Tuesday, February 27, 2007

PSC Hearings next Week on the Energy RFP

The Public Service Commission is holding hearings next week on the Delmarva Power RFP:
7 p.m. March 6, House Chambers, Legislative Hall, Dover
7 p.m. March 7, Delaware Technical & Community College, Owens Campus theater, Georgetown
7 p.m. March 8, Carvel State Office Building auditorium, 820 French St., Wilmington
Three proposals have been presented: NRG has proposed a coal gasification plant at its existing Indian River facility in Sussex County. Delmarva Power has proposed a natural gas plant at its current site on Hay Road in Edgemoor between northeast Wilmington and Fox Point Park. Blue Water Wind has proposed a wind turbine farm off the southern Delaware coastline.
The PSC has received and posted online numerous comments on the proposals, most of which concern NRG and Blue Water Wind. I’ve summarized comments from organizations, elected official and community leaders.
Supporting NRG:
State Sen. George Bunting
State Reps. Adkins, Booth & Hocker
Delaware State Chamber of Commerce, James Wolfe, President & CEO
Bricklayers & Allied Craftworkers Local #1, Timothy Sheldon, Business Agent
Delaware Building & Construction Trades Council, Harry Gravell, President and David Walsh, Executive Director
International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Asbestos Workers, Jeff Smith, President
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 313, Douglass K. Drummond, Business Manager
Sheet Metal Workers' International Association, Local 19, Joseph Sellers, Jr., President/Business Manager
The Millsboro Town Council has voiced its support and proposed that Millsboro's upgraded wastewater treatment plant supply the NRG plant with cooling water.
Opposing NRG:
Board of Governors, Capital Medical Society
Supporting Blue Water Wind:
Most citizens’ comments support wind power, many noting its prospective price stability.
Delaware Audubon Society, Nicholas A. DiPasquale, Conservation Chair
Citizens for Clean Power, Kit Zak
The Hon. Russell W. Peterson, citing Coastal Zone Act; "Let's run with the wind."
Citizens for a Better Sussex, Joan Deaver, President
Freida Berryhill, environmental activist
Nancy Willing, The Delaware Way
State Rep. Pam S. Maier
Unitarian Universalists of Southern Delaware, Jean Charles, President
I saw no comments specifically opposing Bluewater Wind. Likewise, Delmarva Power’s proposal has generated almost no comment, pro or con.
Other points of view:
The League of Women Voters, Christine I. Stillson and Letitia L. Diswood; concern that "the selection criteria in the RFP are not consistent with the statute…"
State Treasurer Jack Markell, raising questions about the selection criteria: "Due to the above considerations, in the upcoming re-evaluation of the RFP on December 19th, I urge the Commission and DNREC to consider: 1. Giving more points to the three main points of the EURSCA: price stability, reductions in environmental impact (especially greenhouse gas emissions), and advantages of new technology. 2. Taking a long-term view of cost-effectiveness, considering what may well be the business environment in which these facilities will operate, 3. Evaluating the bids on their effects over the life of the facilities, not just the bid contract period."
State Sen. Harris McDowell questions whether a single RFP for 400 MGW is consistent with the statute or sound energy policy; he believes that promoting energy efficiency is the best policy option.
Allan Muller, Green Delaware; requesting that all documents be made available to the public.
The PSC has posted all comments and the heavily redacted proposals.

Monday, February 26, 2007

21st Century Capital and 19th Century Technology

Writing in the New York Times, Andrew Ross Sorkin describes how environmental concerns led to TXU's decision to drop plans for eight coal fired power plants as part of the largest leveraged buyout in history:
Early Monday, after several weeks of marathon negotiations that brought together both environmentalists and Wall Street bankers, TXU announced that its board of directors had approved the bid from Kohlberg Kravis and Texas Pacific for about $45 billion, which would be the largest buyout in history.
The deal was noteworthy not just for its size, but for the confluence of business decisions and environmental concerns that drove the ultimate transaction. Because private equity firms are unregulated and historically have valued their privacy, neither Kohlberg Kravis nor Texas Pacific were eager to become an "enemy combatant" of the environmental groups, people involved in the talks said. Reducing the coal plant initiative will also free up billions of dollars in planned spending that the firms will be able to use for other projects or to help finance the transaction.
It seems that in the 21st century, the smart money is losing interest in 19th century industrial technology.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Barack Obama and the Political Story of the Week

Perhaps the most significant political event of the week involved Barack Obama, and no, I’m not talking about the dustup with Hillary Clinton and David Geffen, an event of surpassing interest to the quaintly named chattering classes. Geffen, who has his finger on the pulse of media superstars everywhere, chose to enter the fray via Maureen Dowd’s column. Bob Somersby gives Dowd the skewering she deserves in his incomparable Daily Howler:
Again today, she snidely compares Obama to an iconic white woman:
DOWD: Barack Obama has made an entrance in Hollywood unmatched since Scarlett O'Hara swept into the Twelve Oaks barbecue. Instead of the Tarleton twins, the Illinois senator is flirting with the DreamWorks trio: Mr. Geffen, Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg, who gave him a party last night that raised $1.3 million and Hillary's hackles.
In her last column, Obama was “legally blonde” (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/16/07). In today’s piece, he’s Scarlett O’Hara. And if you think these sneering references are some sort of odd coincidence, you haven’t watched this tortured nutcase working her magic down through the years. For years, Dowd imagined conversations with Gore’s bald spot (more below); by the time he began his race for the White House, Dowd wrote that Gore was “so feminized” that he was “practically lactating.” But then, inside the tortured mind of Dowd, all Dem males are big girlie-men.
The Times may have lost some of its luster as a paragon of serious journalism; let's see if the solemnly named National Journal can do better. Paul Starobin offers 5,000 words of analysis in this periodical headlined, "The Authenticity Sweepstakes." For those who may have slept through social studies or their own experiences as voters, Starobin offers a helpful explanation of the political process:
For voters, authenticity has become a Holy Grail. "We're in the era of authenticity," political consultant Mary Matalin has proclaimed.
Matalin reminds me of her husband, James Carville, only without the wit or anything interesting to say. Her pronouncements are as unoriginal as the endlessly dreary campaign spots we are forced to endure as Election Day approaches: "Peter Cottontail says he's hopping down the bunny trail, but what he's not telling you..." Cue grainy black & white photo of a frightened rabbit.
Starobin is positively gushing about Rudolph Giuliani:
Giuliani became a national hero for his calm performance under pressure on 9/11 and in the days after, and he oozes authenticity from his outer-borough (Brooklyn-born) pores.
Mayor Giuliani is a noteworthy political figure, but I swear, I have no interest in what's oozing from his pores. "The Authenticity Sweepstakes" sounds like a new concept cooked up in Hollywood, like "Charisma Factor" or "Projecting Authenticity with the Stars" or simply “Oozing with the Pores.”
Missing from all of this nonsense about body language and authenticity is the question of what the candidates actually have to say. But then reporting what they say isn’t very sexy compared to explaining what they really mean, as if voters need the candidate’s use of the English language translated in order to make sense of it all.
The essence of campaigning is standing in front of people and speaking. It was true in Lincoln’s day, in FDR’s and JFK’s, and it’s still true today. (A quick quiz: For all the memorable phrases from Lincoln, Roosevelt and Kennedy, can you recall a single comment from the journalists of their eras?) I'm guessing that Senator Obama’s book, The Audacity of Hope, is at the top of the New York Times bestseller list, not because of his body language, but because people are interested in what he has to say.
This is why the most revealing story of the week didn’t come from an important columnist or political analyst, but from an unknown AP beat reporter named Kelley Shannon:
Obama, speaking at a massive outdoor rally in Austin, Texas, said British Prime Minister Tony Blair's decision this week to withdraw 1,600 troops is a recognition that Iraq's problems can't be solved militarily.
"Now if Tony Blair can understand that, then why can't George Bush and Dick Cheney understand that?" Obama asked thousands of supporters who gathered in the rain to hear him. "In fact, Dick Cheney said this is all part of the plan (and) it was a good thing that Tony Blair was withdrawing, even as the administration is preparing to put 20,000 more of our young men and women in.
"Now, keep in mind, this is the same guy that said we'd be greeted as liberators, the same guy that said that we're in the last throes. I'm sure he forecast sun today," Obama said to laughter from supporters holding campaign signs over their heads to keep dry. "When Dick Cheney says it's a good thing, you know that you've probably got some big problems."
At a point in the campaign when candidates are content to speak before a few hundred voters at a time, the rally in Austin attracted a crowd of 15,000, which is one reason I consider this the most significant political story of the week. Another would be Obama’s evident deft touch in dealing with a sensitive subject:
Tickets to the rally were free, but Obama asked the attendees to give even $5 or $10. "I don't want to have to raise money in Hollywood all the time," he said.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Two Years of TommyWonk

It has now been two years since I started TommyWonk, which opened to almost universal indifference with this post about a clever conceptual art parody. (I didn’t get started in earnest until March of 2005, the same month that Dana started Delaware Watch.)
Since then blogging in Delaware has flourished. The Friday “Around the Horn” tradition at Delawareliberal has helped to foster the mostly virtual community of Delaware bloggers, as has the remarkable, if not unique, habit that righty and lefty blogs have of linking to each other.
Coincidently, Sanjay at
karmically speaking celebrates his first anniversary as a blogger today, which brings to mind an early lesson on statistics I learned as a schoolboy: If you take a room of 30 students, chances are two of those students will share a birthday. It’s counterintuitive but true. So given the growth of worthwhile blogs in Delaware, it wouldn’t be surprising that two blogs started on the same day (if a year apart).
Blogging has opened up the political discourse throughout the country and here in Delaware. It used to be that the only opinions available were those of usual suspects: a few News Journal columnists, the venerable panel of old hands on Channel 12’s Delaware Tonight and a few talk show hosts. Now if you care enough, can write well and have something interesting to say, you too can attract a small, but knowledgeable following of readers. I don’t kid myself about the size of my readership; even the most widely read blogs attract only a fraction of the audience that listens to talk radio or reads newspapers. But it’s gratifying to know that my readers include a few elected officials, mainstream journalists and political activists.
For me, TommyWonk is a success if I manage to offer interesting, informative, relevant, well-considered and well-written postings that draw an appreciative readership. If I can shape the political discourse in some small way, that would be wonderful. Whether you agree with me or not, I hope that you come away from my blog with a little more clarity of thought on issues that matter.
Anyway, thanks for stopping by. Keep coming back.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Pete du Pont and Climate Change

Coeruleus at She Flies With Her Own Wings takes on the latest anti-global warming diatribe from former Delaware governor Pete du Pont:
They [climate change skeptics] do this by cherry-picking climate change facts to suggest that we can't do much about it anyway, and they cherry-pick the effects of environmental regulations to imply that only the dirty hippies would ever think of proposing such madness. Here's a list of all the dirty hippies like General Electric Co., Citigroup, DuPont, Volvo, American Electric Power Co. Inc. and Exelon Corp who have come together to ask for regulations to curb greenhouse gas emissions. The joint statement makes clear that this is a long-term problem that requires long-term solutions, and that these solutions will not immediately cause the world economy to collapse but rather if we begin implementing strategies now we can slow the rate of warming and have a vibrant economy.
Among his obfuscations and selective factoids, Pete offers up the unscientific fallacy of asking if one spot on the globe is getting cooler, then how can the entire planet be getting warmer?
Pete went into a kind of political retrograde motion since finishing his two terms as governor in 1985. His Opinion Journal column has been a fount of frat boy conservatism; a low point was a column in 2000 with the headline, “Gore carries the Porn Belt.” That’s right;
a former governor characterizes his home state as located in the “Porn Belt.”

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Determining the Real Cost of Coal Power

Can wind power realistically meet Delaware's energy needs? News Journal reporter Jeff Montgomery yesterday wrote of questions about wind power's reliability:
A wind farm proposed for Delaware's Atlantic Coast would power the region only halfway toward a 400-megawatt goal, documents show.
Papers filed with the Public Service Commission put Bluewater Wind's average generation at 194 megawatts, enough output to meet the daily power needs of 216,000 homes. The farm's peak output could reach 600 megawatts under good conditions.
Wind power is relatively new. Should citizens conclude that coal would be cheaper and more reliable? Maybe not. The New York Times reports that a forthcoming study from MIT points out that so-called clean coal technologies may not be as clean -- or as cheap -- as advertised:
Retrofitting either a gasification or pulverized coal power plant is not just a matter of adding new equipment and it might be impractical, the experts say. Temperatures and pressures would be designed to be in one range for a plant that captured its carbon, and another if it merely produced electricity with minimum use of fuel. Less fuel means less carbon dioxide production.
Adding carbon capture later also has implications for power supply. Early estimates are that carbon capture will require so much energy that it could reduce plant output by 10 to 30 percent.
A new coal gasification plant in Delaware could be required to add new controls early in its useful life that could reduce the power generated and greatly increase the capital and operating costs of the plant. The problem is that the plant could already be online or under construction before the impact of carbon emission controls could be reliably measured.
As noted here last month, Jack Markell has asked whether expected regulations to control carbon would drive up the cost of coal power:
Should the US penalize CO2 producing power plants, Delaware ratepayers may bear the burden of these costs for years to come. Aside from the financial costs, Delaware’s location as a low-lying coastal state makes it especially vulnerable to climate change and its harmful effect of sea level rise.
The pending federal legislation, existing state law, and emerging scientific and governmental studies suggest that early in the lifetime of these facilities, perhaps even before construction is completed, we will be in a business environment that places far higher penalties on CO2 emissions. Under current policy, these penalties would be passed on to consumers.
I recommend that as the PSC and the other agencies evaluate the various proposals for a new power facility in Delaware, they strongly consider the importance of price stability, new technology, and reductions in environmental impact (especially greenhouse gas emissions). They should take a long-term view of cost-effectiveness, considering not only today’s business environment but the business environment in which these facilities will operate during their entire functioning life.
The coal plant being proposed could have a useful life of as long as 50 years, which means we could being paying the higher costs required by carbon dioxide controls long after we all have gone to the old ratepayers home.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Drinking Liberally in Delaware

For those who like their politics up close and personal, the next installment of Drinking Liberally in Delaware is Thursday, February 22nd at the Iron Hill Brewery in Newark, at 147 E. Main Street at 8 pm.
I've met a number of my fellow bloggers at this gathering, and found them as engaging in person as they are online.
Thanks to Dana Rohrbough and Erik Schramm for getting this tradition rolling and making it a must-attend event.

Monday, February 19, 2007

"The Economic and Civil Rights Issue of Our Generation"

That is how the Vision 2015 report describes the achievement gap in Delaware's schools. But the News Journal reports that the Christina School District plans to close not one but two schools in Wilmington:
In January, the school district announced plans to close Elbert-Palmer Intermediate in Southbridge as early as next year and Stubbs Intermediate on the East Side some time after that, district spokeswoman Wendy Lapham said.
Where is the sense of mission? We know there is an achievement gap for minority students. The numbers are even worse for families in the neighborhoods surrounding the two schools. Vision 2015 and the Wilmington Hope Commission have been organized by our best public and private sector leaders to address this gap. But instead of directing more resources to those who need public education the most, the school district is closing two city schools and spending money to open a new suburban school:
The district's proposal calls for resuming preparations to open Astro Middle School in Bear.
Christina Superintendent Lillian M. Lowery said Friday that she will be interested in hearing any alternatives, but flatly said they better include additional money sources.
"I'm just being honest -- we don't have the money to do many of the things we're being asked to do," she said. "I'm not going to make any promises I can't keep to quiet any voice. I can't do that, because in the long run it will disappoint the community."
A school is not a cost center; it is the necessary vehicle for accomplishing the district's mission. At a time when our most committed civic leaders are searching for solutions to the achievement gap, the Christina School District seems to have just given up.
Graphic: Vision 2015

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Unmasking Offshore Tax Havens

The Washington Post reports that Carl Levin (D-MI), Norm Coleman (R-MN) and Barack Obama (D-IL), have introduced legislation to clamp down on the use of offshore tax dodges:
The legislation would require hedge funds to establish programs to combat money laundering and better track offshore investors, under guidance from the Treasury Department. The measure would also prohibit the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office from issuing patents for accounting strategies intended to "minimize, avoid, defer, or otherwise affect liability for federal, state, local, or foreign tax."
That's right sports fans, it is possible to get a U.S. patent for a tax avoidance scheme. The bill, called the Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act, would unmask the secrecy used to hide income from being legally taxed:
“None of these offshore schemes would work,” said Levin, “without the secrecy that prevents U.S. agencies from enforcing our laws. Our bill offers innovative ways to combat offshore secrecy. We can’t let the offshore tax havens hide $100 billion in U.S. tax revenues which are needed to protect our troops, fund health care and education, and meet the other needs of American families.”

Friday, February 16, 2007

Curbside Recycling Going Citywide in Wilmington

Last night City Council voted to make curbside recycling a reality throughout Wilmington. The city started a pilot recycling program last summer that includes my neighborhood; I've been putting all my recyclable materials (glass, plastic, paper) in one bin once a week. As the News Journal reports, Council decided to move ahead even though the pilot program hasn’t reached the target rate of 50 percent diversion:
But officials are confident they can get the recycling rate to 50 percent, which was the goal of the pilot program. Getting to 50 percent would reduce the added cost to less than $50,000, city Communications and Policy Development Director John Rago said.
The city will actually pay RecycleBank $588,000 a year for its services if 35 percent or more of the city's annual residential trash stream is recycled. But that would save the city $463,000 in disposal costs to the Delaware Solid Waste Authority, which operates Cherry Island landfill, where the city's trash goes. The city's total extra cost would be $125,000.
RecycleBank would be paid less if the collection rate goes below 35 percent.
As I wrote in December, it still makes sense to move ahead:
Few private sector strategic initiatives are expected to break even in six months; the city's program should not be deemed a failure after such a short trial period. Perhaps Wilmington's decision to move ahead with a Philadelphia company will nudge the Delaware Solid Waste Authority (DSWA) towards making the necessary investment in recycling.
In the meanwhile, I hope Wayne Smith and his allies don’t take advantage of the diversion of Wilmington’s household waste as another excuse to adopt HB 1, which would force the DSWA to accept yard waste at Cherry Island. It would be a shame if Wilmington’s decision to move forward on recycling is used to justify moving backwards by mandating the landfilling of the largest single category of recyclable waste.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Difference between Weather and Climate

I’ve been waiting for some semi-educated global warming skeptic to say something stupid about the current winter weather we’re experiencing. As if on cue, Matt Drudge steps in with something perhaps intended to be clever:
Tue Feb 13 2007 19:31:25 ET
The Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality hearing scheduled for Wednesday, February 14, 2007, at 10:00 a.m. in room 2123 Rayburn House Office Building has been postponed due to inclement weather. The hearing is entitled “Climate Change: Are Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Human Activities Contributing to a Warming of the Planet?”
The hearing will be rescheduled to a date and time to be announced later.
Wednesday: Freezing rain in the morning. Total ice accumulation between one half to three quarters of an inch. Brisk with highs in the mid 30s. North winds 10 to 15 mph...increasing to northwest 20 to 25 mph in the afternoon. Chance of precipitation near 100 percent.
Wednesday Night: Partly cloudy. Lows around 18. Northwest winds around 20 mph.
Besides reporting the unremarkable appearance of winter weather in February, Drudge repeats the fallacy of equating weather with climate. The two are not the same.
Weather is what’s happening in a specific place at a specific time. Weather changes moment by moment.
Climate encompasses the entire planet. Our climate changes slowly.
For instance, high temperatures here in Delaware recently dropped from the forties to the teens within about a week. The overall temperature of the planet Earth might change by a fraction of a degree over the course of a decade. The Earth is a big object; as such the laws of thermodynamics tell us that it takes a significant event to upset its thermal equilibrium.
Any questions?

Thanks to Tim Haab of Environmental Economics for catching this.
Update: Think Progress makes the same point about Drudge's lame joke.

Jason Calling it Quits?

Jason of Delawareliberal has called it quits, at least for now. Relenting in the face of popular demand, he is saying he'll “be back when the Eagles win the superbowl or Feb. 14 of 2008, which ever comes first.” LiberalGeek, who has started a pretty nice looking blog himself, has stepped in to keep the lights on.
I can’t blame Jason for wanting to take a break; I count no fewer than 25 posts in the week before he threw in the towel yesterday. No wonder he’s feeling worn out. But can he really hold his tongue for an entire year?
Maybe we should start a pool on how long Jason actually stays away. Any takers?
Those who have tried it know that blogging can be pretty hard work. The best Delaware bloggers produce more content than the average News Journal columnist.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The U.S. Agrees to an Arms Control Deal with North Korea

The New York Times has the story on the new agreement to control North Korea’s nuclear ambitions:
North Korea agreed today to close its main nuclear reactor in exchange for a package of food, fuel and other aid from the United States, China, South Korea and Russia. The breakthrough, which was announced by the Chinese government after intense negotiations and welcomed by the White House as a “very important first step”, came four months after North Korea tested a nuclear bomb.
The partner nations agreed to provide roughly $400 million in various kinds of aid in return for the North starting a permanent disabling of its nuclear facilities and allowing inspectors into the country.
Perhaps equally important, the United States and Japan agreed to discuss normalizing relations with Pyongyang. The United States will begin the process of removing North Korea from its designation as a terror-sponsoring state and also on ending United States trade and financial sanctions.
One would think that Bush’s supporters would applaud the deal. Not John Bolton:
The agreement drew strong criticism from John Bolton, a former United States ambassador to the United Nations who urged President Bush to reject it.
"I am very disturbed by this deal," Mr. Bolton told CNN. "It sends exactly the wrong signal to would-be proliferators around the world: ’If we hold out long enough, wear down the State Department negotiators, eventually you get rewarded,’ in this case with massive shipments of heavy fuel oil for doing only partially what needs to be done."
Is it a good deal? Steve Clemons at The Washington Note recognizes the pitfalls ahead:
This deal could still blow up. That would not be out of character for either the North Korean side -- nor the U.S.
Clemons thinks this deal wouldn’t have gotten done if the Dick Cheney and his acolytes still had an iron grip on the State Department:
The fact that Under Secretary of State for International Security and Arms Control Robert Joseph had resigned may have been a key "environmental positive" in getting this right with North Korea this round. The absence of Ambassador John Bolton's bluster at the U.N. also helped improve the negotiating environment.
I have the feeling that this diplomatic grind will drag on as long as Kim Jong Il can maintain his grip on power. Maybe Sisyphus was a diplomat before he became the mythical embodiment of futility. But if this deal slows North Korea’s seemingly relentless march to becoming a nuclear power it’s worth it.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Ollabelle in Arden

Ollabelle rocked the packed house at the Arden Gild Hall on Saturday night. Ollabelle eschews faithful rendering of the original songs in favor of new arrangements that draw on their broad understanding of American musical styles. For instance, their interpretation of the traditional “Down by the Riverside” sets aside the usual Gospel shouting, instead opening quietly with Fiona McBain’s plaintive soprano over the shimmering pump organ of Glenn Patscha.

The band’s versatility seems endless: Byron Isaacs adds a variety of textures on dobro, guitar and bass. Amy Helm’s blues belting blends well with Fiona McBain’s sweet high notes. Tony Leone’s drumming is direct and understated. They have the rare ability to heighten the music’s intensity by getting quieter.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Ollabelle is Coming to Arden

Manhattan hipsters meet old time Gospel band, Ollabelle is coming to Arden Saturday night. Named after Ola Belle Reed, who made her home in northeast Maryland, the band was last in Arden in July 2005. David Bromberg, who sat in with them on that night, will be joining them for their second set.
Theirs are not polite covers of old songs; they play with a tangible crunch. The drum heads are tuned low; the bass has the right rumble; the Hammond [actually it's a Wurlitzer] organ is fat and delicious; I can almost hear the 60-cycle hum even on their CDs. They sing like a Sunday morning blues choir that's been up all night.
The Arden Concert Gild puts on the hippest shows in Delaware. Check them out.

Is Poverty Shifting towards the Suburbs?

The Brookings Institution has released an interesting report, titled "Two Steps Back: City and Suburban Poverty Trends 1999–2005," on demographic trends that shows that measures the poverty rates in the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas. Surprisingly, in some metro areas, poverty rates are climbing in the suburbs faster than they are in central cities:
Population and income dynamics meanwhile continue to shift the geography of poverty within major metropolitan areas of the United States. Cities and suburbs have both experienced rising poverty rates, but faster population growth in suburbs has tipped the balance of poor populations towards suburbs.
The New York, Washington DC, Richmond VA, New Orleans, Los Angeles and Stockton CA metro areas showed declines in the poverty rates in their central cities from 1999 to 2005. Portland-Vancouver OR-WA, Omaha NE and three central cities each in Ohio, Michigan, Texas showed increases in central city poverty rates.
Suburbs in seven states showed increases in poverty rates. The suburbs of Los Angeles and Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario in CA showed declines in poverty rates.
A quick glance at the data leads me to offer to several snap conclusions:
First, the rust belt (including Texas) is in trouble; central cities and suburbs are experiencing higher poverty rates in OH, MI and TX.
Second, central cities on the east coast are coming back. For instance, Wilmington (which isn’t classified as a top 100 metro area by the U.S. Census) has been adding populations since 1980. This trend is picking up in the current decade led by the shiny new residences in former DuPont Company buildings and along the Christina waterfront.
Third, this could represent a sea change in the geography, and politics, of poverty in some of our metro areas. It’s a report worth reading.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Frontrunner

The 2008 election is still a long way off. But that isn’t keeping ostensibly intelligent people from parading their inanity for all the world to see. Case in point: Dick Morris, who writes for The Hill, which is considered a respectable journal, has concluded that Hillary Clinton and Rudolph Gulianni will be the nominees. In doing so, he offers this priceless nugget of political strategy:
The key for the candidates is to become the early front-runner and hold the position for the first three quarters of 2007. Once that is accomplished, the nomination is probably in the bag.
On what does he base his blinding strategic insight? History, of course:
No clear front-runner, except for Rockefeller in 1964, has ever failed to win the nomination since the primary process became pivotal in party nominations in 1960.
Say what? Morris elaborates:
Among Democrats, Kennedy in ’60, Humphrey, once he entered the race, in ’68, McGovern in ’72, Carter in ’76 and ’80, Mondale in ’84, Dukakis in ’88, Clinton in ’92, Gore in ’00 and Kerry in ’04 were front-runners who held their leads. Mondale, Clinton, Gore, and Kerry were front-runners who were briefly shaken by challengers (Hart, Tsongas, Bradley and Dean) but held on to win their nominations.
Let's review. Kennedy, perhaps.
Humphrey in 1968? He became the frontrunner only after a sitting president bowed out and Bobby Kennedy was assassinated.
McGovern in 1972? Ed Muskie was the frontrunner until he broke down in tears in New Hampshire.
As for Carter in 1976, could someone please tell me who was touting him for the nomination in February of 1975?
Mondale in 1984? Probably.
Dukakis in 1988? Again, tell me who had him picked as the nominee in February of 1987.
Likewise Clinton in 1992; I don’t recall him being a clear frontrunner in February of 1991. I had hardly heard of him.

In 2000, Gore was a sitting VP.
Again in 2004, I don’t recall Kerry being the clear frontrunner; he won the nomination after a surprising win in Iowa.
On the GOP side, the nominee has been easier to predict, though in 1968 many said that a governor named Romney would get the nod.
Much as it may irritate the know-it-alls in Washington, people do actually get to vote—and that doesn’t happen for another eleven months.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Developer's Lawsuit Gets SLAPPed Down

The News Journal reports that a developer’s SLAPP (Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation) suit didn’t fare well in Chancery Court:
Vice Chancellor Leo Strine said developer Stephen Nichols failed to prove that negative comments made about him by members of the Barczewski family undermined his plans to buy the 236-acre parcel and build a mix of housing and retail. The farm has been the focus of debate over its historical value.
Nancy at The Delaware Way, who has been active in the Friends of Historic Glasgow, describes Strine as “an odd duck.” He’s been called worse, which may explain his lack of sympathy for Nichols:
"Things get said about you that are not nice, and it kind of comes with the territory" of being in the public eye, Strine said. "The good thing about being a developer is you can go look at your bank statements."

Monday, February 05, 2007

Blacks and the Republican Party

Over at First State Politics, my favorite Republican foil, Dave Burris, has generated considerable discussion with this post on Black Republican History and this follow-up. In this comment, Dave asks why it is that the Party of Lincoln draws such meager support from African-Americans:
The fact is, liberalgeek, that the GOP baked the cake over 100 years, and that the Dems came along, put on some of the icing, and got to eat the whole thing.
Yes, the start of the rise of the black middle class was the CRA of 64 (again, delivered by Republicans).
The fact is that the GOP shouldn’t get all the African-American vote, but it should get a whole lot more than 10%.
This seems to me an unfortunate choice of words. I would hardly call the struggles of the civil rights era a matter of putting some icing on the cake.
Instead of arguing the point of which party deserves the support of African-Americans, I chimed in with the question of why they vote as they do:
Some Republicans seem positively flummoxed that blacks don’t understand that their own best interests lie with the GOP. Don’t African-Americans know what’s good for them?
Instead of offering my thoughts, I have an idea: Why not ask them?
A good place to start might be to ask two prominent ex-Republicans: Margaret Rose Henry (who switched about ten years ago) and Christopher Bullock (who switched a few weeks ago).
Perhaps Dave's post should be titled "Former Black Republican History." But I digress. Dave replied:
I would venture to say that both of those conversions were electoral in nature, in that the areas those individuals live and either represent electorally (Henry) or would like to represent electorally (Bullock) are overwhelmingly Democratic. Both were pragmatic conversions. I imagine if the majority of citizens in those areas voted Republican, it would be a different scenario.
No, Tom, the people to ask are African-American voters of varying socioeconomic backgrounds.
My turn:
Dave, you say you “imagine if the majority of citizens in those areas voted Republican, it would be a different scenario.”
That begs the question of why they aren’t voting Republican.
You say “the people to ask are African-American voters of varying socioeconomic backgrounds.” They have been asked, over and over, in elections and in polls, and they overwhelmingly vote Democratic.
Why is that? Do you have any thoughts?
One has to conclude that they do so out of some sense of self interest. Is their understanding of their political interest misplaced?
Dave's turn:
Well, Tom, I would agree that African-Americans vote Democrat and they do so out of a perceived self-interest. I just don’t know why. That’s my big question.
There is a perception that the government, under Democratic control, did something for African-Americans, and the loyalty comes from that.
I’d love to convene a panel of African-American Delawareans from varying socioeconomic and geographical backgrounds and ask them.
Perhaps Dave, who is now a Republican Party operative, should do just that. I'd be interested in what he finds.
I raised these questions, not simply to put Dave on the spot, but because he strikes me as someone who is capable at times of reflecting on the shortcomings of the GOP. I've seen conservative Republicans argue for years that blacks ought to support their agenda without much thought as to why it's not happening.
There is an interesting chapter in Seymour Martin Lipset's book, American Exceptionalism, that describes how black Americans' attitudes about government, individualism and social mobility differ considerably from those of most Americans. Why? That may be a topic for another day.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Wilmington's Dick Vague on our National Interest

Steve Clemons is plugged into Washington’s pragmatic foreign policy mainstream: the folks who were shunted aside in the rush to war in Iraq. Clemons effortlessly drops all the big names in the (now dispossessed) U.S. foreign policy establishment. Yesterday, I was surprised to see a familiar name from Wilmington’s business community featured in his blog, The Washington Note.
Dick Vague made his mark in the credit card business with First USA and Juniper Financial. Now he has turned his attention to righting our ship of state:
Vague, in my view, is an extraordinary guy, too extraordinary as I wish there were many more CEOs like him -- because he has invested a lot of his time and funds in trying to get fellow Americans to understand that the Iraq War and America's current vector in foreign policy is not only boneheaded but actually undermining the economic fundamentals of the country.
Vague is no liberal. He's a tough minded economic conservative who believes that America has a much better face and soul than it has been showing the world.
He thinks that we are creating conditions that are cultivating terrorism and terrorists and are doing little to actually help others in the world get ahead, particularly economically.
Clemons highlighted a remarkable report that Vague produced (with help from Clemons) that takes a thorough look at the botched fight against terrorism, the reasons for the Iraq debacle, and how to restore America’s security as we sort out the mess that is our foreign policy.
The report is called
“Terrorism: A Brief for Americans.” Here is an excerpt from the introduction:
On November 7, 2006 Americans went to the polls and registered a deep concern on the course of the war in Iraq. For months ahead of the mid-term elections, they understood what leaders in the White House refused to acknowledge: A region spiraling downward in violence and bloodshed. American troops with no exit strategy. Most horrific of all, U.S. soldiers—America’s finest—tortured, killed and mutilated in a war making no observable progress in achieving the promised reduction in terrorism. We hold the view that there is a better plan for exiting Iraq, one that is based on a clearer understanding of both that country’s history and the civil war underway there now. We also hold the view that there is a better path to reducing terrorism that is very different than the one currently being pursued. This new path adheres to the values that have made this country great—justice and strength combined with respect, humility and inclusiveness—and, if followed, can reaffirm this greatness. Unlike the current course, this plan is built upon a recognition and understanding of the causes and nature of terrorism.
Simply put, U.S. policies and actions in Iraq and throughout the world have increased world terrorism. The predictions made by our administration regarding the war have been badly wrong—predictions regarding how quickly it would end, how much it would cost, how we would be greeted as liberators, and how terrorism would decline as a result. Now predictions are no longer even offered.
The predictions have been wrong because their view of the cause of terrorism is wrong. Therefore the plan for defeating terrorism also has been wrong. By leading our finest into the wrong war, and leaving them there too long, we have put them in an untenable situation. Haditha and Abu Ghraib are the failure of our leadership in Washington, not our soldiers on the front lines.
Tragically, the Administration’s policies, founded on misunderstanding, will most probably lead to the ascendance of yet another repressive regime or regimes in Iraq as the only way to restore “order” to the country. But the damage will not be limited to that country alone. Our mistakes in Iraq will haunt us throughout the region and beyond. Violent terrorism has accelerated and spread. More lives—military and civilian—certainly will be lost.
Our thesis is this: extremists who commit acts of terror exist in virtually all religions and societies, including our own. The most serious problems with terrorism occur in countries or regions where extremists have gained the sympathy and support of a broad population. Generally, that receptive population is enduring oppression or occupation. The most effective way to eliminate that support, to isolate—and thus neutralize—extremists, is to overcome occupation or oppression. And the most effective way to achieve that is through truly a decentralized and representative government. Opportunity must replace despair.
The story here is not that Dick Vague has joined the growing majority of Americans opposed to our continuing misadventure in Iraq, but that he would invest the time and study to offer a alternative way of viewing our place in the world and concrete thoughts on how we can restore rationality to our foreign policy. Dick Vague has done his homework; his report is worth careful study.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Biofuels: Unintended Consequences

As the New York Times reported yesterday, the Netherlands' use of palm oil for biofuel has left a rancid taste in the mouths of some who promoted the idea:
Spurred by government subsidies, energy companies became so enthusiastic that they designed generators that ran exclusively on the oil, which in theory would be cleaner than fossil fuels like coal because it is derived from plants.But last year, when scientists studied practices at palm plantations in Indonesia and Malaysia, this green fairy tale began to look more like an environmental nightmare.
Rising demand for palm oil in Europe brought about the clearing of huge tracts of Southeast Asian rainforest and the overuse of chemical fertilizer there.
Worse still, the scientists said, space for the expanding palm plantations was often created by draining and burning peatland, which sent huge amounts of carbon emissions into the atmosphere.
Considering these emissions, Indonesia had quickly become the world’s third-leading producer of carbon emissions that scientists believe are responsible for global warming, ranked after the United States and China, according to a study released in December by researchers from Wetlands International and Delft Hydraulics, both in the Netherlands.
The news media have been full of examples of actual or potential unintended consequences of subsidized biofuels. Biofuel crops are contributing to higher farm income in many instances--another important clue that further public subsidies may not be needed and may not be in the public interest.