Sunday, October 31, 2004

Bush, Kerry on flu vaccine issue

Posted by Craig Westover | 11:04 AM |  

Neither candidate understands flu vaccine issue. From Minneapolis Star Tribune --

FLU VACCINE: How would you seek to prevent another flu vaccine shortage?

Bush: "Long before the current vaccine shortage, my administration took important steps to better protect Americans from the flu. We are spending seven times the amount on flu preparedness as we did when I took office in 2001. We
also stockpiled, for the first time, enough influenza antiviral drugs for 7 million Americans at risk of serious illness from the flu. There are sufficient doses of these drugs in the private sector to treat another 30 million people. We have already begun investing in domestically manufactured next-generation vaccines that will ensure year-round influenza vaccine capacity, and we will increase that investment in the future. My liability reform proposals also will ensure that vaccine manufacturers can do business in this country. On Oct. 22, 2004, I was pleased to sign legislation that takes a first step in this direction by adding the flu vaccine to the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, which provides some limited liability protections for flu vaccine manufacturers."

Kerry: "In the short term, let's crack down on price gouging, require disclosure of flu vaccines, encourage volunteer donations of vaccines and increase the national stockpile of anti-viral medications in case of a flu emergency. I would prevent another shortage by doing more to encourage the manufacturing of flu vaccines so every American who needs a flu shot can get one. I will do this by first guaranteeing manufacturers that the government will purchase any unused vaccines. We must also encourage more manufacturers to make the vaccine so that unlike this year, one company's inability to deliver vaccines will not endanger public health. I will establish an Office of Public Health Preparedness within the Food and Drug Administration that will have the authority to contract with manufacturers, accelerate approval for vaccines and other drugs, and waive requirements without compromising safety and efficacy in the event of a public health crisis."
With the exception of President Bush’s recognition of the negative impact of the threat of lawsuits on vaccine production, the answers of both men indicate paths that take us further into trees and less likely to see the forest that is the real problem.

For a “conservative” president to claim for credit that he is spending seven times as much on preparedness than we did when he took office is more than a little disconcerting. His stockpiling approach is both expensive and wasteful. But Kerry’s comments are downright dangerous.

First, he demonizes the drug companies for price gouging, which is not happening on any large scale, and calls for some to sacrifice for others through government “encouragement,” whatever form that might take -- the same concerns for the government “encouragement“ for manufacturers to produce more vaccines. He also goes the expensive and wasteful stockpile route and take it one step further by establishing a new department within the Food and Drug Administration with some pretty vague and spooky authorities.

It’s always amazing that when faced with a “crisis,” government officials can see their way clear to “accelerate approval” and “waive requirements” but fail to recognize the damage those unnecessary required approvals and requirements cause in the first place.

It’s sad that neither candidate recognizes or has the courage to advocate a free-market solution.

Pioneer Press endorses President Bush

Posted by Craig Westover | 10:24 AM |  

As an independent contractor that writes for the Pioneer Press, I had no hand influencing the Pioneer Press endorsement of President Bush nor in its writing. That said, with a clear conscience I can say, that today’s editorial is outstanding. It is not just significant for its endorsement of the President. It is an endorsement of conservative principles.

In sharp contrast to the partisan screed of the enemy paper endorsement of John Kerry, the Pioneer Press takes the high ground, and presents a solid endorsement of the President, while expressing the genuine concerns of a true conservative position. The opening paragraph clearly summarizes the reasons for the Pioneer Press endorsement from a conservative perspective.
Like many Americans, we have been disappointed with some of the policies and decisions of President George W. Bush in his first term. He has strayed from the conservative principles that resonated four years ago: Smaller government. Thriftiness. Free trade. His environmental policies and aspects of his social agenda, too, give us pause. But at a time of war, we believe the bar must be set high for a challenger seeking to unseat the president. We expect the challengerto make a forceful, compelling, affirmative case for changing the nation's top leadership. Sen. John Kerry has not made that case convincingly and fails to inspire confidence that he would be able to lead America differently or better.
While some on the far right might take umbrage at the reference to the Pioneer Press concern over “environmental policies and aspects of his social agenda” as sops to the liberal members of the editorial board, a true conservative ought be concerned with the president’s proposed use of a constitutional amendment to alter social policy (imagine that precedent in the hands of a liberal administration) and the lack of a clearly defined role for the federal government on environmental issues -- one that limits government to its proper protective function.

At the heart of the conservative perspective from which the paper’s endorsement proceeds is this --

This is the George Bush that we would like again to endorse, the president who will govern from the middle, who pursues policies that unite, rather than divide. The president who understands that tax cuts are not a gift from a generous government, but rather the results of a frugal government living within its means and taking less from its citizens as a result. The president who holds close to his heart the notions of smaller government, individual liberty and unfettered opportunity for all Americans. The president who knows instinctively that tariffs on foreign steel and farm subsidies are antithetical to free markets, no matter how many votes they might buy in the Rust Belt or the Upper Midwest. This is the George Bush that the Pioneer Press endorses for president.

Unlike its counterpart across the river, the Pioneer Press clearly is endorsing a philosophy of government as well as the man it understands as best able to carry out that policy. And in doing so, the paper willingly opens itself up to criticism when its own institutional editorial positions wander from these expressed principles, a courageous act for today’s mainstream media. Nonetheless, it is the willingness to take that risk that is a hallmark of what journalism ought to be.

(Couragewise, it is also significant to note Knight Ridder papers around the country have gone for Kerry by at least an 18-2 margin.)

The virtually full-page Pioneer Press endorsement focuses on four key issue areas -- security issues, the economy, social security and Medicare, and health care. In each area it clearly lays out Bush’s positions, criticizing consistent with the paper’s stated position where called for, praising where praise is due. The editorial gives Kerry his credit too, where appropriate.

With the exception of a single out-of-place reference to Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry. Be Happy,” The Pioneer Press sticks to analysis of Kerry’s positions without attacking his personality or character. To the credit of the Pioneer Press, and supporting the credibility of its endorsement of President Bush, there are no cheap swift boat shots, no snide “flip-flop” comments, no Teresa Heinz Kerry jokes and no exaggerated end-of-the-world misstatements of Kerry positions.

(Again, contrast with the Star Tribune endorsement, which has more mentions of Bush than Kerry -- more negativity toward Bush than support for Kerry.)

Plain and simple, the Pioneer Press endorsement at is at once a clear endorsement of conservative principles, a solid endorsement of George W. Bush as the man best able to keep the country focused on those principles and an valid plea for him to reexamine some positions and maintain that focus.

Kudos to the Pioneer Press.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Danger in spinning Bin Laden's remarks

Posted by Craig Westover | 10:47 AM |  

Wretchard at the Belmont Club has a commentary on Osma Bin Laden’s video that Powerline picks up to characterize Bin Laden as “the kid on the playground who tries to call "time out" when he's about to get clobbered.” That strikes me as wishful thinking.

Bin Laden’s message shouldn’t be equated with the political rhetoric of the campaign, the mudslinging and disingenuous charges the campaigns hurl at each other. “Spinning” his comments is further trivialization of leadership.

Perhaps today is just a cynical day, but I’m taking comfort in the belief that the American electorate is so saturated with meaningless campaign rhetoric, so imbued with partisanship that there is no capacity for Americans to be swayed by the dangerous subtleties of Bin Laden’s remarks -- an admittedly shortsighted view. Although our ignorance of subtlety may protect our homeland comfort, it dooms us to persistent misunderstanding and underestimation of the enemy we face abroad.

Rather than a playground metaphor, Bin Laden’s words echo more like those of the serpent in Genesis Chapter Three --

1: Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? 2: And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: 3: But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. 4: And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: 5: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.
Virtually following a biblical style -- a technique frequently used by Abraham Lincoln -- Bin Laden addresses his remarks to the “American people,” not “America” the country or its leaders, as the serpent addressed Eve, alone. In the calm manner of one speaking to teach, he raises doubts about the truth of what we have been told in terms -- “security” and “freedom” -- that we understand. He uses flattery and guile --

I am telling you security is an important pillar of human life. And free people don't let go of their security contrary to Bush's claims that we hate freedom. He should tell us why we didn't hit Sweden for instance. Its known that those who hate freedom don't have dignified souls. like the 19 who were blessed. But we fought you because we are free people, we don't sleep on our oppression. We want to regain the freedom of our Muslim nation as you spill our security, we spill your security.

I am so surprised by you. Although we are in the fourth year after the events of Sept 11, Bush is still practicing distortion and misleading on you, and obscuring the main reasons and therefore the reasons are still existing to repeat what happened before. I will tell you the reasons behind theses incidents.

Bin Laden then plays to the doubt that lingers in the American mind -- that somehow America is always to blame for the evil in the world.

I will be honest with you on the moment when the decision was taken to understand. We never thought of hitting the towers. But after we were so fed up, and we saw the oppression of the American Israeli coalition on our people in Palestine and Lebanon, it came to my mind and the incidents that really touched me directly goes back to 1982 and the following incidents. When the US permitted the Israelis to invade Lebanon with the assistance of the 6th fleet. In these hard moments, it occurred to me so many meanings I cant explain but it resulted in a general feeling of rejecting oppression and gave me a hard determination to punish the oppressors. While I was looking at the destroyed towers in Lebanon, it came to my mind to punish the oppressor the same way and destroy towers in the US to get a taste of what they tasted, and quit killing our children and women.
Having instilled doubt, like the serpent, Bin Laden reveals his truth and, for support, the president’s motivation for the lies. Again, he beguiles by linking the president’s father with regimes that are inherently repulsive to American traditions. He again plays to the theme of freedom with references to the Patriot Act and the Florida election.

We didn't find difficulty dealing with Bush and his administration due to the similarity of his regime and the regimes in our countries. With half of them are ruled by military and the other half by sons of kings and presidents and our experience with them is long. Both parties are arrogant and stubborn and the greediness and taking money without right and that similarity appeared during the visits of Bush to the region while people from our side were impressed by the US and hoped that these visits would influence our countries. Here he is being influenced by these regimes, Royal and military. And was feeling jealous they were staying for decades in power stealing the nations finances without anybody overseeing them. So he transferred the oppression of freedom and tyranny to his son and they call it the Patriot Law to fight terrorism. He was bright in putting his sons as governors in states and he didn't forget to transfer his experience from the rulers of our region to Florida to falsify elections to benefit from it in critical times.

Next, in a single paragraph, Bin Laden provides a more damning image of the president’s minutes of inaction after being told of the attack than all of John Kerry’s ranting political rhetoric, implying sympathy for the victims of the act he himself perpetrated -- a subtle transfer of blame to American leaders, which plays into the essence of the 9/11 Commission hearings.
We agreed with Mohamed Atta, god bless him, to execute the whole operation in 20 minutes. Before Bush and his administration would pay attention and we never thought that the high commander of the US armies would leave 50 thousand of his citizens in both towers to face the horrors by themselves when they most needed him because it seemed to distract his attention from listening to the girl telling him about her goat butting was more important than paying attention to airplanes butting the towers which gave us three times the time to execute the operation thank God.
Then, as did the serpent did to Eve, he presents us with a choice. For Eve, the serpent removed the guilt of her desire to be “wise,” to know good and evil. Bin Laden attempts to remove the guilt (or unpatriotic feelings) associated with seeking security through peaceful means. He expects us to act in line with our desires -- to choose based on how we feel, not what we a told. Like the serpent knew of Eve, Bin Laden expects the people to carry the message to our leaders.
Your security is not in the hands of Kerry or Bush or Al Qaeda. Your security is in your hands. Each state that doesn't mess with our security has automatically secured their security.
Applying "spin doctor" tactics to this man is a dangerous self-deception.

UPDATE: Captain Ed weighs in

From Captain's Quarters --
Far from signaling a surrender, I believe that OBL wants to influence the American elections as another demonstration of his power. He wants to depose George Bush, but he's smart enough to understand that a fire-breathing performance only helps Bush by scaring/insulting the voters. His moderate performance was designed to appeal to the reasonable leftists and centrists who tend to believe that America brought Islamist terror onto itself. His "offer" amounts to a lever with which to promote anti-Israel sentiment to undercut support for Bush, as well as give people the impression that the war is Bush's fault, despite the years of Al Qaeda attacks on American assets.
I think Captain Ed is closer to the mark with his take on Bin Laden, but if all the pundits and politicos out there can’t agree on whom his comments hurt or help, one has to wonder if Bin Laden really gives a damn who wins the election. Different strategy for different administrations, but even should Kerry win the election, it’s not a cakewalk for Al-Queda. The biggest asset going for Bin Laden is the political division within the United States -- a situation not likely to improve regardless of who wins the election.

Friday, October 29, 2004

Pets & Hobbies?

Posted by Craig Westover | 5:54 PM |  

It's said that some of the greatest ideas of mankind have been lost somewhere between the third and fourth beer for want of a dry bar napkin. On that fateful day in 1982, a single napkin remained dry, and so Why Cucumbers are Better than Men entered the pantheon of classic literary works. And recently it secured its place in literary history.

Michigan State University Libraries -- Special Collections Division Reading Room Index to the Comic Art Collection

Westover, Craig.
Cucumbers are Better than Men Because ... / by the Cucumber Group ; M.L. Brooks, Donna E. Hanbery, Ivor Matz, Tam and Craig Westover. -- Watertown, Mass. : Ivory Tower, 1983. -- 47 p. : ill. ; 28 cm. -- Cartoons about men. -- Call no.: NC1763.S5C8 1983

Looking for a copy? Try this somewhat mystifying link at -- Home PageBooksHome & GardenPets & HobbiesHumorGeneral .

Okay, Home & Garden is somewhat understandable. But Pets & Hobbies? Go figure.

A Clear Moral Vision

Posted by Craig Westover | 1:14 PM |  

Every now and again, I read something that makes me sit back in my chair and utter the ultimate compliment that one writer can pay another -- "Damn, I wish I'd have written that." Such is the case with the following letter from Rev. Robert Sirico, President & Co-founder of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty.

The letter needs no explanation, but priase is unrestrainable. It is one of the best current expressions of the role and the need for a moral approach to politics and why human liberty is essential to that approach.

Read and ponder.


Dear Friends:

It is not often that I write a letter like this to our friends, subscribers and supporters but, given the vibrant debate that is occasioned by the American elections in a few days, I thought I should share some reflections that you may find useful.

Our motivation in beginning the work of the Acton Institute almost 15 years ago was to make a concerted, intelligent and faithful effort to promote and secure what we have repeatedly called 'the free and virtuous society.' It is my conviction that both these elements are necessary if we want society to be worthy of human dignity.

The element of freedom is critical because the human person is created with a destiny beyond this world, which requires his liberty to seek and pursue. It seems to me to follow logically then that interventions of a political nature must be limited, not merely for reasons of efficiency - that things would work better - but also, and more importantly, for reasons of morality. Man must be free to pursue his destiny because that is what he was created for. Religious freedom, as well as the freedom of enterprise, logically flow from this idea. We call for the minimization of taxes, regulations and other forms of control, at the same time as we call for the freedom of expression and assembly and the like, even when, at times, we do not agree with those expressions.

This is where virtue comes in.

It is not enough for people to be free; the more profound question is: What ought I do with my freedom? In many ways, religion, faith, commitment to God and lives of integrity and virtue, help in the construction of a society that promotes generosity, moral accountability, stability and peace. For these reasons, it is astounding to me that in the course of the political discussion over the past few months, and especially in the last few days, numerous intellectuals, editorial writers and journalists insist on identifying the integration of faith, character, values and morality with theocracy. There appears to be a literal panic in some quarters that if religion influences the social and political decisions that Americans make in the coming days, the values of tolerance and pluralism (rightly understood), will disappear.

I believe the opposite is the case and that in order to protect so free and prosperous a society, a clear moral vision and commitment is an essential part of the political debate. In a land where liberty is prized, only the intolerant would forbid the expression of this clear moral vision.
I know enough about politics (though I am not a member of any political party) to know that you cannot bring the kingdom of God to earth by means of it; and as valuable as democracy is as a process, a majority vote cannot determine the truth of a thing.

So my rule of thumb in evaluating platforms, policies and candidates is: Will this promote liberty (which is the highest political end of man)? And will it protect human life, especially when vulnerable? This leaves lots of room for prudence, of course, and Lord knows, plenty of room for debate.

I write to you now with these reflections in the hope that they will encourage those of you eligible to vote in the U.S. elections to do so prayerfully and intelligently, and to vote the values of your moral convictions without fear. And I encourage you to encourage others to do likewise. I am aware that many of our subscribers are priests and ministers, and I would encourage you, likewise, to pose these considerations to your congregations on Sunday morning.

One of the greatest models of how to live the tension of being in the world yet not of it, was Thomas More, the great English statesman. In his life, writings and martyrdom we see a man who witnessed to the "inalienable dignity of man's conscience" while remaining faithful to legitimate authority and political institutions. It was he who said that "man cannot be separated from God, nor can the affairs of state be separated from morality."

Please vote on Tuesday.

Rev. Robert Sirico

The mission of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty is to promote a free and virtuous society characterized by individual liberty and sustained by religious principles.
Copyright (c) 2004

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Red/Blue like me

Posted by Craig Westover | 1:46 PM |  

In the Slate online article Political Poseur,” Richard Rushfield confirms an attitude that I can confirm from personal experience. (Thanks to Vox Day for posting his take on the story.)
For four days, I [Rushfield] wandered Republican areas in a Kerry-Edwards shirt and button and loitered in the heart of Democratic country in styles by Bush-Cheney '04. I treated each foray as a run-of-the-mill busy day—visiting malls, stores, restaurants, coffee shops, and parks. I didn't try to provoke the opposition; I simply lived an active consumer's life while dressed in a great big Bush or Kerry T-shirt. I avoided any specifically political place, such as campaign headquarters, and any venue where politics would likely be discussed, such as churches or bookstores. The idea was not to see how people would deal with overt opposition but how the mere existence of a political opponent would be tolerated. And so, campaign logo on my chest, and no small amount of mortal terror in my heart, I sallied forth to see if political freedom would pass the T-shirt test in our two Americas, Red and Blue.
What Rushfield found was that attired in his Kerry/Edwards garb, he encountered only shades of indifference --

. . .head shaking, "crazy idiot" expressions from older, very wealthy, very white folks in Newport Beach; terse nods from the middle- to working-class citizens of Bakersfield, which seem to indicate that people here have much bigger things to worry about than whatever is on my stupid T-shirt.…”

However when venturing in to Kerry country is a different story.

A fashionably dressed woman seated at a sidewalk table makes a disgusted face at the sight of me. On line at Psychobabble coffee house, another woman in a blue velour tracksuit rolls her eyes and grimaces at me with undisguised hatred. Realizing there are no seats but the one next to me, she stares intently into her cup, avoiding my polluting glance, until another table opens and she quickly relocates. Out on the avenue once again, I am gifted with my second "Asshole" of the day, this time muttered by a young man with bright dyed raspberry hair.

When I was writing as a community columnist for the Pioneer Press, I wrote a column entitled In a free society, one must defend right to do the wrong thing,” which unequivocally stated that abortion was morally wrong (personal judgement), but nonetheless, a government ban on abortion was more dangerous that a few women misusing their freedom (political philosophy).

In a free society, choice is not optional. It is demanded. Sometimes people make good choices, sometimes bad. Sometimes moral choices, sometimes immoral ones. The political issue in a free society is not what choice an individual may make, but rather what actions may legislation justly prohibit. Abortion is not one of those actions . . . .In a free society one must often defend the ability of others to do things one finds morally reprehensible.It is far more dangerous to our existence as a free people to expand the powers of government than it is to permit individuals to misuse their freedom to make bad decisions. On moral issues, free people may do what they can to change other people's minds — they have no right to use the power of government to make up their minds for them.
A number of conservatives responded to the column that tried to convince me that believing abortion was wrong, I should naturally want government to step in and prevent it. The nastiest conservative letter I received accused me of really being “pro-abortion,” and my column was a charade.

Then there were the liberals. Remember, my column basically agreed that they should get what they want -- abortion without government interference. But that apparently wasn’t good enough. No, I had to personally condone the act of abortion. I had no right to pass judgment on a woman’s choice because I was a) not a woman, b) no one has a right to pass judgment on the action of another, c) all morality is relative or d) I was simply moralistic and closed minded.

Making reasoned judgments seems to be lost on the liberal mind -- at least as it reflects itself in today’s liberal activism. Like Vox, that’s why I prefer conservatives.

Revisiting Detroit School Reform -- Implications for the Twin Cities

Posted by Craig Westover | 1:03 PM |  

Thanks to Policy Guy for his post “Revisiting Detroit School Reform,” a summary of a Detroit News interview with John Engler, former Michigan governor, about school reform in Michigan's largest city. Engler gained notoriety for advocating a state takeover of the perennially dysfunctional schools.

Reading the text of the interview, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the MPR Town Hall meeting on the Minnesota Achievement Gap. From the questions of the interviewer to Engler’s comments about the Detroit school system, the obvious conclusion is neither the media nor the school system has a clue as to how to reform education -- but that doesn’t stop them from insisting that the public school elite are the only one’s qualified to figure it out.

The first question posed to Engler had to do with low test scores -- was that the reason he was so dissatisfied with public schools? Engler’s response --

Something to give these kids a chance. It was stunning there was such a passive acceptance of a lousy school system by the community leadership.
And Engler cut no slack in where to place the blame.
In fact, there was more interest in a few union jobs and a few people with positions and titles than the 160,000 kids that were in the district. There was a fight to preserve the status quo, but when they talked about the status quo they were talking about their jobs and ... I guess to what extent something can be described a perk or benefit.
Still the reporter didn’t get it and followed up Engler’s question with a another question about test scores and drop out rates and a bit of local corruption. Again Engler responded --
It's the kids . . . .We knew that more than half weren't even graduating, but these were called graduates in the Detroit Public Schools and they couldn't make it. And so everybody was trying to figure out how do we remediate the problems. Here you've got a district, which was one of the higher spending districts in the entire state of Michigan, performing so poorly that its graduates were in immediate need of remediation in order to go to the next level.
Beginning to sound familiar? One impression I reported from the MPR Town Hall Meeting was --
My main frustration was that most of the suggestions for closing the gap were one-off program ideas or attitude adjustments, which the panel acknowledged as “excellent ideas” that they “needed to look into” or that they were “already addressing” and making “good progress” on.
With similar frustration, Engler responds to the Detroit News writer’s question about progress in the past five years.

[T]his is the problem I have so often: people have been so conditioned to accept poor performance that any sort of glimmer of hope, any sign of improvement is seized upon as 'aren't we great, aren't we doing it now.' And we are not. We are not close to where we need to be. And this is not a Detroit-only problem. I thought at the time Detroit was among the more acute cases in the country, but there are a lot of other systems.
Evidence of the clueless connection is this edited-for-brevity exchange between Engler and the writer over the value of school choice. (Full exchange here.)

Q: You talked about charters and school choice, some make the argument that at the time Detroit was going through this reform the climate prevented any real progress. How can you improve the district when the kids are draining from the district and money is tied to each student?

A: They should lose children and the district should be smaller because they are doing a poor job. We won't buy cars from a company that doesn't make good cars. We won't buy consumer goods from a company that makes poor products.

Q: Their argument is how do you improve when there are nearby charters just opening up.

A: And for the same money, they are hiring a staff and paying for all their overhead and paying for their building too. ... That is like shooting the messenger a little bit. Why are the parents so deeply unhappy they are willing to take the risk on a charter school, which is a start-up school. Although today they are getting a little more tenure and experience ... Why would someone do that, leave the schools? ... They are not losing those kids to other schools inside Detroit. Most of them are being lost, the minute anybody gets any income to get out of Detroit they do, if they've got children of school age.

Q: Should there have been a moratorium on charters?

A: No. That's not the way the world works. Let me take a time out from the competition for five years, 10 years while I get better so hopefully when we start competing again I am able to compete. That's not the way it works. You either compete or you perish. How many former car companies used to call Detroit home? Everybody should stop making cars so theirs can get better for a few years?

Engler’s sentiments were echoed locally yesterday by Omar Wasow, a speaker in the Partnership for Choice in Education, St. Paul Chamber and Citizen’s league Educational Speaker Series. Wasow, a technology entrepreneur, executive director of, who is active in the charter school movement in New York, noted in his presentation that a major problem with school systems is they don’t learn -- they don’t know how to learn.

School systems, said Wasow, spend a great deal of time focusing on the average school when a more productive and business-like approach would be to look at the outliers -- the failing schools and the successful schools. Failing schools should be closed and successful schools replicated. Public schools systems, however, lack incentive to do this.

Engler concurs that a school is a business.

Absolutely, it's [a school is] a business. The business is the children and their education and that's a real serious business. That is part of the problem, people think 'Well, it's just the schools.' Well, no it's more than the schools. It's where our children go for an education and they can't fail. ... I use the auto industry as a metaphor because it's something people in Michigan understand, people in Detroit understand. But you have parents who work in the auto manufacturing ... They are trying to figure out how can we improve this process to get a better product. How do we get this much more quality, this much more strength, this much more whatever? And you go to the schools and they are offended when you ask them how many kids came to school today. They don't know. I mean it's an absurd situation.

One can argue, as I’m sure local education leaders will, that Engler’s comments are about (sneer here) Deeeetroooit, not the Twin Cities. But after attending the MPR Town Hall and then listening to the edited version that went out over the air, I don’t see much difference in attitudes. School choice, especially free-market school choice is still very much a taboo topic among "public" school educators, and fixing the system a more urgent matter than educating children.

Medicare premium issue skirts the truth

Posted by Craig Westover | 8:31 AM |  

A number of people have sent me variations of the following e-mail --

Read this carefully and pass along....... Before you jump to conclusions, read this, and have a great day!

Have you seen the John Kerry commercial in which George Bush pledges to help Seniors on Medicare and "the very next day imposes a 17% premium increase - the biggest in history"? That ad is a stroke of genius on Kerry's part and will surely gain him many votes among the uninformed.

I found it so amazing that I did some homework on the issue. As it turns out the 17% increase was not imposed by President Bush but was mandated by the "balanced budget agreement" signed by President Clinton, voted into law by Senator John Kerry, and was scheduled to come into effect during the Bush administration. President Bush had no authority to reverse what had been voted into law by Senator Kerry during the Clinton administration.

Once again Kerry is counting on the ignorance of the American people. Don't be duped by his mendacity.

Please keep it going !!!

In a victory for “balanced” journalism, the press has done its job reporting both sides of Medicare premium cost issue, accurately reporting the Democrat position that President Bush is to blame and accurately reporting the Republican charge that Kerry voted for legislation that mandated the increases. Unfortunately, this balanced view does little more than report two fallacies from which it is expected voters can derive the truth. has an excellent dissection of the Medicare premium cost issue. Their overall take is --

A Bush ad falsely claims that Kerry "voted five times to raise Medicare premiums." Actually, Kerry voted for maintaining the same premium formula that had been in place since well before he was elected to the Senate.

The Bush ad also falsely implies that Kerry referred to required premium increases as "a day of vindication," when Kerry actually was referring to items such as increased health coverage for children.

Bush's ad is meant to counter a Kerry TV spot that isn't much better. Kerry's ad falsely implies that Bush alone was responsible for next year's increase in Medicare premiums. Actuaries say rising costs and other factors account for nearly half of the 17.4% increase, and have nothing to do with Bush's Medicare legislation. And some of the costs imposed by Bush's legislation are aimed at providing increased benefits for seniors who choose HMO's over traditional Medicare.

The supporting evidence is well worth the read for those interested in healthcare rather than partisan politics. Looking at the legislation that led to an increase in Medicare premium costs, one finds virtually equal support from both sides of the aisle.

What one should take away from the analysis -- and for that matter all other discussions of government healthcare -- lies beyond the facts surrounding a given healthcare issue. Quite simply, the legislative process is not structured to manage healthcare on a nationwide scale. Healthcare management -- any micromanagement of social programs -- was never an intended function of Congress.

Replacing malevolent political maneuvering with good intentions bipartisan agreement makes no difference. Legislation is the wrong tool for “fixing” the healthcare system. That’s the truth that neither major party is willing to acknowledge.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

"Public morality" destroys private character

Posted by Craig Westover | 6:24 PM |  

Over at Shot in the Dark, Mitch Berg has a great “satire within a satire” review of a Susan Lenfestey’s paen to the locally made documentary “Wellstone!” about the lives of Paul and Shelia Wellstone that appeared in the Star Tribune. He starts out his piece --

Brian "Saint Paul" Ward, perhaps one of the Twin Cities' most capable satirists, turns his pen on WELLSTONE!, a documentary about the late senator who was killed in a plane crash two years ago yesterday. This piece in the Strib, written under the pen name Susan Lenfestey, is as deft a skewering of the myopia, the provincialism, and the disabling paranoida of Twin Cities left as any I've ever seen.
Having set the hook, without altering a word of the original text, Mitch analyzes the column as satire without so much as a blink until confessing at the end of the post --

I'm informed that Susan Lenfestey is not, in fact, Brian "Saint Paul" Ward writing under a pen name, but in fact an actual Minneapolis writer who apparently intended no irony whatsoever. Indeed, Ms. Lenfestey is not just any
free-lance writer, but
appears to specialize in anti-Bush, pro-left articles.
Fun piece of writing, worth the read.

However, on a more serious note, within the fawning prose, Lenfestey makes the amazing statement --

[L]ike Illinois' Democratic Senate shoo-in Barack Obama, he [Wellstone] cared more about public morality (the policies that define a culture's decency) than private morality (the actions that determine an individual's character).

Yikes! In a nutshell that single statement -- if not read as satire -- sums up where liberalism has gone awry.

First, there is no such animal as “public morality.” By definition society is an amoral amalgamation of individual choices and actions. The results of those choices may be good or bad, but that hardly constitutes “public morality.”

The term “moral” can only be applied to individual choice between two alternatives. Individuals don’t have the luxury of “gray” areas. When individuals understand the binary difference between good and evil, when the vast majority chooses good over evil, then you have a good society, but not necessarily a “moral one.”

Wellstone-like intellectually sedentary policies that impose “public morality” rob individuals of the vigorous exercise of making moral decisions that develops strength of character.

When government uses force to impose “public morality,” it destroys the concept of authentic morality that ought to govern the voluntary interactions of persons one with another. It robs some of their self-esteem, others of their ability to be benevolent.

Where is the virtue in A and B getting together to rob C in order to help D, which is the format of so many Wellstone proposals?

Better that Lenfestey’s notion that the policies that define a culture's decency are more important than the actions that determine an individual's character were taken as satire. To consider it seriously, is to undermine the very foundation without which no people can long survive.

Edwards fans stay "on message"

Posted by Craig Westover | 8:31 AM |  

It’s reassuring to know that at least some Democrat voters retain a sense of shame, as reported in the Pioneer Press recap of Sen. John Edwards appearance at the University of Minnesota with “That 70’s Show” star (no, not Jim Rassmann) Ashton Kutcher.
University student Sarah Parr, an 18-year-old nursing major, blushed at the suggestion that Kutcher might have been a bigger draw for her than Edwards.

"It was a combination,'' said Parr, a Kerry supporter. "They didn't really say anything new, but I liked it."
In other words, she actually did come to see Edwards before she didn’t come to see him.

Not all students at the rally were shallow enough to be lured by Kutcher’s presence. Edwards was the draw for 19-year-old Minneapolis student Erin Martin. (You make the call -- were the article authors clever enough to sneak a double-entendre past the copy desk?)

But for 19-year-old Minneapolis student Erin Martin, the star power that dragged her out of bed was not coming from Kutcher.

"I'm in love with John Edwards,'' she said. "But Chris Heinz is also a nice-looking young lad."

Alas -- Martin’s attitude seems to confirm the “shocker” results of this post Edwards/Cheney debate poll.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

What about the @$*&%#@* trial lawyers?

Posted by Craig Westover | 1:27 PM |  

I received this email today in response to yesterday’s Pioneer Press column on the vaccine shortage --

Your column on flu vaccine was totally factual, that's is something of a rarity. I would have mentioned the trial lawyers being a threat to the manufacturers of the vaccine, how do you see that?

I wrote the “Vaccine shortage” column several weeks ago. It was held because space was needed for Pioneer Press Editorial Board endorsements. I intentionally did not mention trial lawyers because that is such a hot button issue and, frankly, such an easy target. I didn't want the main point of the column -- the impact of government price controls and supply management -- to get lost in a knee-jerk reaction to trial lawyers.

I've done considerable reading since, and if I had to do it over again, I'd probably make a mention of the impact on the vaccine shortage of law suits as I do in this post. However, while I feel that lawsuits are way out of hand in terms of number of suits and the amount of damages sought, I am still bothered by “tort reform” that requires the federal government to step in and say who Americans can sue and for how much.

My daughter, the law student “Justice is Blonde,” describes the tort system as “social insurance.” It provides a check on big business -- which is just as likely to be corrupted by power as is big government -- by putting a price tag on products that cause harm to consumers. In the long run, the cost of lawsuits is cheaper for society than damage caused by shoddy products. It also promotes self-regulation, which to a degree in theory, should forestall government regulation, which is always the significantly worse alternative.

Point taken, but the problem I see is that courts have moved away from judgments based on company negligence or disregard for safety to awarding damages simply if harm is done. For example, if a company knowingly or through carelessness delivers contaminated vaccine, it deserves to be sued and to some extent for punitive damages. However, if a company puts out a vaccine that saves tens of thousands of lives with the knowledge that some number to the right of the decimal place per 1,000 inoculations will have an adverse reaction and might even die, should the company be held liable for that death?

The latter is the question we really ought to be thinking about instead of lamenting how rich John Edwards is. In a lot of ways, conservative demonizing of all trial lawyers is a lot like Kerry/Edwards pillorying the “wealthiest Americans.” Sometimes conservatives lose focus, too.

In general, first we should fix the government price control system, which in theory would allow companies to price for the cost of lawsuits, and then see what needs to be done vis a vis tort reform.

UPDATE: "Justice is Blonde" checks in --

Regarding your comment about tort reform and vaccines. You cannot get punitive damages EVER as a matter of common law for negligence causes of actions. If it is ever the case that a vaccine company is given punitive damages for any thing it is for an INTENTIONAL tort.

Okay, all of your conservative friends fail to get this, so I will lay it out for you so you can explain it to them.

Punitive damages are damages for no reason other than to punish the company. You can only get those for intentional torts.

Compensatory damages include pain and suffering, you can get those for anything. They are designed to compensate the victim and make her whole again.

Bush wants to limit not just punitive damages but take away pain and suffering in medical reforms. This is stupid.

GOLDEN OLDIE -- Now is not the time to turn away from politics

Posted by Craig Westover | 10:09 AM |  

November 10, 2002

[Some ideas are perennials that keep popping up every year. Others are annuals that need to be replanted and nurtured each season. The following column, which appeared in the St. Paul Pioneer Press following the 2002 elections, is a little bit of both. That every year politicians flatter voters before elections and insult their intelligence following the election is a hardy perennial occurrence. Nonetheless, annual nurturing of the fact is valuable before, as well as following, an election. It just might help decide who is really worth voting for.]


The election is over. It was a long and difficult campaign season in which the hand of Fate foiled the best-laid plans of parties and politicians. And although each election has its unique story, some themes never change.

It is a paradox of democracy that during campaigns, politicians flatter us with the virtue of wisdom, but after elections they denigrate the wisdom of the daily decisions we make.

Before elections politicians, endow us with an admirable intuition. Our understanding of issues and knowledge of candidates is taken for granted. Our will is always right and always a mandate. Our motives are always noble.

Before elections politicians encourage universal participation in the political process. Each of us is urged to vote. By voting, they say, we control our own destinies.

But after elections what do we hear?

Why, the omnipotent wisdom of politicians-anointed-leaders proclaiming the infallibility of plans that determine our destinies and "the futures of our children and our children's children."

"Not a moment is to be lost!" our leaders warn. "We face a plethora of problems that only legislation can solve."

And who caused this crisis?

Why we did, of course! We individuals, who before the election were all wise and all knowing, after the election prove to be anything but.

We made bad choices. We chose to live in the wrong neighborhoods. We bought the wrong kinds of houses. We spent too much on the wrong things; we didn't spend enough on the right things. We harbored the wrong prejudices. We held the wrong beliefs.

We didn't use public transportation. We drove too far to work in the wrong kind of vehicles. Consumed too much of the wrong kind of energy. We ignored our mother, the Earth.

We lacked compassion. We ignored the needs of the sick and the elderly, the children, the disabled and the homeless. We gave to the wrong charities; we didn't give enough. We didn't make enough sacrifices.

Is it any wonder our leaders don't allow us to manage our own lives?

We may be wise voters, but we are incapable of choosing proper education for our children. We won't make wise decisions about our retirement or informed decisions about our health care. We can't even make the right choices about what we eat, drink or inhale.

We are sometimes offensive.

Clearly, we need legislation to ensure we make correct choices about how we live. Clearly we need leaders to teach us the manners of compassion and legislation to enforce the compassion of politically correct manners.

We need politicians to make us good people. To instruct us in our duties. To ensure we succeed.
Or not.

"Too many people place themselves above mankind in order to guide its footsteps," wrote French economic theorist Frederic Bastiat in opposition to policies proposing ever-increasing control over the lives of French citizens. "[T]oo many people," Bastiat lamented, "make a career of being concerned with mankind."

The campaign literature of those whose careers are now guiding the footsteps of Minnesotans declares that each is a "proven leader." Where are all these "leaders" leading us? And why?

Our leaders imply that if we, the people, were allowed to live by our own reason and our own resources, we would surely destroy our communities and ourselves.

They demand the power to impose a better direction — their direction — than we might choose on our own.

They want us to be the means by which their plans are implemented. They want not our minds, but are souls.

Bastiat again: "They want to be shepherds, and they want us to be their sheep."

Now — post election — is not the time to turn away from politics. Now, more than ever, we must be involved and hold elected officials accountable, not to our whims and prejudices, not to emotionally driven initiatives born of tragedy, but to the fundamental principles of just governance.

Just governance is not found in the promise of green pastures for herded sheep; it lies in the quiet humility of one who is lost and seeking directions of a stranger.

Election or not, when it comes to managing your life, who knows the territory better than you?

Don't hesitate to say so.

Monday, October 25, 2004

COLUMN -- Vaccine shortage a sympton of ailing system

Posted by Craig Westover | 1:00 AM |  

October 25, 2004

The shortage of flu vaccines is symptomatic of a wheezing national immunization system with a potentially poor prognosis. If politically promised “help” arrives, well . . . learning to scramble for rationed medication might be a handy survival skill to develop.

Given that flu season is nearly as certain as death and taxes, doesn’t it seem strange that the United States relies on just two manufacturers for flu vaccine? Would it strike you as equally unusual that there are only four manufactures of vaccines for major childhood diseases?

Would it surprise you to learn that Minnesota is one of 35 states with recent legislation allowing children with fewer than the required number of immunizations (due to shortages) to attend school?

Unlike the individual health issues of obesity and exposure to secondhand smoke, immunization against communicable disease meets the requirements of a public health issue. Nonetheless, there’s as real a difference between sound immunization policy and unwise government decisions as there is between modern medicines and bleeding with leeches.

Vaccines should be attractive products for manufactures. They are used every year, recommended for virtually everyone, and extremely safe. But while vaccines have a high social value, they provide a low return on investment for pharmaceutical companies, and consequently receive little R&D funding.

“These problems are largely the result of wrongheaded public policy,” says Dr. Henry Miller, a fellow at the Hoover Institution. “Actions by the people who determine much of the Nation’s public health agenda have discouraged research and development; squandered scarce resources; and deprived citizens of important consumer products, while placing them at risk.”

To better understand the current flu vaccine shortage and the dangers of proposed policy changes for the way Americans purchase medication, it’s necessary to understand a bit about vaccine production and pricing.

Unlike pills, vaccines are developed using virus and bacteria cultures, which don’t grow on demand. Adding more people on a production line can’t shorten delivery times any more than nine women working together can have a baby in one month. A vaccine has an 8-12 month production cycle. Add to the mix a regulatory approval process, and the production to shipping cycle for a vaccine might run from 11 to 16 months or longer.

Current production methods are not responsive to changing market conditions. “Unbelievable technology” is available, but high implementation cost and low profit make it uneconomical to implement.

Why the low profit on vaccines? Consider a policy like the 1993 Vaccines for Children (VFC) program. (VFC is similar to the prescription drug program in Canada.)

Under the VFC program, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) purchases nearly 70 percent of all childhood vaccines at deeply discounted government-set prices. It then distributes the vaccines to states according to a federal formula. The result is some states wind up with a surplus of vaccines (with a limited shelf life) while other areas experience a shortage. Price control plus limited shelf-life discourages vaccine makers from producing more doses than the government orders.

Price controls and consequential low profits discourage pharmaceutical companies from extensive R&D on new vaccines or implementing available new technology that might reduce production cycles.

“The federally price-controlled bulk purchase of vaccines has decimated the vaccine industry,” writes Dr. Robert Goldberg, director of the Manhattan Institute’s Center for Medical Progress.

Goldberg warns that if the policies regularly producing vaccine shortages are extended to prescription drugs -- policies similar to those supported by presidential candidate John Kerry and Minnesota Senator Mark Dayton that enable Medicare to negotiate drug prices -- the “blizzard of fear that families are experiencing trying to protect their children against the flu will extend into a dark winter for Americans suffering from birth defects, cancer, Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia and heart disease.”

Goldberg’s metaphor may ring of a Bulwer-Lytton novel, but his critique of price-control policy does portend a “dark and story night” for health care in this country if policy makers don’t change their mind-set.

Government intervention is necessary, not to control prices and micromanage supply, but to ensure marketplace reward for creating, testing, and producing vaccines commensurate with their value to society (and maintain that environment for prescription drugs).

Americans should never be satisfied with managed mediocrity, especially in health care.

Useful Links

Los Angeles Times -- “Bureaucratic Roadblocks in Vaccines’ Path” by Henry I. Miller

Tech Central Station -- “Bugs in the System for Treating the Flu Bug”

Tech Central Station -- “Public Policy Follies”

Manhattan Institute -- “Solving the Vaccine Shortage: Market Solutions or Government Intervention”

Institute of Medicine -- “Financing Vaccines in the 21st Century: Assuring Access and Availablity”


Vaccination News

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Style over Substance II

Posted by Craig Westover | 11:02 AM |  

It’s good to be the king -- or in this case the editor of the Pioneer Press. On Sunday’s Opinion Page, Pioneer Press Editor Vicki Gowler gets her “rank hath its privileges” third-page space to defend her position on the three-day suspension of two Pioneer Press investigative reporters for attending the pro-John Kerry “Vote for Change Concert,” a story that broke in the enemy paper. (This is starting to become a habit. Gowler was also prompted to respond when the Strib broke the story about changes in staffing at the Pioneer Press.)

I’ll leave any fisking of her response to “the Elder” and "Saint Paul" over at Fraters Libertas -- they are much better fiskers than I, and besides, as an Opinion Page contributor, I clearly have, in Gowler’s worldview, a conflict of interest.

Nonetheless, there is one paragraph in her piece that I can’t, in good conscious, let slip by. It is this --

“The election season brings a heightened awareness of what’s fair, particularly in a close election as we are having this fall. I take some solace in the fact that, over time, both liberals and conservatives have criticized our coverage. To me, this signals that we have been successful in keeping our coverage balanced.”

Gowler’s comment is the essence of what is wrong with “journalism” today -- it has made truth secondary to balance. "Good journalism" is "balanced journalism" (which might make one wonder why there isn't more "balanced" coverage of those who believe beheading is valid political protest.)

Then-Pioneer Press entertainment columnist Brian Lambert’s screed over CBS pulling its controversial miniseries "The Reagans," is a great example of "balance" in practice. Like Gowler, he starts his column with an ode to credibility -- “Credibility is a precious commodity. You taint it at your peril.” He then goes on to rip CBS a new one for caving into conservative pressure and pulling “The Reagans.” In Lambert’s words --
“The “superficial charge” that the (unseen) miniseries is chock full of inaccuracies and therefore should be censored, if not killed, is the stuff of black irony. I mean, schlocky TV biopics and historical accuracy? No dialogue permitted that can't be verified by official transcript? What planet did they just fly in from?"
Later in the column he argues --
“If historical accuracy is the guiding principle for TV melodrama, why didn't any of the aforementioned engine stokers complain a peep about Showtime's recent "DC 9/11: Time of Crisis," a lavishly inventive drama that portrayed George W. Bush as a leader so gifted he was practically clairvoyant.”
One more example before I make my point, this from a Deborah Locke Opinion Page piece urging people to attend a lecture by New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. Locke writes --
"I get some pretty amazing mail," Krugman said in the phone interview from New Jersey. Still, he decided long ago that if an opinion doesn't enrage readers, he's wasted the space in the page.”
Okay, what do we have? First we have a mainstream media editor who equates “objective journalism” with being criticized by everybody -- not praised by everybody. Sure, all columnists get letters from the crazies on both sides, but that’s hardly an indication of being objective. Sometimes people of opposing views have good points that make one stop, rethink a position or find a better way to state an existing position. Being criticized by both sides might just mean you're always wrong.

Which Brain Lambert thinks is okay, as long as you're balanced. Credibility is fostered by balance, not necessarily accurate reporting. Essentially, his argument is that an inaccurate pro-Bush documentary “ethically” and “objectively” ought be balanced by an inaccurate anti-Reagan miniseries. Truth, apparently is irrelevant.

Then there’s Krugman who declares that his job is to enrage readers -- no mention of either objectivity or ethics. Enraging readers is easy, and is most easily done by distorting the truth. It’s far more difficult to write from the perspective of seeking what is right and true and trying to persuade, not alienate, others.

Yes, I get some, but surprisingly little, email and letters from the crazies on both sides of the aisle commenting on my Pioneer Press Opinion Page columns. I basically ignore those but do respond in detail to people who write respectful and thoughtful criticisms. Those are challenging and help me define, often enhance and sometimes broaden my positions. But my favorite responses reflect this recently received email --
Craig -- I have enjoyed your columns since you were a community columnist, and am pleased that the PP has picked you up full time. I often don't agree with you, but enjoy the challenge of your clearly stated positions. Keep it coming!
I don’t carry a tattered “Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics” around in my pocket. (Note that the “s’” makes it a collective code rather than an “’s” individual ethical code. That’s significant There is no such thing as “collective ethics.”) Ethics is something that is part of one’s character regardless of whether or not you like Bruce Springsteen. Journalists might better spend their time with a tattered copy of "The Elements of Style," so they might learn to distinguish style from substance.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Vaccine Shortage is a Bad Omen

Posted by Craig Westover | 3:31 PM |  

Thanks to reader Brooks Butler for passing along this article from the Heartland Institute website. Author and Senior Fellow at Heartland Conrad Meier makes several points about the flu vaccine shortage.

1. This is not the first time the United States has experienced shortages, just the most dramatic. Shortages are made worse by the government’s policy change from at-risk vaccination to a recommendation of universal vaccination, despite predictable shortages.

2. He quotes legal expert Peter Huber that 50 to 80 percent of the cost of most vaccines is liability insurance and cites that as a major reason only three U.S. companies remain in the flu vaccine business.

3. The shortage of flue vaccine is a legitimate crisis. There are only 52 million needle doses available for an “at risk” population of 185 million. That does not include non-risk demand fostered by previous government recommendations.

4. Production lead times mean there’s no way to play catch-up for the current flu season.

Meir’s conclusion is inevitable.
“What has now become an unacceptable pattern of repeated gross mismanagement raises serious questions whether the federal health care bureaucracy (HHS, CMS, FDA, and smaller agencies) can administer the size and magnitude of a national health care plan any better than it can administer the national vaccination program.This observer suggests it cannot because it has not.”
This Monday, Oct. 25, the St. Paul Pioneer Press Opinion Page will run my column “Flu vaccine shortage symptomatic of ailing system,” which supports Meir’s conclusion, specifically as regards calls by presidential candidate John Kerry and Minnesota Senator Mark Dayton to allow Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices.

A linked version will be posted on this site Sunday evening/Monday morning.

Thanks again to Brooks Butler for pointing out this article.

Friday, October 22, 2004

“Godfather” Pawlenty making another offer

Posted by Craig Westover | 11:52 AM |  

Let’s set the matter straight. The lead in this Associated Press article misplaces the underlying danger of Gov. Pawlenty’s “Godfather” policy to increase gambling revenue for the State of Minnesota.

ST. PAUL - Gov. Tim Pawlenty has a dollar amount to go along with the pressure he has been exerting on Indian tribes to share some of their gambling profits:
$350 million. In a letter sent to tribal leaders Oct. 12, Pawlenty asked them to meet with him on Oct. 27 to discuss a new agreement that would, for the first time, require Minnesota tribes to turn over a portion of their gambling revenues
to the state.

The casino gambling issue is not about tribal gaming compacts. It is not about the evil and social consequences of gambling. It’s not even about revenue for the state.

The real issue is whether or not government can legitimately use it’s legislative authority as a negotiating tool to coerce revenue or confer profit on private businesses. And that’s exactly what Pawlenty is doing.

In return for the $350 million payment, tribes would be given exclusive casino gambling rights for a "time period to be agreed upon," the letter said. Pawlenty proposes that the tribes receive a written guarantee of exclusivity.

Whether or not Minnesota should open itself up to a free-market casino gambling industry is a legitimate debate. That action would not violate the current compacts with Minnesota tribes. However, creating a free market in gambling is not what Pawlenty is betting on. What underlies his “negotiation” with the tribes is the threat of a state-owned/privately run or privately run under a revenue agreement with the state arrangement.

As I wrote for the St. Paul Pioneer Press Opinion Page --

The state should not go into competition with citizens who pay taxes that the state then uses to operate a business that competes with those same taxpayers for customers.

Entertainment dollars spent at a state-owned casino are entertainment dollars not spent at privately owned restaurants, movie theaters, bowling alleys and sports stadiums. These and similar businesses are certainly in competition with each other — and with Indian casinos — but none has the state's ability to tax its competitors, regulate its competitors or relax regulations on its own operations. None has the backing of the state treasury and more taxpayer dollars if it runs into trouble.

The state owning a casino is little different from the state opening a department store at the Mall of America that didn't charge sales tax and didn't pay state income tax and consequently lured customers with prices well below those of rivate sector competitors.

Owning a casino is not a legitimate government function — period. Nor is running a state lottery. On a broader scale, neither are state subsidies for nonprofit "public" media outlets that compete for listeners with for-profit private broadcasters. Nor are state subsidies for sports stadiums, civic centers, theaters for the arts and the plethora of other "civic" projects that the state shuffles from player to player.

State government's function is protecting the free market, not competing in it.

Fun read . . . .

Thursday, October 21, 2004

More on MPR Town Hall Meeting

Posted by Craig Westover | 5:57 PM |  

Looks like I may end up on the cutting room floor. These are remarks of Elizabeth Mische, Executive Director of the Partnership for Choice in Education.


Thanks to everyone for calling MPR or going to their “Idea Generator” for their achievement gap project.

Those of you who weren’t there may not yet know that, with the exception of Craig Westover’s pitch for a Universal Tuition Tax Credit (which Superintendent Patricia Harvey mistook for something else, but nevertheless responded to at length) there was no opportunity for successful home schoolers, private school educators, and very little for charter school people successfully addressing the achievement gap to say anything at all from the audience. For an hour and a half we heard the perennial pitch for more money, more programs, forced parental involvement in the public schools – even some pitches for “synergy” and “scattered site affordable housing.” Most distressing was the abundance of suggestions that we get all kids connected to “the system” by age three.

At one point, Superintendent Harvey actually suggested we follow England’s pre-K practices, citing their “excellent results”…. For more on this theme, take a look at recent articles in The Economist and Education Next.

Craig Westover describes the evening well on his website, for those of you unable to attend:

Now it appears that the unedited version will never be broadcast. The hour and one-half will be edited down to a one-hour automatic playback without caller response. You may not hear that the vast majority of speakers from the audience claimed to be parents and employees of the district schools. One recommendation was to appoint a guardian ad litem for children whose parents don’t “get involved with” their child’s education according to school demands. Another actually claimed that there is no real gap in achievement – only an existential perception of a gap. Another says to protect the union, and not to develop “voucher schemes.”

UPDATE -- The Universal Tuition Tax Credit was cut from the broadcast version

But at no time were successful educators who are serving the most vulnerable kids successfully asked to comment – despite the assistant producer of the show finally agreeing to phone some school choice supporters and telling them they would have a chance to be heard – one choice supporter tried for nearly a half-hour to comment, and was repeatedly passed over for someone paid by the system.

Here’s the information on the rebroadcast. Please listen, and please call MPR at 651.290.1212 to remark on the show even though you won’t be on air. They need to hear how one-sided and unhelpful this show was, and to know that there are people putting children – not systems, jobs, or bureaucratic control – first.

Monday's Town Hall meeting on the state's academic-achievement gap will be aired on Minnesota Public Radio's "Midmorning." (9 a.m. Friday October 22, KNOW, 91.1.) The broadcast is part of a weeklong series on education and features Minneapolis schools Superintendent Thandiwe Peoples, St. Paul school Superintendent Patricia Harvey and Minnesota Education Commissioner Alice Seagren.

Thanks for taking the time to see what’s being touted as “fixing the gap.”

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Let's make this MPR wish come true

Posted by Craig Westover | 1:08 PM |  

The Minnesota Public Radio News team is interested in “insights on issues and events” that come from Minnesotans. Naturally, they draw their pool from regular listeners to MPR broadcasts and participants in MPR events. Surely an objective news organization would appreciate insights for all political points of view.

You can become part of MPRs Public Insight Network by clicking here.

Take the next step to becoming a valuable news source

We are building the [Public Insight] Network because we know your work, education, life experience -- even your hobbies -- give you more knowledge about some issues than even our most experienced reporters possess. And your insights can help us cover the news in greater depth and uncover stories we might not otherwise find.

Until recently we couldn't possibly hope to connect with so many potential sources. Now, e-mail and the Internet allow our newsroom to learn from thousands of Minnesotans quickly and efficiently. It may not be terribly intimate, but it is a step toward a stronger connection.

To take the next step, click here and tell us a little more about yourself -- so we can ask you for insights on issues and events that you have direct experience with.

Thanks for helping us cover the news.
The Minnesota Public Radio News team

In all seriousness, I personally urge readers of this blog to take advantage of this opportunity, but only with the sincere intent of presenting views not normally found on MPR. But if you fancy yourself a conservative Garrison Keillor, and see this as an opportunity for some cheap liberal bashing, this is not the way to do it.

Vaccine for Children Act is the real bad guy

Posted by Craig Westover | 11:17 AM |  

William Tucker’s Weekly Standard article La Grippe of the Trial Lawyers is getting a lot of favorable play in the conservative blogosphere. No big surprise. Tucker takes aim at the popular conservative target of trial lawyers -- this time blaming them for the flu vaccine shortage.
If Kerry thinks he can solve the flu vaccine problem, he need look no further than his own running mate, trial lawyer John Edwards. Vaccines are the one area of medicine where trial lawyers are almost completely responsible for the problem. No one can plausibly point a finger at insurance companies, drug companies, or doctors. Lawyers have won the vaccine game so completely that nobody wants to play.
There’s no doubt that the opportunism of some trail lawyers taking advantage of “liability without fault” played a major role in the decimation of the American vaccine industry -- just as it might be argued that an opportunistic Enron took advantage of structured finance and special purpose entities to hide assets and debt from the general investing public.

And just as the we should be careful in the latter example not to rush into rounds of legislation that turn worthwhile projects into economically unviable ventures, we should be careful when making “tort reform” a campaign issue.

Is it really in the best interest of a free society to have the federal government step in and tell citizens who they may sue and for how much? Remember that a precedent set in an administration that conservatives trust, can also be expanded in an administration that lacks that trust.

That being said, Tucker overstates when he says “trail lawyers are almost completely responsible for the [vaccine shortage] problem.” He understates the blame that ought to be placed on the Hillary Clinton socialized medicine trial balloon, the 1993 Vaccines for Children Act.

In theory, prices might have been jacked up enough to make vaccine production profitable even with the lawsuit risk, but federal intervention made vaccines a low-margin business. Before 1993, manufacturers sold vaccines to doctors, doctors prescribed them to patients, and there was some markup. Then Congress adopted the Vaccine for Children Act, which made the government a monopsony buyer. The feds now purchase over half of all vaccines at a low fixed price and distribute them to doctors. This has essentially finished off the private market.

Actually under the Vaccine for Children Act, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) purchases nearly 70 percent of all childhood vaccines at deeply discounted government-set prices. It then distributes the vaccines to states according to a federal formula. The result is some states wind up with a surplus of vaccines (with a limited shelf life) while other areas experience a shortage. Price control plus limited shelf-life discourages vaccine makers from producing more doses than the government orders.

“The federally price-controlled bulk purchase of vaccines has decimated the vaccine industry,” writes Dr. Robert Goldberg, director of the Manhattan Institute’s Center for Medical Progress.

Goldberg warns that if the policies regularly producing vaccine shortages are extended to prescription drugs -- policies similar to those supported by presidential candidate John Kerry and Minnesota Senator Mark Dayton that enable Medicare to negotiate drug prices -- the “blizzard of fear that families are experiencing trying to protect their children against the flu will extend into a dark winter for Americans suffering from birth defects, cancer, Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia and heart disease.”

Goldberg’s metaphor may ring of a Bulwer-Lytton novel, but his critique of price-control policy does portend a “dark and story night” for health care in this country if policy makers don’t change their mind-set.

Contrary to Tucker's contention, in this regard one can plausibly point a finger at insurance companies, drug companies and doctors -- with three fingers pointing back at ourselves. Legislation can be repealed or -- as in the case of the Kerry/Dayton Medicare monopsony power -- prevented from ever becoming law in the first place. And a lot of that responsibility falls on “we the people.”

Trial lawyers are an easy target. But before conservatives adopt the liberal tactic of controlling free market activity, better to attack the vaccine shortage at its source -- government control through legislation. Conservatives ought to take the offensive and not only call Kerry to account on the Medicare negotiation issue, but also rally around repeal of the Vaccine for Children’s Act.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Honest, I'm not making this up

Posted by Craig Westover | 5:39 PM |  

After criticizing Senator Mark Dayton’s support of Senate File 2328, a bill that would both allow reimportation of prescription drugs from Canada (a good thing) but place restrictions on pharmaceutical companies preventing them from enforcing no-sale contracts with Canadian pharmacies (a very bad thing), I find my self on Christina Lisi’s mailing list. She’s Dayton’s Communications Director. And -- I am not making this up -- all Dayton’s press releases that arrive online are headed like this --

Your Dayton’s Account

Now for a guy who constantly plays down the role that his entrepreneurial ancestors and their accumulated wealth plays in his ability to interfere in the lives of his fellow Americans, the obvious reference and attempt to bask in the local aura of the Dayton’s name is just a tad disingenuous. Aside from the fact that in context it doesn’t make sense.

What’s next? A politician trying to play up his heritage by running under his middle name?

Style over substance

Posted by Craig Westover | 4:51 PM |  

The Elder over at Fraters Libertas wonders if he’s way off base believing that three-day suspensions of two St. Paul Pioneer Press investigative reporters for attending the John Kerry “Vote for Change Concert” isn’t going a bit far. No worry, Elder. You’re right on. He writes --

Yes, "Vote for Change" was a political event. And yes, reporters are duty bound to maintain their "political neutrality" (snicker). But c'mon, it's a concert. Do you really believe that just because Laszewski and Linsk were grooving to Springsteen and Stipe they are now tainted with bias? Most readers will make judgments on the integrity and objectivity of journalists based on what they write, not on what concerts they attend.

Besides all these ethics rules really do is give journalists ammo to disclaim any bias on their part, as Nick Coleman did when he crowed that he didn't have political signs in his yard and hadn't given money to candidates. Coleman used his dherence to the ethics rules as proof that he was political neutral. Just because you're not allowed to openly display your biases does not mean that they don't exist, as anyone who's read Coleman's columns can attest to.

Pioneer Press editor Vicki Gowler did issue a memo on Sept. 27, the week before the concert, advising staff that “our ethics policy prevents you from engaging in activities that would be a conflict with your employment,” including “concerts that are held as political fundraisers.”

So if the two reporters are being suspended for violating a known rule, all well and good. But one still has to consider the rule itself. The Newspaper Guild is, but after the fact.

Although the Newspaper Guild is contesting the suspensions, it appears that the two reporters read the memo and decided it did not apply to them. The union is contending that a fundraising concert "doesn't meet the definition of conflict of interest" outlined in the union's contract. "The application of this discipline is so broad that the company could decide that people couldn't do any number of things that they're entitled to do in their spare time."

But all that legal rhetoric, as The Elder points out, merely camouflages an illusion that journalists -- or bloggers -- are unbiased. If a journalist can work a beat for years and not learn who tells the truth and who slings the bull and who’s making sense and who’s rambling incoherently, then, I submit, he’s not much of a journalist. And I’d further submit that if he doesn't let that bias for truth show because he sees his job as providing balance, then he’s not providing much of a reader service either.

The Elder is right -- this is another case of style over substance where avoiding the appearance of sin is more significant than the sin itself. I agree with him --

I for one would much rather have journalists be open about what their true beliefs are, rather than hiding behind the facade of journalistic ethics. You disclose, we decide.

BTW -- It’s interesting that this story broke in “the enemy paper.”

Universal Tutition Tax Credit -- MPR Town Hall Meeting remarks

Posted by Craig Westover | 9:13 AM |  

At the MPR town hall meeting addressing Minesota's education gap I had the -- albeit brief -- opportunity to raise the issue of a Universal Tuition Tax Credit, an idea I had subbmitted to MPR‘s online “Idea Generator.” Below are the full version of my suggestion. Reaction from the MPR panel is found here.

Like most of you, I‘ve been watching the presidential debates. And I‘ve learned a few things. . . Don’t slouch . . . Don’t scowl. . . Don’t mention a “global test” . . . DO thank the hosting organization, the moderator and other participants for the opportunity to take part . . . which I now do.

But I especially want to thank “a single mom raising two kids alone.” She was concerned enough about educating her children to vote and comment on the MPR “Idea Generator.” . . . She wrote about a Universal Tuition Tax Credit -- “This would or could change my life.”

All families desire schools where their children can academically succeed. . . .The commissioner and the superintendents desire to provide such schools. . . . A Universal Tuition Tax Credit is a collaborative way to make that happen -- a way to change lives.

Conceptually, a “UNIVERSAL” Tuition Tax Credit allows parents, non-parents and businesses to claim a dollar-for-dollar tax credit. This creates a funding pool that provides even very low-income families access to educational opportunities that today are available only for the well-to-do.

Non-parents and business “invest” in K-12 education either by subsidizing an individual student’s tuition or by contributing to independent scholarship funds. These funds, some already established in Minnesota, provide tuition for students trapped in a system that -- the achievement gap clearly shows us -- is not meeting their needs.

Parents “invest” in K-12 education by writing a check for tuition at a school of their choice . . . which may not necessarily be academically better than their district school, but which does better address their children’s academic needs.

The state is NOT involved in that decision. The state does NOT provide a voucher for any state funds. At tax time, parents are simply refunded a portion of the taxes they would have paid to support a school system they chose not to use.

Thus, when parents do not send their kids to a district school, two things happen.

First, the public school system now has more money per student and can focus attention on fewer students. Second, because parents (except for some low-income exceptions) always pay some out-of-pocket tuition cost, overall, new money is flowing into K-12 education.

A Tuition Tax Credit is a win/win for both private and public education.

Two key points -- The Universal Tuition Tax Credit is capped at a percentage of the state’s average cost to educate a child, and the amount of the tax credit is a percentage of the total tuition actually paid by parents.

Making a Tuition Tax Credit “UNIVERSAL” not only provides all children access to additional educational opportunities, it ignites forces that enhance the general education environment.

A Universal Tuition Tax Credit strengthens traditional public schools by increasing per student funding and reducing class size.

New funds are voluntarily put in play when parents pay tuition at private schools. New money encourages private investment to create a diverse array of neighborhood schools, which provide even more opportunities for all children to attend schools tailored to their academic needs -- close to home.

Funding power in the hands of individuals protects the curriculum integrity of a child’s K-12 years from budget woes and the political whims and of an ever-changing cast at the state capitol.

A Universal Tuition Tax Credit drives educational decision-making and ACCOUNTABILITY to the level of the local school . . . It makes schools accountable to parents and students, not the state and federal governments.

And finally, and perhaps most importantly, a Universal Tuition Tax Credit promotes parental involvement -- the only element all flavors of educational
philosophy agree is essential to student achievement.

Returning to the premise with which I began: Creating a system of diverse school choice provides all children -- of all ethnic backgrounds -- the opportunity to attend schools that provide their best chance for academic success. A Universal Tuition Tax Credit is a key element of such a system.

Implementing a Universal Tuition Tax Credit -- as “a single mom” noted -- can “change lives.”

Thank-you all for your attention.