can tell you Maryland politicians are way too gutless to try either. (Given his go-it-alone attitude, I daresay Rick Perry and Texas might come the closest to using the approach.)

Yet there is a logical argument to non-enforcement as well. We’ve often heard about the prospect of gun confiscation, but there’s an open question as to whether law enforcement – particularly in rural areas like the Eastern Shore – would be willing to go on what’s been described as a “suicide mission.” At the time, Dwyer was calling for the formation of a “voluntary militia” in each county. On the other hand, we have constant complaints about the federal government not enforcing certain other laws, such as the ones dealing with illegal immigration – a backhanded form of nullification unto itself.

I guess the problem is who decides which laws to not enforce, and if they’re not enforced, are we still a nation of laws? A stricter adherence to the Tenth Amendment and Constitution in general would help, but for that we need to clean out our judiciary swamp. I think an equally productive avenue for Dwyer to pursue with his States Rights Foundation would be to work for repealing the Seventeenth Amendment, which has been argued in some circles for several years and is something I’ve advocated for on both a federal and state level as well. That would help to assure the interests of the several states are represented in Congress, so nullification may not be as necessary.

Border security, VA among chief concerns at Harris Salisbury townhall

It was a fairly packed house at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 194 in Salisbury as Congressman Andy Harris held the second of four proposed town hall meetings in the district. After speaking in Easton on Wednesday, many of those same topics came up last night.

But the first order of business was recognition. After pointing out that unemployment among veterans was higher than the average – “I can’t figure that out,” Harris said – Andy presented a Congressional Citation to Chris Eccleston, who operates Delmarva Veteran Builders, a local construction firm which specializes in giving veterans job opportunities upon return to civilian life.

Once that presentation was out of the way, Harris introduced his “three things of great concern.”

As opposed to past negativity about the situation, Andy considered the declining deficit as a piece of good news, noting that federal spending had been fairly level for the last three years. The annual deficit is down $550 billion from its peak, although the aim of the House is to eventually bring the budget back to balance. Andy, however, conceded that the “House’s goal is to balance the budget in ten years.” So while it was still important, Andy wasn’t as concerned about this as he was the following three.

He also said there was “good news on the energy side,” pointing out we now produce more oil than we import and should be the leading world producer of both oil and natural gas by year’s end. The oil production was helped by technology which allowed what he called secondary and tertiary production from existing wells, as opposed to the primary production from new drilling.

On the other hand, Harris believed that, “in terms of immigration, the system is broken.”

“The border is just not being enforced,” he added, noting that Texas Governor Rick Perry has called out his state’s National Guard to assist with border security. In legislation recently passed by the House, added Harris, funding was included for governors who, like Perry, decide to call up their National Guard to address the situation.

“We can’t afford to have a border that’s not secure,” explained Harris.

The news was equally troubling on the foreign policy front. “The world is more dangerous now than it was six years ago (before Obama took office),” said Harris. It wasn’t just the Middle East, either – Andy touched upon the Chinese carriers now patrolling the South China Sea, well outside their territorial waters.

And while we were reaping the effects of our decrease in defense spending, Andy continued, we were also suffering from a lack of trust. Our allies could now doubt our sincerity based on recent actions.

After expressing his main concerns, Andy took questions from the audience. As my editorial license, I’m going to cluster them into areas of concern – on top of the list was our most recent crisis.

Immigration. Many of the questions dealt with various aspects and concerns from those attending about the situation on our southern border and the resettlement of “unaccompanied children.”

Much of the problem could be traced to the passage of a 2008 bill intended to counter human trafficking. Andy noted that the law as written provided the assumption that children from certain Central American countries were being brought for the sex trade, which was a problem at the time. It was estimated that perhaps 2,000 children a year would be affected, with the idea being that these children would get a hearing to ascertain their status.

Unfortunately, the crush of those claiming status under this law and the DACA order signed by Barack Obama in 2012 means that the waiting period for these hearings is anywhere from 18-60 months – and only 46% of those called show up, Andy said. One third of them are “granted status,” he added.

“We should close the loophole,” said Harris. “I don’t see how you get out of the problem without changing the law.” We also needed more judges on a temporary basis to expedite the hearing schedule.

A solution the House could offer to rescind Obama’s order would be that of defunding the executive action, for which there was a bill. And while some were pessimistic about such action given the Senate, Harris stated that the Senate could agree to “a compromise deal over a much larger package.” My concern would be what we would have to trade away.

Andy also pointed out that the resettlement of these children was more or less being done without telling local officials, noting when the Westminster facility was being considered the word came down late on a Thursday afternoon in a week the House wasn’t in session on Friday. It eventually led to the question about those being placed in Maryland.

When asked how many were in the First District, Harris conceded he had “no idea…nobody’s telling us.”  But he continued by saying, “your school system will be affected,” adding that many of these children can’t read or write in Spanish, let alone English.

And the fact that these children aren’t necessarily being screened, vaccinated, or quarantined if necessary was also troubling to Harris. “The CDC is cognizant of it,” said Harris, who had spoken himself with the CDC head. Of course, the children are but a small portion of those crossing – perhaps 10 percent, said Harris.

“The real solution is you have to secure the American border,” concluded Harris. Rapid hearing and swift repatriation would send the message to parents in the host countries that it’s not worth the expense and risk to send children northward to America.

The VA situation. Given that the town hall meeting was being held in a VFW hall, there were concerns aplenty about the state of the Veterans Administration and its health care.

As part of a VA reform bill which recently passed and the VA has 90 days to implement, veterans who live over 40 miles from a VA facility are supposed to have the option of a private physician to address their needs. But Harris pointed out there was some interpretation involved based on whether the VA would extend that standard to an appropriate facility for the type of care needed – for example, something only handled in Baltimore. Harris hoped the interpretation would allow veterans on the Lower Shore to use closer local facilities, for which our local regional medical center could be a substitute provider, rather than make them travel to Baltimore because there was a VA clinic inside the 40-mile range but it couldn’t address the need. “They regulate, and we have to watch them,” said Andy.

The ultimate goal was “to make the VA system compete,” said Harris.

Entitlements. On a related note, one questioner asked about protecting Social Security and Medicare.

Andy believed that “you can’t change the law retroactively,” meaning that the status quo should prevail for those 55 and older. On the other hand, those in the younger generation “don’t expect all of it,” so the time was now to begin the discussion on preserving what benefits we can. The question was no longer if we got to zero in Social Security and Medicare, but when – Social Security tax receipts peaked two years ago and were now slowly declining . “We know the figures,” added Andy.

The system is “not sustainable…shame on us” in Congress for not addressing it.

Foreign policy. There were a couple questions which dealt with this topic, one on Ukraine and one on defunding Hamas.

Regarding Ukraine, one piece of “bad news” which could affect us locally was Russia’s decision to halt chicken imports from America. Their preference for dark meat nicely complemented our love of white meat, so while it wasn’t a large market it was an important one.

But in the geopolitical sense, Harris was relatively blunt. “We let it all go too far (and) should have put a stop to this in Crimea.” Andy pointed out that Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons in the Budapest Memorandum, which we were a party to along with Great Britain, Russia, and Ukraine. As expected, Russia violated its end of the deal, but Harris noted “I don’t know where it ends.”

As for defunding Hamas, the House did so in its FY2015 budget. In it is a provision that states if Hamas is included in a Palestinian Authority government, we would withhold funding from them.

Andy added that he was “disappointed” in the administration’s lack of Israel support, and blasted Hamas for “purposefully aiming (their rockets) into civilian areas – that’s terrorism.” He added, “The war was started by Hamas…Israel has to end it.”

Impeachment/lawsuit vs. Obama. It actually started as a comment from the audience while Harris was explaining his answer to the immigration issue and Westminster situation.

“I think Obama is an enemy of the country,” it was said. And when Andy pointed out he was duly elected as President, stating, “nobody is claiming (Obama) wasn’t elected fair and square,” the audible murmur in the audience indicated otherwise.

But Andy believed suing Obama over his lack of adherence to the Constitution was the best choice. “Let the Supreme Court decide,” he said, as the proper procedure for changing law was supposed to lead through Congress. He would not vote for impeachment, but would rather the lawsuit run its course. I don’t think that was the popular sentiment of those assembled.

Term limits. This was actually the first question out of the chute, and Andy was clear about the questioner’s desire to see them enacted: “I couldn’t agree with you more,” said Harris. He bemoaned the lack of co-sponsors to a Joint Resolution he introduced last year holding both Senators and members of Congress to 12-year limits. “Part of the problem is that people view it as a lifetime job,” said Andy. Most agree term limits are necessary, so Andy held out hope that the 2014 campaign will bring out a new “Contract With America” promising a vote on the issue.

Common Core: It was actually asked as an awareness question regarding the new AP history framework, to which Harris could only promise to “look into this.” But there was language being considered for the appropriations bills which stated the federal government couldn’t provide incentives to adopt Common Core, as they did for Race to the Top federal funding.

Transportation/energy. Answering a question about bringing light rail to this area, Harris opined it was “some of the least efficient ways to transport people.”  He preferred a surface transportation system, such as busses, because they’re more flexible – if the development doesn’t follow the rail system, there’s no chance of adjusting it to suit.

On the related subject of energy, Harris believed it was easier to produce fossil fuels while researching the next generation of energy harnessing, such as fusion or hydrogen cells. At this point, “fossil fuels are the coin of the realm,” Harris said.

Maximizing our resources also provides us an opportunity to counter Russia’s “ability to use energy for bad ends.” He also warned that Canada would either send its crude to us through the Keystone XL pipeline or ship it to China.

Manufacturing. Finally, we’ll get to the question I asked about making things in Maryland and America.

Andy began his answer by referring to the practice of tax inversion, which has made news lately. He blamed our “horrendous” corporate tax rates for being an incentive for companies to stray offshore, or even just across the border to Canada (which has a 15% corporate tax rate compared to our 35%.) “We live in a global environment,” said Andy, so the obvious solution was to cut our corporate tax rates.

Rather, Washington was thinking about trying to make the practice more difficult. Harris feared it would encourage more inversions.

Other steps to getting things made in America were to continue promoting cheap energy – as methane is the basis for many plastic products, having an abundant supply would be crucial in that area of production. We could also work on scrapping some of the over-regulation plaguing our job creators.

After the hourlong forum, Andy stayed around for more questions and answers. I thought the give-and-take was excellent, and it’s a shame more local media wasn’t there.

Fighting ‘behavior modification’

Fortunately, we are about five months (and one election) away from the “90 days of terror” which comprises a regular session of the Maryland General Assembly. We have no idea yet just who will be representing us in Annapolis, but there is one agenda item a familiar group is out to stop in its tracks.

As Bob Willick of Maryland Liberty PAC puts it:

Maryland Liberty PAC is ramping up efforts to drive a stake in the heart of the proposed VMT tax before it gains any more traction.

Their aim is to pass a bill prohibiting the practice, similar to one which was introduced last year but went nowhere. In that effort, they have compiled a half-page flyer and video describing their reasons for concern.

Aside from blaming a few current and former legislators for their votes on the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act of 2009 – indeed, a poor vote but just one – the video does a nice job of illustrating what the bureaucrats of the state have wrought and why it should be stopped.

But let’s leave aside the peak-hour tolls and tracking just for a moment and look at the impact a simple VMT might have.

Let’s say you work here in Salisbury but choose to live in a rural part of Wicomico County, such as around Tyaskin or Powellville. Every day you may drive 20 to 30 miles round trip to work, plus there are those 15 to 20 mile round trips for grocery shopping, taking the kids for extracurricular activities, and the like. It would be easy to put 20,000 to 25,000 miles annually on your car and if a VMT is set for every mile above some artificial limit such as 10,000 miles it could run into several hundred dollars a year, almost regardless of what kind of car you own. (Chances are certain models would be exempted from a VMT, regardless of how useful they are to one’s needs.)

The VMT became seriously discussed when the effects of the fuel economy standards adopted by the federal government in the wake of the 1970s oil embargoes became painfully obvious. As cars became more efficient, they used less gasoline so a per-gallon tax became less and less lucrative. If you drive 20,000 miles a year in a car that gets 40 miles to the gallon, you’re only using 500 gallons of gas a year as opposed to a 20 MPG car that takes in 1,000 gallons. At a federal gasoline tax of 18.4 cents per gallon, that’s a “cost” to Uncle Sam of $92 a year for being a “good citizen” and purchasing a more efficient car. As they often say, “no good deed goes unpunished,” so with the advent of GPS tracking systems it became more possible to accurately gauge a car’s true mileage and perhaps make up all of that $92 or even more.

As I see it, though, the VMT tax is just a small part of a larger drive to decouple people from their cars. Maryland is doing little to enhance the traffic situation in parts of the state insofar as highway work is concerned. Sure, they may replace the occasional bridge or repave a perfectly good highway, but the bulk of their transportation money and effort is going to be concentrated on two boondoggles called the Red Line and Purple Line. Before that, it was the ICC toll road, which should serve as a signal for what’s to come: variable tolls based on time of day, collected by electronic means with an EZPass or – for a “service fee” – a bill sent to the car’s registered owner. I predict this same “makeover” will be on the Bay Bridge within the next decade, with sky-high tolls at rush hour and on weekends.

Obviously this process of enhancing specific, politically correct traffic is well underway – witness the HOT lanes in urban areas or proposed “transitways” for busses only. Maybe that’s great for urban dwellers, but that doesn’t help people trying to get into Ocean City or through Cambridge or Easton at the height of tourist season. Forget the logic of building another Bay Bridge connecting southern Maryland and Dorchester County to save motorists coming from the Washington area time and hassle.

There’s no question we need to invest money in our transportation infrastructure. The problem with Maryland is that it seeks to create demand where none exists and ignores logical extensions of the existing overburdened system in the name of addressing a “global warming” problem we couldn’t change if we tried.

The idea of the VMT should be the first thing scrapped, but let’s not stop there. It’s time to give up on the folly of reducing our greenhouse gas output because that equates to reducing our standard of living as well as our liberty.

By the way, since I’m on the subject of boondoggles like the Red Line, Purple Line, and VMT, I’ve been meaning to work this editorial on ethanol by my Patriot Post cohort Mark Alexander in for a few days. Here’s a good chance to read it.

Addressing the challenge

Many years ago, when I was a mere political babe in the woods, I volunteered to help out a candidate by the name of Maggie Thurber. At the time, she was running for a full term as Clerk of Courts in my former home of Lucas County, Ohio, having won the office in a huge upset two years earlier. She went on to win that election and one more, plus serve a term as a County Commissioner before leaving politics.

She parlayed that political success into a stint as a radio host and also has blogged for several years at a site called Thurber’s Thoughts, although now that seems to be used as additional material for her work on Ohio Watchdog (a subsite of Watchdog Wire.) And that’s where I pick up the story.

I happened to come across a piece she wrote regarding the “Live the Wage” challenge, something set up by this website. This movement is backed by the same people who connived Maryland into raising its minimum wage earlier this year.

The premise of this challenge was to buy groceries and gas on $77 a week, which was the amount deemed to be left over once taxes and housing expenses are paid. Thurber writes that:

Former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland gave up. He started on a Sunday, but ran out of money by Thursday, he explained in a column for Politico. He said he skipped meals to save money and ate smaller, less healthy meals.

“Because fresh fruits and vegetables are hard to find at a price within a minimum wage budget, I turned to bread, peanut butter, bananas and bologna more than anything else,” he wrote. “That was what I could find when I took this budget to the grocery story (sic) last Sunday. And that’s why I ate lunch from the McDonald’s dollar menu.”

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, spent his money foolishly, paying $7 for sardines and crackers, $5 for a Burger King Whopper, $2 for a cup of coffee and his “last couple of dollars to buy trail mix,” he explained on his Facebook page.

It’s obvious to me Strickland and Ryan didn’t take this seriously; otherwise they would have done as well as Thurber and her husband did. She bought a week’s worth of gasoline for $44 (using points from her local Kroger grocery store) and spent $82.83 on a basic menu of groceries for the week, with a couple splurge items. As for the leftover money?

We approached the challenge as if we had both lost our jobs and taken minimum wage jobs to get by. Under this scenario, we’d have some items on hand, like paper towels, detergent, aspirin, condiments and corn to make popcorn for snacks.

But with $27.17 remaining in our budget, or going without our two splurge items, we’d be able to purchase those supplies as we needed.

Of course, the banshees came out of the woodwork in the comments section and shrieked that she should live like this for a year or so before talking. Well, these (very well-paid) politicians didn’t even try hard to make it through a week – what does that say about their compassion, let alone their eating and cooking habits?

As I noted above, Thurber expanded on this Ohio Watchdog piece on her own site, which gave politicians a new challenge:

Don’t you think it’s funny that no one ever tries to live like a small business owner for week? To feel what it’s like to try to make a payroll, deal with government forms and mandates, handle local government rules and regulations, deal with happy and angry customers, supervise a work staff, promote your business, do the accounting and somehow find time for family and friends and an actual life outside of work?

One day in the life of small business owner is much more difficult and stressful than trying to live on $77 a week.

That’s the reality of this ridiculousness – and that’s why the whole “live the wage” publicity sham is such a travesty.

I talk about business climate a lot on this site because, as a state, Maryland is far too dependent on one industry – the federal government. In that, it mirrors the city of my birth which is overly reliant on the auto industry. But in catering to the auto industry you at least do things which benefit other businesses around the state, and overall Ohio is a diverse state with several distinct metro areas as well as a significant rural component.

In contrast, Maryland seems to work only toward enriching government and those businesses connected to government by hook or crook. So raising the minimum wage was no big deal to most of Maryland – it’s a world of almost automatic annual raises and the job security one receives when you work for a government which rarely, if ever, cuts itself. People can shoulder that burden more easily along the I-95 corridor.

But when you come out to the forgotten parts of Maryland, a minimum wage raise means jobs lost – there’s no other way around it. There were efforts to waive or slow down the increase for counties here on the Eastern Shore, but they were rebuffed in the General Assembly.

And if you think buying groceries on minimum wage is difficult, just try it being unemployed. That’s going to be the result of these shortsighted policies once the political stunts and game playing are forgotten.

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