The Locker Room

November 30, 2009

You might be a progressive if...

Posted by Dr. Roy Cordato at 9:04 PM

...you believe that global warming is one of the worst catastrophes ever to face humankind, yet you are distinctly unhappy about the fact that the Earth has been cooling for the last 11 years.

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Obama's Narcissism Will Nauseate — Eventually

Posted by David N. Bass at 3:20 PM

The electorate wildly prefers politicians who look good. That's been a truism in United States races since Richard Nixon's infamous sweaty performance in a televised debate with JFK in 1960. Not that looks weren't important before, but they played far less of a role. America's celebrity fetish, which mushroomed during the last century, only adds to the equation.

Along those lines, it's undeniable that one factor in Barack Obama's victory last year was his smooth demeanor, particularly when contrasted with the aged and seemingly crotchety John McCain. On the reverse side of the political spectrum, I doubt Sarah Palin would garner the same following among men were she comparable to, say, Dianne Feinstein in appearance.

But Americans don't like arrogant schmucks, either. Thus the necessity of combining good looks with an approachable demeanor. Bill Clinton, somehow, managed to pull it off. Barack Obama won't be able to.

Why? Because he's too much of an egoist and lacks the political savvy to muffle it. Sooner or later, the American people will see that. And they won't like it.

Obama's narcissism has enough political implications to catch the POLITICO's attention — even garnering a spot in the publication's top seven stories the president doesn't want told:

It's a common theme of Washington buzz that Obama is over-exposed. He gives interviews on his sports obsessions to ESPN, cracks wise with Leno and Letterman, discusses his fitness with Men's Health, discusses his marriage in a joint interview with first lady Michelle Obama for The New York Times. A photo the other day caught him leaving the White House clutching a copy of GQ featuring himself.

White House aides say making Obama widely available is the right strategy for communicating with Americans in an era of highly fragmented media.

But, as the novelty of a new president wears off, the Obama cult of personality risks coming off as mere vanity unless it is harnessed to tangible achievements.

Obama will increasingly be unable to harness the power of his celebrity appeal because the situation on the ground won't tally with his grandstanding. Afghanistan and the economy are two examples. A nice smile and rhetorical wizardry come off as elitist and smug when causalities are rising and the employment rate is hovering at double digits.

Cross-posted on AmSpecBlog.

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IPCC head offers twisted defense on climategate

Posted by Dr. Roy Cordato at 3:11 PM

As the climategate scandal unfolds, Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate change, has offered a rather perverse defense of some the IPCC's top and most influential climate scientists. In an interview reported on in the UK Guardian, Pachauri, who has no particular expertise in either climate science or the hard sciences more generally (he actually has a Ph.D. in economics from NC State) blames the whole problem on the fact that the scandal ridden scientists wrote their communications down. In other words, the problem for Pachauri is not that they were colluding to cook the climate books but that they did it over email. Here's what he had to say:

"I really think people should be discreet … in this day and age anything you write, even privately, could become public and to put anything down in writing is, to say the least, indiscreet … It is another matter to talk about this to your friends on the telephone or person to person but to put it down in writing was indiscreet."

 Pachauri also says that he has no plans to investigate the scientists involved. In fact, it appears that the main problem he has is with the people who brought the emails to light. According to the Guardian:

"He said an independent inquiry into the emails would achieve little, but there should be a criminal investigation into how the emails came to light."

For an excellent article on the significance of the climategate scandal for both climate science and the IPCC see this article from the UK Telegraph

(Hat tip to former colleague Chad Adams for calling my attention to the Telegraph article.)

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Bubblegum makes comback with Climategate

Posted by Dr. Roy Cordato at 2:38 PM

Click here for Tommy James and the Shondells' contribution to the discourse. 

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ACORN mulled name change

Posted by David N. Bass at 2:17 PM

The Politico reports:

ACORN, the troubled community service organization, recently considered changing its name in a bid to rehabilitate its image, according to an internal memo obtained by POLITICO.

The document, which will be released Tuesday as part of a Republican congressional forum on ACORN, illustrates the internal deliberation the group has undergone after a year of embarrassing scandals.

...

The memo addresses, in bullet-point format, the pros and cons of a new brand, saying that it has “spent 39 years building the reputation and track record of ACORN.” ACORN officials write that the bad image would “blow over” in the next year or two ...

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Cracking open the Easley case

Posted by Mitch Kokai at 2:11 PM

Why is former Gov. Mike Easley in such hot water today? Carolina Journal Managing Editor Rick Henderson and Executive Editor Don Carrington used their presentation today to the John Locke Foundation's Shaftesbury Society to detail CJ's role in exposing Easley's dubious dealings.

In the video clip below, Carrington discusses one aspect of the story: the question of whether Easley paid any money to a campaign contributor who renovated his home.

In the following clip, Henderson explains how CJ plans to boost its coverage in the weeks and months ahead.

2:50 p.m. update: Watch the full 56:32 recording by clicking the play button below.

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

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N.C. school systems show slight improvement, still fare relatively poorly in 'parent-friendly' rankings

Posted by Mitch Kokai at 10:46 AM

Terry Stoops has released his second statewide assessment of whether North Carolina public school systems are "parent-friendly."

He explains key findings below.

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Stonewalled by the School of the Arts

Posted by Jane S. Shaw at 10:26 AM

Officials at the UNC School of the Arts have declined to participate in the joint John Locke/Pope Center panel Thursday, Dec. 3,  "Taxpayers and Arts Education." As I stated earlier, the Pope Center will be releasing a paper, "The UNC School of the Arts: Should It Be Self-Supporting?" We asked school officials to join our panel (and we were even willing to move the date if it posed a problem). But they said no.

Luckily, we have John Hood and J. Peder Zane along with Max Borders to sort out how much taxpayer  money should go toward professional training of performing artists (especially considering that about half the undergraduates come from other states and only a small percentage of all graduates remain in North Carolina).

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The meaning of the Commerce Clause

Posted by George Leef at 09:53 AM

When asked the inconvenient question about the constitutional authority for ObamaCare (especially the mandate to purchase insurance, but much more is constitutionally questionable), the zealots for the administration have been saying that it is unquestionably covered under the Commerce Clause.

In this letter, Don Boudreaux mentions what I think is the definitive work on the proper scope of the Commerce Clause, a law review article by the great constitutional scholar Richard Epstein. Epstein does not hold with the notion that the Commerce Clause was supposed to give Congress the power to control virtually everything.

Here's the letter:

Editor, Washington Post
1150 15th St., NW
Washington, DC 20071

Dear Editor:

Ruth Marcus is correct that courts will, in fact, find new health-care
commands issued by Washington to be constitutional ("An 'illegal'
mandate? No.," Nov. 26). This fact, though, does not mean that such
commands would meet with the approval of those wise skeptics of
concentrated national power who drafted and ratified the Constitution.

Ms. Marcus blithely attempts to justify, as being consistent with the
Constitution's commerce clause, the 1942 case Wickard v. Filburn - in
which the Supreme Court held that wheat grown exclusively for home
consumption affects interstate commerce and, so, is subject to
regulation by Uncle Sam.

As NYU law professor Richard Epstein asks, "Could anyone say with a
straight face that the consumption of home-grown wheat is 'commerce
among the several states?'"* (Prof. Epstein, meet Ms. Marcus!)
Indeed, even left-liberal law professor Bruce Ackerman of Yale
acknowledges - in his 1991 book "We the People: Foundations" - that New
Deal Supreme Court rulings are incompatible with the intention of the
Constitution's drafters.

Sincerely,
Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030

* Richard A. Epstein, "The Proper Scope of the Commerce Power," 73
Virginia Law Review, Vol. 73 (1987), p. 1451.

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NCLB increased math achievement

Posted by Dr. Terry Stoops at 09:52 AM

In a new National Bureau of Economic Research paper, Thomas Dee (Swarthmore) and Brian Jacob (Michigan) discovered a relationship between No Child Left Behind and math achievement.

Our results indicate that NCLB generated statistically significant increases in the average math performance of 4th graders (effect size = 0.22 by 2007) as well as improvements at the lower and top percentiles. There is also evidence of improvements in 8th grade math achievement, particularly among traditionally low-achieving groups and at the lower percentiles. However, we find no evidence that NCLB increased reading achievement in either 4th or 8th grade.
We'll see a flood of comparable studies in the next ten years, so these initial results may or may not hold up to further research.

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Arts and the State

Posted by Jane S. Shaw at 09:49 AM

Every year, North Carolina taxpayers pay about $27 million to provide 1,100 or high school and college students with professional training in the performing arts (primarily theater, film, music, and production design). The students at the UNC School of the Arts get this largesse at a level given by no other state (with only New York even running close). Is this how taxpayers want their money spent?

Max Borders, executive editor of Free To Choose, will raise that question on Thursday, December 3, at a luncheon at the Renaissance Hotel in Raleigh. Joining the discussion will be John Hood and J. Peder Zane, former Ideas columnist with the Raleigh News and Observer. You are invited!

Max is the author of the Pope Center's paper (to be released on the 3rd) "The UNC School of the Arts: Should It Be Self-Supporting?"
 

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Bernanke toots his own horn

Posted by George Leef at 09:33 AM

And Don Boudreaux says his playing is way off key:

Editor, Washington Post
1150 15th St., NW
Washington, DC 20071

Dear Editor:

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke asserts - as if it is an incontrovertible fact - that
"The Fed played a major part in arresting the [current] crisis" ("The right
reform for the Fed," Nov. 29).

First, it's unclear if our economic troubles have been "arrested." More likely,
they've been delayed and aggravated by the additional moral-hazard unleashed by
the bailouts and, even worse, by the gargantuan recent increases in the money
supply.

Second, IF it's true that there's now light at the end of this tumultuous
tunnel, no real evidence exists to support Bernanke's claim that the reason for
our good fortune is Fed policy. Writing in the Christian Science Monitor in
September, economist George Selgin observes that recessions "do eventually end,
with or without central bankers' help. According to the National Bureau of
Economic Research, the US went through 32 recessions between 1854 and 2001, the
average duration of which was about 17 months - or a few months shorter than the
current recession, so far."*

For the first 60 of these years America had no Fed or any other central bank.
During the other 87 of these years, the Fed often either did nothing to arrest
recessions or reacted positively to recessions in ways that economists now agree
worsened matters.

Sincerely,
Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030

* George Selgin, "Did Bernanke save us from another Great Depression?" Christian
Science Monitor, 17 Sept. 2009:

http://www.csmonitor.com/2009/0917/p09s01-coop.html

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Barone on global warming

Posted by Mitch Kokai at 08:18 AM

Michael Barone takes on global warming's "Climategate" in his latest Washington Examiner column:

The Copenhagen climate summit was convened to get the leaders of nations to commit to sharp reductions in carbon dioxide emissions -- and thus sharp reductions in almost all energy usage, at huge economic cost -- in order to prevent disasters that supposedly were predicted with absolute certainty by a scientific consensus.

But that consensus was based in large part on CRU data that was, to take the charitable explanation, "complete rubbish" or, to take the more dire view, the product of deliberate fraud.

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Poynter Institute double standard

Posted by Dr. Terry Stoops at 08:11 AM

Kelly McBride, Poynter Institute ethics group leader, does not like the fact that James O’Keefe and Hannah Giles used deception to orchestrate exposés of several ACORN offices. McBride says,

But undercover work is often considered outside the boundaries of acceptable methods. It can be very problematic if your first value as a reporter is to tell the truth, and the first thing you do is deceive. It’s very hard for the public to figure out when to trust you.
Interestingly, in an article from 2007, McBride does not raise the same concerns about Dateline NBC's undercover "To Catch a Predator" segments, which uses deceptive emails, texts, and posts to bait and arrest child sex predators.

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The new (old) assault on charter schools

Posted by Dr. Terry Stoops at 07:41 AM

The State Board of Education is set to establish the following policy:

The State Board of Education shall revoke the charter of any charter school when, for two of three consecutive school years, the charter school does not meet or exceed expected growth and has fewer than 60% of its students scoring at or above grade level.
The new policy appears to eliminate the first year accountability "cushion" for new charter schools and the review/appeals process for existing charter schools.

This policy will be approved without public comment or input from charter school parents, administrators, and teachers.

The SBE will also ask applicants for new charter schools to submit a marketing plan.
Describes a sound five (5) year marketing plan that promotes the enrollment of a student population that reasonably reflects the racial and ethnic composition of the general population residing within the local school administrative unit in which the school is located or the special population that the school seeks to serve residing within the local school administrative unit in which the school is located
What is the justification for new charter school regulations? The State Board of Education states,
SBE adoption of this policy in December 2009 will enable the SBE to continue expanding its expectations that students are globally competitive and respond to the Governor’s request for higher expectations for all students in North Carolina.
I suppose we should expect that these policies will also apply to all public schools, both charter and district schools. After all, we are supposedly talking about raising expectations for "all students in North Carolina."

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Merit pay coming to Wake County?

Posted by Dr. Terry Stoops at 07:14 AM

More schools in Wake County may adopt merit pay plans, according to an article in the N&O.

For background on the topic, read my report on Guilford County's successful merit pay program (available here) and Jim Stegell's report on Charlotte-Mecklenburg Superintendent Peter Gorman's proposed merit pay plan.

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Reagan and taxes

Posted by Mitch Kokai at 06:53 AM

If your Christmas shopping list includes a fan of political history, you’ll do that fan a favor by giving him a copy of Steven Hayward’s The Age of Reagan: The Conservative Counterrevolution, 1980-1989.

A sequel to Hayward’s earlier narrative of the American political landscape from 1964 to 1980, the new Age of Reagan reminds us about the accomplishments and failures of the Reagan years. It also reminds us about the flak Reagan took from the Left and Right during his two terms in office.

Among the more interesting passages is Hayward’s description of a 1986 tax reform that George Gilder dubbed the “greatest victory of the Reagan Revolution”:

The political effects of the 1986 tax reform act were profound. Cutting the top individual rate to 28 percent cemented in place Reagan’s fundamental victory in reorienting tax policy, and as such can be understood as the last act in the tax revolt that had begun in earnest with the passage of California’s Proposition 13 in 1978. Despite subsequent increases in the top marginal rate (to 33 percent under President George H.W. Bush in 1990 and to 39 percent under Bill Clinton in 1993), the 1986 tax reform foreclosed the possibility of using the income tax code for purposes of punishing the rich or redistributing wealth in any significant way. The liberal principle of progressivity was not completely banished, but no longer would the tax code be seen as a plaything for changing society wholesale. Although liberals still reflexively talked of raising taxes on the rich (which usually seemed to include middle class when tax increases got passed), no one — not even Ted Kennedy — proposed going back to a top rate of 50 percent, let alone the higher pre-1980 tax rates. It also introduced a slight bias toward considering the growth implications of tax changes, an element almost totally absent from tax reform efforts in the decades before 1980.

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Duke grad leads push for more efficient federal government

Posted by Mitch Kokai at 06:52 AM

The latest Business Week describes the efforts of 43-year-old Duke alum Jeffrey Zients, the federal government’s first “chief performance officer,” to “make government more effective and efficient by making it faster, smarter, and cheaper.”

Can he do it?

Policy experts from the right and left are skeptical Zients can make any substantial progress in his mission. They warn that the federal government—with 1.8 million employees and more than 10,000 computing systems—has become so big and complex that it's nearly unmanageable.

Nearly? Let’s hope Zients has some familiarity with Mises’ Human Action.

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U.S. News steers in the right direction on health care

Posted by Mitch Kokai at 06:51 AM

With a cover headline that promises to show readers “How to Take Charge Of Your Health,” you might expect that the latest print edition of U.S. News & World Report would focus on the advantages associated with consumer-driven health care.

Not exactly. But the magazine offers some positive signs that suggest its editors have at least an inkling of the problems associated with proposals like ObamaCare.

First, Brian Kelly’s editor’s note demonstrates that he has not yet swallowed the Kool-Aid to support current “reform” proposals blindly:

We also look at Washington, where a 2,000-page, trillion-dollar (give or take a few hundred billion dollars) piece of legislation is moving through the system. Do not underestimate the size of its undertaking or its importance to everything from the nation’s economic well-being to your own disposable income. Will it work? At what cost?

While Kelly asks questions, editor-in-chief Mortimer Zuckerman believes he has answers:

Save the cheers for the looming healthcare “reform.” It looks more and more like something that will take us over a cliff. … Laudable as it will be to cover more people with public and private insurance, the worm in the apple — the giant serpent in the apple! — is that numerous inflationary forces already make our medical care system unsupportable, and therefore unsustainable, and the “reforms” will literally threaten the fiscal health of America.

Meanwhile, the magazine's lead news story reminds us that “reform” offers no guarantee of better health care:

Getting the best care in a system steered by black-and-white medical guidelines ultimately set and enforced by faceless governmental bodies will not be easy, especially for the passive patient unwilling to engage or question the system.

After the gloom and doom, I’ll end on bright note: There's a generally positive article about “cash-only” and “direct-pay” doctors:

Across the country, there are now 500 to 1,000 family medicine practices operating on a cash-only model, estimates Ted Epperly, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians. … The cash-only model is based on the idea that rather than charging higher so-called retail rates for uninsured patients while negotiating discounted rates with insurance companies for covered patients, it’s fairer — and possible — to offer reasonable rates to all.

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Fighting ‘false certainty’

Posted by Mitch Kokai at 06:48 AM

Even if you have no philosophical objection to President Obama’s policy proposals, you might be taken aback by the pace with which he and his administration are moving forward.

If so, you’ll appreciate this passage from John Podhoretz’s editor’s note in the latest Commentary:

The only people in America who are moving ahead heedlessly and without regard to the terrible economic uncertainty that has gripped us are the leaders of the Obama administration and their acolytes. Throughout 2009, they have removed relentlessly, accumulating unprecedented levels of public debt, nationalizing the auto industry, setting salary levels at banks, and pushing a health-care package that will require the imposition of huge tax increases on the middle class.

Before the economic meltdown, only the most radically minded leftist would have believed that a severe downturn was the proper moment to be forcing through a cascade of new imposts, onerous regulations, and a massive increase in the size of the public sector. Had Barack Obama inherited a booming economy, his effort to push one or two of these major changes in the relation between the citizenry and the government could have been easily defended as an appropriate use of national wealth. But all of them at once? He would have been criticized, properly, and by some members of his own party, for endangering the nation’s prosperity.

Now that America seems less prosperous, it is even more astonishing that this should be the course Obama has set.

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New Carolina Journal Online features

Posted by Mitch Kokai at 06:38 AM

The latest Carolina Journal Online exclusive features Don Carrington's report on an unusual deal involving former Gov. Mike Easley, retiring Sen. Tony Rand, and property on Bald Head Island. 

John Hood's Daily Journal pokes holes in official cost estimates for ObamaCare.

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