Friday, September 30, 2005

Should Minnesota ban new car sales?

Posted by Craig Westover | 11:59 AM |  

In a comment to my post here, Bob Moffitt communications director for the Minnesota Chapter of the American Lung Association and smoking ban champion invited me to apply for his position if I felt more qualified for his job. Well, because I would find it difficult to suspend my integrity to the degree necessary to support bad science and disregard individual property rights, I readily admit I do not feel as qualified for his position as Bob is. Nonetheless, this article in today’s Star Tribune has me hankering to try my hand at writing an ALA press release.

For Immediate Release:

American Lung Association Moves to Ban New Car Sales
“New car smell” is a toxic chemical brew lethal to thousands

[September 30, 2005] -- Citing an Australian study that found new cars emit six times the amount of volatile organic compounds necessary to induce headaches and nausea, the Minnesota Chapter of the American Lung Association (ALAMN) today throws its support behind a statewide ban on all new car sales in Minnesota.

Commonly referred to as “new car smell” (NCS), the toxic chemical brew that gives new cars their distinctive odor possibly accounts for up to in the neighborhood of 38,123 cardio vascular deaths (CVD) in people that have ridden in new cars according to ALAMN’s Bob Moffitt. He also associated NCS with lung cancer, colon cancer, brain tumors, sudden infant death syndrome, explosive flatulence and tooth decay.

“NCS causes untold tragedy for thousands of families and costs all Minnesotans millions of dollars in medical expenses and lost productivity,” said Moffitt.

Moffitt noted that it is not just those that purchase new cars that are affected by NCS.

“Employees that detail new cars are most at risk,” says Moffitt. “They might not be able to afford new cars, but they spend many hours preparing new cars for delivery -- hours inhaling the up to possibly 61,237 lethal chemicals present in NCS. A car jockey should not have to choose between his profession and a safe working environment,” said Moffitt.

The ALA disputes the “pro-stink” position of “Big Auto” that banning new car sales will cause a downturn of business for auto dealerships in Minnesota.

“People want healthy cars,” says Moffitt. “That’s why we support using government to force people to purchase ethanol and biodiesel products subsidized by their tax dollars,” he said. “Once the ban on new car sales is in effect, more people will be shopping for used cars -- people that should not have to choose between owning a car and dying a lingering and horrible death. There will be no overall loss in business.”

The Australian study may be the final link in establishing the cause of death in the few thousand annual deaths that in some way cannot be linked to smoking, secondhand smoke, or SUV exhaust.

“It’s time for Minnesota to be a leader again in protecting the health and welfare of its citizens by banning the sale of new cars in Minnesota” declares Moffitt. “Can we afford to let children ride in these rolling gas chambers?”


Thursday, September 29, 2005

The "Reality Clause" in union contracts

Posted by Craig Westover | 11:26 AM |  

There’s a lesson here for NWA and the mechanic’s union.

Chicago Tribune columnist Jim Mateja offers this observation on a rash of bankruptcy filings among United Auto Workers.
After months of U.S. automakers crying that they are reeling from the cost of health-care and pension benefits for the United Auto Workers comes word that union members are crying poor, too.

Up to their ears in debt, about 10 percent of United Auto Workers members are filing for bankruptcy.

With so many tears being shed, you may want to wear boots the next time you visit Detroit.

While the cash-rich automakers complain that more money is going out for health care and pensions than coming in from vehicle sales, the affected UAW members say they can't cover the payments on their vacation houses, second or third cars, bass boats and/or snowmobiles with their overtime pay. Overtime pay has been scaled back because plants have cut production to reduce inventory or prevent its buildup with sales slumping.

The Detroit News has reported that one worker lost $16,000 in overtime pay, had to survive on only $87,000 in wages, and now is in debt for $469,000. The typical UAW member earns about $54,000 a year in straight time, though pay rises based on job classification.

Another found himself more than $300,000 in debt when his overtime stopped but the bills didn't for his satellite dish, vacation cottage and two pickup trucks.

The Detroit News said union members have lost five hours of overtime each week, or $10,000 each year, since 1997.

Though union members get 95 percent of pay when a plant is idled and they are laid off, their contract doesn't provide them with overtime pay when a plant operates on a regular eight-hour shift.

Besides the loss of overtime, bonuses have shriveled because they are based on automakers' declining earnings. For a typical Ford employee, the Detroit News said, his annual cash bonus went from $6,700 in 2000 to $600 in 2004.

Little wonder the UAW resists suggestions that its members, who under the current contract don't have to come up with a co-pay on prescription drugs, volunteer to make that contribution in the next contract.

You probably won't find many folks outside Detroit sympathizing with those forced to give up the dish or boat to make ends meet. Just as few outside Detroit will feel bad for management that has given the union so many perks it has difficulty paying health-care and pension costs.

But there's some good news in all of this. UAW members, retirees and their immediate families get free legal aid in filing for bankruptcy. That was one of the contract perks awarded by the automakers, who cry that the UAW has too many perks.

Perhaps when the next contract is negotiated next September, the UAW should demand free classes in Economics 101--for the hourly workers and management.
Like the situation for the auto industry, NWA specifically, and legacy airlines in general, face real challenges in the marketplace. The symptoms are many, but the singular cause is legacy airline business models are simply no longer viable and haven't been for some time. NWA is no exception, but rather than risk the bet-the-company changes necessary to compete in a changing business climate, it has sought survival by preserving its existing system. Rather than change, NWA has sought cost relief from labor and regulation exemption from government.

But big labor is not fault free. It has a different angle, but it's just as resistant to change as the management it opposes. Just like management, it has fostered the notion that the gravy train of high wages and benefits could go on forever. A strike or a settlement will cost jobs, but labor unnecessary in one area frees capital to provide real value elsewhere. That is bad news for a Northwest mechanic, but good news for a new hire at a business paying lower airfares on business travel.

Either Northwest — management and labor — recognizes the need for change, or it suffers the consequences. Neither the government nor the flying public should subsidize delaying the inevitable.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

COLUMN -- Nothing eminent about taking the homes of elderly widows

Posted by Craig Westover | 7:08 AM |  

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

It was a surprise to 79-year-old Olive Taylor, but a pleasant one. Pleasant for a while. Now she's not so sure. Heck of a way to spend one's golden years, wondering if the city is going to take your home.

Taylor is one feisty lady. First a young bride, later a young widow, in another time she'd have been a frontier matriarch running a ranching empire. As it is, she lives in a modest house on property that has been in her late husband's family since 1905. Over time, she's purchased and rents out several houses surrounding her home, across from Loeb Lake and Marydale Park in St. Paul.

Nice piece of property. Too nice for a 79-year-old woman when it just happens to sit between a park, a 9-acre city lake and a proposed townhouse development. Sure would make a nice greenway to the park for the townhouse folks.

Taylor's property is part of the Loeb Lake Small Area Plan & 40-Acre Study. Sales of large commercial parcels sitting in residential areas around the park prompted the study after the District 6 Planning Council recommended that the properties be "re-evaluated for residential development." The non-operating Jefferson-Smurfit paper products factory, adjacent to Taylor's property, was recommended for "higher density" housing.

The city was, of course, thinking like a city, thinking of ways to "enhance the neighborhood."

"The Loeb Lake area has not seen much attention from the city in recent years," St. Paul City Council Member Lee Helgen wrote in a "Dear Neighbors" letter dated May 12. He noted that "Marydale Park is underutilized … the true potential of the Willow Reserve is not yet realized … the potential for new retail and service opportunities exists at key intersections such as Maryland and Dale."

The proposed study would "guide redevelopment of the area in a way that is consistent and hopefully desirable to those who live in the area." Taylor did not find it desirable that the city was coveting her home.

Thus did Taylor, a proud woman from a blue-collar background, who created a comfortable living for herself on property she planned to leave to her family, suddenly find herself on the front lines of an eminent domain war intensified by the Supreme Court's decision in the Kelo v. City of New London case.

"That case changed my life," she said.

In Kelo, the court held that "redevelopment" was a valid "public use" that justified local use of eminent domain to transfer property from one private party to another. The private party benefiting from the city's taking of Taylor's property would be the developer of the Jefferson-Smurfit property, Dick Kedrowski. Kedrowski got to know Taylor very well over the next several months — as did members of the various St. Paul planning agencies, the City Council, and even folks at the headquarters of Jefferson-Smurfit. Taylor waged her battle to keep her home with very little certainty she had any chance against the city.

Thus it was a pleasant surprise for her at last week's Loeb Lake Task Force Meeting when Kedrowski and representatives of the St. Paul planning department, looking at Taylor but addressing their remarks to the gathered neighbors, categorically stated that eminent domain would not be used in conjunction with development of the Jefferson-Smurfit site.

Why the change of heart? It likely came from Kedrowski. He grew up in the Rice Street area and has a sense of the neighborhood. He did not, he said, "want to be the kind of neighbor that used the city to take his neighbors' properties."

"The city probably jumped the gun," he said, referring to the threat of eminent domain.

The task force meeting was the first time that Taylor heard that eminent domain was no longer a consideration. It was welcome news. A few days later, however, after talking with members of the task force, Taylor was again wondering if the city could still take her property. The answer, of course, is that under Kelo all the city needs is evidence of a large-scale redevelopment plan, and, yes, it can.

As Kedrowski noted, "There are other developers that would jump at that property."

And worrying about keeping your home just because it's in a nice location is a heck of a way for a person to live. All the more reason for a priority on state legislative action limiting the use of private-to-private transfers under eminent domain.

Category: Column,

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Taxpayers League weighs in on smoking bans -- Bloomington bingo hall closes

Posted by Craig Westover | 3:34 PM |  

Smoking Bans Not So Charitable
Business and Charities Getting Killed by Smoking Bans

PLYMOUTH—There’s nothing like a dose of reality to wake people up.

At least that’s what David Strom, President of the Taxpayers League of Minnesota hopes will happen once people see what has actually happened to charitable gambing receipts following the imposition of smoking bans in Hennepin and Ramsey Counties.

At a hearing held in St Paul today by the House State Government Finance Committee, legislators heard from the Gambling Control Board and others that Charitable Gambling receipts have fallen drastically in Hennepin and Ramsey County since the imposition of strict smoking bans.

In Hennepin County, which has a very strict smoking ban that covers bars and restaurants, there has been a 22% loss in gross receipts; in Ramsey County, where the ban is less strict, sales are down 10%. Overall, charitable gambling receipts are down only 2-3%, indicating that the problem is localized to the regions where smoking bans are driving customers away.

“These smoking bans are killing businesses,” said David Strom. “The loss of charitable gambling receipts is simply a symptom of the larger loss of customers that businesses are experiencing. Either customers are staying away or taking their business to a more friendly environment.”

“The anti-smoking activists swore up and down that business would be as good or better once the smoking bans were in place. Will they now admit that they were wrong?

“More likely, they will see this as an argument for expanding smoking bans everywhere—make everyone suffer the same fate, instead of just a few. Instead, let’s make the smoking ban activists accountable for their false predictions and at least repeal these onerous regulations,” Strom concluded.

Don't count on it, David.

Like the aggregate statistics that smoking ban proponents use to “prove’ there is no business repercussions from bans, charitable gambling numbers also camouflage some facts, but in the latter case, it makes the situation worse for bar owners.

Proponents of smoking bans like to cite statistics like total tax revenues for the hospitality industry as a whole. Using a large-scale aggregate figure like that hides the fact that specific types of bars and restaurants -- neighborhood bars in working-class neighborhoods -- suffer disproportionately because of smoking bans than do upscale bars and restaurants.

Likewise charitable gambling is not equally distributed across the hospitality industry. You don’t find pull tabs in Perkins or Ruth Crisp’s. Charitable gambling is just one of the activities that provides the atmosphere in neighborhood taverns. The magnitude of the charitable gambling losses is yet another indictor that smoking bans are hitting some segments of the hospitality industry harder than others.

Jim Algeo, president of the Bloomington Crime Prevention Association and a council candidate in Bloomington passes along this note on the same theme -- another business catering to blue-collar working-class people closing, another drop in charitable contributions due to the smoking ban.

Southtown Bingo ceases operations

The Board of Directors of Bloomington Crime Prevention Association (BCPA) regret to announce they have determined that their charitable gambling facilities located at Southtown Bingo are no longer economically viable and therefore have made the difficult decision to cease all operations immediately and close the doors of Southtown Bingo.

BCPA has a long history of service to the citizens and agencies of Bloomington and their mission and continued operations should not be affected by this closure. We want to take this opportunity to thank all of our loyal bingo players for their patronage. We are especially thankful for the talented staff of Southtown Bingo that worked so diligently over these many years, enabling us to help provide funding for many of our favorite causes such as National Night Out, the Neighborhood Watch program, Bloomington Police Explorers, etc.

With the continued support of our members and volunteers, as well as our fund raisers such as the 'Book 'Em' project, BCPA will continue to serve and fund the needs of our public safety minded citizens, organizations and agencies.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Jobs, jobs, jobs

Posted by Craig Westover | 5:01 PM |  

If Karl Rove isn't behind the production of this bumper sticker, he should have been.

My favorite Halliburton quotes of the week

Posted by Craig Westover | 11:33 AM |  

In order for satire to work, it has to have a grain of truth in it. Great satire is produced when that grain of truth is such that one is not sure just whom is being made fun of -- the subject of the satire or the people nodding their heads in agreement.

First, from the Borowitz Report --
Recovering from aneurysm surgery on his knees, Vice President Dick Cheney said that repair work on his knees would be done by the Halliburton Company at a cost of 12.8 billion dollars.
Headline from the print version of the Onion --
Halliburton Gets Contract to Pry Gold Fillings From New Orleans Corpses’ Teeth
Who is laughing at whom?

Friday, September 23, 2005

City backs off one use of eminent domain

Posted by Craig Westover | 10:36 AM |  

It was a surprise to property owners in the area bordering the Jefferson-Smurfit property near Loeb Lake on St. Paul’s north side, but a pleasant one.

Both the Jefferson-Smurfit property developer and representatives of the St. Paul planning department categorically stated that eminent domain, which was cnsidered an option, would not be used in conjunction with a proposed townhouse development. As I noted in my Pioneer Press column on August 31 --
Property owners adjacent to the Jefferson Smurfit property near Loeb Lake in St. Paul, whose family has held title to the land since 1905, are under threat of eminent domain as the city determines (noted in a neighborhood letter from council member Lee Helgen) "how to enhance the neighborhood." So the City Council can "assess redevelopment opportunities" presented by this private property, it passed an ordinance prohibiting homeowners on the land from making improvements to their properties.
In this case the developer, Dick Kedrowski, returned to his roots -- he grew up in the Rice Street area -- and did not want to be the kind of neighbor that used the city to take neighborhood property -- despite his obvious interest in the property and his open invitation to discuss a purchase with any “willing seller.” The eminent domain threat, however, would not be part of the negotiation.

From the city planning department, Emily Ulmer stated that the development plan “no longer includes taking the area between the park and the Jefferson-Smurfit property.” It was also stated that improving Jessamine Court, which runs through the adjacent property, as access to the development would not require taking of property.

The meeting was the first time that property owners in the area heard that the threat of eminent domain, which was clearly stated back in March, was lifted. Nonetheless, it was welcome news, if accepted somewhat skeptically. There are still possible eminent domain issues for established local businesses in the area, unrelated to the Jefferson-Smurfit development.

The larger point is, in this case, property owners were fortunate to be dealing with a developer that understood the neighborhood disruption that can be caused by eminent domain. It did not put the issue to rest. In light of the Kelo decision, legislative action limiting the use of eminent domain to transfer property from one private owner to another for “redevelopment” ought to remain a priority.

George Bush -- "Cursed be thy name"

Posted by Craig Westover | 8:43 AM |  

David Brooks NY Times column (reprinted in today's Pioneer Press) using speeches about Katrina by John Kerry and John Edwards as a metaphor for the conflict within the Democrat party is an insightful piece of writing that also spins some good phrases, especially vis a vis John Kerry.

Kerry began his speech by making the point that Bush and his crew are rotten. He then went on to make the point that Bush and his crew are loathsome. In the third section of the speech, Kerry left the impression that Bush and his crew are evil.

Now we all know people so consumed by hatred for George W. Bush that they haven't had an unpredictable thought in five years, but in Kerry's speech one sees this anger in almost clinical form.

In the first place, not even Karl Rove's worldview is so obsessively Bush-centric as Kerry's. There are many interesting issues raised by Katrina, but for Senator Ahab it all goes back to the great white monster, Bush. Bush and his crew should have known the levees were weak. Bush and his crew should have known thousands in New Orleans would be trapped. (Did I miss Kerry's own warnings on these subjects?)

All reality flows back to Bush. All begins with Bush, ends with Bush, is explained by Bush and is polluted by Bush, cursed be thy name.

And as the speech stretches on, a second thought occurs: Doesn't this guy ever get bored? If Kerry ever makes an anti-Bush jab, he makes it again. The old DeLay jibes, he makes them again. The Wolfowitz attacks, he makes them again. Porn movies have less repetition than this, and yet the "Mission Accomplished" carrier deck scene gets hauled out again, for one feels this is not a normal speech designed to persuade or inform, but a primitive rite designed to channel group outrage.
The whole column is worth a read.

UPDATE: Related theme from the Borowitz Report --

Opposition Party Could Be Black Hole, Experts Says

With President George W. Bush's approval ratings plummeting in recent weeks, the inability on the part of Democrats to capitalize on the president's waning fortunes has caused some leading scientists to postulate that the Democratic Party may not exist at all.

Dr. Marisa Drazin, a leading scientist who for years has been questioning the existence of Democrats, said today that what many have thought to be the Democratic Party may in fact be nothing more than a black hole.

"When the president loses ten or twelve approval points, one would normally expect those approval points to go to the opposition party," Dr. Drazin said. "But instead, those points have vanished into thin air, leading one to conclude that the so-called Democratic Party does not exist."

Theories about the nonexistence of the Democratic Party are nothing new, said Dr. Drazin, who pointed out that scientists first developed them during the 1988 presidential campaign of then-Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis.

While the silence of the Democratic Party in recent weeks seems to bolster theories of the party's nonexistence, she said, there are still some nagging pieces of evidence to the contrary, such as the perpetually outspoken DNC chairman, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean.

"I've discussed the Howard Dean phenomenon with my colleagues," Dr. Drazin said. "And it's the consensus of the scientific community that there is no logical explanation for Howard Dean."

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Read it!

Posted by Craig Westover | 9:21 PM |  


The next big thing

Posted by Craig Westover | 10:24 AM |  

As they say in the radio business, when watching the Vikings/Saints game this Sunday, turn down the sound on your TV and listen to the radio. I don't mean Paul Allen et. al. but the "Right Brothers" from 2-4 pm on AM1500 KSTP's "The Next Big Thing."

Pioneer Press Opinion Page Associate Editor Mark Yost and I, the Pioneer Press "Right Brothers," will take a look at the realities and illusions of the Vikings stadium proposal, applying a little logic and conservative common sense to the issue. Mark is currently working on a book on the economics underlying the NFL and has plenty of insight and opinions to share about what has and is happening around the league with publicly financed stadiums.

Of course, the issue of stadiums gets into the larger question of what is a "public good" and just what "fun things," as Governor Pawlenty describes such spending, should government fund, and at what level. If stadiums are a bad expenditure of government funds, how about the Walker Art Center and the Guthrie? Spending on the arts in general? How about parks and golf courses? What about education?

So if by 2:00 Daunte has led us into yet another inferno and you need to vent, give "the Right Brothers" a listen and call. Give us your two-cents worth on the proposed stadium deals or the idea of "public good" in general. Elected officials have told us that two cents (on $20 dollars) is not that much to give.

Update:Kevin from Mineapolis asks (already I sound like a radio guy) --
Target built a massive corporate headquarters on an entire city block on DTMPLS with the help of a little tax increment financing. Gratned, Target employs thousands of people, but why can we help out that billionaire corporation and not the Twins or Vikings?
Good question. Hope Kevin or somebody else calls in and asks that on Sunday.

Hurricane relief for families with autistic children

Posted by Craig Westover | 10:15 AM |  

USA Today reports on the efforts of Unlocking Autism to aid Gulf Coast families with autistic children.

The article is not only a testament for a worthwhile effort in time of crisis, it shows how a private organization can spring up virtually overnight to respond in a time of crisis. It shows how a private group can learn and plan for future events. It shows that not all Americans are flummoxed and helpless and waiting around to see how the government responds.

Of course, that this particular group of parents is not waiting for government intervention on their behalf is not surprising.
Autistic kids get special attention

By Janet Kornblum, USA TODAY

When evacuees displaced by Hurricane Katrina were sent to shelters, Shelley Hendrix Reynolds knew it would mean trouble for families with autistic kids.

"I was frantic to find these families," says Reynolds, president of Unlocking Autism, a national support organization based in Baton Rouge for families with autistic kids. The group put out a call for shelter workers and others to look out for families of autistic children, who have an array of special needs and behaviors, such as running away, that would make staying in a shelter difficult at best.

So far they have raised $50,000 to give to often cash-strapped families. They have helped 56 families with everything from a $100 gift card to buy food to helping find a donated car, says Reynolds, whose son, 9, is autistic.

Two weeks ago, Unlocking Autism helped launch a separate organization, AutismCares, a coalition of autism groups intended to help with longer-term needs, such as finding therapists, housing and jobs, Reynolds says.

AutismCares has created a database that will allow families dealing with autism to register online, so if they're in a hurricane or other disaster zone, they'll be called by volunteers to make sure they're all right and see what kind of help they need.

"Earthquakes can happen in California," Reynolds says. "You have tornadoes in Kansas. It's not like things don't happen all over. ... This is the first time we've ever realized what families might be going through if they had an autistic child."
Contributions to help with this effort can be made at the Unlocking Autism web site.

"Minnestoa nice" goes to war

Posted by Craig Westover | 9:35 AM |  

The healdine has a B-Moive flair -- "They ride with danger" -- but in today's Pioneer Press reporter Richard Chin has a good piece of writing based on his tour in Iraq . I'm a sucker for a good lead --
Here's what happens when a "Minnesota Nice" girl gets a .50-caliber machine gun and goes to war.

"I was not an aggressive person. I was the most passive person: 'It's OK, you go first,'" said Michelle Maxwell, who works in a nursing home in Austin, Minn.

Then, eight months ago, the 21-year-old Army National Guard specialist was sent to Iraq, taught to operate the heavy machine-gun turret of a Humvee and told to shoot or run over anybody who threatened the truck convoys she was assigned to protect.

"I said, 'There's just no way.' I put old people to bed. There's no way I could run over a kid," Maxwell said.

That was before she saw fellow soldiers in her transportation unit getting blown up on the roads of northern Iraq.
Read the whole thing. Not the typical Green Zone fodder.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Where's Moffitt?

Posted by Craig Westover | 4:23 PM |  

Not since Van Helsing hung a clove of garlic around his neck has then been a more sure fire way to rid oneself of an unpleasant visitor. I refer of course to asking a direct question of Bob Moffitt of the American Lung Association of Minnesota.

In commenting on my column of last week about the negative effects of the Hennepin County smoking ban on the employees of Stasiu’s Bar -- the people the ban was suppose to protect -- as is his style, Bob totally ignored the economic and individual choice issues I raised. Instead he went straight to the health issue.

Okay. The health danger of secondhand smoke is certainly a proper topic to discuss. The problem is, Bob won’t discuss that issue either. He simply throws out statistics, and frankly, has yet to demonstrate that he has any understanding of what his numbers mean or how they were derived, let alone being able to scientifically defend them. For example, in his comment on my column, he writes --
The National Cancer Institute estimates that secondhand smoke causes 38,000 deaths a year, primarily from heart disease (but also lung cancer and SIDS).
Speed Gibson points out, 38,000 is a pretty specific number for an “estimate,” especially for something as difficult to define as a death caused by secondhand smoke. “That's a remarkably precise figure for something so difficult to measure,” Speed notes. “I find that validating the NCI's overall credibility may be as challenging."

Indeed, but certainly a professional director of communications should be capable of rising to that challenge. Having worn those shoes for a division of NCR, I know that had not ethics and professionalism demanded that I understood any numbers I made public, the legal department would have. So my question in the comment thread to Bob does not seem out of line -- unless beneficent public agencies are held to a lesser standard than evil corporations.

How do you arrive at the 38,000 number? Not the source, Bob, but the math behind it.

Let me make it easier for you, Bob. You don't even have to give me numbers. Just explain to me how a statistician would determine that number.

You know, if I asked you how a person would determine that a warehouse was 38,000 square feet, you could tell me he would multiply the length times the width. So I'm asking -- How does a person arrive at the figure 38,000 people dead from secondhand smoke?

However, that’s a direct question, so faster than you can say “sunrise,” Bob has gone underground, leaving the question unanswered.

This guy could answer it, and has, but when confronted by real science, Bob resorts, as he did, to an irrelevant (and unprofessional) quip.

Nonetheless, the question remains open. Anytime Bob cares to answer, this site will post his response for all to read and evaluate. Diverse opinions are welcome here -- only secondhand reasoning is prohibited.

Update: I left a "t" off the spelling of Bob Moffitt's name, which he pointed out to me in a comment in which he left out the defense of his 38,000 deaths number. I have corrected the spelling. Bob . . . .

COLUMN -- Recommit to the symbolic value of our Constitution

Posted by Craig Westover | 7:50 AM |  

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

In a moment of ironic epiphany, Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W. Va., somehow reasoned that using power not authorized to Congress by the U.S. Constitution was a good way to ensure that the Constitution was taught in public schools. More irony — Byrd's proposal was tacked onto a federal spending bill loaded with pork-barrel spending well outside congressional purview. Not surprising. Byrd has had more concrete poured in his name than Tony Soprano.

Nonetheless, Byrd is on target when it comes to Americans' knowledge of their founding documents. A National Constitution Center poll found that two-thirds of adults say detailed knowledge of what is in the Constitution is "absolutely essential." Only one in six said they, personally, have that knowledge. Whether or not they intended to do anything about that was not reported.

The new federal law that requires schools receiving federal money to teach something, anything, about the U.S. Constitution around Sept. 17 — the anniversary of its signing in 1787 — apparently had some local school districts scrambling. St. Paul Public Schools notified teachers of the requirement in August. The state Education Department notified social studies teachers in July. Response to the law was, consequently, reported as lukewarm.

Celebrations of Constitution Day ranged from passing out pocket-sized versions of the Constitution to discussing current constitutional issues to the inevitable photo op of an elementary school principal in colonial garb reading a school constitution written by some students and colored by others. While these projects might have their places, perhaps Constitution Day was also a good time to reflect on a deeper, more substantive meaning of the Constitution — the one that sophisticated education tends to spurn.

Whether it be the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, Lincoln's Gettysburg Address or John Kennedy's inaugural speech, every document in American history has three functions. It is a literal document; it has an interpretive meaning; and it has a symbolic significance. A quick glance at the range of Constitution Day activities suggests that educators are stuck within the first and the second functions.

In education, in government, in daily life, the symbolic significance of the Constitution is virtually ignored, and yet, I suggest, it is the most important of the Constitution's functions. It is ignored because it resembles too closely a religious commitment, a surrender of sorts to the obligations imposed by universal foundational principles. It is most important, because without symbolic significance, the Constitution has the binding power of casual sex.

Our culture and traditions are an amalgamation of our immigrant heritage. That makes America different from other countries, but not unique. What makes America unique is that unlike any other nation in the world, America is a country founded on fundamental values.

There is no American bloodline, no ethnic American DNA test, no required geographic birthplace, no restriction on who might call themselves Americans save one — that a person accept the principles embedded in the U.S. Constitution. The country's highest official swears to nothing more — or less — than to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

It is the underlying foundation of values represented by the Constitution that enabled America, not without some struggle, to forge itself into a great nation. The process today of Balkanizing Americans with ethnic hyphens, political appositives and parenthetical references to class is antithetical to the symbolic significance of the Constitution as a statement of unified American values.

We, it seems, no longer view the Constitution as the common ground of our American character. It is simply another battleground, another arena in which power takes precedence over principle. The Constitution is not our wise elder ready to advise and counsel us; it is the crazy uncle we ignore — except on Constitution Day.

If the ill-conceived Constitution Day is to redeem itself, those pocket Constitutions passed out in area schools ought to be pulled from pockets more than once a year. We can ill afford another generation that believes constitutional knowledge is absolutely essential, admits that it does not have that knowledge, and then isn't motivated to do anything about it.

Tell me again about "lifelong learning."

Category: Column,

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Pots picket kettles

Posted by Craig Westover | 10:33 AM |  

The shade from the Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market sign is minimal around noon; still, six picketers squeeze their thermoses and Dasani bottles onto the dirt below, trying to keep their water cool. They're walking five-hour shifts on this corner at Stephanie Street and American Pacific Drive in Henderson—anti-Wal-Mart signs propped lazily on their shoulders, deep suntans on their faces and arms—with two 15-minute breaks to run across the street and use the washroom at a gas station.

Periodically one of them will sit down in a slightly larger slice of shade under a giant electricity pole in the intersection. Four lanes of traffic rush by, some drivers honk in support, more than once someone has yelled, "assholes!" but mostly, they're ignored.

They're not union members; they're temp workers employed through Allied Forces/Labor Express by the union—United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW). They're making $6 an hour, with no benefits; it's 104 F, and they're protesting the working conditions inside the new Wal-Mart grocery store.

Read the whole thing.

Sou'wester Tip to the Partnership for Choice in Education.

Monday, September 19, 2005

FOR DISCUSSION -- The Cleveland Veto

Posted by Craig Westover | 1:13 PM |  

During President Grover Cleveland's term in office, severe drought affected Texas farmers, destroying most of their seed crops. Congress passed a bill that would have provided $10,000to resupply the Texas farmers with seed corn. By 1887 standards, $10,000 was not an outrageous sum of money. Below is the text of President Cleveland's veto of the bill.

"It is the represented that a long-continued and extensive drought has existed in certain portions of the State of Texas, resulting in a failure of crops, and consequent distress and destitution.

Though there has been some difference in statements concerning the extent of the people's needs in the localities thus affected, there seems to be no doubt that there has existed a condition calling for relief; and I am willing to believe that, notwithstanding the aid already furnished, a donation of seed grain to the farmers located in this region, to enable them to put in new crops, would serve to avert a continuence or return of unfortunate blight.

And yet I feel obliged to withhold my approval of the plan, as proposed by this bill, to indulge a benevolent and charitable sentiment through the appropriation of public funds for that purpose.

I can find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution, and I do not believe that the power and duty of the General Government ought to be extended to the relief of individual suffering which is in no manner properly related to the public service or benefit.

A prevalent tendency to disregard this limited mission of this power and duty should, I think, be steadfastly resisted, to the end that the lesson should be constantly enforced that though the people support the Government the Government should not support the people.

The friendliness and charity of our countrymen can always be relied upon to relieve their fellow-citizens in misfortune. This has been repeatedly and quite lately demonstrated. Federal aid in such cases encourages the expectation of paternal care on the part of the Government and weakens the sturdiness of our national character while it prevents the indulgence among our people of that kindly sentiment and conduct which strengthens the bonds of a common brotherhood.

That's a pretty pure statement of the constituitional principle of limited government. Is it practical inthe face of devestation like that caused by Hurricane Katrina?

UPDATE: Brian "Saint Paul" Ward elegantly comments --
Regarding Cleveland's prescient concern for our national character, one of the most tragic results of the flooding in New Orleans is that the suffering caused didn't generate more introspection and thus more wisdom. When the false promise of an omnipotent government is trotted out as the solution, people stop questioning what they could have done to avoid this suffering, or what they could have personally done to ameliorate its effects. The victims can blame the government for causing their suffering. And the witnesses to the suffering can assume the government will make it all better (at least $200 billion better) without them personally have to take responsibility for anything. That, fellow citizens, is the perfect storm. One from which there is no high ground to run to.

R&R Books -- A nose-holding test for Kelo opposition

Posted by Craig Westover | 12:09 PM |  

The slumbering bulldog over at the Pioneer Press barks a little bit today with an institutional editorial pitting the popular sentiment that the Supreme Court’s Kelo decision is bad law against the inevitable conflict between that position and a less savory victim than the elderly homeowners of New London.
While much of the country is focused on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, we'd like to look at the ongoing devastation from Hurricane Kelo, the Supreme Court's unfathomable decision to allow cities to take property from one private owner and give it to another. Its growing path of destruction appears headed for University Avenue. . . .

Now comes R&R Books, an adult video and bookstore at the corner of Dale and University. We've strongly advocated for the redevelopment of University Avenue, we hope in preparation for the Central Corridor light rail line. But it's important to note that we've supported private development by private developers, not a government-forced sale from one private owner to another.

Some readers might not like the business that R&R Books conducts. To help those folks get their brain around why we're defending a business that basically trades in what many people see as pornography, try substituting "Christian" or "Borders" for "adult" before the word bookstore. Would people be comfortable with the St. Paul Housing and Redevelopment Agency closing one of those businesses so that a private developer could build condos or another commercial property? That's what's happening to R&R Books.
Aside from the all-too-common lapse in PiPress editorial consistency -- favoring private development in preparation for a publicly subsidized light-rail line -- the editorial takes the logical course that opposition to Kelo dictates. Read the whole thing.

Tell me (yet) again it’s about the children

Posted by Craig Westover | 10:55 AM |  

Sou'wester Tip to the Center of the American Experiment.

Following the pattern of thier protest of Wal-Mart (which has donated over $15 million to Katrina relief plus merchandise contributions), the education establishment finds fault with the Administration's hurricane relief efforts.

From: Wehner, Peter H.
Sent: Monday, September 19, 2005 9:17 AM
To: undisclosed-recipients
Subject: Hurricane Katrina, School Choice, and Contemporary Liberalism

This weekend, both the New York Times (in an article by Michael Janofsky) and Washington Post (in an article by Nick Anderson) reported that the nation's two largest teachers' unions are harshly criticizing the Bush Administration's Hurricane Katrina relief plan because a key component -- payments to families with children in private and religious schools -- amounted to a "national voucher program." In the words of the Washington Post story, "the proposal ... would amount to the largest federal school voucher program ever, if enacted."

Here's the relevant part from the New York Times article:

"The budget request ... includes $488 million to compensate families with children in private schools, which critics said represented an effort by the Bush administration to initiate a favorite approach to school choice, the use of vouchers. More than 372,000 schoolchildren were displaced and are now enrolled in schools as far from the Gulf Coast as California and New England. The total includes about 61,000 who attend private schools in Louisiana, 50,000 in Roman Catholic schools. Under the plan, children in public and private schools would be regarded equally for aid purposes, with a spending cap of $7,500 per student. Senator Edward M. Kennedy ... said in a statement that he applauded President Bush's efforts to serve the educational needs of displaced children. 'But I am extremely disappointed that he has proposed providing this relief using such a politically charged approach,' Mr. Kennedy added. 'This is not the time for a partisan debate on vouchers.'"

This reaction underscores a couple of important points. First, the President's plan is an unprecedented effort to use conservative means to alleviate persistent poverty and help those in need. David Brooks is correct when he wrote in his column yesterday that we are seeing "Bushian conservatism" -- energetic but not domineering government that catalyzes other institutions and enhances individual initiative -- unfold.

Second, this criticism is a remarkable example of political ideology coming at the expense of human needs and the common good. As former Secretary of Education (and now Senator) Lamar Alexander put it, "Katrina didn't discriminate among children, and we shouldn't either." To deny tens of thousands of students the opportunity to attend schools similar to the kind they did before Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast region simply to maintain a monopoly on American education is indefensible -- and part of a great unmasking of contemporary liberalism.

The needs of children are taking a back seat to the desires of one of the core constituencies of the Democrat Party: education unions. It's not a pretty, or particularly humane, sight.
Were I strong Bush supporter, I'd be careful about pointing fingers when it comes to cases of ideology taking precedence over human needs and the common good, but in this case, the finger pointing is accurate and deserved.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

COLUMN -- Putting a face on impact of smoking bans

Posted by Craig Westover | 9:42 AM |  

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The back door of Stasiu's Bar leads to the patio. "Patio" is a stretch. It's a wooden stoop maybe 5 feet deep and 7 feet across. On a warm September night, Stasiu's Happy Hour patrons rotate out to the patio to smoke. Inside, two women shoot pool. Another dozen or so people sit at the bar. Jerry Ayers ambles through the back door like he hasn't a care in the world.

Jerry is a bartender at the Northeast Minneapolis bar. A blue-collar bar in a working class neighborhood, Stasiu's is that place where everybody knows your name. Where your drink is on the bar before you ask for it. It's also where Hennepin County and the city of Minneapolis dictate that patrons can smoke only on the patio.

Jerry is a right jolly guy. A younger, sans white beard, St. Nick — rosy cheeks, merry dimples and a broad face, and he has a bit of girth that shakes when he laughs. And he laughs often. Not easy for a guy watching "the best job I've ever had" yanked away.

Making his way along the bar, Jerry stops frequently to lay a hand on a shoulder, share a laugh, swap a story. To the only stranger in the bar he offers a quick introduction. "I just want to say 'hi' to a few friends," he tells me, meaning everybody else in Stasiu's, including the middle-aged woman reading a paperback novel in the pull-tab booth.

The woman has time to read. For April, May and June, charitable gambling receipts in smoke-free Hennepin County are down more than $10 million year-to-year, according to the Minnesota Gambling Control Board. After prizes, expenses and taxes, that's close to $500,000 that will not be funneled to local youth and civic organizations, veterans and senior citizens.

"Pretty quiet," I note to Greg Kubik, the bartender, cook, server — the only employee on duty. Staff has been laid off and hours cut since the smoking ban. Greg has worked at Stasiu's since the first keg was tapped 30 years ago.

"Wasn't always like this," he said. "Even on weekdays about half the tables were full. Both pool tables were usually busy." He gestures over the relatively empty room. "This is about it now."

Smoking ban proponents point to aggregate industry numbers showing that hospitality taxes have not decreased after smoking bans were enacted. As long as government gets theirs, all is right with the world. That Stasiu's is virtually empty, that more than 20 such taverns have closed since the smoking ban, is inconsequential to the powerful, the influential and the arrogant.

Stasiu's is just one inconsequential working class bar; Jerry, Greg and Stasiu's patrons just inconsequential working class stiffs. Says the Minnesota Partnership for Action Against Tobacco, 74 percent of Minnesotans favor smoking bans. Is that a surprise? When at no cost a majority can impose its whim on a despised minority, why not? Individual property rights and freedom of choice are just inconsequential rhetoric in the collective vision of a smoke-free Minnesota.

"On a good weekend night before the ban a bartender could make $250 in tips," Jerry said. "Now, it's closer to $50. I used to save all my change in a big jar for vacation money. I don't do that any more."

Greg, whose monthly income is down $500 to $600, canceled his vacation this year. His house is on the market. Jerry is selling baseball memorabilia collected by his father over decades and augmented by Jerry's second job, working in the Twins Pro Shop.

"We had planned to save it (an extensive collection) for my daughter's education," Jerry said. "I called my dad and told him times were tough. 'Well, it was for a rainy day,' Dad told me. 'And it's raining.' " Selling under duress, Jerry is getting about 30 cents on the dollar.

Ironically, $1.5 million in tobacco money garnered on taxpayers' behalf is used by MPAAT for "political action" that has taxpayer Jerry raiding his loose change and selling his memorabilia, taxpayer Greg selling his home, and both men fearing for their jobs. No matter. Jerry and Greg don't fit the plan.

"People think that people that hang around in neighborhood bars are all alcoholics," Jerry said. "That's not true. Stasiu's is where people meet their friends. Where they socialize. It's part of the neighborhood."

"I'm afraid it won't be here long," Greg said.

"So what," say the powerful, the influential and the arrogant.

Category: Column,

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Autism and education -- a lawsuit raises some interesting questions

Posted by Craig Westover | 12:44 PM |  

This is one of those stories that raises more questions than it answers, but is a great illustration of the road we head down when government assumes responsibility for managing so much of our individual lives. It’s the story a Denver family suing the local school district for failure to educate their autistic son.
DENVER — It doesn’t matter whether an autistic student’s teachers set appropriate goals for him to achieve, argued Jack Robinson, an attorney representing Jeff and Julie Perkins of Berthoud, at a Friday hearing.

What matters is Luke Perkins, 10, cannot meaningfully progress toward any of those goals in a public school. His teachers should have recognized this and recommended he attend a 24-hour residential school, Robinson said.

Because the Thompson School District did not make that decision, his parents did. Now, they are entitled under federal law to receive reimbursement for his schooling costs, Robinson argued.
Let’s stop here and look at some of the themes that are developing. On the one hand, you have public schools that whenever the subject of vouchers is raised, make the claim that public schools take everyone -- even in this case a child with severe autism. You have parents that trusted that system to not just take their child, but actually “educate” him. Was either side being realistic?
Stu Stuller, an attorney representing the district, argued the district met its obligations to Luke by giving him the opportunity to attend school and by designing a plan to meet his educational needs.

“The dispute is, the Perkinses wanted more,” Stuller said to state administrative judge Michelle Norcross.
Is the school district right? Is it only obligated to provide “the opportunity to attend school.” Is that what public school advocates mean when they say the "take everybody"? In the less severe situation of a “normal” child from a low-income family -- Is the school system meeting her needs when it provides a building, some books and a teacher, or does the system actually have an obligation to teach the kid something?
Both sides argued their positions before the judge in a disagreement over whether the school district should pay $130,000 annually for Luke to attend the Boston Higashi School, which educates children with autism.

Luke has attended the school since January 2004, with his parents paying all the costs.

On July 8, a hearing officer with the Colorado Department of Education ruled Luke needs 24-hour residential education and ordered the district to pay for it.

The district appealed to the Colorado Office of Administrative Hearings, which reviews decisions made by state officials.

After the 31/2-hour hearing, Norcross said she would try to make her decision on the appeal within 30 days.
These ought to be a sobering set of paragraphs. The current CDC estimate is that 1 out of 166 live births produces a child with autism. Not all cases are as severe as the child in this story, and many autistic children grow into autistic adults that are more than capable of taking care of themselves and leading lives well within the accepted criteria of “normal.” Nonetheless, $130,000 annually is a big number. It doesn’t include the costs to care for this child when he turns 18 and essentially becomes a ward of the state.

One out 166. Where is the money going to come from to educate and take care of these individuals -- especially if as a growing body of evidence indicates, there might be a connection between mandatory vaccination (with vaccines containing a mercury-based preservative thimerosal)? How are schools going to deal with these kids?
At the heart of the case — in the judge’s words — is deciding where the responsibility of a school should end in making sure children can apply what they have learned.
Another question -- will this decision apply only to children with recognized disabilities? If a “normal” child graduates from high school and can’t balance a checkbook or read a job application, is that the responsibility of the school? Or did the public system meet its obligation by simply “taking everybody”?

At the earlier Department of Education hearing, experts testified that Luke needs to attend a 24-hour residential school in order to learn. In a regular school, he would quickly lose any minimal skills he gained, Robinson said.

“For Luke to be taught, behavior has to be so ingrained they become his default behaviors,” he said. “Only a 24-hour program could provide the consistent instruction necessary.”

He noted Luke is the only student at the Boston school whose expenses are not paid by a school district.

Stuller, however, argued the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires a school district only to give a child the opportunity to learn, so the child receives some educational benefit from schooling.

“It does not require that it maximize potential or that it provide the best education,” he said.

By ruling against the school district, the hearing officer “is making schools responsible for guaranteeing progress in a setting where they have no authority,” he said.
Here are more questions. Expert testimony indicates that the school system did not have a staff that properly diagnosed the child’s needs but it took him anyway. The counter argument from the district is that it was complying with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. But what of the child?

This is a prime example of the system taking precedent over the individual child. The school’s defense is we take everybody/we provide as required. Actually learning is inconsequential and certainly not a binding part of any obligation to students and parents.

In the school systems defense, it is obligated by federal mandate to take on a task it is totally unequipped to do. In the end, everybody suffers, but the rallying cry is still “We take everybody."

A final note. This is one of those lawsuits that rips at the heart. There aren’t a lot of parents, no matter how much they love their kids, that can afford $130,000 a year for school. I’m sure this doesn’t begin to approach the amount spent on other medical treatment for this child. But at the same time, why is their the expectation that government should step in and pick up the tab?

One could make the argument that dollars spent now save dollars that will need to be spent later in the child’s life, but that begs the question. Why is government the first source of help rather than family, friends, community groups and charities?

There’s more questions than answers in this story, but what should be overtly evident is that taking refuge in current systems and increasing dependence on government is not the answer.

A note from one of my favorite critics

Posted by Craig Westover | 11:42 AM |  

"Parson Weems Fable" by Grant Wood

Dear Mr. Westover,

Pierson Yecke will feel at home down in Crackerstan. But she should know she was not Jeb's first choice. Turns out Parson Weems is deceased.

Update: For those not suprised that Parson Weems has passed, Cheri Yecke will be making one of her last Minnesota appearances signing copies of her book, The War Against Excellence: The Rising Tide of Mediocrity in America's Middle Schools. Monday (today), September 12 from 7:00-9:00 p.m at Barnes and Noble inMaple Grove (8040 Wedgewood Lane -- 763-420-4517).

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Just in case the point was missed . . .

Posted by Craig Westover | 12:10 PM |  

This is what distinguishes Cheri Pierson-Yecke from the, quite literal, herd of current educators. Writing of individual rights in the Fredericksburg, VA, Free Lance-Star she says --
Why is the concept of individual rights so important? The Declaration of Independence, America's founding document, states: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights."

These words affirm that our Founding Fathers saw rights as bestowed not by governments, but by God; not to groups, but to individuals.

The Declaration continues: "That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men " In other words, our Founders saw the role of government as that of protecting the rights of individuals.

However, by the mid-1990s, it was being postulated that America had become a nation where the rights of individuals have been superseded by the rights of groups. Evidence in support of this point can be seen in the observation by social commentator Jessica Gavora: that the American Civil Liberties Union has switched its focus from the defense of individual rights to group rights.

This trend can be seen all across the country, in ways large and small--a blight that is nibbling away at individual rights.

Consider, for example, that the goal of promoting group identity over individual identity appears regularly in educational literature. A National Middle School Association conference promoted cooperative learning as an "essential" classroom practice because, through this practice, "competition is directed away from individual performance and toward a group identity."

Education professor Paul George of the University of Florida stated that for students, group membership "must be the focus of identification."

The pre-eminence of the group over the individual was seen recently in a report on the services for gifted students in one suburban school district. Teachers objected to allowing gifted students to leave class for enrichment activities, because these children "often provide a needed spark" for the rest of the students.

This comports with the views of social activist Mara Sapon-Shevin, who claims that "a child who is academically advanced could in fact be valued for this difference if that child's performance were helpful to the entire group."

In other words, in some school districts, allowing an individual to have their intellectual needs met is trumped by the perceived needs of the group. In this case, high-ability students are expected to sacrifice the opportunity to develop their own talents and abilities in order to serve the needs of the group--needs that should be addressed not by students, but by the teacher.

In a larger sense, this has evolved into the movement to eliminate the recognition of individual merit. As a result, in some schools, spelling bees, science fairs--even the honor of valedictorian--are being eliminated, often with the justification that individual recognition might harm the self-esteem of others.

Consider the concept of merit pay for teachers. Doesn't it make sense to reward an individual whose classroom skills produce remarkable student achievement?

The idea of rewarding excellence makes sense in the rest of the economy, but many educators blanch at the idea. They view the acknowledgement that some teachers may be better than others as unfair or demoralizing to the group, so they lobby for pay to be based on longevity and coursework instead of merit--thus keeping the members of their group happy.

Carry this forward into the debate on smoking in restaurants. The battle is between a group (nonsmokers) and individuals (property owners). Nonsmokers declare that, as a group, they have the right to eat in a smoke-free environment. The problem with that argument is that no one is taking this right away. An individual can practice free will and choose to go to any restaurant they please, and if they prefer an establishment that prohibits smoking, fine.

The problem is that members of this group want all restaurants to prohibit smoking--a move that conflicts with the individuals who own clubs and restaurants, who argue that they should be able to run their establishments as they see fit--smoking or not. Nationwide, this group is winning and individuals are losing.

Even prospective presidential candidates have made their views known on this topic. It is reported that when a woman complained to Hillary Clinton that she did not want to be forced into a health care plan that she didn't choose, Hillary replied: "It's time to put the common good, the national interest, ahead of individuals."
If the attitude Yecke describes does not scare you, well, all one can do is shrug.

Update: So who is one of the first to chime in and by example make Yecke's point? He does it here and here.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

A letter from Louisiana

Posted by Craig Westover | 11:11 AM |  

This letter needs no set-up.

I have three reporters staying at my house - one from New York, one from Dallas and one from Washington, DC. I have bartered my home to try and get a story out so that we can find families that have adults and children with autism so that we can see how our community can help them recover from Katrina.

Today, started out almost like any other day as if they were just guests in my home. I made them scrambled eggs and grits and orange juice. I couldn't offer them bacon or sausage because we couldn't find any meat at the two grocery stores I went to on Sunday afternoon. I gave them directions to where they were going and sent them on their way.

That is where the regular day ended and the new life we have here in Baton Rouge kicked in.

My normal 20 minute commute to work has now become a 50 minute commute. The traffic is amazing. It just doesn't stop. Work is crazy because there are parts of my office scrambling to cover all the parts of this story since I work for a news agency. Our circulation office is trying to figure out where our New Orleans customers have relocated so that they don't miss an issue. Our sales team is shifting gears quickly to accommodate the businesses pouring into Baton Rouge and determining what products we are going to be producing in the coming weeks to assist all of the newly relocated people in our community.

We can't talk about anything but the hurricane and the stories. There are so many stories.

Families with autism are starting to pop up. They are tired and worn out. They have been in a hotel or shelter somewhere for over a week. Their children are frustrated and so are they. Many of them have nothing to return to and reality is starting to set in...and we are frantic to find more but it is like looking for needles in a haystack. Everyone is scattered to the four winds right now.

Today, after I got off of work, I went to Walmart with a list of things that a family from Mississippi needs. Just the basics...diapers, wipes, Honey Nut Cheerios and Goldfish crackers were specific requests and it took two hours to get in and out of there.

Their boys are five. Their names are William and Steven. They came with the clothes they had on their backs and their house back in Mississippi is covered with trees. They can't go home for a good while. They will not have power for another 6-8 weeks and then the house has to be repaired. But they are thankful that they have a home to return to.

While I was standing in line at the Walmart, which was incredibly long, I was playing with the four year old in the cart in front of me to help keep her entertained. She had the biggest doe eyes I have ever seen and her name is India. Her older cousin was buying groceries. I asked if they had just relocated.

She was from a section of New Orleans called Elysian Fields. They didn't have a car. They didn't have any money to evacuate New Orleans so they rode out Katrina. She was 29 years old and has four kids. Oldest child is 11. Her baby is four months old. When the levees broke, the water was rising fast and she knew they had to get somewhere safe. They crawled up in the attic, but she realized that they were not going to be high enough and would drown. So she made all the children climb back down and wade through rising flood waters until they reached a school. They waited until the floodwaters rose and holding onto something floated until they reached the roof of a school where they waited for over 48 hours before being rescued by the Coast Guard. They were brought to the Superdome area, with the exception of the 4 month old who had aspirated some flood waters two days earlier and had developed pneumonia. She was flown to a hospital in Lafayette, alone and is still there.

The family was tagged and assigned a number. Then they got lost in the crowd. Her 3 year old and six year old were put on a bus for Corpus Christi and she and her 11 year old son were sent to San Antonio. Her Uncle came to get her in San Antonio over the weekend but they didn't find her other children until today. Now they are trying to get together enough gas money to get back to Corpus Christi and get her children out of the shelter there. She had foodstamps to buy her food. She had the clothes on her back and a house in New Orleans covered with floodwaters and no means to even get there when the floodwaters subsided.

I bought her a giftcard with my own money and told her I didn't care what she got with it. She could get gas, or more food, or clothes or a bike for her kid...she doesn't have a child with autism.

I was speechless and felt so bad for being aggravated at sitting in the traffic earlier today.

I brought the supplies to the apartment where the twins were staying. Today was their birthday. In addition to the supplies that your gifts helped pay for, you helped get these two little boys a Thomas the Train track with two engines, a six pack of bubbles to blow, some sensory balls with these cool, slimy, little tentacle things and two Elmo puppet books because we knew they love Elmo.

Our community's families are starting to surface and I am hoping they are more in tact than the woman I met at the store tonight. We are committed to helping reconnect them to their autism community one at a time if we have to.

Your generosity and hospitality have been incredible to witness. So many of you have rallied to help in such a variety of ways, doing everything you can.

In talking to these people what we have quickly learned is that they are all weighing very difficult and personal decisions. They have to decide if it is better to stay or leave and almost have to make that decision in a blink of an eye and go with faith. We have been talking to some families for days and they are still dazed and not sure what direction they want to move in. We need more people to sit there and hug them and hold their hands and let them know we are here.

Louisiana is a great place and y'all all know how much I love the South. I fuss about it but it is my home and has been since I was eight. The people here are resilient and they will get through this.

But the world that was here 10 days ago and the one that is here right now are very, very different.

Thank you so much for everything...your thoughts and prayers, your wishes and all of the things that you have poured out to help families that you don't even know, but you know what they go through....and that is enough. Keep 'em coming....we have a long, long way to go and a lot of people that need help.

Lots of love,

Unlocking Autism is a parents group deeply involved in issue of vaccine safety and the campaign to stop the use of the mercury-based preservative thimerosal in all vaccines. That’s a controversial issue, but what cannot be disputed is that as bad as it might be in the Gulf Coast Region, its is much worse when caring for a child that even under the best of conditions can not emotionally cope with the environment.

Unlocking Autism is collecting money through their site at to specifically assist families with special needs. Among many organizations, it also deserves your consideration.

Update:From Unlocking Autism:
After speaking with state officials this morning, we have learned that in the state of Louisiana alone, early estimates indicate that there are a minimum of 900 children with autism that have been displaced and that is simply based on the number of children in public schools. The five parishes in Louisiana that were hardest hit by Hurricane Katrina were homes to more than 1/3 of the children in Louisiana with autism. Those parishes include: St. Bernard, Plaquemines, Jefferson, Orleans and St. Tammany.

COLUMN -- Minnesota's loss of Cheri Pierson Yecke is Florida's gain

Posted by Craig Westover | 9:39 AM |  

Wednesday, September 7, 2005

Minnesota hasn't lost to Florida this badly since Super Bowl VIII.

Last week Florida Gov. Jeb Bush tapped Cheri Pierson Yecke to be his chancellor of education, equivalent to Minnesota's commissioner of education post she held for 16 months before a party-line Senate vote denied her confirmation. It's no surprise that a state serious about education reform would draft Yecke to lead its effort. Only if Florida proves a steppingstone to the U.S. Secretary of Education's post, as it justifiably might, will Minnesota yet salvage some benefit from our commissioner who got away.

The focus of the DFL-led Senate crucible that torched Yecke's nomination was highly personal and nasty. Yecke was called "divisive," "a divider, not a healer." Some criticized her for a "certainty of purpose" that excluded those who disagreed with her; others said it was unclear what she stood for. The intended impression was not so inconsistent as her critics' comments that Yecke was the devil's spawn.

Ignored by her critics, however, was just how this divisive commissioner had pulled the collective state butt out of the fire (in only 16 months) by replacing the dysfunctional Profile of Learning with a set of rigorous academic standards and by laying the foundation for the state's implementation of No Child Left Behind — controversial projects with very partisan supporters and detractors.

But this is not so much a column about Cheri Pierson Yecke. More significant than the tactic of political and personal destruction is the self-interested resistance to education reform that motivated it — rejection of the basic principle of accountability for which Yecke stood.

Yecke's all-too-brief tenure as commissioner, overshadowed as it was by the contentious confirmation hearing, ultimately leaves Minnesota entrenched in a status quo mentality with a legacy of timidity toward credible education overhaul.

In hindsight, the Yecke ouster foreshadowed the special session retreat from "meaningful school choice" — when principle and politics collide on education, the Pawlenty administration can be had.

Following the very public decapitation of his Education Department, Pawlenty essentially withdrew from the education-reform battle. For Yecke's successor, he appointed the noncontroversial chairwoman of the House Committee on Education Finance, Alice Seagren.

Feeling the love, Seagren received unanimous support from the Senate Education Committee, legislators on both sides of the aisle, the education community and praise from Education Minnesota, the union representing the state's teachers.

Her "collaborative style" was frequently contrasted with that of the more hard-edged Yecke, prompting the observation that the current commissioner appeared more concerned with not being Cheri Pierson Yecke than with furthering a reform-oriented agenda.

Putting collaborative style over substantive action denies the reality that reform is by nature divisive, but not necessarily exclusionary.

Yes, a Yecke-led, reform-oriented Education Department's first allegiance would have been to the data-based, rigorous standards-based system with definite accountability, but it would have also been a strong supporter of school choice.

"(Education reform) comes back to the whole idea of an educated public," Yecke said in an interview in May. "The private route, the home school route, the government school route, whatever choice is right for you, as long as we meet that goal (an educated public) — that's what is important."

Contrast that position with the on-again/off-again support the Pawlenty administration proffered during the special session on behalf of "meaningful school choice," complemented as it was by virtual silence from the Education Department.

One must ask, would a Commissioner Yecke have so waffled on the Hann/Buesgens legislation that offered public vouchers and genuine school choice to low-income families?

With her emphasis on accountability, would a Commissioner Yecke have negotiated an 11th-hour, fallaciously labeled "reform" like the "Alternative Teacher Professional Pay System" that purports to be teacher pay-for-performance but provides neither criteria for success nor a definition of program failure?

Would a Commissioner Yecke have so collaboratively relinquished education policy leadership to Sen. Steve Kelley, DFL-Hopkins, chairman of the Education Policy Committee and defender of the educational establishment and status quo?

When the DFL had no answer to the disaster that was the Profile of Learning, it sniped while Yecke did the heavy lifting on state standards.

Behind in readiness for No Child Left Behind, the DFL left catch-up preparation to Yecke. Once the work was done, the DFL dumped her to pursue policies more favorable to the education establishment and the status quo.

Yecke deserves a better legacy; unfortunately, Minnesota is not where she will build it.

Category: Column,

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Misrepresentation -- It’s not just for politicians anymore

Posted by Craig Westover | 3:44 PM |  

Blogger David Downing experiences misrepresentation by WCCO television.
My wife, kids and I were at the Minnesota State Fair today. Around midday, we were walking through the intersection of Cooper and Cosgrove, and we spied a video camera set up in the street. We tried to pass by, walking behind the camera, when we were approached by a TV news reporter.

Reporter Terri Gruca, of WCCO-TV (Minneapolis), said she was doing a story about State Fair attendance being down, and about people not coming to the Fair as often as they had in the past. She asked about our attendance, and we told her we were attending only one day this year, same as last. We told her we liked to come two days, and had done so in the past, but we were able to FIND TIME TO COME only one day.

Labor Day, the final day of the Fair, is also advertised as a "bargain day," with special offers from some Fair vendors. Gruca asked if this was why we picked today to attend. My wife said no, we picked today because it's a holiday, and she didn't have to take off work to come. Our answers didn't seem to fit what Gruca was looking for, but she asked if she could interview us on camera, and we consented.

We repeated what we had said off-camera. Gruca also asked if we thought prices were going up, and we said yes, they were, and rising prices for admission and at the concessions might keep some people away. She asked if we noticed the final day bargains. My wife said no, except for the reduced rates on carnival rides. Gruca asked if we thought higher gas prices were keeping people away. I replied no, because it's little difference for people in the metro area, and for people outstate, the Fair is an event that's been on their calendars all year, and they are coming regardless. (Remember, I grew up on the farm; I was once one of those people.)

We sure didn't fit the template of the story Gruca said she was working on. I wondered, would we not appear in the final story, because we didn't fit what she wanted? Or would she reshape the story she initially thought she had, to reflect what we had told her?

Neither, as it turned out. Gruca used us in her story, but she cut-and-pasted our comments to fit what she was looking for, making it seem that we said things we did not.
Read Downing’s fisk of the interview here and see the ‘CCO video here.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Katrina relief effort

Posted by Craig Westover | 8:48 AM |  

Going off the grid for the weekend so no posting or responding to comments until next week. In parting, I’ll add my plug for your contributions to aid the disaster relief efforts in New Orleans for a group many readers might not be aware of.

Unlocking Autism is a parents group deeply involved in issue of vaccine safety and the campaign to stop the use of the mercury-based preservative thimerosal in all vaccines. That’s a controversial issue, but what cannot be disputed is that as bad as it might be in the Gulf Coast Region, its is much worse when caring for a child that even under the best of conditions can not emotionally cope with the environment.

Unlocking Autism is collecting money through their site at to specifically assist families with special needs. Among many organizations, it also deserves your consideration.

Shelly Reynolds of Unlocking Autism, a Baton Rouge resident with an autistic son writes --
Thank you all for all of your support and your prayers. Please keep praying for those people still trapped in New Orleans. There are people down there who need prayers for more than just shelter, they need prayers for their lives.

We love you all...thank you for your support.
I thank you as well.

A libertarian (different) look at Katrina

Posted by Craig Westover | 8:18 AM |  

Taking the high road for the most part, conservatives have been covering and laying against the ropes as the mainstream media lashes out at the failures of the Bush administration in handling the relief efforts in New Orleans. There is little doubt that conservatives, in my humble opinion with some justification, will be lashing back at the political left and a good portion of the mainstream media for exploiting a national disaster for political gain.

The irony, however, is as thick as the mud-clogged waters in the streets of the Big Easy. The disaster in New Orleans is a massive federal government failure, but it has nothing to do with the competency or lack their of from the Bush administration. Ironically, it is a failure of the massive bureaucracy that the left has built and the right has enabled. The left continues to extol its virtues while the right decrys big government and continues to fund and expand it.
Mother Nature can be cruel, but even at her worst, she is no match for government, [writes Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr. in an excellent piece posted on the Ludwig von Mises Institute web site]. It was the glorified public sector, the one we are always told is protecting us, that is responsible for this. And though our public servants and a sycophantic media will do their darn best to present this calamity as an act of nature, it was not and is not. Katrina came and went with far less damage than anyone expected. It was the failure of the public infrastructure and the response to it that brought down civilization.
He notes that the levees that failed, owned and maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers, were originally constructed in 1718, but “who knew that a direct hit by a hurracane would cause them to break?"
Many people, it turns out. Ivor van Heerden of Louisiana State University, reports Newsday, "who has developed flooding models for New Orleans, was among those issuing dire predictions as Katrina approached, warnings that turned out to be grimly accurate. He predicted that floodwaters would overcome the levee system, fill the low-lying areas of the city and then remain trapped there well after the storm passed — creating a giant, stagnant pool contaminated with debris, sewage and other hazardous materials."

He is hardly some lone nut. National Geographic ran a large article on the topic last year that begins with a war-of-the-worlds scenario and reads precisely like this week's news from New Orleans. It is the Army Corps of Engineers that has been responsible for the dwindling of the coastline that has required the levees to be constantly reinforced with higher walls. But one problem: no one bothered to do this since 1965.
In 1965 George Bush was still partying at Yale and, relying on the mainstream media, plotting how to get into the Texas Air National Guard, so let’s put the political sniping to bed. There are more important issues here, not the least of which is the false sense of security provided by the image of a benevolent and vigilant government. From Newsday--
Despite warnings from experts, the levees may also have contributed to an unwarranted sense of security among residents. Only 34 percent of respondents in a University of New Orleans survey earlier this year said they would definitely leave home if evacuation orders were issued ahead of an approaching Category 3 hurricane.
The politically motivated criticism of the left and as Rockwell notes, “the ever-stupid right” defense that Bush is actually a big and compassionate spender who cares about infrastructure, while demanding that people recognize his greatness, along with all the other pieties that have become staples of modern "conservatism" don’t get to the root of the problem.
The problem here is public ownership itself. It has encouraged people to adopt a negligent attitude toward even such obvious risks. Private developers and owners, in contrast, demand to know every possible scenario as a way to protect their property. But public owners have no real stake in the outcome and lack the economic capacity to calibrate resource allocation to risk assessment. In other words, the government manages without responsibility or competence.
Rockwell then makes the radical case for privatization of the nation’s infrastructure. Not content at that, he goes on to say that in time of crisis, “price gouging” should not only be permitted, but encouraged.
The outrageous insistence that no one be permitted to "gouge" only creates shortages in critically important goods and services when they are needed the most. It is at times of extreme need that prices most need to be free to change so that consumers and producers can have an idea of what is needed and what is in demand. Absent those signals, people do not know what to conserve and what to produce.

Bush was on national television declaring that the feds would have zero tolerance toward gouging, which is another way of saying zero tolerance toward markets. If New Orleans stands any chance of coming back, it will only be because private enterprise does the rebuilding, one commercial venture at a time. Bush's kind of talk guarantees a future of mire and muck, the remote possibility of prosperity and peace sacrificed on the altar of interventionism.

. . . . Being a government official gives you no special insight into how to best manage a crisis. Indeed the public sector, with all its guns and mandates and arrogance, cannot and will not protect us from life's contingencies. It used to be said that infrastructure was too important to be left to the uncertainties of markets. But if it's certainty that we are after, there is a new certainty that has emerged in American life: in a crisis, the government will make matters worse and worse until it wrecks your life and all that makes it worth living.
Further interesting reading --

Jeffery Tucker of the Ludwig von Mises Institute has spotted what may be the first example of the “broken window fallacy” in a New York Times/International Herald Tribuine article on the economic impact of Katrina. The article claims that the hurricane (actually the flooding caused by bad public infrastructure) will be good for the economy.
But economists point out that although Katrina has destroyed a lot of accumulated wealth, it ultimately will probably have a positive effect on growth data over the next few months as resources are channeled into rebuilding. "Longer term, in the wake of a number of hurricanes there is actually an increase in measured output that even shows up at the national level, because there is a whole bunch of rebuilding activity," said Stephen P.A. Brown, director of energy economics at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.
More on “price gouging” from the von Mises Institute --

Price Gouging Saves Lives
by David Brown.

In a Crisis, Markets More than Ever,
by Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr.

Oil Prices Again,
by Murray Rothbard

Creating Economic Crimes,
by William Anderson

From the Cato Institute:

Let ’Em Gouge: A Defense of Price Gouging
by Jerry Taylor & Peter VanDoren

Update: King at SCSU writes in the same vein --
Count me among the multitudes that hopes President Bush misspoke when he said this.
"I think there ought to be zero tolerance of people breaking the law during an emergency such as this, whether it be looting, or price-gouging at the gasoline pump or taking advantage or charitable giving, or insurance fraud," Bush said in an interview on ABC's "Good Morning America."