Thursday, May 31, 2007

Measly GDP a good sign? 

The U.S. economy grew last quarter at the slowest pace in more than four years, a 0.6 percent annual rate that may prove to have been the low point of the expansion.

The gain in gross domestic product, announced by the Commerce Department today in Washington, was lower than the 0.8 percent rate economists had forecast, and less than the government's previous 1.3 percent estimate. A private report from Chicago today showed a jump in business activity, while figures since the end of March show a rebound in corporate spending and consumer confidence.

Traders further reduced bets that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke will need to cut interest rates this year. The prospect of a recession, given a one-in-three chance by former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan, looks less likely as business investment and manufacturing strengthen.

The reports "signify a clearing of the decks for a better performance going forward,'' said Carl Tannenbaum, chief economist at LaSalle Bank in Chicago and president of the National Association for Business Economics.

So why would a weak report do this? Because of the nature of the revision.

The preliminary estimate of the first-quarter increase in real GDP is 0.7 percentage point, or $17.4 billion, lower than the advance estimate issued last month. The downward revision to the percent change in real GDP primarily reflected a downward revision to private inventory investment and an upward revision to imports that were partly offset by an upward revision to personal consumption expenditures.
Businesses offloading inventories while consumers are spending more is likely to lead to more economic activity going forward. Indeed, it may already be happening. So far, those concerned about the end of the "home ATM" have yet to be proven right, but it's still early.


Inflation worth the fight 

True to his word, Governor Tim Pawlenty did execute the veto on the tax bill last night. He put the blame right onto the DFL leadership in his veto message:
I am very supportive of many of the tax provisions in the bill such as increases in direct property tax relief to homeowners, sales tax exemptions for agriculture products, acceleration of the single sales factor for corporate income tax and the increase in the military combat credit.

Unfortuanately, the bill contains a policy provision that would put government growth on autopilot. I was very clear in communicating my opposition to this measure. DFL leadership and staff were aware prior to the end of the session that its inclusion would result in the entire bill being vetoed. This provision could have been removed from the bill prior to final passage, but DFL leadership made a different choice.

When legislators and the Governor assemble the state budget, we shouldn't assume that every program should automatically grow. We need to examine every taxpayer dollar that will be spent and ensure that we are streamlining and keeping government efficient and effective. ... Each program should be evaluated on its merits and the overall growth in the budget should reflect that type of approach rather than assuming autopilot increases.
I've stated a couple of times here and here why I opposed the inflation provision, but let me add one more reason, and perhaps explain why the DFL was willing to risk a lot on getting it in the bill.

It is the Dept. of Finance and the state economist, currently Tom Stinson, who create the forecast. In it they have to forecast various macroeconomic phenomena for the state economy that drive the tax base. Once you know the various tax bases, you can generate a revenue forecast. The rule is, if we do nothing and the economy does what the forecast says, here's the revenue we will receive. This is a mechanical exercise, requiring nobody to make a judgment. Judgment eventually comes into play when the state's Council of Economic Advisors sit down with the state economist and the forecasters, and they argue over whether the forecast (which is bought from a national private forecasting firm) meets their expectations of the economy. The forecasting firm has different scenarios, and the council can advise which of those they think are most likely. The forecasted surplus or deficit is then that number subtracted from current spending.

It is rare that someone in the Legislature questions the forecast, which I think is remarkable. A friend tells me that there were questions during the early 1980s, and that may be some of the reason why the current set-up is what it is.

What the inflation factor does is put a group of economists -- state employees trying to provide good economic information -- in the position of deciding how much money will be spent next year to provide each department the capacity to provide the same level of services they do now. Are they really in a position to make that decision? No. And that decision is at its base a political one, and it's why we elect representatives.

So why would the DFL really want this? The answer is rather apparent -- having someone else say there's a deficit to fund current level of expenditures allows them to avoid responsibility for raising spending themselves. This is the most disingenuous line offered in the debate, from the most likely source:
Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, said estimating inflation doesn�t require lawmakers to actually give those increases to every program. But he said government shouldn�t be able to hide rising costs.
Set aside that inflation isn't estimated -- it's a forecasted number that you put on ad hoc. More important, it is the responsibility of government to accept that it has been unable to control costs. To put this onto the budget not only makes government bureaucrats complicit in increasing the cost of government, it removes any incentive for state departments to become more efficient.

Gary awards the Governor the Vezina Trophy (God help me, I've had to learn more about hockey this year than I ever wanted to know). TvM's First Ringer has also pointed out that this veto cuts off for a time an increase in the dosage of LGA to the tax dollar addicts in local government:
The measure makes about as much sense as feeding the crocodile your foot in hopes he won�t take your leg and historically hasn�t worked to reduce local government demand for funding and lower property taxes. Instead, cities which have received higher amounts of LGA per capita also spent significantly more per capita than those cities that have been budgeted less. This has remained steady even with a 2003 revision that made LGA need-based and not simply �grandfathered in� spending. Even with this change, LGA still has unfortunately provided some cities (half the citizens of Minnesota don�t recieve LGA) the ability to spend past the median and average on all services, essential or not. Meaning for the heavy DFL core cities, Pawlenty�s veto was an immediate call for tax increases...
Ringer hopes that Pawlenty will not succumb to calls for a special session now -- even from some Republicans who should know better -- as he holds the high ground. I agree, even if it costs me lunch.

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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Three Graduations, Little Optimism 

In previous posts I mentioned college graduation ceremonies I attended, three in a period of three weeks: a public university in Minneapolis; a small Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, CA; Marquette University in Milwaukee. Also mentioned were the audience response, the preponderance of female graduates (and the dirth of male graduates), and miscellaneous items. This post will review the speakers.

The first speaker, Ms. Tene' Wells worked for 20 years at Honeywell and Medtronic, major employers in the Twin Cities in MN. Currently she is president of Women Venture, a nonprofit women's economic development agency in St. Paul. Her address focused on the continued discrimination against women and people of color.

The second speaker, Ms. Audra Strickland, an Assembly woman from the 37th District in CA was the best of the three. She reviewed the story of the movie "Amazing Grace" and its hero, William Wilberforce, the man who worked 18 years to get the British government to stop the British slave trade. The Brits did and eventually blockaded all African ports effectively stopping all African slave trade, period. Ms. Strickland focused on goals and an awareness that if you believe in something, though it may take time, it can be achieved.

At Marquette, the main speaker was the clever and witty, recently retired writer from Sports Illustrated, Steve Rushin. His talk was entertaining but he had to include the college story of dropping Mexican food in a rain puddle, picking it up, returning to his room and drying his burito on the radiator. Though minor, he also had to poke fun at President Bush. He did say that his father told him once he graduated (from Marquette) the "bank of Dad" was closed. He was enjoyable but what was the message?

Nowhere in any of these talks were students reminded of the opportunities in the US, the freedom to choose what one can do, to think and say various opinions without fear of being thrown in jail and tortured. Have we dumbed down our curriculum, eliminated so much teaching of our history that we no longer have the perspective of how good things are? Except for Ms. Strickland, most of the speakers focused on themselves or what is wrong instead of the incredible advantages and responsibilities that still exist here and not anywhere else.

There will always be jerks, people who discriminate, lie, cheat, steal, avoid reality and look for the negative. But wouldn't it be nice if universities actually taught pride in what we have accomplished as a nation, what benefits we have rather than focusing solely on our warts? It is unlikely the graduation speakers have any clue as to how bad things are in so many places on the planet. And the students, why should they be optimistic when all they hear is what is wrong? The other side is that there also will always be people who work honestly, have ideas and create a better world for so many.

If we continue to emphasize only what is wrong, things won't change and people will get stuck where they are. People need dreams, encouragement, a belief that life can and does get better. Therefore, we need to recall, repeat, and emphasize what a great nation we are. Only then, can we help others achieve the freedoms and opportunities we take for granted.

Only in America 

We Americans pride ourselves on our ability to assimilate various cultures. We are not multi-cultural but we are multi-ethnic and each subset brings its own flavor to the table.

Tonight my husband and I had dinner in a local Mexican restaurant, nothing fancy, just a nice family place. What struck us was this: here we are enjoying Mexican food, listening to a Mexican trio play and sing not only Mexican ballads but also Italian love songs and best of all, "Roll Out the Barrel" polka plus a few others. Only, only in America!!

How did I get to be an economist? 

I got several emails over the last couple of days about Christopher Hayes critique of economists at the AEA and the discussion it's spawned at TPMCafe. I was going to write something else earlier today but reading Paul Krugman gives me at least one shortcut.
...I'd like to warn against an error I think both sides tend to fall into: assuming that you have to use heterodox economics to reach conclusions critical of free markets. As I said, both sides tend to fall into that error: the heterodoxishly-minded bash neoclassical economics because they claim that it automatically makes you a defender of capitalism red in tooth and claw, and the free-marketeers reject warnings about markets gone wrong as somehow necessarily reflecting ignorance of economic theory. It just ain't so.
There are opinions I hold based on empirical evidence I've seen and others I hold as a matter of ethics. Taking from the rich and giving to the poor through force is theft, and solving a utility maximization problem to show that society has more utils after theft isn't going to persuade me to vote for redistribution. But just as Krugman says he was persuaded after looking at the data to change his views on the effects of trade on income distribution, many of us were persuaded that the Washington Consensus was wrong not by some new theory, but just by watching it in practice and finding the results far short of the promises. (Not convinced we could have done better, just that we oversold it.)

Ezra Klein also gets it:
There's no doubt that economics, like any other profession, has its sacraments, protects it orthodoxies, and exhibits group-think -- but those tendencies have, in my read, manifested more in the emphasis of certain conclusions over others (free trade boosterism over Dani Rodrik and Alan Blinder style concerns) than in the entire profession hewing to an outdated and insufficient intellectual framework. I'd be willing to believe differently, but I'm not seeing the proof. The profession actually seems quite flexible and adaptive when you dig into it. It's the public face which is somewhat less expressive.
What orthodox or any-other-dox economics provides you is a prism to ask the first question of inquiry: Is it true? Thus Craig Newmark can take a paragraph of Hayes and regard it as not fitting what the received literature tells us. That causes one to doubt some of the rest of what Hayes has done. But it's not that Craig's or my minds couldn't be changed by evidence to the contrary.

Thus I'm glad when my friends ask questions and are patient enough to let me expand my answer -- the quick public statement is seldom enough to get people to understand.

Evidence of Klein's sacraments, orthodoxies and group-think comes in both surveys (I still refer to Frey et al. [1984]; see also Whaples [2006]) or studies of how famous economists come to be (much of the work by David Colander, for example). Economists disagree on climate change but I doubt more than the public as a whole. We disagree on solving Social Security, but again that is an empirical issue; we know the ground rules of what constitutes a solution but haven't yet found it.

I think the most telling thing about the differences economists have from the public is in looking at how we score them on their economic knowledge. Only a handful of economists would view these results as anything other than a big problem. Of that handful, how many are heterodox?

Part of the issue is simply sorting. Frey, Pommerehne and Gygi [1993] found that students who ended up studying advanced economics were more likely to believe that a price rise caused by increasing demand was fair, compared to those who just took an intro class or those who never studied economics. Other studies (like Whaples [1995]) argue that attitudes change as one learns more economics. I think both probably are true. Perhaps because women are less inclined to support globalization do we find economics still a majority-male profession.

(In re that last link, a female friend I sent it to contends globalization increases the competition for men in industrialized countries. There are mail-order brides, but no mail-order grooms. That would mean women in developing countries should be pro-free trade; we should see a reverse pattern in males. This, my friends, is a testable hypothesis. Get to it.)

But as to heterodox economics per se, I'm left with the conclusion someone else drew (that I can't find right now but know it isn't my original thought): It would be nice to have a discussion with someone who knows neoclassical economics and has rejected it. The problem is many heterodox economists I meet are simply unaware of the details of neoclassical economics. And I'd agree that the reverse is true too.


$20 bills on the ground of your campus 

Brad DeLong wonders why more people don't go to college, when the college premium has risen to 90% from 30%. A commenter on Daniel Drezner's blog on the same subject wonders if some of that is explained by the premium's capture by colleges through higher tuition. But it can't be all. And I note just from watching #1 and his friends that the decision to delay college comes much easier these days. Casual empiricism, sure, but it's a mindset I don't recall seeing in my younger days.

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Tradeoffs are for meanies 

The latest St. Paul Legal Ledger contains an op-ed by Phil Krinkie of the Taxpayers League.
The 2007 [Minnesota Legislative] Session can best be described in the scenario of a child peering into a large plate glass window of an enormous candy store. Thechild's mouth waters at the sight of the many tempting treats. The child then darts through the doorway - first to the chocolates, then the lemon drops, hot cinnamons and of course gummy bears, loading up onvirtually every type of candy in the store.
Finally the child heads toward the check out counter to pay for their cache of goodies. As the clerk starts to total up the cost of the child's ambitious desires, the child's eyes start to widen as well as sadden with the ever growing total. When the clerk finally rings up all the desired purchases and presents the child with a total, there's a gulp and a long pause.
The child looks up at the clerk and softly admits that they don't have enough money in their piggy bank to cover their "planned" purchases. The clerk with a stern voice suggests that they return some of the candy to the shelves, picking only a few items. But rather than wanting to make some choices, the child then asks the clerk if perhaps they could cut a deal. The clerk looks back at the child and explains - NO DEAL! Recognizing that it was a lost cause, the child then decides to reduce their desires and puts back a significant portion of their selected candies. After completing their purchase and leaving the store, the child then tells all of his or her friends what a big meany the store clerk is at the candy shop.
Displaying a child-like attitude to the property of others is evident as well in this report on Hillary Clinton's speech at the Manchester (NH) School of Technology in my home town:
The Democratic senator said what the Bush administration touts as an ownership society really is an "on your own" society that has widened the gap between rich and poor.

"I prefer a 'we're all in it together' society," she said. "I believe our government can once again work for all Americans. It can promote the great American tradition of opportunity for all and special privileges for none."

Let's set aside the inconvenient truth that the rising gap occurred during her husband's administration as well as the two surrounding it. What is truly shocking is to say, at a technical skill where students are investing in their own human capital,

We have sent a message to our young people that if you don't go to college ... that you're thought less of in America. We have to stop this.

This isn't even a liberal position. It is a perverse position that somehow you don't get to have greater income after you invest in your own skills. You are not entitled to the rewards of your own hard work in college.

If the point is that we should invest more in alternatives to college, we agree, but pretending that a technical college education and an Ivy education are equivalent or somehow shouldn't be differentially rewarded is just nuts. You cannot "stop this", because "this" is reality.

It is this inability to see tradeoffs, or as Thomas Sowell once called it, "the vision of the anointed", that creates both the MnDFL legislators and Mrs. Clinton. Robert George, reviewing Sowell's book by that title,
"The crucial role of vision," Sowell argues, "is that it enables a vast range of beliefs to be regarded as presumptively true until definitively disproved by unchallengeable evidence." Liberals --or, to use Sowell's disparaging label, "the anointed" -- view the world as "a very tidy place," where "prescient politicians can 'invest' tax dollars in 'the industries of the future,' where criminals can be 'rehabilitated,' irresponsible mothers taught 'parenting skills,' and where all sorts of other social problems can be 'solved."' All this is possible, as liberals see things, because human nature, as a "social construct," is far more malleable than most people imagine. Thus, in the vision of the anointed, "there is obviously a very expansive role for government and for the anointed in prescribing what government should do."

Sowell contrasts the vision of the anointed with "the tragic vision" of conservatives. What is "tragic" about this vision is that it assumes that problems such as crime, poverty, and irresponsibility cannot finally be "solved." Conservatives, recognizing that "there are no solutions, only trade-offs," do not go in for grand schemes to put an end to poverty, for example, or make health care a fundamental right, or pursue what Sowell derisively calls "cosmic justice." It is not that conservatives are happy that some people are poor, or without health insurance, or whatever. Nor, for that matter, are they complacent about it. Rather, they realize that liberal schemes to eradicate these evils a) never work, and b) inevitably impose huge social costs of their own.
Conservatives are meanies because they, like the store clerk, make the reality of tradeoffs real.

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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Memorial Day and Google 

Google, search engine extraordinaire, brain trust magnifique, search engine for the world refused to adapt its logo for the American Memorial Day, May 28. After receiving multiple customer complaints about not doing anything for Memorial Day, Google responded that it took too much programming to do such a thing for one day. They also mentioned that they make only small adornments to their logo for other holidays.

Thanks to Little Green Footballs one can see that Google actually did a Memorial Day Google equivelent logo for Australia, Canada and England for years. Frankly, it's just adding a flag or a poppy. Why do they design a Google logo for other countries but not for their own?

Remember, this is the same Google that refused to work with the US government to identify high traffic terrorist websites (not individual users) but as soon as the Chinese government told Google it wanted Google to track individual users in China, Google capitulated to the Chinese government. Why do American companies exercise their "freedom of speech" and anti-government practices in the USA but let repressive governments tell them what to do?

Not THAT neoliberalism 

I got fooled completely by the title of Richard Cohen's editorial. I thought he meant this neoliberalism. (Or, better, this.) That neoliberalism barely survived three months in Iraq postwar; while the Bush Administration continues to pay lip service to it, it still has a long way to go (take for example this piece by Austin Bay.)

I agree with Captain Ed that I would call Bush more liberal than most GOP front-liners. There has not been a veto of a spending bill, and the Dept. of Education grows larger and more powerful by the day. But I'd dissent from Ed here:
Iraq, as I have noted, is not an exercise in conservatism either. It is an expressly Wilsonian project, attempting to make the world safe for democracy by transforming the Middle East. The conservative strategy would have been to topple Saddam and leave the Iraqis to figure out the rest -- but that would have left vast oil resources in the hands of the strongest factions able to grasp power in the vacuum left behind. Instead, Bush and his team decided to attack terror by kicking out the struts that prop it up -- the oppression and despair in the Muslim world created by kleptocracies and mullahcracies in the region.
As Peter Berkowitz notes in his op-ed in today's WSJ, there's more than one strand of conservatism, and one of them is the neoliberal impulse I linked in that first paragraph. Applied to Iraq, it would have meant pension reform, privatization, reducing tariffs, and the promotion of private property rights in the country. Recognizing that markets are needed to efficiently allocated goods and services, the need for individual freedom and the constraints of imperfect information have all at various times been part of the Bush strategy, and those are conservative or, more correct, classical liberal principles. Berkowitz notes one type of split...
The split among conservatives has widened since Saddam was toppled in the spring of 2003. Traditional realists continue to put their trust in containment, and reject nation-building on the grounds that we lack both a moral obligation and the requisite knowledge of Arabic, Iraqi culture and politics, and Islam. Supporters of the war still argue that, in an age of mega-terror, planting the seeds of liberty and democracy in the Muslim Middle East is a reasonable response to the poverty, illiteracy, authoritarianism, violence and religious fanaticism that plagues the region.
...but there are others, which he blames on a lack of education about the conservative movement.
[I]n America ... conservatism has always revolved around the preservation of individual liberty. Of course modern conservatism generally admires virtues embodied in religious faith and the aristocratic devotion to excellence. It also tends to emphasize the weaknesses of human nature, the ironies and tragedies of history, and the limitations of reason and politics. At the same time, it wishes to put these virtues and this knowledge in liberty's service.

Balancing the claims of liberty and tradition, or showing how liberty depends on tradition, is the very essence of modern conservatism, ... The divisions within contemporary American conservatism--social conservatives, libertarians, and neoconservatives--arise from differences over which goods most urgently need to be preserved, to what extent, and with what role for government.

The varieties of conservatism are poorly understood today not only because of the bitterness of current political battles but also because the books that have played a key role in forming the several schools go largely untaught at our universities and largely unread by our professors. Indeed, perhaps one cause of the polarization that afflicts our political and intellectual class is the failure of our universities to teach, and in many cases to note the existence of, the conservative dimensions of American political thought.

Cohen, from a previous generation, may have read Hayek, Kirk and Strauss, but most of the left today -- and, sadly, much of the right -- have never been given a chance to grapple with the meaning of these texts. What would a course in democratic citizenship look like if they had?

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When tyrants whine 

In the local morning paper a writer complained in an op-ed that somehow the DFL was thwarted from its rightful duty to raise taxes.
A climactic political battle was waged at the state Capitol a week ago. An electorally expanded DFL army and a GOP Delta Force squared off in the House chamber as the minutes ticked by toward a deadline.

...During this frenzy, the transportation veto appeared on the speaker's desk courtesy of the governor's office. With the override vote called, a handful of turncoat legislators who had supported the 5-cent gas tax hike originally scurried back to their GOP fox holes and the veto was sustained.
What Dr. Ohmann fails to remember is that the veto is needed to protect us from the tyranny of the majority. Katherine Kersten reminds us today,

Turn back to the scene just after the Revolutionary War. The American people were not about to give significant power to state governors. They had just thrown off one king - with his often-hated colonial governors - and the last thing they wanted was another. Instead, they placed their trust in "the people." In the new nation, the law would be whatever 51 percent of the people's elected representatives decided it was.

But "the people" can be despots too, as Americans quickly discovered. State legislatures across the country began confiscating property, enacting wild paper money schemes and adopting various schemes to suspend the ordinary means for recovering debts. When the people exercise unchecked power, a new kind of tyranny is born. John Adams labeled it "democratic despotism." A popular assembly "under the bias of anger, malice or a thirst for revenge, will commit more excess than an arbitrary monarch," a frustrated legislator wrote in 1783.

In response, when Massachusetts adopted a new constitution in 1780, it added a veto for the governor, with a provision that the legislature could override the veto with a two-thirds majority. Massachusetts' constitution became a model for other states, as well as the federal constitution in 1787.

It became clear during the early days of the Republic, and thus during the Constitutional Debates Alexander Hamilton argued for the President to have a veto as well. In Federalist #73 he wrote,
The propensity of the legislative department to intrude upon the rights, and to absorb the powers, of the other departments, has been already suggested and repeated; the insufficiency of a mere parchment delineation of the boundaries of each, has also been remarked upon; and the necessity of furnishing each with constitutional arms for its own defense, has been inferred and proved. From these clear and indubitable principles results the propriety of a negative, either absolute or qualified, in the Executive, upon the acts of the legislative branches. Without the one or the other, the former would be absolutely unable to defend himself against the depredations of the latter. He might gradually be stripped of his authorities by successive resolutions, or annihilated by a single vote. And in the one mode or the other, the legislative and executive powers might speedily come to be blended in the same hands. If even no propensity had ever discovered itself in the legislative body to invade the rights of the Executive, the rules of just reasoning and theoretic propriety would of themselves teach us, that the one ought not to be left to the mercy of the other, but ought to possess a constitutional and effectual power of self defense.
Governors in many states have even more power than the President, insofar as they can use the line-item veto. Governor Pawlenty so far has reduced spending by $26,788,000 in five spending bills passed; one can expect a few more millions lopped off the two education bills that he hasn't yet received.

The original tax bill was instructive of the power of the veto, wherein a broad majority of Minnesotans supported the notion of taking money from the successful and giving it to themselves in lower property taxes. This despite the fact that property taxes per capita have fallen since 2000, according to Census data prepared by the Tax Foundation. It's not like there aren't options for property tax relief -- witness Florida, which is trying to pass "the biggest tax break being considered anywhere since California passed Proposition 13." (Link for WSJ subscribers.) To hear the DFL complain, our taxes must be rising at fantastic rates, but in fact at the state level the we're not even in the top 10. Governor Pawlenty in this case provided a bulwark against the tyranny of the majority, which leads Ohmann to whine,

Bottom line: No new revenue for roads, bridges and transit, plus no chance at accessing about $150 million in federal matching funds for highways.

During the preceding 41/2 months, new House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher and other DFLers had led a campaign for all-day kindergarten and medical coverage of all Minnesota children. These high expectations were culled when rendezvousing with the governor was finally accomplished.

This despite the fact that the Legislature was presented a proposal by Pawlenty to use bonds to expand spending by $398 million a year for transportation, but chose to send a lights-on bill for $150 million less because their gas tax failed. Governor Pawlenty had made medical coverage for all children a priority, but the DFL failed to provide sufficient money for that. Such moves, Kersten says, reflect the value of the veto:

The will of the majority can change rapidly, as we've seen here in Minnesota. The veto ensures that dramatic shifts in policy occur only if a broad cross-section of society approves them. In addition, the mere threat of a veto can encourage compromise and push legislators toward the political center.

The battle of the last days of the Legislature were the battle between young and old DFLers, with the new candidates aware of the need to find that center and the old mistaking the electoral results for a call for a dramatic shift.

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Monday, May 28, 2007

Fort Snelling Memorial Day Service 

As stated in an earlier post, we attended the Memorial Day Service at Fort Snelling in MN. The crowd was larger than last year and the day, again, memorable.

Three people spoke: Senator Amy Klobuchar, Governor Tim Pawlenty, and Rear Admiral John Crowley, Jr. The admiral spoke of his Coast Guard service and what it means to be a shipmate. His talk was informative and showed the pride he has in the Coast Guard and related military maritime service people.

Senator Klobuchar
thanked the vets and noted the reason for the day then proceeded to talk about herself, her political views, and getting the soldiers home. It was obvious someone wrote her speech, which by itself is fine. However, she either is a poor speaker or believed very little of what she said, minus getting our guys home. I have heard her speak before - much better than today. Her key point was that she supported the troops but not the mission. That's like saying I support Amy but not her office as a US Senator nor her role in government. The left does not understand what we are fighting and why, what we have to lose.

On the other hand, Governor Pawlenty thanked the vets, their families, those who gave their lives in past and present wars. He talked about freedom and sacrifice. He spoke of heroics performed by current and prior service people. His entire talk was about the honorees of the day: members of the United States Military Branches. One more key point - freedom is one generation removed from loss of freedom. He got a solid, sustained round of applause.

Personally, I hope all were able to attend a ceremony or at least set aside some time to honor our military. Truly, it is the best ever in every measure: intelligence, talent, skill, empathy, humanitarian behavior. We are one of the very few nations that understand why it is important to fight for freedom. Along with the Brits, Aussies and Canadians (though less as of late), we realize that free societies do more for more people than any other form of governmental structure devised.

Thank you, US soldiers!


Productivity matters 

Play the interesting little movie that Steve Conover has put together. Then check out the latest data on multifactor productivity. It's worth noting that multifactor productivity removes two items that can cause increases in output per hour of labor (which I think Conover means by productivity): an increased reliance on capital services per worker to produce output, and increasing skills of workers. Both of these are subject to diminishing returns (when thinking about Conover's point about covering public debt service.) The 1.1% growth of MFP is above the average for the 1980-1995 period, but below the level of the last ten years.

I have never given up the idea that measuring debt service as a function of potential rather than current GDP would be more useful.


"Social justice" is our hubris 

John Palmer, while teaching this summer in England, posted last week about social justice.
One of the papers at the conference I am attending has the phrase "social justice" in the title. Last week, before leaving for the conference, I told my colleagues at The Castle that typically this is just a buzz word/phrase for "condescending paternalistic pinko left-wing elitist interventionism". I'll be very curious to see if the paper fits the mold. I have tight priors that it will.
I haven't heard yet what he though of this particular paper, but he cites Roger Kimball's new essay in the New Criterion on Hayek's The Road to Serfdom, and the willingness of intellectuals to believe beyond all reason that they can build a new society, damn the costs.
Of course, you can�t make an omelet without breaking eggs. But it is remarkable what a large accumulation of eggshells we have piled up over the last century. (And then there is always Orwell�s embarrassing question: �Where�s the omelet?�) I forget the sage who described hope as the last evil in Pandora�s box. Unfair to hope, perhaps, but not inapplicable to that adamantine �faith in a better world� that has always been at the heart of the socialist enterprise. Talk about a hardy perennial! The socialist experiment has never worked out as advertised. But it continually blooms afresh in the human heart�those portions of it, anyway, colonized by intellectuals, that palpitating tribe Julien Benda memorably denominated �clercs,� as in �trahison de.� But why? What is it about intellectuals that makes them so profligately susceptible to the catnip of socialism?
I've answered that mostly by saying intellectuals have a hard time arguing for a moral basis to society. Several years ago Walter Williams made the argument:
If social justice has any operational meaning at all, it is that the purpose of law is to prevent one person from violating another person's fight to acquire, keep, and dispose of property in any manner so long as he doesn't violate another's simultaneously held fights, In other words, laws should be written to prevent force and fraud. Laws that force one person to serve the purposes of another are immoral. These values, expressed in our Declaration of Independence as the unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, guided the framers in the writing of our Constitution and Bill of Rights. Today, our government has become increasingly destructive of the ends it was created to serve. Americans have become increasingly hostile and alien to the liberties envisioned by the framers. We have disregarded the inscription that graces the U.S. Department of Justice: "Where the law ends tyranny begins."

...[L]aws do not determine what is or is not moral conduct. In Nazi Germany, there were laws that required the reporting of a person hiding a Jew. In our country, the Fugitive Slave Act made assisting runaway slaves a crime. In apartheid South Africa, hiring blacks for certain work was illegal. In the former East Germany, assisting people in their efforts to escape to the West was illegal. Would any decent person demand that any of these laws be obeyed? Decent people must always ask: does the law have a moral basis?
But what is the source of the moral basis? For the modern intellectual, Kimball finds, it has to be the intellectual himself. And that misses everything:
The road away from serfdom was to be found by embracing what Hayek called �the extended order of cooperation,� AKA capitalism. In The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith noted the paradox, or seeming paradox, of capitalism: that the more individuals were left free to follow their own ends, the more their activities were �led by an invisible hand to promote� ends that aided the common good. Private pursuits conduced to public goods: that is the beneficient alchemy of capitalism. Hayek�s fundamental insight, enlarging Smith�s thought, is that the spontaneous order created and maintained by competitive market forces leads to greater prosperity than a planned economy.

The sentimentalist cannot wrap his mind, or his heart, around that datum. He cannot understand why we shouldn�t favor �co- operation� (a pleasing-sounding arrangement) over �competition� (much harsher), since in any competition there are losers, which is bad, and winners, which may be even worse. Socialism is a version of sentimentality. Even so hard-headed an observer as George Orwell was susceptible. In The Road to Wigan Pier (1937), Orwell argued that since the world �potentially at least, is immensely rich,� if we developed it �as it might be developed � we could all live like princes, supposing that we wanted to.� Never mind that part of what it means to be a prince is that others, most others, are not royalty.

The socialist, the sentimentalist, cannot understand why, if people have been able to �generate some system of rules coordinating their efforts,� they cannot also consciously �design an even better and more gratifying system.� Central to Hayek�s teaching is the unyielding fact that human ingenuity is limited, that the elasticity of freedom requires the agency of forces beyond our supervision, that, finally, the ambitions of socialism are an expression of rationalistic hubris. A spontaneous order generated by market forces may be as beneficial to humanity as you like; it may have greatly extended life and produced wealth so staggering that, only a few generations ago, it was unimaginable. Still, it is not perfect. The poor are still with us. Not every social problem has been solved. In the end, though, the really galling thing about the spontaneous order that free markets produce is not its imperfection but its spontaneity: the fact that it is a creation not our own. It transcends the conscious direction of human will and is therefore an affront to human pride.

Socialism, thus, is an expression of sin. Williams notes that liberty is not our normal state of affairs or is fragile. So too did Milton Friedman.


CU President "Professor Churchill should be dismissed for cause" 

Reported first by the Daily Camera, and reported as well by the CBS affiliate in Denver. The Camera saves the best statement by President Hank Brown for last:

�The record demonstrates that the committees took extraordinary care to consider only the allegations of research misconduct and were not motivated by any desire to punish Professor Churchill for exercising his First Amendment rights...

�Each expressly acknowledged the essential purpose of academic freedom and free speech in the University setting, but recognized that academic freedom does not protect fraudulent scholarship.�

Replies Ward Churchill's lawyer: �We�re done with kangaroo court; we�re getting ready for real court.� This should be fun.


Who knew? 

Barry Ritholz posts a humorous email of quotes about inflation and other things from 1957. Here are the first six:
(1) "I'll tell you one thing, if things keep going the way they are, its going to be impossible to buy a weeks groceries for $20.00."

(2) "Have you seen the new cars coming out next year? It won't be long when $5,000 will only buy a used one."

(3) "If cigarettes keep going up in price, I'm going to quit. A quarter a pack is ridiculous."

(4) "Did you hear the post office is thinking about charging a dime just to mail a letter?"

(5) "If they raise the minimum wage to $1, nobody will be able to hire outside help at the store."

(6) "When I first started driving, who would have thought gas would someday cost 29 cents a gallon? Guess we'd be better off leaving the car in the garage."
Speaking of that last one, while writing the report I needed to write over the weekend I ran across this data. (Click for the larger graph.) It argues that we really are not spending as much on gas as we did around the second OPEC shock in 1979. We are down to 3% of household expenditures on gasoline versus 4.6% in 1980-81. Who knew?


Saturday, May 26, 2007

Memorial Day Weekend 

This is the beginning of Memorial Day Weekend, the time we all take to honor those who have given their lives for our nation.

It is so easy to get caught up in the negative, often anti-American press messages of the past 35+ years, press written and espoused by a media that is either ridden with guilt over whatever or is mostly incoherent as to why our ancestors and a new generation fought and now fights. Perhaps they are simply ignorant of the pluses of the United States of America, our history and what we have done for the world.

It is my hope that each of you will take the time to thank a soldier, a soldier's family, or visit Fort Snelling National Cemetery in Bloomington. There is a memorial service beginning at 10:00 AM on Monday, May 28. Gates will open at 7:30 AM. If you cannot attend the service, perhaps you can find some time this weekend to pay respects to those who have gone before us. Without their sacrifices, we would not have the freedoms we experience today. Without our current soldiers and veterans, we will not be able to pass on these freedoms to our children and grandchildren.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Once-twice-three, VOTE! 

Many an academic has found himself or herself caught up in university senates where some people will try to jam the process by making incidental and privileged motions, each asserting they and they alone are the experts of parliamentary procedure. I also have sat in several church conferences where pastors pretend to the throne of parliamentarian. I fall prey to this insofar as I have to learn the process myself as chair of college committees and a relatively large department, though in the latter case I almost never need to call on it.

So, just to say in advance, while the forthcoming sounds like I know a lot about parliamentary procedure, don't mistake me for a parliamentarian. All us academics pretend to know procedure better than we do. However, it is helpful that a body like the Minnesota House of Representatives has permanent rules to which you can refer, at least for its actions. Hold onto that point, because we need to review them.

Michael has posted video created by the College Republicans of the remarkable power of the gavel wielded by Margaret Anderson Kelliher on Monday night. In it they make reference to the use of an incidental motion to "call the previous question". Judging by the reactions of the Republicans in the House, it appears that motion is almost never used -- at one time Kelliher says it's been used five times in recent years, though the video's graphic says five times since 1858. I have no idea when the other five times are. But the rule for the previous question exists in the House's permanent rules, and doesn't appear to have been changed in quite some time (i.e., the rule existed when the Republicans were the majority, though they claim not to have used it.) And the protests of Rep. Laura Brod appear to indicate that the Republicans were taken by surprise and not familiar with the rule. For instance, in Rule 3.10 -- of which Brod made a point of referring to the order of motions -- it specifically states that "if the motion for the previous question has been properly made, and if necessary seconded, and the main question ordered, the motion to lay on the table is not in order." Brod had tried to get the main motion -- the gas tax override -- laid on the table after it appears Kelliher had her motion by Tony Sertich and counted her fifteen seconds as required by the rules. If you wanted to derail this thing you could have asked for a call of the House (which ten members can do, and would have required a roll call in advance.)

There's no doubt though that this was premeditated, not only in recognizing Sertich from the speaker's chair -- which she correctly asserts her right to do, though it's pretty clearly out of turn -- and in the very quick finding of her fifteen seconding motions. Sertich's motion was not in the proper form according to the usual parliamentary rules (he doesn't state the previous motion which he is calling) but that's up to Kelliher to enforce or someone to emphasize in a point of order. The video is right in saying the DFL railroaded those bills to a vote.

One other point: Besides the overruling of a motion to lay on the table -- which is a specific rule of the MN House and not a normal rule under Roberts' -- the House is also unusual in that a motion to call the previous question only requires a simple majority there and not a two-thirds requirement as is normal elsewhere (which is why I had to spend time reading the permanent rules, because otherwise the GOP could have simply voted as a bloc to reject the previous question.) It would be in the interest of open debate in the Legislature if the permanent rules were never again allowed to be used in this way, and this could be done simply by having a super-majority requirement for that motion written into the permanent rules. I suggest the GOP make that a legislative priority in the next session along with the other rules stifling debate as I noted a few days ago.

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Sneaky buggers 

I noted Wednesday that I thought the nanny state bill SF 434 was in the first conference report of the omnibus HHS bill that Governor Pawlenty vetoed. In his veto message he did not specifically state opposition to this measure, and as a result, buried in the new HHS bill passed, they've stuck that stinker in as the 17th article, at page 440. This is not subject to line-item veto, though appropriations to it are (but you have to get to pages 491-92 to find those monies.)

Face it, folks, we don't know everything in these bills. The governor's office, thankfully, has staff ready to do such reading.

UPDATE (5/26): Alas, he's signed it and did not veto the money. He did cut almost $15 million out of this huge bill, but not the money for this new invasion into our families.

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Are they gaming the guv? 

As I think more about this ordering of the bills being delivered to Governor Pawlenty, this appears to be more strategic than secretarial. The arrival of the HHS and State Government bills yesterday, assuming they arrived yesterday, must now be signed or vetoed (or line-itemed) by Saturday. Yet the Governor would not yet have the tax bill or the two education bills, so he again is in the box of being forced to sign them blind to any general budget resolution or the details of about half of state expenditures or what full revenues will be.

Given that the governor has said that he had to veto previous bills because he did not have a comprehensive budget, I wonder how he is supposed to sign these bills? Certainly he has some inkling what is in the ed and tax bills, but as we're finding out, some stinkers are still in the bills that passed with minimal scrutiny (more on this in my next post.)

Is the DFL-led Legislature gaming the governor into signing some bills without having all the information he needs to assess them? Behold these words:

Revisor of Statutes Michele Timmons, who heads the legislative office that compiles bills and sends them to the governor, acknowledged that the process "is taking a little bit longer this year" and that "it's not uncommon for the Legislature to make special presentment requests." Usually the requests are to speed up the job, not slow it down, she added.

She wouldn't comment on whether her staff could have gotten all the bills to the governor this week, but Kelliher said: "I'm sure that technically it would be possible."

I'm not governor, but if I was, I would not reward this behavior.

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Rachel Paulose, the Strib, more Hypocrisy 

There's been much ado about Rachel Paulose, the recently appoint US Attorney for the State of Minnesota. The Strib did their best to attack and defame her. Now, however, the Strib's only conservative columnist, Kathy Kersten, sets the record straight.

In Ms. Kersten's column today, she describes the REAL Rachel Paulose. Respected individuals from both political parties comment that Rachel is enormously qualified to perform the job as US Attorney, in spite of her: youth, minority status, and horrors, she's a Christian.

As one reads Ms. Kersten's column, the vast majority of individuals will realize that Ms. Paulose's appointment is warranted and that we are extremely lucky to have a person of her caliber in her position.

It is unfortunate that the media and the Democrat Party will only support minorities and strong women if they are Democrats. This same pattern occurred in the 2006 election - the Republican Congressional candidate for St. Paul's district was Obi Sium, a minority - he got minimal coverage. However, Keith Ellison, the minority Democrat candidate for the Minneapolis Congressional District got all kinds of favorable coverage.



Baby, it's a three-fer! 

Now I really want it vetoed:

The tax bill contains many items Pawlenty supports, including tax breaks for expansions of the Mall of America in Bloomington and Thomson West Publishing in Eagan, a $39 million state guarantee for costs of the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul and tighter tax rules for firms with foreign operations.

But Pawlenty opposes a section that returns projected inflation to the state's official budget forecasts. To eliminate it, he would have to veto the entire bill, because line-item vetoes are allowed only for spending provisions, not policy. He warned legislators before the bill was approved that the inflation provision could bring down the whole measure.

Seriously, in one veto you stop this inflation nonsense and the corporate welfare to Thomson West and MoA? And frankly, Scarlett, I don't give a damn about guaranteeing costs for the RNC. Why does a government have to do that?

Of course, the corporate types will also be pushing for the foreign operations tax veto as well; I think this is as good as dead. $39 mil for the RNC guarantee (which, to be clear, doesn't cost us anything except in very dire circumstances) isn't enough sugar to swallow this lemon.

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Media alert: Blog Talk Radio 

I will make my first foray into the Internet radio life this afternoon at 2pm CT, visiting with old friend and fellow NARNian Captain Ed Morrissey on Blog Talk Radio. One of the greatest things that has happened to me in blogging is meeting Ed, and this will be the first time we're on the air together in quite some time (since Final Word began; before that we were a weekly habit.) We'll talk about immigration and the report on the mobility of low-income families with children. The call-in number for listeners is 646-652-4889.

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Faster, Johnny! Print faster! 

Larry Schumacher does some good shovel work, finding out when the bills passed Monday in the frenetic close of the Legislature will get to the Governor's desk.

Brian McClung, Gov. Tim Pawlenty's spokesman, told the Capitol press corps today that Pawlenty has so far received only the Economic Development budget bill. He got it on Tuesday and must sign or veto it by midnight Friday.

The Health and Human Services and State Government budget bills will arrive Thursday and must be signed or vetoed by midnight Saturday.

The Higher Education and E-12 Education budget bills and the Taxes bill won't be coming until Tuesday, giving Pawlenty until midnight June 1 to sign or veto them.

The word is that the backlog from Monday night is pretty thick at the Office of the Revisor of Statutes, which must draft bills and prepare them to present to the Governor's office, and it's taking a while to sort out.

So if it takes that long to get them printed, how the heck did anyone on the House floor know what they were voting on? Did anyone have time to read? And did anyone care?

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Is there still a use for albums? 

Mitch writes about record stores.
I used to love the feeling you�d get when you�d talk the totally-wasted stoner behind the counter into playing some sample on the house stereo; sliding the record out, dropping the needle, the anticipation as the record rolled toward the start�
I don't even remember the name of the place in Manchester, NH, where I did this, but the manager of the place, who also became the first lead guitarist I played with in a band (first song on stage: "Just What I Needed" by The Cars; God his solo rift was perfect!), probably was the single most responsible person for broadening my horizons of music. Just in the C's besides the Cars I got to listen to the first Elvis Costello album and Chick Corea (why he wasn't sorted into jazz is beyond me), and the Clash.

And it avoided the one-hit wonders; we didn't even make it through the third song of "Get the Knack." Am I better off now for being able to buy My Sharona and nothing else? Well, that's a bad analogy because that song had a half-life about as long as the Vikings' Super Bowl hopes, but I think some bands need time to grow from one song to an album, and if they can sell a song or two on iTunes or promote band dates on MySpace, it may give them the time and finances to see if there's really a band there.

Not that I dislike record stores or albums. The concept album has died, but some albums just seem to flow from song to song, perhaps why I still prefer prog-rock later in my evenings. In economics dissertations the preference is now that everybody writes a set of essays, which become three separate journal articles sometimes even before the dissertation is completed. I think something is lost when a scholar does not connect the chapters of a dissertation into a single thesis, and I think disjointed songs on an album suffer the same fate.

And that is very hard to do. Thus the democratization of recording music -- which is the upshot of the digitization Mitch discusses -- means more and more people producing single songs that work but do not create a line of thought from song to song.

I'm quite devoted still to the Fetus, not least of which for the guy who's worked there forever who seems to talk any genre I'm interested that day. Is it as good as the cut-out and used bins at the Rhino Records in Claremont back in my grad school (and KSPC) days? No, not quite, but close, and that's still very good. And yes, they play samples.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Silly laws 

While I await Governor Pawlenty's last demonstration of his goalie skills, it's worth noting a couple minor irritating bills that we've discussed before have gotten through to be laws.
In a number of cases, bills that were floated around alone ended up incorporated in omnibus bills; for example, freedom to poop ended up in the SF2089, the omnibus jobs and economic development bill that the governor vetoed. SF434, the cradle part of cradle-to-grave government care and advocacy of the nanny state, ended up in the first HHS bill. As time permits I'll check on some of the other silly bills we have discussed.

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Mobile low-income families 

Arnold Kling points out a very interesting CBO study released last week on the progress of low-income families with children. I am in particular fascinated by the results presented from the 2001 Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) which allowed tracking the same families that were low-income in 2001 through the following three years.
The fact that average income was increasing between 2001 and 2003 for those households with children that were in the low-income category in 2001 does not mean that income was increasing for every household. Although about 60 percent of female-headed and other low-income households with children in 2001 experienced real increases in income of more than $1,500 over the next two years, about 25 percent of each group saw their income decline by more than $1,500 over the same period (see Figure 9).18 For households in which income increased, it did so substantially, nearly doubling between 2001 and 2003.
A $1500 increase is an increase of about 10%. The changes were not due to changes in marital conditions of these families. Also take a look at Box 1 of the report (p. 9) in which they show that only half of the families making the increases had bounced back from a bout of unemployment.

Kling notes that while we perceive no change in poverty rates, the income of the lowest quintile of families with children increased 35% between 1991 and 2005. Only for the top group did it grow faster. That does seem counterintuitive to me, as Kling points out, the effect of immigration on the poverty level should be to hold its income growth down. Or maybe that story just isn't right.


Work around for Indoctrinate U? 

Scott Johnson points to two pieces on the continuing effort to get Indoctrinate U on movie screens. Stanley Kurtz makes a good review of the film by Evan Coyne Maloney. Sonny Bunch notes:
Maloney is now looking for a way to distribute his film, which is an expensive proposition. "Your first set of prints will probably run you $20,000 to $25,000, and every set after that will be $2,000 to $3,000," Maloney says. It is virtually impossible for an independent filmmaker to shoulder that cost and convince theaters to run the films. If Indoctrinate U is going to be shown at your local art house theater, it will have to be picked up by a mini-major distributor, such as Lion's Gate, or New Line.
It would seem to me that the internet can provide as good a workaround and democratization of documentary film-making for the distribution houses as it does for opinion and analysis for newspapers. Maloney hopes so:
"We've got this database of people who've already expressed an interest in seeing the film, and there's other ways of getting it to them, from DVD sales, to the iTunes movie store. One way or another, people are going to get to see this film. The only question is, 'Is Hollywood going to demonstrate that they're really nonpartisan, and do business with folks like us?'"
We're trying to help, and direct you to our Final Word podcast with Maloney. If this story is new to you, visit Maloney's site.

Looking at it now, it still looks bad 

The St. Cloud Times editorial board today says it simply: There's got to be a better way.
Minnesota has to find a better way to fashion a state budget and set policy so two things don't occur:

� Legislators cram and jam so many decisions and votes into the final hours of a session that nobody really knows what passed and what didn't.

� The public has no reasonable opportunity to learn about, much less weigh in on the final versions of major legislation.
The seeds for this debacle were sown early in the session when the DFL chose a set of rules that allowed much of the shenanigans that occurred over the weekend and on Monday in the rush to adjournment. I take you to the House Journal of February 26, 2007 (beginning at page 545) and March 1, 2007 (beginning at page 671). The discussion is over the permanent rules that the Rules Committee chaired by Democratic Leader Rep. Tony Sertich (the black hole of the Legislature, which is where among other things Swansongate still languishes.) Here are the highlights:
  1. The report allowed for budget bills to be voted on by the House with only two hours notice. Dean Simpson offered an amendment to increase that to six hours. The amendment got sent to Rules and never appeared again. Thus the two hour limit was enacted.
  2. Bills have traditionally had germaneness requirements, so that each bill would have only one subject. Such were not the rules offered by Sertich's committee. When Rep. Matt Dean tried to re-introduce the single subject rule, it was defeated by the DFL.
  3. Rep. Mark Olson tried very hard to get sanity into this process. For example, he offered amendments to the rules that would have required a) conference committee reports for the budget to be completed a week before adjournment; b) forced the tax bill to get done first; and c) required a one-day notice for bills to be heard. All were defeated.
I could highlight other points, but in retrospect these were the key votes. The rules agreed by the DFL majority and forced upon the Republican minority were a key contributor to the gridlock and breakdown that occurred at the end of the session. The contributed to the lack of civility at the end of the session that Margaret Kelliher promised us at the beginning of the session.

Did the DFL overpromise and underdeliver? It appears so, and by it's own hands.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

With friends like this 

You know, sometimes being an ally is hard. Take this, for example, from Saint Paul.
Comments: Nobody deserves a stroke of lottery fortune less than Glen Taylor and Kevin McHale, the NBA's version of Bush/Rumsfield for 8-10 years. Of course, nobody deserves a stroke of lottery fortune more than KG, one of the few superstars with too much pride to ever bail on a sinking ship. Either that, or they're blackmailing him with a sex tape so he'll stay. But wouldn't it be nice to see KG play the David Robinson to Oden's Tim Duncan for the next 5-6 years? Hence, 10 points for "overdue good karma."

A media guy from Boston, I should have guessed as much. But if I want to get lame second guessing on complex issues of war and foreign policy, I'll read the Star Tribune editorial page. Bad Karma Simmons, may all the Celtics ping pong balls get stuck in the hopper tonight and they end up drafting Spencer Tollackson.
That's no ordinary media guy from Boston -- and God knows we've got lots of those. He refers to Bill Simmons, known originally as the Boston Sports Guy, who blogged sports before people had heard of blogs. Sports writers don't write for Jimmy Kimmel.

And then to curse the Celtics? It's not like we've had much for leadership there; we'll see your Kevin McHale and raise you M.L. Carr. We'll see your Malik Sealy and raise you Len Bias and Reggie Lewis. And you're Irish, for good measure? Isn't it bad enough Notre Dame sucks?

Fine, my friend. Keep rooting for the team that surrounds the most gifted player in the game with just enough talent to lose in the first round. Sam Cassell says hi.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to learn how to pronounce Yi Jianlian. I can get you a great deal on a Celtics jersey, with #35 on the back.

UPDATE (5/23): Yi, the Chinese Brad Lohaus.

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The quality of pillow talk 

I'm glad my wife is not Sheila of London. She writes to Tim Harford that she's flirting like mad with another man because she is 'rather bored' with her husband. His answer is brilliant:

When I heard of your dilemma I thought immediately of an old paper from the Journal of Political Economy, �A Theory of Extramarital Affairs� by Ray C. Fair, an economist at Yale.

...[H]is approach to the problem could equally have applied if you had written to say that you were 38 years old, rather bored with your husband and were thinking of taking up badminton. One senses that something is missing. I think the omission is uncertainty. You do not know how much fun an affair will be. Nor do you know whether your husband is likely to become more or less tedious over time. A cost-benefit analysis is going to be tricky, but we can say for sure that your potential affair represents a valuable option. As with all options it may be best to refrain from exercising it until the option is �deep in the money� - that is, until you are so thoroughly fed up with your husband that you think nothing can save the marriage.

Until then, why not enjoy the saucy talk? It may be a lot more fun than the affair itself.

The Fair model is pretty well-known, and a couple of recent re-tests have turned some of the results into questions. Fair found, for instance, that infidelity increased over time in the marriage, but recent results do not support that. Harford's surmise, that "you know whether your husband is likely to become more or less tedious over time" is supported by that. But age does matter, at least in this paper up to a point: The probability of a man cheating on his marriage peaks at age 55, but for women the peak is 40. Most importantly, education matters but in a very economic way. If your spouse is much less educated than you are, you're more likely to be unfaithful to the marriage. "[T]he costs of infidelity increases as the quality of the spouse increases." But of course.

Here's the wiki on option time value.

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One thing we learned in the last 30 minutes of the Legislature 

Which was most important?
  1. A bonding bill?
  2. Approval of a referendum for the outdoors?
  3. Getting an extra $500 per year from the average Minnesota family in higher gas taxes?
If you answered 3, you read the papers.

Though you have to love this:
"Time ran out. I was so close," said an upset Rep. Alice Hausman (DFL-St. Paul), left, who is comforted by Rep. Mary Murphy (DFL-Hermantown), after the Legislative session ended before Hauseman's bonding bill could be heard in the House of Representatives at the State Capitol in St. Paul on Monday May 21, 2007.
Boo hoo! I didn't get my pork!

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The price elasticity of our state's entrepreneurs 

Do not think, gentle reader, that this editorial escaped my gaze during my absence. It's clever, in that it strings together a set of fairly reasonable statements in order to make an unreasonable conclusion seem, well, reasonable. Let me demonstrate:
If Minnesota raises the top income tax rate, goes this refrain, wealthy citizens will flee the state, businesses will take jobs elsewhere, and entrepreneurs will be discouraged from coming here.
I don't think I've said that (read here and here.) Some of the wealthy will flee, certainly, but for many reasons, one of which will be better taxes. My parents left New Hampshire for Maine, a no-sales-or-income-tax state to one with both. Did they go for better schools or better roads? No, their kids were grown and gone, and they live on a private road. They moved there because it was a dream from their youth, when both visited the Downeast coast during the summer. Taxes reduced their income, maybe reducing the size of the addition they put onto the cottage they built or reduced the amount of labor they hired to help with landscaping or, ... you get the point. Money spent on taxes is not spent on other things they choose; it's spent on things the government chooses. Who would make the better choice?

So it is in Minnesota. Raising the tax rate on the wealthy does not lead to "caravans of limos, Hummers and Citations streaming over our borders -- "The Grapes of Wrath," Ch�teau-Lafite-Rothschild-style." This is an oversimplification, the creation of a straw man that is about the only thing Quimby and Smith can knock down.

But is it true?

Call it tried but not true, lacking in foundation. It's a worn-out argument that has always been thrown up against a more progressive tax system.
One thing to note is that the worn-out argument is still out there, and supported by a heckuva lot of economic research. Most of the research focuses on movement of people, though Scully finds tax rates above the low-20s to be negative for growth. Nobody that I see argues that taxes increase growth (though certainly from very low levels they may, by providing for the protection of private property rights).

It's not an argument about progressive tax systems per se. It's an argument against creating tax differentials for certain types of groups versus other states to which taxpayers may be highly mobile. So, for example, closing loopholes on foreign income earned by corporations in Minnesota changes the amount of tax paid by corporations without changing the after-tax return on the next dollar of profits re-invested into the state. It may affect location decisions for firms if there are other states with the loophole, but it's not likely to cause movement in capital already invested in Minnesota.
But unless you already believe that taxes are the root of all evil, it's impossible to look at the evidence and conclude that an income tax increase at the top would set off a massive millionaire migration from Minnesota.
What would constitute 'massive'? Suppose five firms hiring 25 workers each decide to change location from St. Cloud to Aberdeen. Would that be enough to discourage Quimby and Smith? It would matter quite a bit to those 125 workers now without jobs. Do you think anyone will support a worker retraining program for those jobs lost, or are they not enough to be considered 'massive'?

Interestingly, Quimby and Smith play a shell game by focusing on manufacturers:

Take businesses leaving the state. It is such a nonproblem, the Department of Employment and Economic Development doesn't even track business departures. When it did measure business outmigration, for nine years in the 1990s, Minnesotans paid higher income taxes and about 1.5 percent more of our income for government services than we do today. If businesses were going to flee the state because of taxes, that was the time to do it.

Yet during that period, only 95 manufacturers moved out of state, totaling an approximate peak employment of fewer than 5,000 workers. Over the same nine years, Minnesota gained nearly 400,000 jobs.
Did you catch that? Notice that the focus is on manufacturing, which is less than one-sixth of the state economy. The other 5/6ths of businesses? Minnesota gained 400,000 jobs, but what was this compared to the growth of other states? Minnesota ranked 18th in jobs created in this period, not much different from the national average; it was 16th in wage income growth in the period.

But the data show otherwise. Minnesota did no better than average in business start-ups. Most of its growth in the 1990s came from the expansion of existing businesses. Bureau of Economic Analysis data shows that proprietors income in the period grew less than 15%, versus nearly 22% nationally. So high taxes did hurt other businesses, but again, the G&J people have ducked this question by focusing only on manufacturing.

The data shows that in that period Minnesota was usually #6 of combined state and local tax burden. The ravages of Ventura and Pawlenty have taken us to ... #11. Hooray, we're out of the top 10! But in terms of combined federal, state, and local taxes, Minnesotans pay 32.7% of their income in 2007 under current law, versus 32.5% in 1997. We manage to stay high because other states have been engaged in tax cutting to a greater degree than we have.

The received wisdom of economists over the years is that of the Tiebout Hypothesis: People move to tax jurisdictions that offer the variety of services and tax prices that appeal most to their sensibilities. Progressives argue, with perhaps some justification, that Minnesota is a state that prefers high taxes and high services sorted through the years. But the high level of services that progressives and metro-area DFL legislators argue for require substantially higher tax rates that we see evidence does cause a shift in migration patterns. Moreover, one paper shows that increases in the size of the education industry is negatively correlated with growth in the fifty United States.

Quimby and Smith cite as evidence that taxes aren't stopping millionaires from living here the fact that we are 15th in millionaires per capita. Tiebout would argue that the rich would demand more services and thus would prefer Minnesota. So why aren't there more?

Most important, though, is that Quimby and Smith are focusing on too short a period to see the effects of taxation on growth. Capital, both physical and human, takes years to build and years more to achieve the amount of growth differential that would show up in the types of summary statistics they use. Richard Vedder focuses instead on a forty year period and shows that growth was much slower in the ten states with the highest state income tax rate increase between 1957 and 1997 versus the ten that increased the least. The effect is far more pronounced that the effect of changes in property taxes. His is also evidence of Tiebout's hypothesis:
People �voted with their feet�, preferring states where the government allowed them to keep more of their own income. I calculated the net movement of native born Americans within the U.S from the years 1990 to 1999, comparing the nine states that have essentially no personal income tax (Alaska, Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington and Wyoming) with the other 41 states and the District of Columbia. Some 2,849,310 persons moved into the no income tax states from the states that levied taxes on the productive activity of their citizens. Excepting Sundays, some one thousand persons moved every day for nine years to the no income tax states! More persons fled to the no income tax havens than moved from East to West Germany during the Cold War. One of the great migrations in human history occurred �and most Americans do not even know about it!
Thus Quimby and Smith have focused on too short of period to provide evidence that taxes have no effect, have moved about the goalposts by ignoring the effects of taxes on five-sixths of the Minnesota economy, have failed to understand marginal analysis, and fail to understand their own theory of what the demand for government services are. Higher-income individuals move out, and lower-income individuals move in, meaning provision of the same level of government services is costing more than the income brought in to support it. While Minnesota has been a destination for people from the Dakotas and elsewhere in the past, it cannot expect to receive those in the future; those states cannot export population to us in the same way they did in the past. Minnesota must choose whether it will remain a state that drives away tax producers in favor of tax consumers or will combat the bleeding of productive individuals by allowing them to enjoy the fruits of their labor.

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Trials and STribulations 

[A reader, Dan Cohen, has sent the following letter to the StarTribune regarding its coverage of several items regarding the tax increase proposals in the Legislature this session, and the coverage of Bill Cooper's departure to sunny and income-tax-free Florida. I am posting it without further comment as interesting to my readers. He has edited what he sent to the STrib here for style:]

The Strib doesn't have a clue as to what to do about the mess they're in. Here's an outfit that hates and is hated by a substantial part of their customer base trying to shapeshift into something that will matter to people they've been holding in open contempt for decades. They've operated as a monopoly, an unregulated monopoly at that, since time immemorial. That mindset informs every word they publish.

Take for instance Kate Parry's column of last week. Ms Parry is billed as the Readers Representative, with the mission of "ensuring" that the voice of the reader is heard in the newsroom. That's pretty much the opposite of what her column is about. Most of what she does is ensure that the voice of the newsroom is heard by the reader. She would seem to be fairly representative of the Strib's attitude in its present predicament. Here's her principal argument for the Strib to continue to act the way it does:
I shudder to think of those decisions (i.e., matters of public policy-- my wording. D.C.) being made based on the unverified claims I see plastered onto some websites and blogs.
What Ms. Parry and her ilk don't realize is that many of us shudder to see decisions on matters of public policy being based on what we read in the Strib. That's why their circulation is tanking. Readers now get information from the net and the blogs and each other, because a significant portion of the readership does not trust the Strib to give them an honest shake on the news.

For years and years, the Strib has gotten away with demonstrating disdain and distaste and then some, for those who disagreed with them. Why not? Their readers had no place else to go. And the Strib also hasn't seem to much care that often the feeling was mutual. In fact, they seemed to wear it as a badge of honor that so many of the unschooled masses were infuriated by the Strib. It just confirmed the Strib's intellectual superiority.

Times have changed.

Now Ms. Parry says, trust us.

It won't happen.

Once trust is gone, it never returns.

There is no return trip ticket to those halcyon days when the Strib called the shots around here. Now it is the Strib itself that is on the defensive and it is the Strib's policies and attitudes that are being called into question. And it is the readers who have the upper hand at last, voting with their mouses against the arrogance and elitism that held the upper hand for so long.

The solution: for the Strib there is none. The Strib will continue to wither, and while it will never go completely away, it will simply be one player among many in a highly segmented market, where their niche will consist of a hard core of aging angry leftists.

Lots of other business have faced competitive challenges and survived and even thrived. One example is TCF, which was slowly withering away in the dying Savings and Loan industry. A new leader, Bill Cooper, was brought in, and he revived the business by converting TCF to a chartered bank. An obvious solution? Hardly. Cooper's chief competitor, Hal Greenwood of Midwest Federal, continued to dig himself and his company into an even deeper hole by plunging his business into risky investments in trailer parks -- the subprime loans of that era-- that eventually bankrupted Midwest.

Greenwood wound up in prison.

Cooper was a leader in the Minnesota Republican party.

Greenwood was a leader in the Minnesota Democratic party.

Cooper's contribution was recently recorded by a Strib columnist who slammed him for making a big pot of money for himself and leaving Minnesota for warmer climes when he retired.

Okay, it's no secret nobody loves the richest kid in town, and slamming Cooper was tailor made for the Minnesota constituency that hates the wealthy and that the paper loves to cultivate, whether the rich earned their money themselves or not. (One exception: the notorious public leech, Carl Pohlad, whose legendary talent for snaring government handouts has earned the Strib's admiration).

It was also tailor made to bring tears of joy to every single development staffer in every single state in the union other than Minnesota, who will clip and trot out the Strib's attack on Cooper and today's editorial calling for the highest state levied taxes in the nation on personal income and show them to every corporate executive whom we are competing for to expand or open new business and bring new jobs to Minnesota.

"Here it is, Mr/Ms. Boss. Move to Minnesota, build a business, hire thousands of people, pay them decent salaries, generate dividends for your investors, and after working a lifetime to do it, when you decide to retire to , God forbid, a warmer climate, the local press, instead of congratulating you on your contribution to the civic welfare, will kick you in the butt, and tell you not to let the door do further damage to your backside on the way out. And while you're here, they'll also tax you to the max. Personally and with a great sense of moral entitlement."

This is the sort of stuff the Strib publishes every day in whatever little corner of the paper they can find that lends itself to that message, and believe me, it is a the business equivalent of a deadly roadside bomb in the hands of competing states.

Corporate executives are not given to calls to holy orders. They are, it is true, highly desirous of taking care of themselves bigtime. But the glory, the wonder, the blessing, of capitalism is that in order for them to receive the maximum benefit for themselves, unless they are of the Nachio variety, they also have to benefit others as well. That's what Cooper did. That's what the Strib denigrates. And that's the message that will find its way to every executive considering a move to Minnesota.

But then, it's all simply part of the same sad scenario: the desperate gasps of a wounded beast. And this is just the beginning.

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Monday, May 21, 2007

Clarification on Iraq 

My friend, Pete Hegseth, new Executive Director of Vets for Freedom, has posted an excellent article about Iraq in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

The main point is that Iraq is not Viet Nam and we have a major exposure to loss of freedom across the planet if we bow to the hard-left pressure to cut and run. Pete has Iraq connections and concrete facts regarding the changes made in the last few months and the successes achieved.

For the record, I have a new Iraqi friend who was a translator for the US Army in Baghdad - his summary is (OK, I'm paraphrasing but we've talked about this), "We Iraqis want the same freedoms the rest of the free world has. We had a taste of it in the 1960's and 1970's, then Saddam and his thugs moved in. America needs to stay because we want you to stay. The press is not portraying an accurate picture."

Please click on the article from the Strib to read Pete's account. Thank you.


Interesting poll 

StarTribune poll, asking whether the legislature and Gov. Pawlenty can avoid a special session. They put as the subhead on the poll, "They were reportedly hammering out the final details today." Nothing like leading the voter! Anyway, nobody's biting: only 29% of people polled say the Legislature will complete its business on time. The DFL is already planning Blame It on Timmuh Fly Around.

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ROTC Graduates 

This past weekend, I attended college graduation #3 at Marquette University in Milwaukee. General observations about college graduations will be reviewed later but I wanted to post the following key point - Marquette ROTC candidates are appreciated and well respected!

Marquette University divides its graduation ceremonies into two sections: an AM component that individually recognizes those doctoral candidates in philosophy and a graduation announcement for all others by college group; a PM component that individually recognizes those graduating from the law and dental schools as well as masters' and undergraduate candidates in all other colleges.

We attended the graduation ceremonies for graduates of the College of Arts and Sciences. There was the usual cheering and clapping for each candidate. However, when an ROTC candidate was announced, regardless of branch of service, the auditorium erupted in voluminous applause! These young men and women are held in very high esteem by their fellow students and all who attended these ceremonies. We checked with other college graduation attendees - the same outpouring of appreciation and gratitude was across the campus.

We are so blessed to have such talented young men and women stepping up to the plate to do what needs to be done to protect all of us. Knowing that fellow students and relatives in the audience recognize this is even better.

How much travel do you buy? 

Visiting my parents this weekend taught me a couple of things about travel and gas. My parents drove perhaps 300 miles this extended weekend with trips to Boston, Manchester and other parts of the Maine seacoast area. They drive a Prism with about 125k on the odometer, it gets 32 mpg. So when I thought I compensate their gas costs by jumping out to fill up ($2.859 at a station in Manchester), I was comforted by the knowledge that the cost would not even support a week of my brother's coffee habit at Dunkin' Donuts. I drink less coffee, but I could support three weeks of my Caribou card charges off a similar fill-up, because I drive a more expensive car to operate. Part of that is because I drive 170 miles one day a week (Saturdays when I do NARN) and maybe a hundred the other six days. My city is more compact.

So I think Glen Whitman is focusing on the right issue here:
About a year ago, I posted a graph showing the affordability of gasoline as a percentage of household income, broken out by income quintile. The main point was that, although the price of gasoline has certainly risen dramatically in recent years, it still does not consume as much of our income as it did at its height in the early 1980s. The reason is that household income has grown since then, even for the poorest Americans.

...But as someone pointed out in the comments, people don�t really want gasoline per se; what they want is travel. And this matters, because fuel economy has risen substantially over the time period in question, meaning that people can travel the same distance with fewer gallons. So I have now reconstructed the graph, using more recent data, on the assumption of 25,000 miles of travel rather than 1000 gallons of gas.
But the consumption pattern differs by age group, by income group, and by place of residence, all of which Whitman recognizes. No matter how you slice it, the share of your income you spend on travel now is much less than it was in the 1980s, and that's true no matter what your income group is. That also means, assuming no change in the taste for travel, that the average consumer has less elastic demand than before. That would also explain the willingness of state governments to tax gas more.

That lower elasticity also shows up in this more humorous story from John Whitehead:
The hotel provides liters of Evian Natural Spring Water in each hotel room for $6/liter. When I soberly arrived I thought this a ridiculous price. Odd that my demand changed after a night prowling Bourbon St [in New Orleans -- kb.] Upon awakening this morning I demanded the entire liter and just as advertised, "detox with evian," I felt much better and quite able to suffer through my 20 minute presentation (the audience suffered even more!).
I suspect that price is a function of the fact that his hotel is on Bourbon Street. I see a possible student paper here: what is the gradient of prices on bottled water in hotel rooms as one moves further away from Bourbon Street?

Walking through four different airports today I notice this as well. The price of coffee rises 50% at the Portland Jetport before and after passing through security. An extra shot of espresso at the Caribou at the end of the A concourse in Detroit's airport is 60 cents versus 50 at my home Caribou; the cappuccino I normally order is 10% higher. None of this is of course surprising. So why doesn't it happen on the newspaper I want to buy before I get onto the plane, or the magazine?

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Saturday, May 19, 2007

Some Thoughts on Feminism 

Last Sunday (May 13) was Mother's Day. Mine was quite pleasant, although I spent a chunk of the day on an airplane returning to Minnesota from a daughter's graduation in Los Angeles.

We in the Twin Cities are used to the leftist bias in our featured paper, the Star Tribune (Strib), but the LA Times is almost as bad, . For Mother's Day, the LA Times had two opinion pieces: "A Mother's Day kiss-off" by Leslie Bennetts; and "Moms are people too" by Deborah Tannen, renamed to "Understanding Mom" in the electronic edition. There was nothing, absolutely nothing, in these opinion pages about the joys of being a Mom: families, kids, foster families, etc., that is, the real reason for Mother's Day.

Bennetts dismisses the one-day honoring of Mom: "...the world, having made its annual perfunctory nod to the contributions of American mothers, will move on, leaving us once again to cope with our inordinate responsibilities, largely on our own." She asserts that this creates "a permanent state of simmering anger in all too many women." Bennetts recites the predictable leftist-feminist screed, blaming men, our culture, corporations and politicians for creating "institutions, policies and practices that oppress us all." For her, motherhood involves stark choices: "many [work] out of financial necessity," while others stay home and deal with "conflicted feelings" about giving up a career.

Tannen earned her PhD. and became a professor of linguistics at Georgetown. Her article discusses her choice to return to graduate school after her divorce, and how this conflicted with her Russian-born mother's values and choices. But at least Tannen acknowledges the necessity to "try to see our mothers and love them for who they are: creations of their lives and their worlds, which doubtless are different from our own."

I am a mom, a former single mom, divorced, remarried with stepchildren, graduate-degreed, with multiple careers in academia and the corporate world. It pains me no end when I hear and read of women who make a point of looking for the negative aspects of raising children with a loving spouse. This type of feminist seems to think they are constantly receiving the short end of the stick in life. It is the whine, moan and complain view of the world.

Both writers made choices and Tannen at least acknowledges hers and recognizes there are legitimate differences among women. But Bennetts complains that she has been "pilloried in print and cyberspace" by stay-at-home moms who have challenged her views. Bennetts does not see that her writings are dismissive attacks on women who value children and families more highly than careers.

When young women are not taught that a loving relationship with a spouse and children usually generates much happiness, we are lying to them. Couple this with the constant barrage of sexual images they see, it's no wonder they struggle. Where can they internalize an "I'm ok" and "this is worth doing" attitude about motherhood presented from a positive angle? Hard to find.

Contrasting with these two pampered authors is the current Weekly Standard's headline article, "The Subjection of Islamic Women", which highlights the fact that the so-called feminists of the west largely ignore or rationalize the truly gross inequities in their plight in the Islamic world.

I thoroughly believe in women's education. But having "done it all" (or close to it), I'll take a strong marital relationship and my children any day of the week, compared to an office and a career spent bemoaning the plight of American women.

Women (and men) need to understand that there are many women like me who have found enormous satisfaction in the joys of marriage and family. Juggling kids, spouse, career, etc. was and can be overwhelming at times but I wouldn't give up the "mom" aspect for anything.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Endgame squeeze 

The reason for slow posting here is that for the last 48 hours I have been visiting my family up in Maine, back Monday afternoon. Michael will drive the Final Word wagon to the end of the regular session. The question is, will there be a special session?

The midweek movement seems to have slowed, and it appears cracks in the DFL armor are appearing. I will bet the battle isn't between Pawlenty and the DFL, it's between the two houses of the Legislature. If we go to special session, Pogie has defeated Kelliher.

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Getting a reaction 

I had the pleasure of having my editorial Wednesday rebutted by a local "hard-nosed Democrat" (his term, not mine), in which I'm accused of being a "good soldier" for Governor Pawlenty. Longtime readers of this blog will find that humorous, since I opposed the signing of the smoking ban, JOBZ, the health "impact fee", etc. Here are my reactions.

1. "The top 1% have loopholes." We all have loopholes. What's the mortgage interest deduction? The rich have more. They have a greater ability to shift where they pay taxes and when than the middle class does. All the whinging in the world won't change that. So I suggest not taxing income but taxing consumption instead. Not good enough for Beckfeld or Ellenbecker -- I'm just called a "good soldier." Forget whether the analysis is correct.

2. Beckfeld says, "He argues that we have just the right balance of taxes.". Nowhere did I say that. That's at least inattentive writing. More likely it's to try to pin the "apologist for capitalism" tag on me. Which I would have worn gladly if asked. But try to get the story right.

3. Beckfeld says, "He also believes that if we attempt to raise the taxes on the 20,000 richest Minnesotans from 8 percent to 9 percent to give all Minnesotans property tax relief, then they will flee to states that have little if any income tax or hire clever accountants and turn themselves into corporations." They have already turned themselves into LLCs, S-corps, etc., because they were avoiding the higher tax rate on C-corps (the corporate franchise tax.) So we already agree they try to avoid taxes, thus the estimates of how much money will be raised for property tax relief are overstated.

4. "It's clear that our governor shares these views." Can you find a shred of evidence to prove that? No offense to Gov. Pawlenty, but I don't think he's ever discussed tax elasticities and incidence reports before.

5. "Banaian and Pawlenty's mistake is that they assume the top 1 percent have no sense of community and that all they value is their own wealth; that taxes are the only reason to maintain a business in this state." Some will leave, others will not. That is true. My point is that the amount of property tax relief is overstated in two ways, one of which is tax shifting. The other, which I didn't make in the article, is that the way the PTR is written in, you wouldn't have gotten the money unless their budget actually balanced. If higher taxes caused a recession and money to flee, the government could not have transferred the LGA money. (This is irrelevant at this point as the tax bill appears to be dead. But just so you know, the income tax increase was a definite, the property tax relief was a maybe.)

6. "We will never be able to compete with the states he points to because they have no income tax. Through his argument, eventually the richest Minnesotans won't be taxed at all and the rest of us (middle class) will have to pay more." Actually, there are many great reasons to live in Minnesota. But those have to be weighed against the cost of paying an extra 10-15% in income taxes to make other people's property taxes go down, perhaps. I like beer, but at some point I have to stop because I have other things I need to tend to, like weight or sobriety or being able to function the next day at work. It's not all or nothing; Beckfeld shows an inability to think about things at the margin.

7. Ellenbecker (at post #24) suggests the 1-in-100 rich should pay 12.4% like the middle class does, rather than having the middle class pay 9.3%. So he's not for decreasing your taxes: He's for playing Robin Hood and expanding the welfare state. I'll save that note.

8. There are two ways to provide property tax relief. One is to take money from one group to give to another, as you are able. The other is to have local government spending so bloody much of our money! LGA is the crack that feeds the local spending addicts like Ellenbecker. Put those people on rehab, help them kick the habit. Pass real levy limits instead, and help local government get over its addiction.

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Speeding to a solution? 

Word from the Capitol is that bills are speeding along to a solution in the Minnesota Legislature. Two emails plus this post from Gary seem to confirm. The Senate passed the Higher Ed bill unanimously after a meeting of the two DFL and Republican leaders of the Legislature. (MnSCU's funding base for the following biennium is actually higher in the new bill than in the one Governor Pawlenty vetoed.) It appears Pawlenty received big victories on the ACHIEVE program he wanted and the accountability standards, but I haven't got more details than that yet. The tuition cap at 4% is still in place.

The details of the bargaining are summarized on the STrib site. As I expected, the tax on foreign corporate earnings was raised, which yields almost a quarter-billion dollars and was something few people understand.

The question seems to me which side will win the blame game over the lack of property tax relief. Governor Pawlenty fired one across the bow of the DFL leadership:
"They threw property tax relief under the bus in an instant so they could fuel their appetite for social service and welfare spending,"Pawlenty said. "That is out of whack with the message and prioritiesthey said they were going to stand for during the campaign, and it's out of whack with where the state should head."
And Sen. Pogemiller,
"He has roadblocked significant property tax relief, and that's a big disappointment," Pogemiller said. "Property tax relief is not really on the way."
Harkening back to the discussion we had earlier in the week, it is less than perfectly clear who wins that battle.

UPDATE (5pm): OK, this is perhaps only a little bit of paranoia, but after reading something I wondered ... could the DFL be holding back the gas tax override vote for the last minute? That would be pretty sinister.

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The elasticity of condoms 

The Minnesota Family Council is calling on the Legislature and Gov. Pawlenty to reject HF 2245, the omnibus E-12 education bill, because it includes a mandate to teach condom and contraceptive use. I get the point, but it's really an elasticity question. These things both increase sexual activity and reduce pregnancy, and increased condom use further reduces the incidence of HIV; what is an acceptable tradeoff? The question is empirical. I don't readily find an answer to that question, though the estimates for condoms in Africa suggest condom distribution there could be quite effective.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007


My editorial on the DFL tax plan (though it may be academic now with the vetoes last night) is on the St. Cloud Times today. (I'm amused by the headline; I don't consider redistribution of income a "noble purpose.") There's conversation on the chat attached to that piece as well.

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Baked goods suppression at St. Catherines 

Another affirmative action bake sale, another suppression of free speech on a campus.

This time, it's the College of St. Catherines, where a newly-formed College Republicans chapter held one in a student union building. As has happened in many places (here's a link to all the previous coverage of affirmative action bake sales on this blog), this one sparked a protest, including a petition seeking to revoke the CRs' charter at CSC. It includes this little bit of hilarity:
What happened that day was racism�racism that is part of a larger systemic problem in our society. The language and action taken by the College Republicans are to be taken very seriously, as their position threatens and oppresses the rights and livelihoods of those whose social locations are already marginalized in our society�women, people of Color, the working class and the poor. This event led numerous students to feel unwelcomed, unwanted and unsafe.

Do not be confused. Their campaign that day was not independent of a larger systemic movement that supports and controls the White Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchy.
I'd find this simply cute, mis-educated students practicing their own speech rights, if it wasn't for the attempt to bully the administration of the College to silence the CRs. As David Bernstein has described this years ago, it's not discrimination but a piece of street theater making a political point.

As Eugene Volokh pointed out after Southern Methodist University's administration shut down a bake sale, private universities can do what they want, but
I think that they, like other private universities, should nonetheless tolerate and support a wide range of speech by students -- and if they don't, then the public should know that they really aren't committed to academic freedom.
It would be interesting to know, as Volokh also points out, why it's OK to discriminate to support diversity initiatives at CSC but not to discriminate in selling cookies to make a political point. Or why it's OK to allow someone to circulate a petition on their campus calling for punishment of a group's right of assembly based on students deciding that speech is part of "the White Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchy."

That last point also reminds me of a post Volokh had of a letter and response by Bruce Ramsey, a columnist at the Seattle Times, after a similar bake-sale-leading-to-free-speech-suppression at the University of Washington. A flyer the CSC CRs had circulated in advance of the bake sale a press release titled "Only Racists Consider Race":

Affirmative action is meant to eliminate discrimination and to redress the effects of past discrimination. The groups that are affected by this are characterized by race, gender, ethnicity, or disability status. Affirmative action has undesirable side-effects such as undermining the achievements of minorities. This practice strives to reverse old wrongs, but in this process makes new wrongs. Factoring race into a decision-making process is the wrong way to create equality. Until Americans stop focusing on race and gender and start focusing on the individual person, discrimination will not be gone. The College Republicans plan to show students the effects of affirmative action through a bake sale. The baked goods will be priced according to the customers� race and gender. This system shows that through this practice, others are being discriminated against, which undermines the whole system.

Ramsey replied to a letter opposing UW's bake sale with "I didn't see any racist statement from the College Republicans. They were condemning racism. But from you, I hear that because I am white I think a certain way, and therefore can be dismissed."

The protesters have circulated an email yesterday around campus that asserts the CSC CRs can be similarly dismissed. They include in this document a "paradigm of colorblind racism."
In order to more completely and thoroughly understand why the actions of the College Republicans were racist, we shall call upon scholar Eduardo Bonilla-Silva who is respected by the CSC community and used in many courses to understand Colorblind Racism. This is the idea that privileged whites can parallel the impact of prejudice with racism, when they are simply not comparable. The College Republicans have made the public statement that they only want to be considered based on their merit, but, this ignores the institutional and systemic structures that privilege them as white women.
This is nothing more than a dismissal of their speech rights (they of course say they are for free speech, just not when it disagrees with what their leftist faculty tells them.) And the protestors also want to hold their own event and ask for equal time. Isn't this exactly what the Academic Bill of Rights -- something they detest -- also requests?

Thus a direct question to the College of St. Catherine. As an institution of higher learning, do you support academic freedom? If you feel you support it but should still sanction the College Republicans, explain how it is right to take away the rights of one student group based on the protest of another student group? And are you prepared for the slippery slope you create, for example as Volokh wonders:
Are they not aware that their views are wildly out of the American mainstream, and that they themselves would inevitably become the targets of censorship if the principle that the government may not discriminate with regard to speech based on the viewpoints expressed was weakened? This is true even if the damage to the First Amendment could be limited to so-called "hostile environment" claims. For example, conservative Christian students could claim that radical feminist professors create a "hostile environment" for them by denigrating traditional marriage, traditional sexual morality, and what they call "patriarchy."
Call their toll-free number 800-945-4599.

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In the beginning there was complete equality, and the food sucked 

The return to education is rising, says Gary Becker and Kevin Murphy (temp link, permalink for Chronicle of Higher Ed subscribers; h/t: loyal reader jw.) And it's not only driving further income inequality, but that's a good thing, they say.

In China, for instance, economic development since the early 1980s has pushed income levels between households in the city and those in the countryside further apart. Urban residents, on average, now earn more than three times as much as rural ones. Despite the widening income gap, write the authors, "rapid economic development dramatically improved the lives of China's poor." As they note, the number of Chinese living in poverty dropped to 42 million in 1998, down from 260 million in 1978.

In the United States, income inequality seems to be signaling the rising payoff of a college education, the authors say. "The labor market," they write, "is placing a greater emphasis on education, dispensing rapidly rising rewards to those who stay in school the longest."

In 1980, they note, college graduates earned approximately 30 percent more than people who completed high school only. Today the difference is about 70 percent. The wage premium for a graduate degree, meanwhile, has jumped from 50 percent in 1980 to more than 100 percent today.

"The potential to improve one's labor-market prospects through higher education is greater now than at any time in the recent past, and this potential extends across gender and racial lines," they write.

Thus, the authors conclude, "the forces raising earnings inequality in the U.S. are beneficial to the extent that they reflect higher returns to investments in education and other human capital." Instead of lamenting the earnings gap, they add, or trying to correct it through reforms of the tax code, policy makers should focus on increasing the number of high-school graduates who go on to complete a college education.

The full article is online.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Do, or don't do, there is no try 

After his vetoes today, it looks like the DFL is now passing on property tax relief.
Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller and House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, both of Minneapolis, said they don't think they'll be able to find the money. They had attached relief to a bill that would raise the income tax, which Gov. Tim Pawlenty vetoed.

"He has roadblocked significant property tax relief, and that's a big disappointment," Pogemiller said. "Property tax relief is not really on the way."

Brian McClung, a spokesman for Pawlenty, said the DFL proposal to aid homeowners with a higher income tax was "a shell game." He said the governor hasn't ruled out the possibility of doing property tax relief as part of a final deal.

"We are not setting it aside," McClung said.
Of course Governor Pawlenty is not setting it aside, but what the DFL will try to do now is to pin a choice between property tax relief, roads, and education on the governor. He has a budget that provides for those, of course, but not to the extent the DFL wants. So what will happen now is one of those three groups is going to get very mad, and the DFL will certainly want it to be property owners not getting relief -- they're the bigger group, and not likely to reduce campaign contributions to the extent the labor and teacher unions would if you cut one of the other two agenda items. If Pawlenty can get his transportation plan enacted, there may be enough to do something with the other two, but the DFL may be able to block property tax relief this session and say "we tried, but the Republicans wouldn't let us cut your taxes, they protected their rich friends." I be that is what all this puerile posturing by Pogemiller is about.

Pawlenty wins big if he can figure out how to get his bonding plan for transportation passed and get some bit of property tax relief through. But because he held back the DFL tax increases, he already has some big notches in his belt. Here's where we find out if he will press his advantages or let the DFL have some face-saving victory that keeps the peace for 2008.

Stop me before I sell again 

I guess my interview yesterday is being played on several stations in the Twin Cities, if emailers are correct. The gasoline boycott story in the STrib today has an interesting twist:
At least one local gas station in Ramsey is joining the campaign by refusing to sell gas from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. today. But the nationwide campaign isn't likely to have an impact on Big Oil, industry analysts say, because motorists simply buy their gas one day before or after the called-for "Gas Out."
Why would the seller choose to participate in the boycott? Probably for publicity.
Some might think that gas stations make a lot of money when they charge $3.16 or more per gallon. It turns out when prices are this high Yamoutpour said he actually loses money.

He showed his bill for Monday's gas delivery. He paid $3.07 a gallon for unleaded, but said after the fee for credit card transactions and the bills to keep his store open, he makes no profit.

Yamoutpour said he makes his money inside the store but when customers spend so much at the pump, his snack sales drop.
Nothing like a TV news story to help move those Fritos! Wonder how he allocates the fixed cost of operating the station between snack and gasoline sales?

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A couple summer book ideas 

Joshua Foust has a good review of Peter Hopkirk's The Great Game. It's a great book to understand Central Asian history, though with a definite Anglophilic slant. I read it during the war in Afghanistan right after 9/11, and it was great to understand the region better. I call it "painless history."

Littlest is engrossed in Memed My Hawk by Yashar Kemal. A great adventure for tweens who want to get away from manga, it's also a very fun book for adults as well. Lots of action without gore or vulgarity, it's one of those books you're happy to give to the child of parents who think they have screened all the good books for their kids. And you can read it after, and enjoy it.

My own pile at home is actually down to three (still working through the books by Michael Scheuer and Thomas Barnett's Blueprint for America Action, and John Agresto's Mugged by Reality.) I'm working through the books of Eric Ambler while waiting for Alan Furst to produce something new. Amazon suggests Phillip Kerr as well, and I've already read the Berlin Noir trilogy. Good for travel reading, but not what I want on the bedstand (where I tend to nonfiction more.)

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Gary and Andy both report that the push to override what is expected to be a veto of the gas tax plan is very close.
I hear the vote count for override is at 89 right now. And this story says that Tommie (the Commie) Rukavina may not vote for override because of the smoking ban.
Losing on this because of Rukavina's vote would be, well, sweet. You mess with the Iron Range and the Iron Range will mess with you.

One can only imagine the indigestion this is giving Lori Sturdevant. And smile.

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End of an era in St. Cloud 

St. Cloudians complain bitterly about the closing of family-run restaurants and the proliferation of chain restaurants -- one guy referred to the selection as Maple Grove West. One of its longest-running establishments, O'Haras, closed its doors yesterday after a long struggle to stay financially viable.

At one time in the 1950s 33rd and 3rd was the edge of this city. My home, about a mile almost due north, was the air strip outside of town. The establishment was absorbed into the city as it expanded, but O'Haras for years was the place locals went to for a beer and a sandwich, at lunch or dinner. Some reporting on this blog came from conversations in its downstairs bar. (Here's the place's website that includes its history, though I expect that site to be down soon.)

Its financial difficulties were no secret around town, and its closure was not unexpected, though the purchase of the property by Premier Real Estate this spring had given some hope that the owner might make it to where he no longer had to service a mortgage on the place that was too large. Competition from the chains -- not least of which from Granite City Food and Brewery. (In that case, St. Cloud's establishment came before those in the Cities.) Beer fans here argue over which place had better brew. While the consistency of GCFB is undeniable because of their unique process, there were small-crafted beers at O'Haras that had no equal in town. I will miss the Dubbel Trouble, the German Pilsner, and the Doppel Bock particularly.

While O'Haras appears to be no more, my bet is someone will realize the market can use another small-crafted brewery with local appeal to help slow the advance of Minneapolis exurbia.


College Education and Feminists 

To hear feminists talk, there has been no progress in women achieving parity with men in the workforce, education, etc.

My husband and I just returned from our daughter's graduation with her Masters of Science in Psychology at a small Lutheran College in California. I will address the basics of the so-called pay discrimination in another post. This post will cover the male/female percentages in her graduating class.


.....3...........2............40%.....Doctor of Ed. in Educational Leadership
.....1...........9............90%.....Master of Arts in Education
.....8..........36...........81%.....Master of Education in Teaching
...10..........35...........77%.....Master of Science in Education
.....6...........0.............0%.....Master of Science in Computer Science
.....6..........14...........70%.....Master of Public Policy and Administration
.....6..........39...........85%.....Master of Sci. in Psychology/Counseling

.104...........197..........65%.....Total Advanced Degrees

I am (obviously!) in favor of women getting an education and having access to jobs. But a review of these programs shows women avoiding the Masters in Computer Science program -- the one "on the surface" that is the most rigorous and intellectually demanding.

What is also bothersome is the dominance of women in education and counseling. In my first career, I taught elementary school, the area of education with the largest preponderance of women, for nine years. After all these years, I still think having women in the majority among elementary teachers is OK. However, the overwhelming number of women in all of the educational masters' programs, degrees leading to administrative positions, is not healthy for our nation.

In addition the lack of men in counseling is worrisome - men and women are different; boys and girls are different. I have to believe having male counselors available for boys who need them, particularly those lacking a father in the home, would be better than an overwhelmingly one-sided domination of female counselors.

Update: This post has been mildly revised and edited to better display the data.


Airplane Etiquette, #2 

We returned from our daughter's graduation on Sunday. As usual the plane had zero empty seats. This time we were accompanied by families with young children. Here's a key tip for parents: Any child under two or cutting teeth needs something to chew or drink for take-offs and landings. If teething, they need something to occupy (besides the airplane window frame) their mouths. Given the restrictions on liquids today, perhaps parents can take a straw with a powdered drink, empty bottle, and get water from the flight attendant to make a beverage for the kids.

All in all, we had six kids under the age of four quite close to us. Thankfully four of these kids had parents who came prepared: puzzles, their personal blankets, and something to help with air pressure changes. The other two, no such luck. I know problems can arise but having travelled on planes with a kid from age six months on, it doesn't take too much. We thanked the parents of the behaved kids. The parents with the screamer couldn't get off the plane fast enough - they could save themselves some embarrassment with a little planning.

In a previous post, I mentioned people standing immediately upon arrival. I was politely reminded that many people rise because they can finally stretch their legs - point well taken. Thank you.


Monday, May 14, 2007

Ping-pong gas 

Larry got this right:

[The DFL Legislature] sent parts of the state budget that didn't need tax increases to Pawlenty first, even stripping them of the more controversial items he'd promised to veto.

They hoped he'd sign them, narrowing down the end-of-session budget debate to the tax bill and education budget to frame Pawlenty's choice as protecting millionaires or helping the kids.

But Pawlenty wouldn't play along, and his veto pen began smoking. Sending back the budget bills gave him a "global" budget negotiation endgame that keeps all his options open.

And so far it's not looking bad. But now comes the latest volley: the nickel 7.5 cent gas tax.
After a two-hour debate, the House voted 90-43, sending the package on to the Senate for an expected endorsement later today. The vote was what will be needed to help override an expected veto from Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who has said he opposes any bill containing a gas-tax increase.
My guess is that will sit at the governor's office to the last moment -- he has only three days to veto it, which is why they are in a hurry to send it to him. Now the question will be, does Pawlenty bet he can veto this and uphold it, or does he hold it to make a deal at the end of the week? Every day that passes makes it likely either a) he wants to deal or b) he's working to buy those two Republican votes that will sustain the veto. If he vetoes it quick, then someone was posturing on their yes vote and will vote to sustain the veto.

I don't have a roll call or copy of the final bill yet; I have some guesses who the two votes are.

Note that this bill also raises registration tabs by killing off the Ventura-era limits on license fees.

UPDATE: (h/t Gary): I think we have the culprits:

One Republican who voted yes - Rep. Jim Abeler of Anoka - said the bill would raise only about half what the state needs to catch up on a backlog of road projects. He said he was leaning toward voting to override a veto, but wasn't firmly committed.

"If you're worried about it's too expensive - it's not even enough," he said.

Abeler predicted that he and other GOP supporters of the bill would be lobbied heavily by both sides.

Rep. Dennis Ozment, R-Rosemount, said he would vote to sustain a veto. Rep. Kathy Tingelstad, R-Andover, said she was leaning toward voting to override, and Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, said it was unlikely he would support an override.

Republican Reps. Ron Erhardt of Edina and Neil Peterson of Bloomington were expected to support an override attempt.

DFL Rep. Mary Ellen Otremba of Long Prairie also was considering how she'd go on a veto override, even though she voted against the transportation bill. The other Democrat to vote no was Rep. Tom Rukavina of Virginia.

This will make for an interesting week, and it appears some GOPers are determined to paint a target on themselves while others are willing to sell to the highest bidders. (Bold face added to help your aim.)

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Too much Mr. No? 

Andy makes a very good point:

I don�t think �Vetos!!!� is a good message for 2008. Yes, it helps with the GOP�s conservative base as far as fixing the volunteer turnout, but our moderates (Read: RINOs) are actually upset that some of us are not willing to just tax and spend to �get stuff done� and think that we are what is ruining the party. (I know it sounds funny, but some of them are serious)

I also feel that the praising the vetoes as a public relations move is going to be used against the GOP. Don�t get me wrong, these vetoes are fabulous, and I hope Pawlenty does the right thing and vetoes the smoking ban so he can look limited government conservatives in the face still, but the public may see �Vetos!!!� as a whole, much differently.

If the DFL can continue down this road of party line votes on absolute liberalism vs. conservatism, and Pawlenty keeps vetoing bills, they will have ammo for 08.

So what is one to do? Andy thinks repackaging the vetoes to "being responsible" will help.

As soon as Seifert and the others in the Legislature get some rest if when the session ends, I hope they can throw together a little �if Republicans had the gavel� alternative/comparison recap of the 2006 sessions so voters can see what would have happened.
But we have that, Andy, and it's called the governor's budget. Even that spent more money than I would have preferred and provided no tax relief, but it provides a fairly stark contrast to the DFL in terms of the gas tax and roads, as well as property tax relief, and higher education. The veto letters lay that out quite clearly.

It is important, however, that Pawlenty, Seifert, Senjem, et al. get out the word that this is the budget they wanted if not for the greed of the DFL's tax consumers. It is more difficult for moderate GOPers to rail against the fiscal conservatives when there is an alternative budget with 9.3% more money included.

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Rejoining Clark 

As one should expect, the Times runs a rebuttal to state Rep. Steve Sviggum's editorial (the Times doesn't seem to have it archived, so here's the Winona Daily copy) from Senator Tarryl Clark. (Private to SCTimes -- does she pay you guys by the headshot? That picture gets a lot of use.)

Former Minnesota House Speaker Steve Sviggum recently wrote a pretty nasty commentary that appeared in the Times. ("Another agenda emerged when Democrats took office," April 30.)

It's certainly OK for the former speaker to disagree and disseminate his views, and I'll admit that the temptation is there to respond in kind by using the same tactic of taking proposals out of context, changing their meaning and passing them off as fact. But that wouldn't be very constructive.

Well, this cleverness extends to calling a tax increase a tax swap, when the money for the property tax relief is deferred to the last day of the next biennium, and could be taken back if the DFL's haul doesn't provide enough booty for its constituents. As I said Saturday, it's a definite increase in return for a maybe decrease.

I'll skip the two paragraphs of her declaring her party's mandate. I will only note that a tax increase was not in that list. She then proceeds to try to read history, at which she fails.
When taxes were cut at the end of the 1990s, mostly for folks at the highest income levels, the question was what that action would do to Minnesota's quality of life.
As Gary points out, taxes were cut across the board, reducing the marginal rates at all levels by 0.3%. Tax collections went down, but that's largely because of the recession of 2001-02. Hold onto this point, gentle reader, because it comes back again and again. The DFL is comparing data across a recession, and over a period of structural change that blows an ill wind on Minnesota regardless of who's in office.

I took a little time this morning -- being as classes are out and I've got a couple days of rest before diving into the book I'm writing -- to look not just at the most recent Tax Incidence Study but at all of the others as well. Here's the set, if you want to whip, chop and puree your own data. The data before 2000 isn't as complete based on my quick reading, but here's what I find:
What explains these changes? My belief is that this is a direct result of the bursting of the Clinton/Greenspan stock market bubble in 2000.

So what happened to the individual income taxes paid by the sixth decile (in 2004, the family making between $37,560 and $47,192)? Between 1996 and 2004 in two-year increments you get effective income tax rates of 3.3%, 3.5%, 3.3%, 3.2% and 3.0%. Since 1998, the effective income tax rate on middle income households went down. So whose taxes were cut, anyhow?

(Here's the data I used in an Excel file.)

Senator Clark continues:
Advocates of the tax cuts, such as then-Speaker Sviggum and then-House Majority Leader Tim Pawlenty, said it would spur business development and build jobs.

Instead, the opposite has happened. Minnesota went from having the fifth-highest rate of personal income growth during the 1990s to the 32nd highest from 2000-05.
Bummer for them, the stock market burst and some guys aimed planes at buildings. At the same time, the decline in the manufacturing sector began in earnest across the USA, as well as in Minnesota. All because Sviggum and Pawlenty advocated tax cuts? Hardly; it started well before then.
Job growth, which grew at an annual rate of 42,000 workers during the 1990s, is down to about 28,000.
Which is consistent with national averages.
It also triggered an enormous state budget deficit when Gov. Pawlenty and legislators took office in 2003.
Right, the stock market crash and 9/11 had nothing to do with it.
In response, they raised scores of fees, froze special education payments, and slashed health care and payments to cities and counties.
Rather than take more money from the people who just lost $6 million in income. Do you hate people richer than your family, Senator?
They also engaged in some egregious budget sleight-of-hand by shifting accounts and by instituting a new rule where inflation would not be factored into future budget forecasts.
I have no idea why they would think inflation should be factored, as I have said before. As to egregious budget sleight-of-hand, I believe they borrowed money against the reserve set aside for a rainy day, and Tarryl, it was raining hard. And that money has been paid back, and even then there is a $1.1 billion surplus in the current budget -- no inflation needed -- that is not being paid back to Minnesotans. Some of us think that's a tad egregious, too.
The upshot of the tax cut and subsequent budget "fix" has resulted in shifting more of the price of government from wealthy Minnesotans to the middle class.
I have always been annoyed by this term "price of government": Prices are set in a market as the result of bids and offers by buyers and sellers. What is the market in which the "price of government" is set? In fact, it is in the Legislature, which continues to demand services in order to attract votes and then figure out how to make people who won't vote for them anyway to pay for it. The price has been driven up by local governments insisting that they must spend what they spend -- in their glee to get developers to create new property tax base they build exit ramps off freeways then whinge that the state didn't subsidize the ramps -- and wait for a compliant Legislature to come around and provide them with LGA, the methadone treatment of the tax-and-spender.
Now, middle-income earners are paying proportionately more of their income to fund government than the very wealthiest.
This despite the fact that the rich are paying a higher share of the income tax in 2004 than in 2000!
We're trying to change that. And we're trying to effect that change while respecting the institutions voters elected us to serve in and the viewpoints of people regardless of their political affiliations.
What you are trying to change is from whom you will confiscate income and to whom you will spread your benefits to satisfy your political base. And you're more than willing to misrepresent the facts about taxes in Minnesota to do so.

Pogie must be pleased with his little lieutenant. Have a nice time driving us to a special session, you two.

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Media alert 

Sorry I forgot about this: Supposed to be on WJON in ten minutes (10:15) talking about gas prices and the annual gas boycott.

UPDATE (10:25am): That was fun! Let me suggest readers visit Tim Schilling for information on gas taxes and prices, which I found informative.

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The next use of the tobacco settlement money 

Britain leads the way.
Britain's senior road safety campaigners are calling for a ban on smoking while driving, in an attempt to cut the number of crashes.

The Department of Health said last night that it would seriously consider a ban, which is also being looked at in Germany, Australia and America. The move was backed by anti-smoking campaigners but drew criticism from others as an attack on personal freedom. From 1 July, England will join the rest of the UK by introducing a ban on smoking in enclosed public places and at work.

...'Driving is a complicated business, especially with the high volume of traffic motorists have to contend with these days. It's not an area where you can multi-task,' said Simon Ettinghausen, a spokesman for the association. He said the existing law banning the use of hand-held mobile phones in cars showed special bans were more effective than general road-safety legislation.

'In this country, we're libertarians, we like to give people freedoms, but if you are distracted unfortunately your freedom to do these things can affect other people's lives,' he added. Last year there were 3,201 deaths on Britain's roads.

Rep. Severson, call your office!

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Saturday, May 12, 2007

The cost of driving high-income families out of Minnesota 

I think this is correct, if I am using the same calculation they did:
Lost in that discussion is the cost of providing government services to one high-income family versus 31, 86, 280 or 449 middle-income families.

But that wouldn't happen, would it?

Friday, May 11, 2007

72% of Minnesotans support raising taxes on someone else to give themselves money 

Faye Olsen, 69, of Duluth is one of the 625 likely voters contacted earlier this week for the poll. Olsen, who's retired, is a Democrat. She says she supports raising income taxes on Minnesota's top earners to pay for both education and property tax relief. Olsen says she's on a fixed income of $900 a month and would welcome any efforts to reduce her property taxes.

"My taxes are about $700 a year," she said. "There just isn't the money coming out of people's pockets. They just don't have the money and the taxes just keep going up and up and up. It just gets to a point that you think that's it and it might be cheaper to rent."

Of course, this woman under those terms would not pay property taxes if her number is true, since she would qualify for the property tax refund. But don't let that stand in the way of a good story from taxpayer-supported radio. This is patently absurd, and when the money doesn't materialize because the rich changed their timing of collecting income or just moved away, what will they do? Raise taxes again?

My favorite question from the poll:

If the state had a surplus, which one of the following taxes would you most support cutting?
If??? It does!!
I know, what should we expect from an MPR poll?

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Airline Manners 

Yesterday my husband and I flew to Los Angeles to attend our daughter's graduation tomorrow, Saturday. As a former business traveler, I've spent my share of time in airplanes. It is also understandable that today's flights more often than not are full. However, there are a few basics that one would think people have learned.

First, it has always amazed me that people must stand the second the plane gets to the gate. Now, how many of us are going to go anywhere in the first few minutes of deboarding? But, look around - from the front of the plane to the rear the vast majority jump out of their seats and vie for space in the aisle to get their gear from the overhead racks. It is a comical scene to watch. And, heaven help you if you have an aisle seat and just sit....

Yesterday, a second discourtesy manifested itself. I have no (well not too much ofa) problem with people who choose or need to save time avoiding the trip to the baggage claim area. I have no problem with people traveling with kids and all their paraphanalia (I did this for part of my life though we didn't have all the accoutrements parents seem to require these days). But I do have a problem when the kids are sent down the aisle but mom or dad block the aisle to gather all their kid's gear. No one behind them can exit the plane and some seem oblivious to their impact on others. It would be nice if they'd just let others pass, gather their stuff, then
when organized, leave the plane. Yesterday's adult was totally unaware of the frustration building up because of her behavior - the flight attendants had to come back, grab herstuff and politely encourage her to "move it."

For the record, we often wait until the plane is empty.


A different kind of campus censorship 

This just tickled my funny bone.
Two students at Framingham State College have admitted to helping steal several dozen copies of the campus�s student newspaper, The Gatepost, after it ran a photograph of them and five other women at a recent lacrosse game with their stomachs bare. Today�s Boston Globe reported that the students at the Massachusetts college had bared their midriffs and painted letters on them in order to spell out the name of a player.
Was it modesty? No, the article states -- the pictures made the coeds look fat, in their own estimation. I guess I could make a statement about the state of America from this, but I'd rather just smile.


Minneapolis Star Tribune #3 - Jim Boyd 

Jim Boyd's open interview with Minnesota Monitor ( is a perfect description of the arrogant and intolerant thinking and behavior of our leftist media.

Responsible adults understand that there is a broad spectrum of respectable opinoins on politics, economics and social matters. Even when we have firm opinions of our own, responsible adults acknowledge that others who come to different conclusions are still reasonable people. Jim Boyd's contemptuous remarks and juvenile humor (calling conservative columns "codpieces") show that he did not act like a responsible adult, muchless a responsible journalist.

It is a travesty that he has held a decision making position on the Star Tribune (Strib) editorial board for 27 years. Even sadder is the fact that Boyd gloats over his expectation that things will not change even after he's gone. He refuses to take any responsibility for the demise of the Strib, never considering that his one-sided approach to news and editorials drove away readers. He continues his one-track thinking when he blames Wall Street for the Strib's problems but ignores the basic fact that one of those Wall Street companies gave him a forum to push his agenda for 27 years with minimal, if any, pushback.

The only good news coming from this change is that no one can continue to deny the bias at the Strib. Subscribers and advertisers now have full knowledge of what they will get for their money: an intolerant left wing product and increasingly a limited left wing demographic.


Thursday, May 10, 2007

Peculiar observations from tax incidence study 

As the Legislature returns to thinking about using a new individual income tax rate to pay for property tax relief, I got back tonight to reading through the gory details of the Tax Incidence Report that continually is used to justify the raising of the rate. By gory details I mean getting past the data and figuring out how they actually calculate this beast. (I'm working on a short article to this effect.) These are some notes I wrote as I was reading:
  1. "The personal income tax is paid by individual taxpayers, and the incidence is the same as the initial impact of the tax." (p. 69) That means that if you are a sole proprietor, you have absolutely no ability to shift any of the burden of the tax onto the consumers of your products or the workers you hire. But if you incorporate, you magically acquire such powers. Why would that be? The closest I see to an estimate of how much business income is in the individual income tax subject to taxation is 3.07% estimated in this Minnesota Taxpayers Association study.
  2. "Compared to the results in this study, economic theory suggests that the long-run incidence impact of a change in Minnesota business taxes would tend to fall:
    • less on nonresidents,
    • less on Minnesota owners of capital,
    • more on Minnesota consumers, and
    • more on Minnesota labor." (p. 84, emphasis added)
    It's worth noting that the study's analysis assumes that a fair amount of corporate taxes falls on capital owners and entrepreneurs not in the state, so that the amount paid is seen as being just Minnesota getting its share of the capital held by owners around the country and world. Incremental changes in tax rates alter the tax differential between Minnesota and other states and the study assumes they are quite responsive. So South Dakota will acquire a lot of our corporations ... but again, none of our entrepreneurs that operate partnerships or sole proprietorships.
  3. The study assumes that labor never moves as a result of a tax increase, neither do entrepreneurs (shifting seems the result of only capital-owners.) Yet this report from the Minnesota State Demographic Center suggests
    Among households with a 35-to-54-year-old householder, nonmover households had the highest median income combined with the lowest proportions with very high or very low incomes. Among movers, domestic out-migrants had the highest median household and per capita income and the highest proportion of households with incomes of $100,000 or more.
Altogether, I think this means we are quite underestimating the impact of a tax hike on the rich in terms of their potential for movement. That may lead to over-estimation of the amount of money available for property tax relief. Given also the lack of a levy limit it is hard to see how the bill does what its proponents say it does. That doesn't daunt our Tiny:

Assistant Senate Majority Leader Tarryl Clark, DFL-St. Cloud, disputed suggestions that sending the bill to Pawlenty is futile.

"We told people we were going to be working on this," she said. "If we're not trying to get passed into law the pieces that we campaigned on, I think people would be pretty disappointed about that".

We're still waiting for the evidence that they campaigned on it.

Sidebar to Sen. Sharon Erickson Ropes:
Freshman Sen. Sharon Erickson Ropes, DFL-Winona, said she and her husband would fall into the fourth tier. She said she would gladly pay, calling it a moral issue and quoting the Biblical verse "to whom much is given, much is expected."
Senator, please help Rep. Steve Gottwalt get this bill passed. We want you to be able to fulfill your Biblical need to give. I'm sure the Representative will also help you distinguish between giving and taking.

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Will he for a nickel? 

That question is on the minds of the Legislature, and I believe a few Republicans within it, for the compromise gas tax bill that has been crafted in conference committee. The Governor's office has been rather clear that "it'll be a speedy veto." But the DFL this time has tried to find the votes for an override of the veto. The governor is likely then to do a vote count himself -- if he doesn't think the Legislature will sustain the veto, he may choose to accept the bill as a compromise and to prove he is not intransigent. At least, that's what the DFL is hoping for.

Now from a game-theoretic standpoint, what's the best play for Pawlenty? Does it strengthen his hand to keep vetoing bills that do not meet his proposals? I think it does. He threw down a new ground rule earlier this week: No spending bills without the tax bill and an overall budget, which is still languishing in committee. It makes little sense to accept this bill and not have the full budget in view to know where the five cent tax is being spent and where it is not being spent.

If the Legislature holds off final passage until the tax bill (with overall spending targets) catches up, this might get his signature. But it is more likely that he will veto, and the gas tax would return in a mega-omnibus bill late in the session, after all the smoke clears.

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Gardening and Politics 

For the past 10 days or so, an hour a clip, I've participated in the spring ritual of working in my garden. The flowers are planted on a small hill with lousy soil. The location sprouts buck thorn in the adjacent plots. The rabbits seem to think I'm Farmer McGregor and my indigenous flowers, which they are supposed to ignore, are there for their dining pleasure.

Over the years I've worked this glacial moraine soil, adding coffee grounds and egg shells beginning summer of 2005. Surprise, surprise - it's working. This year many plants appear to have a healthier start and the soil is being cultivated by worms. Now I can turn over the ground without stressing my wrist joints.

This spring I even split some lilies and iris - spread the plants for more blooms. I'm removing wild grass and chives that seem to grow in places I never put them.

Gardening is tedious, dirty and sometimes uncomfortable. But what hit me today was that gardening is like politics. You work the soil, make changes, add some new plants, keep out the riff-raff (rabbits and deer), and then enjoy the burst of color, smells, birds, etc. that come after weeks and months of work. When gardening, you cannot ignore the weeds; you need to adapt to the weather; you need to deal with the critters. You cannot go away and in summer hope for the flowers to bloom - you have to cultivate them.

Politics is like that. As much as we hate to take the time to learn what our various levels of government are doing, what is really true about who said what, we need to. If we don't cultivate our knowledge of our nation and politicians, slowly but surely the weeds and critters will take over. Insidiously government will creep into our lives; invade individual rights; sneakily raise our taxes; subtly control our kids, our lives, our language, and eventually us.

Just as my garden requires time, so does my job as a citizen. It is my responsibility to find sources I can trust - not ones with a mantra that espouse one side's agenda, not one that lays a guilt trip on me, not one that wants to run my life. Rather, I need to find those sources and politicians that have solutions, ones that let me keep my money, that think and believe in our nation. I would hope each of us would find an hour a day - radio, Internet, non-standard source to cultivate our minds so we control our government, not the other way around.

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Missed day 

Some personal business kept me away today. Should be back to normal tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The kind of guy you can trust with the government's money 

News today that John Edwards worked at a hedge fund.

Edwards won't disclose how much he got paid as a consultant to Fortress Investment Group, but said he did keep the money.

"It was primarily to learn, but making money was a good thing, too," the 2004 vice presidential nominee said in an interview with The Associated Press.

I agree sir. Making money is a good thing in both Americas. Getting to keep it is good too. Fortress recently went public, and its IPO price is well below its current price. Kind of makes you wonder if he's gotten some investment tips from Hillary Clinton, doesn't it?

Edwards said it's legitimate to ask questions about whether there is a contradiction between campaigning against poverty while working for a hedge fund that is designed to make rich people richer. He said the job was a compliment to his position as the head of a poverty center at the University of North Carolina.
I think the AP writer meant complement, but hey, it's an AP writer! You have to wonder how being head of a poverty center and consulting with a hedge fund that sets up in the Caymans to avoid taxes are complementary. Apparently, it was supposed to be educational, but Mr. Edwards didn't get a high grade in that class.
"I didn't feel like I understand, and to be honest with you still learning right now, sort of the relationship between that world and the way money moves in this country through financial markets," Edwards said.
And yet his consultancy was "about what he saw happening economically in the United States and during his travels overseas." Sounds like Mr. Edwards needs a good course in international economics and in money and banking. We offer those here at SCSU.

Fortress is in the habit of funding Mr. Edwards:
Fortress was the single biggest employer of Edwards donors during the first three months of the year. Donors who listed "Fortress" as their employer contributed $67,450 to Edwards' campaign and supporters who identified their employer as "Fortress Investment Group" gave $55,200 to the campaign, according to Federal Election Commission records.
Now there's nothing wrong with a firm giving money to one of its employees to run for political office while they are still under the firm's employ, but one must still wonder what the value of the services were that Mr. Edwards provided when he's still learning on the job.


The black hole of Tony Sertich 

OK, that might get his attention.

When Michael posted the news that the Minnesota House had voted unanimously to investigate union organizing suppression in the Minnesota Attorney General's office, I commented that it had been sent to Rep. Tony Sertich's Rules committee at Sertich's request, and that this was the black hole of the Legislature. Michael said the language of the motion was specific in requiring the committee to report back in seven days.

Gary called me last night after speaking with Rep. Steve Gottwalt, indicating that the maker of the original motion, Rep. Tom Emmer of Delano, had repeatedly asked for Rules to produce their report. Not only is there no report, it was reported on the Final Word on Saturday that Tom Emmer was not even allowed to speak to the Rules Committee about the investigation.

Drew Emmer reports this AM:
Last night another motion was made on the floor of the MN House. Once again the entire body voted unanimously 129-0 in favor of hearings and an investigation of AG Lori Swanson. Once again Sertich succeeded in having the motion referred to his Rules Committee.

What do we need to do to get the Majority Leader to respect the will of the members of the House or Representatives?
He also provides a link to the video of the debate (and urges you to start watching at 4:27:32, and to look hard around 4:33.)

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He's a pretty good goalie! 

At least through the first period, Governor Tim Pawlenty has proven that he can defend the goal of budget sanity. His goalkeeping caused the DFL to kick the DREAM Act to the curb (so goodbye immigration plank, after taking out domestic partner benefits a few days earlier.)

"We agreed to drop it in order to avoid the governor's veto. This is the third time he's threatened to veto the bill because of the DREAM Act. We feel very sad for students. We hope to help them on an individual campus basis," she said.

The budget all but abandons Gov. Pawlenty's ACHIEVE Two plan to allow more high performing students to take college-credit courses while still in high school. Instead the conference committee gave a $4 million boost for existing advanced high school programs.

House Higher Education Finance Committee Chair Tom Rukavina says there's no room to add on the governor's program.

"For us to do the things we want to do, especially address tuition, to all of a sudden address a brand new program, we just can't do it," Rukavina said.

The committee's version also strips out Pawlenty's idea of performance pay for talented instructors.

So he's changing shots before they even are put on goal. The bill keeps MnSCU tuition increases to a maximum of 4%, which is to me a fair compromise.

In vetoing two big spending bills yesterday, the governor made it quite clear that the piecemeal approach the DFL is using -- sending up individual spending bills without having agreed-to targets for overall spending isn't going to work.
Without an agreement on the overall state budget, I am not able to sign this bill as it spends $56 million more than my recommended budget in this area, lacks fairness in distribution of economic development funding, contains policy items that will have a detrimental impact on business, and negatively impacts efficient administration of state programs.
Emphasis mine. And here:
The basic structure of the bill is flawed. It relies on unrealistic revenue projections to increase spending beyond sustainable levels, pumps vast amounts of funds into the Legislature's own budget, and both underfunds and undermines the work of the executive branch.

Even if these provisions were to be fixed, however, I am unable to approve this bill until the Legislature more fully identifies an overall budget plan. Only in that context can we, and the public, understand the choices involved in the remaining budget bills.
I think this point has been underreported: The DFL Legislature has sent spending bills forward without an overall budget agreement (this had been what was holding up the higher education bill, which now seems to be ready to vote.) I applaud the governor for asking for an overall budget first, to hold the Legislature to its own rules:
4.03 WAYS AND MEANS COMMITTEE; BUDGET RESOLUTION; EFFECT ON EXPENDITURE AND REVENUE BILLS. (a) The Committee on Ways and Means must hold hearings as necessary to determine state expenditures and revenues for the fiscal biennium. (b) Within 25 days after the last state general fund revenue and expenditure forecast for the next fiscal biennium becomes available during the regular session in the odd-numbered year, the Committee on Ways and Means must adopt a budget resolution. The budget resolution: (1) must set the maximum limit on net expenditures for the next fiscal biennium for the general fund, (2) must set an amount or amounts to be set aside as a budget reserve and a cash flow account, (3) must set net spending limits for each budget category represented by the major finance and revenue bills identified in paragraph (e), and (4) may set limits for expenditures from funds other than the general fund.
The last forecast was given on April 10, meaning the Legislature should have had these spending limits set by May 5. Once again, poor clock management by the Legislature has put all these spending bills in peril and raise the probability of a special session.

The governor is simply asking the Legislature to follow its own rules and conduct itself responsibly, rather than react to vetoes with histrionics.

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Star Tribune, Part II 

As a retired marketing manager and CPA, I have the following observations about the cutbacks at the Minneapolis Star Tribume (Strib) via Powerline.

Years ago, I attended a meeting with a very high ranking IBM executive who made the following comment (paraphrased), "Lea Iacoca supposedly said, 'Don't let accountants control a company in trouble.'" We need accountants for their skill and oversight talents but by definition many tend to be risk averse. Their solution to a problem often is to decrease costs instead of examining and adjusting product.

When a company is in trouble, cutting costs may need to be done but when the company eliminates or reassigns major assets, the problem is rarely solved. Employees left will wonder, "Who's next? When will the other shoe fall?" If there are not major contributions (i.e. pay cuts) at the top and product is not seriously reevaluated, morale, revenues, and results will continue to tumble.

To recover, an enterprise must talk to people who no longer buy their product and ask them what it would take to regain them as a customer.

As I said yesterday, I still prefer a paper over a screen with my tea/coffee.


Monday, May 07, 2007

Your lips say no but our greed says yes 

The Times editorial board chastises the Legislature for not putting their forks down.

Traditionally, major bonding bills are debated and drafted in sessions when legislators are not focused on setting the state budget. In other words, next year.

The governor clearly took that approach when he proposed $71 million in capital improvements this year. But what the heck happened in the DFL-controlled House and Senate?

The House passed a $290 million plan. The Senate OK'd a $320 million bill. Under the spirit of compromise, we would have thought the governor would be asked to sign a bill amounting to somewhere between his request and the Senate's big number. Instead, House-Senate conferees upped the ante to $334 million � even more than the Senate's request.

Sorry, but that's not even close to a reasonable compromise.

And it's noted that the inability to compromise has given Governor Pawlenty the whip hand currently, according to the StarTribune. The domestic partners benefit got kicked to the curb by the Legislature without much of a fight. That's a real kick in the pants to the faculty union which made it a centerpiece of its legislative agenda for this year.

But giving the governor too much credit isn't the way our newspaper works.

Sadly, we make the same point about the governor's continued defiance to proposed tax increases of any kind.

We note again that Pawlenty said during his campaign he would not be beholding to "no new taxes" pledges and the divisive partisanship they invoke. Well, whether it's gasoline or income taxes on only the wealthiest state residents, the governor to date has proven his fall campaign pledges to have been nothing more than political hot air.

But what does that pledge really mean? He didn't pledge to raise taxes, he only pledged that he would not rule out a tax increase under some possible states of the world. The current state of the world, however, is a $2.2 billion surplus and an economy projected to allow almost 10% in new spending over the next biennium without an increase in taxes. At what point did he pledge to accept more than a 10% increase in the budget??

The reason the governor has said no to the gas tax has been because he is willing to use the new MVST money for bonding those expenses. The Legislature wants to bond for their pork but tax for roads. The governor's threatened veto of the income tax increase is, contra the Times, the tax increase will be shifted to the poor in higher prices and depressed wages and lost jobs going over the border to lower-tax states. If the Legislature thinks the tax system isn't progressive enough, why use the money to pay the ransom to Education Minne$ota? Why not take Laura Brod's proposals and cut the tax rate on the lower end of the spectrum?

Because it isn't about fairness.

It's about the pork.

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In for a penny, not a pound 

St. Cloud Times writer and SCBA member Larry Schumacher thinks the Browns Valley bill means no big bonding bill this year.

My Magic 8-Ball keeps coming up "Don't count on it" when I ask whether the Legislature will pass another bonding bill this year.

That's bad news for St. Cloud State University ice hockey fans, Northstar commuter rail supporters and the infrastructure of our public higher education institutions in this area. All are depending on the state for funding this year.

But when Gov. Tim Pawlenty vetoed the $334 million state construction projects bill last week, lawmakers responded by taking out $2 million in funding for flood-damaged Browns Valley and passing it separately.

Taking care of that crisis is a pretty clear signal that the bonding bill isn't a must-do with two weeks remaining in the session.

I'm not as sure, but that seems pretty logical to me. What doesn't make sense is what he says next.

As I write this column, there's still no agreement on an overall budget framework. That doesn't make me as fearful of a special session as some, because there's enough time for the DFL-controlled Legislature to send Pawlenty the big budget bills with a tax increase, have him veto them and still pass a scaled-back budget before the end of the session.

In fact, I'm going to go ahead and predict that there won't be a special session and that lawmakers will finish their budget work on time.

I'm less certain they can do all that and still come back with a bonding bill before time's up.

Not that it couldn't be done. Having been here once before, I know the big bills can be drawn up and approved in 24 hours or less, largely because staffers will stay up all night to get it done.

But it's far from ideal, and because there's always next year in the bonding bill game, I wouldn't reserve tickets for those new box seats anytime soon.

There may be next year in the bonding bill game, but having a bonding bill you can use to buy votes to pass the budget this year is probably some needed grease. I have said before that I believe there will be a special session -- Larry, if the paper's rules allow it, I'll bet breakfast at Panera on this -- but the ONLY way Larry can be right is if there is enough extra money put in to the budget to buy the votes needed to pass this, that allocates some of those extra dollars to vulnerable Republicans (unlike the current DFL-led Legislature proposal). I.e., you can't pass the budget without either the bonding bill or a war of attrition between the DFL and the governor.

So I think Larry will bat .500 -- either there will be no bonding bill, in which case the DFL will have enough angry hornets buzzing to force a special session; or there will be a bonding bill. And if there is one, bet that it will be very close to the size of the House bonding bill. That's a compromise I can imagine the governor taking, promising to hold down the 2008 bonding bill in return and setting up another confrontation next spring.

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James Lileks, Mpls. Star Tribune 

Relaxing with a cup of tea or coffee and reading a paper used to be a pleasant pastime. That idyllic scene disappeared many years ago. Why? The unbelievable bias apparent in so many papers forced me and millions of others to the Internet for a balance of news. Frankly, I prefer the paper and coffee.
Today, after buyouts and requests for changes, another example of the incredible short-sightedness of the paper media displayed itself. The Mpls. Star Tribune (Strib) has a gifted writer in James Lileks. Witty, sharp, clever, etc. , he has his own website and had a regular column and written a few books. So what does the Strib do? They switch him to a local beat.

I called the Strib circulation department (612.673.4343) to voice my concern about the sheer stupidity of this move and reached a real person! I told her I'd be cancelling our subscription except that we'd cancelled it about three years ago. She begged me to contact the reader's rep page and give the same message.

Hello Strib owners: If you want any chance of getting your paper regaining respect, provide some balance. Then again, maybe you need to sell it for a tax loss just as the most recent, previous owner did.

KING ADDS: Of course it's ridiculous. Mitch links to the analysis of Tim Worstall, which I suspect is right. It's a way to say goodbye without saying goodbye (though I doubt the severance package for columnists is that lush.) Hugh and James had a discussion a week ago (wraps around these two hours) on how to fix the newspaper and James' biggest point was "go local on page one." So why not put your best writer on the local beat? Because that's not what he does best. What they need is more input like this.

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Defense and greenhouse gases 

A friend of mine, a very smart Democrat, thought it ironic to send me a link to a report from CEPR that increased defense spending will drag down the economy.
The Center for Economic and Policy Research released a report today estimating the economic impact of increased U.S. military spending comparable to the spending on the Iraq war. The report, presenting the results of a simulation from the economic forecasting company Global Insight, shows the increased level of military spending leads to fewer jobs and slower economic growth.
My reply to him was, what about an increase in non-military spending? Was there something special about the form of spending? So I thought I would dig into the report itself. Deep inside is a heading titled "How Spending on the Military and the Environment Cost Jobs."
It would be possible to design an ambitious agenda to curb global warming that relied entirely on paying people to act in ways that would lead to fewer emissions of greenhouse gases. This would affect the economy in a way that is very similar to the way that military spending affects the economy. In the case of military spending, we are paying firms and individuals to produce weapons, ammunition, and supplies for the military. This global warming policy would be paying firms and individuals to produce and install cars, appliances, and other items that would lead to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

In both cases, the initial effect on the economy would likely be job gains, since both policies generate more demand for goods and services. However, in both cases, the policy would likely lead to a rise in interest rates and inflation, as higher levels of demand begin to push against the economy�s capacity. The rise in interest rates will lead to less investment, and less demand for cars and houses.
So this is not surprising; it's a classic story of public investment crowding out private investment. The question is what you get back on the public investment, either in the form of a cleaner environment or in terms of national security. Both types of spending should produce benefits as well as costs. They probably don't work identically, but my guess is the Global Insight model they used doesn't differentiate on what kind of government purchases are made. (I've seen some of their models, and I don't recall seeing a differentiation, but my memory may be faulty here as it's been a few years.)

Spending on national security is expensive, but that is neither good nor bad save the alternatives (of national insecurity) make it so.


Civil students 

I don't keep a home office any more; I used to hide in a glorified closet in the basement but after #1 son left for college I moved out into the family room. I'm sure I annoy the family with papers strewn on the floor from time to time, but it allows me to engage Littlest Scholar, who also has a desk in the family room. This allows me to keep an eye on her for bad websites -- so far, nothing worse than some cheesy YouTube'd manga.

Last night she was finishing her science project and went to print it. As it came off she said excitedly, "Dad, I have twelve pages!!" I bit my tongue on which the words were "but do they communicate the purpose of the experiment?" I said that was a lot of pages. "I have a mini-book here," she said in a very satisfied voice.

This week's Chronicle of Higher Ed has Thomas Benton's latest, on remedial civility training:

Every morning, after setting up all the multimedia components I'm going to need, I stand at the door of my 8:30 a.m. classroom in my jacket and tie and say, "Good morning" to each entering student.

Only a few will say "Hi" or "Good morning" in return. About half will give me a somewhat confused nod, not quite making eye contact. The rest will not even look at me; they look at their shoes and keep walking, exuding a vaguely suspicious and hostile air.

...I sometimes feel stung by students' rudeness. I try to make my classes interesting and relevant, and I care about their learning. I try to conduct myself in a kindly but professional manner. But, more and more, I think the student culture of incivility is a larger impediment to their success than anything they might fail to learn about Western civilization or whatever it is I am teaching.

I often hear a lot of talk about the academic weaknesses of new freshmen. Even at a relatively elite college, it's not uncommon to find 18-year-olds who have problems with reading -- so much so that almost no incentive can persuade some students to spend an hour with Shakespeare, Kant, or Gibbon.

Writing is an even bigger problem for many students. Most have never produced anything longer than a few pages. A serious research paper -- involving sources, citation, and maybe eight pages of thoughtful analysis -- has become almost entirely unknown before college. The fundamental skills that used to qualify students for admission have been eroded to the point that nothing can be assumed anymore.

But those deficiencies don't bother me all that much. I am here to help them become better readers and writers, as well as to learn the particular content of my courses. Even more than that, I want to cultivate in them a sense of pleasure in learning that will enrich their lives.

Of course, I think it is a serious problem that many public schools -- and private ones -- have just about given up teaching many of the academic skills that were once considered basic for every high-school graduate, not just the ones going to college. But what really troubles me is that schools -- no doubt, mirroring the broader culture -- have given up cultivating the ordinary courtesies that enable people to get along without friction and violence.

Littlest is quite shy and does not talk at all to people she doesn't know. But she's quite talkative at home and with her teacher. She is at a private school, by the way, but I'm not sold that this is a private/public thing nor that this is an argument for vouchers or what-have-you. Benton points to students' cynicism, and argues it to be built from ignoring the small courtesies, a sort of "broken windows" theory of education.

So how do you fix that? One observation from Littlest, also over the weekend: We went to church Sunday; we are still deciding between two churches to replace the one we closed last November. Yesterday's was the one not affiliated with her school. It has a large preschool and yesterday was preschool Sunday, so all the kids were there, had decorated the sanctuary and the vestments worn by the pastors. As we're leaving I ask her how she liked the service. "I don't like the children's handprints on the pastors' robes." Why? "That's not respectful or dignified."

I whistled lowly, and we hurriedly left the church.

The basis for teaching the courtesies is there. You just have to put the little extra effort in now.


Sunday, May 06, 2007

Back from 'Da Lake 

Our friends have a very nice, small, lake home/cabin in Wisconsin. And every once in a while, driving "up nort to da lake" is just what the doctor ordered.

I left Friday, returned today. The weather was lousy - rain, almost cold, windy, no outside time but it was still wonderful. The red-headed woodpecker flew from tree to tree looking for his meal. The loons crooned for over an hour this morning. It's amazing how sound carries in a wilderness. Then the eagles, over five years old. They moved their nest from the island at the north end of the lake to a spot at the south end. We observed them fly past the house many times. They are so powerful - one swoop of their magnificent wings propels them unbelievably far. Watching them soar provides an awe-inspiring reminder of the beauty and power of nature.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Sensitive friends 

Littlest Scholar is a middle schooler, and from time to time Mrs. and I will hear of some conflict between students. Teachers and parents meet; the kids go back to being friends (usually, because her school is very small.) What does not usually happen is sensitivity training. But at Westwood Middle School in Blaine, CAIR believes, that's just what is needed.
A girl who wears an Islamic head scarf says a fellow student at Blaine's Westwood Middle School called her a terrorist.

Two other Muslim students say food and milk were thrown at them in the cafeteria. And an assistant principal who talked with a Muslim student about the lunchroom spat allegedly made inappropriate references to Islam.

CAIR-Minnesota, a civil rights group, raised the allegations Thursday and asked the school to investigate. The request got a swift reply from Don Helmstetter, superintendent of the Spring Lake Park School District, who called the allegations "serious" and said an investigation began minutes after he got a copy of CAIR's letter.

A perfect administrator, Mr. Helmstetter is. Cry "serious!" and unleash the dogs of political correctness.

According to CAIR chairwoman Lori Saroya, on Sept. 11, 2006, a student who wears the hijab was told by a boy she didn't know that "Muslims are terrorists." She reported the incident to a counselor but no action was taken, Saroya said. Westwood Principal Paula Hoff and a counselor met with the girl's parents and told them that it was an isolated incident and that sensitivity training would be considered.

"The kids are friends now, but the boy told the girl that he hadn't been disciplined," Saroya said. The girl's parents also had asked to meet with the boy and his parents. No meeting or sensitivity training took place, Saroya said.

No sense letting reconciliation and friendship between the one-time belligerents stand in the way of a good sensitivity training! And note that it's exactly on September 11, 2006. That date is in there ... why?

Two other Muslim students say they have been taunted about their religion through the school year, and last month had food and milk thrown at them in the cafeteria, Saroya said. When a confrontation followed, only one student -- a Muslim who had "tried to defend her friend" -- was sent to the office, Saroya said.

There, "the assistant principal said, 'Do Islam and the Qur'an say it's OK to call people bad names?' " Saroya said. "It's hard to imagine a Christian kid hearing that about the Bible."

Well, why would that be, Ms Saroya? Could it be because we are not allowed to talk about the Bible in school? And yet in the name of diversity we should have wudu basins. So we must recognize Islam but not discuss its tenets; we cannot recognize Christianity or its tenets.

Interesting that the piece calls CAIR-MN only a civil rights group, when its re-emergence in Minnesota is so recent and under such other clouds. The article reports Ms Saroya saying that though the organization "has received no similar complaints" elsewhere, "Some sensitivity training at schools could really help head off this kind of thing." It makes me think Ms Saroya is looking for any entry to bring her special interest into the school system.


LTEs from the kin network 

Two observations about Mike Hatch's daughter writing a letter of support for him (as observed by the most powerful Michael):
  1. "We lost ... a damn tough fighter." Besides the obvious hilarity relating to her sisters, one should seriously wonder why an attorney general's office needs a fighter? What are you fighting? Whenever I hear someone is "fighting for the little guy", this little guy grabs his wallet.
  2. Seriously, Mike, nobody else would write you a letter? You gotta go to the kin network? Bummer that Matt Entenza didn't return your call.

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Mrs. Scholar's latest column on safety at SCSU after Virginia Tech. Some people think our gun rules allow visitors to have guns on campus, but that's not true. Here's the policy. Mrs. S argues that we as a campus don't spend enough on safety. I did not know the data (here's the university's budget detail, look at page 49 or scan for "public safety") before she asked the question. I found it by far the most interesting piece she has done so far!


Meet Another REAL American Hero 

Where do we find these guys? They are amongst us - sometimes we recognize them, sometimes we do not. But, thank goodness, they are here.

Who? The brave men and women of the US Armed Forces.

This Sunday, May 6, from 3-9 PM, sponsors are hosting a fundraiser for John Kriesel at O'Gara's Bar in St. Paul, MN. Included in the admission ($20 ahead of time, $25 at the door) are entertainment greats: Martin Vellar, GB Leighton and Uncle Chunk. In addition, there will be a silent auction.

Come on over, show your support for our troops and their families - see you Sunday!


Thursday, May 03, 2007

College Graduation 

Many of you know I'm an adjunct instructor of Management Information Systems at Metropolitan State University (MIS) in Minneapolis. This semester, I was asked by a former student to attend her graduation.

It was a most delightful evening. Our students are older, average age is mid-20's. They were excited, proud, and had a wonderful time. Their kids, spouses, parents and other relatives were in attendance. The atmosphere was very upbeat.

Speakers as a general rule kept their remarks short. But we had to have the politically correct (PC) talk about the difficult economy (what's so difficult about 95.5% employment, house ownership at an all time high, etc.), the status of women and race. We need to stop this mantra of looking for doom and gloom amid strength and success. We will never get pass the race/sex issues if we keep throwing them out to people in talks. Tonight there were more female graduates than male and now there are more women in college than men. This lack of men getting higher educations is a far greater problem than any of the race/sex issues. I will cheer the day when we can get through a positive event like tonight without the comments on diversity, men, sex, hard times, etc.

In the meantime, I sent a note to my students encouraging them to participate in their graduation ceremony. It was a night to remember.


The jerks you elect 

The DFL, so adept at shooting hostages, decided to shoot Rogers today.
The Legislature is ready to extend a helping hand to flood-damaged Browns Valley. But lawmakers are rejecting a similar plea for the suburban city of Rogers, which was hit by a deadly tornado last fall.

The differing responses provoked some sharp partisan exchanges Thursday when the Browns Valley bill cleared a House committee controlled by Democrats.

"This sure reeks of politics," lamented Rep. Brad Finstad, R-Comfrey.

Browns Valley would receive $2 million to rebuild after March flooding. The city near the South Dakota border is represented by Democratic Rep. Paul Marquart of Dilworth.

Republican Rep. Joyce Peppin of Rogers sought to tack on $1 million in aid to help residents of the suburban city in her district rebuild after the September twister.

Marquart said he never intended "to pit one disaster against another." But he opposed the addition of the Rogers money because he fears it would slow approval of the aid for Browns Valley.

Why would adding a million in support for Rogers slow approval of the Browns Valley aid?

Could it be...
"Everything is fun and games until someone gets an eye poked out, and the governor just poked out my eye by vetoing this bill," said Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing. "I think that is a clear indication he wants a train wreck at the end of session. He wants the Legislature to fail, and he wants to blame us."
(h/t: Gary, who has more.)

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Nibbling away at excellence 

I should do a series of these. Here's today's example of how the academy is tossing away standards of excellence in return for quite marginal changes to access for historically marginalized groups. A historian proposes a panel for the annual meeting of the American Historical Association. The conference organizers reply that the panel is of high quality and should be in the prestigious meeting, but only if they would put a woman on the panel. Erin O'Connor notes:
Shouldn't the goal be to assemble the best panels and to host the most intellectually vibrant conference possible? Annual meetings of huge scholarly associations are commonly described as "zoos." But in requiring that every panel display a token female--see female historian talk! see female historian think!--the AHA is taking the zoo image to a new level entirely.
Perhaps calls for papers for the AHA should include "women and minorities especially encouraged to present."


Reffing it some more, or, rejecting the null 

The discussion of the NBA referee piece continues. The NBA players and league officials are actively downplaying the study. The response of one of the co-authors, Justin Wolfers, is that one is misunderstanding the study:

"This is not a view that one set of people hates another set of people. This is implicit, unconscious biases," said Wolfers, who conducted the study with Joseph Price, a graduate student in economics at Cornell.

"You see two players [collide] on the floor and you have to call a block or a charge. Does the skin color of the players somehow shape how you interpret the signals your brain gives you?"

Some economists on the private sports economics list dismiss the study as not being real economics. And true, there is no model in the paper that explains how it is referees would hold these unconscious biases. As I argued yesterday, it could be a style-of-play preference, something that can be influenced by how one calls fouls.

Referees have an interest in not being seen to be biased. There are clear calls that you cannot miss or else you will not keep your job as a referee. I researched many years ago the voting of sportswriters in the baseball Hall of Fame, and the behavior of arbitrators in deciding salaries for baseball players. In most cases there was no evidence of discrimination. However we did see some evidence in the HoF voting back in the 1970s and 1980s for discrimination against Latino players, and it appeared to be mostly for Latino middle infielders. Why? One explanation could have been that it was difficult for sportswriters to communicate with Latin ballplayers, and this changed their behavior only for the marginal cases. The marginal case is for the player whose batting stats are quite clearly below those of the big-time sluggers or base stealers, but are being considered because of fielding skills. Because the latter are more perception, subjective judgments could be made and not have them confront data. Likewise, the (secretly held) data on who calls fouls on whom in the NBA are not confronting the perception of no bias.

Steven Levitt raises another point that the size of these effects are not very large. He points to John Hollinger's calculation (subscribers link for ESPN Insider members) that the effect on Lebron James' total fouls if all his games were called by all-white officiating crews versus all-black crews would be 11 additional fouls over a season. His scoring average would be 0.3 points per game lower. Levitt doesn't mention another style of play factor that Hollinger picks up:

While we're talking about this study, one other item in it drew my attention: the finding that during the 13-year study period, teams with the greater share of playing time by black players won 48.6 percent of games. The authors seemed to imply some kind of mild institutional racism against black players by this result.

In fact, there's a much more obvious explanation -- the league imported a bunch of talent from Europe during the study period, almost all of it white, and the poorly run teams were the last ones to figure out there were good players on other continents. Thus, by default they ended up with more black players on their rosters.

And the poorer teams may commit more fouls as they play from behind; does this change the results? The study corrects for game effects which include the score, but I don't think I saw that it held constant the relative position of teams contesting for playoff spots, etc.

That doesn't make the Wolfers and Price paper incorrect. But I still would argue for additional tests to see if the age of the referee group matters (perhaps easily told, as far as I've been told, since each referee gets the next highest number on their jersey as they enter the league.) Rather than say this is evidence of bias, I'd look at their results and say "that is odd, doesn't really fit theory, what do you suppose explains that?" In statistical terms, the null hypothesis ALWAYS has to be "no discrimination" and rejecting the null doesn't mean you can accept the alternative.

UPDATE: Brian Goff makes some similar points.

UPDATE2: Phil Miller was inspiration for some of my comments, and he's greatly expanded on them here.

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Is cheating ever worth the bother? 

An article in today's StarTribune talks about using iPods for cheating. Electronic cheating has been around since the first Texas Instruments or HP programmable calculator went into a classroom. The cures are quite simple, though:
Timothy Dodd, executive director of the Center for Academic Integrity at Duke University, said that as far as he knows, no studies have been done on how often students use iPods or other personal digital media to cheat....

"Teachers and faculty have grown with the technology," he said. "When we were in school, we were told to close our books and put our notes away. Now students are told to turn off their cell phones, put the PDAs [small hand-held computers] away and put the iPods away."

Even gadgets such as calculators, which have become increasingly sophisticated and are capable of holding downloaded material such as class notes, have to be watched. [Computer science professor Annette] Schoenberger said some St. Cloud professors ask students to bring their calculators in an hour before an exam to remove any suspect memory.

Jane Kirtley, the Silha Professor of Media Ethics and Law at the U, said her students won't have any questions about what to bring to finals next week. She bans electronic devices from use in her classroom all the time. Cell phones are to be turned off, iPods invisible and laptop computers closed.

Students take notes by hand. If a cell phone goes off, students know they are to leave and not return until the next class period.

I had not tried the trick of bouncing out of class students whose cellphones ring; I think I'll have to try that now. The most common form of cheating, however, is the old-fashioned kind of someone trying to get a copy of the test. Even that can be digital now, with cellphone cameras able to beam a copy of my test given at 8am to the 9am classmate. But scrambling answers and the order of the questions -- something also made easier by technology -- is effective as a deterrent. I hear far more cases of plagiarism -- again, made easier to do and to detect via newer technologies -- than I do of cheating on exams.

Yet my overriding impression from university life is that cheating is almost never worth the bother. The one time I had a final exam stolen from my office, about twenty years ago, I happened to have a backup in a file cabinet; it was an old exam that I had not shared with students as preparation for their final. Easy enough, I went over to the print shop and had 70 whipped up. The reddening face of the guilty party was pleasure enough for me, and the fellow did fail the exam and course without ever having to prove he had stolen the test. Perhaps math, computer science, or language exams are easier to cheat on, but in economics I have yet to see it pay off for someone.


Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Protecting Votes 

Just heard the following today from a Frenchman, Pierre Rehov, French documentary reporter who has access to Palestinian terrorists.

Guess what - the French require a voter id card for everyone who votes! What a novel concept!


Reffing it old style 

An economist made news today in the NY Times by showing bias in the calling of fouls in NBA games. (I know, I must have NBA on the brain today.) Here's a link on the fellow's home page to his paper. The bias worked in both directions, but was "more pronounced" from white officials to black players. Some of us on a sports economics mailing list have been discussing this today. Here are some comments motivated by that and the article:
  1. Since when does the Times get independent experts to referee a working paper? (I know two of the three, and I'd respect their opinions.) Would that they were this careful with some of their political coverage!
  2. The mailing list participants were trying to figure out the size of the effect, and it appears to be between 3-4 games a year. It thus might help a team marginally in the playoffs to add a white player in place of a black player. That's a serious charge, and part of the reason for the NBA's very heated denial.
  3. The denial includes an in-house study by an accounting firm that had, unlike the academic paper, access to information on which referee called which foul. (There are three referees on the floor.) But tellingly the Times reports, "The league�s study was less formal and detailed than an academic paper, included foul calls for only two and a half seasons (from November 2004 through January 2007), and did not consider differences among players by position, veteran status and the like." The academic study shows that which controls are used to hold constant various player and game characteristics changes a good bit of the results (though their base conclusion seems quite robust.) When the NBA president of operations Joel Litvin says the NBA "concluded unequivocally that there was no racial bias in officiating," that's spinning. No study can say that unequivocally.
  4. It's worth noting that black players typically get called for fewer fouls than white players anyway, because most white players are, in the study's words, "generally taller, heavier, and more likely to play center (all factors that make them more likely to commit fouls). The more striking fact is that the gap in the number of fouls called against black and white players changes as the number of white referees increases (dropping from -0.827 to -0.574)." It's not so much that black players get called for more fouls, but that white referees call fewer fouls in general and specifically fewer against white players.
  5. And I think that's important because they find a number of game characteristics that differ depending on the number of white refs. The paper alludes to the fact that not only are white and black players in the NBA different physically but also in style of play. Black referees might like the style of black players and white referees the style of white players. That doesn't make one group right and the other wrong. I grew up in the 1970s watching different styles of play; we talked about East Coast ball being rougher than West Coast play.
My guess is that if they could go back and collect data on the age of referees, they'd find something. Older referees are probably more often white. Older referees may have preferred that rougher, Celtics-Bullets style of play, or otherwise let them play. Younger referees may prefer the creative one-on-one game. Suppose it's old/young rather than white/black? I don't know, but I know not to use the word "unequivocally" loosely.


Giving birth 

I've been giving a talk around St. Cloud to several audiences over the last two months on the number of business births in town. When the Wall Street Journal ripped the Bureau of Labor Statistics last week for poor employment data (subscribers link), I had wanted to write back to the editorialists that this thing is a lot harder than it seems. The talk has focused on the fact that our employment data was revised upward quite sharply in late February as the result of reconciling the survey data in the Current Employment Survey with the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages. (Here's the text of the revision or re-benchmarking of the CES.)

My talk (I'll have a link here when I assemble it from the PowerPoint later) focused on the errors in the birth-death model used to build the CES estimate. To oversimplify, each month BLS has to guess how many new jobs are created from firms they could not possibly have surveyed because they either are new firms or firms that have closed their doors and no longer answer the phone. 300,000 jobs were missed, BLS thinks, because they underestimated the number of business births. We're not sure why that happened; at a talk over lunch today, one audience member commented to me that he was finding many small business owners forming LLCs and LLPs and that there are many others that nobody probably knows about. I don't think I have good data on this at all for the local area. So perhaps many more small business owners are out there that we don't know about.

Another example (h/t, Craig Newmark) is in the restaurant business.

"Do you know me?" asked Rocco DiSpirito in a 2003 TV spot for American Express. "I'm a chef who already runs two restaurants in New York. Now I'm opening a third on national television in a time when nine out of 10 restaurants fail in the first year."

Like many viewers, H.G. Parsa did know DiSpirito from his NBC reality show The Restaurant. The nine-out-of-10 figure was familiar, too. As an associate professor in Ohio State University's Hospitality Management program, Parsa had heard it many times before. But based on his 13 years of restaurant-industry experience, he still didn't buy it.

...His research�consistent with similar studies�found that about one in four restaurants close or change ownership within their first year of business. Over three years, that number rises to three in five.

While a 60% failure rate may still sound high, that's on par with the cross-industry average for new businesses, according to statistics from the Small Business Administration and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

It's an excellent article with explanations for business deaths as well -- many may be planned, where one operated a firm to meet an objective and then closed it because the firm no longer made sense, not that it had failed. I don't think you could have even written this sentence fifty years ago without someone thinking you daft.

Economies are dynamic. The changes we are witnessing mess with our data in ways we have trouble predicting. So when I read pieces like this one on the age distribution of income -- which is really interesting -- I have to pause and wonder, is the data right?

One of my friends at BLS replied to me last week when I sent the WSJ article that the only way to get better data from the government is to demand it. (Or find ways to get it privately, though the data that comes from the government relies often on information collected as a by-product of tax collection, so it's hard to replace privately.) Rather than that, I prefer to question the data at every step. Most people don't understand the process of collection, and that leads to people saying silly things.


Kevin McHale, call your office! 

Trail Blazers guard Brandon Roy was chosen as the NBA's Rookie of the Year on Wednesday after leading all rookies with averages of 16.8 points, 4.0 assists and 35.4 minutes in 57 games.

...Roy was the Pacific-10 Conference's Player of the Year his senior season at Washington. He was drafted with the sixth overall pick by the Minnesota Timberwolves, then traded to Portland for the draft rights to Randy Foye.
Source. More painful is that Boston could have had Roy by not trading the seventh pick to the T'Wolves in the first place ... for Sebastian Telfair.

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TPaw ups the ante 

By vetoing the bonding bill in toto, Governor Tim Pawlenty is sending a strong message to the Legislature. He could have instead produced a line-item veto for many of the projects and kept some of the ones he preferred. The newspaper and perhaps the governor's office claims this was to prevent spending the Legislature's time on trying to override each line item veto, but it is more likely a strategic play that keeps projects in play for the negotiation over the budget that is to continue. In short, he is saying nothing is off the table.

It appears, by the way, that Senator Tarryl Clark has been hanging around Pogie a little too much. She is getting a nasty tongue:
But Assistant Senate Majority Leader Tarryl Clark, DFL-St. Cloud, said the veto will engender "a lot of disappointment, frustration and maybe anger" from communities around the state that would have benefitted from building projects in the bill. She likened the governor to "a 2-year-old just saying 'no, no, no.' "
So at what age in the Clark household do the children say "gimme, gimme, gimme"? And when they don't get that new toy, what do we call their "disappointment, frustration and maybe anger"? Around my house, it's known as a temper tantrum.

It appears Sen. Steve Murphy had one.

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A Bunker with a View 

Last evening my husband and I went to the world-renowned Guthrie Theater newly located on the Mississippi River in downtown Minneapolis. After exiting the parking ramp at ground level one crosses the street, outdoors, to the Guthrie theater entrance. The lobby reminds one of an enormous cave with its dark walls, dark blue glass, and subtle lighting.

To reach the theaters, people ride a totally enclosed escalator, dimly lit, to the fourth floor. Emerging from this tunnel, one sees wide spaces with chairs, bars, and bunker-like windows. Everything is dark: black chairs, dark carpet, black ceiling, etc. The only noticeable light components are the brushed steel counters for beverages and the information desk.

At intermission we walked around the entire theater portion of the building - dark, dull, depressing. There is a lit fabric wall of red: not an uplifting red, but rather a German Cabaret red from the 1930's. Though the views are impressive, looking at the river through mostly bunker-like windows is eerie.

The visibly bright spot is the theater. The Guthrie stage has maintained its intimacy with its audience. Comfortable, inviting seats in warm, melon/orange/autumn gold colors welcome each to the theater arena.

The performance of The Merchant of Venice was terrific! However, this current focus on the trendy, hip, Manhattan architectural style of darkness, glass and metal results in a cold, antiseptic, unfriendly atmosphere in the rest of the building, including what could have been a spectacular restaurant, Cue. The interior environment was depressing; there was no "buzz." I prefer entertainment in an uplifting venue. I will take the Ordway Theater in St. Paul, with its inviting architecture and warm ambiance any day of the week.


Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Textbook less baggage 

The reality check of the budget has put a crimp in the textbook windbaggage that the Minnesota Legislature has been trying to pass. No money for the project, just a bunch of unfunded mandates:
House and Senate negotiators Monday took another step toward controlling the high costs of college textbooks, agreeing to require publishers to disclose textbook costs, formats, return policies, and how much new editions differ from older ones.

...Higher education conference committee members also agreed that public colleges and universities in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) system must meet annually with students, teachers and administrators to figure out how to reduce the costs of college course materials. Private colleges and the University of Minnesota would be asked to adopt the disclosure measures.
There might be money forthcoming if the conferees ever get budget figures from the other conference committees charged with setting budget targets. That money would go most likely to pilot textbook rental programs.

As I noted last spring, the problem here is one of an agreement between Professor A and Publisher B that B's textbook will be required of Student C in A's class. A might be made to talk with C about the cost of B's book and alternatives available, but will it be effective in influencing the conversation between A and B? I doubt it. The bill agreed in conference requires B to tell C what are his or her options in buying the book, but doesn't specify which options will have to be available. I suspect that will have to come after a discussion between A and the university, which is having a hard time attracting enough students to keep budgets stable.

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Hatch rides off 

One prediction I didn't make last Saturday was that Mike Hatch would leave the attorney general's office. In retrospect, this makes much more sense; the column in today's PioneerPress was simply a coup de grace. This resgination plus some mending of the fences between AG Lori Swanson and AFSCME will put this all behind them in no time, along with the usual complicity of the Twin Cities media of flushing it down the memory hole. Unlike Chad, I sincerely doubt we've seen the last of Mike Hatch. As the old joke goes, the good die young so Hatch will be around a very long time.

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Beating a dead hog 

Derek Brigham is having fun again. The dead hog is from Rep. Seifert's speech on the floor of the Minnesota House last Friday, as we detailed yesterday.

I think this hog is just pining for the fjords.

Meanwhile, the goalie has a 56% approval rating while these two hockey pucks have decided it's OK to bond for their pork, just not for roads.

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On being a department chair 

My existence beyond this blog and radio show is mostly defined as being a department chair. Todd Diacon of the University of Tennessee writes that it's a hard job, but worth it. (Permalink for Chronicle of Higher Education subscribers.)

As a central administrator I am now tucked away in a fortress on the edge of the campus. Rarely will I encounter the people whose work I administer and whose expectations I help shape. And when such encounters occur they are a) scheduled in advance, and b) thus largely scripted.

By contrast, every week -- if not every day -- as a department head you bump into a professor you have disappointed, or even angered, by some decision. Furthermore, that professor is often a friend, always a colleague, and often admired for his or her excellence in teaching and scholarship.

That tension is painfully unavoidable, for, at a minimum, department heads must evaluate professors every year and divide up the pool of money available for raises.

I am lucky that SCSU does not have merit money for raises, so I never have to do this.

In addition, life is messy, so that at myriad other points in the year tense encounters and situations are likely to occur -- as when you decide that no, the department doesn't have enough money to cover Professor A's third conference travel request. Or, yes, Professor B will have to teach at 9 a.m. on a MWF schedule even though he is a self-proclaimed afternoon person who is most brilliant on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

The nature of the job means that often you please no one, not even your boss, which, in the case of a department head, is the college dean.

Regrettably, this has been more difficult insofar as I'm on my fourth dean in six years and about to get my fifth. Two of them have had to wear the interim tag. The interims have had a better understanding of the university but no payoff to the visioning task that is part of the job (Diacon says that they "see the forest in ways that professors cannot" and that "they have a bigger picture both to paint and to interpret." True, very true.) I've managed somehow to work with all four of them, as well as my department. How? After going through a long list of what makes the job tough, Diacon gets around to why you do it. And it's about the growth of the person who takes the job.
You learn new skills as a counselor, a coach, and a confidant. You learn the importance of fund-raising, and, in the process, meet fascinating people from outside the university.
My experience in talking with people who have been department heads in the past is that they become much more at peace with the life they chose to take up after the PhD. I am looking forward to giving this job up in a couple more years -- I am not of a mind to do anything else in administration as Diacon now will do, but never is a very long time so get back to me on this later -- but I wouldn't trade this experience for fifty trips to conferences and seminars. I'm looking forward to a better academic life.

UPDATE: Of course, I would have loved to have Atomizer's job. But I flunked that test on the back of the matchbook.