Thursday, January 29, 2009

Inanity of the Day: Paula Aboud

I called and called and couldn't get a face-to-face meeting between Paula Aboud, "my" state senator, and SCCC, concerning last year's SB 1214. Now I know what I needed to do: I needed to stand outside her office, chant slogans, and wave signs for thirty days.

In today's Daily Wildcat:
"We must remember that this country was founded on civil disobedience for what we believe in," the Democrat said. "We need to be here for thirty days, picketing and rallying, and standing up.

"This will make a difference; I've seen it in other states - it will. This is how you get your rights, whether it's gay civil rights, black and white civil rights, this is what you do! You can stand up and be heard! Otherwise it's just numbers in a budget, or lines on a paper. Students need to stand up and say how this is going to impact them."

Sorry, dear:
  1. Civil disobedience means willfully violating an unjust law. Demonstrations may be rude but they are certainly legal.

  2. Rent seeking and standing up for one's rights are extremely different behavior, and to equate fighting a maximally 16% university budget cut with the push for equal rights for homosexuals or blacks is an insult to those who stood (and stand) for the latter two causes.

  3. No, this is not what you do. What you do is lobby and and phone your representatives (unless, like Aboud, they only listen to yes-men) and 'blog and write the editor and submit guest opinions and run for office. A free press is the cornerstone of a Republic. Demonstrations are only in order if things are tremendously awry.

It's usually AZ House Republicans who say things so goofy as to make student reporters' clumsy editorializing--Carly Kennedy's "Senator Paula Aboud spoke of her immense support of the massive rally of students, and said protesting makes up the very foundation of our democracy"--unremarkable by comparison. ("immense...massive"?--will someone get the girl a thesaurus?) Thanks, Sen. Aboud for a refreshing change of pace. It's good to read of a Democrat say something silly for a change. Or not.

Heckuvajob, kids!

$121 million in proposed budget cuts before the protests, $142 million after.

Heckuvajob, kids--shows what happens when 1,700 of you show up with an overdeveloped sense of entitlement and no strategy or apparent desire to persuade. I'm sure booing Rep. Rich Crandall didn't help much, either. Yeah, that's the spirit, boo the guy who's working in your interest.

Class, the word of the day is "rent-seeker".

Given that we live in open society, in which the socially acceptable and polite ways of airing one's opinion to policymakers and the public are accessible to all, one ought be very careful about mass protests. It's one thing for the otherwise voiceless to stand up as a show of their own humanity, as in the civil rights movement, but another for ordinary people or, I dare say, the socially privileged, to raise a ruckus when they can send guest opinions to the Tucson Citizen, call their legislators, run and support candidates for office, or merely sign up for the legislature's Request to Speak system. Gathering in mass, shouting, chanting slogans, inevitably disrupting quotidian activity becomes in this case a form of bullying.

In no case is this more true than when rent-seekers gather to protest. One can get no further from the civil rights movement's mass demonstration of humanity. The rent seeker is a bully acting in a manner that is perversely economically sensible: he has more to gain from spending time asking for favors than you do in spending time stopping him--he relies on you simply handing over the lunch money. The mass protesting rent seeker is a more noxious breed: give us what we want or else. To us Americans, this is almost foreign, something we see in Europe, the lumpens taking to the streets every time someone moves to push them off the dole.

It came home yesterday, however, with over 1700 students gathering in Arizona's capitol to chant silly slogans, make categorical pronouncements about the value of higher education that even expert economists cannot make, and get more press than is their due simply because 1700 angry people is always newsworthy. In some ways it's analogous to the European situation: students are relatively idle and, especially if they attend a state university, the economic rewards for raising a ruckus are great.

Or maybe they aren't. Remember that these demonstrations are already foreign to the American experience, but furthermore that Arizona has a Republican-controlled legislature and a new "libertarian-Republican" governor. Certain legislators, especially Tucson-area Democrats, will by default be sympathetic, and in politics one tends to disregard bad behavior from one's side. But as noted by Evan Lisull over on the Desert Lamp, the protesting students need to appeal not just to reflexively friendly legislators but also to moderate Republicans like "Captain Al" Melvin, head of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The first step in doing so is to not be offensive. Taxpayer-funded lobbying is not only offensive to advocates of good government, it's a topic to bring up if you want with near certainty to raise an Arizona Republican's blood pressure. The students weren't lobbying per se but as AFP's Tom Jenney clarified for the third time students who received class credit to go stand in the crowd and chant slogans were doing so on the taxpayer's dime. If you are thinking that nobody will be offended as the matter hinges on subtle distinctions, consider that Tom Jenney is someone to whom legislators and their more active constitutents, especially in Maricopa County, listen. Moreover to project such a sense of entitlement is guaranteed to offend. It's your right, eh? Then what about those kids who did better than you in high school and are going to University of Chicago? Why should Joe and Jane Taxpayer, who may not have went to college, who may have sent their kids to private college, or who may even have went to the U of A, pay so that you can get self-edification on the cheap? An experiment for those who think that only fringe old-fashioned classical-liberals take exception to the notion of higher education as an entitlement: bring it up to freshman legislator Frank Antenori, who last year didn't mince words about it, while campaigning, at the University of all places!

With all the talk of the need for a unified front, of students, grad students (including this ABD 'blogger), and faculty of all three universities to have a common line, you'd think there was a strategy, but I don't see one. None of the ostensible leaders, not Michael Crow, not Robert Shelton, not "Tommy" Bruce, are trying to appeal to the values or personalities of those in power. The trouble with any mass protest, aside from shades of bullying, is that it can easily degenerate to catharsis. When the crowd boos the House Education Committee chairman when he says he's making efforts to keep cuts low, it's clear that no attempt is being made to find common ground with the other side, let alone make accommodations and work constructively.

But perhaps most aggravating to a spectator is the seige mentality. There is no "other side". There is a State with a budget shortfall There are three universities which bring at least some benefit to some people in the state. (Whether there is a net benefit to the individual taxpayer, I cannot say.) Those who work at the universities, who study at the universities, live in the state and will be worse off, just like their neighbors, if the legislature caves in to their demands, leaves university funding alone, and cuts basic governance.

The Legislature will, of course, not cave in. The question on my mind is whether the words of Michael Crow, Robert Shelton, and the students who were out chanting today will make legislators more or less sympathetic to the universities. Maybe to hold this against the universities as institutions would be spiteful, but giving someone the bird--and that's what failing to acknowledge someone's values is--is not an effective way to ask a favor.

ASA refund

University of Arizona, ASU, and NAU students:

If you are bothered that a semi-mandatory fee pays for lobbying, or subsidized today's mass rent-seeking, you may still request a refund.

Print out the form on ASA's website and mail or fax it to the address provided, posthaste, as you have until 21 days after the start of the semester.


In my last post, I noted that University of Arizona students were receiving "Deans Excuses"--officially excused absences whether an instructor likes it or not--for travel to the capitol for yesterday's protests.

It turns out that undergraduate student government president Tommy Bruce just made that part up. Shows what I get for trusting something coming from a grown man who still wants everyone to call him "Tommy".

Since my fiancée couldn't get excused absences a few years ago to visit grad schools, to get an official top-down excused absense for participation in a slogan-chanting, mindless mob would be just plain outrageous.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Student protests at the capitol: a multiple-choice quiz.

In the spirit of a one-size-fits-all state megauniversity, I offer a multiple-choice quiz:

Imagine yourself an Arizona legislator, either Republican or moderate Democrat. (In other words, you're not the Steve Farley "Streetcars are my art project" type.)

  1. On learning that University of Arizona students came to the Capitol today on University-furnished buses, that they received excused absences from class on the Dean's orders, and that some are receiving course credit, is your likelihood to treat the University favorably in this round of budget cuts

    1. Diminished

    2. The same

    3. or
    4. Increased?

  2. Faced with over a thousand people exhibiting rent-seeking behavior on the taxpayers' dime does banning taxpayer-funded advocacy

    1. Remain a low priority

    2. Become a lower priority

    3. or
    4. Increase in priority?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Richard Epstein to give two lectures in Arizona!

Richard Epstein, perhaps the foremost modern classical liberal legal scholar and among this generation's top political philosophers from anywhere in the political spectrum, will be giving two public lectures on Wednesday, 4 January, in Phoenix.

The first, at noon, shall be hosted by the Phoenix School of Law's Federalist Society. Epstein will discuss the intersection of takings, defamation law, and scholarly free speech in the defamation suit Royall v Main, in which he is codefendant. See this post for details.

In the evening, the Goldwater Institute will host a lecture on the "Coming Constitutional Crisis", in which Epstein will discuss some of the coming conflicts over the interpretation of the U.S. Constitution. Details may be found on the Goldwater Institute's event page.

Both events are free but require RSVP. Lawyers may sign up to receive CLE credit for a small fee at either. Your humble narrator will likely come to the lab in early morning so as to leave early and drive up from Tucson to make it to the evening event. I'm probably on the hook already to meet a few of my ACLU colleagues (informally) afterwards and would be pleased if a few readers could join us for beer, wine, or coffee; send me an e-mail if you're interested.

Davis Monthan noise rules changes and Prop 207

I heard through the e-mail grapevine last week that a "noise zone" around Davis Monthan AFB might be expanded, allowing the base to operate much noisier aircraft, and that affected citizens were organizing opposition.

My question is: Why does this even stand a chance? Didn't we pass 2006's Proposition 207 to prevent this or ensure fair compensation?

Before you say "no, Ben, Prop 207 guaranteed compensation for loss of use", hear me out: Enjoyment of the property is use. "I used to be able to get a good night's sleep, and now those damn A7s are shaking the glass" is rather clearly loss of use.

And my remedy for the sophomoric asshats who say "There's always been an AFB there: 'coming to the nuisance' is a defense" is to call over to the AFB and request low flyovers of your house, no matter where you live. "But the AFB existed when you bought it!"

If anyone who knows more can clue me in, please do. The supposed meeting to organize opposition coincided in both time and space with the last MCRC meeting, making me think the organization is a bit on the flaky side, and so far not a peep from the press.

HT: David F. Nolan, Ingrid Saber

Friday, January 23, 2009

Two school choice bills in the Arizona House.

So far I haven't seen any bills for this session establishing a dollar-for-dollar use tax credit for parents, legal guardians, or others who directly pay a particular child's tuition fees or any other truly exciting school choice measures, but there are two bills that will expand the current, ersatz system of credits for donations to scholarship-granting school tuition organizatons (STOs).

HB 2287 would require employers to, on employee request, withhold STO contributions from paychecks and accordingly reduce the amount of state tax withheld. This is more convenient by far than saving and contributing a lump sum each year and will likely lead to greater participation in the system.

HB 2288 would allow insurers who make contributions to STOs to claim a similar credit against their premium taxes. More importantly, it would remove the 2011 sunset date for the individual tax credit.

Neither will bring about the program we need to eliminate double payments and thus address the heart of the market failure that keeps private K-12 education out of the reach of so many, but the STO program at least mitigates charity crowd-out and helps to put private education within more families' reach. Consequently both of these bills, especially HB 2288 with its very important elimination of the 2011 sunset, are worthy of your support.

If you will be in the Phoenix area on Monday the 26th and have time to spare around 2 PM, consider testifying on these bills before the Ways and Means committee, especially if you are a private school parent, a prospective private school parent, or an educator.

Did anyone notice the teachable moment?

As documented by Evan Lisull over at the Desert Lamp, something called the Collegiate Readership Program has caused a real tempest-in-a-teapot at the University of Arizona.

To the extent that I have an opinion (which is almost to say "to the extent I care about such a small matter") I'm opposed. The tuition fee at the U of A is too low, but it covers all sorts of niceties in addition to tuition. On top of that are several other fees including a Student Affairs Fee, a Rec Center Fee, etc., to provide today's students with things their professors would've considered luxuries. If the object is to make education affordable, quit charging so many nickel-and-dime fees and package-dealing so many ancillary niceties. Students can buy their own daily newspaper or read it on the Internet. And if they will receive free papers, why USA Today? It's not written for the college-educated audience?

But that's beside the point. One of the arguments being heard against the Collegiate Readership Program is that it's somehow a subsidy. As Lisull has remarked, unless we're also going to say that burritos for lunch is a subsidy of Chipotle, that's nonsense. The CRP is an exchange of money for services.

If I were teaching economics--especially behavioral econ, one of the UA's strong suits--political philosophy, or social psych, I couldn't have asked for a better "teachable moment." As Bryan Caplan, Steven Pinker and others have remarked, there is a human tendency, probably left over from pre-civilized, communitarian hunter-gatherer days (when it would actually make sense) to view commercial activity as gift-giving. "Should I give Starbucks my money?" instead of "Should I buy a coffee from Starbucks." This is the incorrect way to look at the relationship, but that people do view it this way has profound (and often aggravating) consequences for both business and public policy. Too bad I'm teaching physics. Our teachable moments are far more mundane:

Prof: "When you had the cylinder head off your car's engine, you noticed that..."
Students: (blank looks)
Prof: "You've seen the inside of an engine, right?"
Students: (blank looks)
Prof: "Raise your hands if you've seen the outside of a car's engine"
Students: (half the class's hands go up.)
Prof: "Nevermind!"
Premed: "Will something about engines be on the test? Because it's not in the book and it wasn't in the homework and that's not fair!"

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Governor Brewer: Welcome, and good luck.

Yes, we must keep our tax and regulatory burdens low, something I have stood for throughout my 26 years in public life. We must make sure that beleaguered businesses in California and other such overtaxed places hear the music of our commerce and our culture and see brighter prospects in the cities and towns across Arizona.

But that is not nearly enough. In every way we can, we must make our people free.

Free to work and earn a living, to build a business, to build a life. Free to find and speak the truth about their government, and those who would lead it. Free from crime and violence and lawlessness of all kinds.

As most eyes have been on Washington over the past few days, it's likely that readers missed Governor Brewer's inaugural address.

To compare it to President Obama's is an interesting study in contrasts. Obama's skill as a politician has been to invite the listener and the reader to fill in the blanks with his own ideas and values. Brewer is not a charmer of this participatory sort. Obama is prone to lofty talk lapsing into vague appeals to tradition, to the future, to history: Brewer is concrete. In this she is somehow less inspiring, but certainly far more exciting.

Perhaps a decade from now, we will look to Jan Brewer's address as more important than Obama's. The ideas are bigger even if the language is considerably more modest. The State can overcome its financial crisis and its people can overcome these hard times not through heroism of elected officials but through embrace of liberty. Hope is not a longing for a handsome man with a warm smile to guide us to "jobs at a decent wage" and "care [we] can afford". Hope is us: it is made more than a wish by our human and social capital, by our entrepreneurial ability as individuals alone and acting in common cause, so long as the government provides an environment in which we can flourish. A governor who "encourages" this entrepreneurial drive, who reminds us that we are capable instead of reassuring us that if we fail, somebody cares, will contribute positively to our culture and only facilitate recovery and progress. We can and will stand as a light to the several States and to the world, showing the direction that leads to prosperity and proving once and for all that choice, competition, and initiative bring out the best in Man and enable us to lead happier existences by finding better ways to help others do the same.

Yes, my friends and colleagues, this is still the Goldwater State. Bigoted goons like Russell Pearce and Roy Warden, narrow minded culture warriors like Tim Bee, and socialist schemers like Phil Lopes may more often catch our attention, but the classical-liberal substratum did not disappear with the death of the man in whose honor this 'blog was named, nor with the departure of Jim Kolbe from office, nor with the influx of so many who support out of habit a government that does for people what they could do better for themselves. Nor is Congressman Jeff Flake the sole holder of liberal values in office. With the succession of Jan Brewer to the governorship comes not merely worry that the legislature's knuckle-dragging goons will be indulged; Jan Brewer brings hope for liberal renewal.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Should universities be this vulnerable to State finanical probelms?

The report of the chairmen of Arizona's Joint Legislative Budget Committee proposes what amounts to an over 20% mid-year cut in the budgets of the University of Arizona and ASU. This is too much, too abruptly, and students and faculty are right to be agitated even if the report is merely a starting point in the discussion.

But cuts do have to be made in the State's budget, and maintaining infrastucture, staffing the prisons, and meeting obligations set by ballot initiative must come before providing nearly free higher education to Arizona's teenagers and discount higher-ed to slouching, mumbling California brats.

The question nobody seems to be asking right now, as most are caught up in the moment, is should the State even be able to cut 20% of the universities' budgets. That is to say, should a 100% cut of the State's subsidy even amount to 20%

The U of A and ASU are both megauniversities with hundreds of thousands of alumni apiece, and are both over a century old. There is no good reason for either to rely so heavily on the State--and we are now seeing that heavy reliance on the State is not a sustainable model for a university. Among others California, Illinois, and, most famously, Michigan went through similar periods of cutbacks precipitated by State financial crises and all responded with long-term institutional reform. It would be foolish for Arizona's universities to not transition to a more sustainable model.

As is detailed in a Goldwater Institute whitepaper, after several rounds of crisis-induced cuts, the University of Michigan underwent an orderly transition to being a privately financed public university. In 1965 the State provided 70% of its funding; by 2003 the State provided less than 10%. It is impossible for a Michigan budget shortfall to result in a 20% mid-year cut to the University of Michigan's funding! This is a model that Arizona's three universities, especially the research megauniversities ASU and U of A, would do well to emulate.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Freedom of Choice in Health Care Act, county-by-county

From the Arizona Secretary of State's official canvass of results, a county-by-county breakdown of Freedom of Choice in Health Care Act (aka "Medical Choice Act") totals from this November's election:
La Paz2,7862,330
Santa Cruz5,7676,334

Totals: 1,048,512 in favor, 1,057,199 against; the nays have it.

Had AHCCCS head Anthony Rodgers not spun mal fide tall tales about the measure's implications, it would probably have been a landslide in favor. Had Maricopa County Superior Court judge Kenneth Magnum ruled that Rodgers' actions constituted illegal electioneering, the damage might have been contained. A suggestion to incoming Governor Jan Brewer: request
Rodgers's resignation.

Regardless, it was close. And there is something rather wrong with Pima and Santa Cruz counties, which is to say, for practical purposes, the Tucson area plus Nogales. The absence of classical-liberal clubs and policy institutes of the sort found in Maricopa County is acute.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Chihuly's "Nature of Glass" installation at the Desert Botanical Garden

My first impression of the Dale Chihuly art-glass installation at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix was that it in some ways reflects a "one size fits all" approach by the artist--brightly colored tentacles everywhere.

No, that was my second impression. My first impression was of the three yuccalike columns near the entrance, catching the sun at dawn; I was surprised that a sculptor could meaningfully add to the scene. I also had no idea a special exhibition was taking place; having never visited the DBG before and thinking them very well placed, I took the three yuccas as being part of the permanent collection.

Some of the pieces--squat agaves of two kinds, a yellow column, evocative of a saguaro, near the entrance, a giant alliumlike flower head on one of the paths--kept me from thinking the installation totally without context. And on reviewing my Kodachromes, which didn't all come out due to a failing meter battery, I've concluded that the exhibition is very well done. Even some of the one-size-fits-all elements, such as Chihuly's signature boats, take on meaning due to their context.

Those of you who don't ordinarily like abstract art will probably like this study of form in nature. The exhibition continues until May 31st; I recommend visiting before then. See my slide show on Associated Content for images and further reflection.

A post about art on a policy 'blog? Readers may find it strange, but the old-timers lead me to believe that this 'blog's doll-collecting, photo-enthusiast namesake would not have disapproved. And this installation is far more interesting than most of the happenings in Phoenix I report here!

Scanning the headlines.

In yesterday's Arizona Daily Star: Having left her mark on state, 'Janet' departs.

Is it just me, or does that evoke a dog lifting its leg at the neighborhood tree? Runs up a defecit for which she's at least half culpable, then trots off.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Shooting men in the back: Arizona and California

While the videotaped Oakland murder of Oscar Grant by BART police officer Johannes Mehserle has captured the public's attention, let us not forget that right here in Arizona, by all eyewitness accounts, Border Patrol agent Nicholas Corbett did the same to Francisco Javier Dominguez Rivera.

In AZ, where many of the less educated believe that police should Not Be Questioned because They Are Here To Protect Us, eyewitness testimony be damned, the case ended in two mistrials. The California matter is made slightly more clear by videotape--or not, as how to treat the testimony of witnesses who later saw video is unclear--but it'll be interesting to see how the conclusion of the cases differ and to what extent the less submissive (albeit leftist) culture of Northern California effects the differences.

I have personal connections to the Bay Area--I've been splitting my time more and more between here and there--and would like myself and the people I love to be able ride the BART without fear of negligent or deliberate summary execution by 27-year-old cops who don't know when to keep the gun in the holster. Condolences go out to the Grant family and, of course, to the Riveras, along with a hope that the latter prevail in their lawsuit.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

ACLU-AZ legislative commitee

I have no intention of re-joining the ACLU-AZ Board of Directors, but value the organization enough to maintain involvement. Your humble narrator has just joined the group's Legislative Committee.

Perhaps this means you'll see more coverage of bills here on the 'blog.