Sunday, July 29, 2012

Taking the baton

Like many of you, I'm sure, I am saddened that the blogosphere will be losing Dan's sharp wit and incisive commentary (although there might be 'much rejoicing' up on Beacon Hill).  It just won't be the same without him. 

There is no way I could hope to truly fill Dan's shoes, smart and funny shoes that they are, but I will do my best to carry on the spirit of CriticalMass.  I'm afraid you will probably see a decline in silly pictures, but likely a proportional increase in Princess Bride references.

Many thanks to Dan for entrusting me with his blog.  I hope I can continue to entertain and inform, and I hope you all will continue to read and comment. 

Good luck, Dan!  You will be missed.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Handing off

I started writing this little blog about Massachusetts politics just about four years ago, when my long-suffering bride suggested that perhaps the blogosphere would be a more appropriate outlet for my ranting than the breakfast table (direct quote: "I can't take it any more - why don't you write a BLOG or something?!?").  What started as a bit of therapeutic release evolved over 900 posts into... a bit of therapeutic release that quite a few people actually bothered to read on a fairly regular basis.  That has been pretty darned cool, I have to say.  If you are one of those people, thank you.  Truly.

Now various circumstances in my life (all positive) have conspired to make continuing dedication to this blog impractical.  That bums me out.  Truth be told it probably bums my wife out too.  Though she hasn't yet explicitly warned me against resumption of the breakfast table rants, I have to believe the thought has occurred to her.  So anyhoo... this is my last post (sniff).

Your new editor
I am thrilled to report, however, that occasional CriticalMASS contributor Daisy has agreed to carry on.  Those who have enjoyed her posts in the past (they are consistently some of our most popular) know that Daisy is considerably smarter than I, with a greater facility with facts and figures (and therefore a lesser need to lean on, oh I don't know, snarky little illustrations and fifth grade humor).  Daisy will do a great job with our small corner of the web.  I encourage you to continue to check in.  I know I will.

Take it away Daisy!

Many thanks,

Friday, July 27, 2012

Top 10 Reads of the Week - July 27, 2012

Four Little Words: Kim Strassel [Wall Street Journal]
What's the difference between a calm and cool Barack Obama, and a rattled and worried Barack Obama? Four words, it turns out.
"You didn't build that" is swelling to such heights that it has the president somewhere unprecedented: on defense. Mr. Obama has felt compelled—for the first time in this campaign—to cut an ad in which he directly responds to the criticisms of his now-infamous speech, complaining his opponents took his words "out of context."... Read the Rest
Many more at
 Man With A Plan - Stephen Hayes [Weekly Standard]
Paul Ryan has come to Kenosha to deliver bad news. It’s May 3, 2012, and the United States faces an imminent debt crisis. The federal government is spending too much. Entitlements are out of control. Social Security is going insolvent. Medicare is sucking up an ever-increasing chunk of our tax dollars. There are too many retirees and too few workers to support them. And both political parties are responsible for the unholy mess.
Ryan, the seven-term representative from Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District, speaks quickly, as if the coming collapse might happen in the middle of his remarks if he takes too much time. It’s a bracing message. He is saying, in effect, that the American experiment, our 236 extraordinary years of self-government, is on the verge of failure... Read the Rest
Who Did Build That Business, Then, Mr. President? - Vincent Carroll [Denver Post]
...Obama's background is bereft of any significant first-hand experience that might foster respect or sympathy for business owners. To the contrary, he hails from occupational niches — community activism, academia and politics — in which disdain for commerce is quite widespread.
Of course, you can be a law professor or a politician who bucks the ideological tide. Far more telling is that Obama for years has been making similar statements that suggest a decidedly low regard for commerce and the motives of those who flourish within the private sector.
One of these revealing moments occurred four years ago during his commencement address at Wesleyan University, when he exhorted graduates to take up community service. That's a worthy theme, of course, but consider how he did it... Read the Rest
What Still Shocks Me About Obamacare - Nat Hentoff [CATO/Real Clear Politics]
Amid the huge response — both triumphant and agonized — to the Supreme Court’s preservation of Obamacare, I was surprised at how little attention was being paid to that law’s core purpose: to strongly control health care costs where government funding is involved, as it increasingly will be.
What still shocks me about this law is the government’s interference with the doctor-patient relationship. Many government bureaucracies will not pay for doctor-prescribed treatments costing more than a predetermined figure. And none of these bureaucracies’ members will have actually seen the individual patient... Read the Rest
Life of Henry - Matthew Continetti [Weekly Standard]
In May, the Obama campaign unveiled its “Life of Julia,” a website detailing “how President Obama’s policies help one woman over her lifetime​—​and how Mitt Romney would change her story.” Julia is a composite character, the invention of one of the several hundred minions toiling away at Obama headquarters in Chicago. She is intended to illustrate, in a literal and rather vulgar way, the benefits of the entitlement state, from Head Start to student loans to Obamacare.
But Julia and people like her are not the sole residents of the United States. Nor is America divided simply between superrich plutocrats who make up 1 percent of the country and desperate beneficiaries of government largesse who make up the other 99. One can slice and dice our huge population in innumerable ways, isolating and identifying countless groups, many of which are in positions vastly different from Julia’s. Consider Henry. For Henry, President Obama has been no help at all... Read the Rest

Small Firms Seek Workers But Cannot Find Any - Emily Maltby and Sarah Needleman [Wall Street Journal]
It isn't the just big manufacturers, oil companies and railroad operators that are struggling to hire skilled workers.
The "Help Wanted" sign is also a regular fixture at small firms such as Group One Safety & Security in Stuart, Fla., despite the high national unemployment rate, which was 8.2% in June.
About 31% of 811 small-business owners and chief executives said they had unfilled job openings in July because they couldn't identify applicants with the right skills or experience, according to a survey by The Wall Street Journal and Vistage International, a peer advisory organization for senior-level executives based in San Diego, Calif... Read the Rest

Vote For A Change - Governor Bobby Jindal [NRO's The Corner Blog]
President Obama is in New Orleans today. One wonders if, during his visit to the Crescent City, he will repeat the now infamous claim that “If you have a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.” Given the firestorm that erupted after that claim, it’s doubtful he will do so.
But we should not forget his words. President Obama’s comments were not a one-off gaffe. Instead, they define his administration.
This election is defined by a single choice — will we put our trust in the government or in the American people? President Obama’s comments only make explicit what we’ve always known about his philosophy. From the first days of his administration, he has turned to the power of the federal government to address the struggles we face... Read the Rest
 The Chicken Inquisition - Editors [National Review Online]
Rahm Emanuel has been many things in life — ballet dancer, investment banker, congressman, White House chief of staff, now mayor of Chicago — and he apparently wishes to add another title to his curriculum vitae: Grand Inquisitor. He has denounced the fast-food chain Chick-fil-A and endorsed a Chicago alderman’s plan to block construction of a new outlet because the company’s executives do not share his politics. This is a gross abuse of power: Imagine if the mayor of Provo, Utah, had tried to punish a business for supporting same-sex marriage — the Left would demand his resignation, etc. The powers of government are not to be used for parochial political ends. Even in Chicago.
It is worth taking a look at precisely what has given the mayor of the nation’s most corrupt city such cause for concern. “We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives,” said Chick-fil-A chief executive officer Dan Cathy in an interview that launched a million angry tweets. “We know that it might not be popular with everyone, but thank the Lord, we live in a country where we can share our values and operate on biblical principles.” Mr. Cathy, a purveyor of sweet tea and chicken sandwiches, has a better understanding of the American constitutional order than do the city fathers in Chicago and Boston, among other places, who also have threatened to use their municipal powers to punish Mr. Cathy and his company for this alleged anti-gay bigotry... Read the Rest
Sorry Obama, Government Didn't Build That - Editors [Investors Business Daily]
President Obama whines that he didn't mean what Mitt Romney says he did when he uttered, "You didn't build that." But even if you take Obama at his word, he's hopelessly and terribly wrong.
After endlessly complaining that Romney has taken his words out of context and deliberately altered their meaning, Obama can't seem to shake off the damage done by his remark two weeks ago that "if you've got a business — you didn't build that."
Obama says he wasn't referring to the businesses themselves, but to the roads and bridges, and to the whole "unbelievable American system" that "allowed you to thrive."... Read the Rest
A Time For Choosing - Ronald Reagan [American Rhetoric]
Not too long ago, two friends of mine were talking to a Cuban refugee, a businessman who had escaped from Castro, and in the midst of his story one of my friends turned to the other and said, "We don't know how lucky we are." And the Cuban stopped and said, "How lucky you are? I had someplace to escape to." And in that sentence he told us the entire story. If we lose freedom here, there's no place to escape to. This is the last stand on earth.
And this idea that government is beholden to the people, that it has no other source of power except the sovereign people, is still the newest and the most unique idea in all the long history of man's relation to man.
This is the issue of this election: whether we believe in our capacity for self-government or whether we abandon the American revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capitol can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves... Read the Rest
The Funniest Thing I Saw This Week

Monday, July 23, 2012

Awesome New Ad From Scott Brown Campaign. This is what it's all about

Just a ridiculously good web ad from the Scott Brown for Senate campaign.  From the presidential race to our own Senate contest here in Massachusetts, this is what it's all about this cycle.  This.

Save for another year the usual complaints that there is no difference between the parties.  This year, there couldn't be a greater difference.  Senator Brown's team tapped on an absolutely visceral level into the core of the choice presented to voters in a few short months.  Great stuff.  Share it.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Top 10 Reads of the Week - July 20, 2012

Ed note: I've got a Top 10 Reads of the Week list here. But I didn't build it.  Somebody else wrote these columns.  There is definitely a central theme to most of this week's selections... But then, it isn't often that a single sound-bite so effectively encapsulates the choice before voters in a national election.

The Incredible Bain Jobs Machine - Andy Kessler [Wall Street Journal]
Did Mitt Romney and Bain Capital help office-supply retailer Staples create 88,000 jobs? 43,000? 252? Actually, Staples probably destroyed 100,000 jobs while creating millions of new ones.
Since 1986, Staples has opened 2,000 stores, eliminating the jobs of distributors and brokers who charged nasty markups for paper and office supplies. But it enabled hundreds of thousands of small (and not so small) businesses to stock themselves cheaply and conveniently and expand their operations.
It's the same story elsewhere. Apple employs just 47,000 people, and Google under 25,000. Like Staples, they have destroyed many old jobs, like making paper maps and pink "While You Were Out" notepads. But by lowering the cost of doing business they've enabled innumerable entrepreneurs to start new businesses and employ hundreds of thousands, even millions, of workers world-wide—all while capital gets redeployed more effectively... Read the Rest

The Lethal Presidency of Barack Obama - Tom Junod [Esquire]
...You are a historic figure, Mr. President. You are not only the first African-American president; you are the first who has made use of your power to target and kill individuals identified as a threat to the United States throughout your entire term. You are the first president to make the killing of targeted individuals the focus of our military operations, of our intelligence, of our national-security strategy, and, some argue, of our foreign policy. You have authorized kill teams comprised of both soldiers from Special Forces and civilians from the CIA, and you have coordinated their efforts through the Departments of Justice and State. You have gradually withdrawn from the nation building required by "counterinsurgency" and poured resources into the covert operations that form the basis of "counter-terrorism." More than any other president you have made the killing rather than the capture of individuals the option of first resort, and have killed them both from the sky, with drones, and on the ground, with "nighttime" raids not dissimilar to the one that killed Osama bin Laden. You have killed individuals in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya, and are making provisions to expand the presence of American Special Forces in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. In Pakistan and other places where the United States has not committed troops, you are estimated to have killed at least two thousand by drone. You have formalized what is known as "the program," and at the height of its activity it was reported to be launching drone strikes in Pakistan every three days. Your lethality is expansive in both practice and principle; you are fighting terrorism with a policy of preemptive execution, and claiming not just the legal right to do so but the legal right to do so in secret. The American people, for the most part, have no idea who has been killed, and why; the American people — and for that matter, most of their representatives in Congress — have no idea what crimes those killed in their name are supposed to have committed, and have been told that they are not entitled to know.
This is not to say that the American people don't know about the Lethal Presidency, and that they don't support its aims. They do. They know about the killing because you have celebrated — with appropriate sobriety — the most notable kills, specifically those of Osama bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki; they support it because you have asked for their trust as a good and honorable man surrounded by good and honorable men and women and they have given it to you. In so doing, you have changed a technological capability into a moral imperative and have convinced your countrymen to see the necessity without seeing the downside. Politically, there is no downside. Historically, there is only the irony of the upside — that you, of all presidents, have become the lethal one; that you, of all people, have turned out to be a man of proven integrity whose foreign and domestic policies are less popular than your proven willingness to kill, in defense of your country, even your own countrymen ... indeed, to kill even a sixteen-year-old American boy accused of no crime at all... Read the Rest
California, Look To Wisconsin - Steven Malanga [Los Angeles Times]
Ed Note: Substitute "Massachusetts" (or any number of D-dominated states) for "California" and the argument works as well
Now that three California cities have declared bankruptcy, perhaps it's time to consider the lessons of Wisconsin.
One of the reasons Wisconsin Democrats couldn't unseat Republican Gov. Scott Walker in the state's recall election was that his challenger exemplified how Walker's narrowing of collective bargaining privileges for government workers benefited the state.
As mayor of Milwaukee, Tom Barrett had relied on Walker's reforms to balance his city's budget. And Barrett wasn't alone among Wisconsin officials. Walker comfortably defeated Barrett in large part because in the 11 months that the governor's reforms were in effect, Wisconsinites got a good glimpse of how they worked, even in Milwaukee, where the savings allowed government to remain solvent and avoid widespread layoffs... Read the Rest

 Barracking Your Way To The Top - Roger Kimball [PJ Media]
It is one of the curiosities of language that the transitive verb “barrack” (chiefly British, origin unknown) means to “shout or jeer at.” For that is precisely what our Barack, the one now occupying the White House, has descended to in his campaign against Mitt Romney. Shouting, jeering, name calling, and above all lying: “whatever it takes” to smear his political opponent and maintain his hold on the reins of power. It is, to use an adjective Romney himself employed recently, a disgusting performance. “Can a Candidate Lie His Way to the Presidency?” John Hinderaker asked recently at Powerline. The answer, alas, is Yes. But John offers this hopeful addendum: “a candidate likely can lie his way into office, but I doubt that an incumbent president can lie his way to re-election. For the first time in his life, apparently, Barack Obama has a record.” He won’t, in short, be able to seal up the records on his dismal performance these past several years the way he has managed to seal the records of his high school, college, and law school years, not to mention his years as a practicing attorney.
I recently wrote in this space that “Who Is Barack Obama?” was the question that won’t go away. A lot of people, me included, thought it appalling that Barack Obama’s utter lack of experience wasn’t more of an issue in 2008. Looking back on the election, however, even more extraordinary is the fact that the people of the United States elected a man to be president whom they knew almost nothing about. It wasn’t just Obama’s lack of experience that was at issue; it was the lack at the center of his being: we really had no idea where this fellow came from, who he was, what he stood for... Read the Rest
Failure Also Subsidized - Michael Graham [Boston Herald]
Unlike most of my fellow conservatives, I actually enjoyed President Obama’s recent speech at a fundraiser about how you’re not responsible for your life’s outcome (“If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”)
Why, I liked it so much I went back and listened to it in the original Cherokee (Elizabeth Warren: “Nobody in this country got rich on his own — nobody!”).
My only objection is that the focus of their comments was too narrow. The president says, “if you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help.”
He’s right, of course. But why leave out our fellow unsuccessful Americans? Don’t they count, too?... Read the Rest

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The 2012 Presidential Election in 12 Seconds

I'm not sure this needs - or could be improved in any way by -  additional commentary.  This is how our current President thinks.  Amazing.

Additional context here.  It doesn't change his meaning one bit.

If you know someone who worked (or works!) day and night to build a grow a business, do make sure he or she sees this.

Now the Globe's Political Agenda Infects Its Math

Say you bought a house in Gardner, MA in 2005, the height of the local housing market, and you paid $219,000, precisely the median home price there at the time.  Say further that you did what a lot of people, to their everlasting regret, did: you put zero down and took out a big old 30-year fixed rate mortgage for the entire amount, at six percent (a pretty good rate for the time).

Now say as you're moving in, some nosy but well-intentioned relative asked what you paid for the place.  Do you say $219,000?  Or do you say $472,687.00 - the total amount you'll pay after 360 monthly payments of $1313 each?

Of course you say $219,000, partly because none of us likes to think of the added cost of things we buy on credit, but mostly because the cost of the asset - the house - is in fact $219K.  The rest is the cost of borrowing.

Which brings me to this article in the Globe last week, which refers casually to the $24 billion Big Dig project:
The state’s highest court today threw out a class action lawsuit filed by commuters who had objected to tolls collected on the Massachusetts Turnpike being used to pay for the $24 billion Big Dig project.
All seven justices on the Supreme Judicial Court concluded today that the financing scheme, which was heatedly opposed by thousands of commuters, was legal. In the lawsuit, the critics of the financing scheme wanted the state to refund more than $440 million commuters had paid in Mass. Pike tolls, the SJC said...
 What the Globe is doing here, with no explanation, is folding the interest expense of the borrowing on the Big Dig into the price tag of the project - making it the only capital project in state history to be priced based on its interest expense rather than actual cost of construction.  More to the point, it is the only project that the Globe prices that way in its reporting (if I'm wrong, please kindly show me another).

Why do they do that?  Why monkey with the math that way, in the background, without so much as a parenthetical explaining the special treatment afforded this particular project?  Easy.  The Big Dig is one of the Globe's favorite cudgels to use against disfavored politicians - nearly always Republicans.  The bigger the price tag, the heavier the cudgel (though the Globe manages to forget that the project had its genesis on the D side of the aisle, with Mike Dukakis, Fred Salvucci, and later Tip O'Neill).

There is something to be said for reporting the entire "cost" of a capital project, but if the Globe is going to do that for one expenditure, it should be consistent.  For example, under the Globe's Big Dig Cost Calculator, the Patrick Administration's Department of Transportation operating budget (which still uses  the state credit card to mow the medians) isn't the $170 million reported by the Administration.  It is more like $350 million.

Go ahead: Hold your breath until you see it reported that way in the Globe.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Top 10 Reads of the Week - Friday the 13th Edition (July 13, 2012)

Pro-Growth Austerity - Charles Wolf [Weekly Standard]
Austerity and growth are increasingly viewed as opposites: If one is selected, the other must be sacrificed. Policies to promote growth require that austerity in government spending be forgone, while policies that impose austerity in government spending do so at the cost of growth.

The inescapability of this trade-off is a firm conviction in much of Europe’s southern tier (“Club Med”) and an emergent belief in the United States. Notwithstanding these constituencies, the belief is wrong. It is based on the simplistic assumption that vigorous recovery from a deep economic recession depends on boosting the amount of total spending—so-called aggregate demand—regardless of the sources and types of this aggregate (whether government or private), how they are financed (by debt or by equity, by accumulated balances or by pension funds), and the differing consequences that may thereby ensue... Read the Rest

Obama In Denial - Michael Gerson [Real Clear Politics]
One would think, given so much practice, that the Obama White House would have been better prepared for last week's wretched jobs report.
Instead, we witnessed the five stages of bad public relations. Delusion: It was a "step in the right direction." Dismissiveness: Don't "read too much into any one monthly report." Grudging acceptance: "It's still tough out there." Cliché: "There are no quick fixes." Self-pity: "I suspect that most people in Cincinnati would acknowledge that I've tried real hard."
I suspect that most people in Cincinnati and elsewhere would prefer an economic strategy that consists of something more than blame shifting and the systematic lowering of expectations... Read the Rest

America Already Is Europe - Arthur Brooks [Wall Street Journal]
...We often hear that more than 85% of Americans disapprove of the job Congress is doing. But, according to the 2000 Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey, only 25% of American adults can correctly name both of their U.S. senators, and 51% can name neither. If I don't know who my senator is, I am unlikely to know much about his bridge to nowhere.
In a way, separation from politics is a charming part of the American DNA. There is a story (probably apocryphal) that when Thomas Jefferson was asked to describe a typical American, he thought for a moment and said, "A man who moves west the first day he hears the sound of his neighbor's ax."
We're not literally moving west any more, but in the Tocquevillian tradition our lives are directed less by Washington politics and more by everyday jobs, church socials and soccer practices. As the leader of a think tank dedicated to public policy, I would love it if Americans were as obsessed with policy as I am. But let's be realistic: Most people don't have the time or inclination to contemplate the potential damage each government-spending predation—each tiny political sellout of our values—could cause.... Read the Rest
Tuning Out A President - Victor Davis Hanson [PJ Media]
...Imagine if Barack Obama said the following: “I promise by the end of my second term that I will close Guantanamo Bay, end renditions and preventative detentions, cut the deficit in half, that my second stimulus program will put the unemployment rate below 6% within three years, that I will create 5 million new green jobs, that my health care plan will lower premiums, that I will ostracize lobbyists, end the revolving door, and earmarks, that I will participate in public financing of the 2012 campaign, and that I won’t raise any tax whatsoever on those earning less than $250,000.”
Would any believe him?
So Barack Obama is likewise being tuned out. “Let me be perfectly clear,” “Make no mistake about it,” “In truth,” “In point of fact,” “I’m not kidding,” and “I’m not making this up” all tip off a weary public that just the opposite is true. We are so confused over Guantanamo, Predators, and renditions — being told everything from them being unconstitutional to vital — that we likewise just shrug at the absurdity of an Obama and Harold Koh embracing all the protocols that they once has so vehemently demonized. Were they then, now, or always just simpletons, naïfs, hypocrites, or abject careerists?... Read the Rest
Obamacare: Storm Coming - Marc Siegel [National Review Online]
There may be a debate over whether Obamacare’s individual mandate is a penalty or a tax, but there is no debate among doctors and their patients about the fact that Obamacare will be bad for America’s health.
The climate in my medical office is changing; my patients sense that a storm is coming. They are worried, and there is little I can do to reassure them. They are used to my office manager getting approvals for the CT scans, mammograms, PSAs, and MRIs I order, and they realize that many of these tests will no longer be covered by insurance once Obamacare’s committees — which look at so-called comparative-effectiveness research and review current guidelines — are through with them... Read the Rest
America's Top States For Business Ranking  Of The Week 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

CNBC Ranking: Big News to No News (in 23 easy steps)

Just a quick follow-up to Daisy's excellent dissection of the Commonwealth's unfortunate (but entirely predictable) plummet from 5 all the way down to 28 in the latest CNBC ranking of business-friendly states...

For the dubious honor of answering reporters' obvious questions about the steep slide, the Patrick Administration tapped... Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray, who did his level best:

"I think the most important number is that Massachusetts is adding jobs."  Fair enough. Then again, there's this... and this... But let's not get distracted here.  Stick with that CNBC ranking for a second.  The one that the LG and his boss would have us all believe now isn't much of a big deal at all.

Our executive duo was singing a bit of a different tune when the Commonwealth's rank was 5.  Here's a typical campaign-season use of the stat, from July 2010:
"With 45,000 new jobs created since December, business confidence surging, and a recent report by CNBC ranking Massachusetts the 5th best state in the nation to do business, our focus on strengthening this economy in partnership with the business community is paying off," said Governor Patrick...
The announcement comes at the heels of more signs that Massachusetts is recovering from this global recession stronger and faster than the rest of the nation. On Tuesday CNBC announced that Massachusetts has been ranked 5th in the nation in their 2010 edition of America's Top States for Business. The past three years marks the first three times that Massachusetts has made it into the Top 15, and reflects a significantly improving business climate under Governor Patrick and Lt. Governor Murray,with Massachusetts rising from 15th in 2008 and 8th in 2009, to this year's top five ranking...
So. If a slow but steady climb from 15 to 5 "reflects a significantly improving business climate under Governor Patrick and Lt. Governor Murray," then a precipitous plunge from 5 all the way down to 28 must mean... never you mind.

Lt. Gov Murray's own campaign website got into the action late in the campaign game, touting the same ranking as proof of the Administration's oft-spoken claim that the Commonwealth was recovering "faster than the rest of the nation."  So. If a #5 meant our economy was recovering faster than the rest of the nation, then a #28 must mean... hush now. Just you hush.

Anyhow, 2010.  Ancient history, right?  It is hardly fair to hold Patrick's and Murray's election-year braggadocio against them, is it?

Perhaps not.  But then again, the Administration was still boasting about 2011's #6 ranking as recently as April 12 of this year.  This familiar language comes from an official Administration press release, touting the Administration's supposed economic accomplishments: "CNBC ranks Massachusetts as the sixth best state for business in the nation, up from the bottom third a few years ago."  The cut-and-paste police are going to have to do some careful editing to make sure the boast doesn't make any future appearances.

And just yesterday, in the throes of a now painful-in-retrospect hope that Massachusetts might attain the coveted number 1 position the Governor tweeted, "Our investing in innovation, education and infrastructure is why we're a top state for businesses."  Ouch.

So.  If our "investing" makes us an imaginary "top state for business," what policies make us the single fastest-falling state in the nation in the once-influential and now hardly-worth-noticing CNBC rankings?

Next question.

Here's a silver lining.  Back in May a survey of 650 of the nation's top CEOs ranked Massachusetts the 47th best state in the nation in which to do business.  Or the fourth worst - take your pick.  28 is way worse than 5... but it's also way better than 47.  So maybe let's cling to that.

[More: Paging the Patrick Spin Machine]

Paging the Patrick Spin Machine

CNBC yesterday released their annual rankings of the Top States for Business.  In past years, the release of the rankings has been met with much fanfare here in Massachusetts as Governor Deval Patrick has used Massachusetts’ placement near the top of the list as proof that his policies are working for our state.  Patrick and his campaign repeatedly cited our 5th place ranking in 2010 throughout the course of the governor’s race (“faster, stronger,” “on the mend and on the move” and whatnot).

Well, yesterday’s rankings don’t look so good for Massachusetts as we dropped from 6th place overall in 2011 to 28th place overall in 2012 (and dropped to 49th in the cost of doing business).  CNBC noted this was the largest drop of any state.  As with unfavorable revisions of jobs numbers, we can expect the Patrick administration to have some explanation as to why this data, which was previously an accurate reflection of how good our state is for businesses, is no longer trustworthy.  I can only hope this explanation will be as good as Secretary Greg Bialecki’s glorious “the old number feels like the better description.”

This newly unflattering data could also prove problematic for Governor Patrick as he continues to travel the nation as a top surrogate for President Obama (and top attack dog against former governor Mitt Romney). 

Patrick’s message on the stump has been that the things President Obama wants to do for the nation (investment in infrastructure, education and innovation) are the same things that have helped Massachusetts “lead the nation out of the recession.”  Since Patrick took office, CNBC’s ranking of Massachusetts on Education, Transportation and Infrastructure, and Technology and Innovation have all declined.  On Education and Technology and Innovation we are still in the top ten (3rd and 7th respectively, down from 1st and 4th in 2007), but in Transportation and Infrastructure, we now rank 45th in the nation (down from 38 in 2007 and a peak of 29 in 2011).

Massachusetts Rankings in CNBC's Top States for Business Reports:

2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
Overall 12 15 8 5 6 28
Cost of Biz 40 41 40 39 41 49
Workforce 26 34 26 23 31 32
Quality of Life 3 15 6 6 10 11
Economy 41 25 12 17 15 21
Infra and Transp 38 36 31 39 29 45
Tech and Innov 4 4 5 3 3 7
Education 1 1 1 1 4 3
Biz Friendliness 13 13 17 14 15 29
Access to Capital 2 2 2 2 2 1
Cost of Living 43 42 36 40 41 41

Massachusetts is still doing better than the national economy in terms of employment, but our rankings on the “investments” Patrick highlights have gotten worse as our unemployment rate has gotten better, which means there may not be the causal link Patrick suggests.

The fact that Massachusetts has declined in most categories since Patrick took office also undermines his attacks on Mitt Romney on behalf of the Obama campaign.  In addition to leaving Massachusetts with a lower unemployment rate than we now have, it would appear that Governor Romney left Massachusetts a better state for businesses than it has become under Governor Patrick’s leadership.

Of course, Patrick tends not to let facts that contradict his narrative get in the way of good rhetoric, so I don’t expect he’ll actually change his stump speech.  But the Obama campaign should be wary of touting Massachusetts' economy under Governor Patrick as a model to emulate.  The idea of a second Obama term’s doing for the national economy what Patrick’s second term seems to be doing for Massachusetts is reason enough to vote for Mitt Romney.

[MORE: CNBC Ranking - Big News to No News]

Revisiting the casino crystal ball...

Shortly after the Massachusetts legislature and Governor Patrick finally managed to push the Massachusetts gaming ball over the goal line in November 2011 I published a list of seven "crystal ball" predictions for our casino gaming future.  

I'm not sure if the appointment and quick resignation of interim gaming commission executive director for a day Carl Stanley McGee qualifies as the "major gaming-related scandal" I predicted would occur within the first six months of the casino law (prediction #5).  But today's Herald certainly gives cause to revisit my prediction #1, which read:
Licensing Fees: Proponents - including the casino champs Governor and Speaker DeLeo - estimate that each of the three regional casinos authorized by the bill that passed this week will garner an initial licensing fee of at least $85 million. This is already a steep discount from the $200 million per license floor that was promised during the first Patrick Administration go-round on casinos. Why? Simple: because the economy stinks, and even though it will improve eventually, more and more states keep legalizing casino gaming. With each new potential market, the amount a developer will be willing to pay to break into any one of them will drift inexorably lower.
And here's the Herald:
State gaming officials concerned about a lack of interest in a Hub casino — with only one bidder in Boston — are turning their eyes to Wall Street to ramp up competition, but experts say industry titans are focusing on hot gambling markets in Asia as better investments than American cities.
“The center of the gaming universe is now in Asia,” said Spectrum Gaming consultant Frederic Gushin, noting Macau’s annual casino haul is $40 billion, compared with Vegas’ $5 billion. “Companies are always assessing where they can get the biggest bang for their buck.”
Gaming Commission Chairman Stephen Crosby said yesterday he’s “puzzled” there’s more interest in western Massachusetts than in Boston. He’s mulling a trip to Manhattan to sell casino investors on the Hub...
Casino analysts said the state is unlikely to find a suitor from Boston to challenge Suffolk Downs before the Oct. 15 application deadline. Boston College gaming expert Rev. Richard McGowan said most top players are out, including Wynn Resorts, which scrapped its Foxboro deal, Sheldon Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands, which said it won’t compete in Boston, and MGM, which is vying in western Massachusetts.
Robert LaFleur, a Cantor Fitzgerald casino analyst, said Boston will have trouble enticing Wall Street when higher returns lie in Macau, Singapore and other Asian cities where gambling is exploding: “There’s a global competition .... They have the option of investing in Macau, where they’ll be guaranteed making 20, 30 or 40 percent returns on their investments, compared to a smaller opportunity in Boston.”
Without any competition for supposedly-coveted regional gaming licenses, the few sophisticated industry players who do "bid" are unlikely to pay anywhere near the $85 million figure used by gaming proponents to sell casinos as an economic shot in the Commonwealth's arm.  Only time will tell, but it seems safe already to move prediction #1 into the "check" column.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Top 10 Reads of the Week - July 6, 2012

The Declaration of Independence - Multiple [Charters of Freedom]
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world... Read the Rest

Supreme Court Outs Obama As The Biggest Middle Class Tax Hiker - Jim Powell [Forbes]
Perhaps the most definitive promise that Barack Obama made during the 2008 campaign was that there would be no middle class tax increases.
Obama was as emphatic as President George H.W. Bush who, in 1992, campaigned with the bold slogan, “Read my lips, no new taxes!” Violating that pledge was perhaps the most important reason why voters threw him out... Read the Rest
Obama And 'The Wealth of Nations' - Michael Boskin [Wall Street Journal]
President Obama should put Adam Smith's "The Wealth of Nations" at the top of his summer reading list. This was clear after listening to his 54-minute list of economic excuses and policy proposals delivered earlier this month on the campus of Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland.
At times Mr. Obama suggested that the profit motive is somehow ignoble, an opinion shared by many on the far left. But every student learns in introductory economics class that the pursuit of profits is essential to a successful economy, allocating resources to the use consumers value most.
This is not exactly a new insight. Writing in 1776, Adam Smith noted, "It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we can expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest."... Read the Rest
A Strategy to Undo Obamacare - Keith Hennessey [Wall Street Journal]
Now that the Supreme Court has ruled ObamaCare's individual mandate constitutional, the direction of American health policy is in the hands of voters. So how do we get from here to "repeal and replace"?
Step one is electing Mitt Romney as president, along with Republican House and Senate majorities. Without a Republican sweep, the law will remain in place... Read the Rest
Obama Has A Lot More Campaign Money Than Romney - Ed Rogers [Washington Post]
The lie needs to be put to the very idea that President Obama might be outspent during the 2012 election. Nobody knows how much the candidates and campaign will raise in the weeks ahead, but, so far, the numbers are pretty clear. To date, the Democratic National Committee, the Obama campaign and Obama super PACs have raised $471,400,000. This does not include at least $400 million that the labor unions have pledged to spend on Obama’s behalf. The Romney campaign, Republican National Committee and Romney super PACs have raised $264,223,126 — and much of that was spent during the Republican primary contest.

Anyway, there is a myth in American politics today that Obama will be outspent by Mitt Romney. Maybe that myth exists because Democrats, including Carter Eskew and President Obama, say it is so. It must be a fundraising tactic to scare contributors into giving, because the numbers suggest something completely different... Read the Rest

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Excellent Health Care Post By Josh at Pioneer

This post by Pioneer's health policy guru Josh Archambault is well worth your time:
This morning, Steve LeBlanc of the Associated Press has another Massachusetts focused story up titled “Mass. Health Law May Bode Well for Federal Law.”
The piece is based on a common flawed assumption. The piece fails to mention Massachusetts’ pre-reform circumstances in contrast to other states now. It expects that the same actions and behaviors will play out in the same way in other states.
To expand on my quote in the story, can we honestly suppose New Mexico with 20+% uninsured, no guarantee issue in their individual market, employer sponsored insurance rates of 48.6 percent, lower income levels, lower education level, low-medical infrastructure, and a geographically spread out state to see the exact same results as the Commonwealth?
Contrast that with the starting place in the Commonwealth and it looks like two different planets... 
Read the Rest Here.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Warning: B.S. ahead (a political glossary)

Watch, listen to and read enough about politics and government, and you start to pick up on the buzz-phrases that public officials and pundits alike employ to cover up / smooth over / breeze past subject matter that would otherwise be quickly derided as pure B.S.  A masochistic political junkie myself, I've compiled some of these "BS Flags," presented here for your use and edification.  A lot of these are Deval Patrickisms, by the way, but I don't think any are exclusive to him. And several are decidedly bipartisan.

Not Investors
Investments.  Usage: "The governor continues to support investments in crucial transportation infrastructure."  Really?  The governor wants to put some money down on a bridge or a new exit ramp and then collect a specific rate of return going forward, based on the amount of initial capital contributed and the profit generated from operation of the new infrastructure?  B.S.  This means spending.  Only in government is there no functional distinction between "spending" and "investment."  I go out and buy an apple, I'm spending money on an apple - not investing in an orchard.  A bridge is different only in magnitude.  That doesn't mean plenty of government spending isn't worthwhile; but the vast majority of it bears no resemblance whatsoever to an "investment" as that word is understood in the wider world.

Raising "revenue"
Revenue.  Usage: "Without new revenue, we will have no choice but to cut vital services."  B.S.  Nine times out of ten - maybe more - when a pol or a pundit says "revenue" he means "taxes."  (And apparently when they say "mandate" they also mean "taxes" - at least in hindsight.  See below).  Why don't they just say that?  We're all adults here.  Speaking of which...

Adult conversation.  Usage: "It is past time for an adult conversation about investments and revenues."  B.S. This is one of those terms that in practice means exactly the opposite of its plain-English meaning.  "Adult conversation" actually says, "Warning: I'm about to condescend to you, demean your perspective as childish and immature, and suggest that my perspective is the only reasonable, intelligent, considered position that can possibly be taken by any thinking adult on the subject under discussion.

As much as _____ / As many as ______.  Usage: "Experts predict that this legislation could generate as much as $100 billion in savings over ten years."  Or: "Supporters claim that these investments will generate as many as 10,000 permanent jobs."  B.S.  "As much/many as ____" means: "I'm about to make up a big number in the hope and expectation that someone will hear and repeat it, it will become conventional wisdom attached forevermore to the initiative I'm pushing, regardless of eventual reality."  Most of the time this ploy works exactly as planned.

Doing it for our children
For our children.  Usage: "This bill must be passed for our children."  Alternate: For our grandchildren.  Honestly?  B.S. Also, please shut up.  Government at all levels ceded the right to talk about "the children" at least two decades ago, when on a bipartisan basis the political class decided to stop paying anything but lip-service to the notion of living within our collective budgetary means, and instead started enacting policies that (to take Massachusetts as a handy example) leave us with seventy percent of our public pension liabilities entirely unfunded, the highest per capita debt in the country, and government spending that increases even in years when pols and pundits loudly decry budget "cuts."  It might take a village to raise a child, but it takes a government to well and truly screw the future of every single child born in this country in the foreseeable future.

Spending cuts.  Usage: "During this difficult budget cycle, we've made the tough choices and enacted deep spending cuts across government." Okay, sometimes a program is actually cut. But usually? B.S.  The vast majority of the time, when pols talk about "spending cuts" what they really mean is a reduction in the anticipated rate of spending increase.  Government grows - just not at quite the rate it wishes it could grow.  Whoopee. Better than nothing, but not a "cut."

Police, firefighters, and teachers.  Usage: "We need to have an adult conversation about increasing revenues for investments in police, firefighters, and teachers."  B.S.  There is no special, segregated pool of government money set aside for "police, firefighters, and teachers."  Likewise, there is no reason that "police, firefighters, and teachers" must always and everywhere be marched out onto the plank and forced to bear the full brunt of reductions in government spending.  No reason except that "police, firefighters, and teachers" resonate better with a gullible public than "second assistant water inspectors," or "special state liaison to municipal diversity coordinators, district 7."  When pols and pundits call out "police, firefighters, and teachers," what they mean is: "I'm making an emotional argument in support of spending that I am unable to justify on any other terms."  They also mean: "if you oppose me on this, it means you hate your community (and probably our children)."

Fair share.  Usage: "The wealthy need to pay their fair share of taxes."  (This, by the way, is one of the few contexts in which you'll see the word "taxes" in place of the B.S. "revenues.") B.S. This means "more." Doubt it?  Then find me one instance in which a pol or a pundit has demanded that someone or some group pay a "fair share" of taxes and meant "less," or even, "exactly their current rate."  Doesn't happen.

On the table.  Usage: "A gas tax hike is just one idea on the table."  B.S.  "On the table" means: "this is what I want to do, but I'm not quite ready yet to admit it explicitly."  Think of it this way.  You walk into a room and see a pol with a big glass of cold, frosty beer in front of him.  You ask if he's going to drink it, and he replies, "that's on the table."  Same thing.

Maybe the last /only plausible invocation of
"The American People"
The American People.  Usage: "The American people know that we need an adult conversation about the impact of spending cuts on our children, police, firefighters, and teachers."  What the speaker here really means is: "people who agree with me," which on many/most issues these days means "between 48 and 52 percent of the American people."  Seriously - nobody save for maybe the President in certain limited contexts (see, e.g., this) has the right to presume to speak for "the American people," but pols and pundits at all levels do it all day every day.  Nails on the chalkboard, and a major BS flag.

To spend more time with my family.  Usage: "I'm resigning from the Administration to spend more time with my family."  This one isn't so much a B.S. flag as B.S. in and of itself (almost always).  For reasons that nobody has ever explained to me, invocation of "more time with my family" is almost a reflex for politicians, even in situations where there is no doubt about other, more compelling motivations for a sudden career change.  I understand that no pol can ever stand up at a podium and say, "I'm resigning to cash in," or "I'm resigning because I'm about to be indicted."  But why so many pols feel the need to slap a big "I'm Full Of It!" sticker on their chests as a final public act is just beyond me.

With all due respect. Usage: "With all due respect to my opponent..." B.S. This is another that means precisely the opposite.  When a pol or a pundit says "with all due respect," he's really saying "@*$# you."

I'm glad you asked that question.  Usage: "I'm glad you asked that question, Joe. This is a topic I'd hoped to discuss..."  B.S.  Another opposite.  Also used as a frequent substitute for "@*$# you."

I want to talk about the issues.  Usage: "The American people are tired of these distractions. I want to talk about the issues."  B.S. This translation it easy.  "I want to talk about the issues" means "I don't want to talk about what we're talking about."  Yet another occasional stand-in for "@*$# you."  (There may be only one real way to say "I love you," but there are a thousand ways to say the opposite.)

Just wants to talk about the issues.
I have no intention.  Usage: "Let me be absolutely clear: I have no intention of raising anyone's taxes."  Most frequently used by Democrats running for office, this B.S. requires an always-unspoken qualifier.  "I have no intention" actually means "today, in this precise moment in time, I have no presently-formed intention..."  Tomorrow?  Who can say?

Mandate.  Usage: "The mandate is not a tax.  Alternate: The mandate is a tax."  This is a newly-minted bit of B.S., but it is moving up the charts.  The usage is very context-specific.  In court, a mandate is a tax (otherwise, hey, it might just be unconstitutional).  In the wider world, pols and pundits will twist themselves into rhetorical knots insisting that a mandate absolutely is not a tax, bears no resemblance to a tax, and is in fact something more akin to fresh-baked Christmas cookies by a crackling fire.  Anyhow, B.S. A mandate is a tax.  Just ask SCOTUS.

There are more.  Many more.  I'll think of one the second I hit "publish."  Drop a comment and tell me some that I'm missing.