Earthquake in Nepal

There has been a devastating earthquake in Nepal, which means it’s a good time to consider giving to one of the worldwide charities such as:

Unicef;

CARE;

International Red Cross (you can try the Nepalese branch, but I wasn’t able to connect);

Oxfam.

CNN has a more complete list here.

Charlie Baker and the T

Governor Baker wants to reform the MBTA. Let’s see some of those plans:

In an attempt to overhaul the embattled Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, Governor Charlie Baker on Wednesday proposed the creation of a board he would appoint to take control of the finances and operations of the agency.

The new fiscal and management control board would oversee the T for three to five years, taking power away from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation board, under the legislation filed by the administration Wednesday.

Add more administration, check.

The bill would also open the door to fare increases by eliminating the cap on how high and how often the T can raise its fares. No immediate fare increases are contemplated, however.

Increase the price, but not yet–don’t want people to get too mad. Wait a bit and let somebody else be the face of the increase, courage!

In his legislation, Baker also proposed the elimination of promised additional funding that was outlined for state transportation system, including the T, in a 2013 transportation finance bill. Over the next five fiscal years, the transportation system would have received an additional $500 million under the law.

Cut funding to the T, check.

Baker also proposed substantial changes to the Transportation Department board, which would still oversee department business. The administration hopes to expand the department board from seven to 11 members, with eight serving four-year terms at the same time as the governor.

Hey, even more new administration.

The proposal is sure to stoke opposition from the agency’s unions. Baker took aim at the MBTA’s pensions, proposing an independent audit of the retirement fund within 180 days of the law going into effect. The legislation would stop retirement payments to the fund for new hires until the audit is completed.

The bill also asks the Legislature to change the agency’s binding arbitration system for labor contracts, which critics have seen as a drain to the T’s finances. Under the legislation, the fiscal control board would need to approve an arbitrator’s award in a labor dispute.

Cut pay and benefits, check.

In addition, Baker wants to free the agency of the Pacheco law, an antiprivatization law that makes it difficult for the T to contract out major services.

Prepare to privatize as much as possible, check.

Yup, this is a Republican governor all right.

Whose side are we on?

Yemen is a mess:

Saudi-led air strikes on a missile depot in Yemen’s rebel-held capital Monday sparked explosions that left at least 18 people dead and 300 wounded, flattening houses and shaking faraway neighbourhoods.

The Shiite rebels have seized control of large parts of the Arabian Peninsula nation, including Sanaa, and fought fierce battles with pro-government forces.

A coalition of Sunni Arab nations led by Saudi Arabia launched the air campaign against the rebels last month, vowing to restore the authority of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, who fled to Riyadh as the militiamen advanced on his southern stronghold of Aden.

The coalition says it has carried out more than 2,000 strikes since the start of the campaign, gaining complete control of Yemeni airspace and knocking out rebel infrastructure.

The United Nations says the fighting and air strikes have left hundreds dead and thousands wounded, and there has been increasing concern of a huge humanitarian crisis.

Also:

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which was long forced into the shadows by U.S. drone strikes and commando raids, has taken advantage of the growing chaos in Yemen’s multi-sided war to carve out a potential haven that counter-terrorism experts say could help it launch terrorist attacks.

After seizing a regional airport and a coastal oil terminal this week, Al Qaeda militants consolidated their gains Friday in Mukalla, an Arabian Sea port. Fighters stormed a weapons depot and seized armored vehicles and rockets after apparently forging a truce with local tribes and forcing government troops to flee.

Since Al Qaeda is a bigger threat, than the Houthis, in the Middle East as a whole, Saudi Arabia must be bombing them more also. Umm no:

The Houthis have fought with AQAP, Sunni Muslims whom they consider enemies. But the Saudi airstrikes have only targeted the Houthis — giving Al Qaeda a relatively free hand.

So the US is helping the Saudis who are fighting the Houthis who are fighting al Qaeda who the US is also fighting. Lovely.

Small star doesn’t like planets attitude

This looks like a nice picture (Credit: NASA):

ngc6388

but then you realize this is what happens when a planet gets too close to a star (in this case a white dwarf). Or something.

Republicans don’t care about the budget

Republicans say that they care about the deficit, but they don’t really. Here is yet another example that shows this:

The House voted Thursday to repeal the federal tax on estates

it would add $269 billion to the budget deficit over the next decade.

The federal tax rate on estates is 40 percent, but exemptions limit the share of estates that pay it to fewer than 1 percent. This year, the exemption is $5.43 million for a single person. Married couples can exempt up to $10.9 million. Larger estates pay taxes only on amounts above the thresholds.

A total of 5,400 estates are expected to pay the tax this year — out of about 2.6 million deaths, according to the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation, which provides official estimates for Congress.

Given a choice between giving a big tax cut to the very rich and the deficit, they chose giving the very rich a big tax cut.

Just for fun, let’s look at the numbers. Since this would add $269 billion to the deficit for the decade, that means: about $26.9 billion per year for 5400 which gives $4.98 million per estate which means $12.45 million were subject to the tax per estate. This says the average for a single person estate is $17.88 million and $23.35 million for married couples. Keep that in mind when you hear this:

Republicans refer to it as the ‘‘death tax.’’ They say it prevents small business owners and family farmers from passing businesses on to their heirs.

Let’s say the estate of a single person has $10 million then the tax would be .4*(10-5.43)=$1.828 million which leaves the heirs with $8.172 million. That’s peanuts.

But but unions

I don’t understand:

Looking at lobbying in the aggregate, what jumps out is the stark imbalance in resources. Corporations blow everyone else out of the water. Business accounts for roughly 80 percent of all reported lobbying expenditures, about $2.6 billion dollars a year now.

The amount of political activity on behalf of large corporations today is truly unprecedented. The $2.6 billion in reported corporate lobbying spending is now more than the combined under $2 billion budget for the entire Senate ($820 million) and the entire House ($1.16 billion).

Meanwhile, the types of organized interests who we might expect to provide a countervailing force to business — labor unions, groups representing diffuse public like consumers or taxpayers — spend $1 for every $34 businesses spend on lobbying, by my count. Of the 100 organizations that spend the most on lobbying annually, consistently 95 represent business. In interviewing 60 corporate lobbyists for my book The Business of America is Lobbying, I asked them to identify the leading opposition on an issue on which they were currently working. Not a single lobbyist volunteered a union or a “public interest” group.

Conservatives are always talking about how unions are spending so much money to influence government so how can it be that they spend so much less than corporations? And how can it be that corporations don’t even consider unions a leading opposition group? It couldn’t be that government is now dominated by corporations and the rich could it?

Governor Baker says Massachusetts is at best average

It seems Governor Baker wants to ‘streamline‘ Massachusetts. Here’s the full executive order:

WHEREAS, government regulations are intended to protect public health, safety, environmental and welfare functions and to improve the operation of government for the citizens of the Commonwealth;

WHEREAS, many of the regulations adopted by state government agencies and offices have imposed unnecessary cost, burden and complexity;

WHEREAS, confusing, unnecessary, inconsistent and redundant government regulations inconvenience individuals, encumber cities and towns, stress resources of non-profit organizations, including our health care and educational institutions, inhibit business growth and the creation of jobs, and place Massachusetts for profit enterprises at a competitive disadvantage relative to their out-of-state and foreign competitors;

WHEREAS, state agencies and offices across the Commonwealth must coordinate and collaborate with one another to ensure that the government speaks in one voice, creating an efficient, coherent and consistent regulatory framework.

WHEREAS, the citizens and customers of the Commonwealth will be better served by reducing the number, length, and complexity of regulations, leaving only those that are essential to the public good; and

WHEREAS, a finite statewide regulatory review process is needed immediately to relieve the Commonwealth from the burden of unnecessary regulation.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, CHARLES D. BAKER, Governor of the Commonwealth of

Massachusetts, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution, Part 2, c. 2, § 1, Art. 1, do hereby revoke Executive Order No. 485 and order as follows:

Section 1.  I direct each secretariat, agency, department, board, commission, authority or other body within the Executive Department (hereinafter “Agency”), and invite and encourage any such governmental body not under my supervision, to promptly undertake a review of each and every regulation currently published in the Code of Massachusetts Regulations under its jurisdiction.

Section 2.  Except as provided below, each Agency shall sunset all its regulations on or before March 31, 2016 by taking such steps as required by law, including pursuant to G.L. c. 30A, to rescind, revise or simplify such regulations, after conducting the review prescribed in this Order.

Section 3.  In conducting such review, which shall be coordinated across all Agencies and participating governmental bodies, only those regulations which are mandated by law or essential to the health, safety, environment or welfare of the Commonwealth’s residents shall be retained or modified. In order to find that a regulation meets this standard, the Agency must demonstrate, in its review, that:

It’s a good thing the Massachusetts minimum wage is law.

a. there is a clearly identified need for governmental intervention that is best addressed by the Agency and not another Agency or governmental body;

b. the costs of the regulation do not exceed the benefits that would result from the regulation;

Ooh, a cost-benefit analysis. That’s always a code for getting rid of environmental rules, safety regulations, and the like.

c. the regulation does not exceed federal requirements or duplicate local requirements;

Because we don’t want to be better than Mississippi.

d. less restrictive and intrusive alternatives have been considered and found less desirable based on a sound evaluation of the alternatives;

e. the regulation does not unduly and adversely affect Massachusetts citizens and customers of the Commonwealth, or the competitive environment in Massachusetts;

Gee, I wonder what happens if it helps people but hurts the competitive environment?

f. the Agency has established a process and a schedule for measuring the effectiveness of the regulation; and

g. the regulation is time-limited or provides for regular review.

In addition, regulations not meeting the standard set forth in G.L. c. 30A, §5 shall be rescinded in accordance with law.

Section 4.  In its review, each Agency shall ensure that every regulation is clear, concise and written in plain and readily understandable language.

Section 5.  Beginning immediately, no Agency shall promulgate a new regulation which has not been reviewed pursuant to this Order and does not meet the standards set out in this Order.

Section 6.  Each Agency shall prepare in connection with any proposed, new regulation a business/competitiveness impact statement that will include a competitiveness review and assess disruptive economic impacts on small businesses, as required by G.L. c. 30A, § 5, and all other potentially impacted entities, including cities and towns, non-profit organizations and medium and large for profit enterprises, as prescribed and for such period of time as desired by the Secretary of Administration and Finance, notwithstanding the effective date of this Order. Such business/competitiveness impact statements will be made available on the Commonwealth’s website.

First a cost-benefit analysis bit and now a competitiveness review.

Section 7.  Before proposing to adopt a new regulation, each Agency shall submit the regulation, together with the business/competitiveness impact statement required by Section 6 above, to the Cabinet secretary overseeing that Agency. If approved, the Cabinet secretary overseeing that Agency, or her designee, shall submit the regulation, together with the required business/competitiveness impact statement, for review and approval by the Secretary of Administration and Finance, in the manner prescribed by her.

Just in case you didn’t notice the required business/competitiveness impact statement above, it’s repeated twice more.

Section 8.  The Secretary of Administration and Finance shall, consistent with the requirements of law, establish such processes for encouraging public input, standards and schedules as she deems appropriate to accomplish the review of regulations required by this Order. The Secretary may also provide for such waivers or exceptions to this Executive Order as are essential for the public health, safety, environment or welfare.

Section 9.  The pause on the filing of new regulations established by letter dated January 15, 2015 and executed by the Secretary of Administration and Finance shall remain in effect until further notice.

Section 10. This Executive Order shall remain in effect until March 31, 2016.

 

Given at the Executive Chamber in Boston this 31st day of March in the year of our Lord two thousand and fifteen and of the Independence of the United States of America two hundred thirty-nine.

 

______________________________

CHARLES D. BAKER

GOVERNOR

Commonwealth of Massachusetts

 

___________________________

WILLIAM FRANCIS GALVIN

Secretary of the Commonwealth

GOD SAVE THE COMMONWEALTH OF MASSACHUSETTS

Because Charlie Baker won’t–oops, sorry was that too mean? Nah, given how much more often business is mentioned than the citizenry.

Anyway, let’s see what those Baker aides are saying:

Administration officials argue that the order is not as rigid as critics claim. The order says an existing regulation could stay in place if “less restrictive and intrusive alternatives have been considered and found less desirable based on a sound evaluation of the alternatives.” Baker’s secretary of administration and finance also has the right to grant waivers.

So a regulation could stay in place–makes me real confident. AIM says we shouldn’t worry too much:

And Rick Lord, president and chief executive of Associated Industries of Massachusetts, dismissed the charge that well-financed interests will use the review to ease state regulations.

“There will be public hearings, all parties will be able to weigh in. That is the way public policy works,” Lord said. He said AIM’s members, who do business across the country and rate bureaucratic red tape a top irritant, face a burdensome dual system of regulations because of the difference between Massachusetts and federal standards.

I wonder why he’s so confident?

Kristen Lepore was sworn in as Secretary of the Executive Office for Administration and Finance under Governor Charlie Baker in January 2015.  In her role, Secretary Lepore is in charge of formulating the governor’s budget plan, providing guidance on the economy, and implementing state government’s operating and capital budgets.  She also manages the state’s administrative agencies, including revenue collection, information technology, human resources, procurement, and state facilities.

She was previously Vice President of Government Affairs at Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM).  As Vice President, she was responsible for AIM’s health care agenda and advocated for policies to lower the cost of health care in Massachusetts.  She also worked on education and workforce development issues on behalf of the association.

Ah. It doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence though.

“The governor believes reviewing regulations, as prior administrations have, is essential to making state government more accountable to the people, and the executive order makes clear that only onerous, unnecessary regulations will be reviewed,” Baker’s spokesman Tim Buckley said in an e-mailed statement.

Actually, the order says: ‘to promptly undertake a review of each and every regulation currently published in the Code of Massachusetts Regulations under its jurisdiction.’ Maybe Buckley didn’t read the order?

For comparison, here is Executive Order 485 and Executive Order 384 (the one cancelled by 485 and the clear model for this one).

Previous Older Entries

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 197 other followers

%d bloggers like this: