The Progressive Assault on the Electoral College

by Bill O'Connell on December 10, 2010

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Comments submitted in response to a previous post, “The Progressive War on Federalism,” focused on the Electoral College and a movement called the National Popular Vote (http://www.nationalpopularvote.com) bill.  Rather than argue against my point it only seemed to reinforce it.  The objective of this movement, which before this commenter’s contribution I was unaware of, is to abolish, or should I say neuter, the Electoral College and replace it with the direct election of the president.  This movement looks to further weaken the states and move us away from federalism and toward a strong monolithic central government.  Here is my analysis.

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The Progressive War on Federalism

by Bill O'Connell on December 6, 2010

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I still find myself in awe of our Founding Fathers who created our form of government.  The competing ideas that they sifted through to come up with our Constitution and the safeguards in it is wondrous.  The designs upon it by the progressives is by equal measure disturbing.


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As they say, when it rains it pours. The Obama administration famously boasted about having its boot on the neck of BP and extorting $20 billion from the company without the benefit of due process, but now a different assessment emerges.

According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, faulted the administration on several fronts. “A White House spokesman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.”

It is quite clear that this administration stumbled and bumbled along at the start of the disaster, once again fully displaying its inexperience in executive matters. Here are some of the salient points from the commission.

  • “A sense of over optimism” about the disaster “may have affected the scale and speed with which national resources were brought to bear.”
  • In addition, the government’s underestimate of how much oil was flowing into the Gulf of Mexico gave the impression that the government “was either not fully competent to handle the spill or not fully candid.”
  • The administration took “an overly casual approach” in calculating that between 1,000 and 5,000 barrels per day were flowing when the real number was around 35,000 to 60,000 barrels per day
  • Their initial low estimate remained the official estimate for a full month
  • The administration was initially slow to respond and then misdirected resources when the public grew increasingly frustrated with the lack of progress.

[click to continue…]

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Congress Gets Aggressive on Oil Spill

by Bill O'Connell on July 8, 2010

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I received an e-mail from my Congressman telling me how he was on top of the situation in the Gulf:

“I am a member  of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, which is at the forefront of an aggressive (sic) Congressional response to BP’s oil spill.  Last week, I voted in Committee to approve a comprehensive legislative response to environmental and economic liability issues raised by the spill.”

As I had written about previously (The Regulators are Dead, Long Live the Regulators), this was just one more case of government failing us but then rushing out more legislation and control so it won’t happen again.  If government was doing its job, it shouldn’t have happened in the first place.  So I wrote back to the Congressman.

 Dear Congressman Bishop,

I read with interest your e-mail to me about the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, which you say is at the forefront of an aggressive Congressional response to BP’s oil spill.  Excuse my skepticism but this sounds like one more “we’re really gonna fix it this time,” response to the failure of government to do what they are already empowered to do.

You say the Oil Spill Accountability and Environmental Protection Act of 2010 “will ensure that responsible parties will be responsible for 100% of the oil pollution cleanup costs.”  If I am not mistaken it was the Congress that passed a law limiting the damages from an oil spill to $75 million, which created a moral hazard that perhaps encouraged BP to cut corners.  But wasn’t it BP who voluntarily waived the $75 million limit and has promised from the start that they would pay the full costs, thereby helping Congress remove the egg from their collective faces for including the limit in the first place?  Don’t get me wrong, BP has a lot to answer for but at the same time BP applied to the government regulators for several waivers of safety tests and requirements that the government granted.  If government had been doing their job, perhaps this would never have happened in the first place.

Aside from closing the barn door after the horse has escaped, I see no mention in your e-mail about holding Congressional hearings to ask the Obama Administration why they have not yet suspended the Jones Act and accepted the offer of help from twelve countries in the cleanup effort. When asked, Thad Allen and Carol Browner offered the weak excuse that no one asked them for a waiver.  Why did the administration stand in the way of Louisiana building sand berms to stop the oil from reaching the coast because of environmental reasons?  From an environmental disaster standpoint, doesn’t the oil gushing in the Gulf trump other concerns?  We seem to have multiple agencies operating in the Gulf and each one is getting in the way of each other and no one in the administration is taking the lead to clear the red tape.  Why is that Congressman?

Instead of talking about preventing avoidable disasters in the future, why don’t you find out why this avoidable disaster was not prevented by the regulations we have on the books and by the agencies in charge of doing so?  For once, perhaps you can wait until those facts are known before you rush out to craft more legislation to fix a problem like you did with the financial services industries when it will be months before the Angelides Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission has finished its investigation. 

Government that works is more important than signing ceremonies for ill considered legislation that is rushed and voted upon but unread by our representatives.

Sincerely yours,

William R. O’Connell

 I am sure there will be a signing ceremony and tough talk about how we’re really putting an end to this wild unfettered market, but if you trace it back this disaster had government leading the way.  It forced the oil companies to drill in deeper water; it created a moral hazard by capping their liability for any spills to $75 million (which BP waived and accepted responsibility for the full costs); the regulatory agency in charge both collects royalty payments from the oil companies and assesses penalties for failure to comply with regulations; and that same agency granted BP several waivers to take shortcuts before the well failed.  But don’t worry Congress is really going to get tough now.

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Government Failure in the Gulf

by Bill O'Connell on June 7, 2010

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Not surprisingly, we hear the administration telling us how they have been in charge since day one regarding the BP oil gusher.  But as I have often said before, if there is a major problem in America look for government to be right in the thick of it and this is no exception.

Statists like to blame the free market for such problems and that more government is the answer.  You will also hear them mistakenly say that conservatives don’t want any government involvement in the marketplace.  Conservatives believe in government, albeit limited government, but we also expect that the government that is in place do its job.  There was plenty of regulation in the BP case, perhaps too much government in that there was no one clear responsible agency but an overlapping mess.  When it comes to regulation I like to use the sports analogy of a baseball umpire.  Congress writes the rulebook and the executive branch is the umpire that makes sure the rules are followed.  If the umpire is looking at an attractive girl in the stands instead of the play on the field, he is apt to blow the call.  Blown calls seemed to be a way of life in the BP case. 

Deepwater exploration progressed faster than the regulations could keep up with the technology, and government was providing incentives to accelerate that exploration.  So there we have our first example of the government acting in a push-me, pull-you fashion, that is, incentives to explore but lacking regulations to make sure it is done safely and orderly.  Rather than looking at deep water drilling where the physics are different as a different animal needing a comprehensive review of the regulations, the regulations were piecemeal approvals of shallow water regulations. 

When BP first looked at drilling in this area they requested from the federal regulators an exemption from a rigorous environmental review.  That exemption was granted.  They also used riskier equipment that deviated from their own company safety policies.  Regulators also approved testing the blowout preventer at a pressure that was lower than federally required.  When BP wanted to delay mandatory testing of the blowout preventer when they lost “well control” in the weeks before the rig exploded, again the regulators granted the delay.

One federal agency, the Minerals Management Service, is in the dual role of both promoting drilling and regulating it.  They both collect royalty payments and issue fines for violations.  Do you think there may be a conflict here?  Is this the most effective form of government?  Here is a core beef of mine and of other conservatives.  The free market should provide the incentives for off shore drilling.  Either it is worth doing from a business standpoint or it is not.  The government’s role should be in the regulation.  When government wades into the middle trying to work both sides, it is doomed to fail.

There are multiple agencies that all have responsibility for regulation in this area in addition to the Minerals Management Service including, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Coast Guard, and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.  Where there are gaps in regulation, whose responsibility is it to plug the gap?  When there is overlap, whose regulations controls? 

The Minerals Management Service approved BP’s drilling plan that projected a “worst case” blowout as producing 250,000 barrels per day of escaping oil.  However, the agency did not require BP to develop a contingency plan on how they would deal with such an occurrence.  The agency also did not require companies to have a backup systems to trigger in the event a blowout preventer failed.

There were early indications of problems with the well but federal regulators approved proceeding with the drilling rather than order it be halted until the issues were addressed.

So once this disaster spun out of control how did our government respond?  Based on laws written after the Exxon Valdez spill the government and BP were supposed to cooperate.  How did the administration show their cooperation?  They said they were going to keep their “boot on the neck of BP.”  Do you feel inspired to cooperate with someone who tells the world they will keep their boot on your neck, or do you start looking for ways to protect yourself?  Instead of concentrating on giving BP whatever assistance it needs to cap the well and focusing on containing the spread of oil, the administration sends in lawyers to start a criminal investigation.  Can’t that wait until the well is capped?  Why divert attention from the problem and have BP start losing focus on the well and more on assembling a legal team?

When governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana wanted to build a sand barrier to stop the oil from reaching the wetlands in his state, he was told to wait while our federal government dithered for three weeks haggling among the White House, Coast Guard, Army Corps of Engineers, Fish and Wildlife Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and Environmental Protection Agency over the best approach.  If this administration, as they have claimed, has been in charge since day one and all of these agencies fall under the administration, why couldn’t this be hashed out in a day or two?  They finally approved one barrier rather than the 23 that were requested but eventually allowed more.  For an in depth story see New York Times

For the last year and a half we have been told we don’t have enough government running our lives and telling us what to do.  Yet here is a classic case of government regulator piled on top of regulator, and regulators trying to promote and control businesses at the same time.  We have regulators granting waiver after waiver of regulations that ultimately led to disaster and our administration instead of stepping up and taking responsibility is trying to look like they are in charge while at the same time blaming everyone else, yes even Bush, for what happened.  The head of the Materials Management Service resigned and President Obama says he learned about it afterwards.  Interior Secretary Salazar said she resigned on her own volition and that she wasn’t fired.  Why not?  For all the exemptions and waivers that were granted by the government that could have prevented the worst environmental disaster in history, this administration doesn’t think anyone other than BP should be responsible.

So we are supposed to let this administration grow government and control more of our lives when they can’t take responsibility for what is already under their control.  But don’t look for a serious investigation of government’s responsibility unless a large number of incumbents are flushed out of Congress and replaced by new members who actually represent the people.

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Senator for Sale

by Bill O'Connell on November 21, 2009

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I’ll bet you thought I would be writing about Roland Burris, the senator appointed by Governor Rod Blagojevich under dubious circumstances.  No, Senator Mary Landreau of Louisiana just sold her vote on the senate health care bill to Harry Reid for $100 million.

Here is what was reported by ABC News.

On page 432 of the Reid bill, there is a section increasing federal Medicaid subsidies for “certain states recovering from a major disaster.”

The section spends two pages defining which “states” would qualify, saying, among other things, that it would be states that “during the preceding 7 fiscal years” have been declared a “major disaster area.”

I am told the section applies to exactly one state:  Louisiana, the home of moderate Democrat Mary Landrieu, who has been playing hard to get on the health care bill.

In other words, the bill spends two pages describing would could be written with a single world:  Louisiana.  (This may also help explain why the bill is long.)

Senator Harry Reid, who drafted the bill, cannot pass it without the support of Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu.

How much does it cost?  According to the Congressional Budget Office: $100 million.

But don’t worry, the talking heads in the lame stream media will soon be circling the wagons saying that Senator Landreau didn’t personally get any money, she got it for her state.  But where did the money come from?  Your pocket, my pocket, and your children’s and your grandchildren’s pocket.  In short, Harry Reid is using the coercive power of the IRS to take your property and give it to Louisiana so that a deeply flawed health care bill will get passed and Mary Landreau can get re-elected.  Seems fair to me.  Does it seem fair to you?  Isn’t that what makes you proud to be an American?  The arrogance of this Congress and administration are incomprehensible.  They see Tea Parties across the country rising up to protest their out of control spending.  They get blasted when then go home for their summer recess.  Poll after poll says the country is opposed to the stimulus package, cap and trade, the health care bills, but they just keep rolling on.

Let me quote from the Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness — That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

“But when a long Train of Abuses and Usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a Design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their Right, it is their Duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their Future Security.”

These are troubling times.  We cannot allow these abuses to continue without speaking out loudly and strongly.  Our government has gotten far too big and out of control.  It’s time to shrink it back to where the Founding Fathers envisioned it: limited and unobtrusive.

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Liberty and Mobility

by Bill O'Connell on June 1, 2009

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Movin' Out

One of the great blessings bestowed upon us by our Founding Fathers was federalism. Our federal form of government evolved from the Articles of Confederation, where states had primacy and the national government acted only with the consent of the states.  This proved to be too cumbersome.

In writing the Constitution, the Founders identified very specific roles and responsibilities for the national government and left everything else to the states or the people (see Tenth Amendment).  In doing so it gave the people the power of liberty through mobility.  If you didn’t like the way they did things in Massachusetts, you could move to Virginia.  If the people of Pennsylvania didn’t want a mass migration of people to Georgia, they needed to be careful regarding the laws that they passed so as not to alienate a large block of their constituents.

The War on Federalism

The statist, who loves government and believes government should control every aspect of our lives, hates federalism, because it weakens its control.  So they attack it through the courts.

Here is their standard battle plan.  Let’s the case of Gay Marriage.  Vermont’s legislature approves Gay Marriage.  Whether you are in favor of that or oppose that it shouldn’t affect you if you don’t live in Vermont.  If you are in favor and you live elsewhere, you can move to Vermont.  If you live there and are opposed you can either fight to overturn it in Vermont, or move elsewhere.  That’s the beauty of federalism.  If continued to its logical conclusion, some states would approve it and those in favor would migrate there, and those who are opposed would concentrate in states that would ensure that it would not be adopted in their state.  You could have a raging debate, but your liberty would be preserved through mobility.

However, the statists have a different view of things.  After the law is passed in Vermont by the legislature (as is proper), or made up out of thin air by the court in Massachusetts (judicial activism and improper), some couples who are married in these states move to another state.  By doing so, they should leave their state sanctioned rights behind.  However, what they will typically do when their Vermont sanctioned rights are not honored in, say, Tennessee they will rush to federal court and says their Constitutional rights are being violated.  A court stocked with judicial activists, will find some fig leaf of justification with words like emanations and penumbras, to make a new law of the land and with the stroke of a pen, the liberties of all Americans will be swept away based on the will of the people of Vermont.  You no longer can protect your liberty through mobility.  You cannot go anywhere to live in proximity to like minded people and live the life you believe in.  Mobility is no longer a tool to protect your liberty it is a weapon against you.  People can secure rights elsewhere and use mobility to come to your doorstep and use the courts to force their beliefs on you.

Fierce Fighting

I believe that is why the fighting over these issues become so fierce and acrimonious.  If something is allowed anywhere, it will soon be allowed everywhere, because of an activist judiciary.  Our rhetoric has become more strident, our politics is anything but bipartisan, all because everything is being elevated to the federal level.  States are becoming less and less important.  If you don’t believe it  ask people, who was responsible for the fiasco after hurricane Katrina?  If they say President Bush, ask them to name the mayor of New Orleans or the governor of Louisiana at the time. Bush and the federal government should have been the third line of defense, not the first.  The first should have been the city, then the state and then the federal government.

Back to Federalism

Show me where in the constitution it says the government should own General Motors and Chrysler.  Show me where it says that a tunnel, entirely in the city of Boston should be paid for by the taxpayers of Arizona.  Show me where in the constitution it says education is the responsibility not of local government but the federal government.  It doesn’t.  And until well roll back this juggernaut, our liberties will be crushed little by little, day by day.

This is why it is also important to guard against activist judges getting on the bench or being elevated to higher levels of the court. It is just these activist judges who are taking away your liberty to move away from those who don’t believe what you do and moving toward those you do agree with.  Take note of the nomination of Judge Sotomayor to the Supreme Court.

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