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The Environmental Spectator

Cronyism and the Bureaucratic Reset Button

By 2.2.16

“Superfund” is a word we rarely hear in the major media these days. Climate change is the environmental cause du jour, but back in the late 1970s and into the 1980s, as America was learning about Love Canal and solving the problem of rivers catching on fire, the cleanup of industrial waste was the nation’s major environmental priority.

In 1980, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) was passed. Known colloquially as “Superfund” (and the sites themselves as “Superfund Sites”), CERCLA is a fairly straightforward example of what America’s environmental laws look like: massive, complicated, and demonstrative of just how unwieldy the bureaucracy can be in practice.

Special Report

What’s the Issue — Etiquette or Submission?

By 2.2.16

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani came calling on the Italians and the French, as part of a tour of the greedy capitalist countries who were tripping all over themselves in their eagerness to sell him the rope by which he would hang them. He would allow them to do this only on the condition that they would not offend him. As we’ve learned over the last decade, it’s very easy to offend a Muslim. No wine was to be served at meals. No statues displaying nudity were to be in his line of sight. The French would not pass on the wine. The Italians would be more accommodating. They wouldn’t serve wine.

Furthermore, they would address the issue of nudity, not with fig leafs, but by entirely surrounding the offending masterpieces in the Capitoline Museum with white boxes. This was ingenious in a way, and very Italian. A fig leaf might only serve to draw attention to the offending anatomy. But large white boxes scattered throughout the exhibit would create a “negative space” that would define the boundaries of the positive space, demarcating the sacred from the profane, what is permissible from what is forbidden. The Italians raised their shame to an art form.

Mean Girl

By 2.2.16

Those who hate too much become like the people they hate, and so it is with Jane Mayer, whose Dark Money, a 450-page screed of unrelenting venom, portrays a vast right-wing conspiracy controlled by a small number of libertarian donors. Like the John Birch Society of days gone by, Mayer sees a cabal of dark forces that secretly dominates American politics. And like Joe McCarthy, people two or three degrees of separation from her villains are tarred with their brush. Fifty years ago Richard Hofstadter said that the Birchers and McCarthyites exemplified the “paranoid style” of American politics, but now it’s the Mayers who have debased American politics.

Random Thoughts

Obama Has Turned Congressional Republicans Into Lame Ducks

By 2.2.16

Random thoughts on the passing scene:

Will this November’s presidential election come down to a choice between a felon and a pied piper?

People who call Barack Obama a lame duck president seem not to have noticed that he is exercising more power than ever, and has turned the Republican Congress into a lame duck branch of government.

The best New Year’s Resolution I ever made was to stop trying to reason with unreasonable people. That may be especially valuable during an election year.

With 4 of the 9 Supreme Court justices being more than 75 years old, the next president will probably be appointing replacements who can help determine the direction of American law well into the next generation. This is just one of the many very serious things that we can only hope the voters keep in mind, instead of voting on the basis of just one issue or on emotions.

Among the common phrases of the past that we seldom hear today is “None of your business.” Apparently everything is other people’s business these days, including the media’s business and the government’s business.

Ben Stein's Diary

Anger Undermines American Opportunity

By 2.1.16

When I read about how angry Americans are, about how angry they are at Washington or at Wall Street, and how they want to turn the country on its head to work out their anger, I think of my beloved father, the late economist, Herbert Stein.

My father’s father was a skilled tool and die maker at Ford and at General Electric. They had not little money but they were not on welfare. My father, at 15, entered Williams College, the finest small college in America at the time. He worked at every job he could find. One of his jobs was to wash dishes at a fraternity that did not admit Jews. That was in the early 1930s.

When I asked my father, many years later, if he felt angry about that, he answered, “No. I felt happy that I had a job that allowed me to go to such a great college in the middle of the worst depression in history.”

He wasn’t angry. He worked. He became famous and gave my sister and me the finest educations there were, and then I worked, and my wife worked. And I got to send my son to a good school. I have a great life aside from overeating.

The Right Prescription

Trump on Drugs

By 2.1.16

Donald Trump has never met a dumb health care idea he didn’t like. We learned during the first GOP debate that he has an affinity for Scotland’s incredibly dysfunctional system of socialized medicine. We have subsequently discovered that he would replace Obamacare with “something terrific,” the details of which he still declines to reveal except to say that “the government’s gonna pay for it.” Now Trump has endorsed another bad idea that Democrats — including Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Barack Obama — have long advocated despite evidence that it won’t work and could reduce access to crucial medications for millions of seniors.

Loose Canons

Hillary’s Email Scandal Envelops the Intelligence Agencies

By 2.1.16

The latest revelations about Hillary Clinton’s misuse of an unsecured private email system to communicate top secret information appear to lead possible criminal complicity in some intelligence agencies that had to know of her conduct.

This past week we found out that at least twenty-two of those emails are so highly classified that they cannot be released even in a heavily redacted form. Clinton, predictably, is trying to score political points by saying they should all be released, thus putting the blame on the State Department for withholding them even though she knows perfectly well that the emails in question can’t possibly be disclosed because of the intensely guarded secrets they contain.

We also found out that President Obama, contrary to his false statement last March that he only found out about Hillary’s use of that system from recent news reports, actually emailed Hillary at her “” address at least eighteen times.

Political Hay

Two Sides of the Same Coin

By 2.1.16

He was born in the 1940s but still shows plenty of energy and a distinct New York brashness and humor while debating fellow candidates or taking questions from voters or reporters. His supporters sometimes seem frustrated, even angry, that government hasn’t done what they think our elected officials were sent to Washington to do, that politicians don’t pay attention to the will of the people and haven’t enacted — or even really tried to enact — policies aimed at making America the best it can be. And he often seems just as angry.

He laps up criticism of his positions as compliments, and his devotees take them that way, too, aiming for an “outsider” president not bound by convention and not beholden to the “establishment.” His supporters are so fed up with the status quo that they barely care about their man’s poorly defined policies. Instead they are enthralled with his populist promises of ensuring that Americans are no longer taken advantage of economically, with particular venom reserved for free trade and hedge fund managers.

A Further Perspective

Reformer Sen. Cruz and Brutal Mr. Hyde

By 2.1.16

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, had the voice of a liberal and a libertarian when he wrote a piece for the Brennan Center for Justice in April that ripped the federal criminal justice system on three fronts — “overcriminalization, harsh mandatory minimum sentences, and the demise of jury trials.” “Draconian mandatory minimum sentences,” he wrote, can produce sentences that far outweigh the crime, especially for “nonviolent drug offenders.”

The Ted Cruz who wrote that piece — and co-sponsored the Smarter Sentencing Act of 2015 with Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Dick Durbin, D-Ill. — may not be familiar to those following Cruz on the GOP presidential primary trail. Lately the public has seen more of the Cruz whom New York Times columnist David Brooks faulted for “brutalism” in over-zealously prosecuting bad law as Texas solicitor general.

Which Cruz survives?

Breaking News

Stimulate Growth Now Through Corporate Tax Rate Cut

By and 2.1.16

We believe that an economic slowdown and maybe a recession is on the way in 2016. The stock market is off to a rocky start and that’s often a lead indicator of trouble ahead for business and jobs. Profits are down, business investment is poor, and consumers are hunkering down again.

We hope we’re wrong but it makes sense for Congress to get ahead of the storm and pass a recession-insurance stimulus policy. Cut the business tax rate to 15 percent. Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell: Pass this now. This week.

Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are spouting off economic nonsense of late — break up the banks, put Wall Streeters in jail, raise tax rates to 50 percent or more, spend another multiple trillion dollars. ‎If the economy starts to tank they will want another debt-laden government spending plan. Sorry, been there. Done that.

But where is the Republican growth message? The GOP runs the House and Senate, but still no sign of a growth package to offer up a contrasting vision from the Bernie and Hillary show. ‎