Thursday, August 30, 2007

IN property taxes in the LA Times

A nice little piece in the Los Angeles Times on Indiana property taxes-- with some stuff from me to supplement her work.

But it's not so much the size of the bills that has sparked the public backlash, said D. Eric Schansberg, a professor of economics at Indiana University Southeast in New Albany.

"It's the unpredictability -- of what the assessments are, of what the tax bill's going to be, of how the system even works in the first place -- that gets to people," said Schansberg, who tracks economic issues in the state.

I think I said that it was the size of the bills AND the unpredictability, but few people are talking about the latter, so I guess she liked that point...

The debate dates back to 1973, said Schansberg, when lawmakers tried to solve a similar dispute. They sought to shift the burden from property owners by increasing the state sales tax and letting local governments charge income tax.

The other beautiful point here is that Governor Bowen horse-traded with three Democrats, getting their votes while allowing collective bargaining for teachers. It was not relevant to her article, but it's an important footnote to the 1973 band-aid.

Vick finds Jesus-- at least verbally...

But who knows? That's the problem with the potential gap between stated beliefs and true beliefs-- and thus, the thoughts, words, and deeds that follow.

People have been critical of Vick about this-- and it certainly may be a convenient, useful, and cynical short-term ploy to gain mercy from the court as well as sympathy and forgiveness from the court of public opinion. So, it is appropriate to be skeptical (although not "judgmental" in the true Biblical sense of the term).

But the funny thing is that all Christians come to trust Jesus when they realize that they are completely unworthy of His mercy and grace-- i.e., when they realize that they are Vick-like before the Holy God of the Universe. (And if you think you're not Vick-like to God without being covered by his mercy, then you don't yet understand the Gospel.) Praise to God that although "the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23).

Is Vick a believer? God knows-- and we'll see, more or less. In James 2, Abraham and Rahab are "justified" by their works-- not before God, but before man. We can't be justified with God by what we do and don't do. But we are (potentially) justified in the eyes of others as they see us walk through life. God sees the heart; we only get to see the imperfect proxy of external actions.

In any case, I pray that Vick has or will embrace the mercy and grace of God.

war on drugs and the Taliban/national security

Another excellent article in Sunday's C-J on the War on Drugs (and it ties in nicely to an earlier post)....The primary thesis:

The Taliban is becoming richer and stronger by the day, especially in the east and south of the country. The "war on drugs" is defeating the "war on terror."

Why the War is so difficult to fight-- if not futile-- and loaded with massive unintended ethical and practical consequences...

The war on drugs is the underlying cause of the misery...The problem starts with prohibition, the basis of the war on drugs. The theory is that if you hurt the producers and consumers of drugs badly enough, they'll stop doing what they're doing. But instead, the trade goes underground, which means that the state's only contact with it is through law enforcement, i.e., busting those involved, whether producers, distributors or users. So vast is the demand for drugs in the United States, the European Union and the Far East that nobody has anything approaching the ability to police the trade. Prohibition gives narcotics huge added value as a commodity. Once traffickers get around the business risks -- getting busted or being shot by competitors -- they stand to make vast profits.

The data are indicative of the practical failure/difficulties:

Supply is so plentiful that the price of a gram of heroin is plummeting in Europe, especially in the United Kingdom. According to the UNODC, the street price of a gram of cocaine in the United States is now less than $70, compared with $184 in 1990. Adjusted for inflation, that's a threefold drop.

Another great point:

The collapse of communism and the rise of globalization in the late 1980s and early 1990s gave transnational criminality a tremendous boost. The expansion of world trade and financial markets has provided criminals ample opportunity to broaden their activities. But there has been no comparable increase in the ability of the Western world to police global crime.

And finally, a closing remark on the unfortunate politics of this tough but important issue:

In Washington, the war on drugs has been a third-rail issue since its inauguration. It's obvious why -- telling people that their kids can do drugs is the kiss of death at the ballot box. But that was before 9/11. Now the drug war is undermining Western security throughout the world.

There are no easy answers here. In any case, we should have (and promote) healthy discussions about the ethical and practical implications of prohibition, decriminalization, and legalization-- for both domestic and foreign policy.

blowing up at beauty pageants

Have you seen the answer given by the South Carolina entrant in the Q&A portion of the most recent Miss Teen Contest? Wow...brutal...

You can insert your own joke here about:
a.) blondes
b.) the South
c.) teens
d.) today's youth
e.) any or all of the above

She followed that up with a much stronger effort on the Today Show. So, kudos to her for getting off the mat and starting to piece her shredded dignity back together.

This also reminds me of a funny story: a friend of mine was in a beauty pageant in high school. In the Q&A final round, she was asked what she'd do if someone hit her car from behind when she was sitting at a stoplight-- and then got out and started yelling at her. In the heat of the moment, she fumbled through her answer and finished third or fourth. The best answer: she drove a beat-up Pinto, so she should have said she would have blown up in the collision-- and won the competition going away!

mellencamp rocks (taxpayers)!

According to this morning's C-J, John Cougar Mellencamp will "play" Freedom Hall on October 28th. That's a fitting choice of verbs, since Mellencamp's namesakes (all relatives?) in Southern Indiana have been "playing" taxpayers for a long time as recipients of direct farm subsidies. From 1995-2005, they received more than $1.1 million from taxpayers. (Insert joke here about farming the government or "little pink houses for you and me".)

Wouldn't it be a better world if John had simply given the money to his relatives? Ahhh, but ain't that America?

Bush finds spending he doesn't like...

With a Republican Congress, Bush was a spend-thrift. This is not too surprising since both were trying to preserve narrow margins-- and neither was particularly principled about digging into the wallets of current and future taxpayers. With split control since the last election-- Bush with a Democratic Congress-- it's a different animal. Now, we see Bush in the role of "fiscal conservative" (relatively speaking), both because he is relatively conservative compared to the Democratic Congress (even its so-called "blue dogs") and because the political benefits of spending more have changed.

In the Wall Street Journal, Mary Katherine Stout contributed a piece on how this relates to Bush's opposition to SCHIP, as well as his experience with the SCHIP program in Texas.

Give George W. Bush credit. He's drawn a lot of criticism for not doing more to control federal spending over the past six years. But he is now deep into a spending fight against a sacred liberal program. And he isn't backing away.

In recent weeks, Mr. Bush has confronted Congress over the State Children's Health Insurance Program -- which is substantially funded by the federal government and up for congressional reauthorization this year. Mr. Bush understands Schip has become a wedge for expanding government-run health care in Texas...

In 1999, Texas Republicans were divided on whether to authorize creating the program in the Lone Star State. Some GOP legislators opposed it. But Mr. Bush, then one year into his second term and preparing to run for the White House, favored it. He worked with Democrats, then in control of the legislature, to create Texas's Schip program.

It was supposed to have limits...It didn't work out that way, of course. Once it was up and running, the program mushroomed in cost and few officials wanted to control its growth. In 2001, its first full year, Texas's Schip cost $381 million. One year later, the program was up to $679 million and the state was headed into a $10 billion budget deficit. (The state has budgeted more than $900 million for the program for 2008.)

Not coincidentally, in 2002 Republicans won control of the legislature for the first time in more than 100 years. Shortly thereafter, Republicans cleaned up the Schip program by requiring that beneficiaries apply every six months instead of once a year (circumstances often change throughout year), and by mandating that those enrolled in the program meet specific income and assets tests. These reforms aimed to make sure the program really was a last resort for poor parents seeking health care for their children.

The assets test revealed evidence of abuse...


The number of people enrolled in the program fell precipitously between 2003 and 2005, to 326,557 from 507,259. The Texas Health and Human Services Commission estimates that 84% of that decline was a result of the reforms.

Reminiscent of the 1996 welfare reform

This is where President Bush's experience in Texas comes to play a role in his fight at the national level, where Schip must be reauthorized this year. As the governor who signed Schip into law in the state, he can remember the arguments and the promises made during the initial debates of the program. He can see how Schip has been used to expand government control of health care and how it has been abused. He can see how a program that started out for poor children has become an instrument for universal and, increasingly, socialized medicine.

Mr. Bush comes to this fight with an understanding of how Schip has played out in the states, which is why his administration recently instituted reforms to the program that aim to restrict eligibility to those it was originally intended to serve -- the truly needy -- and not provide an incentive for middle class parents to drop their private health insurance. Moreover, he has threatened to veto federal legislation that would allow states to expand their Schip programs.

It would be easy for Mr. Bush to give in on this fight. He is, after all, in the twilight of his administration. But next month, he'll square off against Congress to oppose an incremental advance of socialized medicine. We are fortunate he is today willing to do so at a time when Republicans in his home state were quick to abandon the fight.

Good luck with that, Mr. Bush! May the lame duck portion of your presidency be more productive than the earlier years.

what do Leona Helmsley and Batman have in common?

They were both millionaire philanthropists! (Actually, Leona's charitable contribution will be measured in the billions, but accounting for inflation since Bruce Wayne's time, it would be reduced to many hundreds of millions.)

Helmsley was most famous for tax evasion and questions about her as a landlord. Aside from that, she would have been just another billionaire. But according to the New York Times, her will leaves the bulk of her $4 billion estate to a charitable trust. Beyond that, there are some interesting details, including $12 million for the care of her beloved dog. (Insert Michael Vick or American Doll joke here.)

toll roads in PA

More on infrastructure from the N.Y. Times (hat tip: C-J)-- a popular topic in these parts (with the Ohio River Bridges in Louisville) and more broadly, with the Minneapolis bridge collapse and the anniversary of the Flood of New Orleans...

Anthony Foote spends a lot of time driving his Kenworth T-600 truck on Interstate 80 in Pennsylvania. He prefers it to the state’s other east-west highway, the Interstate 76 turnpike, which can cost him $140 in tolls. So the news that the state plans to impose tolls on I-80 was as upsetting to Mr. Foote as finding an ugly scratch in the purple paint on his rig.

“I hate paying tolls,” he said. “If this goes through, you’ll have a lot of truckers avoiding Pennsylvania — including me.”

Pennsylvania officials plan to build up to 10 toll areas along the 311-mile stretch of Interstate 80 in the next three years to help pay for road, bridge and mass transit projects and subsidies.

“I haven’t heard of another one,” said Bernard Weinstein, director of the Center for Economic Development and Research at the University of North Texas, which has done a half dozen studies on the impact of toll roads. “But I think most states will eventually have to move to the user principle. Tolls are going to be the wave of the future.”

How else should we pay for roads? Gas taxes as a proxy for use would be appropriate, but I don't see people getting excited about that prospect either. In any case, those who use should be those who pay. It's equitable and efficient...

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

those who forget the past are...

With the impending 2nd anniversary of the Flood of New Orleans (and Katrina), Joel Kotkin weighed in with a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece, describing the largely unlearned lessons of the Flood and their application to other American infrastructure problems.

Two years ago, as floodwaters overcame the tired defenses of New Orleans, American cities got a wake-up call about the dangers of inadequate infrastructure. But most urban leaders went back to sleep. Since then the occasional disaster, such as the recent bridge collapse in Minneapolis, has been followed by tut-tutting. But if history is a guide, the rhetoric will be followed by another tap of the snooze button.

Rather than deal with the expensive and difficult task of retrofitting the sinews of commerce and communication — bridges, tunnels, roads, rail lines, ports, sewers, and drainage systems — America's urban powers focus on the ephemeral and the glitzy. They emphasize not brick and mortar, but sports stadia, convention centers, arts palaces, dubiously effective new light-rail lines, hotels and condo projects.

Even in New Orleans, federal and local authorities still have not agreed on a long-term infrastructure plan to protect the city. More disturbing: Instead of looking to rebuild a diverse economy, the emphasis is on cultivating tourism and "culture-based" industry....Reinventing New Orleans as a mildly raucous, hipper Disney World could spark a renaissance of sorts. But it offers scant hope for many middle-class families who fled the real city two years ago.

Among other examples, Kotkin applies the lessons to the bridge collapse in Minneapolis.

Transportation priorities are also skewed. Government officials in Minnesota spent mightily on a light-rail system that last year averaged barely 30,000 boardings daily. It did not focus nearly as much on overstressed highway bridges, or the bus systems serving the bulk of its mostly poor and minority transit riders. Most other light-rail systems, built in cities with highly dispersed employment, also have minuscule ridership, but consume a disproportionate share of transit funds that might go to more cost-efficient systems, including bus-based rapid transit.

Ouch! These are the sorts of decisions that go along with a (common) failure to carefully consider all of the relevant costs and benefits of a given policy decision-- and the necessary trade-offs that ensue.

looking back, in surprise (somehow)

In an editorial in this AM's C-J, entitled "looking back, in anger", the writer seems to relish the opportunity to bash President Bush with the Katrina club (and a few other shots thrown in for effect). Anger is a fine response, but there should be little that surprises us about the government's culpability in the events themselves or the government response.

Of course, Hurricane Katrina was not as much of a tragedy as the "Flood of New Orleans" (how we ought to label it). Katrina was a severe hurricane, but the Flood was a function of poor government planning and policy. Here's what I wrote about the debacle a month after it occurred.

A few thoughts on excerpts from the C-J editorial:

The flim-flammery that re-directed millions in aid for Katrina's victims into the pockets of profiteers was possible because of weak leadership and oversight by FEMA and by state and local political leaders.

Actually, "flim-flammery" (I'm not sure I've used that word before!) is par for the course (or perhaps a bogey) when we're dealing with the government. And it's certainly par for government's various disaster relief arms. The editorialist seems to think that another Presidential administration would have been more effective. That's not a bet I'd want to make...

Still, there's some good news. Some homes, schools and businesses are being rebuilt, and many of the region's famous eateries and tourist attractions are relatively has come from other countries, from celebrities and from ordinary Americans who two years later are still pitching in to help pull New Orleans and several Mississippi Gulf Coast cities out of what might have been muddy oblivion.

Yep, there's that crazy private sector, getting after it again. If you want something like this done, get the government to spend a lot of our money and then depend on volunteers and the private sector to accomplish a lot more with a lot less.

oh...the horror/humor of it all

from ABC News, but with a hat tip to World:

One of the world's most famous authors, Stephen King, was mistaken for a vandal in an Alice Springs bookstore on Tuesday.

Dymocks store manager Bev Ellis says a customer saw the horror novelist walk into the store. Once inside, King found copies of his books and began signing them.

"As the owner of a bookshop, when you see someone writing in one of your books you get a bit toey," Ms Ellis said.

"So we immediately ran to the books and lo-and-behold here was the signature in several books. We sort of spun around on our heels, [saying] 'where did he go, where did he go'."

Ms Ellis says she saw the author standing in the fruit and veg section of the supermarket across the road.

"So I went over and introduced myself ... He was lovely, very nice, charming," she said.

Ms Ellis says she asked him if he was staying long in Alice Springs and he just smiled.

"[Then I said], well if we knew you were coming we would have baked a cake."

King signed six books in total.

The customer that mistook the author for a vandal bought one. Ms Ellis plans to give the remaining five copies to community groups who can auction them off to raise funds.

Kudos to the Clarksville Town Council!

From this morning's C-J:

I'm proud of the Clarksville Town Council who decided to go ahead with renovations to Eastern Blvd. immediately by using local funds-- rather than delaying the work to wait for federal funds.
The estimated cost of the improvements is $5.1 million. Federal assistance could have been more than $3.2 million but would have taken at least 2.5 years to obtain (good luck with that!).

Why is this the right call?

Ethically, why should a local project be financed with federal dollars? In other words, why should money be taken from people in Walla Walla to pay for street improvements in Clarksville?

Practically, as some of the Council members noted, it could be disastrous to wait that long for the pork to come there way. Eastern Blvd. has deteriorated over the last decade; another three years of the status quo would not be kind to it.

Kia disappoints (for the first time)

We purchased a Kia Sedona (van) in September 2001. Although it was the first time either of us has bought a vehicle from a dealer and the first time I've owned a car with fewer than 60K miles on it, a brand new Kia was a better choice than a 2-3 year old Chevy or Ford van (good luck with that!) or a 4-5 year old Toyota or Honda. In many ways, a Kia is a good choice for us-- solid, safe (at least the vans), and relatively inexpensive because they don't require you to get so many options. We don't want the bells and whistles-- or at least, we don't want to pay for them. So, we paid less than $20K for a brand new van, tied for safest in its class, with the best warranty in the business. It's performed well for the first 97K miles; we've had few problems; and we look forward to many more miles of van-nish driving bliss.

And until today, we've been quite happy. We had a seat belt that would not retract and a sliding door that was increasingly getting stuck. Taking it in, I figured there might be a modest charge-- or it might even be fixed for free (whether under warranty or not). I mean, could they charge me to fix a broken door and especially a seat belt if neither was any fault of ours? Well, it turns out they could and they would: $560 worth of repairs for those two! (We must get the door fixed, but will stick with our seat belt rigged solution-- to avoid another $260.) That's simply unacceptable and will greatly lessen the probability that we'll buy a Kia in the future.

By the way, if you want to read something shocking, look up "kea". At least in the Webster's Unabridged, it's staggering. We looked that up when we were playing Boggle one time and were horrified with what we learned!

Medved vs. Hannity on Sen. Craig

Driving around this afternoon, I caught about five minutes of Hannity and ten minutes of Medved. In that short snippet of time, I was struck by the stark difference in their approaches.

Hannity was running through a list Democratic elected miscreants-- from Barney Frank's roommate running an escort service to Ted Kennedy's driving and allegations of drug use. In each case, Hannity would start into the sordid details before seeming not to want to talk about it-- all for (lame) effect. Frankly, it was embarrassing.

Meanwhile, Medved was dealing with the ethical, legal and political issues head-on-- and echoed the increasing calls for Sen. Craig to resign. Aside from the hypocrisy, Medved was struck by the amazingly poor judgment Craig displayed if he was innocent.

Another brutal episode for the Republican party, but at least Medved is dealing with it in a candid and forthright manner.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

bark vs. bite: blue dogs or just dogs?

An editorial in Monday's Wall Street Journal sounds an alarm about the so-called "Blue Dogs" and their purported fiscal conservatism. Baron Hill is a (proud) member of that group and I remember him repeatedly claiming that he was a fiscal conservative during the campaign. Hilarious!

The data are clear that Hill is fiscally conservative...for a Democrat. But that's like getting the highest grade of those who flunk an exam. (His Republican opponent, Mike Sodrel, was a fiscal moderate within the Republican party-- no great honor.) In the past, Hill received D’s from the National Taxpayers Union. Hill has averaged 13% from Citizens Against Government Waste and was consistently rated "hostile" to taxpayers.

The 'Blue Dog' Moment
So far, they're spending like other Democrats.

A high-stakes budget showdown is shaping up this fall between President Bush and Congressional Democrats. The debate will also be a moment of truth for the so-called "blue dog" Democrats: the 48 self-described fiscal conservatives in the House Democratic Caucus.

The bone of contention is the $22 billion in domestic spending that Democrats passed in their budget resolution above what Mr. Bush requested in his own budget. The Democratic spending plan would increase non-defense expenditures by 6.5% next year--more than double the inflation rate. The White House is threatening vetoes if Democrats pass spending bills above Mr. Bush's limit, which could possibly lead to a government shutdown. Republicans have already lined up the necessary House votes to sustain any spending veto.

The blue dog Web site boasts that its mission is to "refocus Congress on balancing the budget and ridding taxpayers of the burden of debt"....But Republicans can't do that on their own: they need the votes of these moderate Democrats.

Here's the rub: So far this year the blue dogs have been almost all bark when it comes to fiscal restraint and debt reduction. Thirty of the 48 have voted for every one of the non-defense spending bills their committee chairman have sent them. Speaker Nancy Pelosi is enforcing party discipline, and as a result 28 of the 48 blue dogs voted "no" on each of the 27 amendments that Republicans proposed to cut the costs of these bills. The 13 freshman Democrats who represent conservative districts--such as Heath Shuler (N.C.), Baron Hill (Ind.), Zack Space (Ohio), Nick Lampson (Texas)--have been a particular disappointment; back home these same blue dogs trumpet their "independent streak."

Voting records from recent years confirm that the blue dogs are less than consistent spending hawks. The National Taxpayers Union did some checking and found that the blue dogs had an average fiscal score of 24 out of 100, earning them a grade of D as a group. It also found that last year the blue dogs sponsored $145 of new spending for every dollar of budget reductions, for a net spending increase per member of more than $140 billion.

The blue dogs are consistent on one fiscal issue: stopping tax cuts. As a group they opposed the Bush tax cuts and the extension of those tax cuts, and a super-majority vote requirement to raise taxes--all in the name of easing the debt burden on future generations. But those concerns evaporated when all but nine in the blue dog coalition voted to expand the Schip health-care program to include many middle-class families, at a cost of $132.6 billion over the 2008-2017 period.

So in the weeks ahead we will see whether the blue dog Democrats work to reduce the $22 billion spending bonus their party leadership is seeking. They were elected on a platform of fiscal responsibility, and we are about to find out if they meant it.

where are the standards?

In Sunday's News-Tribune Daniel Robison takes a few more pokes at Glenn Murphy and the "Family Values" Republicans. There's not much original in the essay, but it's as good as any piece that has pointed out the hypocrisy of some politically active Republicans.

Robison titles the essay "Where's the loyalty?", professing to be shocked and dismayed that the Republicans have backed away from Murphy so quickly. But what else would Robison want, given the circumstances? It'd be a much deeper level of hypocrisy to allow Murphy to stay!

Robison's effort also got me thinking about why we don't hear charge of hypocrisy about Democrats.

Maybe it's because Democrats don't have as many standards to violate. If "liberals" are more permissive then when they violate the norms of others, it would not be hypocrisy.

But Democrats have some standards. So, perhaps they don't engage in hypocrisy. But that's not true. Remember Al and Tipper's massive contributions to charity from a decade ago-- $353 in 1997 (on an income of nearly $200,000). Since the Democrats are the champions of the poor-- in word if not very often in deed-- where was the outrage from Democrats at this gross violation of their norms?

So, an interesting question arises: what would it take for the Democrats to censure one of their own? A pro-life governor wanting to speak at a Democratic National Convention? A population control advocate who fathered six children? An environmentalist who consumes a staggering amount of energy?

I'm not a member of either major political party, so I don't have a particularly partisan ax to grind here. Hypocrisy of any type should be condemned. And failure to have proper standards is not something about which someone should brag.

looking at property tax abolition

From Tuesday's C-J:

The Commission on State Tax and Finance met on Monday to discuss the prospective elimination of property-- and ways in which the same revenue might be replaced by other (higher) taxes.

Diane Powers, director of the fiscal and management office within the Legislative Services Agency, provided estimates of higher sales and income taxes needed to compensate for trashing property taxes. Her estimates:

  • Increasing the individual income tax from 3.4 percent to 9 percent, a 165 percent increase. For a family with a taxable income of $75,000, that would be an increase of $4,200 annually. An individual with taxable income of $25,000 would pay $1,400 more.

  • Increasing the state sales tax from 6 percent to 13.2 percent, a 120 percent increase. It would mean a pair of $30 jeans would cost $2.16 more. A $15,000 vehicle would cost an extra $1,080.

  • Increasing the sales-tax rate to 11.1 percent and expanding it to cover all services except medical costs. That would add a $2.22 tax to the price of a $20 haircut or add $555 to a $5,000 legal bill.

  • Eric Miller, founder of the Indiana-based conservative lobbying group Advance America, also testified yesterday. He offered his own plan, one he's been selling across the state. (Mr. Miller will also speak at a forum in New Albany tomorrow.)

    His proposal includes raising the sales tax by 2 percentage points, increasing the income tax by 1 percentage point, creating or increasing a business tax that he has not detailed, and capping state and local spending. Miller said that combination -- particularly a reduction in spending growth -- would eventually be enough to replace the property tax.

    Legislative fiscal leaders, though, are skeptical about Miller's plan. They balked yesterday at some of his data, questioned the ability of government to reduce growth to the levels he proposed, and raised concerns about the proposal's long-term viability.

    I don't know about Miller's numbers. But I appreciate his desire to put tax reform proposals on the table-- and especially, to control spending. Of course, whatever politicians think of his tax revenue shuffling, it's no surprise that most of them are going to be quite opposed to any sort of fiscal conservatism!

    Cross' odd cross rant

    Apparently, Al Cross was in a bad mood after his risky attempt with a close airline connection backfired. I like Al's work quite a bit, but it was an odd essay in Sunday's Forum section of the C-J.

    He complains at length about his botched flights, airline maintenance problems and poor customer service from Delta. The market for airline services would not be the most competitive anyway (given the huge fixed costs). But a variety of government regulations make it worse-- from airport regs which prevent a market-based solution to over-crowded gates and runways to a dog's breakfast of pro-union legislation.

    From there, Cross extends his gaze to other social problems-- and this time, fingers government as the culprit: from infrastructure woes to the War in Iraq.

    Although Cross usually comes across as neutral, he had one potentially telling sentence down the stretch:

    Most governments responsible for such systems have been derelict in their duties, too obsessed with cutting taxes to win votes and campaign contributions.

    It's interesting that Cross defines dereliction as taxes that are too low-- rather than spending that is too high and a federal government that is far too busy to take care of its most basic functions with competence.

    He closes with: I wished that our leaders were wiser.

    Me too, too!

    she learned her lesson...NOT!

    From Sunday's C-J:

    The first time North Oldham sophomore Allison Gullion was caught using her cell phone during class, she was given a warning. The second time Allison got caught, sending a text message to her cousin during Spanish class last spring, she lost the phone for good. According to district rules, the phone -- a $200 pink Blade she got for Christmas -- now belongs to the school board. "I bawled the entire day," the 16-year-old said. "I was devastated. That cell phone meant a lot to me."

    -OK, this sounds reasonable: presumably a general warning to all students expressed as a school policy, followed by a specific warning to Allison and those who violated the policy-- and their parents, followed by confiscation of the phone of two-time offenders. (Later, we're told that such phones are given to shelters for battered women.) The punishment is likely to change her bad behavior-- or at least be a deterrent for others who are wiser.

    -a $200 phone? why such a nice phone?

    -"bawled the entire day...devastated"? Is this:
    a.) a gender thing
    b.) a spoiled kid thing
    c.) afraid of her parents (don't think so with what follows)
    d.) embarrassed in front of her peers (don't think so; why would she talk to the newspaper?)

    "That thing wasn't cheap," said Allison's mother, Joni Burnett, who complained to the board in May after her daughter lost her phone. "I understand that they shouldn't have them on during school, but don't take them away."

    -OK, I'm going with answer B. Can you imagine complaining to authorities about this? Can you imagine complaining after you've personally been warned that your daughter had violated the policy once already? Can you imagine wanting to be in the newspaper for complaining about this? And she says that she understands but that the authorities should not "take them away"...huh?

    Other local schools which were included in the story (Jefferson County/Louisville and Floyd/New Albany) have policies of confiscation and returning them to parents. (It wasn't clear from the article whether kids received any/multiple warnings.)

    An update from this morning's C-J: On Monday night, the Oldham County School Board voted unaminously for a more lenient policy. Good luck with that!

    The Sunday article closes with:
    Allison said she keeps her new phone, a Razor worth $150, off and tucked away in her locker until school lets out. "I learned my lesson," she said.

    When did Allison learn her lesson?
    a.) After the general policy was announced
    b.) After she was caught the first time and she and her parents were warned
    c.) After the phone was confiscated

    So what lesson(s) did Allison learn?
    a.) I better not use my cell phone in class!
    b.) If me and my parents complain enough, we can change a good policy that inconveniences me.
    c.) My Mom is really putting her foot down, by only buying me a $150 phone!

    It looks like Allison's home life is far from ideal. (In addition to a set of highly questionable parenting decisions here, given the different last names, one would infer multiple marriages and divorce.) Hopefully, ten years from now, she'll look back on this moment with embarrassment. For now, we can only hope and pray...

    Monday, August 27, 2007

    Larry Craig?!

    news on the Republican Senator's arrest and guilty plea...


    Bartlett brutalizes the "Fair Tax"

    Bruce Bartlett, a conservative/libertarian public policy analyst of some fame, crushed the "Fair Tax" in a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece over the weekend. Proponents want the Fair Tax to replace the federal income and payroll taxes with a single federal sales tax on final goods and services. The proposal has been gaining in popularity, although like the "flat tax" before it, one would have to be an optimist to expect Congress to do anything so bold and useful as changing our ridiculous tax code on income (both income and payroll taxes).

    Bartlett starts by banging on the proposed 23% tax rate:

    They assert that a rate of 23% would be sufficient to replace federal individual and corporate income taxes as well as payroll and estate taxes...In reality, the FairTax rate is not 23%. Messrs. Linder and Chambliss get this figure by calculating the tax as if it were already incorporated into the price of goods and services. (This is known as the tax-inclusive rate.) Calculating it the conventional way that every other (This is called the tax-exclusive rate.) The distinction is confusing, but think of it this way. If a product costs $1 at retail, the FairTax adds 30%, for a total of $1.30. Since the 30-cent tax is 23% of $1.30, FairTax supporters say the rate is 23% rather than 30%.

    This is correct as far as it goes. But it fails to note that current purchases are "after-taxes"-- after income and payroll taxes have taken their chunk. So, at worst, there would be equal percentage increases in both prices and after-tax incomes. In a word, we'd be replacing one inclusive tax with another.

    Then, Bartlett makes an important point about taxes on government-bought goods and services:

    The federal government would have to pay taxes to itself on all of its purchases of goods and services. Thus if the Defense Department buys a tank that now costs $1 million, the manufacturer would have to add the FairTax and send it to the Treasury Department. The tank would then cost the federal government $300,000 more than it does today, but its tax collection will also be $300,000 higher. This legerdemain is done solely to make revenues under the FairTax seem larger than they really are, so that its supporters can claim that it is revenue-neutral.

    And another nice point on the political unlikelihood of such a tax applied to certain goods and services:

    State sales taxes have long exempted all but a few services because of the enormous difficulty in taxing intangibles. But the FairTax would apply to 100% of services, including medical care, thus increasing their cost by 30%. No state comes close to taxing services so broadly. Consumers would also find themselves taxed on newly constructed homes. Imagine paying 30% to the federal government on top of the purchase price of your next house.

    So, where does that leave us in terms of the numbers? According to Bartlett:

    A 2000 estimate by Congress's Joint Committee on Taxation found the tax-inclusive rate would have to be 36% and the tax-exclusive rate would be 57%. In 2005, the U.S. Treasury Department calculated that a tax-exclusive rate of 34% would be needed just to replace the income tax, leaving the payroll tax in place. But if evasion were high then the rate might have to rise to 49%. If the FairTax were only able to cover the limited sales tax base of a typical state, then a rate of 64% would be required (89% with high evasion). I've emphasized problems with the FairTax rate because public opinion polls have long shown that support for flat-rate tax reforms is extremely sensitive to the proposed rate, with support dropping off sharply at a rate higher than 23%.

    Some researchers disagree (vehemently). In any case, the broader point is that one must be careful in understanding what's being taxed the rate that goes with it. If the political process dictates that X is taken off the table, then the tax rate for what remains must increase-- for the tax to remain revenue-neutral.

    Finally, one more zinger to wrap things up:

    Perhaps the biggest deception in the FairTax, however, is its promise to relieve individuals from having to file income tax returns, keep extensive financial records and potentially suffer audits. Judging by the emphasis FairTax supporters place on the idea of making April 15 just another day, this seems to be a major selling point for their proposal. Yet all but six states now have state income taxes. So unless one lives in one of those states, this promise is an empty one indeed.

    Maybe Federal tax reform would lead to State tax reform. But in any case, the flaws in the Fair Tax are more problematic than I had considered. And all of this misses the larger issue: that the Federal government is far too large. Expenditures-- and thus, revenues-- should be much, much smaller.

    Jerdonek rocks!

    I knew that Ed Jerdonek, the chairman of the IU Southeast Board of Advisors, was one funny man-- with a quick and piercing wit. Now, I learn from the Jeff/NA News-Tribune that he competes in Ironman competitions. Wow! Go Ed!

    Comedian Brad Stine at Southeast Men's Event on 9/7

    The program: Our pastor, Dave Stone, will kick off the night. Energetic music (think trashcan drummers) will build momentum. Comedian Brad Stine’s humor will be awesome. And Brad Tyrer will deliver part 2 of a powerful testimony. (Brad is the son of NFL All-Pro lineman Jim Tyrer and spoke three years ago at the Men’s Fall Retreat.)

    Other details:
    -The event will be at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville.
    -Doors open at 6:00; the event will start at 7:00 and go until 9:30.
    -Fall studies and service ops will be showcased during intermission/snack time.

    For a brief promo (including a [very] little bit of Stine), click here...

    For a far larger dose of Stine, I found not one but two YouTube clips:

    powerful fiction

    Have you ever heard the story of Teddy and his 5th grade teacher, Mrs. Thompson?

    Teddy's a mess and Mrs. Thompson is tough on him-- until she learns about his background. From there, her approach to her career, her life, and his life are all changed dramatically. It's a great story!

    To be clear, it is just a story-- written by Elizabeth Silance Ballard-- albeit a powerful one. But it's often conveyed by the internet as if it were Truth. Although I'm sure it could be based on true stories, the actual events are fictional-- yet still quite powerful.

    For a video presentation of the story, click here.

    For the scoop on the urban legend aspects of this, click here (for Snopes) or here (for TruthorFiction)

    hilarious video: perfect family vs. perfect storm

    The first six minutes of this weekend's sermon at Southeast was a video presentation contrasting the Stone family as one fictional extreme and then another-- from the Cleavers to the Simpsons. (As for inside jokes, Kyle is the associate minister and has some fame/infamy for not being fond of ties.) It was a great way to start things off...I hope you enjoy it!

    Greater Clark County heated half-days: an update

    Matthew Ralph with the Jeff/NA News-Tribune reported on the GCCS decision to have early dismissal for five days so far this year. (In my earlier post with its multiple choice question, I thought it had been only four days. Since we're homeschooling this year, I'm not keeping close track of such things!)

    Teachers have lost about ten hours of instructional time-- school officials have responded by encouraging more emphasis on reading and math. This is probably the best approach anyway, but is a more pressing issue to the administration given the impending ISTEP tests next month.

    “Most of our teachers have been pretty much leaving out any unnecessary activities,” Spencer [the GCCS spokeswoman] said.

    I think I know what she means, but it still sounds funny! (And I'm surprised to hear a "spokeswoman" use such informal language.)

    The primary reason given by Spencer was safety, especially for the bus riders who don't ride in air-conditioned comfort. From the old days, we know that Grandpa walked both ways to school, barefoot, in the snow, uphill both ways. Now, kids can't even ride a bus on a hot day. What would Grandpa say today!


    A cool story in this morning's C-J on Wally Amos, the man who founded Famous Amos cookies. He eventually sold the business when it was struggling. (Today's cookies are, apparently, a pale comparison to the original!) Since then, he has rebounded with other less-famous (but successful) cookie companies, promotional speaking engagements, and efforts in reading literacy.

    If you want a feel-good story, pull out the milk and cookies and read about Wally!

    (hat tip: Bruce Hardesty for an old story about a man named Amos)

    ok, now the landlords are getting in the pool...

    From this morning's C-J:
    Landlords in Southern Indiana are now weighing in on the property tax debate.

    Their (legitimate) beef is that homeowners who live in their houses are given a variety of tax breaks while homeowners who don't live in their houses are not subsidized. (The former receives a homestead exemption and credit-- and may receive a mortgage interest deduction.) One form of investment is favored over another-- which is neither equitable no efficient.

    It's good timing since it seems like passion on property taxes had faded a bit over the last few weeks. Maybe it's still hot-and-heavy and it's hard to sense it from down south. Or maybe it was August doldrums. Or maybe it was an all-too-common phenomenon: the public gets upset about something, but only sustains the passion for awhile before returning to mowing their lawns and raising their kids.

    In any case, with a spate of recent activity, especially down-state, property taxes seem to be back on the front burner.

    a blast from the past: Pat Schroeder!

    Man, I hadn't thought about her in a long time! After 12 terms representing a strongly Democratic U.S. House district in Colorado, Patricia Schroeder was rather famous on the national political stage. But Rep. Schroeder was unimpressive (i.e., how did she get elected?)-- and in 1988, a brutal Democratic presidential candidate. She has faded away in the public eye after retiring from the U.S. House in 1997.

    But as the president/CEO of a national trade association for the book industry, she was back in the news last week about the book survey I talked about last week. She was trying to use the survey results as ammo against conservatives and Republicans. Instead, it revealed her as a partisan hack (still), a publicity hound, or ignorant of basic statistics.

    Debra Saunders nicely takes her to task in this insightful and amusing piece.

    Sunday, August 26, 2007

    C.S. Lewis quote-of-the-week

    “I do not succeed in keeping the Law of nature very well, and the moment anyone tells me I am not keeping it, there starts up in my mind a string of excuses as long as your arm...It is only our bad temper that we put down to being tired or worried or hungry; we put our good temper down to ourselves."

    --Mere Christianity (book 1, ch. 1)

    Poignant and revealing when we see this in ourselves; revealing and often amusing when we see this in others!

    counter-cultural and politically correct

    An interesting observation from today's sermon on "MyFamily" at Southeast:

    From chapter 5 of Paul's letter to the Ephesians...
    -At the time, Paul's injunction in 5:22 to husbands was not politically correct, but his injunction in 5:25 to wives was.
    -Today, Paul's injunction in 5:25 to wives is not politically correct, but his injunction in 5:22 to husbands is.
    -In all times, I suspect, his injunctions in 5:22, 5:25, and 5:21 are all counter-cultural.

    5:21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

    5:22 Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.

    5:25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her

    connecting to others in a large church

    From a training session for lay-leaders at Southeast yesterday...

    Dave Stone talked about the purpose of groups by size:
    -large for inspiration (have you attended worship at a large church?)
    -medium for information (Sunday School classes of 30-150 within a medium or large church)
    -small for involvement (where you serve &/or study and get to know people intimately)

    Of course, there is overlap between the categories: one gains information in a large worship service and may form the occasional relationship before or after a service, one can get quite "involved" in a medium-sized group, etc. But in general, the categories hold. Southeast is, by far, most famous for its large building, huge budget, and worship attendance. But the heart of Southeast is its medium and smaller groups.

    Often, people talk about being "religious" or even Christian without being involved in a religious community. The usual reasons (or smoke screen) are hypocrisy and not having time.

    Hypocrisy is a reasonable critique if extensive, but ridiculous if modest. To note, all of us are hypocrites. So, the mere existence of hypocrisy cannot be a coherent reason to reject community. Moreover, if the church is attracting "sinners", then a (large) gap between stated beliefs and observed actions is to be expected.

    "Not having time" is simply a matter of priorities-- and in this case, believing that time spent in religious community is better spent outside such a community. But at least within Christian theology, this is highly misguided. In Genesis 1:26, we're introduced to the Trinitarian God of the Bible: "let us make man in our image...". The Christian God is its own community. And after a chapter full of "it is good" in Genesis 1, we're told in 2:18 that it was "not good for man to be alone". Likewise, it is not good for people to be Lone Rangers-- in terms of family, community, or religious community. As the writer of Hebrews exhorts his readers in 10:25, "Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another..." It is easier in some ways to avoid community-- for a variety of reasons. But as everything else with a benevolent and omniscient God, when He commands something, it is in our best interests to go His way.

    If you haven't been involved in a strong Christian community (and lack vision for what that would look like)-- or have been burned in the past by a religious experience (and have baggage)-- I'd en-courage you to try again, if not at Southeast, then somewhere else.

    Saturday, August 25, 2007

    me and DowBlog on (education) vouchers

    My good friend, Darrell Dow, recently blogged on his concerns about educational vouchers-- in response to one of my recent postings. (I'll post this here and in the comments section of DowBlog.)

    Darrell's opening wraps up with:
    As with many libertarian and conservative supporters of vouchers, Eric believes a voucher program would protect the religious freedom of parents and students, result in taxpayer savings, and ultimately improve educational services by breaking the monopoly of state schools.

    This is accurate as far as it goes, but I would have written it somewhat differently. These differences help me address some of his later concerns, so I'll go ahead and make the points here:

    1.) I would say instead that "A voucher program would not necessarily compromise the religious freedom of parents and students significantly." (In other words, I would express this as a negative rather than a positive.) Vouchers might have the worrisome impact Darrell worries about-- for a variety of reasons-- but it is not necessary.

    2.) I would add that "Greater competition would be an especial boon for those in the lower income classes, especially in the inner cities." In my view, this is a vital addition to the discussion, since we're talking about fighting against gross injustices propagated by the government against many of its most vulnerable citizens. One can easily make a Biblical case for Christian advocacy in such cases.

    Following up on #1:
    Darrell has listed reasons for concern and examples to boot. Indeed, government control over universities has resulted in regulation (albeit modest). But food stamps have not resulted in significant regulation impacting the operation of farms or grocery stores. (The government regulation of salt shakers seems to be independent of its provision of food vouchers to the poor.) Is regulation of education a potential realm for government involvement? Yes, we see that already. Does the probability of thicker regulation increase with government funding? Yes. Is it a given? No.

    Along the same lines, the Shaw vs. Wallas debate in Darrell's opening is quite interesting, but only begs the question. Their positions resulted from their predictions about what the reform might do-- not what we know that it would actually do.

    OK, so that's dealing with the government's angle. What about Christian schools? Would they be tempted? Some? Yes. Many? Maybe. All? No. How many? We don't know...Is the unknown cost of the temptation (which could be refused easily enough) worth the certain and tremendous gains to the rest of society, especially many of its most vulnerable members? I think so...

    Darrell also expresses concerns about vouchers inflating the cost of education:

    As a practical matter, would vouchers decrease the cost of education by making services more efficient? Have Medicare and Medicaid decreased the cost of health care? Have Pell Grants, the GI Bill and other forms of federal aid decreased the cost of a college education? Similarly, it is likely that vouchers would increase the cost of private education. Dumping money willy nilly into schools that by and large operate frugally and efficiently compared to government schools is simply a recipe for educational inflation.

    The analogy doesn't work (or at the least, is weaker than supposed) since the larger issues with health care and government involvement are its subsidies for purchasing health insurance. Because health insurance comes through the firm and is not taxed, it is subsidized as a non-taxed form of compensation. In addition, firms often have slight economies of scale in purchasing insurance services in bulk. The result is, ironically, over-insurance for most of those who have it-- with too many services covered and co-pays/deductibles that are too low.

    This may sound counter-intuitive at first. But consider the role that insurance usually plays; it generally protects the insured from rare, catastrophic events. In contrast, health insurance covers everything-- from allergy shots to cancer. By analogy, car insurance would provide coverage for oil changes, door dings, air filter and tire changes, etc. Imagine how expensive such "insurance" would be, how screwed up our market for car insurance would become, the tremendous paperwork generated by such "insurance", how expensive such routine services would become, etc.

    Second, the cost of college education has increased, mostly, due to reduced subsidies from state government. Tuition is higher as a result. Thus, the cost to consumers has increased. But the overall cost-- to consumers and taxpayers-- has increased much more modestly.

    Bottom line: vouchers, if constructed well, would put little if any upward pressure on costs-- especially compared to the current cost disincentives of operating a government monopoly!

    In closing:

    I agree with Darrell about ideal policy and about the Christian imperative that education would be largely/primarily a matter of the family. And I share his concerns about the potential for a connection between government funding and regulation. I think we both agree about the practical impact of vouchers in the market for education. But we differ on the magnitude of that concern-- and the desire to reach for "compromise" measures that would clearly do much good in the face of current injustice.

    1 really smart guy + 1 soldering iron = genius

    The C-J published an AP story on a 17-year old New Jersey boy who was able to hack into the new iPhone.

    Armed with a soldering iron and a large supply of energy drinks, a slight, curly haired teenager has developed a way to make the iPhone, arguably the gadget of the year, available to a much wider audience.

    George Hotz of Glen Rock, N.J., spent his last summer before college figuring out how to "unlock" the iPhone, freeing it from being restricted to a single carrier, AT&T Inc.

    The procedure, which the 17-year-old posted on his blog -- -- on Thursday, raises the possibility of a cottage industry springing up to buy iPhones, unlocking them and then selling them to people who don't want AT&T service or can't get it, particularly overseas...

    T-Mobile is the only major U.S. carrier apart from AT&T that is compatible with the iPhone's cellular technology, but smaller carriers also use the technology, known as GSM...

    The hack is complicated and requires skill with both soldering and software, and missteps may result in the iPhone becoming useless. Thus few people may be able to follow the instructions successfully.

    It appears that young George has a bright future in front of him!

    a toll bridge (or two) over the River Ohio

    Along the lines of my recent posting on private funding of roads, this was on the the front page of this morning's C-J:

    Kentucky Senate President David Williams (R) is proposing legislation that would allow more options for funding the two Ohio River bridges in Louisville. One of these options would allow state local governments the ability to lease roads to private companies.

    "It's an attempt to come to grips with the issue that federal highway dollars are being stretched very thinly, that there won't be assistance by the federal government to build -- in any significant way -- to build bridges over the Ohio River" at Louisville, said Williams.

    Mayor Abramson seems to be quite interested in the idea:

    Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson has spoken with Williams about funding the new bridges in recent months, said Chad Carlton, an Abramson spokesman. Carlton said Williams' proposal could help speed up the bridges project and reduce its cost.

    "The mayor certainly appreciates having more tools, more options," Carlton said. "That's what he spoke about … back in January when he put this at the top of the agenda in terms of priorities for the community."

    Romney, Huckabee and Fred in IN

    The C-J has an article this morning on the Midwestern Leadership Conference-- a three-day Indiana Republican event-- where Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee have spoken so far. Fred Thompson will address the group today. (Others declined to attend, citing schedule conflicts.)

    You can read live-blogging on the event by HoosierPundit and others at Hoosier Access.

    Daniels extends local income-tax deadline again

    In this morning's C-J, Lesley Stedman Weidenbener reports on Governor Daniels' decision to extend the deadline from October 1 to the end of the year (after initially extending it from August 1).

    At the minimum, this is a nice move politically. Beyond that, and moving away from cynicism, it implies that Daniels thinks this is a key potential reform for local government-- their ability to choose how tax revenues would be raised. Local governments could choose higher local income taxes to offset higher property taxes. They've complained that they don't have enough time to make these decisions; the extended deadline undermines that rationalization.

    Howey on local governance

    An excellent article by Brian Howey reproduced in this morning's Jeff-NA News-Tribune.

    The topic of inefficient local governance is modestly interesting in itself. More important, it connects to Governor Daniels persistent concerns about the same topic and its connection to the property tax issue. As one response of many to the property tax crisis, Daniels appointed the Kernan/Shepard commission to wrestle with Indiana's local governance structure.

    From Howey:

    The Indiana Township Association (ITA) is hearing the message loud and clear. Posted on its website is an article entitled "Same fight - new area." It begins with: Someone recently commented, "Aw ... they're never going to do away with us. It's the same old fight. Why, I remember back in the 1980s they were talking about getting rid of townships."

    But the article seems to sense what many Hoosiers are fuming about as their property tax bills go through the roof and the township-based assessing system hasn't been able to get property tax bills out for dozens of counties...

    It's good that the townships now recognize the freight train of change Gov. Daniels promised at his 2004 nominating convention has arrived. His opponent, Gov. Joe Kernan, told the press last Wednesday, "We are urging people to share ideas. Everything is on the table. That was the charge that we were given, which was go look at everything. From our perspective, everything is fair game."

    property tax forum (with Eric Miller) on Wednesday

    from a blurb in the Courier-Journal:

    A public forum on Indiana's property-tax increases will be held at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Grand Theatre in New Albany. Several local professional groups, businesses and property owners are working on possible solutions to the higher taxes. For more information, contact Jim Baker at (502) 523-6444.

    The (Jeff-NA) News-Tribune has a story on this but I can't find the link. The unidentified writers quote Jim Baker, a buddy of mine, and describe past efforts by the same group to work on the property tax issue. (Although neither paper mentions Eric Miller, I was told by another buddy in the same group that he will be there.) They also mention Rep. Steve Stemler, another buddy of mine, and his upcoming forums: on 9/5 at 6:00 at the American Legion Post 204 and on 9/12 at 6:00 at the Holiday Inn Lakeview.

    I attended a presentation by Miller last year. It'd be interesting to hear him again-- since I've done a lot more with property taxes in the meantime. Unfortunately, I have an orientation for DC that evening already.

    Friday, August 24, 2007

    Raimondo on "why (military) intervention fails"

    Raimondo's primary concern in this essay is the War in Iraq. But he argues against it by talking about intervention in more general terms-- and thus, critiquing both government activism in general and our current military activism in Iraq in particular.

    Along the lines of the framework in my book, Raimondo is first concerned with that which is ethical. In his first paragraph, he argues that:

    Anti-imperialism is, first and foremost, a moral position, especially for Americans, who have always utilized the world stage to dramatize their own virtue.

    But beyond that, he gets to practical concerns with his second paragraph: just doesn't work. Not because the wrong people are in charge, not due to incompetence, the wearing of ideological blinders, or some other disability or shortcoming on the part of policymakers – but because it is simply not possible, no matter who is in charge.

    He points to the sheer complexity of the problem and notes that apologists for the war who criticize its execution are only partly correct. Better planning is a significant problem, but planning cannot be, in practice, improved enough to make a difference.

    As Raimondo points out, the oddity here is that central planners in the old Soviet Union (and their apologists here) would often say that the system could work with better people. Well, even if that were the only concern, the problem is that there aren't enough of such people. Moreover, conservatives have long recognized this in the context of economics, but often fail to see the same conceit in the contexts of social policy and foreign policy.

    What's interesting is that this has been recognized by conservatives as a conceit, and a potentially fatal one, when it is exercised on the home front: massive social engineering projects like the so-called Great Society, the New Deal, etc., have traditionally been rejected by American conservatives, who see the dead hand of government as hopelessly incompetent and dangerously empowered by these ultimately quixotic gestures. Yet, today, they have their own New Deal for the Middle East.

    And so, I mostly agree with Raimondo's conclusion:

    As a libertarian, I am opposed to central planning on principle: it couldn't work in Iraq for precisely the same reasons it didn't work in the Soviet Union, and doesn't work anywhere. However, at least the domestic advocates of economic planning in the US are reasonably close to, and knowledgeable about, the people whose fates they would hold in their hands (my emphasis added). In the case of our "conservative" planners, who would map out the future of a foreign country on their drawing boards, they are treading on largely unknown terrain, without any first-hand knowledge or experience to guide them even provisionally. This is worse than hubris: it is sheer stupidity.

    I would add a distinction between nation/democracy-building and war/defense. We won the War in Iraq; that was the easy part. But the likelihood that we'll construct a nation or a democracy in the Middle East is far, far smaller.

    me on Veritas Rex: economic injustice vs. poverty

    A useful posting on Veritas Rex to start a conversation on a favorite (and important) topic. I have written at great length on these matters. Here, my reply mostly deals with the opening paragraph:

    I have found that one of the many criticisms against conservative Christian organizations, such as IFI, is that we are too focused on issues such as same-sex marriage and abortion. We should be more focused on other issues such as poverty, hunger, etc. The first thing that must be understood is that one of IFI’s main tasks is education and research on public policy issues. If the government wanted to, it could outlaw same-sex marriage and abortion right now. However, it cannot outlaw poverty. I believe the best place to work on the problem of poverty is outside of government. Churches, faith-based groups, other organizations and partnerships outside of government do a much better job of helping people out of poverty than the government does.

    My reply:

    I agree that a Christian organization devoted to certain tasks should not be held accountable to deal with every social ill-- whether poverty or anything else.

    Of course, Christian individuals within those organizations would be expected to deal with a range of social ills-- in varying degrees. Again, not everyone needs to have the same plate of concerns.

    But I'd redefine the concern as "injustice leading to poverty", rather than poverty per se. And if "one of IFI’s main tasks is education and research on public policy issues", then you should redefine/narrow your mission (as, e.g., Bryan Wickens does with ROCK) or you should address big issues of economic injustice as well as social justice (e.g., abortion) and social morality.

    The Scriptures speak at great length about economic injustice. Moreover, theology and the ministry of Christ point us toward more energy/passion in arenas where the rights of others are violated ("justice" issues), rather than when people largely do harm to themselves.

    If you're not angry at economic injustice-- as the old bumper sticker goes-- you're not paying attention (or you haven't read enough). Consider the working poor: government policies result in higher prices for food, clothing and shelter; the government typically provides a low quality of through a monopoly (a major contributor to poverty); labor market restrictions; and oppressive payroll taxes (that do far more damage than the much more popular income taxes); and so on.

    We can't outlaw poverty, but Christians can and should work to end injustice perpetrated by the government.

    new NBA ref uniforms

    a hilarious effort on the NBA betting scandal from Signe Wilkinson with the Philadelphia Daily News:

    Slideshow element

    ID controversy at Baylor (revisited)

    Mark Bergin reports in World about Dr. Robert Marks, his empirical and theoretical work in Informatics related to "Intelligent Design", and the continuing controversy/tension over having an ID presence at Baylor.

    Fortunately, this situation seems to have resolved more favorably-- in both style and substance-- than the treatment Baylor's administration gave William Dembski in 2000. Faculty members will probably continue to oppose his work, but that's par for the course in academia. If one has administrative backing, then one can faithfully and productively exercise "academic freedom".

    private vs. public high school football

    In the top sports story in the C-J this morning...

    Wilson Sears, the superintendent of schools in Somerset County, wants regulations on private schools that would result in equivalent "athletic-feeder systems" between private and government schools. At present, public schools have to deal with boundaries that prevent students from changing schools without losing a year of athletic eligibility.

    I'm no expert on supposed recruiting violations by high schools or the intricacies of KY high school athletics-- and no, I didn't stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night. But it strikes me as funny that Sears is complaining about a perceived inequality while he enjoys a marked advantage himself. Whatever advantage that private schools might have in this context, Sears' athletes are heavily subsidized by taxpayers (an advantage unavailable at present to private schools).

    I have a proposal for Mr. Sears: if you lobby against your huge advantage, I'll pay attention to your concerns about your disadvantages.

    Hitler's musical hypocrisy

    Apparently, Adolf enjoyed music played by Jewish musicians and written by Russian composers. After the death of a Russian military officer this summer (who had grabbed the record collection from the Reich headquarters), we learned that someone at HQ had an extensive collection of such work-- despite Hitler viewing these people groups (at least in general) as subhuman and banning their music from being performed in public concerts.

    Another misuse of government power to regulate social morality (while the elites did what they wanted) and another reason to despise Hitler. At the end of the day, it was Hitler and his cronies who were subhuman, despite their relatively sophisticated musical tastes.

    World on GOP contenders in Iowa (especially Ron Paul)

    This was a good article in general, but noteworthy for the amount of space devoted to Sam Brownback and especially Ron Paul. Other media have focused on "the front-runners" and the second-tier candidate who seemed to emerge from the Iowa Straw Poll, Mike Huckabee.

    Brownback did well in Iowa, but will almost certainly continue to lose ground after placing behind Huckabee (who, I think, is a more palatable candidate anyway). The two candidates are too similar and social conservatives will almost certainly choose one or the other.

    Paul is, potentially, a different story-- given his status as the strongest fiscal conservative (by far) and the only Republican candidate who embraces a more limited foreign policy and in particular, wants us to get out of Iraq far more quickly than his peers.

    The Texas Straw Poll on August 31/September 1 could be quite interesting. Will Huckabee and Paul step up further? Which of the front-runners will step up, step back, or step off the ranch altogether?

    coffee does a mind good...

    An interesting article in U.S. News and World Report from Bernadine Healy on the health benefits of coffee for the elderly (especially women) in fending off Alzheimer's. From the experiment, it appears that at least three cups a day slowed down cognitive decline in those 65 and older.

    To borrow her clever phrases: with coffee, Mother Nature is doing battle with Father Time.

    C-J's contest on the Fletcher ad

    On Tuesday, the editorial board of the (Louisville) Courier-Journal responded with undignified and surprising hysteria about a political ad by Governor Fletcher in his campaign against Democratic challenger, Steve Beshear. While somewhat distasteful and distorting the truth to some extent, the Fletcher effort is well within the norm for political advertising (as sad as that is) and at some level, amusing and clever (rather than the standard: vicious efforts without creativity).

    In addition to reproducing the ad in the paper and editorializing against it, the C-J decided to sponsor a "contest", with people sending in their entries:

    This fabricated photo is a new low for Kentucky politics. So we put it to you, the reader, to come up with something even more outrageous. One-up the Fletcher campaign by sending The Courier-Journal the most shameful, doctored gubernatorial campaign ad you can think of. The best will be featured in Forum. Just remember, facts are meaningless!

    Maybe, with that last sentence, the C-J is communicating its worldview? In any case, the contest entries will probably range from vicious to hilarious. I look forward to seeing what they come up with!

    While annoying liberal and ironically closed-minded at times, the editorial board is usually predictable-- but I was surprised at their level of angst with this ad. Apparently, Fletcher's ad hit a sensitive spot, someone woke up cranky, and/or they spun themselves into an angry funk.

    Since Tuesday, the paper has taken a well-deserved beating from some spot-on letters from their readers. In Thursday’s edition, four letter writers took some nice pokes. And this morning, someone took up their challenge to explain “how a local casino will make women get abortions?”

    You asked someone to explain, "How a local casino will make women get abortions." Gambling is usually accompanied with the drinking of alcoholic beverages. Drinking alcohol excessively often leads to breakdowns of resistance to desires. ("What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.") A breakdown of desires could lead to unwanted pregnancy. Some unwanted pregnancies lead to abortions.

    TOM WOOD; Louisville 40222

    With comments on the C-J webpage, two writers had a similar response:

    …if "meaningless facts", "doctored" and "fabricated" are the three main criteria to the contest, then I nominate the Courier Journal's Editoral Board and their political endorsements. Couldn't fit the bill any better.

    Facts are meaningless? Sounds like the C.J. everyday.

    I’m not sure what to think. Am I being properly amused by all of this or is it just appealing to my lower nature? ;-)

    hot weather and half-days at school

    The Clark County schools will have another half-day today-- in the face of our record heat. (I think it's the fourth so far, but I'm losing track.)

    OK, multiple-choice time:
    What should be said about this?

    a.) This is yet another problem from global warming. Where's Al Gore when we need him?
    b.) Spending $10,000 per student is not enough to keep them in schools that are reasonably cool.
    c.) This is George Bush's fault...Impeach him!
    d.) Why don't they start the school year after Labor Day like they used to?
    e.) This is Nancy Pelosi's fault...Let's elect a Republican Congress in 2008!
    f.) It's far better to send these kids home-- many of whom do not have air-conditioning or both of their parents work.
    g.) This is yet another reason to allow competitive market for schools. Then parents could choose between schools that go half-day in the heat vs. full day no matter what-- instead of being forced to have their kids in a half-day.