Assorted Links 4/10/10


Bill Black: Not Dead Yet – Part 3

  • Word Workshop: Writing for Government and Business: Critical Thinking and Writing, April 15, 2010
  • Word Workshop: Writing to Persuade: Hone Your Persuasive Writing Skills, April 16, 2010
  • Media Relations for Public Affairs Professionals, May 4, 2010
  • Advanced Media Relations, May 5, 2010
  • Public Affairs and the Internet: Advanced Techniques and Strategies, May 6, 2010
  • Crisis Communications Training, May 7, 2010
  • Persuading Congress: Candid Advice for Executives – “Persuading Congress, by Joseph Gibson, is a very practical book, packed with wisdom and experience in a deceptively short and simple package.

    This book will help you understand Congress. Written from the perspective of one who has helped put a lot of bills on the president’s desk and helped stop a lot more, this book explains in everyday terms why Congress behaves as it does. Then it shows you how you can best deploy whatever resources you have to move Congress in your direction.”

  • The strange but true tale of a phony currency, shame, and a grass-roots movement that could go global – “What good is a currency that is not even worth the paper it’s printed on?

    That’s the intriguing question raised by the new ‘zero rupee note’ now circulating in southern India. It looks just like the country’s 50 rupee bill but with some crucial differences: It is printed on just one side on plain paper, it bears a big fat ‘0’ denomination, and it isn’t legal tender.

    The notes do, however, have value to the people who carry them. They’re designed as a radical new response to the pervasive problem of petty corruption. Citizens are encouraged to hand the notes to public officials in response to the bribery demands that are almost inescapable when dealing with the government here. Bribes for access to services are so common they even have an accepted euphemism — asking for money ‘for tea.’

    The notes, printed and distributed by a good-government organization called 5th Pillar, include the phrase that the bearer ‘promises to neither accept nor give a bribe.’ The idea is that by handing one of these zero rupee bills to an official, a citizen can register a silent protest — and maybe even shame or scare a corrupt bureaucrat into doing his duty without demanding a bribe for it.”

    Hat tip to and from the comments at MR:
    Now if we can only get the “Zero Attitude” note that we can hand to police and surly bureaucrats at the DMV and IRS, we’d be set!

    Or the “Zero Confidence” note we can hand to any incompetent public servant, like a lousy teacher, rude city bus driver, all politicians, etc.

  • Facts vs. the Narrative – “The narrative is that small business credit markets are frozen. John Stossel argues the facts say otherwise?
    . . .
    So does our science-based President address the narrative or the facts? Here is a hint: narratives can affect elections, while facts are often ignored. Therefore, Obama is proposing to use $30 billion of TARP money to so something about the $8 billion drop in small business lending.”
  • Reis: Strip Mall Vacancy Rate Hits 10.8%, Highest since 1991 – “The 8.9% is the highest since Reis began tracking regional malls in 2000. Lease rates fell for the seventh consecutive quarter.”
  • Unions and State Government Management – “State and local governments that have high levels of unionization have a harder time efficiently managing their finances and other aspects of their operations. At least, that’s my argument. The other day, I showed that states with higher levels of debt had higher levels of unionization. The statistical correlation was very strong.

    Today, let’s look at the quality of state management, as measured by a major report by the Pew Center on the States. The Pew report gave letter grades to the 50 state governments for management of finances, employees, infrastructure, and information. Pew also provided an overall state score.
    . . .
    The bottom line: public-sector unionization is not a good idea, as it apparently leads to lower-quality government management and to higher debt levels. As such, I’ve argued that collective bargaining in state and local government workforces should be banned.”

  • Even With a Recovery, Job Perks May Not Return – “Workers have seen everything from 401(k) contributions to educational reimbursements cut by their employers during the recession. While some companies are slowly restoring some benefits, experts say workers shouldn’t expect a return to pre-2007 levels any time soon.

    ‘Those days are gone,’ says Tim Prichard, head of BridgeStreet Consulting, a benefits administration consulting firm. ‘Benefits across the board are no longer sacred cows.’

    A survey of 522 human resources professionals conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management in February 2009 found that fringe benefit offerings–which include stock options, paid family leave and business class airfare–have decreased significantly since 2005.”

  • UPS Thinks Out of the Box on Driver Training – “Driver training is crucial for Atlanta-based UPS, which employs 99,000 U.S. drivers and says it will need to hire 25,000 over the next five years to replace retiring Baby Boomers.

    Candidates vying for a driver’s job, which pays an average of $74,000 annually, now spend one week at Integrad, an 11,500-square-foot, low-slung brick UPS training center 10 miles outside of Washington, D.C. There they move from one station to another practicing the company’s ‘340 Methods,’ prescribed by UPS industrial engineers to save seconds and improve safety in every task from lifting and loading boxes to selecting a package from a shelf in the truck.”

    Let’s read that again: “a [UPS] driver’s job, which pays an average of $74,000 annually,”

  • Embarassing Graduation Rate Data? – “I was struck by the title of an article that appears in the Chronicle of Higher Education this morning, ‘Education Dept. Data Show Rise in Enrollment and Student Aid but Flat Graduation Rates.’ Unless the purpose of student aid is simply to boost enrollments, it sounds like some people — taxpayers come immediately to mind — aren’t getting their money’s worth, not to mention the students lured to college who don’t get out.

    Moved by curiosity actually to read the article, I was then struck even harder by something that turned out not to be mentioned in it: any reference to graduation rates by race. That omission seems seriously odd, I thought, since race is always on the Dept. of Education’s mind (or whatever), and surely a Dept. of Education report on graduation rates could not ignore racial data, could it?”

  • We Hold These Truths To Be Self-Evident – “Human nature being understood, and moral language being understood, one can make some observations.

    Human beings are more likely to thrive under conditions of liberty. The chances of fulfilling a person’s preferences by coercing him are much lower than his own chances of fulfilling his preferences by his own discovery of those preferences, decision as to how to fulfill them, and freely undertaking to act on his decisions. If his betters have wisdom on the matter he can seek it out by inquiring of them. If someone decides to control and coerce him, it will unlikely be his better and even if it is, it will unlikely be a man who could fulfill the preferences of his subjects as well as they could fulfill their preferences.”

  • Injustice System: Fox News’ Judge Andrew Napolitano on repealing the 17th Amendment, “constitutional activism,” and his bestselling new book Lies the Government Told You. – “Reason: You end the book [Lies the Government Told You] with a call for a ‘major political transformation.’ What is the single most important reform?

    Napolitano: I would repeal the 17th Amendment [which provides for the popular election of U.S. senators]. Can an amendment to the Constitution itself be unconstitutional? Yes, that one. If you read Madison’s notes from the constitutional convention, they spent more time arguing over the make-up of the federal government and they came up with the federal table. There would be three entities at the federal table. There would be the nation as a nation, there would be the people, and there would be the states. The nation as a nation is the president, the people is the House of Representatives, and the states is the Senate, because states sent senators. Not the people in the states, but the state government. When the progressives, in the Theodore Roosevelt/Woodrow Wilson era, abolished this it abolished bicameralism, the notion of two houses. It effectively just gave us another house like the House of Representatives where they didn’t have to run as frequently, and the states lost their place at the federal table.

    That was an assault, an invasion on the infrastructure of constitutional government. Even kings in Europe had to satisfy the princes and barons around them. And that’s how they lost their power, or that’s how their power was tempered. Congress believes it doesn’t have to satisfy anybody. Its only recognized restraint is whatever it can get away with.

    Reason: What do you make of the recent attacks on the idea of states’ rights, linking it directly to evil things like the defense of slavery?

    Napolitano: Probably the best act of nullification of which I’m aware, whereby a state government nullified an act of the federal government, was the state of Massachusetts nullifying the Fugitive Slave Act. The state of Massachusetts said don’t even try it here. We’ll prosecute anybody that kidnaps anybody else in this state. So nullification has a beneficial and salutary history as well as the sordid one.

    Reason: You wrote that the notion of being innocent until proven guilty is ‘probably the least questioned and most believed government lie.’

    Napolitano: It’s drawn from my professional experience. The defendant is dragged into the courtroom and the jurors assume he’s guilty. Why would the government be wasting our time? When I would charge jurors–explain the law to them–I would insist on saying, ‘in order for him to be convicted you must be satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt and to a moral certainty of his guilt.’ The state always objected to that phrase (“and to a moral certainty”) until I pulled out the case law by appellate courts saying that it was perfectly appropriate.

    There are some horror stories in my book of people who were punished without trial. In the Herrera case, [defendant Leonel Torres Herrera] was executed, with the state knowing that somebody else had committed the crime. They just didn’t care because he filed his petitions too late. Chief Justice John Roberts, when he was Judge Roberts, was asked at his confirmation hearing, does the Constitution prohibit the execution of the innocent by the state? He paused and said yes. Who could possibly pause? If it prohibits anything it prohibits that.”


James Randi Speaks: My Fortune

  • Growth of Unpaid Internships May Be Illegal, Officials Say – “With job openings scarce for young people, the number of unpaid internships has climbed in recent years, leading federal and state regulators to worry that more employers are illegally using such internships for free labor.

    Convinced that many unpaid internships violate minimum wage laws, officials in Oregon, California and other states have begun investigations and fined employers. Last year, M. Patricia Smith, then New York’s labor commissioner, ordered investigations into several firms’ internships. Now, as the federal Labor Department’s top law enforcement official, she and the wage and hour division are stepping up enforcement nationwide.

    Many regulators say that violations are widespread, but that it is unusually hard to mount a major enforcement effort because interns are often afraid to file complaints. Many fear they will become known as troublemakers in their chosen field, endangering their chances with a potential future employer.

    The Labor Department says it is cracking down on firms that fail to pay interns properly and expanding efforts to educate companies, colleges and students on the law regarding internships.”

  • Student Internships and Minimum Wage Laws – “Are any VC readers of the view that enforcement of these minimum wage laws will lead to increased employment of the interns? I’m not being cute; I’d be curious to know if anyone wanted to make that argument in a serious way, as it is hard for me to fathom, but perhaps I am wrong.”
  • Q&A: Discovering the World on the Most Dangerous Buses, Boats, Trains and Planes – “Author Carl Hoffman has written extensively about some of the most technological and advanced forms of transportation on the planet. Whether it be Burt Rutan’s quest for space, or Larry Ellison’s quest for the America’s Cup, Hoffman enjoys how people express their creativity with machines.

    So, it comes as a bit of a surprise that his new book, The Lunatic Express, features no carbon fiber, no breakthrough designs or alternative fuels. Instead, Hoffman sets off on a trip around the world using only the most dangerous and decrepit forms of transportation he finds along the way.

    He travels the Andes in buses more famous for cliff dives than on-time arrivals. In India, he packs himself onto trains so overcrowded there are as many people sitting on the roof as there are in the seats. For a trip across the islands of Indonesia, he skips the ease of a short flight, opting instead for a questionable ferry like the ones that sank several years earlier killing more than a thousand people. In his defense, Indonesian air-safety records aren’t exactly inspiring, either.

    But as Hoffman details so eloquently in his book, this is how most of the world’s population travels. The complaints we hear at the airline ticket counter are petty compared to what most people must contend with when they need to get to work or visit family. The Lunatic Express isn’t about the interesting ways tourists traipse across foreign countries and the frustrations they experience. It’s about the people who must contend with danger and discomfort every day to simply get from place to place, and the incredible kindness they so often display despite what they have to endure.”

  • Wheat Ridge High School Class of 1970 – “The reonion committee is working away planning the 40th reunion the weekend of August 13-15, 2010. Wheat Ridge, Colorado WRHS1970.com”
  • Common Market Food Co-op – “Common Market Food Co-op was a ‘new wave food co-op’ located at 1329 California Street in Denver, Colorado, from 1975 – 1980. It started as a buying club at the University of Denver in the early 1970s, and for a few years prior to moving to the old Safeway at 13th and California Streets, Common Market operated out of a small storefront on Champa Street.”
  • Some Papers Are Uploaded to Bangalore to Be Graded – “Lori Whisenant knows that one way to improve the writing skills of undergraduates is to make them write more. But as each student in her course in business law and ethics at the University of Houston began to crank out–often awkwardly–nearly 5,000 words a semester, it became clear to her that what would really help them was consistent, detailed feedback.

    Her seven teaching assistants, some of whom did not have much experience, couldn’t deliver. Their workload was staggering: About 1,000 juniors and seniors enroll in the course each year. ‘Our graders were great,’ she says, ‘but they were not experts in providing feedback.’

    That shortcoming led Ms. Whisenant, director of business law and ethics studies at Houston, to a novel solution last fall. She outsourced assignment grading to a company whose employees are mostly in Asia.

    Virtual-TA, a service of a company called EduMetry Inc., took over. The goal of the service is to relieve professors and teaching assistants of a traditional and sometimes tiresome task–and even, the company says, to do it better than TA’s can.”

  • What Is Barack Obama? – “I don’t doubt that our president has his issues–just look at his nutty mother, consider the impact of being abandoned by dad–but I don’t think that just putting Obama on the couch is the best way to understand him.

    Put him in the classroom instead. Because he’s the stereotypical American undergrad at a stereotypical Ivy League college in the age of political correctness.”


Congressman’s War Hero Son Would Have Wanted Highway Bill Passed

  • Michelin’s Smart Jumper Cables – “As if having a dead battery in your vehicle wasn’t bad enough, there’s also the risk of doing some serious damage if you incorrectly hook up a set of jumper cables while trying to bring it back to life. Not so with Michelin’s Smart Jumper Cables. An electronic box in-between the sets of clamps lets you know when everything’s hooked up, properly completing the circuit, and once both batteries are connected any issues with polarity are automatically taken care of to keep sparking and ’splosions to a minimum.”
  • People Want Mobile Broadband, But Not Personal Hotspots – “User confusion about personal hotspots may be one reason for decreasing sales. Whenever I take the MiFi out at coffee shops or around other people, I’m invariably asked what it is and what it does. Although these small routers debuted just prior to the January 2009 Consumer Electronics Show, people simply don’t know about them — a point driven home by Novatel in an earnings call.

    Is this lack of knowledge encouraged by carriers? With the same monthly fee as a single-use 3G solution, I have to wonder how actively carriers promoting the MiFi devices. Why sell one mobile broadband enabler that shares the connection when you can sell multiple solutions and multiply revenues?”

  • The Best Fire Starter Ever Invented – “The ability to start a fire is the number one survival skill you can have, without which you will likely be in serious trouble during an emergency survival or disaster situation.

    But there is a problem; those butane lighters and supposedly ‘waterproof’ matches you use in civilization may very well fail you in an emergency when you need them most.

    There is a solution to this problem, one that I stake my life on for always being able to start a fire any time I need. This incredible product has never failed me, even under the most adverse outdoor conditions.

    The best fire starter ever invented is the Survival Topics firesteel.”

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