29.10.12

MONSTER STORM.

Here's the view from the front door at about 3.30 Monday afternoon.


Brisk north winds.  Radio tells me those clouds are lake-effect clouds (the blue norther over the warm lake) although on satellite they're indistinguishable from the western fringe of Sandy.  The clouds have since moved further to the west.

ZINGERS ARE THE FUN OF THE MOMENT.

In the run-up to the first Presidential debate, the commentariat of the left had a lot of fun with the possibility that Governor Romney was preparing some "zingers" so as to twit President Obama.  The consensus at the time was that such zingers were likely to fail.  All the same, when Our President got off that one about fewer horses and bayonets, his enablers and cheerleaders on the left thought there was such a thing as a good zinger.

Yes, I'm looking at you, Ed Schultz.  And considering the source.  Ed Schultz played college football for Don Morton, who gave Northern Illinois about five years of recruiting and publicity material.  Problem is, Don Morton was coaching Wisconsin at the time.

Jonah Goldberg suggests that Ed Schultz, and Rachel Maddow, and, for that matter Michael Kinsley and Bob Shrum, generalizes.
[Horses and bayonets] struck me as an example of how thoroughly liberalism has confused sneering for intellectual confidence. It shouldn’t be surprising, given that comedy shows often substitute for news programs, particularly for younger liberals. That’s probably why the president has been spending more time talking to DJs, entertainment shows, and comedians than to reporters. He desperately needs the support of low-information voters, who’ve replaced the old adage “it’s funny because it’s true” with “if it’s funny, it must be true.”
I propose to expand the class of low-information voters.  Democratic Party cliches are not the same thing as academic substance, although as the election approaches, the distinction blurs.  The cliches and zingers have crowded out substance, perhaps to our disadvantage.
Asked if the president’s personal attacks demean the office of the presidency, [former Florida governor Jeb Bush replied: “It does, but here’s the sad reality: We have a temporary time in American history where our culture has been coarsened, where people’s expectations are low. We’re living in a different time.

“As president of the United States,” he continued, “there’s the old expression that if you work hard, and you play by the rules, and if you have success, you could be just like him. You could be a president of the United States. That’s what dads tell their boys and moms tell their girls.

“When you act like that, it’s kind of hard to say as a parent to your child, ‘You could be a president of the United States.’ Maybe there are other avocations that might be something that would create greater pride. Sadly, when you act that way, people begin to diminish the importance of the presidency,” Bush said.
Complex Proposition Alert. Reclaiming the common culture is a Good Thing.  Diminishing the importance of the presidency is a Good Thing.  Achieving the one might in fact be aided by achieving the other.

BECOMING ILLINOIS.

It has long been the practice of the State of Illinois to string creditors along so as to preserve cash flow.  The practice is so notorious that local clinics often require patients on the state insurance plan to pre-pay, or pay their anticipated deductible or co-pay in advance, and that has become yet another sore point in the tussle between Northern Illinois University and the state over employee compensation and state support, or state micromanagement without support.

Chinese companies are taking a cue from Springfield.
Tight credit and a weak business climate are forcing Chinese companies to neglect their bills, resulting in a surge in many businesses' accounts receivable.

Accounts receivable refers to money owed but not yet collected from a company's clients.

Enterprises are struggling to pay suppliers on time, adding to the financial strain felt by the suppliers, which in turn find it hard or impossible to repay their creditors.
The article notes particular problems in coal, steel, and heavy machinery. Put another way, other developing countries are now stealing the now-routine heavy industry advantage from China.

THE VALUE OF INCREMENTAL IMPROVEMENTS.

It has long been the Cold Spring Shops position that Passenger Rail is more likely to succeed by increments, with increased frequencies and provision of 110 to 125 mph capacity on existing tracks, rather than going immediately to the more expensive bullet trains. Observers in some more visible places are catching on.
In the meantime, riders on the Chicago-St. Louis corridor may take solace in the fact that Amtrak expects to begin offering regular 110 mph service on that 15-mile stretch by Thanksgiving and on 75 percent of the route by 2015, cutting trip times by more than an hour.

“The difference between 79 and 110 mph isn't necessarily all that much, but at 110, the number of people they can carry improves dramatically,” said Rod Diridon Sr., executive director of the Mineta Transportation Institute at San Jose State University. “At that point, it really begins to compete with short-hop air travel.”
There's not much in the way of short-hop air service between Chicago and Bloomington or Springfield, or St. Louis and Joliet, at least not within the budget constraints of  Illinois State University or Washington University collegians, who swarm the Alton Route at Thanksgiving.  Additional frequencies at the faster running times, and better connectivity with the other corridors, will also help.

Business class seats in or out of Springfield are often hard to come by, as the Lincoln Service is the preferred route to the capital of Chicago politicians.  Heck, Rod Blagojevich might have viewed the ferroequinologists as important voters, given the use he made of the trains.

Free rein to 110, faster, please.

GREEN-NINETEEN.

Signal calling has sure changed.  Once upon a time, TWO-EIGHTY-SIX-HUT-HUT was an audible, and THREE-FORTY-ONE-HUT was not.  Whatever current Packer quarterback Aaron Rodgers is doing along with his normal signal call confuses defenses, and the team practices recognizing free plays and exploiting them.
Those plays look chaotic and frantic, but they’re actually well-rehearsed.

It starts with the quarterback’s snap count, and Rodgers is one of the best at varying his cadence when he’s not using a silent count. As soon as a defensive player enters the neutral zone, which is defined as the space between the points of the ball, the rest of the offensive players are allowed to move. If the center snaps the ball before the defensive player encroaches and makes contact with an offensive player, a free play ensues.

“We work on it all the time in practice,” Packers offensive coordinator Tom Clements said. “It’s not something that just happens in the game. We’re constantly using the cadence to our advantage and if they jump off, we try to get a play, a free play.”
Packer defensive coordinator Dom Capers equates going for six on an encroachment to playing with house money.

In the most recent game, the Packers didn't get any free-play touchdowns, although the punt return team got a shorthanded punt block, and Aaron Rodgers moved ahead of Bart Starr in touchdown passes.  There's still something of the playing to the level of your opponent in the Packers, and the coach plans to work on that.

24.10.12

THERE ARE LIMITS.

Reason's Ron Bailey notes that affirming diversity requires mutual affirmation. "Cultural understanding is not a one-way street. Muslims have a responsibility to understand and respect the cultural traditions of Americans."  Put more harshly:  I will not say anything positive about a belief system that has a negative view of mine.

SOME STANDARDS ARE BETTER.

Jonah Goldberg calls out the boutique multiculturalists and assorted Third-World-o-philes.
What got me thinking about all of this is the effort by various Muslim leaders at the United Nations to lecture us about free expression. Leaders who abuse and torture their own citizens for expressing their ideas or faith seem to think they have standing to lecture us about the limits of freedom.

Well, the tribe of barbarism doesn’t get to lecture the tribe of liberty about what freedom means. A few years ago, Dinesh D’Souza wrote a book, The Enemy at Home, in which he argued that American conservatives and Muslim conservatives should make common cause against liberals and leftists. The book was predictably denounced by liberals, but it was also rejected by conservatives.

Why? One reason, I think, is that whatever our differences with American liberals may be, conservatives understand that our argument with them is still within the family. The fighting is intense, but we’re all trying to figure out what it means to live in this country bequeathed to us by the American Revolution and the Enlightenment.

Well, the thugs haranguing us about the proper limits of free expression aren’t members of that tribe. They haven’t paid their dues.
Those thugs ought not be given aid and comfort by the authors of speech codes, either.

SHORING UP MODERATE REPUBLICANS?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the editorial board at The Nation recommend a vote for Barack Obama.  If the endorsement isn't calculated to reassure libertarian members of the Republican coalition, it is very much a back-handed compliment.
It’s true that many issues of fundamental importance have been absent from this election—from catastrophic climate change and staggering rates of poverty to the militarization of foreign policy and the continued growth of the national security state. Their omission has been enabled to a degree by the Republican Party’s rightward lurch, as well as the Romney team’s recurring gaffes and its naked hostility to vast sectors of the American electorate. As a result, the president has been successful, so far, in running a campaign that appeals to key progressive constituencies (women, Latinos, LGBT people) but without the broad call for change that distinguished his 2008 election.

As such, we have no illusions about the audacity of hope, no faith that the re-election of President Obama alone will accomplish the radical change this magazine has championed. For America to be on a different path in 2016 from that of 2012, progressive movements will have to “occupy” all the levers of power—in Washington, in the states and in the streets. Most immediately, that means strengthening the progressive coalition in Congress that includes Senators Sherrod Brown and Bernie Sanders, who are up for re-election, and adding crusaders like Tammy Baldwin and Elizabeth Warren to the mix. More important, progressive movements can’t be lulled into complacency once the election is over and expect elected officials to make change from above.
The World Socialist Web Site, in its own way, also reassures libertarian-leaning members of the Republican coalition.
Behind the sophistry and lies, the arguments of the Nation boil down to insisting that it is necessary to support Obama to ensure the gains of “progressives.” As one of the writers puts it, “A GOP victory robs us of the oxygen required to grow deeper and broader roots for the progressive movement.”

What is this “progressive movement?” There are real social interests involved, but they have nothing to do with the working class.

TheNation speaks for a layer of the upper-middle class that has done quite well under Obama—sections of the trade union bureaucracy, tenured professors at elite universities, well-paid journalists in the orbit of the political establishment and employed by Democratic Party think tanks, better-off sections of minority populations. Obama has offered them “space,” soliciting their services in policing the working class and maintaining the political order.

They are upset at the prospect of a Romney victory, but not because of Romney’s viciously anti-working class agenda, which Obama shares. Rather, they are concerned about their own positions and privileges, which are linked to the fortunes of the Democratic Party.
A splenetic National Review writer couldn't put it any better.  It's likely, though, that the Socialist Equality Party pundits do not see in the Tea Party the independent working class movement they seek.
In the end, the anti-working class and militarist policies of the Obama administration are not disappointments at all. The writers of the Nation are far more concerned about the danger of an independent movement of the working class than they are about wage cutting, unemployment and attacks on education and health care.

The upper-middle class layers for which the Nation speaks are sensitive to the potential for a movement from below, outside of the Democratic Party, which would threaten their own social and political position. Their social grievances, and their opposition to the Republicans, reflect dissatisfaction with the distribution of wealth within the top 10 percent, not the lowering of the living standards of the bottom 60 percent. They exclude any genuinely popular and democratic alternative to the two-party system—that is, a socialist alternative.

The elections—an undemocratic and highly manipulated contest between two right-wing representatives of the American financial oligarchy—do present workers and young people with a real choice. But it is not, as the Nation would have it, between the “lesser of two evils.”
A cynic could argue that the Democratic nachalstvo have benefitted from precisely those social policies that keep the poor and uneducated poor and uneducated, in order to preserve their authority in the social service agencies and in education, never mind that the Republican nachalstvo thus get failing schools, decaying cities, and an unproductive work force to gripe about.

HOW BAD ARE THINGS IN CALIFORNIA?

Bad enough that a California business owner contemplates relocating to Illinois.
[Freeport Mayor George] Gaulrapp says the owner of California company, Turbo Coil, saw coverage of Sensata on TV last week and called him to discuss bringing his business to town. Gaulrapp says the business could open up in the empty Sensata factory, but is also looking at other buildings as well.
The Sensata factory, and the work force, came to his attention because this relatively small establishment, which builds sensors for automobiles, is moving production to China. The majority owner of the company is Bain Capital, and much of the MSNBC commentariat have been broadcasting from the protest set up near the factory grounds.  Reverend Jackson was arrested there earlier today.

We may not have the Californian weather and climate, but we do have a decent work force, and successful professional and major college football teams on both sides of the Cheddar Curtain.

23.10.12

RECLAIMING THE AMERICA THAT WORKED.

A New York Sun endorsement of Governor Romney sees much to like in the nostalgia Our President perceives in the Republican agenda.
If voters get the idea that Mr. Romney can deliver the foreign policy of the 1980s, when we defeated a vast, hostile conspiracy in Soviet Communism, then Mr. Romney is moving in the right direction. No one wants the social faults of the 1950s, but if Mr. Romney stands for the virtues of family and faith, of decorum and respect that flourished then, he’d be a refreshing change. If he stands for higher birthrates, as we had in the 1950s, he’s a winner. Our guess is that if people really believe Mr. Romney will replicate the 1920s, they’ll elect him in a landslide. The fact is that — for America and for the GOP — the 1920s, the 1950s, and the 1980s are a winning combination.
Just as long as the 1920s economic reprise does not culminate in another financial crisis, and the 1950s cultural reprise does not culminate in another celebration of degeneracy.

NOTHING TO SEE HERE.

The DeKalb Chronicle suggests that Somebody Higher Up knew about the coffee fund.
A lot of the “little people” at Northern Illinois University had warrants issued for their arrest Tuesday, and as has been the case throughout, those at the top largely have been silent.

As scandals have unfolded in the NIU Department of Finance and Facilities, many of those in charge have been conspicuous in their silence.

Eddie Williams, executive vice president and chief of operations, has declined to comment to the Daily Chronicle when approached in person or by phone.

University President John Peters has made no statement about the case either, although we know he is aware of it because the university hired a Chicago criminal attorney to advise him and the Board of Trustees this week.

Williams is at the top of the organizational chart in the Department of Finance and Facilities and earns a salary greater than $300,000 a year. The people who were encouraged to resign while being investigated for misconduct – and now those being arrested on felony theft and other charges – are members of his team.

Since July, under Williams’ watch, two managers, Convocation Center Director John Gordon and Williams’ direct report, Associate Vice President Robert Albanese, resigned after signing separation agreements that showed they were under investigation for misconduct.

Later reports showed they had been taking university property for personal use, and an employee grievance alleged Gordon had university employees clean his home during work hours.

Then Tuesday, nine people – including Albanese and managers in departments overseen by Williams – had warrants issued for their arrests on felony charges, mostly for theft.
A total of eight university employees are now on paid leave, pending the results of the criminal investigation and trial.
Four university employees charged with allegations related to the coffee fund investigation have been put on paid administrative leave.

Michael Hall, Materials Management traffic manager; Mark Beaird, Materials Management inventory specialist; Joseph Alberti, Materials Management account technician; and Controller Keith Jackson, were all put on administrative leave, according to NIU Today.

During the administrative leave period, the eight employees will receive a regular salary, in accordance with state civil service statutes and university policy.

Materials Management storekeeper Keenon Darlinger; Property Control manager Larry Murray; Susan Zahm, property control inventory specialist; and Materials Management director Kenneth Pugh, were already placed on paid leave in late August in relation to the investigation.
Illinois law provides that public employees being investigated for misconduct can be placed on paid leave.  Approximately 2,000 individuals are currently in that status.
A published report says cash-strapped Illinois has paid state workers about $23 million for administrative leave over the last five years.

The Chicago Tribune reports that since 2007, more than 2,000 state employees who've stayed at home have continued to receive paychecks and collect benefits. That's even as the state has struggled to pay its own bills.
University employees in that status have, of course, completed their annual ethics training, and the personnel dockets of all such individuals include a record of that completion.



One wonders about the incentives: is the prospect of paid leave eliciting misconduct at the margin?

BACK TO THE FUTURE.

Intriguing concluding paragraph of the Chicago Tribune's report on the 110 mph test train on the Alton Route.
In western Michigan and northwest Indiana, Amtrak trains have been operating at up to 110 mph for much of this year between Kalamazoo, Mich., and Porter, Ind. The goal is to extend 110 mph service to Dearborn, Mich., by 2015, according to the Michigan Department of Transportation.

Yet traveling by rail at more than 100 mph is no big deal by the standards of bullet trains that are common across Europe and Asia. Even here at home, it’s back to the future.

More than 70 years ago, coal-burning locomotives were clocked going as fast as 124 mph on part of a route between Chicago and the Twin Cities, according to records. In the 1930s, trains often exceeded 100 mph in southern Wisconsin as well.
That they did.

Faster, please.

21.10.12

SUMMARIZE A FAILED ADMINISTRATION.

Dorothy Rabinowitz, in The Wall Street Journal.
More and more clearly, the Obama administration has put its faith in the view that the governed, who must be told what is best for their lives, whether they want it or not (see ObamaCare), can also be told that they have not seen what they've seen, have not heard what their ears clearly told them. When the "if you've got a business, you didn't build that" speech proved to be a political land mine, team Obama instantly charged malicious, out-of-context distortion. The president was only talking about—infrastructure! About government-built roads vital for businesses, transportation, etc.

It isn't likely that Americans who had heard the Obama address failed to understand, rightly, its sneering tone directed at those who believed they had a right to think they were responsible for their own success. Not likely that they didn't notice the icy thrust of those words, "I'm always struck by people who feel, 'Well, it must be because I'm just so smart.'" The president had revealed, with unforgettable clarity, his contempt for faith in individual enterprise—a value Americans of every station hold dear. So clear was this contempt, the Republicans knew enough to make it the Day One theme of their convention—the only good day. Democratic Party representatives meanwhile went forward en masse to charge the Republicans with dishonesty.

In the books yet to be written about this presidency, the Obama administration's exceptional readings of reality will deserve an honored place, and a large one. One that should also acknowledge the fact that, in the end, the American people inevitably recognize the difference between lies and truth, illusion and the real thing.
Social facts are not social constructs. Imagine.

HELLO MUDDA, HELLO FADDA.

To the commentators at Common Dreams, upscale summer camps sponsored by financial service companies are the "training ground for the future 1%."  As if the less posh predecessors in the north woods, often served by chartered camp trains, didn't offer lots of networking opportunities and social climbing.

Perhaps personal finance, financial literacy, and prenuptial agreements have replaced sailing or archery as camp activities because the prep schools have taken such things out of their curriculum in favor of more trendy subjects.

Such life-management skills are properly part of the curriculum of the common schools, which, themselves, have an unenviable track record of rendering their graduates unemployable.

SPARE A MOMENT FOR THE ENGINEER.

A University Diaries post reports on Japanese railroads playing classical music in stations, in the hopes that fewer passengers will choose to depart this life by jumping in front of a train.  Commenters note that the engineer is often the neglected victim of such events.  As a crewman once noted, the engineer has to help the fire department hose away the remains, answer often hostile questions from the police, then get back on the engine and take the train to the division point.

THE AXE REMAINS IN MADISON.

It's nine straight years now.
[Wisconsin linebacker Mike] Taylor and the other seniors will leave knowing UW (6-2, 3-1 Big Ten Conference) extended its streak to nine consecutive victories over the Gophers (4-3, 0-3), matching the longest winning streak by either side in the rivalry that began in 1890 and includes 122 games.
Wisconsin crossed Minnesota up with a new formation. I was not able to watch the game, but heard commentators after the game saying you could see surprise in a football team.
[Wisconsin] unveiled "The Barge" on its second series with the game scoreless.

[Tailback James] White gained 8 yards to the Minnesota 14 and then scored around right end on the next play to help UW take a 7-0 lead with 9 minutes 21 seconds left in the opening quarter. He added runs of 2, 4 and 4 yards in "The Barge" on a second-half touchdown drive.
And thus the Axe remains in friendly hands.


Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel photo by Mark Hoffman.

The string of posts keeping track of the Axe gets longer and longer.

19.10.12

TOO MANY DEMSETZ AUCTIONS.

In August, First Group, operator of school buses in DeKalb and Great Western trains in Britain, outbid Virgin Group for the West Coast Main Line franchise (think Britain's Chicago and North Western with the Eastern Route Main Line in the role of The Milwaukee Road.)

The British agency that reviews bids and awards franchises confessed to errors in comparing the bids.
The blame for the errors is being placed on civil servants, and three [Department for Transport] staff have beens suspended, pending possible disciplinary action.

Responding to the Government's announcement on the West Coast franchise, a Virgin Rail Group spokesman said: "We welcome today's frank announcement by the Secretary of State, acknowledging the flaws in the way the InterCity West Coast competition was assessed and launching a review into franchising more widely.

"We are ready to play a full part in assisting the review to help deliver a franchising system that better serves passengers, taxpayers and the interests of all bidders.

"In the meantime, we will assist the Department for Transport in ensuring continuity of service for the millions of customers who depend on train services on the West Coast mainline."
Virgin Trains will continue as operator for now.
The Transport Secretary had only two options – one was the Virgin option, the second was to ask Directly Operated Railways to take over the franchise, and in the case of the latter, it was not thought possible to hire in senior railway managers to head operations at less than two months notice, and change all the supplied contracts as well as those for staff and rolling stock. This normally takes 120 days.

As Virgin’s safety case runs until October 2013, [Transport Secretary Patrick] McLoughlin has taken the safe and sensible option that will give the best continuity and an option most welcome to passengers.

He said: “I believe Virgin remaining as operator for a short period of time is the best way and my officials and I will be working flat out to make this happen.

“My priority now is to fix the problem and the first step is to take urgent action to ensure that on the 9 December services continue to run to the same standard and passengers are not affected.”
William Stanier and Robert Riddles could not be reached for comment.

BACKHANDED COMPLIMENT?

The Romney campaign thanks the editorial board at the Chicago Jewish Star for an endorsement.

There's one troubling excerpt.
With his executive experience, belief in the enervating potential of the private sector, proven ability to deal with opposing views, positive outlook and quiet but admirable religious and charitable persona, Mitt Romney is the candidate who can best guide our country in the years ahead.

We like Mr. Romney- and strongly endorse his candidacy for president- because of his moderate, small-government views.
Enervating?

It's encouraging, though, to see an endorsement that doesn't propose to replace one Presidential Messiah with another.
Contrary to the implications of Mr. Obama’s 2008 statement, Americans provided for the sick before his time; the rise of the oceans did not begin “to slow” and our planet did not begin “to heal”- not in a metaphoric sense and not in a real one.



Mr. Obama’s unsatisfactory direction for America was rooted in untenable assumptions, fueled by arrogance, and promoted by divisiveness. We don’t need more of that.

It is not only that Mr. Obama thus deserves to be a one-term proposition; it is that Mr. Romney is simply the better bet for our country.
The better bet in the form of lowered expectations for the President of the United States. That's encouraging.

PASSENGER RAIL PROGRESS.

In March, we noted a plan for privately-operated passenger trains in Florida.  My assessment at the time noted, "the freight railroads would like to have the kind of control over scheduling and reliability that comes from common mechanical standards, dispatching, and scheduling."  That's evident from the All Aboard Florida filing with the Surface Transportation Board, as reported in Trains.
The passenger train operator will rebuild a second track along the Florida East Coast Railway between Miami and Cocoa, Fla., and build entirely new track on right-of-way leased from the Florida Department of Transportation and Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority. This would place about 40 miles of new rail line alongside or in the median of state Route 528, which runs between Cocoa and the Orlando airport and is operated by the OOCEA.

All Aboard Florida will not seek public operating subsidies for the project, but is exploring the possibility of obtaining construction financing through the Federal Railroad Administration's Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing Program. Through the program the railroad can apply for direct loans and loan guarantees through the FRA.

The filing stipulates the new passenger service will not be a part of the interstate passenger rail network and should be exempt from federal oversight. All Aboard Florida will not participate in any through ticketing program with Amtrak. It also says no freight service will be operated by All Aboard Florida, or over the new right-of-way to Orlando. It does say that, for flexibility in operations, FEC dispatchers will have the option of using either track on the shared right-of-way for freight and passenger traffic.
It's intriguing that the operator wants to be freed of Congressional meddling with Amtrak, which is the cynic's interpretation of "exempt from federal oversight."  The stipulation that the new trackage will be Passenger Service Only likely calms fears at the CSX Railroad of freight competition.  The absence of joint ticketing, or any mention of connectivity, troubles me.  The value of a Passenger Rail network is in being able to make connections.  Admittedly, Amtrak's Florida service is a pale shadow of what Seaboard Coast Line operated almost up to 30 April 1971, and the Miami to Orlando service has more promise as a boat train connecting cruise ship passengers to the theme parks and Grapefruit League stadia.

In Illinois, passenger trains are again rolling at 110 mph.
The demonstration included a 15-mile segment of 110 mph running between Dwight and Pontiac, Ill., for Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Federal Railroad Administrator Joe Szabo, Amtrak Chairman Tom Carper, and a host of local politicians and reporters.

Heritage-painted GE P42 No. 66 led the special train out of Chicago to Normal, Ill., along with Amtrak No. 63. Both units are equipped with the Incremental Train Control System already used on Amtrak’s 110 mph Michigan Line trackage between Porter, Ind., and Kalamazoo, Mich., as well as UP’s cab signals. This is the first installation that joins ITCS’s ability to verify that quad-gate highway crossings are clear and operational with the UP cab signal system. Although higher speeds up to 150 mph are routinely attained on the grade-separated Northeast Corridor, the cab signal-ITCS combination launched in Illinois fulfills the requirements of positive train control in highway grade crossing territory.
The test run offered the public officials a chance to do what comes naturally.
At Normal, while the politicians were giving speeches, the diesels ran around the train on a passing track and coupled up to [Amtrak official car] Beech Grove for the trip back to Chicago.
Too bad the train doesn't cut as attractive a figure at 110 mph as the Nebraska Zephyr would.


The Associated Press reporting on the Illinois test run does nothing to counter the suspicion that mainstream journalists are Democratic operatives masquerading as journalists.
In a modest milestone for President Barack Obama's high-speed rail vision, test runs will start zooming along a small section of the Amtrak line between Chicago and St. Louis at 110 mph Friday.

The 30-mph increase from the route's current top speed is a morale booster for advocates of high-speed rail in America who have watched conservatives in Congress put the brakes on spending for fast train projects they view as expensive boondoggles. But some rail experts question whether the route will become profitable, pose serious competition to air and automobile travel, or ever reach speeds comparable to the bullet trains blasting across Europe and Asia at 150 mph and faster.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Gov. Pat Quinn are scheduled to be on board when an Amtrak train hits 110 mph for the first time in Illinois. But it will only maintain that speed for a short time, somewhere along the 15 miles between Dwight and Pontiac, before braking back to more normal speeds.
Governor Quinn has publicly hailed the 110 mph speed (a Global Positioning System speed estimate hit 111; that's likely an approximation error) as a first "outside the Northeast." In the Amtrak era, that's true, although the Pioneer Zephyr's dawn-to-dusk run included some Illinois mileage at 112; the 1935 Hiawatha test train maintained 112.5 for several miles across the Wisconsin sand country, and speeds in that range were routine for the 75 Minute Trains between Milwaukee and Chicago until 1950.  Let the younger generations enjoy the higher speeds, as they've had no previous experience of them.

There's also enough repaired and renovated rolling stock on hand to provide Thanksgiving relief trains on the Michigan corridor.
One round trip, Nos. 356 and 359, will make a same-day turn at Ann Arbor on Wednesday, Nov. 21, and the following Friday through Sunday. No. 356 will leave Chicago at 9:20 a.m., 2 hours after the departure of morning train No. 350 to Detroit and Pontiac, and return from Ann Arbor at 4:05 p.m., more than 3 hours prior to afternoon train No. 355’s westbound stop.

A shorter round trip, Nos. 358 and 357, leaves Chicago at 10 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, remains overnight on Amtrak-owned trackage in front of the station at Kalamazoo, Mich., and returns to Chicago at 6:15 a.m. the following morning, Thursday through Monday. Amtrak tested this schedule over Labor Day weekend in 2010. The four additional trains can be operated with only one additional set of equipment, though the consist will be exchanged with other Midwest operations to allow for maintenance in Chicago.

The holiday service expansion in Michigan can serve as a prototype for expanded frequencies on this corridor, a national network route where only agreements with Norfolk Southern and Canadian National, not states, are needed. Those host railroads approved the temporary service expansion because normally heavy freight traffic would be reduced on a holiday weekend. It is also in a region that has sufficient operating and onboard crews available to staff the additional trains, which will all offer business class and café car amenities.
That freight train interference is salient on the former New York Central main line between Porter and Englewood; less so on the trackage east of Kalamazoo that Norfolk Southern will be conveying to Michigan for Passenger Rail purposes.

The pathing of the relief train indicates a weakness of the network east of Ann Arbor.  I'm referring to the early summer timetable, in which trains require about 4 hours 30 minutes for the 243 miles Chicago to Ann Arbor, and two hours for the 61 miles Ann Arbor to Pontiac.  Thus, the eastbound relief train meets the westbound midday train 353 somewhere in western Michigan, turns on a wheel at Ann Arbor, and meets the eastbound evening train 354 either on the fast rail or on Norfolk Southern's two main tracks.  The regular westbound evening train doesn't get away from Pontiac until after 4 pm.

It's progress, though, compared to what Amtrak inherited from Penn Central.

18.10.12

WISCONSIN'S NEWEST PARTY SCHOOL.

Not the Madison campus of The University of Wisconsin, the Milwaukee campus, now serving more Wisconsin residents than the flagship.  We noted earlier the importation of the Madison social environment to Milwaukee's east side.  The authorities have responded.
Milwaukee police on [September 8] vowed a crackdown against drunken misbehavior near the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Chief Edward Flynn announced the effort with a roll call in the street - a symbolic effort he has used to unveil police efforts. This one was on E. Newberry Blvd. and N. Cramer St., where residents have said the loud parties and drunken shenanigans have hit an intolerable level.
In this crackdown is an opportunity for universities to consider their public image.
Flynn said the neighborhood is afflicted by "adult-looking individuals who have no common sense." The goal is to protect the area from drunken students and protect the students from becoming crime victims, he said.

"It's a challenge because everybody you can put in this circumstance are sure they are smarter than you and have very important parents," Flynn said. "We are going to educate them in the ways of citizenship."
Here's the task for the universities.
Is it an unwillingness to confront the hook-up culture and the MTV Spring Break construction of collegiate life and the marketing of a Jacuzzi U. or a summer camp, to name four themes that never fail to provide material for these pages?
Let things be done decently and in order.

YOU DIDN'T CLEAN IT UP FAST ENOUGH.

That's former President Clinton's memorable characterization of the Republicans' criticism of President Obama's performance.  Reason's Nick Gillespie sees it differently.
Does anyone else remember all the crowing that went on after Obama's "historic" first year in office? This is a president who basically was able to get everything he wanted - stimulus, healthcare, the sorts of military actions he wanted, a free-hand in surveilling enemies here and abroad, and more - and he has still reaped a whirlwind when it comes to a vaguely decent economy and America's standing in the world. Indeed, the Dems took a "shellacking" (his term) in the 2010 mid-term elections because of his legislative record, not in spite of it. By his own litmus tests - especially the unemployment rate - he's been a huge and undeniable failure. When it comes to foreign policy, does anyone really believe he's done more than drive down U.S. standing from the already-low place that his predecessor left it? And when it comes to a variety of other issues - ranging from executive power to raiding medical marijuana joints in states where they're legal to immigration - he's simply been godawful.
That statement is not an endorsement of Governor Romney.
[M]aybe the presidential election will be tight right down to election day. Which is good for cable news, but bad for the large majority of libertarianish Americans who believe the government should do less in the economy and not promote a single set of traditional values. We just weren't represented on the stage last night.
The major parties are acting as if voter disutility functions are quadratic, meaning each party has to please the more vocal elements of its base, rather than cultivate the median voters.  I'm not clever enough to see the strategy by which a limited government party could attract members of both the fiscal Leave Us Alone coalition and the social Leave Us Alone coalition.

JUST AS ETHICS TRAINING MONTH BEGINS.

The investigation of the Northern Illinois University coffee fund has produced arrests.
Robert Albanese, Susan Zahm, Lawrence Murray, Kenneth Pugh, Mark Beaird and Joseph Alberti were arrested; Michael Hall, Keenon Darlinger and Keith Jackson have not been, according to NIU Police Sgt. Alan Smith.

With the exception of Albanese, all are current NIU employees. However, “the employment status of the eight current employees is under review,” according to NIU Today. Interim Controller Barbara Seldal has taken over Jackson’s duties and has also taken his place on a policy review board. Controller Jackson was put on the policy review board following the coffee fund allegations; however, he is currently charged with official misconduct, obstructing justice and violation of the State Property Control Act.

Following the announcement that charges had been filed against NIU employees, the university announced they had retained the services of J. William Roberts; Roberts will “provide additional expertise to the president and the Board of Trustees,” according to NIU Today.
I wonder if the Property Control Act will be part of this year's online ethics training.



There are nine warrants outstanding.  Look at the left sidebar of the article for the specifications, as well as downloadable copies of the warrants themselves.

Each of the individuals named has a Certificate of Completion on file for each year's ethics training program, which has been in place since around 2004.  The Ethics Act was signed into law by then-governor Rod Blagojevich.

There are no fugitives from justice.

RENDERED UNEMPLOYABLE BY COMPASSIONATE POLICY?

Once upon a time, McDonald's bragged about its Speedee Service System, although in those days the speed was a consequence of Fordist standardized manufacturing techniques in the extreme: the hamburgers already cooked, the fries fried, some milk shakes ready in the cooler.  The menus have become more complicated in the interim, and recent analysis of waiting time in the drive-through lanes (something not provided under the original Golden Arches) suggests a connection between that complexity and longer waiting times.  Probably a good thing the study doesn't consider the walk-in trade, as the default setting at most establishments with drive-through lanes is "We're busy with the drive-through traffic, and we're going to ignore you for now."

An InstaPundit guest commentary on the story suggests there's increasing complexity aggravated by decreased competence of the help.
I own a fast food restaurant and the biggest reason service has slowed (other than the growing incompetence of the workforce) is that we are all running our businesses with way fewer employees. We used to have 23 total employees, we now have 9. We used to run a lunch rush with anywhere from 6 to 8 people we now do it with 4.

While business has certainly decreased the biggest reason is probably labor cost. 7.25 dollars an hour for the current functionally illiterate, no work ethic, yet strangely full of so much self esteem they can’t take instruction teenage product of the public schools is also why staffing is low. We hire adults when we can but of course we pay them more thus high labor costs=fewer workers and slower service.
The owner's complaint lays off a lot of the blame for the incompetent help on public policy.  I can't help but wonder whether there's insufficient help as a consequence of downsizing for its own sake.

16.10.12

THE CHANGING OF THE GUARD.

Northern Illinois University president John Peters calls it a career.
The university has changed considerably since Peters took over in 2000. Under Peters, the university reached higher student enrollment numbers, peaking at 25,313 students in fall 2006. However, enrollment has dropped steadily since – fall 2012’s enrollment of 21,869 students is a 4.9 percent drop from the previous year.

State support to higher education has shrunk as well. In the outset of his speech, Peters highlighted the “bleak” landscape facing NIU and other public universities. The Illinois General Assembly has cut the university’s appropriations in six of the past 13 years, Peters said.

“And this year’s state funding was the same as what we received in 1995,” Peters said.
Circumstances have been difficult. The upside to having only two presidents in the past 26 years is there are fewer serial administrators bringing in their ideas and  dragooning, or enticing, faculty into endless rounds of planning and retreating and otherwise not concentrating on the primary objective.  That's not to say that the primary objectives are well thought out, or coherent.  In the university's announcement of the president's retirement plan is a statement of the current objective.  I'm not sure what "student-centered public research university" refers to.  Is it a dig at the state flagships for too many large lectures at which grant-getting research stars rack up enough student credit hours to pacify the legislature?  Or is it a way to place more burdens on a faculty that, thanks to the latest state appropriation, is likely to become smaller at the same time that headquarters plans to add enrollment?

Despite that, the latest state of the university address notes encouraging developments in the Honors program, in freshman recruitment, in academic proficiency among scholarship athletes, merit scholarships, and fund-raising.

The speech also invites faculty and staff to think about what it is they should be doing.
Our work lives similarly are filled with small obstacles that might be removed with a little ingenuity, initiative or elbow grease.

What stands in the way of becoming the best instructor you can be?

What barriers prevent you from doing the caliber of research you are capable of?

What impediments reduce efficiency and undermine our efforts to best meet the needs of our students?

So, today I am calling upon you to identify these obstacles.
I can state publicly what I will say privately, when this opportunity presents itself.

The principal impediment to achieving any of these goals is that I, and my colleagues, are over-tired, and tired of having to make do with less, year, after year, after year, state non-support or not.  The secondary problem, and it is a non-trivial problem, is the proliferation of projects that get introduced with great fanfare, and get a lot of good people involved, only to be scaled back or abandoned in a few years.

Admit good students in numbers that the faculty can work with.  Recruit good colleagues capable of talking with each other about their scholarship.  Fix the roof during the summer session, when there's less pressure on classrooms, rather than because the building inspector has condemned it.  And leave us be to do our work, rather than forever distracting us with initiatives and management fads and the latest high-sounding idea from so-called pedagogical theorists that never survive their first encounter with a classroom.  Maybe in two hundred years, or two thousand years, we got a few things right.

MORE WORK FOR FRENCH LAW ENFORCEMENT.

Students come from different circumstances. Thus some parents compel their children to study. Others less so. In order to attenuate the resulting endowment effects, new French president François Hollande proposes to ban homework. That proposal might appeal to disaffected students everywhere, but those disaffected students probably won't learn about Harrison Bergeron until it's too late.
Banning out-of-school assignments would put France on the cutting edge of pedagogical fashion, though it wouldn't be entirely unprecedented. An elementary school in Maryland recently replaced homework with a standing order for 30 minutes a day of after-school reading. A German high school is also test-running a new homework ban, after an earlier reform lengthened the school day and crowded out time for extra-curriculars such as sports or music.

These small-scale experiments aim to give students more freedom to excel on their own initiative. Mr. Hollande wants just the opposite. As Education Minister Vincent Peillon told Le Monde, the state needs to "support all students in their personal work, rather than abandon them to their private resources, including financial, as is too often the case today." The problem, in other words, isn't with homework per se. It's that some homes are more conducive to homework than others.

Here we begin to wonder: Are the French losing their mind? Fortunately not. More than two-thirds of the country would oppose the ban, according to an Ifop poll, so there's hope that even in the land of égalité there's some recognition that state power cannot equalize everything. It's also reassuring to know that a majority of French adults believe there's something to be said for instructing children in the need for personal initiative and responsibility, regardless of excuses or circumstances.

Mr. Hollande, however, remains out of step. At the Sorbonne, he stressed that school is where "the child becomes the citizen of the future." Perhaps his ideas about homework say something about the kind of citizens of the future he wishes to see.
Insta Pundit guest correspondent  Elizabeth Price Foley quips,
Kinda like a French “No Child Gets Ahead,” I suppose.  We wouldn’t want to “abandon” kids to “private resources” like support, love, and a culture of hard work.  Better to let the government take over all that stuff.  Now that’s“progress”!
I like seeing the dual proposition to No Child Left Behind propagate.

It doesn't surprise me that such an idea would appeal to the French, who used to enforce a 35 hour workweek, the repeal of which took away some perquisites for skilled workers.
The new law lets companies ignore the nominal 35-hour maximum and negotiate — or impose — longer hours for staffers. In doing so, bosses will no longer have to worry about compensating extra time with days off, as they were previously obliged to do to keep any worker's average workweek over the year within the 35-hour limit. What's more, overtime work will no longer come attached to a 25% bonus, but with one as low as 10%, to be determined through negotiation.

Opponents of the new measures complain employers will now be able to impose non-optional overtime on employees, who would have to fear being fired if they refuse. They also expect businesses to stick to the lower-end 10% scale in paying for extra time, knowing that workers fearing for their jobs may not be able to stand up to their bosses for more money. That will be especially true in smaller companies, labor experts say, where staff organization and union representation don't match levels in bigger groups.

In any case, the new law means the de facto death of the 35-hour week introduced in 1998 with great fanfare and considerable controversy by the Socialist government of the day. The measure was designed to stimulate job creation by cutting up the pie of available work into smaller pieces. Socialists claimed the creation of 350,000 new posts in its first five years; similar numbers were provided by independent economists and organizations monitoring labor activity. However, conservatives have consistently accused the law of shackling French businesses and undermining economic growth. They've also noted that state subsidies softening the impact of the reduced workweek on businesses have cost taxpayers billions. The new legislation, its backers say, will leave companies freer to demand more work from staffers when needed, and allow employees to heed Sarkozy's appeal to help lift the economy — and their own slumping purchasing power — by working more.

Thus far, lower-paid workers appear ready to do just that. Ironically, the new law looks more set to cramp the style of middle and upper managers, whose long work days and greater disposable income made them the 35-hour week's biggest fans.
We wait for homeschooling to emerge among ambitious French parents, and perhaps for a new birth of entrepreneurship.

THE ROOT CAUSE OF SCHOOL FAILURE.

Not curriculum, not security, not money.  It's all about the Flaming Hot Cheetos.
Yet there is something about Flamin' Hot Cheetos that inflames critics in a way that other snacks -- including regular Cheetos -- never did. Some schools and districts, including the Noble Street Charter School Network and the entire Rockford school district, have banned Flamin' Hots by name, citing nutritional concerns.
The article mentions serious research into the science of obesity and addiction.  I suspect, though, that there are other influences on student performance with more substantial effects than a bag, or four, of spicy chips.

11.10.12

VOODOO ECONOMICS?

Rather than raise tax rates, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel anticipates economic growth to bring in additional revenues at current rates.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel plans to offer a good-news budget to City Council on Wednesday that would siphon money from special taxing districts and rely on predictions of an improving economy to balance the books, aldermen said.

But while Emanuel has already said he will not raise taxes, fees or fines, the details of how he will do more with less pain were lacking in the PowerPoint presentation Budget Director Alexandra Holt made to aldermen Tuesday.
In Chicago, the political infighting is blue-on-blue, not blue-on-red.
Even as the mayor and his staff try to paint that positive picture, they reiterated a warning that chronic underfunding of city pensions will catch up to Chicago next year if state law isn't changed.

At a briefing for council committee leaders, Emanuel "said we have to get a handle on the pensions, or this would seem like the good old days next year," Ald. Joe Moore, 49th, said.

If changes aren't made to how taxpayers and public employees pay for pensions, the city will face a $700 million increase in contributions just for police and firefighter retirement funds in 2014, said Laurence Msall, president of the nonpartisan Civic Federation budget watchdog group.

And pension reform isn't the only major issue the city will have to resolve come next year. The city's major labor contracts, for police and firefighters, have expired and are under negotiation.

The city layoff numbers are lower than last year, in part because Emanuel hit taxpayers in the pocketbook with this year's budget. He began the process of doubling water and sewer fees, boosted the cost of vehicle stickers and increased the hotel tax and the taxes on downtown parking. The 2011 budget also increased a host of fines for various infractions, from not cutting grass to playing loud music in a vehicle.
Once the housing market picks up (perhaps the cold dead fingers of the current political regime will have to be pried away first) it's likely that residents will look for jurisdictions with less burdensome municipal service fees, and perhaps without parking taxes and parking stickers.

7.10.12

THE PRISONERS DILEMMA THAT IS A HUB AIRPORT.

Milwaukee's Mitchell Field, which is so close to Chicago's airports that the most cost-effective way to get aircraft from Milwaukee to O'Hare might be to build a very long taxi-way, now may have to write off some of the taxpayer investment in having an international airport.
The gate shifts will cost the airport about $1.1 million, according to a Milwaukee County report. But shutting down Concourse E, the airport's smallest concourse, would save an unspecified amount of money, airport spokeswoman Pat Rowe said Friday.
Unfortunately, it is not as easy to reconfigure an airport as it was for Patrick McGinnis to sell half the tracks at Boston North Station to a parking-lot operator, or for The Pennsylvania Railroad to sell the air rights above Pennsylvania Station for a then state-of-the-art, now crappy sports arena.
US Airways is moving to Concourse D, which at 23 gates is the airport's largest concourse, according to a report to Michael Mayo, chairman of the County Board's transportation committee.

Those moves will help make that area more active, said the report, written by Frank Busalacchi, county transportation director. Concourse D has seen a decline in activity since Frontier Airlines reduced its operations from a peak of 87 daily flights to just seven daily flights.

Meanwhile, Southwest Airlines, which now owns AirTran Airways, is moving its operations from Concourse D to Concourse C, where the AirTran gates are located, to consolidate those operations, the report said.

Finally, United Airlines, which now owns Continental Airlines, wants to consolidate those operations on Concourse E.

However, that would leave United as the only carrier in that concourse, which has just 10 gates. Airport managers want United to instead move to Concourse D, the report said.

For all the concourse shifts to occur, the airport needs to expand security systems, relocate passenger loading bridges and make other changes, costing an estimated $1.1 million, the report said. The county-owned airport is funded mainly by fees and lease payments from the airlines and concession operators, as well as parking revenue.

A proposal to recommend closing Concourse E has not yet been submitted to the County Board, Rowe said, but is being considered by airport managers.
A number of commenters on the report suggest that the airport do more to encourage intermodal connections.  There is an Amtrak station nearby.  Now, if passengers could get to the airport from Green Bay or Oconomowoc or Eau Claire on 110 mph trains, the city's experience attracting Illinoisans to fly out of Milwaukee might work well with local residents.

THE PRISONERS DILEMMA THAT IS COLLEGE SPORT.

Resources that could be used to strengthen academic programs or hold the line on tuitions go into sports.
So you lose more money on sports, but gosh darn it, you're slowly paying off the arena. That's called throwing good money after bad, even in the Ozarks, and you might lose less money dropping the athletics and having the bank foreclose on the arena.
That's the story at [Southwest] Missouri State. At Northern Illinois, the football team is 14-1 over the past fifteen games, including a bowl win, despite continued local skepticism about the investment value of selling wins to Iowa and Wisconsin for the benefit of their Chicago area alumni.

More generally, the logic of putting more money into the sports programs is dubious.
Coach Auriemma, is the University of Connecticut attempting to be competitive with Northern Illinois in accounting or Michigan State in engineering or Wisconsin in chemistry or Penn State in economics? I leave the generalization of your argument to the reader as an exercise.
Now comes Historiann, with an observation from Colorado State in the same vein.  The football program underachieves, and there's accumulating evidence that playing football is hazardous to adolescent health, and yet the program is underachieving because of underinvestment.
That’s right:  a guy with a 1 and 4 record isn’t out on his a$$–he’s even being rewarded for this kind of performance!  (And guess what?  Baa Ram U. is still paying out to other coaches they’ve fired in the past several years.  Sing it loud and sing it proud:  being a football coach is awesome!!!

Look, over there!  It’s a schoolteacher, and 80% of her students failed to make adequate yearly progress!  Let’s get her! She’s what’s wrong with education today.
There is ample evidence of resources being misallocated in the academic areas, in the Cold Spring Shops view most notably in student affairs, assessment, and retention.  Misallocation of resources there, however, does not excuse misallocation of resources in sport.

A PINCH OF SEASONALITY.

There's a dispassionate analysis of the most recent, politically charged, monthly employment surveys at the World Socialist Web Site.
The establishment survey for September showed desultory hiring, in line with previous monthly reports. Private-sector payrolls rose by only 104,000, less than economists’ projections. Government employment increased by 10,000.

The combined total was considerably lower than the upwardly revised figures of 142,000 for August and 181,000 for July. Manufacturing jobs actually declined by 16,000 in September, the second consecutive monthly drop. The biggest increase in payrolls was in the lower-paying service sector.

The household survey showed a totally unexpected increase of 873,000 Americans with jobs, the biggest monthly jump in 29 years. It also showed a decline of 456,000 people out of work and the entry of 418,000 more people into the labor force. Thus, according to these figures, the decline in the jobless rate was not, as in previous months, the result of more discouraged workers giving up looking for a job, but rather an increase in both hiring and job-seeking.

Steve Haugen, an economist at the BLS, provided CBS News with a partial, but plausible, explanation for the improbably positive household survey results. He noted that people in the 20-24 age group, including college students and those who often work temporary jobs, left the job market this summer in August, earlier than usual, confounding the expectation of the BLS that they would leave in September.

Since the BLS does seasonal adjustments of its data, a big decline in employment in this demographic was factored into the bureau’s calculations for September. “Because there was no decline,” Haugen said, “there’s a big increase after seasonal adjustment.” In other words, perhaps hundreds of thousands of nonexistent temporary jobs were reported to exist.
Expectations revised downward plus students returning early to college because Labor Day came early this year equals fewer unemployed workers in a smaller full-time labor force.

An essay by former Secretary of Labor and regular Ed Schultz guest Robert Reich is instructive, in part for what it sees, and in part for what it does not see.
According to the separate payroll survey undertaken by the BLS, just 114,000 new jobs were added in September. At least 125,000 are needed per month just to keep up with population growth. Yet August’s job number was revised upward to 142,000, and July’s to 181,000.

In other words, we’re still crawling out of the deep crater we fell into in 2008 and 2009. The percent of the working-age population now working or actively looking for work is higher than it was, but still near a thirty-year low.

But at least we’re crawling out.

Romney says we’re not doing well enough, and he’s right.
Secretary Reich offers the expected Democratic talking points. Then he gets interesting.
Romney promises if elected the economy will create 12 million new jobs in his first term. If we were back in a normal economy, that number wouldn’t be hard to reach. Bill Clinton presided over an economy that generated 22 million new jobs in eight years – and that was more than a decade ago when the economy and working-age population were smaller than now.

Both Obama and Romney assume the recovery will continue, even at a slow pace, and that we’ll be back to normal at some point. But I’m not at all sure. “Normal” is what got us into this mess in the first place. The concentration of income and wealth at the top has robbed the vast middle class of the purchasing power it needs to generate a full recovery – something that was masked by borrowing against rising home values, but can no longer be denied. Unless or until this structural problem is dealt with, we won’t be back to normal.
Here's what's missing from the picture. First, the structural problem might be a mis-match of jobs requiring skilled tradesmen and a work force holding the wrong kinds of college degrees, or lacking aptitude or desire to acquire those skills.  Second, the structural problem might be precisely the cold dead fingers of the current administration's pork barrel projects masquerading as economic stimulus, its health care reforms that will constrain people unto the third generation, its continued mau-mauing of successful people as lucky or ungrateful.  I've heard some claims that 12 million jobs are about what one would expect of the United States's private sector as a matter of course.  Perhaps, though, those cold dead fingers have to be pried away before events can run their course.

THE EMERGENCE OF THE INDUSTRIAL MIDDLE CLASS.

In the first half of the twentieth century, in the United States, it wasn't unionization and the G.I. Bill.  It was the adaptation of the high-technology of the time to the skills, or not, of large numbers of the work force.

Today, the high-technology in manufacturing is not yet adapted to the skills, or lack thereof, of large numbers of the work force.
High school teacher Scott Bruening encourages his students to pursue blue-collar jobs in manufacturing, something that's much less common now than it was 30 years ago.

One reason is that, nationwide, more than 600,000 skilled-trades jobs remain open because of a shortage of qualified applicants, according to Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Ltd., which provides audit, tax, consulting and financial services to companies in more than 150 countries.

It's one of the top-five issues for manufacturers, according to Deloitte, especially as 10,000 Americans a day turn 65 and companies haven't attracted enough young talent to replace their retirees.

Bruening teaches auto mechanics and other shop classes at Waukesha North High School.

Those programs are making a comeback, he said, as more students realize they can lead to a good career.

"It's a daily conversation we have," Bruening said.

Worldwide, more than 10 million manufacturing jobs cannot be filled because of the growing skills gap and because the jobs have become technically more demanding, Deloitte said in a recent report.

In the race to future prosperity, nothing will matter more than talent, said Tim Hanley, the Milwaukee-based U.S. process and industrial products leader for Deloitte.
Evidently, new manufacturing technologies are sufficiently knowledge-intensive that it may be a few years before developing countries are able to adapt the same Fordist manufacturing techniques that made people with few work skills productive enough to compete jobs away from the already industrialized countries.
Companies such as Super Steel LLC have grown their own talent through skilled-trades classes.

"If somebody has a good work ethic, we can teach them how to weld," said Mark Rutkowski, Super Steel's marketing and sales director.

Even with waves of retirements, there's some hope the skills gap has narrowed with increased enrollment in technical colleges and with high schools placing more emphasis on manufacturing careers.

"For a long time, there was a real block in education that just cut off manufacturing as a 'nothing' career with no future," said Paul Rauscher, president of EMT International, a Green Bay company that builds equipment for the paper, packaging and other industries.

There are still too many high school students graduating with no career goals, said Jim Golembeski, executive director of the Bay Area Workforce Development Board in Green Bay.

"There is either complete ignorance about manufacturing careers in many school systems or an outright hostile attitude," he said.
At the same time, much of Wisconsin, and the Rockford area of Illinois, there has been an industrial tradition of blue collar aristocrats (welding, tool and die making, pattern-making, carpentry) that is harder to outsource than the assembly-line factories that hired people for their muscle only.  Perhaps if school administrators understand this tradition, they'll be less likely to treat the trades as a dumping ground for burnouts and troublemakers.

5.10.12

BLEEDING THE PATIENT.

At the end of August, the comparison of the most commonly reported unemployment rate with the expectations of the designers of the economic stimulus looked like this.


Now comes the sickly, stagnant September jobs report, unless you're really optimistic.  There is improvement in both the U-3 unemployment rate and the participation-rate-held-constant estimate.


This chart has already been circulated by Insta Pundit.

There's a more instructive chart in the American Enterprise Institute post that is serving as source.


That's the U-Six unemployment rate, which started trending upward with the swearing in of Speaker Pelosi, and has been heading generally downward since the swearing in of the Tea Party House of Representative.  Those are both coincidences, not likely to be confirmed by any sort of serious social science.


RETRENCHMENT BY THE LEGACY MEDIA.

The joint venture of the networks and Associated Press will conduct exit polls in 31 of the 57 fifty states.  The omitted nineteen are in the view of the experts solid for one candidate or the other.
Alaska, Arkansas, Delaware, District of Columbia, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming.
Sometimes what is unseen is as important as what is seen.
All 19 of the states with no exit polls are classified as either “solid Obama” or “solid Romney,” and there is only one “toss-up” gubernatorial or U.S. Senate race not on the list: the competitive North Dakota match-up of Heidi Heitkamp and Rick Berg.
The Received Wisdom on all the electoral maps I have seen has Illinois as "solid Obama." And yet, exit pollers will be working in Illinois.  Perhaps that observation by Vice President Biden about the middle-class being slammed by the past four years is consequential in Illinois.
"For Mr. Obama to be in a statistical tie in an area that he won by around 20 points in 2008 truly reveals the failure of his Presidency," said Illinois-based political consultant Paul Miller. "The economy is undoubtedly the key factor, but in suburbs with a large Jewish population, his treatment of Israel is also taking its toll."

There is a sizable Jewish vote in the district. It could account for the rising dissatisfaction with Obama here. Also a factor could be the lack of leadership from Illinois' Democrat legislative leaders, who dominate state government and are quickly bankrupting the state. The state's debt level has exploded and recent massive tax hikes have done nothing to plug the state's gaping budget deficits.
The state Republican organization is in disarray, for reasons other than past party leaders being jailed.  Perhaps, though, there's enough afoot that the networks are watching.  I can think of nothing more likely to wipe that smirk off Rachel Maddow's face than to have to call Illinois for Romney.

THERE ARE ENEMIES TO THE LEFT.

The Socialist Equity Party makes it abundantly clear that Barack Obama, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, and the rest of the Democrats, San Francisco style or otherwise, aren't their kind of socialists.
In the United States, the Obama administration has bailed out the banks, carried out a relentless attack on the working class and led the calls for cutting social programs. To the extent that differences exist between the two parties, they are of a tactical character—over how best to defend profits and prevent the development of an independent opposition in the working class.
That's coming from a different frame of reference than the Tea Party's complaint about the bank bailouts or the Romney-Ryan campaign allegations of a $716bn theft from Medicare.  What's different is the analysis of boutique multiculturalism.
The rightward movement of the Democratic Party has been accompanied by attempts on the part of its middle-class supporters to promote all manner of lifestyle issues and identity politics as a means of obscuring the question of class and social equality.
That's not quite Ann Coulter talking about mascots and pets. It is suggesting that the Democratic Party uses protected-status minorities for show, rather than for substance.

Bob Herbert, who may or may not be a court intellectual for Democrats, also disagrees from the President's left.
Despite the rampant increase in poverty in the worst downturn since the Depression, Obama supporters whispered that he couldn't do more for the poor and couldn't speak out more forcefully on their behalf because that would not be politically advantageous. So nearly all of his economic initiatives had to be couched in language that referred to the middle class, even though the poor were being hurt far worse. LBJ could launch a war on poverty but not Barack Obama.

Black Americans have been disproportionately clobbered by the Great Recession and its aftermath, losing both income and wealth at staggering rates. Much of the black community is enduring a full-blown economic depression. But Obama and his advisers have been unwilling to address this catastrophe openly and forcefully out of fear that the president would be perceived as too black by prejudiced white voters, thus losing their support.
I could be flip and suggest that those "prejudiced white voters" had already bought into Ann Coulter's mascot argument, or were unlikely to vote Democratic in the first place.

Another possibility might be that tensions in the Democratic coalition prevented the President, particularly in the first two years of his term, from addressing the catastrophe.  The point of limiting infrastructure projects to those projects already environmentally vetted was to keep both the jobs advocates and the environmental advocates in the coalition.  Pursue two goals, achieve neither.

But then, you really have to knuckle down and work, something that Mr Herbert suggested Our President has been failing to do.
President Obama seemed unprepared for the debate. He came off as a man who didn't really want to be there, who wondered why he should have to be bothered fending off the impertinent attacks and serial untruths being flung at him by his opponent. The millions of Obama supporters who wanted to see flashes of passion and fire from their guy -- from a president fighting effectively on their behalf -- were left with nothing but the bitter taste of disappointment.
We expect that sort of snarking from the right. From the left, it's instructive.
The president let his people down. And if he's capable of doing that in an election that is clearly so important, it means he's capable of doing it again if he wins a second term.
Second-term presidents often compromise more with the opposition party, something that neither Mr "I won" Obama nor the Republican leadership has been willing to do.  Should Mr Obama be re-elected, the ankle-biting from the likes of Mr Herbert and the president's fanboys at MSNBC well might intensify.

4.10.12

FAILURE TO TEMPER PRINCIPLE WITH PRACTICALITY.

Paul Rahe offers an unsparing evaluation of the consequences of Democrats not letting a crisis go to waste.
Barack Obama is a sitting duck. His is a failed Presidency -- and everyone who has been paying attention who is not blinded by partisan passion knows it.

Obama inherited a recession and, without bothering to disguise what he was up to, dedicated himself to exploiting it for the purpose of jamming through a radical program, dear to his party, that never had public support. About the recession, he did nothing, assuming that the economy would bounce back quickly, as it usually does, and that he would get the credit for the recovery. In fact, everything that he did do when he and his party were fully in control -- the looting bill thinly disguised as a stimulus bill, Obamacare, and Dodd-Frank -- retarded the recovery by running up the deficit, loading on new taxes, and making it more expensive to do business. To this the President added the threat of further tax increases -- targeted on the investing class: those especially apt, when future developments are exceedingly unclear, to be hesitant to risk their hard-earned capital in funding new ventures or in expanding old ones. The truth is that the programs passed by the Democrats, when they had the initiative, produced stagnation and prolonged and deepened the downturn. All that Mitt Romney had to do last night was to draw attention to the level of unemployment, the level of underemployment, and the size of the deficit.

If Barack Obama seemed halting, uncomfortable, exhausted, and depressed last night, it was because he was saddled with defending the indefensible. What could he say? He had promised shortly after becoming President that his program would bring unemployment way down. He and his allies in Congress had sold Obamacare in part as a jobs bill. And the facts were there to be seen -- exceedingly high unemployment and underemployment coupled with persuasive evidence that the growth needed to boost the economy was not in the offing. Instead of coming out of a recession, we were on the cusp of a new recession, and nearly everyone sensed it.
There are enough testable hypotheses for twenty doctoral dissertations in the preceding paragraphs.

I long ago learned from a professor who had extensive experience working with Washington politicians that when the economist offers a choice between a policy instrument with a list of desirable consequences A, and another instrument with a list of desirable consequences B, the politician will ask for both.

What Our President and his majorities in Congress have learned, perhaps the hard way, is that sometimes when you ask for both A and B you get neither.  What the voters think about it will be determined in another month.