Monday, January 31, 2005

This is the Captain speaking . . . .

Posted by Craig Westover | 2:33 PM |  

Captain FishsticksFor those tired of their Rush Limbaugh EIB wear and just dying to sport "Captain Fishsticks" fashion, I recieved the following from Gortons vis a vis using their logo --

Thank you for your question/concern, regarding Fish Sticks, Craig

We're always happy to hear from our customers. We'll look into your question/concern immediately and be in touch as soon as possible.

Pioneer Press stamps its rhetorical feet for smoking ban

Posted by Craig Westover | 8:23 AM |  

The Pioneer Press published another smoking ban editorial today, again without definition of "public" health, this one criticizing the compromise that would ban smoking in restaurants but carve out an exemption for bars and private clubs.
An amendment attached by Rep. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, to the House bill would make a distinction between bars and restaurants, excluding bars from the ban while defining restaurants as establishments with more than half their sales in food rather than liquor. Under that definition, the bill that advanced would ban smoking in restaurants but not bars. While the compromise of a full ban allowed the legislation to advance, the goal must be a ban in all indoor public places. It's a health risk issue regardless of where the smoking occurs. Reducing risk means reducing exposure to smoke. Period. . . .

The challenge, as the first committee skirmish shows, is not to let the goal of smoke-free indoor spaces be pushed further into the future with partial fixes, such as the Abeler amendment or a local pre-emption option to the state law.
Like the Health Policy and Finance Committee, the Pioneer Press again ignored the threes crucial tests that this legislation must pass --

First, judged by neutral criteria of "public" health, does secondhand smoke require government intervention?

Second, is the state-level the appropriate level of government to manage local economic and cultural affairs?

Third, are natural, autonomous individual rights subservient to state-granted civil rights based on majority preference?

The Pioneer Press is right in one regard. Passage of a smoking ban bill, amended or not, is not a good thing. Exempting bars and private clubs is economically good for those businesses, but such a bill admits that the state has the legitimate authority to micromanage the economies and culture of local communities statewide, opens the door to virtually any issue becoming a public health issue, and takes another bite out of private property rights.

House File 405 is not just about secondhand smoke. Some letters to the Pioneer Press from non-smokers might be in order.

Funny hat tip to Caleb Charles

Posted by Craig Westover | 8:06 AM |  

A public thanks to a young Whippersnapper for some code that cleaned up the look of my site from a guy old enough to remember when "remote control" was my father telling me to change the station. (By the way, I had to walk all the way over to the T.V. set, which was uphill both ways.)

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Nick Coleman -- A Google reference in search of a hit

Posted by Craig Westover | 1:11 PM |  

Maybe I’m just a little miffed or more than a little envious or maybe I really lust in my heart after Nick Coleman, but his continued pursuit of Powerline is more than a little peeving.

It’s pretty clear to us psychology majors familiar with the behavior of rats confined in cages (or cubes) that getting hammered on the Internet every time he pushes on the Powerline guys is less punishing for Nick than the reward he gets being mentioned by mainstream sources -- most recently Editor and Publisher. (Funny hat tip to People’s Republic of Minnesota.)

The E&P article, “Beware of the Blog” by Joe Strupp, rehashes the Coleman/Powerline feud and fallout, then attempts to provide some context.
For [Star Tribune] ombud [Kate] Parry, both sides should be warned to be careful dealing with the effects of blog-newsprint battles. "I have yet to find anywhere in the mainstream media anyone who really has a handle on bloggers," she asserts. "We are dealing with a relatively new phenomenon."
Guess that relgates "Captain Fishsticks" to so much chopped cod. As Bogus Gold posted, the Maxfield controversy was a case study in the way a mainstream newspaper column and a blog can combine to provide readers with a complete picture of an issue that spans multiple media and sources, no matter when they become aware of the story, and provides opportunity for follow-up and clarification, which newspaper readers are coming to expect.

From Bogus Gold --
Today, an interesting new development occurred. In the pages of the Pioneer Press, a letter from someone named "Gary Thompson" was published responding to one of Westover's columns on this topic. While the letter writer clearly disagreed with Mr. Westover, his letter offered some intriguing clues about how blogs are changing the way news consumers relate to even traditional media sources. Some choice tidbits:
"Readers had to investigate past Pioneer Press articles and Westover's blog to figure out what he was really talking about."
Column space being limited, they certainly did if they wanted to truly understand all the background on the matter. It wasn't very difficult either. Everything is right there for all to see on Westover's public blog. That's how blog readers investigate that kind of background every day. And apparently that model is crossing into consumers of newspapers as well; even to this hostile letter writer.
"Please, Westover, come out and fully explain that your idea of public school choice is in the form of private school vouchers."
And indeed, Mr. Westover did just that today; in terrific detail and unrestricted by column space, because he did it on his blog.There is also the matter that this letter to the editor resembled a comment on a blog, in that it seemed to fully expect a reply. And Westover treated it no differently.
So rather than resent being Rwanda in the summer of Iraq, I’ll take some solace in the fact that while Nick chases after the Powerline guys, he fled the field on the Maxfield and school-choice issues, and left me with the last word.

French fried journalism

Posted by Craig Westover | 10:01 AM |  

Okay -- there are plenty of places to read about media bias on the international scene and lots of places to read the French bash de jour. The Associated Press has plenty of detractors, and the walls of my glass house somewhat preclude casting stones at "balanced" journalism. But here’s my “Golden Globe” nomination for “Most Ridiculous Presentation in a Serious News Article.”

French forces play role in tsunami aid
One of dozen nations helping relief operation
By Michael Casey
Associated Press

He begins --

ABOARD JEANNE D'ARC — The naval ship's pantry is stocked with wines, baguettes and pate, and its casual dress code is shorts and sandals. There's even an artist — a painter to keep an illustrated record of the trip.

With a panache all its own, France's military is delivering aid to tsunami-battered Indonesia — and showing how a small force can make a difference.

A month after killer waves struck the Indonesian island of Sumatra, the French are part of an international relief operation that includes forces from more than a dozen nations, including Japan, Russia and Switzerland.
No mention of the United States. Oh, ya. This is an “international” relief operation. The United States is engaged in “unilateral” relief aid.

Casey then describes some very good things the French are doing -- clearing debris, rebuilding schools, treating the sick, putting out fires, and then notes --

Although media attention has focused on the U.S. contribution, particularly by the nuclear aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and its battle group, aid officials say the French and other forces are playing an equally important role.

"(The French) increase our capacity to move loads into some areas where roads have yet to be reconstructed. Trucks cannot reach these areas," said Daniel Augstburger, head of the U.N.'s relief work on Sumatra's western coast.

That responsibility likely will increase once the Americans leave with their three dozen helicopters.

Just grin and bear it -- a UN endorsement and the implication that the United States will be pulling out its ostentatious fleet of helicopters before the relief effort is complete. Of course, the French are above such comparisons.
The French, who also are conducting relief operations in Sri Lanka and the Maldives, object to comparisons with the Americans.

"The feeling we had in France was that, as usual, the Americans were rushing in force to Indonesia and boasting about it," said flotilla spokeswoman Cmdr. Anne Cullerre. "For some people, it seemed outrageous.

"How can you really boast of doing something from this tragedy? People were saying, 'They are doing it again. They are showing off.' " Vice Adm. Rolin Xavier, who heads the French military effort, dubbed Operation Beryx, said, "We are not in the shadow of the Americans, but we work alongside them."
A good journalist always makes sure that readers are clear about the point of an article, and lest any readers might think this article is about French generosity, reporter Casey elucidates --
Critics of the U.S. military's work in Indonesia say Washington has seized on the disaster as a pretext for advancing its strategic interests in the archipelago and improving ties with the Indonesian military.

Those ties effectively were cut in 1999 after Indonesian troops and their proxy militias killed 1,500 East Timorese after the half-island territory voted for independence in a U.N.-sponsored independence referendum.

During her recent Senate confirmation hearings, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the tsunami provided a "wonderful opportunity" for the United States to reap "great dividends" in the region.

The dispatch of the USS Abraham Lincoln's strike force has been viewed in some quarters as an effort not only to help survivors, but also to burnish America's image among Islamic communities worldwide by delivering aid to the largest Muslim country in the world.

Whoever the “critics” are just what the hell do they expect? Perhaps the United States should have ignored this whole tsunami thing to avoid any apparent conflict of motives. After all, we did have the audacity to cut ties with the Indonesian military after they slaughtered 1,500 East Timorese. Just curious -- did the UN ever take responsibility for those deaths, which followed its sponsored referendum? [Insert a split quote, cheap shot at Condoleezza Rice here.]

And what better sign could there be that a partisan God loves Christians more than Muslums than the "twofor" he provided to the Bush administration as payback for promoting His interests -- He sent them a tsunami and provided the United States with the opportunity to coerce them into loving us.

The last line of the article, however does ring true --

The French maintain they do not have strategic interests in the region.
The French gave up on any kind of strategy with the fall of the Maginot Line. They now specialize in whine.

Friday, January 28, 2005

The other side of secondhand smoke science

Posted by Craig Westover | 4:25 PM |  

In my previous post highlighting Day One of the House Health Policy and Finance Committee hearings on HF 405, the smoking ban bill, I noted that the only new information presented was scientific refutation of claims about the dangers of secondhand smoke presented by Edmund Contoski. Mr. Contoski is a retired environmental consultant. He was Director of Planning for an international environmental consulting firm doing business in more than forty countries.

In an excellent letter to Rep. Meslow, chief author of the smoking ban bill, Mr Contoski lays out scientific refutation of the major evidence used by smoking ban proponents to support the idea that secondhand some poses a significant danger. The full text of Mr. Contoski’s letter appears here.

Mr. Contosky disputes the claim that there is “mountains of evidence” that secondhad smoke is a dangerous carcinogen. He cites research by Littlewood & Fennel reported to the National Toxicology Program’s Board of Scientific Counselors on Carcinogens. Littlewood & Fennel reported that the overwhelming majority of secondhad smoke studies (over 75 percent) showed no association between secondhand smoke and lung cancer. They said the remaining studies (23%) showed “weak” statistical associations and included “substantial problems with bias, misrepresentation of relative risks and unacceptable epidemiological methodology.”

Mr. Contowski further notes that when the EPA declared secondhand smoke a carcinogen, it violated its own Risk Assessment Guidelines and a number of internationally recognized guidelines. The General Accounting Office also has been severely critical of the statistical manipulations that EPA engaged in to try to make ETS a carcinogen.

Mr. Contoski provides examples of EPA data manipulation and quotes U.S. District Judge William Osteen that “EPA cannot show a statistically significant association between ETS and lung cancer. In conducting the ETS Risk Assessment, EPA disregarded information and made findings on selective information, did not disseminate significant epidemiological information; deviated from its Risk Assessment Guidelines; [and] failed to disclose important findings and reasoning….”*

[*The U.S. Fifth District Court decision referred to in the letter was overturned on appeal. However, this action was purely a procedural matter that said nothing about the merits of the issues in the case. The appeals court ruled that EPA's decision about ETS being a carcinogen was not a reviewable action and therefore the Fifth District Court had no jurisdiction. That's all the court said; it declined to comment on the science or the merits of EPA's action.]

Throughout his letter to Rep. Meslow, Mr. Contoski makes references to recognized objective standards that secondhand smoke studies have consistently failed to meet. For example, the scientifically accepted standard for quantifying a health danger in epidemiological studies is risk ratio (RR), also known as relative risk. Secondhand smoke studies rarely mention risk ratios because the risk ratios for secondhand smoke are so low they do not qualify for serious consideration according to accepted standards.

Despite using its invalid statistical manipulations, EPA could come up with an RR of only 1.19 for ETS. That’s far below the standards of the National Cancer Institute or the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Dr. Eugenia Calle, director of analytic epidemiology for the American Cancer Society, says that RRs below 1.3 cannot even be reliably identified. When a study showed an RR of 1.5 between abortion and breast cancer, Dr. Calle was quick to state that a RR of 1.5 is too low to call abortion a risk factor for cancer.

Mr. Contoski also notes that smoking ban proponents talk a lot about the percentage increase in risk ratios without actually mentioning the risk ratio in question. For example, they may say that there is a 50% increase in the risk, without mentioning that this means a risk ratio of 1.5, which is still far below the level of meaningful risk, as Dr. Calle noted.

Smoking ban proponents talk about “hundreds” of studies—but they don’t reveal what the risk ratios are for those studies or that those numbers show the opposite of what they claim. The risk ratios for those “hundreds” of studies show the absence of danger from secondhand smoke, as does EPA’s risk ratio of 1.19 for secondhand smoke.

Mr. Contoski also debunks an anti smoking ad running in Twin Cities newspapers showing a bar waitress holding a tray and the message “69 carcinogens.” That may be true, but it is deliberately misleading with the intent to scare people. It is misleading because a single cup of coffee contains 100 carcinogens. And drinking three cups of coffee per week exposes you to greater danger of cancer than pack-a-day secondhand smoke for 40 years!

Mr. Contoski’s evidence is well stated and documented as was sent to the Committee in advance of the hearings. Other than Mr. Contoski’s abbreviated presentation, this information largely went unheard and unacknowledged by the Committee in its debate.

Full text is found here.

House committee passes the "butt" on smoking ban

Posted by Craig Westover | 2:51 PM |  

In a previous post, I noted that proponents of the statewide smoking ban were better prepared to present their case to the House Health Policy and Finance Committee. That's not to tak anything away from individual presentations made by opponents of the bill. They simply did not have the time, resources, or controlling power that proponents had.

They get a second chance in front of the Commerce and Fiancial Institutions Committee. As a purely academic exercise, a hypothetical opening presentation by opponents of a statewide smoking ban (pre-conditioned by an e-mail to committee members) might go a little bit like this --

# # #

Chairman Wilkin and Committee Members:

The Commerce and Financial Institutions Committee soon will have before it an amended version of House File No. 405 the “Freedom to Breathe Act of 2005.” This bill is passed without recommendation from the Health Policy and Finance Committee. By passing the bill without recommendation, that committee failed to fulfill three basic obligations.

First, the Committee failed to objectively define a "public health risk" in order to determine whether or not secondhand smoke rises to the level of a “public” health issue requiring government intervention.

Second, the Committee failed to ascertain whether or not state government was the proper level of government at which to implement a smoking ban.

Third, the Committee failed to resolve the fundamental issue of perceived conflict between the right of a private property owner to regulate legal activities on his property and the entitlement right of non-smoking patrons and employees to curtail the legal use of private property.

Let me briefly expand these failings.

Some look at health data relating to secondhand smoke and conclude it is just “common sense” to implement some sort of smoking ban in public and “quasi-public” places in Minnesota. But “common sense” is not a criterion of constraint on the power of government to intervene in the lives of those subject to its regulation. One person’s “common sense” is another person’s “foolishness.”

Government intervention in private lives, even for health reasons, must be based on objective criteria, else it is little more than majoritarian infliction of will on a powerless minority.

For the Committee’s consideration, I submit three criteria for elevating a widespread health concern to the level of a “public” health problem requiring government intervention.

1) A person must be exposed to a risk without her consent.

2) The risk affects the community at large -- anyone or everyone must be equally at risk.

3) A reasonable person cannot individually protect himself from the risk.

When the Committee considers these criteria, it will see that they grant government authority to regulate many current public health activities including ensuring clean water, vaccinating against contagious diseases and ensuring a safe food supply. These criteria even justify a smoking ban in a truly public place.

For example, a smoking ban in the capitol is justified in that any person subpoenaed to testify there cannot reasonably refuse and yet does not necessarily consent to exposure to secondhand smoke.

However, the criteria do not apply to “quasi-public” private property. Those patronizing or working in an establishment where smoking is permitted do so with their consent. That establishment’s policies directly affect only those who choose to enter. Any reasonable person can avoid the risk by exercising the free choice not to enter.

Members of the Committee may object to these criteria, but I submit that if the Committee relies on “common sense,” and does not weigh a smoking ban against some set of neutral criteria justifying government intervention in the name of “public health,” it has failed to do its job.

The Committee must also decide if the State is the appropriate level of government at which intervention is necessary.

In that regard, amended HF 405 as passed to the Committee was cobbled together from existing local ordinances and contains terms with accepted meanings within those local jurisdictions but which have no statewide common understanding. Those local ordinances are designed to address specific local conditions, which conflict with statewide situations that they were never intended to address.

The point is, it is impossible to craft legislation at the state level that micromanages economic and cultural activity in local jurisdictions without unintended consequences. While those consequences are simply annoyances to legislators who must go back and tweak the law, they are costly to taxpayers who must foot the bill and can be devastating to business owners inadvertently damaged by necessarily uninformed legislation.

That leads to the final point.

HF 405 is not just a about a “Freedom to Breathe Act”; it is about the American ideal that for more than 200 years has drawn to our country people “yearning to breathe free.”

The inscription on the Statute of Liberty is not a reference to “America, the land of smoke-free bars.” It is a reference to the autonomous right of individuals to pursue their dreams without arbitrary interference from government. That is an issue the Committee cannot avoid.

Ultimately, the validation of any smoking ban law passed by the state will not be decided, pro or con, on the basis of health data. It will not be validated by economic impact. It will be decided in response to court challenges that defend the fundamental autonomous right of individuals to participate in private activities legally beyond the legitimate authority of government.

As currently structured, HF 405 is a petri dish for spawning Constitutional challenges. Failing to consider perceived conflict between the autonomous rights of a private property owner and the entitlement rights of non-smoking patrons and employees would be a gross abdication of the Committee’s responsibility.

Passing the buck to the full legislature and eventually the courts might be the politically expedient thing to do, but it is certainly neither courageous nor ethical. Passing the costs of defending constitutional litigation to taxpayers is unforgivable.

HF 405 carries far more significance than most bills. It is not just about secondhand smoke. It raises important questions about the limits to which government can go in the name of “public” health. It raises important questions about the proper sharing of authority between state and local jurisdiction. It raises important questions about conflict between fundamental autonomous rights and government granted civil rights.

These questions require the hard decisions legislators agreed to address when entrusted with constituent votes. The Health Policy and Finance Committee failed to meet that obligation.


PRESS RELEASE -- School choice gains momentum

Posted by Craig Westover | 1:59 PM |  

[Note: I'll have more on Pawlenty's proposal in a future post. At this point, I can say his heart's in the right place, but I'm not so sure he's thought this proposal all the way through. Need to noodle it a little more. But the hype is good. The Milwaukee note is especially disheartening.]

From the Alliance for School Choice


PHOENIX— In a powerful expression of the growing momentum of the school choice movement, governors of three states this week called for the enactment of school choice programs in their State of the State addresses.

“These efforts demonstrate a growing recognition that we need to consider all alternatives, including private schools, to make good on the promise of equal educational opportunities,” declared Clint Bolick, president and general counsel of the Phoenix-based Alliance for School Choice, the nonprofit group that leads the national effort for school choice for economically disadvantaged schoolchildren.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty proposed in his budget a $4 million tax credit that he says will help close the achievement gap between white and minority students, which is among the most important public policy issues of our time. Under the plan, businesses would get the credit for funding scholarships that would allow as many as 1,500 poor and academically struggling students in the K-12 public school system to attend private schools.

“We're going to take the poor and the failing and give them another option,” Pawlenty said in his State of the State address. “They are economically challenged, they are socially challenged, they are socially challenged in many respects, and they are academically challenged. And the statistics as to their performance -- the achievement gap as it relates to Caucasian versus students of color -- is chronic, and it's systemic.”

South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford’s plan is to reform the state’s education system and make it more competitive. He wants to do that by offering income and property-tax credits for private school tuition, as well as fees for attending school in another public school district and for home schooling. “If we keep on doing what we’ve been doing, were going to keep on getting what we’ve been getting,” Sanford said in his address. The credits would be refundable so that low-income families can benefit.

He urged the passing of the Put Parents in Charge Act so his state can compete on the international playing field, but, more importantly, “make changes that can transform people’s lives.”

In his State of the State address, Texas Gov. Rick Perry advocated more choices for children and financial incentives for schools that serve many economically disadvantaged children. He said, “Every child is entitled to a public education, but public education is not entitled to every child. Let's give children who need a second chance new choices that can forever change their future. Let's give them school choice.” The governor backs a pilot school choice program aimed at children in failing schools.

These three governors joined Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who already this year signed a school choice program for pre-K, allowing 100,000 to 200,000 children to attend private pre-schools; and Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who stated his support for Utah's school choice. Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt also pledged this week to make education his highest priority with plans to craft a new formula ensuring every Missouri child receives a world-class education.

Sounding a discordant note, Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle quashed talks of a one-year reprieve in the enrollment cap on Milwaukee’s school choice program, which is very close to reaching its cap of about 15,000 students, or 15 percent of the enrollment of Milwaukee Public Schools. The program, which allows low-income families to send their children to private schools with state-funded tuition vouchers, has about 14,700 students participating this year and soon will reach capacity. If the cap is not raised, many economically disadvantaged youngsters may be forced to leave the only good schools they have ever attended.

# # #

Liar, liar II

Posted by Craig Westover | 1:41 PM |  

Finally had a chance to check out some of the reaction to the Pioneer Press institutional editorial praising Mark Dayton. People’s Republic of Minnesota sums up the reaction pretty concisely with the headline One Step Forward, Two Steps Back.”

Dayton v. Kennedy also takes the one step/two step angle.

Any ambitions the St. Paul Pioneer Press had to be a credible alternative to the Strib evaporated Wednesday morning.
Bogus Gold doesn’t pull any punches and blasts the Pioneer Press Editorial Board with a vengeance usually reserved for that columnist 9.48 miles west of the Pioneer Press building.

Listen, idiot crap-weasel editors of the number two local paper, leave sucking up to the DFL to the guys across the river. We don’t need two papers singing the same tune in this town.
As if to prove BG’s point, the Mark Dayton for Minnesota Official Blog posts self-congratulatory kudos for the St. Paul endorsement and Strib columnist Doug Grow’s complimentary title of "Senator Substance.”

[With a funny hat tip to the Nihilist in Golf Pants, does that make Bogus Gold a “Substance Abuser”?]

Can’t say I disagree with the Pioneer Press critics, but nonetheless, I have to beg a little slack for my hometown paper. [Full disclosure -- I am a highly paid influential member of the MSM (remove tongue from cheek)].

Word on the street is that circumstances left but two of the editorial board members on duty Tuesday, and the Dayton editorial was somewhat of a “mice will play effort.”

Nonetheless, the identity and consistency crisis at the Pioneer Press is highlighted when absence of a quorum can result is a wild departure from the reasoned analysis trend of recent months to a one-day turnaround of hackneyed praise for “pants on fire” rhetoric that is more appropriate 9.48 miles west.

I beg my paper a little slack until the “A” team is back on the field.

Report from the Inauguration

Posted by Craig Westover | 1:00 PM |  

My niece, “Princess Kim,” is a freshman at the University of Minnesota Morris and “a proud Republican on an extremely liberal campus” (welcome to higher education, Kim!).

The College Republicans at Morris put together a trip to the Inaugural ceremonies. “It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life,” Kim wrote. “I will never forget having the chance to be part of such an historic moment.” Here’s some of her impressions.

Thursday morning started out pretty early. We wanted to try and get to the Capitol by 8:00 a.m. so that we would be sure to get as far forward as possible so that we could see. Unfortunately, we got a little later start than expected, left part of the group behind at a metro stop, and didn’t end up getting to the Capitol much before 9:15. Our tickets were for the green standing section, which was located just behind the seated sections but in front of the reflecting pond.

Security definitely wasn’t as tight as I thought that it would be. We stood in a line for about 15 minutes, were asked to hand over our bags which were thoroughly dug through, and then were patted down. A woman in front of us had to leave the line and go back through after she had some perfume in her purse that they wouldn’t let it. She was forced to throw it away or not be allowed in. I guess I expected that they would have us go through metal detectors or something, but in retrospect that probably would have been inefficient.

Once we were through security, we had to go through a series of “checkpoints” to get to the actual ceremony grounds. I put checkpoints in parentheses because all they really consisted of were policemen who asked you to flash your ticket at them as you walked by. After a short walk we were on the Capitol lawn ready to see the ceremony. We had still gotten there early enough to get a decent spot, we ended up standing only about eight feet behind the fence, probably about 200 yards from the podium where Bush was sworn in.

The weather was nearly perfect; I don’t think it could have been much better. It was a little cold for some people (those from warm states) but not to bad considering the weather we had just left. The sun even peeked out for a while which was nice for me! Talking to people in the crowd was fascinating; there were some guys behind us who had road tripped from Wisconsin to come, some older men who had also come from Minnesota, and a family visiting as part of a band that was playing in the parade later in the day.

I’m pretty short, so I didn’t have the easiest time seeing everything that was going on; the men standing in front of us were pretty tall. They did have two jumbotrons on either side of the capitol that would show people as they came in to be seated. When Senator John Kerry was shown on the monitor, most of the crowd erupted in boo’s and hisses. Personally, I found this deplorable and disgusting, but there wasn’t a lot I could have done about it. The reactions to different politicians on the platform was pretty funny, I don’t think the people up there knew what the crowd was reacting too.

I thought it was amazing to know that all of the most important people in the United States were up on that platform. I didn’t have a real clear view, but I could make out different crowds like the Supreme Court Justices and such. The applause after particularly loved people came in was amazing. It was such a rush to be a part of a crowd that was so excited and moved by the events. George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush got a really warm reception, as did Dick and Lynn Cheney, and the Bush family. The College Republicans have a website, where you can go to see some video of people being introduced. The links are down at the bottom of the website.

At precisely 11:30, the actual ceremony began. There was a lot of singing from different groups, an interesting invocation to begin the event, and then some comments from Trent Lott. After Trent Lott spoke, Dick Cheney was sworn in. Dennis Hastert did the swearing in, but did a pretty sad job with it because he stumbled over all the words. Quite sad really… The applause after Cheney’s swearing in was pretty impressive too, it felt really cool to be a part of that moment.

After Cheney’s ceremony, there was yet another song, and then the big event. The crowd was completely silent as Chief Justice Rehnquist took to the platform. I was actually impressed he was there; even though I didn’t have a clear view of him I could see on the jumbotron that he didn’t look well at all. He did walk out by himself, but he looked really shaky. He didn’t sit outside for the ceremony, which definitely makes sense considering his health.

I’m sitting at my computer right now, and I can’t quite find the words to describe the actual swearing in. It was almost so quick that it was unimpressive, but at the same time it held so much gravity that it was impossible to not be affected by it. I think the thing that most impressed me was how smooth it was. When you think about how contentious the transfer of power is in many nations of the world, I find it stunning that we can do it every four years with no violence. As the most powerful nation in the world, and a nation with so many differing ideas and opinions, it really struck me during that moment how truly amazing this idea is.

Following the swearing in was Bush’s inaugural address. I thought that the speech was absolutely amazing. As an English and Speech Communications major, I was more interested in the words and ideas he was presenting, not as much the implications of those words, so as a note, my thoughts on the speech are presented with that focus.

Rhetorically, I thought that the speech was really strong. He made quite a few strong allusions to current events, but the way they were presented was as an abstract, so that the speech felt more timeless than simply focused on now. He also clearly referenced a lot of historical incidents in history that I thought were interesting. He also spoke quite clearly to individual groups of Americans as well as other groups across the globe. I thought this was an interesting way to present the speech so that he was able to say exactly what he wanted to each group.

My favorite part of the speech was his section on self-government and personal responsibility. [Note: Yes, my blood courses through this child’s veins.] After hearing those ideas, ideas that I passionately believe in I was reminded of why I am so proud to be American. My favorite quote from the speech is, “By making every citizen an agent of his or her own destiny, we will give our fellow Americans greater freedom from want and fear, and make our society more prosperous and just and equal.” That is the exact reasoning that I hold both the moral and political beliefs that I do. Yo hear the President articulate them in an Inaugural address was amazing for me. I really found his speech to be amazing; the speech was easily the high point of my day.

During the speech, a number of protesters were escorted out. I couldn’t see what they did, I was paying attention to the speech, and I’m to short to see easily around the crowd in front of me, but I did see them being taken out by the police. People in the crowd started swearing at them and stuff, which I thought, was really unnecessary, but at the same time I think it was horrible to be protesting during the ceremony. It was sort of a weird moment, but it was taken care of really quickly and without much fuss by the security personnel.

After Bush’s speech, there was a benediction given and then the United States Marine Corps band played the National Anthem. The crowd was invited to sing along, and it was a beautiful experience to share such joy in our nation with hundreds of thousands of other people. Honestly, I couldn’t stop smiling all day after the ceremony because it was just that cool for me.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Satire is reality in a crazy world

Posted by Craig Westover | 8:14 AM |  

Good satire is hard to write. It’s easy to succumb to ridicule or to downright meanness. Good satire has two essential elements -- first, good satire has enough truth in the specific situation to make the exaggeration funny, and second the specific folly lampooned has a more general application. This piece today by Andy Borowitz is good satire.

Move Seen as Olive Branch to Women

In an effort to "level the academic playing field," Harvard University President Lawrence Summers announced today that the university would introduce a home economics major designed specifically for its female students.

"Starting in the fall, Harvard will offer home economics for women who find economics too tricky," said Mr. Summers, who called the move "long overdue."

Mr. Summers said that the new courses would help women at Harvard improve their grade point averages, adding, "When it comes to getting busy in the kitchen, women are second to none."

The home ec major, which will consist of courses in cooking, sewing and what Summers called "the allied domestic arts and sciences," is considered a major departure for the curriculum of the storied academic institution. Coming in the wake of Mr. Summers' recent controversial remarks about purported intellectual differences between the sexes, the Harvard president's decision to introduce a home economics major for women was widely seen as an olive branch of sorts.

But the move may have backfired, as an angry mob of female faculty members protested outside his office today, demanding his immediate ouster and burning Mr. Summers in effigy.

In a meeting with the protesters, Mr. Summers promised that he would recruit additional women to the Harvard faculty but refused to tell the protesters how many: "I don't want to fill your heads with a lot of big numbers you won't understand."
First, following this controversy, one gets the sense that Summers' remark that women may not have the same innate abilities in math and science as men is something that he really believes. One need not even read between the lines of his non-apology apology. From the Boston Globe --
In response, Summers wrote that he did not believe "that women lack the ability to succeed at the highest levels of math and science."

"I apologize for any adverse impact . . . on our common efforts to make steady progress in this critical area," he [Summers] said in a return letter sent within hours of hearing from the committee [protesting his remarks].
One can almost hear him saying, "When it comes to getting busy in the kitchen, women are second to none.”

Second, Harvard establishing a home economics class is exactly the kind of program a “redemptive liberal” would put in place to show “sincere remorse.” One need look no further than the plethora of welfare programs that are implemented that do more to make liberals feel good than are of actual help to intended recipients -- programs that no one ever dare call into question.

The satiric irony is that a Home Economics major at Harvard would only hold women back. We laugh at that notion. But today's liberals fail to note the same irony in the notion that only white beneficence can pull minorities out of poverty. In fact, that attitude, as would home economics at Harvard, only domesticates the people it intends to serve. It does not empower them.

[Sneaky how we got into a serious discussion with a bit of light humor, isn’t it? But then all life is metaphor.]

Case in point. This week I attended a lecture given by Rebbeca Nieves Huffman, a highly-degreed Hispanic woman and President of Hispanic CREO, an organization promoting educational opportunities for Hispanic children. Following her prepared presentation, she opened for questions. A woman from the Minnesota Department of Education asked about a current state program that buses kids from the inner city to the suburbs. She wondered why the Hispanic kids didn't take advantage of it.

Ms. Huffman was professional and gentle explaining cultural issues and some types of possible outreach programs. Then a young Hispanic man from the audience (I’d met him earlier in the day at San Miquel School in Minneapolis, where he has a daughter and nieces and nephews) was given the microphone. Basically he told the woman from the MDE that Hispanic parents didn’t send their kids to the suburbs because they are afraid their kids would get the crap beat out of them.

The woman from the MDE didn't get it. The Hispanic community doesn’t necessarily want to send their kids to “white” schools. They want good neighborhood schools -- integrated by the make-up of the neighborhood. No parent of any color wants to put his kid on a bus for a couple hours everyday just to send her to a school where she has no common ground for building solid relationships with her classmates.

But nonetheless, you know damn well that some politician, (as Borowitz portrays Summers) is going to claim this program for credit with minorities.

Rethinking -- perhaps the world is more satire than metaphor.

UPDATE: Proofing this, Ijust noticed that Borowitz uses the hackneyed word "storied" for humorous effect. Now I get it. The Mark Dayton paen in the Pioneer Press was satire! (Slapping hand to forehead.) Silly me!

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Apology for Mark Dayton

Posted by Craig Westover | 6:18 PM |  

Remember Sorry Everybody?

Well, had I a digital camera, I’d today be snapping away in apology for the Pioneer Press institutional editorial praising the "rhetorical charge" of Mark Dayton against the confirmation of Condoleeza Rice. I don’t know what’s worse, the hackneyed description of Dayton’s speech as rising “to the best traditions of that storied [Senate] chamber” or that someone would have that thought.

As proud as I was to be associated with the Pioneer Press for its courageous endorsement of President Bush and the professional manner in which it laid out a series of logical reasons for the choice, I am that ashamed of an editorial that praises a man who vulgarizes a legitimate policy disagreement by calling the now-secretary of state a liar.

The editorial calls Dayton “the loyal opposition.” Indeed he is the opposition, but he cannot be portrayed as “loyal.” A “loyal opposition” seeks through its opposition to better those it opposes for the betterment of all, not destroy its opponents for the benefit of none but itself.

Have Dayton’s comments made America a more civil country? Have they served to unite us in any way? Have they strengthened America in the eyes of the world? Have they enhanced the ability of America to move foreign policy forward? Have they demonstrated any insight into the way Americans govern themselves? Have they accomplished anything?

Have they detracted from any legitimate debate about the president’s foreign policy?

And this is what the Pioneer Press amateurishly gushes is in the best traditions of the storied Senate Chamber -- Liar, liar, pants on fire . . . .

World, I am so sorry.

Tell me again why we should be concerned about government power

Posted by Craig Westover | 2:09 PM |  

This morning I attended the Health Policy and Finance Committee Meeting at the State Capitol. Today's agenda was the introduction of the "Freedom to Breathe Act of 2005," the statewide smoking ban bill, not to be confused with Emma Lazarus' "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free."

The "New Colossus" here is a state government that sees no need to mention individual rights and the responsibility of individual choice -- no need to mention freedom except to dismiss it as irrelevant.

Pro-bill and anti-bill speakers were each given 45 minutes to present their cases. With the exception of some enlightening scientific refutation of the overblown health risk of second hand smoke by author Edmund Contoski (more in a separate post) there was little new information presented by either side in the controversy that you can't find on this site.

But I was struck by a blinding glimpse of the obvious -- the reason why government power is so insidious.

The proponents of the bill spoke first. On the printed agenda that was handed out at the meeting, 13 pro-bill speakers were listed plus the two chief sponsors of the bill, Representatives Doug Meslow and Ron Latz. After opening remarks explaining the bill by Rep Latz, Rep Meslow reserved his time to speak. He then managed the list of proponents.

He did an excellent job.

The bill proponents built a good story. They had a mix of health care professionals and private citizens, restaurant owners and employees. They had an asthma victim who is also a bartender in smoking bar, a waitress who must force herself to be pleasant to customers in the smoking section although she is on the verge of vomiting. They took testimony from a woman who said little, but testified wearing an oxygen device required because of smoking-related causes. They put a man before the committee to recall the death of his non-smoking wife who died of lung cancer; she had worked in a smoky environment. And they wrapped up with Pat McKone of the American Lung Association, who characterized the opponents yet to speak with the skill of a trial lawyer.

It was theater at its best. Each speaker built on the testimony of the previous one. It was clear,these proponents were not chosen at random, but were bullet points in a logical argument. Ignoring the lack of substance and avoidance of the real issues, it was very well done.

Then came the opponents.

I do not mean to minimize the presentation of any one speaker, but without a central organization, the "theater" was haphazard. On the printed agenda there were only three opponents to the bill listed -- Hospitality Minnesota, the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association and the Mayor of New Ulm -- so with agenda in hand, it looked like a debate between private citizens, health care workers, bartenders and servers versus "Big hospitality." Although several others spoke against the bill, small business owners among them, they were not on the agenda -- likely because the word of the hearing didn't get out until late last night. (I got a call about 7:30 or so).

Whereas Rep. Meslow ended on cue with a neatly tied summary, the opponents of the bill ended by being cutoff with some people still waiting to speak.

The point is, on the one hand you have a government with all the power, all the control. On the other, citizens trying to defend their right to do business -- business that poses no threat to anyone without his or her consent. There were no Big Tobacco people opposing the bill, no well-organized opposition. And it showed.

Hopefully the committee will be smart enough to put the story together (and pigs will fly), but the disparity of the resources when government versus the rights of the people was, today, truly frightening.

COLUMN -- Smoking ban debate is about personal liberty

Posted by Craig Westover | 8:25 AM |  

Posted on Wed, Jan. 26, 2005

It is the best of causes, it is the worst of causes, it is motivated by sincerity, it is motivated by expediency, it is a matter of principle, it is a matter of "common sense," we are all heading down the road to serfdom, we will all die coughing and wheezing on the road now traveled — in short, the Legislature is in session, debating a statewide smoking ban, and the "noisiest authorities" insist that, for good or evil, only superlatives be applied to legislative judgment.

It is the 229th year of the American experiment and some tremble still at the consequences of liberty. They consistently barter individual freedom for the chimera of "collective public good." Case in point — the collective preference for a smoking ban on bars and restaurants that strips autonomy from individuals, who uncoerced, would seek employment at and patronize those private establishments.

That brings us to the tale of two legislators who exemplify the best and worst of these times.

As is depressingly frequent, our tale begins with state government. In August 1998, the Ramsey County District Court approved the state's plan for administering significant dollars from the Minnesota tobacco lawsuit through a nonprofit corporation, the Minnesota Partnership for Action Against Tobacco.

Can it still seem "magic" that a state-seeded agency planted in a bed of power and watered with public money would grow an education charter into an enforcement beanstalk?

Inevitably MPAAT funds found their way to local smoking ban initiatives, most notably in Duluth. Despite objections by Attorney General Mike Hatch that MPAAT was inappropriately using state money, a tepid 2002 court decision only delayed MPAAT political activism.

In 2003 Rep. Tim Wilkin, R-Eagan, was one of eight state-appointed members of the 19-member MPAAT board of directors. Opposed on principle to forming MPAAT, Wilkin nonetheless felt that given the reality, MPAAT's chartered mandate to help people voluntarily quit smoking was worthwhile. He agreed to serve.

Then despite objections by Wilkin and others, MPAAT announced grants of up to $1.5 million for political action activities.

MPAAT's policy, wrote Wilkin in his MPAAT resignation letter to House Speaker Steve Sviggum, "will allow the organization to fund direct lobbying efforts of its own on questions in front of the Legislature," an action Wilken characterizes a "fundamentally unfair" use of taxpayer dollars and a "conflict of interest" for legislators sitting on the MPAAT board.

Sen. Scott Dibble, D-Minneapolis, who will be a sponsor of the statewide smoking ban bill this session, sees no such conflict of interest. However, as a matter of expediency and appearance and "to avoid the distractions of a manufactured issue," he followed Wilkin with a resignation from MPAAT. Dibble construes that taxpayer money isn't at issue because MPAAT funding comes from the tobacco industry lawsuit.

Contrasted with Wilkin, who opposes a statewide smoking ban on principle, Dibble holds a "common sense" (tempered by public opinion) approach to government intervention. It is "inhumane" to "deny" nonsmokers access to employment and enjoyment of "quasi-public" bars and restaurants despite the rights of proprietors and patrons, he said.

And there shorn of its rhetoric is the naked crux of the smoking ban debate. It's not a debate about public health. It's not about economic consequences. It's about our essential understanding of the principles of liberty and limited government.

Either you believe there is a fundamental right of personal autonomy — defined by court cases like Roe v. Wade (legalizing abortion) and Lawrence v. Texas (striking down sodomy statutes) — or you believe there is no end to the inequalities of fortune that must be rectified by the brutal force of government.

Either you believe that constitutional principles limit government action or you believe that "common sense" is the criterion of constraint, and there is no "rule of law" protecting your private life from government intervention.

Either you care, or you don't.

It is always incumbent upon a free people to defend individual autonomy. In a free society, some will always do things that seem morally reprehensible, stupid, and that yes, sometimes, even defy "common sense." But when we resist acting from fear and envy and initiate action in defense of liberty, and insist that our legislators do the same, that is the "far, far better thing that we do."

UPDATE: In one of those "dark of night" moves, the House scheduled a minimum notice public hearing on the smoking ban bill for this morning at 10:15, Room 10 of the State Office Building. More posts following the hearing.

Smoking bans affect more than bars and resturants

Posted by Craig Westover | 8:15 AM |  

Below is one of four different 30-second radio ads sponsored by Meeker County busienss owners runing on KLFD starting today. It makes the point that smoking bans don't just affect bar and restaurant owners.

Terri (Terri and Greg – Acoustic Duo)
Cheryl Anderson (Heartland Karoke and DJ)

(C) I’m Cheryl.

(T) and I’m Terri.

(Both) We are against the total Smoking Ban.

(C) Part of our income is earned by providing DJ, Karoke and musical entertainment at area establishments.

(T) A total smoking ban would hurt us financially.

(C) I have performed in a non-smoking lounge in Meeker County. It is a great challenge to get people to come into the non-smoking lounge to dance, sing, and socialize. I am usually playing to an empty room.

(T) When I perform at establishments that allow smoking – it is usually a full house. We love it – they love it – and all the customers are having fun.

(Both) Which establishment do you think is making the money to pay us?

(C)We support the Business and Citizens for the Right to Choose

(T) for more information call 320-764-2530.

The Dark Side of a Smoking Ban

Posted by Craig Westover | 7:39 AM |  

Sue Jeffers, owner of Stub and Herb's and president of Minnesotans Against Smoking Bans, passes along this piece from the December issue of Metro Doctors. It's a nice compliment to my column today -- especially so because it's not written by some crazy blogger from the mean streets of Afton, but a practicing physician -- a "refugee" from the Canadian health care system no less.
As a physician, I am poignantly aware of the ravages of smoking. I have seen more cases of vascular disease and cancer as a result of smoking than I could ever count. Smoking is a filthy and unhealthy habit.

Although smoking is reprehensible, there is one thing worthy of even greater contempt. That is government that rejects the notion of private property rights and the freedom for us to choose for ourselves how we live our lives.

The American Revolution was the high water mark in the world’s recognition of rights in the original sense of the word. Rights were originally a principle defining and sanctioning human action in a social context. The solitary man on a desert island has no rights. Rights are only relevant when living in society in the company of others. Rights define the freedom to act so long as one’s actions do not encroach upon the rights of others to do the same. For there to be an advantage to living in society as opposed to a solitary existence, humans must have rights.

John Locke helped inspire the American Revolution with his notion of individual sovereignty and the right to “Life, liberty and the pursuit of private property.” As sovereign beings, we owned our own lives. As owners of our own lives, we owned the fruits of our own labor and therefore were free to trade these fruits with others as we saw fit. Restated, we had properties rights to that which we created ourselves or that which others had voluntarily given us as a gift or through voluntary trade. The notion of property rights flows logically from the concept of self-ownership.

Rights originally merely meant liberty rights. They simply defined freedom of action. During the twentieth century the concept of rights has morphed into the concept of welfare rights. Rather than defining freedom of action, rights now define “goods and services.” Such a distorted vision of rights evades the fact that such goods and services can only appear as a result of the coerced provision of these by others. The providers have their liberty rights annihilated by those that they are forced to provide for.

Freedom, as originally conceived, was limited to the field of politics. The term meant freedom from the coercion of others. It certainly was not a claim to the property of others. The claim that “A hungry man is not free” is absurd. It confuses the political concept of freedom with the biological fact that we all have needs for food and shelter. With freedom comes responsibility for our own lives. Freedom is not a claim on others to be responsible for us. Freedom is certainly not a valid claim on others to provide us with smoke-free restaurants especially when we are free to not go there.

Freedom is the ability to make our own choices. There is no guarantee that we will make choices that ensure a successful path in life. Nor is there a guarantee that we will make choices of which others will approve. There also is no certainty that our choices may not have consequences just as the choice to smoke carries dire potential consequences.

America has strayed far from its original vision of rights defining freedom of action. We now demand universal health care, prescription drug benefits and smoke-free air in restaurants for which we have no responsibility for the mortgage.

As a newcomer to "the land of the free and the home of the brave," I am astonished that government feels that it is within their ken to use its coercive force to decide how restaurateurs utilize their own private property. As owners of private property, it is for them to decide whether or not they allow smoking, not Hennepin County. It is also for the public to endorse or refute a restauranteur's policy choice by voting with their patronage. Similarly, in a free market, workers can either negotiate their terms of employment or else offer their services elsewhere.

As thinking beings, humans have values. Values are entities that we seek to maintain or gain more of. Love, money, happiness or even the pleasure of smoking are values that an individual may hold. As sovereign individuals, we all have a hierarchy of values whether we explicitly realize it or not. As a physician, smoking is certainly not within my hierarchy of values. But not only am I a physician, I am a sovereign member of society that wants my sovereignty respected. Therefore I must respect the sovereignty of others and their right to formulate their own hierarchy of values. I may not like the choice of others to smoke or to not offer smoke-free restaurants, but it is not proper for sovereign individuals in a rights-based society to coerce one another. Such would be antithetical to the concept of political freedom. It is only proper to try and convince and persuade others of our viewpoint; not to ram it down their throat with the coercive force of government.

Those that feel it is moral to skip persuasion in favor of force may someday regret this choice when the values of others are forcefully imposed on them. The evasion of this logic is the reason why the United States of America is slowly but incrementally degenerating from a bastion of freedom to a statist hell. The fact that the U.S. has a democratically elected representative government does not necessarily prevent this decay. America was envisioned by the founders as a rights-based republic designed to protect individual rights from the tyranny of the majority or big government. Democracy is a requirement for such a republic but does not prevent its downfall if individual rights are not enshrined.

Invariably, there are those that claim it is legitimate to compel the behavior of others because society as a whole bears the cost of health care. Because taxpayers are compelled to pay for welfare state programs like Medicare and Medicaid, further compulsion is “justified” to strip people of their own choices. Compulsion begets further compulsion. Such is the downward spiral of socialism. People accept such compulsion because they have been sold a bill of goods that it is good for society. I have seen it all before. In my native land of Canada, private property rights are extremely limited in the sphere of health care and people docilely accept one and two year waits for basic health care because they have been indoctrinated that their universal health care system is good for society. But after all, even the Soviet purges were supposedly for the greater good of society.

Although it is not proper for government to legislate against smoking on private property such as restaurants, it is completely just to do so for truly public places. Such places would be municipal buildings and courthouses because these places are truly public in that they are owned by all and therefore the will of the majority should be manifest above the wishes of a minority.

As a patron of local restaurants, I would never return to one that does not provide me with a non-smoking section and would actually be more likely to go to a restaurant that is entirely smoke-free. The management of such a facility will be obligated to voluntarily comply with the wishes of a free market or suffer the consequences of going out of business. Adam Smith's "invisible hand of the market" is already fulfilling this in that restaurants without a non-smoking section are very rare. Market forces are also at work increasing the number of completely smoke-free facilities.

Whether businesses are affected positively or negatively by a non-smoking ordinance is actually irrelevant to the issue. The real issue is whether or not Hennepin county truly believes in the concept of liberty and the right for us to make our own choices and to live by the consequences of our own choices. If liberty is to remain a value of American society, liberty cannot be violated when it is seems convenient or expeditious to do so.

I came to the U.S. with my family to leave behind intrusive government and the resultant ramifications of such a social structure. If government decides upon the usage of private property, is it really private property? The concept of private property is a cornerstone of the American Revolution. The essence of why I moved to the U.S. is embodied by the values of the American Revolution. Imagine my disappointment in Hennepin County.

Lee Kurisko MD
Consulting Radiologist Ltd.
[Lee Kurisko MD is former Medical Director of Diagnostic Imaging at Thunder Bay Regional Hospital in Thunder Bay, Canada. He now works for Consulting Radiologists, Ltd. in Minneapolis.]

NARN to discuss constitutional aspects of smoking ban

Posted by Craig Westover | 7:05 AM |  

Ryan Pacyga of Pacyga & Associates, PA, the attorney representing privately-owned bars in Minneapolis and other places in Hennepin County will be on with the NARN gang (AM1280 "The Patriot") at 1:30 this Saturday, January 29, to discuss the constitutional aspects of the proposed state-wide smoking ban.

Smoking bans in those cities are set to take effect March 31--well ahead of the proposed statewide ban.

As Ryan notes, the majority of media attention has focused on the dangers of secondhand smoke. This is a significant issue, but it is not the only issue. Moreover, the popular opinion opposes smoking. The constitution protects unpopular things, and issues like abortion, gay marriage, conceal and carry and the like center around constitutional ideals.

It should be an interesting discussion. Tune in!

Rice denial

Posted by Craig Westover | 5:44 AM |  

After a contentious day of name-calling in the U.S. Senate, Dr. Condoleezza Rice denied that her pants were on fire.

Monday, January 24, 2005

What's coming for school choice --

Posted by Craig Westover | 8:25 PM |  

This note from Elizabeth Mische executive director of the Partnership for Choice in Education.


I took a look at some of the comments on your site, and want to offer this information for your readers -- There IS life in the school choice movement, even this session – or, especially this session, it being the Budget Year.

We expect to see these bills introduced:

1)Restoration of the low-income Education Tax Credit to 100% of qualifying costs, with the family cap removed, the “slope” eliminated, an inflation adjustment in income eligibility and addition of tuition as a qualified expense.

2)A tax credit for individual filers who contribute to student tuition-granting organizations (scholarships) for low-income kids – this probably at 50% of contribution for up to $1K per return.

3)An access grant for low-income kids enrolled in district schools, who wish to take the state portion of funding to a school of choice -- private or parochial.

4)Special education – changes that require public school districts to show a compelling reason for de-mainstreaming special education students children enrolled in private and parochial schools.

People interested in expanding access to school choice beyond the well-to-do can contact the Governor’s office, the Senate and House majority and minority leaders, the Chairs of education committees in both bodies – and their local representatives.

Education reform won’t be easy to achieve. The DFL is confident that its constituents would rather tolerate the status quo than yield an inch of teachers union turf; the GOP isn’t sure they can act out of sincerely altruistic motives without being pilloried by the NEAT and PUPS people – whose “non-partisan” efforts are supported, in my home city of Saint Paul, by the superintendent’s office.
I understand that there is also legislation brewing to disallow school districts from supporting political campaigns such as NEAT and PUPS with public funds. Imagine: parents who like the status quo schools for their kids, demanding that other people leave their children (and their per-pupil unit funding) in those schools in order to subsidize their own tastes in education. So much for public education as an engine of democracy and liberty.
UPDATE from Tom Swift: As Tom wrote me, these should be some "fun" upcoming events. (Note the Sponsors.)

Education Funding: History and Outlook
7 - 8:30 p.m. Monday, January 24, 2005
Rondo Education Center
560 Concordia Ave. (Concordia Avenue and Dale Street)
St. Paul, MN
Speaker: Mary Cecconi, state director, Parents United Network
(Co-sponsors: SPPS and NEAT)

Advocacy 101: Making A Difference
7 - 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, February 8, 2005
Central High School Auditorium
275 N. Lexington Parkway (Lexington Parkway and Marshall Avenue)
St. Paul, MN
Speakers: Mary Gilbert and Linda Sandvig, SPPS Legislative Liaisons
Lois Rockney, Executive Director, SPPS Business and Financial Affairs
(Co-sponsors: SPPS and NEAT)

If you're interested in how the other have wants everyone to live, leave a note in the comments or drop an email to me or Tom Swift over at Pair O' Dice.

NARN FOLLOW-UP -- More on Magnet Schools

Posted by Craig Westover | 6:44 PM |  

The phones were ringing during the information-packed 1 to 2 PM hour of the NARN program on AM 1280 "The Patriot" this past Saturday. A discussion about education in Minnesota -- especially one focused on school choice -- will do that. I thought it odd but interesting that two callers focused on concerns about the high cost of Magnet Schools. I was also puzzled by this comment from Al Winter on the NARN web site --
Hey, you guys need to brush up on the school choice issue. The liberals have hi-jacked the choice concept and are using it to bring the radical leftist worldview into public schools. I'm disappointed that you are taking the side of the left.
I emailed Al asking him to elaborate. And indeed he did. His email follows, followed in turn by some comments from Elizabeth Mische, executive director of the Partnership for Choice in Education.

Welcome to KindgergartenI think we're all -- Al, Liz, and myself -- on the same page here. Persistence parents like Al and people of purpose like Liz are not about to let kids be "assimilated" into a Borg-like government-managed school system. Reading these two emails, one thing should be very clear -- school choice is not a Democrat/Republican Conservative/Liberal partisan issue -- at least not when the people involved are genuinely concerned with educating kids not protecting their political interests or the status quo. School choice -- providing the best education for Minnesota children regardless of how that education is delivered -- is real common ground.

The second caller on magnet schools wrongly accused Liz of "ducking the question." As Al's email indicates there was a lot more behind the question than was evident and what's presented here is an honest attempt to keep the dialog going. Additional questions and comments are always welcome.

Text of Email from Al Winter, Buffalo, Minnesota


First of all, I don't believe that true school choice is a villain. My wife and I made our "choice" by sending our children to a Catholic elementary school. What has happened is the left has again hi-jacked a conservative concept and is now using school choice as the vehicle to implement "progressive" education philosophy and curriculum.

I've been conducting research on the Northwest Suburban Integration School District #6078 for the better part of a year now. I live in the Buffalo-Hanover-Montrose-District and we are included in the seven district collaborative that was founded in 2001 after passage of the new Minnesota Desegregation Rule.

The district (NWSISD) plans to start six new magnet schools in four of the member districts claiming they will alleviate "racial isolation". Our district along with the Rockford district is starting magnet programs with an "Arts" theme. The NWSISD recommended that our district (Buffalo) along with the Rockford District do NOT become host sites for magnet schools-our school boards went ahead and did it anyway.

One must look at the details of the teamed programs, how they were chosen, and case history of choice programs including magnet schools before gleefully jumping on the bandwagon. The NWSISD and our own district chose program strands that don't necessarily reflect the choices parents made when surveyed about possible magnet school options. To make matters worse, they (NWSISD) chose a program, the International Baccalaureate Program (IBO) that wasn't even offered as a choice on the first survey. (By the way, when school districts conduct surveys, if they don't like the results they change the survey format and questions until they get the desired response.)

The IBO program was developed in Europe and is wholly internationalist in theme and content. As a matter of fact, our tax money is going to construct and equip replica United Nations General Assembly rooms in two NWSISD magnet schools. These rooms will be complete with many technological bells and whistles and of course flags from around the world.

They claim to "overlay" the IBO curriculum with Minnesota Academic Standards and any local standards, however when you read the details, the IBO really holds the power through their accreditation standards that must be met and verified each year.

The Arts strand that is being planned for our district actually had a 3% favorable rating among parents in our district. About 78% of the parents surveyed wanted academically-based magnet programs, if they were to happen.

In the NWSISD Federal Grant application to the Magnet School Assistance Program (MSAP) dated August 31, 2004, a report is cited that states "magnet schools cost districts up to 25% more to operate than traditional schools".

Do kids really test better and have a better chance of success in magnet or choice schools? Yes, they probably do. You must consider the factors involved. First, a lot of children that attend these schools come from homes that have parents who are actively involved in their children's education. Second, there is a sort of "creaming" effect that takes place in that children with higher potential, usually because of socio-economic advantages, are taken out of the traditional schools, leaving children that are less apt to be highly successful. In effect you dilute the traditional school's potential.

Is it fair then to spend more of the public money on students in choice schools over those left in traditional schools? What about those families where both parents work? They may even have an extra job to make ends meet. Can they afford the extra money to participate in a magnet program miles away? Can they be active in the school if their children are attending a school 20-30 miles from their home?

We have a "choice" elementary school in our local school district. It's been operating for about seven years. Last year the board wanted to make plans to expand it into a new school building that was being built. I led a campaign to stop the board last spring and to this point have been successful. The "choice" elementary school in our district was costing taxpayers over 30% more on a per student basis than the other four "traditional" elementary schools. It's focus was environmentalism and community service/involvement. The new school would have been a full-blown environmental school, probably with an IBO twist.

In addition, I analyzed the test scores for both the MCA's and Basic Skills and found that the students did not perform significantly higher in the choice school. As a matter of fact, the most challenged school in our district, by that I mean the one with the most minority and free/reduced lunch students, actually out performed the choice school in Math and was within a couple of points in Reading!!

Ironically, there was a competing proposal presented for the established "choice program". The Core Knowledge Proposal was presented by a group of over 60 teachers from our district. The board never anticipated competition from within the district. Even though the proposal to expand the current choice program only had about 10 supporting signatures, the Core Knowledge proposal, with it's 60 signatures, was never considered by the school board.

I know what you're thinking. How good can a proposal be if teachers are supporting it in such large numbers. Well, the culture war is alive and kickin' here in the Buffalo District. These 60 teachers had presented a program that even a conservative like me appreciated.

The left has figured out a way to use school choice to implement program themes and curriculum that you and I may not want or even feel comfortable paying for with our taxes. The survey says, parents want straight-forward academic education without all the fancy program theme names. Yep, they got us taxpayers paying for schools with themes and curriculum most parents don't want.

Is school choice the answer for what's ailing our education system? I'm really not the one to make that deacon but I think people had better start researching and looking at the programs that are being started. Are we developing an elitist system of education opportunities for our children and working families? Is it fair (or even American) to run from the problem with tax money and special programs?

Doesn't it make you wonder when the Dems start supporting a conservative concept?

I know this probably is more than you wanted but it is very important. You may want to find a copy of the November-December edition of the Pro-Family News. There's a story about the Buffalo District in the issue.

Thanks for wanting to learn more. There's much more that I haven't talked about, including the formation of the Super School Districts called Integration Districts. They're really not that much about integration, it's more about a fundamental change in education philosophy.

Al Winters

Comments from Elizabeth Mische Executive Director of Partnership for Choice in Education

This democrat shares many of your writer's concerns, though perhaps for different reasons.

But before I say more, let's briefly address the issue of "creaming" -- what parent wouldn't want (and dutifully work to get) the school best suited to her own child? I am only slightly sympathetic to those who claim that less able kids will be left behind in traditional, unproductive schools. If schools can serve the needs of children in the way best suited to them, why would that school be inferior? Bear in mind that I want a core knowledge-style curriculum for every kid through graduation, with the other specializations being "electives." I don't believe that teaching to the middle serves anyone very well -- including the middle.

Why shouldn't parents who want an internationalist curriculum have access to it? And why ought not those who despise it have access to something else. What your writer points out is that choice controlled by the Borg is not much choice at all. So break up these districts. There is something inherently racist in our current de-seg efforts: no one believes white kids can't learn in a school full of white middle class or laborer kids -- so why do we assume that racial "isolation" is the culprit in browner kids having lousy school experiences?

Your correspondent needs access to schools that are not controlled by the Borg -- and not controlled by a school board too-often dominated by those seeking "higher" office, or grinding their own axe, or promoting the interests of a family member employed in the system.

Public school choice is the façade of choice; the school choice you and I are talking about is quite different, and would allow the writer to access schools that inculcate the values and (within rational boundaries) knowledge he seeks for them -- the language in Minnesota's statute that gives parents primary responsibility for obtaining the knowledge, skills and abilities needed for effective citizenship is a harsh duty. It means no one ought to be compelling others to attend schools they despise.

But that's a tricky deal: liberals have to be willing to yield to the distinct cultures they say they defend, and conservatives have to be willing to allow the liberty they say they promote.
Liz's last sentence sums up the school choice issue as well as it can be done. The question is "Do we, parents and concerned citizens, have the persistence and the courage to not only bring about school choice, but to build on the results and to live with the consequences?"

Worth a deeper look, eh?

Sunday, January 23, 2005

It was good for me . . . .

Posted by Craig Westover | 11:15 AM |  

Just a quick note to say thanks to all the folks who showed up last night for the Blogger Bash at Keegan's. For a newbie like me, it was great to put faces to names -- or network identities as the case may be.

It's not every night a guy gets to discuss the police powers of the state, XML links, public education, newspaper/Internet marketing, what's the matter with Kansas, the rationale for allowing a runner to "steal" first base on a third strike, why Republicans are afraid to talk to black people, whether or not the Strib really does want a conservative columnist, can the finite mind of man can ever comprehend the infinite nature of God AND get a hug and a kiss from a state senator, have someone wearing shoes ask if you want to meet his sister, and share drinks with charming, intelligent attractive young ladies in pajamas.

Hope it was good for you all, too!


David Strom took this photo to steal my soul !

Saturday, January 22, 2005

ANWR on eBay II

Posted by Craig Westover | 7:43 AM |  

From Yahoo News (Thanks to reader Mark Wernimont) --
Citing a need for domestic energy, the government plans to open for exploratory drilling thousands of acres on Alaska's North Slope that have been protected for decades because of migratory birds and caribou.

The NPRA, which was created in 1923 specifically to have access to oil if needed, is not to be confused with the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge farther to the east, which has been the focus of intense debate in Congress over oil development.
Of course an environmental lawsuit can be expected on this one. Is there a better way to open government land to drilling and/or ensure environmental protection? Perhaps.

Flu vaccine shortage suddenly a surplus

Posted by Craig Westover | 6:50 AM |  

The Wasington Post today reports that the nation’s flu vaccine shortage has turned into a surplus. An excess of 5 million doses are available in the government stockpile. The Minnesota Department of Health has plenty of flu vaccine available as well.

According to the Post, with demand dwindling, it appears likely that instead of running out of shots this year, the government will end up discarding unused vaccine, they said. (Minnesota is shipping shots to other states.) A CDC survey last week found that only 10 states said they may need more vaccine, making it unlikely the remaining federal reserves of nearly 5 million doses will be sold.

What happened?

When the shortage first hit, I wrote a column under he title “Vaccine shortage a symptom of ailing system” in which I quoted Dr. Henry Miller, a fellow at the Hoover Institution.

“These problems are largely the result of wrongheaded public policy,” he said. "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.”
That wrongheaded policy is again to blame. Flu vaccine mismanagement is a typical but potentially deadly example of government over-stepping its responsibility to protect its citizens and micromanaging economic activity on both the supply and demand side of the equation. From my original column on the causes of the (supply side) shortage -- a lack of reliable companies producing flu vaccine --

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. . . .

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.

It also drives companies out of the vaccine production business.

On the demand side of the equation, the government first pushes universal vaccination as a necessity, then backs off saying only “high risk” categories need worry about flu shots, then urges non-high risk categories to take advantage of the sudden surplus. From the Post --
"The problem with a set of stuttering, changing recommendations year by year is confusion," said Greg Poland of the Mayo Clinic. "I worry that it sends the wrong message to the public about the seriousness of influenza and the imperatives for why they should get immunized. One year we say 'You're in the high-risk group,' and then next year we say 'You're not.' The public is confused. . . . "

A surplus would make it even more difficult to persuade manufacturers to produce more vaccine in future years, a goal public health officials have long pursued, as well as undermine years of efforts to encourage more Americans to get routinely vaccinated, experts said. . . .

In addition, many doctors and clinics are hesitant to order more so late in the season for fear they will be left holding the bill for unsold vaccine.
And so at this point -- like so many government examples of mismanagement -- the issue suddenly focuses on “the system” rather than on the people the system is ostensibly set up to help. Again from the Post --
"Every season we see this, but this year it's particularly concerning because of all the energy people put into targeting vaccine and all the people who stepped aside.” [noted a CDC spokesperson] We are doing everything we can to get these doses used, because we really want to minimize the amount left over."
And so we’ve gone from a “crisis” of supply to a “crisis” of demand, to reassurance that government is doing all it can not to "waste" resources on unused vaccines. Is there any further proof needed that when government oversteps its responsibility more harm that good arises?

NOTE: Mismanagement of flu vaccine supply and demand is but a sneeze when looking at the ailing U.S. vaccination system. Evidence is growing that consistent “buck passing” on the issue of mercury-based vaccine preservative coupled with government extension of mandatory childhood vaccinations has contributed to a significant, if not “epidemic,” increase in autistic-like development symptoms in American children. More posts and columns to follow . . . .

Friday, January 21, 2005

A trivial post

Posted by Craig Westover | 9:03 AM |  

As David Strom so kindly noted at Our House, his Taxpayers League Triva Team edged my loyal cohort out of second place in the Keegan's Thursday Night Trivia contest on a tie-breaker of dubious credibility. Nonetheless, I am a good sport, as can be seen by the smile on my face as I admire a life-size David Strom bobblehead.

There's a lesson . . .

Posted by Craig Westover | 7:47 AM |  

For my MSM readers (that's "Mainstream Media" for those mainstream media not familiar with blogosphere shorthand), there's a lesson in this Washington Post story.

Sony Admits Losing Out on Gadgets

TOKYO, Jan. 20 -- Sony missed out on potential sales from MP3 players and other gadgets because it was overly proprietary about music and entertainment content, the head of Sony Corp.'s video-game unit acknowledged Thursday.

Ken Kutaragi, president of Sony Computer Entertainment Inc., said he and other Sony employees have been frustrated for years with management's reluctance to introduce products like Apple Computer Inc.'s iPod, mainly because the Tokyo company had music and movie units that were worried about content rights. . . .

Kutaragi said Sony's original spirit of innovative technology had grown "diluted."

"We have to concentrate on our original nature -- challenging and creating," he said.

Once the powerhouse of global electronics, exemplified in its Walkman, Sony has lost some of its glamour lately, losing out in profitability and market share to cheaper Asian rivals.

Whether the MSM wants to acknowledge it or not, blogs are having an impact on the way people interact with the traditional forms of news dissemination.

MSM executives should be asking themselves the age-old basic question -- What business are we in? If the answer comes back "The newspaper business," the "televsion news business," or the "radio business," these executives are in for a Sony-like awakening. The visionary answer is "the information business," and that mission should be primary, not necessarily the mode of delivery.

As Kutaragi advises, "concentrate on [y]our original nature."

Sony's reluctance to recognize the impact of technology cost it billions, and now it's playing catch-up with its competitors. Five years down the line, it will be interesting in the MSM world to see who is chasing whom.