Red State Legislature Repeals Death Penalty

Kudos to the Nebraska Republican legislators who overrode their Governor’s own veto and made Nebraska the first conservative state to voluntarily abolish the death penalty via legislative enactment.

Though it formally considers itself nonpartisan, the Nebraska Legislature is dominated by Republicans. Republican legislators who have voted in favor of abolition said they believed the death penalty was inefficient, expensive and out of place with their party’s values. Other lawmakers cited religious or moral reasons for their support of the death penalty ban.

What is notable is that conservative evangelicals and Catholics were the most vocally opposed:

Mr. Johnson, who considers himself an evangelical Protestant, said he sees the issue less as a religious belief than a strictly personal one.

If you really follow Jesus’s teachings,” he said, “thou shall not kill, you know.”

Catholic bishops in Nebraska issued a statement on Tuesday criticizing Mr. Ricketts’s veto. “We remain convinced that the death penalty does not deter crime, nor does it make Nebraska safer or promote the common good in our state,” they said.

Perhaps like same sex marriage bans and pot legalization, this may portend a future wave of conservative and swing states overturning a clearly failed policy.

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?

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.


BEEF! Globe vs. Commonwealth

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.

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.

Technology tip

Google chrome is WAY faster than Firefox (v38.0.1) and does NOT suffer from the annoying loss-of-focus bug that Mozilla insists is not a Mozilla bug.

It seems that Mozilla and Adobe are arguing about whether said bug is a Flash or Mozilla bug. The result is that recent versions of Firefox, on Windows 7 Pro, frequently and without warning pull the keyboard focus out of a page edit window, often while in mid-typing. Since I can’t control the content of the various ads served with any modern web page, as a user I have virtually NO ability to solve this problem.

Changing to Chrome solved the problem AND made BMG page loading effectively instantaneous.

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

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%

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

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

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?


TONIGHT: 7pm vigil to sunset the PATRIOT Act

We’re in the thick of the fight to sunset Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, which has been used (illegally) to authorize mass metadata surveillance on all of us. We’re holding a vigil tonight at Sen. Warren’s office (the JFK Building, 15 New Sudbury St., Boston) to help influence both Senators to allow Section 215 to expire at the end of May 31. The Senate is likely to vote on two competing bills Saturday – a short-term straight reauthorization, and a token reform called the USA FREEDOM Act. We oppose them both.

Please consider coming with us and doing your part. Six months ago, nobody thought we had a prayer of actually sunsetting this provision, and ending the NSA’s mass metadata surveillance of Americans. Now, it’s actually within reach. Help us get there!

There will be similar vigils in dozens of cities, but it looks like Boston will be one of the biggest.

Stop corporate welfare: the living wage should be the minimum wage

Government should stop subsidizing the labor costs of corporations and raise the minimum wage in Massachusetts to at least the current Boston living wage of $13.89 an hour (MIT lays out relevant data in its “Living Wage Calculation for Suffolk County, Massachusetts.”)

The gap between the minimum wage and the living wage is a rough indication of the subsidy local minimum wage employers extract from us taxpayers.

Minimum wage in Massachusetts is currently $9. It is scheduled to rise to $11 in January 2017. That still leaves us subsidizing minimum wage employers by $5 an hour this year, $4 next year, and $3 an hour in 2017: almost 20 percent, assuming no inflation. Why? If we are going to subsidize anything (an arguable proposition, but one for a different discussion) it should be high-paying jobs that will raise our standard of living. That’s not minimum wage jobs in general, especially in our globalizing world where access to labor through improved communications is ever easier — and workers in Ireland, Indonesia, India, and the rest of the alphabet ever closer. Los Angeles legislated a $15/hour minimum wage by 2020 yesterday, which is in the same economic neighborhood as the Boston living wage.

As the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday, “There is no state in the country where someone earning either the state or federal minimum wage can afford a market-rate one-bedroom apartment,” citing a report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition (hat tip, WBUR). That is especially true here, where housing costs are high relative to other parts of the country. Workers paid minimum wage in Massachusetts have difficulties obtaining food, clothing, and other necessities. Public and private programs provide assistance in some cases with affordable housing, food, medical care, and other necessities — famously, to Wal Mart employees — but are less efficient than raising wages and letting workers spend the money for themselves would be. In the meantime, by shielding employers from the true costs of labor, we provide a public subsidy to business profits. A higher minimum wage will place the cost of labor where it should be: on employers.


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.

Hey Look: State Senate Takes a Step for Revenues and Tax Progressivity

The State Senate began debate on the annual budget today, and lo — it came to pass that the Senators voted (29-11) to adopt an amendment that will raise additional revenues and will do so in a progressive way!

The amendment freezes the state income tax rate at the current 5.15 percent, repealing a formula enacted in 2002 that automatically reduces the income tax rate when certain fiscal benchmarks are met. This formula has reduced the income tax from 5.3 percent to 5.15 percent since 2002. (Our friends at MassBudget have prepared this excellent analysis of the reasons that this formula compounds the problems of recent declines in state revenue.)

The amendment allocates some of the new revenue resulting from the income tax freeze to increasing the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit program, which helps low-income individuals and families meet the high cost of living in Massachusetts. The amendment also increases the personal income tax exemption, which benefits all taxpayers. Pending some more number crunching, I’ll speculate that for most taxpayers, the increase in the exemption will offset the freeze in the tax rate. The taxpayers for whom the increase in the exemption is least likely to offset the freeze in the tax rate are those at the upper part of the income spectrum.

So, good on the Senate. Will the House go along when the Senate and House meet to reconcile their respective budgets? As of now, the signs are not so good. Speaker DeLeo is vexed at the Senate for even debating tax policy when, in his view, the House did not relinquish its sole power to originate what our State Constitution calls “money bills.” He’s even threatening to go to court over the whole thing. For real. Details here.

In any event, it’s a sure thing that the Speaker won’t go along unless his members convince him to do so.

(Cross-posted here).

Redacted state report appears to clear hospital that failed to treat developmentally disabled man

(Cross-posted from The COFAR Blog)

An investigative report by the Department of Public Health appears to have concluded that Lowell General Hospital was not at fault in the case of a developmentally disabled man who died after having been turned away twice by the hospital in 2012 without any significant treatment.

I’m using the word “appears” to describe the report’s finding because virtually all of the text was redacted in the version of the document provided to us last week by the DPH.  Even the date of the report could not be determined from the document.  We are asking the state Public Records Division to order the DPH to produce a more comprehensible version of the report.

As I previously reported, the 51-year-old man, whose name is being withheld, died in February 2012 after having been taken twice in two days to the Lowell hospital and sent away each time.

The man had been having difficulty breathing and was sweating profusely when he was taken to the hospital on both February 6 and 7.  On the morning of February 7, he was sent back by the hospital to the group home in which he was living, with a prescription.  He died, apparently en route to the hospital, after staff in his group home called an ambulance for the third time on the afternoon of February 7.

The cause of death was listed on the death certificate on file in the City of Lowell as acute respiratory failure and aspiration pneumonia, which can indicate choking.  A death report form filed with the Disabled Persons Protection Commission stated that the man died after experiencing cardiac arrest.

The DPPC referred the case of the man’s death to the DPH, apparently because an allegation about improper care in the case involved the hospital and not the man’s group home, which is operated by the Department of Developmental Services.

It seems surprising that state investigators would find no problems with the policies or procedures of a hospital that apparently failed to provide any significant treatment to someone who subsequently died due either to choking or a heart attack.  Common sense would imply that something went wrong somewhere in the hospital’s procedures between the time the man first arrived at the hospital exhibiting signs of physical distress and his death the next day.  But if the state did find something wrong, it’s not evident in the version of the report we received.

In February of this year, we requested a copy of the DPH’s report on the case, but the Department denied our request, citing the deceased man’s privacy rights.  We appealed to the Public Records Division, which last month upheld our appeal, ordering the DPH to produce the report or explain why it was exempt from the Public Records Law.

As we have previously noted here, our interest lies in whether the DPH examined the adequacy of Lowell General Hospital’s policies and procedures for treating persons with developmental disabilities.  This case suggests to us that there may have been inadequate training of hospital health care personnel in the treatment of developmentally disabled persons.  The lack of such training has become an issue of concern to advocates for the disabled and to many policymakers.

Given the narrow scope of our interest, we indicated prior to the Public Records Supervisor’s ruling that we were open to accepting a redacted version of the DPH report that did not reveal the man’s name or medical information about him that might violate his privacy.  We said, however, that we would not accept a report that was redacted to such an extent that we were unable to substantively discern either its findings or the support for its findings.

Unfortunately, that is the case with the document we have received from the DPH.  The redactions in this report appear to go far beyond what might be construed to be medical files or information. It is impossible to tell from the document whether the Department investigated the hospital’s policies or procedures for treating individuals with developmental disabilities or whether the DPH examined the training of staff in that regard. It is also impossible to tell whether the report contained any recommendations regarding hospital policies and procedures.

(Again, feel free to review the DPH report yourself at this link.)

The only statements in the DPH report that were not redacted and that appear to be relevant to the investigation of the case are four apparent findings in what is labeled the synopsis on the first page.  But even those findings have been at least partially whited out so that they cannot be fully understood.  Those apparent findings are that:

1. There was an allegation that hospital emergency staff were “ill-equipped” to deal with something.  We don’t know what that something was because the language is redacted.  We assume it was the treatment of the developmentally disabled man.  However, due to the redaction, it was impossible to determine that with any certainty.

2. Based on a review of medical records and interviews with staff, “the allegation was determined not to be valid,” the report stated. There is no text in the document providing any support or reasoning for the finding.  The finding indicated that in addition to medical records, three other things were reviewed as well, but the list of those three things was redacted.

3. Based on a review of something else that was similarly redacted, “appropriate care was rendered.”  Again, no further support or information was given for this finding.

4. The hospital’s discharge plans “were appropriate and communicated to”…redacted.

That is the extent of the readable text in the report that appears to be relevant to the investigation.  The full report is apparently more than five pages long.  However, after a heading labeled “Survey findings” on page 2, the report is entirely blank with the exception of one partial sentence on page 5 that states: “Review of the Medical Screening Examination dated 2/7/12 indicated”…  The sentence breaks off at that point and there is nothing further in the document. February 7, 2012 was the date of the disabled man’s death.

In his April 29, 2015 order to the DPH to turn over the report to us, Public Records Supervisor Shawn Williams wrote that the Public Records Law strongly favors disclosure by creating a presumption that all governmental records are public records.  In addition, Williams’ order noted that it is the burden of the department that possesses the requested records to demonstrate the application of an exemption in order to withhold any of those documents.

In our view, the DPH has failed to comply with the letter or spirit of the Public Records Law, and has not met its burden of demonstrating that the wholesale redactions of the report were either necessary or complied with the requirements of the records law exemption.

We sent a letter last week to Williams and to another attorney in the Division who handled our case to let them know of the nature of the document the DPH produced.  We’re confident Williams will agree with us that the DPH needs to do better that what they have done in providing the requested report.

Not That Bad Is Not Good Enough: More Reasons to Oppose TPP

Noah Smith, an economist I’m accustomed to considering not crazy, says the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal is no big deal. Although he writes enough about liberals and conservatives to make me think he’s some sort of moderate, but he’s generally readable and typically sensible. He’s in favor of the TPP. His defense of TPP is interesting:

[The TPP] is mostly about trade with Japan and South Korea, which has asked to join the pact. These are rich countries, with tons of capital and very high labor costs. In fact, Japan’s labor costs are so high that Japanese auto manufacturers now build a lot of factories in the U.S. American workers are not going to lose out to the Japanese and South Koreans.

Yes, TPP might include a few poor countries, such as Indonesia, which has expressed interest in joining the accord. But compared with China, those countries are small potatoes. Very few manufacturing jobs will be lost to low-productivity Indonesia that haven’t already been lost to medium-productivity China….

There is one type of activity that is very hard for U.S. companies to send offshore: innovation. But when Asian countries can just ignore U.S. patents, innovation becomes less profitable. Stronger international IP protection will help U.S. companies export more, which makes them hire more American workers, which increases the amount that those workers spend on the local economy. Yes, there are many problems with the U.S.’s intellectual property laws. But international harmonization of IP wouldn’t exacerbate these problems.

According to Smith, TPP isn’t a big deal because the damage of globalization has already been done. Economically, it’s easy enough to brush aside this job loss. But how many jobs are “very few’ to an economist? There are approximately 12 million manufacturing jobs left in the United States. What’s a few? 100,000? 1,000,00? 15? What of his claim that intellectual property protection will help U.S. companies export more? Perhaps this is true. My hero Paul Krugman, who is a “lukewarm opponent” of the TPP, sees it less as a trade deal than a deal about intellectual property and dispute settlement (the ISDS that Elizabeth Warren keeps talking about). some provisions would lead to the even stronger, government-granted monopolies called patents. As Krugman writes,

we should never forget that in a direct sense, protecting intellectual property means creating a monopoly – letting the holders of a patent or copyright charge a price for something (the use of knowledge) that has a zero social marginal cost. In that direct sense this introduces a distortion that makes the world a bit poorer.

There is, of course, an offset in the form of an increased incentive to create knowledge, which is why we have patents and copyright in the first place. But do we really think that inadequate incentive to create new drugs or new movies is a major problem right now?

Even if the TPP weren’t a threat to American workers, the beneficiaries aren’t average Americans, but rather corporations. In the 1950s, Dwight Eisenhower might have been able to say without irony, what’s good for General Motors is good for America. Few of us would say that today. As Dean Baker notes, the regulatory structures being developed in the agreement would “largely benefit U.S. corporations, since they would get more money for the patents and copyrights.” Does that help the rest of us? Not much.

The corporations that stand to benefit have few, if any, organic ties to the U.S. economy—most have outsourced a large share of production jobs to other countries. The primary beneficiaries will be people from the United States who happen to own stock in these companies. And the greatest benefits will flow to those who own the most stocks, primarily those in the top 1, 5, and 10 percent of the income distribution. So, the TPP and similar agreements will only serve to worsen U.S. income inequality.

Not that bad is not good enough. The Trans-Pacific Partnership has nothing to offer average Americans. We must continue to oppose it.

Joke Revue: Anthropologists Discover Ancient Greek Super PAC That Helped Shape First Democracy


Anthropologists Discover Ancient Greek Super PAC That Helped Shape First Democracy

ATHENS, GREECE—In a finding that provides new insight into the roots of Western civilization, a team of anthropologists from Cambridge University announced Monday the discovery of an ancient Greek super PAC that helped shape the world’s first democracy. “At the same time Cleisthenes first instituted a representative form of government in Athens, it appears that a group of wealthy citizens and merchants created an organization to influence these new voters by bombarding them with around-the-clock political messages,” lead researcher Daniel Rogers said of the early political action committee, named Athenians for a Better City-State, which is said to have received millions of drachmas’ worth of funding in gold, lambs, dates, loaves of bread, and slaves from Athens’ largest and most influential trade groups. “While the committee was prohibited from coordinating directly with candidates seeking public office, AFBCS nevertheless spent astonishing sums on orators hired to stand in the Agora and recite the negative traits of politicians that the super PAC opposed, as well as on writers who were hired to pen slanderous epic poems.” Researchers also reportedly found evidence that the early super PAC’s influence extended beyond elections, noting that it was the driving force behind a number of laws that lowered business taxes, protected the worship of the gods in schools, and authorized war against Sparta in an effort to plunder their geographic rival’s large olive oil reserves.


Bush Says Iraq Question Unimportant Since He Clearly Will Never Be President

TEMPE, ARIZONA (The Borowitz Report)—After several days of controversy over whether he would have authorized an invasion of Iraq, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush said on Thursday that the question was unimportant since it is now painfully clear that he will never be President.

“Look, I can understand people wanting to know where I stand on this Iraq business if I actually had a chance of being elected,” he told an audience in Arizona. “But since I’ve pretty much pissed that away, what’s the point, really?”

Bush urged those who sought out his opinion on policy matters to take a look at how poorly his campaign is going “and get a reality check about the odds of me ever being President, which are hovering in the vicinity of zero.”

“I’m tied with Ben Carson in the polls, folks,” he said. “You heard me. Ben-freaking-Carson. A neurosurgeon. If you’re running in a Republican primary and can’t beat a scientist, you might as well put a fork in it.”

When asked by a reporter what he would do to grow the economy, Bush laughed ruefully and said, “Well, I guess if I said that I’d do exactly what my brother did and drive the whole thing straight into the crapper, you folks would have a field day with that, wouldn’t you? But let’s get serious. You want an answer to that question, ask someone who actually has a chance at winning this damn thing. I’m sure Scott Walker would love to talk to you good people.”

Daniel Kurtzman:

“Happy Mother’s Day. Yesterday, President Obama personally called three mothers who had written him letters recently. Man, do I feel sorry for any of their kids who forgot to call.” –Seth Meyers

“The mother would say, ‘Oh, you didn’t have time to call. Do you know who did have time? The president — of the United States of America — yeah, that president. So no, flowers on Wednesday does not make it OK.’” –Seth Meyers

“A house panel in Texas has approved full marijuana legalization for the state. Yeah, meaning Texas could go from having dude ranches to ‘Dude, ranches.’” –Jimmy Fallon

“A new poll finds that the majority of GOP voters say they can’t see themselves supporting Chris Christie. The trick is to lift with your legs, not your back.” –Seth Meyers