Thursday, January 10, 2013

Katojoe blog has moved!

If you're wondering why my blogs haven't been posted to this site lately, it's because I've moved to The Free Press website. You can now find my regularly updated blogs at

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Hey middle class. They've got your back

We heard a lot about the middle class this election.

Seems everyone was on our side.

They were going to protect us from the government, the IRS, the EPA, global warming, bad rap music and of course, their opponents, who were definitely going to raise our taxes.

I'll just add in cable TV as another threat to the middle class. There's really a hit when they change the stations without asking you, charge you more and take away high definition Vikings games.Now that really hurts. It's all in the name of competition.

That's strange. Last time I checked, the consumer usually benefits when competition increases.

Well, the election is over and I haven't heard much talk about the middle class, at least not as much as I used to.

That's odd, because, best I can tell, all the threats are still in existence -- the EPA,IRS, the government, the ice is still melting in the Arctic and there's still no high def Vikings.

Aside from the Vikings high-definition cable oppression mentioned a few times earlier, my reading shows me there are several threats to the middle class still in existence.

The fiscal cliff, for example. It's so important it's getting very close to being capitalized like a formal name similar to the Great Depression and the Teapot Dome Scandal.

It's so important, it's on Congress' waiting list.

Republicans and Democrats are vowing to fix the Fiscal Cliff (might as well be a trendsetter here on the capitalization) and they might even get to it before Christmas. That would be a fine "reverse" Christmas present of which Charles Dickens would be proud: Our gift is that they "won't" raise our taxes.

That means we get nothing for Christmas, worse than a lump of coal.

I guess we better take what we can get.

There are other threats. A report in the Wall Street Journal this week suggested that the Federal Housing Administration  will run out of reserves because of all the bad mortgages it has and may likely need a bailout like FANNIE and FREDDIE (words that are so important they get all caps).

FANNIE and FREDDIE still owe us $140 billion.

I'll take my share if they just fix my cable and give me back the high definition Vikings game.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The politics and economics of Bruce Springsteen

People smarter than me will be better at explaining why the legendary Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band have achieved their success over nearly 40 years of making music, producing albums and perfecting the genre of the live rock and roll show.

I cannot easily describe their success in words, but I know it when I see it and feel it.

That opportunity came Monday evening at the Xcel Center in St. Paul. It was the third time I had seen Springsteen and his band perform, the last time being 2002, right after his album "The Rising" had come out and when 911 was still fresh on America's consciousness.

The easy analysis: This may possibly be the best E Street Band there has ever been. Springsteen has added a handful of horn players, backup singers, and extra percussion, and oh yeah, a rockin' violinist.

He orchestrates these 17 musicians to make blue-collar, grind-it-out, on-the-road music and lyrics sound like a symphony  - a rock symphony.

A full three hour show produces not one piece of evidence that Springsteen or any of the band is going less than full throttle. The fans wear out before this band does.

 Their current "Wrecking Ball" tour is getting rave reviews.

But in the end, Spring understands "customers" as he referred to them Monday night. He asked how many people in the audience were there the night before. Thousands of hands went up. "That's great," he says, "we like repeat customers and we've got a different show for you every night."

The other piece of the easy analysis is that Springsteen knows how to connect with those "customers" in a genuine, emotional kind of way. Maybe it's just his knack for writing really good songs that can conjure up an image, a memory or one of life's truths that just resonate with everyone who has a sense of what America is about.

And if we paid attention at all in school or listening to records of all the great American musicians, we all should have some clue about that.

Some don't like Springsteen's politics. I heard former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty - a big Springsteen fan - once say he was disappointed when Springsteen came out for John Kerry and other Democrats in the 2004 election. He made campaign appearances for Obama this year.

For a guy who writes so many songs from the gut and the heart, it would be hard to avoid giving his opinion once in a while on the direction he thinks our leaders are going on this whole American story.

I, for one, will be listening.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Election analyses make leaps of logic

By now, you've probably read through myriad election analyses that mostly attempt to guess the motivation of voters without every really asking them.

Ah, the life of a pundit.

Some, of course, have numbers associated with them and start out as solid pieces of research but then often venture into guessing games.

The analysis, for example, that Obama won 70 percent of the Latino vote and that helped push him over the top is pretty spot on. The numbers can be shown to reveal that. But why Latinos voted for Obama may be a little less certain.

Some of it makes sense. Romney had to start so far right in the primaries on immigration that he couldn't recover to a moderate position even after that. Several national columnists have made that case. At the same time Obama offered the reduction in immigration enforcement plan a few months before the election that also may have looked good to Latino voters.

The biggest stretches in election analysis usually come from winners of elections who claim a "mandate" from the voters are based on just about anything they've ever said in their political careers.

These winners assume a variety of crazy things that would drive your average empiricist over the edge of their regression equation.

Just two years ago, Minnesota Republicans claimed all kinds of mandates from the voters -- one being their win was a mandate to not raise taxes. So how can one explain that they didn't raise taxes and they still lost. The voters must have pulled back their no-tax mandate.

In reality, voters cast their ballot for any number of wide ranging reasons, some, maybe many, may have very little to do with any policy. Maybe they just don't like how one party talked, or that one politician seemed too arrogant.

Democrats who defeated Republicans would do well not to draw any similar mandates -- for example, that voters cast their ballots because they wanted taxes raised on the wealthy.

Voting motivation can be much more complicated or much more simple than political leaders may think.

The most accurate conclusion on cause and effect in voting: You will never be able to prove one.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Election Day news coverage changes

We've implemented a few changes for our Election Day news coverage, many for the better.

In the past, we've spent a good deal of staff time sitting at courthouses waiting for results or more recently sitting at our computers waiting for online results to be available.

This year we will again be giving you real-time results as they come in but also providing you with links to check on the results yourself in a user-friendly way.

We've set up 33 links to local election results through the secretary of state's website. Simply go to our website and follow the links to the results for the Legislature, federal offices, schools, cities, counties and the hotly contested constitutional amendments.

We'll also be using instant news messaging through Twitter on our website to provide the latest results and hopefully get you the final results before you go to bed, depending on what time you go to bed, of course.

Most of us in The Free Press newsroom will be here to 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. and we have staff coming in at 5 a.m. Wednesday to catch you up on all the latest if need be.

Two or three of our reporters and a photographer will be providing live coverage from the campaigns, again through the Twitter feed on our website. It's at

The Secretary of State's Office tells us they will update their site every 15 minutes and experience tells us that sometimes it's even more frequent. We of course, will rely on county websites as backups to the Secretary of State.

If, by chance the state's system gets slow and experiences glitches, we will be ready to revert to our backup sites.

Officials from the SOS office told me they've upgraded their system this year and have backups in place. From the media review I was able to take of the site, it looks much easier to track election results this year than in years past.

For example, on school levy questions, you don't have to jump around to each county a school district might be in. You can simply get all the results under that question.

And with any luck, we'll get that good ol' print edition out with most, if not all, of the results. We push our press start back about two hours on election night, holding the presses until the last minute to bring you all the lastest results.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Why we don't comment on crime stories

Crime stories can be the most controversial and some say most intriguing of all the stories we publish.

Readers will often wonder why we don't take a stand on some of the cases on our opinion pages and even more importantly, why we don't generally allow online comments or letters to the editor on pending criminal cases.

The main reason: We're trying to balance the people's right to know and the people's right to free speech with the fair trial rights of the accused.

The question has been raised again by many readers given the high profile nature of Minnesota State University football coach Todd Hoffner's case involving charges of child pornography.

Our competitors in Minneapolis at the Star Tribune have ventured into the waters of commentary on the case. Columnist Gail Rosenblum wrote an column on the case the same Sunday Star Tribune Editor Nancy Barnes explained the newspaper's reporting of the case.

A few weeks later, the Star Tribune took the unusual step of publishing on its opinion pages an editorial essentially holding the Blue Earth County Attorney's Office feet to the fire to justify their handling of charges. The editorial challenged the county attorneys office to provide more definitive information that justify the continuation of the charges.

Blue Earth County Attorney Ross Arneson responded by deferring comment, saying the county attorneys office was not going to try the case in the newspaper.

Certainly, the case has people talking. Some question the validity of the charges. We're withholding judgment mainly because we'd like to see the justice system run its course. We'd like to understand the case and the law more fully.

It's always dangerous venturing an opinion on the case without knowledge of all the facts. We don't have access to interviews that may have been conducted. We haven't even been able to see the tapes in question.

Laws prevent public disclosure of much evidence before it is submitted at trial. There's always more to the story when you see the entire case file. Unfortunately, that usually isn't public available until the case goes to trial or is settled.

We certainly don't agree with everything the Blue Earth County attorneys office does. We've even challenged it in at least two or three formal legal battles. But we've generally waited for criminal trials to play out, unless we feel there is some egregious violation of a public records law.

We've also rejected letters to the editor on the case and generally most online comments for the same reasons we defer.

And while there is sometimes not much public sympathy for those accused of crime, our laws require a fair trial. There's no law the media has to be abide by that, but we feel compelled by our ethics and sense of fairness.

There will be plenty of time for commentary, criticism and discussion once justice has taken its course.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Will the fed action create jobs?

Big news today: the Federal Reserve is buying some $40 billion in mortgage backed securities a month to stimulate the economy.

From the Associated Press story:

The Fed said it will spend $40 billion a month to buy mortgage bonds for as long as it deems necessary to make home buying more affordable. It plans to keep short-term interest rates at record lows through mid-2015 — six months longer than previously planned. And it's ready to try other stimulative measures if hiring doesn't pick up.

"The idea is to quicken the recovery," Chairman Ben Bernanke said at a news conference. But Bernanke made clear that he thinks the economy will need the Fed's help even after the recovery strengthens.

The good news is that this activity will likely keep home mortgage rates at their historic low, keep interest rates on other things low and hopefully bolster the stock market, which is back to its pre-2008 recession highs but still off its all time high of 14,000 by about 700 points.

If interest rates are low, it's easier to buy a home, which we know is key to household formation of consumer units (families) who spend a bunch of money on things like refrigerators, furniture and other durable goods, demand for which creates a lot of good jobs.

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke said part of the aim is to boost the stock market because people feel richer, more likely to spend. And I suppose that is partly true for SOME of the people.

But I was thinking of the Fed action while reading another story on why lots of baby boomers have put off retirement: their retirement earnings have been hammered by stock market but also low interest rates.

So they remain in the workforce.

Here's a telling fact from a good story in the Kansas City Star:

"In 1991, just one in 10 workers told the Employee Benefit Research Institute that they planned to wait to retire until they were older than 65. By 2007, three in 10 said that.
This year? More than four in 10."

And another:

"The number of older workers has grown more rapidly than any other age group in the last few years. This year, 18.6 percent of those 65 and older were participating in the labor force, compared with 13 percent in 2002."

And when you think of our main economic problem right now - too many people are unemployed - you can see how this is impacting those job numbers.

If seniors stay working past 65, we don't have the normal fill in from younger workers. The jobs from retirees are no longer opening up at the rate they once did.

This is helping in part to create higher unemployment and for a longer period of time.

The bigger question then is: Will any jobs program short of getting those 65 year olds to retire going to work?

We'd be better to work on incentives to get them to retire. Maybe a one-time exemption from taxes that go with lump sum withdrawals of retirement money. Maybe make medicare eligibility at 62 instead of 65.

Our job problem may be more related to demographics than structural issues in the private sector.

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