Thursday, January 28, 2010

From TARP to SEED 

I'd as soon he just returned the money as was agreed when TARP was created:

On the Senate floor, Franken proposed using $5 billion from the Troubled Asset Relief Program to subsidize job creation in the private sector.

"The SEED Act will incentivize rapid job creation by offering small and medium-sized companies, and non-profit companies, a direct wage subsidy to hire new workers and expand their operations," Franken said.

The job creation subsidy would be available for 50 percent of wages, up to a $12 per hour subsidy. The employer eligibility period would last 12 months.

Franken also proposes re-allocating another $5 billion in TARP funds to provide states, local governments, and tribes with grants for green job creation.

It's not completely horrible, though. I did some reading on the research regarding wage subsidies, and at least one recent study seems to find some positive effects of it. Maybe they're not very large. It appears the best results come from Germany. What we don't know is whether the money could be better spent elsewhere, says Paul Walker. Nor do we know why the Congress seems to continue to think TARP repayments are a windfall.

One wonders -- if reducing the net cost of labor to business is a good idea, why is increasing the minimum wage a good idea?

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

What would Wellstone do? 

Democratic Sen. Al Franken took the unusual step Thursday of shutting down Sen. Joe Lieberman on the Senate floor.

Lieberman, a Connecticut independent, currently is the target of liberal wrath over his opposition to a government-run insurance plan in the health care bill.

Franken was presiding over the Senate Thursday afternoon as Lieberman spoke about amendments he planned to offer to the bill. Lieberman asked for an additional moment to finish � a routine request � but Franken refused to grant the time.

"In my capacity as the senator from Minnesota, I object," Franken said.

"Really?" said Lieberman. "OK."

Lieberman then said he'd submit the rest of his statement in writing. ...

Franken's spokeswoman, Jess McIntosh, said that the Minnesota senator wouldn't allow Lieberman to continue because time limits were being enforced by Senate leaders rushing to finish a defense spending bill and get to the health bill.
One thing Wellstone would do is not rely on his spokeswoman to explain everything from how he votes to what he eats. But I think there's more:
In a world that has become so divisive and so partisan, so angry, whether in this Chamber or in the House Chamber, Senator Wellstone reflected in the passion for his belief that politics was not a death sport, it was something which you could agree to disagree and still shake a hand and ask: How are you doing? And move on. -- Sen. Norm Coleman, 10/25/07
If you were sworn in on the man's Bible, you may want to pay attention to things like that, Senator.


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Wednesday, September 09, 2009

My really small role in the Coleman-Franken recount 

Late last month Townhall Magazine published an article by Ed Morrissey about the Coleman-Franken recount battle. In it I am quoted rather substantially about my role in the recount as the statistical expert for Coleman. I thought I should write some thoughts about it.

I was contacted initially by the Coleman legal team only on January 20th, a mere days before the contest phase of the recount was to start. I had just a week between that first call and the deposition -- in which I was supposed to look at the data, come up with an analysis, prep for a deposition process (for the first time) and go through it. I had all of two meetings with lawyers beforehand, both on the weekend.

What I was asked to provide was a demonstration that the rate at which ballots were rejected by county officials differed in a statistically significant way from each other. Rejection rates are normally the domain of binomial or Poisson distributions, and we economists don't use those distributions as often as the normal or Student's t. So I took some time re-familiarizing myself with those tests, looking up some books, digging up my old college text, and arrived at what was pretty obvious looking at the data casually -- those rejection rates didn't vary due to chance.

So it's a very compressed time period. Some people seemed to enjoy having fun picking apart the deposition, but to that I would just say the following:
  1. The decision to not call myself a statistician was mine. Any social scientist uses statistics, pretty much as an everyday activity. I don't use sampling theory daily, but something or other in statistics, sure. But what you might call a statistician would hold a PhD in statistics. I don't. The fellow we thought would be used by the Franken people didn't either -- he was a sociologist. But once some court accepts you, you're in, as best I can tell. He was, I had not before, and so the attack to exclude me was pretty standard procedure. (I taught college statistics for social sciences at the Claremont Colleges, and I teach economic forecasting at SCSU.)
  2. What I was initially asked to look at was to show the distribution of rates of rejected absentee ballots among counties was not random. I assumed what they were trying to prove was the Bush v Gore point that voters did not enjoy equal protection of their absentee ballots. The contest panel, and eventually the Minnesota Supreme Court, did not accept the precedence of Bush v Gore. Without that, there was no reason for me to testify based on what I had given the Coleman lawyers at that time. Where many, even Ed, imply that I was denied the ability to testify because I was not an expert, that is not what the court said. They were not interested in the Bush v Gore argument, thus they had no need to hear of me regardless of whether or not I was an expert. They had decided, in Ed's words, to " on individual ballots rather than categories and generalities." From their decision:
    The only question that can be decided in an election contest is which party received the highest number of legally cast votes, and therefore is entitled to receive the certificate of election. The Court will be reviewing all ballots presented according to the uniform standard contained in Minnesota Statues Chapter 203B. It is irrelevant whether there were irregularities between the counties in applying Minnesota Statutes � 203B.12, subd. 2. prior to this election contest. The Court does not believe Banaian's testimony would assist in determining the issues properly before it.
    And with that fact's irrelevance, I became irrelevant to the court. As I am not a lawyer, I have no opinion on their decision.
  3. At no point during the weekend before the deposition was I asked by the Coleman team whether I thought opening which ballots would lead to a Coleman victory. So when I told Ed my thoughts -- that had they opened the ballots I thought they could make an argument for, those from counties with excess rejection rates compared to the state average, they would not have enough net ballots to win -- that was my own speculation done actually the day AFTER I had been deposed. Had I gotten to the stand, based on what I knew when I was deposed, I had no answer. Based on what I did afterward, I did not think I could argue that even the statistical argument had any real chance of succeeding, particularly after the court had awarded Franken a net 87 additional votes in opening 351 ballots previously rejected. At that point, I thought, the game was up, though I admit to some cognitive dissonance over it -- I didn't really want to believe what I had found, and since I couldn't talk about it while the trial was going on, I pretty much buried that from my consciousness.
  4. My analysis of those counties where rejection rates were statistically significantly above the state average, was that an 'extra' 1,924 ballots had been rejected. If those were distributed as the recorded vote was, Coleman would have gotten 841 additional votes and Franken 737 additional votes (the remainder to Dean Barkley and the other candidates.) But that called for an "add factor" -- you can't pick the ballots that were rejected wrongly based on a spreadsheet, which is all they gave me. And as I say, the court rejected that idea.
So to summarize: I did an analysis very quickly for a question the court didn't interest itself in, and when the Franken campaigned asked to keep me out, they ruled my testimony irrelevant. But had they asked me if I thought Coleman won, I would have said "probably not, based on the data."

Let me close with an agreement with Ed's premise for his article, which was butchered by the Townhall editorial staff when they chose the title. Franken did not steal an election. They played hard, harder than the Coleman team. As I said to someone after the deposition, it's one thing to take a knife to a gun fight, it's another thing to be the knife. Perhaps I was a fallback plan they came to late in the process; far be it from me to criticize the Coleman strategy when I know so little about it. But it appeared that after the decision to reject statistical argumentation -- which Ed argues should have been known to the Coleman lawyers based on the Rossi-Gregoire recount -- that the energy of the Coleman argument was lost, at least at that stage.

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Monday, April 20, 2009

How connected to the community are student voters? 

It turns out that students who wanted to defend their right to vote aren't so keen on the jury duty that comes with their exercise of citizenship.
Stearns County court officials are struggling with unreturned jury duty questionnaires and with students who claim they aren�t county residents though they registered to vote in the county. Other students never get the questionnaires because they have changed addresses.

�It is a big issue here in Stearns County,� said Tim Roberts, court administrator in Stearns and Benton counties. �I think it becomes an issue when we try to get people in and hold them accountable for jury service.�
Students move often; students in the dorm for fall semester often aren't there in the spring because they found other accommodations or they left the university. The report indicates 24 juror questionnaires sent to student-voters in dorms came back undeliverable. More probably from students in off-campus housing -- they don't know how much. But this begs the question I asked a few years ago: How certain are we that students who vote here really have an interest in the district? I would like in particular to know how supporters of the school district levies last year feel about having solicited votes for the levy from students who won't even bother to show up to jury duty.

Mr. Roberts is later stated to wonder "whether students should vote by absentee ballot in their home county so they don�t end up on a jury list in a county where they live only because they attend school there." Amen, brother! but this does not suit the DFL controlled Secretary of State's office:
The state wants to register as many voters as it can and welcomes the voter registration drives, said Jim Gelbmann, deputy Secretary of State. While acknowledging the unintended consequences, he said that having students vote absentee from their home county eliminates the ease of voting on the campus where students attend classes.
Was one of those unintended consequences the election of Al Franken? Franken won the 18-24 demographic 48-35 with 12% of all voters in that age group.

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Monday, January 19, 2009

Most fowl 

h/t: Mark Perry.

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Monday, January 12, 2009

Why we keep questioning the recount 

Suppose you are an election official in a precinct. You are collecting ballots with a machine that measures people as they come through the door. At one point your machine breaks down. You replace the machine with a backup, but you fail to turn that machine on for awhile. Later it is turned on, and you record your totals.

Later there is a recount, and in the process you discover the error by finding the extra, uncounted ballots. Naturally, since they appear by all appearances to be valid votes, you count them and include them in your totals.

This is not fiction. Ballots were thus discovered in Maplewood, Precinct 6 during the recount process for the Coleman-Franken race.* Folks at the Uptake who reported the incident noted in that article that the Election Night returns in that precinct favored Franken, 45.4% to 39.2%. If the 171 ballots are like the remainder, you'd expect 45.4% of the 171 to go to Franken and 39.2% to go to Coleman, which would give Al 78 and Norm 67. You can just imagine how bummed Norm would be; that finding is expected to cost him 11 votes.

Visiting the precinct results, however, we find Franken added 91 votes from that precinct and Coleman 54. He's out 37 votes, not 11. The Coleman campaign cannot believe its luck.

How likely is this to happen? To understand this I use the heuristic developed during the Rossi-Gregoire recount battle.
...assume that we have a large bag of marbles, they are either red (Rossi votes) or blue (Gregoire votes), there are a total of 856,963 (505,836 blue + 351,127 red) marbles in the bag (it's a BIG bag of marbles) - these numbers are inclusive of the 'new' ballots discovered (336 apparently), or 'enhanced' during the process.

These marbles are uniformly distributed in the bag - like people, they are all mixed up together and there is no formulaic method to tell where one of the 336 new ballots came from or what precincts or demographics characterize those ballots that required 'enhancing'.

We don't know anything about 171 people who showed up at the time in Maplewood when the machine was failed. There isn't any reason to assume they should be distributed differently than the 1100 or so who had their votes already counted. So for this the binomial distribution should work as a method of asking the question "how likely is it, if the bag is 45% blue marbles (Franken), that in a pull of 171 marbles from the bag I would get 91 blue marbles?"

The answer is 0.6%, or about 168 to 1. That's about on a par with the odds you got in March 2008 on the Tampa Bay Rays winning the World Series. The Rays didn't beat those odds. Franken did. As we'll see, he won lots of longshots.


Now that is purely a forensic exercise. Critics of this piece will say that "well, you can't prove what happened in that precinct." And I can't. I'm not saying it's fraud. You can't tell that from this type of analysis. I'm just saying it's pretty unusual to get that draw of ballots in that particular precinct. If there was no other story, I would probably shrug it off as a curiosity.

But because the race is so close and because there have been other stories, I wondered: Could we use that type of analysis elsewhere? I haven't had a chance yet to drill down to the precinct level across the state. But the 87 counties of Minnesota make an interesting level of analysis. Overall the recount added 1572 votes for the two top candidates. You are right to wonder: How did they miss so many ballots? Wasn't there doublecounting? We'll get to that in a bit. But the idea is that sometimes machines miss ballots, and sometimes they get misread. Machines do make mistakes; if they didn't we'd never need a hand recount.

The added totals were 1056 to Franken and 516 to Coleman (total 1572; I'm not talking about any vote changes for Barkley and the rest.) 786 of these came from the dreaded "fifth pile" of wrongly rejected absentee ballots that the two campaigns agreed to.** The Coleman campaign is fighting for more. Given that those ballots broke 481-305 to Franken, again in a race where you'd think they'd go about 50-50, one might hope that the remaining ones, currently frozen out and awaiting adjudication, might lean towards Coleman.

As to the remainder, they still broke Franken's way 575 to 211. That's pretty staggering. Just think about that a minute. You flip a coin 786 times and it comes up heads 575 times. Would you think it's a fair coin? I took the post-election review county totals (which had Coleman +215) and the final recount totals from Monday (which, skipping the absentees, had Coleman -49), and used the same calculation as I just did for Maplewood P-6. The larger the number of ballots the better this calculation is, as the random draw story I'm using depends on not appreciably changing the proportion of Franken and Coleman votes pre- and post-recount. You can view the spreadsheet here.

Some counties cannot be used this way because the manual recount showed fewer votes; it's hard to undraw a marble from a bag. Those changes weren't too large, as you can see on the spreadsheet. Franken lost nine votes and Coleman seven in Washington County (Franken had 44% of the two-party vote); Franken lost ten and Coleman five in Clay County (Franken 48% of two-party share.)

Of the remainder (all county percentages are for two-party vote share), here are the five with the largest impact that added at least ten votes:
Five others had very low randomness probabilities: Cass; Kandiyohi; Pine; Polk; and Sherburne; but the changes there were six or less. In short, the result came from changes in three very Democratic counties that are implausibly tilted towards Franken. One of them by chance? Maybe. All three? About as likely as your next two NBA champions being the Timberwolves and Oklahoma City. Franken hit more than one longshot.


So where did it all go wrong for Norm? Did the Coleman campaign do a poorer job on its challenges than the Franken campaign? One hopes not. I could go back and look at the challenges for patterns and I might, but the randomness assumption is harder to hold for challenges.

Could it be this just shows that the larger cities have higher error rates in counting votes than the other areas? That is, could this all be fine and I'm just getting fooled by randomness, as it were? Yes, I suppose that's possible, though given the vitriol hurled at anyone who cast aspersions on Twin Cities election officials, it would be quite an admission. Should Secretary of State Ritchie initiate a review of why Hennepin, Ramsey and St. Louis counties had such large errors in counting? You'll forgive me if I don't hold my breath.

There is also the disturbing question about absentee ballots. Why did they break so badly against Coleman? Did the Franken campaign do a better job of kicking the Coleman-rich absentee ballots to the litigation phase than the Coleman campaign did? I don't know. One way to get at this might be to take the absentee ballot data by precinct, compare it to the vote shares in those precincts and see which were which.

Or it may be that, as I mentioned earlier, the challenge process favored Franken either by aggressiveness, legal skill, dumb luck, or something more nefarious. We may look at that process too. There are many places to look. But the point of this article is simple -- one has to wonder whether the recount got the vote right. I suspect it's the question nobody will really ever answer.

*--I have wondered how the election officials missed this on election night. Why didn't someone reconcile the count of votes on the tape to the count of signatures? It's not important to my story, so I've skipped over this. Maybe someone already has an explanation.

**--On our radio show Saturday, Sarah Janecek pointed, inter alia, to that decision as one of the things that will be addressed in the contest phase of the recount before a judicial panel. The datum offered might be evidence of the effect of that decision, in allowing one side to skew the absentee ballots. But I would not say more about this unless I knew the overall distribution of absentee balloting.

*** -- UPDATE (11:15am): Gary Gross points out to me that in the Times chat, someone mentioned the possibility that the ballot errors are due to senior citizens "that overwelmingly voted for Franken." Well, no. Over 65s broke 43-42 for Coleman, according to a STrib exit poll.

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Why I'm not watching the recount 

Polinaut has a good explanation:

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of challenged ballots that have been withdrawn from both campaigns. We're not certain if those ballots will be dedicated to Coleman, to Franken or to the Other pile. The Secretary of State's Office is working to process the withdrawn ballots and redeclare the vote to the call made by the local election official during the recount.

What makes things tougher is that the campaigns are now restoring some challenges that they withdrew earlier. They're doing this because they know that the board is acceptable to certain challenges. They are also withdrawing challenges that they know have no chance of being upheld.

So stop watching the recount, Leo! That's what they pay the lawyers for. I know some of the rulings are odd -- John Lott has used some pictures to show us how the count is going, though the results on the STrib website seem to get changed regularly -- but until we know how the withdrawn challenges are being added back into the totals, we have no bloody idea where the count is. Forgive my flippant-ness here; real-time data just tends to be real messy and there's a tendency to be fooled by randomness.

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Coleman Recount 

I've discussed the recount in the past (posted here).

The MN voting system actually is good. When overseas ballots and machine unreadable absentee ballots are received, a duplicate ballot is made, under very specific guidelines. The number of ballots marked as "duplicate" is supposed to be equal to the number of original ballots. Sometimes, the originals are lost (as in Lakeville P-10) but in the vast majority of cases, the number of originals and duplicates matched.

For most precincts the recount does find an equal number of duplicates and originals. But what do you do when the numbers do not match? In Dakota County, where I observed the entire process, Secretary Ritchie changed the rules multiple times. First, the recount was to count ballots that went through the machine, the duplicates; then originals; then the two party representatives were to agree on which set was to be counted. In addition to the changing rules, it appeared the Franken people knew in advance what was going to happen. Now, this last point could have been because they had better communication or maybe some other reason????

As the Dems argue, A is harmed if his vote is improperly rejected; but voter B is equally harmed if A's vote is counted twice. Therefore, you cannot count originals and duplicates. Heck, if this request is granted, any other close race in the state should have the same rules applied.

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

When Democrats Lose, Well, Sort Of........ 

In 2005, the Republican candidate for governor in WA won the "first" election but the vote was close enough that a mandatory recount was done. The Republican won the first recount, the next three recouts but the Democrats didn't quit until they found some ballots in a couch. Yep, a couch. The Democrat finally won with 136 (?) votes. After monnths, they �found� enough votes: homeless people claiming residency at government buildings, strange people voting�. Result, the democrat finally �won.� Sound familiar?

We�re seeing the same thing here. Mr. Ritchie now wants all those rejected absentee ballots revalued. Seems that all those city and county clerks and judges trained by the Secretary of State�s office couldn�t do their job right the first time. Is this "do-over" because Mr. Ritchie�s candidate is losing? If so, he undermines the very workers he trained for the election.

Sure he says he wants to be fair. Face it, if he did want to be fair, he wouldn�t undermine the election system by demanding that the very people he trained redo their jobs. Just how sloppy does he think they were? Ask this question � if the Republican candidate were behind, would these absurd gyrations be occurring? Would the majority of "found" votes have gone in Norm's favor, against all statistical probabilities? I doubt it.

Update Dec. 10 - appears some county legal groups refused to recount these already considered ballots; others are showing a meager 50+ in the "5th" pile. Point remains - most judges and clerks know what they are doing.

Update Dec. 13 - Is Franken getting what he wants from the canvassing board. If 133 missing ballots can be counted for Franken, the 9 votes for Senator Coleman from Lakeville's Precinct 10 should be counted. At least Lakeville HAD the ballots. The Lakeville discrepency was between originals and the duplicates run through the machines on Election Day. The duplicates were all there; one envelope of originals was missing. Franken got his way here, too - only the originals were counted. At one point in this process, only the ballots that went through the machine were to be counted. This changed during the recount. I know, I was there.

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

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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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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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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Friday, November 07, 2008

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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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

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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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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Friday, October 24, 2008

SCSU poll: Obama up 5, Coleman up 9 

(h/t: Michael)

The SCSU Survey, directed by some of our faculty but managed by SCSU students, reports that Barack Obama leads John McCain in the state by five percent. The poll had 509 voters. SC Times reported Larry Schumacher reports that the poll included cell phones (the report says 130) for the first time, but that they did not screen for registered or likely voters "because of Minnesota�s same-day voter registration laws." �The report shows that there's little difference in either margin when you use a registered screen, voted in 2006 screen, etc. �Read the survey for the evidence. �I find that result -- the screen didn't matter -- the most interesting part of the survey.

Interestingly, the party ID questions showed initially a 30-24 split for Democrats with 37 percent not identifying with either party. �When pushed by the surveyer, the party ID gap for Democrats widens to 42-34. �

The survey's margin of error at this size is +/- 4.6%.

I know one of the survey directors, Department of Political Science chair Prof. Steve Frank, reads this blog from time to time, so questions you put here may be answered by him rather than me. �

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Monday, October 13, 2008

What if we threw a debate and nobody came? 

We keep hearing that people want to discuss the issues and get away from personal attacks. Fine, I thought, let's have a discussion of the Employee Free Choice Act (discussed early last summer here and here). So we invited the DFL, its chairman Brian Melendez, or any representative of Senate candidate Al Franken, to debate us. They filed a complaint instead; when it was marked incomplete, they filed another. It was returned as without merit. I had thought at that point, well, maybe they would debate us. Finally we decided we'd schedule a debate and hope someone showed up.

Drove down to St. Paul in crappy weather, and nobody showed up. (At least we have a gorgeous late afternoon back here in the Cloud!) I'd like to thank Congressional candidate Ed Matthews and a cameraman from WCCO for showing up. My comments focused on this as a free speech issue: the decision to unionize is too important to be left to a conversation that doesn't include both sides. This is recognized in the most recent Supreme Court case (Chamber of Commerce v Brown,) that "Congress struck a balance of protection, prohibition, and laissez-faire in respect to union organization, collective bargaining, and labor disputes.� (quoting Cox (1972)). Congress could of course choose to change that balance: that's what EFCA does. But unions currently win 57% of organizing elections when they choose to go to them. Doesn't that sound fair enough to you? Do you think they should win 75%? 90%? Why? That's the debate.

The issue matters. In his new stump speech featured today, Senator McCain reminds us the consequences of electing Senator Obama to the presidency:
We have 22 days to go. We're six points down. The national media has written us off. Senator Obama is measuring the drapes and planning with Speaker Pelosi and Senator Reid to raise taxes, increase spending � take away your right to vote by secret ballot and labor elections, and concede defeat in Iraq � and concede defeat in Iraq.
Emphasis mine. Donald Lambro has already pointed out Senator Obama's support for what was referred to as the Employee Forced Choice Act. I wonder if Senator McCain is planning on using this line of attack in Wednesday's debate? I'm pretty sure it did not come up in the first two.

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Unfavorable deductions 

The hearing on the EFCA ads was held on my father's birthday, and I was in the Boston area at the time. I thought it would be hilarious if I was taken into custody the following Monday.
Other prisoner: What are you in for, son?
Me: Unfavorable deduction about Al Franken.
OP (sliding slowly away): You're his accountant?
(With apologies to Arlo Guthrie.)

As Michael posted yesterday, the complaint was dismissed (he's again posted the Order of Dismissal.) He notes the silence (also evidenced by the lack of posts on the subject found on the BlogNetNews aggregator for the state) of other bloggers who had accused others of lying.

What is "an unfavorable deduction"? The ad states that the Employee Free Choice Act would have eliminated a worker's right to a secret ballot. The defense has been that secret ballots could still happen. True, but as the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace notes yesterday in its press release announcing the dismissal:
Under EFCA, the NLRB must recognize the union without an election if a majority of workers sign an authorization card identifying who they are. Once the 50% threshold has been crossed, the statute is unequivocal in its command: "the [NLRB] shall not direct an election but shall certify the individual or organization as the labor representative."
Could the organizers still seek a secret ballot? Yes they could ... but under what circumstances would we expect them to do so? If they can just get that 50%+1 for signatures, they can dispense with the ballot, and the costs of campaigning, and not ever face the counterarguments against unionization. The cost of proceeding past 30% -- the threshold at which you can seek the ballot -- is relatively small and the benefits large. If they don't think they can get 50%+1 votes, they won't ask for the ballot. If they can get the votes, they can also get the signatures. And there is the distinct possibility that one could get 50%+1 signatures in a card-check campaign without getting 50%+1 votes in a secret ballot. So I would argue that it is highly unlikely a union would ever seek the election option. Justin Wilson of the Employee Free Action Committee makes the same point.

That's what the administrative law judge calls "an unfavorable deduction." And that's what Brian Melendez was calling a lie, and what the DFL was saying should be prevented from the airwaves in a country that still has the First Amendment.

I am quite willing to still debate the analysis and facts of EFCA with Mr. Melendez at any place, at any time. I can come by the DFL booth at the State Fair, if he was of a mind to agree to that. I don't expect he will, though, and you can draw your own unfavorable deduction from that.

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Monday, August 11, 2008

At least he got a good meal 

I would have been happy to show up to visit with Al Franken as only one other person did, but I was out of town. Not because I support Al, but because the french toast and hash browns at Brigitte's are awesome.

To Duane's comment that "Maybe there is record low unemployment in St. Cloud" I would reply, no, unemployment is an issue here, even though we've got a place charging $3.49 for a gallon of gas. I suspect it's simpler than that -- with the Benton County Fair going on across town, the DFL faithful answered a different cattle call.

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Friday, July 25, 2008

You're not good enough, not smart enough, to save for your retirement 

Visiting St. Cloud yesterday to promote his "Kitchen Table Tax Plan", Al Franken had a bit of trouble explaining his plan to end IRAs and replace them with a 401(u) plan.

The retirement plan would be funded by eliminating an existing income tax deduction for Individual Retirement Accounts for people who participate in the new program, which would be voluntary, Franken said.

�Tax deductions help people who make the most money, but they don�t help those who don�t make enough to pay income taxes to begin with,� he said. �I think Social Security will still be around years from now if we don�t privatize it, but we need something else to help people save for their retirement.�

Pressed to explain how a voluntary system could raise enough money to pay the subsidy if those with higher incomes who benefit more from existing deductions don�t switch, Franken referred people to his campaign Web site and said �it�s a wash.�

Well, OK, we went to his web page about his 401(u).
What would it cost?
The shift from tax deductions to matching contributions is close to revenue-neutral.
That's the entire entry for "What would it cost?" Oh, that's MUCH clearer now.

The 401(u) isn't a new concept. It's the "automatic in, opt out" plan that Obama has been pushing. It requires employers to take a portion of a worker's check and put it into a plan, where it receives a 30% match from government (in the Franken plan), if the company doesn't have a retirement plan for employees (and has more than 10 employees.) This relies heavily on the idea from behavioral economics that people do not often enough choose to save. If this is true, why does the Franken plan allow families to"shape their account to fit their unique needs"? If they aren't smart enough to opt in, how are they supposed to do that? The funds would at the outset be placed in "responsibly in low-cost, diverse portfolios." Who chooses those?

Mark Thoma wrote about such plans (when a Republican supported them for Social Security):
In general, I hate opt-out programs. I don�t want to spend my time filling out forms and checking boxes telling people all the things I don�t want to buy. If I�m convinced there is market failure in the market for bicycles resulting in too few being purchased, is the proper solution to drop bicycles in people�s yards unless they remember to send in the proper paperwork? I remember being in music clubs like that when I was younger� Maybe a better answer is to work a little harder on the incentives and ease of opting-in.

Last, I worry we have forgotten the Lucas critique yet again. Change the rules and change the behavior. I can imagine that if you impose opt-out now when it is uncommon participation might be high. But as it becomes more common and institutionalized people will more easily opt-out. In addition, it also seems participation rates will fall in the long-run as people hit financial stress points. If you can opt-out at will, then the first time a family faces financial distress, they will likely opt-out. Unless they are somehow brought back into the program later, participation rates will fall as time passes and revenues may not meet projected values.

I agree with Thoma, though see Beshears et al [2006] for a more positive report. Someone pointed out to me as well that one of Franken's justifications for this bill is that the tax deductibility of the 401k isn't a value to about half the workers in America, because they don't pay any or too few taxes. How ironic that it would be Franken to point out one of the effects of the Bush tax cuts!

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

"I protest your invitation" 

I've written twice before on the Orwellian-named Employee Free Choice Act, which would make the heretofore voluntary agreement between workers and firms to use card-check systems (allowing a union to be recognized as sole bargaining agent for all workers if a majority of workers sign cards agreeing to be so represented) binding on firms who do not agree. Firms currently can request a vote to be administered by NLRB; those workers who do not wish to be unionized would have the opportunity, along with the firm, to argue why a union would not be in workers' best interest, and a vote would be held with workers' privacy protected by the NLRB. No such protections are provided under the proposed card-check program. Those who did not sign the card, or those who were not even approached by union organizers, would find themselves in a union, obligated to pay dues, without recourse, without a check or balance. The equivalent would be to imagine you waking one morning and reading in your newspaper that organizers had gone to other homes, had others sign a card that signified that they wanted King Banaian to be president of the United States, and that because they had enough cards signed, Banaian was now president without any further action required. You've never heard me talk, you don't know my views, but I now represent you on Pennsylvania Avenue. That'd be pretty bizarre, yes?

After the DFL accused the ad put out by the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace (the TV ad was put out by them alone) of falsehoods, I wrote a letter to DFL state party chair Brian Melendez to invite him to debate the issue. We had recorded Al Franken answers twice to be sure we understood his views on the bill, and by their own admission Franken supports EFCA. So we assumed the debate would be on the merits of the bill. A discussion of the issue, I thought, might be a refreshing change to thirty-second ads.

So imagine my surprise last night to find out that the DFL would rather file a complaint. They'd rather debate through lawyers than in the state capitol. We are, of course, happy to have this debate any place Chairman Melendez chooses, but isn't it interesting that he needs to employ lawyers to assist his side?

We appreciate the coverage by the news and bloggers (Andy's post has both of the TV ads; I bet he watches them on his iPhone.) And we don't intend to go away; a new ad is running from us today.

A statement put out by J. Justin Wilson, managing director of the Employee Freedom Action Committee, said in a prepared statement,
It appears that Mr. Melendez is complicit in the scheme to deceive the public and take away working Minnesotans� right to a private ballot vote. The irony of Mr. Melendez�s �complaint� is that he is the one who is misleading the people of Minnesota in order to advance a union boss� power grab that will generate millions in new forced dues dollars.

If Mr. Melendez truly cared about the best interests of working Minnesotans he would reject these absurd political games and agree to a substantive public debate on the private vote issue.
I reiterate that invitation, Chairman Melendez. I'm available almost any day in the month of August.

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Monday, July 21, 2008

My opponent gave you stuff 

A few nights ago I found my name in a post by fellow St. Cloud blogger "Political Muse", noting my opposition to sports stadia and wondering how I can square that with supporting Sen. Coleman's bid for re-election. I've met the senator and asked some tough questions of him in blogger conference calls, but I didn't know him as a mayor and thus never had the opportunity or incentive to ask his view of stadium subsidies. I did comment on Muse's post that in view of Franken's writings in Playboy I would find it much easier to vote for the re-election of Coleman.

Michael reports this morning that the Franken campaign has gone so far as to release an ad deriding Coleman's support of building the Xcel Energy Center.

I find the Franken campaign's choice odd. The reason these stadia keep getting public dollars is because the public believes somehow -- mistakenly, in the view of economists, but this is hardly the first time the public has chosen to ignore the economists -- that they are of benefit to a city and would be underprovided by private financing alone. Pointing out that Norm took from Peter to give to Paul is hardly a way to gain Paul's support in voting against Norm. There may be, there might be, a few Peters who are persuaded by the ad, but if that were true these stadium deals would not keep gaining passage. And support for hockey is enough in this state that even outstate arenas like St. Cloud and Bemidji draw public funding.

I wish there was a spokesman for the economists' view of public financing of sports stadia, but I don't think Al Franken is the right guy for that job either.

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Friday, July 11, 2008

Sign here, buddy 

I don't watch the Sopranos, but I get this:
An ad ran yesterday in the StarTribune from the Minnesotans for Employee Freedom, for which I am a member of its steering committee. The ads have drawn some attention from the press this week as the first issue ad in Minnesota.

It's worth thinking a bit more about this issue: What is wrong with card check? I got a card to join AARP recently; I didn't have to fill out a secret ballot on whether AARP could represent me or not. But unions are not voluntary organizations. If 50% plus one of my fellow employees sign a card for a union, the rest of us are compelled to make it our agent for the terms and conditions of our employment. We would give away a great deal of control to our fellow workers if they were permitted to simply get 50%+1 of employees to sign cards. I would argue that a private ballot in voting for giving someone agency rights over our voluntary association with an employer is higher-stakes than our vote in a Presidential election (since the group is so much smaller, our ballot has a much higher probability of being decisive.) You might wonder why unions would be opposed to secret ballots; my answer is "cui bono?"

As I pointed out last month, and as the new ad makes clear, voting in public is coercive. Often union representatives have access to personal information about employees in a shop they want to organize, including home addresses and phone numbers, by which they can repeatedly visit and hope for a signature in a weak moment. Consider a couple of examples. From the Man Show, a spoof was done to get women to sign a petition that would "end women's suffrage." Of course, you hear that word and if not careful think "suffering" and what woman wouldn't want to end suffering? The result is, they just signed a petition to give up their right to vote.

The other is from Penn&Teller's Bullshit program, which is a petition to get dihydrogen monoxide banned. Sounds like awful stuff, until Teller draws for you what it is. Passion overcomes reason when someone is jamming a clipboard or a card in your face asking "only" for your signature.
Remember, nobody gets to talk to you when the fellow with the card comes to visit. EFCA says that employers will be found guilty of violating the National Labor Relations Act if they should interfere with a card check drive. Interfering could be anything including signs or pamphlets advising against signing cards. This after that employee and employer had already entered into a voluntary agreement. The choice is asymmetric -- laws make it much harder to remove an existing union than to create a new one. Should that agreement be abrogated by Johnny Sack with a clipboard?

UPDATE: I had not seen until someone commented on it the "Reality Check" by Pat Kessler. Kessler is misleading on two points.
The bill that Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Al Franken supports does not eliminate the secret ballot election. Workers still have the right to hold one but labor unions say the new option gives employers less control.
We've cited what the bill says, and we're happy that Kessler agrees that Franken supports HR 800/S 1041. But unions have a strong preference for card check -- which they can only get by agreement with the employer currently. EFCA removes the ability of the employer to negotiate after the cards reach 50%+1. The National Right to Work Legal Foundation has analyzed all union elections and card checks since a case was decided in favor of employees having access to information from their employers. Over 250 were done by card check since November 2007 (basically, a six month period; the last data I saw had about 2500 elections a year by 2005.) As it is, unions win a majority of elections when they are held, 57% between 2001 and 2005. According to data from the liberal Center for Economic Policy Research, perhaps a quarter of all workers organized were through card check. But obviously that's not enough because...
You can agree or disagree with the motive of the bill, but the effect is that it would make it easier to form a union. That's why labor unions want it so badly. Union membership is plummeting.
Unions are not entitled to a share of the labor force. As the traditional manufacturing sectors have declined and as service sector jobs become more high-tech and professional, it is only reasonable that union membership would decline. Union membership is also declining in Sweden, hardly a bastion of free market capitalism. Kessler misleads by implying that employers in the US have been more successful in reducing unionism against the wishes of their workers. There's no evidence that would support that claim.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Franken, spending your money on the union man 

Al Franken thinks your stimulus check is a mistake. I could buy that, if he was going to say that it just implies higher taxes later so it won't really stimulate. But no, that's not what he's saying.
As he embarked on a tour of Minnesota focused on the economy, Franken said he was "not thrilled" with the $168 billion economic rescue package Congress approved in February.

While stopping short of saying he would have voted against the plan, Franken said he would have preferred more emphasis on helping states and municipalities move ahead with deferred repairs to highways, bridges and sewer systems.

"It would have the benefit of putting people to work, which is what you need to do in a recession," Franken told reporters at a state Capitol news conference. "And it would have the added benefit of actually repairing some infrastructure, which is also good for our economy."
Dollars spent put people to work, but dollars drained to pay for those workers puts other workers out of work. Which ones does he favor? The ones that are in the construction industry. These are both temporary jobs and they are unionized. Those ads playing on Twin Cities television right now blaring how good unions are for us all, are the friends of Al Franken.

Which makes him not the friend of those of us who have to pay those workers.

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Thursday, February 07, 2008

Franken Style Healthcare = Rationed Care, Socialism 

King has a long post questioning Al Franken's proposal for universal health care. Below is important information people should know before buying the rhetoric of politicians who want to control us.

Before addressing specific fallacies of so called "single payor" (ie government) systems, check this site that includes a graph that corrects life expectancy data for differences in the rates of premature death from non-health-related injury, such as homicide and car accidents. Once these non-health-related injuries are excluded, Americans live longer than anyone else, even with our obesity problem.

First, the hospital infrastructure in England is deteriorating rapidly. Why? Prior to National Healthcare, hospitals were run by private operations and charities who made it a point to maintain and upgrade the infrastructure. There never have been nor are there plans in the British system to update these hospitals. When any institution refuses to build in preventive maintenance, sooner or later the structure will become unsafe. (Source is Weekly Standard). No politician has any incentive to include maintenance funds in any program he/she uses to "buy" votes.

Second, this article by Mark Steyn outlines major problems with the Canadian health care system. The entire article is good; the healthcare issues appear at the end. A key quote below:

Canadian dependence on the United States is particularly true in health care, the most eminent Canadian idea looming in the American context. That is, public health care in Canada depends on private health care in the U.S. A small news story from last month illustrates this:

A Canadian woman has given birth to extremely rare identical quadruplets. The four girls were born at a U.S. hospital because there was no space available at Canadian neonatal intensive care units. Autumn, Brook, Calissa, and Dahlia are in good condition at Benefice Hospital in Great Falls, Montana. Health officials said they checked every other neonatal intensive care unit in Canada, but none had space. The Jepps, a nurse and a respiratory technician were flown 500 kilometers to the Montana hospital, the closest in the U.S., where the quadruplets were born on Sunday.

There you have Canadian health care in a nutshell. After all, you can�t expect a G-7 economy of only 30 million people to be able to offer the same level of neonatal intensive care coverage as a town of 50,000 in remote, rural Montana.

Everyone knows that socialized health care means you wait and wait and wait�six months for an MRI, a year for a hip replacement, and so on. But here is the absolute logical reductio of a government monopoly in health care: the ten month waiting list for the maternity ward.
Third, there are numerous stories of people being denied health care because of government rationing. Age could be a factor as well as time of year. If you require surgery but the doctor has performed his alloted operations for the year, he can perform no more, period. As my friend's friend said, "You can get diagnosed but can't get treatment - (Canadians) try to treat everything with drugs and pain killers." The email listed example after example after example. When a government rations doctors' pay, by definition they ration services. This talk sounds good but ....

There's a reason Canadians and others around the world come to the USA for surgery. Our system is better, our hospitals are in better shape, and we have access when needed, not on some government timetable.

It is grossly unfair and unjust when a politician promises something that cannot be delivered by a government as well as it can be delivered today by the private sector.

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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Is health care going to be THE issue? 

At least in one race, it appears so.
Al Franken, the comedian-turned-U.S. Senate candidate, thinks the current state of health care in Minnesota � and the United States as a whole � is anything but funny.

�Every other industrialized country in the world has universal health care � we�re the only industrialized country that doesn�t � and I think it�s no coincidence that we spend twice as much per person as any other industrialized country on health care,� Franken said during a visit to the Detroit Lakes Newspapers offices on Friday. �And yet we don�t have as good outcomes as they do.

�We�re last in the industrialized world in preventive care. We have 47 million people who are uninsured, with tens of millions more who are underinsured because they can�t afford full coverage � and they live in fear that they will go bankrupt if they have a medical crisis. Medical crises are the No. 1 cause of bankruptcy in this country.

�Fifty percent of the bankruptcies in this country are caused by medical crises. They don�t have that in other industrialized countries.�

Franken also notes that the current health care system has �tremendous waste,� with 34 percent of health care dollars being spent on administrative fees.

�No other country spends more than 21 percent (on administrative fees),� he said. �We have people going to work every day for insurance companies trying to figure out how to deny you care.

�I hear story after story of incredible waste in our system because we aren�t universal.�

Where do we start with this hooey? Let's look at a couple of leading examples, say, Sweden:
Health Minister G�ran H�gglund has criticized the lack of progress made toward shortening wait times in Sweden�s health system.

He made the comments in an opinion article published in Dagens Nyheter in which he stated that the 250 million kronor spent by the government on lowering wait times has apparently had a little effect.

The criticism comes in response to a report by the National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen) showing that nearly 45 percent of patients have longer wait times than are supposedly guaranteed by the healthcare system.
In J�mtland county, for example, four out of ten patients couldn�t even get through to their local clinic by telephone on the day they become ill.

H�gglund asserted that people are generally satisfied with the care provided�when they receive it.

�But the wait to receive attention�be it a telephone call to a local clinic or a first visit to a physician�is simply too long,� he said.
Hat tip Mark Perry, who wonders what would happen to Domino's or Northwest Airlines if four out of ten of their customers couldn't get their calls answered.

Next door in Norway, hospitals are suffering a budget crisis. This is worth reading in its entirety, but I will italicize the paragraph that should be used as a clue-bat to the back of Al Franken's noggin:
With waiting lists long, and patients still often lying in corridors, many Norwegians can't understand why medical care is under so much pressure in one of the world's wealthiest countries.

The board of Ullev�l University Hospital in Oslo, one of the country's biggest public health institutions, announced earlier this week that it needed to cut its budget by NOK 406 million (about USD 81 million). Medical personnel were quick to claim that patient care would be affected.

The cuts come after another year of reports that patients often have to wait months for operations, that clinics face shutdown or maternity patients are sent home within hours of birth. The physical plant at Ullev�l, like at many other Norwegian hospitals, can use some refurbishing, if for no other reason than to make the hospital a more cheerful, inviting place.

State officials, including Health Minister Sylvia Brustad of the Labour Party, argue that the hospitals are receiving more state funding than ever before, and that more patients are being cared for than ever. Nevertheless, cuts are warned and both hospital administrators and union leaders claim they're dealing with yet another health care "crisis."

Newspaper Aftenposten has gathered figures showing that Norwegian hospitals today have NOK 86 billion available, up from NOK 56 billion in 2002. Even though budgets have increased every year, the hospitals are using more money than they're getting. That's led to an accumulated budget deficit of around NOK 9 billion.

The number of doctors tied to Norwegian hospitals rose from 6,700 in 1995 to 10,854 in 2006, up 62 percent. The number of nurses and psychologists on staff has also increased, while administrative personnel has increased the least. The total number of hospital workers in Norway jumped from 67,098 in 1995 to 94,923 in 2006, with payroll costs jumping 70 percent.

Professor Terje Hagen of a health management and economic institute at the University of Oslo claims there is no crisis within Norwegian health care. "The hospitals have had tighter financial constraints in recent years, but they're still using more resources than planned," Hagen told Aftenposten.

Hagen says health care personnel aren't working as many hours as they did before, and notes there's more of them. Professor Ivar S�nb� Kristiansen puts the financial problems firmly on the rise in personnel and the resulting payroll hikes. He also rejects talk of a crisis.

"As I see it, neither hospital personnel nor politicians manage to say 'no' (to health care services that result in higher costs)," Kristiansen said. "When the possibilities for what can be done just get bigger and bigger, and no one sets priorities, budgets will burst.

"It's virtually immoral to talk about a crisis, when we are among the countries using the most money on hospitals in the world."
The budget that bursts is not the hospital's, in universal care. It's yours.

Now of course, Franken's supporters will argue that he doesn't really want single-payer, even though his health-care page says "A single-payer system would be the most effective in terms of reducing administrative costs, and I would be thrilled to support such a system." He just wants it for kids under 18 (that's the Obama plan, too.) But even his plan for adults -- every state mandated to come up with its own plan -- creates a problem that Glen Whitman identified a few months ago:
To enact any mandate, legislators and bureaucrats must specify a minimum benefits package that an insurance policy must cover. Yet this package can't be defined in an apolitical way. Each medical specialty, from oncology to acupuncture, will push for its services to be included. Ditto other interest groups. In government, bloat is the rule, not the exception.

Even now, every state has a list of benefits that any health-insurance policy must cover--from contraception to psychotherapy to chiropractic to hair transplants. All states together have created nearly 1,900 mandated benefits. Of course, more generous benefits make insurance more expensive. A 2007 study estimates existing mandates boost premiums by more than 20%.

If interest groups have found it worthwhile to lobby 50 state legislatures for laws affecting only voluntarily purchased insurance policies, they will surely redouble their efforts to affect the contents of a federally mandated insurance plan. Consequently, even more people will find themselves unable to afford insurance. Others will buy insurance, but only via public subsidies. Isn't that just what the doctor didn't order?
Who is going to write the mandate that says hair transplants are out? That physical therapy for a chronically arthritic shoulder is limited to only ten times a year, or that condoms are in but that new fancy IUD is out?

And what happens if you mandate that everyone buy their own health insurance, and they don't? As Whitman points out, in the 47 states with mandatory auto insurance, 12% of autos are uninsured -- a higher percentage than persons without health insurance in Minnesota. And in a third of the cases nationwide, the uninsured had household income over $50,000. (Source.)

(BTW, Arnold Kling recommends this excellent article, but it's a 7 MB pdf, so beware.)

The question comes down, as Grace-Marie Turner says, to whether you let individuals control their own care, or you let government. Sweden and Norway use government, and Al Franken thinks that's a good idea. Luckily for those Republicans suffering palpitations on their choice of presidential nominee, all of the remaining GOP candidates are not for the Scandinavian model of health care. John McCain says "To use their money effectively, Americans need more choices."

Here, by the way, is Norm Coleman's health care page. I don't see any mention of Sweden.

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