Archive for June 2010

Fraudulent Polling Exposed

Posted: Wednesday, June 30, 2010 at 11:53 pm
By: Ken Blanchard
2 Comments | Trackback Bookmark and Share

The Daily KOS has been running weekly polling results for about a year and a half.  They recently parted company with the polling firm, Research 2000 (R2K), when FiveThirtyEight found that R2K had a very poor record.  If you want to know which polls are reliable, click the previous link.

Perhaps the most famous R2K poll found that large numbers of Republican voters believe outlandish things, such as the birther myth.

Yesterday DKOS announced that there were much graver problems with some of the R2K polls than mere inaccuracy.

A bit over two weeks ago, a group of statistic wizards (Mark Grebner, Michael Weissman, and Jonathan Weissman) approached me with a disturbing premise — they had been poring over the crosstabs of the weekly Research 2000 polling we had been running, and were concerned that the numbers weren’t legit.

I immediately began cooperating with their investigation, which concluded late last week. Daily Kos furnished the researchers with all available and relevant information in our possession, and we made every attempt to obtain R2K’s cooperation which… was not forthcoming.

The wizard’s report makes for fascinating reading.  It is a brilliant example of how an expert, and maybe even a layman, can determine that a statistical summary is bogus without any access to the underlying data.  Consider this one sample from R2K:

Approval of:




Men Women Men Women Men Women
Obama 43 59 54 34 3 7
Pelosi 22 52 66 38 12 10
Reid 28 36 60 54 12 10
McConnell 31 17 50 70 19 13
Boehner 26 16 51 67 33 17
Cong. (D) 28 44 64 54 8 2
Cong. (R) 31 13 58 74 11 13
Party (D) 31 45 64 46 5 9
Party (R) 38 20 57 71 5 9

This is a pretty simple polling question: do you have a favorable view of X, an unfavorable view, or are you undecided.  However, there is something very wrong with those numbers.  Can you see it?  Look carefully.  I would like to think that I would have seen it if I had looked long enough, but I’ll never know because I skipped ahead to the explanation.  Give yourself a few minutes, and if it doesn’t jump out, then…

Overall, the results are unsurprising.  Men are more conservative than women.  Adjusted for that, everyone thinks that both parties and both houses aren’t worth a pitcher of warm spit.  Now let me give you a clue.

Approval of:




Men Women Men Women Men Women
Obama 43 59 54 34 3 7
Pelosi 22 52 66 38 12 10
Reid 28 36 60 54 12 10
McConnell 31 17 50 70 19 13
Boehner 26 16 51 67 33 17
Cong. (D) 28 44 64 54 8 2
Cong. (R) 31 13 58 74 11 13
Party (D) 31 45 64 46 5 9
Party (R) 38 20 57 71 5 9

Now do you see the problem?  I’ve highlighted all the odd numbers.  In every male/female comparison both numbers are even or both numbers are odd.  There isn’t a single case where the stat for men is even and that for women is odd, or vice versa.  That is statistically all but impossible.

Consider a double coin toss.  You either get Heads Heads, TT, HT, or TH.  If you do it 27 times, you get about six or seven of each result; if, that is, the game is fair.  If you get all HH and TT, something is very wrong.  If you get all HH, you’re using double headed coins.

Of course the numbers above are rounded off, but rounding has a fifty/fifty chance of turning an even number into an odd one or vice versa.  No random sampling would have produced the even and odd pairs in the table above.  It’s not just 27 examples, unfortunately (for R2K).

Were the results in our little table a fluke? The R2K weekly polls report 778 M-F pairs. For their favorable ratings (Fav), the even-odd property matched 776 times. For unfavorable (Unf)  there were 777 matches.

Common sense says that that result is highly unlikely, but it helps to do a more precise calculation. Since the odds of getting a match each time are essentially 50%, the odds of getting 776/778 matches are just like those of getting 776 heads on 778 tosses of a fair coin. Results that extreme happen less than one time in 10228. That’s one followed by 228 zeros. (The number of atoms within our cosmic horizon is something like 1 followed by 80 zeros.) For the Unf, the odds are less than one in 10231. (Having some Undecideds makes Fav and Unf nearly independent, so these are two separate wildly unlikely events.)

The authors of the report were reasonably cautious in drawing conclusions, but I won’t be.  Research 2000 was reporting manifestly fraudulent results.  This isn’t a matter of distorting data, or asking misleading questions.  It is a matter of making the data up.

There is no political scandal here.  The Daily KOS, to its credit, exposed the fact that its own polls were compromised.  I suspect that this is probably a simple case of professional incompetence followed by fraud.  R2K, or someone in that firm, for whatever reason, couldn’t deliver a genuine product on schedule.  So they delivered a fake one.  If you own R2K stock, I’d sell.  Now.

It is a good reminder that you should always be suspicious.  It is also really cool to look at something bogus and see it for what it is.

Migration or suicide?

Posted: Wednesday, June 30, 2010 at 8:35 am
By: David Newquist
Comments Off | Trackback Bookmark and Share

Suicide is painless,
It brings on many changes,
And I can take or leave it if I please
(Theme song from MASH)

The Week summarizes a comment about those suicides in China and what motivates them  (We have the same problem on our South  Dakota reservations and in our military):

There’s plenty of blame to go around for the spate of suicides at Foxconn, the Chinese manufacturer that builds iPhones for Apple and PCs for Dell, said Lee Gomes ( At least 20 workers at Foxconn plants in southern China have attempted suicide in recent months, 13 of them successfully. In the search for culprits, the most obvious is Foxconn itself, which pays so poorly that its workers “can’t afford even the entry-level consumer electronics products they spend their days making.” The company used to make workers sign a pledge “that they won’t blame their employer if they try to kill themselves,” until the press raised a stink. Blame also falls on the Chinese government, which has encouraged breakneck economic growth even at appalling human cost. But in all the finger-pointing, don’t forget the Western consumer—that is, you and me. Working in one of Foxconn’s factories “is nothing any of us would wish on anyone we knew.” Yet we depend on those plants “for the gadgets we love so much.”

For 50 years that I have been covering business in one  capacity or another, we have had an influx of illegal aliens pour into our country.  In the 1960s, there were a number of factories in the community I covered as a journalist that would have periodic raids to round up the illegals and send them back across the border.  They took work in the drudge shops, such as foundries, forge shops, and did stoop labor on farms and packing plants.  Those that were caught and sent across the border soon returned.  Nobody much cared.  The prevailing attitude was that the United State was a safety valve.  If those hungry and dissatisfied people were not “wet-backing” into the U.S., they would be fomenting violence and international disorder south of the border.  In the name of hemispheric order, we let them come in and made only token attempts to enforce our immigration laws.  These people performed work of a nature that no  one wanted to do for long.  Employers needed the work done.  And the people in charge of government and business thought it was better to have them gainfully employed in the U.S. rather than causing political mayhem in their home countries, which could not provide them employment.

We have had the same process take place within our borders.  Our young people migrate out of the Great Plains into more cosmopolitan areas.  The lack of jobs at the level they seek is a part of the problem, but by no means the total motivation behind their decisions to  move.  The culture of the Great Plains is something that educated, talented people find bleak and oppressive.  Teachers from K through college see the brightest and most capable students leave for opportunities to work and live in ways that do not exist and, often, are held in disregard on the Great Plains.  The desire to prepare for and acquire more stimulating and satisfying lives was a factor that every teacher confronted, and why they expected to see the most promising students migrate away.  At one time, a college president increased the enrollment of our institution and enhanced its academic reputation by emphasizing that it would prepare students and make them competitive to succeed in more sophisticated, cosmopolitan cultures.  He devised the slogan “A gateway institution” to describe the college’s mission.  Enrollments increased and the student body became noticeably more ambitious and diligent. But state officials and business leaders were offended by the ploy and the president was forced to find another slogan and not recruit students on the basis that the college was preparing them to create lives in other places.

Unlike the illegal immigrants who sneak into the United States to work or the people who leave the Great Plains to find more satisfying and rewarding lives,  the workers at Foxconn in China have no way to seek better lives.  So, many commit suicide.  It seems a better alternative to them than a life of drudgery, frustration, and wage slavery with no prospect for a better future.

Suicide has a devastating effect on the living who the suicides leave behind.  It is the ultimate form of rejection.   The suicide says in effect to those who remain behind that they provide no reason for someone to stay in this life.  In some cases the social climate is why people choose suicide.  The lives of the survivors are forever changed.  They have to confront the fact that they might be part of the hopelessness that motivates someone near them to commit suicide.  They might even be a major cause.  Even if the thought of their implication is suppressed, it is not easy to  live with and casts the shadow of doubt that survivors cannot escape.  Most people who survive the suicides of those close to them retreat into denial.  Their quality and value as persons is called into question by suicide, so they contrive reasons which absolve them of any part in the motivations.

To a lesser degree, people who are left behind when other people reject the community and culture they are in to seek a more tolerable life elsewhere suffer a similar sense of rejection and dismissal.    When people leave one job for a better one or move from a community, those left behind often mount angry slanders about them,   When former students with whom I have stayed in touch leave one job to take another, presumably better job, their employers nearly always terminate them on the spot with the old “clean our your desk and never come back” routine when they  submit their resignations.  Implied rejection makes people furious.

The news about suicides on the reservations is largely met by racial slanders.  Suicides in the military meet those elaborate rationalizations that place blame elsewhere.  When young people commit suicide because of discrimination and  bullying, the reactions of those who discriminated and bullied are generally more of the same.  Whether it is employers and communities that talented and aspiring people want to get away from or reservations and service organizations over whom people choose death, it is more than most people can handle to consider that these are entities for which death seems a preferable alternative to many and are our cultural creations.

Suicides generally involve mental health issues that are complicated and often not understood.  We can understand the suicides in the Chinese sweat shops as caused by hopelessness.  The present for those workers is sheer drudgery and the future promises nothing else.  We can blame the Chinese executives for creating hopeless conditions.  But then we face the suicides in our military, on our reservations, and among our bullied high school students.   People can deny any involvement in what creates the hopelessness, but they can’t deny that hopelessness exists.

Should anyone find the consideration of hopelessness oppressive, we offer Dorothy Parker’s “Resume” as an approach to the matter:

Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren’t lawful;
Nooses give;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.

Plains Justice Seeks Keystone Investigation

Posted: Wednesday, June 30, 2010 at 5:15 am
By: Cory Allen Heidelberger
Comments Off | Trackback Bookmark and Share

Indian Welspun Supplies Defective Steel to Six Pipelines

Indian steel used to construct TransCanada pipeline in South  Dakota, 2009“Made in India”: photo taken September 3, 2009, of Welspun pipe laid in Miner County farmland as part of TransCanada Keystone pipeline in South Dakota

Want to avoid BP on the prairie? Then you might want TransCanada to suck the oil back out of the Keystone pipeline and check for defective steel.

Plains Justice has documented a pattern of defective steel used in the pipeline construction boom from 2007 to 2009. Much of the defective steel found in six Kinder Morgan and Boardwalk pipelines was produced by India’s Welspun, which also supplied 47% of the steel for the Keystone pipeline, which TransCanada laid across eastern South Dakota last summer.

The 3710 pages of federal safety documents obtained by Plains Justice through Freedom of Information Act requests find several instances of defective steel rushed into production and installation during the same time period as the building of the Keystone pipeline. The documents

Read updates on Welspun and TransCanada at the Madville Times!

from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration include no evidence of defects in the Keystone pipeline… but they also include no evidence that the PHMSA conducted any investigation of the materials that went into the Keystone pipeline.

Plains Justice reports they have since received phone calls (but no documentation) from the PHMSA assuring them that the agency will require TransCanada to conduct a high resolution deformation scan of the already buried Keystone pipeline and a high resolution deformation tool run of the planned Keystone XL pipeline that will cross West River.

Now recall, TransCanada already got permission to use thinner than normal steel on Keystone and wants to do the same on Keystone XL. Thinner steel means they’ve already sacrificed some safety margin that might have mitigated danger from flawed steel.

Plains Justice is alarmed, as ought be every South Dakota landowner with possibly untested and defective Indian pipe running under their land ready to spring an oily leak. In a June 28 letter to the PHMSA, Plains Justice requests that the feds require TransCanada to conduct an in-line inspection before starting regular operations and publicize the results. Among other things, Plains Justice also recommends TransCanada take the prudent step of reducing the operating pressures in the Keystone pipeline and documenting the source of all steel used in Keystone’s construction.

Just in case you don’t want to read the 3710 pages of federal safety documents yourself, Plains Justice boils them down to a 17-page report on the use of substandard steel in U.S. pipelines.

For the sake of farmers like Mike and Sue Sibson, not to mention our wetlands and drinking water, let’s hope that Plains Justice is wrong and that TransCanada just happened to get all of Welspun’s good steel.

The Right of the People to Keep & Bear Arms

Posted: Tuesday, June 29, 2010 at 11:19 pm
By: Ken Blanchard
4 Comments | Trackback Bookmark and Share

james_ii_26_vii2What does the Second Amendment to the Constitution mean?  Let’s look at it.  From ePublius:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Does the 2nd Amendment establish a right of individual citizens to keep and bear arms?  My friend and esteemed Keloland colleague, Cory Heidelberger, argues not.  His argument is a familiar one of late, but only of late.  Indeed, it is the only coherent argument against the obvious conclusion that the Supreme Court reached.

Cory reads the portion of the amendment up to the second comma as controlling.  The 2nd Amendment empowers the states governments to regulate firearms in pretty much any way they wish, for the purposes of regulating state militias.  Thus, it cannot limit the power of the states to ban guns, but only limits the power of the federal government to do so.

There are three basic problems with this argument.  The first is that, if you really think this is the way to interpret the Constitution, you would have to conclude that the Establishment Clause empowers South Dakota to establish a state church.  The legislative purpose of the latter was clearly to prevent the establishment of a national church by Congress, and to protect the then existing state establishments.  I doubt that Cory would endorse that conclusion, but if he doesn’t it makes his argument look rather ad hoc.

The second problem is that the argument is inconsistent with the language of the amendment.  The 2nd Amendment consists of an explanatory clause and an operative clause.  I applaud Cory for noticing that none of the other amendments has an explanatory clause.  But I also notice that the Constitution itself has an explanatory section, the Preamble.  As beautiful and priceless as the later is, I don’t know that the language of the Preamble controls the legal meaning of any part of the document.  It is clear in this case that the explanatory clause does not control the operative clause.

Let’s consider an analogous case.  Suppose I leave my millions earned by blogging to Cory, by this phrase in my will:

Cory Heidelberger, being the best Keloland blogger, I leave him my estate.

Would that middle clause empower a judge who preferred the posts of David Newquist or the Radioactive Chief to give the money to one of the latter?  No.  Heidelberger gets the cash, because that’s what the last clause plainly states.

The operative clause of the 2nd Amendment is similarly plain in its meaning:

the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Consider that phrase: “the right of the people.”  Not the prerogatives of state governments, but the right of the people.  We know what that means.  From the 4th Amendment:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated…

The “right of the people” refers to rights of the individual persons who make up the people.  Likewise with this clause in the 1st Amendment:

the right of the people peaceably to assemble.

That is a right of individual persons to come together, peaceably, with others of a like mind.  Whatever the explanatory clause of the 2nd Amendment might mean, the operative clause is as clear as anything in the Constitution.

Finally, the argument that the 2nd Amendment doesn’t protect an individual right to bear arms is at odds with the history of the times in which it was drafted and ratified.  As Justice Scalia shows in Heller, the “right to bear arms” in the seventeenth century was understood as a right of individuals to be scrupulously guarded against the designs of tyrannical government.

Under the auspices of the 1671 Game Act, for example, the Catholic James II had ordered general disarmaments of regions home to his Protestant enemies. See Malcolm 103–106. These experiences caused Englishmen to be extremely wary of concentrated military forces run by the state and to be jealous of their arms. They accordingly obtained an assurance from William and Mary, in the Declaration of Right (which was codified as the English Bill of Rights), that Protestants would never be disarmed: “That the subjects which are Protestants may have arms for their defense suitable to their conditions and as allowed by law.”

That’s what the right to keep and bear arms means.  It means the right to keep and bear arms.  It means that government cannot disarm the people.  If you believe that the language of the Constitution means anything at all, you have to believe that the right to bear arms is protected against the Federal Government.  If you believe that the fundamental rights protected in the First Ten Amendments also apply to the states, then the Court was dead spot on in Heller and in McDonald v. Chicago.  No creative reading of the Constitution can avoid this.

Old generals don’t die; they drink too much Bud Light and retire

Posted: Tuesday, June 29, 2010 at 1:26 pm
By: David Newquist
1 Comment | Trackback Bookmark and Share

A volcano in Iceland created the conditions.  It let loose plumes of ash, and aircraft were grounded.  Gen. Stanley McChrystal had to get from Paris to Berlin, but nothing was flying.  So, he got on a bus with his staff and a reporter from Rolling Stone And cases of Bud Light Lime (which tastes like a Lifesaver.  He could have been fired for bad taste.).  They all drank and  talked and said things that the reporter wrote down, things that got McChrystal relieved of his command.

McChrystal has an impressive military resume.  He is highly educated and is an expert in special operations, as what the U.S. military is trying to do to settle down Afghanistan so that we can stop wasting money and young American asses.  And brains.  But most people who have served in the military and paid attention to the rules knew he was going to get fired.  He did  not defy orders from the commander-in-chief like Gen. MacArthur did.  (MacArthur could have been court-martialed.) He didn’t f***k up in carrying out his mission.  He did not publicly disagree with the policies he was to carry out.  In fact, he helped  create and he endorsed them.  He let his mouth and those of his staff reveal mentalities that bring into grave doubt whether they have the minds and character to do the jobs they are assigned. 

He, no doubt, knew what was coming.  He most likely had his resignation written and in his pocket when he went into the Oval Office.  But to keep his job, he had better have a compelling explanation  for the things said about the President and the other people who were maligned and abused.  He apparently didn’t.  So his resignation was accepted, and within a few hours, a new commander was announced.

Few of the things quoted about Obama and his administration were directly attributed to McChrystal.  It was staff members who said them, and by implication they expressed the attitude and thinking of the command staff.  Rolling Stone squeezed some bad shit out of the tooth paste tube and there is no way on heaven or earth to put it back.  And so, you get rid of the people who generated it.  What the quotations show is that people are being petty, mean, disrespectful, and low down.  That disqualifies them for the job with which they were entrusted.  They have shown mental and professional weaknesses of a nature that casts doubt on their level of performance and on their intellectual credibility.   McChrystal’s resignation was accepted, but you can be sure that some military rectums in Kabul are going to feel some command boot toes as they fly out the door to their new assignments on the permanent latrine detail at Camp Armpit, S.C.

There are some of those knowledgeable and authoritative observers who say that McChrystal did not commit insubordination;  he merely exercised free speech.   McChrystal did not really say much himself, but he allowed his staff to say things–things that are in violation of the Universal Code of Military Justice.  That is the law which applies to the military, and it has quite a list of provisions for what is termed insubordinate conduct.  Article 88 addresses what was reported in Rolling Stone quite specifically

Any commissioned officer who uses contemptuous words against the President, the Vice President, Congress, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of a military department, the Secretary of Transportation, or the Governor or legislature of any State, Territory, Commonwealth, or possession in which he is on duty or present shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.

And the guidelines for application specify how things said in private should be treated:

… expressions of opinion made in a purely private conversation should not ordinarily be charged. Giving broad circulation to a written publication containing contemptuous words of the kind made punishable by this article, or the utterance of contemptuous words of this kind in the presence of military subordinates, aggravates the offense. The truth or falsity of the statements is immaterial.

There are other of those authoritative and knowledgeable, keen minds who insist that McChrystal was merely trying to get President Obama’s attention to meet his military needs.  Considering that McChrystal operates in concert–or should–with the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the embassy officials assigned to Afghanistan, it would seem that he has appropriate lines of communication established, but the general’s staff chose to depart from the rules of military protocol.

McChrystal’s boys reflected more the culture of the blogosophere than they do a military organization–any organization, for that matter–that has a real job to do.  The comments  were personal, mean, petty, intended to be slanderous, and reflected that degree of low-mentality and debased attitudes that renders their opinions worthless.  The comments were intended to do harm.  They were the expressions of people ruled by ill will. People of ill will cannot be trusted.  Or respected.

Obama defined the departure point.  He said differences of opinion and discussion are welcome.  Divisiveness is intolerable.  That is true in the military, where the firing of the person in charge can deal with the problem.  It is true in any organization, but sometimes not as easy to correct.

Sitting around making malicious talk about other people, particularly those in leadership, has become an American pastime.  There is a difference, however, between making legitimate observations about someone’s performance and behavior and doing it merely to malign others and massage one’s own ego.  I have worked in places where malicious gossip was not tolerated.  If one got caught making comments about the character, mentality, or competence of an individual, one had to be able to substantiate the comments or be fired.  I have also worked at places where the personal derogation was  the usual business. In the latter instances, the organizations were dysfunctional and the people were the kind that one took great pains to avoid.  As the political chatter and the blogosphere evidence, there are those who choose to lead lives of ill will and dishonesty, however petty.  When they are put in positions of power and leadership, the country and world become the kind of places where people of good will and  good purpose do not want to–and cannot–live.

The firing of Gen. McChrystal was not a retaliation for the exercise of legitimate criticism or protest.  It was a necessary move to restore some sense of order and direction in a war that lost its objective and purpose in Iraq.  What caused the lapse in McChrystal’s conduct as a general is not clear.  Generals do develop humongous egos, and egos tend to nullify any intelligence in those who allow them to grow out of control. 

When free speech becomes a license for imbecilic rancor, it becomes a cancer and a danger to all free speech.  And when people show mentalities of such peevish small-mindedness and debased malice, they need to be identified and removed from any positions of responsibility. We can only hope that the firnig has just begun.

Gun Rights Predicated on Regulation

Posted: Tuesday, June 29, 2010 at 6:01 am
By: Cory Allen Heidelberger
14 Comments | Trackback Bookmark and Share

The  Supreme Court’s affirmation yesterday of citizens’ right to own a handgun and keep it at home gets me wondering: does the Second Amendment contradict itself?

I doubt that: the Founding Fathers were smart enough not to write illogical statements into the Constitution (well, except for that three-fifths clause). The contradiction I feel coming lies more in the irrational reasoning of folks like the Second Amendment Sisters, who think you ought to be able to pack heat anywhere, anytime, or Governor Rounds and far too many of our state legislators, who think you should be able to make and use guns and ammo in South Dakota without any federal regulation.*

Did someone say regulation? Let’s review the Second Amendment:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

First phrase: well regulated Militia. The Founding Fathers framed the proper keeping and bearing of Arms in the context of regulation. The Constitution gives Congress the power to call up, organizing, arm, and discipline that militia. Our right to bear Arms appears to exist, in the Founding Fathers’ minds, under the assumption that Congress gets to regulate those Arms.

Compare the phrasing of the Second Amendment with its neighbors. No other Amendment feels the need to explain itself. The First Amendment does not say why we need freedom of religion and speech (“A well exercised and expressed conscience, being necessary to the functioning of a free Democracy and personal integrity…”); it goes right to business, saying “Congress shall make no law….” Same with the other amendments: Washington, Franklin, Hamilton, et al. don’t explain why the government can’t quarter soldiers in peacetime or search without a warrant or impose excessive bail. The later amendments don’t go there, either: the Constitution doesn’t tell use why we can’t have slaves or why we should have an income tax or why we should not or should have a stiff drink.

The Second Amendment is an anomaly, specifying the context motivating its protection. And that context is not individual self-defense or pheasant hunting or a God-given right to blast old buckets with your AK-47 (that happens here at Lake Herman). The Second Amendment explicitly assumes our guns exist in a framework of regulation to serve the State. If you want to posit other gun rights and oppose gun regulation, you can’t rely on the Second Amendment; you have to hope for judicial activism… like that exercised by the Court’s slim conservative majority Monday.


Update: One more thought from my comment section… could the example of civil disobedience and nonviolent resistance from Gandhi and King make the Second Amendment obsolete in the same way that the model of mechanized agriculture driven by Eli Whitney and John Deere made slavery obsolete?

Should there be a fee to borrow library books?

Posted: Monday, June 28, 2010 at 10:43 pm
By: Tim Gebhart
Comments Off | Trackback Bookmark and Share

A British author told the BBC last week that in light of the impact of government budget cuts, libraries should consider charging a small fee for checking out a book. Michael Jecks, who bills himself as “Master of the Medieval Murder Mystery,” suggested a charge of 15 pence (currently about 22 cents). He doesn’t believe the fee should be universal, suggesting those under the age of 18 or on means-tested benefits be exempt.

There’s no question budget concerns exist for U.S. libraries. According to the American Library Association, 24 states reported cuts in state funding for public libraries between fiscal 2009 and fiscal 2010 and nearly half were more than 11 percent. Significantly, that reflects state funding. The vast majority of funding for public libraries comes at the local level, where finances certainly are no better. In fact, the fiscal 2008 public libraries survey indicates Siouxland Libraries received 96.5 percent of its funding from local government. By the way, the Census Bureau reported earlier this year that in 2008 just under 25 percent of American households had at least one person getting means-tested government benefits.

Are borrowing fees something public libraries should consider? Some fees already exist. For example, Siouxland Libraries charges nonresidents a “membership” fee between $5 and $6 month to borrow materials, depending on the length of the membership. Still, the concept of charging for library books goes against the grain of our views of public libraries. We tend to consider free public libraries in almost the same vein as free public education (and, from my perspective, for good reason). Still, most scholars agree that publicly funded free libraries were a 19th century invention for America. Great impetus came from Andrew Carnegie, who provided funding for libraries in more than 1,400 American communities. Among the conditions for those funds was that the community annually provide 10 percent of the cost of construction to support library operations and the library provide free service to all.

There is some surface appeal in Jecks’s thought that borrowing fees are “just a small contribution” towards funding libraries and “it’s not the sort of amount which is going to break anybody’s bank.” Certainly, exempting those under 18 and, for lack of a better term, the needy makes sense. Still, what are the chances requiring someone to prove they’re receiving government support will discourage them from checking out material? Or that someone slightly above whatever standard is set may be in a situation where it’s a choice between checking out library books and a half gallon of milk? Quite frequently, these are the people who may be most in need of what libraries offer. In fact, this year’s State of America’s Libraries report from the ALA concluded that since the recession, local libraries have “become a lifeline.”

User fees make sense for certain things, such as swimming pools or a surcharge on tickets to a sporting or cultural event held in a government-funded facility. But libraries are more than just a quality of life issue; they are crucial to a community’s strength and survival. As someone said earlier this year, “Cuts to libraries during a recession are like cuts to hospitals during a plague.” Among the worst things we could do is reduce public support and try to replace it with alternatives that could do more harm than good.


Posted: Monday, June 28, 2010 at 8:16 pm
By: Joel Rosenthal
Comments Off | Trackback Bookmark and Share

America’s longest serving Congressman has passed away.

Senator Robert Byrd served in the US Congress for 57 years, 51 years in the U S Senate and 6 years in the House of Representatives. He was known at the “King of Pork” and often alluded to bringing home the bacon. He once said his goal was to bring a Billion Dollars in federal spending to West Virginia.  Today that is small potatoes with Bridges to Nowhere and the legacy of Bud Shuster and John Murtha. Hell a in terms of Obama Stimulus One Billion is just a drop in the deficit bucket.   

As quoted in the online edition of the “New York Times”, Senator Byrd said, “I lost no opportunity to promote funding for programs and projects of benefit to the people back home.”

With talk of deficits and the public outrage perhaps Bob Byrd’s passing will mark the end to the era of pork barrel spending as well. One can only hope.

In reflecting on West Virginia pork (as well as remembering Byrd for his pompous oratory and ego) I remember him as Democrat Leader. In reference to South Dakota I remember his trip in about 1979 or 1980 when he came to Mitchell to campaign for George McGovern. He brought his fiddle and played as well as spoke. I also remember his speaking of Tom Daschle as Democrat leader and referring to Daschle’s “spine of steel.”

Byrd served as Chairman and ranking member for ages of the Senate Appropriations Committee and as Senate Pro Tempore. Despite his record tenure, his gargantuan spending, and his leadership, he will be remembered for his addiction to coal, his opposition to the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964 and his membership in the Ku Klux Klan.

Finally Byrd’s death made me remember another name from the past, former South Carolina Congressman L. Mendel Rivers. Rivers who served in Congress for 30 years (1940-1970) was in his last 5 years Chairman of the Armed Services Committee in the U S House (during the Viet Nam War (excuse me Era – not officially a War.) It was said with tongue in cheek but with more truth that one might admit that if South Carolina or Charleston got one more Navy installation, South Carolina might sink from its weight.

How history judges Robert Byrd will be interesting. Will long service make you great? Or will Byrd be a modern interpretation of “While Nero fiddled Rome burned?”

To comment on this post go to South Dakota Straight Talk.

Forbes Says – Hillary a Supply Sider!

Posted: Monday, June 28, 2010 at 6:55 pm
By: Joel Rosenthal
Comments Off | Trackback Bookmark and Share

Post It Note – Back to blogging from the best two weeks I ever spent. Each of the past two weeks one my grandchildren came and stayed with their Grandmother and I. Nothing better! My Daddy told me that Grandchildren were the interest on his money. Like so many things he was totally correct!

Forbes Says – Hillary a Supply Sider!

Straight Talk Commentary – Steve Forbes’ Op Ed in today’s “Wall Street Journal” is too good to pass up. He is right that cutting tax rates raise State revenues and gives the wealthy incentive to invest. Their investment creates jobs. In fact then the wealthy in real dollar terms pay even more of their income in taxes, though at a lower rate.

Hillary of course inadvertently commented on the worthiness of lower tax rates when commenting on the Brazilian economy’s job creation machine. I relish Forbes’ description of President Obama as a neosocialist.

As Secretary of State I suppose it is part of her job to be talking to groups like the Brookings Institution on global economic matters but (since they were rivals for the Democrat Presidential nomination) it may not be thrilling to the Prez that his SOS is talking economics; Particularly not when the President is highlighting his global economic leadership at G20 or G8.

Germany and Great Britain prior to the Economic Summit were calling for real deficit reduction but our President reined them in. The final goals of the G20 are to cut their deficits in half by 2013 and “stabilize” their debts by 2016.

If I understand this the President is calling for us to cut the annual budget deficit by one half or about $800 Billion in two years. Given that deficit spending is the number one political issue when Americans understand this they won’t be happy. Of course they want others to feel the effects of program cuts not those programs they like.

Goals are great but I view last weeks confab as little more than a photo op. Fiscal restraint takes real political courage. Want to cut the deficit? Cut tax rates!

This is happening in an environment of the Gulf Oil Spill and Presidential job approval ratings south of 50%. Hillary is talking economics at the same time  Democrat candidates Congress do not want to get anywhere near Barack Obama. They do not want the President campaigning or raising money for them. Who do they want? The answer is: Bill Clinton, the most popular Democrat politician in the Country.

If the Republicans can control themselves in this fall’s campaign and do not become too rabid, they will hand the President and the Dems their Donkey. Then looking forward to 2012 elections their may be a revolt within their party. Will they leave their Leader in the White House and take up with the Democrat talking economic sense? I do not know.  A sure sign might be a Hillary resignation by mid 2011.

I find it interesting that Forbes submitted this Op Ed to the Journal and it was has published as Forbes is the Editor and Chief of the business magazine “Forbes” and CEO of Forbes, Inc. a competing media company to News Corporation owner’s of the WSJ.  



Hillary Clinton: Accidental Supply-Sider

She’s right about Brazil’s growth. She’s wrong about its tax rates.

By Steve Forbes

The Wall Street Journal

June 28, 2010


Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared recently at the Brookings Institution, “The rich are not paying their fair share.”

She then went on to praise Brazil as the tax holy grail for the rest of the world: “Brazil has the highest tax-to-GDP rate in the Western Hemisphere and guess what—it’s growing like crazy.” At first blush those kinds of words must make her neosocialist boss, President Obama, jump for joy. But is the secretary of state actually a supply-side subversive?

Take a look at Brazil’s income tax rates—they are lower than ours. The highest rate is a mere 27.5%, far below our top federal rate of 35%, which, given the complexity of our tax code, is actually closer to 38%. Moreover, that exaction will climb to almost 43% come January.

Isn’t Brazil’s success an example of what Ronald Reagan and other tax cutters have always claimed: Lower rates generate more economic activity, which, in turn, generates more government revenue?

Sadly, for our beleaguered economy, Hillary Clinton and her staff had no idea that Brazil’s income tax rate on the rich is slightly lower than that levied even in Ronald Reagan’s heyday (28%), a rate Bill Clinton railed against when he was running for the White House.

Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Obama and the rest of the administration don’t grasp that the top 1% of income earners in the U.S. already pay about 40% of federal income tax receipts, and the top 5% pay some 60%. When President Reagan took office the top tax rate was 70%, with the highest income earners paying a mere 18% of federal income tax receipts. By the time Reagan had whacked the top rate down to 28%, the proportion paid by the rich had soared to well over 30%.

Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Obama and their friends also have no conception of capital creation. Low tax rates encourage people to take risks on new businesses, products and services. While most of these fail, the handful that succeed generate vast amounts in new assets.

Take the current stock market hottie, Apple. Before its dazzling train of iPods, iPhones and iPads, Apple was on the verge of extinction. Today the company is worth more than $240 billion, and Steve Jobs is high on the Forbes rich list. As a result, the government has collected billions of dollars in taxes on capital gains, corporate taxes and other levies, as well as on the profits from all of Apple’s vendors. AT&T, for example, has been an enormous beneficiary of Apple’s technology, as its network is the exclusive provider for the iPhone and iPad.

Clinton/Obama statists will never grasp the truth that those who create wealth will almost always reinvest it far more productively than government bureaucrats. Bill and Melinda Gates have established a foundation with assets of $35 billion. Does anyone really believe that money would do the world more good if it were put in the hands of the bloated bureaucracies of the Department of Health & Human Services or the Department of Housing and Urban Development?

Fortunately, while this administration will never understand the dazzling, opportunity-creating dynamics of genuine free markets, the American people still do.

To comment on this post go to South Dakota Straight Talk.

McDonald v. Chicago: The Right to Bear Arms Affirmed

Posted: Monday, June 28, 2010 at 2:50 pm
By: Ken Blanchard
1 Comment | Trackback Bookmark and Share

The Supreme Court has announced its ruling in McDonald v. Chicago.  As in D.C. v. Heller, the Court found that the Second Amendment “protects the right to keep and bear arms for the purpose of self-defense”.  In Heller the Court affirmed that right against the Federal Government.  In McDonald, the Court holds “that the Second Amendment right is fully applicable the the States”.

Initial impression: as in my previous comments on Doe v. Reed, I agree with the Court’s decision but I think that only one member got the reasons right.  The Court decided 5 to 4 that the Second Amendment means what it obviously means (I agree with that part).  As elsewhere in the Constitution, the right of the people is a right of individual persons.  The Court found that the Second Amendment is incorporated into the Due Process clause of the Bill of Rights because it is deeply rooted in American history.  That last part is there to avoid the arbitrary creation of new rights (a right to free health care?) that are not so rooted.

Clarence Thomas alone would abandon the “due process clause” as the portal of incorporation, and turn instead to the “privileges and immunities clause.  I think he is correct to do so.  In that case it makes clear that the Bill of Rights only protects the fundamental rights of all American citizens as they were understood at the time the amendments were ratified.  If you want new rights, pass new amendments.

More later if I get around to it…