Democrats too far to the left?

A provocative NYT opinion piece today by former George W. Bush speechwriter and Romney staffer Peter Wehner (in other words, a member of one of the least popular presidential administrations in U.S. history, and a losing national campaign, but I digress):

One can also plausibly argue that the Republican Party is the governing party in America. After two enormous losses by Democrats in the 2010 and 2014 midterm elections, Republicans control the Senate and the House of Representatives. There are currently 31 Republican governors compared with 18 for Democrats. Republicans control 68 of 98 state legislative chambers and the most state legislative seats since the 1920s. Nearly half of Americans now live in states under total Republican control. The Obama years have been politically good for Mr. Obama; they have been disastrous for his party. That is a problematic legacy for a man who envisioned himself as a Franklin Delano Roosevelt-like transformational political figure.

Those who insist that the Democratic Party’s march to the left carries no political risks might consider the fate of the British Labour Party earlier this month. Ed Miliband, its leader, ran hard to the left. The result? The Conservative Party under David Cameron won its first outright majority in Parliament since 1992. Before the election, the former Labour prime minister Tony Blair warned his party against letting the election become one in which “a traditional left-wing party competes with a traditional right-wing party, with the traditional result.”

Mr. Clinton acted on a lesson Democrats learned the hard way, and moved his party more to the center on fiscal policy, welfare, crime, the culture and foreign policy. Progressive figures like Senator Elizabeth Warren and Mayor Bill de Blasio are the politicians who electrify the Democratic base.

For demographic reasons, many Democrats believe that they are riding a tide of presidential inevitability. They may want to rethink that. They are placing a very risky bet that there are virtually no limits to how far left they can go.

Was the Revolution fought for naught: are our politics still those of England? Is Elizabeth Warren leading the national party to ruin?

Your thoughts, preferably supported by evidence other than the Senator’s 2012 demolition of GOP poster boy Scott Brown?

BEEF! Globe vs. Commonwealth

Bumped, because this is actually the best thing that's been said on this little intramural dust-up. Also noteworthy is that the Globe - presumably with Brian McGrory's approval - foolishly chose to put Leung's lousy column on the front page, thereby heightening the attention drawn to how lousy it actually was. Finally, there were a number of letters to the editor regarding Leung's column, most of which were spot-on. - promoted by david

Oy. I have to thank Shirley Leung (who should know better), Michael Jonas (who should know better) and Brian McGrory (don’t know what he knows) for elevating the level of debate on the Olympics. Slow clap, everyone.

First, Leung wrote a stupid and insulting column, the kind that sometimes columnists-on-deadline think is amusing: Chockful of ad hominem, stereotyping and extravagant characterization. It was titled “Dear USOC: We really do want to host the games” — the super-clever part being that all evidence and good sense says exactly the opposite. And yet:

We love to hate.

We love to complain.

… It takes time for Bostonians to come around on anything. The Big Dig spanned four decades from proposal to completion. Rebuilding the Boston Garden took nearly three decades. All the while we moaned and groaned.

etc. Did you catch that the Big Dig is actually a positive reason to take on this Leviathan? Leung concedes the actual substance of the debate in favor of a few hundred words of nanna-nanna-boo-boo. It was … a sub-standard column. Dumb and forgettable, but even a good writer will cough up a hairball now and again.

Ach, Commonwealth’s Michael Jonas had to respond in kind:

“Pom-pom Leung –”

Just … no. Stop. Bad idea. Screeeech to a halt.

I can’t say for sure that Jonas wouldn’t have used the “cheerleader” tag on a male columnist. But yes, it’s different when the columnist is a woman. That criticism really did not need gendering — intentional or not. Was it sexist? Kinda sounded that way.

… Doubtless eager to change the subject from Leung’s original (crappy) oeuvre, Globe Managing Editor Brian McGrory lashes out vs. Jonas and Commonwealth:

Dear Greg and Bruce,

I’m stunned that you saw fit to publish Michael Jonas’s juvenile opinion piece about Globe columnist Shirley Leung on Friday. It’s certainly not the vapidity of the post that’s so concerning, though let’s take a look at that as well.

On that front, Mr. Jonas seems shocked that Shirley would deviate from the deeply grooved mindset of virtually all local opinion writers that the Olympic bid is an awful idea that will lead to billions of dollars in unplanned public spending. Mr. Jonas, from the safety of the press pack, implies that Shirley is in some bizarre way a shill because she chooses to have an open mind.

“Stunned”! “Vapidity”! “Vapidity”!! [weeping, pounding table]

Oh Ghod, the old “open mind” defense, where denying the facts in front of your face and handwaving your way past all objections = “independence”! Where “making people upset” = “must be doing something right”! Whatever gets you through the night, Brian.

McGrory goes on to point to Leung’s professional background and character:

“a Princeton graduate, Wall Street Journal alumnus, former Globe business editor, one of the most influential and widely read columnists in Boston, and currently a finalist for the prestigious Gerald Loeb award … “

Barf? Barf.

Who cares about that if her argument is sheer bunkum? File under ad hominem fallacy. (Ted Cruz went to Princeton.)

FAIL. Reset. Try again, everyone.

Comment of the day: A history lesson on AIM and energy

Maybe our captains of industry don’t have all the answers when it comes to our energy future. From trickle-up:

Oh the irony

This is just a historical footnote, but back in the 80s the business lobbies and AIM in particular were all gung-ho for Pilgrim II, Seabrook I and II, and probably even earlier for the nukes proposed in Montague, Charlestown, and Wiscasset. Yup we needed all that generating capacity for growth.

Come the 90s and the bill for all of these dead dinosaurs was due, billions of dollars which was a lot back then.

AIM took the lead in a campaign that those costs should be loaded onto residential ratepayers only. If not, the businesses would all move to someplace that was not saddled with all that bad imprudent nuclear debt.

That was the original impetus behind the restructuring of the electric-utility industry in New England, under which the utilities divested themselves of their power plants.

These folks have a long history of being stupid about energy and their solution to the problems they help to cause is to shrug and shift blame and cost elsewhere.

In fact, the fossil-fuel industry is predicated on shifting cost and blame elsewhere. If they had the massive, civilization-threatening costs of their product priced into the market, they simply could not compete with renewables, even now.

A carbon tax is thought to be the most economically sleek, nifty, and no-guilt solution to this — even by many conservatives. Include the “externalities”, and let the Invisible Hand do its magic. We’d get there.


ICYMI: Clean energy is good business

It’s just business. Good business, clean business and profitable business. Ian Bowles (come back Ian Bowles, come back!) recently chided the hidebound business advocacy groups for ignoring the state’s burgeoning clean energy/efficiency sector:

Here’s how it generally goes whenever there’s a push for more clean energy in Massachusetts: AIM and the Chamber complain that solar, wind, and a smarter grid are just too expensive to finance when electricity costs already are so high. Wrong.

There are ways to be clean and cheaper, starting with energy efficiency. It is the biggest source of untapped energy potential our state has available — and the most economical. Around the country, Massachusetts is widely considered the national leader on energy retrofits. With our state now in its fourth year as number one in rankings established by the leading national organization on energy efficiency, you would think the Chamber would be celebrating. Or at least figuring out how it could engage more with the companies that are helping the state earn such a distinction. It is doing neither.

via It’s time for the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce to embrace clean energy – Opinion – The Boston Globe.

You can think two things when you have high electricity costs (which we do): a.) It could cost less; or b.) we could use less of it.

First of all, efficiency = $ in your pocket. There are companies that exist for the sole purpose of helping you find that money. Go frack yourself.

Efficiency also has the effect of making energy more abundant, which has an effect on the market. The great under-told story of lower gas prices (for instance) is the effect of the Obama administration’s higher efficiency standards — which were extracted under duress from a car industry needing a bailout. The car companies survived, and we have cheaper gas — obviously not just for that reason.

But the efficiency standards will protect American consumers from future price shocks. The Baker plan to build more gas pipeline (eg) reflects the old and rather unimaginative thinking that if gas electricity is too expensive, we need to make gas cheaper. No, we need to make electricity – nope, not even that — we need to make running the business cheaper.

Building a gas pipeline is long-term thinking. Not good long-term thinking, mind you, but it’ll be there a long time. We need to go the opposite direction: To insulate ourselves as far as possible from the cost of energy, be it high or low; and do what we must to make it abundant, clean, and local.

The hard-to-deny prospect is that AIM and the Chamber doubtless have more sway with the Baker adminstration than with Patrick’s. It’s a pity that they seem to be trapped in old and narrow thinking.

More responses to Bowles’ op-ed:

Memorial Day in Boston

One of the many ways this area is remarkable:

The sacrifice of the soldier is unique: One offers one’s life in defense of one’s country. There are few other professions or creeds that require that potential.

And the enormity of the sacrifice requires us to be vigilant, that it not be treated cheaply.

One of the reasons this blog exists is because of the monstrous stupidity and arrogance of the Iraq War. There were precious few skeptical voices in the professional media, and they were often hounded out of their jobs.

Massachusetts has lost 124 servicemembers in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Our neighbors. Mostly young. They’d be moving on in life, creating families. They were people. Someone’s kids. Someone’s mom or dad.

Politics-by-other-means; obstinate ideology; ethnic tribalism; religious fanaticism; obscurantist doctrines and jargon; media panic: These are the crevasses where the bodies are thrown.

The only thing that really matters is flesh and blood. They are not flags. They are people.

Joke Revue: "Proposed Law Would Require Mothers To Look At Pictures Of Congressmen She Is Disappointing Before Having Abortion"


Proposed Law Would Require Mothers To Look At Pictures Of Congressmen She Is Disappointing Before Having Abortion

WASHINGTON—Arguing that the measure would help women fully understand the consequences of their decision, members of the House of Representatives introduced a new bill this week that would require anyone seeking an abortion to view images of the congressmen she will disappoint prior to undergoing the procedure. “Before any pregnancy can be terminated, women will have a chance to see the faces of these politicians, which will help them make an informed decision as to whether they’d really like to go through with letting down an elected public servant,” Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) said of the proposed law, which also mandates that women listen to audio of the lawmakers’ talking points on when life begins. “What this bill does is show women that, hey, these congressmen aren’t just faceless legislators; they’re real politicians whose agendas are being destroyed. Once they see the actual eyes and ears and other features of the lawmakers whose spirits they’re breaking, I believe they’ll rethink what they’re about to do.” In response to backlash from women’s rights groups, the bill’s sponsors said that if women don’t want to view the images, they are free to close their eyes or just look away.


Scientists: Earth Endangered by New Strain of Fact-Resistant Humans

MINNEAPOLIS (The Borowitz Report) – Scientists have discovered a powerful new strain of fact-resistant humans who are threatening the ability of Earth to sustain life, a sobering new study reports.

The research, conducted by the University of Minnesota, identifies a virulent strain of humans who are virtually immune to any form of verifiable knowledge, leaving scientists at a loss as to how to combat them.

“These humans appear to have all the faculties necessary to receive and process information,” Davis Logsdon, one of the scientists who contributed to the study, said. “And yet, somehow, they have developed defenses that, for all intents and purposes, have rendered those faculties totally inactive.”

More worryingly, Logsdon said, “As facts have multiplied, their defenses against those facts have only grown more powerful.”

While scientists have no clear understanding of the mechanisms that prevent the fact-resistant humans from absorbing data, they theorize that the strain may have developed the ability to intercept and discard information en route from the auditory nerve to the brain. “The normal functions of human consciousness have been completely nullified,” Logsdon said.

While reaffirming the gloomy assessments of the study, Logsdon held out hope that the threat of fact-resistant humans could be mitigated in the future. “Our research is very preliminary, but it’s possible that they will become more receptive to facts once they are in an environment without food, water, or oxygen,” he said.

Daniel Kurtzman:

“Former Texas Governor Rick Perry said yesterday that knowing what we know now, he would not have invaded Iraq. Mostly because ‘what we know now’ is that Rick Perry will never be president.” –Seth Meyers

“A new survey came out and Washington, D.C., has been named the fittest city in the country. And it makes sense. Just think of all of the exercise they get running for re-election, walking back statements, dodging questions, and jumping to conclusions. That’s all cardio.” –Seth Meyers

“George W. Bush gave a commencement speech at Southern Methodist University this weekend. It was pretty inspirational. He said, ‘As I like to tell the ‘C’ students, you too can be president.’ Even George W. Bush has George W. Bush comedy material in his act.” –Jimmy Fallon

“Mitt Romney, two-time Republican presidential hopeful, boxed former heavyweight champion of the world Evander Holyfield for charity. It was a horrible moment when Romney bit off Holyfield’s other ear. ” –David Letterman

“Holyfield won the fight. It’s not the first time Romney has been knocked out by a black guy.” –David Letterman

“During a recent event at a restaurant called Tommy’s Country Ham House in South Carolina, presidential candidate Ben Carson delivered a speech right after he lost his front tooth. Which still left him with more teeth than everyone combined at Tommy’s Country Ham House.” –Jimmy Fallon

“Mitt Romney will box Evander Holyfield tomorrow. So finally, someone can honestly say ‘Mitt, I think you should run.’” –Seth Meyers

“Last night we had Bill Clinton, the former president. Security was as tight as Governor Christie’s yoga pants.” –David Letterman

Erin Go Bragh

Outstanding. Well done Ireland. - promoted by charley-on-the-mta

Like many of us here, I can be cynical about politics.  But how can one be cynical today?  The men and women of Ireland, in the privacy of the voting booth, made a global first by voting by an almost a 2:1 margin for marriage equality.  42 of 43 constituencies voted yes, rural or urban, traditional or cosmopolitan.  Counters ran out of space to tally “Yes” votes on their sheets.  The tide was overwhelming in Ireland and the celebration fixes to be as well.  To see the land of my heritage, and a country where I have lived and whose passport I hold strong so firmly for the 21st century is moving.  The people spoke, and spoke well.

But what I see as a lesson for the United States is this: there was fortune to be made off a no vote.  A political operator could have built favors for the still powerful Catholic Church and curried affection from the hundreds of thousands who said no.  Despite that, though, nobody of significance did — an occasional Senator turfed from their party perhaps, but few groups of any historical note.  The nationalist Marxists in Sinn Fein said yes to equality alongside economic rightists in Fianna Fail.  As far back as 2013, all political parties in the Irish legislature supported equality.  That exploitable terrain of “no” was so poisoned by retrograde fear that few voices that command attention tread there.  The leaders of Ireland led — they said “yes” because it was the right thing to do, and discharging one’s job with honor is more important than keeping it for another term.  That makes the onward march of equality through the Emerald Isle sweeter tonight.

MBTA: Getting it right requires getting it right.

The Globe’s transit columnist Robin Washington has a pretty blistering opinion piece, ironically about things that are not opinions.  (“No excuse for MBTA report’s faulty math”). He systematically demonstrates that the Baker panel played either. a.) fast, loose and inflammatory, or b.) unacceptably sloppy with the facts, specifically regarding absenteeism and fares/operating expense ratio.

Faulty math is one thing, but the biggest disappointment of all this is there’s no reason mislead anyone. After last winter, who doesn’t know the T is broken, and broke, and has to raise fares? Every day your train didn’t come was convincing enough, regardless of what any other system was doing.

You didn’t need a panel to tell you that. But at least they could have gotten their facts right.

Let’s keep in mind that the Baker folks have tried hard to shift the focus from the amount of new money that’s going to be required (which none of this information contradicts), to issues of mis-management and misuse or non-use of resources. I’m certainly 100% for a thorough, reputable, and transparent audit. Put me down for reform and revenue.

But I’d say there’s an even bigger disappointment, and a warning: The whole point of the exercise was to identify areas that need to be fixed. But if you can’t measure the problem properly, then you can’t be trusted to fix it. And that’s exactly what the Baker administration is asking the legislature to do: Trust us. We’re smart and we’ll get it right.

Methodology = credibility. It matters — in fact, at this point it’s the only thing that matters. And it’s a darned good thing that Commonwealth Mag, the Globe, and others have been paying attention and riding herd on this thing.

I understand that Stephanie Pollock is a bona-fide transit supporter. Good on her. But to get this right she needs some empirical, skeptical eyes working on the data — not just those looking for a good story.

Do you trust the Mr. Fix-It administration to get this right? Right now, I don’t. They’ve got to earn it.


Boston 2024 doubles down on the 0.1%

Bumped, for glory. - promoted by Bob_Neer

Steve Pagliuca at the 2015 World Economic Forum in Davos Switzerland. Credit: Bloomberg via Getty Images

Out with the old rich guy telling ordinary folks what is good for them with a scowl, in with the new rich boss ready to repeat the same marching orders with a smile? Globe: “Pagliuca takes the reins of struggling Olympic bid.”

This is going to be a very, very tough row to hoe for Boston 2024 which has, impressively — although with help from the IOC — converted a global celebration of youth, excellence, and international goodwill into a synonym in the minds of millions of Massachusetts voters for crony capitalism, foreign corruption, and bulldozers for billionaires. Clearcutting the Common, trampling the property rights of small businesses, dictatorial rules to gag critics — none if it fully accurate, but all elements of current discourse that have built a decisive majority of opposition in Boston and tepid state-wide support for what everyone acknowledges will be a very expensive proposition that requires overwhelming community support.

A common thread links much contemporary skepticism: economic inequality. Boston 2024, from John Fish to, now, Steve Pagliuca, has been led by the 0.1%, and the 0.1% is likely to profit from the bid by capturing a slice of the billions to be spent and gaining prestige (i.e., cocktail parties in luxury boxes). If things go wrong, however, just as with the 2008 Wall Street collapse, the multi-billion-dollar bill will be left to the public. More than 30 years of stagnant wages, from Reagan’s election to the present, has undermined faith in any community of interest between the economic elite and everyone else. No Boston Olympics not coincidentally lists as its #1 reason to oppose the Games: “Olympics do not boost local economies.” Thus, outrage at populist “together we can” hero Deval Patrick’s 0.1%-ish $7,500 per day lobbying fee, and deep skepticism at the lack of detail in promises of public infrastructure benefits from the Games — quite apart from fury at John Fish’s belittling invective.

Perhaps Pagliuca can rise above the 0.1%, as it were, and turn things around. But a narrative has been set that Boston 2024′s new head seems to confirm more than change.

MA Senate Shoots Down Amendment Prohibiting the Use of Public Funds for the Olympics

Oops. Take another few percentage points off that Boston 2024 referendum vote, whenever it happens. - promoted by Bob_Neer

Budget season has been upon us, and the MA Senate has been going through a long list of amendments.

Yesterday, the Senate took on Bob Hedlund (R-Weymouth)’s amendment to prohibit the use of public funding for the Olympics.

SECTION XX. (a) Notwithstanding any general or special law to the contrary, and except as provided in subsection (b), no state agency, authority, or other entity created by the General Court, shall expend any state funds, incur any liability, indebtedness or obligation, directly or indirectly, by guaranty, indemnification agreement, bond undertaking or otherwise to procure, host, aid, further or remediate the effects of, the 2024 Olympics.

(b) Because efficient transportation is essential to the economy of the state, and because efficient transportation is essential to the success of the 2024 Olympics, nothing in this section shall prevent any state agency, authority, or other entity created by the General Court, from spending state funds, incurring liabilities and obligations, or entering into other agreements for the purpose of the repair, maintenance, construction and operation of the state’s transportation system including, without limitation, roads, bridges, tunnels, rail lines, buses, boats and other means of transportation, even if such expenditures may also facilitate procuring, hosting, aiding, furthering, or remediating the effects of, the 2024 Olympics.

(c) Nothing in this section shall prohibit any state agency, authority, or other entity created by the General Court, from expending the proceeds of, or servicing the debt created by, bonds authorized and issued, or performing contracts entered into, before the effective date of this section, even if they relate to procuring, hosting, aiding, furthering or remediating the effects of the 2024 Olympics.

(d) The term “authority,” as used in this section, shall have the meaning given to it in section 39 of chapter 3 of the General Laws.

The amendment mimics the text of Evan Falchuk’s statewide ballot initiative.

MA legislators have said again and again that there will be no public funds used for the Olympics. They had the chance to put that in writing yesterday. But, instead, the Senate voted the amendment down: 17 yes vs. 22 no.

How Not to Write a Column: the Olympic Edition

Long on hyperbole, very worrisomely short, for any Olympics supporters out there, on specifics. - promoted by Bob_Neer

Shirley Leung provides a great example today, with her piece headlined, “Dear USOC: We really do want to host the Games.”

So, how about it, BMG? Anyone subconsciously harboring deep Olympic desires?


Fare or Unfare

Sorting out the Baker MBTA proposal is tricky – the news reports have been trying to cover everything all at once without much specificity or detail. Commonwealth Magazine seems to be the best place to get decent wonkery from a politically neutral perspective.

Will Brownsberger basically supports most of Baker’s proposal. The Conservation Law Foundation is against it. The Senate leadership can’t seem to figure it out yet. It’s complicated.

Here’s where I come down on a handful of issues:

  • The T should be in the executive branch. The experiment of the “quasi-public” agency has failed in this regard. The political system, flawed as it may be, is the way to provide accountability. (Cf Big Dig Culture, Turnpike Authority, etc.) Bill Straus agrees.
  • How you can cut some $581 million over six years from the T and expect good results is beyond me. I don’t get it. Someone explain to me why that’s necessary or a good idea.
  • There isn’t $2.2 billion lying around, and there isn’t 11% absenteeism. There might still be too much absenteeism, but again, it was a crappy, inflammatory stunt by the Baker people to put that number out there. Trust has to be earned and zealously protected. “Pollack was wrong”, and she should know better. Start again.
  • A control board with limited powers seems necessary. Simply having the effect of a continuous audit and relayer of information to the public, would indeed be useful. But the power to institute draconian measures should be closely circumscribed … see below
  • Fare increases should be resisted, and remain capped. Especially onerous is eliminating free mode-transfer between bus and train: That’s a gigantic fare increase for many people – one that punishes the poor and will surely price people out of the system. It’s a non-starter, an idea that should be rejected with extreme prejudice. One wonders how we got from a discussion of mismanagement and frozen train tracks and contract oversight, to how to squeeze more blood from this particular stone. No, no, no.
  • Things I Do Not Understand: What is the point of arbitration if one of the parties can just reject it and implement what they wanted to do anyway?
  • Brownsberger has some interesting ideas about private-sector contracting for non-core routes. I could envision a system where private carriers (Joseph’s, eg) would examine travel patterns and propose new routes, perhaps using MBTA bus stops and infrastructure, receive a baseline revenue stream to operate, and make profit if it’s successful. It would be interesting to see some innovation at the margins. For example, perhaps the T could facilitate a private carrier for a bus line from homes in Medford and Arlington to jobs in Waltham or Watertown — approximating the Urban Ring. If that replaced some car travel, that would be most welcome. We should make space to allow this trend to take its course.
  • Which brings us to the Pacheco law … Is this really the thing that prevents partnering on the margins with private contractors? Can a compromise be met? Can more union jobs be created by the MBTA partnering with the private sector? Is this just another opportunity for the usual suspects to ride the anti-Pacheco hobbyhorse? Yes and yes?

    For corporations and unions both: When you align your own interests with the broad public interest, you will win political battles. When you are seen to be extracting value at the public expense, the political system will turn against you. Adjustments may be necessary. And you might even gain from making such adjustments. Look for win-win scenarios.

    Privatization is, to say the least, not a panacea. Evidence of private-sector extraction of public tax dollars to minimal public benefit are not exactly difficult to find: It’s actually a gigantic part of our federal budget. Saying that gosh, it’s just so hard to do the math to actually justify going to a private contractor … Sounds fishy. If you can’t justify doing something, you shouldn’t do it.

    That being said, I wonder how central Pacheco is to general MBTA dysfunction. A control board could perhaps shine some light on this: Exactly what contracts could have been farmed out, and at what savings? Precisely what improvements could be realized? And please show your work.

    Baker’s two-month PowerPoint board didn’t have the time to do that. Without a lot of very specific evidence of how the Pacheco functions with regard to the central challenges the T faces, I’m inclined to think of this as yet another skirmish in a longer debate.