Monday, May 31, 2010

You have to wonder how many “number threes” there are

The New York Times reports U.S. Believes It Has Killed Al Qaeda No. 3 Leader.

The number three must really be unlucky in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Update: I told you that being the al Qaeda number three was risky:

The strike that killed al Qaeda's operations chief last month deprives the group of a critical link to its affiliates as well as a crucial connection between its top leaders and foot soldiers.

But al Qaeda has become adept at filling this post, which by some counts has now had seven occupants since 2001.

“I would like my life back”

Now doubt the same sentiment is echoed by the birds, sea turtles, and fish killed by the largest oil spill in history. Not to mention the people whose livelihoods are wrecked, or will be, by the spill.

But here’s what Tony Hayward, CEO of BP, said recently about the spill:

The first thing to say is I'm sorry," Tony Hayward said when asked what he would tell people in Louisiana, where heavy oil has already reached parts of the state's southeastern marshes.

"We're sorry for the massive disruption it's caused their lives. There's no one who wants this over more than I do. I would like my life back."

Evidence is mounting that the accident was not “just one of those things” as Rand Paul and others would have you believe:

WASHINGTON — Internal documents from BP show that there were serious problems and safety concerns with the Deepwater Horizon rig far earlier than those the company described to Congress last week.

The problems involved the well casing and the blowout preventer, which are considered critical pieces in the chain of events that led to the disaster on the rig.

The documents show that in March, after several weeks of problems on the rig, BP was struggling with a loss of “well control.” And as far back as 11 months ago, it was concerned about the well casing and the blowout preventer.

But it decided to press on, of course, because to do otherwise would be, well, just too gosh darn expensive.

If there was any justice, Tony Hayward and the rest of the freebooters who visited this disaster on us would not be getting their lives back; they’d be spending the rest of their natural days cleaning oil off of rocks and sifting it out of sand. Or maybe they could fall on their swords — in a public ceremony — at the end of a pier in Louisiana somewhere.

But there won’t be justice, of course, not in any meaningful measure, anyway. So, in time Hayward and his merry band of privateers will go on the the next disaster-in-the-making. They’ll pretend to be chastened for a while, but it’s already apparent who guys like Hayward are really concerned about.

A thump of the tail to the Dependable Renegade for the link.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Memo to Tom Horner

Remember, Tuesday is the deadline to file for the gubernatorial primary. With a running mate.

Perhaps Horner intends to run with Gen. George Patton and wants to make a big splash with an announcement on Memorial Day. Maybe he likes the idea of announcing his pick tomorrow (Sunday) over the roar of the cars at Indy.

Or maybe the Oscar Mayer wiener is just playing hard to get.

In any event, the delay is odd for a guy who presents himself as a sober and thoughtful choice for governor.

Friday, May 28, 2010

And, on top of that, it’s good to be King

I’ve posted before about the Vatican’s attempts to avoid the doctrine of respondeat superior (“Let the master answer.”) in sexual abuse cases being brought against the Holy See in the United States for the acts of priests and the church hierarchy here. And also about the Catholic Church’s ability to swiftly discipline a nun when it wants to, unlike its approach with the philandering priests.

The Catholic Church also wants to defend these cases on the basis that the Pope is the tin pot dictator of the place he calls home. He’s sovereign! He’s immune!

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act did not apply, and that the cases could proceed; the church filed a writ of certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court.

There are any number of reasons why the Magic Kingdom is not really a foreign sovereign, but the United States even sends an ambassador there. It’s pretty remarkable when you think about it.

But on top of that, think of what would happen if Hugo Chavez sent agents to the United States and allowed them to bugger young boys, and even directed their assignments sometimes.

Well, it would be war, of course. We certainly wouldn’t buy the notion of foreign sovereign immunity.

But if you read the raw story you will see that the federal government — the Obama Administration — is filing a brief in support of the grant of the writ. That doesn’t mean that the government necessarily supports the church’s position, but it does mean that it is encouraging the Supreme Court to take a look at the issue.

For those of you who still have a vision of a tearful Pope in front of a group of abuse victims promising to address their concerns, keep the church’s actual conduct in mind.

A thump of the tail to Norwegianity for the link to the sovereign immunities story.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Charter schools crash and burn in Minnesota

UPDATE: According to the Minnesota Department of Education, charter schools are seven times more likely to be failing in the state than regular public schools. See update at bottom of post.
* * * * * * * * *
We hear a lot from public school critics about how our children, to paraphrase George W. Bush, isn't learning. That was a bit of projection by the former president, but our current president has a similar attitude towards education. While evidence and horror stories pile up documenting the failure of charter schools, state and federal political leaders continue to insist that more be opened. Makes you wonder just who isn't learning. Though the examples below are selected for effect, there is also plenty of social-scientific evidence of the general failures of charter schools in Minnesota.

A helpful document available at the Minnesota Department of Education website lists 37 failed charter schools closed between 1996 and 2009. Honestly the list doesn't do justice to the criminality, self-dealing, opacity, and incompetence of the schools. Many of the failures do seem innocuous enough: not enough money, not enough students, not enough brains. On the other hand, there are a number of spectacular failures. Let's take a short walk down charter school memory lane.

Success Academy
This unfortunately named St Paul Charter opened in 1997 and closed in 2000, amid financial and academic failure, with two weeks remaining in the school year. The school's sponsor, the St Paul Public Schools, did an investigation that found
...fault with everything from the school's complicated contractual relationship with a local for-profit management firm, Public Academy Inc., to its academic program and staff-development efforts.
The most glaring item on the list was a $1.4 million operating deficit, which district officials say was mostly a result of financial mismanagement by Public Academy. Among other problems, the team found that the company had not accounted for a one- year lag in enrollment-based school funding from the state and had routinely overprojected enrollment.
The review team also said the firm had overcharged the school for licensing fees on instructional materials, building leases, and management services.
"The way they were choosing to spend the money they received made it impossible for them to have a quality school plan," said Mary B. Chorewycz, the St. Paul district's director for school quality review. "Many of the children attending this school were among the neediest in St. Paul, but their needs were not being met."
Minnesota Business Academy 
A few days ago the Strib invited a bunch of business type people to weigh in on the supposed problems with Minnesota primary education. But what does it look like when business leaders get what they want in education policy? Mike Mosedale wrote a story in the 2005 City Pages assessing the new charter school that thought like a business:
Q: What Happens When You Run a School Like a Business?
A: You Go Broke.
The students learned how to sit in cubicles and write memos. The staff learned how to ask for a bailout.
Mosedale reported that (emphasis added):
Laura Mirsch, who graduated from the school with honors in 2004, says the MBA's problems were never strictly financial. She thinks arrogance and inexperience on the part of some of the MBA's founders played a large role, too. "Basically, it was run by a bunch of businesspeople who thought they knew more about education than public educators," Mirsch says.
When Mirsch arrived as a freshman, she recalls, the students were each shown to a personal cubicle with a computer and a phone. The idea--that kids would learn well in a businesslike setting--didn't mesh with the reality of lightly supervised 14-year-olds left to their own devices. "It was total bedlam," Mirsch remembers. "You were supposed to do your work in the cube, but a lot of the kids were making prank calls and screwing around all the time."
 Huh - I can't imagine why that didn't work.

Right Step Academy 
The US Department of Education's Inspector General filed a report on the owners of St. Paul's Right Step Academy charter school headlined  "Charter School Owners Sentenced for Defrauding School to Pay for Lavish Lifestyle": audit disclosed that under the Pierces' leadership, Right Step engaged in financial mismanagement, provided students an inadequate education, and provided unsafe transportation and facilities. Right Step, a publicly funded, tuition-free school created to offer a highly structured, discipline-based alternative education to at-risk youth, soon closed.
That sounds like a school premised on creating little authoritarians, run by social dominators.

Oh Day Aki/Heart of the Earth school
Closed in 2009.  This time the director was charged with embezzling millions:
Minneapolis charter school director allegedly embezzled $1.38 million.
His elaborate scam bought him a lavish lifestyle and closed the school, charges say.
Chiron Middle School
Chiron closed in February 2005, forcing its students to change schools in the middle of the school year. The state of Minnesota found:
the Managing Director misreported the number of students attending Chiron, resulting in Chiron receiving public funds to which it was not entitled. We found that the Managing Director misreported how federal funds were expended. We found that the Managing Director made unauthorized and questionable payments to herself, to Chiron employees, and to others. This report is being referred to the Minneapolis Police Department, and has been filed with the Hennepin County Attorney to institute such procredings as the law and public interest require.
 Apparently charges were filed against Chiron, but I can't find the disposition.

Dakota Open Charter School
The Dakota Open Charter School was closed for familiar reasons (emphasis added):
State school board members eventually stripped the charter of the K-12 school on the Lower Sioux reservation, closing the high school in 1997 and the lower grades earlier this year.

''There was clearly not much of any kind of education program going on at the school," Marsha R. Gronseth, the state board's executive director, said. But the revocation came only after exhaustive audits, site visits, and technical help from the state.

She added: "There's always the struggle of how quickly do you act and how much benefit of the doubt do you give in working these problems out. You don't want to bring the hammer down too quickly."
Thus are charters kept open, ruining the educations of thousands of students, all in the name of a failed experiment. Funny that the stated reason from the Minnesota Department of Education for closing down the Dakota Open Charter school was not listed as academic, it was financial. One wonders how bad a school would have to fail academically to be closed. Apparently not having "much of any kind of education program" isn't a barrier to state and federal approval.

The Fort Snelling Academy
This charter was closed down in 2001 in part because it had no school - it was using "tents and trailers" for its physical plant, the staff was not being paid, and its leaders were accused of financial mismanagement.

Learning Adventures
This charter was also closed in 2001 for self-dealing because the "School’s business manager leased space and hired consultants from a firm he owned."

Martin Hughes Charter School
This school operated from Sept. 1998–Nov. 2001 as part of the Mt. Iron/Buhl School District. It was closed according to the state auditor, for "Poor financial management by management company involving misuse of special education revenue and poor financial records."

New Voyage Academy
This St Paul charter school was closed in 2006 due to financial mismanagement that left 50 children having to change schools in March. According to a story in the St Paul Pioneer Press, it was plagued by "financial problems, unlicensed and inadequate staff, inadequate discipline, poor student performance and unstable leadership..."

Despite Minnesota's horrible experience with charter schools, our educational and political leaders insist on creating more of them. Each time regulators or journalists catch up with the corruption and craptaculation taking place at charters, the slickmeisters who run them find new ways to enrich themselves. Just this past year they were caught in elaborate schemes to enrich themselves by building new physical plants owned by private interests but paid for with public funds. The circus just keeps going around.

EARLY UPDATE:  Today the Minnesota Department of Education is citing the 32 lowest performing schools in the state. Of those, 11 are charters. That means 11 of 154 charter schools are failing, a failure rate of seven percent. Twenty one of the failing 32 are regular public schools; there are 2,485 regular public schools in the state,  giving a failure rate of  less than one percent.  So by the Minnesota DOE's own numbers, charter schools in Minnesota are failing at a rate seven times greater than regular public schools. You'd think such an easy calculation would be reported in the Strib, where charters are constantly pushed.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Go Ahead, You Paid For It

PZ Myers at Pharyngula is having some fun with the America Speaking Out website run by the US House GOP. Supposed to offer the public the chance to put forth ideas that could be used as the basis for new legislation, America Speaking Out is funded by you, the US taxpayer!

Whenever you offer people the unmoderated chance to participate in the marketplace of ideas, the collective wisdom of the people shines. Let's see what yummy stuff is already on the website.


So sign up and add your thoughts to this glorious cacophony of ideas! If you are lucky, you'll see your idea reflected in the legislation offered by the House GOP "within weeks." Wouldn't it be cool to have Michele Bachmann author a bill based on your idea? Maybe we should throw a PRT one in there to see if she bites.

Favorability Ratings Favor Kelliher in Rasmussen Poll

While the Fox 9 news headline this morning was "Emmer leads," digging a little into the Rasmussen poll results demonstrate a lot of good news for Margaret Anderson Kelliher, and some numbers of concern for Tom Emmer. Despite a bruising end of session, Kelliher's favorability numbers are improving. Emmer's tabula rasa stage is ending, and as voters get to know him, his favorability numbers are falling.

But first, shame on Fox 9. Throughout this gubernatorial campaign, we're going to need to brush up on the difference between the words "majority" and "plurality." This morning's release of a new Fox-Rasmussen poll featured a lede that magically transformed an Emmer plurality lead within the margin of error into a "majority." To their credit, it was fixed within four hours, but not before a friend captured this.

I have a pretty low opinion of Rasmussen's polling methodology. It's conducted by robocall, done over the course of one day, and relies on a weighting methodology that makes predictions about who is likely to pick up the phone. That said, I have a feeling that the topline results are pretty close to reflecting reality - at this stage we have a tight race within the margin of error, and there are a lot of folks who don't have a strong opinion. The very narrow differences in the results when you poll Emmer vs. each DFL candidate suggest that people are still largely thinking in generic GOP vs. DFL terms at this stage.

The top three candidates (Emmer, Anderson Kelliher, and Dayton) all have combined favorability ratings that are statistically tied (45-48% favorable.) But digging a little deeper into the numbers yields a picture that is great news for the Kelliher campaign, and not so great news for the Emmer campaign. The numbers that matter are the strong approval and disapproval numbers, especially in this race, it's early and there are several candidates who are not household names. Rasmussen does a daily tracking poll for their "Presidential Approval Index," which is created by subtracting the percent of people that "strongly disapprove" from the percent who "strongly approve." Today's Presidential Approval Index was at -22, the lowest it has ever been for President Obama. By the way, that same number derived for Minnesota is +2, significantly higher than the national average.

Conducting a "Gubernatorial Candidate Approval Index" analysis with the Rasmussen poll results shows that only Margaret Anderson Kelliher has more strong approval than strong disapproval. Given the timing of this poll, close on the heels of what was largely considered to be a disappointing end of session for the DFL leadership, this is great news for her campaign. And what's even better is that this is a significant improvement over the last time Rasmussen asked the same question on March 10th.

Another interesting number to track is the "Dunno?" index. This is the percentage of people who respond "not sure" to the favorability question. And this too bodes well for Kelliher.

Basically, as people have gotten to know Emmer, he has picked up more strong unfavorable ratings. Kelliher, while remaining stable in name recognition, has improved in all phases of her favorability. Dayton remained stable. Entenza should be heartened that his ad buy has significantly improved his name recognition and improved his favorability as well.

However, two issue questions have to be of concern for the DFL. Slight majorities favor repeal of the health care reform law and passage of an Arizona-style immigration bill. These are trends that favor Emmer, as he will be campaigning against the early Medicaid opt-in that was part of the end-of-session budget package. It remains to be seen whether the DFL attempt to frame the opt-in as "getting Minnesota's money back" or Emmer's framing of the opt-in as "bringing Obamacare to Minnesota three years early" will win out.

Follow me on Twitter @aaronklemz.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

And the second time as farce

History repeats itself: BP had key role in Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska

That’s the headline of an AP story on the Strib website this afternoon. Here’s the lede:

Since a busted oil well began spewing crude into the Gulf of Mexico a month ago, the catastrophe has constantly been measured against the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster. The Alaska spill leaked nearly 11 million gallons of crude, killed countless animals and tarnished the owner of the damaged tanker, Exxon.

Yet the leader of botched containment efforts in the critical hours after the tanker ran aground wasn't Exxon Mobil Corp. It was BP PLC, the same firm now fighting to plug the Gulf leak.

BP owned a controlling interest in the Alaska oil industry consortium that was required to write a cleanup plan and respond to the spill two decades ago. It also supplied the top executive of the consortium, Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. Lawsuits and investigations that followed the Valdez disaster blamed both Exxon and Alyeska for a response that was bungled on many levels.

But at least we’re still free. Some of us are covered with oil, but hey, you can’t have everything.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Help pick Tom Horner’s running mate!

Lieutenant Governor picks are in the news.

Tom Emmer picked Annette Meeks.

Ole Savior picked Elvis.

Margaret Anderson Kelliher picked John Gunyou.

Mark Dayton picked Yvonne Prettner Salon.

And word is that Matt Entenza is going to pick Robyne Robinson.

That leaves Tom Horner (well, and others, too, but who has the time?) without a date. Can we help? Of course we can!

From the list above, you can see that gender balance, regional balance, specific expertise, ideological balance or maybe continuity, name recognition, and general entertainment value are all considerations.

For Horner, I suggest that he really emphasize the entertainment value. Otherwise, he could just as well tap the Oscar Mayer wiener (image from Gasoline Alley Antiques). That is what he’ll probably be left holding anyway, especially if Anderson Kelliher and Gunyou win the primary. Gunyou’s strength was Horner’s raison d'être.

It’s hard to be taken seriously as the top budget guy in the race when somebody on another ticket has been the top budget guy for the City of Minnetonka, the City of Minneapolis, and the State of Minnesota.

So how do we balance Horner’s somnolence? This is harder than it looks, as I suspect the Horner campaign is now discovering. Especially when the field is narrowed to non-DFLers and non-Republicans, at least candidates not heavily identified with either one.

Elvis is already spoken for. Jesse Ventura is, of course, a natural, but he would never agree to be a second banana. And I think he lives in Mexico.

You’re beginning to see how difficult this is for the Horner campaign, aren’t you, boys and girls? But here’s my list of candidates who could really help Horner: Prince, Joe Maurer, Lindsey Whalen, Ruth Kozlak, or maybe Raven (Ron Schara’s dog; he/she/it are is (what what I thinking?) really popular at the State Fair).

Please feel free to leave your own suggestions for Tom in the comments.

Third Time's a Charm for Prettner Solon

(Image credit MPR/S. Hemphill)

Mark Dayton's selection of State Sen. Yvonne Prettner Solon (DFL-Duluth) as a running mate, alongside Margaret Anderson Kelliher's tabbing of John Gunyou (Margaret Anderson Kelliher Democrat-Minnetonka) creates some interesting contrasts.

In announcing his pick, Dayton stated that Prettner Solon was "the only person I asked" to be Lieutenant Governor. That may be so, but Dayton is hardly Prettner Solon's first gubernatorial ball dance partner, having previously endorsed Tom Bakk and R.T. Rybak. I don't know exactly what to make of that. Her endorsement of Rybak before the DFL convention led to some idle speculation that she might be a good ticket balancer if he received the DFL endorsement. I suppose the same reasons make her a good partner for Dayton - providing regional and gender balance.

Dayton's choice of Prettner Solon has an impact on a few areas.

Regional Politics

Dayton's pick extends his inroads into CD8 on the heels of his recent endorsement by the United Steelworkers that was kind of a big deal. This is a classic regional balance choice, and so far no other campaign has a northern Minnesota presence on their ticket.

This will generate more of an advantage in the Duluth area than on the broader Iron Range, as a number of high-profile Range pols (Rukavina, Sertich, Anzelc, and Saxhaug) support Kelliher and can be expected to help her campaign in the region. In particular, Rukavina will have a bone to pick with her based on Prettner Solon's pre-convention comments that Rukavina didn't care about the needs of cities like Duluth. On the other hand, Duluth was not as Kelliher friendly, with R.T. Rybak receiving the endorsement of Prettner Solon, Mayor Don Ness, and a number of Duluth City Council members during the endorsement battle. Subsequently, Rybak beat Kelliher in Duluth in the caucus straw poll. Too often, people in the Twin Cities assume that the interests and politics of Duluth and the more rural Iron Range are identical, but they are not. However, both represent important voting blocs in the DFL primary, and Prettner Solon can help in Duluth.

Policy Focus

While Gunyou is a technocrat with strong budgetary expertise, initial news coverage of the Prettner Solon pick focused on her legislative expertise in health care and environmental issues. Doug Grow at MinnPost claimed that "[Prettner Solon's] work on energy issues in the state Senate should strength Dayton's already strong position with environmentalists." Hart Von Denburg at City Pages noted that Dayton "played up Solon's health care credentials" as a clinical psychologist as well as her legislative work on health care.

Demographic Politics

Continuing the trend of assigning additional responsibility to (prospective) LG's, Dayton announced that if elected, Prettner Solon would oversee the creation of a "Senior Citizens Service Center" in the Office of the Lieutenant Governor.

Dayton's appeal to seniors is not a recent one. As Senator, he worked on prescription drug re-importation legislation, and donated his Senate salary to fund Minnesota Senior Federation bus trips across the Canadian border. Since seniors are a reliable primary voter group, Dayton's dedication to their issues should pay dividends. Dayton had announced previously that he would put the LG office in charge of senior issues, and today's announcement fulfilled that promise.


Sen. Prettner Solon has been a reliable DFL vote in the legislature, not surprising considering that she occupies a rather safe seat in the DFL stronghold of Duluth. Her pick won't change anyone's opinion of Dayton's ideological leanings. The "Tax the Rich" mantra has stuck for Dayton, for good and for ill. If Kelliher's LG choice represents a clear decision to moderate, this is a "stay the course" pick for Dayton.

To use the 2008 Presidential run as an analogy of the type of pick each represents, Prettner Solon is Joe Biden and John Gunyou is Sarah Palin. Prettner Solon is a solid pick for LG, but a rather safe and traditional pick. In other words, it's the kind of pick that you make when you are the front runner. Prettner Solon is like Joe Biden - someone who can go to Scranton/Duluth and stump for votes in an important area (though hopefully with a better internal editor.) Gunyou is the kind of pick you make when you feel like you need to make up some ground by trying an approach that is a little outside of the box. (My apologies to John Gunyou for comparing him to Sarah Palin.)

Alright, it's a strained analogy, but you get my point.

Follow me on Twitter @aaronklemz.

On the business end of someone else’s freedom

I agree entirely with the New York Times in this editorial:
By denigrating several of the signal achievements of modern American society, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Fair Housing Act, Rand Paul has performed a useful service for voters who are angry at their elected officials. He has helped to illuminate the limits and the hazards of antigovernment sentiment
Many Americans are sputtering mad, believing that government has let them down in abetting a ruinous recession, bailing out bankers and spending wildly [a conversation about the utility and necessity of the recovery program will have to take place another day]. But is Rand Paul really the remedy they had in mind? His views and those of other Tea Party candidates are unintentional reminders of the importance of enlightened government.
I would add “oblivious” to “unintentional.”

Some say (I borrowed that from Katherine Kersten) that the problem is that Rand Paul is just a political ingénue. No, Katie Kieffer is a political ingénue. Paul is just being Rand.

The editorial continues:
In a handful [italics mine] of remarkably candid interviews since winning Kentucky’s Republican Senate primary this week, Mr. Paul made it clear that he does not understand the nature of racial progress in this country.
In other words, Rand did not make a gaffe; he is a gaffe.

In previous posts, I’ve also noted the startlingly blasé attitude of both Paul and Kieffer about the oil spill in the Gulf, the news of which grows more ominous by the day. We’ll let Kieffer sum it up:
Wouldn’t it be better to occasionally clean up an oil spill than to become a socialist country without individual freedoms and private property rights?

0502-Fisherman-oil-spill.jpg_full_380 But sometimes, somebody is on the business end of the “freedom” that libertarians espouse. Like these guys, fishermen in Louisiana. (Christian Science Monitor photo) Perhaps Kieffer can ask them about what’s happening to the value of the boat they’re sitting on. Or the prospects for the oysters and the shrimp, i.e., their livelihood. Or maybe the toxic effects of the oil dispersant that BP is using.

Cleaning up is going to involve a lot more than dusting the apartment, Katie. In his op-ed piece in the Star Tribune yesterday, Brian O’Neill, one of the attorneys for the Alaskan fishermen after the Exxon Valdez spill, observed that the case has taken most of his career. And sorry, Brian, but you’re no youngster.

It beggars the imagination to think that someone would actually believe it better to put the Gulf economy, the livelihoods of the guys in the picture, and the marine environment through the wringer for decades to preserve the “individual freedoms and private property rights” of — are you ready? — British Petroleum. (Just as an aside, this is the outfit, or one of them, anyway, for which we put the Shah of Iran back on the Peacock Throne; that worked out so well.)

This not simply an “accident” as Rand Paul suggests. The well was apparently much deeper than permitted, and it lacked two safety valves that it should have had. Why? To save money, of course:

When asked why BP wouldn’t install a deep-hole valve, [radio host and Pensacola attorney Mike] Papantonio says, “Because the deep-hole valve when deployed could cause BP to lose the well site and redrill. They were cutting cost to save money.”

After 560 some words, we’re finally at the point of the post.

Why are libertarians defending this stuff?

A defect in the ability to empathize is almost certainly part of the answer.
Enthusiasm among scientists has been spreading as growing evidence suggests that "mirrors" may explain the roots of human empathy and altruism as well as provide insight into such disorders as autism and even schizophrenia. But that's not all. In the past few years, dozens of studies have linked mirror neurons to the emergence of language, abstract reasoning and even self-awareness or consciousness. "The self and the other are just two sides of the same coin. To understand myself, I must recognize myself in other people," says [neuroscientist] Marco Iacoboni. [italics are mine]
Walking a mile in the other person’s shoes, that’s what it used to be called. Anyway, that’s not something that libertarians are very good at:
Along with dozens of studies in neuroscience journals, mirror neurons have also taken a place in the folk psychology battle over how to frame human nature. Alan Greenspan and the rugged individualists may love Ayn Rand's libertarian vision of each person alone against the world, but another set prefers to think of humans as inextricably tied to one another, creating codependent realities and sharing inter-subjective space.

As the world becomes more crowded, and people become more interdependent, whether they want to or not, there is an increasing need for a government to keep one person’s freedom off of another person’s lawn.

Reports: Dayton/Prettner Solon Ticket

Several Duluth area news outlets are reporting that Mark Dayton will announce State Senator Yvonne Prettner Solon as his running mate this morning. WDIO has a statement from Dayton about the pick. This is the third candidate for Governor that she has supported; she previously endorsed Tom Bakk and R.T. Rybak.

Check back later today for more analysis.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

"Now there’s nothing wrong with an ambitious or powerful woman. But..."

Sometimes one doesn't know where to start. Recently, Spot wrote about a conservative blogger who didn't quite understand the implications of socialism and oil spills. I will leave to Spot the selective socialism analysis, because on Thursday, Ms. Katie Kieffer, conservative blogger and Mitch Berg radio show guest, gave us her insight into how she views women who strive to do things of consequence in the world.

And it isn't pretty.

In the post on her blog, Ms. Kieffer blesses us with her thoughts on the three women who recently appeared on the cover of Time as the New Sheriffs of Wall Street, Elizabeth Warren, Mary Schapiro, and Sheila Bair. A take that starts with "Girls Gone Wild" references, complete with cutsie "stripping" jokes. Believe it or not, it goes downhill from there, and does so with the goal of enforcing two main - and highly insulting - propositions. First, Ms. Kieffer uses the piece to remind us that women are too daft to handle money, and look out baby when they do. Second, she postulates that the only reason these women are doing their jobs is to prove some man-hating point known only to Katie. Running the powerful federal agencies they head is mere window dressing to bring about some emasculating goal that only Ms. Kieffer can discern.

So let's take a look at what these women do and then let's examine Ms. Kieffer's insights into the matter.

Sheila Bair was appointed to her current position as Chair of the FDIC by President George W. Bush in 2006. Her other accomplishments?
Prior to her appointment at the FDIC, Bair was the Dean's Professor of Financial Regulatory Policy for the Isenberg School of Management at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, a post she had held since 2002. She also served as Assistant Secretary for Financial Institutions at the U.S. Department of the Treasury (2001 to 2002), Senior Vice President for Government Relations of the New York Stock Exchange (1995 to 2000), a Commissioner and Acting Chair of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (1991 to 1995), and Research Director, Deputy Counsel and Counsel to Kansas Republican Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole (1981 to 1988). While an academic, Bair also served on the FDIC's Advisory Committee on Banking Policy.
In her post as the head of an agency that was created to protect the savings of bank customers, she recently supported the efforts of Republican Senator Susan Collins to increase capitalization requirements for certain large banks, a position that the FDIC has held for years. Senator Collins has described the reasoning for the increase:
“It does not make sense that under current law, the nation’s largest banks and bank holding companies are not required to meet the same capital standards imposed on smaller depository banks, when the failure of larger institutions is much more likely to have a broad economic impact.”
What is Ms Kieffer's beef with Blair, who has taken a policy stance while serving as the head of an agency with a 75 year track record of no insured depositor ever losing a penny? After parroting the talking points from the banking industry, Ms. Kieffer tells us what's really going on here:
Sounds like a case of “She’s a woman and I’m a woman so I’m going to stand by her and show you the power of sisterhood – regardless of the potentially devastating economic implications of her ideas.”

Remember, the idea is one proposed by a Republican Senator, supported by a Republican appointee, and pushed by an agency under both Republican and Democratic administrations.

Mary Schapiro, another attorney, was appointed to the SEC by President Reagan in 1988 and was reappointed by Goerge HW Bush in 1989. She was then appointed Acting Chair by Clinton, and later appointed to head the Commodities Future Trading Commission. She held positions at NASD, and was appointed by GW Bush to the council of the President's Advisory Council on Financial Literacy. Having sat as a director on the Boards of Kraft Foods and Duke Energy, she's not a person even the most extreme would call a radical leftist. Ms.Kieffer's take on Schapiro?

"[M]y assessment is that Schapiro is out to prove she’s a woman who can acquire as much or more power as any man."
Then there is Elizabeth Warren, a law professor who has been on the short list for a Supreme Court nomination several times. From her biography at Harvard Law School:
Professor Warren is the Leo Gottlieb Professor of Law at Harvard University. She has written eight books and more than a hundred scholarly articles dealing with credit and economic stress. Her latest two books, The Two-Income Trap and All Your Worth, were both on national best seller lists. She has been principal investigator on empirical studies funded by the National Science Foundation and more than a dozen private foundations. Warren was the Chief Adviser to the National Bankruptcy Review Commission, and she was appointed as the first academic member of the Federal Judicial Education Committee. She currently serves as a member of the Commission on Economic Inclusion established by the FDIC. The National Law Journal has repeatedly named Professor Warren as one of the Fifty Most Influential Women Attorneys in America, and she has been recognized for her work by SmartMoney Magazine and Law Dragon.
The link above has a link to Warren's full CV; I'd suggest one take a look at it as we examine what Ms. Kieffer has to say about her. In looking over the hundreds of articles, books, publications, Congressional testimony, honors, awards, endowed lectures, competitive grants, and Supreme Court briefs Professor Warren has in her career, you wouldn't guess that it's all - once again - simply a cover for what only Ms. Kieffer can see, an irrational need to get past one man who told her she couldn't do it:
Now there’s nothing wrong with an ambitious or powerful woman. But, there is a problem if a woman’s (or man’s) motivation for power stems from a desire to “disprove” those who said they “couldn’t” and their decisions reflect raw ambition and an irrational disregard for the good of society.
That Ms. Kieffer's analysis is stupid and callow and sexist goes without saying. She's young and writing for a particular audience she thinks wants to hear this tripe. But it's the underlying resentment toward successful and powerful women and her willingness to so shallowly trash them is puzzling. I don't know why she felt so obliged to write this puerile hogwash. But I do know that catty remarks about some of the most successful women in our country reveal more about Ms. Kieffer than they do about those women.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Hoping for a Carlson Crossover

Generally, Lieutenant Governor picks mean very little. They tend to provide balance for a ticket in terms of geography and gender. But there’s hardly an office in all the land that is less meaningful than Minnesota’s LG, except the inherent importance that comes from being a heartbeat away from occupying a Summit Avenue mansion.

But Margaret Anderson Kelliher’s pick of John Gunyou is meaningful. It continues a trend of expanding the duties of LG, though it was made clear that he would not be the Commissioner of Finance or Revenue. Gunyou’s selection is a nice general election move, but it’s also a smart choice for the primary. By declaring that “simplistic slogans” don’t hold the answer, that “we can neither tax our way out of the deficit, nor cut our way out,” Gunyou previewed what might be an effective plan for the primary and general elections – move to the middle early.

“Hey, that’s my move!”

In doing this, she seems to be fighting for the moderates that might otherwise give the IP candidacy of Tom Horner a serious look. Tom Horner almost sounded like he was talking about his own LG choice in his comments:
"I think John Gunyou is a terrific pick. He's an outstanding person who has been a great public servant and a very strong pick.”
Kelliher’s doing her best to steal all of Tom Horner’s lines, and all of his moves. And she has the “Tax the Rich” candidacy of Mark Dayton as her foil. The structural problem with Minnesota’s late primary is that it’s hard to pull off the usual move of tacking left (or right) for the primary, and then steering back toward the middle afterward. By choosing the moderate path now, she can start the process of distinguishing herself from right-wing ideologue Emmer and starve the Horner campaign of energy from a surge of disaffected moderates who might be attracted by his message of budgetary balance.

Arne Carlson himself didn't sound too enamored of Kelliher's budget handiwork a couple of days ago. Then again, he saved his harshest words for Governor Pawlenty. Perhaps the Gunyou selection could yield a Carlson endorsement later on down the road. Edit: If Carlson's Paul Revere Tour announced last week is any indication, this might be a stretch. Nonetheless, as he stated in his letter, "if other leaders want to join..."

"Carlson Republicans" in the DFL Primary?

Arne Carlson’s name was mentioned repeatedly at the Gunyou press conference – unsurprising, considering Gunyou’s service in the Carlson administration is one of the primary items on his resume. But it’s far from accidental that Arne’s name came up so many times. He may be persona non grata in the GOP, but "Carlson Republicans" are the holy grail for the DFL in its search for a Governor candidate that can win. They've been the basis for the DFL's success in legislative races in the western suburbs over the last 8 years.

Moderation might be a viable primary election strategy. As Kelliher said of Gunyou at the press conference he will “attract in people who might not otherwise vote in the August primary.”

Kelliher and Gunyou take questions from tommy scheck on Vimeo.

Unless there is a real swing toward the Savior/Elvis ticket, there’s not much reason for hard core Emmerians to come back from the lake to vote in the primary. The IP primary has never really attracted much interest, and Rob Hahn is hardly a serious challenger to Tom Horner. If John Gunyou helps MAK attract a couple of thousand disaffected suburban "Carlson Republicans" to show up in August and cast a ballot in the DFL primary, it might well represent the difference.

Kelliher worked hard to court progressive voters in the endorsement process and picked up the support of But the choice of Gunyou signals a change in her campaign’s messaging. It’s about the budget, it’s about expertise, it’s about balance. In other words, it’s Tom Horner’s lines. It’s a tricky balance, but if she can maintain the commitment of the progressive groups she picked up in the endorsement process and gain the support of some Carlson voters, she could close the gap on Dayton while positioning herself well for the November general election. Rarely do LG picks make a significant difference in a campaign. This one could be different.

Check back here for analysis comparing the Gunyou pick with the Dayton LG pick to be announced Monday.

Nobody here but me

Rand Paul, as reported in the New York Times:

“What I don’t like from the president’s administration is this sort of, ‘I’ll put my boot heel on the throat of BP,’ ” Mr. Paul said, referring to a remark by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar about the oil company. “I think that sounds really un-American in his criticism of business. I’ve heard nothing from BP about not paying for the spill. And I think it’s part of this sort of blame-game society in the sense that it’s always got to be someone’s fault instead of the fact that sometimes accidents happen.”

Paul doesn’t peruse papers, or maybe Rand doesn’t read reports, but here’s a item from early in the spill:

NEW ORLEANS, May 2 /PRNewswire/ -- This Sunday afternoon in New Orleans, Louisiana, commercial fisherman George Barasich stepped forward asking for emergency relief from a federal court to stop British Petroleum, plc ("BP") from forcing the volunteer corps of oil-spill responders to enter into onerous and one-sided "Master Charter Agreements" ("MCA") which will seriously compromise the existing and future rights and potential legal claims of these volunteers.  Barasich is President of the Commercial Fisherman's Association, Inc.

More recently:

And as lawsuits continue to mount against the oil giant, as well as drilling contractor Transocean, both companies have begun full-scale efforts to limit their liability for the explosion and subsequent oil spill.  Under federal law, compensation must be provided to local and state governments, businesses and residents who have been affected by this disaster, but these damages are capped at only $75 million. 

Additionally, Transocean, which actually owned the Deepwater Horizon rig, has claimed that its liability is limited to just $27 million under the Limitation of Liability Act, passed 160 years ago.  Under the law, a vessel owner can limit its liability to the value of the vessel and its freight.  But this law was passed well before insurance companies began offering coverage to ocean vessels, and the drilling giant has already received a payout of $400 million from its insurance provider.  By allowing this claim, Transocean could actually end up profiting from the spill.

"Transocean and BP's attempts to limit their liability for the devastation caused by this spill demonstrates that neither company is ready or willing to take responsibility for this catastrophe," said Ed Blizzard, founding partner of Blizzard, McCarthy and Nabers.  "Corporations like these, that operate with an eye on their bottom line, as opposed to the safety of their operations, must be held accountable and justice must be provided to those whose lives and livelihoods have been left in shambles by their negligent behavior."

As I’ve already pointed out to Rand Paul’s fellow traveler, Katie Kieffer, British Petroleum — and Transocean, too — are massively socialistic enterprises, just on the cost side, that is. They will generously let the fishermen, shrimpers, the states with Gulf of Mexico shoreline, Mexico, Cuba (gasp!) the tourism industry, international shipping, and the U.S. taxpayer share in the cost of BP’s producing oil. Let’s not forget the flora and fauna, either! But BP keeps the profit, of course!

And right on schedule, for this post, anyway, the socialism washes up on the beaches in Louisiana:

From the NPR story that’s also the source of the photo:

Thick, brown and rust-colored, sticky oil is washing up on the beaches, marshes and wetlands of some parts of southern Louisiana, threatening wildlife and vital habitat. Those communities not yet seeing oil on their shores are bracing for the worst.

In the coastal waters of St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries agents inspect areas of rich oyster beds and other critical habitat known as the Biloxi Marsh in Lake Borgne. There's no oil there yet, but it's coming, and there's an increasingly frantic effort to lay miles of boom to keep oil from getting into these marshes.

Local commercial fishermen, hired by BP, [remember the news story above] have been strategically anchoring the floating booms to protect the marshes. But agent Jason Russo says there often aren't enough booms to encircle an entire marsh, so they're placed around inlets and passes to keep oil from getting too deep into the reeds.

Rand’s reaction to the oil spill, his recent remarks about not supporting the public accommodations provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and being apparently oblivious to the reaction they would create, do, as the writer at the link suggests, show the limits of libertarianism as a useful political philosophy.

A thump of the tail to Jeff Fecke for the link to the NPR story.

Friday, May 21, 2010

DL – Minneapolis receives an emissary

Stewart, a member of the DL chapter in West Lafayette, Indiana — that’s Boilermaker country — came to Drinking Liberally at the 331 Club last night. He comes to Minneapolis for an annual bicycle ride around Lake Pepin that takes place this weekend. There were other bicycle aficionados in attendance, and a good time was had by all.

Some of you may remember that last year, Stewart brought DL – Minneapolis a paperweight once owned by Dan Quayle, a gift from William F. Buckley, but apparently cast off by Quayle’s mother. It remains a treasured object in the DL archives.

Ego nimmer sehen illud Hurer pro in meus vita

As I said in an earlier post, the Vatican proposes to respond to lawsuits, claiming that it is responsible for the conduct of the Catholic Church in the United States, by saying that the church and its bishops aren’t under the control of the Vatican. I’ve never seen those fornicators before in my life, says the Pope, in other words. Don’t blame me!

But when a nun, a hospital administrator, makes the decision to allow an abortion for a young woman who was in extremis, and time did not permit moving her to another hospital, why then, of course, we can whip up the discipline of the church in a moment:

Last November, a 27-year-old woman was admitted to St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix. She was 11 weeks pregnant with her fifth child, and she was gravely ill. According to a hospital document, she had "right heart failure," and her doctors told her that if she continued with the pregnancy, her risk of mortality was "close to 100 percent."

The patient, who was too ill to be moved to the operating room much less another hospital, agreed to an abortion. But there was a complication: She was at a Catholic hospital.

"They were in quite a dilemma," says Lisa Sowle Cahill, who teaches Catholic theology at Boston College. [  ]

[  ] Sister Margaret McBride, who was an administrator at the hospital as well as its liaison to the diocese, gave her approval.

The church did a snuff job on Sister McBride pronto!

The woman survived. When Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted heard about the abortion, he declared that McBride was automatically excommunicated — the most serious penalty the church can levy.

The linked NPR article gives the whole box score, too:

Excommunicated nun who authorized an abortion: 1

Excommunicated pedophile priests: 0

A comment from a Catholic canon lawyer, also in the article:

[He] says no pedophile priests have been excommunicated. When priests have been caught, he says, their bishops have protected them, and it has taken years or decades to defrock them, if ever.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Disseminating propaganda: The National Council on Teacher Quality

In two earlier posts I criticized the Minneapolis Star Tribune for relying on the research and integrity of an organization called the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), without ever telling readers what the organization was really about. To make a long story short, the NCTQ is a hard-right, corporate funded anti-teacher union agitator. It is funded by the same conservative philanthropies that have been agitating against teachers unions for decades, including the Bradley and Thomas B Fordham foundations. Its board is filled with anti-teacher union operatives like Chester Finn. In short, the NCTQ is nothing but a front for corporate anti-teacher union political operators.

But for the Star Tribune, none of that matters - the NCTQ was not qualified in ANY way in its story and editorial. Turns out that disseminating propaganda isn't a new thing for the NCTQ.  Seems that the NCTQ had a contract with the US Department of Education to ramp up support for the Bush administration's education policies. Part of the contract involved publishing propaganda in popular media, which the NCTQ did. However, the contract also required the NCTQ to disclose its connections and funding from the department of education, but for some reason in many cases there was no disclosure. A 2005 inspector general's report found that in the 11 op-eds placed by the NCTQ he could find NO instances of disclosure. In that case, the IG found, " all of the expenditures associated with goal one of the grant may have been improper." In other words, the people who run NCTQ are serial propagandists and might be actual criminals. That's who the Star Tribune hangs its anti-teacher stance on.

Bullied to death

We’ve played a couple of games of “pin the legislation on the Constitution” here over the last several days. By now, you should be able to do it on your own. What do you think about this one:

Sen. Al Franken introduced legislation on Thursday that would protect LGBT students from bullying in America’s public schools. The Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA) is in response to a series of incidents where students have been bullied to death — either murdered at the hands of their attackers or having committed suicide as a result of bullying.

“It’s time that we extend the protections of our nation’s civil right laws to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students across the country,” Franken said in a statement. “No student should be subjected to the ridicule and physical violence that LGBT students so often experience in school. It’s time we demanded equal treatment for all of our children under the law.”

Tom Pritchard, the Holy Bully, would doubtless be opposed to Franken’s bill, on the grounds it denies freedom of speech and the free exercise of religion to students who want to remind their gay classmates at every opportunity that they are going to hell.

So that’s probably not it.

But you would think that stuff like this would even give Tom pause:

Last month, Jaheem Herrera of DeKalb County was bullied so incessantly that at one point he physically collapsed in the classroom. He hung himself in his bedroom on April 16.

A year earlier, Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover of Massachusetts also hung himself after being taunted by classmates who said he was gay.

And in 2008, Lawrence King was murdered by one of his tormentors.

Let’s hope it does.

Give up? It’s the Fourteenth Amendment, one of the “Reconstruction Amendments.”

Section 1 provides:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. [emphasis mine]

Section 5 gives life to Section 1:

The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

Since public schools are, well, public institutions, there is plenty of state action here.

Drinking Liberally tonight!

331-panorama-grainy-b&w-witTonight will be lovely time to sit outside at the 331 Club in Northeast Minneapolis for Drinking Liberally.

We don’t have a guest scheduled tonight (5/20), but I’m sure there will be an interesting mix of people and opinions, as always. It wouldn’t be surprising if the subject of the end of the legislative session came up.

That’s six to nine this evening. I hope to see you there.

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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A Bubble Tea Party?

The mainstream media have labeled last night’s election results a reflection of "anti-incumbent sentiment." But I think Andrew Romano of Newsweek is right on in his label – last night’s election results were the equivalent of a Rorschach test. Put the ink blots in front of partisans, and they will see what they want to see. Put the ink blots in front of the media, and they will attempt to craft an overarching narrative that explains all of these races with one handy label.

It’s important to remember that these are primary results (except PA-12.) They reflect the sentiment of partisans in low turnout elections. These elections are more about the activist base of each party, and are of limited utility in predicting general election results. Not only that, but generalizing beyond the particular race is risky, since political campaigns are between real candidates in a specific location, not a national referendum on the political parties. Nonetheless, the results have to be somewhat encouraging to Democrats who fear a landslide midterm wipeout.

These are Primaries, So What Kind of Candidates are Partisans Picking?

There are many recent examples of “ideologically pure” candidates outperforming more “moderate” candidates in partisan contests. Lee and Bridgewater over Bennett in Utah, Charlie Crist’s choice to run as an independent rather than lose the GOP primary to Marco Rubio in Florida, Sestak over Specter in Pennsylvania, Paul over Grayson in Kentucky, and Blanche Lincoln being forced into a runoff after a narrow plurality win over Bill Halter all fit that description.

One could also argue these results fit the “anti-incumbent” label as well, but that’s more tenuous. After all, Paul won a primary for Jim Bunning’s open Senate seat, incumbent Rep. Sestak beat incumbent Sen. Specter, Sen. Lincoln won the first round (albeit narrowly) against Lt. Gov. Halter, and Bob Bennett may have simply overstayed his welcome in Utah. And in all of these cases, the results aren’t bad for Democrats. The Utah seat is a Republican lock, Rand Paul has only a narrow lead in polls against Jack Conway, and Joe Sestak has a better chance of beating Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania than Arlen Specter did. Ironically, if Lincoln survives the primary challenge, she will be well positioned to cast herself as a moderate Democrat in a state that likes to elect moderate Democrats. And Charlie Crist’s defection gives Democrat Kendrick Meeks a better chance than he had before.

In the special election to replace late Rep. Murtha in Pennsylvania’s 12th District, Democrat Mark Critz rather easily defeated Tim Burns. PA-12 is a swing district that had a very longstanding incumbent, and GOP pundits salivated at the prospects of demonstrating that a tidal wave was coming in November by picking up this seat. Now Eric Cantor has some ‘splaining to do. Cantor’s response to the PA-12 loss was “we [the GOP] cannot get ahead of ourselves." Maybe someone should have told John Boehner that before he declared that the GOP could pick up 100 House seats.

A Tea Party or a Bubble Tea Party?

My philosophy is that when someone makes a pronouncement that “the rules of the game have changed,” it signals that a bubble is about to burst. In economics, we saw this in action in 1999 right before the collapse of the Internet bubble (“P/E ratios are for suckers! The rules have changed!) and in 2006 right before the collapse of the housing bubble (“Better buy now! Prices will go up forever!) Even though it was unimaginable in November 2008, the seemingly successful revival of the GOP is already suffering from the kind of overconfidence that precedes the bursting of a bubble. (People are angry! They want to slash government! The Tea Party represents a fundamental shift in politics!)

The choice to go long on very right wing candidates (Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, or the local example of Tom Emmer) favored by the Tea Party crowd is a big risk. Betting on the angry and disaffected to show up, deal with party processes, and continue involvement after disappointments is a high leverage play. Pollster Charlie Cook said on ABC News this evening that voters are voting for "whoever represents anger." Even if it pays off this cycle, I feel sorry for any candidate who wins by appealing to the angry electorate. They may be your friend now, but they’ll turn on you in a second. Well, that might not worry you so much if you carry a shotgun all the time.

If anyone tells you that this election represents the end of the moderate voter, it’s time to sell. We still haven’t heard from moderates yet. And if the economy starts to turn around by September, 2010 may end up as more of a whimper than a bang for the GOP.

I know what normal is, baby, and it ain't female

For the one hundredth time in as many days, Margaret Anderson Kelliher has again awakened in the morning a woman. Any in-depth analysis of her campaign cannot overcome this fact and indeed can lead to only one inescapable conclusion: She "has hitched her campaign to her gender."

I'm so glad we have the learned minds of the Humphrey Institute to tell us these things so that we know better than to think she has anything else going for her.

Update: In an MPR interview about his conclusions, Mr. Jacobs of the Humphrey Institute proclaimed this morning that "The failure of women to rally around Kelliher is one of most surprising findings we have..."

So, arguendo, if women vote for Kelliher it's because she's "hitched her campaign to her gender" and those women are doing so out of some sort of sisterhood thing. But if they aren't voting for Kelliher, they're failing their own gender or some such nonsense. Damned as stupid and shallow if you do, damned as traitorous if you don't.

Authoritarian journalism

  Above: A Wordle of a recent op-ed, editorial, and news story on school teachers by the Star Tribune.

 Journalism, according to the old saw, is the first "rough draft" of history.  The aphorism implies the intent of journalism to get it right, not to advance the political fortunes of media owners. Thus it might surprise some people that the real goal of most of what we call journalism today - as critical theorists know - is to make money. The secondary goal is to represent the interests of the owners and their class. The third goal is to actually "do" journalism - i.e. report the news in an honest, even-handed and tough fashion.

Control of journalistic institutions is not conducted by direct intervention of superiors down the organizational totem pole. Instead control is had by the appointing of like-minded individuals down the organizational chart. Inferior members do not need to be told what to do - they in effect are trying to guess every day what their superiors would want done. If they guess wrong they will find out soon enough, sometimes with personally catastrophic consequences.

Without a clear understanding of how modern media companies prioritize their values it is impossible to understand why they sometimes, contrary to their stated goals, engage in blatant propaganda. Such is the case with the Minneapolis Star Tribune's virtual crusade against public school teachers and their unions. In a previous post I pointed out how the paper perpetuates a dishonest narrative that many problems in society can be traced back to public school teachers and their unions, and if only they could be done away with our problems would be solved. To be sure, they don't state it in this exact way, but, over time, you get the idea (see "bad" "teachers" in the Wordle above). Three recent contradictory, hyperbolic, historically ignorant and badly reasoned tracts - an editorial, op-ed, and news story -  in the paper amply demonstrate the point.

It doesn't take a genius to figure out that the headline of the editorial, "A failing grade in evaluating teachers" directly contradicts the implication of the news story, headlined, "State's bad teachers rarely get fired."  How can you know that bad teachers rarely get fired if you admit that it is impossible to evaluate said teachers? You cannot know that there is problem firing bad teachers if you don't  know how many bad teachers there are. What is the actual evidence to recite such an incendiary claim?

As proof the editorial quixotically says that only 10 teacher terminations were contested in the state since 1992. But what does that prove? The low number could conversely prove that it wasn't hard to fire bad teachers, since only 10 firings were contested.  Indeed, if you read far enough into it, the news story contradicts its own premise and headline, admitting that (emphasis added): one knows how many [bad teachers] there are. Neither the state nor many school districts evaluate teachers on a regular basis. One Minnesota teacher had gone 15 years without an evaluation before the district recommended firing him, Krisnik said.
What numbers are available are suspect. For example, although U.S. Department of Education data reported that Minnesota had a higher rate of dismissing teachers for poor performance in 2007-08 than the national average, few Minnesota school officials could readily provide that information. Short of going through personnel records, they said, they often rely on the memories of human resources directors.
Yet the Star Tribune editorial asserts - without any attribution -  that 10 percent of state school teachers are "struggling" - whatever that means.  In short, the Strib goes to great anecdotal lengths to make its case against school teachers, but it really doesn't know what it is talking about. In the op-ed by Don Samuels the author asserts that school teachers are responsible for an "endless cycle of poverty and failure." Nothing like a romantic view of the power of teachers, eh?

One doesn't need to pick apart every aspect of the Star Tribune's attacks on school teachers and their unions - the output speaks for itself. The paper is obsessed with the subject, and not in a good way. Each article or editorial finds a new way to distort history and facts, picking and choosing anecdotes and studies - usually first created by right wing think tanks - to create the impression of rogue teachers' unions being the bane of our society.

But - were bad school teachers the cause of our current banking and financial crisis - the one that cost us trillions in lost real estate value and that caused real unemployment to hover near 18 percent? Or was the financial meltdown caused by irresponsible deregulation and criminal behavior of the bankers and real estate industry?  Are bad school teachers responsible for the prevalence of authoritarian sadists and pedophiles in our churches? Do bad school teachers cause mining and oil drilling disasters? Did bad schools cause the Neocons to lie the country into the world's worst strategic military disaster in 2,000 years? The things that really ail our society have almost nothing to do with education.

Which got me thinking - what if the newspaper was interested in actual journalism instead of politically motivated hit jobs on unions? Beyond anecdotes and assertions the Strib stories are virtually fact-free. Where would you go for the missing facts? It turns out there are places - specifically - the US Department of Education, which rounds up statistics that compare states' education outcomes.

Given the hysteria about schools and teachers drummed up by the Strib I was prepared for the worst. But - lo and behold - Minnesota schools are doing an excellent job compared to other states. In math our fourth graders are third in the country, and the state's eighth graders are second. In reading our fourth graders are 22nd, but by the time they are in eighth grade they earn a respectable eighth in the country. Apparently all those supposed bad teachers aren't having much of an effect.

Aha, you say. But Minnesota schools perform so poorly compared to schools in other nations. But - it turns out that isn't true, either. A press release from the state's Department of Education was headlined "Minnesota students perform well on international math and science assessment." The release begins (emphasis added):
A preliminary analysis of the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) shows that Minnesota students are performing very well in math and science compared to students from other nations. The Minnesota Department of Education and SciMath Minnesota (SciMathMN) released TIMSS data today that also indicates Minnesota students made significant improvements in 4th-grade math since 1995.
That's the kind of context that honest journalism includes. A story is made stronger by admitting that its theory might have some holes in it, and that critics might have a point. A series of stories on how crappy our teachers are might see fit to include a few lines about how our schools are in the top five percent nationwide in math  and the top 15 percent in reading, and that they perform "very well" compared to students in other nations.

An honest newspaper would admit there exists a movement that has been agitating against public school teachers for more than 20 years now, led by business-funded philanthropies and their funded think tanks and institutes. Anyone who cares to know can quickly find out that places like the Bradley Foundation and people like Chester Finn have been leading a national campaign to stamp out teachers' unions  - for political reasons. That is the reality of the situation. Without the right wing infrastructure harping on teachers' unions our education debate would be very different. You can argue whether they are correct or not (obviously I think not), but there's no denying the movement and its motivations.

Except at the Strib, where instead of legitimate context we are presented with the exact propaganda generated by the conservatives, without any real attribution. Worse, this false, mis-attributed information is presented in news stories.

Both the Strib editorial and news story hang their hats on an organization called the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ). Both use statistics from the NCTQ to bolster their anti-teacher attitudes, but neither tells the reader just what it is, which turns out to be a big deal, because the NCTQ is a part of the very propaganda movement discussed above. To paraphrase George W. Bush, the newspaper is catapulting the propaganda. Only - the Strib is supposedly a journalistic organization.

Liars, Hannah Arendt famously wrote, have an advantage over truth-tellers: They know what an audience wants to hear and can transform their presentations in order to fit the minds of the perceivers. Thus it is with journalism surrounding teachers at the Strib: They understand that for decades conservatives and the traditional media have been softening up teachers' unions as scapegoats for society's ills. The newspaper's attacks make for a nice diversion from the myriad failures of the Republicans but they form a poor basis for sound public policy.

Bereft of actual journalistic argument, who, then is the newspaper's intended audience for its Republican propaganda? What kind of people respond to illogical arguments that target out-groups with mis-representations and false conclusions? What kind of people will believe a traditional media source, ignoring contrary facts and reason?

In his book The Authoritarians author Bob Altemeyer, who has studied authoritarians for 30 years and whose work forms the basis for John Dean's Conservatives Without Conscience, explains the cognitive disabilities of his study targets:
...a high RWA (Right Wing Authoritarian) can have all sorts of illogical, self-contradictory, and widely refuted ideas rattling around in various boxes in his brain, and never notice it.
and that
...research reveals that authoritarian followers drive through life under the influence of impaired thinking a lot more than most people do, exhibiting sloppy reasoning, highly compartmentalized beliefs, double standards, hypocrisy, self-blindness, a profound ethnocentrism, and -- to top it all off -- a ferocious dogmatism that makes it unlikely anyone could ever change their minds with evidence or logic.
Funny - that sounds just like the Strib reporting on teachers' unions. Altemeyer notes that high RWAs "particularly had trouble figuring out that an inference or deduction was wrong," and that "authoritarians also have trouble deciding whether empirical evidence proves, or does not prove, something," and that their "shortfall in critical thinking" shows "how easily authoritarian followers get alarmed by things."

It's eerie reading those passages about RWAs in the context of Strib reporting on teachers' unions, and how apt they are in describing the news and opinion printed on the subject by the newspaper, and the effect it might have on readers. I would say depressing, but this kind of garbage has been going on at the Strib for so long that it can't be an accident. All we can hope for, I guess, is that the approach taken by the paper regarding teachers' unions doesn't spread to other kinds of news reporting. On the opinion pages we've seen this kind of thing literally for decades, specifically in the writing of Katherine Kersten, who briefly escaped onto the news pages, but has since retreated to an opinion column.

Finally, if this is the newspaper's response to its declining fortunes - blatant appeals to authoritarians using provably false propaganda - then it might not be long for this world, nor does it deserve to be.