A good link

My friend Drea found this and retyped it from the source (no link.) She offered it to me but I’ll let her have the reward of her hard work and simply link to it. So she gets the hat tip.

Hearing from the other side

I have a little help in the “Fair Share” battle.

In my recent post, “The battle is joined” I noted that one of the things on my “to do” list was to call both of my state delegates, Bennett Bozman and Norman Conway. Last Friday, I did so. While I still haven’t heard from Delegate Bozman or his office, I heard quickly from Delegate Conway. He was very polite and listened to the points and arguments I made to help convince him to vote in the right manner.

There were some points that Delegate Conway brought up that I found interesting. Chief among them is that he’s the head of the Appropriations Committee, so I suppose if anyone knows about the state’s budget he would be the guy to know. He told me that the state is facing what he termed a $160 million structural deficit. I looked this up on Maryland’s website and the Spending Affordability Committee report from 2005 does show structural deficits in “out” years (FY 2007 on.) (Note: this is a 105 page .pdf file.) That report shows FY 2007 as a $300 million deficit.

However, since the report came out there has been news of a $600 million surplus from this year’s budget. So I’m a little bit confused about whether these numbers the SAC came up with aren’t too pessimistic. Possibly the $160 million Conway spoke of includes an adjustment for this, but it’s hard to say.

Delegate Conway also cited Wal-Mart’s profitability from last year, noting that floor testimony stated the company made $10 billion and cost the state of Maryland $250 million in Medicare expenses because of gaps in Wal-Mart’s health insurance.

Let’s look at this in two different ways. Assume that both numbers Conway cited are correct. Maryland is almost a perfect “average” state in population, our roughly 5.5 million people is right around 1/50 of the nation’s total. So if every state decided to tax Wal-Mart in a similar way that Fair Share would, suddenly the $10 billion profit is a $2.5 billion loss. Then Wal-Mart would have to lay off workers and close stores, thus putting these people right back on the public dole.

Plus, I saw a report the other day that is cited on the “My feedback” page as I responded to a post on Duvafiles. That report showed that the typical low-wage employee is a $898 drain on the state’s Medicare system. That means it’s not just Wal-Mart – it’s K-Mart, Target, McDonald’s, Burger King, Best Buy – all those employers put a little drain on the system.

I will say one thing about Del. Conway – he did sound surprised about the union-sponsored radio commercials citing his stand on the issue, claiming he didn’t know about them until he heard one himself. And I’ll believe him. I did tell him that he is pursuing a solution in the correct arena, since Medicare truly should be a state issue rather than a federal one.

He does have a good, principled stand – I just happen to think it’s the wrong stand.

But the pro-Wal-Mart side has finally gotten some of their message out. I found this link right on the Sun’s website. Also, the Maryland Chamber of Commerce weighed in with an opinion that “Fair Share” violates portions of the federal ERISA Act.

So it’s going to be an interesting week to come.

Now, since I’m on the subject of health care, I have a bone to pick with the health care industry.

Why is it that I get a bill for $131 from my doctor, but when the health insurer pays the doctor, they give the doctor’s office $77? I understand that the doctor’s office has a good deal of overhead, but is it possible that having to deal with all the red tape creates the majority of it?

My doctor’s office has at least one person who handles solely billings and another person who handles referrals. They have nothing to do with patient care, but the doctor has to pay them and lease that little extra bit of space for them. There’s really something wrong with the health care industry.

And I can tell you right now, just based on experience and observation, that the WORST thing we can do is make it solely a government-run program like “HillaryCare” promised to be. I think something on the order of Medical Savings Accounts would be a good idea. I wouldn’t have to worry about having a chiropractor who is out-of-network. MSA’s also discourage needless trips to the emergency room, at least as I see it.

The more things in the health-care sphere that are directly controlled by the patient, the better the system works. And the less red tape there is (along with a serious tort reform measure to help curb the cost of liability insurance), the easier it is for a doctor to actually practice medicine rather than play defense.

2005 in review/2006 in preview

Tonight is the first time I’ve had a blog at the end of the year.

On April 1st, I went to the Blogspot website and started to create what I called “ttown’s right wing conspiracy.” There were a million voices in the blogosphere and I decided to create my own. It evolved into something that was my goal from the start – my own website. You’re looking at monoblogue, which is a labor of love for me. Lord knows it’s not profitable, but what first-time enterprise is? It’s a much less expensive hobby than golf, that’s for sure.

In one month, monoblogue has pissed off more leftists, moonbats, and so-called “progressives” (but I repeat myself) than any letter to the editor of mine ever did. And it’s a good thing! All of this is a lot of fun, particularly the “My feedback” page I have now. Ooooh, does that burn people up!

Yes, I thought to myself – why waste all this good writing and argument that not everyone will see? I can put it all in one place, plus as a bonus link to the blog in question so the reader can get the flavor of the post and others’ commentary on it. Sometimes I get my comeuppance, and many times those others who comment bring up things I didn’t think about and it’s a learning experience.

Now, I didn’t write on everything that happened in 2005. But there were many seminal events that bear looking back at as a reminder.

Around the world, Pope John Paul II died and was eventually replaced by Benedict XVI in somewhat of a surprise. Many thought the man known as Joseph Ratzinger was too old at 78 to be Pope.

While the tsunami that engulfed parts of Southeast Asia actually occurred in 2004, the impact and cleanup continued in 2005. A massive humanitarian effort dominated the first half of the year before thoughts of charity turned to domestic matters (see below.)

France had a summer of its discontent as Muslim youth rioted for weeks. Most of the catastrophe was in the property damage caused by the rioters, but there were fatalities and the world saw France take a black eye in some of its reaction to the strife.

Also, the UN saw its share of trouble as the “Oil-for-Food” scandal widened. Hundreds of businessmen and politicians in several nations had their reputations sullied by being named as beneficiaries of a scheme that served to enrich the deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

But a lot happened in America as well. The event that holds the biggest long-term impact was not a man-made one. Much like the 2004 tsunami, a twin punch from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita devestated the Gulf region. It turned out to be a record hurricane season, as part of a multi-decade cycle that promises more of the same in the next decade or two. Even as I write, Tropical Storm Zeta is spinning in the Atlantic, a very rare late-season storm. It’s the 27th and last named storm of 2005.

The political world remains ruled by the War on Terror being fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many heroes have fallen in this battle, but progress occurred as Iraqis and Afghans worked on electing representatives for new republics, the first of their kind in each nation. Debate was led by minority Democrats on whether the war was worthwhile and whether its means justified the ends. But a resolution for an immediate pullout of troops from Iraq was almost unanimously defeated in the House of Representatives.

Other political issues came to the forefront. Relief aid for the Gulf hurricanes became entangled in a new effort by fiscal conservatives in the Republican Party to not spend new money on emergency help, but offset other areas of the budget to pay for it. The “bridge to nowhere” in Alaska became a symbol for those fighting the pork in various spending bills.

Immigration reform surfaced late in the year as an issue as the problem of illegal immigration and its impact on homeland security was debated in Congress.

Left simmering in the background was a national divide over the War on Terror and the presidency itself. A vocal minority of people continued to protest the war and other actions taken by President Bush. They coalesced in the person of Cindy Sheehan, a mother who lost her son in Iraq. Leftists hailed her as a hero speaking out as she and a band of followers camped out in Crawford, Texas near President Bush’s home. On the right, she was derided as a misguided mother besmirching the memory of her son.

Closer to home, the big issue in Maryland was the fate of the “Fair Share Health Care Act”, better known as the Wal-Mart bill. Approved by the General Assembly in the spring, Governor Ehrlich vetoed it in a public ceremony in Princess Anne, where nearby a Wal-Mart distribution center was being proposed for a site along U.S. 13. This promised to bring over 700 good-paying jobs to the area and would immediately become the #2 employer in Somerset County.

While that debate continued, candidates began their 2006 campaigns. This coming year brings elections for the governor’s office and an open U.S. Senate seat, as incumbent Sen. Paul Sarbanes will not seek a sixth term.

And that’s one thing I’ll be following as the curtain is opened on 2006.

The year is going to start with a bang as the Maryland General Assembly begins its session. First on the agenda is attempting to override several of Governor Ehrlich’s vetoes, including “Fair Share”. It’s something I’ve already commented on, but the story continues to develop. In the pipeline is a post on a conversation I had with one of my delegates to the General Assembly.

Once the General Assembly session is out of the way, the election season will get going in earnest. At the moment, Governor Ehrlich will be facing off against either Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan or Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley for the governor’s seat. No Republican has won re-election to the governor’s chair in Maryland since 1954. Governor Ehrlich also needs to find a running mate as Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele is seeking the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate seat opened up by the retirement of Sen. Sarbanes. On the Democrat side, a crowded field is led by U.S. Rep. Ben Cardin and former NAACP leader Kweisi Mfume. Maryland hasn’t had a Republican U.S. Senator since 1987.

On the federal level, Congress will start out the year with two pressing issues. One for the Senate is the nomination of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court for the seat vacated by the retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. The other issue for both House and Senate approval is the fate of the PATRIOT Act, enacted in 2001 in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks. Many of the provisions in the act were to expire a few short hours from now, but a compromise grudgingly accepted by all extends the deadline to early February.

Later on will begin the 2006 campaign season for control of the U.S. House and Senate. Democrats are hopeful to gain control in both bodies to thwart progress on Bush initiatives. They’ve already proven themselves as masters of obstruction being in the minority.

Of course, at any time events in the world could take precedence to domestic issues. While squabbles in the Middle East are not unknown, a number of other trouble spots loom large: the Korean peninsula, the Taiwan Straits, unrest in Indonesia, Cuba, Venezuela, Mexico, or sub-Saharan Africa, and even unresolved tensions in Europe could seize national headlines. Natural disasters are common but unpredictable.

There are a couple things I’m going to leave behind in 2005.

First and foremost, the 2004 election. Bush won. Quit bitching. The conspiracy theories are just that, theories. A bipartisan slate of electoral authorities in all 50 states certified the results. And that continues to me; yes, the state of Washington’s 2004 results were awfully fishy, but nobody’s in jail (at least yet) for fixing that election. I can think all I want the Democrats stole that one but I have no proof, and I’m not going to seek it out.

Secondly, I’m not going to be such a nice guy to those who would defame my friends and people I believe are of good character. It’s time to call bullshit what it is.

It seems to me in reading a LOT of blogs on a regular basis (I have over 20 on my Favorites bloglist, and I’ll come across a batch of others through links off those) that arguments by those on the left sink to namecalling and personal attacks a lot more quickly than those who argue from the right. (This is in general, I know the lefties can point out examples of namecalling by people on my side. But you get the point, shut up and read on.)

I am 41 years old. I have seen a lot in my time, I grew up with Walter Cronkite tallying up the body count in Viet Nam. When I was 4 years old, Neil Armstrong took that one small step for man. I saw President Nixon resign in disgrace, and recall the outcry when he was pardoned by President Ford. The gas lines in the 70’s were a rude shock, when I grew up gas was 35 cents a gallon and Sam (the owner of the gas station) would come out, clean the windshield, and check the oil and battery.

The first election I really took an interest in as far as paying a bit of attention was the 1976 election between Ford and Carter. At the time, it seemed like Jimmy Carter would be a good change from all the scandal of the years preceding, so I hoped he’d win. Well, he did. Then we got real hard times and hostages in Iran.

The next election was 1980. While Jimmy Carter did whip Ted Kennedy’s ass, he had no chance against Ronald Reagan. I recall the sea change in attitude among a lot of people. Sure the Hollywood types were afraid of that cowboy pushing the nuclear button, but most regular people welcomed a man who wasn’t timid or afraid to lead. He had an agenda and he made it happen. My first Presidential vote was cast to re-elect Ronald Reagan in 1984.

If I were to boil down the last few paragraphs into a short sentence or two, it would be thus: I have seen how the world works in my lifetime. Countries that value freedom for their citizens tend to prosper, while countries that subject their citizens to a range of ideas from outright tyranny to communism to socialism don’t tend to have a long shelf life, or their citizens lag behind the free world.

To me, conservatives and libertarians value freedom most. So I’m among them. So-called “progressives” and leftists value elitism and the domination of the few over the masses. And those who blindly follow their siren song find that they’re almost always not among the elites who have their own set of rules.

I’m not going to look backward like those who are upset over certain events of a few years ago. I’m going to take those events and place them in my memories to make sure that the ones I want to continue to happen do so and that, as we go forward into a bright future, we don’t doom ourselves to repeat events that shouldn’t be.

Odds and year ends

It’s all about the Benjamins for the Democrats and their cronies in Maryland.

I’ll start with the lighter stuff as we pass Christmas and begin the last lap of “the holidays.” Of course, TV will still have all the Christmas-theme commercials through New Year’s Day.

News item: Leading this season’s greetings (Baltimore Sun, December 20, 2005)

The slug line says a lot: Without using public funds, Ehrlich sends the most holiday cards among U.S. governors. While I wasn’t on the card list myself, it is amazing that Governor Ehrlich sends out 40,000 cards. My simple math tells me that 8 of every 1,000 Maryland residents gets a card from the governor. May not seem like much but honestly, how many of you know the governor of your state that well?

Best thing is that unlike previous administrations (according to the Sun article), these cards are paid for through private donations and not out of the public till. What the Sun doesn’t tell you (but I will) is that the last four administrations in Maryland were all Democrats. But I’m sure the Democrats complain about somebody buying influence by paying for the Governor’s Christmas cards and placing a little bit lighter burden on the taxpayers.

News item: Spend surplus on new schools, advocates say (Baltimore Sun, December 23, 2005)

Speaking of a burden on the taxpayers, here is this story as I see it. Instead of lessening the property tax burden on those who have chosen to invest in the state, the Democrats want to spend even more money on building schools. Their lackeys at Progressive Maryland claim that 35% of the people surveyed want to build new schools, while only 20% or so want a tax cut. What I’d like to know (and I haven’t been able to locate the survey online to answer this) is whether this question was asked after they were asked if they agreed with the statement, “Maryland’s schools are overcrowded, many are dilapidated, and too many students are forced to learn in temporary trailer classrooms. We should use most of the surplus to build and repair schools.” Obviously that’s a leading question, so you get 75% of the people saying yes.

The order of questioning is important, particularly if they asked this one after the school one: “(Do you agree with the statement) Tax-and-spend liberal Democrats in Annapolis have been overspending for years. Now that there is finally a budget surplus, lawmakers should give taxpayers long overdue tax relief.” People aren’t going to want to appear greedy after saying they were in favor of building more schools (because it’s for the children, you know.) So that only had a 55% agreement. (56% if you count me.)

There is at least a $600 million surplus. If the Sun figures are correct, Ehrlich could completely erase this year’s state portion of the property tax burden on everyone (13.2 cents per $100 of assessed value) and still have some money left over. That would put $528 million back into the hands of property owners and still leave a small surplus. Obviously the Democrats would rail about “tax cuts for the rich.” But money would return to the state with additional sales tax revenue and just maybe a few thousand new jobs created.

I don’t want to come off as saying that new schools are unnecessary after a period of time. But, honestly, is a Taj Mahal-like school building really more conducive to learning than a good teacher? All a primary school for 300 kids in 6 grades really needs are 12-14 classrooms (which includes 2 for special ed), a gym, a media center, rooms for a science lab, art, and music, office space for a few staff, and a cafeteria. That and be well-designed for expansion. I honestly believe that no primary school should be larger than about 450 kids.

The other thing I’d like to know is whether any new school construction would have a provision to save taxpayers money by waiving the (so-called) “prevailing wage” requirements. Ohio did this with their school building program.

And of course, every other advocacy group wants a cut of this rapidly-shrinking surplus. A group called Advocates for Children and Youth wanted $400 million for schools PLUS $375 million for other social programs.

But you can’t pay big money for schools without getting the teachers’ union seeking a piece of the pie, to wit:

News item: Support builds for better pensions (an AP story in the Daily Times, December 26, 2005)

The teachers’ union wants another $480 million a year for their pensions, although they would generously share about 1/3 of that for other state employees. They whine about the measly pensions that Maryland teachers get, and in raw numbers they are right: it’s about half of Pennsylvania’s average and roughly 50% less than the averages in Delaware and Virginia. An average Free State teacher’s pension is only 36% of their salary, which is tied for the bottom with Hawaii’s average.

But, and this is a big but, Maryland teachers contribute just 2% of their pay toward their pensions. (Hawaii contributes none, but it’s a far smaller state.) While the teachers are willing to kick in another 3% of their pay, they also want to change the multiplier rate to a retroactive 2 percent – an increase of almost half over the current 1.4%.

I actually participated in Ohio’s system for a very short time, back in 1991 when I taught one section of AutoCAD for one semester at Owens College (about 12 hours a week.) It seems to me that I had a lot more than 2% taken out, even then. I recall my rebate being over $100 when I dropped out of the system shortly after leaving Owens, but my salary there was a low four figures.

I’d be curious to know what TB thinks about this one.

News item: Democrats target Ehrlich vetoes (Baltimore Sun, December 11, 2005)

In a nutshell, here is the Democrats’ idiocy Governor Ehrlich properly vetoed:

1. The “Fair Share Health Care” bill, aka the Wal-Mart bill. Bad legislation to target one successful (and non-union) business. The proponents speak of “fairness” but forget that it works both ways.

2. A bill allowing voters to cast their ballots up to a week before Election Day. Can you say electoral fraud? Sure you can. I don’t buy the higher turnout argument because now it’s fairly easy to get an absentee ballot. If I can make time to vote because it’s that important to me, others can sacrifice as well.

3. Increasing the state minimum wage $1 to $6.15 per hour. So, when the inevitable uptick in the unemployment rate comes of this, I’ll bet the Democrats blame Gov. Ehrlich for messing up the economy instead of their support of this artificial wage increase that squeezes business.

4. A juvenile justice bill that simply seems to create more red tape and regulation.

5. A bill that allows same-sex partners to make medical decisions for each other. Just another step toward legalizing gay marriage. But the Ehrlich administration claims they’re seeking a compromise, which means that he only gives away 3/4 of the store instead of 100%. Much like most other liberal programs, get the camel’s nose in the tent and pretty soon you have a humped roommate.

It’s going to be very interesting in Annapolis about two weeks hence. That’s going to really kick off the 2006 campaign. Ironically, Governor Ehrlich will be at a fundraising disadvantage for the 90 days of the legislative session as he cannot raise money during that period, while his Democrat opponents can. But he does have the advantage of a late primary (Maryland’s primary is in mid-September) so both Martin O’Malley and Doug Duncan can beat each other up all summer – unless the powers that be in the Democrat party convince one to drop out, or the Democrats game the election cycle and move the primary back to June.

But the Democrats would NEVER change the rules in the middle of the game, would they?

The Empire writes back

Been sitting on this letter for a week or so as other items I see in and out of the news took precedence. But a week ago Saturday I got my reply to my letter to Congressman Gilchrest. I was shocked that it wasn’t a form letter, to be honest. It did look like he took the time to read it and understand my arguments to some extent.

So, to place it in context, I’ll put my letter in first. I’m surprised I didn’t put in on ttrwc, but I would have wanted to reshow it anyway with the changeover.

November 10, 2005

To: Congressman Wayne T. Gilchrest

Re: HR 4241, Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 – provision for ANWR drilling

Congressman Gilchrest:

I was disappointed to read that you were one of 25 “moderate” Republicans who have threatened to hold up a bill that would begin a much-needed process of cutting federal spending because of its provision to begin drilling for oil in a small portion of the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge.

It is only a short-sighted few who are opposed to beginning the process of oil exploration and recovery in this area. Meanwhile, a broad coalition of native Alaskans, energy experts, union workers, and a large swath of the general public frustrated with the rising cost of gasoline support taking advantage of a domestic oil supply. While the stocks of oil in ANWR certainly won’t be enough to fulfill all of our energy needs, it can serve as a bridge to a time when we will find alternative sources of energy. Your support of HR 6 earlier this year, while unpopular with a vocal minority of constituents, was a step in this direction.

However, the reality is, even with measures you’ve supported (such as raising the fuel economy standards for automakers) America finds itself in the dangerous position of having foreign oil producers supply a growing portion of the market. While Canada is a steady friend, the rest of our top 5 suppliers (Mexico, Venezuela, Nigeria, and Saudi Arabia) contain anywhere from an unofficial to state-sponsored disdain of American policies and values.

Personally, I would like to see more done in the way of extracting oil from shale domestically and using more nuclear power to generate our electricity rather than a growing dependence on natural gas. For the foreseeable future, though, we are in a position where oil is the lifeblood of our economy. Thus, I urge that you rethink your opposition to ANWR drilling as part of a balanced and forward-looking total energy policy.

Additionally, I hope I can count on you to support the aim of the overall bill, which is to cut federal spending to reallocate those resources to victims of this year’s hurricanes. It is a prudent thing to cut the unnecessary to fund the priorities – hopefully it will also spur a look at where our priorities are set.

Sincerely,

Michael Swartz
Salisbury

And he wrote back:

December 6, 2005

Dear Mr. Swartz:

Thank you for your interest in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, HR 4241. This bill is commonly referred to as the “budget reconciliation” bill and was passed on the House floor on November 18, 2005.

I opposed the inclusion of language in HR 4241 authorizing oil and gas development in ANWR, in part, because ANWR is the largest area of unspoiled wilderness in the US. Among other wildlife species, it is home to the Porcupine caribou herd, and provides critical calving habitat for them. Exact oil reserves available on the refuge are unknown, but the median expectation projected by the US Geological Survey is about 10.3 billion barrels of oil. While this would imcrease US domestic production of oil, market analysts predict it could have only a minute impact on US energy prices.

This is because the US is the largest consumer of petroleum products in the world, using fully a quarter of annual globa supplies. Yet, we own only about 3 percent of total global oil reserves. In addition, many market analysts and geophysicists tell me the US either has or will soon peak in its available supply for oil production – meaning that supplies on the downside of that peak will never be able to meet emergency needs for oil in the future. The US currently imports 60% of its oil, and our demand for oil is projected to increase over 30% in 2025, especially in the transportation sector. Therefore, it seems unlikely that domestic oil production can meet even a small fraction of US oil demand in 7-12 years – when ANWR supplies may be available should development begin now. Our thirst for oil and the very small portion we own will continue to sustain significant oil imports and volatile prices until we can meaningfully replace it with renewable and alternative energy sources.

We will likely never again find a product so diverse and flexible – for energy and many other uses – than petroleum. The US must seriously invest in development and delivery of affordable, reliable energy from more diverse sources and must reserve its small supply of oil for the many other applications for which it is now or may be used – including roads, plastics, chemicals, and other products. I will continue to do all I can toward progressive energy policy that supports a wide range of alternative energy sources.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.

Sincerely,

Wayne T. Gilchrest
Member of Congress

Now, I did a little research on oil awhile back for a ttrwc post. By the time ANWR comes online, we’ll probably be consuming about 23 million barrels a day.

If you assume that ANWR does have the 10.3 billion barrels Rep. Gilchrest cited, that works out to 447 days’ worth of oil. I think this is the figure the anti-ANWR people cite. There are two problems with this assumption though. Number one is that it’s not a given that ANWR would be our sole source of oil. If I go under the assumption that the ANWR reserves per day would be depleted at the rate we import from our largest current foreign supplier (Canada’s 1.616 million barrels per day) then the figures grow to 6,374 days (or about 17 1/2 years.)

The second faulty assumption is that there’s only 10.3 billion barrels of oil in ANWR. We have no way of knowing this without further exploration. The current “best guess” ranges up to 16 billion barrels of oil that’s recoverable under current technology. There’s certainly nothing to indicate that the ANWR oil can’t be double or even triple this best guess – at best case it could last 40 years.

One other issue I have with Rep. Gilchrest’s logic regards the pristine environment, calving habitat, etc. When exploration is only going to take a small fraction of ANWR’s total area (the reserve occupies basically the entire northeast quadrant of Alaska) I think the caribou can find many a place to have little caribou. To hear environmentalists talk, oil drilling in ANWR would place derricks as far as the eye can see, and that’s simply untrue. For those of you familiar with Maryland, think of something that takes up the area of 2 of the 23 counties and imagine how small of an area that really is compared to the state as a whole. That’s at the high end of estimates for the oil industry impacted area.

As I stated in my letter to Rep. Gilchrest, we do need to explore other avenues of filling our energy needs. I’ve cited a couple that, while they’re not strictly renewable, they are certainly plentiful or very efficient given the amount of material used. There’s merit to continuing research into hydropower, wind, and solar energy, but I believe that research into those avenues are best conducted by private entities. The X Prize is one example – the incentive of $10 million to develop a renewable space vehicle was a very good one, and one that is evolving into other areas.

Once again, capitalism at work – it’s a beautiful thing! So let’s get to work in ANWR and continue to fuel the engine until we can use our ingenuity to figure out a better way.

Late edit: Here’s a photo of the ANWR area.

Isn’t that majestic scenery beautiful? Look at all the caribou!

The battle is joined

Looks like it’s time for the fight to begin. January 11th is just around the corner, and that’s the start date to our 90 days of lunacy known as the General Assembly session. At or near the top of the list is going to be the vote on overriding Governor Ehrlich’s veto of the so-called “Fair Share” bill.

I was reminded of this yesterday listening to the radio. I was working out and minding my own business when I heard a commercial. (Hopefully the link works, it’s the actual .mp3 file.) And it just so happens that Delegates Bozman and Conway are MY delegates.

So I laughed to myself and said, “well well well…looks like it’s time to take the fight to them.” Step number one is right here, I dashed off a letter to the Daily Times. As always, we’ll see if they have the balls to print it.

Yesterday I was listening to the radio and a commercial came on asking me to thank Delegates Bozman and Conway for their support for “fairness” – that concept being determined by their support of a particular piece of legislation.

After listening to that, I said to myself, “ok, the battle is joined now. It’s going to be the special interests and the money that they all but coerce out of their workers to put ads on the radio, against me and my words that I type on my computer and hope to have placed in the paper.” Luckily, I know that common sense and right are on my side.

Here’s why. When they speak of “fairness,” they forget to tell you that this bill is written against one particular multibillion dollar entity. Just one. It would be as if the rest of Maryland decided to levy a tax against the citizens of Salisbury for a real or perceived advantage they have over the remainder of the state.

In fact, their commercial never cites the entity by name, nor does it reveal the true source of the funds behind buying its time on the radio, simply billing itself as “Maryland for Health Care.”

Well, I live in Maryland and I’m for health care too (is there anyone who’s not?) But I’m not for using the power of the legislature for gaining an unfair advantage at the expense of a successful company. As a resident of their district, not some far-off national concern coming into Delmarva with slickly packaged radio ads, I strongly encourage Delegates Bozman and Conway to reconsider their previous stance and uphold Governor Ehrlich’s veto of “Fair Share.”

And I wonder what I’ll be doing this Friday afternoon when I get off work. Think I have a phone call or two to make. That’s step two.

Oh, as if it wouldn’t be patently obvious, “Maryland for Health Care” is a front organization for the Service Employees International Union. I suppose the SEIU decided that the United Food and Commercial Workers had put enough money into lobbyists and political contributions to the Democrats in Annapolis so it was their turn.

It’ll be a story to follow as the time gets closer. We’ll see if Maryland really wants to punish achievers, wipe out Somerset County’s bid for 800-1000 jobs, and show that special interests run the state. Considering which party has a stranglehold on the General Assembly, it’s pretty obvious what the answer will be. Even so, I’m not going to just sit idly by without making my feelings known. It’s time to fight.

Green day

This is the editorial I referred to in my last post. It came to me in an e-mail I regularly get at work, which links to Architectural Record. As an architect, I probably should read the magazine more, but I have more mudane things to do like actually serve my clients. And honestly, I try not to think much about work at home – there’s office time and afterwards there’s ME time.

But I’ll have to give you a bit of personal background before I continue with this story.

When I was in Ohio, I went through all the testing and became a registered architect. So every two years, the state of Ohio sends a reminder notice to me that I have to renew my registration in order to legally practice for another two years (within the state of Ohio.) Despite the fact I live in Maryland now, I’ve opted to retain my Ohio registration – never know what can happen in life. (I also can continue to claim reciprocity as I work on getting registered here in Maryland.)

Anyhow, the state of Ohio, in its infinite wisdom, decided to kowtow to lobbyists from the American Institute of Architects and other interested groups who stand to gain from such regulations and adopt a mandatory continuing education policy, effective with this year’s renewal. So in order to maintain good standing with the state of Ohio, I have to complete 24 hours of continuing education in the next two years. (Fortunately, I’ll be able to use those hours concurrently for my Maryland registration once I get it since their requirements are similar.)

Don’t get me wrong, there’s some benefit to continuing education. But, honestly – have brick, steel, wood, and concrete changed that much in the last 20 years? Arguably, adopting a new building code every few years requires some study, but they retain 80-90% of the old code for the new one.

So what does the industry use as filler material for these hours? Primers on “sustainable” or “green” architecture, of course! That’s the AIA’s pet project, as evidenced by this article.

Thus, seeing it on the Sweet’s website piqued my interest. (Sweet’s is a company that compiles various product catalogs and annually publishes a multi-volume set of them, arranged by product. They were bought out by McGraw-Hill several years ago. McGrawHill also publishes Architectural Record.) I laughed out loud when I saw this though:

By now, you know the USGBC (U.S. Green Building Council) as the originators of the LEED program, which certifies that completed buildings meet a list of stringent criteria, from appropriate building materials to the disposal of construction waste. The program is generating its own energy, and although relatively few buildings [see Record, June 2005, page 135] have achieved LEED certification yet, and some have thrown up their hands and dropped out (the New York Times headquarters, for example, which folded its formal LEED program, if not its commitment to building green in the face of Manhattan’s unrealistic costs), projects in the pipeline are increasing.

So the New York Times, which probably made a huge deal out of becoming a “green building” participant, is given a pass because of “Manhattan’s unrealistic costs.” I can tell you from personal experience that it’s not just Manhattan that has unrealistic costs for green architecture.

Currently I have a project under construction that is attempting LEED Silver certifiication. That means they have to attain 33 points on a scale of 69. Some of these are common sense and good economics (like energy-efficient heating systems), but others are completely esoteric. (Here is the entire LEED 2.1 Green Building Rating System, it’s a 75 page .pdf file.) All of this to get 8% of your building cost back at some future point before 2011. But my bet is that it’s going to cost 10% or more to get this tax credit. We were pretty close on the calculations and that was before the owner decided to make a boatload of changes to the building. Hell, they STILL are and the building’s about 55% enclosed.

What sticks out to me above all else is that there has to be a tax credit to make these things happen. Just like too many other things, the government has to stick its nose into the market because it’s supposedly for our own good. I will grant that it’s the state government that’s doing it, so it’s the proper venue; but to me if there was a big demand for it people would naturally do this on their own, rather than create a lot more paperwork for everyone (particularly the contractor.)

And it leads me full circle to continuing education. Again, something for my own good, but let me be the judge of what’s good. I can do a lot more good to my employer restudying the code book on my own to verify the building is safe and sound as designed than spending unbillable time learning about another government boondoggle.

News digest #1

It’s a potpourri of stuff tonight. A bunch of stuff that piqued my interest in the last week, mostly culled from CNS News and AgapePress via www.gopusa.com. Basically, GOPUSA is a sort of internet newspaper with conservative news and commentary. And it’s upfront about it – the tagline states “Bringing the conservative message to America.”

News item: ADF battles Georgia county’s ‘Christmas’ ban in schools. ADF is the Alliance Defense Fund.

Money phrase: ADF attorney David Cortman says Jackson County officials have completely eradicated Christmas from the public school system.

“Teachers are not allowed to say ‘Merry Christmas’ [and] they’re not allowed to wear any pins or angels or crosses or clothing that has any religious connotation or affiliation,” Cortman explains. “They can’t have a Christmas party — they have to call it a ‘winter party.’ They can’t sing religious songs. In fact … they actually censored the word ‘God’ from the song.”

Now I cited this because there was a comment I left on Crallspace where he talked about the “so-called war on Christmas.” Just more proof that anything Christian in schools is being eliminated. Tyranny of the minority.

Here’s a link to that story, by Jim Brown of AgapePress.

News item: Kyoto Protocol declared ‘dead’ at UN climate conference.

Money phrases: “Kyoto is absolutely dead,” said David Ridenour, vice president of the D.C.-based conservative group, National Center for Public Policy Research.

Ridenour, who questions the alarmist scientific basis behind Kyoto, accused the industrialized nations that ratified the protocol of hypocrisy, for only verbally supporting the emission reduction goals.

“They’re hypocrites, those countries who say ‘we have to have the [Kyoto emission] targets, but we are not going to meet them.’ You have 11 out of 15 of the E.U. (European Union) nations that had increases in CO2 (carbon dioxide) emissions. So whether they admit it or not, Kyoto is dead,” Ridenour said.

Not surprisingly, seeing their dreams go up in smoke, environmentalists deny this:

“Kyoto is alive and well, thank you very much,” said Catherine Pearce, the international climate campaigner for Friends of the Earth International.

“These kinds of comments just come from the United States actually and it’s driven by the White House who actually wants to see this process die,” Pearce told Cybercast News Service.

And:

“Kyoto is alive and kicking. This conference is proof of that,” said Kaisa Kosonen, the energy campaigner for the European-based Nordic division of Greenpeace.

“I still have high hopes,” Kosonen added, while warning that the U.S. was playing a destructive role at the conference.

“The U.S. has done its best to sabotage everything. [But] you have to differentiate the Bush administration from the United States,” she said, noting the many U.S.-based groups in attendance critical of the Bush administration’s climate policies.

All you need to know about the Kyoto Protocol is that 11 of the 15 EU countries increased their emissions, and the goal of Kyoto was to restore the pollutants to 1990 levels. Ain’t gonna happen, unless all industry and progress in Europe cease. Even our Senate knew this was a turkey, which is why they rejected it on the order of 97-0.

The link to the story, by Marc Morano of CNS News, is here.

And if you don’t believe the whole global warming scare isn’t just a ploy to extract wealth from the industrialized countries to the forces of global governance, read this.

News item: ‘Are you better off this holiday?’, Democrats ask.

Money phrase: (House Minority Leader Nancy) Pelosi promises that a Democrat-controlled House will offer a “real energy plan that focuses on lowering high energy costs and developing new, cleaner technologies like hybrids, conservation, and renewable resources.”

She said Democrats will offer a “real prescription drug benefit that lowers out-of-pocket expenses and guarantees benefits, not one written by the pharmaceutical companies,” and she said Democrats will challenge the Bush administration’s “incompetent and dishonest foreign policy.”

Pelosi notes that Democrats need only 15 seats to regain a majority in the House: “Then the People’s House will be a place that is truly befitting of the holiday spirit — where we care for all people, and do the things necessary to make us stronger today and in future generations.”

Oh, such fun with this one!

Nancy, your idea of lowering high energy costs would be a freeze on gas prices and windfall profit taxes on oil companies. Then, when supplies dry up and there’s long gas lines because the oil companies can’t make money on their product, you’ll blame them for creating shortages in the market. Not only that, oil supplies that are tappable and refinable sit unused because of moratoriums on additional exploration (such as in ANWR) and the building of new refineries.

High energy costs are cyclical in some respects as markets fluctuate and stabilize. This also covers some of the “new, cleaner technologies” – if not for the governmental subsidies on some of those, they would never see the light of day. Just naturally build a market for it – if it’s as good as advertised, entrepreneurs will come. Oh yeah, Democrats don’t believe in personal initiative, just engorged government.

Bloated government will also be their “solution” to the “problem” of prescription drug access. I think it was a huge mistake to add prescription drug benefits to Medicare. The system of private insurance and subsidies by drug companies to poorer patients wasn’t broken, so no “fix” was necessary. Again, the Democrats’ solution will likely either drive up taxpayer costs or drive down pharmaceutical company profits, with a lack of new research being one possible effect.

Incompetent and dishonest foreign policy? That’s code for pulling out of Iraq. Nancy, I know it and you know it, quit bullshitting us and just say it. It’s easy, you can even do this in San Francisco, where they’ll cheer and throw flowers at you. Just walk to a microphone, get the network news cameras rolling, and say, “I want us to abandon our Iraqi mission and let the insurgents retake the country. Let Saddam Hussein reclaim what was rightfully his until we took it by force. In fact, we owe him compensation for killing both of his sons.”

We know you want to, grow a pair and do it.

And I liked the fact that the word “Christmas” did not once escape her lips. She’s into the “holiday” spirit as well, and I don’t mean that in a good way.

She did say one true thing. Read the phrase again, “Then the People’s House will be a place that is truly befitting of the holiday spirit — where we care for all people, and do the things necessary to make us stronger today and in future generations.”

The People’s House? Is that like the People’s Republic of China, or the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (what we know as North Korea)?

Where we care for all people? Is that to read, “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need”?

By “us” does she mean Americans, or the Democrat party? We already had a president or two who came up with hundreds of government programs that maybe were well-meant at the time but have become like a pack of rats – ugly, pesky, and damn hard to kill off one at a time. They’ve already trumped up charges to get rid of the exterminator that’s in Washington, and a renewal of the Democrat-controlled Congress will be like giving fresh garbage to those rats who are always looking for the easy meal.

Here’s a link to that story by Susan Jones of CNS News.

I hate it when this happens. I had one more item in mind, but the link doesn’t work. Oh well, it’s a blog post for another day. This item bears some relation to the environmentalist items I led off with, but on a personal level. So I suppose I’ll stop here with this post, I have another post to write tonight since something VERY interesting came in the mail for me today.

Late edit (12:20 a.m.) The second post will keep until tomorrow, or actually, later today.

Caveat emptor, part 2

It seems to me that sometimes we as consumers have become way too driven by price. In and of itself, that’s not a bad thing, but cheap needs to be good too.

I was talking to a friend of mine last night about where she works. The company she works for is a rather large, publicly traded company that manufactures various items for the healthcare field. One thing she’s had to do is watch as component production is being sent away from Ohio to factories in Mexico and China (mainly China.)

Now, I’m as much a free trader as anyone. I do think having free trade will help everyone in the long run. But one of her complaints about the factory in China is that they do not produce the quality of items needed to manufacture the items they assemble here in the U.S. So there’s a percentage of the items that have to be rejected. The problem she noted is that you just can’t get money back from China (for their rejected product)…what they offered is a slightly larger production for the same price. So basically you’ll get more crappy items from them in the hopes that the increase in sheer numbers will make enough product that meets standards.

It’s a problem that I see becoming worse, not just her company specifically, but in general. Her company is already suffering as their sales projections are down to what they were three years ago. The company’s stock is taking a beating too – in an era of rising prices and the Dow flirting with an all-time high, their shares are down almost 35% from their 52-week high. While they manufacture a product that should be very popular, I wonder perhaps if people have noticed the lack of quality in their product and begun to shy away from it.

I’ll set aside my mistrust of China as a trading partner for the moment to argue along another avenue. Consider the true cost of cheap and unskilled labor. Unskilled labor is fine for making and doing many simple things. But when you have a product that depends both on stability of structure and electronic components working properly, perhaps a little higher skill level is demanded.

We talked about her looking for a new car. One that she’s not going to consider was one that she drove for awhile, and that was a Kia. She just didn’t think Korean cars were made as well, but there were design elements she did like in them. I also have some experience with Kia, but my car was a Ford Festiva (which Kia actually made under the Ford name.) For the first 50,000 miles we loved that car – in fact my wife and I bought another one used as a second car when my old Chevy Sprint gave out. She drove the white one (an ’89) we bought used and I drove the red one (an ’88) that we bought new.

But the last 49,500 miles I had that Festiva were really hard on it. Three times the plastic door handles broke. The mechanism holding the driver’s side mirror in place broke after I bumped it one too many times walking by. The gasketing on the sunroof got loose and soon the handle broke. Brakes and muffler rusted out. I will say that the engine and transmission were fairly decent in it but it got to a point where the car wouldn’t start on damp and cool days. Plenty of those on Ohio.

I understand that it was a relatively inexpensive car. But one would think that a company wanted to have a product that was made inexpensively, but well. (By the way, we traded the other Festiva in for a Jeep Cherokee. Bought it new in 1994, my stepdaughter finally totaled it a year ago. Not her fault, it was the deer’s. The Jeep was falling apart as well, but the car was over 160,000 miles.)

It seems to me that sometimes we as consumers have become way too driven by price. In and of itself, that’s not a bad thing, but cheap needs to be good too. How many of you have had a product made by a company that you associated with quality and you end up throwing it out after two years because it’s stopped working? And how many times was it “Made in China”? Sometimes you don’t have a lot of choice, but do you ever stop and think why that is?

Let’s go back and examine the case of my friend. Somewhere along the line, the buyers and beancounters at her company found that it was cheaper for a plant in China to make their components and ship them across the Pacific than it was to make them in Ohio or even another state. Obviously, it was a price-driven thing. But it seems like the quality of the work suffers. Honestly, a worker in China is most likely not very educated or skilled with the exception of making whatever widgets the state-backed factory is putting out.

More importantly, what incentive does this factory have to create a quality product? They know that a Chinese worker is going to take his meager wages and not complain, for fear that either another willing worker will come along, or worse, he might be sent to a labor camp and work at the point of a gun. So it’s obvious that they can supply Americans with all the cheap products they’ll ever want to buy (and do, like it or not.) All Americans seem to want is a cheap product – almost so cheap that they don’t care about tossing it out a couple years later, then buying yet another one and the cycle starts over. It used to be called “planned obsolescence”, now it’s called “modern life.”

So where are the craftsmen? Unfortunately, they don’t seem to exist here either. The work ethic isn’t being handed down from generation to generation like it once was. Seeing a man who loves his craft is more and more rare. Seeing a man who has no compunction with putting in an honest day’s effort and working hard to move up the ladder of success is rarer still. Today’s workplace is more in line with the Dilbert Principle.

Now, I’m not tooting my own horn here, but I do take some pride in my work. It’s discouraging to me to see a contractor mess it up. It really pisses me off when it’s my fault, like I forgot a dimension someplace. We do look out for each other’s work at my company, but sometimes there’s things overlooked. I do get lectured from time to time about checking over stuff and not guessing or using “standard” details. So I learn a bit every so often.

I just wish that people would do more of that in the stuff they buy. Not just big ticket items like cars, but some of the little stuff. Your TV should last more than 5 years. That digital camera you buy for $99 – if it doesn’t work in a year, you can go out and buy a new one, just pay attention to who made it and where it was made. Don’t repeat the same mistakes if you can.

Ford used to say “Quality is Job 1.” It seems like a hollow slogan sometimes when yet another of their cars is recalled. The other thing I noticed in the news lately is that when Saturns were first made, they were considered one of the better quality cars in America, and their plant was noted for its culture and not being like every other car plant. But GM recently decided to pull the plug on one of the plant’s assembly lines anyway.

My last observation is this. Once again, imagine the Chinese factory. It runs constantly, belching out who-knows-what types of pollutants, unencumbered by such things as safety regulations and minimum wage laws. Obviously, the American factory that is shuttered won’t pollute, nor will they see any workers injured on the job. But their minimum wage is now zero as they have closed due to foreign competition – a Chinese factory that can’t match theirs in the quality of work, but kills them in price.

But if we could free ourselves from the shackles of excessive regulation and put an attitude back in the American people that values quality as much as price, perhaps we can find an entrepreneur willing to work hard and get his hands dirty in restoring a valuable company name. Maybe we can get back workers who give a damn about the things they make, won’t accept any less than the best, and are genuinely pissed off when they find out what they made was defective. But making an honest mistake would be grounds for the company to be more careful with the products they make, not grounds for a lawsuit-happy trial lawyer to encourage a few people who claim to be harmed by the product to make their attempt at winning life’s lottery and extorting millions out of the company (of course, the shyster gets his cut too!)

Recently, some unions dropped out of the AFL-CIO and formed what they termed the “Change to Win Coalition.” I hope one of the changes that they make is being a little more willing to work with corporations on getting some of the onerous regulations the labor movement has sponsored and created off the books so we can change to win. I know we can compete with the cheap Chinese if Americans can promise quality and prove why it’s better to be good than cheap.