Sunday, April 30, 2006

Who's really looking out for the working class?

Posted by Craig Westover | 12:01 PM |  

Insightful letter in Sunday’s Pioneer Press --

A subtle form of eminent domain?

The April 24 article about the "land rush" on University Avenue is a major concern for many of the landowners along the University corridor who will "benefit" from the future light rail between the two cities ("In grip of a land rush").

The problem is, as a lessor, we are forced to raise the rent to our tenants in order to pay the exorbitant rise in taxes. Our tenants struggle now to meet the lease payment and still stay in business.

We have seen an increase in value of 300 percent over two years. Yet we have not benefited from this great "land rush" nor have our tenants. The city is using the "land rush" as a subtle "eminent domain" to force the small businesses off the corridor to make way for the large corporations. Why should the city and county reap the fruits of "increased land values" many, many years before we as landowners ever realize a profit? Meanwhile, our tenants are forced out of business because of the huge jump in real estate taxes.


Business page columnist Ed Lotterman, in a longer piece that notes that government actions like light rail increase as well as decrease private property values, nonetheless supports the letter writer’s point.
This [increased property values] isn't necessarily good news for businesses along University. Many rent their properties and face being pushed out by buyers with deeper pockets. As British economist David Ricardo observed 200 years ago, increases in the profitability of a business accrue to the owners of the most limited resource -– usually owners of land — and not necessarily to those running the store.
Once again we are confronted with the irony that it is liberals that continue to push light rail projects using the power of government and the government subsidies to displace the poor, the working poor and local landlords in favor of “evil” corporations and aging yuppies that want to return to the cities they abandon in the panic of white flight during the 70s and 80s.

Meanwhile conservatives, who quite frankly don’t really give much of rip about the poor, the working poor or local landlords but do care more about principles like limited government and individual freedom than they do about a particular constituency, oppose government-imposed economic development at the expense of corporations and to the benefit of the constituents liberals are quick to abandon.

To light rail supporters -- Push light rail if you must, but don’t pretend it’s a project intended to improve transportation options for the working class poor. It’s simply another upper middle class subsidy gained at the expense of the so-called wealthy taxpayers that have to foot the bill and the working poor that are forced to relocate to more affordable less desirable places to work and live.

Friday, April 28, 2006

GUEST POST -- Less Than Three Weeks To Take Advantage Of Part D Savings

Posted by Craig Westover | 8:34 PM |  

By Richard Dolinar, M.D.

If you're a Minnesota senior and you've successfully filed your taxes
by last week's deadline, take a breather. But don't rest for too long
if you're one of the many who hasn't yet enrolled in the new drug
benefit under Medicare, because you now have only one month left to do so.

While over 30 million seniors have already enrolled, many still haven't
taken advantage of reducing their monthly prescription drug costs under
this new benefit. Those who miss the May 15th deadline will have to
wait until November before the next enrollment begins. And then their
premiums will be 6 percent higher. In Minnesota, the average senior can
reduce his drug premium anywhere from 35% to 61%.

Medicare Part D is different from traditional government programs, like
Medicare Part B or the Veterans Affairs drug benefit. That's because
unlike those other programs, Part D takes advantage of competition
between private companies. These companies compete for the business of
seniors - and the result is more drug-plan choices for lower prices.

In fact, Medicare Part D is actually administered by private companies,
not the federal government. As these companies jockey against each
other like Coke and Pepsi to provide you with the best plans Medicare Part
D has achieved quality and savings no one thought possible. That's the
power of competition in a free market.

In Minnesota, there are a full 41 plans currently available, with
premiums starting as low as $ 1.89. This is far cheaper than anyone

Unfortunately, many policymakers in Washington DC can't stand the idea
of giving up any control over their taxpayer cookie jar. So they want
to put the federal government in charge of drug pricing - which would
effectively put an end to the private-sector competition and instead
create a new system where the federal government dictates drug prices.

They should reconsider. I've witnessed first hand the harsh impact
price controls have had on doctors and hospitals. Let me give you just one

Hospitals have been under price controls for many years. Because of
this, the monies available to pay nurses has been limited. The result? A
severe nursing shortage across the entire United States. The
consequences of this shortage are difficult to overstate. After all, it's the
nurses who actually treat patients. Without enough nurses, hospital care
suffers across the board.

Modeling the new Medicare drug benefit on the VA system - or any other
price-control model - would invariably result in a similar shortage of

Those who advocate price-controls also don't seem to understand how the
free market works. Market competition protects consumers far better
than government - with its $400 hammers and $600 toilet seats - ever

Decreasing prices by federal law doesn't make costs go away. It simply
decreases availability and results in shortages. These shortages are
manifested many ways in healthcare. They include delay in getting care,
prolonged suffering and in some cases even death.

For example, in Canada, approval of AIDS drugs take twice as long as in
the United States. Why? Because in Canada's price-controlled system,
the government cuts costs by not approving cutting-edge drugs. Who
suffers? The patient, that's who. Who dies? The patient...but unfortunately
not the legislation, which contributed to his early demise.

My colleagues and I often meet patients who have come from Canada
because they cannot access the drugs or medical services they need to treat
their conditions. That's the reality of price controls.

If such price controls are enacted, Medicare Part D would metastasize
into a cancer that would lead directly to drug rationing, stifled
research and stalled innovation. We would all suffer.

So instead of clamoring for more government control over the drug
benefit, policymakers should give the free market a chance to work. Then
they could devote their energies to encouraging seniors - like the 701,122
who are eligible in Minnesota - to sign up for the Part D plan.

With only [20 DAYS] left to enroll, the clock is ticking.

Richard Dolinar, M.D. is a practicing endocrinologist in Phoenix and is
a senior fellow at The Heartland Institute (

When will they ever learn . . . .

Posted by Craig Westover | 8:24 PM |  

I just have to scratch my head and wonder when I read something like this from a Ford Bell press release --
“Ford Bell has impressed me with his clear and welcome proposal to expand Medicare to cover all Americans,” said [former St. Paul mayor Jim] Scheibel. Scheibel continued, “As someone who has managed budgets for a city, national agency and for non-profits, I understand what a positive financial impact single-payer universal health care would have on the bottom line.”
Well, duh? I understand what a positive financial impact it would have if my next door neighbor made my car payment, but that doesn’t mean I have the right to make him pay. A little reminder of what a single-payer system really means.
My name is Floyd Bedbury and I have been an athlete all my life. Two Olympic teams in speedskating.

I needed a hip replacement two years ago and when they found the problem I had the surgery in one week. I have a friend in Calgary who needed the same surgery and it took him 3 years and by the time he had the surgery the rest of his body was so worn down it is sad to see what happened to him.

I jammed a toe a few years ago in Canada and had an x-ray and it took 3 days to get it read. I love Canada but man we sure do NOT want any of this socialized medicine in this country.

My friend in Canada is still suffering because he was so weak it made it hard for a good recovery. I am 67 and he is 72 years old.

Poor taste, yes, but it's satire, folks

Posted by Craig Westover | 1:53 PM |  

City Pages editor Steve Perry apologized for naming Crystal Meth as “Best Cheap Thrill” in the alternative paper’s “Best of” Round-up. He also noted--

"Though it may come as a shock to talk radio tubthumpers and even a few of our readers, every Best of the Twin Cities issue we've ever done has contained items that were mainly satiric in intent.
The latter makes me feel better. I don’t feel so bad about this.

And congrats to Nihilist in Golf Pants and Minvolved for being named the Twin Cities best righty and lefty blogs.

Who would be John Galt?

Posted by Craig Westover | 11:29 AM |  

A tip of the sou’wester to Kennedy vs. The Machine
Lionsgate has picked up worldwide distribution rights to "Atlas Shrugged" from Howard and Karen Baldwin ("Ray"), who will produce with John Aglialoro.

As for stars, book provides an ideal role for an actress in lead character Dagny Taggart, so it's not a stretch to assume Rand enthusiast Angelina JolieAngelina Jolie's name has been brought up. Brad PittBrad Pitt, also a fan, is rumored to be among the names suggested for lead male character John Galt.
Okay, who is John Galt? And for that Matter Dagny Taggart,the only woman in the world metaphysically worth sleeping with?


New Scientist -- Subliminal advertising may work after all

Posted by Craig Westover | 9:19 AM |  

New Scientist reports --
Subliminal advertising may work after all

IT WAS a stunt that launched a thousand conspiracy theories. Market researcher James Vicary claimed in 1957 that he could get movie-goers to "drink Coca-Cola" and "eat popcorn" by flashing those messages on the screen for such a short time that viewers were unaware of it. People were outraged, and the practice was banned in the UK, Australia and the US.

Vicary later admitted that his study was fabricated, and scientists through the years who have tried to replicate it have largely failed. But now researchers have shown that if the conditions are right, subliminal advertising to promote a brand can be made to work. (Read the Pioneer Press)

Johan Karremans at the University of Nijmegen in the Netherlands and his colleagues wanted to see if they could subliminally induce volunteers (Read the Pioneer Press) to favour a particular brand of drink, Lipton Ice. For comparison, they chose a brand of mineral water called Spa Rood, as it was deemed to be as well known as Lipton Ice and equally thirst-quenching.

The researchers asked 61 volunteers to perform a nonsense task - counting how many times a string of capital Bs was infiltrated by a lower-case b as they flashed up on a screen. (Read the Pioneer Press) The B strings appeared for 300 milliseconds each, and before them, a string of Xs always appeared, flanking a 23-millisecond subliminal message. For the experimental group, the message was "Lipton Ice". Controls saw "Nipeic Tol".

When the volunteers had completed this task, (Read the Pioneer Press) they were asked to choose between Lipton Ice and Spa Rood by clicking one of two keys - though they were told this was part of a separate study. They were also asked how likely they would be to order either of these drinks if they were sitting on a terrace, (Read the Pioneer Press) and to rate how thirsty they were. Volunteers who rated themselves as thirsty were more likely to choose Lipton Ice, but only if they had received the subliminal message.

In a second study the researchers made half of their 105 volunteers thirsty by giving them a very salty candy before the task. (Read the Pioneer Press) As predicted, among the thirsty, subliminal messaging had an impact. Eighty per cent of thirsty volunteers who had been exposed to the Lipton Ice message chose that product, compared to only 20 per cent of the controls.

The thirstier volunteers rated themselves to be, the more likely they were to choose Lipton Ice. Those who were not thirsty were only slightly more likely to pick the iced tea (Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2005.12.2005).

"Priming only works when the prime is goal-relevant," says Karremans. The researchers are now planning to study just how long-lasting these effects are. (Read the Pioneer Press)

Meanwhile, advertisers have found alternative means of pushing their products. Earlier this month, the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine published a report showing that for each additional hour per day that a child watched television an average of one additional request (Read the Pioneer Press)
was made for an advertised product. The effect of the commercials on children lasted up to 20 weeks.
Personally, I think subliminal messaging is highly unethical. I would never stoop to that level. (Read the Pioneer Press)

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Playing political football with gas prices

Posted by Craig Westover | 4:18 PM |  

This today from the Kennedy camp on Amy Klobuchar's proposal to raise gas taxes.

Amy Klobuchar’s Solution to Gas Prices is. . .
A Gas Tax

(St. Paul, Minnesota) – Senate candidate Amy Klobuchar has followed the advice of Chuck Schumer, head of the Democrat Senatorial Campaign Committee, by staging political events at gas stations to blame Republicans for the high prices at the pump. However, Amy Klobuchar’s own words speak much more clearly than her scripted, Washington, DC stunts.

Amy Klobuchar has offered no solutions to help with costs at the pump. She has not commented on Mark Kennedy’s plan to temporarily suspend the national gas tax, in fact in a recent interview she wouldn’t even rule out raising the gas tax!

During an interview on MPR, Klobuchar was asked, “So you’re not going to say a yes or no on a gas tax right now?” Klobuchar replied, “No.” (MPR Interview, February, 23, 2006)

“With record prices at the pump, Minnesotans should not be facing a potential gas tax increase,” said Heidi Frederickson, Press Secretary for Mark Kennedy 06. “In fact, with the summer driving months approaching we need to reduce the burden on Minnesota drivers and temporarily suspend the national gas tax. Mark Kennedy has a plan to lower gas prices. Amy Klobuchar offers only Washington political stunts and refuses to rule out a gas tax increase.”

Yes, Amy Koluchar’s solution of raising the gas tax is pretty darn dumb. Unfortunately, so is Mark Kennedy’s idea of temporarily suspending the gas tax. Popular, yes. Short term it would help the Fishsticks family budget, but it’s every bit as economically foolish as Klobuchar’s plan

Let’s analyze what a temporary suspension of the gas tax would do.

First, unlike income tax cuts or capitals gains tax cuts, which are taxes on productivity, the gas tax is, in theory, a necessary tax tied to specific product consumption associated with transportation. So suspending the tax does deplete government revenue, which has to made up somehow. Unlike reducing a tax on productivity, which puts more money into the economy, reducing a consumption tax on a necessary commodity like gasoline means we are likely to drive more, rather than consume less and save the difference. For 30-days, we are not going to change driving habits that haven't changed in year of incresing prices. Suspending the gas tax (lowering the commodity price) will increase demand at a time when too much demand is the problem causing high prices in the first place.

Now lets look on the price and supply sides. The price of gas suddenly drops 18 cents a gallon. Demand goes up and, duh, so do prices. Perhaps not 18 cents a gallon, but they will rise. If they don’t, stations are going to start running out of gas because the supply pipeline is stocked for the higher price/lower demand level. It’s ironic that someone on the bandwagon of investigating oil company profits is making a proposal that will effectively increase oil company profits.

But won’t the oil companies increase supply to meet the new, higher demand? No, because the demand is temporary.” In 30-days the price goes back up 18 cents a gallon and the demand will soften. So why would an oil company ramp up supply when they can maximize profit at a higher price on lower volume, knowing that the high demand situation is only temporary? Given that the price of gas must go up in the interim to meet the higher level of demand caused by suspending the gas tax (or else we’re going to see spot shortages), the price after the tax is reinstated is likely going to be higher than it was before the gas tax was suspended.

Oh those evil oil companies!

Now if Kennedy wants to talk about permanently eliminating the federal gas tax, which since the feds turned over the interstate highway system to the states, it doesn’t spend on transportation anyway, now that’s a different story. That introduces a permanent change in the price at the pump that both consumers and oil companies can plan around. That makes some sense.

Frankly, watching Kennedy and Klobuchar trying to handle the gas price political football is more fun than watching a couple of monkeys try to mate with a football -- until you realize who is really being kicked around.

Update: Name that candidate (bonus points for identifying the party) --
"XXXXX has already voted to make gas price gouging a federal offense and has been a national leader advocating tax incentives for the producers of hydrogen, hybrid and ethanol technologies."
Update: King Banaian adds his usual insight. King is right -- where I refer to "demand" above, it is correct to say "quantity-demanded." A temporary change in price doesn't change the demand "at any price," but only the "the quntity demanded" given the reduced price. It's econ-talk, but King is correct. It doesn't change the analysis. King adds a lot more.

Windfall -- profits and stupidity

Posted by Craig Westover | 9:49 AM |  

The Pioneer Press does a pro/con -- sort of -- on the price of gasoline on today’s Opinion Page. There’s not much to say about it except that the juxtaposition of the two articles provides a pretty good picture of the difference between a fact-based discussion of energy issue and well, the left.

Jerry Taylor and Peter Van Doren of the Cato Institute layout a fact-based, economics-based analysis of gas prices, oil company profits and why a windfall profits tax is a bad idea. Even if one disagrees with their analysis, there’s some “there” there to argue about. Taylor and Van Doren present an argument.

In the blue corner is the New York Times Maureen Dowd (article is not up on the PiPress website). Attractively attired in a tin-foil hat, Dowd’s piece makes the incisive argument Bush and Chaney are stupid, Bush and Chaney are greedy, Bush and Chaney are oil men, Bush and Chaney are corrupt.

I admit, I’m tempted to let her have “Bush and Chaney are stupid” -- for giving any credence to arguments about windfall profits and market manipulation. But as for the rest of her piece, there’s not a cogent thought in it. The left will love it.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

MediaNews Group buys Pioneer Press

Posted by Craig Westover | 5:40 PM |  

MediaNews Group Inc., publisher of the Denver Post, and Hearst Corp. agreed to buy four newspapers, including the Pioneer Press, from McClatchy Co. for $1 billion.

MediaNews, based in Denver, will get the San Jose Mercury News and the Contra Costa Times, McClatchy said today in a statement distributed by PR Newswire. Hearst, based in New York, will buy the Pioneer Press and the Monterey Herald in California, and trade them to MediaNews for assets outside of the Bay Area of California. William Dean Singleton, the CEO of MediaNews, owns papers that include the Detroit News and the Denver Post. He has a mixed record with big-city newspapers.
In years past he has shut down newspapers in Texas including the Houston Post, and he took the Long Beach Press-Telegram through deep cost cutting after he acquired that paper in the late 1990s. In his more recent big-city acquisitions in Denver and Detroit, he has honored union contracts and kept the operations mostly intact.
No mention of the new owner's opinion on "hobby columnists."

PRESS RELEASE -- Taxpayers League of Minnesota on Twins Stadium Bill

Posted by Craig Westover | 5:17 PM |  

The Spending Binge Continues
Two Stadiums Down, One to Go

ST. PAUL—Today’s votes on the Twins Stadium are further proof that the Minnesota Legislature is on a spending binge that shows no sign of slowing down.

In a 64-66 vote the Minnesota House defeated an amendment that would have required a referendum before a sales tax increase to fund a new Twins Stadium would be imposed on the residents of Hennepin County. This vote makes passage of a bill building a new Twins Stadium with taxpayer funding substantially more likely than at any time in recent memory.

If the Hennepin County plan gets approved, taxpayer subsidies to fund the new development would total $696 million in principal and interest. The already approved (by the House) Gophers stadium will cost taxpayers another $235 million. If the Vikings stadium is passed as well, taxpayers would be on the hook for another $960 million in capital and interest. The total for all 3 stadiums would stick taxpayers with a whopping $1.9 billion in new debt obligations. Of that, the state would be on the hook for about $630 million, Anoka County $560 million, and Hennepin County $695 million.

“Taxpayers are getting reamed this session. The House has already passed a billion-dollar bonding bill, is on track to passing two or three stadiums, and is likely to accept nearly a billion dollars in additional liability for the Minneapolis teachers’ pensions. Unless something stops this spending spree, this legislature could be piling on $3 billion or more in public debt in one session alone,” said David Strom, President of the Taxpayers League.

“This is an almost unprecedented spending binge in one session, and there is no relief in sight for taxpayers. Last year seemed to be the do-nothing session, complete with a government shutdown; this session could be the do-anything session, piling up government debt at an almost unprecedented rate,” Strom said.

Republicans in Washington DC are getting criticized by conservatives across the country for having lost all restraint in spending, and President Bush is taking heat for never having vetoed a bill. The most recent declines in Bush’s approval ratings are being driven especially by dissatisfaction among Republicans with his performance, and approval ratings of Congress are far lower than the Republican “base” vote.

“What is happening in St Paul is duplicating exactly what has made people unhappy with the current leadership in D.C. It would not surprise me at all is the political trend that is hurting Republicans nationally is reinforced by what is happening at the State Legislature this session. I would not be surprised to see that the current spending binge we are seeing in Washington and St Paul is followed by a political purge that comes this November,” said Strom.

“Adding on billions of dollars of new debt for taxpayers is going to do nothing to inspire confidence in the fiscal prudence of our political leaders,” Strom concluded.

The Taxpayers League of Minnesota is the state’s largest taxpayers advocacy organization and David Strom is the group's president.

Thanksgiving with the Colemans: Way too much w(h)ine

Posted by Craig Westover | 10:18 AM |  

If I do land the poet laureate job in St. Paul and must have Thanksgiving dinner with the extended family Coleman, I hope the Twins stadium issue doesn’t come up. Even when I agree on outcomes with Nick and Laura, it’s tough to digest their logic.

In yesterday’s Pioneer Press, Laura split hairs on the stadium issue by making the distinction between the for-profit (i.e. evil) Twins and the non-profit (i.e. saintly) Guthrie Theater. It’s okay to fund the Guthrie, but not a ballpark for a billionaire. In today’s Strib, Nick claims not letting Hennepin County residents vote on the sales tax, as required by law, is a victory for wealth over democracy.

“[T]he parliament in the former Soviet Socialist Republic of Kazakhstan is a model of democracy compared to our Legislature,” he writes as is his overwrought way.

More turkey, please.

When it comes to ladling on the gravy, Laura, it doesn’t make any difference whether the legislature pours it over a billionaire baseball owner or a nice-to-have regional theater (more often than not, by the way, attended by the those that can afford Twins season tickets than we bleacher bums). If I grab your piece of pumpkin pie, it doesn’t matter whether I give it to the little match girl with her nose pressed against the Coleman’s window or hand it over your well-heeled hubby -- you’re still out a piece of pie.

And, Nick, not giving Hennepin county the right to vote is what democracy is all about -- the majority imposing their will on the minority. Kind of like smoking bans. Kind of like light rail. Kind of like ethanol mandates. I agree, we have a law that requires a vote and Hennepin County should get to vote. But that’s not the major issue.

In republican form of government, legislators are free to act, but only within a rule of law. Our Legislature has no neutral criteria for when it is or is not appropriate to exempt a project from the referendum law. Without such criteria, the law is meaningless. In the same vein, without criteria for a public good any government expenditure -- beautiful ballparks or shinny trains -- is just a matter of opinion combined with clout.

Don’t bitch about the ballpark, Nick and Laura, if you aren’t prepared to bitch about something like light rail -- Why are the folks in Koochiching County required to ante up to transport people to a stadium they aren’t required to pay for?

No thank you. I’ve had enough w(h)ine.

COLUMN -- Poet laureate, maybe not, but poet pundit gives it a shot

Posted by Craig Westover | 7:48 AM |  

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

He's got a good job. Barton Eastman Sutter of Duluth was named the first official poet laureate to serve a Minnesota city. I didn't read how long Sutter gets to hold that title, but across the pond a poet laureate is appointed for life by the king or queen. He becomes a member of the royal household and is expected to write poems celebrating occasions of national importance and honoring the royal family.

My guess is "poet laureate" would carry a little more prestige on the resume than, say, "hobby columnist." Not that I'm not happy with the hobby columnist tag. Nor would I be especially anxious to move in with the Mayor Colemans and share Thanksgiving dinner with an extended family that includes the columnist across the river who gave me that title. Nonetheless, if his brother Chris feels slighted about not having a poet laureate in the capital city, I offer my services.

I could wax poetic on the Twins stadium issue with "Rep. Finstad at the Bat."

The outlook wasn't brilliant for the valiant stadium foes,
Lawmakers appeared ready to tie the ballpark up with bows.
It passed the tax committee, then flew through Ways and Means.
Boosters cheered and waved Twins caps; opponents vent their spleens.

A wearied few who know the score sighed in deep despair.
Few clung to the distant hope that someone might play fair
And let the Hennepin County folks vote upon the tax
That put the burden of the ballpark squarely on their backs.

The Pioneer Press threw in the towel, so did the Star Tribune,
They opined oh so eloquently, "Let's build it. Build it soon."
"It's but 3 cents on $20. That's a paltry sum to pay
"To have outdoor baseball — and make the problem go away."

Brad Finstad pitched for the stadium shills; he said, "We must decide.
"For another decade, we just can't let this ride."
"We must have firm closure (but it must turn out just so),
"And there is nothing final about an answer that is 'no.'"

In Moorhead and Mankato, the sun is shining bright.
In Comfrey where Brad Finstad hails, indeed the hearts are light.
And Twins fans all across the state are all prepared to shout …

But there is no joy in Hennepin —
The referendum has struck out.

Ok, it needs a little work. Maybe pithy is better. A poet laureate is master of many poetic forms. A limerick best befits celebration of the Dave Thune-inspired St. Paul smoking ban.

Councilman Dave was a bit of a twit,
Lacking both willpower and wit.
So he told you and me
That no smoking there'd be
Because that would help him to quit.

Well, maybe that doesn't exactly capture the celebratory requirement of a poet laureate. But I can work on that. I can also do solemn — a haiku to celebrate both the natural magnificence and power of the Mississippi River and the incisive logic of Mayor Chris Coleman's levee decision.

The river runs high,
The airport lies in water —
Your dike was ugly.

Too heavy, huh? If it's light and fanciful that's needed, there's always the Dr. Seuss touch:

In our Minnesota, where men mean what they say,
And women are women and like it that way,
A marriage accord is what we must reach.
A man and a woman, it takes one of each.

If Bill marries Stew, then what will we do?
Next we'll have a polygamous hullabaloo.
Mary-Kate marries Ashley — just imagine that.
Then your kid might marry the Cat in the Hat.

Yertle the Turtle might be next of kin
Unless he and your daughter are living in sin.
And let's not think of the family zoo
If YOUR son were engaged to Thing One and Thing Two.

If gay people marry, the world surely must end.
Gender, surely, is nothing to bend.

Yes, it is a gift, thank you. Mayor Coleman, I await your call. In the meantime, I'll hang on to the day job.

Monday, April 24, 2006

COLUMN -- Tax panel deliberations can be a bit hard to stomach

Posted by Craig Westover | 9:00 AM |  

Monday, 24 April, 2006

Listening to a committee discussion on tax legislation can leave you wondering whether lawmakers know what they are doing.

As the saying goes, if one ever watched sausage being made, one might never eat it again. Extending the metaphor, if one regularly watches legislation being ground out, one might not so easily swallow political rhetoric.

Case in point is the Senate Tax Committee deliberations on Senate File 3550 on March 31. The simple intention of this bill, according to tax committee chair Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, is fixing the alternative minimum tax and the so-called marriage penalty.

The subsequent debate was political sausage making at its most gruesome. You might think that if anyone, members of the tax committee would understand the tax code. You’d be wrong.

To carry out the intention, Pogemiller noted, you “need to generate revenue internally.” In other words, fixing a taxpayer problem is okay, as long as it doesn’t cost the state any money. When some individuals are being over-taxed, the obvious real problem is others must be under-taxed.

To make SF3550 palatable for the Legislature‘s spending appetite, the legislation proposes a new tax bracket of 8.15 percent for married couples earning over $270,000, up from 7.85 percent. Of course, that’s not a “tax increase” because the state isn’t gaining any new money -- the bill is “revenue neutral.” Trimming fat from the state budget to fix the tax code clearly isn’t an option.

Before the committee voted on SF3550, Sen. Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen, introduced an amendment considering the plight of taxpayers who are thrust into the new higher bracket because of one exceptionally good year. Her amendment would tax those people at the old 7.85 percent rate.

Pogemiller responded to Ortman’s amendment, “Isn’t that how income averaging works, already? Doesn’t that take care of the issue?”

“Mr. Chairman, I don't believe we have income averaging under the Minnesota income tax,” replied Ortman.

There is a long pause while that sunk in. Pogemiller still doesn’t get it, but he had an answer -- accountants.

“Lot of people have incomes that go [up and down],“ he noted. “Isn't that why they have accountants and things?. They figure that all out?”

Sen. Rod Skov, DFL-Clearbrook then wondered if selling a business or a farm wouldn't be taxed as capital gains?

“If my memory serves me correctly, I don't think Minnesota has a capital gains treatment either. We got rid of that a long time ago,” Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, reminded the committee. Ah, but Pogemiller had the answer again.

“Keep in mind that we work off of federal taxable income. I think [capital gains] gets factored back in there in some fashion, doesn’t it?” Pogemiller said.

The experts from the Minnesota Department of Revenue were then consulted. Turns out that because capital gain is compensated for in the federal rate structure and not in the definition of “federal taxable income,” Minnesota taxes capital gains essentially the same as earned income. Oops, better not go there.

Sen. Dave Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, suggests that if Ortman wanted to make an impact, her amendment would focus on those in lower brackets moving up rather than saying “if you’re a multimillionaire you get a tax break when you move up to the next bracket.”

When it’s pointed out that someone making $270,000 is not exactly a multimillionaire, Tomassoni’s reply is “Well, I don’t feel sorry for someone making $270,000. I don’t know they deserve a tax break.”

Obviously what they do deserve is the obligation to fix a tax code that this committee clearly doesn’t understand. The bill eventually passes the committee, with Ortman’s amendment. It awaits a full Senate vote.

Is the tax code now fixed?

What about the income averaging question? What about Minnesota’s treatment of capital gains? What about a break for people in lower brackets for whom a “good year” pushes them up a bracket, but not into the top bracket? What about the complexity that requires average folks to pay, in addition to taxes, accountants to prepare their returns in order to follow a code the legislators writing it don’t understand? Guess we shouldn’t get carried away on this reform stuff -- just eat a hot dog and swallow the rhetoric.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Klobuchar and Kennedy on energy policy -- A distinction without a difference?

Posted by Craig Westover | 3:43 PM |  

From the Kennedy campaign --

Liberal Democrats Offer No Solutions to High Gas Prices
Amy Klobuchar following D.C. Democrat Talking Points Without Solutions

(St. Paul, Minnesota) – An article in the Pioneer Press today highlighted what Democrats hope to run on this fall – high gas prices. But liberal Democrats in the Senate have done more to cause high energy prices than to relieve them. Democrats have little room to talk about providing relief at the pump after blocking an Energy bill from 2001-2005.

“Amy Klobuchar doesn’t give the voters of Minnesota much credit if she hopes to blame high gas prices on Mark Kennedy,” said Heidi Frederickson, press secretary for Mark Kennedy 06. “She conveniently forgets to mention it was her party that blocked an Energy Bill in 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2004.

“Mark Kennedy has consistently supported common sense solutions that will reduce our dependence on foreign oil and bring down prices at the pump,” Frederickson continued. Mark has voted to increase the use of Ethanol and other renewables, build new refineries, make gas gouging a federal offense, and co-sponsored legislation to temporarily suspend the federal gas tax.”

Klobuchar has also repeatedly attacked Mark Kennedy for voting for passage of the Energy Bill last August. While not a perfect bill, Kennedy has teamed together with Democrat Mark Udall of Colorado to correct one flaw – giving tax incentives to oil companies.

The Clean Alternatives for Energy Independence Act would redirect the $2.5 billion tax incentives for the oil companies and instead use that money to double incentives for alternative fuel sources like hydrogen, hybrid, and E85.

“Instead of blocking the bill or grandstanding because he didn’t like a portion of it, Mark decided to get to work and make it better,” added Frederickson. “By blocking the energy bill for five years, six if Amy Klobuchar had her way, Senate Democrats dealt us a serious setback in reducing gas and energy prices. We don’t need more obstruction and partisanship in Washington. Minnesotans wants common sense solutions.”
# # #

From a Klobuchar campaign email --

Are you getting squeezed?

While Congress is on vacation, people are bearing the brunt of the flawed Republican energy policy at the pump. If this month is any indication, we may be looking at gas prices of well over $3/gallon by the 4th of July.

ExxonMobil has contributed $13,000 dollars to Mark Kennedy's congressional campaigns and got just what they paid for: an energy policy that rewards companies with historic profits and leaves America's families paying for our dependency on foreign oil.

We need an energy policy which rewards innovation and drives the U.S. to be a leader in the next generation of fuels. Our national dependency on foreign oil threatens both our competitiveness and our national security. Our goal should be complete energy independence. That's why I am asking you to join me in calling on Congress to establish a 20 percent ethanol content standard for gasoline. By launching this advocacy campaign today, we are taking the first step to setting the U.S. on the road to energy independence.

Please contact your members of Congress and tell them to set America free with a 20% ethanol content standard.

As Minnesotans emerge from a winter of high heating costs, we are now faced with gas prices skyrocketing 22 cents over the last month. And with the start of the summer driving season just around the corner, it is critical for our country to gain energy independence.

Consumers shouldn't be paying $3 a gallon while the CEO of ExxonMobil was compensated over a $100 million dollars in 2005. Leaders in Washington are only just beginning to hear our call. We need to keep the pressure on them. Tell Washington that we deserve energy independence. Tell them we won't let the oil companies squeeze us at the pump so they can line the pockets of their executives and the campaigns of Washington insiders like Mark Kennedy.

You can help right now by contacting Congress. Tell Congress to set America free with a 20% ethanol content standard.

Join our effort to set America free from our dangerous dependency on foreign oil. Tell your friends and family to do the same.

It's time for Mark Kennedy and the Republicans in charge of Congress to hear from us loud and clear.


Both don't like subsidies for oil companies, it's just not a show stopper for Kennedy. He doesn't like gouging, which some just might consider a way to prevent shortages. Why let oil companies earn their profits when you can subsidize them?

Both favor energy independence; neither has any idea what that would really cost or the draconian measures needed to achieve it. Klobuchar's "complete energy independence" is just a more rhetorically idiotic position.

Both like ethanol, but neither says anything about whether that ethanol is the expensive, environmentally dirty ethanol produced from Minnesota corn or the inexpensive, clean-burning ethanol produced from imported sugar cane. My guess, given their stances on energy independence and that Brazilians don't vote in Minesota, we're going with the dirty, homecrown corn. (What happens in a bad crop year when a farmer is faced with a feed or fuel choice?)

I don't expect much from Klobuchar and the DFL on this issue. Kennedy's positions are disappointing.

READER RESPONSE -- More on the concept of a "public good"

Posted by Craig Westover | 3:07 PM |  

In addition to a some personal attack flak on the latest column, there’s been some intelligent dissent, which this letter pretty much captures. My response is below.


I read your column today and it occasioned a few thoughts. First, it’s so refreshing to read a thoughtful writer on public affairs. So much of what appears today is polemic, opinions masquerading as argument, devoid of facts or evidence or even sound logic. But for so many writers today, if they oppose something (that seems to be what motivates most) they seem to believe they don’t need to make a case for their position, they just need to slam the target of their wrath. [Link added, and here]

Having said that, I think your piece is missing a critical part of the equation: under our system of government, decisions about what is a public good are supposed to be made by people elected by the citizens. The “they” you are criticizing in your piece are “our elected representatives”. If we don’t like how they vote, we can vote against them in the next election. I’m afraid you’ve fallen into the trap of calling a decision you don’t like improper, when in fact, it’s just a decision by our elected officials that you don’t like.

Don’t get me wrong, I wrote for years critically of governments’ use of eminent domain and especially tax increment financing to finance private development. Cleary it has become too common. Privately owned ski lifts and ballparks fit under this category. I’d like to see more elected officials punished for it by the voters.

As for Charles Murray, I take issue with his last two points as a checklist for determining “public interest”

2. Does it ask people to pay for a government service they don't want?

3. Does it significantly benefit some people more than others?

There will always be people who don’t want to pay for some public benefit. My family uses the public parks, so we support, and benefit from spending on them more than someone who doesn’t. I think number 2 also ignores how our representative form of government is supposed to work. We are a republic, not a democracy, for a very good reason, and it’s worked pretty well most of our history. I’m not sure we would have highways or airports if Murray’s criteria had been used to determine whether to build them.

Anyway, just a few thoughts from a reader.

Thanks for the complement and taking the time to write. “Public good” is worth a lot more than just a 700-word column, but this is the kind of discussion I hoped it might generate. So let’s start with your paragraph --
“Having said that, I think your piece is missing a critical part of the equation: under our system of government, decisions about what is a public good are supposed to be made by people elected by the citizens. The “they” you are criticizing in your piece are “our elected representatives”. If we don’t like how they vote, we can vote against them in the next election. I’m afraid you’ve fallen into the trap of calling a decision you don’t like improper, when in fact, it’s just a decision by our elected officials that you don’t like.”
Here I would argue, that you have fallen into the trap of assumption of propriety -- that because we elect officials to make decisions, any decision they make is necessarily proper. That is not the case.

Government has certain proper functions, which includes or should include specific criteria by which to judge a public good. My point is, that simply because a majority of legislators think something is a public good, that doesn’t make it one, any more than if the majority of legislatures think something is constitutional that makes it so.

Something is a public good or it is not. Police, courts, roads, light rail, ski jumps and zoo exhibits must share some common criteria that makes them public goods, not just nice things to have or specific goods for some segment of the population, before we consider funding them.

(I happen to love the Twins and would love to see the new ballpark built. But that I like the decision and will go to the new stadium is not relevant to whether or not it is a public good.)

You take issue with Murray’s last two criteria. I short-changed him a bit; they come from a much longer discussion. You’re right, to a degree, but some additional points beyond the scope of the column.

Of course, some people will not want a public benefit or will never directly use a public benefit. The issues are “some” and the level of government at which they are being paid for.City parks are a good example, or bike trails here in Afton. The majority of people in Afton want bike trails. I may never use them, and I pay taxes to support them. I have relatively easy access to local officials and meetings to lobby for a change. If I am still unhappy about the bike trails, I can move relatively easily. The point is, the smaller the unit of government, the more democratic, i.e. majoritarian, it can be. However, state taxes shouldn’t be used to fund my Afton bike trails. Now you’re getting to Murray’s points. Afton pays, the benefit accrues to Afton and the majority of Afton wants bike trails. I have relatively easy recourse to protest or vote against people that support bike trails. (I happen to like the bike trails, by the way.)

However, that does not mean that Afton bike trails are proper in the bonding bill at the state level. In that case the funding of many would benefit only a select targeted few. I have very little influence with legislators on the bike trail issue and no one is going to vote out a state legislature based on the bike trail vote.

On a larger scale, if St. Paul and Minneapolis want to put in light rail, fine. But why should taxpayers in Fergus Falls pay for Twin Cities light rail? Why, moreover, should taxpayers in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, contribute through federal tax dollars? If Twin Cities residents and light rail riders had to pay what it really costs to build and operate light rail, we’d think twice about it.

As to roads, airports and you can add education, you are on the fine edge of the discussion here, which is good to have, but doesn’t justify ski jumps and volley ball centers.

Some people, I am not one, will argue that roads and airports could be done privately. Could be, but I can make a criteria-based “public good” argument for both, which cannot be made for light rail, for example. Roads and airports directly facilitate commerce that affects me even if I don’t fly and don’t drive. Goods are delivered to my neighborhood store on roads and mail and goods are delivered through the airport. Without roads and air ports service would be significantly deteriorated.

Light rail has no commercial value to those that do not ride it. One might make the argument that people going to work indirectly benefit non-riders, but even without light rail, those people were and would continue to get to work without deterioration of service. Moreover, light rail doesn’t solve real transportation problems -- we are subsidizing suburban couples -- one takes the train into the city and one drives the kid to daycare and goes to a suburban job in the SUV. Off the top of my head I recall the transit study, something like 70 - 80 percent of light rail riders own a car compared to 40 some percent of bus riders. Light rail is a specific benefit for a specific group of people, not the public at large.

Everyone benefits from roads and airports, my benefiting from a road doesn’t stop you from benefiting, it would be difficult to assess me a charge for the benefit I derive from the commercial benefits of roads and airports. They are public goods.

Education is a little more difficult argument, but I also believe it is a public good -- everyone benefits from an educated public. I use it as an example because while I agree government does a pretty good job handling the public good of roads and airports, it does a lousy job managing the public good of education. I’d vote for new people to run education, but it would be improper to deny it is a public good and vote for people to de-fund it.

Thanks for the note.


Anticipating the voucher question -- "Public Education" is education that benefits the public at large, not just those that run a specific, government monopoly system. It's legitimate to tax everyone for educating children; dumping all the funds into a single system is simply bad management.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

COLUMN -- For public money, must be public benefit

Posted by Craig Westover | 2:18 PM |  

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

I wrote a couple of checks last week: One to cover a parking ticket and one to pay my state income tax. If I had ignored either, I'd be writing my column on jailhouse stationery.

I incurred my first obligation to the state by breaking the law. I "stole" a parking spot. I was obligated to pay my income taxes, however, despite minding my own business and harming nary a soul. That's an important distinction.

Government is the only entity granted the authority to use force to fulfill its purpose. It follows that responsible government should use that force sparingly and selectively to 1) protect citizens from harm; 2) enforce contracts; 3) promote public good.

Reasonable people might argue how well a specific administration is executing Nos. 1 and 2 but nonetheless agree they are legitimate functions of government. Promoting public good gets a little tricky.

Government giveth: Government indeed does things on behalf of the entire community. It rightly taxes people to pay for them. Unfortunately, "public good" has become so loosely defined that it has lost real meaning. Consequently, for the public good, the legislature proposes a billion-dollar bonding bill that includes funding for "necessities" like a ski jump, community centers, zoo exhibits and a volleyball center.

A constitutional amendment is proposed that would raise the state sales tax to fund outdoor recreation and the Minnesota State Arts board, public broadcasting and children's museums in Duluth and St. Paul.

What about the Northstar commuter rail and Central Corridor projects? How do investments requiring perpetual subsidy qualify as a public good? And let's not forget stadiums for the Gophers, Twins and Vikings. Does "psychic value" constitute a public good?

All of those projects are proposed public goods. However, unlike in the private sector, where, for example, Carl Pohlad must persuade me to voluntarily buy a Twins ticket, government need not bother convincing me of the value of a Twins' stadium. It simply taxes me to pay for it no matter how many times I've said "no thank you." I don't pay, I go to jail.

Government taketh away: What is ignored by advocates for public projects is "opportunity cost." In order for government to fund anything, it must first take the funds from someone else. Sunday's Pioneer Press editorialized that for the $840 million Central Corridor project "half of the money would come from the federal government, the rest from the state and Ramsey and Hennepin counties" as if these entities created that wealth. In fact, ALL of the money comes from taxpayers.

That's $840 million that individuals from around the state and the nation will not spend on things they value more than a cool-looking train running down University Avenue. The problem is, city planners can point to colorful illustrations of storefronts and clock towers to make their case for the Central Corridor project; it's more difficult to meaningfully aggregate the real economic loss of individual tax contributions.

The cumulative sales tax a Hennepin County resident pays in a year to build a Twins' ballpark (three cents on $20), for example, might finance a dinner and a couple of theater tickets, which consequently won't be purchased. But I guess that's OK. Instead, simply raise the sales tax to support the arts — tax people who might use their money to, say, watch the Twins in the new ballpark. Good government fixes most of the problems it causes, no?

Define "public good": A public good is not simply what those in power happen to think is cool. Gov. Tim Pawlenty took a step in the right direction in emphasizing the principle that projects in the bonding bill should have statewide or at least regional significance. Libertarian writer Charles Murray poses three more questions that help refine the assessment of "public good":

1. Is the good something that cannot reasonably be provided by the individuals or private sector businesses on their own?

2. Does it ask people to pay for a government service they don't want?

3. Does it significantly benefit some people more than others?

Providing public goods and taxing to pay for them are legitimate functions of government — if carried out selectively. It is not "visceral hatred," as the Pioneer Press characterized conservative criticism of light rail, to question the necessity and therefore legitimacy of "public goods." Nor is it too much to demand criteria by which to judge that necessity. After all, the consequences are greater than those of a parking ticket.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Eminent Domain communist Chinese-Style

Posted by Craig Westover | 8:40 AM |  

Thanks to Nick Dranias on the Institute for Justice Minnesota Chapter for this video clip from British

Eminent domain, communist Chinese-style

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

COLUMN -- With amendment or without, families are here to stay

Posted by Craig Westover | 10:00 AM |  

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Last week the Senate Judiciary Committee killed the Defense of Marriage Amendment on a 5-4 party line vote, but don't fancy that's the end of the same-sex marriage debate. A well-organized, well-funded movement is working toward the day when same-sex couples have the same rights and protections as heterosexual couples, and Minnesota is in its sights, says Charles Darrell, communications director of the Minnesota Family Council.

Whether you find that a frightening prospect or a cause for hope, it is a reality, and sooner or later, reality has a way of catching up with us.

Crouching lawyers. Just south of the border, the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund is challenging the Iowa marriage law. "This lawsuit is about fairness and equality," said Camilla Taylor, an attorney with Lambda Legal, according to the Associated Press. "Since marriage is the way the government provides protection, support and respect for families, it is only fair that these couples be able to marry."

The litigation strategy of national organizations like Lambda Legal is having same-sex marriage declared a state constitutional right in as many states as possible.

In the Judiciary Committee hearing, amendment supporters repeatedly raised the specter of inevitable marriage law litigation in Minnesota. Without elevating the definition of marriage to a constitutional authority on a par with due process and equal protection, traditional marriage in Minnesota is at risk, they said.

"If you choose not to let the people vote on an amendment, advocates for same-sex marriage will seek to fill the state's constitutional vacuum with a ruling from your state supreme court mandating marriage for same-sex couples," testified Christopher Stovall, an attorney with the national public interest law firm the Alliance Defense Fund.

"Activist groups have no litigation interest in Minnesota," counters Eileen Scallen, a law professor at William Mitchell College of Law, who lives in a committed relationship with her partner of nine years. "Baker v. Nelson makes Minnesota unique and an unlikely target."

In the 1971 Baker case, the Minnesota Supreme Court held that the state did not act unconstitutionally by prohibiting a same-sex couple from obtaining a marriage license on the basis of their sex. Stovall contends, however, that Baker analyzed only whether Minnesota's law violated federal constitutional provisions and is silent on the state's equal protection and due process requirements — the target of advocacy lawsuits.

Phil Duran, legal and policy analyst for Outfront Minnesota, argues that whether one agrees with the Baker ruling or not, it is the controlling case in Minnesota, and it is a "very high hurdle" to any marriage litigation.

Hidden agendas. Such comments don't surprise Darrell, who believes that organizations like Lambda Legal and the ACLU would be foolish to tip their hand on litigation until after the November elections. It is only the threat of a constitutional amendment, he says, that has kept national advocacy organizations from filing a lawsuit in Minnesota.

The scant attention local media have given to a unified national strategy challenging state marriage laws contributes to the impression of a hidden agenda. Reality: Groups like Outfront Minnesota and Lambda Legal are extremely open about their mission of advancing the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people, and they are aggressively pursing that mission.

"Lambda Legal's strategy remains steadfast," reads the organization's annual report. "We are on the offensive." From its Web site: "We can't stop until every court and community understands the true meaning of family."

Statements like that often find their way into Minnesota Family Council literature and DVDs. They conjure an appropriately frightening image of a rainbow horde breaching the constitutional wall surrounding traditional marriage. Once again, however, reality contrasts with the image.

Families that won't disappear. Amendment opponents spent little time in the Judiciary Committee hearing discussing litigation and the legal environment. Instead, they used their testimony to put a human face on committed same-sex couples and the problems they and their extended families face by being denied legal recognition for their relationships. Abigail Garner, author of a book about children of gay parents, spoke for all, saying, "My family will not disappear."

Ultimately, it is the personal stories and not the legal nuances that remain vibrant and continue to irritate our thinking about same-sex marriage. The reality is families founded on same-sex relationships aren't going to disappear. It is with those families that society must reconcile. When we do, the lawyers, legislators and justices will finally fall into line.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Video of arguments in same-sex marriage case before the New Jersey Supreme Court

Posted by Craig Westover | 2:35 PM |  

One of the big concerns in the testimony supporting the Defense of Marriage Amendment, which was defeated in the Senate Judiciary Committee this week, was that without such an amendment, Minnesota’s current DOMA is vulnerable to legal action, such as that taking place in other states.

One of those states is New Jersey, where Lambda Legal filed a lawsuit against the State of New Jersey in June 2002 on behalf of seven same-sex couples seeking marriage. The case worked its way through the system and was heard by the New Jersey Supreme Court on February 15th of this year. A video of the arguments is found here.

If one really wants to understand how the arguments for and against gay marriage translate into legal arguments, this video is an excellent use of time.

Among the interesting things to note are first, how narrow the argument becomes in front of the court. The argument by the Lambda attorney focuses on a point of Jersey law that isn’t applicable in Minnesota, but the attorney is arguing state law, not federal law. The challenge, which is a due process/equal rights challenge, is made, however, under state law.

Similarly, the state of New Jersey makes no argument whether same-sex marriage is a “moral” issue or even whether or not it is beneficial for the state. The state attorney focuses on the content of the New Jersey constitution. He repeatedly makes the point that the state constitution implies the grant of authority to the legislature and that the court would be outside its bounds to -- again appealing to the same “balancing criteria” as defined by New Jersey law that the Lambda attorney addresses.

Further, it is interesting to watch the “inside baseball” being played by members of the court. You can pick up on a subtle secondary debate among the judges on the court during their questioning of the attorneys. One judge will ask a question and a second judge will follow-up, essentially framing the answer for the attorney, leaving him little to say except -- “Yes, you’re exactly right, your honor.” There is more to an appellate court case than meets the eye.

Bottom line, what I take away from the New Jersey argument is that (surprise) I still think I’m right on this issue. By far, the strongest case made is for same-sex marriage on all points with the possible exception of the one that counts -- how New Jersey law ought to be applied. The Lambda attorney's tactic on that point is to use the balancing criteria used in New Jersey law to put the burden of proof on the state.

(That contrasts with my view that the burden ought to be with those supporting same-sex marriage to prove benefit. The Lambda attorney's point, however, is valid under New Jersey law. It makes a tough case for the state attorney.)

By contrast, the state’s attorney makes a good case that marriage definition belongs in the legislature, but when one of the judges gets him off onto the “balancing” criteria of New Jersey law -- weighing harm to the individual versus benefit to the state -- the state attorney has a tough time making a case for any benefit to the state of denying same-sex marriage. He fails to make a case for the abstract “protecting traditional marriage.” He insists such argument is not germane to the constitutional issue, but as one judge notes, by doing so he also undercuts the balancing criteria of New Jersey law that is at issue.

Anyhow, view for yourself. The hearing runs about an hour.

Parental School Choice and the notion of liberty

Posted by Craig Westover | 9:37 AM |  

Elizabeth Mische of Partnership for Choice in Education passes along this piece on an influential legal case that reflects the thinking of those of us supporting school choice. There are some caveats for thinking conservatives, however.

Reading the Pierce case, the holding, in addition to upholding a parents right to educate his or her children outside of a mandatory state system, also extended the due process clause of the 14th amendment to corporations and is one of the cases cited in right to privacy arguments that underlay decisions like Roe v. Wade and Lawrence v. Texas -- decisions generally not popular in conservative camps. The case is also cited in in “right to die” arguments.

I make that point not to diminish the power of this piece, but simply to point out that what is often decried as “judicial activism” is simply disagreement with the outcome. Acknowledging there are augments for liberty within an ordered society, nonetheless, in a free society one must often acknowledge the right of people to do things that one may find morally reprehensible or even stupid.

Individuals ought look past our visceral reactions to the outcomes and determine the underlying principle at stake that produces those outcomes. With that in mind -- this is a good piece on several levels.
Educational Freedom Day
by David W. Kirkpatrick
Senior Education Fellow
U.S. Freedom Foundation

On June 1,1925 the Pierce decision of the U.S. Supreme Court declared parents "have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare" how their children will be educated. Still the law of the land, the 9-0 decision has never been challenged and is not likely to be.

Yet it is doubtful that one person in a thousand could identify the subject of the case if they were asked to do so. Not that it is totally forgotten. A Google search for "Pierce vs. Society of Sisters" listed 3,210 sites. However most appear in sources of limited circulation.

This lack of awareness is demonstrated by supporters of school choice who argue parents should have the right to determine how their children are educated. This , as the Court made clear, is a right they already have. What too many families lack is the financial ability to exercise this right, whether by sending their children to an independent school, homeschooling, or, as millions do, by at least being able to afford living in the school district or even the attendance area of a school they wish their child to attend.
In brief, the battle over school choice is how to make it possible for low-income parents to exercise this civil right they already have.

Many school choice opponents are more concerned with protecting their jobs and their special interests than with the education, welfare and constitutional rights of the students. And there are those who believe government can do a better job of educating, or training, children than can parents. This has a long history.

Sparta, in ancient Greece from 400-600 B.C., took all boys from their families at age seven, placed them in state-run boarding schools, and parents had absolutely no part of that process. Spartan girls, as with most civilizations at the time, and even since, were given no formal education.

One of the first proposals for a educational system in the new United States came from Benjamin Rush, a Philadelphian and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. He wrote, "Let our pupil be taught that he does not belong to himself, but that he is public property. Let him be taught to love his family, but let him be taught at the same time, that he must forsake them ... when the welfare of his country requires."

The first actual statewide plan, also in Pennsylvania, in 1834, was largely the result of the efforts of Thaddeus Stevens, best known as the leader of the Congressional Radical Republicans at the end of the Civil War. He argued that "the rich and poor man's sons (are all) deemed children of the same parent – the Commonwealth."

In the 1925 arguments before the Supreme Court in the Pierce case the spokesman for the state of Oregon boldly stated, "As to minors, the state stands in the position of parents patriae, and may exercise unlimited supervision and control over their contracts, occupations and conduct, and the liberty and right of those who assume to deal with them."

As Governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton promoted a number of educational reforms. When asked if the state knows better than the parents, he said yes.

During the debate over a school choice initiative in California, a website supporting the measure received a message saying, "I support government monopoly schools. Parents cannot be trusted. Liberty and choice are dangerous to society." Perhaps that was sarcasm. Still, many believe this whether they state it so explicitly or not.

So those who support parental rights in education should never forget June 1 as the anniversary of the Supreme Court's declaration of parental independence. Why not go further? There are countless national days, week, and/or months honoring this, that or the other thing. Why not recognize June 1st of each year as Educational Freedom Day. Hundreds of such observations across the nation could regularly recognize and emphasize the essential constitutional principle upheld in the Pierce decision.

At the very least, all education entities - departments of education, school buildings and collegiate and university schools of education, should have over their doors these words from the Pierce decision:


Wednesday, April 05, 2006

COLUMN -- Favorites fell, but it's only halftime at the Capitol

Posted by Craig Westover | 9:36 AM |  

Wednesday, April 4, 2006

March madness came to an end this week. Duke's loss to LSU busted my bracket early. Then Connecticut fell to Cinderella George Mason. My Minneapolis bracket looked good until Villanova edged Boston College in overtime. I did get UCLA to the Final Four, but I had them beating Kansas to get there.

I didn't do a whole lot better in March with my legislative favorites.

More March madness. A bad pun would have it that for much of March the focus was on the "court" — the state Supreme Court — and what justices did or did not say about Minnesota's marriage law to DFL Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson.

The Senate Ethics Committee turned the ball over on that one, sending the issue into overtime. Last week, two complaints were filed with the Judicial Review Board calling for an investigation of Johnson's allegations against the court. Johnson and the Senate Ethics Committee had opportunities to put this one away, but at crunch time no one in the Senate wanted the ball.

Wilting under pressure. Just having a person step up and take charge isn't always enough, however, to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Case in point, another first-round defeat for educational access grant legislation in the House Education Policy Committee.

Mark Buesgens, R-Jordan, ran the offense for parental school choice. Access-grant legislation provides state-funded vouchers for a limited number of low-income families in the St. Paul and Minneapolis school districts. Vouchers can be applied to tuition at any accredited private schools freely chosen by recipient families.

Speaking in favor of the bill, people of color painted a devastating picture of the consequences of poor public schools on their communities and their families. Testimony from bill opponents emphasized the negative impact of choice on their public school system. Kids versus the system: This game was over at the opening tip.

If quality of testimony mattered, Buesgens' bill would have been a slam dunk. However, the education establishment remains zone-up against any suggestion of school choice. It kept the pressure on. The Buesgens bill fell 15-13 with three predictable Republicans joining a unified DFL in blocking any drive for parental school choice.

Almost a great upset. Another David-vs.-Goliath March matchup took place in the House Health Policy Committee. Convinced of a plausible connection between the mercury-based vaccine preservative thimerosal and neurological disorders in children, Rep. Laura Brod, R-New Prague, championed legislation requiring physicians to use thimerosal-free vaccine whenever reasonably possible.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nationwide there is one diagnosed case of autism in every 166 live births. Data compiled by bill supporters show an autism rate of one in 109 births in Minnesota.

This matchup of concerned parents, armed with university research supporting a vaccine connection to autism, vs. government and private health care professionals refuting that claim, produced some great debate. The committee fired insightful questions at both sides. Committee Chairman Fran Bradley, R-Rochester (home of the Mayo Clinic), scored in the final minutes of the hearing by reading a lengthy list of prestigious medical organizations opposing the bill.

When there's disagreement among scientists, say proponents of the bill, why take a risk with children's health? Opponents start with the system. Resolutely refuting any connection between vaccines and autism, they object to increased vaccine costs and limited availability of thimerosal-free vaccine. The committee sided with the system, and at the buzzer, the bill went down on a mixed-party 8-to-6 vote, with two abstentions.

One winner. Despite these bracket busters for those of us rooting for legislators to do the right thing rather than the political thing, March madness did give us one winner. By a 64-2 vote the Minnesota Senate passed eminent domain reform that sets some definitive criteria for when the government can legitimately take private property for public use.

Although the legislation passed the Senate by a wide margin, committee hearings were hard-fought matchups between the League of Minnesota Cities, which opposed the legislation, and a broad coalition of groups assembled by public service law firm the Institute for Justice and the Minnesota Automobile Dealers Association. Legislators, like NCAA round-ballers, respond when there are fans screaming in the stands.

NCAA March madness was filled with upsets. In the Senate, access-grant legislation is still alive. So is the thimerosal bill. Eminent domain still faces a fight in the House. It's only halftime at the Capitol. The head says "not likely," but the heart is holding out for a comeback.