Saturday, April 30, 2011

Feel free to shoot first III

Rodney, get your gun!

In Rodney's case, the gun was a .44 Magnum with a laser sight that killed a sixteen-year-old Japanese exchange student on the front lawn, but we'll get to that later.

But let's start out with the claim by Rep Tony "Up against the wall, little Billy!" Cornish, described in the last post in this series, that Minnesota law needs to be amended to protect people who defend themselves from home invasions. As pointed out in that post, Tony's bill -- which was actually written by the NRA -- goes a lot farther than addressing home invasions. As I said, home invasions are a dead red herring. But since Cornish brought it up, let's discuss home invasions.

As others have pointed out, Minnesota law already addresses home invasions, Minnesota law includes a specific provision adopting what is sometimes called the "castle doctrine." Minn. Stat. sec. 609.065, first adopted in 1963 (which was a continuation of prior law on the subject), as it currently exists, states:
The intentional taking of the life of another is not authorized by section 609.06 [the "general" use of force law], except when necessary in resisting or preventing an offense which the actor reasonably believes exposes the actor or another to great bodily harm or death, or preventing the commission of a felony in the actor's place of abode.
 Ah, they don't write 'em like they used to. It places the issue of a killing to prevent the commission of a felony (violent or not) in an actor's "place of abode" elegantly within the law of justifiable homicide. Under the 1963 statute, a defense based on Minn. Stat. sec. 609.065, like other claims of justifiable homicide, is the defendant's burden to bring forward evidence of the defense.

In the case entitled State v. Carothers, 594 N.W.2d 897 (Sup. Ct. 1999), the Minnesota Supreme Court held, citing a string of earlier cases, that there is no duty to retreat before defending yourself in your own home; I am not aware of any retreat (so to speak) from that holding.

In State v. Pendelton, 567 N.W.2d 265 (Sup. Ct. 1997), the Minnesota Supreme Court said that you could resist the commission of a felony in your dwelling with deadly force, whether it was a violent felony or not:
Based on the language of the statute itself, it is clear that one does not have to fear great bodily harm or death to justify the use of deadly force to defend against the commission of a felony in one's home. The language of the statute requiring fear of great bodily harm or death is contained in the clause relating to self defense. In contrast, the "defense of dwelling" clause simply states that deadly force is justified in "preventing the commission of a felony in the actor's place of abode." Minn.Stat. § 609.065.
We can see that Cornish's claim that the bill is necessary to protect the rape victim he described in this video and described in the earlier post in this series is just wrong.

Well, crikey, you say, what's the big deal then? Well, a couple of things, and Rodney will help us understand them.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Feel free to shoot first II

Update: Be sure to read the comment thread.

Tony Cornish's Shoot First bill got a hearing yesterday, and as expected, it passed out of his committee. Here is a photo of a proponent of the bill taken by a Strib photographer at the hearing:

This is proof that a guy can masturbate with his clothes on. (I mean, really, does this guy look like he can actually reach around his back and get his gun, anyway?)

Much of the commentary surrounding this NRA-sponsored bill is about the poster child for legislation like this: home invasions. In an interview given prior to the hearing, and while sitting in his Capitol office among his collection of dead animals, Cornish himself used the home invasion as the justification for the bill. Here's the WCCO interview.

Cornish cites the case of a woman in St. Paul who called the police about an intruder, but was raped before the police arrived. "Can't rape a .38," Tony Cornish says.

But it's a dead red herring. The so-called Castle Doctrine already exists in Minnesota. One of the things this NRA beauty does, though, is permit you to take the Castle Doctrine on the road, and not merely in your car, either. Here are the circumstances in the Cornish bill when deadly force is authorized:
    Subd. 2. Circumstances when authorized. (a) The use of deadly force by an individual is justified under this section when the act is undertaken: (1) to resist or prevent the commission of a felony in the individual's dwelling; (2) to resist or prevent what the individual reasonably believes is an offense or attempted offense that imminently exposes the individual or another person to substantial bodily harm, great bodily harm, or death; or (3) to resist or prevent what the individual reasonably believes is the commission or imminent commission of a forcible felony. 
(b) The use of deadly force is not authorized under this section if the individual knows that the person against whom force is being used is a licensed peace officer from this state, another state, the United States, or any subordinate jurisdiction of the United States, who is acting lawfully.
 Note that condition (1) is tied to an individual's dwelling; the other two conditions are not. Condition (1) is the Castle Doctrine; conditions (2) and (3) permit you to take the doctrine on the road. We'll come back to home invasions later. But let's take Shoot First out for a spin first.

What makes conditions (2) and (3) especially dangerous is the next section of the bill:
    Subd. 3. Degree of force; retreat. An individual taking defensive action pursuant to subdivision 2 [that's the one quoted above] may use all force and means, including deadly force, that the individual honestly and in good faith believes is required to succeed in defense. The individual may meet force with superior force when the individual's objective is defensive; the individual is not required to retreat; and the individual may continue defensive actions against an assailant until the danger is eliminated.
This is the part of the bill closest to the heart of the NRA; that's why gun enthusiasts call the bill "stand your ground." But it's not only your ground; it's somebody else's ground, too. Whether they asked you or not. Plainly, this is a call to vigilantism. Consider:

You are standing on line at the bank. In the line next to you, a person says to the teller, "Fill this with $100 bills; I've got a gun." The guy (because it almost certainly will be a guy) behind you yells, "Freeze suckah!" and pulls a gun. The robber wheels, but the hero behind you gets off a premature shot before the robber pumps a couple of rounds into the would-be vigilante's chest.

Unfortunately, our hero's round severs your spine, perhaps high enough that you can't even breathe on your own for the rest of your tortured life. Our hero is dead, so he's beyond caring, but you've got legal recourse against the hero's estate, to help you pay for electricity for your respirator, don't you?

Or consider this:

Your neighbor sees somebody breaking into your house, a really scary guy. Rather than call the cops -- Rep. Cornish mocks a call to the police in the video linked above -- or even calling you, your neighbor squeezes off a round at the burglar. But your neighbor isn't much of a shot, and he drinks a little to boot; his shot goes wide and kills your child as she sleeps. Certainly, you can recover something against your neighbor for her wrongful death, right?

And finally, here's one more:

Two guys are in a bar and get into an argument. They aren't supposed to have guns in a bar, but never mind, they do. Neither will back down (retreat), and the argument escalates when one of them starts to pull his gun. The second man is quicker, though, and reasonably fearing for his life, pulls his gun and shoots the first guy. The bullet passes through him and kills you. Your family can certainly sue to help pay the bills after you're gone, right?

The answer to all three questions is found in another section of the act:
   Subd. 5. Criminal investigation; immunity from prosecution. (a) An individual who uses force, including deadly force, according to this section or as otherwise provided by law in defense of the individual, the individual's dwelling, or another individual is justified in using such force and is immune from any civil liability [emphasis is mine] or criminal prosecution for that act. 
(b) A law enforcement agency may arrest an individual using force under circumstances described in this section only after considering any claims or circumstances supporting self-defense or lawful defense of another individual.
Aw, you say, that can't be right; there can't be immunity from civil liability in the scenarios you mention. But there is. Regardless of how stupid, drunken, or illegal the carrying of the gun, the bill on its face immunizes the act as long as the shooter "reasonably" believes the act is defensive of him or someone else.

Update: The reasonableness is applied to the belief, not the response.

I'll write more about home invasions in a later post.

The first post in this series is here.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Soapbox Night at Drinking Liberally

It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World

It's as if the Tenthers, the shooters, the church ladies, the gamblers, the stadium confidence men, and every other two-bit grifter in Minnesota descended on the Capitol this week. You know what that means, don't you?

It's Soapbox Night at Drinking Liberally. Bring along something you want to vent about -- or praise; you can do that, too -- and I'll record some of the remarks for publication here as a podcast.

That's tonight, Thursday, April 28th, from six to nine PM at the 331 Club in northeast Minneapolis.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The best defense is a good offense

I am so tired of playing defense on marriage equality. Raise your hand if you're with me on that.

So let's stop playing defense, and propose a competing constitutional amendment that would guarantee civil marriage rights to all couples regardless of gender.

One of the most demoralizing aspects of debates around "Marriage Protection Amendments" is that there's nobody out there articulating the value of marriage equality, just defending a broken status quo. Consider the landscape in Minnesota today. We have a DOMA statute. Unlike many states, the Minnesota Supreme Court has a 1972 precedent upholding the constitutionality of laws limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples. Despite that, author Warren Limmer knows there's a need to act now:
Same-sex marriage already is banned under decades-old Minnesota law upheld by the state Supreme Court, so the amendment, if passed, would have no practical effect on anyone.
But Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, said nothing would be as iron-clad as defining marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman in the Minnesota Constitution. Without it, there's still a risk, he said, of "allowing a number of politicians or, heaven forbid, activist judges to decide what marriage should be.
It's pretty hard to get fired up to fight against a constitutional amendment, when a "win" leaves discrimination enshrined in law and upheld as constitutional by the state Supreme Court.

But here's the line that opens the door, should we choose to walk through it:

"Let the people decide."

Indeed, let's make this a real choice, and put both constitutional marriage discrimination and constitutional marriage equality alongside each other on the ballot.

Every plebiscite on the question of marriage equality is framed as a choice between "activist judges" imposing gay marriage on the populace or the populace voting. Until that changes, referenda will always be tools to deny marriage equality. Every year, opinion is shifting away from discrimination toward equality. Imagine the passion, energy, and resources that people would devote to a campaign to make Minnesota the first state that enshrines marriage equality as a state constitutional right. The framing of equality vs. discrimination would be a powerful contrast. "No on both" would still be a tenable position for some voters, and should actually help defeat Limmer's amendment.

Besides, we will not defeat this attempt to enshrine discrimination in the constitution by hemming and hawing about how it's "not necessary because we already have a law (Yay!)," "a distraction from real issues," "shouldn't be a constitutional issue," etc. These are fine arguments in the legislative budget debate, I guess, but are weak arguments in an election campaign.

Proposing a marriage equality amendment would put the Republicans in an untenable position. Their "let the people decide" tagline will ring hollow should they deny it a place on the ballot, and it will gut their argument that this is a choice between the people's voice and activist judges. Republicans would probably be happy to put it on the ballot, figuring that a real potential for same-sex marriage would galvanize their base. But that sword has two edges.

The strategy of waiting for a court case is a losing strategy. It will be public opinion that will bring durable marriage equality, not constitutional law. 2012 is the time to stop playing defense. It was popular opinion that finally dragged Congress kicking and screaming to end Don't Ask Don't Tell. We can win, and we should "let the people decide."

Follow me on Twitter @aaronklemz

Obama's miscalculation

Close political watchers know that the right wing fringe that has captured the Republican Party is President Obama's best friend. When liberals, union members and non-authoritarians point out the harm Obama has done to progressivism all the corporate Democrats had to do was point out that, yes, Obama hasn't been that hot, but look at the crazies he's up against. That strategy, called Peak Wingnut Theory by Spot, holds that Democrats should do all they can to drive up the "legitimate" crazy element in the Republican Party, in effect ghettoizing Republicans within their own minority mindset. The crazies on the right enable Obama to drive more knives into the backs of his supporters, while creating space he can move into to his political right.

The status quo ante before Obama released his long-form birth certificate was a perfect balance for both dividing the Republicans and marginalizing them with the general electorate. Rational people knew that Obama was born in the U.S., and the president had the documents to prove it. But wingnuts like Donald Trump could find enough wiggle room (The president hasn't released his long form birth certificate! Why not?) to keep the rabid right riled up. This was forcing other Republican presidential aspirants to toe a thin line on the birther issue, not really embracing it, but not really repudiating it either.

Establishment Republicans have already tried to ostracize the birthers.  Today the president did the Republicans' dirty work for them, saving them from having to savage candidates of their own party. With the release of his original birth certificate the birther issue has been marginalized even within Republican circles. Sure, there will always be parts of the crazy right who deny the president's legitimacy no matter what, but that faction has been reduced because of Obama's action today, opening the door to more moderate-looking candidates like Mitt Romney or Tim Pawlenty. To the extent that more serious Republican candidates not tainted by the loony birtherism are more appealing to conservative to moderate Democrats and Independents Obama has just ensured that he will face a more formidable candidate in 2012.

Don't matter; he's still Kenyan

The true believers will not be moved by the release of this document.

For insight as to why, we return to Frank Schaeffer, quoted earlier in a post about Katherine Kersten:
Respect for religious stupidity is -- by extension -- why the media gives Trump, Bachmann et al platforms from which they can spread falsehoods. Trump isn't remotely religious but the sort of people ready to believe in someone like him (or the Tea Party) have been fed a steady diet of mythology that has literally altered the way their brains work. If a scientist, an expert or the "liberal media" says something is true then ipso facto the opposite -- no matter how harebrained must be true! Actually believing that the Palins, Becks, Trumps of this world are serious people is just the political version of giving creationists a "serious" place on textbook committees.
 The title of Schaeffer's post is The "Biblical" Root of America's Political Stupidity.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Kersten: It's me and God and screw the rest of you! III

Katie's Easter cudgel

Here are parts one and two. Here's the cudgel.

When you read the column -- you all did read it, right? -- some of you undoubtedly noticed how Kersten went directly from telling us how important the "Judeo-Christian heritage" was in informing the Founders about freedom and equality, a warm and fuzzy metaphorical kind of thing, to this:
[T]hey [the left and the opinion elites] don't like the idea of truth -- the idea that there is, in the nature of things, a blueprint for human flourishing. They don't like the notion of moral parameters that limit our actions on matters such as cloning, stem cell use, abortion or marriage. They believe that man can make himself: that there is no "floor" to the universe.
Whatever you think the Declaration of Independence says, you will look unsuccessfully for the clauses that talk about cloning, or stem cells, or even abortion or marriage. But it's a leap of faith, so to speak, that Katie makes, and expects the rest of us to as well, landing in the same spot exactly as Katie does. Even Katie admits it's irrational. Where does this come from?

One group that has perfected the art of special pleading for respect for non-reality-based "ideas" are the religious fundamentalists otherwise called Evangelicals. They train their families from birth to be the sort of gullible dupes the Palin/Trump/Bachmann/Becks of this world manipulate.
Evangelicals are a group to which no idea is too farfetched. From birth they are told that facts are lies and that "true believers" like them -- and they only -- have access to the actual and only truth: the Bible.
And not just any Bible, says Schaeffer, it's the every-word-is-true Bible. Kersten is a Palin/Trump/Bachmann/Beck acolyte, a true altar girl. Schaeffer observes that people living in the reality-based community are called "God-hating elites" by fundies like Katie and the rest of the above-named charlatans, and by golly, that's exactly what Katie calls them. It's almost like she's writing from a script.

Gee, ya think?

Schaeffer, who grew up in one of the granddaddy of all evangelical households, says it's a mistake to humor these clucks:
One of America's great sins is our respect for any and all religion. Note: the irony is that religious gullibility even prepares many religious believers to accept greedy evangelists and crass tycoons like Trump because they -- like the believers -- are perceived as "outsiders" bucking the educated culturally savvy "elite's" facts. 
This is an unintended spinoff of our commitment to free speech. Since we're all free to say or believe anything then, the thinking goes, we should respect whatever it is our neighbor says he or she believes. 
This is a mistake: Just because we're all equal before the law doesn't make everything said or thought of equal value, let alone deserving of respect.
That's a better valedictory that I could have written about Katie's Easter cudgel, but I adopt and second the sentiment.

Thanks to Andy Birkey for the link.

Republicans playing with constitutions IV

He's a tough one to shame; I'll give you that. Within days of claiming that the right to vote is a mere privilege, Kurt Zellers is back to champion a resolution in the Minnesota House to urge the Congress to draft a constitutional amendment to permit states to act and unadopt federal law. Read the entire resolution at the link, paying especial attention to the whining recitals (the WHEREAS clauses), but here's the core of the resolution:

The Speaker is joined by several of the usual suspects.

I will say in Zellers' defense that the resolution is not quite as crazy as the bills championed last year by Tom Emmer to permit the Legislature, or a triumvirate of legislative leaders and the governor, to simply declare a federal law somehow "inapplicable" to the state. But that's a pretty low bar.

What Zellers and Co. offer is a virtual return to the Articles of Confederation. So successful were the Articles of Confederation that they lasted a full ten years or so after the Revolution. It would work even less well now in a modern, integrated (commercially) nation of 300 million people.

I mean really, where do these people think that Congress comes from? The moon?

It's lunacy, brought to you by the same confederation of dunces who think that defaulting on the national debt is an idea whose time has come.

Kersten: It's me and God and screw the rest of you! II

If we turn away from God, we're Frenchmen and collectivists

Part one is here.

You know that Katie is serious when she hauls out the epithets (second definition) "Frenchman" and "collective."

America was founded on the belief that God is the source of [liberty and equality].
The political philosophy that inspired our nation's democratic revolution was very different from the Continental European philosophy that produced the French Revolution. 
That bloody tradition grounded its political thinking in autonomous human reason. America's founders, on the other hand, looked "to the sovereignty of God as to the first principle of its organization," as the theologian John Courtney Murray [link is mine] has written.
The brief article at the link reveals that Murray was a Jesuit -- the Jesuits are, in fact, the big thinkers (seriously) in the Catholic Church -- and that he was clearly a "natural law" guy:
[Murray] was an American Jesuit priest and theologian, who was especially known for his efforts to reconcile Catholicism and religious pluralism, particularly focusing on the relationship between religious freedom and the institutions of a democratically structured modern state.
But I don't think that Murray said, as Kersten suggests, "Well, we have the French Revolution on the one hand, and the American Revolution on the other." That's a little sleight of hand on Kersten's part; you will note that the quote is only the second part of the sentence.

As we all know, Katie got a minor in taking quotes out of context.

Kersten tells us that the "left" and the "opinion-making elite" don't like religion because:
First, they don't like the idea of truth -- the idea that there is, in the nature of things, a blueprint for human flourishing. They don't like the notion of moral parameters that limit our actions on matters such as cloning, stem cell use, abortion or marriage. They believe that man can make himself: that there is no "floor" to the universe. 
Second, our elite's fundamental political impulse is toward collectivism. They believe the state holds the solution to every problem, and that wise social engineers can be trusted to do what's best for the rest of us.
I've observed before that Katie wants to make God in Katie's own image, so that God will hate the same people she does, kind of a theological transference.

"Collectivism" is the dirtiest word that Katie knows. She -- and her tag team partner Jason Lewis, too -- hurl it much as an adolescent might shout, "Your mother wears combat boots!" It is laughable to think, much less say, that believing that we should not be ruled by a priestly class is "collectivist."

Using your religious background, and whatever other moral or ethical teaching you have received (perhaps by ancient philosophers, mystics, or other religious traditions) to inform your political opinions is a good thing. (Update: But it's another to think it is actually the law of the land.)

But it is mean and rotten and foul to write a polemic to beat people over the head with a cross on Easter Day.

What about the incumbents?

The most important issue of this legislative session that isn't the budget is finally surfacing. At 12:30, a House committee will finally hear a bill on redistricting. The House media services and the Uptake will cover this hearing and you can watch it live. I find it interesting that while the racino bill hearing was rescheduled to avoid competing with Jeb Bush's appearance, the redisticting hearing will happen under the cover of that media circus.
EDIT AFTER PUBLISHING: In the welter of amendments posted to the delete all amendment, I missed one that inserts the incumbency language. Nothing like writing something and realizing nearly immediately that you're wrong. Sorry about that, readers.

The section about prioritization below is correct.

You can read all of the amendments for yourself here.

You should watch the 12:30 hearing.
Governor Dayton sent a letter to legislative leadership outlining the principles he believes must be followed in drawing new legislative maps. These principles were laid out by the courts after the process between the Legislature and Governor deadlocked in 2001. They include:
5. Not be drawn for the purpose of protecting or defeating an incumbent.
Dayton's letter noted that the redistricting bill did not include principles for redistricting. Now, in the form of an amendment, the GOP redistricting principles are finally out. And while there is substantial overlap between the Governor's letter and these principles, there is one notable omission; the GOP principles don't include the incumbency provision.

The GOP principles are, in order of priority:
1. Nesting (MN House districts must nest inside of MN Senate districts)
2. Equal population
3. Contiguity and Compactness
4. Minority representation (cannot concentrate or disperse minority communities)
5. Avoiding division of cities, counties
6. Preserving communities of interest
While that seems rather banal, prioritizing compactness over minority representation is a sticky wicket that might be litigated. In fact, the amendment notes that the prioritization can't violate federal laws like the Voting Rights Act. In practice, it will be a court that decides that, but it's most likely that courts will draw the map due to a deadlock between the Governor and Legislature.

Follow me on Twitter @aaronklemz

Monday, April 25, 2011

Kersten: It's me and God and screw the rest of you!

St. Katie of the cornfields delivers her Easter homily: a giant Easter egg

Before heading out to check out the supermarket specials, and pick up her Easter "we're not Jews!" ham, Katherine Kersten penned her column for Easter Day. And it's a humdinger.
America was founded on the belief that God is the source of [liberty and equality].

*  *  *
 Think of the Liberty Bell, emblazoned with an inscription from the book of Leviticus in the Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible: "Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the Land Unto All the Inhabitants Thereof."
Think of the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
Think of the Constitution, the founding document of our current republic, which doesn't mention the word "God," much less identify a deity as a source of the law. In fact, in Article VI, the Constitution specifically prohibits any religious test for public office in the United States. And, of course, the First Amendment allows the free exercise of religion, but prohibits the establishment of one by the federal government, and via the Fourteenth Amendment, one by a state.
It is highly ironic to me that perhaps the most important statement by a presidential candidate disclaiming the influence of a religious persuasion on government was John Kennedy, who said in September of 1960:
[N]either do I look with favor upon those who would work to subvert Article VI of the Constitution by requiring a religious test, even by indirection. For if they disagree with that safeguard, they should be openly working to repeal it.
 . . . [C]ontrary to common newspaper usage, I am not the Catholic candidate for President.
I am the Democratic Party's candidate for President who happens also to be a Catholic.I do not speak for my church on public matters; and the church does not speak for me. Whatever issue may come before me as President, if I should be elected, on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling or any other subject, I will make my decision in accordance with these views -- in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be in the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressure or dictates. And no power or threat of punishment could cause me to decide otherwise.
 But if the time should ever come -- and I do not concede any conflict to be remotely possible -- when my office would require me to either violate my conscience or violate the national interest, then I would resign the office; and I hope any conscientious public servant would do likewise.
But I do not intend to apologize for these views to my critics of either Catholic or Protestant faith; nor do I intend to disavow either my views or my church in order to win this election.If I should lose on the real issues, I shall return to my seat in the Senate, satisfied that I'd tried my best and was fairly judged.
 But if this election is decided on the basis that 40 million Americans lost their chance of being President on the day they were baptized, then it is the whole nation that will be the loser, in the eyes of Catholics and non-Catholics around the world, in the eyes of history, and in the eyes of our own people.
 We got another lesson about Article VI when Keith Ellison was elected in 2006 and decided to take his oath of office on (Thomas Jefferson's as it turns out) a Qur'an; Dennis Prager and many other right wingers howled. The law cannot prohibit or require either a Bible or a Qur'an -- or any other religious tract of any faith for that matter -- when taking office, nor can the person taking the office be required to utter the words "so help me God."

There is so much coloring book history in Kersten's column that it will take another post or two to finish up.

The most fundamentally misguided notion in her homily, though, is that we governed by natural law. But make no mistake about it: every law that you or I must obey was made by people.

"Who is this Downey fellow?"

That's former governor Arne's Carlson's reaction to hearing a quite from Keith Downey (R - 41A) saying that the time for government reform was "now." Here's more of the exchange between Doug Grow and Carlson in a MinnPost article:
"We've been putting off reforms for 15 years," Downey said. "The time to act is now." 
 That's the line that upset Carlson. 
"Who's this Downey fellow?" he asked me.  
A representative from Edina starting his second term, the governor was told. 
 "If he's starting his second term, he's probably part of the problem," Carlson said. 
Carlson contends that his administration didn't just point out the long-term structural problems in the 1995 report that Downey was referring to. Rather, it made the "reforms" necessary to correct the problems.
 Carlson also contends that Tim Pawlenty, as majority leader of the House and then as governor, undid most of the changes the Carlson administration instituted. Along the way, Pawlenty got a little help from Gov. Jesse Ventura and some DFLers.
I commend the entire article to you.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Feel free to shoot first

But officer, I felt so threatened

Update: Please read Heather Martens' article about the bill on the Minnesota Public Radio website. A thump of the tail to Bill Gleason for the link.

- o O o -

Sir, I see you standing over the dead body of that man, and you're holding a gun. Care to explain yourself?

Well, officer, I shot him.

I figured that. But can you tell me why?

He threatened me.

What did he say?

Well he didn't say anything, actually.

Did he pull a gun or a knife, or take a swing at your?

No, not really.

What do you mean, "not really?" What did he do that you felt justified in killing him?

He gave me the stink eye and well, he kind of sucked his teeth. It really scared me.

Okay then. Sorry to bother you. Say, can you move aside so we can get at this guy? We have to take him to the morgue and call his family and stuff; I need to pull his wallet.

Sure; no prob.

- o O o -

This may be a scenario coming to a corner near you. That is, if Tony "up against the wall little Billy" Cornish (shown here; the photo is on his legislator's web page; aren't the baby's handcuffs really cute?) has his way. He's one -- among several; I'm just picking on Cornish because's he the Chairman of the Public Safety Committee in the House -- of the chief authors of HF 1467, a bill that, inter alia, removes the obligation of a person to retreat from a threatening situation, if possible, before opening fire.

Under the bill, if an individual "reasonably" (ah, the devil is in the details, isn't it?) believes there is a threat to him or her or a third person, they'll be justified in using deadly force to meet the threat. It's a little more complicated than that, but you can read the whole bill at the link. And here are some of the key sections of the bill. It's in pdf format, so these are just images of the sections; the underscoring means the language is to be added to existing law. The bill would be an amendment to Minn. Stat. 609.065.

Here are the circumstances when deadly force is authorized. The first subsection is already permitted under Minnesota law, the second probably is, too, save for the issue of a safe retreat. The third subsection is quite vague, and it is a complete departure from current Minnesota law. A "forcible felony" might include something like breaking and entering (burglary) on property that is not occupied, and which is not even yours. This is the true vigilante section of the bill.

Update: As commenter Stoo point out, forcible entry is defined in subd. 1 as felony level violence against a person. So you probably couldn't use you gun to break up a shoving match between other people, but you probably could use you gun on the one you "reasonably believed" was beating the other one up pretty good. I'll put the subdivision one definition in the comments.

The next subdivision of the proposed statute is the part that eliminates the duty to retreat if you can. The law has always permitted you to defend yourself, with deadly force if necessary, if you can't retreat. But you do have a duty to avoid violence if you can.

And  here are two subdivisions that deal with the consequences to the user of deadly force after the event.

The bill says that if some one even claims self defense, they are immune from arrest -- which might include even detention at the place of an incident of the use of deadly force -- until an arresting officer weighs all of the circumstances. The would be hard to gainsay the absurdity of subdivision five and the complete impracticality of its application. It makes the police into arraignment judges. I cannot believe that even Tony Cornish thinks this is a good idea; he's a small town cop, remember?

The bill also immunizes the vigilante from civil liability -- to anybody, including bystanders waiting at the bus stop or walking down the street. The police don't even have that.

But subdivision six contains the most monumental change in the criminal law. Under current law, in both federal and state courts in Minnesota, a defendant has the burden of establishing self defense (Update: or at least coming forward with some evidence to establish the defense). Once the acts are established beyond a reasonable doubt, i.e., the weapon was used by the defendant, the defendant must show that the killing or wounding was justified. The proposed statute flips that burden around, placing it on the prosecution (Update: and apparently relieving the defendant of any obligation to come forward with any evidence supporting the defense).

The practical effect is that if a defendant says "I felt threatened," it is the prosecutor's burden to show that the defendant was not "reasonably" threatened.

The burden of proof for demonstrating, for example, insanity or diminished capacity as a defense to a crime also rests with the defendant. If this bill becomes law, it would give the user of deadly force a procedural advantage not shared by any other defendant seeking to use an affirmative defense.

Update: To put it a little more colloquially, on a claim of self defense, or the defense of another, the tie goes to the shooter.

Under the bill, if an insane man shot somebody, he would have a better chance of beating the rap by claiming he used the gun in self defense than defending on the basis that was insane.

And for my money, if you shoot somebody, or knife them, it ought to be you who has some explaining to do.

Cornish's bill is scheduled for a hearing -- in his own committee -- on Thursday.

Update: Forgetful old dog that I am, I neglected to mention that the post was prepared with the able editorial assistance of MNO.

Shitting out jobs

It is an article of faith among Republicans that if you just feed rich people enough, they will shit new jobs. All we have to do is wait under their assholes for them to bestow their blessings upon everyone else. Rather like manna. Tony "Baloney" Sutton said it again on Almanac Friday night, "Rich people are our job creators."

Not so fast, Tony.

It's an empty shibboleth, of course. Well, I guess that's redundant.

A favorite author, philosopher, and commentator of mine is John Ralston Saul; he's the spouse of a former Governor General of Canada, Adrienne Clarkson, herself a well known journalist in Canada. The author of a book -- among several -- titled Voltaire's Bastards, that I have cited many times over the years, John Ralston Saul also wrote a "dictionary" called The Doubter's Companion, which is, at turns, acerbic, insightful, and sympathetic, or even all three at once.

Here's part of his definition of "jobs" in The Doubter's Companion:
A job is a result, not a cause. It is produced by a combination of factors such as investment, research, development, markets, consumption levels, disposable currency, political stability, and a positive economic climate. Jobs cannot be created. Economies are created and they in turn create jobs.
There is more to it, in other words, that waiting for rich people to relieve themselves. We used to know that intuitively, before thirty or forty years of the Koch brothers' Heritage Foundation stuffing the Laffer Curve down our throats, and before guys like King Banaian got into the modeling business as a hobby.

People driven into penury are not good consumers; no one -- including rich people -- will invest if there are no customers for a product or service produced by the investment. No one will be hired to produce the product or service. An uneducated, poor quality work force cannot produce good products or services that can compete with goods and services from somewhere that has a highly educated workforce. Unless light assembly is all you're looking for, or jobs in the high fat foods sector.

But if you listen to Tony Baloney and his claque, none of this matters. Just let the wealthy keep more of their stuff, and more stuff will be created as if by magic.

A corollary to this is what I call The Law of Comparative Shitholes:
It is an iron law of economics that given a choice between two shitholes, the wealthy will always flee to the larger one.
This explains why there are so many millionaire entrepreneurs flocking to Somalia to ply the lucrative pirate trade, and why no one is leaving the low tax Somalia because of the fast growth of the piracy-allied industries.
Tony Sutton bestowing blessings from the Bemidji Pioneer

Saturday, April 23, 2011

What could be safer than Vikings' T-shirt revenue?

A  tax on T-shirts (and other sports memorabilia, income tax on players' salaries, and assorted other items, too) is back as the way to finance a new stadium for the Vikings. This idea came up last year, too. In fact I wrote about it, here. If the idea can come back, so can my post. Here it is:

- o O o -

Hey Mort, you want the house to buy some of those new Minnesota bonds?

Which ones?

You know, the new ones for the new football stadium for da Vikings. The ones backed by the T-Shirts.

Naw, Eddie, let’s find something safer, some commercial junk bonds, maybe.

o O o

Which is why, of course, the State of Minnesota will issue general obligation bonds to raise its “share” of the cost of a Viking stadium. It would be hard to find a bond house dim enough to buy bonds backed by this:
They [legislators supporting the stadium] say only those who would benefit from the stadium would pay for it -- through new taxes on metro area hotels and rental cars, sports memorabilia and a sports-themed lottery scratch-off game. Those sources would provide $527 million over 40 years, with the team contributing $264 million.
But consider this: the Vikings don’t want a forty year lease; that, and the “life” of Metropolitan Stadium and the Metrodome suggest it won’t be a forty year asset.

Twenty-five years from now, when the Minnesota Rams or the Minneapolis Dolphins, or whoever is playing in the stadium wants another new one, the State will still have fifteen years of payments to make.

Or look at it this way: your sixteen year old says, “Dad, help me buy a car. My friend is selling one that he swears has at least a couple years left in it. He only wants $2,000 for it. I’ll pay you back, every penny, I swear, five dollars a week, until it’s paid for.”

And then you remind your offspring — a sweet kid, really, but kind of a dreamer — that even without interest, it would take over four years to pay off the $2,000, and that the car is not expected to last that long.

Your child then says, “Well, I was kind of hoping you would forget about it after a while.” And most indulgent parents probably would.

But the bond holders won’t.

It is also somewhat, well, disingenuous, to say that “only those who would benefit from the stadium would pay for it .” If T-shirt sales hold up, maybe true.

But make no mistake, this is not a revenue bond deal; it’s a general obligation bond deal that looks to the entire treasury of the state for repayment.

- o O o -

And this will be true this time around, too. The confidence games and flim-flam artistry around the construction of stadiums is genuinely awe inspiring.

Helen Caldicott on the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe

Dr. Helen Caldicott spoke in Canada a week ago about the Fukushima meltdowns:

Barack Obama on nuclear power:
U.S. says still committed to nuclear energy

The United States said on Monday it will push ahead with nuclear power as a vital part of its energy mix even as other nations balk at the sight of Japan battling to prevent quake-crippled reactors from melting down...
...President Barack Obama has urged expansion of nuclear power to help meet the country's energy demands, lower its dependence on fossil fuels and reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. Last year Obama announced $8.3 billion in loan guarantees to build the first U.S. nuclear power plant in nearly three decades.
Think his position might be related to this?
Exelon [which operates all 11 of Illinois' nuclear reactors] and its employees were the seventh-largest source of campaign money for Obama, 49, during his four-year Senate career, contributing at least $71,850, according to the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics.

When he ran for president, the company’s employees gave at least $200,000, and board member John Rogers Jr., chairman of Chicago-based Ariel Investments LLC, was a top Obama fundraiser.
Hope and change!

Illegal Immigrants Pay More Taxes than GE

It's an arresting headline, isn't it?

The Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy released a report on Tax Day that showed that undocumented immigrants pay $11.2 billion in state and local taxes. While General Electric, Wells Fargo, and Bank of America are able to shield their voluminous assets from federal taxation through creative accounting, these undocumented residents are doing their, uh, patriotic duty.

Minnesota's share? About $81.7 million, of which $74 million is from sales and income taxes.

To be fair, corporations also pay state and local taxes of several types. But in a political environment where taxes are regarded as the rich man's curse, it's illuminating to place these numbers in juxtaposition.

In other tax news:

North Dakota Cuts Taxes to Become More Business Friendly. Besotted with oil revenue and the closest thing to Galt's Gulch this side of Colorado, North Dakota further reduced corporate taxes. Somehow Minnesota receives a net inflow of North Dakotans despite their lower taxes. I wonder why?

Just keep that in mind when you see the blatant lies of "The Freedom Club" commercial claiming our recent graduates will have to flee to North Dakota, South Dakota, and Iowa for work. I will give these folks one thing. Some folks might be fleeing to Iowa, but it's for the marriage rights, not lower taxes and jobs.

Follow me on Twitter @aaronklemz

Friday, April 22, 2011

The federal budget explained

It’s all Big Bird’s fault

A Move On video about the federal budget

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Republicans playing with constitutions III

Eric Roper reports on Political Hotdish that Kurt Zellers believes that voting is a privilege, not a right. After apparently spending the evening with Mark Buesgens, Zellers said this on the air, in front of God and everybody:

"When you go to even a Burger King or a McDonalds and use your debit card, they'll ask you to see your ID [to be] sure its you," Zellers said. "Should we have to do that when we vote, something that is one of the most sacred -- I think it's a privilege, it's not a right. Everybody doesn't get it because if you go to jail [Actually, you have to be convicted of a felony, not simply go to jail, or Mark Buesgens wouldn’t be entitled to vote, or maybe even sit in the Legislature; I’ll have to study that one] or if you commit some heinous crime your rights are taken away. This is a privilege."

Hot Dish feels compelled to point out that the 14th, 15th, 19th, 24th and 26th amendments to the U.S. Constitution reference [Spot prefers “refers to”] voting as a right, not a privilege. It must also be noted that the U.S. Congress in 1965 passed what it called the Voting Rights Act.

And I feel compelled to point out that if you use a debit card, you will NOT be asked to show an ID – I can’t remember the last time I was, anyway, and I bet you can’t either. Voting is, in any event, a constitutional right, is manifestly different than buying a cheeseburger, which is not a constitutional right, except maybe in Maple Grove, but Zellers is so dim he can’t even get his analogies straight.

To Mr. Roper’s laundry list, I would only add this: Article I, Section 2 of the Minnesota Constitution:

No member of this state shall be disfranchised [that means deprived of the right to vote, Kurt]  or deprived of any of the rights or privileges secured to any citizen thereof, unless by the law of the land or the judgment of his peers. There shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the state otherwise than as punishment for a crime of which the party has been convicted.

Oh, and this, too: Article VII, Section 1 of the Minnesota Constitution:

Every person 18 years of age or more who has been a citizen of the United States for three months and who has resided in the precinct for 30 days next preceding an election shall be entitled [not may be, only if Kurt Zellers thinks it’s a good idea] to vote in that precinct. The place of voting by one otherwise qualified who has changed his residence within 30 days preceding the election shall be prescribed by law. The following persons shall not be entitled or permitted to vote at any election in this state: A person not meeting the above requirements; a person who has been convicted of treason or felony, unless restored to civil rights; a person under guardianship, or a person who is insane or not mentally competent.

If voting was truly a privilege, we could deny the franchise to, say, people from North Dakota – which, on reflection, has some appeal – or because they have red hair, or because they’re African American or Hispanic.

The fact that Kurt Zellers – demonstrably a constitutional bozo – is the cream of the Republican crop and the Speaker of the Minnesota House speaks volumes about the wattage of the entire Republican caucus.

Update: Zellers is taking well-deserved punishment for his remarks. Zellers does not understand that if some activity is secured to you to do, and it can only be taken away if you commit an act (like a felony), that’s a right.

Perhaps some of you remember – it may still be taught by driving instructors and state patrolmen, for all I know – that  driving is a privilege, too. When I loaned the car to my son for the evening, that was a privilege. But when he reached the age, passed the tests, and kept his nose clean, driving was his right. I have read somewhere, but don’t have a link at the moment, that the Lege is considering putting grades, school, and perhaps good grooming on as conditions for young drivers.

Interestingly, both Zellers’ knot head remarks and and overreaching efforts to control adolescents comes from the same place: authoritarianism, or as I like to describe it when I’m talking about Katherine Kersten, bug-eyed control freakism.

Now that's what I'm talking about

Forget the New Black Panther Party brouhaha where two men at one polling place was hoked up to be some massive attack on the rights of white people. Thanks to The Nation, we now have an example of what real voter intimidation looks like in the post Citizens United world. Less than a month before the 2010 election, every one of the 50,000 U.S. employee of Koch companies received a letter with some "suggestions" about who they ought to vote for:
As Koch company employees, we have a lot at stake in the upcoming election. Each of us is likely to be affected by the outcome on Nov. 2. That is why, for the first time ever, we are mailing our newest edition of Discovery and several other helpful items to the home address of every U.S. employee.

* * *
Included in this packet is a page with some helpful reminders about voter registration and advance balloting options in your state. If you're not registered to vote, your voice cannot be heard at the ballot box.

For most of you, we've also enclosed a listing of candidates supported by Koch companies and KOCHPAC, the political action committee for Koch companies. Of course, deciding who to vote for is a decision that is yours and yours alone, based on factors important to you. Koch and KOCHPAC support candidates we believe will best advance policies that create the economic conditions needed for employees and businesses such as ours to survive and prosper.

"Deciding who to vote for is a decision that is yours..." is what I believe the labor lawyers call the fist inside the velvet glove. The Nation article describes this as "corporate sponsored propaganda" and they're right.

Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and our Kenyan President

That’s the answer. What is the question, Grasshopper?

What are three things that Republicans believe in?

Right you are:

This is some mess the GOP has made for itself: According to a new poll from the New York Times and CBS News, barely three in ten Republican voters (32 percent) say they believe the president of the United States was actually born in this country. The rest are split between believing Barack Obama was born on foreign soil (47 percent) and not being sure where he was born (22 percent). (These numbers add up to 101 percent, presumably because of rounding.)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Republicans playing with constitutions II

These fools have never heard of Near v. Minnesota

Here are bills proposed by the House and the Senate in the Minnesota Legislature:

The Minnesota House and Senate Agricultural Committees recently introduced bills (HF1369 and SF1118) that would make it illegal to record photographs and audio/video at an "animal facility."

If you check, you’ll see that one of the authors of the Senate bill is Julie Rosen,  who is also carrying the bill to lift the nuclear moratorium. If SF1118 is an example of Rosen’s intellectual wattage, it ought to give you pause about her judgment in matters of the safety of nuclear energy. A law enforcement guy, Bill Ingebritson, is also a sponsor.

In the House, the bill is authored by, inter alia, Tony Cornish, the guy who is willing to lock up ten year olds for life, and the tree hunter, Steve Drazkowski.

The initiatives are, of course, classic prior restraints against speech, because clearly what is sought to be prohibited in the dissemination of information about practices at “animal facilities.” Prior restraints were declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in Near v. Minnesota, which involved another statute that the Minnesota Legislature passed that tried to restrain the publication of sensationalistic, tabloid newspapers. Near is probably the most famous First Amendment case in American history.

I have written about Near v. Minnesota several times, most recently here. You would think that the boys and girls in the Lege would want to avoid the embarrassment again.

Whether it’s the First Amendment, the Tenth Amendment, or Article XIII of the Minnesota Constitution, Minnesota’s Republican legislators prove over and over again that they don’t have a freakin’ clue.

Update: the quote is from an excellent op-ed in the Strib titled, in the paper edition, anyway, Animal abuse won’t report itself, by Gregory Cruz.

A comparison to the tea bag and lawn chair patriots

With all the bleating and whining about bad weather keeping the crowd down for the tea bag rally on Saturday, I thought I should run this slideshow again. It’s of the rally at the Capitol in St. Paul to support union employees in Wisconsin. Note the weather. It was the end of February and the temperature was a few degrees above zero.

Rally to save the American dream

Update: And Michele Bachmann drew only 300 at a tea bag rally in South Carolina.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Now if she had a record, she’d be all set

AKlo has $2.5 million in the bank, and no identifiable opponent for 2012. Too bad she doesn’t have a record of achievement to run on. But I guess at least she’s personable:

"She's pragmatic, smart and hard-working," said Sen. Jeff Sessions, the conservative Alabama Republican who worked with Klobuchar on the [international] adoption bill. Politically, he added, "we don't always agree... but she's a delight to be with."

I looked back over posts written here about Amy Klobuchar as a senator. Here are some of them:

The Queen of small ball

The “klobuchar” as a new unit of measure

We should ask Paul Krugman

Amy Klobuchar, it’s time to get on board

Focusing on the really, really important stuff

I knew Ted Kennedy

Klobuchar disappointment, part whatever

“I hope you have health care, young lady”

Amy, are you there?

Dammit, Amy!

He’s not the baby Jesus

A chat with Paul

Amy Klobuchar, where are you?

Defective empathy genes II

In the original Defective empathy genes post, I described how Sigmund Spot’s early theorizing about defective empathy genes in conservatives was bearing some fruit in recent brain research:

Baron-Cohen [a neuro-science professor in England] believes that the principle cause of evil behavior is a lack – sometimes a stunning lack – of empathy.

frightened_eyesNow additional research suggests that conservatives have an overdeveloped section of the brain the responds to fear, the so-called “fear-al lobe.”

Liberals have more gray matter in a part of the brain associated with understanding complexity, while the conservative brain is bigger in the section related to processing fear, said the study on Thursday in Current Biology.

"We found that greater liberalism was associated with increased gray matter volume in the anterior cingulate cortex, whereas greater conservatism was associated with increased volume of the right amygdala," the study said.

Here’s a little more from the study described in the article linked above:

People with a large amygdala [the fear-al lobe] are "more sensitive to disgust" and tend to "respond to threatening situations with more aggression than do liberals and are more sensitive to threatening facial expressions," the study said.

Liberals are linked to larger anterior cingulate cortexes, a region that "monitor(s) uncertainty and conflicts," it said.

"Thus, it is conceivable that individuals with a larger ACC have a higher capacity to tolerate uncertainty and conflicts, allowing them to accept more liberal views."

Apparently, this is even, um, apparent, to Oscar-winner Colin Firth:

Both of this year’s lead Oscar winners have published scientific papers on neuroscience. We’ve covered Natalie Portman’s work on frontal lobe development in children before, but it turns out Colin Firth has also just co-authored a study on structural brain differences in people with differing political views.

Update: The unstated implication of the post is that the research explains why all the race baiting and xenophobia works so well for the Republicans.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Who was Atlas, and why did he shrug?

Ayn Rand owns the key to Jason Lewis’s blackened, calcified little heart

rand_picJason Lewis tells a love story Sunday, April 17th about being entranced by the chain-smoking dominatrix Ayn Rand. We must assume that Jason’s love was unrequited, but with Rand, one never knows. (I don’t think that Rand was actually a Shriner, though.)

Lewis sums up Rand’s influence on him thusly:

There are seminal moments in the philosophical underpinnings of everyone's life. Some are recognized, and some, I suppose, remain just beneath our consciousness.

Certainly for me, the crystallization of a worldview that put liberty as its epicenter came into much clearer focus when I read "Atlas Shrugged." Obviously, I wasn't alone.

According to Lewis, he read the book in 1983 – I’m guessing here – in a pubescent fever. I mean, I know guys who read Lady Chatterly’s Lover in a similar condition, and I know it had an effect on them.  Maybe Jason meant it was a semenal moment for him.


Atlas Shrugged is the feel good classic for every piker, scrub, grifter, and Social Darwinist to come down the pike since it was published in 1957. Gordon Gekko summed up Rand (in Wall Street) in three words,”Greed is good;” Gekko can save you a helluva lot of time reading if that’s your philosophical bent.

If you're looking for more stuff with less guilt, why, Ayn’s the gal for you!

Lewis gushes than Rand and Atlas Shrugged are second in influence only to the Bible. This comes, of course, as sad news to Aristotle, Plato, Dante, John Donne, or even  humble novelists like Robert Penn Warren, George Orwell, John Steinbeck, William Golding, Kurt Vonnegut, Ernest Hemingway, Harper Lee, and many others.

That they would be bested by a hack screen writer is a tribute to somebody’s imagination.

Anyway, again.

Here’s a little more from the worshipful Lewis:

Her philosophy of Objectivism, placing a premium on individual reason and productive enterprise, had always been somewhat intuitive in the human condition. The statist's demand of self-sacrifice, on the other hand, has to be inculcated at an early age.

What made Rand so popular (her books have sold more than 25 million copies) was that she gave validation to millions by challenging the false altruism that remains the basis for modern liberalism to this day.

Collectivism, which uses the power of government to undermine self-interest, was anathema to Rand. And for that she was never forgiven -- especially by left-wing intellectuals.

Lewis is not only a philosophic lightweight; he doesn’t score well in science, either. There is evidence that altruism is the innate state, and it takes distant parents like Jason’s or genetic defects to turn you into the selfish dweeb who writes for the Strib.

So, who was Atlas, and why did he shrug? Probably because he didn’t have a clue.

Update: And now, for your dating pleasure: the Ayn Rand dating service. Thanks to Slate for the link.

Further update: The perverse allure of a damaged woman, a link from Avidor.

The mythology of educational numeracy

The other day MinnCan came out with a new issue brief, undoubtedly written by their contractor 50CAN*, titled Building a Barometer of Teacher Effectiveness in Minnesota (pdf).  The brief is built upon an unhealthy belief in the policy value of suspect numbers in general and student test scores in specific.  Focusing on the evaluation of teacher quality, the brief alleges that Minnesota does a poor job at it, and that what ratings do exist don't have real "consequences," which is apparently hurting education in the state:
Ineffective evaluations. Because teacher evaluations are rare, seldom based on how much students are learning, and almost never have consequences, they have little impact on the quality of teaching in our public schools.
Packed into this one bullet point are a number of fallacies that education deformers rely on for their attacks on public school teachers. These misdirections pale in comparison to the larger contextual omission of the report, and indeed in all of MinnCan's ministrations: Focusing only on teacher quality to bridge educational gaps and improve learning is not likely to change outcomes.  Additionally the way that deformers are approaching teacher quality will in all probability actually hurt educational outcomes.

The factors that influence the success of any particular student are well known: roughly 60-70 percent is due to family and student circumstances; 30-40 percent is due to the school, classroom and teacher. Roughly 20 percent is attributable to the school. That means that only 15-20 percent of student outcomes are attributable to a particular classroom and teacher. Given that there are very few so-called "bad teachers," and that today even KIPP's Wendy Kopp admits that not all people in any profession can be exceptional, there is very little fertile ground for increased educational attainment by focusing on teachers.

Indeed parts of the educational and political establishment have come to this view. Studies by economists have shown great future benefits can be attained, educationally, economically and socially, by investing in children at an early age.  Yet that's not what the education deformers and MinnCan focus on. They are fixated with squeezing blood from the rock of "teacher quality." In pursuit of these dubious goals they are more than willing to de-professionalize and demoralize the teaching corp.

The same is true for general investments in our schools. Research has shown that the school itself accounts for about 20 percent of educational outcomes. Why not invest in schools, making them welcoming environments, open early and late, encouraging them to become hubs for a community. But in Minnesota we're doing just the opposite: over the past two years $2 billion has been withheld from them. Maybe MinnCan will take note of the funding crisis now that even the state's charter schools are having problems.  Alas, so far not a peep from MinnCan about the decrease in funding to schools. All their eggs are in the "teacher quality" basket.

Fascination with, and abuse of numbers for social science purposes are legendary in post World War II America. Led by the Rand Corporation, leading American policy makers sought to reduce understanding of complex human behavior to numbers. According to Alex Abella, author of a book on Rand titled Soldiers of Reason, Rand would “...ruefully acknowledge the futility of trying to reduce human behavior to numbers.” Rand's discovery led to other axioms about what happens when numbers are elevated from being a diagnostic tool into a policy tool. Donald Campbell coined his law in 1976:
"The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor."
You'd think this would give pause to education deformers who seek to create rating systems built on test scores that would "have consequences" in education systems. At most, student test scores might be useful in evaluating entire schools or districts. Test makers and researchers alike agree that trying to tease out individual teacher effectiveness using student test scores is a folly and mistake. There are too many confounding variables. But in their zeal the deformers have no room for such contrary thoughts. Campbell could have added that such hubris tends to indicate corruption in those who propose such actions.

The MinnCan brief is chock full of proposals to create statistical indices tying student and teacher performance, including the ultimate goal of "Update[ing] our data systems to link student performance to individual teachers and enable tracking of student learning over time." They way they put this idea makes it seem merely a matter of mathematics. If only. It would be nice, too, if we could devise a formula to convert lead into gold, which would probably be an easier project.

It takes a lot of hutzpah to advocate that the state spend enormous sums of scarce education money developing unreliable data systems targeting a small percentage of school teachers who only control 15 to 20 percent of student outcomes in any case. Just how unreliable are these so-called "value-added" measures?  Even the best VAMs have a margin of error of 28 percent. That means an "average" teacher could be rated anywhere from 22 to 78 percent effective. An EPI briefing paper concluded that "value-added measures" were extremely unstable with relation to invidivual teachers over two or more years:
One study found that across five large urban districts, among teachers who were ranked in the top 20% of effectiveness in the first year, fewer than a third were in that top group the next year, and another third moved all the way down to the bottom 40%. Another found that teachers' effectiveness ratings in one year could only predict from 4% to 16% of the variation in such ratings in the following year. Thus, a teacher who appears to be very ineffective in one year might have a dramatically different result the following year. The same dramatic fluctuations were found for teachers ranked at the bottom in the first year of analysis. This runs counter to most people's notions that the true quality of a teacher is likely to change very little over time and raises questions about whether what is measured is largely a "teacher effect" or the effect of a wide variety of other factors.
In New York City, where value-added measures have now been kept for two years,  one teacher reported on his blog that his Teacher Data Report for last year was under 10 and this year is over 95 - an 85 percent change from one year to the next. The teacher reports doing nothing substantially differently for the two years as he is veteran teacher. The New York system, supposedly one of the most advanced in existence, has a given margin of error of 35 points, which of course is wildly exceeded in this one anecdotal case. More honest analysts describe VAM measures as "weak and error-prone." But not the geniuses at MinnCan.

In you throw in Campbell's Law, rampant cheating and teaching to tests, the measures become that much less reliable.  For MinnCan and the education deformers these facts are irrelevant. That is because theirs is a political crusade to privatize and commercialize public education, not to improve the learning of children. Real concern for education would include considering the possibility that your actions will degrade, not improve education, and that there are other, more fruitful avenues which hold promising possibilities, such as early childhood intervention.

Recently the Minnesota Legislature showed what happens when irresponsible organizations like MinnCan propagate false information about schools and teachers. Armed with studies from the education deformers Minnesota Republicans proposed legislation that would have ended teacher tenure, instead basing retention and teacher salaries on value-added measures that included a 50 percent weight on student test scores. This is what MinnCan means when it talks about how numbers should "have consequences."

Far from improving students' education, MinnCan and the deformers at the legislature are instead dead-set on ruining teachers' reputations and encouraging them to quit their profession, all by using bogus numbers and studies. The only remaining question is how much of this agenda will pass, given Mark Dayton's proclivity to compromise on education issues.
*  *  *
*According to MinnCan's prospectus, it will pay 50Can 40 percent of its budget - $1.5 million over three years.