Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Falling out of love with Cape Wind?

Some time ago a friend turned me on to the energycollective.com, a thoughtful, interesting blog on energy ad climate issues written primarily by subject matter experts (scientists, engineers, etc) in the renewable energy field, mostly from a non-political advocacy perspective. It is a good resource for people who occasionally like to get a sense of what is going on in that market space without all of the political baggage that tends to be loaded onto it in the mainstream media (from both sides). 

Of particular note for present purposes is the fact that the blog is underwritten by Siemens AG, a self-described "global powerhouse in electronics and electrical engineering" that, among many other things, will manufacture the turbines for Cape Wind, should that project ever actually break water. So we're hardly talking about a font of green skepticism here. To the contrary.

Anyhow, I recently stumbled on an interesting analysis from March of last year, by Willem Post of the Coalition for Energy Solutions. Titled "Examples of Wind Power to Learn From," the piece uses a series of examples of costly, failed or otherwise deficient wind power projects to illustrate the proposition that with current technology, political promises and rhetoric about such projects too often bear little resemblance to their reality. One of the examples is our very own Cape Wind (the emphasis is mine):
Various government entities, eager to show their greenness regarding global warming, passed laws to subsidize renewable power, so-called “green power”, as if there is such a thing. Some governments even passed laws that declare hydropower as non-renewable, but, on reflection of its implications, reversed themselves and passed laws that declare hydropower IS renewable, as recently did Vermont’s legislature.

President Andrew Jackson, Democrat, Populist: “When government subsidizes, the well-connected benefit the most”. The renewables subsidies to the politically-well-connected often result in uneconomic wind power projects, some of which are described in this article.

Vendors, owners, financiers often claim “trade secrets”, whereas in reality they want to obfuscate wind power’s shortcomings, a too-generous subsidy deal, or other insider’s advantage. It would be much better for all involved, if there were public hearings and full disclosure regarding the economics of any project receiving government subsidies, to ensure the people’s funds receive the best return on investment...


Cape Wind Associates, LLC, plans to build and operate a wind facility on the Outer Continental Shelf offshore of Massachusetts. The wind facility would have a rated capacity of 468 MW consisting of 130 turbines @ 3.6 MW each made by Siemens AG, a German company, maximum blade height 440 feet, to be arranged in a grid pattern in 25 square miles of Nantucket Sound in federal waters off Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket Island.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities approved a 15-yr power purchase agreement, PPA, between the utility National Grid and Cape Wind Associates, LLC. National Grid agreed to buy 50% of the wind facility’s power starting at $0.187/kWh in 2013 (base year), escalating at 3.5%/yr which means the 2028 price to the utility will be $0.313/kWh. The project is currently trying to sell the other 50% of its power so financing can proceed; so far no takers, because significant quantities of less expensive power from other renewables is available.

A household using 618 kWh/month will see an average wind power surcharge of about $1.50 on its monthly electric bill over the 15 year life of the contract; if the other 50% of power is sold on the same basis, it may add another $1.50 per month. Tens of thousands of households and businesses will all be chipping in to make the owners of Cape Wind Associates richer.

Power production is estimated at 468 MW x 8,760 hr/yr x CF 0.39 = 1.6 GWh/yr.

The capital cost is estimated at about $2.0 billion, or $4,274/kW. Federal subsidies would be 30% as a grant.
Does any of that sound familiar? How about now? Just one more. I back-link to those prior posts not as a "told you so" (or not entirely anyhow), but rather to underscore the degree to which the above apolitical analysis meshes with precisely the criticism that Cape Wind opponents have been making since it became clear that the project (with the full blessing and cooperation of the state) intends to subsidize itself not only with a 1/3 federal grant, but also by forcing consumers to pay a huge premium on the price of their energy - even though cheaper sources of renewable energy are available.

A Picture Worth At Least 4997 Words
[Source: Institute for Energy Research]
As a practical policy matter this makes zero sense. It is all about politicians "eager," in Mr. Post's words, "to show their greenness regarding global warming," to the exclusion of any and all other considerations. Or as Governor Patrick put it in November 2010, "This project is all about our clean energy future" - emphasis on the all and never you mind about our expensive energy present or all of the businesses these bone-headed decisions are pricing out of expansion in the Commonwealth.

As the energycollective.com post illustrates, this isn't about opposition to renewable energy, or even to government "investment" in developing the technologies that we hope will someday obviate the need for fossil fuels. It is about unnecessary and destructive policy decisions made in blind fealty to the whims of a popular and fashionable movement. 

When even some of the people the Patrick Administration and their friends in DC are trying to impress are beginning to recognize the fatal flaws in these projects, it is time for someone to clue in the politicians.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Monday Morning Miscellany - Self-promotion, Beacon Hill indictments, GOP horse race, Insider trading, Still Occupyin', and a Dose of Perspective

Catching up on some randomness. First a bit of administrative minutiae:

Like us?  I always feel vaguely embarrassed on behalf of people - candidates for office, usually - who send out Facebook "invitations" to their "friends" that go something like this: "John Smith likes John Smith, and thinks you might like John Smith too." It is one of the clumsier aspects of an otherwise smooth and intuitive Facebook experience, and it could be fixed simply by allowing users to customize the language of an invitation to something less needy and narcissistic. What John Smith is usually trying to say is, "hey, I set up a campaign page - please check it out." Anyhow, as we enter the second month of 2012 I've finally caught up with 2008 and set up a Facebook "fan" page for this blog, so this weekend my friends were subjected to one of those awkward invites. If you check in here with any regularity please take a second to "like" the Facebook page, and henceforth you'll receive notification of new posts right there in your FB news feed. If you'd care to share the suggestion with a few friends I'd appreciate it all the more. Many thanks for reading. It makes me feel marginally less like a crazy person.

Too Constant?
Speaking of self-promotion and social media: I've received a couple of notifications recently that I'm on someone-or-other's "Constant Contact" distribution list. Constant Contact is a great service, and as it happens in each of the recent instances I've welcomed the inclusion and have no intention of taking up the sender on his/her offer to "opt out." But it occurs to me that a lot of people might be subconsciously turned off by the subtle implications of the name "Constant Contact." Rare is the person who wants to make that kind of commitment to a newsletter.

Bella Santorum.  It is something of a  cliché to say that three-year-old Bella Santorum's apparent close call with pneumonia this weekend is a poignant reminder of "what's really important" in the midst of an often ridiculous presidential primary season. But then sometimes a cliché says it best. The unfortunate situation is also a useful reminder that behind every campaign caricature there is a real human being, and a real family. I cannot begin to imagine what it feels like to have a child in mortal danger. I hope never to find out. Best wishes to the Santorum family, and especially to little Bella for a quick recovery and continued strength in her fight against what is apparently a very rough genetic condition.

It's In The Numbers.  It should come as no surprise to anyone following the GOP primary that the press has it collectively out for Mitt Romney. Still, it's nice to see confirmation of one's own impressions set forth using relatively empirical data. The Center for Media and Public Affairs conducted an analysis of network news coverage of the New Hampshire primary between January 1 and January 10, with striking results:
On the broadcast networks, evaluative comments of Romney were 78% negative vs. only 22% positive. By contrast, on-air judgments of Ron Paul were 73% positive vs. 27% negative, evaluations of Jon Huntsman were 71% positive vs. 29% negative, Rick Santorum’s evaluations were 56% positive vs. 44% negative, and comments about Newt Gingrich were 52% positive vs. 48% negative. Other candidates received too few evaluations to be statistically meaningful.
With coverage like that, it truly is remarkable that Governor Romney has now fought off, by my count, six "surges" against his on-again / off-again front runner status (Bachmann, Perry, Cain, Gingrich, Santorum, and Gingrich take deux). And he is still leading the President in the all-important swing states.

Why all the hatin' on Mitt? The CMPA have a theory, which I happen to share: the nets' disdain for Mitt has less to do with the candidate himself than his stubborn persistence in the top slot. There are a lot of dollars to be made over the course of a drawn-out primary fight. And the press cares much more for the "horse race" than the substance. If they can help trip up the front horse, all the better.
There were over six times as many stories on the campaign horse race as there were on the policies of the candidates (105 vs. 16 stories). Even when the candidates’ backgrounds are added to the comparison, the horse race outpaced coverage of their records, personalities, and policies by a margin of over 3 to 1 (105 vs. 31 stories). In this respect FOX and the broadcast networks were very similar.
The media's favorite kind of horse race
Two Hundred and Twenty-Three Years Later...  In 1789 George Washington became the first President of the United States under our present Constitution. Nearly two and a quarter centuries down the road, Congress is expected this week to act on Senator Scott Brown's legislation barring members of Congress from engaging in "insider trading" based on information learned by virtue of their official positions. President Obama says he'll sign the bill. Pretty amazing that after two hundred years and change this common sense idea was still sitting on the idea table, waiting for a principled elected official to come along and pick it up. Well done, Senator Brown.

Best. Illustrative. Ever. This photo mock-up pretty much exactly captures my feelings about the whole global warming / climate change controversy. Perfect. (H/T Michael Graham)

Lawyerin' Up. Quick: can you remember a time when Beacon Hill wasn't laboring under a cloud of pending indictment(s)? Me neither. Oh the cloud approaches and recedes, but it has been a long, long time since our one-party state government went about its business under clear and sunny skies. Investigations, indictments, resignations, trials... ho-hum. We've apparently accepted all of this as par for the course here in the Commonwealth. And like everyone else we get the government we deserve.

I am as interested as anyone in the persistent rumors of a raft of federal indictments that have been pending / about to hit / coming this week / coming tomorrow for the better part of a month now. People with much better connections than mine have told me with confidence that there will be more than a dozen, though the majority of those will be probation department functionaries, not elected officials. I'm not as worked up as some, however, by the revelation that the Senate President has a criminal defense firm on retainer. I'd bet just about everyone named in the Ware Report has representation locked in and standing by. The smart ones do anyhow. I'll be surprised (unpleasantly so) if the indictments hit that high up the chain.

Yes, They Are Still Out There.  Out in California on Saturday "Occupy Oakland" protesters clashed with police, rioted, broke in to Oakland's city hall, smashed windows, spray-painted walls, and (you knew it would happen eventually) burned an American flag.  So naturally yesterday 400 members of the Occupy Boston movement marched through the Hub's streets in support of... Occupy Oakland. I think this is what's called a feedback loop. Question: are we still supposed to pretend that this gaggle is anything but a group of idiot malcontents? Obviously this behavior is just the next natural iteration of a dying movement's desperation to recapture the fawning media attention that abruptly abandoned it when the urban camping phenomenon got boring. 

Unworthy of support - or attention

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Last In Taste!!!

Nothing could possibly better illustrate the ridiculous lengths to which the Boston Globe will go to manufacture criticism of Mitt Romney than the hilarious photo and caption that accompanies today's schizophrenic analysis of Bain Capital's temporary stewardship of Domino's Pizza:

Near the end of Bain’s involvement with Domino’s, the chain’s pizza quality became an issue. Domino’s reworked its pizza in ’09 after ranking last in taste.
Sure "Domino’s grew its revenues and earnings under Bain," the Globe acknowledges, "but its debt also surged to $1.5 billion, leaving the chain with a higher debt ratio than most of its rivals..."

I suppose the casual reader is expected to read the words "Romney" and "debt" in proximity, and then to leap to all sorts of undefined conclusions about what kind of President Mitt might be. As to the case under consideration, the Globe points out that "[h]igh levels of [corporate] debt don’t always lead to problems, but they can when the economy slows or the company stumbles." If only we had an economic slow-down to test that theory out...

In fact, with Bain as an investor Dominoes did pretty well during and through 'the Great Recession.' Revenues grew 9 percent, operating income 6.3 percent. It added thousands of jobs, re-vamped its product and image, and - by the way - earned Bain a very substantial return on its initial investment. All of this is salted through the mostly-critical article, which notes almost as an afterthought that "Domino’s stock soared 113 percent last year."

Not that any of this has much directly to do with Mitt Romney, mind you. Sure he "signed the check to buy Domino's Pizza" back in 1998 ("with a flourish"!!), but Romney was gone from Bain in 1999.

No, the real thrust of the article comes in that photo and caption. "Last in taste"!!! If Herman Cain were still in the race for the GOP nomination this bombshell might have changed everything.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Top 10 Reads of the Week - January 27, 2012

Newt Gingrich's Challenge: Changing Americans' View of Him - Eugene Robinson [Washington Post]
And it’s not as if people don’t know the man. He has near-universal name recognition, pegged at 92 percent in the Fox poll and even higher in other surveys. Americans seem to be saying, “Yes, we’ve met Mr. Gingrich, and no, we don’t think we like him very much.” 
Nearly identical results — 58 percent disapproval, 28 percent approval — were found in a CNN poll earlier this month. And this antipathy toward Gingrich is nothing new. A list of surveys over the past two years, compiled by the TalkingPointsMemoWeb site, shows that the mercurial Gingrich is consistent in at least one thing: his unpopularity... Read the Rest 

The Sinking of the West - Mark Steyn [National Review Online]
Abe Greenwald of Commentary magazine tweets:
Is there any chance that Mark Steyn won’t use the Italian captain fleeing the sinking ship as the lead metaphor in a column on EU collapse? 
Oh, dear. You’ve got to get up early in the morning to beat me to civilizational-collapse metaphors. Been there, done that. See page 185 of my most recent book, where I contrast the orderly, dignified, and moving behavior of those on the Titanic (the ship, not the mendacious Hollywood blockbuster) with that manifested in more recent disasters. There was no orderly evacuation from the Costa Concordia, just chaos punctuated by individual acts of courage from, for example, an Hungarian violinist in the orchestra and a ship’s entertainer in a Spiderman costume, both of whom helped children to safety, the former paying with his life... Read the Rest
Newt's Character flaws in the open - Jennifer Braceras [Boston Herald]
We already knew that Newt Gingrich left his first wife, Jackie, when she had cancer so that he could marry his second wife, Marianne. 
We also knew that Gingrich later left Marianne, after she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, so that he could marry his third and current wife, Callista. 
But on Thursday we learned, from Marianne Gingrich’s explosive interview with ABC News, that the former speaker asked her for an “open marriage” so that he could carry on with Callista with impunity... Read the Rest
Obama Begins State of the Union By Asking Congress To Imagine Newt Gingrich
Standing Before Them
[Source: The Onion]

Gingrich's Ideas Collapse Under Weight of Logic - Ramesh Ponnuru [Bloomberg]
Even Newt Gingrich’s toughest critics concede that the former speaker of the House, now enjoying his second comeback in the Republican presidential race, is a font of ideas. 
Republican voters who listen to him hear proposals they have never heard before: bold, exciting proposals, made with complete confidence in their workability. His originality is a big part of his appeal. But even his fans concede that not all of his ideas are good.
Everyone has good and bad ideas, of course. Getting them all tangled up with each other is one of the chief characteristics of Gingrich’s intellectual style... Read the Rest
Why Do Obama Officials Get Rich? - Rich Lowry [National Review Online]
Stephanie Cutter, an adviser to the Obama reelection campaign, wrote a scathing memo the other day about Mitt Romney’s experience at Bain Capital, subtitled “Profit at Any Cost.” 
Cutter sounded like a sworn enemy of private equity. Except a few years ago, she was a spokeswoman for J.C. Flowers, a private-equity firm. Why do work for J.C. Flowers when there are so many other worthy ventures needing communications help that don’t make insane amounts of money and pay incredibly well?... Read the Rest
Clever Edit of the Week

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Just In! [Insert Statement of the Obvious]

I realize that the contortions that the media put themselves through to generate artificial drama in the Republican presidential primaries is becoming something of a hobby horse for me this cycle, but I cannot let today's example pass without remark.

Earlier today the Boston Herald's online breaking news banner blared: "Just In: Romney Tax Returns Reveal Huge Investment Income"!

What next?

Just In: Search of Romney Closet Reveals No Skeletons ?

Just In: Review of Romney Driver's License Reveals Really Good Hair ?

Just In: Examination of Romney Liquor Cabinet Turns Up Six-Pack of Sprite and Three Yoo-Hoos ?

Just In: Gingrich Marriage File Contains Multiple Records ?

Is it really news - breaking or otherwise - that Mitt Romney is a successful, wealthy guy whose investments pay off handsomely (with good hair!) year after year?

Or, having clamored for weeks for public release of Romney's tax returns, does the media just feel obligated to toss out a few breathless "revelations," though the documents yield nothing of particular interest to "reveal"?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Pelosi for President!

"Gingrich-like approval ratings..."
Proposed: In 2020, the Democratic party will seriously consider nominating Nancy Pelosi for President of the United States. (Set aside the fact that in 2020 Mrs. Pelosi will be eighty years old and humor me, okay?)

Most voters would scoff at that notion. Sure Pelosi has her fans (that shirt to the right is real, and it's for sale) - but to the vast majority of the mainstream American electorate Pelosi is nothing so much as the personification of acerbic, far left political extremism.

So bad were Pelosi's personal approval ratings as she entered what would be the last year of her Speakership, in fact, that CNN's headline writers employed a handy bit of shorthand to describe them - an appellation that even casual political observers would be sure to recognize as describing the worst of the worst, the absolute slime-coated barrel bottom: "Pelosi facing Gingrich-like approval ratings."

Eugene Robinson has a good column in today's Washington Post that starkly illustrates just how deep and durable is the wider public's negative perception of Gingrich, with whom Republican primary voters are once again inexplicably flirting:
Newt Gingrich won a stunning victory in Saturday’s Republican primary, wiping the floor with Mitt Romney and reigniting a nomination battle that seemed to have burned itself out. Amid all the excitement, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that America has known Gingrich for three decades — and really doesn’t like him. 
The most recent evidence is found in a Jan. 12-14 Fox News poll of registered voters nationwide — not just Republicans but Democrats and independents as well — showing that 56 percent of respondents had an unfavorable opinion of Gingrich, while only 27 percent viewed him favorably. In other words, his detractors outnumbered his admirers 2 to 1. 
By contrast, 51 percent of those surveyed in the Fox poll had a favorable opinion of President Obama, while 46 percent had an unfavorable view. By a roughly similar margin, voters also had a positive opinion of Romney. Views about Ron Paul and Rick Santorum were slightly negative, the survey showed, but only by a few percentage points. No public figure named in the poll was remotely as unpopular as Gingrich. 
And it’s not as if people don’t know the man. He has near-universal name recognition, pegged at 92 percent in the Fox poll and even higher in other surveys. Americans seem to be saying, “Yes, we’ve met Mr. Gingrich, and no, we don’t think we like him very much.” 
Nearly identical results — 58 percent disapproval, 28 percent approval — were found in a CNN poll earlier this month. And this antipathy toward Gingrich is nothing new. A list of surveys over the past two years, compiled by the TalkingPointsMemoWeb site, shows that the mercurial Gingrich is consistent in at least one thing: his unpopularity.
Yes, I understand: Newt is impressive in debates. And yes, it is sort of fun to watch him rip into self-important moderator journocelebrities. But arrogant condescension and epic self-regard are not going to win Newt any upward progress in those abysmal personal approval ratings.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Tim Murray: There Goes The Other Shoe

Look out below
Been hearing rumors for a while that multiple Globe reporters were still chasing the Tim Murray/Mike McLaughlin/Late Night Car Crash Story. This morning, the other shoe drops hard. Here is the worst of it:
To hear Lieutenant Governor Timothy P. Murray tell it, former Chelsea housing chief Michael E. McLaughlin was just a campaign volunteer. Though phone records show that the two men called each other 193 times over the past two years - including one call on a Sunday at 1:30 a.m. - Murray aides insist that McLaughlin played no special role.
But a Globe investigation shows that the former Chelsea housing chief ran an extensive political operation for the lieutenant governor right up until McLaughlin resigned in November amid an uproar over his $360,000 salary. The FBI is investigating whether McLaughlin broke federal laws, questioning housing authority employees about McLaughlin’s political activities and management of the agency. 
More than two dozen politicians, housing authority employees, and Murray campaign workers say that McLaughlin was a key fund-raiser and organizer for the lieutenant governor even though, as a federally funded employee, McLaughlin was barred from most political activity, especially at work. 
Housing authority employees portray a workplace that McLaughlin had turned into a political machine, inappropriately pressuring workers to give time or money to Murray’s campaign and others’.
So in other words it is Jack O'Brien part deux, FBI investigation and all.

 And about that November crash?
While publicly downplaying his ties to McLaughlin, Murray has told confidants that the scandal over McLaughlin’s extraordinary pay kept him awake the night before his mysterious high-speed crash on Nov. 2. Murray had talked to McLaughlin several times while the Globe was preparing an article about McLaughlin’s salary, phone records show, but Murray said he didn’t know the salary amount until the story was published on Oct. 30. The report triggered multiple investigations.
Murray “felt betrayed. He felt played’’ by McLaughlin, explained one person close to the lieutenant governor. Restless, Murray went out for an early-morning drive to clear his head.
The drive ended abruptly at 5:26 a.m. when his state-owned Crown Victoria slammed into a rock ledge along Interstate 190 at a speed in excess of 90 miles per hour, rolling over twice and triggering the political crisis of his career. Murray’s shifting accounts of how he came to be driving so early in the morning and why he crashed have raised so many questions that he recently hired Ferson, a crisis communications specialist, to handle the fall-out.
Here's what I wrote on Jan 5:
Everyone has a theory. Here's mine - worth what you pay for it: 
The LG says he left his house for a pre-dawn drive because he couldn't sleep and wanted to pick up a newspaper and some coffee. I think that's probably true, so far as it goes. Except Murray told reporters he was out in search of a Herald. I think he was actually looking for a Globe (Fox reports that in fact a Globe - not a Herald - was found in the wreckage, though there's no word on the date of publication). 
The accident happened on November 2. Just three days earlier, on October 30, the Globe ran its first story about the Chelsea Housing Authority and Murray's phone pal Michael McLaughlin. Although Murray's close relationship with McLaughlin didn't hit the papers until November 18, by the 2nd Murray probably knew reporters were on to the relationship, were seeking his cell phone records, etc. In all likelihood by that point the Globe's and Herald's investigative reporters were pinging Murray and his staff on a regular basis, so Murray would have known there was much more to come. He would not have known when the next shoe was going to drop, or when his name would be tossed into the mix. 
Hence the inability to sleep. Hence the impulse rise early and head out in search of the morning headlines. Hence the general fatigue that might well have caused the Lt. Governor to drift off to sleep and drift off the road.
Before you go congratulating me, though, note that in the same post I also wrote, "Personally I think those who are predicting that this episode will kill off Murray's chances to succeed his boss in the corner office are kidding themselves..."

I think I might be wrong about that.

Meanwhile, about that Jack O'Brien thing? The Beacon Hill rumor mill is still in overdrive about a raft of pending indictments in that mess.

Going to be another tough month for the Massachusetts Democratic machine. Forget snow - there's a shoe storm comin'.

Storm's a' comin'

Friday, January 20, 2012

We'll see your $5.2 billion...

So the Patrick/Murray Administration is rolling out its fiscal 2013 budget next Wednesday. In a preview, this morning Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray told a gathering of the Massachusetts Municipal Association that the proposal will include $5.2 billion in local aid, including a $145 million increase in education funding.

Dutiful as ever, Boston.com promptly displayed the headline: "Patrick administration promises $5.2 billion in local aid."

Well, I am today pleased to announce that we at CriticalMASS are promising 5.2 billion and one dollars in local aid. By Price is Right rules we win. Take that, Patrick/Murray.

For planning purposes in our cash-strapped cities and towns, CM's promise is worth exactly as much as the Administration's.

To say that in recent years the Patrick/Murray Administration's budget plans have been dead letters would be to exaggerate their importance. So dead have those letters been for the last two years that the Administration has felt compelled to interpose a do-over proposal into the legislature's subsequent budget deliberations, just to try and stay tangentially relevant to the process. [Related: Should Massachusetts go to monthly budgeting?]

Sure political schwartz-measuring partly explains the legislature's routinely contemptuous treatment of the Governor's budget, but that isn't all of it. Even Republican governors saw their submissions treated with more respect than Patrick's have received.

No, the Patrick/Murray budgets go straight from the in-box to the circular file not as a political swipe, but because they are wholly political documents and as such are useless as a foundation for actual budgeting. Last year the Governor trotted out the same sort of "record funding" promises (which were just as dutifully pasted into the headlines). He "funded" them with a series of what he used to call "fiscal shell games," including an un-serious non-proposal to shutter 18 prisons and a vague pledge to find a billion dollars (with a B) in "efficiencies" in the health care system. Those assumptions were interpreted as what they were (political), and the cacophony of thumps! that emanated from the State House was the sound of hundreds of copies of the Patrick/Murray budget hitting the bottom of recycling bins throughout the building.

This year, Patrick/Murray have already told us that we are in for another tough budget year, foreshadowing another draw-down from the rainy day fund (why? because of past willingness to rely too heavily on one-time revenues). Today House Ways and Means Chair Brian Dempsey predicted that despite an uptick in tax collections, "mandatory spending" looks to keep outpacing available revenues - meaning we're still in a hole. The MBTA is in the process of implementing drastic service cuts and equally drastic fare hikes to begin to deal with its own massive debt.

But somehow the Governor is able to "promise" a "record" increase in local education funding. Look for his proposals to fund that promise to basically mirror the fictions floated in each of the past two cycles. And look for the legislature to treat his budget accordingly.


Top 10 Reads of the Week - January 20, 2012

Perry Has a Point About the Marines Video Vs. the Daniel Pearl Video - Asra Q. Nomani [The Daily Beast]
... It's true that using tragedy for political gain may qualify as being in poor taste. But, as a friend and former colleague of Danny's myself, I must admit that I, too, watched the video of the Marines and thought of the horrific video the terrorists had shot of Danny's murder. At that moment I thought to myself: You want to see horrible? Watch the video of Danny's death. I know that, in principle, there is no comparative analysis to be done on abuse, horror, or crime. But the truth is that we are engaged in a very ugly war, and the ruthlessness with which Danny was murdered is an expression of the extent to which our enemies will express their brutality. It was so horrible that a guard in the video, holding Danny down, wretched and was thrown out of the room. Such brutality does not sanction abuse of the Geneva Convention or other codes of military justice, but Perry, a man with whom I agree on not much, is right that the Marines' conduct should be discussed in the context of the larger war... Read the Rest
Why Are President Obama's Defenders So Dumb? - Editors [Investors Business Daily]
A presidential infomercial posing as a news magazine distorts the record to shamelessly shill for a failed administration. Why do we criticize the man who made the high-speed trains run on time? 
Political campaigns call it free media: when candidates can make their case and communicate their message through interviews and outlets that don't cost a dime. 
It helps when a mainstream media sycophant like Andrew Sullivan gets to write a puff piece in Newsweek with the subtle title of "Why Are The President's Critics So Dumb?" The Democratic National Committee couldn't have said it better... Read the Rest

Suicidal Standards for America's Troops - Arthur Herman [New York Post]
Let’s stipulate three things about this video purportedly showing four Marines urinating on the bodies of their Taliban foes. 
First, we don’t know the whole story of how or why the video was made or even the context. Second, if those Marines did do what it shows them doing, they brought dishonor on themselves and have unwittingly given aid and comfort to their enemies. 
Third, there are those who are consciously giving that aid and comfort by using the video to traduce the most civilized and humane fighting force in history... Read the Rest
Not Fade Away - Robert Kagan [The New Republic]
Is the United States in decline, as so many seem to believe these days? Or are Americans in danger of committing pre-emptive superpower suicide out of a misplaced fear of their own declining power? A great deal depends on the answer to these questions. The present world order—characterized by an unprecedented number of democratic nations; a greater global prosperity, even with the current crisis, than the world has ever known; and a long peace among great powers—reflects American principles and preferences, and was built and preserved by American power in all its political, economic, and military dimensions. If American power declines, this world order will decline with it. It will be replaced by some other kind of order, reflecting the desires and the qualities of other world powers. Or perhaps it will simply collapse, as the European world order collapsed in the first half of the twentieth century. The belief, held by many, that even with diminished American power “the underlying foundations of the liberal international order will survive and thrive,” as the political scientist G. John Ikenberry has argued, is a pleasant illusion. American decline, if it is real, will mean a different world for everyone. 
But how real is it? Much of the commentary on American decline these days rests on rather loose analysis, on impressions that the United States has lost its way, that it has abandoned the virtues that made it successful in the past, that it lacks the will to address the problems it faces. Americans look at other nations whose economies are now in better shape than their own, and seem to have the dynamism that America once had, and they lament, as in the title of Thomas Friedman’s latest book, that “that used to be us.”... Read the Rest
The Mortal Threat From Iran - Mark Helprin [Wall Street Journal]
To assume that Iran will not close the Strait of Hormuz is to assume that primitive religious fanatics will perform cost-benefit analyses the way they are done at Wharton. They won't, especially if the oil that is their life's blood is threatened. If Iran does close the strait, we will fight an air and naval war derivative of and yet peripheral to the Iranian nuclear program, a mortal threat the president of the United States has inadequately addressed. 
A mortal threat when Iran is not yet in possession of a nuclear arsenal? Yes, because immediately upon possession all remedies are severely restricted. Without doubt, Iran has long wanted nuclear weapons—to deter American intervention in its and neighboring territories; to threaten Europe and thereby cleave it from American interests in the Middle East; to respond to the former Iraqi nuclear effort; to counter the contiguous nuclear presences in Pakistan, Russia and the U.S. in the Gulf; to neutralize Israel's nuclear deterrent so as to limit it to the attrition of conventional battle, or to destroy it with one lucky shot; to lead the Islamic world; to correct the security imbalance with Saudi Arabia, which aided by geography and American arms now outclasses it; and to threaten the U.S. directly... Read the Rest

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Taking credit where credit no credit is due [Updated]

Last week state Rep. Dan Winslow (@danwinslow) tweeted an interesting bit of Massachusetts legal trivia: "Just learned a little known quirk: by MA statute, the state AG's third term in office is uncompensated. Think Martha will stay? #mapoli."

The Patrick Admin's $4B
Ego Trip
My un-tweeted response was "No - but then she's already running for Governor."

That's been my theory for a while now, as the self-rehabilitated AG continues to put herself consistently on the front pages (particularly of the Herald) with a steady stream of establishment-bucking, explicitly consumer friendly initiatives. And I can hardly claim sole ownership of the theory.

Anyhow, AG Coakley provided further fodder for that particular rumor mill at an appearance this morning before the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, where she renewed and enhanced her recent broadside against the Patrick Administration's signature environmental legislation.

Recall that in Novemvber the Attorney General made waves when her office released a report estimating that the Green Communities Act, signed into law in 2008 by Governor Patrick, will cost Massachusetts consumers approximately $4 billion dollars over the next four years to implement. 

Here's the State House News (via the Herald) on Coakley's speech this morning:
Attorney General Martha Coakley called Wednesday for competitive bidding for energy contracts and an end to "sweetheart deals currently offered to utility companies," which she said were inflating consumers’ energy bills. 
"Put another way, I believe the commonwealth can continue to go green, but we can still leave some green in your pockets," she said to business officials at a Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce breakfast at downtown Boston’s Intercontinental Hotel. 
Coakley said she hoped to take a fresh look at the state’s Green Communities Act, a 2008 law that requires utility companies to purchase a small percentage of their power from renewable sources. The act includes a provision governing direct negotiations between utility companies and power suppliers, essentially sanctioning no-bid deals. She also reiterated concerns that the law would cost Massachusetts consumers $4 billion over the next four years.
The Patrick Administration's response back in November was rather tepid. This time a veteran operative came out of retirement to "defend" the law more vigorously (and more disingenuously). Again from the SHNS: 
Coakley’s remarks drew an immediate rebuke from Ian Bowles, the former state secretary of energy and environmental affairs, who called Coakley’s assessment of the Green Communities Act "shameless grandstanding" intended to mislead about the actual impact of the law, which he said had saved consumers $9 billion. Bowles, who initially took to Twitter to level his critique, also said the assessment of the costs is "remarkably misleading." 
"It’s shamelessly misleading to talk about costs without talking about benefits," he said. "Our electricity costs are down by 40 percent. The cost of electricity is down by 40 percent since the act was passed. It’s the biggest energy efficiency program in the country. None of this is in dispute."
Partly true, insofar as it goes. Since the Green Communities Act was signed in 2008, the cost of electricity in Massachusetts has taken a dive. Also, since I tied my shoes this morning the temperature outside has dropped by twelve degrees. Who could dispute the obvious cause and effect?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The way of things

Three interrelated truths:

1. Absent occasional deliberate and meaningful checks, by their nature bureaucracies grow.

2. Absent occasional deliberate and meaningful checks, by their nature entitlements grow.

3. A government comprised in increasing share of entitlement programs administered by bureaucracies, overseen by politicians who lack the necessary will to implement occasional deliberate and meaningful checks, will inexorably outgrow available resources over time.

Europe, the United States, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts... All sit at different points on the continuum between the point where government bureaucracies and the programs they administer grow beyond the control of their supposed political overseers, and the inevitable subsequent point where the governing system must either resolve to pare back their growth or be consumed by them.

We do not have many more election cycles to squander on poor choices.

Am I wrong? Show me how.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Speaking of a stunning lack of self-awareness...

Could be that in the wake of that gut-wrenchingly hilarious Daily Show clip that I posted yesterday I am particularly attuned to ostentatious displays of self-righteous obliviousness, but it strikes me that if a national columnist were to set pen to paper with the intention of illustrating the Daily Show's point, he could not do any better than Nicholas Kristof's column in the New York Times today.

 Titled "Why is Europe a Dirty Word," Kristof's column scolds Mitt Romney for the "caricature of Europe as an effete, failed socialist system" that Kristof says "creep[s] into Romney’s speeches."

 Here's the thing.  To berate Romney for his supposed "caricature" of Europe, Kristof shamelessly deploys an extended caricature of middle America:

It’s a languid morning in Peoria, as a husband and wife are having breakfast. “You’re sure you don’t want eggs and bacon?” the wife asks. “Oh, no, I prefer these croissants,” the husband replies. “They have a lovely je ne sais quoi.”

He dips the croissant into his café au-lait and chews it with zest. “What do you want to do this evening?” he asks. “Now that we’re only working 35 hours a week, we have so much more time. You want to go to the new Bond film?”

“I’d rather go to a subtitled art film,” she suggests. “Or watch a pretentious intellectual television show.”

“I hear Kim Kardashian is launching a reality TV show where she discusses philosophy and global politics with Bernard-Henri Lévy,” he muses. “Oh, chérie, that reminds me, let’s take advantage of the new pétanque channel and host a super-boules party.”

“Parfait! And we must work out our vacation, now that we can take all of August off. Instead of a weekend watching ultimate fighting in Vegas, let’s go on a monthlong wine country tour.”

“How romantic!” he exclaims. “I used to worry about getting sick on the road. But now that we have universal health care, no problem!”

Look out: another term of Obama, and we’ll all greet each other with double pecks on the cheek.

So in Kristof's conception, those of us who agree that President Obama seems intent on adopting for our country an essentially European economic model are nothing more than croissant-fearing, provincial cultural simpletons. Did you catch that bit about Kim Kardashian? Ho ho! Subtle, isn't he?

But then Kristof goes a step further, basically conceding the validity of Romney's core concern:

What is true is that Europe is in an economic mess. Quite aside from the current economic crisis, labor laws are often too rigid, and the effect has been to make companies reluctant to hire in the first place. Unemployment rates therefore are stubbornly high, especially for the young. And Europe’s welfare state has been too generous, creating long-term budget problems as baby boomers retire.

“The dirty little secret of European governments was that we lived in a way we couldn’t afford,” Sylvie Kauffmann, the editorial director of the newspaper Le Monde, told me. “We lived beyond our means. We can’t live this lie anymore.”

Yeah. So that would be the economic model that Mitt is warning against when he argues, not without evidence, that President Obama is trying to turn the United States into a variation on Europe. The "economic mess." The unaffordable "lie" that gave rise, over time, to the continental melt-down we have watched play out over the past year-plus. 

There is a little more to it all than a retrograde aversion to French pastry. The fact that Kristof could write the column that he did with no apparent recognition of its internal contradictions is priceless, especially coming so close on the heels of that Daily Show skit. Kind of makes a guy want to go to the NYT's offices and hang out in the elevator bank until Mr. Kristof comes along. The man could do with an intervention. Not that it would do any good.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

News You Can Use (Light Bulb Ban)

Little known fact: The 100 watt light bulb "ban" that just went into effect isn't actually a ban on the *sale* of the popular incandescent. It's a ban on manufacture. So retailers with inventory still have them on their shelves. BJ's in Franklin, for example has them - 90 fewer of them than they had a little white ago...

Ought to last a while

Quite possibly the funniest thing the Daily Show has ever done

I love the Daily Show. I don't like it - I LOVE it. Eighty or maybe ninety percent of the time they are lampooning my own views or mocking the people with whom I agree, but I honestly do not care - they do it so brilliantly.

So it is no small thing for me to type that I believe the clip below is the single funniest thing I have ever seen on the Daily Show. We all know people like this woman. Watch it. Please. Then show them and see if they "get it."

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Civil Disservice
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

Friday, January 13, 2012

Top 10 Reads of the Week - Friday the 13th Edition (1/13/2012)

No Superpower Here - Gary Schmitt [Weekly Standard]
With the end of the Cold War in sight, then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell in the George H. W. Bush administration was asked how big the U.S. military should be. He replied, “We have to put a shingle outside our door saying, ‘Superpower Lives Here.’ ”

Barack Obama has taken the shingle down... Read the Rest

Elizabeth Warren's Sloppy Progressivism - Richard Epstein [Defining Ideas]
President Barack Obama is not the only high profile candidate for public office who portrays himself as the champion of the middle class. Right now, in Massachusetts, Elizabeth Warren, a longtime Harvard Law School professor, is projecting that same image in her determined run to displace Senator Scott Brown in next November’s election. Warren catapulted to fame in the Obama administration as the intellectual stimulus behind the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Board, now headed by Richard Cordray after a controversial recess appointment.
Now that Warren is free of her institutional obligations at the federal level, she has come out swinging on a large number of issues dear to progressive hearts. Her most powerful statement is posted conspicuously on moveon.org. Its call to arms requires a restrained and rational answer... Read the Rest
Where are the liberals? - David Brooks [New York Times]
Why aren’t there more liberals in America?

It’s not because liberalism lacks cultural power. Many polls suggest that a majority of college professors and national journalists vote Democratic. The movie, TV, music and publishing industries are dominated by liberals.
It’s not because recent events have disproved the liberal worldview. On the contrary, we’re still recovering from a financial crisis caused, in large measure, by Wall Street excess. Corporate profits are zooming while worker salaries are flat... Read the Rest
Obama's Postmodern Vision - Victor Davis Hansen [National Review Online]
There has been for months a popular parlor game of tallying instances in which President Obama seems to have either ignored or simply bypassed federal law. But what started out as a way of exposing occasional hypocrisy is now getting a little scary.
Most recently, President Obama made several recess appointments — a tactic that as a senator he once criticized — even though Congress was not in recess. In December, the president signed a $1 billion omnibus spending bill, but notified Congress that he might not abide by some of the very provisions he had just signed into law. During the Libya war, Obama felt that bombing Qaddafi’s forces did not really constitute military operations, and therefore he had no need to notify Congress under the War Powers Act... Read the Rest
The Bain Capital Bonfire - Editors [Wall Street Journal]
About the best that can be said about the Republican attacks on Mitt Romney's record at Bain Capital is that President Obama is going to do the same thing eventually, so GOP primary voters might as well know what's coming. Yet that hardly absolves Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry and others for their crude and damaging caricatures of modern business and capitalism.
Bain's business model is little more than "rich people figuring out clever legal ways to loot a company," says Mr. Gingrich, whose previous insights into free enterprise include years of defending the taxpayer-fed business of corn ethanol... Read the Rest

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Just a little reminder re. Huntsman

I don't mean to pile onto Governor Huntsman while he is enjoying his third place 'win' in New Hampshire, but since I have seen no mention of it in the coverage today of his seventeen percent total I thought it worth a reminder that on December 18 Huntsman was confidently predicting outright victory in the Granite State. "I'm putting you on early notice that we're going to win the New Hampshire primary," he told CNN.

Last stop: South Carolina
Back then Governor Huntsman sat at third place in the polls - precisely where he finished, despite two weeks of endless talk about a "surge." He put all his eggs in the New Hampshire basket, skipped Iowa entirely, and came away with fewer than a fifth of the voters.

Ordinarily that sort of performance would be labeled a failure to meet expectations. 

Obviously Huntsman's people have convinced him to stick it out a little bit longer to see if the current wave of renewed media enthusiasm can do for him in South Carolina what it failed to do for Santorum in New Hampshire, but Governor Huntsman is almost done now. As is Governor Perry, once deemed the strongest candidate in the field, who came out of last night with the ultimate single digit: 1 percent.

One other thing: my post last night was partly off the mark, I am happy to say. With the New York Times referring to Mitt's win as "solid," CNN calling it "big," and even the Boston Globe deeming it a "roll to victory," there is no room for grousing about anti-Mitt bias in the headlines. Mea culpa.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Can't put my finger on exactly why... [UPDATED]

... but CNN's choice of headline as the New Hampshire primary results roll in strikes me as just HIGH-larious.

Aside: the "Blitzer: A salute to politicians" thing has hilarity potential too, no?

Now look for the "analysis" to determine that Mitt's thirteen seventeen point win was "tepid" or "weak," whereas Huntsman's percentage - significantly less than half of Mitt's total - will be read as evidence of a "surge," giving the media's favorite conservative "momentum" going into a series of primaries where, not to put too fine a point on it, he hasn't the slightest prayer.

In most any political context a double-digit victory is known as a landslide. In 2008 President Obama beat John McCain by 7.2 percent in the popular vote, in what was (correctly) deemed a righteous electoral butt-whupping. In the 2008 New Hampshire primaries, Hillary Clinton topped Barack Obama by a whopping 2.6 points. John McCain beat out Governor Romney by 5.5 points.

Needless to say, neither victory was deemed indecisive by the press back then. But back then the press did not need to slow down either New Hampshire victor's momentum in order to preserve for itself a viable, long-term primary battle (and the ratings that go with it). Things are different this year. There is no primary on the D side. A quick wrap on the Republican side would be a disaster for those who make their livings polling, prognosticating and pontificating about all things political and the networks that depend on primary drama to draw viewers to their cookie-cutter political gab-fests.  [UPDATE: Validation!]

So Governor Romney's objectively big win tonight will be subjectively characterized as less meaningful than it is, Jon Huntsman will become the new Rick Santorum (you remember him? He came in fourth - maybe fifth - just barely not even scraping into double digits), and poor Ron Paul will continue to be largely ignored despite routinely wracking up numbers that rival or exceed those attained by each candidate in the shifting progression of media favorites of the week.

Meanwhile, the media will continue its exercise in self-parody.

Bad Green and Good Green

Bad Green
It happened again. Saturday evening I wandered into our living room, flipped on the light switch - and stopped dead in my tracks. Instantly I knew what had happened. It wasn't just the quality of the light - which was (is) terrible and insufficient on first ignition to illuminate the room. The light was making a sound. And not a pleasant sound. A high-pitched keening, almost a squeal, was emanating from the lamp a few feet to my right. To be sure I flipped the switch to 'off.' The keening immediately stopped. 'On,' and there it was again. I did not really have to look beneath the lampshade, but I did. And there it was. The $#%#$ twisty-bulb.

"You put one of those twisty bulbs in the living room," I said to my wife accusingly.  

She smiled. "Yes."

"It makes a sound," I said.

"It doesn't bother me."

"You don't hear it, or you hear it and it doesn't bother you?"

"I hear it, but it doesn't bother me."

"Light bulbs are supposed to make light. They aren't supposed to make noise. And those g**damned things don't even make decent light."

"It doesn't bother me. Are you going to go on a rant?"

My wife knows me really well.

And of course I am going to go on a bit of a rant (again).  

Good Green
I have this very good buddy who works in the green industry. He's a professional environmentalist, in other words; which isn't to say he is not genuinely an environmentalist (he is), just that he's paid at least in part to proselytize so I am never 100 percent sure if I'm getting the company line from him or his honest opinion when we discuss this stuff. He insists - emphatically - that my adverse reactions to twisty bulbs are all in my head. The light is not inferior, there is no high-pitched keening, nothing to see here move along. He will be un-fazed by the fact that until the instant I threw the switch on Saturday I had no knowledge whatsoever that my wife had replaced that bulb, or that bare milliseconds after the so-called "light" came so-called "on" I knew without the slightest fraction of a doubt that one of those twisty bastards was newly resident in the lamp socket. This has happened several times over the past year or so, as my wife eases us into a twenty-first century illuminated by inferior light and I stubbornly cling to the superior incandescent that has served us so well and has yet to be adequately replaced. Each time I know before I know, at first sight of the flat, cold, utterly inferior light suddenly emanating from a previously serviceable light fixture.

My buddy thinks me a troglodyte, but as I've tried to explain ad nauseum I have no objection at all - none whatsoever - to the baseline notion of environmental responsibility. Who could? Green fetishism makes me loopy, but being "green"? I'm all for it - when it doesn't require unnecessary sacrifice in service to dubious goals or - worse - to political fashion.

Twisty bulbs are Bad Green. They require us to sacrifice decent light - something to which we and several generations before us have become entirely accustomed - simply because a relatively small group of ideologues who have amassed enough political power to impose their will on the rest of us refuse to wait just a bit longer for the steady and accelerating march of progress to bring us an equal or superior replacement for the incandescent bulb. That is nuts, and it drives me nuts.

Monday, January 9, 2012

So long, Mr. Speaker

So long
I received the photo in the mail a few weeks after it was taken, back in 1996 when I was a just-out-of-college staffer at the 1996 Republican National Convention in San Diego. Out there on the left coast, three hours behind DC time, my colleagues and I sometimes felt a little bit detached from the momentous goings-on under the still new (and still amazing) Republican leadership in Congress. So it was extra-special to us when the architect of the new Republican majority and a hero to most of us, Speaker Newt Gingrich, took the time to swing by and see us during a California trip. I lined up with everyone else, shook his hand and smiled for the camera, and some time later there it was in my in-box: a signed photo of me with the Speaker. "Thanks for all your help, Dan - Newt."

That photo has followed me in the years since, sitting in its cherry wood frame on my desk, or on the wall, or on a book shelf as I moved from San Diego back to DC, then on to law school, to a big law firm, to the Massachusetts State House, and finally to my current office. Except for when I was traveling, hardly a day of my professional life has gone unobserved by Newt's silent, grinning visage, even as the other occupants of my political "ego wall" have mostly fallen to the wayside.

Newt always represented something very particular to me. Asked to defend his photographic presence in my office (and I was, on more than a few occasions), I'd invariably say Newt was the guy who everyone says they want - the politician who knows what he believes and says what he thinks, and does so coherently and with historical perspective.  If his ego sometimes seemed out-sized, well, that tends to happen to people who become celebrities, political and otherwise. As to his personal foibles... I didn't defend those. And of course I was never in a position to vote for the man anyhow.

That all ended today. I wrote a post last week about Newt's petulant Iowa hangover. At the time I hoped his sulking and revenge-plotting would dissipate. Instead it has only gotten worse, culminating in a raft of articles like this, this, and this. Gingrich, it seems, has resolved to do everything possible to destroy Mitt Romney, even if he self-immolates in the process, and even it he destroys our chance of relegating the President to one term while he's at it.

What a difference a month makes. Here's what the pundits were writing about Newt way back on December 6:
As Mitt Romney continues to struggle against conservative Republican complaints that his claim to be one of them is no more than an expedient makeover, the latest candidate to emerge as his principal rival for the party's presidential nomination is striving for quite a makeover of his own. 
That would be Newt Gingrich, famed for his slashing and often over-the-top attacks on critics and inquisitive members of the news media. Buoyed by his recent televised debate appearances that he has converted into a showcase of how smart he is, Mr. Gingrich has vowed to take the high road, at least against fellow Republicans. 
The former House speaker has pledged to supporters in a fund-raising email that "every penny contributed to this campaign will be used to advance an honest campaign that the American people can be proud of." He promises "there will be no 30-second attack ads against my friends who are also seeking the Republican nomination; I will focus my criticism on President Obama."
Seems to me more than a few Gingrich donors might be due a refund.

So it is with a small amount of regret that today I took down my Newt photo from the shelf, said a testy goodbye (and something else), and tossed it in a drawer. I'll use the frame for another photo eventually.

It turns out, you see, that Newt Gingrich is - to paraphrase Bill Parcells - exactly what his record says he is. If the term "Napoleon complex" didn't already exist we'd henceforth be accusing peevish, scorched-earth egomaniacs of having a Newt complex.

None of which is to suggest that Gingrich - or any candidate - does not have the right to stick until the end, fight the good fight, go down swinging, etc. But there is a line, and at some point during the last week or so the former Speaker dashed across it and sped off into the distance.

So long, Mr. Speaker. Good luck with the post-politics thing.

Breaking News From the Schoolyard (New Hampshire)!

The top two articles on Bostonherald.com right now are: (1) "Mitt Romney ripped over 'pink slip' remark," and (2) "Romney sparks furor with 'fire' remark." Meanwhile, a JUST IN banner across the top of the page screams, "Mitt Romney scrambles after 'fire' comment."

Breaking News
Sure this is the Herald, and the Herald (though I love it dearly) tends toward the dramatic, especially in its headlines. But still. That's an awful lot of ripping, furor and scrambling over a couple of "remarks." Call me old fashioned, but I feel like "furor" ought to be reserved for events more serious than a flurry of political press releases.

Such is the nature of political coverage in the age of competitive 24-hour news coverage. Every utterance from a candidate's mouth holds the potential for a manufactured scandlet. Context is irrelevant (the context of Romney's "fire remark" is about as innocuous as it gets - he was suggesting consumers ought to be able to part ways with an under-performing insurer). Once a phrase with the barest potential for controversy passes the office-seeker's lips the race is on to see whether the press or his/her political opponent(s) will be the first to blow it out of all proportion.

In this the two (the media and the opponent(s)) form a temporary symbiotic relationship: if the opponent(s) manage a press release first, then the media will report on that release. If the media manages a dispatch first, then the opponent(s) will quote that in their release. Around and around it goes. And the public wonders why candidates for public office are so damned scripted in most everything they say and do.

Pull the typical political reporter off of the New Hampshire primary beat and assign him to the school yard at the local elementary, and would the headlines be much different?

"Johnny calls Billy a 'giant doo-doo head,' risks monitor sanction."

"Susie sparks furor with criticism of Polly's hair cut."

"Bobby seen stockpiling mud balls, preparing to 'go nuclear' at afternoon snack."

One cannot really blame the reporters though. Their consumer base is comprised of political junkies. We political junkies (like kids) are excitable. We want to be stimulated. A Romney speech about insurance? Not exciting. A throwaway line about "firing people" that could semi-plausibly be spun into from-the-horse's-mouth confirmation of the worst caricatures of the candidate? Katy bar the door!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Top 10 Reads of the Week - January 7, 2011

Apologies for the late Top 10 post this week.  I must have fallen asleep behind the wheel.  It's the only possible explanation.  - Dan

Pull the Plug on Electric Car Subsidies - Editors [Washington Post]
THERE MAY NOT have been a party in Times Square to celebrate, but two of the most wasteful subsidies ever to clutter the Internal Revenue Code went out with the old year. Congress declined to renew either the 45-cent-per-gallon tax credit for corn-based ethanol or the 54-cent-per-gallon tariff on imported ethanol, so both expired Dec. 31.
Taxpayers will no longer have shell out roughly $6 billion per year for a program that badly distorted the global grain market, artificially raised the cost of agricultural land and did almost nothing to curb greenhouse gas emissions. A federal law requiring the use of 36 billion gallons of ethanol for fuel by 2022 still props up the industry, but the tax credit’s expiration is a victory for common sense just the same.
Meanwhile, a lesser-known but equally dubious energy tax break also expired when the year ended Saturday: the credit that gave electric-car owners up to $1,000 to defray the cost of installing a 220-volt charging device in their homes — or up to $30,000 to install one in a commercial location. As a means of reducing carbon emissions, electric cars and plug-in hybrid electrics are no more cost-effective than ethanol. What’s more, only upper-income consumers can afford to buy an electric vehicle (EV); so the charger subsidy is a giveaway to the well-to-do... Read the Rest

After America - Zbigniew Brzezinski [Foreign Policy]
Not so long ago, a high-ranking Chinese official, who obviously had concluded that America's decline and China's rise were both inevitable, noted in a burst of candor to a senior U.S. official: "But, please, let America not decline too quickly." Although the inevitability of the Chinese leader's expectation is still far from certain, he was right to be cautious when looking forward to America's demise. 
For if America falters, the world is unlikely to be dominated by a single preeminent successor -- not even China. International uncertainty, increased tension among global competitors, and even outright chaos would be far more likely outcomes... Read the Rest
 Debunking Elizabeth Warren (D-Occupy) - James Pethokoukis [Enterprise Blog]
Recall what Elizabeth Warren — consumer advocate, Harvard law professor, and now Democrat U.S. Senate candidate in Massachusetts — said last October when the Occupy movement was cresting:

Democratic Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren claims much of the credit for the Occupy Wall Street protests sweeping the nation. “I created much of the intellectual foundation for what they do,” the Harvard Law School professor and former Obama administration consumer advocate told Samuel P. Jacobs of The Daily Beast. “I support what they do.”
And what was that intellectual foundation? In 2003′s “The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Parents are Going Broke,” Warren made the case that income stagnation — caused by failed pro-market policies — is killing the middle class, forcing them to take on ever greater amounts of debt to afford a traditional middle-class lifestyle. Indeed, this theory is also the economic foundation of liberal Democratic politics the past decade, including President Obama’s 2008 and current presidential campaigns.
Except none of it seems to be true. First of all, income has not been stagnant — certainly not when Warren’s book was first written — as this new chart from Jim Glassman of JPMorgan shows... Read the Rest 
Our Bereavement Is Our Own - Jessica Heslam [Boston Herald]
At first blush, the way Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum handled the death of his newborn son almost 16 years ago may seem a little bizarre to some.
But it’s not. I know because I’ve gone through it, too... Read the Rest
The Rise of Consumption Equality - Andy Kessler [Wall Street Journal]
It used to be so cool to be wealthy—an elite education, exclusive mobile communications, a private screening room, a table at Annabel's on London's Berkeley Square. Now it's hard to swing a cat without hitting yet another diatribe against income inequality. People sleep in tents to protest that others are too damn wealthy.
Yes, some people have more than others. Yet as far as millionaires and billionaires are concerned, they're experiencing a horrifying revolution: consumption equality. For the most part, the wealthy bust their tail, work 60-80 hour weeks building some game-changing product for the mass market, but at the end of the day they can't enjoy much that the middle class doesn't also enjoy. Where's the fairness? What does Google founder Larry Page have that you don't have?... Read the Rest