Friday, December 31, 2010

Spotty™ winner Ehlinger take top health spot

Dr. Edward Ehlinger, a Spotty™ laureate,  has been named Commissioner of Health in the Dayton Administration. From a press release (via PIM):

Dr. Edward Ehlinger brings years of public health experience and savvy to the Minnesota Department of Health, as well as strong relationships throughout the medical community. He currently serves as the Director and Chief Health Officer at Boynton Health Service at the University of Minnesota.

“Dr. Ehlinger’s long experience in public health and in leading a key Minnesota health facility position him well to lead the Minnesota Department of Health and to restore our state’s former preeminence in national health care initiatives,” said Governor-elect Dayton.

Dr. Ehlinger won the Spotty™ for his response to Jason Lewis’ braying about government health care.

Dr. Elhlinger is a proponent of Sen. Marty’s Minnesota Health Plan and has testified at the Legislature in favor of it.

Barack Obama - impresario of torture

Every time I think of Pvt. Bradley Manning, who is convicted of nothing - awaiting trial -  in his solitary preventive detention cell in Virginia, alone for 23 hours a day for the past seven months, unable to sleep outside a permitted amount, or do much of anything else, being tortured into insanity by lack of basic human contact, I inevitably conjure the smiling image of our president, who is, after all, in charge. And I shudder. That is who Barack Obama really is - the head torturer of people who have been convicted of nothing. If he wanted to, of course Obama could put an end to Manning's torture, but he does nothing. As Chris Hedges has written, we're rapidly going from Huxley to Orwell, with a Democrat as our president. How any thinking, feeling human being can support Obama is beyond me. 2011 is shaping up as another in a long line of ominous years.

 UPDATE: Chris Floyd had the same thought, only he expressed it more elegantly and in much more detail.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Education deform movement ubiquitous, yet invisible

Just below the surface of every aspect of education discourse lies the education deform movement. Yet paradoxically the existence of the movement itself is almost never mentioned - as if the discourse was ahistorical and  self-generating. Despite the movement's invisibility it shapes nearly every education report in traditional media. When the power behind the movement does surface it is either for fawning coverage from elite media or self-serving opinions that don't mention what's really going on.

Stories that are obviously generated from the underlying narrative rarely even mention that there is a narrative, let alone bother to explain where it might have come from. It is doubtful even if most traditional media education writers are even aware of the last 30 years history of teacher and public school bashing initially led by conservatives.

It's not like the creation of the school choice movement by conservative philanthropies in the 1980s is any secret. People For The American Way (Norman Lear's outfit) had reported extensively on the movement in its 1995 report Buying A Movement (full pdf):
The Bradley Foundation’s involvement in the issue of school vouchers is a useful illustration of a single foundation’s comprehensive funding strategy around the development of a single political issue. As noted earlier, the Bradley Foundation maintains a keen interest in pushing voucher programs around the nation, and particularly in its home state of Wisconsin. Over the past six years, Bradley money has funded groups that have laid the intellectual foundation for school vouchers, provided vouchers to parents, and litigated to defend them from challenge.
In fact many of the current topics of educational discourse didn't even exist until they were made up by the Bradley Foundation and its funded people and entities. Neither was there any scholarship to support the notion that the proposed market-based  reforms would improve educational achievement. There is none today. Belief in the efficacy of privatization and commercialization of public education back then was literally an act of faith. Today it is an exercise in denial. The methods and justifications of the deformers may change, but, despite their obvious and repeated failures, not the ultimate goals.

Until eventually proven wrong by social science researchers, the deformers originally claimed that poor and minority students would do better academically in private voucher schools, and that the competition would cause students in nearby regular public schools to also score higher on standardized tests.

The failure of the Milwaukee school voucher experiment, still in existence to this day, put a stake in the heart of those two lies. Deformers still claim, despite proof to the contrary, that students do better academically in choice schools, i.e. charter schools, but they no longer make the claim that nearby regular public schools will magically improve from the competition.

Charter schools originally were the idea of teachers and their unions. The concept was to create small laboratory schools to try new ideas to help the very children the deformers pretend to care for today. The visionaries of charter schools specifically did NOT want charters to compete for students with regular public schools.

When the deform movement  adopted charter schools in force in the early 1990s as competition for regular public schools original supporters such as Albert Shanker of the American  Federation of Teachers denounced the shift and recanted his support. Deformers adopted charters because their voucher movement had run into serious problems regarding their constitutionality, educational efficacy, and rejection by voters. Since charters would essentially be publicly funded schools run by private corporations they obviated those impediments to the expansion of school choice.

To understand the breadth of the deformers' triumph, consider that in the early 1990s the Republican Center of the American Experiment was recommending in its Minnesota Policy Blueprint that all schools in Minnesota should be given the opportunity to change themselves into charter schools.

That ludicrous proposition went nowhere in Minnesota for almost two decades until President Obama last year made removal of all state caps on numbers of charter schools a condition of winning federal Race To The Top funding. In less than two decades market-based ideas about education reform went from being proposed by crackpot right wing think tanks to the established policies of the Democratic President of the United States.

In the 90s the Walton Family Foundation - created with money from the Walmart chain - jumped into the education deform movement in a big way. By 2009 it was giving $134 million a year to fund "Systemic K-12 Education reform," $42 million alone to "shaping public policy." It also spent $2.5 million on "research and evaluation." In that one year the Walton Family Foundation gave more than $8 million to Teach for America.

In the aughts two other billionaires, Bill Gates and Eli Broad, began funding the education deform movement at a level that made the Waltons look like pikers. Between 2000 and 2008 Gates had spent close to $2 billion on education reform; he spent $100 million alone to create new "small schools" in New York City.

An Education Week report in 2006 by Erik Robelen showed how the Gates Foundation had financed a way to "broaden and deepen its reach," as Diane Ravitch reported in her book:
"Robelen noted that almost everyone he interviewed was getting Gates money, including the publication he works for."
Robelen enumerated a bewildering array of education deform advocates financed by Gates, including the misleadingly named Progressive Policy Institute. By 2008 Gates' foray into "small schools" had failed - there were high profile disasters funded by the philanthropy in Denver and in Gates' own backyard.

It turned out that shifting to "small schools" had significant unacknowledged downsides. Studies by then had shown that the new "choice" schools in New York City had not, in fact, produced higher test scores, but they had been successful in decimating historical neighborhood schools and placing many students in schools that didn't have the advantages of larger schools, such as athletics and advanced placement classes. By 2009 one-third of New York City high schools didn't have one art teacher. On the other hand, there is a new charter school that specializes in sports management.

Since philanthropists aren't elected by anyone they never have to acknowledge responsibility for their failures, even when those failures involve significant sums of public money. Thus after 2008 Gates and his plutocratic buddies merely shifted the blame for their failures to a constituency more or less unable to defend themselves: the teachers. According to Gates, his experiment in small schools didn't fail because it was a bad idea; no, the reason it failed was those infernal teachers and their unions. Writes Ravitch:
[In 2008] Bill and Melinda Gates invited the nation's leading educators to their home in Seattle and told them that they planned to invest millions in performance-based teacher pay programs; creating data systems; supporting advocacy work; promoting national standards and tests;  and finding ways for school districts to measure teacher effectiveness and to fire ineffective teachers.
In other words, in 2008, after Gate's ridiculous experiment in small schools failed, and without actually admitting his own failure, Gates initiated targeted attacks on teachers and their unions with his billions of dollars. Teachers would be held "accountable" for things they did not control, in this new paradigm, but those who pulled the actual strings of educational policy would not.

So when we hear that the largest Minnesota philanthropies are gearing up for an attack on school teachers, and planning a political attack which will focus on "flexibility", "accountability" and "choice" they are not aiming to improve education, nor are they planning "reforms" that will help students. The planned "reforms" never had a scholarly basis, and have in reality already spectacularly failed in other places around the country. The philanthropies are merely jumping on a bandwagon already formed by even larger philanthropies funded by billionaires.

The planned changes make no sense, even on their own. For example, two foci of the proposed "reforms" are mutually exclusive. How can teachers be held accountable for the academic advancement of their pupils when "alternative licensure" proposals aim to place more Teach for America instructors in classrooms, when most of them only stay in the teaching field for two years? Even the New York Times admits that schemes for "accountability" and "value-added" measures are not reliable even with data on years of teaching experience.

So that is the back-story on education discourse: Decades of reform derived from market-based ideas from plutocrats that have failed repeatedly are pushed onto the public with ever more vigor, yet the source of the advocacy is almost never revealed. The deformers have captured education discourse by investing billions of dollars in advocacy, "research" and funding of alternatives to regular public schools. The reformers have nothing to show for their efforts except a bifurcation of our education system, destruction of community schools, and a societal-wide attitude that slanders and devalues those who give the most for education: the teachers themselves. Remember that when you hear in the coming months about efforts to install "teacher accountability," "alternative licensure," and judging teachers by so-called "value-added" measures.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

DL: Toastmasters’ edition

microphone01At Drinking Liberally tomorrow night, everyone is invited to offer a toast for the New Year, whether it be a fond remembrance,  thanks to a politician for something well done, or a hope for the new year.

Extra points will be awarded for literary style and theatricality.

December 30th at the 331 Club from six to nine P.M.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Holder Raids

I refer, of course, to the to the – I cannot think of another word for it – raids on peace activists in Chicago, Minneapolis and elsewhere in September, 2010:

September 24 began like any other Friday for Joe Iosbaker and Stephanie Weiner. Then, at 7 a.m., FBI agents knocked on the door of the Chicago couple’s house in the city’s North Side.

Armed with a search warrant, more than 20 agents examined the couple’s home, photographing every room and combing through notebooks, family videos and books, even their children’s drawings. Some items were connected to their decades of anti-war and international solidarity activism, but others were not. “Folders were opened, letters were pulled out of envelopes,” says Weiner, an adult education professor at Wilbur Wright College. “They had rubber gloves and they went through every aspect of our home.”

In addition to the raids, several individuals have been served with subpoenas to appear before grand juries. Nobody has been arrested or charged with a crime.

Here is what the people subpoenaed seem to have in common:

Most of those subpoenaed, including Weiner and Iosbaker, have been active in the labor movement and/or are members of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization (FRSO), a self-described “socialist and Marxist-Leninist organization” with about 100 members. But affiliations vary: 71-year-old great-grandmother Sarah Martin belongs to the Minneapolis-based group Women Against Military Madness; Hatem Abudayyeh is executive director of the Arab American Action Network, a Chicago social services agency; others are connected to Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), the Palestine Solidarity Group-Chicago and the Colombia Action Network, which has protested U.S. military aid to Colombia and the assassinations of unionists there. The only connection they all have in common is that they all participated in an AWC-organized rally outside the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul.

Eric Holder, the chief law enforcement officer in the United States, undoubtedly felt emboldened by the 6 – 3 holding of the Supreme Court in Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, which held that:

    1. “train[ing] members of [the] PKK on how to use humanitarian and international law to peacefully resolve disputes”;
    2. “engag[ing] in political advocacy on behalf of Kurds who live in Turkey”;
    3. “teach[ing] PKK members how to petition various representative bodies such as the United Nations for relief”;
    4. “[e]ngag[ing] in political advocacy on behalf of Tamils who live in Sri Lanka[,]”

could be criminalized under 18 U. S. C. § 2339B, and that it was not protected speech under the First Amendment.

Just as, apparently, Eric Holder thinks the act of publishing government information – including information about malfeasance, criminality, and generally buffoonery on the part of agents of the government – is espionage.

There will probably come a time when Eric Holder is recognized by history the same way that Attorney General Mitchell Palmer is. Palmer is best remembered for rounding up the usual suspects during one of the Red Scares that have swept the country. Palmer targeted immigrants especially, but the object is the same: the chilling of dissent and free speech. Some targets of the raids were deported, but the raids were widely condemned for their disregard of legal process.

For some of us, anyway, who thought that the Obama Administration would usher in a new respect for the First Amendment and the rule of law, the Holder Raids are a bitter disappointment.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

On having an uncomfortable familiarity with the concept

From a Truthout post by Lawrence Davidson:

The state is run by narrow elites who make policy according to their own needs, and the public plays no role and is given little consideration. Its fate is to be lied to and manipulated. So, of course, those elites are going to operate from back rooms and behind censored media. The person on the street knows this to be so and accepts it because, if he or she protests, the "security" services will come after them. They will be charged with endangering the state or framed for some other crime. And their lives will be ruined.

Davidson is writing about states in the Middle East, but says that democracies, too, are subject to the manipulation of the “national interest” by special interest elites:

But what about democracies? Well, the truth is that they, too, are run by political and economic elites whose interests are rarely the same as the general public. That is why, when the government uses the term "national interest," one should always be suspicious. When it comes to foreign policy this can be most clearly seen in the policies long adopted toward places like Cuba and Israel. A very good argument can be made that the policies pursued for decades by the US government toward these two nations are no more than the product of special-interest manipulation, with no reference to actual national interest or well-being. Indeed, in the former case it led to an illegal invasion of Cuba by US-backed forces in 1961 and, no doubt, encouraged the Cubans to allow Soviet missiles on their territory in 1962. The latter has contributed to numerous disastrous actions on the part of the US in the Middle East, out of which came the attack on September 11, 2001. None of this is in the interest of anyone other than the elites, whose semi-secret machinations led to the policies pursued.

Davidson goes on – as you’ve probably figured out by now – to argue for the historical necessity of people like Julian Assange.

I am going to repeat a quote from Glenn Greenwald that I used yesterday:

In my view, the NYT article represents exactly the kind of secret information journalists ought to be revealing; it's a pure expression of why the First Amendment guarantees a free press.  There are few things more damaging to basic democratic values than having the government conduct or escalate a secret war beyond public debate or even awareness.  By exposing these classified plans, Mazzetti and Filkins [NYT journalists] did exactly what good journalists ought to do:  inform the public about important actions taken or being considered by their government which the government is attempting to conceal.

And just one more quote, from Smedley Butler in War is a Racket:

It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.

A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small "inside" group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.

"Educate" our way out of economic miasma? Not possible.

Eighty-five percent of college grads move home!

One of the great myths the education deformers use to run down our public schools is that they are somehow responsible for the economic problems of the country, and if only we could graduate more students from high school and college our problems would be over.  Despite the fact that that argument is a provable myth, it persists to this day. Now a website called "End of the American Dream" has put together a list that should prevent the deformers from ever using that argument again - although there is no chance they will ever stop.

16 Shocking Facts About The Student Loan Debt Bubble And The Great College Education Scam

#1 Americans now owe more than $875 billion on student loans, which is more than the total amount that Americans owe on their credit cards.
#2 Since 1982, the cost of medical care in the United States has gone up over 200%, which is horrific, but that is nothing compared to the cost of college tuition which has gone up by more than 400%.
#3 The typical U.S. college student spends less than 30 hours a week on academics.
#4 The unemployment rate for college graduates under the age of 25 is over 9 percent.
#5 There are about two million recent college graduates that are currently unemployed.
#6 Approximately two-thirds of all college students graduate with student loans.
#7 In the United States today, 317,000 waiters and waitresses have college degrees.
#8 The Project on Student Debt estimates that 206,000 Americans graduated from college with more than $40,000 in student loan debt during 2008.
#9 In the United States today, 24.5 percent of all retail salespersons have a college degree.
#10 Total student loan debt in the United States is now increasing at a rate of approximately $2,853.88 per second.
#11 There are 365,000 cashiers in the United States today that have college degrees.
#12 Starting salaries for college graduates across the United States are down in 2010.
#13 In 1992, there were 5.1 million "underemployed" college graduates in the United States.  In 2008, there were 17 million "underemployed" college graduates in the United States.
#14 In the United States today, over 18,000 parking lot attendants have college degrees.
#15 Federal statistics reveal that only 36 percent of the full-time students who began college in 2001 received a bachelor's degree within four years.
#16 According to a recent survey by Twentysomething Inc., a staggering 85 percent of college seniors planned to move back home after graduation last May.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

I thought it sounded familiar

Here’s Digby on the treatment of Bradley Manning:

Months and months of sleep deprivation and isolation cannot be justified for security reasons. This fellow isn't a commando. He isn't a professional spy. He's just some grunt who uploaded some electronic files. The only reasonable explanation for his treatment is that they are trying to get him to implicate someone else in his alleged crime. And that's the oldest reason for torture in the books. In the old days, they wanted their subjects to implicate Satan. Today it's Julian Assange.

No daylight between ‘em

I’ve written before that Wikileaks and its founder Julian Assange  and the New York Times stand in the same First Amendment spot.

In this morning’s paper, the NYT published an article, based on Top Secret information leaks, that the U.S. military is planning ground incursions into Pakistan.

Glenn Greenwald delivers a brilliant lesson in why these disclosures are more “serious” than anything that Wikileaks has disclosed, and why both are nevertheless protected under the First Amendment. Here are just a few graphs, but they don’t fully convey the scholarship of the piece. This one will probably win the capstone Spotty™ for the year 2010.

Indeed, the NYT reporters several times acknowledge that public awareness of these operations could trigger serious harm ("inside Pakistan, [ ] the movement of American forces has been largely prohibited because of fears of provoking a backlash").  Note, too, that Mazzetti and Filkins [the NYT reporters] did not acquire these government secrets by just passively sitting around and having them delivered out of the blue.  To the contrary:  they interviewed multiple officials both in Washington and in Afghanistan, offered several of them anonymity to induce them to reveal secrets, and even provoked officials to provide detailed accounts of past secret actions in Pakistan, including CIA-directed attacks by Afghans inside that country.  Indeed, Mazzetti told me this morning:  "We've been working on this for a little while. . . . It's been slow going.  The release of the AfPak review gave a timeliness to the story, but this has been in the works for several weeks."

In my view, the NYT article represents exactly the kind of secret information journalists ought to be revealing; it's a pure expression of why the First Amendment guarantees a free press.  There are few things more damaging to basic democratic values than having the government conduct or escalate a secret war beyond public debate or even awareness.  By exposing these classified plans, Mazzetti and Filkins did exactly what good journalists ought to do:  inform the public about important actions taken or being considered by their government which the government is attempting to conceal.

Moreover, the Obama administration has a history of deceiving the public about secret wars.  Recently revealed WikiLeaks cables demonstrated that it was the U.S. -- not Yemen -- which launched a December, 2009 air strike in that country which killed dozens of civilians; that was a covert war action about which the U.S. State Department actively misled the public, and was exposed only by WikiLeaks cables.  Worse, it was The Nation's Jeremy Scahill who first reported back in 2009 that the CIA was directing ground operations in Pakistan using both Special Forces and Blackwater operatives:  only to be smeared by the Obama State Department which deceitfully dismissed his report as "entirely false," only for recently released WikiLeaks cables to confirm that what Scahill reported was exactly true.  These kinds of leaks are the only way for the public to learn about the secret wars the Obama administration is conducting and actively hiding from the public.

Greenwald also notes tellingly that Wikileaks never disclosed anything Top Secret, and nothing involving imminent troop movements.

Read it; that’s an order.

So, here’s the deal

We get Assange, and Nigeria gets Cheney.

Monday, December 20, 2010

You would certainly think, with a name like “Eden Prairie”

That if you moved out there, you wouldn’t have to be bothered by brown people. What is this world coming to? I mean, if you’re willing to drive an hour each way to and from work in downtown Minneapolis, live in a place whose town square is a shopping mall, and there are more square feet of concrete dedicated to helping people get out of town than anywhere else in Minnesota I know, shouldn’t there be some compensation? (just gentle teasing, my Eden Prairie friends, just teasing)

Well, maybe not. You see, the Eden Prairie school board is considering a plan to redraw school boundaries to reduce the growing school segregation in the district. Here’s the lede from the linked Strib article in the paper this morning:

When Eden Prairie's seven school board members convene Tuesday night, the controversial decision they are set to make about redrawing school boundary lines will be of keen interest throughout the metro area.

Will they back a plan that will move 1,100 elementary students next fall to new schools, largely to reduce segregation in schools? Or will they scale back in response to a huge parental outcry and make fewer changes or nix the plan altogether?

At parent meetings on the plan, Myron Orfield, whom I have cited often for the proposition that the “achievement gap” is mostly about segregation and poverty, spoke in favor of the plan and was greeted with the famous Eden Prairie Raspberry:

Myron Orfield, a University of Minnesota law professor, has advocated for integration efforts at many Twin Cities schools. He has spoken in favor of Eden Prairie's plan and was booed by some parents at meetings.

No, that’s Hopkins; sorry.

Here’s what Orfield says about the plan and how parents respond:

"This is a big decision for the school board and for the region -- whether we're going to have racially integrated school districts," Orfield said. ''The implications [if the proposed plan fails] will be that there are a group of white racist parents who can stop integration in schools."

Many Eden Prairie parents who disagree with the boundary change plan are adamant that their stand isn't about race. They say they don't oppose integration, but they disagree with a plan that moves students away from neighborhood schools.

Of course! It’s never about race.

One thing that needs to be kept in perspective is that we’re talking about moving kids around in Eden Prairie, not busing them to North Oakes, although some parents would probably find that preferable to the present plan.

It is interesting to me that in my own home town, parents from all over town send (and bus) their kids to Normandale French Immersion School, and then to the middle school where the continuation of that program takes place, Valley View Middle School. Other districts do similar things, and I’ll bet you they do it in Eden Prairie, too. All without the hue and cry that has arisen over the current Eden Prairie proposal. It is disingenuous to call what Eden Prairie wants to do “destruction of neighborhood schools.”

At some point, we are going to have to understand as a state that if we are truly serious – as opposed frowning and merely saying “serious” things – about eliminating the racial achievement gap, we’re going to have to address segregation and poverty. That is an inescapable and unalterable truth.

I personally really doubt that we are serious as a state about eliminating that gap, but it is a convenient way for conservatives to beat up on the public teachers’ unions.

Maintaining segregation and beating up the teachers: it’s a two-fer!

Finally, I urge you to watch what happens if the Eden Prairie plan is adopted. There will be parents who will send their kids to white charter schools, even though they have to be bused farther that they would under the Eden Prairie plan.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Standardized Snake Oil

Here’s a bit from a republish in Truthout from Marion Brady at the Washington Post that you really should read:

And for the last 20 years, I’ve done my best to burn holes in the myth that standardized tests are a means to the end of improving America’s schools. I haven’t the slightest doubt that if the testing tail continues to wag the education dog, it will kill the dog and with it the ability of future generations to cope with their fates.

It’s not that America’s schools don’t have really serious problems. They certainly do. And I’m not talking just about big, inner city institutions surrounded by blight, encircled by barbed wire, entered through metal detectors, patrolled by cops, and churning out dropouts, future prison inmates, and other social problems.

There are many of those, but I’m not singling them out. As a mountain of research makes clear, what ails them is primarily long-term poverty and the myriad problems poverty spawns. That’s a matter I’m not qualified to write about, but for those who think test scores actually mean something important, I’ll note in passing that Finland always ranks near the top, and their child poverty rate is less than 3%, while America’s rate is over 20% and climbing rapidly. Those who believe skilled teachers can level the education playing field enough to erase that difference in the quality of the material they’re given to work with aren’t just not in the game, they’re not even in the ball park.

But if you, boys and girls, think that recognizing that long term poverty is the root of educational problems is part of the MinnCan agenda, you’re not even in the ball park, either.

The anti-democratic politics of Minnesota's largest philanthropies

A few weeks ago Minnesota's latest education deform advocacy group, called MinnCan, announced its creation and its founding board of directors. Though MinnCann will be a 501(c)(3) organization - a tax-exempt group - it is clear that its primary purpose is to pursue legislative changes to allow a further corporatization and privatization of public education. With only three employees it is unlikely MinnCan will contribute anything substantial to the education discourse or knowledge in Minnesota. Its real aim is to unite the growing professional education deform movement into one coherent voice in the legislature. That makes its primary activity political, which is theoretically illegal for a 501(c)(3), but don't look for the organization to ever be shut down for violating tax laws.

They will be able to get away with this political advocacy because the laws and regulations that should be reining in political activity by non-profits are incredibly porous, essentially allowing them to advocate in virtually any way as long as they don't literally say "vote for x." Lobbying the legislature for "flexibility," "accountability," and "choice" in education may not be "partisan" in the traditional sense, i.e. both parties have jumped on this bandwagon, but it is political.

Even if we set aside the provably failed and destructive policies MinnCan will be advocating for, the notion that elites from the state's biggest philanthropies have lined up behind a political attack on our public schools and their teachers is alarmingly anti-democratic because of the opaque, tax-exempt, and unaccountable nature those organizations.

Take a look at the board of directors for MinnCan:
  • Sarah Caruso of Greater Twin Cities United Way
  • Rob Clark of Medtronic
  • Alex Cirillo of 3M (Retired);
  • Michael Ciresi of Robins, Kaplan, Miller and Ciresi
  • Gary Cunningham of the Northwest Area Foundation
  • Vernae Hasbargen of the Minnesota Rural Education Association
  • Virginia Hubbard Morris of Hubbard Radio
  • Father Michael O'Connell of the Church of the Ascension
  • Tim Penny of the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation
  • Tad Piper of Piper Jaffray
  • Governor Al Quie
  • Carleen Rhodes of The Saint Paul Foundation
  • Sondra Samuels of the PEACE Foundation
  • John Stanoch of Qwest
  • Sandy Vargas of The Minneapolis Foundation
That is not an organization that would need even one citizen to sign up to be effective. The structure of the board ensures a funding stream. The board of course includes the plutocrat Sandra Vargas, who has been putting together this MinnCan effort for some time now. She is the head of the Minneapolis Foundation, which last year gave away some $39 million.

The list of board members is impressive in its recruitment of non-profit, business and political elites, along with representatives of some organizations funded by those same foundations. It has few, if any, teachers, principals or educational scholars. This is typical of the educational deform movement, which does not even pretend to know anything about pedagogy or curriculum, outside an authoritarian focus on math and reading test scores.

The board includes other members of philanthropies that no doubt will be ultimate funders of the organization, such as Vargas, or Sarah Caruso, who is described as being  "of Greater Twin Cities United Way," but who is really the President and CEO of the organization, and Carleen Rhodes, President and CEO of The Saint Paul Foundation.  The board also includes Gary Cunningham, who is the Chief Program Officer of the Northwest Area Foundation, a particularly well-connected individual who also sits on the boards of the University of Minnesota Medical Center, the Humphrey Institute's Center for the Study of Politics and Governance, and the University of Minnesota's College of Education and Human Development. The philanthropic section of the board is rounded out by Tim Penny, who is now head of something called the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation, and Michael Cirisi, the guy who won all that tobacco company money.

The board also includes people like the corporate/PR types who populate the board of say, ConnCan, or Minnesota Public Radio. This includes Rob Clark, the Sr. Director, Corporate Public and Media Relations at Medtronic,  Alex Cirillo formerly vice president of 3M's company foundation, and  John Stanoch - the Minnesota President of Qwest. There's also Virginia Hubbard Morris of "Hubbard Radio," but really a representative of the Hubbard clan, one of the state's most powerful Republican families.

As Diane Ravitch has written in her book on education deform:
"There is something fundamentally antidemocratic about relinquishing control of the public education policy agenda to private foundations run by society's wealthiest people; when the wealthiest of these foundations are joined in common purpose they represent an unusually powerful force that is beyond the reach of democratic institutions...They are not subject to public oversight or review as a public agency would be...If their plans fail, no sanctions are levied against them. They are bastions of unaccountable power."
When the proposed policies fail will philanthropic leaders like Sandra Vargas of the Minneapolis Foundation stand up and take the heat? Who will we blame for the bifurcation of our educational system into charter schools and the left-behinds? Who will we blame for the destruction of our larger schools which have served as neighborhood and community cement for generations?  Who will we blame for the destruction and demoralization of a dedicated and talented teaching pool? The people who are leading this movement cannot be unelected, because they aren't elected by anyone, excepting the other wealthy elites who put them in power in the first place. That's not democracy, it's plutocracy.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The perfectly legal conspiracy

From Chris Floyd at Empire Burlesque:

Tonight Bradley Manning is being tortured and destroyed in a prison cell because he has been accused of trying to tell the truth about war that all so-called enlightened people know: it is brutalizing, senseless, futile and cruel. He is also being tortured in the hope that he can be used as an instrument to stop Julian Assange from telling the truth about war and the corruptions of power that all so-called enlightened people claim to know.

But yes, Adam Smith, Manning broke the law and must pay by being broken himself. And never doubt that a similar fate awaits Julian Assange if the U.S. ever gets a hold of him. Assange is likely to spend years in the intelligence hole, and then finally, when we’ve disassembled his personality sufficiently to render him unable to defend himself in court, we’ll put the shell on trial.

A.S. wants to debate the finer points of conspiracy law – believing perhaps that merely thinking about breaking the law is sufficient to break it. But here’s the real conspiracy here: Eric Holder’s Justice Department assisting in the rounding up of persons such as Julian Assange to bully and beat them for the crime of telling the truth. (And where is the claim that what they have disclosed isn’t true?) And let that be a warning to everybody!

But who’s next? The reporter who picks up a tip about corruption in Afghanistan (such as paying millions of dollars to the imposter negotiator from Al Qaeda)? Maybe it’s the reporter who breaks a story about continuing sexual abuse of female military members, based on a “classified” report, a report that is classified only to keep the truth from coming out? Or perhaps it’s a reporter who spends some time up against a wall for reporting the corruption and ineptitude of the Afghan police forces, contrary to the glowing reports we’ve been getting for years now from our military?

This list, of course, is virtually endless.

Eric Holder’s “conspiracy” is perfectly legal. But this is dangerous stuff: the chief law enforcement officer of the United States acting on behalf of the national security state. If we have any brains at all as citizens, we’ll condemn it in the strongest terms.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Assange Rape Conviction Affirmed on Twitter!

Inexplicably, he remains at large, free to roam the English countryside. (Not exactly.)

Meanwhile, the U.S. Attorney General is preparing a comfortable black hole into which Assange may disappear.

And in other news, Wikileaks reports that Somali pirates intercepted a ship full of arms, bound for volatile Sudan with the knowledge of the United States:

Slightly over two years ago we posted about the hijacking of the Ukranian ro/ro Faina by Somali pirates.  The pirates were surprised to discover that the ship was loaded with arms, including 33 Russian T-72 battle tanks.   The pirates claimed that the arsenal was headed for the regional government in southern Sudan.  The governments of the Ukraine and Kenya vehemently denied that this was the case, claiming that the arms were intended to be delivered to the Kenyan military.   We now know from documents released by Wikileaks  that the pirates were telling the truth and the Ukrainians and Kenyans were not.

[  ]

According to several secret State Department cables made public by WikiLeaks, the tanks not only were headed to southern Sudan, but they were the latest installment of several underground arms shipments. By the time the freighter was seized, 67 T-72 tanks had already been delivered to bolster southern Sudan’s armed forces against the government in Khartoum, an international pariah for its human rights abuses in Darfur.

Bush administration officials knew of the earlier weapons transactions and chose not to shut them down, an official from southern Sudan asserted in an interview, and the cables acknowledge the Kenyan officials’ assertions that they had kept American officials informed about the deal. But once the pirates exposed the arms pipeline through Kenya, the Obama administration protested to the Ukrainian and Kenyan governments, even threatening sanctions, the cables show.

Eric Holder is a menace

To the First Amendment.

The New York Times reported yesterday that the Justice Department was working overtime to figure out a way to charge Julian Assange, probably for “conspiracy” to commit espionage. As Jack Balkin – writing at Balkinization; imagine that – observes, the success of such a move would imperil all journalists doing investigative work and relying on sources:

Journalists are not merely passive recipients of information they receive from their sources. It make take weeks of negotiations (and rounds of drinks at the Mayflower Hotel) to get a source to agree to provide sensitive information, and work out the details of the disclosure. Agreements not to reveal a source who provides sensitive information are just that, agreements. If prosecutors wanted to, they would argue that such agreements were part of a conspiracy to leak classified information under the Espionage Act or related statutes.

The Justice Department might try to distinguish the two cases by seeking to prove that Assange had offered to provide technical assistance to Manning to gain access to the computer system, or provided Manning with software or programming skills. The problem is that this distinction isn't much of a difference. Traditional investigative journalists may assist their sources in other ways besides giving them hacking software. They may, for example, make it easier for them to transmit sensitive information or help them store or transmit the information. They may smooth things over for their sources or encourage them to disclose in countless ways.

As I explained to Savage in a previous interview, Assange is no fool. He understands that the best way to escape prosecution is present himself as a journalist and to point out in every way possible that what he does is like what other investigative journalists do. Indeed, Wikileaks is only disclosing a very small percentage of the files it possesses, and it is working with mainstream journalistic organizations in deciding which files to release.

In a bid to be self-referential once more, here’s a bit of an earlier post of mine about Joe Lieberman stating that maybe the NYT should be “investigated,” too:

The sad thing is, there probably is a debate raging at the Justice Department about how to charge Assange, and maybe the Times, mostly because there no basis to do it. But that doesn’t mean it won’t happen, at least regarding Julian Assange. It would be nice, actually, if both were charged, because the Times would put up a helluva good joint defense.

As discussed in my earlier linked post, the NYT and Assange, and WikiLeaks, too, are in exactly the same position: they did not leak the information and did not violate the Espionage Act: they published the information, that’s all. But it’s obviously easier to beat up on Julian Assange, so you should look for that to happen.

You should also look, in the end, for the Justice Department to leave the Times alone. Eric Holder does not want to have his ass handed to him on a platter, and in a very public way.

It would be shocking and disgraceful if Eric Holder did something that John Mitchell and the rest of President Nixon’s men didn’t do.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Flimsy

There is an excellent article in Reuters about the two Swedish complainants crying “rape” against Julian Assange. I mention this because of the recent hysteria on Twitter – that may still be going on, but I’ve tuned it out because it is so puerile – that assumes Assange stands already convicted of serial rape and is somehow the Roman Polanski of our time.

But let’s spend just a few minutes discussing the cases that these two women present.

The first one, Miss A, was the Swedish spokesperson for Wikileaks; Assange was staying at her place at her invitation. They had consensual sex on a number of occasions. During one encounter, the condom broke. After the incident, Assange continued to stay at the woman’s place, again with her permission. People who saw them together later reported their relationship seem amicable.

The second one, Miss W, paid for Julian Assange’s train ticket so he could come to her apartment and stay. (It may be fair to say that she was a Wikileaks groupie with money.) They had consensual sex – which it is apparent that the Swedes do with frequency and enthusiasm – but Reuters reports that the woman claims that later, while the bed was still warm, the pair had sex again and Assange did not use a condom.

Now – and this is key – neither of these woman has ever been subjected to the mildest of cross examination on whether Julian Assange did anything without their consent. Based on their behavior alone after the encounters; he did not.

The two women found each other – always a dangerous situation for the guy – when, again apparently, they were trying to contact Assange about STD testing. They reported that is what they wanted, not to have Assange charged with rape (further reducing any credible claim that a rape occurred). It was only when he proved “elusive” that they went to the constables.

Assange? Elusive? Imagine my surprise! He’d only been the subject of the biggest intelligence manhunt probably in history. And the ladies are put out because he doesn’t answer their phone calls?

Please also consider this: two women, unknown to each other, each develop a fear – days, weeks, months? after their encounters – of picking up an STD from Julian Assange. How does this happen? I suspect it happened because a rumor was started that Julian Assange had a sexually-transmittable disease. How does that happen? Louis Nizer, where are you now that we need you?

It could happen a couple of ways of course.

But I wouldn’t discount the possibility that the was started by an intelligence service – gee, I wonder which one? – to panic Assange’s sexual partners into coming forward and help to smoke him out. That seems to be what happened.

It is laughably easy to start rumors like this, and it is especially effective when your goal is to discredit a muckracker, whistleblower or other messenger of bad news. I’ll illustrate the point with an example.

Walter Liggett was a muckraking journalist in the Twin Cities, a contemporary of Jay Near, whom I have written about several times. When Liggett did some reporting on the connection between the crime syndicate of Kid Cann and the administration of Floyd B. Olson, allegations of sexual impropriety were lodged against Liggett:

Soon after alleging links between the criminal syndicate of Kid Cann and the administration of Minnesota Governor Floyd B. Olson, Liggett was beaten up, prosecuted on trumped-up kidnapping and sodomy charges (and acquitted), and finally died after being machine gunned in the alley behind his apartment on December 9, 1935, in view of his wife and two children. All witnesses, his wife Edith in particular, identified Cann as the shooter, but Cann was acquitted.

This is most probably a case of a highly effective disinformation campaign by western intelligence services, including the CIA. Calling Assange a rapist – especially at this point in the proceedings – is irresponsible and slanderous.

Update: Correspondents have inquired (or maybe enquired is a better word choice given the British legal proceedings) what I thought of the notion that Floyd B, Olson was involved in the murder of Walter Liggett. I won’t speculate on that, and the little Louis Nizer voice in my head says it’s unlikely. Kid Cann never needed much prompting to kill anybody. Louis and I do suspect, however, that there was some political connection somewhere in the charging of Liggett with sodomy and kidnapping.

Tail thumps to PW for the link and to Avidor for the reminder about Walter Liggett.

Further update: The cartoon is from Mr. Fish at Harper’s.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The S.S. Social Security takes a shot below the waterline II

And the saddest Spotty™ ever awarded

The original post with this title is here.

More commentary, this time in the Strib this morning, that our president has taken a historic step in insuring the demise of Social Security. Here’s the lede from David Morris’ op-ed, both a history lesson and a warning:

Today, 75 years and four months since Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act, a Democratic president has abandoned FDR's strategy for protecting the program from shifting political winds. If congressional Democrats go along with Obama on this, it could mark the beginning of the end of Social Security as we have known it.

I would put it a little stronger: it does mark the beginning of the end. Here’s Morris describing FDR’s thinking about how to fund Social Security and protect it from predation:

One reason Social Security has proven so enduring and substantial is because of the financing strategy chosen, a payroll tax.

Many of FDR's advisers wanted financing to come out of general appropriations. They counseled, using an argument eerily similar to that offered today, that in 1935 the economy was still emerging from a deep depression and a payroll tax would have a detrimental impact.

FDR understood the argument. But he believed it far more important to adopt a funding mechanism that would protect Social Security from the depredations of future politicians.

Morris continues:

But Obama's tax deal will cut the payroll tax by 2 percentage points, reducing payments into the Social Security trust fund by $120 billion a year. Not to worry, says the White House.

The $120 billion will come from the general fund. Social Security revenues would remain intact. And the payroll tax reduction, they insist, will disappear in two years.

Well, if anyone believes that in two years the Republicans will agree to raise payroll taxes or that the Democrats will insist on it, I have a bridge to sell you.

The payroll tax cut will be permanent. The elderly and disabled will have to compete for $120 billion a year against all other claimants on the federal budget -- the Pentagon, Medicaid, education, environment. Or, the payroll tax will become a bargaining chip for a Republican demand that Social Security benefits be reduced.

This is a genuine scandal. Senator Go-Along to Get-Along Klobuchar voted for the bill, of course; sadly, Al Franken did, too, but at least he seems to recognize that there’s poison in the vote.

Let’s see, FDR was elected president four times. Who thinks that Obama will get two? Personally, I think he’s a long shot. And every congressional Dem who votes for this treacherous stinker (the bill) will have a lot of explaining to do.

the_spottyBut now, on the formal part of the program. For his excellent op-ed, David Morris wins the coveted Spotty™. Remember, boys and girls, a Spotty™ is awarded to a the author of an op-ed piece, a letter to the editor, a blog post, or a blog comment that Spot wishes he had written himself.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Chief Justice John Marshall is not amused

It has by now been reported in even the remotest precincts of wing nuttia that the recently-passed health care reform law is UNCONSTITUTIONAL!

As you can read in the linked NYT article, a federal judge in Virginia ruled that just a part of the law – the mandates to individuals to buy health insurance – was unconstitutional.

The first interesting thing to note about the decision is the judge. Henry Hudson is a George W. Bush appointee. But that’s not the interesting part.

It turns out that Judge Hudson still has a financial stake in a GOP consulting firm that was working against health care reform.

It kind of makes you think of the old coin dealer inveighing against the Fed, doesn’t it? In truth, it is much more serious than that.

But let’s let other stew about Judge Hudson’s infidelity to the principle of an independent judiciary! Let us consider instead the, um, merits of the decision. In order to read up on the case, I turned, as I often do, to Balkinzation. Several of the writers there offer commentary on Judge Hudson’s opinion.

Here’s Mark Tushnet, a professor at Harvard:

I don't think anyone was surprised that conservative Judge Henry Hudson held the individual mandate unconstitutional. What's surprising is the traction that the distinction he relied on has gotten. Congress, according to Judge Hudson, has the power to regulate economic activity but not economic inactivity, that is, a failure to participate in some market such as the insurance market. This distinction seems to me unsound in principle but, more important, inconsistent with the governing precedents. The primary one is Wickard v. Filburn, which is usually described as holding that Congress has the power to regulate economic activities that, taken in themselves, have no substantial effect on interstate commerce but when aggregated do have such an impact. The economic activity in Wickard was the consumption on a person's own farm of wheat grown on that farm.

When there is a governing precedent, of course, the inferior federal courts are supposed to follow it; it is up the Supreme Court to change it.

Judge Hudson got his most thorough wire brushing, however, from Professor Andrew Koppelman from Northwestern; here are the first few graphs of his post:

Today’s federal ruling striking down the Obama health care law is powerful proof that the law is, in fact, constitutional.

This apparent paradox emerges from the bizarre new legal theories that Judge Henry Hudson had to invent in order to invalidate the law – theories that, if taken seriously, would randomly destroy large parts of federal law.

The decision concerned the requirement that most Americans purchase health insurance or pay a penalty. Without this mandate, the law’s protection of people with preexisting conditions would mean that healthy people could wait until they get sick to buy insurance. That would bankrupt the entire health insurance system, because no one would be paying into the pools. Congress decided to charge those people for the costs they impose on their fellow citizens.

The Constitution gives Congress the power to “regulate Commerce . . . among the several states,” to “collect Taxes,” and to “make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper” to carry out its responsibilities. The commerce power has been understood for years to permit regulation of the national economy, which, the Supreme Court held in 1944, includes insurance. The mandate is also valid under the taxing power, which is not limited to objects of interstate commerce. The Court held in 1950 that a tax does not become unconstitutional “because it touches on activities which Congress might not otherwise regulate.” In carrying out its powers, Congress is given a broad choice of means by the necessary and proper clause; that was settled way back in 1819. This is why the two other federal district courts that previously considered challenges to the law had no problem throwing the cases out.

Professor Koppelman’s post is an excellent exposition on the subject of federal power; it’s not too dense for us ordinary mortals, and I recommend it. Here’s just another bit describing another case on the activity/inactivity issue:

The Supreme Court rejected the purported “inherent right of every freeman to care for his own body and health in such way as to him seems best” in 1905, in Jacobson v. Massachusetts. The claimant there asserted that mandatory smallpox vaccination violated his rights. It is true that vaccination was an imposition on his liberty. Dying of smallpox is also an imposition on one’s liberty.

(Update: I would add to Professor Koppelman’s observation and note that a refusal to get the smallpox vaccination diminishes the freedom of everybody else, in that it increases the risk of contagion to others. There is some point at which society is entitled to protect itself from irresponsible fools.)

No post – by me, anyway – on constitutional law would be complete without a shout out to everyone’s legal great-grand daddy, John Marshall. He wrote for a unanimous court in McCulloch v. Maryland, the 1819 case that Professor Koppelman refers to, holding that the federal government had the implied power to charter the Second Bank of the United States. When the Congress takes up a legitimate subject of regulation, it is aided by the Necessary and Proper Clause of Article 1 Section 8 of the Constitution. That is clearly what the insurance purchase mandate is here, a necessary and proper aid to the regulation of insurance.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Chip's play for the Range

Let's say you've just won election to the U.S. Congress. In fact, let's say you've just pulled off the improbable upset of an eighteen-term incumbent in Minnesota's Eighth District. Who do you meet with first?
Speaking to Republican donors in Minneapolis, Cravaack outlined his strategy for staying in office past 2012: frequent appearances in the 8th District and support for the proposed mines near Hoyt Lakes and Ely. The incoming member of Congress said his first meeting after the election was with Polymet Mining Corp. CEO Joe Scipioni.
This is a canny choice, but fraught with risk for Chip Cravaack. It's also a choice that puts Iron Range DFL politicians into a very uncomfortable position.

Polymet has proposed a large open-pit copper mine near Hoyt Lakes, and purchased the shuttered LTV Steel facility previously used to process taconite ore. Polymet has a powerful partner in Glencore, a Swiss commodities firm which owns about 20% of Polymet stock, and who's sunk tens of millions into the company. The Polymet proposal has stumbled through the regulatory process, most recently failing to produce an adequate draft environmental impact statement (EIS.) After the EIS was given the EPA's lowest possible rating, Polymet has gone back to the drawing board and is preparing another draft that will likely be completed by the end of 2011. It's been a long and winding road for this project, which has been in some form of environmental review since 2005.

Polymet's frustrated supporters clamor for immediate action. Cravaack made a point of throwing red meat to mine supporters during the campaign, and now appears to be going all-in behind Polymet. What he will find is that his influence is limited, the regulatory and legal process will be slow, and that he'll get little movement on this issue over the next 24 months. In no case will a mine be opened during that time. Cravaack's sloganeering on the issue betrays his ignorance of the process.

Railing against slow progress toward regulatory compliance is a great strategy for a challenger, but a poor one for an incumbent. Eighteen months from now, with still not a single copper mining job to his credit, Cravaack will be forced to run against the government again. Only this time, the frustrated folks who shouted "Chip, Chip, Hooray" will not be at his side. The timing on this issue is as bad for Cravaack as the tax cut extension timing is for Obama.

Even more intriguing is that the Polymet proposal has the support of virtually every DFL politician in northern Minnesota and Senators Franken and Klobuchar. Oberstar was also a big supporter. The heavy DFL support for the project previously put Minnesota Republicans in a tricky spot despite that it's something that they would usually want to support. Now that Cravaack champions the project, DFL Polymet supporters who want to make Cravaack a one-term congressman have a real dilemma on their hands. Do you do the heavy lifting at the state level if it means Cravaack can take credit?

The reality is that the political posturing on Polymet will be the only real action by politicians of either party. The regulatory process that Polymet is navigating is well beyond the influence of a freshman Representative. Hitching himself to Polymet's prospects is a high-risk, high-reward play for Cravaack, just like buying their stock.

Follow me on Twitter @aaronklemz

A postcard from Potterville II

A follow up, of course, to this.

What would happen if we actually tied our currency to a commodity – gold – that exists in limited supply? For one thing, we’d make the producers of that commodity absurdly rich.

But it’s the consequences for the economy that are the most worrisome.

Fixing the money supply – the practical effect of adopting a gold standard – and ending fractional reserve banking would drive the cost of credit and the cost of capital through the roof. Good, if you already have capital and want to loan it out, or make an investment. But bad if you want to start or get financing for a small business or a farm, or buy a house. As the population and the economy grows, the capital starvation from a fixed money supply grows, too.

WonderfulPotter411122006_01Mr. Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life is undoubtedly foursquare in his support of the gold standard. George Bailey, on the other hand, seems to recognize the value of making credit more widely available.

According to Paul:

“The day the Fed came into being in 1913 may have been the beginning of the end, but the powers it obtained and the mischief it caused took a long time to become a serious issue and a concern for average Americans.”

On Mr. Bernanke: “There is something fishy about the head of the world’s most powerful government bureaucracy, one that is involved in a full-time counterfeiting operation to sustain monopolistic financial cartels, and the world’s most powerful central planner, who sets the price of money worldwide, proclaiming the glories of capitalism.”

Here’s my favorite gem from the linked article:

“Only the Federal Reserve can inflate the currency, creating new money and credit out of thin air, in secrecy, without oversight or supervision. Inflation facilitates deficits, needless wars and excessive welfare spending.”

And undoubtedly causes restless leg syndrome and jock itch, too! And as far as oversight and supervision are concerned, Paul is apparently unaware that there is a subcommittee in the House to do just that; I guess John Boehner just forgot to tell Paul that he’s the new chairman of it!

Read the paragraph about Bernanke again. Now, fast forward to about 2:30 in this video and compare:

That’s from the Tea Party rally this past spring at the Minnesota Capitol. You can hear the gentlemen that I interviewed rail against the cabal of bankers (and lawyers, too), just as Ron Paul does. About the only word missing from the rants of either of them is  the word “Jewish.” But not everyone is so dainty. Ron Paul is a darling of the Tea Party, and he plays to the grievance and resentment that are the organizing principles of the Baggers.

I do not mean to suggest that the Fed shouldn’t be more transparent or reformed in any way, but it is pure demagogic windbaggery to say that we can do without a central bank.

There is more to be said about Paul’s irresponsible slander of the Federal Reserve System and fiat currencies but it will have to wait for coming days.

Drinking Liberally Holiday Party!

Santa-brand-DL-party-graphi

This Thursday, the 16th, is our annual holiday party and Toys for Tots collection. Please bring a new unwrapped toy, game, or other gift. You could also bring some of that fiat currency that Ron Paul hates so much: dollars. The Toys for Tots organizers – the U.S. Marines and KARE 11 locally – are always looking for cash donations. I know that there is always a shortage of appropriate gifts for the teens; toddlers are cuter, but teens are needier.

There will be plenty of good cheer and holiday music. Sigh, there probably won’t be a Santa, because nobody, including me, is willing to wear the suit we’ve got.

The party starts at six, but come anytime between six and nine; you could even stay for the band.

The graphic, used for three or four years now, is by the incomparable Tild.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A postcard from Potterville

Ron Paul, pictured here, believes that the United States must return to the gold standard.walter huston in Treasure of the Sierra Madre - imdb How would that work?

Consider, if the dollar was truly backed by gold (that is, everyone holding a dollar could show up at the U.S. Treasury or the Fed and demand an amount of gold and there would be enough for every holding a dollar; paper currency would be gold certificates), the money supply could only grow – at an absolute maximum - by the amount of gold mined each year.

Well, how much is that? Not that much:

If you look at a page like this one, or if you look it up in an encyclopedia, you will find that the annual worldwide production of gold is something like 50 million troy ounces per year. Gold has a specific gravity of 19.3, meaning that it is 19.3 times heavier than water. So gold weighs 19.3 kilograms per liter. A liter is a cube that measures 10 centimeters (about 4 inches) on a side. There are 32.15 troy ounces in a kilogram. Therefore, the world produces a cube of gold that is about 4.3 meters (about 14 feet) on each side every year. In other words, all of the gold produced worldwide in one year could just about fit in the average person's living room! [emphasis is Spot’s]

This data is a little dated, but very little of of whatever the current production is comes from the United States.

Gold and precious metals prices are up these days:

Gold and copper prices struck record highs this week, oil benefited from a weaker US dollar and strong Chinese imports, while cocoa futures won support from violence gripping Ivory Coast.

[   ] Gold prices struck a record high US$1,431.25 an ounce on Tuesday when the safe-haven metal was lifted by concerns over the eurozone debt and deficit crisis, but it ended the week lower on profit-taking.

“Renewed eurozone fears continue to keep the market underpinned,” VTB Capital analyst Andrey Kryuchenkov said.

Gold’s rally helped sister metal silver reach its highest point in 30 years, at US$30.70 an ounce.

“The high-altitude flight of precious metals remains unbroken,” Commerzbank analysts said.

By late Friday on the London Bullion Market, gold fell to US$1,375.25 an ounce at the late fixing from US$1,403.50 a week earlier.

Silver rose to US$28.79 an ounce from US$28.74.

On the London Platinum and Palladium Market, platinum dropped to US$1,673 an ounce from US$1,718.

Palladium slipped to US$737 an ounce from US$758.

Poor palladium!

Anyway, fifty million ounces times US$1,431 is about  $78,705,000,000. Seventy-eight billion bucks and change. It is my sad duty, boys and girls, to tell you this isn’t much money in an economy with a $14.2 trillion dollar GDP. While we’re doing arithmetic, one percent of this GDP amount is $142 billion dollars, about twice the annual world-wide production of gold. A one percent growth in the economy per annum amounts to recession when you consider the growth of the population and the work force.

Did I mention that South Africa accounts for most of the gold mined every year?

MBW_GoldMiners_thmWhat do you suppose would happen if the growth in our economy was dependent on how hard the DeBeers overseers can flog black gold miners?

Well, Spot exaggerates. Sort of.

If the money supply was limited in the way that Rep. Paul wants, farmers and small business would, in fact, be crucified on William Jennings Bryan’s cross of gold. And if you thought the people with the money were in charge now, well Jeebus Christmas, welcome to Potterville.

The most amazing thing, though, is that the fumbling boob Ron Paul is poised to be in charge of the House subcommittee in charge of overseeing the Fed.

God help us all.

The images are from the Treasure of the Sierra Madre (Walter Huston pictured) and Margaret Bourke White.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

You can only imagine what he'll do once he takes office


Having campaigned on a platform of jobs, jobs, jobs, Wisconsin's Governor-elect Scott Walker has taken steps - even before he has been sworn in - that have driven a private manufacturing employer from the state, has eliminated 4,700 short term jobs, and cost hundreds of permanent jobs:
Talgo Inc. will shut down its Milwaukee train manufacturing operations in 2012, leaving only a maintenance base, because plans for a high-speed rail line between Milwaukee and Madison have been abandoned, the company announced Friday.

The Spanish-owned company acted after the federal government withdrew nearly all of the $810 million in stimulus funding for the rail project, which Governor-elect Scott Walker had vowed to kill. Talgo had hoped to land contracts to build two trains for that line.

"Oh, but stopping the train would save Wisconsin taxpayers $810 million!" you might think. Well, no.
Although Wisconsin's federal allocation would have covered all construction costs, Walker said he didn't want state taxpayers to pick up $7.5 million a year in operating costs, after subtracting fare revenue. Revised ridership and cost estimates could have reduced taxpayers' share by $2.8 million or more, and the state could have used federal aid to cover as much as 90% of the taxpayer share, as it does on the Milwaukee-to-Chicago leg.
So all construction costs are paid for, and the ongoing operation (which in and of itself will employ 55 people) would likely cost about $750,000. Out of a state transportation budget of $2.7 billion, that represents a pretty negligible amount of money. Talgo just began manufacturing in Milwaukee in September, and was going to use the Milwaukee facility to manufacture trains for delivery across the country.

Walker's election promises were pretty clear:
I will develop strategies for creating 250,000 new jobs and 10,000 new businesses by 2015.
But yesterday Walker clarified that he didn't want those kind of jobs:
"I don't just want jobs that are created in the short term based upon a government subsidy. I want jobs that are long term and sustainable.


Wisconsin residents, however, remain free to jump in Lieutenant Governor-elect Rebecca Kleefisch's "sweet teal 1999 minivan" to get to work. Because Talgo's jobs appear to be wanted in other places.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The S.S. Social Security takes a shot below the waterline

The brilliant political strategist Barack Obama took the first step this week in the sinking of Social Security. Instead of shoring up the system by increasing the amount on which payroll taxes are paid – one laughably easy way to ease the problems of the system long term – he agreed with the gimlet-eyed Mitch McConnell to decrease the payroll tax rate for a time, a so called “tax holiday.”

Of course, the fool will never get it back, and he’ll be tagged for “raising taxes” in the next election if he tries. Paul Krugman called it Obama’s Hostage Deal:

One big concern: Republicans may try using the prospect of a rise in the payroll tax to undermine Social Security finances.

Which brings me back to Mr. Obama’s press conference, where — showing much more passion than he seems able to muster against Republicans — he denounced purists on the left, who supposedly refuse to accept compromises in the national interest.

Well, concerns about the tax deal reflect realism, not purism: Mr. Obama is setting up another hostage situation a year down the road. And given that fact, the last thing we need is the kind of self-indulgent behavior he showed by lashing out at progressives who he feels aren’t giving him enough credit.

The point is that by seeming angrier at worried supporters than he is at the hostage-takers, Mr. Obama is already signaling weakness, giving Republicans every reason to believe that they can extract another ransom.

And they can be counted on to act accordingly.

I’ve used the analogy before, but consider Barack Obama as your divorce lawyer. You’d lose the house, the kids, the car, the savings, the retirement accounts, and the fillings in your teeth, and he’d tell you what a great deal he’d gotten you.

When the U.S. history books are written – in China – there will be a chapter devoted to the New Deal period; the two bookends will be Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Barack Obama.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

The new “Tailgunner Joe”

mccain_lieberman_hugAnd he’s just as full of shit as the first one. Joe McCarthy and Joe Lieberman: a horse’s ass apiece. Lieberman (shown here, preparing to give deep, meaningful kiss to John McCain) has told Fox News — well, who else better? — that Julian Assange and the New York Times should be the subject of a criminal investigation over the WikiLeaks disclosures:

A leading US senator suggested tonight that the New York Times and other news organisations publishing the US embassy cables being released by WikiLeaks could be investigated for breaking US espionage laws.

Joe Lieberman, the chair of the Senate homeland security committee, told Fox News: "To me the New York Times has committed at least an act of, at best, bad citizenship, but whether they have committed a crime is a matter of discussion for the justice department."

Lieberman also said that the department of justice should indict Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, under the 1917 Espionage Act and try to extradite him from the UK. Asked why this had not happened, Lieberman admitted there was probably an argument going on over how to charge Assange.

"I think this is the most serious violation of the Espionage Act in our history," Lieberman said, adding: "It sure looks to me that Assange and WikiLeaks have violated the Espionage Act."

Clearly, Joe, this is a more serious case of espionage than the disclosure of atomic secrets to the Soviets, or the disclosure to them of submarine secrets! What a complete, ahistorical ass.

The sad thing is, there probably is a debate raging at the Justice Department about how to charge Assange, and maybe the Times, mostly because there no basis to do it. But that doesn’t mean it won’t happen, at least regarding Julian Assange. It would be nice, actually, if both were charged, because the Times would put up a helluva good joint defense.

As discussed in my earlier linked post, the NYT and Assange, and WikiLeaks, too, are in exactly the same position: they did not leak the information and did not violate the Espionage Act: they published the information, that’s all. But it’s obviously easier to beat up on Julian Assange, so you should look for that to happen.

You should also look, in the end, for the Justice Department to leave the Times alone. Eric Holder does not want to have his ass handed to him on a platter, and in a very public way.

N.B. I apologize for the language in this post. I am as angry about this as anything in recent memory. Here’s a recent quote from Daniel Ellsberg:

EVERY attack now made on WikiLeaks and Julian Assange was made against me and the release of the Pentagon Papers at the time.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Drinking Liberally toasts Governor Dayton

night-panorama-331-club

I like the sound of that, don’t you? Anyway, come to DL tomorrow night (12/9) and we will have a toast and a cheer for the first DFL governor elected since before the Twins won the World Series the first time.

Six to nine tomorrow at the 331 Club in Northeast Minneapolis.

The Niebuhrian Nightmare

Why President Obama needs to re-read his favorite political philosopher

Way back in April 2007, long-shot Presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama was the subject of a fawning David Brooks piece. Brooks asked Obama “Have you ever read Reinhold Niebuhr?”
Obama replied, “I love him. He’s one of my favorite philosophers.” So I asked, What do you take away from him? “I take away . . . the compelling idea that there’s serious evil in the world, and hardship and pain. And we should be humble and modest in our belief we can eliminate those things. But we shouldn’t use that as an excuse for cynicism and inaction. I take away . . . the sense we have to make these efforts knowing they are hard, and not swinging from naïve idealism to bitter realism."
If you don't know who Reinhold Niebuhr is, you should. He's one of the most important Christian theologians and political philosophers of the 20th Century, irrespective of President Obama's admiration of his work.

As President, Obama has governed according to a superficial reading of Niebuhr, called "the patron saint of liberal moderation." This week's tax cut compromise fits the mold. Plotting a third way, rejecting idealism in favor of pragmatism, these are the hallmarks of Obama's preferred style. The talk has been about how the midterm election results will force Obama into a Clinton-style triangulation strategy. The fact is that Obama has always already been practicing that approach, much to the chagrin of his supporters on the left.

But there's more to Niebuhr than shallow notions of compromise and pragmatism. Niebuhr's real insight is about democracy and human nature. It's his 1944 book "Children of Light, Children of Darkness" that Obama needs to re-read. One key insight he needs to glean is that his messaging needs to account for self-interest far better than he has so far. His Republican opponents are certainly better at it than he has been.

The distinction between “children of light” and “children of darkness” is essential to understand Niebuhr. It springs from Luke 16:8, “[t]he children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.”

Niebuhr uses this quote to develop a distinction between the children of light who believe that self-interest should be subordinated to the discipline of a higher law, and the children of darkness who “know no law beyond their will and interest." The children of light are sentimental democratic idealists who believe that human egotism and self-interest can be restrained by institutions, ideologies and ideas. The tyrannical children of darkness are cynical, believing that only self-interest matters and that it cannot be restrained by anything other than power and the exercise of self-interest by others. As the scripture that opens the book states, the children of darkness are in their own ways wiser than the children of light. While the children of darkness are evil, they at least understand the power and corrupting potential of self-love and self-interest.

Niebuhr describes the arc of human history as a battle between these children of light and children darkness. The children of light rely on the construction of more perfect schemes of social organization to fight evil. The children of darkness take a pessimistic view of human nature, and see society as a battle between self-interested individuals. Niebuhr’s assertion is that if democracy is to succeed, the naive children of light need to learn from the self-interested wisdom of the children of this world.

So far, Obama has behaved much like the naive children of light. Assuming that traditions about the sparing use of the filibuster or holds in the Senate would restrain the self-interest of Republican leaders is one example. Belief in the restraining influence of the desire for bipartisanship has proven to be an illusion. The collapse of these systems in the face of the self-interest of Obama's political opponents has caught him flat-footed.

One aspect of Niebuhr's theology that Obama has clearly internalized is the notion of humility. But even then he gets it wrong.

Niebuhr returns repeatedly to the notion of Christian humility as the antidote to both the cynicism of the children of darkness and the excessive sentimentality of the children of light. The roots of this humility are in the doctrine of original sin, which infects all human achievement. “Without it we are driven to alternate moods of sentimentality and despair; trusting human powers too much in one moment and losing all faith in the meaning of life when we discover the limits of human possibilities." If there's a quote that better captures the swing from the rapturous feelings at Obama's inauguration to the cynicism in the wake of the midterm election, I haven't seen it.

Niebuhr reminds us that those children of light who seek to govern are infected by the same inclination toward self-interest that they see themselves fighting against. Internally, those who govern need to be humble. In one sense, he means that government can only do so much to solve problems. But Niebuhr also names humility as an essential antidote to the hubris that one stands above the fray of self-interest. In too many cases, Obama's approach to leadership resembles that version of hubris. It's as though he's waiting for his political opponents to reject self-interest the way he has. Obama's third way framing relies far too much on this positioning, so much so that it's worth asking whether he really believes himself to be above the squabbling between the left and the right. The result: those on the right mock "The One" and "The Messiah" while those on the left fear being used as a foil for his moderate image.

Externally, those who govern need to incorporate the inherent self-interest of people in shaping and framing policy and action. Political change occurs when the populace is attracted to your position, that attraction is in large part gained by appealing to self-interest. In this political climate the most apparent form that self-interest takes is jobs and wages, jobs and wages. Too often, the White House has allowed their Republican opponents to seize self-interest as their ground and been relegated to grousing about selfishness.

As the quote in Brooks' piece demonstrates, President Obama clearly fashions himself in the mold of Niebuhr. But overly simplistic analysis of the Obama-Niebuhr connection that begins and ends with “moderation” obscures the lesson of Children of Light that Obama needs to grasp at this crucial point in his presidency. Niebuhr's prescription is not simply to moderate and triangulate, but to re-center the message around the self-interest of those children of the world who elected you.

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