Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Raise your hand if you remember Daniel Ellsberg

Some of you do. He is, of course, the Rand Corporation employee who leaked the Pentagon Papers. The recent Wikileaks disclosures and the Pentagon Papers will have, I think, similar story arcs. The two situations are different, of course, but there are some parallels, enough to be instructive.

The so-called Pentagon Papers were actually a history of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam starting right after the close of the Second World War. Ellsberg was one of the authors. He thought that the work demonstrated how citizens were being lied to by the government. The Pentagon Papers were published by the New York Times, the Washington Post, and others. The Nixon administrations tried unsuccessfully to restrain the NYT from publishing what Ellsberg gave them. In a decision relying in part on Near v. Minnesota (Brennan concurrence), the Supreme Court ruled that the Times could not be restrained from publishing the Pentagon Papers. You can read a pretty fair summary of the Pentagon Papers controversy here.

In the present Wikileaks matter, the documents are already out, so there isn’t any kind of prior restraint question. But does anybody remember what happened after the publication? Or maybe as important, didn’t happen?

The New York Times and the Washington Post didn’t get prosecuted for publishing the Pentagon Papers. You can be sure that the Nixon administration would have it done so if it could have. If a serious civil or criminal case had been brought against the newspapers at the time, you can bet that the same papers would be a little more leery of publishing the stuff from Wikileaks. The newspapers were protected, though, by the First Amendment’s speech and press provisions.

Ellsberg did get prosecuted for violation of the Espionage Act. Ultimately, though, his prosecution was thrown out because of the misconduct of the Nixon administration’s colorful characters that we all remember — at least those of us who are old enough.

So here’s the question: are Wikileaks and Julian Assange more like Daniel Ellsberg or the New York Times?

I think that one is really pretty easy: they are more like the NYT. Wikileaks and Julian Assange are not the leakers; they published the leaks. The fact that Wikileaks is not a newspaper or other “news source” is entirely irrelevant.

The people who did the leaking undoubtedly can be prosecuted. But that not what people like Eric Holder, Hillary Clinton, and Robert Gibbs are intimating when they talk about a criminal investigation. There is obviously already a campaign underway to rough up Assange underway.

Daniel Ellsberg, incidentally, recently weighed in on the Wikileaks disclosures.

Update: This from Politio via Slate:

Hawk a fake Coach handbag online, and the U.S. Department of Justice will come down on you like a hammer. Leak secret State Department documents, and the hammer falls silent. That is the power of the First Amendment, which commentators say will protect WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange from U.S. retribution for his organization's activities. "They're not going to be able to threaten or touch Julian Assange," Gabriel Schoenfeld of the Hudson Institute told Politico. European countries will be reluctant to extradite him, he said, and there's always "the inherent First Amendment problems in the Espionage Act."

The Politico story was posted this morning, December 2nd.

Image from www.peaceispossible.info

The legitimacy hustle

On the surface, this version of a Minnesota recount appears to be proceeding smoothly. Old friends from the respective camps are meeting over ballots. Thousands of election officials and partisan observers are reprising the Franken / Coleman recount with more familiarity and slightly improved rules.

The Minnesota GOP has pursued a two track message. On one hand there are the reasonable and measured tones of Tom Emmer, Eric Magnuson, and Kurt Zellers. They assure us that this is all about ensuring that the will of the people is fairly counted, and that once that's done we can all move on.

On the other hand the bellicose Tony Sutton pops up every so often to remind folks of a possibility of a protracted election contest. Sutton just presided over an incomplete victory in a Republican wave year. The perception that he didn't fight to the bitter end to complete the sweep won't endear him to parts of the GOP activist core still smarting from Franken's victory. Declarations like "we won't be rolled again" and "something doesn't smell right" are for them.

There are political reasons for the GOP to pursue a strategy of contesting the election simply to delay the seating of Governor-elect Dayton. First, delay past January 15th prevents Dayton from using his authority to buy in early to the Medicaid expansion. Second, an election contest provides a platform to agitate for election law changes limiting vouching and requiring voter ID. Third, the prospects of rushing through legislation in Pawlenty overtime would be nearly irresistible for a GOP caucus relishing their newfound majority status.

All that said, stretching out a recount into an election contest would do one thing Republicans do best - deny the legitimacy of Governor-elect Dayton.

Of course, close elections like Franken's make this message easier. But even Obama's legitimacy has been attacked; the traction given by the media to the birth certificate "issue" abetted a thin narrative of illegitimacy. But in every case, the go-to strategy is to start from the premise that every elected Democrat cheated. ACORN, George Soros, busloads of illegal voters, felons, phantom votes and reconciliation are all cut from the same cloth.

Mind you, this is the party of "Sore Loserman," a party that relied on a de novo Supreme Court decision to prevent a recount and won a presidential election by the barest of margins. In the aftermath of the Bush v. Gore decision, Gore gracefully stepped aside to prevent a constitutional crisis. In contrast, Republicans have demonstrated that they will play chicken with the governance of our nation and state.

This strategy of challenging the legitimacy of Democrats dovetails with Republican messages about the scope and trustworthiness of government. And this is why the simple reversal of this strategy by Democrats would fail. Which is too bad, it would be easy to grouse about the 700 votes determining control of the Minnesota House and turn the legitimacy question around.

The moment the State Canvassing Board declares Mark Dayton the Governor-elect, the message must be deafening and completely unified. The people have spoken, and we know what they said. Attempts to play the game of contest for the sake of political advantage must have a significant and obvious political cost. In this election, voters registered their distaste for politics as usual and typical politicians. A transparently political ploy like a foot-dragging election contest won't go over well.

Maybe it's time to reprise the "Sore Loserman" chants. Any ideas for good slogans, readers? Leave them in the comments.

Follow me on Twitter @aaronklemz

MinnCan: As bad as you thought

Today MinnCan announced its formation, new leader, and its board. The press release announcing the formation proclaims it will "build a movement of Minnesotans to enact smart public policies so that every Minnesota child has access to a great public school." Right. At the very end the release tells us what's really going on:
MinnCAN's 2011 legislative policy agenda will be announced in January and will be based on the three principles of flexibility, accountability and choice.
Shorter MinnCan: We exist to terrorize teachers and privatize public education.

Punching yourself in the face

I've documented on this site the many (2, 3) anti-liberal positions and actions of the Obama administration. Now add to those his new call to freeze the pay of federal government workers for the remaining two years of his first term.

If you still consider Obama a "liberal," as for example Michael Gerson recently did in the Washington Post, how do you explain Obama's pay freeze, which sticks it to the unionized federal workers, one of the Democrats' core constituencies, harms the efficacy of government, undermines economic recovery, while doing almost nothing to reduce the federal deficit.

In 2009 the US federal government spent about $3.5 trillion.  Assuming roughly the same spending for 2010, that would mean $7 trillion spent over two years. The president's pay freeze will save a minuscule .07 percent of total spending - roughly $5 billion over two years.

NOTE: Post updated to fix math error.

Sigmund Spot’s newest patient II

sigmund-spot tonedThis is a continuation of Rep. Tom Hackbarth’s session with Sigmund Spot.


Vhy do you tink zat people stereotype you, Hackingcough?

Vell — dammit; there I go again — I don’t really know.


I am tinking!

Not hard enough.

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I like to exercise my Second Amendment rights.

You mean you like to carry zat gun around?

Well, yes, but you make that sound like a bad thing.

Maybe zat’s why you like to call it “exercising your Second Amendment rights?”

Maybe. But my friend is such a confidence builder.

Ah, I zee.

I mean, like now, you put my friend away, and I feel really inadequate and vulnerable here.

How long have you felt zis way, when you don’t have your “friend” with you?

Oh, like forever.

Zere is a pill for zis now, you know.

I know, but when I put my friend on the nightstand, things seem to work.

I zee. Did za marriage begin to zour vhen you started to put your “friend” on za nightstand?

Gosh! It did! I never thought of that!

Do you tink za two are related?

I can’t imagine that they are.

Vell, Siggy can. Vhen you zigned up for za internet dating service, and zhen made contact with zis new woman, did you mention zat you like to carry guns around on your person?

No. But I told her when we went out; I even showed it to her! She was impressed, I’m sure.

Ya, you made za impression all right, but probably not za one you zink. It was after you showed za woman your gun zat she seemed to pull away, again to use your vords, isn’t zat right?


And now, after za newspaper reports zat your were out looking for her on za streets of St. Paul — with your friend — zat you can’t get a hold of her?


Vut do you make of zat?

Are you saying that my attachment to my friend is interfering with my ability to maintain relationships with women?

Vell, if the foo zhits.

I’ll have to think about that one for a while, Doc. Say, I do have one other relationship problem I’d like to discuss. This one is with a guy. His name is Kurt Zellers.

Za time’s up today, but we’ll talk zis Zellers fella next time.

Graphic by Tild

Monday, November 29, 2010

Sigmund Spot’s newest patient

sigmund-spot tonedCome in and zit on za couch, Mr. Hartworth.

That’s Representative Hackbarth. [under his breath] At least for now.

[checking his notes] Ach, ya! Zo zorry. Anyvay, just recline zere and make yourzelf comfortable.

[Siggy’s patient lies back on the couch; as he does so, a pistol falls out of his pocket and clatters to the floor.]

Zut alors! Vut za hell is zat?

I’m sorry Dr. Siggy; I’ve been trying to conceal it better, but it doesn’t stay put in my pocket as well as it did in the holster. And say, I thought you were German.

I have za continental education; I can swear in zeveral languages. Anyway, put zat ting away; on zecond thought, I’ll put it aside. You can have it back vhen you leave.

[Siggy arranges himself on a chair next to his reclining patient.]

Zo, iss za gun za problem here, zon? A little compensation, maybe?

[Hackbarth blinks, unsure of what the question is, and then it dawns on him.]

Absolutely not! I’ll show you if . . .

No, no; zat von’t be necessary! Zen vhy are you here?

I have relationship problems.

No shit! I mean, continue, please.

Well, I’m getting a divorce, and it’s painful.

Vhy, of course it iss! Tell me about your vife. Does she remind you of your Mutti?

That’s not za — now you have me doing it, too — relationship that’s a problem, Doc.


It’s my new girlfriend.

You’re still married, but you have za new girlfriend? Getting a little ahead of ourselves, aren’t ve, Hogwarts?


Ya, ya. Don’t change the subject.

Well maybe, but I really need some companionship; I’m a pretty lonely guy.

Vhy to you tink zat iss, Hackbush?

HACKBARTH. I don’t know why. People just seem to shy away from me.

Vell, zhen, let’s talk about za girlfriend, maybe ve’ll learn some tings! How long have you been zeeing zis woman?

We’ve had two dates now, but we really hit it off; I’m sure we did.

Did she say zat, too?

Well, no, but I’m sure she felt that way. That’s why I was so hurt when she went out with somebody else.

Did she tell you zat?

No, but I just sensed it. There was a pulling away. I asked her out again, and she said she was getting together with one of her women friends and couldn’t see me. I mean, how lame is that? She obviously was going out with another man.

Did you talk to zis woman and ask her vhy she vas “pulling away,” to use your vords?

I couldn’t; I don’t have her telephone number. I met her through an on-line dating service.

Vell, haff you been in contact with zis woman since zat night?

I’ve tried, but she doesn’t reply.

Vhy do you tink zat iss, Hacksaw?

I give up; call me what you want. It might be because word got out that I was out looking for her that night. And that I was carrying my friend that fell on the floor a little while ago. She seemed like such a sympathetic soul, too. It’s so unfair to judge a person by one little incident.

Maybe being stalked by an armed man vas, how to say it, offputting?

It seems like I’ve been the victim of stereotypes all my life, Doc.

I’m starting to zee zat.


To be continued . . .

Graphic by Tild

Sunday, November 28, 2010

FOX: News for the porno age

GQ magazine has a profile of Fox News' afternoon host Megyn Kelly. The article makes clear what she brings to the station: She's hot!

Here's a prediction: It won't be long before the Powerstooges are slobbering all over this.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Let’s just toss a few votes out at random

That’s Tom Emmer’s legal team to the Minnesota Supreme Court. You see, there are a few more votes in the governor’s race than were recorded as signed in voters on election day. Admittedly, not the optimum situation; maybe the recount will go at least some distance to explaining the discrepancy.

The Supreme Court summarily dismissed the Emmer camp proposal to throw votes out prior to a recount, as it should have. It was a stupid, Hail Mary idea, and unconstitutional, to boot, as Professor David Scultz describes:

Finally, assume that we do have to do reconciliation if there are discrepancies as Emmer alleges. The stated statutory remedy is randomly removing ballots. If that were to occur I think the state law is unconstitutional. By that [I mean], if voting is a fundamental right protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments (and that is true), subjecting voters to random denial of having their ballot counted because of election official counting errors or mis- or maladministration is clearly a denial of a right to vote.

Professor Schultz also describes in his post why Emmer cannot win, even with “reconciliation,” unless, in addition to the Constitution, the rules of arithmetic are suspended.

Update: Of course, the Emmerians only want to do it in selected counties.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Now that’s gratitude for you!

It is a Thanksgiving Day tradition here at the Cucking Stool to quote from a Boston Review article by Howard Zinn, who died this past January. The title of the article is The Power and the Glory, and it’s primarily about the myth of American exceptionalism. Here’s the beginning of the article:

The notion of American exceptionalism—that the United States alone has the right, whether by divine sanction or moral obligation, to bring civilization, or democracy, or liberty to the rest of the world, by violence if necessary—is not new. It started as early as 1630 in the Massachusetts Bay Colony when Governor John Winthrop uttered the words that centuries later would be quoted by Ronald Reagan. Winthrop called the Massachusetts Bay Colony a “city upon a hill.” Reagan embellished a little, calling it a “shining city on a hill.”

The idea of a city on a hill is heartwarming. It suggests what George Bush has spoken of: that the United States is a beacon of liberty and democracy. People can look to us and learn from and emulate us.

In reality, we have never been just a city on a hill. A few years after Governor Winthrop uttered his famous words, the people in the city on a hill moved out to massacre the Pequot Indians. Here’s a description by William Bradford, an early settler, of Captain John Mason’s attack on a Pequot village.

Those that escaped the fire were slain with the sword, some hewed to pieces, others run through with their rapiers, so as they were quickly dispatched and very few escaped. It was conceived that they thus destroyed about 400 at this time. It was a fearful sight to see them thus frying in the fire and the streams of blood quenching the same, and horrible was the stink and scent thereof; but the victory seemed a sweet sacrifice, and they gave the praise thereof to God, who had wrought so wonderfully for them, thus to enclose their enemies in their hands and give them so speedy a victory over so proud and insulting an enemy.

The kind of massacre described by Bradford occurs again and again as Americans march west to the Pacific and south to the Gulf of Mexico. (In fact our celebrated war of liberation, the American Revolution, was disastrous for the Indians. Colonists had been restrained from encroaching on the Indian territory by the British and the boundary set up in their Proclamation of 1763. American independence wiped out that boundary.)

Expanding into another territory, occupying that territory, and dealing harshly with people who resist occupation has been a persistent fact of American history from the first settlements to the present day. And this was often accompanied from very early on with a particular form of American exceptionalism: the idea that American expansion is divinely ordained. On the eve of the war with Mexico in the middle of the 19th century, just after the United States annexed Texas, the editor and writer John O’Sullivan coined the famous phrase “manifest destiny.” He said it was “the fulfillment of our manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions.” At the beginning of the 20th century, when the United States invaded the Philippines, President McKinley said that the decision to take the Philippines came to him one night when he got down on his knees and prayed, and God told him to take the Philippines.

And now, after telling you to be a little circumspect in your observance, please have a great day of thanksgiving and fellowship, even with your conservative relatives, maybe especially with your conservative relatives.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

How to become #1 in college football

Buy it!

Oregon's planned $143 million football facility, courtesy of Phil Knight and Nike.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Sting: the Afghanistan edition

It is impossible — absolutely freakin’ impossible — to find a better example of the utter cluelessness of the people who tell us that we are making progress in Afghanistan.

It turns out that the “high level Taliban” official who we thought we were negotiating peace with is an imposter. Sweet Jesus Soap on a Rope. Even the Taliban was telling us this was not on the up and up:

The Taliban movement all along has issued strenuous public denials that meetings between emissaries of the movement and the Karzai government have been taking place.

And here’s the, um, money quote:

KABUL, Afghanistan — For months, the secret talks unfolding between Taliban and Afghan leaders to end the war appeared to be showing promise, if only because of the appearance of a certain insurgent leader at one end of the table: Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, one of the most senior commanders in the Taliban movement.

But now, it turns out, Mr. Mansour was apparently not Mr. Mansour at all. In an episode that could have been lifted from a spy novel, United States and Afghan officials now say the Afghan man was an impostor, and high-level discussions conducted with the assistance of NATO appear to have achieved little.

“It’s not him,” said a Western diplomat in Kabul intimately involved in the discussions. “And we gave him a lot of money.” [emphasis added]

But it’s not a spy novel. We were just the mark for a common grifter. You have to wonder who in the Afghan government was in on it.

Schools failing? Yes, if steady improvement equals failure

The education deformers' chief lever in their attempt to privatize and de-unionize public education is the notion that public schools are "failing," somehow holding back the country and causing, in the words of Minneapolis Councilman Don Samuels, an "endless cycle of poverty and failure."  But - and here's something you almost never hear in the traditional media - by the nation's most respected standards educational achievement of students in the U.S. has been steadily improving for decades, and the achievement gap between Blacks and Whites has been declining. In our fact-free education discourse this underlying reality just doesn't fit the school-are-bad teachers-at-fault narrative, so it is ignored.

The following charts are from the US Department of Education; they compare scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) for students of various ages and grades, comparing Black and White achievement.

The first chart compares national achievement in mathematics at age nine, from 1978-2004. Over that time period White scores have gone up 10 percent and Black scores went up 17 percent. That means the achievement gap declined over the period by about 25 percent.

Next look at the same data for 13 year olds. The improvement is almost as good - Blacks increased their test scores by 14 percent, wiping out more than a third of the Black/White achievement gap nationwide:

There are similar gains in reading scores, as demonstrated in the next chart. Between 1980 and 2004 Black scores increased six percent, closing the achievement gap by a third, with two-thirds of the gains coming since 1999:

Now look at the data for Minnesota. Here you see startling test gains by both Blacks and Whites, and a 20 percent decrease in the Black/White math achievement gap for fourth graders over the years 1992-2007. Over the period the math scores of Black fourth graders increased 15 percent:

The gains are sustained by grade eight, where Black scores increased by 10 percent, while White scores increased by seven percent:

Test scores for reading also show positive results in Minnesota. The following chart shows reading scores for eight graders between the years 1998 and 2007. Blacks showed a six percent increase, while White scores more or less stagnated, resulting in about a 26 percent drop in the Black/White achievement gap:

These are the baseline realities of educational achievement in the U.S. and in Minnesota. Now I don't agree that tests are the best way to gauge the success or failure of our educational system, but they are the metric that the education deformers point to as their preferred measure. So even by their warped standards schools have been, and are doing a pretty good job. As all the above charts show, there has been steady improvement in almost all demographics and by nearly any measure.

One other point: Notice all the years of reading and math where student scores improved, where the overwhelming percentage of students were taught at regular public schools with unionized teachers. Those schools and teachers were obviously doing something right to get those results. Ask yourself whether the attacks on public schools and their teachers by today's education deform movement is due to something happening at those schools, or something happening in our Plutocratic political system.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Our unreal education discourse

Two articles featuring the billionaires Bill Gates and Thomas Friedman in the New York Times this past weekend exemplified the unreality of education discourse in this country. Gates wrote that, on his word, school districts across the country should change the ways teachers are compensated:
He suggests they end teacher pay increases based on seniority and on master’s degrees, which he says are unrelated to teachers’ ability to raise student achievement. He also urges an end to efforts to reduce class sizes. Instead, he suggests rewarding the most effective teachers with higher pay for taking on larger classes or teaching in needy schools.
Funny how the Plutocrats' ideas always seem to revolve around destroying unions and implementing failed policies. If you had any doubts about the ideas of the Obama administration, they align with Gates:
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan delivered his own speech in Washington this week, titled “Bang for the Buck in Schooling,” in which he made arguments similar to those of Mr. Gates
Gates' point seems to be that the schools are failing, and their funding is falling, so something has to be done. His idea is to take the money away from teachers. By instituting ideas borrowed from business, such as merit pay, he believes the schools can be improved while spending less. It's an idea - a terrible one - but an idea nonetheless. Run schools like a business? Been there, done that.

Though he is an uber-capitalist, apparently Mr Gates does not believe in the adage, "you get what you pay for."  The belief that somehow a cutthroat businessman like Gates would know the best way to educate children underscores the current lunacy in education discourse. When you're the richest man in America you get a seat at any table you wish, and you can seriously suggest moronic, proven wrong ideas like raising class sizes.

Friedman, the other billionaire dispensing education advice from the Times, argues along the same lines, citing Finland (a ridiculous comparison, as The Daily Howler pointed out ) as an example to emulate:
If you look at the countries leading the pack in the tests that measure these skills (like Finland and Denmark), one thing stands out: they insist that their teachers come from the top one-third of their college graduating classes...They have invested massively in how they recruit, train and support teachers, to attract and retain the best.”
Could Friedman be more ignorant? The whole education deform movement is built around discounting the education and expertise of professional teachers. The very title of Friedman's column, "Teaching for America," evokes the "Teach for America" brand of deliberately under-trained teachers being foisted on American schools. Gates recommends not paying Master teachers a bonus for their attainment. School teachers have been under constant attack for almost two decades - that's hardly an incentive to attract the best and brightest.

Here in the real world states are spending less on education. The federal Department of Education is about to get its funding cut by the incoming House Republicans. State after state, awash in red ink, is cutting spending on education.  In Minnesota the state has taken away $2 billion in promised funding over the past two years alone.

In a rational world men like Gates and Friedman would be laughed out of the room when they started talking about how to educate children. But in our Plutocracy they're treated like sages.

Austerity in microcosm

Like thousands of Minnesotans, I left a theater just after midnight on Sunday morning to a world of ice. Not simply a slippery spot here and there, a solid eighth of an inch of glaze covered everything and took the world by surprise. The roads were terrible, the accidents numbered in hundreds. Minnesota's public employees were stretched to the maximum, put in danger to serve us. In this moment, the shape and scope of austerity snapped into sharp relief.

Reading the comments on the newspaper sites was illustrative of the fear and anger resulting from a night of terror on the roads. Obviously, nature is beyond human control, but the question was asked repeatedly - where was MnDOT? Why wasn't there any preliminary treatment of the roads? Well, here's what MnDOT said:

State transportation officials planned to send out trucks to salt roads when the rain was forecast to hit around 1 a.m., but it started to fall almost three hours earlier. Kevin Walker, spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Transportation, said trucks were called out right away but it took some drivers almost two hours to get to where they needed to be because of the slick conditions.

"Obviously, we got out there too late," Walker said. "We were trying to watch the forecast and manage overtime in a responsible fashion. Mother Nature caught us off guard."

About 170 trucks were salting highways and freeways in the Twin Cities overnight Saturday and into Sunday morning, Walker said. More than a dozen of them were involved in accidents — an unprecedented number, he said.

On Sunday evening, MnDOT sent out trucks to battle anticipated icy conditions.

"We've learned our lesson and we'll be out there earlier tonight," Walker said.

Well, isn't that nice! Look at the results of "trying to manage overtime," a dozen wrecked plows, hundreds of accidents, a human and property toll that runs into the millions. Some of this was clearly unavoidable, but salt on the roads earlier would have been helpful, by all accounts.

The ice also caused hundreds of slipping and falling accidents to flood emergency rooms. (You may have noticed I haven't posted in several days - this is due to one of these slip and fall accidents from the previous Saturday's snowstorm and a resultant broken ankle.) In many of these cases, EMT's from local fire departments responded. The State Patrol responded to hundreds of accidents in the last few days. So many thousands of Minnesotans directly received the benefits of government spending over the last few days, and the preventative action that could have limited the damage was scuppered by fiscal austerity.

At least you won't hear much complaining from the peanut gallery about wasteful government spending on days like this. As there are no atheists in foxholes, there are no libertarians in icestorms.

Follow me on Twitter @aaronklemz

(Image Credit: MnDOT)

We should ask Paul Krugman

Who is more delusional, Barack Obama or Amy Klobuchar? In the New York Times today (Monday, 11/22), Krugman says this about Obama, the federal debt limit, and economic recovery in general:

[  ] Mr. Obama is still talking about bipartisan outreach, and maybe if he caves in sufficiently he can avoid a federal shutdown this spring. But any respite would be only temporary; again, the G.O.P. is just not interested in helping a Democrat govern.

One of the DL regulars showed me a a great Clay Bennett cartoon describing Obama’s effectiveness in negotiating with Republicans:

Clay Bennett on negotiation

That’s from February of this year. He hasn’t gotten any better, has he?

Krugman would likely cast a preliminary vote for Obama, but he probably hasn’t seen this:

Political courage in our nation's capital has most often been symbolized by the man or woman who dares to stand alone, as in the classic movie "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington." But political courage can also mean something different -- the willingness to stand with those you normally disagree with for the betterment of our country.

With both a polarized citizenry and a divided Congress, America will move forward only if we have leaders who show true bipartisan courage. The public wants action -- sensible action -- to respond to the key challenges we face.

That’s the lede from the vacuous Amy Klobuchar’s stirring call for capitulation in the Strib in an op-ed following the election. It has apparently not dawned on the senator that her new colleagues like Rand Paul will gut her like a trout at the first opportunity.

Klobuchar trounced a weak opponent four years ago and has enjoyed excellent popularity ratings since. But she seems entirely unwilling to spend the smallest amount of political capital for progressive causes.

It may be too late for both Obama and Klobuchar to learn that you have to dance with the one what brung you.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Capitalism is not immoral–updated

Please see the update below, a quote from Chris Floyd.

But it isn’t moral either. It’s an economic system that is amoral. Moral values and ethical systems can be attached to capitalism, but I don’t think they inhere in capitalism itself; they come from somewhere else. Which is why Stephen B. Young’s recent trip to China to (apparently) flog his book Moral Capitalism and his report of his trip in today’s Strib caught my eye. Early in the op-ed piece, Young makes this sad observation:

Does China's leadership really propose to replace a Western imperial order with its own "celestial" one?

Could be. I sense that part of China's leadership is coming down with "greatpoweritis."

Britain, France, German, Japan and Russia all went though bouts of this disease. Even the United States had what I would call a mild infection in the late 19th century.

You are invited, boys and girls, to consider especially that last sentence. Now, raise your hand if you’ve heard or read the term “last remaining superpower” any time in the 21st century. I see a lot of hands.

Young reports that the Chinese weren’t sufficiently deferential to him when he went to China as an evangelical of “moral capitalism.” Apparently, they went all Boxer Rebellion on poor Missionary Steve.

I was in Shanghai recently speaking at the launch of the Chinese translation of my book "Moral Capitalism." The respondent to my overview was introduced as a "businessman." But he was not just an ordinary real-estate speculator. He had what Shelley called the "sneer of cold command," the condescending bearing of a senior party cadre. His take on me was dismissive -- I was, in his words, coming from a declining, has-been power and peddling nonsense to justify a decadent cultural system inappropriate for the Chinese people. [emphasis added]

I took this in stride and gave as good as I got in this unexpected clash of civilizations in front of some 100 young Shanghai intellectuals.

His counterargument to my thesis that capitalism can be ethical and responsible was to fall back on the Chinese notion of heaven and of an emperor who presided over "all under Heaven." Since, he said, the Chinese have always believed in heaven, they have no need today to think in terms such as "globalization" or "universal values" -- a code word for human rights.

This all must have been a great shock to one of America’s great moral missionaries. Not to mention a dose of reality therapy. China certainly is the ascendant power in Asia, and maybe the world. And we have very little to teach it these days, at least economically.

You really have to ask yourself: who is the more infected with hubris, the Chinese business man or Steve Young?

Update: In a post about abuses in the microfinance “industry” in India, Chris Floyd says this:

Now here is another blatantly obvious, common-as-dirt fact: The market is designed to make money. If you rely on the market to achieve social goals -- such as the alleviation of poverty, or the provision of public services necessary for the common good -- then you will fail. And these failures [  ] will generally be catastrophic, exacerbating the problems they are intended (or purporting) to address.

Orginal post 11/12.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Today in Obama-land

1) Obama administration leaves rules that allow recipients of government "faith-based" monies to continue to discriminate based on job applicants' religion.

2) Heavy tanks shipped to Afghanistan; war expands.

A lesson in Plutocracy

Plutocrats know how to get their way through persuasion, misdirection, co-optation, and the strategic application of money. A good example of this is the coming attack on public school teachers led by the Minneapolis Foundation and its president Sandra Vargas.

The first rule of Plutocratic rule is to make it seem that the desired change, in this case the destruction of teacher's unions and the privatization of public education, is not your idea, and that it has broad public support. It helps to disguise the desired change as something more palatable, i.e. decreasing educational achievement gaps in public education. This is the route that the Minneapolis Foundation is taking with their forthcoming MinnCan project. You won't hear this from the foundation itself, nor from the media that will eventually report the effort, but the leader of the project is the Plutocrat Vargas herself, who earns over $320,000 a year.

Next you try to find an organization that has already told the kind of lies you're prepared to tell, and gotten the desired results.  In the case of the Minneapolis Foundation they found such as organization in Connecticut, called "ConnCan," which had conveniently created a new non-profit to help them out, called 50Can, that seeks to spread their formula across the U.S.  Once Plutocrats have found their template and organizational structure, they next soften up the public to accept the lies they will be telling in order to smooth the path to policy change.

If you run a philanthropy that dispenses $39 million a year it is much easier to create the perception that your plans are both efficacious, even if they're not, and to create the impression that they are supported by leaders across the community, even if they aren't. You do this by first creating the demand, then introducing the product. Make people first believe in ConnCan, after which creating a MinnCan analog will seem like a natural progression - what works!

You build your case by convening a conspicuously public meeting - in this case literally called the "Minnesota Meeting" - to showcase your product. You can catapult the propaganda, as our former president would say, by ensuring that the meeting is distributed through mass channels - i.e. public television - that your foundation just happens to help underwrite.

The meeting itself is crucial to your propaganda campaign, so it must be carefully choreographed.  First you lie about the meeting in its promotion. In this case the Minneapolis Foundation told the public that ConnCan had already been successful in reducing achievement gaps, which even the organization itself denies in its annual report. Next you make it look like you are not the sole sponsor of the meeting. What you do is say that other organizations are also sponsoring the propaganda meeting, such as health providers, i.e. Healthpartners, and business leaders, i.e. the Itasca Project. What you don't do is tell people who attend the meeting that your foundation has already paid those organizations, semi-secretly, to participate in your plot.

Next you "invite" all your grant recipients to attend the meeting, and form a "discussion panel" to follow the talk, that is composed only of your grant recipients. To confuse the listeners you don't tell them that all the panelists have received money from your foundation. To emphasize the importance you put on this initiative you have the head of the foundation, Sandra Vargas herself, lead off the meeting. This has the double effect of driving home the importance of the initiative and heading off your recipients from expressing any opposition to the ideas presented. Recipients don't need to be told not to object to the initiative - the presence of the head of the foundation takes care of that. Every recipient knows it would mean funding death to express or organize any dissent from the Plutocrat's plans. Remember that when no liberals stand up to fight this plan when it shows up in the legislature next year.

Finally, it helps when Plutocrats get lucky, as they did when Republicans took over both houses of the Minnesota Legislature earlier this month. In their haste to cut spending the Republicans will be looking for ways to pay off their base without spending more money. What better way to do this than get on board with the Minneapolis Foundation's attack on school teacher's unions? Protected by the softening up attack led by Sandra Vargas, the Republicans will undoubtedly pass legislation stressing teacher "accountability," and will loosen teacher training standards to allow youngsters from Teach for America to replace union teaching jobs.

At this point it looks like the Plutocrats have won this fight before the actual legislative session even begins. The only question is whether a Democratic governor has the desire or ability to stand up against them. Don't hold your breath.

* * * * *

One final note: Before writing this post I tried to get in touch with Vargas, who didn't respond to voice messages left for her. I did get in touch with Marc Porter Magee, who runs 50Can, but he refused to discuss the subject.

A case of justifiable homicide

Of a television set. Move along; nothing to see here:
Take Steven Cowan, who lives in Dane County, Wis. The guy watches Bristol Palin on "Dancing With the Stars," flies into a rage, busts out a gun, blows away his TV, and then mounts a 15-hour stand-off with the local cops.

The issue? Bristol can't dance. Cowan sputtered to his wife that the only reason Bristol was on the show in the first place was that she was the daughter of failed vice presidential candidate and tea party queen Sarah Palin.
The judges on the show agree. They keep giving her lousy grades. But what do those elites know about dancing anyway? Real Americans evidently have taste and they've voted Bristol into the finals.
Photo from The Big Green L.com.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Drinking Liberally tonight (11/18)


It’s the last Drinking Liberally in November, so come on by and get your liberal discussion fix before heading into next week and Thanksgiving with your conservative relatives.

That’s six to nine tonight at the 331 Club in Northeast Minneapolis.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Today in Obama-land

1) Holbrooke recants on end of Afghan war, says no “exit strategy" exists.

2)  US hopes to establish military bases in Yemen.

3) Janet Napolitano shrugs off scanner and pat-down complaints.

Power outage at the Cucking Stool

The recent snow storm has knocked us off the air for several days now. Sorry.

In truth, there are a couple of us who are out of commission for assorted reasons and won’t be writing much until next week or so.

We look forward to a resumption of regular programming and hope you’ll check back from time to time.

The photo is from the Oregon Mountain River Chapter of the Red Cross.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Today in Obama-land

1) The president seems to be okay with extending tax cuts for the wealthy. As Blue Texan says at Firedoglake,  "If the White House Gets Rolled by the GOP on Tax Cuts, What’s the Point of Voting for Democrats?"

2) Democratic Senator Kent Conrad invokes Veterans' Day to defend the president's Deficit Commission, which plans to establish co-pays and deductibles for veterans.

3) 2014 Is Not The Endpoint Of The Afghanistan War. The Obama administration has quietly changed its goals in Afghanistan, now saying it will merely consider being out by 2014.

4) Obama set to escalate secret war in Yemen. U.S. has already killed dozens of people, including civilians, in air strikes, and that may be just the beginning

5) US Military Destroying Hundreds of Civilian Homes in Kandahar  Afghans Complain Troops Are Destroying Their Fields, Trees and Property, Leaving Some Homeless

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

"Emmer in an apron" / "Dukakis in a tank"

In unsuccessful campaigns, there's often a point where a seemingly minor gaffe defines a candidate as out of touch.

In his 1992 re-election bid, President George H.W. Bush's fascination with the scanning technology of a modern supermarket perplexed middle-class voters. Supermarket shoppers were accustomed to bar code scanning, having seen it in widespread use for a decade. Bush appeared to be gobsmacked:

Visiting the exhibition hall of the National Grocers Association convention here, Mr. Bush lingered at the mock-up of a checkout lane. He signed his name on an electronic pad used to detect check forgeries.

"If some guy came in and spelled George Bush differently, could you catch it?" the President asked. "Yes," he was told, and he shook his head in wonder.

Then he grabbed a quart of milk, a light bulb and a bag of candy and ran them over an electronic scanner. The look of wonder flickered across his face again as he saw the item and price registered on the cash register screen.

"This is for checking out?" asked Mr. Bush. "I just took a tour through the exhibits here," he told the grocers later. "Amazed by some of the technology."

A recession and an out of touch patrician is a bad combination. Nine months later, voters elected a Governor from Arkansas who felt their pain and spoke fluent Bubba.

The iconic image of the 1988 Presidential campaign (besides Willie Horton) was a helmeted Michael Dukakis cruising around in an M-1 Abrams tank. Despite Dukakis's previous military service, the photo op at a General Dynamics plant backfired. Rather than refuting concerns about his national security bona fides, the "Dukakis in a tank" moment became an emblem that he was out of touch with the military.

Like Bush's fascination with grocery scanner and Dukakis's tank ride, Tom Emmer's tip credit debacle defined him as a politician who was out of touch with the electorate.

(The relevant part of this video starts at about 5:30.)

The statement "I didn't realize that servers could be taking home six figures" really raised the hackles of working class folks. In the context of a listening tour that focused on the needs and wants of business owners, Emmer's sympathy about their tax burdens was understandable. But the $100,000 servers making off like bandits while the job creators were suffering touched a nerve.

I won't recount the reasons why this claim was ludicrous, or the backtracking that followed in its wake. But the "Tom the Waiter" empathy exercise that followed was just as ludicrous as the original statement. The fundamental error of the Emmer campaign was not letting go and pivoting. They just had to prove that Tom Emmer really gets it. The sweaty press conference that ended in a trickster's shower of pennies was an appropriately surreal capstone for the whole shebang.

Alliance for a Better Minnesota made hay with the "out of touch with working Minnesotans" message in this television spot derived mostly from video taken at the press conference.

Polling demonstrates how this affected Emmer's image. A July 19th Rasmussen Poll showed Emmer with lower approval than all other candidates for Governor, Tim Pawlenty, and Barack Obama. The fuzzily positive impression of Emmer in the wake of his endorsement was squandered by the end of July. This impression persisted. Nearly all polls that asked favorability questions afterward found a negative impression of Emmer.

One question in the last Star Tribune poll really struck me. Respondents were given three statements and asked to pick which one was the most important in determining their vote. "Whether a candidate cares about people like you" was the clear winner with 55%. While "cares about you" was by far the highest rated statement, Emmer voters were less likely (47%) to rate that statement highest than supporters of Dayton or Horner. They were also much more likely to rate "Whether a candidate has a background in business" as their choice (27% of Emmer voters versus only 8% of Dayton voters.) The Emmer campaign banked on their business-friendly job creation message. If they'd convinced (even 9,000) more Minnesotans that reducing regulations and taxes on business was an expression of care for people like them, they'd be celebrating an Emmer victory.

The tip credit debacle showed Emmer as someone who would side with management against their employees. It's ironic that a scion of a wealthy family would end up being perceived as more in touch with the needs of the working and middle classes. But professing surprise that waitstaff were making six figures was Emmer's out of touch moment, and it may well have cost him the election.

Follow me on Twitter @aaronklemz

Katie, the wrong-way weathervane

One excellent way to decide if you’re analyzing something correctly is to see if Katherine Kersten agrees with you. If she does, the chances are excellent that you’ve got it backwards. F’instance, take her little gloat on Sunday about the outcome of the election last week. According to Katie, the election was a massive repudiation of all things liberal. Here’s the lede:

Last week's historic election repudiated the grandiose, left-wing governance schemes of President Obama and his Democratic allies in Congress. Conservatives are still toasting the victory. But the election, and the two years leading up to it, hold lessons that go well beyond this election cycle. America, it turns out, is a far more resilient nation than we had feared.

It won’t surprise readers here when I say that I think Kersten is wide of the mark. First of all, the election of Barack Obama as president two years ago? Now that was historic. Picking the first DFL governor (because we did) since 1986? Well, that was historic, too. Republicans did make material gains in the states and the federal government, but I don’t think they were historic, really. But we’ll let Katie gloat. It isn’t my point, anyway.

If you are interested in coming closer to what the election was really “about,” I suggest that you take your advice from Rob Levine and Wy Spano, too.

Here’s Rob, in a post entitled Bonfire of the liberals, one of the more popular post here ever:

The Obama administration created its own doom, making deals with corporations that sold out the American people in a misguided attempt to nibble around the edges of the gaping holes in our society. Obama's approach to governing was a double loser: politically, his attempts at conciliation with opponents did not soften them up, but gained their further enmity and dissembling about the true nature of his governance, labeling him a socialist, communist, and worse. Meanwhile, the compromises he made, and the steps he took, strengthened the corporations that dominate our lives while providing no meaningful relief for hurting Americans. It's no wonder that marginalized demographic groups that helped elect him, such as women, gays, the elderly, the young, and racial minorities showed up in smaller numbers in 2010 than in 2008.

By ABC’s estimate, about 29,000,000 fewer of them.

If you listen to Katie, you’ll think that Obama ought to jog toward the center, which he’ll probably do. Rob, on the other hand — without putting too many words in his mouth — may say that Obama spent too much time trying to make deals with intransigent Republicans when he should have paid more attention to the people who elected him. He’d probably add that Katie’s advice is lethal to the administration’s future.

And now there is this from Wy Spano, writing at MinnPost:

Our cerebral president seems to have missed a singular point of modern campaigns — they are profoundly Manichean (an ancient religion which held that good and evil were always at war, and people were always choosing between them.) It was Obama's job, starting around Jan. 1, 2010, to begin to cast the Republicans in the role of evil, to give Democrats something to run against as they prepared for the 2010 election. But Obama kept chanting the "working together" mantra. That left Republicans free to define evil for the public, so they defined all government, and particularly Obama, as evil. Usually, Democrats blame business/fat cats/Wall Street as evil. In a poor economy, someone's got to be blamed. But Obama wouldn't take on business, so the bad economy ended up being his — and government's — fault.

If Obama had been elected in 1932, he probably would have spent his first two years in office telling everyone to be nicer to Andrew Mellon.

It is a fool’s errand to think you can work with people whose principal goal in life is to gut you like a trout.

Minneapolis housing values in near freefall

A new report from Zillow.com has Minneapolis home prices in near freefall.  Since the housing market peak home values in Minneapolis have dropped 28 percent. The year over year decline has been almost eight percent; almost 37 percent of the homes in the city have negative equity. Detroit, Orlando, Miami and Phoenix have experienced 50 percent or greater falls in value since the start of the downturn.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Education deformers promise "exciting year" in Minnesota

The Minneapolis Foundation's MinnCan program apparently spent some time last week shaping up their coming legislative attack on public schools and public school teachers.  According to Marc Porter Magee's Twitter feed, on November 5 he was
Flying home after two days working with the team building MinnCAN. 2011 is going to be an exciting year for ed reform in Minnesota.
Those are chilling words, knowing that MinnCan will undoubtedly agitate for more failed Charter Schools, teacher "accountability", and loosened teacher standards to use more of the conservative philanthropy underwritten Teach for America teachers.  I'm waiting to see how many allegedly liberal Democrats will jump on this boat. Where the money for new Charter Schools would come from is anybody's guess since Governor Bridgefail has already retracted $2 billion from the state's public schools over the past two years.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Smile a little smile for me, Nosemarie!

GW223H140 copyIn keeping with his little tradition, Mitch Berg voted for his cat as a write in opponent to one of the judges running unopposed in Ramsey County:

nosemarie the cart

Touching, really. But not too smart.

You see, Minn. Stat. sec. 204C.22, subd. 13 provides as follows:

Identifying ballot. If a ballot is marked by distinguishing characteristics in a manner making it evident that the voter intended to identify the ballot, the entire ballot is defective.

So, Mitch: 1) voted for a cat (not even a person, much less a resident of Ramsey County), 2) writes about in his blog, and 3) admits he did it to identify his ballot.

Democratic recount watchers in Mitch’s precinct, you know what to do.

Note: Nosemarie is not pictured. She maybe cute as a button; I don’t know.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Bonfire of the liberals

Many commentators are now weighing in on the big Republican wins in last Tuesday's elections. Besides taking the House of Representatives Republicans took over 18 state legislatures. Conventional media wisdom is already buying the narrative that President Obama and the Democrats moved too far to the left and abandoned independents. That narrative is palpably false. Obama has run a presidency that primarily benefits corporations and the wealthy - the same powers that have run Washington for decades. For the president, and his liberal supporters, his governance has been both a policy and political loser.

Obama has never even tried to govern from the left. Nor was he ever the "change" agent that his campaign made him out to be. As Glenn Greenwald has written, Obama's path to power, since he was young, has always been to accommodate and not threaten the institutions he belonged to. He instead is an accommodater, a compromiser, with existing power. After the 2008 election Obama immediately tacked to the corporate side, seeking bipartisanship with an opposition that not only did not want to cooperate with him but overtly sought his failure.

Glenn Greenwald and Cenk Uygur discussed "whither progressives" on the Dylan Ratigan show.

Obama's political calculation did not acknowledge that the real dividing line in America today is between the interests of the corporate and the rich and the rest of the country. While the Republicans constantly cite "freedom" as their rallying cry, the real freedom that people want is freedom from the dominance of corporations. Obama might have taken a different course - he could have played to his base, taken on the power of corporations, the plutocrats, and the military-industrial-media complex. Of course the right would still have demonized him, but how would that have been different than what they did when he tried a conciliatory stance? If Obama had operated as a true liberal he would at least have had his own base with him, and he would have been able to draw clear lines between the American people and their oppressors, perhaps avoiding the political bloodbath he has just experienced. But that's not the course he chose.

Obama's opportunity has turned into an incredible failure; he has wasted a once-in-a-generation opportunity to turn back the civilizational decline that has afflicted America since the 1980s. The litany of the Obama administration's catering to the interests of the rich and corporate is embarrassingly long. Is there any base constituency of the Democratic Party who Obama didn't stick it to? It is truly a sick joke that the right and portions of the media still call him a liberal. He is in fact a corporate Democrat who is in the process of shattering what is left of his party.

The Obama administration created its own doom, making deals with corporations that sold out the American people in a misguided attempt to nibble around the edges of the gaping holes in our society. Obama's approach to governing was a double loser: politically, his attempts at conciliation with opponents did not soften them up, but gained their further enmity and dissembling about the true nature of his governance, labeling him a socialist, communist, and worse. Meanwhile, the compromises he made, and the steps he took, strengthened the corporations that dominate our lives while providing no meaningful relief for hurting Americans. It's no wonder that marginalized demographic groups that helped elect him, such as women, gays, the elderly, the young, and racial minorities showed up in smaller numbers in 2010 than in 2008.

What, exactly, is "liberal" in expanding a pointless war in Afghanistan? Not only has Obama not reversed Bush's imperial policies, he has expanded them with new wars in Pakistan and Yemen. He has continued some of the Bush Administration's policies of torture and rendition. He has continued military tribunals that convict children of terrorism for fighting foreign invaders on their own soil.  Obama has even gone beyond the brazenness of president Bush in asserting presidential "sovereign immunity" to allow the government to illegally spy on its own citizens. He continued and expanded Bush's bailout of Wall Street, while doing virtually nothing to stand up for dispossessed home owners. Obama pushed through a politically costly stimulus program that was both too small and laden with unproductive tax cuts.

He promised to end the don't-ask-don't tell policy of discrimination against gays in the military, but then deferred to pentagon brass. When a court ruled the policy illegal, the Obama administration actually appealed the judge's ruling, recently gaining a permanent stay of the judge's order. Obama has betrayed America's teachers and their schools by boosting conservative philanthropy funded Teach for America, while shutting down public schools in favor of failed non-union charter schools supported by billionaires. When a school serving the poor and minorities in Rhode Island engaged in mass teacher firings, Obama and his sadistic education secretary Arne Duncan literally cheered. To demonstrate the absurdity of Obama's education policy, consider that Duncan toured the country with Al Sharpton and noted education expert (not!) Newt Gingrich touting it.

Perhaps the most egregious Obama failure has been health care, where the president literally lied to his own constituencies for months about his secret deals with drug manufacturers and hospital associations. Piles of political capital was wasted on rube-goldberg health care reform that promised no relief for four years, while making permanent the centrality of corporate power in the providing of health care insurance, while doing almost nothing to control costs. The spectacle of an Obama supporter selling a signed letter from him in order to pay her health care bills was a little-remarked iconic moment of the fall campaign.

If you couldn't tell Obama's true attitude towards liberals from his actions, consider the statements made by people from his administration about what they call "the professional left," people, I take, like the ones at DailyKos, Firedoglake, OpenLeft, David Sirota and the Young Turks, to name just a few. These are the people who saw Obama for what he was from the beginning, and warned the president repeatedly to follow through on his campaign's central theme of change. In return Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said in March 2010 that  "...those people ought to be drug tested" for suggesting that Obama was pursuing a similar course as George W. Bush, which he actually has done in many areas.

Earlier Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel had called liberals "fucking retarded" for planned primary campaigns against the Blue Dog Democrats who blocked liberal action. Ironically, those same Blue Dogs are the ones most hurt by the administration's corporate politics, losing 50 percent of their congressional caucus last week.

Why would an administration say such things about a group that has led a resurgence in liberal and political thought, and brought together progressives in a hopeful, positive fashion to attempt to bring real change. The Netroots -  as it's known - is a true grassroots phenomenon, sprung from the rise of the Internet in the late 1990s to the explosion of blogs in the early aughts. The Netroots was divided during the presidential primaries, but got behind Obama for the general election. If anyone deserved props from Obama it was the Netroots, but instead they were mocked - dubbed "the professional left" by Gibbs. Yes - administration officials - even the president - occasionally met with groups of these bloggers. The administration may have listened, but it didn't act. The rift has been growing.

Now with Republican sweeps in the elections the Netroots has got its ire up, thinking they were right all along, and Obama's policies which favor the rich and the corporate have been both policy and political losers. They're right. But in Obama's press conference the other day the president said his problem has been one of salesmanship and not of policy. That is delusional. The reality is that most people have seen the entrenchment of the corporations and plutocracy that oppress them, when they had been promised hope and change. Many are now extra disillusioned, feeling they were fools to once again believe in a politician, and that's a shame.

Simultaneously the predictable argument has broken out over what the president should do: tack to the "center" - which in practice always means Democrats capitulating to Republicans - or turn to his base, as George W. Bush did? The signs are pointing to capitulation, and the Netroots knows that liberal goals like tax equity, Social Security and public education are on the block.

The prospects for liberals don't look good. Obama has created a deficit reduction commission, dubbed "The Catfood Commission" by the professional left for its members professed preferences for raiding Social Security, even though the program is self-funding. They conveniently won't report their recommendations until December. Obama and the Republicans actually have a shared attitude towards public education. The only difference is Republicans want to spend less. They both want policies that weaken teachers' unions and privatize public education. There are already signs that Obama will cave in and allow the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy to be extended.

Ironically Obama's greatest asset is the crazy right, and its crazier media. By comparison the president looks positively sane and moderate, obscuring his corporatist and plutocratic policies. But he's made a terrible political mistake by forsaking his own base, and by not making an overarching argument about the kind of freedom people want: freedom from domination. Traditional media seems to have recognized that a fight is breaking out on the right between the tea party extremists and the rational right. What they haven't really noticed is that the left is heading for an even bigger fight between disillusioned liberals and their corporatist president.

If Oprah was speaking as a billionaire when she proclaimed Obama "The One" she was right, but if she was speaking as a progressive, she was tragically wrong. Unless Obama radically changes course, which seems unlikely, to say the least, liberals will have to seek real change without him.

Friday, November 05, 2010

DL: Tony Angelo and Aaron Klemz talk about the election

After their presentation to the Drinking Liberally crowd, Tony Angelo (minn-Donkey and Minnesota Progressive Project) and Aaron Klemz (The Cucking Stool) sat down with me to talk about the election. The result is not really a podcast, but that’s what we’re calling it, anyway.


Here’s a real podcast of the discussion:

This is experimental.

Republican control of Minnesota Legislature may be short-lived

Democrats in Minnesota can take heart that the Republican takeover of the state senate and house might be short-lived: Turns out that every seat will be up for election in two years. Minnesota law states that new elections for all seats take place two years following redistricing that follows every election year that ends in a zero. Combine that with news that a mere 700 strategically placed votes for the Minnesota House would have shifted control to the Democrats and the Republican takeover loses a little sheen.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Keith Ellison talks about health care and civil rights at DL

Here’s another excerpt of Keith Ellison’s guest appearance at Drinking Liberally last week. He talked about he nature of progress in legislation in the areas of health care and civil rights.

Recount math and recount framing

As of 10 PM Thursday, the Secretary of State's website shows that Mark Dayton was victorious by 8,781 votes. You should note a couple of things about that sentence.

First, I said that Mark Dayton was victorious. Mark Dayton won. That's a cold hard fact. We'll confirm that through a precise and nonpartisan recount, but I will not shy away from saying it. Get used to saying it. This media narrative busying itself with contingency plans and buzzing about Tim Pawlenty staying on as Governor is understandable, to a degree. After all, we just went through an extended recount in 2008. There's good money to be made in the media by drumming up the extended recount story too, since it drives eyeballs to websites and viewers to the teevee.

But it's incumbent on the DFL and supporters to stop referring to this as a "lead." Mark Dayton won. The frame of "lead" suggests that the race continues, that there are still votes to win and that neither candidate is really, permanently ahead. It's the same framing move that Republicans have been using for the last two years by referring to the health care bill and the stimulus bill well after they've been made law. Do I have cue up the School House Rock to make my point clear? (Well, frankly I've been looking for an excuse to do so for a while, so here you go.)

If something comes up during a recount that causes a massive shift in votes, then we'll revise. But that's not going to happen.

Second, I said 8,781 votes. That's .42%, which in the grand scheme of things, is not a big margin. But viewed in terms of the shift that can occur during a recount it's positively massive. Let me give you some perspective. Consider Washington County. It's a suburban county that turned decisively for the GOP in 2010. When commentators talk about "strongholds" for Republican votes, it's a place that gets mentioned. Over 100,000 people voted in Washington County this election, and Tom Emmer won by 8 percent. What was the margin between Emmer and Dayton in Washington County? 9,009 votes - just above the total margin of victory.

This is the order of magnitude of shift that would need to occur for a recount to reverse Dayton's victory. Maybe you prefer to think about this in terms of precincts. How about Tom Emmer's home precinct of Delano? It's a really big precinct with 2,447 votes cast in the 2010 election. Tom Emmer won decisively 60% to 29%, more than doubling Mark Dayton's vote total. What was Emmer's winning margin? 772 votes. There would have the ballots from more than eleven lost Delano precincts riding around in the trunk of some Republican operative to close that gap.

The real movement in the 2008 recount was reconsideration of rejected absentee ballots. Today, the number of rejected absentee ballots was revealed to be around 3,000, about 1/4 the 2008 total. Changes in the law have substantially curtailed the number of rejected absentee ballots and clarified procedures for counting them. And there's no guarantee that the absentee ballots would even break for Emmer. In fact, the opposite is probably true. A late poll from PPP found that of the 9% who had voted early broke 55-36 for Dayton, and Franken gained a bunch of votes when rejected absentees were examined.

This is a dead end for Emmer. There simply aren't enough ballots. Mark Dayton won, and when the State Canvassing Board meets on November 23rd, it will say so. A recount is likely to occur, and it will proceed pretty quickly. The recount wouldn't even include consideration of rejected absentee ballots, only an election challenge can examine them. And when this orderly process ends reaffirming an 8,000+ vote victory, it will end with an election certificate for Dayton. This will happen before Christmas.

All of this talk about "extending Pawlenty's governorship" is gamesmanship or idle speculation. The talk of an Emmer victory? Well, let's just say this - have you heard anybody declaring that Emmer won?

I didn't think so.

Follow me on Twitter @aaronklemz

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Tony's tantrum

Tony Sutton's victory lap turned bitter Wednesday morning, as he struggled to comprehend how Tom Emmer had lost.

"Something doesn't smell right," declared Sutton. How could the GOP have won the Minnesota House, Senate, even knocked off Jim Oberstar and still lost the Governor's race?

Note to Tony: this is not the Oscars. Just because you won Best Actor and Best Screenplay doesn't mean that you're entitled to Best Picture. Besides, there are easy answers to his question. The presence of Tom Horner, former Republican in the race, for example. Or better, the fact that the GOP lost every other statewide race on the ballot. In a sense, a Dayton loss in the Governor's race would have been even more out of character.

Of course, this is not a real question, it's just another diva moment by the GOP. And it is beyond time to pound them for their overreaching, destructive tantrums. This ought to be easy. If there's one thing that people hate more than a sore loser, it is a sore winner. If the rest of this process goes the way that it did today, it will be an even more colossal failure than Coleman's recount debacle.

First, note the change in speakers from the Franken-Coleman recount. Tom Emmer? Nowhere to be seen - it's the Sutton/Brodkorb/Trimble show. On the DFL side? Dayton front and center. It's an interesting choice, and I have to say that Dayton was really on today. His performance was the perfect contrast to the Sutton meltdown. In fact, his performance today really reassured me that he will be a great Governor to deal with a GOP legislature. He was a calm, rational adult while Tony foamed at the mouth for the cameras. Emmer? Hiding. Dayton? Looking and acting like a Governor.

Second, the GOP can't help themselves. This will quickly become the "Election Integrity" / Minnesota Majority show, as unsubstantiated rumors and innuendo will become part of the strategy of undermining the legitimacy of the election. Sutton's pitched paranoia is intended to activate the base to help raise funds. The side effect will be to bring the cranks out of the woodwork. But ultimately this will frustrate and anger Minnesotans. Just remember this, Mark Ritchie won reelection last night. If Minnesota voters thought that the 2008 recount was rigged, he would have been bounced last night.

Pretty much everything about the GOP opening salvo was bad framing for them. The declaration that the GOP won't be "outlawyered?" "This time it's personal?" While I am always suspicious of broad brush characterizations of the mood of the electorate, I'm pretty confident of this statement.

People want action, not petty partisanship.

Minnesotans, in their frustrating wisdom, have once again split their tickets enough to ensure divided government. Minnesotans believe that the parties can, should, and damn well better work together. In 24 months, we'll be doing this all over again for the 201 legislative seats. If the GOP leadership thinks a prolonged, bitter, partisan recount is the best way to christen their new legislative majorities, then they'll be explaining another stunning reversal in 2012.

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Good luck with that

The Republicans who have taken over congress in Washington are proclaiming two mutually exclusive goals: Cut government spending, and decrease unemployment.  But the problem with the economy is not that small business and the wealthy don't have enough money. The real problem is slack demand resulting now from job losses and the housing mess. The Republicans have additionally taken over 17 state legislatures, including Minnesota, meaning decreased spending and public sector employment across the country. There is no way the Republicans can alleviate unemployment or the pain of the housing meltdown by reducing government spending. In a nutshell, the Republicans will be bringing on the pain. The only question is whether the Republican Doomsday Machine can somehow spin the mess in 2012 to blame Democrats.