Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Santorum erred by trying to capitalize on Democratic shenanigans

It is hard to say if the late-breaking news of Rick Santorum's robo-calls to registered Democrats in Michigan had any impact on the final outcome last night. But the story certainly did not help Santorum, and it looks likely to dog him going forward.

The Santorum campaign is doing its best to defuse the issue by arguing - as they must - that they were just "going after every voter." Which in the abstract is perfectly reasonable. If Democrats are able and inclined to vote in a Republican primary, as was the case in Michigan, then it makes perfect sense for candidates to seek their support. For all I know, such pure motivations may even have truly formed the impetus for Santorum's robo-calls. But if that is the case, then at best he has revealed  himself to be pretty hopelessly naive.

In fact, as the Romney web ad below makes painfully clear, there was an organized effort in Michigan by the Democratic party to drive Democratic votes to Santorum, not out of any genuine support for Santorum or the proposition that he ought to be President of the United States, but in a deliberate effort to undermine Romney, who is apparently viewed as a legitimate threat to President Obama.

The Romney campaign is engaged in a bit of hyperbole when it calls Santorum's robo-calls a "dirty trick." As tricks go, this one was pretty mild. But Romney is correct to call attention to the tactic, which even viewed in the best light makes Santorum look weak and a little bit pathetic.

There is an ocean of difference between genuine appeals for the support of voters who are often called "Reagan Democrats," and what looks like a cynical effort by the Santorum campaign to piggy-back on organized primary meddling by Democratic party operatives. Put another way, there is a big difference between a Democratic voter genuinely won to the cause of a Republican candidate (such voters are electoral gold), and a Democratic mercenary voter who makes temporary common cause with a Republican candidate for the ultimate purpose of ensuring a Democratic victory in November.

The latter is the proverbial skunk at the political garden party, and the candidate who invites him in should expect to be called to account for the stench.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Strip away the politics, and the people are pretty rational about taxes

This is a fascinating poll in so many ways. Most poll questions, deliberately or not, are freighted with political / ideological rhetoric that influences the results.

"Do you approve of the 'Buffet Rule,' which would require a wealthy CEO to pay at least the same tax rate as his secretary?" A pretty solid majority - comprised primarily of people who are blissfully unaware of the underlying politics of the so-called 'Buffet rule' - are going to go for that. Sounds reasonable. Sure - why should some rich dude "pay less" than his secretary?

"Do you think the wealthy should be required to pay a higher tax rate, to help close the deficit without raising taxes on middle-income Americans?" Again, most are going to go for that. It sounds specific enough, but in truth the question is pregnant with assumptions and ambiguities. "Higher" than what? What is the appropriate "higher" rate? And what impact would that rate have on "the deficit"?

The poll linked above (unfiltered results here) reduces the tax question to apolitical, dispassionate numbers. And it turns out that when likely voters are asked the bare bones question, what is the "most appropriate tax rate for families earning $250,000 or more," the vast majority - fully seventy five percent - answer 30% or less. That includes seventy percent of Democrats.

The current rate for such taxpayers is 35%.

Why this result? I think it is because even for voters who believe as a general matter that wealthy taxpayers ought to pay "more" of their income in taxes, one third of earnings sounds about right. Start talking about more than that - say, the 40% rate that the President is pushing - and the numbers make an impression. Most lower-income Americans presumably would like to join that higher tax bracket at some point, after all - and the proposition that their reward for doing so might be to send nearly half of what they earn to the federal government naturally strikes them as excessive (because it is in fact excessive).

The President and his allies want to talk about taxes in the abstract, "fair share" being the perfect, frequently-used example of their understandable aversion to specifics. This poll suggests Republicans need to talk hard numbers as often as possible.

Governor Patrick's phone records conundrum

Yesterday the Herald's editors mused, "We can’t imagine what “terrible precedent” it would set if the Patrick administration were to ask its cellphone provider to produce itemized phone records for Lt. Gov. Tim Murray from the morning of his single-car crash back in November..." Elsewhere, from pundits and in personal exchanges I keep hearing variations on the same question: 'what do you think they are hiding?'

The theories run the gamut from truly scandalous to mundane, but most seem to agree on the baseline supposition that there is "something" in the particulars of Tim Murray's phone records that the Governor just cannot afford to reveal.

So first let's be clear about context. The Massachusetts public records law (to the extent that it applies to the Governor, which is a whole other debate) requires the target of a request (the "custodian") to make available for inspection any responsive records in his/her/its "custody." The Governor's rationale in refusing thus far to turn over LG Murray's itemized phone records is straightforward: no such records are in the "custody" of any government office. If they exist, Verizon has them. To the seemingly common-sense request that he simply instruct someone to log onto the Verizon Wireless website, click a few buttons and generate the records sought, Patrick replies - to the exasperation of the Herald and others - that to do so would "set a terrible precedent." He's "done." Move on.

"Aha!" goes up the cry. "The Governor is clearly hiding something!" It isn't an unfair assumption under the circumstances. But let's be clear about something else. To suggest that the Governor knows there is something worth hiding in the particular records sought is to suggest that someone in his administration has seen them, which is to suggest further that the administration is engaged in a deliberate contravention of the public records law - a considerably more serious accusation than the charge that he is just stonewalling to avoid opening a can of worms.

I suppose it is always possible that LG Murray unburdened himself of some incriminating telecommunications-related particulars during one of their private heart-to-hearts, in which case the Governor is still guilty of deliberately misleading the press and the public. But personally I doubt the Governor knows for sure what is or is not in Tim Murray's early November cell phone records. Patrick has a bigger problem - one that perfectly explains his intransigence on the question of these particular records:

Roughly fifty Patrick Administration staffers have been using government-issued Blackberries for half a decade now. It wasn't until last month that the press learned about the Administration's deliberate decision to stop receiving bills that detail the particulars of their use. Five years and dozens of political operatives running around with taxpayer-funded phones and no functional restraints on their use... I'm sure the majority of those phone users are completely responsible, but with those numbers over such a length of time the odds are pretty good that there have been some abuses.

If Governor Patrick were to order the retrieval of Tim Murray's records, regardless of what they do or don't show, how long would it take before the first broader cell phone records request hits the corner office in box? Ten minutes? Less? Once he agrees to click that mouse and pull LG Murray's records, on what possible basis  could Patrick refuse to generate all of the others?

That's the "terrible precedent" the Governor is talking about. And from his perspective, the characterization fits.

Monday, February 27, 2012


Apparently I am not the only out there who has a bit of an obsession with the Chevy Volt phenomenon - and more precisely with the ungodly amounts of money the Obama Administration is willing to squander to convince (bribe) wealthy people to buy the things. Great stuff here.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Governor Patrick Bucking up LG Murray As He Prepares to Check Out

Remember back in late 2010, when at one of the gubernatorial debates the candidates were asked to name an "overrated virtue"? Charlie Baker took a fair measure of crap for answering "loyalty." As he explained subsequently, however, the kind of situation Baker had in mind when he gave the answer was pretty much precisely the situation in which Governor Patrick finds himself lately vis-a-vis his Lieutenant Governor: stubbornly defending conduct that most everyone else (including his usual defenders) have long since concluded is indefensible.
A Prediction

Except... I don't think Governor Patrick's steadfast defense of Tim Murray stems primarily from loyalty. I think there is something much more calculated and strategic going on.

I'm pretty sure Lieutenant Governor Murray is about to become Acting Governor Murray, sooner and to a much greater extent than most observers expect.

Follow me here:

You probably saw or heard the Governor early last week proclaiming (repeatedly) that he is "moving on" from the twin Murray scandals. Late in the week, Murray himself used the same term in a series of sit-down interviews intended, apparently, to try and put the car crash / Chelsea Housing messes behind him. (Here's one of them, with CBS Boston's Joe Shortsleeve. Nothing says "moving on" like an interview in a bar.)

You probably also saw that Governor Patrick was tapped to be a "national co-chair" of President Obama's reelection campaign. In and of itself the title is pretty much meaningless (Eva Longoria and the guy who plays Kumar in the Harold and Kumar movies are also on the "co-chair" roster). But I've already lost track of how many trips Patrick has made to DC this year to appear on national news broadcasts as an Obama surrogate. And for the President, who has no primary challenger, the campaign hasn't even really started yet. It is very clear that the Obama campaign intends to make frequent use of our Governor on the campaign trail. We can expect Patrick's travel obligations to pick up radically, starting as soon as the spring.

Of course it makes perfect sense for Murray, who still apparently harbors hopes of succeeding Patrick in the big chair, to do everything he can to overcome the significant self-erected hurdles currently standing in his way. And as a legacy matter it also makes sense for Patrick to help him.

But the embarassing doggedness of Patrick's defense of Murray over the past three months and the new emphasis both are putting on Murray's supposed substantive accomplishments in office make even more sense if Patrick is planning to essentially turn over the reins to his LG much sooner than 2014. After all,  you don't leave the house keys with a guy who is stumbling all over the place with puke down the front of his shirt. You have to help the guy get cleaned up before you blow town, lest the neighbors start talking. Ordinarily were a situation like this to arise in the second year of a second term, the Governor would be expected to take a harder line with his errant sidekick - or at least to create some political separation between himself and his wildly flailing understudy. But with checkout time rapidly approaching, Patrick doesn't have time to let Murray work his own way out (or not) of the messes he's made. He has to get that fella into some clean clothes, put a pot of coffee into him, and make sure he at least knows how to program the microwave.

Clumsy metaphor aside, here's what I'm  getting at: with Patrick gone, Murray will have to be the public face of the Administration. After all, someone has to rush out to the MEMA bunker and stand at a podium in shirt sleeves with a furrowed brow every time it rains hard. And it won't do for the public face of the Administration to be mired in ongoing scandals. So both Patrick and Murray will be working overtime for the next month or so to "move on."

Here's a guess: by early to mid-April - let's say, oh, April 10 - the Governor's official schedule is going to get a lot less detailed. The "Lieutenant Governor" is going to roll out of bed more mornings than not as the "Acting Governor." And it's a good bet the Acting Governor isn't going to be allowed to do much of his own driving.

The nice thing about a prediction like this one is it will be pretty definitively proved correct or incorrect in short order - always assuming, of course, that the Fourth Estate is paying attention.

Number 11: A must-read from Mark Steyn on the evolution of "rights"

From Mark Steyn this morning, a pretty good argument for waiting until Saturday to post the Top 10 Reads of the Week.  His title is "The Perversion of Rights," and its launching point is the still-roiling controversy about Obamacare's (revised) contraception mandate. But the column is about much more than that one example of what Steyn calls the "transformation of “human rights” from restraints upon state power into a pretext for state power."  

Rights then
Here's a taste:
When it comes to human rights, I go back to 1215 and Magna Carta — or, to give it its full name, Magna CartaLibertatum. My italics: I don’t think they had them back in 1215. But they understood that “libertatum” is the word that matters. Back then, “human rights” were rights of humans, of individuals — and restraints upon the king: They’re the rights that matter: limitations upon kingly power. Eight centuries later, we have entirely inverted the principle: “Rights” are now gifts that a benign king graciously showers upon his subjects — the right to “free” health care, to affordable housing, the “right of access to a free placement service” (to quote the European Constitution’s “rights” for workers). The Democratic National Committee understands the new school of rights very well: In its recent video, Obama’s bureaucratic edict is upgraded into the “right to contraception coverage at no additional cost.” And, up against a “human right” as basic as that, how can such peripheral rights as freedom of conscience possibly compete?
"Rights" now
The transformation of “human rights” from restraints upon state power into a pretext for state power is nicely encapsulated in the language of Article 14 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, which states that everyone has the right “to receive free compulsory education.” Got that? You have the human right to be forced to do something by the government.
 Read the whole thing. And file it away for the next time someone tries to feed you that line about there being 'no difference between the parties' in this country.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Top 10 Reads of the Week - February 24, 2012

Ominous Numbers for Obama - Gene Epstein [Barron's]
Will the economy (stupid) again determine the outcome of a presidential election? Based on two important economic measures that I've examined and their relationship to the presidential races since 1956, Obama supporters have cause to worry.
All but the most recent of those races featured an incumbent, whether it was a sitting president (nine races out of 13) or a vice president seeking to move into the Oval Office (four out of 13). Based on consumer spending and unemployment—the two variables I tracked—Obama probably would have lost had he run for re-election this past November.
The numbers have improved since then, but not enough to tip the odds in the president's favor... Read the Rest

Taxing Medical Progress to Death - Michelle Malkin [National Review Online]
Two years ago this month, as public debate over Obamacare raged, former president Bill Clinton rushed to the hospital because of a heart condition. He immediately underwent a procedure to place two stents in one of his coronary arteries. It was a timely reminder about the dangers of stifling private-sector medical innovation. No one listened.
Stents don’t grow on trees. They were not created, developed, marketed, or sold by government bureaucrats and lawmakers. One of the nation’s top stent manufacturers, Boston Scientific, warned at the time that Obamacare’s punitive medical-device tax would lead to worker losses and research cuts. The 2.3 percent excise tax, the company said, “would be very damaging to Boston Scientific, and the medical device industry as a whole. In a nutshell, it would raise costs and lead to significant job losses. It does not address the quality of care but the political scorecard of savings.”... Read the Rest
A Tax Reform to Restore America's Prosperity - Mitt Romney [Wall Street Journal]
When generations of immigrants looked up and saw the Statue of Liberty for the first time, they surely had many questions and doubts about the life before them. Yet one thing they knew without a doubt—in America anything was possible, and their children would have a better life.
That deep confidence in a better tomorrow is the basic promise of America. Today that promise is threatened by a faltering economy and a lack of presidential leadership.
We have record-breaking unemployment and deficit spending, and a tax code that looks like it was devised by our worst enemy to tie us in knots. These three afflictions are interconnected. I have a plan to address them and achieve three goals: more jobs, less debt, and smaller government... Read the Rest
For Women Under 30, Most Births Occur Outside Marriage - Jason DeParle and Sabrina Tavernise [New York Times]
It used to be called illegitimacy. Now it is the new normal. After steadily rising for five decades, the share of children born to unmarried women has crossed a threshold: more than half of births to American women under 30 occur outside marriage.
Once largely limited to poor women and minorities, motherhood without marriage has settled deeply into middle America. The fastest growth in the last two decades has occurred among white women in their 20s who have some college education but no four-year degree, according to Child Trends, a Washington research group that analyzed government data... Read the Rest
What's Their Problem With Romney? - Ann Coulter []
As governor of one of the most liberal states in the union, Mitt Romney did something even Ronald Reagan didn't do as governor of California: He balanced the budget without raising taxes.
Romney became deeply pro-life as governor of the aforementioned liberal state and vetoed an embryonic stem cell bill. (Meanwhile, Newt Gingrich lobbied President George W. Bush to allow embryonic stem cell research.)
Romney's approach to illegal immigration in Massachusetts resembled what Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona is doing today, making her a right-wing heroine.
Romney pushed the conservative alternative to national health care that, had it been adopted in the 49 other states, would have killed Obamacare in the crib by solving the health insurance problem at the state level.
Unlike actual Establishment candidates, Romney has never worked in Washington, much less spent his entire life as a professional politician. He's had a Midas touch with every enterprise he has ever run, including Bain Capital, the Olympics and Massachusetts... Read the Rest
Chart of the Week
From Don Surber Blog

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Governor Patrick: "I'm done. We're moving on."

No, Patrick wasn't talking about his Governorship, although with all of the time and energy he spends these days on raising his national profile and stumping for President Obama, one could be forgiven the assumption that he was.

In this latest appearance of the character I like to think of as "Petulant Patrick," the Governor is referring to questions about the intertwined car crash / Chelsea Housing scandals that just won't die, both starring his faithful Lieutenant Governor.

"I'm done" seems to be the Governor's new talking point on the issue. He spat it out today in response to questions during his semi-weekly WTKK radio appearance ("I’m done. We’re moving on...") and in response to repeated queries by the Globe and Herald about his Administration's refusal to take the simple step of asking Verizon for an itemized record of the LG's cell phone calls ("We’ve gone beyond what is required of the law, and I’m done"). The line certainly has the virtue of simplicity.

My four year old uses the same line at the dinner table, in much the same tone. "Finish your vegetables, honey." "I'm done." Most times it doesn't work for her.
He's done.

Think about the Governor's position here, as he described it today:
“I’ve spent a lot of time on this with the lieutenant governor and I’ve asked lots and lots of questions, and he has answered them openly and totally and I’m convinced of them,” Patrick said this morning after his monthly appearance on WTKK-FM. “And, by the way, I think asking him to prove a negative is wildly unfair and unreasonable.”
So even though Murray's public explanations have been wildly inconsistent, leading in each iteration to additional questions, Murray has answered Governor Patrick's questions "openly and totally," and the public and the press should just shut up and take his word for it. He's done. Move on.

It's an interesting notion of public accountability, and one with which I doubt our newspapers of record are going to be satisfied.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Some of the Best Constituent Advocacy You'll See This Year

This story may well have slipped under your radar, but if you plan to vote in the U.S.Senate race in Massachusetts later this year and you care about Massachusetts' history and the unique attributes of its economy, you should take heed: Senator Scott Brown is currently engaged in the most effective direct constituent advocacy we are likely to see this year, on behalf of a struggling Massachusetts industry that desperately needs an effective champion in Washington.

The top-line story is pretty straightforward. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is responsible for (among many other things) regulating the fishing industry. One of the myriad ways in which NOAA discharges that duty is by levying fines on fishermen who violate regulations. And employees of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), a division of NOAA, were just caught rigging the federal procurement process to use some of the proceeds of those fines to purchase a pleasure yacht, which was then used to host booze cruises. Here's the Seattle Times:
Federal fish cops in Seattle bought a $300,000 luxury boat to spy on whale-watching tours — but didn't go through an appropriate bidding process, held barbecues onboard, ferried friends and family across Puget Sound to restaurants and resorts, and used the boat for what one visitor called "a pleasure cruise."
When confronted, one federal employee in Seattle misled inspectors about how the vessel was used, and one interfered with federal investigators, according to an internal investigation by the Commerce Department. Those documents were released Friday by U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass.
At issue is a 35-foot, 14-passenger boat purchased by federal agents with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) using money seized from fishermen who violated the law.
Leave aside the ludicrous intended use of the vessel (spying on whale-watching tours??). In fact, the boat was used primarily to ferry NMFS officials and their spouses to seaside dinner locations along the coast of Washington.

So why is this getting any attention? Because Scott Brown is making a pretty loud fuss about it.

As you might guess, there is a back-story here. Some time ago (back during the Bush Administration), NOAA decided that the storied Massachusetts fishing industry (which dates back pretty much to the nation's founding) is an anachronism whose time has passed. the Commonwealth's fisherfolk still ply their trade primarily using small, owner-operated fishing vessels - the model made famous in The Perfect Storm a few years back. Elsewhere around the world commercial fishing is now mostly done on what might be called the Wal-Mart model: using comparatively massive vessels owned by a few easily-identified and regulated corporations per region. Compare these to this for a sense of the differences.

Now at first blush one might think the bureaucrats and the environmentalists who motivate them would prefer the Massachusetts model, with its small craft and correspondingly small nets, to the warehouse-sized fish vacuums in use elsewhere. In fact, although on an individual basis the mega-boats net orders of magnitude more fish than, say, a single owner-operated boat operating out of Gloucester, collectively the mega-ships are much easier for the feds to track, inspect and regulate.

And so for a decade-plus now NOAA has been slowly and inexorably squeezing the Massachusetts fishing industry to death, imposing catch limits and other regulations deliberately calculated to make it impossible for our fishermen - many of whom represent generations of experience in the industry - to continue to make a living. Oh, the regulations are justified by seemingly-legitimate concerns about over-fishing and perpetuation of vital fish stocks, no doubt. But the unsustainable burdens concentrated on small-scale fishermen (the Massachusetts model) are imposed with one over-riding goal in mind: NOAA clearly intends to regulate our fishing industry out of existence. The fact that the bureaucrats in charge of implementing this slow-strangulation policy do it with all of the cold-blooded emotional detachment of an actual boa constrictor just adds insult to compounding injury.

In that context, traditional political advocacy only goes so far. State elected officials like Massachusetts Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (who hails from Gloucester) have been fighting NOAA tooth-and-nail for years. Governor Patrick even gave the issue a bit of election year attention in 2010, after Charlie Baker raised a ruckus. But straight up appeals for relief from the crushing effects of NOAA's regulations have been largely ineffective, for an obvious reason: when elimination of the industry is the unspoken objective, cries of "you're killing us!" are not exactly a deterrent.

Enter Senator Brown, with a different approach. In addition to filing legislation to bring NOAA to heel (dubbed the FISH Act), Brown is taking the fishing fight to the bureaucrats' home waters. 'Okay NOAA,' says the Senator. 'You want to sit up there on high, far removed from the every day concerns of the hard-working men and women who you are forcing into the bread lines, looking down  your noses at their plight and shrugging your shoulders at their pleas? Fine. Why don't we lift the hood on your operation and take a good, close look at what might be called the fishing-regulation industry?'

The preliminary results of that inspection aren't pretty. Here's Brown on the Senate floor last week (watch the clip above):
Here is a list of all the problems I have encountered with NOAA since coming to the Senate: abusive treatment of fishermen, resulting in decimation of the [fishing] fleet; investigations motivated by money; improper fines, leading to foreclosure and bankruptcy [of commercial fisherman]; "shredding parties" destroying 75%-80% of NOAA Office of Law Enforcement documents; lying to Inspector General investigators; discouraging cooperation with the Inspector General; misleading Members of Congress; a $300,000 party boat purchased with fishermen's fines; $12,000 in party boat expenses paid with fishermen's fines; $30,000 engine destroyed by a NOAA employee on weekend vacation while using "undercover" NOAA pleasure craft.
In lay terms this kind of maneuver is known as turning the tables, and it is about time. What Senator Brown has seen and is now revealing is a typical insulated bureaucracy run amok, rife the kind of ideological perversion of its mission and abuse of its broad regulatory powers that nearly always appears when unaccountable appointed officials are vested with unchecked authority and allowed to operate largely free of scrutiny.

Senator Brown's political opponents will doubtless characterize his recent actions as election year posturing. The Commonwealth's fishing communities on whose behalf the Senator is fighting know better. He has been with them, fighting, since the beginning of his term.

This is the kind of advocate Massachusetts needs in Washington, DC.

"Taxmageddon": This is what the President is fighting for

President Obama has called so many times for the expiration of the so-called "Bush tax cuts" that it is now an article of unquestioned faith among liberal Democrats that such expiration would constitute an undeniable, incontrovertible good. After all, they are labeled the Bush tax cuts - more than enough in certain circles to damn them beyond all possibility of salvation.

Well, absent an unlikely election year compromise in Congress, the President and his fans are about to get their wish. The Washington Post last week ran an excellent run-down of the looming consequences under the less-than-subtle headline: "Taxmageddon":
On Dec. 31, the George W. Bush-era tax cuts are scheduled to expire, raising rates on investment income, estates and gifts, and earnings at all levels. Overnight, the marriage penalty for joint filers will spring back to life, the value of the child credit will drop from $1,000 to $500, and the rate everyone pays on the first $8,700 of wages will jump from 10 percent to 15 percent.
The Social Security payroll tax will pop back up to 6.2 percent from 4.2 percent under the deal approved Friday by Congress. And new Medicare taxes enacted as part of President Obama’s health-care initiative will for the first time strike high-income households.
The potential shock to the nation’s pocketbook is so enormous, congressional aides have dubbed it “Taxmageddon.” Some economists say it could push the fragile U.S. economy back into recession, particularly if automatic cuts to federal agencies, also set for January, are permitted to take effect.
Bear in mind that these are not corollary effects to some broader policy agenda. These are things that the President and his acolytes in Congress want to happen - things they have been fighting tooth and nail for the better part of three and a half years to see happen.

Think about that the next time some wag tries to convince you there is no difference between the parties in this country.

Friday, February 17, 2012

What does Rick Santorum have in common with Newt Gingrich?

Question: what do Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich have in common? Aside from their alternating status as the un-Mitt du jour I mean.

Answer: Both served multiple terms in Congress, and neither left of his own volition.  Newt was drummed out by his own caucus. Senator Santorum was tossed out by his constituents after two full terms, by a whopping margin (18 percent).

Any observer of American politics understands how powerful an advantage incumbency is in our elections. It is a rare thing for a sitting US Senator to be deposed by his constituents; rarer still for his ouster to be so emphatic (absent scandal, that is). The voters of Pennsylvania had twelve full years on which to base their decision in 2006, and their verdict was unambiguous. Out Senator Santorum went. Yes, 2006 was a bad year for Republicans. But it was a particularly bad year for Rick Santorum.

Another Answer: Both have had difficulty winning endorsements from Republicans who served with them in Congress. This phenomenon has been more conspicuous in Gingrich's case, as many of his former top lieutenants have sat on their hands or, worse, publicly declined to support him (this John Boehner interview is just painful).

Now take a look at Rick Santorum's list of endorsements. Yes, he has the lead singer of Megadeth, locking up the Republican 80s skateboarder vote (all three of them). But a voter searching for significant support from Santorum's former Congressional colleagues will search mostly in vain. Ohio AG and former Senator Mike DeWine endorsed Santorum today - marking the good AG's third endorsement this primary cycle. So that's one (or, put more charitably, it's a hundred percent increase!).

It seems the people who know Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum best - their colleagues in Congress and, in Santorum's case, the voters of Pennsylvania - have some pretty serious misgivings about them. There can be many reasons for that, of course. Politics make for rivalries and animosities as often and easily as allegiances. But it is a factor worth pondering.

Not a former Republican Senator

Press to Patrick/Murray: Can You Hear Us Now?

I went "paperless" on all my bills a long time ago. So, like Patrick Administration, I do not receive itemized cell phone bills.

But if I find myself needing to check out the particulars on my usage for any given month, day or hour - dating back to day 1 of my Verizon Wireless contract - all the specific info I could ever want is but a few mouse clicks away. Amazing, these internets.

For one reason or another, when they came into office the Patrick Administration decided to stop receiving itemized cell phone records for the dozens of Executive Office staffers who use state-issued smart phones. Why? "Efficiency." Here's a blurb from the State House News:
In letters responding to requests for information from the Boston Globe and Boston Herald, state Public Records Division Assistant Director Shawn Williams said that during a phone conversation last month Abim Thomas, deputy chief counsel in Gov. Deval Patrick's office, told him that the executive department does not receive detailed cell phone invoices, but does receive summarized invoices.
"Attorney Thomas explained that the Department formerly obtained detailed invoices, but changed this practice at the beginning of the Patrick Administration in January 2007," Williams wrote in a letter dated Thursday. "The Department now receives summary invoices that indicate usage information for each respective period, by user, but provide no detail as to incoming or outgoing calls."
Asked what spurred the 2007 change, Kimberly Haberlin, Gov. Patrick's press secretary, said in an email to the News Service, "Nearly fifty members of the Executive Office staff use a blackberry for work. Changing to summary invoices streamlined our billing process and helped achieve administrative efficiencies."
It is hard to argue with the Administration's reasoning. God knows, particularly when paying bills with taxpayer money nothing gets in the way of "efficiencies" quite like "details" and "information." Such things quite often result in other efficiency-busters, like "questions" or even "criticism." Best to just pay the bills and take it on faith that EO employees and electeds aren't using their state-issued phones to - oh, I don't know - talk to political operatives or make fundraising calls. If ignorance is bliss, intentional ignorance is ecstasy.

It is obvious that if the Administration (oft self-described as the most transparent in history) wished to reveal the particulars of LG Murray's cell phone usage, it could easily obtain the information. According to the Herald today, "Patrick officials released summary invoices to the Herald yesterday, insisting they don’t have itemized bills. But a notice on one of the Verizon bills states: 'Have more questions . . . Get details for all your Usage Charges at'" Presumably Administration officials have the password. But they aren't inclined to take that step. In the words of an Administration attorney, "There are no other records in our custody that are responsive to your request, and we are not obliged to create a record in response to your request."

So: the Patrick/Murray Administration doesn't have detailed cell phone records for state-funded accounts... because they deliberately choose not to receive such records. And although they could obtain the information requested with relative ease, no law obligates them to do so. No word if the official statement included an emphatic raspberry or only the implied one.

This whole ongoing mess continues to tarnish the Patrick/Murray brand, even among its most ardent supporters. There is nothing the media likes less, after all, than a public records stiff-arm. The Globe's Brian McGrory is particularly searing today:
[A]s questions of ethics touch his own administration recently, Patrick has coiled into a ball of sanctimony and denial. And the truth is, ethics issues in the form of Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray’s close relationship with ousted Chelsea Public Housing chief Michael McLaughlin aren’t just touching the administration, they’re giving it a Swedish massage...
When Patrick dismissed this paper’s request to supply Murray’s state cellphone records yesterday on the night of his infamous car crash, it was politics as usual on Beacon Hill - “same old, same old,’’ as the governor once said.
That'll leave a mark.

Top 10 Reads of the Week - February 17, 2012

Why the World Needs America - Robert Kagan [Wall Street Journal]
History shows that world orders, including our own, are transient. They rise and fall, and the institutions they erect, the beliefs and "norms" that guide them, the economic systems they support—they rise and fall, too. The downfall of the Roman Empire brought an end not just to Roman rule but to Roman government and law and to an entire economic system stretching from Northern Europe to North Africa. Culture, the arts, even progress in science and technology, were set back for centuries.
Modern history has followed a similar pattern. After the Napoleonic Wars of the early 19th century, British control of the seas and the balance of great powers on the European continent provided relative security and stability. Prosperity grew, personal freedoms expanded, and the world was knit more closely together by revolutions in commerce and communication... Read the Rest

 Europe in the Rearview Mirror - Victor Davis Hanson [PJ Media]
The European Union was always a paradox. Its existence was predicated entirely on the notion of German guilt, translating into massive cash transfers east and south. Just as Versailles was supposed to have restrained Germany, then a divided, postwar Germany, then NATO integration and the common Soviet enemy, and then the EU — and now what next? 
There was quite a EU veneer placed over the politically incorrect “German Problem.” Most of us listened in disbelief as we were lectured that veritable disarmament, subsidized windmills, reach outs to a Syria or Libya, easy anti-Americanism, and sermons about cradle-to-grave socialism were the way of the new Europe. And always came the grating condescension, that a self-appointed bureaucratic class in Brussels might lecture Neanderthals what was good for them, without worry over democratic checks and balances... Read the Rest
 The Obama Budget: Some Day My Cuts Will Come - David Boaz [CATO@Liberty]
It’s being reported that in his 2013 budget President Obama will propose to increase spending now and reduce the deficit some day. Isn’t that what every budget promises these days? As I noted last summer during the debt ceiling fight at the Britannica Blog, fiscal conservatives should be very skeptical of plans and proposals that promise to cut spending some day—not this year, not next year, but swear to God some time in the next ten years:
As the White Queen said to Alice, “Jam to-morrow and jam yesterday—but never jam to-day.” Cuts tomorrow and cuts in the out-years—but never cuts today.
We’ve become so used to these unfathomable levels of deficits and debt—and to the once-rare concept of trillions of dollars—that we forget how new all this debt is. In 1981, after 190 years of federal spending, the national debt was “only” $1 trillion. Now, just 30 years later, it’s past $15 trillion... Read the Rest
Health Mandate vs. Religion - Senator Scott Brown [Boston Herald]
Republicans and Democrats don’t come together nearly enough these days, and when we do it’s usually because of something we all recognize as clearly out of line. It takes a really bad idea to reveal our shared convictions on issues bigger than politics. That is the case with the new mandate from the Obama administration requiring religious organizations to offer insurance coverage for practices that go against the teachings of their church, violate the tenets of their faith and step on their constitutional protections.
Basically the government is saying, “Just do what you’re told, and leave the moral questions to us.” This runs against religious liberty, the Constitution, the consciences of millions of Americans and the independent spirit of Massachusetts. We don’t take well to imperious commands from Washington, and if we meekly submit to this mandate, you can be sure that a lot more will follow... Read the Rest
  Obama's Budget Games - Dana Milbank [Washington Post]
Gene Sperling’s sports metaphors collided so often during the White House budget rollout that it’s a wonder the man didn’t pull a hamstring.
The head of President Obama’s National Economic Council suited up for a Monday afternoon news conference with a full lineup of athletic cliches. “We believe manufacturing punches above its weight economically,” he said, and the administration’s trade policy “will level the playing field against countries around the world.”... Read the Rest

Happy 3rd Birthday to the "Stimulus"

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Governor Patrick made NSTAR an offer it couldn't refuse


It is 1920 or thereabouts, and you are the proprietor of a small grocery in the Little Italy section of New York City. One day a young tough walks in and compliments you on your store. After some pleasant small talk, he casually mentions that some business associates of his have an interest in a company called Genco Olive Oil. He asks if you might be interested in purchasing some of Genco's product which, he assures you, is the best Olive Oil available anywhere. You smile pleasantly and tell him that you already have an agreement to stock another brand of oil, of excellent quality and available at a competitive price.

The young tough's demeanor changes. He is still smiling, but now his compliments are laced with something else. He starts appealing to your cultural and civic pride. "Come now, my friend. Genco's people are our people. Sure their prices are a bit higher, but keeping trade in the community helps all of us. Let us wet our beaks a little, and we'll keep an eye on you from here on out." And then the kicker: "It would be a shame if anything were to happen to this nice shop of yours."

Chances are, before you could say "Fredo! I knew it was you!" your customers would be unhappily ponying up a hefty premium on their new brand of olive oil, right?

Now flash forward to today, and substitute NSTAR for the grocery, trade Cape Wind for Genco, switch out the olive oil for electricity, and put the young tough in a meticulously-tailored suit and a state-owned Cadillac. Leave the rest of the dynamic exactly the same and you have a pretty damned good understanding of what the Patrick Administration pulled today.

The headline says it all, unambiguously: NSTAR agrees to buy Cape Wind power to win state blessing on merger.  Quid pro quo.  "Nice utility you got there. Be a shame if that merger of yours were to be killed by the regulators. Say, some friends of mine have this project, and they're havin' kind of a hard time selling their output..."

House Minority Leader Brad Jones called the deal "a turn down the road to legalized extortion." Supporters of the outcome will be hard-pressed to explain how he is wrong (except that the "a turn down the road" part might be too gentle).  For full background on how this gunpoint "deal" came about, see here and here and here.

Lazy? Here's the Cliff's Notes version:

Governor Patrick hearts Cape Wind.

Cape Wind power is projected to cost significantly more than power from other sources, including suddenly plentiful natural gas, but also including power from available land-based wind generation.

As a consequence, for well on a year point five now Cape Wind has been unable to find a buyer for half of its output, and as a result of that inability has been unable to get financing to put turbines in the water.  A simpler way of saying that, of course, is: there is no market for what Cape Wind proposes to sell.

Unfortunately for NSTAR, it found itself recently obliged to obtain regulatory clearance from the Patrick Administration for a proposed merger with Northeast Utilities.

And voila! Via the magic of unabashed abuse of regulatory authority is a "market" for Cape Wind's over-priced power born.

Is the Patrick Administration the first to leverage regulatory authority to achieve political objectives? No. Is this even the most egregious abuse of that authority on record? Probably not. But consider the particular ends to which the Governor just deployed his regulatory knee-cappers:

He just took affirmative, deliberate steps to make our power more expensive.

Elections have consequences.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Obama Budget: He'll gladly pay you Tuesday for some new spending today

"Obama promotes job training at community college." That's one of many headlines emanating from today's first look at the President's fiscal 2013 budget.
President Barack Obama called on Congress Monday to create an $8 billion fund to train community college students for high-growth industries, giving a financial incentive to schools whose graduates are getting jobs. 
The fund was part of Obama’s proposed budget for 2013. The overall package aims to achieve $4 trillion in deficit reduction over the next decade by restraining government spending and raising taxes on the wealthy, while boosting spending in some areas, including education.
Nothing tastes quite like a federally funded burger
Thinking about the Obama Administration's record thus far, it is hard not to conclude that for all of the President's rhetorical nods to the deficit and the debt (which are exploding under his stewardship), his baseline spending philosophy is quite straightforward: 'We're only going to be in office so long, and eventually another Republican will come in to cut the budget again - so let's get every damned bit of spending that we can, while we can.'

Look at how the President characterized this latest ($8 billion) new spending proposal today:
"By reducing our deficit in the long term, what that allows us to do is to invest in the things that will help grow our economy right now," Obama said during remarks at Northern Virginia Community College.
So we're going to reduce the deficit "in the long term" by piling on new spending "right now"? This is the J. Wellington Wimpy economic growth model: 'I'll gladly pay you Tuesday (2050) for a new spending program today.'

To harsh? Too trite? Consider:

Sure the deficit is exploding, so what we need to do is pass the single largest spending bill in history. We'll call it the stimulus, and by the alchemy inherent in that nomenclature, it shall stimulate. Or

Sure the deficit is exploding, and that is very important, but not so important as paying as many people as possible to learn how to hang insulation. Or

Sure the deficit is exploding, and that is very, very important, but not so important as the rising cost of college tuition - so we'd better federalize student lending and then spend a bunch of money relieving former students of debt knowingly and willingly incurred. Or

Sure the deficit is exploding, and that is so crucially important, but not so important as taking a huge step toward realizing the long-cherished liberal dream of single-payer health care and in the process creating massive new entitlements. Or

Sure the deficit is exploding, and God, I just cannot tell you how important that is, but not so important as "creating" as many union jobs as possible before the election, so let's just go ahead and increase overall transportation funding by a factor of 50%. Or

Sure the deficit is exploding, and that is unfathomably important, and sure Chevy Volts are exploding too, and that is of ultimate importance to their (infinitesimally small number of) drivers, but not so important as convincing wealthy people to buy electric cars - so naturally we should double down on the massive Volt subsidy program. Or or or...

It goes on and on. Of course assessed in a vacuum, any one of the President's new spending programs purports to serve an end that is noble, desirable and good (jobs, health care, debt relief, energy efficiency...). But individually and collectively they both ignore fiscal reality and make that reality worse.

This is precisely the economic philosophy that many conservatives warned would characterize the administration of a former community organizer, a guy who was consistently rated one of the most - if not the most - liberal members of the US Senate.

In elections as in most things, you get what you pay for. Only now it's increasingly: 'you  get what the government pays for.'

Monday, February 13, 2012

One more reason to hope Tim Murray is the Democratic Nominee in '14

A small but significant part of me would love to see the Boston Globe's editors wiggle their way out of this editorial to rationalize a Murray endorsement.

That is a genuine back-handed compliment. I am impressed and surprised that the editors saw their way clear to publish such an undiluted, scathing deconstruction of the Murray/McLaughlin/Motorcrash  fiasco (now half way through month four, by the way, making it pretty much a PR consultant's stimulus program all by itself). To excerpt the editorial here, even heavily, would be to cut out some amount of schadenfreude-inducing goodness. You really should click here and read the whole thing.

If you make it through to the penultimate paragraph, you find this:
Tim Murray has shown, through his relationship with McLaughlin, that he lacks the judgment and character to make these decisions. And Patrick, who controls all the levers of the executive branch, still sees fit to keep Murray as his personal liaison to municipal government.
"These decisions" refers broadly to the choice between acceding to the Commonwealth's patronage culture by (at best) turning a blind eye to rampant patronage or (at worst) participating willingly in that culture by actively placing and promoting patronage candidates to government positions for which they are blatantly unqualified - either way in exchange for political support. One need only look at Murray's personal role in the placement of McLaughlin's son ("six speeding tickets and a suspended license for refusing a breathalyzer test") in a $60,000 per year slot at the Registry of Motor Vehicles, adjudicating drunk driving suspensions, to form an opinion as to where on the spectrum between 'at best' and 'at worst' the current LG sits.

And how about the editors' tangential swipe at Governor Patrick? Indirect criticism of the Gov's judgement for sticking by Murray as his story becomes less and less plausible and the depth of his involvement in what might be called "old-style Massachusetts machine politics" more and more apparent is somewhat less recrimination than the Governor deserves. But it is more than we're used to from this particular source.

Next they'll have something less than fawning to say about Elizabeth Warren.

Bad as all of this looks for LG Murray, I am still not at all certain that there may not come a time when the Globe's editors are in fact forced to write their way out of the unfiltered condemnation they published yesterday. Take a look at these poll results from February 2. Despite a full quarter of a year of heavy news coverage of Murray's lack of judgement and character, complete with the public interest-enhancing bonus of a late night crash featuring an obliterated state car and a miraculously unharmed, PJ-clad Lieutenant Governor, fully fifty-six percent of respondents didn't know enough about Murray to form an opinion about him. And only seventeen percent hold an unfavorable opinion of our patronage-hirin', black-ice-slippin'/behind-the-wheel-sleepin'/newspaper-coffee-seekin', phone-tag-playin', story-changin' Lieutenant Governor. Them, as they say, are numbers a well-funded candidate can work with.

If things fall back into place for Murray over the next year or so, look for it in October of '14 on the Globe's editorial page (always assuming, of course, there is still a Globe to have an editorial page). It will begin very much like this:  "We have been critical of Tim Murray in the past. Every election is about a choice, however. And presented with a choice between a candidate who has through bitter experience confronted and overcome his own deficiencies, and an opponent who seeks to turn back the clock on the progress of the past eight years..."

Friday, February 10, 2012

Tyler Durden for State Rep!

You may have heard about this push in the Massachusetts House of Representatives to put some oompf behind a rarely used provision of the House rules - Rule 28 - that allows a majority of members to vote to pull a piece of legislation out of committee for a full floor debate. You know, if for example leadership were to use its complete and total authority over the Democrat-dominated body to bottle up bills in committee that they don't want to see debated out in the open. I know. Crazy. But just suppose such a thing might happen from time to time - or might happen all the time, just for kicks.

The first rule of Leg. Club is:
You Do Not Talk About Leg. Club
The Rule 28 Coalition is a group of legislators - nearly all of them Republicans (another shock!) pulled together by Minority Leader Brad Jones and pledged to support petitions to invoke Rule 28.

Here's a telling bit of info from the State House News earlier this week (via the MetroWest Daily News):
According to the House clerk’s office, 3,933 House bills have been assigned to various committees, including committee redrafts that get assigned new bill numbers. A Rules Committee staff member said 81 bills are in that committee waiting to be assigned, and the sponsors of 10 of those bills have requested their bills be released. About 240 bills have passed through the Rules Committee this session.
While the legislative website for the three impacted committees lists no bills currently pending, the House calendar shows 78 bills waiting in Bills in the Third Reading, including 63 bills that have been held longer than the 45-day window the committee has under House rules to take action.
Though any member could ask for one of those 63 bills to be reported out of Third Reading, the practice is rare and leadership also has the option of recommitting the bill to its original committee. A total for bills in Ways and Means was not immediately available.
Democratic leadership, unsurprisingly, doesn't see much of a problem. Speaker DeLeo deems the push "election year politics." That's one of the nice things about election years. Anything you don't like can be dismissed as "election year politics." My four-year-old daughter does something similar. Any time my wife or I reprimands her or gives her an answer she doesn't like she puts on a deep pout and mutters, "you said mean words!" I'm going to try and get her to start saying "election year politics!" instead. That'll freak my wife out.

Rep. Cory Atkins, who happens to be chair of the Rules Committee, was a little more frank in her reaction, simultaneously acknowledging that bottled up bills are an oft-noted problem and criticizing the Republicans for violating the House code of omerta that apparently governs such things. Again from the State House News:
While many House Democrats dismissed the criticism, Rep. Cory Atkins, a Concord Democrat and vice-chairwoman of the Rules Committee, criticized the Republican approach, but said complaints about bills getting stalled in committee are a perennial issue. 
“Always. It’s an institutional thing. We talk about it all the time,” Atkins said. 
Still, Atkins said criticizing House leadership in such a public way is not a recipe for getting results. 
“In this building, there are two paths: the path where you want to get things done, and the path where you talking about getting things done. If you want to talk about it, you’re probably not getting anything done,” Atkins said.
Got it? If you want your bill to see the light of day, you'd best not be heard griping about the heavy-handed committee process. The first rule of Leg. Club is you do not talk about Leg. Club. The second rule of Leg. Club is YOU DO NOT TALK ABOUT LEG. CLUB!

 Keep in mind that what Leader Jones and his compatriots are proposing here is not a revolution - it isn't even a rule change. All they are saying is, hey, we have this rule on the books intended to deal with situations in which the membership might want to talk about an issue that leadership would rather keep under wraps. Why not band together and agree to use it more often?

The nerve of 'em.

Check in with the Rule 28 Coalition web site to see if your Rep. has signed on. If you are represented by a D, chances are he or she hasn't, though 2 (out of 128!) have. Might be worth a phone call to ask a holdout to explain his or her objection to open debate.

There's no such thing as a free ________.

Have you noticed the tendency among some in government (looking at you, Mr. President) to order one group of people to pay for something on behalf of another group, and then to go around referring to that thing as "free"?

Ordering health insurance companies to provide contraception - or any other service - without direct charge does not make that service "free."  It still must be paid for.  And it makes no sense to say "the big insurance companies" pay for it.  The costs are incorporated into the companies' only source of funding: the premiums paid by their customers.


Top 10 Reads of the Week - February 10, 2012

The Political Transformation of Barack Obama - James VandeHei [Washington Post]
There are two indisputable facts about politics.
The first is that every modern president in the fourth year of his presidency resorts to the cheap political stunts, broken promises and truth-fudging it takes to win reelection in what has been and will be a 50-50 nation. The reason is simple: Politics is not clean-living; it’s survival. 
The second is that Barack Obama, for all his talk of moving beyond conventional political tricks, is doing just that, which wouldn’t be so glaring had it not been for his incessant call for a newer, cleaner and more transparent paradigm for American politics. 
So much for the high road: Victory is more important than purity... Read the Rest

Slow and Infuriating - Mark Hemingway [Weekly Standard]
Last Thursday, Attorney General Eric Holder was called to testify before Congress. His attitude toward  his questioners was by any measure unbecoming of his office. At one point he actually demanded he be “given some credit” for his performance as attorney general. Though, bad as that outburst was, it was slightly less petulant than the earlier insinuation that his critics are racist.
One hopes Holder isn’t expecting kudos for his handling of the Fast and Furious scandal—the reason for his latest testimony. The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform was once again seeking an explanation for the gun-running operation under which the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) transferred some 2,000 weapons to Mexican criminal gangs, including weapons later used in the killing of at least one American, a U.S. Border Patrol agent. Ostensibly, the purpose was to trace the organizational networks of narcotraffickers, but little effort was made to keep track of the guns, and many have not been recovered. There’s simply no law enforcement rationale for the scheme that makes any sense... Read the Rest
A Fairness Quiz for the President - Stephen Moore [Wall Street Journal]
President Obama has frequently justified his policies—and judged their outcomes—in terms of equity, justice and fairness. That raises an obvious question: How does our existing system—and his own policy record—stack up according to those criteria?
Is it fair that the richest 1% of Americans pay nearly 40% of all federal income taxes, and the richest 10% pay two-thirds of the tax?
Is it fair that the richest 10% of Americans shoulder a higher share of their country's income-tax burden than do the richest 10% in every other industrialized nation, including socialist Sweden?
Is it fair that American corporations pay the highest statutory corporate tax rate of all other industrialized nations but Japan, which cuts its rate on April 1?... Read the Rest
Why the Clean Tech Boom Went Bust - Juliet Eilperin [Wired]
John Doerr was crying. The billionaire venture capitalist had come to the end of his now-famous March 8, 2007, TED talk on climate change and renewable energy, and his emotions were getting the better of him. Doerr had begun by describing how his teenage daughter told him that it was up to his generation to fix global warming, since they had caused it. After detailing how the public and private sectors had so far failed at this, Doerr, who made his fortune investing early in companies that became some of Silicon Valley’s biggest names—Netscape,, and Google, among others—exhorted the audience and his peers (largely one and the same) to band together and transform the nation’s energy supply. “I really, really hope we multiply all of our energy, all of our talent, and all of our influence to solve this problem,” he said, falling silent as he fought back tears. “Because if we do, I can look forward to the conversation I’m going to have with my daughter in 20 years.”
As usual, Doerr’s timing was perfect. Just weeks earlier, Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth had won an Oscar for best documentary. (Gore is now a partner in Doerr’s green tech team at the VC firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.) Interest in climate change had never been higher. And as the economy recovered from the dual shocks of the Internet bubble and 9/11, Doerr’s fellow Silicon Valley VCs were already looking to clean technology as the next big thing. What followed was yet another Silicon Valley gold rush, as the firms on Sand Hill Road were pulled along by the promise of new fortunes and the hope that they would be the ones to wean America off of fossil fuels. The entrepreneurs and tech investors who had transformed media and communications were ready to make Silicon Valley the Saudi Arabia of clean energy... Read the Rest
Strangest Photo I Saw This Week

Immortality: The Next Great Investment Boom - Eric Markowitz [Inc.]
There's no denying it: America is getting old. By 2030, the number of Americans older than 65 will have grown by 75 percent to 69 million, and 20 percent of the population will be older than 65—compared with only 13 percent today.

But what if "getting old" wasn't really "getting old?" What if aging—at least the physical deteriorations that accompany it—was something that could be prevented? It's a lofty idea, but it's one that a new breed of biotech start-ups, scientists, and prominent investors are beginning to tackle... Read the Rest

Are you better off than you were five years ago?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Some children left behind

The little news screen in my elevator this morning informed me that (close paraphrase), 'The Obama Administration has granted No Child Left Behind waivers to 10 states, giving them more flexibility to improve educational performance in their schools.'
The Child Left Behind
Don't worry kid - you got a waiver

I realize there is considerable controversy about No Child Left Behind, particularly whether its standards are realistic or too strict. But in point of fact what the waivers do is relieve schools in recipient states (including Massachusetts, by the way) of the obligation to achieve those standards. They dumb proficiency down.

"The RMV has granted speed limit waivers to 10 drivers, giving them more flexibility to improve their defensive driving skills" would make about as much sense as the headline I read in the elevator this morning.

Maybe the idea is that the waivered schools will lead educational improvement... from behind?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Two book recommendations

You know how every once in a great while you read a book that impacts on a fundamental level the way you think about one of 'the big things,' and thereafter becomes a mental touchstone each time that particular topic comes up? I tripped over two such books in succession recently, both coming at the same 'big thing' - the on-going struggle against fanatic Islamism - from different angles.

People whose opinions I respect have been urging me to read Lone Survivor since it came out in 2007. I finally picked it up last week. "It will absolutely wreck you," one friend advised me - and he was right. I don't care who you are - have the tissues near by.

Lone Survivor is written in the first person by Marcus Luttrell, Navy SEAL and - you got it - lone survivor of Operation Red Wings, the 2005 counterinsurgency raid in the Hindu Kush region of Afghanistan that resulted in the single largest loss of SEALs in the history of that storied brotherhood, including the other three members of Luttrell's team. I cannot begin to do justice to the bravery, sacrifice and heroism that is described in the book's pages, so I won't try. All I can say is: read it. Please read it. Especially if you think you have an opinion, any opinion, about the U.S. Armed Forces and what its volunteer members put themselves through on our behalf in some of the most god-awful places on earth.

There are a few different dimensions to Lone Survivor. There is the story, of course: a brief description of Luttrell's yearning from earliest childhood to match himself up to the very best - the very toughest - that the U.S. Military has to offer; the unbelievable training; the initial deployment; the horrific ambush and firefight and the unfathomable valor of Luttrell and his teammates; and finally the days and nights that Luttrell spent on the Godforsaken side of a mountain on the other side of the world - hunted by the Taliban, sheltered and protected by primitive villagers who put their own lives and families at profound risk, adhering to a centuries-old tradition by which they were obligated (having resolved to take Luttrell into their care) to protect him to the death. The story is incredible, and that word does not come close to doing it. (They are making a movie of course. You should read the book first.)

Then there is the book's political dimension. That isn't a big part of the book, but it is a huge part of the story if that makes any sense. It is no exaggeration to say that a battlefield decision by Luttrell and his team that was informed by concerns about negative media reaction back home led directly to the firefight that killed 3/4 of the team and the entire rapid reaction force sent in to reinforce them (the incoming helicopter was shot down as it prepared to deploy additional SEALs). Unsurprisingly, Luttrell has some opinions about the liberal media and how they tend to portray people like him and his fallen friends, and he is not shy about expressing them.

There is this toward the end of the book, though, written as Luttrell marvels at the overwhelming outpouring of gratitude and respect across the country as the bodies of his teammates came home:
It was all just people trying to pay their last respects. The same everywhere. And I am left feeling that no matter how much the drip-drip-drip of hostility toward us is perpetuated by the liberal press, the American people simply do not believe it. They are rightly proud of the armed forces of the United States of America. They innately understand what we do. And no amount of poison about our alleged brutality, disregard of the Geneva Convention, and abuse of human rights of terrorists is going to change what most people think.
I'd like to think Marcus Luttrell is right. I hope he is. I know that he'll become a little bit more right every time someone reads his book.

If Lone Survivor relates a quintessentially up-close and personal experience of radical Islamism, then Robert Reilly's The Closing of the Muslim Mind steps back about 25,000 feet for a philosophical, academic perspective on the same radicalism.

Have you ever watched a news account of some Islamist atrocity and asked yourself how so many people living in or at least in proximity to the modern world can possible rationalize the horrific acts of brutality and murder supposedly committed in the name of religion? The Closing of the Muslim Mind begins to answer that question, with an in-depth analysis of a theological schism that took place in the Islamic world nearly a thousand years ago. The unbroken threads that tie that schism to events taking place right now, today, are stunning in their clarity once teased out from history's tangle.

The book is complex, and at times reads like a philosophy treatise, by its end Reilly's thesis is as clear as it is incontrovertible: approximately a millennium ago, Islam's leaders engaged in a theological debate, resolved ultimately only after much bloodshed, over whether there is a role for reason in Islam. And those who argued that there is no such role won. The implications of that outcome are as stark as they are far-reaching: huge numbers of Muslims, spanning generation upon generation, are raised to believe that there is no such thing as reason, no such thing as cause and effect, no such thing as a fact. Every single thing that happens in the world, according to this school of thought, every single instant of existence, is a direct result of a conscious decision by God. If I hold out a rock and let it go, it drops not because of gravity, but because God wills it to drop. If the rock were to rise instead, we should neither be surprised nor question why; to do so would be to question the will of God. And it goes without saying that such a belief system has no room for notions of individual will.

The practical effects of that theological decision are obvious today: without cause and effect, there can be no science. The notion of discovery is inimical to a belief system based on constant divine intervention; to inquire into the hows and the whys of the world is to presume to know, or to predict, the will of God. As Reilly puts it, "[I]f divine intervention is used to explain natural phenomena, then rational explanations of them or inquiries into them become forms of impiety, if not blasphemy." This, right here, is why vast swaths of the Muslim world have quite literally stood still, by multiple measures, for centuries. It is why so few patents emanate from the Muslim world, why there are so few books written, why the notion of scientific inquiry (and therefore progress) is virtually unheard of.

Reilly's examination quickly illustrates how belief in the absence of reason and of human will leads inevitably to elimination of the concepts of right and wrong, or of good and evil. If something happens, then it happens because God wills it to happen. There is no "good" and no "right" independent of that. If it happens, then it is good because God willed it to happen. It is not difficult to follow this thread of un-reason to its logical end-point: mass murder cannot be "evil" because if it happens then God willed it to happen, and if God willed it, then... 

Here's a practical example from the book that struck me as particularly illustrative of the broader point:
Those involved in training Middle Eastern military forces have encountered a lackadaisical attitude to weapon maintenance and sharp-shooting. If God wants the bullet to hit the target, it will, and if He does not, it will not. It has little to do with human agency or skills obtained by discipline and practice.
Though to practice sharp-shooting would be of obvious benefit to the embattled jihadi, the devout will not practice because to practice is to reject the notion that each and every occurrence is a result of God's will. "If God wants the bullet to hit the target, it will..."  If God wants the vest to explode and kill dozens of bystanders, it will.

I am certain that a good number of potential readers who would benefit from Reilly's in-depth analysis turn away from the book because of its title, which misleadingly suggests an anti-Muslim polemic. This book is not that in any sense. Neither is it a condemnation of Islam. There are a great many Muslims in the world, particularly the Western world, who reject the absolute repudiation of reason (and a great many who in turn deem them apostates for doing so). Much as left-wing apologists for terrorist atrocities like to pretend otherwise, there is a real and fundamental distinction between Islam and radical Islamism. 

Rather, The Closing of the Muslim Mind is a well-researched, well-sourced, and thoroughly convincing examination of the continuing and perhaps amplifying ramifications of that bloody decision nearly a thousand years ago to banish reason from fundamentalist Muslim theology. If the Middle East and the innumerable political, military, religious and philosophical issues that emanate from that part of the world interest you, then this book is a must-read.