Sacred Cods and Holy Mackerals

Reform starts in the kitchen
November 28, 2008, 10:29 pm
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The Boston Globe has a round-up today of the reform packages being pushed by various lawmakers.

Here was the paragraph I thought that accurately summed up the political process here on Beacon Hill.

Beacon Hill has long been known for its closed-door culture. Deals are made in private, and some committee votes are even taken via Blackberry and e-mail. Power is concentrated in the hands of a few, with rank-and-file lawmakers afraid to mount public challenges of leadership for fear of being punished. And because the Legislature exempted itself decades ago from the state’s open-meeting and public records laws, lawmakers often deliberate in private and keep key documents hidden from public view.

However, I don’t think this is the disease as much as it is a symptom of the greater problem, which is that nobody outside of the building seems to care anymore. The average citizen doesn’t know the difference between a veto and a quorum. Local newspapers don’t put a premium on political coverage anymore, and as a result, the State House Press Corps (not counting the Globe, Herald and SHNS) is down to about 8 reporters. And most of all, there is no effective opposition party!

So what happens? Politicians start to get lazy and sloppy. No need to hold a committee meeting to take a vote that noone outside of the building will pay any attention to anyway, so we may as well just vote by Blackberry. Why bother debating budget amendments on the floor when we can just do it in this ante-chamber. Who’s going to complain, a reporter? Try finding one, and then try finding a few people who will actually read the story. And why should I stand up to leadership and do what’s right? It’s not like my constituency is going to throw me out of office anytime soon.

Personally, I  blame Howie Carr. At least when Jerry Williams stirred up the masses, he’d encourage them to take action. Howie is the leader of the “Why even bother?” movement that gets people angry, but then turns that anger into apathy, not activism.

If people want real reform, they need to demand it from their elected official. Nothing gets a legislator moving like 100 angry phone calls or E-mails into his office. (And by angry, I mean passionate, not offensive, threatening, insulting, and written in all caps. Big difference!)

And if the elected official won’t do anything about it, you need to demand more coverage of the issue in your local newspaper. Editors justify cutting back on their coverage of government by saying that the readers arent interested political stories. Tell them that’s not true, that you want more stories on how your state legislator is voting! (Here’s a secret: even the most liberal reporter is a watchdog at heart first.)


Policy wonk alert!
November 28, 2008, 7:23 pm
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One of this blog’s readers, who possibly may be the Boston Globe commenter I gave the public fist-bump to last week, posted a link to this interesting and completely nerdy essay on the possibility of the US seeing inflation and deflation at the same time. It’s a concept that I’ve been fascinated by for the past two days now, kinda like when I think how much more interesting the Electoral College would be if we had four quality candidates, or if, like a scene out of a movie, the Massachusetts State Legislature threw their hands up in the air, and allowed all of their seats to be taken over by Howie Carr listerners and watched to see how fast these these listeners realized that being a public official is a much tougher job with many more shades of gray than they ever knew existed.

Anyway, the premise of this essay was that we could see a situation where the demand for paper money, which has the perception, at least, of being guaranteed, starts to rise, while the demand for electronic credit, which is essentially just an erasable number on a piece of electronic tape, drops. This is due to  the fact that the Fed keeps on injecting lines of credit into the banking system, but because it’s not backed by gold, or anything else tangiable, it’s value is less secure than that of a dollar bill, T-note, etc. It’s a bizarre idea where banks (and their customers) for that matter, would start to insist that all transactions be done using hard currency, rather than transfers of electronic credit, resulting in a premium being placed upon paper money.

I still don’t fully understand it, and it may not even be a plausible premise, but still, it was a notion that has had me fascinated for a couple of days.


Losses at Boston Magazine
November 26, 2008, 9:10 pm
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Boston Magazine has lost a couple of its signature voices in recent weeks. First, Paul McMorrow, and now, Amy Derjue.

McMorrow’s departure should be celebrated, as the long time freelancer, first for the underrated Weekly Dig and, most recently, wrote a weekly political roundup column for Boston Mag. got himself a steady gig with the Boston Business Journal. What Boston Mag lost was an up-and-rising voice who had a tremendous ability to see the bullshit that is politics and call it out in a sharp, fierce, and often hysterical way. He was Scot Lehigh mixed with Lewis Black. He, along with Jim O’Sullivan at SHNS, represent/ed the new vanguard of Massachusetts political journalism: GenX reporters who missed the social activism of the 60s, were youngsters during the conservative kick-back of the 80s, and worship at the alter of Jon Sewart. And I think that’s a GOOD thing. I don’t know if his voice will be allowed to come out in writing for the BBJ, but I sure hope so.

The loss of Miss Derjue, however, is a sadder story as she was a victim of tough economic times. She was the snarky voice behind Boston Mag’s Daily Blog. She had an intelligence that belied her relatively young age, was smart, without being wonkish, could comment on politics, sports and fashion, and was consistently funny despite being prolific. The site was a great blend of compiled and original journalism. Hopefully some media outlet will recongnize her talent and scoop her up quickly.

Trickling down to China
November 25, 2008, 8:34 pm
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The idea behind allowing readers of blogs, online journalism, etc. to post comments was the belief that the writer either doesn’t know all, or is indeed fallible, and may need to be correected from time to time. It was to create a second dimension. Instead of the writer writing and the reader reading, comments sections allow the reader and writer to interact, and further the conversation.

That was the INTENT, anyhow. In reality most comments sections are just virtual battlefields for demogogues dominated by the simple-minded and borderline illiterates (see: comments section, Boston Herald).

One in a while, however, a poster actually adds something of value. So is the case today with the Boston Globe editorial entitled “Were All Keynesians Now.”

So says John P:

This is so simple and nobody gets it.

The problem is not entirely vertical in nature (trickle down). It is a horizontal shift share problem. We are now a consumer nation sending our wealth to emerging nations. If the citizens of our nation send the money that trickle downs to them over seas, the investor class will follow the money and invest overseas. Viewing this thing as vertical makes the poor feel less responsible and guilty, but the fact remains that if you borrow money to China to give to people that will in turn buy products from China, all you’ve done is accelerate the problem and increase the trade deficit and national debt.

If you Google the “inverted pyramid of liquidity” and Wikipedia the “money supply” or “m3” you’ll see that 75% of liquidity is in the form of derivatives and very little is cash. Part of the reason why trickle down economics didn’t work was of course the siphon of emerging markets and us being a consumer but also the expansion of derivatives. This outward expansion of this derivatives atmosphere kept the liquid in a gaseous state and we never got the pressure of the vapor to form the rain drops to fall on the crops below.

John is, of course, DEAD ON both in his comments on the failures of trickle-down economics, as well as this ridiculous idea that a world economy doesn’t weaken our own economy.

The inherent flaw with trickle-down is the assumption that the subsequent spending eventually will make it down to the lower and middle-classes through increased employment, salaries, wages, and overall prosperity. The problem is that The Rich spend their money in a manner that makes it impossible for much of this liquidity to trickle down. The Rich don’t spend their money, generally, at Wal-Mart, on American-made cars, or at local craft fairs. They buy expensive foreign-made cars. They take trips overseas. And most importantly, they reinvest their money in companies and investment houses operated by their rich friends, thereby perpetuating their own wealth.

More and more American money is leaving the nation and benefitting foreign nations. The biggest owner of CitiGroup is foreign. Stop & Shop is foreign owned. The nation’s biggest creditor? China!

I don’t agree with all that John P. writes. For instance, he says social programs such as the Community Reinvestment Act and federally-guaranteed student loans are bad things because they drive up the cost of homes and college tuition. And I can  see his point particularly when it comes to the cost of attending colleges. But the point is that programs like these give MIDDLE-CLASS people opportunities to succeed and advance their economic standing. And its the MIDDLE-CLASS that really drives this nation’s economy, not the rich.  

Monday links
November 25, 2008, 12:50 am
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I swear I’ll start posting more regularly soon. It’s kinda of hard to concentrate with a non-stop parade of news helicopters hovering overhead…

Yvonne Abraham on Sunday summed up nicely the political year that could have been if Obama had picked John Kerry for Secretary of State, and not Hillary Clinton. Depending on who had won the special election, we could have been looking at a solid of years of primaries and campaigns. Nothing loike political ambition to liven up a political scene! Oh well!

Senate Minority Leader Richard Tisei has issued his list of demands that Gov. Patrick must consider before proposing a gas tax. It’s a reasonable, well-thought out list, such as freezing all new commuter rail expansion, and looking at public/private partnerships. I guess it would have more impact if there weren’t more video cameras than Republicans in the Senate chamber.

David Kravitz at Blue Mass. Group says Mitt Romney should go work his magic at GM. It’s an interesting dare. Mitt likes to paint himself as a corporate turnaround artist, and needs to dump the “former Massachusetts governor” preface for something more Republican, such as, “General Motors CEO.’ Of course, if he fails, he looks incompetant and destroys any future political career he may have.

Deep Thoughts by David Bernstein
November 20, 2008, 7:25 pm
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The Boston Phoenix’s David Bernstein has some questions for the next Minority Leader of the Massachusetts House. Don’t let Bernstein’s left journalist credentials fool you, nor his snarky and Schaedenfruede-ian tone: there are some legitimate questions Brad Jones, Lewis Evangelidis, even Sen Minority Leader Richard Tisei, should consider during a quiet walk through the woods.

4) In 2004, the state party said that its losses were due to a “Kerry wave.” In 2006 it was an “anti-Iraq War wave,” and in 2008 an “Obama wave.” As chairman, what wave will you blame the 2010 election results on?

5) In your analysis, how many Democratic legislators must be actively under indictment or ethics investigation for the Republican Party to gain seats in an election?

 We’re now standing at two indicted state senators, a Senate page wanted for armed robbery, a House Speaker and House Majority Leader under investigation, and a growing number of hacks and other state employees arrested for theft, not to mention a transportation system about to collapse, and a billion-dollar deficit. I mean, the only way Democrats in this state could piss off the voters anymore would be if they named Alex Rodriguez the head turnpike toll collector and his contract allowed him to give daily wedgies to Bobby Orr and Tom Brady.

The Turnpike wakes up the Legislature
November 18, 2008, 10:09 pm
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The Pragmatist apologizes for the absence of recent posts, but things have been quietly crazy up here beneath the Golden Dome.

To wit: we have now competing bills combating the proposed turnpike toll hikes.

Late Monday afternoon, Rep. Steven Walsh (D-Lynn) circulated a plan to freeze the proposed hiked until Dec. 31, 2009 or until the Legislature adopts a comprehensive transportation reform plan. Ya know, whatever comes first.

Not to be outdone, Rep. David Linskey (D-Natick) today is circulating a plan that would 1) eliminate tolls within Route 128, 2) freeze tunnel tolls where they are now, and 3)instead pay for Big Dig bonds with a 6-cent hike in the gas tax.

It’s interesting that a North Shore rep would be the first to address the situation. It’s not like the Metrowest Caucus hasn’t known this was coming.  Then again, it was the Metrowest Senators that helped defeat a bunch of Turnpike reforms proposed by the Republicans this past spring.

Personally, I think Linskey’s plan has some merit. The gas tax hasn’t been increased since 1991 and what on this green earth han’t increased in cost since 1991? Thanks to inflation, gas tax collections in this state are actually worth 30% less than they were in ’91. And frankly, I think its worth paying an extra $0.78 per fill-up for the Ted Williams Tunnel alone. I don’t care what anyone thinks about the Big Dig, the Ted Williams Tunnel has done wonders for anyone from the South Shore driving in and out of Logan.

However, a gas tax hike in this Howie Carr world we live in will only be palatable if its accompanied by reforms. Reforms alone won’t fix our transportation the problems, but again politics is more about  perception than reality. People will appreciate firing 75% of the tolltakers even it fixes just 20% of the problem.