Tuesday, October 30, 2012

You can't make money breaking things

Hurricane/SuperStorm/MegaMess Sandy provides us with another opportunity to educate the journalists of America, most of whom apparently never set foot in an economics class while they were slacking off in j-school. (Full disclosure: I was a journalism school slacker as well, but I always found econ classes edifying.)

Every time there is some large-scale disaster such as Sandy, some knucklehead will sit down at the keyboard and pop off a story about how the rebuilding effort can be good for the economy. I admit the idea has some superficial appeal: People have to buy materials, make repairs, pay workmen to do the jobs, and all this economic activity MUST be good, right?

Wrong, and the idea was disproven way back in the first half of the 19th century by a French economist named Frederic Bastiat, who wrote something called "The Parable of the Broken Window."

In the story, a shopkeeper is angry with his son, who has inadvertently broken a window in the store. "Oh, don't be hard on the boy," a bystander says. "The broken window is good business for the glazier who will replace the window, and the six francs you pay him will be spent on something else. All of us will benefit."

Again, the theory would seem to have some surface appeal. But Bastiat pointed out the the six francs spent to fix the window is only the "seen" economic activity. What is "unseen" are the other effects of the shopkeeper's glass bill. Because he has to pay six francs to the glazier, the shopkeeper now has six FEWER francs to spend on something else. He can't spend those six francs on a new pair of shoes, so the cobbler has lost business. He can't take his family out to eat, so the restaurant owner has lost business, he can't buy a new book, so the bookstore owner has lost business, and so on, and so on.

If the broken window could really make the economy grow, Bastiat said, then wouldn't it be wise to simply break all the windows in the city and REALLY create economic activity? Of course not. Here's the money quote from Bastiat:

"And if that which is not seen is taken into consideration, because it is a negative fact, as well as that which is seen, because it is a positive fact, it will be understood that neither industry in general, nor the sum total of national labor, is affected, whether windows are broken or not."

Once you look at things from Bastiat's perspective, it's easy to understand. But every time there's a disaster - Hurricane Katrina, 9/11, a major earthquake, whatever - you can count on some lamebrained journalist to jump right in with a story about how the "silver lining" of this tragedy will be increased economic activity.

And where better to look for lamebrained journalism than our own Star Tribune, which jumped right to the head of the line tonight with its Sandy coverage, and a headline that read:

Storm's cost may hit $50B; rebuilding could end up boosting economy

Brilliant. In fact, maybe once a year we should select a major city and just knock the whole thing down. Then we can rebuild it, and the economy will just grow by leaps and bounds! It's magic!

Such is the shallowness of journalism, and I have no doubt that long after I'm gone - maybe in the year 2075 - a huge earthquake will strike and my great-grandchild will read a story headlined "Quake rebuilding may stimulate economy." Some people just can't be taught.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Matt Schmit's DWI and media credibility

In 2010, a fellow named Tom Emmer was the Republican nominee for Governor of Minnesota. Tom had plenty of flaws as a candidate, and one that the media loved to dredge up was his history of drunk driving. Emmer had been arrested in both 1981 and 1991 (29 and 19 years before his run for governor) and charged with DWI.

A cursory Internet search shows that Emmer's DWI history was mentioned at least half a dozen times in the Rochester Post-Bulletin, and a number of times in the Winona Daily News. The Post-Bulletin even made the decades-old arrests part of its Emmer profile 10 days before the election.

I single out those papers because they are the two daily newspaper that cover Senate District 21 here in southeastern Minnesota, where we currently have a race between incumbent Sen. John Howe and challenger Matt Schmit. (Full disclosure: I have volunteered for, and made a contribution to, the Howe campaign.)

Regular readers will remember this post from a few weeks ago, when we discussed Schmit's DWI arrest and the Red Wing Republican-Eagle's refusal to mention it. Much like the R-E, the Post-Bulletin and Winona Daily News have yet to write anything regarding Schmit's DWI.

The problem for them is that this weekend, thousands and thousands of their readers learned about Schmit's DWI when a mailer arrived in their mailboxes, courtesy of the Republican Party of Minnesota. The party made an independent expenditure on behalf of Sen. Howe that contains Schmit's mug shot and details of his arrest, which happened just four years ago.

A reasonable person might ask the question: Why was Tom Emmer's decades-old DWI arrest considered news by the Rochester and Winona newspapers, and Matt Schmit's recent DWI arrest isn't? Why haven't either Heather Carlson of the Post-Bulletin or Mary Juhl of the Winona Daily News - the two reporters who have written the most about this race - bothered to include this in the stories they've written about Schmit? Both of them certainly know about it. Carlson and I discussed the arrest - and Schmit's other credibility issues regarding his residence and employment history several weeks ago, and a web site - www.whoismattschmit.com - has been publicizing Schmit's various problems for the last month or so. So why haven't they written about it?

One pretty simple explanation: Emmer is a Republican, and Schmit is a DFLer.

That's the logical conclusion that thousands of southeastern Minnesota residents can now draw when they read the mailer about Schmit and realize that their local newspaper has been keeping this information from them.

As I've written before, the newspaper business is in trouble for a variety of reasons, one of which is that people simply don't find them credible anymore. Years and years of media bias on behalf of liberal candidates and causes have drained media credibility to the point where this study by Pew Research shows it cratering. And incidents such as this just help continue moving newspapers down the road to irrelevance.

In the spirit of fairness, I've reached out to Heather and Mary and offered them a chance to explain why Emmer's DWI was newsworthy and Schmit's DWI isn't. I'll be happy to pass along their thoughts.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Devastating ad

The best moment from last night's debate has already been turned into an ad, and it's a real knockout punch to the President. Enjoy:

Saturday, October 20, 2012

This boggles my mind

Not that it takes much for my mind to be boggled, but today I came across this video of a game show that I remember from my youth, called "I've Got a Secret." The format of the show involved four celebrity panelists and a guest who had some kind of secret. As you'll see, the guest would whisper the secret to the show's host, Garry Moore. The panelists would then ask questions in an effort to learn the guest's secret.

This video (I think technically it's called a "kinescope" or some such thing...what we now know as digital or taped video had not been invented) is from early 1956, the same year I was born. The guest on this episode is a fellow named Samuel J. Seymour, who was the last surviving person in attendance at Ford's Theater the night Abraham Lincoln was shot.

I often find myself thinking about the way generations can overlap and extend through time. For example, I remember spending time with my great-grandfather, Simon Droogsma, who was born in 1873. On the other end of the chain, my grandchildren - with normal life spans - will likely be around to see the year 2100. So you have a chain of three people spanning about 230 years. I can tell my grandchildren first-person stories of someone who lived before their were planes, cars or telephones.

This feels the same way. You can now see and hear an eyewitness to something that took place nearly 150 years ago. Enjoy.

Sunday, October 14, 2012


With so much going on, I've found it difficult to closely follow the baseball playoffs. What little attention I've paid has been focused on the Baltimore Orioles, for whom I have a soft spot after they became my "home team" during the years I lived in D.C., and for the Detroit Tigers, the first team I ever rooted for (as a 3-year-old...I was born in Michigan). Good friend Gary Russell is a great Tigers fan, and it would be terrific for him to see another Tigers' title.

What I've read a lot of, however, is how awful the TBS coverage of the playoffs have been. And tonight, as evidence that they really don't have a clue, they put up this graphic:

That's right, they misspelled the name of the greatest player of all time, Willie Mays.

Regular readers know that Mays holds a special place in my heart; My youngest son is Willie Mays Droogsma, and I will brook no argument against the idea that the Say Hey Kid is the greatest player ever.  You MIGHT be able to make a cogent argument for Babe Ruth, but some of the other greats....Mantle, Williams, DiMaggio, Jackson, etc....forget it. No one played the game like Willie.

And if the folks running your broadcast can't spell his name right, it's probably time to let another network have a chance.

UPDATE: I've been informed that earlier this week, the TBS graphics crew printed the name of their own announcer as "Carl Ripken, Jr."

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Kind of a grab bag...

Sorry...busy time of year in all sorts of ways, and it always seems that blogging is the first thing to take a hit when the schedule gets tight. But in the interest of getting something up on the ol'  interweb, here are a few random thoughts:

 -- Joe Biden is an ass. Most people already understood that, but his embarrassing effort last night against Paul Ryan showed it to everyone. During my Washington years, most of us on the Senate staff recognized Biden for what he was: A pompous, arrogant windbag who was universally considered a policy lightweight. In 1988, he ran one of the worst presidential campaigns in history, washing out early in the primaries after it was revealed that he was plagiarizing his stump speech from a British politician. Setting politics aside, here's what tells you a little something about his character: He's been on the public payroll for more than 40 years now, and it's made him a wealthy man, but when it comes to charitable giving, he makes Scrooge McDuck look like a spendthrift. From 1998-2008, Biden and his wife made more than $2 million, averaging over $200,000 a year. Good for them. Their average annual charitable giving, according to their tax returns? $369 per year. Tells you something about this "man of the people."

 -- The NHL lockout. Tonight would have been the beginning of the Minnesota Wild season. We would have beaten the Colorado Avalanche - because we've never lost a home opener - the fans would have gone crazy for Zach Parise and Ryan Suter and Mikael Granlund, and it would have been a great time. Instead, the labor dispute rolls on and there's no NHL hockey. As most of you know, I do some work on game days for the Wild, and while it's not the most financially rewarding work, there's, you know, a little something for the effort. (You're welcome, Caddyshack fans.) Seven years ago, when the NHL lost a whole season to labor problems, I focused my wrath on goalie Dwayne Roloson, who was militantly outspoken on labor issues and ran around saying things like, "We'll never accept a salary cap." Later, after the players accepted a salary cap, I decided that if I ever met Roloson, I was going to tell him that he owed me $2,000 for the missing season. So be on the lookout: If you see Roloson, tell him he owes Droogs two grand. (Tampa Bay paid him $3 million last year for 13 wins and a 3.66 goals-against average, so he's got the cash.) I haven't decided who this year's villain will be. Apparently the Wild's representative to the union is some guy named Knopka that we picked up over the summer, and I couldn't pick him out of a police lineup, so it's hard for me to be mad at him. Yet.

(Side note: While the Wild pay isn't that big a deal to me, I work with a lot of good people - ushers, vendors, waitresses, etc. - for whom that $300-$400/month during the winter is important. Pays part of the rent, or helps make the car payment, or the heat bill. Not sure the owners or player's union ever think of that.)

 -- The (possible) return of the Vikings. In the '70s and '80s, few people loved the Minnesota Vikings like I did. There was no doubt that when the Vikings game was on, everything else stopped. Somewhere in the last decade, that slipped away from me. When Randy Moss left, I really fell off the bandwagon, and when he left a second time, I gave up. I probably hadn't sat through an entire Vikings game in 2-3 years. Then, a few weeks ago, I sat down to watch the Vikings play the 49ers, expecting a big San Francisco win. But the Purple played tough defense, showed some spark, and I wrote on Twitter at halftime that the game had the chance to bring me back. They held on to win, haven't lost since and I'm hooked again. The 4-1 record seems a little fishy since the schedule has been soft, but at least I care again.

 -- President Romney? There's a little over three weeks to go, and I don't want to jinx it, but all the momentum and direction of this campaign feels so right right now. Like America is waking up and saying, "Of course we can do better than this. Of course there's a better way." Now, 24 days is an eternity in presidential politics, and if there's something sleazy and underhanded to be done, the Obama folks will find a way to do it, but it just feels good right now.

That's it...a brief grab bag of semi-coherent thoughts. I promise to do better next time.

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Smartest Little Girl in the Universe

Five years ago today my life changed dramatically, and I never saw it coming.

In August of 2007 the last of four kids went off to college, leaving the proverbial empty nest. Thoughts of babies and toddlers and all of the things that go with that were far, far away, even though there was another child on the horizon. And while it would be my first grandchild, the impending arrival didn't seem to have a lot to do with my world. Another kid, sure, but it would be the job of my daughter and her husband to worry about it, raise it, feed it, take care of it.

Then, on October 5, Annie showed up.

I like to think I'm pretty good with words, but I can't describe the way that little newborn just reached up and grabbed my heart. I was totally unprepared for the emotion of being a grandfather, and was blown away by the realization that the little bundle in my lap represented a whole new generation of "my people," another link in a chain that goes back to my great-great-grandfather making the decision to leave Holland and seek a better life in America.

Coloring easter eggs
Just a few months after Annie was born, I began working out of my home, and she was there most days for day care. Her napping room was next to my office, and I'd usually be the one to hear her wake up in the crib and began banging her legs against the side. Unlike most babies, she seldom cried when she woke up. Instead, she'd just lay in the crib until I came to get her, she'd smile at me as I picked her up and we'd have a few minutes together before Penny would show up with a bottle.

There are multiple sets of grandparents, and so my daughter gave us all different names. Penny and I are "Oma" and "Opa," and while I can't say that Annie's first word was "Opa," it was in the first five.

It became apparent - at least to me - right away that she was a bright child, and I began referring to her in this blog as "The Smartest Little Girl in the Universe." I was struck by the fact that, even before she could speak, she remembered people and names and things. She liked to sit in my lap and watch hockey, and when she was just two, I took a three-ring binder and made "Anne's Hockey Book," a collection of small felt pennants from all 30 NHL teams. All you had to do was ask, "Where are the Predators?" or "Where are the Blackhawks?" and she could pick out the right pennant.

Watching her beloved Minnesota Wild
A short time later, she was sitting on my lap at the computer, picking out keys and spelling her name. At every age, she's been doing things that it seems she shouldn't be doing for a couple more years. Although she's still in pre-school, she READS. Not the "I memorized the words" thing in a kid's book, but she can actually pick up a book she's never seen, look at it and start reading it. I have no idea what they're going to teach her next year in kindergarten.

Showing off her artistic side
She loves her Minnesota Wild and knows virtually all the players, loves her Mikko and P-Marc and Heater, and was heartbroken last year when Matt Cullen got hurt. Earlier this year the family was driving along I-94 through St. Paul when she looked out the window and recognized the Xcel Energy Center. She let out a loud scream, and immediately realized she had screamed too loud. "Sorry," she said, "I was just SO excited."

Taking care of her baby brother Cal
But even if she wasn't the Smartest Little Girl in the Universe, she absolutely owns Opa. My heart still leaps when I hear her footsteps coming down the hallway, and most of the time it's to climb in my lap, get on the computer and find pictures of horses, or princesses or fairies or something to color.

And for five years, she's been reminding me all over again how it's possible to love someone else so completely and totally and unconditionally, which is a lesson all of us need to be reminded of once in a while.

Happy birthday, Annie, and thank you for being there for Opa.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Demolition in Denver

Before we look at WHY President Obama got roughed up so badly in tonight's presidential debate, let's lay to rest any doubts that he DID lose worse than the Washington Generals do against the Globetrotters:

CNN Poll - 67% Romney won, 24% Obama won
CBS Poll of undecided voters - Romney 46%, Obama 22%
Democracy Corps (Democrat group) - Romney 42%, Obama 20%
Obama supporter and MSNBC's Chris Matthews: "I don't know what he (Obama) was doing out there."
Obama supporter Andrew Sullivan: "You know how much I love the guy...but this was a disaster for the president."
Washington Times: "Not since Jimmy Carter faced Ronald Reagan has the U.S. presidency been so embarrassingly represented in public."
Star Tribune: "Our editorial board feels like a bunch of crack-addled chimps for ever supporting this president."

Okay, I made that last one up, but still, we can set aside any notion that the president performed adequately tonight. The question is why, and I have a few observations.

1) Thinking on his feet really isn't in his skill set. There have been plenty of jokes over the past few years about his reliance on teleprompters, but as with many jokes, there is a core of truth. Obama's reputation as a brilliant orator was based almost entirely on his ability to READ a speech. He's had fewer press conferences than virtually any president, because his handlers know that he can't think well on his feet. ("You didn't build that," being a great example of an unscripted Obama trying to talk off the top of his head.) The debate format exposes and magnifies the weakness.

2) He's been living in a media-built cocoon. Former New York Mayor Rudy Guiliani was on one of the cable networks, and he alluded to the above-mentioned lack of press conferences while noting that he had one almost daily when he was mayor. He mentioned that the give-and-take toughens you up and makes you able to articulate your points. The mainstream media has pretty much rolled over and played dead for Obama, never challenging him, never asking him to explain anything. And just like a house cat whose food is left in a bowl for him, the President has become soft. Throwing him out there tonight was like tossing a house pet into the wilderness and telling it to hunt. Stripped of a teleprompter and admiring reporters with their softball questions, he looked lost and alone, and incapable of fighting back against the bright, articulate guy on the other side of the stage.

3) He's trying to defend the indefensible. Forty-two months of unemployment over 8%. Forty-seven million people on food stamps. Four straight years of trillion-dollar-plus deficits. Record debt and ratings downgrades. American embassies attacked with impunity. Billions thrown away on bogus "green energy" boondoggles operated by his campaign contributors. Even if Obama were a competent debater, there's no way to defend four years of failure, and he seemed to realize tonight that there is no credible case to be made for continuing his presidency.

4) Romney was terrific. While Obama's failure was obvious, credit must be given to Romney, who carefully walked that fine line of being able to demolish the president's arguments without appearing rude or condescending. The best putdown line was when he talked about the billions wasted on green energy projects and he noted that the president "Doesn't pick winners and losers. He just picks losers." It was a devastating putdown, yet all Obama could do was respond with a smile. That was the mark of a quality debater.

I've read that as a businessman, Romney was very big on lists and organization. I've been told that if you wanted to pitch an idea to him, you had better come into the meeting ready to make points 1, 2, 3 and 4 and do it in a no-nonsense narrative. You could see that trait tonight in a variety of moments when he said something along the lines of "First, then second, then third...." It's the hallmark of a well-organized, well-trained mind, and it's a skill that is very handy in debate.

Does tonight guarantee a Romney win? Far from it, but it was a huge step. For millions of Americans, this was their first prolonged exposure to Romney and he obviously made a great first impression. The obstacle for any challenger at any level of politics is destroying the air of inevitability that frequently surrounds incumbents, and that's a particular challenge in this race, with the New York Times, ABC, CBS, NBC and all the others doing their best to prop up Obama. 

Tonight Romney demonstrated that Obama's re-election is not only NOT inevitable, but it's not even desirable. That was a big, huge step with which to launch the final 33 days of campaigning.