Government: What is it good for? (5X8 – 6/17/11)


We’re going to have a good discussion over the next few weeks over what the role of government should be because nobody seems to have a clue at the moment. A judge next week will consider Gov. Mark Dayton’s definition of “essential services” in the coming state shutdown. Lawmakers who won last November campaigned on cutting government and cutting taxes, two generic stump speeches that voters rarely translate into programs that affect them.

Case in point: Did anyone run TV ads that said “we shouldn’t be so sure that the food we eat is safe”? In Washington, yesterday, the House approved an agriculture appropriations bill that cut emergency food for poor mothers and children. But it also cut the food safety inspection service, which oversees meat, poultry and some egg products.

Why? Because the food supply is “99.99 percent safe,” said Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), chairman of the House subcommittee that wrote the agriculture appropriations bill. He said companies like McDonald’s police themselves because they don’t want people getting sick.

99.5%? If true, it’s the the .5% that ruins people’s lives.


Last week, NPR aired a story about young teachers who are facing layoff notices. One of them said he may just give up teaching and go to law school instead. Law school has been the safe, if expensive, haven for some people whose career paths just haven’t worked out.

Until, perhaps, now. Now, it appears, the law is the next American industry to get outsourced to India, according to a PBS blogger.

As this change unfolds, new lawyers will make less, if they can find positions, making it unclear if their legal education was as valuable as previously thought. Justifying $100,000-plus in tuition is already difficult for law schools; the rise in outsourcing will make it impossible. Tuition cost and reduced opportunity will shift our beliefs about being a lawyer: Getting a law degree will no longer be seen as a fail-safe choice for a stable future.

What is happening behind closed doors inside law firms illustrates how outsourcing is transforming the way we value our most esteemed professions. This transformation causes a loss of faith: What can’t be outsourced?

As a new graduate, consider yourself lucky; it will be worse for those who follow.


The Red River in Fargo-Moorhead has finally dropped below flood stage. It was a record-long flood. The U.S. Geological Survey this week boiled it down to a few minutes.


The kissing couple amid the riots in Vancouver has been identified, but now there’s some question whether they were kissing or were hurt.

A news agency in Australia says a Perth woman has come forward saying the man in the shot is her 29-year-old brother Scott Jones, who has been living and working in the Canadian city for six months. Ms Jones said her brother had recently started dating the girl in the photo, identified as Alex Thomas, who is a Canadian.


“It is something he would do, that’s our boy,” the lad’s mother said. “He has always lived in his own world, he’s special like that. He doesn’t always connect with what going on around him.”

But the Ottawa Citizen newspaper says a citizen who was there — “William” — says the woman was injured…

“I was on the top floor of a parkade on Seymour, the couple was right outside of the parkade on the street in front of me. What happen was the police line rushed the crowd and this couple trying to stay together couldn’t react in time and were run over my 2 riot police officers. The girl who was knocked over landed head first on the pavement with her boyfriend landed partially on top of her. She was in visible pain, crying, but the 2 officers gave them a parting shove and moved on. By standers went to go make sure she was ok. I understand that the front line police have to control the crowd but it is a bit ridiculous that they couldn’t have other officers or paramedics behind the line to help anyone who is hurt.”

Esquire has a photograph from another angle that suggests she is indeed, hurt.


Joe Mauer returns to the Minnesota Twins lineup tonight. On Sunday he’s expected to mediate — and solve — the state budget dispute between the governor and Legislature, and part the floodwaters of Nebraska and Iowa on Monday. There’s nothing Joe can’t do.

And there’ll be a Ricky Rubio celebration in the Twin Cities today. Rubio, drafted two years ago by the Minnesota Timberwolves, has been the answer to every complaint about the moribund Wolves since (“Just wait ’til Ricky arrives!”). This morning, the Timberwolves announced they’ve signed Rubio.

The Wolves have produced this glitzy Pawlenty-campaign-like video for today’s announcement that he’s signed with the team.

Nice pink uniform, Ricky.

Bonus: The new pay stations are sprouting in Minneapolis and the first reviews are in. Bob Ingrassia at Idea Peepshow says they’re too slow:

Even after you figure out how to enter your space number and payment, you have to wait another 15 to 25 seconds for your receipt. Doesn’t seem like much, but the silent delay makes you wonder if you’ve done something wrong. Plus, when there are other people in line to pay (before a Twins game, for example) the waiting time adds up.

I suppose you could bail before the receipt prints, but then you’re not sure your payment was accepted. Also, the receipt is your defense if you’re wrongly ticketed.

Minneapolis Parking Meters — Insert Money … And Wait from Fast Horse on Vimeo.


Students in the public schools and political figures on the national stage have drawn poor marks for their understanding of history. Today’s Question: What historical period do you wish you knew more about?


Midmorning (9-11 a.m.) – First hour: Wisconsin’s budget battle.

Second hour: Do Americans know enough about their nation’s history?

Midday (11 a.m. – 1 p.m.) – First hour: MPR’s online “Insight Now” debate all week is focused on presidential candidate. Today: Tim Pawlenty’s “Google test.”

Second hour: A lecture by reporter Gal Beckerman titled, “When They Come For Us, We’ll Be Gone: The Epic Struggle to Save Soviet Jewry.” He spoke at the St. Paul Jewish Community Center.

Science Friday (1-3 p.m.) – First hour: Did an injection of stem cells fix a Yankee pitcher’s ailing arm?

Second hour: What Voyager 1 is reporting back from the edge of the solar system, 11 billion miles away.

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – What are residents of Fillmore County, represented by Republican Rep. Greg Davids, thinking about the potential for a state shutdown? MPR’s Elizabeth Baier will talk with them and check in with people at Forestville State Park about what may be ahead.

There was a going-away party last night for Peter Karre, the New York-based man who developed the Minneapolis tornado Facebook Web site and organized volunteer efforts in the wake of last month’s tornado. Rupa Shenoy has the story.

As the state makes preparations for a possible government shutdown, MPR’s Sasha Aslanian reports smaller units of government are launching into the same triage mode. State money flows to cities and counties, so they need to decide their own essential services. They’re concerned about promised funding reaching them, and if they float the money during the shutdown, will they get stuck with the tab?

  • MR

    Timing is everything, and in this case the timing of the e coli outbreak in Europe may make Rep. Kingston rethink his position…

  • Rich Dietman

    Ah, yes. Burger roulette. Rep. Kingston might not be talking quite so confidently about fast food chains being good stewards of public health were it 1993 when four children died after eating E. coli-tainted food from Jack in the Box restaurants in several western states.

    Government can’t do it all, to be sure, but our

    country has a long history of corporations that

    have routinely put profit before safety and it’s only been when government oversight has been present that workers and consumers have enjoyed an increased margin of safety.

    But these are serious topics on such a beautful late spring day in the Norhtland. Time to get out and enjoy the weather. And if it turns thundery later today, well for now at least there’s the National Weather Service to provide the information to stay safe.

  • matt

    So here we have, again, the flawed premise that food safety is a product that the govt creates. Govt creates a floor – the level of safety/inspection that must be maintained. Sadly there are companies that operate at that level, what is even worse is that by getting the good ole USDA (or other agency) seal of approval people gladly buy those products. Watch Food Inc (available streaming on Netflix) and see what passes for a govt approved chicken farm. Bob, you are right that if you get the .5% of food you don’t just get .5% sick, if people want to just trust random govt inspections for that then more power to to them – I just think it is a load of crap, and a dangerouse load at that, to let people believe that a govt seal is the guarantee that most people think it is.

    Know your butcher, know your farmers market, know how to cook and forget about uncle sams food army.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Regarding the Kissing Couple: Yea, apparently the girl had fallen. But the kiss was real. We’re ALL injured in one way or another, and love is undeniably the best medicine.

    Regarding The Athletic Savior: Is that kinda like an athletic supporter?

    Regarding republicans and rancid meat: kinda sums it up pretty well, doesn’t it.

  • Chris N.

    @Matt, so are you saying that there should be no government inspection at all, and people should inspect their own food, or that the existing inspection infrastructure is not enough?

    I don’t know much about the current food inspection system, so I feel that I would want to know more before making a judgment on whether we need more or less oversight of food producers. I suspect, though, that with the strength of the agriculture lobby, our current system isn’t as good as it should be. It needs to be efficient, so that food producers have less incentive to complain about it, but it should be thorough.

    We could live in a country where it’s everyone for themselves, in which people would have to spend time and effort knowing which producers were cleaner than others. But personally I’d rather spend the money to make sure that the “floor” of quality the government creates *is* a valid indicator of food safety.

  • Matt S.

    The real issue here is not outsourcing, but the staggering number of law schools in the U.S. and the inflated tuition said law schools charge. There are unranked schools charging $30,000+ in yearly tuition. No graduate from a school like that who has to pay full tuition will ever recoup their investment. As for outsourcing of legal services, the legal profession has one ace in the hole. No foreign attorney can represent a client in State or federal court without being licensed to practice in that State or admitted to practice in federal court. There will allways be a need for American attorneys to represent clients in court. An Indian attorney might be able to draft your prenup, but he or she will never represent you in your divorce.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Over the last two years, Ricky Rubio has averaged around 3 rebounds, 4 assists and 6 points per game. Playing in Spain. I guess all of the acclaim is because everybody knows how superior European basketball is when compared to the nba.

  • Bob Collins

    // 3 rebounds, 4 assists and 6 points per game.

    He’s no Jonny Flynn.

  • Jamie

    I’m a little disturbed by all the postings of the man and woman lying in the street in Vancouver. If the woman’s butt wasn’t showing, I don’t think we’d see it in so many places, or in the same place multiple times. Enough!

  • Jim Shapiro

    Jamie – BREAKING NEWS!!!

    Sex sells.