The dam…

According to local news reports over the last day or so, the State of Maryland wants the energy company that operates the Conowingo Dam to pick up the tab for cleaning debris that washed down stream into the Chesapeake following two weeks of heavy rains. It’s a fine thing to blame the dam for causing this. The dam, hundreds of feet of concrete 2880px-Conowingo_Dam_and_Power_House,_near_Bel_Air_and_Havre_de_Grace,_Md_(73856)standing astride the Susquehanna is a large and convenient target for the ire of politicians and activists. Blaming the dam, though, misses the point entirely.

Since it was put into service in 1928 the Conowingo bought about 90 years of reduced sediment flowing into the Bay, trapping decades of pollution behind its imposing concrete walls. The fact is that without the dam, every bit of that debris, silt, and chemical contamination would already be laying on the Bay’s floor or washed up on its shores. That’s 90 years’ worth of accumulation versus the two weeks’ worth that was washed through the spill gates last month. Sediment reduction wasn’t even a glimmer in anyone’s eye in the 1920s, but it has been a fortunate consequence of having the dam managing water flow downstream to the Bay.

Of course now that the Conowingo pool has reached or at least gotten close to the maximum amount of sediment it can impound upstream we’re seeing debris washed more frequently downstream into the Bay we’re identifying it as an emergency. I’ve been back now seven years and for at least that long the state and federal government have been wringing their hands on this issue without giving any real sense that they have a clue what to do. Even assuming for a moment that they do know what to do, they seem utterly flummoxed by deciding who’s going to pay the bill.

That’s all a long way of saying that I don’t blame the dam. It’s doing exactly what a dam is designed and built to do. I blame generations of regulators, legislators, governors, government officials, and corporate board members who let the situation develop and then fester. I blame the states up stream for not adopting practices and policies that would reduce their impact on the river and Bay.

If you were new to the world of environmental discussions about Chesapeake Bay, you might think the time is now ripe to launch the long needed effort to dredge the sediment impounded behind the Conowingo, haul it away, and prepare the dam for another 90 years of service. Since, of course, this is taking place in my beloved home state of Maryland, though, I know what’s really going to happen is that we’re going to have another blue ribbon panel, commission another study, and call in dozens of experts to tell us that which we already know to be the case.

I’d almost dared to hope that a raft of storm tossed debris driven ashore at the foot of the statehouse might garner some action on getting on with the job that needs doing. Shame on me for being so optimistic in the face of our political masters in Annapolis.

AMA: On POTUS and Russia…

I’ve been staying away from the POTUS/Russia topic not so much because it feels unimportant as because it feels a lot like whole choruses of “yes he did” and “no he didn’t.” I don’t follow the daily news as closely as some people think – much beyond checking the traffic and weather while making my morning coffee. Beyond the sound bites, I haven’t taken much time to separate fact from fiction and am operating on the assumption that the truth lies somewhere between the extremes of a President who claims to never have talked to a Russian and a opposition party taking to the airwaves accusing the President of being the most effective deep cover agent in the world’s long history of espionage.

My best guess is what we have is a President who spent his entire adult life not studying global geopolitics, but operating in the morally and ethically gray space of construction and real estate development. By way of contrast Vladimir Putin *has* spent his life studying geopolitics. global finance, international intelligence gathering, and has built a historically unprecedented criminal enterprise disguised as a sovereign country. Given the discrepancy of experience, I can only speculate that it would have been relatively easy for a figure like Putin to find both the ways and means to exert influence, if not directly on the candidate then potentially on those around him. The Russian government would certainly have that capability.

The kicker here, of course, is that nothing that’s being reported in the media constitutes actual evidence of conspiracy, or collusion, or whatever crime of the day is being exhorted. The shrill dog whistles from both the liberal and conservative media make it particularly challenging to determine fact from fiction. Evidence isn’t what’s reported in the media. In it’s most legalistic definition evidence is facts and information laid before the court – or in limited cases laid by the House of Representatives before the Senate sitting in judgement.

For me, today, the simple fact is I’m just not following that closely because while a whole universe of things may be true, no one has demonstrated that truth outside of the media circus that has become what passes for political discourse in this country. Once we’re talking about actual evidence that’s not being presented through the filter of shouting pundits, I’ll probably give it a little more consideration. Until then, well, the Trump presidency hasn’t really been bad for me on the all important personal level – I’ve got more cash in my pocket due to the tax cut, my retirement accounts are plumping up nicely, my employer’s budget hasn’t been slashed, and a host of political issues that are a priority to me are effectively being left alone or marginally improved upon. For now, he’s the devil I know.

Note: This post was written by request as part of my ill fated July ask-me-anything. Thanks, Mike for making me think about something I probably should have been paying more attention to long before now. If anyone has a question or topic you’d like to see given the treatment, fire away and I’ll do my best.

Diplomacy…

I’m not, either by training or disposition, suited for the world of diplomacy. There they use find words and polite phrases to make even the simplest issues sound complex. The complex issues, well, they make sound too difficult for a mere mortal to comprehend. Certainly not all people will ever grasp the detail of policy but the brad strokes don’t feel like they should be out of reach.

While I can’t in good conscience support all of the activities on the world stage of our current president, I do have something of a gut feeling that an occasional shake up in the polite world of diplomacy might actually be a net good overall. Turning the polite, made-for-tv photo op frippery of international diplomacy on its ear makes a dark little corner of my heart just a little bit happy.

With the G7 conference left in a tizzy, I’m waiting with great interest to see what news comes from Singapore. I fully expect the hand wringing of the international media, talking heads, the left here at home to be something worth seeing – even if only for its entertainment value.

No, I don’t want to watch the world burn, but I don’t mind at all seeing it dragged out of its comfort zone from time to time.

Like I said, I’d well and truly suck as a diplomat.

What a difference thirty years makes…

When I was about eleven years old, I remember distinctly watching coverage on the then fledgling Cable News Network of protestors in their thousands pouring into the streets of Eastern Block countries to demand liberty and the rights of citizens from their Communist masters. Moscow itself trembled under the weight of these demands for freedom.

This afternoon on the same news channel, I watched as thousands of American citizens took to the streets to demand their government strip away centuries old, foundational rights of their republic. As they say, those who don’t know history…

Honest to God, the longer I live the less I recognize my own country.

Remaining silent…

I’m taking a brief pause from writing this evening. I’ve opted instead for warmed leftovers and a movie I’ve seen at least two dozen times.

Frankly the things I have to say about our elected representatives and my employer’s apparent lack of planning for how to handle a shutdown in a efficient and orderly manner would sail dangerously close to treason and insubordination. So I’ll just sit here and avail myself of my right to remain silent.

Your tax dollars (possibly) not at work…

This isn’t my first government shutdown. I remember the one brought about by the clash between Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich in the 90s. I sat at home through most of the 2013 shutdown. The reality is a “shutdown” of the federal government is something of a pantomime. No president or member of Congress is quite mad enough to threaten to really shut things down – to send the troops back to their bases, close the country’s airspace, and dismiss the people who send out Social Security funds. Maybe they should, because shutting down the US Government is stupid – and stupid should be painful.

There’s plenty enough blame to go around when Sam runs out of money. Since funding the government is one of the very few specified tasks assigned to Congress, I tend to lay the blame squarely at their feet. They really only have a handful of “must do” items every year – the rest of the things they spend their time doing is grinding personal axes or chasing their party’s stated objectives. We the people, however, are the ones who vote for members of Congress – so in my estimation their failures are our failures as well. We make the decision to keep sending the same useless asshats back to Washington year after year. Perhaps we’ve finally gotten the government we deserve.

I’m one of the 800,000 “unessentials” whose furlough will start tomorrow in the absence of an appropriation. In one of the great moments in which I realize the universe has an odd sense of humor, if the Senate manages to remember their duty and tomorrow is just another Monday, I’m scheduled to stay home and telework. If they screw the pooch and let the shutdown run its course, I actually end up having to go to the office tomorrow. If the fact that I’m headed to the office if we don’t have money, but staying home if we do tells doesn’t tell you all you’ve ever needed to know about the appalling strangeness of federal employment I don’t know what will.

Death and taxes…

Depending on your news source of choice, you’ll hear a lot about the tax bill that just passed through Congress being the best tax overhaul in a generation or the worst catastrophe to ever befall the republic. The line I heard today that most sticks with me, though, is that “the tax bill does the most for the people at the top of the income ladder.”

Um, well, yeah. I guess it does. Those are the people who are paying most of the income taxes collected by the federal government. It seems that any changes at all to the tax code would likely impact them more than it does the 43% of the population who currently pay no income tax.

In a quick review of the discussion, I found that “A Pew Research Center analysis of IRS data from 2015, the most recent available, shows that taxpayers with incomes of $200,000 or more paid well over half (58.8%) of federal income taxes, though they accounted for only 4.5% of all returns filed.” Drop that income level down to $100,000 and it accounts for 80.6% if all federal income tax receipts but only 16.8% of tax returns filed with the IRS.

Let that sink in for a moment. About 17% of those filing their taxes carry more than 80% of the burden of paying income taxes. This doesn’t even account for people who for whatever reason aren’t required to or don’t file with the IRS. I’m not now nor have I ever been a math major, but the numbers do seem to indicate pretty strongly that a small percentage of the population is doing a very large percentage of the heavy lifting when it comes to the overall income tax burden.

Knowing all this, when the discussion comes around to who needs to pay their “fair share” or how wrong it is that the people who actually pay the vast majority of income taxes should benefit from a reduced tax burden, I honestly have no bleeding idea what you’re talking about.