Archive for January, 2011

Bit and Pieces

January 31, 2011


        Do not think about, write about or deal with  human behavior without determining the effects of incentives.

The clearest evidence yet against Global Warming: It’s so cold where I live that flashers are coming up to people and describing themselves. Undoubtedly, the Global Warmists have an explanation based on Global Warming. As we know, from millennia of study, if a “theory” explains everything, it’s not a theory, it’s a religion.

"The urge to pass new laws must be seen as an illness, not much different from the urge to bite old women. Anyone suspected of suffering from it should either be treated with the appropriate pills or, if it is too late for that, elected to parliament [or Congress, as the case may be] and paid a huge salary with endless holidays, to do nothing whatever.": Auberon Waugh.

      “American education needs to go back to the principles of classical economic and political theory for answers. Our schools need a counter-intuitive model that, like capitalism, works better than it sounds instead of continuing with a progressive model that sounds better than it works.” Dean Kalahar.

   Since it doesn’t work at all, it must sound really good, which it does, of course and must work really badly which, of course, it does.

Cheerio and ttfn,
Grant Coulson
Cui Bono–Cherchez les Contingencies


Civil Servants and Dying Horses

January 29, 2011


       Do not think about, write about or deal with  human behavior without determining the effects of incentives.

      Wherein we learn not to pay attention to unsuccessful people—from a story by Ogden Lindsley.

     A farmer worked hard all his life and acquired a large, successful farm. He was a fan of thoroughbred racing and particularly admired a successful racehorse. When the racing career of this horse was over, the farmer mortgaged all his property, took out as many loans as his credit rating would allow, and bought this horse for stud duties. He thought that, not only could he enjoy owning the champion, but make money on stud fees.

       All went well for several months. The horse performed his studly duties and the farmer received his stud fee. When checking his stud one morning, the farmer sensed that something was off. He immediately called his veterinarian and, in spite of modern medicine, the horse got worse. His head drooped, he didn’t eat and was soon covered in red spots.

    The farmer called in the best qualified veterinarians he could find, but the horse got worse.

      The farmer made a quick trip to town for supplies and ended up chatting with the hardware store owner who told him, “I had a horse with the same symptoms–no appetite, head drooping, red spots all over. I rubbed him with coal oil every two hours. Don’t forget, every two hours.”

     The farmer, at wit’s end, bought 20 gallons of coal oil and followed this advice. Every two hours he rubbed coal oil on his once handsome stud. After 4 days, the farmer was exhausted and the horse died. The farmer lost his farm and moved in with his brother.

      Several months later the farmer was in town and saw the hardware man and related the sad tale ending with, “And then, the horse died.”  “Funny thing”, the hardware man said, “Mine did too.”

       Never pay any attention to public school experts. They have a method, but it only works for those who don’t need it. Why should they be regarded as experts?

Cheerio and ttfn,
Grant Coulson
Cui Bono–Cherchez les Contingencies

More on the State of the Union—Depressing and Realistic

January 29, 2011


    Do not think about, write about or deal with  human behavior without determining the effects of incentives.

     And now, for something depressing.

29 Jan 2011
National Post


Black: ‘While the Tea Party is refreshing, its co-equal status with the Republican establishment is just an attempt of the biased media to divide the conservatives’
The United States is disoriented and corrupt. And yet it has no real
rivals on the world stage

It was a seriously demoralizing experience to read that the majority of Americans thought that Barack Obama gave a good State of the Union speech this week. Their approval may indicate that the process of the country’s decline is more advanced even than I had feared.

I have been watching these occasions since the KennedyJohnson years, and they sometimes click and sometimes don’t. One of the better and more successful addresses was Gerald Ford’s in 1975, beginning “The State of the Union is not good. I do not expect much applause tonight.” The people like straight talk, the applause was generous, and the speech well received by the country. (And in fact, America’s condition was much better then than it is now.)

One of the only positive notes from this year’s disappointing speech came when the President praised the (Republican) speaker of the House, his official host who sat grimly behind him — right beside Vice-President Joe Biden, who giggled like he was being tickled by a motel’s Magic Fingers device in his chair: Speaker John Boehner did not, as is his disturbing custom, burst into tears.

No nation in history rose so quickly from obscurity to world leadership, and none since the Roman Empire has enjoyed such preeminence, as the United States. After playing a genius strategic hand from aid to the democracies in 1939-1941, the military conduct of the Second World War in the years following, to the containment strategy opposite the Soviet Union, until it was left alone as the world’s only great power, the United States then suddenly became, in public-policy terms, an almost unrelievedly stupid country, about 20 years ago. During the Cold War, the United States led the triumph of democracy in Europe, South and East Asia and Latin America — yet it now no longer ranks as one the world’s better functioning democracies.

President Obama told his listeners that they were all “part of the American family.” A girl in Tucson may “have dreams like the rest of us,” which, the President astonishingly believes, “is what sets us apart as a nation”; just as he believes that “throughout history, our government has provided cutting-edge scientists with the support that they need.” (It has done nothing of the kind, apart from some Second World War-era military activities, and NASA — which President Obama himself has helped to emasculate.)

“We measure our progress by the success of our people,” progress that is partly “thanks to tax cuts we passed,” the President declared — referring to the Bush tax cuts that Obama tried fervently to end.

He promised to “raise expectations for every child” and “get rid of loopholes” in the tax system (i.e. raise rates); “find a bipartisan solution to strengthening Social Security … make sure we aren’t buried under a mountain of debt”; connect 98% of Americans to high-speed wireless in five years and make high-speed rail travel accessible to 80% of Americans within 25 years. Millionaires must “give up their tax break,” (which they don’t have), and there are millions of clean jobs to be created (a complete and imperishable fantasy). There were promises of “rebuilding America,” and to “put more Americans to work repairing crumbling roads and bridges”; as well as double exports by 2014, “take on illegal immigration”; and make a portentous “review of government regulations.” He is “eager to work with” Republicans who can make his catastrophic health reform “better and more effective.”

In foreign affairs, “we must defeat determined enemies wherever they are”; and “our civilians will forge a lasting partnership with the Iraqi people”; (it was at this point that I first wondered if the President had become a POW in the insane and failed American War on Drugs). He hailed “tougher and tighter sanctions” on Iran (though they are porous and completely ineffectual), and claimed to have “revitalized NATO,” an alliance that is now completely moribund and confused, after 10 years of incompetent post-9/11 American leadership.

The President recognizes that American corporations are grossly overtaxed, and he now favours the Colombian free trade agreement — stalled for years by the AFL-CIO and Nancy Pelosi, in their enthusiasm for the Colombian communist guerrillas and their drug-lord allies. Looking about at the members of Congress, most of them representing what amount to rotten boroughs, the President happily averred that “There isn’t a person here who would trade places with any other nation on Earth” (unfortunately true).

The replies from Rep. Paul Ryan and Rep. Michele Bachmann — delivering, respectively, the official GOP response and the unofficial Tea Party response — detailed problems with the President’s economic vision, but in fact did not present a coherent reply at all. (The whole idea of a reply is in itself offensive. The chief of state is supposed to be giving an impartial summary of the nation’s condition. There were no replies until the leftist national media tried to help the Democrats reply to the overpoweringly eloquent Ronald Reagan. And while the Tea Party movement is refreshing in some respects, its co-equal status with the Republican establishment is just an attempt of the same biased media to divide the conservatives; moreover, the name is nonsense, as the British tax on tea of 1767 was, contrary to widespread mythology, quite unexceptionable.)

The replies were redundant, in any case: None of President Obama’s aerated, flippant promises are believable in the slightest, coming from the most overzealous regulator and profligate spender in the nation’s history. There was not a hint of policies to reduce oil imports, increase domestic oil production, reduce the cost of health care, cut spending (beyond a five-year freeze on 12% of budgetary outlays), pare entitlements, reform the tax system, reverse the (admitted by Obama) decline of education standards, reform the prosecutors’ shooting gallery of a justice system, or grapple realistically with the debt bomb rather than just participate in a silent cabal with the European Union and Japan to devalue all of their currencies together, and thus reduce the debt (along with the net worth of all those who save or have fixed incomes).

The United States is a rich country whose people are patriotic and hard-working. It is disoriented and very corrupt, and all its elites have failed. And yet it has no real rivals. Europe is crumbling, even more idle and debt-ridden than the United States, and withering demographically, almost comatose after generations of paying Danegeld to the urban mobs and small farmers. Japan is a geriatric workshop; Russia is an alcohol-sodden, self-depopulating gangster-state; and India, China, Brazil, and Indonesia comprise over three billion people, more than twothirds of whom live as they did 3,000 years ago. They are putting up good economic-growth numbers, but China’s inflation rate is now in double digits, and all of those countries are largely dysfunctional and will require decades to have any chance of seriously rivalling America. This should provide time for the United States to pull out of its nose-dive. President Obama said, “We do big things.” The United States has, but after this presentational fiasco, I would not like to think of what he might have in mind for an encore.


      The green jobs, the green technology, the profligate spending as virtuous–such nonsense that only true believers could believe–coal and shale gas look interesting–If you’re waiting for the next technology breakthrough in energy–don’t hold your breath–you’ll turn blue, not green.

Cheerio and ttfn,
Grant Coulson
Cui Bono–Cherchez les Contingencies

Save The University Tuition–There Is Little Value-Added For All That Cost

January 27, 2011

     Do not think about, write about or deal with  human behavior without determining the effects of incentives.

     With all those winter storms across the U.S., now is not a good time for alternate energy subsidies and cap and trade legislation.


      Here we have an analysis of those accepted into the University of Chicago, a top-tier university. Thanks to T.V. Joe Layng for the reference.

      About 2.8 million people graduate from high school every year; 1.8 million of them start college; forty to sixty thousand of them will go to elite colleges and universities like this one. So, basically, you and your peers at similar places represent the top 2 percent of an eighteen-year-old cohort. Obviously you’re going to do very well indeed. (P. 4).

     As far as the nationwide success game is concerned, theres no reason for you to study here. The game is already over. You’ve already won. (p. 4).

      University is where someone pays a lot of money to confirm the student’s relative standing in the IQ ranking.

      That boils down to saying that you were smart people when you got in here and you’re going to be smart people when you get out, as long as you use that intelligence for something—it doesn’t really matter what—while you are here. (p. 5).

       As far as performance in college is concerned, there is not, as I said, any national evidence that level of performance in college has more than a minor effect on later things like income. And in my alumni data, there is absolutely no correlation whatever between GPA at the University of Chicago and current income. Get it straight. Whether you end up on Fire Island or in the Hamptons depends largely on things that are unrelated to what you do as an undergraduate at Chicago. (p. 5).

     Well, by now you’ve probably seen that what’s really going on is that the list of “major cognitive skills” everyone talks about is in fact the stock in trade of elite academics themselves. (I should of course say “ourselves.”) Critique is rewarded, analytic skills prized, writing necessary, independence and self-learning essential. To a considerable extent it is indeed true that the famous skill list is really the academics’ list. Now I could make a case against the centrality of these values even in academia; most college professors work at nonelite universities with heavy teaching loads of unmotivated students and find little enough use for those skills. But even without this demonstration, it remains true that most of you will not in future occupational life need the specific kinds of cognitive skills that are emphasized in higher education. The most obvious example is writing. We at the University of Chicago will obsess about good writing. But the blunt fact is that most of you will do very little writing over the rest of your lives; the major reports and legal opinions and company prospectuses and so on that you do will all be produced by committee and will be designed to tell an audience what it wants to hear or what it will find persuasive, not what is analytically correct. So we have good reason to doubt not only the first part of the statement “College education will teach you general cognitive skills that are centrally important in your later life,” but also the second. College instruction cannot be proved to be the source of the skills thought to be important, and, moreover, they probably aren’t that important. (p. 6).

    These skills are not important and not learned at university–aside from that–they’re vital.

Cheerio and ttfn,
Grant Coulson
Cui Bono–Cherchez les Contingencies

Surely They Jest–The Basic Assumptions of Public Education Cannot Be Real

January 27, 2011


   Do not think about, write about or deal with  human behavior without determining the effects of incentives.

from Martin Kozloff  about Public Education in North America

Consider Edland.

One bizarre "pedagogy" after another.

Brain-based learning.  [Oh, did we used to think it was some other organ?]

Learning styles.  [Sadly, no such thing.]

Multiple intelligence.  [Substitute "talent" for "intelligence" and you notice no difference in the thing itself.]

Discovery learning applied to tool skills.  [Jump in the rip tide and construct the routine for swimming.  glub glub.]

In addish, an institutional apparatus loaded with grandees and their support staffs, fancy offices, big salaries, new buildings, credit cars and and all kinds of perks.

An attitude that "We have license to do as we please."  [deftly leaving out the prepositional phrase, "with your children"]

You should see the building that I infest.  11 million bucks.  Looks like a Hiatt Regency. Could have done the same thing made by General Steel.

All coming to an end.

It’s terrible that so many folks are out of work and struggling.

But as states, then counties, and then districts go broke, things will get serious for the eduleeches.

No money for remedial reading. Better do it right the first time.

No five years time to teach kids to read.  "Emergent readers."  Get it done by grade 1.

Parents comparing their increasingly hard lot with arrogance and complacency of district administrators. "Get the feathers and burning tar, Neddie.  We’re gonna cook these bastards."

Yup, when the money runs out, it’ll be "Teach your child to read in 100 easy lessons" and Funnix, instead of a hundred thousand bucks for basal readers.

It’ll be DISTAR Arithmetic at 25 bucks per kid, instead of 200 bucks per kid for a 400 page textbook each grade level.

Ed schools will be cutting back on the "initiatives" and politically correct bs—all the money spent on diversity and social justice.

I used to think that the above nonsense was explained by ignorance, stupidity, a dreamy intellect, and  political ideology.

I now realize that these are not sufficient conditions.  Another necessary condition has been affluence (in money, time, and personnel) leading to plenty of leisure to think up all sorts of bunk.

Soon, the diversity con and all the rest of the scams will be too expensive.

When the boat is sinking, you want a plumber, not a philosopher.



     When the money runs out, we’ll have inefficiency on a smaller scale.

        Having Government Workers Grade Parents


It’s time to grade parents, new bill proposes
January 18, 2011|By Leslie Postal and Denise-Marie Balona, Orlando Sentinel

Every year, Florida’s students, schools and districts are graded based on their performance. Now, it’s time to start rating parents, a state lawmaker says.

State Rep. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, filed a bill Tuesday that would require elementary school teachers to evaluate parents based on "the quality" of their involvement in their children’s schools.

Parents with children in pre-K-to-third-grade would get "satisfactory," "needs improvement" or "unsatisfactory" ratings in four broad categories.

They would be judged on their response to requests for meetings or communication, their children’s completion of homework and preparation for tests, their children’s absentee and tardy rates and their children’s "physical preparation for school," including a good night’s sleep and appropriate meals.

Parents’ grades would appear on their kids’ report cards.

"Although the school environment has a great impact on a child’s well-being and academic success, parents and the home environment form the foundation of a child’s present and future life," Stargel explains in the bill, HB 255.

"Without proper parental involvement in all aspects of a child’s life, the child’s prospects to be a well-equipped and useful member of society are greatly diminished," the bill states. Stargel, a mother of five, could not be reached late Tuesday.


     She is serious and a Republican, indicating that really bad ideas come from every side. Government workers are so good at teaching students, they’ll do any equally good job of informing on parents.

Cheerio and ttfn,
Grant Coulson
Cui Bono–Cherchez les Contingencies

State of the Union–Cliches Are Ok But These Are So Wrong

January 26, 2011


    Do not think about, write about or deal with  human behavior without determining the effects of incentives.

      I see that the investigation into the snow cleanup in New York City has taken a typical political turn by starting to investigate the propriety of the person who first talked about union mendacity. That’ll get to the bottom of union sloth, incompetence and efficiency.

From the National Post, January 26, 2011.

U.S. faces ‘Sputnik moment,’ Obama says
Urges investment in education

We will move forward together

WASHINGTON • President Barack Obama on Tuesday warned the future prosperity of the United States is at risk unless it significantly boosts investment in education and scientific research, telling Americans the country is facing a “Sputnik moment” that will define whether it leads or follows on the global stage.


      The myth that years of education, unrelated to any technical expertise, is necessary for “the advancement of a country” is wrong, no matter how often politicians say it is.

In his annual State of the Union address, Mr. Obama bluntly told the nation it “lags behind” other countries in academic achievement and said America’s “lead has slipped” in vital areas of physical and digital infrastructure.


     Our education system is failing, thence, we must give it more money. Spot the error in logic.

But he also sought to rally Americans by comparing the challenge of competing against emerging economic giants like China and India to the U.S. space race against the Soviet Union in the 1950s and 1960s.


      Neither China nor India started on the road to economic improvement with educational improvement. The teacher unions are slavering over increased money, power and prestige.

“Half a century ago, when the Soviets beat us into space with the launch of a satellite called Sputnik, we had no idea how we would beat them to the moon. The science wasn’t even there yet. NASA didn’t even exist,” Mr. Obama told a joint session of Congress. “But after investing in better research and education, we didn’t just surpass the Soviets, we unleashed a wave of innovation that created new industries and millions of new jobs. This is our generation’s Sputnik moment.”


      Space exploration created millions of new jobs?

His call for targeted spending to boost U.S. competitiveness came in tandem with a broader message of fiscal austerity designed to position himself in the political centre as the U.S. edges closer to the start of the next presidential campaign.

The President proposed a five-year freeze on discretionary federal spending — a belttightening plan that would not extend to budget-busting entitlement programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, or to national security.

The plan would lower the US$1.3-trillion annual deficit by $400-billion over the next decade, Mr. Obama said.


       There’s a pointless comparison-1.3 trillion annually versus 400 billion over a decade. This is an old politician’s trick. Say we are “acting tough” by decreasing projected increases.

But the President said he would not allow budget cuts to come at the expense of additional funding requests for biomedical research and clean-energy technology, a favourite pet issue.


    Green technologies. Prediction–the countries which subsidize green technologies will do much worse than those which don’t.

The President said he will also seek more money to train math and science teachers, citing statistics showing the United States had slipped to ninth in the world in the proportion of young people with college degrees.

“We have to do better,” he said. “The future is ours to win, but to get there we can’t just stand still.”

While the nationally televised address was mostly short on specifics, Mr. Obama challenged Congress and the country to embrace a series of long-term goals. They include a proposal to generate 80% of the nation’s electricity from clean-energy sources by 2035; to provide access to high-speed rail for 80% of Americans in 25 years and to “deploy the next generation of high-speed wireless coverage” to 98% of the country in five years.


     A blueprint of useless activities sure to bankrupt the country. With Amtrak as model, that high-speed train thing will really suck in the money.


Cheerio and ttfn,
Grant Coulson
Cui Bono–Cherchez les Contingencies

Practice Works–If Something Is Discovered That’s Been Around For Decades Is It New Or Old?

January 25, 2011

   Do not think about, write about or deal with  human behavior without determining the effects of incentives.

Mystery Solved: Retrieval Works

24/01/2011 10:52:00 John Jensen, Ph.D.

John Jensen, Ph.D. – Long before the Internet—probably in the 1950s when good work could disappear into a fog bank never to be seen again—I ran across an intriguing report about the type of study that enabled students to learn the most. Researchers posed the question in terms of time use. What proportion of time spent at what activity produced the most learning?

            While I can’t recall details of the study, its simple and clear conclusion has shone like a beacon in my brain ever since: Maximum learning occurred when students spent from 40 to 80 percent of their time in “the effort to recall.”


    AKA practice

            Come now Jeffrey D. Karpicke and Janell R. Blunt (who have evidently worked at this for awhile) to give definition to an aspect of this phenomenon. In their article in Science magazine online January 20, “Retrieval Practice Produces More Learning than Elaborative Studying with Concept Mapping,” they demonstrate that sheer test-taking as effort at retrieval significantly outperforms either re-studying or concept mapping to generate sustained learning.  Note that retrieving information for a test is a subset of the 50+ year-old notion of “effort to recall.”

            The New York Times helped spread the news January 20 with Pam Belluck’s article, “To Really Learn, Quit Studying and Take a Test.” She summarized the findings and brought on board Marcia Linn, Daniel Willingham, Howard Gardner, and Robert Bjork who took various tacks to interpreting them.

            If the study implied a larger field of understanding, where would it lead?  Is test-taking the only way that retrieval occurs, a stand-alone action having no brothers, sisters, or cousins?

            Test-taking is a tiny niche in an activity that occurs constantly. Whenever we converse with someone, we first retrieve our common context of ideas and then the details relevant to the conversation. Anytime a teacher questions a student, the same thing happens, and it’s repeated when one student asks another a question. 

            Once we acknowledge that the act of retrieving information sinks it into memory, we logically inquire how much of it to ask of students in a class day. Our learning goals answer that.  If you have a hill to climb, and every step you take gets you closer to the top, your answer is inescapable: you continue the steps until you get to the top. With student learning, you keep asking and answering the question until the student can retrieve it correctly—mundanely put, until “he knows the answer.”

            One way to design learning outcomes is with micro-answers to micro-questions on a micro-organized test.  Another way is the effort to make sense of a subject while placing details in correct spots. What students should know is essentially what a teacher might say in explaining a subject. If the student can do what the teacher does, the learning is achieved. 

            As best I can tell, there’s only one way for this to come about (let me know if you can think of any other). It’s based on a principle underlying skill development of all kinds that’s commonly shortened to Practice makes perfect.  First you input knowledge (or a model for action) by reading, listening, watching, etc.  Second, you output the knowledge, you retrieve it, act upon it, express it; and do several times as much of the latter as the former for a given piece of learning. Any time spent at input needs much more time at output (answering questions, discussing, summarizing in writing). I describe it telegraphically as input, output-output-output-output. Doing this, a student brings one chunk of knowledge after another up to the standard of explainability. Teachers learn a subject by teaching it and students have to do the same sort of mental process to obtain comparable knowledge.  They explain a subject over and over, piece by incremental piece, until the whole thing hangs together as a field of knowledge.  To learn thoroughly, students have to do lots of retrieving. There’s no shortcut.

            Imagine a student who answers all the questions on a test perfectly. He doesn’t guess nor cram cleverly, and he’s not determined to appear better on test morning than he is every other day of the week.  This is your kid who really knows it. To do that, he had to answer all the questions beforehand, retrieving them perfectly. His test performance wasn’t by luck. And if he’s answering the questions perfectly, then someone had to ask them. Either  he asked them of himself—writing out everything he knew—or he went down the teacher’s list of anything that might appear on the test, or faced someone else who asked the questions over and over till he got them perfectly.  To answer them perfectly on the test, students previously answer them perfectly in practice, which means that you set up a practice operation of asking and answering anything that could appear on the test.

            Doing this is very easy. Just pair students up to grill each other until they can supply perfect answers to each other’s questions.  Allow them enough time at this until they’re certain they know the material. The pace at which they can do it is your speedometer for the rate at which to introduce new material. Teach what you can arrange for them to practice up to the level of permanence, a standard that should apply to everything they learn whether you test it or not. Once it goes in, it needs only to be retrieved several times to become permanent.


      Practice–Contrast this with “modern educational procedures” which present a bizarrely random set of exercises, never tested on students and changing with the winds of whim. Educational practices don’t need to work in a public system because, you guessed it, nobody’s economic well-being depends on anything working. If one were to design a system which could pretend that it’s doing what it’s supposed to, one could not do better.

Cheerio and ttfn,
Grant Coulson
Cui Bono–Cherchez les Contingencies

Paying For Our Own Economic Execution

January 24, 2011


    Do not think about, write about or deal with  human behavior without determining the effects of incentives.

Lurita Doan
Federal Government Unions Looting American Taxpayers

Lines are being drawn and the fight to reduce overly generous pay and benefits to government employees at the federal, state, and local level is underway. Not too surprisingly, public employee unions are gearing up, rallying government employees, and exerting pressure to maintain the generous pay and benefits that has loaded government with unsustainable debt. Public employee unions are, even now, pressing the Obama Administration for additional benefits and power.


      I’m not the only one predicting this. The confrontation is inevitable.

President Obama, either unwilling, or perhaps unable, to bring long-overdue accountability to powerful public employee unions, has instead issued guidance requiring greater Union representation and input into federal agency decision making. Obama’s decision will likely embolden union bosses to think they can escape accountability and an honest review of benefits, salary, and pensions of government employees.


    For those who thought Obama was “a different kind of politician”, he not. He’s just less different than all the big-government, union appeasers.

Perhaps it is time to send a different message. President Obama, like many Americans, is probably unaware that the federal government actually subsidizes federal government employee union operations. In fact, the federal government provides unions with free office space, pays for union member time and picks up travel and per diem costs. These “perks” represent a tax that has never been approved by American taxpayers–perks which operate at a level below the radar of Congress and well below the radar of the IRS. These hidden “perks” provided to government employee unions cost American taxpayers millions of dollars annually.

According to official data, federal employees currently spend some 2.9 million official work hours, at government expense, engaging in collective bargaining and union activities, representing a taxpayer cost of approximately $120 million. But the taxpayer costs and subsidizes to public employee unions is much higher than the official report because government does not account for all the expenses related to union activity.


      Talk about paying for the rope or bullet for one’s execution.

Federal government unions are, in essence, running a business within the federal government. As we begin the debate over the proper role (if any) unions should have in government, one step Americans should all be able to agree upon is that taxpayer money should not be used to subsidize union activities.

Many Americans may be unaware that unions exist in every federal agency. In fact, most agencies have several unions competing for employee participation and funding which means that federal agencies are subsidizing the costs for several unions at the same time!

These federal agency union representatives have a large presence in Washington, DC, the seat of the federal government. But, most federal locations throughout the United States also have a union representative. So, for example, in a city, such as Kansas City, where the federal complex houses multiple government agencies, there will be multiple federal union representatives, from each federal union, within each federal agency, all at the same building location.

Why is this important?

Federal government union representatives are actually federal employees. They hold GS ranks and civil service status, and actually have federal jobs that they were employed to perform. Their union duties are, supposedly, performed over and above the requirements of their regular day job. However, because of the pernicious and growing power of federal unions, oftentimes, union duties often are performed in lieu of their job. Paid time off from regular government duties is allowed, in most federal agencies, for the union representative to solicit federal employees (i.e. market services), to attend union meetings (i.e. work for an entity other than their government employer) or travel to have “face time” with their union bosses in DC. All at taxpayer expense.

In addition, union representatives often request and are provided with office space that is more expansive than is warranted by their GS rank or than their federal job duties require. The cost of this additional square footage is also paid for by the American taxpayer, and is paid for at each federal agency, for each federal union representative, for each federal union. Federal government union representatives total thousands of federal employees, all billing their time, travel and per diem, for non-government related work, to the American taxpayer.

Perhaps an even bigger problem is that the federal government union representatives sometimes seem to operate under the mistaken belief that they were hired by the government to work for the union—and that union work is more important than the federal job they were hired to perform.

Unions seem, at best, indifferent to the performance of government and are exclusively concerned with pay and benefits of union workers. Therein lies another irony for the American taxpayer. Unions are organized to negotiate against employers, but, since the federal government is the employer, and since the American people pay for the federal government, then, technically, federal government employee unions might be construed as organizing against the American people.

It is time to bring some accountability to public employee unions. A good first step would be for Congress to get a grip on the proliferation of benefits for unions in the federal government, whose activities are an additional burden on federal taxpayers. Congress should change federal policies on payment of travel, per diem and office space for federal government union employees.


         Accountability in public employee unions– good luck with that. Another fine mess they’ve gotten us into.

Cheerio and ttfn,
Grant Coulson
Cui Bono–Cherchez les Contingencies

Cash, Politics and The Green Machine

January 23, 2011


   Do not think about, write about or deal with  human behavior without determining the effects of incentives.

      What happens when you put irrational fears about Global Warming, energy independence and politics together? Here’s what.

Tom Borelli
Obama’s Green Economy Bag Men: Chief of Staff Bill Daley and GE CEO Jeff Immelt

The recent White House personnel shifts signal the kickoff of President Obama’s 2012 re-election bid. Of the many changes, the selection of Bill Daley as White House chief of staff and General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt as the head of the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness are the most important because they will play a key fundraising role in the upcoming presidential campaign.

Choosing Daley and Immelt are not signs of political moderation by President Obama, as some have suggested, but is the stone cold political realization that the president needs big-business cash to fuel his 2012 campaign.

It’s been reported that Obama’s 2012 re-election bid will shatter the record $750 million in contributions collected during the 2008 campaign by reaching the billion dollar mark.

To raise that staggering amount of cash, Obama is going to need substantial support from corporate deep pockets. Big-business donors, such as CEOs, hedge fund managers and law firm partners typically are not ideologues seeking to advance a political philosophy but are pragmatists wanting to know how Obama’s policies can increase their influence, business strategies and wealth.

Translating Obama’s policy into business returns and campaign dollars will be job one for Daley. As a political and Wall Street insider, Daley has the contacts to make the sale but Obama’s rhetoric and policies has not endeared the president to the animal instincts of many big-business leaders.

There is, however, one policy that can galvanize the president’s fundraising base: Obama’s war on fossil fuels and his unyielding promotion of renewable energy and a green economy.

Billions of dollars invested in renewable energy are now in jeopardy because Congress did not pass Obama’s cap-and-trade plan, which would make energy derived from the burning of fossil fuels more expensive – or, as the president said, “skyrocket.” Because renewable energy can’t compete with the price and reliability of fossil fuels, the financial viability of these investments is dependent on government action to raise the cost of carbon-based energy.

At a recent policy forum at the Brookings Institution, GE CEO Jeff Immelt emphasized the importance of a government policy that would raise energy prices to spur renewable energy. According to Reuters, “On energy, Immelt said a clear U.S. policy making fossil fuels that emit greenhouse gasses more expensive is needed ‘to move the needle’ on accelerating advanced technology investments. ‘There has to be a price on carbon,’ he said.”

Daley and Immelt are the perfect team to appeal to other corporations that gambled on climate change fears and merge these interests with progressive activists, and the social and media elites to unleash the political donating frenzy for Obama’s re-election.

Before joining team Obama, Daley was the head of JPMorgan Chase’s corporate social responsibility department, which developed a climate change policy that is hostile to carbon-based energy – coal, oil and natural gas. JPMorgan’s policy is “to advocate that the US government adopt a market-based national policy on greenhouse gas emissions, which includes all sources of emissions and is fair. Options include either a cap-and-trade or tax policy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at the lowest possible cost.”

JPMorgan, like many other financial institutions, is banking on making money by trading carbon credits and by investing in renewable energy projects. GE and JPMorgan are not the only companies that have a business interest in seeking higher energy prices. Exelon, the Chicago-based utility, has taken a lead role in attacking coal-based electricity generation.

Exelon is a member of the United States Climate Action Partnership (USCAP), a cap-and-trade lobbying organization, and the company was a recipient of a $200 million grant from Obama’s economic stimulus plan.

Daley also has ties to Exelon – he advised the company on its failed effort to buy Public Service Enterprise Group Inc. in 2004.

The failure of California Proposition 23 last November shows the fundraising potential behind the war on fossil fuels. A collection of left-wing philanthropists, activist groups and business interests contributed over $30 million to defeat the measure, which would have delayed implementation of a state law mandating a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions until unemployment rates drop to a specific level.

Green technology venture capitalists John Doerr and Vinod Khosla gave $2,100,000 and $1,037,267, respectively, and PG&E, a California utility and USCAP member, kicked in another $500,000.

Doerr’s involvement deserves special attention. Along with Immelt, Doerr is a member of President Obama’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board. He also is Al Gore’s business partner.

The campaign to defeat Prop 23 reveals the money behind the war on fossil fuels. With billions of dollars invested in a green economy, we can expect huge sums of special interest money to back Obama.

As the 2012 presidential election draws closer, we can expect to see Daley and Immelt playing a major role in selling Obama’s green economy to those dependent on legislative fixes to their business plans.

Let’s hope the fossil fuel industry recognizes Obama’s new team is not going to be a moderating voice in the White House. Rather, Daley and Immelt will be green economy bag men collecting cash to put them out of business.


    Those betting on green energy will regret the day as the proletariat wakes up to this foolishness.  Buy coal stocks.

Cheerio and ttfn,
Grant Coulson
Cui Bono–Cherchez les Contingencies

The Long-term Effects of ADHD Medication

January 21, 2011


            Do not think about, write about or deal with  human behavior without determining the effects of incentives.

      Robert Whitaker, a journalist who writes quite scientifically, with numerous citations to back his claims, describes a confrontation with representatives of the drug-oriented branch of the psychiatric profession.

Speaking at MGH Grant Rounds, and More

Jan 21, 2011
As many readers of this blog may know, I spoke at the psychiatric department’s Grand Rounds at Massachusetts General Hospital on January 13, which was covered by Carey Goldberg, a reporter for WBUR. My talk at the Grand Rounds was then rebutted” by the department’s Andrew Nierenberg, (which of course is unusual for a grand rounds, as normally people are not invited to grand rounds and then have their presentation “refuted” by the department that invited you.) Then, on January 19, WBUR invited Dr. Nierenberg and I on an afternoon radio show to futher debate the topic. As usual, such debates on radio are often an exercise in frustration, particularly if you are in my position of “countering” conventional wisdom. It took 400 or so pages in Anatomy of an Epidemic to lay out the history of science that counters the conventional wisdom, and as you step into a radio booth you say to yourself, okay, now how I can I distill that story into a one-minute soundbite?

But two notes, both very revealing from that radio show.
At some point in the discussion, the host Meghna Chakrabarti begins to read a statement made by one of the lead investigators of the NIMH’s long-term study of treatment for ADHD, known as the Multisite Multimodal Treatment study. Here is the full  statement from William Pelham, which the host began to read:

“We had thought that children medicated longer would have better outcomes. That didn’t happen to be the case. There were no beneficial effects, none. In the short term, [medications] will help the child behave better, in the long run it won’t. And that information should be made very clear to parents.”

Now readers need to know the backdrop to this trial to understand the importance of this finding. The prescribing of stimulants to children began in the 1970s, and then really took off in the 1980s. Numerous studies found that over the short-term, medications diminished “motoric overactivity, impulsivity and inattentiveness” in classroom settings. Thus they were seen as effective for treating ADHD. But by the early 1990s, there was no evidence that the drugs were benefitting the children long-term. As the 1994 edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Textbook of Psychiatry admitted, “Stimulants do not produce lasting improvements in aggressivity, conduct disorder, criminality, education achievement, job functioning, marital relationships, or long-term adjustment.”

The NIMH launched its MTA trial, which it touted as the “first major clinical trial” the institute had ever conducted of a “childhood mental disorder,” in order to more properly assess whetherthere was a long-term benefit. And what it found was that by the end of three years, “mendication (sic)  use was a significant marker not of beneficial outcome, but of deterioration.”   By the end of six years, the findings remained the same. Medication use was associated with worse hyperactivity-impulsivity and oppositional defiant disorder symptoms,” and, if you look closely at the data, with greater “overall functional impairment.” Hence, Pelham’s conclusion that they found that medications provided no long-term benefit, none.

So, as the host begins to bring this up, Dr. Nierenberg breaks in and says, “that’s not true.” He says there are many studies that show the drug-treated patients do better, and that untreated ADHD children grow up into adults who have a lot of car accidents, get in trouble with the law, etc. And thus WBUR listeners were led to believe that research showed that studies had, in fact, found that medications helped prevent that adulthood disaster that awaited ADHD children. The long-trerm studies showed that the drugs provided no benefit; Dr. Nierenberg told a story of how they were necessary and helpful long-term.


    The studies to which the psychiatrist refers are supposedly supportive of the ‘neuroprotective” function of medicating ADHD children at a young age. Supposedly, early medication leads to a better outcome later in life and is “protective” of the developing brain. Whitaker has reviewed these studies and found them wanting. Use of medication was, “… a significant marker not of beneficial outcome, but of deterioration.”

      As usual, everything is supportive of conventional wisdom but the facts.

Cheerio and ttfn,
Grant Coulson
Cui Bono–Cherchez les Contingencies