Super Committee: Try And Say It With A Straight Face

'S' also stands for Sandbagged

Neither super, nor a committee. But it’s our un-super non-committee.

A few facts about this unholy union:

* There will be 12 members. Mostly picked for political reasons (read: not for their ability to actually fix what ails us).

* The 12 members have until November 23 to come up with $1.2-$1.5 trillion of budget cuts. Let’s just quietly move on and say no more about this joke deadline, shall we?

* The committee’s Republican members still don’t want to raise taxes; the Democrats still don’t want to slash entitlements. Funny how that works.

* Newt Gingrich thinks it’s a ‘dumb idea.’ And he knows a little bit about that.

* Everyone else thinks it’s a dumb idea. Not that our elected officials give a —-.

The most disturbing revelation about the birth of the Super Comittee: it confirms our worst fears about Congress — its own utter lack of awareness about how neither Americans, nor the rest of the world are buying into this false comfort — and what it truly believes about the simplicity of duping the national electorate.

When you ask yourself, ‘Why is America being run so poorly?’ consider it might be because our elected officials seem to think poorly of America.

We wouldn’t want members of Congress, who clearly think so highly of themselves, to have to run a poor operation.

Surely, they can move on to bigger and better things.

We should help them.

5 thoughts on “Super Committee: Try And Say It With A Straight Face”

  1. Would someone please list who has been added to this unusual “committee”, who appointed them, and what companies they represent? I need this info so I know what socks to buy. I already got the message directly from that Obama character on Monday I believe —when he drove the market down a few hundred with his reassurances: he represents the military contractors. So what other sectors have special protectors? Really a little disclosure is only fair.

  2. “Super-Committeee….We should help them”

    There were seven dwarfs. There are twelve here now? And a lot of staffers on a lot of committees. And issues of waste real and suspected far and wide. The 12 dwarfs today must reform the entire length and breadth of federal policy beginning to end or the entirety of western civilization grinds into dust. We all sort of know that–but also fear the outcome. The 12 and a few hundred of their staff need to be equipped with a full set of crystal balls and magic wands–not to mention animal familiars to perform the tasks required to save the union. Martial law and a corp of Solomon-like clones would also help.

    One small story might tend to give a sense of the enormity of the problem. In 1992, there was a Newt revolution–strongly resembling the Tea Party “lets inject practical reason into govt policy” ideals. In 1994, Newts’ best and brightest—and they were motivated and credible people—were challenged by the reform of the superfund program. It was chosen as the test program because the only thing that all in both parties could rally agree was that the program was in dire straights. It was supposedly bankrupt, there were many sites that were a real mess, it was a jobs progran potential, the legal process had overwhelmed the objectives and the trajectory was worsening. It was generally agreed that the legal scheme that EPA had dreamed up under the guise of “the polluter pays” had essentially become disconnected from the objective “for cleanup” .
    The situation basically was so inefficient that it was widely agreed that 85 cents of every dollar spent on superfund-related activities was diverted to legal, administrative, etc costs–everything but cleanup. and even the 15 cents was in question: Is it really cleanup to “dig and haul” contaminated soil from one [leaking] contaminated site to another?

    The Newt staff could not unravel the complexities of the budget process to simply determine whether or not EPA really needed to reinstitute the superfund tax.to continue paying a public share of this debacle. They faced a number of questions:
    1) How to get more money devoted to cleanup of the spreading plumes, ans away from the assignment of liability process?
    2) How to reset cleanup standards so that one site became pristine [supposedly] while 100 went unaddressed for lack of funds and technical personnel?
    3) How to prevent bankrupting polluters for events that had occurred pre-RCRA–ie 1940’s–when waste disposal techniques were deemed less important than preventing invasion?

    Disputes were about details–not the foregoing core issues. But just to get to the starting point EPA had to re-examine its mantra ” Let the polluter pay” [and pay and pay for what?] Then as now every 5 year veteran EPA bureaucrat , usually lawyers, could count on enrichment by leaping through the revolving door and emerging with a new suit of clothes—–going from JC Penny suits to Armani]. This aspect of EPA aspiration held the entire program hostage. The Newt neophites ran headlong into the the EPA revolving door–or stonewall however you chose to lookat it. The Clinton EPA, in staunch defense of that Mida-like revolving door refused to answer committee requests for information–or maybe “ignored” would be more on point, since theoretically, they could not refuse. But ignoring requests for tightly held information pending change in Congress’ “ruling” party is pretty much akin to refusal in effect.
    Congress could read the law–could see the results, but could not figure out the $$$$$.
    The Newt staff asked the Business Roundtable for help. The group responded by appointing its own committee of around 75 people –an oversight committee to advise the new guard as to how to modify the liability and funding provisions of superfund. Superfund was an amalgamation of civil liability provisions of Draconian reach. Unprecedented strict liability coupled with joint and several liability. These Godawful abuses of Due Process resulted in a single load of spent drycleaning chemicals from a mom n pop drycleaner creating liability for the full cost of clean-up a multi-billion dollar superfund site. Mom and Pop’s relief could be achived by identifying as many other innnocent [unknowing] or not so innocent [knowing] diposal companies and sources whose wastes were deposited at the site since the 1930’s–along with the proportionate contribution of each. If the contributors were bankrupt/non-existant without viable legal successors. those became orphans who obviously had a share of liability –but no responsibility–no pocket to pick. As time passed/passes this crowd grows.

    Evidence needed to meet these burdens to establish and assign liability were pretty sketchy–recollections of truck drivers. “About how many times did you pick up loads at Mom’s and take to Love Canal?”

    The whole group of site contributors –the “polluters”—created their “committee” to appoint one responsible party to “manage the site” cleanup in a manner that would reflect some sense of cost/benefit analysis. Those groups were quick to appoint site managers to avoid the horror of a site cleanup sort of managed by EPA contractors plus penalties. Waste Management [corp] loved it.

    The incestuous nature of things became apparent quickly. Most of the Round-Table folks were themselves former EPA types, most of the environmental committee staff were former EPA types. There were incessant meetings of former EPA –now lobbyists–blocking both the leadership staff and the Roundtable. It was a deadlock–ala today. EVERY ONE OF THE FORMER EPA LOOKED AT IT AND SAID TO HERSELF—-WHY SCREW UP A GOOD THING?

    Then there were the ex-Hill budget guys that would explain to the BRT the intricacies of budget-speak in opaque terms–mere mortals could never expect to comprehend the differencies between obligated, appropriated, etc etc.

    Inertia ran deep.

    After about 6 months of run-around the leadership of both BRT and Newt leadership realized that the existing EPA staff plus the 10-fold larger number of alumni would not budge off status quo–because they all had a severe economic conflict of interest. So the leadership did the unthinkable. Recall the movie Capone–when the Judge switched the fully “fixed” jury with another jury of untouched hands? Dont know if that really happened there –but it did happen in 1994 superfund debate to break out of the deadend accorded reform by current and former EPA with vested interests in inefficient govt.

    The leadership staff locked the environmental committee staff out of the rooms during discussions and wrote bills using different staffers. The BRT appointed to a “special [small] committeee” of a half-dozen or so a new crew of people from non-clean-up companies, small polluters with little self-interest that had no prior ties to EPA to examine the status quo problems, and report out the proposed solutions—they pulled in career tax people with some knowledge of chemisty and engineering to evaluate and reform the out of control program.

    The EPA staff and alumni freaked out. No buttons to push–no friendships to leverage. A different mindset to face. No vested interest in the status quo. I was a member of this new select group.
    I received a calll one evening from a guy with a name that I did not recognize [being an ousider]—stating “What are you trying to do–destroy the profession?” There was desperation, anguish and fear resonating in his voice–the sound of promises not being kept–of being found out–of missing a payment on that private island; “Nope,” I noted, “just make the program do what it is supposed to do with the least amount of money as possible.” I mentioned the call to an insider on K street next day. It was the senior partner of a big DC law firm who also chaired several ABA committees etc and received [note i did not say earned] more money than god in the pursuit of status quo.
    I was mildly bemused and felt very much more energized–if it was a matter of so much anguish to them–we must be on the right track.

    My report back was that after cutting through the muck, if the EPA really wanted the “polluter to pay” then they would need to do a lot of digging—at graveyards. So the mantra post RCRA [the new go to jail for polluting rules] about polluter pays was a falsehood, not worth holding up cleanup of spreading plumes.

    Further. I determined that the EPA had violated the budget laws by obligating contracts well beyond the then 5 year limit on future commitments–this was not well-received. They also had padded every conceivable way that they could—-I concluded that the program needed no added tax inflows for at least 6 years, The program was padded like a bear going into hibernation for the winter–so they could weather 4-6 years of hostile Congressional oversight.
    Lastly, i conlduded that the gravy train had to be ended by cutting off new funds completely until there was an actual change in momentum of cleanup–and no more sites should be added to this runaway federal program–
    The taxes were not reauthorized, the program carried on and
    is no longer generating headlines. Life on earth as we know it did not cease as we were warned. So I know the score. I also know that the people who protect the henhouse on all sides need a change of clothes–or the hens will continue to to disappear inexplicably. The superfund was a tiny progran–but it is a good example of govt waste, the whys and wherefores. I am confidant that the military budget is worse–in scale and tenacity. etc etc

    When the supposed new rulers of agencies or those who oversee them are measured by their depth of experience in those agencies, in that sector–the thing that is being measured is not experience–but intransigence.

  3. “We should help them.”

    This Super-comittee must stem the rise in non-consensual failed finance driven housing turnover. The population is losing gross income en masse–at all levels of the middle class. That may be a 3-5 year phenomenon for the younger—it may be the rend for elderly. People who are competent to maintain households–repair broken windows and avoid destruction of carpets, lawns etc. These people are being forced by financuial reverses to become managed maintenance tenants. Their homes are left vacant–subject to waste and neglect, frequently stripped for appliances, copper pipe and wire from the walls, huge deferred costs, damage to the property tax base–while their former owners sit huddled in undersized accomodations. Beaten and humiliated. Familiies cast down by cutback hours and reduced rates.

    As this financial domino falls these underemployed families dislodge those ordinarily dependent upon rental units–upon managed maintenance and close landlord oversight. The elderly, the disabled, students, the young families, individuals –all of whom either lack the tools or skills to maintain their own roofs and furnaces. These people are traditionally tenants who do not invest long term in their residences for a variety of physical and experiential reasons. These people are now forced to compete with employeds who want responsibility for their homes. The rent prices for the elderly and disabled are rising dramatically and lack of vacancies is creating stress: hardship and overcrowding. Health costs rise with other social costs for these people–many of whom depend upon the FICA insurance system—rewcovering premiums paid—pressed by rising rents.

    The US has an unusual perception of the shdes of difference betwee ownership–albeit subject to mortgages of 120% of FMV, versus a tenancy for a term of years. This perceived bright line is imposed by the tax code. It is presumed that a “tenant” is a second class citizen because her payments are not deductible. This classifies a millionaire who does not want to incur maintenance responsibilities with a college student with an elder–even though she may inhabit a dwelling for 30 years –say from 50-80 years of age. If fact in Old England all were tenants of the King—–and a tenancy for a term of years was a respected property interest.

    Today, a private partnership should be established–chartered by The National Infrastructure Bank–which puts up 3% transaction fees as needed to prevent fraud. Its purpose is to receive the assignment of Quit Claim deeds subject to reserved leases for say 5 years, at a rule-ordered 1% of the property’s FMV as determined under local property tax system evaluations and appeals. Decentralized valuation. That uses the long-standing formula used to value real estate for purposes of UDITPA–state income tax apportionment. That gives a reasonable mechanism to set the rent, which should not be federalized.

    The mechanism shall be the election by a taxpayer to contribute her home to this housing entity by Quit Claim. The associated Note –wherever it resides shall be deemed contributed, MBS claimants may prove up their rights to receive partnership units to share in the future rental receipts. The transfer shall be deemed like-kind–nonrealization. The homeowner payments to the association/JV are not deductible. The transaction costs associated with the avoided foreclosureare eliminated. If the homeowner does not meet the standard state landlord tenant law, the standard law applies to drive eviction–no new mechanisms or bureacracies created. The MBS holder–if he proves hmself–already suffered any economic loss—and has only upside in the form of a safer cash flow over time. The properyy preservation actions are taken umner the watchful eye of a tenant in possession. The necessary repairs–deferred by impending foreclosures—must be advanced by the JV using a limited amount of infrastructure bank funds–carefully monitored and capped at multiple levels–as are DR fees.

    Each state sponsors its own–push responsibility close to the affected community. Fed purpose: prevent Fraud. Basis is the tax code–tenancy elections based upon quit claims as per forms promulgated—MBS elections/duties to convert interests. Otherwise the MBS is converted into a 30 year 2% govt bond? Interference with contract–a type of home-only bankruptcy code section?

    Square—–the most pressing issue will be repairs–jobs. Tough but local repairmen paid to repair not destroy.

    I think this will work within certain eligibility parameters.

    .

  4. “We should help them.”

    Ok the situation is deteriorating, confluence of natural and man-made events is going to force some responses sooner than later.
    So our list of old problems is the forced removal of people from homes if they have suffered reduced incomes–and cant face the high interest rates and pumped home prices that they were stuck with 2004-2007.
    The evolving solutions mentioned in NYT yesterday include allowing [somehow] virtually all homeowners who were not already tossed into the street, and homes subjected to vacancy and deterioration, to refinance to lower rates. The prices for homes that were pumped up by predatory originators’ in house appraisals based on manipulated comparables must be reduced or the owners are essentially chained to the below-water homes. They cannot relocate to improve their condition by obtaining a better job once they lose the good one they used to have–the 2-income family has become a dual-risk issue now. Chances are at least one is either lost a job or will in 2012. Principal rduction to squeeze out the pumped price effect is necessary and fair. Tea Partiers that realize the appraisals were false—the prices pumped by fraud by realtors, and predatory fly by nite originators like WAMU, AHMSI [old] Option One must accept that homeowners were duped and not exclusively responsible for bad financial decisions. DO NOT ALLOW ARMS if there is any govt involvement in refis or its another setup to fail.

    There is a class of people out there that live in homes that are underwater that have allowed deterioration to occur—–some of these with reasonable prospects of income at reduced levels must be allowed to transfer their deeds by quit claim subject to reserved leaseholds. The recipient should be a public private partnership–but
    with care. The transfer should be automatic. The homeowner should make this decision unilaterally to prevent the mess encountered by short sales an modifications—servicer footdragging to extract fees and obtain opportunity to recover on the homeowner’s casualty insurance–or other insurance that applies to packages–where insurers are again being ripped off as occurred to AIG. A different way but just as harmful–the proceeds do not go into the house–that must be stopped and servicers prohibited from pocketing insurance proceeds on foreclosed homes. They bargain aggressivley in settlements for the right to collect on the homeowner policy AFTER the vacate date–and policies typically extend after vacate date by 60 days. The servicer and “property preserver” then setup the home for damage–particularly massive freeze damage in the northern states. ACT OF GOD? I do not think so–the preservers wwill tell you its an act of a computer–no order to winterize issued by the servicer –OOPS a destroyed home–collect on the former homeowner’s casualty insurance. Its settlement policy for outfits like AHMSI to have this opportunity when they bargain for a deed in lieu. Its ugly –but simple NPV of sale vs insurance collection, probably built into the programming.

    So let homeowners become tetants of the PPP and pay a rent at a traditionally established ration–1/96 to 1/120 of FMV. Use local tax valuation to set the FMV–subject to evidence of comps just as if it were a contested property tax case—tenants must pay at the lower rate pending resolution. It must be unilateral by homeowner tenant–cannot allow servicer to intervene and destroy the deal. The big question here is who is the landlord after a unilateral quit claim? Seems that the more local the better? The local govts have no problem coming up with Enterprise Zones as landlords for industry–same should occur here–although certainly tougher. Once the quit claim is filed, the servicer must prove his standing to the state/or local PPP. If the servicer cannot—then the rental stream attributable to the former note/mortgage escheats to pay for administration of the program. Give states a boost. There are many reasons why a servicer may be unable to prove that ownership–TARP payouts may be causing double recoveries and creating risk for original proper owners of notes. There are many more reasons. The servicer and state AG are on a more level playing field–give the state AG standing under escheat law to demand proof of ownership of the potentially abandoned intangible asset–the note. This is not a stretch.

    Moving on, infrastructure. letus 1st start by actually re-tying spending to collections of taxes supposed to support the infrastructure spending. In the past decade the abandonment of this tie in has allowed collections to erode. Tax evasion plain and simple flourishes if the beneficiaries of the funds can simply look to the general fund for construction $$$.

    There are several examples and some awful anecdotal and other evidence of the reduction in legitimate collections. The largest program is the Highwat Trust Fund–paid for by federal highway tax dollars. Until 2005—when well-intentioned people began seriously supplementing the funding out of the general fund. To support jobs–make necesary improvements and repairs–lots of great reasons. However for decades a combination of retail chains [SIGMA/NAACS/NATSO] plus highway contractors [AGC] and the Association of Highway Users, including American Trucking Association and AAA–the “Angels”, and state DOTs carefully looked over the shoulders of the infrastructure and tax committees and the Treasury rule-makers and the IRS Excise division to assure that the revenue collection programs were successfully maintained and properly implemented to prevent the commonly disdained factor—-tax evasion and corruption engendered thereby. Its not as easy to collect taxes on physical events as it is to compel employers to do paycheck withholding. The system is doing well if it collects 75% of the taxes owed. With a guaranteed payment program—the contractors and users of roads simply do not care if these tough to collect taxes are in fact collected. The collections are falling faster than the economy is shrinking—-even while the EPA clean diesel program reduces the efficiency of diesel consumption by 20%. Its a fact.

    The airport trust fund follows the same concept—-awful situation.

    Then there are the taxes that support river and harbor projects. US ARMY CORP is facing some of the worst challenges in its history —flowing from global warming–whatever its cause. The 100 year floods come every other year –yes oxymoron. Hurricanes like the one destroying the East Coast this weekend follow a similar pattern. Records broken every other year.

    Land needs to be condemned or switched to alternative uses with reasonable payment to owners. Dikes need to be repaired and strengthened, rivers and harbors need to be dredged. These efforts are supposed to be paid for by the Inland Waterways Trust Fund taxes and the Harbor Maintence Tax. These are both largely unenforceable and nearly voluntary tax programs. By some anecdotal accounts from well-positioned persons in govt, the HMT is only collected 15- 25% of the time. Tariffs are also at risk. The mission for Customs and Coast Guard changed from collecting and enforcing these levies to chasing Pot-boats and international terrorism. There is a cost to such mission creep–or leap as the case may be. Nothing done well. The primary mission of both entities was collection of funds to support federal programs necessary to the COMMERCE of the US. They have lost sight of this because headlines about pot smuggled on old soviet submarines secure funding. Mundane anti-tax/tariff evasion is not only not as sexy, globalism undercuts the will to collect the tariffs.

    The Oil Spill tax is another volunteer tax system —-but what is the chance of ever needing that money?

    At one time there was a federal tax on conveyance and recirdation of things like transfers and assignments of interests in land. Maybe this should be revisted given the disdain shown by the lending and real estate industry for compliance with outgunned county recorders exemplified by the current crisis in proof of mortgages?

    Maybe such a FEE would help pay for the proper oversight of some of these programs and defuse the fraud that has grown arounf these under-regulated activities. It really should not be so difficult to figure out who you owe money to—–who is able to release you from your debt. But that system has collapsed—-in some places multiple claimants assail a homeowner —-transfers of intersts are made without a trail and the homeowner has no idea who to pay –even if he can.

    Restore the federal stamp tax and create a uniform system that homeowners, lenders and investors can rely upon.

    Medicare Reform——God Help Us.

    A story will elucidate–my own 1st hand experience. A couple years ago my dear Mom upon reaching 88 yrs with a great fear of loss of independence and life in a nursing home told me she would rather die than suffer either the indignity of the childlike-treatment accorded at a home–or being tortured in a hospital. She had spent a lifetime with no major ills–minimal real medicare charges but for drugs and minor surguries. Childbirth was the largest hospitaliaztion vent she suffered. She was a diabetic, as are many elderly. She effectively poisoned herself by consuming huge quantities of plain old orange juice. She knew exactly what she was doing—-I asked to help her and she told me flat out, ” Im 88, I never expected to live this long, its not fun as I get more ill and Im tired—Iv lived long enough. And its not worth struggling on with this quality of life as it would be. If I go to a home, they will torture me and Ill lose my right to decide for myself what happens.” Two days later, a well intentioned woman found my Mom sprawled on the floor. Her plan had worked but for the one detail, She was in a coma–not quite yet dead as she had desired. The busy-body intervened and cause her limp little body to be taken to a hospital by ambullance where she was stabbed with needles–left to lay on a cold bed uncovered–like meat in a butcher shop. Mom was right hospitals are terrible places to end up at—if the end is unavoidable as it is for 88 year olds.

    There was no living will—my siblings who lived close by and my Mom screwed up on the legal details. The doctor and hospital forced her to lay on life support —tortured non-stop for 3 weeks. The doctor had to leave on vacation in the interim–it was XMAS.

    At 1st when we spoke to her–her eyelids fluttered a bit—-she still had a spark inside–enough I fear for her to feel the punctures–the cold–the poking and prodding. Nothing would stop them. The imminent termination of medicare dollars finally damped their enthusiasm to keep Mom alive—despite her suffering and careful plan to avoid all this. My biggest fear was after the disagreement we had about her care—-and her certain expression of desire to die without benefit of doctors, of whom she had had enough–was she might awaken partially paralyzed and very mad. Independence and freedom were the things she valued above all else.

    This was a huge charge to medicare–Mom lived frugally—she worried about spending money. She lived through the depression–watched her father make payroll in gold. To her what happened was not only personally degrading, it was WASTEFUL. She would hach rather had $30/mo more social security to buy things she could have used rather than spend that $250,000 in the last 3 weeks of her lingering and painful death/[not really life].

    Reforms that come to mind–humanitarian reforms. Every medicare recipient should be required to sign a living will. The terms should be express. If they are certain to die–if life is not a real option, then they should have the right to do so on their own time frame–not suffer like Mom due to bad lawyering.

    Medicare took the hit because the doctors and hospital wanted to make money torturing Mom. It was evident that she would not recover. i would not have let my dog suffer like that. The loophole that enables them to do this should be plugged by knowing decision-making which is respected. Mom had a right to die her own way–not according to hospital rules–or to align with the doctor’s vacation plans–while paying for his stay in the Caymans. There must be living wills or no meicare coverage. If a person or family has such regard for the sanctity of human life that they are willing to endure weeks of suffering with no real chance of recovery–then that is their right too. But they have no right to make me or Mom join in their conviction —no right to force Mom and me to pay for their martyrdom. This is less about religious conviction and more about a family’s guilt for underappreciating an elderly reative while they were well enough to recognize it—–its about guilt and the medical system cashes in on that guilt. Let families buy that extra 3 weeks of pain themselves—-Warren Buffet may find it worth his suffering to add a couple months–to add a couple billion to his pile of playmoney. For most of us it is not–and we can no longer afford to dodge the issue.

    Similarly, by another story I will cover the other end of the medical cost issue–medicaid. I had a pair of tenants. The guy was 30 and by effectively managing money earned as drug-dealer, he was able to buy a bar in a college town. He had a 20 yr old girl-friend who lived with him. They were party people. The two enjoyed life to the fullest—pulling cash from the till for trips to the Caribbean and the highst quality illegal drugs. The girl had more time on her hands–she did not have a bar to operate. She was reed thin—indulged in massive quantities of amphetamines, soporifics, barbiturates, LSD, cocaine, heroine—–everything —–on top of half a bottle of free scotch daily. She was really screwed up all the time–so much so that she forgot her birth control pills.

    This quite naturally resulted in her polluted womb producing something resembling a fetus. It was long ago–I cannot state with specificity the weeks or weight. The fetus was born hugely prematurely, and correspondingly tiny, underdeveloped, addicted to everything from alcohol to cocaine, and suffering from countless disabililities. For months the “baby” lived at a hospital—surguries—– etc. No insurance. Miracles of modern medicine –they interceded to keep this sick baby alive so that it could grow up to be a mentally retarded, sick and disabled adult. Abandoned by the partiers. Medicaid was out a bundle on the front-end and ever after our social welfare system has endured the huge cost of that 20 yr old girl’s refusal to abide by any vestige of normalcy—or abort.

    This also is an unsustainable business plan. It was not good for any party to it—mother, child, society, taxpayer. The medicaid system must be viewed as a privilge–not a right. a privilege should be earned and can be waived–a right maybe not. if the mother knowingly ignored all those rules –rules designed in part to prevent the outcome, why should she have the RIGHT to shift responsibility for her irresponsibility to me, my children and grandchildren–because all continue to ay for her mistake–the one she prefers to forget.

    The clear solution is that heroic life-saving measures for uninsured premies —-the result of obvious self abuse by mothers—–should not be invited by medicaid. To those who hold to the philosophy of the inherent value of human life, that modern medicine should intercede to overrule the natural course of things–thr course ordained by God, then to them I would say–it is your right to spend your last dollar to support your belief system. But nothing in the Constitution gives you the right to force me to join you–in fact i might point to passages that suggest otherwise.

    Those with strong beliefs should trust in their own beneficience–not mine–not when it comes to overriding the natural course and the result is not 3 weeks of pain and cost as with my Mom–but rather a lifetime of suffering and cost.

    Correct the abuse of my Mom and the abuse of that baby—and these systems will become sustainable—–overlay these belief systems upon them and the systems collapse. There is a time when it is necessary to set up reasonable parameters or there will be no systems to provide the safety net that people as a humane society might expect. Certain cost/benefit analyses under certain circumstances are needed to maintain the basics of civilized society. In the abscence of any regulation by objective means, the system becomes subjec to abuse by thse who would enrich themselves while destroying that civilized society. If these conditions are not met–then there is no such thing as “charity”—all things are rights and we must strain even until we break under the weight of the cost to provide “rights” that were not engrained in the Constitution.

    Even though drugs contributed to the last mentioned economic abuse, that does not suggest that it then becomes necessary to so intrude upon the lives of all people to prevent the access. Alcohol and tobacco played as big a role as any to the destruction of that premie. The war on drugs was declared so long ago that I forget when it started–but by some reckonings it was associated with the Prohibtion era that made organized crime the institution that it is today. By other it was undertaken with zeal in 1980–along with the explosion of federal crimes, federal marshalls, ferderal prisons, etc. The federal war spills over into state and local affairs and economic burdens. It is so bad that 1% of the population is ensnared behind bars with manyfold more under scrutiny on the streets as they use the drug laws to gain an economic edge–or violate other laws such as burglary to purchase drugs they could grow in their backyard–if allowed.

    What is the point.
    We need to train kids to do jobs that will be useful to society in 5 years and in 35 years. We do not do this by jailing them at a cost higher than required to send them to college or tech schools. This is a trend that exploded with the “libertarian” philosophy of Ronal Reagan?

    We seem to have developed a penchant for fighting never-ending wars. Vietnam, Drugs, terrorism, Iraq, now Afghnanistan. Never-ending wars become that way if the government decides to fund contractors to fight those wars–therby creating a natural constituency for the unwnnable cause. The cause becomes secondary to the funding of it.

    it has become so pervasive, so injurious to our country that the safest career track for a young man in the midwest rustbelt is football followed by enlistment of the team in the military en masse—followed by employment as–police of one sort or another. Police are necessary–but the occupation should not be deemed the best that a midwestern kid can aspire to. Too many wars have lead to glorification of militarism—-including the whole domestic incarceration system. It conflicts with the ideals of those who assert that the best govt is the one that governs least.

    Too many federal criminal laws–invite too many federal enforcemnt –invite too much federal budget and too much federal power. It is a simple equation.

    It is not hard to cut budgets—it is hard to dissapoit constituents. The larger that the federal govt becomes–the larger the budgets–whether paid for with tax dollars or printed money–or created electronic tics, the larger the constituency and the harder to disappoint. It has all reached a breaking point.

    That point was crossed this week. This week primary reactor cooling water boiled off an antique reactor’s overheated core rods in Virgina a few dozens of miles from the Capitol. That means the containment vessel failed—the safety mechansims failed—the core came close melt-down Fukishima-style, Chernoble style. This failure demonstrates that man is not up to the task of harnessing the awsome power of nuclear energy–not in 1970, not today—and certainly not in an impoversished, uneducated future world. All of the plants are frozen technologically in the age of the 4 barrel cabureter muscle car–we couldnt even keep em tuned. Nor can we maintain these reactors–much less a thousand tons of fissionable [and fissioning] spent fuel rods that must be continuously cooled until the dinosaurs re-evolve—-a long time.

    The nukes must be shut down—-the waste sent somewhere [preferably space] or buried onsite. The decommissioning will cost multiple trillions.
    The plants must be replaced short term with gas turbines–or the economy really cutback. Longer term with coal-fired systems. CO2 –if it is bad—is something we can live with–nuclear waste, even clouds of radiation-bearing steam–we cannot live with. It is that simple and that “inconvenient truth” is upon us now –as the hurricane adds questions: how will they cool this destroyer of life in the midst of a 2nd disaster? What if a real release chernoble style wafts acorss the land and falls upon a 2nd facility such that that one must be abandoned and it poisons the next up the line –dominoes falling with the certainty of forever?

    It is unavoidably time to make the choices–to take actions that displease constituents–not voters but corporate pockets.

  5. We should help them.

    “Financial Times” is the best news source in the world. I read several papers–at least scan for articles to try to piece together the “whole truth” from the various disjointed slanted views. NYT is 2nd in my view. Washington Post is overly focused and suffers from the invisibility of the forest because of the trees in the way. I am marooned now in the Midwest –Ohio—where hard copy papers are hard to find ——and the local deputy caught as a peeping tom overwhelmes nuclear disasters and Europe does not exist. The ignorance of the people is not as much their fault as the result of seemingly barred information.

    If I have one complaint about FT, its that like other papers and even the internet, the dangers of nuke plants seem to be as invisible as the existence of Europe and Asia in a small-town newspaper. FT really should be carefully investigating the circumstances of the Virginia power plant that was/is? venting primary cooling water to the atmosphere. That is serious. It deserves attention. A lot of attention–because of the huge impact on the US economy–the risk it presents to a capitol city seemingly encircled by similarly antiquated but inordinately dangerous facilities. Far worse risk than BOA’s foreclosure problems which can be resolved by a simple bankruptcy court-filing–despite the banking sector’s preoccupation with its own exagerated self importance.

    The significance of the nuclear issue in the US is underscored by earthquakes and hurricanes. Any resident of the DC area outside of Crystal City, the redoubt, who are doubtless leaving in droves because they know when the wind blows, the power goes out—and stays that way a long time. They know 1st hand that the utility companies place dividend yield well above maintenance in order of priority. They should be deeply suspicious that the untended power lines distributing electricity to retail customers are likely symptomatic of a similar or worse maintenance condition and poor emergency response situation for the reactors. The legions of federal workers that frequently face disruptions in supply of copier paper during the continuous succession of internal agency and Congressional budget finagling well know that the sister agency NRC is likely no better off than their own disfunctional agencies. And they know that spin rules the day. Cynacism and skeptacism own the hearts of the DC elite. And now these folks should recognize–be made aware that it is not business as usual to be encircled by plants prone to vent steam from 3 foot thick-walled structures intended to prevent that release. The steam is a symptom that the core overheated–plain and simple. Something akin to putting eggs on the stove at the high heat setting to boil and then forgetting to turn the burner off. How long after the water has boiled away before the pot is destroyed?

    Some of the published material suggests that the primary cooling piping was damaged–not just a pump failure. Leaking primary cooling water–the closed system that circulates water in and around the fuel rods. 10 plus tons of fuel rods. Enriched U-235–less than one pound of U-235 was used in 1945. Questions emerge. If the piping inside the containment chamber was damaged, how much water continues to leak?
    Where does that water go? At Fukishima they just let it run into the ocean. If the leak was outside and accessible–eg a flange at the pump cracked and the water poured on the floor outside containment, where did that go? More importantly, while the repairment wrestled with valves or pipewrenches how long did the core simply sit without circulating water? Did the standing water boil away to the extent that the rods ceased to be submerged. If the rods were exposed to air–the casings went fast and actual post-fission nuclear material began to vaporize–1st the radioactive iodine, then cesium. At Fukishima apparently even the plutonium vaporized–hard to find that heavy material outside the facility if it did not.

    So in Virginia the system failed. We do not know how badly. We should know. We should know if the radioactive materials were vented along with the steam. Not from a company spinner–but from our vaste federal workforce–from somebody whose children live downwind. Before our entire govt workforce returns and is put at risk. That does not seem unreasonable–I live there too–inquiring minds want to know. If we have no credible disclosure by NRC—then that agency should be the 1st to lose paychecks–what good are they? We should not have to guess on a matter of this significance——IS THERE ONGOING EMISSION OF DETERIORATING FUEL RODS?

    Then lets move on to the greater issue presented by this event. It happened. The state of knowledge and danger presented by these reactors has not advanced appreciably since I sat in the basement in University 4 floors underground and counted Mu-mesons supposedly emitted when nitrogen atoms’ nucluei were stuck by cosmic rays from outer space in 1973. Yes I studied particle physics for a long time. I left and studied the makeup of DNA after I determined we did not appreciate the dangers presented by these particles. Mu mesons–MUONs in particular. These were thought to eminate exclusively from cosmic ray energized disintegration of nuetrons in the upper atmosphere. However, as Fukishima went into uncontrolled sputtering nuclear fission with emissions into the biosphere—-the muons increased dramatically. The significance of this is that the basic tenet of particle physics was that these things came only from collision of cosmic rays with neutrons. The Fukishima events suggest–say prove–otherwise. The muons are the result of fission–the kind that occurs at every reactor–every spent fuel pond. The over-stuffed fuel ponds with 5 times originally permitted volumes stored on site. The significane of this cannot be overstated. The premise was that I counted these muons with a large geiger set to identify them–you need to know what you are looking for to find it with that gadgetry. I was under a building 4 floors down–counting one every 5 minutes or so. From outer space-souced cosmic rays? I had a lot of time to think between the recordation of the events–5 minutes. I sat a few feet from the storage room where the hot substances were stored–I wore a radiation badge. I wondered. I worried. What if the math whizzes were wrong? What if the muons were capable of earth source generation? The muons are nasty little charged particles. They have very short lifespans, are very energetic and very low mass–only slightly more than electrons. This enables them to pass through many feet of concrete and steel. Thus the containment at reactors cannot contain them. When the shere volume of decaying material is increased by 5 times, the number of these things increases exponentially. as the volumes increased people should have backed away from the plants as one would from an over-fueled campfire. They did not.

    Bottom line here is that reactors are TOO dangerous at any speed.

    Back to FT today. We have alternatives. FT spoke to one which also goes to the heart of our largest budget problem and greatest economic exposure. Canadian Oil Sands ne tar sands. as the article noted. Keystone would allow transport from Alberta to the Guld Coast. FT neglected to point out that the oilsands material aka bitumen is today supplied by PDVSA [Hugo Chavez] to numerous refineries on the gulf coast today. There is a very strong political component to the issue ero the interst of the state Department.

    We have observed that the demise of 1.5 million BPD of Libyan production resulted in a runup of global prices for Brent by $25 more per bbl than WTI. One might surmise that in effect, that is the risk premium of mideast oil. The risk premium has been contained for about 40 years by the unrelenting expenditure of bloodmoney across the entire midleast. So the risk premium more or less relates to the huge outlays by the US to contain political unrest in the entire middle east. It failed. We lost. The premium was re-priced so to speak when it became clear that the US could not insure middle east oil no matter how many missiles nor ground troops used. It is $25.bbl. We now know the FMV of military protection.

    What is unclear to me is exactly what our cost of the failed price guarantee was/is. We seem to spend about 1.5 times the entire world’s defense dollars to insure this price advantage. the stupidity aside from the amount is that everybody from China to Germany enjoys the benefit for free. We pay–they benefit. No wonder we are not competitive.

    This is a budget issue. Even dumber for us, we have handy safe alternatives in the US —–or at leat in the western hemisphere. For a fraction of the cost of securing Iraq [twice now-more to come] and Afghanistan, we could have paid the Texas natl guard to take over Venezuela. They have about 100 yrs supply or more and we already use it.

    Canada offers more supply without the Txs guard—seemingly the answer to dreams. Safe from sabotage. Politically low risk. Huge supplies. The only problem is there is more CO2 than saudi crude production emits? Is that with or without the CO2 footprint of the US military presence? At least if we are to play the CO2 game–lets do it honestly.

    It is insane to maintain armies all over the mideast where they are not wanted–thereby inviting 911 type events—exhausing out treasury and bleeding our young men in the deserts rather than training them in our universities. When we have a ready replacement on our border???

    This only makes sense if there are economic forces atr work that want to keep prices high by blocking development of the oilsands and justifying a military presence in the mideast that we do not need.

    What we do need is pipelines from Alberta and in the US to receive and distribute this safe sourced bitumen. We do not need to pay in blood. The development of adequate pipeline infrastructure is a huge jobs machine so long as we do not feel compelled to buy the pipe from China because of hidden subsidies. The second thing we need to complete this picture is the modification/rebuild of refineries in the US to use this bitumen–it costs about 4 billion per each 250,000 bpd refinery to convert. In this cost is the expenditure to add cogeneration to burn the otherwise unusable petroleum coke–basically high sulfur coal substitute. Scrubbers will do nicley to clean the emissions. This added powewr is a sort of windfall that will reduce reliance upon the nukes we can then shut down ASAP acoss the midcontinent–before New Madrid reminds you its there. Of course, the shale gas is relatively short term–its a quick play. Long term we must look to coal-fired generation. Like China.

    Pipelines are also necessary to move the shale gas and natural gas liquids from the new field to the new conbined cycle gas-fired turbine generators that we should be building at breakneck speeds to replace the northeastern and midatlantic nukes.

    There is ample opportunity to kill multiple birds with a couple stones–domestic jobs paid for by long term substantial reduced defense spending and longterm lowered energy costs. And if the mideast flares again, we can see that the Brent /WTI oilsands differential wil punish our competitors globally while we watch safely. How can that be wrong?

    Why would we chose to do anything else? Can we afford to do anything else?

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