Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Drinking Liberally: Hair of the Dog

This coming Thursday night, the first of January, Drinking Liberally will meet at its usual place, the 331 Club in northeast Minneapolis, from six to nine or so for a Hair of the Dog edition of DL.

There will be football on the big screen early and a DJ later in the evening. For those of you who celebrated a little too much the previous evening, Bloody Marys and perhaps some other soothing drinks will be for sale.

Drinking Liberally has also announced a competition to name the unofficial Official Drink of the Obama Administration. Perhaps we'll have a chance to do a little "drink engineering."

And mark your calendars for DL next week, January 8th too, boys and girls. John Lesch, a Minnesota House member from St. Paul, will be a guest at Drinking Liberally to talk about the upcoming legislative session. It promises to be a doozy! The session will probably be exciting, too.

Update: Well, ixnay on the ootballfay probably.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Smell of Fear returns

When we last left Fritz Knaak - or Spot did, anyway - he was fulminating about and against the consideration of initially rejected absentee ballots in the recount:

Minnesotans should not just be concerned about this potential – they should be almost fearful of the Franken Campaign's unprecedented efforts to get across to their private data to influence this recount – and equally fearful of the Franken Campaign's efforts to force rejected and spoiled ballots into a recount for the first time ever in the 150 year history of our state.

Of course, Fritz was really the one who was fearful; Sigmund Spot would probably theorize that Fritz was projecting.

How did that work out for him, Spotty?

Not well, grasshopper. You see, starting tomorrow, there will be a series of meeting around the state to consider improperly rejected absentee ballots. The counties identified a total of 1,346 ballots that fall into the improperly rejected category, and the Franken camp says just count them all, but not so fast says the Coleman campaign:

The campaigns of Sen. Norm Coleman and Al Franken disagree over the number of absentee ballots that were improperly rejected and should now be counted.

While Franken wants to count 1,346 ballots that county officials say were mistakenly rejected, Coleman for now is agreeing to count only 136 of them. Campaign spokesman Cullen Sheehan said the campaign may agree to counting more of the county-identified ballots this afternoon and also is likely to seek to add several hundred more that the counties have not identified as having been rejected in error.

The dispute sets up the potential for a contentious series of meetings around the state Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday between county officials and the two campaigns over which absentee ballots should be counted or remain excluded.

In its recent order on the subject, the Minnesota Supreme Court held that the two campaigns had to agree on which absentee ballots should be counted.

Boy, that sounds for a recipe for disaster, doesn't it Spotty?

Yes it does. This is from a letter from Robert Frame in today's Star Tribune:

I am flummoxed by the decision by the bare majority of those Minnesota Supreme Court justices who heard the case about counting the incorrectly rejected absentee ballots. It not only defies logic that they would insert the partisan campaigns into deciding whether to count all validly cast votes; it defies our democracy. I am not surprised that their reasoning is unconvincing, since I can't imagine how to justify their choice. I hope they feel the appropriate amount of shame in their decision.

Putting the campaigns in any measure of control of the decision about which ballots to count is, as Mr. Frame suggests, and abdication of the responsibilities of the election officials and the courts. And, as the linked article demonstrates, it isn't going to work. Thinking that Fritz & Co. would agree to include voters was an act of judicial fantasy.

But it does look like we're coming to the end of the line, and it is looking more and more like Al Franken will be the winner. Parenthetically, as the last senator elected, boys and girls, can you imagine the office that Al will get? Maybe a double wide in the Dirksen Office Building parking lot. If Al does get the nod, what will be the mood of Minnesotans?

Brian Lambert ruminated about that in a blog post just before Christmas:

To this point, most Minnesotans, and avid recount watchers around the country, have been entirely patient with the process. Mainly because it has been so thoroughly anti-Floridian, which is to say transparent and free of any discernible political big-footing. Both sides have spun their spins, challenged the unchallengeable, and countered the other's silly legal gambits. But as long as that has been peripheral noise to a process that counted every vote, the public has put up with it. Good for us.

But we are now fast approaching the moment when all the votes--challenged, absentee, what have you--will have been counted as best and as transparently as humanly possible. Once that point is reached and the canvassing board can certify a winner, I know my patience will have expired, and I don't think I'm alone.

I called Hamline School of Business professor Dave Schultz, an oft-quoted "expert source" on political matters (he also teaches election law the the U of M's law school). My curiosity was how he thought the "court of public opinion " might react to whoever refuses to accept the verdict of the actual ballot-counting? My sense is that Minnesotans have no appetite for legal gaming that would attempt to invalidate all the open, earnest work that has been going on. We've been nice about it up until now. We won't be if it looks like this thing is going to get re-fried with legal smoke and mirrors.

Here's more from the telephone conversation with Professor Schultz:

In general, Schultz--like many others--sees Coleman in a difficult situation, if only that as the recount exercises due diligence with every credible aspect of ballot-counting. Coleman's legal challenges to date have been directed toward vote suppression while Franken's strategy has been the opposite, counting everything.

Point being, Coleman is at--or very close to--the point where the only way he wins is by suppressing votes, which is not something that will go unnoticed--or play too well with the public--after all the attention this thing has received.

"Exactly," Schultz says. "That's the way he has to play it and the way that he has. He's gone to Ramsey County Court once and the Supreme Court twice in essence attempting to suppress votes, and he's lost each time."

Isn't that what Republicans do, Spotty?

Now it is Spot's turn to say exactly, grasshopper.

Friday, December 26, 2008

If Henry Paulson was Santa

Via Calculated Risk, a Stu Rees cartoon:

That's what Spot thinks, too

The editorial writers at the New York Times have a blog, and here's what they said about the Minnesota recount a few days ago:

It’s too early to say whether Mr. Franken or incumbent Senator Norm Coleman will win, but one thing is becoming clear. Minnesota is pretty good at running elections. [italics are Spot's]

The post continues:

The most important thing about this recount is that all votes in Minnesota are cast on paper — mainly on optical scan forms, that get read by computer. That means that when the votes have to be recounted, there are paper ballots that can be inspected. In states that have paperless electronic voting, this cannot be done.

The state Canvassing Board also seems — at least on the information that has emerged so far — to be performing its duties responsibly, and trying its best to figure out the intent of the voters.

Spot watched some of the Canvassing Board proceedings and was impressed by the diligence and the uniformity the Board's approach to each of the ballots.

But that surely is not the impression you would get if you read the right wing blogosphere. John Lott, already a winger favorite because of his defense of pacifiers with triggers, seems especially inflamed. At the link, boys and girls, you will find a long screed about what an "x" means, and he shows some ballots with the circle filled in for Norm Coleman and then an "x" crossed through it. These are clearly Coleman ballots, says Lott, even though because of Canvassing Board mischief, they are found to be votes for no one.

But in an article that Spot cannot find at the moment, the logic of dealing with the "x" was described by Chief Justice Eric Magnuson, a member of the Canvassing Board, and a Pawlenty appointee: when an "x" is put through a darkened circle in just the Senate race, it is considered as a "no, I changed my mind" indication; if the "x" is found across the ballot, it is considered a vote for a candidate. The voter appears to have marked candidates for a later return to the task - arduous for some - of filling in the circles.

Spot supposes you can quarrel with the rule, but it is sensible and logical and comes closer to determining the intent of the voter than any other rule you might come up with. It is hardly "mischief."

Ironically, the Coleman camp, who has told Franken early and often to give it up, now believes that election contest litigation is inevitable:

The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled against Senator Norm Coleman’s effort to keep dozens of possible double votes from Democratic-heavy precincts out of the long-running Senate recount, but left the door open for a lawsuit. Lawyers for Mr. Coleman, a Republican, said the decision virtually guaranteed that the recount would end in litigation, delaying the seating of a Minnesota senator well past when the next Congress convenes.

Spot reiterates that Norm Coleman should just concede and let the healing begin.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Drinking Liberally: Toys for Tots report

Spot almost forgot to tell you, boys and girls! We had a successful Toys for Tots drive at the Holiday Party last Thursday. We collected a big sack of toys, so big that Santa was grumbling all the way out to the car. Included were some footballs, basketballs and other things that older kids will enjoy, too.

Santa also, um, collected a little over $100 for donation to the Toys for Tots Drive, some of which came from 331 Club patrons who happened to be there but who were not part of Drinking Liberally.

Spot thanks everyone for participating. It was the best Holiday Party yet.

And a year-end thanks to the people at the 331 Club for their support - and occasionally their indulgence - throughout the year. So, especially, Alisha, John, Jason, Jarret, and Jon: you're the best.

Spot also wants to wish all of you, boys and girls, a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays and maybe most important of all: Peace.

No Drinking Liberally tomorrow night

We will NOT convene at the 331 Club tomorrow night for Drinking Liberally. There may be a meeting on the night of New Year's Day, January 1st. Stay tuned for details about that.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Life imitates art satirizing life

From the Onion this summer: Recession-Plagued Nation Demands New Bubble To Invest In:

WASHINGTON—A panel of top business leaders testified before Congress about the worsening recession Monday, demanding the government provide Americans with a new irresponsible and largely illusory economic bubble in which to invest.

"What America needs right now is not more talk and long-term strategy, but a concrete way to create more imaginary wealth in the very immediate future," said Thomas Jenkins, CFO of the Boston-area Jenkins Financial Group, a bubble-based investment firm. "We are in a crisis, and that crisis demands an unviable short-term solution."

The current economic woes, brought on by the collapse of the so-called "housing bubble," are considered the worst to hit investors since the equally untenable dot-com bubble burst in 2001. According to investment experts, now that the option of making millions of dollars in a short time with imaginary profits from bad real-estate deals has disappeared, the need for another spontaneous make-believe source of wealth has never been more urgent.

And then, in a case of life imitating art satirizing life, here's Steve Chapman in the Star Tribune today:

. . . Most of our problems stem from the bursting of the housing bubble. That sent home prices plunging, which reduced the value of mortgages and mortgage-backed securities, which caused losses at banks, which forced a cutback in lending, which squelched consumer spending, which brought the economy to a halt. Which started the whole miserable cycle over again.

But if the crisis stems from declining real estate values, why not stop them from declining? A spell of inflation would arrest the slide by pushing up the price of everything. As home prices stabilize, mortgage-backed securities would regain value, banks would get financially stronger, and loan officers would stop hiding in the vault.

Sounds pretty simple, doesn't it, Steve?

Is he out of his freakin' mind, Spotty?

Watch your tongue, grasshopper, but a pretty good case can be made. Oh, sure, Steve says we have to be careful, but we're good at that:

Once inflation has performed its useful role, it will have to be tamed. But the Fed has a lot of experience doing that. What it doesn't have is experience bringing the economy out of a deep recession or a depression.

Steve wants to get back to where we were! Wouldn't that be nice. But here's James Kunstler, cheerful fellow that he is, suggesting another tack:

We have to, so to speak, get to place mentally where we can face the kinds of change that are now necessary and unavoidable. We're not there yet. It's not clear whether the elected new national leadership knows just how severe the required changes will really be. Surely the public would be shocked to grasp what's in store. Probably the worst thing we can do now would be to mount a campaign to stay where we are, lost in raptures of happy motoring and blue-light-special shopping.

Steve isn't there, is he Spotty?

Spot is afraid not, grasshopper.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Taxes and virtue do NOT mix!

According to John LePlante, deep thinker at the Minnesota Free Market Institute:

In this Christmas season, it's important to remember just what "charity" is.

Charity is when you see somebody in need--let's call him Doug--and you, on your own volition, give him cash, groceries, a trip to the doctor's office, a shoveled-out driveway, or what have you.

Mr. LePlante's view of the term is conveniently limited. Spot just put "charity" into a search in the Free Dictionary, and this is what came up:

char·i·ty (chr-t)

n. pl. char·i·ties

1. Provision of help or relief to the poor; almsgiving.

2. Something given to help the needy; alms.

3. An institution, organization, or fund established to help the needy.

4. Benevolence or generosity toward others or toward humanity.

5. Indulgence or forbearance in judging others. See Synonyms at mercy.

6. often Charity Christianity The theological virtue defined as love directed first toward God but also toward oneself and one's neighbors as objects of God's love.

LaPlante thinks that if a government institution assists the poor, it does not count:

The self-interest of the bureaucrat and the politician is no more virtuous than the self-interest of the taxpayer. Unfortunately, each time the bureaucrat and the politician levy a dollar of taxes--cheered on by activist groups--the rest of us lose an opportunity to offer charity to those we see in need.

He's just so mad at the government for squelching his chances to be charitable.

Do you really think that's it, Spotty?

Do you, grasshopper?

Well, no.

The argument does seem a little strained, doesn't it? Here's how LaPlante winds up:

So where's the charity in [government efforts to help the poor]? Where's the altruism? Nowhere to be seen. Everything that happened resulted from self-interest.

In LaPlante's world, not a single "bureaucrat" or "politician" does anything for an altruistic reason, but he does.

Where do we find men like these, Spotty?

Spot doesn't know, grasshopper, he just doesn't know.

Technorati Tags: ,,

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Paulson's prayer

Please make them lend the money!

That's Henry Paulson surveying the results - or the lack of them - from the billions paid out so far in the financial bailout. And what pray tell, did we require of financial institutions receiving bailout money? Nothing. Here's Frank Rich:

In its own independent attempt to penetrate the bailout, the Government Accountability Office learned that “the standard agreement between Treasury and the participating institutions does not require that these institutions track or report how they plan to use, or do use, their capital investments.” Executives at all but two of the bailed-out banks told the G.A.O. that the “money is fungible,” so they “did not intend to track or report” specifically what happens to the taxpayers’ cash.

Spot and many others have been saying for a long time that it would be foolish to just "inject" all that cash without condition and hope for the best. And that's exactly what we did. We turned to some of the biggest looters and said, "Oh, here, can you hold our wallet for a while?"

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Ah, that's much better

Welcome to a new and improved Cucking Stool!

It looks pretty much the same to me, Spotty.

Maybe it does to the casual observer such as yourself, grasshopper, but trust Spot when he says that it's much better: easier to navigate archives, easier to find permalinks, and that's just the beginning.

It will be easier to load and change items in the sidebar: badges, polls, photos and videos, and promotions for Drinking Liberally.

It's a brave new world, grasshopper.

Friday, December 19, 2008

One more post before saying "goodbye"

Okay, that was a cheap trick. But there are going to be some changes to the blog format at the Cucking Stool; there may not be any new posts for a couple of days. Depends.

You may also see odd things if you come back before the changes are complete. You've been warned.

If you never hear from Spot again, it is because he is the victim of the Techno-Rapture.

Update: Well, that was actually pretty easy. A few more edits to make, but the posts are all here, and the comment system (Haloscan) works, too.

Norm, concede and let the healing begin!

The Star Tribune website reports this morning that Al Franken has taken a 70 vote lead over Norm Coleman.

On behalf of the beleaguered citizens of the State of Minnesota, Spot calls on Norm Coleman to concede the election and let the healing begin.

We've heard that somewhere before, haven't we Spotty?

Yes, grasshopper, that's what Norm and his coterie told Al to do right after the election.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Supreme Court: absentee ballots (shorter version)

Coleman lawyer: May it please the Court. Boo! Florida! Florida! Florida! Ha, skeered ya!

Court: Settle down, counsel. Take a pill. This isn't Florida, and it's annoying when you suggest it is. Now, what's on your mind?

Coleman lawyer: Well I never! Anyway, we know there are a lot of wrongfully-rejected absentee ballots out there in the counties, maybe a whole lot of them. But, we don't want them counted because, well, we just don't. These voters do have a remedy: they can sue in each of the 87 counties in Minnesota to have their votes counted. Of course, most of them won't, and the Canvassing Board is probably going to certify a winner long before any of the suits could be heard, but hey, that's not our problem!

Court: That's cold, counsel.

Coleman lawyer: What do you want from us? Equal protection?

*  *  *

That's about how it went yesterday at the Supreme Court of Minnesota yesterday. From the linked Strib article:

The hearing in a packed room began with Justice Paul Anderson testily responding to Roger Magnuson, the lead attorney for Coleman, who compared Minnesota's recount to the 2000 presidential election dispute that focused on the counting of ballots in Florida. "This is not Florida," said Anderson.

Coleman's campaign does not want the Canvassing Board to count any improperly rejected absentee ballots, saying it is not the proper body to settle that issue. Instead, it wants those ballots set aside and preserved in the event either campaign goes to court after the recount to try to get a judge to include them in the tally. The Franken campaign wants the recount before the Canvassing Board to include the ballots.

You know how history museums have dioramas depicting different epochs: Stone Age Man, Bronze Age Man, etc.? Some day, there will be a diorama at the Minnesota History Center of someone looking remarkably like Roger Magnuson, shown standing in an ancient courtroom. The diorama narration will explain that the figure is Republican Age Man, a sub-species now extinct, who tried to maintain himself with increasingly bizarre and self-isolating rituals like the one depicted.

Regardless of how the election comes out, yesterday's court hearing represents the nadir of the story arc.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

DL holiday party reminder

Please come to the Drinking Liberally holiday party at the 331 Club in northeast Minneapolis Thursday night, the 18th, starting around six, as usual. The first of several bands is set to start around seven-thirty.

Santa's coming; Spot talked to him yesterday.

And don't forget the goodies for Toys for Tots.

Graphic by Tild.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A brief defense

Of ballot challengers in the Minnesota senate recount. There has been a lot of repeating of Judge Kathleen Gearin's - intemperate to Spot's ear - remarks about the number of challenges made, including in a Strib editorial today:

The campaigns have been shrinking the number of such ballots -- as well they should. Canvassing board member Judge Kathleen Gearin has been right to scold the two campaigns for allowing the challenged ballot number to swell unreasonably, at one point past 6,000. Frivolous challenges do more than waste officials' time and taxpayer treasure. They also exhibit a lack of seriousness that Gearin aptly labeled disrespectful to Minnesota voters.

We've all seen the pictures of volunteers from both campaigns hunched over an election official looking at ballots. Spot did not see a single one wearing a "frivolous" expression. Some of the volunteers, by the way, have put in as much or more time than the Canvassing Board has on this issue to date, for a lot less in pay.

Spot has said this before, but it is worth repeating. Put yourself in the shoes of a volunteer challenger: a ballot is presented; there is some question what the voter intended, maybe not much, but some, or the ballot contains some stray marks or other distinguishing feature that arguably make the voter identifiable (like voting for your cat for judge).

If the ballot is not challenged on the spot, it's gone forever from further consideration. You know that the election is really, really close, and you don't want to be the one who fails to challenge what may be THE vote that turns the tide.

Again, you're a volunteer. What do you do?

Gosh, Spotty, I'd challenge the ballot.

You have chosen well, grasshopper. There may be a few truly "frivolous" challenges in there, but Spot bets there are many more mistakes of judgment or erring on the side of caution. And the campaign professionals have whittled the challenge numbers down on both sides.

Spot believes that the recount was an enormous undertaking that's been pretty well done by the election judges and the volunteer challengers. Spot has also read accounts by election experts from around the country who also think so.

It is just regrettable that the Judge is so dismissive of the efforts of so many people.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Keep feeding!

Some of you, boys and girls, may remember Spot's mention of the fact that really nothing beyond cajoling has been done to make banks lend out all the "liquidity" they've been receiving. Here's how a cartoonist for Calculated Risk depicts the problem:

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Take me for a ride in your car, car!

What can Spot say about the auto industry bailout that hasn't been said?

Not much Spotty; keep it short.

Such impertinence, grasshopper! Spot has no idea where you get it.

*  *  *

We've been examining the financial and auto sector bailouts through the techno lens differentiating finance and industrial capitalism. Seven hundred billion for the financial services industry and mortgage problem, and nothing - so far - for what is almost certainly the biggest industrial sector we have left in the United States. The antipathy leveled at the industry, and the UAW auto workers in particular, is breathtaking, especially from some senators from southern states:

DETROIT - Festering animosity between the United Auto Workers and Southern senators who torpedoed the auto industry bailout bill erupted into full-fledged name calling Friday as union officials accused the lawmakers of trying to break the union on behalf of foreign automakers.

The vitriol had been near the surface for weeks as senators from states that house the transplant automakers' factories criticized the Detroit Three for management miscues and bloated UAW labour costs that lawmakers said make them uncompetitive.

But the UAW stopped biting its tongue after Republicans sank a House-passed bill Thursday night that would have loaned US$14 billion to cash-poor General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC to keep them out of bankruptcy protection. The Bush administration later stepped in and said it was ready to make money available to the automakers, likely from the $700-billion Wall Street bailout program.

Apparently, this group of senators tried to negotiate directly with the UAW:

Still, autoworkers remain angry with the senators who tried to negotiate wage and benefit concessions from the union, then scuttled the House-passed bill that would have granted the loans and set up a "car czar" to oversee the nearly insolvent companies and get concessions from the union and creditors. Their top targets were Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.); Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who led negotiations on a compromise; and Senator Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), who has been a vocal critic of the loans.

But as the New York Times points out, the labor differential between the domestic and foreign automakers isn't even all that great if you take out, especially, the so-called "legacy costs." Here's a graphic from the article:

Certainly, regional factors like cost of living account for part of the differential, too.

There are, of course, many more retired Big Three auto workers than foreign-owned factory auto workers. As Spot has observed earlier, with better accrual and funding of these benefits by management at the time the costs were actually incurred, they wouldn't be such a drain on the companies currently. But, by deferring the expenses for as long as possible, management has been able to inflate its profits, take bigger salaries, and earn bigger bonuses for decades. According to the linked article, the UAW is going to begin picking up the tab for the companies.

Now, it's time to pay the piper, and somehow it's the auto workers fault. Shredding the industry just because you don't like unions is an act of titanic stupidity. And turning these men and women - who are among the most skilled industrial workers in America - into fry cooks isn't going to improve the lot of the rest of us, either.

A thump of the tail to John Cole.

Finally, a question: who is Spot quoting in the title to the post?

Kersten Jeopardy

I'll take Kids These Days for $500, Alex.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Dont miss it: Drinking Liberally holiday party!

On Thursday night, December 18th, Drinking Liberally - Minneapolis will hold it annual holiday party at the 331 Club in northeast Minneapolis. The evening will begin at the usual time - 6 PM.

There are several musical acts scheduled to play at the 331 Club that night, starting around 7:30. And as usual, it will be half off bottles of wine and a buck off taps until 9 PM.

Oh! And Santa will be there, too!

And since we're doing a Toys for Tots collection again, please bring along a new unwrapped toy or gift, and high-ranking DL officials will see they get delivered to the Marines. You don't have to bring one to be welcome, but do it if you can. (Cash - check preferred - works, too) If memory serves, they are always looking for gifts appropriate for older kids, too, not just the tots.

Graphic by the incomparable Tild.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Stop me if you've heard this before, part 2

The Coleman campaign pursuing litigation to stop the counting of previously rejected absentee ballots:
The campaign of Sen. Norm Coleman is taking its case to the state Supreme Court, asking the justices to order counties to follow a standard procedure in identifying wrongfully rejected absentee ballots. It is asking county officials to halt any counting of rejected absentee ballots from the U.S. Senate election until the justices can rule on the campaign's request.

The campaign said that it feared what it called a chaotic "Florida situation" and that it is likely to go to the court today.

In other words, in order to prevent what happened in Florida, we must take all steps to repeat what happened in Florida.

Epic market failures

You're warming to this subject, aren't you Spotty?

Yes, grasshopper.

*  *  *

[Thursday, December 11th] On Wednesday, Spot posted Keep bailing!, a post about the contrast between the financial services bailout and the (possible) automotive sector bailout. He suggested that the difference in treatment of the two was related to the current dominance of Finance Capitalism over Industrial Capitalism in the United States. Many people - including our friend techno in an essay that Spot linked to before, but you can read it here - say Finance Capitalism has become dominant because of the rise of the Chicago school of economists: Milton Friedman and his circumjovialists.

Spot, what are circumjovialists?

Look it up, grasshopper. It's a word you'll enjoy being able to use.

Anyway, we all know Uncle Milty; he's called in some circles the Maven of Mayhem. Uncle Milty's views of "creative destruction" have led acolytes like David Strom to suggest that maybe all the turmoil in the financial markets wasn't so bad after all! Because, apparently, moderation and prudence can stifle economic growth! But apparently not the only thing that can stifle economic growth, as we're finding out.

Although he doesn't have a link at the moment, Spot remembers King Banaian bemoaning the day when Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs, the last big independent investment banks left standing, turned themselves into commercial bank holding companies - in order to, as the linked NYT article says, avail themselves of the Federal Reserve's lending facilities, and in exchange for tighter regulation. The professor shook his head sadly, and said that financial innovation would have to come from somewhere else.

Thanks, Professor, but we've had all the financial innovation we can afford for a very long time! Probably more than we can afford, as a matter of fact.

[Friday, Decemer 12th] So, where was Spot? Oh, yes! The Senate turned down the idea of even the chintzy little bailout. (Spot toyed with using the perfectly serviceable word niggardly, but concluded that some right winger would accuse him of being a racist.)

When we look at both of these situations, we have to place at least some of the blame, probably a lot of it, on the right wingers' holy spirit, the Invisible Hand. In fact, Spot wrote some new words for the hymn tune by the Welshman John Roberts a couple of years ago:

Immortal, Invisible Hand only wise,
Be careful, however, it’ll poke out your eyes.
Its origin Scottish, a myth from the moors,
It mostly appeals to the pikers and the boors.

Unthinking, uncaring, and cold as a fish,
Nor gen’rous, nor sharing, a total knish.
Its logic, all simple, its surface appeal,
Will make some scrubs think that it’s the real deal.

All laud they would render; O dear sweaty Hand,
E'en as You turn earth into a No Man’s Land.
The Hand gives a dope slap as it bids us goodbye,
Then gives us the Finger, and a poke in the eye.

Spotty, are you clairvoyant?

Might be, grasshopper. You'll have to make up your own mind.

In any event, in the past couple of months, we have witnessed epic market failures. Uncle Alan admits as much regarding the financial sector. Spot submits that the problem with the domestic automobile industry has a lot more to do with the products offered by the automakers (Hummers? What were they thinking?) than the cost of labor. And the auto workers built the cars they were told to build, didn't they?

Blaming the UAW for the industry's problem is a red herring. When you read about "legacy costs" that the industry has, and it allocates a sum to every car being currently produced, it's not the auto worker's fault. It's the fault of a management that failed to properly accrue and fund the cost of future retiree benefits back when they were incurred. Why did management do that? Well, to to make the profit and loss statement look better, which in turn allowed bigger management paychecks. Those guys retired with their bundle years ago, leaving the problem to their posterity.

Why were we so asleep at the switch? Because the market fundamentalists not only told us the "market" would take care of it, we would make things worse if we were foolish enough to interfere with the Invisible Hand.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Is it news or propaganda?

The Franken campaign's new YouTube video about uncounted absentee ballots has generated some buzz. The Coleman people just say it's a new low. Here's the video:

Jay Weiner at MinnPost.com has a post up about the video, too. The caption for the video there is:

Franken video: News or propaganda? You be the judge

Spot doesn't think the Franken people produced the video as "news," although it is "newsworthy." It certainly isn't "news" in the sense of giving the Flat Earthers equal time the way some "news" outlets seem to think is necessary, even when there really isn't another "side." What's Al supposed to do Jay, invite a spokesman for Coleman on the video to call these voters liars?

"Propaganda" is a pejorative term, certainly so in common parlance. So those are our choices? Sorry; Spot chooses "neither of the above," because Weiner's words are not well-chosen.

Spot says it is a well-done advocacy piece. It makes the equal protection argument very well. And you will note that the Coleman campaign does not contest the facts as described by the participants in the video.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Keep bailing!

You know how Spot says sometimes the posts just write themselves, grasshopper?

Yup, you do say that Spotty.

Well, this is not one of them. But it's a very important subject, and Spot hopes the boys and girls will stick with it.

*  *  *

It has been fascinating to Spot to watch the reactions to the bailouts of the financial services industry vs. the proposed bailout of the Big Three automakers. It's a sign of the times, really, and Spot thinks it is proof that we need to rethink some priorities. There has been some vociferous opposition to both, but seemingly much more so to the auto industry bailout. Why?

After some hemming and hawing in Congress, a $700 billion rescue package was hammered out for the financial services industry. It gave Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson wide latitude and authority to take toxic assets off the hands of banks and others and to "inject" capital into financial institutions. That's a great verb under the circumstances, isn't it, boys and girls? The fed has been busy "injecting liquidity" into the system, too.

While Secretary Paulson has gotten his financial Super Soaker out and squirted away to the tune of almost half of the $700 billion, the public has gotten little in return by way of promises to do what is needed: loan the money out and unfreeze the credit markets. And nothing has happened with respect to regulating financial markets, especially the so-called "shadow banking system" that was responsible for some much of the mortgage troubles.

Contrast this with the proposed auto industry bailout. Jeepers, these guys can't get a Good luck; Godspeed! out of Congress. The current offering is $15 billion, which the industry was already going to get for fuel economy initiatives:

WASHINGTON – Congressional Democrats sent the White House an emergency $15 billion auto bailout plan Monday, complete with provision of a "car czar" to oversee the industry's reinvention of itself. The Bush administration said there had been progress toward agreement but pressed further negotiations into the night.

The measure would rush bridge loans to Detroit's struggling Big Three but would also demand that the auto industry restructure itself in order to survive and would put an overseer chosen by President George W. Bush in charge of monitoring that effort, according to the draft obtained by The Associated Press.

At first blush, White House officials suggested privately that the draft plan might fall short of principles behind a broad agreement to give long-term financing only to viable companies. But a later statement from press secretary Dana Perino sounded relatively upbeat about the rescue legislation, which congressional leaders hope to approve in the next few days.

So on the one hand, we have Henry Paulson begging the banks to use the money we "injected," and on the other we have the school marm Nancy Pelosi and other Congressional leaders proposing:

Among the requirements included the draft proposal is one that the carmakers getting federal help get rid of their corporate jets — which became a potent symbol of the industry's ineptitude when the Big Three CEOs used them for their initial trips to Washington to plead before Congress for government aid.

The proposal also would give the overseer — a kind of "car czar" — say-so over any major business decisions by the automakers while they're taking advantage of federal aid. The companies would have to open their books to the government, including informing the overseer of any transaction of $25 million or more and any "material change" in their financial condition.

Under the plan, the carmakers could get emergency loans right away. Then the overseer would write guidelines, due on the first of the year, for restructuring the Big Three automakers.

How much "liquidity" has been "injected" into just AIG so far?

About $150 billion and counting, Spotty. Ten times as much as the current proposal for the whole auto industry.

Right grasshopper. And do you know what those clowns from AIG did after the bailout was approved? They had an executive party.

Maybe draconian terms are needed for the auto industry, but you can certainly say the same thing for the financial services industry. Ironically, one of the arguments for the financial bailout was the meltdown's potential to affect the "real economy." Perhaps it hasn't dawned on Pelosi & Co. that the auto industry is part of THE REAL ECONOMY.

Guys like Kevin Phillips and Spot's DL friend techno might say that the difference in treatment can be explained by the outsized influence of Finance Capitalism vs. Industrial Capitalism in the United States. This is from a brilliant essay by techno:

There has been a lot of invented terminology to describe the change in fortunes of the Keynesians and the Friedmanites. But the MOST descriptive was that it marked the change from Industrial to Finance Capitalism. If River Rouge was the defining symbol of Industrial Capitalism, then the archetypical example of Finance Capitalism was Enron.

Enron embodied the major flaws of Finance Capitalism--it was only possible because of economic deregulation, it relied on a willing suspension of disbelief in all reasonable measures of prudence, it sold cotton-candy products like weather futures, and it relied on industrial sabotage to make its fantasy profit targets.

All of these maneuvers were done in public with the main movers featured prominently on the covers of the business press. Phil Gramm, who shepherded Enron’s enabling deregulation through the Senate, was a regular talking head on the television news shows because he was a true believer who preached, as a trained economist, that deregulation was necessary and virtuous. This was not some sort of invisible conspiracy, this was a seizure of the intellectual high ground.

But, scream the apologists for Finance Capitalism, we are not industrial saboteurs, vandals, and rip-off artists. We are SCIENTISTS and one of our members has been rewarded with a Nobel since 1968.

And sure enough, the defenders of Finance Capitalism have erected an awesome intellectual apparatus to justify their crazy ideas and when all else fails, they point to rising numbers at their Meccas--the trading pits of the various stock exchanges world-wide.

They don't point to rising numbers much any more, do they boys and girls?

This post has passed the magic 1,000 word mark, so Spot will end here for now. But consider: is a prosperous post-industrial America even possible, an America where we just sell each other pieces of paper representing hedges, bets, hunches, and blue sky?

Drinking Liberally: auditions

No, you don't have to audition to come to Drinking Liberally - Minneapolis. But tomorrow night - December 11th - we will be choosing our Santa for the Christmas party next week. Come on in and apply, or just be a member of the jury.

Spot will also buy a beer for the person who does the best dis of the governor of Illinois; it is Spot's sad duty to inform you he's a Democrat.

Remember, boys and girls, Drinking Liberally meets in Minneapolis Thursday nights, six to nine or so, at the 331 Club in northeast Minneapolis.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Ok, Katie, YOU try it

Yesterday, Katherine Kersten - Katie to you, boys and girls - offered a vicarious rebuttal to Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed. She tells the stirring story of Adam Shepard who, according to Katie, proved Ehrenriech wrong when she said:

Her dire conclusion: America condemns its unskilled workers to a life of poverty and hopelessness.

Shepard, young, healthy and unmarried, without kids and possessing a strong back, proved the American Dream was alive, alive she tells you!

Did he become a professional or part of management somewhere, Spot?

Well, not exactly, grasshopper. The 'Farian and Charlie both have really good critiques of the column, so Spot won't repeat their points here.

Anyway, Spot challenges Katie to put her money where her mouth is. She can go undercover as the recently widowed or divorced 50-ish spouse of a small business owner who has had some reversals over the last few years and spent their savings and cashed in the life insurance: all the money is gone. You can't say, of course, that you have any education beyond high school.

Spend six months, Katie. Spot will even stake you to a bus ticket anywhere in the continental 48; hell, he'll send you to Mexico, if you want.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

And they called the wind . . . "Kershaw" II

Spot has already commented - characteristically uncharitably - about Sean Kershaw's recent defense of charter schools that ran in the Strib. There were two sentences, however, that Spot wants to pick out for further examination:

Charters are a way of creating public schools. Nothing more.

Regular public schools and charters are just the same, Spotty?

In the sense that both trees and the fungi that live off them exist in the same forest, yes, Spot supposes so. But there are significant ways in which charters differ. We'll examine just a few.

In an earlier post, Spot listed the names of some existing charters in Minnesota:

Skills for Tomorrow (algebra, English, chemistry, and physics are so yesterday), New Voyage Academy (beam me up, Scotty!), Face to Face Academy (another combat school, apparently), Family Academy (where you can bet your arse they don't discuss family-making), Ascention Academy (a Big Coop special no doubt; Spot would like to look at the curriculum for that one), F. Scott Fitzgerald Writing (for all the parents who wanted to write the next Great American Novel but now hope little Johnnie or Janey will), Loveworks Academy (Spot's not touching that one with a stick), Higher Ground (here's a little of the sub rosa Spot was talking about), and one of Spot's favorites, Great Expectations! (Spot added the exclamation point, but it seemed like a natural).

Spot is sure it is just a coincidence that there are churches with coffee shops called Higher Grounds.

Gosh, you don't suppose that's some kind of Christian code, do you Spotty? And an effort to break down the separation of church and state. Some of those other names make you wonder, too.

Yes they do, don't they, grasshopper?

And you can set up a charter with the skinniest of resumes. This is from another of Spot's posts:

To take one simple example of the lack of nuturance and promise that Spot is talking about. Last week, Katie had a column extolling the virtues of a new school coming to town:

Six years ago, Mike Spangenberg was just a typical college kid who wanted to change the world. "I was big on social justice issues," he says. "I wanted to go to law school, because I thought that was the way to gain access to power."

Social inequality was what fired him most. "It seemed so clearly wrong to me that your ZIP code has such a profound impact on your chances in life," he says.

Then one day, during his senior year at the University of Connecticut, Spangenberg was paging through the campus newspaper while waiting for an English class to begin. An ad for Teach for America caught his eye. In a moment, his law school plans evaporated. "I thought, 'Here's my chance -- here's how I can do all the things I care about," he says. A few months later, he began what became four years of teaching in gritty, inner-city Philadelphia.

Now Spangenberg, who grew up in Maple Grove, is back in the Twin Cities. At age 27, he's continuing his crusade for educational equality as director of Stand Academy, a new charter school in downtown Minneapolis.

Mike sounds like a admirable kid, but the key word is kid. Mike would undoubtedly get carded at the 331 Club where Drinking Liberally meets, yet he is apparently going to be put in charge of public resources coming right out of public school budgets. And people like Katie think this is good. And all the while, as we build more big box retailers and chip away at our social institutions like the public schools, the ranks of the feral children, the nihilists, grow.

Spot imagines that the Somali kids love the idea of a School Crusader!

And do you know, boys and girls, who is the financial force behind the development of the KIPP school model, of which Stand Academy will be one? Spot knows you will find this hard to believe, but it's Wal-Mart. You can read a lot more about it by entering kipp schools walmart as a search engine query.

There is no mystery why big business is interested in the "drill and test" model of education: it makes for a more compliant retail work force.

Spot wants to mention one last thing as a difference between public schools and charters. The potential for rejection of students based on disabilities or ethnicity:

A St. Paul mom's concern about the application process for her son to apply to a charter school may force many more Minnesota charters to change their student application processes.

The schools are asking for more information than state law allows, according to the Minnesota Department of Education. The information -- such as whether students are receiving special education services or their ethnicity -- could be used to deny admission.

A perusal of charter school websites by the Star Tribune quickly found a dozen schools asking for details about prospective students that go too far.

One of the talking points of charter school advocates is that they're great for kids that are "hard to reach." But in the western suburbs, for example, there is already a cooperative public school district with all kinds of alternative programs: District 287. The person in charge of 287 is probably older than 27. And don't forget about things like open enrollment, inter-district magnet schools, and the It's Your Choice Program.

In his op-ed piece Sean Kershaw writes that the "last thing we need" is an argument of charters vs. district, that is real public, schools. No Sean, that's the first thing we need. Charter schools are just a source of plunder by an assortment of free booters and a way to undermine public schools.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

The descent of the 'Farian

The 'Farian has gone over to the Dark Side. Go read him as he contemplates a post barley-pop world.

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Friday, December 05, 2008

And they called the wind . . . "Kershaw"

Friday morning's Strib contained a piece of remarkable gasbaggery from Sean Kershaw, a puerile defense of charter schools. Kershaw is the Executive Director of the Citizens' League, the latter being the father of this growing malignancy, as he says:

Twenty years after the Citizens League proposed charter schools, the last thing we need is an argument about "charters vs. district schools," as the report from the Institute on Race and Poverty and the reporting from the Star Tribune suggest. We could eliminate charter schools tomorrow and still have an enormous educational crisis on our hands. Using this report to limit chartering at the Legislature in 2009 would be a big mistake.

You see, Kershaw has the real dog in the fight, so to speak.

But Kershaw's own words demonstrate the failure. Twenty years - that's almost a generation - of letting a thousand charter schools bloom and they really have bupkis to show for it.

Are there really a thousand charter schools in Minnesota, Spotty?

No grasshopper, but Spot likes the turn of the phrase. Their number is in the hundreds.

Kershaw has swung into action, of course, because of the recent report that he refers to from the University of Minnesota Institute on Race and Poverty. Spot refers to that report, and the Strib's article about it, Money rat hold status confirmed:

When charter schools started in Minnesota in the early 1990s, they were touted as a higher-quality alternative for parents, particularly poor and minority families, looking to escape underperforming district schools.

But a study released today by the University of Minnesota's Institute on Race and Poverty finds that most charter schools have fallen short of that promise and perform worse than comparable district schools on state tests. In the process, it said, charters also intensify racial and economic segregation and compound the problem by encouraging districts to compete by creating ethnic niche programs.

"So many people are seeing charter schools as a solution to poor, segregated neighborhoods," said Myron Orfield, the institute's executive director. "The sad part is, they're getting these kids to switch schools and then they're doing worse" than district schools.

And this is on top of a report earlier this year from the Legislative Auditor to the same effect.

You might be inclined to say, boys and girls, and Kershaw would be expected to be a shameless homer for charter school because he is just protecting the baby, and you would probably be right. But one of Kershaw's arguments is especially disingenuous:

Charters are a way of creating public schools. Nothing more. They are vehicles, with a variety of "models." And the data on results show that the distinction between successful and unsuccessful public schools is not between charters and districts.

Sorry, Sean, that's exactly what the Institute on Race and Poverty study showed.

One of the implications of Kershaw's comments is that charter schools are where innovation can be practiced. Indeed, that may be one of the new talking points defending charters, as was displayed in a letter from a charter school teacher that was featured the letter of the day in the Strib earlier this week:

Many of the most innovative schools we have are charter schools. [Spot quarrels with the factual accuracy of that statement, but never mind for now] I hope we begin to appreciate them and not just pressure them to become exactly like mainstream schools. They may be our last, best chance to recover some of the creativity and ingenuity that we have lost over these past few years of Back to Basics mentality.

So it's back to letting a thousand charter schools bloom, eh Spotty?

Exactly, grasshopper. Now you see the point.

But the really, really annoying part about this is that the same people who get all tingly about charter schools are the ones who drained the life out of real public schools with initiatives like No Child Left Behind; it's the Back to Basics mentality mentioned by the teacher. So it's what? Innovation for me, but not for thee?

Spot intends to expand on this in coming posts.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Don't forget Drinking Liberally tonight

DL will meet tonight with the topic Recount This! There should be some people who were involved in the recount there.

Drinking Liberally - Minneapolis meets Thursday nights, six to nine or so, at the 331 Club in northeast Minneapolis.

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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The late but unlamented

Rachael Paulose bears an even greater burden of obloquy as of today. From the press release:

WASHINGTON, D.C. / December 3, 2008 - Today, the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) announced the settlement of a prohibited personnel practice complaint filed by John Marti, an Assistant United States Attorney (AUSA) in the District of Minnesota. Mr. Marti previously served as the First Assistant United States Attorney (FAUSA) to the former U.S. Attorney, Rachel K. Paulose. He alleged that in April 2007, Ms. Paulose demoted him to a staff attorney position because he had reported to officials within the Department of Justice that she had mishandled classified material. OSC's investigation showed that Ms. Paulose retaliated against Mr. Marti for making whistleblower disclosures in violation of the Whistleblower Protection Act.

Spot probably wouldn't even bother to mention it now that Rachael has climbed on her Bissell and flown to Washington, except for this trip down memory lane with Katie.

And if you read the press release, boys and girls, you'll see that this little escapade has cost the taxpayers some money. Not to mention mishandling classified information.

That's not very conservative, Spotty!

No grasshopper; it's not.

A thump of the tail to Avidor.

Update: Tbogg comments on Princess Rachel Rainbow Sunshine Jesus Loves Me This I Know Esq. Hilariously.

A further thump of the the tail to the 'Farian.

Further update: Another thump of the tail to Nick Coleman for his column about Paulose today.

It's not nice to mock equal protection

Or due process for that matter. Especially when you've pledged to uphold them.

But, where were we? Oh, yes. Today, Katie tells an hysterical (funny hysterical? you decide, boys and girls) little story about the Senate recount dragging out until 2015! Spot will give Katie credit for her brave attempt at satire, but the story starts out with a premise too rotten for even the most opinionated of columnists at reputable newspapers:

Coleman appeared to hold a decided advantage in the contest after he won the actual vote count in 2008. But as the dispute dragged on, the events following Election Day proved largely irrelevant -- minor skirmishes leading up to the legal, political and public relations battle that was to follow.

Spot, do you think Katie meant "the events of election day," not "following?"

Well, grasshopper, Spot won't presume to know what Katie was actually thinking, but you could make a case that it parses better your way.

In any event, Katie's column is simply part of the right wing's attempt to establish the meme that Norm Coleman won on election day and that the recount is not legitimate.

This is, of course, baloney. The Lege, which wrote the statute, recognized that when votes are as close as this one, recounts are required to be sure that the final count is as accurate as possible.

But Katie and the Bund don't want to abide what may turn out to be the voters' actual judgment on election day. It's why Fritz (one letter short of a palindrome) Knaak has already declared victory several times.

But don't be fooled, boys and girls; we aren't simply auditing the election day tally. We're starting over.

Monday, December 01, 2008

He died in a hail of gunfire

Let's say you are a terrorist, or just a head case, or even a robber; you are heavily armed. You have a couple of machine pistols. You see a two people; one of them is a big galoot who thinks he is the Lone Ranger. The Lone Ranger pulls out his little chrome pistol with the ivory handle, just like the one George Patton carried.

The question is, which one do you cut in half first?

Spotty, I'd shoot the Lone Ranger first.

You have chosen well, grasshopper. The Lone Ranger dies in a hail of bullets and his pretty pistol clatters to the pavement. He never was much of a shot, but he's no match for somebody with machine pistols, anyway.

But in the wake of the carnage in Mumbai, right blogistan is aflame with the idea that armed citizens would have stopped the terrorists cold.

These are the people for whom James Bond movies are made.

In situations like this, even conventionally-armed cops can't stand up to the bad guys (scroll down for the story about Mike Blood). So, unless we're prepared to let the Lone Ranger and his pals carry Uzis around - and Spot for one is not - the deterrent is really small.

In fact, the Lone Ranger is more likely to shoot himself than anything else.

DL: preview of coming attractions

Here's what's coming up for Drinking Liberally - Minneapolis in December:

December 4th - Recount This - We'll talk about the now nearly-concluded recount. There will be a few people involved in the recount in attendance.

December 11th - Nothing scheduled yet, but Spot guarantees it will be fun.

December 18th - A Drinking Liberally Christmas (video from last year) - We'll have our holiday party and a Toys for Tots collection.

Remember, boys and girls, Drinking Liberally in Minneapolis meets Thursdays at the 331 Club in northeast Minneapolis from six to nine or so.

Spotty, do people need an invitation to come to DL?

No, grasshopper, of course not. Just be there or be square.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

It doesn't speak well for it, does it?

Spot saw the link to this NYT interview - with Jamie Galbraith - at A Tiny Revolution:

Do you find it odd that so few economists foresaw the current credit disaster? Some did. The person with the most serious claim for seeing it coming is Dean Baker, the Washington economist. I saw it coming in general terms.

But there are at least 15,000 professional economists in this country, and you’re saying only two or three of them foresaw the mortgage crisis? Ten or 12 would be closer than two or three.

What does that say about the field of economics, which claims to be a science? It’s an enormous blot on the reputation of the profession. There are thousands of economists. Most of them teach. And most of them teach a theoretical framework that has been shown to be fundamentally useless. [italics are Spot's]

You’re referring to the Washington-based conservative philosophy that rejects government regulation in favor of free-market worship? Reagan’s economists worshiped the market, but Bush didn’t worship the market. Bush simply turned over regulatory authority to his friends. It enabled all the shady operators and card sharks in the system to come to dominate how we finance.

Or, as Kevin Phillips, Spot's personal oracle says, "Bad capitalism drives out good capitalism."

Clearly, economics, is more, well, something than science. It's complete with its own holy spirit, called the Invisible Hand. Spot wishes he had a dime every time Craig Westover, David Strom, or King Banaian, just to name three of its confidence men, pledged undying faith in the market. Why, Spot could bail out a bank!

None of Milton Friedman's circumjovialists has had much to say about market fundamentalism recently, come to think of it.

Avidor sent Spot a link to a video of Paul Krugman - make that the Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman - doing a little stand-up comedy on the real estate bubble:

Pretty funny, but the whole thing is going to leave a mark, boys and girls.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Money rat hole status confirmed

Charter schools, that is. Here's the lede from a Strib front pager last Tuesday:

When charter schools started in Minnesota in the early 1990s, they were touted as a higher-quality alternative for parents, particularly poor and minority families, looking to escape underperforming district schools.

But a study released today by the University of Minnesota's Institute on Race and Poverty finds that most charter schools have fallen short of that promise and perform worse than comparable district schools on state tests. In the process, it said, charters also intensify racial and economic segregation and compound the problem by encouraging districts to compete by creating ethnic niche programs.

"So many people are seeing charter schools as a solution to poor, segregated neighborhoods," said Myron Orfield, the institute's executive director. "The sad part is, they're getting these kids to switch schools and then they're doing worse" than district schools.

Not to mention sucking the public district's budget dry, too. The bad news is coming pretty regularly for the charter school aficionados. Here's a quote from July about another report on substandard charter school performance:

The Office of the Legislative Auditor (OLA) made news when it released a new report on charter schools in Minnesota. (The June 2008 report, simply titled “Charter Schools,” is available at www.auditor.leg.state.mn.us/.)

The finding that got pundits and journalists talking is the conclusion that students in charter schools “generally did not perform as well on standardized academic measures as students in Minnesota district schools.”

So where do we go from here?

If you believe that poverty is the fundamental obstacle to educational performance, you might use this as an occasion to dismiss the role of charter schools, call for a new “war on poverty” that also includes yet more increases in funding for district schools.

Yes, John La Plante of the Minnesota Free Market Institute, that's what Spot would say! Spot says get rid of these school district parasites and the public schools would have more money to do more and better things.

But you see, boys and girls, that wouldn't further the right wing's effort to defund public education and one of its stakeholders: teachers. Specifically, organized teachers: Education Minnesota. King Banaian even had a post recently (Spot's not going to look it up; you can find it if you really want, boys and girls) denouncing the fact that public school teachers (organized) make more money than private school teachers (not so much).

Those public school teachers; they really get conservatives' goat. Overpaid and out of control: they want to teach stuff like tolerance and environmentalism, and don't want to teach intelligent design and creationism. No wonder conservatives hate 'em. Not nice and tractable like private school teachers.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Committing economic murder

Charlie and Driftglass both beat Spot to this one. That's to be expected, of course, especially Driftglass, since the subject matter is Tom Friedman of the New York Times. Friedman's latest navel gazing involves Assigning Moral Responsibility for the economic crack up we're experiencing. Here's the money quote:

So many people were in on it: People who had no business buying a home, with nothing down and nothing to pay for two years; people who had no business pushing such mortgages, but made fortunes doing so; people who had no business bundling those loans into securities and selling them to third parties, as if they were AAA bonds, but made fortunes doing so; people who had no business rating those loans as AAA, but made a fortunes doing so; and people who had no business buying those bonds and putting them on their balance sheets so they could earn a little better yield, but made fortunes doing so. [italics are Spot's]

Looking down from Mt. Olumpus*, Tom, it's probably hard to tell all these economic murderers apart. Let Spot help. Refer to your own words that Spot has italicized.

If "[p]eople who had no business buying a home" were "in on it" as you say, theirs was a crime of passion: wanting to own a home. The brokers said they were qualified, after all. And haven't we all been taught that home ownership, like cleanliness, is next to godliness? It's interesting that Tom puts these people first on the list. Maybe he was just thinking chronologically.

But if these people committed crimes of passion, the rest of the suspects on Tom's list are serial killers. For profit. They're the ones who made fortunes doing so.

Maybe Tom is right. But to Spot there is a qualitative difference between the person who just wanted to be a homeowner and the string of jackals who cashed in on the desire.

* Spot does know how to spell Olympus.