A paucity of passion

September 15, 2015 · Posted in All politics is local, Campaign 2016, Delmarva items, Education, Maryland Politics, Politics, Radical Green · Comments Off 

I am struck by the difference between two recent meetings.

Last week I covered the first hearing regarding the prospect of an elected school board. Yesterday I also read a story by Susan Canfora in the Salisbury Independent about the city’s rejection of a park land donation sought by the county.

In the former case, the arguments for and against were delivered in a relatively quiet room, but those who were out to save the forest burst into applause with each speaker on their side and cheered when the measure died for a lack of a motion. Canfora’s report noted that the City Council meeting was standing room only, with more people spilling into the hallway. Having been to that venue before, I know the room can get 80 to 100 people in it if you all inhale and exhale the right way.

Of course, there was resolution in the county’s case – the city said no to the donation. On the other hand, the process of getting an elected school board is in the early stages of its latest iteration. So in that respect I am doing a little bit of an apples-to-oranges comparison, but I did see a useful tool in understanding the approach one side may choose in the school board debate.

Those who favored the expansion of the ball fields grounded their argument in economic terms. They could cite concrete facts and forecasts of how much impact these tournaments have locally, in dollars, cents, and jobs. Softball tournaments bring in hundreds of players each summer, and those participants have to eat, sleep, and play someplace.

Conversely, those supporting the forest played to the emotions of the audience and City Council. Suddenly that 35 acre plot of land was a magnet for low-impact tourism and a vital part of the natural beauty of Wicomico County. Just for sake of reference, 35 acres covers about 1/16 of a square mile. The Centre of Salisbury sits on about 58 acres, so this forest plot is barely half the size of that parcel.

Those same appeals to emotion come out when opponents of an elected school board bemoan the loss of “diversity” they are sure would come about with an elected board.

It’s always intrigued me that those who wail loudest about diversity are the least diverse of any group – sure, they may fill quotas with every possible variation of outward appearance and behavior trait under the sun, but when it comes to diversity of thought: forget about it! It’s the side that’s afraid to hold presidential candidate debates because their standard-bearer, the one who fills the “woman” quota their party wants to check the box of, might have to actually defend her record (or lack thereof.)

But let me back up the focus. To me, diversity is for ideas, which is why legislative bodies often split along party lines. I highly doubt the NAACP, the teachers’ union, or any of the other opponents of an elected school board will stop trying to participate in the process when an elected board finally comes to fruition. They will certainly have a slate of candidates, and those candidates will probably have a monetary advantage in their respective races. On the other hand, I would certainly push for the most conservative school board possible. Hopefully I get more victories than the other side, but I doubt either will have a clean sweep and it may be there are times they have to meet somewhere around halfway.

Regardless of what Don Fitzgerald may claim, there is some cronyism involved with the current system. Rarely does a complete political outsider get a seat on the school board because the current system has as its judge and jury political insiders up and down the line. (The same would hold true with a nominating commission.) The best chance for a concerned citizen would seem to be the electoral process, particularly since the system as envisioned would rely mainly on districts of about 20,000 people – not an unmanageable size for a small, well-organized campaign. Granted, there may be times when running countywide could be an advantage but my suspicion is that those couple spots will be filled with current board members who already have name recognition.

If there’s one lesson I want the class to remember, it’s this: you can easily figure out which side has the facts and which side runs on emotion. Diversity is the reddest of herrings, so don’t let them fool you into thinking their idea of the concept is anymore than skin-deep.

Hogan’s uphill battle

For several years I have cited an annual survey of business friendliness put together by thumbtack.com. It was useful in illustrating how poor the Maryland business climate was.

Unfortunately, year one of the Hogan administration finds the state in a deeper hole, narrowly missing the bottom five of the 36 states for which the survey had sufficient data to compile. It is noteworthy, however, to point out Baltimore’s grade basically drove the state grade so they may bear a significant share of the blame.

As for what the survey asked and found specifically:

Small business owners found Maryland to be one of the least friendly states for microenterprise, though they widely approved of local training opportunities, according to Thumbtack’s annual Small Business Friendliness Survey.

Nearly 18,000 U.S. small business owners responded to the survey, including 442 in Maryland. The study asked respondents to rate their state and city governments across a broad range of policy factors. Thumbtack then evaluated states and cities against one another along more than a dozen metrics.

“Small business owners on Thumbtack have consistently told us that they welcome support from their governments but are frequently frustrated by unnecessary bureaucratic obstacles,” said Jon Lieber, Chief Economist of Thumbtack. “Maryland offers decent programs to support business owners directly, but they tell us the regulatory environment is just too hard for them to understand and navigate.”

“The taxes here are high,” commented a property manager in Baltimore. “There is no support from the government, especially the housing office.”

Here’s where entrepreneurs will pin their hopes on the new Regulatory Review Commission, which should try and reach out to as many of these businesses as possible to get suggestions.

The biggest problems with our state insofar as this subject goes is that its grade is getting worse – declining from a C- last year to its D+ this time – and Virginia got an A on the same survey. (Delaware had fewer than the 50 responses needed to get a grade.) Business owners hated the state in particular for its environmental and zoning regulations and government friendliness, both of which were given big fat Fs from those surveyed. (The former category also gets a “see, now what have I been telling you for the better part of a decade” from this writer.)

If a state is going to brag that it’s “open for business” it needs to be better than a D+ state. The work on regulatory reform should be in tandem with other avenues toward success like lowering the corporate tax rate (or, even better, figuring out a way to cut three cents out of every dollar in state spending and scrapping it entirely) and telling the liberals in Annapolis who keep whining about the need for combined reporting to pound sand. Another proposal I would have is adoping the proposed moratorium on new Chesapeake Bay regulations until the sediment at Conowingo Dam is addressed,

We have models for success all around the country so why should we be 31st out of 36? I can’t fault Larry Hogan for a lack of effort or his difficult circumstances, but we need leadership in this regard and if it means telling the people the truth about where the problems lie (hint: they hold 124 seats in the General Assembly) so be it.

A further obstacle

Perusing social media last night, I saw that Delegate Christopher Adams linked to an article by Bob Zimberoff in the Easton Star-Democrat. Since I have a website, I’m revising and extending my remarks in my comments therein.

Zimberoff’s article talked about the rush to get building permits in Caroline County. It wasn’t thanks to a business boom or new economic opportunity – terms for which neither apply in the Eastern Shore’s sole landlocked county – but a deadline builders were rushing to meet.

(Developer Blaine) Williamson wasn’t the only one to hurry to get a permit. In all of 2014, the Caroline County Department of Planning and Codes issued 40 total permits for construction of new residential units. In 2013, 34 permits were issued.

Already in 2015, 46 permits have been issued in Caroline as of June 30. Of those 46 permits, 30 were issued in June. According to Sara Visintainer, chief of staff for the Caroline County Commissioners Office, another 30 applicants started the permitting process in June but failed to receive permits because of financial burden or other considerations.

Every few years, the state of Maryland adopts the most current editions of several building codes, including the International Residential Code. While the code has mandated that new homes have fire sprinkler systems, previously counties were able to opt out of the requirement. (I thought I had written about one such effort before, and it turns out I was right.) Apparently that exemption is no longer allowed, and it’s sending a chill throughout the housing industry. I return to the Star-Democrat:

At Williamson Acres, modest starter homes list for $150,000 to $160,000.

“That’s the market value. That’s all I can sell them for,” Williamson said. “It costs so much to build them now, I’m not making much money. When you add the sprinklers on, I would actually be losing money.”


With five vacant lots and three permits to build, Williamson said he intends to leave two lots undeveloped until regulations change or the housing market improves. Even with the BAT septic mandate, Williamson could profit $5,000 to $10,000 from selling new homes, but the sprinkler mandate effectively eliminated a chance at financial gain.

“I’m not going to build a house knowingly losing money on it,” he said. “The sprinklers are the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

So here is the situation. You will have a rush of construction over the next few months as those houses which got their permits prior to June 30 get built out, but then in a few months the market will slide as the dearth of new permits takes hold. In other words, this artificial boom will be short-lived.

My previous piece on the controversy here in Wicomico County back in 2011 noted the dubious benefits against the costs of the home sprinkler systems, but there is also the issue of how the cost may discourage rural development because it’s more expensive to use a well as a source as opposed to a municipal water system. To Radical Green, though, that’s a feature and not a bug, and you can bet your bottom dollar those who write the codes are squarely in the Radical Green camp – after all, those who believe we can build our way to absolute safety regardless of cost would also be the most fervent believers in the nanny state. We obviously want some element of safety and energy efficiency in our construction, but there comes a point when cost outweighs benefit and in a single-family residential setting sprinkler systems can be a deal-breaker.

Delegate Adams and his counterparts will be well-served in attempting to restore the exemption counties used to enjoy. Something tells me it wasn’t the rural legislators and regulators who took the exemption out, so you can call this a side skirmish in the War on Rural Maryland.

More counterproductive regulations

July 26, 2015 · Posted in Business and industry, Radical Green · Comments Off 

Do you recall the “new” water-saving toilets that you had to flush twice to get the job done? Don’t look now, but Rick Manning tells us that “technology” is coming to dishwashers:

What could go wrong?

Nothing so long as homeowners don’t mind grunge baked onto their dishes due to the failure to have sufficient water to clean off the food.  No matter how much Cascade and JetDry you put into the system, not enough water means disgusting baked on egg, and other delights.

The purported reason for the water limitations is to cut those dreaded greenhouse emissions to comply with Obama’s on-going global warming jihad.  In Obama’s Ivory Tower world, it is inconceivable that a dishwasher that doesn’t actually get dishes clean might cause people to take alternative action.  The most likely of which is to use much more water by hand washing every dish before it goes into the dishwasher and effectively only use the appliance for killing bacteria through the high heat drying process.  Or, perhaps people could go full Madge, and only hand wash dishes rendering the modern appliance and convenience useless.

The idea is to wash a full load of dishes in 3.1 gallons of water. As of 2012 an Energy Star dishwasher uses 4.25 or fewer gallons so we are going through all this to save perhaps 300 gallons of water a year, or about 10-12 average showers.

Of course, as Manning points out, this assumes a dishwasher gets all the items rinsed off and doesn’t bake it on but good. In our household we generally pre-rinse dishes to lend the dishwasher a hand, so that doesn’t really change our strategy. But when I was single I didn’t bother because, after all, that’s what the dishwasher was for!

There is a time when returns diminish to almost nothing. Sometimes I think the EPA believes in their heart of hearts that the optimum amount of water needed in a dishwasher would be zero, but that’s impossible unless you can clean the dishes with pixie dust and blow the debris away with unicorn farts.

The dishwasher is supposed to be a labor-saving device, and I know: for over a decade I lived in a house where the dishwasher was my two hands. There was really nowhere to place one in our kitchen. So it is a benefit to be able to use somewhat less water to do dishes – after you fill one side of the sink with a gallon or two of sudsy water and run the tap when it comes time to rinse on the other side it’s likely you’ll use 8 to 10 gallons of water. Thus, a dishwasher is an improvement both in water efficiency and time, because who wants to stand and do dishes for a half-hour?

That’s not to say that the market won’t demand a less thirsty dishwasher, but that should be up to the market. When low-flow toilets originally came out, there was a black market as consumers who could make the drive went to Canada to buy the good old-fashioned 3-gallon models. By next year, that old underground railroad may be back again to provide dishwashers that do it right the first time.

2016 dossier: Energy

Third out of my ten priority issues for the 2016 candidates is energy, where candidates can score up to seven points with an agreeable policy. You’re likely asking what would be agreeable to me, so here is a quick primer.

As you likely know from reading this site regularly, I’m in favor of letting the market determine what is efficient and inexpensive. Since oil is plentiful and relatively cheap within our shores, I think we need to allow exploration wherever possible including offshore areas currently off-limits. The same goes for natural gas, with hydraulic fracturing being a proven technique to extract both oil and natural gas. It should be encouraged, including the infrastructure needed to more safely transport it – yes, that means build the Keystone XL pipeline.

Maybe the best way to put it is that I advocate a “most-of-the-above” energy policy. Those items which are exceptions would be federal subsidies for the solar and wind industries, which should be made to compete on a more level playing field. We need to also dump the Renewable Fuel Standard because it makes no sense to grow food to turn into fuel. This may not make me a lot of friends in the corn industry, but it’s time to end the failed experiment.

I also have nothing against the coal industry, so let them keep mining and burning coal.

Now that you get the idea of where I stand, where do the candidates stand?

There are a couple more specific resources that I used for this exercise. On the wind energy Production Tax Credit (PTC), the Huffington Post blogger Heather Taylor-Miesle shared the following, with some assistance from the League of Conservation Voters:

I also leaned on a well-done Ballotpedia article for many of these candidates, as well as their campaign websites. This gives me an idea of just how much they are committed to energy as a topic for the campaign.

But I honestly wish every candidate would cover every issue as thoroughly as Bobby Jindal presents his energy platform. Even the title is optimistic: “Organizing Around Abundance.” There’s not much at all to dislike within it, either. I spent a very productive half-hour reading through the report and if he doesn’t win the Presidency we should at least make Jindal the Secretary of Energy. The next President has the blueprint dropped into his or her lap right here.

Total score for Jindal – 6.9 of 7.

Ted Cruz couches his energy policy as one of jobs and opportunity, and in that respect he is right on. He voted to end wind subsidies, and told an Iowa crowd in the middle of corn country that ethanol subsidies had to go. His Ballotpedia energy profile lists any number of bills he co-sponsored to assist in deregulating the energy industry. The only question is how well he would be able to use his bully pulpit, but there’s not a lot to dislike about the Cruz approach so I give it high marks.

Total score for Cruz – 6.6 of 7.

Claiming to want a free-market approach seemed to take a back seat for Rand Paul when he wanted to win votes in Iowa. Going to E15 full-time would be a disaster, but he supports it.

Listen, if he wants to live a sustainable lifestyle on his own time that’s cool but “well thought-out regulations” is generally an oxymoron to the highest degree. So while I like his stances on encouraging drilling and exporting oil and natural gas, Rand comes in a cut below the top tier.

Total score for Paul – 5.0 of 7.

On his state level, Rick Perry has presided over a boom in most energy sectors, although some accuse him of lagging on solar. He signed a modest renewable energy portfolio, which thanks to abundant wind resources is covered – at a cost of several dollars a month on state electric bills.

But Perry, surprisingly, doesn’t have an energy policy spelled out. I know he’s fracking-friendly and supports exporting of oil, but the key unanswered question is just how far he would allow a state-centered approach to go if it gets in the way of his overall goals. Are state’s rights that paramount?

Total score for Perry – 4.2 of 7.

While Lindsey Graham voted recently to end the PTC, there are areas of his energy program which cause me concern. (He gets kudos for wrapping it up in one easy-to-digest package, though. It’s more than most of his counterparts put up.) The nagging thought I have is about “investing in cutting-edge technologies.” Did we not learn a lesson with Solyndra? And in the back of my mind, I wonder if he still believes this after seeing five years of the fracking boom?

Total score for Graham – 3.6 of 7.

It’s always revealing to see who the Left dislikes most, and Scott Walker was declared as the “worst candidate for the environment.” This was basically because he didn’t fall in with Radical Green. He seems to remind them of Snidely Whiplash, even cutting funding for a renewable energy research center. Yet on a state level he has kept a number of programs going, even though he was also worried about the effects of wind turbines on health.

But I saw the flip-flop on the RFS, and that hurt his chances with me. Nor does he delve into energy on his website.

Total score for Walker – 3.5 of 7.

Mike Huckabee is all over the map on energy. He won’t commit one way or the other on wind, has gone from ethanol supporter to opponent depending on venue and audience, but says we should exploit “anything and everything” when it comes to domestic energy. I like the ideas of relaxing export and exploration restrictions on oil and natural gas, but suspect that green energy subsidies won’t be going away soon as he once backed cap-and-trade. He would be better than some others, and I like the America-first attitude, but he falls short of the top tier with his indecisiveness.

Total score for Huckabee – 2.7 of 7.

You would think Jeb Bush would be very good on energy given his family’s interest in oil. But he has a go-slow approach in several areas, including the delayed phaseout of the PTC and a call for “rational” restrictions on fracking – remember, “rational” is always in the eye of the beholder. He is in favor of finishing Keystone XL and opening federal lands to drilling, which is a minor plus, but also endorsed a national goal of 25% renewable energy by 2025 – that would be a job-killer. I’m just afraid a Bush administration would be a repeat of his brother’s, where we were saddled with programs such as the Renewable Fuel Standard (which he wants to keep) and regulatory demise of inexpensive incandescent light bulbs.

Total score for Bush – 2.5 of 7.

While George Pataki deserves some credit for advocating an end to New York’s fracking ban and correctly feels that wind subsidies need to be blown away, what worries me are his thoughts on ethanol. I think the jury is still out on “clean,” but while corn-based ethanol is relatively renewable and American-made, I would rather eat my corn than put it in my gas tank. I can’t eat tar sands or sweet light crude.

Like Bush above, Pataki also signed the “25 in ’25″ pledge, so I don’t think he gets that the market should lead, not government.

Total score for Pataki – 2.5 of 7.

Chris Christie has a very mixed record – great for items like pulling out of the RGGI boondoggle that Martin O’Malley entangled us into, but in the same breath he banned new coal-fired power plants in the state. After putting out a one-year moratorium on fracking, he at least came to his senses 2 years later and vetoed a fracking ban. Offshore wind projects are stalled, but he has high hopes for solar. Rationalizing our approach to regulations and lifting the ban on exporting crude oil are positives, but not going after some of the biggest hurdles to a free energy market negates these campaign planks.

As a whole, though, he’s less trustworthy than Bush but hangs around that same level.

Total score for Christie – 2.3 of 7.

Making news on how his views have changed on the climate is the bulk of my look into Marco Rubio‘s policies. At one time he voted for looking into a cap-and-trade program for Florida, but claims he was never really for it. At that time he had a lot of green-friendly ideas, so I don’t know where he stands now. It’s a trust issue.

Total score for Rubio – 2.0 of 7.

Carly Fiorina has slim pickings when it comes to energy; however, her vow to eliminate the PTC by 2020 is at odds with the “all-of-the-above” approach she championed in 2010. More recently she’s tried to convince skeptical audiences we can innovate our way out of climate change, but that innovation once included support for a cap-and-trade program once proposed by John McCain. I just don’t see a whole lot of consistency and the lack of an issues page on her site makes it even worse.

Total score for Fiorina – 1.5 of 7.

Postscript 9/26: Thanks to her support for clean coal, I bumped her up a point and a half to 3 of 7.

John Kasich is new to the race, and as such has no energy platform on his website. But several discouraging acts of late give me pause: an effort to increase taxes on energy producers coupled with the reversal of an earlier decision to allow fracking on state lands outweigh positive moves to freeze the state’s renewable energy portfolio requirements and place prudent tabs on wind turbine siting. I see more of the same leftward drift with Kasich.

Total score for Kasich – 1.4 of 7.

While he isn’t opposed to fracking, the pandering Rick Santorum did in Iowa at the feet of King Corn made me wonder if he wouldn’t do the same on other issues. He once voted against the PTC but Iowa is also a leader in wind, so who knows what he will say next. Will he really stand up to the EPA? You would think a candidate from a fracking state would say more on his website and in general about energy, but Rick doesn’t.

Total score for Santorum – 1.4 of 7.

Okay, we know Donald Trump understands the economic benefits of fracking and loathes wind and solar power. But I have no idea what this will do with policy. All the hullabaloo over immigration and John McCain isn’t helping either.

Total score for Trump – 0.5 of 7.

You may have noticed an omission among the group atop the post when it came to wind. Quite frankly Ben Carson is a non-entity when it comes to energy issues. Aside from a vague reference to “developing our natural energy resources,” the biggest indicator I could find is this piece where he claims in one breath he wants a free energy market, but makes the exception for not just E-15, but E-30. If you want to lose the boat owner vote you just succeeded wildly.

Total score for Carson – 0.0 of 7. (Yes, that is a goose egg.)

It used to be that Social Security was the “third rail” of politics – touch it and you’re dead. But now I think social issues have become that for the GOP; nevertheless that is my next topic.

Larry Hogan’s maintaining an O’Malley legacy

July 17, 2015 · Posted in All politics is local, Cathy Keim, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics, Radical Green · Comments Off 

By Cathy Keim

So who needs Martin O’Malley when Larry Hogan will carry on his work?

I was astonished to read that Governor Hogan is expanding the You’ve Earned It! mortgage assistance program from the original $20 million to an additional $70 million. (Hat tip: Gwen Cordner.)

The program is aimed at assisting potential buyers, particularly members of the so-called “Boomerang Generation,” who are employed and have good credit but are saddled with student debt that is proving a barrier to homeownership. These young people are more likely to live with their parents than were young people one or two decades ago and they are saddled with significantly more student loan debt than their predecessors.

The student loan debt in America is over $1 trillion dollars and growing. The federal government supports 95% of student loans and is making billions of dollars of profit on them. There is no incentive by the Feds or by the colleges and universities to cut the spigot. As tuition rises each year, the students borrow more money only to find out when they graduate that there are no jobs for them to earn enough to support themselves and pay their loans.

Another neat trick is that you cannot get out of paying back your student loans by going bankrupt. There is no escape. Is it any wonder that young people who are graduating with a national average of $29,000 in college loan debt must live in their parents’ basement because they cannot pay their loans and live independently on a barrista’s salary?

In a Wall Street Journal interview, Dr. Richard Vedder of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity links the tuition increases to “the 50-fold growth in federal student financial assistance programs since 1970. Former Education Secretary Bill Bennett was mostly right when he said federal aid programs enabled colleges to raise tuition fees, helping to fuel the academic arms race.”

Why do so many people need a college degree? Many of the jobs that require a college degree did not require it in the past. We can thank the government for that also. Businesses used to administer tests to see if the potential employee had the skills necessary to fill the position. The government struck down testing as unfair, so many businesses switched to a college degree requirement as a way to screen applicants without running foul of the government.

Over time the value of the bachelor’s degree was diminished and now many jobs require a master’s degree forcing more students into school longer and causing more debt.

This situation is a serious problem for all of us. We need our younger generation to be buying consumer goods, especially cars and homes, to keep the economy humming. They must do their part, even if the government has to step in to “help” them again. It helped them acquire student loan debt and now it can help them acquire mortgage debt.

But the story doesn’t end there. These mortgages must be for homes in a certified sustainable community. And who determines what is “sustainable?” This group:

Sustainable Maryland is a certification program for municipalities in Maryland that want to go green, save money and take steps to sustain their quality of life over the long term. Sustainable Maryland Certified is a collaborative effort between the Environmental Finance Center (EFC) at the University of Maryland and the Maryland Municipal League to replicate the success of theSustainable Jersey initiative throughout the Mid-Atlantic States, beginning in Maryland.

To become a certified sustainable city, the city must have a green team comprised of municipal workers, city leaders/businessmen and diverse citizens. This is a standard tactic to get leaders onboard a project and others will follow because if “Joe” is on it, then it must be ok. The city can apply for tax credits and grants to bring improvements such as bike paths or renovating old buildings. The municipal workers on the green team get paid for their efforts (it is part of their job), but the citizens are volunteers because their hearts are in the right place.

(Note: Salisbury is registered, but not certified yet. Snow Hill and Berlin are certified sustainable cities.)

(Editor’s note: one of the Sustainable Maryland “primary partners” is the Town Creek Foundation, which never met a Radical Green program it didn’t like.)

Once these debt-laden former students are ensconced in their subsidized mortgage home, they will be ready to marry and produce the next generation of liberty-loving citizens. The next generation will be taught in the fully implemented Common Core method, which will ensure that they never hear of their heritage as Americans. They will be assessed and evaluated from pre-school to the workforce. The thousands of data points gathered will ensure that they are nudged gently into the correct attitudes so that they will fit into the new world order. Teamwork and cooperation will be their strong suit while individuality and thinking deeply on any subject will be discouraged.

The water in the pot is almost to a boil. If we don’t jump this presidential election, I fear it will be too late.

Playing with trains

June 8, 2015 · Posted in Business and industry, Maryland Politics, Politics, Radical Green, State of Conservatism · Comments Off 

Perhaps you can add “centrist Republican governors” to that list.

There’s a very good reason that America doesn’t have a similar system to Japan’s – we prefer to do our travel in automobiles. If passenger rail was truly successful, we would not have a government-subsidized corporation (Amtrak) running it but a system more like air travel, with a number of carriers competing for business. (Granted, the amount of railway is much more finite than airspace but if demand were there more would be built.)

Yet this latest proposal is interesting in one respect: how the operation would be conducted.

Nazih Haddad, executive vice president of the Rapid Rail company, said his company would bear all of the operating costs once the line was running. He said the construction costs would be split between the Japanese government, the Central Japan Railway and the U.S. government, with no need for a state contribution.

One truly has to wonder why the Japanese government would want to be involved – if they have a TEA Party in their country I would think those taxpayers would be complaining about spending their tax money on a project in America. (Of course, Uncle Sam has to get its mitts into it as well.)

But pardon me if I’m a little skeptical about Rapid Rail “bear(ing) all the operating costs” when just the study will cost $28 million and supposedly it will be $10 billion to build. California got this high-speed rail idea a few years ago (using more conventional technology) and its price tag has tripled since voters approved the bonds. Based on that it wouldn’t surprise me if construction for a maglev ended up costing something like $30 billion. (In comparison, the Purple Line and Red Line were tabbed to combine for $$5-6 billion. That’s why our gas tax went up a couple years ago – and continues to increase every 6 to 12 months.)

While I understand it’s not the state money funding this study, it’s still taxpayer money. Naturally I suspect that the study will make the rosiest predictions on benefits and somehow overlook vast areas where costs could creep up. The results will fit the agenda, as they often do.

It may well be possible to get from Baltimore to Washington in 15 minutes via maglev – but are you willing to pay $200 a trip to do so? Something tells me this will be how the process would work. Call me a Luddite, but I think the tax money could be more productively spent.

Secession over energy

You might recall that an ongoing, back-burner thought we on the Eastern Shore have had is the idea of seceding from the state of Maryland – a state which otherwise belittles us, doesn’t share our concern about the agricultural community, and tries to lord it over us because we only have a small percentage of the population. With a Republican governor that sentiment has diminished somewhat but it’s still active among a few.

The southern tier of counties in the state of New York have a similar beef. Their state is controlled by the denizens of the Big Apple, which overshadows both the urban enclaves of Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, and Albany and the rural areas upstate. Those who represent the urban areas have prevailed on the state government to ban fracking in the state, which means areas within the Marcellus Shale formation can’t tap into that valuable resource, while just a few miles away Pennsylvania towns and cities are thriving. This story by Tina Susman of the Los Angeles Times makes it plain that residents in that area are frustrated, just as those who live in the western end of Maryland have been pleading for the state to lift its de facto ban on the practice. Instead, the Maryland General Assembly put yet another two-year delay on the books.

In both cases, the problem lies in the small minority of citizens who are blessed to live in an energy-rich portion of a state being forced by a majority who thinks they know better to suffer, watching those who live just a few miles away prosper.

Also in both cases, the chances of secession vary between slim and none, with slim vacating town to pursue a fracking job in an adjacent state.

Of course, this is the small drawback to having 50 different state governments: it allows for some to fail in their economic efforts. Both New York and Maryland have an economic engine which depends on the growing alliance and partnership between Wall Street and the federal government, with thousands of financial sector workers in New York City and thousands of federal employees in Maryland. In their worldview, we can secure all our energy needs from renewable sources and oil and natural gas are dirty, nasty fossil fuels. Problem is we still use an awful lot of those fossil fuels because renewables are extremely expensive or highly subsidized.

Perhaps what needs to secede is the crazy idea that fracking is something to be avoided at all costs from the laws of the several states. Until then, those poor people in New York and western Maryland will continue to see prosperity from afar.

So-called expert believes women can only be prostitutes and maids

Okay, now that I have your attention, allow me to add some context. If I did show prep for Rush Limbaugh, this story would be placed in the “lighthearted stack of stuff.” (This explains why I kept it around for a couple weeks.)

Back on April 20 – which somehow seems appropriate – the Washington Times ran the story I allude to in the title. It detailed an April 6 lecture by “a key figure behind New York’s statewide ban on fracking.” Biologist Sandra Steingraber said the following:

“Fracking as an industry serves men. Ninety-five percent of the people employed in the gas fields are men. When we talk about jobs, we’re talking about jobs for men, and we need to say that,” Ms. Steingraber says in a video posted on YouTube by the industry-backed group Energy in Depth.

“The jobs for women are ‘hotel maid’ and ‘prostitute,’” she says. “So when fracking comes into a community, what we see is that women take a big hit, especially single women who have children who depend on rental housing.”

Needless to say, if a conservative said that women were only qualified to be prostitutes and hotel maids, we would have that splashed all over the front pages for months on end. Instead, it took two weeks to leak out to the Washington Times and, aside from that, it’s barely been mentioned. A cursory news search for Ms. Steingraber only found a few articles on smaller outlets about upcoming speeches and minor reaction to this story.

The Times also quotes another anti-fracking activist who compares the procedure to rape:

Ms. Steingraber’s speech, titled “Fracking is a Feminist Issue: Women Confronting Fossil Fuels and Petrochemicals in an Age of Climate Emergency,” comes after Texas anti-drilling activist Sharon Wilson was criticized for comparing fracking to rape in a March 30 post on Twitter and her blog.

“Fracking victims I have worked with describe it as a rape. It is a violation of justice and it is despoiling the land,” Ms. Wilson said in her blog, TXSharon’s BlueDaze. “Victims usually suffer PTSD.”

I tell you, Valerie Richardson’s story could be comedy gold – but these people take this stuff seriously, and that’s a shame.

While the oil and gas industry isn’t female-dominated by any means, it’s often a function of physical strength and skill level – the women who are coming into the field aren’t typically found at the wellhead but in what the industry calls “downstream” jobs. None of them involve prostitution or scullery work, but they’re usually not going to get their hands overly dirty at the jobsite because they are the technicians and engineers as opposed to the guys doing the drilling and extraction. And that’s just fine – they’re making an honest living. So Steingraber may be right in the specific that nearly all wellhead jobs are held by males, but as an industry she’s well off base.

Yet the problem with this line of thinking is that it pervades the brains of liberals who occupy places of power, such as the EPA or, closer to home, the Maryland General Assembly. The Radical Green leftists in the MGA still haven’t received the “war on women” meme, but they don’t have to be as sly about it, either.

As you are likely aware I am currently working on the 2015 monoblogue Accountability Project, and some of my venom is saved for the idiocy which passes for oil and gas industry expertise. Pro-abortion legislators are continually trying to strangle Maryland’s fracking industry before it even makes it to the crib, as you’ll see when I wrap up the mAP in the next few weeks.

One good example is a proposal on the waste products of fracking, which is originally proposed would have made it illegal for a person to “accept, receive, collect, store, treat, transfer, or dispose of, in the state, waste from hydraulic fracturing.” Well, that pretty much covered it: a backhanded ban on the practice. I have at least one other example in the mAP, so be watching.

For America to prosper, we need to create our own energy. And when we have the bountiful resources that we do and can extract them at a reasonable, market-based price, why not do so? You can see the depths opponents have to reach to make their point, which means their argument is a futile one. Drill, baby, drill!

Maryland: contrarian again

It’s been awhile since I looked at the energy industry, what with legislation, riots, and other general mayhem. Fortunately for me, I have several sources in that industry to return me to speed and one is writer Marita Noon, whose piece on NetRightDaily today detailed the efforts of forward-thinking states to repeal their renewable energy mandates - some by whopping margins in their legislature. In those states, the market-bending allocations to renewable energy are coming to an end, leveling the playing field and perhaps saving their taxpayers millions of dollars.

Unfortunately, Maryland isn’t one of those states rolling back its mandates; in fact, the only piece of legislation dealing with the renewable portfolio was a liberal Democrat-backed scheme to expand it some more. House Bill 377 and Senate Bill 373 both were aimed at significantly increasing the percentage of renewables up to 40% by 2025 – current law peaks renewables’ share at 20% by 2022. (Both these figures are a pipe dream.) The Senate version lost in the Finance Committee by an 8-3 vote, and the House version was withdrawn before it was voted upon.

It was good that a bad bill was thwarted, but it was unfortunate that no bill was introduced to repeal these mandates. Maryland would be in far better shape energy-wise, eventually with lower utility rates, if true reform was achieved: repeal of the renewable energy portfolio, the withdrawal of the state from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, repealing the subsidy for offshore wind, and encouraging energy production from hydraulic fracturing and offshore drilling.

Over the course of the O’Malley administration, energy companies took the brunt of new regulations and changes in the market; in particular, their cost of doing business was affected by the renewable energy portfolio and the RGGI. If you assume the goal of the utility is to provide energy as cheaply as possible to make a profit – while keeping prices low enough to maintain and grow a customer base – having the dead expenses of the “alternative compliance payment” made necessary by falling short of renewable goals and the CO2 allowances auctioned off by RGGI as a sweet redistribution scheme aren’t helping the cause. Meanwhile, more exploration and investment in energy infrastructure could bring Maryland closer to being at least even as opposed to a net energy importer.

I wouldn’t expect any repeal of these bills to pass on the scale that they’ve moved through some state legislatures, but 71-70 and 24-23 are perfectly fine margins to me. It would also likely require getting around the committee process and bringing the package directly to the floor. (The portfolio repeal, RGGI withdrawal, and repeal of the offshore wind subsidy could be one bill: call it the Maryland Energy Reform Act of 2016.)

The trick is getting the right people to advocate for the changes by showing how much can be saved by consumers. That portion seems like a job for a group like the Maryland Public Policy Institute, while the lobbying on the part of the energy providers should include a pledge of reducing rates. Shaving 2 cents a kilowatt hour off the bill may not sound like much, but it translates to about $216 a year based on average residential usage of about 900 kWh a month. I don’t know about you, but an extra $18 a month would be nice for me. Just think of the economic benefits we received last year when gasoline skidded to $2 a gallon – benefits being lost now as prices have edged back up over $2.50 a gallon.

To help in prosperity, Maryland needs cheap energy. As it stands now, we don’t have it but I think we can get it if the political will is there.

Is the era of full employment over?

Simply put, March was not a good month for job creation around the country. Numbers were down markedly from previous months while, as the Americans for Limited Government advocacy group pointed out, the labor participation rate tied a 37-year low.

The news was even worse in the manufacturing sector, where it contracted by 1,000 jobs. While Scott Paul of the Alliance for American Manufacturing blamed the strong dollar, calling it “a big loser for factory jobs in the United States,” it’s only a piece of the puzzle.

Paul would favor a more interventionist solution, adding:

There’s plenty that could be done to turn this around. The Treasury should crack down on currency manipulators, the Federal Reserve shouldn’t act prematurely, USTR should be assertive about enforcing our trade laws, and Congress must address currency and trade enforcement in the context of new trade legislation.

Based on Barack Obama’s promise to create a million manufacturing jobs in his second term, he needs to add 628,000 in the next 21 months – a Herculean task for any president, and almost impossible for this one. Let’s consider a few facts:

First of all, the continued low price of both oil and natural gas has tempered the energy boom to some extent. According to Energy Information Administration data, the number of oil and natural gas rigs in operation last week was 1,048. In terms of oil operations, the number is down 45% from last year and for gas it’s down almost 27%. While gasoline in the low $2 range is good for the overall economy, oil prices need to be between $60 and $80 a barrel for operators to break even, and the benchmark price has held lately in the high $40s.

As I noted, low energy prices are good for some aspects of job creation, but the energy boom is on a bit of a hiatus and that affects manufacturing with regard to that infrastructure. Throw in the unfair competition we’re receiving when it comes to OCTG pipe and it doesn’t appear this will be the cure to what ails us as far as job creation goes.

More important, though, is the financial aspect. Our corporate tax structure is among the most punitive in the developed world, which leads to capital flowing offshore despite the “economic patriotism” appeals of our government to demand it come back. Once you have the opportunity to take advantage of other countries’ willingness to charge 20% or even 15% tax, why should you willingly pay a 35% rate? Their slice of the pie may be less, but they get a lot more pies this way.

And then we have the aspect of regulations, particularly when it comes to the financial restrictions that Dodd-Frank places on the lending industry and the environmental mandates an overzealous EPA is putting on industry – look at coal as an example. If we went back to the conditions of 2006 the environment would likely not suffer serious harm and companies would have a much easier time with their accounting. I haven’t even touched on Obamacare, either.

Not all of this is Obama’s fault, but the majority of these problems can be laid at his feet. Alas, we have 21 months left in his term so many of these things will not change despite the presence of a Republican Congress which will be blamed for any setbacks.

So the question becomes one of just how many employers in general, not just in manufacturing, will be able to weather this storm. Even the recent news that both Walmart and McDonalds will be increasing their wages brought out the cynics and doubters. But it’s worth pointing out that both Walmart and McDonalds have stated they wouldn’t oppose a minimum wage hike. Such a move makes sense for them because their bottom lines can more easily manage a modest wage hike for their employees and they know their local competitors can’t. Both also have the flexibility to adopt more automation where they used to have a row of low-wage employees. As an example, most of the local Walmarts adopted a number of self-serve checkout lanes over the last year or so. If you hire a dozen fewer cashiers it’s easier to give the others another dollar an hour.

Change is a constant in the labor market, and we know this. But there are some circumstances under which businesses thrive and others where they struggle, and history has gone long enough to suggest the broad outlines we should follow. It’s unfortunate that some want to blaze a new trail when we know where the correct path is.

Informally making it formal?

When you stop laughing, hear me out.

It’s only been two months since he left office, but I think we can all agree our somewhat esteemed former governor is all but an official announcement away from throwing his hat into the 2016 Presidential ring. And when you consider that Hillary Clinton is continually being tarred by scandal after scandal (Benghazi and her e-mail questions) and blunder after blunder (the Russian “reset” button and discussing the “fun deficit”), Martin O’Malley almost looks sane. Come on, what else do you have on the Democratic side – the gaffe-prone Joe Biden? “Fauxcahonotas” Elizabeth Warren? One-term Senator Jim Webb of Virginia is the one who has the exploratory committee going, but the far left considers him a “Reagan Democrat” who they can’t support.

So when you see the above photo on the O’Malley Facebook page (which is where I got it) you have to ask if the “taking on powerful and wealthy special interests” message is meant for Hillary? After all, look how much the Clintons’ foundation has raked in over the years. And his message today about the presidency “not (being) some crown to be passed between two families,” would resonate with a lot of people who believed the propaganda about how disastrous the George W. Bush tenure was and are already tired of the constant turmoil surrounding the Clinton family.

Perhaps Delegate Herb McMillan put this best, noting, “Raising taxes on the poor and middle classes 83 times isn’t the same as taking on powerful wealthy special interests.” But it’s more than that.

Obviously the laughter among many who read this website comes from knowing how rapidly O’Malley would genuflect to particular special interests when it suited his purposes. Environmentalists got a lot of goodies during MOM’s reign: California rules on emissions, punitive restrictions on development in rural areas (via the “tier maps”), an ill-advised and job-killing moratorium on fracking, and of course the “rain tax.” Illegal immigrants, too, had a friend in O’Malley, but productive taxpayers – not so much. He also decided to work on legalizing gay marriage only after his electoral coast was clear in the state – if he had tried to run for re-election on the issue he would have lost the black vote in 2010. (Remember, that was before Barack Obama’s flip-flop on the issue.)

Say what you will about Martin O’Malley, but he is the lone Democrat openly considering the race who has executive experience – on the other hand, there are a number of GOP candidates who can boast the same thing: in alphabetical order there’s Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, John Kasich, George Pataki, Rick Perry, and Scott Walker. Depending on who the GOP puts up, the “experience” tag could apply to the Democrat. We’re not saying the experience would be a good one, but it is what it is.

Don’t be too shocked if the O’Malley’s March national tour makes a lot of stops in Iowa and New Hampshire. It’s his way of pandering to the special interests he cherishes the most, and if people are fooled by this sudden bout of populism it’s their own fault. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

Update: At Front Line State Jim Jamitis echoes these sentiments, with a great headline to boot.

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