Saturday, April 28, 2012

A political omen?

Superstitious folk in the Elizabeth Warren camp be advised: best not view this vid clip...

Friday, April 27, 2012

Obama Campaign's New Bin Laden Ad - A Different Kind of Courage

The thing I find most fascinating / troubling / irritating about this latest Obama ad (and his campaign's general approach to the whole 'we got Bin Laden' thing) is the degree to which he and his supporters unabashedly characterize the President's actions in connection with the raid as somehow 'courageous' or 'honorable.'

Not that the decision to send American soldiers into harm's way, particularly in such a dramatic and risky context, isn't or wasn't a seriously weighty matter. But notice the particular variety of 'courage' the Obama campaign is playing up in this ad:



Bill Clinton (at about the 15 second mark): "Suppose the Navy Seals had gone in there and it hadn't been Bin Laden. Suppose they'd been captured or killed. The downside would have been horrible for him." 

Yes, horrible. The political downside, that is. The "downside" for those hypothetically captured or killed Navy Seals would have been a bit worse... but there is no doubt that the President would have taken a political drubbing for what would inevitably have been called his own Operation Eagle Claw.

More Clinton: "He took the harder, and the more honorable path." The implied alternative, presumably, would have been to allow Bin Laden to again slip through American fingers to avoid making a decision carrying political risks.

So that's supposed to be our standard for presidential courage? So long as the Big Guy is able occasionally to get past wholly political considerations to make a difficult operational decision we're supposed to lift him onto our shoulders for a lap around the field?

This shameless self-aggrandizement is even more embarrassing when juxtaposed, as it unavoidably must be, with the more traditional variety of courage displayed by the Seals who actually, you know, dropped into an Al Qaeda compound in Pakistan in the middle of the night to take out the world's most notorious mass murderer.

Another thing: the ad goes on to knock Mitt Romney for a 2007 statement in which he questioned the advisability of concentrating so many resources on the search for a single man (Bin Laden) in the context of the overall War on Terror. Turns out Romney's position in 2007 wasn't far off from Obama's in 2008.

And an aside: The ad (at 1:10) features yet another example of the Obama campaign's 'looking pensively out a window' fetish. Give it to him. He president sure can stare pensively out a window.

One final thing: In the 2004 and 2008 elections the press told us with a fair degree of regularity that 9/11 was a sacred event, not to be politicized. This despite the fact that 9/11 was, in fact, the defining event of President Bush's first term (and his presidency). Apparently we're past that now. Which is all to the good, but let's be clear about the shifting standard.

Top 10 Reads of the Week - April 27, 2012

Ed Note: Throughout the week we post links to interesting articles and columns that don't quite make the Top 10 on our Facebook Page. Keep up by "liking" us here, and don't forget to follow us on Twitter (@Critimass). 


The President's Incoherent Economic 'Philosophy' - James Capretta [National Review Online]
...When you strip out all of the excessive and grandiose rhetoric, what the president is attempting to argue in these speeches is that the keys to higher economic growth in the United States are higher marginal tax rates on the successful, no reforms to entitlement programs, and more government spending on selected “investments.” To say that this is a pathetic plan for growth would be to give it too much credit.
It is important to note here that the president is not arguing at this point that we need more government spending for stimulus reasons. His budget plan is to raise taxes sufficiently to cover additional spending, with only a modest increase in the deficit in 2013 compared to current law.
No, his argument at this point is that the government spending he has in mind is so essential that the American economy simply can’t live without it. This is absurd... Read the Rest

President Romney - William Kristol [Weekly Standard]
Here’s how Reuters recently summed up the race for the White House: “The 2012 presidential election is more than six months away, but here is what we know so far: It is going to be close, it is going to be nasty, and the outcome could turn on a series of unpredictable events.” The argument that followed was balanced and intelligent, and nicely captured today’s conventional wisdom.
But the conventional wisdom may well be wrong. We don’t in fact “know” that the election will be close. Nor do we know that it will be nasty, or that it will turn on unpredictable events. To the contrary, if I had to put money down now, I’d bet that Mitt Romney will win an easy victory after a relatively predictable, issue-focused, and not-too-nasty campaign. Indeed, I’d bet Romney will win precisely if he runs such a campaign. But if he allows the race to degenerate into name-calling and gotcha gimmicks, he could lose. Democrats are better than Republicans at the small and nasty stuff... Read the Rest
In Afghanistan, underground girls' school defies Taliban edict, threats - Kevin Sieff [Washington Post]
Every morning in this mountain village in eastern Afghanistan, four dozen girls sneak through a square opening in a mud-baked wall, defying a Taliban edict.
A U.S.-funded girls school about a mile away was shuttered by insurgents in 2007, two years after it opened. They warned residents that despite a new government in Kabul and an international aid effort focused on female education, the daughters of Spina were to stay home. For a while, they all did.
Then two brothers, among the few literate men in the village, began quietly teaching math, reading and writing to their female relatives in a living room on the edge of town. They wanted to keep the classes small, they said, to stay off the Taliban’s radar. That turned out to be impossible... Read the Rest
Mitt the moderate - John Feehery [The Hill]
...President Obama has attempted to position himself as the populist candidate, but all too often he has taken a traditional left-wing philosophy to problem-solving. Indeed, if there has been one theme that has resonated from the White House over the last year and a half, it is that the rich aren’t paying enough in taxes and that Republicans don’t want to spend enough money. But tax-and-spend doesn’t work with voters who are troubled by government waste and highly distrustful of any programs emanating from Washington. His largest accomplishment — ObamaCare — is also his most unpopular accomplishment with a sizable majority of the country.
Obama’s also hasn’t settled on a compelling rationale for his reelection. Woodrow Wilson had “He kept us out of war.” Ronald Reagan had “Morning in America.” Richard Nixon had “Now more than ever.” Bill Clinton had “Bridge to the 21st century.”
What does Obama have? “Mitt Romney is a right-wing extremist”? It just doesn’t add up... Read the Rest
Empowering Individuals, Or Bureaucrats? - Rep Paul Ryan [American Spectator]
In March, as the Supreme Court considered the constitutionality of President Obama's partisan health care law, the American people saw an event that could mark the end of bureaucrat-controlled health care. At the same time, just across the street in the halls of Congress, they witnessed a powerful reaffirmation of the American Idea as the House of Representatives passed the Path to Prosperity—a budget for the federal government.
The interconnectedness of these two events cannot be understated. Taken together, they have refocused a long-overdue debate about the proper role and scope of the federal government. This debate will undoubtedly continue in the months ahead and build to a crescendo in November, when the American people will have the opportunity to make a defining choice about what kind of nation we will be in the 21st century... Read the Rest

Friday, April 20, 2012

Top 10 Reads of the Week -April 20, 2012

Apocalyptic Daze - Pascal Bruckner [City Journal]
...Environmentalism has become a global ideology that covers all of existence—not merely modes of production but ways of life as well. We rediscover in it the whole range of Marxist rhetoric, now applied to the environment: ubiquitous scientism, horrifying visions of reality, even admonitions to the guilty parties who misunderstand those who wish them well. Authors, journalists, politicians, and scientists compete in the portrayal of abomination and claim for themselves a hyper-lucidity: they alone see clearly while others vegetate in the darkness.
The fear that these intellectuals spread is like a gluttonous enzyme that swallows up an anxiety, feeds on it, and then leaves it behind for new ones. When the Fukushima nuclear plant melted down after the enormous earthquake in Japan in March 2011, it only confirmed a feeling of anxiety that was already there, looking for some content. In six months, some new concern will grip us: a pandemic, bird flu, the food supply, melting ice caps, cell-phone radiation.
The fear also becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, with the press reporting, as though it were a surprising finding, that young people are haunted by the very concerns about global warming that the press continually instills in them. As in an echo chamber, opinion polls reflect the views promulgated by the media. We are inoculated against anxiety by the repetition of the same themes, which become a narcotic we can’t do without... Read the Rest

 The Great Divider - Peter Wehner [Weekly Standard]
In 2008, Barack Obama promised he would put an end to the type of politics that “breeds division and conflict and cynicism” and he would help us “rediscover our bonds to each other and get out of this constant, petty bickering that’s come to characterize our politics.”
As president, Obama has not only discarded this core commitment; he has turned it on its head. Republicans aren’t simply people with whom he has philosophical disagreements; they are members of the “Flat Earth Society” and have embraced a budget that demonstrates their “Social Darwinism.” The Republican philosophy is “simple: We are better off when everybody is left to fend for themselves and play by their own rules.” The Republican vision is for elderly Americans unable to afford nursing home care, poor children, and children with autism and Down syndrome to “fend for themselves.” The GOP favors “dirtier” air and water. And Republicans in Congress consistently “put party before country.”.. Read the Rest
Competition Gives The Airlines A Bumpy Ride - George Will [Washington Post]
From his office window, Thomas W. Horton, in his fifth month as CEO of American Airlines, can see in the distance the Manhattan-size footprint of Dallas-Fort Worth airport, where American has 85 percent market share; it also has 68 percent in Miami, gateway to South America’s booming market. A few miles from here, however, sits one of the reasons why his company nevertheless entered bankruptcy recently — the corporate headquarters of Southwest Airlines.
Southwest, the most successful of the “low-cost” carriers that proliferated after the 1978 deregulation of the industry, has been profitable for 39 consecutive years, while the rest of the industry was losing $60 billion between deregulation and 2009. Southwest, JetBlue and the others have 30 percent of the domestic market, up from 10 percent in 1999. The “two-tier” airline industry is, however, becoming a thing of the past. All carriers are going to have low costs because of what Horton calls “fear-based discipline,” a.k.a. competition... Read the Rest
Why Your Highway Has Potholes - Editors [Wall Street Journal]
Nothing shows off the worst of Congress like a highway bill. And this year's scramble for cash is worse than ever because the 18.4 cent a gallon gasoline tax will raise $70 billion less than the $263 billion Congress wants to spend over the next five years. Let the mayhem ensue.
The Senate has passed a two-year $109 billion bill sponsored by Barbara Boxer of California that bails out the highway trust fund with general revenues, including some $12 billion for such nonessentials as the National Endowment for the Oceans and the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The bill requires little or no reform. The prevailing Senate view is the more concrete that gets poured, the more jobs back home. So more "shovel-ready" nonstimulus... Read the Rest
The Power of New Orleans School Reform - Jim Stergios [Boston.com / Pioneer Institute]
For all the talk about a big national education agenda, the fact is that little implementation of the national standards is actually going on. Lots of talk, lots of money being spent, but business as usual on the federal front.
In a number of states, and without any connection to the federal ed department’s lumbering efforts, there’s been a tsunami of school choice programs... Read the Rest

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Must-read from the Sunday NYT on health care costs

Think about nearly any service that you pay for. Take, I don't know, cable television for example. If you notice your monthly bill creeping steadily upwards (crazy, I know - but just pretend), what is the first thing you are going to do? Take a look at the itemized bill to see where your costs are increasing. If the price for a particular movie channel package has suddenly doubled you might consider canceling that package - all the more so if you realize that the movie channels in question hardly ever air anything  you want to watch. Or, if those channels are a must-have you might well check out your cable provider's competition to see if the same channels are available anywhere at a lower price.


Across the political spectrum there is rare universal agreement on this: health care costs are increasing out of control and something needs to be done about it. And yet, when it comes to the overall cost of health care the first and most obvious analytic step toward getting a grip on the problem - looking at the constituent parts of overall service delivery - is nearly impossible. And despite the obvious, crippling handicap this state of affairs imposes on any government effort to control costs, virtually every major reform effort chooses to ignore this aspect of the problem.

It is safe to assume that the average voter - and the average policymaker - has a hard time getting his or her head around the minutiae (or even the broad strokes) of health care policy. It is incredibly complex stuff, a truth that finds its most vivid illustration in the fact that the Democrats' Health Care Reform Act ran over 3,000 pages (which, all other criticisms of the law aside, is just insane).

All the more reason, then, to appreciate and spread around this clear, concise, and eminently comprehensible article by Robert Kaplan and Michael Porter in this past Sunday's New York Times. Titled "Why Medical Bills Are A Mystery," the piece makes a powerful case for the simple proposition that "measuring [health care] outcomes and costs is indispensable to driving improvements."

Their statement of the problem is straightforward. Health care reform efforts from the local to the federal levels "are failing because of a fundamental and largely unrecognized problem: We don’t know what it costs to deliver health care to individual patients, much less how those costs compare to the outcomes achieved."  This willful ignorance of underlying costs has detrimental effects well beyond mere inability to identify cost increase drivers:
Because health care charges and reimbursements have become disconnected from actual costs, some procedures are reimbursed very generously, while others are priced below their actual cost or not reimbursed at all. This leads many providers to expand into well-reimbursed procedures, like knee and hip replacements or high-end imaging, producing huge excess capacity for these at the same time that shortages persist in poorly reimbursed but critical services like primary and preventive care.
The lack of cost and outcome information also prevents the forces of competition from working: Hospitals and doctors are reimbursed for performing lots of procedures and tests regardless of whether they are necessary to make their patients get better. Providers who excel and achieve better outcomes with fewer visits, procedures and complications are penalized by being paid less.
The opacity of cost information, in other words, actually works to punish efficiency and reward excess - a dynamic that obviously must be reversed for any cost-control reform to take hold.

Here in Massachusetts our legislature has promised yet another comprehensive round of health care reform this year. So far, all indications are that the package being hammered together behind closed doors (of course) will again ignore the cost opacity problem - in which case we can look for the cost problem to continue to grow.

Social Economics 101 - Reagan Schooling Obama

Apparently this has been kicking around for a while - don't know how I missed it. In case you did too...




Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A different (conservative) perspective on GM and the Volt

Count me among conservatives who had serious misgivings about the (Bush Administration's) bailout of General Motors, and who have routinely criticized the company and the government's role in it ever since. In particular I've been rather, um, opinionated about the Chevy Volt.

So when I read a lengthy article by the Weekly Standard's Fred Barnes this morning that caused me to re-examine some of my impressions and conclusions, I felt obligated to share. Here are a few interesting factoids I learned from the article.

GM management has been pretty resolute in resisting the Obama Administration's efforts to turn the company into a political prop - literally and figuratively.
The folks at General Motors are blessed with more foresight than you might have suspected. They were prepared when Vice President Joe Biden wanted to address a United Auto Workers rally at the GM plant in Toledo, Ohio, that manufactures transmissions. Sorry, they informed the vice president’s office, but we have a corporate policy that prohibits campaign events at any GM facility. So on March 15, Biden spoke to union members in Toledo at the main hall of UAW Local 12.
This episode speaks to a broader apparent truth (at least according to Barnes): GM is not under government control to any appreciable degree.
The Obama administration still owns 26 percent of General Motors’s stock. Yet GM officials weren’t afraid to tell the White House, No, you can’t use our facility. And this reflects a larger truth about GM: It is free from control by the Obama administration.
It’s not Government Motors anymore. Nor is the green-tech Volt—part electric, part gas powered—being produced at the insistence of the administration. The Volt is not an Obamacar or an Obamamobile. It’s been in the GM pipeline since 2006. Back then, Obama was a senator and GM needed an answer to a political environment that frowned on SUVs and trucks, the company’s gas-guzzling mainstays.
In fact, the Obama Administration had an opportunity, in November 2010, to sell the entire government stake in GM at a profit. It declined, preferring to maintain a significant (26 percent) stock ownership interest.
The administration’s 26 percent of GM stock gives it a hook into the company, though it hasn’t exploited its shares to interfere with corporate decisions. But when GM had an initial public offering in November 2010, the Obama team declined to sell all its shares, despite [former CEO Ed] Whitacre’s pleas.
“There was so much interest in that IPO because we were making money,” Whitacre told me. He said he “begged” administration officials to “sell all their stock” and pay back more of the tab for the $50 billion bailout. “The government had the final say,” Whitacre says. It sought merely to give up its position as the majority (61 percent) stockholder.
Now the stock is underwater. The IPO opened at $33 a share. The price rose to $38 before falling to $20. Last week, it hovered between $25 and $26. At that price, the administration probably won’t unload its shares before the election. Selling now would expose how far short—roughly $14 billion—taxpayers are of being paid back in full. The stock price would have to double for taxpayers to achieve full reimbursement.
As for the President's relentless citation of the GM bailout as a signature success of his first term, and his constant plugging of the Volt and other GM vehicles? A lot of people at GM wish he'd stop.
GM officials wince at Obama’s references, fearing he’s politicizing their company and keeping alive the Government Motors stigma. “I hated that name,” Whitacre, now retired, says. “I still hate it. It was very harmful to the company.”
No doubt Obama thinks he’s aiding GM. He’s not. “If you talk to these [GM] guys privately, they can’t get out from under the government fast enough,” says Daniel Howes of the Detroit News. But Obama won’t let go.

Front-runner for 'Most Effective Ad of the Cycle'



Ouch.  Of course if this ad leaves a mark, it is only because he inherited the worst economy since the Great Depression...

[H/T Todd Feinburg]

Monday, April 16, 2012

"This from the candidate of hope and change?"

This clip of Chris Wallace interviewing Obama guru David Axelrod speaks for itself:



And this one - solely of Axelrod - speaks even more loudly:

 

Friday, April 13, 2012

Top 10 Reads of the Week - Friday the (April) 13th Edition

The Myth of America's Decline - Walter Russell Mead [Wall Street Journal]
The world balance of power is changing. Countries like China, India, Turkey and Brazil are heard from more frequently and on a wider range of subjects. The European Union's most ambitious global project—creating a universal treaty to reduce carbon emissions—has collapsed, and EU expansion has slowed to a crawl as Europe turns inward to deal with its debt crisis. Japan has ceded its place as the largest economy in Asia to China and appears increasingly on the defensive in the region as China's hard and soft power grow.
The international chattering class has a label for these changes: American decline. The dots look so connectable: The financial crisis, say the pundits, comprehensively demonstrated the failure of "Anglo-Saxon" capitalism. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have sapped American strength and, allegedly, destroyed America's ability to act in the Middle East. China-style "state capitalism" is all the rage. Throw in the assertive new powers and there you have it—the portrait of America in decline.
Actually, what's been happening is just as fateful but much more complex. The United States isn't in decline, but it is in the midst of a major rebalancing. The alliances and coalitions America built in the Cold War no longer suffice for the tasks ahead. As a result, under both the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations, American foreign policy has been moving toward the creation of new, sometimes difficult partnerships as it retools for the tasks ahead... Read the Rest

For Obama, Green is the Color of Money Wasted on More Solyndras - Editors [Washington Examiner]
Last week, as President Obama delivered his economic speech deriding the so-called "trickle-down" economic policies that created 16 million jobs under President Reagan, his Energy Department was preparing to announce the next stage of a policy that may never create any.
David Frantz, chief of the DOE's clean energy loan program, informed Congress by letter on Thursday that his department will "begin issuing conditional commitments over the next several months" for new loans and loan guarantees to green energy companies. Why Obama is doubling and tripling down on one of his worst and most embarrassing policy mistakes is anybody's guess. Maybe it's change that only he and global warming diehards can believe in... Read the Rest
Barack Obama and Racial Double Standards - Peter Wehner [Commentary]
Late last week I heard from a theologian of liberal leanings, someone with whom I have been in (often friendly) correspondence for years. He wrote me to voice his objections to my recent “diatribes” against President Obama. That didn’t particularly surprise me. What didsurprise me is how he framed his objections. He didn’t take issue with the facts I’ve presented or even my interpretation of the facts. Rather, his concerns were expressed this way:
When I read your constant barrages aimed at the first black president, I think to myself, “Doesn’t Pete, the devout Christian, understand what it took to get to this place? And where would Pete have been in the years of the freedom struggle that finally eventuated in some measure of equality for African-Americans and even a black president?” Isn’t there some way you can temper your attacks on Obama with this history in mind?... Read the Rest
Federal Debt On An Accrual Basis - Timothy Taylor [Conversable Economist]

Ed Note: Don't read on an empty stomach.
The U.S. federal budget is typically measured on a cash basis: that is, how much tax money came in and how much spending went out. But for a more complete picture of any budget, it is useful to look at an accrual budget: that is, including not just current spending, but what spending has already been committed for the future. The federal government takes a stab at providing an overview of an accrual budget each year in a report from the U.S. Treasury called the Financial Report of the United States Government: the 2011 edition is here.
Here's a graphic showing all the assets and debts of the U.S. government from an accrual perspective. Federal debt held by the public, the usual measure of federal debt, is about $10.2 trillion. "As of September 30, 2011, the Government held about $2.7 trillion in assets, comprised mostly of net property, plant, and equipment ($852.8 billion) and a combined total of $985.2 billion in net loans receivable, mortgage-backed securities, and investments." The big addition here is the $5.8 trillion in already owed in employee and veterans' benefits. Taking these legal obligations into account increases the government's liabilities by more than half... Read the Rest
Demolishing Paul Ryan - Daniel Henninger [Wall Street Journal]
With the presidential battle begun, the Obama campaign has revived the Cold War nuclear strategy of launch on warning. At any suggestion that a conservative idea might be threatening its ideological fortress, the American left now launches ICBMs of rhetorical destruction.
So it was after the Supreme Court's hearings on the Obama Affordable Care Act, which put in jeopardy the federal command to buy health insurance. After the president green-flagged the assault, the Supreme Court's "legitimacy" was in play. The Roberts Court, wrote one blogger, is "on trial."
On current course, House GOP Budget Chairman Paul Ryan himself may exhaust their entire thermonuclear arsenal before November. Once again, the Campaigner in Chief threw the switch himself, calling the Ryan House budget "social Darwinism," "a Trojan horse" and "antithetical to our entire history." Rev. Samuel Rodriquez of the Hispanic Evangelical Association said the poor would be "budget-war collateral damage."... Read the Rest

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Democrats' Nonsensical Health Care Attacks

One can understand why the national Democrats, with the gleeful cooperation of their Bay State counterparts, gave in to the temptation to hang a Mitt Romney pinata at this week's 'sixth anniversary celebration' of Massachusetts health care reform.  The Mass Ds even baked an Etch-a-Sketch cake. Mass Democratic Committee Chairman John Walsh took a shot, quipping
"Mitt even included the individual mandate as part of the health reform legislation he signed into law in Massachusetts, which served as the national model for the Affordable Care Act. Mitt Romney should be proud of what he and Ted Kennedy started six years ago today."
Cleverness by Confection
And of course Obama surrogate #1 (who moonlights as the Governor of Massachusetts) got into the act as well, relying on his legendary powers of divination to observe, "I know, or at least I sense, that he’s personally proud of it..."

"Proud" of "what he and Ted Kennedy started!" Whoa-ho! Fightin' words, those. Doubtless Republican primary voters (the ones who didn't know about Mitt and healthcare) will now rise up against him in furious anger, throwing their votes and the nomination to... um...

(cough)

Think about the underlying rationale for these attacks-by-compliment for a minute:

The Obama/Patrick folks love Obamacare. They think it is a very good thing. Further, they view the Commonwealth's 2006 health reforms as a precursor to Obamacare, making them too very good things.

Underlying the Dems' quip-fest this week is the assumption that association of Mitt with these 'good things' will hurt his chances in the general election - which necessarily implies that Obama/Patrick know that an awful lot of voters in fact think Obamacare is a bad thing.

To believe that reminding those voters of Mitt's association with health care reform will hurt Mitt in the general, Obama/Patrick & Co. have to assume further that those same voters will refuse to support Mitt to punish him for his involvement with what they see as a bad thing... which would obviously inure to the benefit of the President... who unabashedly declares that Obamacare is a good thing.

The head spins.

One almost feels for the Ds here. They believed - because the media continually assured them it was so - that Governor Romney's willingness to dive into the thorny thicket of health care reform and participate in efforts to craft a bipartisan solution to a real and pressing problem would be his Achilles' heel in the Republican primaries. That turned out to be somewhat less than advertised. Now, with the nomination all but sewn up for Mitt, the Ds  just cannot let it go. They'd probably been planning this week's "party" for months. Someone ordered a custom cake!  Faced with the suddenly-altered political landscape produced by Rick Santorum's departure from the Republican field, the Ds were unable to abandon their 'clever' plans.

Despite their best efforts, the Democrats failed to knock Mitt out of the primaries - maybe because the voters, even those who disagree with his actions in 2006, appreciate a chief executive who refuses to apologize for taking a political risk to attempt to solve a difficult problem.

Ironically, in their continual harping on health care the Democrats are underscoring yet another increasingly obvious and unflattering contrast with the current occupant of the Oval Office.


Monday, April 9, 2012

This Whole Voter Fraud Thing

If by chance you haven't e-stumbled upon this brilliance piece of guerrilla journalism yet today, take a moment to give a watch.



The clip puts me immediately in mind of this unfortunately-timed column from last week, about which I tweeted, "Always amazed at how invested the left is in the notion that voting fraud does not exist."

That Nation column I just linked to does not actually argue that voter fraud is nonexistent; only that the problem is so minuscule as to be inconsequential. But the title is telling: "The 'Voter Fraud' Fraud." Note the scare quotes. 'Voter Fraud,' this particular columnist argues (echoing a popular refrain on the left frequently sung by no lesser an authority than the Attorney General), is nothing more than an imaginary boogeyman conjured by the right to justify calls for a voter ID requirement.

The left's approach to voter fraud
Of course to make that argument, folks like the Nation columnist and the Attorney General have to assume, basically, that nobody ever does what the maker of that video above so cleverly pretended to do - which strikes me as almost unfathomably naive. It is the speak no / see no / hear no approach.

The thing about voter fraud (no scare quotes now) is that once perpetrated it is nearly impossible to detect or prove. An unchallenged fraudulent voter who successfully casts a ballot and departs the scene leaves no footprints. His ballot is impossible to distinguish from the others, and therefore impossible to extract from the election results. This is the reality upon which voter ID opponents rely to support their argument that voter fraud is virtually nonexistent. It is rarely proved, ergo it does not happen (not never proved though - John Fund has a good rundown of some high-profile / highly-ignored cases here).

Couple the relative ease with which the voting identity even of the Attorney General of the United States can be stolen with the near impossibility of detecting a successful act of voter fraud, however, and it is not hard to see why there are relatively few successful convictions for voter fraud. Viewed in context that fact proves very little.

Which is probably why voter ID opponents fall so quickly and easily to their even flimsier back-up argument.



Friday, April 6, 2012

Energy Costs: Making the Problem Worse, Revisited

The Massachusetts state senate yesterday unanimously passed a piece of legislation that supporters erroneously claim will both reduce energy costs and increase "our commitment to renewable energy." This is nonsense. As I have argued at length before, the two objectives may be independently good and worthy, but with today's technology they work against each other. Increasing the mandated use of renewable energy will drive up energy costs - it just will. There is no plausible argument to the contrary. This may change in the future, but for now that is reality.

Here is Boston.com's blurb, which pretty well encapsulates the attempt to square the circle:
The Massachusetts Senate has unanimously passed a bill that aims to curb energy costs while requiring state utilities to buy more renewable power.
The bill passed Thursday requires utilities to enter long-term contracts with renewable power companies for 7 percent of their energy supplies, up from 3 percent.
The companies must competitively bid for the contracts, instead of one-on-one negotiations allowed now. And a state payment to utilities that agree to the deals drops from 4 percent of the contract's annual value to 1 percent.
The bill would also allow more frequent review of utility rate requests by state regulators.
That first line might as well read, "The Massachusetts Senate has unanimously passed a bill that aims to douse a fire by spraying it with gasoline."

The bill's supposed cost savings come through the new long-term contract and bid-competition requirements. At best these new requirements can hope - maybe - to slow slightly the price increases that will accompany implementation of the legislation's doubling of current renewable generation and purchase requirements. And we might not even get that (the sole-source fiasco of Cape Wind aside, there is no evidence that I am aware of that a lack of competitive bidding is a major driver of the significant delta between the cost of electricity generated by traditional sources and the much pricier juice squeezed from turbines, solar panels and the like).

Upshot: If implemented (it still needs to get through the House) this bill will bring Massachusetts even higher energy prices - just maybe not quite as much higher as what we'd get without its relatively flimsy price-control provisions.

Like Governor Patrick, the legislature is talking the talk when it comes to reducing energy prices while working to drive them ever higher. Our business community - much of which struggles every day to justify a continued presence here as the cost of doing business in the Commonwealth creeps steadily higher - ought to be screaming to the rafters about this one.

Postscript: It is telling that (according to the State House News), supporters of this bill think of it as the "Green Communities Act: Part Deux." That would be the same Green Communities Act that the Attorney General's office recently estimated will cost us a whopping $4 billion over the next 4 years to implement.

Top 10 Reads of the Week - April 6, 2012

Presidential Chutzpah - John Steele Gordon [Commentary]
Presidential chutzpah. Well, at least you can admire him for that perhaps. After all, someone who graduated from Harvard Law School, edited theHarvard Law Review, and taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School must be familiar with Marbury v. Madison. AsWikipedia explains, it’s an important case:
Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. (1 Cranch) 137 (1803) is a landmark case in United States law and in the history of law worldwide. It formed the basis for the exercise of judicial review in the United States under Article III of the Constitution. It was also the first time in Western history a court invalidated a law by declaring it “unconstitutional.” The landmark decision helped define the boundary between the constitutionally separate executive and judicial branches of the American form of government.
And yet President Obama yesterday implicitly claimed never to have heard of it, allowing him to say regarding Obamacare that it would be an “unprecedented, extraordinary” step for the Supreme Court to overturn legislation passed by a “strong majority of a democratically elected Congress.” The precedents go back 209 years and, as Jonah Goldberg pointed out on “Special Report” last night, the Supreme Court has been overturning acts of Congress ever since, on average every 16 months. So overturning Obamacare would be about as unprecedented as the sun rising in the east tomorrow morning. Actually the precedents go back even further, as Alexander Hamilton mentioned the power of judicial review in Federalist Paper 78, written in 1788. The last president to seriously challenge the court’s power to overturn an act of Congress under the doctrine of judicial review was Andrew Jackson, who famously said after one decision he didn’t like, “The court has made its decision; now let it enforce it.”... Read the Rest

 Democrats Resort to Magical Thinking On Obamacare - Ramesh Ponuru [Bloomberg]
In the span of one week, Democrats went from dismissing the possibility that the Supreme Court would strike down the 2010 law mandating individuals to buy health insurance to consoling themselves that any such action would have a silver lining.
James Carville says it would help the Democrats in the election. Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson writes that it would make single payer -- a government health system as in the U.K. and Canada -- “inevitable.” Other liberals, and even the occasional right-of-center analyst, have echoed that point: The conservative legal challenge to President Barack Obama’s health-care overhaul could prove self-defeating... Read the Rest
The Endless Spending Spree - James Grant [Wall Street Journal]
From George Washington to Dwight D. Eisenhower, the national debt tended to grow in wartime and shrink in peacetime. Because the dollar was generally convertible into gold or silver at a fixed and statutory rate, the central bank, when there was a central bank, couldn't just materialize money as the Federal Reserve does today. You had to dig the metal out of the Earth, or entice it into American vaults with money-friendly financial policies. The Treasury could borrow, all right, but not without limit. Wars aside, the government paid its way like a man with a debit card.
Washington, D.C., got its credit card on Sunday, Aug. 15, 1971. Pre-empting the horse opera "Bonanza," President Richard Nixon told a national television audience that the gold standard, or what little of it remained, was kaput. No more would the dollar be defined in law as 1/35th of an ounce of gold. It would rather be anchored by the good intentions of the people who printed it... Read the Rest
GOP Not Losing Women In Contraception "War" - David Paul Kuhn [Real Clear Politics]
New York Magazine's Frank Rich argued last week that there is, indeed, a "full-fledged Republican war on women." Rich asserted that this latest cultural debate is costing the likely Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, women's support. He cited a single poll to prove his point. In March, Barack Obama ran ahead of Romney among women in the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, 55 percent to 37 percent. That does look bad. But what share of women supported Romney before the debate over contraception coverage in the new national health care law? Essentially the same share. In mid-January, the NBC/Journal poll found that women favored Obama over Romney, 54 to 38 percent. It was a statistically insignificant shift.
Rich’s mis-analysis is hardly unique. Sans evidence, CNN reported on March 6 that “the gender gap has been widening, with the president winning more women's support since this contraception controversy has become an issue.”.. Read the Rest
Enter Totalitarian Democracy - Andrew McCarthy [The New Criterion]
"I would not look to the U.S. Constitution if I were drafting a constitution in the year 2012.” The speaker was Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg of the United States Supreme Court. These, therefore, were astonishing words.
The authority over American law enjoyed by Justice Ginsburg and her colleagues on the Court owes solely to the existence of the U.S. Constitution, complemented by the high court’s proclamation that it has the last word on how that Constitution is to be construed. That latter power grab traces its roots back to Chief Justice John Marshall’s legendary 1803 opinion inMarbury v. Madison. Marshall “emphatically” declared it “the duty of the Judicial Department to say what the law is.” Despite naysayers from Jefferson to Lincoln, who thought that judicial supremacy would eviscerate popular sovereignty, Marshall’s assertion paved the way for the modern Court to claim even more boldly, in Cooper v. Aaron (1959) for instance, that judicial control over the Constitution’s meaning is a “permanent and indispensable feature of our constitutional system.”... Read the Rest
Chart of the Week




Thursday, April 5, 2012

Meanwhile, In Massachusetts State Government - April 5, 2012

(All blurbs from the State House News Service, unless otherwise specified).


Then again, it may not

Attorney General Martha Coakley's indictment Monday of ex-treasurer Tim Cahill on charges that he misspent taxpayer money adds to a list of criminal complaints against Beacon Hill power brokers that may present a years-long headache for Massachusetts Democratic leaders.
It bothers me, this festering cynicism... but I've long ago stopped expecting the Massachusetts electorate to react appropriately to this kind of thing. Sadly, it has become our 'normal.'

Front-Runner for 2012's "Worth A Thousand Words" Award:


AP Photo, via Boston.com

First Step: Build a Team of Rivals

Concord native and former U.S. Army captain Joe Kearns Goodwin announced plans to run for the Senate seat that Susan Fargo (D-Lincoln) is relinquishing. A former elected member of the Concord Democratic Town Committee, Goodwin helped run Rep. Cory Atkins' first successful campaign for state representative, served in the 1st Armored Division in Iraq, and worked in General Electric's steam and wind turbine divisions before he was recalled to serve in Afghanistan in 2008, spending a year there. According to a press release announcing his candidacy, Goodwin, 34, is a graduate of Harvard College and his father Richard was an advisor to Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson and his mother Doris is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and presidential historian.

Next year's hottest crop? Solar panels and windmills.

The Patrick administration on Tuesday simultaneously announced that Agriculture Commissioner Scott Soares is leaving for a post with the Cranberry Marketing Committee and that Gregory Watson of Falmouth has been sworn in as his replacement... Watson has worked as senior advisor for clean energy technology in the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs since 2007... He was a volunteer member of President Obama's 2008 energy transition team and currently served on the board of the U.S. Offshore Wind Collaborative.
Look for the green label... and never mind the
metal and glass and wires and stuff.
Sounds like a natural for the post of Agriculture Commissioner - no wonder the Administration was in such a hurry to swear him in. Kidding aside, farmland across the Commonwealth is being viewed by subsidy-hungry developers as prime real estate for industrial-scale renewable energy generation facilities, causing no small amount of agita among residents of currently rural neighborhoods who find themselves suddenly torn between general support of all things "green" and understandable resistance to proposals to install power plants in their bucolic back yards. It doesn't seem too outlandish to suppose that a fellow with Mr. Watson's particular pedigree may have been tapped to accelerate that trend.

Define "irony"

A six-member conference committee negotiating legislation aimed at improving transparency and accountability in state government is scheduled to meet at 1 p.m. in Room 511. Chief House conferee Rep. Peter Kocot confirmed the meeting Tuesday and said it would be closed.
The tactic is clear here - and it is brilliant. Clearly the conference committee crafting legislation "aimed at improving transparency and accountability" is using the Costanza technique. They are doing the opposite! Transparency through opacity - they cannot fail.



Speaking of the opposite...

Gov. Deval Patrick defended President Barack Obama's handling of the economy on Tuesday morning, blaming a "sclerosis" in Congress for impeding the president's ability to make the type of investments that have been successful in Massachusetts.
I don't want to interrupt the Governor in the middle of yet another redefinition of reality, but nit-pickers might note that in at least one area President Obama made precisely the same "type of investment" as Governor Patrick made in Massachusetts - with precisely the same results!


Anytime you hear these words, grab your wallet

Impatient Senate leaders circumvented a House-controlled committee and blindsided colleagues Tuesday by scheduling consideration later this week of first-in-the nation legislation to force auto manufacturers to reveal additional repair data to body shops and aftermarket parts dealers.
In no other context does the law of unintended consequences apply with more force than when the words "Massachusetts" and "first in the nation" come together to describe some new piece of regulation. P.S. I still don't understand what the bill does, but at least if it passes those radio ads will finally end for good. (Hey! I used that "law of unintended consequences" line a year ago! I'm as bad as the president!)

I'm betting it isn't buried all that deep...

Gov. Deval Patrick hinted Tuesday that a partial solution to the state's long-term transportation funding needs could be buried deep within the tax code. While discussing with business leaders the state's infrastructure funding needs and what he described as a reflexive impulse among elected officials to reject new taxes, Patrick began to describe the "fascinating" work being done by the an independent "Tax Expenditure Commission" currently reviewing the state's $26 billion slate of annual tax breaks, incentive programs and deductions.

Least surprising decision ever

After 17 months of review, state regulators on Wednesday announced their approval of the merger between utility giants NSTAR and Northeast Utilities.
Who so unsurprising? Read this and this and this. The "state regulators" might as well have been carrying lengths of pipe and wearing brass knuckles.


Here's a tip: Don't sleep on stone steps

Legislators who haul around a year’s worth of paperwork beware. A group of occupational therapy graduate students set up in the State House Thursday morning, with presentations and tips on just how much a single person should carry around.
By sheer coincidence:
This evening, Occupy the MBTA, a working group of Occupy Boston, launched Camp Charlie, a ten day occupation of the State House steps to protest fare-hikes and service cutbacks on the MBTA. -- OccupyBoston "press advisory."
If ever there were a crew in need of some occupational therapy... (and isn't "a working group of Occupy Boston" kind of an oxymoron?)

 

Renewable rhetoric?

This speaks for itself, and really is pretty remarkable...



Of course the President gives hundreds of speeches a year, many of them recycling the same lines for different audiences - nothing wrong with that. In theory, though, in both 2011 and 2012 this particular speech (and I do think it is correct to use the singular) was meant to be the President's definitive response to the Republicans' proposed budget. It is probably too much to expect him to recall using the identical words a year ago... but should someone on staff not be on the lookout for excessive cut-and-pasting? And should we not expect just a bit of originality from a President for whom speechifying is supposedly his greatest strength?