American Elephants

Here’s What “Draining the Swamp” Really Means! by The Elephant's Child

“Draining the Swamp” is a newly popular phrase for trying to rein in the overgrown government in Washington D.C. that seems to be leading to an administrative state — a catastrophic error devoutly to be avoided. Philip Hamburger has written a splendid assessment titled Is Administrative Law Unlawful and a companion The Administrative Threat which explain just what we have to worry about.

Investors Business Daily has written about just how it works.

What was first proposed by Congress as a modest law to assess the environmental impact of highway construction and other publicly owned projects, has grown into a bureaucratic monster, the likes of which no one ever imagined.

Nearly a half-century ago, before major federal environmental laws existed, Congress wanted to ensure that all federal agencies consider the environmental impact of their actions. This well intended action led to passage of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

America’s permitting and regulatory process is now so tightly bound in red tape, virtually no major energy or construction project can be accomplished without years of permitting delays, involvement of multiple government agencies, and seemingly endless  litigation. According to a 2016 review by the National Association of Environmental Professionals, it now takes an average of 5 years to complete one NEPA environmental impact statement. This timeline doesn’t include the years of litigation that routinely follow every major energy and construction project.

In North Dakota a badly needed drinking water project was held up in permitting and court for nearly 15 years. Colorado is still waiting after 10 years of trying to expand a reservoir to boost their drinking water supply. Everyone recognizes that the permitting process is a huge problem. The Obama administration ran into it with his stimulus program, and tried to speed up the process. But what is needed is not just “fixing” the rule, but to reform the NEPA process by making environmental permits a “one agency, one decision” deal, include a two-year deadline. For most NEPA permits, a lawsuit can be filed up to six years after the project ends. Environmental activists often simply do not want any change to take place in the area of their concern, and will use all kinds of silly lawsuits to end or slow development. The “endangered species” idea can be used anywhere, if you can’t find a specimen, but there may be large quantities on the other side of the ridge.

The Obama administration imposed a record 600 major regulations, which added rules that cost the economy $100 million or more at a rate of every three days.

President Trump is taking on the issue of permitting reform head-on, laying out a comprehensive plan to streamline approval for major infrastructure projects. A big part of the cost of any infrastructure project is red tape, which I’m sure he knows well from his construction projects. So far by the end of December had saved some $8.1 billion in net federal regulatory costs. The impact on the larger economy is more significant. Scott Pruitt is doing a fabulous job.

Regulations destroy freedom. The question: Is the loss of freedom worth what the regulation will cost?


QQQ: A Hint From Economist Daniel J. Mitchell by The Elephant's Child

“Rather than helping the poor, higher tax rates redistribute rich people.”

If you live in California, Washington State, Connecticut, New Jersey, or for that matter, any other state, you might remind your governors and legislators of this simple economic fact. You may have noticed that not many of them are up on their basic economics.

I added New Jersey to the list because of this!

What is American Greatness? by The Elephant's Child

The Question was “Can the Swamp Be Drained?” Kimberly Strassel of the Wall Street Journal speaks on the Governmental Swamp, Can the political corruption in our government be defined and can we actually actually make progress in fixing it?

It’s a fairly long speech, you may need to save it for the weekend, but don’t miss it. It’s important, and Kim is terrific.  The lecture was given as part of the April 2018 National Leadership Seminar for Hillsdale College, and posted on Feb. 27.

The Strange Adventures of the Venus of Willendorf and Mark Zuckerberg by The Elephant's Child

This pudgy figure, the Venus of Willendorf, is to be found in the Naturhistorische  Museum in Vienna, Austria. She is a fertility figure, without face or feet, and one of the oldest sculptures we know. She was found in 1908 near Willendorf, Austria. She is a lonely representative of Stone Age sculpture, approximately from 28,000 — 25,000 years B.C.  She is carved of Oolitic limestone in the Paleolithic Period or the ‘Old Stone Age’. She’s about 4½” tall, and was covered with red ocher paint when found. An image of the work was posted on Facebook by Laura Ghianda last year, and removed as ‘inappropriate content’—despite four attempts to appeal the decision.

Ghianda, who is an activist, denounced the Facebook ruling,  The Museum protested in January requesting that the Venus be allowed to remain naked, and of course great fun was made of Facebook, and a spokesperson for Facebook apologized in March, saying that they had confused the post in question with an advertisement. “Our policies do not allow nudity or implied nudity, but we have an exception for statues.” Ms. Ghianda has launched an online petition asking that Facebook change its algorithms that are censoring art online. And so it goes in the halls of Silicon Valley.

Silicon Valley has a lot riding on its algorithms, and people are getting a little testy about being banned or wanting someone banned. The companies depend on their algorithms to help them define who is likely to be a customer for what to tell their advertisers about how much they are going to have to pay for an advertisement on a particular page, which is why you get ads for shirts when you were just looking at shirts on someone else’s website. And future gadgets and photos of you and yours will tell them even more. They want to know everything useful about you, so they can monetize it . Privacy is a thing of the past.

Gov. Inslee Wants to Save Us From Global Warming With a New Carbon Tax! by The Elephant's Child

While everyone’s attention was consumed with the Parkland, Florida shooting, we apparently had a visit from former Secretary of State John Kerry to advocate for our Washington governor Jay Inslee’s bright idea of a carbon tax.  Stupid tax, and extremely bad timing. The vote on the school levy here in King County was on Tuesday, the 13th. Don’t know how that has turned out yet, but it is close. They wanted lots of money to build new schools and give all the kids their own laptops. The following day, the new property tax bills arrived. Don’t try to tell anyone that those dates were an innocent accident. Adding another huge tax may seem like a good idea to the Democrats who always like higher taxes, but there are limits. The beautiful state of Washington is following California down the drain.

At the request of Gov. Jay Inslee, former US. Secretary of State John Kerry visited the state Capitol on Tuesday Feb. 13, to advocate for the governor’s proposed carbon tax.

Flanked by Inslee and several prominent Democratic lawmakers outside of the Capitol Legislative Building, Kerry Argued that, in the absence of action on climate change from President Donald Trump, states such as Washington need to independently pursue carbon-pricing  systems and investments in sustainable energy. “Washington has an opportunity to lead here and I can tell you that, as a former Secretary of State of our country, that the world is looking to the United States, the world believes in us and in what we’re trying to do” Kerry said.

The climate of the Earth has been changing for millennia. We have had warm periods and ice ages. The only place where there is dangerous carbon buildup making the climate warm alarmingly is in the computer programs of the climate ‘scientists’ who got new labs and assistants from government grants as a result of their computer results.

Unfortunately, we still can’t predict the future, and the Earth seems to be cooling slightly at present. Please pause and watch this video from Dr. William Happer, one of our most distinguished climate scientists.

Carbon dioxide, which we exhale, has increased slightly and caused a great greening of the earth. Better crops, forest growth, fewer starving people, fewer dying children. The polar bears are just fine and multiplying nicely. Consult Dr. Susan Crockford, expert on all things polar bear, excluding the goofy costumes worn by lefties at climate get-togethers.

Governors have been assisted over the years since 2008 or 09 by the guidance of the Center for Climate Strategies. I copied this bit down back in 2009:

You ration energy use and coerce the public into major lifestyle modification and we’ll help you to inflate your reputation with media attention and praise as a pragmatist.

They came from the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, offering software and training for quantification. tool kits, online resources, case studies, fact books, policy and practice manuals and guides on approaches. They added access to a professional network of peers list serves, newsletters, conferences, workshops and training workshops for staff and elected officials to implement long term emission reduction strategies and notice of grant opportunities.

The cities got CCP—Cities for Climate Protection, advocating a 20¢ tax on paper and plastic shopping bags (failed) to generate $10 million for the city to take effect 1/1/09.

I don’t know if they are still around and advising the governor and the City of Seattle, but they were in 2009. I have seen no signs that anyone in governance in our state is out there studying up on climate science, nor anyone even vaguely interested in just why President Trump would dare to ban our participation in the revered Paris Climate Accords. The answer is quite simple. At the end of the next 100 years the change in climate due to the Paris Climate Accords would be completely negligible.  But they were never intended to make a difference to the climate, only to transfer money from the rich nations to the poor, and promote world government.

You have probably noticed that those who advocate controlled borders and effective immigration laws are now referred to as “Nativists” and “Nationalists” and even more derogatory epithets. They seem to have declared war on us. At some point we should probably wake up and take notice.

Planning for A Self-Driving Future? by The Elephant's Child

Our local throwaway newspaper arrived today with an article about our city and autonomous vehicles. Traffic is a major problem in most cities, and governments have no idea how to solve it. So of course they are planning.

Experts in autonomous vehicle (AV) technology say the path forward requires city and state leaders to be proactive, making changes to local roadways, infrastructure, and legislation.

Our city, it seems is right on top of the question, and paving the way to accommodate the impact of replacing human drivers. The governor has signed an executive order allowing for easier testing and operation of self-driving cars. Our city is very technology friendly, it seems. Without going into all the radar system, detecting of objects, fiber optic stuff, I find that they are looking down the road and noticing that we have major transportation problems right now, mostly caused by big ideas from local and state governments.

They are looking down the road to a day when nobody will own a car. This seems to be an interim step to the flying car stage. There are shuttles now that are fully autonomous and will carry six people seated and six people standing. (See, we just got rid of six to 12 cars). They are envisioning a city  of solely ACES technology (Autonomous, Connected Electric and Shared) vehicles. This, they believe will allow all those parking lots and parking garages to become residential. When you need a vehicle, you will just summon one and it will pop over and take you where you want to go. Amazon, I guess, will deliver whatever else you need.

I’m leaving out six columns of excitement for the future, but this is what the Left has been talking about for years. Stuff all the people into high rise cities, and turn the rest of the country into wilderness parkland, saving the environment you know. It would seem that there is to be not much freedom in the future. They always ignore the real people out there. People who work have errands. We even have a new and apparently thriving doggy day care center where you can drop your dogs off for the day, but have to be picked up on the way home. One kid at daycare, another in elementary school, need groceries, have to get to the hardware store sometime soon, books to return to the library, pick up the dry cleaning. That sort of thing.

How does a small fleet of city-owned AV cars deal with a city full of people who want to go somewhere on the weekend? Do you have to reserve a car months ahead? If you like to hike or fish? If population growth is a problem, why are they not talking about building up some of the small cities or dying towns that could use more business and jobs and growth? Cities don’t want to get smaller or even stay the same. Growth is hardwired in. Every legislator wants to be in charge of more and become more important. We don’t do a very good job of planning for the future, and we aren’t much good at learning from history. Look at all the millennials out there trying to erase the parts of history they don’t like. Some high school just banned (once again) Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird.

So what happens when Amazon delivers everything and we have an EMP attack frying the grid, electric vehicles don’t run, and America starves to death in a massive famine? I think I read some science fiction novels along those lines a while back. This is all idle speculation of course, very idle. Do you worry about stuff like this?

Why Is Infrastructure Always “Crumbling?” by The Elephant's Child

President Donald Trump announced a $1 trillion infrastructure plan at the State of the Union speech on  January 30. But he had earlier revealed a price tag of $1.7 trillion at a meeting with about a hundred mayors of major American cities. The mayors were excited. Mr. Trump said he wanted all of the projects funded by his plan to be “on time and under budget.”

My question was “what is infrastructure?” Are we talking about the power grid? Concern about EMP attacks? The interstate highways? Airports? The president was complaining about our airports back during the campaign. What infrastructure is the responsibility of the federal government and what is the responsibility of the states or those cities? When thinking about “infrastructure” do people think beyond their own familiar potholes?

Why does it always come with the modifier “crumbling”? We have all sorts of big projects going on all over the country to improve transportation, or other things one would probably identify as “infrastructure”— California has a big high speed rail to nowhere that just keeps costing more and more and going nowhere, that nobody seems to want except Jerry Brown.

We have Light Rail here that nobody wants and seems to be a massive boondoggle. It is building across a floating bridge, and nobody seems to know if that will work. They have added what we call “Lexus Lanes” to the freeways where you have to pay a hefty sum to use them and that has screwed up traffic in the rest of the lanes. Our traffic is nothing to write home about. (Better they should have given trucks and buses their own lane.) In DC I think I read that freeway tolls are over $40  for a single trip. No wonder they are back to talking about flying cars.

Obama was going to accomplish great things with his infrastructure project, but he ran into the “shovel ready” problem, and he simply did not know or understand the problems with permitting and environmental regulations, how long they took and how involved they were. The  Transcontinental Railroad took railroad companies six years to lay 1,907 miles of track, tunneling through mountains at one foot a day, building bridges, all mostly by hand.

California’s bullet train is still slowly building and the new deadline is 2025 for high speed rail from San Francisco to San Diego. The old deadline was 2018, but the first leg will only run from  Madera to Shafter, a small town north of Bakersfield. This was the most “shovel ready”stretch when the Obama administration was passing out stimulus funds. The original plan was for 800 miles of high-speed rail up and running by 2020. It will be only very slightly faster than an airline flight if its ever finished. The project’s lead just announced another $2.9 billion increase in costs for the first 119-mile stretch, mostly for land acquisition. Voters approved the project back when it was estimated to cost $40 billion, and a one-way ticket from San Francisco to LA  was expected to be $55. The most recent estimate is $64 Billion and they are talking about routing it through Silicon Valley for obvious reasons.

Elon Musk is still messing around with his hyperloop project, with some success with his models. His greatest expertise seems to be his ability to get governments to subsidize his ideas. Across the country, many cities are engaged in big transportation projects, and I don’t have an impression of many successes.

I went to Google to see what I could find about Obama’s stimulus,  the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). In general, Democrats thought it was a great success, but were a little thin on explanations of what it accomplished. Since I’m a right-leaning crank, I consulted the Hoover Institution and John B. Taylor and John F. Cogan explained that “more than $1 trillion in federal-deficit spending did little or nothing to help the economy, because it was used to pay down debts and reduce borrowing.”

At Fox News, John R. Lott said that “the states hardest hit received the least money. States with higher bankruptcy, foreclosure and unemployment rates got less money. And lower-income states also received less. It looks like Democrats ended up helping their supporters, including unions and many very wealthy supporters.”

It’s easy to get politicians all enthusiastic about big projects that can crown their term with achievement. Think about Eisenhower’s transcontinental highways, or Hoover Dam. It’s very tempting. Obama’s high speed rail fantasy has led to Jerry Brown’s train to nowhere and apparently to the deadly derailment we just had down by Tacoma. It involved a new stretch of track that bypassed an existing rail line. The train was doing 80 mph when it hit a curve engineered for speeds of 30 mph.

“My high-speed rail proposal will lead to innovations that change the way we travel in America,” Obama boldly proclaimed at the time.

Washington state, however, eagerly took the stimulus money and promised to use it to speed up service between Portland and Seattle on Amtrak’s Cascade line.

One of the big projects — which consumed $187 million — went to build a 14.5 mile high-speed bypass between the cities of DuPont and Tacoma.

The stimulus was advertised as financing “shovel ready” projects, but work on the bypass did not begin until 2013, 5 years after the end of the recession.

President Trump is probably better prepared than most presidents to deal with big construction projects. He understands the hazards and the hubris, and knows what is involved. I’m willing to be convinced.

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