Monday, October 31, 2005

Happy Halloween

Posted by Craig Westover | 5:34 PM |  

Eat, Drink and . . . . Rally!

Category: Humor

What do you think?

Posted by Craig Westover | 5:21 PM |  

The following quote was emailed to me from a reader --
"In the first place we should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes an American and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or birthplace, or origin. But this is predicated upon the man's becoming in very fact an American, and nothing but an American...There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is an American, but something else also, isn't an American at all. We have room for but one flag, the American flag, and this excludes the red flag, which symbolizes all wars against liberty and civilization, just as much as it excludes any foreign flag of a nation to which we are hostile...We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language...and we have room for but one sole loyalty and that is a loyalty to the American people."

Theodore Roosevelt 1907
What do you think? Agree or disagree with Roosevelt's "welcome" for immigrants? Floor is open.

Category: Immigration

A little honesty in secondhand smoke statistics . . . please

Posted by Craig Westover | 12:19 PM |  

One of the statistics I've asked Bob Moffitt of the American Lung Association to defend, a challenge he has consistently avoided, is "3,000 annual deaths from lung cancer due to secondhand smoke." Bob has not produced a study supporting that number, nor has he stated how this number is arrived at. I got tied of waiting, so I did the research myself -- in the interest of accuracy, somebody has to understand what Bob himself can't articulate.

The first fact, which Bob should have known off the top of his head, is that there is a standard formula used in assumption of risk calculations. Unfortunately for Bob, it is based on the concept of "relative risk," which Bob has referred to a "scientific minutia." For stat freaks the equation is

R(dE) = (1 + Z * ßdN)/(1 + ßdN)

where R(dE) is the relative risk for the group of never-smokers identified as “exposed” to spousal ETS (plus background ETS) compared with the group identified as “unexposed” (but actually exposed to background ETS). Z is the ratio between the operative mean dose level in the exposed group, dE, and the mean dose level in the unexposed group, dN. ß is the amount of increased risk per unit dose.

Now I frankly admit I’m not 100 percent sure I understand all that -- Bob is the professional and this is his business, so I’m sure he can explain it -- but I understand enough to know that in simple terms, the equation says you apply the relative risk factor to the affected population to determine what percent of the affected population is the result of exposure to the factor you are testing.

Now, here comes the interesting part. Remember, Bob and other smoking ban proponents have always state the statistic as "3,000 deaths" without any reference to the affected population referenced, which leaves the impression that the statistic refers to a random group that puts everybody or anybody at risk. This is not the case.

The 3,000 figure comes from a study (quoted here, Chapter 7) of lung cancer rates in non-smoking spouses of smoking spouses. In other words, assuming the study methodology is valid, what the 3,000 number indicates is that lung cancer deaths for 3,000 non-smoking spouses might be correlated to secondhand smoke.

I use the words “might be” because the “odds ratio” determined by the study is 1.25. Statistically, a calculation greater than 1 indicates correlation, but that calculation must be in the 3-4 range before definite causality can be assumed.

Nonetheless, for sake of argument let’s assume causality at 1.25. The spousal study findings have no relevance to the policy question of a smoking ban in bars and restaurants. The study might support government going into private homes and preventing smoking, but the limits of extrapolation of this data is to non-smoking spouses of smokers. It has virtually no impact on the health of restaurant patrons or employees.

If Bob were doing his job, he’d be spending is time educating smokers about the danger they pose to their spouse, not trying to borrow the power of government to impose smoking bans in bars and restaurants. But I digress.

At this point, what Bob might say if he were inclined to actually debate his case rather than simply state it, is that if secondhand smoke is dangerous to non-smoking spouses, then it must also be dangerous to bar employees as well. Fair question. So let's go back to the study data. (I’m only using data in the report itself, no outside information to show the internal inconsistencies in Bob’s positions.)

Using data from the same study, applying the same statistical risk ratio analysis that is used to arrive at the 3,000 death number (which Bob agrees with), the data shows no statistical correlation between secondhand smoke and lung cancer in non-smoking spouses until 31 years of exposure. And then the risk is as low as a 1 percent increase in risk, a 51 percent increase in risk on the high side of the confidence interval.

In other words, a study that supports Bob's contention that exposure to secondhand smoke over time can increase the risk of lung cancer also invalidates his claim that there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke. The study data supports the unquestioned, except by Bob, scientific notion of “threshold dosage” -- that most any chemical is not harmful at some level (every person has trace amounts of arsenic in their systems) and deadly at some threshold level.

Although certainly not healthy for a person, secondhand smoke, in the extreme case where a non-smoker is living with a smoker, requires 31 years of exposure to create a very modest increase in risk for lung cancer.

How does this analysis apply to the workplace -- the area where Bob wants government to step in and trump property rights, individual choice and if some entrepreneurial small business goes down, so be it?

According to the California EPA Study: "Proposed Identification of Environmental Tobacco Smoke as a Toxic Air Contaminant," a study done by “big government,” not “big tobacco,” there is no statistically significant risk of lung cancer from secondhand smoke exposure in the work place until the duration of exposure reaches 21 years. For exposure less than eight years, there is no statistical correlation between secondhand smoke and lung cancer.

Of course, the report does not make that statement, but that is what the data compiled in Table 7.2A illustrates.

This is where the government policy, criteria for public health regulation comes into play -- the context for smoking ban imposition that Bob also refuses to discuss. Bob and his ilk want government to impose smoking bans to protect bar employees that are, as shown by the California EPA study, at no statistical risk for lung cancer until they have been exposed to secondhand smoke for 21 years. And then, similar to the statistics for spousal exposure, the risk is only 3 to 51 percent greater than the unexposed population.

Might one not assume that a person that elects to work in the hospitality industry for 21 yeas has made the choice to accept that risk? One might ask here what the turnover rate is in the bar business. Smoking ban proponents use college students working in bars as examples of the people they want to protect. Data from this study shows that they are not at risk.

Might one not also assume that if Bob were doing his job educating people about the true dangers of secondhand smoke, not using exaggerated scare tactics to influence government policy, a person working in the hospitality industry might have regular medical check-ups to further mitigate the risk? But I digress again.

I’ve focused this discussion on lung cancer because of all health problems associated with secondhand smoke, this is the methodologically cleanest and also best supports Bob’s position. For example, looking at the same data analysis for “all cancers,” the study shows that one must be exposed to secondhand smoke for more than 39 years to reach a level of statistically significant risk from secondhand smoke.

Again, the California EPA study supports Bob's primary contention that exposure to secondhand smoke can, over time, increase the likelihood of health problems. However, from a government policy perspective, the data simply does not support a smoking ban as the best policy solution. The data does not support elevating secondhand smoke in bars and restaurants to a public health issue that requires government intervention.

The California EPA study is a wealth of information and a microcosm of tobacco research. The raw data of the study is not much different than that found in any study done by independent researches or researchers associated with tobacco companies (aside from a few statistical tricks by the EPA that really don't alter the findings significantly, but certainly reveal the bias). But when it comes to analysis (assuming a risk factor of 1.25 equates to causality, for example) and drawing subjective conclusions, the EPA study drifts off into Moffittland and makes policy recommendations that are simply not supported by the data.

The California EPA study is one Bob ought to be able to support, explain, defend and whatever. It's done by "his people." A professional communicator would latch onto it, and be prepared to summarize it and defend it and hopefully at least read it -- although it is long, the carcinogenic section alone is 226 pages and has math. I truly regret that Bob is unable or won’t comment on this or any other study in any meaningful way. I readily admit there is “minutia” in it I don’t understand. It would be nice if just one professional communicator from a health organization would take the time to explain data rather than just spit misleading and meaningless statistics.

Category: Public Health, Smoking Ban

Sunday, October 30, 2005

If I ever write a column that . . . .

Posted by Craig Westover | 4:19 PM |  

. . . says so little about even less, or is so partisan and predictable, somebody just shoot me.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Reaction to Miers withdrawal

Posted by Craig Westover | 10:44 AM |  

This is why I’ll never land a job as spokesperson for a politician. Here’s the text of President Bush’s reaction to Harriet Miers withdrawal from Supreme Court consideration.
Today, I have reluctantly accepted Harriet Miers decision to withdraw her nomination to the Supreme Court of the United States.

I nominated Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court because of her extraordinary legal experience, her character, and her conservative judicial philosophy. Throughout her career, she has gained the respect and admiration of her fellow attorneys. She has earned a reputation for fairness and total integrity. She has been a leader and a pioneer in the American legal profession. She has worked in important positions in state and local government and in the bar. And for the last five years, she has served with distinction and honor in critical positions in the Executive Branch.

I understand and share her concern, however, about the current state of the Supreme Court confirmation process. It is clear that senators would not be satisfied until they gained access to internal documents concerning advice provided during her tenure at the White House disclosures that would undermine a president's ability to receive candid counsel. Harriet Miers' decision demonstrates her deep respect for this essential aspect of the constitutional separation of powers and confirms my deep respect and admiration for her.

I am grateful for Harriet Miers' friendship and devotion to our country. And I am honored that she will continue to serve our nation as White House Counsel.

My responsibility to fill this vacancy remains. I will do so in a timely manner.
As a communicator, it’s that third paragraph I couldn’t live with. It’s unadulterated crap and worst of all, everybody knows it’s crap. At least if you’re going to put out crap, try something that isn’t so obvious -- perhaps “Harriet Meirs withdrew to pursue other interests” or “to spend more time with her family.”

I suspect a lot of overly-intellectualized analysis, partisan finger pointing and I-told-you-so self-congratulations on this one, but the reality is, this is a case where government actually worked just like it was suppose to. “Advise and Consent” isn’t a rubber stamp and “the president has a right to choose whom he wants” is not an adequate standard for consent. Plain and simple, no one can make a case, let alone a strong case, for putting Harriet Meirs on the bench.

Contention over Meirs’ nomination has swirled around her attitude on specific issues and her past activities. Grant it, that is political noise, but unlike a strong candidate like John Roberts, Meirs has not been able to silence the noise with any strong statements indicating a firm grasp of constitutional jurisprudence and judicial presence.

Nominate Christ himself for the Supreme Court and the opposition is going to bring up his unfortunate lack of self-control and the nasty temper he displayed towards money changers in the temple. To draw a analogy, in the same situation Harriet Meirs would counter by noting she took anger management classes; John Roberts would counter with the Beatitudes.

Meirs was just not a substantial nomination over and above whatever partisan political spin people put on it. She had so support. That would have been my third paragraph.

Category: National Politics

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

PRESS RELEASE -- Who is gouging whom?

Posted by Craig Westover | 5:59 PM |  

Interesting . . . .
Tax Foundation News Release

For immediate release
Contact: Bill Ahern (202) 464-5101

State and Federal Tax Collectors "Profit" More from Gasoline Sales than U.S. Oil Industry, Says New Analysis

Washington, D.C., October 26, 2005 — With Members of Congress calling for new “windfall profits” taxes in response to high gas prices, the Tax Foundation has released a new analysis showing state and local treasuries have collected more gas taxes in recent decades than all major U.S. oil companies’ profits combined.

“Over the last two decades, gas tax revenues have far outstripped the domestic profits of the largest U.S. oil companies,” said Tax Foundation President Scott A. Hodge. “While oil industry profits are highly volatile from year to year, gas tax collections are not, and are currently near historic highs.”

Several bills have been introduced in Congress, including the Windfall Profits Rebate Act of 2005 (S. 1631); the Gas Price Spike Act of 2005 (H.R. 2070); the Consumer Reasonable Energy Price Protection Act of 2005 (H.R. 3664); the Gas Price Relief Act of 2005 (H.R. 3752); and the Recapture Excess Profits and Invest in Relief (REPAIR) Act of 2005 (H.R. 1809).

The new analysis shows that in recent decades, state and federal governments have “profited” far more from the oil industry than companies have, raising up to seven times as much in gas taxes in some years as the largest U.S. oil companies have collectively earned in domestic profits.

“Governments have collected $1.34 trillion in gas taxes since 1977,” said Tax Foundation Staff Economist Jonathan Williams. “That’s more than twice the profits of major U.S. oil companies during the same period.”

Profits of U.S. oil companies have been highly volatile in recent decades. Between 1977 and 1985, oil industry profits averaged $33 billion per year. But between 1986 and 1995 they averaged just $12.3 billion. In the last decade, profits have ranged from $9 billion to $42 billion per year.

“As lawmakers respond to rising gas prices, they should keep in mind that state and federal gasoline taxes fund road construction. For that reason, they enjoy broad support as justifiable taxes, support that they would lose if the tax were raised as part of some other social or economic policy,” said Hodge.

The Tax Foundation is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that has monitored fiscal policy at the federal, state and local levels since 1937.

– end
Category: Tax Policy

Halloween Costume Contest

Posted by Craig Westover | 5:27 PM |  

From the Governor's Office --


Governor’s Residence Open for Trick-or-Treating October 31st

WHAT: Children are invited to wear their costumes and go trick-or-treating at the Governor’s Residence.

WHEN: Monday, October 31, 2005
Begins at 4:00 p.m.
Ends when all caramel apples have been handed out.

WHERE: Front gate of the Governor’s Residence, 1006 Summit Avenue

I'm going disguised as a health impact fee. Any other suggestions?

"The Blogger"

Posted by Craig Westover | 4:23 PM |  

A tip of the Sou’wester to Shot in the Dark via Bogus Gold for the tip that the Kommissar over at Politburo Diktat is putting together a blog family tree. As if going into the baseball Hall of Fame, I had to decide whose hat I was going to wear to declare my “blog father” -- Captain’s Quarters or Fraters Libertas. It was after my first appearance on the Northern Alliance Radio Network that Ed, Brian and Chad encouraged me to start a blog. With no slight to Captain Ed, my nod went to Fraters only because it was Brian “Saint Paul” Ward that extended the appearance invitation.

A family tree question that was asked was the date one’s blog was initiated, which got me to thinking that next month marks my first anniversary as a blogger. So I asked the official poet laureate of (moi) to compose a fitting tribute for the occasion. With apologies to Nihilist in Golf Pants and other blogger lyricists -- and to Simon and Garfunkle (“The Boxer”) -- here’s my humble effort.

I am just a blogger and my story’s seldom told
I write in momma’s cellar with a pocketful of loose change, there’s no dollar bills
I am a “hack,” still a man writes what he wants to write
And then deletes the rest (hmmmm....mmmm......)

When I logged my first post, I was happy as a boy
In the company of pirates
In the forefront of technology, I had ’em scared
Writing lots, seeking out the traffic grabbers, where the Googol searches go
Inserting all the key words only it would know

(Li la li... li la la la li la li)
(Li la li... li la la la li la li)
(La la la la li...)

Seeking only writer’s wages, I went lookin’ for a job, but I got no offers
Just a come on from the bloggers down at Keegan’s Pub
I do declare, there were times when I was so lonesome
I took some comfort there (li la la, la, la la)

Now a blog year rolled on by me, it has astounded even me
Blogging’s more fun that it once was and less fun than to be, that’s not unusual
No it’s not strange, after posting upon posting, we find our thoughts less tame
After posting we are one but not the same

(Li la li... li la la la li la li)
(Li la li... li la la la li la li)
(La la la la li...)

And I’m toiling on my mainstream work, wishing I were done, wanna post
Where the mainstream caution isn’t bleedin’ me, leadin’ me, to write tame

Artwork by Derek BrighamOn blogspot stands a blogger, and a writer by his trade
And he carries the reminder of unfair cuts that marked him, gave t’him a name
That he cries out without anger and no shame
I am “Captain,” I am “Fishsticks,” but the writer still remains
Yes he still remains . . . .
Li la li... li la la la li la li)
(Li la li... li la la la li la li)
(La la la la li...)
(Li la la la li la li)
(Li la li... li la la la li la li)
(La la la la li...)
(Li la la la li la li)
(Li la li... li la la la li la li)

Responding to "principled" objections to school choice

Posted by Craig Westover | 10:02 AM |  

John Brandl (Opinion Exchange, Oct. 17) is wrong when he states that there are few "principled objections" remaining to giving poor kids the choice to attend private schools. Here are a few "principled" objections:
So leads an opinion piece in the Minneapolis Star Tribune (via a comment by J. Ewing) responding to a column supporting school choice. As one reads through the author’s comments (“Rob Levine, of Minneapolis, is a website editor“), one is tempted to ask, “What doesn’t he understand about the word “principle”? Let’s take his objections one-by-one.
1 New studies, including ones from the federal government, have shown that students at charter and voucher schools do worse on standardized tests and have smaller academic gains than students who attend regular public schools.
This is a hard objection to refute because the studies aren’t cited, so all I can say is I haven’t seen them. Regardless, this is an aggregate statement that camouflages individual situations. For example, in one area the public school might be “better” than a private or charter school. However, no one forces a parent to send his or her child to the private school. In another area, a private or charter school might be “better” than the neighborhood public school. However, in this case, the low-income family is required to send its children to the worse school.

But to my main point, what is the principle at work here, as these are supposedly “principled” objections? Is it that people should not be allowed to make (allegedly) bad choices? That government should determine a decision as personal as the kind of education a parent wants for his or her child? What is the principle that the author is defending?
2 Private and charter schools are much less accountable and reliable than public schools. In Milwaukee, which has the nation's largest voucher program, there has been no ongoing monitoring of private schools since 1995, though they got more than $83 million in public subsidy this year alone. A Milwaukee Journal Sentinel series detailed the woes of voucher schools: "Based on firsthand observations ... at least 10 of the 106 schools ... appeared to lack the ability, resources, knowledge or will to offer children even a mediocre education. ... Nine other schools would not allow reporters to observe their work ... . " In Minnesota two charter school operators have been convicted of fraud. In California last year an operator of 60 schools also went out of business just as the academic year was set to begin.
Again, I can question the facts -- Milwaukee schools are probably the most monitored in the country (or how else did the author obtain his “facts”?). When school choice proponents have requested more study, the education establishment has blocked it. Fraud in some charters -- yes, but have we forgotten from just a few years ago the millions of dollars that Minneapolis public schools could not account for? Again, however, I must ask, what is the principle that the author is defending? Certainly it is not a belief in free markets or the right and ability of parents to decide what’s best for their children? If there is a principle here, it is that government knows best and one government approach to education is better than a diversity of approaches generated from individual desires.
3 Vouchers force taxpayers to subsidize religious education, and parents don't choose the best academic school for their children, as voucher proponents assert. In Milwaukee, one conclusion of the Journal Sentinel's series was that, almost above all else, parents chose schools that matched their own religion or chose the school closest to their homes.
We’re getting closer to defining the principle that has only been hinted at before -- parents don’t choose the best academic school for their children -- so government must do it for them. (I’ll ignore the author’s misreading of the establishment clause, which is a principle.) Rather make that some parents don't choose correctly -- parents that agree with the author choose correctly; parents that don't choose like the author are wrong and must be forced to make the correct decision. Is that really the principle the author wants to defend?
4 The voucher push is part of a larger national movement to destroy teachers' unions and expose the $500 billion spent annually on public primary and secondary education to private profit. Republicans are trying to destroy teachers' unions because they are one of only two remaining sectors of the U.S. economy that are heavily unionized. If conservatives can destroy the teachers' unions they will help to defund a primary constituency and funding source for the Democratic Party.
This is an amazing lack of understanding of what one is actually saying. The author lambastes Republicans for making a political move to counteract a political stronghold of Democrats. What’s the principle at stake here? It seems the author’s concerns is that private profit is bad. No mention of what is best for kids. It’s also interesting to note that while teachers’ unions, a Democrat interest group, opposes school choice, families of color, another Democrat interest group, strongly favor school choice. The internal conflict of interest groups is indicative of interest-focus of the Democrat party and the lack of a unifying principle of action. Ironically, John Brandl is a Democrat in the traditon of Hubert Humphrey.
5 There aren't enough private schools to offer choice to all students. Roughly 90 percent of all students attend regular public schools. Efforts to rapidly create new private schools have led to corruption and disruption around the country.
Again, not a principle nor a fact, but a fear. The first statement is correct, but I’ve seen no voucher proposal that does not include phased implementation. More to the point, the Hann-Buesgens bill proposed in the last legislative session provided transition funds for school districts to compensate for families that elected to use vouchers at private schools. Under the current system, the school districts receive no compensation when a child leaves the district whether for private school or a public school in another district. Again, I can’t comment on a study that is not referenced.
6 Public schools have endured withering budget cuts over the past decade while simultaneously forced to deal with more social ills. Public schools must accept all who come to their doors, while private schools are free to reject difficult-to-teach or handicapped children. In Minneapolis alone tens of millions of dollars have been cut from budgets over the past few years, while new unfunded burdens, such as conformance with the Orwellian-named "No Child Left Behind Act," have been foisted on it.
Sooner or later the “public schools accept everybody” deceit will be put to rest. As I noted in my column on the Al-Amal school and in this post, “taking everybody” and “adequately educating everybody” are two different things. To varying degrees, private schools do take handicapped kids, kids with severe behavioral problems and maintain a diverse population including children whose families are not native English speaking people. They educate them without the extraordinary expenditures of public schools. When “the dollar follows the scholar,” economies of scale kick in and private schools will have the economic incentive and ability to not only “take” but also to educate special needs children.

Again, what’s the principle the author is defending? Is it educating children or defending a system? I’m not a big fan of “No Child Left Behaind,” but the author’s objection to it is more than a little ironic. His entire column makes the case that government is better able to determine how children should be educated than are parents, but then when government makes a decision the author doesn’t like, well then government is bad. Or is it just Republicans that are bad? Is the author making a political case against school choice? What about the kids? Just what is the principle he is defending?
According to Brandl, objections to the facts that voucher students do poorly academically, that voucher schools are unaccountable and unreliable, and that taxpayers are already underwriting religious education aren't principled. I'd like to know what "principles" allow Brandl to ignore these unpleasant voucher facts, and to brand his ideological opponents as unprincipled.
I think the author’s column speaks for itself. Brandl is not equating “unprincipled” with some connotation of intentional “evil.” He is simply noting that opponents of school choice really have no fundamental foundation for their arguments beyond "big government knows best" (except, it appears, when it is controlled by Republicans). School choice, on the other hand, is based on free market principles, individual choice principles, and the principle that individuals of all economic levels have an unalienable right to pursue their own version of happiness including the education of their children.

COLUMN -- All of our liberties are intertwined

Posted by Craig Westover | 5:27 AM |  

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Having successfully challenged Minnesota cosmetology licensing laws on behalf of African hair braiders, those pesky litigators from the Institute for Justice are at it again. Now they're suing the state so well-heeled wine connoisseurs may more conveniently purchase a robust Bordeaux. Be still, my heart. When beaded cornrows are not your thing, and one judges wine by whether the box fits in the refrigerator, these legal nits seem a tad trite. So why care?

"All rights are logically connected," answers Nick Dranias, an Institute for Justice attorney with the Minnesota chapter.

Care because our personal freedoms cannot be separated from economic liberty — our freedom to pursue a living. Lest we forget, the war that won the freedoms in the Bill of Rights was in no small part a response to an unfair 3-pence tea tax.

Unfortunately, legislative violations of economic liberty are not as vigorously pursued as the more fashionable First Amendment cases. That thinking, Dranias said, is somewhat understandable, but wrong.

"Making a case for economic liberty often focuses on the margins," he said. "But there's always a connection to the larger context of personal freedom."

Case in point is Crockett v. Minnesota Department of Public Safety, the Institute for Justice suit on behalf of Fieldstone Vineyards of Morgan, Minn., White Winter Winery of Iron River, Wis., and consumer Kim Crockett of Deephaven, Minn.

Motivated by economic liberty issues, Crockett v. Minnesota DPS is a commercial speech case. It contends that advertising regulations applied specifically to wineries are a free-speech violation under the First Amendment and a violation of equal protection of the law under the 14th Amendment.

The state of Minnesota forbids all in-state and out-of-state wineries from accepting online orders from Minnesotans. This is puzzling. Wineries may ship wine directly to Minnesotans, but only when orders are placed by mail, fax or telephone. More puzzling, wineries may not advertise — online or anywhere else — their ability to ship wine directly. Minnesota liquor stores, however, may sell wine directly from their Web sites. They may advertise their direct shipping services. A winery that does so is subject to criminal prosecution, fines and jail time.

"Every freedom, including the freedom of speech, requires the ability to act," Dranias said. "Obtaining the means to speak requires the ability to earn a living. A First Amendment case that protects the free flow of information between wineries and consumers underscores the fundamental connection between freedom of speech and economic liberty."

Is Dranias over-theorizing? Is he advocating elimination of all regulation? Not "all" regulation, but he is arguing that legislators take the constitutional phrase "necessary and proper" to heart before mucking around in the free market.

Regulation and its next-of-kin central planning restrict the free flow of information in commercial transactions. Minnesota law prevents wineries from informing consumers about products and services they provide. It is a disincentive for consumers to buy "outside the box." Therein lies the rub and insight into the consequences of unrestrained government.

The Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association, whose members are the status quo distribution channel for wine, beer and spirits, defends commercial speech restrictions on wineries. The purpose of the law, it states, is ensuring the collection of sales taxes and defending the state's homegrown wine industry. It also throws in little paternalism.

"And if you're going to allow wine to be sold directly to the consumer, the next step is beer," Jim Farrell, a former state lawmaker and current head of the MLBA, has said. "You can bet your bottom dollar that Anheuser-Busch and Miller and Coors are going to say, 'If those guys can sell wine on the Internet, I want to sell beer on the Internet.' "

Such reasoning (and lobby pressure) leads legislators to overlook principle in favor of their own interests. Thus a constitutionally flawed law passes that ranks tax collection over entrepreneurial effort and limits competition — not to protect in-state wineries, but to protect the existing distribution channel from winery competition. Firms selling beer by the millions of barrels aren't interested in boutique Internet sales, but a dose of paternalism provides cover for political self-interest.

So who is hurt? Entrepreneurial wineries, wine consumers and yes, all of us whose personal freedoms rest on the foundation of economic liberty. Who wins? Big government and the entrenched distribution channel. Standing in their way, however, are those pesky litigators from the Institute for Justice.

Westover is an Afton writer who blogs at www.craigwestover. E-mail him at Westover's daughter was an intern last summer at the Institute for Justice and researched the winery case.

Category: Column, Individual Liberty, Institute for Justice

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Accountability? Not!

Posted by Craig Westover | 9:11 AM |  

Sometimes, just letting people talk and make their case is the best way to illuminate the fallacy of their argument.

In today’s Pioneer Press, Sen. Scott Dibble opines on an important topic -- school bus safety. His villain is First Student, a subsidiary of Scotland-based First-Group. The first sins of First Student Dibble lists are that the parent company makes $110 million on its North American operations and pays less than 2 percent in taxes.

Apparently it has negotiated contracts with local school districts that guarantee annual increases in fees and shift the rising cost of fuel onto school districts. It offers its drivers no paid sick leave, no affordable health insurance, and low wages. It has a high turnover rate. All of which contribute to unsafe and inefficient operation of school bus transportation.

After that , I’m not sure what Dibble’s conclusion is. He states --
In order to improve bus transportation safety and quality, school board members in Minneapolis and St. Paul are considering whether to increase fines for poor service and whether to give the district more flexibility to shift service away from poorly performing contractors. They would also insist that bus companies allow employees to have a bare minimum of sick time so drivers would not have to choose between driving while not at their best and being able to pay their rent or feed their children.

All of Minnesota's school districts should have these tools to best manage their school bus systems and successfully evaluate contractors, because our kids deserve the safest, highest quality and well-functioning bus transportation service that our tax dollars can provide.
I’m not sure I understand, but it seems to be, given what Dibble writes about First Student, that school districts did not do their due diligence or make a very wise choice when it comes to selecting student transportation. Instead of taking shots, justified or not, at the company providing the service, why not state the obvious -- somebody in the school system isn’t doing his job. What other tools do they need besides good judgment?

Dibble’s argument is reminiscent of my flap with Nick Coleman over the fact that Maxfield Elementary School in St. Paul didn’t have enough reading books. Coleman’s point was Maxfield's problems were the fault of legislators for not allocating enough funding when the real question ought to have been “What is the school spending money on such that it doesn’t have money for books?”

Why is the major argument against school vouchers always that private schools aren’t held accountable, but when a situation arises that begs for accountability, public schools always shift the blame?

I’m not defending First Student as company or its practices. I don’t know enough about them. But I do know enough about business to know that unless First Student actually committed fraud and lied to school authorities about its practices, then the fault for unsafe school buses lies with the person that contracted with First Student, not the company.

That’s the point Dibble should be making.

Friday, October 21, 2005

The fallacy of public school diversity

Posted by Craig Westover | 12:43 PM |  

I’ve received a bit of email on my column from Wednesday describing Al-Amal, an Islamic school located in Fridley, some favorable, some critical -- not necessarily critical of Al-AMAL school, but of my position that a public education system based on school choice would support religious schools. A specific paragraph of my column read --

While public education preaches multiculturalism, public school policies and the environments they foster are antithetical to the diversity they preach. Reaction to a lack of discipline and moral values in government schools, intolerance for the overt observance of Islamic practices and a lack of academic rigor are major reasons why Al-Amal was founded 11 years ago, why it is thriving and expanding, and why it provides a model for a genuine "public education" system for students of all faiths and economic levels.
Government schools constantly defend themselves when compared to private schools like Al-Amal with the mantra that unlike private schools, public schools take everyone. Public schools promote multiculturalism and diversity. But what good does it do to “take everyone” if a school cannot meet everyone’s needs? What is the value of diversity if it is only skin deep and people are not allowed to practice the traditions that make them unique?

A perfect example of the way public school policies and the environments they foster are antithetical to diversity is found in an incident at a school board meeting in Porter Township in northwest Indiana.

Susan Miller approached Ayesha Syed, the mother of two new Muslim students at Porter Lakes, and tried to explain her reasoning for adamantly and outwardly opposing a presentation Syed gave to the students about the Muslim culture. . . .

On Sept. 30, Syed and her Muslim friend, Ameenah Abdullah, came to the school to talk to a second-grade class and the entire third grade about the Muslim culture.

The presentation, for students who are the same ages as Syed's children, was intended to answer questions about the Muslim culture. The women talked about religion because it is heavily intertwined with the Muslim culture, and that upset many in the Porter Lakes community.
Okay, so far so good. One would think that such a presentation, given that Muslim children would be attending the school would be a good thing. The presentation might help integrate some of that prized diversity and answer questions the kids might have about a culture that they hadn’t been exposed to. On the other hand, the objecting parents made some good points.

The majority of speakers vehemently opposed religion in the public school setting. Michelle Colvin said her son had questions for her about Allah that caught her off guard. She said she should have been notified of the presentation in advance.

Miller touched on another hot issue surrounding the Muslim family -- the creation of a prayer room at the school for the Muslim children, which school officials will not confirm -- and demanded fair treatment for all faiths.

"If they're going to cater to one religion, they better cater to all of 'em," she said and asked for an altar to be added for her Catholic son.

Miller's speech, the first of more than a dozen, garnered an applause and an "amen" from the standing-room-only crowd. In an interview before the meeting, she said, "I'm not prejudiced, but I do have a concern when it comes to Muslim people."

Jamye Matlon, the mother of two children at Porter Lakes, said that religion -- not race -- was the issue.

"You're more than welcome to come to my school, black, white whatever," Matlon said. "But don't start asking for special favors, especially bringing religion into it."
These are not trivial issues. Whether for better or worse, we’ve secularized public schools and there’s a zero tolerance attitude on that point. Fact is, even if it wanted to, a public school could not cater to all religions and still run any semblance of an educational institution. It’s only right that one religion not be granted special favors. BUT -- if that is the official policy, then public schools shouldn’t go claiming they take everyone when they can’t meet everyone’s needs, and they shouldn’t self-righteously proclaim they promote diversity when they deny the diverse practices of minority groups.

The question then becomes, if education is really about children, if “public education” is really about education in the common interest, if diversity is something to prize as American freely associate with one another, why -- why -- do public education officials resist meaningful school choice? Why do they insist that low-income families must keep their children in schools where they are not served and the traditions that make them unique are denied them?

Basit Syed, the father of the Muslim children, said the intent of the presentation was to help the children understand the hijab, or Muslim head scarf. He was worried about other kids teasing his 9-year-old daughter, Khadija.

"I don't want her students, her classmates, not to make fun of her," Basit said. "I want her classmates to respect her. That's the only thing they both came here to tell the students, the kids."
Why cannot money already budgeted to provide a free “public education” for a student follow the student rather than be funneled through a one-size-fits-all infrastructure? Why can’t education dollars follow a student whether that student attends a government school, a private school or a religious school? Just what are the education elite afraid of?

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

A teachable moment

Posted by Craig Westover | 3:29 PM |  

I do believe in serendipity.

Earlier I posted a comment to this post responding to Bob Moffitt of the American Lung Association. Bob once again ducked questions about statistical analysis applied to studies of secondhand smoke in favor of the “appeal to authority” logical fallacy -- if some organization with a title says something is true, it must be. Because I agree with the analysis of this just-arrived press release regarding reading test scores, it would be tempting for me to use Bob’s methodology and simply swallow the content of the press release.


Washington, D.C., October 19, 2005 – According to the 2005 “Nation’s Report Card” released by the U.S. Department of Education today, Minnesota’s 8th grade students’ reading scores average the same as those of the 8th graders who took the test two years ago. Governor Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, observed:

“Reading is the heart of learning, and Minnesota and the nation are in the literacy emergency room showing a flat line on the education EKG. The state’s results clearly demonstrate that we still are not doing what is needed to help these older students build the reading skills they will need to deal with increasingly complex high school courses. Twenty percent of Minnesota’s 8th grade students are reading significantly below grade level and they are most likely to drop out of high school or graduate without the skills needed to succeed in college or the workplace.

“For the most part, we stop teaching our children how to read when they leave third grade, and expect that they’ll continue to expand vocabulary and comprehension skills on their own. That’s like a builder laying the foundation of a house and leaving the buyer to put up the walls and roof without help. The investments made in early grades to teach our kids to read are critical, but we must continue to intervene throughout their school years to assure that they are maintaining and expanding the literacy skills that are so necessary for success in life.”

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as "the Nation's Report Card," is the only nationally representative and continuing assessment of what America's students know and can do in various subject areas. Today, results of the 2005 reading and math assessments were released, with national and state-level scores for students in grades 4 and 8.
Wise makes sense, right? Especially if like I do you agree with his analysis. Reading is not emphasized nearly enough in upper grades, nor are reading assignments nearly challenging enough. However, Wise doesn’t provide enough data to statistically support his claim that test scores have not improved.

Simpson’s Paradox is a statistical anomaly that posits when a large data set is made of smaller subsets, each subset can show improvement even when the large data set show a decline or flat-line improvement. The reason has to do with weighting of the subgroups.

For example, white, upper class students tend to score higher on reading tests than minorities. If year-over-year more minority students are added to the mix, it is possible, even likely, that both white student and minority student scores can improve, but because the total population is now weighted more to the lower scoring group, the overall improvement line is flat.

So while I agree with Wise’s analysis, in fairness, the point must be made that statistically, he doesn’t make his case. That's how professional communicators work. We know stuff; when we don't, we admit it, and we do our homework.

COLUMN -- Al-Amal School teaches lesson of pluralism

Posted by Craig Westover | 8:35 AM |  

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

I was reminded of the Pilgrims. Like the Pilgrims of 1620, the pilgrims with whom I shared the traditional dates and juice of Ramadan also came to this country seeking religious freedom, a freedom sometimes stifled in their native countries.

The occasion was a fundraiser for Al-Amal School. A private school in Fridley, Al-Amal is an accredited, full-time Islamic school serving 370 students from kindergarten through 12th grade. Its mission is preparing Muslim children for American society while preserving their Islamic heritage.

Here is the first irony. While public education preaches multiculturalism, public school policies and the environments they foster are antithetical to the diversity they preach. Reaction to a lack of discipline and moral values in government schools, intolerance for the overt observance of Islamic practices and a lack of academic rigor are major reasons why Al-Amal was founded 11 years ago, why it is thriving and expanding, and why it provides a model for a genuine "public education" system for students of all faiths and economic levels.

More irony. Although touted as indicative of Minnesota's diversity, the Muslim community has more in common with conservative Christians than with the secularized environment fostered by government schools. Muslims share conservative concerns about public education — the exclusion of religion, the teaching of evolution, abortion politics, sex education and general lack of academic emphasis.

"Al-Amal serves two purposes," Principal Salah Ayari said. "Parents choose to send their children here to shield them from influences that are not in keeping with Islamic moral code, but they also want an education for their children that is academically rigorous. Our goal is producing individuals who can go out into American society and make positive contributions without compromising Islamic faith."

Thus, in science, for example, evolution is taught as the mainstream theory of where mankind came from, but it is taught in conjunction with Islamic divine creation. Unlike public schools that see that juxtaposition as a problem, at Al-Amal it is an opportunity.

"Our students must know what mainstream thinking is if we expect them to be leaders," Ayari said. "They cannot be leaders if they are narrow-minded."

What Ayari describes is not a radical concept. The Al-Amal model of a community school reflecting community values defined "public education" before progressives gave "public" the meaning "controlled by a central government authority."

That does not, however, equate to a lack of diversity. In every class at Al-Amal there are ebony-skinned Somalis sitting next to brown-skinned children of Pakistani descent. There are dark-haired students from the Middle East mixing with children bearing a distinctive Egyptian profile. And the diversity is more than skin deep.

"We have students whose parents came from countries ruled by strict Islamic codes," Ayari said. "Others from countries ruled by kings; some from eastern democracies like India; others from western European countries."

About 90 percent of the students at Al-Amal were born in this country. Al-Amal families, however, speak Somali, Arabic, English, Turkish, Urdu (the languages of India and Pakistan), various African dialects and western European languages. Sixty-five percent of the students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. Many students receive scholarship help with the $3,500 tuition.

Like the first Pilgrims to North America, Muslims live their religion. Consequently, along with social studies, science, math, physical education and computer science, the Islamic faith is taught as part of the curriculum. The lesson books were developed in this country by American Muslims intended for use in American Islamic schools. Arabic is taught so students can read the Qur'an in its original language.

"Religious curriculum tends to reflect the politics of where it was written," Ayari said. "Our goal at Al-Amal is to reinforce the idea of American citizenship. We want to prepare our kids to be part of society while keeping their faith. We want them to be representatives of their faith — good American Muslims."

Consequently, social studies is another core subject, which includes American history and the U.S. Constitution. As Ayari explains, Muslims, like other Americans, might disagree with specific government policies; however, they recognize that the American system of government and its values overlaps the tenets of their faith and protects their freedom to live by them.

Private schools like Al-Amal preserve the genuine diversity of ideas that keeps America a vibrant country. That brings us to the final irony. If public education is all about the children, what is best for them, why then is there such resistance to meaningful school choice?

Category: Column,

Monday, October 17, 2005

Helping Mr. Moffitt defend smoking bans

Posted by Craig Westover | 4:29 PM |  

If my good friend Mr. Moffit were on the ball, in answer to my challenge to him, he’d be touting a new study by the California Environmental Protection Agency that anti-smoking ban blogger “Marcus Aurelius” posted on his Clearing the Air blog. Unlike Bob’s American Lung Association blog, those that oppose smoking bans are not afraid to post opposing views or address the questions they raise.

The title of this newly released study by the California EPA is “Proposed Identification of Environmental Tobacco Smoke as a Toxic Air Contaminant.” The report outlines the procedure and the results to date of the process to determine if second hand smoke is a TAC by California Standards. Bob might take note that the report establishes neutral standards for making this determination -- something that he has dismissed as not his responsibility. But that’s another debate.

One can read the report here. I’d like to highlight just one section that reiterates the points I’ve made consistently to Bob that he has failed to address, but first some more pointers for Bob.

Bob consistently calls the use of “relative risk” factors to determine causality between second hand smoke and various diseases “junk science.” I have asked him how, absent relative risk numbers, he determines causality. He has not responded. But here we have a report that concludes that second hand smoke ought to be considered a Toxic Air Contaminant, and what does it base that conclusion on -- relative risk numbers. Relative risk factors are not “junk science,” unless Bob wants to discredit this study, not done by the tobacco industry, that supports his conclusions.

A second point Bob makes is that only studies done by agencies such as the California EPA are unbiased and valid. Studies done by tobacco companies and “so-called” independent researchers are profit-driven and invalid simply because of the source. Well, here we have a study done by the California EPA and, low and behold, the pure science in this report is right in line with the pure science one finds in virtually all second hand smoke studies -- including those done by tobacco companies. The difference between this EPA study and studies done by tobacco companies and independent researchers is not the data arrived at, but the conclusions drawn from the data. And it is here that I disagree with this California study.

Quoting from the data --
The relative risk is a measure of the relation between exposure to a substance and the incidence of a disease. A relative risk of 1.0 indicates no relationship.

For ETS, a relative risk estimate of 1.2-1.7 for heart disease mortality in nonsmokers is supported by the collective evidence; this corresponds to approximately 1,700-5,500 deaths annually in California.

The relative risk estimate of 1.38 associated with low birth weight implies that ETS may impact fetal growth of 1,600 newborns in California.

It is estimated that at least 31,000 children in California experience one or more ETS-related asthma episodes (new onset or exacerbation) each year.

Large impacts are also associated with relative risks for respiratory effects in children such as middle ear infection (RR ≈ 1.62) (about 50,000 children annually), and lower respiratory infection in young children (RR ≈ 1.5 to 2) (18,000 to 36,000 children annually).

ETS exposure is implicated in 21 SIDS deaths per year in California (RR ≈ 3.5).

About 400 to 1,100 lung cancer deaths in California are ETS-related. For nasal sinus cancers, observed relative risks have ranged from 1.7 to 3.0. This is as high as or higher than the relative risks observed for lung cancer.

Finally, for breast cancer, when evaluating younger, primarily premenopausal women at diagnosis, a pooled risk estimate of 1.68 isderived in the meta-analysis, and when restricted to the studies with better exposure assessment, an estimate of 2.20 is obtained (see Table 1). These estimates of association could represent a significant number of cases as this is a relatively common cancer in women.

Adding the mid-point of the ranges for lung cancer deaths and heart disease deaths, and including the SIDS point estimate, one can attribute about 50,000 deaths per year in the U.S. and 4,000 deaths per year in California from ETS-associated disease. This does not include the estimates for other ETS-associated cancer deaths.
What you’ll note in these statistics is that with the exception of the relative risk for SIDS (which is irrelevant to the smoking ban in bars and restaurant debate), all of the relative risk factors hover under 2.0. You’ll also note some extremely large ranges in some categories -- 400 to 1,100 lung cancer deaths in California are ETS-related. No baseline data is given for this figure, but what those numbers mean is that out of some larger population -- all Californians or just adult Californians -- one might expect to see 400 to 1,100 additional lung cancer deaths that are ETS related (which is also undefined). The extrapolation made is that the entire state is exposed to second hand smoke in the same quantity as the subjects in the unidentified studies from which the small relative risk number was derived. That is a pretty big assumption.

Here’s where the California EPA study breaks down. This is also a direct quote from the study, which precedes the above data --
Relative risk estimates associated with some of these endpoints [the data quoted above. ed. note] are small, but because the diseases are common and ETS exposure is frequent and widespread, the overall impact can be quite large.
That conclusion is a misleading interpretation of the statistical significance of relative risk. Low relative risk factors -- certainly those below 2.0, and in the scientific community those below 3.0 to 4.0 -- generally are not taken as statistically significant evidence of causality. Relative risk factors at those levels indicate that other factors are likely contributors to the effect being studied. Attributing causal significance to relative risks below 2.0 gets one to the factious conclusions that drinking coffee and talking on cell phones poses a greater risk for heart disease than second hand smoke.

Does it pass the smell test that if, as the EPA report states, a relative risk of 1.0 indicates no cause relationship that a 1.2 relative risk factor, which the report cites for heart disease mortality in nonsmokers, is statistically significant? If it does, there are a hellevua lot of things we should be banning in the name of public health.

This is the bone of contention that Bob will not address. There is a pretty consistent body of data on the relationship between second hand smoke and various diseases. This research, whether done by tobacco companies, state agencies or health organizations arrives at virtually the same relative risk factors. The problem is that in order to promote a social agenda, people like Bob extend the conclusions of these studies beyond their scientific and statistical limits. Without defining criteria for when a health issue rises to a level of significance that requires government intervention, they advocate government policy that inflicts significant economic harm on a segment of the population not to mention tramples individual property rights and the principle of individual choice.

The challenge still stands, Bob. I’ve again done most of your work for you, but if you want to defend this study by providing baseline data and explaining how, using only statistics provided by this study, my analysis is wrong, I’ll be happy to post it here. Oh yea -- is relative risk data still junk science?

Katherine Kersten: The truth about the Vikings' party

Posted by Craig Westover | 1:51 PM |  

In today’s Star Tribune, Katherine Kersten (to mix a metaphor) gets to third base, but hesitates to go all the way on the Viking Scandal.

First base --

Minnesotans are expressing shock at the alleged sex party on Lake Minnetonka. Fans are disgusted. Politicians are outraged. The Vikings can kiss a new stadium goodbye. But I've noticed something. Everyone sputters with outrage, but no one really articulates why. When pressed, people generally mutter something about the Vikings being poor role models for our kids.
Second base --

We sense something is disastrously wrong with such lascivious conduct. But in America in 2005, we've lost the language to say exactly what. The players and women involved were apparently consenting adults. And consenting adults can pretty much engage in whatever sexual activities they want, right? For decades, enlightened free thinkers have worked to drill this into our heads.
Third base --

It's time to speak the truth. Nothing happened on those boats that many of our teenage boys haven't already seen repeatedly on the Internet, where the raunchiest porn is a mouse-click away. Our 14-year-old girls have heard jokes about oral sex and masturbation on "Sex and the City," maybe watching with Mom. On cable TV shows such HBO's "Real Sex," explicit sex acts are regular fare. In 2002, the Supreme Court ruled that "virtual" pornography that portrays life-like children in the most degraded acts is protected "free speech."

In many taxpayer-financed sex education classes, our kids learn that sex is a matter of lifestyle choice. You decide when you're ready, and then have sex whenever and with whomever you want. Just make sure it's safe sex.
So far so good. Kersten’s right. Most people start out commenting on the Vikings’ cruise with something like “I’m not a prude,” to affirm their “hipness” credentials, but then quickly move on to “but I find what the Vikings did disgusting.” Kersten hits that one solidly, but stumbles a little rounding second. She gets it right -- “The players and women involved were apparently consenting adults. And consenting adults can pretty much engage in whatever sexual activities they want, right?” -- but between the lines she really means “wrong.” She makes that clear as she slides into third with a run down of the evils of society. It’s almost a liberal argument -- The Vikings are not to blame; it’s society’s fault.

“What were the Vikings thinking?” she asks. “Unfortunately,” she says, “ perhaps merely what our society has taught them to think.” She concludes ambiguously.
Minnesotans' reaction to the Vikings' sex-capades may be muddled, but it's heartening. At some level, we still revere the dignity - the sanctity - of sexual love. Occasionally, our residual sense of decency can still rise to the surface and shout its outrage.
Shouting outrage is like arguing with an umpire. It's not going to get us home. Nor is faith in “residual decency.“ Kersten never refutes the straw man question she sets up at the very beginning of the piece -- “consenting adults can pretty much engage in whatever sexual activities they want, right?”

In a free society that is exactly right. The Vikings did do nothing wrong -- except (as does Kersten) ask the wrong question.

Morality discussions about what the other guy is doing are pretty fruitless unless they provide some guidance for our own individual behavior. And as disgusted as we might be with the Vikings off-field antics, the basis of their morality is pretty much the standard operating principle of most people’s actions. “What’s wrong with it?” has pretty much become the moral guideline of our time.

“What’s right about it?” is a question the demands a lot more of us. There’s nothing wrong with watching “Sex and the City,” but then, what’s right about it? Given all the other ways one might spend a half-an-hour, is “Sex and the City” the best choice? The most self-affirming choice? Take any half-hour period of one’s day, and the question might be asked, “Is this the right way to spend my time?”

A professional football player is under no obligation to be a role model. There is nothing wrong with not being a role model. But isn’t there something right about using one’s God-given talents and striving to provide a image for young people? As noted in my Pionner Press column last week -- there’s nothing wrong with accepting government aid to help with heating bills. Is that the most self-affirming choice one can make?

For the philosophically inclined, the question is what constitutes a good life -- is it simply avoidance of doing evil, or does a good life require positive action? Does a good life require doing what is right rather than simply doing what is not wrong?

Getting that right is a tough pitch to hit. Kersten lets it go by without taking a swing. I like Kersten’s columns as a whole, but in this one she stays within the comfort zone of the conservative status quo. A conservative column ought not only uphold conservative values in the face of the liberal challenge, it ought challenge conservatives to live up to the principles they espouse.

There’s nothing wrong with simple outrage at the Vikings’ behavior, but more to the point, what’s right about it? Applying the answer to that question to our own behavior gets us all the way home.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

PRESS RELEASE -- Constitution Presentation

Posted by Craig Westover | 8:57 AM |  

EdWatch September , 17th Constitution Day
Constitutional Attorney John Eidsmoe
Monday, October 17th, 7:00 to 8:00 p.m.
Minnesota's Metro Cable Network -- Channel 6

"What Schools Should Teach About the Constitution." Part One
Monday, October 17, 2005, 7:00 - 8:00, P.M.

"What Schools Should Teach About the Constitution." Part Two
Monday, October 24, 2005, 7:00 - 8:00 P.M.

Metro, Cable, Television, includes:

Afton, Andover, Anoka, Apple Valley, Arden, Hills, Bayport, Bloomington, Brooklyn Center, Brooklyn Park, Burnsville, Centerville, Champlin, Chaska, Circle, Pines, Crystal, Columbia Heights, Coon Rapids, Dellwood, Eagan, Eden Prairie, Falcon, Heights, Edina, Farmington, Fridley, St.Louis Park, Golden Valley, Ham, Lake, Hopkins, Inver Grove Heights, Lake Elmo, Lakeville, Lauderdale, Lino Lakes, Little Canda, Mahtomedi, Maple Grove, Maplewood, Medicine Lake, Mendota, Mendota Heights, Minneapolis, Minnetonka, Mounds View, New Brighton, New Hope, Newport, N. St.. Paul, Oak Grove, Oak Park Heights, Oakdale, Osseo, Plymouth, Ramsey, Richfield, Robbinsdale, St..Croix Beach, Shorewood, So. St. Paul St. Anthony, Spring Lake Park, St. Louis Park, St. Paul, Stillwater, St. Paul Park, Vadnais Heights, West St., Paul, White Bear Lake

Other Minnesota local access channels will air the EdWatch Eidsmoe presentation as their scheduling allows.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

So here's what Bob's been up to

Posted by Craig Westover | 11:21 PM |  

Usually a troll in the comments of any blog posting anything about smoking bans, Bob Moffitt of the American Lung Association Minnesota Chapter has been noticeably absent from the Internet since declining to discuss smoking bans on the AM1280 The Patriot, thus in silence making his strongest defense of smoking bans. Apparently Bob has found a media more to his desire for opponentless presentation. This from a reader --

Yesterday the local branch of the American Lung Association called my house. A pleasant-sounding young woman asked whether I would add my name to a petition congratulating Peter McLaughlin for the Hennepin County smoking ban in eating and drinking establishments.

A year ago I probably would have said yes. However I told her no -- because I knew someone who owned an establishment that had been negatively impacted financially as a result, and I also felt this was an issue of civil liberties. I told her that I'm a nonsmoker and don't allow it in my house, but other people do need a place to smoke and socialize.

After the caller assured me that all opinions were respected and the conversation ended, I felt angry that taxpayers' or donors' money was being used in this politicized manner.
Key points -- the ALA campaign is intended to sway mayoral candidate Peter McLaughlin, who’s torn between a personal recognition that the smoking ban is causing many bar and restaurant owners economic harm and a politician's concern that smoking bans seem like a good idea to the majority of the public. Note the reader’s comment that a year ago she would have agreed to sign the petition -- a year ago when she was not informed and had not thought about the civil liberties issues.

Like most government regulation lacking criteria for consideration, a smoking ban looks like a no brainer. But when the idea is put in a larger and proper context, a thinking person quickly understands that health regulation without criteria and without scientific merit creates a government of unlimited power. Arbitrarily take away the economic liberty to pursue a legal business and one chips away the very foundation of individual rights.

A final point -- the reader’s reaction to the phone call is anger, and justly so. The ALA serves important education and research functions. But instead of pursing that mission, it’s spending donor contributions to rent the power of government and force individuals to act in a manner that its communications have failed to persuade them to do.

So, Bob has still been a busy little bee, and no doubt in the discussion-free world of telephone solicitation (using the charity exemption to get around the no-call law?) he’s gathering many names from uninformed citizens. But he’s also angering a lot of people as well by a gross misuse of donated funds. If he’s a worthy mayoral candidate, Peter McLaughlin will prove to be one of the angered.

UPDATE: I suppose it would be unreasonable to ask Bob for a copy of the study or an explanaition of the math or a timeframe for these statistics posted on his blog --

The Twin Cities Clean Cities Coalition (TC4) will join similar organizations across the country on Friday, Oct. 14, to celebrate displacing more than a billion gallons of oil, which could produce enough gasoline to fuel 2 million cars for a year! The United States now imports approximately two-thirds of the petroleum it uses. At $68 per barrel, we are now spending approximately $300 billion per year for imported petroleum; about $200 billion of this is for the transportation sector alone.

From a comment byMr. Moffitt on the Clearing the Air blog --

Secondhand smoke remains the third leading cause of preventable death in the United States, killing as many as 62,000 nonsmokers each year.

Note the phrase "as many as 62,000." Any number less than 62,000 makes that a true statement. If 1 person dies of exposure to second hand smoke -- a person walks into a bar catches a wiff of secondhand smoke and rushes out into the street where he is hit by a bus, for example (Bob has never defined a "death from secondhand smoke") -- Bob's statement is true. The phrase also makes the number 62,000 irrelevant. Change the number of deaths to 100,000 and it doesn't change the validity of the statement.

A professional communicator should recognize the evasiveness value of the phrase "as many as." My only conclusion is that Bob is either a) intentionally misleading people, or b) he didn't recognize the evasiveness of the phrase, andas a professional communicator should revisit the study on which he based his statment and communicate a little more precisely -- especially as he is using these numbers to promote policies with economic impact on others.

I really am curious how Bob arrives at his conclusion. Bob could start by defining a secondhand smoke-caused death, then perhaps explain the function that is used to reach that conclusion and supports the number. Isn’t that the job of a communications professional?

READER RESONSE -- and a "thank you" from Fishsticks

Posted by Craig Westover | 8:23 AM |  

Mr. Westover,

Just wanted to drop you a line to tell you how much I enjoyed your well written (not to mention correct) editorial on the role of government and attitudes of people to charity, in this case government assistance for heating bills. I then went to your website and read some of the comments and thought to myself how refreshing to not see the usual vitriol, just some well thought out arguments.
Agree or disagree, kudos to those that take the time to think before they comment. Thank you.

Because one can't ignore the Vikings story no matter how hard one tries . . . .

Posted by Craig Westover | 6:59 AM |  

My job is to get ready to write my next column, and therefore I have no comment on the Fishsticks excusion with the Stroms down the Mississippi this past summer.

Yes, it was my boat, but I witnessed no inappropriate activity, the incident with the Pierce county Sherrif's department water patrol not withstanding. (“Stern riding” really is a nautical term.) Unitl the situation plays itself out, I will make no further statement.

Worst Viking Commentary

Sid Hartman in today’s Strib --
I've covered the Vikings since their inception. This boat party will go down as the dumbest move any group of players in any sport has made. At this point it is all alleged. There will be a lot of egg on the face of the media if it is not true. That has happened in the past. Some of the Vikings players are denying that anything happened like what has been reported.

Wilf, who has gone way out of his way to treat his players well, seemed very embarrassed and upset about what happened when I talked to him Wednesday. He didn't want to comment further Wednesday, but I got the impression he is going to make sure this type of thing doesn't happen again.

While all the bad news was breaking about the boat ride, Vikings players Mike Rosenthal and Adam Goldberg were at Torah Academy in St. Louis Park, thanking the students for contributing to the Vikings food drive. They did a great job visiting with these young students, answering their questions and giving them a lot of good tips on how important it is to do well in school.

Most of the players who were on the charter boats also contribute so much to this community, so it is sad that this incident and some other things that have happened in the past divert the attention away from the good things Vikings players do.
At some point the Mafia defense (What about all of the people we don't kill) just doesn't fly.

Premature ejaculation of the Stadium Issue

A couple weeks ago Mark Yost and I hosted KSTP's "The Next Big Thing" and spent the two hours talking about the stadium issue. There was no shortage of phone calls despite the fact that the program aired while the Vikings were racking up their only win of the season thus far against the homeless Saints.

There were the expected calls against building a stadium for rich players and owners and the calls favoring state-run gambling to pay for new stadiums. Now unfortunately the Vikings seaman excursion gives lawmakers an out for not moving on stadiums without having to take a stand on the stadium issue per se.

There's a modus operandi among professional legislators -- don't write it down if you can say it; don't say it if you can mumble it; don't mumble it if you can nod to it; don't nod to it if you don't have to be in the room. The Vikings have shown legislators the door and given them a way out of voting against legislation the population is against, but the movers and shakers favor.

The real point ought to be, publicly financed stadiums are not bad because owners and players are rich. How they are publicly funded is not the issue. One shouldn’t decide to publicly fund a stadium because the hometown players are good or bad guys. Even economic analysis showing that publicly funded stadiums do not generate economic growth and development is not an adequate basis for casting a stadium vote.

What don’t we understand about limited government? Publicly financing private business, whether it’s the Twins, the Vikings, the Guthrie Theater, Northwest Airlines, a JOBZ zone beneficiary or an artistic grant to a community playhouse, is not a proper function of government. Period. It’s unfortunate that the Vikings’ cruise becomes an excuse to avoid the fundamental issue.

Are state subsidies to businesses illegal?

Posted by Craig Westover | 6:57 AM |  

Great institutional editorial in today's Pioneer Press.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

COLUMN -- Self-reliance is something to be admired

Posted by Craig Westover | 8:45 AM |  

Note: The genesis of this column is this post, which drew some interesting comments. Peg writing at "What If?" added her thoughts here. The column below owes credit to insights shared by readers.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Policy battles are fought in the halls of government — battles between legislative titans, administration thunderbolts cast against legislative heroes or as a last resort, appeals to the black-robed oracles of the courts. In this Olympian view of the world where the gods of government determine the fate of lesser beings, people do not do for themselves, they are simply done to by whatever government decides is the best policy.

Sometimes, however, acting as individuals, people simply ignore the policy gods. And that makes other people very nervous.

In that context, I found the word selection of a Pioneer Press editorial ( "Here comes winter," Oct. 6) both revealing and disturbing. The editorial predictably lamented that higher energy costs "bode ill for Minnesota's poor and elderly." The editorial did do a public service by pointing out that help is available from the state and federal governments and from local utility companies. What struck me as disturbing, however, was how the editorial described the individual actions of people that are eligible for aid but elect not take it.

"An Xcel Energy spokesman says," wrote the editorialist, "that many members of the World War II generation stubbornly pay their heating and electricity bills first, slashing from food and other critical budgets to do so."

People who just say "no" and defy the beneficence of Olympian government, even if it means depriving themselves of some creature comfort, make big-government folks nervous. The attitude of self-reliance is inconceivable to the big-government mentality. The statist thinks it an unnecessary sacrifice that one would pay one's debt and forgo some other desire when government largess makes such sacrifice unnecessary. The statist cannot understand that for some the sacrifice of self-respect is a greater loss than whatever material tidbit the state might offer for a human soul.

Thus, rather than being praised as admirable, paying one's debts when a government program might help is characterized as "stubborn." "Stubborn" is not a positive word. Synonyms include "unreasonably obstinate" and "intractable." Where is a nation heading when honoring one's debts is considered being "unreasonably obstinate"?

The editorial also declares it "unfortunate" that "too many folks do not avail themselves of the many programs that already exist to help them through a tough winter" — unfortunate as in "regrettable." Why is it regrettable that some would honor their debts even at the expense of their own material loss?

The issue here is not whether there ought to be aid programs to help with utility bills. A moral people does not allow its most vulnerable to freeze in the winter. But in the rush to care for Minnesota's most vulnerable, let's not confuse the ethics of crisis with the normal conditions of human existence.

Government programs ought to be the last resort for those in crisis — those that have exhausted their efforts, their resources and their civil relationships. Government programs should not be touted as ongoing options for maintaining sustenance. Yet the latter is precisely where big government mentality inevitably leads. If a little aid is good, a lot is better. If helping the truly needy is good, then expanding the range of people served is better. If limited government accomplishes good things, imagine what unlimited government could do.

Advocates of big government always point to the most vulnerable as the reason for more expansive and expensive government programs. The fact is, vulnerability is not a normal state nor is it a characteristic we ought to foster. That does not mean we are indifferent to those in need. It does mean we do not elevate vulnerability to veneration while disparaging self-reliance.

We have more to learn from a person who pays his bills at expense of personal comfort than from one who regards such action as "unfortunate" and "stubborn."

When government becomes essential to existence, individuals and community groups both religious and secular lose the capability for compassion and charity; recipients of aid exchange the dignity of gratitude for the petulance of entitlement. Rather than "the greatest generation" stubbornly maintaining the self-respect engendered by self-reliance, we breed a generation that unfortunately wallows in waist-deep floodwaters stubbornly waiting for a bus that never comes.

Category: Column,

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Open for discussion

Posted by Craig Westover | 2:40 PM |  

EdWatch suggests the following questions be posed to school board candidates. The floor is open for discussion; the only caveat is we're not discussing EdWatch but the questions listed below. Are they relevant? Would they produce the kind of public education system this country needs? Should a school board memeber feel like he or she should have to answer these questions?

Have at it.


1. Do you support schools giving primary emphasis to teaching basic skills (e.g. reading, grammar, spelling, traditional arithmetic) rather
than social activism or psychological matters?

2. Do you support the use of intensive, systematic phonics to teach children how to read from kindergarten on and in special ed?

3. Do you support the goal that children should be able to read by the end of the first grade?

4. Do you support teaching abstinence as the norm for unmarried teenagers and as the only truly effective way to prevent sexually-
transmitted diseases?

5. Do you support teaching that the use of illegal drugs and the unlawful use of alcohol are "wrong"?

6. Do you believe the topics of homosexuality and alternative lifestyles should be excluded from the classroom?

7. Do you reject classroom instruction that undermines American sovereignty, limited constitutional government, or private enterprise?

8. Do you reject programs that promote an over-emphasis on vocations in elementary school and that encourage or require students to choose a career path by 8th grade?

9. Do you support academic programs for middle and high performing students to complement the NCLB focus on low-performing students?

10. Do you oppose global curricula that promote world citizenship? (Examples, International Baccalaureate, the GLOBE program, the
Center for Civic Education’s curriculum)

11. Do you support teaching the scientific strengths and weaknesses of scientific principles such as evolution?


1. Do you oppose the collection and maintenance of data on student health, performance, attitudes, behavior, and family, as well as
academics, in computerized databases?

2. Do oppose routine mental health screening for all students?

3. Do you oppose school-based health clinics, which may perform examinations, provide immunizations and medications, and
dispense birth control devices and abortion referrals, without parental consent or knowledge?

4. Do oppose “social and emotional” standards being incorporated into the curricula?

5. Do you oppose accepting outside grants from wealthy special interest foundations and from state and federal government that set the district agenda, such as establishing smaller learning communities (a form of School-to-Work), expanding early childhood education, diversity
training, and global citizenship programs?

6. Do you oppose the targeting of commercials to students in the classroom through Channel One television?

7. Do you support traditional class scheduling, as opposed to block scheduling?


1. Do you oppose school districts collecting student data with non- academic student surveys involving students’ personal behavior, values,
attitudes, beliefs, or those of their family and friends? (Examples, Teen Screen, Minnesota Student Survey, Search Institute, etc.)

2. Do you support requiring parental permission on all non-academic student surveys that the district may be involved in?

3. Do you oppose the creation of a district universal pre-school system?

4. Do you oppose all-day, every-day kindergarten?

5. Do you support the right of parents to home school their children?

6. Do you believe in the fundamental right of parents to direct the upbringing and education of their children?

New York Sun takes a stand on vouchers

Posted by Craig Westover | 11:25 AM |  

From a New York Sun editorial commenting on a recent settlement between the teacher’s union and the city calling for a 15 percent raise over four years plus a teacher’s retroactive bonus.
Such spending of taxpayers' money by the Bloomberg administration is going to have to be funded by New Yorkers who already live in an over-taxed city. It increases pressure for tax increases. Poor and middle-class parents can only be left wondering about the logic of a government monopoly in education and a union monopoly in teaching.

. . . there are deeper issues that the contract fails to solve, like parental choice. In a sense it is possible to see the proposed contract as reducing pressure for at least some consideration of a system of vouchers, the one approach that would afford poor and middle-income families the kinds of choice enjoyed by wealthy parents.

Our own view is that a system of vouchers needn't be beneficial only to parents and their children - it could actually be beneficial to the teachers union as well. While a voucher system would drain some jobs and money from the public school system, it wouldn't remove the funds and jobs from education altogether. It would provide the teachers with a greater number of employers and plenty of opportunities to organize. Private schools would be competing with public schools for the teachers and students. It's hard for us to see how this equates automatically as a bad thing for teachers . . . .
I would agree. Increasing the number and diversity of educational opportunities for students also increases the number and opportunities for good teachers. The operative word is good.

Private schools are not going to be competing for poor teachers and perhaps not even mediocre teachers. A competitive market place for teachers is the ultimate pay for performance plan. A teacher’s effectiveness is measured by the desire of parents to send their children to a particular school. There is no room for Q-Comp-like five-year plans and multiple-year minimal objectives where there is no penalty for non-performance and little required to receive a bonus.

And that’s the real strength of teacher’s unions -- providing a gravy train for the mediocre at the expense of good teachers and eager students.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

If liberals understood grammar . . .

Posted by Craig Westover | 8:44 AM |  

Excuse me if I follow the conservative line that words, whether they appear in the U.S. Constitution or an institutional editorial in today’s Pioneer Press, actually mean something. Today’s lesson is adverbs -- a part of speech that modifies or describes a verb, or for those that endured a less-than-excellent middle school education, an action word. Perhaps an example will help. Take this sentence from today’s Pioneer Press --

An Xcel Energy spokesman says that many members of the World War II generation stubbornly pay their heating and electricity bills first, slashing from food and other critical budgets to do so.
The adverb in that sentence is “stubbornly,” which modifies the verb “pay.” In other words, older people that grew up in an era when paying one’s debit was still honorable don’t just “pay” their heating and electrical bills; they “stubbornly” pay them.

Such dedication isn’t necessary.

The editorial, “Here comes winter,” laments that “unfortunately, too many folks do not avail themselves of the many programs that already exist to help them through a tough winter.” No, instead, these people “stubbornly” pay their bills. If they weren’t so “stubborn,” and looked for ways around their obligations, they would be so much better off. That is "unfortunate."

Thank God that all people are not so "stubborn" that they insist on paying their own way or many of these government programs wouldn’t exist. Many of the government workers that staff those programs wouldn’t have jobs. It would be so much more difficult to recruit people to participate in these programs, more difficult to inculcate the idea of a beneficent big government -- if all people were as "stubborn" as the "greatest generation."

People might even break the chains of government domestication and look to help themselves and each other rather than standing waist deep in flood waters waiting for a bus.

Liberals, however, will subbornly refuse to let that happen.