To What Extent, If Any, Does BMG have a "Liberal Blind Spot"?

Nicholas Kristof in today’s NYT, titled “Liberal Blind Spot”:

In a column a few weeks ago, I offered “a confession of liberal intolerance,” criticizing my fellow progressives for promoting all kinds of diversity on campuses — except ideological. I argued that universities risk becoming liberal echo chambers and hostile environments for conservatives, and especially for evangelical Christians.

As I see it, we are hypocritical: We welcome people who don’t look like us, as long as they think like us.

It’s rare for a column to inspire widespread agreement, but that one led to a consensus: Almost every liberal agreed that I was dead wrong.

“You don’t diversify with idiots,” asserted the reader comment on The Times’s website that was most recommended by readers (1,099 of them). Another: Conservatives “are narrow-minded and are sure they have the right answers.”

Finally, this one recommended by readers: “I am grossly disappointed in you for this essay, Mr. Kristof. You have spent so much time in troubled places seemingly calling out misogyny and bigotry. And yet here you are, scolding and shaming progressives for not mindlessly accepting patriarchy, misogyny, complementarianism, and hateful, hateful bigotry against the LGBTQ community into the academy.”

I’d welcome any thoughts on how this may or may not apply to BMG.  I’m not sure if posing this question itself is considered troll-like.  That’s not my intent.

I’m curious particularly about the BMG founders – Charley, Bob, David.  To what extent has BMG become what you’d hoped?  To what extent if any are you concerned about what Kristof describes/argues?

Close to Zero: Polling, Predictability and Late Primary Politics

Depending on which poll you look at, the race between Clinton and Sanders is a dead heat or blowout.  Here’s Electoral-Vote:

A related category of bad political analysis is the search for a horse race that may not actually exist. The current Democratic contest in California is an excellent example of this. Because of a Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) poll released a few days ago, in which Hillary Clinton had a lead of only two points over Bernie Sanders, nearly all media outlets are now describing the race as a “dead heat.” If this was the only available poll of California, then that would be correct, but it is not. In fact, there have been four major polls of the Golden State in the last month, and they—in order, from oldest to newest—had Clinton +12, +2, +18, and +2. There’s nothing that tells us that the recent +2 result is any more or less valid than the recent +18 result and indeed, if one had to pick, the +2 came from a minor firm with limited presidential polling experience (PPIC), while the +18 came from well-known and battle-tested SurveyUSA. Further, a single +2 result is a statistical dead heat, but four positive results in a row effectively eliminate the margin of error, even if it had been +2, +2, +2, and +2 for Clinton. In short, while there is time for things to tighten up, and for us to get new and better information, the current evidence does not actually indicate California is a dead heat.

Sanders is out of money. He’s doing his best in California with earned media, but the facts are he’s at the end of a primary he can’t win, being badly outspent in a state that requires a lot of paid media, in a state where demographics are against him. He could theoretically overcome these obstacles, but right now, there’s no clear signal that he’s doing so.

Meanwhile, national polls indicating a close race between Clinton and Trump are at their least reliable, says Sam Wang, who crunches the numbers. Ornstein and Abramowitz, for the less numerate, offer an more accessible take:

In this highly charged election, it’s no surprise that the news media see every poll like an addict sees a new fix. That is especially true of polls that show large and unexpected changes. Those polls get intense coverage and analysis, adding to their presumed validity.

The problem is that the polls that make the news are also the ones most likely to be wrong. And to folks like us, who know the polling game and can sort out real trends from normal perturbations, too many of this year’s polls, and their coverage, have been cringeworthy.

Take the Reuters/Ipsos survey. It showed huge shifts during a time when there were no major events. There is a robust scholarship, using sophisticated panel surveys, that demonstrates remarkable stability in voter preferences, especially in times of intense partisan preferences and tribal political identities. The chances that the shifts seen in these polls are real and not artifacts of sample design and polling flaws? Close to zero.

At 538, Harry Enten thinks there’s a good chance of Clinton clinching the nomination before polls close in California. (Think New Jersey).

Unless Hillary Clinton starts killing puppies or Bernie Sanders sprouts wings and a halo and begins healing lepers and raising the dead, the probabilities remain the same: Clinton wins the nomination and the election.

Weld Bombs at Libertarian National Convention

Politico is reporting that former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld has had a tough time of it in Orlando at the Libertarian National Convention. Bill Weld could be out as quickly as he came in. Delegates have been vocal in their dislike of Weld calling him Republican-Lite, an association that is disliked by activists. When Gary Johnson spoke of Weld calling him “the original libertarian.” he was met with a chorus of boos.

So while Johnson remains popular, it’s doesn’t automatically mean that Weld gets a pass and is chosen as the VP pick, each nominee is selected separately.

While Johnson and Weld are trying to run as a ticket — they are handing out joint buttons and paraphernalia — the Libertarian Party convention actually picks their presidential and vice-presidential nominees separately. Delegates could select Johnson and then reject Weld.

To add insult to injury, Weld also stunk it up during the VP debate:

Weld did little to help himself at a Friday night vice-presidential debate in which he got a chilly reception from the hardcore audience of Libertarian true-believers. Asked who did more damage to America — President Obama or President George W. Bush — Weld gave a classic politician answer. “I’d rate it a tie,” he said. He used the word “miasma” in his closing statement.

But my favorite line of the night from Weld.

when people think of Libertarians they often think of “unattractive people” in their neighborhoods.

That’s how you sweet talk them Bill. Let’s see how Weld compares to Carly Florina’s VP run.

Joke Revue: "The Arguments For And Against Bernie Sanders Staying In The Race"

The Onion:

The Arguments For And Against Bernie Sanders Staying In The Race


  • Mathematical impossibility of receiving nomination only reinforces status as outsider candidate
  • More than halfway done cobbling together foreign policy plan
  • Would continue to push Clinton’s speeches to the left
  • Already booked nonrefundable Spirit Airlines ticket to visit Philadelphia during dates of Democratic National Convention
  • Probably our last chance to hear a public official say “single-payer health care” for a generation or two
  • “BEST Bernie Moments” YouTube compilation could use couple more minutes of material
  • Staying active and engaged in society has numerous health benefits for seniors
  • Nation can pretend it might actually do something about corporate influence on politics, becoming embroiled in imprudent wars, and income inequality for few more weeks


  • Staying in forces Clinton to waste time and energy learning to campaign against someone with clear principles and political stances
  • Having raised $207 million, dropping out would help get a lot of money out of politics
  • Learned that the president does not actually get to decide everyone’s income
  • Would finally have some time to jab fingers recreationally
  • Would allow Clinton to focus on fucking up general election campaign
  • Might be nice to relax and have a friendly chat with a banker from time to time
  • Pennsylvania Convention Center needs DNC itinerary set Friday by 5 so they can coordinate with vendors
  • Best to just squash Americans’ belief they can actually make a difference in the political system now before it gets too far out of hand



NEW BRUNSWICK, NEW JERSEY (News Satire from The Borowitz Report)—President Obama handed the Republican Party a gift for the general election by making a series of offensive pro-knowledge remarks at Rutgers University over the weekend, a leading Republican official said on Monday.

According to Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, the President’s inflammatory comments, in which he offered full-throated praise for such controversial fields of knowledge as math and science, are sure to come back to haunt the Democrats in November.

“If President Obama was trying to alienate millions of Americans in one speech, mission accomplished,” Priebus told Fox News. “When I watched him speak, I said to myself, ‘Well, Christmas came early this year.’ ”

While many Republicans expected Obama to walk back his ill-advised praise of knowledge, facts, and evidence, the White House as of Monday morning had refused to do so.

“The President seems to be doubling down on this, which is not surprising,” Priebus said. “This is a man who never met a fact he didn’t like.”

The R.N.C. chairman said that the Party was already creating negative ads that would make extensive use of the President’s polarizing pro-knowledge rant.

“This fall, we will ask the American people, ‘Do you want four more years of knowledge, or do you want something else?’ ” Priebus said. “Because the Republican Party has something else.”

Daniel Kurtzman:

“A new government report reveals that Hillary Clinton ignored the State Department rules about cybersecurity. The report states that Hillary’s recklessness, arrogance, and defiance could get her the Republican presidential nomination.” –Conan O’Brien

“The latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll has found that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have nearly opposite results with rural voters compared to urban voters, with Clinton leading Trump by 25 percent in cities, and Trump beating Clinton by 31 percent in places where he wouldn’t be caught dead.” –Seth Meyers

“Trump got turned down for a meeting with Kim Jong Un. So I guess his search for a vice president isn’t going so well. Seriously, how do you get denied by North Korea?” –James Corden

“The NRA on Friday endorsed Donald Trump for president. I guess that reaffirms their commitment to absolutely zero background checks.” –Seth Meyers

“Ed Rendell tried to help Hillary Clinton by attacking her opponent, saying, ‘Trump’s comments, like ‘you can’t be a 10 if you’re flat-chested,’ will come back to haunt him.’ And then Rendell helpfully added, ‘There are probably more ugly women in America than attractive women. People take that stuff personally.’ Yep, I have a feeling a lot of women are about to take that really personally.” –Stephen Colbert

“Democrats are concerned that Sanders’ campaign could alienate enough voters to hand Donald Trump the election. Bernie said, ‘Listen, I’m 74 years old. I’m surrounded by college girls screaming my name. Don’t ruin this for me.’” –Jimmy Kimmel

“The article makes the point that Donald Trump has hired many women to run his businesses and even quotes him as saying, ‘A good woman is better than 10 good men.’ And Hillary was like, ‘Thanks for the new campaign slogan.’” –Jimmy Fallon

“Audio has surfaced showing that in the 1980s and ’90s Donald Trump may have used a fake name to pose as his own publicist. Or, maybe a little-known publicist named John Miller used a fake name to pose as a New York real estate mogul and run for president.” –Seth Meyers


Twilight of the elites; or, what's a DC policy wonk to do?

This quote, at the very end of today’s Globe story reporting the confused state in which Washington policy types find themselves as they try to figure out what Donald Trump would actually do as president, to me says a lot about our current circumstances.  It’s from Heather Hurlburt, “director of the New Models of Policy Change at the non-partisan New America Foundation and a former Clinton administration official.”

The guy [Trump] is enough a master of the American political process to get nominated by one of our two political parties; you really need to take him seriously…. If you think what’s at stake in the election is the demise of the liberal international system, but taking a position on that edges you closer to what your tax lawyers are telling you you can’t do, that’s a struggle for executives at think tanks.

It’s a perfect storm, no?  The unfortunately outsized role in policy that Washington think tanks – densely populated by “former ___ administration officials” from both parties – have played for decades suffers a head-on collision with the absurdity that is American tax law governing nonprofits, and the result is a whole bunch of legitimately smart and knowledgeable people who can’t actually say out loud that a Trump presidency is a serious threat to America’s position in the world.

It doesn’t appear to be universally true that the think tank crowd can’t take a strong anti-Trump stand – as just one example, Robert Kagan, of the Brookings Institution and a “former Reagan administration official,” wrote a good column concluding that “[t]his is how fascism comes to America, not with jackboots and salutes … but with a television huckster, … and with an entire national political party — out of ambition or blind party loyalty, or simply out of fear — falling into line behind him.”  But the hand-wringing, both over what Trump actually says (how do we evaluate it? our models break when we input his statements!) and over their employers’ coveted 501(c)(3) status, is yet another unpredictable factor in this most unpredictable of election years.

Cost-saving plastic bag ban moves forward

Allowing baggers to drain public funds by polluting the state and forcing everyone else to clean up after them makes no economic sense. A plastic bag fee will cut clean up costs and better align expenses with costs. Good job, Senator Eldridge. Globe:

Come August of 2018 in Massachusetts, you may rarely hear the question “Paper or plastic?”

The Senate Thursday was poised to pass an almost $40 billion budget bill that included a provision banning single-use carryout bags at all retail establishments that are 3,000 square feet or larger, or have at least three locations in the state. The bag push, adopted by a bipartisan vote, is meant to make the state more environmentally friendly and was cheered by green advocates.

But it drew an immediate rebuke from local retail groups, which worry it will erode consumer choice at perhaps 20,000 retail locations and hurt mom-and-pop stores in their battle with online merchants for customers.

And Governor Charlie Baker telegraphed significant worry through a spokesman.

The administration, said Baker senior adviser Tim Buckley, “has serious concerns about enacting such a sweeping mandate through the budget process with little to no debate, especially due to the potential impacts on low-income families’ grocery bills, and retailers across Massachusetts.”

The budget provision, which faces major hurdles before it could become law, would allow stores to make a reusable grocery bag or recycled paper bag available for purchase at the point of sale, but retailers would have to charge at least 10 cents per bag.

Senator James B. Eldridge of Acton, a lead backer of the effort, said more than 30 of the state’s 351 cities and towns have already approved plastic bag bans. They include large cities like Cambridge and Newton and small towns like Truro and Lee.

Eldridge said plastic bags are harming sea creatures and wildlife, and littering Massachusetts’ landscape. He said the proposal is sensitive to small businesses because it exempts all retail stores under 3,000 square feet, unless they are part of a chain. And it’s sensitive to consumers, he asserted, because it allows plastic produce bags and dry-cleaning bags.

Plastic bags, he said, are “something that we really don’t need, given that there are alternatives like a reusable bag or a paper bag.”

News Flash: Status quo produces failing mass transit

The NYT orders itself a double shot of Obvious at the Journalism Bar with a news story that highlights failing mass transit systems in Boston, New York and Washington D.C. Here are the key paragraphs, buried after columns of color quotes from frustrated riders etc. etc.:

One of the most vexing questions is how to pay to fix infrastructure. With federal transit funding essentially flat, many states and cities are grappling with how to cover improvements on their own.

Some experts have called for increasing the federal gasoline tax — which has remained the same since 1993 — or raising state gas taxes, sales taxes or tolls for highways and bridges. Many praise the so-called value-capture approach, which allows cities to pay for projects by recovering tax revenue generated from new development.

“You either pay now or pay later,” Richard A. White, acting president of the American Public Transportation Association, said. “The more you stick your head in the sand on this issue, the worse the problems are going to become.”

Unstated conclusion: in the present climate, public ownership does not yield sufficient capital to maintain these vital systems. Structural reform is required for any substantive changes.

Ken Starr forced out over sex scandal

An extra helping of irony for the sex-obsessed former Special Prosecutor. TPM:

Baylor University’s board of regents announced Thursday that Ken Starr would be removed as president and transition to the role of chancellor at the Texas university.

The board also suspended the school’s football coach, Art Briles, with the “intent to terminate” his contract, over the way school officials handled numerous claims from female students that members of the football team had committed sexual assault.

“We were horrified by the extent of these acts of sexual violence on our campus. This investigation revealed the University’s mishandling of reports in what should have been a supportive, responsive and caring environment for students,” Richard Willis, chair of the Baylor Board of Regents, said in a statement. “The depth to which these acts occurred shocked and outraged us. Our students and their families deserve more, and we have committed our full attention to improving our processes, establishing accountability and ensuring appropriate actions are taken to support former, current and future students.”

In the statement about the removal of Starr and Briles, the board of regents summarized findings from an outside investigation into the how university officials handled claims of sexual assault. The school had been accused of failing to address claims made by at least six female students that members of the football team had committed sexual assault between 2009 and 2016.

Inspector General Says Clinton Broke Federal Rules

I don’t particularly want to post on this, but I feel like somebody should, for the sake of intellectual integrity.

Hillary Clinton and her team ignored clear guidance from the State Department that her email setup broke federal standards and could leave sensitive material vulnerable to hackers, a department audit has found. Her aides twice brushed aside concerns, in one case telling technical staff “the matter was not to be discussed further.”

The inspector general’s review on Wednesday also revealed that hacking attempts led forced then-Secretary of State Clinton off email at one point in 2011, though she insists the personal server she used was never breached. Clinton and several of her senior staff declined to be interviewed for the investigation.

Some more.

The audit did note that former Secretary of State Colin Powell had also exclusively used a private email account, though it did not name any other prior secretaries who had done so. But the failings of Clinton were singled out in the audit as being more serious than her predecessor.

“By Secretary Clinton’s tenure, the department’s guidance was considerably more detailed and more sophisticated,” the report concluded. “Secretary Clinton’s cybersecurity practices accordingly must be evaluated in light of these more comprehensive directives.”

Republicans said Wednesday the audit showed Clinton was in clear violation of the Federal Records Act and endangered national security.

To me, this is a perfect political storm. The defenses are incredibly hollow. For Clinton haters, this confirms everything they already believe about her.

And, not to beat the drum again, but there are thousands upon thousands of e-mails to pick through.

This doesn’t even touch the subpoena issue.

An unforced error of epic proportions. And to those who say, “Double standard! Colin Powell did it!” That argument would be better if Donald Rumsfeld or Dick Cheney did it. We always went pretty easy on Powell; hell, he endorsed Obama.

One other thing: my take, most Americans look at this and think one thing: I’d get fired for that.

It’s a horror show, and it’s not going away.

June BMG Stammtisch

The Saloon

Get an early start on summer. Come, enjoy some libations, and talk politics. This is the last Stammtisch of the 2016 primary season, for better or worse.

Our now-regular monthly BMG Stammtisch will happen one week from today — 1-June — at The Saloon in Davis Square at 7p.

Hope to see you there!

Wind: "Go Big" -- and govern for the future

LOVING Derrick Z. Jackson’s piece in the Globe today. Go click it and read the whole thing. He’s calling for a 2000MW purchase requirement for offshore wind — which through economies of scale will tip the whole balance into abundant, clean and cheap energy in the decades to come:

These two words should guide Beacon Hill on offshore wind:

Go big.

…. Factoring in economic and social benefits of a surging industry, top turbine supplier Siemens calculates that, by 2025, offshore wind will be cheaper in Germany than any major fuel source, except for onshore wind. Benefits could include more jobs, less carbon, and energy that is ultimately cheaper for society than nuclear or conventional sources.

That will be true here, too, if the Legislature and Baker go for 2,000 megawatts. A recent study by the University of Delaware’s Special Initiative on Offshore Wind found that that amount, the equivalent of four Cape Winds, would create a European-style pipeline of competitively priced projects that would bring the cost of electricity down to or below today’s electricity prices by 2030. That is without federal or state tax credits and renewable energy credits.

via Derrick Z. Jackson: All-in for offshore wind – The Boston Globe.

This is the difference between planning for the future, and reacting to the present. Energy prices — on the production and retail sides — are not permanent, but infrastructure kind of is. If we make an investment in gas infrastructure, as the Baker administration wants, we’ll have gas — for 20-30 years. If we make that leap into wind, we’ll have wind — thereby jumpstarting the whole industry, as has already happened in Europe. This would of course be much to our economic benefit — especially to New Bedford, which needs it the most.

We have a better alternative, and it’s long past time to simply take advantage of the thing that’s sitting right in front of us.


City Agriculture - May 23, 2016

Skyfarm – modular vertical grow structure

AccorHotels, which includes Sofitel, Novotel and Motel 6, plans 1000 hotel vegetable gardens by 2020 food-waste

Renderings versus reality for tree-covered skyscrapers

Tokyo green tower Toranomon project

Floating food forest for NYC

Urban cricket farm

Farm from a Box – shipping container kit for 2 acre farm
Freight Farms does an enclosed system shipping container food production system
Prairie Urban Farms “Farm on Wheels” shipping container both farm and class room centre-in-a-shipping-container

Planton Movil – a walking forest that peacefully claims its place and respect in the city by linking art and social change. Since 2010 in Lima, Peru, people from different disciplines and backgrounds have come together to help create and maintain sustainable public green areas

Current Extent and Future Capacity of Urban Gardening

Parisian vertical farm

Urban tree farms for six cities ture-plots/article_af911178-3abb-54f0-8e68-ecd9634f7cdd.html

Archives for City Agriculture at

Clinton on Guns: OK, But Not Good Enough for the General Election

From the HRC website:

Hillary will fight to keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers, other violent criminals, and the severely mentally ill:

Support legislation to stop domestic abusers from buying and possessing guns. Although federal law generally prohibits domestic abusers from purchasing or possessing guns, this protection does not apply to people in dating relationships or convicted stalkers. Hillary will fight for legislation to prohibit all of these domestic abusers and stalkers from buying guns.

Make straw purchasing a federal crime. When an individual with a clean record buys a gun with the intention of giving it to a violent felon—only so that felon can avoid a background check—it should be a crime. Hillary will fight to make so-called “straw purchasing” a federal crime.

Close loopholes that let persons suffering from severe mental illness purchase and possess guns. Hillary will fight to improve existing law prohibiting persons suffering from severe mental illness from purchasing or possessing a gun. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives should finalize its rulemaking to close loopholes in our laws and clarify that people involuntarily committed to outpatient treatment, such as the Virginia Tech shooter, are prohibited from buying guns.

Keep military-style weapons off our streets. Military-style assault weapons do not belong on our streets. They are a danger to law enforcement and to our communities. Hillary will work to keep assault weapons off our streets and supports reinstating the assault weapons ban.

Sorry, but I find this uninspiring.

It almost goes without saying that Trump is worse, and he says scary things about every American having the right to carry whatever they want anywhere, but there’s also this:

Several years ago there was a tremendous program in Richmond, Virginia called Project Exile. It said that if a violent felon uses a gun to commit a crime, you will be prosecuted in federal court and go to prison for five years – no parole or early release. Obama’s former Attorney General, Eric Holder, called that a “cookie cutter” program. That’s ridiculous. I call that program a success. Murders committed with guns in Richmond decreased by over 60% when Project Exile was in place – in the first two years of the program alone, 350 armed felons were taken off the street.

Frankly that sounds better to me than HRC’s “straw purchasing” proposal. Is straw purchasing really a big problem?

But more to the immediate point, my vote is securely Democratic. What of the pesky independents?

I submit, unprovably, that HRC would be far better off really throwing the gauntlet on guns. It would enable her to force the issue and make people choose a safer path, and arm herself (pun intended) for future legislative battles on guns (which, at the moment, hardly seem possible).

It would be a hard choice (pun intended again), but also a strong one.

ADDING: It’s interesting that, once Clinton felt threatened by Sanders, she went after him on guns. Her instinct was correct (though honestly I found the attack shaky).

The other day, surprising no one, the NRA endorsed Trump. Why not fire up our base, bu doubling down on that? WHACK Trump on guns as much as possible, and stake out a clear plan for gun safety. RUN on this.

SJC on greenhouse gases: Caps must be hard

Turns out that the legislature wrote a pretty tough greenhouse gas law back in 2008. And despite attempts by both Patrick and Baker administrations to squish out of it, the SJC said no way:

For years, environmental groups have argued that both the Patrick and Baker administrations have not done enough to meet the mandates of the state’s 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act, which requires the state to cut its greenhouse gases 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2020.

State officials have countered that the law only requires the state Department of Environmental Protection to set emissions targets, not hard caps, and that it gives the agency broad discretion over how to reach them.

In a rebuff to the state, the Supreme Judicial Court sided with the environmental groups and in a unanimous decision ordered the Baker administration to enact specific policies to carry out the required emissions cuts.

via SJC rules that the state failed to issue proper regulations to cut emissions – The Boston Globe.

They have discretion about how to reach the caps, but not whether to reach the caps.

Incidentally the lawsuit was brought on behalf of four high school students, on the grounds that younger people will suffer even more from global warming than older adults. That is entirely appropriate on the merits, but it seems novel that age is a determinant of standing in a case. (Non-lawyer talking here.)

So this is hard to do. We can import tons of Canadian hydro power and probably get it done soon, but hydro is a.) not local, so we don’t get the economic benefits, and b.) not totally clean, since it requires flooding wooded areas that would otherwise continue to sequester carbon, and the methane that rotting matter creates. The Globe editorial folks seem to be suggesting a big import of Canadian hydro in the short term, with increasing carve-outs for cleaner and local offshore wind in the future.

Thanks to the SJC for affirming the rules are hard and fast, like the laws of physics.

Who's running Health Care? (and why are we letting them?)

Pro Tip:  Not the patients and not the doctors.

In the USA, it’s being run by corporations whose CEO’s have a fiduciary obligation to return a profit to the investors.  The concept of CEO fiduciary obligation is not good or evil on its own.  It just means that the CEO of Mars Chocolate has a legal obligation to make decisions that are in favor of the stock holders and no others.  If he or she offers a free bag of M&M’s to a child, it is not the child he or she is doing this for.  It is being done in anticipation that the child will like M&M’s and buy more in the future, thus, sending a profit to the shareholders.  It”s all about money, nothing but money and only about money to a few people.  That’s how it works.  That’s the law.

And that’s how much of our medical care is managed in the USA.  Those who hope for a more just system, a system shared by all the developed nations of the world are told by some of our leaders that that such ideas are just theoretical debates that can never ever happen.  To them, the shareholders and their  profits are the only reality.

A few months ago, after losing my job and with that, health insurance for my wife and me, we began the arcane journey through the “Health Connector” and the ACA, aka “Obamacare”.  At first, I thought it was my wife’s inexperience with the websites and procedures but soon it became clear that clarity is not the goal of those in control.  What doctors are on this plan, on that one?  How much is the co-pay for my test on this, on that?  How do I compare?  A call to the insurer coupled with the call to the billing departments of a prospective health care provider often yielded the same advice, just sign up, get the procedure, and after we submit the bill, we’ll tell you how much you owe, or do not owe.

Talk to anyone who works in a medical billing office and they will tell you that they spend half of their time on the phone with insurance companies or patients trying to figure out what something costs, who pays what percentage, and so on.  Worse yet, the process is always changing.  Today’s allergy shot and exam was covered with a $15 co-pay and the balance paid by the insurer, that is no guarantee that this will be the case on the next appointment.  So, anything learned by today’s four hours on the phone will be of little use tomorrow.

NRA Endorses Trump

No, this isn’t surprising, but it’s still horrifying.

The National Rifle Association (NRA) has endorsed Donald Trump for president.

NRA chief lobbyist Chris Cox announced the endorsement Friday during the gun lobby’s annual conference in Louisville, Ky.

More here.

NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre railed against Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton, saying that if she wins the presidency, “we’ll all be kissing our Second Amendment freedoms goodbye.”

Now there’s some scorn to wear like a badge of honor.

Memorial Day Reflection

Basic training at Fort Dix, NJ was no picnic in the seventies. We were at war and our drill sergeants worked very hard at preparing us for the experience. Fortunately, my unit was never called up. I got in the best shape of my life after six months of basic training. Up every morning before dawn, a couple miles of running around a track in fatigues and boots, great breakfasts as I remember them, several miles of marching in 90 plus degree heat with a full back pack, countless sit-ups, push-ups and other exercises – including something called gorilla stomps which is a sort of joyful punishment. I had to do fifty of them once as a battalion captain whispered not such sweet tidings in my ear. I had fallen out of cadence during a march. I really never did get the marching beat and rhythm down correctly – but I messed up in front of the wrong officer that day.

There were rewards though. During grenade training I managed to throw a live grenade through the hole of a truck tire at about 30 yards. The drill sergeant yelled “who did that” and called me out of my unit. I figured I was in for more gorilla stomps – but instead he congratulated me and ordered me to sit down and “smoke em if I had em”. I had em and I did.

Half way through training we actually got to leave the base for weekends. My buddy Ron and I headed for New York City in a bus – probably the first one we could get. All dressed up in our formal specs we walked into a nice restaurant and waited to be seated. After a while the maître de came over and asked us to leave – he explained that they did not serve people in military uniform. I believe I remember him saying it might disturb some of the customers. We were surprised and embarrassed but not really shocked. We were only 21 and we left as asked.

That was in the early seventies and we were in an unpopular war. Soldiers returning from active duty were sometimes spit on and often spurned by their fellow Americans. Most everything associated with the military was not infrequently treated with disdain. Seems hard to believe when I look back at it.

But tides and times do change. Years later during the mid-eighties I walked into the Hanover Mall and was very surprised to see a full military display in the middle of the floor. Posters, weapons, pictures, a jeep and other military items where all on exhibition. I hadn’t thought of the military in years but the open military display stopped me in my tracks – I remember instinctively looking around for demonstrators only to realize that now the military was being admired not scorned. A circle was closing. A reawakening was in process – and after everything I had seen in the sixties and seventies it felt strange.

Today, after several new wars, of one form or another, public opinion of the military has come full circle. The military is now amongst the most valued of our institutions. Military men and women are widely admired and respected. The thought of asking someone in uniform to leave a restaurant is simply inconceivable in today’s America. One would more likely be offered a prime table and a free meal.

Looking back at all this, as I often do around Memorial Day, I try to make sense of the two America’s I have seen. One where our military is disrespected and one where it seems often idolized. The contradiction rests uneasily in my mind and I have never been able to resolve it.

I have no profound conclusion to make of the changes I have seen and been part of over the last 40 years. I wished I could but the only thought I have is that I sometimes wonder if we didn’t go too far in one era and then swing too far back in the other era when the best place to be would be in the middle – where we could enjoy a lasting peace through a strength we wouldn’t have to use.

U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz: permit conditions are "extortion"

According to, the city of Boston’s tourism chief, Kenneth Brissette, has been indicted and arrested on extortion charges. The reason? Because he and one other city official repeatedly advised a local music promoter that he would have to hire union labor before awarding them a permit for a music festival.

The implications of this are enormous. The State Gaming Commission placed a number of requirements on MGM before awarding them a gaming license – is that extortion too?

Are conditions on permits or other governmental actions considered to be extortion and racketeering? A grand jury seems to think so.

Field Notes from the Constitutional Convention

To cut to the chase: the so-called “millionaires’ tax” constitutional amendment to impose a four percent surcharge on taxable incomes over one million dollars was approved by a vote of 135-57. Fifty yes votes were needed to advance the amendment to another vote in 2017 or 2018.

House members voted in favor, 102-50 (the roll call is here). Senate members voted in favor, 33-7. The no votes in the Senate were: DeMacedo, Fattman, Flanagan, Gobi, Humason, Ross, Tarr. Everyone else (including newly-sworn GOP Senator O’Connor and newly-sworm Democratic Senator Boncore) was a yes. A list of the 40 Senators is here.

One of the 17 House Democrats voting no was David Nangle of Lowell, who denounced the amendment as “the introduction of class warfare.” “It’s stealing from the rich to give to the poor,” he added. “We are legislators. We are not Robin Hood.”

The Case for Carbon Pricing, Now More than Ever

Two significant events this week are transforming the debate in Massachusetts about how we should move forward in fighting climate change, and made it clear that we have to do more.

First, the Boston Globe drew attention to the recent report from ISO, the region’s power grid operator, that carbon emissions from New England’s power plants actually increased in 2015 over the previous year by 5 percent, the first year-to-year increase since 2010.

Emissions had declined by about 25 percent in the last 15 years, largely due to the closing of the state’s coal plants and to energy efficiency improvements.  But the region has lagged behind California and other places in shifting toward renewable energy such as wind and solar, and instead has become overly dependent on natural gas with its volatile supply and price.  When the carbon-neutral Vermont Yankee nuclear plant closed in 2014, the energy was replaced with a 13 percent increase in natural gas-generated electricity and that dependence has increased even further.

Exactly the wrong direction at a time when Massachusetts already was unlikely to meet its 2020 deadline to reduce its global warming emissions by 25 percent below 1990 levels, a mandate established in the 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA).  Too many opportunities to accelerate a shift away from fossil fuels have been bypassed, and it has been too easy for the Governor and the legislature to punt on the issue and hope that things will somehow work out.

Just yesterday, the Supreme Judicial Court unanimously delivered its verdict on that timidity.  The court’s clear and unambiguous ruling was that the state must comply with the GWSA mandates by implementing regulations that “address multiple sources or categories of sources of greenhouse gas emissions, impose a limit on emissions that may be released … and set limits that decline on an annual basis.”

The ruling was a victory for all those who want the state to build a stronger, more resilient economy on a foundation of locally-generated, reliable renewable energy that makes us safer and healthier.  But the ruling also leaves the state in a quandary.

Current energy proposals in the legislature – many included in a still-developing energy omnibus bill that incorporates proposals from Governor Baker and legislators – are alone unlikely to bring the state into compliance with the 2020 requirements, and certainly not with the much tougher mandate to reduce emissions by 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.  In a state that has prided itself on national climate change leadership for many years, we are slipping, still not being bold or aggressive enough to address one of the worst challenges we have ever faced.

Fortunately, there is another policy we can implement – incorporated in two bills now in the legislature – which has been successful all over the world in both reducing greenhouse gas emissions and strengthening the economy, and one that will be make almost every other environmental and energy policy we have, or might adopt, more effective.

Carbon pricing – charging fossil fuel importers a fee based on how much carbon dioxide pollution a fuel releases when burned – accomplishes several goals at once.  It corrects what economists across the ideological spectrum have called a “massive market failure.” It sends a clear price signal that the social costs of fossil fuels – such as increased respiratory disease and extreme weather events – will no longer be hidden in our tax bills and insurance premiums but instead will be clearly reflected in the price of energy and products so we can make better, more reliable decisions about what to buy and where to invest.

Effective carbon pricing systems – such as the one in British Columbia which served as a model for the policy now being proposed in Massachusetts – have a strong track record of significantly reducing emissions – 16 percent in British Columbia since its adoption in 2008 – while replacing imported fossil fuel and stimulating local renewable energy with its locally-grown businesses and jobs.  Massachusetts sends more than $20 billion every year out of state for the fossil fuels that are damaging our environment and health, and threatening our property and our lives. Keeping more of that money in the state would make us stronger.

Two current proposals at the State House would create a common sense carbon pricing system in Massachusetts. One proposal, S. 1747, would charge fossil fuel importers a carbon fee.  The revenues from those fees would go into a special dedicated fund for rebates, and be passed on directly to households and employers in order to minimize any increased costs in living and doing business. Each resident would receive an equal rebate from the fund.

Since low- and moderate-income households tend to use less energy than wealthier ones, on average they would come out ahead, but everyone would have an incentive to reduce their use of fossil fuel in order to pay less in fees. Businesses, nonprofit organizations, and municipalities would receive a dividend from the fund based on their share of the state’s employment.Another developing proposal – S. 1786 – follows a similar model but would invest a small portion of the funds in clean energy and public transportation.

Research by the state’s Department of Energy Resources found that this kind of carbon-fee-and-rebate policy would have the single greatest impact in reducing greenhouse gas emissions – provide the biggest bang for the buck – among the policies currently in place or anticipated.  That is the kind of policy Massachusetts leaders must now embrace.  It is time for bold leadership.


Rebecca Morris is Director of Communications of the Massachusetts Campaign for a Clean Energy Future, a coalition of organizations supporting the implementation of carbon pricing in the Commonwealth.