Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.

Theodore Roosevelt, The Strenuous Life

The Seattle Times reports today that the federal government is proposing fleet average fuel economy of 62 miles per gallon by 2025. This is greater than the performance of a Toyota hybrid (about 45 mpg), or a Honda Civic with a stick shift, which gets anywhere from 32 to 39 mpg depending on the gasoline blend, driving habits, and the season.

The article also reveals that the standard will be higher for heavier vehicles, and quotes speculation that technology improvements in the next 15 years will get us there. Even more impressive is that the governors of several states, including Washington, support the change. Having our governor, an attorney who I am sure knows a great deal about cars, engineering and physics, favoring this imposition on the American public is heart warming.

Here are the likely effects:

  • All vehicles will become more costly, because the lighter materials needed to build new cars are more costly than steel.
  • The ratio of plug-in electric vehicles as compared to gasoline based vehicles must increase to roughly 50% of the American vehicle fleet.
  • Pick-up trucks and vans that are gas fired will be very expensive. You will pay for this when you hire contractors through higher overhead, even if you do not own one.
  • The richer you are the less the effect. You will be able to have a larger vehicle with lower fuel economy. The corollary is that lower income folks will drive old clunkers that consume lots of expensive fuel.
  • Gasoline fired vehicles will be more costly than plug-in electrics, but plug-in electrics will be more costly than they are now.
  • The roads will be more jammed with more vehicles than they are now. But don’t worry because you won’t be burning fuel while you are parked on the local interstate highway. Also, those governors who signed letters of support for the rule change will be retired when the rule goes into effect.
  • Like conservation efforts that have been made since the oil embargo of 1973, the U.S. reliance on oil and oil imports will not decrease under this kind of rule.

The local papers ought to actually reveal what a rule like this will do. Then people can understand the consequences and not draw the unlikely conclusion that technology will cause a vehicle like they have parked in their driveway today to perform about three times better in 2025. I could support policies that encourage the purchase of plug-in hybrids and their use in inner cities. I can even support closing urban cores to gas powered vehicles. There are reasons to do so. I do not support trying to achieve the same ends with the proposed subterfuge.

Also, it is time to defeat the Democratic legislative majorities, not because the Republicans have great ideas. We need to slow the rate of change and pass fewer laws until a political party emerges that actually can lead in these challenging times.

September 27, 2010

Current Events, Opinion

1 comment

The Board of Registration for Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors voted last Friday (September 24, 2010) against a proposed rule that would have granted Canadian engineers licenses to practice without passing this state’s engineering tests. The problem is Canadian engineers from at least some of the provinces sit for no provincial or national engineering tests to acquire licenses in Canada, either.

We will never know if our efforts in opposition, comprising over 800 licensed engineers in this state, were significant in the final vote. Nor do we know the motivation behind the effort to pass the rule, which has been pushed by a few board members and the director for many years. We do know that the asserted twelve years of research did not exist; there were some inquiries as to the practices, laws and rules in other states and some supporting communications by foreign engineers. We do not know of the level of support from the executive branch of our state government either, but know that any such influence was not written.

Although I believe that our state statutes already prohibit the rules on which the board voted, one of our state legislators has a bill that very clearly removes the authority of the board to again attempt to pass such a rule. I hope very dearly that she introduces the bill in the next session and that it becomes law.

The board should demand that their director communicate more fully with licensees in the future. Some of the communications on the proposed rule were incomplete and misleading. A director serves at the grace of the board and is their secretary. However, the board’s  director promoted and defended the rule. This is a delicate issue. Directors should advise the board of consequences of various matters before them, both positive and negative. It seems reasonable for the director to state his opinion, but he has a duty to communicate fully and fairly with his board, licensees, and his staff. The board’s director, Mr. George Twiss, has violated these duties. It is my opinion that his behavior, including advising his staff that he wished to see no communications in opposition to the proposed rules, was in breach of his professional duties. He failed to serve his board, the licensees, and the citizens of this state. He should tender his resignation.

The late breaking news today was that the Obama administration seeks statutory authority to have commercial Internet folks convert our messages from encrypted to the King’s English to ease wiretapping. Of course, they argue this authority is needed to save us from terrorists, those engaged in criminal activities and for public safety reasons.

The federal government prohibits much encryption of radio communications. This has some justification because the radio spectrum belongs to the federal government, and they can reserve any particular use they want, including granting licenses that reserve the right to use encryption. However, no such argument exists for land line communications. The communications are on privately owned facilities, the many fiber optic and copper cables along railroad and other right-of-ways.

It seems to follow from our First Amendment rights that we should be able to communicate with any language, whether it be Cheyenne or an encrypted code from person to person, even if that communication occurs on a private line under contractual arrangements with the communicators and the common carrier. Simple, eh?

Why do so many people, Democrats and Republicans alike, have so much trouble understanding that we must fight proposals like this to keep any semblance of freedom? I encourage everyone to state their opposition to this and similar proposals quickly and loudly so that the Obama administration bursts this trial balloon. Let the idiots know that catching a few marijuana growers or other outlaws will need to be done with field work and good old detective work, not by trampling on your Constitutional rights.

September 17, 2010

Current Events

Comments Off on The Board of Registered Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors of Washington Will Vote September 24!

My June 20th post covered a rule change that would permit grant of a professional engineer license by Washington for engineers licensed in Canada. All Washington engineers are granted licenses based on substantive engineering tests. Many Canadian engineers, if not all, are granted licenses without taking any engineering examinations. The vote on the rule change is scheduled for September 24.

A group of Washingtonians is opposed to the rule change and has led a significant opposition effort. One distributed information that revealed what was going on and induced approximately 750 engineers to write letters, petitions, and e-mail messages to the  Board of Registered Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors. Another contacted legislators and aroused enough interest to induce one legislator to draft a bill removing the authority of the board to grant licenses without tests. I submitted a public disclosure request to increase our understanding of the reasons for the board’s actions and to understand the research actually done to support the rule change. Although the board stated there has been extensive research for many years, we found no studies commissioned by them. We did find inquiries to other states about their rules and evidence of visits by some board members to Canada. There were no well-researched papers, and apparently all legal advice was considered privileged because no information from the board’s attorney was disclosed. Most, if not all, publication of information about the proposed rule neglected to disclose that Canadian engineers did not take tests to gain licensure, which is not obvious to most licensees who read the board’s publication.

We are hoping the rule fails to pass. It is clearly inconsistent with existing statutes by which the board is bound, and serves the public interest poorly by not protecting the public from unsafe work as the state intends through its examination system. If you are a citizen of Washington, it is not too late to oppose the board’s actions. Please do.

September 12, 2010

Current Events, Opinion

Comments Off on You and Mr. Obama Should Read David Brooks’ Editorial

In the September 11 edition of the Seattle Times appeared an editorial by David Brooks entitled, American Decline: It’s a State of Mind. He discusses attitudes that now exist among the three convenient strata we like to discuss: the rich, the middle class and the poor. What I particularly felt was most thought-provoking was the convincing articulation of the damage occurring to us economically by it no longer being desirable in the view of many to work in manufacturing and technical fields.

Mr. Brooks, in a few paragraphs, explains with clarity the danger of a service economy at the expense of manufacturing, innovating, and creating devices and systems that make our lives better.

It appears we are in the process of proving that importing our goods without commensurate exports is a sure path to financial weakness. The housing boom and the spending of housing equity on consumption was clearly the trigger for the current economic problems, but I would argue the cause was not manufacturing enough for domestic consumption and export.

August 29, 2010

Cars and Trucks, Current Events, Opinion

Comments Off on Honda Extends Engine Warranty to 8 Years for 2006-2008 Civics!

Some 2006-08 Honda Civic 1.8 liter engine blocks are cracking in a predictable spot, leaking coolant. Some owners are reporting that the first sign of trouble is their heaters do not work; the coolant in the heater core is gone.

This is the second of three vehicles we operate with factory created cooling jacket problems. Our F-150 has a tendency to develop internal leaks due to gasket failures; the Honda has an external leak apparently due to a casting error.

While it is good of Honda to extend the engine warranty, I do not feel they have made owners whole. If failure occurs after eight years, we are stuck with the expense of a new engine (we keep our cars for over 10 years generally). Also, when I do take long trips, I am usually on a schedule. A failure on one of these trips could mean missing a flight or a seminar. Neither of these alternatives is something I wish to risk because of a known defect. Dealing with the unknown risks is bad enough!

August 29, 2010

Current Events, Opinion

1 comment

It appears to me that the Democrats have a platform that is simply wrong, and the Republicans have a loose coalition of factions without an ideology that withstands scrutiny. It leaves many of us with a serious and difficult problem at the voting booth. Here is a short list of problems.

1. Fiscal Policy – Neither party has demonstrated fiscal responsibility in any significant way. Both have allowed inflation, debt accumulation, rather poor tax policy, etc. There is not a party that is truly fiscally conservative. The Republicans tend to overspend on the military and insert our military where they do not belong (Iraq), and the Democrats tend to spend with reckless abandon (think bailouts).

2. The Bill of Rights – The Republicans view the Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure too narrowly, and the Democrats do not think the Second Amendment means what it says.

3. The Environment – The Republicans think that business is first, and any environmental concerns will be handled provided there is little or no net cost. The Democrats have goals that will not work, like implementing cap and trade for carbon dioxide emissions prior to establishing an international treaty that is effective at limiting carbon dioxide emissions from all nations. Neither party has strong policies that will revise American agriculture and food production to limit the use of pesticides and genetically modified organisms. These are serious failures that will harm the United States greatly in the coming decades.

4. The Economy – Both parties understand the economic success in the few years prior to 2008 was attributed to the housing boom. Neither seems to appreciate that the way out of the current mess is re-establishing a productive society with lots of wealth creation, exports of goods, and elevating the less well-to-do to prosperity. The current talk of “moderate inflation” is scary (PBS News Hour of August 27, 2010).

5. Abortion – There is still controversy on this. Roe v. Wade was a decision in 1973. That is 37 years ago. If you do not believe in abortion, you should not have one. Roe v. Wade is an excuse by the Republican Party to get votes from a large group of voters with relatively modest economic means so the truly wealthy can preserve their political power and wealth. The law is not changing on Roe and it will not change anytime soon. Let it go.

6. Military Power – Folks, I am in my late fifties and I cannot recall a Declaration of War by Congress, a military victory, or a lawful invasion of a foreign country by the United States. I felt Ronald Reagan had a knack for knowing when and how to apply force. Other nations were a bit scared of us because there was doubt about what the American response might be. This helped us – your enemy always must appreciate your moral stance but still be uncertain as to your response. These two goals are almost mutually exclusive and therefore difficult to achieve. Ronald Reagan achieved it well. George Bush’s response to 9/11 was shocking to the world. I did not agree with the Iraq portion of the response and some other aspects of the response, but President Bush caused fear in the hearts of those considering attacks on the United States. He deserves credit for that. However, in general, we have managed to spend too much making a pile of mistakes with the military power of the United States under both parties.

7. The War on Drugs – This is a continuing travesty. We have a higher incarceration rate than almost any other country and still have a huge problem. We spend a lot and have not resolved the problem. Both parties need to work together to arrive at better policies. Neither will.

July 27, 2010

Current Events, Money and Finance, Opinion

Comments Off on Warnings on Deflation

The Seattle Times featured an article today once more trumpeting the evil of deflation, buttressed by quotes from Paul Krugman and other brilliant economists. I have a simple question. Aren’t the general rates of inflation or deflation irrelevant to the predicted ills of deflation if the absolute value of any general change in currency value is small? When the currency’s value is relatively stable, whether it is rising or falling moderately,  some prices are falling while others are rising. This in and of itself is not a doomsday scenario; we are already witnessing it. Every property owner in the U.S. knows about real estate deflation in the past two years. We also know that this decline in prices makes perfect sense following the inflation in prices that had occurred for decades, especially following WWII. The recent decline, while tragic for speculators, folks borrowing under unreasonable terms, and many innocent owners with bad timing, is a correction caused by housing industry folks who had been promoting purchases that made no fundamental sense. The lenders, real estate brokers, bankers, and appraisers were not engaged in productive work that benefited everyone anymore.

Economists seem to dwell on irrelevant numbers while forgetting the important things:

1. Are we producing and contributing to society in a positive way?

2. Do we have wise economic and tax policies that preserve incentive while providing suitable safety nets that are compassionate and yet do not destroy motivation?

3. Are we using resources wisely and not depleting our land, minerals, waterways and forests?

4. Is defense spending enough to protect us but small enough to not defeat the other important goals of our society?

5.  Is trade in balance? Are U.S. wages competitive to permit international trade to perform as it should?

These are the economic issues on which I think we have been in trouble on for years and on which we should all focus to improve our lives.

July 3, 2010

Current Events, Firearms, Legal Views, Opinion

Comments Off on The New Problem with Second Amendment Law

The U.S. Supreme Court, through two recent decisions,  Heller v. Washington, D.C. and McDonald v. City of Chicago, articulated our fundamental right to keep and bear arms. Heller established the meaning of the Second Amendment under federal law, which includes regulation in federal enclave jurisdictions such as Washington, D.C. The decision also limits the authority of the federal government to prohibit the private ownership of firearms by all citizens, but Heller did not answer the question of whether the Second Amendment limited the regulatory power of the states. Until the recent decision in McDonald, the states, unless constrained by their own constitutions, were free to regulate guns out of existence. The Second Amendment now almost means what an elementary student would conclude when reading it for the first time without adult guidance; that is, pretty much what the drafters intended.

The newspapers correctly reported that McDonald applies the 2d Amendment to the states, but they did not go further. The Second Amendment now applies to the states through the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. This is not new jurisprudence. Most of the rights articulated in the Bill of Rights have been applied to the states by the Court, decision by decision, in this way over the past 100 years.

The petitioner posited an alternate argument that the Court should apply the Second Amendment to the states through the privileges and immunities clause of the Fourteenth. This is a sensible argument, but the Court essentially refused to do this because of the long history of  incorporation jurisprudence using the due process clause. The only justice who supported incorporation under the privileges and immunities clause was Justice Thomas in a separate, concurring opinion. Thus the five justice majority included four basing their judgment on the due process clause and one using the privileges and immunities clause.  All the majority justices, and especially Justice Thomas, articulated in their decisions the difficult social and legal transition of Blacks moving from slavery to freedom.  This knowledge of history and disdain for what happened to the former slaves is inextricably tied to the majorities’ opinions, and is fundamental to the McDonald decision in fully understanding the intentions behind the drafting and adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Until I read McDonald’s majority opinions, use of the due process clause  for incorporation never made sense to me. A simplistic explanation of due process is that it is the process due to someone. In my mind, as with many lawyers, rights are generally either substantive or procedural. The due process clause is an odd justification for the addition of substantive rights, and firearms rights definitely fall in that category. The legislative history of the Fourteenth Amendment provides additional strong support for the Thomas view. The clincher for the majority, in my opinion, were Court precedents. Using the privileges and immunities clause would overturn too many precedents while making no apparently meaningful change in the rights citizens enjoy.

The Fourteenth Amendment, one of the three Civil War Amendments, changed the relationship between the federal government and the states. Its legislative history shows that one of the ills it sought to remedy was the practice in the south following the war (forgive my general interpretation of history here) of the sheriff disarming the Blacks and then informing the hoodlums in town that the home was ready for them to terrorize through lynchings of men and boys, rape of women and girls, and arson to destroy the property. There is strong historical evidence that an important purpose of  the Fourteenth Amendment was the application of a right to bear arms that could not be limited by states and their arms of government, such as municipalities. The freed slaves would have the much needed right to defend themselves from local government and outlaws. Stopping the abuse of power by government, whether it be local or otherwise, is a key and essential right associated with an armed citizenry.

What are the problems with the Heller and McDonald decisions? The Second Amendment states:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

(Note that the amendment does not follow current punctuation rules of American English.) We now know that the militia was not the National Guard, it comprised all citizens. The Court got that part right, as well as defining the right to keep long guns and handguns for self defense in the home. These are fundamental rights. The elephants in the room are two. First, the Court’s finding that disallowing the ownership and possession of handguns in the home was a violation of a fundamental right of self-defense was not strongly grounded on empowering citizens in their right to protect themselves from the abuses of government. This is really a minor problem, because the case brought before them did not give the court jurisdiction on this issue anyway.  The second issue is significant. It is the dicta  in both decisions that “reasonable regulation” is allowed. The specific problem not handled well by this “reasonable regulation” stance is the impossibility of reconciling this language with the “shall not be infringed” portion of the Amendment.

The inconsistency between allowing reasonable regulation and the Constitution’s mandate that the right shall not be infringed creates many questions.  When the Bill of Rights was written and became law, not allowing the village idiot (a fair term of the day) or the criminal to have guns was clearly in local control. No one thought that the federal government would need to provide reasonable regulation; the states could do it. Now, through creative jurisprudence, the Court is recognizing that the federal government does have a regulatory role. This is sensible, but it is not what the Second Amendment states. The Court also made no distinction of the right to regulate firearms by the states compared to the federal government in either Heller or McDonald. Is everyone ignoring what is occurring? Several of the justices in the majority have been critical of liberal justices interpreting language in the constitution to suit their ideological needs. It seems the “strict constructionists” are equally guilty. As a gun owner and believer in the Second Amendment, I wish the Court had merely tossed the regulations in question that banned handguns, supported their decisions, and left the dicta on the kinds of regulations they would find reasonable to cases that required those analyses. The Court could have developed two sets of standards, one for the federal government and one for the states, on what constituted reasonable regulation. This approach would serve two purposes. It is the way the Court is supposed to exercise their jurisdiction, that is confining their decision to the case or controversy at hand, and it would induce the states and the federal government to review their regulations to assure they were in compliance with the Amendment, possibly avoiding more litigation by assuring that regulations were as minimally intrusive to our rights as feasible.

Despite the above legal problems, my prediction of what is coming is a case combining the right to petition our federal government, which implies a right to travel from any portion of the country to the seat of government, Washington D.C., with the right to keep and bear arms. If travel through the states is a fundamental right and the right to bear arms is a fundamental right, it seems to me neither the states nor the federal government ought to be able to restrict travel from, say, the State of Washington to Washington, D.C. while a law-abiding citizen bears a firearm for self defense. This would dismantle many federal and state laws if it were successful. But don’t hold your breath on this. It took us 150 years to sort out that the first clause of the Second Amendment did not defeat the right protected, and that the federal right could not be restricted by the states. We should not be too impatient with the work still needed.

Washington, similar to most states, has several qualifications that must be met to become a licensed engineer. This allows the engineer to use the P.E. designation following his or her name. The typical path to acquiring a license is:

  • Graduation from a properly accredited college or university with a four year baccalaureate degree in engineering.
  • Passing the Fundamentals or the Engineer-in-Training examination. This is a thorough exam that covers almost all courses taken by engineers during their college career. This is a test that rewards the student who studied hard in every course and causes night sweats and trepidation for the student who performed marginally in particular subject areas or during particular times in their college career. It is an extremely difficult exam for those not well-grounded in mathematics, physics, materials, electronics, logic, thermodynamics and a host of other topics necessary for a well-rounded engineer (Is that an oxymoron?).
  • Several years experience working in engineering under the supervision of a licensed engineer.
  • Passing an ethics examination. This is an easy, open-book test. The idea is that the exam requires the student to read the ethical rules and comprehend them in order to pass.
  • Passing the professional exam. This test focuses on actual practice areas, and favors those engineers who have been designing in a wide breadth of topics within their particular field. It is more difficult for those not given good experience by the licensed person for whom they have worked.

Our Board will vote in September on a rule allowing engineers licensed in Canada to become licensed in Washington through an abbreviated process, called comity. I am not sure of licensing practices in nine of the ten provinces nor in the three Canadian territories. However, this rule, if passed, will allow British Columbia engineers to become licensed in Washington without taking any examination at all pertaining to the science and technology of engineering. British Columbia grants their licenses following successfully passing an ethics exam; there are no other examinations required.

Not only is the Board considering a rule that essentially undermines the licensing structure that has existed for roughly 80 years, it failed to notify the present licensees of the key fact that British Columbia does not examine for engineering skills, knowledge and ability.

Several engineers caught wind of what’s occurring. I learned of what was transpiring from them. All the engineers I have spoken with are opposed to the proposed rule and are writing letters to the Board. If you read this prior to the next Board meeting in September 2010, please express your views using a short e-mail message addressed to: Engineers@dol.wa.gov

As you write the Board, please remember the purpose of licensing engineers. It is to protect public safety, not to protect the income of engineers by limiting competition. It is important to make clear to the Board, whether you are a licensed engineer or someone who may have avoided harm as a result of good engineering practice, to make clear that you oppose the rule for public safety reasons. Granting licenses to engineers who have never been subjected to the rigors of an examination is not prudent.

Rich

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