The fox is guarding the chicken coop

Imagine the Highway Patrol asking you if it’s okay to set the speed limit on Interstate 70 at, say, 75 miles per hour.  And suppose you say you won’t settle for anything less than 90.  Well, okay, says the Highway Patrol, if that’s the way you want it.

Imagine if your college or university asked you if it was okay to require you to maintain a “C” average if you wanted to graduate and you said, “No, I think D-minus should be good enough for a degree,” and the school says, “Since you want it that way, that’s how it will have to be.”

Suppose your city came to you and said, “We need to have a tax of three cents per hundred dollars valuation of your home to make sure our sewer system can take care of the dirty dishwater and the contents of your toilets,” and you say “I don’t feel like paying more than a penny,” and the city said, “Fine, Good.  Thanks. We’ll lay off most of our maintenance department but we’ll make do.”

That’s kind of where the Department of Natural Resources’ Air Pollution Control program is.  That’s the program that administers the Federal Clean Air Act at the state level.   The costs of doing that enforcement are paid through a series of permits and emission fees charged to those who release pollutants into the air we breathe.

But program administrators say it’s going to run out of money late next year because those fees are not bringing in enough income and enough of those the agency regulates don’t want to pay any higher fees that the agency has to say, in effect, “Okay.  We’ll try to get by, we guess.”

It’s not that the clean air program spends money like it’s a billionaire trying to buy the legislature or the state constitution.  It has a dozen unfilled positions and they’ll likely stay unfilled even as the department tries to handle monitoring and enforcement of regulations in the St. Louis area that had previously been done by local offices.  But the St. Louis offices have so little money that those duties have been passed up to the short-handed state agency.

Some fees haven’t been changed for twenty years and many of the polluters think that’s just dandy.

Here is where the problem lies:

The Missouri legislature, where foxes range pretty freely with the chickens, has passed a law saying this program has to meet with the industry groups it regulates before it publishes a new fee schedule.  But this is the kicker:  DNR cannot increase the fees enough to keep this program solvent unless the polluters substantially agree with the plan.

So guess who deep-sixed the plan to increase funding for the agency by about three million dollars to pay the costs of making sure the stuff coming out of Missouri’s business smokestacks meets federal standards for breathable air?

Why, yes, it’s our friendly polluters, or enough of them to force the agency to reduce its proposal so it can  raise only one-third as much as it was hoping to raise, which won’t be enough to keep going.

Moral of the story:  It’s hard to cluck with any authority when the fox has you by the neck.  And the legislature has left the door open for the foxes.

Sometimes nothing comes to mind

Somebody asked today if this scribe has blogged about Ferguson.   No, I said.  I started something last week but the direction it wanted to go disappeared into a fog.

Sometimes when irrationality reigns, rationality struggles to find solid ground.  Sometimes when numerous agendas are screamed, quiet discussion becomes more desperately needed and more difficult to achieve.

A friend raised an important question today after all the marching, sign-waving, yelling, tear gassing, shooting—-and more.  What do we know?

What we are pretty sure we know is that a white Ferguson policeman shot an 18-year old African-American man to death.

There has been a lot of assuming since then.  There has been a lot of blaming since then.  A lot of threatening. A lot of analysis and speculation has helped fill the 24-hour news cycle.

And what has it purchased?

What good has it done?

A white policeman shot an 18-year old African-American man to death.

We could write more, we suppose, but it would amount to nothing more helpful to discovering the truth than the slogans and demands shouted after dark on a street in Ferguson have helped discover it.

Nothing else comes to mind.

So now we have written about Ferguson

Cutting access to books

Olsson’s Bookstores in Washington, D. C. were great places to spend time shopping for books.  Several of my friends and I who gathered a few times a year for news directors association board meetings would wander into Georgetown after dinner, walking down M Street and turning right at Wisconsin Avenue and going uphill a couple of blocks to Olsson’s where we would stay until closing, often leaving with bags of books and sometimes CDs.   There were several Olsson’s stores in the area.  I had scoped out several and made sure than no visit to Washington was complete without discovering what the folks at Olsson’s had.

Two or three times, our board meetings coincided with big Book Fairs Olsson’s sponsored where dozens of authors, even Supreme Court Justices, signed their books.   I have a lot of signed volumes in the library at home, including books signed by Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justice O’Connor.

But the increasing power of big box bookstores (Borders, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million)  and other factors took their toll on John Olsson’s stores.  He closed his anchor store in Georgetown in 2002 and later after declaring bankruptcy closed the last five of those wonderful stores in 2008.   Washington, great city that it is, wasn’t as interesting where there wasn’t an Olsson’s Books and Music store to spend an evening in.

Independent bookstores are wonderful places.  This writer fell in love with the Tattered Cover in Denver years and years ago and with Page One in Albuquerque.  Left Bank Books in the St. Louis West End.  Rainy Day Books in Fairway, Kansas.  What used to be the Treasure House in Jefferson City is down Downtown Book and Toy in Jefferson City, a place I check every Wednesday when the new books and magazines are on the shelves (They’ve sold a lot of my books but they have many more to sell should you need one—and you do.).  And a dear friend in Rolla used to have me in for signings at Books and Things a lot.

And the great, legendary, Strand  in New York City.  If you are ever in New York City and if you like books, make the Strand part of the list that includes the Statue of Liberty and a Broadway play and Ground Zero.

What happens, though, when books are limited to only a few outlets?   What happens when a few conglomerates are able to influence what gets published or sold?

We are seeing that situation develop.   No, it’s not Barnes& Noble.

It’s Amazon.

We are on the mailing lists of several independent book stores.  The Tattered Cover’s most recent “Shelf Awareness” newsletter referred to Left Bank Books in writing about what Amazon is doing to a publisher, a situation that emphasizes the importance of the independent bookstore.

“The dispute between Amazon and Hachette, which shows once again that independent bookstores are the only booksellers who can be counted on to make all books available to readers, has continued into its fourth month–and gotten more heated.

Last Sunday, the group started by author Douglas Preston called Authors United ran a two-page ad in the New York Times calling on Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to stop targeting Hachette authors in an effort to force the publisher to agree to Amazon’s terms. Signed by more than 900 authors, the ad states that it’s just plain wrong for a bookseller to block the sale of certain books (even the Wall Street Journal has condemned Amazon’s corporate behavior).

Amazon countered by creating something called Readers United, and sent a letter to Kindle Direct Publishing authors asking them to pressure Hachette. The letter reiterated the same arguments they’ve been using, but with a new twist: misquoting George Orwell. Amazon’s citing, and misuse, of Orwell’s words might lead readers to recall 1984 and think more closely about how the corporation uses its technology. This week, in a letter to the New York Times, Orwell’s estate essentially called Amazon’s approach Orwellian, saying that the company’s selective quoting was “dystopian and shameless… as close as one can get to the Ministry of Truth and its doublespeak.”

Many indie booksellers have responded creatively and positively, setting up special displays of Hachette titles, taking orders for upcoming Hachette books–and, in one case, making home deliveries of one book. It’s been what Kris Kleindienst, owner of Left Bank Books in St. Louis, Mo., called “a teachable moment” for booksellers. “It’s tapped into folks who have never really thought about this.”

The major lesson to be learned from this contretemps: shop locally. As author John Scalzi says, ‘Companies trying to drive the market toward monopoly rarely are on the side of the consumer in the long run.’ –Marilyn Dahl, editor, Shelf Awareness for Readers”

Whether you read books from an independent book store or a big-box store, whether you red book books or tablet books or whether you listen to audio books, beware of the time when one entity, or a few entities, can keep us from access to them.  Our ability to learn and to think and to affect our world with our thoughts and their accompanying actions is in the balance.