Thursday, June 30, 2005

The Rake

On the one hand, The Rake has become my free alternative media print publication of choice because of their slick full-color production (handling The Rake leaves no unsightly newsprint stains!), urbane style, engaging columnists, and sometimes remarkable reporting (see Dean Staley's amazing May 2005 article, "The Grounded Man," about how the fellas at an Eagan flight school caught Zacarias Moussaoui, a.k.a. the twentieth hijacker, before he got airborne).

On the other hand, The Rake is another liberal/progressive alternative rag, like its competitor City Pages and others you may have seen in Milwaukee and Chicago. They wear their ideology on their sleeve, which is legit, but sometimes they step over the line, which certainly must delight their core demographic but turns off the rest of us.

Case in point: in the current issue, a lampoon of conservative commentator Katherine Kersten and state Sen. Michele Bachmann (R-Stillwater). I can't find it on The Rake web site or I would link to it. Suffice it to say that it is as tasteless, cowardly, and hateful as any good lampoon should be, in the lefty wing-nut vein of Michael Moore-Al Franken-Garrison Keillor.

(To Kersten's and Bachmann's credit, if they weren't effective, they wouldn't be such targets of the left. Or as Han Solo once said, "I must've hit it pretty close to the mark to get her all riled up like that, huh, kid?")

Now if only The Rake had the witty, smart, sassy, and passionate Dara Moskowitz (currently with City Pages) to write her oh-so-tasty restaurant reviews, those deviations into left loony land would be a tad easier to forgive and forget. On second thought, in that respect maybe CP needs her more than The Rake does.

Monday, June 27, 2005

My book meme

Blogs often exist in isolation, but together they can form a community, digital committees of correspondence, and in the case of the MOB, a wonderful way to meet and match wits with various politicos, activists, and other smart people online or over at Keegan's. You don't even have to have your own blog, but it helps.

For example, within the last week or so, the MOB has been playing a game of pass the meme, in which each blogger answers a set of questions about the books he or she is reading, and then they "tag" five more bloggers to do the same. The Night Writer was kind enough to tag me, so here goes:

Total number of books owned ever: I would estimate dozens, but someone who helped us move into our current home said it best, "Haven't you ever heard of the library?"

Last book I bought: In But Not Of: A Guide to Christian Ambition by Hugh Hewitt. I bought one for me and one as a high school graduation gift last year. The book challenges Christians to live their faith by making a difference (and starting a blog).

Last book I read: I just finished reading Bicycling Magazine's Guide to Bike Touring: Everything You Need to Know to Travel Anywhere on a Bike by Doug Donaldson. This book updated my bike touring knowledge and experiences of twenty years ago to the 21st century. The most interesting and practical innovations in cycling since the early 1980s to me are sports nutrition and the Camelbak.

Five books that mean a lot to me:
  • The Bible
  • The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
  • The Schools We Need and Why We Don't Have Them by E. D. Hirsch
  • The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell
  • All Too Human: A Political Education by George Stephanopoulos
Honorable mentions:
  • Dig Your Well Before You're Thirsty by Harvey Mackay — everything you ever needed to know about networking, but didn't know enough to ask
  • The Dance of Legislation by Eric Redman — taught me that there is more to the legislative process than the "How a Bill Becomes Law" handout
And for a question that is not part of the meme, but should be: Five books that I want to read before I die:
  • A History of the English Speaking Peoples (four volumes) by Winston Churchill — because Hugh Hewitt said to, and because I love history
  • Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values by Robert Persig — because all of my tech writer colleagues are horrified that I haven't read it
  • Reagan's War by Peter Schweizer — because one of my best friends said it's a must-read
  • John Adams by David McCullough — Cheri Yecke recommended it, so have a lot of others
  • Howard Hughes: His Life and Madness by Donald L. Barlett — movie stars, aeronautical engineering, and politics!
And finally, to these five bloggers, "tag, you're it:"

(Don't bother tagging Scholar at Scholar's Notebook, because he is me.)

Who started this anyway?

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Conservative blogs: yesterday's news

I was surprised to read in an e-mail newsletter from the Weekly Standard that liberal blogs are much more popular than conservative blogs, based on BlogAds traffic rankings -- and they are getting more popular every day. Maybe I missed it, but I haven't heard anyone like Hugh Hewitt or the Northern Alliance guys discuss this phenomenon.

If this is true, and the evidence from MyDD cited by the Weekly Standard is compelling if arguable, then the war of ideas, in which conservatives claim an advantage, could be anyone's game in 2006. The Internet is here to stay. It has become an essential medium for political communication and mobilization. The party that exploits it the most creatively and effectively will have a potentially insurmountable advantage in elections at all levels.

The "next big thing" in the political blogosphere is already underway in its liberal regions, but apparently not in conservative areas. Liberal bloggers (most notably Daily Kos and MyDD) are leading the way with a new kind of web site that combines group blogging and social networking. The most popular platform for this right now is called Scoop. According to Scoop's web site:
Scoop is a "collaborative media application". It falls somewhere between a content management system, a web bulletin board system, and a weblog. Scoop is designed to enable your website to become a community. It empowers your visitors to be the producers of the site, contributing news and discussion, and making sure that the signal remains high.

A Scoop site can be run almost entirely by the readers. The whole life-cycle of content is reader-driven. They submit news, they choose what to post, and they can discuss what they post. Readers can rate other readers comments, as well, providing a collaborative filtering tool to let the best contributions float to the top...The real power of Scoop is that it is almost totally collaborative.
Chris Bowers of MyDD provides the "so what?:"
Community moderated blogging platforms such as Scoop have provided us with an excellent means of finding new voices, and these are the voices that are generating the accelerated growth in the liberal and progressive blogosphere...By comparison, right-wing blogs have pretty much only one means of finding a new voice in the blogosphere: when someone starts a new blog. The inability to operate within a community must be the primary reason behind the large number of conservative blogs...
Well, that explains why blogrolls are getting so long. Bowers continues:
...the anti-community nature of right-wing blogs has resulted in a stagnant aristocracy within the conservative blogosphere that prevents the emergence of new voices and, as a result, new reasons for people to visit conservative blogs. [Emphasis added.]
I think that Bowers overstates his case here. The conservative blogosphere is not "stagnant," nor does it "prevent" the emergence of new voices. It would be very interesting if the entire (politically agnostic but right-leaning) MOB suddenly reconstituted itself from a blogroll into a Scoop website. Hmmm.

Weekly Standard editor Johnathan Last is unsure whether any of this matters. If the conservative blogosphere consists of individual bloggers or small group blogs, and the liberal blogosphere has more Scoop-style hybrid community blogs, will it make a difference on Election Day 2006? In spite of the best efforts of George Soros and, Howard Dean's Internet campaign, the decentralized use of by Democrats, Dan Rather, Michael Moore, and the Star Tribune, President Bush was re-elected.

The evolution of blogs has implications at the grassroots level, were I live. E-mail, instant messaging, text messaging, blogs, message boards, multimedia, social networking (for example, Friendster), and online communities (such as Scoop or more consumer-oriented services like Lycos Circles or MSN Spaces) are, as they say in high tech, converging. Phone calling trees and sign-up sheets alone aren't going to cut it in '06. Republicans saw this on a large scale for the first time at the highly configurable and interactive Bush Cheney '04 website. But as with most blogs and the campaign itself, was a top-down pyramid structure. "Community moderated" websites are a bottom-up structure, in the middle of the sphere rather than the top of the pyramid (see Stirling Newbury).

An existing example of what I am talking about is the home page of the Senate District 42 Republicans. It is run by the local BPOU, not the state party. It isn't too interactive, but it is a sort of front door to the district, making it easy for both activists and casual sympathizers to connect with the party at the BPOU level. You can contact the party and contribute money at the site. If they just added some of the community-style interactive bits, they would have a better online point-of-contact to cultivate an increasingly wired, young, and active party base, right where Rep. Paulsen and Sen. Hann, Gov. Pawlenty and the rest of the Republican ticket will need them next year to go on lit drops, walk in parades and neighborhoods, and get out the vote.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Is the racino is a better bet for Minnesota?

I spent the last part of Father's Day (after church, buying supplies at Dundee Nursery, and reviving our backyard water garden, of course; who besides Margaret knew there was a plant called "water lettuce?") enjoying a classic day at Canterbury Park, along with over 10,000 of my fellow horse racing fans.

Two of the sports-related proposals on the table at the Legislature are the public subsidy for a new Twins stadium (discussed ad nauseam herein) and the "racino" at Canterbury Park. This morning while on the way to work, I got to thinking how the racino proposal highlights the shortcomings of the Twins stadium proposal:
  • The racino would provide a one-time fee of $100 million to be paid to the state's general fund. The Twins would not directly pay anything to the state's general fund.

  • The racino would share its revenue annually with the state, approximately $100 million per year. The Twins say that revenue sharing à la the Fair Stadium Funding Act would be a deal-breaker.

  • The racino would be privately financed and would not require any state bonding or operating subsidies. The Twins are asking Hennepin County to subsidize the stadium construction to the tune of $353 million with a sales tax, with the balance of the expected $1.1 billion in revenue to be used by the county for other programs such as youth sports and libraries. This could be called "The Spoonful of Sugar Helps the Tax Go Down" approach. Sure, a bigger Hennepin County government is just what we need, right?

  • The racino is backed by the entire Scott County legislative delegation, endorsed by both the city of Shakopee and Scott County, and (according to Canterbury Park's polling) is supported by 74% of Scott County residents. The Twins stadium tax would likely fail in a county-wide referendum, and was given only conditional support by the Minneapolis City Council.

  • The racino will never need taxpayer financing for a $100+ million roof. I can already hear the cries about the Twins leaving town because of an "inadequate" stadium after a few rainouts.

  • The racino would almost by definition boost Minnesota's agricultural economy, with the increased demand for everything from horse trailers, alfalfa, veterinary services, to hospitality for tourism and conventions. The racino would fund a large expansion not only of thoroughbred racing, but also of other equestrian sports from dressage to rodeo. The failure of sports stadiums to generate significant economic benefit is well-documented by independent studies referenced at the Senate District 42 Republicans web site. Even Twins President Jerry Bell said, "I don't think the economic argument turns it one way or another, so why go there? If there are side benefits, great. If not, so what?"

  • You can still smoke in Scott County, so there are smoking sections at Canterbury Park and presumably at a racino. There would be No Smoking in the Twins Stadium, NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO SMOKING! I can't stand cigarette smoke, but I do support the right of adults to engage in legal activity without government interference. Besides, we need some way to boost revenues from the new cigarette tax -- er, fee.
Still, the 800-pound gorillas in the room are the moral and social costs of gambling. A lot of my friends across the political spectrum are agin' it, including David Strom, Jack Meeks, Tony Sutton, and Mary Kiffmeyer. The Republican Party of Minnesota's platform opposes state-sponsored gambling. Some churches see gambling as more of a menace to society than abortion. Most politicians won't speak in favor of a racino, other than Scott County legislators, Governor Pawlenty, and Senate Minority Leader Dick Day (R-Owatonna) and Speaker of the House Rep. Steve Sviggum (R-Kenyon).

Support for the game of baseball is nearly universal, although the business of baseball needs reform before public funding for a stadium would survive a referendum (even then the vote wouldn't be a "sure bet").

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Fair Stadium Funding Act would share new revenue

By John Knight

Would you take your hard-earned money and go into a deal like this? You pay almost all of the expenses of a business and give away all of the income to someone else.

Hennepin County's stadium deal does exactly this — taxpayers would be on the hook for $1.1 billion in new taxes and pay nearly 80 percent of stadium costs, but would receive no stadium revenue.

After you remove the pretty gift wrap, inside the box you will find an unpleasant surprise: one of the worst stadium deals in the country. In other states and cities, private funding has significantly paid for recent stadiums.

Rep. Phil Krinkie, R-Lino Lakes, and Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, recently proposed a simple solution for any new professional stadium. The Fair Stadium Funding Act is a fair deal for everyone, including taxpayers and team owners.

The law would work like this — increased revenue generated by a new stadium would be shared with taxpayers based on the amount of their subsidy. Team owners would still receive 100 percent of their current revenue. What legislator or local official could argue against that? If we subsidize 60 percent of stadium expenses — we would receive 60 percent of increased revenue. It is fair to all investors and significantly reduces the stadium tax.

The people have been clear. Citizens are not demanding new taxes to fund professional sports stadiums. There are other priorities with our limited funds — roads to be built and school buildings needing repair.

By the way, the stadium backers seem to forget the teams already have a perfectly good stadium. What if a group of teachers or students demanded a new school building to replace one barely 25 years old? Why should we as taxpayers be forced to pay for unreasonable demands of the super-wealthy?

The response by Hennepin County Commissioner Mike Opat and Twins President Jerry Bell has been disturbing. No changes allowed. We need every cent. Their "take it or leave it" ploy is insulting to taxpayers.

Opat has also said the economics of professional baseball are not in our control. This is true. However, it is not the job of taxpayers to satisfy the cash appetites of billionaire owners and millionaire players.

Whoever has been negotiating this deal on behalf of taxpayers needs to be fired. Memo to Opat: In the business world, you would not "make the cut" representing anyone. This is why legislators need to protect the interests of taxpayers.

The over-heated rhetoric of the stadium boosters is growing tiresome. They say the teams will leave town and "their deal" is the only way. However, our legislators and governor were elected to represent our views — not a special few who would gain all of the stadium income.

The Fair Stadium Funding Act is a compromise solution that ends the stadium debate and significantly reduces any stadium tax. It makes sense — we ought to pass it.

John Knight, a lawyer from Minnetonka, is affiliated with Citizens for a Stadium Tax Referendum. This commentary originally appeared in the Pioneer Press on June 14, 2005.


Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Gag order?

Minnesota Public Radio, WCCO-AM, and TPT's Almanac have all declined offers from state Rep. Phil Krinke (R-Lino Lakes), state Sen. John Marty (DFL-Roseville), and John Knight of Citizens for a Stadium Tax Referendum to discuss the stadium tax on their air. There are at least seven public affairs shows between these three outlets, which have granted air time to stadium backers Hennepin County Commissioner Mike Opat and Twins President Jerry Bell.

Krinke and Marty have introduced the Fair Stadium Funding Act as a compromise that would share part of the Twins's increased revenue in return for the public investment (sales tax revenue) that would build the new stadium. Opat and Bell have opposed a referendum on the county sales tax, and the Krinke-Marty bill.


Friday, June 10, 2005

A spring storm of conservative thought

Our state Senator out here in SD 43 (Plymouth), David Gaither, has written a nifty little article that sums up how the entitlement society is unsustainable, and why the ownership society is both America's heritage and its future. It appears in the Spring 2005 American Experiment Quarterly, published by the Center of the American Experiment (CAE).

Gaither's article is one of over forty related short essays by the likes of educators Chester Finn (Fordham Foundation), Todd Flanders (Providence Academy), and Joe Nathan (University of Minnesota Center for School Change); former Congressman Tim Penny; Tom Prichard (Minnesota Family Council); and commentator Dwight Rabuse.

Randy Wanke checks in on the CAE home page with columns on gambling and intellectual diversity at MSU Mankato. [Wanke has had just about every communications-related job I have ever wanted with Brian Sullivan, the Republican Party of Minnesota, and the Taxpayers League of Minnesota (in addition to and/or including Bill Walsh's various assignments, notably as Cheri Pierson Yecke's communications director at the Minnesota Department of Education).]

And speaking of our friend and Congressional candidate Cheri Yecke, not one but three of her education studies for the CAE are featured on its home page.

Bloggers and other denizens of the blogosphere should head directly for a first-person account of Rathergate by the Powerline guys, John Hinderaker and Scott Johnson.

Kudos to the Center for another powerhouse Quarterly and for fanning the flames of conservative ideas.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Westover brings both sides together, again

Craig Westover is doing for the gay marriage debate what he did for the school choice debate, namely bringing both sides to the table for a respectful discussion of the merits of the arguments, while avoiding the ad hominem attacks that often characterize other blogs, letters to the editor, op-ed columns, and political advertisements. He keeps both sides honest, from Nick Coleman to Katherine Kersten.

Westover presents his commentary, often in his Pioneer Press column, then invites everyone to comment, an invitation accepted by some very informed and opinionated individuals. The result is a moderated debate that sheds more light than most Internet message boards or debates conducted live and in person. Westover has built a new, two-way "broadband" bridge between his newspaper and its readers, showing how newspapers can evolve beyond peddling newsprint with yesterday's news by serving as venues for real-time public discourse.

Check out Craig's blog for a challenge to your assumptions and an insight into how the "other side" thinks -- regardless of which side you're on.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

A piece of the action

"Nobody helps nobody but himself!"
--Bela Oxmyx, in the Star Trek episode "A Piece of the Action"

Unfortunately, under the guise of baseball, hot dogs, the common good, and "this is a republic; stop with the referendum talk," the controversy over raising a Hennepin County sales tax to pay for a Minnesota Twins stadium is validating Bela Oxmyx.

The Fair Stadium Funding Act, introduced by Representative Phil Krinkie (R-Shoreview) and Senator John Marty (DFL-Roseville) is simple: it says that while team owners retain 100% of revenue equal to their last year at the current stadium, they must share increased revenue from the new stadium. For example, if taxpayers subsidize 50% of the stadium, they would receive 50% of the increased stadium revenue.

Hennepin County Commissioner Mike Opat and Minnesota Twins President Jerry Bell say that the billionaire team owner Carl Pohlad cannot share any stadium revenue with taxpayers. This despite the fact that the $1.1 billion stadium tax would have Hennepin County taxpayers funding nearly 80% of the stadium costs. Why shouldn't they get a piece of the action?

As currently proposed, unlike with the Metrodome, taxpayers would receive absolutely no revenue from concerts or other non-baseball events held at the proposed open-air stadium.

John Knight, who leads a citizen group that is seeking a referendum of Hennepin County voters on the sales tax increase, asked, "My question: who is representing taxpayers in this forced deal?"

Tax, tax, tax that cigarette!

Hi, I'm John Waters, and I'm supposed to announce that there's no smoking in this theater, which is one of the most ridiculous things I've ever heard of in my life. I mean, who can sit through the length of a film, especially a European film, and not have a cigarette? But, don't you wish you had one, right now? Mmmmm-mm-mm-mm! But, go ahead and smoke anyway. It gives ushers jobs, and, if people didn't smoke, there'd be no employment for the youth of today. So, once again, no smoking in this theater. Mmmm-mmmm! And why not? It's a dirty habit, and smokers cost society money in increased health care costs. Plus, smokers are an easy minority to oppress (ever hear of a campaign to reduce the cigarette tax?).

A recent study by the Taxpayer's League of Minnesota asserts that smokers already pay more in state cigarette taxes than they consume in health care costs:
According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the societal costs of smoking amount to about 15-24 cents a pack in 1986 dollars, or 27-43 cents a pack in 2005 dollars. Those costs are obviously substantially less than the taxes charged by the state and federal governments and being paid for by smokers through the tobacco settlements—amounting to 64 cents a pack in 1998. This year alone the state is getting about $200 million in tobacco settlement dollars from smokers, adding up to $1.6 billion paid into state coffers since 1998. Tobacco products are also subject to the 6.5% sales tax.

Between government efforts to end smoking, zero-tolerance municipal smoking bans, and $531 million in government subsidies to tobacco farmers since 2000, the government dilemma is how to collect the maximum tax revenue from every pack of smokes while avoiding driving tobacco farmers out of business by getting smokers to quit (and thereby reducing cigarette tax revenue). Perhaps Marlboro exports to the Third World is the answer!