Friday, February 22, 2013

Easy Encrypted Searching and Correcting Search Information

Want to do encrypted searching easily? Google's encrypted search engine (or any other search engine) can be added to the Firefox search box via an Add to Search Bar extension. Add to Search Bar also allows you to change the favicon to any jpg image of your choice. Nice. Similar extensions are undoubtedly available for most other major web browsers.

I've noticed that a couple of my posts in the top 10 Google searches on a subject are misleading. One on the Oregonian circulation rate is especially misleading because it cites the one and only positive growth report in 7 years.

The way to alert searchers that there is other evidence is to put an update at the top of the post. Since most search engines show the first two lines of the post, the updated information will be there along with the original (and sometimes misleading) post title.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Oregonian Editors and Oregon Overspending

The Oregonian editorial "Big PERS benefits, small state economy" presents the case that Oregon is overspending for PERS retirement benefits. The editors note: "In Oregon, a Prius economy is towing a PERS yacht."

The editors point out that Oregon has about the same retirement funds debt as Washington and Colorado but with a much lower personal income base.

But, one could say the same about many areas of Oregon government spending. Take for instance public spending for K-12 education.

Oregon spends more per student in public K-12 education than either Washington or Colorado. Significantly more. In 2010 Oregon spent an average of $9,624 per K-12 student (p. 112), whereas much richer Washington spent $172 less per student ($9,452) and Colorado spent $771 less per student ($8,853). This despite the fact that Oregon's total personal income (as noted in the Oregonian chart above) is only $135 billion compared to Washington's $279 billion and Colorado's $206 billion.

In other words, Oregon is spending more per student in public K-12 education than either Washington or Colorado even though Oregon personal income averages about 15% less per person than Colorado's or Washington's.

Of course, it's not only in public education, but in many other areas of government spending that Oregon is not only trying to keep up with its much richer neighbors, but overspending compared to them.

Almost three years ago, John Tapogna, ECONorthwest president quoted in today's Oregonian editorial on Oregon's PERS overspending problem, warned that in view of Oregon's stagnant economy the state might need to look to Idaho* as its model for public services rather than much richer Washington state.

That fact is inconvenient. The Oregonian editors favor reeling in spending on PERS but not other government funded services that provide poor service for more money than richer states spend. There is not a word here about Oregon living within the economic means of its citizens--except as regards PERS. The editors have wielded a good argument, but awkwardly for them, it has a much broader application that they have chosen to ignore.
*Commenter Ten Mile Island reminds me that Idaho, though spending significantly less than Oregon per student in K-12 public education (at $7,106 per student in 2010 only 3/4ths of Oregon's $9,624 spending), still gets slightly higher educational scores.

Not only in science, but in math too.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Social Justice Advocate Jim Wallis' $197,000 Salary

Jim Wallis, 2012
UPDATE: Wallis' 2013 compensation increased to $218,000.

The last time I checked two years ago, Sojourners thought it right to pay their main guy $162,000 plus another $15,000 in other compensation a year. This put him in the top 7% of American family wage earners.

Their 2011 tax filing shows a raise to $183,000 plus $15,000 for a total of $197,000. According to 2010 census data this puts Wallis in the top 6% of American family incomes.

One wonders at Wallis' and Sojourners' principles of social justice. They apparently believe that social justice means their executive director should be capable of living a lifestyle of the top 6% of Americans.

Interestingly, Sojourners did not have this view ten years ago. From 2002 to 2005, they were paying Jim Wallis a social justice-type salary of $25,000-$30,000. But, as contributions and income soared with the popularizing of their social justice message, their view of a fair salary for their executive director rose too. Below is a chart showing the rise of Jim Wallis' compensation and the rise of Sojourners' assets .

red line: Jim Wallis' salary; yellow line: Sojourners' assets

Wallis' salary rose from about $25,000 in 2002 to $110,000 in 2006 just as Sojourners' assets rose from about $500,000 in 2002 to $3.5 million in 2006.

Wallis' salary peaked in 2010 at $218,000 a few years after Sojourners' assets had peaked at nearly $6 million in 2007.

The slide down to 2011's $3.4 million in assets has not been reflected in Wallis' salary going back to the $110,00 a year he earned when Sojourner assets were $3.5 million.

Apparently Sojourners has a similar view to the Wall Street 1% that the more money an executive director generates, the higher his salary should be.

A higher salary makes sense as capitalism, but not in terms of a ministry about social and economic justice.

I don't begrudge a living salary for Jim Wallis. But, if most American families get along on $50,000 a year, more than twice as much at $110,000, not to mention four times as much at Wallis' current $197,000, does not seem ministry oriented. The "we deserve to live at four times the level of the average American family" salary dilutes the impact of, if not destroys, Sojourners' and Wallis' message about living in a way that cares to diminish economic and social inequality.

I am drawn to the appeal that asks us to care about the poor and treat them well and with respect. That was a big part of Jesus' message. I currently lead a group that supports outreach to needy children in struggling nations. So, it grates whenever donations meant to help the poor are treated as profit rather than as seed money for further outreach.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Oregonian Political Advice: Do What's Popular

The editors of the Oregonian seem to think popularity is a more important political strategy than having real political views and principles. Their advice in yesterday's editorial "Gay marriage a golden opportunity for Oregon GOP" is for GOP leaders to give up their principles on gay marriage and adopt a view that is popular, especially with women and young people.
"[The Republican view is] squarely at odds with Oregonians between 18 and 45, 68 percent of whom support gay marriage. Support among women of all ages, meanwhile, tops 60 percent."
. . .

"Following November's pummeling, a lot of us wondered how Republican candidates could appeal to more voters. One way to do this is to support more of the things that Oregonians value. Like gay marriage. What's wrong with being known as the party that respects Oregonians' hard-earned money, their businesses, their opportunities ... and their liberties

"And what's wrong, from a purely pragmatic standpoint, with accepting the inevitable?"
But, if Oregonians don't respect "hard-earned money", "businesses", and "opportunities" in polling, shouldn't the GOP give those up too? Especially if higher taxes and less concern for business and opportunity become more popular as the need to fund education costs and entitlements rises.

Aside from being an infantile and opportunist political strategy, a news flash for the Oregonian is that it won't work. The Oregonian editors admit that a pro-gay marriage policy is not "slam-dunk" even as policy. Why then would it be a sure-fire GOP vote getter?
"A healthy majority of Oregonians -- 77 percent -- told pollsters in December that they'd like an opportunity to vote on the issue, but only a slim majority -- 54 percent -- said they support the policy itself. It's better to start with 54 percent support than, say, 44 percent support, but Basic Rights Oregon is a long way from slam-dunk territory."
Another news flash for the Oregonian is that "inevitable" means only currently popular. Remember the days when pro-life principles were unpopular among Americans? No longer. It's now the predominant view (up from 33% approval to 50% approval). So, those who stuck with their principles during the lean years are now taking the lead in the polls. Should the Democrats change their pro-choice position because it now polls at only 41%? That's apparently the editorial position of the Oregonian.

Hey, maybe Oregonian editors should try out their own advice before they urge others to do so. The Oregonian keeps shedding subscribers, dropping 1/3rd of its circulation in the last ten years. The Oregonian is not popular with women or young people--or anyone else. Since the Oregonian is doing worse in business than the Oregon GOP is at the polls, maybe the editors should try their own advice and report back on the result of "pragmatic" policies.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Happy Birthday, President Reagan!

One of our greatest presidents.  A man of character, vision and courage--along with the virtue of amiability!

Jane Austen as a Moral Philosopher

The current Philosophy Now has an article on Reading Jane Austen as a Moral Philosopher by Thomas Rodham. Jane Austen is one of my favorite authors, and it's interesting how Rodham's list of the virtues Austen writes about fits with Aristotle's virtues in the Ethics. Rodham writes:
Virtue ethics is the approach to moral philosophy that understands the good life in terms of the development of personal moral character: in terms of becoming the kind of person who does the right thing at the right time for the right reasons. It is therefore a response to the fundamental ethical question, How should I live my life? Answering that question involves identifying goals – what are the virtues you should develop? – and the path to achieving them. To talk about a bourgeois virtue ethics is to talk about the particular constellation of virtues that are most significant for an ethically-flourishing middle-class life. For example, unlike aristocrats, the middle-classes are not free from material concerns, and are thoroughly dependent on the goodwill of others for success. Unlike peasants, the bourgeoisie are not trapped by a subsistence economy, but have the resources and time – the leisure – to reflect on who they want to be, and to make and carry out plans for their future.

Austen celebrates and promotes a solidly middle-class ethics, and this, together with her use of literary narrative (and her femininity?), may explain why her moral philosophy is rarely recognised as such. Yet success for Austen’s characters depends on their developing a moral character. Her central virtues are conspicuously bourgeois: prudence (planning one’s actions with respect to protecting and furthering one’s interests); amiability (civility to family, friends, and strangers, according to their due); propriety (understanding and acting on an acute sense of what virtue requires); and dignity (considering oneself an independent, autonomous person deserving of respect). Austen is unusual among virtue ethicists past and present in according amiability so much importance, but she is right to do so. Developing amiability is central to most people’s lives, since we must work and live (albeit if nowadays less often) in close confinement with others with whom we have to get along. Austen presents these virtues as not merely a necessary accommodation to difficult circumstances, but as superior to the invidious vanity and pride of the rich and titled, which she often mocks.
Aristotle also rates prudence and amiability (friendliness) among the important virtues. Dignity fits with Aristotle's view of the virtue of personal pride and honor. Using Rodham's definition, propriety has more of an overarching application seemingly including a bit of what Aristotle included under justice and temperance.

Of course, Austen was writing novels and wasn't trying to be exhaustive in the treatment of virtue. But, the correlation is interesting. It gives a little insight into why Jane Austen's novels are still read by a sizable reading public two hundred years* after their publication not only for the pleasure of her wit and writing style, but read again and again because of that additional layer of insight on some of the virtues necessary for a good and happy life (not to mention some important character pitfalls to avoid).
*2011 marked the 200th anniversary of the publication of Sense and SensibilityBritish Royal Mail has a set of stamps coming out to celebrate this year's bicentenary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Sequestration and State and Local Federal Grants

A post by Max R got me to thinking about the sequestration cuts coming.

One hears a lot of screaming by conservatives about the defense budget cuts, but not so much screaming by progressives about similar drastic cuts coming for social and special project spending. Why?

Apparently it has something to do with how the cuts will be felt.

Portland light rail is running out of money--federal money. From the article Max linked to:
Elissa Gertler, a deputy director at the Metro regional government, and the supervisor of the two corridor planning efforts, says there’s one big reason that interest in bus rapid transit may be overtaking light rail: "First and foremost, light rail is expensive. A big capital investment costs a lot of money, and partnership with the federal government in how to fund that has diminished over time, as we’ve expanded our system in this region.” [emphasis added]
Not only has federal funding diminished over time, but whatever is still there is almost sure to be cut. The sequestration cuts on non-defense spending will likely have a big impact on federal dollars now going to fund state and local projects. The left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explains:
"If funding for these grants to state and local governments is cut by 22 percent, in line with the cut to overall non-defense discretionary funding, states and localities would lose nearly $28 billion in 2014 — on top of the cuts they will absorb as Congress shrinks funding for such grants, along with other discretionary programs, to comply with the BCA caps."
. . .
"In theory, policymakers could spare state and local funding and take all of the required cuts from purely federal areas of non-defense discretionary spending; in reality, there is no chance that would occur, as it would entail extremely deep cuts in funding for veterans health care, biomedical research to find cures and better treatments for various diseases, protecting the borders, the FBI, the Social Security Administration, and the like. Indeed, federal policymakers likely would cut state and local aid by more than 22 percent in order to protect funding for federal activities such as these."
In other words pet state and local projects like Portland light rail will feel the brunt of non-defense reductions. A thousand smaller cuts have not roused liberal sentiment like the more focused massive cut to defense spending has mobilized conservatives. At least not yet.