Thursday, March 31, 2011

Financial wizardry

Remember the brouhaha about how the Wisconsin State Capitol was going to require $7.5 million after those thugs demonstrated in it in February and March? Why, Mitch was apoplectic about it. Newspapers reported about it. We heard that the damage was so bad that the Department of Administration said it could cost between $60,000 and $500,000 just to assess the building's condition, let alone repair it. GOP bloggers used it to show how disrespectful the thugs were.

The underlying calculations for that amount have now come out, and the documentation is impressive. A detailed description of the actual damages, the tasks to be undertaken to restore the beautiful building, cost breakdowns that would satisfy the most exacting of state auditors, you would assume. After all, it's taxpayer dollars we're talking about and we cannot squander them or be anything but absolutely correct in our calculations here. Accuracy and transparency above all, right? These people work for the administration charged with saving the Wisconsin budget, right? They would never base their claims on incorrect dollar amounts or shoddy estimates, would they?

Of course they would. The estimate is based on a single piece of paper. With three dollar figures on it. A better copy can be found here, but I usually require a more detailed estimate for a clogged drain.

Bonus Drinking Liberally tonight!

There's a fifth Thursday in March; you have one extra opportunity to make it to Drinking Liberally this month. Don't blow it!

We don't have a guest tonight, so there will be plenty of chance for conversations about all things politic, and probably some things impolitic, too.

We'll be at the 331 Club in Minneapolis from six to nine PM. See you there.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Mayor R.T. Rybak discusses the tragedy of dependence

Here’s part one of my interview with R.T.Rybak on the subject of Local Government Aid – LGA.
The tragedy of dependence
“Certified LGA,” incidentally, means the amounts were promised to the cities so that they could base their 2011 budgets on the amounts they were going to get. Note that only Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Duluth are slated to have cuts to their certified LGA figures. All other cities receiving LGA, including Rochester, which only by a legislative sleight of hand was saved from a “city of the first class” designation, won’t have their 2011 LGA cut.

There will be more clips from the interview in coming days. Watch for them.

There's a hole in the bucket

At Fukushima, that is:
The radioactive core in a reactor at the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant appears to have melted through the bottom of its containment vessel and on to a concrete floor, experts say, raising fears of a major release of radiation at the site.
 But don't worry; the core will probably only come out like lava, not in a big explosion or anything.

CNN/Getty Images photo

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Kurt Zellers channels Karl Rove

From a Hot Dish Politics story:
House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, said they are offering innovative solutions that aren't easily calculated by the budget office.
When most of you read that, I suspect it made you think of this:
[W]hen we act, we create our own reality . . .  .
The quote is attributed to Karl Rove, spoken to Ron Suskind in the early, heady days of the Bush II reign.

Kurt's problem is, of course, that Governor Dayton prefers to live in the reality-based community.

Be sure and read the next post from Rob: Cheering on Minnesota's education apocalypse.

Cheering on Minnesota's education apocalypse

Is there anything more pathetically saddening than watching plutocrats take apart the Minnesota education system in one legislative session? The lies and misinformation that brought us the Teach For America Enabling Act earlier this session were bad enough when proposed by Republicans, but when they were embraced by Democrats and our "liberal" governor it signaled the beginning of the end of education as we know it Minnesota.

Now with the legislature set to pass bills that remove teacher tenure and tie teacher salaries and retention to their students' test scores the end is nigh. Good, experienced teachers will be leaving the profession in droves. Many are set to retire anyways - this will just hasten the departure of our most seasoned professionals, to be replaced by poorly trained and ill-equipped Teach For American recruits.

Education in Minnesota is being converted into a free-market paradise where instructors are no longer professionally trained careerists, but where they instead are turned into just another commodity, pushing the latest new fad, until they hustle onto real careers where they actually have a chance at making a living and being respected. Minnesota is already home to some of the worst charter school disasters in the nation, and inner city children of color have been disproportionally hurt by the movement.

Once - a long time ago - a Democratic governor called this the "Brainpower" state. That might have sounded a little goofy but it expressed our serious attitude toward education. Today's education discourse and legislation can only be described as insane, based as it is on numerous false premises, delusions, and outright lies. News stories that put the lie to the rationales given for education deform are by now routine. Everyone who cares to know has already learned that teachers are their least effective in their first few years, after which most TFA recruits leave the profession. We are literally getting the worst years of their lives.

Our best scholars have already shown that it is pure folly and statistical heresy to try and ascribe student test score gains to individual teachers, yet we are on the brink of doing just that. We're even going to be inventing all kinds of other ways to "rate" teachers whose subjects aren't amenable to standardized testing, from art to phys ed. Standardized testing, far from being a reliable way to even judge students, let alone their teachers, has become a racket, a big con.

Each day brings new stories describing inventive methods of test cheating. Whole states have made tests easier to pass, creating highly educated students out of thin air. Districts touted as demonstrating the success of intensive testing have proven to have changed answers on student tests on a massive scale. There is a reason for this: When test scores are elevated from being a diagnostic criteria for students into a policy tool they are utterly corrupted, as demonstrated by Campbell's Law.  When the pay and careers of education professionals are tied to student test scores, those scores will increase. But increases in test scores are not the same thing as increases in learning.

Amazingly policy makers - and education writers - in Minnesota seem immune to such knowledge, despite its repeated validation. There's a name for people who pretend to rely on numbers yet refuse to admit ones that don't fit their theories: hypocrites. When the outcome of their sophistry directly degrades the education of a state's students they are unforgivable.

The changes being made ensure a slow-motion destruction - it takes 13 years to educate a child - but when it hits the time will be well past to undo the damage. Meanwhile the plutocrats who birthed this destruction will be cheering it on, pretending like this is a great victory for the children, when it is the exact opposite. When did it become okay for leaders of the state's largest philanthropies, and I use that word lightly, to design and lobby for systems of education - using tax-exempt money -  that eviscerate teaching and schools? They are accountable to no one yet wield incredible power. Somewhere long ago we passed a hazy yellow line delineating the difference between what a quality education really entails and what suits the plutocrats.

Now in the public mind it is the teachers themselves holding back the students, not the grinding poverty and racial isolation experienced daily by the state's least fortunate citizens. It is insanity on a mass scale perpetrated by self-absorbed baby boomers who refuse to listen to logic, reason, and scholarly research. But what do they have to worry about? By the time the destruction is recognized they will be long gone with their golden parachutes and winter homes in Florida, and the future children will be left to pick up the pieces and try to rebuild a once-great education system in what used to be called the nation's brainpower state.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Joe Bageant, RIP

I read at A Tiny Revolution that Joe Bageant, a very funny and insightful author and social critic, died after a battle with cancer. The book that introduced me to Joe was Deer Hunting with Jesus. He wrote some great essays, too, including What the Left Behind Series Really Means. Here's the opening paragraphs:

"Jesus merely raised one hand a few inches and a yawning chasm opened in the earth, stretching far and wide enough to swallow all of them. They tumbled in, howling and screeching, but their wailing was soon quashed and all was silent when the earth closed itself again." 
-- From Glorious Appearing by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins

"The best thing about the Left Behind books is the way the non-Christians get their guts pulled out by God."
-- 15-year old fundamentalist fan of the Left Behind series
By Joe Bageant
That is the sophisticated language and appeal of America’s all-time best selling adult novels celebrating the ethnic cleansing of non-Christians at the hands of Christ. If a Muslim were to write an Islamic version of the last book in the Left Behind series, Glorious Appearing, and publish it across the Middle East, Americans would go beserk. Yet tens of millions of Christians eagerly await and celebrate an End Time when everyone who disagrees with them will be murdered in ways that make Islamic beheading look like a bridal shower. Jesus -- who apparently has a much nastier streak than we have been led to believe -- merely speaks and "the bodies of the enemy are ripped wide open down the middle." In the book Christians have to drive carefully to avoid "hitting splayed and filleted corpses of men and women and horses" Even as the riders’ tongues are melting in their mouths and they are being wide open gutted by God’s own hand, the poor damned horses are getting the same treatment. Sort of a divinely inspired version of "Fuck you and the horse you rode in on."
 Great stuff.

Linda Runbeck: Grifter Princess II (with numbers)

Spot asked a good question: how much do the cities in Linda Runbeck's district contribute to the state tax coffers?

It's an important question to ask. Linda Runbeck is delivering an increase in Local Government Aid to her district while slashing LGA for the economic engines of Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth.

Two cities in Runbeck's district are certified to receive LGA in 2011, Circle Pines and Lexington. Circle Pines is scheduled to receive $233,811 in 2011. This is a 15% increase over 2010's certified amount, and a nearly tenfold increase over what they actually received ($27,244) in 2010.

If the property tax "reforms" proposed by Runbeck pass, she'll succeed in simultaneously delivering a windfall to her district while obliterating the cities.

Lexington, another city in Runbeck's district is certified for $382,922 in 2011. The tax bill preserves the 2011 certified amounts for suburbs. This means that Lexington would see an increase in 2011 from what they received in 2010 ($296,869). This is quite a windfall for the cities in the district of the legislator who charges that LGA creates "dependency" and needs to be axed.

Last week, Mayor R.T. Rybak argued that Minneapolis contributes an enormous amount to the state tax coffers. Rybak stated that Minneapolis contributed $367.5 million more to state coffers through sales and business taxes than it received in LGA. This figure was confirmed by Poligraph.

Looking at just sales tax revenue ($380 million), before any cut Minneapolis would receive about 23 cents in LGA for every dollar contributed to the state through sales taxes. How does this compare to the cities in Runbeck's district?

According to the most recent sales tax figures from the Minnesota Department of Revenue, Circle Pines (FIPS code 11494) contributed $665,744 in 2008 Sales Tax, Lexington (FIPS code 36836) returned $1,054,128 in 2008 Sales Tax. This means that Circle Pines will get back around 35 cents in LGA for every dollar in 2008 sales tax paid. Lexington will get back 36 cents in LGA for every dollar in 2008 sales tax paid.

Of course, that's not the whole picture - Runbeck is cutting Minneapolis's LGA allocation by 25% in 2011, and eliminating it by 2015. EDIT: This cut is from the paid 2010 amount for 1st class cities. This means that with the planned cut, Minneapolis would receive $48,601,701 in 2011 LGA, compared to the certified 2011 amount of $87,540,435 - a cut of nearly $40 million in 2011 alone. In 2011, Minneapolis would receive 12.7 cents in LGA per dollar in sales tax paid, just more than 1/3rd the rate of the cities in Runbeck's district.

The two cities in Linda Runbeck's district not only get LGA at a higher rate of sales tax paid under current law, but under her changes, they will get LGA at a rate double what Minneapolis gets, as measure by LGA/Sales tax paid.

Oh, and there's a provision to approve a TIF district in Lino Lakes thrown in for good measure. Cuts for thee, but not for me, indeed.

Spot adds: You will also be interested in the first post in the Grifter Princess series, and Aaron's post that inspired it: Screw the cities.

Follow me on Twitter @aaronklemz

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Koch and Kiff: "cuts for thee, but not for me"

Amid all the negative things you hear about schools, and cutting school funding, and bringing those darn teachers in to line, it is really nice to see some legislators are trying to help schools. Sen. Amy Koch and Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer, specifically.

What? You can read more in the Strib story here.

Well, they are schools in Koch and Kiffmeyer's own districts. Somebody else's schools? Heaven forfend! Both bills are very short, so short they fit nicely in the space provided here. First, here's Kiffmeyer's bill.
The purpose of this bill is to allow the Elk River district to take money out of its "debt redemption" fund and put it in the operating fund.

Why is this necessary? Because the district can't make ends meet on the per pupil funding from the state, of course.

But won't that result in the district being short of money to pay the debt for capital improvements? Well, probably, but that's where Amy Koch  -- who also represents part of Elk River school district -- rides to the rescue.
According to the Strib article:
One of the bills, which has been introduced on behalf of Elk River and several other districts, would award Elk River more than $7 million a year until the building bonds are paid. That would lower the percentage of the district's property tax revenues that go to debt repayment, bringing it to the metro average. Other districts that would benefit from that bill include Farmington, St. Michael-Albertville, Eastern Carver County, and Centennial, district officials said. [Elk River Superintendent] Bezek acknowledged that the bill's chances to become law are probably slim.
Kiffmeyer's bill has a companion of sorts in the Senate, authored by Sen. David Brown, SF 475. Brown is also a coauthor of the Koch bill, reproduced above.

The practical effect of this little legislative chicanery play is to subsidize the operating budget of Elk River's schools, and a few others in Republican districts, but not other schools uniformly. And it does so in a way that permits the schools to use money initially levied for capital investments for operations. If you have it.

Operational starvation comes to Elk River schools as well as, say, Minneapolis schools, on the per pupil formula, but we'll figure out a way to help the schools in Koch and Kiffmeyer's districts - and Pat Garafalo's, too, incidentally - but certainly not in Minneapolis.

Republican legislative leaders obviously recognize the inadequacy of education funding, but seem only willing to address it in weasely ways for favored districts. Disgusting.

A thump of the tail to Two Putt Tommy for the link to the Strib story.

Drinking Liberally tonight, Thursday March 24th

Drinking Liberally
331 Club
331 13th Avenue N.E.

We start gathering around six and stay until the last one goes home. There will be a band later in the evening, as usual.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The answer my friend is blowing in the wind III

This is an A.P. photo of water being sprayed on the reactors and fuel pools at Fukushima to cool them. It is obvious that the water is not contained in any way, and after bathing the radioactive plant, it enters the groundwater, and the air, contaminating farm fields, and ultimately the drinking water in Tokyo.

Update: Well, false alarm on the drinking water. Go ahead and drink all you want!

Forced Unallotment?

Last Friday, Minority Leader Paul Thissen (DFL - Richfield) implied that the GOP was planning more "choose your own cut" style budgeting, which would set a target and give Governor Dayton the authority to make his own cuts. This was the same approach adopted by the Republican in their first budget cutting bill, HF130. Of course, this is also one of the reasons that the Governor cited for vetoing HF130, arguing that this approach was unconstitutional.

As the major budget bills have rolled out this week, we haven't exactly seen Thissen's predictions come to fruition. However, there's another strategy that seems to be emerging - forced unallotment.

Many of the "reform" provisions in the GOP budget bills have highly speculative savings figures, so speculative that nonpartisan researchers cannot place a dollar figure on the savings. Undaunted, the GOP has simply put their own estimate on the cost savings where a fiscal note is unavailable or where it disagrees with their rosy projections. For example, the State Government Operations omnibus bill books $133 million in savings from "tax compliance" when nonpartisan researchers can't quantify the impact on the budget.

There are also places where the GOP simply asserts things will happen. For example, the House Health and Human Services omnibus bill books $300 million in savings assuming that the federal government will grant a waiver to Minnesota with no evidence that assumption will come true.

You have to take a long view of this budget battle. These first efforts at budgeting will be vetoed and then we can start the real process of crafting a compromise. But the Dayton administration needs to be very careful to push back hard against these "savings." It will be expedient to go along with the rosy assumptions in order to make a compromise happen, but very dangerous in the long run. Many of these "reforms" require executive action, so if they fail to save money Republicans can simply blame Dayton's commissioners for dragging their heels.

Even worse, once Dayton signs the budget it becomes his problem if spending outpaces revenue. He will have no leverage to push for revenue increases. If the "savings" don't materialize during the biennium, Republicans can either push for more of their own cuts or do nothing and force Dayton to balance the budget with his cuts.

While Tim Pawlenty gleefully wielded unallotment as a weapon, Mark Dayton would be stuck with unallotment should the fuzzy reform savings of the GOP prove to be illusory. This is why the final compromise needs solid nonpartisan fiscal analysis to back its assumptions.

Follow me on Twitter @aaronklemz

It is always better to wait a few days until it dries

It's usually a little less, um, fragrant.

Well, that, too, but I'm referring to Jason Lewis' writing, and his column on Sunday, in particular.

The topic? Global warming.

Jason's view? Ain't none.

Brilliant empiricist that he is, Lewis trumpets his best argument:
Across the globe, the last few winters have been exceedingly harsh. 
China has endured its most severe winter in 100 years, snow has fallen in Baghdad, and the United Kingdom just suffered through its coldest December since 1683, according to figures from the Met Office.
This is a slightly more elegant variant of the it's cold today; where's your global warming now, stupid? argument.

When you remove an object from a baby's field of vision, to the baby, it ceases to exist.

Jason's a little like that.

Lucky for us - or me, actually - Lewis' column comes to us today pre-skewered by science teacher Josh Leonard.

Leonard observes:
They [climate change deniers] quote pundits like Rush Limbaugh or conservative think tanks [not scientists] like the Heartland Institute [quoted by guess who in the column] (which also advocates that secondhand smoke doesn't affect your health). 
They look at short-term data. They conveniently forget that there is a new shipping lane opening up through the North Pole because the polar ice cap is smaller than it ever has been.
 Lewis writes several laughers in the column, but here's one of my favorites:
The global-warming hysteria is based on computer models, not empirical data, because the records simply don't go back far enough.
Two winters is enough to convince the deep-thinking Lewis that global warming doesn't exist, but millions of years of geologic data isn't enough for him!

Here's the U.K.'s Gelogical Society, however, on the evidence of periods of global warming in the earth's history (and it goes back further than the terrible winter of '09):
The last century has seen a rapidly growing global population and much more intensive use of resources, leading to greatly increased emissions of gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane, from the burning of fossil fuels (oil, gas and coal), and from agriculture, cement production and deforestation. Evidence from the geological record is consistent with the physics that shows that adding large amounts of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere warms the world and may lead to: higher sea levels and flooding of low-lying coasts; greatly changed patterns of rainfall2; increased acidity of the oceans 3,4,5,6; and decreased oxygen levels in seawater7,8,9
There is now widespread concern that the Earth’s climate will warm further, not only because of the lingering effects of the added carbon already in the system, but also because of further additions as human population continues to grow. Life on Earth has survived large climate changes in the past, but extinctions and major redistribution of species have been associated with many of them. When the human population was small and nomadic, a rise in sea level of a few metres would have had very little effect on Homo sapiens. With the current and growing global population, much of which is concentrated in coastal cities, such a rise in sea level would have a drastic effect on our complex society, especially if the climate were to change as suddenly as it has at times in the past. Equally, it seems likely that as warming continues some areas may experience less precipitation leading to drought. With both rising seas and increasing drought, pressure for human migration could result on a large scale.
Here's how the Society knows this:
Evidence for climate change is preserved in a wide range of geological settings, including marine and lake sediments, ice sheets, fossil corals, stalagmites and fossil tree rings. Advances in field observation, laboratory techniques and numerical modelling allow geoscientists to show, with increasing confidence, how and why climate has changed in the past. For example, cores drilled through the ice sheets yield a record of polar temperatures and atmospheric composition ranging back to 120,000 years in Greenland and 800,000 years in Antarctica. Oceanic sediments preserve a record reaching back tens of millions of years, and older sedimentary rocks extend the record to hundreds of millions of years. This vital baseline of knowledge about the past provides the context for estimating likely changes in the future.
 But it's not in the Farmer's Almanac, so Jason probably missed it.

The answer my friend is blowing in the wind II

Now, in addition to not eating lettuce or pretty much anything else from Fukushima Prefecture, you shouldn't drink the water that comes out of the tap in Tokyo. Actually only infants shouldn't do that. Adults? Apparently it's perfectly fine.

And in other news:
Meanwhile, officials evacuated some workers at the Fukushima plant Wednesday afternoon as a black plume of smoke billowed above one of the reactors, plant owner Tokyo Electric Power Co. said. The cause of the smoke was unclear. 
Workers have been scrambling to cool down fuel rods at the nuclear plant since a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and massive tsunami on March 11 knocked out cooling systems.
 Some radiation has been released, officials said, but it was unclear whether radiation levels spiked after the black smoke was spotted Wednesday. Japan's nuclear agency said radiation levels near the plant had not changed, public broadcaster NHK reported.
 Just like Old Faithful, eh?

Here's more from the Strib, including this quote:
"It is really scary. It is like a vicious negative spiral from the nuclear disaster," said Etsuko Nomura, a mother of two children ages 2 and 5. "We have contaminated milk and vegetables, and now tap water in Tokyo, and I'm wondering what's next."

Star Tribune we are; mistakes make we don't

One thing about the real Pravda was that nothing was too small to lie about, especially state mistakes and secrets. This morning the Strib has an innocuous story about medicaid, built on a report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal Washington think tank. But the story calls the think tank the "Center on Budget and Policy Research," which doesn't exist. I posted a comment correcting the error, but don't you know it was censored.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The answer my friend is blowing in the wind

I posed the question earlier today: Where is all the water going? In reference to the seawater that is being poured on the damaged nuclear rectors and "spent" fuel pools at Fukushima? I said it had to be turning into ground water or water vapor/steam. Either way, it's radioactive from washing over the contaminated plant.

CNN had a story today that farm products in the area had "tested high" for radiation:
Tokyo (CNN) -- Japan's Health Ministry reported Tuesday finding radioactive materials at levels "drastically exceeding legal limits" in 11 types of vegetable grown in Fukushima Prefecture, including broccoli and cabbage, according to Kyodo News Agency.
It's preferable to a melt down, of course, but the sea water cooling technique is hardly free of contamination risk. Apparently, the steam created by the hot reactors and pools is evaporating, sending the radioactive vapor over farmland in the vicinity, and it's being precipitated out by rain or the weight of the particles.

No one is saying when this all may end. The U.S. government seems to think it may be later rather than sooner. Again, from the CNN article:
Meanwhile, the process of getting Americans out of the stricken region continued Tuesday. Seven charter flights left Japan Tuesday carrying about 1,800 military dependents voluntarily evacuating from Atsugi Naval Air Facility, Yokoda Air Base and Mesawa Air Base. Some of the flights were bound for Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and the rest to Travis Air Force Base in California. 
As the Navy continues to distribute potassium iodide to personnel, the service is instructing sailors who have come within 100 miles of the damaged reactor to take the pills, said Cmdr. Danny Hernandez.
 That recommendation clashes with one issued Monday by the State Department, which said it was making available supplies of the pills to U.S. government-related personnel in Japan, but that the distribution was being carried out only as a precaution. "No one should take KI at this time," it said, referring to the salt by its chemical formula.
 If you are a small farmer in the area, and the half life of the dirt on your farm is much greater than your own projected lifespan, well, that isn't a promising development, is it?

Where is all the water going?

The news is full of how seawater is being sprayed on the stricken reactors and cooling pools of "spent" fuel at the Fukushina plant in Japan. Here's a CNN story about it today. A couple of grafs from the story:
The tsunami that followed the 9.0-magnitude earthquake March 11 damaged electrical components and coolant pumps in units No. 1 and 2. Those are two of the three units now believed to have suffered damage to their reactor cores, Muto said. 
Reactor No. 2 suffered more damage than No. 1, and the earliest those parts can be replaced is Wednesday, Muto said. The cause of the damage was unclear, but seawater was pumped in previously to cool the reactors as an emergency measure after the earthquake. 
Reactors No. 3 and 4 were still being evaluated to determine which parts need repair or replacement, he said, adding that restoring lighting and air conditioning was a priority so crews can work from inside and gather further data.
Water was sprayed on the damaged housing of reactor No. 3 for about 50 minutes on Tuesday, and seawater was still being injected into the reactor core, Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said. Workers plan to spray over reactor No. 4 for three hours on Tuesday as well.
The question arises: if they continue to pump water on the reactors and the cooling ponds, where is it going? I think there are two choices, and two choices only: radioactive steam, or radioactive groundwater.

Monday, March 21, 2011

TPaw's "Exploratory Committee"

Tim Pawlenty is announcing today the formation of a committee to examine his chances of becoming President of the United States.

I can't remember where I got the picture; I've been saving it for a long time.

The announcement it taking place on Facebook, perhaps because TPaw is afraid that no one would show up in person if he called a press conference.

"The editorial told only half of the story, and got that part wrong"

Today in the Star Tribune lawyer Marshall Tanick has some harsh words for an an editorial that ran last week titled "A hitch in the Teacher Tenure Act," that argued against a specific feature of teacher tenure. As Tanick points out, the editorial writer obviously doesn't understand the tenure law or this particular case:
The editorial told only half of the story, and got that part wrong. As the attorney for the prevailing principal, I feel obliged to correct those mistaken impressions...

...The court ruled against the superintendent because she consciously and deliberately bypassed the notice and hearing requirement for no apparent reason, stripping Murphy of significant job responsibilities that she carried out well for many years...

The editorial opined, as did the school district in the lawsuit, that the reassignment was a mere trifle because Murphy retained her same salary....[but] The law currently defines a "demotion," which triggers a right for a notice and hearing, to consist of a "reduction in rank," defined as a diminution of duties or a decrease in compensation. Both occurred in this particular case.

The principal's duties were changed from overseeing a facility and its staff to more menial duties, including lunchroom supervision. The offense in this case was not merely a matter of modifying a "title," as the editorial suggested, but a major reduction of the educator's role that could affect her if seeking a job elsewhere as well as promotional opportunities internally.
It's Pravda on Portland Avenue all over again. Even by today's low standards the Strib editorial page's utter disregard for honesty is startling.

Meeting Sticks' criteria

Sticks makes it official:

This can mean only one thing, boys and girls: Sticks has a house in a flood plain.

And like the embattled rebels in Benghazi, or the people trapped in their homes after the earthquakes in Haiti and Japan, Sticks put out his call for help on Twitter.

Well, either that, or Twitter is the only place that will publish Captain Fishsticks regularly.

Take your pick.

Spot really thinks it's the former; the only time Sticks shows any human empathy is when he's the human to be empathized with. Still, for the Brawny Paper Towel of Self Absorption, it's something.

But other than sandbagging Sticks' house, what else might meet his "criteria?"

Maybe what Captain Fishsticks is after is something that helps a lot of people; there are other people in the flood plain, too. Let's see, public education? Nope? Health care? No again.

Perhaps it only meets his criteria if it lasts just a short time, like unemployment. Unlikely, don't you think, boys and girls?

Well, it's a puzzle, isn't it? The answer is undoubtedly locked away in Sticks' imagination, but Spot bets the key is held by dead Austrian gasbags.

Update: The post, and the comment from the Captain, inspired Avidor's imagination and the sketch above.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

GOP Seeks Elimination of School Desegregation Rules

In a breathtaking move, Minnesota Republicans have proposed to repeal regulations that enshrine racial integration as a goal of the Minnesota public school system.

Monday morning, GOP State Rep. Pat Garofalo (R - Farmington) will hold hearings on the omnibus education finance bill. It's chock full of veto bait, including a ban on teacher's strikes, 70% reductions in school integration funding, and a private school voucher program for students in Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth. But perhaps the most outrageous provisions are buried in a repealer:
(b) Minnesota Statutes 2010, section 124D.86, subdivisions 1, 1a, 2, 4, 5, and 6; and Minnesota Rules, parts 3535.0100; 3535.0110; 3535.0120; 3535.0130; 3535.0140; 3535.0150; 3535.0160; 3535.0170; and 3535.0180, are repealed.
It's well-known that Republicans would target school integration aid, which is the subject of Section 124D.86. But the repeal of the regulations under part 3535 would literally remove "Minnesota's commitment to the importance of integration in its public schools" from Minnesota regulations. Additionally, it would eliminate regulations requiring collection of data about segregation and requiring action to integrate racially segregated schools.

Words fail me. Rep. Garofalo's committee meets at 9:00 AM in State Office Building Room 5.

Follow me on Twitter @aaronklemz

Nothing can go wrong . . . go wrong . . . go wrong II

One of the points of Who's insuring this? and Nothing can go wrong . . . go wrong . . . go wrong is that there are many reasons why a nuclear plant can lose cooling water to its reactors -- an earthquake is only one of them. And there are causes we haven't even thought of yet. Here's what Stephanie Cooke, editor of the Nuclear Intelligence Weekly, and author of A Cautionary History of the Nuclear Age, said about that in an op-ed on CNN's webpage:
As frightening as Japan's unfolding nuclear crisis is, worrying about the possibility of an earthquake-related nuclear disaster in the United States should not be our only concern. 
The next nuclear disaster [that was written with a chilling certainty, wasn't it?] is more likely to be the result of something far more common -- human error, a technical malfunction, a large-scale power outage -- or some combination of all three. 
The possible event sequences leading to a large-scale nuclear accident are so numerous they are almost unquantifiable. It is impossible to design against every eventuality.
In a Reuters article linked in the first Nothing can wrong post, the operators of the Diablo Canyon reactors (near the San Andreas fault) assure us that the plant was designed to withstand stronger earthquakes than the fault "is capable" of generating. Hubris has killed a lot more people than earthquakes and tsunamis combined.

Recall it wasn't the earthquake that's really done in the reactors in Japan; it was the lack of electricity and cooling water. From the same Reuters article:
Such a quake could be expected to topple 1,500 buildings, badly damage another 300,000 and sever highways, power lines, pipelines, railroads, communications networks and aqueducts. Property losses of more than $200 billion are projected. 
The hypothetical quake also would ignite about 1,600 fires, some growing into conflagrations that would engulf hundreds of city blocks.
Experts predict the biggest long-term economic disruption would come fromdamage to water-distribution systems that would leave some homes and businesses without running water for months. [emphasis added]
 Well, okay, plant operators aren't perfect, but that's why we have the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, right? Here's a little more from the same op-ed:
In the United States, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission recently released its 2010 report card for the country's 104 operating reactors. 
Six of them scored C. In two of those, H.B. Robinson in South Carolina and Wolf Creek in Kansas, the agency said there were too many unplanned shutdowns. Fires and turbine problems were listed as the cause in the case of the Robinson plant and a number of other technical malfunctions in the case of Wolf Creek. 
While that may seem encouraging given there were only six with the lowest rating, the NRC's own effectiveness is under the spotlight in the wake of events in Japan. 
The agency gets mixed reviews in a report released this week by the Union of Concerned Scientists. The report examines 14 "near-misses" at U.S. nuclear plants during 2010 that exposed "a variety of shortcomings, such as inadequate training, faulty maintenance, poor design, and failure to investigate problems thoroughly." The UCS said that "since NRC inspections cannot reveal more than a fraction of the problems that exist, it is crucial for the agency to respond effectively to the problems it does find."
 Fourteen near misses in a single year? I invite you to read Ms. Cooke's article in its entirety and read about some of the hair-raising adventure stories of nuclear plant mishaps around the country.

Here's the lede from a Reuters article about the Union of Concerned Scientists' report that Ms. Cooke refers to:
Spotty inspections of the U.S. nuclear power industry allow plants to continue to operate even when there are known problems in their safety systems, a report by a group of U.S. scientists found.
 I leave you with Avidor's sketch of a possible post-nuclear future along the Mississippi River:

Friday, March 18, 2011

Pravda on Portland Avenue

Over the past week or two there have been three op-eds in the Star Tribune bashing teachers. Here's some of what they said:

Vallay Varro, head of MinnCAN:
Decades of research have confirmed that teachers matter more to student success than anything else.
David C. Olson, president of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce:
The quality of teachers, second to parents, is the top predictor of student success.  
Peter Hutchinson, president of the Bush Foundation:
When it comes to increasing the learning of all students and closing achievement gaps, nothing in school matters more than the effectiveness of teachers.
One thing worse than the writing on the Strib op-ed page by education deformers is the sheer repetition of the attack. Oh yeah, and the lack of facts. We get it already, Scott Gillespie and Doug Tice - you think teachers suck. You can tell all the lies you want about teachers - without once giving the podium to someone who either knows what they are talking about or actually cares about education, not class-war against unionized teachers.  But can you at least occasionally come up with some new lies?

* * * * * * 
For the record: The number one predictor of student achievement is family income, not the "quality" of parents - whatever that means. Even within schools the teacher is NOT the most important factor in achievement. At most teacher influence is equal to the quality of the school itself. Of course those numbers are from peer-reviewed social science research, not pulled out of the ass of some plutocrat, so you'll never read about them in the Strib.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A Saint Patrick's Day Drinking Liberally

We meet this evening at the 331 Club in northeast Minneapolis, 331 13th Ave N.E., that's one block north of Broadway Avenue on University Avenue N.E. We start at six, and stop when the last one of us goes home.

The music tonight, by the way, will be The Dusty Porch Sisters and they'll have some Irish music.

Today in Obama-land: Worse than Bush? edition

How any liberal can still support President Obama is beyond me, and beyond a lot of other people, too:

1) Truth Is Not an Option: The Manning/Crowley Affair.  The president now "owns" the torture of Bradley Manning. Paul Rosenberg writes at about the creeping authoritarianism of the president:
The big picture take-away here is that authoritarianism has gained such a pervasive foothold among the American ruling class that it is no longer even possible for a substantively non-authoritarian political position, actor, organization or movement to be recognized as such. Non- (or even anti-)authoritarian spoofs, set-pieces and fantasies by authoritarian actors of one stripe or another have completely taken over the roles of their authentically anti-authoritarian counterparts, and this is every bit as true of Obama as it is of the Tea Party, however much they may differ from one another in any number of other ways.
2) Is Obama even worse than Bush? David Swanson weighs in at
So why not impeach Obama?  I clamored for the impeachment of Bush.  I say Obama is as bad or worse.  Why am I such a corrupt hypocrite that I haven’t built a movement to impeach Obama?  Well, I’ll tell you, as I’ve told people more times than I can count.  Obama should be impeached and convicted and removed from office.  Obama should be prosecuted for his crimes.  So should his subordinates.  So should his predecessor, his subordinates, and all corporate co-conspirators.  The reason I can’t get 20 people into the streets to demand Obama’s impeachment (and if I did, they’d want him impeached for being born in Africa to aliens from Planet Socialism) is that nobody in Congress is even pretending to give a damn.  We were able to produce a sizeable movement for impeachment when Bush was in office, because a lot of Democrats in Congress, especially in 2005 and 2006, pretended they were on our side.
3)  In Jerusalem, from the Who Is IOZ? blog:
If his psychopathic commitment to killing people hadn't already convinced you that Barack Obama shared this particular quality of being a vacant, blood-driven monster whose outward appearance as one of our own kind is no more than an act of ingenious fakery, then you may wish to consider his response to the torture of Bradley Manning, which he treats with the blithe indifference of a busy manager signing off on some subordinate's expense report. Yeah, he assured me everything was copasetic. It's all good...
...What this episode reveals is that the most salient aspect of Barack Obama's character is that he is an asshole of the worst order. He does not delight in cruelty like his predecessor, but is grossly indifferent to it. The Ts have all been crossed. Proper procedures followed? Yes. Fine. Let's move on. I have been assured.
 4) Myles Spicer: I can believe in Obama no more. From the StarTribune op-ed page:
Like the proverbial straw that finally breaks the camel's back, the time has come to end my admiration for Barack Obama...It really started with the health care bill. In many respects the conservatives are right; it is not a particularly good law, and it was cobbled together in an atmosphere of compromise. What was needed was at least the public option, or, even better, a single payer plan. And to even get close to those two elements, we relied on Obama to lead. He sat on the sidelines, coached and commented -- but his actions to excite the public (and support his hard-fighting legislators) were nonexistent.

I had hopes he would get us out of Afghanistan quickly. This war is a travesty. It is depleting us of blood and treasure. It is a mockery of homeland security. It has virtually no redeeming national value, and now even the majority of Americans want us out. That appears to matter not to Obama, who is just another president under the influence of his generals...
5) White House calls on Congress to make ‘illegal streaming’ a felony. From
A white paper recently published by the White House's Office of the U.S. Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator urged Congress to make "illegal streaming" of content a felony and allow law enforcement to wiretap those suspected of being involved in copyright infringement.

...The white paper also recommended that Congress give law enforcement authorities the power to wiretap those suspected of being involved in criminal copyright and trademark offenses.
6) Not to toot my own horn (too much), but you might also check out my Bonfire of the liberals from last November.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Linda Runbeck: Grifter Princess

There was a hearing on LGA (local government aid) in a House committee that Aaron posted about earlier. Mostly, the hearing seemed about cutting LGA to Minneapolis and St. Paul, and Duluth, too.

The chair of the committee, the ideologue Linda Runbeck (R - Circle Pines) said these cuts were necessary because of a "dependency" on state aid that needed to be fixed. Cut the junkies off!

Just a wild guess here, but I'll bet there are a lot more van pools of people coming from Circle Pines to Minneapolis to work than the converse. It isn't a wild guess, actually; you know it's true, boys and girls. People earning money in Minneapolis or St. Paul, enabling them to buy houses in Circle Pines and pay property taxes there.

(There is a dependency, all right, but it runs the other way. Cites -- in Minnesota and elsewhere -- are the economic engines of their states. Heck, the Twin Cities are the economic engine of western Wisconsin, too.)

The cops, paramedics, and the firefighters will all show up to assist these out of towners if they get into trouble. They drive city streets and use the city like any resident while they are there. But really, they're kind of grifters.

That is just part of what LGA is about.

Last Thursday at Drinking Liberally, Mayors Coleman and Rybak both made a good case for LGA, not only for their cities, but for cities around the state. I wish I had a video tape to show their remarks to you.

In the course of the evening, Mayor Coleman said one thing that many of us found flat-out amazing.

The state does not pay anything to the City of St. Paul for police or fire protection for state-owned buildings. Now, there are usually a couple of state patrol officers lounging around the Capitol, and Tony Up against the wall, Little Billy Cornish is there packing heat, but if there is a real law enforcement problem, it's the St. Paul cops that have to respond.

Same thing with fire calls. And if Dave Senjem keels over on the Senate floor, it won't be paramedics from Rochester who haul him off.

You would think, wouldn't you, that at least state legislators -- sitting in St. Paul -- would understand the symbiotic relationship we all have with our large cities?

But not, apparently, if you're the Grifter Princess.

Nothing can go wrong . . . go wrong . . . go wrong

Earthquakes are in the news, of course, and some attention is being paid to the San Andreas fault and the overdue Big One. The linked Reuters article provides a terrific example of why just listening to nuclear experts on the safety of nuclear power is a really bad idea.

Here's the operators of nuclear electric generating facilities near the fault:

The quake scenario for the southern San Andreas does not foresee damage to the nearest of the state's two nuclear power plants, the Southern California Edison-owned San Onofre station between Los Angeles and San Diego. 
Both Edison and Pacific Gas & Electric, owner of the Diablo Canyon plant to the north at San Luis Obispo, say their facilities are built to withstand quakes far greater than nearby faults are capable of producing. 
And unlike Japan, California faces little if any risk of tsunamis from its own quakes.
This is really reassuring news, isn't it boys and girls?

Well, it is until you recall that it wasn't the earthquake or the tsunami that did the reactors in. It's the lack of electric power (go figure) and lack of water to cool the shut down reactors.

What are the things most likely to be affected by an earthquake? You can probably guess. Here are the projected effects from the Big One:
Such a quake could be expected to topple 1,500 buildings, badly damage another 300,000 and sever highways, power lines, pipelines, railroads, communications networks and aqueducts. Property losses of more than $200 billion are projected. 
The hypothetical quake also would ignite about 1,600 fires, some growing into conflagrations that would engulf hundreds of city blocks.
Experts predict the biggest long-term economic disruption would come from damage to water-distribution systems that would leave some homes and businesses without running water for months. [emphasis added, but probably not needed]

It's a forest and trees kind of a thing that engineers are famous for.

Photo from the Guardian, or the blogs at Forbes, or somewhere

Screw the Cities

The new GOP strategy on Local Government Aid (LGA) was revealed in this morning's House Property Tax committee, and it is to annihilate the cities of Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth while preserving most aid to greater Minnesota cities.

If adopted, the House GOP plan would cut nearly $75 million in LGA for FY2011, all of the cuts coming from Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Duluth. In FY 2012 there would be total cuts of $177 million, of which $111 million would be from Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth. In addition, there would substantial cuts in programs affecting all cities, including changes to the Market Value Homestead Credit and disparity reduction aid.

The result of these cuts would be steep property tax increases across the state as the FY 2012 cuts take place, but astronomical increases in property taxes in Minnesota's largest cities.

A House Research Simulation Report (Simulation #11C4) on property tax increases resulting from the proposed cuts indicates that to make up half of the proposed cuts, cities statewide would have increase property taxes by 4.9%. To replace all of the lost revenue, the increase would be closer to 10%.

But the cities of Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Duluth would be crushed by the increased levies. Replacing the lost LGA in Duluth in 2011 would require a nearly 30% increase in residential homestead property taxes. In St. Paul, there would be an over 20% increase in residential homestead property taxes. In Minneapolis, there would be an 16% increase. And it only gets worse in 2012, with an additional $42 million cut before FY2012.

To give you some context about the size of a cut required by this legislation, according to Mayor Chris Coleman, St. Paul could eliminate the libraries, recreation department, and the city attorney's office and still not balance the budget.

At this morning's hearing, Rep. Tim Mahoney (DFL - St. Paul) was incredulous, asking for some rationale for the cuts. Chair Linda Runbeck (R - Circle Pines) stated that there was a "dependency" on state aid that needed to be fixed.

But the hand of the GOP on LGA has now been revealed, to punish the cities that are the economic engines of our state.

Follow me on Twitter @aaronklemz

"They've lost control"

From the U.K.'s MailOnline:

Fears of 'an apocalypse' were raised by European officials as radiation levels soared. In another attack, French Industry Minister Eric Besson said: 'Let's not beat about the bush. They have visibly lost the essential of control (of the situation). That is our analysis, in any case, it's not what they are saying.' 
In a sign of mounting panic, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano has already warned that the long-range cooling efforts may not work.
As if four stricken reactors wasn't enough, the same article reports that the two reactors that have been, um, cooling their heels, are beginning to heat up, too. Apparently, they'll be given the sea water treatment too. The whole complex is being written off. As it should be.

Two of the reactors' containment vessels have already ruptured, according to the New York Times.

And in spite of assurances that it's no problemo by administration officials in the US, there is concern that radiation will start showing up on the West Coast of the US soon.

If radiation particles can travel the ocean breezes (which they obviously can), couldn't they travel on the prevailing wind from, say, Monticello to the Twin Cities? The Monticello nuclear plant bears a strong family resemblance to the Fukushima plant, and lo and behold, it is considered as one to keep your eye on:
Location: Monticello, MN (30 miles northwest of Minneapolis, MN) Reactors: 1 Electrical Output (megawatts): 579 Year Operating License Issued: 1981 Population within 50 Miles: 2,977,003 Relative Safety Rating: bottom third Risk of Natural Disasters:
Likelihood of Earthquake (scale 0-6): 0 Expected Number of Hurricanes in Next Century: 0 Miles to Potentially Active Volcano: not a factor Significant Tornadoes (1921-1995): 10 to 2
 It bears repeating: it wasn't the earthquake that directly caused the failures here; it was the lack of pumping capacity of cooling water. That's pretty much the standard way that nuclear plants get into trouble. Pumps can fail for lots and lots of reasons; as I said yesterday, including reasons we haven't even thought of yet.

A thump of the tail to Nick Coleman for a tweet about the linked Politico article about Monticello.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Why Amy, you're positively glowing!

In a flash of original micro-journalistic reporting - for which she is so justly famous - Mary Lahammer tweets yesterday:

Why yes, Senator Koch, Japan is in the Eastern Hemisphere; we're in the Western Hemisphere. That fact alone makes it completely different. When it's day here, it's night there! The inapplicability of Japan's nuclear troubles to reactors here could hardly be more obvious! They're the difference between night and day.

We will give the state senator and leader of the Senate - our own Mrs. Malaprop - the benefit of the doubt and believe that she meant "geologically." As if that really made much difference.

People who have been following the expanding nuclear catastrophe in Japan know the problem with the reactors is not the earthquake per se. It's the fact that backup pumps to circulate water to cool the reactors after they shut down have failed. Let me ask you a few questions.
Have your ever had a power failure at home?  
Does your snow blower or lawn mower start up the first time, every time? 
Have you ever had a flashlight, cell phone, or radio quit operating because the batteries went dead?
 Although these are mundane examples, they are exactly the kind of issues that the engineers in Japan are dealing with now. Only they don't have the luxury of waiting for the power to come back on, taking the mower or the blower to the hardware store, or sending out for fresh batteries.

They are, in other words, screwed.

Last Thursday, could these same engineers have conceived of a scenario from which they could not recover? Of course not. This is, of course, the Black Swan, and I don't mean Natalie Portman:

The [Black Swan] theory was developed by Nassim Nicholas Taleb to explain:
  1. The disproportionate role of high-impact, hard to predict, and rare events that are beyond the realm of normal expectations in history, science, finance and technology
  2. The non-computability of the probability of the consequential rare events using scientific methods (owing to the very nature of small probabilities)
  3. The psychological biases that make people individually and collectively blind to uncertainty and unaware of the massive role of the rare event in historical affairs
Who does #3, especially, remind you of?

Parenthetically (and pathetically, too!), some of you may remember that King Banaian tried to pin the I-35W bridge failure on the Black Swan. That was a frame up, of course, in view of the mounting evidence of the weakness of the bridge available to the MnDOT before the collapse.

(Gee, I wonder how now Rep. Banaian voted on the nuclear power moratorium? I guess I missed his stirring speech about the Black Swan on the floor of the House.)

But nuclear accidents do fit well within the Black Swan modality. Small - vanishingly small - probability of occurrence, but so catastrophic when they do that the only way to avoid the risk is not engage in the behavior at all. Note, too, that vanishingly small doesn't mean almost never; the current reactor meltdowns in Japan (because that is what is happening) is the third nuclear event world wide in thirty years. And only one out of three had anything to do with "geography."

There are so many ways that a commercial-sized nuclear reactor can go wrong that we literally have not thought of yet. It is titanic hubris to believe otherwise. It would also be titanically foolish to accept the blandishments of a word mangler like Amy Koch for the safety of nuclear power.