Thursday, April 28, 2005

Light blogging

Posted by Craig Westover | 4:04 PM |  

I was being a real journalist today and catching up on a lot of research, much of it for an upcoming inteview with the Minnesota conservative that liberals love to hate, the Taxpayers League's David Strom. I now know enough about Strom-- from his Carleton days as a shy and vaguely socialist lad that read Nietzsche as a self-help book to his transformation into a a Posse-Comitatus-like radical (according to his critics) -- that Margaret will probably buy me a beer at Keegan's just to debrief me.

In the business, we call this a tease.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

COLUMN -- Minnesota license requirements often don't line up with reality

Posted by Craig Westover | 8:01 AM |  

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Nothing stirs the soul like a ringing defense of the rights of man. The more high-minded the principle, the more moving; the more grand the cause, the more noble.

Photo courtesy Institute for Justice, 2005.And yet, it is on the ebb and flow of everyday affairs that the tides of individual freedom rise and fall. Take the case of Lillian Anderson, a hair braider with no grander cause than to practice her craft and earn a living.

This is America, right? Where we prize the entrepreneurial spirit? Yet in order to earn a living with a skill she learned and practiced for years in her native Cameroon, Anderson must first meet the demands of the Minnesota Board of Barber and Cosmetologist Examiners.

She must attend 1,550 hours of government-mandated training over 10 months at a tuition cost of $15,000. She must pass a government-mandated test. Not a single minute of those 1,550 hours nor a single area of the test relates to natural braiding, twisting and locking of hair, which is all Anderson does.

Should she elect to practice without a license, she is subject to up to $1,000 in fines and 90 days in jail plus bearing the stigma of having broken the law.

On April 20, the Institute for Justice Minnesota Chapter, a public interest law firm that is representing Anderson and two other Minnesota braiders, filed suit in Hennepin County District Court challenging the constitutionality of Minnesota's hair braiding license requirements.

Photo courtesy Institute for Justice, 2005."Hard-working and industrious individuals like Lillian should be able to work without having to look over their shoulders or listen for that dreaded knock on the door from a government regulator," said Nick Dranias, an attorney with the Minnesota chapter.

Dranias' "fear factor" comment ought not be construed as mere hyperbole from an attorney making a case in the press. I've heard the same trepidation in the voices of bar owners afraid to criticize smoking bans for fear of spot health and safety inspections. That should tell us something about how we the people view our government.

On a national basis, nearly 500 occupations are regulated by states and about half of those require government-issued licenses. Occupations requiring licenses include not only highly specialized professions in fields like medicine and law, but also beekeepers, lightning rod salesmen, fence installers, flower arrangers and septic tank cleaners.

A report by Minnesota's Legislative Auditor found the number of regulated occupations in the state is growing rapidly and the state's policy on occupational regulation is not applied consistently. Occupational regulations are used to "fence out" competitors and maintain high prices. The burden of regulation falls disproportionately on disadvantaged groups.

The regulatory process is often captured by the occupation being regulated. The cosmetology requirements fall right in line with that analysis.

Photo courtesy Institute for Justice, 2005."Minnesota's cosmetology laws are a tangled mess," noted Lee McGrath, the executive director of the Institute for Justice Minnesota Chapter. "We have asked the court to declare unconstitutional the Minnesota cosmetology laws as pertains to our three clients."

The Institute for Justice has successfully litigated similar hair-braiding cases in Arizona, California, Mississippi, the District of Columbia and Washington state.

Traditionally, the justification for state licensing requirements has been to ensure health and safety and the quality of service being offered to the public. The relationship is often taken for granted. Few people consider the costs to the public of such licensing. Others uncritically believe that the benefits are worth any cost, assuming that such regulations actually do protect the public.

But as the mismatch between regulation and reality in Anderson's situation illustrates, that is not necessarily the case. Ironically, in the name of protecting public health and safety, Minnesota licenses people to braid hair who have no experience in braiding, yet it forbids others who are proficient in braiding from plying their trade.

Given the high praise we utter and the value we as Americans place on individual independence and entrepreneurial spirit, shouldn't our public policy match our high-minded rhetoric? Is a seven-member board better at regulating the market than consumers purchasing a service?

Eliminating harmful regulation is a mission of the new Minnesota Chapter of the Institute for Justice. It litigates to reinvigorate economic liberty, to preserve property rights, promote educational choice and defend the free flow of information essential to informed political and economic choices.

Full disclosure: My daughter will serve as an unpaid clerk in the institute's Minneapolis office this summer. Forgive a dad — I couldn't be prouder.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

VMT -- an alternative to gas tax

Posted by Craig Westover | 8:07 AM |  

I was pushed back by by the Chicago police search for Joey "the Clown" Lombardo (and who am I to deny Joey his air time), but I did a brief interview this morning with Don and Roma on WLS 890 on the topic of the Vehicle Miles Traveled fee that some states are considering as a replacement for the current flat per-gallon tax on gasoline. I wrote an article on this topic for the Heartland Institute.

Although more drivers are on the road than ever before and more miles are being driven, increased fuel efficiency of vehicles has virtually flattened fuel tax revenues. As more alternative-fuel vehicles are added to the current mix of better fuel efficiency of standard vehicles and market penetration by hybrid vehicles, Oregon officials predict fuel tax revenues will begin declining by 2014.

Several states are considering shifting from per-gallon fuel taxes to mile-based tax systems, none more seriously than Oregon. The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) is preparing to test a global positioning system capable of tracking a vehicle's location, recording in-state miles driven, and calculating a mileage-based tax payable at the gas pump.

As Don and Roma characterized it, it's a "sneaky little tax." Indeed it is in potential moreso that in the proposed Oregon implemtation, It opens up the potential for social engineering (determining a non-market-based differential between driving a SUV and a economy car) and raises privacy issues.

Initially, the GPS devices will only store the number of miles traveled, and they will only register whether a vehicle is inside or outside Oregon or in a congestion zone. Authorities will not be able to track in real time where a vehicle is or reconstruct where it has been.

Those limitations provide little reassurance, however, to privacy advocates such as David Sobel of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), a public interest research center in Washington, DC. "Once technology is in place," he said, "it's virtually impossible to resist finding ways to use it."

The complete article can be found here.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Bob from the America Lung Association decides to play in his own yard

Posted by Craig Westover | 11:50 AM |  

Bob Moffitt of the American Lung Association has decided to continue a discussion he started on this site at the American Lung Association Blog. All well and good, but the ALA Blog doesn't allow unmoderated comments or trackbacks, nor has he linked to the original discussion on this site. That makes for a pretty one-sided conversation and a disservice to his readers that might have wished to view the exchange.

[Note: In the position as a charitable group, I would probably have moderated comments, too, just to avoid the problem of poor taste. But the lack of a link to the argument one is refuting defeats the purpose of blogging and shows a lack of confidence in one's position.]

Yet, he accuses me of fisking him to get the last word. He's most welcome to continue the discussion.

The exchange with Mr. Moffitt was not an e-mail exchange, but his comments and my responses placed into a post. Comments and responses are not fisking. So on those counts Mr. Moffitt has both his facts and his definitions wrong, which also characterizes his debating style.

As to his contention that he “sticks to the facts,” in any of his comments here and here I defy you to find a “fact.” He says he talks about public health, but he says it’s not his job to define it. He refuses to discuss the science of determining public health hazards in the neutral arena of statistical analysis. He talks neither public health nor science, "junk" or otherwise.

But then, unlike his post on the American Lung Association site that offers no chance for rebuttal or discussion, you can read it here, visit the American Lung Association site here and make up your own mind -- something Mr. Moffitt fears for you to do either when it comes to choosing where you spend your leisure time or in the information you have in making that decision.

And so, without a fisking is Mr. Moffitt's post.

Fighting with Facts, not 'Fisking'

A newspaper columnist recently posted an e-mail exchange he and I had on the issue of smoking bans. Apparently frustrated by my insistence on discussing health issues instead of politics, 'junk science' and philosophy, he posted our email thread on his blog and then gave them a good "fisking," which is blog-speak for making sure your side gets the last word in.

He called me a "cheerleader" for indoor smoking ordinances.Well, I have certainly been called worse than "cheerleader" in this debate. It is a nickname I'll gladly accept. I will cheer for any good public policy that saves lives and promotes lung health.

While popular on many blogs, the American Lung Association of Minnesota blog will not engage in the "fisking" game. We will stick to the facts in our ongoing public debate on smoking in Minnesota.

In the meanwhile, I'll be cheering for a healthier, smokefree Minnesota!

Bob MoffittCommunications Director, ALAMN
posted by American Lung Association of Minnesota at 5:10 PM
Update from Mark Wernimont passed along from a bar owner in Long Lake. Note the banker's response in the last paragraph.
I hate to admit it but the unconcerned lawmakers of this county are going to win this (my) battle. To date, are liquor sales are down about $300. a day. This of course equals, $9,000. a month and $108,000. a year. Without this cash flow, which equals my rent and Sales Tax Payments, we can't survive long.

We rent this business location, and now my landlord no longer wants the cigarette mess outside on his sidewalk and parking lot. The liquor store next store sales are up 15%. The two immediate bar / restaurants, (10 minutes away, on the same highway, and outside Hennipin County), sales are up 30%. I can not hold an employee. The three Hennipin County restaurants with outside decks in my area, are flourishing. One of these restaurants even has posted signs on their deck, NO DRINKS OUTSIDE - UNLESS FOOD HAS BEEN ORDERED. Just how much time and effort was spent by Hennipin County to figure out the IMPACT of this ordinance.

Last but not least, I talked to my banker about a loan to help withstand this financial crisis. My banker told me, "we feel with the current smoking ban, that any loans to bars & restaurants are considered high financial risks". I guess if I were a loan officer, I would have to agree.

Clever line doesn't address thimerosal, autism link

Posted by Craig Westover | 8:40 AM |  

In the category of "get it right before you criticize" is this letter from Sunday's Pioneer Press about the thimerosal, autism connection.

I don't know; nor
does Westover

I don't know if vaccinations in childhood lead to autism. Neither does Craig Westover. The difference is I am not a rabidly conservative ideologue with an anti-government agenda. I am a student of history who knows that before vaccinations an awful lot of children died from or were crippled by fearsome diseases like smallpox and polio. These diseases are now all but unheard of in the U.S. thanks to vaccinations.

What is offensive about all of this is Westover's underlying belief all of the decent, hard-working researchers who have devoted their life to fighting against terrible diseases are somehow charlatans who are willfully avoiding the supposed autism/vaccination link. If there is a better, safer way to do vaccinations, I am sure researchers are leaving no stone unturned to find it, while Westover is looking for black helicopters over Afton.

A clever letter, Mr. Olson, but being a student of history, one should get one's facts stright before criticizing. For example, from my February 9th column --
What do you say to the father of an autistic child when you think he's wrong?

That was my reaction to a phone call I received after my column on the flu vaccine shortage appeared on these pages. I'm old enough to remember classmates with limbs shriveled by childhood polio. The childhood vaccination program is a real and proper government success story. Doubting the conspiracy theory, I was nonetheless curious.
In other words, if I were indeed a "rabid ideologue," I would have gone with my instincts and dismissed the guy as a "black heliocopter looney."

From my March 16th column --
The notion that vaccines might cause harm, even to a minority of kids, "threatens the very core of what these bureaucrats believe in," Kirby quotes the father of an autistic child as saying. "The whole apparatus is there to do good. . . .The notion that [vaccinations] are harmful is unthinkable [to them]."
That is hardly saying “all of the decent, hardworking researchers who have devoted their life [sic] to fighting against terrible diseases are somehow charlatans who are willfully avoiding the autism/vaccination link.”

Case in point is vaccine developer Dr. Maurice Hilleman, “who may have saved more lives than any other scientist of the 20th century,” who in 1991 while working as a consultant for Merck raised the issue that children were receiving excessive amounts of mercury via vaccinations -- a warning that went unheeded by both the pharmaceutical industry and government regulatory agencies.

If you're taking me to task for my criticism of Dr. Hull, so be it. I stand behind it. Using a newspaper article as evidence of his position when in fact the study described in the article supports the opposing posiition is inexcusable for a scientist in his position of authority. But he's an individual case.

In point of fact, there are many researchers at prestigious research universities and facilities looking at the mercury, autism connection. They just don’t work for the government and are doing so at the risk of their funding, their reputations and their careers. It is the IOM that has said don’t “turn over the stone” of a thimerosal, autism connection.

If you are, indeed a student of history, at least a student of the history of this issue, you would know that it is “rabidly conservative ideologues” like Sen. Bill Frist that are lining up with legislation to protect pharmaceutical companies from liability for “non-existent connection“ between thimerosal and autism. You would also know that it is rabidly liberal ideologues whose hatred of Bush and all things conservative is overwhelmed by their unshakable faith that government can do no wrong that also find themselves aligning with pharmaceutical companies.

That’s not conspiracy theory, that’s politics.

A clever letter, Mr. Olson, but cleverness is a spice to substance, not a substitute.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

READER RESPONSE -- Will gay marriage lead to polygamy?

Posted by Craig Westover | 10:48 AM |  

Will gay marriage lead to polygamy?

That's the question posited in this post for discussion. The argument frequently made by same-sex marriage opponents. The case I made my Pioneer Press column was that same-sex marriage supporters tend to ignore addressing arguments that reflect concerns of the majority they are trying to win over in favor of pejorative castigations on their character and easy but weak arguments that ultimately have no impact in the court of public opinion.

On the other hand, posted at the Independent Gay Forum, is an excellent rebuttal to the slippery-slope polygamy argument by University of Minnesota law professor Dale Carpenter (funny hat tip to Eva Young). As challenging as the David Frum article in the National Review and the Stanley Kurtz article in the Weekly Standard are to same-sex marriage supporters, Carpenter’s article is to same-sex marriage opponents.

While the polygamy argument has some superficial appeal, Carpenter writes, it ultimately doesn't work. In demonstrating why, he leaves us with more than just a same-sex marriage argument; he provides a principled framework for looking at slippery-slope arguments in general.
Slippery-slope arguments take the following form: “Proposal X contains within it a principle. That principle not only supports Proposal X but would also support Proposal Y. An honest person supporting Proposal X must therefore also support Proposal Y. While Proposal X may or may not be bad in itself, Proposal Y would surely be very bad. So to avoid adopting Proposal Y, we must not adopt Proposal X.”

Substitute “gay marriage” for Proposal X and “polygamous marriage” for Proposal Y and you have a slippery-slope argument against gay marriage.
There are three possible stock responses to a slippery-slope argument.

1) The destination(s) at the bottom of the slope aren’t so bad, so there’s no need to worry.

2) The slope slides both ways and the other side might be worse.

3) There is a principled stopping point that prevents us from reaching the feared bottom of the slope.

Carpenter writes that in the gay marriage debate, the first stock response would involve arguing that polygamy is unobjectionable, not an attractive position. The second stock response would involve claiming that if we repress gay marriage, there is nothing to stop us from prohibiting other marriages, like those involving people of different races or infertile people, an argument, he asserts, that is not likely to impress many people as a reason to support same-sex marriage (although I think it should).

It’s the third response -- that there is a principled stopping point preventing the slide toward polygamy — that according to Carpenter best refutes the slippery-slope argument.
The argument for gay marriage is indeed an argument for a liberalization of marriage rules. But it is not a call to open marriage to anyone and everyone, any more than the fight against anti-miscegenation laws was a call to open marriage to anyone and everyone.
Here’s where the idea of principle (not dogma) comes into play. It’s why I find this argument so convincing from a political and ethical perspective. Carpenter writes --
We should ask why the recognition of a new form of monogamous marriage would lead to the revival of polygamous marriage, which has been rejected in most societies that once practiced it? What is “the principle” supporting gay marriage that will lead us to accept multi-partner marriage?

One possible principle uniting the two is that gay marriage, like polygamous marriage, extends marriage beyond partners who may procreate as partners. But that doesn't work because procreation is already not a requirement of marriage. Sterile opposite-sex couples have already taken that step down the slope for us.

A second possible principle uniting gay marriage and polygamous marriage is that both exalt adult love and needs as the basis for marriage. Yet this step down the slope has also already been taken by straight couples. Marriage for the past century or so in the West has become companionate, based on love and commitment. Among straight (and gay) couples, children are a common but not necessary element of the arrangement. So even if gay marriage were justified solely by the love same-sex partners have for one another, recognizing such relationships would be more analogous to taking a step to one side on a slope already partially descended, not an additional step down the slope.

Still, how do we avoid polygamy? Here is where many advocates of gay marriage run into trouble. If we claim that gay couples must be allowed to marry simply because they love each other, there is indeed no principled reason to reject multi-partner marriages. Multiple partners in a relationship are capable of loving each other.
Here’s where Carpenter’s argument gets really interesting because in addressing the issue of principle, he allows neither side in the debate get away with declaring an unexamined statement to be a defining principle. He drives both sides back along the path to a first principle (which is a fundamental aspect of a conservative approach to political policy).
But satisfying individual needs is not “the principle” supporting gay marriage. Instead, gay-marriage advocates should argue that any proposal for the expansion of marriage must be good both (1) for the individuals involved and (2) for the society in which they live. Gay marriage meets both of these criteria. The case for polygamous marriage is distinguishable (and weaker) on both counts, especially the second.
Carpenter supports that argument here, and I strongly recommend both sides of the same-sex marriage debate take a look at it. This is the kind of focus the debate needs. It poses challenging questions that opponents of same-sex marriage out to be confronted with and that placards and personal attacks prevent from being raised.

Carpenter clearly defines the challenge to conservatives --
Perhaps none of these considerations is a decisive argument against polygamous marriages. But at the very least they suggest that gay marriage and polygamous marriage present very different issues. Each should be evaluated on its own merits, not treated as if one is a necessary extension of the other.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

READER RESPONSE -- Obesity report exaggerates claims

Posted by Craig Westover | 12:43 PM |  

A reader pointed me to this column at the online site for Rocky Mountain News in Denver. Written by Vincent Carroll, it's something to think about the next time you read one of those government studies that cries out for more government regulation (the dangers of secondhand smoke comes to mind) or, as in the case of vaccine safety (which is the context this was emailed to me), claims that government studies conclusively prove "no evidence of harm."

On Point: The skinny on fat
April 21, 2005

By Vincent Carroll

Two years ago the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Congress that we faced "an epidemic of obesity" that was dispatching 300,000 Americans to the mortuary every year, "second only to tobacco-related deaths."

Last year the CDC's Julie Gerberding turned up the volume still further, claiming in a study she co-authored that 410,000 tubby Americans were waddling annually into an early grave.

So why didn't Gerberding resign Tuesday as head of the world's most prestigious public health institution when her claims were exposed as grossly, fantastically exaggerated by scientists at her own agency and the National Cancer Institute?

Why aren't there calls in Congress for her to quit?

Gerberding didn't merely overhype a crisis, after all. She helped invent one. A net annual total of 26,000 premature deaths apparently occur among people the government classifies as overweight. She overshot by 375,000.

None of this should surprise anyone who reads this newspaper. University of Colorado law professor Paul Campos examined the research and laid out the truth regarding the mortality estimates in his News columns and book The Obesity Myth. He even anticipated the finding that while it's dangerous to be quite fat (111,909 premature deaths in 2000, according to this latest, comprehensive study), it's apparently beneficial in some respects to be slightly overweight (86,094 prolonged lives in this category).

Gerberding is yet another bureaucrat who uses a public pulpit to launch scare campaigns that serve simultaneously to elevate their own importance. Missing the mark by a factor of 16 is not good enough for government work.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Pope Benedict XVI -- True Liberalism

Posted by Craig Westover | 1:25 PM |  

The following is from an email from the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, authored by Robert A. Sirico. If you understand that "Social Justice" means more than looking for packaging that contains the greatest percentage of of post consumer recycled content, watching "Norma Rae" with your kids, or buying fair trade coffee, you'll understand Father Sirico's message.

ROME -- We have already heard a thousand times or more that the new Pope is a conservative. As counterintuitive as this may sound, I believe that insofar as the new papacy has implications for economics and politics, it is in the direction of a humane and unifying liberalism. I speak not of liberalism as we know it now, which is bound up with state management and democratic relativism, but liberalism of an older variety that placed it hopes in society, faith, and freedom.

Bear with me.

When it was announced that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger would take the name of Benedict XVI, the question immediately presented itself: Who was Benedict XV and what did he stand for? What does it imply for the future of this papacy that it would consider itself to be, in some sense, a successor papacy to that one?

Benedict XV was pope from 1914 to 1922 -- the pope who witnessed the age of peace, prosperity and hope turn to one of bloodshed, violence, and the total state. He is remembered mostly for his anguished encyclical Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum, which sought to end the conflicts and battles that became what we now call World War I, the war which so violently dashed the hopes of many generations of 19th century classical liberals.

I think in particular of Lord Acton, who exemplified the spirit of his age. The temporal power of the papal power had mercifully come to an end, and at the urging of the liberal wing of the faith. They had placed their hope in the capacity of Christian faith to flourish in the absence of coercion, and in the capacity of the world to continue its progress toward peace and prosperity. It was to be a world of free trade, free thought, and religious orthodoxy. But it was not to be. The vision of liberalism in which they had placed their hopes were dashed, utterly and completely with the carnage of war.

Pope Benedict XV wrote the following terrifying passage in 1914:

On every side the dread phantom of war holds sway: There is scarce room for another thought in the minds of men. The combatants are the greatest and wealthiest nations of the earth; what wonder, then, if, well provided with the most awful weapons modern military science has devised, they strive to destroy one another with refinements of horror. There is no limit to the measure of ruin and of slaughter; day by day the earth is drenched with newly-shed blood, and is covered with the bodies of the wounded and of the slain. Who would imagine as we see them thus filled with hatred of one another, that they are all of one common stock, all of the same nature, all members of the same human society? Who would recognize brothers, whose Father is in Heaven? Yet, while with numberless troops the furious battle is engaged, the sad cohorts of war, sorrow and distress swoop down upon every city and every home; day by day the mighty number of widows and orphans increases, and with the interruption of communications, trade is at a standstill; agriculture is abandoned; the arts are reduced to inactivity; the wealthy are in difficulties; the poor are reduced to abject misery; all are in distress.
Obviously these sad words served as foreshadowing of what would follow: crimes and terrors of Communism and Nazism, the end of European unity, the advent of weapons of mass destruction, the takeover of the West by ideologies of social management, secularism, consumerism, and every kind of horror. These were the worldly concerns of popes that followed Benedict XV, all the way to John Paul II, who was singularly instrumental in overthrowing the great tyrannies of the last century. It was a debilitating time for anyone who believed in the spirit of Lord Acton and his contemporaries.

And what became of Christian hope? We find it in documents of the Second Vatican Council, the most important event to shape the lives of both John Paul and the German theologian Joseph Ratzinger. This was the council that did not turn its back on religious freedom but rather embraced it more fully with a confidence that the setbacks that followed the end of the temporal power would be temporary. This council looked forward to a world of renewed spiritual and material progress in which a global order of freedom -- along with technological advance -- would serve all peoples in all places. It was the council that made it the Church's mission to not only care for souls but also for the well being of all societies in which people live and breath.

At the time the council closed, many conservative Catholics had great doubts about the optimism at the heart of Vatican II, particularly that which motivated the church to embrace the modern world and more clearly define the need for religious freedom and human rights. But today, the wisdom is clearer. Communism and Nazism came and went. The other "isms" that dominated the 20th century seem also to be abating. We again live in times of new hope, similar to the ones that gave birth to the liberal vision of the 19th century.

This is a vision that was warmly embraced by John Paul II, and we can expect a full continuity with that vision under Benedict XVI. The very name of the latter gives us hope that the bloodshed between World War I and the fall of the Berlin Wall need not be our common destiny. Certainly Cardinal Ratzinger has not contradicted John Paul II's liberal teachings on economics, which found great merit in the market economy and even condemned European-style welfare states.

Cardinal Ratzinger has been more focused on the theological implications of political heresies such as liberation theology than he has in questions of economic systems. But he has written with great optimism about the prospects for a new and unified Europe -- not unified by the state but by faith and cooperation. He has written very powerful condemnations of the total state as we know it and decried the way in which the secularist social-managerial project of the overweening state has displaced the Christian vision of unity in faith.

Mostly, Ratzinger has written in defense of authentic freedom. He has written of the "real gift of freedom that Christian faith has brought into the world. It was the first to break the identification of state and religion and thus to remove from the state its claim to totality; by differentiating faith from the sphere of the state it gave man the right to keep secluded and reserved his or her own being with God... Freedom of conscience is the core of all freedom." (Freedom and Constraint in the Church, 1981)

Here is the voice of a true liberal. Long live Benedict XVI.

Fr. Robert A. Sirico is president of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty in Grand Rapids, Mich. (

A specific same-sex marriage question

Posted by Craig Westover | 12:45 PM |  

Okay. Lots of comments on the same-sex marriage issue, but they are not dealing with public policy issues. So for purposes of discussion, let’s try a specific example.

The compelling interest of the state and a justification for its being in the marriage business is creating stable family units. Granted, opposite-sex unions have their problems not the least of which is a high divorce rate, but nonetheless family units founded on a two-person relationship, traditionally a man and a woman, remain the foundation of a stable society.

Today, same-sex couples are part of the equation. So are children. Some same-sex unions come about after the break-up of a opposite-sex union of which children may be a part. Medical technology and adoption policies enable gay couples to form families. If, for the sake of children, society ought to stabilize families, shouldn’t government be concerned about stabilizing same-sex families to the degree it supports opposite-sex families?

Before jumping to the "yes" answer, consider this conservative concern (funny hat tip Bogus Gold) --

A same-sex headed family with children automatically creates a destabilizing force in that a third “parent” is necessarily involved. Multiple natural parents in an opposite-sex marriage are an aberration in the sense that all marriages are, initially, forever. Multiple natural parents are a requirement of a same-sex marriage.

From a public policy perspective, how should “third parents” be addressed? What are the rights and obligations of the third parent in a same-sex marriage? (That is, the natural parent of a child that is either a sperm donor or a surrogate mother for a child.) Is there an opportunity here to clarify the rights and responsibilities of that issue for both same- and opposite-sex relationships? Do third parents mean we're necessarily on the road to polygamy and polyamory?

Simply saying that to raise such a question is homophobic and bigoted is not debate. To use the existence of the problem as an “ah ha” reason to deny validity to same-sex couples probably warrants the charge.

So, my question, is their a workable solution? Discuss in comments.

Friday Cat Blog

Posted by Craig Westover | 10:18 AM |  

While the Power Liberal’s cats amuse themselves with liberal antics like Playing Bachmann and digesting the indigestible, for the record, my cat purr-furs more conservative purr-suts.

You can help feed Basil and expand your perspective on American history by ordering “A Patriot's History of the United States : From Columbus's Great Discovery to the War on Terror” from Click Here.

By way of review, "A Patriot’s History" is billed as a “conservative” or “traditional” view of American history. The overriding theme, and for me most enjoyable part of the book, is that even when discussing American missteps, the authors never lose cite of the nobility of American purpose and the inherent goodness and desire of the American people to what is right.

That said, and that alone makes the book an excellent addition to anyone’s bookshelf (especially if you have kids in school), in terms of tone, the book is sharply divided.

From Columbus to the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt the emphasis is on the events of history. The authors provide seldom-noted facts and events that create a lost (yes, conservative) interpretation of history. Occasionally the bias is a little overstated, like calling Jefferson’s war with the Barbary pirates “American’s first pre-emptive war,” but the overall effort is a provocative view of history, that as noted, makes one proud to be an American.

From Roosevelt on, however, the tone takes a decided turn. There’s still plenty of great information that is never mentioned in politically correct history classes, but the conservative perspective that enriched the first half of the book degenerates into a liberal-bashing mode that becomes distracting.

Whereas the first half of the book is a conceptualization of history from a conservative perspective, the latter half of the book is a reactionary retrospective of liberalism. That has its value, and may in fact be necessary given that more recent history is fresh and carries a much stronger liberal slant than “traditional” American history.

The second half of the book is more entertaining -- as in Hannity and Colmes -- compared to the intellectual appealing first half -- CSPAN Washington Journal, but like the comparison, it is less saisfying. As liberal historians mudslinging at the founders gives a false negative picture of America, the authors' overtly ripping, albeit liberal, American icons beyond justification by the facts, also damages the country's image in the eyes of the reader.

Nonetheless, "A Patriot's History" is a good read and a great review of basic American history. Help keep my cat off welfare. Click Here.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Smoking bans do cause "significant" economic harm

Posted by Craig Westover | 12:11 PM |  

A study released on April 19 by the Fair Air Association of Canada supports the point I make in my response “Bob of the American Lung Association" in this post -- the aggregate statistics used by smoking ban proponents to show “no significant harm” to hospitality business mask the very significant harm done to specific segments of the hospitality industry.

Using Canadian government numbers, the study focused on the impact of smoking bans only on businesses classified as “bars” and “pubs.” The study shows smoking bans in several Ontario cities have had a real and dramatic impact on revenue. Bar and pub sales were reduced: 23.5% in Ottawa, 18.7% in London, 24.3% in Kingston and 20.4% in Kitchener.

Although this study was sponsored by an organization with an economic dog in the fight, the research credentials of the economist doing the study appear about as neutral as one can get. It is also significant that he used government numbers and the study was validated by an independent source.
The study was conducted by Michael Evans, Ph. D., one of North America's leading economists and a former advisor to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), NASA, U.S. Senate Finance Committee and the U.S. Treasury. Dr. Evans was also a Professor of Economics at the Kellogg Graduate School of Management. The world-renowned economist used Ontario Ministry of Finance sales and tax receipts data between 2000 and 2003 to ensure the veracity of his report. The study has been verified by Wade Cook, Ph. D, Associate Dean of Research, Schulich School of Business.

Prof. Evans concluded, "Government data clearly demonstrates smoking bans materially reduce sales in bars and nightclubs. The evidence is quite clear. To suggest that smoking bans don't have a dramatic negative impact on bar sales would be an opinion - not fact."
In light of this study, and the anecdotal evidence coming in from area bars and pubs, what smoking ban proponents are ethically obligated to address is that in order to achieve the smoke free environment that they want, their actions necessarily will cause economic harm to a group of business owners that have committed no crime, violated no law, and seek only to run their businesses in a way that satisfies those that freely choose to patronize them. In doing so, smoking ban proponents want a free ride; they offer no compensation to the owners and employees of those businesses that arbitrary imposition of a smoking ban damage.

Multiply 20 percent times the revenue of all the bars and pubs losing business in places like Hennepin County and Bloomington, and one wonders how popular a smoking ban would be if taxpayers were on the hook to compensate bar and pub owners for lost revenue.

Liberal bias; Conservative conflict

Posted by Craig Westover | 12:01 PM |  

This is interesting information on the vaccine safety controversy, but it also highlights the different moral dilemmas faced by liberals and conservatives.

As I noted in my column of March 16, David Kirby’s book Evidence of Harm: Mercury in Vaccines and the Autism Epidemic: A Medical Controversy (St. Martin’s Press, 2005), which makes a case for the biological plausibility that mercury in childhood vaccines is at least partially responsible for the spike in autism cases during the 1990s, is a controversial book.

Controversy usually means ratings for media outlets that interview authors of hot-selling books (EOH is in a 5th printing less than a month after release). Nonetheless, traditional liberal outlet like National Public Radio and Air America want nothing to do with David Kirby according to the website “Corporate Crime Reporter.”
Kirby said that while he has been interviewed by local NPR affiliates like WNYC in New York and WHYY in Philadelphia, “the national NPR has ignored this book, hung up on me, written me back and told me to take them off my mailing list.”

“Never in 15 years as a journalist have I ever been treated like this by anybody – except for the CDC,” Kirby said. (For a complete transcript of the 11-page interview with Kirby, see 19 Corporate Crime Reporter 17(7), April 25, 2005, print edition only).
[Note: Kirby quoted virtually the same comments to me when I interviewed him for my column, but at the time requested the media comments “off the record.” A separate note: The local Air America station has twice, to my knowledge, interviewed parents supporting the connection between vaccines and autism. Despite the fact that this topic opens a wide door for Republican bashing, I thought the Air America interviews did an excellent job sticking to the science and the facts of the controversy with almost no partisan sniping.]
Kirby, a former assistant to New York City Democratic Party officials, including former City Council President Carol Bellamy and former Mayor David Dinkins, says that “the right wing press has been all over this, and the left wing press won’t touch it.”

“NPR and the Public Broadcasting System get a lot of money from drug companies,” Kirby told Corporate Crime Reporter. “And they need whatever money they can get, so they are not going to offend any advertiser – ever. Whereas the major commercial networks have a little more leeway and play. They take more risks. The conservative press is anti-government, whereas the liberal press is so pro-public health – it is like the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) can do no wrong, doctors can do no wrong. It’s like – the liberal Democratic Party establishment created this public health system that we are so proud of, and we are not going to attack it.”

“On the left, support of government public health programs trumps hatred of drug companies,” Kirby said. “And the right is a little more divided. You have the pro-business right – the Bill Frist and the Wall Street Journal editorial side – who are defending the drug companies at all costs. And then you have the real anti-government and anti-bureaucracy types who fear and distrust government and think this [the mercury/autism link] is entirely plausible.”
It’s pretty clear where I fall on that spectrum and from conversations and research, that mistrust-of-government category is where a lot of individuals fall.

What’s more interesting is that the liberal media falls virtually lockstep behind the party, while the right-wing media is divided -- some taking the party line, others looking at the issue on its merits and going where the research leads -- something I took the Star Tribune to task for not doing.

Aside from the vaccine safety issue, the Corporate Crime Reporter story highlights once again that conservatives rejection of moral relativism forces them to confront some tough political decisions when they honestly confront the truth. It is the liberal dogmatic belief in the goodness of government that precludes an objective search for truth. Is it really a moral decision when “support of government public health programs trumps hatred of drug companies?”

A provacative look at religious schools

Posted by Craig Westover | 8:36 AM |  

I’m not one that normally looks north of the border for solutions to public policy issues, but this article from the May issue of "Teacher Magazine" provides a provocative look at the role of Catholic schools in Canada, specifically the province of Ottawa where Catholic Schools are directly funded by the province with tax dollars just like secular public schools.

The article is interesting because it portrays the worst fears of both sides in the current school choice debate we’re having here in Minnesota yet at the end of the piece one comes away with the perception that the kids described are getting one damn good education. And if the focus of education is kids, not systems, then the Ottawa system is worth a look.

Since 1867, Ottawa has funded parochial education. In Canada, which has no formal separation of church and state, each province is free to configure its own education system including funding some, but not necessarily all denominational schools, the situation that existed in the United States until the latter 1800s. Half of Canada’s 10 provinces support only nonreligious public systems.

For the record, I personally disagree with direct funding of non-public schools as is done in Ottawa. Government determining which religions get aid and which do not is a potentially dangerous proposition that gives government too much social engineering power. The Ottawa system should not be confused with a voucher system, like the proposed Hann/Buesgens educational access grant legislation in the Minnesota legislature, in which families make the choice of where to spend voucher monies, free of any government coercion.

Nonetheless, the article makes clear that impressive results can be achieved when relgious schools and public schools view themselves as partners in a larger educational framework.

The article notes that in the United States, the Catholic schools most likely to have funding problems -- those in inner city areas -- are promoted as models for education reform because of their emphasis on academic basics in a disciplined environment. As a result, they’re considered cost-effective alternatives for many voucher students, both Catholic and non-Catholic.

Meanwhile, in public schools, the church-state issue continues to be a contentious issue that in many cases distracts from the system's (ought to be) objective of educating children.
Every Christmastime, for example, newspapers are filled with stories about public schools not allowing Christian-themed music to be performed on their stages—and about the lawsuits that ensue. It seems an unbridgeable divide, one that also exists in those Canadian public schools that are nonreligious. So it’s worth taking a look at the Ontario system (and Immaculata High, in particular), where funding is never a problem for Catholic schools and the curriculum promotes tolerance and civic values.
Immaculata High, mentioned in the quote, is about 20 percent non-Catholic. Providing ammunition for the “level playing field” defenders of Minnesota public education, Ontario’s Catholic schools don’t admit non-Catholic students until 9th grade. Currently, 32 percent of the province’s 2.1 million preK-12 students attend fully funded Catholic schools. But Ottawa is not focused on picking a “winner” from competing systems. The focus is on the kids and their education.
Ironically, this financial arrangement has eliminated interest in comparing outcomes between Catholic and secular public schools across Canada, according to Heather McLachlan, public affairs officer at the Alberta education ministry. After accounting for demographics, she says, it’s always been assumed that the two systems performed equally well. Instead, the emphasis is more on improving individual schools.
The thematic thread of the article (very well written) is a 12th grade philosophy class discussing the concept of gay marriage. (The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that same-sex marriage is constitutional and Gay marriages are being performed in six of Canada’s provinces, including Ontario.) The discussion as portrayed can only be described as wide open with all points of encouraged by the teacher with the central-casting name of Thomas Aquinas Conklin.

A philosophy curriculum was instituted in the Ottawa system in 1994 and is now taught to about 28,000 students at 290 public high schools, both secular and Catholic. The textbook covers the entire range of modern philosophies that challenge religious belief.
“Open-mindedness requires reviewing the evidence and continuing to question, but [that doesn’t mean] one doesn’t hold a view,” says John Peter Portelli, a professor at the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. “Like the Catholic [schools], public schools aren’t neutral. The question is whether the ideological framework hinders open argument.”
What might come as a shock to Minnesota opponents of sending voucher money to religious schools is that Catholic school students in Ottawa can have a more open discussion on a controversial social topic like gay marriage because it is not hindered in bringing in a religious viewpoint. What might shock school choice proponents is that such free-wheeling discussion can take place within the framework of a standardized system.

Teaching philosophy at a Catholic school allows teachers a distinct advantage. After encouraging students to follow all possible logical twists in an issue and explore the full extent of secular thinking, they can pull back and add their own faith-based perspective, which isn't "appropriate" public schools.

Another surprise for school choice proponents is that unlike most of their American counterparts, Catholic school teachers in Canada are represented by a powerful union under the same umbrella as their public school peers, which protects teachers like Conklin that introduce non-Catholic concepts into the classroom; however, written into the contract is the requirement to support Catholic teachings and, with few exceptions, practice the faith.
“Teachers need to be sensitive regarding how to talk about issues in the classroom,” says Linus Shea, a chapter president of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association. “A teacher can’t denounce church teachings, but discussion is encouraged as long as the Catholic position is brought forward in the debate.”
There’s plenty more in this article worth discussion. The point for Minnesotans is that religious schools and secular public schools both have their strong points. What Ottawa has managed to do is find a way to combine the best of each to create a system that to all appearances is providing great education.

I’m not suggesting that we adopt lock, stock, and barrel the Ottawa system, but it certainly makes sense to adopt the Ottawa attitude that private and public systems are not competing systems, but part of a larger public education system with the focus on children’s education and individual school improvement, not preservation and career advancement of a those with a vested interest in the existing system.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

This is why it's so frustrating . . . .

Posted by Craig Westover | 9:13 AM |  

. . . to debate the smoking ban issue.

After trying to engage "Bob from the American Lung Association" in some serious debate in the comments secton of this post, I am at a loss. Cheerleaders don't have to block and tackle; rather than debate, he's quite content to wave his pom poms on the sideline.

Revealing exchange.


Mr. Westover:

The fact that smoking bans cause no significant economic harm has been well documented, most recently by a University of Kentucky study on Lexington, KY. Closer to home, tax data from Duluth establishments that went smokefree some years ago tells a similar story.

So many cities, counties and states (add North Dakota and Montana) have gone smokefree that there are plenty of other positive examples to look to.

I don't think that I'm going to change your mind on this subject, but there may be others who are still seeking the facts on this important public health issue. I encourage them to visit our website and blog. So the work goes on...

PS: While I believe you are totally wrong on this particular issue, I'll give you kudos for having the best-designed blog in the MOB mob. Easy to read, good use of color and fonts. Good job, Cap't!
Bob from the Lung Association Homepage 04.19.05 - 10:43 am #


Before you can claim "no significant economic harm" you need to define "to whom?"

To simplify, a town has two bars, one smoking, one non-smoking, both doing well, both paying taxes. A smoking ban is implemented.

The formerly smoking bar loses business and shuts down. The non-smoking bar picks up some of the lost business, and given that it no longer has competition, expands its menu, attracts more business from a wider area and contributes more tax dollars that the two restaurants previously did.

No significant harm, according to the aggregate statistics in your studies, because the state is still making its money, but in doing so the state arbitrarily caused an individual business owner significant economic harm.

The economic case is not about keeping up state revenues or even about industry impact. It's about government regulations putting people out of business.

There's my answer to your question, now answer mine -- What are your neutral criteria for defining a public health issue that requires government intervention?
Craig Westover Homepage 04.19.05 - 2:11 pm #


Your question is more properly asked of a government entity, not to the American Lung Association of Minnesota. We support the ordinances because we know they help protect hospitality workers from the proven risks of secondhand smoke on the job, and that a percentage of adult smokers will likely use the bans as a good reason to quit smoking.

Perhaps someone from the city or county would be willing to answer your question. We are supporting these ordinances for health reasons.

For answeres to legal or political questions, I'm afraid you'll have to look elsewhere.
Bob from the Lung Association Homepage 04.19.05 - 4:06 pm #


I'd say that's ducking the issue; whenever we suport an issue it's a a duty to consider all the consequences, especially when one represents a policy-influencing organization asking for legislation.

Because science is the fulcrum on which you're leveraging your argument, I'd then ask you to read the Edmund Contoski posts on this site and address the scientific issues -- especially the concept of relative risk as applied to causality.

I trust that as an employee of the American Lung Association, you've read any of the excellent books describing the importance of relative risk in assessing causal relationships in cancer studies, which are unrelated to secondhand smoke and therefore neutral as far as bias on the issue goes.

By those statistical standards, secondhand smoke -- even taking the dubious EPA numbers as fact -- doesn't come close to posing a health hazard.

If you plan to bring up Helena, you want to explain the commentary from the doctor, a stong proponent of smoking bans, who nonetheless cites a laundry list of reasons why the conclusions drawn from that study are not supported by the study data.

Or are you strictly a policy organization and I must go to a scientist for that answer?
Craig Westover Homepage 04.19.05 - 6:15 pm #


I’ve a busy schedule today, so this will be my last comment on this posting. You are clearly a well-educated man and a very talented writer. While I believe some healthy skepticism of government and ‘organized medicine’ is a good thing, your willingness to dismiss, discount or discredit a mountain of peer-reviewed scientific evidence that shows secondhand smoke is a very real health risk is unfortunate.

I am very comfortable in the consensus of every major medical and health organizations in the world -- including the ALA -- that secondhand smoke is a serious health risk.

I am certain you are aware that the tobacco industry for many years secretly created phony “institutes,” paid for studies, expert spokespersons and testimony to discredit the legitimate scientific studies on the health risks of tobacco. One of the favorite tactics was evoking the old “relative risk” and “dose” gag – if you can’t prove your point, attack the research, the organization, the funding source, anything you can. While many of the pro-smoke scams have been uncovered and are now gone, their “junk science” and tactics are still being used today by the likes of Mr. Contoski. I have read enough of his writings to understand his underlying motive and agenda. He is not the first nor the last to claim that the earth is flat and black is white, and that a vast shadowy conspiracy is suppressing the truth.

I don’t need to cite Helena to make my point. Instead, I point out that Montana just passed a statewide smoking ban. North Dakota is expected to do the same very soon. While the pro-smoke crowd has no lack of zealots to loudly argue for the status quo, America is rapidly becoming a smokefree nation. I look forward to the day when Minnesota joins the growing list of smokefree states.

I’m sure we will continue our spirited debate on this issue in the future. In the meanwhile, stay well and healthy.
Bob from the Lung Association Homepage 04.20.05 - 8:40 am #


"If you can't prove the point, attack the research."

After making that comment, you go on to "attack the research" that says secondhand smoke is not the danger that is claimed, but offer no scientific refutation of Contoski's science. You attack his motives, a non-smoker, non-bar owner with no economic dog in the fight.

Simply stamping your rhetorical feet is not a debate, Bob. You won't set criteria for public health to debate -- that's someone else's job. You won't address statistical validity of neurtral scientific principles applied to the issue -- someone else has done that for you. Just what do you do that keeps your schedule so busy?

No wonder it is confounding to you when people want to think for themselves and make their own decisions.
Craig Westover Homepage 04.20.05 - 9:21 am #


COLUMN -- Same-sex marriage debate needs better focus

Posted by Craig Westover | 8:10 AM |  

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

The principle isn't to blame if people pervert it. If it were, after the witnessing the demonization of state Sen. Michele Bachmann degenerate to paparazzi stalking and bathroom blockading ("Same-sex marriage ban fight gets nasty" April 14), I'd be tempted to scuttle more than 200 years of evolving liberty and end my opposition to the Defense of Marriage Amendment (DOMA).

Fortunately, principle is thicker than partisanship.

It ought to be self-evident that a snapshot of public opinion should not be enshrined as a fundamental governing principle. To do so confirms the founders' fear of tyranny by the majority. It mistakes same-sex marriage for a public morality debate rather than rightly addressing it as a public policy question [previous column].

DOMA endorses a view of government as social engineer as certainly as the Profile of Learning did. It confuses the desire to live like a conservative with the lust to rule like a liberal.

That said, opponents of same-sex marriage have done more fundamental reflection than simply nodding to Leviticus 18:22. To their detriment, same-sex marriage proponents ignore reason in favor of intellectually lite intimidation and personal attacks, which only damages their credibility.

If one supports "gay marriage" and has not read David Frum's column [subscription link] in the March 28 National Review, take a night off from surfing the dump-Bachmann blogs and read it. It's a well-reasoned argument against same-sex marriage that proponents of those unions better be able to confront with something more than a digital camera.

"As same-sex marriage advances from slogan to reality," Frum writes, "we are learning that … same-sex marriage does not [merely] extend marriage. It transforms it."

As evidence Frum cites Ontario, where legislation deletes the words "wife," "husband," "widow" and "widower" from province law. Legislation before the Canadian Parliament deletes the term "natural parent" from the law, replacing it with "legal parent," effectively (Bachmann echoes Frum) depriving motherhood and fatherhood of all judicial meaning in Canadian law.

Frum relates an awards ceremony at Harvard where actress Jada Pinkett Smith, who is married to actor Will Smith, accepted an award with a description of how she overcame a difficult childhood to build a successful career and a happy marriage.

"Women, you can have it all," she concluded. "A loving man, devoted husband, loving children, a fabulous career."

Harvard's Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Transgender and Supporters Alliance objected because Pinkett Smith's words "implied that standard sexual relationships are only between males and females."

Frum views the Harvard situation and the Canadian efforts not as "weird excess" of the demand for same-sex marriage, but as "the logical, predictable and necessary consequence of that demand."

He writes: "The demand for same-sex marriage is not really a demand for a practical solution to practical problems. If it were, we would not hear so much talk about how the defense of marriage is like the defense of racial segregation; we would not hear so much anger and abuse; we would be talking about powers of attorney and tenancies-in-common rather than about discrimination and exclusion."

Frum views same-sex marriage not as extension of an institution, but the overthrow of a norm. The debate is not about reconstruction, but destruction.

Actions personally directed at Bachmann are inexcusable as individual conduct and repugnant to the dignity of debate in a free society; more to the point, personal attacks lend credence to Frum's contention.

The political challenge to same-sex marriage proponents is clear — prove that same-sex marriage is a practical solution to practical problems. That is not accomplished with picket signs, a camera or a hand on a bathroom door handle.

What is needed is discussion of how best to structure the compelling state need for stable family units, regardless of gender — a practical problem that requires a practical solution. Without such structure, the Legislature is stuck with a God versus gays debate that gets it nowhere.

A word of advice to same-sex marriage proponents: Those whom Bachmann can't outthink, she outworks. Best put away the crayons, pasteboard, the anger and abuse and start working. So far, you're not outthinking her.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Thank goodness . . .

Posted by Craig Westover | 1:26 PM |  

. . . this news came out before I took the wrong thing out for dinner.

School Choice Has Wide Support

Posted by Craig Westover | 10:51 AM |  

A site I don't get enough time to give proper attention to is John LaPlante's PolicyGuy site. It's loaded with links to fascinating research on a plethora of public policy issues, notably health and education.

In a recent post, John provides some data on the popularity of school choice based on Friedman Foundation research.

Over 90 percent of voters surveyed in Arizona support at least one of the several school choice measures now being debated by that state's legislature. Among the other findings:

More than 70 percent support increasing the current educational tax credit for personal tax filers [Arizona currently grants education tax credits to businesses that provide K-12 scholarships -- cw];

Almost half (49.5 percent) favor universal vouchers, the most ambitious of school choice plans;

Embracing school choice is a winning strategy for political candidates.

(Funny hat tip to reader Jerry Ewing who wonders "how Minnesota would turn out, if the questions were asked properly? It might be powerful political ammunition," he notes.)

He said, she said journalism

Posted by Craig Westover | 10:02 AM |  

Writing in the Star Tribune today, reporter Pat Doyle offers a bit of "he said, she said" journalism that adds virtually nothing to the debate over vaccine safety. The medical establishment trots out the same denials, so there is really no need for any comment other than this link.

However, this article says a lot about the way the mainstream media thinks.

Doyle spent less than a week researching this complex topic. He touched all his bases like an "objective" reporter should by contacting people on both sides of the debate. He duitifully reports "what he said and she said," but he offers the reader no insight into his interviews nor does he give the reader the benefit of his albeit cursory research.

An email alerting me that this story was in the works mentioned that Doyle was operating from the premise that the Strib did not want to scare people out of vaccinating their children.

First, let me say that, after doing my homework, I support the position that parents should not arbitrarily keep their kids from being vaccinated. They should consult their pediatricians, ask questions and satisfy themselves as to the risks involved and work with their doctors to minimize those risks. However, let me repeat -- I say that only after having done a hellevua lot of research. Had that research led to the opposite conclusion that all vaccines should be avoided, I'd have said so.

The point is, by going into this story with the "bias" that it can't scare people, the Strib compromised the reporter's search for truth right out of the gate. A reader is left wondering if the story is "truthful," or simply "balanced."

All Doyle's story does is fill a news hole. It contributes nothing to the debate. It doesn't drive to a conclusion. It doesn't force any action. It doesn't help readers. If they care at all, they are merely confused and left to do the hard research on their own. At best, the story may make a few people aware there is an issue. Hopefully it might inspire a few people with "autistic" kids to explore possible biomedical treatment.

Nonetheless, the story is a poor excuse for journalism.

UPDATE: In the interest of balanced reporting: Doug Tice, the Politics and Government Team Leader at the Star Tribune writes --
Well, I think you're being a little harsh. The story makes it clear that the weight of official scientific opinion says there's no link, while it also reports the views of parents who continue to doubt those findings. I guess that doesn't "advance the debate" in the sense of drawing a final conclusion. But a news story's purpose is to report the news -- the existence of this debate and where it stands. That may not help a person already familiar with the debate, but many are not. We have columnists and editorialists for the purpose of examining evidence and making conclusions.

As you know, I share some doubts about the effectiveness of even-handed reporting of issue debates. But I can't get to the point of believing that everything in the paper should be an opinion piece.

I assigned this story and worked with Pat, and it's actually not true that concern about frightening parents dominated our thinking or our approach to the story. The partisans may believe that, but you shouldn't take their claims and interpretations as fact. That said, I don't think that wanting to avoid causing groundless fear is an altogether inappropriate motive for this or any other story.

Finally, you complain that Pat's research wasn't thorough or lengthy enough. Well, he writes about five news stories a week, and I edit about 30. We haven't the luxury of exhaustive research on every subject we address, but we do the best we can.

Monday, April 18, 2005

"Be not conformed to this world..."

Posted by Craig Westover | 5:56 PM |  

Douglas Bass of Belief Seeking Understanding has a Podcast site where he's conducting an experiment in "podcast theatre" with an enhanced reading of Ayn Rand's "Anthem."

He's dividing the book into an eight part series, so those whose beers are bigger than their bladders have a chance to take a break.

Give it listen.

READER RESPONSE -- Science, politics and vaccinations

Posted by Craig Westover | 9:36 AM |  

For those looking for a quick overview of the issue of vaccine safety as it relates to issues of autism, reader Anne Daschle passes along this link to a discussion on KCRW radio, a Santa Monica public radio affiliate. The discussion begins at about the 7:30 mark of the broadcast and runs about 40 minutes.

Featured in the discussion are David Kirby, author of Evidence of Harm: Mercury in Vaccines and the Autism Epidemic: A Medical Controversy;

Sarah Parker, Assistant Professor of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Denver Children's Hospital and at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center; author of a critical review of literature on the connection between Thimerosal and Autism, published in the September 2004 issue of Pediatrics, a journal published by the American Academy of Pediatrics;

Jay Gordon Pediatrician in private practice in Santa Monica, regular contributor to Pregnancy and Parenting magazines, author of several books, and consultant to TV shows and movies; and

PAUL OFFIT Chief of Infectious Diseases at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia; co-developer of the Rotovirus vaccine currently being developed by Merck, he is paid solely by the National Institutes of Health.

Although as most radio discussions go, it doesn't match point-for-point statements by individuals on both sides of the issue, it does present both sides, and hearing both sides expressed verbally gives one a better picture of some of the unstated underlying causes of the controversy.

A great example is an exchange between Dr. Gordon and Dr. Offit. Dr. Offit takes extreme offense to implications by Dr. Gordon of conflicts of interest among health officials and pediatricians regarding vaccines and immunization.

"I went into pediatrics because I want to do good," says Offit angrily. "I really resent Dr. Gordon's implications that I would in any way ever make a decision about vaccine safety that was in anything but the best interest of children . . . I mean what kind of monster [sic] does he think people like us are? . . . There is nobody who stands to lose more if the rotovirus vaccine we are currently developing has an untoward side affect than me . . . if this vaccine is ever shown to be harmful, exactly how would I live with that?"

Therein for me lies the essence of this controversy. People like Dr. Offit and officials at the CDC and FDA and our own Minnesota Department of Health are not monsters, nor are they pawns of big pharmaceutical companies. But the do have a religious zeal for what they are doing. They are so convinced by nobility of their intentions and the physical evidence of the good their efforts have accomplished that the thought that their work might even inadvertently caused significant damage and suffering is unthinkable to them. This Oedipal-like hubris blinds them to the "evidence of harm" that is clearly present.

The discussion is worth a listen.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Whine Blogging

Posted by Craig Westover | 5:02 PM |  

I heard that the Nihilist has joined Bogus Doug in wine blogging. This seems odd to me as I have always found liberals to have far more experience with whines than conservatives. For example, I’ve been served this one by a number of liberals recently over at the capitol, so I figure I might as well review it.

Today’s whine choice is “Private schools don’t have to accept everybody. It’s not a level playing field.” It’s preferred by public school superintendents and state DFL senators, but is often found at the tables of anyone whose meal is paid for out of state education dollars.

It goes well with fishy justifications and foul motives. But when the question is "Where's the beef?" this whine lacks the integrity to adequately compliment heavy substance.

Uncorked and allowed to breathe, it suggests a deceiving aroma of fairness with just a hint of hypocrisy.

This very red whine is an acquired taste, usually at taxpayer expense. To the palate it yields a slightly suburban bourgeois flavor mixed with the distinct taste of arrogance and just a tease of fear and self-doubt. It is definitely somewhat bitter, and for many hard to swallow. The aftertaste can last for years.

Nonetheless, it is an ideal whine for any formal socialist gathering or just hangin' with your comrades, although expensive at between $11,000 and $13,000 per guest unit, perhaps because it takes a village to ferment it.

Far less expensive private label brands, which generally have a more robust flavor untainted by unnecessary additives, are viable alternatives.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

READER RESPONSE -- No comment ought be necessary

Posted by Craig Westover | 3:50 PM |  

The email below to Hennepin County bar owners is loaded with lessons about the intellectual courage it takes to live in a free society -- a trait too many are sorely lacking.

Hi All,

Every day I hear from more and more business owners telling me the problems they are experiencing thanks to the smoking ban. I have heard staff is quitting because of reduced hours and lost tips, assaults and drug and alcohol use while customers are out smoking have increased, and city streets are a mess. I have heard revenue losses in Bloomington, Minneapolis, and Hennepin County down anywhere from 13% to 65%. One VFW has already informed their city they will no longer be donating charitable gambling revenues to the city coffers. All the while, surrounding cities and counties report record sales.

Now that the first week of fun is over, business owners and staff are finally realizing how damaging these bans are. The blood, sweat, tears and money we have invested into our businesses and through no fault of our own has many wondering how long they will be able to hang on.

On one hand I want to shake all these stupid, lazy apathetic bar owners and ask them where the hell have they been. On the other hand maybe they will now start helping to get the smoking ban overturned.

One Minneapolis City Council member is telling people he has not heard negative comments about the smoking ban. The ignorant and gullible officials we have elected are not only stupid but they lie too. I personally have sent e-mails and called this man several times. Would everyone take a few minutes to contact each and every city council member and Hennepin County Commissioner?

I am also looking for bar owners or staff to attend a city council meeting and a county commissioners meeting to request a repeal of the bans. I could use some help lining these folks up and would like as many as possible to attend.

Give me a call.

Sue Jeffers
Stub and Herb's

It's not about "empathy"

Posted by Craig Westover | 9:09 AM |  

With the liberal tendency toward feelings, Flash calls this the Empathy Test --
"How would I perceive the same or similar behavior if the party affiliation was reversed."
Regarding the Republicans proposed "nuclear option" to end the Senate filabuster on the president's judicial nominees, he asks --
But where is a mind set that thinks they [Republicans] can just change the rules to benefit only themselves. Do they think they will be in the majority forever . . . . What would you be saying if, say, the Democrats controlled the Senate and President Hillary Clinton was able to have this power?
Flash's point is well taken, but it has nothing to do with as mushy a concept as "empathy" or as subjective a notion as "behavior." It's about power.

The lesson we should take away from Flash's observation is not that when confronted with a contentious political issue we should all metaphorically walk a mile in someone else's shoes singing "Kumbaya." Rather we should be careful what power we grant to government on the assumption that at sometime, somehow, somewhere, someone will misuse it. And that's where, as a professed liberal, Flash's "Empathy Test" fails. He also writes --
I have always commented that the difference between the two sides is that the Right lives for today, whereas the Left lives with a vision towards tomorrow. And the actions that are being displayed by both sides on this issue certainly supports that theory.
The "vision thing" is nice, but this country already has a vision that is based on the unalienable right of each individual to pursue happiness in his or her own way without the coercion of others, including government. Government's job is to protect individual rights, not lead us to some promised land.

I don't want to live in the totalitarian world the Left envisions -- for one cannot have the kind of equalitarianism it preaches without coercion. Nor do I want to live in a conservative world so lacking in conviction in its own beliefs that it quakes with fear at new ideas however threatening they might seem.

Consequently, I advocate limiting government the power to do either, something neither the Right nor the Left is willing to do. With the faith of teenager that thinks he will live forever, both sides do act as if they will be in the majority forever. Both sides view the power of government, the Constitution, and individual citizens as but means to the civilization they envision (which surprise, surprise, they control). Neither side trusts the "invisible hand" of people acting in their own self-interest to produce good.

And so the bottom line becomes if government has the big sitick, I want people like me swinging it. But the better option (rather than arguing our "feelings" toward how they should use it) is taking the stick out of government's hands whenever possible and certainly not giving it new and bigger ones.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Capitol Tax Rally

Posted by Craig Westover | 12:35 PM |  

Kudos to David Strom and the Taxpayers League of Minnesotafor pulling off the "No New Taxes" Rally in the Capitol rotunda today and doing it on short notice. (Pictures at Kennedy vs. the Machine.) For an 8 o’clock in the morning event, a good-sized and enthusiastic crowd of a couple hundred wedged into the rotunda. As noted by Minnesota prodigal son Jason Lewis returning to Minnesota to MC the event, there were no government school buses outside.

As rallies go, conservative events generally have a little less hoopla and a little more substance that liberal events, although today’s crowd managed a rousing and surprisingly on key version of "Happy Birthday" in honor of the DFL, ironically founded 61 years ago on April 15 -- tax day.

The theme of the day reiterated by speakers including Governor Pawlent, Hous Majority Leader ErikPaulsen, Speaker of the House Steve Sviggum, Republican Party Chairman Ron Eibensteiner , and 6th District Congressman and Senate Candidate Mark Kennedy was clearly that higher taxes put a damper on economic growth; lower taxes mean more private sector jobs and ultimately more tax revenue for the state.

Governor Pawlenty noted that Minnesota tax revenues are up 8 percent as the result of holding the line on taxes and income tax receipts are up 13 percent.

Jason Lewis, a main driver of annual tax rallies while a talk show host at KSTP, rode his blazing saddle in from WBT in Charlotte to MC the gig, and once again remind Minnesotans that he has the heart of a liberal . . . which he keeps in a jar on his desk. From his reception, it’s also clear Lewis still has the hearts of Minnesota conservatives.

The finale of the event was the ceremonial signing of large "No New Taxes" pledges by Sixth District congressional candidates Jim Knoblach, Michele Bachmann, Cheri Pierson-Yecke and Jay Esmay. (“No New Taxes” is a good pledge to stand by, but it always makes me a little nervous when politicians are bound to promises to outside groups, even when it’s a group I agree with.)

But the best part of any rally is the protesters.

Most creative and least substantive award goes to the gaggle of about half-a-dozen women attired in faux furs and plastic tiaras -- looking for all the world like they stepped out of a bad community theater production of Arsenic and Old Lace -- waving play money and holding signs declaring themselves “Billionaires for Pawlenty.” “I’m rich. You’re not. God’s will” read one sign. Another -- “State Childcare. Hire an au pare.”

Clever, and they were clearly having a good time cheering wildly as if in support of the “No New Taxes theme.” However, their message -- Pawlenty’s No New Tax stance is sop for the wealthy -- didn’t play very well with the largely wage-earning crowd.

A more disturbing sign, one which I thought Jason Lewis referred to rather cavalierly, read “When did we stop seeing children and start seeing tax burdens?” Lewis noted the sign and asked to effect why his kids had to give up resources to support the protester’s kids, which drew cheers from the crowd.

Fair point, but without context, Lewis’ comment has that ring to it that resonates with a lot of people -- Conservatives are pretty cold-hearted, and the protestors parody of the wealth is not that far off. Unfortunately, conservatives just seem to have a knack of perpetuating that misconception.

A more thoughtful comment might have been asking the protester “When did we stop seeing children as members of families and start seeing them as wards of the state?”

The irksome thing about government spending is not providing health care, welfare benefits or special education funding to low-income families and individuals. The more bothersome and frequently ignored aspect of high taxes producing big government is the sense of entitlement we as a people are developing -- If a person is in trouble, their first option for support is government, and if there is no government program to help them, then their second option is pushing government to fund one.

Ever expanding government welfare is turning us into a people that knows neither how to accept charity with dignity nor offer it with compassion.

In the economic debate over taxes, we ought never lose sight of the fact that high taxes to support ever expanding government programs does irreparable damage to the character of a people. If you don’t believe that, ask yourself why 50 years after Brown v. Board of Education we’re still talking about an achievement gap in public schools.

READER RESPONSE -- More Kelley inconsistency

Posted by Craig Westover | 11:04 AM |  

David Downing of Downingworld wonders if I see any inconsistencies or irony in Sen. Steve Kelley's remarks reported in today's Pioneer Press.

A Kelley-sponsored proposal would enable public, private or charter schools with 20 percent of students needing religious-based diets to apply for a portion of $60,000 in state funding to pay for the extra costs of providing special meals. Committee discussion focused on the question whether funding special diets that are part of religious teachings is in effect funding of not only the diet but the religious teaching.

"The money is not going for religious instruction; it's going to nutrition," said the bill's chief author, Sen. Steve Kelley, DFL-Hopkins, in response to questions about the constitutionality of a program that sends public dollars to religious institutions. He noted the state already subsidizes textbook purchases and school bus transportation for private schools.

This from the guy that calls the Hann/Buesgens school voucher legislation "money laundering" and dismisses the very same arguments when it comes to parent-directed vouchers and school choice. Inconsistency? On the issue, you bet. But if you look at motivation, Kelley is as consistent as ever.

A voucher program in which parents make decisions about where education funds are spent reduces the power of Kelley and the education establishment. Funding school lunches at the state level keeps schools -- public, charter AND private -- more entangled to and beholden to the state, not mention a little more power for Senator Kelley.

[As an aside and a long overdue comment from the House Education Policy and Reform committee meeting that tabled the Buesgens version of the voucher legislation are comments from Rep. Carlos Mariani.

Speaking on behalf of an amendment to the Buesgens bill (which would have put financial obligations on private schools accepting vouchers that would have effectively killed the legislation), Rep. Mariani argued that even if state money via vouchers didn't go directly to religious teaching, it enabled religious schools to divert money from other sources to other areas including religious teaching -- much like the school lunch money proposal Kelley is now proposing.

Had he stopped there, Mariani had a point,
albeit constitutionally irrelevant, but nonetheless a debatable point. However, he carried his argument one step further by noting that in addition to freeing funds for religious teaching some voucher money might free funds that could be used to cover the legal liabilities of some denominations -- a not-so-subtle implication that voucher money in essence would somehow be state support child molesters. As a non-Catholic that has laughed at just about every "A priest, a rabbi and a minister walk into a bar" joke ever told, I found Mariani's remark highly offensive.]

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Acorn hunting with Steve Kelley and Pat Harvey

Posted by Craig Westover | 10:25 AM |  

State Sen. Steve Kelley is living breathing proof of Ralph Waldo Emerson’ oft-quoted contention that, “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.” Kelley is certainly not divine nor much of a philosopher. He is a physically large man with an even metaphorically bigger head, and he certainly disdains consistency -- at least in matters of principle.

Supporting the folk wisdom that “even a blind squirrel finds an acorn occasionally,” Kelley is on the right side of debate on the No Child Left Behind Act. Alas, it is probably too much to expect him to carry his NCLB objections over to the school choice debate.

His comments quoted by Deborah Locke today in the Pioneer Press are revealing, but not surprising. He’s a a government school guy that will even stoop to school choice principles if he can twist them to support the voting bloc that is the education establishment.

“It’s time to say this [NCLB] doesn’t make sense,” says Sen. Kelly. Actually its past that time, but this is a heckuva start.

Kelley’s legislation, according to Locke --
would revoke the contract the state made with the federal Education Department on NCLB. The state would then judge academic progress on a number of measures including testing, rather than today's testing focus. Sanctions for schools showing "inadequate progress" of special education children would be dropped, as well as for those whose student subgroups test below proficiency for at least two consecutive years.

One of the more dramatic measures in this bill is to basically thumb the state's nose toward federal funding provided through NCLB participation, and come up with an amount equal to that funding from the state. The federal government's position is, we'll pay if you play. Minnesota's position would be, thanks but no thanks.
St. Paul School Superintendent Pat Harvey supports Kelley’s legislation adding that when educators disagree with some parts of the NCLB Act, it doesn’t mean they want to avoid the work it requires (or perhaps the accountability).

I know, my eyes too rolled around when I read that. But returning to the blind squirrel metaphor, Harvey has an acorn. Kudos to NCLB for raising awareness of the achievement gap between white students and children of color, but the remedies proposed by NCLB are going to do nothing to close it in reality and will only drive schools to alter it statistically.

In hearings on the Hann/Buesgens proposed voucher legislation, Harvey repeatedly and Kelley on at least one occasion, used statistics to perceptually close the achievement gap without imparting one benefit to children of color.

Harvey has repeatedly noted that St. Paul draws poor children of color from areas like Chicago that exacerbate the achievement gap on paper. She makes the argument that a contributing factor in the achievement gap is that white kids in Minnesota do so well. Children of color are behind, but proficient.

Kelley (rightly) corrected a woman testifying in his committee in support of the Hann legislation when she misapplied the statewide achievement gap numbers to St. Paul and Minneapolis. He noted that the gaps within St. Paul and Minneapolis are not that wide -- ignoring that real children of color in the cities will someday be competing with real white kids from the suburbs. No matter, the gap instantly looked smaller.

The underlying principle we ought to be considering, which is why Kelley’s proposals are on target, is that the NCLB Act is an overextension of nonexistent federal education authority. Kelly and Harvey find NCLB standards too stringent and punitive. But it’s Harvey’s rationale that is interesting.
"All of us agree that if five students aren't getting what they need, we all have to work on their improvement," she said. "But five kids shouldn't make an entire school fail."
Education is not about systems, but it’s about kids -- Harvey’s hypothetical five kids to be specific. If it’s about kids and not protecting the system, why not offer the “five” kids that admittedly are not getting what they need from the school they are in the option of a voucher and the opportunity to select a school that does give them what they need.

If it’s about kids not systems, why would Kelley and Harvey want to impose the mandates of NCLB to private schools accepting vouchers under the Hann/Buesgens legislation if they don’t think those mandates help educate kids? Because it would give private schools an unfair advantage in their ability to do good?

The Kelly/Harvey solution of changing the way NCLB measures and rates a school is justified and accurate, but changing the way the school is measured in no way alters the educational outcome for Harvey’s hypothetical five.

Kelley jumps in with the example of 10 Hispanic children that do poorly in reading causing their school to be rated as “needing improvement.” The next year they show “remarkable progress,” but seven English language learners fall behind. The school is rated “needing improvement” again.
"I am not saying immigrants can't succeed," he said. "I am saying a one-size-fits-all rule for how to determine how kids perform at their full potential is an impossible task. Every community is different."
Gosh, and if every community is different and should not be held to a single standard, is it remotely possible that every child is different and a one-size-fits-all style of education is an impossible task as well? Of course not. Otherwise vouchers to families and the opportunity to find right-size education makes too much sense.

Locke sums up Kelley’s position --
Kelley's proposal lights a fire under a persistent problem that will only grow with time. The intent of the federal law is good, and few argue with the importance of meeting the needs of all children. But the focus should be the child, not just the test, subgroup or school.
If Kelley and Harvey really believed education was about children and not systems and if they really believed a one-size-fits-all education is equally bad for kids at the state level as it is for school systems at the federal level (note in Locke’s entire piece there is not a single reference to the affect of NCLB on individual students), then they’d realize all the same arguments they are making on behalf of the system are the same arguments families are making for school choice on behalf of their children.

But then, as Emerson implies, consistency is probably overrated.