January 19, 2012

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Craig Pirrong at Streetwise reacts to the Keystone Pipeline decision. Our country presently has 2,300,000 miles of pipeline carrying natural gas and hazardous liquids. The president doesn’t think we can safely add 1,700 miles. He thinks we’re stupid. 

So Obama has rejected–at least for now, for heaven forfend he make a firm decision–the Keystone XL Pipeline.  He claims that the rejection was not on the merits, but due to the fact that the Republicans had given him too little time–a mere 60 days–to determine whether the pipeline was in the national interest.  This after 3 plus years of the pipeline application began wending its way through the labyrinthine pipeline of the Federal approval process. So it’s not like this just landed on his desk with no prior analysis.  It’s more like: get on with it, Mr. Vote Present.

This from the guy who on every other day berates the same Republicans for foot-dragging obstructionism.  The guy who says he is going to do something every day to create jobs even if Congress doesn’t go along because it is just too slow.

I guess Obama is just President Goldilocks.  This is toooo fast.  This is toooo slow.  But he hasn’t found just right yet.

And the guy who is supposedly sooooo smart that he is bored because his mind is racing ahead of everyone (just ask Valerie Jarrett!) apparently needs a little extra time on this exam.

Please.  This was just another political dodge, wrapped up in a whinging excuse about being hustled along by meanie Republicans. …


More environmentally based economic stupidity is evidenced by a George Will column on the proposed dredging of Charlestown’s harbor to accommodate the large container ships that will soon navigate the widened Panama Canal. So far, our country has been studying the environmental impact of the project for 13 years.

… Newsome says the study for deepening Savannah’s harbor was made in 1999. It is 2012, and studies for the environmental impact statement are not finished. When they are, the project will take five years to construct. “But before that,” he says laconically, “they’re going to be sued by groups concerned about the environmental impact.” A Newsome axiom — that institutions become risk-averse as they get challenged — is increasingly pertinent as America changes from a nation that celebrated getting things done to a nation that celebrates people and groups who prevent things from being done. …

… The huge project of widening the Panama Canal began in 2006; it will be completed in eight years. Newsome, who is unstinting in his praise of the Army Corps, knows it must comply with ever-thickening layers of laws. But even if we stipulate that all these laws are wonderful, we should also stipulate that surely things would move faster if the nation faced an emergency. Such as economic enfeeblement.

The Empire State Building was built in 14 months during the Depression, the Pentagon in 16 in wartime. The aircraft carrier USS Yorktown, which earned 11 battle stars in the Pacific and now is anchored here, was built in less than 17 months, back when America was serious about moving forward. Is it necessary to take eight years — just two years less than it took to build the Panama Canal with yellow fever and without computers — to deepen this harbor five feet?


More from John Steele Gordon.

… Savannah began studying the possibility of dredging in 1999. Today, 13 years later, the study is still not completed. When and if it is, the dredging itself will take five years. So even if dredging started today, Savannah will not be able to take the new Panamax ships until three years after they begin to transit the canal. But dredging won’t start upon completion of the environmental study because various self-appointed guardians of the environment will–as surely as the sun will rise in the east tomorrow–sue, arguing over every comma of the environmental impact statement that will run to thousands of pages. These groups have become past masters at using the legal system to delay–and thus all too often kill–projects they do not approve of, which, it seems, is nearly all of them. …

… The successful completion of the Panama Canal in 1914 was a great psychological moment for the United States, providing powerful evidence that this country could do anything it set its mind to. That attitude built the Hoover Dam, produced the industrial miracle that won World War II?, constructed the Interstate Highway System, and sent men to the moon. Today, it seems, we can’t even dredge a harbor, a technology that goes back centuries.


Steve Hayward proposes a solution to the “Charlestown Harbor” problems.

… Clearly the review process we have now is largely deadweight loss, just as high marginal tax rates discouraged capital formation, investment, and productivity improvements in the high-inflation 1970s.  We can arguably afford the extravagance of regulatory suffocation when the economy is booming at 4 percent growth a year or better (as in the late 1990s) and unemployment is 5 percent. We cannot afford it under the current stagnant circumstances.  A Laffer Curve for regulation will explore just how much economic growth and how many jobs were are sacrificing for this artificial punctiliousness.

What needs to be done?  The regulatory review process ought to have a short deadline.  Agency review should be completed within six or nine months, with a presumption in favor of granting permission unless an agency can delineate a substantively new problem based on precedents from previous similar projects (that is, no speculative objections based on what global warming might do 75 years from now, as actually happened to a proposed project in California a few years back where regulators denied a building permit on the theory that rising sea levels would make the land habitat for an endangered species that would want to move upland).  Standing to sue to block projects should be tightened, and the threshold for hearing such suits made much more restrictive.  And how about requiring that all Environmental Impact Statements be no longer than 200 pages?  I’m sure all the environmental lawyers and consultants who charge by the hour and make a bundle doing these multi-volume EIRs that no one reads will howl, but if the Supreme Court can limit briefs to 50 pages on matters of high constitutional importance, why can’t our regulatory process not emulate a standard of brevity that emphasizes the essential over the frivolous and tedious?


More on NY rent control from Nicole Gelinas.

Does the US Constitution apply on the Upper West Side? The Supreme Court may soon decide.

New York City and state regulate the rents of 982,000 apartments — half the city’s rental homes.

The rules are complicated, but for the most part, apartments are regulated until they’re vacant and lease for more than $2,500 a month. Until then, the government determines annual rent increases. With few exceptions, tenants can renew their leases forever and can hand down their apartments to their kids.

New York controls this “market” because, they say, there’s a housing “emergency.” The emergency is that everyone on the planet wants to live here, and only so many people fit. With a few gaps in time, this “emergency” dates back to just after World War I, when rents soared for returning veterans.  …


Andrew Ferguson profiles Rick Santorum and puts the BS sign on his anti-establishment smoke.

After he almost won the Iowa caucuses earlier this month, Rick Santorum was instantly dubbed a “Washington outsider,” even an “anti-establishment candidate.” It was a convenient tag that made it easier for reporters to keep all these strange Republicans straight: Newt Gingrich, Washington insider; Michele Bachmann, mad housewife; Mitt Romney, establishment prom king; Jon Huntsman, moderate hair guy; Rick Santorum, anti-establishment Washington outsider. Like that.

But Santorum’s titles were rescinded as quickly as they were bestowed, for the press discovered certain details that undercut any claim he might have to be a Washington outsider, such as the fact that he lives in suburban Washington and has for more than 20 years. Rick Santorum has spent his entire career either working in government—his first job out of school was as an assistant to a Pennsylvania state senator—or, when he wasn’t working in government, working to get another job in government, as he is doing now. And when, in 2007, he found himself once again without a government job, having been booted out of the Senate by a large majority of Pennsylvania voters, he took a bunch of government-like jobs right here in his beloved hometown of Washington.

This is where the press smelled an insider.

“After Santorum Left Senate,” headlined the New York Times, “Familiar Hands Reached Out.”

“After Senate,” echoed the Washington Post two days later, “Santorum turns Washington experience into lucrative career as consultant, pundit.” …


Ancient humans used mattresses that chased away insects. Story from the Economist.

SETTING up home in the modern world means acquiring some furniture—particularly a bed. And things were not so different 77,000 years ago, according to the latest research on the behaviour of early man in South Africa. Caves in that country have yielded a lot of discoveries about how Homo sapiens made the transition to modernity. That he liked to sleep on a comfortable mattress is the latest. …

… The most interesting layer is the oldest. It is this stratum that dates from 77,000 years ago. Among the things Dr Wadley’s team found in it were sheets of plant matter several square metres in area, themselves divided into layers. The lower part of these layers, compressed to a thickness of about a centimetre, consists of sedges, rushes and grasses. The upper part, just under a millimetre thick, is made of leaves from Cryptocarya woodii, a tree whose foliage contains chemicals that kill insects.

These insecticidal leaves would have discouraged fleas and other biting arthropods—and possibly mosquitoes, too. Dr Wadley thus thinks that what she has found are mattresses on which the inhabitants of Sibudu slept. They may also have walked and worked on them, in a way similar to the use of tatami in modern Japanese houses.


Andrew Malcolm sweeps up the week’s humor.

Twitter: If Mayans were good at predicting the future, there’d be Mayans. via @jonlovett

Twitter: Newt Gingrich insists that he’ll be in Florida for the primary too. Callista has booked a Caribbean cruise that sails from Miami. @EdCarson1

Fallon: The national debt is now the size of the entire U.S. economy. I don’t want to say Obama is out of ideas, but today he called Tim Tebow.

Conan: During one of the GOP debates, Jon Huntsman spoke Chinese. Not to be outdone, during the same debate Newt Gingrich ate Chinese.

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