This page includes posts from February 26-March 11, 2006 in the usual reverse
order. Each posting on the home page is perma-linked to these
This morning I posted my newest golf book review, which you
can read here.
Roland Merullo's Golfing With God: A Novel of Heaven and
Earth brings together the notion of reincarnation with the act of playing
golf, along with a host of other intriguing theological concepts.
Watching the new short movie about the Georgia State
University students and their
55 mile per hour experiment on the Atlanta beltway
proved to be inspirational.
This afternoon I decided to stick to the speed limit for
the entire 41-mile commute from my office to home. Almost all of this travel is
on Route One, where folks are supposed to go no more than 55 mph.
Instead of blocking traffic with a buddy in the other lane,
however, I decided to go for something a bit less dangerous. I would simply
count the number of vehicles that passed me, as well as the number of cars that
The title of this post is the combined score--131 cars and
trucks passed me in about 50 minutes, while I passed a single car during that
I've been making this commute for a long while, but that
result is still a bit startling.
By the way, at least four of the passing vehicles were
Sure sign of spring
On the way home from work this evening I saw one of my
favorite signs of the coming spring:
This farm tractor was disking up a field along Route 1 near
Dozens of sea gulls followed closely behind, eating the
worms and other bugs made available from the newly turned-over earth.
A larger version of this scene is available at
This post brought to you by
The New York Times ran an
interesting story describing how major companies and public relations firms
and major companies are using blogs to spread a targeted message to a broader
Under assault as never before, Wal-Mart is
increasingly looking beyond the mainstream media and working directly with
bloggers, feeding them exclusive nuggets of news, suggesting topics for
postings and even inviting them to visit its corporate headquarters.
But the strategy raises questions about what bloggers, who pride
themselves on independence, should disclose to readers. Wal-Mart, the
nation's largest private employer, has been forthright with bloggers about
the origins of its communications, and the company and its public
relations firm, Edelman, say they do not compensate the bloggers.
But some bloggers have posted information from Wal-Mart, at times word
for word, without revealing where it came from.
The report generated a lot of commentary, and several
intriguing posts are quoted and linked
I wonder if the NYT would have thought this story was fit
to print if the primary example was a business that is not such a routine target
of blue state wrath.
Nonetheless, in my estimation the bloggers who didn't make
sure their readers knew the source of their Walmart-friendly material simply
screwed up. Who did they think they were, regular reporters who routinely crib
from press releases without attribution?
PR firms don't often send material to me for potential use
at this site. It's far more common for me to receive these kinds of entreaties
for my golf column.
two examples of how I
use PR stuff for my golf pieces. As these show, it's not hard to be transparent
and continue to use your own voice. In addition, you maintain your credibility
with your readers with the right kind of attribution practice.
The White House is reading the blogs
Glenn Reynolds, N. Z. Bear, and other influential bloggers have been
making a big deal about pork-busting parts of the Federal budget for some
Based on today's press release
issued by the Bush Administration, it looks like the
White House has been reading these anti-earmarking bloggers.
Today, President Bush sent to Congress line item
veto legislation that is designed to rein in wasteful spending, reduce the
budget deficit, and improve accountability. The proposed legislation is
also consistent with the Constitution.
- Legislative Line Item Veto Act: Special, fast-track
procedures would be created to guarantee an up-or-down vote by simple
majority in Congress on a proposal by the President to rescind specific
spending or tax legislation that has been passed. Leaders from both the
Republican and Democratic parties, in the House and the Senate, have
supported this approach in the past.
In addition to the usual political
arguments about past line-item veto proposals and the fact that most state
governors possess some version of this power, the release also explained how
this version is an improvement over similar Clinton-era legislation:
In its 1998 ruling striking down the
Line Item Veto Act of 1996, the Supreme Court concluded that the Act "g[ave]
the President the unilateral power to change the text of duly enacted
statutes." The Legislative Line Item Veto Act does not raise those
constitutional issues because the President's rescission proposals must be
enacted by both houses of Congress and signed into law.
I think one aspect of this
legislation shows how the White House is depending on bloggers and other
non-traditional media to gain support for the eventual rescission requests
contemplated by the proposed legislation.
There are two
fairly short deadlines in the process.
The White House can’t dilly-dally
in picking out appropriations to cut from omnibus spending bills, and
Congress must vote up-or-down on the rescission legislation on a similar
Major media outlets might not
devote sufficient resources to recommend particular cuts or pump up the
On the other hand, this proposal
presents a perfect opportunity for a swarm of highly interested, highly
focused bloggers to create significant public backing for these rescissions,
even on the tight deadlines set in the President’s proposal.
It’s certainly well worth a try.
It also shows that the White House
is adept at picking up on the growing anti-pork sentiment across the
March 5, 2006
Recommended reading, with a sidenote
Mickey Kaus has a nice way of
zapping NYT columnist
and alleged economics professor Paul Krugman in a post about the very, very
Krugman's column, whose internet edition you can pay
for (!) if you'd like, mentions possible ways to limit the increasing wealth of
folks who already have that status, such as placing compensation limits on
Fortune 500 CEOs.
I usually dismiss that kind of talk as a subspecies of the
politics of envy--and since envy is among the
seven deadly sins, this
never seems like a great path to take in developing social policy.
Kaus points out that there's a more pressing risk to
society on which some more thinking is deserved--if the folks in the top 20%
income bracket as a group began to separate themselves, in significant wealth
terms, from the remaining 80%.
Here's the passage that resonated the most:
We're Americans--we don't mind people getting rich. We do
mind richer people lording it over less rich people, or even thinking they're
better than less rich people. And if that's what you care about, what happens
to a tiny minority at the top--CEOs, baseball players, Bill Gates and Steve
Rattner--may not matter as much as what happens in the vast affluence of the top
20%. There's a limit to how many people the top tenth of a percent can boss
around, after all. But if the top 20% of Americans suddenly get enough relative
wealth to wall themselves off from everyone else, or to start hiring maids and
butlers and other servants (after decades when the number of houses with
servants declined), that could in itself be a big and unwelcome shift in the
tone of everyday life.
He has a point. Go read the rest of it.
In addition, however, I think it's also important to keep
in mind the remarkable fluidity of wealth for individual Americans and their
succeeding generations. If you look or ask around, there are plenty of examples
of the first generation creating the wealth, the second generation building on
that wealth, and the third generation blowing it all away.
There are no guarantees that storyline will be repeated in
every family's economic history, but it happens often enough that the number of
actual family dynasties in this country is incredibly low compared to a lot of
March 5, 2006
Be careful what you wish for
The Bush Administration appears to becoming
more serious about leaks and the effect of those unofficial press releases
on national security.
Not so long ago, many members of the national media
editorialized in favor of this enforcement policy, as detailed at remarkable
Maguire and others following the Plame saga.
Now, however, the NYT's Bill Keller and others are not so
keen on this approach to enhancing the country's defense against those seeking
to do it harm:
"There's a tone of gleeful relish in the way they
talk about dragging reporters before grand juries, their appetite for
withholding information, and the hints that reporters who look too hard
into the public's business risk being branded traitors," said New York
Times Executive Editor Bill Keller, in a statement responding to questions
from The Washington Post. "I don't know how far action will follow
rhetoric, but some days it sounds like the administration is declaring war
at home on the values it professes to be promoting abroad."
Interesting choice of rhetoric--aggressively challenging
the good faith of this administration--that's never happened before, has
One wonders how many times these folks need to be reminded
to be careful what they wish for.
On the other hand, nobody should look to the Times for a
consistent approach to public policy.
March 1, 2006
Additions to the Delaware Blog Roll
The home page
now includes an updated blog roll of Delaware-based bloggers.
Check 'em out!
An electrifying suggestion
Much of Delaware is now in
an uproar about a large scheduled increase in
electricity rates by
Delmarva Power & Light
Company, which services most of the state.
To some observers, the controversy
is the natural fallout of a long-term freeze on rate increases that the
company accepted as part of the bargaining for an ill-fated deregulation
bill enacted by the General Assembly.
The notion that deregulation and
competition for electricity would improve electric prices for the eventual
direct consumers was essentially correct—but only for large industrial
users, who had sufficient market power to take advantage of actual
competition. The idea never worked for the normal everyday retail
customers—who now constitute a huge contingent of not very happy voters,
facing an attempt by DP&L to play catch-up in a big way.
The General Assembly is now
scrambling to do something about the issue, and the Governor issued
executive order directing various agencies
to find ways to ameliorate the impact of the rate increases.
Here’s one idea that I thought of
earlier today and then worked on for a bit this evening—creating electric
power generation facilities on state-owned land, using wind and/or solar
power technologies. Making its own electricity would reduce the state’s
dependence on local utilities, and perhaps free up some capacity for the
rest of its citizens.
My clients at
DelDOT and other state agencies already
own property that could potentially be useful for producing either wind or
solar power, and in locations that would not necessarily produce NIMBY-like
opposition to the presence of a dozen or so graceful windmills, or several
acres of solar panels, or both.
To show you how it could be done,
what follows below is a very rough draft bill that I’ll send to my
local legislators. It’s based on a current
State law that seems to share many of the
same basic goals—if you can pardon the horrible pun.
"House/Senate Bill No. ___
An act amending
title 29 of the Delaware Code relating to electric power generation for
Be it enacted by the General
Assembly of the State of Delaware:
Section 1. Amend title 29,
Delaware Code by creating a new chapter 40 thereof, to read as
Chapter 40. Development of
electric power generation projects for state agencies.
Section 4001. Legislative
The General Assembly finds as
(1) State agencies compete
directly with the citizens they serve in the purchase and use of electric
(2) The cost of energy is a
major element in the annual operating budget of state government, and due
to a wide variety of factors not within the state’s control, subject to
significant price fluctuations.
(3) State agencies own
properties and facilities throughout the state that may prove feasible for
the development and implementation of cost-effective, high efficiency
electric energy resources using wind and/or solar power technologies.
(4) Delaware has long been in
the forefront of developing alternative energy source technologies,
especially with respect to solar power, and the private sector has also
indicated that wind-generated electric power generation is also
potentially feasible in the state.
(5) Therefore, the General
Assembly declares that the state government should should investigate and,
if appropriate, pursue development of cost-effective opportunities for
electric power generation using wind and/or solar power technologies for
existing or new state facilities.
Section 4002. Lead agency.
The Office of Management and
Budget (“Office”) established under Chapter 63A of this title shall:
(a) assist state
agencies in identifying, evaluating, and developing potential electric
power generation projects using wind and/or solar power technologies at
their facilities or other state-owned properties;
(b) notify state
agencies of their responsibilities under this chapter;
(c) apprise them of
opportunities to develop and implement such projects; and
technical and analytical support.
The Office shall recover costs
for such assistance through written agreements, including reimbursement
from third parties participating in such projects, for any costs and
expenses incurred in providing such assistance.
Section 4003. Feasibility studies.
(a) The Office shall identify
priorities for electric power generation projects using wind and/or solar
power technologies at state facilities or on other state-owned property,
and, where such projects are initially deemed desirable by the Office and
the appropriate state agency, the Office shall notify the local electric
utility serving the state facility of its intent to conduct a feasibility
study at such facilities or property locations. The Office shall consult
with the local electric utility and provide the local electric utility an
opportunity to participate in the development of the feasibility study for
the state facility or state-owned property it serves.
(b) If the local electric utility has an interest in participating in the
feasibility study, it shall notify the Office and the state agency whose
facility or facilities it serves within sixty days of receipt of
notification pursuant to (a) of this subsection as to the nature and scope
of its desired participation. The Office, state agency, and local electric
utility shall negotiate the responsibilities, if any, of each in
conducting the feasibility study, and these responsibilities shall be
specified in a written agreement.
(c) If a local electric utility identifies a
potential electric power generation project using wind and/or solar power
technologies at a state facility for which it intends to conduct a
feasibility study, it shall notify the Office and the appropriate state
agency. The Office, state agency, and local electric utility shall
negotiate the responsibilities, if any, of each in conducting the
feasibility study, and these responsibilities shall be specified in a
written agreement. Nothing in this section shall preclude a local electric
utility from conducting an independent assessment of a potential electric
power generation project at a state facility or other state-owned
(d) Agreements written pursuant to (a) and (b)
of this subsection shall include a provision for the recovery of costs
incurred by a local electric utility in performing a feasibility study in
the event such utility does not participate in the development of the
project. If the local electric utility does participate in the project
through energy purchase, project development, or ownership, recovery of
the utility's costs may be deferred or provided for through negotiation on
agreements for energy purchase, project development, or ownership.
(e) If the local electric utility declines participation in the
feasibility study, the Office and the state agency may receive and solicit
proposals to conduct the feasibility study from other parties.
Participation of these other parties shall also be secured and defined by
a written agreement which may include the provision for reimbursement of
costs incurred in the formulation of the feasibility study.
(f) The feasibility study shall include
consideration of agency and local electric utility needs for power, the
cost and certainty of fuel supplies, the value of electricity produced,
the capability of the state agency to own and/or operate such facilities,
the capability of electric utilities or third parties to own and/or
operate such facilities, requirements for and costs of standby sources of
power, costs associated with interconnection with the local electric
utility's transmission system, the capability of the local electric
utility to wheel electricity generated by the facility, costs associated
with obtaining wheeling services, potential financial risks and losses to
the state and/or state agency, measures to mitigate the financial risk to
the state and/or state agency, and benefits to the state and to the state
agency from a range of design configurations, ownership, and operation
(g) Based upon the findings of the feasibility study, the Office and the
state agency shall determine whether an electric power generation project
will be cost-effective and whether development of the project should be
pursued. This determination shall be made in consultation with any third
party that may have participated in the development of the feasibility
Section 4004. Electric power generation
(a) The Office may enter into
contracts through competitive sealed proposals under Section 6924 of this
title for the development, ownership, and/or operation of an electric
power generation facility. In determining an acceptable bid, the
department and the state agency may consider such factors as technical
knowledge, experience, management, staff, or schedule, as may be necessary
to achieve economical construction or operation of the project.
(b) The Office shall comply with
the requirements of subchapter VI of chapter 69 of this title when
contracting for engineering services relating to electric power generation
Section 4005. State ownership
of electric power generation facilities.
(a) The state may own and/or operate an
electric power generation facility using wind and/or solar power
technologies at a state facility or on state-owned property, subject to
the provisions of this section.
(b) No political subdivision of
the state shall exercise any power, authority or jurisdiction over any
such facility, including but not limited to the exercise of the police
power or the exercise of the power of condemnation, without the consent of
the Office and the affected state agency.
(c) Unless the electric power
generation facility using wind and/or solar power technologies is
determined to be cost-effective, based on the findings of the feasibility
study, the Office and the affected state agency shall not pursue
development of the project as a state-owned facility. If the project is
found to be cost-effective, and the Office and the state agency agree that
development of the electric power generation project should be pursued as a state-owned
and/or operated facility, the Office shall assist the state agency in the
preparation of a finance and development plan for the project. Any such
plan shall fully account for and specify all costs to the state for
developing and/or operating the project.
(d) It is the general intent of
this chapter that electric power generation projects developed and owned
by the state will reduce the cost to provide for the projected energy load
of state agency facilities over the useful life of the projects. The
principal purpose and use of such projects is to supply electric energy
for state facilities, and not primarily to develop generating capacity for
the sale of electricity. Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to
authorize any state agency to sell electricity on a
So what do you think?
And as a matter of fact, I do know
that I am a policy wonk. Why do you ask?
February 27, 2006
More fun with Rehoboth taxes
Two weeks ago I received an intriguing email from William Wan, a
Washington Post reporter.
He’d read this blog and was doing some research on
the City of Rehoboth Beach and its property tax issues, about which I
Wan asked for an interview, and shortly thereafter we had a fine long conversation about this and that.
Among other things, I explained how the town exports some of its operating expenses to the tourists through its parking meters, and how new residents make an outsized initial contribution to the city’s coffers through the realty transfer tax, collected at settlement.
The result of this and other conversations Wan had with some other Rehoboth folks can be read in today’s
Metro section of the Washington Post.
It's well written and worth reading, even if you're not from either Rehoboth
or the DC area. In addition, here’s
one passage that sounded really familiar:
For many years, the tax burden in Rehoboth -- a Hebrew word that means
"room for all" -- has been exported to tourists and newcomers. The city
makes more money annually through its summer-only parking meters than from
Another leading contributor to city coffers has been Rehoboth's transfer
tax on property sales . Three percent [actually 1.5%] of each
property sale price goes to the city -- an especially significant sum as the
city's newer mini-mansions and even its older, smaller cottages regularly
sell for seven figures.
But although home values in some areas have tripled and quadrupled in the
past decade, their assessed values in the city's financial books have
largely stayed the same. The city still uses assessment formulas from 1968
-- when the median annual household salary was $7,743 and a gallon of gas
sold for 34 cents, a time when a man walking on the moon was still a dream and the New York Jets had a shot at the Super Bowl.
"It's crazy. Everyone knows it's crazy," City Manager Greg Ferrese said.
Walking along Rehoboth's boardwalk last week, he pointed out several
beachfront mini-mansions and rattled off their tax bills and assessments.
"Something like this could go for up to $5 million today," Ferrese said,
nodding toward a small mansion with a blue-tiled roof and glass windows all
along its ocean-side view. The home last sold for $3.1 million in 2001, but
as far as the city's concerned, it is still worth $143,680.
A startling graphic accompanies the article, showing the huge differential between the property taxes charged in Rehoboth and what is typically collected in the DC suburbs.
No wonder the newbies
from the Capital region think they’ve found nirvana.