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Flat Stanley’s Last 2 Weeks


Stan here again. I’m going back to L.A. to be with my homie Matthew soon, but I’ve been doing a lot of cool things since I got back from Palm Springs and I wanted to update you on my adventures.

First, Dave took me to school with him one day. St. Cloud State University is right on the Mississippi River, so he let me see it. Here are pictures from the Whitney Overlook, a picture of the river itself, and a BEAVER that we saw right by the walking path! Dave tried to get close enough to get me into the shot, but he scurried away too quickly.

From there, we went on a nice road trip across the state. First, it was up to the northern part of Minnesota to Bemidji. Rumor has it that’s where Paul Bunyan and his blue ox Babe are from. They have two really huge statues up there for everyone to take pictures. Bemidji is just a little bit northeast of Lake Itasca, which is where the Mississippi River begins!

On another day, we went down to Minneapolis and got to explore. We went to the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden where they have lots of really cool sculptures. This one is called Spoonbridge and Cherry. If only we had a big tub of ice cream that were at the same scale!

Then we went to a Twins game. Here’s Dave, Sam, their neighbor Lauren, and yours truly!

Finally, we wrapped it up with a trip to Mall of America. Minnesota has no state sales tax on clothing, so they decided to make a huge mall to get people to come and spend money on clothes here. But I found out it’s much more than just a mall. The mall is the whole outside of it, but the entire inside is an amusement park. It used to be Camp Snoopy, with all Snoopy-themed rides. Now it’s the Nickelodeon Universe, with all kinds of Nickelodeon-themed rides. Some of the roller coasters are really pretty big, but we couldn’t go on them because they said I’d blow away. :(

It’s been a blast being up here in Minnesota for the last two months. I’ve seen about every kind of weather imaginable, met some really nice people, and saw some amazing things, both natural and man-made. Everything out here is so much different from back in Simi Valley, and I’ve learned a lot about how other parts of the country are unique in their own way. I can’t wait to try another new place, but this time with my main man Matthew!

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Flat Stanley — back from Palm Springs!


What a fun trip I just had! We landed in Palm Springs on Thursday. Dave and Sam took me in the carry-on and then unfolded me so we could get a good picture at the airport. It’s an open-air airport — they said they’ve never seen anything like that before. You go through security, then you go back out into the open and then to the terminal. It almost felt like we were in a zoo or something.

The night we arrived, they had a street fair. They do it every Thursday night in Palm Springs. It was about a mile of street vendors, food vendors, and all kinds of craziness. We saw this one lady who had a dog dressed in the exact same clothes she had. The dog even had a brown skirt that matched the woman’s outfit. I took a picture with her!

On Sunday morning, we went to another street fair. I don’t know what it is about people in the desert, but it somehow makes them really like street fairs. This one was in the parking lot of a local college and there was some really cool stuff there. Dave got a bunch of snacks, but that was about it. One lady was selling baby strollers designed for dogs. I think the crazy lady from the other picture should buy one for her dog.

Another first came the next day, when we went geocaching! I didn’t know what it was, but it’s like the world’s biggest scavenger hunt. You use your phone’s GPS to find locations of nearby caches. The GPS gets you within about 10 feet and then you use clues and try to find something. This was in a little park area right across from the Palm Springs Convention Center. Looks like a statue and some rocks, right?

But there’s more than meets the eye! By one of the benches were a bunch of rocks. One of them was fake. Can you spot the fake rock?

It’s the darker gray one on the bottom right part of the picture. When you turn it over and open it up, there’s a little container with a long piece of paper.

Everyone who finds it signs their name and dates it, and then you move on to try to find the next one! It’s really fun and I think Matthew and his family would all have lots of fun doing it. It’s a great way to get exercise without feeling like you’re just going for a walk. Here’s me in front of the second one we found.

It was in the stop sign, inside a small plastic container poking through one of the holes in the side, third from the bottom.

In all, we found three of the four we were looking for. The fourth one was by a hotel in an open, desert field. There were lots of rattlesnake burrows and Sam is super-scared of snakes, so we gave up on that one pretty quick.

Sam and Dave spent most of the time either eating in restaurants or lounging by the pool. They didn’t want me to get food on me or accidentally get wet, so I had to stay home for those events. But it was a really fun trip and I was glad I could flatten out and travel with them.

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Flat Stanley 3 — on my way to Palm Springs!


Sam and Dave have decided they have had enough of this crazy Minnesota weather, so they’re headed to Palm Springs for a long weekend. They’re taking me with, so I’ll get to check out Minneapolis, the airport, the plane, and then sunny Palm Springs. Close to home, but it’ll be a different experience. They said they’re just going to lounge by the pool with their neighbors most of the time, so it sounds like fun! I’ll have a full report when we get back to Minneapolis.

– Stan

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Almost Home!


Tomorrow we’ll be back in St. Cloud from a long but amazing trip through France, Italy and Greece. I would apologize for not posting more updates from the trip as we were in each city (which was our intention), but I’m not going to. Internet was spotty at the hotel in about half of our stops, but the real reason was that we were just being too productive with our time. Whether it was seeing ancient ruins or just relaxing by the pool or the beach, we were on an adventure together and that was more important than typing this out. Sam put a bunch of pictures up on Instagram, and we’ll both be putting a whole set up on Facebook in the next week or so.

There are a few major takeaways from our Europe trip that I want to share in the next few days, but I’ll start with the main one: going to Europe is totally doable for pretty much everyone (as long as you can walk up a few flights of stairs without having to stop to catch your breath). We were worried that people wouldn’t speak English, that we wouldn’t be able to navigate the cities, that we’d get pickpocketed, etc. None of those things were a problem. We had talked about going to Europe for over a year, but neither of us were really sure we would do it. We thought something would come up, some excuse good enough to say no, not this year. But we just went ahead with it, thanks in large part to family and friends taking care of our four-legged family members, and we are so thankful that we didn’t back out. There were only two times when we couldn’t communicate with someone we needed to communicate with, but the rest of the time their English was much better than our French/Italian/Greek, and was sufficient to get the information across. We were surprised at how helpful everyone was — as annoying as tourists can sometimes be, we were greeted with hospitality from pretty much every local we met. We found fellow travelers along the way that helped us by letting us know what mistakes they made, so we wouldn’t make them too. (Look for a Rick Steve’s guidebook in someone’s hand and you’ll know that you can speak English with them; it’s useful when you’re trying to get someone to take a picture of both of you and want to make sure they won’t run off with your camera.) We adjusted to the time change pretty much after only one day. The metro (subway) systems in Paris and Rome were more efficient than anything I’ve been on in the US; we only had to use a taxi once on the entire trip. So if you have always wanted to go to see the Eiffel Tower, get a gondola ride in Venice, or see the Parthenon, just go ahead and do it. No more excuses. If we could do it, you can do it.

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Avignon and Nice


While Paris exceeded our expectations and made us think we could be great world travelers and some day take on the Amazing Race, those dreams hit a bit of a bump in the south of France. We took the train from Paris to Avignon. 2.75 hours of amazing comfort later, and it was time to rent a stickshift and drive it about 4 miles to our hotel. Stalled twice in the parking lot but got the hang of it. Couldn’t find our hotel because the website we were using had it two blocks to the east. Found it and couldn’t find a spot to park (this will be a central theme on this trip, I think). But finally made it in.

What we’re thankful for in Avignon: 1. Nice hotels. We take them for granted some times, but just having some of the basic amenities turns out to be a treat when you’ve been deprived of them in Paris.

What we miss from the US: 1. Automatic cars. Sure, I’ll probably love a stickshift by the time we’re done here, but when you don’t know where you are, don’t know where you’re going, all the signs are in another language, and pedestrians always have the right of way, you really wish you had one fewer thing to think about. 2. Ice. We still haven’t had any yet. Just can’t get used to the taste of a warm Coke.

After one night in Avignon, it was time to drive over 2 hours to Nice. The trip went great. Only stalled the car once. Then we got into Nice and everything hit the fan. It’s like Santa Monica on steroids. Cars everywhere, parked on both sides of the street. Motorcycles weaving in and out of everything. We found our hotel and considered parking in front to unload but decided to just find a spot. Bad decision. Twenty minutes later we hightailed it to the galleria to a giant underground parking lot. Went down a few stories and found wide open space. What could go wrong? Nothing — until we came back to the car two hours later to find someone had hit the front of the car. Stupid me didn’t get the full insurance coverage and paid with Discover (which doesn’t offer car rental protection), so we’ll likely be out a few hundred bucks, with a maximum of $1000. But as the French say, C’est la vie!

What we appreciated about Nice: 1. The beach. Absolutely beautiful blue water. The sand isn’t sand, it’s rock. But we rented chairs from the Beau Rivage Hotel and had a nice relaxing time reading and getting over the whole car incident. 2. Ice! A whole bucket of it! 3. Alounak. The most amazing dining experience we’ve ever had. It’s a vegetarian place that does a little bit of meat, and Sam wanted to go for dinner on the first night. It’s run by one person. Just one. He does everything. When we stopped by at 8:30 (about right for French dinner), there was a sign on the door saying “Come back in 30 minutes.” We had a drink at a bar and then came back and he let us in. When you’re the only one working, you can’t let the place get too crowded or nobody will get fed.

I don’t know the owner’s name, but we’ll find out tomorrow when we go back. We were one of the last three tables there at night and he regaled us with playing on a Middle Eastern instrument (the centar?) and then told us stories of his family, his philosophy on running his restaurant, and on life in general. Everything he said was so poignant that we’re actually working some of it into our wedding ceemony. Can’t wait to go back and just be part of his experience.

What we miss about the US in Nice: 1. Not much, other than the ability to drive around. But Nice is a vacation spot, so you shouldn’t expect to be able to drive and park everywhere. It’s a nice little town, close to the beach filled with rich people and their dogs. One more day and then it’s off to Italy.

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First Stop: Paris


We had a great time in Paris. Our room was small, as was expected — but we didn’t expect the sink and toilet could somehow violate the laws of physics and occupy the same space at the same time.

What we are thankful for in Paris: 1. The Metro. I’ve been on many different subway systems in my life, and the Metro was by far the best. The trains ran every 5 minutes and we were never more than 15 minutes away from anything we wanted to get to. 2. The people. Much more friendly and courteous than we have been led to believe. On the rare occasion when someone with whom we needed to interact didn’t speak English, they didn’t chastise us for not speaking French — they apologized for not being about to speak English. But by and large, everyone was very friendly and welcoming. 3. Wine. So much good wine at so cheap a price. 4. The grandeur and the history. The enormity of the Palace of Versailles, the intricacy of the statues, everything is just so big and bold and amazing. There was so much history packed into that one city — it’s hopefully a sign of things to come on our trip.

What we missed about the US while in Paris: 1. Space. Whether it’s to drive, to walk or to move around in your own bathroom, we missed it. We had a nice big room in Avignon at a 4-star hotel (our Paris hotel was 1 or 2 stars, depending on whom you asked), and it was a treat. 2. Sam’s vegetarian products. At the start of the trip, Sam was looking forward to indulging on bread, cheese and wine for a month. Now she’s just wishing she could get a good salad that doesn’t have any meat in it. They have some amazing trois fromage sandwiches (brie, blue, chevre) and some with cheese, tomato and olive tapenade, but it’s starting to wear on her.

All in all, our trip to Paris was actually better than we thought it would be, and has left us very optimistic for the rest of the trip.

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I’m Back!


It’s sad when you realize that it’s been 7 months since you’ve posted anything in your blog. It’s not that I don’t have anything to say any more, just that I don’t have much time. But if you read this, I thought I’d give you an update on what I’ve been doing and what to expect from me in the future.

I’ve been on sabbatical this semester, working on research and a few other things — finishing(ish) half of the basement, writing supplemental material for the Butters/Asarta Principles of Economics textbook that will be out in full release in Fall 2014, and even doing a little work for the already-out Goolsbee/Levitt/Syverson Micro textbook. I’m thankful to the taxpayers of Minnesota for paying my salary, but any time I get the chance to make some extra money from the private sector, I take it.

In two weeks, I’ll be in Paris with my fiancee, Sam, on the first day of a 6-week trip through France, Italy and Greece. It still doesn’t seem real, and probably won’t until we land on another continent. Going to Europe is something I always wanted to do but never really thought I would — kind of like skydiving or being on Survivor. But I have the summer off, and we have amazing neighbors who can watch the cat and my almost-in-laws who can watch the dog (giving her back is another issue entirely…), and I’ve got decent credit. The stars are aligned to give us this chance, and we’re taking it. Other than liking wine, we don’t really consider ourselves too “cultured,” but we’re hoping we’ll pick up a little bit of how the rest of the world lives, view some amazing museums and castles, and hopefully gain an appreciation for how lucky we are to be able to do this kind of thing. And it’s a chance to get away from it all, especially since our iPhones won’t work in Europe (or so the Sprint website tells us).

I’ll be posting occasionally about our trip on this blog — to keep our friends and family informed, and also to have a record of the trip for us to look back on. I don’t want to be that annoying guy bragging about his fancy Europe trip — honestly, that’s not how we’re viewing this trip. And it won’t be that fancy. Heck, for most of it, we’ll be eating street food and kicking back in a park with some wine, cheese and bread.

I’ve decided that what I’m going to do is provide short posts about the different cities we’re in. No real travel advice — that’s what TripAdvisor is for. I’m not going to bore you with all the details of everything we do. You probably won’t care and it will take time away from all the amazingness we’re hoping to experience. I’m sure I’ll post some pictures on Facebook, so you can check those there. But on this blog, I’m going to try to keep things short and sweet. I’m simply going to post a few things that we really appreciated about each place we went to, and a few things we really miss about our life in America. I figure this way we’ll be able to look back on the trip and really focus in on what made it special, but come back with a renewed appreciation for “real life” back in St. Cloud.

Studies have shown that when couples spend their money on trips and experiences together, it increases their happiness more than when they spend their money on “things.” By having a little documentation of our experience, we’ll be able to look back on this and relive the memories. And hopefully you can come along for a little bit of the journey.

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Yesterday I sent this e-mail to the president of our local union, letting him know that I would be leaving the union and becoming a “fair share” member. I will now pay 85% of regular union dues (which help fund the regular operations of the union, from which I benefit), the other 15% supposedly being fees that go towards political activity which I refuse to continue to support. I was going to provide commentary, but I think I’ll just leave the letter as it is and respond in comments if there are any questions. One bit of clarification for readers who are unaware: the Inter-Faculty Organization (IFO) is the Minnesota-wide union representing state professors; the Faculty Association (FA) is SCSU’s local “branch” of the IFO.

As you may or may not have known, I have decided to leave the FA starting Fall 2012. This is mainly the result of issues I have with both the IFO and SCSU’s FA. My decision to leave was not an easy one. The monetary gain is less than $200 and it means I can no longer serve on committees that I have come to value. I would like to share a little bit of why I am doing it so that the you can understand some of the frustrations I’ve had and my reasons for leaving, and it might inform you as to why some faculty members choose to be fair-share members rather than full FA members.

Let me start by saying that I am proud of most of the work that the FA has done while I’ve been Treasurer these last two years. Faced with lower funding from the IFO, we really cut back on our spending and are now on a sustainable path for the future. You, Tom and Polly did a great job managing the spending and cutting out anything that isn’t absoultely necessary. The funding system from the IFO is in part why I am reluctant to pay the extra 15% to go from fair-share member to full FA member. SCSU sees virtually none of that money because of the IFO allocation regime. The vast majority of our funds go to payroll and we have little left for anything else. It’s literally down to popcorn and pretzels for our meetings. It seems to me that in the grand system of the IFO, we’re really in a horrible position. So my opposition to the IFO stems in part from there. If I could earmark my funds to go to SCSU’s FA, this story might be different.

As a Libertarian, I do not consider myself a pro-union person. I do recognize the importance of unions in higher education, so that professors are not punished for unpopular research or opinions. The line that I have heard often from the IFO in this “right to work” debate is that nobody forces you to join a union. But in the case of the IFO, it’s not that simple. In order to receive tenure and promotion, you have to fulfill all 5 criteria, one of which is service to the University and College. The most common way to do that is to serve on committees, and the only way to serve on university or college committees is to be a member of the FA, so we are essentially forced to join or suffer a lower chance of getting tenure/promotion. Now that I have tenure and it looks like I will be promoted to Associate Professor, this threat is no longer relevant. In fact, much of the time I have spent involved in FA activities is (sadly) not appreciated by my colleagues or the university, and as it has come at the expense of research time, it has actually prolonged my promotion by one year; my effort to help has cost me a few thousand dollars already. So unless the administration and my department reconsiders the relative importance of service (which I don’t foresee any time soon), it is clearly in my best interest at this point to leave the union and focus on research if I want to be promoted to full professor.

Aside from the issues of my own personal workload, there have been a few seminal events that have culminated in this decision, and I’d like to go through them so that perhaps you can understand what they have been like from my perspective.

First, the cutbacks and retrenchment that occurred recently were accompanied by several unfortunate things. Everyone I heard speak up about politics in the EC meetings trashed Republicans and praised Democrats. Even when my colleague King Banaian was voting on issues in favor of the IFO, Executive Committee members still insulted him as being “one of them.” I have heard things said about Republicans in EC meetings that, if they had been said about any group of people (minorities, women, etc.), would have been considered racist, sexist or homophobic. There is no respect paid to the fact that millions of Minnesota voters voted in “those people” to try to fix the deficit problem not by raising taxes but by cutting spending. It is as if the message being sent by the FA is: “You people who vote for Republicans are too stupid to understand how government should work or how important education is, so just shut up and give us your money so I can get a raise.” I’m a registered Libertarian who tends to vote Republican because of my focus on economics over social issues, and it pains me to hear people talk so horribly about people with whom they disagree. I do not believe that the solution to every problem is throwing more government money at it, and for that I am insulted by people who are supposed to represent my interests as a faculty member. It’s shameful, especially when it happens by members of EC.

Second, the reaction to the firing of Mahmood Saffari was absolutely ridiculous. In the face of zero evidence, the jump to blame his firing on racism would be comical if it weren’t so sad, and it made the FA look foolish to everyone outside the FA. Equally absurd was the idea that the retrenchment was going to inordinately affect minority faculty members, and the FA had issues with that. First, a contract is a contract is a contract – unless something happens and the politically correct police don’t like it and want to change it, I guess. Second, the fact that most of the youngest professors here are minorities is a GOOD THING! It’s a sign that the administration is NOT racist, that it’s making positive steps to hire more minorities into open positions. And when our union rules dictate that last hired = first fired, so those recent minority hirings may have to go, suddenly the administration is seen as being insensitive to minorities? Ridiculous!

Third, I feel that the IFO has its hands in far too many political issues that have nothing to do with education. The IFO issues a decree against the Voter ID law, which has absolutely nothing to do with my ability to teach my students. (I never hear the IFO say anything about representing students – it’s always about representing faculty – but on this one issue, now we’re supposed to care about how students may be affected if they have to show an ID.) I e-mailed Russ Stanton about this and asked him why the IFO would take a position on something that has nothing to do with education. His response was that the IFO Board decided on it, and the IFO is a democracy, and if I don’t like it I have two choices: get involved or leave the IFO. I’ve been involved and seen how people with my political beliefs are treated, so I have chosen to do the latter. Please let Russ know that I have taken his advice and left, and I thank him for his encouragement. (The recent incident where he wanted to “out” whoever at SCSU was sharing his e-mails is just another reminder that he thinks politics first and education second.)

Fourth, a letter in the IFO March 2012 newsletter written by the current IFO Action Coordinator, Monte Bute, initially referred to Libertarians as “noxious” for supporting right-to-work legislation. I e-mailed him to express my disgust that he would use term for people in his own organization and he agreed it was inappropriate, so he changed it… to “deluded.” Thank you, but I don’t want my union calling me deluded because I disagree with them on something. The take-no-prisoners attitude at the IFO, where people who disagree with them are seen the enemy, is repugnant and I refuse to let my dollars fund a campaign against my own personal beliefs. Please let Monte know that his was the straw that broke this camel’s back, as his piece in the newsletter is what finally convinced me to leave.

If you want more people to join the IFO, you have to show how you are working for them and including everyone in the decision. In far too many ways, I believe that the IFO is working against me and actually considers me an enemy because I disagree with their idea that the best solution for the future of Minnesota is to raise taxes on some people to give it to others. I’m a public employee and my income comes from the citizens of the state of Minnesota. I know that every dollar of my income comes from someone else’s tax dollars, and I believe we have a moral duty to ensure that every dollar we spend is spent appropriately before we start asking for more of other people’s money.

I hope that at some point in the future I can consider re-joining the FA. I have worked on the TPR committee and served as Treasurer for the last few years. My experience has taught me much about how the union, the administration, and this university work. Having a seat at the table has been extremely informative, especially during the retrenchment process when my job was on the line. I will miss serving on some committees, but I feel at this point that I have to make a statement about what I find to be unacceptable in the union and this is the only way available for me to do this.


New Publication


I received word today that my article in the Journal of Industrial Organization Education on the Hotelling Model is finally published.

This comes on the same day I received an e-mail from my school asking me to take a survey about online research and resources.

The survey made me realize that almost all of my research is based online now. All journals have an online presence, and some like Berkeley Electronic Press are exclusively online. The costs of printing used to limit the supply of available journal spots, making it harder to publish. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the standards of online journals are any less strict. My work was peer-reviewed, by the editor of the journal himself, James Dearden, who was the most helpful editor I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. I’ve since done a review for another article in BEPress, and I took the same care I did with other print-based journals.

Online is going to be the future of academic publications, and it doesn’t have to be inferior. BEPress does a great job and I recommend it to my colleagues in academia.

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Banning the Burka


I’m saddened by the news that Belgium is close to banning the burka.

Muslim immigrants have had a difficult time assimilating in some European countries and this certainly isn’t going to help. I understand and am in favor of some of the rules that some European governments have had to impose, like the one saying you have to actually show your face on your identification card so the government can actually identify you. Call me crazy, but if your face isn’t showing, it’s not a useful means of identification.

But when it gets to the point where you ban an article of clothing for women, one that has important religious meaning, because you’re afraid that male terrorists could wear them and move about unknown, I almost don’t know what to say. It makes me want to get up on my soapbox and do my best Keith Olbermann impression: “How DARE you, sir! Have you no SHAME?”

After 9/11 when Muslim groups like CAIR were saying that it was unfair that more Muslims were screened in airport security, I was admittedly not very sympathetic to their concerns. I have always said that if white, blue-eyed, blonde males ages 30-40 were bombing train stations, then I would have no problem going through extra security when I went to board a train. I would be mad at the people who were doing the bombing, who were tarnishing my image, not at the people who had to put me through greater security to ensure I was not one of the bad guys. I would be sympathetic to the government and understanding of their need for hightened scrutiny of people who looked like me.

But I think this goes too far. If this law passes, it’s going to set back relations with the Muslim community in Belgium, without question. Perhaps that’s part of the agenda here: make them feel unwanted and maybe they’ll leave and some other country can worry about them instead. I wish I weren’t so cynical, but it’s hard not to be at a time like this.

I know European countries do not appreciate rights and freedoms to the extent that we do. Denying the Holocaust is a crime in Austria, for example. Some will say that this kind of thing could never happen in this country. I would hope that is true. But we live in an age where many on the political left look to Europe for guidance; where some Supreme Court justices pay more attention to European law than the U.S. Constitution, for example. At the same time, some on the right would say that in the name of a war that may potentially last forever, we should be able to infringe on individual rights granted to us in the Constitution.

Let this example from Belgium shatter the myth forever that a more European society, with a stronger government presence and fewer civil liberties, is something to which America should aspire.

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The tragedy in Haiti, and our response to it, has been both devastating and encouraging. As the saying goes, in times of crisis both the best and the worst come out in people. While some heroically step up to help their neighbors, others loot and attack. Personally, I’ve had a difficult time watching the news, watching people dying in front of my eyes. Wyclef Jean was on the news talking about how he and his wife had spent all day Thursday removing dead bodies from the middle of the streets, hoping to preserve some kind of dignity to the victims. I’ve had to shut the news off, not because I’m callous but because it’s all too real and too heart-breaking.

Those that study how earthquakes affect physical structures have a saying: earthquakes don’t kill people, buildings do. The devastation in Haiti is a result of two things: lack of economic development and hurricanes. Hurricanes wreak havoc on Haiti frequently, so structures are made with very heavy roofs. Lack of economic development means that Haiti’s brick structures, including walls, are made without reinforcing steel bars (rebar). They are made with more sand and less concrete. A earthquake that would just crack an American wall will take down a Haitian one. That’s not jingoism — it’s science. Heavy roofs + weak walls + earthquakes = disaster.

The Obama administration has pledged $100 million to Haiti. This is a paltry sum — the NBC late night disaster was recently reported to cost NBC about $200 million — but it’s still $100 million too much. It is not the federal goverment’s responsibility to provide money to people in other countries. Our founders had a problem even with using federal resources to help individual states, let alone other countries. That’s the U.N.’s job.

Our government has the ability to help in many ways and marshall many assets that the private sector simply cannot: coast guard ships and helicopters, for example. But giving money is not their job. It is the responsibility of every citizen across this great country to give what they can. Most of the funds to help the people of Haiti will come from charity — private citizens and firms, as it used to be done. As it was done after the great fire in Chicago. As it was done after the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco. But when you set the precedent that after every natural disaster the federal government will provide not just emergency disaster relief but long-term financial relief, it’s hard to draw the line.

Watching football this weekend, I was impressed at the speed with which we have set up campaigns to help the Haitian people. I am also impressed by our ability to use technology for this — text the word “Haiti” to 90999 and a charitable donation of $10 will be made to the Red Cross and you can pay for it on your next mobile phone bill. Amazing. I’m confident that the Red Cross will raise more for Haiti than was raised for tsunami relief a few years ago, but I wonder how much will be a result of the devastation itself or the proximity of Haiti to the US, and how much will be because it’s just so much easier for people to donate this time around.

I encourage you to do what I’m going to do and cut back on some spending this next week or two and make a little donation to the Red Cross. You can bring lunch to school instead of buying it, or buy regular coffee instead of a fancy mocha. A lot of us have already started doing those things because of the recession, but there are still other ways we can all save money if we need to.

We are the greatest, most generous country on the planet. People in other countries call us empirialistic, hegemonic, warmongering, rude Americans…and then tragedy strikes and they desperately plead for us to help them. Let us not let those pleas go unheard. Let’s show that the American people and the American government are not the same thing. Let’s show that we do not need the government to provide everything for us, and that private charities can do a much better job of raising funds and delivering help to people who need it than some bureaucrat in Washington ever could.

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Sick of it


I haven’t posted anything in a while — I’ve been sick since Thursday and it doesn’t seem to be getting much better. I don’t do sick well — I worry about my classes, getting behind in the semester schedule, and rescheduling exams, when I should just be relaxing so my body can fight whatever’s going on inside me.

When the semester began, administration e-mailed faculty and told us that due to H1N1 fears, they were advising students to stay home if they felt sick. They told us that we could not require notes from doctors, as that would give students a disincentive to stay home if they felt sick but couldn’t get to a doctor. This basically gives students a get-out-of-jail-free card in case they haven’t studied for an exam. There’s no doubt that some students will take advantage of it, so some (including me) were a bit annoyed by the policy. It means that many of us will have to write another version of an exam and hope that students aren’t playing us for suckers. But I understand the issues at play and the administration’s concern about the flu, and I realize there’s no perfect solution here. Their primary concern is limiting the spread of the flu, and everything else comes second.

Fortunately, I don’t have H1N1 — my temperature has been about 2 degrees below normal, the opposite effect of H1N1. But I decided that it was better to be safe and cancel class today and stay home in bed. I didn’t want to give anybody what I have, and with my immune system compromised, I didn’t really want to risk catching the flu from someone at school. I was hoping that I could rest up and get better but that didn’t happen today. So I’ll stay in bed tomorrow, catch up on Maury (“You are… NOT the father!” ), and hopefully turn the corner on this thing so I can at least go to my classes on Wednesday.

And yes, I’m drinking lots of orange juice, Mom.

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Posting by iPhone


WordPress introduced a new app for the iPhone that should allow me to post from my phone. If you’re reading this, it works.

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We Deserve Better


(Note: the original title of this post was “Debating Dishonestly with Bernie Sanders” but was changed the focus of the post was an interview, not an actual debate.)

I’m not even sure why Bernie Sanders shows up on Fox News if he’s going to act like he did in today’s interview with Megyn Kelly. He’s listed as an Independent but is a self-proclaimed Socialist, as is abundantly clear in this interview. Here’s a link to the video from Fox. Normally I would just include some parts of this interview, but I did the whole thing here because Fox’s “automatically generated transcript” on the web page linked above is junk. They warn that it “may not be 100% accurate.” But when “fair tax system”  in the interview becomes “theft tax Muslim” in the transcript, the transcript is worthless.

To make it interesting, I’m keeping track of the lies, non-answers, and evasive answers Sanders gives in the interview.

To start off, Kelly plays a clip of the Director of the (non-partisan) Congressional Budget Office stating that the federal responsibility for health care costs will increase if any of the new proposed health care bills pass, despite claims by some Democrats that it will actually bring costs down.

Kelly: The Washington Post calls that a “devastating assessment” for the Democrats who want to overhaul health care. How do you respond, sir?

Sanders: Well, I respond in a couple of ways. I think the CBO does not necessarily (and by definition cannot) take into its calculations the role of disease prevention. We spend a huge amount of money treating chronic disease. We do not do a good job in keeping people healthy. And the effort so far in Congress is to try to do that, and it’s hard to calculate what that will be.

Also, we have a disaster in terms of primary health care, Megyn. We have 60 million Americans who have no doctor at all right now. They end up in the emergency room. They end up in hospital much sicker than they should have been. This legislation puts a great deal of emphasis in getting more doctors out into primary health care and I think we save substantial sums of money in that area as well. And it’s hard to calculate what that will mean in the future.

But the last point that I would make in terms of where I think the CBO Director makes a point. Right now, as a nation, as you know, we spend twice as much — almost twice as much — as any other country on earth in terms of our per capita cost of health care. Why is that? Why do the French in general — they’ve generally got a better system than we do — spending half of what we do? And the answer is that they have, as most countries around the world, industrialized countries, have a single-payer Medicare program for all, which eliminates in our country some $400 billion in waste and inefficiencies, in bureaucracies, that occur when we have 1,300 private health insurance, thousands of different health care programs, millions of bureaucrats.

Some of Sanders’ points have validity. If we reduce health care costs by reducing chronic disease, that’s great. But the CBO report does in fact consider the impact of preventative health care. It’s just that the people pushing the health care bills, like Dick Durbin, think it  has underestimated those savings. (Note in the link Christopher Dodd also admits the bill won’t actually decrease costs; he says it will “bend the curve” and slow the rate of growth of costs — those are two entirely different things.) So that’s the first lie for Sanders: he says the CBO doesn’t consider the savings at all, when in fact they do make an effort to account for them. His second lie is that we spend almost twice as much as any other country. We’re at 15% and there are 6 other countries over 10%. We spend about 40% more than the number two country, Switzerland. Facts, shmacts, eh Bernie?

Score: Lies: 2, Non-answers: 0, Evasive Answers: 0

Kelly: Alright, but let me just steer you back on point, Senator, because I know — just for now, anyway, for now I know we’re not talking about one universal health care system that’s being proposed, although many people think that’s where the President wants to take us. I know you’ve said in the past that’s where you think we should be. Despite your criticism of the CBO, they have said — I mean, this is their job, is to crunch the numbers — they’re the ones who said it’s going to cost about a trillion dollars. Now they come out and say this whole thing, not only is it not going to help these skyrocketing costs in the health care system, but it’s going to make them worse, and suggesting that the financial crisis we are in right now is going to be worsened by all of these plans that the Democrats are proposing on Capital Hill. [Note: the “financial crisis” of which she speaks is the federal budget deficit specifically, not the larger economy as a whole.]

Sanders: Well, two responses, Megyn. Again, I think that the nature of the CBO is not to be able, because it’s very difficult… I mean, if we have, we allow people to go to the doctor before they get very sick and end up in the hospital, could you make a prediction of what kind of savings that would incur? But the second point that we have to address is, what happens if we do nothing? If we continue the disaster by which 46 million Americans have no health insurance and costs go up 10, 15, 20% every year? What studies tell us is that in 10 years, the average American will be paying double what he or she is paying today. Is that sustainable? And the answer, it’s not.

Note that Sanders is now saying that it’s impossible to account for the savings we’ll get by improving patient care and reducing chronic health problems. He already implied that we would save a lot of money, but now he says it’s impossible to know how much. So if you don’t know how much, how do you know that the decrease in spending on chronic care is going to offset the increase in other costs? Does Sanders make any effort to estimate the savings that might result? No, he doesn’t. The CBO actually did, whether Sanders acknowledges it or not. He argues that it’s impossible to get an accurate number without addressing the methodology they used at all. We learn quickly in economics that if you think a model is incorrect, your responsibility is to put forth a better model. Sanders doesn’t even try that here.

Kelly: I think there’s some debate on those numbers, Senator, because I know that that’s the number from the administration: 46-47 million Americans uninsured. But that includes illegals, who will not be covered by this bill, 11 or 12 million of them. That also includes people who have just chosen not to insure themselves because the so-called “invincibles,” people in their 20’s and so on.

Sanders: That may be, but those people…

Kelly: But listen, I want to get to this other point before we run out of time, and that’s this tax hike that’s been proposed by the House, that would now place the so-called high earners, the so-called wealthy, in a tax bracket that is really astronomical, Senator. We’re talking about people, in New York City for example, who would be facing almost 60% of their income going away in taxes.

First, Kelly reduces her credibility as an objective journalist here by throwing in the term “so-called” in front of high earners and wealthy. This plan would impact the top 1% of earners. They’re not the “so-called” high-earners — they’re wealthy, plain and simple. In muddying that, she does a disservice to herself. Second, Kelly is making the argument based on federal income tax, the new health care surtax, state income taxes and city income taxes. But she makes a mistake here by saying that “60% of their income” would go away. She should have said that it was the marginal rate on additional income (above a half million or a million dollars, depending on the bill). The rate at lower levels is obviously lower, so the percentage of the income paid in taxes would be less than 60%. Unless you include sales taxes, property taxes, gas taxes, alcohol taxes, cell phone taxes, cigarette taxes, cable television taxes… come to think of it, Megyn might be close on this one after all.

Sanders: And who are those people? Those are the people, Megyn, those may be the people at Goldman Sachs who just got their compensation at seven hundred…

Kelly: No, sir. It’s not just the Goldman Sachs people.

Sanders: No, well, I don’t agree with you.

In Bernie Sanders’ world, all rich people are Wall Street bankers. You just heard him say it. I have to create a new statistic for this.

Score: Lies: 2, Non-answers: 0, Evasive Answers: 0, Unwillingness to Accept Reality: 1.

Kelly: Oh, yes it is.

Sanders: It’s a graduated, it’s a graduated tax.

Now Sanders is reminding Megyn that this is about marginal tax rates, but that has nothing to do with the point at hand which was about who these people are. He’s trying to change the subject, which I’m not keeping track of, but that’s also a cheap debate tactic. Megyn’s not having any of it, and continues.

Kelly: Listen, don’t take my word for it. Take Steve Forbes’ word for it, who was just on our air about two hours ago explaining how these are small business owners.

Sanders: Well, I might not take Steve Forbes’ word for it either. But the bottom line is, if you look at what’s going on right now, our friends in Wall Street who caused the most significant financial crisis since the Great Depression are now being paid $700,000 a year after being bailed out by the taxpayers of this country.

Megyn: Sir, it’s easy to blame the Wall Street fatcats, but I’m talking about — you know that it’s not all Wall Street fatcats that are going to get hit by this. People who are making $500,000 a year include small business who get taxed as individuals, and they are saying jobs are gonna go away.

Sanders: Well, what I am saying is that if we do not do something, whatever it may be, you’re gonna see a doubling of health care costs, which will be destructive to small businesses and every American. We’ve got to do something. To the degree we have to pay for it, it should not be the middle class, but upper-income people.

Score: Lies: 2, Non-answers: 0, Evasive Answers: 1, Unwillingness to Accept Reality: 1.

Sanders avoids the Wall Street fatcats question by saying basically, “Well, we have to do something.” Now at this point, if you’ve been reading my blog faithfully, you should know my head is about to explode. I wrote about this back in February: using the “we have to do something” excuse to justify a program regardless of how bad it might be. That led us to the ARRA (aka the Stimulus bill), which we all can see now is not really a stimulus bill at all — which is why unemployment is still rising. And one more reason I love Megyn Kelly: she can read my mind.

Kelly: Something! So now we’re on the same page about something. So let’s accept that something must be done. The question is whether taxing…

Sanders: Well, the Republican party does not accept that, by the way.

First, he’s rude and interrupting her here. Second, he’s lying again. All this “Republicans don’t suggest anything” nonsense is getting old. Democrats come out with a plan. Republicans counter with something else. Then Democrats ignore the plan and say “Republicans don’t have any alternatives.” Just because you don’t like an alternate plan does not mean it’s not a plan.

Score: Lies: 3, Non-answers: 0, Evasive Answers: 1, Unwillingness to Accept Reality: 1.

Kelly: …whether more taxing. Let me finish my question. The question is whether more taxes, in a recession in particular, on the people who create jobs is the answer, as your colleague in the House, Nancy Pelosi, thinks.

Sanders: If you don’t do anything about health care and costs double in 10 years, that will be destructive not only to people but to the economy as well. The top 1% today earn more income than the bottom 50. I am not going to raise taxes on the middle class or working families. Our friends on Wall Street can in fact afford to pay more in taxes.

In case you’re wondering, Sanders’ statistic is actually true. The top 1% of income tax returns account for 22% of total income, while the bottom 50% only account for 12% of total income. However, this part of the interview is about taxes and how much the rich can afford to pay, so here are some more facts: the top 1% of income tax returns paid 40% of the income taxes, while the bottom 50% paid just 3%. The average tax rate paid by the bottom 50% is 3% of income, while the average tax rate paid by the top 1% is 23%. The rich pay a lot in taxes, but the question is: how much would Sanders have them pay?

Kelly: It’s not just Wall Street, sir. At what point do you draw the line? 70% income tax okay with you? 80% income tax okay with you?

Sanders: Well, as you know, under Bush the taxes for the very wealthy went substantially down and the gap between the rich and everybody else grew wider.

Score: Lies: 3, Non-answers: 1, Evasive Answers: 1, Unwillingness to Accept Reality: 1.

Kelly: Well, but you’re fixing that.

Sanders: I do not stay up nights worrying for our friends on Wall Street, as some people may.

Kelly: But really, I’m wondering, where do you draw the line? Does 60% not shock the conscience?

Sanders: Well that’s, we can discuss… Well, again, Bush lowered taxes to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars for the top 1%.

Score: Lies: 3, Non-answers: 2, Evasive Answers: 1, Unwillingness to Accept Reality: 1.

Kelly: But answer my question. Does 60% not shock the conscience?

Sanders: Well, next time around we can talk about a fair tax system. How’s that?

Score: Lies: 3, Non-answers: 3, Evasive Answers: 1, Unwillingness to Accept Reality: 1.

Kelly: No, no. This is, sir, you’re about to have to vote on this. This thing may pass in the House. It’s gonna come over to you in the Senate…

Sanders: (interrupting yet again) If you’re asking me if I will vote…

Kelly: …and I’m asking you if this is okay with you.

Sanders: Well, it certainly is okay for me to tell my friends on Wall Street who just got a bonus of $600,000 they’re gonna pay more in taxes so that we can lower health care costs in America. Yeah, that’s okay with me.

Something tells me he doesn’t really have friends on Wall Street. If he does, he might not after this interview.

Kelly: So you want our viewers to believe that everybody who is going to be affected is a Wall Street fatcat.

Sanders: I want your viewers to believe that if we do nothing right now, this country’s gonna be in very serious trouble.

Score: Lies: 3, Non-answers: 3, Evasive Answers: 2, Unwillingness to Accept Reality: 1.

Kelly: Okay, but sir, you’re not answering my question.

Sanders: Well, I did my best.

Score: Lies: 4, Non-answers: 3, Evasive Answers: 2, Unwillingness to Accept Reality: 1.

Yes, I scored that one as a lie. If this is truly his best, he’s too stupid to be a U.S. Senator. (Or maybe not — we did just get Al Franken.) Regardless, I choose to believe that he’s lying about giving his best.

Kelly: You and I both know it’s not all Wall Street fatcats. You won’t answer the question about how much is too much. You know, our viewers want answers to these questions, sir.

Sanders: Well, I will answer the question. When the top 1% earn more than the bottom 50%, I’m not gonna ask the bottom 50% to pay more.

Score: Lies: 4, Non-answers: 3, Evasive Answers: 3, Unwillingness to Accept Reality: 1.

No, Senator, you did not answer the question. Maybe some of the people who vote for you are too stupid to know when you’re answering a different question than the one you were actually asked, but some of us are not.

Kelly: All right. So I guess 60, 70, 80% is all right for now.

Sanders: No, that’s not what I said, Megyn. Don’t put words in my mouth.

Kelly: Well, you won’t answer one way or the other, sir, so I can only assume the answer’s yes.

Beautiful work, Megyn. He actually thinks that not answering the question when it was asked 3 times means we don’t know what he really thinks. At this point, I don’t know if Sanders is an idiot or if he just thinks everyone watching the interview is.

Sanders: Well, we’re gonna go after the top 1 or 2%. I think that that’s appropriate if we need to raise revenue rather than going after the middle class.

Score: Lies: 4, Non-answers: 4, Evasive Answers: 3, Unwillingness to Accept Reality: 1.

I do love his use of the phrase “go after” here. It is so revealing.

Kelly: Alright. Senator Bernie Sanders, thanks for coming on.  We appreciate you being here.

Sanders: Thank you.

There you have it. In a 7-minute interview, Bernie Sanders either lies, evades a question, or simply doesn’t answer a straightforward question a total of 11 times. Shouldn’t we expect better from the people who represent us and are so willing to spend our money?

I am so sick of people debating dishonestly, which is what Sanders does here. Don’t like a question? Don’t answer it. Don’t have an answer for something, or think your true answer might shock the people who are watching? Don’t answer it, or change the subject and hope we’re too stupid to notice. Don’t like the results other people find in their study? Lie about their methodology, or say it’s impossible to know what the right answer is.

I see a lot of this happening now with the health care debate. People pick one statistic that helps their argument (U.S. pays more per capita than other countries), while ignoring another that hurts it (our cancer survival rates are better than practically every other country). When a statistic runs contrary to their position, they pick it apart and argue that it is not accurate. When the statistic supports their argument, they believe it is the gospel truth and don’t care to learn more about what’s behind it. For example, people who want health care reform often cite the statistic that our life expectancy is lower than other countries. It’s 100% true but totally misleading if your goal is discussing the efficacy of different health care systems. When you account for our rate of violent crime death and fatal accidents, our life expectancy is actually higher than almost every other country. This is because a larger percentage of our population dies due to crime than most other developed countries, and we drive more miles per person than any other country on the planet, so we have more fatal accidents. These people don’t die because of our health care system — if you get shot in the head or are in a head-on collision without a seatbelt, you’re going to die whether you’re in the U.S., Canada, or Cuba. Life expectancy depends on more than just the health care system, so it’s misleading to use that one statistic as a barometer for our entire health care system. Yet people do it all the time.

The sad part is that Sanders thinks he’s a brilliant man. He likely thinks he did great in that interview. But by not answering the questions he didn’t like, or trying so hard to change the topic, his true views are crystal clear. We’re not as stupid as you think we are, Bernie.


Vacation, part two


I’ll be in Vancouver for a few days for the Western Economics Association International meetings, so I won’t be posting anything for until I get back mid-week. I get to see a beautiful city, check out what is supposed to be an amazing aquarium, have some nice meals, present my DVD paper, and reconnect with people from other schools I haven’t seen in a year or two, while the school picks up the tab for the flight and hotel. :)

This has been a chance to try to figure out how my iPhone is going to work in Canada. It’s $.79 to make a call to another US number while in Canada, a little less to send a text, same price to receive a text. I can buy an international calling plan for $5/month, but that only reduces the cost per call to $.59, probably not worth it. The cheapest international data plan is $25, which seems like too much for me. I’ve downloaded some wi-fi spot-seeking applications so I can still access the internet and e-mail that way instead of through the 3G network. I’ll be in a foreign city trying to meet up with friends and colleagues at several different hotels, all while trying not to use my phone because I’m so cheap. Should be interesting.

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