Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Globe *Hearts* Elizabeth Warren

It's love.  Not a crush, not a flirtation - L-O-V-E love.  The Boston Globe is head over heels for Elizabeth Warren. 

That in itself is no real surprise.  A Harvard professor?  A veteran of the Obama Administration?  A self-styled anti Wall Street crusader?  And she wants to run statewide, against the guy who shook the Globe's collective worldview to its foundations by taking what its reporters and columnists still consistently refer to as "Ted Kennedy's Senate seat"?  She had them at "Harvard."

What is surprising (a little bit, anyhow) is the intensity of this early ardor.  I mean, good God, someone tell Brian McGrory that Professor Warren is married already.  Even if she weren't, he'd have to fight off Noah Bierman and Frank Phillips to win her affection.  Each declared his amorous intentions in today's paper, unabashedly and without subtlety.  It's love.  Sloppy, awkward, embarrassing love.

This underscores the significant challenge that Senator Brown faces next year to hold on to what he rightly prefers to call "the People's Seat."  He won't just be running against a Democrat.  He'll be running against the Globe, which will give the D the equivalent of statewide paid media nearly every day.  That will be true no matter who ends up being the Democratic nominee.  And it's par for the course for a Republican in running in Massachusetts.

If the nominee is Warren, however, today's smoochy fawning makes it clear that the paper will be going to battle with all of the fervor of a medieval knight hoping to win the princess's hand by slaying the Republican. 

Monday, August 29, 2011

Must-read gaming column in the Herald

Joe Fitzgerald's column in today's Boston Herald is a must-read.  He makes the moral argument against government collusion that I tried to make last week (Reason #8), only Fitzgerald does it better:
Yes, people ought to have the right to figuratively roll the dice with their own resources, which is another way gambling proponents try to frame the issue.

But this is not about what people ought to be able to do.

It’s about what government ought not to be doing, which is leeching off the losses of its citizens, encouraging what is known to be an addictive activity, raking in funds that might have been used to meet pressing needs at home.

It’s pretty basic stuff. If the house doesn’t win, the game is over. The only way the game can continue is if a majority of players lose. In other words, the house has a rooting interest in losses incurred by the players.

If the commonwealth of Massachusetts is the house, that means it has a rooting interest in losses that devastate families, marriages and careers. How can that be justified? In dollars and cents? Please.
I don't view gaming as a partisan issue, and I think that Fitzgerald does his argument a disservice by starting the column off with a little residual ventilation about gay marriage.  By doing so he pretty much guarantees that a good number of people in this blue state who may be moved by his primary argument will click away before they ever see it.  But hey.  It's his column.  From paragraph 4 on down his logic is irrefutable.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

IRENE!!! (A perfect storm of media hype)

I recognize and appreciate that Irene did serious damage elsewhere - and even here in MA in isolated instances.  But did it live up to the hype?  Not even close.  Still, it gave us some pretty hilarious moments, as unfortunate reporters forced by their producers to fill time decked out in their hurricane gear tried their level best to make a relatively mundane storm worthy of the saturation coverage it got all day.  Just a few clips I grabbed on my iPhone:

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Breaking News From the Land of Duh - MA Casino Edition

The new symbol for economic development in MA
The Globe's front page today has one of those articles that just makes a careful reader want to pound his head against the nearest wall.  Titled "Gambling projections for Mass no sure bet," the basic conclusion of the lengthy analysis is that the 2008 gaming-industry-generated "study" on which Massachusetts political leaders are relying for jobs and revenue projections in their latest rush to pass a casino bill, a study that assumes a pre- recession economy and ignores growing gaming competition from surrounding states, might just not be a reliable basis from which to draw reliable numbers.

Well excuse my French, but: No (*Bleeping*) (*Bleep*).

The fact that Governor Patrick, Speaker DeLeo and Senate President Murray doggedly refuse to allow a new study - by an impartial analyst - is but one among many red flags flying up to all sides of the latest gaming bill.  But it's a huge one.  In a political culture that commissions a study at the drop of a hat, there is but one rational conclusion to be drawn from that refusal: Patrick, DeLeo and Murray know their numbers are crap.  Not "suspect."  Know.

The first three paragraphs of the Globe piece really say it all:
Massachusetts policy makers are basing their hopes for the gambling market in large part on a consultant’s analysis that views the ongoing recession as an economic blip and assumes consumer spending will resurge by the time casinos are established in Massachusetts.

That study, first produced in 2008 and updated in 2010, also assumes Massachusetts casinos could not only reclaim money state residents now cross the border to bet in Connecticut and Rhode Island, but also entice them to spend much more.

Neither is a sure bet, economic analysts say.
On the other hand, neither is a worse bet than emptying your savings account, converting it to tokens and shoving them one by one into a slot machine in the hopes of landing on easy street.

The article only gets more cringe-inducing from there.
In fact, Moody’s Investors Service issued a special report yesterday warning that Massachusetts casinos will not necessarily attract new gamblers or higher levels of spending. More likely, Massachusetts will compete with casinos in neighboring states for existing gambling dollars and share the take...
Wait. Hold on a second.  Do they mean to say the Massachusetts legislature lacks the power to magically suspend the ordinary laws governing free market dynamics?  Another of my cherished illusions shattered.

Fact is, ours aren't the only area pols whose thinking is impervious to stubborn reality.  New York is also pushing a casino initiative.  And last year New Hampshire legislative leaders said that if Massachusetts were to go forward with a casino bill, they'd follow suit.  All of these blinder-wearing Pollyannas share the same basic, common-sense-defying assumption: that there exists an infinite supply of untapped new gamblers, and there is no number of casinos that those gamblers will not fill if only someone would build them.  Supporting that fantasy they have - you guessed it - numbers generated by the gaming industry.  Back to the Globe:
Governor Deval Patrick and legislative leaders finally appear poised to enter the casino market at a moment when the market has changed dramatically and with no new economic analysis to support their plans. Patrick’s economic development secretary cited the 2010 report from a gambling consultant as his evidence that “long-term prospects for gaming success were as promising as they were before the recession.’’
In other news, the farmer has decided to take the doors off his hen house, citing a 2010 report from the Fox Guild as evidence that "long-term prospects for chicken theft have decreased markedly."

It gets better:
That report says the recession is not a significant factor in long-term projections because the consultants “anticipate a return to normal growth patterns.’’ But it goes on to say that the recession could in fact have major consequences for casinos - if casino developers can’t access affordable capital.“These folks are saying, ‘We believe the recession is in the rear-view mirror and we anticipate a return to normal growth patterns,’ ’’ said Gregory Bialecki, state housing and economic development secretary. “But, ‘Let’s keep an eye on the fact that the recession might not be a short-term phenomenon. It might have long-term consequences.’ ’’
Right.  And how might we start to realistically gauge those long-term consequences in the context of gaming revenue projections?  By, I don't know, slowing the hell down and getting some analysis from someone who does not have a massive financial stake in the pending legislation?  Someone who isn't chomping right through the bit in his eagerness to get the damned thing passed as quickly as possible, with as little scrutiny as possible?  Crazy, I know.  More Bialecki:
Not (yet) MA's Economic Development Secretary
Bialecki said the report is not the only factor giving him confidence. He also cited as evidence a state recovery that has been outpacing the nation’s; encouraging signs that casino spending is beginning to recover; and early interest in the market expressed by casino developers and investors.
So it isn't just casino industry projections that have Secretary Bialecki happily ignoring reality.  There's also the parallel fantasy of our robust economic recovery.  And "early interest in the market" expressed by the only people poised to make a killing on new casinos.  Oh, and a really encouraging fortune cookie he got the other day with his take-out.

As to that "early interest," the Globe correctly notes that all of the interested developers have scaled back their earlier proposals by hundreds of millions of dollars.  Hardly an optimistic portent.  And about those "encouraging signs that casino spending is beginning to recover"?

Much like the broader economy, the gambling industry has gone through a period of extreme volatility in recent years, with many of the largest operators struggling with diminishing revenues and huge levels of debt.

Those conditions, combined with a risk-averse lending environment, have made it increasingly difficult for gaming operators to get loans to finance ambitious development proposals like those now being rolled out in Massachusetts...
Though revenues nearly doubled at tribal casinos between 2001 and 2007, they have hovered around $26.5 billion since then. Likewise, spending at commercial casinos dropped off in 2007 and inched up only 0.9 percent last year, according to the gaming association, which represents non-tribal casinos.

New England casinos have faced particular hardship. The Twin River gambling complex, which provided Rhode Island its third-largest revenue source, filed for bankruptcy in 2009. In Connecticut, Foxwoods laid off 700 people and faced a 13 percent drop in revenue in 2009 and is still trying to restructure its $2 billion in debt.

The American Gaming Association is hesitant to predict a return to peak revenues and instead warns that a casino comeback still depends on a broad-based increase in discretionary spending.
Yeah.  Sounds like the time to go all-in.  What's the worst that could happen?

“No matter where you look across America, the government policy to expand gambling has failed to deliver on its revenue promises and its job promises,’’ said Les Bernal, executive director of the national group Stop Predatory Gambling. “It has left us with a smaller middle class and hundreds of thousands of Americans in much deeper debt.’’
That "reality" thing again.  The Big Three don't want to hear it.

If you feel like this whole casino bill thing just kind of snuck up on you this time around, you're right.  But no matter how hard the Big Three push to get the "debate" over and done with before most people even notice it is happening, it is going to take a couple of weeks at least.  That's a couple of weeks for you to call your Reps and Senators and tell them what you think.  Find their numbers here and here, and make those calls.

UPDATE: Right after writing this ventilation, I went to the town dump to get rid of some debris and saw this in the scrap metal bin.  A portent?

Friday, August 26, 2011

Top 10 Reads of the Week – August 26, 2011

Walker’s Vindication – John McCormack [Weekly Standard]

Ed note: this is a bit dated (before the recall failure).  But it contains a lot of good info I’d not seen elsewhere.

Emily Koczela had been anxiously waiting for months for Wisconsin governor Scott Walker’s controversial budget repair bill to take effect. Koczela, the finance director for the Brown Deer school district, had been negotiating with the local union, trying to get it to accept concessions in order to make up for a $1 million budget shortfall. But the union wouldn’t budge.

On June 29 at 12:01 a.m., Koczela could finally breathe a sigh of relief. The budget repair bill​—​delayed for months by protests, runaway state senators, and a legal challenge that made its way to the state’s supreme court​—​was law. The 27 teachers on the chopping block were spared… Read the Rest

Next President Must Live Like Coolidge, Not Obama – Mark Steyn [Investor’s Business Daily]

Why exactly does the president need a 40-car escort to drive past his subjects in Dead Moose Junction? It doesn't communicate strength, but only waste, and decadence.

Are these vehicles filled with "aides" working round the clock on his supersecret magic plan to "create" "jobs" that King Barack the Growth Slayer is planning to lay before Congress in the fall or winter, spring, whatever?… Read the Rest

Whatever Rick Perry’s Record Is, It’s Not Conservative – Dave Mann [The New Republic']

On Sunday afternoon—just 24 hours after Texas Gov. Rick Perry announced his presidential candidacy—an email arrived in my inbox titled, “14 Reasons Why Rick Perry Would Be a Really, Really Bad President.” The article contained in the email took such a harsh tone toward Perry, I assumed, for a brief moment, that a liberal interest group was quickly jumping on the newest entrant in the Republican presidential field. In turns out, however, that the piece was the product of a right-wing website called The American Dream. The author of the article argued that Perry, the supposed savior of conservatives nationwide, is actually a RINO—a Republican in Name Only… Read the Rest

Best Dose of Perspective I Saw This Week

Spending, not entitlements, created huge deficit – Byron York [Examiner]

It's conventional wisdom in Washington to blame the federal government's dire financial outlook on runaway entitlement spending. Unless we rein in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, the conventional wisdom goes, the federal government is headed for disaster.

That's true in the long run. But what is causing massive deficits now? Is it the same entitlements that threaten the future?… Read the Rest. Interesting follow-ups here and here.

Congress To Bet The Farm On One Last Big Bill – Editors [The Onion]

In a stunning emergency session Wednesday, all 535 members of Congress unanimously agreed to pool what remained of their political capital and bet the farm on one final bill: H.R. 2809, a comprehensive and extremely risky plan experts said would either get the nation back on track or send it into a permanent downward spiral.

According to government officials, the ambitious 15,980-page bill effectively puts all the nation's eggs in one basket, but congressional leaders from both parties agreed the time had come to "put up or shut up" and draft one huge piece of historic legislation that would address every conceivable issue facing the United States… Read the Rest

What Austerity? – Editors [Wall Street Journal]

With the recovery sputtering, the White House and its allies have been blaming government spending cuts, or what the neo-Keynesians call "fiscal contraction." This is a dubious economic theory even if spending were being cut, but yesterday's mid-year report from the Congressional Budget Office shows definitively that there's been nothing close to contraction in Washington.

That's the real news in the CBO numbers, which show that spending in fiscal 2011 (which ends on September 30) will hit a new high of $3.6 trillion, up $141 billion from 2010. That's higher than the previous record in 2009 of $3.5 trillion, which was supposed to be the peak of the "temporary" stimulus spending… Read the Rest

Buffett’s claim of coddling is super-rich – Jeff Jacoby [Boston Globe]

WARREN BUFFETT is the billionaire CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, a friend and political supporter of Barack Obama, and a well-known advocate of higher taxes on the rich. He is also a hypocrite, whose actions belie his words.

For several years now, Buffett has been calling for significant tax hikes on extremely wealthy Americans like himself. Last week, in a New York Times column headlined “Stop Coddling the Super-Rich,’’ Buffett lamented that the $6,938,744 he forked over in federal income and payroll taxes in 2010 amounted to just 17.4 percent of his taxable income. “What I paid,’’ the world’s most famous investor observed, “was … actually a lower percentage than was paid by any of the other 20 people in our office. Their tax burdens ranged from 33 percent to 41 percent.’… Read the Rest

Waterloo in Wisconsin – George Will [Washington Post]

The residues of liberalism’s Wisconsin Woodstock — 1960s radicalism redux: operatic lamentations, theatrical demonstrations and electoral futilities — are words of plaintive defiance painted on sidewalks around the state capitol. “Solidarity forever” was perhaps painted by a graduate student forever at the University of Wisconsin. “Repubs steal elections” is an odd accusation from people who, seeking to overturn the 2010 elections, cheered Democratic lawmakers who fled to Illinois — a congenial refuge for labor-subservient Democrats — in order to paralyze the duly elected legislature. The authors of the sidewalk graffiti have at least read Jefferson: “The tree of liberty is watered by the blood of tyrants.” The tyrant is “$cott Walker American Fa$ci$t.”… Read the Rest

Grade Inflation for Education Majors and Low Standards for Teachers – Cory Koedel [AEI]

Students who take education classes at universities receive significantly higher grades than students who take classes in every other academic discipline. The higher grades cannot be explained by observable differences in student quality between education majors and other students, nor can they be explained by the fact that education classes are typically smaller than classes in other academic departments. The remaining reasonable explanation is that the higher grades in education classes are the result of low grading standards. These low grading standards likely will negatively affect the accumulation of skills for prospective teachers during university training. More generally, they contribute to a larger culture of low standards for educators… Read the Rest

Obamanonics v. Reaganomics – Stephen Moore [Wall Street Journal]

If you really want to light the fuse of a liberal Democrat, compare Barack Obama's economic performance after 30 months in office with that of Ronald Reagan. It's not at all flattering for Mr. Obama.

The two presidents have a lot in common. Both inherited an American economy in collapse. And both applied daring, expensive remedies. Mr. Reagan passed the biggest tax cut ever, combined with an agenda of deregulation, monetary restraint and spending controls. Mr. Obama, of course, has given us a $1 trillion spending stimulus… Read the Rest

The Funniest Thing I Saw This Week

Thursday, August 25, 2011

As goes the Vineyard?

It's easy to look at today's Globe article about President Obama's flagging popularity on, gulp, Martha's Vineyard and draw the obvious conclusion: If they no longer love love love him on that elite liberal enclave, he may be well and truly toast next year.  Or maybe long-time summer residents just wish he'd give them a summer off from the motorcades and media and other hub-bub to which they've been subjected for three years running now.

Either way, there are some telling little bits, with associated lessons, embedded in the Globe piece.

Lesson One: It's hard to hold on to love.  
This week, with the jobless rate stuck above 9 percent and the president’s nationwide approval rating at its lowest level, the Vineyard’s broad allegiance shows cracks, leaving some islanders with a more textured, even tormented feeling about the president.
“I just have to say I feel really uncomfortable, because I love loving him,’’ said Leslie Pearlson, a real estate broker on the island.
 This was always going to be a problem for President Obama.  So many supporters didn't just love him.  They loved loving him.  It was a collective experience - a year long party.  It was something to do with one's hippest friends.  They want to keep feeling that.  But like baby boomers at a Dexy's Midnight Runners concert, they are finding the old feeling is hard to get back and maintain.  Oh sure, they might sing and dance and act like kids again for a song or two, but when Dexy and the gang start showing up for breakfast every morning they realize, God, these guys are old and kind of pathetic.

Obama's Midnight Runners: No longer so big on the Vineyard
Lesson Two: It's still the economy, stupid...

...even in a place where the wealthiest of the nation's wealthy and the liberalest (I made that up!) of the liberal like to summer.
Lifelong resident John Alley, a county commissioner and postmaster at legendary Alley’s General Store in West Tisbury, knows many island residents out of work.

“They’ll take anything that they can get their hands on,’’ he said the other day as he sorted mail. “That’s tempered a lot of the enthusiasm.’’
Seems when people are persistently out of work, it's not quite enough to a world master ninja of the teleprompter and the only man in history to get a Nobel just for being his own bad self.
Lesson Three: With great power, comes great responsibility.

This one is particularly important for a guy who claimed for himself almost deity-like powers to change not only the political system, but the planet itself.  Over-promise and under-deliver = bad news.

“I think a lot of people in ’08 felt, ‘Hey, here comes a breath of fresh air, and maybe this guy can put an end to a lot - not all of it, but a lot - of the foolishness that goes on,’ ’’ Alley said. “But he hasn’t been very good at that.’’
And perhaps most important lesson of all for a President who just  LOOOOVES to spend money:

Lesson Four:  You can buy me love.

Govt. Investment... in votes [WSJ]
Lifelong resident Josh Goldstein said he and his family, which owns the Mansion House Inn in Vineyard Haven, believe Obama is doing the best he can under the circumstances.

“We feel like he’s working hard against some serious adversity,’’ said the 32-year-old, a onetime aide to the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy. “We really support his politics and his position.’’

Goldstein acknowledged that the recession hit business hard at his family’s hotel and that it has not fully recovered, but he said that has not caused his faith in the president to waver. The White House has booked every available room at the hotel during the president’s vacation last year and this summer.
This one is my favorite.  Josh Goldstein thinks the President is doing a bang-up job.  He "really support[s] his politics and his position."  Specifically, Goldstein supports Obama's position once a summer on the Island of Martha's Vineyard, along with a few hundred friends of his friends, spending US Taxpayer money to buy up every single room in Goldstein's swank island inn.

That last lesson ought to be a sobering one for those of us hoping President Obama continues his morph into Jimmy Carter.  There are an awful lot of voters on the receiving end of Obama-sponsored handouts.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

MA Casinos? Eight arguments against (to start)

Here we go again.  "State leaders agree on casino bill," reads the headline.  "For months, [Governor Patrick] and his aides have worked closely and behind closed doors with DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray to draft the latest proposal."  As if anything of importance is ever done any other way in this one-party state of ours.

"[L]egislative leaders defended their approach, saying they want to prevent another bitter public battle."  Of course they do!  Why wouldn't they?  Especially the "public" part.  What do we think this is, a democracy? 

"'We all want to see this done,' DeLeo said in an interview in his office yesterday."  And by "we," the Speaker means those good folk who have been "working closely and behind closed doors" with him lo these many long months since the last casino effort broke down in a morass of ego clashes and political Schwartz measuring.  It was nice of the Speaker to come out briefly for an interview, peevish though it was.

Here's a good laugh:
The bill attempts to combat the corruption that has historically cropped up around casinos by setting up a five-member commission to monitor the industry and a new State Police unit to enforce the law. The commission would ensure casino developers have “integrity, honesty, [and] good character’’ and could also ban gamblers with “notorious or unsavory reputations.’’
Oh yes.  The organized crime and corruption that "historically" (read: always) crops up around casinos won't have a chance against our mighty... five member commission.  And gamblers with "notorious or unsavory reputations" will doubtless steer clear of our casinos, or at least will be forced to abandon their beloved "Notorious and Unsavory" t-shirts and caps.

Notorious B.I.G. Were he still with us, he'd be unwelcome in MA casinos
Much as I hate to admit it, I think this thing might be inevitable this year.  Embarrassed each one by last year's debacle, Patrick, DeLeo and Senate President Murray wouldn't push a casino bill forward again without greased skids beneath.  Still, if there is one truth in government and politics it is that there is no such thing as a sure thing.  And every gambler knows that every once in a while the house loses (though in the gambling context the house only loses to keep the saps coming in the door).

Since I started blogging in December '08, I've written as much about Massachusetts casino proposals as any other topic.  Rather than re-create all of it from whole cloth this time, it occurred to me to go through my earlier screeds and re-publish only the contra arguments that still apply today with equal force as when they were first typed.  Which, it turns out, is most of 'em.  Hereafter, then, a condensed digest.

Why, Despite Everything You've Heard, Massachusetts Casinos Are A Bad Idea:

Reason #1: The market for gaming is neither infinite, nor recession-proof.

March 8, 2010:  I noticed an interesting headline on the Drudge Report this morning, linking to an AFP dispatch carried by Chips are down for US casinos as revenues slide.

The fact that casinos are suffering along with the rest of the economy is hardly breaking news.   Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, our closest "destination resort casino" neighbors, have been hurting for a while now (ditto Twin Rivers in Rhode Island, the nearest prototype for Speaker DeLeo's favored "racino" option).  But today's article is a nice reminder of a pesky little thing those of us who do not work on Beacon Hill like to call "reality."  Here are the lowlights:
US casinos have run into a string of bad luck as the recession and other factors cut into gambling revenues, even as more states move to get a piece of the action. Gaming revenues in the 12 US states authorizing casinos fell 5.7 percent in 2009 to 30.7 billion dollars, according to a preliminary estimate by the American Gaming Association, a trade group.
This followed a 4.6 percent drop in 2008 gross gaming receipts, the figures showed...
[Research analyst Billy] Hulkower said the trend suggests little or no growth in casino attendance over the past decade, a period that included two recessions and an economic upturn. This means economics is not the only factor, he said...
Twelve states currently authorize casino gambling, but Mintel notes that at least 25 states have proposed or are considering expanding gambling operations including lotteries and sports betting to help balance their budgets.
"If a whole lot of states are suddenly starting to allow gambling and were counting on this revenue you're going to have a problem," Hulkower said...
"The expansion of gambling does not bring more customers into the market," said Lucy Dadayan a senior analyst at the Rockefeller Institute.
"There are only so many customers, so with every new casino there are only marginal increases."
November 18, 2009:  This little tid-bit from the State House News seems so far to have been missed by the major media. But it should be of interest to anyone pondering casinos as a means to budgetary salvation here in Massachusetts:
Foxwoods Resort Casino, the Connecticut facility eyed by Bay State policymakers as a cash vacuum from gambling residents here, defaulted on a debt payment Monday and saw its credit lowered to junk bond status, the Hartford Courant reported. The Pequot tribe that owns the casino reported paying $14.2 million of the $21.25 semi-annual interest on $500 million in debt, and does not plan to pay the remainder within 30 days, the paper said. That prompted Standard & Poor’s to downgrade the Foxwoods debt score.
Plenty of people here in the Bay State would have voters believe that a Foxwoods or two in our state, pumping a healthy portion of its revenues into state coffers, would solve all of our problems. Meanwhile, the real Foxwoods cannot even pay its bills.

February 24, 2009: The Globe has an interesting piece today on the state of the gaming industry and how it relates to the prospects for a new push for casinos here in Massachusetts. If ever you were inclined to believe the Governor's predictions of money raining from the skies if only we'd license some casinos, you ought to take the time to read this article.

The upshot is this: the gaming industry has been hit hard by the recession. Massachusetts can no longer expect (if it ever could) developers to spend hundreds of millions of dollars merely for a license to build a resort casino in Massachusetts. They may not have the money to build such facilities at all.

There is some significant cause for concern in the subtext of the article, however. If developers are not willing or able to build destination resort casinos, we could always let them throw some slots in at our tracks, open "gambling halls," etc. Here's a chilling paragraph:
Instead of resorts, Loveman said, the Massachusetts Legislature should pursue an incremental approach to expanded gambling by legalizing slot machines at the racetracks, including Suffolk Downs. One model, he said, would be similar to Detroit, where state officials allowed for temporary casinos until developers could secure more funding and build bigger tourist destinations.
Anyone been to Detroit lately? This guy would be well-advised to find another model. Quite possibly he does not have one.

Reason #2:  Gaming revenue estimates are wholly imaginary - and even proponents know it.

July 31, 2010: A couple of years back, the last time three casinos were on the table, it was assumed that license bidding per casino would start at $200 million and go up from there.  This was a big part of the political sell - casino licenses would, advocates said, result in an immediate infusion of at least $600 million, and possibly $1 billion or more, to the Commonwealth's coffers.

As anyone who has followed the abbreviated 'process' this year knows, our esteemed legislature declined to publicly update those revenue projections, preferring to hold their deliberations in an alternate universe, one apparently free of the effects of the recent and lingering recession.

But it looks like they updated their estimates in private.  The casino authorization bill that emerged from conference late yesterday would require developers to pay license fees of... $85 million.  That's a reduction in value of 55.5% right off the top.

[Note: This year's estimate sticks at $85 million, though the aspirational "at least" is tacked on for effect.  Not chump change, but the sharp downward trend is revealing.]

Reason # 3: There is no precedent for a state turning its economy around with gaming. It doesn't happen.

July 8, 2010: I do not like casinos for what they have come to represent in the Massachusetts non-debate over whether we ought to have them here: namely, a false panacea for the Commonwealth's fiscal difficulties.  There is simply no precedent - none whatsoever - for the assumption, which underlies much of the limited public debate on the issue, that "new revenues" from casinos will either outweigh their costs or solve any part of the state's budget problems.  On the other hand, there is plenty of precedent for the argument that states that lean on casino revenues tend to simply spend those revenues and land themselves back in the same fiscal suck-swamp from which they'd hoped to escape by legalizing casino gambling in the first place.  See, Exhibit A: Connecticut.  See, Exhibit B: California.  And so on.

September 18, 2009 [I was feeling feisty on Sept. 18, 2009]:  Foxwoods is billions in debt and restructuring its finances. Mohegan Sun recently laid off 500 employees.

To our immediate south, Rhode Island's Twin River 'racino' is also drowning in debt and sucking state funds eagerly into its starving maw.

Atlantic City, Detroit and many other urban areas across the country that bet on casinos to save their fiscal bacon are virtual urban wastelands, illuminated by the fitful blinking of gaudy signs that sit atop empty casinos.

Even Las Vegas, Mecca for casino enthusiasts and long held as a model of how gambling can drive a successful economy, is sputtering - with unemployment recently pegged at 13.4 percent.

So naturally this is the perfect time for Massachusetts to build a bunch of 'destination resort casinos.' Or so says Massachusetts House Speaker Bob DeLeo this morning.

We have a "vital need for revenue," you see - and casinos are just the way to get it. If you suspect that a variation of that line - "I need the cash... I'm due for some luck... this has to be my night!"- emanates from countless desperate mouths at countless late-night craps, poker, roulette and blackjack tables at every single existing casino in the country... well, you're probably right.

But never mind that. Let's bet big on casinos. The Legislature needs the cash. They're due for some luck. This has to be their night.

Of course there is an important difference between our grubbing pols and the lost souls who bring their pension checks to the casino - the Legislature won't be betting with their own money.

Reason #4: The notion that the legislature can legalize casinos but limit their number is fantasy.

March 5, 2010: Now add another crucial little wrinkle - the tribes. Like Governor Patrick before him, Speaker DeLeo proposes somehow to limit the number of casinos that can be built in the Commonwealth. In DeLeo's formulation, we'd have two. This is fantasy.

The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) gives a federally-recognized tribe (of which we have several) the absolute right to operate a "Class III" gaming facility (a casino) on its sovereign land in any state where such gaming is legal. Advocates for expanded gaming will rely on the public's (and the media's) relative ignorance of this complicated law to argue that a tribe may only establish a casino after entering into a "compact" with the state. This is accurate, but misleading. Under the IGRA, once a state legalizes Class III gaming and a tribe requests such a compact, the state "shall negotiate with the Indian tribe in good faith to enter into such a compact." It's compulsory. A tribe asks for a compact, the state must give it one. Further, if the state delays or refuses to enter into negotiations, or fails to negotiate in "good faith," the IGRA gives the tribe the right to petition the federal government, which is thereafter obligated to impose a compact of its design upon the state.

Bottom line: any of our tribes that have land and want to build a casino can build a casino once the state legalizes casino gaming.

This is precisely what Cedric Cromwell, chairman of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, had in mind yesterday when he released a statement saying, "Once gaming is expanded, we intend to move forward with our plans to build a full resort-style casino in Southeastern Massachusetts under the rights afforded to us as a sovereign Indian tribe." Simplified: once you open the door, we're walking through it.

Speaker DeLeo may wish to crack open Pandora's Box, pull out what he wants (two casinos, four slot parlors) and then slam it shut again. That isn't how Pandora's Box works. Once it is opened, it is opened. Everything comes out.

Reason #5: Some guy from Colorado wants to put up a casino in my backyard.

October 23, 2009 [Sure it's NIMBYism. But that's kind of the point. Every single mega casino is going to be a NIMBY issue for a lot of someones - especially because developers of these things tend to prefer vast tracts of previously undeveloped land of the sort that exist only in places that don't have a lot of development that would be consonant with a gambling mecca.  People who choose to make their homes in such places do not want them fundamentally and forever changed by a casino.  That's perfectly rational, and a powerful motivator.]

Reason #6: If everybody wants these things, then why do they ALWAYS try to jam it through without public debate?

July 28, 2010: I did, however, want to point out an illuminating observation embedded in last night's casino update from the State House News:
Most Senate Democrats have stayed clear of the conference committee, observing informal legislative tradition of not injecting outside voices into closed-door dealings.
Beacon Hill democracy, ladies and gentlemen!  Where even elected representatives in the majority party are deemed "outside voices" who dare not inject their thinking - or that of their constituents - into "closed-door dealings."  What a fine, if "informal" tradition!

Reason #7: The unions are driving this bus.

July 29, 2010: "Details don't matter, pass a bill."  Those are the words of AFL-CIO president Robert Haynes, the state's number one union poo-bah, and the guy who more than anyone else is providing the impetus for the aforementioned irrational rush.  He isn't shy about it either - no effort whatsoever to hide the strings he is pulling.  Here's how Haynes describes meetings he's had in the past week with Speaker Bob DeLeo and Senate President Murray (again to the State House News):
"They both say to me: 'Can you talk to the other one?' I say, 'Yes, I can. I don't care what the formula is, do an expanded gaming bill by July 31'," state AFL-CIO president Robert Haynes said late Wednesday.

"Here's what I want you to do," Haynes said he told Murray. "I want you to pass expanded gaming legislation. That's what I want you to do. I don't care whether it's your formula or his formula."

Haynes, who boasts of 400,000 members, said he favored neither the Senate's proposal of three casinos or the House plan for two casinos and four racetracks with slot machines. He said he had told legislative leaders he wanted some form of expanded gambling passed.

"I'm the guy that gets to put the political legislative strategy to work," he said in a telephone interview. "I'm not the guy that writes the bill. I'm the guy that asks them to do their job."
Subtle, isn't he? Humble too. If we return for a second to the sausage-making analogy, Haynes is the hulking, sweaty guy dressed in a head-to-toe white rubber apron, face and torso smeared in blood, fat and muck, arms shoulder deep in a vat of eyeballs, beaks, hooves, feathers and fingers.

Interesting phrasing, too.  "I'm the guy that gets to put the political legislative strategy to work."  Again, the aversion to facing such naked, ugly reality; I'm not sure I want to know what he means by that.

But at least Haynes has done us the favor of explaining, finally, this mad scramble to pass some form of casino legislation by midnight on Saturday.  "And if you don't do it, then I guess you suffer the consequences."  That's still Haynes.  Seriously.  No word on whether he was fingering a butcher's knife at the time.

Reason #8: Proponents are budgeting for destroyed lives.

I don't have a previous post for this one, but it just might be the best argument against legalization of casino gaming in Massachusetts.  Ironically, it is also one of the proponents' favorite arguments in favor.

Revenue estimates for casino gaming are all over the map.  Let's take $500 million, to use a round number within the range of common estimates.  The new bill would devote five percent of that to "programs to combat compulsive gambling."  That's 25 million dollars per year budgeted for the sole purpose of providing state assistance to people whose lives will be destroyed by the Commonwealth's new economic development initiative.  I have no idea what dollar figure state planners assign to each anticipated compulsive gambler they expect to come in need of those dollars, or even if they've thought about it to that level of granularity.  But however you slice it, that's a lot of deliberately created misery they are budgeting for.  A lot of families left broken and destitute.  A lot of college funds down the pisser, wedding rings turned in at the pawn shop, cleaned out savings accounts.  It's exactly as if Beacon Hill's big three were to propose a state cigarette store, with five percent of revenues dedicated to smoking cessation programs.

Ordinarily I am of the view that people are responsible for their own decisions, and that if s guy wants to go blow his wad at a casino it is his business and  his alone.  I'm still of that mind, in a way.  I just don't think government ought to build an economic development strategy around that guy or - worse - the expectation that many thousands of those guys will queue up for the privilege of losing it all to a state-sponsored vice.

Anyhow.  It will be interesting to see how this plays out this time around. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Great Quake of 2011

First, in a day of pretty funny tweets and FB posts, this is far and away my favorite:

"DC Earthquake Devastation"
Serious prediction: within three business days - five at the most (it IS August, after all), one or more busybody Massachusetts legislators will file a bill to address "earthquake preparedness."  This bill will include funding for one or more study commissions.

It's just what they do.

Milford/Secure Communities: This is the Worst Case Scenario

Yesterday I wrote, "We don't know yet if Matthew Denice's killer, Nicolas Guaman, has a prior record.  If it turns out that he does this thing is really going to blow up." 

Well... boom.  Today's Globe:
The arrest of Guaman and reports that he previously faced criminal charges raised concern about why he had not already been reported to immigration authorities, and highlighted the ongoing debate over a federal initiative to identify illegal immigrants.

Milford police arrested Guaman in 2008 on charges of assault and battery on a police officer and at least one public employee and of breaking and entering, according to the police and the Worcester district attorney’s office. The case was continued without a finding for one year. Police said he also faced a few minor traffic charges dating to 2007, but the district attorney’s office could not confirm that information.
This is the situation that Secure Communities opponents always say will not happen - the illegal immigrant who is arrested but not deported, his immigration status deliberately ignored, who eventually goes and kills a wholly innocent person.  Such a proposition, they say, is a figment of the right's fevered imagination; fear-mongering of the most loathsome variety; racist.

This isn't about that.  This is very simple:

Guaman was arrested in 2008 on serious charges.  Assault and battery on a police officer, among others.  Had the Secure Communities program (which was then in the third year of a "pilot program" in Boston) been up and running across the Commonwealth, Guaman's fingerprints would have been transmitted to federal immigration authorities and he would have faced deportation.

Instead he was freed in Milford where, a few years later, he drove drunk with a child in his truck, struck a young man and dragged him, screaming, for a quarter of a mile, ending his life at 23.

If there is a weak link in that causal chain, please, someone show me where it is.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Milford motorcyclist killed: Everything about this is horrible

Matthew Denice [photo:]
The Globe's account of the hit and run killing of  23 year old motorcyclist Matthew Denice in Milford Saturday evening strikes me as unusually grisly and graphic.  I hope his family does not read it.  What a horrible way to die.  To its credit the Globe also includes a less horrific but no less salient fact that is being studiously ignored by other news outlets:
Police say Nicolas Guaman, 34, an illegal immigrant from Ecuador who had his 4-year-old with him in the truck, was drunk when he ran a stop sign and hit Denice’s motorcycle. They say Guaman continued slowly weaving his way around the corner of Congress and Fayette, then onto West Street, and later Bancroft Avenue.
In a bit of tragic irony, just over a month ago Governor Patrick sat in a park in Milford just a stone's throw from the site of Denice's killing and explained his recent decision to bar Massachusetts from participating in the federal Secure Communities program, which in a nutshell would allow local law enforcement to share arrest data - fingerprints, primarily - with federal immigration authorities (more on the program here).  The Milford Patch has video posted here (can't seem to embed, but you should click through and watch it).  The gravamen of the Governor's response to aggressive questioning by a Secure Communities advocate is the observation that law enforcement already shares arrest data with the FBI.  Secure Communities, the Governor suggests, is mere window dressing - a redundant program that would provide only "the impression that we are doing something else."

Of course there is more to it than that.  If it were true that in fact Secure Communities represents nothing more than a bit of bureaucratic redundancy, one presumes that the Governor could find better uses for his political capital than opposition to the program.  For one thing, Secure Communities make information sharing routine and automatic, when it is currently sporadic and largely discretionary.  For another, the sharing in question would be with ICE, the federal agency specifically tasked with immigration enforcement, rather than with the FBI, which has one or two other things on its jurisdictional plate.

Milford is one of a handful of communities in the Commonwealth where the debate over illegal immigration is more than academic - it is the stuff of every day life in a town with a huge and growing illegal population.  Now it is even more so.  That is why when the Governor made his announcement last month, local officials were quick to condemn the move.  Again from the Patch:
Several local leaders said they are disappointed in the recent decision by Gov. Deval Patrick to reject state participation in the federal Secure Communities program, which allows federal authorities to check the immigration status of anyone arrested in Massachusetts.

Both Milford Police Chief Thomas O'Loughlin and state Rep. John Fernandes (D-Milford) defended the program, which is used in the city of Boston, and which would have allowed arrests in other communities to be checked against immigration records.

"It takes an important tool away from police officers, who are trying to perform a difficult job," O'Loughlin said. "The tool is information."

Fernandes said the governor's decision sends the wrong message. "We need to make it clear to (people) who are here improperly, and those who are engaged in employing them, that we need to take this issue seriously."

Illegal immigration has had an impact on housing, the court system, employment and other areas, Fernandes said. Other areas of the state may not be as affected.
"We happen to live in a community that is severely impacted," he said. "It may not be a problem in Lexington, but it is a problem in Milford.
By the way, according to ICE, the Secure Communities Program is up and running in more than 1500 jurisdictions nationwide, and has resulted in deportation of nearly 87,000 convicted criminals.

We don't know yet if Matthew Denice's killer, Nicolas Guaman, has a prior record.  If it turns out that he does this thing is really going to blow up.  An already heated political debate will get  hotter.  Secure Communities advocates will blame opponents for the young man's death.  Opponents will in turn accuse advocates of politicizing tragedy.  Sadly, I think all of that might already be inevitable.

Stepping back, I am left with the same question I have always had about Secure Communities.  At base, all the program does is allow local law enforcement to share fingerprint data with ICE.  That's it.

For the life of me, I just do not understand the objections to that.

UPDATE: It seems Matthew Denice had quite a remarkable family.  And MORE: the driver did have a record.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

In case you missed it: NSTAR buying green power at a fraction of the cost of Cape Wind

And you almost certainly missed it.  Only the eagele-eyed will have caught this brief AP dispatch in this morning's Globe:
Massachusetts regulators have approved deals by the state’s second-largest utility to buy power from three land wind farms.

That’s according to NStar, which said yesterday that the Department of Public Utilities approved contracts between the utility and Hoosac Wind in Massachusetts, Groton Wind in New Hampshire, and Blue Sky East in Maine.
But wait, there's more!
The three deals represent about 1.6 percent of NStar’s demand, so still they must buy more renewable power.National Grid, the state’s largest utility, is buying power from the Cape Wind offshore wind farm to meet its obligation. Boston-based NStar has said it wants to pursue cheaper power.
So endeth the blurb.  Doesn't it seem like they left out a salient fact?  Something tied to that last little bit about NSTAR wanting to pursue "cheaper power?"  Thankfully, in this day of interactive media we have good folks like "johnaim," who weighs into the comments field to fill in the informational gap:
The NSTAR price at about 10 cents per kilowatt hour compares to the 24 cents per kilowatt hour on average over 15 years that businesses and residents in the National Grid territory will pay for Cape Wind electricity.

Cape wind is a bad business deal for NGrid customers and for the economy of the Commonweatlh.
Just so, as I've written about at length.

This little bit of good news (way to go NSTAR!)  is but a small part of a larger story - one in which Massachusetts state energy regulators are playing a far less benign role.

As Charlie Baker said repeatedly last year, Cape Wind is the wrong project, in the wrong place, at the wrong price (or something like that).  NSTAR knows that, and is fighting on multiple fronts to shield its customers from the price premium the Patrick/Murray Administration would have them pay to impress their celebrity friends / fellow wind fetishists in the national green lobby.  The irony is, NSTAR is succeeding.  It is finding ways to generate "green" energy - wind power no less - at a fraction of the cost of Cape Wind power.  It is already more than half way toward fulfilling its legally-mandated quota.

But Patrick and Murray don't want to hear it.  And based on the less than perfunctory news coverage of this significant development, their allies in the media don't want you to hear about it either.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Faster and Stronger?

My frustration with the Governor’s use of the phrase “faster and stronger” is one of the things that drove Dan to say “stop venting to me about it, vent to the internet!” So here I go.

Dan has previously touched on Governor Patrick’s much-used phrases to describe the Massachusetts economy: “on the mend and on the move” and “faster and stronger than other states.” They are used so much by the Administration that they’ve become shorthand for “our economy is the best” and “we (the Administration) have done a great job.”
Fuzzy Math? Daisy is not a fan.

Now, let me just stipulate at the outset that the Massachusetts economy is generally headed in the right direction, and that we are outperforming the nation and many other states. The question of who gets credit for that is a whole separate topic, of course. My problem with the administration’s use of the phrase “faster and stronger” is that it implies we have the number one economy in the nation when we don’t. It goes beyond political rhetoric and comes close to willful misleading of the public.

Unlike some of Governor Patrick’s other favorite phrases, “faster and stronger” is a statement of fact – it’s either true or not true. Now sometimes the Governor and his staff carefully use the phrase, employing appropriate qualifiers, as in ‘faster and stronger than most states’. But often they trim it down to just “faster, stronger,” as Deputy Press Secretary Alec Loftus does in his tweets about the Massachusetts economy (@akloftus). And it’s those times that almost make my head explode. Because the average person who sees a comment from a member of the Governor’s staff saying “faster, stronger” does not know that he actually means “by some economic measures, Massachusetts is growing at a greater rate than many, though not all, other states.”

The fact is, the Massachusetts economy is not growing faster and stronger than every state. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, five states saw greater percentage increases in employment over the last year than Massachusetts (North Dakota, Texas, Utah, Wyoming and Oklahoma). Seven states saw a greater percentage increase in employment over the last month. Sixteen states currently have the same or lower unemployment rate as Massachusetts. We are one of 39 states which “registered unemployment rates that were not appreciably different from those of a year earlier.”

Is it great that we outrank many states in a number of economic indicators? Of course. But that’s not what the Administration is leading the public to believe. They want to take credit for being the BEST, when that’s just not the case.

Maybe some on Patrick’s team are beginning to realize that their claim is stretching the truth. Lately, they have been making a subtle shift away from using “faster, stronger” to describe our position relative to other states and instead using it to describe our position relative to the nation’s economy. An email yesterday from Patrick’s TogetherPAC brags that our unemployment rate is “well below the national average of 9.1%.” Talk about moving the goal line. The state’s unemployment rate is below the nation’s, but that is true of half of the states! July jobs data shows that Massachusetts is one of 25 states with a lower unemployment rate than the nation, and one of 13 states which saw no change in its unemployment rate from June to July.

Of course, this all may be moot if the numbers we're using to debate the truth of "faster and stronger" can't be trusted. As the Boston Globe points out today, “job numbers, based on a survey of employers, are estimates and subject to revision - sometimes dramatically. Last year, for example, initial estimates showed the state added more than 60,000 jobs in the first seven months of 2010; annual revisions of the data lowered that figure to about 24,000.”

Hmmm. ‘Oh, by the way, no big deal, but job gains were actually 60% less than originally reported. Never mind about that, though!’ So, if the Administration is reporting that we’ve gained 50,000 jobs so far in 2011, sometime next year you might read, buried in the middle of a news story, that it was actually only 20,000 jobs. The apparently untrustworthiness of these numbers will not stop the Patrick Administration from bragging about them month after month. We know this, because in most months the state’s job report contains a brief note about the “revision” of the prior month’s numbers. Frequently, it turns out that the reported job gains have been revised downward.

As I’ve said before, I don’t blame the Administration for trying to put the best possible spin on each jobs report. But even spin has to be based in truth, and the best enemy of spin is a cynical, questioning press. But for the most part, the press just breathlessly repeats the Administration line (case in point, the lede of today's Globe story).

The situation strikes me as like a student (the Administration) who brings home his positive monthly report card (jobs report) to his parents (the press and public). He allows his parents to heap praise on him for his good grades and proudly display the report card on the refrigerator. Next month, he brings home another stellar report card, but it has a small footnote indicating that his previous grades have been “revised downward.” Now, when this happens month after month, should his parents continue credulously praising the current month’s grades, or would they maybe take each report with a grain of salt? Unfortunately in our real life scenario, the press just keeps tacking that report card to the refrigerator and patting the Administration on the head.

I’m glad the Patrick administration is striving to have the best economy in the country. I don’t want my government to settle for “doing pretty well” or “near the top,” especially when it comes to creating jobs and growing our economy. But don’t tell the public you’ve already achieved that goal when you haven’t.

Time to change the lyrics. It IS easy being green.

"It's not easy bein' green," intoned Kermit the Frog roughly three decades ago.  How times have changed.  Now it is very easy being green - so easy, in fact, that simple willingness to adorn oneself conspicuously in that blessed color is sufficient to qualify for all manner of government largesse.  Direct grants, tax breaks and incentives, zoning exceptions - not to mention heaping mounds of praise and adulation from press and politicians alike. 

Get that frog a subsidy
Don't get me wrong.  I have no problem with "being green."  I think people ought to recycle.  It's great that industry is figuring out ways to make all manner of things out of materials that biodegrade, and cars that go further on less fuel, and air conditioners, heaters and other appliances that consume less electricity.  I like the concept of alternative energy, and hope (and expect) that one day the relentless march of progress will bring us to a point where non-fossil energy will be produced in sufficient abundance to satisfy our needs.  I'm glad that the days of profligate industrial pollution are well behind us (in this country anyhow), and I recognize the indispensable role government enforcement played in bringing polluters to heel.  I re-hang the my towels in the hotel, turn off the lights when I leave a room, and refrain from printing when an electronic copy will do.  We should be environmentally responsible.  Government policy should encourage that.  That isn't the argument.

What gets me is the fetishization of both the color and the concept.  The way that especially in government the mere label "green" substitutes for and ultimately displaces all reasoned criticism or critical analysis.  If something - a company, a program, a proposal - can reasonably be called "green," that's it.  No outlay of tax dollars can be deemed excessive, no level of waste unacceptable.  Green.  End of story.  Let the money flow (it too is green).

A couple of things triggered this little ventilation.  Of course there's the Evergreen Solar debacle.  The Globe's editorial yesterday, a perfect example of the editors in supplemental Patrick press office mode, was a belly-laugher.   Oh sure, the Globe allows, in its spectacular failure Evergreen is taking "as much as $40 million in state subsidies" down the toilet with it.  But never mind that.  "[T]he underlying goal of investing in renewable energy, and seeking to attract the right companies to make Massachusetts an energy-industry capital, is not only honorable but essential."

"Honorable?"  Really?  Why not noble?  Or even heroic?

I mean, I get it.  The editors like the Patrick/Murray Administration's green agenda, unmitigated failure though it has been.  But honorable?  C'mon.  Belly laugh.

Then there's this bit:

What gave the state’s investment in Evergreen Solar its air of futility wasn’t the folly of developing solar-energy technology in Massachusetts; it was the idea that little Massachusetts, with its handful of millions in economic-development resources, could compete against China by itself.
See?   The problem isn't that Patrick/Murray poured millions upon millions into a single company that never, ever, ever had a market for its products sufficient to give it any hope of surviving on its own.  The problem is that too few millions were, to use government's preferred term, "invested."

Oh, and then this:
[I]t bears repeating that state officials should study Evergreen Solar closely to see if there were any clues that might have exposed its vulnerability sooner.
Clues like, for example, production costs far in excess of profits as far as the eye could see?  Or like the stubborn and intractable fact that technology is nowhere near the point where solar can come close to meeting even a tiny fraction of electric consumption in this country?  The comments underneath the typical online news story ordinarily are a rambling assortment of invective, non sequiturs and appallingly bad spelling and grammar.  Occasionally, though, one finds a gem of condensed wisdom.  Here's one (with apologies to the anonymous poster for the resulting lack of attribution):

You should have had an engineer write this column. Solar panels are not a cost effective source of power. It is a boutique technology, and only those who do not understand it's limitations (interruptable, expensive, not useful for 24x7 base load) think this will ever be a big factor in energy production in the U.S. The only energy sources with sufficient energy density to meet our needs are coal, natural gas, fuel oil, uranium and hydrogen. You want realistic "green" power? Begin the gradual transition to a hydrogen economy (in which, actually, solar can play a role in splitting water for us.) But solar panels were a suckers bet. And I knew this when they started. No Monday morning quarterbacking here.
I am not qualified to asses the assertions about hydrogen, but it sounds cool (and green!).  The rest is pretty much dead on.

The other thing that put me in mind of Kermit's melancholy song is the excellent series of posts by Rob Eno at Red Mass Group, deconstructing the recently-announced "weatherization" numbers.  Read them here, and here, and here, and here.  Rob has uncovered a lot of great stuff, but here's the headline: Massachusetts is spending $125 million in federal "stimulus" (and borrowed) dollars to "create" 400 "weatherization" jobs - at a cost of $312,500 per job.

Which brings me back to the fetishization thing.  I remember a couple of years ago, when the orgy of spending labeled "stimulus" was first rolled out, marveling at the fact that the bureaucrats tasked with justifying the historically unprecedented outlay couldn't come up with anything sexier than "weatherization."  Millions would be spent, we were told unabashedly, to train a vast army of workers to.... hang insulation.  I cannot be the only one who thought at the time, "that just sounds stupid."  But hey.  Hanging insulation is green.  Move along.

And now here we are many months later, $125 million dollars in just this one small state, $312,500 per job "created."  Insulation presumably well hung.  And the Patrick/Murray administration is proud of itself.

As Mike Stopa noted today on Facebook, even the New York Times has come around to the realization that all the "green jobs" talk in recent years has been so much malarkey. 
In the Bay Area as in much of the country, the green economy is not proving to be the job-creation engine that many politicians envisioned. President Obama once pledged to create five million green jobs over 10 years. Gov. Jerry Brown promised 500,000 clean-technology jobs statewide by the end of the decade. But the results so far suggest such numbers are a pipe dream.
You don't say?  Next they'll tell us that lofty aspirations backed by good intentions do not automatically result in economic growth.  Long sigh.  Sad shake of the head.

So anyhoo.  That re-write I promised.  With apologies to the late, great Jim Henson:

It's quite easy being green
All wrapped up in the color of currency
When I think of all the suckers who are red, or yellow, or gold
Or something much less lucrative like that

It's quite easy being green
'Cause it's the color of federal subsidy
And people never pass you over
When they're handing out the lucre
For things like solar panels
Or turbines in the sky

Yes green's the color of P.C.

And green is cool and popular-like
And green gets you in with Obama
Opens up the funds-o-rama
Dollars rain down on me

When green is all I need to be
It could make you wonder why
But why wonder why wonder
I am green, and that'll do fine
Look no closer
Just make that big check out to me.

Top 10 Reads of the Week – August 19, 2011

CEOs giving Obama the business – Brian Calle [Orange County Register]

Captains of industry have begun, in uncustomary fashion, speaking up against President Barack Obama and his policies – and the chorus will likely grow louder going into next year's presidential election, perhaps swaying independent voters. The president may dismiss the chorus as the rantings of greedy "corporate jet owners," but he may soon see himself on a collision course with big job creators during his 2012 reelection campaign – a time when job creation and the economy well could be issues driving the electorate.

It is usually frowned upon – even looked upon as taboo – for CEOs of major U.S. companies, and especially multinational corporations, to openly criticize the president or show outright partisanship toward or against a political party. At least publicly. But recently – and, especially, within the past month – corporate leaders have begun to openly criticize administration policies as helping to depress the nation's business climate… Read the Rest

Government dollars fuel wealth : D.C. enclaves reap rewards of contracting boom – Annie Gowan [Washington Post]

Millions of dollars worth of federal contracts transformed Anita Talwar from a government accounting clerk into a wealthy woman — one who can afford a $2.8 million home in the Washington suburbs with its own elevator, wine cellar and Swarovski crystal chandeliers.

Talwar, a 59-year-old immigrant from India, had no idea that she and her husband would amass a small fortune when she launched a company providing tech support to the federal government in 1987. But she shrewdly took advantage of programs for minority-owned small businesses and rode a boom in federal contracting… Read the Rest

Lesson From Europe (Take 2) – Bret Stephens [Wall Street Journal]

The real lesson from Europe," wrote Paul Krugman in January 2010, "is actually the opposite of what conservatives claim: Europe is an economic success, and that success shows that social democracy works." Here are some postcards from the social democracy that works.

• In Britain, 239 patients died of malnutrition in the country's public hospitals in 2007, according to a charity called Age U.K. And at any given time, a quarter-million Britons have been made to wait 18 weeks or longer for medical treatment. This follows a decade in which funding for the National Health Service doubled.

• In France, the incidence of violent crimes rose by nearly 15% between 2002 and 2008, according to statistics provided by Eurostat. In Italy violent crime was up 38%. In the EU as a whole, the rate rose by 6% despite declines in robbery and murder… Read the Rest

Bad Luck? Bad Faith? – Charles Krauthammer [Washington Post]

A troubled nation wonders: How did we get mired in 9.1 percent unemployment, 0.9 percent growth and an economic outlook so bad that the Federal Reserve pledges to keep interest rates at zero through mid-2013 — an admission that it sees little hope on the horizon?

Bad luck, explains our president. Out of nowhere came Japan and its supply-chain disruptions, Europe and its debt problems, the Arab Spring and those oil spikes. Kicked off, presumably, by various acts of God (should He not be held accountable too?): earthquake and tsunami. (Tomorrow: pestilence and famine. Maybe frogs.)… Read the Rest

A Disaster Waiting to Happen – Eli Lehrer [Weekly Standard]

Sometime late this summer—the Friday before Labor Day if historical patterns hold—the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) will announce the beginning of something called Medicare Round Two of “the Competitive Bidding Program for certain Durable Medical Equipment, Prosthetics, Orthotics, and Supplies.” Although it sounds obscure, this bidding process’s manifest flaws could have serious consequences for just about every American who needs medical care. Shortages of vital devices could develop, medical supply companies could go out of business, medical innovation could slow, and, if things go as badly as some economists think they will, health care costs could skyrocket as the direct result of a program intended to control them… Read the Rest

Hard Work and the Real Meaning of Wealth – Victor Davis Hanson [Investor’s Business Daily]

A once civil and orderly England was torn apart by rioting and looting last week — at first by mostly minority youths, but eventually by young Brits in general. This summer, a number of American cities have witnessed so-called “flash mobs” — mostly African-American youths who swarm at prearranged times to loot stores or randomly attack those of other races and classes. The mayhem has reignited an old debate in the West: Are such criminally minded young Americans and Britons turning to violence in protest over inequality, poverty, and bleak opportunities?

The Left often blames cutbacks in the tottering welfare state and high unemployment. In this view, the havoc and mayhem visited upon us are a wake-up call in an age of insolvency: Do not cut entitlements or we will reap the whirlwind. Instead, tax the affluent and redistribute more of their earnings to those who have been unfairly deprived… Read the Rest

The Eleventh Circuit Takes Aim at Obamacare – Avik Roy [National Review Online]

You’ve seen the headlines: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit has upheld a lower-court ruling that Obamacare’s individual mandate — which requires all U.S. residents to purchase health insurance — is unconstitutional. The case in question, Florida v. Health and Human Services, is the most important of all the Obamacare constitutional challenges thus far, because the plaintiffs include the governors and attorneys general from 26 states.

In January, when lower-court judge Roger Vinson overturned the entirety of Obamacare in the same case, I wrote that Vinson’s ruling “could go down as an important landmark in the history of American liberty.” The new ruling is even more significant. The 207-page majority opinion of the Eleventh Circuit, penned by appointees of Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush, is the most rigorous and complete repudiation of the mandate ever written. It stands in stark contrast to the blitheness of the 26-page lead opinion from the Sixth Circuit decision in June upholding the mandate. The Eleventh Circuit judges persuasively make the case that “the government’s position amounts to an argument that the mere fact of an individual’s existence [means that] Congress may regulate them at every point of their life.”… Read the Rest

If Obama Thinks Assad Should Go, What is He Prepared to Do About It? – John Bolton [Fox News / AEI]

I suppose this is better late than never [President Obama's call for Syrian President Assad to step aside]. It's the right thing to do.

The administration should have called for Assad to be overthrown five months ago or indeed we should have done this years ago, but as a practical matter right now, I'm not sure it's going to have that much impact. It certainly raises the question--if that's what the president thinks--what is he prepared to do about it, if anything?… Read the Rest

Why Bam’s Doomed – John Podhoretz [New York Post]

Ed note: wish I were this confident…

Unless something extraordinarily dramatic comes along to change the course of the US economy and the sentiments of the American people in the next six months, Barack Obama is finished.

That conclusion is inescapable from the history of US presidential politics since 1945… Read the Rest

Why Americans Hate Economics – Stephen Moore [Wall Street Journal]

Christina Romer, the University of California at Berkeley economics professor and President Obama's first chief economist, once relayed the old joke that "there are two kinds of students: those who hate economics and those who really hate economics." She doesn't believe that, but it's true. I'm surprised how many students tell me economics is their least favorite subject. Why? Because too often economic theories defy common sense. Alas, the policies of this administration haven't boosted the profession's reputation.

Consider what happened last week when Laura Meckler of this newspaper dared to ask White House Press Secretary Jay Carney how increasing unemployment insurance "creates jobs." She received this slap down: "I would expect a reporter from The Wall Street Journal would know this as part of the entrance exam just to get on the paper."… Read the Rest

The Funniest Thing I Saw This Week
Social Security Reform Bill Encourages Americans To Live Faster, Die Younger