New Mexico: The Entitlement State?

Posted on 26. Apr, 2012 by Stephan Helgesen in Economy, Politics

There’s so much talk about America becoming an entitlement culture what with the enormous increase in food stamp clients, welfare and unemployment recipients, but there’s little discussion about how our states have been slowly weaned onto an entitlement mentality through thousands of earmarks, public works projects, military bases and federal facilities like national labs, prisons and satellite government offices of every shape and size.

We all know that our modern economy relies on a combination of public and private investment to stay afloat, and New Mexico is not alone. Just look at the $6.0 billion/year impact our national labs has on our communities, except that our dependency (and that of many other states) on public money is way out of proportion with our population, especially if you look at it like a statistician.

Here in the West, from Texas to California, the Federal Government is very definitely the “800 lb gorilla in the room” with billions of dollars invested in our states and millions of jobs (both public and private sector) dependent upon that investment. Think: suppliers, manufacturers, and service providers – literally thousands of small businesses selling something to Uncle Sam’s many installations.

If we look at the big picture, the U.S. government has around two million employees, excluding the post office, on its payroll. Most of its employees (85%) work outside Washington, DC, but without the Federal ‘footprint’ in DC there would be few ‘Beltway Bandits’ (lobbyists), consultants, non-profits, union headquarters, etc. located there. Instead, a gaping revenue hole would exist for the DC government to fill. Conversely, if there were no national labs or air force bases in New Mexico, we’d have a mass exodus of service providers and suppliers headed out of town.

Where would the small businesses go?

But where would all those small businesses be headed if the Colorado labs like NREL and Argonne or the Lawrence Livermore Lab in California or the vast underground military defense installations in our neighbor states to the north and west didn’t exist? These companies would be like ‘ghost ships’ perpetually sailing an endless sea desperately in search of a safe harbor…or they would sink without government contracts.

Calvin Coolidge said “The business of America is business,” and back in Coolidge’s time, the Federal Government was miniscule (approximately 500,000 civilian government employees) compared to the behemoth it is now at approximately 2.0 million.

If the quote were updated it would probably read: “The business of America is government” as our government dependency has reached epidemic proportions.  If we’re looking for someone to blame we don’t have to look far… our own mirror will do, and then there’s our elected representatives. Generations of Congressmen and Senators have willingly fed at government’s trough at our behest.

We have encouraged them to fight for our fair share of the pork year in and year out, and that pork has taken the form of institutions and installations which have created an addiction that’s been nearly impossible to break.

Going ‘cold turkey’?

The piper must be paid. Many Americans now realize that to continue on the same path of government expansion will eventually create an unbreakable and dangerous dependency on a host that will soon be unable to deliver the goods as our enormous national debt ticks rapidly upward at over a trillion dollars/year AND the largest single social problem in American history kicks in to cripple small business owners – the (Un)Affordable Healthcare Act.

Is our addiction reversable?

There are only a few remedies for America’s addiction to government’s largesse and they all involve reducing our dependency on it and taking a new political path to achieve it. The good news is that most of our Congressional leaders finally realize it, too, and they are beginning to see that business as usual (earmarking) isn’t working. Americans are also waking up to the realization that every sugar daddy expects something for his money.

Government’s price is often our tacit agreement with its decisions and our promise to keep any criticism to ourselves.  Just as votes are bought with campaign promises to fund special projects, our allegiance is often paid for with jobs at government institutions.

Our best hope for survival and indeed prosperity during the time of these massive changes within our public sector is to build a new diversified economy that relies more on private sector growth than government. It’s that simple. And that’s the major disagreement between the two major political parties. If we don’t solve that ideological impasse we’ll run into a brick wall of debt and dependency that will force our hand.

Assuming we have the will to downsize our government, the operational choices will be difficult. Here in New Mexico we’ve seen how the BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure) Commission operates, and while it’s not perfect, it may be the model to use with our labs and other installations as well.

But before any decisions are made to close facilities, there must be objective defensible studies done on the impact closing facilities would have on the local community and the surrounding area. Traditionally, the best choices are not to simply close installations but re-mission them. That way America gets what it wants without the upheaval associated with wholesale shutdowns.

While this is happening, we in New Mexico we’ll need to reset our level of expectations because no government facility lasts forever just as none of us gets out of life alive.  We will need to have a top-down and bottom-up review of our core competencies so that we can  transform them into marketable strengths – to attract all-important outside investment. This will take time and dedication.

After all, building a better mousetrap means thinking like a mouse AND the trap at the same time.

Stephan Helgesen is a former diplomat who has lived and worked in 24 countries. Formerly the Director of the State’s Office of Science and Technology, he is currently an export consultant and Honorary Consul for Germany in New Mexico.

“We are not amused” Hillary Rosen

Posted on 22. Apr, 2012 by Stephan Helgesen in Politics, Social/Cultural

Queen Victoria, now THERE was one tough lady at a time when toughness was considered the sole province of men.

I suppose that Hillary Rosen could have said that Queen V hadn’t worked a day in her life either, and she might have been right if she was talking about a 9-5 hourly wage job, but Queen Victoria ruled the British Empire for 63 years, and few doubted her qualifications.

It amazes me that political strategists and pollsters think they can strip away all the accoutrements that make up the outward face of women, isolate and label them like an entomologist pinning butterflies to a board.

If these ‘professionals’ think that women are nothing more than the sum of disparate parts or can be re-assembled like a Mrs. Potato Head (and messaged to accordingly), they have never met a real woman let alone lived with one.

Ms. Rosen must have made her now famous comment as a result of an acute case of talkingpointitus or suffered a momentary gender lapse, otherwise she wouldn’t have coughed up such a hairball, especially at the time when her party’s chieftains were mobilizing their troops to ratchet up the War on Women and take it to the Republican camp and their front-runner, Mitt Romney.

We shouldn’t punish people for speaking their minds on national TV. We should just precede their appearances with a couple of their famous quotes thrown up on the screen for the viewers to see in case they’ve forgotten them.

To quote Shakespeare, “The evil men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones,” but with so much drivel to sort through in any given day, we need to be reminded occasionally of that evil.

We don’t judge books by their covers, so why should we pigeonhole women voters into stereotypical boxes to fit a political narrative or target group? Are all college-age single women alike?

Do all working women (those that have out-of-the-home paying jobs) have the same aspirations or share the same ideologies? Are all wealthy women protected from hardships or immune from life-changing personal challenges?

Do all women want their contraception devices or pills paid for and regulated by the government? Is the sisterhood of NOW and other female organizations only comprised of liberal East Coast academic women? Do middle-aged married Mid-Western women only vote for Republican candidates?

Are women more persuadable than men when it comes to education and healthcare issues? Are all women pacifists? Do women love their children more and their jobs less (and men the reverse)? Are they all driven by their protective nurturing nature?

I swear, sometimes these political strategists are nothing more than vultures perched on the hill intimidating the most vulnerable of the herd, waiting for them to show their weakness. Preying on their fears they wear down their subjects with incessant rhetoric until they succumb.

One hundred and fifty-four years ago, Abraham Lincoln gave a famous speech in Illinois in which he said that, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

That speech didn’t win him the Senate seat he sought, but it did remind a deeply divided nation that it was teetering on the brink of its own dissolution.

I am not an expert on women, but I see no virtue in pitting American women of any party, race, age, social status or ethnic group against each other, nor do I see any gains to be made from using our differences as a weapon to bloody the opposition.

What we do to others we do to ourselves, and that inescapable truth ought to be enough to make us want to lower our voices and moderate our tone.

- Editor

Lessons of MF Global: Stop Starving the Regulators, Especially the CFTC

Posted on 19. Apr, 2012 by Stephan Helgesen in Economy, Politics

Accountability through the “Sustainable Funding Act”

Anyone who thinks we’ve shut the barn door on misdeeds in the financial, commodities and futures markets just because of the well-intentioned Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (that became law on July 21, 2010) apparently has never heard of the latest debacle, MF Global.  The clarion call that arose out of the 2008 financial meltdown is still pealing.

A majority in Congress – regrettably, not all of Congress – quickly saw from the detritus of our broken economy the need for real oversight and meaningful regulation, but the non-majority in Congress who are so obviously beholden to Wall Street have been doing everything they can since to keep the barn door open.  And open it remains, as MF Global has proved.

Genuine futures market accountability is still pending, and the ability of the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) to pursue the four critical areas of its charter is still only a prospect until Congress gives the Agency the permanent funding needed to hire the personnel and develop the resources it requires.

If those personnel and resources had been in place by as late as just last September, the MF Global collapse might well have been prevented, and certainly would have been mitigated.

And the bulwarks would already be up to defend customers and investors against the next similar transgression.  As the CFTC’s extremely able Chairman, Gary Gensler, has made clear, more thorough registrations and product reviews, better examinations, more probing surveillance employing better real-time data, and more rigorous enforcement are still needed.

Fortunately, there are ready answers.  One is called the “Sustainable Funding Act” (HR 3665) which has been introduced by Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Leonard Boswell (D-IA) and Peter Welch (D-ME) to provide the CFTC with a permanent funding source, and the other is Reps. DeLauro’s and Welch’s “Anti-Excessive Speculation Act” (HR 3006) to amend the Commodity Exchange Act to prevent excessive speculation in commodity markets in general and on energy contracts in particular.

Currently, the CFTC relies on an annual appropriation to keep its lights on and guns loaded, yet the FY2012 federal budget saw a cut of 33% to the Commission’s operating budget and further cuts are expected for next year.

This is all part of the House Republicans’ effort to accomplish in the budget process what they are unable to achieve on the combined floor of the House and Senate, namely cut every regulatory agency budget to the bare bones so that actual enforcement is emasculated.

In other words, if you don’t like a law, then make sure it’s not enforced by disarming law enforcement.

The Sustainable Funding Act, modeled very simply after the SEC’s own permanent funding mechanism, would collect transaction fees from all futures market participants.

The Act is especially sensitive to the fact that not all futures transactions are created equal, and thus it provides for a thoughtful range of fees covering the entire range of commodity transactions.

Up until now, the CFTC has been something of a blunt enforcement instrument.  It has not been able to develop a meaningful distinction between futures trades that involve real goods and financial products integral to our large dynamic economy versus purely speculative commodity trades and trades in the ‘swaps’ marketplace which have no underlying rationale except speculation.  Dodd-Frank sought to address this persistent schizophrenia, and in response, the CFTC has now identified 32 areas where new rules will be necessary in order to implement the Act.

The most important by far are those related to inherently risky, speculation-based financial instruments and to speculation in energy-related commodities (oil, natural gas and gasoline).

The former are what drove MF Global (and earlier many other financial service firms) out of business and our economy into distress – the latter are responsible for as much as a third of the exorbitant and unjustified price of oil.

Futures are a critical tool for a sophisticated economy, which means few regulatory agencies are more important than the CFTC.  Whether you’re a farmer needing to hedge your crop and livestock prices, a small or medium sized manufacturer needing to hedge the prices of some of your raw materials, or an airline CEO trying to shelter your flying public from the vagaries of oil price swings, the CFTC offers ‘solutions’ not available anywhere else.

But pretty obviously if instead you’re a financier who wants to make big risky bets on the price swings of volatile financial instruments or indirectly drive up the price of gasoline, then you want the CFTC to remain underfunded and unfocused.

For then you can continue your strategies of using the credit of American taxpayers to underwrite your risks in gaming the system, and you can lay the consequences of your gasoline price manipulation off on the backs of the driving public.

Simply put, you must both keep the Commission from enforcing its new Dodd-Frank promulgated rules and block new legislation like Reps. DeLauro’s and Welch’s energy speculation bill.

There is nothing that more destabilizes markets and economies here at home and around the globe than the unchecked combination of ‘spec trading’ in swaps and commodities.

Yet today, the CFTC, with a budget that has left it hitting only about half its performance targets, is trying to regulate both a $300 trillion domestic swaps market – which is nearly eight times the size of the entire futures market – and a commodities market in which speculators, rather than producers, wholesalers and end users, control 85% of the crude oil futures market and 70% of the wheat contracts.

The risks from inadequately funding the CFTC are apparent for all to see, as power without the means to enforce it is actually worse than no power at all.

Unenforced power, even more than pure laissez faire regulatory constructs, says to ‘bad guys’ and ‘good guys’ alike that the nation really doesn’t care about misdeeds.  Repeated analysis has shown that such perceptions by ‘good guys’ very quickly turns them into ‘bad guys’ as well.

The CFTC will finally have the tools it needs when the Sustainable Funding Act and the Anti-Excessive Speculation Act are enacted.  And thank heaven for the likes of Reps. Boswell, DeLauro and Welch, who have never shirked from trying to make Dodd-Frank into the meaningful regulatory response that the Obama administration and the majorities in Congress intended.

Now, let’s just pass these bloody bills!  Let’s have no more using the federal budget process to thwart the intentions of the people, and no more ‘hiding the pea’ when it comes to masking the effects of regulatory non-enforcement.

This article was submitted by Leo Hindery Jr. who is chair of the US Economy/Smart Globalization Initiative at the New America Foundation, co-chair (with USW President Leo Gerard) of The Task Force on Jobs Creation, founder of Jobs First 2012, and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.  He is the former CEO of AT&T Broadband and its predecessors, Tele-Communications, Inc. (TCI) and Liberty Media, and is currently an investor in media companies.


Statewide campaign finance reform should be acted on now

Posted on 16. Apr, 2012 by Stephan Helgesen in Politics

In 2010, the United States Supreme Court made a decision that has had a devastating impact on our democracy. The high court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission recognized corporations as natural persons, protected under the First Amendment and thus entitled to free speech.

In so doing, the court handed a small group of corporate executives (unions don’t have nearly as much money) extraordinary power in the democratic process.

At the same time, the court indirectly paved the way for the formation of “super PACs” to raise unlimited amounts of money for specific candidates or causes. Although required to identify their contributors, actual givers too often are masked through the use of intermediaries.

Against this tsunami of mostly anonymous money, how can ordinary citizens compete for politicians’ attention, however noble the cause? Instead of government by and for the people, we now have government bought and paid for by special interests.

On the state level, there are equally insidious campaign finance laws in desperate need of reform. For example, New York state—in so many ways the nation’s most important role model—needs to quickly divorce itself from its unholy union of politics and money.

The state now has the highest contribution limits in the country ($60,800 for a statewide race), which means that big-money corporate and individual donors have significant influence in deciding who gets elected and what laws are passed.

This counterproductive race to the top—perhaps better termed as a race to the bottom—means that wealthy oligarchs determine the issues while the appropriate political needs of less well-heeled businesses, organizations and individuals go unattended.

While we await the Supreme Court’s reversing or limiting its pernicious decision, we can clean up Albany by establishing a voluntary system of public financing of elections like the one we have in New York City, which diminishes the importance of large campaign contributions.

Simply by encouraging candidates to raise money from small donors and then matching those donations with public funding, candidates don’t have to rely on large contributions from special interests in order to be elected.

A recent Siena poll showed that 74% of New Yorkers from across the state and the political spectrum want fairer elections. And New York City’s proven public financing system will provide them.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has made statewide campaign finance reform a priority, so let’s act now. It’s past time to take the “For sale” signs off our state Capitol and return democracy to the people.

This article was submitted by Leo Hindery Jr. who is managing partner of InterMedia Partners and a member of the Common Cause New York board and by Susan Lerner who is the executive director of Common Cause New York.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

America’s oil melting pot could shrink the deficit and boost the dollar—without new taxes

Posted on 16. Apr, 2012 by Stephan Helgesen in Energy/Environment

With gas prices continuing to climb, there is an ever-increasing quest for ways to find a culprit that can carry the blame. More and more, the finger pointing is focused on the overseas sale of U.S. petroleum product—with the belief being that selling American resources to the highest bidder increases the price of gasoline at the pump.

This idea has made strange bedfellows of Fox News host Bill O’Reilly and Congressman Ed Markey (D-MA).

Addressing gas prices, O’Reilly claims: “They are much higher because the oil companies are shipping their products overseas.”

Representative Markey (of the Waxman-Markey cap and trade fame) has “introduced legislation that would end the exportation of oil extracted from taxpayer-owned lands, and the exportation of refined fuels like gasoline produced from America’s oil.” Markey’s bill is called the “Keep America’s Oil Here Act.”

The idea has gained traction. It sounds good. Letters to the editor have popped up echoing the sentiments—with one even proposing “a massive letter-writing campaign to Congress insisting it creates a law that prevents the export of our gasoline and fuel oil.”

I was alerted to the trend by “Chip” who wrote the following in response to one of my columns: “So why is no one suggesting a tax on domestically produced oil, natural gas, or coal being taxed if sold overseas.

With all of our natural energy resources, why let it count for so little if global demand will dictate that we pay the same general rates for oil, coal, and gas as anywhere else…”

Whether we have a bill like Markey’s that mandates that resources extracted from federal lands be sold in the US or a tax as Chip suggested, the idea that selling domestically produced resources overseas is driving up prices is being propagated from someone, somewhere and is accepted as fact.

With the Obama re-election campaign being staked on raising taxes, it may well be coming straight from the White House. Markey’s “Keep America’s Oil Here Act” tells us that the Democrats have bought into the theme of discouraging exports of US product—whether through regulation or tariff.

Wherever this “protectionism” idea is coming from, it is wrong on many counts. While keeping American oil here sounds like it would lower prices, it will not impact the price and could hurt the overall economy.

In essence, we are keeping American product here as, at present, we use far more than comes out of the ground domestically. Yes, it is true that some of the barrels of oil that come from Texas or North Dakota or the Gulf of Mexico may be sold as gasoline to Argentina or Peru, but we use far more in the US than we extract.

Once in the refinery, the barrels of oil may well be merged and the refined product that comes out may, in fact, be interracial—with the gallon of gas’ lineage being a combination of Africa, Brazil, the Middle East, Mexico, Canada, and the US. Since we need the crude oil from some of the very same countries to which we sell the refined product, such as gasoline, is it wise to start adding a tariff to what they buy from us and incite a possible trade war?

Here in the U.S. we get many, many products from other countries and adding barriers to trade is likely to hurt the bigger picture.

The misunderstanding of the “keep it ourselves” camp is that there is a difference between the crude oil—from which gasoline is made—and the gasoline and/or refined products such as jet fuel and industrial feed stocks such as ethylene, butane, and propylene.

The vast majority of the refined products used in America are produced here. (Some may come from Canada due to the location of the refineries being closer to the American user.) U.S. refineries export the excess finished product—we import about 9 million barrels of oil a day and export about 1 million barrels of fuel.

In refining crude oil into gasoline, there are byproducts that other countries need more than we do. If those products, such as kerosene, cannot be sold overseas, we develop a storage problem. American gasoline usage is down while usage in countries with emerging economies is up.

For example, in August 2011, US consumers used 8% less gasoline than they had four years earlier. In India, the usage in October 2011 was 5.4% higher than it was one year earlier.

America has the capacity to refine a more diverse mix of crude oil—including the cheaper, heavier crudes, such as those from Canada’s oil sands.

Much of the increase in crude supplies is from the heavier oils, and this gives America a competitive advantage. While refiners in some countries are shutting down, the U.S. refineries are positioned for growth, which results in increased jobs and tax revenue.

It would be disadvantageous to tell the refiners that they cannot sell their product overseas. Americans are not consuming enough gasoline to fuel growth. Our refiners need the foreign markets.

America finally has something the rest of the world wants! For far too many years we have been importing nearly everything and sending our dollars to other countries.

Now we are getting some of that money back, as fuel has become America’s number one export. This helps our trade balance and strengthens the U.S. dollar. A stronger US dollar means lower gas prices as it takes fewer U.S. dollars to buy a barrel of oil.

The smaller trade deficit and the stronger dollar can lead to lower US interest rates and that is a boost to American growth.

Additionally there are free-market and moral issues with the “keep it ourselves” model.

If your daughter wanted to set up a lemonade stand and the local city officials told her she could sell lemonade, but she could only sell it to the locals, she might still agree to do it—thinking, “Who else will come down my street?”

So she sets up her lemonade stand and sells lemonade to the passersby. One day a bus of athletes headed to the high school breaks down in front of your house and the thirsty athletes flow out of the bus and straight for your daughter’s lemonade stand.

Waving dollars at her, they order her ice-cold lemonade. But the local government watchdogs come in and tell her she cannot sell to the thirsty athletes. This is both a violation of free market principles, and it is immoral.

By not being allowed to sell to all customers, she is missing out on a lot of potential sales. Leaving the athletes dehydrated, while she is standing right there with lemonade is immoral. Yet, this is exactly what the protectionism attitude does.

It prevents U.S. companies from selling the surplus to customers who want to pay for it and deprives emerging countries from the resources they need to grow. If we thumb our nose at them, they will have to buy from someone else. We lose.

It is better to keep friendly relationships with our customers and encourage growth in U.S. companies that hire our citizens and contribute to our tax base.

The more customers we have, from a broader base, the better it is for U.S. businesses.

Instead of a “letter writing campaign to Congress insisting it creates a law that prevents the export of our gasoline and fuel oil,” we need to be grateful that America has something the rest of the world wants: refined fuels made from a truly American melting pot of sources and that “something” has the potential to shrink the trade deficit and boost the declining dollar.

This article was submitted by the author of Energy Freedom, Marita Noon, who serves as the executive director for Energy Makes America Great Inc. and the companion educational organization, the Citizens’ Alliance for Responsible Energy (CARE). Together they work to educate the public and influence policy makers regarding energy, its role in freedom, and the American way of life. Combining energy, news, politics, and, the environment through public events, speaking engagements, and media, the organizations’ combined efforts serve as America’s voice for energy.


Explaining the National Debt

Posted on 13. Apr, 2012 by Stephan Helgesen in Economy

As a young father, I relished trying to explain things to my children. I wasn’t always successful, but I really loved the challenge of getting into their little minds and rolling around in all that virgin grey matter.

I think I made some headway when I encouraged them to try to visualize things – like what it would be like to be a blood platelet floating through an artery or a summer mosquito flying to treetop heights. Those experiences and others since then have convinced me that many of life’s problems can be put into perspective if only we use a little creativity and try to shrink them down to size.

Speaking of that, the old elephant quote comes to mind, “How can you eat an elephant…one small bite at a time.” And when that incremental approach is coupled with some imaginative thought, even the biggest problems can be brought into focus.

Let’s take the national debt, for example. Every person in the U.S. is on the hook for it. In the sixties,  we were all fascinated by space travel, and economists used to calculate the debt by laying dollar bills in stacks that would reach the moon. We were shocked because we knew the distance to the moon, and that example helped us understand the enormity of our debt.

That indebtedness is like a wart on an elephant compared to the $11.6 trillion economists say we will soon owe over the next few years. So, how do we get our arms around that figure? Dollar bills circling the moon several times and looping back to Earth won’t impress many of us, so I have another idea how we might hammer the point home to our fellow Americans.

Suppose the IRS sends each American family a statement in the mail for the share of the debt they owe? How would we feel opening our mailboxes and seeing a window envelope staring back at us from the Feds? Nervous fingers gingerly tear it open and find the following…

“Dear FellowAmerican,

Please be advised that the U.S. Treasury has assessed your family’s current share of our national debt to be approximately $200,000. This sum is due and payable immediately if we are to liquidate our nation’s accounts payable at this time. We at the IRS realize that the average taxpayer might not be in a position to pay this debt in one lump sum so we are offering you three options.

The first option is for you to begin making payments to us at the rate of $10,000/month (figure adjusted for interest) over the next two years.

The second option is for you to transfer the responsibility of that debt to your children and grandchildren who may pay it to us over the next 10 years.

Please bear in mind that because our debt is increasing at the rate of $3.0 million a minute, the actual amount your children or grandchildren will owe could be considerably larger than the current sum, as it will include interest at an indeterminate percentage (this will depend on the interest rates our Treasury Bills will be required to pay to foreign investors along with the rate of government spending).

There is a third option (though it is not within our agency’s purview to recommend it).

We call your attention to the national elections that will be taking place in November.

Should you decide to vote for candidates who support dramatic curbs on federal spending or espouse balanced budget amendments, their election and subsequent decisions may reduce your family’s indebtedness and therefore your family’s total financial obligation to us. Please check the box alongside option one or two…or check the appropriate box on your ballot on November 6, 2012.

Sincerely,

Your friends at the IRS”

I haven’t asked them, but I think my children would be pleased that their old dad is still trying to explain the inexplicable.

- Editor

Litmus Testing the Fence-Sitters

Posted on 10. Apr, 2012 by Stephan Helgesen in Politics

I’m proud of the fact that I’m politically engaged and fairly politically astute. Frankly, I don’t understand those who don’t care about politics or its effects on their lives. Don’t they know that the only innocent thing about bystanders is their naiveté? Do they really think that by not taking sides they’ll exempt themselves from the consequences of other people’s actions?

Ever seen the TV cameraman on the sidelines at a football game get mowed down by a wide receiver running dangerously close to the out-of-bounds line?

Everything’s going fine. He’s capturing some great footage until he realizes that a mano a mano collision is about to take place and HE’S one of the manos! Because he’s spent all of his time looking through somebody else’s lens he’s missed an opportunity to positively affect his own situation and get the heck out of the way before this oncoming freight train of a man turns him into tapioca pudding.

Anyone who positions himself at the sidelines of politics with his arms folded, dispassionately watching cataclysmic events take place deserves to be hit by that wide receiver, and I for one have no sympathy for them. I guess it’s because my skin has been toughened these last 20 years of the Clinton, Bush and Obama Administrations (not to mention the last ten Congresses that have come and gone and the really pathetic laws they’ve turned out).

I could no longer stand idly by and say, “Hmm, isn’t that an interesting piece of legislation (like the Affordable Healthcare Act); I wonder how that will affect me?” than I could say to the tax man, “Could you please take a little more of my money? I was only going to leave it to my children anyway.” Yah, right.

A good friend of mine lives in Texas, and I was talking with him about these fence-sitters. He remonstrated against them in a typically Texan way. He said that, “Suppose you’re watchin’ two 2,500 lb. bulls fightin’ in a corral. They’ve been at it for an hour, knockin’ themselves out with their repeated attacks, but now they’ve kicked the fence boards loose, are tearin’ up the corral and puttin’ the rest of the herd in danger.

What do you do? Ignore ‘em and hope they’ll come to their senses before they destroy the place or do you step in and get involved when you see the way things are goin’? Brother, that’s what we call a Texas no-brainer.”

True fence-sitters and real non-committals aren’t the only casualties on the political battlefield nor are they the only ones giving freedom a bad case of indigestion by their lack of participation. Political correctness seems to be pushing us and our opinions so far underground that we may need to start applying a litmus test to everybody so that their ideologies are visible to the naked eye and so that we know who we’re talking to.

For those of you who haven’t thought about it for awhile, litmus is a coloring matter that comes from lichens and the litmus test helps identify two solutions. When litmus is added to acids it turns red and when it’s added to alkaline solutions it turns blue.  That is not a political comment, my friends (though it is an interesting thought). It’s just chemistry.

Our litmus test could be my friend’s bull-in-the-corral situation. Here’s what you do, when you’re with someone whose political philosophy you’re unsure of…

You repeat that situation and wait for your conversation partner’s answer. If he says he’d wait until the bulls get tired so they fall over from exhaustion, he’s probably a very doctrinaire, laissez-faire type who won’t intervene no matter how serious the situation is.

If he says he’ll get a couple of the boys to jump over the fence and try to lasso the bulls and pull them apart, he’s probably a theoretician and has never done this before. So, basically, he has no clue of the danger he would put himself and his pals in.

If he says he’ll pull out his Winchester and kill one of the bulls, chances are he’s a doer not a talker, but not necessarily a long-term thinker as he clearly hasn’t thought about how the shot might stampede the rest of the herd AND send one of his best ‘producers’ to the big stockyard in the sky.

If you find someone who says he’ll fix the fence boards first, sequester the exposed herd and saddle up his ranch hands on their horses so they can guide one of the bulls into an open chute, then you’ve found a person who understands human nature as well as animal nature. My advice is, get him to run for public office.

We must start pulling people off the fences and making them aware that their voices count and that none of us can afford to just vote ‘present’ while bad things happen to our blessed land. This high-pitched disagreement about what kind of America we want and the demonization of the opposition is eventually going to tear down the fence the undecideds are sitting on. They had better get ready and choose for themselves which side to come down on. Let’s hope for all our sakes that it’s the side of common sense, conversation and the Constitution.

- Editor

The EPA with Easter egg on its face? The Agency’s Arrogant, Abusive Authority

Posted on 10. Apr, 2012 by Stephan Helgesen in Energy/Environment

Did the Obama administration overstep its authority with its landmark healthcare legislation? During the three-day review, Justice Anthony Kennedy created news with his statement that the government has a “heavy burden of justification” to prove its case. All of America is watching and waiting for the expected June decision from the Supreme Court.

But, we do not have to wait to decide that the Obama administration has “overstepped its authority”—a federal judge has already handed down a decision. In this case, healthcare is not at the center of the debate; the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is. The agency have been issuing regulations and finalizing rules with no “burden of justification.”

The EPA, “dominated by anticarbon true believers,” could be considered rogue—except that it has the blessing of the boss. The agency’s actions align with President Obama’s “campaign to raise the price and limit the production of fossil fuels” here in America. The  EPA’s freewheeling, however, may have been curbed as the agency is facing a headwind of opposition from the industries they are shutting down, state regulators, and even federal judges.

The wheels are coming off the wagon.

A couple of weeks ago, March 23, the EPA suffered a setback when US District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson in Washington, DC, determined that the EPA did not have the power to revoke a legitimately approved mining permit once it had been issued by the Army Corps of Engineers, as the EPA had done in January 2011 regarding Arch Coal’s Spruce No. 1 mine in WV.

In ordering that the EPA’s “action be vacated in its entirety,” Judge Jackson said: “This is a stunning power for an agency to arrogate to itself when there is absolutely no mention of it in the statute.”

The EPA entered dangerous territory when it retroactively vetoed the permit, which had been approved after an exhaustive, approximately 10-year, regulatory process—which included time for an extensive review by the EPA. At the time, Senator Manchin (D-WV) said the “decision is not just fundamentally wrong, it is an unprecedented act by the federal government that will cost our state and our nation even more jobs during the worst recession in this country’s history.”

He continued: “it has negative ramifications for every state in our nation.” Manchin called the EPA’s decision “an irresponsible regulatory step” and said it was “a shocking display of overreach,” with “a chilling effect on investments and our economic recovery.”

The permit, issued in 2007, now “remains valid and in full force.”

The following week, April 1, the EPA itself took a step back in its arrogant power grab. Once again, in January 2011, the EPA positioned itself above the appropriate governing body. In this case, the EPA filed a lawsuit against an energy company it claimed had contaminated drinking water in Texas through a natural-gas drilling process known as hydrofracturing—which is currently regulated by states, and for which the EPA wants national standards.

In Texas, oil and gas activities are regulated by the Railroad Commission. The EPA said the Railroad Commission failed to address an “imminent and substantial endangerment” to public health. The EPA then, in January 2011, filed a lawsuit against Range Resources. The Railroad Commission accused the EPA of “fear mongering, gross negligence and severe mishandling.”

After an appeal from Range Resources argued that “the agency’s analysis was inconclusive,” and the company pointed to nearby wells known to contain gas long before Range began drilling in the area, the EPA dropped its suit.

Railroad Commission Chairman Barry Smitherman responded: “By dropping their court case and enforcement actions, EPA now acknowledges what we at the Railroad Commission have known for more than a year: Range Resources’ Parker County gas wells did not contaminate groundwater. This announcement is a vindication of the science-based processes at the Railroad Commission.”

The Texas case highlights other aggressive actions by the EPA. In agreeing to drop the case, the EPA has agreed to retest water in Wyoming and Pennsylvania where the agency has also engaged in the practice of sowing fear, uncertainty, and doubt—about which the Wall Street Journal cautions that regulators may be “spreading needless fear so they can enhance their own power while pursuing an ideological agenda.”

As far back as the early 1950s, natural gas, especially methane, has been found in water wells in areas where no drilling has taken place, but the gas is naturally seeping from “underlying gas-bearing shales.” The seepage can be accompanied by a “rotten egg” smell that tips off an investigation.

Addressing the Texas case, John Hayward, in a column in Human Events, explains the ideology that “is the core assumption of radical environmentalism: all industry is guilty until proven innocent, and the burden of proof rests heavily upon industry. Only the most aloof, unaccountable, heavily concentrated federal power is suited for conducting these prosecutions.”

By spreading fear, the EPA justifies its existence—after all, there is a problem that it needs to solve. It gains power without, as Justice Kennedy said, “a heavy burden of justification.” The crazy regulations the EPA has been issuing represent a breakdown in faith in the government. The EPA has been exposed as being abusive and arrogantly authoritative.

Just two days after the Texas reversal was released, the EPA announced a delay on finalizing its rules aimed at natural-gas wells drilled using hydraulic fracturing. Oil and gas companies pushed to weigh in on the new standards. Perhaps, the EPA is feeling like the rotten egg.

And, these recent “egg-on-its-face” events come after the Supreme Court unanimously sided with the Sacketts and against the EPA in a decision that allows Mike and Chantell Sackett to challenge the EPA. In a statement, the Sacketts praised the court for “affirming that we have rights, and that the EPA is not a law unto itself.”

With this change in climate, it is time to challenge the EPA’s recent regulations against the coal-fueled power industry and give the EPA the “heavy burden of justification.” Let the agency prove that it is not just regulating on fear, emotion, and ideology—but on sound science.

This article was submitted by Marita Noon the author of Energy Freedom. Marita serves as the executive director for Energy Makes America Great Inc. and the companion educational organization, the Citizens’ Alliance for Responsible Energy (CARE). Together they work to educate the public and influence policy makers regarding energy, its role in freedom, and the American way of life. Combining energy, news, politics, and, the environment through public events, speaking engagements, and media, the organizations’ combined efforts serve as America’s voice for energy.

 

 


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