Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Advocacy parading as research

The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education published a paper on the fiscal stress facing states that seems to have a clear ideological agenda.  They state the following:
    Tax revenue will not grow as fast as the economy because:
    1. Economic growth is not projected to generate major annual surges in capital gains income. Stock markets unlikely to repeat the extraordinary performance of the late 1990s call for more modest growth assumptions.
    2. Sales tax revenues will decline due to the steady shift in consumption from goods to lightly taxed services, and the difficulty of collecting taxes on Internet-related transactions.
    3. Excise taxes will not keep pace with overall economic growth.
  1. Spending in many states will be increasingly dominated by the cost of Medicaid growth.
  2. The federal budget outlook has deteriorated dramatically, resulting in federal proposals to substantially cut state and local grants. The reduction in federal grants is the main reason why the fiscal outlook for states currently shows a potential average budget shortfall of 5.7% instead of 3.4% as reported in the 2002 analysis.
The report makes an explicit criticism of those states that have not been "enlightened" enough to adopt income taxes.  In reality, the real swings in tax systems are most closely tied to those states with the most progressive tax systems.  California is a good example,  during the dot.com boom we had wild revenue swings up caused by capital gains and stock options.  In the early part of this decade we had a $12 billion swing in one year.  Just this year, which was not what anyone would call a stellar market, California had an $11 billion swing in revnue, caused in major part because of things like the growth of Google. ($400 million in revenue growth from that source alone)  The best estimates available are that in California the revenue elasticity of the income based systems is almost 6 times more volatile than the property tax - clearly making the state's revenues less predictable.

Yet state spending has increased in all the years by about 10% per year.  Some of that is medicaid but there are other "entitlements" that make the system more volatile.  Ultimately those states that begin to rethink their tax systems to less volatile sources are likely to be better off.

About the same time the National Center's report came out the Tax Foundation issued its report ranking the business climate in the states. Those calculations look at the breadth of tax systems in each state and rate them on a number of factors for personal and business climates. The report looks at all taxes. Those with the most progressive tax systems are rated lower than those with more moderate systems. However, there is an interesting comparison on those states with the worst business tax climates when compared to the states with the largest percentage shortfalls in the National Center's report.
The following summarizes the situation - the average projected shortfall in the Center report is 5.7%. The top ten worst business tax climates in the country are presented below (with their projected shortfalls in parens.) From 50-40 -

New York (5.2%), New Jersey (1.0%), Rhode Island (5.7%), Ohio(3.0%), Vermont (2.9%), Maine (1.6%), Kentucky (4.8%), Nebraska (4.3%), Iowa (6.3%), Arkansas (4.2%), California (6.2%).

Notice that there does not seem to be a reasonable correlation between shortfalls and good business climates (although one could surmise based on the California data that the relative movement in deficits is more likely to occur in those states with better systems. Another conclusion is that places with a high reliance on extractive taxes like Texas, which also does not have an income tax, face relatively high shortfalls (8.9%) In the end what the National Center report does not accomplish is a careful look at the relationship of the entire tax climate to the provision of higher education.

There are two other conclusions.  First, the comment about federal cuts (reductions in growth mostly) suggests that the federal partnership is not as wonderful as advertised.  The feds seem to be uncertain partners. Second, higher education could benefit if policy makers thought a bit more carefully about the mix of subsidy policies to encourage enrollment - the vast subsidies of low tuition in most public institutions do not aid in either encouraging a broad range of students to attend or in the efficient utilization of this precious resource.  There the Center has been mostly silent on proposing alternatives to the present system.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Rob Reiner and Mrs Pardiggle

In Bleak House ,Dickens' novel about an involved chancery case but really about charity and charitable impulses, there is a character named Mrs. Pardiggle who speaks about charitable impulses.  Dickens introduces her five sons who contribute their entire allowance to worthy causes.  In an exchange outside of Mom's ears the following takes place - Egbert complains about the forced charity.

"As soon as we were out of doors, Egbert, with the manner of a little footpad, demanded a shilling of me, on the ground that his pocket-money was “boned” from him. On my pointing out the great impropriety of the word, especially in connexion with his parent (for he added sulkily “By her!”), he pinched me and said, “O then! Now! Who are you! You wouldn’t like it, I think? What does she make a sham for, and pretend to give me money, and take it away again? Why do you call it my allowance, and never let me spend it?” 

It seems that Mr. Reiner is a lot like Mrs. Pardiggle.  First he creates a tax scheme to fund some early childhood educational activities and then instead of using the money for its intended purpose uses it to promote a new initiative which would create a universal system of preschool in the state.  All the while he claims a superior authority because of the cause he supports.  At a minimum, were he in a §501 (c)(3) he might well be asked to refund the money he has spent on a blatantly political quest.  If he really cared about long term policy in the areas that he has worked in he would do a lot by raising money for his causes from more voluntary sources.

Tax policy which carves out specific grants is foolish policy.  Reiner should not be such a meathead.  As with Mrs. Pardiggle in Bleak House maybe these seemingly public spirited impulses are more about him than the policy. Perhaps Archie Bunker was right.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Transparency in the Airline industry

I am a very frequent flyer and the last 30+ hours have been a partial disappointment.  Last night, as noted in a previous post, the radar at Mexico City went down - screwing up lots of flights.  But what we faced at many points was a lack of clarity of our situation.  We would ask the personnel of United Airlines a specific question and either get a wrong answer or one shaded without much truth.  That is disappointing.  The station chief, who was a guy named Christian, seemed to try to work very hard and admittedly some of the problems were caused by Mexico.  For example, perhaps a thousand people slept in the airport last night and in the morning were sleeping on the hard marble floor.  At about 4 AM this morning a police officer began to roust people from their sleep saying it was illegal to sleep after 4 AM.  Clearly these people who all had their bags next to them were stranded travellers.  Clearly, they were waiting to get into the counters, which opened about 4:30 to get rebooked.  So the police officer's notion of what to do was absurd.  All of the hotels in the area around the airport were booked.

One whiner complained so much to United and threatened that he would not fly them again unless he was upgraded and they did it - I am not sure why they chose him.

What was wonderful about the effort was the general nice spirit that this group of a couple of hundred people on the flight took to the problem - very few whiners.  A lot of looking out for each other.  And even some joking.  I learned a couple of words in Spanish for fun (diversiĆ³n) and was able to argue a group of us through the security gate when we found that the boarding passes we had been reissued had the wrong date.  (In SPANISH!!!)  But the lack of clarity in telling us what the situation was was annoying.  The almost final straw was at about midnight we went out to the plane - in one of those Dulles busses and then sat on the tarmac for about an hour only to be told that we could not take off because LA customs had closed down.

Who was Edward R. Murrow?

On the eternal flight from Mexico I got to see two movies - on the way to Aguascalientes I saw a biography of Johnny Cash - Walk the Line.  I think, from what I know about Johnny Cash, the movie gave me a good idea of who he was as a person.  On the way back I got to see Good Night and Good Luck - George Clooney's biography of Edward R. Murrow.  Like many other movies about the McCarthy period - the junior senator is painted as a demagogue.  Indeed, I believe that is a worthy portrait.  But the opponents of McCarthy are painted by Hollywood as saints and that picture is not an accurate one.  Murrow was a fixture of 1950s television.  He was a presence that I remember well.  From what I have read he seems to have chosen to take on McCarthy as an act of genuine bravery.  The owner of his network seems to have been a willing accomplice, although he(Paley) was ultimately motivated by the economics of the new medium. What bothers me about the portraits in this movie and in other treatments of the era is the one sided notion that McCarthy was not motivated by anything by his own ambition. In Hollywood's view there was not a communist conspiracy, and the Hollywood 10 and all the other people who failed to respond to McCarthy's bizarre and inappropriate behavior were always wonderful.  That is simply not true. There were some communists and fellow travelers that sought either actively or passively to subvert the US.  The Rosenbergs were guilty. So were some of the Hollywood 10.  So the role of Murrow in exposing the truly subversive actions of McCarthy is critical to understanding the period.  I would have liked to have had a better idea of what drove him.  But what we got was like Spielberg's odd notion in Munich - an almost complete distortion (the Israelis who responded to the tragedy of the Olympics really di not have second thoughts at least according to interviews I have heard of the actual team members). The movie gave me an understanding  of Murrow's genuine command of the language but not an idea of what he was trying to do. I would have liked to understand how he fit in the environment and I did not get that. George Clooney (the director) seems to have let his ideology get in the way of a very good and interesting story. Sure McCarthy rolled over several very good Americans, but his role in uncovering some very real conspiracies should not be ignored. Had Clooney made the movie three dimensional instead of trying to perpetuate a myth, the movie would have been a great one. Murrow's role in all of this is an important footnote to the era both because he understood the power of the new media and because he seems to have had a part in changing a bad part of our history - so this distortion is especially disappointing. What is interesting to me about this is that two of the five movies up for best picture engage in this kind of historical revisionism. (As noted in another post Munich also seems to distort the truth.)

The miracle of travel.

Evidently my post last night was a bit optimistic.

Yesterday morning about 11 AM I left Aguascalientes to go back home.  The distance (and you must first go a couple of hundred miles in the wrong direction to get to Mexico City) is about 2130 miles.  But the Mexico City airport had a problem which stopped all flights. Power to radar was down briefly - but that backed up flights incredibly.  

At this point the best estimate is that I will get home about 8:30 - the earliest would be 7 PM. For those of you who are math challenged that makes a whopping 62.7 MPH.   Using the straight line mileage from Aguascalientes to Sacramento the speed goes down to just under 48 miles per hour.  If I get there on the later flight the speed goes about a mile an hour. Thrilling isn't it?

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Posting Frenzy

The number of posts today is unusual. I have been stuck in the Mexico City airport for now 9 hours and expect to be able to get out in about another 2. I have had the opportunity to clear out email - down load a bunch of stuff and even get some work done. And then there are the posts. I feel like a regular Instapundit - I am always amazed at how many times a day he can add something.

The Joys of Air Travel #57

This evening I was supposed to go back to Sacramento but the Mexico City Airport had a power outage and thus all flights were delayed. United delayed and delayed and delayed and then will send the 6:30 flight out 5 hours late.  They then wanted me to wait until 7 PM to get to Sacramento.  That became an opportunity to try to fly Southwest.  These kinds of things are annoying - disclosure, honest disclosure, would have been helpful here. 

The RIAA as a den of thieves

In the beginning, the Recording Industry Association claimed that they would not interfere with fair use.  Now it seems (according to Technology Review) that they will try through the DCMA rule making process to stop a fundamental principle of fair use by trying to prevent shifting of legally purchased material from being shifted to another medium.  For example, they would seek to prevent a person from making a back up copy of material.  Why should we not be surprised?

An interesting problem

Over the last couple of days I have been in Mexico visiting with friends in Aguascalientes and Zacatecas. We were planning two sets of meetings with the Governor in each state for their key staff to talk about the issues of governmental accountability and transparency. The progressive governors (in this case this is not a political philosophy but rather an attention to different ways of doing business) are interested in transforming their administrations to become more responsive to their local issues. In those conversations both raised a similar problem The state of Aguascalientes has about a million people in it, at the same time the state has migrated more than 500,000 people to the US. Were all of them back in the state there could be more productive workers in the system but at the same time the cash flow of dollars that go back to Mexico from the immigrants would be reduced. Zacatecas has about 1.2 million people and 1.2 million in the US. There are a couple of interesting questions here. What and how does the state government do to a) keep in contact with those people out of the country and b) begin to think about strategies to get them to come back? Both countries ultimately benefit from the moveable workforce (despite what the xenophobic commentators in the US have to say). But Mexico would be stronger were they able to repatriate those people back to productive jobs. So with the reality - what are the right steps to improve the economic development of the state without cutting off the flow of funds from the ex-pats? There are some dynamics here that, in my discussions yesterday, the Mexican officials recognize. It reminds me of the first wave of emigrants from Ireland in the potato famines where a third each moved, stayed or died.

Where is Mexico today?

In July the Mexican people will choose a new President to succeed Vicente Fox who was elected in 2000. Under Mexican law a president cannot succeed himself. There are three main candidates. Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the former mayor of Mexico City - representing the left wing PRD; Roberto Madrazo former governor of Tabasco (the state not the sauce) representing the PRI; and Felipe Calderon,the former energy secretary of the Fox administration and president of Fox's PAN party - candidate for the PAN.

The three candidates are very different. AMLO, as Lopez Obrador is called, was a flamboyant mayor of Mexico. He seems to have coopted a lot of the business community there but also has a hint of corruption surrounding him, notwithstanding the bogus charges that some of his political opponents tried to nail him with. He accomplished some positive things while mayor but also ran up deficits. He has peculiar sleeping habits and an odd relationship with the press. He sees himself as a populist. There is a lot of worry in Mexico that were he to be elected he would go back to crony government in a populist mold - some have told me they compare him to Evo Morales of Bolivia or Hugo Chavez. There is some speculation that some of the founders of the PRD are uncomfortable with AMLO and may at some point try to derail his candidacy.

Madrazo has a string of troubles around him. Again there is a hint of scandal and some alleged links to drugs during his time as governor. He looks like an old time PRI candidate.

Calderon is a politician. But he is of a new breed. He did law school and then the ITAM which is the prestigious university that trains future government leaders and then the Kennedy School at Harvard. He has an attractive family. But he does not have the charisma of Fox.

Most of the polls suggest at this point in the race AMLO has a slight lead but the country is significantly divided. I have heard some political observers openly worry that if the race is close and AMLO comes in first or second he will try to claim victory. What struck me in conversations with a bunch of people in the center of the country was how unsettled I think the race is at this point. Perhaps most surprising was a conversation yesterday in Zacatecas with a public official officially allied with the PRD (the PRD holds the governorship there). This person told me in confidence that he is worried if AMLO is elected and he is personally unlikely to vote for him. From conversations I have had in several parts of the country I think AMLO could become increasingly less attractive to a number of people who voted for Fox in 2000 - regardless of their affiliation.

In 2000 I was in the state of Mexico (which was a PRI stronghold) and was in a restaurant and at the table next to us there was a PRI leader lambasting two associates next to him - this was right after the election. One of my friends had told me that the restaurant was a favorite haunt of the PRI people. I went back to go to the men's room and the bartender gave me a wry smile and then quickly opened one of his cabinets to show a YA bumper sticker. Fox's slogan for that year was YA! (enough) In spite of the uneven performance of Fox in this job I believe that the Mexican people are unlikely to put the system back in the box.

There is a lot of concern about the potential for AMLO to do badly - but there is also a strong countervailing sentiment - expressed to me by a young economist with the government this morning - that whoever is elected will be constrained by circumstances - a congress that is not unified and a division of powers among the governors that is healthy. The Mexican system was modeled after the US (it is actually called the United States of Mexico) but the federal system is more illusory than real but if AMLO were to try to move too far too fast I suspect that some of the smart governors (and there are a lot of them) would resist the movements.

So how does the election turn out? I have no idea, at this point but my optimism is much stronger after spending two days talking to governors and key staff in two states.

Hacks around the man

In the Mexico City airport there are now lots of signs of change including two which caught my eye as I was returning to the states after a successful trip to Aguascalientes and Zacatecas. The first relates to money exchange. A year ago all of the Casa de Cambios advertised a rate to exchange dollars. All of them now list the Euro also. That says something about the status of the Euro. At the same time in the last six months the value of the dollar to the peso has been drifting down - about 10.35 to the dollar now and at 11.25 several months ago. That suggests some confidence in the economy here.

The second sign in the airport relates to Prodigy/Movil and telmex. The walls are adorned with the note that in this airport Prodigy is free (in small print) if you are already a user. I was able to get on the web by finding an open 802.11 connection - so Carlos Slim - doesn't get my $599 (pesos) per month plus tax.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Google Widget

Google has just released a Widget which allows me to do posts from my dashboard.  That is simple and what's more it allows me to do bold and italic print without going to HTML.
Wowie Zowie!

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Happiness and political philosophy

About 30 years ago Charles Lindblom wrote a book that described two world views. The first was expansive about human capacity. Essentially, it assumed that if you got the right bunch of smart people together they could out think the rest of us and solve all our problems. He called these people's views unconstrained. The second were more pessimistic about the capabilities of humans. None of us could understand the entirety of human behavior and so we should be very cautious about trying to devise systems which would try to do that. These people's views were called constrained. There were leaps of faith in both world views - in the unconstrained view there was the assumption that the smart folks would a) be able to find each other and b) would be able to convince the rest of us that they should lead. In the constrained view, although there was an assumption about the lack of capability - the assumption was that the sum total of human decisions would mostly be right to satisfy the needs and desires of the vast majority of the people.

Now George Will makes a similar comment. In an article in the Washington Post he commented -

"Begin with a paradox: Conservatives are happier than liberals because they are more pessimistic. Conservatives think the Book of Job got it right ("Man is born unto trouble as the sparks fly upward"), as did Adam Smith ("There is a great deal of ruin in a nation"). Conservatives understand that society in its complexity resembles a giant Calder mobile -- touch it here and things jiggle there, and there, and way over there. Hence conservatives acknowledge the Law of Unintended Consequences, which is: The unintended consequences of bold government undertakings are apt to be larger than, and contrary to, the intended ones.

Conservatives' pessimism is conducive to their happiness in three ways. First, they are rarely surprised -- they are right more often than not about the course of events. Second, when they are wrong, they are happy to be so. Third, because pessimistic conservatives put not their faith in princes -- government -- they accept that happiness is a function of fending for oneself. They believe that happiness is an activity -- it is inseparable from the pursuit of happiness."

Economists also talk about the law of unintended consequences as epephenomenality. Conservatives believe that being allowed to fend for oneself allows the greatest number of people to achieve what is important to them. Happiness is not a smiley face but the ability to have greater control over your own destiny. Paint me a very constrained view (but happy) person.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Should there be a difference between Reality and Good Taste

The Reverend Joseph Lowery responded to his critics today claiming that they did not understand Black funerals and that

"The Republicans played politics during Reagan's funeral. Look how political it was. They are just trying to shelter Bush from reality."

He went on to say that his over the top remarks at the King funeral were appropriate and that the president has been too shielded. Amen, Reverend Lowery to the last comment - all presidents since probably Carter have been two shielded. Bush 41 did not know what a scanner was. Clinton thought he could get away with a huge lie about a lot of things. We wrap our politicians in too tight a coccoon. A smart politician would figure out a way to give the president and even lesser figures like the members of the Senate and the House a bit better touch with reality.

But that still does not mean that a funeral should be used for a political speech. Yes, Mrs. King cared deeply about social justice and peace issues. Those causes, which Lowery claims are taken up in a traditional Black funeral, could have been taken up in good style without resorting to the over the top rhetoric about the weapons of mass destruction.

Unambiguous Prose

Dan Weintraub is the ace political reporter for the Sacramento Bee. This morning on his blog he asked the following question -

If giving a lethal injection to a murderer who bludgeoned an innocent girl to death, then raped and stabbed her lifeless body, is cruel and unsual punishment, can the death penalty be legal anywhere in America, for anything?

The absurdity of the court interpretations of the injunction against cruel and unusual punishment in the Morales case are manifold. But the broader question of how does society deal with a really heinous crime should not be lost. In the last few years I have become a lot less convinced that this form of punishment actually is appropriate. There are some crimes where the need for closure and societal retribution should be very strong. In this case and the Tookie Williams case it seems to me that the state had every right to take the life of the perpetrator. But because the way the thing is administered and because of all the expense of the process and because it may say something about our society, it may be time to think more carefully about how do we deal with people like this. In the Tookie Williams case there were a couple of clear facts - first, his crimes were violent and horrible. But there was also some pretty good evidence that during his time in prison Williams had provided some good. In the Morales case, the description of his senseless crime is contained in Dan's sentence. Yet, if each execution is to be preceeded by the odd mix of kooks and wailing advocates those who believe that society should be able to extract something from people like this should carefully consider an alternative that accomplishes the societal objective without the ritualistic nature of the current setting for capital punishment.

Dan Weintraub has an interesting mix of stories on his blog - it is one of my favorite on the web.

The Mac Virus

Leander Kennedy argues that the two new Mac viruses are a "bunch of crap" - I think he may be protesting a bit much. I am a devoted Macintosh user. OS X - the current operating environment is vastly superior to anything in Windows - even some of the projected versions of Longhorn. But what the two attacks of very minor and non-harmful viruses tell me is that the community that gets its chuckles out of destroying other people's work is trying to chip around the edges. I am not a programmer and those that I talk to suggest that the underlying Mac kernal is much harder to break through. But the energy suggests that they are trying.

The major difference between Mac and Windows has been the way the two entities responded. The Windows security threat was not taken seriously at first and then discounted. The Mac response so far has been to try to work on patches quickly. On that point alone, even if the threat is going to become real at some point, I would think the Mac is superior.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The ultimate hypocrisy of political correctness

So Larry Summers resigned from Harvard. The mavens of political correctness got him. First it was his experience with a charlatan like Cornel West - who left because Summers dared to point out that West's scholarship was a bit shoddy. West moved to Princeton - which already has the likes of Peter Singer the bizarre anti-vivisectionist. Summers was right to raise the question. Then came the remarks about women - where he speculated about a set of questions that should be on the minds of many - not because we know the answers to the questions but because we should be asking the questions. But the libs on the faculty would have none of it. They live in a protected bubble and figured that if they just sang loud enough he would go away (a variation of the theme during Vietnam - if we just sing loud enough we will end the war) They thought that by dissing Summers that they would protect their hallowed and protected roles.

Ultimately, the best universities are permiable institutions - deeply involved with reality; challenging the outside world but at the same time being challenged by the outside world. But Harvard, with its huge endowment can stand above that. In the end the university may have an increasing bank balance but a declining intellectual account. In a university, money is always important, but the intellectual side of the ledger is what differentiates the good from the great.

My Grandson the Tim McGraw Fan

We are working on food habits with Mason when he is with us. So we spend time at dinner getting the young gentleman to focus on finishing his dinner in a reasonable period of time and not to play with his food. Tonight, he had some noodles and brocoli to finish but was not making much progress. His dad asked him why he was so slow in finishing his food. He said "Don't you like the noodles" to which Mason replied "I like it, I love it, I want some more of it." Tim McGraw would be proud.

The Efficacy of Trade Adjustment

In a report issued in January, the Public Policy Institute of California looked at the effects of trade adjustment policy in relation to NAFTA. The report comes to some conclusions including the notion that the existing statistics may not adequately measure the effects of increased trade under NAFTA.

I was struck with something totally different. First, the total number of positions in California for the eight years between 1994 and 2002 was a mere 27,759 positions - with the largest effect coming from jobs shifted to Mexico. There is no reasonable assessment in this report of how many jobs were created because of the changes. By any account those displacements, even without counting the positive effects, were minimal. Apparel seems to be the biggest category and anyone who knows something about the apparel industry would understand that the net tradeoff here is positive. We supposedly lost almost 6500 jobs to manufacturing - but during the period the state continued to increase its share of the national involvement with fashion. So while we were losing manufacturing jobs we were increasing in higher paying design and marketing positions. The second fact that comes out of the report is that compared to the rest of the nation- California, whose largest trading partner is Mexico and who has close proximity to Mexico geographically lost fewer jobs as a percentage of the manufacturing workforce than the national average (1.5% to 1.9% nationally). States like North Carolina (presumably textiles) and Pennsylvania had larger raw numbers while places like Idaho, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin had higher percentages of total displacements. That says to me that the policy may not be an effective measure of what is actually happening (which the PPIC report agreed with - although I think they think the numbers of displacements were higher).

The net result of NAFTA and other trade liberalizations, despite the continued yapping of some, is positive.

The original porkbusters

John Fund reminded us in late January about the original porkbusters. The current net based movement has proud origins. Indeed, when Jefferson wrote Madison that allowing individual members of congress to earmark money for their local or pet projects would "set off a scene of scramble among the members for who can get the most money wasted in theri State; and they will always get the most who are the meanest." That certainly describes "sheets" Byrd or "bridge builder" Stevens.

Would that the self proclaimed former grand klaxon of the klan would have as good a knowledge of the constitution as he claims. The necessary and proper clause and the commerce clause have become sieves for those who act like Harold Stimpole (see earlier post).

Harold Skimpole and Politicians

In Bleak House, which I am currently reading, there is a character named Harold Skimpole. He is a person who is taken care of by others because he himself is not capable of doing those things himself.

Here is a particularly classic reference -

“It’s only you, the generous creatures, whom I envy,” said Mr Skimpole, addressing us, his new friends, in an impersonal manner. “I envy you your power of doing what you do. It is what I should revel in myself. I don’t feel any vulgar gratitude to you. I almost feel as if you ought to be grateful to me, for giving you the opportunity of enjoying the luxury of generosity. I know you like it. For anything I can tell, I may have come into the world expressly for the purpose of increasing your stock of happiness. I may have been born to be a benefactor to you by sometimes giving you an opportunity of assisting me in my little perplexities."

Like many of Dicken's other characters Skimpole is an interesting one mired in contrasts. He offers other pleasure by allowing them to take care of him. This is much more than the offhand comment in the Christmas Carol where Tiny Tim suggests that people benefit from being able to see him in church.

What struck me about Skimpole is how much he is an archtype for many of today's politicians who believe that we get pleasure by taking care of them. Ultimately, like the character in the novel, we are asked to take care of the wants and needs of politicians (be it in set asides in spending bills or the perquesites of office that they feel an entitlement to) while also being required to pay for them.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Fishing for Net Wonders

Instapundit noticed a site which is of great interest to me. I have recently taken up fly fishing (see the earlier posts in September and December). It is a wonderful way to get to great places with wonderful views. (even if you do not catch fish) The site is The Intinerant Angler. It is well worth a visit. The site has a set of videos on fly casting. Lots of wonderful photos and a photoblog. A podcast on taking better pictures (and this is an area where I know something) which has some very good and practical suggestions. Check it out.

The role of the proprietaries in higher education

One of the things which I had a hand in early in my career, which I continue to think was ultimately a bad idea was the recharacterization of higher education to postsecondary education. In the 1972 amendments to the higher education act there was a long discussion about how to assure the dignity of anything post high school could be accomplished. The idea was to generalize and make the absurd recasting that all things post high school are the same - therefore we now talked about postsecondary education. Part of the push for that came from the proprietary (for profit) sector which at that time was mostly in the vocational market.

But since that law was adopted the proprietary institutions have moved more agressively into the traditional markets of higher education. The University of Phoenix is a good example of that - offering classes and programs in a narrow band of areas but by most accounts doing a pretty good job at what they try to accomplish. In the discussions in the traditional higher education - both public and independent - there is a lot of concern that the proprietaries will come into the more traditional areas and degree programs and clean the public and independents lunch. Afterall, Phoenix has done an impressive job in going after business education and teachers.

This afternoon as I was working out I saw two advertisements for programs of proprietaries. While I think they will go into a lot of areas - I have been a skeptic about how successful they will be in many of the traditional areas of higher education. The ads were for a pharmaceutical technician and for people who want to go into digital animation. One is a bit more than a traditional vocational program - created in part to solve the extreme shortage of pharmacists. The other is a set of specific skills.

As I have thought about where the proprietaries are most likely to be successful it is likely to be in these kinds of areas - course areas where there is a slight increase in skills and those where specific technical skills can be taught. I realize that competition in traditional undergraduate programs will also be there - but for the vast majority of programs and the vast majority of institutions - the competition will not be fierce. Proprietaries satisfy their shareholders. The good public and independent institutions work a lot to satisfy their customers. Peter Drucker wrote, in a book on non-profit management, that the first job for a non profit was to identify what the customer values and then figure out how to achieve that. So long as the non-profit and public institutions remember the Drucker maxim - they will be just fine. Families, in the undergraduate arena, choose a college for a lot more than just the required courses or the degree. A lot of those values are what one would call ambience issues. The proprietaries don't pay as much attention to those sets of issues. They are really working in a different market. Not a better or worse one - but simply different. But if the traditional institutions forget the lessons of ambience - then the proprietaries will always be able to compete with them with great success.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Reflections on Rain

I have been in LA for the last four days teaching the first module of a course on Non-profit management. This is the first time I have done this course. It is a bit large as a group (23) but a very bright group of students. USC does OK with their adjuncts - although the Sacramento campus actually does a bit better. The group was especially animated in a couple of the projects.

The weather has been cold and unstable. On Friday and Saturday nights I drove over to have dinner with my daughter and her boyfriend. There were some torrential downpours which screwed up traffic. But a couple of things struck me. First. the general area where my daughter lives is rife with great restaurants. On Friday night we tried a place we have been before but it was booked up so went to a local Italian restaurant. The food was pretty good (I had the veal picatta - which was OK - but also some speciality ravoli - which I liked a lot) but the service and attention to customers was exceptional. On Saturday we decided to go to an Indian restaurant - in this case the food was better (the Italian place was not a bell ringer but the service made it worth going back to again) and the service was also attentive.

Second, LA is different, in spite of the rain. About a year ago my daughter told me she was enjoying living in LA. She had said right after college she wanted to get out of the area. What was interesting to me is the general level of lack of concern about status in LA. San Franciscans are constantly telling you how great their city is. Angelinos don't bother. But if you look - LA has a lot more to offer - restaurants (like the two discovered on this trip) and cultural venues and all sorts of other things that make a place livable.

One regret. Time was when you remembered a restaurant by its matchbook. With our current attitudes toward smoking that is no longer true. One wishes that there was something to replace that - I could find the places again (they are on Barrington in the west side) but I would have loved to tell you their names - both were exceptional and well worth another trip.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

News as an alternative to Survivor

In an article for Commentary (subscription required) James Q. Wilson discusses the question - How Divided are We?. Professor Wilson, as he frequently does, offers some insightful commentary on that issue showing that we are dividing more than we have in recent years based on a number of divisors. The common ground of politics is becoming increasingly scarce. But what struck me about this particular article was not his review of the things that seem to help produce our current political divisions but more an offhand comment he makes about news on the telly.

Wilson argues that when TV news first started it was a loss leader - something to fill in around the sitcoms and westerns. But now it is a profitable part of the business. One could compare TV news to Survivor or American Idol or Fear Factor - the reality based TV shows that have swept the dial in recent years. In the case of the reality TV shows they became a good vehicle for the network because of their costs. No high priced stars. No script writers. No real production schedules. No residuals. For what seems like a tiny investment the network can put on a show, that if done right, catches the interest of the viewer. The comparison to news is almost completely congruent. For example, replace Ryan Seecrest or Simon with the current talking head at CBS, NBC, Fox or ABC. Add in a couple of stunts - like following your tail on the Cheney shooting incident. And all of a sudden you have a new version of reality TV, with about the same value on reality.

I still believe there is a vibrant market for information but to lament the decline in the objectivity of the electronic news media is to miss the point - TV news is not part of that market for information any more than American Idol is really about developing new talent for the music industry.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

The Cheney Flap

Why in the world is the story about the Vice President's hunting accident so important? The guy he hit is ok. The Vice President was doing something entirely legal, unless you think hunting without a $7 permit is a mortal sin. But the press simply will not let it go. They do not cover what is happening in other parts of the world. How much coverage have they given to Hugo Chavez or to the problems in Tibet, or to the Sudan, or to the murders of Christians around the world? BUt they want to examine this story six ways til Sunday. The declines in viewership of network news should not be a surprise. Nor should the drops in readers of newspapers. What would motivate anyone to want to follow this nonsense?

Quick, which merited more attention at the time - the Hillarycare task force and its refusal to disclose anything, the Rose law firm records or this?

Monday, February 13, 2006

The primary purpose of taxes

One of the tax sites that I have recently discovered is one called Mauledagain On Friday the author, who is a professor of law at Villanova published a critique of a Heritage Foundation Study on Taxes. The author argued that the primary responsibility of tax policy/taxes was to promote economic growth. At Mauledagain, which by the way has an interesting mix of commentary on a range of issues including tax, the author comments - (from Tax 101) - "the primary goal of tax policy should be the collection of revenue sufficient for government to perform the services that only government can perform for its citizens, such as national defense, or to perform services most efficiently handled by government, such as national disease monitoring and quarantine implementation." That indeed is correct. But it is almost impossible to devise a tax system that does not do other things. Maule makes a case against doing things with an eye on economic growth. While I thought the Heritage analysis was a bit off base, I think Maule's is also.

Take for example the Alternative Minimum Tax. Clearly this little item in the code was not designed to accomplish Professor Maule's policy guideline and yet it also has some troubling effects on economic growth. Thus, while it is wonderful to be simple about tax policy - it is often not possible. It is clear that some tax policies encourage growth AND collect enough taxes to assure that essential functions are accomplished and others do not encourage growth AND collect an increasing share of the national product and thus encourage expansionist ideas of what fits into the realm of "the services that only government can perform." In my view, that is a tax system that follows at least the broad outlines of what the Heritage scholar suggests - lower rates and relatively few provisions designed to encourage economic behavior. I am not sure than what the beef is about. If indeed Professor Maule is concerned about the very narrow purposes of a tax system that he described on February 10 - then while both the Heritage scholar and the professor would reject provisions in the code that encourage a specific behavior it seems that they should both be supportive of policies that make the tax system have generally lower rates and fewer special little things designed to make a wonk happy - either from the left or the right.

It is indeed unfortunate that the President has chosen at this point to jettison the work of his tax panel. They made some interesting choices, which I believe would have been modified in the ebb and flow of the legislative process, but which were fundamentally sound - by reigning in some things like overly generous housing deductions to help pay for the elimination of the AMT (Alternative Minimum Tax). Not everything in the tax panel's report is something worth adopting but there was so much good stuff in the report it is a shame that the Bush people did not at least take up the cudgel a bit. In Allan Murray and Jeff Birnbaum's excellent history of the 1986 Tax Reform Act - Showdown at Gucci Gulchthe key point seems to have been the direct involvement of a few key leaders in assuring the passage of what was to that date the key tax reform in the last several decades. Without some involvement of Bush and some leaders in Congress, the good ideas will not get heard.

Braying Asses

What in the world would induce former Vice President Gore and the developer of the internet to suggest in Saudi Arabia that America violated the rights of lots of arabs after 9/11? There are several possible explanations:

1) Gore 2008 is beginning its campaign not in Iowa but in Riyad. Based on his work in Florida in 2000 he must still think that anyone can vote so long as it is for him.
2) Gore was courting the arab vote in Detroit but was afraid to go there.
3) Gore still believes he won the 2000 electoral college vote and thus he was speaking as the former president (since he did not choose to run for reelection in 2004) and wanted to sound as intelligent as Jimmy Carter does on foreign policy issues.
4) Gore could not get a speaking engagement in the US.
5) He thought since no sane person listens to him in the US that no one would notice in Saudi Arabia.
6) He was polishing his stand up comedy routine and Saudi Arabia was the only house where he could get a gig.
7) He was mistranslated although he spoke in English to press whose major language was English.
8) Gore, like his father, lives off the kindness of strangers and he was merely paying back an old friend.
9) He was misquoted and actually said he invented the internet while he and Tipper were inspiring Love Story after his valiant role as a war correspondent in Vietnam and failing out of two graduate programs.
10) Gore is a moron.

Hard choice, Huh?

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Curious George

Tonight we took Mason and Peter and Jessica and Quinlan and me to Curious George. Mason likes the story. Peter liked it when he was small. The movie is not a recreation of any one of the CG stories but instead recreates the ambience of the original books and characters without retelling the original or subsequent stories. The characters are fun and the entire movie was a kick.

The contrast between Curious George and Macbeth should not be lost. But I doubt that Mason would have liked both as much as I did. That is probably for later.

Verdi's Macbeth

A friend asked us to go to Portland and see her in the chorus of the Portland Opera's production of Verdi's Macbeth. It was wonderful. Verdi is often credited as the emotional if not the intellectual glue that unified Italy. This was written well before Garibaldi but the political message about unwise rulers - which was present in Shakespeare's play - is even more prominent in this opera. Verdi had a couple of problems in doing this. First, the Italians were not big fans of Shakespeare. Any earlier production of another one of the bard's works in opera was laughed off the stage. Second, his first collaborator on lyrics did not catch what the master wanted to convey - so Verdi had to fire his friend. Then Verdi had to find a group of singers who could match the demanding parts. Stories about the first performance seem to suggest that he accomplished all of that and more. On opening night he got 32 curtain calls. In a second or third performance he was carried home on the shoulders of a grateful crowd.

This production of the opera took some risks. First, there was a minimalist set. Most of the scene changes were done with lighting. But it came off amazingly well. Second, the chorus roles for the spirits - that come in a couple of the acts were done with the spirits dressed up in silk like costumes and face paint. Again, the spirits were mystical as I think Shakespeare intended them to be. But as with the original the challenges were more than met. Each of the major parts was done well. Macduff (Richard Troxell) was especially compelling. But Macbeth (Richard Zeller), Lady Macbeth (Pamela South) and Banquo (Peter Volpe) were also very strong.

One of the interesting contrasts in the production was the role of Macbeth. The character in the play and the opera has to be something close to Don Jose in Carmen. He needs to be strong enough to act in defiance of convention but weak enough to be guided by another (in Carmen by Carmen, in Macbeth by Lady Macbeth). So he is a complex character. If he is too wimpy he does not carry off the murder well - if too strong the interaction with Lady Macbeth is not convincing. He has to mix hubris with wimpiness. Troxell is a very big guy - he looks like he could have played football in college. But he got the dramatic mix about right.

One final comment on the opera. Many of the best operas use the final scenes to tie things together. When we landed in Portland yesterday we went downtown to get some lunch. The first station we got to was the one presenting the Met's production of Traviata (I complained how weak the Germond was) - there the final act is really just a summation. The best arias are really in other parts (especially the interchange between Flora and Germond - which is my favorite aria). But here Verdi saved some of the best music for the last two acts (which were done together). There is lots of good stuff in the first two acts but the best is at the end. The last number - where Banquo says "we got the tyrant" gave me the impression that it might well have compelled the crowd to go out of the theater and unify Italy - on the spot!

The crowd was appreciative of this production and the house was almost sold out. They and it should have been!

Friday, February 10, 2006

Communities on the Net

This week I experienced the benefits of communities on the net (by being able to sell my car on Craigslist). But I have also watched a number of other communities develop. I am fascinated how well technology can build new communities of interest. Blogs, markets and chats are all examples of this. One that interested me is called Zaadz. I met the founder about two years ago who seemed to be partially a contradiction. On the one hand he spouted a number of new age banalities and on the other he seemed to be controlling in the relationships that I observed him be involved with. But in the end, I concluded that what he was offering was harmless. Then I encountered a counter-site which expanded dramatically on the negative qualities that I had noticed. It is hard to tell where the reality exists. The idea of the Zaadz community is to link new age philosophy (most of which I think is pretty loopy) with new age businesses (some of which are very sound). The question when I read the negative site is should web providers be able (even with some false presentation of their rules) be able to betray their stated purposes?

As you think about it the only answer can be yes. I do not find new age philosophy useful or even often intelligible. But if a group of consumers finds this stuff useful and are willing to play by the developer's rules - fine. If the developer is too far from his stated missions or goals the site will not be profitable. That should be his problem not anyone else's. A free market always allows for frauds.

Politics at the King Funeral

Real Clear Politics in a post this morning makes a good point. The comments directed at the President at the Coretta King funeral were inappropriate. Bush (43) was there out of respect for a national figure. Whether he wished to be there or not, he was compelled to be there by his office. In essence, it was a statement of respect for Mrs. King by the country through the elected leader of the country. Yet a couple of the speakers thought it was their opportunity to inject politics into the ceremony. That was an error in judgment and taste. Outside the service, those people could have made all the comments they want to - but they realized that the unblinking eye was their chance showing simultaneous disrespect for the leader of the country and Mrs. King.

A couple of the real players here were the Reverend Joseph Lowery, who were he not in an official position of some importance in an important parish might have been excused, and Jimmy Carter, who should know better. Carter did such a wonderful job as president that we were treated to only one term. With two we might have had double the rate of inflation and interest rates and frankly we could not have afforded that. But his performance since his presidency has been a mix of sanctimony, screw ups internationally (he seems inclined to do as he did as president to excuse the atrocities of dictators in places around the world) mixed with a dollop of witless political commentary. We would not expect more from the peanut farmer but we would hope to hear a lot less.

Peggy Noonan did an article in the WSJ today that argued that all the politics at the funeral were OK - an affirmation of free speech. Indeed, as noted above, there are probably two ways to say the appropriate thing. First, opponents of the president could have said something outside the speech or second they could have made more general statements about the King legacy without the direct imputations to the current administration. That makes a lot more sense and adds to a sense of civility which both Kings demonstrated throughout their lives.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Day Care - Adult and Child

In the past week I have seen my almost 90 year old aunt who is in a Baptist home in North Carolina and my 3 1/2 year old grandson in his Montessori school. What struck me was the remarkable similarities between the two places. Both places serve food (although the Montessori seems to have a better choice). Both make an attempt to keep their charges active (again, although the Montessori seems much more adept at getting them to do their jobs). Both make an attempt to connect their wards with time and space - thus this morning Mason spent about 10 minutes talking with other students (and singing a song) about Thursday February 9. The home seems to have lots of calendars throughout.

There are some significant cost differences also (although one should admit that the Montessori is only from 7 AM to 5 PM - five days a week - closed during holiday periods. The Montessori program which serves snack and not lunch (bring your own) works out to $3.60 per hour - if the student uses full time care. (which most do not). Mason uses the program considerably less so assume that the cost of a safe and secure environment is about $10 per hour. When you look at this as a daily cost it comes out to a bit more than $40 per day. The Baptist Home costs about ten times more than the Montessori school and most of its participants are there 24X7. The hourly cost is about 3 times the Montessori (and that is for 3 squares and changes in bed linens but not as much fun).

My aunt who was active in her profession until just a couple of years ago is not entirely happy in her place. Mason seems to be. Perhaps the difference is the mobility that he perceives. Perhaps also, it is the food.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

The state of taxes in the states

The Census bureau released the 2004 tables for tax burden by state. (Thanks to Taxprofblog for pointing to it) The ranking system has been done since 1993 - which ranks the total tax collections and the per capita burden. In 1993 the per capita burden was $1375.74. By 2004 the per capita burden had grown to $2025.98 - which is almost a 50% increase in 11 years. The heavy duty taxers stay about the same - Hawaii, Minnesota, Connecticut, Delaware and Massachusetts are always in the top 10. New York, surprisingly bounces in and out. Michigan is also close to the top 10 when it is not there. California (at $2391.65 in 2004) is mostly in.

What does this tell us? In my mind, a couple of things. First, the Northeast has to live with its burden per capita. Second, the remarkably elastic revenue base in California has moved us around at various times. In the long term that elasticity (where personal income and corporate taxes are almost six times more elastic than the property tax) will hurt California competitively. When coupled with our housing affordability - that is not good for our long term economic vibrancy. Is anyone thinking about the elasticity problem? No, but why is that not a surprise?

National Commissions and Wisdom - The Spellings Commission

This morning, which was the last of the conference, we heard from two members of the Spelling Commission - convened by the US Secretary of Education to discover what can or should be done to or for higher education. In 1997 I was a member of an earlier national commission on college costs - which produced a very well done (if I do say so myself) report. The two speakers were an economist from Carnegie Mellon University (Richard Vedder) and a former college president (Arthur Rothkopf) - I know Art well - he was a great president of Lafayette and was also the Assistant Secretary of Treasury for Tax Policy in Bush 41.

National Commissions may well be a good thing. Higher education could learn something more about transparency. They could learn a bit more about making the complex bit of information clearer for all of the stakeholders. But the risks here are tremendous. Spellings has spoken in terms that would extend the model for elementary and secondary education (No Child Left Behind) to higher education. While both sectors deal with education that is about where the comparison ends. K-12 is 90% public (it could probably benefit from more private sector providers). Almost half of the institutions in higher education are private. (Even though that represents about 20% of the enrollment at the undergraduate level.)

The differences do not stop there. Last fall the Economist published one of its periodic surveys - this one on higher education. Their conclusion was that the reason that the American system of higher education is the envy of the world is that it is not a system. The range of institutions give students, all types of students, a depth of choice that is simply not present in countries where a ministry of education holds forth. One size does not fit all.

The Commission should spend some time thinking about changes in science and math in the country. We fall down in a number of ways. OECD, in a survey last summer, found that among the developed nations we rank next to Portugal and Mexico in our completions of high quality science and math. As noted in an earlier post that could be from fewer men in college (which we should address) but it could also be that we have lost our focus on doing that part of the curriculum well. We also need to rethink how we admit scholars from outside the US into the country. Since 9/11 we have lost a generation of students who would have studied here. As I have worked outside of the US that resource of people who know us has been very clear to me. I can't tell you how many times I have encountered people who studied in the US and therefore have an appreciation of who we are. In the long term - the stiffer requirements for student visas will hurt us. We need to understand security issues but we also need to understand the benefits from have an open door into our universities.

There is a real worry about a couple of issues that the Commission could spend some productive time on. Those might include a further discussion of the differences between price and cost, subsidy and net subsidy. Some thought about affordability would also be useful. The role of accreditation would also be of interest - are the gate keepers really serving a need? (Clearly establishing a central and single source of institutional review would be foolish and fool-hardy.) The Commission could also provide some guidance on how colleges can explain their numbers better. There are a series of disclosures which should be available to all stakeholders and some in higher education are reluctant to do that. But the end line of the commission should follow just two principles. First, the members should take the Hippocratic oath - first they should do no harm. Second, they should recognize and celebrate the diversity of opportunities in the country. The Economist found that 17 of the top 20 research universities are in the US - there are many reasons for that. But if there were a survey of great liberal arts colleges or community colleges or any other kind of best of list - the US would also rank high.

The Commission will submit its report to the Secretary in late summer. Let's hope they have something that is both useful and helpful.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Commitment in Higher Education

This is the second day of the conference and we had a couple of interesting presentations today. Alexander Astin began a process of assessing the opinions of college freshmen 39 years ago. Each year he sends a survey that asks students a bunch of questions about how they think about important questions of life. Because he has been persistent he now has a lot of data about how opiinions change over time. He also did a book about 25 years ago called Four Critical Years that explains the special contributions of independent colleges. So he is a very heavy hitter in the field of educational research. After he retired from UCLA he began a project with the Templeton Foundation to assess spirituality in higher education - what are the attitudes of students and faculty to spirituality and religious experience? He presented some preliminary findings this morning that were quite interesting. What I was struck by was two things. First, he is an inveterate researcher. He is really interested in the substance of his topic. And he wanted to engage his audience in the substance of what he was trying to discover. Second, I was impressed that someone who I have known slightly but who has had a profound national influence on higher education is fundamentally a very modest and engaging person.

In between the Association recognized a Republican congressman named Phil English for his support of the independent sector. He made a great quip that his staff had written the Cross of Gold speech but he chose not to give it. He then spoke from the heart - like many congressmen not in an especially polished way - but with real substance. He seemed like a great guy.

We also presented an award to a friend from Massachusetts for his work in higher education lobbying. The award is named after a guy who worked in New York. My friend did not know him - his name was Henry (Hank) Paley. He had been a union organizer before he came to the New York Association. He was intense. He read newspapers intensely. But he, like Sandy Astin, was constantly engaged in serious work and thought. The gentleman who received the award today never knew Hank. I did. But I am sure Hank would have been pleased with his selection. Clare Cotton was intense and thoughtful. He had a vocabulary that would make most English professors jump to a dictionary. But he also had an intense passion for independent colleges and student opportunity during his career and now. I worked with him as a member of the National Commission on College Costs in 1997. We made a great team. He then went on to a series of things that I would not have had the patience for - there is a federal advisory committee on student aid that Clare now chairs and a lot of minutae negotiated rule making. In each he took to the task with energy and intelligence. He has a wonderful sense of irony, a superb vocabulary, a dandy wife and that commitment to student opportunity. So the award was a great capstone for a wonderful career.

Political Speeches and other absurd rituals

I am at a national meeting of the independent colleges in Washington. One of the rituals here is a set of speeches from politicians and analysts. Yesterday we heard from Eleanor Clift and David Brooks as well as a futurist talking about 7 revolutions and Hillary Clinton.

Clinton gave a lousy speech. But it was improved from when I have heard her speak previously. Her Q&A style was excellent. She was an annointed president in this group - getting a standing ovation for almost anything. And she is clearly running for president. These college presidents fawned over her.

The futurist presented a high tech powerpoint of banalities about seven revolutions and projecting out in the future through 2025. He talked about population, technology, conflict, resources, and yada yada yada. His analysis was pedestrian and linear. Europe is collapsing in population, we are growing but Asia and Africa are growing quickly. I was reminded of Malthus - although this guy was smart enough to say that his analysis could end up either positive or negative.

Then came the two political analysts - Eleanor Clift was idiotic - she had a series of applause lines set for a democratic leaning audience. Tied all the liberal mantras together into a speech that in some ways I hope is repeated to all liberal audiences. That way they will never take over power again. It reinforced the impression that a lot of Washington talks to itself.

David Brooks, on the other hand, was interesting. He argued that in many ways American society is being bifurcated along a series of lines - not the ones that divided us a century ago but along dividers much more interesting than red state/blue state. He also argued that these stratifications are aided because one group very rarely intermixes with another. Then he gave some very good ideas about how one might bring an electorate like this together. If the democrats who were in the audience listened carefully (not ignoring his comments in anticipation of Hillary) and the ideas were disbursed well - they might have a chance to win the 2006 and 2008 elections.

Thursday, February 02, 2006


About four days ago I posted a car on Craigslist Sacramento. It was easy. Within an hour of posting I got a phone call and today sold it to a buyer who is from the Bay Area at a fair price. Needless to say, I was impressed with the service.

I'm from Missouri, but I can't count

In the middle of January Roy Blunt claimed victory in the leadership race for the House. I wrote about it in a post on January 15 called Blunt Glisters (all that glisters is not gold) Unfortunately for him, the members did not vote until February 2. The victor in the race - John Boehner may be a bit better than Blunt but I would have preferred the third candidate John Shadegg. Blunt was for business as it has been. Boehner is a bit less so but he still has ties to the K street brigades. Blunt got as high as 110 votes on the first ballot - but it was clear that if it went to a second ballot Blunt supporters would disburse. And they did. Let's see how Boehner does - he has been a skillful chair of the Education and Workforce committee.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Original Intent

When I am driving in the afternoon I often like to listen to Hugh Hewitt. He has a great attitude (although he is idiotic and a bit envious about USC). He has a mix of issues and discussions including a regular segment where he gets a liberal (Erwin Chemerinsky - Duke - formerly of USC) and a conserrvative ( John Eastman Chapman) professor to discuss legal issues. This afternoon Chemerinsky again raised the question of original intent. He argued in the following fashion - he found it hard to understand how anyone could claim that the founders could anticipate the changes that have happened since the constitution was originally written. But if you think of the constitution as a contract (which indeed it is) that leap is not at all hard to make. If I wrote a contract for the delivery of one case of whiskey in 1787 to be delivered 50 years hence - I could not claim in 1837 that the contract was for 5 cases.

The brilliance of the Constitution is its ability to meet the needs of the current time in the process of amendment. If something needs to take into account modern conditions, then amend the document.

9 things I liked about the State of the Union

Here are 9 parts of the State of the Union that I thought were especially important -

1. In a complex and challenging time, the road of isolationism and protectionism may seem broad and inviting, yet it ends in danger and decline.
The only way to protect our people, the only way to secure the peace, the only way to control our destiny is by our leadership.
2. In a time of testing, we cannot find security by abandoning our commitments and retreating within our borders. If we were to leave these vicious attackers alone, they would not leave us alone. They would simply move the battlefield to our own shores.
There is no peace in retreat.
3. Along the way, we have benefited from responsible criticism and counsel offered by members of Congress of both parties.
In the coming year, I will continue to reach out and seek your good advice. Yet there is a difference between responsible criticism that aims for success and defeatism that refuses to acknowledge anything but failure. Hindsight alone is not wisdom. And second-guessing is not a strategy.
4. The terrorist surveillance program has helped prevent terrorist attacks. It remains essential to the security of America. If there are people inside our country who are talking with Al Qaida, we want to know about it, because we will not sit back and wait to be hit again.
5. So we're seeing some old temptations return. Protectionists want to escape competition, pretending that we can keep our high standard of living while walling off our economy.
Others say that the government needs to take a larger role in directing the economy, centralizing more power in Washington and increasing taxes.
We hear claims that immigrants are somehow bad for the economy, even though this economy could not function without them.
All these are forms of economic retreat, and they lead in the same direction: toward a stagnant and second-rate economy.
6. The retirement of the baby boom generation will put unprecedented strains on the federal government. By 2030, spending for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid alone will be almost 60 percent of the entire federal budget. And that will present future Congresses with impossible choices: staggering tax increases, immense deficits or deep cuts in every category of spending.
7. Congress did not act last year on my proposal to save Social Security...
... yet the rising cost of entitlements is a problem that is not going away.
And with every year we fail to act, the situation gets worse.
8. And to keep America competitive, one commitment is necessary above all: We must continue to lead the world in human talent and creativity. Our greatest advantage in the world has always been our educated, hardworking, ambitious people, and we are going to keep that edge.
9. We see great changes in science and commerce that will influence all our lives.
Sometimes it can seem that history is turning in a wide arc, toward an unknown shore.
Yet the destination of history is determined by human action, and every great movement of history comes to a point of choosing.
Lincoln could have accepted peace at the cost of disunity and continued slavery. Martin Luther King could have stopped at Birmingham or at Selma and achieved only half a victory over segregation. The United States could have accepted the permanent division of Europe and been complicit in the oppression of others.
Today, having come far in our own historical journey, we must decide: Will we turn back or finish well?
In number 7 I am a bit confused. The democrat reaction was predictable. I would not be surprised to see the GOP use clips of that in advertising - the dems were standing up applauding gridlock. That seems short-sighted.
In reality all of the nine things were good rhetorical devices. The reality of any speech like this is beyond that. The vision about security and commitment has been demonstrated by the president - but much of the domestic agenda has languished.

The democrat response "There's a better way" seemed a bit hollow. It reminded me of Robert Redford in the Candidate - McKay - the better way.