Thursday, December 31, 2009

Rule of Law 1, Gutshot 0

We are a state of men, not laws
. Governor Gutshot 2009.Gov Gutshot by Avidor

Not so fast, Gutshot! Yesterday, The chief judge of the Ramsey County District Court ruled that the governor’s unallotment from a budget for a biennium that had not even begun violated the state’s constitution. There is an extensive article in the Strib today. Governor Gutshot, who is unaccountably in town, has apparently called a press conference to throw a tantrum even as this is being written.

Spot has quoted it before, but here’s the provision in the state’s constitution about dividing the powers of government:


Here’s an earlier post by Spot about the issue and a letter to the editor by Walter Mondale and David Lillehuag.

The case on which the judge ruled was brought by six persons receiving nutritional assistance for special health needs. The governor unallotted their program. If you follow the link to the Strib article above, you can read a comment to the article to the effect that was ironic that the six could afford to mount a legal challenge but needed state assistance for food.

What is not ironic, perhaps, is the deep ignorance of the commenter. The six were represented by a legal aid lawyer. The Minnesota House did – a little tardily in Spot’s opinion, but it did – file a brief in support of the plaintiffs.

There will be more to say about this in coming days.

Happy New Year.

Update: Just saw a David Brauer tweet with the same “quote” from Gutshot. Spot has used it in conversation before and disclaims any allegation of plagiarism.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Just can’t retire for the night without passing this one along

TPM reports:

The political action committee behind the Tea Party Express (TPE) -- which already has been slammed as inauthentic and corporate-controlled by rival factions in the Tea Party movement -- directed almost two thirds of its spending during a recent reporting period back to the Republican consulting firm that created the PAC in the first place.

Our Country Deserves Better (OCDB) spent around $1.33 million from July through November, according to FEC filings examined by TPMmuckraker. Of that sum, a total of $857,122 went to Sacramento-based GOP political consulting firm Russo, Marsh, and Associates, or people associated with it.

OCDB, which built the Tea Party Express, is essentially a Russo, Marsh creation, as we've detailed. The PAC's site was registered in July 2008 by Sal Russo, the firm's founder. That site also lists Russo as the PAC's "chief strategist." Tea Party Express fundraising emails, sent by OCDB and obtained by TPMmuckraker, come from another Russo, Marsh employee, Joe Wierzbicki.

Spot wonders if it is too late to get in on this action. Probably not.

A thump of the tail to Juan Cole.


Too sticky to post.


Monday, December 28, 2009

Yes, Virginia, there is a DL!

331-front-split-toned-with- On New Year’s Eve, that is. We’ll meet at the usual time, six to nine, and at the usual place, the 331 Club in Northeast Minneapolis. There will be bands later, so you can come, stay the evening, and enjoy the entertainment, or make DL the first stop in your night of revelry.

Just remember to Drink Liberally, but drink responsibly!

And don’t forget that our first meeting of the New Year will feature a DFL candidate for governor, Rep. Tom Rukavina. That’s on January 7th.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Tom “I’m in the middle” Horner, Spot’s foot

After Rachel Stassen-Berger’s puff piece for the centrist Tom Horner yesterday, that Spot commented on here, Spot decided to do a little checking on Horner’s centrist credentials. Horner is touted as the great savior of the political middle by, among others, Dave Durenburger, and maybe, just maybe, Stassen-Berger herself. Well, maybe he is. But probably not.

More investigation is afoot, but consider: if you watch Almanac on Friday nights, you already know that Horner has often sat on the political couch as a spokesbeing for the Republicans. He’s a “principal” in the public relations firm of Himle Horner, an outfit that specializes in, inter alia, “crisis management.”

Crisis management is, of course, helping to gloss over really bad publicity resulting from a variety of malfeasance and allegations therof: toxic waste spills, corporate fines, action by regulators, criminal activity, and well, the list is almost endless: including the collapse of a major Interstate bridge.

So it is no wonder that Governor Gutshot’s administration turned to Himle Horner for help in, er, paving over the I35W bridge collapse. To the tune of $550,000. Over half a million bucks:

The state is paying $550,000 for a public relations firm to tell the story of the new Interstate 35W bridge -- and to help restore the image of the beleaguered Minnesota Department of Transportation.

The firm, Himle Horner Inc., has been leading a "proactive, on-the-ground" initiative since last fall that includes information kiosks, attempts to shape media coverage and weekly "sidewalk superintendent tours" of the construction work.

A PR plan also promised to use a webcam to beam a half-hour live educational show from the bridge site to all Minnesota school-age children whose classrooms have Web access.

[italics are Spot’s]

Webcams are vey expensive, you know.

If Horner thought that smoothing thing over when the bridge went down was a difficult assignment, just imagine the one that awaits him in trying to show that he is anything other than a suckling at the Republican teat.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Dave Durenberger speaks out on porridge

Republican porridge is too hot; DFL porridge is too cold. Or is it the other way around? Spot can’t remember. Rachel Stassen-Berger wrote an article in the Strib today about voters yearning, yes yearning, for a middle way as a way of pimping former GOP operative and spin doctor Tom Horner’s candidacy for governor. She even interviewed former Senator Durenberger in what looks to Spot like a setup for Horner to announce a run for the job as an Independence Party candidate. Way to go Rachel! Here’s a few words from Dave in Rachel’s sub silento endorsement of Horner:

Former U.S. Sen. Dave Durenberger, a Republican who says the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party is too far to the left and the GOP is too far to the right, agrees this could be a good time for an independent.

"You can't get to where most people would like to be through the parties, as they appear to be constituted," said Durenberger, for whom Horner worked.

It’s funny, but Spot doesn’t recall anybody beating their chests and saying, “Who will speak for the middle?” Spot’s friends and neighbors are by no means all DFLers, either.

Spot harbors a suspicion that Stassen-Berger posed the question as a way to tout Horner as a candidate.

Here in Senate District 41, there is a bitter memory of what an independent candidate can do; it is especially painful for Spot. In the last House race in 41A, the DFL candidate Kevin Staunton and the spurned-once-Republican Ron Erhardt (whom Spot supported) split an easy majority of the vote, electing the conservative Republican Keith Downey, who barely beat either Staunton or Erhardt. Erhardt, some of you will remember, was excommunicated by the Republicans because he voted for the transportation bill over Governor Gutshot’s veto.

One a statewide level, the most probable outcome of a strong independent bid would result in the election of another Republican governor. There are many reasons to worry about that, for education, health care, property taxes; the list goes on.

But one reason in particular concerns Spot: the judiciary in Minnesota. The last time a DFLer picked a judge in Minnesota was when Rudy Perpich did it. Many of you don’t even remember Rudy. But governors have a bigger and longer impact on a state through judicial appointments than probably anywhere else.

There was a case that came down from the Minnesota Supreme Court several days ago on the civil forfeiture of an SUV co-owned by an “innocent owner” of a vehicle driven by an impaired co-owner. By a vote of four to three, the Supreme Court of Minnesota affirmed the forfeiture. One reading the headline, Spot knew exactly how the Court split without even reading the opinion. The four Republican appointees voted to uphold the forfeiture. Everyone else? Not so much.

And it not just the Supreme Court that is appointed by a governor; it’s all the District Court and Court of Appeals judges, too.

It is going to take a generation of purgative to restore some balance on the bench; we can just as well get started now.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

On the eve of Christmas

Spot intended to write about Christian Universalism, to which Spot is an adherent, more or less. Maybe in coming days. In the meantime, Merry Christmas everyone!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

No thanks, I’m just browsing

Or should it be: “No thanks; I’m just browsing?”

2009-12-22 13.49.32

2009-12-22 13.51.20

There’s always the library, people.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Jason Lewis lies on a stepped up basis

Lewis had another piece in the Strib today lambasting the estate tax, or the death tax as he so creatively calls it. Gosh, we’ve never heard it called that before. Jason, you are so clever!

According to Lewis:

Clinton's consternation [in his comments supporting the estate tax] over letting folks keep what they've earned over a lifetime betrays the cavalier attitude Democrats take toward property.

“Death tax” and “Clinton,” eh? One more and you’ve got a hat trick, Jason!

“Letting folks keep what they’ve earned over a lifetime” is part of the great dissembling over the estate tax.

Let’s say somebody accumulates a sizeable estate over a lifetime, and there are sizable unrecognized capital gains. (You don’t recognize a capital gain or loss until you have tax recognition event.) For example, s/he built and owns a closely-held business, or has a large securities portfolio. We will consider two scenarios: in one scenario, the individual sells everything the day before s/he dies. In the other scenario, the individual dies holding all the property with the unrecognized gain.

What happens?

In the first scenario, the executor files an income tax return for the decedent for the capital gain. The balance goes into the decedent’s estate.

In the second scenario, there is no income tax on the capital gain.

First question: do we want to treat these two people more or less the same? Hold that thought.

While you’re thinking of that, let’s just get some of Lewis’ other gibberish out of the way:

One can obviously point out the failed economics of the estate tax. When a corporate CEO dies, for instance, no such taxable event occurs as it does with many mom-and-pop shops who may be asset-rich but cash-poor. Or the fact that so many other nations don't have an estate tax precisely because it raises so little money (in the United States, it amounts to just more than 1 percent of federal revenue).

Jason, Jason, Jason. Death is a tax recognition event. (There are others, of course: voluntary sale and some involuntary dispositions like divorce.) Even for corporate CEOs. (We will lay aside the marital exemption, which has the effect of a deferral of the recognition, for purposes of this discussion.) The question is what assets are in your hands at the time of death?

What Lewis may be trying to say, and Spot is giving him the benefit of the doubt here, is that an estate, skillfully planned, may take substantial assets out of the hands of the decedent before death, avoiding or minimizing estate taxes. And that is true. Irrevocable trusts and gifts are common ways to do that: so-called inter vivos transfers.

But the thing is, you see, these tax avoidance (distinct from something called tax evasion) techniques aren’t available only to the wealthy; owners of small businesses routinely engage in what is called succession planning. That is, how to transfer the business to the next generation with a minimum of management upset and at a minimum tax cost. Life insurance can also be used to fund what estate taxes are expected to accrue on the death of an owner.

Although Lewis sets up the mom-and-pop at a straw man; it is really Warren Buffet and Bill Gates who’ve got the problem trying to transfer their wealth, not the small business owner. And interestingly, Warren Buffet and Bill Gates aren’t the ones calling for a repeal of the estate tax. We’ll explore that more later.

The notion that small business owners and farmers’ estates are commonly lost to estate taxes is just rubbish. Lewis’ piece is remarkable statistic free on this point, and for a reason. It just doesn’t happen in any statistically significant way.

Lewis says that many others countries don’t have an estate tax. (Spot has to interject here that he finds it wildly funny that Jason Lewis would quote other countries’ experience for what we should do in the United States.) But Jason’s right. Spot’s pretty sure there isn’t any estate tax in Saudi Arabia, or the Emirates, or Haiti, even. Spot’s not sure about Gabon.  But the UK has one (although the Queen probably doesn’t pay it); France, too; Canada as well, as the Canucks might say.

Finally, Lewis says, “Piffle,” in his best George Will accent, “it hardly raises any money, anyway.” Indeed, Jason, if it’s so little, why all the fuss? Part of the reason it raises so little at the present time is that the rates have been continuing to decline in what conservatives hoped would be a phase out of the estate tax entirely in 2010; Jason refers to it, in fact. In order that the act of repeal of the estate tax would not appear to rip such a gaping hole in the budget, the law was set to “sunset” in 2010. Some commentators, including Paul Krugman, Spot thinks, called it the "Throw Mama off the Train” Estate Tax Repeal Act, because the effect of Mama living after sunset would be a greater estate tax burden.

It is rather disingenuous, but then that’s Jason Lewis’ middle name, to say that the tax doesn’t raise much because that is the way the Republicans engineered it.

The other reason that the tax does not raise as much as it might is the effectiveness of off-shore hiding of assets by the wealthy. But, that is coming to an end, too.

Well, that’s enough, perhaps too much, for tonight. Next time, we’ll discuss the question posted at the beginning of the post, and why the concept of a “stepped up basis” is important. We’ll come back to Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, too.

It’s nice to be noticed

Drinking Liberally got a shout out in the Strib’s Hot Dish Politics today for the video of Mayor R.T. Rybak’s appearance at our meeting at the 331 Club on December 3rd:

Gov Gutshot by Avidor Rybak, who is running for governor, was asked at a Dec. 3 gathering of the local chapter of Drinking Liberally if, as governor, he would take the time to track a deer he shot during the opener.

Hunters criticized Pawlenty for wounding a deer during the opener in November and then leaving for an Iowa fundraiser before the animal could be found. Other members of the governor’s hunting party tracked the deer without success.

“The deer incident I wouldn’t go after him on, but I think there’s a pretty long … um… example of things he shot in the butt and hasn’t finished off,” said Rybak, setting off a round of laughter and applause.

If you haven’t seen the video, you should watch it here.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Norm Coleman: one of the political undead

Some of you may recall the Norm Coleman political epitaph contest we held here at the Cucking Stool. It was won by Ken Avidor, who on learning that he had won, sketched this to go along with his wining entry. You can go here to read Ken’s winner and those of the other contestants.

But, it appears that we may have been a bit premature. There are whisperings that Norm, perhaps tiring of his gig helping to raise money for the colonizers in the West Bank so they can displace more Palestinians, is thinking about entering the gubernatorial race.

Spot says bully for him! But thinking ahead: it does call for a new contest, don’t you think, boys and girls? Slogans for an undead politician. Here’s one just to get you started:

Lost to two live wrestlers; beat a dead one

Zombie Norm by Avidor Really, what does that tell you? Why the Republicans would want the zombified Norm Coleman lurching across the landscape is beyond Spot, but stranger things have happened.

Like what, Spot?

Spot can’t think of anything right offhand, grasshopper, but there must be something.

Put your thinking caps on. Do some searches on wrestlers, undead, zombies, reanimation, etc.

Let’s see what you can come up with.

Illustrations by Ken Avidor

Saturday, December 19, 2009

R.T. Rybak comes to Drinking Liberally at the 331 Club

I finally got a video of R.T. Rybak’s visit to Drinking Liberally edited. Here’s the Mayor on the evening of December 3rd. I think it was worth the wait.

Mayor Rybak is running as a DFL candidate for governor. He talks about some of his ideas for the job to an enthusiastic crowd.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

What this blog needs is a picture of a giant snowball

Because Spot and I are having busy weeks, we offer you this photo of a giant snowball in the middle of University Avenue.

Brought to you by those wacky kids at my alma mater, the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The wacky kids at Spot's alma mater are nowhere near this fun.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Drinking Liberally tomorrow night, the 17th of December

331-front-split-toned-with- We wll meet tomorrow night. No guest scheduled, just an evening of good conversation with DL friends. We’ll look forward to seeing you.

And by way of post script, the video of R.T. Rybak’s appearance is still in post production, but it should be up by the weekend. It will be worth a look.

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The last, Spot hopes, Comment comment for a while

Please read the update and the comments below.

We’re still working on ironing out the, er, wrinkles with Echo. I think there is still something wrong with the code on the blog template, or something similar, but the problem seems to be limited to the site owner – ol’ Spot himself. In other words, Echo on the Stool recognizes everybody except the only, um, person who paid $9.95 for it. Cheeky.

Anyway, this is going to require a little setup if you want to comment. I’m sorry about that, but that’s life in the big city, or even the middling suburb. You have to authenticate yourself as a commenter; it doesn’t mean that you will lose your pseudonymity (is that a word?) on the site if you want to maintain that.

You can use Twitter, Blogger, Yahoo, or a couple of others to authenticate yourself.

Or, you can set up a JS-Kit account; that’s pretty easy. It’s free, and the only thing it does is authenticate you across Echo commenting systems, which if it becomes as ubiquitous as Haloscan will be a good thing.

In all cases, you select the “from” button on the comments popup window, and then check the box for the type of authentication you want to use. If you choose JS-Kit, and don’t already have a JS-Kit account, you’ll be prompted for the screen name, pseudonym, or real name that you want to use, an email account and a password. The neat thing is you won’t need the password again unless you log out or log in on a different computer, since Echo will leave a “cookie” on your computer that will fill in the details.

You can also modify your JS-Kit account to load your little avatar every time you comment, too.

So, give it a try boys and girls, and report back.

Update: There is some  useful information – Spot hopes — in the comments. Also note that you start the logon process by clicking the “From” button and making selections from the resulting drop-down box. Again, after you’ve done it once, Echo will remember you if you comment from the same computer (unless you log out, which you can do.)

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Monday, December 14, 2009

Shopping Liberally

Contrary to what several right wingers have intimated, Drinking Liberally and its “parent” Living Liberally are not funded by a host of liberal elitists with deep pockets. They have advertising sponsors and fund raisers just as other organizations, both liberal and conservative, do.

Living Liberally hasn’t been immune to these difficult economic times, either. They’ve set up a Holiday Gifts Store website that has Drinking Liberally merchandise, mobile services from CREDO, a book club membership, the Liberal Card, which is a credit card (but don’t go overboard on spending if you get one, just because of the name). There is also a link to Amazon, so that if you connect to Amazon through Living Liberally, it’ll get a little piece of your purchase.

Come on, boys and girls, go see what you can buy.

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Silent no more

It's amazing what an expert Tony Sutton, Chair of the Republican Party of Minnesota, has become on election law in the last week. Commenting on the brouhaha about Margaret Anderson-Kelliher's misstep with sending donations to the party when she reached her limit, Mr. Sutton stated,
"This is basic. This is not a gray area. She knows. These are the rules."

I think we should take a moment, boys and girls, to refresh our memories at exactly how well Mr. Sutton knows the rules about campaign finance. We here at the Cucking Stool have gazed on with awe at his expertise many times in the past. Here's one post extolling his genius at following the rules:
I suspect this all might have something to do with Sutton being the former treasurer of the Republican Party of Minnesota. He’s had plenty of experience wallowing in the mess of sloppy bookkeeping and developing close personal relationships with the auditors at the Federal Elections Commission.

Let’s just look at one of the many letters that the Federal Elections Commission’s auditors have sent to Mr. Sutton. The letter can be viewed in its entirety here and it covers the period of April 2007. Among the problems the FEC auditor has with Mr. Sutton’s bookkeeping? Let’s look at the problems identified. There’s a failure to account for aggregated receipts that may have to be reported (#1), over $24,000 of unitemized transactions (#2), disbursements for which no purpose is given (#3), a failure to account for payments to those who may be engaged in “federal election activity” (#4, 5), a failure to properly account for federal versus non-federal expenses (#6, 7), the misidentification of GOTV efforts (#8), failure to properly document reimbursements to individuals (#9), improper accounting of federal versus non-federal funds (#10), and the misuse of non-federal monies for federal activities (#11).

And that’s just one month’s auditing questions from the FEC auditor to Mr. Sutton. There are many months' worth of such questions directed to former Treasurer Sutton.

More on Mr. Sutton's intimate grasp of the rules of election finance can be found here, here, here, and here. A few more of the Federal Election Commission's letters to this virtuoso of election accounting can be found here, here, and here.

Now I know what you're thinking. That's Federal stuff, way more complicated than the state-level problems of Candidate Kelliher. She should be able to account for the money at the state level, just like the Republican Party of Minnesota, right? Except that the RPM can't seem to get it right in their state accounting, either. Taking their year end 2008 state report (big .pdf) at face value, and you'd assume the RPM had $218,631.88 cash on hand, with miscellaneous income of $101,057.90. But no, in reality (another big .pdf) they only had $63,316.85 in cash and their miscellaneous income was actually $510,655.25.

Like I said, freakin' election law geniuses, they are. is not Beelzebub

This fall, Take Action Minnesota started a new program call, an initiative designed to try to affect the DFL’s choice of a candidate for governor in 2010. The program has five phases; one of the goals is to try to keep people or organizations from committing themselves to one candidate or another early in the process; the idea is to have an open convention where candidates will have to vie for a larger pool of delegates just prior to, or even at, the convention.

Take Action Minnesota is a progressive non-profit organization that is involved in several issues: immigration, health care, and voter registration, to name just a few. There are several organizations behind TAM; Education Minnesota (the teachers’ union) and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) are a couple of them.

TAM proposes to do a membership poll in January to see who the three candidates – not just one – who are the most popular with the membership. At least that’s what Spot understands is going to happen.

Now the supporters of some candidates – particularly the candidates who’ve gotten some endorsements from labor organization or trade associations and don’t want to share – are treating like it was the Prince of Darkness. Spot thinks has a fair chance of affecting the endorsement, so the candidates who like the way things have traditionally been done are perhaps naturally afraid of it.

That’s probably a good sign.

Anyway, Spot will write more about this, but in the meantime, you might take a look at the video of Greta Bergstrom and Ryan Greenwood from TAM at Drinking Liberally describing

Take it away Greta and Ryan:

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Comments: an update

There are serious problems cropping up with Echo. It won’t recognize users, even when they put in his/her name or pseudonym. I may ash can the whole system and just go back to the blogger system of comments, but that would mean the loss of all 9,000 comments to the site. Send an email to if you have any ideas, because you probably can’t leave a comment.

Update: Now Echo has started to embed a comments section in the post stream itself, even though the attribute has been set to put comments in a pop up window. The comments window that opens doesn’t respond when you try to type anything in it, however, as least for me. The whole thing seems lethally unstable.

Further update: Now it doesn’t embed comments in the posts.

As you might expect, I am examining the Blogger template to figure out how to get rid of this poltergeist.

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Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Minnesota wrecking crew

TPaw by Avidor Although the posts are regrettably rare (not here, although they’ve been pretty light lately, too; sorry about that), when Rob posts at The Triumph of Conservative Philanthropy, it’s always worth reading. Here’s one to go with your Saturday morning coffee: Tim Pawlenty’s Minnesota Wrecking Crew. Rob draws a comparison between the behavior at the federal level described in Thomas Frank’s book The Wrecking Crew and what has been wrought under Tim Pawlenty’s leadership.

Here in Minnesota Tim Pawlenty is actually a good state analog to the Republican Party's destructive ways. First and foremost he is nothing if not a conservative ideologist. With a smiling face and affable personality he has delivered harsh blows, many to the state's least powerful and most vulnerable, with a velvet fist, using curious words like "unallotment." . . .

An Interstate bridge over the Mississippi fell on Pawlenty's watch - in part the result of his policies of starving the state of needed funds for transportation, which resulted in delayed repairs and replacements. In one case he tried to get construction contractors to finance their own first year of work, a tactic which ended up costing the state millions and delaying the reconstruction of a large traffic interchange for a year or more. Each day, it seems we hear of new degradations. The City of Minneapolis is so financially strapped it is reducing the number of police officers. The state's largest public hospital is so hard hit by the governor's budgeting that it will no longer treat people from outside the county.

Pawlenty is no piker on the corruption front, either. As but one example, he chose a lawyer from the state's biggest polluter, 3M, as the head of the state pollution control agency (MPCA). She later had to quietly slink away amid a growing scandal over slow-walked research by the MPCA looking into 3M groundwater pollution. Predictably, she then went on to a cushy job at the nation's number one polluter, Koch Refining. And just last week a $50 million scandal erupted over the state's "out of control" Charter schools.

You know, boys and girls, maybe Governor Gutshot is the perfect Republican candidate after all. Rob said he would be “practiced” at his craft.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Lost in space

Haloscan, the commenting system used here at the Cucking Stool, is being replaced, by Haloscan’s owners, by a system called Echo. It sounds dandy, but the Haloscan page where one goes to moderate comments says that comments in the moderation queue "may be lost” in the migration. That means they will be lost.

Haloscan recommends that a blog owner empty the queue – meaning approve or delete the comments. That’s okay, one supposes, except that a click on the tab for pending comments takes you to the page to begin the migration process.

In other words, the comments in the queue can’t be read, much less approved. So if you made one in the last while, Spot’s sorry. It was probably your best prose, too. And as much as Spot likes comments, he recommends with regret that you refrain from making any more until the comments are clearly by Echo and not Haloscan. With luck, that won’t be very long.

Update: Well, the old comments “migrated.” Leaving a comment is still problematic, however. Working on it.

Further update: Comment away.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Last call: Drinking Liberally Holiday Party tonight

Santa brand DL party graphic

Here’s your last look the DL Santa for the year. Don’t miss the party tonight, six to nine, at the 331 Club in Northeast Minneapolis.

And remember that new, unwrapped toy or gift for a needy child for our Toys for Tots collection.

Graphic by Tild

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

A place in the sun

Sometimes, a callow client will wax eloquent about the competition in the market that her or his business is engaged, as if it was a good thing for the business. When that happens, Spot shakes his head sadly, and then says, “NO YOU FOOL, YOU DO NOT WANT COMPETITION.” Spot adds, “You want your own place in the sun, free from competitive pressures so that you can maximize your profit. We will, you and I, try to build as many barriers to entry into competition with you as we can.” Patents, trademarks, and making products that are difficult to reverse engineer are just a few things you might try.

A business could also try to limit the availability of labor, capital, or raw materials to the competitor. It could try to sew up exclusive marketing agreement with important distributors. With a formidable adversary, it might be better to just divide up a market and live peace, at least until the business thought it could capture the market at a later time.

The things in the immediately preceding paragraph are, to a greater or lesser extent, illegal under federal and state anti-competition laws. But they are strategies considered for implementation by businesses all the time.

A very powerful trick in building you own place in the sun, if you’re big enough, is called regulatory capture. Think James J. Hill and the Interstate Commerce Commission.

The idea that there is a competitive “private sector” in America is appealing, but generally false. No one hates competition more than the managers of corporations. Competition does not enhance shareholder value, and smart managers know they must forsake whatever personal beliefs they may hold about the redemptive power of creative destruction for the more immediate balm of government intervention. This wisdom is expressed most precisely in an underutilized phrase from economics: regulatory capture.

Regulatory capture is an important feature in the current health care reform debate.

This is why the public option in health care reform is so important. The earnest-looking execs testifying before Congress about the importance of the private marketplace for healthcare are either fools, or much more likely, they think we are. They undoubtedly believe that the people in Congress are.

Because, you see, a viable public option would actually bring the thing the the industry pays lip service to, but hates and fears: competition.

It really is that simple.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Why teachers are leery

They’re leery of so-called performance compensation. Here’s an example of why.

In Edina, the teachers are presently at an impasse with the school board in inking a contract for the period that began last July. There are a few issues in contention, but unsurprisingly, compensation is at the top of the list.

The students in Edina consistently perform at or near the very top of test scores in Minnesota. The district’s voters routinely pass referenda for capital improvements and for operating expenses for the schools. Effortlessly.

You would think that such a high-achieving district with a demonstrated willingness to raise money for its schools would reward its teachers for the kind of achievement that has been wrought.

You’d be dead wrong. Edina ranks 28th in average teacher compensation in the state.

Well, someone might say: of course, the kids are ready to learn; they have affluent and involved parents; the kids get breakfast before coming to school. (Never mind that none of this is universally true, even in Edina.)

All right; let’s accept that premise for a moment. But then the converse has to be true, too, doesn’t it? In other words, teachers from poor districts shouldn’t be the ones held responsible for the socio-economic conditions of their students, as reflected in lower test scores, or for the so-called “achievement gap?”

But obviously, conservatives try to place the blame for students’ poor achievement squarely on the teachers.

It’s a no-win deal for the teachers: great achievement is due to other factors, and poor achievement is the teachers’ fault. This is why teachers’ unions exist.

Spot will come back and fill in some links about test scores and average compensation; that data just isn’t in linkable form to Spot yet.

Don’t forget the Drinking Liberally holiday party!

Santa brand DL party graphic This is just another friendly reminder of the Drinking Liberally – Twin Cities holiday party this Thursday, December 10th. As we have in past years, we’re doing a Toys for Tots collection. If you can, please bring a new unwrapped toy or gift for a needy child. There is often an especial need for gifts for older kids.

We start gathering at six, and we do expect Santa a little later in the evening. We meet at the 331 Club in Northeast Minneapolis.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Jeebus Christmas, Luke

Is that all you’ve got? Somebody called this to Spot’s attention this afternoon, because heaven knows, he never would have gone over to MDE without prompting.

Luke Hellier or Michael Brodkorb — or whoever is actually writing Minnesota Democrats Exposed these days — posted a bit of video from R.T. Rybak’s appearance last week at Drinking Liberally.

MDE reports breathlessly that Mayor Rybak noted with approval a t-shirt, worn by someone in the crowd, on which was written a naughty word.

It’s the same word, by the way, that Governor Gutshot once uttered on the radio in front of an arena full of people at the Excel Center. [Don’t have a link at the moment; perhaps a kind reader will supply one.]

Apparently, the Mayor scares the bejeesus out of Republicans and MDE. But this is the best they can do.

Beneath pathetic.

Check back at the Stool in a few days for a video of the the Mayor talking about policy and what it’s been like to try to govern the state’s largest city when Gutshot has been governor.

Update: Here are a couple of links from the figment of Spot’s imagination, Dave:

Gov. Tim Pawlenty was just supposed to drop the puck, but he dropped something else at Wednesday night's return of professional hockey to the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul:

The effenheimer.

The governor and First Lady Mary Pawlenty were in the crow's nest, high above the crowd of 19,000 fans ready to celebrate the resumption of hockey after a year's hiatus. His task was to intone the Minnesota Mantra that has been said before every Wild game since the team had its first regular season game on Oct. 11, 2000:
"Let's plaaay hockey!"

But the governor tripped on his tongue. TV reports had to bleep Pawlenty when he led up to the Minnesota Mantra with an introductory line: "The time has come to drop the puck."

Pawlenty bungled it:

"The time has come to drop the (bleep) puck," he said, with "bleep" used here in place of a word that rhymes with duck but which wasn't puck.

Or, if you want to hear it, you can try this.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Gutshot joins pardon bid!

Gov. Gutshot by Avidor Governor Gutshot, who recently proclaimed himself as the no-clemency candidate, apparently did join then Senator-elect Coleman and then Republican Party Chair Ron Ebensteiner in trying to obtain a federal pardon for Tom Petters’ associate Frank “I found God in prison” Vennes, who had served time, and was still apparently “on paper,” for money laundering, cocaine distribution, and illegal firearms possession. Gutshot was a “then elect” at the time, too.

Karl Bremer at Liberal in the Land of Conservatives knits this story together pretty well, and you should read his post at the link.

Here’s a portion of a letter sent by Norm Coleman to Karl Rove, addressing him as “Karl” in December of 2002:

gutshot asks for pardon

If you click on the link, which will take you to an image of the letter itself, you will see that Coleman wrote it on Senate stationery even though he wouldn’t be sworn in until the next month. This is known in some circles as chutzpa.

As Karl reports, no actual pardon request letter from Pawlenty has yet surfaced, and Pawlenty’s office has thus far refused comment. So there really are two possibilities: Coleman was conveying Tim Pawlenty’s sentiments, or he was lying about it. Take you pick.

But in making up your mind, you should know this: Pawlenty’s campaign coffers were the beneficiaries of substantial contributions from Vennes and his family:

Vennes and his family have contributed thousands of dollars to Pawlenty’s gubernatorial campaigns. Kimberly Vennes (Frank’s wife), Gregory Vennes, Stephanie Vennes (Gregory’s wife), and Colby and Denley Vennes, who have shared an address with Frank and Kimberly, each donated $2,000 to the Pawlenty for Governor Committee in 2002. Frank, Kimberly, Gregory, Stephanie, Colby and Denley Vennes each contributed $250 to Pawlenty in 2004 and $2,000 apiece in 2006.

And then there is this:

If Tim Pawlenty decides to run for President of the United States, at some point he’s going to have to explain his relationship with campaign contributor, Tom Petters associate and convicted money-launderer/cocaine-and-gun runner Frank Vennes Jr.

This relationship is especially relevant in light of Pawlenty’s recent donation of nearly $86,000 from his defunct gubernatorial campaign fund to Minnesota Teen Challenge (MnTC), a controversial Christian chemical dependency program that was once closely affiliated with Vennes and allegedly lost millions on account of that affiliation.

Apparently, Frank Vennes and Mrs. Governor Gutshot served a time together as board members of the Minnesota Teen Challenge.

Vennes has not been indicted or convicted (so far) in l'affaire Petters, but he clearly had a role. Again, according to Karl Bremer’s post:

According to the federal search warrant, Vennes was alleged to have hauled in more than $28 million in commissions for his role in luring five investors to pony up $1.2 billion in Petters’ alleged giant Ponzi scheme. On Oct. 6, the assets and records of Vennes, Petters, Petters’ companies and other Petters associates were frozen by a federal judge, and many seized assets of Vennes and Petters have been sold off to compensate victims of the alleged fraud.

It looks like Tim Pawlenty suffered from the same “leniency for people who claimed to have gotten religion” as Mike Huckabee. Imagine that.

A big thump of the tail to Ken Avidor for following the Petters’ trial and bringing this all to Spot’s attention. He did the illustration, too.

Drinking Liberally Holiday Party next week

Santa brand DL party graphic

Next week is the Drinking Liberally Holiday Party and Toys for Tots collection at the 331 Club. It promises to be an enjoyable evening of music and dancing. Well, okay, no dancing, but lots of fun. We’re still in Santa negotiations, so that part is up in the air.

Please bring an unwrapped toy or gift for Toys for Tots. There is always a need for gifts for the older kids.

We’ll be at the 331 Club in Northeast Minneapolis starting at six o’clock PM.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

The in-clement governor

That’s Governor Gutshot to the right-wing sweetheart Laura Ingraham:

.  .  . "In Minnesota, I don't think I've ever voted for clemency. We've given out pardons for things after everybody has served out their term, but again, usually for more minor offenses. But clemency, certainly not. Commutation of sentence, certainly not.”

Spot called the clemency shown by then-Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee toward the man – a black man, no less – who recently killed four police officers a bit of good news for Tim Pawlenty. Tim apparently sees it that way!

We needn’t have worried about Gutshot being vulnerable on this issue. He never cuts anybody any slack, even if they’re merely sick or poor.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Drinking Liberally tomorrow night, December 3rd

rt-rybak Remember Drinking Liberally meets tomorrow night at the 331 Club in Northeast Minneapolis; Mayor R.T. Rybak will be our guest. He’s a contender for the DFL nomination for governor.

We meet from six to nine PM, but we expect the Mayor around seven. He’ll offer a few remarks, stand for a little Q&A, and we hope there’ll be a some time for some old fashioned “meet and greet.”

See you there!

“Growing at an unsustainable rate”

That ‘s what Governor Gutshot and Minnesota Republicans said about said about General Assistance Medical Care in Minnesota when Gutshot hived it off the budget. But there have been reports in the Star Tribune this week about another, er, growth that he and his Commissioner of Education, Alice Seagren, don’t seem to care much about:

There are about 150 charter schools in Minnesota, and annual lease aid payments have climbed from $1.1 million to $42.4 million over the last decade, making the program one of the fastest growing expenses in the state.

It should actually say it’s one of the fastest growing expenses in state government.

The charter school program is out of control. From the same Strib article:

Minnesota lawmakers will begin probing the use of state lease aid money that charter schools have used to fuel a building spree paid for with high-cost junk bonds.

To curtail "abuse" of the fast-growing program, lawmakers will begin a series of hearings next week aimed at tightening controls and reducing costs for charter school projects, Sen. Kathy Saltzman, D-Woodbury, announced Tuesday.

A recent Star Tribune investigation revealed that some school insiders have benefited from questionable fees, and showed how charter school projects moved forward with little of the vetting that typically accompanies other public works. One school project was being led by a convicted sex offender until last month, when the newspaper exposed [so to speak] his past.

It is no coincidence that the growth has taken place during the administration of Tim Pawlenty and his two Commissioners of Education, Cheri Pierson-Yecke and the aforesaid Alice Seagen.

Here’s Nick Coleman on charters penned in August:

Back-to-school supplies are on sale and the annual report on schools that are not making adequate progress is due out any day (expect another rise in falling performance), so this is a good time to look at the performance of Minnesota's charter school movement, which was going to lead us all into a bright 21st century for better, smarter public education.

Oops. Not doing so great there, either.

Improving learning outcomes for students of color? Nope.

Outperforming traditional public schools on achievement tests? Nope.

Pointing the way for the education of the future? Not so much.

It would be easy to argue that the charter school movement has fallen flat, and I have said as much before. But the charter school crusade has grown too large and expensive to dismiss. It is eating into severely limited funding for education and has blurred the lines between church and state (and not just at one Muslim school, but among many charters loosely basing their educational approaches on religious values whose adherents think they should get public tax dollars to inculcate them).

Be sure to read the comments to the column to get the full flavor of the delusional nuts who are charter school fans.

It is interesting to Spot that Joe Nathan and his merry band of education buccaneers at the “Center for School Change” at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute are leaving the Institute. John Brandl, a former dean at the Institute and the person who provided the political cover for the Center, died recently. Brandl, a private school product himself, was an early proponent of transfusions of public school money to essentially private schools.

And look what it has wrought.

Spot has always thought it was an odd and dishonorable thing for the Humphrey Institute, the flagship public policy institution in the state, to house a band of brigands and pickpockets.

But never fear; the Humphrey Institute’s gain is Macalester’s loss!