Saturday, February 28, 2009

economy bad, but still not as bad as 1982

One more indicator of the same thing I said a month ago...

From the AP's Jeannine Aversa in the C-J
...

The contraction for the fourth quarter of 2008 had been estimated at 3.8 percent just a month ago. Then the Commerce Department raised it to an astonishing 6.2 percent Friday - the largest revision since the government started keeping records in 1976.

That was the economy's worst showing in a quarter-century and raised the prospect that the nation could suffer its worst year since 1946....

The economy has not suffered a decline for a full year since 1991, and that was just by 0.2 percent.

If the new projections prove accurate, it would mark the worst annual showing since an 11 percent plunge in 1946....

The nation's jobless rate is now at 7.6 percent, the highest in more than 16 years. The Federal Reserve expects the rate to climb to close to 9 percent this year, and probably will stay elevated into 2011.

...the weakest quarterly showing since an annualized drop of 6.4 percent in the first quarter of 1982, when the country was suffering through an intense recession...

Friday, February 27, 2009

Chesterton quote-of-the-day

Dull people always want excitement...the dullness of people who cannot imagine anything they do not experience.

bad morals vs. bad metaphysics

I've already posted a few times on Alvaro de Silva's compilation of G.K. Chesterton quotes on "men and women, children, sex, divorce, marriage and the family" (the subtitle of his 1990 book, Brave New Family).

For those who enjoy Chesterton (or want to become acquainted with him) &/or are interested in those topics (among others, including contraception and eugenics), the edited volume is well worth your money and time.

In his intro, de Silva opens by noting that family is "recalled as obsessively as the name of a lost paradise, a bad joke, or an obscenity. Perhaps today the family is all thee: something lost, laughed about and abused." He then points to a Chesterton quote that ends with the exhortation to value the family "from the hearthstone to the headstone". From there, he invokes
Brave New World with its perverse views of family (along with so much else)-- presumably the reason for the title he chose.

Later in his intro, de Silva quotes Charles Williams-- "Adultery is bad morals but divorce is bad metaphysics"-- before noting that "The consequences of false metaphysics are worse and beyond the ugly results of bad morals."

marginal tax rates and getting money from the wealthy

With Obama now officially proposing higher marginal tax rates on "the wealthy", it's worth a (long) look on the impact of such policies on taxes paid, productivity, and economic growth.

As for the percentage of personal income taxes paid by the top .5% of income earners, the economics text by Gwartney et. al. reports that:

-When Reagan and his Congress cut the top marginal tax rate (MTR) from 70% to 50% in 1981 (among other changes), the proportion rose from less than 14% to more than 21% by 1986.

-With the second tax cut, Reagan worked to institute indexing-- which along with deregulation in the late 1970 and early 1980s are probably the two most unsung but glorious moments of recent political economy-- and lowered the top MTR to 28%. With this, the proportion fell to about 19%.
-With the Bush I and Clinton tax increases, the top MTR rose proportion rose to 39.6% and the proportion paid by the most wealthy continued to rise, to 28%.

-With the modest MTR cuts by Bush (to 35%), the proportion has fallen slightly (although weird economic times since 2001 seem to have injected a lot of noise).

Of course, none of this includes payroll taxes-- which impose a far larger burden on the working poor and middle class. But no one-- not the "mean" Republicans or the "compassionate" Democrats (LOL!)-- cares about those.

Obama and a victory for those who support states rights and dislike "judicial activism"

From Bob Egelko in the SF Chronicle (hat tip: Bluegrass Bulletin)...

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is sending strong signals that President Obama - who as a candidate said states should be allowed to make their own rules on medical marijuana - will end raids on pot dispensaries in California....

During one campaign appearance, Obama recalled that his mother had died of cancer and said he saw no difference between doctor-prescribed morphine and marijuana as pain relievers. He told an interviewer in March that it was "entirely appropriate" for a state to legalize the medical use of marijuana "with the same controls as other drugs prescribed by doctors."...

"The president believes that federal resources should not be used to circumvent state laws" and expects his appointees to follow that policy, Schapiro said.

Obama believes that-- at least in this context!

The federal government has fought state medicinal pot laws since Californians voted in 1996 to repeal criminal penalties for medical use of marijuana.

President Bill Clinton's administration won a Supreme Court case, originating in Oakland, that allowed federal authorities to shut down nonprofit organizations that supplied medical marijuana to their members. Clinton's Justice Department was thwarted by federal courts in an attempt to punish California doctors who recommended marijuana to their patients.

President George W. Bush's administration went further...

Hitler's Economics (vs. ours?)

A classic essay by Lew Rockwell, republished today at LewRockwell.com...

For today's generation, Hitler is the most hated man in history, and his regime the archetype of political evil. This view does not extend to his economic policies, however. Far from it. They are embraced by governments all around the world.

The Glenview State Bank of Chicago, for example, recently praised Hitler's economics in its monthly newsletter. In doing so, the bank discovered the hazards of praising Keynesian policies in the wrong context. The issue of the newsletter (July 2003) is not online, but the content can be discerned via the letter of protest from the Anti-Defamation League. "Regardless of the economic arguments" the letter said, "Hitler's economic policies cannot be divorced from his great policies of virulent anti-Semitism, racism and genocide…. Analyzing his actions through any other lens severely misses the point."

The same could be said about all forms of central planning. It is wrong to attempt to examine the economic policies of any leviathan state apart from the political violence that characterizes all central planning, whether in Germany, the Soviet Union, or the United States....

In the 1930s, Hitler was widely viewed as just another protectionist central planner who recognized the supposed failure of the free market and the need for nationally guided economic development. Proto-Keynesian socialist economist Joan Robinson wrote that "Hitler found a cure against unemployment before Keynes was finished explaining it."

What were those economic policies? He suspended the gold standard, embarked on huge public works programs like Autobahns, protected industry from foreign competition, expanded credit, instituted jobs programs, bullied the private sector on prices and production decisions, vastly expanded the military, enforced capital controls, instituted family planning, penalized smoking, brought about national health care and unemployment insurance, imposed education standards, and eventually ran huge deficits....

Hitler instituted a New Deal for Germany, different from FDR and Mussolini only in the details....

if you can't get Louisvillians to pay for it...

Why not ask children in Colorado to pick up the tab? Those in Louisville didn't think it was important to spend their own money. So, we can ask taxpayers-- or more likely, future taxpayers in dealing with the debt-- in the rest of the country to pick up 99.7% of the tab.

That's the strategy of the Louisville Free Public Library-- in trying to acquire some of the "stimulus" money about to be sent our way by President Obama and his Democratic Congress.

Here's the front-page article in the C-J by Sheldon Shafer...

Competition for the money will be fierce, but Louisville Free Public Library officials are trying to get federal stimulus money for $8.6 million in capital projects -- including major makeovers of the aging Western, Portland and Shawnee branches, as well as the Main Library in downtown Louisville.

Those projects would jump-start the library system's scaled-down expansion plan, which was left in limbo after a proposed library tax was soundly defeated in a countywide referendum in fall 2007.

After that vote, Mayor Jerry Abramson and the Metro Council asked library director Craig Buthod to develop a less ambitious expansion program. In December Buthod presented a revised plan that called for spending about $120 million over the next 12 years....

City officials said Wednesday they expect to get at least $200 million in stimulus money, and maybe much more.

Already, they have proposed more than 200 projects costing more than $600 million -- a lengthy list that includes improvements to public buildings, plus housing, sewer, water, parks, road, bridges, transit, school and the library....

astronomical?

That's the headline in the C-J today, describing the number of people seeking unemployment payments from the government and taxpayers.

What would they have said in the 1970s and 1980s-- or the 1930s?

In the 1970s and 1980s, we had grown used to much worse numbers. But to many people, this current situation seems worse in comparison to recent employment numbers-- and in light of broader fears about the economy.

da-da-da da-da-da

ESPN's play of the day-- an amazing steal and bucket at the end of a tied high school basketball game.

Click here to see it!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Fireproof as Rocky redux

From Dale Buss in the WSJ (hat tip: Linda Christiansen)...

Through a purely Hollywood lens, "Fireproof" is the most unlikely film success since "Rocky." It was written by novice screenwriters, cast nearly entirely with amateurs, staffed largely by volunteers, and shot almost all on location. It wrapped for a total outlay of only $500,000.

But that's where God provides a different prism. The movie, about a Christian fire captain who recommits to his marriage, collected more than $33 million -- and was the biggest-grossing indie movie of 2008 -- precisely because it was produced by a church in Albany, Ga., which then networked with other evangelicals and with Roman Catholics to create enormous grass-roots demand....

Yet "Fireproof" also provides a sharp reminder of the film industry's spotty record with church-going audiences since the resounding success of "The Passion of the Christ" in 2004. Mel Gibson stunned the world by garnering $370 million in receipts for his crucifixion drama, told in Aramaic with no A-list stars....

Traditional studios have been trying harder, while monied independents -- such as Walden Media, founded by the Christian oil baron Philip Anschutz -- have laid their own pipelines to belief-motivated film watchers. But while huge hits have ensued, such as the first of Walden and Disney's "Chronicles of Narnia" series in 2005, duds have proliferated as well, including last year's "Billy: The Early Years," about a young Billy Graham....

Sherwood Baptist Church pastors Stephen and Alex Kendrick tested and verified their homemade business model with "Facing the Giants," a high-school football drama that brought in $10 million in 2006 after an outlay of just $100,000. For "Fireproof," the brothers hired actor Kirk Cameron, a Christian celebrity, but only after grilling him about his moral integrity....The brothers also published "The Love Dare," a book that is a plot device in the movie and, now a best-seller, has been adopted as a marriage-enrichment curriculum in thousands of American churches.

...bad filmmaking turns off Christians just like everyone else. "Left Behind" movies starring Mr. Cameron appealed to eschatological certainty, for example, but the low-budget flicks couldn't mount special effects that did justice to the Apocalypse....

Fireproof was HOT!

Wow!

Tonia and I finally saw it as part of a marriage retreat at Westport Road Baptist Church last weekend. The retreat was put on by MERCY Ministries and was titled GRACE for Couples.

The retreat itself was fine. It's always good to be reminded of what you already know, to pick up a few new tools, and to take the time to focus on one's marriage.

The movie was really good. (I had blogged extensively on its origins, success and reviews here.) It was a dramatic improvement over Facing the Giants-- which was good, but not nearly this good. A very good story line, solid acting, and of course, a tremendous and important topic.

We'll probably do something with it in a small group in one or more of our circles-- whether just showing it and using the six-week study derived from it.

If you haven't seen it yet, get to it!

teen sex trends improving

From Michael Medved at TownHall.com...

Why do so many otherwise reasonable people feel an odd compulsion to embrace the illogical and unsupportable notion of the nation's total moral collapse?

Despite irrefutable evidence of dramatically declining rates of crime, divorce, drug abuse, traffic accidents, smoking, abortion and even environmental pollution in the last twenty years, most Americans insist that the ethical state of the nation has never been worse....

Medved cites a January 27 article by Tara Parker-Pope in the New York Times-- "The Myth of Rampant Teenage Promiscuity"-- in which she largely dismisses alarmist reports of a "teen sex crisis".

Ms. Parker-Pope summarizes by saying that: "While some young people are clearly engaging in risky sexual behavior, a vast majority are not. The reality is that, in many ways, today's teenagers are more conservative about sex than previous generations."

And she puts forward a number of surprising and reassuring stats:

--From the National Youth Risk Behavior Survey, more high school students, both male and female, remained virgins. In 2007, only 47.8% had ever had sex –a sharp drop from 54.1% in 1991.

--A 2002 report from the Department of Health and Human Services also showed that teenagers seemed more determined to postpone their first sexual encounters. Only 30% of 15-to-17 year old girls had experienced sex—dramatically down from 38% in 1995...the percentage of sexually experienced boys in that age group declined from 43% to 31%.

- Younger teenagers also showed significant decreases in sexual experimentation. In 1995, an alarming 20% said they had had sex before age fifteen, but by 2002 the numbers decreased to just 13% of girls (and 15% of boys).

According to Professor Kathleen A, Bogle of the sociology department at LaSalle University: "There's no doubt that the public perception is that things are getting worse, and that kids are having sex younger and are much wilder than ever before. But when you look at the data, that's not the case."

From there, Medved deals with the recent uptick in teen pregnancies, but his argument is too long to replicate here.

a key cause of the housing crisis? AND the dangers in not understanding the limits of models and statistics

On the latter, you see this a lot in economic "analysis"-- even from economists. They rely too heavily on models, statistics, quantitative analysis, and graphs-- without understanding their limitations. This isn't to say that one should throw out the baby with the proverbial bath water. But one should understand the limitations and avoid squirrelly inferences.

From Michael Barone at TownHall.com...

Several economic blogs have pointed me to this excellent article by Felix Salmon in Wired on the Gaussian copula devised by mathematician David X. Li in 2000. This was a mathematical formula to quantify risk that "was adopted by everybody from bond investors and Wall Street banks to ratings agencies and regulators. And it became so deeply entrenched—and was making people so much money—that warnings about its limitations were largely ignored." It turns out that the formula underestimated the risk of many homeowners defaulting on mortgages at the same time....turned out to be unreliable.

I see a pattern here: the attempt to see quantitative patterns in human behavior can be misleading unless it is supplemented by acquaintance with the qualitative facts on the ground....

I have been a consumer of political and demographic numbers from the time my parents bought the 1951 edition of the World Book Encyclopedia, which contained results from the 1950 Census....But as I have grown older, I have come increasingly to believe that the numbers are just clues. Sometimes misleading clues. There's a reality on the ground that you're trying to understand, and the numbers help you make sense about it, help you develop theories of why things are happening or changing as they are. But you can become over-dependent on numbers, as Wall Street became over-dependent on David X. Li's Gaussian copula, and end up being really, really wrong about reality. And you have to constantly keep that in mind....

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Atlas Shrugged: from fiction to fact

The sway of government in mixed economies comes and goes. On the one hand, government has a tendency to grow. On the other hand, markets have a tendency-- and market participants have a strong incentive-- to move around government regulations and impediments. On net, the effect is a mixed bag, although sectors of the economy can get worse or better over time.

An interesting example is the Post Office, which retains its govt-established monopoly, but whose monopoly power has been undermined by technological advance and market participants eating away at the monopoly from the side.

In the last decade, the growth of government has been notable-- first,throughout the presidency of Bush and now, in the early days of Obama.

Here's Stephen Moore in the WSJ on Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged and its increasing applicability...

If..."Atlas" were required reading for every member of Congress and political appointee in the Obama administration. I'm confident that we'd get out of the current financial mess a lot faster.

Many of us who know Rand's work have noticed that with each passing week, and with each successive bailout plan and economic-stimulus scheme out of Washington, our current politicians are committing the very acts of economic lunacy that "Atlas Shrugged" parodied in 1957, when this 1,000-page novel was first published and became an instant hit.

...as recently as 1991, a survey by the Library of Congress and the Book of the Month Club found that readers rated "Atlas" as the second-most influential book in their lives, behind only the Bible.

For the uninitiated, the moral of the story is simply this: Politicians invariably respond to crises -- that in most cases they themselves created -- by spawning new government programs, laws and regulations. These, in turn, generate more havoc and poverty, which inspires the politicians to create more programs . . . and the downward spiral repeats itself until the productive sectors of the economy collapse under the collective weight of taxes and other burdens imposed in the name of fairness, equality and do-goodism....

Every new act of government futility and stupidity carries with it a benevolent-sounding title.... [The] acts and edicts sound farcical, yes, but no more so than the actual events in Washington, circa 2008....

The current economic strategy is right out of "Atlas Shrugged": The more incompetent you are in business, the more handouts the politicians will bestow on you....

Ultimately, "Atlas Shrugged" is a celebration of the entrepreneur, the risk taker and the cultivator of wealth through human intellect. Critics dismissed the novel as simple-minded, and even some of Rand's political admirers complained that she lacked compassion. Yet one pertinent warning resounds throughout the book: When profits and wealth and creativity are denigrated in society, they start to disappear -- leaving everyone the poorer....

Drew Carey on "Nanny State Nation"

Drew Carey on ReasonTV about all of the things prohibited by the government (and backed up by force)-- for our own good, of course...

Government and interest groups often get on the "ban wagon" and prevent all sorts of voluntary transactions and behaviors.


without education...

Here's David Brooks in the NYT (hat tip: Linda Christiansen)...

Brooks serves up an interesting mix on education as human capital-- and concerns both institutionally (how can a govt monopoly be expected to deliver the goods?) and given the vital role of family structure/function (or lack thereof). The latter is more important but more difficult to change, especially for GOP'ers (who will be seen/sold as mean). The former is within reach, but Dems are captive to the teachers’ union and the Reps lack the will/zeal/empathy &/or knowledge to run with a difficult political ball.

It's interesting that Brooks takes a big poke at the GOP here. But consistent with what I’ve observed and said/written: GOP’ers generally have good families and good/decent schools (suburbs, rural). From there, the lack of political response is some combo of ignorance and apathy about educational quality for others—and largely ignoring the impact of divorce on “destroying family” (vs. an ironic, recent focus/obsession on so-called “gay marriage”).

Why did the United States become the leading economic power of the 20th century? The best short answer is that a ferocious belief that people have the power to transform their own lives gave Americans an unparalleled commitment to education, hard work and economic freedom.

Between 1870 and 1950, the average American’s level of education rose by 0.8 years per decade. In 1890, the average adult had completed about 8 years of schooling. By 1900, the average American had 8.8 years. By 1910, it was 9.6 years, and by 1960, it was nearly 14 years.

As Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz describe in their book, “The Race Between Education and Technology,” America’s educational progress was amazingly steady over those decades, and the U.S. opened up a gigantic global lead. Educational levels were rising across the industrialized world, but the U.S. had at least a 35-year advantage on most of Europe. In 1950, no European country enrolled 30 percent of its older teens in full-time secondary school. In the U.S., 70 percent of older teens were in school.

America’s edge boosted productivity and growth. But the happy era ended around 1970 when America’s educational progress slowed to a crawl. Between 1975 and 1990, educational attainments stagnated completely. Since then, progress has been modest. America’s lead over its economic rivals has been entirely forfeited, with many nations surging ahead in school attainment.

This threatens the country’s long-term prospects. It also widens the gap between rich and poor....

The meticulous research of Goldin and Katz is complemented by a report from James Heckman of the University of Chicago. Using his own research, Heckman also concludes that high school graduation rates peaked in the U.S. in the late 1960s, at about 80 percent. Since then they have declined....

Heckman points out that big gaps in educational attainment are present at age 5. Some children are bathed in an atmosphere that promotes human capital development and, increasingly, more are not. By 5, it is possible to predict, with depressing accuracy, who will complete high school and college and who won’t.

I.Q. matters, but Heckman points to equally important traits that start and then build from those early years: motivation levels, emotional stability, self-control and sociability....

[I]t’s worth noting that both sides of this debate exist within the Democratic Party. The G.O.P. is largely irrelevant. If you look at Barack Obama’s education proposals — especially his emphasis on early childhood — you see that they flow naturally and persuasively from this research....There’s some vague talk about school choice, but Republicans are inept when talking about human capital policies.

Drew Carey on job-demagoguery

From ReasonTV, here's Drew Carey blowing up derogatory claims about NAFTA-- from politicians and Lou Dobbs...


Hoosiers, Hazlitt and federalism

From IPR's Craig Ladwig by way of Larry Reed from the Mackinac Center and FEE, a wonderful reference to Henry Hazlitt's Economics in One Lesson-- and the illusions of anti-federalism (taking away power and resources from the states and locals)...

"Indiana needs no guardian and intends to have none. We Hoosiers — like the people of our sister states — were fooled for quite a spell with the magician’s trick that a dollar taxed out of our pockets and sent to Washington will be bigger when it comes back to us. We have taken a good look at said dollar. We find that it lost weight in its journey to Washington and back. The political brokerage of the bureaucrats has been deducted. We have decided that there is no such thing as ‘federal’ aid. We know that there is no wealth to tax that is not already within the boundaries of the 48 states. So we propose henceforward to tax ourselves and take care of ourselves. We are fed up with subsidies, doles and paternalism. We are no one’s stepchild. We have grown up. We serve notice that we will resist Washington, D.C. adopting us."

— House Concurrent Resolution No. 2 of the 85th General Assembly of the State of Indiana, passed by the House and Senate in January 1947.

Baron Hill identified as fake Blue-Dog

From Newsmax's John Mercurio (hat tip: Uric Dufrene)...

Who are the real Blue Dogs?

The question irks leaders of the fiscally conservative coalition of House Democrats, which made solid gains in 2008 and now includes 49 members. Every one of them is sincerely committed to reducing the federal deficit, they say. Of the 49, however, only six of them voted against President Obama’s $789 billion economic stimulus package despite their stated, laser-like focus on balancing the budget....

“We feel like he is committed to fiscal responsibility,” Rep. Baron Hill (D-Ind.), one of the Blue Dogs who switched to ultimately support the president’s plan, told reporters after the meeting.

Blue Dogs claim Obama’s recent promise to cut the deficit in half by 2012 is a result of their efforts....

Unlikely!

Still, some Blue Dogs say their relations with House Democratic leaders frayed during the stimulus negotiations, mostly because many Blue Dog demands were ignored....Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.): “We're just told how to vote. We're treated like mushrooms most of the time.”

So, will the Blue Dogs cling to their traditional colors, or will they be swallowed up by red ink? The answer to that question could depend largely on how aggressively these six “real” Blue Dogs push back against their party’s leaders.

Here’s a look at the “real” Blue Dogs of Capitol Hill: Bobby Bright (Ala.); Parker Griffith (Ala.); Walter Minnick (Idaho); Collin Peterson (Minn.); Heath Shuler (N.C.); and Gene Taylor (Miss.).

as far as the East is from the West-- in the NBA

Did you like that application of Ps 103:12 to basketball? ;-)

Eight teams will make the playoffs from each conference.
In the Eastern Conference, only five teams have winning records.
In the Western Conference, eight teams have won 60% of their games.

The good news for the West: they have the stronger conference by far.

The bad news: In the first round of the grueling NBA playoffs, the strongest teams from the East will get the equivalent of a bye-- while the Western teams will have to slug it out against a good team.

Rep. Scott Pelath wants to take your money and give it to casinos

Why any corporate subsidies? Why subsidies, in particular, for gambling?!

From Lesley Stedman-Weidenbener in the C-J...


All Hoosier casinos...could qualify for state tax breaks during the next four years under legislation the House is set to vote on today.

House Bill 1729 would lower tax rates for the state's two horse track "racinos" and allow the state's other 11 riverboat casinos to deduct some of the dollars they spend on promotions from taxable winnings.

The bill's author, Rep. Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, said it will give casinos "the tools to be competitive" in a difficult market.

Huh? Why do they need a subsidy any more than other producers? Some supporters say that gambling is a heavily-taxed industry. How about we quit picking winners and have even tax rates for all businesses?

But it isn't clear whether there's sufficient support in the House to approve the measure today -- the last day for the chamber to pass its own bills -- and send it to the Senate....

I hope not!

Indiana Senate looks to toughen sentences for killing some babies in the womb

We'll see if the Indiana House follows suit...

Here's the AP's Deanna Martin in the C-J...

The Senate has passed a bill that would lengthen prison terms for people who murder or attempt to murder a pregnant woman and cause the death of her unborn child.

The bill, passed yesterday on a 40-9 vote, now goes to the House.

The measure was inspired by the shooting of an Indianapolis bank teller in April. Katherin Shuffield was five months pregnant when she was wounded in the abdomen during a robbery. She survived, but the twin girls she was carrying did not....

Bunning blows up GOP leadership

From James Carroll and Joseph Gerth in the C-J...

It will be interesting to see how the GOP leadership handles Bunning. He's too (fiscally) conservative for their tastes. And he does/says some off-color stuff. But the GOP is usually willing to tolerate anything in their incumbents-- unless it's Ron Paul. Note President Bush's support of Arlen Specter against the far more conservative Pat Toomey in the PA senatorial primary a few years back.


Sen. Jim Bunning all but declared war on his own party's Senate campaign chairman yesterday and threatened a lawsuit if anyone is recruited to run against him in next year's Republican primary....

[Sen.] Cornyn [head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee]...met with Kentucky Senate President David Williams, who has not ruled out challenging Bunning in next year's GOP primary.

Cornyn described it as "a courtesy visit" and said his committee supports Bunning. He said he knew that some Republicans wanted Bunning to retire, but added that "as long as he says he is running I will be supportive of him."...

Bunning said that if a candidate was recruited by the committee to run against him in a primary he would file a lawsuit.

"Support of incumbents is the only reason for (the committee's) existence," Bunning added. "So if they recruited someone and supported them in a primary against me, I would be able to sue them because they're not following their bylaws."

Asked how he could repair his relationship with Cornyn, who decides where the committee spends its millions in Senate races, Bunning responded: "Why do I have to fix it? The NRSC never helped me last time. So why should they help me this time?"...

C-J and the Gadfly vs. Katie King

A nice piece from the C-J editorialists on the on-going Katie King saga...

The only odd thing: who is the "perennial gadfly candidate" who raised the issue-- and why not give credit where credit is due. Sounds like the way they might describe a Libertarian, but I'm not sure...Does anyone know?

When asked by a reporter in December where she came up with $194,000 to finance her expensive, scandal-ridden campaign for Jefferson District Court judge, Katie King said, "It came from personal accounts."

Beyond that neither she, nor her banker father, nor her lawyer would say anything.

As it turns out, the money in at least some of those "personal accounts" came from an 11th-hour, $209,000 mortgage from her father's bank.

A complaint filed with the Registry of Election Finance by a gadfly perennial candidate alleges that the loan was worth far more than Judge King's home and was more than her $41,465 salary as a prosecutor would justify....

Obama's budget tactics and allusion to SS

I can't find the article now, but Obama has pledged to reduce the deficit by half by 2012 and has identified entitlements for the elderly as a terrific problem.

Two thoughts:

1.) It's smart politically (if not economically) to blow up the deficit and then cut it in half!

2.) Maybe I'm being too hopeful on this, but Obama may be angling toward significant entitlement reform. Elsewhere, he seems to be angling toward significant education reform. As I've noted before, it would be much easier for a Democrat to push for charter schools and Social Security reforms. If so, those would be tremendous moves forward, especially for those in lower income classes.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Big Ten's slow ball

From Pat Forde's regular column at ESPN, an amazing set of stats on Big Ten basketball...

When Penn State beat Illinois by the crime-against-basketball score of 38-33 last week, it underscored the creeping nature of the Big Ten...

Check Ken Pomeroy's stats for proof. His adjusted pace figures show that every one of America's other 30 conferences has at least one team ranked higher than the Big Ten's fastest team.

That would be Purdue, which ranks 128th nationally in pace. The Boilermakers broke the speed barrier Saturday by scoring 81 points against Indiana, the first time in February that a Big Ten team scored 80 in regulation.

It also marked just the third time anyone has scored 80 in regulation in a league game this season. The other two both came in the same game: Ohio State 93, Indiana 81 on Jan. 31.

Big Ten ball comes in three speeds:

Walk it up: Purdue, Michigan State (140th pace ranking-- out of 347 teams), Indiana (142nd) and Minnesota (187th).

Crawl it up: Ohio State (265th), Michigan (267th), Penn State (288th) and Illinois (299th).

Give up: Northwestern (318th), Wisconsin (333rd) and Iowa (343rd).

GraphJam!

I'll bet you never knew graphs could be so much fun (hat tip: Patrick Becka)...

Here's a good one on Rick Astley...


song chart memes

And one in honor of Kyle's sermon on Ecclesiastes...

song chart memes

And a graph based on perhaps the worst popular song ever written/performed...


song chart memes

Elliott County, KY on ESPN

Check out Pat Forde's feature story on the little school in Kentucky-- who will try to follow in the footsteps of the 1954 Milan (IN) miracle.

It sounds like they play a fun (and effective) style of basketball!

"Revolt at the State House"

An event planned in Indy on March 25th...

to "take back" the government...

welfare gone wild

From Drew Mikkelsen with MSNBC (hat tip: Opening Arguments), a case study in the typical unintended consequences that accompany public policy-- as well as one more reason to keep things at the state and local (vs. federal) level...

The state is sending out hundreds of thousands of $1 checks to the state’s neediest residents. It’s a plan that’s supposed to bring millions of dollars worth of food stamps to the state by March.

When you add printing and postage, it seems like a waste, but the state says the economy has them pulling out all the stops to find money wherever they can....if the state’s food stamp recipients receive just $1 for energy bill assistance, that qualifies them for extra federal assistance....

Sending out $1 checks cost the state $250,000. DSHS says that could bring the state and additional $43 million in federal funding.

Call it red tape or a hoop to jump through. Either way, the state says it makes sense....

Since Nelson doesn’t have a checking account, cashing that $1 check would cost her $5 in fees. The state says, luckily, recipients don’t have to cash or deposit the checks to receive the additional benefits.

why does a government grow more quickly than an economy?

From a statist among the C-J editorialists...

It's all about more revenue-- and a larger government. Rarely, if ever, does this writer imagine a smaller government.

The funny thing? Of course, there are exceptions among individuals. But as we get wealthier as a country, there ought to be less for government to do-- and thus, a smaller proportion of government and taxes.


It should have taken no courage, and prompted no hesitation, when Kentucky lawmakers recently raised the cigarette tax a measly 30 cents and put the sales tax on alcoholic beverages at retail outlets. Those who voted yes should have been embarrassed, but only because the bill did so little to address the state government budget crisis...

A budget crisis (again). The solution? More taxes and nothing about reducing spending.

Only the lowest form of Pleistocene thinking could have moved one House member to insist, "We should do nothing and let the tax fall because we need to keep as much money in people's pockets as possible." If he has his way, a change that motorists would hardly notice will rob the Transportation Cabinet of more than $120 million it needs for maintenance and construction.

OK, now some insults to criticize the idea that it'd be nice if people had more money in their pockets. Instead, we get "thinking" from the CJ'er that money grows on trees.

Our gasoline tax is below the national average. It's a user tax. There's a $3 billion backlog of work to be done. The rate should be raised, not lowered....

A good point, but it leaves the larger question unasked and even unanswered. Is the money for the gas tax designated for road construction and maintenance-- or thrown into a huge bucket of money?

Why do so many Kentucky politicians -- especially Republicans -- shun taxes like some combination of Plague, Ebola and Necrotizing Fasciitis? Because it's the easy way to please voters...

Why do so many politicians-- especially Democrats-- and C-J editoralists shun reductions in government spending like some combination of Plague, Ebola and Necrotizing Fasciitis? Because it's the easy way to please voters...

...obtuse folks from both parties have signed the ruinous no-new-tax pledge.

Yep, the height of obtusity!

...an anti-tax culture that dooms Kentucky to remain a backward state...

Yep, that's how you get out of backwardness. Raise taxes!

lesbian teens more likely to get pregnant?!

From "Findings" in this month's issue of Harpers...

News of research from Canada on the likelihood of "lesbian" and "bi-sexual" girls getting pregnant-- as published by Saewyc in the Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality...

From an article by Amy O'Brian in the Vancouver Sun...


The data used for the research were gathered from adolescent health surveys done in B.C. schools in 1992, 1998, and 2003....

Results from the surveys, which were conducted anonymously among about 30,000 students in grades 7 through 12, indicated as well that boys are more likely to cause a pregnancy if they identify as gay or bisexual.

In the 1998 survey, 10.6% of girls who identified as bisexual reported pregnancy, and 7.3% of lesbians reported pregnancy. Among the heterosexual girls, 1.8% reported pregnancy.

What does this mean?

Tiger's back!

With Tiger's return to the links tomorrow (for the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship), here's a Nike's commercial to celebrate his return-- as well as their other players' success (hat tip: Linda Christiansen)...

Funny!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

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

Whenever we find that our religious life is making us feel that we are good—above all, that we are better than someone else—I think we may be sure that we are being acted on, not by God, but by the devil. The real test of being in the presence of God is that you either forget about yourself altogether or see yourself as a small, dirty object. It is better to forget about yourself altogether.

--Mere Christianity, book 3, ch. 8

Brad Pitt quote-of-the-week

No, this is not a new feature on SchansBlog. But it's still worthy of a quote-of-the-week designation. Kyle cited this excerpt-- from an interview with Pitt by Chris Heath in Rolling Stone-- in his opening sermon of a series on Ecclesiastes.

Me: To play devil's advocate, what is the point that they're missing?

Pitt: The point is, the question has to be asked: "What track are we on?" Tyler starts out in the movie saying, "Man, I know all these things are supposed to seem important to us — the car, the condo, our versions of success — but if that's the case, why is the general feeling out there reflecting more impotence and isolation and desperation and loneliness?" If you ask me, I say, "Toss all this, we gotta find something else." Because all I know is that at this point in time, we are heading for a dead end, a numbing of the soul, a complete atrophy of the spiritual being. And I don't want that.

Me: So if we're heading toward this kind of existential dead end in society, what do you think should happen?

Pitt: Hey, man, I don't have those answers yet. The emphasis now is on success and personal gain. [Smiles] I'm sitting in it, and I'm telling you, that's not it. Whether you want to listen to me or not — and I say that to the reader — that's not it.

Me: But, and I'm glad you said it first, people will read your saying that and think...

Pitt: I'm the guy who's got everything. I know. But I'm telling you, once you get everything, then you're just left with yourself. I've said it before and I'll say it again: It doesn't help you sleep any better, and you don't wake up any better because of it. Now, no one's going to want to hear that. I understand it. I'm sorry I'm the guy who's got to say it. But I'm telling you.

Friday, February 20, 2009

food for thought from Harpers

A number of ditties in the Harper's index this month:

-Average number of hours of television watched per week by Americans aged 43 to 61: 19

-Average number watched by those aged 26 to 42 and those aged 14 to 25, respectively: 15, 11



-Number of days in November that a family farm near Denver opened up its fields for free picking: 1

-Number of people who showed up: 40,000


-Last year in which total world trade shrank, before it did so in 2008: 1982


-Average pain rating, on a scale of 1 to 7, given by study participants to a shock they believed to be unintentional: 3.0

-Average rating they assigned the same shock when they believed it to be intentional: 3.6

comfort under bad govt vs. discomfort under good govt?

A cool quote cited to open Lewis Lapham's essay in Harper's this month (hat tip: Synchrocandy):

“Few men are so disinterested as to prefer to live in discomfort under a government which they hold to be right rather than live in comfort under one which they hold to be wrong.”

- C.V. Wedgwood, The Thirty Years War (pg. 19)

Which do you prefer?

Gov. Sanford the Libertarian

It's usually a smile to hear a public official claim the Libertarian mantle.

I don't know Gov. Sanford's work, but he was speaking to CATO, so that's a good sign!

It's not yet available on the web (I just got it the most recent [Winter 2009] Cato's Letter in the mail yesterday), but Sanford opened his speech with this:

Back home in Columbia, SC, when people get exasperated with me, they throw out what they think of as a terrible pejorative: "You're not a Republican," they say. "You're a libertarian!" Of course, I always take that as a compliment. "I'm guilty," I respond. "I love liberty."

where property tax reform leads to now...

Here's my buddy Cecil Bohanon (at Ball State U.) in the Muncie StarPress on Indiana's property taxes...

I've gotten more and more involved with this issue over the last 18 months or so...

Here, Dr. Bohanon provides a nice summary of the relevant issues:

The state of Indiana faces an expected deficit for fiscal year 2009 of at least $763 million or about 6 percent of its budgeted expenditures. The cause of this shortfall is no mystery: Declining economic activity attributable to the national recession reduces revenues from sales and income taxes. The iron law of public finance implies the state must deal with this crisis by some combination of the three activities: draw down its cash balances, find other revenue sources or reduce its expenditures.

Though not as publicized many (but not all) local government entities in Indiana will also experience significant budget shortfalls in 2009. The iron law of public finance holds for these governmental units, but the source of their budget crisis is different. State-mandated property-tax caps that were a political response to skyrocketing local property taxes are the primary cause of these local financial shortfalls.

This outbreak of local budget shortfalls is not as much a product of national economic trends as it is yet another chapter in the never ending saga of the Indiana property tax. Although taxpayers find all taxes burdensome, the Indiana property tax is the object of peculiar taxpayer wrath. Over the last 35 years both despite and because of legislative tinkering Hoosiers have suffered rising, variable and uncertain property tax bills. The state imposed property tax caps finally offer property owners relative certainty in their property tax payments.

Despite its unpopularity the property tax is an ideal revenue source for local government....

The key challenge the legislature now faces is how to best continue the process of property-tax reform and simultaneously craft other changes that can make the provision of local government service more effective....The Kernan-Shepard report is a good starting point for these reforms....

The budget-making process of local units have consists of calculating the maximum allowable property-tax levies for its authorized funds. These maximum amounts are, in general, historical extrapolations of budget allocations drawn from the mists of fiscal time. This year, however, many taxing entities are bumping up against the hard constraint of the state imposed property-tax caps. Thus the crisis and the hope: Surely local tax funds can be allocated across units and functions of local government in a more understandable, accountable and rational way.

One option is to consolidate functions of local governments by reducing government units. Another option is to require taxpayer approval of tax rates. Yet another is to consolidate budget making authority in an elected executive and board. None of these reforms are panaceas or are without flaw. Yet all should be carefully but expeditiously examined in this session of the legislature while confirming a commitment to property-ax limits.

auto bailouts: subsidizing able-bodied "retirees"

Paul Ingrassia in the WSJ on GM's "plan"-- that we would subsidize their able-bodied retirees...

GM's new restructuring plan seeks another $16.6 billion in government aid -- for now. Chrysler wants an additional $5 billion. The $30 billion that GM has either received or requested since December doesn't count the $8 billion it wants to develop fuel-efficient cars, and another $6 billion it's soliciting from foreign governments.

For these taxpayer subsidies, the government could buy hundreds of thousands of GM cars a month and give them to deserving citizens. Make mine a Corvette, please....

Detroit agreed to let auto workers retire with full pension and benefits after 30 years on the job, regardless of their age. In practice, that meant a worker could start at age 18, retire at 48, and spend more years collecting a pension and free health care than he or she actually spent working. It wasn't long before even union officials realized they had created a monster.

In 1977, UAW Vice President Irving Bluestone said he was "flabbergasted" that so many workers were retiring at age 55 or younger. "We were aware that the trend to early retirement was escalating . . . but we were surprised at the escalation in 1976," Mr. Bluestone declared. "It is astounding."

None of this is ancient history. The 30-and-out retirement program persists -- a sacred part of the inflated cost structure that makes it unprofitable for Detroit to make small cars in America....

So why were these problems allowed to fester, when smart people recognized them all along? The answer is that the solutions were painful, requiring not just brains but considerable amounts of courage. UAW officials weren't brave enough to risk re-election defeat by agreeing to curtail the 30-and-out plan. Detroit executives weren't about to take on the union and risk a strike that could cost them billions....

Perhaps the best analogy, and one that Washington will understand, is Social Security. Everybody in Congress and the White House has known for years that it's a ticking time bomb, thanks to actuarial trends and inadequate funding. But when President George W. Bush tried to reform the system early in his second term, he was handed a crippling defeat....

...the conclusion that President Barack Obama's new automotive task force should reach. The purpose of bankruptcy -- either a plain-vanilla Chapter 11 or a special-flavor version that would require a new federal law -- wouldn't be to punish Detroit's car companies. It would be to give them a chance to survive, just as radical surgery, however painful, often saves the lives of sick patients. And as their latest restructuring plans make clear, General Motors and Chrysler are very sick indeed.

Thanks Baron! the "Blue Dogs" are, again, pussy-cats

From Donald Lambro at TownHall.com, an update on the Blue Dogs in general-- and Baron Hill in particular...

The House's Blue Dog Democrats like to pretend they are the deficit tigers of Congress, determined to stop runaway spending and stamp out waste, fraud and abuse.

But when push came to shove, as it did in the pork-crammed $800 billion economic-stimulus bill, most of these tigers mewed like pussycats, voting in lock step with Nancy Pelosi and Barney Frank for a bill they had not read...

NTU's "bill tally" monitoring showed that Blue Dogs propose three-quarters less spending increases than the Democrats as a whole, but the majority of Blue Dogs still vote for most of the spending bills their party brings to the floor....

In a Feb. 4 letter to Speaker Pelosi, Indiana Rep. Baron Hill and seven other Blue Dog leaders said they had "serious reservations" about the big stimulus bill then working its way through Congress.

But on final passage, only a half-dozen brave Blue Dogs voted against the bill that will, with interest, add $1 trillion-plus to the federal debt.

One of them was Democratic Rep. Walt Minnick of Idaho...The only other Blue Dog no votes came from Bobby Bright and Parker Griffith, both of Alabama, Collin C. Peterson of Minnesota, Gene Taylor of Mississippi and Heath Shuler of North Carolina....

Go online to www.Propublica.org, a journalistic watchdog outfit that is shining some sunlight on the spending spree, and you will get an eyeful. The group boiled down the 1,000-plus-page bill to its separate appropriations. The list is a veritable who's who of all the major departments, agencies and programs in Washington. Everyone has his fingers in the pie...

And www.StimulusWatch.org now lists all of the projects that are being funded under Obama's plan, many of which raise questions as to need....

Thursday, February 19, 2009

"litter offsets" (spoof)

A little YouTube action... (hat tip: Randy Baker)

Funny! Hey,
it's time to get litter-neutral...

a century of (temperature) cycles

Joseph D'Aleo, with The Farmer's Almanac, weighing in on global cooling and warming (hat tip: Randy Baker)...

Over the past century, climatic conditions have run from cool in the 1900s to warm in the '30s to cool in the '60s to warm in the '80s (scroll the time line above), and many of us have come to believe that mankind has been responsible for the swings. Scientists have blamed us for generating warming greenhouse gases, then polluting the air with sun-blocking particulates, and raising temperatures through urbanization, deforestation, and greenhouse gases.

There is another possible explanation for—or, at least, influence on—climate change. This involves natural factors, most notably the Sun and Earth's oceans. We at the Almanac are among those who believe that sunspot cycles and their effects on oceans correlate with climate changes. Studying these and other factors suggests that a cold, not warm, climate may be in our future.

Read more...

How Solar Goes Polar

How Oceans Chill the Air

The Case for a Cool Climate

medical marijuana and minors OR paternalism by parents or the govt?

From Drew Carey at ReasonTV...

More broadly, this is a policy context in which "conservatives" have vitiated states' rights and ignored judicial activism.

In this particular case, you have the tensions between parents, doctors, and the State...


Charlie Lynch was found guilty and is now scheduled to be sentenced on March 23.

habits, changes of pace, and creativity

A really interesting article from Janet Rae-Dupree in the NYT-- with applications to disciplines, spiritual or otherwise (hat tip: Linda Christiansen)...

Habits are a funny thing. We reach for them mindlessly, setting our brains on auto-pilot and relaxing into the unconscious comfort of familiar routine....So it seems antithetical to talk about habits in the same context as creativity and innovation. But brain researchers have discovered that when we consciously develop new habits, we create parallel synaptic paths, and even entirely new brain cells, that can jump our trains of thought onto new, innovative tracks.

Rather than dismissing ourselves as unchangeable creatures of habit, we can instead direct our own change by consciously developing new habits. In fact, the more new things we try — the more we step outside our comfort zone — the more inherently creative we become, both in the workplace and in our personal lives.

But don’t bother trying to kill off old habits; once those ruts of procedure are worn into the hippocampus, they’re there to stay. Instead, the new habits we deliberately ingrain into ourselves create parallel pathways that can bypass those old roads....

Researchers in the late 1960s discovered that humans are born with the capacity to approach challenges in four primary ways: analytically, procedurally, relationally (or collaboratively) and innovatively. At puberty, however, the brain shuts down half of that capacity, preserving only those modes of thought that have seemed most valuable during the first decade or so of life....

She recommends practicing a Japanese technique called kaizen, which calls for tiny, continuous improvements....

LA's War on Bacon Dogs

Here's Drew Carey on the paternalism and (unintended) impact of licensing...



Fines, imprisonment-- or both. Nice!

let's do the math on the foreclosure bail-out

From the AP's Liz Sidoti in the C-J...

President Barack Obama threw a $75 billion lifeline to millions of Americans on the brink of foreclosure Wednesday, declaring an urgent need for drastic action - not only to save their homes but to keep the housing crisis "from wreaking even greater havoc" on the broader national economy.

OK. But how about "wreaking even greater havoc" through promoting incentives to engage in bad behavior, racking up even more debt, and so on?

...aims to prevent as many as 9 million homeowners from being evicted and to stabilize housing markets...

OK. $75 billion for no more than 9 million people is at least $8,300 per home.

UPDATE: From Laura Meckler's WSJ article today, the number is 5 million homeowners. That means $15,000 per home.

Government support pledged to mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac is being doubled as well, to $400 billion, as part of an effort to encourage them to refinance loans that are "under water" - those in which homes' market values have sunk below the amount the owners still owe....

Whew...that's some serious moolah. Now, we're talking an additional $44,300 for each of the 9 million homes.

UPDATE: With Meckler's number, this translates to $80,000 per home.

The new president...rolled out the housing program one day after he was in Denver to sign his $787 billion emergency "stimulus" plan...

That's more than $10,000 per family of four-- at least families of four in the future.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

burn books? nah, just mandate that they're thrown away

From Gary North at LewRockwell.com...

The kiddie police have begun to march across America, threatening thrift stores...On February 10, workers in America's thrift stores tossed out every children's book that was printed prior to 1985. That is the law. A parent is not allowed to go into a thrift store and buy a book printed before 1985. Those books are now gone...

Congress has spoken. Well, not quite. The bureaucrats who use Congress as their hand puppet, agency by agency, have spoken....They invent a presumed threat and then terrorize Congress into passing a 500-page bill that no Congressman has read. Then the bureaucrats add more regulations in the name of this 500-page law....

Here is the new reality, one week old. If you can still find any pre-1985 books, it is because the thrift store's managers don't know they are breaking the law and could be fined or sent to prison if they persist.

Congress passed the enabling legislation law last year: The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008. It has 239 sections. I don't expect you to read it – after all, no Congressman or Senator did – but click the link...

board game boom with recession?

From Allison Abell Schwartz at LewRockwell.com...

Monopoly gave Americans a cheap way to entertain the family at the height of the Great Depression, and Mattel Inc. and Hasbro Inc. are betting board games will stage a comeback in the current crisis.

Mattel and Hasbro will show off new games at the American International Toy Fair in New York Feb. 15 to Feb. 18....will also unveil retooled versions of perennial favorites including Candy Land, Trivial Pursuit and Monopoly.

U.S. board-game sales rose 6% to $794 million last year, while total toy sales declined 3%, according to researcher NPD Group Inc. Game sales have risen since last summer, when dwindling disposable income made the “staycation” a popular alternative to holiday travel...

Those three games are:

a.) pretty lame; check these out for a lot more fun

b.) apt metaphors for economic policies of the recent and current administrations