Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Powerline Prize

A couple months ago the guys over at Powerline ( announced a competition they called the Powerline Prize. They asked people to submit some sort of representation that best explained the federal debt. Entrants could use any medium they wanted to: A song, a video, a PowerPoint presentation, a painting, whatever. And Powerline made it worth entering: First prize was $100,000!

The top 10 winners are being revealed, and I'll share a few over the next few days. This video was NOT one of the winners, but I liked it a lot. Enjoy:

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Can a college degree actually HURT you?

It's a bit of coincidence that just as I was writing about the declining value of college education, (see two preceding posts) along comes a story about someone who is actually being harmed by his decision to gain more education.

Let me introduce a friend of mine named Katy Lindberg. Katy runs her own insurance agency in Hastings, MN - you can see her agency page by clicking here - and she does a terrific job. I know that no one is excited about talking to an insurance agent, but Katy is as good as they come, and if you let her handle your insurance - auto, home, life, whatever - you'll never be sorry.

End of commercial. The story involves her husband, Andy, who wants to be an elementary school teacher. While preparing to enter the field, Andy made the decision to not just get a bachelor's degree in education, but a master's degree as well.

Now he's finding out that the master's degree is making it well-nigh impossible for him to even get interviewed for a teaching job. It's an illuminating story about one of the many detrimental effects unionization has had on education.

Up until about the midpoint of the 20th century, teachers were similar to free agents in football. You found a school to hire you, negotiated a contract and taught for a year. At the end of that year, if the school wanted you back, they made you another contract offer designed to keep you there. If you were a particularly good teacher, you often found yourself in a "bidding war" between schools, all of whom strove to find and hire the best possible teachers.

Then came the unionization of teachers and collective bargaining agreements. Instead of having each teacher paid based on his or her performance, the unions insisted on a scale for everyone. That led to the development of what is known as the "steps and lanes" system.

The way it works in most districts is that there is a big chart, with horizontal columns listing the number of years a teacher has taught (the "steps") and vertical columns listing the amount of education a teacher has (the "lanes.") Determining a teacher's salary is simply a matter of finding their spot on the grid. So every teacher with four years of experience and a bachelor's degree gets paid the same amount, regardless of their effectiveness.

(If I'm not describing this adequately, click here for a great visual example.)

What Andy has inadvertently done is price himself out of the market. By obtaining a master's degree, he has forced any district that hires him to pay him about 8% more than they would have to pay another rookie teacher with just a bachelor's degree. In a time when there is a surplus of teachers, and districts are fighting tight budgets, it seems unlikely that Andy will get a fair shake in the hiring process, no matter how gifted and talented a teacher he might be. And of course, Andy isn't allowed to say to a district, "Hire me, and pay me less," because the union won't allow that.

Two points:

#1. The time and money Andy spent obtaining his master's degree has not only failed to help him, it's actually HURT his job prospects. I think that's a great metaphor for the current problems in higher education that I alluded to in previous posts.

#2. An equal loser in this scenario is the education system itself, which finds it very difficult to weed out poor teachers, while at the same time unable to reward exceptional teachers. The steps-and-lane system works AGAINST the efficient distribution of education resources in a way that makes our children receive a poorer education than they would receive if schools were able to make pay and hiring decisions independent of the union scale.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

College degrees and fastballs

This is a follow-up to the post below regarding college, and an explanation of my own personal theory about the reasons why college degrees are overrated.

First, here's a link to an interesting article in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Titled, "Are Too Many Students Going to College?" the article provides a number of interesting quotes, and also points out that in 1970, 40 percent of high school graduates went on to college, but that number is now closer to 70%. Most of those who share insights in the article agree that a four-year college is a poor choice for most high school students, with one of them saying, "College attendance, in my view, is usually a drain on our economy and society."

For the first 200 years or so of the United States, a college degree was a requirement only for certain professions, or higher levels of a company. But almost anyone attempting to crack the job market, or move up in an organization, often finds out that the words, "Four-year degree required," can stop your career in its tracks. Why is that? Well, my theory relates to the sports world.

For years, baseball scouts or college coaches trying to find pitchers would go out and look for young men who knew how to, well, pitch. There's a lot more to pitching than just throwing a baseball hard. I've spent literally thousands of hours behind home plate, either as a catcher or as an umpire, and I know what it takes to successfully pitch. Good pitchers don't need to throw hard. It doesn't hurt, but it's not a requirement. They DO need to throw with control (putting the pitch where they want it), they need to know how to read a batter's weaknesses (Does he hit high pitches or low? Can he handle inside pitches? Will he chase an outside curve ball?), and they need to learn how to keep hitters off-balance by changing the speed and movement of their deliveries. Baseball history is full of successful pitchers who - as the saying goes - "couldn't break glass" with their fastball but knew how to pitch.

But sometime around the late '70s or early '80s, the portable radar gun became widely available. Now a scout could sit behind home plate, and figure out how hard a kid's fastball was. Instead of writing in a scouting report "Has good fastball, sharp curve, changes speeds well," they now wrote "Consistently throws 90-92 MPH."

Suddenly there was an objective number taking the place of subjective judgment, and because human beings tend to be risk-averse, the number became a way to cover your backside. If a scout recommended that a certain pitcher be drafted, and the pitcher didn't work out, the scout could say "I don't understand it. The gun said he threw 92," and everyone would excuse the scout for a poor selection, because his decision was based on the radar gun's number. Never mind that the kid never really knew how to pitch.

But now imagine if a scout said, "This kid doesn't throw real hard, but he knows how to pitch. I watched him throw a three-hit shutout where he had no strikeouts, but he only walked one batter and only threw 82 pitches. I think we should draft him." When that pitcher is drafted and doesn't work out, the scout is going to be ridiculed, because "Everyone knows you shouldn't draft someone who can't throw 90+." And so scouts became conditioned to protect themselves by relying on the number. A piece of electronic equipment had replaced judgment, experience and acumen.

Another example, from another sport: There was a local kid in Red Wing (I won't name him, but if you're from here you probably know who I'm talking about) who was a phenomenal golfer. Went to the state tournament in his younger years, was shooting par or better as a high school freshman, had a bright future ahead of him. So bright, in fact, that a Big Ten school asked him early on to commit to a scholarship, which he did.

The beauty of his game was that he knew how to "work" a golf ball. If the hole layout called for a long, low draw, he could hit it. If he needed a high fade to a back pin location, he could do it. And around the greens, his touch was impeccable. His only flaw: He didn't regularly hit 300-yard tee shots. Hitting the monster long drive wasn't part of his game. But as they say in golf, "It's not how, it's how many," and he knew how to get around the course in as few strokes as possible.

But this wasn't good enough for the Big Ten coach. Having recruited the young man, he now sought to change his game. He wanted the kid to hit those long 300+ yard drives, and so - while the kid was still in high school - he started working on changing the kids' swing to get more distance. In almost no time, the changes ruined his swing. In trying to generate more power, he lost the tempo and rhythm and plane of his beautiful swing. He began fighting a vicious snap-hook, he lost confidence and by his senior year of high school, he didn't even qualify for the state tournament that he had been a pre-season favorite to win.

He went on to the Big Ten school, but it didn't last. He never regained his swing, and dropped out of the golf program before his junior year.

So why did the coach want to change his swing? Because he wanted a number - the 300-yard drive - to validate his decision to recruit the boy. If you recruit a kid who can hit the ball half a mile, and it doesn't work out, you've covered your butt by saying, "We had to take a chance on him, he could hit it 330 regularly." But if a kid doesn't work out and you say, "He had great hands and a terrific short game and I thought he was worth taking a shot on," you get laughed at.

All of which brings me back to my theory: As a society, we've lost our willingness to go with "gut instincts," and we're terrified to take the risk of making a bad decision. It's just not in sports, it's part of the corporate world as well.

Once upon a time, people running Human Resources departments - they used to be called "Personnel" - would fill a job by reviewing an applicant's experience and education and learning about them through an interview. At the end of the process they made a gut decision based not only on an applicant's skill set, but on his personality and aptitude.

Once in a while, a hire didn't work out, but that was okay because everyone understood it's an inexact science. Hiring was a subjective judgment, and subjective judgments are, by nature, sometimes wrong.

Now, however, the HR person has learned that if they only use objective criteria, they can insulate themselves from being criticized. "If I make it a requirement to only hire someone with a college degree, then I can't be criticized if someone with a college degree doesn't work out." Never mind that holding a college degree tells you nothing about a person's work ethic, ability to adapt to change, ability to respond in a crisis situation or any other quality that makes a valuable employee.

Like the baseball scout and the golf coach, the HR person knows that if they never use their instincts, they're immune from being second-guessed.

And so the pitcher who can get batters out, the kid who can shoot par and the bright, energetic job prospect who knows how to keep customers satisfied are denied opportunities because they can't throw 92, can't drive the ball 330 yards or they never got a college degree. Talent goes to waste, because people who make decisions are afraid of occasionally being wrong.

And so we've artificially inflated the value of a college degree to the point where most high school kids think "I have to go to college or I won't succeed," even though there's no legitimate reason for that kind of thinking. As a result of that artificially driven demand, the cost of those college educations has skyrocketed, and now we're producing legions of 22-year-olds who are carrying $40,000 of college debt at graduation and find that their degree in whatever - Literature, Music, Art, Psychology, History, Government, Communications, you name it - doesn't make them any more qualified for a job than if they'd spent eight months learning auto body repair at the local technical college or a year as a plumber's assistant. In fact, they're probably LESS qualified.

I don't know how to put the genie back in the bottle, but it's something for a parent to think about before you start writing those five-figure checks so Johnny or Susie can go live in a nice dorm and have faculty teach them the value of "diversity," "tolerance," and the collected writings of Emily Bronte.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

What's the value of college?

Just a couple of months ago, I attended the college graduation of my youngest son, William, marking the third time in four years I've sat through one of my children's college commencements. It's become somewhat expected now that a high school graduate will move on to college, but historically that's not been the case, and I've begun to wonder lately if the experience isn't a bit overrated.

My father was one of eight children, all of whom were raised on a farm, and of the eight, I believe only two had any sort of post-high school education, involving what was then known as "Teacher's college." I may be wrong, but I don't think there is a single four-year degree among them, and all went on to have productive lives as business owners, farmers, postal workers and such, even a newspaper editor.

These eight Droogsmas produced nearly 40 offspring, and among my first cousins I would guess that two-thirds of us went on to attend college, a generational change that would seem to be in line with the usual American demographics. Now, in my household, the percentage of college grads has risen to 75%.

But will that college degree help them achieve more vocational success than they might otherwise have had? I'm beginning to wonder.

It's a bigger topic for another day, but I've been thinking about it lately because of a series of posts at the National Review website. One today, in particular, frames the question in an interesting way. It was written to NR's John Derbyshire, an exceptional mathematician and author who is largely disdainful of higher education. Here's a letter he received, which I'll just reprint here and write more about later, but it's interesting food for thought. Enjoy:


Saw your post today about college and thought you would find this interesting and depressing.

I work as an energy trader and recently took a customer down to Appalachia to visit some coal mines. On our visit to one of the mines, there was a large sign prominently displayed: Accepting Applications. Once the meeting and mine tour were finished we were in the mine manager’s office and I asked him, “How come you’re hiring? Did you just lose some workers?”

“Hell, no!” was the reply. “We are always looking for people.”

Not sure if you have had the chance to visit Appalachia, but there are large pockets of poverty here, especially when the overall unemployment throughout the country is close to 10 percent. Hard to imagine there would be any job openings. So I asked him again, “How come? Don’t you pay enough?”

He explained to me that a high school graduate can start working at the mine and make roughly $40K a year. After 90 days of training (or in the industry lingo, when a worker goes from being a “red hat” to a “black hat”) that pay jumps up to about $50K a year.

Now granted, this isn’t easy work. It’s a 50-hour work week (with overtime of course), which includes night shifts and weekends. But $50K for a high school graduate?

The manager went on to explain to me that, “If you know which end of a wrench to pick up” the company will be glad to train you to be an electrician, equipment operator, etc. in which case your salary will rise to $75–$100K a year.

I asked him, “Then how come you can’t get workers?”

His reply was telling. “All you have to do to get a mine job is come to work every day, work reasonably hard, and pee clean. We just can’t find people who can do this.”

Apparently it’s not even illegal drugs. Legal prescription painkillers are the main cause. People will shop doctors and get multiple prescriptions. Doctors are happy to prescribe these, because they run clinics and make money from Medicaid selling the pills.

Finally I asked the manager, who was in his mid 50s or so, “What about your kids?”

He replied: “Oh, they both went to college.”

“What are they doing now?”

“Working for the state government.”

“How much do they get paid?”

“About $25 grand a year.”

I won’t waste your time describing how many things about this 5 minute conversation made me depressed about the current state of the U.S.A. I’ll focus on one thing.

How can someone rationally decide that it is a better choice to go to college, waste time and money for four years, only to get a job that pays half or less of another job you could get? Are people so deathly afraid of hard work?

I grew up in a steel mill town in eastern Pennsylvania. Before unions ruined the mill in the early 80s, I can recall most of the men in the town being happy, well paid, successful blue collar workers who could afford nice homes, nice cars, vacations, all while having a sense of pride and accomplishment in what they were doing.

Where has this attitude gone?

I’m fortunate enough to make a comfortable living sitting behind a desk, but if I could make more as a laborer, I would do it in an instant.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Putting her in her place

Because of different jobs I've had over the years, I've had to deal with dozens and dozens of reporters. Many of them - particularly those in the print media - are pretty straightforward, making an effort to be fair and balanced.

The most irritating of the bunch, however, are anchor folks. They like to call themselves "reporters" - the retired Don Shelby was a great example of this prima donna type - when they don't really do any work that could be called reporting. They simply read copy that is the result of reporting and writing done by other people.

Which brings us to a woman named Contessa Brewer, who anchors for MSNBC, the little boutique network that is home to foaming-at-the-mouth liberals such as Ed Schultz and Rachael Maddow, and used to be home to Keith Olbermann.

Contessa, again, is just someone who reads news, but she likes to think of herself as a "reporter." And so she does interviews, which usually consist of her throwing softball questions at Democrats. ("Don't you think what the Republicans are doing is incredibly stupid?" would be her typical fare.)

Today she tangled with Congressman Mo Brooks, a Republican from Alabama. They get into a discussion about economics, and when he doesn't agree with one of her premises, she snarkily asks, "Do you have a degree in economics?"

To which Brooks responds, "Yes I do. Highest honors."

Turns out that Congressman Brooks got through Duke University in just three years, earning degrees in both Political Science and Economics, and was awarded highest honors in Economics.

Brewer, by the way, has a degree in Broadcast Journalism - close to an oxymoron - and a "Certificate of Contemporary Europe" (whatever that is) after going to school in France for a while.

Enjoy watching this verbal beatdown:

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Where are the jobs?

If you're wondering why the economic recovery hasn't happened, here's a very good insight. It comes from Steve Wynn, the famous casino developer, who describes himself as a "Democratic businessman." It's a great explanation of how the Obama administration is killing job creation.

I believe in Las Vegas. I think its best days are ahead of it. But I'm afraid to do anything in the current political environment in the United States. You watch television and see what's going on on this debt ceiling issue. And what I consider to be a total lack of leadership from the President and nothing's going to get fixed until the President himself steps up and wrangles both parties in Congress. But everybody is so political, so focused on holding their job for the next year that the discussion in Washington is nauseating.

And I'm saying it bluntly, that this administration is the greatest wet blanket to business, and progress and job creation in my lifetime. And I can prove it and I could spend the next 3 hours giving you examples of all of us in this market place that are frightened to death about all the new regulations, our healthcare costs escalate, regulations coming from left and right. A President that seems, that keeps using that word redistribution. Well, my customers and the companies that provide the vitality for the hospitality and restaurant industry, in the United States of America, they are frightened of this administration.And it makes you slow down and not invest your money. Everybody complains about how much money is on the side in America.

You bet and until we change the tempo and the conversation from Washington, it's not going to change. And those of us who have business opportunities and the capital to do it are going to sit in fear of the President. And a lot of people don't want to say that. They'll say, God, don't be attacking Obama. Well, this is Obama's deal and it's Obama that's responsible for this fear in America.

The guy keeps making speeches about redistribution and maybe we ought to do something to businesses that don't invest, they're holding too much money. We haven't heard that kind of talk except from pure socialists. Everybody's afraid of the government and there's no need soft peddling it, it's the truth. It is the truth. And that's true of Democratic businessman and Republican businessman, and I am a Democratic businessman and I support Harry Reid. I support Democrats and Republicans. And I'm telling you that the business community in this country is frightened to death of the weird political philosophy of the President of the United States. And until he's gone, everybody's going to be sitting on their thumbs.

Friday, July 15, 2011

"Do it for the children"

I admit that I knew nothing about Casey Anthony until the verdict came down, at which point I had to have a friend explain the case to me. Tragic story, but I didn't give it much more thought until this little bit of weirdness came out of Oklahoma. I'm not totally certain why bizarre stories like this fascinate me, but they do.

Meet Shireen Nalley (above). Shireen lives in Chouteau, Oklahoma, and the other night she stopped at a local convenience store to buy some gas.

Inside the store she encountered a young clerk named Sammay Blackwell (right, in pink shirt.) Sammy appears to have at least a slight resemblance - and similar hairstyle - to Casey Anthony (right, in blue shirt.)

Shireen apparently thought so as well, and in fact, she managed to convince herself that Sammay WAS Casey. (Which seems odd, considering that Casey is still incarcerated in Florida, more than a thousand miles away.)

When Sammay got off work a little later, she got in her car, looked in the mirror and saw Shireen watching her. Sammay backed out, and headed down the road for home. Then things got really strange.

Shireen, in a a minivan, drove up and rammed Sammay's pickup truck. Panicked, Sammay pulled off into a parking lot to try to get away, only to have Shireen ram her with the minivan, rolling it over twice and leaving it on its side. (That's the truck, pictured below.) Shireen then high-tailed it out of there but was captured by police and is now in jail, charged with assault with a deadly weapon and various other offenses.

Shireen's explanation for the attempted murder was that she was "trying to save the children."

The kicker to the story: Sammay does have a daughter, and her name is Caylee, just like Casey Anthony's daughter.

I'm not sure what the moral of the story is, but news accounts say that Sammay is trying to get a restraining order against Shireen. I'm not sure that will be necessary, since I suspect Shireen will be a guest of the Oklahoma correctional system for a good long time.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

"Diversity is where nations go to die"

I wish I could take credit for that line, but I can't. It came from the keyboard of the magnificent Mark Steyn. A Canadian, Steyn has been on to the diversity racket for years, and his book "America Alone" is an important explanation of the threat Islam is to Western civilization.

This photo prompted Steyn's blog post today, along with the title of this blog post. This picture wasn't taken in Saudi Arabia, or Pakistan or Iraq. It was taken at a public school in Toronto on a typical Friday. You can read the story by clicking here, and I dare you to read it and not come away with a genuine fear of what the forces of "tolerance" and "diversity" can do to our society.

UPDATE: There are other reactions by Canadian writers here and here. Feel free to click away.

Right on the money

One of the real bright lights in the political firmament right now is Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. The son of Cuban immigrants, Rubio is a rock-solid conservative as well as a bright, articulate spokesman for basic liberty and freedom issues. Yesterday on Hugh Hewitt's radio show, Rubio summed up the Obama presidency very succinctly when asked by Hewitt about the president's problems.

"I think there are three things going on here. Number one, I think he’s a prisoner to extremist elements in his own base who not only, they don’t care that the taxes don’t solve any problems. They want their pound of flesh. They want to punish somebody, they want class warfare. That’s what they believe in. And this is their chance to do it, and they’re putting pressure on him to do that. So I think that’s his first problem. His second problem is that I think he’s surrounded by a bunch of people who philosophically do not believe fully in the free enterprise system, and in fact, they’d like to see government play a greater role. And they see this downturn in the economy, and crisis such as this, as an opportunity to exert more government involvement in our economy. And that’s the second problem. And his third problem is a level of incompetence. I think the President, quite frankly, is not up to the job. And if you look at every measure of quality of life in America today, unemployment is higher. The debt is higher. The only thing lower is the value of your home. If you look at every measurable economic thing in America today, they are all worse than they were the day he took over. Two and a half years into his presidency, things continue to get worse, not better, and it’s because the President is incompetent in his job as president. He is not, he doesn’t know what he’s doing."

Much of what Rubio said can be equally applied to Minnesota's own Gov. Goofy, Mark Dayton. I believe Rubio is going to be a major player on the national political stage for years to come.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Math is hard at the Star-Tribune

The Star-Tribune has been performing as a public relations arm of the Dayton Administration since the government shutdown began on July 1. Every story is written from the premise that the shutdown is bad, and that Republicans are at fault. (Though it was Dayton who vetoed a balanced budget and refused a "lights-on" bill that would have kept things functioning.)

The bias in favor of considering the shutdown a catastrophe made it into the paper's web site Monday when a headline said "As the shutdown enters its third week..."

Well, I'm no math wizard, but I think the timekeeping goes something like this: The shutdown started on July 1, and today was July 11. That is somewhere around 11 days. If we were going into our third week, it seems that this should have been maybe - oh, I don't know - maybe the 15th day of the shutdown?

When folks have that much trouble with simple math, how can you trust them on the big things?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Dayton Shutdown, Day 7, and an easy prediction comes true

Normally when you make a political prediction, you have to wait weeks, months or even years for it to come true.

Today, however, the Carlson-Mondale "commission" made the prediction in my post of less than 48 hours ago (which you can read here) come true.

I said that anything with Arne Carlson's fingerprints on it was sure to include a tax hike. With remarkable speed, the group spit up their report today, and the highlights include:

- A 4% income tax increase for everyone in the state;
- An increase of over a dollar in the cigarette tax;
- An alcohol tax increase;
- A "human services surcharge" of $250 million

Net effect of all these taxes and surcharges? A $1.4 billion tax increase and a double-digit increase in spending from the previous biennium. Of course, the income tax hike is supposed to be "temporary," but there is nothing more permanent that a "temporary" tax increase. House Speaker Kurt Zellers said it best: "It is a retread of failed tax-and-spend policies."

Thanks for playing our game, Wally and Arne, too bad you failed miserably. Please return to the obscurity of your retirements.

Where do they get the nerve?

At left are Minnesota government employees (according to the caption in the Star-Tribune, which gets credit for the photo) and I guess that maybe unionized government employees inhabit a different world than I do.

I can't imagine having the nerve to go out in public and demand that government stick its hand in someone else's pocket so that I could have the money.

Full disclosure: I spent about six of my 30-odd working years on government payrolls, serving as a staffer in the Minnesota Legislature, United States Senate and Office of the Governor of Minnesota. But I considered each of those positions to be a privilege, and an opportunity to serve. The idea that the taxpayers owed me a living - or the notion of picketing to make them pay more - would have been unfathomable to me. I worked for the taxpayers, not the other way around.

My successor in the governor's office was a bit of an airhead - her previous career involved reading the news on TV - who got caught by the Star-Tribune forcing staffers in the governor's office to watch her kids during the work day. When she was called out on it she huffed, "These people work for me." Someone had to remind her that, no, those people worked for the taxpayers of Minnesota, who weren't paying them to be her babysitter. Her attitude would have fit perfectly with these stooges on the capitol steps.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Dayton Shutdown, Day 5, and some insight into Arne Carlson

The Dayton Shutdown continues, and today's news brings word that a "commission" assembled by former Veep Walter Mondale and former Guv Arne Carlson is now going to sit down and try to hammer this out.

Let's set aside for a moment the fact that we have elected representatives to do this job, and there's no real reason why we should farm the state budget work out to a group of unelected, unaccountable people.

Before this group has even met, here's what I can guarantee you: Part of their solution will be an increase in taxes.

That's because Arne Carlson is involved, and he never saw a tax rate or a government program that he didn't think should be increased.

As some of you know, I was Gov. Carlson's Press Secretary in the first year of his administration, and in early 1991, Minnesota was facing a budget "shortfall" as it is now, although much smaller. I vividly remember sitting in the governor's office in the Capitol in the second or third week after taking office, with most of his high-level staffers around to discuss the budget. Finance Commissioner John Gunyou, Chief of Staff Lyall Schwarzkopf, Patsy Randall, Lt. Governor Joanell Dyrstad and about five or six others of us were in the room. The discussion immediately turned to which was the best way to raise taxes to get out of the mess.

Income tax surcharges, sales tax increases, cigarette taxes, liquor taxes...they were all part of a 30-minute discussion about what the political fallout would be, which ones DFLers would go along with, etc., etc.

Finally, after listening to all of this, I spoke up and said, "How about we cut spending instead of raising taxes?"

They looked at me like I had suggested flapping our arms and flying to Mars. The notion of cutting spending instead of raising taxes hadn't event occurred to this group, and it was right about then I realized I probably wasn't a good fit for this administration. I'm a pretty conservative guy, but I'm not exactly a flaming right-winger, so if I'm far and away the most conservative guy in the room of alleged Republicans you know something's wrong.

In the end, taxes were raised, programs were expanded and the entire Carlson administration continued the explosion in the growth of government that has contributed to the current predicament.

So if Arne has his fingerprints on this "commission," there's no doubt in my mind that higher taxes will be part of their proposal. It didn't fly when Governor Goofy proposed it, and it won't fly when this group does it either.

Monday, July 4, 2011

My favorite 4th of July story

As I probably mention every year, the 4th of July is my day. A couple years ago I wrote about the special 4th of July celebrations I grew up with in Pease, Minnesota (which you can read here), and even on my 54th 4th of July, the day still brings out the little kid in me. You might not think of me as a guy who enjoys musical theater, but my favorite play of all time is 1776, the musical that tells the story of John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin and others in the Continental Congress.

These men were giants; Visionaries who risked their "lives, fortunes and our sacred honor" to challenge the most powerful nation in the world over the concept of liberty, and then saw the battle through to the very end. Their actions changed the course of history and still resonate today.

One of my favorite 4th of July stories took place in 1826, on the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. That day, Jefferson and Adams both passed away, and the story of their passing is one of history's great tales. Bill Bennett told the story in his book, "Our Sacred Honor," and I'll let him take it from here:

"It was if Adams and Jefferson willed themselves to live to see July 4, 1826. There was much anticipation regarding the Fiftieth Anniversary of America's Independence in Adams' hometown of Quincy, Massachusetts. Adams was too weak to attend any of the planned festivities, so a local committee approached him in late June to ask him for a toast. Adams replied "Independence forever," and refused to add another word.

Though bedridden, when the great anniversary arrived, Adams asked to be seated in his chair in front of the window, so that he could take in the festivities. Soon after he slipped into a state of unconsciousness, and his doctor predicted he would not live to see another day. Adams' last thought - at least the last one he uttered out loud - was of his friend and fellow laborer for independence, Thomas Jefferson. Adams woke from his coma and said, "Jefferson still survives." Those were his last words. He died that evening.

But Adams was mistaken - Jefferson did not survive him. Jefferson's health had been on the decline. He told his grandson in the spring of 1826 that he did not expect to live to see midsummer...In the weeks that followed, Jefferson prepared for his death. On the morning of July 3, Jefferson's doctor reported that his "stupor" or coma was "almost permanent." However, Jefferson woke up at seven o'clock in the evening and asked the doctor,"Is it the Fourth?" The doctor assured him it soon would be. He clung to life long enough to die peacefully at around one o'clock in the afternoon on July 4, 1826."

It was left to the great Daniel Webster, speaking at Faneuil Hall in Boston a month later, to sum up the momentous event:

"Adams and Jefferson are no more. On our fiftieth anniversary, the great day of national jubilee, in the very hour of public rejoicing, in the midst of echoing and reechoing voices of thanksgiving, while their own names were on all tongues, they took their flight together to the world of spirits...Poetry itself has hardly terminated illustrious lives, and finished the career of earthly renown, by such a consummation. If we had the power, we could not wish to reverse this dispensation of the Divine Providence. The great objects of life were accomplished, the drama was ready to be closed. It has closed; our patriots have fallen; but so fallen, at such age, with such coincidence, on such a day, that we cannot rationally lament that the end has come, which we knew could not be long deferred."

Indeed, the "great objects of life" had been accomplished, because these two great men believed certain "truths to be self evident." And now, 235 years later, we live free because of their vision. I know it's a day for picnics and golf and time on the boat, etc., but take a moment to thank "Divine Providence" for what happened in Philadelphia more than two centuries ago.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Dayton Shutdown, Day 1

As of midnight, July 1, Minnesota state government is shutting down, thanks our own Governor Goofy, Mark Dayton.

I've talked about the issues involved before, in this post, but it's worth a quick review. During one of the worst economic recessions in history, the Minnesota Legislature managed to pass a balanced budget that increased spending by about 9% for the two-year budget cycle, without raising taxes.

The Legislature increased funding for education, highways, the criminal justice system and other priorities. Dayton vetoed the budget bills because 9% wasn't enough of an increase: He was insisting on nearly $2 billion in increased taxes as well. (His tax hike bill was voted down in the legislature, 63-1 in the Senate, 131-0 in the House...the very definition of bipartisan opposition.)

The tax hike was a non-starter in the legislature, but Governor Goofy is insistent. And so, tonight, most of government came grinding to a halt. Even the editorial board of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, not exactly a bastion of free market conservatives, ridiculed Dayton's stance, calling his threat of a shutdown "hostage taking."

Now, the only people who are really going to notice the shutdown right away are people who wanted to spend the 4th of July weekend in a state campground. Those were shut this afternoon, and the campers sent elsewhere. Also, if you wanted to use a rest stop on the highway, you found those closed as well. The Minnesota Zoo will also be closed, but fortunately - if you just HAVE to go see animals in captivity - there's the fantastic Como Zoo, which isn't run by the state and has free admission. (Hmmm, maybe there's a lesson there about government efficacy?)

If you're not affected by those, it's going to be a while before you really notice anything. Personally, I can go quite a long time without the:

Department of Human Rights
Department of Tourism
State Arts Board
Minnesota Lottery
Minnesota Pollution Control Agency
Department of Commerce
Department of Labor and Industry
Board of Accountancy
Office of the State Archaeologist
Board of Assessors
Board of Animal Health
Chicano Latino Affairs Council
State Office of Climatology
Minnesota Film and TV Board

and most of the other agencies that employ these thousands of bureaucrats.

Shut 'em all down until Labor Day, at least, and maybe by then the voices in the governor's head will go away and he'll realize the basic economic folly of raising taxes in a recession.

In the meantime, Minnesotans can enjoy the little extra bit of freedom that comes with diminished government, which seems particularly appropriate for the 4th of July weekend.