Monday, April 30, 2007

Mission Accomplished: Four Years Later

As of tomorrow it will have been 1,461 days since President Bush declared an end to major combat operations under a banner that read "Mission Accomplished." May 1, 2007 marks 2,058 days since Osama bin Laden attacked the U.S.
In contrast, the number of days from the attack on Pearl Harbor to the Japanese surrender was 1,365 days.
The Civil War lasted 1,458 days, only three days shy of four years, from the attack on Fort Sumter to the surrender at Appomattox.
The Vietnam War lasted longer, but I don't recall either Lyndon Johnson or Richard Nixon proclaiming "Mission Accomplished" with years of fighting still to go.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Time to Be Heard on Delaware's Energy Future

The Sustainable Energy Utility (SEU) Task Force has released its report on how energy efficiency and small scale generation can help make electric power more affordable and less vulnerable to rising cost of fossil fuels. The report was featured in the News Journal earlier this week, including this photo of bookseller and Progressive Dem Jack Buckley showing off the solar panels on the roof of his home.
Also, the Public Service Commission (PSC) is accepting comments on the Integrated Resource Planning (IRP) docket through May 2. The IRP is the strategic plan for meeting Delaware’s energy needs, which many of us hope will include wind power, conservation and distributed generation. I'm planning to present comments on the economics of the options under consideration.
In the meanwhile, the PSC and three other state agencies are coming down to the wire on choosing whether go with coal, natural gas or wind power. While no agenda has been published, the PSC is expeted to review the RFP docket at its meeting on May 8. The technocrats making the decision do not operate in a vacuum, which is those who support wind power need to contact their elected officials.
Delawareliberal has set up a "Choose Wind" page to help mobilize support for the option that promises zero emissions and long term price stability. If you agree that the time for fossil fuels has come and gone, then now is the time to speak up.
Photo: Ginger Wall, News Journal

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Farm Policy and Fat People: Improving School Lunches

The other day, I highlighted this essay by Michael Pollan in the New York Times Magazine on the ways the federal farm bill distorts the food economy. Pollan also noted that the farm bill has an unfortunate effect on what our schools feed our children:
The farm bill helps determine what sort of food your children will have for lunch in school tomorrow. The school-lunch program began at a time when the public-health problem of America’s children was undernourishment, so feeding surplus agricultural commodities to kids seemed like a win-win strategy. Today the problem is overnutrition, but a school lunch lady trying to prepare healthful fresh food is apt to get dinged by U.S.D.A. inspectors for failing to serve enough calories; if she dishes up a lunch that includes chicken nuggets and Tater Tots, however, the inspector smiles and the reimbursements flow. The farm bill essentially treats our children as a human Disposall for all the
unhealthful calories that the farm bill has encouraged American farmers to overproduce.
Since the farm bill is largely written by and for farm interests, there has been little interest in changing federal food policy. But Pollan sees some hope that a more rational policy might make it into this year’s farm bill:
But there are signs this year will be different. The public-health community has come to recognize it can’t hope to address obesity and diabetes without addressing the farm bill. The environmental community recognizes that as long as we have a farm bill that promotes chemical and feedlot agriculture, clean water will remain a pipe dream. The development community has woken up to the fact that global poverty can’t be fought without confronting the ways the farm bill depresses world crop prices.
Today the Times reports that sound nutrition and farm policy just might be getting into alignment:
Junk foods like potato chips, doughnuts, chocolate-covered ice cream and sugary drinks should be banned from elementary, middle and high schools, according to a report released yesterday by the Institute of Medicine, part of the National Academy of Sciences.
And Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa, who sponsored the Child Nutrition Promotion and School Lunch Protection Act with Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, said he might put the report’s recommendations in this year’s farm bill. If that bill passes, the Department of Agriculture could be required to make sure the types of foods in the report are kept from schools.
If there’s one thing we can count on in Washington, it’s that a farm bill will be passed. If Tom Harkin, who chairs the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry Committee, wants sound nutrition to be part of the bill, then we just might see some progress in federal policy this year.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Karl Rove and Sheryl Crow: Touchy, Touchy

Washington has been buzzing about the confrontation between Karl Rove and global warming activists Laurie David and Sheryl Crow. It took place Saturday night at the otherwise soporific White House Correspondents Dinner. Laurie David describes the encounter at The Huffington Post:
We asked Mr. Rove if he would consider taking a fresh look at the science of global warming. Much to our dismay, he immediately got combative. And it went downhill from there.
Apparently, Rove didn’t want to hear it:
In his attempt to dismiss us, Mr. Rove turned to head toward his table, but as soon as he did so, Sheryl reached out to touch his arm. Karl swung around and spat, "Don't touch me."

How uncool is Karl Rove? If Sheryl Crow reached out to touch my arm, I wouldn’t turn away but would turn towards her so that she could rest her hand on my arm for as long as she liked.
But Rove’s lack of cool extends beyond his disdain for rock stars to his inability to notice that Americans are increasingly concerned about the earth’s climate:

A USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds that more Americans than ever — 60%, up from 48% a decade ago — believe that global warming has begun to affect the climate. A slightly larger percentage think it will cause major or extreme changes in climate and weather during the next 50 years.
I have to wonder if Bush’s Brain is exhibiting evidence of frayed synapses. I don’t know how many elections he expects the GOP to win as the party of global warming deniers.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Farm Policy and Fat People

Why are Americans so fat? We’ve heard the theories: It’s our sedentary lifestyles. It’s McDonalds’ fault. Our built environment makes it easier to drive a couple of blocks that it is to get up and walk around.
Michael Pollan, writing in the New York Times Magazine, offers a different perspective. He explains that our entire food economy is structured to deliver cheap calories via packaged foods:
As a rule, processed foods are more “energy dense” than fresh foods: they contain less water and fiber but more added fat and sugar, which makes them both less filling and more fattening. These particular calories also happen to be the least healthful ones in the marketplace, which is why we call the foods that contain them “junk.”
It’s not that junk food is inherently more efficient at delivering nutrition:
This perverse state of affairs is not, as you might think, the inevitable result of the free market. Compared with a bunch of carrots, a package of Twinkies, to take one iconic processed foodlike substance as an example, is a highly complicated, high-tech piece of manufacture, involving no fewer than 39 ingredients, many themselves elaborately manufactured, as well as the packaging and a hefty marketing budget. So how can the supermarket possibly sell a pair of these synthetic cream-filled pseudocakes for less than a bunch of roots?
For the answer, you need look no farther than the farm bill. This resolutely unglamorous and head-hurtingly complicated piece of legislation, which comes around roughly every five years and is about to do so again, sets the rules for the American food system — indeed, to a considerable extent, for the world’s food system. Among other things, it determines which crops will be subsidized and which will not, and in the case of the carrot and the Twinkie, the farm bill as currently written offers a lot more support to the cake than to the root.
Like most processed foods, the Twinkie is basically a clever arrangement of carbohydrates and fats teased out of corn, soybeans and wheat — three of the five commodity crops that the farm bill supports, to the tune of some $25 billion a year. (Rice and cotton are the others.) For the last several decades — indeed, for about as long as the American waistline has been ballooning — U.S. agricultural policy has been designed in such a way as to promote the overproduction of these five commodities, especially corn and soy.
Federal farm policy is designed to help agribusiness, not those farmers who actually deliver real live fruits and vegetables to the marketplace:
That’s because the current farm bill helps commodity farmers by cutting them a check based on how many bushels they can grow, rather than, say, by supporting prices and limiting production, as farm bills once did. The result? A food system awash in added sugars (derived from corn) and added fats (derived mainly from soy), as well as dirt-cheap meat and milk (derived from both). By comparison, the farm bill does almost nothing to support farmers growing fresh produce. . . The reason the least healthful calories in the supermarket are the cheapest is that those are the ones the farm bill encourages farmers to grow.
The perverse result of this distorted system of subsidies is that those of us who want to eat healthy food have to pay a premium for healthy calories in comparison to the junk calories. In economic terms, the obesity epidemic is a negative externality of the way we as taxpayers support farmers.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

An Old Joke, One Year Older

It's Earth Day; take a clod to lunch.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Dace, Hube and Mr. Wonk

Hube and I had fun this morning on Dace Blaskowitz's show, "Money & Politics in Delaware" on WILM, 1450 on your AM dial.
Hube and I conferred afterwards, and wondered whether we were too wonky with our discussions of budget deficits, immigration, energy policy and schools in Delaware. What, you wanted more on John Atkins and Don Imus? At least we demonstrated that you can take the high road and still be interesting.
Dace is on WILM every Saturday morning from 10:00 to 11:00. Hube and I will (hopefully) be back the third Saturday of every month.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

WILM Goes Wonky

Hube from The Colossus of Rhodey and I will be joining Dace Blaskovitz on this Saturday's edition of his "Money & Politics in Delaware" program on WILM, 1450 on your AM dial.
Dace first got bloggers engaged in the mainstream media by inviting Jason from Delawareliberal and Dave Burris from First State Politics on as regular guests. Now we're carrying on the tradition.
Dace has a regular stable of local A list guests for his weekly show, which airs every Saturday morning from 10:00 to 11:00 on WILM. Hube and I come on at 10:30.
We'll being talking about local politics, the federal budget, energy and the environment, public schools in Wilmington, guns, Imus and more. It should be fun.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Sedated Horses Couldn't Drag Them Away

Serbia’s Eurotrash will be getting down with some not so wild horses when the Rolling Stones play their first ever gig in Belgrade this summer. Reuters has the story:

A plan to sedate more than 300 horses stabled at Belgrade's racecourse to keep them calm during a Rolling Stones concert there has enraged Serb animal lovers who are lobbying to have the gig moved to another venue.
The concert is expected to draw more than 100,000 people to the Hippodrome, Belgrade's largest fenced space. The horses will be only a few metres from the stage.
"Horses differ, the same as people. Some are more nervous, more skittish," said hostler Jovanka Prelic. "If they get too nervous or start to panic during the concert, they'll get sedatives."

Call it Prozac stable:

The sedative would be diazepam. In Serbia it trades under the name Bensedin, a very popular drug during the 78 days of NATO air strikes in 1999, when much of Belgrade's adult population was on tranquillizers.

Diazepram is sold as Prozac in the U.S.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Back to the National Conversation about Race

E. J. Dionne Jr., writing in the Washington Post, suggests that, in our latest national conversation about race, we might consider discussing the lives of people other than media stars:
I can't help but see this as yet another example of how we are far more comfortable discussing what certain celebrities say than what we as a society do. We love to talk about "the culture" and what can be done about it because such talk is, quite literally, cheap.
He goes on to recite some facts and figures that are all too familiar, and all too easily forgotten:
But let's look at a few of the supposedly boring facts. According to the U.S. Census, black households in 2005 had a median income of $30,858, compared with $50,784 for non-Hispanic white households. The black poverty rate was 24.9 percent. The white poverty rate was 8.3 percent.
In 2005, according to the Justice Department, 4.7 percent of black males were in prison or jail, compared with 0.7 percent of white males. For men in their late 20s, just under 12 percent of blacks were incarcerated, compared with 1.7 percent of whites. Life expectancy for black men is more than six years shorter than for white men.
Are these stark social realities due to lingering racism? Are they due to social breakdowns in poor communities? And didn't we just have this conversation after Hurricane Katrina?
Maybe we should talk about it.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Don Imus, Free Speech, Hip Hop and Al Sharpton

As expected, the backlash against the firing of Don Imus is building in ferocity, though the arguments as to why he should have kept his job have little to do with what he actually said or the young women who found themselves at the receiving end of his vulgar comments. Many of the arguments involve free speech, the vulgarity of hip hop music, or a dislike of Al Sharpton.
The argument that firing Don Imus somehow violated his right to free speech is the dumbest. Mr. Imus hasn't lost his freedom of speech; he lost a multi-million dollar contract with two large media companies. He is free to write a letter to the editor, to write his congressman, to stand on a street corner and hold a sign, or even to start a blog. Hey, I don't have a seven figure contract to appear on radio or television, and I don't hear any complaints that my free speech rights are being violated.
The argument that hip hop artists use similar language is hardly edifying. If his defenders can't justify Mr. Imus' comments, maybe they can find someone with even lower standards. Hey these guys get to call women demeaning names, why can't Don Imus?
As for the arguments involving the dislike of Al Sharpton, think back on the events of the last two weeks: Who got Al Sharpton involved? Not the Rutgers coach or players; you never saw them standing behind a bank of microphones with Reverend Sharpton. It is Don Imus himself who placed Al Sharpton front and center by going on his radio show last Monday.
There are other, even less convincing arguments in defense of Don Imus. There's the argument that he was trying to be funny, though no one I've read or talked with has admitted to actually laughing at what he said. And arguments that his demeaning remarks were meant as satire simply aren't convincing. One dictionary defines satire as "holding up human vices and follies to ridicule or scorn." Just which vices or follies of the Rutgers basketball team were Don Imus holding up for scorn?
No one demonstrated as much class as the players and coach of the Rutgers basketball team. Given the media frenzy, I find it remarkable that they managed to avoid the cameras as much as they did. And after they did meet with Mr. Imus, in a setting arranged to avoid the media glare, they decided as a team to forgive him.
One can hardly claim that Don Imus, a wealthy, politically connected media star, was employing satire when he chose to direct his ugly, demeaning comments towards a group of young, mostly black women. The principle vices or weaknesses on display in this episode are those of Mr. Imus and his misguided defenders; he and they richly deserve the ridicule and scorn they have brought upon themselves.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut

I developed a taste for satire in high school, and Kurt Vonnegut was at the top of my list of favorite writers. I read everything he had written at the time including Player Piano, The Sirens of Titan, God Bless You Mr. Rosewater, Mother Night, Welcome to the Monkey House and Slaughterhouse-Five. I remember I first saw a copy of Cat's Cradle on the desk of a grad student, who said that everyone was reading Vonnegut; I immediately decided I had to as well.
Vonnegut's work may be the best argument against the defenders of Don Imus who offer excuses for his offensive remarks by calling them satire. True satire is sometimes harsh, but rarely mean. Our best satirists—Mark Twain, H. L. Mencken, Russell Baker and Kurt Vonnegut—have always understood this distinction.

He wrote about humor in his 2005 book, A Man Without a Country:
I grew up at a time when comedy in this country was superb — it was the Great Depression. There were large numbers of of absolutely top comedians on radio. And without intending to, I really studied them. I would listen to comedy at least an hour a night all through my youth, and I got very interested in what jokes were and how they worked.
When I'm being funny, I try not to offend. I don't think much of what I've done has been in really ghastly taste. I don't think I have embarrassed many people, or distressed them. The only shocks I use are an occasional obscene word.
When I came home from work this evening, I pulled my copy of Slaughterhouse-Five off the shelf; I had not read it for many years. Vonnegut's most memorable characters had their flaws, but usually portrayed with humanity and even some sympathy. The simpleton Eliot Rosewater, the oddball science fiction writer Kilgore Trout, the Nazi collaborator Howard W. Campbell, Jr. and the passive Billy Pilgrim, who became unstuck in time, were all allowed their humanity. He never belittled or condemned his characters, even the odious Paul Lazarro; he just described them with simple prose. (His first rule of writing: "Do not use semicolons.") Vonnegut took note of his gentle ways with his characters in Slaughterhouse-Five:
Shortly before my father dies, he said to me, "You know—you never wrote a story with a villain in it."
Vonnegut had a remarkable ability to break through our ways of seeing the world with a matter of fact directness, whether he was describing the Tralfamadorians or in his depiction of war as "artificial weather" in Slaughterhouse-Five.
After Slaughterhouse-Five, I gradually lost interest in Kurt Vonnegut; at the time I didn't know what else he could say that could add to what he had already deposited deep in my mind. But Vonnegut didn't quit; his last book, A Man Without a Country, reminded us of his wit and relevance in our current era of almost unbearable absurdity:
If I ever die, God forbid, let this be my epitaph:
Photo: Jill Krementz

Ana Marie Cox Says No More

Not surprisingly, many of the regular guests on Don Imus’s show have been conflicted by their implicit complicity in his foul mouthed put downs of minorities and women. Media Matters for America offers this handy timeline that includes the highs and lows of reactions from our media elite over the last week. In this sorbid episode, I’m most interested in those comments that demonstrate some sense of self-awareness, such as in this thoughtful piece from Ana Marie Cox:
Last fall I became a regular guest [on Imus] and took up slightly more serious topics (on my last appearance we talked about Senator John McCain's Baghdad trip and Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani's lack of social graces), but the subjects hardly mattered. I had been invited inside the circle, and to be perfectly honest, I was thrilled to be there.
As the invites kept coming, I found myself succumbing to the clubhouse mentality that Imus both inspires and cultivates. Sure, I cringed at his and his crew's race baiting (the Ray Nagin impersonations, the Obama jokes) and at the casual locker-room misogyny (Hillary Clinton's a "bitch," CNN news anchor Paula Zahn is a "wrinkled old prune"), but I told myself that going on the show meant something beyond inflating my precious ego. I wasn't alone. As Frank Rich noted a few years ago, "It's the only show ... that I've been on where you can actually talk in an informed way — not in sound bites." Yeah, what he said!
I'm embarrassed to admit that it took Imus' saying something so devastatingly crass to make me realize that there just was no reason beyond ego to play along. I did the show almost solely to earn my media-elite merit badge. The sad truth is that unless you have a book to promote, there's often no other reason any writer or columnist has to do the show. If Rich wants to "talk in an informed way," I'm sure there's an open mike at C-Span Radio, and if there's really a hunger for such adult dialogue, does it really have to be accompanied by childish crudeness? Actually, don't answer that. In any case, the media figures and politicians who clown around with Imus can pretend that the show is really about informed conversation or pop sociology or anything except junior-high-level teasing, but its true appeal for them lies in the seal of approval Imus bestows.
Cox zeros in the media power Imus has wielded. Part of what makes this episode so ugly is that Don Imus is a rich, powerful white man, and the women he described in such crude terms are anonymous, young, mostly black women. I don’t know, and don't much care, what’s in the guy’s heart of hearts. But don't doubt that he used such ugly language as long as he did because he could, because not enough people who mattered were willing to stand up to him.
I think that part of what fascinates people about this episode is that it involves issues we all have had to deal with in our workplaces. I have from time to time, faced the decision of whether to challenge such crudity or hold my tongue. I’ve done both. I’ve had to learn how to respect my colleagues and preserve my integrity in a world that’s very different from that in which my father worked, and no I don't think it's cramped my white male style. I hope I've become a better person in the process.
Ana Marie Cox has demonstrated that she is capable of examining her motivations in public. I’d like to see more media stars display the same quality.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Comcast Interrupts the People's Business for a Baseball Game

Comcast has decided to break into C-SPAN 2 to bring us, you guessed it, more sports programming. Comcast, which has the only cable franchise in Wilmington, has started to split programming on cable channel 98 between C-SPAN 2 and a channel called MASN2.
Now some might consider it a close call as which is duller: an early season game featuring the Washington Nationals or Senator Norm Coleman discussing columns of budget figures:

Not long ago, I could find Senator Coleman's comments on channel 98, but not tonight. Channel 98 instead features number 47, a pitcher named Matt Chico:
I can name more U.S. senators than I can big league ballplayers; I know I'm rather unusual in that respect.
The point is not whether baseball players are more interesting to more viewers than senators. The point is that Comcast has an obligation to the public that runs deeper than its obligation to baseball fans. Public service is not a market segment, but one of the services Comcast provides in return for its position in a regulatory framework in which it enjoys the only franchise in many, if not most, of the communities it serves.
If you believe, as I do, that Comcast bears a minimal obligation to the public interest, then join with me in urging the company to restore full coverage of C-SPAN 2 by writing one of the following corporate executives:
D'Arcy Rudnay
Vice President of Corporate Communications
Comcast Corporation
1500 Market Street
Philadelphia, PA 19102
(215) 981-8582
Sena Fitzmaurice
Senior Director of Corporate Communications & Government Affairs
Comcast Corporation
2001 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Suite 500
Washington, DC 20006
David L. Cohen
Executive Vice President
Comcast Corporation
1500 Market Street
Philadelphia, PA 19102
While I don't have a phone or email for Mr. Cohen, I include his name because he served as chief of staff to then mayor Ed Rendell.
By the way, Comcast reported revenues last year of just under $25 billion.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Civility and Incivility in Old and New Media

The New York Times reports on a proposal to create a blogger civility code that would offer guidelines for dealing with the nastiness that sometimes erupts online:
Chief among the recommendations is that bloggers consider banning anonymous comments left by visitors to their pages and be able to delete threatening or libelous comments without facing cries of censorship.
Bloggers, not surprisingly, like to point out that the mainstream media can hardly hold themselves up as pillars of civility when it comes to comments, anonymous or otherwise. Here in Delaware, the News Journal has had a difficult time managing civility in readers' comments, as we can see in this sample from comments on a story today on a shooting in Wilmington:
For those in need of a translation, I'm guessing that "b on b crime" means black on black crime.
Don Imus, who for years has gotten a free ride from his establishment buddies, is in trouble over these comments about a college basketball team (transcript via Media Matters for America):

From the April 4 edition of MSNBC's Imus in the Morning:

IMUS: So, I watched the basketball game last night between -- a little bit of Rutgers and Tennessee, the women's final.
ROSENBERG: Yeah, Tennessee won last night -- seventh championship for [Tennessee coach] Pat Summitt, I-Man. They beat Rutgers by 13 points.
IMUS: That's some rough girls from Rutgers. Man, they got tattoos and --
McGUIRK: Some hard-core hos.
IMUS: That's some nappy-headed hos there. I'm gonna tell you that now, man, that's some -- woo. And the girls from Tennessee, they all look cute, you know, so, like -- kinda like -- I don't know.

It should be noted that Mr. McGuirk isn't some random, ranting caller but the show's executive producer. It should also be noted that Imus isn't a fringe shock jock, but regularly welcomes mainstream media figures and leading politicians (including Joe Biden and a number of his Senate colleagues) as his guests.
As for whether last week's comments were out of character for Imus, Media Matters has provided a helpful rundown of some recent remarks, including this characterization of Barack Obama:
On the February 2 edition of MSNBC's Imus in the Morning, the show's executive producer, Bernard McGuirk, claimed that Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) has "a Jew-hating name."
As for my humble blog, I have not had much trouble with nasty comments. To be fair, TommyWonk is a relatively highminded (or shall I say boring) blog with a modest readership. In the two years I've been online, I can count the number of comments I've deleted for objectionable content on one hand. I recall deleting one or two comments that referred to other humans as animals and one or two that described another commenter as a body part.
Having managed to maintain a civil tone in my modest little corner of the blogosphere, I don't have much sympathy for media stars like Imus who have made millions pushing the bounds of political discourse.
Update: The pixels on this post were barely dry when MSNBC and CBS radio announced a two week suspension for Imus. Cue anti-PC backlash...

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Bumper Sticker Economics: Time to Give Supply Side a Decent Burial?

Bruce Bartlett, who served in the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, doesn't like what's happened to supply side economics. Writing in the New York Times (and rescued for posterity at Economist's View), Bartlett points out that supply side theory was at first narrowly understood:
The original supply-siders suggested that some tax cuts, under very special circumstances, might actually raise federal revenues. For example, cutting the capital gains tax rate might induce an unlocking effect that would cause more gains to be realized, thus causing more taxes to be paid on such gains even at a lower rate.
But today it is common to hear tax cutters claim, implausibly, that all tax cuts raise revenue. Last year, President Bush said, “You cut taxes and the tax revenues increase.” Senator John McCain told National Review magazine last month that “tax cuts, starting with Kennedy, as we all know, increase revenues.” Last week, Steve Forbes endorsed Rudolph Giuliani for the White House, saying, “He’s seen the results of supply-side economics firsthand — higher revenues from lower taxes.”
This is a simplification of what supply-side economics was all about, and it threatens to undermine the enormous gains that have been made in economic theory and policy over the last 30 years. Perhaps the best way of preventing that from happening is to kill the phrase “supply-side economics” and give it a decent burial.
Economics may be the dismal science, but it is still a science, with measurable results. But the most zealous supply siders take its pronouncements as articles of faith. Mark Thoma at Economist's View offers a useful commentary:
The question, of course, is how much additional growth comes from a cut in taxes and here I agree to some extent with Bruce Bartlett. It depends upon the type of tax cuts that are enacted, some are more productive than others and hence some types of tax cuts generate more tax revenue than others. Whether the tax cut is permanent or temporary is also important.
We'd disagree over the magnitude however. While some types of tax cuts can affect growth, the effect is nowhere near large enough to generate a 33% tax revenue recovery rate, not even close, and, in any case, all the low-hanging fruit has already been plucked, something that is often overlooked.
Readers are free to agree or disagree with Bartlett or Thoma, but please spare me the bumper sticker aphorisms like "Tax cuts work," a statement so vague that it defies rational discussion.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Did Karl Rove Set Up Regular Political Briefings in Federal Agencies?

You may remember the PowerPoint slide show presented by the White House political office to the GSA, the one with this map listing the Delaware governor's race is "Not Competitive" for the GOP:
Now ABC News reports that the political briefing has prompted an investigation:
The Office of Special Counsel confirmed to ABC News it has launched an investigation into General Services Administration chief Lurita Doan, probing concerns she may have violated a ban against conducting partisan political activity at government expense by participating in a meeting featuring a presentation by a White House political aide on GOP election strategy.
Was presenting a political briefing to the GSA, a non-political agency, a momentary lapse of judgement on the part of Karl Rove's office? Perhaps not:
The White House political office has been giving presentations similar to the one at GSA since at least 2002, briefing officials throughout the government on Republican campaign information, according to a recent book by two Los Angeles Times reporters.
"[White House political adviser Karl] Rove and [former Bush campaign chief and one-time Republican National Committee head Ken] Mehlman ventured to nearly every cabinet agency to share key polling data" leading up to the 2002 midterm elections, wrote Tom Hamburger and Peter Wallsten in their book, "One Party Country," "and to deliver a reminder of White House priorities, including the need for the president's allies to win in the next election."
While previous administrations had sent officials to cabinet agencies, the duo wrote, "Such intense regular communication from the political office had never occurred before."

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

More PSC Energy Comments

The PSC has posted the most recent round of comments on the energy RFP. I'd like to highlight just two of them.
John Austin, who used to work for EPA and lives in Rehoboth Beach, has some particularly enlightening comments:

One of the many facts that has come to light in the bid review process is that the net output of the [NRG] IGCC would be just 400MW. Where does the other 230MW go? The bid explains that 50MW would be needed to run the compressors for CO2 sequestration. The rest would be consumed to make the syn-gas and power the gas separation units to isolate the hydrogen sulfide from the hydrogen rich syn-gas before it is burned. This is not an efficient use of natural resources.
Here's an interesting tidbit:
There is also another problem revealed with this data. Units 1 & 2 have but 10.5 pounds of mercury emission allocation to transfer to a new unit. There is no more. The unit would have to be reduced in size or increase mercury removal if it were to be permitted.
Another comment worth noting is this from a young correspondent named Ashley:
Maybe I missed it (the public comments run to hundreds of pages), but I don't recall seeing any letters from schoolchildren in support of coal power.

Barack Obama Raises $25 Million in the First Quarter

Senator Barack Obama just announced his fundraising total for the first quarter, and it rocks. The AP has the story:
DAVENPORT, Iowa - Democrat Barack Obama raked in $25 million for his presidential bid in the first three months of 2007, placing him on a par with front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton and dashing her image as the party’s inevitable nominee.
The donations came from an eye-popping 100,000 donors, the campaign said in a statement.
The figure was the latest evidence that Obama, a political newcomer who has served just two years in the Senate, has emerged as the most powerful new force in presidential politics this year. It also reinforced his status as a significant threat to Clinton, who’d hoped her own $26 million first quarter fundraising total would begin to squeeze her rivals out of contention.
Having worked in politics, I have to express my admiration, first at the accomplishment, and second at the panache with which Obama’s campaign worked the story. Most candidates reported their first quarter totals on Sunday. Obama waited, letting Senator Clinton’s record setting total sink in with the media, and then demonstrated that he can meet her, and in some respects beat her.
This deft piece of timing made this a bigger story than it would have been had Obama released the numbers when the other candidates did. By waiting, Obama built up the suspense and highlighted the strength of his support and campaign organization. Nicely done.

Monday, April 02, 2007

The Supreme Court Decides that EPA Can't Avoid Dealing with Climate Change

The Supreme Court decided that the Environmental Protection Agency can't duck the issue of carbon dioxide emissions and climate change. The New York Times sums up the decision:
WASHINGTON, April 2 — In one of its most important environmental decisions in years, the Supreme Court ruled today that the Environmental Protection Agency has the authority to regulate heat-trapping gases in automobile emissions.
The court further ruled that the agency cannot sidestep its authority to regulate the greenhouse gases that contribute to global climate change unless it can provide a scientific basis for its refusal.
EPA had argued that it could not and should not act to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from automobiles because it "lacks authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions" in this case, and even if it could act, it has the discretion under the Clean Air Act to choose to do nothing. Writing for the majority, Justice John Paul Stevens clearly repudiates EPA's reasons for not acting:
On the merits, the first question is whether §202(a)(1) of the Clean Air Act authorizes EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from new motor vehicles in the event that it forms a “judgment” that such emissions contribute to climate change. We have little trouble concluding that it does.
As for EPA's assertion that it can exercise discretion as to whether to control carbon dioxide, Justice Stevens writes that the agency's judgment must be grounded in the law:
The alternative basis for EPA’s decision—that even if it does have statutory authority to regulate greenhouse gases, it would be unwise to do so at this time—rests on reasoning divorced from the statutory text. While the statute does condition the exercise of EPA’s authority on its formation of a “judgment,” 42 U. S. C. §7521(a)(1), that judgment must relate to whether an air pollutant “cause[s], or contribute[s] to, air pollution which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare,” ibid. Put another way, the use of the word “judgment” is not a roving license to ignore the statutory text. It is but a direction to exercise discretion within defined statutory limits.
The Court's majority and dissenting opinions can be found here. The decision doesn't impose a specific course of action on EPA; it just means that the Bush administration is running out of excuses for doing nothing.