Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Pick your poison 

I suppose we'll soon find out that the State of Minnesota is taxing Girl Scout cookies because them things are fattening!
As America's child and adult obesity figures rise, National Action Against
Obesity (NAAO), calls for a boycott of the reported $700 million in Girl Scout
Cookies sold annually.

"Girl Scout Cookies are high-calorie, high-sugar, high in saturated fat and
nearly devoid of nutrition. Using young girls as a front to push millions of
cookies onto an already bloated population further exacerbates an alarming
crisis, no matter how cute the uniforms are," said NAAO President MeMe Roth.
"The Girl Scouts sell up to 200 million boxes yearly -- that's about one box for
every overweight American.

Darn, I'm not doing my share. Part of this is that they sell the cookies during Lent, which coincides with Mrs. S's annual kick-sugar-out-of-the-house drive. It's not only Jesus that is resurrected on Easter, my friends, it's the donuts.
"Girl Scouts of the USA have a flawed business model in direct conflict with
their posted mission statement -- 'Girl Scouting builds girls of courage,
confidence, and character, who make the world a better place.' "Profiting off
cookies -- it's the wrong message, the wrong product and the wrong era. Girl
Scouts have an economic, medical and moral imperative to dump junk food as their
$700 million fundraising source. NAAO would like the Girl Scouts to commit to a
5-year plan transitioning away from junk food as the organization's primary
fundraiser," continued Roth.

Forgive me for saying so, MeMe, but if you're selling 200 million units of something annually, you probably don't have a flawed business model. I believe the technical term marketing people use for this is "a winner". Profiting off giving somebody what they want isn't the wrong message for young people. It's exactly the message they should learn, for we all get income by persuading someone else to give it to us. So MeMe, if you want to stop eating the cookies, be my guest. If you want others to stop, I have a department of economics faculty that is always looking for something to dunk in their coffee ever since the no-carbo-nincompoops scared the Krispy Kreme out of town. Drop 'em by, and leave the Girl Scouts alone.

By the way, there's something terribly quaint about a food fascist named MeMe. Have another donut.

Wow, neck and neck!! 

The runoff for the silliest bill the DFL has introduced in the MN House is heating up, with each side having 50% of the vote as of this moment. Today's doozy is from the Senate, SF954, which eases the requirements for college students to vote. It's being heard this afternoon by the State and Local Government Operations and Oversight Subcommittee on Elections (and ain't THAT a mouthful!) Given St. Cloud's previous episode with students being used for political advantage, this bill is an invitation to even more shenanigans.


Disciplines and accountability 

Henry Edmondson writes of the failure that occurs in educating the college student without the benefit of a discipline, and the increase of 'interdisciplinary studies'.
Academic disciplines have a long pedigree. Some of the disciplines go back for two millennia, when Aristotle taught his class in physics, and then his class �after physics� on philosophical principles�the Metaphysics. The Trivium and the Quadrivium coalesced in the Middle Ages. The Trivium consists of logic, rhetoric and grammar; the Quadrivium of arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy. These are still pretty good checklists for a good education. You will occasionally find them in private schools or as the organizing scheme in home schooling curricula. The results are usually SAT scores between 1300 and 1500.

The organization of the disciplines has refined over the centuries. Although the disciplines may be criticized for too narrow a focus for the �real� world, they, in fact, provide these subject building blocks precisely to insure that students are equipped for the real world. Otherwise, it is �hit or miss.�

So, in abandoning the "disciplines" and giving students "what they really need to know" we are discarding a proven method of organization--admittedly arbitrary, imperfect, Western, "logo-centric," "traditional" etc.--in favor of a new scheme of organization that is arbitrary, unproven, and may vary according to the personalities and prejudices of those involved.

One of the movements to discard the disciplines is sometimes�ironically�what is called �interdisciplinary studies.� If one means by �interdisciplinary studies� the opportunity to approach a subject of study, say the Renaissance, by coordinating studies from history, art, music and philosophy, then such an approach is unobjectionable. ...

But something more is going on in the attempt to reorganize the curriculum. The first clue should be the habitual denigration of traditional disciplines and subject matter, which is often branded �isolated� and �self-contained.� The disciplines, it is said, have performed a �major disservice� by �dividing problems in little pieces.� Such self-serving �compartmentalization,� it is said, has exacted a heavy price on society by frustrating human progress.

Removing the disciplines, however, also removes accountability. Who is minding the store? We may not like the standards applied but at least we know whom to blame.

But how do we assess the merit of a recent interdisciplinary program "Sex and Sexuality in Contemporary Hip Hop�? Who are the experts? Howard Stern? 2Pac? And from which department is assessment made? Music? Philosophy? Dance?

Once conventional oversight is removed, mischief may arise...
As Thomas Sowell once observed, many such courses become "rap sessions" but that it depends on how it is taught. For example, he points out that one did excellent studies of black Americans, but as a historian or a sociologist or an economist. Lucky for most of us, the rap session artists put their syllabi on line; one must judge the weight and seriousness of the reading list before knowing whether or not the course has real intellectual content.
The point of all this is that the label "interdisciplinary" covers such a wide range of possibilities as to be almost meaningless. Where it is literally true-where the intellectual principles of two or more fields are used in combination-there are likely to be very difficult and demanding courses, like physical chemistry or econometrics. But the term is seldom used in this sense by those advocating "interdisciplinary" studies. All too often, so-called "interdisciplinary" courses and programs represent an abandonment of any discipline, substituting enthusiasm for some subject or for some ideologically preconceived conclusions about that subject. It is these kinds of "interdisciplinary" courses which lend themselves to becoming rap sessions among the true believers. A third possibility-a program which simply includes courses drawn from a variety of specific disciplines-can more readily escape this fate, but that program does not itself constitute a discipline, and a degree in such a program would indicate little or nothing about the student's mastery of some intellectual process.

That was CLOSE! 

Small changes in projected revenues and expenditures leave the FY 2008-09 budget outlook almost unchanged according to the forecast released today by Minnesota's Department of Finance.

The balance projected for the state's general fund at the end of this fiscal year has fallen by $25 million from November's estimate. A very small ($18 million) improvement in FY 2008-09 offsets part of that loss leaving the projected budget balance for FY 2008-09 at $2.163 billion-just $7 million below the level forecast in November. The projected change is an historic low.
From the official release. That means the DFL will not be able to rely on the forecast to duck the tax cut question. Expect more inflation talk.

UPDATE: Gary calls it "extremely accurate". The StarTribune calls it so-so. I was privy to a conversation about the forecast from those who knew the numbers late last week, and the person said "people will be amazed" how close they were. In essence, the February forecast is a report on how accurate the November forecast is based on up-to-date numbers, and there has been very little over the last three months that has changed economic assumptions ... and I don't think yesterday's stock market sell-off changes that one bit. The only way that might do anything is to increase selling of stocks in the short run, and that might have the perverse short-term effect of accelerating capital gains tax revenues into the next biennium. But I sincerely doubt that will show up. Markets have grown more accustomed to volatility.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Stalking bills 

You can vote for silly bills to your right. But Michael -- NOT an objective blogger -- has uncovered a Duluth News Tribune article in which a Minnesota legislator admits he is not serious about a bill. The story tells of a man who built two additions to his property against the regulations of the county zoning ordinance. When he was told he had violated the ordinance, he asked for a waiver from the zoning board, which turned him down. The normal recourse for this is to file suit against the zoning board. But Rep. Tom Rukavina of Virginia authored HF495, which reads in full:
The St. Louis County Board of Adjustment shall issue a variance to any applicant who requests a variance from St. Louis County Zoning Ordinance 46, article IV, sections 3.01 and 3.03, if the property at issue is located in Government Lot 1, Section 35, Township 56, Range 17, and if the request for variance was previously denied at a meeting of the St. Louis County Board of Adjustment on December 19, 2006.
That's pretty particular to his childhood friend's property. Rukavina says now he was just trying to get their attention, but if so he did go so far as to get state Senator David Tomassoni to carry a companion bill in the Senate, and to sign up DFL House Representative David Dill as a co-author. (Dill had his name removed as a co-author last week.) That's a lot of work for a stalking horse.

I am no friend of zoning boards by and large. They tend to be used to exert power by some vested interests in a community over others and invite abuse. But the audacity of using the legislative process to threaten another governmental agency that rules against a friend is an amazing, brazen display of brutishness. This behavior will probably not be reported on again in Duluth or anywhere else, but it bears remembering when this bully comes before voters again.

Labels: ,

Veterans are cold 

The Veterans Committee for the National Baseball Hall of Fame failed to elect anyone to join Gwynn and Ripken. Ron Santo came up five votes short.

The former Cubs third baseman received the most votes on the players ballot with 57 (69.5 percent), followed by former pitcher Jim Kaat with 52 (63.4), former Dodgers first baseman Gil Hodges with 50 (61.0) and former Twins outfielder Tony Oliva with 47 (57.3), the only players to be named on at least half of the 82 of 84 ballots cast with 62 votes needed for 75 percent.

The committee, which is comprised of living Hall of Famers, Ford C. Frick Award winners for broadcasting and J.G. Taylor Spink Award winners for writing to total 84 voters, has not elected anyone since the current process went into effect in 2003. This was the third players ballot, which is voted on every other year, and the second composite ballot of executives, managers and umpires, which is voted on every four years.

Though some speculated that this would be the year Marvin Miller, who was instrumental in forming the players union, would be elected, he came up short as well. For those guys, it's four years before another election occurs. Miller and Santo belong in, as does Joe Torre for his playing days as a catcher (a .297 lifetime hitter with 252 HRs) more than his managing. I think it's more a screwed up system -- nobody's been elected by the VC since they changed the rules in 2003 -- than any attempt to hold up these players and Miller.

For my many Twins fan readers -- yeah, Oliva probably should be in, but not before Santo and Torre.

Noncompetitive utilities 

My SCBA buddy Leo asks for help on his Xcel Energy bill. The gas and electric utility in Minnesota is asking for the ability to "decouple" demand and rates so that the utility could continue to earn adequate revenues. Leo writes,
For years now, Xcel energy has been harping on its customers to buy more energy efficient appliances, better insulate our homes, turn down thermostats, all in the name of not only saving energy, but of saving money. So we buy their line. We buy more efficient appliances. We insulate our homes and buy expensive energy-efficient windows. We do a helluva job conserving energy to the point where their natural gas sales are down, and their revenue is decreased. So they're going to reward their customers for helping them, by inflating the rates that they charge for using less gas?

Correct me if I'm wrong, but if demand for a product goes down, shouldn't prices go down along with demand? Not only that, but if they're selling and producing less product, wouldn't their overhead to extract and transport same decrease, as well? One would think that the next step in the progression would be to lay off workers that aren't needed due to the decrease in demand.
That would be true of a competitive firm, but Xcel is a regulated monopoly supplier of gas and electricity. It has been a leader in encouraging people to conserve energy, but that's not the model under which Xcel (or NSP, its predecessor) were built.

Those utilities were encouraged to expand energy production. An unregulated monopolist makes money by lowering the amount of goods and services it provides and thus pushing up the price of its product (for instance, newer sports facilities often have fewer seats than those they replace.) That is what maximizes profits -- lower quantity, higher prices. Regulators hold prices down and encourage the monopolist to provide more. But because of environmental concerns, we've pushed energy distributors in the opposite direction.

In return for submitting to regulation, energy producers are guaranteed that the physical plant they build will receive a normal rate of return. Again, when the goal was to get them to produce more energy, we would do this by permitting some small passthrough of the costs of construction to rates. But not too much, because we want access to electricity and heat for all. But now because of conservation measures the access problem can be solved with less physical plant than was there before. "So shut the inefficient, dirty producing facilities down!" you might say. But the regulator promised them a fair return on the investment, and that may mean the old plant has to stay open longer.

The way to handle this problem, says the industry, is to allow the industry to target a smooth revenue stream to pay for those plants so that, when demand falls, they can increase prices back towards the profit-maximizing rate. The regulator would only agree to this if the utility could be brought back to the regulated rate when demand rises (so that they don't make too much.) Thus the proposal Leo reads Xcel to offer.

Labels: ,

Rote learning and critical thinking 

Joanne Jacobs notes a Latino-majority high school in LA that has had declining membership in its Junior ROTC program, leading some teachers to question its place in the program.
Teacher Gillian Russom said (color guard drill) training instills the wrong values: following orders, dressing the same and relying on rote memorization rather than critical thinking. �That�s necessary for a successful military, but does it create the kind of citizens we want?�
I think in fact it does, and not just because 40% of JROTC graduates go on to the military (though that seems a good thing.) I teach economics, which is a difficult subject for new college students because it isn't really amenable to rote memorization. (Not that most liberals like economics.) But there are things where memorization helps so much. For example, learning one's lines in a play or musical requires the ability to memorize large chunks of text or verse or music or dance steps. True, there's creativity involved in the acting and singing or playing of the notes, but anyone who's ever done any of these activities knows you have to have the material down; there's a date when you're off-script.

I notice at my daughter's (Lutheran) school that students get "memory work" that usually involves Bible passages. Someone who memorizes the Bible doesn't necessarily have the ability to think critically about religion -- Littlest's understanding is still very much a law-bound, gospel-deficient view -- but there's certainly something to be said for knowing the Apostle's Creed by heart (which we turned into a game long ago by forcing ourselves to look at each other and recite it; first one to flinch or look at the bulletin loses.) Memorizing Bible verses has value for much more than just learning one's faith. It's the creation of a culture in which creative thinking can thrive.

None of this is to belittle critical thinking. But the ability to create a certain sound or act or atmosphere by doing the same thing in the same way does have value; being in a new place or a place where you lack awareness of something valuable gives way to a memory of that which you had forgotten, and all of a sudden things around you take on new meaning and greater value. People who denigrate memorization are condemning those who learn critical thinking to do so without some key material needed to have a flash of insight. Memorization and creative thinking are complements, not substitutes.


Weather - Again 

Last night I was talking to a friend who had spent time in Texas during our below zero cold snap. He was listening to the news on a local Texan station. The weather gal commented, "And in MN, for the first time in over a week, the temperature will get above freezing." What she meant was the temperature would get above zero!

So much for "journalistic" and public education these days.

Monday, February 26, 2007


As with most Minnesotans, I'm used to snow. In fact, when we don't get much of the stuff, it's almost sad. I mean, why live "up north" if you can't appreciate the winter beauty?

Last Friday (2/23) we were told to expect the "storm of the century". The hype continued - stock up, stay home, it will be terrible. How many of those fear-mongering people actually live where it snows?

Today we need less hype and more recognition of what we can do. We who live in north country know how to handle snow. We know how to move it. We know when to stay indoors because the temperature may get too low. We don't need to be told to panic as if we're six-year-olds in a real crisis. Snow is snow. We can and do get a lot of it. What we don't need is the emotional drivel spouted by faces in the mainstream media predicting the "storm of the century" with 93 years to go.

Depends what you mean by 'recession' 

Not to split hairs, but I'm a little puzzled by this comment from Alan Greenspan.
Former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan warned Monday that the American economy might slip into recession by year's end.

He said the U.S. economy has been expanding since 2001 and that there are signs the current economic cycle is coming to an end.

"When you get this far away from a recession invariably forces build up for the next recession, and indeed we are beginning to see that sign," Greenspan said via satellite link to a business conference in Hong Kong. "For example in the U.S., profit margins ... have begun to stabilize, which is an early sign we are in the later stages of a cycle."

"While, yes, it is possible we can get a recession in the latter months of 2007, most forecasters are not making that judgment and indeed are projecting forward into 2008 ... with some slowdown," he said.

The AP slugs this article "Greenspan warns of recession" but then he says it is only "possible ... in the latter months of 2007" and that indeed forecasters "are projecting forward into 2008 ... with some slowdown." So is there a recession coming?

I don't think so. As I said at the Economic Outlook last Thursday, the area economy is slowing down, and I think that word also applies to the national economy. The NABE survey released today shows that the five most pessimistic forecasters in the survey of 47 professionals had a projected real GDP growth of 1.8% for 2007 and 2.4% for 2008. Nobody has GDP growth under 1%. Now those rates would be enough to hold down employment growth to less than 100k/month and increase the unemployment rate to 5% from an average of 4.6% in 2006 (the forecasters guessed productivity growth to be 2%). But is that really a recession?

Greenspan noted that the budget deficit was still a concern, even though the size of the deficit fell below $250 billion last year. The NABE forecasters were more optimistic that the budget deficit would remain in the $200-225 range for the next two years, and that the trade deficit would improve significantly. Greenspan also points to the slowing of corporate profits, but this has been expected for at least a year by the NABE forecasters, who have not associated it with recession.

Gary Gross, who forwarded the Greenspan piece to me (thanks!) wondered if this contradicted the testimony Fed chair Ben Bernanke gave last week. I don't think so.

The central tendency of the FOMC participants' forecasts for the increase in real GDP is 2-1/2 percent to 3 percent over the four quarters of 2007 and 2-3/4 percent to 3 percent over the four quarters of 2008. The central tendency of their forecasts for the civilian unemployment rate is 4-1/2 percent to 4-3/4 percent in the fourth quarter both of this year and of 2008.

...The economy is projected to expand at a moderate rate. Although the cooling of the housing market continues to damp economic activity, the drag on economic growth from declining construction activity is expected to diminish later this year. Household spending for goods and services should rise at a solid pace, in part as a result of ongoing gains in real wages and employment and of generally strong household balance sheets. Business outlays for new equipment and software are expected to increase at a rate consistent with a moderate expansion in business output and to be supported by continuing declines in the user cost of high-technology capital equipment and by favorable financial conditions. In addition, the solid expansion of economic activity abroad should maintain the rising demand for U.S. exports of goods and services.
In his forecast Bernanke pointed to housing market as the main downside risk to the GDP projection.


Gag reflex 

I've disagreed sharply a couple of times with SC Times editor Randy Krebs, so it's only fair I highlight him when we agree. And I could not agree more with yesterday's column.

Since becoming Opinion Page editor about seven years ago, every legislative session I've followed has had at least one (but usually many more) "gag me" moments.

Thanks to the Senate and especially Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller, that streak remains alive.

My first "gag me" moment of the 2007 session came this week in following how senators handled their absurd effort to increase their pay without increasing their salary. In case you missed it, the full Senate voted Wednesday to approve raising their daily expense allowance from $66 to $96.

That means during this 140-day session they now can collect up to $13,440 for daily expenses. And they aren't even required to provide receipts!

Now, you might think that's what tripped my Gag-o-meter. Not really. You see, back in January, after the Senate Rules Committee approved this plan, I helped craft a Times Our View noting the ridiculousness of the matter. That editorial appeased my personal beliefs and kept me from gagging.

But Wednesday's full Senate vote was more than I could take.

How come?

Because the proposal that was presented required senators who voted against the raise to fill out paperwork to get their expenses covered at less than the $96-a-day rate.

In other words, if you voted against the raise you were literally being punished financially for having a different opinion.

Gag me!

Sen. Tom Neuville of Northfield, obviously more of a diplomat than myself, called such a requirement "disrespectful." I call it stupid, asinine, immature. Wait, where's my thesaurus?

Here's a thesaurus set to the synonyms for asinine. I would have preferred 'boorish', but it's a matter of taste.

I've had people ask me what we can do about this. That's the whole point of the exercise by Pogemiller and the DFL Senate leadership -- you can't do anything. The accountability comes at the ballot box, leading one "unnamed" senator to say we won't remember because you don't vote for another three and a half years on the MN Senate. But a petition will do something; special elections can help if a senator should retire early or, say, run for higher office next year. Eventually, Larry Pogemiller is becoming an advertisement for initiative-and-referendum, because only then might the accountability show up.

UPDATE: I've been trying to come up with a nickname for Pogo that would reflect this boorishness, but apparently Craig has beaten me again. So since imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, meet Tiny Tarryl:

"Please, sir, $30 more?"

Labels: ,

So how was New Ulm, King? 

It was New Ulm. Littlest's basketball team have three qualities: They are young, short, and not good outside shooters. As you can guess, they thus lost in rather convincing fashion. The weather going home wasn't too bad -- a friend of mine described his experience once with a Lincoln Continental as "just some mild fishtailing", and I had one of those around Kimball -- but otherwise the drive wasn't anything an old New Hampshirite would view as difficult. And got home in time to watch two of my students star in the sweep of the Gophers. Go Michigan Tech!


We're running off the two bills that have won the last two weeks of the "most silly bill introduced by the DFL in the MN House" contest. The poll sits at the top of the right index. Please vote for either the Sex Ed for Kindergartners Act or the Freedom to Use Anyone's Toilet Act. Links to the bill language are provided within the poll.

Lest you think these are nothing bills going nowhere, read Rep. Steve Gottwalt's comments from Friday.
We tried! I went after Rep. Laine strong & true on how invasive and instrusive is HF595. But it passed the committee on a party line voice vote. In case anyone out there thinks majority is unimportant -- GUESS AGAIN!!! We're hopelessly outnumbered on these committees, and on the House floor. For those who thought they elected a new moderate, bipartisan majority -- GUESS AGAIN!!! The DFL, particularly the 35 new DFL freshmen, are as partisan as ever. No one's straying from the caucus line. So much for bipartisanship! If you want common sense government, you'd better switch the majority next time around!
I am waiting to see if HF 1015 gets a committee hearing. That should be rich.

I have another list of silly bills, but as promised we'll have the runoff first. The hits keep rolling in!

Labels: ,

Friday, February 23, 2007

Last night for voting on silly bills 

I hope to take down tonight the Son of Silly Bills voting to the right. The restroom access bill is well ahead of all competitors, and if it holds up that bill will run off against sex ed for kindergartners. It should make for an exciting finale! Listen to Matt and Michael discuss the bill tomorrow on the Final Word at 3pm.

Labels: ,

Basketball and economics 

If you've felt like my offerings were a little light, you're right. I was preparing for the Economic Outlook here last night, and right now am between sessions at the Winter Institute. As soon as this is done I'm to get in the Touareg and whisk Littlest to a basketball tournament this weekend in New Ulm. Of course, the weather won't hold -- how is it that Dairy Queen opens on the weekend with the biggest storm of the year? -- so I'm looking at an extended visit in New Ulm. Oy.

That means tomorrow you get the Final Word from Michael and our producer Matt, 3-5pm on AM 1280 the Patriot. If I find a connection in New Ulm I'll listen and post, otherwise I'll be back Monday (if the storm isn't too bad!)

Labels: , ,

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Meet the new boss 

Five candidates for president of the university are coming to St. Cloud State. They get a two-day interview, using a common schedule. Noted entry:
...DAY TWO: ...
11 a.m.-noon: Focused forum on campus diversity, followed by Q&A. (Open to the public), Garvey Commons Peach Room.
You will notice the watermark on our campus home page that the logo we use on stationery is the cupola on Riverview with the slogan on the bottom "excellence and opportunity." Granting that diversity means opportunity -- I'll stipulate the point to avoid that argument -- exactly at what point do we have a focused forum on excellence?

The schedule tells candidates what we're about; is this any way to sell the university's franchise?

Labels: ,

Stupid bills see light of day 

At least one. From last week's list, HF 595 is on the schedule for the House Health and Human Services committee at 2:15pm this afternoon. Perhaps because it only got 29 votes for silliest bill introduced in the first round, they think this stuff can pass? This is a truly objectionable intrusion into families and hopefully the Republicans on this committee, including St. Cloud's Steve Gottwalt, can dispense with this silliness in short order and get back to the budget, which is what they are supposed to be doing this year. Or fixing health care ... oh, wait, they ain't doing that now.

I should note that Larry Schumacher has followed the path and is running bills of the day on his blog. Today's features the nanny state altering the relative price of healthy and unhealthy snacks sold in vending machines. I feel a donut coming on...

Labels: ,

Classic Pogo 

Only in the perverted world of Larry Pogemiller can voting against a per diem tax increase be seen as something that should be punished.

By a 59-7 vote, the Senate ratified a $96 daily expense rate that members began collecting more than six weeks ago. In a first-of-its-kind twist, the naysayers will be required to file paperwork requesting an expense allowance instead of getting their money automatically.

Aside from the increase itself � the rate had been $66 a day since 2001 � Republicans complained loudly that a resolution approving the boost was demeaning to opponents.

Sen. Tom Neuville of Northfield said the decision to make dissenters clear extra hurdles struck him as "an implied punishment for having the audacity to disagree."

Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, said it comes down to transparency.

"That just says you can't vote no and take the dough," he said.

Having filled out paperwork for expenses for many years here at SCSU, I can tell you the receipts thing is a deal. My professional travel has a per diem (currently $34 I think) for which I never need to turn in a receipt. So I don't put the Panera charge for $3.17 for a coffee and bagel with a shmear in my wallet, nor the soup lunch. And for many of these people, they can either go home or to a state-provided apartment or hotel and fix their own meals. But Pogemiller chose not the easier route of telling the Frugal Seven to return what they don't use but to harass them with paperwork because they were compelled to vote again on the pay increase.

Leo reminds us that politicians don't think the voters will remember a pay raise increase. I think the receipts list of the Frugal Seven might help jog some memories.
St. Cloud Times: Senator Clark, can you show receipts of your expenditures for meals incurred while you were in St. Paul on official business?
Sen. Clark: No, I don't have those.
St. Cloud Times: Why not?
Sen. Clark: I wasn't required to because I didn't vote against the per diem increase.
Like THAT interview will ever happen!

Labels: ,

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

It's true for us too 

Doc Palmer makes the point that human capital is also quicksilver.
In the increasingly global economy, or even with increased mobility within Canada, it is not at all clear to me that Canada, especially Eastern Canada, has or should try to develop, a comparative advantage in the production of graduate education. Instead, we should ship our good undergraduate students to the U.S. and elsewhere ..., let the taxpayers of those jurisdictions foot the majority of the bill for the education, and then hire all the people we want (not need!) from those places.
So who has a comparative advantage in producing graduate education? Maybe it's places that experience increasing returns to innovation. But that would mean that there's path dependency -- if Minnesota or Ontario or wherever is lucky enough to get a glop of really bright people at a university, we should continue to fund them because they can attract additional smarties at lower cost than a new university elsewhere. And once you let the pool of talent run out, it's more expensive to rebuild.

Not unlike the Kevin Garnett argument.

Labels: ,

Non monkey non sequitur 

Dear Nick,

{cue the music}

It appears you are confused again.

After tonight, the University of Illinois will still be the Fighting Illini, and the University of North Dakota will still be the Fighting Sioux.

After tonight, Illinois will not have an Indian mascot; neither will UND, as it's not had one for thirty years.

Of course, such fine distinctions make no difference to you, do they?

Or to put it another way -- if UND were to change its nickname to the Fighting Dakotas, would you still love calling Ralph Englestad a Nazi memorabilia collector?

I thought so.

A member of the right-wing daisy chain

P.S. At least you're more entertaining than this dreadful crep.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Preemptive White Flagger 

It is one thing to raise a white flag when you lose, it's another to raise it before you even try.

Too many in our Congress have chosen the latter. Why? Power? Control? Crazy? Who knows but let's recall history. The Islamicists have been attacking us "over there" for more than 30 years. Because we did nothing, because we "white flagged", they increased the intensity of their attacks. Culmination - 9/11.

Difference in 2001? We had a leader with the courage to go after them and we did. However, the "white flag" press made it almost impossible for the average American to realize that we can win this war. Those differing with our President demanded more troops, demanded a change in plan, demanded a change in general. They got all. No negative votes were cast when General Petraeus outlined his plan. Then the truth became obvious. Dems and few Reps were not in favor of victory, they wanted defeat. Now they discuss "non-binding" resolutions with Jack "cut and run" Murtha who plans to do everything he can to make life difficult for our soldiers.

White flaggers' actions only protect cowardly "leaders." Witness cleric al-Sadr and his gang leaving Baghdad before our troops even arrived! How come these so-called religious and military leaders of these mid-east nations want OTHER families to "sacrifice" their kids in murder and mayhem but none of them offer up their kids for murder and mayhem?

Their convoluted way of thinking should be reason enough to give the Iraqis every chance possible. Yes, they have to take on the work load and clear their ranks of subversives. But when a representative government demands "A" from its leaders, gets it, then turns on the leader, it bodes ill for everyone, even the politicians.

Totalitarian bullies such as those in the Middle East (and other places) exist only as long as decent people ignore the bullies. Once decent people start standing up for decency, most bullies will cut and run, just as al-Sadr did.

I'll end with this quote from a Kurd to 2LT Mark Daily
who asked a Kurdish man whether the insurgents could be viewed as freedom fighters. The Kurd cut him off. "The difference between insurgents and American soldiers," Daily said the man told him, "is that they get paid to take life � to murder � and you get paid to save lives."

A reasonable bill 

As someone who teaches sports economics, one of my favorite early stories are about ticket scalping. (My favorite is the purchase of a $75 seat cushion in front of Fenway, onto which two field box tickets were taped, because scalping in Massachusetts was illegal.) It has been that way in Minnesota for 44 years, though you can't tell that as you walk towards the Metrodome for a Twins or Vikings game, or when you visit eBay. So now comes a bill to legalize ticket reselling, and it's passed the Minnesota Senate.

Mitch gives it a 'C'. I figure any movement that gets government out of the market regulation business deserves a superior grade.

To give credit where it's due, Phyllis Kahn has added her name as a co-author to the House version of the bill.

(h/t: Phil Miller, who beat me to this one.)

Labels: , , ,

Quote of the day 

From Marty:
Minnesota is not a purple state. Minnesota has gone deep blue. The stuff King and Mike have been digging up have me about ready to move to one of the Dakotas (the one with stuff).
Mitch will have to explain to me which one that is.

Ridiculous Laws 

After reading King's list of proposed laws, I'm reminded of the Y-2K problem for computers.

A refresher comment - when much of computer programming was done in the 1960's and 1970's, only two digits were used for the year designation. (1950 was 50, 1973 was 73, etc.) With 2000 was coming upon us (and there was no way to stop it), two digits caused a problem: did 01 mean 1901 or 2001? Just think of warranties, life insurance policies, etc. The dates in computer programs had to be reviewed and re-programmed where applicable.

All computer programs were evalauated, date changes were made where needed and those no longer needed were simply dropped.

This is a simplified rendition of what happened. Nevertheless, the garbage was tossed. Seems we could use that review approach regarding current and potential laws at the state legislature level.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Silly bills elsewhere 

In Arizona, someone tried to pass an amendment to regulate what goes on a truck's mudflap.
The state House on Thursday rejected a Democratic amendment that would have banned splash guards with images that are "obscene or hateful."

Tempe Democrat Ed Ableser sponsored the amendment. He said he'd seen a splash guard that used a derogatory term for black children and said he wanted to make sure that people with hateful motives didn't inflict them on others.

Democratic Rep. Theresa Ulmer of Yuma supported the amendment and said it fit with lawmakers' other efforts to crack down on pornography and sexual predators.

"I personally am tired of explaining to my 11-year-old son why they (women) are depicted on mudflaps , but not all women are 36Ds. He's very confused by that," Ulmer said. "But seriously, this is about family values -- what are we going to send out as a message to our children."

Republican Rep. Andy Biggs of Gilbert opposed the amendment. He said it probably violated First Amendment protections for free speech and that "hateful" isn't defined by law.
The original bill -- to regulate the height of mudflaps -- is now moved to the floor of the Arizona House.

Remember, you can vote for the second round of silly bills at the top of the right index on this page.

(h/t: Memeorandum)

Ode to the White Flaggers 

Oh, Hail to thee, the white flag crowd!
You protect your backsides by saying aloud,
"We support our troops - it's their boss we hate,"
While you play politics with our nation's fate.

Most donkeys in Congress (a few elephants, too),
Are playing ostrich in our Capitol zoo.
A question to consider, you political types,
What happens when you hide behind anti-US-military hype?

From my foreign students, it's constantly clear
That we enjoy freedoms missing far and near.
Millions of immigrants come to our shores,
And wanting to come are many millions more.

White flaggers, unlike our military so strong and aware,
You refuse to acknowldege the dangers "out there."

You avoid drumming up any courage or mettle
To address an enemy that has declared that its battle
Is to bury each one of us and all we hold dear,
Because they hate free thought and truth so clear.

They are frightened they'll be caught in the web of their lies
So they blame us and raise their children to murder and die.

Yes, freedom takes time and its concepts need to be taught
This freedom for so many decades our ancdstors fought.

Yet watching you "leaders," one concludes you won't see
The horrific terror your actions unleash on humanity.
By refusing to really support our troops far away,
You risk a more dangerous world day by day.

You blindly deny that your safety depends
On our military being able to achieve its ends.
Instead of honoring the fortitude and strength of our best
You hide your true plan of anti-US-military quest.

So when you white flaggers sleep safely each night
Remember, it's our military that guards you with might.
And if, God forbid, our enemies strike you,
It will be far too late to retract what you do.

Welcome StarTribune readers! 

Thought I'd never say that, but after Katherine Kersten's column in the morning paper, I am thinking a few readers will visit. So this post will be sticky to the top for Monday morning. New poll will be up in a few minutes if you'd like to take part in round 2. Results of the first poll are here; the winner from that and from this one will runoff next week, unless there are more silly bills forthcoming (and why wouldn't there be?)

Our thanks to our friends in the Minnesota House for giving us a neverending supply of loony legislation. Special tip of the cap to Phyllis Kahn, who continues to provide a rich vein for silly bill-mining. Couldn't have done it without you!

Labels: ,

Illinois bows to its NCAA master 

One of the last holdouts against NCAA aggression has raised its own white flag. Wednesday will be the last appearance of Chief Illiniwek.
The decision follows two decades of votes, studies and committee meetings aimed at easing campus division over the mascot, which some American Indians and others view as an insult and some alumni and students see as a cherished tradition.

The NCAA ended up forcing the university's hand.

Friday's decision ends NCAA sanctions that had prevented Illinois from hosting postseason sports since 2005.

Illinois still will be able to use the name Illini because it's short for Illinois and the school can use the term Fighting Illini, because it's a reference to the team's competitive spirit, school officials said.
The University of North Dakota will fight on.
North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem says the decision by the University of Illinois to retire its American Indian mascot Chief Illiniwek will not affect the University of North Dakota's legal case against the NCAA.

UND is trying to retain postseason use of its "Fighting Sioux" nickname and logo, which the NCAA has deemed offensive.

"UND doesn't have a mascot like Illinois has," Stenehjem said. "[Illinois'] decision not to use this chief is a decision UND made a long time ago in deciding not to have any mascot. So they're putting themselves in the same position we're in now."

So if they changed their name to "Fighting (North) Dakotans"...

Labels: ,

Further denials of Banaian's Second Constant 

US students don't riot like their counterparts overseas, but they share the penchant for ignoring budget constraints.
Kara Brockett, a junior at Southwest State University, has piled up $25,000 in college debt. She works four jobs during the year and her parents help out a little when they can, but the fact remains: When she graduates and starts looking for work, she will have to find a job that feeds her debt rather than her ambition.

"It's difficult to get into nonprofit work when your loan payments are as big as your rent," said Brockett, of Omaha.

She's not alone. D.J. Danielson, of Savage, has piled up $21,000 in debt as a Winona State University student. Rick Howden, a Winona State senior, will graduate this year with $48,000 in loans to pay back.

And they all are worried.

"I now have to find a job that will help me pay that off rather than do something I really want to do," said Howden, of Cannon Falls.

Howden, Brockett and Danielson were among several hundred Minnesota State College and University (MnSCU) students who gathered Wednesday, despite the cold, in front of the State Capitol to protest college costs that seem to rise ever higher and are forcing them deeper and deeper into debt. They were encouraged by several legislators from both parties, who pledged to do what they could to rein in college costs this year.

Of course, one reason why you see "several hundred MnSCU students" is because we get notes telling us to let our student go on buses (paid for by student taxes activity fees) to these events. This announcement was sent from our university's media relations office to the campus announcement list:

SCSU Student Government will provide transportation to Rally Day at the state capitol on Wednesday, Feb. 14. Departure time is 9:30 in front of Atwood Memorial Center for the march at 11:30. The student group is supporting the rally in partnership with the Minnesota State College Student Association in an effort to deliver the message that higher education funding is important. Student Government notes that more than half of all SCSU 2005 graduates had debt, an average of $20,431.

The education of a university student consumes scarce resources. It is a question of who pays: the student? her or his parents? a third private party? taxpayers? In very few cases do taxpayers pay zero (Hillsdale comes to mind as an exception that proves the rule.) The question is over the right balance; the students are lobbying for a shifting of costs. The MSCSA is using money appropriated to it through a state university checkoff on a student's tuition bill to lobby taxpayers to pay a larger share. Changing the funding formula doesn't change the cost. But it changes the demand for education if third parties pay more (just as health insurance does.) So MSCSA is lobbying to get more students as well, and more tuition checkoff revenue. And pushing up that demand benefits the university through larger transfers in the future, since our funding is driven by student body size (roughly; you really don't want to know all the details.)

Students could save money better by taking more credits. Think about this: Suppose students take 12 hours per term and work 20 hours a week, earning $150 per week after taxes. Because of their credit-taking pattern, they must stay in school at least five years. The extra year in school costs them the lost increased income they earn post-graduation for one year. (The costs of living while in school the fifth year are not an opportunity cost, since you have to live that year anyway.) Suppose the student was working to get a $40,000/year job. You've lost $26,000 in income four years from now by working 20 hours and taking 12 credits rather than working zero hours and taking 15 credits, and borrowing the extra $21,600 you would have earned working for 36 weeks at $150/wk. At what interest rate does that come out a good deal for you to borrow your living expenses?

Instead they pay money to student government and hold signs in front of the legislature, complaining that their "job ... feeds [their] debt rather than [their] ambition." So the government is supposed to subsidize you to take a career path that doesn't pay for itself? Which would that be? Let me guess.

ADDENDUM: Loyal reader jw sends me this note about "crazy hours" at work. If one devotes more time to work and less to leisure, it must be the case that the perceived return to work is greater. It may be that the perception arises from the increased differential in pay as one rises in the company. That is, a higher differential for CEO/CFO/CIO pay over line managers may induce the latter to work more, to win the tournament for those jobs.

Labels: ,

Saturday, February 17, 2007

And we have a winner 

The victor of our first wave of ridiculous bills is HF 615, the sex education act which includes the possibility of sex ed for kindergartens. The rundown of the vote:
Total votes: 209.

If you want to see details on any bill, go to the House legislative site and put in the bill number in the left as hfnnn (with nnn the number of the bill.) The winner is linked as an example.

We expect to have a second poll later starting Monday, and then a runoff between HF615 and the second winner. Minnesota Democrats Exposed is already leading us to one strong contender.

Tune into the Northern Alliance Radio Network's Final Word at 3pm CT today for more, plus a return visit from U.S. Representative Michele Bachmann. Streaming here (Mitch and Ed are on right now!) and see if you can help us select which bills go on the list. Drew Emmer will be assisting us after 4pm.

Labels: ,

Friday, February 16, 2007

Last day of polling for this week TODAY 

{sticky for the day} If you haven't voted yet today you may vote in the poll on the right for the most ridiculous bill introduced by a DFL House member. This poll comes down tomorrow; I have some contestants in place for a new poll next week, to challenge both the winner and first runner up. The lakeshore bottle bill and the sex education bill are running neck-and-neck as we speak.

Buttercup has voted; have you?

UPDATE: Welcome, readers of MDE and LFR. Voting only continues until the wee hours of morning, and then we have to crown a winner. The lucky DFLer who proposed the bill is invited to our show tomorrow.

Labels: ,

She's special 

And too modest to admit it.
Janet Beihoffer has made it her mission to let soldiers serving overseas know they are not forgotten.

The Lakeville part-time professor, wife and mother of grown children has turned a spare bedroom into a storage and �staging area� for preparing care packages she frequently sends to soldiers who get little or no mail � people she will probably never meet.

�I have a very strong reason to support out troops over there. I know a little bit of what they are up against,� Beihoffer said, referring to the horrific accounts of terror she hears from those students at Metro University who are refugees from other countries.

She is also motivated by what she said is the negative focus of media toward the war in Iraq.

�We only hear when we mess up, or if soldiers are hurt or killed. � There have been medals, but all we get is the negative. The soldiers have to know there is something positive from home,� Beihoffer said.

Her packages typically include lip balm, coated chocolate candies, wipes, batteries, liquid soap and sports drinks.
Yes, that's our Janet. She wouldn't post this, so I did.

When I knew I was hooked 

A student once asked "when did you know you wanted to be an economist?" It wasn't in college or even when I decided to go to graduate school (that was all about avoidance). It was in my second year in grad school when a faculty member handed me a copy of "Life Among the Econ" by Axel Leijonhufvud. It's now online; it is a satire of the economics profession that I find tremendously funny. If the following excerpt doesn't do it for you, don't click to read the rest of the article.
The following sketchy account of the �prospecting�-ceremony among the Macro brings out several of the riddles that currently perplex Econologists working in this area:
The elder grasps the LM with his left hand and the IS with his right and, holding the totem out in front of himself with elbows slightly bent, proceeds in a straight line-�gazing neither left nor right� in the words of their ritual-out over the chosen terrain. The grads of the village skip gaily around him at first, falling silent as the trek grows longer and more wearisome. On this occasion, it was long indeed and the terrain difficult ... the grads were strung out in a long, morose and bedraggled chain behind their leader who, sweat pearling his brow, face cast in grim determination, stumbled onward over the obstacles in his path... At long last, the totem vibrates, then oscillates more and more; finally, it points, quivering, straight down. The elder waits for the grads to gather round and then pronounces, with great solemnity: �Behold, the Truth and Power of the Macro.�
I'd tell you how we do forecasting, but then I'd have to kill you.


Selling your university franchise 

I had a chance meeting with someone who is serving on the committee for our university's search for a new president. Happy with the quality of the candidates the committee has reviewed (when isn't this the case?) he said "I hope people remember that a search is a two-way street. We're interviewing them, and they're interviewing us." He implied, of course, that we sometimes don't present ourselves very well in that process.

In today's Chronicle of Higher Education (subscriber's link) are comments by five people identified as targets of the search for the Harvard presidency, a position recently filled) on the reasons they might not take the job. One reason is that you are satisfied with your current job. Hanna Gray, former president of the University of Chicago, said
It is absolutely no reflection on an institution or on a person that the person makes the choice of remaining in a position where his or her investment and commitment are both satisfying and significant in their consequence.
Lawrence Bacow, president of Tufts, echoes that sentiment, saying that since Harvard will be a great institution regardless of who runs it (presumably because of its history and its faculty and its endowment), the marginal return to leadership may be greater elsewhere. That's true, but why is it that presidents would value the perceived marginal value of their product, rather than the prestige of the job they have? Analogous to this, would you rather become head coach of a moribund football team (say, the Arizona Cardinals), a disappointing football team (Dallas Cowboys), or a team with the best record in the NFL (San Diego Chargers)?

Of course, there's more to it than the prestige of the school or the football team's franchise. Thomas Cech, president of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, on why he reportedly had turned down a chance to interview for the Harvard job:
To really succeed in the job, to use an overused clich�, you have to make the whole more than the sum of the parts. Many of my friends on the faculty at Harvard currently say the whole is less than the sum.

There is a disconnect between some of the faculty who have a real commitment to reforming undergraduate education at Harvard [and others there]. A lot of bright lights want to make this happen, but somehow it hasn't been incorporated into the fabric of the institution; it hasn't become part of the culture there. ... It's not a Harvard-specific challenge. ... I would say that many institutions have recognized that a number of years ago and have started a culture change. At Harvard the improvements are still mostly in the future.
He didn't see it at Harvard. Do we see it here? The fellow I spoke with this morning said the search committee heard perceptions from the candidates they interviewed that whatever bad reputations we had in the past were largely gone, and that we were "a pretty good state university." I'd settle for pretty good, given where we were. But is there a commitment to reforming undergraduate education? Are we pretty good because we haven't had a lawsuit for a few years that made the newspapers, or was there a cultural change?

Labels: ,

Thursday, February 15, 2007

When you mix the state and education... can sometimes get strange results. For example, at the University of Missouri at Rolla, the student newspaper is threatening to sue the state for the university's proposal to cut the paper's funding as a First Amendment violation.

The idea for the cuts apparently originated amid complaints of an inordinate number of errors in the newspaper last fall. But the paper�s editor in chief said it was clear that the university did not like articles that had criticized it. It also didn�t like the paper�s sex column.

But the fact is that the newspaper�s budget, which like that of other student groups derives from student-activity fees, is initially determined by the Student Council. The university�s chancellor and governing board only endorsed the Student Council�s recommendation for cuts.

Can a paper demand the revenues of the state -- and in this case, of student activity fees at a state institution -- through the Constitution? The paper's position seems to create an incentive to criticize the school's administration, so that any subsequent budget cut can be cited as an attempt to silence dissent.

The paper's own report says that the reasons the student government cited for its closure were "grammatical errors, opinionated content and printing too many copies." The Student Law Press Center reports that the cuts were to be to student reporter salaries, but that they've diverted money from other places, including printing smaller papers. Does the law require holding the paper and all its employees forever harmless?


Not only ain't it broke... 

and not only does it not need fixin', ...

...we don't know how to fix it ...

... because we don't know how it runs.

Recommended reading.


Charming, that 

I have a student working on a senior project inspired by his own life. He made the choice to go to school without much savings, without parental support, and without wishing to take on scads of debt. Ergo, he works many hours. It's not unusual at SCSU for students to carry 4-5 classes and work 30-40 hours per week. But given Banaian's Second Constant* -- 168, which equals 24 times seven, into which all human activity must fit in a week -- tradeoffs between work and study occur, and thus there's a negative relationship between work and GPA. (Two colleagues of mine have a paper which shows for two Midwestern schools that an increase in parental cash, though, causes an increase in leisure consumption and lower grades. So don't give 'em lots of cash, Dad!

It appears you can fix this, however: Pro forma GPAs.

Now for a student, their GPA is basically the equivalent of a firm�s 4 year trailing cash flows. The number itself carries huge weight in job interviews, yet for decades students have reported GPA exactly as it appears on their transcript. While entirely accurate, this is a huge mistake. Job applicants are now realizing that adjusting their GPAs can give a more accurate misrepresentation of their performance and expected future production.

Why should an employer hire an average of you over the last four years, when what they should be interested is a real misrepresentation of what you could be now if not for certain events?
Sadly, I can imagine someone doing this. I have tried to write letters of recommendation for students like mine who maybe have a 2.9 GPA and a full-time job and are good kids. I don't know that it does any good when the person doing the phone screening tells the student that the firm accepts no one with less than a 3.0. And so you're encouraging this kind of behavior.

* -- the first is also known as a variation of Beckhap's Constant: Brains times Beauty times the square root of Emotional Stability equals a constant > 0. Advice for the lonely on the day after V-Day.


Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Not that I was ever voting for him anyway... 

...but not only is Tom Tancredo a losing candidate, this is the sort of thing that gives Republicans a bad name. It's not just China-bashing, which is bad enough. But the attempt to list almost every country in the xUSSR as not having a "nonmarket economy" and not listing any in the Middle East is utterly absurd. You cannot reform these countries by decreasing their ability to export to us. Reform comes by engaging those places. Tancredo's bill is one Pelosi could love...

Wisconsin goes in reverse 

The University of Wisconsin system has told its admissions officers that they may use race and income in decisions on who to admit to their schools to increase diversity.
The goal is to increase diversity among the system's 160,000 students, who are overwhelmingly white and increasingly well-off financially.

But Rep. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, and others have questioned whether the policy complies with a state law that bans race-based tests in admissions. In a statement Thursday, Nass said the regents were ignoring the law and the will of the people.

"The unaccountable Board of Regents has chosen a confrontation with the taxpayers of this state regarding its politically correct admissions policy,'' said Nass, who chairs the Assembly Colleges and Universities committee.
This will be a court fight at some point. I doubt this makes a big difference at the Madison campus, but it will have some impact at other campuses. Perhaps it's an attempt to pick up students who might be dissuaded from Michigan schools by Prop 2.

Labels: ,

We're still popular 

Economics continutes to be a lucrative degree for college students, says Money magazine. The survey for the first time separates economics and finance, and notes these starting salaries as "respectable":Graduates in marketing will see big increases in 2007 versus 2006, while the liberal arts majors are down 1.1% in the survey. (I do wish they would break out those majors in more detail.)

(h/t: Loyal reader jw)

Labels: ,

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Of course we're ALL sinners 

Reaction to the poll comes down to approximately two responses:
  1. Republicans sponsor pork too; and
  2. There are ways to mitigate the bill's impact, like plastic ketchup bottles.
The first defense is an example of the tu quoque fallacy. Because you can find Republicans who sponsor pork or goofy legislation doesn't invalidate the goofiness of the bills introduced by members of the DFL House Caucus. That is a red herring argument. I oppose pork, period. When comments run that one of the bills is sponsored by a Republican in the Senate while a DFLer in the House, it doesn't invalidate that a) it's goofy and b) a DFLer sponsored it. I haven't looked at the Senate's offerings yet; if Republicans propose these, they deserve criticism.

I'll even note another one for you: One of the lists circulating with weird DFL bills included this one from Larry Hosch (DFL-St. Joseph) ... and Sen. Michelle Fischbach (Rep. -- Paynesville). Larry Schumacher reports that they are sponsoring the bill to help a local manufacturer sell an $799 contraption that automatically dispenses bear bait. Is this a wacky bill? Some think so, but you can find dozens of such bills. Most such bills are like this: One noisy constituent wants to do something that the government has made illegal, often unintentionally. Rather than address the root cause -- the regulation of bait in hunting, which seems to be a cause celebre with animal rights people, and which reminds me of this joke -- you write some law that says that only for bear can one use reusable bait containers, and clean up after yerselves!

My libertarian tendencies lead me to find this entangling web threatening to our freedom, that eventually all activities will run afoul of some law and that we will all know that we could be arrested for something. But on the list of things leading us on the road to serfdom, a favor for a bear bait manufacturer-constituent is less offending, less ridiculous than a law prosecuting the Avon grocery store for not having a proper child restraint in its shopping carts, or the boater on Lake Shamineau who made the mistake of not buying the plastic ketchup bottle for his lunch.

Of course both parties do it; 'twas and ever shall be. Yet as Lew Rockwell -- a fellow far more libertarian than me -- puts it, the modern Democrats have really missed the point of liberalism:
They have never come to terms with the great insight of the old liberal revolution, which is that society is self managing over the long term. People can work out their problems. Human relationships are characterized most often as cooperative rather than antagonistic. People, not bureaucrats, know what is best for their own; and pursuing their self interest is compatible with, and even enhances, social well-being.

Such propositions are entirely rejected by most of the Democratic hopefuls. It's true too that Republicans have their own objections to the old liberal view, but we'll save these for another day. For now, suffice to say that party elites among the Democrats regard regular Americans as the problem and not the solution, so it is no surprise that they continue to have problems finding candidates for whom people are willing to vote. Think of it: They suppose all these awful things about the structure of the society in which we live and act, and then they ask us--the incompetent, pathological, unenlightened masses--to vote for them.

The heck of it is that the policies they promote end up bringing about conflict where none existed, and thus makes society reflect the very reality that they posit as their underlying theory. Their cure is the very disease that they sought to eradicate.

So sure, there are plastic ketchup bottles, but we are not trusted to make the choice of plastic ketchup bottles any more than we are trusted to choose cans for beer, or in general to care for beaches. We can't be trusted to look out for our children in shopping carts. We need to be told to pick up our reusable bear bait containers. I'd be tempted to call it the nanny state, but at least your nanny tucks you in bed at night, reads you a story and kisses your forehead good night. These knaves expect you to vote for them while they call you ungrateful for not wanting to pay more for their ensnaring laws.

Labels: ,

Jolly jokers 

You have to like the book title from which these top ten college pranks come. My favorite is Hugo N. Frye.


Email announcment of the day 

This was the subject line of an email broadcast to the campus 30 minutes ago.
[SCSU-announce] Honoring Vagina Warriors on V-Day
These warriors are those who sued the university in a gender equity claim many years ago. No word if cookies will be served.

Labels: ,

Monday, February 12, 2007

Our poll: Pick the MOST ridiculous DFL legislation introduced 

During Saturday's broadcast we announced that we would create a new poll that would determine the most ridiculous piece of legislation introduced by the DFL in the Minnesota Legislature in the last thirty days. We hope to be able to periodically refresh this poll with new legislation as it is introduced, to see if a new piece can knock off the defending champion. Bills that weren't chosen here -- and these are mostly my choice, with some input from Michael, and reading a couple of pieces like this from Drew Emmer -- may be proposed for a second poll if you think this doesn't represent the most egregious stuff. Herein your first poll; links go to the text of the legislation.

Pick the most ridiculous bill offered by the Minnesota DFL in this legislative session.
HF 522 No ketchup on your pontoon boat
HF 620 Seat belts for shopping carts
HF 595 The baby inspection bill
HF 615 Sex ed begins in kindergarten
HF 446 Protecting you from light pollution
HF 757 $500k for a regional community center in Upsala
Free polls from

The winner will be announced on next Saturday's NARN's The Final Word broadcast between 3-5pm. The author of this bill will be invited as a guest (though something tells me we will have some scheduling problems.)

Labels: ,

It's a dirty job, but somebody HAS to raise taxes 

That's the political advice being given by Lori Sturdevant of the DFLTribune. Calling such a move "courageous", she proceeds to give economic advice that raising taxes is not harmful to state economic growth. She calls first on a tax consumer:

Hearken to the words of University of Minnesota President Robert Bruininks last Tuesday. He was back in the classroom (that would be Room 5, State Office Building), doing a little teaching about the improbability of building a first-rate research university on third-rate state support.

State Rep. Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, asked a good question. If the university needs more than the Republican governor proposes to allocate, "Where would you like us to get the money?"

Bruininks cleared his throat, carefully allowed that he was about to venture his own opinion rather than an officially sanctioned view, and said: "If it means, long term, that we have to put more and more of the cost of higher education on the backs of students, if it means long term that we've got to experience this kind of [financial] roller-coaster ride we've had for the past four years, you can raise my taxes."

We don't need to raise your taxes, sir; you can write your check to the university any time you like. What you are advocating is raising other peoples' taxes. It might help if you could convince us that the money wouldn't be used for new sports stadia and expensive athletic coaches. You had no problem, for example, charging students an additional fee for the stadium you can't share with the Vikings.

So much for that Captain Courageous. Ms Sturdevant then pimps for Education Minne$ota:
It brought to the Capitol a consulting economist with an impressive pedigree, Richard Sims, to present research findings he has already shared with 30 other states in the last two years.
My emphasis. An impressive pedigree? What, is he being shown at the Westminster Kennel Club? Richard Sims runs the Sierra Institute of Applied Economics, a think tank in the impressive location of Carson City, Nevada. I've never heard of this institute, and I've driven through Carson City -- it has the state capitol and some casinos, and not much else. Now look, I live in St. Cloud so I'm not one to talk about where one lives, but that doesn't give anyone an impressive pedigree. A search on the internet for this guy turns up two things -- He spends a good deal of time working for the NEA to defeat taxpayers' bills of rights, and he's been hauling this dog-and-pony show around the Plains states for a few months now. Maybe his impressive pedigree is helping the Montana tax consumers defeat a TABOR initiative there last fall. At least, that might be impressive to Lori Sturdevant.
Among them:

� States with the most robust economic growth also take a bigger tax bite, on average, than do slow-growth states.

He does this with a couple of slides that show the top ten states in economic growth on average have higher tax rates than the bottom ten states. What he does NOT do is show any causation from one to the other. The literature in economics on this is vast; I think the general wisdom one derives from it is that in the long run the effect is negative. Sims' analysis is not a dynamic, longitudinal study, but one which takes an average of rates over a relatively short period of time.

� Increases in education spending produce greater economic gain for a state than would a comparable reduction in corporate income taxes (this based on an Oregon study).
The one Oregon study I know, by Bania, Gray and Stone, increased spending in areas like education may have a positive influence on growth, but only in the short run. In the long run, there is no net effect. Moreover, states with increasing taxes don't necessarily invest in the productive areas; they may give away, say, half a million for regional community centers for towns with under 500 people.

What readers of Sturdevant's article will not learn is that the type of study being quoted requires a ceteris paribus adjustment. All other things equal, if you shift a dollar of spending from a nonproductive use to a productive one you will get greater growth. If you shift a dollar of taxes away from corporate taxation to, say, personal income taxes or property taxes, you will get a relatively small change in growth. Those are very reasonable things to say, and more to the point they are verifiable. But, they do not mean that you can get a positive effect on growth from taking a dollar of private spending and moving it to the government to spend on a productive activity. You cannot know what the private dollar was used for.

� Relatively high business taxes, "as long as they are not outlandishly out of line with other states," tend not to be harmful to economic growth.

"It's not that high state taxes are good for growth," Sims said. "It's that the relatively high level of services that are associated with relatively high taxes seems to attract growth, rather than repel it." Among the services state governments provide, the top three in importance for economic growth are "education, education, education," he added.

But again this misunderstands the nature of the research. If you have two states with the same tax rates, the one with more education services grows faster. That's absolutely true; it's an increase in human capital (though it doesn't say anything about whether the investment in human capital might be more efficiently done by private schools. That argument is for another day.) And, since the effect of increased spending on services will kick in before the negative effect on taxes, you can get a short-run spur to growth perhaps. I think it's theoretically possible, though not very likely. But the long run effects are that a) the positive effects of higher spending fall to zero and b) the negative effects of higher taxes are persistent and cumulative.

If Sturdevant actually believed all this stuff, she wouldn't have resorted to her last analysis that 2008 is a year in which the DFL can get away with it. Behold her cynicism:
DFLers are going to be accused of being "tax-and-spend liberals" no matter how they govern. That's been the GOP campaign mantra for 50 years. Why not be able to counter the charge by pointing to the good that some visible new spending will do for the state?

Given who sits in the governor's office, if DFLers pass a budget that contains a tax increase, they'll likely wind up pointing to the good they would have done, but for a veto they couldn't override. That might not be bad politics, either.

Because they'll point to the good, and not the bad. That's what politicians do. And the DFL has the easier sell -- it's easier to sell short-run benefits than it is long-run costs. That will be a test of Governor Pawlenty's leadership. I hope he's up to the task.

Labels: , ,

The Yecke stratagem 

I missed this last week.
The Job Opportunity Building Zones program may face extinction this session from the efforts of its own author, Sen. Thomas Bakk, DFL-Cook, and the Senate Tax Committee that Bakk chairs. The committee expressed brewing concerns and some bipartisan disappointment with the program last week.

Dan McElroy, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, will face questions from committee member DFL Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller of Minneapolis and the full committee about the JobZ program his department oversees. McElroy�s confirmation, which has already passed the Business Industry and Jobs Committee, was pulled from the Senate floor Thursday for review in the Tax Committee later this session.

I sincerely doubt JOBZ' benefits, and have for awhile. But I don't think this is what holding up Dan McElroy's nomination is about. He's a close confidant of the governor, having previously served as his chief of staff. My guess instead is that, given the length of time his nomination will be held up, that he has become a hostage in the upcoming fight over higher taxes that the DFL wants to impose. This is a body that has a reputation for shooting hostages.

Labels: ,

What to give your sweetie for Valentine's Day 

An article in the local campus paper on V-Day suggests that Valentine's Day is a money-making holiday. It begins,
On Wednesday, many will celebrate the Hallmark holiday, Valentine's Day. Millions will be spent on flowers, condoms and chocolates.
I can forgive the ignorance of St. Valentine, since our students are no longer required to learn history in our general education program. But it IS odd that this student celebrates her version of V-day as somehow noncommercial while cl*t cookies dance around Atwood.

Friday, February 09, 2007

22 hours to places 

On NARN's Final Word tomorrow, Michael and I will have a list of accomplishments of the DFL Legislature this term.

In the remaining 1:59 we will visit with Congressman Patrick McHenry of North Carolina. Rep. McHenry is known as a young maverick who helped figure out the fishiness of the minimum wage proposal that Speaker Pelosi, Rep. Tim Walz, and others have tried to perpetrate on us. He should be on at 3:30pm.

We'll also visit with Jeff Sypeck, author of Becoming Charlemagne. Jeff is a professor of medieval literature at the University of Maryland and one of those internet friends you make, never meet in real life but feel like you've known forever. (Only my longtime fantasy baseball friends come closer than the chats I've had with readers of this blog.) I'm looking forward to hearing if we can learn anything about our modern international arena from the crowning of the great king of the Franks 1200 years ago. He'll be on at 4:30 CT, listen in.

We'll also figure out why my Bears pick went so horribly wrong. This may include calling on the carpet a different king. And then we'll go back to what we always do -- show you Democrats in their natural setting, doing those things they do. For example, this woman is still seeking work.

Then after the show is over, you will want to wing your way to a fundraiser for our producer Matt Reynolds and his wife, who are adopting this beautiful child from Guatemala and want to raise some money. Here's the place, and here's who you contact to tell 'em you're coming. Mitch and Ed -- who's show is also required listening, 1-3 tomorrow -- have more details.

New adventures in cookie politics 

Remember the uproar that cookies might be demeaning when used for political messages? Wendy McElroy reported back then that at some places leftists threw down and stomped on "affirmative action cookies".
When the leftists began making threats, one of the cookie rebels had called the police because he feared the discussion -- hitherto civil -- might turn violent. Chambers explained, "Unfortunately, rather than step in and arrest our attackers, the police stood by while the University said we, the peaceful ones, had to shut down because WE were creating an unsafe environment. ... Our protests that the CRs were peacefully demonstrating while the leftists got violent fell upon deaf ears."

The university allowed a handful of violent students to decide which political views could or could not be expressed on campus.
The president of the University of Washington's Board of Regents referred to the CRs bake sale there as "tasteless" and "hurtful".

Well, his reaction to a bake sale on campus here this week might want to re-investigate that.
The buttons are pretty standard fare for your guerrilla feminist, but the cookie to the left is a new creation. Note the strategic position of the heart-shaped candy on the cookie. How clever! How daring!

Here we are today, on a campus where there's another outbreak of moronic whining after someone advertising for a foundation created out of the death of a child to cancer, because the advertisement referred to two hockey tickets being sold at a benefit for the foundation as being between SCSU and the UND Fighting Sioux. That provokes our old friend Miss Median to ask that we "show enough respect to the native peoples of Minnesota and the Great Plains to refer simply to the "UND" hockey team..." But people can walk right by a group selling cl*t cookies to promote a political message, sponsored by an organization funded by public funds, and the passing crowd yawns at the scene.

Nobody on this campus will find this at all abnormal.

Most will find it acceptable.

I will not.

Labels: ,

When colleges breed 

Reorganization of universities happen often. My dear alma mater, Claremont Graduate School (yes, they call themselves a University now, but I am stubborn) divided itself into schools a decade ago. The reasons then, as they are for many places, have more to do with budgets and turf than they do mission. A new department or college means a new dean or director, new stationery, a bigger office, etc. It has precious little to do with mission.

That doesn't mean, though, that some in the school will use the reorganization to make some vision statement or create key performance indicators for a strategic plan that is as vacuous as anything Dilbert could create. Thus David Downing finds the University of Minnesota's new College of Design's mission to be a little, well, unhinged from traditional architectural colleges. He notes from a story:
The College of Design educates students to be leaders in the field of social change via design and to be visionaries for a better future.

...Preparing students to enter the "design economy" and to address the need for a more sustainable and equitable designed environment will focus its attention in the coming years. It will work to connect design disciplines to each other and to other fields not normally thought of as design related.
In other words, it will cease to be a place where one actually does architecture and learns about creating buildings. I'm sure that will enhance the marketability of their students.


Class assignment 

OK, if you're an SCSU student who was chapped by NOVA week, you need to read Mike Adams. Then you need to see if the CRs were able to provide any compensation through student activity fees to Col. Joe Repya. Letters are fine, but time for action.

Labels: ,

The Collectivist Left 

King's recent post highlighted one more American feminist crying for the "nanny" state of Europe. There's a reason Europe is declining - too much time to criticize others and too little work. Granted they lost a lot after two world wars but it also appears they lost their appetite for productive life. Their response was to put controls on their lives while denying the creative side of human nature.

Europe became a nation of takers. As a result, they work less, care less as individuals about their parents and children. That's why at least 35,000 people died in the 2003 heat wave in Europe, including almost 15,000 primarily elderly people who died by themselves in France. That's also why native-born Europeans have largely stopped having children. Providing constant "nanny state" procedures, though done under the guise of "caring" actually removes incentives for people to look beyond themselves. They abdicate responsibility to a non-living entity (government). But, life is not risk-free, it requires work. Once a society decides to "sit down", it is on its way to extinction.

I agree we have a lot of stuff but everytime someone raises this issue (usually those on the collectivist left), I ask them what they want to give up. No one, not one leftie has voluntarily identified anything they personally are willing to give up. Car? No. Air-conditioning? No. Free market pricing? No. The ability to buy almost any food anytime of year? No. A vacation to wherever? No. Indoor plumbing? No. They just want "you" to give up stuff or have the government impose controls. Now I'm sure there are some out there who do give up for the "good of society" (including those in religious orders) but how many of the rest of the population want to have decisions forced on them because someone (too often a feminist) wants to control the lives of others? You can't have a free market system with choice and then impose a ton of rules that limit choice.

All these "ideals" to "help" people are mechanisms of the collectivist left to control our lives - they may intend to be helpful but when any subset of society takes control of most personal decisions, it's control. The vast majority of humans, when given the facts, will make good decisions for themselves. They don't need a "nanny" state enforcing someone else's ideas of what is "good for all".

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Let's call it what it is 

Editorial headline: U.S. workers need more paid vacation.

Alternative headlines:

Muncipal liquor stores 

According to a report from the state auditor's office, the 226 cities in Minnesota that operate state liquor stores made $18.8 million dollars from their operation. The St. Cloud Times wonders why.

Sorry, but last we checked, governments are not supposed to be in the business of making money, much less in an industry that has no problem surviving and thriving on its own.

Emphasis added. I'm not sure the Times board means that governments should lose money, though in fact they do. But according to another report of the Office of the Legislative Auditor, the state is losing $100 million from restrictive regulation of the alcohol industry anyway. They are creating a monopoly in these towns, the profit on which is about $19 million. Maybe the town should have two stores, or maybe none (let the resident drive a town away to get their spirits.) We don't know. The OLA report states, however,

Adjusted for differences in taxes and dram shop insurance costs, off-sale beer prices are 7 to 9 percent higher in Minnesota compared with Wisconsin, where there are few state restrictions on retail competition.

There is more competition in spirits than in beer and wine (where the prices versus Wisconsin were found to be about 6% higher.) Municipal liquor stores aren't the biggest issue driving up these costs -- it's more the inability of a brewer to terminate the contract with a beer wholesaler, thus protecting their franchises and allowing the wholesaler to capture more of the profits from sale. Still, it's hard to believe that some areas in the Metro that have municipal liquor stores, like Rogers, Anoka, Wayzata, or Apple Valley, couldn't be better served by the private market. Those places have grown past the 10,000 population limit on setting up muni monopolies. But even for the others, the Times editorial continues, it's not really needed to fulfill needs or to balance budgets (they argue that licenses and user fees would replace the money.)

Our bottom line is this: Governments exist to serve a public purpose.

No doubt, that can be defined quite broadly. But we argue that most Minnesotans would not define that purpose as taking your money when a perfectly fine private market exists to do just that.

Oh, you mean like schools?

Labels: , , ,

American Ingenuity - Incremental Improvements 

One of the subtle behavior patterns that exists in America is the ability to assess a problem, consider solutions, and implement. Too often we ignore or take for granted this "can do" attitude, especially with the MSM's (mainstream media) constant focus on the negative.

Last night my husband got me a new spray bottle, one of those you use for cleaning, spraying plants, etc. The pump is a version of the standard trigger mechanisms with an attached nozzle that the user aims at a given surface. They work well. One can even adjust the flow of the spray on many bottles. However, there was the frustrating (ok, minimally frustrating) problem of getting into corners or having to spray something upside down. Not anymore.

This spray bottle comes with a patented sprayer that rotates 360 degrees! I've tried it - it works up, down, sideways. The inability to spray underneath without turning the spray bottle upside down is now a thing of the past.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Intellectual Property Law 

Last night I reviewed the very basics of intellectual property law with my Mgt Info Systems (MIS) class. Why? Software licensing. I've covered this topic for years giving students a background on the evolution of the "rule of law", in brief, from the Greeks to the Romans to the Brits to the USA. It is not a course on law - just copyright protection.

My observations over the past few years are that more and more students openly admit they just don't pay when they download. I cover intellectual property, how it applies to software code, and use music as a parallel because they understand music copyrights. With music purchases, they understand that part of their cost of their purchase of sheet music, CDs, or downloads goes back to the creator. Some even realize that without paying, the incentive to reate may diminish. I use the same analogy with software licenses, that is, if you copy software to someone else's computer without paying for it, that's copyright infringement and a violation of the law.

Last night was disturbing. "I do it for my friends and family because they mean more to me than the company." "Bill Gates won't miss the money." "It doesn't matter - big companies cheat and game the copyright system so the little guy doesn't get anything." "Some cultures don't believe in paying for others' work." Heck, in _______, they contract with a vendor to make N copies and turn around and make 1.5x N and sell the .5 outside the system. Nothing happens to the manufacturer."Etc.

What is difficult to communicate is that once this "honor" system breaks down, it won't stop at copyright infringement. Students from places that have no "rule of law", that use connections to get things done versus a safe-guard process, find this concept difficult to grasp. I'm not sure what the answer is but some how we need to communicate that respect for the property of others, including intellectual property, must be enforced.

Slow Larry 

Many years ago I was in a bowling league. (I still substitute bowl for a couple teams in that league on occasion, but my game has gone the way of Donny Kerabatsos.) In it were two guys named Larry, one of whom threw the fastest ball I had ever seen, and the other the slowest. Fast Larry was a pleasant guy, not at all jumpy, and you'd never guess that he would throw a ball that seemed practically violent. Slow Larry, on the other hand, was slow in everything, which, for a computer programmer, seemed pretty odd. His response on his job was as 'fast' as his hook.

Which Larry is serving as my state representative? Neither, but mine is taking a resemblance to one. My SCBA brother Gary Gross sent a letter to Larry Haws about the need for tax cuts, and after almost three weeks he got a reply. Except that I don't think he answered the question. Gary was kind enough to forward the letter to me, so I'm quoting parts not in Gary's post.

Note first that Rep. Haws is challenging any idea that there's a surplus by using what I now call "the inflation dodge".
First, I should note that the predicted "surplus" can be somewhat misleading since inflation is not included on the expenditure side of the forecast, but inflation is assumed in the revenue side which, to my mind, ends up inevitably with a more optimistic and risky forecast than if both aspects were treated equally. It is very challenging to predict income growth, whether that is from higher taxable pay, more workers, increased sales subject to sales tax, more homes sold, more cars sold, or whatever. Generally, economics is a risky thing to forecast several years in advance, but this makes it more so. We should also have a little more complete prediction at the end of February when the official budget forecast is released yet it still will tend to have that bias towards predicting more revenue than might be the case.
That appears to be a concession that the bill -- which has passed the Senate on a party line vote -- may not pass in time for the February forecast. Whether this means they do not have the votes to override Pawlenty's threatened veto isn't clear.

But let's be clear about what the bill does to help out this Larry: The forecast currently figures what happens to the budget if there are no legislative changes, assuming that by default spending will occur at present levels. Indeed, the Senate amended its bill to include language that says including inflation does not trigger automatic spending increases. Therefore, in order for the projected inflation to occur in expenditures the government must vote to increase spending. The bill charges the Finance department to guess what that inflation is, adding an additional level of error to the forecast. And we do not know what type of inflation adjustment should be made for the various things government buys, from law enforcement goods to transportation goods, and don't forget the inflation that occurs from negotiating with public employee unions. Not one CPI fits all.

Moreover, the size of the forecast errors are quite small. The budget for the state of Minnesota is about $31 billion. The forecast error for revenues in 2006-07 was $124 million, or for you Pittsburgh Steeler fans, $0.124 billion, or 0.4%. The larger error was in 2005, when the forecast of revenues was off 2.2%. There is a tendency to make errors that understate the level of revenues anyway, and if you forecast spending higher you have to expect that there will be a tendency to get even more conservative with forecasted revenues. (Nobody wants to go before a Senate committee and explain how you overestimated revenues.)

Rep. Haws continues:
Second, I'm also concerned about rapidly rising local property taxes which have been caused in large measure by the state's cuts in aids to local governments, and in part by added state mandates on local government both of which ended up shifting a significant portion of the state's financial burdens onto local property taxpayers. That particularly concerns me because property taxes tend to be the least related to a property owner's ability to pay especially for many seniors and others whose property has grown in value but their incomes have not.

One of my top priorities for tax relief this session is, therefore, property tax relief. I'd also prefer any tax relief to be long-term and sustainable, not just a one-time measure that disappears and leaves taxpayers back where they were the year before. If the state's surplus turns out to be real and long-term, I'd prefer to see that get used for permanent property
tax relief.
But didn't he just say that forecasting was hazardous? So how will we prove to him that any surplus is "real and long-term"?

He also indicates by this note that local government activity is as fixed as state level. His stated concern for seniors in houses that are appreciating faster than their incomes (and so too then their tax bills) is touching. He could fix that with an adjustment on property taxes for seniors, but instead wants to use it to argue for increasing the share of local spending that the state would take over. That money will come with strings attached, something Mr. Haws used to worry about, but no longer.

Labels: ,

Grade appeal 

Two faculty members at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale and their union have sued the state's executive inspector general after they were told they had completed the state's mandatory ethics quiz for state employees. They are seeking to have the rule thrown out; no money is requested. As I reported last month, completing the test in ten minutes is a no-no, but there is no stated rule for how long you should take. But some student managers have learned, according to Stephen Karlson, that stretching it to thirty minutes by multitasking is OK.

Source: Chronicle of Higher Education subscriber's link.


Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Red Sox travels 

As part of Black History Month, a story today about Pumpsie Green, the answer to the trivia question "Who was the last African-American player to be the first on his major league baseball team?" All he wanted to do was to play for the Oakland Oaks in the Pacific Coast League, which in the 1950s was considered by many players a good substitute for the major leagues. Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams had been PCLers. But just as they were purchased, so was Green.

The call to play in Oakland never came. During the 1955 season, Green was having a terrific year when he was called into the manager's office. The news was a bit of a surprise -- The Boston Red Sox had purchased Green's contract and wanted him to finish the season in their farm system.

There was only one catch. Boston wanted him to head to their club in Montgomery, Alabama. It doesn't take a history professor to know that heading to Alabama in 1955, eight years after Robinson joined the Dodgers and just one after the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court case forced the integration of schools, was not a move most African-Americans wanted to make.

"I don't think there was a black man in America who wanted to go to Montgomery, Alabama in 1955," Green said in Herbert F. Crehan's Red Sox Heroes of Yesteryear.

He eventually was a Minneapolis Miller in 1958 and 1959. He had played well in spring training in 1959 but was sent down to the minors, perhaps because his manager, Pinky Higgins, wasn't ready to integrate the Sox. But after hitting .320 in the first half of the season and being named to the American Association All-Star team, he was called up. His minor league manager? Gene Mauch. And he might not be the most famous 2b on that team in 1959: Roy Smalley was also on the squad.

P.S. If you've never read Stew Thornley's essay on the Millers vs. The Havana Sugar Kings in the 1959 Junior World Series, you must.

Public Service Announcement: Pitchers and catchers report in ten days.

Labels: , ,

How is higher education like health care? 

In America, it's more so when you use third parties to pay for higher education.
In November 2005, the Kalamazoo, Michigan, Public Schools made a dramatic announcement. It said that henceforth every successful graduate of a Kalamazoo public high school (there are three) who had been in the district since kindergarten would receive 100 percent payment of tuition fees at any Michigan public community college or university as long as the student was making satisfactory progress (taking 12 hours of classes with an overall average of at least a "C"). Students who had begun school in Kalamazoo for between four and 12 years would receive smaller reimbursement, but not less than 65 percent. The project was funded by massive private gifts --probably at least $200 million in endowment money.

My friends at the Mackinac Center in Michigan tell me that Governor Jennifer Granholm in her forthcoming "State of the State" address plans to propose expanding the Kalamazoo Promise idea to more areas, financed it appears by a combination of public and private monies. ...

The unintended consequences of this well intended effort are many, and mostly very bad. Here are three of my concerns:

1) When third parties (private donors, governments) pay the bills, the student pays little or no attention to tuition fees (the demand for higher education is nearly perfectly inelastic, us economists would say), and this enormously increases the incentives for colleges to increase tuition fees.

2) The lack of strict performance limits and penalties for poor academic performance creates incentives for mediocre students to go to college for an extended period of time -- 5 or 6 years. ...
Does that sound paradoxical to you? Increase tuition and you get better credit-taking decisions by students and more scrutiny of tuition increases? Thus, when you hear proposals to increase college affordability, you should ask "isn't this how we got into the health insurance mess?"

Labels: ,

The cake for their wedding day 

Part of the joys of majority in the victory of the Democrats in Minnesota last November is at last they can give voice to the bills they desire. Which is just fine for the rest of us. Minority Leader Marty Seifert is giving us a look at a liberal's shopping list:
Seifert�s list of complaints includes DFL bills that would force school ball parks and stadiums to have shields on their lights to prevent �light pollution;� a bill to give 16-year-olds the right to vote in school board elections, but not school tax levy referendums (�I can see some student saying, �I don�t like my teacher, let�s elect someone to the school board who will get rid of her,�� Seifert said.); and requiring junkyards to install cameras to photograph their customers.

The list didn�t include one bill introduced Thursday, said Seifert, �The stupidest bill I�ve heard in ten years in the Legislature,� banning glass containers on public beaches and on watercraft in the state. The bill would set a penalty of up to 90 days in jail for every glass container: a six-pack of Buddy�s Orange Soda could get you a year and a half in jail.
Meanwhile, the Republicans propose something just a little more sensible like, say, reconciling the state estate tax to the federal estate tax.

Labels: ,

Utahns to get vouchers? 

This is a great story. Not only does it appear Utah may get school vouchers, it shows how the blogosphere was used by a state representative and a reporter who went outside the paper to create a different way of reporting. The result was
[a] debate was more philosophical and substantive than demagogic. "The debate was of the highest caliber that I've seen in my 13 years here," said Speaker Greg Curtis. "I find it fascinating that not a single person spread the myth that [choice] would be harmful to public education."
John Fund also notes that leadership matters and cowing before electoral pressure doesn't pay.
Unions representing teachers and other government employees took notice of his apostasy and vowed to punish it. Last year, they mounted a concerted effort to defeat him. They came close; Mr. Curtis won re-election last November by only 20 votes. But far from being intimidated, the speaker realized that the best way he could survive politically was if he passed choice and made people realize it worked.

Rob Bishop is a former speaker of the Utah House who also worked as a high school teacher for 28 years before being elected to Congress as a Republican in 2002. He told me Mr. Curtis is demonstrating all the qualities of leadership voters say they want but don't always demand. "He understood he was on the right side of history," he says. After all, Mr. Bishop notes, that "choice in education is already all around us."
Maybe Utah could send a little of that leadership this-a-way.

Labels: , ,

Monday, February 05, 2007

Discount rates 

A question that arises whenever you teach cost-benefit analysis is "what is the right discount rate to use?" for treating the flows of future costs and future benefits. Over at their blog, Richard Posner and Gary Becker debate the point considering global warming and the new report from the IPCC. (John Hinderaker and Brian Ward discussed global warming on NARN Volume I on Saturday. It's worth a listen.)

The debate about discount rates has been around for some time. Becker explains:
Suppose the utility damages from global warming to generations 50 years from now are equivalent to about $2 trillion of their welfare. At a 3 percent discount rate, this major damage would be valued today at about $500 billion, while any spending today that reduces the harm to future generations would be valued dollar for dollar. Then with a 3 percent discount rate it would not pay to eliminate these very harmful effects on future generations if the cost were $800 billion (or more generally at least $500 billion) to largely eliminate the future harm from greenhouse gas emissions through steep taxes on emission, carbon sequestration, and other methods. To be sure, benefits would exceed the present value of costs of greenhouse warming if damages were discounted only at 0 percent, 1 percent, or as high as almost 2 percent discount rate. When analyzing effects much further into the future, such as 150 years into the future, the discount rate used is even more crucial.
A social discount rate permits one to account for the effect of current actions on future generations; these are usually not figured into private market analyses of benefits and costs, and thus we would have private market rates greater than the social rate you would use. But some analyses, including those of the IPCC, are using very low discount rates.

Discount rates reflect two parts of human behavior: impatience and diminishing marginal utility. We need to be induced to delay consumption, so we receive an interest payment to forgo consumption today. When Wimpy tries to borrow money for a cheeseburger today in return for a cheeseburger Tuesday, Popeye declines because he has no inducement to forgo the possibility of today's cheeseburger. Likewise, Wimpy isn't as willing to pay a premium for second cheeseburger today as he is for the first cheeseburger, because some of his hunger has been satisfied by the first.

In the case of global warming, one issue Becker and Posner discuss is whether we are more willing to pay for reducing greenhouse gases later, when we are wealthier than we are now.

The argument against this is that we cannot bargain on behalf of our children; when we discount, we are speaking on behalf of their utility without their permission. There is therefore a missing market for the utility of future generations, and the enlightened, noble elites say they will speak on the behalf of the generations yet to come. In particular, the part of the market's discount rate that reflects impatience should be removed, the argument goes, because we cannot assume that our impatience will be theirs.

But why should we trust the elites to make these arguments? If you are going to use an argument like that in the previous paragraph, you should also then account in any cost-benefit analysis the cost of government in raising a dollar of public spending. There are costs of collection and of compliance. There are costs of resource misallocation as the government monkeys around with free-market prices (what we call "deadweight losses.") Will these be included in the IPCC report? Not hardly.

Labels: , ,

Friday, February 02, 2007

And, if I'm wrong beer Monday.

Monarch Beverage Co. told all 630 employees to stay home the day after Super Bowl XLI and enjoy some free beers during their bonus long weekend.

The beer-and-wine distributor decided to make Monday a paid holiday and plans to send workers home Thursday and Friday with a six-pack of Blue Moon beer and a Super Bowl T-shirt.

Indianapolis-based Monarch runs operation centers in Indianapolis, Evansville and New Albany. Company officials said they decided to make Monday a holiday after they fielded more requests for time off than they could grant.

�The Colts� wins have had an extraordinary impact on our business, and we want to return that support,� Monarch Beverage CEO Phil Terry said.

I am working at the wrong place. (h/t: my producer Matt Reynolds.)

SB XLI prediction 

(Isn't there a point where the Roman numerals go away?)

Shocking news from Berg, he's picking the Bears.

The Wall Street Journal agrees.

But these two pieces are the evidence I'm going with.

Bears 20, Colts 16.

Betting against the Spurrier Curse.

Fiat coins 

Posts by John Palmer and Tyler Cowen bring up the possibility of removing the penny from circulation. In the latter we read of a Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago piece that suggests simply rebasing the penny coin to be worth five cents and withdrawing the current nickel from circulation. (I noted earlier that at December 2006 prices, the US Mint was losing 3.34 cents per nickel produced.)

The value of tokens (which is what the coin is in a fiat money world) can be real and not just subject to whim. One example: When the hyperinflations in eastern Europe occurred, most of the monies were paper, but public telephones still required coins. Babushkas would sell the coins at many times their face value, capturing the value of the token as something which operates the phone rather than the state phone system. (Alas, the phones were made free and took away this side business.) Similar effects would occur to the vending industry here in the States if the nickel were removed and the penny rebased; while I doubt the effect is large in the aggregate, the effect on certain groups might be substantial.

Mrs. Scholar writes 

Her first column for the St. Cloud Times is up, on immigration and using my family history as the backdrop. I'm flattered.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Oh cripes 

I love Roger Clemens. I threatened to name a child after him (luckily, Littlest is female.) But you know what? This has to end.

"I'm failing at retirement," he said. "Let's just face it. I'm failing miserably at it."

The 44-year-old right-hander, unsure whether to retire or return for a 24th major league season, was the keynote speaker for the St. John's winter baseball banquet on Wednesday night.

If he does pitch -- and it sounds as if he will -- Clemens will choose among his hometown Houston Astros, the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox.

You're right, you are failing. Please, I do not want to see a mortal Clemens on the mound. You have already blown the chance to go out as John Elway. Try going out as Carlton rather than Spahn.

When economists go bad 

My SCBA colleague Gary Gross pointed me to a piece of Tarryl Clark's newsletter from yesterday:
Senate passes bill to return honesty into budget forecast process
Inflation has not been included in budget forecasts for expenditures since 2002, when the Legislature passed a bill banning its inclusion. The Governor�s budget creates the misimpression that the state is swimming in surplus dollars.
That is a misleading statement. The governor is following the law. The law was passed by the Legislature. Why? As I posted before, it's only a misimpression if you think a government spending program is entitled to meet the same level of activity -- not just the same level of dollars -- as was once voted. Each Legislature is therefore able to tie the hands of future Legislatures to that level of service. Who's doing the misleading?
Many economists have questioned the exclusion of inflation in Minnesota�s budget forecasts. Paul Anton, a member of Minnesota�s Council of Economic Advisers and the chief economist for the research unit of St. Paul�s Wilder Foundation, testified before the Senate Finance Committee that he believed that if the Legislature did not pass this bill legislators would be �making a conscious and deliberate choice to mislead the public about the true financial condition of the State of Minnesota.�
Let's understand who Paul Anton is, what his role is, and the foundation he works for. The last question is easy: Wilder is a social welfare organization that has interests in increased public expenditures.
In the next 12-24 months, we hope to to have "mini-conferences" on child care issues, the achievement gap, homelessness, early childhood mental health, and other topics. We particularly want to understand, raise awareness, and promote productive action regarding disparities in service access and effectiveness among Whites, African-Americans, Latinos, Asians, Africans, and other groups. We have several productions in the works with public television. We have begun planning a unique conference, for early 2008, on the economics of human service programs.
Safe to say, Mr. Anton is a liberal. And he works for a foundation that is in the business of advocating for social spending. He isn't exactly an uninterested observer.

Which makes his position on what is supposed to be an impartial Council of Economic Advisors all the more troubling. I want to know how this guy can show up now at the next CEA meeting and have his words taken as objective views. He wants to not be bound to a set of rules as they currently exist, that "on-entitlement programs are forecast to spend at current appropriations levels" rather than the levels Mr. Anton thinks will meet "the need" after his foundation has "understood, raised awareness, and promoted productive action..."

Mr. Anton is not an economist; he's an advocate. As such, he's on the wrong council. And he's being used to promote a bill that would increase government spending.
If approved by the Governor, the new law could be put into place in time for the February Forecast next month.
And Senator Clark and the DFL majority would have its political cover to increase spending and argue for higher taxes. It's the forecast that made 'em do it.

Those Darn Math Facts 

If you have a child in 4th, 5th or 6th grade you know how important it is to learn long division and double digit multiplication. The referenced video, unfortunately, shows what is happening in classrooms across the nation. It is not pretty. Yet our tax dollars are being spent on textbooks whose authors think learning math facts is a waste of time. (Do they think learning an alphabet and letter patterns is also a waste of time?)

One of my previous careers was that of an elementary teacher - 4th, 5th and 6th grade. My strongest subjects were science and math. The year I taught math to all the sixth graders, they took a standardized test in the fall. Their test results for math placed them in the 50th percentile, where this particular school usually placed and everyone was happy. Well, not everyone, I sure wasn't pleased with the results. They made far too many errors because they did not know their times tables. What to do?

I devised time tests, long before they became a standard (some places). Students had 50 facts to complete in 3 minutes. If they made three or fewer errors, their time dropped to 2.5 minutes. No grades. What happened? The standardized test was given again in the spring. "My" math students raised their average score to the 75th percentile! They just nailed it! Memorizing works. It breeds self-confidence, eliminates "dumb" mistakes.

The referenced video is important - 15 minutes - long but crucial. If you have a child or children using either of the referenced texts, ask why? Not only is spending money on these texts wasted dollars, it also denies children the right to learn what they will need in life. It hurts their self-image. It does not help them with their futures.