Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Disconnects in the EU

This morning's Wall Street Journal (Subscription Required) has a long article on the dynamics of the votes on the European consitution. Most interesting is a chart showing who voted oui and non. The chart, based on exit polling data, suggests that there was an relationship between income and a yes vote - the more income, the higher propensity to vote oui.

Two responses could be taken from that. The first, is certainly what many in Brussels would take, that there is a correlation between education/income and a yes vote. The second, which, IMHO, is a bit more reliable is a bit more complex.

When I first started working in Mexico I noticed two phenonema in public markets. First, the price of small leather coin purses tracked pretty closely to the value of the peso. As the value fluctuated the price also did. I noticed it because, even then with very limited Spanish, the price was close to a buck. Other commodities were not as responsive - at least as I could see in an informal look - but the street vendors seemed to be pretty saavy on this commodity. The second was even more amazing. In Oaxaca there is a large outdoor Sunday market called Tlacalaula (Click here for great pictures) in a period over a couple of years in the 1990s - as the value of the peso fluctuated pretty wildly, the vendors made an interesting change in their habits. At one point, when the peso was floating pretty dynamically the vendors would give a premium to Americans who flashed dollars. They actually changed their prices and offered a discount that amounted to something close to 20% for people who pulled dollars out. If the price was 100 pesos and a person pulled out dollars - it dropped to the equivalent of 80 pesos (the peso was in the range of 7-8 at the time). But a year later when the value of the peso had settled, the vendors exchanged the dollar for its common equivalent - less an arbitrage calculation. I watched both of these happening too often to think that this was a coordinated action.

The OUI voters in Sunday's referendum suffered from two disabilities. First, they may have gotten too much from the traditional media - they actually believed that a bureaucratically drafted document would be helpful (which is what a lot of the traditional media were saying). Second, they are more insulated from the day to day effects of the nannyism that is Brussels. The regulatory impediments of a several hundred page constitution could be substantial - look at the complexity of living with our short document. Length does not breed clarity.

There is a well established concern in our history for avoiding the Passions of the People(Federalist #10 but that concern does not mean that the people do not get things right in many instances. In this case the real importance of the vote on Sunday was a recognition that if the elites move too fast in trying to homogenize, the voters will say "non" - too bad the other voters did not have the chance to say "nein" or "αριθ."

dEUmocracy - only real if you follow my rules

The Dutch PM, Jan Peter Balkenende’s has added some conditions to accept a no vote on the EU constitution set for Wednesday. To be qualified as a "real" vote - turnout must reache at least 30 % and the no vote must be 55%. It is reassuring that some European leaders are able to guide their "constituents" so precisely. This is a new definition of democracy.

The NYT presents a comment from a Marshall Fund official that clarifies the situation - "This is a kick in the pants for the French and for the political class in Europe, one that's overdue and badly needed," said Ronald D. Asmus, executive director of the German Marshall Fund's Transatlantic Center in Brussels. "This whole project hasn't been bringing people on board, and lots of problems were being papered over. At some point, people realized there was too much papering over." I guess that is not true in the Netherlands.

Monday, May 30, 2005

The EU Constitution as a Reinheitsgebot

The defeat of the proposed EU Constitution by the French on Sunday should not come as a surpise. Constitutions are interesting things. The best are not like the German beer purity laws (Reinheitsgebot) or the French laws on cheese. They establish working conditions that allow a society to operate. The beer laws specified when and how beer should be made and consumed - differentiating rules for summer and winter. The French rejection and the upcoming Dutch one are signs that the drafters did not get it right.

The EU has been touted for the last several years as something a lot more than it is. It is a pretty good free trade zone - with some rough edges. It is not a growing community - although there are many similarities in approach (economic growth for one - the EU countries commit a lot of their resources to governmental solutions and a lot less to economic growth) there are also wide divisions among the partners on fundamental issues of culture and even how to interact.

What the EU has gotten right in the last several decades is an increasing ability to talk - Europeans, as opposed to Americans, are much better at speaking another language. But the bureaucrats in Brussels have claimed to much, certainly much more than they should. Keeping the internal parts of Europe from bickering into wars is no small task - and the rest of the world should be appreciative. Even the unification of currencies is a bit of a reach. But beyond that seems just a bit of talk.

One observer got it right - Roman Prodi, the former president of the European Commission, "This is still better than a war of secession like the United States once had," he said in a telephone interview. "I'm serious now. We must keep this perspective in mind. We don't have a treaty, but we also don't have wars." OK, but the people like Prodi suggested that rejection would mean the end of the Union - of course it will not - but the definitions will certainly change.

If you want to read what was rejected, or you are suffering from insomnia see the proposed European Constitution

There is a good post explaining some of the dynamics of the election which includes the electoral map (with a RED-Non and Blue- Oui division - mostly RED) at Powerline

Friday, May 27, 2005

Third Test

Mason and his dad Pete, originally uploaded by drtaxsacto.

Ever the economist- this is our son Pete and his son Mason (and my wife in the background). OK so among the three which builds readership the most and why - no prizes but any responses will be welcomed.

Alternative Test

Mason, originally uploaded by drtaxsacto.

This is an alternative to the prior test. This is our grandson Mason.

A Test

originally uploaded by drtaxsacto.
This is a test. Some of my daughter's friends read my blog this week (thanks) and suggested that I would get even higher readership if I published her picture. So here is a picture - and even as her father (an unbiased observer) this one does not do her justice. I am going to temporarily reopen comments to see what you think. Please note- this and the following two posts are not based on size of the picture - this one is from a smaller file and thus smaller - I could post a bigger one of Emily.

"Investing in the Right Ideas"

At the WSJ, James Piereson did a wonderful article today about the flows of ideas and funding from foundations for conservative causes. It is a long article but details how a small investment in ideas created a tremendous stir in society. Pierson divides this level of funding into three phases - an early one where Hayek is predominant and a latter one with more conscious attention to morals rather than economics where ideas turned a bit less libertarian (Piereson calls this less utopian and theoretical) - thus the ideas ventured into areas like the humanities and religion.

What is striking about his analysis is that the relative investment by conservatives - from the early phases like the Liberty and Volker Funds to Anthony Fisher (in the UK) to the later period when foundations like Bradley and Olin and Scaife took over - is tiny when compared to the investments of the more liberal foundations.

This article should be read in conjunction with the recent one by Andrew Sullivan in the New Republic - which appeared in the May 2 issue and divides the conservatives into the politics of doubt and the politics of faith. I tend to think that Sullivan is a bit overly simple on his divisions - all dichotomies are false including this one - but when read with Piereson - you have a full set of the cross cuts in how conservatives got to where they are.

By the way, a plug for the New Republic online. It is well worth the less than $30 per year for a subscription - their emails of both the weekly edition and special articles come efficiently. While there is a lot that I do not agree with in TNR - there is also a lot of very good and interesting writing - you can subscibe to TNR at The New Republic Online Ditto for Commentary and their online subscription.

The original article can be found at the WSJ Investing in the Right Ideas
or in Commentary at Commentary

The Sullivan article can be seen at NEW REPUBLIC

The Role of State Owned Media in the Internet Age

The BBC RSS summaries has an article on the role of the internet on the French referendum on Sunday. It suggests that in France there are beginning to be a wider range of voices and there is noticable discontent about the one sided visions from the traditional media. Sunday's vote looks increasingly close. Oddly, as noted above this story was in the BBC. The same page also carries a note that Chancellor Schroeder pushed the EU ratification through the Bundesrat.

There is a parallel in the US with the fight on balance in PBS. One need only listen to the snide giggles about almost anything conservative to understand the focus and bias of that network. In an age when the ability of almost anyone has the chance to communicate - what justification can there be for significant state support for a media outlet - beyond the millions we spend for the spinners in all public offices?

Click here for the BBC STORY

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

The EU (Pronounced OOOH)

The German ambassador is quoted -

"As older societies, we tend to think of ourselves as more experienced in the way societies evolve, and we tend to be skeptical of Americans who seem to think that if you believe hard enough, and you muster enough resources, you can change the world...In the last year or so, as we've engaged in discussions about the transformation of the Middle East and democracy, I have told my American friends that the region in this world that has seen the most transformation and change is Central and Eastern Europe--without shedding a drop of blood. So don't preach to us. And don't think transformative change will work according to mechanistic rules. This is very complicated. Changing the way people think often has to do with religious and cultural issues--we tend to think of them as long-term, and Americans think, Let's solve the problem in the next four years!"

Let's see GDP growth in the EU is roughly one third of that in the US, and unemployment is consistently several clicks about the US rate. Or did the ambassador understand anything about Kosovo? (I guess that was bloodless.) So much for the older societies experience.


Over at Instapundit Glenn Reynolds comments about Neolibertarianism. This is an interesting discussion of a group that is basically skeptical of the all of the current political configurations - too much of a good thing is almost always bad. The view of neolibertarians is summarized at the following post - NEOLIBERTARIANS DEFINED

In the domestic arena the choices that would differentiate these people from demublicans or remocrats would include the following: The choice that maximizes personal liberty is the best choice. The policy choice that offers the least amount of necessary government intervention or regulation is the best choice. The policy choice that provides rational, market-based incentives is the best choice.

There is a blog http://www.neolibertarian.net/ NEOLIBBLOG in case you want to check out how the ideas are developing.

The State of Kalifornia - The Governor and his Reforms

This morning I went to the Golden State Breakfast (formerly called the Host Breakfast) which is in its 79th year. It is an event that presents the business community with the Governor. Only once in all that time has the Governor failed to show.

For those in the political class that think the Governor is in decline, they might want, as Fagin suggested to "think it out again" - obviously this is a partisan group but he was still good. As noted when I saw him do Crossfire, he is great at staying on message. But in this case he was not only good at that (not a hard job here) but also testing some messages for the four themes he wants to pursue in the Special Election. He did a good job of reciting what has happened in the last 12 months - for example - last year, he claimed, the legislature wanted to increase taxes by $5 billion - yet he argued that we could grow the economy to get us out of the budget problem. He then said they want to do it again - even though state revenues have grown by $6 billion -" they still want more."

He restruck the "reform" agenda he has been using all spring - but with a special vigor. Each of his comments could be repackaged in a good sound bite or into speeches. On redistricting - "You'd think if we can fight for democracy in Iraq that we should also pursue it in California." On the education reforms - "We have unions for teachers and nurses and all sorts of other public employees but where is the union for the students?" On the budget package (Live within our means) - he did a great cut at the history of the legislature since 1998 and whether they deserve the 12% payraise the commission granted them yesterday. He had a string of one liners that are perfect for repackaging - "Power is not with the money of the unions but with your vote."

I was reminded a lot about the history of California around the turn of the last century and the efforts of Hiram Johnson and the progressives that brought us a political legacy that lasted almost 40 years. This will obviously be a big fight - this afternoon the unions are coming to the Capitol to rally - all wearing SEIU purple. But this is one area where the size of the group and the size of the bankroll may not tell the story of what will resonate with voters.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Carly in Detroit

The Ex-CEO of HP talked to the Detroit Economic Club and speculated that she would next take a job in public service - presumably with the notion that if you can screw up a good company, you should be able to offer your services to government. She said in her speech, sitting on a $21.1 million severence package, that "Winning will not be a matter of destiny. It is going to be a matter of decision." That is about right but when one looks at most of her decisions - one wonders what her conception of winning is. She also threatened to write a book. I wish she would just go quietly away. I suspect all of the greatful shareholders of HP have the same thoughts.

Monday, May 23, 2005

The Nuclear Option and .533 ball

Tonight the Senate averted a constitutional crisis by putting together a middle group of senators who said they will consider the nominees carefully and only filibuster in "extraordinary circumstances." Unfortunately, the group includes such luminaries as "Sheets" Byrd. The NYT described this group as "moderates, mavericks and senior statesmen." Presumably, that group is a good thing. Sheets commented "We have kept the republic." The minority leader suggested ""abuse of power will not be tolerated, and attempts to trample the Constitution and grab absolute control are over." Neither of these comments offers me much optimism about the reality of this solution. Allegedly a couple of the nominees will get their vote on the floor. That will increase the president's appelant confirmation percentages - to something slightly higher than the current average of the Rivercats (.533 - with a win tonight over Iowa - moving us to 3 games over 500 - 24-21). But there is no guarantee that the same old tactics will not resurface when the inevitable nominee for the Supreme Court is presented. Our junior senator, always a wethervane of the looney left, called this a "big victory." (Not the Rivercats win, mind you) There were some very good people on the side of this compromise but with McCain and Sheets in the mix, and with people like John Warner in the center - one wonders whether this was the right thing to do.

The Cats are third in the league in team batting and about in the middle for pitching (which is not bad considering their number of injuries). Our best batter has actually already moved to the bigs (Matt Watson - a good guy) and our second (Dan Johnson - also a good guy) is likely to also move up. But it is June. We can wait and see how the team continues to develop - there are some exciting new personalities in the mix - who knows things could continue to improve. Or was I talking about averting a constitutional crisis in the Senate?

If you really care to read the text of the agreement you can at Senate Agreement Text
- thanks to Taxprof. If you want to read last nights box score check out Rivercats Homepage

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Who is on first - and who should be?

At the New Republic Online (http://www.tnr.com/doc.mhtml?i=20050530&s=rosen053005) Jeffrey Rosen makes an ingenious argument about the current (and upcoming) fight on judicial nominees. He argues that " we are in a dangerous situation when the people's will is better represented by the Supreme Court than Congress." Indeed, we are. But is the fight about whether to confirm the appellant nominees on that issue and is the Supreme Court a better representative than Congress of the people's will? That is probably the wrong question.

Rosen argues that Congress has grown to be less representative over time. That is true and his criticisms, in part - redistricting and other incumbent advantages allow elected officials to look more like potentates than representatives - are on the mark. That is not just true in Congress and it is not just true in legislatures. Elected officials have discovered the perks of office and have exploited their ability to wrest small and large favors from their constituents. Not all elected officials do this - but enough to degrade the institutions. We need to think creatively about adjusting our institutions to take congnizance of modern times and inventions without destroying the fundamental principles that grounded our institutions.

Rosen suggests that the American people agree with all sorts of things based on poll numbers - for example they support the filibuster. They do only if you ask the question in a way that does not elicit a true response. The American people are pretty clear when asked whether these people should be confirmed that they would like the Senate to act. They do not support things like holds or procedural maneuvers to not get to a decision.

One of the important principles from our founders was modesty about goals and possibilities - what another TNR writer suggested recently was the politics of doubt. If the activities of government become all encompassing then government will become less successful. An excess in areas of social policy by the GOP is not counterbalanced by excess by the dems in other areas.

The job of advise and consent for the Senate is not to rewrite the election results but to carefully review the qualifications of the president's nominees. All the bloviating about this or that by the opponents of the nominees is nothing more than sour grapes. Each of the nominees is qualified. Were the opponents smart, they would go forward with the votes - and if these seven were really terrible - the voters could take their revenge on the president and his party. That is the way the system was designed to operate. If they really believed in the system they would certainly have enough faith that one bad nominee will not destroy the system. One need only look at David Souter to understand that principle.

Nooyi vs. Langston - How Commencement Speeches Should Be Done

As noted in the post about Indra Nooyi, I see a lot of commencement speeches. Yesterday I was able to attend the commencement for Southern California College of Optometry. SCCO is a small, high quality, specialized place that trains optometrists. They graduated 91 new doctors of optometry yesterday. Their commencement speaker was the owner of the construction and design firm that has built most of the campus, including most recently an impressive new eye clinic. Bill Langston was the co-founder of the Southern California firm Snider-Langston.

His message was simple and direct. OK, so you've completed an advanced degree in a specialized field but you cannot be successful until you engage yourself outside your profession in civic and community affairs. After establishing his own background a bit (he built a major firm over more than 40 years) he went on to illustrate how involvement in community was important to his career but also fulfilling. Langston is a pilot and has helped to fly doctors to help deliver medical services to remote areas of Mexico. But he has also been involved in projects closer to home.

The best quote in the speech was from Henry Ford - "You can't build a reputation on what you are going to do."

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Pepsi's Commencement Swarm

As I was coming back from meetings in LA this afternoon I heard Hugh Hewitt about his take on the Pepsi person's commencement remarks at Columbia. This story was first broken in a number of places over the weekend- I think I read it first in Instapundit. As I see this, I think the Blogosphere has it about right but I think there is also a continuing point.

I give a fair number of commencement speeches and have always believed that any commencement speaker should follow two rules - indeed one should be substantive, it is an important occasion. But the two rules are be brief and be funny. If you can't be funny you should still be brief. You are not the main attraction. But many commencement speakers feel this is their chance to make a point. She seems to have tried to be brief and funny.

In this case Ms. Nooyi tried to make a politically correct statement about the American role - in a poorly reasoned speech and when she got called on it tried to offer a non-apology apology. Did she mean what she said? Or was it mis-construed? When you read the speech - it is pretty clear that she did not bother to think out her point. It may, indeed, be appropriate to make a comment about the potential for a positive and negative role of the US in foreign and economic policy - but her speech did not achieve even that fairly simple point. Sometimes speakers can get caught up in their rhetorical devices. It is even credible to me that a person who was not born here and helps to manage an international business could make an important point on foreign policy or the US role in the world. That is a legitimate hook for her to start from. But then in what most consumer products companies rarely do - she forgot her audience and the purpose of the speech. A commencement speech is not filler between the opening and the awarding of the degrees, it could well be called a continuation speech - when done well it encourages the graduates to continue to think. But in this case she blew it.

To then compound the bonehead speech she offered an apology written in cultural fog speech of the worst kind. Hewitt quotes here response to him - "Over the years I've witnessed and advised others how a thoughtless gesture or comment can hurt good, caring people. Regrettably, I've proven my own point. I made a mistake and, again, I'm very sorry."
- Indra Nooyi" What baloney.

Donald Sensing (discovered on Instapundit but found at http://www.donaldsensing.com/?p=213) does the best post I have seen - "Rhetorically, Nooyi’s speech was a mess. More than that, it was insulting to the graduates. She talked down to them and sought to impart a sense of shame where they had done no wrong." He then goes on to analyze the devices used in the speech and finds them wanting. IMHO that is the best post on this set of issues I have read so far.

I am not a big fan of either Pepsi products or boycotts - but I am constantly annoyed at the arrogance of commencement speakers who think they can use an occasion commencing graduates entry out of a university to make a point that does not fit the occasion. That does not mean that commencement speakers should only offer platitudes - but if one makes a substantive point they should a) make it well and b) be prepared to defend it. In this case Ms. Nooyi did neither.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Paragons of Accuracy - Not Newsweek

In this morning's LA Times one of the lead headlines reads - "Governor readies special election to attack legislature, unions."

Hmmm, let's see is there any other way to consider the issues the Governor is pursuing? Governor continues efforts to improve legislature cut outrageous pension costs? Or Governor seeks representative legislative and seeks to end union ripoffs. No that is not the way a reasonable person would try to convey the issue either.

This story is about a flawed process for redistricting. The current system creates uncompetitive districts. Is trying to make changes in that system an attack on the legislature? The second part of the story relates to whether unions should have the ability to extract political contributions from their members without their consent. The Beck decision (at the federal level) said no. But the California legislature said yes. But somehow the Times see that as an attack.

Or consider the pension issue - which the Governor also mounted. A couple of years ago the pension costs in California were a couple of hundred million dollars - this year they exceed $2 billion. Should there be changes in the way we offer public employee pensions? Are the stories about United and other unsustainable pension systems in the private system an attack on unions or simply an unsustainable out-dated system?

The Times is dropping like a stone. And that is not even a biased headline. No need to wonder why.

Monday, May 16, 2005

The Role of Authority in News and Religion

There are odd parallels between the recent stories about Newsweek's non-denial denial and the response of the Bishop of the Episcopal Church of America in his recent letter to his congregants expressing sorrow at the consternation the decisions of the Episcopal Convention have caused for large numbers of his own parishoners and for his fellow Anglicans. In both cases the expression of regret is not at all compelling.

In the first instance, the sloppy reporting of a major news organ suggests either malevolent intent by someone who contributed to the Periscope column or simple incompetence. One would hope that editors of something so widely read would have a better sense that something so damning should probably be checked first. The more that act like this, the less it will be widely read.

In the second instance, Bishop Griswald's statement of contrition without repentence has the same stink on it. The Bishop claimed he was sorry for all of the controversey in the church, including his own area of responsibility the Episcopal Church of America. Yet, his statement makes little attempt to deal with the issues he caused to be raised or with following even minimal procedure of a group like the entire Anglican community.

In both cases authorities (in a news organization and in a denominational leadership structure) said let normal procedures be damned. In Newsweek's case, the apparent zeal to bring out salacious gossip should have been checked a bit more. It does no good to suggest that others have talked about these kinds of things or that the White House demanded a retraction. Their first responsibility was to get it right. And they seemed indifferent to that imperative.

In the church's decision process, a group (be it a majority or minority in the ECUSA) forced a vote when the historic notion of the church is to take these kinds of decisions with care and most importantly with charity to your fellow congregants. The Windsor report (which the Archbishop of Caterbury requested) describes in pretty good detail the process that the denomination went through in redefining the role of women in the priesthood. In the end, what was a major decision, was also a positive one. But it was clear that the decisions made on the ordination of Bishop Robinson were done without any concern for fellow Anglicans in other areas of the world, or even for members of the denomination in the US who might dissent from the decision. In the ordination of women, a tough decision was broadened in its' acceptance. In the Robinson decision, a tough decison caused further dissention. Process counts for a lot.

The hubris in both decisions is appalling. Both seem to assume that personal desires or concerns trump reasonable process. Arrogance does not substitute for authority. Does Emily Latella still live?

Sunday, May 15, 2005

The Fall of Arnold

One wonders why anyone would listen to the mad ravings of Ariana Huffington - who at this point has had more political incarnations that facelifts (probably). But in this morning's post - one of her associates gives us a true insight into the bizarre nature of this cult. Robert Greenwald comments -

"When the front page of the New York Times announces the fall of Arnold, then we know it is real. Now that we know he is falling, the big question: why? As a participant in the plans to dethrone the emperor, I want to chime in."

Most sane people understand that the New York Times is not exactly stellar on political reporting in general and on California issues in particular. One need only go back and look at their analysis of what was going to happen in the recall to understand how truly strange it is to suggest that the NYT has any standing to call events like this.

Seems that Greenwald believes that the issues the Govenor chose were the wrong ones because he chose out public employee unions - although to date they have wrapped themselves in the cloak of public servant. On each of these issues he chose there are vulnerabilities on the other side - in each a union wants to get more for itself without any demonstration of benefiting citizens - where are California schools and how have the teacher unions helped bring them to this point; where is the California health care system and how have the nurses unions helped to bring them to this point; etc., etc., etc.

This is obviously a premature declaration of victory. Perhaps Mr. Greenwald should consult with President Kerry - who the Times also opined on (that time in favor).

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Think about it

Instapundit linked to a site I had not seen before with a Challenge. Change the words of the Second Amendment and then try to justify the bizarre interpretations that are applied to the Second Amendment.

The site is http://blog.ianhamet.com/index.php/archive/2005/05/13/518/

It was so good I have also reproduced it here --

Banana Oil!
Notes from Shanghai on Life, the Movies, and Everything
A challenge
Posted by Ian on May 13th, 2005 — Posted in Culture
If you favor gun control of any stripe, please read and attempt the following:

A well regulated Intelligentsia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and read Books, shall not be infringed.

Convince me, using only the text above,

that this sentence does not guarantee an individual right, only a “collective” right; or
that this sentence means that the only legitimate intelligentsia is the one controlled by government; or
that this sentence allows the government to decide which books are safe and which are dangerous, and permits it to ban those it does not approve, and to dictate how all books under private ownership must be stored; or
that this sentence permits the government to require the registration of all books and book owners.
Now there are a few rules here.

You may not dismiss the authors of the sentence as being “dead white men” who “wore powdered wigs, so maybe they got a few other things wrong, too.” If you support gun control, then you subscribe to the belief that an object with no will can be good or evil, a decidedly odd thought. Address the text, not its authors.
You may not bring up “wacko right-wing militia men” who support this and suggest that, because of them, it is bad. Hitler liked sugar, and so do you. Address the text, not its adherents.
You may not dismiss it as “not applying to today,” unless you point out a clear term limit or expiration date within the text, or show another amendment that explicitly annulls this one. (Besides, you never know when what is useless today will be invaluable tomorrow.) Address the text, not your pipe dreams.
Hmm, am I being pissy? Probably. Anyway, it occurred to me to post this, and here it is.

UPDATE: Comments enabled. Silly me.

Friday, May 13, 2005


The Sugar lobby is at it again. The 50,000 plus jobs represented by the sugar industry have mounted a full scale press against the proposed free trade agreement. Clearly Americans pay to much for sugar - based in part on the only eight refiners in the country but more importantly based on the restrictive trade policies that go back before Castro. Want to increase economic activity in the US? Want to improve the standards of living and thus the numbers of consumers in the region (*and thus the market for US goods and services)? Don't listen to the sugar protectionists - adopt CAFTA.


In an article in the New Republic last week Andrew Sullivan discusses the apparent schism in conservative ranks between the conservatives of faith and the conservatives of doubt. His article is an interesting one - with a lot of good stuff. But the more I think about it his division is a bit odd. Indeed, religious conservatives work, too often, from a point of certainty. But incidence of this error is not confined to the right. Are some of the manifold groups on the left that we constantly hear from any less certain of their convictions? The American political system is threatened by the politics of certainty.

That does not mean there are not issues where Americans have profound and fundamental disagreements. But we should all be cautious about advancing an idea while being unwilling to at least consider the alternative points of view.

No that does not make me think George Voinovich has a backbone - he is just a wimp.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

More on TIGER - RSS

One of the best new features in Tiger - the new Mac OS - is the integrated RSS reader in Safari. It is simple and clean. Open a site and if it has an RSS feed there is a small RSS indicator in the browser window, then simply click on that and it will record new feeds as they become available. I had used Net News Wire(Now in a new version) - but this is better.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Michael Medved, United Airlines Bailout and Social Security

This is a note I posted to Michael Medved on this afternoon's show.

Dear Michael,
I was surprised to hear you fumble a question on United Airlines and Social Security. There is no parallel. Here is the explanation. United offered its employees a defined benefit retirement program - in that kind of retirement system employees contribute something but are guaranteed a benefit in the future (sound like something else???). Unfortunately, some corporations, including United, failed to fund those future expenses thoroughly. (Again, does this sound like anything you've heard of?) The President's proposal is a defined contribution program where the employee and the employer contribute something to savings for retirement and the employee then owns the asset. Had the United pension fund been like the President's proposal to divert some of the contributions to private accounts the employees would not have been cut by 85% - which is what the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation has estimated employees will loose as a result of the mismanagement of the fund. Corporations that offer defined benefit plans are now required under the rules of the Financial Accounting Standards Board to fund those expected liabilities (something the federal government and most state and local governments have not had to do.) I hope that clarifies why the United situation actually reinforces the case for the president's proposal - in reality it actually argues for an even greater proportion of funds going to the private accounts. Dear Michael,
I was surprised to hear you fumble a question on United Airlines and Social Security. There is no parallel. Here is the explanation. United offered its employees a defined benefit retirement program - in that kind of retirement system employees contribute something but are guaranteed a benefit in the future (sound like something else???). Unfortunately, some corporations, including United, failed to fund those future expenses thoroughly. (Again, does this sound like anything you've heard of?) The President's proposal is a defined contribution program where the employee and the employer contribute something to savings for retirement and the employee then owns the asset. Had the United pension fund been like the President's proposal to divert some of the contributions to private accounts the employees would not have been cut by 85% - which is what the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation has estimated employees will loose as a result of the mismanagement of the fund. Corporations that offer defined benefit plans are now required under the rules of the Financial Accounting Standards Board to fund those expected liabilities (something the federal government and most state and local governments have not had to do.) I hope that clarifies why the United situation actually reinforces the case for the president's proposal - in reality it actually argues for an even greater proportion of funds going to the private accounts.

The Joys of Air Travel

One wonders whether civilization will survive at times. Since 9/11 we have had to endure the absurdity of the Transportation Safety Administration (Thousands Standing Around) and its absurd changes in the way people fly. What you can carry on the plane seems to change periodically. We lose things like nail clippers (I guess they might induce a hangnail) but the screening system missed a metal letter opener that was given to me as a gift. Which is more dangerous? If you buy a one way ticket or change your plans (and most business people change their plans) be prepared to go through their search. Their computers cannot figure out that I got on and off airplanes more than 150 times last year.

This morning I was a bit late to the airport and found out that United and the TSA have instituted a rule that says you need to be at the gate 30 minutes before a flight or 45 minutes if you check baggage. Obviously I showed up less than 30 minutes before the flight. The folks in the TSA seem incapable of doing things with either energy or efficiency. And yet, there is little reason to believe we are substantially safer than we were prior to the tragedy of 9/11.

The Congressional demand that they move the screening to public employees has done everything critics said it would.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

The Rivercats go to .500

Yesterday must have been an interesting one in Las Vegas - the Rivercats were ending a four day cycle with the 51s. According to Johnny Doskow it was windy - up to 40 MPH - which makes for some odd conditions for baseball. In addition, the wind was out going on the field - thus, singles - if high enough could go out - if they got carried. The Rivercats ended the day with 24 hits - 19 runs and scored in the first through the fifth - including 11 runs in the fifth. The 51s starter (Jackson) had a hard first inning. The 51s scored in the fourth, fifth and sixth (including 9 in the sixth) but with only 13 hits. The Rivercats won 19-13. It sounded great on the radio but it must have been even better being there.

Four More Years - Ferris Bueller's Day Off

The Legislative Analyst in California is an independent agency designed to advise the Legislature - similar to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) in D.C. Yesterday, they released a report on high school. Ferris Bueller was right - much of high school is silly. Increasingly, it is hard to justify the current configuration of how we deliver the last four years of elementary and secondary. Last year, the Superintendent of Public Instruction tried an initiative on high school but for a lot of reasons it did not go anywhere. But the report yesterday (at http://www.lao.ca.gov/2005/high_schools/improving_hs_050905.htm) could be a fine basis for beginning a discussion about how to change.

The LAO divides students into three groups - University bound, General and Dropouts. In California about 45% of the total students attend some form of higher education. Those groups then divide in the following way after high school - about 30% of all students in high school drop out - most of those presumably are in the lower levels of achievement (based on some data in the report and from other sources). Likewise about 20% of the students go on to four year colleges. Thus, 25% of the students go on to community colleges and the remainder - presumably from the general group do not go to college. The consequences for the dropout and non-college groups are substantial - higher levels of unemployment for example.

After a review of a number of research studies - the way to reduce the dropout rate is to concentrate on low performance students. The LAO recommends some changes in the way the state has done No Child Left Behind by concentrating resources on the students and districts most likely to drop out. In addition, they recommend that the state begin a better data collection effort on dropouts. This would also lead to more flexibility with categoricals.

For the middle group of students - what the LAO calls General students - the LAO recommends some more choices. They suggest that many students with college aspirations drop out quickly because they are ill prepared. Here are some statistics - almost one half of the recent graduates enroll in community colleges enroll on a part time basis - 40% of that group fails to reenroll one semester after that. 40% of the new community college students need basic skills courses. General track students are unclear about the A-G requirements that govern who gets into UC and CSU - but also serve as a basis for basic college skills and preparation.

The LAO then discusses the low payoff for vocational courses in high school - they have little impact on future job skills, are declining in popularity and that vocational courses do not aid in reducing dropouts. They then make some suggestions for improvement in high schools and commend the sequencing and integration in community colleges. Ultimately, if the high schools are to improved in these areas they need to develop clearer "pathways" and better coordination of programs.

They then get to counseling and make two very strong suggestions - creating an eight grade planning sequence for students and doing a tenth grade "check in" - by creating these two formal steps every student would be exposed at least twice to begin to think about aspirations.

For the university group the report recommends a closer coordination between the statewide acheivement tests (STAR) and admissions and placement decisions. STAR results would also be integrated into community colleges - in this case for a better level of diagnostics.

The LAO makes some creative suggestions to increase accountability in high schools while at the same time offering students wider levels of flexibility. At the same time they suggest that students will be more intelligent consumers of education with more information - both what their choices are and the liklihood of their success. At the same time policymakers need better information about what is happening.

None of these ideas are revolutionary but this report is one of the best I have seen in offering some good ideas to make high school a bit less like the vision presented in Ferris Bueller.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

A Blast from the Past

Last night we saw A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Doug Adams was about 32 when his first book hit the stands. It immediately came to best seller status. He had a couple of radio shows before the book that had the same kind of quirky humor. His humor was reflective of a British tradition that includes the likes of Monty Python and Peter Sellers. The movie is well done and has some amusing parts - but I, for one, found it dated. Adams died in 2001 of a heart attack so the final version was completed by others - but I think the movie is true to the book.

His humor had an ironic twist. Here are some of my favorite quotes -

Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so. (Last Chance to See)
Humans are not proud of their ancestors, and rarely invite them round to dinner.

There is a wonderful set of his quotes at http://www.quotationspage.com/quotes/Douglas_Adams.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Will II

This afternoon, a second service was held for Will Britt at University of the Pacific. I spoke at it and here is a summary of what I said.

The service had originally been scheduled for outdoors but it got moved inside because of rain into the Morris Chapel. We had about 30 people there - which is remarkable considering that this is finals week and Will had only been at Pacific for one semester.

I was pleased the services were moved into the chapel. When I was an undergraduate there were speakers at Morris like Bettina Aptheker, Russell Kirk and Timothy Leary. Will would have enjoyed some of those speeches. I took a class called Christianity and Communism in the room we held the service in. My wife and I were remarried in the chapel and my room-mate all the way through college was married there and I was his best man. This was fitting because, in one sense, this was Will's last intellectual home.

I spoke about our trip in 1997 to Oaxaca. During that trip, I successfully embarrassed Will by telling a shaggy dog story in Spanish which fell entirely flat. At the next break he ran out to Peter - who was in a more advanced class - and said I had embarrassed him because the joke bombed so much. But the highlight of the trip was up to Monte Alban - which is a huge and important archeological site discovered by Antonio Caso in the early 1920s. According to the story Caso was walking in a corn field and found a small chard of pottery and speculated that it did not belong there so there must be something important below the site. What a remarkable point of insight. I showed Will and Peter around the site - the observatory, the Pelote field, the hospital where they actually did brain surgery. And I had been there several times before. They seemed interested but the real find was that both boys then found other parts of the site that I had simply not seen before - because I had always taken the normal path and 15 year olds did not do that.

I then talked about Will and my trip to Pacific for the first time - I went down with Will in December to introduce him to the campus. We had lunch with a friend who is a professor named Bob Benedetti. Will showed well that day. We talked about a range of political and social philosophers. Will was struggling with Nietzsche - I've never liked much of what he had to say - although I cannot seriously say I have thought very carefully about him - but Will was trying to figure him out.

Will's gift to me was to recognize that my son Pete may take a different path to get to where he wants to go.

Then Bob Benedetti spoke and read a poem about a fallen athlete and the special problems of young people dying.

George Condon then gave a wonderful talk on his encounters with Will. His interactions with Will on doing a goal statement - where Will was determined to portray himsel in his own terms. And the last conversation he had with Will about next steps which might have been something in a Washington internship. George spoke with Will immediately after I did - and so soon after he then got into his car.

One student spoke, the Rabbi sang a bit and then Will's father gave a moving response - talking about Will's situation - how he got to Pacific and what Will had lived with over the last year. It was different than the service on Tuesday. I hope it was comfort to Don and Jennifer, it certainly was to me.

The Numbers Guy

One of the annoying parts about public policy is how easily statistics get thrown around. In the early 1970s I was working for a Michigan congressman and we were opposing a taconite processing plant in upper Michigan. One afternoon we calculated the amount a taconite that was being dumped in Lake Superior by simply multiplying our assumed flow of water (width of the flue times average depth - which we guessed) times the concentration of filings in the water (again we guessed). Lo and behold, the number we used in one press release began to show up in various public discussions including in evidentiary materials in a court case.

The Wall Street Journal has begun a column called the Numbers Guy (Carl Bialik) and I recommend his columns. This week's column was on whether white kids buy more rap music (probably yes) and whether one advocate had overstated the proportion of gay parents in the foster children system in Texas (the answer is probably - based on some inaccurate extrapolations of data). The point is that lots of people try to foist baloney on us in numbers - and we buy it. Bialik tries to discover where the numbers come from. This is a really great service that should make all of us a bit more careful about believing any numbers.

His current column is at http://online.wsj.com/article/0,,numbers_guy,00.html?publicf=yes.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Savage Idiots

This evening I went to a dinner at Mills College which was introducing the UC Berkeley Chancellor to the business and higher education community. As I was driving around I tuned into Michael Savage. He was railing, I am not sure he ever does anything else, against the First Lady's speech to the Washington Press. Any normal person thought she was wonderful fun. But Savage was outraged.

For a while I listened to Air America, the low power and listener alternative to conservative radio. Al Franken, who did his best work as Stuart Smalley (and even that was a one trick pony) is on in the morning. But his routines are tired.

In LA you have narodniks John and Ken - yabber, yabber, yabber. Phil Hendrie - the guy who invented phony talk radio - is now at 570 XTRA. He is outrageously funny - creating odd and curious guests which individuals call in on with outrage. One of my favorites was a guy from the Children's smoking coalition - a guy who wanted to get more children into smoking.

Talk radio was creative for a while. There are still some interesting things on the radio - Laura Ingram has an interesting mix of gossip and guests. Michael Medved is uneven but when he is on - he is great. Can't say I can agree with him on his notions about Vietnam - but he often seems to get into issues. Dennis Prager is a bit full of himself and has some odd jihads - the nihlistic discussions about higher education are a lot over the top. And then there is Hugh Hewitt. Without his USC bashing, he has some interesting segments - some of the regulars (John Campbell's repartee is dandy) and then there are discussions like the two law professors (one from Chapman and one from Duke) and the movie and music segments.

Back to a Win

Last night the Rivercats finally came back with a bang. They won a game 16-3. They had multiple run innnings - 5 in a row. This was a continuation of a series that began in Sacramento against the Tuscon Sidewinders. But after losing four in a row to the other team they had a phenomenal game with lots of runs and hits. That was fun to listen to. This was after a game on Sunday which stunk up the house and one on Monday in Tuscon where the same odor pervaded. They are still below .500 ball - but last night gave some hope for the season.

Aspirations versus demands

One of the legislative battles that I am engaged in at the current time is whether the California State University should be authorized to issue doctoral degrees independently. Under current policies, CSU is limited to joint programs with the independents or UC. Several times since the adoption of the Master Plan for Higher Education the system has attempted to broaden their authority and each time the legislature has been reluctant to accept the arguments.

This time there are two arguments for the change. First, is that there is a continuing need to doctorally trained people especially in audiology and physical therapy (and also education). Here at least there is some evidence that a lot of people want a degree - even if there is less evidence that society needs doctoral training in these areas. The audiology request stems from a decision by the private specialized accrediting body that changed its rules to require that audiologists must be doctorally trained.

Second, CSU claims the other segments are either too expensive or too aloof to be bothered with these "clinical" or "practitioner" degrees. Never mind the recent study by Art Levine at Columbia Teacher's College that suggests that Ed.D.s are not demonstratably useful in managing public schools of today. Never mind that UC has worked with CSU in the last couple of years to create a bunch of new joint programs. And nevermind that several independent colleges and universities have expanded their capacity in recent years. The CSU definition of need is based solely on aspirations - conceivably anyone who ever expressed a remote desire to get a doctorate should be able to get one at almost no cost.

The CSU uses some sly arguments to advance their position. First, they suggest that compared to other states, California has fewer persons serving in the public schools who have doctoral training. It is one of those social science correlations that are statistically correct but wrong on their substance. Has anyone ever done a correlation between the number/percentage of doctorally trained administrators and success in the public schools?

CSU claims they will offer the program for what is costs to produce it using something called the graduate marginal cost methodology (read fees of about $8000 or $9000) with no additional General Fund support. Those institutions that have started doctoral programs have found how expensive it is to do them well. So the number may be a bit optimistic. But when we looked at our institutions and factored in the institutional assistance that is available and the cohort structuring - which assures that a student will graduate in a reasonable period of time - the net price difference between the two programs would be very small.

But then you need to look at the students. The average age for doctoral students in these kinds of programs is late thirties. Ed.D. programs are among the most diverse in the country. For example if you look at the USC site for their most recent admits (http://www.usc.edu/dept/education/academic/edd/admissions_profile.htm) more than 60% of the students are African American, Asian, Latino or Native American. That kind of diversity prevails throughout the sector.

Wouldn't it be better for the CSU to spend a bit more energy on improving performance in their key areas - undergraduate education and producing teachers and nurses?

Monday, May 02, 2005


Over at Tigerhawk (http://tigerhawk.blogspot.com/2005/05/more-on-filibusters-and-nostalgia.html) - there is a summary of the arguments for the nostalgia option on filibusters - which would require the minority to take the floor and hold it. The images of filibusters come from two notions. First, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, when Jimmy Stewart held up the Senate in a fanciful demonstration. Second, with the old crackers who opposed civil rights. Either comparison would not help the dems in thier mission. Let's let them talk and talk and talk. More people should see the quality of leadership that holds up a black sharecroppers daughter - who is criticized for voting on a "radical" decision with a concurring vote by that old conservative on the California Supreme Court - Stanley Mosk. C-Span could be a wonderful medium to make the issue clearer.
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