The Locker Room

February 28, 2011

It's how you phrase the question

Posted by David N. Bass at 4:13 PM

Elon University has a new poll out (scroll down) finding that a majority of North Carolinians oppose a state constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman (thus banning state recognition of same-sex, and other non-heterosexual, unions).

Fifty-six percent of respondents reported opposing an amendment in response to the following question from Elon:

Would
 you
 [support 
or 
oppose]
 an
 amendment
 to
 the 
North
 Carolina 
constitution
 that
 would
 prevent
 any
 same
 sex
 marriages?


Contrast that to a Civitas poll from last April that found 70 percent of respondents in favor of an amendment. Civitas phrased the question this way:

Do you support a state constitutional amendment defining marriage as an act between a man and a woman?

Of the two, Civitas' wording is more accurate to the actual bill. If nothing else, it proves the way that pollsters phrase their questions has a lot to do with the outcome — unless we're to believe there has been a seismic shift on the issue in the 10 months.

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Obama to states: pick your path to hell

Posted by Joseph Coletti at 2:12 PM

President Obama endorsed flexibility for states starting in 2014 "as long as they could prove that they could find other ways to cover as many people as the original law would and at the same cost."

He doesn't care how you get there, just get to that single payer system as quickly as you can. If you don't want a single payer system, think universal coverage is the wrong solution, or simply can't afford to run state government until 2014 with the ObamaCare rules, that's "refighting the battles of the last two years" and doesn't count.

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Duke professor explores negative impacts of health care providers' monopoly powers

Posted by Mitch Kokai at 1:48 PM

Combine a monopoly power for health care providers with an insurance system that shields consumers from the costs of health care, and you're bound to create problems.

Clark Havighurst, Duke University professor of law emeritus and American Enterprise Institute adjunct scholar, outlined those problems during a presentation today to the John Locke Foundation's Shaftesbury Society.

In the video clip below, Havighurst discusses how ObamaCare exacerbates existing problems caused by health care providers' monopoly powers.

2:20 p.m. update: Click play below to watch the full 55:39 presentation.

You'll find other John Locke Foundation video presentations here.

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Education or corporate welfare?

Posted by Joseph Coletti at 10:55 AM

Politico awarded Bev Perdue the award this morning for staying on President Obama's message with repeated references to "winning the future" and "jobs." Perdue in her statement as vice-chair of the Democratic Governors' Association never once mentioned "economic incentives" as being important to either goal. Makes you wonder why protecting those incentives slush funds was so important.

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GSIW: What proposed assignment plan?

Posted by Dr. Terry Stoops at 10:41 AM

The good folks from the Great Schools in Wake Coalition have yet to respond to the proposed assignment plan formulated by consultant Michael Alves. The Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce and the Wake Education Partnership released the plan nearly two and a half weeks ago.

Of course, they noted that President Bill Clinton weighed in on the school assignment debate in Wake County.

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Former state Senator R.C. Soles: Back in the news

Posted by Dr. Terry Stoops at 09:05 AM

The Star News recounts the incident at Soles' home,

Police went to former state Sen. R.C. Soles Jr.'s house Saturday night for an incident that eventually included gunfire, three foot chases and 24-year-old fleeing into a nearby lake.
In a nod to the Castle Doctrine, Soles fired a gunshot at (or near) Billie Jay Wright, who eventually found his way into Lake Tabor - without his shirt or pants. Earlier in the evening, Wright had been beating on garage doors at Soles' home.

Perhaps Wright was under the impression that Soles invited him to watch the Celtics-Clippers game on Saturday night.

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Does Reade Seligman really owe the IRS $6.5 million?

Posted by George Leef at 08:51 AM

Or is this an instance where the people in power want to demonize someone they perceive as an opponent? Professor William Anderson maintains that it is the latter here.

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More on public sector unions

Posted by George Leef at 07:54 AM

For decades, public sector unions have been happily exploiting their position, working to elect favorable candidates who will give them more, then spending some of the resulting loot to re-elect their political friends and run PR campaigns to demonize those who think that the taxpayers are being bilked for little or no benefit. The current fiscal crises in states like California and Illinois and the efforts of Governor Walker to keep Wisconsin from going over the financial cliff has focused attention on the unions and their tactics.

In this article Professor Thomas DiLorenzo gives readers a clear explanation of the political economy of public sector unions. These two paragraphs capture the essence of his critique:

Every government-employee union is a political machine that lobbies relentlessly for higher taxes, increased government spending, more featherbedding, and more pension promises – while demonizing hesitant taxpayers as uncaring enemies of children, the elderly, and the poor (who are purportedly "served" by the government bureaucrats the unions represent).

It is the old socialist trick that Frédéric Bastiat wrote about in his famous essay, The Law: The unions view advocates of school privatization, not as legitimate critics of a failed system, but as haters of children. And the unions treat critics of the welfare state, not as persons concerned with the destruction of the work ethic and of the family that has been caused by the welfare state, but as enemies of the poor.

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Taking the targeted-tax-break route to more jobs

Posted by Mitch Kokai at 06:46 AM

In another sign that President Obama’s choice of General Electric head honcho Jeffrey Immelt as national job-creation guru leaves a lot to be desired, Bloomberg Businessweek reports the following:

In December, President Barack Obama started negotiating with Republicans to extend unemployment benefits in exchange for tax cuts, and that's when the tax commandos sprang into action. Washington's specialty boutiques and its giant lobby shops pressed for retroactive renewal of numerous corporate tax breaks that had expired. Nearly all were reinstated as part of a compromise measure that Congress passed on Dec. 16, a bit of nifty legislative footwork that saved companies about $43 billion in 2011 and 2012 taxes.

One of the biggest beneficiaries was General Electric.

Of course it was.

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More problems linked to public-sector unions

Posted by Mitch Kokai at 06:44 AM

Neither supporters nor critics of public-sector unions will be completely pleased with Bloomberg Businessweek’s coverage of the topic in its latest issue.

Writer Brendan Greeley doesn’t bash these unions, but he also points out clear problems, including their outsized impact on politics:

[U]nions entered politics, and their ability to elect Democratic mayors and governors created a built-in conflict: Lawmakers were often negotiating with labor leaders who put them in office. By the late 1970s, according to Cornell's Colvin, they had no clear counter-weight. That arrived with Ronald Reagan, not because he fired striking air traffic controllers in 1981 but simply because he won his election.

While Greeley takes shots at the legislation that has angered union activists in Wisconsin, he offers less criticism of a similar measure under discussion in (the great state of) Ohio:

Ohio's legislation, now in committee in Columbus, is a more serious piece of work. It abolishes collective bargaining without suggesting specific cuts or clawbacks, removing from the discussion the urgency to narrow any immediate deficit. (Ohio's is projected to be about $8 billion over the next two years.) It avoids some of the provisions on dues and votes that the ¬anti-union crowd favors. It includes police and firefighters. And it doesn't limit pay measures the way Wisconsin does with its proposal to peg wages to the consumer price index. Shannon Jones, the Republican state senator who wrote the bill, describes it as a "reset."

Local governments, the second-term senator explains, are fettered with two chains. The terms of collective bargaining—in particular binding arbitration—have prevented local politicians from renegotiating contracts in line with revenue. At the same time, antitax movements at the local level have prevented local governments from raising revenue to meet contracts. Cincinnati, part of which lies in Jones's district, needs to hold a referendum to raise taxes. Its pension fund is more than $1 billion in the hole.

Collective bargaining works as a ¬ratchet: It takes the last contract as a starting point. It can obscure raises through impenetrable tiers and terms, and binding arbitration can tell a local government to raise more revenue even if voters won't approve a new tax levy. ¬Although real money is at stake—85 percent of Ohio's state budget goes to local governments—Jones's bill wouldn't directly fix any budgets. It proposes to solve a problem of governance.

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Joe Klein on public-sector unions

Posted by Mitch Kokai at 06:43 AM

Read Joe Klein’s latest TIME column, and you’ll learn quickly that he’s no straightforward foe of public-sector unions.

But Klein isn’t willing to ignore the problems such unions create:

[T]here are some very good reasons governors of both parties are trying to limit the power of public employees' unions. "I've spent years pleading for modest concessions from the unions," says Bob Ziegelbauer, a Wisconsin state representative and the chief executive of Manitowoc County. "The reaction is, 'You can't make me." Ziegelbauer used to be a Democrat and now calls himself an independent, but he caucuses with the state Republicans. He says when he was able to negotiate a settlement with local union representatives, their leaders often would veto it. "There's a ruthlessness in attitude at the union headquarters. The leaders would rather take layoffs than make concessions." Sometimes the union intransigence is downright ridiculous. "We spend $650,000 a year to keep our county juvenile-detention facility open. In recent years, we've had as few as one or two juveniles incarcerated there at a time," Ziegelbauer tells me. "I wanted to close down the place and use the facility in a neighboring county. But the union blocked it on the grounds that it was outside contracting."

Such horror stories are especially common in the biggest cities, where unions have the strength of numbers and a tradition of dealing with, and helping to elect, liberal, pro-union politicians. This is a major advantage that public employees' unions have: unlike construction workers and miners, they can vote their bosses in or out. Their unions make political contributions, mount advertising campaigns and run phone banks. Public employees tend to be ferocious campaigners and assiduous voters, the sort of constituents politicians find panderworthy. And this power has enabled them to distort the system, especially when it comes to work rules, health benefits and pensions — concessions politicians are more likely to grant, since they are future promises that, until recently, have had little immediate impact on the bottom line.

As Klein mentions a bit later in the column: “The strongest arguments against public employees' unions lie there: in their power to block reform and strangle good governance.”

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Boosting public workers’ productivity

Posted by Mitch Kokai at 06:41 AM

Those who found interest in Joseph Coletti’s John Locke Foundation 2008 report detailing “taxpayer return on investment” — basically a fancy-pants way of saying “bang for the buck” — might be intrigued by a new TIME article focusing on the importance of improving public workers’ productivity:

If we seize upon this crisis to make basic changes--to start rewarding public employees in part on the basis of how effective they are, for example--we could do more than just stabilize our budgets; we could raise our entire economy.

For now, the efficiency gap between the public and private sectors is holding us all back. The U.S. ranked 68th (out of 139 countries) in terms of wastefulness of government spending in the 2010-11 World Economic Forum report on global competitiveness. Experts put our public-sector productivity about 10 years behind that of the rest of our workforce. If public workers could halve that gap, the annual savings would ring in at $100 billion to $300 billion, according to a new study by the McKinsey Global Institute. That would mean the equivalent of a recurring stimulus package every three to eight years.

"The choice of cut more or tax more is not acceptable. You have to do it better," says Lenny Mendonca, a McKinsey senior partner who has spent 20 years analyzing productivity. "Right now, the conversation is all about the near-term cuts. But over the long term, the only way out of this is massive productivity improvement."

Cuts must be made, particularly to unsustainable pensions, but seeing them through the lens of productivity looks very different from slashing and burning through with the blinders of ideology on. Washington state senator Rodney Tom has introduced a bill to require school districts to make necessary teacher layoffs based on performance ratings, as opposed to by seniority alone. That's reform based on results.

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Another bright idea from the man who pushed the TransPark

Posted by Mitch Kokai at 06:40 AM

Some of those reading about the Global TransPark’s $38 million debt might remember the role UNC-Chapel Hill professor John Kasarda played in pushing the TransPark concept years ago.

Kasarda’s latest kick — the concept of the aerotropolis — has generated a new book. The latest Bloomberg Businessweek reviews that book:

Although he receives credit as lead author, Kasarda darts in and out of the book as a central character, portrayed in the third-person. Occasionally awkward narration is just a small flaw, however, in an otherwise fascinating and important work. An evangelist of sorts, Kasarda travels the world preaching to companies, cities, and countries that they must embrace the new rules of commerce or risk getting left behind.

Perhaps the reviewer needs a reminder of Dr. Kasarda’s track record, or of Thomas Sowell’s description of intellectuals’ success rate in predicting the future.

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New Carolina Journal Online features

Posted by Mitch Kokai at 06:32 AM

David Bass' latest Carolina Journal Online exclusive previews this week's priorities for the N.C. General Assembly. 

John Hood's Daily Journal digs into the concept of public health.

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