Archive for March 2014

Free Book to Read   2 comments

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Spring Migration   Leave a comment

Creamers Field, just north of downtown Fairbanks, was frequented by migratory waterfowl when it was a dairy farm. Today, the Alaska Fish & Game grows yummy grain there to entice the birds to land there instead of near the airport.

Balanced Budget Amendment Folly   Leave a comment

There are plenty of amendments that a convention of the states might propose and forward to the states for ratification, but the balanced budget amendment is the only one that is about to pass the application threshold.

I don’t believe in panaceas. A balanced budget amendment would be a step toward reining in the stupid course our government has been on for a long time, but by itself I don’t expect it to work any miracles and it might cause a host of larger problems through setting off unintended consequences.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step, provided that step is not off a cliff.

On the face of it, forcing the federal government to balance its budget sounds like a great idea. I’m all in favor of DC spending no more than it takes in. When House Republicans drafted a version of the amendment in 2012, I was hopeful, but there’s a pros-and-cons process that can make a great idea not seem so great.

Forcing the government to live within our means is a wonderful idea. Controlled spending might return Congressional elections to a choice of character over the bribery of special interests. It could limit new spending and reduce current spending. Of course, it would also reduce the government’s flexibility in dealing with crises. While there are folks who think that would be the end of the world, I see it as an opportunity for the market to move toward free enterprise once more rather than relying on government bailouts.

But ….

The 2012 House version of the amendment required spending not to exceed 18 percent of GDP and required a two-thirds majority to raise taxes.  It also allowed waivers in case of a declaration of war against a nation-state or if three-fifths of Congress agrees there’s an imminent and serious threat to national security. Congress and the Executive Branch could drive a truck through the exceptions.

In reality …

If we want to take in enough revenue to cover the current spending levels, all Congress would need to do is increase taxation levels to 60-65% of taxable income (about 30% of GDP).

To keep it within the 18% of GDP would be more difficult, but there are those exceptions after all. Congress could declare war on a country that can’t fight back or claim that terrorists are hovering and about to strike, so the exceptions are required. And, then the Supreme Court (appointed by the Executive Branch and confirmed by the Legislative Branch) will mount their high holy seats and speak down from the heavens to announce that it’s unconstitution to balance the budget and ….

The impulse behind the amendment is laudable, but a balanced budget amendment by itself isn’t going to work in the way that we the people would want it to. Congress is never going to pass it anyway, so it will have to come from an Article V convention of the states and it can’t be implemented by itself because it’s not a magic bullet. It’s a brick that will unweight the scales.

But if an Article V convention were to propose a slate of amendments meant to work together ….

And, yes, there’s precedence for that. We call it the Bill of Rights.

Refinery shutdown may impact asphalt supply, costs – Alaska Journal of Commerce – March Issue 5 2014 – Anchorage, AK   Leave a comment

Refinery shutdown may impact asphalt supply, costs – Alaska Journal of Commerce – March Issue 5 2014 – Anchorage, AK.

Posted March 28, 2014 by aurorawatcherak in Alaska

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New plan aims to advance Knik bridge – Alaska Journal of Commerce – March Issue 5 2014 – Anchorage, AK   Leave a comment

New plan aims to advance Knik bridge – Alaska Journal of Commerce – March Issue 5 2014 – Anchorage, AK.

This is one of the infamous Alaskan “bridges to nowhere” that brought down Congressional Republicans in 2006 and 2008.

Only the Knik Arm Bridge (KABATA) is not a “bridge to nowhere.” Anchorage — the largest city in Alaska — home of the third busiest international airport in the United States and the busiest cargo airport in the US — is at one end. The other end is a planned port facilities at Pt. McKenzie. Anchorage, as the 1964 earthquake graphically showed, was built on shaky ground and the current port has also outgrown both its location. Relocating it (or building a second port) at Pt. McKenzie makes sense because it avoids the bootleggers clay and Army Corps of Engineers backfill that underlay much of Anchorage’s water front.

Alaska is sitting on the largest gas reserves in the world and Asia would love to buy it from us. They want it so badly that Mitsubishi was willing to build a pipeline, but Alaskan officials messed up the deal. Although I favor taking the pipeline down to tidewater in Valdez for in-state reasons, Pt. McKenzie makes sense too, because if we can unstrand our gas, we’re going to need a bigger port to ship it. It’s either going to need to be built in Anchorage or Valdez.

Sometimes a bridge to nowhere goes somewhere that just needs to be built.

Low Bush Grizzly   Leave a comment

We are surrounded by wildlife in Alaska. It’s easy to spot the moose and the ravens call attention to themselves, but it’s the small animals that I like to watch. There is nothing quite so entertaining as a “low bush grizzly” defending his nut-stash.

Posted March 28, 2014 by aurorawatcherak in Alaska

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Suggested Amendments   Leave a comment

This is out of sequence, but I like what I wrote, so I’m running it anyway.

_______________________________________

French philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in Democracy in America about soft tyranny –

“It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.”

Do we not live in that definition?

The United States of America were conceived under a concept of self-governance. People were to be informed and passionate about government, to direct their representatives in the paths chosen by the people, and to remove them from office when they failed to represent their “sovereign” (the people) as authorized. And, today, Congress has a less than 10% favorability rating and a 90% incumbency.

How does that happen?

Beats me, but we should do something about it. But Tocqueville pointed out 200 year ago that people tend not resist soft tyranny because it sneaks up on us, giving the tyrants time to convince us that the world we live in is a normal world that we should accept. Pay no attention to the concertina wire topping the societal bounce house. Have fun! Enjoy! There’s nothing to concern your little heads over.

Except the looming $17 trillion national debt and the unfunded liabilities for entitlement programs that now exceeds $90 trillion, which is growing at about $5 trillion a year. Add to that an imperial presidency, Congress that has ceded most of its authority either to the president or to the administrative state, and a judiciary that apparently mislaid the Constitution in 1934 and we should be terrified about what is going on around us. Past generations historically grew a backbone during times of crisis. Most of us went shopping and the few of us that woke up and started complaining got our tax-exemptions stuck somewhere at the IRS and have apparently decided to wait until that is resolved before complaining some more.

Except … we’re one states’ applications away from an Article V convention on a balanced budget amendment. I’m not convinced this is going to solve anything, but it’s a step in the right direction. In 1980, the 32 applications asked to cap the debt at $1.4 trillion. Good times! We’re obviously in a great deal more trouble than we were then. We’re also as a people a great deal more informed (thank you, Internet) about our situation, which means there’s a far better chance of this amendment actually being ratified by the states. In 1985, Congress – recognizing that the people, through their state legislatures, were about to take the budget process out of their hands, “got serious” about debt and passed the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Act and the applications quit coming in.

That was decades ago, but the applications are still there. The Constitution doesn’t sunset the applications. We only need one more state to apply and then we can have an Article V convention on this subject, which should probably set the debt limit at some percentage of GDP. Historically, the economy starts to suffer at around 18%, so maybe a little less than that.

But it won’t fix anything on its own because an amendments convention of this sort is subject-limited and the solution to balancing the budget is pretty obvious – just tax everybody at about 68% of our income and viola – the budget is balanced.

Wait! That won’t work! Government’s budget may be balanced, but how am I supposed to pay my mortgage on 32% of my paycheck? Yeah … it’s more complicated than that, which is why – should a convention actually be called, the delegates should address more than just a balanced budget amendment. This is why state legislators working through the organization Convention of the States are working toward a more general subject convention. Congress may insist that the amendment coming from a general subject convention are not eligible for ratification, but let’s face it … capping taxation rates is not just a good idea, it’s a necessary one.

In fact, the delegates should make recommendations (which are non-binding even if there are sufficient applications) for amendments on several issues – including repeal of the 16th and 17th amendments and:

  • An amendment that sunsets all federal regulations unless they are specifically approved by a Congressional committee
  • An amendment that provides for the repeal of future (I’d say all) federal regulations by a timely 3/4s vote of state legislatures
  • An amendment setting term limits for Congress
  • An amendment setting term limits and confidence votes for the Supreme Court
  • An amendment allowing a super-majority of Congress and/or state legislatures to set aside Presidential executive orders (or the converse, presidential executive orders must be ratified by a super-majority of Congress and/or the state legislatures before they can take effect).
  • An amendment making it easier for states to apply for an amendments convention while keeping the ratification threshold at 3/4s of the states.

And, no, I didn’t come up with most of these. I borrowed them from Mark Levin’s The Liberty Amendments.

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