Sunday, November 30, 2008

Recount: Propaganda Smokescreen by Democrats 

Democrat US Senator Majority Leader, Harry Reid said, "�As the process moves forward, Minnesota authorities must ensure that no voter is disenfranchised.� In an accompanying statement, Reid said �A citizen�s right to have his or her vote counted is fundamental in our democracy.� These statements indicate that the Democrats will use any words to make an empty case that AL Franken won the MN US Senate race, against Norm Coleman.

" voter is disenfranchised" is in complete opposition to the behavior I witnessed at the recount in Dakota County, MN's third largest county. I was a floor lead the entire recount process - one where more than 226,000 votes were recounted by hand. There were a few problems - some of which will be discussed in later posts. For now, I will address two:

MN has electronic voting whereby voters identify their choice by filing in an oval next to the name of the candidate. This is done with a special ink pen provided by the precinct or with pencil. Both can be read by the voting machine. Extremely questionable challenges included the following:
1 - When a spot no larger than a pencil dot, a pen rest most likely, appeared in a Franken oval, even when Barkley or Coleman ovals were totally filled in, the Democrats (DFL) claimed "vote for Franken; voter intent unclear; a non-Coleman/Barkley vote." This was their excuse for a challenge.

2 - If there was a stray mark anywhere on the ballot, a pen scribble, an "X" when all other voting marks were completed ovals, the DFL claimed that these were "identifying marks" and the ballot should be discounted.
This type of irresponsible behavior was led by Democrats. After multiple requests by the Dakota County recount election official to back off these kinds of challenges (and all requests were simply ignored by the DFL), the Dems were berated publicly more than once - to no avail. Result? The Coleman team had to begin to make the same type of challenges in self-defense; otherwise, an unexpected, adverse ruling could potentially lead to a disastrous swing.

If the Democrats were serious about disenfranchisement (as Mr. Reid insists) these ballots never would have been challenged. It would have been responsible of the DFL to direct their observers to use common sense and honesty in making their challenges. As it was, DFL observers refused to change their tactics. Theoretically all these "challenged" ballots could be accepted and voters would be disenfranchised. My belief, based on Dakota County and talking to peers in other counties, the vast majority of the so-called 5000+ challenged ballots will be counted as valid votes.

When you look at behavior, the empty Democratic rhetoric of "count every ballot" becomes "make every possible challenge to try to disenfranchise Coleman voters while counting every Franken ballot," whether a legitimate vote or not.

Don't be fooled by the blatant propaganda.

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Saturday, November 29, 2008

What Weak Leftist Democrats Do Not Understand 

The leftist Democrats in the US, with their counterparts in Europe, have lost sight of strength, courage, "can-do" attitudes, and the FACT that we, Americans are a group of people united (well, initially, anyway) in a belief that most people can do more than they think they can do.

We are the people who came here because we were of the wrong tribe, religion, ancestry, belief system, etc. We got here because we survived whatever it took to get here (recall the original Indians who crossed the Bering Sea from Asia - we don't know why they came but they came here for a reason and populated a continent - though not to the extent recent "historians" claim) and most of us (or our ancestors) took advantage of the freedoms defined by our Founders.

This Navy seal's attitude says it all: I am not a victim (as leftist Democrats would like us to believe), I am more than a survivor - I will come back. You can take your negative attitude and put a sock in it.

If we can get back to the "can-do" mindset of previous generations, we can do whatever we believe in, without the government controlling us. It's time more of us take up this attitude and, as the old Nike commercial said, "Just Do It!"

Update: Commenter Emily properly takes me to task for misspelling "sight" as "site" in my original post. I plead guilty, as described in the excerpt below from this poem, which has become known as the "Ode to the Spelling Checker."
I have a spelling checker,
It came with my PC.
It plane lee marks four my revue
Miss steaks aye can knot sea...

Butt now bee cause my spelling
Is checked with such grate flare,
Their are know fault's with in my cite,
Of nun eye am a wear.


Friday, November 28, 2008

Never grew up 

John Christie writes about that uncle who makes Thanksgiving (and other holidays) fun.

There are ways, though, to be graduated to the adults' table ahead of schedule. One of them is to lead your younger cousins at the kids' table in a show of bad manners, including roll-tossing, ginger ale snorting and a burping contest (judged by loudness and length).�

The following Thanksgiving will find you at the big table, the cousins cowed back into good behavior.

At the adults' table, you'll find out what sparkling cider tastes like out of a crystal goblet, that the silverware is actual silver and that you'll get your hand slapped if you hold your knife in your fist.

But, if you are lucky, you will have a bachelor uncle at the table, the colorful sheep in the family of whom his older sisters say, "He's never grown up."

You know the type. He shows up late, smoking a cigar, perhaps with an overdressed date on his arm one year and another year with two buddies from the Elks Club who had no place else to go.

He is to the adults' table as you were to the kids' table. He doesn't mush up dinner rolls and try to "make two" with a hook shot into Aunt Mary's water glass, but he cracks ribald jokes, rags on his brother-in-law's comb-over and challenges you to an eating contest.

"I'm on my third helping, kid, and I ain't even started yet," he declares as you try to force down one more forkful of mashed potatoes.
You have an image of Uncke Buck, but John is actually speaking of Uncle Licky, whose gift of old comics I've written about here before. John and Gary were my two older cousins to whom I looked up. I always thought Gary threw the rolls, but John did inspire some great Thanksgiving burping contests.

And Uncle Licky? Never married, never left home, and only grew up later. When he was given a short prognosis for Lou Gehrig's he decided if he walked five miles a day it wouldn't catch him. And it didn't for several years. A joy of life and a will to live, in equal measure. I remember the overdressed date (referred to simply as "the Queen" by one and all, with Licky rolling his eyes), the stories of taking the bus to the dog tracks (Seabrook, Wonderland, Hinsdale, he hit 'em all), and some guys with Greek-sounding names he saw at the Elk or some greasy spoon on Central Ave. We kids loved the drive to Dover for Nana's food and Uncle Licky's entertainment.

We've finished two days of visiting friends and family this Thanksgiving, and I hope you had a fine holiday too, and that you got to see your favorite bachelor uncle. I'll be on the Patriot tomorrow without Michael; we'll do some different things than our usual fare unless some major stupidity in the recount happens. See you then.

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"We don't mean to sound churlish" 

"We're still going to have to make some tough choices," he said at a news conference Tuesday. "There are just going to be some programs that simply don't work, and we've got to eliminate them."

That's the kind of promise made on the campaign trail, where every office-seeker declares his or her determination to root out "waste, fraud and abuse." When it comes time to govern, however, elected officials find that the challenge is to spend less on services and bureaucracies that do work -- if not for everyone, at least for some entrenched constituency. And although he may save a few million here and there by pruning benefits for the wealthy, he can't make fundamental changes without overhauling or terminating entire programs. It's the difference between zeroing out farm subsidies for millionaires who shouldn't have received them in the first place and abandoning an outdated, Depression-era system that rewards agribusiness in good times and bad.
The LA Times sounds off about agricultural subsidies. And says it doesn't mean to sound churlish. Meanwhile, the keeper of the subsidies says it's no biggie.
Rep. Collin Peterson says he isn't surprised by President-elect Barack Obama's criticisms following a new report about the abuse of agriculture subsidies.

The report from the Government Accountability Office released Monday found there were 2,702 millionaire recipients of farm payments from 2003 to 2006. Obama has said if the report is true, it's a perfect example of government waste.

He's said in speeches and position papers that subsidy programs should provide more benefits to small farmers and less to large ones, especially large corporate farms.

Peterson, a Minnesota Democrat and chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, says agriculture subsidies are always a target in the debate over government waste, and he said he doesn't see Obama's comments as a threat to the overall farm safety net.

"We're always a target, and it sounds good" to criticize subsidies, Peterson said. "But Obama can't be any worse than Bush was on this, and we survived that."
You will recall how they "survived that", I hope. They "survived that" by overriding a veto.

Forgive me for being churlish, Rep. Peterson, but the Internet finds these things out.
�If the White House is stupid enough to veto this, they�re going to get overridden,� House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) told Politico. �That�s where we�re at right now.�

�I told [Agriculture Secretary Ed] Schafer, they aren�t just being unreasonable, they�re going to be totally irrelevant. This is the big thing that has happened here in these last few days.�
Good luck, President-elect Obama.

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Price cuts start early 

According to at least one article, the holiday season never started.
Piles of jewelry, clothing and electric drills are bypassing store shelves and heading straight to liquidators by the caseload as stores try to save as much cash as they can.

Major department stores and mall-based chains have cut prices up to 70 percent to move out mounds of excess inventory stuck in the pipeline since the financial crisis hit in September and people snapped their wallets shut.

Big moves of merchandise happen every year � but usually after Christmas. This year stores are desperate to shed inventory even before Thanksgiving.

...The deep price cuts even on luxury brands � think 40 percent off on $5,000 Chanel suits and 70 percent off on designer shoes at Saks Fifth Avenue and 40 percent off $695 Ralph Lauren leopard-printed pumps at Bloomingdale's � are only good news for the dwindling pool of consumers who are comfortable enough financially to take advantage of the deals.
The Wall Street Journal is keeping track of all the holiday deals, and the morning traffic appears to be up at any number of stores, but the degree of price-cutting may mean that high traffic doesn't increase sales revenues.

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Thursday, November 27, 2008


My father first put a Wall Street Journal in front of me in 1964 (and Barrons on Sundays, having waited at Pigeon's(?) Market on Somerville and Taylor streets in Manchester after church each Sunday to see if it had come.) Every year since 1961 the Journal has published the same two Thanksgiving essays; the second contains this passage which holds up well to age.

For it is true that everywhere men turn their eyes today much of the world has a truly wild and savage hue. No man, if he be truthful, can say that the specter of war is banished. Nor can he say that when men or communities are put upon their own resources they are sure of solace; nor be sure that men of diverse kinds and diverse views can live peaceably together in a time of troubles.

But we can all remind ourselves that the richness of this country was not born in the resources of the earth, though they be plentiful, but in the men that took its measure. For that reminder is everywhere -- in the cities, towns, farms, roads, factories, homes, hospitals, schools that spread everywhere over that wilderness.

We can remind ourselves that for all our social discord we yet remain the longest enduring society of free men governing themselves without benefit of kings or dictators. Being so, we are the marvel and the mystery of the world, for that enduring liberty is no less a blessing than the abundance of the earth.
I don't know when I first read them, but I know I'd feel a loss if the newspaper stopped publishing them. (Mr. Murdoch, do you hear me?)

Mrs. S sings and plays with a group at another church group, a more modern Christian music band than the bluegrass-y and country-ish group we sing and play together with. They chose a Thanksgiving morning service rather than the usual T'day Eve, and in the middle of the service they reflected on how difficult it would be to give thanks in a difficult year as this one has been. And, having read that passage the day before, I thought of this picture from a couple weeks ago:How many other places in the world do you get this?

While we may rue over this long weekend our 101k's, or being one of the 47% whose presidential candidate didn't win, or having lost a loved one to death or divorce, or that terrorism continues to bring pain and suffering into our broken world, there is gratitude for the land we live in, the family and friends around us. And financial troubles do not destroy our dreams in America; they just lead to harder work, more thrift and the knowledge that we live in a place where those those virtues are rewarded. I had almost nothing to do with how the place we live in got to be that way -- in fact, I don't think it's the result of any human plan. For this I give thanks, and to all our readers I wish a Happy Thanksgiving.


Happy Thanksgiving 

To Our Readers,

The United States celebrates Thanksgiving today - a day set aside to be grateful for all our blessings. George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and multiple other presidents recognized that giving thanks for everything, regardless of conditions, was part of being an American.

We take so much for granted: our freedom to practice any religion or no religion without government intervention; the freedom to criticize - taken so far that we have forgotten this freedom also includes the freedom to support; freedom to write what we think and believe without being thrown in jail; freedom to protect ourselves from tyrants; freedom to travel anywhere; freedom to choose a life career and then change our mind; freedom from ancestry, race, religious dictate, tribe, restricting cultures.

What have so many done with these freedoms? We have become so critical of ourselves, our nation, our leaders, people with whom we disagree that far too many now believe they have the right to tear down anything, anywhere, any time and make excuses for destructive behavior. They personally attack those with whom they disagree. If we continue along this line, supported by a media that ignores the negatives of their favorites, we will all lose. One-sided coverage and trashing of religion will be the death of the US. While some of you may welcome that, before going whole hog on destruction, it would be wise to study real history and see just how massively destructive people without our foundation of freedom have been and can be again.

Today, please, refuse to be thankless for what you don't have and be thankful for what you do have.


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

You betcha depression 

Mark Perry makes an excellent point: The proper frames of reference, if all you want to answer is "how bad is this recession?" are the recessions of 1981-81 and 1974-75 (my addition to his comparison.) Each has a different genesis than the present one, of course -- incomes policies in both cases, financial panic in neither -- but the common feature I point out is the severity (1-2% decline in real GDP) and length. Both of those recessions were 16 months. For gambling types, do you bet the current contraction* over or under 16 months? C'mon, InTrade! We need this contract.

Instead, you can get from InTrade a "depression contract".
This contract will settle (expire) at 100 ($10.00) if quarterly GDP figures show the US economy has gone into a depression in 2009.

The contract will settle (expire) at 0 ($0.00) if quarterly GDP figures DO NOT show the US economy has gone into a depression in 2009.

For expiry purposes a depression is defined as a cumulative decline in GDP of more than 10.0% over four consecutive quarters.
That is not an official definition of a depression, not that there is one. What intrigues me is that trading on that contract has been fairly active, much of it in the last 24 hours. The 2008 recession contract -- using the two-consecutive-negative-quarters definition rather than waiting for NBER -- last traded at 95. With the third quarter number revised down yesterday and today's continued weakness in real consumer spending, that looks like pretty easy money. Worth noting: a huge upswing in personal savings, to $260 billion in October versus $110 in September. Remember when personal savings was negative?

*"no! there's no contraction!" you say? Fine, take the under.


Lengthening the game #mnrecount 

Gary Gross, in his canvassing board liveblog says the Minnesota State Canvassing Board has voted to not consider rejected absentee ballots. This was to be expected of course; Gary notes Chief Supreme Court Justice Eric Magnuson saying the board is not an adjudicative body. This was merely a prelude to the court case in which the Franken campaign will seek to get more ballots counted.

But the board decided at the end to provide some guidance to county election officials. In short, if an absentee ballot was rejected without there being a reference to why it was rejected in state statute, it was to be placed in a "fifth pile" (there are four reasons to reject an absentee ballot, listed here.) Itasca County (48-38 Franken) has gone so far as to identify three absentee ballots that appear to be fifth-pilers, and proposes to reconsider them on Monday. Since this appears to be extra-legal, it is possible that one of the two campaigns (hard to say which at this point -- may be in court this weekend to stop that process until a judge decides if state statute permits this. One is entitled to wonder why the three ballots come up now -- wasn't that the process contemplated by the law to happen between Election Day and when counties certified their results to the state? It reminds me of trying to undo the ending of the Pittsburgh-San Diego game a couple weeks ago, not least of which because I had $20 on the Steelers to cover. At some point the end of the game is the end of the game, but some people always think the line is fixed.

For the game here in Minnesota, the decision today means, most likely, we're headed for a second overtime in a courtroom, soon.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

You're killing me! 

The Swedish study found that workers' risks for angina, heart attack and death rose along with the reported incompetence of their bosses.
WashingtonPost this morning.

Monday, November 24, 2008

A Marine Hero in Afghanistan 

From a report in the Marine Corps News on November 18, 2008:
FARAH PROVINCE, Afghanistan � In the city of Shewan, approximately 250 insurgents ambushed 30 Marines and paid a heavy price for it...

�The day started out with a 10-kilometer patrol with elements mounted and dismounted, so by the time we got to Shewan, we were pretty beat,� said a designated marksman who requested to remain unidentified. �Our vehicles came under a barrage of enemy RPGs (rocket propelled grenades) and machine gun fire. One of our �humvees� was disabled from RPG fire, and the Marines inside dismounted and laid down suppression fire so they could evacuate a Marine who was knocked unconscious from the blast.�

The vicious attack that left the humvee destroyed and several of the Marines pinned down in the kill zone sparked an intense eight-hour battle as the platoon desperately fought to recover their comrades. After recovering the Marines trapped in the kill zone, another platoon sergeant personally led numerous attacks on enemy fortified positions while the platoon fought house to house and trench to trench in order to clear through the enemy ambush site.

�The biggest thing to take from that day is what Marines can accomplish when they�re given the opportunity to fight,� the sniper said. �A small group of Marines met a numerically superior force and embarrassed them in their own backyard. The insurgents told the townspeople that they were stronger than the Americans, and that day we showed them they were wrong.�

During the battle, the designated marksman single handedly thwarted a company-sized enemy RPG and machinegun ambush by reportedly killing 20 enemy fighters with his devastatingly accurate precision fire. He selflessly exposed himself time and again to intense enemy fire during a critical point in the eight-hour battle for Shewan in order to kill any enemy combatants who attempted to engage or maneuver on the Marines in the kill zone. What made his actions even more impressive was the fact that he didn�t miss any shots, despite the enemies� rounds impacting within a foot of his fighting position.

�I was in my own little world,� the young corporal said. �I wasn�t even aware of a lot of the rounds impacting near my position, because I was concentrating so hard on making sure my rounds were on target.�

After calling for close-air support, the small group of Marines pushed forward and broke the enemies� spirit as many of them dropped their weapons and fled the battlefield. At the end of the battle, the Marines had reduced an enemy stronghold, killed more than 50 insurgents and wounded several more.

�I didn�t realize how many bad guys there were until we had broken through the enemies� lines and forced them to retreat. It was roughly 250 insurgents against 30 of us,� the corporal said. �It was a good day for the Marine Corps. We killed a lot of bad guys, and none of our guys were seriously injured.�
(Noted by Michael Ledeen at NRO.)

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So far... 

...I can't really argue with a single pick of the Obama economic team. The background of Melody Barnes probably should concern me, but I don't know enough about her yet to formulate an opinion. (Look, it could have been Robert Reich. Thank God for small favors, as it were.) I'd say Christina Romer's background on the Great Depression will be useful, but I thought that of Bernanke too, and that hasn't gone so well.

Unlike the Wall Street Journal, I think it's fine that the Sancho Panza of the Clinton Treasury gets a turn in the big chair. He and Bernanke have worked together for quite some time so it should keep the markets relatively calm (Friday's late rally after the announcement being only possibly evidence of this.)

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Unlike Summers, he strikes back 

Walter Block describes a scene in which other people apologize for his comments on pay differences between the races and sexes. He at least gives them a tonguelashing, as does (at the bottom of this relatively long post) Tom DiLorenzo, who explains
...the way the College handled this is a sin according to Catholic doctrine. Publicly condemning someone for his ideas without first communicating with that person and asking for clarification is "intellectual sin".
Block challenges his erstwhile inviters to a debate over pay differentials. I have some understanding of the issues involved, and while I've written a couple of papers in which we used years of education as a control variable for wage differentials without too much concern over the quality of those years of education, I certainly understand and would be happy to have debated Prof. Block for his views. His point is valid, but testable if you had data on urbanization of the school and public versus private. I suspect the PC police that came down on Block would not stay around for the rebuttals.

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So what happens to naming rights? 

On this morning's news, a random thuoght went through my head: CitiField is the name of the new Mets stadium. Despite killing off 52,000 jobs, the bank says it will still keep the terms of the deal ($20 million a year for 20 years.) Here's a list of other banks and financial firms and the teams whose stadia bear their names.
If you are one of those teams, do you have a plan B or do you scramble to become Minute Maid Park II?

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Media alert 

I am sitting in for Don Lyons tomorrow morning 6-8AM CT on 1450 KNSI in St. Cloud. I'm thinking of one theme being provocations, like Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called two presidents driving near a border, or when a local newspaper decides people who question residency requirements for voting are just disguised racists.


The Coleman Recount - From an Insider's View 

Lots of hype that Franken is gaining, Coleman is losing. The left is drooling at the mouth for another socialist Democrat upset. Well, cool your jets - it's not over.

I am actively participating in the recount of a major county. We have had a few problems but nothing that will cause an "upset." The numbers posted for Franken's supposed gain in our county are simply wrong. If your source is the Strib or the Secretary of State website, I would urge a substan-
tial amount of caution because their numbers versus the reality on the ground are different.

I could argue details here but the public numbers change daily so I won't. What I will say is that Coleman is still ahead statewide, he will remain ahead statewide, and his win will prevail.


Friday, November 21, 2008

Chart of the day 

From Mike Bryan, who says you keeping using that word deflation, but he doesn't think it means what you think it means.


Thank you, thankyouthankyouthankyouthankyou 

And thanks to Art Carden for the pointer, which causes me to further doubt happiness research.


Jonah Goldberg on opportunity costs 

The problem with guns is that we pay for them with butter.
Yes, of course we do; we draw that graph in principles still. That's not a problem but reality. Goldberg is commenting, by the way, on Glenn Reynolds' discovery of Wagner's Law. That is not generally very well received in the public finance literature, yet tests of it persist in journals to this day.


Confessions of a town economist 

I often refer to St. Cloud as the biggest small town in America. �Everyone knows everyone; I've been on the faculty of the local university for 24 years and been active in public speaking for about the last five. �So it was only natural that when the local economy began to go a little wobbly last winter that I would get calls asking about whether or not we're in a recession. �Long-time readers of this blog know I was reluctant to use that word last winter and spring, but over the summer and into fall I thought all the signs were there except one -- we still hadn't had the drop in employment that we would expect. �True, employment growth was anemic, but you'd expect a recession to be marked by a decline. �If you said we were in recession and someone said, "But Professor, isn't local area employment still up?", I'd have no real reply. �(We would of course have to have the discussion of seasonality of local employment statistics, but even based on that correction you wouldn't have seen it.) �By September, however, we started to get the decline we expected, and last month I said "we are most likely in recession now, but that it did not start until sometime in summer. July, if I have to pin a month. The more severe recessions, like this one probably will be, last about five quarters, putting the end sometime in the fourth quarter of 2009."�

A couple of weeks ago I repeated that line to a local Rotary Club as a breakfast speaker, and word spread. �The local paper's business editor called to ask about it, and I told her I was speaking again yesterday (managed to squeeze this in between fits of laryngitis and dizziness from my early winter cold.) �She and her managing editor came to hear the talk, and the report made it to the front page of this morning's paper. �My phone is ringing now with all other kinds of reporters. �(I understand comments to this effect that I made on WJON last week showed up in a public radio report, but I never heard it, only people saying they heard me -- I haven't spoken to a reporter from MPR or any other public radio station for several months.)

The reaction to my public comments confirms to me what I had felt about using "the R-word" all along: �that there is good reason to be cautious. �Writing for the local area as "the town economist" -- which is weird because there are plenty of others, not least of which is my QBR co-author Rich MacDonald, who's been doing this longer than me -- is only worth my time if in fact people are using this information for their planning at home and at work. �The managing editor, I was told, went back to the Times' office and in a meeting repeated my remarks. �And when he does, it changes how people behave. �Markets are subject to mood swings, after all. �Whether I like it or not, in a smaller market like St. Cloud, what I say about the local economy matters because people respond to the pronouncement. �Never more so, in fact, than in a period of such great uncertainty. �Such an effect is an honor, but humbling and not just a little bit fearful. �(When the RSS feed from the Times listed the entry as "Banaian: �Numbers say area in severe recession"*, I admit to a lump in my throat. �I was truly scared that would be the headline this morning in the print edition.)

I would think most people could have realized we were in a recession now without waiting for someone official to say it. �I suspect for most -- and this is true based on the people who've spoken to me in the last few weeks -- I am only confirming of what they believe to be true. �But that confirmation influences behavior by reducing uncertainty, which can influence planning for investment and hiring. �Which makes my public speaking more cautious.

*--Small correction to that header: �The 'severe' part isn't a numbers thing really; that's more my informed guess. �I think I said that yesterday, but the RSS headline writer obviously wasn't there.

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

A bad idea even in recession 

Minnesota 2020 is back again, peddling its Made in Minnesota silliness as a recession cure:

Minnesota 2020, a St. Paul think tank, wants local consumers to buy Minnesota-made goods from area businesses and retailers, such as Mr. B. Chocolatier, to boost the state's economy.

"We would actually not be suffering the effects of the recession if people were doing it," said Matt Entenza, founder and chairman of the nonpartisan think tank Minnesota 2020.

If Minnesotans spent 25 percent of their holiday shopping budget on Minnesota-made products, it would infuse $2 billion into the state's economy, according to a 2007 report by the nonprofit.

Along with the story is a picture of chocolates made by a Willmar-based chocolatier which has a store here in St. Cloud. �I can testify the chocolates are great. I can also testify that they aren't cheap -- good chocolates seldom are. Other, larger chocolate manufacturers might learn how to lower transportation costs and permit a chance to buy great chocolates at a lower price. Am I not allowed to have that money as a local consumer? �What if I gave that money to the Salvation Army or United Way? �Or what if I used it to improve my own family's finances, or bought my child a bigger Christmas gift? �Would that be a bad thing?�

As I pointed out last year when they ran this same story, this whole idea of defining who gets our dollars and who does not strikes me at least as an example of mercantilism. �It could be in fact something more insidious, a decision that I should not do business with strangers, or people who live in different states, or people who look different than me (like those suppliers of goods to WalMart.) �It is unlikely to solve a recession for me to spend more for the same good just to be sure someone who doesn't live in Minnesota doesn't get my money. �It's also weird to think that the guy who sells me something for less doesn't�deserve�my money.

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A Tribute to Americans and Iraqis 

Please spread the word that this Sunday, November 23, the MN Vets for Freedom will be presenting a music and video tribute to our soldiers, "America-Iraq Friends in Freedom." Fado Fadhil, an Iraqi who helped Americans and is now living in MN, as well as Army Vet, Joshua Revak will appear in the video. Vets who really understand the role of America in the world as well as what is at stake for free people everywhere will be speaking.

Please join us at The MN History Center, 345 Kellogg Blvd., St. Paul from 7:00-9:00 PM. Tickets are on sale now, $10 per person. You can order them through Teri Dahl: or 1.608.780.4677.

Again, support our troops - hope to see you there!!!

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Does the size of a typo matter? #mnrecount 

John Lott has commented on the StarTribune article that I discussed earlier this week.
The fact that correcting typos increased Franken�s count by 459 votes (not counting Coleman�s lost votes) and Obama�s by 106 doesn�t prove fraud. Indeed, the Star Tribune might still be right in its claims that election officials made mistakes because they were tired.

But my point was a simple one: Why did the �typo� corrections increase Franken�s total so much more than any other candidate�s? Indeed, so much more than all the other races for the presidency, Congress, and statehouse combined. The Star Tribune�s response was to deny the claim was true.
I also got this response from John to my earlier post in which I didn't think the typos were necessarily the result of fraud.
It is not simply the direction of the change, but also the size of the change that you might want to take into account in figuring out the odds. You are obviously right if you are looking at the direction of the change and the odds that they all go in the same direction, but if you looked at the odds that you would have changes of the sizes observed here going in the same direction, the odds of that are exceptionally small. That said, people do win the lottery sometimes and this might be one of those times for Franken.
I've been puzzling about that for a day. Can one think about the 'probability of a typo'? I looked at a spreadsheet that measured changes in tallies by precinct from the Wednesday morning to the end of Monday Nov. 10 (pre-machine audit, but after all counties had checked their figures and reported in.) There are 4130 precincts in my sample. I got these counts:
So the probability of a change -- typo or miscount or whatever -- could be seen as the total precinct-level changes for any of the three candidates (15+5+29+10+37+11=107) divided by three times the number of precincts (since they can each make three changes. That gives a probability of .008636, or 0.86%. There are 1.15% of Franken precinct totals that were changed. We got twelve more Franken changes than we would expect and fifteen fewer Barkley changes. How significant is that? And notice that up changes are far more likely than down changes. I wonder how likely that is. I don't have a model for that in my head. If I thought it was random and used a binomial distribution, I'd put the probability of 48 or more errors at about 1.9%, or around 50 to 1 against. The chance of having fifteen or fewer errors (as was Barkley's case) is 0.3%. Coleman's data, at least on the counting of typos, appears pretty normal even though his total went down.

But John's opinion seems to be that changes in the hundreds column should count for more. I'm unclear how to model that or why it is so. It seems to me a typo distributes randomly across the places. But we also know that the at least a few of the people who write these numbers down care about the outcome, which I think is some of the claims being made here (not necessarily mine), so that treating their scribblings as random events is also probably a bad assumption.

And at that point I'm kind of stuck. If the typos are non-random, I'm not sure how to use statistics to solve them, and I'll let other people try to figure that out.

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Media alert: Hot Air radio 

I'll be on at 2pm with Ed Morrissey of Hot Air to talk about the bank/auto/Armenian economics professor bailout plan. :) Excuse my voice in advance -- I have a cold and am hitting the honey and lemon tea right now to effect repairs.

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Magic and pensions 

In 1981, at the age of 21 or 22 (he signed the contract in the off-season and has an August birthday), Magic Johnson signed for a contract with the Los Angeles Lakers that paid him $25 million for 25 years starting in 1984. Nobody at the time he signed it expected him to play 25 seasons. (Indeed, he retired after ten years because of the discovery of HIV infection.) There were a few attempts to come out of retirement and a year of coaching, but in effect he was done. At best, the Lakers got ten years out of that contract -- its final year would have been this season.

How do we evaluate the annual cost of Magic Johnson? Did he earn $1 million a year for 25 years, as he was paid, or did he earn $2.5 million a year ($25 million divided by ten years of playing, including the coaching year and two years in which he tried to come back?) Or $3.54 million a year for the seven years he did play? How do you factor in the time cost of money, etc.?

I bring this up in the context of Felix Salmon's post on the use of $70 or $73 per hour as a number to represent the cost of an hour of labor in producing an American automobile:

It's not true.

The average GM assembly-line worker makes about $28 per hour in wages, and I can assure you that GM is not paying $42 an hour in health insurance and pension plan contributions. Rather, the $70 per hour figure (or $73 an hour, or whatever) is a ridiculous number obtained by adding up GM's total labor, health, and pension costs, and then dividing by the total number of hours worked. In other words, it includes all the healthcare and retirement costs of retired workers.

So where do you count the pension obligations, if not there? If a sports player is injured, or retires, and has a guaranteed contract, that player's salary is considered part of the team's payroll. (There were reasons for relating to the salary cap in the NBA for the Lakers to have structured Magic's contract that way, but it isn't material to this discussion.) We could, I suppose, impute those pension costs back to the wages of those past workers. It makes sense in a way, since those pension costs are sunk -- the marginal cost of GM hiring another hour or labor isn't changed by the size of their past pension obligations.

But is changed by any additional obligations they take on. UAW-represented workers still get defined-benefit plans, so those costs do get added on even though they don't appear in current payroll figures. They are akin to the last ten years or so of Magic's contract. If you are going to subtract out the pensions of retired workers, you have to add back in the expected present value of the pensions to be paid to your current workforce. It might not be $70 or $73, but it's likely to be pretty high.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The end is nigh 

In Zimbabwe, where it will be a race to see if collapse or the record for hyperinflation comes first.

The latest figures put the country's annual rate at 516 quintillion per cent � 516 followed by 18 zeros � overtaking Yugoslavia in 1994 and putting it behind only Hungary in 1946.

With goods unavailable and official statistics widely distrusted, the Cato Institute in Washington calculated the figures based on exchange rate movements and market data.

In post Second World War Hungary monthly inflation reached 12,950,000,000,000,000 per cent, with prices doubling every 15.6 hours � Zimbabwean prices are currently doubling every 1.3 days.

Stores are only accepting dollars and SA rands now, so if you don't have foreign currency you are probably doing business only by barter. (One ISP is selling connectivity for gas.) And collapse has lead to an outbreak of cholera, and gold production has fallen flat.

The end game may be afoot, if this rumor in a South African paper about Gideon Gono, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor, is true:
When learned that Mugabe had reluctantly handed over the finance ministry to Morgan Tsvangirai, of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), he marched straight to the US Embassy, where he told officials he would give them details of the looting of the country by Mugabe via share transfers and foreign exchange deals.

In exchange, Gono requested 5-million and residence permits in a western country for himself, his wife and his mistress.
Will Mugabe's bag man turn his boss in to the US?

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Uncertainty, not liquidity 

Though I understand that policymakers must be flexible at times to maximize end results, the more questions government sends into the marketplace, the longer it will take to reach recovery. Our financial system is desperate for signs of certainty, but the Treasury Department�s implementation of TARP has been far from clear and consistent. I am hopeful that this hearing will serve to answer many of the questions we all still hold about the direction of the TARP.
Rep. Michele Bachmann today on the Treasury's change of course on TARP. This seems to echo Russ Roberts' column last week:
When no one knows how the rules of the game are going to change � and they seem to change from week to week � who wants to take a risk? Who wants to borrow money? Who wants to invest? Business and consumers are hunkering down, waiting for the storm of change to pass.

The problem isn't liquidity.

It's uncertainty.

Paulson doesn't realize that his erratic attempts at creating liquidity are creating the uncertainty that makes liquidity meaningless.


Monday, November 17, 2008

Regional banks get under the TARP 

The U.S. Treasury announced this afternoon the results of its second round of placements of capital that has become the TARP program. There are a wide range of 21 regional banks on the list, including US Bank and TCF Bank, both located in the Twin Cities. TCF released a statement:

"TCF has always been well-capitalized with adequate liquidity to facilitate lending through our strong retail deposit franchise. By participating in this program, we can expand lending beyond our previous growth plans," said William A. Cooper, TCF Chairman and Chief Executive Officer.

The $361 million investment by the U.S. Treasury will be in exchange for 361,172 shares of senior perpetual preferred stock. The preferred stock will pay cumulative dividends equal to five percent for the first five years and nine percent thereafter.

Both injections were for amounts of roughly one-third of the banks Tier 1 capital. Treasury Secretary Paulson says the government is pretty much done with the TARP program for now, "not going to be looking to start up new things unless they're necessary." Obviously Friday's grilling of the head of the TARP project has chastened the Treasury.

I doubt that Bill Cooper expects to expand lending with the money. There should be some laid away for more loan loss provisions over the next few quarters. There may also be money now for a little more consolidation of the banking sector (which maybe is part of the plan? Oh, who knows what the plan is now?)


Faith-based election management #mnrecount 

The StarTribune last week posted a note suggesting that John Lott's analysis (noted here) did not add up. It had entirely different numbers than John's analysis had had. I assumed John had seen it, and indeed he did. It turns out the data included in the StarTribune report held information on two precincts (Richfield W3 P1 and Alexandria W1 P2) that had not reported any presidential results at all. The StarTribune analysis tried to include these data to show that the changes in the Franken-Coleman race and in the Obama-McCain race were comparable. Having established that the Richfield and Alexandria entries were the source of the difference, John writes (reprinted here with his permission):
[M]y piece makes it very clear that I was writing about corrections of typos, not slightly late reported results. The point of these numbers was to measure the corrections made that could possibly have been due to fraud. That does not include counties that simply reported their results very slightly after the time you set as the cut off.

My son, who is working at Fox News this fall, called the auditor of Douglass county, where the Alexandria precinct is located. The auditor said that there had been a network malfunction and so the numbers were not sent until Wednesday morning. The auditor said he thought this change was very different from those that other counties had in correcting typos.

So, the fact is that among precincts that had successfully reported results, Obama gained just 106 votes. Franken gained 435 votes. Those are the relevant numbers for trying to get an idea if any fraud may have occurred.

If you wanted to evaluate something different from what I did, fine, make it clear. But don't accuse someone of getting it wrong and imply that you have no idea where the numbers came from. Explain your reasons for your approach and why it is better. Assuming that you didn't understand what I had written and didn't see that my piece was talking about correcting typos, I suggest that you try to contact me or other authors when that happens.

I trust that you all will now correct your piece.
Nobody believes that zeroes were the right entries for those two precincts for president. But the StarTribune has run a confusing story here with very little thought put into it and in the process allowed some "editor for computer-assisted reporting" to engage Dr. Lott claiming "[h]is numbers are simply wrong." The editors do not come off better for it. I hope John isn't waiting for a correction though. They aren't too good at that sort of thing.

As I stated last week, it's not a question for statistics to answer if three typos are the stuff fraud is made of. To be blunt, we just don't know and you wish you had better reporting. I had one correspondent (who has asked to remain anonymous) reported to me that rural precincts in Saint Louis County faxed rather than called in their results. That would make some sense, as a fax leaves a trail that can be verified. Why isn't this sort of thing being reported? How about if the StarTribune did that rather than passing off interoffice email musings as editorials?

We are expected to take these typos on faith in the good behavior of election officials. Most of them are good people; I know one, and his life this month has been a living hell. I hope that both the Coleman and Franken campaigns can remember to treat those officials as human beings. We invest in an automatic system of reporting in part to not have aspersions cast on these good people. As I told that election official, the one thing you want is assurance that, at the end of the day, we all agree that we got the best count we could get. It would be nice if the media would help.

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Binding arbitration in EFCA 

In an op-ed this morning, a former official of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service who identifies herself as a Democrat speaks out against the Employee Free Choice Act. Potentially to be wedded to a stimulus bill (that would make it very difficult to veto), the bill has provisions beyond card-check that Ariella Bernstein finds troubling. The bill requires binding arbitration after the card-check authorization of a union has taken place if terms are not agreed to, which could have grave consequences for labor and management in a recession:
When contract terms are imposed, it absolves the parties of their responsibility to compromise, a critical component of labor-management relations. Conflict resolution professionals rightfully claim that parties to a contract must have "buy in"; they must be part of a joint conciliatory process when reaching terms of a contract that governs their relationship.

And what about the cost of EFCA to Main Street employers, already under pressure in this economy? With companies struggling to survive and the credit markets tightening, passing this bill does not guarantee widespread unionized employment or wage increases.

Case in point: In Canada, after an arbitrator imposed the terms of a contract last month, Wal-Mart was forced to close one of its facilities because of higher costs. Arbitration does not always help employees.

Yet one more reason EFCA is a bad idea. And, of course, there's hypocrisy noted by John Fund in today's Political Diary:
Last year, Democratic Senators voted for so-called "card check" legislation that would have deprived millions of employees of the right to vote secretly on whether they want to be represented by a labor union. Tomorrow many of those same Democratic Senators will insist on using a secret ballot process to determine whether Joe Lieberman will be stripped of his chairmanship of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

That same day, Republican Senators are likely to use a secret ballot to decide whether to expel convicted colleague Ted Stevens from their caucus. Later in January, the House Democratic Caucus will use a secret ballot to determine whether Michigan Rep. John Dingell keeps his chairmanship of the House Energy & Commerce Committee against a challenge from California Rep. Henry Waxman.
Most Republican senators, it should be noted, opposed EFCA; no hypocrisy should be ascribed there.

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Your money turning kids green 

One aspect of the creation of a leftist electorate has been the insistence of some legislators on creating environmentally friendly schools. One such leftist is DFLer Jeremy Kalin of North Branch, who is now flying around the country to create green school movements in each state.
Kalin, who has a background in building-design work, was the chief author of last year�s Energy Efficiency and Conservation bill, which set a goal of 1,000 Energy Star-certified and 100 LEED-certified commercial buildings in Minnesota by the end of 2010.

His green credentials caught the attention of the USGBC, which invited him to participate in Fifty for Fifty.

The program will provide state legislators with, among other things, �up-to-date information and developments� in green building trends, cost-benefit studies, and networking opportunities with other legislators around the country.

In Minnesota, green school advocates in the Legislature will work to make sure every new school building is working as efficiently as possible, Kalin said.

But existing schools are also a concern. Many districts throughout the state have antiquated boilers, leaky roofs and windows, and other energy-related flaws. In some cases it might make sense to renovate, but in other cases it might be more economical to build new, Kalin noted.
Kalin notes, alas, that Governor Pawlenty seems to be buying into this nonsense. I wonder how much these programs cost. In Nevada, they had similar requirements but the Legislature voted to repeal them when they realized how much these tax breaks cost. It ended up creating a row in that state. In a period where we may face $3-$4 billion in budget shortfall in Minnesota, should we be giving away money for building these green schools that do not meet the market test? And with them, you will get education programs that promote greenness. Yet construction firms and architects -- beneficiaries of public dollars -- are promoting this. How long before they realize that they are being duped into a program that will end up saying all building is bad unless it is public building of green, smart cities?

(In a related development, Littlest has picked up my copy of The Fountainhead.)

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Friday, November 14, 2008

Even fine wine declines 

I had no idea that there was a fine wine index. Mostly it's a list of 100 very good French wines, over 90% Bordeaux.
It represents the price movement of 100 of the most sought-after fine wines for which there is a strong secondary market and is calculated monthly. The majority of the index consists of Bordeaux wines � a reflection of the overall market � although wines from Burgundy, the Rhone, Champagne and Italy are also included.
Now, it turns out, you can even go long or short on the fine wine market via inTrade. (It so far has only one trade.) Liv-Ex comments:
Liv-ex�s cooperation with Intrade to create a cash settled futures market in fine wine is a ground breaking development. At a time of heightened uncertainty in the market it will give all participants including producers, merchants, wine funds and collectors an opportunity to hedge their exposure to the underlying market. It will also allow investors to benefit from changes in fine wine prices without having to take delivery of the goods, pay storage charges or worry about provenance.
That is, you can bet on the wine market without actually having to store the stuff. Alas, after a good run, fine wine prices are falling as are the prices of almost all commodities.

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One of my explanations for low oil prices 

Tyler Cowen notes a 4% decline in electricity use in China and wonders if this is a more accurate statement on Chinese production than their national income accounts. Reminds me of some early work that Dani Kaufman and Alex Kaliberda did in Ukraine when I was there, trying to estimate the size of underground production. But there it was just that electricity use declined less than official output. However, as pointed out by Lacko, the measure should be of household electricity use when an economy is going through transition like China. Still, the Olympics and their build-up might be a reason to think GDP is declining there.


Not that hard a call 

Granting immortality to Detroit�s Big Three does not enhance creative destruction. It retards it. It crosses a line, a bright line. It is not about saving a system; there will still be cars made and sold in America. It is about saving politically powerful corporations. A Detroit bailout would set a precedent for every single politically connected corporation in America. There already is a long line of lobbyists bidding for federal money. If Detroit gets money, then everyone would have a case. After all, are the employees of Circuit City or the newspaper industry inferior to the employees of Chrysler?

This is an excruciatingly hard call. A case could be made for keeping the Big Three afloat as a jobs program until the economy gets better and then letting them go bankrupt. But the most persuasive experts argue that bankruptcy is the least horrible option. Airline, steel and retail companies have gone through bankruptcy proceedings and adjusted. It would be a less politically tainted process. Government could use that $50 billion � and more � to help the workers who are going to be displaced no matter what.

But the larger principle is over the nature of America�s political system. Is this country going to slide into progressive corporatism, a merger of corporate and federal power that will inevitably stifle competition, empower corporate and federal bureaucrats and protect entrenched interests? Or is the U.S. going to stick with its historic model: Helping workers weather the storms of a dynamic economy, but preserving the dynamism that is the core of the country�s success.
David Brooks this morning. Some years ago Russ Roberts wrote about outsourcing and competition in the IT sector from India. Imagine this was about cars and autoworkers rather than software and information-technology jobs:
But suppose Indians decided to work for free and give away the software, the ultimate competitive threat. If outsourcing work to low-wage Indians is bad {or allowing cars to be built in low-wage Tennessee by a Japanese firm vs. high-wage Detroit by an American one --kb} surely free software from zero-wage Indians is even worse.

Free software would be hard for the U.S. workers in the software industry to compete with. But it would be a boon for America -- plenty of U.S. outfits would expand. Having free software would let a lot of new companies come into existence that couldn't have been profitable before. Programs at no cost would mean lower prices across the board. That would liberate resources to do new things all over the economy. Many of those out-of-work American programmers would find new jobs. The same effect occurs when the software is merely cheaper, rather than free.

The hardship that results from economic change always tempts politicians to limit individuals' freedom to buy what they want and businesses to hire whom they desire. Such political restraints will make life more secure -- but poorer and less dynamic. Ultimately, it will have no effect on the number of jobs in the U.S. but only make the ones that survive pay less.


Thursday, November 13, 2008

A sad day 

Fire Joe Morgan is no more.

How the hell is still available?

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If he was serious... 

...about this, Hank Paulson would be escorted from Washington by U.S. marshals.
In a speech at the Manhattan Institute in New York before weekend talks among leaders from the Group of 20 nations, Bush said policy makers should resist the urge to meddle too much in markets as they seek to reverse the financial and economic turmoil now engulfing the world.

"History has shown that the greater threat to economic prosperity is not too little government involvement in the market, but too much,'' Bush said. "Our aim should not be more government, it should be smarter government.''
Mr. Bush, I had thought you were actually going to do what you said you were going to do with the $700 billion. You did not do it; your Treasury Secretary continues to audible at the line of scrimmage. I feel like Charlie Brown -- I should have known that government would screw this up, but I wanted to believe this one time you would get it right.

I'm the idiot, not you. I have no excuse. But not again. Government failure was inevitable, and I have learned my lesson.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

"The dog ate my homework eleven days ago..." #mnrecount 

"...and I had more important things to do than re-write it."
Minnesota uses an optical-scan balloting system that makes the entire process more secure. Not only does this allow for voters to catch unusable ballots before they leave as well as to automate the counting process, it removes human error from the vote reporting to county election centers. The counties of Minnesota spent a lot of money on these systems and explicitly selected the modem option for that purpose.

The machines have wireless modems that have to be pre-programmed with a specific IP address to securely transmit those results directly to the election centers. For some reason, the machines had the wrong IP address entered on the cards. The cards would have needed to be reprogrammed to correct the error, and with a few hundred precincts in Hennepin (which includes Minneapolis), that would have taken a significant effort. However, with eleven days to accomplish this, the failure to take corrective action for a national election is mystifying. The source to whom I spoke said that county officials were aware of this by October 23rd in a meeting with elections officials, and possibly earlier.

Why would Hennepin County refuse to correct such a fundamental failure of the elections process eleven days ahead of what everyone expected to be a close Senate race, let alone a presidential election? To answer this, I spoke with Michelle Desjardin, the elections manager for Hennepin County. She said that the county did know of the failure at about October 23rd, but that they didn�t have enough time to reprogram the 860+ memory cards and meet statutory deadlines for public testing � seven days in advance of the elections.

But here�s the strange part. Desjardin confirmed that the electronic transmission system worked in the primaries. The cards did not get reprogrammed, and the destination IP address did not change from the primaries. There was no reason why the transmission cards should have required reprogramming at all. Desjardin acknowledged that the failure of all 860+ machines to connect was a mystery, but that they have higher priority statutory deadlines to meet before they can begin investigating the failure.
Here's a report indicating how much money has been spent on a system that seems to not work, and that isn't getting fixed. The Wall Street Journal's editorial page also weighs in.
The Coleman team is demanding the tapes from the voting machines on election night, and that's the least [Secretary of State Mark] Ritchie can do. The Secretary of State should also investigate miraculous discoveries like the "forgotten" 32 car ballots. (also from Hennepin County --kb) He needs to show voters, the press and the Coleman team that he's running a transparent process that focuses on previously counted votes, rather than changing the rules after the election is over.

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Soliciting non-taxpayers to raise taxes: the student edition 

We have heard so much about the impact of young voters on the margins Barack Obama earned in winning election last week. Less heard is their impact on down-ticket races. Take for example school levies.
Students at three colleges and universities helped St. Cloud school district prevail in an effort to pass a property tax increase that will provide $5.9 million a year for the schools.

Supporters and volunteers working to pass the vote emphasized the campuses by targeting students who might be enthused to vote in the presidential race.

When the votes were counted, students in five of what are considered college precincts near or at St. Cloud State University, the College of St. Benedict in St. Joseph and St. John�s University in Collegeville racked up margins that made the difference.

�They were huge. We looked at the three area colleges associated with the students that really proved to be the margin of victory,� said Barclay Carriar, who was one of three people who led the volunteer effort to pass the vote.

The five precincts included those with polling places at St. Cloud State, City Hall, Southside Boys & Girls Club, Kennedy Community School in St. Joseph and Sexton Commons at St. John�s in Collegeville Township. Those precincts supported question 1 by 3,663 to 1,381 � a 2,282-vote margin. Question 1 was decided by 2,122 votes (24,299 to 22,177).

The margins in the five college precincts were wider than any of the other 66 precincts in the district, even those in neighborhoods of elementary schools.
A table was set up inside our classroom and office building to "provide information" about the levy. I believe one of the school board candidates was at that table. Dave Aeikens, the author of the article above, interviewed someone at that table.

Students do not pay the property tax (certainly not in dorms at SCSU, and any tax built into apartment rents is returned to them by our state's renters property tax rebate system.) Of 600+ graduates of my department over the last fifteen years, less than a hundred still live in St. Cloud. So most of them are voting to raise taxes on someone else. As a school with a large school of education, those students could even have been seen as voting to fund future employment. The number paying zero will grow under an Obama Administration.

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They were just a little too exuberant 

I would like to believe this story isn't true, but school officials are backing a student she was assaulted election night for wearing a McCain-Palin button.
An Augsburg College student says she was assaulted on campus on election night and was called a racist by four young women because she was wearing a McCain-Palin button.

Annie Grossmann says she suffered blurred vision and may have had a concussion from a punch in the eye, but she declined medical attention.

Grossmann says she had been watching the returns with a handful of fellow Republicans, and was attacked while walking back to her dorm.
The school says it's unlikely Grossman's assailants were students (after all, their diversity statement says they are "promoting cross-cultural learning and understanding so that we at Augsburg grow in our capacity to create a hospitable learning community"), but "they have no reason to doubt" the attack. An SCSU student told me he "was afraid my car was gonna be vandalized with the [McCain] sticker on it." Luckily, he drives a beater "on its last legs".

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Question of the day 

Should We Really Bail Out $73.20 Per Hour Labor?
Should U.S. taxpayers really be providing billions of dollars to bailout companies (GM, Ford and Chrysler) that compensate their workers 52.5% more than the market (assuming Toyota wages and benefits are market), 54% more than management and professional workers, 132% more than the average manufacturing wage, and 157% more than the average compensation of all American workers?

Maybe the country would be better off in the long run if we let the Big Three fail, and in the process break the UAW labor monopoly, and then let Toyota, Honda and Volkswagen take over the U.S. auto industry, and restore realistic, competitive, market wages to the industry. It might be the best long-run solution.
While we're at it, can we ask that question of public school teachers, who make 61% more than private school teachers?

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Thanks, Veterans 

Today is Veterans Day, time set aside to honor those who have served in our military. Yesterday I posted the "Soldiers Poem" which aptly summarizes the gratitude we owe our soldiers.

In today's world, there are many who think all war is bad. They have no clue as to how badly humans can behave when they either are a thuggish dictator or under the thumb of one. I was sent this reminder by Vets for Freedom. This quote by John Stuart Mill says it all:

"War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things; the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks nothing worth a war, is worse." The moment we believe our freedoms inevitable, we cease to live in history and sour the soldier's sacrifice. Our freedoms--purchased on the battlefield--are indeed "worthy of war."

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Maybe that's three typos #mnrecount 

It appears to me, and I think as well to John Hinderaker (see bottom of Scott's post) that there may have been three typos, or two typos and an example of the old children's game 'Telephone', that accounts for most of the decline in the vote margin for Norm Coleman. The graph to the left shows the declines. You see three distinct drops. Based on the data I have by precinct (three snapshots, taken Weds morning, Sunday afternoon and last night), I see three major changes.

  1. The Two Harbors Ward 1 dispute (that John Lott brought up yesterday) appears to be an input error. The total Franken votes was initially entered as 27 and then updated to 273, a difference of 246. Seems quite possible someone simply forgot to put that '3' at the end. That's the first drop down that you see in the above graph. Given the number of votes and distribution in other races, that seems quite plausible if you assume the input of data is human.
  2. John reports that he thinks the 200 votes added because of typos in Partridge Township and Mountain Iron are simply typos. Probably so. In Partridge Twp a leading 1 for 129 was dropped. In Mountain Iron, we're told someone called in a Franken total of 506 but on the other side of the conversation at the county office it was heard to be 406. As John says, nobody seems to be disputing those stories from the Coleman campaign.
If those are three mistakes, then what's the odds three mistakes all go Franken's way? Assuming the odds of a mistake are 50-50, the answer is .125 or 7 to 1. I'm not inclined to call that statistically imponderable.

There is a legitimate question that Scott Johnson asks this morning, which is the admission of a more human element in reporting results than was anticipated. There is supposed to be a secure, automated transmission of results that failed in this case. Secure data transmissions would have prevented these typos or relay errors. In a narrow election, as SOS Mark Ritchie should now understand, these types of mistakes, even though relatively rare and most likely innocent, still give rise to the possibility of misunderstanding and claims of electoral mischievousness. The reason you have these things automated is to avoid blaming "exhausted election officials." If the system wasn't working before the election, didn't someone have the obligation to make it right before the biggest election in Ritchie's term?

There are other errors that need clarification as well, including the ballots in a HennCo official's car, or some other changes (I still haven't seen a good account of the Coon Rapids W2P1 revisions for example; though they are reductions across the board, the net effect is a 34 vote reduction in Coleman's margin; there were also key errors in Brooklyn Park P5 netting 30 to Franken and 25 for Franken in St. Paul W3P3.) But I think for the most part it behooves those who support Coleman to turn away from the larger errors as being a source of the problem and focus on ballot security and answering the qui custodiet custodiens problem that's about to face them. (For one thing, who chooses the canvassing board that will hear the disputed ballot arguments?)

UPDATE: While I was writing, so was Ed:

I spoke directly with this election judge, who elaborated on this information. The county actually knew about the failure four days in advance. The election judges alerted the county to the problem, but they declined to reprogram the cards with the proper IP address. Election judges have to go through training on how to use these machines, and one can understand the frustration this person had at being told to just forget it all.

One point should be emphasized. The ballots got conveyed to the county facilities by one person. Before the advent of electronic transmission, ballots were almost always guarded by two people to avoid the appearance (and the reality) of ballot tampering. In fact, that�s the reason why states and counties went to electronic transmission of ballot counts � to keep human hands off of the tallies as much as possible.

Hennepin County issued no written instructions for the processing of ballots in the failure of electronic transmission. It looked to this judge like they simply made up the process as they went along. That failure is itself unconscionable. The county should have already had a back-up plan, and certainly should have had a written process for safeguarding ballots and results within the four days that they knew of the programming failure, especially if they weren�t prepared to reprogram the precinct machines � which the election judge told me would have been a simple thing to do, and easily accomplished in the four-day window.

Regardless of the outcome of this election, the Ritchie Secretary of State's office has been shown to be careless in assuring clean elections, which was the centerpiece of his campaign in 2006. Ed is calling the Ritchie office for comments. I believe this is not just the case in HennCo. The Moountain Iron case, while perhaps innocent of malfeasance, also admitted of human error when a tape was available for transmission:
Officials say the Mountain Iron voting discrepancies may have occurred on election night, when city election officials called in the results to the St. Louis County seat in Duluth. Because St. Louis County covers more than 7,000 square miles and some precincts are three hours away from the county seat, the county allows local election officials to call in unofficial results ahead of official tallies.
Why? Could not the optical scanners in Mountain Iron have sent that data by modem?

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Pay no attention to those securities behind the curtain 

In return for reserves, many banks, primary dealers and commercial paper brokers are putting up all kinds of collateral. Back in May, Bloomberg started to request a report from the Federal Reserve to learn what exactly was the collateral being put up (say, for example, in the Maiden Lane SIV, which is an asset on the Fed's balance sheet created to help finance the Bear Stearns takeover.) It's worth knowing for several reasons. For one, the Fed's profit helps reduce the government budget deficit, so if say Maiden Lane should come up short next year when the loan is to be paid back, the deficit would increase by the amount of profit not earned by the Fed. I think we'd want to know how much risk to the Fed's balance sheet has been taken on by these assets.

But they aren't going to tell you if they have their way:
Bloomberg News on May 21 asked the Fed to provide data on the collateral posted between April 4 and May 20. The central bank said on June 19 that it needed until July 3 to search out the documents and determine whether it would make them public. Bloomberg never received a formal response that would enable it to file an appeal. On Oct. 25, Bloomberg filed another request and has yet to receive a reply.
Bloomberg is now asking a judge to compel disclosure under FOIA, and the Fed is resisting.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Veterans Day, Tuesday, November 11 

Tomorrow, Tuesday, November 11 is Veterans Day - a day we Americans set aside to honor all those who have served in the US military. Thankfully, it's a day we did not move to a Monday to provide another 3-day weekend that loses the special meaning of the holiday. The following poem is so relevant today, just as it has been in all the battles where American soldiers have shed blood not only for us but so that others, too, may enjoy the freedoms we take for granted.
"It's the Soldier, not the reporter, who has given us freedom of the press.

It's the Soldier, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech.

It's the Soldier, not the campus organizer, who has given us freedom to demonstrate.

It's the Soldier, not the lawyer, who has given us the right to a fair trial.

And it's the Soldier who salutes the flag, who serves the flag, whose coffin is draped in the flag, that allows the protester to burn the flag"

To you all,

THANK YOU ........ for the job you do or have done!

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Worth reading... #mnrecount 

...on the recount is Nate Silver. Key observation:
If, for instance, 25,000 votes or about 0.9 percent of the total are reclassified during the recount, than Franken's odds of winning are only about 7 percent. If only 0.5 percent of the total vote is reclassified, then his odds of winning are not much more than 2 percent.
Silver argues for why more of the misclassified votes should go to Franken than Coleman (he assumes in the above that misclassified votes are equally likely to be Franken and Coleman.) Maybe so, maybe not. But the thing to remember is that .9% would mean that nearly every ballot that had no Senate vote recorded had some way of knowing voter intent. (Plus you'd have to add machine error, a rate which is very, very small. In 2006 a Supreme Court primary recount found only 0.02% of ballots uncounted. That only changed 7 votes out of over 400,000.) He notes:
In Minnesota, the vast majority of counties have such precinct scanning systems, but they may be applied inconsistently -- it appears that in most precincts, for instance, the machines were programmed to alert the voter to an overvote, but not to an undervote. If a precinct scan check is not applied, or the poll worker is too busy or distracted to alert the voter, error rates using optical scanning systems be at least twice as high.
That is my experience, since I usually do not vote the judicial races when there is no challenger to the incumbent (or when I have no knowledge of any of the candidates.) I've never had the machine flag an undervote. I have seen it flag the overvote.

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Another precinct heard from #mnrecount 

John Lott writes today about the Minnesota "pre-count".
This all has occurred even though there hasn�t even yet been a recount. Just local election officials correcting claimed typos in how the numbers were reported. Counties will certify their results today, and their final results will be sent to the secretary of state by Friday. The actual recount won�t even start until November 19.

Correcting these typos was claimed to add 435 votes to Franken and take 69 votes from Coleman. Corrections were posted in other races, but they were only a fraction of those for the Senate. The Senate gains for Franken were 2.5 times the gain for Obama in the presidential race count, 2.9 times the total gain that Democrats got across all Minnesota congressional races, and 5 times the net loss that Democrats suffered for all state House races.

Virtually all of Franken�s new votes came from just three out of 4130 precincts, and almost half the gain (246 votes) occurred in one precinct -- Two Harbors, a small town north of Duluth along Lake Superior -- a heavily Democratic precinct where Obama received 64 percent of the vote. None of the other races had any changes in their vote totals in that precinct.

The Two Harbors point is new to me, and I'm seeking clarification from Lott. So too is the relative size of the gains and losses. Political Animal tweets an update: "Coleman has lost 65 votes; Franken has gained 456 votes and Barkley had gained 82 votes since Wednesday; my guess is that the difference is those 32 votes in the Hennepin County car. It may be that the Senate data is getting closer scrutiny (which reduces some of your faith in other results, yes?) and we again should note that there are basically two typos and a misreport that account for most of this gain. Typos are not subject to statistical analysis; most of my post on Friday regards the one or two vote changes we see. An error in the hundreds place is one random change, not one hundred changes. Still, they are rather large errors.
Indeed, the 504 total new votes for Franken from all the precincts is greater than adding together all the changes for all the precincts in the entire state for the presidential, congressional, and state house races combined (a sum of 482). It was also true that precincts that gave Obama a larger percentage of the vote were statistically more likely to make a correction that helped Franken.
Curiouser and curiouser. Just got another change, putting Coleman at +238. This is becoming like New England weather -- if you don't like the vote count, wait a minute! (Oddly, the SOS website doesn't seem to have that number.) Crap, read the time but not the date, that was last Friday. My mistake, sorry.

People are guarding the ballots now in a volunteer effort (Mrs. S has volunteered, though the Stearns County ballots appear to be secured.) One election official I spoke to called this the longest week of his life; he's going to have a few more.

Lott also says this about voter intent:
Voters themselves insert their ballot into the machine that reads and records their votes, and if the machine finds that a vote isn�t recorded, voters can either mark the race that they forgot to mark or didn�t mark clearly. Or if voters �overvoted� and accidentally marked too many candidates, voters can also get a fresh ballot. There should be no role to divine voters� intentions. If a voter wanted a vote recorded for a particular race, the machine tells him whether his vote in all the races was counted.
The law now allows for manual recount, which sounds great but allows for those squinting eyes "divining voter intent".

UPDATE: Ironman has a new tool, useful when we get to the recount process.

Now we can ask something about those absentee ballots. Using the numbers above I'm going to surmise that of the 32 absentee ballots found under some HennCo worker's McDonalds' wrappers, 21 went for Franken and four for Coleman (using the difference between John's numbers and the update.) Franken took just about half of the votes in the county. What are the odds that a batch of ballots drawn randomly -- or rather, sitting randomly in someone's car for a several day joy-ride -- are of the same type as the rest of the county? About 2.5%. More interesting, what are the odds that there would be only four Coleman votes in the batch of 32? About 0.3%. Curiouser and curiouser.

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A note on recession on restaurants 

Janet has written that she doesn't think a recession is happening. I will say I disagree, and you can see several posts below that make that point. However, there has not been an official call of a recession, and until there is you can have this debate -- I just think Janet is in a very small minority here. As CNN noted on Friday, to Janet's point, there's a big difference between the low- and high-end restaurants. I have no idea which places Janet and her husband went to. I had thought the high-end Ruth's Chris type places would survive this thing, and that only the mid-range places like Red Robin or CPK would get hurt. It might move up the ladder, though. Places that rely on lunch business from workers are also going to get hurt. Speaking of which, off to Panera.
Update by Janet, Nov. 10, 5:22: I know King is an economist, a very good one. He's the guru and analyst - I go by what I see, so we will differ. For the record, the four restaurants were: Perkins, Champps, Red Lobster and The Lexington - the first three are mid-range; the last one, top.

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Giving government two legs of the stool 

I got two emails Saturday that were connected to each other, sent independently less than three hours apart. Reader Mike S. sent a more recent description of the hearings in Congress on scrapping the 401(k) and replacing them with accounts managed by the Social Security Administration.
Triggered by the financial crisis the past two months, the hearings reportedly were meant to stem losses incurred by many workers and retirees whose 401(k) and IRA balances have been shrinking rapidly.

The testimony of Teresa Ghilarducci, professor of economic policy analysis at the New School for Social Research in New York, in hearings Oct. 7 drew the most attention and criticism. Testifying for the House Committee on Education and Labor, Ghilarducci proposed that the government eliminate tax breaks for 401(k) and similar retirement accounts, such as IRAs, and confiscate workers� retirement plan accounts and convert them to universal Guaranteed Retirement Accounts (GRAs) managed by the Social Security Administration.

...The current retirement system, Ghilarducci said, �exacerbates income and wealth inequalities� because tax breaks for voluntary retirement accounts are �skewed to the wealthy because it is easier for them to save, and because they receive bigger tax breaks when they do.�

Lauding GRAs as a way to effectively increase retirement savings, Ghilarducci wrote that savings incentives are unequal for rich and poor families because tax deferrals �provide a much larger �carrot� to wealthy families than to middle-class families � and none whatsoever for families too poor to owe taxes.�
The Social Security Administration's own FAQ notes that Social Security is supposed to be one of three legs of a stool, the other two being pensions and income. Government would now have control of two of the three legs. But don't worry, your money won't be subject to the vagaries of the stock market. You all will get 3% and it will be safe.

Or will it?
On Oct. 21, Argentina�s government, led by Peronist President Cristina Fern�ndez de Kirchner and her predecessor, N�stor Kirchner, announced their intention to expropriate $30 billion held by Argentine citizens in private pension funds (similar to 401(k) retirement savings accounts). The Kirchners need the money to refinance old bad debts so that they can borrow yet more money to keep the country afloat. The announcement rocked investor confidence in Argentina and sent the Buenos Aires stock market plunging.
Placing your money in a lock-box with the SSA is, as P.J. O'Rourke once said, "like giving whiskey and car keys to teen-age boys." So in 2005 we had an attempt to privatize Social Security; in 2009, an attempt to nationalize 401k's? Al Franken for one favors it. (h/t: reader jw)


Sunday, November 09, 2008

Recession? Not Yet 

How many times did we hear the word "recession" during the past campaign? Lots but I have not heard the word since midday Tuesday. Hmm - could the press have been pushing a meme they believed would work against Republicans - pretty fair guess the answer to this one is "yes."

Because of my volunteer schedule, we've eaten out four times in the last six days. Every place we went was packed (ok, the 3:15 lunch was not). This behavior does not indicate recession, folks. A formal definition of a recession is negative growth for two quarters - hasn't happened yet. Another meme?

Did people get caught in the phony housing bubble? Yes, but less than 3% of the home mortgages were affected, many owned by individuals who were given loans for which they could never have qualified without breakdowns in the checks and balances.

Did Wall Street have problems? Yes, mostly because of the absurd pay incentives to various head honchos of investment houses (most of whom vote Democrat). The mega rich in the USA are Democrats, people.

Is the stock market stable? No and it won't be until someone figures out what the real Obama will actually do. In fact, our friends who invest through Schwab have been told no stock decisions for six months. Hmmmm what does Charles know that the press doesn't want many of us to know?

One can only hope that all for the country goes well without hurting our security. Remember, when you're #1, everyone comes after you. And, if your leader has no backbone, cannot make decisions, is careless with words, etc. all will target you. O, watch out. Your life, as well as ours and those of your friends (Rezko - convicted felon, Ayers - avowed anti-American, and Wright - questionable Christian pastor) now hang in the balance - that is dependent on the decisions you and your buddies will make. Our enemies care naught for political affiliation - they only respect strength. If you show weakness, we all pay.


Friday, November 07, 2008

Mrs. S writes 

...about the effect of the smoking ban on charitable gambling.

Most pull tabs are sold in bars, and a Minnesota Gambling Control Board study released in March showed gross receipts for lawful gambling decreased more than $40 million in the last three months of 2007 compared to the same period a
year earlier. The ban took effect Oct. 1, 2007.

Updated data through the first seven months of 2008 show gross receipts down 13.7 percent, according to the gambling board. Ultimately, that could amount to a decrease of $95 million to $105 million a year, according to a March 31 Star Tribune news report.

She asks whether it was the intent of smoking ban proponents to starve the charities, and if not what should be done.

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End of political correctness? 

On Monday, MPR is holding a discussion on whether political bias exists on campuses. The debate features Matthew Woessner and April Kelly-Woessner, whose research I discussed a couple of years ago. In short, they are part of the defense of liberal bias by arguing the students don't change much and they like liberal professors more anyway.

They may find it interesting that one student did not agree with one of the Daily Effects of Indoctrination, adding something to this picture:
The First Amendment protects the right of persons to express ideas that are politically incorrect, even if those ideas displease left-wing professors.
Just this week, someone added a release on the affirmative action referendum from Nebraksa, though it's not clear if it was posted by the department that created this display or the student(s) who are speaking out against it. (Notably, it is behind in a cliffhanger in Colorado.)
Debating as well will be Steve Balch, president of the National Association of Scholars. I think the debate will be excellent and worthy of your time Monday.

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What are the odds of Sen. Franken? 

In a comment on Janet's post, Ironman points out a statistical study of the King County recount and its effect on the gubernatorial race in Washington, where we saw a recount reverse a previously announced result. Ironman provides a calculator to test the results of this change from the recount which, it is argued, is just a resampling of the ballots. (Indeed, there's a test audit being done of the Coleman-Franken vote already, using 202 of the more than 4000 precincts in the state, which is simply part of the state's quality control.) The error rate on machine read ballots is reported to be about 0.2%, or two in a thousand. That's why we recount with a margin under 0.5%.

The calculator works for a binomial distribution. What complicates this is the presence of Dean Barkley as a holder of 15% of the ballots that are being sampled. So it's drawing from a bag with three different colored balls, not two different colors. (I'm sure there were third-party candidates in the Gregoire Rossi '04 race, but I doubt it would have made much difference.) If you assume no change in the Barkley votes, however, you still get a less than .005% chance that a recount would flip this election to Franken, even with that .2% error rate. If the erroroneous ballots are random and the population of ballots are divided roughly fifty-fifty, the probability is like flipping a coin say 5800 times and getting 236 more heads than tails. As you flip the coin more, the probability converges on 0.5 quite quickly. But again, that makes some assumptions about the distribution of the errors regarding the inclusion of Barkley, and to be blunt I'm not a good enough statistician to think that part through. Ironman, back to work!

And to the rest of you, spreadsheets please if you have running totals for any county. You can potentially look for the problems with recounting that with a good formula and those sheets.

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Interesting split 

Larry Schumacher -- for whom I'm told birthday wishes are in order -- tells us an interesting fact:

A majority of voters in Benton and Stearns counties picked Republican John McCain for president Tuesday and a plurality voted to re-elect U.S. Sen. Norm

But a plurality of voters in the two counties also supported Democrat Elwyn Tinklenberg for Congress.

...Tinklenberg won almost 48 percent of the vote in Stearns County and nearly 46 percent of the vote in Benton County, compared with Bachmann, who won 43 percent of both counties� voters.

[McCain] won 52 percent of the vote in Stearns County and 53 percent in Benton County, compared with Obama, who received 45 percent of the vote in Stearns and 44 percent in Benton.

Coleman won 46 percent of the vote in Stearns County and 44 percent in Benton County. Democratic challenger Al Franken received 34 percent of the vote in both Stearns and Benton.

Now I'm sure that people will want to ascribe Tinklenberg's strength in central Minnesota to Bachmann's Hardball comment, but I don't see it that way. Tinklenberg had several friends among GOPers here from his days as transportation commissioner, with strong support for Northstar light rail to St. Cloud. I had noted a few yards with both McCain and Tinklenberg signs. (Folks will remember that former Rep. Jim Knoblach was head of the House Capital Investment committee during that time.)

Larry also notes that Sherburne County, the most Republican of the three up here, had 87% turnout. That high turnout might have saved Bachmann, probably more than the Bob Anderson theory.

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Thursday, November 06, 2008

MN US Senate Race: A "Fix" Looks Underway 

Why are all post election revisions to the vote count coming out in favor of Democrat Al Franken? It is no coincidence that MN's Secretary of State is a blatant, partisan Democrat?

Minnesotans deserve elections handled with integrity. Count the votes accurately. Minnesota should not aspire to be known as the Washington state of the Midwest. This morning the difference was 725. It's now down to 236.


The worst news of the week 

Thursday, November 6th - Due to upcoming weather this weekend and the remainder of the week, the golf course is now closed for the season.
Just another way in which the man is keeping me down...

UPDATE (11/7): I get the shutdown condition, Phil. I can still mourn the end of times. And our DQ on Division and 25th closed 10/26. We are all consigned to Caribou now.

You'd hope for more grace 

Tuesday night I celebrated, not because Obama had won the election, but because I came to the realization that the reign of the Bush Administration was finally coming to an end.

The next four years will either mark as one of the greatest reformations in the history of the United States or demonstrate that eight years of bad decisions under an incompetent leader will take decades to overcome.
A student editorial this morning. So we already have the meme: If President Obama fails, that too will be Bush's fault. It will not be because President Obama had ideas that turned out to be wrong.

Would someone like to go back and show me similar comments by Reagan supporters in November 1980?


Tipping and inflation 

My colleague Orn Bodvarsson is quoted in a WSJ article on tipping.
Orn Bodvarsson, an economics professor at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota who has researched tipping, says tipping encourages special service. Thus, employers like retailers and airlines that want uniform service often ban or discourage tipping. "If people are handing out better tips, it encourages some people to get better service than others," he says.

OK, I can understand that. So why don't we tip doctors, since medicine is an area in which specialized service can make a huge difference? One reason, says Dr. Bodvarsson, is that "you don't know how well the medical doctor has performed the service until later."

Then there are jobs where tipping has only taken hold in recent years. Take people working at a takeout counter. Tipping used to be rare. Now the tip jar is pretty standard, though many customers ignore it.

Dr. Bodvarsson theorizes it's because wages in many of these jobs haven't kept up with inflation. In essence, the employer, rather than raising salaries, is allowing customers to pay compensation directly to workers.
Much of Orn's research can be found here. I have an alternative explanation for tipping at takeout windows: Part of my tip to a server is solving a principal-agent issue between the server and the cook. (#1 son is a cook; his #1 problem at previous jobs wasn't the chef or manager but crabby waitstaff. Currently he has the nicest waitstaff I've ever met.) We get more out of take-out windows now, and so more agency issues.

However, about the doctor: The Mongolian BBQ place in town has two tipping opportunities: There's a jar by the end of the line when you receive your grilled food, and another for the server (who has brought drinks, cleared plates and upsold you a dessert you shouldn't have ordered.) I tip both folks -- usually a buck or two for the grill guy, another buck or two for the server. Yet I don't know how good the food is when I tip the grill guy, because I haven't tasted it yet! So why am I tipping him?

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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

"We shall not fight our battles alone" 

Joshua Sharf, who lost his run for the Colorado House last night, relates a story about Bob Schaeffer, who lost to Mark Udall for the U.S. Senate seat in Colorado. Joshua says Schaeffer recited a paragraph of a Patrick Henry speech by heart to him when in a 'candidate school'. As I spent this morning visiting with Captain Ed and the First Mate, who opened their home to me to avoid a long drive late night this Election Night, I said very imperfectly what Henry said so much better.
There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations; and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us. The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave.
Vigilance and bravery and the will to act are by choice, as is one's faith.

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I have to agree 

McCain should have opposed the bailout. There was a lot of popular resentment of it; it would have put a mile's distance between McCain and Bush's failures; it would have given McCain a great populist issue to ride; and it would have put Obama in the awkward position of defending Bush to the country. Even though the public wanted to "do something," McCain could easily have screamed "Yea, but not this!" from the rooftops - and people would have listened.

The main counter-argument: If McCain had opposed the bailout, it might not have passed - making it much harder to campaign against it. Indeed, Obama might have seen the trap and opposed the bailout, too, making it even harder for McCain to make the bailout his central issue. I wouldn't dismiss these possibilities. But even if they came to pass, an anti-bailout McCain would have had better chances than he does today.
From Bryan Caplan's student Brian Blase. Indeed, some are pointing to McCain's decision to suspend his campaign as being the end of his surge in the polls, but what if he had gone to DC not to help broker a deal for Congressional Republicans but to lead the opposition? Had he lead a successful opposition, it would have bolstered him as long as the market did not tank more than it did. Had it passed and the market tanked, he could say "See? I warned you!" But if he opposed, the bill failed, and the Dow was at, say, 5000 on Monday, he would have been probably no worse off than he was yesterday.

So why didn't he? I think he believed the bailout would work (as I did), and acted sincerely rather than strategically.

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Third parties and undervotes 

We noticed on the air last night that in both CD3 and CD6, the Independence Party candidates were doing better than expected. Bob Collins argues that this helps Republicans. Interestingly, however, the final StarTribune exit polling shows that an even percentage would have voted for Franken or Coleman had Barkley not run in the race. (I don't think that asks the right question, because there would have been a different IP candidate had Barkley not run. The question seems to suppose no IP candidate.) Barkley voters supported Obama 52-39; 14% of Coleman voters voted for the President-elect.

Collins also notes that there were perhaps 25,000 voters who simply did not vote that race. Like commenters, I'm surprised there are not more undervotes. That's the kind of stuff that gave us hanging chads. The recount battle will be grist for the Final Word mill for the next few weeks.

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Tuesday's big winner: Pollsters 

At the national level at least, most pollsters who projected the large Obama turnout were correct. In Minnesota, where we were told to expect 80% turnout, the current statistics are for 77.8%. Remember that in MN, that number includes first-time voters and those registering at the polling stations as having moved from previous districts. There were over half a million such folks yesterday. I do not know a single person that did not vote yesterday, despite many saying their early visits to the precincts were greeted with much longer-than-normal wait times. (I did not wait at all voting at 8:45AM.)

I think pollsters had the Bachmann-Tinklenberg race about right. Probably a little too pessimistic on Erik Paulsen, whose race ought to be a lesson to most people that walking and knocking on every door in your district still works. As to the Coleman-Franken race, that race was probably tighter than most expected. Given the national trends on Senate versus House, I see the possible storyline being that Obama's vaunted turnout machine did exactly what was advertised -- in heavily Democratic districts, they turned out their voters in larger numbers than in the past. I'll work up a spreadsheet on that for MN in a day or two.

And as commenters noted correctly, the whole Bradley effect discussion turned out to be completely wrong. President-elect Obama did not over-poll.

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Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Rather than watching the polls... 

...I suggest you engage in a little hypothetical election wagering courtesy Learned Foot. Since Congress has already tried to thwart your ability to play for real money.

This is just wacky 

A note from former student Liz:
Pat Robertson's crowd encouraged people to hold a prayer meeting in front of the Golden Bull Statue on Wall Street to intercede on behalf of the economy. (falls under the things that are really funny at 4 am). We had an emergency reading of the Book of Exodus so Mallory (her infant daughter) would know why this is completely unacceptable behavior.
"They have quickly turned aside from the way which I commanded them. They have made for themselves a molten calf, and have worshiped it and have sacrificed to it and said, 'This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!'" Exodus 32:8. Maybe they expect Pat to play Moses. Good luck with that.

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Monday, November 03, 2008

The Coleman-Franken contract 

Price for Minnesota Senate Race at

My friend Tony Garcia and I have been watching this contract on InTrade with fascination today, and tonight I'm practically watching every trade.
For the technical broker side of me, here is a little more analysis on the MN Senate Contract. For Franken the first price floor is at 48.0 with an almost equally strong ceiling at 55.0. Going below 46.0 would take an increase in volume of almost 400%. For Coleman the strong price floor is at 47.0 but would only take less than a 200% increase in today's volume to reach that. There equilibrium in volume on the price ceiling is at 85.0. This all means that there is not much confidence in either of them losing, there is some resistance to the idea that Franken will run away with the race while there is not similar resistance to the possibility that Coleman can win early. So, the only thing that will be worth staying up for tomorrow night (the only suspense) will be the MN Senate race and the MO President race. MO is important only because it has gone to the winner in each
election since 1960 (12 in a row).

Tony and I read the InTrade results as being very pro-Obama, unlike the latest reports from Fox's Carl Cameron. �The Missouri contract has strongly moved towards McCain lately, which might account for the deployment of Palin to the state today.

Worth noting: �there's no action on Barkley. �It's a two-person race, and voting for Dean is as if you didn't vote at all in that race. �Exit question (to borrow an Allahpundit bit): �Has the loss of many US traders due to UIGEA caused InTrade to be less predictive? �Chris Masse is instructive: �Don't oversell.�

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Would the Bradley effect change the outcome? 

Should Barack Obama worry about the Bradley effect? The much-discussed effect refers to observed discrepancies between voter opinion polls and election outcomes, in which African-American candidates receive a smaller vote share than would be predicted using opinion polls. In this column, I study US congressional and gubernatorial contests from 1998 to 2006 � black candidates on average receive a 2-3% lower share of the two-party vote than non-black candidates with similar numbers in the polls. If an effect of a similar size would appear in the current presidential race, then it would lower Obama�s probability of winning from 85% to 53%. However, black Republican candidates drive the result, so it may not apply to Obama�s campaign.
David Stromberg at VoxEU today. What makes the effect interesting is that he corrects for the idea that most estimates of the effect miss the confounding factor that most black candidates for governor or Congress have less than 50% poll support. (The two effects would work against each other so that you'd find no significant Bradley effect.) Stromberg corrects for this by including the last poll result as a control variable. the sub-sample of close elections, where the black candidate has 45-55% in the polls, the mean difference between elections and polls is �3.5%. The gap is �2.3% in races where the black candidate polls between 40-60%. Absent the catch-up effect, the black candidates do worse than the polls.
If you use the entire sample, Obama pulls 51-52% of the two-party vote based on Stromberg's estimates. If you buy the 55-45 spread instead, every poll with Obama under 53% becomes a plausibly a case for McCain. Looking at the RCP average, McCain would need all that and most of the remaining undecideds for an upset win. Current InTrade odds put Obama at 90%. A gambling man would bet the dog, and I'm such a man.

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My latest favorite phrase 

"Shaman demand" [nods sadly]


I did not know that 

From Labor Day through last Friday, about 750 national surveys asked voters one variant or another of the question: "How would you vote if the presidential election were being held today?" In 2004, only 239 such polls were taken. Forty years ago in the Nixon-Humphrey race, such a question was only asked 10 times from Labor Day through election eve.
John Fund, in today's Political Diary. I am certain that technology has moved so that the cost of any poll is cheaper. But I wonder sometimes if all this polling leads to an information cascade? (c.f. Ivo Welch.)

Does the cascade lead to voting behavior too? We'll know soon. I'm thinking of running this experiment in class, but held off for fear it would be taken as a political statement. Such is the time in which we live.

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Kid reporters 

One of my nieces is friends with a 13-year-old student reporter for Scholastic News Online, and I've been watching the press conference they are having for the last ten minutes before going to lunch. I hope they get jobs as reporters in the future; there may be hope yet to resurrect that profession.

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Illegal immigrants and MnSCU 

I received last night an email from Joshua Behling, the challenger in the MN House District 15B race against incumbent Larry Haws. There was an on-campus debate of local House races. I've reprinted the email with permission:
We just finished up a debate at the campus of St. Cloud State University. There were 10 questions that were asked by the moderators and then questions from the audience were asked.

A question was asked by a student of SCSU. He spoke with broken English. His question was, "With the large amount of immigrants in this area and state what will you do as a Legislator to make sure that immigrants have an opportunity to succeed?"

Rep. Larry Haws responded 1st by saying, "What kind of immigrants are you talking about?"

The student responded, "Well there are a lot of different immigrants but mostly in this area I guess, Somalians."

Rep. Larry Haws responded, "Are we talking legal or illegal immigrants?"

The student responded, "Legal."

Rep. Larry Haws responded, "Good, because if your talking about legal, then I say send 'um here [SCSU], we'll check you at the door. If you are talking illegal then send 'um over to Tech [St. Cloud Tech College]."

There was about a 5-10 second pause as the ENTIRE room gasped and re-adjusted themselves in their chairs.

You could see that all but a few of the students looked at him and each other thinking, I can't believe he just said that.
The requirements for international student admissions at SCTC are here. The application form does ask you about your status. If you are not in status, you are to provide a written explanation.

However, Rep. Haws has pointed out something interesting. The House Research Department put out a document in December 2004 titled "Noncitizens and Minnesota Law". It reads from page 47:
The application forms of Minnesota�s two public higher education systems�the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota State Colleges and University (MnSCU)�require information on the applicant�s residency, citizenship, and visa status. Application forms also request an applicant�s Social Security number as an optional piece of information. MnSCU requires international students and nonimmigrants to complete separate application forms. Admission to Minnesota�s public postsecondary institutions does not depend on being a legal resident of the United States.
And on page 49:
...MnSCU board policies allow resident tuition for refugees under federal law and authorize MnSCU institutions to adopt policies to exempt nonimmigrant international students from nonresident tuition. Several MnSCU institutions operate under a board-approved tuition waiver programs that authorize a single tuition rate for resident and nonresident students. These campuses can charge resident tuition to undocumented students without being in violation of federal law. The University of Minnesota also has policies providing exemptions to the nonresident classification. None of the exemptions are based on citizenship or immigration status.
Emphasis added in both. My data is a few years old here, but I don't recall seeing this changed. I'll post this with hope that you'll correct me in comments if I missed a legal change.

Now schools might treat the legal status on their own differently -- MnSCU seems to provide latitude to schools to request your I-20 or I-94 forms, which may mean they can turn you down if you don't have them. A campus "may have" additional requirements. So perhaps Rep. Haws has pointed out something about SCTC that we didn't know; they might not have that additional requirement. Perhaps we have something to look at for the next Legislature.

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Saturday, November 01, 2008

On the Road with Norm Coleman 

US Senator Norm Coleman is continuing his visits across our great state. Last week he was travelling with Governor Pawlenty. Today, he met more voters in Congressional District 2 (CD 2) (where I am the Republican chair). At every location, Norm is greeted warmly and supported. He meets the people and talks one on one with as many as possible. Crowds are large and attendees arrive early. They enjoy the camaraderie and seeing a US Senator in a very informal, comfortable setting.

I've heard his basic speech a few times yet every talk includes a unique point or two. He brings in the local flavor where appropriate - the Mississippi River towns always hear of their past and role in the present and future. Specific businesses, vital to local economies, are mentioned and supported.

Today, he was traveling with MN's Congressman, John Kline, a 25 year Marine veteran. Norm's speech focused on respect and integrity - for ourselves as well as others. Both Norm and John have these traits in abundance. Unfortunately Norm's opponent, does not. Far too many Democrats show so little class but Franken's attacks on Norm's family have reached the point of disgust. Then again, what do we expect from a man whose "humor" debases women, Catholics, and other Christians? Frankly, not much.

Minnesotans support Senator Coleman's goals: the federal government should live within its budget; energy independence; affordable health insurance without the government running it; security for ourselves and our progeny; judges who support the US Constitution - the basis of all our freedoms.

Senator Coleman has solutions; works with others who have solutions; he has fixed problems and will continue to do so for us. He respects the WWII generation who fought for our freedom and he truly understands that we must keep the opportunities of freedom.

He is sincere, honest, open and real. He's simply got to win because there's not another like him.

From Monday's event in Farmington:

and the ubiquitous, solemn, serious DFL tracker.