Friday, December 30, 2011

The Walker Art Center's bizarre performance.

The Walker Art Center is sponsoring a performance by the Young Jean Lee's Theater Company entitled, "Out There". I think a more apt description would be "Out of control" or "Lost in space". Come up with your title after reading the description below.


Thursday-Jan. 7: Each year at this time, Walker Art Center manages to convince four of the world's most innovative, cutting-edge theater artists and companies to come to Minneapolis in January and be part of the "Out There" series. This year's invitees hail from New York, Tokyo, Beirut and Buenos Aires. The first to arrive is the New York-based Young Jean Lee's Theater Company, which presents "Untitled Feminist Show," a new piece commissioned by the Walker that examines what life might be like without traditional gender categories. Expect some nudity. No, check that: Expect a lot of nudity. 8 p.m. Thursday-Jan. 7; McGuire Theater, Walker Art Center, 1750 Hennepin Ave., Mpls.; $22-$15; 612-375-7600 or
I wonder if the Walker receives taxpayer dollars.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

New tests on Shroud of Turin say it's not a medieval forgery.

A new study of the Shroud of Turin say it couldn't have been the result of an elaborate medieval forgery. The technology wasn't available then. Where did it come from? While scientists won't make nonscientific conclusions, the evidence clearly points to the traditional claims that it was the burial cloth of Christ.

Italian scientists have conducted a series of advanced experiments which, they claim, show that the marks on the shroud – purportedly left by the imprint of Christ's body – could not possibly have been faked with technology that was available in the medieval period.

The research will be an early Christmas present for shroud believers, but is likely to be greeted with scepticism by those who doubt that the sepia-coloured, 14ft-long cloth dates from Christ's crucifixion 2,000 years ago.

Sceptics have long claimed that the shroud is a medieval forgery, and radiocarbon testing conducted by laboratories in Oxford, Zurich and Arizona in 1988 appeared to back up the theory, suggesting that it dated from between 1260 and 1390.

But those tests were in turn disputed on the basis that they were skewed by contamination by fibres from cloth that was used to repair the relic when it was damaged by fire in the Middle Ages.

The new study is the latest intriguing piece of a puzzle which has baffled scientists for centuries and spawned an entire industry of research, books and documentaries.

"The double image (front and back) of a scourged and crucified man, barely visible on the linen cloth of the Shroud of Turin, has many physical and chemical characteristics that are so particular that the staining ... is impossible to obtain in a laboratory," concluded experts from Italy's National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Development.

The scientists set out to "identify the physical and chemical processes capable of generating a colour similar to that of the image on the Shroud." They concluded that the exact shade, texture and depth of the imprints on the cloth could only be produced with the aid of ultraviolet lasers – technology that was clearly not available in medieval times.
While the study doesn't claim that it was the burial cloth of Christ. Eliminating the argument that it was a medieval forgery eliminates a significant opposing argument.

Some skeptics will continue to argue against the idea that it was Christ's burial cloth because they don't believe Jesus is who He said He is. But for those open and/or struggling with doubts it offers interesting evidence in support of Christ's humanity.

The Vatican has never said whether it believes the shroud to be authentic or not, although Pope Benedict XVI has said that the enigmatic image imprinted on the cloth "reminds us always" of Christ's suffering.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

For Star Tribune editorial writers, all roads lead to social issues

Both in their discussion of past Senate Majority leader Amy Koch and her successor Senator Dave Senjem, all roads lead back to social issues. In the former instance, the Marriage Protection Amendment was targeted and in the latter it was "divisive social measures", in particular ones which might also end up on the ballot. They of course are fearful that ones they disagree with, yet have strong public support, might end up getting passed into law.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Why are millennials leaving church?

Here's an interesting article on the reasons young people are giving for leaving church.
Reason #1 – Churches seem overprotective.
A few of the defining characteristics of today's teens and young adults are their unprecedented access to ideas and worldviews as well as their prodigious consumption of popular culture. As Christians, they express the desire for their faith in Christ to connect to the world they live in. However, much of their experience of Christianity feels stifling, fear-based and risk-averse. One-quarter of 18- to 29-year-olds said “Christians demonize everything outside of the church” (23% indicated this “completely” or “mostly” describes their experience). Other perceptions in this category include “church ignoring the problems of the real world” (22%) and “my church is too concerned that movies, music, and video games are harmful” (18%).

Reason #2 – Teens’ and twentysomethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow.
A second reason that young people depart church as young adults is that something is lacking in their experience of church. One-third said “church is boring” (31%). One-quarter of these young adults said that “faith is not relevant to my career or interests” (24%) or that “the Bible is not taught clearly or often enough” (23%). Sadly, one-fifth of these young adults who attended a church as a teenager said that “God seems missing from my experience of church” (20%).

Reason #3 – Churches come across as antagonistic to science.
One of the reasons young adults feel disconnected from church or from faith is the tension they feel between Christianity and science. The most common of the perceptions in this arena is “Christians are too confident they know all the answers” (35%). Three out of ten young adults with a Christian background feel that “churches are out of step with the scientific world we live in” (29%). Another one-quarter embrace the perception that “Christianity is anti-science” (25%). And nearly the same proportion (23%) said they have “been turned off by the creation-versus-evolution debate.” Furthermore, the research shows that many science-minded young Christians are struggling to find ways of staying faithful to their beliefs and to their professional calling in science-related industries.
Five Myths about Young Adult Church Dropouts

Reason #4 – Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental.
With unfettered access to digital pornography and immersed in a culture that values hyper-sexuality over wholeness, teen and twentysometing Christians are struggling with how to live meaningful lives in terms of sex and sexuality. One of the significant tensions for many young believers is how to live up to the church's expectations of chastity and sexual purity in this culture, especially as the age of first marriage is now commonly delayed to the late twenties. Research indicates that most young Christians are as sexually active as their non-Christian peers, even though they are more conservative in their attitudes about sexuality. One-sixth of young Christians (17%) said they “have made mistakes and feel judged in church because of them.” The issue of sexuality is particularly salient among 18- to 29-year-old Catholics, among whom two out of five (40%) said the church’s “teachings on sexuality and birth control are out of date.”

Reason #5 – They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity.
Younger Americans have been shaped by a culture that esteems open-mindedness, tolerance and acceptance. Today’s youth and young adults also are the most eclectic generation in American history in terms of race, ethnicity, sexuality, religion, technological tools and sources of authority. Most young adults want to find areas of common ground with each other, sometimes even if that means glossing over real differences. Three out of ten young Christians (29%) said “churches are afraid of the beliefs of other faiths” and an identical proportion felt they are “forced to choose between my faith and my friends.” One-fifth of young adults with a Christian background said “church is like a country club, only for insiders” (22%).

Reason #6 – The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt.
Young adults with Christian experience say the church is not a place that allows them to express doubts. They do not feel safe admitting that sometimes Christianity does not make sense. In addition, many feel that the church’s response to doubt is trivial. Some of the perceptions in this regard include not being able “to ask my most pressing life questions in church” (36%) and having “significant intellectual doubts about my faith” (23%). In a related theme of how churches struggle to help young adults who feel marginalized, about one out of every six young adults with a Christian background said their faith “does not help with depression or other emotional problems” they experience (18%).
I'd summarize this as the church isn't real and relevant to their lives generally. And there's the issue of whether they want to embrace it when they clearly understand it. The first reasons need to be addressed and lead to changes in the church's activities and message. The second one can't be addressed. Ultimately there is a choice involved on the part of the individual.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Tebow and antipathy towards Christianity

There's been a lot of attention paid to Tim Tebow and "tebowing"; his practice of kneeling and saying a prayer after scoring a touchdown. Lots of players have done this but never revoked such a strong reaction.

I think Chuck Colson gets at the heart of the situation -- it's antipathy towards Christianity.

points to the scandalous behavior of some athletes:
A few weeks ago, the college basketball game between Cincinnati and Xavier ended in a bench-clearing brawl. The fight got so bad that the referees decided not to play the last nine seconds. The media and fans were rightly appalled and demanded harsh measures.

This debacle came only a week after the NFL announced that eleven players had failed drug tests. Two of the players, from the Washington Redskins, were suspended for the rest of the season because this was their third offense. The media and Redskins fans were appalled and wondered how anyone could be so foolish and irresponsible.

These stories represent the tiniest tip of a huge iceberg. It seems that no news cycle is complete without a story about some athlete getting into trouble both on and off the field.

Then he points to the probably the most controversial athlete in America who does what? Prays.

Yet, by many accounts, the most controversial athlete in America is a God-fearing man who grew up serving the poor overseas and whose teammates would walk through fire for.

I’m speaking of course of Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow. A recent piece in the Atlantic Monthly named him as one of the “15 Most Divisive Athletes in Recent History.” Others on the list included Michael Vick, Barry Bonds, Dennis Rodman, Pete Rose and O.J. Simpson.

So, let’s see . . . that’s one man convicted of animal cruelty, another of obstruction of justice, yet another of tax evasion and banned from baseball for betting on games, someone who probably killed his ex-wife, and a guy who appeared at a book signing wearing a dress.
Why's he controversial?
What did Tebow do to make this august list? Essentially, he is upfront about his Christian faith and that he made an ad saying that he was glad that his mother didn’t abort him.

Even with this, the controversy over Tebow is hard to understand. After all, he’s hardly the only Christian football player or even quarterback. Players kneeling on the sidelines in prayer is almost as much a part of the NFL as cheerleaders.

...Ultimately, what makes Tebow “divisive” and “controversial” has little, if anything, to do with what he does on the field. It’s all about our increasing intolerance of faith in public life. Tebow isn't trying to “impose” anything on anyone besides himself.

Yet, even that is too much for some people. I can’t help but suspect that our generation is getting the kind of athletes it deserves. So, maybe, Tebow should just wear a wedding dress . . .
What other renowned person was viciously attacked and simply couldn't please some people?
When you add the appalling, often-criminal, behavior of many athletes, calling Tebow “divisive” brings to mind the words of Jesus denunciation of the Pharisees for their hypocrisy. It also brings to mind the story He told about, “we played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.”

There is nothing that Tebow can do, it seems, that will really please people. And that’s ironic because there’s never been a time when people wanted more good role models for their children.

I guess they want the role models — especially religious ones — to be silent, however, about what motivates them.
It's a sign of our times and a bit scary when morally upright guys get viciously attacked for being religious.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Washington Post columnist supports marriage but also wants to undercut it.

The intellectual confusion over marriage was evident in two recent columns by Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus. First, she calls for the redefinition of marriage in a December 8th column, because its supposedly good politics. And then in a December 19th column she bemoans the drop of marriage rates and rise in cohabitation as the source of significant social problems, e.g. growing economic inequality and poverty.

If current trends hold, within a few years less than half the U.S. adult population will be married.

This precipitous decline isn't just a social problem -- although it is that, too -- it's an economic problem. Specifically, it's an income-inequality and economic-mobility problem.

The steadily dropping marriage rate both contributes to income inequality and further entrenches it.
How can she come up with contradictory positions? If you read the column, her focus is almost exclusively on the impact it has on adults. Children are only briefly mentioned relative to the instability of cohabiting and divorced households. There's less stability. And in the case of divorce, greater poverty.

Why does she fail to see that the importance of family structure includes the inclusion of the man and woman in the marriage relationship? I suspect, because she's lost sight of the importance of children. Marriage has become the proverbial "loving committed relationship between two adults" which exists to satisfy the desires of adults whatever those desires might be. If children are important to fulfill those desires then by all means have children. If they're not, then definitely don't have kids.

Of course, this attitude is leading towards a crisis in the West - birth rates well below the replacement rate. This will lead to a significant socil crisis over the next few decades.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Who's the biggest threat to the country? Big government, big business, or big labor?

If you believe big government is the biggest threat to our nation in the future, you share company with lots of Americans, 64% of Americans to be exact. That's the finding of a recent Gallup poll. It's one point shy of the all-time record set in 2000. It's up from 35% in 1965.

Business dropped from 32% in 2009 to 26% today. And labor is at 8%. Pretty much unchanged. It was at 29% in 1965.

Maybe the biggest surprise were the numbers among Democrats. 48% of Democrats see government as the greatest threat to our nation, higher than the 44% who see big business as the biggest threat.

Almost half of Democrats now say big government is the biggest threat to the nation, more than say so about big business, and far more than were concerned about big government in March 2009. The 32% of Democrats concerned about big government at that time -- shortly after President Obama took office -- was down significantly from a reading in 2006, when George W. Bush was president.

By contrast, 82% of Republicans and 64% of independents today view big government as the biggest threat, slightly higher percentages than Gallup found in 2009.
The question remains - will this concern translate into efforts to rein in government's power.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Marriage rate drops. Signs of big social problems if continues.

For many the drop in marriage rates to all time lows is not a big deal. Even relevant to their lives. If they're married so what? If they're single and don't want to be married, it's again so what? Who cares?

Pew Research Center analysis of census data finds:
Barely half of all adults in the United States—a record low—are currently married, and the median age at first marriage has never been higher for brides (26.5 years) and grooms (28.7), according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census data.

In 1960, 72% of all adults ages 18 and older were married; today just 51% are. If current trends continue, the share of adults who are currently married will drop to below half within a few years. Other adult living arrangements—including cohabitation, single-person households and single parenthood—have all grown more prevalent in recent decades.

The Pew Research analysis also finds that the number of new marriages in the U.S. declined by 5% between 2009 and 2010, a sharp one-year drop that may or may not be related to the sour economy...

In the United States, the declines have occurred among all age groups, but are most dramatic among young adults. Today, just 20% of adults ages 18 to 29 are married, compared with 59% in 1960. Over the course of the past 50 years, the median age at first marriage has risen by about six years for both men and women.

It is not yet known whether today’s young adults are abandoning marriage or merely delaying it. Even at a time when barely half of the adult population is married, a much higher share— 72%—have been married at least once. However, this “ever married” share is down from 85% in 1960.

Public attitudes about the institution of marriage are mixed. Nearly four-in-ten Americans say marriage is becoming obsolete, according to a Pew Research survey in 2010.1 Yet the same survey found that most people who have never married (61%) would like to do so someday.
Why is this a big deal, more people not getting married? For one it will mean fewer children who are the next generation. Fewer people will have enormous implications for the economic health of society.

Marriage also has a "civilizing" influence on people, men in particular. It channels one's energies in productive activities and enterprises. (That's doesn't mean all single people are "uncivilized". But men, as George Gilder points out in his book, "Men and Marriage", are more productive and do much better when married.)

It means, to some degree, cohabitation is more common. These relationships are less healthy on the whole than married relationships.

And as marriage becomes less practiced and is viewed as obsolete, it won't be held in high esteem by the broader culture which will only worsen the trend.

Marriage and family are the foundation of society. When they breakdown, broader society will as well.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

If you're pro-marriage does that mean you need not apply for a position with Hamline business school?

It's reported that Hamline business school officials decided to back out on an agreement it reached with former state rep and Minnesota gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer because he's, among other things, not as supporter of same sex "marriage".

In a Pioneer Press news story:
Former Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer is accusing Hamline University officials of caving to faculty opposition and reneging on an agreement for him to teach at its business school.

Emmer said Tuesday that the St. Paul school agreed to hire him for the job and to fill an "executive in residence" position earlier this fall. But, he said, the school backed away after a small group of staff, including business school professor David Schultz, objected to his political views, including his opposition to same-sex marriage....

In a letter to Hamline President Linda Hanson, Emmer said, "Madam President, is there a requirement that every faculty member at Hamline conform on the issue of marriage? Is there only one point of view allowed? Is there no political or religious freedom recognized at Hamline? I thought the 'mission' at Hamline University was to educate - not to inculcate.
Another example of intolerance and narrow mindedness on the part of the left?

Gingrich, Churchill, Ed Koch, and the presidency

Here are a couple of interesting articles on Newt Gingrich.

One is by Steve Hayward on Gingrich comparing him in some respects to Churchill. Not that Gingrich is a Churchill but he is a very bright, even brilliant man in some respects who's being dismissed as legitimate presidential candidate. Similarly, Churchill a brilliant man was dismissed as ever being Prime Minister of England during World War II. He was viewed as impulsive, rash and temperamentally not suitable to be the prime minister. Similar to what some are saying about Gingrich today. Yet as we enter uncharted times, some wonder whether Gingrich and his unique skills might be the man of the hour. Will that happen? Hayward said the next several months of the campaign season will sort that out. Will Newt't temperament prove unsuitable and he self destructs or will he keep gaining momentum.

Here's what Hayward
The next couple of months may well prove out the unplanned logic of our long campaign process. The debates, Newt’s strong suit so far, are about to give way to real voting, and to the week-by-week ground game that requires focus and consistency. Newt has a chance to prove conservative skeptics wrong about his constancy — the chance to win over skeptics in the face of so much evidence against him. The course of John Colville’s evolving assessment of Churchill in the 1940s is suggestive. Colville wrote in his diary the night Churchill became prime minister on May 10, 1940: “He may, of course, be the man of drive and energy the country believes him to be and he may be able to speed up our creaking military and industrial machinery; but it is a terrible risk, it involves the danger of rash and spectacular exploits, and I cannot help fearing that this country may be maneuvered into the most dangerous position it has ever been in.”
And there's this article by former Democrat mayor of New York City Ed Koch who's going to vote for President Obama next year. He says this about Newt.
Democrats who are supporters of President Obama and are hoping that he will face Newt Gingrich as the Republican candidate are mistaken in their belief that he will be easy to beat.

Gingrich is appealing to the anger in this country toward all politicians, particularly those in Congress. The country is looking for a leader, unafraid to tell the truth, and many think that Newt Gingrich is that person.

Is Newt a rising star or a shooting star? We'll see in the coming months.

Monday, December 12, 2011

"Better" early childhood isn't the answer to the family crisis - in fact it could make matters worse.

The breakdown of the family is the biggest crisis facing society. A strong statement but I think it's true when one realizes that society as a whole is built on the family. And when the foundation crumbles, the rest of the structure will crumble as well.

Those who see government as the answer to the family crisis and the ills of society usually, in my estimation, make matters worse by prescribing the wrong medicine to the sickness facing us.

It began in earnest in the 1960s with the Great Society programs which sought to reverse the laws of nature and abolish poverty in total. (I think Jesus was right, "The poor you will always have with you." That doesn't mean we do nothing. But if one starts with an Utopian belief it can be eliminated, the resulting solution is usually out of whack as well.)

They set in place a massive welfare system which would lift people above the poverty line by direct cash benefits and programs. Those in poverty and targeted by these programs were largely single women who had children and were without a job.

The altruist desire of ameliorating their blight in fact made the situation worse. It subsidized out of wedlock births and made fathers as bread winners obsolete. The result? More single moms and a future dissolution of the family. Today, out of wedlock births are at record highs - 40% and rising.

Another example is the government's provision of child care and day care which, in effect, pays parents to sent their children to other people to raise them.

In this content there's been a debate at the state Capitol over the direction of early childhood programs. Duane Benson, executive director of Minnesota Early Learning Foundation, in a
Star Tribune opinion piece bemoans the inertia over efforts to reform the current government preschool system.

I would agree with Duane the current system doesn't work, but the answer isn't trying to make government more efficient and competitive. Rather it's restoring parental responsibility and authority for raising kids.

Ultimately, parents raise kids not government programs or government subsidized private programs. Failure to realize this will only take us further down the road away from the right answers. If we were to achieve all of Duane's goals of implementing a government quality rating system for preschool programs, ensuring that child care programs used best practices, and expanding the resources so all low-income kids could access a "high quality early education", we wouldn't get at the fundamental need - parents raising their own kids.

In fact, it only takes us further down the wrong path -- substituting the government or another third party for the parents in kids lives -- and leaving people with the feeling that they've accomplished something without bringing us any closer to "righting" the family ship. And it makes matters worse by further embedding the notion in the minds of the public that "high quality" government preschool programs are the answer.

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Moral Confusion of Barak Obama's Foreign Policy - Gay Rights International Priority

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced yesterday that gay rights is now an international priority of the Obama Administration. As this headline from the BBC points out gay rights are now human rights and an international priority.

In response, I thought Rick Perry hit the nail on the head when he said, "promoting special rights for gays in foreign countries is not in America's interests and not worth a dime of taxpayers' money".

This foreign policy tack is in the same league with the Clinton Administration's promotion of abortion internationally in the 1990s. Both policies undermine rather than elevated America's moral leadership in the world.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Another hurdle to gambling funding a new Vikings stadium -- State Constitution

At the Senate Tax Committee hearing, a number of folks testified in favor of expanding gambling to fund a new Vikings stadium.

Proponents trotted out a legal memo written on behalf of the racetracks by former Minnesota Chief Justice Eric Magnuson who said it wouldn't be a violation of the constitutional provision which authorized a state lottery.

Yet an op/ed in the Star Tribune authored by former legislators Gene Merriam and Dennis Ozment suggests another problem even if new casinos don't violate the constitution -- that's the constitutional requirement that 40% of the proceeds go to an environmental fund. If that's the case then they have a problem because the gambling proposals for the stadium funding earmark the lion's share of the proceeds to the stadium.

As legislators look for ways to proceed, the likelihood of a drawn out lawsuit and constitutional questions and problems should give them another reason to pause before proceeding down this road.

The Welfare State's Day of Reckoning.

Here's an interesting piece by Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson on the economic problems we're facing, brought on to a significant degree by our love affair with the welfare state. It's not working out but breaking up is a hard thing to do.

Our problems parallel those facing European countries.
We Americans fool ourselves if we ignore the parallels between Europe's problems and our own. It's reassuring to think them separate, and the fixation on the euro -- Europe's common currency -- buttresses that mindset. But Europe's turmoil is more than a currency crisis and was inevitable, in some form, even if the euro had never been created. It's ultimately a crisis of the welfare state, which has grown too large to be easily supported economically. People can't live with it -- and can't live without it. The American predicament is little different.

Government expansion was one of the 20th century's great transformations. Wealthy nations adopted programs for education, health care, unemployment insurance, old-age assistance, public housing and income redistribution. "Public spending for these activities had been almost nonexistent at the beginning of the 20th century," writes economist Vito Tanzi in his book "Government versus Markets."
The rise of the welfare state has exploded during the 20th century.
The numbers -- to those who don't know them -- are astonishing. In 1870, all government spending was 7.3 percent of national income in the United States, 9.4 percent in Britain, 10 percent in Germany and 12.6 percent in France. By 2007, the figures were 36.6 percent for the United States, 44.6 percent for Britain, 43.9 percent for Germany and 52.6 percent for France. Military costs once dominated budgets; now, social spending does.
The prerequisites for the welfare state state - strong economics and demographics - aren't there anymore in Europe.
To flourish, the welfare state requires favorable economics and demographics: rapid economic growth to pay for social benefits; and young populations to support the old. Both economics and demographics have moved adversely.

The great expansion of Europe's welfare states started in the 1950s and 1960s, when annual economic growth for its rich nations averaged 4.5 percent compared with a historical rate since 1820 of 2.1 percent, notes Eichengreen. This sort of growth, it was assumed, would continue indefinitely. Not so. From 1973 to 2000, growth settled back to 2.1 percent. More recently, it's been lower.

Demographics shifted, too. In 2000, Italy's 65-and-over population was already 18 percent of the total; in 2010, it was 21 percent, and the projection for 2050 is 34 percent. Figures for the European Union's 27 countries are 16 percent, 18 percent and 29 percent.

Until the financial crisis, the welfare state existed in a shaky equilibrium with sluggish economic growth. The crisis destroyed that equilibrium. Economic growth slowed. Debt -- already high -- rose. Government bonds once considered ultra-safe became risky.
The situation is similar in the US.
Switch to the United States. Broadly speaking, the story is similar. The great expansion of America's welfare state (though we avoid that term) occurred in the 1960s and 1970s with the creation of Medicare, Medicaid and food stamps. In 1960, 26 percent of federal spending represented payments for individuals; in 2010, the figure was 66 percent. Economic growth in the 1950s and 1960s averaged about 4 percent; from 2000 to 2007, the average was 2.4 percent. Our elderly population was 13 percent in 2010; the 2050 estimate is 20 percent.

What separates the United States and Europe is that (so far) we haven't suffered a backlash from bond markets. Despite high and rising U.S. government debt, Treasury securities still fetch low interest rates, about 2 percent on 10-year bonds. Will that last? It's true that cutting spending too quickly might threaten a fragile economic recovery. But President Obama and Congress can't be accused of making this mistake. They do little and excel at blaming each other.
Now we're at a historical turning point.
The modern welfare state has reached a historic reckoning. As a political institution, it hasn't adapted to change. Politics and economics are at loggerheads. Vast populations in Europe and America expect promised benefits and, understandably, resent any hint that they will be cut. Elected politicians respond accordingly. But the resulting inertia poses an economic threat, one already realized in Europe. As deficits or taxes rise, the risk is that economic instability will increase, growth will decline, or both. Paying promised benefits becomes harder. Or austerity becomes unavoidable.
Samuelson's paradox is spot on.
The paradox is that the welfare state, designed to improve security and dampen social conflict, now looms as an engine for insecurity, conflict and disappointment. Facing the hard questions of finding a sustainable balance between individual protections and better economic growth, the Europeans have spent years dawdling. The parallel with our situation is all too obvious.

Yes, we're entering a time of great uncertainty and insecurity, because of our desire to rely on government to eliminate uncertainty and insecurity in life. The libertarian view of some is man not the state should be relied on. I believe that's still misplaced. We need to ultimately rely on God not the state or man.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Good news is there's a budget surplus. Bad news is more budget deficits projected down the road.

Last week the state announced that instead of facing a budget deficit for the next biennium it is projected to have a surplus of $874 million. Legislators and other politicos were surprised, thinking we'd face more deficits given the state of the economy. They weren't looking forward to the prospect of another face off with the governor over more budget cuts or tax increases.

What was interesting is they are projecting a budget deficit of $1.3 billion in the 2014-15 biennium. That says to me there is still a structure spending problem which still has to be resolved. To reach a compromise about not raising taxes while not cutting as much as necessary the proverbial can was kicked further down the street without making the tough, structural changes in government spending. That's what happens when one has either a governor or legislature which would rather raise taxes.

One consequence of the surplus is the possibility of an even shorter than usual legislative session. It starts the end of January and usually goes until the constitutional ending day in the middle of May. I think there's actually a good possibility the House and Senate will agree to adjourn early.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Tebow mania and the religious animus of some of his detrators.

Here's a funny sport's Pioneer Press piece by Tom Powers on Tim Tebow's detractors. He points out, a bit irreverently, that Tebow's detractors go nuts because of his mention of God.

Just to be up front, I wish the Vikings had 44 Tim Tebows.

I wish they had 44 solid, respectful, genuine, caring human beings. I wish they had 44 winners.

"I'll say this: The guy wins," Denver coach John Fox noted after his team's 35-32 victory over the Vikings. "He does it with his feet. He does it with his arm. He's young, and he's going to get better."

And,yes, after Tebow's postgame news conference he thanked everyone for attending and dropped a quick "God bless" as he stepped from the podium. For whatever reason, that will get people all shook up. It continues to get him labeled as being controversial. For some, that's simply being too far over the top.

Well, it's better than being the type of fellow who gets arrested for DUIs, domestic assault and/or drug possession. Maybe people are angry because he comes into their town and kicks the bejesus (no pun intended) out of their team. Against the Vikings, he delivered his most shocking performance in season filled with shocking performances. He played the role of conventional quarterback.

"It's crazy," he said with a laugh. "I try to do whatever they ask of me, whether it's sit in the pocket or make a play."

Tebow is considered something of a wild man on the field, almost always running instead of passing and rarely even trying to avoid big hits from the defense. But the Broncos'old-time option offense was nowhere to be found Sunday. That's because the Vikings' secondary is so horrible that it made a pocket passer out of Tebow.

"However you can win, that's what we'll go with," he said.

Tebow last week carried 22 times, an NFL single-game record for a quarterback. His 468 rushing yards this season mark a franchise record for a quarterback. Yet against the Vikings he ran just four times for 13 yards. Instead, he either handed off in the traditional manner or operated out of the pocket. He did scramble a few times, but no more than Christian Ponder.

He completed 10 of 15 passes for 202 yards and two touchdowns. His quarterback rating was an astronomical 149.3. It was his best passing day of the season, yet afterward he took no credit.

"I know I had a lot of help," he said. "The offensive line did a great job, and the receivers stepped up and made me look better than I am."

"I would have bet my paycheck that he would not have beat us passing the ball," Vikings defensive end Jared Allen said.

But he did. This guy has taken a lot of knocks, but it should be noted that on Sunday the Broncos moved into first place in the AFC West. They've won six of seven since he took over at quarterback. And, again, they were behind for most of the game. Tebow gets them in the end zone when he has to.

"I don't know if we're thriving on it," he said of the comeback victories. "We'd like to have been ahead a lot earlier."

With regards to yet another comeback victory, Fox said: "Thank the Lord for some big-hearted guys."

Uh-oh, it's spreading. Get out the brickbats. Another guy has gone over the top! Another fanatic is on the loose. And it's likely Tebow's fault. There is no room in sports for this sort of talk. Keep the criminals in jail and the religious in churches, damn it.

"He is a miracle maker," said Broncos receiver Eric Decker, a former Gopher.

Now I'm beginning to read religious references into everything. Just exactly what does Decker mean by "miracle maker?"

"He's the comeback kid," Deck er said. "That's what we call him. He brings this attitude about him. He's so positive and always optimistic. That does rub off on guys. ... If we have a chance to win, we're going to win."

As for the Vikings, there just isn't much to say. They were in control of the football for 37:51 of the 60 minutes and still gave up a ton of points. They are just very, very bad. The next highlight for Vikings fans will be the draft party in April.

Meanwhile, some guys just know how to win. I find myself becoming an admirer of Tim Tebow. People who take shots at him because of his beliefs can go to hell.

Over the top? If that's what makes a decent person, everyone should be over the top. Anyone who has a problem with him should redirect their concern to the ultra-religious who strap themselves with explosives and blow up shopping malls. Then they'd have a legitimate gripe.
Tebow is the ideal role model. Morally upright guy. Helps the poor and less fortunate. Yet for some, it's that religion thing. They can't stand that.

Ramsey County judge issues temporary restraining order on unionization vote by child care workers.

A Ramsey County judge issued a temporary restraining order today stopping implementation of Governor Dayton's executive order calling for a unionization vote by child care providers which receive state subsidies.

The judge asked the Attorney General's representative who was representing Governor Dayton, why not go through the legislature to do this? The simple answer, which the AG's attorney didn't give, is because the legislature is controlled by Republicans who won't allow this to go anywhere.

Why the big push for unionization? Follow the money is my best guess. I'm told the unions would reap hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars in union dues if they were to unionize child care workers. That's in addition to further politicizing the job of raising children by injecting union politics into the process.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Dealing with income inequality -- answer isn't raising taxes on high income earners.

With economic stagnation continuing, the middle class is getting hammered. The result is calls for higher taxes on the wealthy to reduce it.

It turns out the biggest government contributor to income inequality are medicare and social security transfer payments not a tax code which is too regressive.

Columnist Michael Barone points to a study released by Rep. Paul Ryan which found the Reagan and Bush tax cuts aren't the reason for income inequality.

Ryan, a Republican from Wisconsin, makes the point that the government redistributes income not only through taxes but also through transfer payments, including Social Security, Medicare, food stamps, and unemployment benefits. The CBO study helpfully measures income, adjusted for inflation, after taxes and after such transfer payments.

Many may find the results of the CBO study surprising. It turns out, Ryan reports, that federal income taxes (including the refundable Earned Income Tax Credit) actually decreased income inequality slightly between 1979 and 2007, while the federal payroll taxes that supposedly fund Social Security and Medicare slightly increased income inequality. That’s despite the fact that income tax rates are lower than in 1979 and payroll taxes higher.

Perhaps even more surprising, federal transfer payments have done much more to increase income inequality than federal taxes. That’s because, in Ryan’s words, “the distribution of government transfers has moved away from households in the lower part of the income scale. For instance, in 1979, households in the lowest income quintile received 54 percent of all transfer payments. In 2007, those households received just 36 percent of transfers.”

In effect, Social Security and Medicare have been transferring money from low-earning young people (who don’t pay income taxes but are hit by the payroll tax) to increasingly affluent old people.

The Democrats, perhaps following the polls and focus groups, have been protecting these entitlement programs, which have done more to increase income inequality than the Reagan and Bush tax cuts put together.

What can be done?

Ryan makes three more points that may strike many as counterintuitive.

First, reductions in some transfer payments haven’t hurt the living standards of most low-earners. The prime example is the welfare reform act of 1996, which reduced transfers to single mothers but induced many of them to find jobs that left them better off economically and, probably, psychologically.

Second, Americans aren’t trapped in one segment of the income distribution. A Tax Journal analysis of individual income-tax returns found that 58 percent of those in the lowest income quintile in 1996 had moved to a higher income segment by 2005. This comports with common experience. We move up and down the income scale in the course of a lifetime.

Finally, the inflation adjustment used in the CBO analysis was the Consumer Price Index. But that tends to overstate inflation — as any index tends to do, since it measures the cost of a static market basket of goods and services. A study by Chicago economist Christian Broda found that prices for goods purchased by low-earners have been rapidly decreasing, while prices for goods of high-earners have increased. Kids’ school clothes may be cheaper at Walmart than they were years ago, while prices at Neiman Marcus keep increasing.

So if the question is how to compensate for increasing income inequality, higher tax rates on high-earners won’t do much — and could be counterproductive if they diminish economic growth.

A better way is suggested by supercommittee Republicans: Limit future increases in transfer payments to affluent households, and cap deductions for home-mortgage interest and state and local taxes, which are hugely lucrative for high-earners and worthless for low-earners who don’t pay income tax.

These proposals won’t eliminate income inequality. Much of the increased inequality comes from the huge increases for those in the top 1 percent of earners. But we wouldn’t be better off if Steve Jobs had never existed.

Keeping entitlements as they are and raising tax rates on high earners is a recipe for European-style stagnation. Ryan and the supercommittee Republicans point toward a better way.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Where to build a new Vikings stadium - Arden Hills, Minneapolis?

The Senate Tax Committee held hearings on where a new Vikings' stadium should be built. Vikings want Arden Hills because, among several reasons, it will allow for lots of real estate development around the new stadium. Others, particularly Minneapolis politicians, would like to keep it in Minneapolis. Minneapolis has the advantage of costing less because infrastructure to accommodate the stadium is already in place.

What's interesting is the funding discussion did not include much talk about using gambling monies. Though that will change in the Senate tax hearings next week when funding ideas will be discussed.