A few guppies short
By AL DIAMON  |  March 17, 2010

The term "think tank" looks as if it signifies something impressive. But looks can be deceiving. Consider this example:

A mad scientist removes the brain from the corpse of a recently deceased mass murderer and preserves the organ in what looks suspiciously like the container his kids had been using to raise guppies. The addition of a few electrodes, a saline drip, and some ominous music (could somebody please get the bubbling mermaid figurine out of there), and presto, you've converted a fish tank into a think tank.

The guppies, meanwhile, have mysteriously ended up in the "septic tank," which also bears some resemblance to a think tank — the kind that thought up the Dirigo Health program.

This state has many think tanks, operating in the sort of splendid isolation that can only be achieved by complete disconnection from reality.

There's the conservative Maine Heritage Policy Center (motto: That's A Bad Idea You Just Had. So Is That. And That One, Too), author of such thoughtful schemes as solving the health-care crisis by letting insurance companies do whatever the hell they want to do.

There's also the liberal Maine Center for Economic Policy (motto: To Each According To Their Needs, From Each According To How Much We Can Squeeze Out Of Their Bourgeois Wallets), a strong advocate of raising taxes on the wealthy, a it defines as anybody with a job.

And now, there's Envision Maine. Which is more like a think tanklet, because it only contains one guppy. His name is Alan Caron, and he's an experienced tankoid. Caron used to be the executive director of a think tank called GrowSmart Maine, which was opposed to sprawl, which is the kind of development we had before the recession made development extinct. Four years ago, GrowSmart commissioned another think tank, the Brookings Institution, to produce a report on how to prepare the state's economy for an uncertain future. It was called "Raising Guppies For Fun And Profit."

Oops, sorry, wrong report. That one is the booklet the Maine Department of Health and Human Services gives to people it's trying to get off welfare.

The Brookings study was actually called "Charting Maine's Future: An Action Plan For Promoting Sustainable Prosperity And Quality Places." It was filled with ideas, some of them good — cut taxes and government spending — some of them dumb — create a $200 million fund to support "innovation" — and some of them incomprehensible — "invest in Maine's heart and soul."

Heart? Soul? Bah! Invest in brains, Igor!

There was a great deal of discussion among politicians and academics about how best to implement the Brookings suggestions. But not much happened, because the economy tanked (although not in a think-tank kind of way). After that, people had more pressing concerns, such as food, shelter, and money to fill up the gas tank.

Now, however, the recession is allegedly easing its grip, and we can once again allow ourselves the luxury of pretending we're just a think-tank report away from fixing everything that's wrong. So, GrowSmart has hired Caron's Envision Maine to write a new study, which he described to the Kennebec Journal as being "for citizen activists who know we're in trouble and want to do something about it."

I thought we had the Tea Party for that.

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