Results don’t lie

My latest post over at Pundit League talks about the Obama White House’s attempt to shift the focus on budget debates from the money to the benefits.  This month, they’re talking about education as a sacred cow; future budget battles are sure to treat other programs similarly.  As difficult as budgets are, it’s still a tough sell to cut back on government programs everyone is used to.

But what if those programs, for lack of a better-refined and focus-group-tested term, suck?  That reality may be the best arrow in any small government Robin Hood’s quiver.

The Heritage Foundation points out that a boom in education spending has not bought higher performance in America’s public schools.  Thomas Sowell made a similar point this week, when he wrote about the allegedly ecologically friendly policies of urban liberals in San Francisco pricing low- and middle-class blacks out of the city.  Private unions – who represent workers who actually have to worry about their jobs – are concerned that the EPA would cause layoffs from companies forced to spend extra complying with extraneous regulations.

For each of these programs and others like them, there’s always talk about the benefits.  But as Speaker Boehner said this week, “Talk is cheap.”

It would be nice to spend lots of money, but is it smart?

Has anyone noticed that Washington, D.C. and St. Louis have some eerily similar discussions going on?

The last decade or more has demonstrated that bloated budgets are inefficient at best and simply untenable at worst.  While it would be nice to allocate large amounts of resources on the things we want for the next few years, those decision will come back to haunt us in the future.  We must establish a plan and maintain discipline.

That could be the mantra of the budget hawks freshly minted from the tea parties of 2009-2010, or it could be the rationale behind the Cardinals telling Albert Pujols to go find himself a better deal than the reported offer that was on the table.

Just as the Republicans wear the black eye of the Bush-era spending increases, the Cardinals must answer to Pujols – and their fans – how they signed Coors Field product Matt Holliday to a contract which paid him $16 million per year, but would be willing to let the far superior Pujols walk because he’s too expensive.

Republicans are likely fearful of the Democrats accusing them of ripping Social Security checks from the arthritic hands of World War II veterans.  The Cardinals can’t be looking forward to the sports page headlines and the talk radio chatter in St. Louis the day Pujols signs with the Seattle Mariners.

But in each case, the powers that be must recognize two realities.  First, bad decisions in the past do not justify bad decisions in the present.  Second, voters and fans are smarter than most people give them credit for.

And since the baseball problem is easier, here’s something to consider: teams lose superstars all the time and go on to have success.  Seattle lost three franchise cornerstones – Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey Jr., and Alex Rodriguez – in consecutive years, and actually got better each year.  Johan Santana left the Twins, and they still find their way into the playoffs with regularity.  The Marlins won the World Series in 1997, dumped almost their entire roster, and rebuilt another championship team within six years.

On the other hand, teams just as frequently make signings that seem like great ideas at the time, but turn into albatrosses as players age.  The Mets surely wish they could trade Carlos Beltran, and might try to murder Luis Castillo to get him off the roster.  Vladimir Guerrero was a great pickup for the Angels in 2003, by 2009 they couldn’t get him out the door fast enough.  And don’t you think the Cubs wish they could take a mulligan on the eight-year pact they signed with Alfonso Soriano in 2006?

Just as voters want a responsive, healthy economy, baseball fans want a winner.  The Cardinals have to know that they more likely to successfully recover within a few years after Pujols walks away than to sign him to a deal that truly works out for the team.

The budget battle in St. Louis, just as the budget battle in Washington, is best viewed through the lens of recent history.

Finally, Larry David can rest easy

Far be it from me to cast aspersions on a man in a cape, but I think Larry David’s New York Times column “supporting” the extension of the current tax rates might have been facetious.  (For David, of course, a higher tax rate would have minimal impact thanks to the residual checks that keep rolling in every time a rerun of Seinfeld is replayed.)

Well, now David and other folks who feel like they are earning too much can give back thanks to  The site helps you calculate how much the government is allowing you to keep thanks to the extended tax rates, and lets you donate that money to a charity:

Americans who have the means should refuse to surrender to Senate Republicans. We should act, together, to give back our Bush tax cuts, by making donations to organizations that promote fairness, economic growth, and a vibrant middle class. GiveItBackforJobs enables joint action, by all visitors to this site, to redirect our Bush tax cuts to the wise and just programs that our government would promote if it had not been hijacked. As more and more Americans do so, GiveItBackforJobs will begin to replicate good government policy, outside the government and free from the grip of Senate Republicans.

You tell ’em!

Digging around the site, one thing stuck out to me (and also to the Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto): the organizers are all Ivy Leaguers, either professors or graduate students.  Clearly, these are smart people who understand that the economy will only grow if the people who are getting these tax cuts do something with the money they receive.

As a humble, state-educated supporter of their efforts, I submit the following suggestions for how the super-rich fat cats can help give back their tax cuts to create jobs and/or advance the social good:

1.  If they own a business, hire more people for crying out loud!

2.  Spend money on goods and services.  This will create more jobs for the people who produce them.

3.  Whatever you do, don’t give your money to some willy-nilly, inefficient group with poor oversight and accountability that wastes billions upon billions of dollars each year.

$#!% Ed Rendell says

Outgoing Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell was displeased by the cancellation of the Sunday night Eagles-Vikings game:

“My biggest beef is that this is part of what’s happened in this country,” Rendell said.

“We’ve become a nation of wusses. The Chinese are kicking our butt in everything,” he added. “If this was in China do you think the Chinese would have called off the game? People would have been marching down to the stadium, they would have walked and they would have been doing calculus on the way down.”

Because, as we all know, Asians are good at math, right?  While the Governor talks off the cuff somewhat frequently – especially now that he probably isn’t facing re-election, it’s somewhat incredulous that no one is complaining about that calculus remark, isn’t it? It’s a good thing he didn’t go with any of these rejected lines:

  • “If this was in Ireland, people would have been stumbling down to the stadium, taking occasional breaks to urinate in the snow, and singing ‘Fields of Athenry’ the whole way down.”
  • “If this was in Germany, people would be goose-stepping down to the stadium, taking over the Polish section of Philadelphia on the way down.”
  • “If this was in China, people would have been marching down to the stadium, doing calculus, because the murderous Communist regime would beat them to death if they didn’t.”

Still, the Chinese stereotyping wasn’t the dumbest thing about Rendell said.  For that, you have to consider that, in the Governor’s mind, cancelling a football game symbolizes a nation lacking in backbone.

See, if I were looking for an example of a lack of discipline, I might pick having a state government that’s $8.4 billion in debt, or a state debt tally that grew 39% during its current governor’s eight-year term.  In fairness, the governor that approved all that spending isn’t necessarily a wus; maybe he’s just bad at math.

Too bad he isn’t Chinese.

The Fonz doesn’t need a handout

The headline, “Winkler honored by AARP” seems to bring on so many jokes (because really, how depressing that the Fonz is being honored by AARP?).

It time to replace the popular catchphrase “Aaaay” with “Heh?  Speak louder?”

It’s a good thing his office is in the bathroom.

Hope Fonzie didn’t break his hip when he jumped the shark.

Then I read the article, and it turns out I was wr… I was wr… well, you get the picture.  Henry Winkler has actually been an advocate for stroke victims.  And, much like the Fonz, he doesn’t go looking for handouts:

[U]nlike most celebrity visitors, he won’t be seeking any help from Capitol Hill. In fact, he doesn’t think he needs any.

“At the moment, you don’t need the government,” Winkler told POLITICO. “They’ve got their problems that they need to deal with. What we need is awareness – just person to person. Like playing Telephone, you just pass it on. … I am trying to pass it on, and it is really worthwhile to me.”

No word on whether a quick smack with the heel of Winkler’s fist to the annual appropriations bill could create a balanced budget (like when he ended segregation), but at least he’s doing his part.

No one likes citizen journalism

This week may be called anti-indie journalism week.  Consider these three stories:

Each story, in its own way, is based on a lack of understanding of the modern media landscape.  But door number three is the most egregious.

Risen’s comments about bloggers could be appropriate – the downside of a media universe with more outlets is that there are more outlets tat just spew crap, and it is up to the reader to be more discerning.  He doesn’t summarily dismiss the concept of blogs, though he does come off as an arrogant schmuck.  Similarly, the “student” who questioned Etheridge never identified himself as a reporter, which would have been the smart thing to do.

The FTC, on the other hand, is just way out in left field.  The document, which outlines options such as granting tax-exempt status or other allowing reporters to copyright “hot news.”  Really, though, these recommendations are simply reactions to the fact that print newspapers have fallen on hard times:

Although many of the issues confronting journalism cut across different news media platforms, such as broadcast television and radio, most of the discussion in this document will use the perspective of newspapers to exemplify the issues facing journalism as a whole. Studies have shown that newspapers typically provide the largest quantity of original news to consumers over any given period of time. We include within the term “newspapers” online news websites run either by an existing newspaper or by an online-only news organization.

That an online news aggregator like the Drudge Report would seem to count as a newspaper to the FTC isn’t the biggest problem.  The big problem is the concept of establishment journalism, which is the bedrock of the FTC report: professional and somehow specially qualified reporters paid to investigate and package stories for consumption by the reader.   That mindset is what leads a reporter for a prominent newspaper to lash out at internet critics or a Congressman to take umbrage with a question from a reporter without a press pass.

When the reporter or the politician does thinks that way, it’s just stupid.  When the FTC thinks that way, it could also become the law.

YouCut makes you Kevin Kline and Charles Grodin

Rep. Eric Cantor and House Republicans have drawn criticism from both left and right for their YouCut program, which lets citizens vote to eliminate wasteful government programs.  The word “gimmick” is tossed around by both sides – as if bumper stickers, lawn signs, and other efforts to earn political support aren’t gimmicks – while making the point that the cuts proposed wouldn’t trim federal spending by all that much.

But in the GOP’s defense, this is about continuing the message that the Republicans are the party of smaller government.  There’s no better case against the concept of government spending than to point out the most egregious and unnecessary examples.

Plus, as it turns out, this is a pretty good way to build and maintain a strong list of activists.

Santa Clara County is your new Mom!

I know: it doesn’t seem fair.

All the kids in the other counties get a toy with their Happy Meal.  But you live in Santa Clara County, and Santa Clara County says you aren’t allowed to have toys with your fast food.

This is important.  After all, some foods aren’t good for you if eaten in excess, and someone has to be there to tell you to stop.  Who else is going to to that?  Your parents?  With kid’s meal toys out of the picture, there’s nothing that draws kids into these fast food restaurants.  Well, other than the fact that the food tastes really good to a kid.

Those other counties may seem “way cooler” now, but wait a few years and you’ll see that Santa Clara County really did know what was best for you all along.

(Unless you run a fast food franchise close to one of Santa Clara’s county borders and are looking to get any business on a Saturday afternoon.  Then you’re screwed.)

How deep is America’s distrust of Washington?

This ad showed up next to an online news story today:

Running for Congress by running against Congress is nothing new.  But running for Congress because your opponent brings too much money to the home district?  National politicians love to talk about pork barrel spending, but their tune changes when the conversation turns to their own district.  The battleground for Keith Fimian’s challenge to Rep. Gerry Connolly is VA-10, my current district of residence and one that probably gets a lot of money in federal funds.  Connolly is also a targeted freshman member of Congress, so Democratic leadership is probably eager to help him buy votes.

Of course, even if Fimian wins, he might not be any different – but the rhetoric of going to Washington, D.C. and sending less money home is still pretty notable.

Twit-story: The Library of Congress vs. Google Replay

The Library of Congress will collect and store the full volume of Twitter for “scholarly and research purposes.” Twitter is psyched because it’s another demonstration of legitimacy:

It is our pleasure to donate access to the entire archive of public Tweets to the Library of Congress for preservation and research. It’s very exciting that tweets are becoming part of history. It should be noted that there are some specifics regarding this arrangement. Only after a six-month delay can the Tweets will be used for internal library use, for non-commercial research, public display by the library itself, and preservation.

As evidenced by events like the Iranian election protests, Twitter users can act as documentarians of history as it happens.  The Library of Congress’s recognition of this is another sign that Twitter has grown up a bit; the timing couldn’t be better, coming just a couple days after they announced their advertising model.

For the vast majority of Twitter’s data, this announcement is really a non-story – after all, there’s nothing stopping anyone from visiting Twitter and accessing all public tweets.  What about accounts that have been deleted, though?  And what about the accounts that get deleted after the Library of Congress makes an official historical record of them?

Buried in Twitter’s blog post is a much “friendlier” strategy for making Tweets a part of history: Google’s Replay service, which allows users to revisit moments in history and watch events unfold through Twitter and other online media.

As with most announcements, the difference lies in the semantics.  Google Replay would pinpoint specific times and issues – in other words, it would gravitate toward tweets which were sent with the idea that they were for public consumption.  The idea of Twitter turning over a hard drive full of information to a government office may be no different in practice or outcome, but it sounds a lot creepier.  Suddenly, you may find yourself perusing your own Twitter feed to see if you have anything to worry about.  A better announcement might have been a joint release by Twitter, Google, and the Library of Congress discussing a way to incorporate publicly broadcast real-time updates into research.  It might have looked like a tool on the Library’s website, powered by Google.

The nature of Twitter makes this a minor issue, but it isn’t the only place that history is recorded in real time.   Facebook and Google Buzz have both incorporated elements to mimic Twitter’s free-flowing stream-of-consciousness format.  That means they’re just as potentially attractive to the Library of Congress as part of the “historical record” – even though their data is decidedly more sensitive.