Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Libertarians and Republicans side-byside comparison

Posted by Craig Westover | 9:08 AM |  

Michael B. Brodkorb, Minnesota Democrats Exposed, has sent a letter to Republicans detailing his opposition to Sue Jeffers seeking the gubernatorial endorsement of the Republican Party because she is also endorsed by the Libertarian Party and declared herself a Libertarian. Part of his opposition is based on differences between selected positions of the Libertarian Party and the Republican Platform.

Indeed these differences may present delegates with a reason why Jeffers should not be the endorsed Republican candidate. That is a delegate decision. However, rather than treat the differences as little more than a label to denigrate a political opponent, they better serve as a departure point for examining both Libertarian and Republican Party principles and how those principles manifest themselves in policy.

Both parties have something to learn from such an exercise, which is why a challenge to power such as Jeffers is making within the Republican Party is a good, not a bad thing. She’s raised the question of whether or not Republicans are going to be a issue and constituency oriented party like the Democrats or a party based on principle.

Below are my thoughts of the differences between Libertarians and Republicans as stated by Brodkorb and using his language.


Libertarians: We oppose actions that compel, prohibit, regulate or subsidize abortion, sterilization or any other forms of birth control.

Republican Platform: Abortion without exception is wrong and should be opposed.

Taking these two positions side-by-side one thing should be obvious: the Libertarian position is an actionable statement. It is opposed to government compulsion of actions by individuals, whereas the Republican platform position is a vague statement that is wide open to interpretation when it comes to setting policy.

A simple example is the governor’s statement that he favors a legislative ban on abortion similar to that initiated in South Dakota except that beyond an exemption to save the life of the mother, he would include exemptions in cases of incest and rape. On what principle?

If abortion is “wrong without exception,” then isn’t the taking an innocent life resulting from incest and rape equally to be protected with all other pregnancies? And if the reason for allowing this exemption is the mental health of the mother, then why isn’t that a valid reason for exempting any woman from the abortion ban under the claim of mental health? The platform position is unworkable as a matter of policy.

A further point is that a Libertarian is not required to endorse all activities that a free society allows. A Libertarian can hold the Republican platform position as a personal belief, actively work to educate and inform people about the evils of abortion, work to provide counseling and adoption services, and stand up and condemn abortion in whatever public forums are available. The issue for the Libertarian is that limited government doesn’t have the authority to be in the fetal protection business.

Same-sex Marriage

Libertarians: We hold that unions between adults are a private matter and should not be the subject of private licensing, regardless of sex. We call for the State of Minnesota to not restrict or give preferential treatment to private contracts between adults.

Republican Platform: We should amend the U.S. constitution and the Minnesota Constitution to define marriage as the legal union of a man and a woman.

In this case, the blanks of both parties are a bit over extended. It is the Libertarian position that is unworkable as policy. The Republican Platform is workable policy; the question is whether or not it is good policy.

The Libertarian plank is philosophically consistent and if taken to mean that government has no authority to say who may live with whom and may not limit any private contracts they might make among themselves, then it is on safe grounds. However, where Libertarians miss the point is that the state does have authority to grant some relationships, based on neutral criteria special status because they benefit the larger community.

For example, the state recognizes corporations as a special class because corporate structures create economic tools that enhance economic growth. It also grants privileges to corporations that are simply bad policy. The definition of a corporation is fluid.

The state also has the authority to define legal marriage for the same reason -- as an institution, marriage provides benefits to society. That is the crux of the same-sex marriage debate. It is not about love and equality -- it is a question of whether or not expanding legal marriage to include same-sex marriage is good or bad for society.

The Republican Platform call for constitutional amendments would severely curtail that debate and take the decision of same-sex marriage not just out of the hands of the courts, but out of the hands of the legislature at some future point in time. That, I submit, is contrary to the principles of a party that believes the people, not an elected elite at any given point in time, should decide issues about the way they want to live.


Libertarians: “Because gambling is a voluntary activity, and therefore a victimless crime…”

Republican Platform: “We should eliminate all state-sponsored gambling and oppose any expansion of gambling in Minnesota.”

The Republican Party opposes the expansion of gambling. A 100 percent libertarian would see that as the state interfering with the Republican principle of the free market and argue that limited government should not make moral choices for individuals. Practically, the state does have the authority to regulate what kind of businesses operate in the state, provided it demonstrates that regulation is not arbitrary. A good argument can be made for limiting gambling and it is a debate we should have.

However, a Libertarian would absolutely be opposed to a government run or a government partnership casino that was intended to create additional revenue to fix a budget problem caused by too much government spending. I ask, which type of gambling expansion did our governor propose? A Libertarian would not, as the governor is, tout the contributions of the Minnesota State Lottery to the environment. In that it would seem the governor, not the Libertarians, is in opposition to the Republican Party Platform.

Again, it is important to remember that a Libertarian is not obligated to support all of the activities a free society might allow, and that includes gambling.


Libertarians: “We call for an end to the ‘War on Drugs,’ which like all previous wars on drugs is in reality a war by the federal, state and local government on the people it is supposed to protect from war. Until such time as the prohibition of drugs is repealed,we call for an end to the denial of pain relieving drugs such as marijuana and heroin to those who are suffering.”

Republican Platform: The Republican Party of Minnesota’s platform has no provision advocating the legalization of marijuana and heroin.

The Libertarian position on the “War on Drugs” if looked at as a policy issue, is correct. Drug use is, was and always will be a demand issue. The War on Drugs treats it as a supply issue and wastes millions of dollars, tramples individuals rights and most importantly doesn’t make a dent in the problem.

Relaxation of criminal charges for drug use, bringing use into the open and making individuals accountable for the consequences of irresponsible drug use is a more effective path. Libertarians, however, fail to recognize as a matter of policy that arriving at that point is a gradual process that requires some first-step changes in government policies.

First -- government’s primary responsibility is protecting citizens. If we are going to allow people to use drugs, including alcohol, recreationally, then we must protect other citizens from irresponsible use. That means severe penalties, without exception, for people that use drugs and place others in danger, again, including driving while intoxicated. It means severe legal penalties for the suburban kid as well as the ghetto kid. The emphasis must be on protection of the innocent not concern for the hapless addict. The legal system must look at drug-related crimes as crime, not disease.

Second -- employers must be free to dismiss employees for drug use and establish rules that prohibit drug use by employees on or off the job as a condition of employment. This might seem very anti-libertarian, but it is, in fact, part of the freedom to contract. Drug use impairs productivity and employers should be free to protect their businesses from what they might consider potential harm.

Third -- insurance companies must be free to establish rates based on drug use criteria and to exempt, if they choose, drug treatment from policies. The point is if drug use is going to be an activity of choice, then it should carry individual accountability.

The real issue here is probably medical marijuana, which ought to be a no-brainer for a Republican. What is the justification for putting legislators between doctors and patients?


Libertarians: “In particular we are opposed to all regulation of activities such as…prostitution”

Republican Platform: The Republican Party of Minnesota’s platform has no provision advocating the legalization of prostitution.

The Libertarian prostitution plank is an example, like drug use, where Libertarians confuse philosophy with policy. From the Libertarian perspective, exchanging money for sex is no different that exchanging dinner at Manny’s and a night at the Guthrie for sex. Prostitution is a private contract between two people and therefore should not be criminalized by government.

That’s good as far as it goes, but Libertarians forget that government does have the authority to protect citizens from harm, and that includes nuisance harms, if justified by established criteria. Libertarians also don’t always appreciate the concept of federalism -- that is some laws that exceed the authority of state are legitimate at the local level.

To put prostitution into perspective, a constitutional Libertarian would view it as exceeding government authority to ban the exchange of sex for money at the state level. Prohibiting or allowing prostitution and regulating time. Place and manner, is more appropriately a local issue.

That’s the stance in a philosophical nutshell. The issue is somewhat of a red herring, for like drug legalization, because so many government barriers stand in the way of personal accountability that must be corrected.

Right to Life

Libertarians: “…terminally or hopelessly ill persons should have the right to die at the time and place and under the conditions of their own choosing.”

Republican Platform: “The U.S. and Minnesota Constitutions should be amended to restore legal protection for the lives of innocent human beings from conception to natural death.”

This is an interesting set of statements because both skirt the crux of the issue. The Libertarian position is self-evident: there is very little the state can do to prvent a person from choosing to die, nor should it. But what the Libertarian position ignores is the responsibilities and obligations of third parties in a person’s death. I may have a right to die, but I have no right to involve others in my choice or my action. Implying a legal “right to die” implies that the state has the obligation to protect that right and ensure that I can achieve it. That is not a Libertarian position.

The Republican Platform makes the same mistake from the other side of the equation. It denies that a person has an individual right to choose to die and that other individuals might choose to aid in that process. Using the constitution to legislate is, as it is with same-sex marriage, a broad solution to what is without exception an individual decision.

COLUMN -- Jeffers challenges not just Pawlenty, but also GOP regard for principle

Posted by Craig Westover | 6:55 AM |  

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The radio host warned gubernatorial candidate Sue Jeffers that it was a question every politician had trouble with. Ready?

"Are you a dog or a cat person?"

"A dog person," Jeffers replied. Immediately bells and whistles started going off.

"Did I get it wrong?" she asked.

The host laughed. "No," he said. "You're just the first candidate that's given a straight answer."

Chances are the governor's election is not going to turn on the dog/cat issue, but the question of giving voters straight answers just might be a factor — especially for Republicans.

A lifelong Republican who volunteered for Gov. Tim Pawlenty's 2002 campaign, Jeffers is best known as a vocal leader in opposition to bar and restaurant smoking bans. She's also outspoken on private property rights, a supporter of no new taxes, and an opponent of publicly funded stadiums — traditional Republican positions.

So strong are her Republican credentials that party leadership encouraged her to run for City Council, the Minnesota House or Senate and even the 5th District congressional seat.

"I met with so many Republicans who were trying to get me to run as a Republican," Jeffers told MPR. "And I was too embarrassed. The Republicans have let us down."

Noting that she is 49 years old and doesn't have time "to start at the bottom," Jeffers, with characteristic decisiveness, decided to start at the top. In January, she announced as a Libertarian candidate for governor. She spoke at the Libertarian Party convention and received the party endorsement.

Whether an act of political naiveté or the sudden realization that her campaign was more than just a quixotic Libertarian endeavor, last month Jeffers announced she is challenging Gov. Tim Pawlenty for the Republican Party endorsement.

Slings and arrows. GOP leadership has called Jeffers' challenge a "publicity stunt," and has taken the politically practical but philosophically narrow view that the party should not provide a public stage for a candidate who has said that should she fail to get the party endorsement, she'll run against the GOP candidate in the general election. Party officials have lobbied a number of district convention managers to prevent Jeffers from addressing delegates. Second District Deputy Chair Mike Lindsay was not among those cowering.

According to Lindsay, whether Jeffers should be allowed to speak and obtain GOP delegate lists is decided by party rules. The Republican Party Constitution states that the only requirement to seek endorsement is agreement to run as a Republican if endorsement is granted. A candidate is under no obligation to not run or even support the party if endorsement isn't granted.

"By whose authority?" Lindsay responded when pressured by party leaders to forbid Jeffers from speaking, "No one individual or group has the authority to say who is and who is not a Republican worthy of endorsement. That is up to the delegates."

A matter of principle. Lindsay says he doesn't know Jeffers well enough to take a stand on her candidacy, but he does know the Republican Party preaches that it is a bottom-up party, not a top-down party, and that it should adhere to principle — and not just in intra-party matters.

"It's been the history of conservatism and the Republican Party that when we stand for what we believe, we win," he said. "When we do what we say, we win."

"The Republican leadership needn't be afraid to hear me talk," Jeffers told the 2nd District delegates. "I want what you want. Smaller, effective, affordable government. Lower taxes, safe neighborhoods, better roads, good schools and affordable health care. I want a party who will listen to the voters, who will follow the party platform and lead the state in a conservative direction."

DFL-lite: The irony of Jeffers' comments is that her statement is precisely why Republican leadership is afraid to have Jeffers talk. Party leadership has failed to grasp that Jeffers' message resonates with a significant segment of the GOP base.

The essence of the GOP campaign message is that things are OK, but think how bad things would be under the Democrats. That might get the party faithful to the polls, but it's not a message that will get them making phone calls and knocking on doors.

Jeffers' message is an unsettling reminder that Republicans are philosophically adrift and offering little more than a DFL-lite list of accomplishments. For the sake of the party that believes in academic freedom, it is best that message is heard, acted upon and not buried.

Monday, May 29, 2006

11 Things I noticed about the Democrat Coloring Book

Posted by Craig Westover | 5:34 PM |  

With apologies to Nihilist in Golf Pants, here's 11 things I noticed about the Democrats coloring book about high gas prices.

11. Some of the letters are printed backward. This is reflective of the Democrats attitude toward education. Close enough is good enough.

10. The sun is smiling when the family is in the car driving. Wouldn’t the sun be sad that this family is filling the air with hydrocarbons instead of staying home on Memorial Day weekend?

9. None of the family is wearing seatbelts and the kid is obviously standing up in the back seat -- riding without a safety seat.

8. The family is a mom and a dad and a boy. This is offensive to single-parent households, same-sex households and little girls everywhere. Is it assumed little girls are playing with dolls and don’t understand oil economics as well as their brothers?

7. The family has white features. Don’t gas prices affect people of color? Or does the Democrat Crayola box have four colors labeled “flesh?”

6. The family lives in a single-family home with no other houses around. Aren’t they contributing to urban sprawl? Maybe high gas prices will force them to move into a sustainable urban environment of vibrant mixed-use development.

5. My Chevy Cavalier takes about 12 gallons of gas. The mother in the coloring book complaining about gas prices has used 18.5 gallons, which means she is driving a good-sized vehicle. Why can’t she save gas by purchasing a smaller, more fuel efficient vehicle?

4. Why is the sun unhappy with high gas prices, which will reduce miles driven and result in less hydrocarbons in the atmosphere?

3. The mother’s first thought about high gas prices is how it affects her. Why isn’t she thinking about how high gas prices will effect the poor and how high prices mean less driving and a cleaner environment?

2. Mom and dad know who their Republican congressman is, but they put up a “vote for a democrat” sign on their front lawn. Don’t they have a conviction about whom they are voting for? Or is the answer, simply not a Republican? (What does this say about Democrat marketing and planning to create a book with limited shelf-life?)

1. The title of the book is “My Memorial Day Vacation,” but it is all about gas prices. The child is a born Democrat -- Promising one thing, but delivering something else.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

COLUMN -- Twins didn't win war of ideas; citizens lost to a government siege

Posted by Craig Westover | 8:25 AM |  

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Benjamin Franklin said it's like "having our cake and eating it, too."

Well, OK, he didn't, really. But he could have. Franklin was a very smart man and well ahead of his time. It's not too farfetched to imagine that he might have had something to say about the Twins stadium legislation.

As evidence, I offer the 100th episode of "South Park," "I'm A Little Bit Country," which takes "South Park" kid Cartman back to Revolutionary times and the debate over whether the colonies should go to war with England.

The convention is at a stalemate until, with "South Park's" deft satire, Franklin observes that if the country goes to war but allows protests that don't actually prevent the war, then it looks like the country doesn't really want to go to war. "It's like having our cake and eating it too," he tells the convention.

If we might paraphrase the irony of Franklin in "South Park" and apply it to the stadium wars: When civic leaders are determined to create some sparkle in the community but pretend to debate the issue as if what is said makes a difference, then that sparkle really looks like a well-thought-out compromise solution to a complex problem.

It's like having our cake and eating it, too.

A stadium was always inevitable. Amid the celebration over the Twins, finally, after a decade of struggle, being on the verge of a new publicly funded ballpark, it would, indeed, be inappropriate to once again rehash all of the economic and political arguments against the sparkle and spirit of a publicly funded ballpark. Instead, we hear "persistence," "leadership" and "hard work" describing the Twins' epic struggle to overcome public resistance to a tax-funded stadium. That's a nice storyline, but public resistance never was much eroded.

In 1997, the year "South Park" made its debut, a newspaper poll found that 69 percent opposed that year's Twins stadium funding proposal. Almost a decade later, the most recent Minnesota Poll taken before the final stadium vote found that 68 percent opposed using public money to finance the Twins ballpark. So what changed? Very little, actually.

When the governing elite want something, it might be delayed by unified opposition, but grass-roots movements are always burdened by divided energies. Opposing the resources of the Minnesota Twins, Hennepin County commissioners and state legislators with legacies on the line are individuals who also have day jobs and nightly worries other than turf versus sod.

The stadium war was not won on the battlefield of ideas and policy; it was a successful siege. Government always wins in a war of attrition. It is inevitable.

History is written by the winners. The Twins stadium is being called a "victory," which it is for those who believe the vitality of a community lies in the goodies government can deliver rather than in the industry of its citizens. It's a defeat for those who create the wealth used to build the stadium.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman's National Great River Park, turning St. Paul into "one of the most beautiful cities in the nation," and creating a "more urban, more natural, more connected environment." I wrote that the mayor might be using his mayoral power to impose a vision on the community. Before the column even appeared the mayor confirmed it.

"We're no longer just going to allow anyone to make an independent judgment about what should happen in the city of St. Paul," the Pioneer Press quotes him as saying. "There has to be a community vision developed, and then we will proceed based on that vision."

Given the Twins success, is there any doubt that his vision, eventually, will come to pass?

Along with the Twins stadium, the Legislature passed a $1 billion bonding bill that completes state funding for the Northstar commuter rail line from Minneapolis to Big Lake. Is there any doubt it's going to happen? Or that light rail along the Central Corridor is a done deal? Or that a plethora of "vibrant mixed-use developments" will replace organic neighborhoods?

Resistance may be futile, but it is the only option for people of integrity. For them, the Twins stadium legislation is neither a victory nor a compromise; it is a defeat. Perhaps communities, like individuals, can consume only so much cake before they start to feel sick. We can only hope.

READER RESPONSE -- Political Labels

Posted by Craig Westover | 8:18 AM |  

A couple of interesting comments to this post about party affiliations and political labels --
Part of the problem with the current mania to label everybody as being at one pole or the other of a left-right spectrum of political thought is a complete /absence/ of thought on too many issues. By simply dismissing the views of someone that we ourselves label "a wacko liberal" or a "Leviticus conservative," we rid ourselves of the difficult and time-consuming need to advance a rational argument for our own "centrist" and incontrovertible positions.

J. Ewing 05.23.06 - 10:46 am #
Good point by J. Ewing.My liberal friends think I am too far to the right; my conservative friends think I have some whacko liberal beliefs.

I think ultimately that I simply do not have the "standard checklist" attitudes about the "left positions" or the "right positions." And - as far as I'm concerned, neither "checklist" is straightforward.What is the "right" and "left" position on immigration? On security? On privacy?Better to deal individually with all the issues (no matter how long and how messy it is) that to trivialize others' positions into sound bites and dismiss those who disagree with us by a degrading label.

Peg 05.23.06 - 5:58 pm #
Ewing’s point is well-taken and Peg takes it to the next step by putting a focus on issues rather than labels. But there is a third step to be taken.
Often we equate stands on issues with the terms “conservative” and “liberal,” giving the person a label depending on which side of the spectrum they lean to. A common expression of this is the person who describes himself as “conservative on fiscal issues, but liberal on social issues.” That’s also a confused definition of a “libertarian.”

It’s my argument that it’s not one’s ultimate position on an issue that makes one “liberal” or “conservative,” which is what Peg identifies with the question “What is the "right" and "left" position on immigration? On security? On privacy?” What makes one a liberal or a conservative is not what one believes, but how one reasons to what one believes. That is a significant difference.

Friday, May 19, 2006

The last refuge of the principled

Posted by Craig Westover | 6:42 AM |  

Credit where credit is due. Eva Young makes some insightful observations then asks the right question.
Outfront Minnesota often uses the word "conservative" when they are referring to anti-gay activists. This is unfortunate - because there are a number of limited government conservatives such as Craig Westover and Peg Kaplan - who have been publicly supportive of gay marriage. Then there are liberals - such as Mike Hatch, who say "there is no difference between Governor Pawlenty and myself on gay marriage". . . .

Now there's a new campaign training group modeled on Camp Wellstone for conservatives. The Academy for Conservative Leadership mentions that Outfront Minnesota is part of "the competition". . . Outfront Minnesota claims to be bi-partisan, but their main lobbyist, C Scott Cooper also works full time with the Minnesota Alliance for Progressive Action. Liberal groups such as, Wellstone Action and MAPA like to have conservatives to be viewed as anti-gay. That way they have an issue they don't deserve. Unfortunately, this new conservative campaign training group is playing right into the DFL script.
[Note: I think that Outfront Minnesota, by associating itself with the left as closely as it does, deserves the “competition” moniker. But to Eva’s point, it is the “gayness” rather than the “leftness” of Outfront that seems to incite conservatives.]
Where do the many gays in Minneapolis go, who are disgusted by the way local government is run in Minneapolis, but are also appalled by the way the Leviticus crowd has taken over the Republican party at the state level?
Perhaps the last refuge of the principled -- the Libertarians? (Motto: “It’s not the size of your tent that counts, but how stiff the pole is holding it up.”)

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Conservative victory in Georgia same-sex marriage ruling

Posted by Craig Westover | 11:16 PM |  

Although some conservative blogs are running this article as something negative -- It can happen here -- isn’t the judge’s rationale exactly what the claimed rationale is for an amendment? Isn't the judge saying, "let the people decide"?
ATLANTA, May 16— A state amendment banning same-sex marriage was struck down Tuesday by a judge who upheld the voters' right to limit marriage to heterosexual couples but cited procedural flaws in the wording of the amendment, which was approved by more than three-quarters of voters. . . .

The Georgia amendment defined marriage as between a man and a woman, banned same-sex civil unions and said that same-sex unions performed in other states would not be recognized. The judge, Constance C. Russell of Fulton County Superior Court, ruled that the amendment violated Georgia's single-subject rule, which limits each amendment put before voters to one topic.

"People who believe marriages between men and women should have a unique and privileged place in our society may also believe that same-sex relationships should have some place, although not marriage," the judge wrote. "The single-subject rule protects the right of those people to hold both views and reflect both judgments by their vote."
The judge’s ruling essentially says that the combination of defining marriage as a union of one man and one woman AND banning civil unions (the legal equivalent of marriage in Minnesota terms) effectively prevents voters from voting for a ban on same-sex marriage but voting against a ban on civil unions. In other words, people holding both those positions were denied a right to vote their conviction.

How can a conservative that believes the people should decide questions about who can and cannot marry object to a ruling that assures each and every voter that ability?

Of interest to Pioneer Press fans

Posted by Craig Westover | 5:21 PM |  

MediaNews, buyer of MN, posts $3.6 million loss By Chris O'Brien and Pete Carey Mercury News MediaNews Group, which recently announced plans to acquire the Mercury News, said it lost $3.6 million in its most recent quarter as higher expenses and a softer advertising market took a toll. The net loss for the first three months of 2006 compares to a profit of $2.3 million the Denver-based newspaper publisher posted in the first quarter of 2005.

While the company is privately held, it files financial statements on a regular basis with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission as part of an agreement with some of its bond holders.

MediaNews Chief Executive William Dean Singleton, whose company also is acquiring the Contra Costa Times and the Monterey County Herald, said Monday that he is shopping for a second home in the Bay Area. MediaNews already owns seven daily newspapers in the region. Singleton wouldn't say where in the Bay Area he plans to buy a home. He said MediaNews' corporate headquarters will remain in Denver, where he is also the publisher of the Denver Post, and his family will continue living there.

``I'm not leaving Denver, but I expect to spend a lot of time in the Bay Area for the foreseeable future,'' he said. ``I can't imagine doing this and not wanting to go out there and be part of it.''

In its SEC filing on Monday, MediaNews said revenues climbed to $208.4 million for the quarter ending March 31 from $184.7 million for the same period in 2005.

MediaNews' largest paper is the Denver Post, which is part of a joint operating agreement with the Rocky Mountain News, owned by E.W. Scripps. While the papers share business operations, they maintain separate newsrooms. The Post previously had announced plans to cut 10 percent of its newsroom jobs due to a weak advertising market.

In the filing Monday, MediaNews said revenues at the Post in the latest quarter had fallen to $98.2 million from $103.5 million a year ago.

``The results of the Denver JOA were negatively impacted by a soft advertising market combined with higher newsprint prices, increased circulation, promotion and delivery costs, increased costs related to the growth in its Internet operations, and increased employee benefit costs,'' the company said it its filing.

On April 26, MediaNews said it had agreed to acquire four Knight Ridder newspapers from McClatchy, including the Mercury News, Contra Costa Times, the Monterey County Herald and the St. Paul Pioneer Press. McClatchy announced in March that it was buying Knight Ridder but selling 12 newspapers, including the Mercury News.

Will it happen? Jeffer's continues tilting at Pawlenty

Posted by Craig Westover | 3:32 PM |  

In response to her request to speak at the 2nd Congressional District Endorsing Convention, Sue Jeffers received the following response from the district deputy chair --
No Problem.

Making Republicans better -- Is there a difference?

Posted by Craig Westover | 3:07 PM |  

From the Pioneer Press --
[Gov. Tim] Pawlenty, who repeatedly has criticized a lower court ruling in December that struck down the cigarette fee, said the Supreme Court ruling validated his argument. "The legal conclusion was obvious from the start," he said.
Sorry, Tim. The Supreme Court ruled on the law. You still pulled a fast one to get around the “no new taxes” pledge. In case it wasn’t explained, the spirit of that is not to take any more money from taxpayers to fund “fun stuff” at the Legislature, no matter how one does it. You also put your own interests ahead of those of your supporters like Phil Krinkie, Jim Knoblach and Michele Bachman -- supporters whom you put in the bind of casting a fiscal or a pro-life vote when all three supported both issues. What is the difference between the governor’s statement of validation and that of Dean Johnson and exoneration?

From the GOP --
Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar, said he is moving on after accusations of embellishing comments from Minnesota Supreme Court Justices on the gay marriage issue. Johnson was one of the speakers at Saturday’s Senate District 21 DFL fundraiser and convention at Jackpot Junction in Morton. Johnson spoke at the district convention. ‘The Minnesota Senate exonerated me and (the rest) is totally out of my hands,’ Johnson told the Independent about the situation.
Johnson wasn’t exonerated. The Ethics Committee found probable cause that he violated Senate rules; they just didn’t have the cojones to pursue the issue. Out of his hands? The Supreme Court is undergoing investigation because one man, Dean Johnson, knows who said what to whom and wouldn’t tell the truth about it.

Is there a difference?

Nobody ever created a legacy with the slogan . . . .

Posted by Craig Westover | 2:34 PM |  

"I filled the potholes."

From Joe Soucheray's column today, another take on the collective vision for the St. Paul riverfront.
There sure has been a lot of talk and stories in the newspaper lately on the grand vision for the development of the property along the river in St. Paul. Nobody can really tell me what the vision is, but it will be arrived at communally, or collectively, as though from central planning, and it will be grand and quite a vision at that. Very grand.

I get the feeling that the vision is fated to be poetic, with a heavy emphasis on nature and naturalness, on vegetation and birch-bark canoes and walking arm in arm along paths lit with the lemon glow of gas lamps. I don't know what we're supposed to do for money, but we will have a nice place to stroll around and remember the good old days when we made things along the river, like cars and cranes and derricks and Dingle boats.

In the meantime, I have a vision less romantic. I see it every time my eyeballs aren't vibrating from suspension trauma.

No mention of a government subsidy

Posted by Craig Westover | 2:23 PM |  

As a penny stock investor, I appreciate this project. The market at work.

Amy's latest -- Can you say "predictable"?

Posted by Craig Westover | 1:21 PM |  

Well, Republicans don’t listen to me, so I had little hope that Democrats might. I’m not surprised that Amy Klobuchar’s latest campaign email tries to make hay out of the Medicare Part D program -- a program any good Democrat has to love.

On Monday, the deadline passed.

Because of Medicare Part D, our seniors spent hours untangling needlessly complicated bureaucracy and 63 different plans just to get the care they need. They should have been spending time with their grandchildren instead. And on Monday, my opponent Mark Kennedy and the leadership in Washington, D.C. penalized 286,000 Minnesotans for not being able to navigate it in time. That's just wrong.

Over the course of my campaign, I've heard hundreds of stories from you of how the influence of special interests in Washington has had negative consequences for working Minnesota families. Nowhere is this more prominent than the policy of Medicare Part D.

As my mom, a retired teacher has said, Medicare Part D got the grade it deserved from the beginning.

Last week, I called on Congress to extend the Part D enrollment deadline. What did my opponent do? Nothing.

We can't afford this kind of "leadership" any longer. We need to bring change to Washington, change that I am committed to bring when I'm elected Minnesota's next U.S. Senator. I will fight for a system that provides everyone access to quality, affordable health care -- without having to swim a sea of red tape to get it.

Help send me to Washington by doing three things today:

Okay -- while Amy pitches for campaign funds, let’s take a look at her rhetoric above. Can I sympathize with seniors trying to unravel the program? You bet. Went through it with my Mom. But also have been through Medicare and Medicaid unraveling and just today was told by the IRS that the mailroom in the IRS Center in Ogden, Utah, made a mistake in accounting for an amended return check I sent and should not have sent it back and would I please void it and mail it back and (I am not kidding) enclose instructions to the mail room on how it should be accounted for.

Point is, nothing the government does is going to be simple. Medicare Part D has to accommodate the needs of millions of seniors. One size doesn’t fit all, that’s why it’s so complicated. That’s why government is so bad at distributing money. That’s an argument for why the concept of the government paying for prescription drugs, which Klobuchar has got to love, is wrong. That’s why Republicans should have fought this bill, not promoted it. Democrats aren’t going to implement it any better and, in fact, did the country a service for many years by being too incompetent to pass it. Amy’s done emailing for dollars. What else does she have to say?

While people in this country are being forced to choose between daily necessities or paying inflated prices for health care, the big drug companies are making huge profits. In fact, the most common medicines now cost on average 48.2% more under Medicare Part D than they do under the VA program.

It's no wonder this program helps the profits of big drug companies instead of average people. It was written by and for the pharmaceutical companies, then made law by rubber-stamp Congressmen like Mark Kennedy. Their campaign contributions paid for this law, and consequently, Medicare Part D's protection of prescription drug companies from negotiating prices with the government, costs taxpayers as much as $90 billion a year. In fact, more than 1/4 of the money my opponent has raised after voting for this bill comes from the special interests.

Meanwhile, my campaign is built by the support from individuals just like you.
Amy’s pitching again, so let’s take another shot at her rhetoric. In the first paragraph she throws out a statistic worthy of Bob Moffitt of the American Lung Association -- it has absolutely no reference and no meaning. It’s also misleading.

Under the VA program the government purchases prescription drugs and uses it’s huge volume to dictate low prices, just one of the reasons the rest of us pay high drug prices. Thus far, that isn’t the case under Medicare. That has nothing to do with the Part D program.

I assume Klobuchar’s argument is that the government should use its purchasing power to reduce prices of all prescription drugs and save that $90 billion she talks about in the next paragraph. Understand, there is a lot wrong with the way big pharmaceutical companies operate, but crippling the industry with what essentially amounts to government setting prices is not the answer. One need look no further than the Vaccine for Children program to see the harmful ramifications of letting government negotiate drug prices for Medicare.

And what about that part of Americans choosing between health care and other necessities? If one wants to make the case that the very poor and the very sick in this country do not have adequate health care, I'm willing to listen. But don't use that relatively small segment of the overall population to justify big government solutions like Medicare Part D, which proposes a solution that greatly exceeds the extent of the problem. More Amy --
Minnesota and the country are ready for change. Whether you are concerned about Medicare, energy independence, or our troops in Iraq -- we deserve better. Minnesota is a critical part of the national effort to take back the U.S. Senate from the special interest groups and the candidates they fund. But we can only do it with your help.
Sure. It’s about time a new set of special interest groups get their hands on federal power.

So far, the Senate campaign, one of the most important in the country, is shaping up as the ignorance of Amy Klobuchar vs the gimmickry of Mark Kennedy. Not exactly the stuff of Lincoln v Douglas-- now that would have been a blog.

Update: Went back and reread some of the Lincoln-Douglas debate. They even insulted each other with flair.
Lincoln: Henry Clay, my beau ideal of a statesman, the man for whom I fought all my humble life-Henry Clay once said of a class of men who would repress all tendencies to liberty and ultimate emancipation, that they must, if they would do this, go back to the era of our Independence, and muzzle the cannon which thunders its annual joyous return; they must blow out the moral lights around us; they must penetrate the human soul, and eradicate there the love of liberty; and then, and not till then, could they perpetuate slavery in this country! [Loud cheers.] To my thinking, Judge Douglas is, by his example and vast influence, doing that very thing in this community, [cheers,] when he says that the negro has nothing in the Declaration of Independence. Henry Clay plainly understood the contrary. Judge Douglas is going back to the era of our Revolution, and to the extent of his ability, muzzling the cannon which thunders its annual joyous return. When he invites any people, willing to have slavery, to establish it, he is blowing out the moral lights around us.
I might bet on a million monkeys typing "Hamlet" before this level of discurse was reached in the argument of fundamental differences between Klobuchar and Kennedy.

I don't fault either for not rising to the level of eloquence of Lincoln and Douglas; I fault them both for not trying.

Plumbing the depths of occupational licensing

Posted by Craig Westover | 11:58 AM |  

A comment on my column today on occupational licensing requirements raises some good points that deserve further comment.

The writer compares the rationale behind occupational licensing with building codes and traffic laws. He also notes that the criteria I listed in the Sunrise Act really are statements about “public good” and “helping consumers make wise choices.” His points drive to the issue of what is the role of government in protecting “public health and safety.”

The writer is correct that the criteria for regulating occupations do constitute a public good and help consumers make wise choices. The point is, in a criteria-based system the flow is from the specific instance to the general. In other words, the process starts with neutral criteria; and action is proposed and measured against the criteria. If it meets the criteria (plural intended), then the action is taken and is ipso facto in the public good because it met the criteria.

The arbitrary approach is to simply declare an action “in the public good” with no underlying neutral criteria to justify that statement. That is the problem in Minneapolis for sign hangers. By law a license applicant is required to submit an application, pay a fee and provide proof of insurance and bonding. However, any application can be rejected by the city for any reason. There are no standards or guidelines and no appeals process. Why? The city merely says to ensure quality work. What does that mean? There are no criteria.

The writer also mentions plumbers specifically as an occupation that ought to require licensing because the work is hidden behind walls and certainly does affect health and safety. Again, that’s true, but the question then becomes is licensing the least restrictive means of achieving the objective of ensuring public health and safety while at the same time keeping the field competitive and open to new competitors.

You be the judge. According to the Institute for Justice study, here’s what a plumber must go through to be licensed in St. Paul --

Most people are familiar with plumbers. They are knights in shining armor when drains are clogged or a new appliance needs installing. Consumers expect a certain level of professionalism and competency from plumbers. However, no reasonable person would expect a would-be plumber to pass two comprehensive licensing schemes that cover the same subject matter in order to legally unclog that pesky sink in Minnesota’s capital city. Unfortunately, that is precisely what must be done to work legally as a plumber in the City of St. Paul.

To become a plumber in St. Paul, you must first be licensed by the State of Minnesota.94 This generally requires four years of practical plumbing experience, consisting of at least 7,000 hours of practical experience as an apprentice,95 and passage of a license examination.96 In other words, an already-licensed plumber must be convinced to supervise you, as an apprentice, at the risk of creating future competition for his own business. Obviously, for reasons other than the difficulty of the state licensure exam, this requirement might prove a formidable barrier to entering the St. Paul market.

The City of St. Paul next requires any would-be plumber to take its very own Certificate of Competency test97 and otherwise comply with a duplicative licensing scheme that further stifles competition in the plumbing industry (and, of course, collects extra fees98). Thus, the City of St. Paul will deem you “competent” to be a plumber only after you find a market incumbent who is willing to invite future competition, put in four years of apprenticeship, take two very similar tests, fill out numerous forms, and pay upwards of $315 in city and state fees. Rocket science seems easy by comparison.

Is that process the “least restrictive means” of achieving public health and safety?

The alternative to occupational licensing is not a complete “buyer beware” system. That is not the point. The rule of law does not simply mean that government passes laws. It means that laws are based on specific rationales related to the objectives they are suppose to achieve.

Without workable criteria backing them up, occupational licensing laws specifically and public health and safety laws generally become little more than the means by which the powerful inflict their whims on the rest of us. That is the what this issue is all about.

COLUMN -- Licensing keeps people out, does little to promote safety

Posted by Craig Westover | 8:04 AM |  

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Correction on the column: I credited authorship of a report to the Minnesota Office of the Legislative Auditor. The report was actually authored by graduate students and staff of Humphrey Institute and presented to the evaluation staff of the Legislative Auditor.

Ostensibly in place to protect public health and safety, the prolific rise of occupational regulation in Minnesota is best understood as "political mischief," says Nick Dranias, a staff attorney with the Institute for Justice, Minnesota Chapter.

It might come as a surprise, but occupational licensing requirements are often implemented at the request of the very groups that are regulated. Excessive occupational licensing creates barriers to entry-level occupations and decreases competition while increasing income for those already in the profession, at the expense of consumers. Further, there are less restrictive ways of ensuring public health and safety than occupational licensing.

Minnesota is heavily regulated. An Institute report written by Dranias, "The Land of 10,000 Lakes Drowns Entrepreneurs in Regulations," notes that at least 93 discrete occupations are licensed in Minnesota. Including subclasses of licenses, Minnesota regulates more than 180 occupations, making it the 13th most regulated state.

Comparing income for professions among regulated and nonregulated states (Minnesota licenses many occupations not licensed in other states), University of Minnesota professor and director of the Humphrey Institute's Center for Labor Policy Morris Kleiner found that service providers in states with licensing requirements have 12 percent higher incomes.

A 2004 report of the Minnesota Office of the Legislative Auditor found that occupational licensing resulted in Minnesotans paying between $3 billion and $3.6 billion more for regulated services than consumers in other states, reducing economic growth in Minnesota by up to $1.1 billion annually.

A perfect storm. Kleiner describes a confluence of incentives for occupational licensing as a "perfect storm."

Groups of workers who do similar work, in which one worker is easily substituted for another, form an association. The association seeks government occupational licensing, grandfathering in its membership. That limits competition. The association regulates its membership and provides education. That increases its revenue.

Legislators are motivated to approve such arrangements, because large associations have political clout in dollars and campaign workers. Revenue from licensing exceeds the cost of the minimal, if any, state oversight. That increases the general fund.

Often, third-party insurance payments are made only to licensed practitioners. That further motivates association membership. A license, not demonstration of skill, becomes the marketplace differentiation.

Ostensibly, the reason for occupational licensing is protecting public health and safety. It is interesting, in the Minnesota Sunrise Act of 1977, that policy is both skeptical of regulation and quite specific: "The Legislature declares that no regulation shall be imposed upon any occupation unless required for the safety and well being of the citizens of the state."

The statute goes on to list four criteria that must be met before licensing is imposed: the potential harm must be recognizable, not remote; the public must benefit from assurance of a service provider's ability; the least restrictive means of regulation should be used; and the overall cost effectiveness and economic impact of regulation is positive.

Notice what is NOT on this list — statements about quality, the public good, helping consumers make wise choices, and the like.

Herein lies the opportunity. Of 11 licensed occupations included in the Institute for Justice report, including basic skills occupations like sign hangers, manicurists, taxicab businesses, cosmetologists, flower vendors and plumbers, licensing does not advance the least restrictive mode of regulation. In none is licensing "required" to protect health and safety. In all cases, licensing creates substantial barriers to individuals seeking to enter a profession.

Having previously won exclusion from excessive licensing requirements imposed on African hair braiders, the institute recently filed suit on behalf of two sign hangers, third-generation business owner Dan Dahlen and entrepreneur Truong Xuan Mai, over the arbitrariness of licensing requirements that prevent them from working in Minneapolis.

"There are no written standards or guidelines," says Lee McGrath, executive director of the Institute for Justice. Who receives a license "is left up to the whim of government officials. That's not how the laws of our state are supposed to work."

Despite the state's criteria-based approach to occupational regulation, the policy has not been applied consistently or effectively at local or state levels. By initiating legal action on behalf of individuals excluded from pursing a living by excessive regulation, the Institute for Justice creates an opportunity for the courts to review instances of occupational licensing with the skepticism intended by the Sunrise Act.

"I just want to be free to earn an honest living," Mai said. Seems like a reasonable request from a man who fled communist Vietnam for a land of promised opportunity.

Note: As an intern last summer, daughter Blair (Justice is Blonde) did research for the Institute for Justice Report.

Blog Addendum: The key point is that in regulating occupational health and safety there are specific criteria that are supposed to be observed to determine first if regulation is necessary and second to determine the “least restrictive” form of regulation.

As a normative observation, that approach should be applied to all health and safety regulation. If it were, one has to ask, is a smoking ban the “least restrictive” way to accomplish health and safety objectives in the context of other criteria similar to that of the Sunrise Act.

This is the “best” argument against smoking bans. Opposing smoking bans does not make one “pro-smoke.” Smoking bans are representative of the kinds of legislation that use “public health and safety” arbitrarily to accomplish some other end for a powerful group. Smoking bans are an attempt to reengineer individual behavior into something more acceptable to those in power as occupational licensing is to limiting competition and raising the income of members of powerful associations.

When I had Rep. Jeff Johnson on the Patriot talking about eminent domain legislation, which essentially does the same thing as the Sunrise Act (it provides criteria for the use of a legitimate government authority) I broached the idea that maybe the same criteria-based approach ought to be applied to public health and safety legislation. He agreed and somewhat jokingly said he’d take it up after eminent domain legislation was signed. Well, that will be this week, alas too late in the session to do anything. But, well, dare I say, "developing . . . . "

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

A GOP Press Release I can finally agree with -- sort of

Posted by Craig Westover | 4:51 PM |  

Medicare Drug Program Marks Important Milestone

“With the enrollment deadline for the new Medicare Part D program having passed yesterday, thousands of Minnesota’s seniors are already saving money on the prescription drugs they need.
“Overheated political attacks from Amy Klobuchar and her liberal friends will do nothing to help our seniors fill their prescriptions and save money. It is my hope Team Klobuchar will end their shrill rhetoric and assist our seniors in taking advantage of this new program.”

- Ron Carey, Republican Party of Minnesota Chairman
Enrolled Seniors Pleased With Medicare Part D:

84 Percent Of Seniors Enrolled Satisfied With Drug Coverage. (U.S. Chamber Of Commerce, "Nationwide Poll Of Seniors Shows High Level Of Satisfaction With Medicare Prescription Drug Plan," Press Release, 4/25/06)

85 Percent Of Seniors Say Monthly Premium And Co-Payments Are Affordable, 85 Percent Say Plan Covers The Medicines They Need, And 78 Percent Say They Are Happy With The Amount Of Coverage They Have Under Program. (U.S. Chamber Of Commerce, "Nationwide Poll Of Seniors Shows High Level Of Satisfaction With Medicare Prescription Drug Plan," Press Release, 4/25/06)
I’m going to go anecdotal on ya all here, but I got an email from my mother today and it looks like the program is going to work for her, save her some money, and she can still order her medicines from her preferred vendor. It took her some work to figure out how to get there.

But let’s not forget that this program is, economically speaking, a fiscal nightmare and a middleclass entitlement program of major proportions. Long-term, there's no way it stays fiscally viable. But for the Democrats to knock it is hypocrisy of the highest order. This is the kind of program they have been trying to implement for years and couldn’t get passed.

It’s a shame: a win for Republicans and it is something Republicans ought to be ashamed of.

A Moffitt rant

Posted by Craig Westover | 4:20 PM |  

I have to admit, Bob Moffitt of the American Lung Association irrationally irritates me.

You remember that annoying kid in school, the kid that was so pathetic you felt sorry for him, but so obnoxious you couldn't bring yourself to be around him? The one with absolutely no sense of self-awareness; the one that always wanted to be one of the guys but never fit in; the one impossible to put in his place because he had no pride; the one whose idea of a clever retort was “I’m rubber and you’re glue” or “na, na a boo boo?” The kid that stood on the “public sidewalk” just to annoy you and your friends because you wouldn’t let him play in your yard? The kid that made you feel sorry for his father? Remember him? Bob Moffitt is that kid.

In a recent post, Bob does his usual misrepresentation hatchet job by pulling a comment out of context, misrepresenting it, characterizing it as it never was used and failing to link to the source so people might judge for themselves. Here’s what he wrote --
War on the poor? Another local activist, blogger and "hobby columnist" has floated an equally absurd argument against clean indoor air ordinances in his writings -- that they are part of a vast conspiracy of the state's elites against the working poor. Here's a sample of his breathless (pun intended) prose:

If the new urbanists don't like hanging around poor people, then let's just say so. Don't try to pretend that smoking bans in bars and restaurants are anything other than the majority imposing its whim on the minority. Don't try to gerrymander some statistical justification that in no way represents reality. At least be honest and admit it -- you just don't care.
If this is a representative sample of the best arguments the pro-smoke camp can offer, Minnesota may go smokefree even sooner than expected.
Okay. First, here’s the link to my post about bar employees starting a drive to recall the smoking ban in St. Paul -- the people the smoking ban is suppose to benefit. Here’s the paragraphs Bob chose not to let his readers see --
Let’s try it again, very slowly: aggregate statistics do not measure the impact of government policy on specific subgroups of the a population. Receipts and taxes paid by the hospitality industry as a whole do not measure the economic impact of smoking bans on specific businesses like neighborhood bars. It happened in Minneapolis, and it is happening in St. Paul -- neighborhood bars that catered to working class patrons, many of whom smoke or hang with friends that smoke, are being hurt by the ban.

Now, if putting neighborhood bars out of business and causing economic hardship for the people they employ is the price society has to pay so Jeanne Weigum can drink alcohol and eat deep-fried cheese curds in a healthy environment, then let’s be honest and say so. If the patrons and employees of neighborhood bars are just collateral damage necessary for the collective good, then just say so. If the new urbanists don’t like hanging around poor people, then let’s just say so.
No, Bob it’s not a conspiracy. But this is a simple observation -- mayors of both cities are adopting the "City as Playground" approach to growth, sacrificing neighborhood improvement, public safety, real solutions to transportation problems in favor of hiding the poor and the working class behind an appealing façade of shinny trains, smoke-free venues and clock-tower communities. But that’s not the “best” arguments against smoking bans and never was claimed as such and you damn well know it.

The best argument is science doesn’t support the dangers of secondhand smoke that you claim. I’ve made numerous requests that you provide me with a single study that you feel justifies a smoking ban based on scientific evidence, and I’ve also asked Shannon Guernsey of the American Cancer Society, and neither one of you have provided even one study. Not one. I’ve provided to you several studies that do demonstrate the connection between secondhand smoke and disease, but where the exposure must be measured in decades before the correlation is significant. You can’t even demonstrate that level of proof. Your response has been the frustrating “na na a boo boo.”

The next best argument is the economic argument made above. Despite being continually shown that aggregate data such as tax receipts for the hospitality industry necessarily hides the impact of smoking bans on smaller segments of the industry -- specifically small bars in working class neighborhoods -- you continue to pull out aggregate data and never address the issue of its appropriateness. That’s just plain disingenuous, Bob. It’s bad in a blogger and disgraceful for someone that draws a paycheck as a professional communicator.

Bottom line, Bob, despite a total lack of respect for you and your communications methods, I find myself having to ask you that if you are going lift my comments and misrepresent them, would you please at least link to the post so that perhaps someone with a bit of intelligence might decide for himself who’s being honest with him? Have you got enough pride to even do that?

Response to a Vietnam-Iraq comparison

Posted by Craig Westover | 3:07 PM |  

Smartie at Powerliberal finds this article on Yubanet fascinating less for what it said, then what it doesn't say.

The article, "The Iraq-Vietnam Comparison," uses graphs to make a comparison between the positions of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents on the question of whether each of the respective wars “was a mistake.” The article concludes that during Vietnam, all three groups were in relative agreement that the Vietnam was a mistake. Relative to the Iraq war, there is a wide partisan divide on the question. Smartie observes --
The "independent" view of the war has been ignored in order to make the "partisan divide" point. While Republicans often argue that Democrats are out of step with mainstream opinion or filled with "irrational Bush hatred" or some such thing, as this graph shows Democratic attitudes have tracked fairly closely with those of the non-partisan independents. Indeed it is the stubbornly unchanging Republican views which put them out of the mainstream both with the current electorate and with the historical practicality of their own party, if the Vietnam graph is any indicator.

While many on the modern Right deride anyone who turns against the war as having gone Lefty on them, maybe they need to take a hard look at the data and see who, exactly, is out of touch on this life-or-death issue.
My response:

Smartie --

Once again you let your “irrational Bush hatred” get in the way of your thinking and you miss the chance to make an insightful point by taking the easy way out.
First, let’s dismiss the Vietnam comparison. It doesn’t hold. The “mistake” question did not have the same significance during Vietnam as it does for the Iraq war for two reasons. First, Vietnam was associated with Lyndon Johnson, a Democrat. Kennedy was still a God, and the general feeling was that he would have seen the error of his ways and gotten us out of the war. Republicans had no problem calling the war a mistake -- it was a Democrat war -- and Nixon was doing the “best he could” to get us out with honor.

Democrats had no problem calling the war a mistake -- Johnson was not Kennedy, he was not Northern bred and educated, he was an embarrassment compared to the sophistication and intellectual power of the best and the brightest of Camelot.. The question in the Vietnam war was not was it a mistake, but was it “quagmire?” In the eyes of Democrats it became Nixon’s war.

The “mistake” question takes on much larger significance for Iraq because (although not true) it is perceived by both Republicans and Democrats as an all-Bush war. It’s easy for Democrats to blame it on Bush; it’s hard for Republicans to admit Bush was wrong. A big gap is not a surprise.

Your observation of independents is astute, but you blow the interpretation. You use it to make a trite political point instead of asking what are the consequences of that attitude?

There are many people like myself that have always felt the war in Iraq was a mistake. If that’s the question, “yes” is my answer. It was my answer before we invaded, even assuming, as did Republicans and Democrats alike, that Bush was right in his assumptions. Regime change is not a valid reason to go to war without an overt threat. Democrats didn’t take that route however; they agreed with Bush, best case, or worst case, simply went along because at the time it was patriotic and popular. Regardless, they didn't grab the available moral highground.

But having said the war was a mistake, we are in it now, and we are the good guys. Say what you want about Bush lied, or the war was a mistake, or whatever, the fact is evident -- we put down the terrorist forces and Iraq is a better place than if we pull out before there is a stable government. What the graph portends is the latter is the politically popular course; it does not make the case that it is the strategically proper one.

Your argument should be that Bush is mishandling the war and offer up a candidate that has a victory strategy. At this point, I don’t see that from the Dems. All I see is self-congratulatory stuff like your post, which is gleeful about bashing Bush but hesitant to offer alternatives or accept any part of the blame for rush to judgment.

In that there is a Vietnam parallel. Vietnam protestors took credit for the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam but accepted no responsibility for the millions of civilians killed by communists in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos after the U.S. presence was gone. They took no responsibility for the drowning of thousands of people trying to escape Vietnam on little more than floating futons. But by then, the war protestors were out of college and too busy starting careers to worry about the color of the body count.

Today’s protestors wouldn’t ignore continued killing in Iraq like that -- they’d still blame Bush.

When and why should we vote, indeed.

Posted by Craig Westover | 12:56 PM |  

The PiPress misses the point in this editorial --

We count on legislators to strike a balance

Voting is sacred, second to nothing in a democracy. But when and why should we vote?

This is one of the central issues underlying the stadium debate at the Capitol. The leading plan to build a Twins ballpark has been approved by the Hennepin County Board, whose citizens would be taxed to help pay for it, and by the Minnesota House.
That plan could get the bulldozers moving in downtown Minneapolis without a direct vote by Hennepin County residents.

A competing plan in the Minnesota Senate includes Vikings and Twins stadiums along with transit improvements. It taxes the entire metro area at a higher rate than the Hennepin-only plan. As it came out of the Senate, it includes a referendum — a metrowide vote on whether to impose the tax. Only if voters approve could the work begin.

The Legislature requires cities and counties to get legislative approval and to hold referendums in order to raise a local sales tax. No such barrier would be imposed for a statewide tax hike to build a stadium (which would be much smaller and much fairer — but that's another issue).

Let’s pause right there to look at the parenthetical. Smaller and fairer? That’s the philosophy that has been employed to make Minnesota one of the highest taxed states in the nation. Keep taking a nickel from people that don’t really notice it and give it to the guy that hollers the loudest for government aid. Pretty soon those nickels add up.

And what is fair about taxing a person in Duluth for a stadium in Minneapolis, the consequences of which are he doesn’t spend the equivalent of the tax on something he would rather have, depriving the seller of that product or service of his legitimate profit?

You bet that’s another issue.

We are hesitant to deprive voters in Hennepin County or anywhere else of a trip to the ballot box. But voting is primarily a matter of electing the right officials — not in voting on every decision those officials make.

We agree with a comment made by House Speaker Steve Sviggum, in responding to a negative poll about the Twins stadium, who questioned whether state voters would support a bridge in Warroad, a theater on the Minneapolis riverfront or any local project. This is government, not "American Idol." Throwing every issue up for general referendum would be chaos.

Worse — it would be California, the land of 10,000 ballot initiatives.

We elect a governor and a Legislature to get well-informed on our behalf, to balance needs and desires with principles and resources, to duke it out and make decisions. If they get the balance wrong, they get tossed. By popular vote.
The PiPress is mixing apples and oranges on this one. The ballpark referendum in Hennepin County has nothing to do with initiative and referendum as practiced in California, which is, indeed, a bad idea. Minnesota has a law that says Hennepin County residents should vote on any increase in sales tax. The stadium bill passed by the house EXEMPTS the stadium from the existing law. On what criteria? Without criteria the exemption is arbitrary.

Sviggum questions whether voters would support “a bridge in Warroad, a theater on the Minneapolis riverfront or any local project.” First, let’s understand what state government should fund and what it shouldn’t. A bridge in Warroad is infrastructure. If it’s necessary, it should be funded. Theaters and like local projects are nice not necessary. They should be funded, if at all, locally.

The Hennepin County stadium plan is not a bad plan (building materials should be taxed, however). If I lived in Hennepin County, I’d be tempted to vote for it. But it should not be forced on the residents of Hennepin County without a vote.

And finally the argument that we can vote officials out of office if they don’t like the proposal. That’s well and good except the damage of a 30-year commitment is already done and can’t be undone. Voting out the perpetrators is small consolation.

Sooner or later, the cities as playgrounds philosophy is going to have consequences.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Presidential Speech on Immigration -- "Cliff Notes"

Posted by Craig Westover | 8:50 PM |  

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release May 15, 2006

Overview: Comprehensive Immigration Reform

Tonight, President Bush Discussed His Vision For Comprehensive Immigration Reform. The five clear objectives of comprehensive immigration reform are securing our borders, creating a temporary worker program, making it easier for employers to verify employment eligibility and continuing to hold them to account for the legal status of workers they hire, dealing with the millions of illegal immigrants who are already here, and honoring the great American tradition of the melting pot.

Ø The President Believes America Can Be A Lawful Society And A Welcoming Society At The Same Time. We will fix the problem of illegal immigration, and we will deliver a system that is secure, orderly, and fair.

1. The United States Must Secure Its Borders

Securing Our Borders Is The Basic Responsibility Of A Sovereign Nation And An Urgent Requirement Of Our National Security. President Bush's proposals to better secure our borders include increasing the number of Border Patrol agents, ending the practice of "catch and release" along the southern border, eliminating bureaucratic obstacles to returning illegal immigrants to their home countries, and sending National Guard members to the border for temporary assignment to assist the Border Patrol during the transition as new Border Patrol agents are added and new technology comes online.

Since President Bush Took Office, We Have Increased Funding For Border Security By 66 Percent And Expanded The Border Patrol From About 9,000 To 12,000 Agents. Over the past five years, we have apprehended and sent home more than 6 million people entering America illegally.

By The End Of 2008, We Will Have Increased The Number Of Border Patrol Officers By An Additional 6,000. When these new agents are deployed, we will have more than doubled the size of the Border Patrol during the President's Administration.

We Launched The Secure Border Initiative, The Most Technologically Advanced Border Enforcement Initiative In American History. We will construct high-tech fences in urban corridors and build new patrol roads and barriers in rural areas. We will employ motion sensors, infrared cameras, and unmanned aerial vehicles to detect and respond to illegal crossings.

The President's Plan To Increase Border Security Will Take Time To Fully Implement, So The President Is Announcing Several Immediate Steps To Strengthen Border Enforcement During This Transition:

Ø In Coordination With Governors, Up To 6,000 National Guard Members Will Be Sent To Our Southern Border. The Department of Homeland Security, and specifically the Border Patrol, will remain in the lead. The Guard, which will be deployed in shifts, will assist the Border Patrol by operating surveillance systems, analyzing intelligence, installing fences and vehicle barriers, building patrol roads, and providing training. Guard units will not be involved in direct law enforcement activities -- that duty will be done by the Border Patrol.

This Initial Commitment Of Guard Members Would Last For One Year. After that, the number of Guard forces will be reduced as new Border Patrol agents are added and new technologies come online. These 6,000 troops account for less than 2 percent of the total National Guard force of more than 440,000. We have enough National Guard members to secure our border while continuing to respond to natural disasters and to win the War on Terror.

The United States Is Not Going To Militarize The Southern Border. Mexico is our neighbor and friend. We will continue to work cooperatively to improve security on both sides of the border, confront common problems like drug trafficking and crime, and reduce illegal immigration.

Ø We Will Increase Federal Funding For State And Local Authorities Assisting The Border Patrol On Targeted Enforcement Missions, And We Will Give Them The Specialized Training They Need To Help The Border Patrol And Other Federal Officers Apprehend And Detain Illegal Immigrants.

We Will Work To Ensure That Every Illegal Immigrant We Catch Crossing Our Southern Border Is Returned Home By Ending The Practice Of "Catch And Release,” For many years, the government did not have enough space in our detention facilities to hold illegal immigrants while the legal process unfolded. Most were released back into society and asked to return for a court date, but did not show up when the date arrived.

Ø To End "Catch And Release," We Will Continue Expanding The Number Of Beds In Our Detention Facilities And Continue Expediting The Removal Process To Cut The Average Deportation Time. We are making it clear to foreign governments that they must accept back their citizens who violate our immigration laws. As a result of these actions, we have ended “catch and release” for illegal immigrants from some countries. The President will ask Congress for additional funding and legal authority to permanently end “catch and release” at the southern border once and for all.

2. To Secure Our Border, We Must Create A Temporary Worker Program

President Bush Supports A Temporary Worker Program That Would Create A Legal Path For Foreign Workers To Enter Our Country In An Orderly Way, For A Limited Period Of Time. This program would match willing foreign workers with willing American employers for jobs Americans are not doing. Every worker who applies for the program would be required to pass criminal background checks, and temporary workers must return to their home country at the conclusion of their stay.

Ø A Temporary Worker Program Would Meet The Needs Of Our Economy, Ease The Financial Burden On State And Local Governments, And Add To Our Security. A temporary worker program would give honest immigrants a way to provide for their families while respecting the law, would replace illegal workers with lawful taxpayers, and would enable us to make certain we know who is in our country and why they are here.

3. We Need To Hold Employers To Account For The Workers They Hire

Comprehensive Immigration Reform Must Include A Tamper-Resistant Identification Card For Every Legal Foreign Worker So Businesses Can Verify The Legal Status Of Their Employees. This card should use biometric technology, such as digital fingerprints, to make it tamper-proof. This would leave employers with no excuse for violating the law, and it would help us enforce the law.

4. We Must Deal With The Millions Of Illegal Immigrants Already Here

The President Opposes Amnesty. President Bush opposes giving illegal immigrants an automatic path to citizenship because it would be unfair to those who are here lawfully, would compromise the rule of law, and would invite further waves of illegal immigration. The President supports increasing the annual number of green cards that can lead to citizenship, but for the sake of justice and security, the President is firmly opposed to amnesty.

President Bush Believes That Deporting Every Illegal Immigrant Is Neither Wise Nor Realistic. There is a rational middle ground between granting an automatic path to citizenship for every illegal immigrant and a program of mass deportation.

President Bush Believes Illegal Immigrants Who Want To Stay Should Have To Pay A Meaningful Penalty For Breaking The Law, Pay Their Taxes, Learn English, And Work In A Job For A Number Of Years. The President also believes that there are differences between an illegal immigrant who crossed the border recently – and someone who has worked here for many years, and has a home, a family, and an otherwise clean record. Those who meet our conditions should be able to apply for citizenship – but approval will not be automatic, and they will have to wait in line behind those who played by the rules and followed the law.

5. We Must Honor The Great American Tradition Of The Melting Pot

The Success Of Our Country Depends Upon Helping Newcomers Assimilate Into Our Society And Embrace Our Common Identity As Americans. Americans are bound together by our shared ideals, an appreciation of our history, respect for the flag we fly, and an ability to speak and write the English language.

The House And Senate Must Pass A Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill

All Elements Of This Problem Must Be Addressed Together. The House has passed an immigration bill. The Senate should act by the end of this month – so that the House and Senate can work out their differences and send the President a comprehensive bill to sign.

America Needs To Conduct This Debate In A Reasoned And Respectful Tone. Feelings run deep on this issue – and as we work it out, all of us need to keep some things in mind. We cannot build a unified country by inciting people to anger, or playing on anyone's fears, or exploiting the issue of immigration for political gain. We must always remember that real lives will be affected by our debates and decisions, and that every human being has dignity and value no matter what their citizenship papers say.

Sanding off the truth -- Kansas-style

Posted by Craig Westover | 6:29 PM |  

John LaPlante, PolicyGuy, sends along the following article from Kansas, where they are having their own Dean Johnson truth-sanding exercise.
TOPEKA, Kan. - A Kansas Supreme Court justice violated judicial rules during a lunch when he and two senators discussed the way Kansas lawmakers fund public schools, which is at the heart of a lawsuit still before the high court, according to a complaint filed Friday.

The complaint, filed by an examiner for the Commission on Judicial Qualifications, accuses Justice Lawton Nuss of violating three canons of the judiciary's code of conduct by having a March 1 conversation with Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, and Sen. Pete Brungardt, R-Salina, a longtime Nuss friend.

The senators said they briefly discussed school finance issues, with an education funding lawsuit still before the court, which had mandated the state spend more money on education. . . .

Last month, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius said she was "incredibly unhappy" that a justice had talked to legislators about school finance. She later acknowledged Morris had made an "offhand" comment to her in March about having talked to someone associated with the court. . . .

Andrew Kaufman, a Harvard Law School professor who teaches legal ethics, said judges learn shortly after getting on the bench about prohibitions on discussing cases with outsiders.

"Any judge ought to know," he said. "They're not supposed to speak to members of their own family."

He said a key issue is keeping a trial fair and making sure that if a judge or justice receives information, all parties know about it.

Presidential Speech on Immigration -- Excerpts prepared for delivery

Posted by Craig Westover | 4:50 PM |  

Complete speech (as prepared) and press briefing here.


Office of the Press Secretary


For Immediate Release May 15, 2006

As Prepared for Delivery

On the President’s vision for comprehensive immigration reform:

“We are a Nation of laws, and we must enforce our laws. We are also a Nation of immigrants, and we must uphold that tradition, which has strengthened our country in so many ways. These are not contradictory goals – America can be a lawful society and a welcoming society at the same time. We will fix the problems created by illegal immigration, and we will deliver a system that is secure, orderly, and fair.”

On Border Security:

“Since I became President, we have increased funding for border security by 66 percent, and expanded the Border Patrol from about 9,000 to 12,000 agents. . . .we have apprehended and sent home about six million people entering America illegally.

“Despite this progress, we do not yet have full control of the border, and I am determined to change that. Tonight I am calling on Congress to provide funding for dramatic improvements in manpower and technology at the border."

On the Importance of a Temporary Worker Program to relieve pressure on the border:

“The reality is that there are many people on the other side of our border who will do anything to come to America to work and build a better life. They walk across miles of desert in the summer heat, or hide in the back of 18-wheelers to reach our country. This creates enormous pressure on our border that walls and patrols alone will not stop. To secure the border effectively we must reduce the numbers of people trying to sneak across."

On enforcing our laws:

“. . . we need to hold employers to account for the workers they hire. It is against the law to hire someone who is in this country illegally. Yet businesses often cannot verify the legal status of their employees, because of the widespread problem of document fraud. Therefore, comprehensive immigration reform must include a better system for verifying documents and work eligibility . . .

“A tamper-proof card would help us enforce the law – and leave employers with no excuse for violating it. And by making it harder for illegal immigrants to find work in our country, we would discourage people from crossing the border illegally in the first place.”

On the President’s opposition to amnesty:

“. . . we must face the reality that millions of illegal immigrants are already here. They should not be given an automatic path to citizenship. This is amnesty, and I oppose it. Amnesty would be unfair to those who are here lawfully – and it would invite further waves of illegal immigration."

On assimilation:

“. . . we must honor the great American tradition of the melting pot, which has made us one Nation out of many peoples. The success of our country depends upon helping newcomers assimilate into our society, and embrace our common identity as Americans. Americans are bound together by our shared ideals, an appreciation of our history, respect for the flag we fly, and an ability to speak and write the English language.”

On the tone of the debate:

“We must always remember that real lives will be affected by our debates and decisions, and that every human being has dignity and value no matter what their citizenship papers say.”

Cities as playgrounds

Posted by Craig Westover | 2:41 PM |  

From an article by Joel Kotkin in the Wall Street Journal --
Even amidst a strong economic expansion, the most recent census data reveal a renewed migration out of our urban centers. This gives considerable lie to the notion, popularized over a decade, that cities are enjoying a historic rebound. The newest figures are troubling on two accounts. Not only are the perennial losers -- Baltimore, Philadelphia, Cleveland and Detroit -- continuing to empty out, but some of our arguably most attractive cities, like Boston, San Francisco, Minneapolis and Chicago, have lost population since 2000. Even New York, where foreign immigration has managed to counteract large scale outmigration, seems to be slowing down.

Equally troubling may be the reasons why this population shift is occurring, and how profoundly clueless most mayors and city officials around the country seem to be about addressing the problem.
The money quote, relevant to what I wrote here --
Instead of luring the "hip and cool" with high-end amenities, cities need instead to address issues that concern businesses as well as working- and middle-class families. These include such basic needs as public safety, maintenance of parks, improving public schools, cutting taxes, regulatory reform -- in other words, all those decidedly unsexy things that contribute to maintaining a job base and the hope for upward mobility.

Given the growing challenge posed by the emerging boomtowns as well as the suburbs and exurbs, wannabe "hip cool" cities need to realize they can't thrive merely as amusement parks for the rich, the nomadic young and tourists. To remain both vital and economically relevant, they must remain anchored by a large middle class, and by families and businesses that feel safe and committed to the urban place.
(Thanks to David Strom of the Taxpayer's League of Minnesota for the article)

Update: PolicyGuy John LaPLante posts some confirming observations. He also has some excellent observations here.

Media Alert -- Mark Yost on FOX

Posted by Craig Westover | 11:49 AM |  

Former Pioneer Press Associate Editorial Page Editor Mark Yost will be on "Your World with Neil Cavuto" about 3:30 p.m. CDT talking about an upcoming piece in The American Spectator about the unsung heroes of Iraq.

Link to interview "No Recognition."

School Choice: Why does NAACP fight against private school vouchers?

Posted by Craig Westover | 11:25 AM |  

From Elizabeth Mische at Partnership for Choice in Education --

Commentary: Why does NAACP fight against private school vouchers?
By Star Parker
May 14, 2006

Why would an organization that calls itself the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, whose motto is "Making Democracy Work Since 1909," oppose individual choice and freedom and dedicate itself to promoting public policy that guarantees the perpetuation of black poverty?

As incongruous as this might sound, it is in fact true.

Consider the prominent role that the NAACP played recently in killing the Opportunity Scholarships Program created by Gov. Jeb Bush in Florida, which granted vouchers to students in failing public schools to attend a different school of their choice - public or private.

As soon as the program got underway, the NAACP joined the unions to challenge its constitutionality under Florida law. The challenge was upheld in divided court decisions up through Florida's Supreme Court.

Governor Bush attempted to salvage the program through a proposed amendment to the State constitution; however, this was narrowly defeated in the Florida Senate two weeks ago.

During the past school year, 740 students participated in the Opportunity Scholarship Program, of which 64 percent were black and 30 percent Hispanic. The students are practically all from low-income families.

So why would the NAACP work to kill a program that gives low income minority kids a chance to get a good education at a private school?

"Vouchers siphon off money from public education," according to the president of the NAACP's New York Chapter.

But, of course, vouchers do not siphon off money from the public school system. However, they do cause the public school system to compete for those funds. Vouchers shift power to parents from bureaucrats.

Here, as elsewhere, NAACP leadership automatically equates big government with black interests.

The public school monopoly serves the black community so notoriously poorly that many blacks themselves poll in favor of vouchers.

The GAO reported in 2004 that there are almost three million kids nationwide in schools failing by No Child Left Behind criteria. These are disproportionately poor black kids. Half of these kids do not graduate and the ones that do, graduate with eighth grade reading skills.

So what's going on here? You would think that NAACP leaders would be rabid in pushing for change and opening new educational opportunities available for black children. Yet, they doggedly defend a proven and hopeless failed status quo.

The need for school choice for black kids goes beyond the argument for efficiency and competition. The education problem in the black community is really a social, moral and family problem.

One black mother supporting vouchers in Florida testified about why it is important to her to have the opportunity to send her child to a religious school: "I make sure her religious values are coming from home . . . Then when my child steps out of my home and into this institution, she's receiving the same thing. That's consistency."

It is crucial that poor black kids, coming overwhelmingly from single parent homes and from communities where promiscuity and out-of-wedlock births are commonplace, have the opportunity to attend schools where traditional values and character building are part of the curriculum.

A religious education cannot be forced and should not be forced on any American kid. But denying parents, particularly the ones that need it most, the opportunity to choose a religious school for their child is blatantly un-American.

In a recent column, Edward Lazear, chairman of the President's Council of Economic Advisors, noted, "Half of those who are in poverty escape that status within three years. One-fifth of those in the bottom quarter of the income distribution move up within a year."

Yet, despite the fact that escaping poverty is a routine occurrence in America, pockets of black poverty persist generation after generation.

At the heart of the problem is the failure to educate black children. And despite this clear failure, the NAACP fights change because change would challenge government control and would shift responsibility directly into our own communities and families.

Let's again recall Einstein's definition of insanity as repeating the same behavior but expecting different results.

Yes, it is incongruent that the nation's oldest civil rights organization opposes the right of black parents to choose where to send their child to school. And it is incongruent that those who celebrate a civil rights movement that was led by a black pastor insist that black children be trapped in schools where it is prohibited to teach Christian values.

Maybe one day the NAACP will wake up and recall that its mission is supposedly to expand not limit opportunities for black Americans.

Parker is president of CURE, Coalition on Urban Renewal and Education ( and author of the new book, "White Ghetto: How Middle Class America Reflects Inner City Decay."