Friday, January 14, 2005

The Lighter Side of Flooding

Since most of Indiana has some measure of standing water covering it, and has for about two weeks now, it seems that many are throwing up their hands in realization that Mother Nature will need some time to run its course, taking water from the various streams to the White River, on to the Ohio, the Mississippi, and to the Gulf of Mexico. Ditto, obviously, California and the Pacific Basin.

Ergo, this joke. I wish I could give credit to somebody on it, but it's one of those making the rounds via e-mail without credit. Enjoy!

It was the year 2004 and Noah lives in the United States. The Lord spoke to Noah and said:

"In one year I am going to make it rain and cover the whole earth with water until all is destroyed. But I want you to save the righteous people and two of every kind of living
thing on the earth. Therefore, I am commanding you to build an Ark."

In a flash of lightning, God delivered the specifications for an Ark. Fearful and trembling, Noah took the plans and agreed to build the Ark.

"Remember," said the Lord, "You must complete the Ark and bring everything aboard in one year."

Exactly one year later, a fierce storm cloud covered the earth and all the seas of the earth went into a tumult. The Lord saw Noah sitting in his front yard weeping. "Noah." He shouted, "Where is the Ark?"

"Lord please forgive me!" cried Noah. "I did my best but there were big problems. First, I had to get a permit for construction and your plans did not comply with the codes. I had to hire an engineering firm and redraw the plans. Then I got into a fight with OSHA over whether or not the Ark needed a fire sprinkler system and floatation devices.

"Then my neighbor objected, claiming I was violating zoning ordinances by building the Ark in my front yard, so I had to get a variance from the city planning commission. I had problems getting enough wood for the Ark, because there was a ban on cutting trees
to protect the Spotted Owl, and a substantial tariff on Canadian lumber.

"I finally convinced the US Forest Service that I needed the wood to save the owls. However, the Fish and Wildlife Service won't let me catch any owls. So, no owls. The carpenters formed a union and went out on strike. I had to negotiate a settlement with the National Labor Union.

"Now I have 16 carpenters on the Ark, but still no owls. When I started rounding up the other animals, I got sued by an animal rights group. They objected to me only taking two of each kind aboard. Just when I got the suit dismissed, the EPA notified me that I could not complete the Ark without filing an environmental impact statement on your proposed flood.

"They didn't take very kindly to the idea that they had no jurisdiction over the conduct of
the Creator of the universe.

"Then the Army Corps of Engineers demanded a map of the proposed new flood plain. I sent them a globe.

"Right now, I am trying to resolve a complaint filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that I am practicing discrimination by not taking godless, unbelieving people aboard!

"The IRS has seized all my assets, claiming that I'm building the Ark in preparation to flee the country to avoid paying taxes. I just got a notice from the State that I owe some kind of user tax and failed to register the Ark as a "recreational water craft."

"Finally the ACLU got the courts to issue an injunction against further construction of the Ark, saying that since God is flooding the earth, it is a religious event and therefore unconstitutional.
I really don't think I can finish the Ark for another 5 or 6 years!" Noah wailed.

The sky began to clear, the sun began to shine and the seas began to calm. A rainbow arched across the sky.

Noah looked up hopefully. "You mean you are not going to destroy the earth, Lord?"

"No," said the Lord sadly. "The government already has. "

Thursday, January 13, 2005

More How To Govern 101

The boldness of new governor Mitch Daniels is astounding. He hasn't taken a soft item yet. Everything is laced with controversy. I guess that 9-point victory over Joe Kernan is not merely interpreted as a mandate, but as holy writ.

First issue: Daylight savings time, with built-in 50/50 division.
Second issue: Severing the collective bargaining agreement with state employees, creating very interested opposition from the affected unions, and a sizeable percentage of the employees.

New issue: cutting Indiana Medicaid. Indy Star story. Expect to hear the wailing immediately. "Evil Mitch Daniels is taking aid away from the children!" That claim is fact. Medicade stats show that nearly 70% of recipients are children. "Those vicious Republicans are taking away from the poor!" Well, 92% of spending is on the disabled, elderly, and children. Mitch Roob is a human services aide to the governor. His comments in the Star story give all the ammo the opponents will need. Quoth the Star:
"Roob, who used to run Wishard Memorial Hospital, a county-run hospital in
Indianapolis, acknowledged that cutting Medicaid payments could limit access to
pregnant women and children, people with physical and mental disabilities and
seniors who rely on the state-federal program."

The problem with identifying individual programs for cuts is that their defenders pop out, decrying the action as unfair, and say that there are better targets for cuts. Raising taxes on millionaires is popular policy, since most people aren't millionaires, and nobody feels sorry for millionaires anyways. But pregnant women and children?

If you really want to cut a budget, you pretty well have to cut across the board. If this kind of cut is promoted, nobody can claim they have been singled out. No lobby can emerge and call it unfair. You can make it strictly economic and point to the dollars coming in and the current spending commitments, and show the difference.

I prefer a 10% cut across the board. If there is a surplus generated by this, put half in the emergency fund, and return the other half to the taxpayers in a refund check.
Believe in Self-Responsibility?

This week provides an excellent test for property owners across Indiana, what with the unusal high rains that have followed the run-off from melting accumulated snowfall. Do you believe in self-responsibility?

If your property is flooded, is it anybody's fault? It is entirely possible that the parcel your home of business is located on has always had standing water in flood events. Are you responsibile, or is your builder? Or your city? Or your county? Or your state?

If you bought the property, didn't you take it as acceptable as built? Caveat Emptor! Is the buyer completely absolved of the responsibility of due diligence?

I see it as a two-way street. Too many buyers of homes or business buildings, whether new or long established, fail to look at drainage or other more technical concerns. Home buyers look at the aesthetics, the proximity to the schools, to the parks and shops, and to the highway. They never notice drainage unless it is overwhelmed. They can buy a home next to a double-tracked railroad mainline that has stood since the Civil War and moves 100+ trains a day, and then complain about the noise! Buyers of business space look for square footage, proximity to the highways, visibility for drive-up business and signage, and tax rates. They, too, never notice drainage unless it is overwhelmed.

Sellers are very eager to part with any parcel in exchange for greenbacks. What is amazing to me is how many parcels are under six inches of water continuously in February, March, and April, and then sell at a real bargain price in August, September, or October. Come February or March (or January this year) the new owner is livid.

Did the seller conveniently fail to disclose? Did the buyer willingly overlook the disclosure in order to arrive at a bargain?

So, who is at fault? Unfortunately, that is one to be sorted out by legal teams. I do put onus, not necessarily fault, on buyers.

Investing in property is usually the largest investment most people will ever make in their lives. You will spend more time in your home than you will spend anywhere else. And yet, I've seen people spend more time planning a 7-day vacation than they spent examining the land surrounding their future home site. Shouldn't you make 2-3 dozen visits to the site to examine traffic patterns? It's amazing to discover where the landing and takeoff flight patterns are, even 20 miles from the airport. Shouldn't you ask next-door neighbors what happens in the area in storm events? Etc.

Too many buyers assume that everything has been worked out, and that any thinking beyond sale price is unnecessary. Well, you see the results of that approach.

Hopefully, you bought insurance. Those who believe in self-responsibility resent having to bail out those who refused to think.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Governor Daniels' Bold Start

I have to give the new governor a nod of admiration for his self-confidence. Either his self-confidence is at an astronomical level, or he is ignorant of Governing In Your First Week 101.

That latter course was most brilliantly taught by Professor William Jefferson Clinton, who, upon his inauguration, launched headlong into two controversial policy items- nationalized health care, and gays in the military- without first building political capital by executing some easy, popular tasks.

Daniels is following Prof. Clinton's example. Just two days into his term, Daniels has already made changing to Daylight Savings Time his top priority, and has ended the collective bargaining agreement with unionized government workers. Indy Star story on DST priority. Indy Star story on the CBA.

The latter was unavoidable. It had to either be renewed or let to lapse immediately upon the new term.

The clocks issue is just a political nightmare. If Indiana adopts DST, there are those who will wail just because a change has occurred. Since one corner of the state aligns with Chicago, and another side with Ohio, any change will leave one side grumbling. This is a policy that should have been put off for at least two months.

Still, a nod to his courage or boldness, or whatever it is. Just not A-1 strategy. It only bothers me in that I would rather have seen the governor spend political capital on cutting spending than on Daylight Savings Time.