Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Tax the Rich: DWI Edition

Here's a note from the "wouldn't this be a fun campaign proposal" desk.

Consistent with Mark Dayton's "make the richest Minnesotan pay their fair share of taxes" slogan, I propose that Minnesota adopt a system of DWI enforcement that levies fines proportional to income and assets. Something like this:
A Norwegian businessman was ordered Tuesday to pay a fine of 700,000 kroner (80,000 euros, 109,000 dollars) for driving 400 meters while drunk, a court said.

Due to the man's wealth, the court in the southern Norwegian county of Aust-Agder handed down a heavier-than-usual sentence, which would normally be equivalent to a month-and-a-half's gross salary for the accused.

"The principle of proportionality implies that we should take into account the entire wealth of the person in cases where the defendant is more well off than most other people," a copy of the verdict obtained by AFP read.

The 49-year-old man is the heir of a rich shipping family.

His wealth totalled 228 million kroner (26 million euros, 35.5 million dollars) in 2008, when he had a gross annual income of around 752,000 kroner.
The framing you'd get from such a proposal would be brilliant: Let's talk about DWIs again! It's consistent with Dayton's revenue raising strategy, only it's harder to feel sorry for the job creators that are weaving all over the road.

In all seriousness, the deterrent effect of DWI fines are proportional to the income of the offender. Other Scandinavian countries have adopted the "day-fine" approach to equalize the impact of fines on offenders who have different incomes.

Additionally, there's a strong disincentive for prosecutors to go after wealthier people with lawyers over DWI offenses, and a strong incentive to plead them down. This is part of the reason that Tom Emmer has convictions for lesser offenses despite the involvement of alcohol. On the other hand, working class folks end up experiencing the full force of the law and the fixed fine has a much larger impact on them.

And since we're being serious for a moment, you could earmark these fines for enhanced enforcement efforts and mandatory ignition interlock devices for offenders, which would address the two factors that are most often cited in reducing DWI's - strong penalties and more certainty of being caught.

Follow me on Twitter @aaronklemz

Mark Dayton’s churlish luncheon companion

Imagine, if you will, a lunch hosted by Mark Dayton for Power Line’s Scott Johnson and a “friend.”

First of all, which of these two is more likely to have the poor taste to talk about the lunch?

And second, which one is more likely to have been the churlish companion?

At a charity auction in 1994 or so I won the opportunity to have Mark Dayton take me and a friend to "power lunch for two" at the Minneapolis Club. The lunch occurred toward the end of Dayton's tenure as the Minnesota state auditor. The lunch was extremely unpleasant because Dayton seemed to be unable to disagree agreeably. [ ]

So, we know it was Scotty who has the poor taste to talk about it, but Scotty says Dayton was the unpleasant one.

Run that one through Louis Nizer’s Rule of Probability, boy and girls, and see what you come up with.

Scotty’s rich story telling ability was brought to bear here as a preamble to a real scoop obtained by the Republican cub reporter Luke Hellier:

It turns out that affidavits filed by his wife were removed from the court file of his second divorce. They appear to have been removed by Dayton's attorney on Dayton's behalf [ ] and their removal was resolved by a subsequent court order returning most of the the divorce file to the parties.

Except, of course, they weren’t removed on Dayton’s behalf. Oops.

I took out the reference to a correction in the quote above, because I wanted it to be a surprise for you, boys and girls. Here it is, from the same post:

Luke Hellier has corrected his MDE post to reflect that the affidavits were removed from the court file by the attorney for Dayton's wife, not by the attorney for Dayton. That seems to me to make it more likely that the affidavits raised issues personally sensitive to Dayton's wife rather than to Dayton. I regret the error. [But he doesn’t regret the smear.]

You have to love the guys at Power Line. They certainly do. They are each others’ favorite commenters — in fact, they are each others’ only commenters. They’ll pop in on somebody else’s post, snap a few towels, and engage in some locker room jocularity. John, the performer formerly known as Hind-rocket, did it on this one:

JOHN adds: In 2006, Alan Fine was the Republican nominee for the Congressional seat that Keith Ellison ultimately won. At that time, the Minneapolis Star Tribune took a gleeful interest in Fine's ten-year-old divorce proceeding. The Strib's coverage was misleading at best, and was based on court files that may have been leaked illegally. Will the Strib show a similar level of interest in Mark Dayton's personal history?

I know, I know. Just kidding.

Just for the record, there were police reports of domestic abuse in the Fine case.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Unaware who their gods really are

From a James Kunstler post today:

[  ] The masses still truly believe that prayer will save them from bankruptcy, foreclosure, penury, the loss of status, and the cut-off of precious air-conditioning, so Glenn steps onto a national monument like an Aztec priest ascending the Pyramid of Huitzilopochtli [I added the link] to soothe the angry god with worshipful incantations, and incidentally maybe a few dozen sacrificial hearts cut out -- just as the tea-bagger right-wing glorifies the sacrifices of US soldiers blown up by roadside bombs for the sake of American military adventuring in lost causes like the war to turn Afghanistan into a functioning western-style democracy.

Glenn Beck's sidekick nowadays, Sarah Palin, is exactly the kind of corn pone Hitler that America deserves: a badly-educated, child-like, war-mongering opportunist easily manipulated by backstage extremist billionaires who think they don't have enough money yet. Sarah Palin is going to run for president in 2012. In the process she'll turn the sad remnants of the Republican party into a suicide cult, but she might just get elected and you can kiss the 230-year-long experiment in representative government goodbye for good.

“Backstage extremist billionaires who think they don’t have enough money yet.” Gosh, I wonder who Kunstler could be referring to? Could it possibly be, inter alia, these three?

There’s just one element missing from these snapshots [the lower Manhattan mosque protests and Glenn Beck at the Lincoln Memorial] of America’s ostensibly spontaneous and leaderless populist uprising: the sugar daddies who are bankrolling it, and have been doing so since well before the “death panel” warm-up acts of last summer. Three heavy hitters rule. You’ve heard of one of them, Rupert Murdoch. The other two, the brothers David and Charles Koch, are even richer, with a combined wealth exceeded only by that of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett among Americans. But even those carrying the Kochs’ banner may not know who these brothers are.

Your average Tea Partier almost certainly does not know who’s behind the “movement.” It’s a movement of the easily led, duped into thinking this was all their idea. You have to wonder if it even occurred to the average attendee at the Beck rally to ask who paid for their bus ride.

That quote above was from Frank Rich, writing in the Sunday NYT. He was, in turn, referring to an extensive profile in The New Yorker magazine by Jane Mayer.

Kunstler wraps up with this question:

The bigger mystery in all this -- if I may perhaps engage in some nostalgia of my own -- is: what happened to reasonable, rational, educated people of purpose in this country to drive them into such burrow of cowardice that they can't speak the truth, or act decisively, or even defend themselves against such a host of vicious morons in a time of troubles?

What indeed? Regrettably, Paul Krugman may have the answer:

It will be an ugly scene [after the November elections, should the Democrats lose a house of Congress], and it will be dangerous, too. The 1990s were a time of peace and prosperity; this is a time of neither. In particular, we’re still suffering the after-effects of the worst economic crisis since the 1930s, and we can’t afford to have a federal government paralyzed by an opposition with no interest in helping the president govern. But that’s what we’re likely to get.

If I were President Obama, I’d be doing all I could to head off this prospect, offering some major new initiatives on the economic front in particular, if only to shake up the political dynamic. But my guess is that the president will continue to play it safe, all the way into catastrophe.

An altogether likely prospect.

Tony Angelo: Tom Emmer is the Gold Standard

In missed votes, anyway. Alliance for a Better Minnesota has been running an ad about the percentage of votes Emmer has missed in the Minnesota House of Representatives.

And Tony, who I am coming to learn, often asks the next question, asks it again, “And that’s compared to what?”

And here’s what Tony found:

So while Alliance for a Better Minnesota claims Tom Emmer missed one out of every five votes (it's actually more, over 22% if you figure 142/621) according to my database Tom Emmer "only" missed over 18% of votes. The word only in that sentence is in quotes because Tom Emmer only missed more votes than any other legislator and it's not even close.

Again according to the database I compiled of roll call votes Tom Emmer missed 147, second in missed votes was Doug Magnus with 111 and they're the only two who missed more than 100. The mean number of votes missed was 19, but in a skewed data set like this one mean is not the measure that you want to use for average, median is and the median number of votes missed was 9.

That's rather staggering when put into context, Tom Emmer missed 147 votes and the average legislator missed 9. The z-score, standard deviations from the mean, of Tom Emmer's missed votes is an out of this world 4.61. You could say that Tom Emmer is the Babe Ruth of missing votes.

Tom Emmer is the Black Swan, not predicted using ordinary statistical methods.

I have one small disagreement with Tony; Emmer is more like Mark McGwire. He had to be using steroids to pile up a record like that.

Incidentally, this is the first time I’ve linked to Tony’s blog, minn-Donkey. Try it; you’ll like it.

A lonely nut grinding an imaginary axe

The comment was left on the Minnesotans achieve “Intelligence Report” status post. I didn’t approve it, so it isn’t in the comment stream; I wanted to give it a place all by itself.


A crackdown on and labeling of all Americans? The Klan, white supremacy groups, the National Socialists (those loveable Nazis), nativists, gay bashers, and plain old garden variety racists, sure, but all Americans?

Please go to the Southern Poverty Law Center website, and just look at some of their recent activities:

Settlement Ends Louisiana Police Shooting Lawsuit

SPLC Files Suit Against Georgia Police Officers Who Beat Latino Man
SPLC’s New Anti-Bullying Film and Teaching Kit Now Available
SPLC Sues Mississippi Authorities, Hospital for Illegally Taking Immigrant's Newborn
Intelligence Report: Movement at Root of Recent Police Murders Growing
Guestworker Teachers Defrauded in International Labor Trafficking Scheme
Children with Disabilities Face Discrimination in New Orleans Schools
SPLC Files Suit After New Orleans First-Grader Handcuffed

That’s just on the front page.

You have a funny idea of “all Americans,” Dan.

The SPLC’s summer Intelligence Report, subtitled Meet the Patriots, is a virtual encyclopedia of right wing hate groups.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has brought many cases on behalf of minorities, the disenfranchised, and the poor. Here’s a docket of some of the more important cases it has brought.

Feidt’s comment is an insult — an ignorant, baseless insult — of a scrappy and courageous civil rights law firm that has done a lot of people a lot of good since it was founded in Birmingham, Alabama in 1971.

Feidt cites the fact that the Hutaree militia group was released on bail as proof of the “dodgy” character of the SPLC. The Hutaree militia was in fact on SLPC’s “watch list” of hate groups. But it is important to be mindful of a couple of things: the SPLC didn’t start the prosecutions, a United States Attorney in Michigan did. And those terrorism and conspiracy charges are still outstanding; the charges themselves have not been dismissed.

The SPLC wasn’t even in court, but it is ignorant and absurd to think — and again ignorant and foolish to write — that the charges were “laughed out of court.”

This comment has made me wonder whether Dan Feidt is just a lonely nut grinding an imaginary axe, or perhaps whether he is part of something at least a little more formally organized. A concerted effort to damage the SPLC is certainly not out of the questions; there have been threats against the organization before — and threats on Morris Dees’ life, too. I hope it’s the former, but I wouldn’t be surprised by the latter.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Breakfast at Delta Airlines

I just got back from a short trip to Montana. Beautiful place.  My wife and I flew from the Twin Cities to Missoula, via Delta Airlines. The flight itself went smoothly enough - perhaps because the flight was actually run by something called "Compass Airlines," not Delta itself.

When we booked the trip Expedia told us that we were to be served a "breakfast" on both flights - coming and going. Of course we knew that was just so much bullshit - we'd flown NWA and Delta before. What is surprising is the absolute penny pinching going on these days. To begin with, any checked bag now costs $25 each way; for two people checking ONE bag each, that amounts to a $100 surcharge, added on to the $700 roundtrip fare. You'd think with that kind of money changing hands an airline wouldn't have to so blatantly lie about what was served on the flight, but you'd be wrong. Take a look at this picture of "breakfast" according to Delta:

That might constitute breakfast for something like a squirrel, but for a human? Notice how the bag itself is nothing more than an advertisement for something called "Hilton Garden Inn." Did Delta have to pay anything for this "breakfast"? I took the bag home, opened it, and counted 20 peanuts:

$700 for a round-trip airplane ticket; $100 hidden charges for bringing some luggage; 20 peanuts for breakfast. Priceless. This is what late-stage monopoly capitalism looks like.

Minnesotans “achieve” Intelligence Report status

The Southern Poverty Law Center has been following the Patriots, nativists [spell checker helpfully offers satanists], and gay bashers for a long time. One of the publications of the SPLC is the Intelligence Report, a quarterly report on the activities of this crowd. The fall Intelligence Report is just out. It contains this:
bradlee dean at 1280 Pulido's [an unsuccessful Republican candidate for Congress in Illinois] coziness with the gay-bashing IFI was no more notable than that of some Minnesota elected officials' with You Can Run But You Cannot Hide Intl. Inc., a music ministry [I would have put “ministry” in quotes] that brings punk rock evangelism into public schools in the Midwest. On a May 15 radio show, the ministry's front man, Bradlee Dean, applauded the call of some Muslims for violence against gay people. "Muslims are calling for the executions of homosexuals in America," Dean said. "This just shows you … they seem to be more moral than even the American Christians… . They know homosexuality is an abomination."
Emmer at 1280
After Minnesota Independent writer Andy Birkey reported his comments, Dean backpedaled, saying he does not favor the execution of homosexuals. Despite those remarks, Republican State Rep. Tom Emmer defended the ministry as a "pro-traditional marriage group" composed of "nice people." And last November, Minnesota congresswoman and Tea Party darling Michele Bachmann was the keynote speaker at a fundraiser for the ministry.
This is Bachmann’s second consecutive appearance in the Intelligence Report. She was in the summer issue, too, named as one of the top congressional enablers of the Patriot movement in the article entitled Meet the Patriots.

The two sketches are by Ken Avidor, a frequent contributor here at the Cucking Stool. They depict the on air appearances of Bradlee Dean and Tom Emmer at the AM 1280 radio booth at the Minnesota State Fair.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

No Time to Subsidize Profit: an Overview

Thursday, August 26th was a day of reckoning for the for-profit college industry in America. After years of indiscriminate expansion, fueled by billions of dollars in public money, with virtually no oversight, publicly traded for-profit colleges were forced to turn over some very basic information to Sen. Tom Harkin's Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee.

These figures include:
  • A spreadsheet with detailed school-by-school data on revenue from sources including Pell Grants, all federal student loan programs, Department of Defense tuition assistance benefits, vocational rehabilitation funds, private loans, institutional loans, state loans, state grants, student-paid tuition, employer-paid tuition, and any and all other sources.
  • For the period July 1, 2007 to June 30, 2010, the number of students enrolled in online, in-person and hybrid programs; the number of new students enrolled each month by program, campus and mode of instruction; the total number of program completers each year; the total number who left by formally withdrawing or by stopping class attendance.
  • Detailed information, with randomized identification numbers, for each student who entered the college between July 1, 2007 and June 30, 2009, including enrollment date and completion or graduation status.
Once these numbers are made available to the public, we will finally start to get a more complete picture of this industry. This information request will be followed by another in September, which asks for even more. You can read the details at the links above.

Harkin's committee has been hot on the heels of the for-profit college industry, which is a good thing, since no one else seems to be. For-profit colleges used to be a small niche, usually privately owned trade or vocational schools. But legal changes abetted consolidation in the industry, on-line education made it possible to reach larger numbers of potential customers, and now we have a number of behemoth for-profit college chains that make huge profits. Enrollment in for-profit colleges has surged, increasing 225% from 1998 to 2008.

The vast majority of their revenue comes in the form of federally subsidized student aid programs, such as Pell Grants and federal student loans. In 2008-2009, $23.9 billion flowed from federal Title IV student aid programs through students to for-profit colleges. According to analysis from Harkin's committee, 50% of the expenses of the publicly traded for-profit colleges went toward education expenses, 31% of their expenses were for marketing and recruitment. Put simply, U.S. taxpayers annually shell out billions of dollars for profit and marketing expenses to for-profit colleges.

When President Obama took office, one of the first initiatives he announced was to bolster college completion rates. This admirable goal was seized upon by the for-profit colleges as their chance to establish themselves as a legitimate and essential component of the American higher education system. For example, consider this quote from the CEO of the Career College Association:
"This is not a slam on community colleges, but the reality is that they do not have the resources to do what President Obama wants them to do."
And here is the nut of the scheme.

State budget stress leads to higher education cuts causing higher tuition. Then politicians decry higher tuition rates that they caused, and attempt to compensate by increasing student aid programs. The public higher education system is forced to cut back just as demand increases. And the natural beneficiaries of this cycle of dysfunction are for-profit colleges. While the public system cuts, they expand. While there is political pressure to hold down public college tuition, there is investor pressure to increase tuition and reduce educational expenses at for-profit colleges. And lost in all of this is a focus on the essential outcomes of higher education: preparing a diverse population for the demands of life in a complex global economy and for their responsibilities as engaged citizens.

It is the students who lose out. Investigations and lawsuits have uncovered a shady world of recruiters who lie to students about the cost of for-profit colleges, the nature of student aid, and the success rates of their graduates. Students who do not complete a program find that their credits do not transfer and they lose their investment. Those who do complete are saddled with enormous debt burdens that they can never repay. And unlike the ways in which wealthier folks easily shed their debts, federal student loans cannot be discharged through bankruptcy.

The for-profit college scam is like so many other right-wing scams - done on the backs of poor and minority folks while being done "for their benefit." For all the trumpeting about choice and access, the fact is that for-profit colleges saddle their students with enormous and unsustainable debt loads.

In Minnesota, we've done more than nearly any other state to subsidize the for-profit college industry. Minnesota has seen a larger and larger proportion of its need based state student aid go to for-profit colleges while it has been rapidly decreasing its support of public higher education. Over $20 million of Minnesota State Grant funds flow annually to for-profit colleges. The proportion of Minnesota State Grant funds flowing to the for-profit colleges has increased at a similar pace to national trends.

Similar to Rob Levine's work here on the Cucking Stool and elsewhere about the charter school and school choice scams, I'll be bringing you a series of posts about the for-profit college industry in Minnesota. And they are very similar - the same ideology and techniques are at play, and the results are similar. I think one paragraph from the HELP committee's report captures it perfectly:
Evidence suggests that for-profit schools charge higher tuition than comparable public schools, spend a large share of revenues on expenses unrelated to teaching, experience high dropout rates, and, in some cases, employ abusive recruiting and debt-management practices. What distinguishes for-profit schools from public and non-profit private institutions is that they have an obligation to maximize profits for their shareholders. Indeed, securities law sanctifies the notion that each corporation must act in the interest of its shareholders. However, this imperative could conflict with the objective of Federal student aid programs, which is to increase access to a quality higher education. This evidence, and the potential conflicts underlying it, points to the need for rigorous government oversight and prudent regulation to safeguard the investments of taxpayers and students.
Investing in a world-class public higher education system will allow Minnesota to compete in a global economy, and attract new businesses and residents. Continuing the trend of neglecting public higher education will lead to a vicious cycle of higher tuition, less access, and a less prepared citizenry.

Next: Minnesota's disinvestment in public higher education and increasing subsidy of for-profit colleges.

Aaron Klemz is an Instructor in the Communication Department at Century College, White Bear Lake, Minnesota. His views here are his own, not that of his employer or any other organization.

Follow me on Twitter @aaronklemz

And we will find an undocumented alien to do your time

Okay, they won’t. But it’s a similar concept to this:
A couple weeks ago, I [Ian Ayres] became briefly fascinated and somewhat appalled by the appearance of a new Internet business that offered a sort of insurance against speeding tickets. In return for an annual fee of $169, ticketfree.org promised to reimburse you for the costs of up to $500 in moving violations. Its webpage enthused:
  • We don’t promise that you won’t get a ticket; we just promise that you won’t have to pay for it.
  • Never pay another ticket again. Period!
  • Never pay late fees on tickets.
  • Never worry about speed traps or radar while driving.
  • Never need an expensive ticket lawyer.
  • Never have a take a day off work to fight a ticket.
    As the writer Ayres, a professor at Yale (there’s that school again!), says:
    The first reaction of any economist would be that ticketfree.org faces an enormous moral hazard problem.
    o  O  o
    The first reaction of any lawyer would be that ticketfree.org faces an enormous set of legal risks. Can you imagine the tort lawsuit that would arise if a ticketfree.org customer killed someone while speeding? This is a contract that is likely to be void against public policy.
    But if we go back a ways in American history, we’ll find a time when you could buy your way out of military service or hire another to take your place. From a Civil War documentary on Voice of America:
    The law said a man who was drafted could stay out of the army by doing one of two things. He could pay the government three hundred dollars. Or he could pay another man to serve in his place. If a drafted man could not do either thing, then he must join the army or be shot as a deserter.
    Perhaps ticketfree.org is a more traditional American idea than it first appears.

    The eighth grade campaign

    Who could forget those wacky days of junior high school? Especially for you guys.

    Remember the kid who could shoved pencils all the way into his nose? (Whatever happened to him anyway?) Or the gross out specialist who could fart or belch on command? (Admit it; you remember him, too.) But the best practitioner in the physical humor department was the guy who could make his eyes operate entirely independent of each other. Remember?


    Then there was the bathroom humor specialist. He was the fellow who made up all the funny limericks about people from places like Wheeling, West Virginia and that funny-sounding place in — where was that? — Massachusetts? He was always drawing graffiti in the restrooms.

    kilroy horner


    You lost track of these loveable characters, didn’t you? But now you know what happened to them. They opened up a creative agency and are producing campaign commercials and ads for Tom Horner.

    Kilroy graphic by Phoenix Woman.

    Friday, August 27, 2010

    Central banks alone

    Ben Bernanke at the annual federal reserve conference at Jackson Hole:

    Central bankers alone cannot solve the world’s economic problems.

    Imagine our collective surprise! Has anyone told Milton Friedman?

    But the stock market shot up today on reassuring words like these from Chairman Bernanke:

    “Consistent with our mandate, the Federal Reserve is committed to promoting growth in employment and reducing resource slack more generally,” Mr. Bernanke said. “Because a significant further weakening in the economic outlook would likely be associated with further disinflation, in the current environment there is little or no potential conflict between the goals of supporting growth and employment and of maintaining price stability.”

    This guy is good, but he’s nowhere near as inscrutable as Alan Greenspan; that guy was a genius.

    What is “resource slack?” you may ask. It’s the pile of cash or cash equivalents that corporations are sitting on, and won’t invest, because they aren’t sure that anybody will be available to buy what they make. Demand is weak, in other words. Wealthy people, the only ones with money to spend, just aren’t it spending, either.

    This is the reason that making permanent the tax cuts for the rich aren’t going to help the economy. It is also why “trickle down” (or “piss on” as commenter Ned calls it) economics is, in the words, of George Bush the Elder, voodoo. (It’s a nice afternoon; I don’t intend to spend all of it collecting links about trickle down economics; you’re big enough to do it yourself.)

    According to the linked Times article:

    It was his most robust statement to date that the Fed would do its part to avoid a Japanese-style deflation from taking hold.

    Gee, I feel better already.

    Update: In a column published shortly before Bernanke’s statement, Paul Krugman wrote:

    What will Ben Bernanke, the Fed chairman, say in his big speech Friday in Jackson Hole, Wyo.? Will he hint at new steps to boost the economy? Stay tuned.

    But we can safely predict what he and other officials will say about where we are right now: that the economy is continuing to recover, albeit more slowly than they would like. Unfortunately, that’s not true: this isn’t a recovery, in any sense that matters. And policy makers should be doing everything they can to change that fact.

    Back to Bernanke (linked above):

    The Federal Reserve chairman, Ben S. Bernanke, said Friday that the central bank was determined to prevent the economy from slipping into a cycle of falling prices, even as he emphasized that he believed growth would continue in the second half of the year, “albeit at a relatively modest pace.” [italics are mine]

    We’re not paying people to borrow money yet (Japan darn near did that), but we’re getting there; the Fed is running out of options. And, as Krugman recounts, the Administration is stymied by Republicans, but has some things it can do:

    The administration has less freedom of action, since it can’t get legislation past the Republican blockade. But it still has options. It can revamp its deeply unsuccessful attempt to aid troubled homeowners. It can use Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-sponsored lenders, to engineer mortgage refinancing that puts money in the hands of American families — yes, Republicans will howl, but they’re doing that anyway. It can finally get serious about confronting China over its currency manipulation: how many times do the Chinese have to promise to change their policies, then renege, before the administration decides that it’s time to act?

    But I come back to to the sturdy crackers who shout “porklius” and seem to care not a whit about the economy, or perhaps are just too dim to understand the precarious position that the United States economy is in.

    “Not just some pig-ignorant guy”

    Well, Phoenix Woman, there’s room for debate on that one! In her post at Firedoglake, But They’re Not Racists, Really!, PW posts a bit from the Twin Cities conservative blogger, the “Admiral.”








    PW observes:

    Now remember, this isn’t some pig-ignorant guy with a fourth-grade education who literally doesn’t know any better. This is someone who is one of the elites, just like Alan Simpson and Max Baucus and Paul Ryan.

    Oh, and for future reference, Addie: Mr. Morillo-Alicea is not of Mexican heritage, but Puerto Rican. He was born in Panama, the son of a Vietnam veteran, is a Fulbright Scholar, and got his undergraduate degree from Yale, which I suspect is more than Addie has ever done. But, just to make you happy, I’ve found a burro named Pepe, just for you, and put him at the top of this post, where he can express his opinion of your opinions. Enjoy!

    Mark Dayton went to to Yale, too! I smell a conspiracy! Better check it out, Admiral.

    Thursday, August 26, 2010

    The Curious Case of Craig Westover

    The Curious Case of Craig Westover and the Disappearing Ford Plant

    ol fishsticks brand 1 In this morning's Strib, Craig "One Note" Westover expounds on how we cannot afford a fair tax system and must have one that is efficient for business instead.

    Hold that thought.

    There is another article in the same issue of said paper, recounting how St. Paul and the State basically agreed to give away the store to keep the Ford plant open, and Ford said "nyet."

    Reconcile these two stories. Discuss.

    In your conversation, boys and girls, you may wish to consider whether factors other than a government’s willingness to commit social suicide might be at play in affecting a business’s decision to locate, invest, or expand.

    Graphic by Tild.

    Wednesday, August 25, 2010

    Breakfast at Denny’s

    Breakfast at Denny's - Avidor
    Scene: a Denny’s Restaurant in Lino Lakes around 8 A.M.

    A bearded man, leading a donkey with a young boy on it, walks through the parking lot. He’s dark skinned with long hair and has eyes so dark they are almost black. He’s wearing a loose-fitting cotton or linen shirt and baggy pants made of a similar material, using a length of twine as a belt. He’s wearing sandals. The boy on the donkey looks like a typical suburban grade schooler.

    The man looks around, puzzled, and finally ties the donkey to the handle of a car in the handicapped parking spot. There are several pair of eyes fastened on the odd looking stranger through the restaurant’s window. He’s takes the boy off of the donkey, and they enter the restaurant.

    “Hey, you can’t park your donkey there,” says one of the patrons near the door, “You don’t have a handicapped permit.”

     The stranger looks at him, not understanding, but the boy tugs on his shirt, and the man leans over. The boy whispers something to him; he shrugs, and goes outside to untie the donkey while the boy waits behind.

    The man reties the donkey to a tree in the grass strip between the parking lot and the street. The donkey begins to graze contentedly, and the man returns to the restaurant. When he’s back inside, he gives the patron a quizzical look, searching for approval, and the patron smiles and gives him the thumbs up.

    The boy leads the man to a table, and they sit down. A waitress comes over with two glasses of water and wordlessly sets them down. The boy takes out a menu from the rack in the middle of the table, and the man studies the pictures on the menu, sometimes frowning and holding the menu at a different angle. He points to a couple of the pictures on the menu, and the boy, who is sitting on his right hand, rather than across the table, whispers to the man, apparently telling him what the items are.

    The waitress returns in a few minutes and asks the pair if they are ready to order. The boy says, “Yes, but he would like a pitcher of water first.”

    “A pitcher! What does he need that for? He hasn’t even drunk the water I brought him,” replies the waitress.

    “Yes, I know, but his feet are dusty and he wants to wash them before he eats. It’s custom.”

    The waitress stalks off, and returns with a pitcher of ice water. The stranger, puts his hands on the side of the pitcher, feeling the cold, but he looks up at the waitress and smiles in thanks. He walks out with the pitcher in hand, and he sits down on the curb, removes his sandals and washes his feet with the ice water.

    “Say, who is that?” the waitress asked the boy.

    “He’s my uncle; he’s staying with us; he doesn’t speak English,” chirps the boy.

    There is the sudden scraping of chair legs on the floor across the room. “What’s the matter, Carl?” says the waitress, “I’ll be with ya in a minute.” The stranger reenters the restaurant, and walks past the man whose chair had made the scraping noise, having breakfast with his wife. “Hey, pal, you ain’t from around here, are ya?” says the man.

    The boy calls out, “It’s okay; he’s my uncle.” The uncle hesitates for a moment, but then walks back to the table where the boy is sitting. He gives the waitress a nod of appreciation, hands her the empty pitcher, and resumes his seat. Carl glowers at him across the room.

    “Well, are you ready to order now?” asks the waitress.

    “Yes,” says the boy easily, “I’ll have a short stack, whole wheat, and some OJ. My uncle is hungry, though, so he’d like the Hungry Man breakfast with black coffee. But he wants a substitution for the pork sausage. Please.” Carl shifts in his chair again.

    “Does he want bacon, then?”

    The boys smiles and says, “No, that won’t do either, I’m afraid.” The boy and the waitress confer for a few moments. Then she walks back to to the order pick-up window and yells into the kitchen, “Hey Lenny! We got any lamb or goat?”

    Carl stands up now, upending his chair in the process, and shouts, “Goddammit! That’s enough.” He starts toward the stranger, and the boy steps between them.

    “Honest, mister; we don’t mean any harm. As I said, he’s a stranger here.”

    “Well, you and you uncle can just pack up that donkey of yours and get the hell outta here! I am so tired of this foreign crap.”

    Then the stranger speaks to Carl for the first time, addressing him in a strange language.

    “What the hell kind of language is that?” demands Carl. “Arabic?”

    “No, actually it’s Aramaic; it is a Semitic tongue, though,” replies the boy.

    “Whatever. What did he say?”

    “He’s thanking you. He said ‘I was a stranger, and you welcomed me.’”

    “What is that supposed to mean?”

    “I’m not sure; he’s full of odd sayings like that. Has always been that way.”

    The boys turns to his uncle, grabs his hand, and says sadly, “Come on unc; we’ll eat someplace else.”

    The illustration is by Ken Avidor, who blogs at Dump Michele Bachmann and sketches at Urban Sketchers – Twin Cities. Click on the graphic to see its original size. You’ve probably seen Ken’s work sketching the 2008 Republican National Convention and the recent Tom Petters trial. The idea for the story came up in a conversation with Ken.

    Let’s circle the drain in a CLOCKWISE direction!

    You’ve probably seen the new Tom Emmer television commercial featuring the Emmer brood on the front porch, reminiscent, of course, of Julie Andrews and the lovable von Trapp kids singing the Do Re Mi song. Well, that’s unfair, I suppose.

    I’m sure Julie Andrews has much better policy chops.

    The truly funny line in the commercial is the last one, where Emmer intones:

    It's time for a new direction.

    Instead of circling the drain in the usual counterclockwise direction under Governor Gutshot for the last eight years, Stonewall wants to try something different. It’s the same drain, though.

    Stonewall’s other signature slogan is, “Let’s take our state back!” From whom, Tom?

    "He's almost in a political no-man's land right now," said David Gaither, a former Republican state senator and one-time chief of staff for Pawlenty.

    "It's just tough to say we're going to 'take back the state,"' Gaither added. "From whom and take it back to what? Those things have to be expanded on."

    But don’t be looking for the empty jug Emmer to do that anytime soon.

    Note: There’s a metaphoric box of kibble for the first commenter who can tell me what we’d have to do to get the drain circle to reverse in direction.

    Our work here is done!

    From the New York Times this morning:

    “A bloody day,” Khalil Ahmed (not pictured), a 30-year-old engineer, said simply, as he stared at the cranes and bulldozers trying to rescue victims buried under the police station.

    “From the day of the fall of Saddam until now, this is what we have — explosions, killing and looting,” he said. “This is our destiny. It’s already written for us.”


    A misadventure of titanic proportions right from the start. But at least Halliburton got a big oil contract, so I guess that makes it a success.

    May God have mercy on us all.

    The photo is from the NYT, too.

    Tuesday, August 24, 2010

    God’s feeling the pinch II

    A follow up to God’s feeling the pinch; the church in the hole.

    I did not see until this morning Andy Birkey’s excellent story in the Minnesota Independent about Mac Hammond’s detour on the path to prosperity grace. (The photo is a picture of Mac Hammond and his wife Lynne from the MinnIndy story.)

    This whole story is so sweet with irony that it could give you cavities. For the whole sugar fix, though, you’ll have to go read Andy.

    There is one teensy aspect of the drama that I do want to highlight. From the MinnIndy story:

    In May, the church was served with papers demanding the return of $2.2 million in money it received from Gerard Cellette, who had been convicted of fraud. Cellette ran a Ponzi scheme and lawyers for the victims were attempting to collect the money from Living Word for remuneration.

    The church said in a statement in May that it felt it shouldn’t have to give the money back to the victims because of its status as a church. “This lawsuit, on behalf of Mr. Cellette’s investors, to take back the funds from LWCC and repay the investors is unfair. Our church is essentially being asked to be the guarantor to principally out-of-state, sophisticated investors that made bad investments with Mr. Cellette.”

    Absolutely shameless.

    Let’s use a slightly different hypothetical. A parishioner robs a gas station — or a bank — and with the cops in hot pursuit, drives to the LWCC, wheels into the parking lot, races into the church, drops the money at Mac’s feet, and says, “This money is for the church’s good works, Pastor Mac. I’ll be going away for a while, now.”

    And sure enough, he does!

    The question: whose money is it? The gas station or bank’s, or Pastor Mac’s? The answer is pretty easy, isn’t it?

    The real case is no different. Despite the dissembling and obfuscation of the LWCC’s statement, it is simply trying to keep money that was not parishioner Cellette’s to give. It is a moral stain on the church to claim otherwise.

    The sophistication of the investors — whose sophistication is suspect under the circumstances, anyway — is irrelevant to the fact that they money was stolen from them. That’s it: it’s dirty money. You can’t launder it and make it pure as the driven snow by making mortgage payments on the church building with it. The fact that some of the defrauded investors were from out of state also matters not at all.

    Charity is great — and we’ll give LWCC the benefit of the doubt here — but you have to be just first.

    Update: Mon Dieu! The LWCC church building is in foreclosure, but Pastor Mac can still find money to contribute to Michele Bachmann and cling to his Citation jet. A truly inspiring tale for our time.

    Tom Horner: Tea Party failure

    The Star Tribune reports the details of Tom Horner’s tax and budget plans. The Tea Party reacts.

    tax my underwear

    That’s right, friends. Tom Horner does want to tax your underwear, and your baseball cap, too!

    Let’s assume for a moment that our avatars for the Tea Party knock down $150K in taxable income, and they spend $1,000 on clothing to maintain themselves in sartorial splendor. Under whose plan would their taxes go up the most: Dayton’s or Horner’s?

    For a couple filing jointly, Dayton has proposed a new marginal tax rate that begins at a a taxable income of $150,000. So there would be no new taxes, or “no nude axes,” as someone trying to lip read George Bush Sr. might conclude, for these Tea Partiers under a Dayton plan. (The same is also true, obviously, if they only managed to make $145,000 taxable.)

    Tom Horner would tax these two an additional $65 on their $1,000 in purchases of underwear, outerwear, shoes, hats, and accessories.

    This is simple and generalized example, but it does show who wants whom to bear the cost of the additional tax revenue we need to raise.

    Monday, August 23, 2010

    God’s feeling the pinch

    Or, The church in the hole. (Flagrantly stolen from City Pages.)

    According to City Pages:

    God's feeling the recession pinch as hard as everyone else: Mac Hammond's prosperity gospel Living Word Christian Church is broke.

    It is also funny, almost beyond recounting, that TCF Bank bought the church property at the foreclosure sale. TCF, as the stuckee, undoubtedly bid its debt, $4.5 million; let’s see what this sucker fetches on the market when the redemption period is over.

    A thump of the tail to Dump Bachmann and Ken Avidor for the link.

    Attracting the right kind of people

    I'm going to take Tom Emmer at his word. Well, I'm going to take at face value two things he's said.

    One, that he wants to "attract high-income individuals and businesses to Minnesota."

    Two, that "this election is not about [conservative social] issues, this election is about the economy, and it’s about jobs."

    What if I told there was an economic development plan that would increase the in-migration of highly skilled, young, and highly educated workers? Keep in mind that the increasing age of Minnesota's population is consistently cited as a long-term drag on our economy.

    That this plan wouldn't require any new government spending, that in fact, it would generate revenue for the state directly through increased fees on this group, who would gladly pay them?

    That this plan would not only encourage this relatively young, relatively affluent group to relocate here, but that others in this group would visit as tourists, also swelling the state's coffers through increased sales tax receipts and fees?

    And that this plan would not only generate revenue directly, but it would also decrease the number of people eligible for public assistance and increase the number of people on private insurance instead of publicly subsidized health insurance?

    Not only that, but that a neighboring state has already adopted this economic development plan, and that we're at risk of losing revenue to this neighboring state?

    Would Tom Emmer be for it?

    I doubt it.

    Follow me on Twitter @aaronklemz

    The only thing dumber

    The only thing dumber than taking advice from Bradlee Dean on theology is taking advice from Bradlee Dean on the Constitution, viz.,

    This is part of a broadcast by Dean and members of the You Can Run But You Cannot Hide repertory theater company’s I know more about civil rights than most black folks.

    But taking constitutional advice from Bradlee Dean is exactly what Mitch Berg recommends:









    Come to think of it, there is one thing dumber still: taking constitutional advice from Tom Emmer. Governor Emmer, the federals are massing at the border.

    A thump of the tail to Ken Avidor.

    Saturday, August 21, 2010

    The abscess of petulance

    Or maybe better: Whine, whine, whine.

    I did a little riff, filler really, on trackers trying to sit in Mark Dayton’s lap, Chihuahuas with Flipcams. Mitch Berg got the vapors. Mitch's lament is that I made people look foolish at the Tea Party rally at the Minnesota Capitol on April 15, 2010 — and got it on video — so how could I possibly complain about trackers preventing voters from having an ordinary conversation with Mark Dayton? How dare I, indeed?

    There are several videos of interviews that I did at the rally in the sidebar: The Tea Party Tapes. I didn’t say that people looked foolish, Mitch, you did. But if the shoe fits, etc. & etc. I asked straightforward questions; they’re in the videos, too. If people hung themselves, they did it on their own. And by the way, I didn’t even put up some of the best stuff. I’m a humanitarian.

    But my “camera man” and I certainly never interfered with anybody trying to talk to a politician, or anyone else, for that matter. We didn’t press people to talk to us.

    Mitch reports that we didn’t identify who we were, and that some people thought we were from a television station. Well, look at the videos in the sidebar and decide for yourself if I identified myself. (I even interviewed a volunteer security person.)  And a television station? I’m wearing an orange baseball cap (not BLAZE orange, but orange) with the words Yellowstone National Park on it, and (to use Mitch’s term) a wrinkled black knit shirt. My “camera man,” who hadn’t operated a video camera in forty years (since as an intern in a public television station studio in Duluth), and who kept yelling, “Wait, wait; I’m not ready yet,” had a full beard, hair half-way down his back, and was wearing shorts. Our camera was a small amateur video camera.

    And people thought we were Fox News?

    I rest my case.

    There was a woman who came to us and hissed, “Infiltrators!” and then waddled off. If I had wanted to make somebody look foolish, I would have asked this woman how it is that we could be “infiltrators” on the most public lawn in the State of Minnesota. She had a lot of damn nerve, frankly, but I let it pass. As the apparent ringmaster of the rally, Mitch says he got “reports” about us. The impulse to call for the ejection of the “undesirables” (whoever that happens to be at the moment) runs really strong in the Tea Party.

    There was even an Emmer pig there, eating the public lawn (there is some imagery in there I haven’t explored yet):

    pigs for emmer

    (This is, incidentally, Taylor Swine, who has made several campaign appearance for Tom Emmer. Taylor is, by all accounts, a poised and well-mannered pet pig.)

    And in conclusion, as they say. If you read Mitch’s post all the way to the end, and through the comments, you will find these:

    Ben Says:
    August 19th, 2010 at 12:41 pm

    He called the cops on me last year, pussy. The left can dish it out but they sure can’t take it.

    DiscordianStooj Says:
    August 19th, 2010 at 7:28 pm

    Ben, he called the cops on you for video taping him at a public event?

    Ben Says:
    August 19th, 2010 at 11:01 pm

    No DJ for sending a “death threat” email. Let the little POS explain further if you really want to know. He is a fucking loser.

    Ben, I will explain further, since you brought it up. Ben is my neighbor, a twenty-something who lives at home; Ben has always been beside himself over my blogging, but it has come to a head in the last year. I’ve never written about Ben. Well, until now, that is.

    At a neighborhood party for a high school graduate last spring (well, last last spring, 2009), he came up to me and my wife and started swearing in a spittle-flecked rage, and nearly worked himself up into some kind of a seizure. His mom and dad weren’t there, and some of our neighbors took him in hand and led him away.

    Shortly before the Fourth of July parade in 2009, Ben sent me an email and told me not to come around to the parade, because I would get more of the same, and that he intended to clear the neighborhood of the likes of me so it would be a place for “decent folks.” (Ben had, perhaps, been watching too many old Westerns with their “This town ain’t big enough for the both of us” rhetoric.) Here’s the Tea Party impulse to eject the undesirables at work again. Well, for whatever reason, we didn’t run into Ben at the parade.

    A few days after the parade, however, Ben sent me an email threatening to put my wife “in my crosshairs.” Ben has commented favorably about guns on Mitch’s site; I viewed — and view, especially considering his earlier behavior and remarks  — that comment as a terroristic threat, made against a family member. I did make a complaint to the Edina Police, and they investigated.

    So, that’s it. Well, actually, there is more, but we’ll leave it at that.

    Friday, August 20, 2010

    I don’t think edgy is a good move for you, Tom

    Here’s Tom Horner’s first television commercial.

    On the other hand, he did get me to embed it in a post.

    And note the tastefully tied half windsor with a dimple. Well done, Tom.

    Thursday, August 19, 2010

    Drinking Liberally: the umbrella edition

    331-front-split-toned-with- Rain or shine, we will meet at the 331 Club in Northeast Minneapolis at six tonight.(We’ll stay inside if it rains.)

    There will be plenty to talk about, as usual.

    Wednesday, August 18, 2010

    The Governor of all suburbia

    Word is that Candidate Tom Emmer is skipping tomorrow's debate sponsored by the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities. Apparently he's too busy attending a fundraiser to bother with the debate - you know, "just one of those scheduling things." Members of the coalition - primarily cities in rural areas throughout the state - are disappointed.

    Also disappointed with Emmer's dismissive treatment of them are the mayors of the state's largest cities. His proposals to slash 40% of Local Government Aid and eliminate the Met Council are seen as short-sighted and dismissive of the needs of urban areas.

    So if you alienate the rural areas and you never did care about the urban centers, what's left? Given the slowdown in the growth of suburban developments, the empty expanses of half-built developments that litter Emmer's district, you'd think he'd realize that once the suburban middle class is wiped out, who will be left to support him?

    Defending Cop Killer bullets, because that's what they do

    The rightwing bloggers are beside themselves that they can't peg Mark Dayton as anti-gun. They would love to, but Dayton's not exactly Rosie O'Donnell. (P.S. Don't tell the SD56 GOP. Oh wait, someone already did.) His retort at Game Fair about his "F" grade from the National Rifle Association was devastating:

    So GOP mouthpieces have been busy looking for a way to save face. Too bad they have only the tired old playbook of misreading legislation and making up ridiculous slippery slope arguments to rely on. Judging from the reaction of the Game Fair crowd, they have more work to do.

    Gary Gross thinks he has Dayton dead to rights:

    I read the bill’s language. Suffice it to say that it’s frightening. Here’s the provision that likely got the NRA upset:

    (iv) a projectile for a center-fire rifle, designed or marketed as having armor piercing capability, that the Attorney General determines, under section 926(d), to be more likely to penetrate body armor than standard ammunition of the same caliber.

    That’s extremely slippery language. First off, it doesn’t say that the projectile would penetrate body armor. The threshold is met if it’s “more likely to penetrate body armor than standard ammunition of the same caliber.” Next, the “Attorney General determines, under section 926(d),” whether the projectile fits the vague description proposed in the legislation. Third, they’re talking about “a projectile for a center-fire rifle, designed or marketed as having armor piercing capability.” (emphasis in original)

    And so on and so forth. You know the drill - "slippery language," "vague description," etc. How are we supposed to know that some crazy liberal AG won't just declare all ammunition to be armor piercing and ban guns through the back door? But why listen to me spout on about it when Mitch Berg does it so much better?

    So the “Cop Killer Bullet” bill – written by Ted Kennedy – would have given the Attorney General the power to determine, more or less by fiat, exactly what constituted a “cop-killer” bullet. . . . It also means that the Attorney General – or more likely his employees in the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives – could make sweeping rulings about ammunition availability and legality by whim and fiat, creating new classes of criminals at will with a stroke of the pen. (emphasis mine)

    But here's the thing, in both Gross' piece and Berg's attempt to pile on, they love to cite legislative language except for the section which mandates exactly how the Attorney General will determine which ammunition is armor piercing (that would be section 926(d)):
    (b) DETERMINATION OF THE CAPABILITY OF PROJECTILES TO PENETRATE BODY ARMOR.--Section 926 of title 18, United States Code, is amended by adding at the end the following:

    ``(d)(1) Not later than 1 year after the date of enactment of this subsection, the Attorney General shall promulgate standards for the uniform testing of projectiles against Body Armor Exemplar.

    ``(2) The standards promulgated under paragraph (1) shall take into account, among other factors, variations in performance that are related to the length of the barrel of the handgun or center-fire rifle from which the projectile is fired and the amount and kind of powder used to propel the projectile.

    ``(3) As used in paragraph (1), the term `Body Armor Exemplar' means body armor that the Attorney General determines meets minimum standards for the protection of law enforcement officers.''

    Oh, you mean they'll actually have to do objective tests? And that these standards, like all regulatory determinations, will be subject to oversight from the courts? And you mean that this determination is made in comparison to "standard ammunition?" Oh, and you mean that not only does the ammo have to be actually armor piercing according to objective tests, it has to be also "designed and marketed as having armor piercing capability?" That's some "stroke of a pen."

    And this amendment failed nearly 2 to 1?

    The "scary gubmint" bureaucrat schtick is good work for the base, but if you want to see how it plays for regular folks who own guns, just go back and listen to the video again.

    Follow me on Twitter @aaronklemz

    Taxing Harry and Louise

    In trying to figure out the implications of income tax increases such as the ones that Mark Dayton is proposing, I thought I would ask Harry and Louise, America’s favorite worried couple, to help me out. And they were kind enough to agree. Thank you, Harry and Louise!

    I happen to know that Harry and Louise have a Minnesota taxable income (more about taxable income later) of exactly $151,000, and that they file joint federal and state returns. How do I know this? Well, since they are a figment of the Republican imagination, they can make whatever I say they make, right? We’ll make a series of assumptions (King Banaian ought to love that), about Dayton’s tax proposal (since the final one isn’t out yet; as I understand it, the Department of Revenue is being difficult about using the tax modeling software it has), and calculate the result. So, let’s see how the hard pressed Harry and Louise do!

    Our first assumption is a new top marginal rate of 9% (which used to exist) is applied to taxpayers jointly with a taxable income in Minnesota of over $150,000; that’s a number that Dayton has discussed as the place to start with the higher rate.

    So how much more do the hard pressed Harry and Louise pay under this scenario?


    Eleven dollars and fifty cents.

    What? That can’t be right!

    Okay, let’s check the math. One thousand dollars of taxable income, taxed at the rate of 9% rather than 7.85%. The difference, for those of you keeping score at home, is 1.15%, and 1.15 times a thousand, divided by a hundred is, mirabile dictu, $11.50.

    As King Banaian is my witness, I am not making this up.

    The beauty of this little exercise is that it can be used a rule of thumb to evaluate a variety of proposals, viz.:

    if the top marginal rates goes to 10%, the additional cost per $1,000 of taxable income over $150,000 is $21.50.

    My God, you can’t get take out at D’Amico’s for $21.50.

    If the top rate goes to 11%?  An additional $31.50 per thousand of taxable income over $150K. And so on.

    And the calculation works for incomes over Harry and Louise’s hard earned $151,000, too. Let’s say, just as an example, that the taxable income is $200,000, and the top rate — again over $150,000 of taxable income — is 9%. Additional tax? $11.50 times fifty, or $575.

    Remember, this is a calculation based in Minnesota taxable income, not gross income. Gross income (the biggest number on your pay stub) will typically be significantly higher. Minnesota taxable income is based on federal taxable income. To arrive at federal taxable income, you subtract from gross income a number of items that you can read about at the link, but they include allowances for exemptions for dependents, some IRA and other retirement expenses, deductions for mortgage interest paid, some capital losses, etc. For a family to have a taxable income of $150,000, it is fair to say that its gross income is probably $175,000 to $200,000, more or less.

    Let’s say Harry and Louise are knocking down $175,000 to get to the $151,000 taxable. Eleven dollars and fifty cents extra doesn’t seem too onerous, does it? Or even $21.50 or $31.50.

    But really, it isn’t even that much, because you get to deduct state taxes paid in determining your federal taxable income. If you have a federal taxable income of $150,00, the feds will, in effect, pay about a third of any increase in state income taxes. Again, I am not making this up; ask the King.

    Just for good order’s sake, and for those of you who are interested, here are a couple of links:

    Minnesota Department of Revenue – tax rates

    Minnesota Taxpayers’ Association – calculation of Minnesota taxable income from federal taxable income

    If Harry and Louise are prepared to leave Minnesota over these trivial, piddling incremental amounts, and move to a pesthole where they have to send their kids to private school, drive on even poorer roads that we presently have in Minnesota, and, where the cities are turning out the lights and returning roads to gravel, (and never mind they’ll have trouble making as much money) I say God bless ‘em and blow ‘em a kiss as they leave, because they have much bigger problems than their tax bill.

    The image was nicked from Greater Wingnuttia somewhere; I can’t even remember.

    Tuesday, August 17, 2010

    A progressive approach to education

    With Fall elections just around the corner, outside of former gubernatorial candidate Matt Entenza's making an issue of ending Minnesota participation in the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) act, pundits and candidates have been relatively quiet about public primary and secondary education.

    Democrats may be silent on the issue because of the split between the administration in Washington and its clueless Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan, and the teachers' unions. The Republicans may raise education as an issue of free markets and choice, but they'd have to be careful given recent overwhelming social scientific evidence that charter schools and school choice have proven to be an academic bust and in many cases financially fraudulent. Seems all those "rules" that charter schools don't have to adhere to are there for a purpose.

    Nevertheless it is an area that is ripe for cheap, positive change, beginning with disposing of most of  the educational reforms of the past 20 years, which have been based on misguided or outright false assumptions about the quality of American primary and secondary education, the supposed efficacy of "free markets" in all things - even when such a thing is impossible, and, as in the case of school choice, outright racism. Ending the time and funds schools have spent implementing this nonsense and letting them just get on with teaching will not only save money, but more importantly probably increase academic achievement and improve rates of racial and class integration.

    A progressive approach would jettison the failed policies born of right wing ideology,  including high-stakes testing, charter schools and school choice, alternative teacher certification, and so-called teacher "merit pay."

    We should instead be placing an appropriate high value on the experience and dedication of most public school teachers, and quit blaming them for all the ills of a dysfunctional society. An honest approach would offer each child the opportunity for a high-quality education  - no one can guarantee that each student is able or willing to take advantage of that opportunity. Basing teacher pay on the tested achievement of students, as current reformers advocate, is blatantly unfair. How is achievement to be measured?  How should credit, or blame, be apportioned among the educational stakeholders, including parents, students, schools, teachers, school boards, etc.? It is an impossible proposition.

    If we want those high quality schools we need to be willing to pay for them. Cutting their funding each year, or playing financial tricks with state reimbursements, as governor BridgeFail has done, only undermines the mission. But important as the schools themselves are the true path to educational excellence lies in the repair of our shredded social safety. No school can overcome general trends of poverty, unemployment or discrimination. That is where the low-hanging fruit of educational improvement lies.

    Here are a few straightforward suggestions for improving the educational environment in Minnesota:

    1) End all high-stakes testing. The unstated but clear purpose of these tests is to "prove" public schools a failure. There's more to student achievement and development than how they perform on one test on one day in one year. The tests in reality are used to punish schools, not to aid students. As but one example, under the NCLB by 2014 all schools must have 100% proficiency on adequate yearly progress exams. Any school having less than 100% proficiency, in any subgroup, no matter how small, shall be deemed a "failing school."

    It is a dangerous confusion of the realms to expect perfection in virtually anything in this world. Space shuttles fall from the sky; highway bridges fall into rivers. That we expect perfection in something as socially and economically varied a setting as public schools, where by law they must take any youngster who passes through their doors, is deluded in the extreme. If NCLB remains in place, by 2014 nearly every public school in the nation will be declared failing, to be either destroyed or replaced by a likely-to-fail charter school. That is not progress, it is sadistic idiocy.

    2) End the school choice and charter school movements.  School choice is a theory born of southern racism in the wake of the 1954 Supreme Court decision Brown vs. Board of Education, which outlawed segregation in public schools. It was given currency shortly after by Milton Friedman, a man who wanted to privatize everything, just because.

    Years of school choice and charter experiments have yielded an inescapable but rarely voiced conclusion: the experiment has failed. According to the most comprehensive study of charter schools ever, done by Stanford University, charter schools are twice as likely to be failing as a regular public schools. School choice schemes like the one in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, are disasters, as reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in a shocking series of stories a few years ago, with schools that have no books on their shelves and many that are frankly unable to do rudimentary teaching.

    Longtime choice advocates such as educational historian Diane Ravitch have abruptly reversed course with the wave of scholarly data pouring in demonstrating the poor educational attainment of choice and charter schools, and the high price our children are paying for continuing a failed experiment.

    3) Stop beating up on school teachers. Teachers, and secondarily their students, have been the unjustified butt of the entire school reform movement. Slogans such as "a great teacher in every classroom" have done tremendous damage to our schools. Reformers have a completely unrealistic view of school teachers, expecting every teacher to be a heroic performer. In what profession is each member perfect?

    Remember the old joke, "What do you call a medical school student who finishes last in his class? Doctor." Most teachers indeed are high-performing, dedicated professionals, despite media and political attacks on them. The expectations of teachers are completely out of line with the power of teachers to impact all students, especially considering the pay and prestige of the job, and the lack of readiness many children bring to school.

    Schools and teachers may be responsible for minding our children eight hours a day, but in reality even plumbers make more money. There is something desperately wrong with thinking teachers are the bane of American education yet paying them less than a manager of a fast-food restaurant.

    Twenty years ago, in the wake of the Reagan Administration's dishonest and alarmist Nation At Risk (NAR) study, the highly respected Sandia National Labs did a comprehensive examination of primary and secondary education in the U.S. Their results repudiated the NAR propaganda, reporting that primary and secondary education in the U.S. was as good or better than almost the entire world, and it was steadily getting better. The Sandia report warned that a threat to this achievement was on the horizon - politically motivated attacks that hurt the image of teachers, both with the public and with themselves. This false image of school teachers as inadequate, wrote the researchers at Sandia, could negatively impact the quality of education if it continued or deepened. Today you'd have to be living in a cave to not see the prescience of those scholars.

    3) End participation in NCLB.  If the federal government renews the NCLB act in its current form, states will have no choice but to end their participation in the program. A sad irony of the NCLB act is that it only applies so-called "Title 1" funds - money designated to help high-poverty and minority schools.Thus only poor schools are subject to the punitive policies of NCLB. Wealthy districts can basically ignore NCLB because they don't take much of the money.

    This policy has the (desired?) effect of killing innovation and success. In Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, the principal of a school that serves a high proportion of children in poverty thought he knew what might help his students: an in-school medical clinic. He brought together community partners to make the clinic a reality. What he found was stunning: almost 70 percent of the students who presented at the clinic had untreated eye problems.

    Professional school choice advocates whose livelihoods depend on the largess of opponents of public school teachers' unions, such as Joe Nathan of the Center for School Change, are understandably silent on how a "great teacher" can improve test scores of students who can't see. In Brooklyn Center free medical care for students resulted in a drop in behavioral problems and improved academic achievement.

    In a rational world such performance would be rewarded, but not in our perverted educational system. Instead, at the end of last year, despite this principal's enlightened and heroic performance, a few sub-groups at his school failed to meet NCLB's adequate yearly progress rules, mandating his firing, and the firing of at least half the teachers at his school.  If destroying real educational progress was the goal of NCLB, mission accomplished.

    4) Repair the social safety net.  The only real path to improved education performance is the repair of the social safety net, which has been steadily eviscerated since conservative philanthropy revved up in the late 1970s. Contrary to the fog machines of economists and puerile politicians, schools do not create the economic and political environments in which they operate. No school can stop the off-shoring of good jobs to low-wage and low-regulation foreign countries. Today even college graduates are losing jobs and seeing reduced pay. As Paul Krugman has written, being a college graduate today doesn't make you an economic winner; at best it makes you somewhat less of a loser. We cannot educate our way out of our economic mess.  Real political and economic changes must take place to reduce income and wealth inequality, and to  reduce racist and classist laws which deny economic opportunity to the lower socio-economic levels of our society.

    In the meantime we can save a lot of time and money by letting schools get back to what they do well: teaching. Maybe then we can hang on long enough to enact enough real change in Washington and St Paul to reverse our 30 year civilizational decline.

    Chihuahuas with Flipcams

    The Republican employment program known as Chihuahuas with Flipcams has reached pestilential levels. Candidate Mark Dayton complained about it. Here’s just a little bit of what he said:

    "When you interfere with the ability of Minnesotans to walk up to another candidate and have a civil conversation, you have gone too far," Dayton wrote in a letter to state GOP chairman Tony Sutton. "It is intentional harassment, disruption of our campaign activity and intimidation of Minnesota voters." [italics are mine]

    According to the Strib article, it was trackers at the recent Game Fair that prompted Dayton’s complaint.

    As Dayton points out, and as at least one commenter in the Strib comments affirms, it’s the voter intimidation that’s the real problem. Many people simply don’t want to be captured on video and have it appear on the web. It is harassment to keep these people from talking to a candidate.

    When he came to DL, Mark Dayton introduced the Republican tracker by name from the stage. The recording of remarks is not the problem here; it’s the intimidation of ordinary citizens.

    Monday, August 16, 2010

    And u 2 R morons

    Two twits in the Hot Dish Politics twitter feed:

    u 2 are morons









    A bold face liar would be someone who said something like Luke Hellier is brilliant!

    A bald-faced lie, on the other hand, might be told by someone who looks like this.

    BTW, 4 u @ hme, I knw dif twit/tweet.