Environmentalists Knock Themselves Out On The Keystone XL Pipeline

As you are undoubtedly aware, today’s environmental movement has become almost entirely fixated on the effort to stave off “climate change” by having governments impose restrictions on the use of fossil fuels. But, despite what is now a few decades of end-of-days hysteria designed to force political action on the issue, the political process, both here and in most foreign countries, has led to the adoption of remarkably few of the restrictions sought by the activists. And even with a few restrictions imposed here and there (California, anyone?), total usage of fossil fuels continues to increase rapidly worldwide, most particularly in third-world countries that are still in the early phases of building out their electrical systems.

What is an environmental activist to do? Outside the United States, activists rarely have much in the way of alternative avenues to follow in their quest to block fossil fuel development. But here in the U.S., we have our nearly-infinitely-complex legal system, with fifty independent state court systems and 94 different federal district courts to look to — not to mention places like Puerto Rico and Guam if you want to get really clever — and endless statutes and common law theories, plus of course the Constitution itself, to support some kind of cause of action. If your goal is to block some project or development, somewhere out there there must be a theory to throw out and a judge who will give you an injunction for something. You just need to be creative, and to find the right judge. Go for it!

And thus we find that pretty much every project that anyone tries to get off the ground that involves fossil fuels in any way draws a lawsuit — or maybe two or five — seeking to block it. And then, many such projects — and perhaps most of them — get blocked, at least to the degree that some court issues an injunction of some kind. But here’s the remarkable thing: the forces of capitalism have tremendous creativity in getting around these things and going right on producing and transporting the fossil fuels. Is the flood of litigation actually having a meaningful effect? It is certainly driving up costs, but in terms of reducing the availability of the energy, I haven’t seen it.

If you want to look at a case to teach you the basics of how this game is played, you would be hard-pressed to find a better example than the recently-decided litigation over the Keystone XL pipeline. Let’s take a tour through the facts of that situation. . . .

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Amazon HQ2 Decision Provides Yet More Insights Into The Progressive Brain

Amazon HQ2 Decision Provides Yet More Insights Into The Progressive Brain

Yesterday Amazon announced its decision on where to locate its new “second headquarters”; and as you no doubt already know, it chose to divide between two locations, one just outside Washington, DC, and the other in a part of Queens, NY, known as Long Island City. Each is to become the site for some 25,000 future jobs.

For those unfamiliar with New York geography, Long Island City is the neighborhood that you see over there on the opposite shore when you look across the East River from Midtown Manhattan. When I moved to New York in the 1970s, LIC was a very dreary and forgotten industrial area, known for small factories and a lot of truck traffic. But over the last 20 or so years it has gained traction as a location for residences and offices that are (somewhat) cheaper than Manhattan but very close and accessible. Four different subway tunnels connect LIC to Midtown. Most of the former industrial sites have by now been replaced with multiple dozen new large apartment towers.

Also in Long Island City, toward the northern end of it, is something called the Queensbridge Houses. According to the New York Times, Queensbridge Houses is “the country’s largest public housing project.” About 7000 people live there. Also according to the Times, most of the residents of Queensbridge Houses are either African American or Hispanic, and the median household income is “well below the federal poverty level.” This project is approximately one-half mile north — easy walking distance — from the spot where Amazon is proposing to build its new complex. Here is a picture of the housing project:

So, perhaps your first reaction is, the Queensbridge residents and other New York locals should view these new jobs are the best possible thing that could happen to the people of this enormous project. What better route could there be for them to improve their lives than to go out and get hired by Amazon? You’re not yet qualified? Get out and take some courses — you have a few years before the big hiring will take place. But if that’s what you are thinking, you just don’t understand the progressive brain. In fact, the progressive New Yorker views the residents of these projects as helpless children who have no agency of their own and no ability to do anything but sit around and wait for government handouts. To this way of thinking, tens of thousands of new high-paying jobs will not improve the Queensbridge residents’ lives at all, but will only serve to deepen the divide between the poor and the rich in New York.

Do you not believe that progressives really could think that way? Let me give you several quotes from the New York Times piece from yesterday . . .

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The Boundless Progressive Faith That More Money Will Solve The Problem This Time

By now you very likely know that the voters of San Francisco have just approved a new business tax designed to raise $300 million per year to finally deliver the coup de grace to the problem of homelessness. In approving this measure, the San Franciscans were undeterred by the abject failure of places like New York, Los Angeles and Seattle to reduce “homelessness,” let alone eliminate it, through comparable massive spending increases. Indeed, all of those places have seen “homelessness” soar right along with the spending supposedly designed to have the opposite effect.

Readers here know well about the pervasive issue of government spending worsening the social problems it was supposedly going to fix. See, e.g., “poverty.” There are enough examples out there to fill this blog and many others. For today, let’s take a look at the fascinating subject of public schools, with a focus on those here in New York City.

Perhaps you recall the wave of teachers’ strikes that swept through Republican-led states earlier this year, including West Virginia, Oklahoma and Kentucky. The claim was that the schools needed additional “resources” to properly educate the kids. In each case the legislators backed down and upped the spending. Of course, most of the money went to the teachers to continue doing exactly what they were doing before (although somewhat higher pay was not necessarily inappropriate in these states). We’ll have to wait to see whether any evidence emerges that the spending increases lead to improved educational results.

But in the meantime, it should be extremely enlightening to see whether the highest spending states achieve superior results in return for their efforts. . . .

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What Does It Mean That There Is "No Evidence" To Support An Accusation?

A frequent assertion with respect to the accusations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh was that there was “no evidence” to support them. But this assertion was never right. Sworn testimony of an accuser is evidence. That evidence might not be credible without at least some corroboration, but it is still evidence. Being a trial lawyer by trade, I know a thing or two about this subject.

A more accurate statement in the context of the Kavanaugh accusations would have been that there was no “corroborating evidence.” Accusations of rape or sexual assault, at least ones made reasonably contemporaneous with the conduct complained of, typically come with substantial corroborating evidence. First and foremost would be DNA of the accused retrieved from the accuser. Other examples might be bruises or other injuries to the accuser; a crime scene matching the accuser’s version of the events; witnesses who can place the accused at the scene even if they didn’t witness any wrongdoing; and so forth. Even in the case of a thirty-year-old accusation, an accuser with a credible claim could potentially come up with at least some material corroborating evidence, such as a definitive location for the event that matches her description of what occurred, or a corroborating witness who could say that she was there and why she was there or how she got there or how she got home.

Now there are accusations of vote fraud in Florida, particularly involving Broward and Palm Beach Counties. A frequent response has been that there is “no evidence” of vote fraud. For example, at Vox: “There’s no evidence of voter fraud in Florida.”; or at the Guardian: “State elections and law enforcement officials say they have seen no evidence suggesting such allegations [of vote fraud] are true.”; or at NPR: “As Florida Races Narrow, Trump And Scott Spread Claims Of Fraud Without Evidence.”

Well, is there anything that counts as “evidence” of vote fraud occurring in Broward (or Palm Beach) Counties? Definitely. How about these things: . . .

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A Few Comments On The Election

You have undoubtedly read much already about the election results. I’ll stick to just a few points you may not have seen, starting with some from my own home jurisdiction.

  • If you think that voting where you live can be demoralizing, imagine being a voter in Manhattan and, even worse, Greenwich Village.

  • We had five judgeships up for election (in New York, judges at the trial court level are elected). Not a single one drew opposition from any political party, most particularly the Republicans. The one and only option was the Democrat. I’m offended by voting for somebody who is running unopposed in a supposedly democratic election, so I did not cast a vote for any of these people. After I left, I realized that I should have done what I did last time, which was to write in the name of my dog. My daughter wrote in the name of her one month old son.

  • Also not drawing an opponent from the Republican Party were our incumbent State Senator and State Assemblyperson. Like the judicial candidates, our State Senator had no opposition of any kind.

  • In a bizarre twist, our State Assemblyperson, one Deborah Glick, did draw an opponent, but not a Republican. The opponent was someone you may have heard of, the actress Cynthia Nixon, running on the ballot line of one of our phony New York political parties called the “Working Families Party” (basically a tool of the unions that represent the municipal workforce). Now, how does this come about? The answer is, it comes about through the legal arcana of New York ballot access rules. Nixon — who, when not playing some character on Sex and the City, has had a gig as spokesperson for the New York City teachers union and/or one of its surrogates — early on was given the “Working Families” ballot line in the gubernatorial race. Then Nixon also ran against incumbent Governor Andrew Cuomo in the Democratic Party primary. Cuomo beat her. Then Cuomo wanted to get her out of the race for governor, so she wouldn’t draw votes away from him, just in case the Republican candidate for governor put up a real fight and the governor’s race got tight. Nixon was willing to play along, but it turns out that it’s not so easy to get out of a line on a New York ballot once you have been officially nominated by some party. After some agonizing, the WFP and Nixon decided that the only option that would work legally would be for them to nominate Nixon for some other race in the same election. So where could they put her where she wouldn’t cause too much trouble? The chosen race was the race for the Greenwich Village State Assembly seat. And thus we had Nixon running on the WFP line in our district as Glick’s opponent. On Monday, the day before the election, I got a robocall from the recorded voice of Nixon, urging me to vote for Glick. I voted for Nixon just to be ornery. Nixon got about 18% of the vote.

  • Our Congressional district, NY-10, is represented by one of the most thoroughly embarrassing people in the Congress, 71-year-old Jerrold Nadler. He ran again, this time for his 14th term. Sometimes, Nadler also draws no opponent; but this time the Republicans put up an energetic young woman named Naomi Levin. Ms. Levin put some real effort into raising some money, putting together an organization, and getting out there every day to campaign. For her efforts, she got about 18% of the vote. Since the Democrats allocate committee chairmanships strictly by seniority, Nadler looks to be in line to be the next head of the House Judiciary Committee. At least he doesn’t have any say in confirming judges; but he would be in charge of initiating impeachment proceedings against the President, or maybe Judge Kavanaugh, should the Democrats decide to go that route. If you want some good entertainment for this afternoon, read this piece at The Federalist yesterday by Mollie Hemingway, reporting on a series of phone calls had by Nadler yesterday while traveling on the Acela train from New York to Washington. Apparently, somebody sitting next to Nadler took the opportunity to record him talking on his cell phone, and passed the information on to Hemingway. Basically, Nadler was discussing strategy for going “all-in” on Russia (really!), and for the upcoming impeachment investigations of Trump and Kavanaugh. Bring it on! In more than 25 years in Congress, Nadler has never accomplished a single thing of note, unless you count voting for every proposed tax increase and spending increase, and every proposed new “program,” as some kind of accomplishment. Our district is of the wealthiest in the country, has the greatest suite of progressive policies and handouts of any place in the country, and, to show for all of that, has the highest measured income inequality of all 435 Congressional districts. You would think that at some point there would be some embarrassment, but I doubt that one voter in 100 in our district knows these facts.

  • There were state-wide races for Governor, Attorney General, and Comptroller. The Democrats ran embarrassing lightweights for Comptroller and Attorney General, and Andrew Cuomo for his third-term as Governor. The Republicans put up quality candidates for all of these races, but none of them got as much as 40% of the vote.

  • In the U.S. Senate race, Kirsten Gillibrand got about two-thirds of the vote against a Republican opponent named Chele Farley. I guess the rest of you guys out there are now going to have to deal with listening to this airhead Gillibrand pretending to run for President for the next couple of years.

  • In one of the great anomalies of national politics, the Republicans have been holding on to a slight majority of a few seats, or even just one seat, in the New York State Senate, for many years. This is the year in which the Democrats finally flipped at least six seats (and possibly a few more) to take strong control of the body. The State Senate under Republican control has served as a bulwark against many terrible public policies which the Democrat-controlled Assembly has long been advancing. Principal among these have been various proposed tax increases and, even worse, a re-institution of strong universal rent controls that have otherwise been diminishing since some Republican-led reforms in the 1990s. Are Democrats really going to go all in to destroy New York’s housing market with a new round of rent controls? I would hope that they have enough grown-ups around at this point to stop that, but you really can’t go too far wrong betting on their abject stupidity.

  • Moving away from my own home turf, I note that indicted Congressman Chris Collins from far upstate (his heavily Republican district is between Rochester and Buffalo) seems to have narrowly won his race. I’m not in favor of electing crooks, but it was probably the right thing for Collins to stay in the race. First of all, it’s just an indictment — not clear that he did anything wrong; and further, if he had just dropped out, the seat would have gone to the Democrat by default. Now, he can resign, and there will be a special election, which with high likelihood will go to the Republican in this very red district.

  • To be distinguished from the Collins situation is that of Senator Bob Menendez, from just across the river in New Jersey. Menendez has been thoroughly established as a crook, and unanimously excoriated by the Senate Ethics Committee, including its Democratic members. Menendez won by about 10 points. As far as I know, he plans to serve out the new six year term, and maybe even run yet again. New Jersey deserves him.

  • And don’t forget Proposition C on the ballot in the city of San Francisco. That’s the one that will establish a new business tax to fund $300 million per year for additional initiatives and services to reduce homelessness. This Proposition was the subject of my post on October 26. I promise to check back in a year or so to see if homelessness has actually been reduced in San Francisco. The chances of that are about zero, but I will be the first to congratulate them if they succeed.

The Out-of-Control NY Attorney General's Office Takes on ExxonMobil

Law enforcement is serious business.  We give prosecutors tremendous powers over the citizenry, including the powers to put people in jail and to impose enormous fines on businesses; and then we trust them to act with the highest levels of honesty and integrity and discretion to protect us from the bad guys while also upholding our civil rights.  Or at least, that is how you might think it ought to work.  

Then there is the New York Attorney General’s office.  Twenty years ago, that office began a long and accelerating downward spiral when Eliot Spitzer won the head job.  With Spitzer, bona fide law enforcement promptly took a back seat to pursuit of a new headline every day, preferably to be obtained by shaking down some disfavored financial institution under New York’s notorious Martin Act, which under vague language can be argued to authorize prosecution of every financial unfairness as criminal “fraud.”  After achieving multiple hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements from major institutions, Spitzer went on to become Governor, before resigning in disgrace in a prostitution scandal.  His success in the Martin Act shakedown game was not lost on his successors.

In 2011 the Attorney General job was won by Eric Schneiderman, another wealthy Manhattanite and a darling of the progressive left.  Schneiderman promptly upped the Martin Act shakedown game to become the primary focus of his office, devoting dozens of staffers to investigations of essentially every financial institution doing business in New York. Most of these investigations were for alleged misrepresentations to investors relating to the financial crisis that was already three years in the rearview mirror when Schneiderman assumed office, and involved wrongdoing, if any, that had already been thoroughly investigated and prosecuted (or not) by federal authorities.  So why waste precious law enforcement resources on such an effort?  Clearly, Schneiderman had other goals in mind, notably including not only headlines, but also protection money (“settlement”) payments from his targets, aggregating in the billions, that went not to the supposed investor victims of the alleged wrongdoing, but rather into slush funds controlled by Schneiderman himself that could be passed out to his progressive colleagues and supporters.

And now, why limit the Martin Act shakedown game to just financial institutions? In 2015, Schneiderman’s sights landed on the next obvious and perfect corporate target, Exxon Mobil --  home of tens of billions of dollars in annual cash flow ripe to be plundered, besides being vulnerable to having the catchphrase “climate change” attached to its name by reason of involvement in the oil business. . . .

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