Marketing The Unmarketable

Joe Doakes from Como Park emails:

Want to make a fortune selling your service? Get invited to the next conference of County Managers or City Managers.

Just sat through a mandatory half-hour meeting “on re-branding.” It’s the latest bandwagon for local governments. There’s even a handbook.

Ramsey County is changing its logo. The County Board already spent $100,000 on design consultants and just hired a Communications Director to help implement the re-brand.

Instead of this:

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We’ll have this:

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You notice we got a lot of bang for our $100,000 bucks. The font is new and a soft grey. The entity name is all caps, with the subsidiary office below in contrasting color. And the color has changed: we’re going to a less alarming color of red. Burgundy and Grey, very 80’s.

Not right away, of course. We’ll use up existing stocks of business cards and letterhead. Public works trucks will change logos as they are replaced. The signs outside our buildings probably will last a decade or longer. It’s a “iterative rebranding,” not a radical abrupt change.

Having different brands now is confusing to the public, which is why we must rebrand. But rather than spend a ton of money to clear up the confusion, we’ll leave the confusing brands in place to leave the public confused as we gradually switch over to the new brand, to make things less confusing.

As a mid-level bureaucrat, I don’t order letterhead, buy business cards or paint signs; I use what management gives me. What I want to know is: how do I code that half-hour meeting on my Time and Productivity Report? “Complete Waste” does not appear to be an option.

Joe Doakes

Deleted Extras

Minnesota’s Film & Television Board faces a legislative re-write.

Like Hollywood, Minnesota’s relationship with the entertainment industry has seen a tumultuous career trajectory.  From being the ingenue of Midwestern locations in the 1990s, resulting in a bevy of films such as Fargo, Grumpy Old Men, The Mighty Ducks, to a discarded destination left in favor of Canada, Minnesota’s greatest entertainment legacy seemed to come more from the state’s exports (the Coen brothers; Diablo Cody) than production imports.

Left in Hollywood’s wake, two institutions survived – a small, but dedicated core of film and television technical professionals and the bureaucratic Minnesota Film and Television Board.  One group has created jobs; the other has lobbyists and now $10 million in tax incentives:

Six months after receiving a record $10 million to lure films to the state, the Minnesota Film & TV Board is under fire, with some legislators and industry insiders questioning whether it should exist at all.

Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles’ concerns about the board have escalated to a point where he plans to seek a formal examination of it next month, when the legislative session begins. If the evaluation is unfavorable, funding for the program known as “Snowbate,” and even the board’s future, could be in jeopardy….

“In addition to an audit, an evaluation is really needed to address broad policy questions,” Nobles said. “Should the state be involved in supporting the film industry? If yes, what would be the most effective approach, and who should be in charge of that effort?”

The fate of the “Snowbate” and the Film Board itself seems to be a movie stuck on an infinite loop.  In the mid 2000s, and as recently as 2010, the necessity and/or effectiveness of the Film Board was constantly being called into question, as few films chose Minnesota as their location – even those scripted as taking place in the state.  Leatherheads, New in Town, Juno, Jennifer’s Body, Contagion and Young Adult all take place in Minnesota and with the modest exception of a few scenes of Young Adult, none shot a second of footage in the state.  Other films, like Homefront or Gran Torino were rewritten to reflect moving the location to outside Minnesota.

The Film Board has countered that they do create jobs, suggesting numbers as high as 338 full-time positions in return for $3.3 million in subsidies.  But film and television work, by its nature, is not “full-time” but merely temporary.  And considering the increasingly broad definitions of the Snowbate guidelines to include advertising campaigns and web-based content, it would appear that all the Snowbate is accomplishing is subsidizing temporary Minnesota-based work, not bringing in funds or employment from out of state.

Minnesota isn’t the only state that’s reexamining whether or not film tax credits actually bring in revenue.  Indeed, the trend-line seems to be going the other direction:

…It’s hard to get a good handle on the exact impact of an in-state movie production. In most places, the only reports on movie-production revenue and jobs come from the state film office–or the movie industry itself. Objective studies are relatively hard to come by. And even where independent studies of film incentives do exist, the data can easily be interpreted in myriad ways.

Take Massachusetts, which has offered a 25 percent film incentive since 2006 and already has attracted numerous big-name projects and stars, including Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz, Leonardo DiCaprio and Mel Gibson. The Bay State is one of only a couple that require an annual, independent report on how the incentives are performing. When the most recent report was released by the Department of Revenue in July 2009, tax-incentive opponents said it unequivocally showed the credits weren’t working. According to the report, the state paid out $113 million in movie tax credits in 2008, while filming in the state generated $17.5 million in new tax revenue and created about 1,100 full-time-equivalent jobs for state residents.

Lost in the discussion is why so many films were attracted to Minnesota in the first place – the filmmakers were from here.  Mighty Ducks‘ director Mark Steven Johnson is a Hastings native.  Joe Somebody‘s writer John Scott Shepherd worked in the Twin Cities.  Thin Ice‘s director Jill Sprecher is a Wisconsin/Minnesota native.  And the list of below-the-line production people from Minnesota in Hollywood – the casting directors, the location scouts – is extensive.  Relatively few economic incentives were required (or even existed) in the 1990s to encourage filmmakers.  The same appears true today.  The limits of the Snowbate didn’t seem to stop the Coen brothers from shooting 2009′s A Serious Man in their hometown of St. Louis Park.

Minnesota isn’t going to win a contest of who can subsidize more Hollywood fare for little (or no) economic return.  And if even a navy-blue political state like Massachusetts can realize that film tax credits only result in a state being taken advantage of like a young actress on a casting couch, Minnesota might be able to come to a similar conclusion.

Turd-Polishing

Desperate to keep the stadium finance “plan”…er, afloat, the state is making another big push to try to sell “E-Pulltabs”:

In Duluth on Tuesday night, about 35 charities and bar owners showed up for a chance to test-drive all the electronic pulltab and bingo games now available in Minnesota. They got tips from charitable gambling leaders and bars along the North Shore who use them. They received the latest data from state officials on Minnesota’s most popular e-gambling counties, the effect on charity collections and more.

“I’ve seen the machines before, but I’ve never tried them,” said Duluth bar owner Mike Ronning, checking out the electronic pulltabs. “It’s fun. I just don’t know if it’s right for my place.”

The upshot:  people are still keeping them at arms length.

One wonders if we might have saved a whole lot of trouble doing thisbeforethey made them the key revenue-generator in the state’s Viking stadium jamdown.

Strib: “2+2=38 Billion, Winston!”

The Star Tribune Editorial board, in a piece that reads like Lori Sturdevant, holds forth on the DFL budget proposal, such as it is - and illustrates the Strib’s deep institutional hypocrisy along the way.

The editorial is stupid, hypocritical, and awash in institutional self-interest disguised – like all of Sturdevant’s work – as populist dooo-goodism:

No sales tax on clothing or haircuts. No alcohol tax hike. No income tax increase for 98 percent of filers. On Sunday, after four months of launching a flotilla of tax ideas, the Legislature’s DFL majorities and Gov. Mark Dayton unveiled a final 2014-15 state budget outline that, on the revenue side of the ledger, is more notable for its omissions than its contents.

Well, no.  It’s notable for about two billion of its contents.  Nowhere in the Strib’s editorial does the number “$38,000,000,000″ occur.

The Strib doesn’t want to give its few readers who actually follow numbers a nasty sticker shock.

There’s plenty to like on the spending side of their balance sheet. The DFL plan pumps an additional $725 million into public education from preschool through graduate school. That’s enough to reverse the deep higher-education cuts of the past two years; ease the squeeze that has some of the state’s public schools operating only four days a week; pay for all-day kindergarten, and offer preschool scholarships to low-income families.

Read:  It’s a big kickback to Education Minnesota; they paid good money for that Governor and Legislature, it’s time for them to get their piece of the action.  

The plan also includes measures to close a nagging $627 million budget gap, the residue not only of the Great Recession but also of a dozen years of legislative failure to balance the budget in a lasting way.

Further proof that  Lori Sturdevant wrote this.  Remember 2010?

Six Billion Dollar Deficit?  

The Strib editorial board is rewriting history for the benefit of the smug and the stupid.

But remember – they have their own self-interest at heart:

But the plan’s tax features are a disappointment. They raise revenue in a way that puts Minnesota’s economic competitiveness at risk.

Particularly worrisome is a new marginal tax bracket that will apply to the state’s top 2 percent of incomes. The rate attached to that bracket remains to be set by a House-Senate conference committee, but it is almost certain to be among the nation’s highest, especially after an anticipated temporary surcharge for top earners “blinks on” to get state aid payments to schools back to their normal schedule…While that decision is true to Dayton’s 2010 campaign promises, it comes at an economic price. Making Minnesota an income tax outlier among the states won’t be helpful in attracting and sustaining private-sector investment.

Especially the next round of investors the Strib will need to stave off bankruptcy.

Right?

It gets worse:

In addition, like a bad penny, a bad tax policy idea that disappeared two months ago turned up again Sunday. Applying the state sales tax to some currently untaxed business-to-business purchases will be part of the plan, Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk announced. He was not specific about which items or services would become taxable, nor about how the revenue thus raised would be used, other than for “significant economic development.”

Oh, well, then.  Good enough for me!

The Strib is worried that taxing business to business purchases – which could include advertising, as well as pretty much anything in the supply chain – is going to hit their bottom line.  It’s a legitimate worry; businesses of all size, from the Strib all the way down to lil’ ol’ me, are going to see some arbitrary percentage come out of our revenues; we can pass it along and hope that our goods and services continue to get purchased, or we can eat a percentage – 5.5%?  6%? – lopped out of our revenues and try to ride it out.

Or move.

Regardless of how the money would be used, taxing business inputs is not sound policy. It layers hidden taxes into the cost of goods and services and takes a toll on wages and job creation in the affected industries. Those costs will affect low- and middle-class Minnesotans as surely as a clothing sales tax would. But the spurned clothing tax would have had the virtue of transparency, and could have been offset for low-income earners by a refundable tax credit, as the Senate tax bill provided.

Waaaah.

In for a bad penny, in for a poo-streaked pound, Strib.  This is the government that you wanted.  You did whatever it took to get this government; you served as an adjunct PR firm for the DFL, you covered up their transgressions, you whinged about “ALEC” while laughing over cocktails with “Alliance for a Better Minnesota”, you did whatever it took to get them into power, and you do your best to cover up the train wreck that is Mark Dayton.

To be sure, businesses will benefit from some of the property tax relief measures that total a hefty $400 million over two years in the DFL plan. But low- and middle-income homeowners and renters ought to be favored as the tax conference committee allocates that sizable sum.

This is Minnesota’s source of information.  Good lord.

Where does the Strib think that “relief” comes from?

It’s money that’s redistributed from the parts of the state whose votes the DFL doesn’t need, to the parts whose votes they need to protect.

Who do you suppose that is, Strib?

Republicans have offered no alternative budget plan this session, evidently preferring to stand aside and criticize DFL decisions.

Further proof it’s Sturdevant.

The DFL offered no alternative budget in 2011.  The Strib editorial board had not a word to say about it.

They should know that if they scuttle a bonding bill, they will deserve to be seen by this session’s critics as part of the problem.

And the Strib will do its’ level best to make sure they do.

I can not wait for the Strib to go bankrupt again.

Forest, Trees

Joe Doakes from Como Park writes:

The federal government spent $890,000 on maintenance fees for bank accounts with no money in them. Watchdog groups say the government should close the accounts faster. They’re missing the point.

Suppose Congress gives Dog Gone a $500,000 grant to study how assault weapons exacerbate global warming. The government opens an account to hold the funds, Dog Gone receives period draws until the money is spent, and afterwards, the government audits the expenditures to make sure they were proper for grant funds. If not, Dog Gone must repay the money – so naturally, the account must be held open for her to pay the money into. If it takes a few years to complete the audit, the government pays fees to maintain an empty account.

The underlying premise is the government should give grants in the first place. Reject the premise. Don’t give her the grant. Then there would be no account to pay maintenance fee on. We’d save far more than the million in maintenance fees.

Joe Doakes

Como Park

Talk about attacking symptoms…

Unintended Consequences

Joe Doakes from Como Park emails:

In 1996, the Minnesota Supreme Court adopted the requirement that every lawyer licensed in Minnesota periodically attend Continuing Legal Education classes on Elimination of Bias. It’s been 15 years. Has any progress been made? What measurement is used to determine the extent to which bias has been eliminated from the legal profession? Donald Rumsfeld, pondering the problem of Middle East terrorists, famously asked: “Are we killing them faster than we’re creating them?” What metric is the Supreme Court using to measure reduction in bias in the legal profession?

In other words, how will we know when we’ve won? And if, as I strongly suspect, the answer is “it never will be possible to eliminate bias in the legal profession,” then aren’t we wasting a lot of time and money chasing unicorn dreams? The practice of law is tough enough these days, and the cost of days off to sit in class plus the fees for the classes themselves are passed along to the customers along with rent, taxes and all other overhead. And if it turns out the insulting, humiliating and degrading classes are making lawyers MORE biased rather than less . . . .

Joe Doakes

Como Park

Given the record of most government programs – a war on poverty that made us poorer, urban renewal that made cities crappier, education spending hikes that are followed by stupider students – it doesn’t seem unreasonable.

Fumble

The Monday Morning Quaterbacking over electronic gambling heats up.

Two gambles that haven’t paid off

When breaking down the various back-up funding plans for the Vaseline Dome, one step was neglected – the finger pointing.

For a funding mechanism that was originally billed to deliver $35 million in revenue per year, and continuously revised down to $17 million and then $1.7, the process of assigning blame should have been viewed as inevitable.  But like a legislative Atlas, who would shoulder the majority of the ownership of such a flawed model?  Gov. Mark Dayton, who was so publicly aggressive in his defense of a new stadium?  The hapless former Republican legislative majorities who acquiesced to the bill?  The Star Tribune, whose rampant conflict of interest with any Metrodome-site construction should have called into question their vocal support?

No, the Star Tribune has decided the real culprit are the gambling firms that provided the electronic pull-tab games:

While flawed, the gambling board’s sales estimates were extremely detailed, including the number of bars and restaurants that would adopt e-gambling, the number of devices in play, what hours they would be played and how much money would be wagered.

It projected 2,500 sites would be selling electronic pulltab within six months, or nearly 14 bars and restaurants joining in per day….

Nearly a year after those projections were made, about 200 Minnesota bars and restaurants offer electronic pulltabs, not the 2,500 that had been predicted. Electronic bingo games have just been introduced.

Average daily gross sales for electronic pulltabs have increased to about $69,000, but sales per gambling device have declined.

The firms may have been making bad assumptions about the capacity for Minnesota to support increased charitable gambling, but at least the firms’ figures came out of experiences in states like Montana, South Dakota and Oregon.  Still, the basic math of the gambling mechanism was public knowledge long before it was formally added to the final bill.

Minnesotans spend about $1 billion in charitable gambling, which equals the comparatively paltry sum of $36 million in revenue.  The Vikings stadium, requiring $35 million a year to cover the State’s $348 million share, would necessitate charitable gambling to either double to $2 billion or entirely overrun the current charitable competition.  In that light, it’s little wonder that other charitable organizations were not asked for their opinion.  A decision that now is being heavily criticized as charities across the State say some version of “I told you so.”

All the finger-pointing in the world doesn’t help hide the reality that the responsibility for flawed legislation needs to rest with the political leadership that authored it – a fact even the Star Tribune acknowledges:

“There was a willful blindness … driven by pressure politics,” charged David Schultz, a Hamline University political analyst and a professor of nonprofit law…

“This was a deal that was going to happen no matter what,” Schultz said. “The governor wanted a stadium. The money couldn’t come from the general fund. The charities had been asking for electronic games.”

Purple Bribe

Upon further review – the Minnesota Vikings spent a fortune to acquire their new stadium.

The Vaseline Dome has re-entered the media picture in the last few weeks, as new concerns have been raised about the viability of the electronic pull-tab funding mechanism which has fallen $13.2 million short of yearly estimates.  Or more accurately, completely fallen apart since the State had expected the pull-tabs to generate $15 million a year, putting the threat of needing general funds to finance a luxury item back on the table.

Flawed or not, the stadium financing figures aren’t the only numbers that have come to light in recent weeks.  We now know how much Zygi Wilf and company spent in their multi-year lobbying effort to build a stadium in the exact same location as their current home – $4,270,000.

Via MPR’s Capitol View and Paul Tosto

The Vikings were the 6th largest lobbyist group (by dollars spent) in the last six years.  And while the $610,000 spent last year as the stadium was finally approved was a drop in the bucket of the estimated $54 million spent by all lobbyist groups in 2012, the $1.5 million used by the Vikings during 2011-12 would have made them the 3rd largest lobbyist of the cycle. Even lobbying powerhouse Education Minnesota spent slightly less at the Capitol in that period.  Purple pride indeed.

$4.2 million for $975 million is a tremendous value (although the Vikings spent millions more in stadium-related advertising).  But the end product may not look like such a deal if the financing structure collapses in on itself.  Which begs the question – what happens when the State finally admits the pull-tab solution isn’t working?

The state’s $498 million share of the $975 million project is to be paid for through sales of electronic pull-tabs. But the final two pages of the stadium bill provide for two “blink-on” funding provisions as backups. The first is an NFL-themed lottery and the second, if necessary, is a 10 percent tax on luxury suites.

And what of the doomsday scenario, where all three provisions fall short of the money required for the state’s annual payments? At that point, from what I can tell, the state would have to produce money from its general fund — something Gov. Mark Dayton promised not to do when campaigning for the facility.

Would either of these other solutions generate the revenue necessary?  A Vikings-themed lotto doesn’t sound fundamentally different than the pull-tab concept.  The Minnesota Lottery brought in $123 million in profit last year, but that’s among 9 different games.  A 10th lotto isn’t likely to expand the number of people playing, only shrink the total amount left that would otherwise go into the State’s coffers.  Besides, over 70% of the funds generated by the lottery go either to paying winners or towards lottery administration.

The most likely end game for the Vikings stadium financing shell game lies within the 10% luxury suite tax.  Current suite rental prices aren’t terrible by NFL standards, running around $15,000 to $26,000 a game.  Slapping another $1,500 or $2,000 is unlikely to cause any corporation to abandon their suite, but certainly won’t make the Vikings happy as they compute what to charge going forward.

The only real problem with the luxury tax idea is that it was envisioned as a last-gasp measure, meant to fill in a minor funding short-fall – not the State’s entire share.  If the Vikings lotto goes the way of the pull-tab, that’s precisely what the tax will become.  And if that occurs, the political football of using general funds will be kicked right at Mark Dayton’s 2014 prospects.

The Care-Provider Unionization Debate In A Series of Nutshells

The Shorter Anti-Unionization Activist: “Unionization would force us to,raise prices. Forcing us to unionize to accept state aid payments would cause me to stop accepting kids who get state assistance. Providers can already join the union; in eight years, out of 11,000 providers, exactly 57 have joined. I already work hard on improving the quality of the care I provide. By the way, the stories of unethical behavior on union reps’ parts in the card check process are true and omnipresent. We are independent businesspoeple! If we wanted to work inside of a larger organization, we’d have stayed with our old careers!

The Shorter Rep. Nelson (author of the union jamdown bill, and a carpenters union activist in his per-legislative life): Unions all help provide better quality care, training, and standards.

The Shorter Response To Nelson From Providers: Um, those are the job, in order, of existing licensing authorities, and myself.

The Shorter Pro-union Daycare Provider: I’m a loving nurturing person. I teach my kids. Aren’t teachers unionized?

The Shorter Union AFSCME Rep’s Case, with the actual thought completed in parentheses This bill won’t force anyone into a union! (It’ll merely give a mass of unlicensed fly-by-night providers the right to compel all you licensed providers to unionize to if you get state money.

The Shorter Committee Chair Joe Mullery: Unions don’t skim anything.  

The Shorter Mary Franson (leading opponent of jamdown, and a former provider herself):. This bill isn’t about improving care. It’s about enriching union officials and funneling dues money to the DFL-supporting unions.

The Shorter Carly Melin (27-year old second term rep who was carted directly to her district after graduating from Hamline Law just in time to meet residency requirements, and neither has kids nor any notable non-legislative post-law-school job history): Hey! Don’t insult the unions!

The Shorter Results:. Six in-the-bag-for-the-unions DFLers “yes”, five Republivans “no”.

Open Letter To The Entire American People

To:  Everyone in the USA
From: Mitch Berg, Peasant who’s been through it all before
Re:  ”Sequestration”

Hey, everyone,

You may not remember this, but we’ve been through all this before.  Remember the “partial government shutdown”, back in the nineties?  It was a whole big nothing-burger.

Oh, the Clinton Administration tried to make sure that the people felt whatever pain was generated – closing parks, cramping down on the voters.  But as a rule, the whole thing affected nobody.

And here in Minnesota, we had a “complete” shutdown two years ago (which, again, wasn’t – the courts kept most of the government going as “essential”).  It lasted a few weeks.  Then Governor Messinger Dayton abandoned it, when he realized Minnesotans, for all his efforts to squeeze and scare them – shutting down state parks and highway rest areas, threatening to lay off teachers – barely noticed any difference.  While the media did its best to prop up the Messinger Dayton line, the people of Minnesota heard the gales of calumny but saw and felt a big fat nada burrito.  Even Governor Messinger Dayton – as cosseted and isolated from reality as his staff keeps him – noticed; on his trip around the state to whip up support for the DFL budget, he saw tepid crowds of union droogs, and a few professional protesters, and realized he had nothin’ (which may be why Dayton makes so few public appearances these days).

So it’s time for “sequestration” – the “radical” budget cuts that Obama and the super-di-duper commission agreed to as a stick to lead everyone to the “carrot” of an actual federal budget.  We’ve been waiting nearly 1,400 days for a budget from the Democrat-addled Senate, so Washington figured a “stick” was needed.

By the way – how radical and drastic are those cuts?:

Yep. They’re not even cuts.  They’re reductions in the increase.  Indeed, almost completely worthless, if cutting spending is your goal, but really nothing but a fart in the wind; sort of like “dropping HBO” in your family budget, even though your gas bill is rising and your teenage kids are costing more and more.

Obama will try to make “sequestration” hurt; he’ll slow down the TSA lines, he’ll gundeck some ship overhauls and clamp down some military maintenance budgets, he’ll inveigle some big cities to lay off a few cops and teachers, he’ll shut down Yellowstone as the cameras record photos of crestfallen children.  Hell, Joe Biden may even personally try to close the gates at Disney World.

But there is no there, there.  It’s a scare tactic, engineered by Obama and his compliant media.

It needs to be ignored.

That is all.

 

Madame Obantoinette

Michelle Obama seems to be a bit of a vacation junkie, and we – according to this story from the London Daily Mail, sourced from the Enquirer – are paying for it:

White House sources today claimed that the First Lady has spent $10million of U.S. taxpayers’ money on vacations alone in the past year.

Branding her ‘disgusting’ and ‘a vacation junkie’, they say the 47-year-old mother-of-two has been indulging in five-star hotels, where she splashes out on expensive massages and alcohol.

The ‘top source’ told the National Enquirer: ‘It’s disgusting. Michelle is taking advantage of her privileged position while the most hardworking Americans can barely afford a week or two off work.

‘When it’s all added up, she’s spent more than $10million in taxpayers’ money on her vacations.’

Now, it’s a fact that travelling for the First Family, with all its security, is not going to be cheap under any circumstances. Still – taking separate goverment jets to Martha’s Vineyard? Really?

Of course, Atomizer will perk up at this reference:

The source continued: ‘Michelle also enjoys drinking expensive booze during her trips. She favours martinis with top-shelf vodka and has a taste for rich sparking wines.

I’ll paraphrase him; “there’s no such thing as a vodka martini”. There.  (And I wanna try a “sparking wine”. Just saying).  Don’t say I never did anything for ya, Atom.

And I had to mention this; it’s a photo from Mrs. Obama’s trip earlier this year to Spain:

Can there be anything in the world more awkward than a Secret Service agent trying to look “casual?”  And the guy to the immediate left of Mrs.Obama (her right) – when did Peter Garrett join the White House staff?

Comforting The Comfortable

Let’s be clear, here:  ”Public Art” is to art what “public restroom” is to rest.  I’m at a loss to think of any publicly-supported “art” that advances “art” in any way.  It could exist – my art trivia-fu isn’t the same as my music-fu – but it’s not leaping to mind.

I think public subsidy of art is a bad thing, both as government fiscal management and as art.

So when the idea of the “Legacy” amendment - diverting part of a one percent sales tax to the arts as well as natural resources – came up, I was skeptical.

But I thought “as long as the money goes to art education, it’d be the lesser of the possible evils”.  Art education is sorely neglected in our society; having some appreciation for art in its many forms is one of the things that adds depth and color to life, and it doesn’t matter if that art is a trip through the Minnesota Museum of Art or a little music or the occasional play (from the Ordway to some waaaaay-off-Nicollet startup house) to a good book.  Music – along with foreign languages – was one of the few things that kept me engaged with the idea of “education” at all during those miserable years from seventh through tenth grades; I’m hardly alone.

So if you have to spend money on “arts”, for the love of pete, spend it on bringing art in its various forms to schools and community centers and kids who, in our society, just don’t get exposed to much of it at all.

So how much could we have done for $45,000?

A Stillwater library paid that much in Legacy funds to bring in Sci-Fi author Neil Gaiman.   And Rep. Matt Dean was unhappy about it, and called Gaiman a “pencil-necked weasel”, which got Sci-fi nerds and GOP-haters all up with the victorian vapours:

(“Um, hullo? It’s “SF”, not “Sci Fy”.  Doy.  And don’t call me a “Trekkie”.  It’s Trekker, thank you very much”  There.  I wrote it so you don’t have to).

The feud between celebrity author Neil Gaiman and House Majority Leader Matt Dean took several bizarre twists Thursday, when lawmakers threatened retaliation against local libraries, Gaiman threatened retaliation against Dean, and the cast of characters expanded to include Snooki from MTV’s “Jersey Shore.”

Neil Gaiman, starving artist.

The action started when a House Republican committee chair said he is recommending a $45,000 cut in the Twin Cites’ regional library system budget to make up for the state Legacy money it paid last year to Gaiman for a speaking appearance.

Gaiman quickly defended his speaking fees, saying they are comparable to those charged by Snooki, the reality TV star.

And to be fair to Gaiman, if taxpayer money had gone to “Snooki”, I’d be even more irate.

“I won the Newbery Medal. I won the Carnegie Medal,” said Gaiman, who said he has 1.5 million Twitter followers. “I’ve written movies that were the Number 1 movie in the entire world.”

Well, that’s great.  Kudos.

You, Mr. Gaiman, are someone who has been rewarded bountifully for your talents.  I don’t begrudge a nickel of what you’ve earned…

from the private sector.

But can anyone say, honestly, that $45,000 expropriated from all of us working schlubs for “arts and culture” is better spent on allowing locals to bask in the presence of a millionaire sci-fi writer than on, say, buying rental band instruments for a high school music program?  For keeping an after-school art program open?  For anything else?

Dean, R-Dellwood, got things rolling Tuesday by calling Gaiman a “pencil-necked little weasel who stole $45,000 from the state of Minnesota,” has since apologized. He said Thursday he did not direct Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, who chairs the House Legacy Funding Division committee, to trim $45,000 from the regional library system’s proposed budget.

Dean’ comments, however, underscored the ongoing concerns of the Republican majority about Legacy money being spent on arts and cultural projects as the Legislature struggles to solve a $5.1 billion budget deficit.

Concerns?

Try outrage.  As someone who supports the arts, I’m stupefied at the tone-deafness of the library’s action.

Although my inner cynic isn’t surprised (I’ll be adding some emphasis):

The Legacy amendment, passed in 2008 with considerable financial support from arts groups in Minnesota, raised the state sales tax for 25 years to fund outdoors, clean water, parks and trails and arts and cultural heritage projects.

And when Republicans point to things like…:

  • …the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities and their racket of funding arrogant avant-garde art while school arts programs go begging
  • …the millions in annual funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which enforces a rigid political agenda on its own governance…

…as evidence that the public art funding bureaucracy is out of control, and the arts and culture advocacy communities are fighting against a legislative majority committed to cutting government waste, really, it seems it’s more than just arts education that’s lacking.

Gaiman is a successful “artist”, and a pretty wealthy guy:

Gaiman, reached Thursday afternoon, said he found the entire episode “very weird” and said he could win court damages from Dean, the leading Republican in the Minnesota House, should he choose to do so.

“If I actually wanted to come after you, dude, I could,” Gaiman said of

[For what?  Defamation?  Buncombe.  Dean made no factual assertions; he stated an opinion.  The opinion isn't going to harm Gaiman's standing in his community or his livelihood; it'll likely do quite the opposite.  And malice?  Gaiman must be a sci-fi writer - Ed]

Gaiman said he would not file a lawsuit, but was considering other options that would be “so much more fun than going legal.”

There’ll be a Klingon character named “Deangrfx” in his next book, I’ll bet.  Socially-maladjusted twentysomething computer geeks will titter with glee.  Life will go on.

Gaiman also maintained that he received $33,600 for the four-hour appearance — a booking agency received the remainder — and said other appearances, outside Minnesota, have paid him more than $60,000.

And if they were paid for with tax money, then we really need to talk.

Anyway, fine – Gaiman’s not a pencil-necked weasel.

He’s just an unconscionable waste of tax money.

How many writing programs, or art teachers, or after-school music programs, could we have supported for what we wasted on this narcissistic frippery?

As If That Were a Small Thing

The argument that public workers earn more or less than their private-sector counterparts is debatable but only done so honestly when their full compensation and benefits package is taken into account.

There is no evidence that public-sector workers in Wisconsin have higher total compensation than their counterparts in the private sector. It is true that a gross comparison shows many public-sector workers earn more, but they are significantly better-educated than most workers in the private sector. When one compares Wisconsin public-sector workers with their real counterparts, as the Economic Policy Institute has done, Wisconsin pays its public-sector workers 14.2 percent less than workers in the private sector.

Walker and other Republican leaders in the state have made a big deal of the “gold-plated pensions” of state workers, yet median state and local pensions in Wisconsin are less than $23,000.

As if that were a small thing.

This is an argument that resonates unless you consider the fact that nowadays almost no one in the private sector has a pension…at all.

…and a pension is no small thing to be entitled to and no small thing for taxpayers to fund.

The vast majority of private-sector employees rely on defined contribution plans for retirement, which is to say their retirements depend on what they and their employers contribute to the plan plus any growth in the account. Whatever balance is accumulated at retirement is what you have to work with to create income at retirement.

“Pensions” refers to defined benefit plans where a worker receives a promised monthly income at a given age at retirement, until death, and in many cases with an equal or reduced benefit for a spouse until their death. Often times these plans vest well before a defined contribution plan could ever possibly have enough saved into it to create the same income benefit at retirement.

Because the factors required for managing these plans, including life expectancy and market growth assumptions, are so difficult to anticipate and therefore tricky to calculate adequate funding levels, defined benefit pensions have long since been largely abandoned by the private sector in favor of defined contribution plans like 401k’s.

Governments not held accountable by shareholders, market forces or mathematics have ignored this trend and to make matters worse have underfunded these plans for years leaving the taxpayer on the hook for billions and billions and billions of benefit obligations. At the same time, many public-sector workers are able to “retire” much earlier than their private-sector counterparts, collect their guaranteed pensions and join the private sector to finish out their careers; double-dipping for as many as ten years.

How is the perpetuation of such a thing possible? Simple: public-sector labor unions empowered by liberal politicians in exchange for their vote.

So the next time you hear anyone making the argument that public-sector workers make less money than their private-sector counterparts, remember that the dollars that are (or should be) being put away for them to make good on the promise of their pensions, more than make up for any differences in salary and blow away anything available in the private sector.

What We Can Learn from Great Tits

A recent study of Great Tits may lend commentary to America’s over-subscription to government entitlements.

In Britain, the world capital of amateur ornithology roughly half of households put food out for their feathered friends, and it is estimated that around 30m of the country’s birds are given nourishment this way every year. Other places are somewhat less generous, but the general principle holds. Encouraging birds is good, and what better way to encourage them than to feed them?

Dr Amrhein’s team conducted their study in the suburbs of Oslo, in the spring of 2007. The objects of their attention were 28 male great tits, each of which was observed at dawn three times, with 16-17 days between the observations.

The purpose of the study: to see if leaving food out for birds is beneficial or detrimental.

Dr Amrhein expected that males who were being given extra food would perform better during the dawn chorus than those that were not.

The “Dawn Chorus” being the primary element of the males’ mating ritual.

To his surprise, he discovered exactly the opposite. Those who received food supplements got lazy. He and his colleagues report in Animal Behaviour that 36% of the males whose feeders were filled started singing only after the sun had already come up. Among the birds without this extra food, that happened only 10% of the time. Moreover, the effect was sustained after feeders were removed, for it was still apparent at the time of the third observation.

Turns out gratuitous entitlements make birds lazy. Do you suppose it has the same effect on Americans?

I Don’t Want to Pay for your Wussie Car

Toyota has gone to great lengths to make their flagship hybrid conspicuously ugly.

Don’t worry, we will all notice you if you buy one but it will take you years to make up the difference in price versus a similar mileage compact car and hybrids are widely known to come nowhere near stated EPA mileage estimates.

So if you want to buy a Toyota Prius to make some sort of “look at me I’m greenier than you” statement, go right ahead.

…but don’t ask the rest of us to pay for it.

David Sandalow, the Department of Energy’s assistant secretary for policy and international affairs, said that changes will be made in order that the current credit can be claimed by dealers or others. He said that the consumers will be made to benefit from the credit, saying that this incentive will be more effective this way than if it is applied against income tax returns (which may mean waiting up to a year).

Cash for Clunkers and Cash for Your Fridge were both busts. Cash for Ugly Cars is a bad idea too.

Please Mr. President, don’t incent others to uglify the environment with those homely little loafs and get back to work creating jobs so more people can buy new cars.

Don’t Let The Door Hit You

Bright and early this morning on MPR, I heard Cathy Wurzer talking with former MNCD8 Representative Jim Oberstar.

It goes without saying the guy became a slippery wonk over his five decades in DC.

But it was his closing line that stuck with me; it should go up there with Cy Thao’s classic “When you guys win,  you get to keep your money.  When we win, we take your money“, or Larry Pogemiller’s “It’s silly to think people can spend their money better than government can“.

Asked about the criticisms he’d taken as for being seen as a porkmonger, he replied (I’m paraphrasing as closely as I can; I’ll try to get the audio after work today):

To all of them, I say – don’t drive on Highway 17.  Don’t drive on Highway 8. Don’t drive on Highway 61.  Don’t drive on [this bridge], or [that bridge], or [some other bridge].  Don’t drive on any of the things you criticized.  Follow your principles.

“Representative” Oberstar, by your imperial leave; I paid for them.  So did taxpayers in Manhattan and Mississippi, in Oregon and Ohio.  We paid for those roads, for your bike paths, the Great Lakes Marine Research Institute, the North Star Commuter Rail line, and all the millions upon millions of dollars of other spending you inveigled for your district.

You didn’t pay for it.

We did.

And I will drive on any f*****g highway I want, whether I agree with its rationale or not.  I will ride on the bike paths I criticized you for.  I will go to the ice cream social or whatever they do at the GLMRI, and drive over those bridges – maybe back and forth a few times, like a kid playing on an escalator.  Come to think of it, if I can find any escalators built with your pork-barrelling, I’ll ride ‘em until security tells me to stop.

Because I paid for them.  Against my will, in some cases; more than I’d have paid, in others; with my muted assent in still others. And since I paid for them – and since you were my employee (or would have been, had I lived in the 8th CD), I will not only not ask your permission, I may even take pictures of myself doing it, and send them to you, just to gall you.

So go curl up at the Humphrey Institute, and go away.

By your imperial leave.

Congress Passes The Obama Tax Non-Increase Bill

A tax hike is averted, but only for two years – not enough time or certainty to “create” jobs but certainly better than a tax increase.

Majorities of both parties supported the bill. Voting in favor were 139 Democrats and 138 Republicans, while 112 Democrats and 36 Republicans voted against it. Eight lawmakers didn’t vote.

The tax-cut plan extends through 2012 all Bush-era tax reductions on income, capital gains and dividends. It continues expanded unemployment insurance benefits through 2011, cuts payroll taxes by 2 percentage points during 2011 and lets businesses write off 100 percent of capital investments between Sept. 9, 2010, and Dec. 31, 2011.

Classic Pelosi:

“I’m sorry for the price that has to be paid by our children and our grandchildren to the Chinese government to pay for the increase in the deficit that the Republicans insisted upon.”

We’ve recently covered this ground before but Nancy is fooling almost no one. The government creates a deficit by spending money it doesn’t have and in this case money it was never going to have and in either case is not entitled to. Voters made that clear to everyone but Nancy Pelosi.

Some early reactions:

The tax-cut deal, along with larger-than-projected gains in U.S. retail sales, prompted economists to raise their forecasts for gross domestic product and consumer spending, which accounts for about 70 percent of the world’s largest economy.

Michael Feroli, chief U.S. economist at JPMorgan Chase & Co. in New York, increased his 2011 growth forecast half a percentage point to 3.1 percent. Tom Porcelli, a senior economist at RBC Capital Markets Corp. in New York, raised his by one percentage point, also to 3.1 percent.

Deutsche Bank Securities economists, led by Joseph LaVorgna, said the tax agreement would increase inflation- adjusted growth by 0.7 percentage point, to a 4 percent annual rate for the fourth quarter of next year.

Only after the fact will we find out what earmarks were hidden in the 1900 pages but for now the passage of this bill brings short-term stability for taxpayers, many of which have been planning all year for higher taxes next year.

In light of this, it will be interesting to see if there will be a last minute boost to holiday shopping – I predict that very thing.

Are you even listening to the words coming out of your mouth?

The Minnesota Lame-ber of Commerce is joining the minority and declaring it’s time for a new Vikings football stadium.

Vikings stadium supporters, despite the state’s looming $6.2 billion budget and widespread public opposition, will push hard for a public subsidy package during the 2011 legislation session beginning Jan. 4. [emphasis mine-JR]

Two thoughts:

1) How stupid does that sentence sound given our current economic conditions

2) Let’s wait until after Sunday’s Chicago game to see how much support there is for an outdoor stadium.

…or the Vikings for that matter.

PS:  GOP -  remember why we sent you

The Weight of it All

By now you have seen the video and national coverage of the Metrodome’s roof collapse. It didn’t take long for the media to speculate that an act of God is his vote for a new Vikings stadium.

The Vikings have been pushing for a new stadium for years without success. So far today, they have been silent on what this collapse means for their stadium wishes, perhaps deciding the best strategy is to let the event speak for itself.

The roof collapse says one thing and one thing only: a foot and a half of snow weighs a lot.

The only thing more ridiculous than a blizzard indicating the Vikings should get a new and presumably taxpayer-subsidized stadium without a roof, for ten games in Minnesota, is the fact that TCF stadium sits idle every Sunday already. Here’s something that really speaks for itself: there is talk of moving the upcoming Chicago game to TCF while the dome undergoes repairs.

TCF stadium is a wonderful facility and should have been designed and built in partnership with the Vikings. The fact that both shared the Metrodome without interference should have been a clue.

Maybe the Vikes and Gophers will get one now.

Please Quit Calling it a Tax Cut

The Bush tax rates were put in effect in 2001.

…and yet the government and most politicians are calling the current efforts to extend those rates and provisions tax cuts.

The “cuts” happened in 2001. Nine years went by. Anything other than extending these rates is a tax hike. Got it?

It would be different if it had been a few months or a couple years but I think it is fair and reasonable to say that rates in effect for nine years have become the de facto norm. The fact that they had an expiration date doesn’t change that for anyone that actually pays taxes – which is only about 53% of us these days, last I heard.

Senate leaders released an agreement crafted by the White House and Republicans to sustain Bush-era tax rates through 2012, set the estate tax at the lowest rate in 80 years, extend jobless aid and cut payroll taxes by 2 percentage points.

The legislation would add $857 billion to the federal debt over 10 years, government analysts said.

Another semantic error there folks. This legislation will not add anything to the federal debt. Federal spending above current revenue is what will add to the federal debt. Out-of-control spending. Wasteful spending. Spending tagged with the misnomer “investment” or “stimulus.”

No doubt, calculations of the billions that will be added to the federal debt are erroneously, arrogantly based on the premise that the revenue resulting from a future tax hike has already been spent.

Don’t even think about trying to tell us what this is going to “cost” the government. The extension will not “cost” the government anything. More and more Americans are waking up and and telling the federal government that it was not the government’s money in the first place.

A two-year extension of those rates would cost $407.6 billion, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation.

Listen, no one in the next five years, let alone the next two should be considering rasing taxes for anyone.

While short term fiscal and monetary policy that serves to increase liquidity is widely considered a good strategy, lowering taxes is the only proven strategy, in the long run, to stimulate growth. Continuing to flood our system with worthless dollars will not incent employers to hire any more than the last trillion – only lowering expenses and stabilizing the outlook on taxes for the long run will give employers the confidence to hire again. The continued efforts on the part of the fed to further reduce the value of the dollar via “quantitative easing” is politically motivated and will have no effect on unemployment.

You can be sure of one thing. The only reason Barack Obama and his rejected liberal posse are going along with anything resembling what they  deem a “tax cut” for taxpayers earning more than $250K is that they have no politically palatable options to do otherwise.

Elections do matter.

Obama Lifts a Finger

…just so no one can say he didn’t lift a finger to reduce a bloated federal sector in a move widely reported as a “move to the center.”  A federal pay freeze yes, but consider this:

The freeze doesn’t extend to new hiring, bonuses or step increases. It doesn’t even match the three-year freeze recommended by the President’s deficit commission.

…and yet, it’s just to much to bear… it’s just not fair.

To whom? Why the poor, the huddled, the downtrodden federal workers of course.

American Federation of Public Employees President John Gage yesterday derided President Obama’s federal pay freeze as a “slap at working people.”

That might be a stretch. I know a lot of “working people” and they might take offense at being lumped in with government desk jockeys who enjoy unmatched job security, perks and disproportionate pay.

federal employees operate in a pay-and-benefit universe that no longer exists in the private economy. According to recent analyses by USA Today, total compensation for federal workers has risen 37% over 10 years—after inflation—compared to 8.8% for private workers. Federal workers earned average compensation of $123,000 in 2009, double the private average of $61,000.

[tape rewinding sound]

double the private average of $61,000. [emphasis and repetition mine]

Unions like to argue that federal jobs are unique, yet in occupations that exist both in government and the private economy—nurses, surveyors, janitors, cooks—the federal government pays 20% more than private firms.

Liberals are right! There are two worlds in America.

an estimated 2.1 million nonmilitary full-time [federal] workers (excluding 600,000 postal workers)

…who live in a fairy-tale world of fat pay and unmatched job security. If it weren’t for the fact that even the Pentagon has windows, they would have no idea what “working people” even look like.

Market forces have forced a painful but necessary redeployment of human capital in virtually every sector save one: the United States federal government. Obama’s less-than-token effort to realign the federal payroll with reality isn’t significant enough to be remembered let alone effect the fiscal reductions necessary to reduce our deficit.

Mr. President, you can put your finger back down and go back to the pressing work of destroying our nation’s financial future.

Neither Rain, Nor Snow, nor Sleet…’cept Saturday.

The post office wants to dump Saturday delivery.

The U.S. Postal Service, facing a crushing budget deficit, unveiled a sweeping cost-cutting plan Tuesday that apparently includes elimination of Saturday deliveries.

Who was it that once said in response to the question…

“Show me one thing the government has done well”

…The Postal Service?

Tangent notwithstanding, this should be no surprise. The fact is people are mailing less, emailing more, and if they need something sent quickly and reliably…there are other options, and people are willing to pay for the privilege.

Drop Saturdays. Fine with me. Why don’t you drop Tuesday through Saturday while you’re at it.

…in fact, lose Monday too. I’m sick of shovelling the snow away from my mailbox so I can empty it into the recycle bin every day.

Daily delivery of the mail is overkill.

You want to send me something? Make it an email.

The Stimulus Creates Another “Job”

Add this guy to the roles of those who owe their livelihood to the Obama stimulus plan. Is he creating more jobs? No. …growing the economy? No.

He’s researching the myth that is man-made global warming.

A scientist in the middle of the ClimateGate scandal received economic stimulus funds last June.

As NewsBusters reported on November 28, Penn State University is investigating Professor Michael Mann, the creator of the discredited “Hockey Stick Graph,” for his involvement in an international attempt to exaggerate and manipulate climate data in order to advance the myth of manmade global warming.

According to the conservative think tank the National Center for Public Policy Research, Mann received $541,184 in economic stimulus funds last June to conduct climate change research.

It’s one thing to see stimulus dollars funding worthless but predictable make-work projects employing government workers whose jobs were never at risk in an era overseen by liberals hell bent on growing the public sector. It’s quite another to see funding of borrowed taxpayer dollars diverted to support a failed and blatant liberal cause.

It should be a crime.

Governor Pawlenty is Way Off Track

…and so too should be the plan to spend billions, that we don’t have by the way, on a high-speed link to Chicago.

According to the plan, freight and passenger rail 20-year capital costs could range from $6.2 billion, with nearly two-thirds of that provided by federal, state and local government. The Twin Cities-Chicago line is expected to top $1 billion alone.

The plan was ordered last year by the state Legislature, well before a scramble erupted in many states to push their own high-speed rail plans. That was triggered by the infusion of $8 billion in federal stimulus money specifically earmarked for such rail lines nationwide.

Ah yes, the ubiquitous stimulus “dollars.” A misnomer if ever there was one, as they should be called the stimuless “debt.” There are no dollars, and wasting money on what will amount to be a string of empty tin cans traveling the tundra at high speed will stimulate nothing but the sugar-plum dreams of liberals spending other people’s money to build their little fairy tale world.

We can count on the Gov to lay down across the tracks and stop this nonsense, right?

Gov. Tim Pawlenty, previously not a big advocate of high- speed rail, endorsed the Twin Cities-Chicago route last spring.

[sound of scratching record]

Not so much.

Funny thing is, we already have a high-speed link to Chicago.

Its called an airport.

…where by the way, we just spent a mountain of cash on to add another runway

I’ve seen flights as cheap as $25 to Chicago this year.

The Minnesotan that can’t afford a flight has no business in Chicago.

The Chicagoan that can’t…I’d just as soon he stay down there.