Here come the crazy ideas

There’s something about the post-election hangover that causes people to say really goofy things, and sometimes to publish them in an op-ed.

Case in point, Globe columnist Tom Keane.  Personally, I’m not a big fan anyway, but this one’s downright silly.

It’s time to get rid of bottle deposits…. The notion of deposits on containers is deeply problematic, a flawed scheme from the 1980s. I first became disillusioned with the law when, living in Boston, I’d find my trash bags razored by bottle-pickers, debris strewn about. Now I’m in an apartment building, and single-stream recycling is — literally — down the hall: one chute for trash, one for recyclables. Trudging to the store to return bottles and cans makes no sense. From my point of view — and that of many others, I suspect — the expanded bottle bill would have been simply more money out of my pocket.

This is a classic self-absorbed bottle-bill-hater argument.  It’s messy; it’s a hassle for me; my life would be simpler and cheaper if I didn’t have to pay deposits on bottles.  It’s an argument that’s been made since the first bottle bill was passed; it’s been rejected for years.  Nothing has changed.

But somehow, in light of Question 2′s failure at the ballot, the time has come to get rid of all bottle deposits?  Say what?  Surely, Keane has some excellent arguments in store.  Before we examine them, let’s recall why we have a bottle bill in the first place.  It is in place to solve a very specific problem, namely, discarded bottles on the streets.  Litter.  If there’s a financial incentive not to throw a bottle onto the street, people won’t do it, the argument goes – and if they do, someone else will pick it up.  And it works: as we all know, 80% of deposit containers are recycled, compared to only about 25% of non-deposit containers.

OK.  So, what does Keane have in the way of arguments for getting rid of the bottle bill, aside from the standard argument noted above?

The existing law is antiquated and in need of updating. But since that’s not going to happen, it’s time to come up with some new approaches.

Expanding “pay-as-you-throw” programs would be one approach. Now in place in more than 140 Massachusetts communities, the concept is to charge homeowners a fee for each bag of trash they put out, while collecting recyclables for free. According to case studies by the state, such programs can dramatically increase recycling.

#Fail.  Pay-as-you-throw may be a fine idea, but it has nothing to do with the litter problem.  Pay-as-you-throw creates an incentive to put recyclable waste in the recycling bin, instead of in a trash bag.  But litter, by definition, doesn’t end up in either.  If someone’s already inclined to toss their empty water bottle onto the street, pay-as-you-throw doesn’t create any incentive not to do so.

At the same time, we could follow the example of Delaware, which abandoned its bottle deposit law in 2010 and moved to what the state calls “universal recycling.” Initially funded with a fee on beverages, all businesses have to participate, and all household trash haulers have to offer residents single-stream recycling. Since the bottle bill ended, the percent of Delaware’s trash that is recycled has climbed from 33.7 to 40.1, according to the state.

Still not good enough, for several reasons.  First, a 40% recycling rate may be good for Delaware; it obviously pales in comparison to the 80% recycling rate of deposit containers in Massachusetts.  Second, common sense tells you that many single-serving beverage containers are not consumed at home or in a restaurant.  Rather, they are something you pick up at a convenience store, you drink, and then you throw away (either in a trash can or on the street).  It’s commendable, but I’d venture quite rare, for people to chug that bottle of water and then hang onto the empty bottle until you get home several hours later so that you can dutifully toss it into your single-stream recycling bin.  Most people just don’t operate that way.  Plus, notice that Delaware’s plan was “initially funded with a fee on beverages,” which sounds a lot like a tax (much moreso than the bottle bill, where deposits are refundable).  I imagine that’s going to go well.

And that’s all he’s got.  Astonishingly, Keane never comes to grips with the basic point about the bottle bill: it works.  It’s too bad it didn’t get expanded; what that means is that we’ll continue to see water and juice bottles on the streets, both in communities that have single-stream curbside recycling and communities that don’t, just as we do now.  Getting rid of deposits all together would simply mean that we’d start seeing Coke cans and beer bottles on the streets as well, which now is fairly rare.  And that would be good because…?

Democrats need to hire Daily Show writers

Painful. - promoted by david

After watching The Daily Show last night (if an editor could get the video to embed, that would be awesome [happy to oblige! -ed.]), I’m convinced that the whole messaging thing isn’t that hard. If their writers can give the lines to Jordan Klepper, why can’t someone give them to Democratic candidates?

Jordan Klepper: Last night, at approximately 11:27pm Eastern Time, the Republicans gained control of the US Senate, and results were almost immediate! The economy – now growing at a robust 3.5%. Gas this morning? Under three bucks a gallon. Look: Stock market at record levels; deficits cut in half; ten million more Americans have health insurance; and unemployment sub-6% for the first time since we elected “Chairman Obama”.

Jon Stewart: Well, wait! Hang on a second Jordan, because the things that you’re describing…

JK: And even Ebola, Jon, think about this, which was on the verge of destroying this country under Obama’s feckless leadership is suddenly only a problem now for one guy. It’s Morning In America, Jon!

JS: Jordan, that is an incredibly impressive list you’ve ticked off, of things that happened under Obama and the Democratic Senate.

JK: Oh, please, Jon! If Democrats had accomplished all that, they would have been out there bragging about it for months! It would have been the central message of their campaign, instead of their actual message, which was, like, I’m quoting this here, “I’m sorry! Don’t be mad! We don’t like Obama either! We like guns too!”.

Done. Was it really that hard?


A @#$%burger to go: even yet still more takeaway

A few takeaways from a bad night

Well, well, well.  Another day, another midterm bloodbath.  And this time, unlike 2010, we can’t even be all self-satisfied by looking at how bravely Massachusetts withstood a national Republican juggernaut.  There was really only one race that was expected to be close here, and Charlie Baker won that one.

So, what did we learn?

  • Polling works, sort of.  I’m fond of saying “polling works” after every election – usually, the polls taken within the last couple of weeks of election day correctly spot motion in the race, and as election day approaches, pretty much nail what is going to happen.  That kind of happened again, but kind of not.  Here in MA, there was an enormous amount of polling, and pretty much all of it correctly detected that Baker had a late advantage.  Almost all of it also overstated Baker’s advantage, especially the Globe/SocialSphere, which published the shocking Baker +9 poll followed by its final poll showing Baker +7.  Seems pretty clear that that’s never where the race actually was.  Closest to the mark were Suffolk (continuing its long streak of doing very good polling inside Massachusetts) which showed Baker +3, and MassINC, which correctly showed Baker at +1.  Around the country, too, a lot of polling roughly got the results right, but was way off on the margin.  The statistics geeks will no doubt have more to say about all of this over the next several days.
  • Massachusetts likes having a Republican Governor.  I don’t really see a way around this one.  Think about it: in the last 25 years, the only time a Democrat has won a race for Governor is when the Democrat was one of the most gifted campaigners anyone has ever seen.  Deval Patrick also had the good fortune to run against two lousy candidates: Kerry Healey, and Charlie Baker 1.0.  John Walsh and I got into a little back-and-forth on this subject on Twitter, which you can peruse here.
  • We have a new party.  Since Evan Falchuk got just over 3% of the vote, his “United Independent Party” will be a real party now.  If anyone knows what that actually means going forward, or what he is actually planning to do other than lose another run for Governor, please do let everyone know.
  • At least Scott Brown lost again.  In all the grim news last night, there was one very bright, shining spot: Jeanne Shaheen won reelection to the Senate in New Hampshire, defeating our old friend Scott Brown, who apparently became the only person in history to lose two US Senate elections to women.  Unfortunately, even New Hampshire wasn’t all good news: Maggie Hassan won the Governor’s race and Annie Kuster was reelected to the House, but Carol Shea-Porter lost her House seat to Frank Guinta.
  • Money talks, as my co-blogger Bob accurately observes.  Paul McMorrow at MassINC, among others, did a great job keeping track of the outside spending in the race for Governor.  Among other appalling tidbits: the day before election day, McMorrow could state that “the RGA spent more money last week than Martha Coakley has spent all year.”  No wonder Charlie Baker didn’t want to sign a People’s Pledge.
  • Tom Menino’s death came at a really bad time for Martha Coakley.  Unexpected late events can have an outsized impact on elections, and that seems to me what happened here.  Charlie Baker committed a major unforced error in the last debate by telling a story about a fisherman that seems to have been fictional in substantial part, and that generated a flurry of bad headlines and embarrassing press appearances where he was mumbling things about the essence of the story being true, whatever that means.  If the press had run with that for another couple of days, who knows how many late-breaking undecideds it might have swung in an already very close race.  But Menino’s death took over the front pages for about four straight days, and made it impossible for either campaign to make news in the final stretch – which suited Team Baker just fine.

Citizens United 1 Massachusetts 0: Coakley Concedes

Politics is a business and money has the loudest voice: yesterday’s election was a stark demonstration of the point. In Massachusetts, Baker outspent Coakley approximately 2-1 — CommonWealth magazine put the total for third party groups at $8 million to $4 million two weeks ago. Nationwide, with the Citizens United legislation passed 5-4 by the Supreme Court’s Republican majority now solidly in place, Republicans outspent Democrats and took control of a second branch of the government.

Charisma, positions, and grass-roots organizing have important roles to play, especially in close elections, and there are always exceptions, but on the broadest scale and over time, money appears to be determinative. In 2010, under John Walsh’s leadership, Democrats outspent Republicans and Patrick beat Baker. If Coakley had outspent Baker 2-1, she probably would be the governor now.

We need to raise more money for our candidates.

Results open thread

Looks like MA residents will be able to drive along poorly repaired trash strewn roads to gamble after calling in sick. Nationally, as David Frum Tweeted, “Is tonight’s takeaway that Republicans do great when voter turnout drops below 38%?” (Maybe the GOP’s voter limitation efforts are paying off). Is Evan Fulchuk (62,000+ votes) a local Ralph Nader 2004? Will Scott Brown move further north to the state of his birth and run for Senate in Maine? Lots of interesting questions to discuss: have at it.

Election 2014 results thread

Moved to the flip…

Wonk Post: WBUR Turnout Projections

Turnout today will be either higher or lower than in previous elections. - promoted by Bob_Neer

From WBUR Poll Vault:

Where are we going?

The record. - promoted by Bob_Neer

What if President Romney had this record?***    

–unemployment from 11% to 5.9%; 11+ million new jobs; how many consecutive months of job growth? (50+)

–stock market from 7,000 to 17,300

–50+ consecutive months of economic expansion?

–stimulus bill that saved the country from depression (yes, it worked, it just should have been bigger)

–saved the auto industry (saving millions of jobs)

–saved much of the banking system (saving millions of jobs)

–largely out of Iraq

–largely out of Afghanistan

–15 million (?) previously uninsured Americans with health insurance (and counting)(yes, Romney likes people to have insurance)


–Dodd Frank

–annual deficit from $1.4 trillion to $450 billion

–ordered the risky raid that resulted in UBL taking one right between the eyes

–Sandy relief

–assistance for 9/11 first responders

–led government efforts to keep people in their homes who had predatory mortgages

–kept US safe at home

–increased energy independence

–increased use and development of alternative energy

–expanded the college tax credit

–lowest federal tax burden on middle-class families since the 1950s

–two women on US Supreme Court (“binders full of women”)

–first female Fed Chair (“binders full of women”)

***If I’m wrong on any of this correct me but this is off the top of my head; not researched, not fact checked. 

Would Republican candidates around the country run on this record, or cower in fear?

I just got to thinking, as we lose ground in the House and [perhaps] lose the Senate, how did we get here?  Do we as a country want to go back to Bush-era policies?  I don’t get it.   

Election day open thread

Today’s the day! Get out there and vote, and tell us what you see. Bob and I will be live-blogging the results this evening, from the BMG Media Empire compound, as they come in.

10 Reasons to Vote for Martha Coakley

Read on! - promoted by Bob_Neer

10 Reasons to Vote for Martha Coakley

[Here is the text - Ed.]

10 Reasons to Vote for Martha Coakley (from a Don Berwick Supporter)

I was a strong supporter of Don Berwick, and Martha Coakley was my last choice in the Democratic Primary. She is painfully vague on some important questions, but I’ve found enough in her and Charlie Baker’s websites, in their answers to questionnaires, and in their responses to interview questions, to feel confident in making a strong recommendation that voting for Martha Coakley is what we have to do on Election Day.

Here, then, are Ten Reasons to Vote for Martha Coakley for Governor:

#1. Charlie Baker’s No Tax Pledge renders the rest of his campaign commitments as empty rhetoric. Although Charlie Baker appears to have more specific proposals for addressing the Commonwealth’s challenges, he has made a no-new- taxes pledge and picked a Tea Party Republican as his running mate. If there’s one thing that anyone who’s running on his record as a CEO should know, it’s that implementing good ideas takes resources.

Charlie Baker talks about creating an annual fund of $100 million for infrastructure repair … at the same time as he opposes indexing the gas tax. He commits to increasing Local Aid; he talks about increasing State Budget spending on environmental programs, including more land acquisition , working with coastal cities and towns to develop and implement strategies for addressing rising sea level and storm-related concerns; he promises increased resources for treatment for addiction; he talks about expanding rehabilitative services for incarcerated persons; he calls for more extensive supportive services for homeless families and families at risk of homelessness … all without increasing taxes or adding to the burdens of cities and towns. We’ve had Republican presidents and governors who made those same kinds of “you-can-have-it-all-and-it-won’t-cost-you-anything” promises, and we know that it just isn’t possible.

BMG's ballot question endorsements: No, Yes, Yes, Yes

NYYY: New York Yankees, Yuck. Nice. -Bob
Bumped, because these questions are actually really important, and a lot of people aren't sure what they're about. Feel free to distribute this post widely! :) - promoted by david

It’s that time of year again, when everyone from newspaper editors to neighbors to your cranky uncle is telling you how to vote on November’s ballot.  Herewith, your humble editors’ submission with respect to the four statewide ballot questions.  Spoiler: the correct answers are No on 1, and Yes on the rest.  They are all pretty easy calls, in our view.

NO on 1.  Question 1, if passed, would repeal the indexing provision that the legislature recently added to the gas tax.  The indexing provision adjusts the gas tax (currently 24 cents per gallon) “every year by the percentage change in the Consumer Price Index over the preceding year.”  In other words, it automatically adjusts the gas tax for inflation.

An outrage, some cry!  Taxation without representation!  The legislature should have to vote every time a tax is raised!  There are many problems with this argument, not the least of which is that the sales tax for everything else is a percentage, and therefore automatically adjusts for inflation – if prices go up, so does the sales tax in dollar amount.  Frankly, a percentage sales tax is probably a better way to manage the gas tax as well, but since the tax is per gallon, failing to index results in the gas tax actually losing value over time.

And an inadequate gas tax is a real problem, since the gas tax funds road and bridge projects around the state.  Needless to say, these projects are necessary.  MA’s infrastructure is not getting any younger; much maintenance has been deferred way longer than it should have been; and catastrophes like this one only seem likely to happen more often if something isn’t done.

The legislature isn’t very good at enacting sensible tax policy.  This gas tax bill was a rare exception (it probably didn’t go far enough, but it was a big improvement over what was in place before).  We see no good argument for undoing it.

YES on 2.  Question 2, if passed, would update the bottle bill (which requires a five-cent deposit on certain beverage containers, refunded when the bottle is returned) to include water, juice, sports drink, and other now-popular drinks.  The statistics around the bottle bill are overwhelming: 80% of containers with a deposit, but only 23% of containers without, are recycled.  Lots of anecdotal observations support this: it’s actually pretty rare to see a Coke can or beer bottle on the street, but plastic water and juice bottles are ubiquitous.

So, the bottle bill works, and things that work should be encouraged and expanded to keep up with the times.  Furthermore, the folks urging you to vote “no” have been … massaging the facts, shall we say, with respect to current recycling rates in Massachusetts.  This is bad behavior that should be punished; if it isn’t, they and others will assume (correctly) that they can get away it, and will behave similarly in the future.

YES on 3.  Question 3, if passed, would pretty much repeal the state’s casino law by making slot machines and table games illegal again in Massachusetts.  We’ve talked about this issue a great deal on BMG in recent months, so there’s no need to rehash those arguments in detail here.  In brief, we think casinos are a lousy economic development strategy (recent events in Atlantic City and elsewhere suggest that they are not the golden goose their boosters would have you believe), we think they prey on people who really don’t need another toilet down which to flush their money, and we think the shenanigans at the Mass. Gaming Commission have amply demonstrated that they tend to operate in a shady fashion.  We recognize that Springfield, in particular, could use an infusion of economic activity of just about any kind.  We are happy to see recent news reports that just such a thing appears to be happening, and we hope this is the start of a trend.  Building a plant to assemble desperately-needed subway cars is real economic development.  Gambling isn’t.

YES on 4.  Question 4, if passed, would require employers with 11 or more employees to allow their employees to “earn and use up to 40 hours of paid sick time per calendar year, while employees working for smaller employers could earn and use up to 40 hours of unpaid sick time per calendar year.”  This one is really so easy.  Of course employees should be able to take a modest number of sick days per year (five seems perfectly reasonable) without putting their jobs in jeopardy or (at larger employers) taking a financial hit for it.  If you’re sick and you stay home and rest, (a) you will get better and therefore return to productivity much faster, and (b) you won’t get your colleagues or the people next to you on the T sick.  It is both sensible economic policy and sensible public health policy.