"It [the State] has taken on a vast mass of new duties and responsibilities; it has spread out its powers until they penetrate to every act of the citizen, however secret; it has begun to throw around its operations the high dignity and impeccability of a State religion; its agents become a separate and superior caste, with authority to bind and loose, and their thumbs in every pot. But it still remains, as it was in the beginning, the common enemy of all well-disposed, industrious and decent men." ~ H.L. Mencken
Federal Register Watch
Federal Register Watch
September 5-9, 2005
What freedoms have you lost this week?
Continuing the effort made last week, I again examine the Federal Register for evidence of the United States Government responding to Hurricane Katrina. Unlike last time, however, some results have emerged.
September 5, 2005
Nothing was published because this was Labor day.
September 6, 2005 (Volume 70, Number 171)
DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION - Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration
"PHMSA is issuing this advisory bulletin to owners and operators of gas and hazardous liquid pipelines to communicate the potential for damage to pipeline facilities caused by the passage of Hurricane Katrina on August 29, 2005."
Yeah, more than a week after the fact! Do not rely on the feds for critical, timely information.
Only Americans with the most minimal social connections could not be aware of the destruction caused by the hurricane. Only the most negligible of owners and operators of pipeline property in the impact zone could sleep soundly the night of August 28th. The fact that the Notice was issued on August 31, 2005 doesn't make it that much more helpful. How many point-of-contact offices were totally abandoned at that point along the Gulf?
The Notice states, "PHMSA received numerous reports of damage to pipeline facilities" in the impact area. I wonder how many of those reports came from the media (watched by the owners/operators) and from the owners and operators themselves?
Pipeline operators are then "urged" to do the following: tell a ruined and scattered maritime industry to be aware of underwater pipeline dangers and perform a facilities "check for structural damage" (!!!). It is also reminded that federal safety regulations require shut-down and start-up be done "in a safe manner."
Sometimes this stuff defies parody.
September 7, 2005 (Volume 70, Number 172)
DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY - Office of the Secretary
This week's Did You Know?:
Did you know that something called the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 (AKA the "Jones Act" or the "coastwise laws") restricts maritime traffic by requiring that "only vessels built and owned by citizens of the United States and flagged in the United States can carry merchandise between U.S. ports"?
Michael Chertoff (or, at least his office) goes on to declare:
"I believe that waiver of the coastwise laws would facilitate the transportation of oil and refined petroleum products in and from portions of the United States devastated by the Hurricane, and to other regions affected by the disruptions that have occurred in the Gulf Coast area."
An explicit confirmation of the economic roadblocks thrown up by the state and its emphasis on democratic participation in economic decisions, served straight from the horse's mouth. Of course, he did this because the "Secretary of Homeland Security is vested with the authority and discretion to waive" this and other laws if the secretary thinks doing so is "in the interest of the national defense."
Whether it is or it isn't, this reveals the lie in the theory this is a nation governed by laws and not men. A man, politically appointed and politically approved, whose professional experience was limited to that of a government lawyer and judge, has the authority to seriously affect how Americans live and do business. Even if you voted for the winner of the election, you had a say so small in getting the appointee into power that you might as well have not voted on that basis. For the rest of us, we're stuck with your non-choice.
DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE - National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
"The public is reminded that NMFS expects participants at the public hearings to conduct themselves appropriately."
Perhaps the reason why "the public" needs to be cajoled into behaving nicely is because the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act and the Atlantic Tunas Convention Act have intruded upon the ability of people who fish for Atlantic tunas, Atlantic billfish, Atlantic sharks, and Atlantic swordfish to earn a living.
SMALL BUSINESS ADMINISTRATION
One would expect a regional disaster of Katrina's proportions would spur the federal government's agents and processes to work as fast as possible to begin helping those affected. For the purposes of this part, I assume the feds acted in good faith. Therefore, we now know that there is at least a one-week lag time between the President publicly declaring the exercise of executive authority and the official paperwork passing through the federal machinery. The following Notices are dated 9/7/2005 but were "filed" on 9/6/2005 after Mr. Bush made his statements on 8/28/2005.
These are, of course, the Notices announcing the special loan rates for approved applicants. Never forget that they are "special" because they are backed by the threat and use of aggression to finance them.
DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY - Federal Emergency Management Agency
These are the Notices issued by FEMA and signed by Michael Brown acknowledging and declaring the disaster areas. They are dated and filed as the SBA loan notices above. In case you are curious, the "authority" on which these disaster declarations are based is from the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act.
September 8, 2005 (Volume 70, Number 173)
DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION - Federal Railroad Administration
The problems of the state are often manifest and obvious; sometimes they emerge only under extraordinary circumstances. For example, this Notice announces "temporary means for handling petitions for waiver from the federal regulations that are directly related to the effects of the hurricane or are necessary to effectively address the relief efforts being undertaken" in Katrina's wake. Rail transport is possibly the most efficient method to ship large quantities of material over dry land, so it is indeed a good thing that the feds want to make it easier to do so during an emergency. It wouldn't surprise me at all to hear of allegations of transporters trying to sneak "normal" shipments through the red tape by using this process. Seeing some people allowed to work with more freedom usually engenders a sense in others to have the same privilege.
Later on, it says quite openly,
FRA's existing procedures related to the handling of petitions for waiver from the Federal safety regulations contained in 49 CFR part 211, do not lend themselves to quick and immediate decisions by the agency, nor were they intended to.
The process, it says, "generally takes several months to accomplish." Again, this is an acknowledgement that government gets in the way of efficient economic conduct.
DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY - Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
Here's another example of the previous item. "Transmission providers" are required to report "each emergency that resulted in any deviation from the standards of conduct, within 24 hours of such deviation" or face regulatory trouble. Note that this wasn't even filed until 9/7/2005, more than a week after Katrina's landfall.
September 9, 2005 (Volume 70, Number 174)
DEPARTMENT OF HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT
Civil society was hit hard by the hurricane. Countless human relationships were wrecked. Given the massive breadth of the federal government, all kinds of programs were affected as well. Here is a Notice from HUD stating it has "extended the submission deadline date for the Fiscal Year (FY) 2004 HOPE VI Main Street Grants Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA)" from 9/2/2005 to 9/7/2005. This pertains to the "$5 million in funds to produce affordable housing in HUD-defined Main Street rejuvenation areas."
The agency freely admits it "is aware that recovery of many areas will not occur before this date" and blames it on the end of funding on 9/30/2005. Posted on 9/2/2005, the Notice reminds us that it will still only accept paper submissions, so it "strongly recommends" you use some form of next day delivery.
Free market anarchists and limited-government libertarian/conservatives often get hit with the question, "what about the poor and what if they can't afford a home?" One of my first responses is to ask why would you put your life in the hands of a system that is buffeted by political winds and subject to arbitrary control. What happens when funds are cut and budgets trimmed? Government is not a panacea.
In case you were wondering when the US flags would return to full-staff, it won't be until the sun sets on Tuesday, September 20, 2005.
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