Sunday, February 23, 2014

Duke it Out

Arsenic and old waste are killing old Dan River, and injuring the North Carolinians who depend on it for their water supply.  Law suits by environmental groups to prevent disasters, like the February 2nd spill of coal ash into the Dan River from a Duke Energy coal ash dump, were blocked by John Skvarla, head of the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

When a state fails to act, citizens may file suit on behalf of the public.  Environmental groups had given notice of intent to bring legal action to require Duke to clean up coal ash basins and pay applicable fines.  In March of 2013, DENR brought suit against Duke, precluding any action by environmental groups.  Ordinarily, a state stepping up to the bar is a good thing, but not when the defendant is buying the drinks.  North Carolina governor Pat McCrory spent 28 years at Duke and received 1.1 million in campaign contributions from the energy giant.

DENR entered into a proposed settlement with Duke.  Duke, a 50 billion dollar company, would pay $99,111 in fines, less than one week of compensation for the Duke CEO.  More importantly,  Duke was not required to take any corrective action.

John Skvarla is lying when he denies this was a sweet heart deal.  As a lawyer, I can state definitively that none of the usual reasons for a low ball settlement apply.  A typical reason for retreat is that interrogatories, depositions and other legal discovery highlight weaknesses in a case.  This settled before any such discovery.  A related reason is that mounting legal costs exceed the possible benefits of proceeding.  But in this instance North Carolina would have bourn no legal costs if it allowed private environmental litigation to continue.

The rationale offered by Skvarla is nonsensical.  He contends that DENR settled to avoid years of litigation that would have delayed dealing with coal ash.  This fails on two grounds.  The settlement did not require corrective action. More importantly, litigation does not prevent corrective action.  For instance, if someone slips on a crack in the sidewalk and sues the city, municipal repairs may not be introduced into evidence.  Public policy precludes corrective action being used against a defendant  in litigation.

Continued litigation would expedite, rather than delay, coal ash solutions.  John Skvarla is a liar.  Recently issued Federal subpoenas may reveal whether he and governor McCory are dirty liars.


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Recall

Actions have consequences. Closing the government over the Affordable Heath Care Act is irresponsible.  Recall is a remedy. New Jersey and Wisconsin are two of the states that permit recall of Congressmen.  Swing districts in New Jersey held by Republicans are seats 2,3,5 and 7, in Wisconsin they are seats 1, 7 and 8.  If you live in one of those districts, please act now.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Danger of Safety

Safe districts are the bane of Democracy.  Extremism in the pursuit of job security is a vice.  Only a few Congressman are so lacking in intelligence, or so ideologically impure, as to believe that denying health care to millions is important enough to justify shutting down the government or defaulting on our national debt.  But their reelection may depend on well postured mendacity.

Money has polluted the system.  Presidential elections come as close as we get to pure democracy.  Through free media, and lavish spending by both sides on paid media, each candidate has ample opportunity to communicate to the American people.  A majority of registered voters go to the polls.  Local elections are different.  Motivated voters and ultraconservative donors are skewing low turn out elections.  The result is Republican legislators  have controlled redistricting.  In 2012, Democratic congressional candidates received one million more votes than their Republican counterparts.  But Republicans retained control of the House.

It is often said that, "All politics are local."  Recently that has been painfully true.




Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Russian to Judgement

Idealogical consistency is admirable,  political expediency-- not so much.  McCain, a decorated veteran, has supported military action under both Republican and Democratic administrations.  The Pauls, father and son, have been as forthright in opposing intervention.

Progressives have been challenged.  Many oppose bombing as they have opposed other uses of force.  While others, including the President, are propelled by concern over the flaunting of the international ban on the use of chemical weapons.  But in a corollary to Obama's cost benefit analysis based foreign policy, progressives understand another mercantile concept, you break it, you own it.  Last night the president made clear that air strikes would have a limited objective, with responsibility for Syria remaining with Syrians.

Republican chicken hawks are flying in circles. Hatred of the president is the only air beneath their wings.  Supporters of unlimited warfare in Iraq, where weapons of mass destruction were an illusion, stridently oppose limited bombings in Syrian, where WMD's are a harsh, deadly reality.

If they oppose a military solution, then clearly these Republicans must support a diplomatic resolution.  Again, not so much.  They condemn Obama for considering a Russian proposal, which, if sincere and successful, would place Syrian chemical weapons under international control.  The rub is not the terms of a possible deal, but that it is a Putin proposal.  "We are allowing Russia to dictate American foreign policy," they shout on Fox.  Who else?  Syria is a Russian client state.  Short of pounding Assad in to submission, the only path to the bargaining table is Russian pressure.

Chicken hawks are pooping all over themselves.  Hopefully, the smell of mendacity will awaken the electorate.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Obama Doctrine

Republicans savage Obama's foreign policy as feckless and without structure.  They are wrong.  Those lovers of business, fail to recognize the application of cost/benefit analysis.

Republicans derided Obama for "leading from behind" in Libya.  In b-school Libya would be a triumph.  The objectives of regime change and a more friendly government were  achieved at little cost and with almost no risk.  It is as if GM developed a best selling car with partners and subcontractors bearing all development costs.

Apply those same principles to Republican foreign policy.  When performing a cost benefit analysis it is not enough to look at the hoped for best case benefit.  The cost, particularly in a worst case scenario, must be quantified.  The difficulties experienced in Iraq and Afghanistan were well within the parameters of a worst cast scenario.  Under the Obama doctrine we would not have invaded Iraq, and perhaps, would have also avoided the quagmire in Afghanistan.

Syria presents a difficult case precisely because it is not like Libya.  Gaddafi had limited support within Libya, and fearing a coup, had weakened and hamstrung the military.  Some opposition elements had Western leanings.

Assad has solid support from a portion of the population, and from many in the elite class.  The military is modern.  Imposing a Libya style no fly zone could result in substantial loss of lives and planes.  The opposition is riddled with extremists.  The enemy of my enemy is not always my friend.  Caution is prudent.  Some strike will be made to support the universal ban on the use of chemical weapons.  But beyond that, under the Obama doctrine,  limited resources will be committed until conditions warrant an  investment.


Friday, July 5, 2013

Egypt

The first election is but a glimmer in the eye of lovers of democracy.  The second election is the birth of a constitutional democracy.  The natural non-violent transfer of power is an institutional milestone.  Unfortunately,  in Egypt the first election was followed by a c-section.  The coup may have been necessary for the life of the nation, but the successful transition to a democratic state remains uncertain.

Will Rogers famously proclaimed, "I am not a member of an organized party, I am a Democrat."
The same can be said of the secular/progressives in Egypt.  I was there shortly before the 2011 elections.  My guide came from an upper middle class family, and his wife worked for an American subsidiary.  He pointed out signs and pictures of the moderate candidate he was certain would be the next president.

Importantly, most supporters of secular government are themselves devout Muslims.  Our guide has special dispensation from his Mullah to pray outside of a mosque.  He always found time for his prayers.  But he wanted economic viability from his government.

Moderates, such as my guide, failed to coalesce behind a single candidate or party.  Their vote was scattered, and many refused to vote based on cynicism or political purity.  These revolutionaries won the war, but lost the peace.  Had secularists united to at least form a necessary part of any coalition, Morsi might have remained in check, negating the need for a coup.

If the military holds promised elections,  secularists must learn from their past to secure Egypt's future.


Friday, June 28, 2013

The Kindness of Strangers

Once again, moderates and progressives in blue states are recipients of  largesse, from their, often strange, brethren in red states.  As has been previously discussed, the subsidies in the Affordable Care Act are a boon for those states that agree to expand Medicaid coverage.  The result is a wealth transfer from conservative states, that refuse the subsidies, to moderate states that accept them.

The demise of DOMA is matched by the rise of conservative generosity.  Marriage is a tax favored institution.  Joint tax returns, dependent status, Social Security survivor benefits, tax free wealth transfer at death, and tax free employer paid medical benefits, flow from the union.  In time, this too will result in a transfer of wealth from conservative states, which prohibit same sex marriages, to blue states which allow them.  What the Supreme Court has placed together, let no CPA cast assunder.

In the near term, the wedding industry is booming in same sex marriage states .